CHENES AUG/SEPT 2018

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Saturday Aug 25th. 

We’re off once again to take the ferry over to Roscoff – Bank holiday Saturday is probably not the best day to drive to Plymouth. Will let you know when we arrive at Chenes on Tuesday.

Well, I was completely wrong, as not only the journey to Plymouth was easy, but the entire way through France (some 850 miles) was also better than expected. Of course on Sunday 26th  there were no lorries, but the dreaded A9 from Spain was also quite easy thanks to a very complicated new motorway system near Montpelier which actually works and is nearly complete after 3 years of diversions and hold ups!!

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No French holiday blog would be complete without mentioning the driving or safety aspects on the road. According to the World Health Official rankings, Great Britain is the 4th safest country in which to drive and France is the 21st with twice as many deaths per head of population. On the face of it quite dangerous here – until one looks at the other 186 countries – avoid Zimbabwe if you’re thinking of hiring a car, as it has a 30 times risk of dying on the road than we do in UK. All things are relative.

For us to drive on the right with different priorities and habits, has to be a little risky, although it is easier to see the kerb and/or precipice on narrow mountain roads. One must say that France has improved its safety record markedly over the last 15 years.

One of the advantages of getting older (well – aren’t we all doing that daily) is that we have more stops on the way down here. We’re now up to 3 legs for the journey and the opportunity to see different places, although we still have our favourites. Generally we prefer small  hotels where we can start speaking French to get us in the groove for listening to our neighbours, and in fact it is almost our lifetime ambition to understand one of them!! Our night in Roscoff at a Hotel that we and half of UK know well, the patron has to and does speak excellent English, but our other stops this time in Amande Montrond and Gignac (dinner by the pool below) French was essential.

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Jean’s new Fabia is petrol driven and the price is higher here than in UK. Diesel in France is cheaper by 20% than the petrol, as it has been calculated by the government it is better for the economy as it is used by trains, buses, and all commercial vehicles, thus keeping down the cost of living. Hmmm….come on Theresa you could do with some votes – although the opposition party are trying their best for you. So to sum up cheapest diesel about £1.20 and petrol (95) £1.37. Local readers let me know if you can better that!!

 

Yes there’s a movement afoot here also. A  new party “Les Patriotes” was set up by a splinter movement from Le Pen’s National Front party by a guy named Florian Philippot earlier this year. Similar to Nigel Farage who voiced his support for the new movement on Facebook recently.

The plan for our short stay this time is to get all the jobs done to the house and garden in the first week and then enjoy the holiday the rest of the time. As I write its now Saturday 1st September and we’ve done pretty well so far. There are fewer tourists and traffic so it has been easy to get about for our shopping etc., although the schools go back next week which will make a difference.

 

We were a little shocked at the state of the garden, although Lucy had warned us. It all fell into perspective, though, when I talked to 2 of the neighbours who live here all the time, and found that even they were similarly afflicted. About half of the plants were dead due to the extreme heat and lack of rainfall, but we soon got stuck in and it’s looking much better now, albeit with fewer tubs and troughs. Don’t think my stuttering automatic watering system helped the situation either!! Inside Jean has the place sparkling and is busy cooking up meals for the freezer.

We ate out for the first time last night on the beach at OASIS in Debarquement. Great food as usual, but near sunset we witnessed the 3 planets Venus, Jupiter and Mars in the same plane towards the SE. Venus incredibly bright. Library photo is either Southern Hemisphere or back to front!! Planets-align-580x371

Nearer home we had a problem with the sewage, which Lucy and Chris had pointed out, and indicated a blockage somewhere in the system. Unfortunately Chico is on holiday so needs must I raised the manhole and it was quite blocked up – no rods or anything – so I used the hosepipe to try to clear the blockage which was on the house side. Water pressure is very high in France and it was enough to release the build up…………no further comment!! Or any pictures.

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We just had lunch on the balcony watching the birds, which we have been feeding from the moment we arrived. Great tit, blue tit, crested tit, chaffinch, goldfinch, greenfinches and 1 siskin (pictured) which is definitely a first for our garden.

If the narrative is slightly disjointed you can blame the cricket. Although we can’t get it on TV following the text commentary is useful, but nerve-racking to say the least. The shaky typing at the moment is due to Joe Root being run out.

It’s September 2nd and it’s very quiet around here: partly because it is Sunday, but also there has been an exodus of tourists for the restart of schools, and the Parisians have returned to the capital after the August break.

Reading the French news today, the politicians have very mixed views about  President Macron’s policies to improve the economy, largely for the same reasons that the opposition at home  cannot condone Conservative ideology – “hitting the poor most” “Nationalisation by the backdoor” “dividing the nation” and so on. The Unions here are definitely united in their opposition and more strikes are in the offing – public services to the fore. It’s been very quiet on the railways but they have a strike planned later this month as do the Air Traffic Controllers (which can be much more damaging).

There is quite a lot of discussion about how a no deal Brexit will affect the French, and more particularly the 150,000 Brits living permanently here. They are being advised to apply for a ‘carte de sejour’ – a residency permit. Evidently only 10% of them have a card and after Brexit it may become compulsory, and will be more difficult to obtain, according to the campaign group RIFT – Remain In France Together.

Beautiful day again (it’s still Sunday) and 28 degrees. Am just going for a walk as I can’t bear to listen to the first half hour’s cricket. Of course on reflection there was nothing to worry about. Only those dedicated followers like myself can understand the torture of watching the finer points and ups and downs of the game! For those who do not know – we WON the game and the series against the World No 1 team India.

Monday 3rd Sept., my brother’s birthday, and more beautiful weather for our early morning walk at Ste. Maxime. A delightful small town, large enough to have plenty of shopping and industrial opportunities and a fantastic array of beaches and views across the St Tropez Bay.

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We nearly came back without stopping in the traffic – those who live and drive here know that is somewhere near a record journey!  Our 3 mile walks have been enjoyed every day since our arrival. Age is no barrier – not yet anyway.

Regular readers will remember our annual competitions, for example the best boat names, the best Pains aux Raisins, the most expensive cups of tea, most confusing road signs, etc

Five euros a cup here – nice view though

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nauti buoyBoat name winner

Joint winner of pain aux raisins contest from Spar Bakery, Gigaro.

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Spar has the added attraction of using paper bags rather than plastic so please support them!

This year’s competition still under discussion.

It’s Wed 6th September and another beautiful day. The main events this week in France and La rentree and Le Vendange. The first refers to the return to school for the start of another academic year. All schools here in France go back on the same day and the term rentree is everywhere advertising everything from school clothes, stationery, travel advice, etc., and the newspapers are full of statistics as to the exact number of registrations, new students, and, particularly this year, the number who have opted for private education. This last number has risen by 9.5% which will doubtless, and probably unfairly, be attributed to Macron!

 

 

Le vendange is the annual grape harvest – an important event in most parts of France. Everywhere around here are tractors pulling trailers piled high with grapes, usually on their way to cooperatives for processing. Of course many of the bigger vineyards use machines to harvest.

It’s  time for the Cavalaire jazz Festival  which we have attended for the last 9 years.  jazz2018

Four days of indoor and outdoor concerts of a very high standard by well known jazz musicians, and most of them are free. The first was an excellent performance by the Leila Duclos Trio – Leila being guitar playing singer, her father a very accomplished solo guitarist, and a double bass. It was Jazz in manouche style, originally gypsy and revived by Django Reinhardt in the 1950’s. They played and sang for an hour and 45 minutes without a break – all outdoors in the beautiful surroundings in the port of Cavalaire :-

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Friday 7th September we set off for our usual morning walk before it got to hot and then tackled cleaning the gutters and part of the roof of pine needles and other clutter. After lunch and a siesta it was time for more music. 5.00 pm on the esplanade by the port was an excellent singer and backing group of the highest quality – Trio Bergin – an absorbing hour and three-quarters and such stamina in the heat. After a quick bite at the Pizzaiola it’s time for the evening concert in the Salle des Fetes. pierre yves plat Turned out to be the icing on the cake with a fantastic performance by Pierre Yves Plat, a well-known piano virtuoso, who specialises in alternative arrangements of classical music and turns them into Jazz, Ragtime or Boogie Woogie in a very clever way. French evening concerts always start late – the advertised time was 9 pm – in reality it was 9.15 even before the introductory speeches. Consequently, after a few encores, including a surprise appearance of the Trio Bergin to join Pierre Yves for two impromptu items, it finished at 11.45pm. Home after midnight.

Want to sample a short example of one of the pieces he played?  Go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G29H8fc2L5E

As I write on Saturday 8th Sept. I’m seated in front of the air conditioner as it is very hot for September even for here. Late lunch and then it’s off to another outdoor event- a small jazz ensemble featuring a well known saxophonist. More tomorrow.

Sunday 9th September. Jazz ensemble very good but a little raucous and noisy for my liking – very popular, it would seem, by the standing ovation with nearly everyone else. Extremely good pianist yet again.

My birthday today – age not admitted but in French it begins with soixante! Greetings from all over the world thanks to the latest technological devices – 50 or more Facebook messages, 5 whats app messages, 15 likes of a family photo of my daughters greeting, FaceTime from Mumbai,  a fantastic present from my dear wife of a Bose Sound Touch 20, a nice bottle of Bordeaux from the owner of that 22 year old wheelbarrow featured earlier in the blog, a BBQ apron, and 5 old fashioned birthday cards.

Started day with our usual morning walk, this time to Port Grimaud and along the beach. Then breakfast at our favourite cafe in the village. IMG_0068 (1)It was market day so plenty to see and hear. Straight from there to Grand Frais to get scallops for our evening BBQ and back home to wallow in all the messages on the internet. Late lunch and a swim in the pool which takes a long time, not that we do a record number of lengths, but we always meet a few other friends and most of the time is spent talking – such is the beauty of life here. Scallops and black pudding (courtesy of TJ!) on the BBQ , nice veggies and cheese, washed down with suitable rose coloured liquid. Excellent day.cec0aade-66c2-43f3-92e6-cd6bfe947e74

After all the celebrations it is down to earth on Monday morning September 10th and time for a little property maintenance. We had partly cleaned the gutters leaving the high and difficult bits for another day – today as it happens. With Jean holding the ladder and the neighbours looking on fearing the worst, at the same time pointing out the bits I had missed, the job got done. There was then an added bonus. The 22 year old wheelbarrow and its proud owner turned up again to tidy up the wall after the plumber had been the other day.

The next job was the patio, and after removing all the furniture BBQ etc Jean scrubbed the stained parts and then we hosed it down. That left only the tidying up of all the pine needles from the guttering and roof, as we smugly sat down to a cup of tea, and admiring our handiwork.

 

Our reward for such a hard day was a dinner party at our friend Trevor – excellent cuisine and wine – who then produced a birthday cake for me with candles, well 3 of them anyway!

 

We enjoy travelling on buses here and so Tuesday 11th September saw us on the 7803 to Le Lavendou for a walk along the coast.

 

It got up to 30 degrees and not much shade, but the scenery was superb and we found a restaurant table in the shade for a well earned sandwich. The 7801 duly shipped us home. Bus journeys cost 3 euros regardless of the distance so a good value trip.

Wednesday 12th September. Left fairly early for our usual walk, this time at Port Cogolin, followed by a swim in the sea. We need some replacement gas bottles which on John’s recommendation we obtained on the way home. Asked politely in my best French and the lady replied “That’ll be thirty nine ninety five luv” – turned out to be from near Birmingham and obviously, after 12 years here, could eeasily spot a phoney  french accent!! Excellent service and shall certainly use them from now on.

Wed. evening was a special Horse Racing evening in memory of our good friend Christine Morris, who died recently, and to raise money for Cancer Research. Almost everyone here attended and a profit of over £500 was the result of a well organised and fun filled evening. The line -up for two of the races :-

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Thursday 13th September st aygulf2

A trip to St Aygulf, about 30 K eastwards for a coastal walk and some time on the beach which is one of the nicest in the area. The sea was warm and great for swimming. The bonus was very little traffic both ways.

We had been looking forward to our birthday meal at Les Sarments and we weren’t disappointed. In the company of John and Gill Oxford we had a great evening and possibly the best food yet. Their new website is worth a visit as  is, of course, the restaurant itself on  https://www.restaurant-les-sarments.com/ Charming  provencal dining room

Friday 13th September. Leisurely start as we have a busy day of social activities. Good morning to catch up on jobs – tidied up garden and swept up all the pine needles, watered plants, topped up all the bird feeders, tightened toilet seat (again),  and then got ready for a lunchtime cocktail party to celebrate the birthday of our neighbour Willy.  2  hours of champagne and nibbles flew by mostly in French, so home to rest the brain for the evening.

 

Managed a swim in the pool and a walk before welcoming Chris and Trevor for a BBQ of Scallops and Black Pudding together with Jean’s lovely veggies and rice, and washed down with suitable local produce! It was so enjoyable we forgot to take a picture.

Saturday 15th September is the day of the Fancy Dress Party – this year’s theme being “RED”. 41721232_10155571613871426_8157532600492097536_n (1)

Let’s hope Jean enjoys it as much as last year’s party photo shows.

Went for our usual 3 mile  walk at Port Cogolin and then had a couple of hours on the beach, the highlight of which were shoals of small fish jumping out of the water near to the shore. Great beach for swimming for humans as well – and very warm.

 

Dressed in our England football outfits, we arrived about 7 and spent a wonderful evening at the Thorpe’s Red Party.

 

The last one is a selfie as we haven’t yet been able to obtain the official photo. Brian and Pattie, the hosts, are top left. Brian and Anne Bowlt in the middle and our neighbours Stuart and Lesley on the right. Some of our French and Belgian neighbours were there so we had plenty of opportunities to practice our French conversation, as did they with their English. IMG_0700Patty and Brian are fantastic hosts, and the decorations, including the red carpet, fully stocked bar and some lovely food were appreciated by us all.

We left the party fairly early (10.45) so we were up and about on Sunday 16th September to walk to Croix Valmer and back. Sunday is market day so it was busy, but we had pain aux raisons for a snack and we both agreed were among the best we have had, so much so, we have awarded them a retrospective joint first place in last year’s competition. This photo, in the village, shows some plumbago in the background which  grows so well everywhere here.                                                        IMG_0106

Swim in pool and dinner out on the balcony completed our day and an early night in preparation for our early walk in the morning.

Monday 17th September and we’re up at 6.30 to get ready for an eight o clock start with Keith and Barbara and their dog Zaff.  A reasonably cool morning (19) for this outing, eagerly anticipated for several months, to go to the top of the hills opposite Chenes and continue along the ridge to Gassin. It was surprisingly rough ground and when the footpath finally disappeared altogether, we realised that that we had come the wrong way. I have to say that Barbara said at some stage “We should have turned left there” and as the going got steeper and more difficult, we rapidly realised that she was right. There was no turning back as it would have been more dangerous downhill, so we ploughed on to the top.

After a couple of false trails, and much to our relief, we eventually found an established footpath along the ridge which led us to Gassin and a much needed, if rather expensive, cup of tea. We returned via the road and an ‘official’ trail, feeling a sense of great achievement – 4 hours, and according to our electronic devices 6 miles and 16,500 steps.

 

There were some interesting things to see on the way – the scenic views across the valley,  aerial  view of the hospital and Chenes in behind, hilly outskirts of La Croix Valmer, a huge mansion in enormous well-protected grounds reputed to belong to the Putin family,  and the old cemetery at Gassin.

 

Pictures showing the entrance to the Russian mansion, and at the visitor centre in Gassin. (click to enlarge)

I am sure it gets thousands of visitors but very few, if any, would have arrived using the same route.

A fairly quiet day followed and  in the evening we had a lovely meal chez Lyn Challis (fellow St Austell resident and our raison d’etre here at Chenes) with the Bowlts (scouts and choir Gosforth Parish Church many moons ago), Trevor Jones and Lyn’s sister in law Frankie.

Tuesday September 18, we decided to delay our walk and do jobs around the garden and clean the car – probably more strenuous, but necessary! Whilst cleaning the car, which we only picked up the day we left UK, I noticed the absence of dust-caps from all the tyres. Either the garage forgot to replace them after checking the tyre pressures (most likely), or there is a souvenir collector at work (hmmm..). Good test of our French to go and buy some new ones!!

More gardening followed by swim in pool and a beach walk at Debarquement. Another BBQ on the balcony to finish the day.

Wednesday September 19. Off to Gigaro for walk and beach to find amazing lack of visitors, parking anywhere (still not free despite the absence of lifeguards) and beach nearly deserted –  the benefits of coming here off season, as well as the very warm sea.

 

You may wonder why, in the middle of this paradise with the beautiful scenery and beaches, there are pictures of waste bins. Well the French have a great attitude to recycling and are encouraged to do it by their system. All the recycling goes into the same bin and the authorities sort it out (by machine!). By comparison in Uk (or certainly in Cornwall) we have to separate it into 3 different containers or bags, which is dirty, time consuming and if in a hurry…

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Whilst on a similar theme, we enjoyed our pain aux raisins from the Spar bakery (joint winners of the medaille d’or last year) and as previously pointed out they use paper bags – no plastic in sight. I feel a crusade coming on!

Our little spot on Gigaro beach with plenty of space.

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At this time of year,  as the Oleanders fade, the Plumbagos are fantastic everywhere and this is a picture of one in our neighbour’s garden. He lives here all the time and used to be a florist. The blue matches the sky. Today is seriously hot  for September – 30 deg coming back from the beach at 11.30.IMG_0140

 

 

 

 

The evening was time for the ‘Round the Houses’ safari for which we provided a main course. Table set and off we go to Rob and Pauline’s for starter, back home for mains, Patty and Brian’s for dessert and cheese. Definitely not an early night.

 

 

Thursday 20th September we went off for a walk at Port Cogolin to shake off my feathers, although Jean had shown her usual restraint and led the way. Lovely beach and sea and almost deserted. Very hot today – on my neighbour’s thermometer! Was in the shade and the reflection is from the window.willy temp

 

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Fairly lazy afternoon – bit of housework and gardening, before getting the glad rags on to go to Ramatuelle with the Bowlts.

calzoniThe Vesuvio Italian restaurant was very good and we all had the house speciality – Pizza folded in half with an egg in the middle. Resembled a large Cornish Pasty and quite delicious. Very friendly staff. Had good chat about the old days in the scouts and the choir at Gosforth Parish Church

 

It’s Friday 21st September and we’re off to St Tropez on the boat from Port Cogolin. Great way to enjoy the famous coastline and avoiding the traffic.

On arrival we headed for the coastal footpath along past the famous cemetery reputed to have a 10 year waiting list. Beautiful views but rather hot. It was 30 deg when we returned to the harbour. Had our usual pain aux raisins (good but not in the first 3 in last year’s contest). Noticed the price of ice cream on the famous front – 3.90 euros for 1 boule. Waiting for the return boat spotted a whimbrel (like a curlew but smaller) in the rocks.

Back home and now sitting under air conditioner!

Finished the day with a great soiree at the Benoits, our neighbours , with Willy and Annie, Yves and Collette, Jose and Arlette and the two of us. Beautiful  food and lots of interesting topics of conversation in French, to which we were glad to be able to contribute.

Regular readers will realise that I haven’t mentioned the automatic watering system for a while. Well, the fact is, I have removed it, as we are here to water with the hosepipe and it is getting too old with leaks and faulty joints. Next year? Who knows. I’ve certainly got more time  to do other things without it!!

Saturday 22nd September and our last full day.  Started as usual with a 3 mile walk to Cavalaire Port from  Dauphin Plage. IMG_0294

 

Seriously hot again today – due to be 33 deg. Now to put everything to bed and start packing for a 9am departure tomorrow.

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