Our New French House …Vers

BLOG ON!
I see to my shame that the last blog I wrote was almost a year ago ,which is just not good enough!  But my excuse is that we have been VERY busy with the French fantasy ,as you will discover if you read on.
Not long after I wrote the last blog we had a booking for a fortnight from an American couple . So we decided to go to Italy to visit part of Janelle’s past and to buy some Amarone ,our very favourite wine.

ITALY
Our base for the wine part of the trip was a winery/agriturismo near Verona called Massimego.I have blogged about it previously. It’s about a 7 hour drive from the house ,through the 16 k Mont Blanc Tunnel and then via Turin and near Verona Camilla,the owner of Massimego was elsewhere preparing for her marriage that weekend. Heide is the accommodation manager and she installed us in a lovely room( they are all lovely). I asked for her advice on wine buying. She said “that’s easy – go to the Iso Tosana supermarket in Vago. The range and prices are amazing!” So we did. And she was right. A fantastic range at rock bottom prices. But more amazing was the rest of the supermarket – absolutely huge and really busy. The top end supermarkets in Europe just seem to get better and better. The sad effect of that is that many small businesses in villages ,such as butchers ,are going broke and the villages are dying. There’s no work for young fpeople ,so they leave their villages for the cities or they migrate- if they can. It’s very very sad.
Our other ambition on this trip was to return to a restaurant in the hills near Massimego where they do a great fiorentina steak. I love cooking with fire and wanted to have another look at how they cook the fiorentina. In Italy they use a variety of beef called chianina and cook it over coals. Fiorentina steaks are huge and intended for sharing. At our restaurant they have a massive piece of beef on a block in the kitchen and cut it to order. It is placed on a rack about 2 inches ( I still think in inches. Sorry!) off the floor of a fireplace and hot coals are raked under it. The localised heat is obviously intense .After about 15 minutes the meat is turned over and some fresh coals added. When it is judged to be done enough it is rested at the side of the fireplace and served. It is served rare and is marvellous!
We then spent a few days at Janelle’s favourite place- Badia in Coltibuono ,in Tuscany ,not far from Siena. It’s a 13 th century monastery in extensive and very beautiful grounds. Janelle did acooking course there some years ago . We love it.

MEANWHILE,BACK IN FRANCE
Then a return to our French House where our guests were getting ready to leave. To cut a long story short they asked if the house might be for sale and we agreed a deal which included most of the contents.
We agreed to a settlement early in december.  Someone had told us that there was a house for sale in the village ,about a hundred metres away. We looked at it and thought we could make it nice ,but with a fair bit of work and expense.
But then—
Close readers of the blog will recall that in my blog of a year ago I mentioned a cafe in a nearby village called Vers ( full name Vers Pont du Gard). In passing I said how much we liked Vers and that we could live there. Well ,that’s what has happened!
Here’s how. Vers is only about 10 minutes drive from Sanilhac. It’s just off the main road to Avignon. We drove through one morning and the La Grange cafe was open. We went in for a coffee and met Amy ,who is one of the two owners. Amy is originally from the USA. She’s a winemaker and her winery is in the middle of the village, next to the cafe. La Grange seats about 30 indoors. I noticed a lady sitting at another table on her own peering at her laptop . I asked her if she was Amy’s mum. She wasn’t – her name was Katherine, she was from Canada and had a house in the village and would we like to come around for a drink. So we did and were joined by a couple of her village friends ,including a charming young man named Daniel and his very elderly greyhound ,George . Daniel showed us the house he was restoring in the village.Just beautiful. Everyone spoke really highly of the village ,which is very much alive. It has a post office ,tabac,pharmacy ,doctor ,dentist ,two cafes,hairdressers ,very good boulangerie and a weekly market. We saw Daniel subsequently and he said that he thought we should look at a house that he had just seen in the village which was for sale. By this stage our trip was rapidly coming to an end but Daniel was quite insistant. So on the day before we came back to Oz we went to Vers and knocked on the gate. The owners ,a delightful English couple were about to go out ,but agreed to give us a quick look. We loved it! It’s quirky and different.
It was more than we could afford ,but as the man said (I think it was Henry Ford) nothing succeeds like persistence. After a lot of to- ing and fro- ing we agreed a deal to buy it and with settlement on the same day as we would settle on Sanilhac. Then we got a bonus. The vendors said that they would prefer to leave behind most of the house contents if we didn’t mind! So ,we could move into a fully equipped house , keep what we wanted and discard what we didn’t. Perfect.

OUR ( NEW) FRENCH HOUSE
So ,what’s the new house like?
It’s a “maison du village”- stone ,semi- detached ,in a lovely village and just 3 k from World Heritage listed Pont du Gard. Like so many village houses it is hundreds of years old and no doubt not in its original form. We think we can see traces of at least two previous houses.Our vendors owned it for about 20 years. Before that it was owned by a couple from Paris and we are told that they carried out an extensive restoration.
It’s L shaped. The front of the house is one away from a corner. So there’s a house each side. Our house wraps around the corner house ,with our garage ( whoopee!) opening onto the side street. Garages in villages are few and far between and highly prized.
Like our previous house ,pretty well all you see from the street is a high stone wall and a pair of wooden gates. Through the gates is a courtyard with two doors in the facing stone wall. Behind these doors ,to our amazement ,are two mangers where animals were once kept. They are virtually untouched and still have stone troughs for food and water and stalls for the animals. Perfect cellars I thought when I first saw them.
To the right when you enter the courtyard is a set of steps leading up to a terrace across the front of the house. At the far side of the terrace is an area big enough for a table and chairs- just the spot for one’s evening cocktail ,looking across village walls and roofs. The railing of the terrace has been laced with a beautiful and bounteous grape vine.
Off the terrace is the front door which leads into the dining room. Welcome to our new home!
The house faces south and the windows are comparatively large ,so most of the rooms are light. Off the dining room is the lounge ,the kitchen and a set of stairs leading to the bedrooms upstairs. The lounge and dining room are sort of one big room., so it feels quite open and roomy. The lounge has a really beautiful old fireplace and beside it a “parterre” where the hot water and stockpot would have sat. The floors are tiled. The house is centrally heated.
Off the dining room is the kitchen. It isn’t huge ,but it works well and we think is very attractive ,with its provencal furniture.
There are two doors off the kitchen. One takes you outside to a courtyard. The other leads to a bathroom / laundry. Very convenient compared to our previous house ,where the bathrooms were upstairs. The courtyard puzzles me ,because it is one storey above ground level. Why?
Anyway,resuming the tour ,we walk through the courtyard and up a few steps to a wonderful outdoor room. The outdoor room has a huge old fireplace ( for cooking those fiorentinas). We’re told that this area is great in summer. It looks back at the courtyard and the stone walls of the house. It is covered and stays cool . Lovely old tiled floor. Off the outdoor room on one side is a bedroom which Janelle and I have appropriated. There is a room above our bedroom which is not used.To access it at the moment you need to climb a ladder. We’re a touch beyond that ,but it would be great for kids ,or storage.
On the far side of the outdoor room is a doorway beyond which is a walkway to a small terrace onthe far side of which is a room above the garage. It’s an old granary with a big opening onto the side street through which bags of grain would have been winched. It could be a terrific one room apartment. Parallel to the walkway is a staircase down to the garage level. On this level is the garage ,a workshop area and two huge vaulted stone cellars ! Every boy’s dream!
But let’s return to the dining room. Off it is a set of stairs which lead to two upstairs bedrooms , a bathroom and a very private terrace ,which overlooks the courtyard. The bedrooms are generous and overlook the front of the house and the village.
That’s it! That’s our new French house , in our new village. Hope you enjoyed the tour. There are photos elsewhere on the site.

BUYING AND SELLING IN FRANCE
IT’s a bit different. But similar enough that you sort of know more or less what’s going on most of the time!
First of all ,all property transfers in France are handled by Notaires. There is no equivalent under our English common law legal system. They are partly agents of the French taxing authorities ,partly solicitors and partly conveyancers. It seems that you can’t just set up as a Notaire ,having passed your exams ,you have to buy one out. The Government is trying to change this ,but as you can imagine ,the existing Notaires are fighting the proposals tooth and nail. What Notaires do for the French Government is collect fees .The Notaire’s fees are about 8% of the selling price ,but most of this goes to the Government. There is a CGT if you resell for a profit. It’s 35% if you are a non resident. You can deduct from your gross profit the cost of i mprovements if you can produce invoices. But you don’t get a deduction for items you buy at say Ikea. It seems to be only for work done by artisans. If you keep a property more than 4 years the rate of CGT starts to abate on a sliding scale over about 20 years. But ,on the other hand , there is no stamp duty.
The big shock is the commissions charged by real estate agents ( immobiliers). 6% ! No ,you aren’t seeing things .I thought that I had mis heard when this rate was quoted. But had to struggle to get the rate down to 5%. The commission is paid by the vendor.
So what’s the process?
W hen you and the vendor agree a deal you sign a document outlining the terms .This is prepared by the agent and I think is non legally binding. Then the vendor commissions an ” expert’s” inspection and report .This can take a week or so. It seems to cost around $ 1000. Those that I have seen are abou t 30 pages long . Apart from zoning and rates and taxes the report covers such things as lead in the paint ,earthquake proneness , state of the wiring and plumbing . It is very comprehensive ,but it is in French.
The deal terms and the expert’s report are then sent to the Notaire , who drafts a contract ( compromis) .This can take a week or two. Bear in mind that while all this is happening noone is bound. So the compromis gets issued to the parties for signature. At this point the purchaser pays a deposit of 5 or 10% . Then there is a 10 day cooling off period! Then and only then the parties are committed. Needless to say ,the compromis is in French. You can get it translated for a fee by a translation service . Or you can rely on the professionalism and experience of your Notaire. This is what we have done . The final settlement ( l’acte) is usually three months after the signing of the compromis although we have had it take place after two months. For the settlement you can either attend the Notaire’s office or appoint the Notaire your attorney to carry out the settlement on your behalf. On settlement the Notaire gives you a document called an Attestation which certifies that you are the owner of the property. Your certificate from the French Government will be along in about 6 months!
Our bank in France has offered to lend us money ,but we haven’d needed to go down this path. I imagine that it would be interesting.

OUR PURCHASE AND SALE
went pretty smoothly. There was one little hiccup about three weeks before the settlements.
Jean,our vendor’s wife ,rang the Notaire to check on something .She was told by the Notaire’s assistant that they had decided to postpone the sale for a few weeks . They hadn’t bothered totell us this. The reason was that ,unknown to us ,not only were we buying the house in the village , but we were also acquiring a small plot of land about a kilometer away. I guess this might have been used once as a veggie garden. Anyway it seems that on transfer all these small plots have to be offered to a Government Dept. which has the right to acquire them ,but in reality seldom does. And their standard turnaround time is two months. But ,as this is France there is a way of expediting an answer- the payment of € 160. We did this and got a very quick “no” ,so the settlement could proceed on time. We never got to the bottom of why the offer to sell the plot wasn’t made as soon as the compromis was signed. Just a series of shrugs and headshakes. Quite a bit of that goes on in France. If I had had the compromis translated I would heve seen that we were buying two bits of real estate and probably asked about it. So there you go.Now that We are not only house owners ,but property owners I like to be addressed as Le Patron .

To be continued…….

Le Blog April 2016

On 22 april, after all the usual pre departure kerfuffle, we headed for La Belle France again, this time for a two month stay.
Very sad to be leaving our animals, but our friend Fred is moving into the house while we are away, so I suspect that we will be missed rather less than we will miss them.  As usual we are flying Cathay Pacific. It works really well for us because there is a TGV station at Terminal 2 at Charles De Gaulle, about a 5 minute walk from the Cathay baggage pick up.  No obvious increase in security from our last visit – we saw a couple of patrols of young soldiers. Immigration was no different to the way it usually is — the Officer talking to his colleage about football or girls and paying very little attention to us.
After collecting our luggage we wandered around to the TGV station within the terminal. Outside, it was grey ,cloudy and ,judging by the icy blast coming through the exit doors, cold.
We had an hour to kill so installed ourselves in a cafe and started our adjustment to French coffee.  I don’t know why, but it just isn’t up to Aussie standard. And cappuccino is just awful- they universally seem to use UHT milk. Ugh!!
It’s interesting how the smallest things can spoil your positive feelings. Here we were in France after a long but pleasant trip. Through immigration. On time for our train. Having a not too bad coffee. Time for a pee, I thought. So I wandered over to the toilets to be accosted by a man behind a desk at the entrance demanding the equivalent of one Aussie dollar for the use of the facilities. I had no French money in my pocket, so just forged on and did what I had to do. I was screamed at on the way in, during and on the way out!  Welcome to France!
In due course the train arrived. The TGV stations have a great system where there are alphabetical signs spaced along the platforms and there are illuminated signs showing which carriage is going to stop adjacent to which alphabetical sign. So you get assembled in the right spot for your carriage. Then another aspect of France makes itself manifest – the French don’t queue and don’t apologise. So getting on is an absolute shitfight, particularly with luggage. And once on, there is really not enough space for luggage.
Once under way,though, the journey is magic!  Quiet, comfortable and quick.
We had booked a taxi from Avignon and arrived at our beautiful house about 11.30 pm. Everything seemed to be in good order so we went straight to bed and slept very well.
Next morning we headed back into Avignon for an antique fair at the Parc des Expositions. These fairs are basically for the Trade, although anyone can attend it seems. There are literally thousands of vendors. They start at 8 am and go to 1pm. The red wine and pate and baguettes seem to appear at a lot of the stalls about 10.30. By mid day a lot of the vendors are quite pissed. Then, it being mid day they stop for lunch! The fair finishes at 1, so it pays to be early. These fairs are marvellous . There is a shipping company we have used to get stuff picked up and back to Oz called EDET International.
If you Google them there is a list of Fairs – dates and locations. If you think you might want to avail yourself of their services, ring Head Office and speak to Pascal. His English is better than yours!
Weeks one and two have flown! We have done most of the settling back in things , like car servicing , visits to nurseries and markets to buy plants , recommissioning the watering system, trying to buy some dry wood for our fires.
The wood thing is proving to be a bit of a problem. The last lot of wood we got has turned out to be still too wet to burn well and we are very low on the good stuff. The house has outdoor and indoor fireplaces and we love to sit in front of a fire at night. We have asked Celine ,our new manager , to source some ,but no result so far. We were recommended to a wood yard near Avignon, but their minimum delivery to our village is twice what we can cope with. We’ll keep trying.
The food available at the markets ,supermarkets and specialty shops is just amazing to us — the quality is so high and the prices so reasonable. Au moment it’s asparagus and strawberries. The biggest, sweetest “clery” strawberries from Carpentras are about $6 a big punnet. The asparagus is easily the biggest and best we have ever had.
So we haven’t been out much. Janelle has been using what’s fresh to make soups — tomato, artichoke, asparagus.  Sublime!  She has been making savoury tarts using the local sweet onions which don’t exist at home.  And other tarts using the fantastic local, picked ripe, tomatoes and anchovies. Heaven on a stick.
Anyone who wants a recipe for anything need only ask.

As a known carnivore ,I’m in my element — rabbit, quail, spatchcock, huge veal chops, veal kidneys have all been on the menu since we arrived.
There is heaps of fish available and it’s about to get a workout.
We’ve also been spending a bit of time whipping the jardin back into shape. I find trimming the boxes with nail scissors very therapeutic. We trimmed some of our trees and like good little Vegemites ,took the trimmings down to the Transfer Station . Closed for lunch 11.45-2. So we went to lunch!
Public hols. are all the rage in France in May — there are five. May1 of course . This week, thursday was a holiday and so is monday. So what does a French worker do? Take the Friday as well , of course! Uzes has been like a zoo.  So many people and so much traffic.  And a huge market on saturday!
After a number of false starts we have visited a cafe (“la Grange”) attached to a winery (“la Gramiere”) in the nearby village of Vers. It’s run by two girls ,one fron the U.S. And the other from South Africa ,both of whom have been in France for around 15 years. Simple but good. And Vers is lovely.  We could easily live there.
At our house we are experiencing the joy of watching a couple of families of swallows getting themselves set up under our eaves for summer.
Next week we plan a trip to Marseilles so Janelle can have a look at the new season’s fashions in Linen. Also lunch at Le Tracteur, one of our absolute favourites.
Stay tuned!

Orange !

After a considerable absence, mainly due to indolence, I’m getting back in the saddle and blogging on!
In a bit under 3 weeks we are heading back to France for a while and I have all sorts of good intentions about regular blogs.  But to start I just have to report our latest problems with – you guessed it- Orange ! Arghhhh!
Orange Strikes Again!
Readers of this blog will recall the struggle we had getting hooked up by Orange when we bought our house in Sanilhac.  We still have problems there- the WIFI only works in about a quarter of the house, even with so – called boosters – and there is no mobile reception. To use the mobile you have to go into the street!  Life in the fast lane in France.  Blame the thick walls.
About a year ago we bought an apartment in Uzes from a friend.  Seemed a good idea at the time.  Having been through it all when we bought the house we thought the communications side of things would be a breeze. Wrong!
First of all, you can’t transfer WIFI.  You have to cancel the old one and start again.  This involves the best part of an hour on the phone and if you don’t speak French, don’t even think about it.
The WIFI comes over the telephone line, as it does here, but Orange takes 2 weeks to flick the switch.  You also get a thing called a Livebox, which we call a router I think.  Instead of sending it to your address, Orange insists on sending it to a tobacconist’s shop where you go to collect it.  You then install it yourself.  The same goes for the pay TV hardware.
Being veterans of all this we sort of knew what to do so we collected the hardware in a timely manner and with our manager Loesje’s help we got it installed.  Sure enough, in a fortnight the WIFI went live and we were on the air,or maybe on a cloud?
We were back in France for Xmas (foie gras, roast goose and sago plum pudding) and spent a couple of nights at the apartment.  We noticed that the WIFI and pay TV weren’t working.  Loesje said she thought it was a damaged plug.  We asked her to get it fixed. Little did we know………
It turned out that buying the apartment left us with no money, so we decided to put it on the market in December.  As luck would have it we found a buyer very quickly.  Settlement was fixed for march.
When the settlement was imminent we were told that the pay TV and WIFI were still not working.  A boffin was engaged.  He said that there was no problem in the apartment, the problem was, you guessed it, no signals from Orange.  The boffin spent an hour on the phone to Orange who said that they had no record of the apartment or of our connection despite:
♦ us having an Orange issued livebox and set top box which have serial numbers
♦ us having money deducted from our French bank account monthly for the pay TV
♦ WiFi and pay TV both being connected and working earlier in the year
Loesje took the hardware to the Orange shop in nearby Nimes and explained the problem.  She got the good old Gallic shrug!  Not our problem.
It’s pretty unbelievable. We are told that there is nothing we can do.
So the new owner now has to run the gauntlet with Orange or one of its competitors like Free ( which isn’t , but who cares)

Welcome to France

Back in our beautiful house

John’s blog continues……
.
It was late morning under a concrete sky when I drove down Rue Droite and stopped outside our gate. Walking into the courtyard and then the house was like putting on an old shoe — everything familiar and welcoming. Our stuff. This is why we own and don’t just rent somewhere. A quick look around indicated that the house had been really well respected by our guests during the year. This confirms our theory that if you demonstrate trust in people they will reciprocate. A couple of guests had left little presents for us , which was lovely , as were the comments in the Visitors’ Book.

Off to the Boulangerie for a baguette where I was greeted as though I hadn’t been away for nearly six months.
Loesje and her lovely dog Izzy came around for a coffee and gossip. The two main items were that Izzy has been cast in a movie to be made next year and the incredible amount of damage caused by recent storms. Sanilhac, like lots of French villages, is on top of a hill. There are three roads accessing it. Two were washed away. They have been made passable but not yet properly repaired. Which brings to mind the considerable difference between the way such things as road maintenance are conducted in France and in our Nanny State. The French approach is to park a truck ( camion ) ,put out a sign behind the truck and start working. No people with flags and signs, just actual workers. Refreshing .
I then caught up with my mate Reg who came with us when we bought our house and who himself bought an apartment in Uzes. Reg has decided that he wants to spend more time in beautiful Uzes and wants a bigger apartment, ideally with a terrace and a garage. Not easy.
After a rainy night the day dawned (at about 8 am) fairly miserable. But it was a Wednesday, so into the Uzes market. The market was in winter mode ,so quite small and not too busy.

I stocked up on some charcuterie, poultry – magnificent compared to what is available in Oz, winter veggies and some absolutely beautiful flowers (which ended up lasting for 3 weeks!).
I tried for some green prawns so I could cook them with a creole rub which was left as a present but there were none. The French really like their seafood. The seafood market stalls are always busy and with great variety.. They are required to label their produce with its place of origin, but it seems pretty useless when they can say ” equator ” as a place of origin? Seafood in France is dearer than it is in Oz, sometimes quite a bit dearer. For example the huge prawns called ‘gambas’ can be over $80 per kg. Ouch!
After the market I generally wander along busy Rue Republic, past M.Martinelli’s excellent butchery to Ma Cantine for a coffee. As I think I have blogged earlier, Ma Cantine is owned and operated by the unflappable and always pleasant Thierry and his lovely wife (and chef) Fabienne, lovely warm people and soooo helpful. They have a small menu of good, simple, traditional dishes. We are suckers for the oeufs mayonnaise, with house made mayo. 5 euros! After my coffee and a six month catchup a brief walk around Uzes.
A lot of shops closed as their owners holiday after the Season. Absolutely delighted to see that our Bete noir, the Orange shop, has closed down — there is a God!
Having discovered that I had left all my medication for the trip in the mini bar in the hotel room in Lyon, I visted a pharmacy in Uzes with my sad tale. “No problem” said the pharmacist, how much do you want?”. No prescription . No problem.
A meandering drive back to the house through vineyards and forests blazing with intense autumn colours
I’m ashamed to say I had to get Loesje around to show me once more how to work the TV and the dreaded Orange Livebox. Then I remembered that I had set it all down in great detail in the Book of the House! Getting old — don’t you love it!
A few minor repairs and then a roaring fire and some local wine to welcome myself back to our second home. There was a huge storm overnight. The loudest thunder I have heard and bouts of torrential rain. Next morning Loesje told me that overnight three people had drowned and a baby was missing. Seeing the aftermath of this and the previous storms really brings home the fact that we really have a very precarious hold on this Planet.
Janelle was not due to arrive for another week or so. Reg and I spent time looking at apartments and looking for cars to buy, having decided we were sick of dealing with the car hire companies.
We saw a number of apartments in Uzes which led me to reach two major conclusions. The first is just how misleading real estate photography and descriptions can be. The second is what bad taste some people have. But I already knew both those things. This just rammed it home!
Then we were shown THE ONE. At least I thought it was, but Reg is much more considered than moi.
We were shown it by Phillipe, the owner of Agence de Passage in Uzes. He is very tall and gentle and gentlemanly. And you feel that you can trust him. Phillipe and his wife are both lawyers from Burgundy who decided on a sea change about 5 years ago. They moved south with their small daughter and started the agency. They speak pretty good English and are very correct in the conduct of their business. And quite delightful people.
It’s a 2 bedroom apartment in the middle of Uzes. It has been really carefully and tastefully renovated over 10 years by the owners with the old features preserved. It has a really great, private terrace on the roof which has views across to two of Uzes’ famous old towers and it faces south. Bliss!
While Reg was pondering the purchase Janelle arrived, went through the apartment and Reg was dead meat, especially after we told him we would buy his existing apartment! He made his offer after receiving sage advice from Phillipe and after the usual to’ing and fro’ing a deal was struck. We all went around to the new apartment the next day with champagne and flowers and Reg was made!
So now it was off to the Notaire to have the paperwork done. We decided to move on from the Notaire we used to buy our house and to instead use the Notaire Reg had used for his purchase. And she was the person Phillipe said that he would have recommended to us. Notaires seem to have a pretty relaxed life in France. The first time she could squeeze us all in was in 10 days which wasn’t bad considering that she doesn’t work on Fridays or Mondays. But then neither do most French people, it seems.

So, we find ourselves having bought another piece of property in La Belle France. It’s a one bedroom apartment right in the middle of Uzes only 50 metres from the Place aux Herbes. It comprises a bedroom, bathroom, toilet, lounge/ dining room and kitchen. The rooms are large with high ceilings and huge French ( what else? ) windows onto the street. It is in great condition — we helped paint it after Reg bought it 2 years ago. We plan to furnish it and use it as a rental property. But again we will use high quality furniture and fittings and trust our guests.

In the next edition we’ll look at buying a used car in France–tres interesant !

Burgundy to Lyon and beyond

My burgundy tasting was at the office/ tasting room of Domaine Maurice Gavignet in Nuits St. George. I put the address into Tom Tom and wound up outside someone’s house . So I decided to do a bit of exploring on foot. I went round a corner and there it was , I thought. I went in and after a difficult conversation in French, figured out that this was a different Maurice Gavignet — my Maurice was next door.  Apparently something happened within the family many years ago ——. So I went next door where they were expecting me and tasted their range. After a tasting like this I like to take away sample bottles of the wines I have liked and try them at leisure and with food. It’s amazing how different they can then taste sometimes. Anyway they were reasonably priced for what they were and a couple were outstanding.  I’ll probably bring some to Oz next year.
Then onto the Autoroute for a 2 hour thrash down to Lyon. It all went swimmingly until I got to within about 5 k of Lyon where everything just stopped.  France really has very major traffic problems in it’s big cities and you need to allow time for this in your planning.  If you are not actually going into Lyon you can bypass it on the Autoroute. But if you are going into the centre or thereabouts it is a guaranteed problem. It took me nearly an hour to do the last 5 k. Admittedly it was peak hour.  I got to the hotel Carlton and was extremely pleased to hand the car over to the wonderfully named ” voitureist” (car parker ).  The hotel is good.  Staff very pleasant and obliging and the rooms large and well appointed. About an hour after I arrived my friend Nick rang and said he was on the Autoroute 5 ks away and would see me in about 15 minutes. ” No you won’t ” I said ” try an hour”. An hour later he arrived!
Now, the next bit is about an old car event ( and some eating and drinking ) . So you may want to skip it.
At this time last year we attended  a car show in Lyon called Eurexpo. It takes place at the exhibition centre which I guess is about 15 k from the centre of Lyon. It combines car club stands and exhibits, a giant swap meet, dealers offering old and classic cars for sale, model car dealers, artists, motoring clothing, stands selling anything the keen motorist or restorer might need ( or think he might need), the inevitable auction and of course a tribute to a Marque. This year it was Facel Vega.
If you have an old French car there is a club for you. And the clubs are very specialised. There’s one for the Matra Djet owner, or the Peugeot 202, or the Sampson etc etc. an awful lot of wine gets drunk on these stands as matters of deep moment are discussed and disputed.
Our technique is to find the Hispano Suiza club stand and to use that as a base and refueling stop . We then fan out to see as much of the incredible diversity on offer as we can in the time available.
The event starts on a Friday and runs through to Sunday. Entry is cheap. This year it was €13.  I flashed my Senior’s Card, but unfortunately no cigar.  Friday is the best day to go as it is the least crowded.
The Hisso stand is legendary for the lunches which are served to the fortunate 30 or 40 who get invited into the dining area within the stand. It is all orchestrated by Modeste, ably assisted by a willing and very able coterie of club members. I have discovered that the production of a magnum of a good red helps get an invitation. The tables are communal, the food, wine and conversation are outstanding and the hospitality extraordinary — it really comes from the heart.
After lunch can be a very dangerous time if you are thinking of buying something.
On the Friday night we went to one of Lyon’s oldest eateries, Brasserie Abe.  We went last year and just had to go back. It is the quintessential French brasserie; looks just as it would have done a century ago but a bit faded, busy, noisy, fantastic simple food at really reasonable prices and a good little wine list at very fair prices.  You can only do food of this quality and simplicity by utilising the best and freshest raw materials.  And it was a walk from our hotel.  It’s worth going to Lyon just to eat there. We went to our beds very happy after a totally pleasant day.
Next morning we summoned our cars up from wherever the hotel had them parked and set off for the Show. The last 4 k to the exhibition centre took over an hour! Next year we will use the tram.
We will now return to the general stuff.
About 3pm after another splendid lunch at the Hisso stand we returned to the cars and headed for the autoroute and the south. We were going to stay with very old friends Near Apt in a tiny village called Le Grand Clement.
Next day was Sunday and I remembered that in a village on the way home called Coustellet there was a well recommended Sunday market, so I dropped in. It was so good to be back in France and at a local market where things are local, fresh and seasonal. It is autumn, so the supply of veggies is quite limited and so is the fruit, except for apples of all kinds.  At the markets it is pretty easy to figure out who has the best offerings — the stalls with the queues. I did an initial stock up and headed for Sanilhac and our house, about an hour away.
Since I arrived in France the weather has been cold, overcast and wet and it was to stay this way pretty much , for the rest of the trip.

Normandy & Burgundy

I always imagined that Normandy was quite close to Paris and that it basically comprised lots of impossibly green and lush fields chock full of contented cows. The bits I saw weren’t like that. It is undulating, the fields don’t look unduly green or lush and I didn’t see many cows.  Maybe they were in their barns for the winter.  And it’s quite a few hundred kilometers from Paris.
Normandy is of course where the D Day landings took place and there are plenty of reminders of these. The first I saw was on the ring road outside Caen, which is the largest local town/city.  I was heading for the seaside village of Arromanches, famous for being the site of the man made harbour for the invasion. Huge concrete block things were towed across the Channel and flooded to form a breakwater. A lot of them are still in position, so you can see where the harbour was. Friends of ours from Melbourne have decided on a pretty radical seachange and have sold up and moved to Arromanches where they have bought a beautiful house and grounds which they are transforming into a B+ B.  Work has been more or less proceeding for about 6 months and the end of the tunnel is approaching – they hope!
They have had all the same problems we did. Tradesmen are good, but unreliable. They have been waiting 2 months for their builder to give them a quote to put a couple of bathrooms in the attic. He is at the house most days but the quote is just not forthcoming.  In France, it seems to me that tradesmen are either hairy, bearded and unkempt or they affect the swarthy, shaven everything but their faces look.  Whatever happened to normal?  Northern France then, seems not much different to the south in terms of getting stuff done.
Arromanches is a lovely little village, very busy in summer. It has a military museum and lots of souvenir shops and eateries.  Normandy and Brittany are renowned for their seafood. We went to a local restaurant, right on the water, and the seafood was great — so fresh.  And it makes such a difference with seafood .
The next morning I left Arromanches and headed for nearby Bayeux to cross another item off my bucket list — the Bayeux Tapestry.  I also planned to do a little shopping for local produce.
Bayeux is a beautiful town — lots of old stuff.  And it has clearly been well looked after and restored because of the Cathedral and the Tapestry. I’m a bit over churches and museums and historical relics — my feet and back hurt. But the Tapestry was a must.  And it is just amazing!  It is over 70 metres long and about a metre high. It is embroidered on linen and looks as though it was done very recently , not a thousand years ago. Well worth the visit.
Then onto my shopping mission — buying some old Calvados and some cider.  I achieved my objective at a bottle shop in old Bayeux.  Both are really something!  Maybe down the track I’ll bring some in to Oz .
Then a drive across France to overnight in Orleans en route to my Burgundy tasting the next day.
My route took me through Le Mans, where I stopped for a great lunch. Like most large French towns Le Mans is awful on the outskirts, but the old part is lovely. They call it progress.
In Orleans I was aiming to stay in a place on the river which the Michelin Guide said was very pleasant with a good restaurant. I rang from Le Mans but got no reply. This could have been , I thought , because they were at lunch.  So I decided to just arrive and hope for a room.
France is always bigger than I think and I didn’t get to Orleans until near dark. This was partly my fault because I elected to do some of my trip on a Route Nationale, not the autoroute. As soon as you do that your average speed just plummits. My rule of thumb is that you can’t average more than 60 Kph off the autoroute.  But it is usually prettier.
Anyway, I digress slightly. I arrived at the chosen hotel to find it closed for renovations.  Just up the road I saw another one which looked OK. I was weary, it was getting late, so I made the cardinal error of just checking in without doing any research. The room was tiny and the bathroom tinier — with disposable plastic cups. The one chair in the room was about to collapse. And the bed had obviously done an awful lot of miles. I cleaned up and went down to the bar for a relaxing drink. There was a table of business people in the bar volubly discussing reports and spreadsheets. So I went in for dinner.  I was greeted by an extremely faded and clearly bored old gentleman who sort of led me to a table and then went back to the entrance to the dining room to wait for the next victims. For the first time in my life I think I couldn’t find any wine I wanted to drink. I consulted the menu. Almost Ditto for the food. But I love sole and they had it . It was just dreadful. Stale and badly cooked. Not a good night.
Nuits_St_Georges_(France_-_Burgundy)Next morning I skipped breakfast at the hotel and went to a little cafe instead. Much better!
I drove cross country on the autoroute to the burgundy region, marvelling at how rich and productive France is agriculturally. I think that the French are really good farmers who really make the most of the rich counryside and benign climate. I arrived in Nuits-St-George (photo from Wikipedia) at lunchtime, as luck would have it and headed for a brasserie which Michelin said was an up and comer. And it was.  A terrific meal at a very good price.
Then on to my burgundy tasting——–

Arriving in France

As I’ve said before, if you are travelling from Oz Cathay Pacific offers a good solution. You leave home in the afternoon, have a 2 hour stopover in Hongkers and arrive in Paris at around 6 am at Terminal 2.  The same Terminal has a train station ,so you have about a 10 minute walk to catch your TGV to wherever you are going next, if it isn’t Paris it’s worth mentioning that the TGV network in europe is ever expanding and we think that it’s THE way to go .

However on this trip I am renting a car from Avis.  The latest car rental strategy seems to be to quote you an apparently low rental and then load you up with an additional daily rate (13euros) for full insurance with a low excess and GPS at another exorbitant daily rate–you can buy your own for about a hundred bucks. Many travel insurance packages cover up to €4000 excess, so it pays to check this out carefully.
Anyway, I wandered around and found the Avis stand. Car not ready ,would I like to wait with a glass of water?  I said that I would go and have some breakfast. So I went back upstairs to a place called ” Frenchies”.  Please wait to be served. I waited, got seated, and waited, and waited. Half empty, waiting staff wandering about, studiously avoiding eye contact.  And waited.  And walked out.
Welcome to France.
Next door was a Mackkas.  What’s a hungry, coffee deprived boy to do?  I went in it is automated!!  You go to a screen, attempt to identify and order what you want and then pay the screen. You then take your receipt to the counter and, you guessed it, wait!  Anyway the coffee was good.
Back to Avis. The car you ordered ( a Citroen ) isn’t available.  Would you like a Peugeot?  It has GPS. (See above ) . NO thank you to the extra 12€ a day. So they gave it to me anyway. A tiny victory .
So I went where they pointed me, found the car and oriented myself. The GPS was easy to program and the nice lady spoke to me in English. I really needed the GPS just to get out of the airport.  It is tres, tres complique indeed.  But with the help of the English lady I made it onto the road for Normandy, which goes around the outskirts of Paris.
Almost immediately the traffic stopped (5 lanes) and we sat.  A notice came up on the GPS saying multiple accidents next 6 miles, do you want to take an alternative route. I tapped the “yes ” option. It then told me there wasn’t one! So we inched along and I reflected on the trip.

  • Visit former Melbourne friends who have moved to France to set up a B+B in Arromanches on the Normandy coast.
  • Checking out the house after a season of guests have visited and carry out maintenance
  • Taste some wine in Bugundy for my wine importing venture
  • Buy stock for the new shop we are going to set up to sell French imports
  • Visit an old car market and general love in in Lyon and eat some fantastic Lyonnaise food
  • Help our mate Reg. look for a bigger and better apartment in Uzes
  • Look for a car to buy and leave here ,so we don’t have to deal with the car rental people any more

Back to reality.  We have hardly moved.  Everyone is very patient and accepting.  It takes me 3 hours to clear Paris.  After that it’s a doddle
Welcome to France

To be continued when my typing finger stops hurting.

Blog on!

John’s blog resumes after a very long layoff.
Janelle and I came over in april this year. I decided that I would keep a notebook with me at all times so that I would have lots of interesting materials for the blog including observations on the French way of life. From these notes and observations I would produce the blog about once a week , sitting in our delightful courtyard under the olive tree.
By the end of two weeks I was totally behind and my good intentions were in tatters!
So I thought I’ll do a deep and meaningful summary blog when I get home.
That didn’t happen either.
But in august I went to America to try and sell an old car ( successful ) and I did a blog nearly every day. So I’m quite conditioned  .I know that I just have to set time aside each day or two and just do it!

So here goes–

First a bit of general stuff before we get on to this trip.
This year has been our first full year of renting the house. We have had guests in the house for the best part of four months. They were either people we knew or people who saw our ad. On the VRBO site. We had one lot of guests from Air bnb. Never again.!
The house has been really well treated by our guests and for that we are very grateful.
We have a Visitor’s Book full of compliments ( except for one guest who didn’t like the swallows).  So our decision to rent and to trust people with our lovely things in the house has been vindicated , we think.
When we bought the house we opened a bank account with Credit Agricole, about which I have written. We get at least a letter a week from them in Australia– in French. This is despite the fact that they have a whole department in Nimes devoted to expats. Each time they communicate in French I ask them to do English. No response. But a couple of weeks ago we got something in English — a very carefully and cleverly worded letter asking us to provide some very personal and private information so that they could better advise us how to minimise our French taxes.  I was nearly overcome by their concern for our interests.  In English ,too!
Since we bought the house here I have been importing wine into Australia. I love the wines of the South. The flavours are quite familiar to our palates and the wines for the most part are very well priced. I have been importing them a pallet (56 dozen) at a time. Two of the wines are on the lists of two of Melbourne’s best restaurants , so we must be doing something right.
When we were last here Janelle got very excited by some linen dresses she found ,as well as some Belgian linen cloth which she wants to use to make cushions. From this has sprung the idea to set up a business in Australia called Our French House. There will be a shop at Bunyip and we will expand this site into an e- commerce site to sell what we bring in. We hope to have it up and running in the new year. Stay tuned.
Next year we already have a number of bookings. We are booked for 3 weeks in May, a week in July, 3 weeks in September, all of October and a week in November.
Having sold my beautiful Sunbeam in America I am looking to buy a car to keep in France. This should provide some interesting material for the blog

Quail Lodge & Pebble Beach

Quail Lodge

We exhibited the mighty Sunbeam at Quail Lodge today. It’s totally over the top. It runs sort of in opposition to Pebble Beach and cars shown at one are not accepted at the other.
It is pretty expensive to enter and very expensive to access. An admission ticket is over $500, but you do get free (?) food and drink.
A number of manufacturers have stands and there are lots of very shiny cars on display. Our section was prewar racing and sports cars , which didn’t mean anything really as there was a Silver Ghost and the most appalling LaFrance special. Peter Briggs was there with his beautiful K3 MG and won the class. Jim Hull and Tonya were there in their amazing Type 57 SC which has a body formed out of Electron and rivets. Peter Mullin had a Type 40 Fiacre. And there was a Type 46 trying to look like an Atalante.
Thr Quail didn’t really do it for us. Maybe we are a bit jaded after the last couple of weeks.
Next blog after PB on Sunday.

Pebble Beach

My second Pebble Beach in about 20 years. I  am struggling to make sense of it.–the effort , money and time that goes into this event which lasts less than a day.  There is huge sponsorship, the car companies have multi million dollar stands.  All the auction houses are there doing their thing. The public pays $300 for a general admission ticket.  All to see a hundred or so interesting and boring cars which by and large are a reflection of how much money their owners have.
The cars are displayed on the fairway of the PB Golf Club, so are dusty.  There is no shade.
 Competing cars are lined up from 5 am.  And the judging starts. The public get access from 10 am.  And there are many thousands.  It’s a bit like the Melbourne Cup — lots of couples looking as though they had stepped out of the Great Gatsby.  Lots of highly improbable breasts on conspicuous display.  Later in the day areas of the lawns strewn with empty Krug bottles.  A guy wandering around at lunchtime drinking Krug out of the bottle.
The Locals all take showing their cars very seriously.  On our Rally from Seattle it was the main topic of conversation.
For a chance at outright success– Best in Show , it seems you need to be a billionaire.  It was observed a number of times that the judging was quite political.  There has been pressure to award Best in Show to a post war car and yesterday it happened.  Best in Show went to a really lovely Ferrari.  But to me it could just as easily have gone to any one of 20 cars
The whole thing is pretty bizarre.  And a very long day.

Fitz

Pebble Beach Classic Rally Final Day

Final day and beyond

Well, we did it ! And in fine style in the mighty Sunbeam. Another rally where it has needed no mechanical attention at all.
I am writing this sitting in my complimentary folding chair ( two per entrant) on the lawn at Quail Lodge. We are surrounded by some fabulous cars and lots of free restaurants and bars. Lfie can be hell!
Now , winding back a bit , we had a rest day in the Sonoma Valley before our final day run down to Pebble Beach. Our event organiser, Al McEwan had a special treat for us– a visit to Arturo Keller’s collection at his winery.  As Al said, it’s a collection of the best of the best. There are about 200 cars in five buildings, one each for British, German, French, Italian and American cars. Each car is perfect. There is wonderful memorabilia. Strictly no photos.
The Bugatti line up comprised about half a dozen 57s in various forms, a Brescia, a 51 and a 37A with touring bodywork
One of Keller’s staff told me that fewer than 100 people a year get to see the cars. It does seem a shame to me that this astounding collection is reserved for the pleasure of one man, now well into his eighties. But, they are his and I guess he can do what he likes with them.  At least they are being loved and nurtured.
Our final dinner at the Kenwood Inn was the usual semi riotous affair, with Al and Sandy McEwan making very funny speeches.

Our final day was a drive to Pebble Beach over the Golden Gate Bridge, which was pretty special.  Al had worked out a route which minimised traffic and he had a final surprise for us– lunch at the home and car collection of Larry Carter.  Larry has about 60 cars, all immaculate. His passion is Ferraris and he has a dozen or so. The rest of the collection is idiosyncratic, just stuff he loves.  Lots of muscle cars and hotrods.
After lunch the caravan moved on to our Rally finish at the lodge at Pebble Beach.  More speeches and red wine and some goodbyes. We won an award for bon vivantism I think.
Then Reg and I had an adventure collecting our rental car and finding our apartment. But it all ended well.
You really have to be here to see what a huge event Pebble Beach has become. The traffic is chaotic, yesterday it took me an hour to drive the seven miles from Monterey to Quail Lodge.
The Organisation behind the event is really slick, the amount of corporate sponsorship is amazing.
Yesterday was the Pebble Beach Tour.  This is only open to cars which have done Al’s event from Seattle or which are entered in the PBConcours.  The latter get extra points in the Concours if they do the Tour.
We had to get up before 6 to get our to PB before the traffic got too terrible. The Tour started at 8 and was very slow. We did a lap at Laguna Seca where they were setting up for this weekend’s historic races and wound up in Carmel for lunch. The crowds were astounding! Thousands of people milling everywhere, lunch in the park with a string quartet serenading us. Then off to Quail Lodge to leave the Sunbeam overnight.
More to come.