Friday, 31 May 2013

Roll on June

Last day of May. Mostly the month has been a wash out. We've had what feels like monsoon quantities of rain dumped on our heads and for the most part it has been unpleasantly clammy and chilly. We've all moaned here in our corner of France and it hasn't been much different elsewhere in the country.

For our part we haven't bothered to pressure wash the terrace nor bring out the terrace furniture..... yet. There's been no point. We've had so little sun that grabbing a chair and sitting out front has been the most efficient way to take advantage of it. We admit it...we've had the heating May!!

Just to prove that horrible though May has been, we did have the very occasional bit of good weather, are some photos.

Lighter blue bearded iris
The bearded iris' have flowered in two shifts. These lighter blue ones came first earlier in the month when we had a few warm-ish days. Right now the darker royal purple-y ones are just beginning to open up, albeit verrrry slowly! 

yellow 'beard'
You can clearly see the 'beard' and the runway-like stripes which are there to entice the insects in.
Sunlight on the Etang de la ribaloche
Throughout May our butterfly lavender has done well, almost in defiance of the weather. It is almost a bit odd in a way to see it doing well as, for us, it is such a 'summer' flower.
Butterfly lavender outside the front door
However, whisper it quietly ... it seems as if all is about to improve. The word on the météo is that the weather is set to get better from Sunday onwards. Hurrah!! So roll on June!


PS Normal blogging may well bit a bit patchy in early June as I will be hospital for a few days to fix a hip problem. I won't be allowed to drive for about 4 weeks after the operation and while grounded will try very hard not to drive Niall completely round the bend.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Poitevin skyline

Last Monday work took me to Poitiers for the last teaching session of this semester. It was a balmy 21C and the sun, a rare visitor these days, shone!

Taking advantage, Niall came along took some photos of the Poiters skyline. Not far from where he took these, stands a huge gilded Madonna gazing out over the river Clain towards the old quarter. Unfortunately whoever molded her has her raising her arm in a blessing which looks distinctly more like a Fascist salute. Happily, she looks 19th century so it is not intentional, even if disconcerting.
Looking west over the river Clain towards the old heart of Poitiers
Poitiers is built on a hill in the curve of the river Clain. You can just get a glimpse of the river in the photo above where the steps lead down to the water.
Medieval skyline: church of Ste Radegonde on the left and the cathedral on the right
It's an old city having been settled by the Picts well before the Romans came. Today it is a great place to visit with its mix of historical treasures and lively student population. There has been a university here since 1431.

Jumbled roof tops rising from the river to the tower of Notre-Dame-la-Grande
The old centre retains a skyline which isn't dominated by modern buildings and still keeps a medieval 'feel'. We've written about Poiters before here and here.

Friday, 24 May 2013

If you go down to the road today...'re in for an unexpected surprise! Heading home from Loches earlier today we found ourselves slotted in behind a vintage car, which we guessed was pre-WWII. It had a rally sign [which we couldn't read] on the back and was sporting an old UK numberplate.

On the way to St Flovier: behind the 1934 Riley Blue Streak Bronson Special & in front a Buick Standard Six from 1925
While going through Perusson the rain started to spit again and the poor driver and passenger were completely at the mercy of the elements; it was all of 10C according to our dashboard. Worse, as we left Perusson towards Verneuil the heavens opened.... again. The vintage car too had turned off on the same road so we settled down behind them wondering where they were headed to. Meanwhile, Niall had rooted around on the back seat to get hold of the camera which -for once- we had with us and took some photos as we headed on towards St Flovier. En-route we caught up with another car which was obviously taking part in the same rally. By now, we'd deciphered part of the faded sepia styled sign and read that they had started in Paris, but it was still too hard to read the destination whilst driving behind them.
From the front: the 1925 Buick Standard Six in Charnizay
A couple of years ago we were in Le Grand Pressigny when a rally stopped there for lunch and we speculated whether the participants of this rally were headed there. Driving through St Flovier it was obvious that other rally cars had gone before as there were little knots of people waving and taking photos as the 'old timers' drove through -- with us bringing up the rear! Leaving St Flovier we came upon a couple more vintage cars and by now it seemed pretty clear that the cars would be passing through our own village of Charnizay so we put our foot down and overtook the slower ones to get ahead of the game.
Coming up the hill, car no 66: a 1938 Alfa Romeo 6C
Our village sits on the top of an escarpment above the Aigronne river, and right at the top is a T junction where you turn right if you want to continue on to Preuilly sur Claise. In other words the rally cars would have to change down going up the hill and slow/stop at the T junction which would be great for getting some photos. So far we'd taken a few snaps through the rain smeared windshield.
A 1908 Brasier Race Car 1925 Bentley 3 ltr Supersports
Once home we did a bit of rootling around on the internet and discovered that all the cars we saw  were taking part in a 3 day Vintage Paris - Madrid rally which commemorated one held 110 years ago in 1903. If you like, you can read about the original race here. The particiants had left Versailles this morning on the first leg which will end later today in Angouleme. According to the blurb they stopped for lunch at the Auberge de Montpoupon, a very nice place indeed, as we found out last summer when we ate there.
Star of the show, car no 1:1903 Mercedes 60HP, 110 yrs old and going strong

4 spare wheels and 'proper' carriage lamps at the back
Thanks to the rally website we were able to find out the makes/models of the cars we saw. Sadly, no photo of the front of the Riley Blue Streak Bronson Special. It lived up to its name as it vrooomed along the D road at a healthy 80 mph so we never did get ahead of it!


Thanks to Tim and Leon for corrections on the exact types of cars :-)

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Stone the crows

The weather this long weekend is poor. In fact the national TV channel TF1 headlined it as 'Pentecôte pourrie' [a rotten Whitsun]. It is cold! The maximum temperature forecast for today is 11C and 14C tomorrow.

Those of us who blog about the Loire Valley/Touraine have gone on a lot about the poor weather. All across France it's been poor; featuring on the news, even headlining. May has been unseasonably chilly. So much so, that we have caved in and switched on the heating from time to time to avoid turning into icicles.

Flying high over a crop of newly sprouted maize
Add to the chill the very wet weather we had earlier in the year and it's been hard on the farmers. Many have had to write-off winter sown barley, wheat and rape seed crops and have ploughed them in, deciding to re-sow with spring planted maize or sunflowers. These crops have just gone in and the first tender leaves are showing.

We've even seen fields which have been partially ploughed up resulting in an odd patchwork effect of, for example: flowering colza [rape seed] and newly sprouting maize.
A well dressed scarecrow
Eric, the farmer who has the large field adjoining our northern boundary, has done just that. Swathes of the field have been left with the winter sown crop [we think it is barley] while other sections --closer to us-- have been ploughed up. Nothing is showing as yet, so we don't know if he has has sown these sections with something else.

All this spring planting has brought on a rash of scarecrow styles ranging from ragged old fertilizer bags stuck on a pole, to imitation crows or to well crafted traditional chaps complete with drawn-on faces. The "boom" of the bird-scarer one of our neighbouring farmers uses each year has also returned [we wrote about it here].
Leaning into the work: another field of new maize
We saw all different varieties of scarers on a recent foray up to the wine co-op at Francueil near Chenonceaux. We wanted to buy some rosé  for drinking on the terrace -- we remain optimists -- although one could argue we'd be better off with vin chaud right now!

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

New gem on the block

The Hôtel de Beaucé was built in 1554 by a rich Protestant merchant, Jean de Beaucé, in Poiters. For quite a while now it has been undergoing a careful and, by the looks of it, sympathetic restoration. Wrapped in netting, it has been hard to see what was being done. Now however, the netting is coming off and the scaffolding is being taken down. There's just the section on the left of the photo which is still up.
Hôtel de Beaucé May 2013
It is a lovely building with its turreted spiral staircase. The turret [or tower] which houses the staircase harks back to the Middle Ages when this was a common feature of fortified dwellings as they were easier to defend. However, the windows spiralling up as they follow the corkscrew stairs are large and typically Renaissance and make it very appealing.

The lucarnes [dormer windows] are heavily ornamented; decoration which is very typical of the architectural style which was current during the reigns of Francois Ier and Henri II.

In 1558 the residence was the location of the first symposium which led to the founding of the reformed [Protestant] church in France. In 1561 the second synod of the French Protestant church was held in Poitiers.

Currently the building is privately owned and split into a series of apartments. Finding a photo of the Hôtel before restoration began just shows how much of an improvement has been made. We'll put up some more photos once the restoration is completely finished.

Hotel de Beaucé is marked in red

In front of the Hôtel de Beaucé they've installed a fountain which we think is lovely. It is very simple and offsets the building behind it very well. In fact, the whole area round the back of the Hôtel de Ville is undergoing something of a face lift. On the front gates of the Hôtel de Beaucé there's a small panel showing the layout of the quarter at the time of Napoleon. The Hôtel de Ville [Mairie], which was built in the 19th century is superimposed in outline. In the 'before' photo of the Hôtel de Beaucé below you can just see the back gates of the Mairie on the right.

Before: Hôtel de Beaucé in 2011 
© Wikipedia Commons
How nice to be able to live in an historic building such as this. Although we suspect the inhabitants will be very pleased when all the work has finally been completed!

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Impromptu Lunch

Recently we had to be in La Roche Posay and, as luck would have it, it was about lunch time as we headed home. The weather was glorious and on impulse we persuaded ourselves --not a difficult affair-- that grabbing lunch somewhere was a good idea!

Chambon, village centre
Ages ago, last January in fact, there'd been a plan to meet up with friends for lunch at the Auberge le Vieux Fournil in Chambon which lies more or less en route between Preuilly sur Claise and La Roche Posay. That plan was foiled as it turned out that the place was closed unitl mid-February and somehow we've never gotten round to it since. The auberge had been originally recommended by Jim and Pauline Craig, fellow Scots who live in Barrou. We decided to give it a go.
Auberge le Vieux Fournil
It didn't disappoint. Two years ago with financial support from the region the auberge built a very modern extension and the resulting diningroom is lovely, with the restored bakehouse oven taking pride of place. The menu du marché was €12.00 for three courses with a choice of two dishes for the starter and the mains. There were 3 choices for desert. Wine was extra, €4.00 for a small pichet.
Pretty roof lines; the building with the window is a pottery
We had a smoked herring salad and a generous slice of pied du porc in aspic for our starters and the pork loin for mains. This came with a trio of very smooth purées: celeriac, carrot and broccoli and a pain d'epices sauce for the pork. It was very delicious although if we were going to be picky the pork could have done with something acidic to offset the sweetness. For afters we had a charlotte and cheese. It is definitely a place we will go to again and has gone on "the list".
Wisteria covered staircase
Afterwards we had a quick look around the village which is very pretty, although the monument historique plaque on the church promised a bit more than it delivered: 13th and 16th century architecture but sadly no hidden gems that we could discover. 

Friday, 3 May 2013

How does your garden grow?

To be honest, like crazy! Especially the grass. It seems to grow the second your back is turned! Trouble is we've had so much rain again that finding a dry 'slot' to mow it all
can be a challenge. However, the forecast is for more sun over the weekend so it will be mower and strimmer at the ready.

our Melrose apple in blossom
So far the best you can say is that our spring weather has been "mixed". Frequently it's been fairly chilly and the last few days we've had yet more rain. In between, we've had days with lots of sun and rising temperatures.  In fact, one day the farmers were grumbling as it was so warm they couldn't go and treat their fields as anything they sprayed would evaporate too quickly. Yet yesterday, the second day of May, it didn't get beyond a paltry 12C!

On the up side all our baby fruit trees which we planted in Nov 2010 have produced blossom this year, especially our dark cherry [we don't know what type it is] and our apple [Melrose].

quince tree full of flowers
We also have an elderly quince which is positively smothered in flowers which are just opening up. If the bees do their work it will be a good season for quince jelly. Last year with the frosts it was hammered and we had one lone fruit on the tree. I love the way the quince blossom has a pink swirl to the bud before it opens--rather like a raspberry ripple effect.
quintessential spring
As usual our ornamental cherry has flowered beautifully, and although now just past its best it will still look elegantly pink and frilly for a couple of days. We have 3 lilac bushes which didn't produce a single flower in the spring of 2011 so we cut them back hard and opened things up a bit as they were in too much shade. This spring for the first time they have produced flowers, two of the bushes are pale lilac and the third is a darker wine/purple.
lilac is back
As the semester is drawing to a close there will be fewer early morning starts and therefore, not as many opportunities to see the kind of sunrise below. Caught on a phone camera, the quality isn't brilliant but it certainly is a great view to have as you turn onto the D road from our lane and drive off to Tours to work. Our house is behind the woods and blackthorn tree/bush in the bottom righthand corner.

sunrise, last week