Saturday, 5 July 2014

Bienvenue en France

Southampton Airport
Flying out of a regional airport in the UK is so much more pleasant than the huge main ones. The train pulls up into Southampton airport just a few metres from the door. All is quiet and peaceful and, compulsory coffee and cake later, we are heading off into the blue sky across the Channel.  Not a lot to see until we fly over the Channel Islands and see how small they are. How Bergerac found so many cases to deal with is beyond me.

Likewise, landing at a regional airport is a quick process and soon we were meeting our new host for the next month, Helen, in the car park at Nantes airport. Not hard to spot a right-hand drive burgundy Landrover! The drive to the village of La Chapelle-Gaudin takes over an hour so plenty of time to acquaint ourselves with the flat arable countryside. Small towns, small villages and small roads hereabouts.

Day 1 - Vicki doing what she does best!
Our new home is an impressive three storey house (plus cellar) as seen from the street, though it is only one room deep, so there are only two bedrooms. There is a big garden and adjoining hay field, plus various outbuildings including a stone shed in the middle of the front garden accessible from the street –the only problem being it belongs to the chap across the road! It seems not uncommon for a house to have land or outbuildings across the road.

Helen and Nick
Helen, our host, is partially physically disabled so we are here to help around the house and garden and to provide some company as her husband, Nick, currently works in the UK and can usually come home only at weekends. There seem to be several English ex-pats in this region with one partner commuting to the UK for work. Helen’s hobby is cooking and she is wonderful at it. It is an opportunity for her to cook properly rather than just for herself, so we are having very large and complex lunches and dinners – wonderful but we feel the need to work hard physically to keep our waistlines in check. And did I mention that they have a well-stocked purpose built wine cellar? We’ve had a good introduction to the local wines.

As it is around the summer solstice we are often eating very late (after 9pm) and sometimes outside. A few thunderstorms but generally warm to hot weather. As I write this it is supposed to reach 35C later in the day! Luckily Helen and Nick have a share of a pool at her sister’s which is just a short cycle ride away.

Poitiers town hall
We have had one real day out when we dropped Nick off at Poitiers airport then we had a look around the ancient university town. As we arrived at lunchtime most of the shops were closed, but also the pay-and-display parking is free between 12 and 2pm. Though it drizzled most of the time, we had a good wander around the streets.

 Some scenes from Poitiers ...

We have also driven through a few of the local hamlets. There appear to be few people around but generally the hamlets are very clean and tidy, though there are also plenty of decaying buildings. Much effort goes into their vegetable gardens. The French, of course, love their food. We were taken to the next village for some groceries (ours has no shops) and there they have a co-op, a shop run by volunteers and one paid staff member. It is full of regional food, generally organic, and welcomes you with a coffee plus lots of samples of the local wines and cheeses: cow, sheep and goat. Even cupcakes made by a local English resident. As they are not out to make much of a profit it is very satisfying supporting the local community.

Remains of a local ch√Ęteau ...

with its intact, though shallow, moat

Life is peaceful here with the only noise from the occasional traffic (mostly tractors) and the irregular toll of the bell in the church steeple. I say irregular as at certain times in the morning it appears to have a "snooze" function: about 5 minutes after the hour it repeats the chimes! Then once in a while we here 30+ fast rings - must be a code which we're not yet privy to. It seems a shame to spoil the tranquillity by firing the strimmer up, but I do get to wear green overalls, the official colour for farmers. Other types of workers get to wear different colours!

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