Day 4 – Closed again

Simon and P started the day by going up to the house and assessing jobs to be done.  First job was to pay the plumber who had come out in July to look at the boiler.  Simon had many times asked for a bill to be emailed but none had been forthcoming.  Simon was relieved to find that a bill dated September had been pushed under the door.  After careful consideration of the tricky business of writing a French cheque, Simon and P went off to settle their debts.

Sarl Boisbunon et fils is in the small industrial zone at the edge of the village next to the new communal fuel station (1€11,9 for a litre of diesel). Simon and P paid the bill, shook hands with everyone and explained that they hadn’t got the heating working yet. M Boisbunon said that he would call.

Next stop was the water office.  The man from the local water company had been supposed to come to the house back in July but had never turned up and by the time Simon and P had located the offices it was Tuesday evening and the office would be shut until after the went home. Knowing that the office was open Monday mornings, Simon and P went to face French local bureaucracy. After the required “Bonjours” and handshakes, P started to explain that we had a property. “Ah, Monsieur et Madame *******!”, said the man from the water company. He explained that he lived on the same street as Simon and P’s house as he found the forms.  There is a charge of 7€ a month plus an annual charge for water used baised on the meter readings. P went to her bag for the cheque book but was told that Simon and P should submit a metre reading in December/January and pay then.  Handshakes and goodbyes and it was back to the house.

A simple job or two was tackled and a list of required supplies was compiled when B and Simon’s mum arrived at the house having walked up the hill.  Just as coffee was being made, M Boisbunon arrived and looked at the boiler and radiators.  A minor bit of kinetic maintenance and heat was flowing.  Simon and P finished off their jobs while B and Simon’s mum walked back to the gite.

Monday is “market” day in Juvigny – although Simon and P have never seen more than 3 stalls at the market.  Still purchases of plums, oranges, peppers and parsley were made from the jolly fruit and veg man.  Simon’s mum made a celery and blue cheese soup (using some of the parsley) for lunch.  Perfect with baguette

A quick look in the Michelin guide suggested that St Hilaire du Harcouet would be a good place to visit as it has a hardware store (to buy supplies for jobs) and a museum – La Verrière – which, according to the guide, has a fantastic collection of sacred art.  B was dropped off to guard the house/sleep by the radiator, and the rest of the party set off for St Hilaire. The bricomarche would be open until 7pm, so it was off to find the museum.  Simon parked up near the tourist information and Simon and P went in to ask about the museum.  After picking up some useful leaflets, Simon asked about the museum to be told that it was closed (finished).  Later research on the internet reveals that the museum is open when exhibitions are on – one finished on Sunday while the next starts in two weeks.

The alternative entertainment was a walk round the lake – which B would have enjoyed.  There is also an arboretum which will look good in a few years – if the trees survive (some were looking a bit ropey).  After a gentle perambulation and a stop at the hardware store it was back to the house. B took P and Simon’s mum back to the gite while Simon and his dad went on ahead to get tea started = chicken stew with a nice bottle of white savoy wine.

Day 3: Time spent on reconnaissance doesn’t always work out!

P had spent some time on Saturday evening researching times of mass for Sunday morning. When P & S had purchased the house, P had to return to Blighty for daughter’s hen do, so was not in the village on Sunday, but had been told by S & her brother that there was no sign of mass being said at the church in the centre of the village. However French Catholic churches.com assured her that if they were not ready in time to get to St Hilaire for 10.30 mass, that Juvigny would come up trumps at 11.00 – sorted.

Wrong! S had walked the dog to the house to settle him in so we could attend mass and tried to ring P to let her know there was no sign of life at the church. P, however was confident all would be well as she could hear the bells from the gite; it would appear they ring automatically whether there is mass or not.

There was nothing for it, but to head for Mortain and be late (as Father Martin would say “plus ça change”) for the 11.00 mass there. The church was fairly full as there was a sacramental programme element to the mass and the all the children took part in the offertory – it is interesting to note that whatever the country, all children behave the same way – girls taking their role very seriously with the boys giggling together and trying to burn themselves with the candles they carried to show their bravado. The singing was exceptional as always and we even had a chap playing descants on his trumpet. P suggested playing her flute next week, but maybe she needs to learn some of the music first, however I’m sure youngest son would be welcome with open arms if we only had room for the tuba, euphonium, French horn, trombone and trumpet, his sight reading is so good.

Bread was purchased from the boulangerie together with a delicious looking tarte aux armandes – P had already bought some ready made custard with her so Sundays pudding was accounted for.

The weather was set to fair so all set off for La Fosse Arthour with a detour on the way to the Musée régional de la poterie – it was closed. La Fosse Arthour wasn’t though so we all had a wander round the lake (and somebody had a roll on an interesting piece of grass) with the promise of ice cream from the auberge near the entrance on our way back to the car – it was closed (a bit of a theme this holiday perhaps!)

We all headed back to the lodge for beef stew followed by the tarte which was indeed delicious and huge – enough for several days, but do we have enough custard…….

Day 2 – Juvigny-Le-Tertre

After a quick coffee/tea/walk in the pet exercise area (different party members had different priorities) it was time to disembark from the ferry. The journey to Juvigny-Le-Tertre was nice and easy (despite Simon missing a turn-off).  Even with stops for loos, walks, headlight deflectors and fuel it, the party was in Juvigny for midday.  The highlight of the journey was crossing the Seine on the Pont de Normandie.

As they were early for the gite, they made a quick stop at the house to turn on power and water.  There was also a late breakfast of pain au raisin, pain au chocolate or dog food, depending on preference.  B would have gone for the pain au chocolate but made do with dog food.

B gave the garden his seal of approval by charging up and down, making up for a day and a half in the car and on the ferry.  Then onto the gite which is about a mile down the road to Juvigny.  Everything is down from Juvigny!  P made a lunch of soup and baguette – always a good choice.  Simon and his mum went shopping while P & B walked up the hill to the house to get bedding together for the gite.

A nice tea of young sole washed down with a bottle of sparkling Loire made a pleasant end to the day – even though French tv wasn’t showing the England v Uruguay game as free to air.

Day 1 – New Traveller – New Crossing

Simon and P adopted a new dog at the beginning of the year.  This was after their companion of many years had to be put down.  “Let’s not rush into anything”, said Simon “We should wait 6 months or so at least”.  Obviously 3 days later Simon and P were at the dog’s home and came back with B.

B is not the sort of dog Simon and P thought they were looking for.  He is a German shepherd/Rottweiler  cross – a mixture that conjures up visions of some sort of killer guard dog.  B is many things but he is certainly not a killer guard dog.  For a start he is very friendly and calm.  He also has a bark that is more fitted to a pekingese than the 25kg lump of solid muscle that he has become.  Simon (and P) was very keen for B to have a pet passport so that he could come on holiday with them.

What’s the best way to take a dog on a ferry? Well Brittany Ferries have pet cabins on some of their Portsmouth-Le Havre crossings.  Simon thought this was the way forward, so the crossing was booked with one cabin for simon’s parents and a pet cabin for Simon and P and B.  A week or so before they were due to set off, Simon looked through the conditions of carriage  for dogs and noticed that all dogs had to wear a muzzle when not in the car or cabin.  P duly bought one and tried it on B.  He was not impressed.  Careful study on the Blue Cross Youtube video provided the answer.  Cream cheese! After one solid day of training/bribing with cream cheese, B will come running to the shout of “Muzzle” licking his lips.

The drive to Portsmouth was a bit of a drag and a dog friendly pub with food couldn’t be found (Simon and P sat outside with B). However, the pet cabin more than made up for it – there was even a goody bag for B (a collapsible water bowel, dog treats and a toy).

B's Goody Bag

B’s Goody Bag

Day 21 – Home again

Coming home was strange.  Simon and P were in the first 20 or so cars off the ferry.  All three Border Control kiosk were operating and there was only a few minutes wait for their passports to be examined.  Non of the usual questions as to where they’d been and what they were bringing back.  It was all going so smoothly – too smoothly for Simon, who was convinced that they’d be stopped and made to unload the car by customs. But no, they drove straight through and were out of the port before 9am – the fastest they’d ever done it.  The journey home was uneventful too and in just a couple of hours they were home to an exuberant welcome from dog and youngest son. Well the dog was very pleased to see them……

Day 20 – We’re in Belgium so it must be raining.

After a nice breakfast, Simon and P checked out of the hotel.  When the had arrived the previous evening, the friendly chap on reception had informed Simon and P that one of the keys opened the front door and joked that they would need it when they came back from the disco!  This morning he asked if everything had been OK with their stay. “Oui, très bien”, said P to smiles all round.

“Mais,……”, said Simon and a slightly worried look came across the receptionist face, “….hier soir, on ne pouvait pas trouver la discothèque!” The receptionist thought this was hilarious.  Amid laughter he went on to explain (in rapid French) that Simon and P should have asked him for the address and that a bit of Salsa was good for the mind.

A quick drive round the local streets demonstrated that there wasn’t even a boulangerie open so it was back to the motorway.  Although Simon and P had filled the car up with cheap diesel the previous evening, the first services did not have the other staple purchase – big jars of nutella.  The second services obliged with a 3kg jar to take back to youngest son, and a couple of baguettes for lunch.

As they crossed into Belgium the skies darkened and it started to rain so Simon and P turned down the first few picnic opportunities and continued on past Brussels.  For once the ring road was reasonably civilised with no standing traffic and only typical Belgian driving to contend with. Simon and P elected to stop at one of the few motorway services that they know of in Belgium. After a picnic at the tables behind  the services (so that motorists can’t find them!) it was time to spend a penny – or more accurately 50c. Paying to use the loo gives you a voucher to spend at the shop or cafe.  Simon and P were aware of this system, so hadn’t brewed up with lunch, and bought coffees from the cafe.

There was free internet at the services, so Simon checked his phone for traffic information. There was a delay of 2 hours a few Km ahead but it was not clear which direction (or was it both).  Still Simon and P had just over 2 hours in hand, so there was no time to waste. They quickly finished their drinks and set off.  Sure enough, in a few km the other carriageway was at a standstill with a tailback of over 5 km.  Simon and P got to near Zeebrugge with more than 2 hours spare, so they thought they would check to see if the Carrefour at Planet B was as closed as advertised.  It wasn’t closed at all – it was open and busy as everyone in Belgium had come to shop at the only hypermarket that was open.

Simon thought that he’d found a bargain. A Senseo Duo Latte for €50!  He was all for buying it for La Maison Francaise, until P pointed out the €50 was the discount and it was €130.  Still a bargain, but not good enough to persuade Simon.  So they contented themselves with some last minute present buying and went on to the ferry.

Day 19 – Another Lake

So with all the wine finally packed in the car (Simon thought he could have fitted another case in), Simon and P set off on the first leg of the journey home. The overnight stop was to be in Luxembourg, which Simon had booked with a view to doing some shopping on the Monday. Simon and P had since found out that Monday was a bank holiday in France, Luxembourg and Belgium so everything was likely to be closed.

Having reached the motorway and settled in to driving, Simon said, “Is going through Switzerland a reasonable idea?”. It might have been better if he’d suggested that more than 3 km from the junction Mrs SatNav wanted Simon to take. There was a quick scramble for map reading glasses and map books.  Simon stayed on the motorway. Fortunately P agreed that it was a reasonable idea.

The scenery up along Lake Geneva was stunning as was the rest of Switzerland and there were no tolls to pay as Simon and P already had the vignette. The route was about 40 minutes longer but saved a chunk of cash in tolls and there was the scenery and black kites to see.

Simon had thought that it might be a 4 country day but Mrs SatNav took them back into France. One of the advantages of driving in France on a Bank Holiday weekend (or any Sunday) is the lack of lorries on the roads. So it was an easy drive to Luxembourg. The hotel was easy to find and just off the motorway with plenty of secure parking.
A nice dinner in the hotel and an early night. Not a bad day for going home.

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Simon won on the puddings

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Although P’s Creme brulee was pretty good

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