Thursday, 30 October 2014

A Mild Autumn in Normandy

Posted by Rosie

Previously, whilst living in Normandy, France we have had frosts as early as the end of September but this year it has been the most amazingly mild Autumn.  It means everything is still growing and the vegetable garden at Eco-Gites of Lenault looks a complete mess ... because everything includes weeds and grass.  I have not had time to do any weeding and it is too damp to mow the grass.

The grass is still growing

I also noticed slugs out in force around my newly planted out Spring cabbages, so although I am enjoying this T-shirt weather, a sharp frost or two would not go amiss. Not before I have harvested the rest of my veggies though!  The late beans, carrots and beetroot I sowed have done fantastically:

Late Carrots

Late Yellow French Beans

Late Beetroot

And with the continued mild weather we have things flowering that you would never normally expect 2 days short of November:

Late Flowering Nasturtiums (with honey bee)

Late Flowering Ferverfew

Late Flowering Passion Flower
Oh and I have found out that if you pick a red cabbage but don't get round to eating it and you leave it upside down it will sprout new red cabbage "flowers" from the base.  A cut cabbage or lettuce stalk will often put up baby plants if left but I would never have believed they would grown from an upside down cut plant!

Red Cabbage "Flowers"

Have you had a mild Autumn ... or perhaps you are on the other side of the world and heading to Spring ... or somewhere hot where winter in your main veggie growing time.  Do let us know how your garden is doing right now.

Linking up with Annie's HDYGG linky.  
This week I should manage to visit and comment on a few more other blogs.


Wednesday, 29 October 2014

England v France – some random observations

Posted by Rosie

I am now back in France after a week in England.  It was a great holiday where the boys and I got to see lots of friends, visited all sorts of places, I got new glasses and we stocked up on essentials such as Cheddar, Marmite and porridge oats!   I also had time to note a few random differences between our two nations; nations that for many years were ruled in part by one King and who, at their closest point, are only 20 odd miles apart.  

Coffee shops and tea rooms

England may still have a good few tea rooms but the coffee market seems to be dominated by the big chains and their American view of how we should drink coffee.  Costa seemed to be ubiquitous. (At Cheddar, Minehead, motorway service  stations, Portsmouth Ferry Port ... and probably Taunton but we did not venture far enough in to find it!).

Wine is very expensive in England

The exact same bottle of wine in Lidl costs €1.99 in France yet costs the equivalent of €5.10 in England.

Christmas is everywhere

OK so it did mean it was easy to stock up on a few Christmas cards but in France there will be almost no mention of Christmas for a good few weeks yet ... and even then it will be much less commercialised.  Must EVERYTHING have a Christmas theme to it in England?  Do we really need Christmas themed PJs and I am sure Lego is making a fortune selling its Lego filled Advent Calendar at £20 each.

Small brands are harder to find

Sainsburys no longer stocks brands I always used to be able to get, like Clipper loose green tea and Tom of Maine’s toothpaste.  Big thanks, therefore to Toucan Wholefoods inMinehead who still do and happily put some aside for me.  Merci :)

English Opticians are fast

In France I have heard the waiting list to get your eyes tested is long.  I booked an appointment for myself at Vision Express in Taunton on Wednesday at 2.50pm and walked out of the shop just over 2 hours later with my new glasses.

I miss charity and book shops!


Fair enough France does of course have bookshops but I do miss a good mooch around a bookshops where the books are in English!  Charity shops are few and far between in France but thankfully Minehead has plenty and I came home with a good supply of clothes, books and Christmas cards.

I also remembered not to use my shopping bag as a basket in the supermarket which could so easily have got me accused of shop lifting where-as in France this is a perfectly acceptable thing to do.  Only once or twice did I have to think which side of the road I should be on and I did enjoy having Radio 4 on in the car.  I only said “pardon” in a French accent twice when accidentally bumping into some-one and by the end of the week I had remembered that when you plug in something when in England you have to press the on switch to actually get the plug switched on!

Do you have you any random observations on differences between France and England?  This recent blog on supermarket shopping in France points out a few more differences.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Supermarket Shopping in France

Posted by Rosie

If you have never travelled to France before you may be surprised at some things with regard to supermarket shopping in this land of cheese, wine and escargots! Read on to make sure you don’t get caught out.

1. Opening Hours

Many food shops close at lunchtime, often from 12 - 2 although these hours do vary slightly from shop to shop. Slowly more of the larger super and hypermarkets are staying open “Sans interruption” ie all day and those that do will mark this prominently at the front. Closing hours are around 7 - 8pm with smaller shops open until 9 - 10pm.

2. Sunday Opening

Large supermarkets are closed all day on Sunday but smaller ones, often in the centre of towns, will usually be open in the morning from 9 - 12 . After that some bakers are open but nothing else, so if you are arriving in France late on a Saturday or on a Sunday make sure you have supplies in.

3. Bags 

French supermarkets do not supply throw away plastic carrier bags. You may get a very flimsy bag if your flour is leaking slightly or you buy clothes but otherwise you must supply your own. All supermarkets sell 3 types of bags at very cheap prices. There are large shopping bags made from a very durable material which can be replaced for free when they become too old, although I have never done this and do not know if people do! They cost less than a euro and last for ages. They also sell tough re-useable plastic bags and large insulated freezer bags. Some also have cardboard boxes you can take from near the tills. 

4. Use your own shopping bag/basket

When shopping, it is perfectly acceptable to take in your shopping bag/basket and use it for your goods before paying. No-one will think you are trying to shop lift. I just have to remember NOT to do this when I go back to the UK! You may however be asked to show the inside of your bags at the till just to confirm you don’t have any extras in there!

5. Special offers- Offres spéciales or promos

Most large supermarkets have the aisle nearest the door full of their offers of the week and usually imply a reduced price when buying in bulk. Be careful though as these are not always as good as the look as they often pick the higher priced brands and the even with the reduction, other cheaper brands may still be less money.

6. Larger product sizes

In the UK I would always assume that the larger the product the cheaper the price per kilo/litre. That is often not the case here in France and larger packs may actually cost more than smaller ones. It is always worth checking the shelf edge label for the price per kg/l.

7. Les Foires

Supermarkets do however run various “Foires”. At this time of year it is Le Foire aux Vins but throughout the year there will be others. For a  Foire aux Vins the shop will stock a much larger range but for Un Foire de Porc for example they will stock pork at reduced prices and in large economy packs that often are cheaper per kilo than normal.

Foire aux Vins at Super U

8. Tea Bags

If you are coming to France and hoping to buy some decent strong tea bags you may want to think again and bring in your own supplies. On the tea aisle you may well see “English Tea” (quite possibly Yellow Label) but do not be fooled. This is an extremely weak cousin of anything sold in the UK and fairly horrible!

9. International Products

Larger supermarkets generally have an international aisle stocking products from various countries including the UK. You may well be able to get PG Tips or Yorkshire tea here but you will pay way over the UK price. Other UK products the French think we cannot live without include cheesecake mix, lime marmalade, lemon barley water and tinned steak and kidney pies!

10. Organic products

In the larger supermarkets the organic goods will generally be grouped together on one aisle. There are however a growing number of small organic supermarkets which stock a very impressive range of goods. Look for products marked Bio or AB (agriculture biologique)

Shopping in a French supermarket is often something holiday makers look forward to.  Children will love the extensive sweet aisle as well as an impressive range of chocolate cereals and adults may drool over the cheeses and almost faint at the cheapness of the wines.  Hopefully now  with this little guide to the oddities of French supermarkets you will not get caught out by their varying closing hours, bargains that are not what they seem and the weakest tea bags in the world!  Oh and there are several of the reusable shopping bags including a cool bag in the gite if you don't want to buy bags for yourself.

Can you think of any more points of note regarding French supermarkets that I have missed out?  And what do you most enjoy about French supermarkets?

Monday, 27 October 2014

Cheese and Coffee - I don't think so.

Posted by Rosie

On Thursday the boys and I met up with a friend and we headed up to Cheddar Gorge for the day.  We arrived, parked and went to collect our tickets where the lady advised on the best route to see the caves, village, museum, steps to the Watch Tower and  3 mile walk around the gorge that were included in the price (which is 10% cheaper if you buy online in advance).  We wandered up through the village full of small independent tea rooms, pubs and gift shops, where we might just have diverted into a sweet shop and a cheese shop.  Well this is the home of the famous Cheddar cheese after all!  


However as we rounded the corner to the entrance of the first cave we were then met by something I think few people would expect – a large Costa Coffee shop strategically placed right by the entrance to the first cave ... and through which is the easiest way to exit the cave.

Now I have no idea how the opening of a Costa in such a prominent position in Cheddar has affected the small independent tea shops but I can guess it has not benefited them.  It also serves to take us one step closer to the total homogenisation of every town and now tourist village.  Independent shops are unable to compete with the big chains who take over, creating High Streets that look the same from north to south and beyond.  How long before a Starbucks wants a bit of the action in Cheddar and maybe then a Weatherspoons pub, a McDonalds and a KFC?  How long before I would not know if I was in Cheddar or Dovedale because they are all full of the same big names and the small independents pubs and tea shops are forced out of business? 

Suffice it to say we did not buy anything in Costa.  We supported a couple of local shops and enjoyed what we went to Cheddar for – it’s caves, the museum, the 275 (ish) steps up to the Watch Tower and a drive through the Gorge itself.

We didn’t have time to do the 3 mile walk but will save that for another trip there.  I hope on our return that we will see as many independent shops and tea rooms as are there now and that they will be thriving.  After all, I really do not think that coffee and cheese go together but as any good Yorkshire man or woman will tell you, a slice fruit cake (home made of course) and a hunk of cheese are a match made in heaven!

Friday, 24 October 2014

The 5 stages of Learning a New Language?

Posted by Rosie

Chatting on Twitter, my friend @BarefootAndrew about the blog I wrote on French idioms, Andrew came up with the following stages he believed you pass through when learning a new language:

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Pictures from an Exmoor Garden

Posted by Rosie

Mum's garden to be precise, up on the moors on the Devon/Somerset border, where I am currently staying with the boys. Despite the lateness of the season there is still colour to be seen if you look closely.


Linking up with Annie's HDYGG linky, if I can, as I have limited internet - I will try and catch up with other blogs and comments later too.


Wednesday, 22 October 2014

A ferry crossing in the tail end of hurricane Gonzalo

Posted by Rosie

Photo from
I chose yesterday (Oct 21st) to spend my day, with the boys, in the middle of The English Channel, on a ferry. 

Flipping 'eck - when the waves are crashing up over the windows of deck SEVEN of your ferry you know it is a bit rough. Actually that is the roughest crossing I have ever done... or ever want to do again. I hid in the cabin, Ben laid down on a sofa on deck and fell asleep and Tom played on the computer oblivious to sea sick people all around him!  You can begin to stop liking people who don't get sea sick!! 

Trust us to travel in the tail end of hurricane Gonzalo!

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

We're off on our Holidays ....

Posted by Rosie

It's half term and the boys and I are going to England for a week.  Simon is however staying at Eco-Gites of Lenault to look after guests and the animals although he will get a holiday later with the boys.  He has only just got back from a week in the UK (not a holiday) so we are a bit like ships that pass in the night at the moment.

I have managed to schedule a series of blogs for when I am away.  There's limited Internet at Mum's so I won't be online too much (except when I can cadge some time on the computer at friends).  Do please still write your comments and I'll add them and reply when I can .... I might even risk turning off moderation and hope the spammers stay away for a while, we'll see.

Until next week then - au revoir mes amis :)