Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Protecting yourself when booking a holiday

Posted by Rosie

You may have seen in some of the National Press recently, stories of unfortunate people who have booked an expensive holiday only to find out after that they have in fact been scammed.  It works like this.  A fraudster hacks into the email account of a genuine holiday home owner and then intercepts all their enquiry emails.  The hacker replies to the holiday maker offering what seems like a "too good to be missed" deal that is only available for a very limited period and that the customer must pay for in full and up front.  The genuine owner and customer may know nothing of this fraud until the holiday maker arrives at their destination and the owner knows nothing about them.  It is a practice known as phishing. 

So how do you protect yourself against this type of scam?  In fact it is simple if you take a few common-sense steps.


8 Steps to Avoid Holiday Phishing Scams


1. Use the phone number from the booking site and ring the owner.  Hackers cannot change phone numbers on the booking site which should anyway correspond to the number on the owner's own website.  Please however, take note of any time differences between countries and try to ring at a reasonable hour.

2.  Reputable owners should have their own website so contact them this way.

3.  Build up a rapport with the owner before deciding to book.  Ask questions.  A genuine owner will be happy to answer all your queries.  

4. Search out the property/owner on social media (Facebook, Twitter etc) and see what other people are saying about them.  Talk to them on these platforms.  Mention something from their social media pages in your phone conversation as a hacker will not know about this.  

5.  If you are still unsure ask the owner for references from previous guests or to see a utility bill for the property in question.  This may sound like a lot of work but if you are willing to part with a possibly quite large sum of money it makes sense to be sure you will get the holiday you are buying.

6.  Learn how to recognise potentially fraudulent listings or contact emails.  They may be poorly written with bad grammar and spelling mistakes and are likely to be offering deals that seem too good to miss.  A fraudulent email will invariably ask for the full amount of the cost of the holiday to be paid at once to secure the good deal.  The email you receive will often be similar to the email on the owner's website but often from a hotmail account.  Please note that just because an email is via hotmail does not immediately means it is fraudulent but when added together with other discrepancies it is may point towards a problem.

7.  When you are happy that the holiday you are booking is genuine, payment should ideally be made by credit card, Paypal or bank transfer. Most holiday owners will ask for a deposit at the time of booking and the balance 6-8 weeks before your arrival date.  Some may ask for the full payment for short stays and of course if your arrival is less than 6-8 weeks from your booking date.  This is normal practice that gives the owner some security from late cancellations.

8.  Finally, take out holiday insurance and ensure it covers you for phishing.  Holiday insurance will also protect you for any number of unexpected eventualities that could ruin your holiday such as cancellation due to illness, the property being significantly below the quality advertised, travel problems and wrongful retention of your security deposit by owners.


It is important to note that phishing not only ruins holidays for holiday makers but takes away income from genuine property owners.  No-one wants to be scammed but with frauds like this, both the owner and the holiday maker lose out.  Remember that phishing is in fact a very rare occurrence compared to the huge numbers of genuine holidays that are bought and sold every year and it generally only occurs on holidays valued in excess of £1500 after the so called discount. 

Please do not allow hackers to put genuine private holiday home owners out of business because you are afraid to make that booking.  If you follow the steps outlined above it is virtually impossible that this will happen to you.

Do you have any other steps that can help protect you from this type of holiday fraud?  Please do drop us a comment if you do.

Monday, 1 September 2014

C'est la Rentrée and it's complicated!

Posted by Rosie



Tomorrow Ben starts collège, the name give to French secondary schools.  However Tom who is a year older does not start until Wednesday, so he will be home on Tuesday.

Oh and Tom only does the morning as is the case on every Wednesday.

And Ben does NOT go in this Wednesday.

But primary school children who have NEVER previously gone to school at all on Wednesdays, will now also be going Wednesday mornings.

Both boys will finally be at school on Thursday.

Confused?

This week is called la Rentrée and as well as referring to the return to school, it is also when many French people return to work after their summer holidays.  This includes a friend had no-one to look after her children this afternoon and no-one to look after her daughter, who is is Tom's year, on Tuesday.  So she asked if I could have them here. 

And then there is another friend who now has children in both primary and starting secondary with Ben and realised for the start of term that she could not be in two places at once.  Normal school starting time for collège is 7.50am but for the first say it is 8.50am, the same time as she needs to be taking her primary aged children to their school 10kms away!  So I need to take Baptiste into school tomorrow as well as Ben.

Oh and finally Baptiste and his brother and sister are coming here on Thursday evenings as their parents are both working late.

Which altogether means my days of waiting at the bus stop for the primary school bus are not yet over and my week of thinking I would have some peace and quiet with the kids back all at school is turning into a week with more children here than during the holidays!

Are your children back at school?  Has it gone smoothly or has there been logistical problems like here in France?

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Bilingual Children - Pros and Cons for Them and their Parents

Posted by Rosie

Having lived in France since they were 4 and 5 years old, our boys are both French-English bilingual and speak French far better than we could ever hope to.  Hopefully this will give them a huge advantage when looking for work but there are some other perhaps less well documented pros and cons for both them and their parents.

Advantages of being bilingual for children:


  • They can slip into French so their English speaking friends cannot understand them and vice versa.
  • They can try and swear in French and hope I won't realise ... although I am becoming wise to many of the "gros-mots" they attempt to slip past me!
  • They can speak and understand jokes in 2 languages.*
  • They have more TV channels/books/magazines etc to chose from.
  • They can happily watch dubbed TV programmes without getting totally confused when actors sound different to what we expect and they are not worried by the fact that the actors' mouths are not in synch with what they are saying. I never realised how much I lip read until trying to watch Downton Abbey dubbed into French!
  • Research indicates a wealth of  other advantages including better concentration, a boost in confidence, improved multitasking skills, increased creativity and enhanced logic all of which can stay with the children through their lives and may even delay the onset of dementia.

* The first and possibly only joke I heard and understood in French was this one:

Q.  "Quel est le numéro de la poule ?!"
A. "Quatre, quatre, quatre 'n' oeuf!"




For parents of bilingual children there are also some advantages:


  • As they get older you can use them as walking dictionaries to translate words and phrases you are struggling with.
  • You can sit back and be immensely proud as French people do not realise your children are in fact English (until you open your mouth and let the cat out of the bag).

But there are also disadvantages:


  • You cannot slip in French to say something in front of your bilingual child that you do not want them to understand.  A French friend swears in English so his children don't understand what he is saying .... we'll have to learn a third language to be able to do this and frankly swearing in anything other than pure Anglo-Saxon at the moment when the hammer makes contact finger is the only language that really works.  I quite like the Bulgarian "О, мамка му" but I doubt I am gong to remember that when it really matters!
  • You have to bear the indignity of having your children correct your poor accent, grammar and wrong use of words ... A LOT.

For bilingual children then the advantages are many and varied - for their parents they may be a bit more limited but overall the balance is good, so long as you can learn a third language that they don't know and you don't get offended when your children continually correct you!

Can you think of any more advantages or disadvantages of having bilingual children?

Friday, 29 August 2014

One of my Favourite Pictures

Posted by Rosie

We are in the last full week before the boys head back to school - both are now old enough to go to collège (secondary school) yet it seems no time ago at all that they were still toddlers.  Time, then, to turn back the clocks 11 years and post up one of my all time favourite pictures of Tom and Ben:

Ben and Tom - October 2003


We had just come back from our first holiday in France as a family of four.

I love the cheeky grins on both their faces.

I love their chubby cheeks.

I love the fact they are not arguing!!

Have you got a favourite picture of when your child(ren) were small?

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Tomatoes - The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Posted by Rosie

One of the advantages of living here is that with our large polytunnel we are able to grow a wide variety of tomatoes.  It means we can afford to grown some varieties that are perhaps less productive but are most certainly very tasty and quite possibly not for sale in the local shops.


Tomaotes grown at Eco-Gites of Lenault - 2014


L-R from top row:

Coeur de Boeuf, Potiron Écarlate, Green Zebra
Black Cherry, Roma, Noire Russe
Harzfeuer, Mirabelle Blanche, Yellow Perfection

I also grew Marmande and Tigerella and bought an unknown cherry tomato and unknown bog standard red tomato as seedlings from the market.

So, how have they all fared?

Coeur de Boeuf

Wonderful large heart shaped tomatoes with a fabulous taste either raw in salads or cooked.  No one plant has huge numbers of fruits but as they are each so big this is not a problem.  One to grow again and again in  my book!

Potiron Écarlate

Another large tomato, this time slightly flattened and oddly shaped. Really quite an ugly looking tomato however it has a very unusual almost pinkish tinge and again a delicious flavour. Will grow again! 

Tigerella (not pictured)

These tomatoes are small to medium in size, red in colour with yellowish stripes.  Of all the tomatoes I have grown this year they are one of the most productive, but not the most tasty.  I may grow tigerella next year but probably less of them.  However for a stripy tomato I would really recommend:

Green Zebra

As the name suggests this tomato is in fact greeny/yellow when ripe with dark green stripes.  It is tasty, it is productive and it is on my shopping list for nest year!

Black Cherry

A friend gave me some seedlings of these last year and I very nearly missed harvesting them as I looked at their dark red colour tinged with dark green near the stalk and thought they weren't ripe.  No such problem this year and I have harvested loads of these absolutely delicious tomatoes.  Small enough to pop into your mouth in one and they explode with sweet tomato gorgeousness.  If you want to grow a cherry tomato I would certainly recommend Black Cherry.

Roma

An average cropping plum tomato that are rather susceptible to blossom end rot but one I grow because they make the best passata.  

Noire Russe

These are like a large Black Cherry and have been very productive this year.  Love them.  Great colour and really tasty.

Harzfeuer

These are one of only 2 "normal" tomatoes I have grown this year (the other being the unknown red tomato I bought at the market).  Neither are the most tasty compared to some others but both are still far better than many that supermarkets sell and both are also very productive.

Mirabelle Blanche

This has turned out to be the most disappointing of all my tomatoes this year.  Small, whitish yellow cherry sized fruits, really rather unproductive and with a thick skin and weird almost mushy flesh.  I will not bother with these again.

Yellow Perfection

In the past I have grown lovely yellow tomatoes but I have not been able to find which variety they were.  Yellow perfection certainly isn't the perfection it's name suggests although it is better than Mirabelle Banche!  I won't grow them next year as there are more yellow varieties to try and with luck one may be the great yellow variety I have previously grown.

Marmande (not pictured)

I had trouble getting these to germinate so they were very late growing and rather poor cropping. In previous years they have however been very productive and tasty.  The jury is still out as to whether I will grow them next year.


Who said tomatoes have to be red?

Have you grown tomatoes this year?  What are your favourites and have you any tomatoes you would not grow again?

Linking up with Manneskjur's How Does Your garden Grow Blog linky so do pop on over if you fancy reading some more garden related blog posts. 


Manneskjur

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Couples Welcome at Eco-Gites of Lenault

Posted by Rosie

Many of the visitors who stay at Eco-Gites of Lenault come with children and we pride ourselves on being very family-friendly.  However the second most frequent visitor group here are couples.  If you and your loved one are thinking about a trip to France, here are 9 reasons why we think you might want to choose Eco-Gites of Lenault.

Cosy and Spacious

The gite manages to be both spacious and cosy - you won't feel like to are rattling round in huge mansion but you will have plenty of space as well!  Can't you just imagine yourself curled up in front of our wood burner with a glass of wine and a good book?

Wine in front of the romantic wood burner


Romantic

With the gorgeous wood-burner and traditional French furniture in the master bedroom, Eco-Gites makes a wonderfully romantic get-away location.  Snuggle up in front of the fire and then .... 

The master bedroom

A grown-up gite!

If you are visiting us without children we will move all the children's things out of sight.  The toys go up in to the mezzanine playroom, the high chair, fire guard, stair gates and suchlike are all packed away leaving the gite a "grown-up" place for your visit.

Peace and quiet

With the nearest road almost 300m away and besides us, no other neighbours, we are a truly quiet location where you can escape the hustle and bustle of busy lives and really relax and unwind.



The rural retreat that is Eco-Gites of Lenault


Entertainment

With no children in the play area you will have the area all to yourself and can challenge your partner to that quintessentially French game of Pétanque (Boules).  We supply the boules and will join you in a a game if you want!

There are also a good range of games, puzzles and books for adults in the gite.


Tourist Attractions


Le Mont St Michel

We may be in a quiet corner of Normandy but we are also extremely well placed for you to visit many great tourist attractions.  All the following are within easy driving distance of Eco-Gites of Lenault:- Bayeux, Caen, The D-Day Landing Beaches, Museums and Memorials, Suisse Normandie, Honfleur, Most St Michel and Falaise.  There are also exhibitions, street festivals and events throughout the year and daily markets close-by.

Click here for details of what to do in Normandy in September.


Daily local markets


Eat at home or in local restaurants

The gite has a large and well equipped kitchen so you can prepare your meals without any difficulty.  In fine weather the garden is lovely to sit in for meals. Should you wish to eat out there are large numbers of local restaurants of all types and to suit all pockets. We are happy to make a telephone reservation for you if you would like.  If you want to stay in but not cook we can prepare a simple meal for you, delivered hot and ready to eat. This is a popular option for guest's arrival night and takes the pressure off having to cook after the journey here.


Dinner cooked by us!

Shopping 

Why not spend some time in the local shops and stock up with wine, Calvados, cider or presents for friends, family and of course yourself?  There are plenty of small independent shops, caves selling wine and local cider and larger shopping complexes at Vire, Caen and other big towns.


Discounts

If just 2 people stay in the gite for a week between November and March we will take 15% off the normal price.  A reduction of between 5 and 10% is possible for stays of less than a week.  In both cases this offer still stands if you bring a cot sleeping infant.  Please note that some dates are excluded from this offer.

If you are travelling to France with Brittany Ferries we have a code that will give you 10% off your crossing.  Please ask us for the code when making your reservation.


Marian and Nev

The picture above is of Marian and Nev outside the gite in March.  Don't you think it would be great if it was you and your loved one who was standing there ...

For further information or to make a reservation please visit our website here or email us us here.  You can also telephone 0033 231 09 27 51 (up to 8pm UK/9pm French time please).

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Marrow and Ginger Jam

Posted by Rosie


If you grow courgettes or you know some-one who grows courgettes, sooner or later you will find you have either a courgette that got away and turned into a marrow or a marrow or 3 will be given to you by friends who have suffered the same fate.  Worse still you may even grow marrows and soon you may well find yourself drowning in them.

The courgette that grew up to be a marrow

What can you make with an excess of marrow?

Some people apparently like it lightly steamed (not my favourite I have to confess)
Various marrow chutney recipes are possible
Stuffed with mince or spiced vegetables makes a tasty meal

Or, for something a bit different, I suggest Marrow and Ginger Jam.  It may seem odd to be making jam from a marrow but I can assure when mixed with the sugar and the ginger it makes a really tasty preserve.


Marrow and Ginger Jam

 

Ingredients


  • 450g/1lb marrow (weighed after peeling) - peeled and cut into small cubes
  • 450g/1lb sugar
  • 1tsp ground ginger or 1-2oz crystallized ginger, chopped finely
  • Juice 1 large lemon 

     

    Method


    1. Sprinkle the sugar over the marrow, cover and let it stand overnight in a cool place.
    2. The next day put the sugar and marrow in a preserving or large pan and warm gently until the sugar has dissolved.
    3. Add the ginger then boil steadily until the cubes look transparent and the syrup has set.*
    4. Pour into hot, sterilised jam jars and cover at once.


    * to check if the syrup has set place some thinly on a cold plate.  Allow it to cool and then push it gently with your finger. if a skin has formed on the syrup that crinkles up slightly when you push it then setting point has been reached.  If not continue to boil until you do reach setting point.

    Occasionally my syrup won't set.  Don't worry if this happens to you.  If this is the case simply call it marrow and ginger sauce and eat it with ice cream, pancakes etc.


    Marrow and Ginger Jam

    Do you have any favourite marrow recipes?  I have made jam so I could do with some meal ideas now.  Merci!

    Linking up with lots of food linkies including TastyTuesday, Recipe of the Week and #NoWasteFoodChallenge


    #NoWasteFoodChallenge
    #NoWasteFoodChallenge
    Recipe of the week
      Tasty Tuesdays on HonestMum.com

    Monday, 25 August 2014

    Horse Meat - Would you eat it by choice?

    Posted by Rosie

    At the market last week I saw this sign advertising a horse meat stall:


    Horse Meat Butcher.  It's good for your health

    Now I am sure that across the world this would elicit many different reactions.  In some central Asian countries is it the most commonly eaten meat and in much of Europe, South America and Asia as a whole it is eaten in varying amounts.  However in most English speaking western countries (UK, USA, Australia etc) and it is generally seen as taboo to eat horse meat, although not actually forbidden.  China eats the highest amount of horse meat of any country in the world:  1,700,000 animals equating to 204,000 tonnes of meat (Source Wikipedia.)

    So why the variations?  In central Asia, horses are the best animals to raise on the steppes for meat and are raised in the way the west raises cattle for beef.  It makes simple economic sense to eat horse meat.  However in the West horses have long been given the status of a pet or working companion and it is deemed unacceptable to eat you pet or your workmate! 

    I am not sure why this status escaped horses in France - it is a well known fact that large amounts of horse meat was eaten the 1870 Siege of Paris so perhaps that was when the taboo was lost and it became acceptable.   Now in France there are specialized butchers, "boucheries chevalines", who sell horse meat.  It is at times found in supermarkets who have been allowed to sell it since the 1990's but you will not find horse meat at a "normal" butcher's shop as it is forbidden for them to sell it. 

    Then there is the all too recent horse meat scandal with processed meats in the UK being sold as beef when in fact they contained large amounts of horse meat and the meat itself could not be traced back to source.  Quite possibly much of this meat entered the food chain illegally as stolen animals.

    When I was in Germany as a teenager I ate horse meat but was not told until afterwards as the family I was staying with believed I would otherwise have refused it.  In fact no, I was (and still would be) happy to eat horse meat so long as it was a horse raised for purely for meat in the same way that a cow is raised for beef i.e. it was never a pet or working animal and it was correctly slaughtered and traceable.  What I do not want to eat is horse meat labelled as something else not do I want to want any type of meat that is not traceable.  It is one of the main reasons we produce our own meat as we then know exactly what we are eating and that the animals have had a good life.

    For anyone who might like to try horse meat here are three recipes, taken from a 19th-century French cookbook.  Apparently it tastes not unlike beef and is a healthy meat with low amounts of fat.  

    So would you eat horse meat?  Yes or No?  I'd love to hear.

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