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Here is a confession which Mrs Powerfulpierre will no doubt loudly confirm.  I am not a sightseeing kind of guy.  I am more a sit by the pool, drink in one hand and latest novel in other hand kind of guy.  The latter is my kind of holiday, so why are you driving a minibus through Paris at rush hour?

Fair question and the answer is simple.  There are a lot of places to visit in France, I think I read somewhere that over a 100 million people visit France each year, compare that with 35 million for the UK.  So if you had the opportunity to see all these sights for free and all you had to do was drive the bus, then even I have to admit it is worth seeing all these places at least once particularly when it is your adopted country.

So eventually we arrived at the pickup point and set off for, well I will get to that later because I have gotten ahead of myself.

The weekend before,  we took in the sites including the Louvre, Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower and had a trip down the Seine.

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No we are not in the Big apple, this is a smaller version of the real thing

Now when we visited The Louvre, it was a Sunday and it is free to go in and it was heaving.  I am not a crowd sort of person, and I think it is true to say that I have not seen so many people in one place for a very long time.  We queued to get in and then spent ages trying to see anything of any real interest.  The Mona Lisa for instance was in a room which would have taken hours just to get into so we squinted at it from a distance.  It is amazingly small anyway much to my surprise, I was expecting something far bigger.

However despite all this I have to admit it was an experience that I would not have missed.  Here are a bunch of photos of The Louvre, not inside, cameras are banned, Eiffel Tower, which by the way was my most dreaded place to go to as I suffer from a fear of heights.  I get vertigo on the second step of a ladder.  Nevertheless I did go half way up and probably would have gone to the top if the queues for the lift had not been so huge.  Notre Dame was nice, I think the front window measures 30 metres across, but the coffee at the café nearby, I think it was The Ezmeralda, was a bit dear at a fiver a cup.

Anyway here are the photos and next stop the Latin quarter and lunch.

buildings surrounding The Louvre with the Eiffel Tower in the distance

The architecture is outstanding

The Ezmeralda café with Notre Dame in backround

Powerfulpierre enjoys the pleasures of the Latin quarter

If you are in Paris then the Latin quarter is a must visit particularly if you are a foodie like me and still count the pennies, cents, centimes etc.

The place is a huge eaterie with restaurants next door to each other up and down each street.  There is every kind of food, from Greek to Italian and all the way back to French.  Not only that, the owners or the front of house employees vie for your custom, and try to entice you to their restaurant with offers of free wine, or desserts or specials so if you like to haggle this is the place for you.

We were enticed to the restaurant we chose for the moule marriniere starter, steak and chips and the free carafe of wine, even with dessert and coffee it was well under 15 euros apiece and this is Paris for goodness sake!

Next up D day landing beaches, Versailles and a whole lot more and some exquisite food with our neighbours.

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I forget exactly when we met Caroline, we had not been living in France long, but I do remember where we met.

Just across the river that passes next to our garden is a very large field.  It is owned by the Commune and is used on Bastille day for the fishing day and apart from the odd fisherman during the season it rarely sees a soul.  As it is Community property and we are part of the community it effectively belongs to us and therefore we are the ones who probably use it the most.

It was in said field that I was trying to teach Mrs Powerfulpierre how to ride a bike, without success I would add, she just and still cannot make the leap of faith needed to balance the bike long enough for the momentum to keep it on two wheels.

Caroline lives in California and has a holiday home just up the road from where we live.  She is also friends with our milk providing neighbour, Francoise and as Caroline had a problem with her laptop, obviously she had been pointed in my direction.

Yet again I am struck by the weirdness of a situation, here we were two English people meeting a lady from California in a field in a beautiful but little known part of France talking about a dysfunctional laptop!

Well from there our friendship developed and eventually encompassed both our families as well.

Caroline arranges trips for her students and they stay with local people in and around the village and one year she asked us if we would like to help out by driving one of the two minibuses and take in the sights as well.  Of course we were up for it big time.

So we took the TGV, the incredibly fast French high speed train from Le Man to Paris and met up with everyone to start the journey back home with much sight seeing on the way.

First up was to collect the minibuses and I have to say this was even for a former policeman one of the scariest and stressful things I have ever done.  To start with it was first thing on a weekday morning in the centre of Paris somewhere that I have never nor would ever drive normally.  It is sheer madness, the Parisians take no prisoners and the traffic was heavy.  Also you must bare in mind that I had got used  to the empty country roads around where we live where even the main road into our nearest town on a Monday morning is deserted.

Next up was the location of the rental firm, right underneath the Arc de Triomphe on the Champs Elysées the most busy roundabout in the known universe.  Finally the vehicle itself which I had never driven before and had no time to get used to because it was straight out of the tunnel and into the melee of Parisian traffic.  Then it got worse, the Mercedes bus I discovered did not have a handbrake instead it was foot operated and despite my best efforts I could not get the hang of it.  I managed to release it but when it came to balancing accelerator and foot brake on an incline I just kept stalling.  Eventually by using the proper foot-brake and  what is called in racing jargon heeling and toeing I got out onto the road but worse was yet to come.

I had no idea where the pickup point was and was going to follow Caroline in the other bus across Paris.  That is when a gendarme appeared out of nowhere, flagged me down and demanded my documents.  So there I was on the roundabout, a quickly disappearing Caroline, juggling the foot pedals to avoid rolling back into the rental garage whilst trying to find the documents for the vehicle and my driving licence.

I was going into panic mode, what if I lost sight of the other minibus and I was doomed to driving around the streets of Paris, lost for ever.

I finally got clear of the gendarme and charged across the roundabout completely ignoring other traffic as I tried to catch up with the other bus.

In fairness attack seemed to be the best form of defense, I scattered all before me and there was the other bus waiting for me, but I was still not out of the woods, there was still a long way to go through the bustling Paris streets and as is always the way with these things when we approached a set of traffic lights they would stay green or yellow, the traffic lights here are not the same as in the UK, and Caroline would zip through and then immediately change to red for me.

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Our students at The Louvre

Eventually we arrived at the hotel and loaded up the buses ready for our great adventure.

So next up in part 2 Paris sights and beyond and more stuff than you can shake a stick at.

Autumnal delights

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Autumnal bounty

I thought we had better have some recipes today, and the first is something which if I did not make with Christmas lunch, my sons would not be happy at all.  They love it so much and to be fair so do I.  To have any chicken, guinea fowl, goose or game bird without it would be sacrilege if that is not too strong a word.

I have to make it in almost industrial proportions and even then there is still a fight for the scrapings.

Not that you have to eat it only at Christmas, in fact this Sunday last I made some because we were having chicken for dinner and it is so easy to make.

So I hear you shout for goodness sake Powerful what is this wondrous stuff that we are missing out on, which goes hand in hand with your force-meat stuffing, your chipolatas wrapped in bacon, your butter fried chestnuts?

Of course I am referring to BREAD SAUCE and if you have never had some I urge you to try it and if you are a convert and buy the packet stuff then please try making your own, it knocks the socks off it and this is what you need to make your own.

Now as I said I have to make huge quantities but for a normal family of four the following should be enough, for more just up the proportions.

First of all you need to flavour a half pint of milk by putting a medium sized peeled and halved onion in the milk with a few cloves,  probably half a dozen, if you want a stronger flavour add more cloves but do not go too mad, you want a subtle flavour.  Leave it as long as you can to get the flavour but not so long that the milk curdles, half an hour should do it but play it by ear.  You will also need 2 ounces of fine breadcrumbs and a pinch of nutmeg and the obligatory salt and pepper to taste.

Pour the milk through a fine sieve to get rid of the onion and cloves and put the now strained milk in a saucepan.   Start heating the milk and put the breadcrumbs in stirring all the time until the sauce starts to thicken, you want a very thick sauce not a runny one.  When the sauce is really thick grate some nutmeg in or use ready ground and season with salt and pepper.  You can swirl a little single cream in just to add a bit of luxury.  Then serve with your chicken, turkey etc and enjoy.

As I am writing this Mrs Powerfulpierre is in the kitchen making Potage Crecy, French carrot soup.

The carrots grown in the vicinity of Crecy have the reputation as the tastiest in the whole of France which is why the name was given to the soup. From France, the soup crossed into England.  According to 14th century  tradition, loyal Britons should eat carrot soup or “potage Crecy” on the anniversary of the battle of Crecy, a legendary victory of the English over the French in the the Hundred Years’ War.   Yes I am sure all good Englishman remember the 26th August 1346 and celebrate accordingly.

The smell of the soup has now started to waft into the study and it smells delicious.

So to the carrot soup, what you will need

Butter for frying

1 pound carrots peeled and chopped

1 medium sized onion peeled and finely chopped

1 large potato peeled and diced

one and a half pints chicken stock

1 tablespoon of fresh chopped parsley

1 tea spoon of sugar

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Melt a knob of butter in a saucepan and add the vegetables.  Cover and cook gently for 5 minutes.  Gradually stir in the chicken stock and bring to boil, add salt and pepper to taste, parsley and sugar. Lower the heat and half cover.  Simmer gently for 20 to 30 minutes or until the carrots are tender.

Purée the soup in a blender and return to the rinsed out pan, reheat gently and adjust seasoning, pour into warmed bowls for serving and swirl a spoonful of cream or creme fraiche in each bowl and top with fried croutons.DSCF3439

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So there you have it a creamy, nourishing soup all the way from Crecy, bon appetit

The weekend

Well after a strange week including a funeral and our friend Tony being rushed into hospital, get better quick mate, the weekend beckoned like some beckoning thing.

On Saturday the weather was miserable, gloomy, drizzle and not exactly warm.  We had decided to go shopping in Mayenne our nearest large town at the LeClerc supermarket by way of a change and also they had our favourite boxes of wine on offer buy one get one free, who could resist?

Mrs Powerfulpierre went off in the morning to see her students and in the afternoon we set off for Mayenne.  We had driven 2 or 3 Km out of Bais when the car shuddered to a halt and refused to go any further.  The road is a long straight Roman road that goes on and on and where we were was effectively in the middle of nowhere.  The drizzle drizzled and it got murkier.

Now our car like so many these days has a computer and it had been saying that we had at least 60 km of fuel left before needing to fill up, however the little petrol pump light had not come on which it normally does when it gets to below 100 litres.  Everything pointed to our running out of petrol.  We were a bit abashed by this but not overly concerned, we have the French version of breakdown cover so I took out my mobile only to find it had no charge in it, it was useless.  Not to worry, we had Mrs Powerfulpierres phone which was working and she rang the assistance only to be told that if we had run out of petrol we were not covered.  We looked at each other and I felt my heart sink.

We had no petrol container and the nearest petrol station was a very long walk away in the rain.

Fortunately Mrs Powerfulpierre was up to the challenge and set off back towards Bais and I put the hazard warning lights on and an orange fluorescent vest.

The road we were on is a very fast road and I had not been able to get the car fully on the grass verge when the petrol gave up so I stood at the back of the car to make sure it was visible, I did not want to be missed in the gloom and back-ended.  My wife was now well out of sight when cars coming away from Bais started to stop just in front of where I was standing.  It was so heartening, all these people stopping to ask if I needed assistance, proffering their mobile phones and being generally blooming nice.  In my best French I explained rather embarrassingly that we had run out of petrol and that my wife was on her way to Bais for petrol.

It occurs to me now that perhaps they thought what kind of man sends his wife walking in the rain on a busy road but then they probably would have deduced I was English and that would have explained everything.

Then a silver Peugeot drove up and on to the grass verge and out got Mrs Powerfulpierre clutching a huge container of petrol, the lady driving had stopped for her on the way to Bais and kindly driven her to the station and then back to our car. She also waited to make sure that we were going to get started, Madame you are a star.

Then as we were filling the tank I noticed blue flashing lights heading towards us from the direction of Bais.  I assumed the gendarmes were heading for some emergency and would go straight passed us but I was wrong. The lady who had rescued my wife apparently got into a bit of a state because she was not wearing a fluorescent jacket and was worried that she would get in trouble with the gendarmes and I have to say I was a little apprehensive, as I have said before they are based on the military they are not civilians like the UK police and they are greatly respected and feared in equal measure.  I knew the car was displaying the correct insurance and control technique, French MOT  in other words and we always carried the car documents, the gendarmes always demand these when they stop you and you are in real trouble if you cannot produce them.

As it happens they were as nice as pie, it was a corporal and a female private who obviously were having a quiet day and this was about as much excitement they were going to get on this shift.  They could have parked their car on the grass verge but they left it in the road and the private had fun doing traffic duty, they were clearly bored and needed a distraction.  It is the kind of thing I did when I was a policeman and I bet any ex or retired copper will recognise a wet slow shift and the tedium it brought.

So with 5 litres of petrol in the car I tried again, nothing.  This worried me as the last thing we could afford was the car in the garage and heaven knows at what cost.

The corporal suggested that there might be a minimum amount needed to start the car but as we now thought it might not be lack of petrol, my wife rang the assistance again and this time they said they would come out.  So everybody went on their way, we even got a bon courage from our gendarmes and we waited for the assistance to arrive.

Eventually a large recovery lorry arrived and we explained the problem  and another huge can of petrol was added and hallelujah the car started.

So not one of our better days but it was great to know that if we had really been in trouble there were plenty of people willing to give us whatever help they could.

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I have sat in front of the computer for a long time now debating whether I should write this instalment of our life in France and in the end decided that I would be betraying my own reasons that I started this weblog at all if I left out the bad things and left in only the good.

You will be the judge as to whether I am right or not.

In one of my previous blogs I mentioned that I visited a farm a fair distance away at the behest of our neighbour Francoise as they had a computer which the children used and it had basically stopped working.  I went back on several occasions, I sat with the family around the kitchen table and drank coffee and ate homemade sponge cakes.  We conversed in my best French and they were genuinely curious about where we used to live in South Wales and why we were here in France. I gave the children a tutorial on keeping safe on the internet, the problem with the computer was a massive virus invasion caused by sharing music.

I was rewarded with 3 huge guinea fowl one of which we had for Christmas.

Recently Mrs Powerfulpierre went to a play in the next village in which one of the girls had a starring role.

Then the Sunday before last it was announced in church that one of the girls had been killed in a tractor accident and the funeral would be on Wednesday.

Apparently she was moving a bag of feed with the tractors front attachment when it started swinging from side to side and the tractor toppled over.  She was 16.

The thing is all the children who live on the farms drive tractors, it is what they do and from an early age, they have to be 18 to drive on the road but off road they start early, it is a part of life.

So yesterday we went to the funeral and there must have been 600 people there, it would have filled the church twice easy.  So we stood in the cold for near enough 2 hours waiting in the queue of people to go in and show our support for the family because that is what you do whether you know them intimately or like us as people who came into our lives for a brief moment.

So there you have it, I would love to hear your thoughts.

Ok so here is the news flash, Powerfulpierre and missus are on a diet, there it is out now, no denying it.  In truth my dear lady wife has been having a go about losing weight for some time and apparently I have not listened, worse I do most of the cooking and have been feeding her too much food, too many cakes and crumbles etc.

Now you must make your own judgments here but I think it is a bit rich being complained about for feeding someone, when all said and done we all have choices, they do not have to eat everything put in front of them, delicious and wonderful as it may be.  Well truth is after my illness last Christmas when I lost a lot of weight, it has crept up on me and when I tried a pair of jeans on a few weeks ago and they were a long way from ever going to fasten, I thought yep something has to be done and so together and to support each other we started what the French aptly call a regime.

Now do not get the wrong idea, this was never going to be a lettuce leaf and glass of water type diet, no way, this was a diet we actually tried and were very successful at a few years ago which we took from a BBC Wales book and it is very simple.  This is no fad diet, you eat more or less what you want except less of it, combine with a lot of walking in our case but obviously exercise of some description is key to it and it is quite remarkable how the weight tumbles away.  Clearly you do not stuff your face with biscuits and chocolate but we have one biscuit a day and a piece of chocolate just to keep us interested.  Admittedly I have not made a cake or crumble for weeks but we still had a piece of home made cake at Monique’s  house last week and a most delicious coconut custard at Christaines the recipe will appear here soon.

So you might be asking yourselves, if this diet was so good a few years ago what stopped you keeping it up and that is a good question.  The answer is upsetting and tragic and involves the first dog we ever owned.  Phoebe was a stray dog that we took in and she was amazing, she could walk for miles and she would pull you along with a strength that defied her size, at the same time we were on our diet and we were losing a lot of weight.  Then one day during the summer we had a different postman to our normal guy and this one drove like a maniac, anyway to cut a long story short he ran over our dog and she died at the vets a few days later.  I know it is silly and we could have carried on walking without the dog but somehow it knocked the wind out of us and we just stopped.

Phoebe

Phoebe

So there you are we are back on the diet and it also brings me nicely to The St Thomas walk which we went on yesterday.  About 40 or so people turned up outside the church at 2pm including our good friends Sue and Mike, the weather was fantastic, bright, sunny but with a cool wind, perfect walking weather.  We all huddled together with the Mayor on the church steps for our photograph being taken by a journalist from the local newspaper and then we were off.

As I have said previously, the pace is unbelievable and not only that it is kept up more or less for the whole 10 Km, furthermore I think it was longer than the previous walks we have been on and I have to say that even though we have upped our exercise levels massively these last three weeks or so at the end I ached all over and could barely sit down for the slice of brioche and glasses of cider at the Mairie when we finished, I still ache today.  The guy who takes the walk invited everyone to a walk next Sunday which is at the next village down from us but this one is 15Km, next year perhaps.

And for the record I have lost 5 kilos in 3 weeks and madame has lost 3 Kilos, will update again soon.

Party time

On Saturday night we had the pleasure of attending the party for the volunteers who were involved in the music festival in Bais.

As you will recall myself and my good lady wife were employed making crepes of which 2500 were sold and the party was our reward.

The only stipulation was that everyone had to wear a hat so I donned my trusty McLaren Mercedes cap which my eldest son gave me after he had been to a trade fair in Switzerland and Mrs Powerfulpierre took her straw hat and whilst we were having a walk around the lake at Sillé le Guillaume she picked up some autumn leaves to decorate it.  The Lake is a huge man made expanse of water and takes us about an hourish to get round depending on how many times we have to stop for Buster to have a sniff around and leave p-mails.  There is a proper sand beach and pedalos, restaurants and  cafés.  During the summer it is very popular and has a large campsite of static caravans.  It is on the road to Le Mans which is about an hours drive from us with Sillé plage being about 20 minutes drive.

Mrs Powerfulpierre showing off her hat

Mrs Powerfulpierre showing off her hat

The Lake and the forest beyond

The Lake and the forest beyond

Buster taking Powerfulpierre for a walk

Buster taking Powerfulpierre for a walk

So to the party, we arrived at 8 and is usual with the French the main course was a long time coming, drinks and nibbles were served, I had the punch assuming it would be the fruity mildly alcoholic stuff so took a huge gulp only to discover that it had been laced with a lot of vodka.  There were pork rillettes on bread which were delicious and cheese and tomatoes on sticks, but I stuck to the pork rillettes.

We met our neighbours there and there children and the other people we had worked with at the stall and then we were invited to watch a movie of the music festival which I have to say was very well done, a mixture of still and moving pictures which really captured the nights frivolities.  We saw ourselves several times in the movie, strolling along the street to the next venue and making the crepes, Mrs Powerfulpierre commented that it caught the spirit of a small French village enjoying itself.

There were about 80 places set

There were about 80 places set

After the film we sat down for the meal and thankfully no sour cabbage, instead it was a North African dish of cous cous with chicken, spicey and ordinary sausages, chick peas, potatoes and carrots and various veg.DSCF3339

After playing various musical games between courses we had the cheese and this was a plateful of very runny Camembert, just the way I like it, it went down so well with the bread and vin rouge and then more dancing followed by a selection of desserts from apple tart to chocolate cake.

Unfortunately there was no after dinner coffee on offer and clearly a number of the guests were none too happy about this so one of the organisers went off in search of some.  Eventually he appeared with coffee and tea, Liptons Yellow not a patch on Tetley but under the circumstances a refreshing substitute.

So a great evening again, and as I have said before that will be it until Christmas or will it?