Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Goodbye green flocked wallpaper

Time to say goodbye to the green flocked wallpaper in our Gite.

Decorating tastes of course vary around the world (witness the enthusiasm for Scandinavian minimalistic for example), but to my knowledge there hasn't ever been a fashion craze for French decorating. 

When we were house hunting to buy our Gite in September 2003 we saw a number of "interesting" wallpaper styles in the properties we viewed, and fortunately the Gite we eventually did buy was relatively "normal".
Except for the little girl's bedroom in pink and purple that is, but several costs of paint and it's all neutral cream now. 

The lounge, stairway and upstairs hallway were all wallpapered in what I can only describe as a flocked like material.  The paper must have been expensive at the time and in a green colour was liveable with. 

Over the 14 years we've had the Gite there have of course been minor accidents, a few places where a drink has been spilled, and being a fabric you can't easily wash it off the wall.  Also I think the flock is slowly starting to come off, it's not visible, but we do get dust in the lounge quite a lot and we think its from the wallpaper.  

And so now it's time to say goodbye to the green flocked wallpaper.  Tomorrow Simon the decorator starts and all the wallpaper will be stripped off and the walls painted a neutral colour.  

So for old times sake, here's a couple of photos of the lounge as it currently looks before the green all goes. 

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Saturday, April 28, 2018

Stepping up without sliding down

I had to look it up, but it was back in August 2010 that we had a new set of railway sleeper steps built from the pool up to the garden and climbing frame.

For some reason I never took any photos of the construction of the steps, so at the bottom of this posting I’ll correct that and share what I do have.

But the topic in hand was improving those steps.  The steps were made of used railway sleepers so they were as tough as anything and certainly not going to rot anytime soon.

However what I had noticed was that they could collect grease, wet leaves and moss and become slippery, particularly in the winter or autumn times.

To fix the problem I bought a load of non-slip treads that could be simply screwed down onto the oak steps, and job done.

Unfortunately not quite job done as I didn’t buy enough of the non-slip treads for two on each of the steps,  so had to buy some more from the UK and fit them next time I went to the Gite. So here’s the final non-slip treads being screwed down.  

And here are some photos from August 2010 of the steps being built. Originally there were wooden steps set into the slope but they were badly decomposing and were sliding down the hill so we decided to have them rebuilt properly from scratch.

Alan proved to be better than Geoffrey and Liz at using the digger, and it was a good job we had a digger as all of the stones that now line the up the side steps were dug out of the small area of ground when the steps were built !

Photo taken in August 2009 from the roof with the old steps in the background behind Alan's van:

And from April 2010, a few of the completed steps (the bushes at the side are a lot smaller):


Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Tiling the downstairs bathroom (part two)

Following on from fitting the new shower cubicle, the next job in the downstairs bathroom was to tile the other walls to match those of the shower cubicle. Here’s how it looked at the start, on the opposite wall is the toilet, vanity unit and washing machine, with tiling part way up the wall beside the toilet and behind the basin.
First job was to cut the silicon sealant off from around the sink, disconnect the taps, and carefully remove the sink.  If I had of dropped it then I’d be in the do-do for sure:

In France, unlike in the UK, they don’t fit isolating valves underneath the sink.  So when I’d removed the vanity unit and wanted to turn the water back on, I had to then re-connect the tap to the pipework, tie the tap handle down to stop the water coming on, and work around it as I continued work in the bathroom.  What a pain.

Stripped all the old tiles off the wall using my SDS hammer drill, great fun and quite quick and easy to do:
And then on with tiling the wall, using the bottom of the existing mirror as the reference point and ensuring that the tiles line up horizontally with the others in the shower cubicle.

Its a bit fiddly but basically you count the number of whole tiles required down the wall, and allowing for the tile gaps and grouting, cut a part-tile to go in as the bottom row.   Lots of use of the spirit level and repeated measuring to make sure everything is square and true so that as you tile up the wall it all lines up with the required height.

Grouting, lots of grouting, and then I could put everything back into the bathroom.

Putting the sink vanity unit back in place proved to be troublesome because I moved the vanity unit a few cm to the left as I’d originally installed it too close to the washing machine which meant that it was really difficult to jiggle the washing machine out from the gap if you ever needed to get to the back of the machine.

Moving the vanity unit slightly to the side meant I had a bigger gap for the washing machine,  but then when I had fitted and silicone’d the sink in I found that the flexi tails on the taps weren’t long enough to reach the pipework.   Grr, another trip to Mr Bricolage to buy some longer tails for the taps ...
Although I’ve written this as one continual sequence of activities, it actually took me about 4 days of solid work over a week to do all this.  It does look a lot better though.


Thursday, April 05, 2018

Off to the Gite for late Easter

10pm Thursday night and I'm sitting on the fairly deserted DFDS Delft Seaways ferry, just about to leave Dover for Dunkirk. 

I'm off for a week's holiday at the Gite, bringing more things over,and doubtless my week will include repairing the broken fence that someone drove through.


Friday, March 30, 2018

Hole in the fence

The garden of our Gite is (or rather, was) fully fenced in. Here's a photo taken from the country lane that passes by the Gite in 2016 after Toby and I had spent a week cutting down the pine trees at the end of the garden:

Unfortunately that's what things used to look like. This morning I received a text and series of photos of the garden today.

Looks like someone has come down the hill, lost it on the bend, perhaps due to ice, then straight through the fence, across the lawn, and finishing up with taking out one of the apple trees.

All very upsetting, and more repair work for me next time I go to the Gite. Grr.

Rather than wooden posts which are liable to rot I intend to replace the fence with green metal posts and fencing which will match the new fencing along the front of the Gite:


Saturday, March 03, 2018

Church buys controversial statue in nearby Ploërmel

I was amused to read a news article on Connexion France about a dispute over a statue of Pope John Paul II in the town of Ploërmel - which is only 20 miles from our Brittany Gite.

According to the Connexion article, a dispute had arose because the statue of the Pope had a cross on the top - a symbol that broke France’s 1905 law of separation between Church and State.

The town council has agreed to sell the statue to the Catholic Church for €20,000.

By selling the statue and the church moving it from a public carpark to a nearby Catholic private college, the dispute that would have required the cross on the top to be removed appears to have been resolved.


Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Getting organised to go to France

The garage is definitely getting fuller as I start to get myself ready and organised for some more ‘holiday' time in our Brittany Gite.

As we don’t live close to the Gite, each trip I have to make sure that I’ve got everything I need to take with me. For the last few years I’ve been using Wunderlist which is a cross-platform ‘to-do’ list. I used to write down what I needed to take with me on a piece of paper but inevitably the paper would get lost, mangled or whatever, and so I moved with the times to Wunderlist (actually I first used a to-do service called Astrid but then Yahoo bought them and promptly closed it down :-( )

So I’ve been with Wunderlist since 2013 and what I particularly like is that you can create a list, share it with other people, and it automatically synchronises whenever you make changes. I have Wunderlist on my iPhone, iPad, Mac, and the Android app all work seamlessly together.

Because I have been known to forget to take things I need to France, or vice versa, leaving some tools over there - which is really annoying, I’ve now got super-organised in Wunderlist with folders for what I need to buy ready for France, what I have got and need to take, things I need to buy in France, and then a to-do list and a longer term rennovation plan (where things can languish for years!).

Since I wasn’t able to get to the Gite in the back end of last year, the ‘bringing to France’ list on Wunderlist now stands at 42 items, a mixture of things to be replaced in the Gite itself, and things for the ‘project’ that is rennovating the other half of the property. Here’s a subset:

All I need now is to get the time away from work to actually take a break and go over there.

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Friday, January 26, 2018

Cheap foreign currency transfers, 2018 update

Back in 2013 I last wrote about using peer to peer providers to transfer money from the UK to France, and in particular I looked at Transferwise and CurrencyFair in comparison to Moneybookers (now Skrill) that I had used up to then.

I concluded that the peer to peer services provided a better rate of return, and that I would be using them going forward.

Earlier in the month I needed to transfer £500 to my French bank account in order to pay the property insurance. In the last few years both Transferwise and CurrencyFair have introduced mobile apps to make it even easier to convert and send your money, and when I found that the Transferwise app on my iPad wasn't working I uninstalled it and reinstalled it to fix the problem.

Once working I thought I'd look to see what other iPad money transfer apps were available, I'd give them a spin, and see whether any of them offered me a better rate or transfer amount.

So here's my experience of this very limited test.

Remember, the requirement was to transfer £500 into Euros. I decided that if there were any fees on top to be paid then I'd reduce the amount I was transferring as needed, so in all cases I would be spending exactly £500.

First up Transferwise, their iPad app is easy to use, for my £500 I was offered a rate of 1.251 and £3.54 of fees, meaning I'd end up with €558.57 in my French account.

Next, CurrencyFair. They don't have an iPad app, only an iPhone app, so on my iPad it has to be stretched and I have to tilt the screen 90 degrees to be able to use it (I have a cover with integrated keyboard on my iPad so this is a pain to use). They offered a rate of 1.1198 inclusive of fees, resulting in €559.90.

Then I looked for some other companies to try and found 3 more:
WorldRemit. Their iPad app enabled me to check the rate before I created an account (nice, not everyone did this), and their rate was 1.1162 with £2.99 fee on top meaning my £500 gave me €555.88 into my French account.

Azimo. I couldn't do anything with their iPad app until I had firstly registered with them (boo), but they did offer me the first transfer fee-free. Their rate was 1.11307, the transfer fee would have been £1 (but first one free remember), so I'd have ended up with €556.54.

And finally, Small World. They have a proper iPad app (hurrah), but it's stuck in portrait mode. As my iPad in its cover is permanently in landscape this means a cricked neck when you use it - Grr.
Anyway, next to one side, I didn't need to register first to get a quote (good), and it was a healthy 1.12 exchange rate, the best so far, mind you there was a £5 fee on top of that which would have evened things up if they too hadn't had a first-transfer-free policy as well.
So with them I was getting €561.84, the best overall.

And so tempted by this offer I registered with Small World and made my transfer through them. Of course for money laundering requirements I had to upload a photo of my passport which was easily done through the app, and I waited. Next day they verified my documents, the transfer went ahead, and 2 days later the money was in France.

In summary for £500 to €:

Transferwise €558.90
CurrencyFair €559.90
WorldRemit €555.88
Azimo €556.54
Small World €561.84

So not a massively scientific test, but it does show that there is value in shopping around.

Two weeks later as I write this Blog post, I've just been through all the apps again to see what they now suggest I would get. Here's the second set of results, again for a £500 transfer:

Transferwise €565.62
CurrencyFair Couldn't give me a quote as the markets close at 8pm Irish time on Friday's
WorldRemit €561.45
Azimo €559.27
Small World €563.20

My conclusion is to probably remain with TransferWise and CurrencyFair as my preferred options, although I have used TransferWise the most over the last few years. I will try the others maybe one or two times more and might keep Small World as a 3rd transfer option.

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Saturday, May 13, 2017

Completed new shower cubicle

White silicone around the edges of the shower tray, transparent silicone around the outside edges of the frame (so if water gets behind the frame edges it will run back into the shower area), check adjustment of the doors, put the shower bar and shower outlet back up, and we’re there.

One lovely new shower cubicle.

I’m really pleased with this, compared to the previous shower cubicle which was showing its age, this is much more spacious to use and looks really smart, modern and is perfect.

From start to finish took 3 days to install.