Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

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.


Friday, May 12, 2017

Fitting the new shower cubicle

“Fitting the new shower cubicle”,  sounds innocuous doesn’t it.   I mean, how hard can it be to fit a new shower cubicle, its just a matter of carefully following the instructions and assembling everything isn’t it?

As I mentioned earlier, I’d bought the new shower cubicle from an eBay seller, nothing wrong with that in terms of quality of what I’d bought, but when it came to installing the cubicle I think this particular seller had bought the instructions from China and quite possibly the Chinaman had never seen the cubicle he was drawing the plans for!!

Of all the work I did on the shower following the instructions proved to be the most difficult part. I like to be logical,  lay the parts out, identify what is what, and then start at step 1.

IKEA must love me as a customer. Laid all the parts out, compared the parts to the pictures, and they don’t match.

Yes I have mostly the same number of parts as in the plans, but some of them bear no resemblance to the installation instructions.
The uprights in particular have a completely different profile and I spend perhaps 3 hours dry assembling various parts of the shower trying to work out whether I have a door part, a glass surround part, or a frame part !

Eventually I conclude mhy deliberations and can actually assemble the cubicle in situ.  I then find that I’m missing some of the self tapping screws and silver screw cover caps - not enough to seriously jeopardise the installation, but enough to mean that some corners of the cubicle have to be screwed together with my own screws that will need replacement parts from the eBay seller. Take photo of offending missing parts, and carry on ...



Thursday, May 11, 2017

Tiled and grouted the remainder of the shower cubicle

Tiling the rest of the shower cubicle was a fairly straight forward job.   Checking all the time that the tiles were level and true, it was made easier by the choice of large wall tiles and 10mm right angle tile trim to finish the edges off neatly.


I originally planned to just tile the shower cubicle area, but having seen how quickly it took me to tile this section and how much better it looked with tiles on the wall I decided to continue tiling along the wall up to the doorway.

Waited a couple of hours for the adhesive to dry,  then cleaned any adhesive off the tile surfaces and from the cracks (found that if you leave this job to the next morning then the adhesive sets rock solid and is a lot harder to do),  and then grouted the lot.
Top tip, buy a proper rubber grout float and use power-mix grout. The ready-mix may be easier to use but its too lumpy and with the powder mix you can get a much better grout result.


Tuesday, May 09, 2017

New shower tray and starting to tile the shower

Having stripped out the old shower, next job was to start fitting the new shower tray.

As I mentioned in the previous post, the original shower tray and cubicle was quite restrictive as it was a standard 800mm square size.  Measuring carefully I worked out that I could fit a 900mm deep tray with enough clearance before the existing wall radiator, and looking around I could get 1200mm wide tray, so 1200x900mm wide it was.

Slight aside, I have discovered that you can buy most bathroom things like shower trays, glass screens, toilets, sinks and bathroom cupboards at very reasonable prices on eBay. Plenty of suppliers so the prices are keen and the quality is fine.  So eBay it was for this shower tray and cubicle and I brought it all over to France in Liz's Ford Galaxy.

As a result of putting in a larger tray this meant that the floor tiles had to be cut back to accommodate the new tray size, so out with the angle grinder - made a lot of dust in the process !

Of course the trap on the new tray was in a different position to the old one, so more cutting with the angle grinder and chiselling out with my big SDS hammer drill. And yet more dust.

I made several dry runs at assembling the waste and trap before applying pipe solvent glue to the pipework. The trap was then screwed on, a bed of mortar under the tray, and silicone around the trap to seal it to the tray. Fitted the tray and left it all overnight to set.

Then I started on tiling the walls. The tiles again came from the UK, B&Q in fact, as I had some left over from tiling our utility room at home! I did have buy several boxes more and bring them over to France, but as we liked them already it was easier to keep with this style.

One challenge I had was the shower bar that was in the middle of the wall. Unlike in the UK, French regulations don't seem to require you to have shut-off valves before water outlets so I had to turn the whole house water off when I removed the shower bar. I didn't have any stop ends that would fit the pipe, so made an impromptu loop with a washing machine filler hose which did the job a treat!


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Removing the old shower cubicle

Downstairs in the Gite is a large bathroom with toilet, washing machine and a not particularly large shower cubicle. In fact when I looked round the Gite prior to buying it, the previous owners had stored their daughter's toys in the cubicle,  and whilst it has been used a lot more than the previous owners did,  the shower cubicle was starting to show its age and so I planned to replace it with something bigger. The old cubicle prior to starting work:  First job was to strip out the old cubicle, tiles and tray.  Smashing fun !


Monday, April 10, 2017

Another little repair job to the patio door blind

On arriving at the Gite I found that unfortunately the roller blind above the doors onto the patio had been broken at some point.  These blinds work really well but they are quite heavy and if you let them drop down at high speed they can get damaged which results in the blind coming apart.
It is a bit of a pain to fix this as I have to take the cover off the roller blind on the inside, unscrew the bottom weight,  and then manually feed the rolled blind back up through the slot at the top into the house,  then when the blind is all inside,  have to slide each blind slat out sideways and then you can slide them all back together. As I said, a bit of a pain.  At least it gave the opportunity to wash all the blind slats as I put it back together again.