Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Friday, April 28, 2006

Google maps come to France (and Germany, Italy and Spain)

As announced on Google's official Blog yesterday, country maps for France, Germany, Italy and Spain have now been launched in Beta by Google.

To be honest this has been long overdue as up until now Google's only had maps of the US, UK and Japan (clearly shows the global 'pecking order' as far as Google's concerned). Although officially there's only maps been launched for France, Germany, Italy and Spain, I noticed by scrolling round the map that maps for most of the rest of Europe have been loaded (to various levels of detail) including Portugal, Greece and Poland. Unfortunately Jersey and the rest of the Channel Islands don't get a look-in yet.

The level of detail (and hence I guess the source data) on all the main internet maps appears to be the same if you look at the village of La Cheze which is about 2 miles away from our Brittany Holiday Gite:

  • Google's map is the largest and I think the clearest to navigate and scroll around
  • ViaMichelin's map service has up until now been my personal preference for getting route directions
  • Mapquest's map is as actually slightly bigger than Google's but I think looks a little dated and doesn't for instance show the river and Lake
  • Multimap's map is nice and clear but the map size displayed is comparatively small
  • Mappy's map is nice and easy to read and like Google's you can just drag your 'window' left and right to scroll the map. It also has a zoom in/out mode so that one click zooms the map (unlike Google where you can only use the scroll widget). The map size is however smaller.
Mappy and ViaMichelin loose marks in my view though for not having any obvious way to copy the URL or bookmark a map page. The only way I could find to do it was to use the 'email this map' to me option on the sites.

All the maps (apart from Google) have various 'click to show nearby hotels or cash machine' buttons. Google's instead you have to type in what Entreprise (company type) you are looking for - it's more exhaustive (here for instance is a map of plumbers near to La Cheze), but as you have to type your request in French it's not all that much use of you're a tourist.

Searching for Cash Dispensers near La Cheze correctly showed the location of one in the town centre on mappy (unfortunately though it only showed one of the two that are in the town), but it was much better than Google that suggested that the nearest distributeur de billets was some 35 miles away in St Brieuc or Rennes (and there was only 28 in the whole of Brittany ...). Strangely Google declared that there were 4 cash dispenser's in Brittany (i.e. the English spelling), the nearest one being in Lorient!

I think it just goes to show that although the map data is the same, the usability and the local search features vary greatly and are still far from perfect. Google's is however a strong contender.

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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Spam blog commenting

From what I read blog spamming seems to becoming more of a problem as more and more people put up spam blogs or clutter up genuine Blogs (like this one!) with comments that attempt to entice you to their website or to gain from your website page ranking. The idea is that they lodge a comment on your blog (which of course is one of the great social networking benefits of Blogging) but in it include a link to their own website which is usually completely unrelated to the original site.

The problem has been partly solved by Blogger and other blog tools automatically implementing the nofollow tag in all comments so that the links from your Blog comments do not contribute to their search engine ranking, and they've also introduced word verification steps where you have to retype a displayed word before you can leave a comment.

I guess my little Blog is getting more popular as I've been increasingly getting more blog spam posted as comments. So far I thought it would be easier for the reader if I didn't turn Blogger's comment verification on, but may have to change my mind about this decision if I'm inundated with spam.

Today I found eight comments on the Blog which when I first saw them I thought they were genuine and nice feedback comments. It's only after I read them a bit closer that I realised they were clearly spam as some of them were very similar, they were completely irrelevant and they were posted to a set of Blog entries from January to February.

For your amusement, here's what they said:
Hey, you have a great blog here! I'm definitely going to bookmark you!
I have a internet banner advertising site/blog. It pretty much covers internet banner advertising related stuff.
Come and check it out if you get time :-)
Hi thanks for your blog, I liked it! I also have a blog/site about advertising firm that covers advertising firm related stuff. Please feel free to visit.
Hi Thanks for your interesting blog. I also have a blog/site, covering advertising solution related stuff. Feel free to visit my advertising solution site.
Hey, you have a great blog here! I'm definitely going to bookmark you!
I have a orlando advertising site/blog. It pretty much covers orlando advertising related stuff.
I just came across your blog and wanted to drop you a note telling you how impressed I was with the information you have posted here.
I also have a web site & blog about yellow page advertising so I know what I'm talking about when I say your site is top-notch!
Keep up the great work!
Hi Thanks for your interesting blog. I also have a blog/site, covering advertising standard related stuff.
Feel free to visit my advertising standard site.

And my personal favourite is:
Hi Thanks for your interesting blog. I also have a blog/site, covering advertising inflatable related stuff. Feel free to visit my advertising inflatable site.

They were all linked to the same (extremely dull) website. I've now deleted all these comments but please let me know if you really want the address of where you can get details of Orlando/inflatable/yellow page advertising ...

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Sunday, April 23, 2006

Spoke too soon about AirWales - they've gone out of business

Oops, yesterday I posted about the new low cost airline AirWales that flying into Rennes and they've ceased flying already !

Martin Selway (whose Brittany Gite is close to ours on the other side of Josselin) pointed out to me after reading my blog posting that Air Wales's website currently said:
Important Notice to all Air Wales passengers

Please note that with effect from Sunday April 23rd Air Wales have announced cessation of passenger services on all routes.

All passengers holding bookings with Air Wales for departures from April 24th 2006 onwards will be provided with a refund through the original payment method. To request a refund please contact our Reservations centre on 0870 777 3131 / IRE 1800 654193 and we will fully refund all monies paid.

A number of Air Wales' services have now been replaced by new carriers;

Cardiff- Newcastle - Eastern Airways
Cardiff - Brussels- Eastern Airways
Cardiff- Cork - Aer Arann

For services from Cardiff International Airport to Jersey and Paris CDG we recommend the following alternative services.

Cardiff- Rennes - Alternative services operate from Cardiff to Lorient with Aer Arann.
Cardiff- Jersey - Alternative services operate from Bristol to Jersey with Air Southwest or Flybe.
Cardiff- Paris CDG - Alternative services operate from Bristol to Paris CDG with BA Connect.
Exeter and Newquay - Cork - Alternative services operate from Bristol to Cork with Aer Arann.

For passengers holding reservations with Air Wales / BmiBaby to travel to Paris CDG please note that an automatic refund will be processed by booking agents bmibaby to the original payment methods. All queries regarding this should be forwarded to BmiBaby on 0870 264 2229 quoting your booking reference number and passenger name.

Air Wales apologise for any inconvenience caused. Should you have any queries please don't hesitate to contact us.

Now a few hours later, their site simply says:
With effect from Sunday 23rd April Air Wales has ceased all passenger operations. Please be assured that we are continuing to administer full refunds for all passengers affected.

I guess it's my own fault for writing the blog entry about AirWales a couple of weeks ago and not checking it before I posted it ...

This evening was spent with going through all the travel options for our French holiday website, removing AirWales, and checking that all the other routes still existed !

In doing so I found a new budget airline destination, Angers, which is about 3 hours drive from our Gite. FlyBe operate into there from Southampton as do AerArran from London Luton, Manchester and Cork.

Better do my research more thoroughly next time ...

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Saturday, April 22, 2006

Air Wales flights from England, Wales, Channel Islands and Ireland to Brittany

Only a few weeks ago I was writing about Aer Arran's low cost flights to Brittany, now I've found about another low cost provider, Air Wales, that's started small and has now expanded with four new routes to Rennes.

Rennes is the regional capital and largest town in Brittany with lots of things to see and do such as the medieval cathedral quarter, a number of elegant 16th-18th century buildings including the Brittany parliment building, several museums, an enourmous Saturday street market, or you can take 'le Val' (a driverless metro) to the innovative 'Rennes Atalante' zone for a tour of the Citroen factory. It's well worth spending a day or two exploring the town and it's just under an hour's drive away from our Brittany Holiday Gite.

Air Wales
Air Wales are starting flights to Rennes from Cardiff, Manchester, Jersey and Waterford so are (to my knowledge) the only low cost airline flying to Brittany from the Channel Islands and from North West England. Maybe we'll get some guests from these areas that'll let me know how good the service is - the prices are keen with one-way flights from £19.99.

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Monday, April 17, 2006

Tampons at a printing store ?

Whilst we were over holidaying in Brittany at our Gite last week I saw this sign outside a printing/stationery store in the nearby town of Ploermel and thought it rather amusing:

I later learnt that Tampon is French for Rubber Stamp so it basically says 'For all your printing needs: photocopying, faxes, rubber stamps, plaques & engravings'.

So there you go, I learn a new bit of french every day !

Friday, April 14, 2006

Back from France and the patio's not done

We got back from a great week's holiday in our Brittany holiday Gite on Tuesday and have come back to earth 'with a bump'. The weather was really good whilst we were over there, a bit cold in the morning (and on a couple of days there was frost on the car) but the sun soon got up and by mid-day it was generally quite warm and sunny. We ate lunch outside most days (try doing that in the UK in April!) and it only rained a couple of times.

As I said in my last blog entry just before I left part of the plan for the holiday was to have a new patio and one of the driveways re-gravelled. Well as you can see from the photo it's spectacularly NOT done or even started.

When we agreed the Gite building work in January we asked for the work to be done this week whilst we were over so we would be onsite to resolve any issues, etc. A couple of weeks ago the builder emailed me to say that he was due to start work the last week in March - i.e. the week before we were due to be there. I asked the builder to re-arrange to the first week in April and all was set for us and the builder to be there at the same time.

On Monday I thought I'd better get up early as the builder was likely to start at 8am, so dutifully set the alarm clock for 7:30 - far too early to be up when I'm on holiday. 8am came and went, then 9am and by 10am Liz was suggesting that we ought to phone him up to find out what was happening. At 11 he arrived to tell me that he'd sent an email on Sunday (after we left) and that he now couldn't start until the following week - argh !
Well next week we've got guests in the Gite so that's no good and we had to rearrange the work until later in April.

At least with having the builder over we could agree final details of the works and we also asked him to build a new set of steps up to the garden for us as well. The existing ones are oak beams set into the ground so they look rustic but of course are slowly disintegrating. The builder will email us photos of the work whilst it's being done and we'll not send him final payment until we're next over and are happy with it all.

All in all I'm a disappointed and not happy bunny. Was looking forward to being able to sit out on the new patio in the evening. Guess we'll have to wait just a little longer ...

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