Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

New flykiller bulb and the world's oldest lightbulb

Trying to work my way through the pile of French jobs to do tonight I dismanted the electric fly killer I brought back from France.

In the kitchen of our holiday home there's a UV fly killer and whilst I was over at the Gite last month I noticed it had started flickering so needed a new bulb.

Unfortunately I couldn't find any matching FUL10T6BL bulbs on ebay so it was down to Google to find me a supplier. Ended up costing me about £6 just for the bulb, not all that much cheaper than buying a whole new UV light from on ebay.

Whilst searching I came across the Livermore Centennial light which is a lightbulb that was installed in the Livermore (California) fire station in 1901, was moved to another fire station in 1976, and has been burning continuously for 104 years!

The bulb was handblown with a carbon filament by the Shelby Electric Company, is approximately 3 watts in power, and has been left burning continuously in the firehouse as a nightlight over the fire trucks. Since the bulb is always left on it's not subject to the surges and stress of electricity; this and the low power have doubtless helped the bulb to survive.

Apparently it's only been off when there were power cuts and for 23 minutes when it was moved in 1976. The Guinness Book of World Records has certified the age and authenticity.

The new fly killer bulb is only certified for 10,000 hours - not quite as long as the Livermore ...

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Building new gate panels

After having to rush around rebuilding a driveway gate on our holiday home last time I was over, I spent some time today constructing some new upright panels for the other gates as I noticed there were a few on their way out and rotting through as well.

It's a lot easier if I get ahead of myself and make things like this in the UK as I can be sure I'm buying the right wood (no hunting through my French phrase book for 'pressure treated timber') and I can get all the painting done with less of a rush.

I also believe that UK paint is of much better quality than French paint even though many of the manufacturers (Dulux, etc) are the same. Whereas we can buy gloss, eggshell, matt, interior or exterior paint, kitchen and bathroom, etc, our continental cousins seem to only have gloss, flat matt or micro-porous - paint is also incredibly expensive in France, maybe twice the UK price?

Anyway, cut and shaped 9 new upright fence pieces today and then primed and undercoated them. Just as soon as I'd finished it started raining so they'll need repainting - just typical.


Saturday, February 24, 2007

LD Lines takes over Transmanche and offers new service from Newhaven to Le Havre

Strolling over to LD Lines today I noticed that they've quietly announced a deal to run Transmanche Ferries, and for Transmanche to become a sister company of LD Lines.

There's little other details of the actual deal on LD Lines' website, but what they do say is that this will mean that Transmanche's Newhaven <-> Dieppe service will continue and LD Lines will charter one of Transmanche's boats, The Seven Sisters to run a new summer (May-September) service from Newhaven to Le Havre.

The new service looks to be sensibly timetabled, arriving at Le Havre at 18:30 and leaving for Newhaven at 20:00 with a 5 hour crossing both ways. Le Havre is just 4 hours (pretty much straight down the motorway) from central Brittany so I've added details of this new service to the ferry and airline travel options for getting to our Gite.

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Vacapedia Vacation Rental directory

I'm always on the lookout for alternative places to advertise our holiday cottage, partly on the basis of the more places I list, the more places I'm likely to get a booking from, and also partly because more links from other sites will boost our search engine rankings.

If I can find places at low (or no) cost, so much the better!

Recently I came across Vacapedia which aims to be "the leading 'one-stop-shop' site for travelers / families seeking vacation rentals on the Internet", is based in Silicon Valley, and is "building the largest database of vacation rentals and associated information to serve the vacation rental ecosystem".

I'm not sure what a 'vacation ecosystem' is, but nothing ventured, nothing gained and all that.

We've listed our French holiday home on Vacapedia and will wait and see if it bears any fruit.

Vacapedia are currently offering three promotion codes:
  • Advertise your properties FREE for 1 whole year, use code "FREE0012" in the final step of the "Add Property" process.
  • List your property by March 31st for $60 (60% discount), use code "MAR60"
  • List for 2 years for $70 (70% discount), use code "MAR70"


Thursday, February 22, 2007

Bloggings for Bookings

Map of Brittany
Craig McGinty over on This French Life wrote about this Blog last week, drawing out the benefits of Blogging and the follow-on benefits in terms of more material for search engines to 'get their teeth into', the boosted search rankings, and then the holiday bookings that we've had as a result.

Craig is a prolific writer with his 'This French Life' Blog, usually there's several postings a day of news and information about France - well worth a visit.

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

'"Torn" sketch at The Secret Policeman's Ball

Nothing at all to do with France, but I thought I'd pass on a really amusing sketch I saw recently as part of Amnesty International's Secret Policeman's Ball at the Royal Albert Hall.

Channel 4 showed the fund raising event a month or so ago, and one particular sketch we loved (and have since watched repeatedly) was an visually interpretive mime to Natalie Imbruglia's "Torn".

At the time we didn't know who had performed it, but some digging on youtube I managed to find the sketch and found out that it was performed by David Armand who pretends to be Johann Lippowitz.

Looking further I found David Armand's profile on you tube and then found a couple more mime's David's done to Oasis' Don't Look Back in Anger and Paul Young's "Wherever I Lay My Hat".

Absolutely fabulous stuff and David's obviously a really clever at what he does. Just look at other people attempting to do his mime's (also posted on you tube) to see how well he performs compared to them.

The DVD of Amnesty's Secret Policeman's Ball is available now, profits go towards Amnesty's great work. IMHO, worth it for just watching David Armand (repeatedly!)


Thursday, February 15, 2007

There's luve out there on the internet

I should have posted this yesterday (valentine's day) but I was very busy with work and didn't get home until nearly 10pm (good job Liz is away in France otherwise major trouble would be mine.

Anyhow, I digress. Like most blog owners I get lots of junk spam comments on the blog, probably about 10 a week in total. I've cut down most of the problem by turning on Bloggers's comment moderation facility so I have to approve all comments before they get posted on the Blog. Anything relevant I will of course post but the irrelevant adverts for size, length and hairyness extensions all get rejected.

Yesterday one of the junk comments that was posted yesterday amused me:
Hello. Alone on Valentine's day? Live adult chat for fun http://www.etc etc dating

I didn't take them up on the offer. Just gave the cat a stroke instead and watched the telly.


Ongoing saga of the car - some good news for once!

Nissan Logo
My long-running saga with my trusty Nissan Primera continues after the car was smashed in the rear last November.

I got the car back from the repairers a couple of weeks ago but was not at all happy with the repairs. Outside everything looked perfect but inside the boot-well there was clear signs that it'd been involved in an accident. There were crease lines in the metal, lots of filler where bits of metal had been cut out and then welded back in and the spray painting was a different colour on the new metal than the old metal.

In short it was definitely going to reduce the car's eventual resale value. Given that the accident hadn't been my fault I wasn't going to accept it like this.

I phoned my insurance company up and told them the problems and they said they'd tell the garage to come and collect it, take some more photos, then their engineers would decide what to do.

A week later having heard nothing I phoned them up and they suggested that I take the photos for their engineers. Fortunately I had already taken some so I sent them off and waited.

Few days later they emailed me back to suggest that I take it up with the garage !!

Argh. Phoned them up and made it quite clear that as they'd arranged the work then it was up to them to sort out the problems with the garage.

Result! The garage phoned back the next day, said they understood I wasn't happy, and booked it in for re-repair.

Of course I had to wait yet another week and a half before they had a repair slot, and on Tuesday this week I took it in for repair (again).

And the good news out of all this ?

Today I received two cheques from my insurance company with repayment of the £300 excess that I'd had to pay and £242 for when I had to hire another car from Hertz to go to France. I wasn't expecting these cheques from my insurance company, thought I'd have to claim them directly off the 3rd party - so a small bit of good news.

My insurance company also said in the letter that they've closed the case as they've had full reimbursement from Zurich insurance so now I have to get my no claims bonus re-instated and then hopefully get my car back next week with all the repairs done properly ....


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Summer's pretty much gone

I've not written about holiday bookings and current holiday rental availability for our Holiday Gite for some time, so thought it worth penning a quick update.

In brief we're doing fantastically well this year with many more dates already booked than we had at this time last year.

Last week we took a booking for the last free week in May so right now our current summer 2007 availability is:
  • Only 1 week free in April (21st to 28th)
  • All of May booked
  • All of June booked
  • All of July booked
  • Most of August booked with only 28th onwards being free
  • Half of September booked, only 1st to the 10th is free, and 21st onwards

  • Most of March and October are free, as is Christmas 2007 and 2008!

We're obviously really pleased to be doing so well which appears to be mainly brought about by our improved Google ranking (we're about position 8-10 for "Brittany Gite" and position 15-18 for "Brittany Holiday").

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Bought a new frame swimming pool

Popped over to Cambridge today to collect a new swimming pool for our French Gite.

When we first bought our holiday home we thought about putting in a swimming pool but were concerned about the £10,000-20,000 installation cost, annual maintenance and cleaning requirements, and by the rigorous French swimming pool regulations that require all in-ground pools to be fenced in and alarmed.

After the first year of renovation we found a more cost-effective solution in one of the French supermarkets with an "easy-up" pool. Basically these are like giant kids paddling pools - you blow up the white outer ring, then fill the pool with water. As it fills up the sides rise up and it holds its shape pretty good.

These 'easy up' pools are much cheaper than the in-ground systems (roughly £100-200), can be drained and put away at the end of the season, and the swimming pool regulations don't apply as they are not permanent.

For 2005 we had the pool up on the East side of the Gite and both our kids and the guests we had staying absolutely loved it.

Last year we put the pool up on the opposite side by the new patio and barn where it's warmer in the evenings and you can sit on the patio and watch the kids playing. Unfortunately when I'd put the pool away in 2005 I'd obviously caught the pool on something as there were 3 holes in the pool side-wall and one in the white inflatable ring - none of which we discovered until we tried putting the pool up so I had to partially drain the pool, go out and buy some bicycle repair patches to stick over the holes, then re-fill the pool again. This worked OK with the side-wall holes but I was never successful with repairing the hole in the white inflatable ring (which was right on the seam) so it kept on going down after a few weeks of use.

Since packing away the pool last year we've been trying to think of a way of repairing the hole in the white ring. In the end we decided to give up and buy a complete new pool.

The new pool is larger than the easy-up pool, both in width (15 foot diameter vs. 12 foot for the easy-up) and depth (1m vs. 80cm). It's also a frame pool so will be a bit sturdier than the easy-up, and comes with a ladder to get in and out with.

Currently our garage is now full of swimming pool and all it's associated poles, chemicals, ladder, pump, hoses, cleaning net, cover, etc. I'll be glad when Easter comes and we can take it over there - although probably not as glad as the kids will be when we put it up and they can play in it. Last year we had trouble keeping them out, even when it was dinner or bedtime!

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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Home Alone in Bedfordshire

Home Alone
I'm Home Alone this week as Liz has gone off to our Holiday Farmhouse in Brittany for the half-term week with our two boys and her parents.

Unfortunately I don't have the comedic skills of Macaulay Culkin so the most exciting thing that's likely to happen to me is walking the Dog and having to cook my own meals for the week.

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Great new Google Webmaster feature to discover internal & external site links

Over on Google Webmaster Blog, Google announces new Webmaster features to view external and internal links to your website.

Previously you've always been able to use the link: operator to give a subset of the links that Google's found to your site (e.g. views links to my holiday home website), but I've always found the results are quite variable. In my case I've been confused for some time why Google only reports 1 link to our website (from this Blog) when I know there are many many more.

Things are improved somewhat now with new features in Google Webmaster tools to now give a much fuller list of external links to your site, and also detail all the internal links that it's discovered (i.e. from one page of your site to another). Firstly you get a list of all pages on your site that Google knows about along with how many inbound links to that page there are, then you can drill into each page and see details of the external links and when Google last visited each of them.

You can search for specific pages within your site, look at the links to subsets of the data, and download the results into a spreadsheet.

All excellent stuff for understanding what Google thinks about you.

So taking it for a quick spin on our main Gite website, Google reports 253 external links to the site:
All pages (total external links)253

Many of the links were ones I knew about but there were a few surprises, plus some I know exist that didn't appear.

Interestingly a few of the links haven't been visited since December 06 with the majority being visited at various dates in January 07. Most surprising is that only 4 pages are listed for my site despite there being many more than this and I know that Google has indexed some of them. Not really quite sure why this is, I doubt it's because the content is considered duplicate.

Maybe I need to create a Google sitemap and that will "encourage" Google to index more of my pages.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

RSS and our holiday home Weblog diary - Explanation of what RSS means and how to subscribe to new articles

RSS Icon

What is RSS and the orange icon all about?

RSS is a simple mechanism of enabling internet users to see what's new on a website without having to visit the site. At its heart is a web page with all the 'what's new' items and articles, which are then wrapped up in a special file layout (known as XML) that computers can read.

To let visitors know that an RSS page (also known as an RSS news feed), is available a little orange picture icon is often used. Many big names on the internet such as BBC News and Google News are now using this icon to keep their visitors informed about what's new on their sites.

What's RSS got to do with this Brittany Holiday Home, and what's a Weblog?

As well as our main holiday home website, Geoffrey and Liz also write an online diary (which you're looking at now) about their adventures with buying, running, rennovating and letting out the holiday home, and also French news and book reviews, travel special offers and occasional chit-chat such as cool websites we come across.

This online diary is known as a Weblog, ours is at, and to make it easier to find and read the new articles each day, we also make them available in an RSS file.

How do I read articles written in an RSS file?

To read RSS files you need a computer program (often known as a news reader) that understands the RSS file format and will regularly check all the RSS files that you have 'subscribed to' and let you know if any new articles have been added. Some of the more popular PC programs that do this include FeedDemon, FeedReader and NewsGator, or for the Mac NetNewsWire.

Increasingly the ability to understand RSS files is now being built into email programs such as Thunderbird and web browsers such as Firefox and Internet Explorer 7.

Finally there are also a number of different internet services that understand RSS files such as BlogLines, MyYahoo, My MSN and NewsGator Online - these have the advantage that you can read your subscriptions from any computer, or you choose to have new articles automatically emailed to you each day with services such as FeedBlitz.

What do I need to do to start reading new articles you've written?

Once you have decided which program you are going to use, you click the right mouse button on the little orange icon below (which you will also see on the right hand side of every page of the Blog website), then click on Copy Shortcut to copy the internet address of the RSS file, then go into your Newsreader, select 'new subscription' or 'new feed' (the process varies slightly for each different program), and paste in (using control-V) the RSS internet address you copied above.

Whenever we write a new article you will then get a message to say there is something new and you can read it from within your newsreader without having to visit our Blog website.

Subscribe to our Subscribe to our RSS Weblog feed RSS news feed by copying and pasting this internet address into your newsreader.

It's even easier to start receiving new articles by email. Simply enter your email address in the box below, click Go, and then whenever there's a new article (roughly every two days) it will automatically be emailed to you.
Your email address will only be used to send you new articles, will not be shared with anyone else, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
 (Powered by FeedBlitz)

Finally for a few of the more popular internet-based RSS readers there are buttons provided below that will automatically subscribe you to our RSS feed. Simply click the appropriate button depending on which RSS reader you use:
 Subscribe to our RSS feed in Bloglines
 Subscribe to our RSS feed in My Yahoo
 Subscribe to our RSS feed in Google homepage
 Subscribe to our RSS feed in My MSN
 Subscribe to our RSS feed in My AOL
 Subscribe to our RSS feed in Newsgator



Monday, February 05, 2007

Discounted Berlitz French Premier from Avanquest

Just received through details of a limited special offer from Avanquest for £5 off Berlitz's innovative foreign language software, bringing the price down to £24.95 (with free delivery).

Obviously I'm most interested in the French software but the offer also includes Spanish, German and Italian - just use the Promo code BERLITZ on Avanquest's software shop.

NB: This is a 48-hour only offer.


Friday, February 02, 2007

Speedferries announce their own exclusive port facilities at Dover

Regular readers will know I've been quite happy with using SpeedFerries for cut-price channel crossings for some time now.

Their latest press release popped into my mailbox today announcing that they have just signed a lease for the Dover Hoverport at Dover's Western Docks.

This'll give them dedicated facilities at Dover (cutting down having to go the same check-in, passport control, etc as the rest of Dover traffic) and their own retail facilities. Assuming this isn't reflected in the ticket price this sounds another good move by SpeedFerries.

To celebrate they're offering £50 flexible return tickets (which is an absolute bargain crossing price for peak season) and 10-trip SuperVouchers for £220 (i.e. each crossing works out at £22 each), valid for 2 years.

Both good deals if you fancy a trip to La Belle Francais.

More details on SpeedFerries website

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Thursday, February 01, 2007

200 not out on ebay!

Whooo-hooo! Today I reached the dizzy feedback score of 200 on ebay with 100% positive feedback !

200 unique people (buyers and sellers) think I'm a "good egg" and can be trusted (in fact the actual number of ebay trades is higher at 220 but the rating system is worked out on unique buy/sell relationships so multiple purchases from the same person don't count).

I've been on ebay since December 2000 and remember reaching 100 about 15 months ago so I guess my use of ebay is accelerating.

And here's my ebay profile if you want to read all the nice things people have said about me!


France the best place in the world to live ?

French Flag
According to International Living's 'Quality of Life 2007' survey, France is for the second year running judged to be the best place in the world to live. Not that I'm biased in pointing this out of course!

The survey points to good infrastructure, public transport, low inflation, strong pro-business environment, best health care in the world (as judged by the World Health Organisation) and high standards of living (once outside Paris of course!).
Downsides include the taxation regime, over burdensome civil service (over a quarter of all Frenchmen work in the public sector - no wonder bureaucracy's almost a national pastime) and comparatively high unemployment at 9%.

Unsurprisingly perhaps Iraq is judged worst place in the world to live.

See International Living for the full article on best and worst places to live in the world.