Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Adding a search engine to our website

Inspired by an article I read on I thought it'd be a good idea to add a search facility to our holiday home website which would make it easier for visitors to find things on the site.

The isitebuild article recommends using a free search engine facility such as Atomz, Freefind or Google Custom Search Engine.

Normally I'm quite a fan of Google but I have to admit to not particularly liking some of the Google powered searches I've seen on other sites. The results returned often look just plain amateurish and have big Google logos and confusing radio buttons that toggle between searching your site and searching the main Google engine. All in all it's not as good as it could be.

Looking a bit further (searching with Google of course) I also found PicoSearch, FusionBot Free and a good article that compared the features of some of the different free remotely hosted search engines.

The problem with all of these options are that the free versions are all supported by adverts which is understandable I suppose but doesn't look so good and is not what I want to appear in the middle of our website.

So the alternative I've been playing around with is running my own search engine on my own website as my hosting provider allows me to run CGI scripts (that's how the 'contact us' booking enquiry form we have works - it's a CGI script from Matt's script archive).

Over on there's a list of different CGI/Perl search engines and the Fluffy CGI search particularly caught my eye as it highlights the relevant words you searched for in the search engine results displayed when your visitor does a search - sounds great!

Unfortunately I can't get it to work and I don't know why. I followed the configuration instructions on the Fluffy search site, uploaded the various .pl files and set execute permissions on them, created a blank directory for the search index, and ran the 'create index' script which ran OK but promptly did nothing and didn't create the index files.

And so of course with no index, no search results.

I've probably done something stupid so I emailed the authors of Fluffy Search to ask for help. I only sent the email tonight so have not heard back yet from them.

PS: I've just found the CGI Resource Index which has 2525 free CGI scripts to play with including 39 different Perl site search engine scripts so looks like I've for plenty of alternatives to try out.

Fluffy's on there but is way down near the bottom of the list as it's not been ranked by anyone. Maybe I'll start fiddling with the top-ranking entries.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

RyanAir fly from Birmingham to Dinard

Last week RyanAir announced they're starting operations from Birmingham airport to 20 new destinations across Europe including Dinard in North-West France, about an hour's drive from our french holiday home, and offering some competition for FlyBe who also operate a Birmingham to Brittany flight, this time to Brest on the southern Brittany coast.

I find it quite amazing that RyanAir are going to run all 20 routes with initially just two new aircraft - they're going to be very busy aircraft I think!

Dinard flights commence on 17th June 2008.

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Speedferries - 10 trip voucher offer, only £230 for this next week

News from SpeedFerries that they're doing a very limited offer of 10 flex-trip vouchers for just £230 (i.e. £23 per single crossing) until Friday 29th January.

After that the price rises to £280 so if you're quick you can save of £50 against the normal 10-trip price, and in fact save a fortune against the regular ticket price as these flex tickets are valid for 2 years for any sailing, just as long as they've got room on the boat.

So for example if you're sailing over to France in August peak season when the prices can reach £100 or more, you could even end up effectively with 8 free tickets!

There are other offers including 6-trip flex vouchers for £156 and 10-trip off-peak vouchers for £190 on Speedferries website - act quickly though!

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Free French holiday Gite advertising on French Entree (until end Feb 08)

I don't know if you've seen French Entrée or not, but it's a pretty good online guide to owning and buying property in France. There's quite a lot of useful articles about different regions of France, the process of buying a house, planning permission, new septic tanks (one of my recent favourite subjects!), and more.

I noticed last night that French Entrée have recently launched 'FrenchEntrée Holidays', an online magazine aimed at people holidaying in France, and so are offering free holiday home listings up to the end of February 2008. As standard each advert includes:
  • Description & Property features
  • Map link
  • Rental price calendar
  • Email enquiry system
  • Account to record all your enquiries
  • Keyword search engine optimisation
  • 9 photos
  • SMS message option for enquiries
After the free trial period the price rises (I think) to €120 per year.


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Fixing an annoying HTML/CSS "bug" in Firefox - underlining beneath a clickable image

Following on from yesterday's entry about being invited to join the top-400 Gites in france, when I added the GitesDeFrance.Info logo to the home page of our website I found that what had previously been a minor annoying HTML featurette now looked plain horrible ... the GDF logo had an unsightly blue underline right underneath it.

On the left hand column of the website I'd added the GDF.I logo and a text description and then wrapped them all up in a HTML tag so that clicking either the logo or the text would result in the link being clicked and the visitor being taken to the GDF website.

The guts of the HTML looked like this (I've stripped some of the detail out to make it clearer):

<a href= target=_blank><img src=/images/gdf_logo.gif><br>We're in the top 400 Gites</a>

Which produces the desired results when viewed with Internet Explorer:

IE6 displaying an image embedded in a link - note no underlining of the image

but when viewed in Firefox, both the text link and the image are underlined which looks horrible:

Firefox's default display of images embedded with links - note the underlining decoration of the image

I'd previously ignored this problem with just the square Gitelink logo appearing on the website homepage, but with the circular GDF.I logo I couldn't leave it like this as the stray underline looks just plain wrong.

The problem is caused by Firefox applying different different priorities as to which CSS tags should be applied when or not. In the website CSS file I have the following style definitons:

a img {border:none }
a:link {color:#0033cc; text-decoration:underline; }

Which says that clickable images within <a> tags shouldn't be displayed with a border (the default HTML treatment is that they're displayed with a blue border), and that all text within links should be coloured blue and decorated with underlining.

Normally both of these sets of CSS rules are fine and everything looks fine in both IE and Firefox, but on the odd occasion where the above HTML construct is used of an <img> image and some text within the same <a> tag, then the text-decoration rule seems to take preference in Firefox and the image is underlined to show that it's a clickable image. It's probably because IE is ignoring some of the HTML display rules and Firefox isn't, but the result is I'm sure you'll agree unsightly.

I tried various attempts at resequencing the CSS and HTML to no avail, so turned to Google to see if anyone else had the same problem and whether there was a fix.

Sure enough, Google came up trumps as usual. Firstly I found a page on Coding Forums where someone else was having the self-same problem but the various solutions suggested didn't work, and then on IT Developer network's "the scripts" the same problem was described, and a fix to the problem, as well a good demonstration of how the fix works at

In essence all that needs to be done is change the image from being displayed as an inline element to being displayed as a block-level element. Once that's done the line underneath the box is no longer displayed and the problem goes away.

Or put more simply, all I had to do was to define a new "noul" class in the CSS file that would display the selected image as a block element:

a.noul img { display: block; }

and then apply that new style to the images within the <a> tags on the home page:

<a href= target=_blank class=noul><img src=/images/gdf_logo.gif>We're in the top 400 Gites</a>

The only other change that was needed was to remove the <br> in the <a> tag as displaying the image as a block element automatically means that the following text appears on a new line.

And job done, here's how the homepage now looks in Firefox (and IE still looks OK as well):

Image styled with display:block in Firefox

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Monday, January 14, 2008

We're in the top 400 Gites in France

We are ranked in the TOP 400 GITES on
We've recently had our Brittany Holiday Gite selected to become a member of GiteDeFrance.Info's top 400 Gites in France for 2008 which is nice recognition of the quality of our Gite, and a potential additional source of customers for us.

Having been selected to be in the top 400, the actual position we appear at within the directory is determined by how many visitors we in turn send to the GdF.I website and how many visitors from GdF.I visit our Gite website. So in essence it's a popularity based ranking. Those Gites that pass more visitors to the directory appear higher which in turn boosts their visitors, etc, etc.

Right now we're appearing at position 55-ish but this seems to be recalculated fairly frequently so with luck we'll get a bit higher soon.

I've added the snazzy GdF.i logo to the homepage of our Gite website so hopefully that'll help to boost our ranking a bit: logo


Friday, January 11, 2008

A "squadron" of budget airline changes for Brittany airports

Collecting together some of the recent route and airport changes that the budget airlines have announced for flights into Brittany ...

First up is the grand-daddy of route changes, RyanAir, who continually confuse and confound me by adding routes at the start of the year and then removing them later on in the year, making it very difficult to keep up to date the travel route options page for our Brittany website.

RyanAir have recently announced new routes from Liverpool to Nantes and Bournemouth to Nantes (the latter announcement is I feel a bit of a fraud as I picked up the same "new" Bournemouth/Nantes route news on this blog in June 2007).

Next up is Irish stable-mate Aer Arran who have quietly dropped without any kind of announcement their Bristol to Nantes route, but made a splash with their first route into Brest airport by announcing a new Cork to Brest route.

To date EasyJet have not had any routes into Brittany or Normandy but following their acquisition of GB Airways last year which I predicted might lead to more routes, EasyJet have announced their first route into Brittany with a new Gatwick to Nantes route from 31st May. Actually it's not a completely new route as GB Airways have been operating this route for some time, but now you can book it via the EasyJet website.

... and finally, a completely new airline that until very recently I'd never heard of, SkyBus.

Skybus seems to have been up to now a Scilly Islands-based operator with just one route on the website operating from Newquay in Cornwall to/from St. Mary's in the Isles of Scilly (with some flights stopping off en-route at Lands End Airport), and three additional routes on the Isles of Scilly travel website from Bristol, Exeter and Southampton to St. Mary's.

Well now Skybus are branching out with a Newquay to Cardiff route from 10th March, and relevant for me, a new Newquay to St Brieuc route from 17th March 2008. St Brieuc is the regional capital of department 22 (Cotes d'Armor) in Brittany and has grown into being a large coastal town with quaint harbour, the nearby sand-marshes of Baie des St Brieuc and miles and miles of wide sandy beaches at nearby Rosslaire. St Brieuc airport is probably closer to our Brittany Gite than any of the other Brittany airports as the town is only about 40 minutes drive from our holiday home.

Until the end of January Skybus are doing special offer introductory flights from Newquay to St Brieuc for just £55 each way, with standard fares rising to £69 afterwards. Still a good price as they're fully flexible and inclusive of airport charges.

So there you go, quite a few Brittany flight additions and subtractions, which as usual I try to keep up to date along with the other ferry and airline choices for getting to Brittany on our Gite website.

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Looking back on 2007 - Blogging from July to December

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Carrying on from last week's blog entry (Jan-June 2007), a quick recap of some of the notable blog posts from 2007.

July 2007
The month kicked off well with news of my successful promotion application at work, making me now an Associate Partner (equals more stress, more hassle, longer working hours and a tiny touch more money!).
July continued with how to apply for an EHIC (E111 replacement) online, the Tour de France, news of English homes being attacked in Brittany, cheap car hire throughout France and Europe courtesy of Auto Car Europe and finally a sighting of Harry Potter at King's Cross.

August 2007
Postings on MoneyBookers for cut-price foreign currency transfers, our first holiday booking for 2008, Moncontour medieval festival and Mr Bean's holiday.

New septic tank
Many of entries written through the latter half of the year covered covering the Gite's major building works, the installation of a new septic tank system. The story started off with how a septic tank system works and plans for the new septic tank and earthworks and then I recounted day-by-day the story and photos of how our garden disappeared, lots of large holes and mud appeared, the new fosse slowly took shape, and then the builders tidied everything up and grassed it all over again.

The construction itself took 7 days, starting with arranging with a farmer to get the old fosse emptied, starting work and emptying the old fosse, digging out and installing the new septic tank, digging out and installing the sand filter bed, completing the filterbed and pipework, inspecting the system and filling everything in, and finally finishing off with a new gravel driveway.

September, October and November 2007
As well as the fosse story I wrote about free tickets to the London Property Investor Show, £19 speedferry tickets, EasyJet buying GB Airways and some fun online Jigsaw puzzles.

December 2007
Having finally finished off the epic tale of the new septic tank, in December I was able to post on a few other subjects including going over to France for a working week and not being able to sail back because of the gales, Book Review of A Year in The Merde, Frenchmen setting fire to speed cameras and one of my Christmas presents - a top tool!

Hopefully I will shake off this flu/cold I've had all week soon and be able to get back to work and normal life again soon.


Sunday, January 06, 2008

My mistake & a calm thought for the day

Liz (my wife) pointed out a mistake in the recap of 2007's blog postings. It was actually January 2007 when I went over to the Gite for a long weekend to repair the gates, and in February I didn't actually go, instead Liz, her parents and our children went together - the first time she's been to Brittany without me (so I won't mention how they took a wrong turning en-route), and I stayed at home and fed the pets.

My mistake, my bad!

Meanwhile I went back to work at Stockley Park (near Heathrow) on Thursday, and it was full-on back in at the deep end. Seemed I'd never been away and I was deluged with actions and issues to sort out immediately, if not sooner. Great (not).

One of my colleagues sent me a helpful "thought for the day" on calmness and serenity ...


I am passing this on to you because it definitely works and we could all use a little more calmness in our lives. By following simple advice heard on the Dr. Phil show, you too can find inner peace.

Dr. Phil proclaimed, "The way to achieve inner peace is to finish all the things you have started and have never finished."

So, I looked around my house to see all the things I started and hadn't finished, and before leaving the house this morning, I finished off a bottle of Merlot, a bottle of Zinfandel, a bottle of Bailey's Irish Cream, a bottle of Kalhua, a package of Oreos, the remainder of my old Prozac prescription, the rest of the cheesecake, some Doritos, and a box of chocolates.

You have no idea how great I feel right now. Please pass this on to those whom you think might be in need of inner Peace.

I'd had a bit of a cold on New Year's day (Tuesday) and despite Liz's instructions to the contrary I thought I'd be OK for work. Well by the end of the evening the cold was full-on again, I hardly slept at all in the Hotel Thursday night, and decided that I was in no state for work on Friday so drove back home.

Have spent most of the weekend wrapped up on the sofa sneezing, coughing, spluttering and generally feeling very ill. I'm not ill very often but when I do, I make up for it big time. I don't think I will be back at work on Monday, will take the time to get properly better instead.


Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Looking back on 2007 - blogging from January to June

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At the turn of the year I thought I'd recap just a few of the stories and articles I have blogged about throughout 2007. Last year was my second full year of writing the Blog (I started the Blog on 1/1/06 and have written a few retrospective articles for earlier years) and in total I've written and published 116 postings.

Frequency of posting has been a bit erratic I know and as much as anything else has been driven by how busy I've been at work - sometimes I've been writing 4 postings a week, sometimes it's down to one every couple of weeks.

I'm not going to make a new-year's resolution to improve the blogging frequency as I know for sure that I will fail to keep it! Meanwhile I hope you do find what I write is interesting and fun.

January 2007
January was the month of car and weather problems it seemed with difficulties hiring a car to go to France after mine was rear-end shunted. Then the ferry was cancelled due to gales and I finally managed to hire a nice Ford Mondeo with cruise control and a week later couldn't get home from London due to more gales!

February 2007
The month started with me spending hours rebuilding and repainting the garden gates in France (in hindsight buying new ones would have been much easier!). An explanation of what RSS is all about, France was voted the best place to live in the world, Speedferries move into the old Dover Hoverport, I bought a new 15 foot frame swimming pool for the Gite and more construction of new Fence panels.

March 2007
LD Lines LD Lines announce they are taking over Transmarche Ferries and soon publish details of the Le Havre to Newhaven and Dieppe crossings. Articles about Advertising on the Blog (Blogvertising?), Photos of the nearby Nantes/Brest canal and using Pictobrowser as a slideshow for Flickr photos.

April 2007
Nearly missed the ferry going to the Gite due to an accident on the M20, but had a great April holiday with warm and sunny weather for all bar the last 2 days. Family photo of us all (and Dexter the dog) on holiday in Brittany, went to a Brocante (car boot sale) in France and spent more days repairing the Brittany garden gates!

May 2007
Trials and tribulations of applying for promotion at work, Photos of the Napoleonic town of Pontivy near our Gite, Google launches an improved Google Analytics service, Dilbert tried Blogging, Google Checkout opened for business in the UK but then wouldn't let me use it as I'm a travel-related business and finally a new Blogger Autosave feature which I have to admit I really love.

June 2007
We went over to our Brittany Gite again at the May half term and I managed to lose my passport and French cheque book causing lots of administrative nightmares. Back in the UK (reunited with my passport and cheque book), Sir Alan Sugar wanted to knock down my office, Brittany Ferries spends €81m on a new cruise ship, the differences between electricity sources in the UK and France, OnOneMap's a great Google mashup for finding properties for sale and Ryan Air launches a new route from Bournemouth to Nantes.

I'll carry on with recapping my ramblings from July to December 2007 in the next Blog entry.