Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Monday, April 28, 2008

Proposed 16 mile bridge from Normandy to Jersey

Sounding to me rather like a late April fool's joke (but stranger things have happened), there's a report in The Times today about building a bridge from Jersey in the Channel Islands to Normandy in North West France.

Peter Walsh a former president of the island's chamber of commerce has costed the 16 mile long bridge at *just* £1 billion after looking at the similar, but shorter 10 mile, Oresund bridge that links Sweden and Denmark.

Property prices for the 91,000 inhabitants of Jersey are already at similar levels to Central London and are tipped to go higher if the bridge does go ahead as it'll open up the possibility of commuting from France to Jersey and vice versa although with £25 tolls it'll take a while to recoup the massive investment.

Who knows whether it'll happen or not? Eurotunnel and the Oresund bridge no doubt started with similar low-key suggestions but I don't think the ferry companies will be quaking just yet awhile ...


Thursday, April 24, 2008

Free tickets to A Place In The Sun Live - this weekend (25-27th April)

This coming weekend Amanda Lamb and the Channel 4 crew come to London's ExCeL arena from Friday 25th April to Sunday 27th April for "the world's largest exhibition of overseas property".

There's lots of exhibitors there to help you find your dream home abroad whether you're looking to retire there, move there or simply buy as an investment or occasional holiday home. One of the advantages of exhibitions like this is you can meet many of the different companies involved, find out what they offer, learn more about the foreign property markets and how you go about buying, etc, etc.

Normal website advance ticket price is £15 for two tickets but I've a hot link that will get you up to four tickets for just the price of the printer ink (and paper!) !

Just use this link for free tickets to A Place In The Sun Live.


PS: If you're into Golf you can also get tickets via this link to the London Golf Show which is running next door, also at ExCeL.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

French Magazine relaunches Holidays2France and we get a free advert

A couple of months ago I wrote about our print advertisement in French Magazine, which unfortunately to date hasn't produced any enquiries or bookings results 8-(

Holidays 2 France
On Wednesday this week I received an email from the publishers of French Magazine, Merrick Media, to tell me that they've relaunched their Holidays2France website and as an existing advertiser I would automatically appear on the website - just as long as I provided them the Gite details in the format they required by Saturday lunchtime!

Getting the details together was a bit of a challenge as I was in South Africa for most of the week and so had to subscribe to wireless Internet access from my hotel. I did manage to get the entry written just before the deadline and before the day was out my new Gite advert was live.

I continue to hope that the advertising purchase cost was justified and we get some enquires as a result.


Monday, April 14, 2008

Gite 'features' and fixing another HTML bug (disappearing list bullets in IE)

A while ago I embarked on updating our holiday home rental website easier to read by reworking each page from being blocks of text into more digestible topics and paragraphs with topic headings (and sub-headings) delineated by <h1> tags.

Not only does this make it a lot easier for the reader to quickly scan through a page and hone in on the areas that they want to read, but by using headings the web page also becomes more "search engine friendly" to Google et al as they can better gain an understanding of what each page is about.

Of course like many of my grand "it would be good to ..." ideas (and especially those that involve significant re-writes of the website) I'm somewhat of a long way off actually completing the idea and to date I've only actually reworked in this way a limited subset of pages - the homepage, travel options, useful links and the fairly new RSS explanation pages.

According to the Google Analytics logs for my website, after the homepage the next most visited page is The Gite, the second entry on the navigation structure, that introduces and describes the Gite itself, and so it made sense for me to tackle that next.

Being away on holiday gave me enough free time to actually get around to rewriting the page, and adding what I felt it was missing out most, a short concise summary of the Gite itself. It's easy to go into reams and reams of prose but to make it easier for the visitor I wanted to bring together a summary bulletted list of "key features" you'd get when you rented our holiday Gite.

Summary lists are fairly easy in HTML using <ul> to start the list (i.e. an unordered list), then &li;li> (list item) for each feature of the Gite I was listing, and then wrapping it all up with some more subheadings gave a structure like this:
<li>Double Oven</li>

Which looks OK but somewhat uninspiring with a vertical column of bulletted items:


  • Fridge
  • Freezer
  • Double Oven

So I applied a new class "feat" to the list so that I could style the list using CSS. I wanted to change the default black bullet to being a nice stylish green tick-mark and for the individual features to read one after another across the page instead of going down the page.

The HTML now became:

<ul class=feat>
<li>Double Oven</li>

And in the CSS file after quite a bit of mucking about with padding settings (because IE and standards-compliant browsers treat padding in different ways) I ended up with:

ul.feat {
    list-style : none;
    margin : 0;
    padding : 0 0 1em;
ul.feat li {
    display : inline;
    padding : 0 1.3em;
    background : url (/theme/tick.gif) no-repeat;

Which comes up with a lovely styled list in Firefox that also displays properly in Internet Explorer most, but unfortunately not all, of the time.

Here's what Firefox displays:
Firefox perfect rendition of bulletted lists with word wrapping

and here's Internet Explorer's rendition:
Internet Explorer 6 disappearing list bullets bug

I've deliberately narrowed the window size to exacerbate and highlight the problem, but the same problem occurs on normal width screens that when list items wrap from one line onto the next (as the 'Double Oven' and 'Sandwich Toaster' entries both do), then Internet Explorer 6 quite happily doesn't bother rendering the bullet image (in my case a tick mark).

Formatting the list to display vertically (i.e. 'display:block' in the CSS) and there's no problem no matter how long the line or where it splits, format it to display horizontally ('display:inline') and the problem occurs on all items that wrap from one line to the next.

Whilst in France I experimented with all sorts of things such as applying <span>'s and <div>'s with 'style="display:block;" ' but that didn't work and the best I ended up with was a kludge of manually inserting <br>'s into the list so that particularly long lines split in the right place and thus didn't wrap around the screen, but this was horrible and didn't always work for different screen widths so I was determined to find a more robust solution.

Of course when back online in the UK after a bit of Googling I found the solution to this and other CSS problems in Internet Explorer was to apply an additional CSS rule that logically shouldn't have any effect, but for some reason forces IE to display things properly.

Three different suggestions were made:

line-height: 1.25;
zoom: 1;
position: relative;

And after a bit of experimenting I found of the three 'zoom:1' did the trick when applied to the CSS styling of the list item which now becomes:

ul.feat li {
    display : inline;
    padding : 0 1.3em;
    background : url (/theme/tick.gif) no-repeat;
    zoom : 1;

Job done, the page now looks just as good in IE as Firefox now:
Bulleted display fixed in Internet Explorer by adding zoom:1 to the CSS

In fact I feel it actually looks slightly better and is more readable now in IE as there is less splitting of the text within list items, they wrap onto the next line most of the time and only split onto a new line when the whole item text is too long to appear on a single line.

So what starts off as a simple improvement of a bit of the website ends up in a successful grapple against browser compatibility problems.


Friday, April 11, 2008

LD Lines splashes the cash on a new boat, more sailings and a new route

LD Lines announced today that they're purchasing a new boat, currently under construction in Italy, and due to come into service in November 2008.

The as yet unnamed boat is similar to LD's M/V Sorrento which operates between Italy (Rome) and France (Cote d’Azur) and will be able to 800 passengers with 110 cabins plus reclining seats, sleeper seats and the usual bars, restaurants and lounges.

Once the boat comes into service it will be used to add a second crossing on the existing Portsmouth/Le Havre route, leaving at lunchtime from Portsmouth and in the evening from Le Havre; complementing the existing crossing which currently runs overnight from Portsmouth and in the evening returns from Le Havre, but will probably be re-timetabled to balance the new service.

On the weekends LD Lines will operate their new boat on a completely new route from Rosslare in Southern Ireland to Le Havre, leaving France Friday evening, arriving in Ireland just 20 hours later on Saturday, and then returning back to Le Havre for Sunday.

This'll provide some competition for Irish Ferries who currently operate unchallenged two routes from Rosslare to Roscoff (Brittany) and Cherbourg (Normandy peninsular).

LD Lines is spending $110M on the new boat so they're clearly serious about growing their share of the French ferry market.

Further details of the new LD Lines ferry are on their website as are details of current summer sailing offers.

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Primroses, tree lopping, ladders and sore fingers

Something I've never noticed before when over in Brittany, but which we saw in abundance this March, was wild Primroses flowering in the grass verges alongside the road and embankments of the autoroutes.

I'm used to buying Primroses in the UK from the garden centre and admiring their colour each springtime ... and then remembering to overlook the bedraggled clump of Primrose leaves in the flower bed for the rest of the year - more than one of our Primroses in the past have been pulled up and thrown away because they were mistaken for weeds in the garden after they'd flowered!

But in Brittany it appears that wild Primroses are flourishing and loads of places we saw clumps of them flowering away and brightening up an otherwise ordinary roadside. They were pretty much all a pale yellow variety (presumably the original wild flower variant before we started propagating and cross-breeding them into the garish colours you find in a garden centre), but there was a one or two white ones I saw as well.

Unfortunately I didn't take any pictures of them.

A job I had to tackle this holiday was the height of some of the pine trees bordering our garden. I'd taken the tops of them out before, but obviously not enough, as several of the trees were now a few feet above the height of the telephone cable that runs along one edge of the garden, and they were now starting to approach the height of the electricity cable that was suspended a metre higher up the pole.

I've heard of other French residents receiving letters from the marie instructing them to cut the offending trees down to size, and as we're not over there that often I thought I'd better get onto the job myself.

Turned out to be somewhat harder than I thought it would be as the branches were some 12 feet up and just about at the maximum reach of our 5-step ladder with me standing on the top with the long-handled loppers. Cutting the 1-2 inch branches wasn't easy either and I ended up with sore arms after spending a few hours trimming the first tree.

After an overnight rest I decided to tackle the remaining branches of the last two trees and set the steps up again on the roadside verge, and climbed up with the loppers.

Hooking the loppers over a tall branch I took a firm hold and braced myself to pull down on the loppers and cut through the thick branch.

And of course as should have been predicted, the ladder slipped forwards on the wet grass verge and down I tumbled off the top, bouncing backwards past all the steps, and landing on my back on the grass. Ouch ouch Ouch.

The step ladder came off worst with a broken leg so has now been retired from active service, and I came out with a bit of additional stiffness and a few bruises.

After I'd recovered I used a proper ladder propped up against the tree with one of the kids on the bottom to brace it, and a two-handed saw to cut through the remaining branches, some of which turned out to be 3 inches thick and for which the larger saw proved to be much more up to the job.

I've now got minor nicks cuts and skin abrasions all over my fingers from the saw and the tree, and the wood store (for the open fire in the Gite) is now somewhat fuller of pine tree branches.

Job done - but somewhat painfully it has to be said!


Sunday, April 06, 2008

Another day, another country, another (different) weather

After a great two week Easter holiday break in our Brittany Gite, we arrived home last night to the usual mountain of post and of course a cat that thought we'd left him for good - so he was definitely pleased to see us.

The first week's weather in France was quite changeable, rain one moment, sunshine the next, but the second week was pretty much wall to wall sunshine.

Every day we sat outside and ate our lunch and evening meal on the patio; most of the time having to wear sunglasses as the sun was so bright!

Dining outside on the Patio at our Brittany Holiday Home

On the drive home from Brittany up through Normandy and Pas de Calais up to Boulogne we drove through periods of cloud and rain, and today we were woken up by the kids excitedly telling us it was snowing outside (in Bedfordshire where we live).

So in the space of a day we've had sunshine, showers, low cloud and now snow! There was enough snow to make a snowman of course, but it's not lasting unfortunately.

Back to the grind of the M25, work, and an even bigger mountain of emails tomorrow.

Every time I come back from France it leaves me wishing I was a bit closer to retirement so I could leave the work behind ...