Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Thursday, October 30, 2008

UK Traffic Conditions now on Google Maps

I noticed the other day that Google Maps have now started showing traffic details for most of the UK motorway network - simply click on the "Traffic" button on the top right above the map and you're shown live traffic details with normal traffic flow showing up in Green then changing to Yellow, Red and finally Black as the conditions worsen.

But there's more !

Clicking on the 'change' link next to the traffic speed legend and you're able to see historic average journey speeds for any day of the week or time period. With this you can easily see when the car parking opens on the M25 or the M6 snarls up past Birmingham, and it seems to be fairly accurate, my daily commute to Stockley Park is shown as getting difficult from about 6:30am, and is stop-start all the way round from 7:15am. Yep, I've been there a few times!

So far almost all of the UK Motorway (and Motorway grade A roads) are included and long stretches of a number of main A roads are covered as well (e.g. A1, A421, A43, A14), but there are still a few inexplicable gaps (e.g. there is a 1 mile gap on the M25 next to Abbots Langley).

Whilst I'm on the subject of traffic news I should mention Keep Moving which (once you've enrolled for free) you can setup your regular journeys (home to work, work to home, home to in-laws, etc) and then at a glance see what the journey time is likely to be and if there are any holdups on your route. You can get free texts sent to your phone or daily summary reports sent by email - I receive a morning text at 7am before I get stuck on the M25 and an email at 5pm before I attempt the journey home.

Keep Moving has a number of other features but they're not all that well integrated together on the website. There's CCTV images from the Highways Agency so you can check for yourself where the holdups are, eye witness traffic reports from other motorists, cheap fuel locations along your route and cheap food (from supermarkets) instead of being ripped off at a service station.

Some of these features can be a bit frustrating to use as once you've looked at the doom and gloom of the traffic holdups on your journey home you then have to separately search by road name if you want to look at the live CCTV images - so much better if they were available on the same map, but the data seems to be good and hopefully these usability things will improve with time.

Final mention goes to Route Scanner which mashes up Google Maps with live traffic information from the BBC Travel and Highways Agency. The Route Scanner search engine seems to be quite temperamental, it took several attempts for me to get details for my typical commute; I only got through when I entered details of nearby large towns on my route - post-code entry and both my home village were not accepted.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Relaunched Computing in France

One of the blogs I follow is Bob Toovey's Computing in France which is a bit of a mixture of internet articles, tales of computer use from France, and special projects such as step-by-step instructions of transforming a website into a modern standards-compliant CSS masterpiece (similar to my own prose on revamping and redesigning my Gite website).

Bob's recently updated and relaunched his blog and now offers the opportunity to "ask Bob" if you're stuck with an internet-related problem and some bonus free e-books to all new subscribers to his RSS feed. Surf on by to Bob!


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Greatest Cities of the World - Paris

Did you see Griff Rhys Jones' "Greatest Cities of the World" on Wednesday this week which was on Paris?

A lovely exploration of some of the more quirky parts of Paris with Griff packing in a full day with the Place de la Concorde, cleaning graffiti from the streets, greasing the lift shafts on the Eiffel Tower (with molten Mutton fat!), discovering hidden catacombs and loads of other stuff in between.

One of my favourite bits was of Griff roller-blading across the city, he doesn't look at all comfortable trying to navigate across Paris's streets, and neither did he look all that happy trying to drive around the Arc de Triumph in a battered Citroen 2CV, cutting across the unmarked traffic lanes with narry a traffic light to help him on his way.

Further unseen footage and the whole episode are on ITV's Greatest Cities website. Worth a watch


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Replacement swimming pool pump

Been shopping (again).

Back in August I received a phone call from our Gite guests to tell us that they'd come back in after a day out and all the electricity was off. Cutting the story (and the phone calls between me and France) short, we managed to isolate the problem to "something" fusing the downstairs lighting circuit, which I then remembered was the circuit that had been extended from the boiler room into the outside barn, which was where the swimming pool pump was plugged in.

Turns out that the guests had switched the swimming pool pump on when they went out in the morning and for some reason the pump had died and was causing the trip switch to blow. Unplugging the pump and everything worked OK.

The following weekend Alan went over to the Gite and swapped the pump for a spare one I had in France, so everything was back to normal.

Concious that we now didn't have a spare swimming pool pump, and one had gone after only a season's use, I needed to buy another one.

Retail prices of these pool pumps are circa £50, I found a couple of suppliers on ebay that would sell me one for £39.99, but last week I managed to snaffle one on ebay for just £4.99 + P&P, £12 all in.

A bobby bargain!

The pump arrived yesterday, it's absolutely brand new and never used so I'll be taking it over to Brittany when I'm next over.

PS: The lovely photo is from May last year and is of Jack and Toby playing in the pool whilst we waited for it to be filled up. The swimming pool takes some 18 cubic metres of water so it doesn't half take a while to fill up. It probably costs a small fortune on the water meter as well but I'm trying not to think about that.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Cheap4Ferries goes into administration

Had to update the France Holiday Travel Options page of our Gite website yesterday to remove Cheap4Ferries as the owning company The Online Travel Group has gone into administration owing some £2 million.

It seems from news reports that up to 750 future ferry bookings were "lost" at the point of the company's failure although many of the ferry companies are honouring such customer bookings made.

There are still a few other discount ferry crossing providers around such as, or as I've suggested before in previous Ferry blog ramblings look out for special advance ticket purchase offers from Brittany Ferries, SpeedFerries and others.


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Remember what you need to do with remindtime

I've got so many free adverts for our Gite running on multiple websites (plus I sometimes have forget little things like getting the MOT renewed) that some time ago I sought out a free reminder service to tell me when adverts (or MOT's) needed to be renewed.

I've been using RemindTime for some time as it's pretty easy to use and automatically emails you with your little reminder message on the chosen day/time (and optionally a few days before and afterwards as well).

You can have your reminder sent to you by email for nowt (my favourite), by text (just 10 pence), by phone call (25p), fax (25p), pager message (25p), a physical snail-mail letter (50p) or even a personal visit (£20) !

I've only ever opted for the free email reminders and I used the service pretty extensively to remind me of everything from the car MOT, credit card payments, mortgage scheme expiry, plus of course all the Gite advert reminders.

All was well until about a year ago when for some odd reason I stopped getting any reminder emails.

Nothing untoward appeared wrong on the RemindTime website, there was no notice of cessation of service, just the reminders stopped coming which I assumed was because they'd gone out of business or something.

Well tonight I was inundated with 230 emails, almost all of them remindtime reminders going all the way back to when the service stopped working. Took me ages to wade through them all but at least I did find a few adverts I hadn't renewed in the intervening months. I guess the service is back up and running.

Last month I forgot to get a new MOT on Liz's car and only found out about it when I couldn't pay online for a new tax disc. Oops. I'm glad remindtime is back in operation then ...


Friday, October 10, 2008

Speed across the channel for £30, even in peak summer time

SpeedFerries announced today that they have relaunched their Super Ticket deal whereby you can book single crossings on their Dover/Boulogne route for just £30 for any dates from now up to the end of 2009!

And if you're not ready to firm up on your holiday dates just yet awhile you have the option to book as a Open Ticket which you can then schedule online for the specific sailings you require - again any date, even in peak school holidays, just as long as there's still space on the boat. You can easily save £100 against the regular sailing price.

Of course if you're wondering where to go in France I can recommend a lovely French holiday cottage.
(Not that I am biased in my opinion of course )

I also spotted over on SpeedFerries website that they are now taking Bicycles on SpeedOne if you fancy a more sedate trip.

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