Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Monday, July 27, 2009

LDLines Norman Arrow proves so popular that there's talk of a second vessel

Just read an interesting report on International Freighters Weekly about how well LD Lines' high speed Catamaran Norman Arrow is doing on the Dover-Boulogne route.

LD Lines is quoted as saying that they are definitely planning to introduce a second high-speed cat on the Dover/Boulogne route so that they can run an hourly service across the channel; and goes on to say that LD Lines are also considering introducing a similar service on the Portsmouth/Le Havre route.

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Brittany driftwood for sale

Brittany driftwood for sale on ebay!

If you fancy getting hold of a bit of Brittany but don't have the time to go and get your own, I just noticed an ebay auction that's on now for a collection of driftwood, shells and fishing net pieces from Brittany.

I'm guessing that these might be useful for flower arranging or craft displays??

No bids so far and a starting price of $19.

Proof that you can sell just about anything on ebay?

I think I'd rather go and collect my own ...


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Norfolkline midweek summer sailing discount offer ... and a gite offer from ourselves as well

Just a quick mention that NorfolkLine have a special offer on right now that closes this Friday of midweek crossings on their Dover/Dunkerque route from just £24 each way .... and if you book by 24th July and quote offer code 'WSS' then you'll save £10 off the midweek return crossing price.

Bookings are being taken online or over the phone by calling 0844 847 5030.

I couldn't of course go without mentioning that we've still got good holiday Gite availability for September and October 2009 and the weather is still really warm plus of course the peak-season rush will be over once the kids are back at school.

We're more than happy to take midweek or variable length bookings and if you mention this Blog entry then I'll even knock a 20% discount off the normal rental price.


I just don't believe RyanAir's headline grabbing "Air-tax causes cancellation of a third of flights"

I just don't believe RyanAir ... but they are very clever with their press releases.

Last week I wrote about RyanAir asking if you'd be prepared to stand up on your flight I mused afterwards that they were being very clever with getting press (and Blog!) column inches.

Well they've surpassed that announcement as yesterday RyanAir announced that they were cutting flights out of Stansted by 40%, blaming high handling fees at Stansted and the impending £1 increase in Air Passenger Duty that comes into force in November this year.

Many newspapers and TV channels have picked up on this and RyanAir must have been delighted to have grabbed both the front page and page 1 of today's paper and the full article about 'Airlines cut flights in tax-hike protest' on their website.

I just don't believe a word of the RyanAir announcement. RyanAir is simply cutting capacity over the winter period when less people want to fly (as they did last year) and then I can predict with absolute certainty that come the Spring there'll be a host of press releases on RyanAir's website that "RyanAir announces major expansion with flights to X, Y and Z".

Headline grabbing and nothing more in my opinion. And its worked!

Air Passenger Duty is a flat rate "green" tax based on the distance flown - shorthaul flights are currently £10, rising to £11 in November 2009 and then £20 in November 2010 (long-haul flights are up to £40 now, rising to £90 next year).

I do agree that APD isn't being properly reinvested in green initiatives and I also agree that isn't a fairly levied tax, it should be based upon the actual CO2 of the planes in use to encourage airlines to run modern more efficient aircraft ... but then the cynic in me says that they'd then claim that the government regulations were over-bureaucratic!


Saturday, July 18, 2009

Windows 7 now available to pre-order from Amazon

Microsoft Windows 7
Just received an email from Amazon announcing that they're taking pre-orders for Microsoft Windows 7 which is due to be released on 22nd October 2009.

Microsoft have come under fire for not providing a cheap upgrade path from Windows XP which loads of people (myself included) are still running. They've been pushing the pre-order route with special offer prices to try to improve take-up and the Amazon launch is no exception.

Windows 7 Home Premium E is available for a pre-launch price of £74.97 (compared to the normal Amazon 'full' price of £149.99).

Similarly Windows 7 Professional E has a pre-launch price of £179.97 (instead of a full price of £219.99).

Windows 7 has generally been getting good product reviews (e.g. see PC Pro's complete feature guide to Windows 7) and unlike Vista Microsoft have learnt their lesson about hardware requirements and so Windows 7 will run quite happily on older machines (although 1GHz and 1Gb memory is still recommended).

Personally I'm not a great fan of Microsoft but at these prices I do have to admit to being slightly interested. Like it or not Windows 7 is going to be around for quite a few years to come and so if you're thinking of keeping your current PC then it could be worth upgrading.

It's worth noting that these are the "E" (European) versions of Windows 7 so don't come with Internet Explorer built in because of European competition rules. You can of course download a copy of IE8 (see my earlier impressions of testing IE8) or my personal favourite Mozilla's Firefox (which was recently upgraded to Firefox 3.5).

PS: Just noticed that these Amazon prices are about £10 cheaper than pre-ordering Windows 7 from the Microsoft online store!

PPS: Amazon say that this is a limited pre-launch offer and is only available whilst stocks last and ends at midnight on 9th August.


Friday, July 17, 2009

La Rochelle - a new travel option for getting to our Brittany Cottage

Next week a family of four from Keighley in West Yorkshire is renting our Brittany Cottage.

This in itself is not unusual as the Cottage is rented out quite a lot and is booked pretty much solid from May through the summer season.

But it was the route they were travelling by that was a first-of-a-kind as they were flying in to La Rochelle airport as Leeds Bradford is 'just on their doorstep' and the flight times with Jet2 were quite convenient.

On the Travel routes to reach our Brittany Holiday Cottage page of our website we've listed all the different French ferry routes (P&O, LD Lines, BrittanyFerries, Eurostar, NorfolkLine, Condor, etc) from the UK and Ireland to France, and similarly there's details of all the budget and not-so-budget airlines that fly into what I thought were all the nearby French airports (Rennes, Dinard, Lorient, Nantes, Brest, etc) ... but not La Rochelle!

For all our guests we always email them a few weeks before the start of their holiday with detailed directions on how to get to the Cottage from their destination Ferryport or Airport ... but again I didn't have any directions from La Rochelle as no-one had been to the Cottage via that airport before!

So I was off on a new challenge, putting together the driving directions from La Rochelle airport to our holiday cottage. Fortunately I've done this for enough different airports and ferry ports now that I have it pretty much off pat with a combination of Google Maps (who have the best maps) and ViaMichelin (who have better turn by turn driving instructions).

As many of the different travel routes are very similar I build up the route using a series of sub-routes so in the case of La Rochelle it was simply a case of working out the directions from La Rochelle up to Nantes and then grafting these onto the existing directions I had from Nantes to the Cottage. And job done, uploaded the directions to the website and emailed the details onto our forthcoming guests.

But of course I couldn't just leave it at that, could I?

No, I then set about adding La Rochelle to the website travel options page which meant searching through each of the airlines to see if they fly into La Rochelle (turns out that RyanAir, FlyBe, AerArran, Jet2 and EasyJet all have routes into La Rochelle), adding their details to the website, finding out that other routes into France had now changed or been discontinued, which in turn ended up as more website changes ... oh but Jet2 wasn't previously on the travel options page so I had to download and resize an appropriate Icon before I could add it .... and before I knew it what had started off as a quick and simple new set of driving directions had turned into several hours sitting in front of the computer in my study!

Better not succumb to any more "simple website" updates or else Liz will be serving me with divorce papers for abandonment ...

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Saturday, July 11, 2009

RyanAir asks - would you stand for a free flight?

In typical RyanAir headline-grabbing style I notice they put out a press announcement on Thursday to gauge whether customers will be prepared to literally 'stand up' on a short-haul flight (instead of sitting) if the fare was free, or if it was half that of the sitting passengers.

There's even a mock-up of what the "secure standing seats" might look like:

Vertical Seating from RyanAir

Given how cheap RyanAir tickets are anyway I couldn't see how a half-price standing-only seat could actually be any cheaper??

Further details of announement and a poll to see how interested customers are in this novel idea are over at RyanAir's press releases.

PS: Watch the RyanAir standing seats video on YouTube and you might realise that this announcement may not be entirely genuine ...

Update 22nd July: RyanAir announced today that 120,000 voted in their online poll about whether they would accept standing on short-haul flights. Apparently 66% people voted for the proposal. See the RyanAir press release for more details.


Friday, July 10, 2009

The(re)' s no (w) train running to the Alps this winter

I received an email the other day announcing that the Snow Train wouldn't be running for the 2010 ski season - hence the Blog title.


There's no train running to the Alps this winter ..... the snow train running to the Alps this winter ...

It's a play on words.


Yes I know it's not really about Brittany, or running a Gite, but it is about France and I thought it was an amusing Blog title anyway!

Anyway, the news is that the Snow Train which has run for several years direct from London to the French Alps (via Eurotunnel of course) won't be running during the 2010 ski season as "due to the current economic climate and unfavourable exchange rates the service is not financially viable".

The promoters of the Snow Train say that they hope to be able to reinstate it again in future years "once economic conditions improve".

Despite the demise of the Snow Train there's still several other options to getting to the French Alps this winter, the key ones being:

Eurostar Direct Ski Train
There's two Eurostar Direct Ski trains that run weekly during the winter from London St Pancras or Ashford International stations direct to 3 stations in the French Alps (Moutiers, Aime La Plagne and Bourg-St-Maurice). Prices start from £149 return per person and the service runs from December 2009 through to April 2010 - one service on Friday night arriving Saturday morning and a second service travelling through the day on Saturday.


Take the Eurostar then a connecting TGV or overnight train to the Alps
There's many high-speed day and overnight trains from both Paris or Lille to the French Alps that operate throughout the Winter months. Overnight services have reclining seats or folding couchette-type bunk beds. We've taken this route ourselves to go skiing in the past and (apart from trekking with all your ski gear from one station to another across Paris) it's a great way to get to the Alps and enjoy a few beers along the way!

Further prices and tickets for either rail option are available from Rail Europe


Thursday, July 09, 2009

Cheap ferry tickets hunt on

If you're a canny consumer like me (aka you're just tight with your money) then you may well have already come across Martin Lewis' MoneySavingsExpert website which offers a host of financial advice - articles on the best and cheapest credit cards, telephone providers, mortgage advice, how to take on the banks over unfair charges, custom search engines to find the cheapest airline tickets, etc, etc. I can highly recommended MSE.

And as well as the articles and weekly 'money tips e-mail newsletter' there's an active and vibrant forum where literally tens of thousands of people share their own money saving ideas and experiences.

Recently the forum website has run a Great "Cheap Ferry Tickets" hunt to poll readers advice as to how and where to get the cheapest ferry tickets and which ferry booking comparison sites are worth using or not.

The article started off by suggesting that and were a good starting point as aferry was the underlying search engine used by many other of the comparison sites. There then started off several rounds of debate from other forum posters as to whether they'd never found aferry to give a good price or were generally satisfied with aferry's prices.

After a couple of months and 70-odd comments and postings against the original article there's a lot of different people's opinions now as to which ferry operator and booking site they prefer.

So I thought I'd conclude with my own 2p worth as after 5 years of French Gite ownership we've pretty much tried all the ferry options now ....

We started off with joining Brittany Ferries Property Owners Club and used them quite a bit for the first couple of years on the Portsmouth/St Malo, Portsmouth/Caen and Portsmouth/Cherbourg routes until they just became too expensive for us to use regularly.
We then switched to SpeedFerries and their low cost Dover/Boulogne service was our mainstay for the next few years until they went bancrupt in late 2008.
And now we're a bit undecided.
We've tried NorfolkLine's Dover/Dunkerque service last year (and are travelling with them again in August this year), LDLines' Portsmouth/Le Havre route (for the return journey at Easter this year), and Condor Ferries Weymouth/St Malo (on the Easter outbound crossing).

One route that we haven't tried yet is LD Lines' new fast-cat from Dover to Boulogne, and as long as the prices are reasonable we will probably give them a go soon.

I've not exhaustively tried all the different ferry booking comparison engines because I've tended to find that they were no cheaper, and sometimes more expensive, than booking direct with the appropriate ferry company. We've therefore pretty much always cut out the middle man and booked direct. Having said that we did book our August crossing with NorfolkLine through because they had a special offer of £29 each-way crossings - even in peak season.


Sunday, July 05, 2009

Turbo blogging - or making your website/blog load faster

Even in these days of always on broadband and hyper-fast connectivity (well if the government get their way with Digital Britain that is), it's still worth taking a bit of time to make sure you've done the obvious things to make your website or Blog as quick as possible.

Over on Blogger's help pages I came across some how to make your Blog load faster tips from Google - and they should know!

I still find it amazing how many websites you see that have massive photos that haven't been properly resized from the multi-megabyte camera image.

I've also been using the Yahoo Yslow plugin for Firebug to analyse my websites for performance problems and whilst it gives some good pointers as to what to do the suggestions are a bit "cryptic" to say the least.

Surfin the web today I came across a Google announcing they've launched Page Speed, another Firebug plugin which does much the same thing, except (in my humble opinion), it's better.
So for example the three tips that Page Speed identifies I should apply to our holiday Gite homepage are to:
  • Set expiry dates on items (such as pictures) that don't change frequently so they get cached in the user's browser and thus don't need to be downloaded each time ... and PageSpeed gives me specific details of what should have the cache expiry date set

  • Enable gzip compression on the html and linked css files ... and I'm given details of precisely how many kb download this will save

  • And to use Minify to reduce Javascript files ... and again the savings I can gain are detailed
Great stuff!

It would be 'even better if' Page Speed gave me details (or a link) to precisely how to implement these suggestions, but the help given is much more specific than Yahoo's Yslow so Page Speed will be going in my Web kitbag and (when I get some time!) I'll be working through the suggestions made.

See the Google Page Speed download page for more details and to join in the community forum to share your own experiences and suggestions.

Follow these tips and do your bit to keep the 'web lean!!

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Thursday, July 02, 2009

Moncontour medieval festival - 2nd August 2009

Moncontour Medieval Festival
Unfortunately we're not going to be over in Brittany on 2nd August 2009 (we arrive a week later) so we're going to miss the Medieval Festival held bi-annually in the picturesque walled city of Moncontour which is about 30 minute drive from our holiday Gite.

We've only managed to get to the festival once, and that was four years ago in 2005. Last time it was on in 2007 we missed the event by one day, and this time we're going to miss it by a week.

If however you are over in Brittany then I can thoroughly recommend a trip there.

Further details of the festival, events, prices and a short video are on the Moncontour Medieval website, and there's some photos of our visit to the 2005 Medieval festival on this Blog.

Oh well, we'll have to wait until 2011 now !!

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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

European mobile phone cap means it's cheaper to phone home

BT Busby logo
It's been widely reported in the press today including a BBC news report on the cost of using a mobile in Europe has been capped from today, 1st July 2009.

It now costs a maximum of 9.4p to send a text if you're roaming abroad from the EU and costs nothing to receive a text - some providers used to charge 20p for that privilege in the past.

Making a call is capped at 37p a minute and receiving a call at 16p a minute.

All these prices are then plus VAT and as the capped price is in Euros and Cents it may fluctuate a bit with the exchange rate, but the overwhelming news is it's a lot cheaper than it used to be.

Of course some providers may charge less than these capped prices such as the recent article I wrote on Vodaphone abolishing roaming charges this summer.

All in all it's cheaper to 'phone home' ... remember the BT buzby bird (logo above) ?