Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Flying Solo at last !!

Trusty Microlight
I have only mentioned a couple of times before about learning to fly a Microlight aircraft back in June when instead of flying to France we ended up flying to the Isle of Wight.

Truth is there's not been much news to tell.

I've continued to fly round and round in circuits round the airfield, not really getting much better, and seriously thinking of jacking the whole thing in.

And then the Chief Instructor at Bedford Microlights took me under his wing and I've been flying with him for the last couple of months; and have finally been making progress.

A couple of weeks ago I had some really good landings in the morning but couldn't fly in the evening as the instructor had hurt his back. Then yesterday I was flying really really well but it got too dark, and then this morning it all came together, we did some more circuits, I landed it without any help from the instructor and when we taxi'd back to the clubhouse he announced he was going to get out and let me go off on my own !!

Ulp ..

I'd been warned that the aircraft would take off and fly much faster with only one person on board instead of two and despite having a big container of sand as ballast behind me it certainly made a big difference to the handling with just me onboard.

Did my checks, lined up at the end of the runway, taxi'd along and then I was off - beyond the point of going back.

The Microlight shot up in the air like a rocket with just me in and before I knew it I was at 500 feet circling the airfield.

Round the airfield circuit once, twice then a third time, having to reduce the engine revs as with less weight I kept on climbing higher and higher.

Third time round I lined up for landing, aimed at the runway and down we went. Everything lined up right on the centreline and the aiming point, cleared the trees and then shot past where I was intending to land. With less weight on board I'd mis-judged how much more the aircraft "floated" and I wasn't where I wanted to be to land.

Put the power on and climbed up to 500' for a second attempt.

Second attempt the same happened, I mis-judged the weight difference and had to abort the landing again.

Third time lucky I deliberately aimed short to take account of the different flight characteristics, and this time I was in the right place at the right time. A bit of a bounce on landing which I thought wasn't perfect but those that were watching said it was a fine landing.

Anyway I was able to walk away and the aircraft wasn't bent so I call that a success !

Taxi'd back for the obligatory photos and a grin from ear to ear.

Even now (some 12 hours later) I'm still really excited about having gone solo for the first time. We of course had to have the champagne at the end of the day and I'm looking forward to my next flight which unfortunately won't be for a couple of weeks as I've got work and a visit up North in between times.

Still some way before I fully qualify as a Microlight pilot. I've got 4 exams to do, more practice at the core skills, cross country navigation to learn, plus a "fitness to fly" practical to pass with an examiner, but at least I'm on the way now.


Monday, September 21, 2009

Two Brittany news items - Seaweed and Students

A couple of quick Brittany-related news snippets I came across during the last week ...

Firstly the BBC leads off with news of rotting poisonous seaweed on a beach in Brittany is suspected as being the cause of a lorry driver's death.
Each year there's an annual cleanup of the beaches at Binic on the North Brittany coast (fortunately some distance from our Brittany Gite) to remove up to 2,000 tons of rotting seaweed and it seems that this driver collapsed and died after removing three lorry loads of rotting seaweed.


Secondly, and more lucky for this person, the Telegraph reports that a drunken French student who lay down to sleep on the railway line escaped unharmed when a high speed TGV from Paris to Quimper ran over him.
The man passed out between the rails and despite the train driver applying the emergency brakes the train didn't come to a stop until 900m afterwards!

I love the way that the story reports that they were "unable to wake him afterwards" and that "police were hoping for an explanation when he regains conciousness" - a lucky student methinks.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mending gates in France (again)

I've written before about emergency repairs after the gates to our French holiday home broke and how I spent time doing more repairs to the gates in 2007, and when we arrived in Brittany in August this year I could see yet that more repairs were needed.

Previously I've built a new side gate and a large gate down the back of the 'second house' to separate the garden into two and make it easier for guests in the house that we currently rent out to keep an eye on their kids.

These new gates have all been built with 1" thick pressure treated timber so they won't rot for a while and even if they do, the gate's sufficiently thick and strong that it'll hold together for a good few years.

The existing gates to the gate, both the two sets of double driveway gates and the little single gate by the letter box, though are not so lucky. They're built of much thinner 1cm thick wood, I think it's pine, and they're slowly rotting away and falling apart.

I noticed that several down-bars on the single gate had rotted through as had the cross-bars and the whole gate was holding together by luck and friction on the screws ! Needed urgent repairs. The two double driveway gates had a few down-pieces that were in poor condition as well and one of the cross-bars was gone as well.

Off to the timber merchant to buy some more treated timber for the cross-pieces and start the lengthy job of cutting them to size and painting them up.

Painting the gate pieces takes ages as each piece needs to be primed and undercoated on two sides, then turned round and primed and undercoated on the opposite two sides, then it needs gloss painting again on two sides, turned round and glossed on the other two sides, and then the whole process repeated again for a second coat of gloss paint.

Of course I have to leave the wood to dry overnight after each coat of paint before I can do the other side so it all takes a week to do. Plus time taken to unscrew the old pieces and to rebuild and re-screw together the gates afterwards.

I have got slightly ahead of myself by building the down-pieces to all the gates in advance at home in England and as they're all the same size on all the gates I can saw, shape, sand, prime and gloss paint a pile of them in advance ready for when we next go over to France. These were easier as I had them prepared and all I needed to do was to screw the pieces onto the gates and job done.

When I put the gates together I re-discovered the old maxim of "measure twice, cut once" as one of the new large cross-pieces I'd made for the double gates was a perfect 10cm too short and so didn't now reach from the hinges to the centre of the gate -argh! A bit of judicious 'adjustment' (i.e. I bodged it with another bit of wood behind) and it was all finished just as it stated raining again.

So the gates are now all repaired again and we've a pile of broken gate pieces which will go for firewood. All the new timber will of course be OK but about half the gates are still made up of the original wood so I expect I'll have to be replacing and repairing some more gate pieces next year. I've been back to the timber merchant in England and am already making some more down-pieces ready for our next holiday ...

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Place in France, an Indian Summer - Book Review

One of the advantages of having been away on holiday was that I actually got some 'me' time to sit down and enjoy a book (or two).

Of course I just had to find a France-related book, ending up with Nigel Farrell's 'A Place In France - An Indian Summer' which I thoroughly enjoyed.

A few years ago I watched the original Channel 4 series "A Place in the Sun" which follows the up's and down's (and frequently argumentative down's) of Nigel Farrell and Nippi Singh as they try to find and buy a holiday home in France.

The pair eventually settling on a small hamlet in the Ardeche region of Southern France. Nigel and Nippi eventually did find a house they both liked but which required an enormous amount of work to make habitable. The fact that they ever got there in the end was a testament to the builder's determination more than Nigel and Nippi's as they seemed to flap from one set of problems to the next.

By the end of the series though 40-something year old divorcee Nigel had fallen in love with Celine, a young French single parent who worked in the nearby bank, and had decided to try to live full time in France.

And so to the second series from Channel 4 which follows Nigel trying to start his new life in France. And of course if you're going to live somewhere you need an income, so Nigel hits on the usual and different 'big idea' to open and run an Indian Restaurant in the Ardeche region, despite having had no prior experience of working in a restaurant at all !

The book follows extracts from Nigel's diary for a year from having the original restaurant idea through to the winter after the restaurant opened. Having enjoyed watching the TV series I initially thought that the book wouldn't add anything, but having now read it I've been proven wrong as the book gives a far better personal insight into the actual story and shows more of Nigel's own relationship with the lovely Celine. Although the TV series follows the popular 'fly on the wall' documentary format, the way the story's been edited to keep the viewer interested and ensure cliff-hanger endings to each episode does result in Nigel appearing to be a bit of a fool.

Nigel's sunny optimism that the Indian restaurant idea is a sure-fire winner takes a battering when Nippi refuses to invest in the business and so Nigel is forced to find a new business partner, which he eventually does by joining up with the outrageously camp and excitable Reza Mahammad who already runs a successful Indian restaurant in London. Nigel certainly struck gold with Rezza and together the pair battle through trying to find a location for the restaurant, finding an Indian chef, decorating and equipping the restaurant and sorting through the inevitable French red-tape and bureaucracy.

There's a delightful part of the story that recounts how Nigel fails to tackle registering the business with the local Chamber of Commerce - without which he can't trade, pay bills to suppliers or even take card payments from customers. Nigel ignores the task until the very last minute before the restaurant opens and then has to scramble around trying to get copies of his UK birth certificate and UK divorce certificate ... and then is told that they're not acceptable because they need to be translated into French! I'll leave you to read the book to find out how he gets round this particular problem (spoiler is that it's on page 211).

Nigel is particularly outraged (and rightly so) when Nippi waltzes in towards the end and tries to take credit for the restaurant concept, but once the squabble was over Nippi assists the duo with publicity and by brilliantly suggesting getting hold of an Elephant to help promote the restaurant's opening night.

Reza contributes occasionally to the story with his own little diary 'interjections' and it's clear that he thinks Nigel's 'big idea' is as mad as a box of frogs, but he'll go along with the idea "because it's fun, darlings!".

I wouldn't say that this book isn't written as a "roll around on the floor, laughing" story (unlike, say, George East's tales of life in France), but it's well written and easy to read and good holiday reading material.

Only £5.99 (RRP £7.99) from Amazon.

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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Free tickets to The France Show 2010 (8th to 10th January)

The France Show 2010
What better way to banish the new year blues with a bit of French experience ?

From 8th to 10th January 2010 The France Show is running at Earls Court, and for a limited time free tickets are available if you pre-register.

Some of the event attractions include:

* Novelli Food Theatre with cookery demonstrations from Novelli and his chefs
* Travel, Language and Property seminars with speakers including actress Carole Drinkwater and author Kate Mosse
* The UK’s largest French property exhibition
* Property renovation feature learn from an experienced renovator
* Petanque terrain to test your skills at this traditional French pastime
* Top French restaurants to eat at - Mon Plaisir and Café des Amis
* Artisan Theatre with cheese, cured meat and fine chocolate tastings
* Wine and champagne seminars and tastings
* Renault Classic Car display
* French Market selling produce and fashions
* French regional tourism boards to meet and find out about
* and so much more...



Sunday, September 06, 2009

Not going to return this missed call

Picked up my mobile phone this afternoon to notice that I'd had a missed call.

I've a meeting first thing tomorrow morning with a new customer so was partially expecting that I may get a work call today about tomorrow's meeting so wasn't all that surprised by receiving a call on a Sunday afternoon.

The caller's phone number hadn't been recognised and I didn't immediately recognise the number either .... +2348064296xxx ...

Did a google search of country code 234 as it wasn't one that I recognised immediately.

Ah-ha, country code +234 is Nigeria. I don't know anyone in Nigeria but I think it's highly likely that it's someone trying to scam me about something - probably the Gite.

I'm usually pretty good at spotting scam email booking requests like this one in February this year and this attempt last year to book a 'honeymoon'. But I've not had a telephone scam attempt before and I've no intention of having my first. No idea how the person got my mobile phone number as I don't publish it on the website.


Thursday, September 03, 2009

Ferry news snippets from Euroferries, Condor and P&O

Ferry picture
Three little ferry-related news snippets:

First up is EuroFerries where the news is there is no news. I've written a few articles about EuroFerries proposed new service from Ramsgate to Boulogne, most recently on 1st August when at a press conference they announced that "service would commence during August".

Well it's early September now and the Euroferries website remains unchanged, still saying they'll launch in August so it's a bit of a poor reflection if they can't even update their own website.

There's further speculation and commentary over on Kent based 'The Big Blog', most recently on August 25th with a video of the Bonanza Express still sitting in Tenerife, not painted in EuroFerries colours, doing nothing. Most recent suggestion is that the boat will arrive in the UK by September 10th.

Don't hold your breath on this one methinks ...

Secondly following on from P&O's €360m contract for two new Dover/Calais 'super' ferries, there's a press release on P&O's website announcing that they've completed the keel laying at Rauma shipyard in Finland for the first of the new boats which is due into service at the end of 2010.

And finally, spare a thought for Condor Ferries who according to the Jersey Evening Post managed to let a door fall off a ferry whilst it was enroute to France. Apparently passenger safety wasn't compromised and a temporary repair has now been made.

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

New format french car number plate

New French car number plate
Whilst we were on holiday over in France I spotted for the first time a 'new style' French car number plate.

Since April 2009 newly registered cars in France have been issued with a numberplate of the format XX NNN XX with the X's and N's being issued in strict chronological sequence nationally. The department code that represents where in France the car has come from now appears in a blue box on the right (so in this case, department 56 for Morbihan - South Brittany), and no longer forms part of the number plate.

This'll reduce the amount of paperwork that the old licence plate scheme caused with cars having to be issued with a new registration number if they were bought by someone in a different department, or if you moved home you'd also have to re-register your car. The new number plates are now issued for the life of the vehicle.

Also on the right of the plate is an optional regional name, Bretagne (i.e. Brittany), the regional flag, and to doubtless keep any Brittany separatists happy, the regional name for Brittany in the Breton language - Breizh.

I first wrote about France changing the car number plate scheme back in early 2008 and even since then new scheme's introduction ended up being delayed a further year.

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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

2010 Holiday dates and prices now available for our Holiday Gite in France

I've spent a bit of time over the last couple of days since getting home from our holiday by busying myself with updating our Gite website with a 2010 booking calendar and prices and availability for next year.

In essence we are keeping the rental price the same as 2009 with peak season (i.e. school holidays in July and August) at £500 per week, and out of season (i.e. November to March) being just £225 per week.

We've simplified the pricing scheme as well and instead of two mid-season price bands there's now one which applies to Christmas/New Year, April to June, September and October - this mid season rate is only £350 per week.

All vacation let prices are for the whole of our holiday home (i.e. up to 6 people plus 2 babies) and we include all utility costs (water, heating, electricity) and also all bed linen in the rate so there's no unexpected additional costs for our guests.

Details of current holiday availability for 2009 and 2010 are now available on our website as are the holiday gite rental prices in both pounds and euros and full booking conditions.

Whilst we were away at the Gite ourselves I wrote about a number of booking enquiries we'd received for 2010 and one of those has already booked. I was thinking that the end of August was about right to launch next years holiday prices but I've received nagging emails from RentalSystems for the last couple of weeks reminding me that I was missing out on next years bookings by not setting our prices for 2010, and looking back on the Blog I see that I launched 2009 holiday prices on August 5th last year so if anything I'm a bit late!

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