Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Oddest 'contact us' holiday rental enquiry yet?

We get some pretty varied emails via the holiday home booking enquiry form. As well as the booking enquiries that of course we are hoping to get sent to us we also get a mixed bag of spam and scam attempts (some of which I have written about before - see previous postings about Scam rental enquiries).

Of course we also get a fair number of let's just say "adult" emails which are stuffed full of links to dubious websites that I have no intention of visiting. Fortunately Thunderbird's Junk email filter has now got pretty good at spotting and automatically filtering those out so I only have to go through the Junk mail folder every week or so and double check that nothing has slipped by.

But this email has got me stumped as to what to do with it, here's the full enquiry as I received it:
Hi - I was just wondering if you would be interested in buying my property in Brittany with a view to letting it out? Look forward to hearing from you. Regards Natalie Jones

And that's it. There's a return email address (with a number 2 in it and hosted at - so that gets me suspicious), but there's no details of the property, where it is, how much Natalie might want for it, etc.

I think I won't persue it any further; I've enough 'fun' with looking after one Holiday Home and renovating the second, and even if it is genuine methinks I couldn't cope with another property - and I'm sure the bank wouldn't want to extend my line of credit even further.

Any thoughts?

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Monday, October 26, 2009

French repairs required a trip to B&Q

Cordgrip Lampholder (without switch)
Sometimes (well actually quite frequently it seems) running a Holiday Gite can be quite time consuming dealing with a long list of little things that either need repairing or are not quite right.

Of course having the Gite in one country when we live full time in another just adds to the fun of the whole experience and every time we leave France it's with a list of things to bring back/buy/repair, and every time we go back to France it's with a car boot full of things accumulated since the last trip.

This week I had to go to B&Q to buy a new lamp holder for one of the bedside lights. When we were over last I noticed that the bulb holder in the light was damaged and as a result the bulb kept on popping out - unfortunately not a job for sticky tape, glue, wire and screws which are my usual staple diet of repair materials for the Gite. So I unwired the bedside light, left the lampshade over there, and brought the lamp home with me.

After dismantling the light I worked out that the whole of the inside mechanism (including switch) needed to be replaced, but that fortunately it looked to be pretty similar to a corded lamp holder. B&Q came up trumps, the mechanism was the same and the screw threads for the existing shade holder and the bottom of the lamp base fitted a new lamp holder perfectly.

£1.78 lighter than when I entered the shop the job was done and I was able to reassemble the bedside light ready to take it back to France when we're next over. I do wish at times I could get little things like this in France but electrical and plumbing fittings are often subtly different between the two countries and some of the prices in France are absolute extortion (see my earlier posting about the cost of replacing a toilet flush mechanism in France).

Last week it was the turn of a broken garden fork that needed replacing after some vigorous French garden digging broke the old one in two. Bought a new (OK second hand) 5-tine one from a car boot sale so that's another job ticked off the list ...


Friday, October 23, 2009

Postie brought me Windows 7 today

Microsoft Windows 7
In July I wrote about Windows 7 being available to pre-order and this morning I received a couple of copies through my door.

They would have been with me yesterday which was the official global release date but we were out so they were re-delivered this morning. Actually getting the software on the day it was launched is impressive so hats off to all those involved.

I'm intending to move up from Windows XP to Windows 7 (having missed Vista) and am hoping that it proves to be as good a release as all the reviews say. By all accounts this is the operating system version Microsoft should have shipped 3 years ago when Vista was launched and hardware requirements are reduced and stability (including backwards compatibility) much improved.

The upgrade version of Windows 7 is currently selling at £75.73 from Amazon or £114.98 if you want the full version.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Google Checkout lets us back in - we've been approved again!

Reader of my blog from 2 years ago will 'of course' remember the spat I had at the time with Google Checkout which resulted in them suspending my merchant account.

Saying it like that sounds far more grand an event than it actually was, so perhaps I'd better back-track a little and recount the story a little ...

Google checkout launched in the UK in early 2007 (as a competitor to paypal and other e-payment vehicles). I thought they'd be a good alternative way for guests to pay for their rental of our holiday home and so I registered and was approved for a merchant account. Then just as I was about to launch Google Checkout on our Gite website I was informed by Google that my Google Checkout account was being suspended because I had contravened their selling policies, and that selling Travel and Travel related packages was not allowed. I wrote to Google to appeal this decision but was told that Google Checkout determines its policies by focussing on providing a positive user experience, and that they had sole discretion in setting and exercising these policies.

And that was that. After my grumpy Blog postings I removed Google Checkout from the payment options and forgot about them.

So I was somewhat surprised to receive an email from Google a couple of weeks ago:
Subject: You Google Checkout account is now active
Date: Thu, 24 Sep 2009 11:12:52 -0000
From: Google Checkout Team

Hello Geoffrey,

In our continuing effort to make Google Checkout more useful to our users, we review our policies on a regular basis to keep them current and effective.

I am pleased to inform you that we have revised our content policies. Going forward, we will be allowing the sale of Vacation Rentals, Timeshares, and Sight-seeing tours through Google Checkout.

As a result, you are now eligible to use Google Checkout to process transactions for these products and services as permitted by the revised policy. We have therefore reinstated your Google Checkout merchant account.

Please visit for more information on our revised policy.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Please feel free to reply to this email if you have any additional questions.


The Google Checkout Team

Looking on the Google Checkout link to their content policies didn't really tell me much more, it still says that 'Travel packages and offers' are not allowed, and more specifically that Google Checkout doesn't allow the sale of "Travel services, including hotel, flight, cruise and car reservations; travel clubs". Looking back and very carefully comparing against the original Blog entries I wrote I eventually spotted that "Timeshare properties" was removed from the end of dis-allowed sale items. I wish they'd made it a bit clearer as to what is allowed as by not allowing the sale of 'Travel packages and offers' I initially was very confused.

There is also a posting on Google Checkout's Blog about the new Update to checkout policies which repeats much of the email I received but additionally states that sellers must have a valid public business URL (i.e. website) - so not a problem for us with

I'll have to go and do some comparison of the credit card fee structures that Google Checkout charge compared to other providers we use today. I prefer to take rental payment by cheque as it doesn't cost us any merchant fees that way (and most customers seem to be quite happy with sending us a cheque), but we do accept card payments if the customer asks, and especially for overseas customers such as from Ireland it's usually the easier.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Travel updates - new services from Euroferries, Celtic Link, LD Lines and RyanAir

Been making some updates to the French ferry and airline routes page for our self-catering Brittany cottage.

First up, thanks to Richy who left a comment on my last Euroferries posting, as at long last Euroferries finally launch their Ramsgate to Boulogne service with a crossing time of 1 hour 15. Bookings are now being taken for sailings from November 14th and a few searches indicate that Euroferries are being quite price competitive with return crossings coming in for £66.50.

You can book up to April 2010 (but not beyond) so whilst the peak summer crossings are not yet available you can at least book a Christmas or Easter break.

Next, I've also added newcomer Celtic Link who are operating LD Lines' Roscoff to Cherbourg service for them and additionally running a Portsmouth to Cherbourg service of their own.

There's also some been some changes to the LD Lines service as they've moved their fast cat from the Dover/Boulogne service onto Portsmouth/Le Havre - slashing the journey time from 5 ½ hours to just 3 ¼ hours. Dover/Boulogne still continues with a conventional ferry but obviously takes a little longer without the fast cat.

I also noticed that RyanAir have introduced new services from Birmingham to Dinard, Bournemouth to Nantes and Leeds Bradford to Nantes so more updates there as well.

Phew !

If anyone actually travels with Euroferries or Celtic Link then please do leave a comment to say what you thought of the new services.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Been solo Microlight flying again

Just over a week ago I wrote about finally throwing off the shackles of the flying instructor and taking my first solo flight in a Microlight, and the above picture was taken immediately afterwards - just look at the mad grin I've got!!

Well today I've been back up there again.

I fortunately didn't have any meetings to go to today and the wind was forecast to be 2mph all day, so after taking the kids to school I was off to the Microlight centre for the day.

Although it got a bit bumpy in the middle of the day as with the unseasonable October sun heating the air up and causing thermals, it's been a beautiful flying day.

As I've still got limited solo experience the instructors still want to take me up for a check-flight before they let me go up again on my own so I did a couple of successful take-off's, circuit's and landings before they let me go up again solo this morning. I'd been warned that the second solo flight is the most dangerous I'll ever do; and like the first I had quite a bit of difficulty in getting the plane to land where I wanted it to land as it was so much lighter with just me in it.

But I did get down OK after a couple of attempts and go-arounds and the dread momment was over.

Later in the afternoon after the thermals had died down it was up for another check flight, all still looking good and I was cleared to do 4 circuits of take-off, fly around, land, then take off again - 4 times in total.

It's been drummed into me that if I'm not happy with the landing then it's OK to put the power on, abort the landing and go around for another time. As I'm still a bit lacking in confidence of my own flying abilities I've been putting this into practice with 3 attempted landings for both my first and second solo flights. This afternoon though I was much more happier and confident and brought the first three circuits straight back onto the runway each time with no abortive landings. The fourth and final time though it wasn't right (twice) so two more enforced circuits before I was down and safe.

So I've now done a massive 1 hour 10 minutes of solo flying and 6 successful take-off's and landings all on my own. I feel I'm really starting to get more confident now so hopefully this'll be "full steam ahead" towards my cross-country navigation and general flying test.

Happy happy day !!


Quick mention - October half term 2009 still vacant in our Brittany Gite

The title pretty much says it all. We've still got October half-term week vacant in our lovely French self-catering holiday home (and in fact much of October is free as well).

Normally we ask £350 for the week's rental, and that includes heating, electricity and all bed linen (unlike some other Gite's we don't think it's fair to ask our guests to bring their own bed linen or be surcharged for us providing it - so bed linen is always included as standard in all our rental prices).

But as it's you and I'm in a happy mood after flying again today (see my next post), make me a sensible offer and you can stay in the Gite for less than the advertised price.

Remember we can sleeps up to 6 in two double bedrooms and a twin bedroom.

Is this a cut-price holiday rental special offer reduction, or what?


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Didn't we have a lovely time the day we went to .... a French hospital

Sorry for the lack of Blog postings over the last week or so but I've been really really busy writing a bid at work. I've had the unenviable task of being the bid manager so whilst I've not had to write any sections of the bid myself I've had to proof read all that the rest of the team have written (and correct what they've written, and point out all the bits of the requirements that they've not answered, and re-review the sections, and in many cases re-write them as well) - some 260+ pages in all !

So consequently I've been working stupid stupid hours, 7am to 1am most days.

Well finally all done, the bid was submitted on Sunday evening and I can now relax a bit more. Flew a few more circuits of the airfield on Monday but the weather was a bit too marginal for me to go up for my second solo flight so will have to wait for next weekend now.

Anyway, back to the subject in hand, French hospitals!

When we were over at our holiday Gite in August I noticed that one of the prior guests had made a suggestion in the 'Gite Diary' that we provide for our guests to write about where they've been, what they've done, places recommended, or ideas for the Gite. The suggestion was that we ought to add some details in the 'Gite Guide' folder about where the nearby medical facilities were - just in case anyone needed a doctors or the hospital.

Fortunately in over 70 different sets of guests staying in the Gite over the last 4 years we've only had to help one party of guests out previously with details of where the nearby doctor is (who speaks good English), so we'd never got round to writing up the emergency contact details.

Little did I suspect that this suggestion would turn out to be prophetic for us!

We'd been at the Gite for a week and on the Sunday night I'd taken our dog Dexter out for a walk in the evening and the kids had come along with me as well. They were walking and I was riding on one of the bikes we keep in the barn.

After we'd got back from the walk I found Liz had had an accident whilst we'd been out and had tripped whilst rushing up the stairs into the house, had put her hands out to save herself, and as she fell over she'd bent her fingers on her right hand back, so much so that she thought she'd broken them, and was now in agony.

Nothing for it but a trip to the hospital to get Liz's hand x-ray'd and strapped up. I wasn't expecting the medical treatment would be that much different whether it had been broken or not, Dr Geoffrey predicted that the hand would be strapped up and immobilised either way!

I wasn't actually sure where there was a local Accident and Emergency unit but as I knew there definitely was a hospital in Pontivy and since Pontivy was a big town I guessed (correctly) that there would be an emergency unit there so off we set.

Pontivy Hospital, Brittany, Emergency unit

The Urgences unit was deserted and unlike a British A&E it wasn't full of drunkards and their police escorts.
Once the medical staff had assertained that we were not French nationals (and thus didn't have a French medical insurance policy) they didn't seem all that bothered about Liz's passport our our EHIC European reciprocal health cover cards. Liz was quickly booked in and sent off in the hands of the medical staff leaving me to look after our children in the waiting room.

Fortunately we'd brought their DS's and some books with us so they were kept quiet whilst I watched CSI overdubbed in French on the TV! I was also struck by the coffee vending machine that only charged 50 cents per drink; quite decent coffee for me and hot chocolate for the boys - in the UK this machine would have been another money-making scheme for the NHS ...

An hour or so later Liz came out, as predicted with her hand all strapped up, and fortunately the X-rays had shown that it wasn't broken merely badly sprained and bruised. We were given a prescription for paracetamol for the pain, given a sheet of paper with hospital telephone numbers on, and told to make an appointment with the doctor for later that week for a checkup.

French hospital treatment, Liz's hand all strapped up

And that was that.

Next day trying to book the appointment was a "laugh" (not) as the telephone number I'd been given didn't work, so after several fruitless attempts I phoned the main hotel number, got a recorded message in very rapid French telling me to dial a new number (so took me two attempts to correctly right it down), and then I finally got through to the hotel switchboard.
Lots of fun and games trying to explain in French that I wanted to make an appointment - firstly to the switchboard operator, and then the minor fractures unit secretary. I of course couldn't pronounce either the 'secretariat''s name (i.e. department name) or the doctor's name correctly so it took some time to make myself understood and book the appointment.

The paracetamol turned out to be almost exactly the same as in the UK, only difference was that it was 1000Mg of active ingredient (instead of 500Mg) and you take one tablet instead of two. So no difference. Except for the price .... paracetamol in the UK are 16p for 16 in Tesco, in France they were €1.08 for 8 - a massive 675% uplift!

Over the course of the next week Liz's hand slowly got better, she was able to take the support off after a few days and start using her hand again, but even now (some 2 months later) she still gets some pain in her hand.

Finding our way round the hospital for the checkup was a bit different as well. We firstly made the mistake of going to the fractures ward, to get sent back down to the fractures outpatients unit, to be sent back to get to get booked in at the central bookings in desk (again once we'd shown our EHIC they weren't interested in our paperwork), to then go back to the fractures outpatients unit where we were seen almost immediately by the doctor who spoke pretty good English and talked us through what the x-rays showed and prescribed some anti-inflammatory cream to help reduce the bruising. Then back to the central booking-in desk again to settle our bill for the doctors visit (another €8) and we were finally all complete.

I think in theory I could claim for the medical treatment and the two sets of prescriptions but it just doesn't seem worth the hassle. Main thing is that Liz is OK and her hand wasn't broken.

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