Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Nice bit of laminate flooring in the hallway

As I wrote back in January, when we were over having a great summer break at our French holiday cottage last August, as well as us spending time together and doing family things, I of course couldn't be sitting still all that time so in the middle week of our holiday Alan came over to do a number of jobs with me, including repairing a leak in the zinc guttering.

Next up after the guttering was to lay some new flooring in the upstairs hallway of the Gite.

I'd had it in mind to replace the upstairs hallway carpet for some time as it was (a) incredibly thin and (b) it had acquired a couple of stains of mysterious origin that no amount of cleaning or scrubbing would get rid of. The stain wasn't really all that bad but it annoyed me and as part of the inevitable ongoing maintenance you need in a rental property was something that I'd ear-marked for replacement.

Fortunately on one of our occasional Saturday morning trips to the auction centre in Bedford to "see what they've got" (aka opportunity to be outbid on some things that we don't really need, but that someone else is more desperate than you to own), I'd managed to pickup a big pile of beech laminate flooring, about 6 brand new and unopened boxes I think, for £20 the lot.
The flippin foam underlay for the laminate flooring then cost me another £10 from one of the UK DIY sheds; and then we had to try to find space in the car for the trip over to France.

The old carpet was up in minutes and fortunately the foam backing to the carpet which had been stuck to the floor was still in pretty good condition, so we laid the new foam underlay and then the laminate flooring straight on top.

All the skirting boards which I had painstakingly masked off and painted a nice creamy yellow colour a couple of years ago had to come up though as we decided to lay the flooring underneath the skirting board so it would hide the expansion gap round the edge. This of course meant that I then had to sand down and repaint all the skirting boards as they all now had a white edge to them where the carpet had originally butted up against the side, but at least it was a nice day outside so the paint dried reasonably quickly and probably incarcerated a few flies that made the mistake of landing on the wet paint and getting immortalised forever.

It took Alan less than a day to cut and install all the flooring, then me another couple of days on and off to finish the job off.

One problem that I hadn't anticipated were the metal edging strips that go across the doorways to finish off the flooring and stop you catching your foot on an exposed carpet edge - door bars I think they're called? Previously with carpet in the hallway and carpet in the bedrooms both sets of flooring were on the same level so I'd fitted flat metal door bar strips; but these all now needed to be changed to angled strips to cover the difference in height between the laminate in the hallway and carpet in the bedrooms.

This turned out to be the most expensive part of the whole flooring episode .... door bars are extortionately expensive in France.

If you look on ebay or in one of the DIY sheds then you can buy door bars in the UK for between £5 and £15 each depending on the style, quality and materials you want to use. In France though its a different story with Mr Bricolage selling their cheapest door bars for €19.99 and the price rising rapidly to €40 or more - EACH !


No time though to buy some from the UK or to try to shop around further so I gritted my teeth and paid an outrageous €25 for each of the four door bars that I needed. Each needed to be cut to size to fit the doorways (did this bit very carefully - not going to make a mistake at this price), and of course some of the doors needed to be planed down a bit to clear the new flooring height.

Anyway it all looks lovely now and makes the upstairs look more presentable.

I did run out of laminate flooring though as there wasn't enough to cover the nursery area outside the third bedroom. It's taken me ages to track down the German manufacturer's phone number, find their UK distributor, find a local Bedfordshire distributor, and now to find that the carpet shop only 3 miles away from my UK home can order me some more flooring to match; but I'll go and do that in the next few days so I can finish the last section of landing.

And if ever I need to find a future French income stream I think I will go into the door bar import business. I'm sure I can make some money buying door bars in the UK and selling them in France!

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Friday, March 26, 2010

Condor announces a new fastcat for UK to Jersey and France, but it's not quite so new ...

I picked up news today of a recent fast catamaran purchase by Condor Ferries to replace the ageing Condor 10 on their services between the UK, Channel Islands and St Malo in France.

Condor report that the ship will be known as the Condor Rapide and is due to go into service in May 2010. The 86m vessel is a "younger sister" of their existing ferries Condor Vitesse and Condor Express; and prior to its purchase by Condor she was operated as part of the Royal Australian Navy as HMAS Jervis Bay.

BBC (Channel Islands) news covers the same story of the Condor purchase of HMAS Jervis Bay and reports that Condor hope to be able to "increase capacity by up to three times".

When I read the report and the mention of the name HMAS Jervis Bay it triggered a recollection that I'd heard that ship name before, and sure enough a quick Google search took me to the Wikipedia entry on HMAS Jervis Bay where my suspicions were confirmed, this was none other than the ex-SpeedFerries vessell, SpeedOne. I knew I'd heard the name before!

I've not seen any news of SpeedOne since June 2009 when I wrote about the judicial sale of SpeedOne for £8m and selling off of the remaining assets of SpeedFerries. At the time I reported that SpeedOne had been sold to a company called 'Prospect Number 70 Limited' and mused that it was likely that the boat had been sold to some form of venture capital company and would in time be sold onto another ferry operator.

Well one up to me, I was proven right!

There's a final comment in the CondorFerries press release (which makes no mention whatsoever of SpeedFerries - no surprise there really) that "She is in excellent condition, her previous owners have invested a seven figure sum in upgrades, and Condor Ferries will spend further substantial sums in the coming months to ensure she meets the highest standards".
No mention either of what price Condor paid - I'll bet it was more than £8m.

See further blog postings on the rise and fall of SpeedFerries

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Brittany Ferries launches the Cap Finistere

Brittany Ferries' mv Cap Finistere

Back in December I passed on news that Brittany Ferries were increasing sailings on the Portsmouth to Santander route with a new (to them) ferry, the Superfast V purchased from Attica for £75m.

The new ferry, now renamed the Cap Finistere entered service with Brittany Ferries on Monday with its first sailing from Portsmouth as reported on The Portsmouth News.

There's an interview with Jean-Marc Roue (the President of Brittany Ferries) on Le about the introduction of the new service, and in the interview Jean-Marc comments that they bought this boat because of the speed that they could bring it into service as compared to waiting for a new vessel to be constructed. Apparently each boat has to be almost custom-made to fit the berthing requirements of the ports they are going to use and so it was a difficult job to find a suitable ferry.
Unfortunately Google Translate has (for once) made a bit of a hash of the translation from French, but you can understand enough to get the gist of the Cap Finistere launch article on

Finally, further details of the facilities onboard mv Cap Finistere are on Brittany Ferries website.

And in case you didn't know, Finistere is department 29 in Brittany, the western end of Brittany. I did look on both Google Maps and Via Michelin and couldn't find a place called "Cap Finistere" so I guess it's a made up name, but with Brittany connotations.

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Tour de Bretagne - April 2010

Next month (from April 25th through to April 30th) the Tour de Bretagne is running, and like it's "big brother" the Tour de France it's a hard fought multi-stage race through the villages and towns of rural France.

One thing will be different though, there'll be no "King of the Mountains" (on account of Brittany being somewhat flatter than the Alps!), but this year the race is moving offshore for the first time ever with Jersey hosting the first two days of the Tour.

There's expected to be some 22 teams and 400 cyclists taking part in the race, so if you're over in Jersey (or nudge, nudge, our Brittany holiday Gite - which just happens to be free for that week!) then it looks like a fantastic event to go and see.

When we've been over in Brittany ourselves we often see cyclists taking part in local races or practising along the main roads, and like most rural French events there's a real carnival atmosphere with music, the obligatory bar, and of course the hot crepe's and pancake stall as well - yummy!

One time we were driving in Brittany we managed to take a wrong turn and found ourselves driving down the cycle race course. All the side streets had been closed off with barriers and we had to divert an awful long way before we could get "out" of the race! Fortunately we were a few hours before the race started so the streets were still empty but I'm sure we got a few looks from the locals who wondered why the crazy English were driving round their cycle race.

More details on the Tour de Bretagne on their website, and details of the Tour de Bretagne coming to Jersey on the BBC news website.

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Tomato growing on a massive scale in Brittany

Vine tomatos
I'll say it now, I know very little about growing tomatoes other than they need a lot of water.

But it seems that our Breton cousins know a lot more about tomato growing than I do.

I just came across an article about how Brittany tomato growers are now starting to sell electricity as a by-product of generating heat to grow the greenhouse tomatoes. And it seems as if they chew through an awful lot of heat with one Brittany farm consuming 500 cubic metres of gas an hour to heat 41,000 square metres of greenhouses!

Well I never knew that there were so many tomatoes grown in Brittany.

You learn something new every day ...

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Acquired some rubber matting

I guess I'm either lucky in being in the "right place at the right time", or perhaps I'm just an opportunistic scrounger, but with having a holiday home that's 12 hours drive away from me in Brittany means I'm often keeping an eye out for bits I know I need to get hold of and take over to France next time we're over there.

Earlier this year I was working at home for the day (yes really, I was doing some work that day and not skiving off watching the TV) and in the afternoon went to pickup Jack our youngest from school. When I got there I noticed that the school was having their play equipment refurbished and all the rubber matting that was underneath the climbing frames had been removed.

Ahah, the rubber matting looked as if it would be "useful" in France (not quite sure what) so it was time for a scrounge !

The school were happy with me taking away all that I wanted so later on that afternoon Toby and I returned to collect some of the matting in Liz's car.

'Flipping 'eck is all I can say to the experience of carrying large 1metre square sheets of rubber matting. Half of the matting is about 2 inches thick and requires two of you to carry each sheet, and the other half of the pile of acquired matting is about 3 inches thick and is a real struggle to carry for two people, and for one person it's almost impossible to shift.

Three car loads later and we'd got a large pile of rubber mats at home. Unfortunately they've then sat in front of the house for the last two months with Liz getting more cross at me leaving them in the way. It's taken me that long to determine what to do with them ... finally decided that I'll put them round the edge of our Gite swimming pool in France. Now all I have got to do is to get them to France on my own!

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Monday, March 01, 2010

Euroferries - doesn't look like they started service today

I've said much on Euroferries in previous postings, most recently reporting that EuroFerries had cancelled the lease on the ship they were going to use in January.

But despite all the problems they've had in the past (and possibly that they don't have a ship), the Euroferries website still claims that they are "the leading fast ferry operator on the English Channel" and on their service schedule it shows sailings commencing on 1st March - i.e. today.

Well there's absolutely no sign of life on their website and when I tried their customer services number there was just a recorded message to greet me. When I tried to book a sailing I was told to select a date after 18th March 2010, but it never managed to find any available crossings.

Another false dawn ...

A couple of weeks ago I realised I was rather optimistically showing Euroferries on the travel choices for getting to our Brittany Gite page so I promptly removed it until something more concrete happens.

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