Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

MyFerryLink starts service, taking over SeaFrance's vessels

You may recall that I wrote back in June about the demise of SeaFrance and the surprise purchase of their assets by Eurotunnel.
In amongst the list of blog postings I was going to write about once I'd come back from holiday was my conjecture as to the new replacement service, but Craig over on ThisFrenchLife and Dover Port itself have both beaten me to it yesterday.

Dover Port announced the introduction of MyFerryLink as a new ferry provider on the Dover/Calais route, initially with 16 crossings a day using the sister-ships 'Berlioz' and 'Rodin' (both purchased from Sea France).

Craig on TFL posted two articles yesterday, announcing the introduction of the new service, and then later on, that the timetable and online booking service is now available.

What I was most amused about was that the MyFerryLink website is just a single page deep and then redirects you through to to handle all the actual booking and ferry service details.
The SeaFrance website has only undergone a superficial makeover from when Sea France went into receivership last year, and all the photos of My Ferry Link's ferries appear to have been suspiciously Photo-Shopped with the new MFL logo being super-imposed onto the side of the existing Sea France boats.

What I can however claim a first on though is this shot of the MFL check-in booths that we snapped as we came through Calais 2 weeks ago:

Calais check-in lanes, late one night

Close-up of My Ferry Link logo on a Calais ferry port check-in lane

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Saturday, August 18, 2012

Flap, flap, we've got a flat; necessitating a French garage trip

Friday morning I got up and decided that I really needed to clear the big pile of rubbish from our second (renovation project) house. The heap of broken bits of plasterboard, broken kids toys, bits of swimming pool, etc was in the way and it was time to take it to the local waste recycling centre (déchetterie) so I loaded up the car and drove off.

Unfortunately I'd once again forgotten the opening times of the centre and when I got there I saw the sign that said they were open only on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings. So drove back home with all the rubbish in the back. Liz asked me where I'd been so I told here I'd "taken the rubbish out for a drive in the country!" She was not overly impressed especially as the car was now full of stuff.

Made the point of going and writing the opening times on a spare bit of plasterboard wall in the old house so that I didn't make the same mistake next time we visit.

Next morning (Saturday) I also got up first thing and this time I knew that I would be able to empty the car. Drove off out out of the Gite and down the lane leading to the Gite to be greeted by a flap flap noise coming from outside of the car.

Stopped and got out to look, and rats, the front passenger side tyre was completely flat.

Fortunately I knew that there was a garage in St Etienne which was not that far from our Gite, I'd never actually been to the garage and wasn't even sure if they were open on Saturdays and did tyre replacements, but it seemed the best option to carefully limp the car to the garage.

Brittany Garage, fortunately open on a Saturday morning
Along the way I tried to guess what the French words for 'I have a flat tyre', but couldn't remember the words for tyre or wheel so gave up and just went for a limp J'ai une problem avec ma voiture, and pointing to the offending part which did the trick and I was sent to wait in the office.

After a very brief wait a service technician arrived, whipped the wheel off the car, inflated it and found the nail-sized hole in the tread that was gushing air out.

Brittany Garage, changing the flat tyre on our car
I have to admit I was fearing that we could be in for a multi-day problem trying to find a replacement tyre in France that would fit our UK car, but no, he got what I can only describe as a large hooked needle, threaded through the eye of the needle something that looked like hemp covered in a pliable material, inserted it into the hole in the tyre, twisted to remove the needle, and then cut the excess hemp off.

Job done. He inflated the tyre and to my surprise started putting it back on the car. Over the years every time I have had a flat tyre it has resulted in having to buy a new tyre so I was quite impressed that he'd been able to repair it so quickly.

C'est bon pour l'autoroute? (it's OK to drive on the motorway?) I asked, Oui was the reply.

I then managed to miss-hear the price I was asked to pay, muddling up quarante (forty) with quatorze (fourteen) so they were very confused when I handed over way too much money, but we sorted that out and I was pleased to end up only paying €14 for the repair.

Car all fixed I drove off to the waste tip and emptied the car before I got into any more trouble for being late.

So thanks to the garage for a super job, the tyre's been fine ever since, and I've added the opening hours for the garage to our "Gite Guide" so the benefit of our guests.

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Friday, August 10, 2012

New swimming pool

Having found a leak on our swimming pool that turned out to be caused by the bottom of the pool degrading, going hard, and then splitting, it was time to go and buy a new pool.

Ideally would have just bought a new pool liner as that was the failing part, but there was no time for that as we wanted to get the pool up and running as soon as we could do, especially with guests arriving a week later immediately after our own Gite holiday.

So it was off in the car to Ploermel where I knew there were several large supermarkets that were sure to sell suitable swimming pools. It was a bit of a race against time as we decided at 5pm on Saturday that the pool was dead, Ploermel is 30 minute drive away, and the supermarkets shut between 7 and 8pm.

Although several supermarkets did have pools in stock they were either of the "inflatable supporting ring" type, or they were absolutely tiny and were little more than a glorified paddling pool. Our (now dead) frame pool is 15 foot in diameter and 36 inches in depth and we really wanted something similar.

After driving round E Leclerc, Weldom, Super U, Intermarche, Bricomarche, Centakor and Max Plus all in Ploermel with limited success, we sped down to the autoroute to Super U in Josselin and was able to find the kind of frame pool we were looking for. €400 lighter and a lot of straining to carry the massive box out of the supermarket to the car, we set off for home with a new 15 foot Intex frame pool in the car boot.

Our swimming pool is on the gravel driveway in front of the patio; obviously with all the pipework for the sand filter now being in place we needed to put the new pool in the same place, but we wanted to try to get it more level than its predecessor so we spent ages with long pieces of wood and a spirit level trying to rake the gravel up to level the pool base off.

We then laid 3 tarpaulins down over the gravel to protect the pool base and started assembling the topmost ring of the pool. This is quite difficult as carries a lot of weight and the metal ring segments are a a very tight fit:

Tarpaulins over the gravel ready for the new pool to be put up

Top ring of the frame pool assembled
Next the legs slot into the top-ring it was then that we started to realise that the new pool wasn't the same size as the old pool. Although the top ring was the same 15 feet diameter, the new pool legs were considerably bigger than the old one.

It was also starting to get quite dark ...

Slotting the swimming pool legs into the top ring
Toby then assembled the ladder for the new pool and we started the slow job of filling the pool up. The ladder has a safety feature, for small children you can remove the ladder steps so that they can't so easily climb into the pool.

Our two dogs (Dexter and Whitey) are not interested at all !

New swimming pool ladder has removable steps as a safety feature to prevent small children climbing in
With just a 15mm supply pipe to the Gite it took most of the next day to fill the pool up, but it didn't prevent our two boys jumping in pretty quickly ...

New swimming pool passes the kids test and they're soon jumping in
It turns out that the Intex frame pool is 48 inches in depth so our kids loved that they could splash around and dive around even more than its predecessor.
Despite our best efforts to level the gravel out and put flat stones under the legs of the pool so that it didn't shift to one side, the pool did settle and shift slightly so leans a little downhill by probably about the same amount as the old one was. At least with the extra depth this makes it less noticeable.

The sand filter is continuing to keep the water extra sparkly clean, and if my schoolboy maths still holds true I calculated there's some 16 cubic metres, or 16 metric tons of water in the new pool.

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Saturday, August 04, 2012

Tried in vain to fix the swimming pool leak, it's kaput

As I discovered last week, our Gite swimming pool has sprung a leak, not a major leak, but still I didn't want to keep on having to fill it up with very expensive French water.

After a couple of days of the kids playing in the pool and stiring up the water I found that I now couldn't see the hole that Toby had found in the bottom of the pool and as the water level had dropped down with the kids splashing around and the water leaking out, the water level was now below the pool pump inlet.

Nothing for it but to have to fill the pool up again so I could then turn the pump on and clear the water to find the hole again.

A few cubic metres of water later and having left the pump on overnight, the water was all sparkly and clear again and the hole was soon found on the bottom again.

We'd bought some patches that were supposed to work underwater so Toby donned his swimming goggles and dived down to try to apply the patch which of course didn't stick properly.

Neither did the second, third or fourth patches so there was nothing for it but to drain the pool, dry the bottom of the pool, and then try again.

I laid a hosepipe in the pool and ran it out to the drainage ditch opposite to siphon the water out of the pool and left it draining out overnight. It wasn't until the next afternoon that the pool was emptied, we could lift the pool up and find the little hole.

Or rather I should say, find the holes:

Worn out swimming pool, lots of holes in the bottom

Our swimming pool was bought (second hand) in February 2007 and installed when we were over at half-term in June 2007 so it's been sitting outside the Gite come rain and shine for the past 5 years. Over time the plastic on the bottom of the pool has suffered from damage from ultra-violet radiation and has now gone wrinkled, hard and brittle.

Basically it's worn out and it was some of these wrinkles on the bottom of the pool that have now cracked. There was no way I could stick a patch on the bottom over the (multiple) holes, and even if I could, and it did seal the leak, I think it'd only be a temporary fix as the plastic would be sure to break again pretty soon.

Nothing for it but to buy a new pool so next stop the French supermarkets to see what they have in stock ...

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Thursday, August 02, 2012

Went to the beach, Pleneuf Val Andre, North Brittany

Nice weather today so we up-sticks from the Gite and went (via a French car boot sale) to the beach at Pleneuf-Val-Andre which is a lovely sea-side resort about 45 minutes drive from the Gite on the North Brittany coast.

We found a massive underground car park that adjoined the Casino right on the sea-front, plenty of spaces and best of all it was completely free! So completely different from the UK where the holiday resorts take the opportunity to take what they can in extortionate parking charges from the tourists ...

Unfortunately dogs are not allowed on the beach in July and August so I stayed on the promenade at the top and watched the beach volleyball competition whilst Liz went down on the sand and the kids ran wild, dug holes in the sand and played in the sea.

Lovely Brittany beach at Pleuneuf Val Andre

Some hot crispy galettes smothered with jam or Nutella chocolate afterwards and then having found a free Wifi hot spot courtesy of the town council we all checked our emails !

Surfing for free, reading our emails on the beach !