Wednesday, August 26, 2015

When the Tour du Poitou-Charentes came to our village

French Village Diaries Tour du Poitou-Charentes 2015 marshal
My official pass

Today was a very exciting day. Today the Tour du Poitou-Charentes came to our little village. It took control of our roads and blasted through in a horn honking, blur of noise and colour and it was great fun to be a small part of it as a marshal.

We had a brief meeting in the morning to collect our passes, decide our positions and as a bonus collect a picnic lunch provided by the mairie. We had to be in position at 12.30pm, about an hour and half before the cyclists were due to arrive to ensure the roads were clear for the publicity caravanne that passes an hour beforehand. I picked quite a busy junction on the way out of the village and by the time we had to shut it completely I had a small traffic jam behind me and was feeling quite important. 

However when the official marshals sped into the village, jumped off their motorbikes, unrolled their yellow flags and got out their whistles, they slightly took the edge off my role. It was amazing how tiring it was to spend two hours trying to be responsible and communicate with French drivers who were being delayed, but I still managed to take a few pictures.

French Village Diaries Tour du Poitou-Charentes 2015 marshal
A real marshal with a flag

This is the Poitou-Charentes cow who always heads the convoy before the cyclists. When you see him arriving you know the action is not far behind.

French Village Diaries Tour du Poitou-Charentes 2015 lead car
The lead car

It is common to have a breakaway group of cyclists who form a small bunch ahead of the main peloton quite early on in the race. We were an hour into the race and this group were just over five minutes in front of the main group.

French Village Diaries Tour du Poitou-Charentes 2015 breakaway
The breakaway

I didn’t manage to take any photos of the main peloton, however my friend Karine, who was also a marshal on the run into the village managed these two fantastic pictures, merci ma belle.

French Village Diaries Tour du Poitou-Charentes 2015 peloton
The peloton approaches our village

French Village Diaries Tour du Poitou-Charentes 2015 team cars
The team car convoy

This great shot of the peloton whizzing throught the middle of the village was taken by Ed who was helping Ade at his marshal point at the end of our road.

French Village Diaries Tour du Poitou-Charentes 2015 peloton
The peloton in the village

It was great fun to be involved and to see the village in a different light and I even managed to pick a few freebies, including a AG2R Mondiale multi-coloured pen. Lucky me!

French Village Diaries Tour du Poitou-Charentes 2015
My freebies

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A clash of passions

French Village Diaries Tour du Poitou-Charentes Rochefort Charente-Maritime Ben Swift Team Sky Alex Dowsett Movistar
The Tour du Poitou-Charentes leaving Rochefort

This week is not just the last week of the holidays it is also the busiest and potentially the most exciting week of our summer.

French Village Diaries Tour du Poitou-Charentes 2015 Rochefort Charente-Maritime Alex Dowsett Movistar
Alex Dowsett signing my programme
Today was the first day of the four-day, five-stage Tour du Poitou-Charentes cycle race, an event we have been following for about four years now. It may be a little brother to the Tour de France, but it is still an important race in the cycling calendar that attracts the big names from the big teams. This morning we were stood by the Team Sky and Movistar team buses, (almost) rubbing shoulders with Alex Dowsett (that’s another autographed programme to add to my collection), Ben Swift and Luke Rowe. I was close enough to the open door of the Movistar coach to watch their final preparations. Bananas and muesli bars were eaten, water was drunk, shoes were ratcheted up, tops were pulled over brief glimpses of bare chests, helmets and sunglasses were positioned and finally the riders emerged to sign autographs before checking their bikes and cycling off to sign in. An experience that was very much worth the hour and a bit drive to Rochefort in the Charente Maritime.

Tomorrow afternoon I almost get to invite my favourite cyclists over for tea and cakes as stage two of the race will pass through our village – can you see my happy dance? In order to ensure the safe passage of the race, the publicity caravan that passes an hour earlier and all the support vehicles the commune was ‘told’ to provide a team of marshals. As a Maire in France is someone in a position of authority being ‘told’ rather than asked nicely, didn’t go down too well at first. However, the levels of excitement displayed by me seem to have rubbed off and now it is something most of the village are talking about. Ade and I are looking forward to being involved as marshals tomorrow, doing our bit for the village and feeling like we are part of the race organisation too.

French Village Diaries Charroux Literary Festival 2015 Vienne Poitou-Charentes
Charroux Literary Festival 2015
French Village Diaries Charroux Literary Festival 2015 Vienne Poitou-Charentes James Vance author
James Vance
As if this wasn’t enough for one week in rural France where quiet and calm normally rule, on Thursday and Friday I will be attending the Charroux Literary Festival. Oh yes, a real literary fest event with real authors almost on my doorstep. I can’t wait to attend the sessions run by Kate Mosse, Jacqui Lofthouse and Diana Morgan-Hill among others. In order to really feel the pulse of excitement I’ve volunteered to introduce local author James Vance for his session on The Basics of Plot Structure in Fiction. Am I nervous? Yes. Excited? You bet!

The only pin that could burst my happy bubble at attending my first lit fest is that I will be missing the final two days of the Tour du Poitou-Charentes. If books and cycling are top of my list, cycling and Status Quo are top of Ade’s list and just to round off the fun this week, the mighty Quo are playing in the Loire on Saturday evening and Ade and Ed can’t wait. A two-hour drive is worth it for a free Quo gig. I’ve still to decide whether Saturday is a lit fest day or a Quo day for me, but I’m pretty sure Sunday will need to be a lazy day. You’ll probably find me in a darkened room re-energising on patisseries.

French Village Diaries Charroux Literary Festival 2015 Vienne Poitou-Charentes
Charroux Literary Festival 2015

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Preparing for Hogwarts

French Village Diaries La Rentrée back to school Hogwarts Harry Potter notebooks Lycée boarding
Back to school notebooks

The holidays are sadly drawing to a close and I’m sure that the last two months have gone quicker than in previous years. Back to school, or La Rentrée, will see a big change in routine for us as from 1st September Ed will be boarding from Monday to Friday and I can’t help but feel a little daunted by this. I always hate to see the supermarkets full of La Rentrée displays of paper, pens, exercise books etc, however looking on the bright side, the 395€ back to school payment is always welcome and I love that my favourite notebooks are now available everywhere. Handbags have never really excited me, but a hardback, spiral bound, A5 notebook can never disappoint. You can never have too many notebooks and with Ed away I’m hoping to have plenty of writing time, so have stocked up. In addition to all the usual back to school shopping, this year I also need to buy him a single bedding set, as he has a double bed at home so the jungle animal set he had when he was four was donated to the dog many years ago and probably wouldn’t be cool enough for the Lycée dormitory.

Neither Ade nor I spent time away from home during our school years so the only experience of boarding we have is what we’ve read in books, especially the Harry Potter books. Yesterday was a significant day as it was textbook collection day and it reminded me of Harry, Ron and Hermione meeting in Diagon Alley to buy their new textbooks from Flourish and Blotts bookstore. The lady who served us, with her wispy long hair, loosely pulled back from her face and large glasses that when weren’t balanced on the end of her nose were dangling on a large beaded chain, just added to the Harry Potterness of it all, although there was no butterbeer on offer for stressed parents. Textbooks at Lycée are not provided by the school and according to the information pack would cost between 200€ and 250€ to buy a set brand new. However, by joining a parent association for less than 15€ a year (this amount is tax deductible) we have been able to borrow a complete set for 70€ which is magically exactly the same amount our regional council have given us towards buying textbooks.

The Lycée he is going to (according to their website) can trace it’s history back (almost as far as Hogwarts) to 1623 and the building, set on a hill, is almost as imposing as a modern day Hogwarts with an impressive set of concrete steps leading up from the road to the glass entranceway. That glass entranceway will, in ten days time, swallow my baby up and keep him for the whole week. Gulp.

I’m not sure Ed was overly impressed by all our Hogwarts references, the poor child has to cope with very immature parents, but he did smile when Ade left out my sweeping broom with the words Nimbus 3000 written on it and this old photo of him at the primary school carnival in 2009 just proves that he was always destined for Hogwarts.

French Village Diaries La Rentrée back to school Hogwarts Harry Potter notebooks Lycée boarding
Harry Potter at the carnival

Sunday, August 16, 2015

How to hold a French village fete

French Village Diaries Fêtes France food games laughter neighbours
A French village fête

All summer long, in villages and towns all over France communities take the time to get together and enjoy a moment of conviviality. I have been part of the organising team for one of these fêtes on the 15th August in our village for the last six years and it's always a very enjoyable day.

Here is how it's done. Take an open space in the village; we use our pretty park with children’s play area behind the church.

French Village Diaries Fêtes France food games laughter neighbours
A buffet of shared dishes

Add some tables and benches (most communes have a stack of these in a garage somewhere) and invite the villagers to bring along a dish to share and some drinks.

French Village Diaries Fêtes France food games laughter neighbours
Games for young and not so young

Add some games, we put up a badminton net and leave various bats, balls, racquets and shuttlecocks out for people to help themselves to, as well as organising a few games like sack races, egg and spoon races and easy cricket.

French Village Diaries Fêtes France food games laughter neighbours
Petanque court

The park has it's own petanque court and there is never a shortage of players for a friendly game after the meal. I say 'friendly' but it's actually taken quite seriously!

French Village Diaries Fêtes France food games laughter neighbours
Table tennis is big in France
The park also has it's own table tennis table and there were some quite fast paced games played out during the afternoon. What is essential is to be able to laugh, chat and enjoy yourselves in the company of your neighbours and that costs nothing but a bit of time and little bit of effort. Once the homemade Pineau was poured for the aperitif there was no shortage of laughter at our little fête yesterday.

This post has been linked to The Lou Messugo All About France blog link. Click here to read more.

Lou Messugo

Monday, August 3, 2015

Cycling in the Charente-Maritime

French Village Diaries Cycling Charente-Maritime France Rives de Boutonne
Cycling Charente-Maritime Rives de Boutonne

Last week we spent two days cycling in the Charente-Maritime, covering about 50 km each day, staying inland and away from the crowds at the coast. The first day was a meandering path that took us from Tonnay-Boutonne to Saint Jean d’Angely, roughly following the river Boutonne and crisscrossing the marked cycle path of the Rives de Boutonne, which we unfortunately knew nothing about when planning our route. I have tried to find some information online, however I’m still not much wiser so may have to visit a local tourist information office and hope they have a map.

French Village Diaries Cycling Charente-Maritime France Tonnay-Boutonne
La Porte Saint-Pierre, Tonnay-Boutonne

Tonnay Boutonne is home to a very impressive medieval gateway, La Porte Saint-Pierre that we had never seen before as the town has a bypass that keeps it’s secrets well hidden from view. That is one of the great things about cycling, even in an area we think we know, it never ceases to amaze us how much more you see when you are out and about on a bike. Our route took us off the roads and onto the tracks following the river and although it was a bit lumpy and bumpy it was so peaceful it felt like we had France to ourselves. As we stopped by a bridge in the middle of fields of sunflowers and mown hay we looked up to watch about twenty black and white storks silently circling in the thermals above us. The more we watched the more we saw and although we have seen these majestic birds before in the coastal marshes of the Charente-Maritime it was a lovely surprise to see them so far inland. Our beer stop was in Saint Jean d’Angely, a town big enough to give us a choice of cafés open and ready to serve thirsty cyclists.

French Village Diaries Cycling Charente-Maritime France Romanesque Church Écoyeux
Romanesque Church Écoyeux, Charente-Maritime

It seemed that towers, turrets and gateways were dotted all over our route, just waiting for us to turn up and take their picture, including this very impressive turreted Romanesque church in Écoyeux, which is on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. We see many fine examples of Romanesque churches around the Poitou-Charentes, but this one with the addition of it’s 15th Century fortifications was quite unusual.

French Village Diaries Cycling Charente-Maritime France River Charentes Saintes Arc de Germanicus
Arc de Germanicus, Saintes, Charente-Maritime

Our back road ride from Écoyeux to Saintes was quiet, passed through small, flowery villages and brought us into Saintes along the Charente River. This was much prettier than arriving by road and we didn’t have the hassle of finding somewhere to park. On the banks of the river we not only found a shady bar for a beer, we also got a great view of the Arc de Germanicus, a monumental gateway on the Via Agrippa, a Roman route that linked Saintes with Lyon in the east of France. It is a great privilege to live somewhere where history is available to see and experience every day and although we didn’t visit this time Saintes is also home to a Gallo-Roman Amphitheatre. 

French Village Diaries Cycling Charente-Maritime Summer in France Saintes
Summer in France

This picture really says summer in France to me – it is colourful, fun and another example of street art for the people that France does so well. I just wish I could have one of these in our garden. The Astroturf was surprisingly soft and comfortable and the backrest was just the perfect angle for me. It was very hard to get up and carry on cycling.

We are looking forward to more cycling fun this summer, including around La Rochelle.

This blog has been linked to The Lou Messugo All About France blog link. To read more click here.

Lou Messugo