Sunday, August 30, 2020

Challenges and milestones

French Village Diaries challenges and milestones of 2020
Sometimes it's difficult to keep going

Looking back to the pre-pandemic glory days of 2019, I note that ‘challenge’ was the word I used to describe the year. If only I’d known what was just around the corner, as 2020 has certainly been the year of challenges so far. Some were expected, like the ones I set myself on the bike, some were not. Covid-19 rocking up and locking us all down, and the knock-on effects hampering Adrian’s ability to travel and work, were not what I expected, but then neither was losing our nephew Ben to suicide, and the huge hole that he has left in our family. 


There are some days when I still struggle to fully comprehend where we are now, and I find it quite difficult to think about what lies ahead. Which might explain the lack of recent blog posts. I’m not sure that the three of us have grieved properly for Ben yet, and not being able to spend time together with our family in the UK (many of whom are vulnerable and still self-isolating) hasn’t helped.


French Village Diaries challenges and milestones of 2020 #ForBen
Cycling #ForBen Team Kharma

During lockdown it looked unlikely that I’d see any of my cycling challenges come to fruition, but as restrictions were lifted, we realised that in this extraordinary year, we owed it to ourselves to seize every opportunity that came our way. Cycling has given us the focus and motivation to keep going, and that started with us taking part in the virtual cycling challenge From Loughborough to Istanbul; For Ben. Being just a small part in this amazing event, which has raised over £30,000 for charities working to prevent suicide in young people, was very humbling but also a great help.


French Village Diaries challenges and milestones of 2020
Triumph at climbing my first Col, on the Côte d'Azur

The challenges I set myself this year were in two sets of twenty. The first being to ride in twenty different French departments (states/counties), and as August draws to a close, I've managed a respectable thirteen. 

The other twenty was made up of:

Climbing five mountain cols (passes).

Five consecutive days cycling over 50 km a day. 

Five 100 km in a day.

Five shopping trips using the bike instead of the car.


French Village Diaries challenges and milestones of 2020
Conquering the Cols in the Pyrenees

Living somewhere flat meant the cols were conquered whilst on holiday in Provence and the Pyrenees, and earlier this month I smashed my target having climbed thirteen cols and got to the top of Mont Ventoux. 


August has been a month of milestones. Last week I clocked up a pretty impressive 418 km, making it the furthest distance I’ve cycled in a week this year, as well as completing my five consecutive days cycling over 50 km, and the second of my 100 km in a day. 


This August I have also beaten the 2019 mile (3250 km) target I set (and achieved) last year, despite hardly using the bike for the two months of lockdown and I’ve hit another first; cycling over 1000 km in a single month. 


French Village Diaries challenges and milestones of 2020
In the Marais Poitevin, August 2020, 1000 km cycled

Yes, you did read that correctly. Almost 49 year old me, with my short legs, small frame (me and the bike) and little wheels, has cycled over one thousand kilometres this month, almost three thousand five hundred this year so far and nearly seven thousand since buying my Brompton #KTTinyTourer at the end of 2018.


French Village Diaries challenges and milestones of 2020
Market shopping in Montbrun-les-Bains

The one I'm struggling on the most is the shopping, which I thought would be the easiest. Thanks to Covid-19 we have stopped popping to the shops for a few bits but have been more organised doing a regular big shop by car and eliminating some of the risk of going to the supermarket. We have, however, managed to reduce the amount we use the car by making the bikes our main mode of transport for social journeys and tasks like picking up prescriptions from the pharmacy and even parcels from the local delivery point. Friends are now so used to seeing us on the bikes we’ve had a few comments when we’ve been spotted out in the car, along the lines of “not on your bikes today then?”


French Village Diaries challenges and milestones of 2020
I've climbed Mont Ventoux, all the way up there

Some of the things we have challenged ourselves to, including climbing Mont Ventoux at an altitude of 1912m, the Col d’Aubisque (1709m) and the Col du Tourmalet (2115m), have been hard work on the body and the mind and I’m still amazed I did it. One thing it has taught me is that there is something quite cathartic about pushing my body to its limits, hearing my heart pumping and feeling my lungs bursting with air, knowing it is a privilege to be alive in a year when so many have been lost.  


French Village Diaries challenges and milestones of 2020
A family bike ride at the end of a hot summer day

I may not be quite there on all my challenges yet, but for a weird year, I'm pretty pleased with my progress so far. I do have a niggling worry though, what if I have peaked too soon achieving all this in the year I turn forty-nine, rather than in the run up to my big 50? I’ll just have to hope that 2021 has something much bigger and better waiting for me to achieve.


Our next challenge is to get Ed back to Poitiers for a safe university rentrée and to adapt once more to life as empty nesters. 




Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Book review of The Misadventures of Mistress Soul by Jan Hartley

French Village Diaries book review The Misadventures of Mistress Soul by Jan Hartley
The Misadventures of Mistress Soul by Jan Hartley

Jan, Gaz and their car Mistress Soul set out to see if life in France is for them in retirement. They plan a year’s rental in the south, thinking this should be enough to sample life, the sights, the food and the wine. For Gaz, it’s love at first sight, for Mistress Soul it’s the perfect opportunity to play up and demand attention, but for Jan it’s more of a challenge.


This is her humorous account of trying it out and trying to settle in, despite her homesickness for the grey skies of Blighty, and her family and friends left behind. We join them and the seemingly never-ending stream of visitors who come over and enjoy days out, meals, local festivals, road trips and more with super hosts Jan and Gaz.


I live some distance from where Jan and Gaz are based, however, many places she writes about are familiar from our past holidays and it was lovely to back, refreshing my memory, with Jan proving to be a great tour guide. We didn’t see eye to eye on everything though; she’d much rather hop on those funny little tourist trains than let her feet do the work and many of my favourite foods were those she’d (virtually) run a mile from. I envied their freedom and ability to set off on a whim, but many times she left me wanting more. More detail about a day out or a visit to a favourite spot would have been lovely and felt more relaxed, before being whisked off onto their next adventure. They certainly found lots going on localy and were not afraid of joining in, taking part and it was great fun sharing the laughter and hilarity that often found them.


I am sure there are many of you who dream of giving life in France a try-out, so let Jan guide you through her adventures and misadventures this autumn and enjoy a slice of retirement in France. You are certainly guaranteed a fun read.


The Misadventures of Mistress Soul is published by Linen Press and will be available in kindle and paperback editions from 10th September. You can pre-order from Amazon now.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Pyrénées Cycl'n'Trip 2020

French Village Diaries Pyrénées Cycl'n'Trip 2020
Col du Soulor 1471m Pyrénées Cycl'n'Trip 2020

Pyrénées Cycl’n’Trip 2020


This time last week we were having a blast in the Pyrénées, stretching our legs in the most extreme way; climbing mountains on our Bromptons. 


It was a lucky chance that I stumbled upon an advert on Facebook for the type of organised event that France does so well, Pyrénées Cycl’n’Trip 2020.


French Village Diaries Pyrénées Cycl'n'Trip 2020
Col du Couraduque 1367m Pyrénées Cycl'n'Trip 2020

This in an annual five-day event that allows amateur cyclists to experience riding up the best cols (mountain pass climbs) that the Pyrénées has to offer on partially closed roads. Having enjoyed a traffic-free climb up Mont Ventoux earlier this year (thanks to road works) this seemed too good an opportunity to ignore, even if I’m still a little cautious about my mountain climbing abilities.


French Village Diaries Pyrénées Cycl'n'Trip 2020
Col du Soulor 1471m Pyrénées Cycl'n'Trip 2020

On each of the days, from 9h to 12h, up to three different cols are closed to motor vehicles, but open for cyclists. The choice of cols each day includes a biggie like Hautacam (14.5km closed road at an average gradient of 7.4%), and a not so biggie, like Couraduque (7km closed road at an average gradient of 5.7%). You don’t have to book, or even put your name down in advance, just turn up at the start of the climb, at any time during the morning road closure. You are free to do as many or as few climbs as you choose, at your own pace, and although you can book a full accommodation or luggage transfer package, there is no obligation to do so. 


French Village Diaries Pyrénées Cycl'n'Trip 2020
Volunteer-run fees zone Col du Soulor Pyrénées Cycl'n'Trip 2020

At the top of each col was a feed zone where cake, fruit, water and electrolyte drinks powder were on offer, along with a souvenir (a handy neck tube) and a stamp for your col-collector passport. The best bit; all of this was offered by the Hautes Pyrénées tourist board for FREE.

French Village Diaries Pyrénées Cycl'n'Trip 2020
The first stamp in our passport Pyrénées Cycl'n'Trip 2020

We joined in three closed road climbs in two days (Col de Couraduque 1367m, Col du Soulor 1471m and Col d’Aubisque 1709m) and then went on to do another two (Col des Bordères 1161m and Col du Tourmalet 2115m) on our own before heading across the mountains to the Pays Basque. 


French Village Diaries Pyrénées Cycl'n'Trip 2020
Starting the Col d'Aubisque 1709m Pyrénées Cycl'n'Trip 2020

Everyone is welcome and we saw couples, clubs, groups of friends, families, electric bikes, tandems, road bikes (from all price brackets) and hybrid bikes. The only Bromptons we saw, however, were ours. Everyone we met, from other cyclists, to the Gendarmes (joining in on their electric bikes), to the volunteers at the bottom and top of the closed roads, were friendly and encouraging. I’m so glad I saw the advert and that we decided to act upon it. This year we are all about seizing the moment and an extra, unplanned week away was magic.


French Village Diaries Pyrénées Cycl'n'Trip 2020
The cycling equivalent of playing football at Wembley Stadium

As an organised event, with such great flexibility, and all for free, I give it 5 stars and I’d certainly recommend next year’s event to anyone wanting to try out the Pyrénean Tour de France greats in a safe and friendly way.


French Village Diaries Pyrénées Cycl'n'Trip 2020
Stunning views cycling in the Pyrénées

You can read more (in French) on the Hautes Pyrénées tourist board website here and on the Cycl’n’Trip website hereMore Pyrénean cycling information can be found on Freewheeling France here.


French Village Diaries Pyrénées Cycl'n'Trip 2020
Big bikes and little bikes at the top of the Col d'Aubisque 1709m Pyrénées Cycl'n'Trip 2020

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Book review of A French Affair by Jennifer Bohnet

French Village Diaries book review A French Affair Jennifer Bohnet
A French Affair by Jennifer Bohnet

A French Affair

What will be will be...

Belinda Marshall’s idyllic teenage life in Brittany, France, fell apart when her parents dramatically separated and her mother took her back
to England.
Fast forward thirty-five years when Belinda’s world is once again turned upside down.
It’s the week before Christmas and Belinda's employer 'surprises’ her by asking for her help to rejuvenate their latest investment, a run-down campsite in Brittany.
Memories and anxieties that had lain dormant for years suddenly begin to resurface.
As secrets from a lost life threaten to overwhelm her, there is a realisation that maybe she wasn’t told the whole truth by her mother all those years ago.

Can Belinda reconcile her emotions and find happiness once more in the place she so loved and called home?


French Village Diaries book review A French Affair Jennifer Bohnet
A French Affair blog tour

My Review


Having recovered from a divorce, Belinda’s life is nicely back on track. Working for a small hotel chain in Devon, with a flat on site and her daughter and grandchildren nearby, she is content in the moment and not ready for change or adventure, until life has other ideas. Her bosses have branched out and invested in a campsite in Brittany and she has little choice but to head over to project manage the renovations. 


Sure of herself in the Devon hotel market, Brittany, a rundown campsite and the Frenchman she has to work alongside, take her out of her comfort zone. Belinda has a history in Brittany and if it were up to her, she’d be nowhere near the place, but the longer she is there, the more the memories she’s tried so hard to push to the back of her mind, come back to her. Finding a friendly face in Fern, the owner of a local Auberge, is one saving grace for Belinda. As the two women open up to each other, a friendship bond is formed as changes and new adventures appear on both their horizons.


I’m a great fan of Jennifer Bohnet’s books, many of which are set in the South of France, but this one, set where she lives in Brittany, had a different feel. I could visualise the Breton stone cottages, the ruggedness of the landscape and feel her love for this remote corner of north west France, and the people who live there. As well as a great sense of location, she has once again given us strong characters whose stories touched my heart. I loved Fern’s bond with her mother-in-law Anouk and could feel the warmth and love around the table at the Auberge, as well as taste the delicious local dishes she served up. 


I enjoy characters with a story to uncover and a new journey to embark upon and in this book, we get that not only with Belinda, but with Fern and Anouk too. I really wanted Belinda to be able to put her past ghosts to rest in order to embrace a new beginning. 


Pour yourself a wine, or maybe a Breton cider, and step into this book for a quick escape, you won’t regret it.


French Village Diaries book review A French Affair Jennifer Bohnet
Jennifer Bohnet

Author Bio 


Jennifer Bohnet is the bestselling author of over 14 women's fiction titles, including Villa of Sun and Secrets and A Riviera Retreat. She is originally from the West Country but now lives in the wilds of rural Brittany, France.


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French Village Diaries book review A French Affair Jennifer Bohnet
A French Affair by Jennifer Bohnet