Saturday 31 August 2013

Messing about in a boat 4 - The last village

We arrived at Chenillé-Changé, and the first thing you see is a mill with an insane crenelated tower attached to it.  Apparently inspired by one-time miller's trip to Italy.  You can have guided tours of the mill if you like, and also learn how to tie some standard knots.

The little village shop is just up the road, run by a lady who does everything herself, in the style that would probably be described as shabby French chic, except that this is the real thing: piles of fresh fruit and veg on the table,  computers and files on a desk, fishing gear in the corner, beer on tap, ice cream, batteries, disposable cameras, coffee when you like, lunch and dinner in the garden that she maintains herself, or inside if you prefer.  A real life general village store.

Farther on up the hill is the church, open to all, with a short history of its construction, plus lights, flowers and churchy music.

And on still farther, there is a small wood, with a grotto and statue of Mary, erected to fulfill a prayer bargain, since in fact the Prussians did't get as far as Chenillé-Changé as was feared they might.  Nice views of the river.

And after Chenillé-Changé, it was back to the boatyard, clean the boat, indulge in another excellent crêpe by the river, and from then on hoime.  Impressions of the break?  Very pleasant, unhurried, calm, nice views of countryside, herons, kingfishers, and some attractive places to visit.   The rivers were both astonishingly unpopulated - I doubt that we saw even ten boats moving on the water during the whole two-day trip.  A navigable waterway in England in the middle of August would be chokka, I think. A nice calm break.

Friday 30 August 2013

Messing about in a boat 3 - Chambellay

After our visit to the Chateau de la Lorie in the morning we ambled back to Segré and had lunch in the Chat Gris, a créperie right next to the river.  A gallette, a crépe and a bowl of cider for less than 10 euros - can't be bad.  And our hosts, no longer in the full bloom of youth, were charm personified.

And from there we moseyed back down the river the way we came, turning left just after le Lion d'Angers to go up the Mayenne.   The Mayenne at this point is much wider than the Oudon - perhaps 5 times as wide, giving the impression of boating on a vast lake rather than a river.  We moored at Chambellay , just a little way along.

There was a pair of twenty-somethings sat on the pontoon dipping their toes in the water.  They clearly didn't realise the deadly danger they were in, with our boat pointing straight at them, until we shouted a warning that we weren't very experienced.  They helped us moor, and we split a bottle of fizzy Saumur with Marc and Marine as thanks.

Now I don't know what the weather has been like where you are, but here, we are in the middle of a drought.  I don't think it has rained since the middle of July, and it's not forecast, as far as I can tell, until late September.  Except of course for the weekend of our boat trip.  We woke the next morning to the sound of rain on the boat, and it was showery for much of the morning.  But we cast off  during a dry bit, and set off for Chenillé-Changé, just a little way farther up the river, on the basis that our guide map said it was possibly the prettiest village on the river.   They could well be right.

Wednesday 28 August 2013

Messing about off the boat

The chateau de la Lorie seems like Loire only dyslexic, but that's it's real name.   It's a tidy little pile, about a half-hour ramble from our mooring at Segré, so we strolled over to it on the Saturday morning to take a look.

Their website here tells you all you need to know, but the guided tour was worth doing.  I rather got the impression that the guide's favourite story is of when Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother came to dine, and the oven chose that one day in all its entire life, to explode.  Cue secret service running about to see if it was a IRA plot, and chefs going off their heads, dashing into Segré to find something to feed the Queen Mum.

After the tour of the house you can stroll around the grounds as much as you like.  Worth the detour.

Tuesday 27 August 2013

Messing about in a boat 2 - Segré

We picked up the boat at Grez-Neuville, the hire place is right next to a thriving crêperie where we had a beer and ice cream while we waited for the boat to be ready. Paperwork signed off, we set off about 4PM towards Segré on the Oudon. The boat will do about 10kph flat out but it didn't seem worth the effort - the diesel made more noise and there was more wash, and - well, what's the hurry? So we throttled back to a steady chug and nosed our way gently upstream.

The river Oudon is small, wide enough without being excessive, and with enough bends to keep it interesting. The locks (three off) were operated by friendly lock-keepers who chatted away, asking about the trip, where we were from, and so on. We had tthe idea of asking the lady at the last lock, where to eat in Segré but she said the only place she knew about had closed down.

We have done a few canal boating holidays in the UK in the past, and I noticed on some of these French locks a feature I hadn't spotted before on English ones: the metal framework on the right of the lock is a swing bridge so you can drive vehicles across it too.  I don't know if they're still in use but it struck me as a useful addition to a lock.

We got to Segré in just under 4 hours.  The town by the river is pretty, the bridges and roadsides decorated with flowers.  But I'm not sure where the relaxing duck came from...

We ended the day with an excellent dinner at the Jardin d'Asie, a Cambodian restaurant where I can recommend the samosa starters in particular. Very nice.

There was one peculiarity that we spotted on the street and that we hadn't seen before - this is a dustbin. I tried to open it to see how it works, but failed - you need a special card to use it. They don't just take any old rubbish at Segré, apparently. However, the recycling bins, of the same design, were open to everyone, presumably because there is money to be made from the contents. So let's imagine I have some rubbish to dispose of, and the normal bin is locked, but the recycling bins are open. What to do, what to do....?

Monday 26 August 2013

Messing about in a boat 1 - Pouancé

We spent the weekend messing about in a boat on the rivers Oudon and Mayenne:  a pleasant little break that we have been meaning to do for a while, what with all the navigable rivers around here.  The map below, courtesy of Google Maps, shows you where we went.  The Oudon is on the left, the Mayenne is on the right, and they meet at the southern tip of the town of Le Lion d'Angers, forming a kind of "Y" on the map.

We set off from a little boatyard at Grez-Neuville, right at the bottom of the map, going to Segré (left) on the first leg, and Chenillé-Changé (right) on the second.

View Larger Map

We dropped the cat off at the kennels on the Friday morning.  We try to explain to him that it's a special cat hotel, but he's not having any of it.  This left us with the Friday to kill before we picked up the boat at 4PM, so we decided on a whim to visit the town of Pouancé, somewhat to the West of Segré, so near our destination, on the simple basis that it has a ruined medieval castle and might be worth a visit.

We got there just before lunchtime and the friendly and enthusiastic young lady in the tourist office gave us a little map and explained all the things that we could see in the town.  But first, lunch.  There were three obvious options; a pizza place, an english-style pub, or doner kebab. We opted for the pizza, and I'd like to tell you how much we enjoyed eating there.... but I can't because we didn't, since we walked out following an astonishing row with the proprietor/chef.  So kebab it was, very fine too: proper lamb meatloaf on a rotisserie, served in more of a bap than a pitta bread, but crisp with fresh veg and a hot chilli sauce like it should be.

Pouancé does not come across as a wealthy town; more of an example of the kind of decay affecting much of rural France.  Houses on the street unoccupied and decaying, grass growing through the tarmac on the courtyards, a general air of tiredness.  The lake is pretty enough, and you can walk around it, the castle is impressive from the outside but the inner courtyard is a complete ruin, and visits are guided only.  The town is on one of the pilgrim paths of St Jacques de Compostelle, (the one from the Mont Saint Michel) so perhaps a level of tourism is guaranteed.  But unless it's on your path, the verdict is: not worth the detour.

Saturday 17 August 2013


We have had some wierd experiences with Amazon and Kindle recently.

A week or so ago, Anita bought a Spanish-English dictionary for her kindle app on her Galaxy Note.  The thing is, she could not see the resulting eBook from her Note, anywhere - not on the cloud nor on the device.  However by using a normal web browser to access her online account, the book became visible.  After a couple of lengthy conversations with Amazon tech support, a new version of the software was released that solved the problem.

In due course this new software loaded itself onto my tablet PC, a Google Nexus.   I didn't pay it much attention, but this morning, on using the Kindle software on this device to idly browse the books I have in the Amazon cloud, my attention was attracted by two books that I didn't think I had bought.  One was " A Modern Chinese-English Dictionary" and the other I have no idea because the characters were in what appeared to be Chinese.

I went to my account online and the books were not listed there, so I couldn't delete them.

While I was fiddling about on my Nexus, I attempted to delete these books, and in doing so, I started a download.  By this time I am a bit suspicious, so I attempted to stop the download.  Although the book seemed to stop downloading, two files with chinese names appeared to be continuing to download.  This is starting to look dodgy.  I turned off the Tablet and re-started it and the downloads stopped.

I uninstalled the Kindle app, and re-installed it and the chinese books are now nowhere to be seen.

I think it's possible that someone might have been trying to hack my tablet.  My suspicious mind is telling me that what I think I have observed is entirely consistent with a hacker planting a fake book in my Kindle database on the tablet, and that this book, once I start to download it, attempts to download and install some kind of trojan horse or other malicious software on my device.


OK, following some contact with Kindle, this looks like some wierd effect related to the fact that Kindle comes complete with 5 dictionaries, including, I guess, a chinese one.  Normally you can't see them in the book list, so when they appear it looks odd.   I'm really not too sure about the second book though - it had no English text in the title at all.  Perhaps it was a thai - chinese dictionary or something

Saturday 3 August 2013


Usually the field next door to us has been sown with wheat or maize, but this year the farmer has chosen sunflowers.  Much nicer!  Two views below from one of the gîte bedrooms.

Thursday 1 August 2013

Dinah, Rodney

Does anyone else remember the Dyno-Rod adverts on the radio a few years back?  Dinah and Rodney were discussing a problem they had with their drains and couldn't think who to call.  It came to mind recently as I have undergone what I can only describe as a good rodding.

Picture from Dyno-Rod website

The preventive healthcare system in France works quite well, at least it seems to me.  Apart from anything else, as you get past 50, everyone is screened for colo-rectal cancer by means of what I call a shit test.  Not a particularly pleasant process but your faeces are screened for blood, and if there is any, off you go for further investigation.

I was due for one of these, but on a visit to the doc (July 4th), I mentioned that the death of my father was occasioned by a cancer that might well have begun in his intestines.  No shit test for you then, sonny Jim, off you go for a colonoscopy.  One of those situations where I have to tell myself that the only approach is a logical one; if there is a problem, it's best to know so that it can be deal with, and if there isn't, then it's good news anyway.

There is standard set of things to do before such an operation.  You are required to make an appointment to see the anaesthetist, whose job it is not only to make sure you don't feel anything during the operation, but also that you wake up again at the end of it.   So I decided that a free and frank exchange of information is the best approach here.

The rest of the preparation is about making sure the bowels are empty.   A fibre-free diet for a few days, then some laxative.   Boy, magnesium oxide is effective, especially in large doses.  At least it comes with lemon flavour so it doesn't taste too bad.

The operation itself (July 30th) was a breeze from my perspective, a  feeling of being slightly drunk followed by a sleep, and waking up feeling fine.  Find anything?  A couple of little benign polyps that will be tested, and depending on the result the re-test will be in either three or five years.

After the initial visit to the doctor, the process was handled by the Polyclinique du Maine, that is, as far as I can work out, a private enterprise that sells its services to the government and health insurance agencies.  It struck me as being everything a modern hospital should be; clean, efficient, careful, and (as far as I can tell) error-free.  And less than 4 weeks, start to finish.  Can't be bad.
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