Monday, 30 March 2020

Hedgehog Cake


Hedgehog cake, on a Hermes plate, served with Savennières Roche aux Moines wine.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide..

Hedgehog cake is a no-bake cake. It was a favourite in our family during my childhood. I don't know where the recipe came from (this one is not the original, but adapted from Lynn Hill's chocolate tiffin on Clandestine Cake Club website). I don't know where the name hedgehog cake comes from either. Places like Starbucks sell it as chocolate biscuit cake. Others, like Lynn, clearly know it by the name chocolate tiffin.

BRB cutting the cake.
Cutting hedgehog cake.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Ingredients
200 g butter
50 g soft brown sugar
30 g cocoa powder
200 g Golden Syrup
400 g plain sweet biscuits
500 g dried fruit (any mixture of sultanas, apricots, cranberries, citrus peel, figs that you like, in any proportions)
350 g dark chocolate

Method
  1. Grease and line a 20 cm square tin, making sure you have a generous overhang of baking paper (for ease of lifting out the finished cake).
  2. Crush the biscuits so you have about half very fine and half in chunks of about 1 cm. 
  3. Cut any of the larger dried fruit so that everything is roughly sultana sized.
  4. Put the butter, sugar, cocoa and Golden Syrup in a large saucepan and heat gently to melt the butter and mix everything together.
  5. Add the dried fruit and the crushed biscuits, stir well and make sure everything is well incorporated. This will take longer than you think, but it will all come together eventually.
  6. Tip the mixture into the prepared tin and press it down firmly with a glass.
  7. Leave in the fridge to cool and set, at least an hour.
  8. Break up the chocolate and put into a bowl. Set the bowl in a cast iron pan half full of simmering water and leave the chocolate to melt.
  9. Once the chocolate has melted take it out of the water, stir to ensure the chocolate is smooth, then spread over the cake.
  10. Leave to set at room temperature, which will take ages (several hours). Before it is completely set, score cutting lines in the chocolate to make it easier to divide up and serve.
  11. Once cold and set solid, lift the cake out, carefully peel off the baking paper, then cut into 16 generous squares, or 32 half squares (logs or triangles).
  12. Serve with a rich semi-sweet Loire Valley white wine from appellations such as Savennières Roche aux Moines, Jurançon, Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh, Vouvray or Coteaux du Layon.
Hedgehog cake on a Hermes plate.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.
Hermes plate courtesy of BRB.

The biscuit used in our house for hedgehog cake was the otherwise very uninteresting Marie biscuit. These are not available in France except occasionally with Polish labelling, in Noz. Any really dull plain sweet biscuit will do. French supermarket shelves are full of similar biscuits. 

You could try it with a well aged Chinon too...
Hedgehog cake, on a Hermes plate, served with Chinon wine.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

If you live in a Golden Syrup free zone, use a mild honey, such as Robinia (known as Acacia in France) or a supermarket blended honey.

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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Sunday, 29 March 2020

Old Kyneton Hospital


Main hospital building.
Old Kyneton Hospital in 2017. Victoria. Australia. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

The old hospital at Kyneton in Victoria, Australia, closed in 2005. Very quickly the building and the grounds deteriorated. It's since been through several owners and development plans that never got off the ground. But in its day, this was a large modern hospital, and very early in terms of its 1850s date of construction. It is built of the local basalt stone, known as bluestone, and brick, which would also have been locally manufactured. It is sad to see such a grand building having lost its purpose.

 The intensive care/infectious diseases ward.
Old Kyneton Hospital intensive care/infectious diseases ward in 2017. Victoria. Australia. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

The building is a listed monument, which has given it some protection, and a couple of years ago (after these photos were taken) the then owners were ordered by the State to undertake some simple repairs. The current plan is apparently to build a co-located aged and child care facility in the extensive grounds, whilst restoring the old hospital buildings as faithfully as possible.

 The morgue.
Old Kyneton Hospital morgue in 2017. Victoria. Australia. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

The original main block was Georgian in style, symmetrical, with two wings. The cast iron verandah is a later addition, from 1910. This is the earliest intact example of a country hospital in Victoria, designed specifically as a hospital and operating as such for 90 years until a new building was constructed in 1942.  The emergency ward, or infectious diseases ward as it is sometimes known, is important because it retains all original features and clearly demonstrates the health regulations for 1894 when it was built.

 The back of the hospital.
The back of Old Kyneton Hospital in 2017. Victoria. Australia. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.



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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Saturday, 28 March 2020

The City of Corsairs


The activities of corsair ships based at Saint Jean de Luz highlights one of the more colourful periods in the history of the port, and led to it being known as the City of Corsairs.

 Saint Jean de Luz/Ciboure harbour today -- a haven for sardine fishing and pleasure boats.
St Jean de Luz/Ciboure. Pyrenees-Atlantiques. France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Traditionally of course the town made its living from the sea. From the 14th century there were  whalers, then later cod fishermen. But from the 16th century and for two centuries following, the maritime commerce was hampered by wars in Europe.

Being in possession of well armed ships to defend their fishing expeditions, the Basques to become State sponsored pirates. Whalers and cod boats during times of war were equipped by weapons traders ("armateurs") with royal warrants, giving them the right to attack anything flying another country's flag.

Saint Jean de Luz. Pyrenees-Atlantiques. France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

War was also commercially very lucrative and allowed the weapons trading families to become very wealthy. From 1640 they were constructing the great mansions around the port, funded by their arms business and the booty seized by raiding. The number of enemy ships seized was so great that it was said that you could walk from one side of the harbour to the other, from Saint Jean de Luz to Ciboure, without getting your feet wet and just walking from ship to ship across their gangplanks.

 One of the mansions from this period, known as the Spanish Infanta's House,
built by one of the corsairs.
The Spanish Infanta's House, Saint Jean de Luz. Pyrenees-Atlantiques. France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

About a dozen local families ran highly successful and profitable pirating operations for a couple of centuries, and became part of the Establishment. One member of these corsair families, Jean d'Albarade, was made Naval Minister in 1793 and given a Légion d'Honneur in 1811.
 
A view of the harbour with the distinctive 1937 lighthouse in the centre.
Saint Jean de Luz/Ciboure harbour, with the distinctive 1937 lighthouse in the centre.

The last corsair was Etienne Pellot Monvieux, called 'The Basque Fox'. He died in 1856, the year this sort of piracy was outlawed. Many streets in Saint Jean de Luz bear the names of famous local corsairs. 

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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Friday, 27 March 2020

Pandemic Policemen and Pastries


The police are out and about checking on people's movements during the lockdown. We have to have our form stating our reason for being out on us and ready to show to them when we encounter them in the streets. I was checked on my way to the supermarket at the big roundabout at Yzeures, Simon was checked near the war memorial when he was walking. It is a very low key and gentle process. The police officer doesn't want to get too near, nor take your permission form. They just want to be able to see it and confirm you are not infringing the rules.

The police officer who checked Simon was perfectly happy to have his photo taken.

As part of the new restrictions it was announced a couple of days ago that outdoor farmers markets would close. However, local mayors could request a derogation and in many small rural communities, including ours, they did. So in Preuilly the Thursday market will continue, with strict controls, but the Saturday market will be suspended.

'Due to Covid19 all public facilities are closed until further notice.'
Town hall notice board during Covid19 lockdown.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

It is weird going out for shopping. Hardly anybody about, everything very subdued. You would think anyone you met would be up for a long chat, having not seen other people outside their own household for days. But in fact conversation is desultry. There is no topic of conversation other than the lockdown and the virus, and no one wants to talk about either. After going to the market, the butcher and the baker, I trudged home again, having taken these photos and made supportive noises to the shopkeepers and producers.

The market in Preuilly with barriers and tape set up.
Outdoor farmers market during Covid19 lockdown.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

One person who is going to come out of all this as a local hero is Karim at the Episervice corner store. He is working so hard, keeping the stock on the shelves, collecting fresh produce from local farmers and delivering all over town to vulnerable people. He has employed a young woman to serve in the shop. The layout is cramped, so fruit and veg remains displayed on the street, but they are managing the best they can. A perspex barrier has been hung from the ceiling to divide the cashier from the customer. Fortunately the number of customers at any one time is so low that there is no need to control entries.

The pâtissier isn't going crazy making too much of a selection but it all still looks delicious.
Patisseries.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

The charcutier-traiteur has a full and tempting selection of ready to eat meals and delicacies.
Charcutier-traiteur.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.


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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Walking from Descartes


On Monday 9 March our walking group set out from the camping ground carpark in Descartes and walked down one side of the River Creuse, then back up the other, past the weir and the paper mill. The river was in spate and there was plenty of historic industrial history to be had. Here are some pictures of the outing.

One of several lovely cast iron park benches in the public garden. 
I'm sure these must have been custom made for Descartes, presumably in the 19th century.
19C cast iron park bench, Descartes.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

The rushing water has brought a log jam of debris stuck at the bridge.
Log jam of debris by the bridge at Descartes.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

 The weir on the Creuse at the paper mill at Descartes.
Weir on the Creuse at the papermill, Descartes.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Walking along the left bank of the Creuse.
Walking along the banks of the Creuse, Descartes.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.
Photo courtesy of Alison Juestel.
There are at least six species of moss on this rock we passed.
Mossy rock.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Descartes papermill.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Mystery tower opposite the paper mill. No one seems to know anything about this tower, but it looks like a 19th century lantern to me, maybe a navigation aid relating to the weir.
Tower on the Creuse River opposite the weir and paper mill, Descartes.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Ash Fraxinus exelsior (Fr. Frêne) coming into flower.
Ash coming into leaf. March.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Flood markers on the bridge over the Creuse.
Flood markers on the bridge over the Creuse River at Descartes.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Alison, Dominique, Laura, Karen, Anne-Marie, Aline, Pierre and Fabrice contemplate the rushing water at the fish ladder and weir.
Walkers contemplating the fish ladder on the Creuse River at Descartes.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.
Photograph courtesy of David Henderson.


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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Coworking Space in Preuilly


When the new Junior High School principal accepted her post in Preuilly everyone was delighted, but it did leave her husband, Benjamin Jalon, with the prospect of leaving lucrative big city based work and living in a small town that might not have quite the same need for a computer engineer.

 I can't remember what Benjamin and I were talking about, but it was obviously 'over there'.
Qastia coworking space, Preuilly sur Claise.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

So he did the sensible thing and set up a new business in a recently vacated building in town -- and now we have a coworking space in town called Qastia. He has set it up with a lounge, a kitchen, a meeting room and several desks. Hopefully Parisians who want to spend more time at their country homes will be encouraged to use the space.

Qastia coworking space, Preuilly sur Claise.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Benjamin has worked for Airbus, various architecture firms and software publishers, which has enabled him to offer a wide range of skills: system development, sales, training, architecture, project support. Living in Le Mans until 2018, he commuted to Paris from there. When his wife Sophie was appointed principal of the Gaston-Defferre college in Preuilly, he had to make a decision about how he could continue his career.

Qastia coworking space, Preuilly sur Claise.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

As a freelancer he works for many organizations. He has been very grateful for the welcome he received from the population and local associations. His family has become fully accepted which motivated him to bring something to the town. From there came the idea of creating a coworking space. "Indeed", he says, "for a self-employed person, there are two solutions: either working alone at home, or working in a common room with similar professions, which allows an exchange of experiences." Benjamin Jalon believes, on the other hand, that "a migration of city dwellers to the countryside is entirely feasible". His ultimate goal is to attract professionals with profiles like his to Preuilly in order to create a community that could organize conferences, training for young people, or help with retraining and, in this way, revitalize the village.

Qastia coworking space, Preuilly sur Claise.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

We went to see him at the suggestion of a friend and found him thoughtful, well-informed, practical and very willing to work with us as far as his skill set permitted. We can think of a couple of Paris based people who would dearly like to spend more time down here at their family or second homes, so we think there is a real possibility that Benjamin's coworking space will take off.

All details for finding and contacting Benjamin are on his website. For those of you who know Preuilly, the coworking space is near the river, opposite the Claise Restaurant and next door to the Notaire, in the former agricultural supplies shop.

Note that these photos were taken on Tuesday 10 March, before the Covid19 lockdown. The coworking space is currently not open.

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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

The Fish Ladder at Descartes


The weir at Descartes is situated on the Creuse 260 kilometres from the Loire Estuary. The device to measure the flow there was installed in 2007. Since the removal of the weir at Maisons Rouges in  1999, this is the first barrier on the Creuse up river from the sea.

The weir, photographed from the bridge downstream. The papermill is on the left.
The weir at Descartes, taken from the bridge downstream.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Following the observation that fish were now blocked at Descartes after the removal of the downstream weir, it was decided to build a new fish ladder (Fr. passe à poissons).

It is installed in the old navigation lock on the right bank, next to the papermill. It is a pass with successive basins with double vertical slots of the "surface jet" type. Consisting of eleven basins, it breaks down the 3.20 metre fall into eleven 30 centimetre falls. The height of fall downstream between the last basin and the Creuse is regulated by a spillway valve controlled at the downstream level of the watercourse to ensure the pass remains useable by the fish.

Fabrice, Pierre and Jane contemplate the fish ladder.
Fish ladder at the papermill, Descartes.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Located in the centre of the dam, an eel ramp was built into the old fish pass. It is an inclined ramp covered with an "evergreen" bottom substrate that is suitable for eel creep behaviour. Since this fishway is not equipped with a monitoring device, the eel count at Descartes is not representative of the migrating population. 

Pierre and Dominique contemplate the structure.
Fish ladder in the weir at the papermill, Descartes.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

The migration monitoring station is located at the upstream end of the fishway. It is equipped with a double fish passage recording device to count the fish going through in each set of slots. The count and some pictures of fish passing through can be seen on the LOGRAMI website.

Last year 39 salmon (Fr. saumons) were recorded, 169 shad (Fr. aloses), and 47 sea lampreys (Fr. lamproies marines). It was rather a low count because of the dry. This year, already, there have been 10 salmon, 42 shad and 14 lampreys. The bumper year for salmon and lampreys was 2015, with 204 and 23 740 respectively. Shad had a good year in 2018 with 869 passing through the fish ladder. Not all the eels use the ramp either. A few use the fish ladder to go upstream. So far 8 this year, and 8 in total last year. Barbel, bream, chub and roach also use the fish pass but are not counted.

The eel ramp in the middle.
Eel ramp in the weir at the papermill, Descartes.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Thanks to David Henderson for sending me details of the fish ladder, including the link to LOGRAMI.

Note that the outing to the fish ladder took place on Monday 9 March, before the current Covid19 lockdown. Our walking groups are not meeting during the lockdown.


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Covid19 Update: We've had a week of lockdown. The weekend was sad and scary and full of mostly bad news. Yesterday by contrast seemed more peaceful and calm. Two things are really striking if you do venture out into the street. First, there is even less traffic than normal and it is very quiet. Everyone is commenting on how much wildlife they can suddenly hear. The second thing, and the thing which actually makes it weird, is that no one is stopping to chat in the street or at the shops. Even when you encounter someone you know it's all a bit sombre and as if there is nothing of any consequence to say. So people greet each other awkwardly then go about their business. 

I went to the farm shop on the edge of town yesterday and I'm pleased to report that neither I, nor Dottie, who was working there, have Covid19. The new seasons strawberries are in and they smelled delicious, we agreed. But they were €5 a punnet, so I declined them. I also went to the pharmacy and got my prescriptions refilled. Betablockers no problem, but I was only given a month's supply of statins. There doesn't appear to be a shortage of paracetamol and I bought a couple of boxes. My favourite hand cream though has run out. Looks like it's lots of people's favourite, and with the amount of hand washing and hand sanitizer we are all using, a good hand cream to follow up is essential.

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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Monday, 23 March 2020

French Beef Cuts Translated


At the end of November I called in to the Magasin des Producteurs in Loches. The beef looked particularly enticing. Here is a list of what they had on display. Foolishly I didn't buy any of it. I bought lamb chops and faggots instead -- which were both great, but I should have bought some beef too.


From top left, then clockwise, we can see:

Filet - fillet
Faux filet - sirloin
Entrecôte - Scotch fillet or rib eye steak
Basse côte - chuck steak
Collier et Bourguignon - neck and cubes for slow cooking ie for making boeuf bourguignon (beef burgundy)
Plat de côte - brisket
Poitrine - breast
Rognons de porc - pork kidneys
Coeur de genisse - heifer heart
Foie de genisse - heifer liver
Jarret sans os - boneless shin
Paleron jumeau - shoulder/thick rib
Macreuse à braiser - brisket
Bavette - flank steak
Poire Araignée Merlan - oyster steak (known as 'les morceaux du boucher' or the 'butcher's steak' because you hardly ever see these cuts for sale -- the butcher keeps them for themselves)
Rumsteak à fondue - rump steak for fondue
Rumsteak - rump steak


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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Sunday, 22 March 2020

Australian Brushturkey


Australian Brushturkey Alectura lathami is a widespread nest mound builder, not related to North American turkeys at all. They spend most of their time on the ground, as they are not good flyers, but they generally roost in trees overnight, out of the way of terrestrial predators. 

This one was enjoying a fish carcass, probably scavenged from the nearby fish and chip shop's rubbish.

Males will build a large mound a metre high and several metres across of leaf litter for the female to lay their eggs in. The heat of the decomposing mound provides the warmth to incubate the eggs. The bird monitors the temperature by sticking its beak into the mound. It will add or remove material as required to maintain the ideal temperature. These nest mounds will be used year after year. 

These birds are bold and frequently in contact with people at picnic sites and gardens. They love compost heaps and will eat just about anything that presents itself on the ground in front of them.

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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Saturday, 21 March 2020

Ruddy Turnstone


Looking out at the boats moored in the harbour at Saint Jean de Luz in September last year I kept seeing birds flickering past the corner of my eye. I couldn't get a proper bead on them for ages. Then a couple landed on a jetty quite a way from me. After that they moved and landed on a nearer jetty and finally sat there long enough for me to get photographs.

Saint Jean de Luz harbour. Pyrenees-Atlantiques. France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

They turned out to be Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres (Fr. Tournepierre à collier), a bird I have never knowingly seen before. Very attractive little waders with pretty slightly rusty wings, white backs, bellies and bibs, orange legs and salt and pepper streaked crowns.
 
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres. Pyrenees-Atlantiques. France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.


They are very long distance migrants, wintering in the southern hemisphere as far away as South Africa and Australia, and breeding in the high Arctic. In between some of them spend time on the Atlantic coast of France.

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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Friday, 20 March 2020

Life in the Pandemic


So this is what a lockdown feels like. At the moment we are allowed to go shopping for necessities and take a walk alone (in an area no larger than two kilometres radius) but really we are confined to the house and garden. We have to have a form justifying our movement and identification with us at all times if we are out. Simon and I have both been out, separately, for walks, but nothing further as yet.

The most notable thing about the escalating crisis is how rapidly life has changed, and how rapidly the government establishes rules, then tweaks them as the situation changes. All this week we've seen some change in what we can and cannot do, with significant new developments and restrictions every day. So far we know no one in any country who has had the virus, or even thinks they have had the virus. Thank goodness.

Motorists queuing for fuel just before lockdown.
Motorists queuing for fuel just before lockdown.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Our business has dwindled to nothing. None of the chateaux, restaurants or wineries are open, so there isn't much we could show travellers, even if they could get to us and even if we were allowed to be in proximity to them. All of our upcoming March, April and June tours have cancelled.

The supermarket just before lockdown. A few people in masks and/or gloves. No panic buying.
Only one person per household is allowed to enter now.
Supermarket just before lockdown.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

The State has announced an aid package for small businesses and independant workers, promising that no one will go under. Many independent workers in these small rural communities are already in receipt of what is called a prime d'activité, a monthly income top up payment from the State. That will of course continue, with many more people eligible and applying for it, and the average monthly payment will surely increase as people suddenly find themselves with no earned income at all.

The shop at the Jardins Vergers de la Petite Rabaudière the evening before lockdown.
Busy, but not a crowd, stocking up on organic local vegetables.
Organic market garden shop.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

The new package allows businesses to delay the payment of tax and utilities bills, and offers a €1500 grant to anyone whose income was 70% or more lower in March 2020 than March 2019. We are lucky not to have any debt and a frugal lifestyle and so with a little help from the State think that we will weather this financial storm.

Frustratingly, it looks like we won't be eligible for this until April. We actually earnt more this March than last March, due to a walking tour I did for a group of American women just before the lockdown began in France. In contrast, our season last year started rather late. Normally we expect our first clients in mid-March, but last year our first tour was in April. This year we've already done several tours, with bookings in January, February and March.

Many small businesses have chosen to close rather than risk contact with the virus for owners and staff. They can do this because the State is supporting them, including by offering unemployment benefit to wage earners who are stood down. Some business owners have sent the staff home and are running the retail outlet alone. Many people are at home because they need to look after school age kids, who are also at home because of the nation wide closure of education institutions.

Customers waiting to enter the pharmacy, which is limiting numbers in the shop. 
They are maintaining the recommended distance from one another.
Customers waiting to enter a pharmacy during the COVID19 lockdown.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

The current lockdown is due to end on 1 April but there is very little question it will be extended for a number of weeks, and we may even get further restrictions to our movements. It's all about 'flattening the curve' ie slowing the rate of infections by limiting people's contact with one another. It's not about eradicating the virus in the population, it's about limiting the number of sick people at any one time so the health system can cope. It means we'll be dealing with restrictions for longer but fewer people will die due to lack of resources to care for them.

People will still be allowed out to shop for food and medicines though, and there is no expectation that supplies will run short so there is no panic buying to speak of. And in any case, much of what we eat is locally produced and will be delivered by the producers to our corner grocery store just a few blocks away. One of the market gardens have told us to ring them, and they will deliver to our door.

Cemeteries and parks are closed.
Closed cemetery during the COVID19 lockdown.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Simon is in the at risk group, being asthmatic, and these days very prone to bronchitis. He takes several daily medications to keep his lung function up to something approaching normal. It's very worrying, because if I go shopping or to the laundromat (our washing machine has died) I could bring the virus back if I am unlucky or not careful. I have decided not to volunteer for the food bank until the crisis is over to eliminate at least one reason for going out and being in contact with people.

We are very lucky here in the Loire Valley to be maintaining our position at the bottom of the French COVID19 league table. By far the least number of confirmed cases, and only one death so far in Centre Val de Loire. Our own 'county' of Indre et Loire has 25 cases, a quarter of whom are elderly nuns from a single convent, and most cases are from Tours I think (although it's hard to be sure as the authorities are careful not to reveal too much detail about where patients live). One of our neighbouring 'counties', Indre, has just a single case.

Toilet paper stocks the day before lockdown -- perfectly normal levels.
Toilet paper stocks the day before COVID19 lockdown.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

In the meantime, trapped at home, we are even more glued to social media than usual. I try to bake every day because good cake is always a moral booster. I'm spending much of my time trying to make sure the English speakers who live here are up to date with things -- a sort of extension of my networking around Brexit issues. Most people are keeping up for themselves, but there have been a few instances where I've been able to provide useful information.

I have ideas of doing a mega spring clean and some sewing, but so far, Facebook is winning.


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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Thursday, 19 March 2020

Lime Kiln


For economic reasons, when it comes to erecting buildings, man often exploits the underground resources of a region. In the Touraine that is shining white hard limestone and slate, but also clay and soft chalky limestone. A multitude of lime, tile and brick kilns peppered the landscape in the Middle Ages and these persist either as ruins or in place names.

The opening in the top of a brick lined bottle shaped lime kiln near Le Grand Pressigny.
Top of a bottle shaped lime kiln.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

The oldest kilns date from the 14th century, but production reached a peak in the 19th century and declined in the 20th. There are 579 such industrial kilns surviving in Indre et Loire, in 160 municipalities.

The 'eye' at the base of the kiln, through which the lime was extracted.
'Eye' at the base of a lime kiln.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

The tiles they manufactured were used on roofs and on floors at all levels. Lime was used in construction directly or as render, then extensively for making cements and as a soil improver.

The walking group take a break at the base of the kiln. I'm standing on top to take the photo.
Walking group resting at a lime kiln.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Three lime kilns and at least nine tile kilns are known from around Le Grand Pressigny, and at least a dozen tile kilns and a brick kiln around Preuilly sur Claise.


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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos.