Thursday, 22 February 2018


This block of flats in the 15e arrondissement of Paris has been recently renovated and given trendy living walls. It forms one street frontage of a big urban renewal project currently underway in the Métro Ligne 12 railway workshops that occupy the triangle of land behind. However, according to the plans of the project I've looked at it falls outside the railway workshops regeneration boundaries. I assume an independent developer has piggybacked onto the project but I can find nothing about this building. It has certainly been restored in the spirit of the railway workshops, which are promising extensive tree planting and roof gardens.

Further down the street (rue de la Croix Nivert) you can see the building where we rented an apartment for our Rétromobile long weekend. We were on the sixth floor with no lift. 

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Meeting Our Member of Parliament

On Friday 16 February I met with Sophie Auconie, our local députée.  She is our representative in the Legislative Assembly and our consituency is the Lochois (3e circonscription Indre et Loire), in otherwords, the south Touraine, around the town of Loches.

I wanted to talk to her about Brexit and the impact it was having, and will continue to have for some time, on British residents of the area. She was holding a surgery in Preuilly and her assistant suggested that would be the simplest way of meeting her.

 Sophie Auconie (left) and me.

I wrote a briefing document outlining all the issues of citizens rights that we are worried about and my friend Alain translated it into French. He also came with me to the meeting. I am very lucky to have Alain available. His French is impeccable and he actually enjoys politics and getting involved.

Mme Auconie was pleasant and came across as sincere and open. She told me that she knows Michel Barnier, the EU chief negotiator, very well. She's worked closely with him in the past, when she was an MEP, and has considerable respect for him, saying he is extremely diplomatic. I must say I have been impressed with his performance and patience in public. From the start he has placed citizens rights up front, and Mme Auconie feels sure he will continue to do so.

She said I was the first British resident to contact her about this but she was well aware that there were quite a lot of Brits in her constituency. She has also been following Brexit a bit more closely than some as she has several good French friends living in England and they have been in touch with her to express their concerns for the future. She assured me that we have her full support.

One of the questions I asked her was what her feel for how the French would administer the change of status for British residents in France once the date comes. EU countries have a choice of requiring a simple declarative statement of circumstances, or they can go down the more complicated route of the notorious 85 page settled status form that Europeans in Britain were going to have to fill out, along with no doubt providing endless supporting documents to prove their details.

She felt that administratively the second option wasn't practical or necessary for people who are long established in France. Probably, she thought, France would opt for a form on which people stated their name, when they arrived in France, gave bank account details and indicated that they could support themselves.

At the end of the meeting she urged me to stay in touch and to pass on to her any new information, especially if it was something causing concern amongst local British residents.

Both Alain and I thought the meeting went well. On my way home I ran into a British resident and naturally updated him. He was supremely unimpressed and uninterested, taking the view that nothing will change.  He didn't have a very high opinion of Michel Barnier, who he refers to as Little Napoleon, because he's short and dictatorial, apparently...

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

We Go!

The other week went went up to Paris to visit Retromobile. As I mentioned about a month ago, I had bought Ouigo tickets for 10€ each, one way from Saint Pierre des Corps to Paris.

Catching a Ouigo train is more complicated than a normal TGV as you have to be at the station early to check in, and you have to book space on the luggage rack (for 5€ extra, this is the low cost airline of train travel) for each suitcase other than cabin luggage. Tickets can only be bought online, but at the moment they are all 10€ per person each way.

The other difference between standard SNCF trains and Ouigo is that in the big cities they don't use the "normal" stations. When they started the limited services from Paris started at Disneyland, but now they also use the un-touristy end of Montparnasse station - Hall 3, which is where suburban services and trains to places like Chartres tend to leave from

Having said that, the service is good. The trains are modern, latest but one generation of TGV, and clean (if a little too aqua and hot pink inside and out), and the announcements are plentiful and intelligible. This was especially important as the train was late arriving at Saint Pierre des Corps, and travelled slowly and then stopped a couple of times once it did arrive. This wan't Ouigo's fault - it was extremely cold, and there were problems with snow and ice so all trains were delayed (except the ones that were cancelled).

We arrived in Paris 90 minutes late, but by the time we arrived at our apartment we have already been sent an email saying we would get a partical refund of our tickets.

We will take them up on that - 10€ to Paris is a exceptionally good deal, and now we have used the service we feel we have de-mystified it, and next time should be all confusion free.

Monday, 19 February 2018

Monday is Queens Day: 19 Bertrada of Laon

Bertrada of Laon was born some time between 710 and 727, and as was common with French royalty managed to gain an unflattering epiphet:  Bertha Broadfoot ( Latin: Regina pede aucae - the queen with the goose-foot). Quite why is unknown, because contemporary sources don't mention any deformity, and the name only appears in the 13th century.

Bertrada's father was the Count of Laon, and in 741 she married Pepin the Short, son of the defacto ruler of France Charles Martel*. As was quite common with nobility in the medieval period Pepin and Bertrada were too closely related for the church's liking, so it took until after the birth of their first son (Charles, in 742) before the marriage was officially sanctioned. They went on to have seven (at least) children, of whom three survived to adulthood.

In 751 Pepin contrived with the pope to overthrow the Merovingian King Childeric III (a man placed in power by his father) and they became King and Queen of the Franks, something that their eldest son Charles was to exploit to the fullest. (He inherited half of his father's kingdon, and then when his brother Carloman died in mysterious circumstances gained the other half. He is now commonly known as Charlemagne).

After Pepin died (768) Bertrada lived at the court of Charlemagne, and her diplomatic skills are often credited for the sucess of Charlemagne's early rule. She retired from court when Charlemagne took full control of France, and died in 783. Charlemagne had her buried in the Basilica of St Denis near Pepin - her grave can still be seen there today.

The Jardin du Luxembourg has statues of 20 French Queens and Illustrious women. The subjects were chosen by Louis-Philippe I in 1843. This statue was created by Eugène Oudiné in 1848. To see Bertrada supporting her son (literally) you have to go here.

Eventually all 20 statues will be featured here.

*It's complicated. Charles Martel was a great warrior and defeated the Arab invaders at the battle of Tours in 732. He gradually increased his power and influence until he was in the postition to appoint his chosen puppet as King of the Franks.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Manly Beach

Manly is a beachside suburb of Sydney, about 11km (by water) northeast of Sydney city. The best way to get there is by ferry (more on that another day) and although Bondi may be the beach everyone outside Australia asks about, Manly is far more popular amongst locals.

Manly beach from Queenscliff

Manly beach itself is about 1.6km (1 mile) long, and is divided into three sections: South Steyne, North Steyne and Queenscliff (south to north). South Steyne is the beach most visitors head to as it's closer to the ferry and the shops, takeaways and restaurants of Manly town centre. It also has a permanent year-round life-saving service, whereas the other beaches only have life-saving at weekends and holidays during the peak season. It forms the central part of the  "Manly-Freshwater World Surfing Reserve".

Colin was asking about the houses on Queenscliff head, Yup - they're that close.

At the northern end of Queenscliff beach is the Manly Rock Pool, a swimming pool built into the rocky headland (we have written about the tidal swimming pools of Sydney before).

Manly tidal swimming pool.

When we were there in November part of the beach was being used for a beach volleyball competition (thankfully ignorable, although the noise was fairly painful), but the rest of it was yellow sand, blue sky and white water. Which is apparently as it should be.

Of course, all this is wasted on someone who doesn't get beaches (an understatement), but even for me it's kind of pretty to look at for an hour or so.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Mount Glorious

Ten days before we drove The Lions Road we were in Brisbane. My mate Matthew (whose brother it was recommended The Lions Road to us) asked if I knew Mount Glorious, and suggested it as a road worthy of the Idiot Wagon.

The view from the Western Window

He was right - the road up Mount Glorious (the Mount Glorious Road) and down the other side (Northbrook Parkway) is an amazing piece of road if you're in a car, although motorcycle riders will have to be careful of lumps, bumps, seams down the middle of a lane, and other traffic. Unfortunately, many people see the road as a racetrack, and as a consequence the road toll, mainly single vehicle accidents, is quite high. The police are usually out in force at the weekend and we saw evidence of this. There are also signs by the roadside warning drivers not to hoon (don't laugh).

Mount Glorious Road in Google Earth

Having said all that, the road really does live up to its name, and if you take time to stop along the route there are some amazing lookouts and views over proper sub-tropical (but only just) rainforest.  We didn't make many stops, as I was on the hunt for a half watermelon (long story...) and time was getting on.  We did stop at the Western Window and one or two other places, but photos just don't do it justice.

A wide variety of introduced trees (Jacaranda),
palms and other native rainforest species.

I have to admit that although I did stick to the speed limit on the very few straight parts of the road, I did do most of the corners faster than advised. In Australia yellow speed limit signs for corners are advisory, not compulsory, although one or two corners would be a challenge to do much faster than advised. Corners advised at 20km/h are usually quite tight.

Susan was hunkered down in sports car mode and I had my hands full of
steering wheel which is why there is a streetview pic here.

When we arrived back in Pittsworth, Susan's family were amazed that I lived in Queensland for almost 10 years yet had never heard of the Mount Glorious Road, but I had an explanation. As soon as I arrived in Queensland I joined a band that spent much of its time out west, so although I knew many of the dypsomanic publicans of South East Queensland, Brisbane was somewhere one went on a quick shopping trip, not sightseeing.

The music I am using for these videos are all Australia rock classic. Todays music is "Hard Road" by the late, great Stevie Wright (previously of the Easybeats), featuring the also no longer with us Malcolm Young, later of AC/DC. The second track is "Standing on the Outside" by Cold Chisel, a band which had amazing success in Australia, but virtually no profile in the wider world.