Saturday, 30 June 2012

Tile tales

Exciting things are happening to our terrace! Is has been a bit of a long saga but soon, hopefully by the end of next week, all will be finished! Hurrah!

The project started in summer 2010 as part of works we had done before we moved over permanently in the August. We'd had the space dug out,concrete poured and a small retaining wall built. Unfortunately the concrete did not slant properly away from the house. Sorting the terrace went on the list of things to have done, but meanwhile we lived with it in its raw state for a while. By the tail-end of last summer we knew what we really wanted and what it was to look like once the structural issues were sorted.
July 2010: 1st concrete, kitchen door unfinished,wee wall yet to be built
When we'd bought the house there was no terrace or drive; effectively the house was surrounded by grass except for a small concrete apron by the front door. All of which isn't the least problem when the house is a 'maison secondaire' and only used when the weather is good. We, however, are living here permanently, so wet soggy grass which soon turns to gloopy mud in winter is not an option.

Spring 2010: the way it was when we bought it
So August 2011 saw us start the hunt for the right tiles, coping stones for the wee wall and considering chaux colours for its render. This required a fair few visits to places like Leroymerlin and other suppliers of builder-y things. We'd arranged for Ken Blomeley who'd done our drive to come and do the work. 
September 2011: concrete, steps & soak away sorted, retaining wall yet to be finished
In September Ken sorted the drain/soak away; laid another layer of concrete which ensured that all the water drained away correctly; built the steps leading away from the terrace; rendered and coped the wee retaining wall and laid a permanent path round to the kitchen door [he'd put in a temporary one in for us in Sept 2010]. You can read about it here. When this work was finished we decided to wait for spring to lay the tiles as we didn't want to risk an unexpected frost. 
 Ken sorting out how he wants to lay the tiles
All sorted. The tiling went into Ken's planner for April ..... and then the weather gods intervened....
path ready for grouting
Any reader of our blog knows that we --and fellow bloggers in this region-- have been muttering about the weather all through April, May and June. It has been mostly grey, cool and highly changeable, with loads of rain! Any chance of laying tiles on a sunken terrace was out of the question!  Until now.... :-)
kitchen door area almost all laid
It's beginning to look really good. The path and the area just outside the kitchen door has now nearly all been tiled and is ready for grouting.
close up of the tiles before grouting
Next week the main terrace area will be tackled. Roll on the finished space and some summer weather to enjoy it!

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

A Super Sunday

On Sunday it was my birthday and to celebrate we went out to lunch. We'd driven past the Auberge de Montpoupon but never eaten there. It is a pretty place which huddles by the roadside at the foot of the chateau.
Chateau de Montpoupon
A year or so ago it had come under new ownership and there'd been a write up in the paper which was positive. The Auberge's website was checked and reviews on TripAdvisor consulted. The menu looked good and the reviews were favourable so we booked for lunch.
Auberge de Montpoupon
The weather was ok; sunny but pretty blowy so tables had not been laid outside when we arrived at 1pm. We went indoors and were shown to a table by the door. There was a choice of menus and we chose the 3 course one [€29]. Looking at the dishes on offer on the a la carte section the chef obviously likes cooking with fish and seafood. The amuse bouche was a beautifully intense bisque of poisson de roche [little mediterranean fishes you can catch along the shore line]. White fish and Niall do not agree [allergy] so he opted for the goat's cheese starter which was really lovely - I had a tiny taste. I opted for the crab ravioli. We both had duck filets for our main course and desert was a fabulous chocolate fondant with a sharp raspberry puree. At the end of the meal we sat outside with our coffee, as the wind had died down for a little.
sign we saw just before arriving at the auberge; thankfully not on the menu!
The wine list was small, but what was especially nice was the fact that many on the list could be ordered by the glass or by the 1/4 pichet; so we were able to have a white [Touraine Sauvignon] with the starters and then decided to have a rose [Pineau d'Aunis] with our main [both Domaine Laurent le Bihan]. I'm not normally a great fan of sauvignon, but really enjoyed this one. When there are only two of you and one is driving, it can be a real pain if the wine list offers hardly any choice by the glass/pichet.
chateau view from "attention viperes tree"
Full of good food and wine the idea had been to have a look around the interior of the chateau, but we were too replete and drove home. It had been a lovely birthday treat!
birthday flowers 'picked' by Katinka & Shadow


Friday, 22 June 2012

Lizard Orchids

The weather continues to be 'off-again, on-again' and can't seem to settle. The upside of this, far more watery, summer is the fact that everything is lovely, lush and green.
lizard orchid in full flower
We knew we had lizard orchids [Himantoglossum hircinum] dotted round and about; mostly ours grow under trees. This is slightly at odds with the information we found about the species which says: "This orchid grows in dry meadows, rocky areas, and open woods". Ours are most definitely found in well shaded places, like under our lime tree! In general they are considered to be a bit rare. However, here in the Touraine they are quite common and, being large, are easy to spot for non-experts like us.
largest lizard orchid in deep shade under our lime tree
Last year, because of the very dry conditions, only one flowered. This year we've found eight in flower and they are lovely. They are a delicate greeny-white with pale pinky labellums. Supposedly, they can smell quite unpleasantly of goat; but to be honest we can't say that ours do. Certainly we've not noticed any pungent smell. We also found a number of rosettes which haven't flowered, but they may well reward us next year [they are still quite small].
detail: pale pink ribbon-like labellum
Another consequence of all this rain is that the grass grows at an exponential rate! In order to combat this we have hired a contract mower to help us keep on top of things – Katinka :-). She's quite pleased with the arrangement as she gets paid in extra cat food!
can I have my extra cat food now?
Recently friends Tim & Pauline posted about one of their cats, which they caught eating ants and they had photos to prove it. That's certainly not a cat behaviour we had ever heard of! Although not so exotic, we noticed something a bit odd ourselves recently. Now, there's nothing odd in seeing a cat stalk and catch a butterfly. However, we did find it a bit odd when Shadow, having chased and caught a flutterby [no idea what kind, sorry] promptly ate it. He seemed to enjoy his elevenses. Sadly, it was all over very quickly and with no camera around we could not bring you photos. We'll keep an eye out and see if he repeats this behaviour when the camera is to hand.

If you wish to know more about orchids -or other flora and fauna- in the Loire Valley region then do have a look at the website Loire Valley Nature run by Simon & Susan of Days on the Claise.

If you click on the photos they will enlarge.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Capital 4

Capital, no not as in city, but as in the head, or crowning feature of a column.

During our visit to St Nicolas; which we wrote about on Saturday, the captials kept vying with the frescos for our attention. We have, as some readers may have noticed, a fondness for beautifully carved stone.

So here are four more of wonderfully carved Romanesque captials from the church in Tavant.

 individual being eaten by probably a manticore [man's face, body of a lion and stinger tail]

two cocks fighting; one now sadly headless

two mean-looking griffins [body of a lion, wings and head of an eagle]

two basiliks? [a cock with a snake's tail] and a cup; the tails end in devil faces

Saturday, 16 June 2012

St Nicolas, Tavant

Today marks the official (re)opening of the crypt of the church at Tavant after the completion of recent restauration work on its 12th century frescos. We went to have a look round yesterday-- it had been on our "to visit" list for some time; but with the restoration/conservation work going on we had to wait. It was well worth the wait as it was as superb as we hoped it would be.

St Nicolas, Tavant
In 987 a knight named Thibaud gifted Tavant to the abbey of Marmoutiers near Tours. In 1020 the gift was confirmed in a charter by one Bouchard II, seigneur d'Ile-Bouchard. He had three sons and the eldest, Hugues died leaving a child, Bouchard III, as his heir.
detail: Romanesque carving around church door
The child's two uncles became his guardians. After ten years the elder uncle took holy orders leaving the youngest as guardian. At the end of his minority, Bouchard III tried to claim his inheritance; but his uncle refused to hand it back. In revenge, around 1070, Bouchard III took a troop of armed men and burnt down the priory of St Nicolas in Tavant.
capital: Adam & Eve being tempted by the snake
capital: doubled tailed mermaids or sirens
The abbey of Marmoutiers demanded that Bouchard III make restitution. Allegedly Bouchard III was stricken by remorse. True or not, he gave half the land belonging to the neighbouring parish of Riviere to Marmoutiers in reparation and two monks were dispatched to Tavant to rebuild the ruins of St Nicolas. By 1090 a new Prior, Adedelme was able to take up residence. This would indicate that the rebuild was well under way, or possibly complete.
choir celing
It is this rebuilt church which still stands [more or less] today and the frescos date to the first half/middle of the 12th century. Originally a classic Romanesque church with a three aisled nave, only the central aisle remains today. Filled-in archways show where the two aisles would have been.
detail: ox of St Luke
Both transepts were originally apsidal [rounded] although the southern transept apse has now gone. The choir is raised and is reached by 2 sets of steps flanking either side of the door which leads down to the crypt. The choir is off limits to the public but the frescos are still easily visible from the transept/nave intersection.
detail: angels & lion of St Mark
These are the only ones which remain in the main body of the church although it is very likely that the whole building was once vibrant with colour. The only other sign is a tiny remnant of polychrome painting to be seen on the richly carved capital of Adam & Eve being tempted by the snake in the Garden of Eden.
crypt, St Nicolas 
The real gems are the frescos in the crypt; some of which are extremely special as they show scenes which are very rarely depicted. You can visit the crypt; the visits are guided [English or French] and the guide is extrememly friendly and helpful. All photography is forbidden so we can't post any pictures. However, someone involved with the restoration project posted a video [commentary in French] of the crypt on June 12th which you can see here.

For those of you who have read our posts on St Savin [UNESCO world heritage site] or La chapelle Saint-Jean-du-Liget will recognise that the frescos at Tavant are of broadly the same period and similar in style.

As always you can click on any of the photos to enlarge them.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Hare today

Well not quite. Early last week would be more exact. Niall had gone for a ramble and I was doing some work in my study when I paused for a coffee break. Toddling into the kitchen I found Katinka looking hopefull but she'd had breakfast and pleadings that she was sooooo hungry fell on deaf ears. Disappointed, she preceeded me out the door.
sitting pretty
Coffee made, I went out onto the terrace and sat enjoying the quiet; there was nothing to be heard except birdsong.

I became aware of movement out of the corner of my eye and in the longer grass spotted something Katinka colored and initially thought it was her -- but it wasn't. It was a large hare.
humm where to next?
I sat very still and it came closer, happily foraging on the grass. Katinka appeared and mooched along the terrace wall. At this point I thought the hare would slope off or that Katinka would bounce up to the hare. Neither happened. Katinka went off one way and the hare carried on munching; they weren't the slightest bit interested in each other. Naturally the camera was not to hand but was sat on a shelf in my study.
off to the next patch
Coffee finished I got up and assumed that my movements would send the hare scampering off. However, a few minutes later when I was back in my study the hare hopped into view again and I was able to take a few photos through the window.

Friday, 8 June 2012

A scriven of bloggers?

Day before yesterday we went to a great BBQ. Suggested by Martine, aka Ladybird and hosted by our friends Susan & Simon, it was a great success. Martine was on a week's vacation in the Loire valley area with Swedish friends and had the great idea to try and meet up with fellow bloggers & friends while here. Susan and Simon generously offered to host. So on Wednesday a collective of lovely people speaking French, Flemish, Swedish and English made themselves at home in their backyard.
Photographing fellow blogger Susan photographing food
The food was superb - proper BBQ-ed beef and chicken as well as a myriad of salads and other yummy things; all washed down by an excellent assortment of Loire wines. The conversations flowed to and fro in the different languages and a really superb time was had by all. We even came away with gifts as Martine spoiled us all by giving each of us a box of Belgian chocolates, which quite frankly, are to die for!

Photographs were taken -- we bloggers are never far from our cameras and if you'd like to see more then have a look at: Ken's, Gaynor's and Susan & Simon's blogs.
Conversations in full swing
But what do you call a collective of bloggers we wondered when we came to write this post? There's:
an unkindness of ravens,
a haras of horses,
a clowder of cats [Shadow and Katinka insisted we include it]
a file of civil servants
a hastiness of cooks
or a stalk of foresters to name but a few.
Some animals even have a number of different collective nouns.

Yet, as far as we know there is no collective for a group of bloggers. So, as we are all scriveners, we humbly suggest 'a scriven of bloggers' might be appropriate. 
"Official group photo" [with thanks to Simon]
Whatever the collective, our thanks go to Susan & Simon for being great hosts; it was a most excellent BBQ!

Monday, 4 June 2012

Bird Arias

Currently we are being well and truly spoilt with our dawn chorus. Three birds especially are adding a little bit of extra magic to it all.

Back in March we posted about the ariel cuckoo battle which took place over our house. Since then at least one cuckoo has been in residence and we hear cuckoo-ing from regular perches round the house which seems to be at the centre of the patrol circle.
Cuckoo over the house
When we came back from Edinburgh at the start of May the nightingale had arrived. This year we think there's one, perhaps two, but not three as we had last year. It was quite a nice 'welcome home' to be unloading the car with one of the birds singing at full throttle not far from the house! Certainly for the first two weeks of May the nightingale was very vocal and sang morning noon and night [they do sing during the day as well]. Now we hear the song mainly at night and during the dawn chorus.
Nightingale, [image from Wikipedia]
It was then joined by a bird whose song we hadn't heard before and which really perplexed us. Like the other two species, it also seems to have a territory which has our house roughly at the centre. We couldn't see the bird so had no idea of its size or colour. Its call was reminiscent of a mynah bird. We tried to find possible suspects by running various internet searches describing its call as a 'fluting whistle'. All led to nothing.
However, running into Tim & Pauline in Le Grand Pressigny recently when we were having a coffe and people watching [it was market day] solved our mystery. When we described the call as reminding us of a mynah bird they both said "Ah, Golden Oriole. You won't see it, it is very good at keeping out of sight."
male Golden Oriole, [image from Wikipedia]
How right they were! Even though we now know what it looks like and checked its song on the xeno-canto website [great recordings of a huge range of bird species] just to make sure we had the right bird; we haven't seen it. Nor have we ever seen a nightingale. Mind you given its very bright plumage it makes sense for the Golden Oriole to keep well hidden!!

It's a great way to be woken, even if it is very very early!!