Tag Archives: reims

Sorry for the Dutch

I’ve been working on this little guide for a long time. And I have to apologize to my foreign followers … Here’s the Dutch…

Sinds de opening van de watermolen lag er in de la een blauwe multomap met printjes en foldertjes van wat er zoal in de buurt te doen is. De beduimelde ezelsoren en loszittende velletjes hebben we nog eens goed doorgelezen en opgeruimd. Alle tips en tricks zijn verzameld.

Nu is er de Kleine Gids voor de Champagne-Ardennen. Een lief klein persoonlijk boekje waarin ik kort aangeef wat er zo al te doen is in en om Tourteron. Met zijn 60 pagina’s is het Franse platteland zo saai nog niet.

Je kan er heerlijk wandelen en fietsen. En het hart van Europa –zoals ze hetzelf graag noemen– heeft een roerige geschiedenis. Je kan makkelijk even naar Reims, Charleville of de Champagne. Er liggen verborgen kloosters in donkere wouden. En er is van alles te doen voor kinderen.

Het boekje kan je bestellen via Blurb en kost € 11,95.

Translates as: There used to be a blue binder with tourist information in a drawer somewhere in the mill ever since the opening. We went through the dog-eared leaflets and papers and cleaned them up. We’ve collected all tips and tricks.

Now we have the Little Guide for the Champagne-Ardenne. It’s a sweet and small booklet in which I explain what the area has to offer. Looking at the 60 pages the country-side is not THAT boring after all. 🙂

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The Next Supergite?

Court

Image by Supergites via Flickr

Have you ever looked for a house and found one that was so grand that, even though it was way over your capabilities, you just had to see the inside? It happened to us with this ‘Ferme Des Dames’ near Reims.

Accidentally we ran into this object online. Hugo send me the url and asked me what I would do with this Farm and Chapel. I fell instantly in love with the view, the stones and the atmosphere. These combined form this unique peaceful place to unwind. I could see myself gardening a little in the early morning overlooking the dewy valley. Or sit in the courtyard sipping wine made from the grapes over the terrace. Meanwhile the kids of our friends are running around with a ball. But *G* Continue reading

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10 Things French you have to learn to eat

Ah oui! The French kitchen is world famous! But for foreigners like the Dutch, there are a few things you really have to learn to eat. Some dishes are extremely strong in taste or have ingredients you might not consider edible for men. Here’s my list of 10 things I found unappetizing at the beginning but learned (or not) to appreciate.

01_andouille

Andouille
|anˈdoō-ē| a spicy pork sausage seasoned with garlic.

This may sound fine: “spicy pork sausage”. How ever the Wikipedia description says more about its true nature: “Andouille is a spiced, heavily smoked pork sausage, distinguished in some varieties by its use of the entire gastrointestinal system of the pig: for example, traditional French andouille is composed primarily of the intestines and stomach.”

So there we were about 15 years ago, not speaking a word of French beyond bonjour and au revoir. The restaurant was packed with Parisian chic who were obviously all born before the war (might even have been the first war). The restaurant Le Fontaine de Mars was a highly respected bistrot for good French food.

The impatient French waiter tapped me on my shoulder. “Puis-je avoir votre choix?” I don’t like to be rushed, especially when I want to order food. So–just to get rid of him–I picked the day’s special, andouille. The man looked at me with an expression that seemed to say, ‘Monsieur le foreigner, are you sure?’ Yes, I was sure (at that moment, anyway).

It arrived 20 minutes later accompanied by a good glass of red wine. I prefer to refer to it as It. It was sliced-up sausage where you could distinguish the pieces of intestines without a degree in biology. It did not look nice and smelled even worse. There was a warm and extremely strong and sickening smell coming from my plate. I must have looked helpless to the waiter, who replied with a look like ‘Mais oui, monsieur, you wanted it’.

Never before had I felt reluctant to eat something I had ordered. But these slices of dog meat you wouldn’t even feed to a pig were definitely the start. The feeling of throwing up grew with my every breath. In the end I think I should not have even touched it but instead should have called the police to report attempted murder. I spent the rest of my weekend in Paris running between bed and bathroom. That ‘spicy pork sausage’ must have been as old as the clientele.
You should try it, though. It has a unique taste.

02_choucroute

Choux croûte
| shoōˈkroŏt| pickled cabbage; sauerkraut.

The second thing you need to learn to appreciate is choucroute, or choux croûte (shredded cabbage), as the French spell it. As a child I hated it. The Dutch do have a cheap-ass copy of the original version from Alsace. So where the French (or German–that’s a discussion) cook the sour cabbage in white wine for a day or so, the Dutch only heat it for 30 minutes in the sour water. It keeps the sour taste and that’s just not right. A hot sour plate of vegetables certainly does not make me ask for a refill. The French version, however, I started to like in the heart of the Alsace, Riquewihr.

03_patedetete

Pâte à tête
Pâté |päˈtā| rich, savory paste made from finely minced or mashed ingredients, typically seasoned meat or fish.

Paté is great! The taste is super-French, rich and full. Yet among all types, Veal Pâté, Chicken Pâté, Pâté Campagne, Wild Boar Pâté, Cooked Ham Pâté, Ham Pâté, Deer Pâté, Port Pâté, Brandied Turkey Pâté, Fine Herbs Pâté, Green Pepper Pâté, Prawn Pâté, Salmon Pâté, Sea Urchin Pâté, Crab Pâté, and Shrimp Pâté, there’s one special one. That would be Pâte a Tête, which is easily translated as Face Paté. You read it correctly: paté made out of face. Pig’s face, that is.

This sounds horrifying. But it’s not. The pig’s skull is cooked in broth and taken out as soon as it’s ready to leave cold. The meat is picked from the skull and ground into a paste, and then processed into a paté. But there are two versions that might frighten you: the pieces version and the full head version. In the pieces version the picked meat is concealed in a jelly aspic. In the full head version, the meat is taken carefully off the skull and shaped back into a full head. It is then covered with carrots and herbs and the aforementioned aspic to prevent discoloration.

The first time I ran into a couple of  pigs’ heads at a charcuterie I was shocked by their smiling beauty. There they were four half-pigs (as in once two) simply smiling at me. The care that was put into reassembling the head from the bones displayed the love the butcher has for his job. This man loves his meat. We bought one and took it to friends who rented a gîte in the Morvan. We tried to shock them, but–culinary freaks that they are–they loved it. I admit it: I loved it too.

Here’s some face paté advice: start at the neck. Eating the nose is not for the French-food novice.

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10 Tips for People Who Want to Buy French Property

As you know from reading this blog, we’ve been through a lot of stuff to buy our French mill. I thought it was nice to turn some of our experiences into tips. If you’re interested in a little French place to spend the next level in your life at, read these carefully…and then do as you please. 🙂

1. Target wisely.
France is HUGE. Compared to the Netherlands or Belgium or even other European countries, France is simply enormous. So be very specific about where you’d like your home. This sounds logical but-–trust me–-a distance that feels a bit far away the first time does NOT get any closer. Use a pair of compasses to divine a range.

2. Check distance.
Calculate whether you could drive the distance on your own. Your partner might not come with you every time and you might need to drive to and from in one day or overnight. Four to six hours is OK. Over six to eight hours is stretching it. Over eight hours is crazy. You can fly, but you never know how expensive that might become in the future.

3. Check route.
Some places, even within the logical distance, take much longer to drive to. For instance: passing Antwerp on a Friday means one hour extra. Also, yet of a different order, check whether there are more ways to get there. Driving by Charleroi is NO fun. It’s an ugly town and the route is not the most pleasant. (We prefer to drive by Namur; this means green landscape until our front porch.) The route should be relaxing. You drive there when you need some extra peace, not to arrive stressed because the traffic kills you.

4. Make up your mind.
What kind of house are you looking for? What will you use it for? Do you plan to share it with friends and relatives or just use it yourselves? There’s a large variety within types of houses to buy. Make a checklist of things you like to do in and around your house. Do you feel like doing nothing at all for the next 10 years? Then buy a small house without a lot of land. Do you want to entertain friends at your place? Buy something with an extra room, and make sure there’s some sightseeing within a 50-km drive.

5. Seek out peace (in yourself).
If you’d like to find peace in France, make sure the house offers it. A sweet, hidden place in the forest might look serene, but it’s remote and available for anybody–meaning unwelcome strangers–to pay a visit. There’s nobody to check. We preferred a place that is within walking distance from a town. Why?  Because everybody knows the property and will know you and your car. The French do check who drives into and out of their village. This neighbor patrol might be unwanted by some, but it’s also keeping an eye on what’s happening when you’re NOT there. Your French house should give you peace, not fear and worry.

6. Go there more than once.
The French and the real estate people want you to decide quickly. “Listen, you are the first to see. I have other people waiting. Blah blah.” Don’t buy it–it’s just a way to pressure you. If it’s true, then bad luck for you, but most of the time it’s bullocks. Try to lengthen your decision period. Going there more than once gives you a better insight of the house, the sounds, the town, the light. You don’t want to wake up next to a railway that you really can’t see but definitely can hear (at night).

7. Spend money on advice.
I guess this goes for everyone buying property. If you’re not a regular buyer of properties, ask someone to come and check your future house. Ask an independent and impartial French/English speaker to help you negotiate. This person should not have any chauvinistic feelings towards the French, nor should they have a relationship with any of the other participants. It can be a building constructor with an eye for the construction or just a businessman with a nose for saving you money. Everybody will tell you a different story. You need him/her to get the message straight.

8. Do not agree on any price before you’re sure.
The French really don’t like you to come back on a deal. Nobody likes to hear: “Wait a minute, we’d like to renegotiate.” Sometimes it’s inevitable, like when we discovered our land floods twice a year. They forgot to tell us: yeah right. So back to the table. We got 10% off in the end, but we surely didn’t make any friends. Also, you could make a wish list of what you like and be so direct to add that list to the requirements for the deal. We added the permission for a tennis court and swimming pool. Granted.

9) Ask around.
We found a chambre d’hote in the area where many people with the same mission stayed over. That helps BIG time for multiple aspects. A) During dinner you can ask who’s who in the area, B) find property for sale that’s not being listed yet, C) make friends close to your property who are dealing with the same issues.
It also doesn’t hurt to have some information on the property itself that does not come from the owners. They–including attorney, agent, and whoever else is involved–-will not tell you everything. We used our French advisor to call the mayor and some neighbors to get the full picture.

10) Follow your heart.
If it doesn’t feel good, don’t do it. Stones do have a vibe.

Off the record: Learn French! 😀

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Old turning to New

The Old Door

The Old Door

Almost two weeks ago we’ve asked our neighbor to make us new doors. It was a kinda test to see how he did. Stéphane is nice and smart, speaks English but can he make a door? The answer is obviously YES he can.

The old doors were completely rotten and turned to the right. When we first took a look it looked quite simple but apparently the sandstone doorposts had handled more than one door in the past and were full of iron pins, not able to have any extra or they would break. We needed to change the situation.

The New Door

The New Door

We now think this part of the barn was used as a black smith for fixing horseshoes. There used to be a fire place and the floor looks like a cattle barn. We also found one horse shoe. Maybe we should ask the old Monsieur Le Noble next time.

Anyway the new doors swing to the left and are waiting for their final color. Every area has its own ‘official’ colors to use for shutters and doors. The mayor knows.

What do you think would look nice on these doors? 😉

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Treacle Trick

Treacle |ˈtrēkəl|noun

British term for molasses.

• figurative, cloying sentimentality or flattery: enough of this treacle—let’s get back to business.

We had this idea for a long time. Our biggest question was how to become involved and respected in the village. Since we are Dutch (foreign!), not very good with the French language, and basically exotic for most people in the French countryside, we came up with the Treacle Waffles Trick.

We bought 80 packages of traditional Dutch waffles, stuck invitations on each of them, and delivered them in all the mailboxes of Tourteron. Fifty of the 180 inhabitants came over to meet us and to see the mill. It was a huge success. We met the mayor, the noblemen, the attorney, and the baker. Most of the close neighbors came over to shake our hands.

We’ve also learned that the French do not drink wine nor eat cheese at a reception. That’s food. A reception is not for food. They prefer to drink beer, cider, gentian or even plain water. They also don’t eat meat or sausages (food), although they empty the potato chips in a blink of the eye. Next time we’ll buy only these for sure. It’s much easier, anyway.

Ever since our Waffle Reception people salute us when we drive by. They even come over to the mill to talk about the Citroen 2CV that we’d like to buy. We’re happy that we made some friends that day!

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