This past week has been one of anniversaries. It has been 5 years since we arrived to live in France and it is 45 years since Mrs. Parish and I got married. We never imagined in 1972 that one day we would be living in France. So, to celebrate these two anniversaries we decided to have a few days away on a little holiday. Luckily my daughter Jo was here with some friends and they looked after the cats and chickens.

We decided to stay near Chartres which is only a few miles from Paris. This fact assumed greater importance as we came to realise that the standard of French driving got steadily worse the closer we got to Paris. Nobody seemed to want to use indicators and cars and lorries thought nothing of cutting you up and ignoring the speed limits. Luckily Mrs. Parish does not like sat navs and swears by an old-fashioned map and so was able to guide us to the back roads where it was not only safer but more scenic. Mind you some of the roads were effectively single tracks with an edge to use if another car was coming in the opposite direction. And the standard of road maintenance varies considerably between Departments.

The landscape changed dramatically as we moved away from the dairy farming of Mayenne with the small fields with lots of hedges and lots of cattle, to a more flat and open region where there were huge fields where grain has been grown and very few animals to be seen. We were staying at a gite in the grounds of an old Chateau at Jonvilliers between Chartres and Rambouillet. We were in an old stable block that had been done up. Very comfortable but not as well fitted out as our own gite! Not owned by any sort of ancient aristocratic family that avoided the guillotine which would have been interesting but I think owned by a modern-day banker and his family.

Our visits out were quite interesting as much for the owners of the sites as well as for the sites themselves. We went to visit a forest owned by the equivalent of the Forestry Commission in Britain. A Government agency with responsibilities for forestry and unlike in Britain this organisation has a responsibility for the protection of the environment and for public education. It seems in Britain the sole remit is to exploit the resources!

The forest was home to a bird of prey centre that fostered a successful breeding programme as well as offering a brilliant flying display to entertain and educate. The rest of the forest was fenced off and inside the huge fenced area lived groups of wild boar and herds of deer. You could walk around the forest and we saw a family of wild boar and herds of deer quite close. There were large groups of children on organised visits and even with the noise they made they were able to have sight of French wild animals.

A slap up lunch to celebrate 45 years along with coach loads of small children!!

The next day we went to see the Chateau of Rambouillet. This chateau was purchased by Louis XVI for his wife Marie Antoinette and it was here that he built for her a milking parlour so she could play at being a milk maid (It is not surprising that there was a revolution!!). Of course, here in Mayenne we have the famous milk and cheese museum at Laval where they have the original milk churns that Marie Antoinette used. So far, Mrs. Parish and I have managed to avoid this attraction!

The chateau is now owned by the state and is being restored. As well as a tourist attraction, it is used by the state as the summer residence of the President.

We also visited the chateau at Maintenon, which was of course made famous by the mistress and later secret wife of Louis XIV, Madame de Maintenon. For those of you who watched the TV drama Versailles about Louis XIV, she is the one he marries after his wife des and after he gets rid of his first main mistress Madam De Montespan who seemed to do a lot of poisoning.

Anyway, this is an excellently restored and presented chateau which has been taken over by the local Regional Council of Eure et Loir to run as a tourist attraction. The state in France is much more active in preserving and restoring significant historical and architectural treasures.

The chateau Maintenon

We also went to see the Cathedral in Chartres. This is a wonderful cathedral started in 1194 and finished in 1224 and now a UNESCO world heritage site. It has seen little change since its completion and is known as the high point of French Gothic art.  It has an amazing number of old and unique stained-glass windows which were painstakingly taken down and stored during both world wars and then safely put back after the war. The stone sculptures and carvings in the chapel took over 200 years to complete. It was very impressive.

But not so impressive as the toilets next to the Cathedral. Here the French surpassed themselves by combining two ways to exploit tourists. The toilets were converted to a gift shop. You had to pay 50 centimes to go to the loo and to get to them we had to go through a small tourist gift shop! Both places full of crap!!

Crazy French toilets and gift shop combo!

Our final night of celebration was a stay at an old hotel called the Hotel du tribunal in Mortaigne-au-Perche where we had booked into their restaurant for an evening meal and an overnight stay. The restaurant has a good reputation and we had a fine meal which was superbly cooked and presented. The meal consists of a snack with your aperitif. You then get an “amuse bouche” especially prepared by the chef just to get your mouth aroused for the meal to come. We then had a starter, main course and a dessert. We did not opt for the cheese course. We finished off with coffee and an Armagnac.

At the table next to us a French couple had opted for the “menu degustation” which seemed to involve a smaller portion of virtually all the menu. Our meal took over 2 hours to complete and when we left our table it seemed that this couple were still on the meat courses and had desserts to come. They must have been eating until the small hours of the morning!

So, an interesting and useful voyage of discovery away from La Godefrere. One final interesting fact concerns the biting insects of Eure et Loir. They liked to bite me. It is a feature of our 45 years of marriage that Insects bite Mrs. Parish and not me. Until this past week when they continued to bite Mrs. Parish but also had a real feast at my expense. I reckoned that this was the “close to Paris business” and not only were car drivers more aggressive but so were insects.

So, we are now safely back among more calm and sensitive insects and car drivers. Back to the peace and calm of rural France. All the animals are present and correct and did not cause too much trouble. Only one panic over a missing hen, only to be discovered after an extensive search in the hen house. The cats have been fed and are quite content.

Now we are going to have a barbeque as it is a lovely hot day. It is now past 5pm and so it is time for a drink or two. I had better go to the cave and make some appropriate selections.

Bon anniversaire