Blossom

Detail of a cherry blossom

Our long established cherry trees have burst into flower this week. The warmer weather has arrived and the garden is returning to life.

Cherry blossom
Cherry blossom
Detail of a cherry blossom
Detail of a cherry blossom
Detail of a cherry blossom
Detail of a cherry blossom

My work is keeping me trapped inside for the bulk of the day but, when I can in the late evening, I am outside.

Detail of plum blossom
Detail of plum blossom

Snake in the Grass

Snake in the grass
Snake in the grass

The texture of the snake gave it away. The light reflecting off the skin seemed out of place, somehow unnatural and unnerving. It took a moment to figure out what had caught me off guard. Once found, my only thought was getting the camera.

Easter Baking and Brambles

Hot cross bun split apart.

After too many years without, this is our first Easter with a proper oven. What better time than to bake some hot cross buns?

Ring of hot cross buns cooling on a rack.
Ring of hot cross buns cooling on a rack.
Hot cross buns cooling.
Hot cross buns cooling.
Hot cross bun split apart.
Hot cross bun split apart.

Spring and Brambles

Spring has officially arrived but the weather has yet to take note. I have never been so keen to see the greenery return to the landscape. The freezing cold has mostly finished, and now wind and rain is easing us into better weather. But not soon enough.

When time allows, I have been busy in the garden. We have decades of overgrowth to tame. The brambles are being particularly challenging. I have cut back the bulk and we have a compost pile four metres long by one and half metres tall. Sadly, this compost is unusable and will have to be removed or destroyed. The brambles will not be wiped out through the composting process and could return if I used the compost later.

A section cleared of brambles
A section cleared of brambles

The garden will take many years to resemble anything approaching our ambitions. The task of getting to that point will be more than half the fun.

Charroux

Looking out from a central square in the village

We visited Charroux with visiting family. The small hilltop village had been recommended to us. Certainly pretty but maybe better in the summer months, than the winter. The small village was quiet with the few other tourists rugged up.

Charroux shield carved in stone
Charroux shield carved in stone
Gatehouse in Charroux
Gatehouse in Charroux
Church tower in Charroux
Church tower in Charroux
Wall mounted sundial in Charroux
Wall mounted sundial in Charroux
Autumnal leaves.
Autumnal leaves.
Hearts carved into window shutters.
Hearts carved into window shutters.

We will no doubt return in the future, when the weather is better.

Medieval Moulins

Above the shops in Moulins

Moulins is the administrative centre of our region. The city is home to the Préfecture de l’Allier and thus a city we have had to visit a few times.

It is a pretty city, with plenty of history on show. An easy place to take beautiful photographs.

Moulins Cathedral
Moulins Cathedral
Rooftops in Moulins
Rooftops in Moulins
Colourful enduit in Moulins
Colourful enduit in Moulins
Medieval street in Moulins
Medieval street in Moulins

Snow and Warmth

Snow laying across the valley. Allier, France.

For the first time in years, we watched snow falling while feeling warm.

Snow laying across the valley. Allier, France.
Snow in the valley. Allier, France.

The snow arrived a few days ago. A welcome flurry of flakes just in time before our guests had to head home. When our guests arrived, Autumnal leaves were still on the trees; as they left, we drove through a stunning snow covered landscape.

Inside looking out on snow.
Inside looking out on snow.

Being able to stand inside and look out across a snowy landscape is a treat. Being warm while doing so, is a delight and a relief.

Welcoming Our First Guests

Rooftops of Moulins

We enjoyed having our first visitors to stay. It was an opportunity to see if the house design worked with guests, it did, and to take numerous photos, I did.

Our house is not luxurious but it is warm and designed to make use of every square metre. We do not have a dedicated guest room. When guests come to stay, we transform what has become Megan’s office into the guest room. The transformation gives our guests their own bathroom, privacy, and a little space to themselves at night.

We experienced how well this arrangement worked when we visited friends in London. This was something more than a simple en-suite. Having your own bathroom and space as a guest is wonderful. We later saw this approach reappear in house plans suggested by various builders. In those plans, the separated area was marketed as being for the parents or master bedroom.

We took that experience on board. In our design we adapted the idea and instead ensured guests would benefit, rather than the master bedroom. At this stage of our lives, we like the idea of a family section of the house and a shared family bathroom.

Our house design confused the builders. They assumed uses of the spaces that were never intended. At times that caused quizzical exchanges.

What we have built is particularly attuned to our needs. This then was our chance to see if the design worked for guests. I think it did.

Photo Opportunity

With guests in tow, I have been out and about taking more photos than usual. Below are a few photos that particularly stand out.

Saint-Germain-des-Fossés train station
Saint-Germain-des-Fossés train station
House in Charroux
House in Charroux
Rooftops of Moulins
Rooftops of Moulins
Vichy Opera House
Vichy Opera House
Inside Vichy Cathedral
Inside Vichy Cathedral

Malevolence

Entrance to 6ème's mairie

6ème has a reputation of being a nice arrondissement of Lyon. Like any area of a city, 6ème has its better parts and worse. When we moved here four years ago, I picked it based on research; the location had all we thought we would need.

6ème’s reputation reached further than we expected. An electrician involved in our house build knew of 6ème and joked that it was a nice area so he should charge us more.

On Monday, two men attempted to burgle our apartment while I was home.

The attempt was not the first incident in this building and our neighbours tell us this is not isolated to this building. Nearby buildings are also suffering increasingly from theft and vandalism.

Like any area, 6ème has better parts with buildings showing off carved façades and pretty squares. In particular I think of Brotteaux and towards the parc de la tête d’or; areas that sustain luxury car resellers and fancy boutique stores.

Brotteaux, Lyon, at night
Brotteaux, Lyon, at night
Entrance to 6ème's mairie
Entrance to 6ème’s mairie

The two men who tried to break into our home were opportunistic. The circumstances that led to them singling out our apartment are clear to us and unfortunate. I do not think they began their day considering entering another’s home but they did not set out that morning as saints either.

Numerous postboxes in our building were forced open or destroyed. What they were looking for I am not sure. What is of particular value in most people’s postboxes?

Our building is old, poorly maintained, and far from being considered a better part of 6ème. The residents are not wealthy or well to do. Our street has multiple laundrettes, a tattoo parlor has recently opened nearby, and graffiti provides a visual backdrop.

Woman walking near graffiti in 6ème, Lyon
Woman walking near graffiti in 6ème, Lyon
Tabac hoarding covered in graffiti
Tabac hoarding covered in graffiti
Man skateboarding along the street at night.
Man skateboarding along the street at night.

I should have called the police there and then.

Up until the last moment, I thought it a mistake. The actions of error or farce, not malevolence. Until the last moment I expected the situation to dissolve.

I was however ready. I knew I would have no opportunity to flee, so fight was my only option. The intruders would block my exit.

Recycling

Being out of the apartment at odd hours shows you a different city.

Our early morning runs reveal an activity I suspect most are unaware of. Bins are systematically checked by organised groups. Those involved are often well dressed men, frequently dragging a wheeled shopping bag, who work their way through bins left out on the street for collection. When sighted, they shroud their activity but often too late to go unnoticed. The streets are long and a runner approaches quickly and treads quietly.

I expected them to extract cashable items, such as broken electrics or reusable items, but they do not. I do not know what they are fetching.

Police

The two men suddenly gave up and ran back down the stairs.

Since then we had our first interaction with the national police. A new experience for us and one that I would like not to need again. A dossier will be created, a reference number assigned, and a record kept. Another statistic augmented.

Frozen Once Again

Thick ice formed over the water.

2017 started with a wave of glacial weather passing over Lyon. This time I did not get a change to see if ice was floating down the river but we did go to the local park.

The biggest city park in Lyon is called parc de la tête d’or and within the park is a sizeable lake. This winter the lake froze from edge to edge. Small patches of open water remained where circulation pipes kept the water moving vigorously enough but elsewhere a few centimetres of ice formed.

Ice in parc de la tête d'or.
Ice in parc de la tête d’or.
Thick ice formed over the water.
Thick ice formed over the water.
The lake is frozen edge to edge.
The lake is frozen edge to edge.

Bubbles of Warmth at the Market

During the coldest days the number of market stalls was reduced as venders chose to stay away. Of the stalls that did appear, many had surrounded themselves in plastic sheet. Inside powerful heaters pumped out warm air creating a bubble of warmth for the staff and customers.

Reduce number of stalls. Many covered in a bubble of plastic.
Reduced number of market stalls. Many covered in a bubble of plastic.
Inside a market stall. Heater just visible on the left.
Inside a market stall. Heater just visible on the left.

The glacial temperatures have gone now and I am grateful.

Ice covers the pavements.
Ice covers the pavements.