Brantome to Chateau de Sanse

gitMy Dad had decided that 2 nights at Chateau de la Cote was all we needed.  It would enough to experience the charm of an old Chateau and that we could move to a slightly different area of Bordeaux – it was a good decision.  We were leaving behind the beauty of a large rambling garden and the vast sunflower fields which we could see from the Chateau.  The picture is from our window of our room and the house that you can see in the distance is the actually at the gate and is where the boys slept for the 2 nights (it is called the git in France).

We had to leave the Chateau by 11am and by around 10:45am everyone seemed ready to go. There was a lot of car trading taking place as cousins switched around. We ended up with my nephew and my two sons. We were moving to Chateau de Sanse which was only about 1 hour 15 minutes away. Check in time was only 3pm and so we had to kill some time on route. Everyone headed to do their own thing and we chose the non-motorway, non-toll route.  We headed to Bergerac and then followed the famous Dordogne River.

dordogneWe decided to stop and buy some things for lunch and then have lunch somewhere along the river. At one town on route we found a Casino open. No, not the type you gamble at. This is a type of small supermarket. We went in and it was so poorly stocked and the bread looked like that it had been baked last year that we did a u-turn and headed out to find a better supermarket rather. Schoolboy error! What we forgot was that in France everything is closed on Sunday. Not for religious reasons, just because the French don’t want to work on Sundays (in fact I don’t think they want to work Monday-Saturday either if they could avoid it). So after trying another 10 or so villages we realised the error of our ways. We found a spot on the side of the Dordogne river and ate some fruit, crisps and drank a beer.  That was pretty much what we had available.

By this stage we reckoned we could try and check in and so headed for the Chateau.  It is called Chateau view from chateau sansede Sanse and overlooks the vineyards in the valley below. The view is beautiful. We were the first car to arrive. Shortly after we had arrived the other people started trickling in. When my brother-in-law arrived they told us that they had almost run out of fuel. What they had not realised is that everything closes down on a Sunday (including the petrol stations). While they do have a facility to self-refuel using a credit card, they only take French issued credit cards. After desperately trying numerous stations and credit cards, my brother-in-law flagged down a passing cyclist. Fortunately he speaks French so using all the French he knows he explained the problem. She said she would cycle in front on them (by this stage there were 3 of our cars driving together) to the petrol station. She did that and then she used her French credit card and they repaid her in cash.  They have a video of them driving after her taken with their iPhone which I hope to link to the blog when WiFi connection is restored.  It is very funny. They were relieved.

Two of my uncles managed to get lost on route as well and one arrived at about 4:15 and the other at 5:15. I was having thoughts of them also running out of fuel! Fortunately they made it. As it was Sunday, we held a Sunday worship service in their conference centre. My parents had asked me to preach and so we made it a family affair – Stephen prayer, Michael & Chloe did the readings (Psalm 127 & 128) and Helen read the passages that I needed mid-sermon. I preached on the blessing of God and particularly related it to our family.  Just the fact that we are all in France to celebrate my parent’s 50th anniversary illustrates how blessed we are.

walkAfter the service we had dinner. The food was really excellent and the service was even better. They are very concerned that we enjoy ourselves and have a great experience. The owner/manager wants every detail just right for us and so he was concerned when one plate of food had gone back virtually untouched. He came to check whether we had not liked their food and was there anything they could do to improve. The reality was we have a few fussy eaters (and one very fussy one and that’s not me in case you’re wondering!) and the very fussy one had left it. In fact I had not planned to eat a starter (duck terrine) but when it came I tasted in and it was so good I ended up eating it all. I also had the best cheese we have had so far at the end of the meal. You really can’t go wrong with French cheese but these really were the cream of the cheese. After dinner we went for a walk down the road. It was a lovely still evening and it was a great day to finish off the day.

The service and overall experience here so far has been excellent. The only problem right now is that the WiFi is down and has not yet been restored (hence why the blog was not posted timeously). You will only get this post when the WiFi is restored ….

P, H, S, M & C

Brantome & Banquet

Last night (after I posted the blog) a massive storm moved past the Chateau.  Either that or it was a congregation of ghosts. As it was so hot the windows were all open (no aircon at the Chateau – it was built in 1640 and aircon had not been invented then yet). The wind however came up and howled around the building and through the room. It was so bad I had to actually close one set of windows because everything was been blown around. The young ladies (including Chloe) are all sleeping in the same room. They (this morning) recounted how scared the bunch of them were because of the slamming windows, creaking floor boards and carpets flapping. Add in the mix the lightening and you can see how they might have felt. All I was thinking about was that it was 1am and I wanted to sleep!

I was up at 6:15am this morning because a mosquito had decided to feed on me and the itching had become unbearable. Helen started stirring at about 8:15am and we went for breakfast at 9am. The staff were on insistent on getting our room number.  Not sure why given we are the only people staying here.  Force of habit probably.  Over breakfast we agreed on going canoeing in Brantome.

canoeingBrantome is the nearest village and is about 10 kms away. It is a typical picturesque French village and is brantome1surround by a river which does a circle around the centre of the village. There were 26 of us going the canoeing and after Piers (my brother-in-law) used his French to good effect to organise the 13 2-man canoes we got our life jackets on and started paddling. Helen and I went together.  It was amazing how easily every one paired up. We had the canoes for an hour and it only took about 15 minutes to paddle around the town so we then headed down the river and when we did get back we still had about 15 minutes left so we paddled around the town a second time (or at least Helen and I did and 1 other canoe – the others ditched early). It was quite hard work and I was really sweating by the time we finished.

We then walked into the town and found the only open Patisserie and bought all 10 of their remaining Ham sandwiches. We went back to the side of the river and split the sandwiches between the group (which had reduced somewhat by that stage thankfully otherwise it might have been like feeding the 5000 with 5 loaves).  Then finally we went back into the town centre for some ice creams for desert.

The rest of the afternoon was spent at the Chateau. I managed to sneak in an hour of sleep and then watched the Bulls throw away their Super 15 semi final in the dying moments. This is one example of when I finished technology didn’t allow me to watch the game – I think I am scarred for life after watching them throw away that game!

Uncle BillAs today is my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary (they were married on 27 July 1963), there was a formal banquet tonight to celebrate.  It was again held in the cellar of the hotel but this time was 4 courses interspersed with various items.  We presented my parents with a book containing wishes from many of their friends from around the globe and this was followed by my uncle singing the same hymn he sung at their wedding 50 years ago – Take time to be holy.  He was accompanied by my one niece (Kirsten on the flute). My other niece (the film maker from LA who recently got married) had cut my Dad’s 8mm films of their wedding and honeymoon and created two 5 minute movies. They were very well down and are a great documented history of more than just the wedding & paintinghoneymoon. I hope my children appreciated them as much as I did.  My parents actually said no gifts but their 4 children were all raised to have a mind of their own and so we simply ignored that.  We bought them a Dale Elliot painting (which I had carried over from SA with us).  We had especially commissioned it with Dale Elliot. It was a painting of the view from our family holiday home at Brenton-on-sea.

My uncle also did a speech and toast (it was billed as a toast only but he did an excellent speech too)! He was the bestman at the wedding 50 years ago and did the speech then too. He is really gifted at speaking and did a fantastic job – very humorous as well as sentimental and reminiscing.  And of course there was lots of good food and wine (this is France of course!). Duck was on the menu again but so was guinea fowl.  We finished up the evening at about 11:30pm only after having started dinner at 7:30pm. It really was again a most enjoyable evening catching up with the wider family.

Now it is off to bed and hopefully a better night sleep (though it is still quite warm and no wind at all it seems tonight).

P, H, S, M & C


Chateau de la Cote – Brantome

Last night there was a big thunderstorm in Bordeaux but it did nothing to cool things down. It was both hot and humid when we out at 8:30am to pick up the rental car. It was an absolute breeze picking up the car from Hertz (I am a loyal Hertz customer and they generally give very good service worldwide).  Back to the hotel for breakfast with the family. Novotel hotels pride themselves on keeping staffing to minimal and so the breakfast is pretty much self-service. You could have eggs if you wanted but you had to cook them for yourself. Not kidding – a frying pan and hot plate supplied. We stuck to the continental option which (being in France) included some very good cheese.  In France I think it is impossible to eat too much cheese and it is certainly impossible to find bad cheese.

After breakfast we navigated to the nearest shopping centre to get some essential items (like beers, cooldrink, etc) and more importantly to buy some French pre-paid SIM cards. We found an Orange (French cellphone provider) shop at the centre but it became very clear very quickly that it was going to be a long process to get 5 SIM cards activated. I left Helen to do that it of the arranging while I headed with the kids into Carrefour.  It is a supermarket chain in France. It was a massive superstore (similar to Walmart) but the big difference is that it is totally disorganised.  It seems that they randomly scattered aisles throughout the store. There was an aisles of bikes in between the food aisles even.  By the time we had finished doing the shop, Helen was still going on making payments for the SIM cards.  They insisted that each card must be paid for separately so that involved 5 separate payments.

We then headed out on the road to Brantome where the Chateau ( is located that we are spending the next 2 nights.  It was pretty straightforward with the GPS giving sensible directions for 95% of the route except for one section where it took my down a very small country road to cut off a corner of the main road. We stopped at Perigueux at the Inter Marche (another supermarket) to buy some lunch. It was Friday lunchtime and we were the only people in the supermarket. Not kidding – not one other customer was to be seen. Clearly not the time to shop in Perigueux.  And in case you’re wondering it was a decent sized supermarket. Only 1 till point oplunch in franceen but then why would you need more with only one customer?!

We stopped on the side of the road to eat our purchased lunch of a baguette, brie, smoked salmon and parma ham. You simply can’t beat a lunch of that nature in France.  It brought back memories from our trip to France last year. Only difference was that it wasn’t 30 degrees when we were here last here (it was pouring with rain). There was even a toilet at the picnic spot we chose randomly.  toiletOnly problem is toilets on the continent are not always what you expect (see pic).  We were only 30 minutes away from the Chateau after eating lunch and we arrived at about 2:45pm. We have the whole Chateau booked for the next 2 days.  My sister (who has done a lot of the organising – well done Lynne) was already at the Chateau but we were the next to arrive. Shortly after us everyone started to arrive and by about 3:30pm everyone except 4 people had arrived.

It was so hot that I was drenched with sweat from carrying luggage up the stairs. Sitting outside is slightly better than inside because you at least get the effect of the breeze. Helen and I still managed to drink a litre bottle of water in about 10 minutes. I have never tasted such good water! There was a welcome tea at 4pm (of cake and juice – no one would want tea at 30 degrees).  Everybody just sat around catching up.  chateau de la CoteSome people headed for the swimming pool. There are about 33 people staying over night but at the dinner tonight there were 43 people as some of the wider family are also here to join in the celebrations but they are staying in the nearby town (Brantome).

The dinner tonight was in the cellar which is definitely the coolest place idinner at chateaun the Chateau at the moment. We all had to chose our meals about a week ago so that the kitchen staff could cope with us eating at the same time. Basically the choices (for both starter and main) were duck & salmon. This is a major duck farming area and so we have duck on the menu for almost every meal. Fortunately I like duck and so do the family. And washed down with a good Bergerac wine from the region and you can’t really go wrong. Add in good family company, some reminiscing and comparing notes on children raising (or more especially the art of raising teenagers and how they manage to consume internet bandwidth) and you have a very enjoyable evening.  And we have another six of them to come!

More tomorrow ….

P, H, S, M & C

Anniversary celebrations in France

We are back at the traveling thing again but this time for my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary celebrations.  They chose to invite the whole family (and original wedding party) to France (Bordeaux region) to join them in the celebration.  So last night we left Cape Town on the KLM flight for Amsterdam. It really isn’t the most convenient flight to take as it leaves at 11:20pm. After you take off they still try to serve you dinner and all you want to do is go to sleep.  The family was split this trip with 3 of us traveling upfront and the other 2 at the back. It was pretty full in the back except Michael had the seat next to him free (probably the only free seat in economy).  Michael did suggest that the way to get a few more empty seats next to him was to start scratching and say loudly “Wow but this eczema is really itchy tonight”.  I suggested he could also stand up and say loudly “Did you hear those voices or were they just in my head?”.  Those two in combination might clear a few seats around him.

klmIf you regularly read this blog when we travel you will know that I travel a lot overseas and so I have a fair base for comparing airlines.  On the ‘Peter measure’ for airlines KLM is at the bottom.  The seats were terrible. They were the type of seats that other airlines had in the 70s and 80s.  Whoever designed them should be sent to do dyke watching – on second thoughts the whole of the Netherlands might be flooded shortly after that if he/she’s chair design is anything to go by). While admittedly I did not eat dinner (as I was trying to sleep), the breakfast was appalling.  It said ‘Poached egg with bearnaise sauce on bacon on an English muffin’. Something must have been lost in translation because it was really ‘A hard yellow round thing on top of some ham on an English muffin’.  No sauce could be seen anywhere. And if that was a poached egg I would hate to see the chicken that produced that egg.  I got some sleep but it was very uncomfortable and I now think I need physical therapy to recover from all the pains that seat gave me during the night.

We landed just before 11am.  I think we actually landed in Belgium and taxied to Amsterdam – it took us about 15 minutes.  Then they couldn’t get the airbridge positioned against the door and that took another 15 minutes (thought that sort of thing only happened in Africa).  Once we were finally off we discovered our connecting flight was leaving from B2 and we had arrived at F6.  Those two points are about the farthest apart you can get at Amsterdam airport. Fortunately we had lots of time because the connecting flight was only at 14:25.  Schiphol is a sophisticated airport including free WiFi.  We found a spot for drinks and then lunch. I had a baby chicken (yes Janet – a whole one and I thought of you and wanted to take a photo to send to you) with fries. It was the best airport food I have ever had (seriously). Helen had barbecue sausages and potato bake (and you wouldn’t believe the size of the portion she got).

The flight from Amsterdam to Bordeaux was uneventful and exactly on time. We saw them load our bags onto the plane so we at least knew they had made it too. We landed at around 4pm.  Bordeaux airport looks like it was stuck in the 1960s. They clearly haven’t considered doing any work on it since then.  Once we had our luggage we found the hotel board and called them to send the shuttle to collect us.  We are staying at an airport hotel – Novotel ( – nothing fancy but perfectly adequate for the one night. We were all quite tired from novotel19 hours of travel and so decided to chill in the hotel (read: get connected to free hotel WiFi and catch up on Facebook, Whatsapp, email etc). We had dinner at the hotel – sitting in the garden – sun out, about 30 degrees, no wind.

At about 10pm the noisy group arrived from London. There was a large group of them on the flight including my parents, my brother and his family (they make a party by themselves), my uncle & aunt, one cousin and one longstanding family friend.  Some of our family had never met some of these family members or had last seen them 17 years ago.  So it was quite a rowdy reconnection and introductions in the foyer of the hotel. They dumped their luggage down and then were back for drinks at the hotel bar and a general catch up until sleepiness finally caught up. There are 18 people staying here tonight at the hotel. That is about half the entire group.  We all meet up (assuming everyone’s flights work out ok) tomorrow.

Until then …

P, H, S, M, C