Paris 12e
Paris 6e
Looking up towards the town of Buxières-les-Mines, which was indeed once a mining town. The black box (it's actually very dark green) on the pavement relates to garbage collection: ça fonctionne!
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The trip between Bellegarde-en-Forez and Buxières-les-Mines (location map one and location map two) was the one we'd expected last time — industrial and dreary; but at least our hearts were not weighed down by a lousy gîte stay! We were a bit confused as to the correct access to the little village, but in the end found the new gîte without much difficulty. Well, other than an urgent need for a loo; but it was our good luck that our new landlady has a good deal of English, so I didn't have to become mired in appalling French under pressure.

Once again our owners were delightful: local GP Dr Fanchin and his wife are really nice people, and the gîte is an 18th century building that's been refurbished back to life, with the Fanchins' house/surgery adjacent. Gîte “La Czarine” I can't give you a link to: bloody Gîtes de France have made it impossible, for their database ‘expires’ the result of the search after an hour or two. Why, I can't imagine; but you will find our picture of it in the gallery for this stay, and you can accept our word that it is a beautiful little place. Buxières-les-Mines is quiet and inexpensive; what could be seen as a major advantage of staying there is its proximity to the beautiful Bourbon l'Archambault, a tourism town and concomitantly priced.

Buxières-les-Mines is forever fixed in my mind as the village we were staying in when I resigned by email from my job. Not from the village itself, of course; we drove in to nearby Moulins, a BIG town, to find an office of La Poste with computers available. And that was that: we drove back to a lovely lunch at a hotel we'd found when driving in, mentally dusting off our hands — et sur cela mieux vaut ne pas trop en parler. However, it's equally remembered for being that place from which we cancelled our final week in France: this was not terribly easy to do... or, rather, replacing the bits that had to be replaced was the difficult thing. But no need talking about that yet.

We did indeed visit Bourbon l'Archambault; couldn't not, as it contains not one but several châteaux of various kinds. A clear memory for me is eating what appeared to be a very ripe blackberry, which was as bitter as buggery; another is that after we'd got back home that day, we were door-knocked by Jehovah's Witnesses! — a pair of women, who had at least managed to crack the religious glass ceiling. ‹grin›

During the week here we visited Murat and Hérisson, both possessed of very satisfying ruins and both lovely. At the latter we had another of those wonderful “shut up, sit down and eat what we give you” meals: this time an extraordinarily good lasagne, would you believe?! It was preceded by simple but delicious endives in vinaigrette and followed by, you guessed it, dessert for CS and cheese for me. The poor man was assailed by the runs at this time, which were a result of some very strong antibiotics he had taken for an awful and persistent cough; cheese, which he loved almost as much as I do, was not within his horizon.

Having tried unsuccessfully to access Buxières-les-Mines' only restaurant on a couple of occasions (it appeared to be closed), we returned from a short tootle on our last full day there and realised we were starving: once again we mounted an assault on the little restaurant, battling grimly with the closed door and... it opened! We had been turning the handle the wrong way: it had been open every time we'd been there (I'd love to say I'm embarrassed to admit this, but all that happened was that we laughed like anything).   :-)    So in we went, and found that a little more perseverance and common sense would've got us into a place that we would indubitably have eaten at every day — it was absolutely terrific! The food, I mean, but also the people running it; and it had an ambience you seek forever in an eating place, with many locals popping in and out and everyone knowing everyone else. CS and I had a whale of a time, dutifully eating all placed before us — not that it was an effort, believe me! A pair of ladies came in and sat next to our table, and we started chatting with them because we heard them mention Oz: they were about to go there, and we gave 'em a bit of input. Well OK, more than a bit. They were rapt! As the two of us staggered back to ‘La Czarine’, we bewailed all those lost days without this wonderful little restaurant: I hope some of you will make up for our folly! (I think it's ‘Le Corail’: that's the only reference I can find to an eating place in the village, and it does ring a bell.)

I see from my little leather diary that I was raving away on several occasions during this week about the major (and only, really) problem with gîtes — their seating. Strange thing to write? — strange situation. Let me elucidate... When people decide to set up a holiday house for other people to rent, they do not fill it with the best furniture; they do not, in fact, fill it with furniture that matches that in their own houses. What they do is either ‘pass on’ what stuff they can spare or buy second-hand — or course. This might be quite nice, for a while; but second-hand furniture is not the world's most reliable product... and when you have family after family after family using it, it deteriorates fairly rapidly. Unhappily, the gîte owners never think to check out the furniture: as long as it's looking OK, they don't think about it at all. Alas for the springs that they can't see — which could not be seen even if the furniture was taken apart, for they've gone! And it's a sad fact that even the nicest owners' furniture is beset by this common problem. Think I'll publish an article about it.   ;-)

But it was a quiet and pleasant week in our lovely little place, surrounded by truly beautful countryside. You have to remember that gîtes are mostly used by the French themselves, wanting exactly this kind of break from their normal lives...

And then it was time to take the train up to Paris for our last few days in France before flying home, and this period would incorporate CS' birthday.