Doves and goats and African rooms

Spent the morning translating one of the walking sheets that Marion James left us as it has a paragraph about the Preaux St Sebastien. I’d forgotten that he’s the patron saint of plague! Although the text doesn’t come right out and say it, reading between the lines, I’d say this area was a bit ‘plaguey’ once upon a time and built the church as protection. It certainly explains the gite. The paragraph ends with “…the parish is renowned for its folklore.” Since the church was deserted and locked up tight, this folklore shall remain a mystery to me I’m afraid.

Absolutely beautiful weather today – blue skies and sun with a slight chilly breeze which is warmer than in the kitchen.

Well, what a day THIS has been! As I wrote this I was lying on a large comfortable bed in the African room of Côté Jardin and Mirinda was enjoying a lovely shower. Given our usual appetite for snap decisions, this one could only be expected – we went to Orbec TIC and asked about any accommodation in the immediate area.

After a few false starts with engaged phones and Mirinda trying to find the French word for ‘crap’ (Nicole found it for me, it’s ‘merdeuix’) in order to describe the gite properly for the TIC girl, we finally found a haven with Georges and Veronique Lorette.

They run a chambres D’Hotes on Orbec main street with a fantastic garden at the rear where the rooms are. Veronique and Georges spent 20 years in Africa and themed one room accordingly and it is SO COMFORTABLE I COULD WEEP. Huge bed, warm room, lots of windows with lots of light and a massive garden with no barbed wire. And so quiet. Anyone wishing to visit the region should stay here.

Anyway, after assuring ourselves a good few nights sleep, we set off for the day. Our first stop was St-Pierre-sur-Dives. There is a huge market there every Monday and today was no exception. It crawls along the main street and up behind the shops to a massive covered market and beyond into a park.

St-Pierre-sur-Dives market hall

St-Pierre-sur-Dives market hall

There is everything here, from the usual rubbish you buy at any market (cut price knickers, Jamaican pot smoking utensils, African carvings, Chanel No 325, etc) to some great French produce.

The big wooden covered hall was originally built in the 12th century but for some reason, in 1944, it was burned to the ground – no idea who by. By 1949, using only traditional methods, the whole place was rebuilt and I have to tell you, it looks very authentic.

We bravely stood in line for a Normandy hot dog with some of the strongest mustard I’ve ever subjected my sinus passages to. Very nice though, it must be said. By the way, I mean brave with regard to our delicate stomachs as the food looked fine. Actually it was the only thing I’d eaten since the poison in Lisieux which felt like weeks ago.

Apart from the market, S-P-s-D is where most of the Camembert boxes are made.

After a wander round the fun-fair – dodgems and a pirate fun house – we made our way back to the car via some expensive burnt peanuts and nougat, and set off for Crevecoeur-en-Auge.

Set amid the lovely Normandy countryside, C-e-A is a collection of half timbered houses, beautifully restored and bought together in the grounds of a 12th century moated chateau. Most of the information was in French but I did find out that the whole place was funded by the Schlumberger Foundation (the guys who invented Geo Phys!) as there was an excellent film about them in the chateau with English subtitles. The Rough Guide is less than complimentary about this film but we thought it was good and very informative.

Crevecoeur-en-Auge dovecot

Crevecoeur-en-Auge dovecot

In one of the other buildings there was a rather long (though still very interesting) film on how to build and restore a half timbered house. We learnt, among other things, how a corbel works, for instance, bit by bit by agonising bit. Actually I’m exaggerating, only the plastic seats were agonising, the film was quite good and even went as far as featuring a French Bob Stockwell, chatting about wattle and daub.

The Dovecot is very interesting as this was used to house pigeons as a sort of living larder. When the boss felt like a bit of dove, he’d just go and shoot one. Nice!

Our next stop was originally planned to be Beuvron-en-Auge but then Mirinda discovered a leaflet advertising a chateau with miniature furniture in it, so our plans underwent a rapid reassessment and we retraced our steps (stopping once more in St-P-s-Dives to raid an ATM) and ended up at Vendeuvre.

What a pretty village and what a fantastic place. The miniatures are such a small part of it (hee hee). At the age of 7, Elyane de Vendeuvre, first admired a miniature 18th century writing desk in the home of an elderly aunt. This was the beginning of an amazing collection. Apparently there are 6 main reasons for making miniatures. These are:

  • Craftsmen would make miniature versions of their furniture so customers could see what they were ordering.
  • Craftsmen at the end of their days would create miniatures to prove how brilliant they still were.
  • During the long pre-TV nights, people would sit and make them in order to pass the time.
  • This is said to be for ‘inlaid work’ but I have no idea why!
  • Religious furniture in Europe is a big thing. For instance, in convents and other religious houses little arm chairs are made for baby Jesus to sit in (fauteuil de Jesus) or a small bed rest (repos de Jesus).
  • And of course, toys for children to pretend to be grown up with.

Anyway, just like Hever Castle, I was quickly bored by this, amazing as they all were, and annoyed by a bratty French kid who looked like a disagreeable Billy Bunter, so I waited outside for Mirinda.

A few hours later, we moved down through the topiary trees to the chateau. It is still the home of Count de Vendeuvre and has been handed down from father to son since its construction in 1750. Prior to that, in the early middle ages, they had lived in the Manche region. Originally, the family’s descendants arrived in Normandy as part of Queen Mathilda’s entourage – this seems unimportant at this stage but we hear a lot more about Queen M from now on.

Chateau Vendeuvre

Chateau Vendeuvre

The rooms on the ground floor are all decorated beautifully with original furniture and fittings. The whole place was gutted during WWII and used as army barracks but everything was moved and saved and restored gradually. There was no roof in 1945!

The original lady of the manor, Jeanne Gabrielle, loved daisies so they feature almost everywhere…not that I saw any. I’ve taken that from the English guidebook.

Yesterday Mirinda wondered what people did before TV, well, according to the guidebook, these people played games. In 18th century France there were more than 60 fashionable games and Princess Palatine was heard to remark: “The art of conversation is no longer fashionable. You can only talk about the weather, games and dresses.”

Each of the rooms has its own little mechanical doll which appears demonic and possessed as the clockwork innards click them around, moving their lifeless but staring eyes in your direction. Creepy!

We discovered the delights of the bourdaloue which is a small china bowl which fashionably dressed woman would carry in case of an emergency during the endless sermons of Abbot Bourdaloue! One wonders who took them away and how they masked the tinkling.

In the kitchens, below the main house, is an amazing collection of kennels. Mon Dieu! So elaborate. From leather covered beds to plush velvet, these are just amazing. Unfortunately Mirinda has decided I’d like to make one for the puppies to destroy.

Outside the chateau are some beautiful gardens containing a massive columbier (dovecot) which can house 1400 pigeons in its holes. These were all the rage and at one time there were 42,000 of them in France. Mmmm pigeon.

Gary and his new little friend at Vendeuvre

Gary and his new little friend at Vendeuvre

After an informal chat with a tiny goat, we moved into the garden of watery surprises. This is fantastic. In different places, water will suddenly squirt up and out at you. On such a lovely day, this was excellent fun. Just having young children squealing with delight as they rushed back and forth, making the water splash was enough to make the day perfect. And grownups reduced to the same age.

A stroll to the maze and then back to the car-park, rounded off a wonderful site seeing day. Half an hour spent packing and cleaning the gite and moving to Orbec, rounded off an awful tale of accommodation woes.

We eventually went next door (literally) to the Orbecquoise Restaurant for a lovely expensive dinner, then back to our lovely, lovely room for a lovely, lovely sleep.

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