Saturday, March 31, 2012

A BARN CONVERSION


As the renovations to our home in Jarnac will drag on for some time yet, we needed to be closer to the action and our rental was up April 1st anyway, which gave us an option to find another furnished rental prior to us going to Austria. Our home won't be done before mid summer.

We searched closer to Jarnac this time and near Chateaueuf sur Charente we saw an ad for a barn conversion. Having toyed with that idea ourselves prior our committing to a townhouse, this would give us an opportunity to check out barn living and if we made the right choice with a town property versus country living. the closest grocery store is 12km from the barn...in town we got a 200m walk.

The advantages really are that you get a shell with four walls  and you can go at it with any design or style you desire. A blank canvas sort of. The verdict will come in end of April, this property however is very very well done. The owners did a lot of work themselves, with great results. 

A giant living area with a galley style kitchen with all the appliances one needs for long term rentals, big fridge freezer, washing machine, a dishwasher(!) plenty cupboards, etc. 
To one side they created a mezzanine with the master bedroom and bath upstairs, with two more bedrooms and a bath downstairs.
The former barn door has been replaced with a giant bay window facing east, for amazing sunrises.

The yard does not seem to end, with only a small hedge separating it from the endless vines, where  Cognac farmers grow their grapes. A very old church is the only visible neighbor, making it a perfect spot for holidays or longer term rentals.

I think the downside may be that if it does get cold in the winter (and it does...), the heating of such a large structure may be a challenge unless you install in floor heating. 
The wood burning fireplace seems to be high efficient, but might need help from additional sources.

In terms of renting a place such as this, we were pleasantly surprised that the off season rates were very reasonable. Saves some bucks for all those renos we need to do in Jarnac.

Here is a link to their contact information, just in case that you would like to visit the area:






ENTRANCE

FROM THE OTHER SIDE WITH BIG WINDOWS

VERY PRIVATE SETTING

WITH GREAT VIEWS OVER THE VINES

LOADS OF PARKING

THREE BEDROOMS



TWO BATH

VIEW FROM THE MEZZANINE

WITH ALL THE AMENITIES ONE NEEDS


VERY BRIGHT WITH A GIANT WINDOW

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

SHAOXING



Normally when you travel to China for business, you tend to pick one of the chain hotels that get top ranking on search engines, Hilton, Hyatt, Holiday Inn, or what your budget allows.
If you dig deeper, such as Trip Advisor or similar websites, you may unearth the odd boutique hotel in the bigger cities.

On this trip, one of my suppliers had a nice surprise for me, when we stopped over in Shaoxing, a town best known for it's garment industry (not my business). The company booked me into a very special hotel. 
Imagine an old chinese village turned into cottages. Lovingly restored former stables, residences and other structures turned into modern day suites with all the comfort you'd expect at a Hyatt, plus the uniqueness of old chinese architecture. 
My suite was so large, I could have had a party for 20 and still not feel crowded. No cars, only golf carts, restaurant, tea room, bar and more amenities to make your stay complete.

Here is the truly amazing thing though. The resort, which is not inexpensive, caters almost entirely to the domestic market. Though some staff did speak very well english, all else was in hard core chinese. A trend, that I have seen develop over the past 5 years. The middle class in China is booming with no end in sight, their disposable income can afford such luxuries with no problem.
Fascinating really, to watch an emerging nation close up.

My room was cold when I first got there, and when I tried to turn up the heat? No double language labelling. Uhm, OK. 
 Dialing "0", a safe bet anywhere, got me the front desk who sent over the technician who fixed me up with that keyboard, I had to take notes... He should have camped out at my suite, as a couple of hours later he needed to return anyway so he could explain the remote control to me. 
I needed my CNN fix.

Apparently a lot of government officials stay here, as well as smaller conventions of local businesses.
I'd say, it as the most authentic lodging experience since travelling to China. Though I  roughed it a couple of times in the past, this one, added the luxury to the unknown when in China.






THE ENTRANCE

A WHOLE VILLAGE CONVERTED

RICE WINE JARS AT THE RESTAURANT ENTRANCE

WATER WAYS


VEGETABLE GARDEN BEHIND THE KITCHEN

MY SUITCASE BEING BROUGHT TO THE ROOM

PRIVATE COURT YARD

AT NIGHT

TEA ROOM

RESTAURANT

MY VERY LARGE AND UNDER UTILIZED SUITE





SECURITY

IT'S ALL CHINESE TO ME

HOW DO I FIND HBO? 


Monday, March 26, 2012

CHINA


Another trip to China is done. It felt strange to come home to France and not Canada. Pretty much the same flight times from Bordeaux via Paris to Shanghai, as from Calgary via Vancouver to Shanghai. 

As on previous trips, a lot of Chinese food was consumed, lunches and dinners with friends and suppliers.
I am telling you, it is good. For a week or so. Then the cravings set in for Pizza or sausage with familiar flavors. 
Nothing too crazy for me, but raw shrimp that still moved on my plate, Bull frog stew, the braised head of a pig were the most adventurous plates I ate on this trip.
of course repeats of my favorites, braised pork belly, spicy tofu were ordered as well. 
Food culture is huge in China. Everyone has their favorite place to eat, they love to show us their cuisine and are genuinely happy when they have you over for dinner. 

The images below were taken during a dinner for eight, in a medium priced restaurant. Including a bottle of rice wine, plenty of water and soft drinks, this dinner came to about 70.00 USD

Loads of gluten free options, just not sure if it is what you would want to eat......




ROAST CHICKEN

SPICY TOFU

MUSHROOMS

MORE TOFU

THE BEST LIVER I HAVE HAD

LOTUS ROOT

BRAISED PORK BELLY

POTATO SALAD


 SHREDDED BEEF WITH ONIONS AND AN EGG

BULLFROG STEW (surprisingly meaty)

SOUP

TATER TOTS WITH KETCHUP FOR THE TIMID AMONGST US

 FISH


LOOK AT ME!

RICE NOODLES

RAW SHRIMP IN VINEGAR MARINADE

STILL ALIVE AT THE TABLE
 


Saturday, March 17, 2012

LE STEAK FAIL



I have said it before, not all comes up smelling like Roses when you move to a different country. No matter what images your mind conjures up when you dream about Cheese, Croissants or Michelin dining, France has it's fair share of crap restaurants as well. Just as any other country. 
It's just that crap stands out more over here in France, since all you see when dreaming about moving here, is the great images of fresh food markets or TV Shows about La Grande Bouffe en France. (Has anyone seen this movie from 1973?)

Unfortunately 95% of all restaurants close after lunch to give their staff a break (and for sure save on labor costs) before they reopen for dinner service.
Our meeting one day ran late and at the restaurant we wanted to eat at, well, the Chef already cleaned his knifes and wanted to go home for a nap. Well deserved.
"Essayez Le Buff", the waitress casually told us on the way out, they for sure are open all day. And I thought she liked us. We are the ones with the mignon accent when ordering, remember? Not to mention my Canadian sized tip...

Anyway. Buffalo Grill is a french chain of what they perceive an American steakhouse to be. It just seems it was thought up in 1984 and never updated since. the decor is hard core red vinyl with brass accents all around, you know that shiny gold brass. 

The food, the food. Outback on it's worst day serves a better piece of red meat than Buffalo Grill any day.
On the ill informed waitress' advise I ordered a Charolais entrecote, which to my shock was brutal. Tough, with zero flavor. Twenty Euro bucks. 

If I were French and dine at Buffalo Frill,  my image of America would be ruined to no end. Stale popcorn, Iceberg lettuce with Kraft dressing, frozen french fries a la Sysco, all that served without a smile. NOT American. Not at all.


BUFFALO GRILL

TOUS ROUGE

WOULD A COWBOY ORDER A COUPE MOJITO?

WITH CALIFORNIA RED!

NEEDED LOTS OF THOSE SPICES.

TRES CHIC

20.00 EURO FAIL

HARICOTS VERTS  BIEN CUIT
BENNIGAN'S CA. 1984

NON, MERCI