In early 2009 one can say without hesitation that France is an expensive place in which to eat and drink. Of course the current exchange rate is of no help to those from the UK travelling to mainland Europe for a break and, especially, to enjoy good wine with good food.
Even without the reckoning of an almost parity exchange rate, prices in France are noticeably higher than in 2008.
Be that as it may, one goes to eat and drink well, and if one is prepared to eat the best food, the price of it is probably a lot less than comparing like with like in England. And when eating out in France there is no point in not making a good meal of it – especially in Dieppe, where the fish landed is so fresh that it may well be jumping around a bit on the fishmonger’s slab.
Moreover, if not used to eating so heartily, a good lunch will fill one up so much that a modestly priced picnic is all that is wanted in the evening.
The price of restaurant wine is always on the high side, but carafe wine is still not exorbitantly priced – though a good bottle certainly is.
For picnic wine and wine to take home, the best buys by far are in German owned supermarkets. There it is possible to buy wine from French abroad for very little – the French deeming that wine from elsewhere is not drinkable, and is priced accordingly.
But I am getting around to French meat, which is nearly always on the tough side, but tasty.
You wonder just how to tackle a piece of meat on the plate that is interlaced and surrounded with stringy bits. Quite rightly, a sharp, serrated-blade knife is always supplied when steak is ordered.
The first operation is to cut away all the connective tissue and put it to the side of your plate. Then there is no point in trying to eat a normal sized piece of what remains. No. The meat must be sliced as thinly as it is possible for you to contrive it. This has the advantage of making the meat both edible and tasty. And it will tide out the meal as you will surely not be in a rush – or shouldn’t be.
We have now eaten and returned to our room – in our case the same room that we have booked for years.
I have always thought of our 3 star hotel as a bit seedy and not really up to its star rating.
Perhaps since we were last there the star-inspector had called and demanded an update. And so it had occurred.
French ideas of decoration are not quite the same as ours. Plumbing, for instance, is done in the main by sculptors, not plumbers. Pipes are liable to weave about a bit, sometimes forming real works of – well, amazement in the eyes of a spectator.
Our room has only a vestige of this order of pipework. But the tragedy of this upgraded change is that the landlord (who should have retired, but hadn’t) had all the bidets in the hotel torn out and cast away. If you are used to the hygiene offered by this ancient and most sensible French invention, it was a tragic idea.
Well, out they went, but the pipework holes they had once used remain as holes. Surely they were not left for – well, rodents. No, of course not. But it looked a bit like it.
Radiators remain as before – useless. In the cold weather one must order auxiliary heat in the form of an electric stove. The passageways outside the room, on the other hand, were really warm.
The bathroom floor had been re-laid with what appeared to be black marble or slate. And very handsome it was. But the surface was also as cold as the previous tile flooring. This meant that wherever one stood on it with bare feet in cold weather it was necessary to place a mat or towel on the floor for comfort.
Paintwork had been done immaculately. But the bathroom door, which had always been too large for its frame and never closed properly, was at last free of peeling paint and re-done – except for where it met the floor. There nothing had changed. Broken ply facing still remained – and unpainted.
New curtains were splendid, and up to its 3 star rating, as was the new mattress and properly filled (bits of rubber) pillows. But instead of blankets that could be added or subtracted according to the temperature of the time of year, lay a duvet. Now, am I the only one who finds that a duvet provides too much warmth when covered by it, or none at all when one escapes it?
The old television screen that was liable to impede one’s path in the middle of the night had been replaced by the flat screen variety, which tucked away nicely. But although there were now many more television channels to watch, all were in French or dubbed French. In a hotel that caters for so many foreigners, how is it that no other programmes in other languages are made available? But we must remember which country we were visiting – mustn’t we? Vive les Français. Vive La France.