Every year various organisations take a chance t designating the ‘World’s Most Liveable’ Ciites with a ranking of security, lifestyle, climate, amenitiies. It’s all rather ubjective but it’s also a little bit of fun.

The 2011 rankings are out and Melbournians will rejoice, not at coming 2nd but at giving those guys up the drag in Sin City a bit of a hammering. This latest list was compiled by The Economist Intelligence Unit:

Arguably the finest sports precinct in the world in the foreground. Melbourne city at rear

1. Vancouver, Canada

2. Melbourne, Australia

3. Vienna, Austria

4. Toronto, Canada

5. Calgary, Canada

6. Helsinki, Finland

7. Sydney, Australia

8. (equal) Perth, Australia

8. (equal) Adelaide, Australia

10. Auckland, New Zealand

Just as fun, and definitely not on anyone’s travel itinerary (unless you have to!), the bottom 10 cities were:

Harare road - Mugabe also lives in the city.

1. Harare, Zimbabwe

2. Dhaka , Bangladesh

3. Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea

4. Lagos, Nigeria

5. Algiers , Algeria

6. Karachi, Pakistan

7. Douala, Cameroon

8. Tehran, Iran

9. Dakar, Senegal

10. Colombo, Sri Lanka

A speck in the distance - the bum of a Labrador peering into the boulangerie.

Inside the boulangerie- the lab waits for his boss to buy him some sausage and bread for breakfast.

We’ve spoken before about going to  the Cave (the wine cellar/co-op) and filling up with wine from the ‘petrol pump’. Well, our local olive farm is just the same.

February is when this year’s vintage is ready. Pick up the little can and motor down the road to Coustellet and ‘Moulin de Saint Augustin’. There the very friendly husband and wife team fill up your can with the ‘fresher than fresh’ olive oil. There is also a little gift shop which sells all things olive and, liquorice!

Our little olive oil can

The French national bird surveys the olive groves

The entrance to Moulin Saint Augustin - on the D900/N100.

Menerbes

A few weeks ago the London Sunday Times published an interview with the CEO of IKEA UK, Martin Hansson. In it, he waxed lyrical about how IKEA had made it a strategic priority to expand their foray into kitchens and kitchen appliances.

So, when we returned from our Road Trip (three weeks ago!) and we found that our IKEA Whirlpool fridge, had literally, ‘gone dead’, and the smell of rotten freezer food permeated the kitchen, we did not worry. Between IKEA and Whirlpool, a respected international brand name, we would sort it out – quickly.

Where do you turn to first? The website, naturally. IKEA directed us to Whirlpool. Whirlpool directed us to the local technician – in Avignon and helpfully supplied the telephone number and name of the person.

Ring, ring, ring, ring, ring. Eventually we get hold of someone who turned out to the be the technician’s mother. Our name was taken. Our problem discussed.

36 hours passed and the telephone rang and the technician asked the 100 questions. He would not come out and call on us until we had answered all those questions. To no avail – some them too technical and too far for our French. Six telephone calls later and in utter frustration, we went to our friends down the road both of whom speak fluent French and practice in the legal field.

A seemingly fruitful telephone call ensured with the ‘mother’, only for the technician to call the next morning. When he heard who was on the phone he informed me in no uncertain terms that he would not speak to someone who did not speak proper French and who bought from IKEA! The phone was slammed down.

Bang! What to do? We discussed the issue at length and after visiting four other dealers to look at the market and prices for new fridges, we decided that if the IKEA Whirlpool fridge was even fixed it would be from good fortune not good service.

We visited Fabre Cuisines, closed our eyes, put down the money and ordered a Miele fridge. It was duly designated to arrive in 6 days time.

Not being ones to shirk a challenge, we decided not to give up on the other fridge (if fixed, it could enhance the pool kitchen) and wrote out our saga and headed off for Avignon IKEA. Fortified by meatballs and chips, we approached the Service Counter and received a dossier number and were assured of ‘prompt service’. We were also informed that IKEA was very proud of its 5 year guarantee and honoured it. The fridge had been bought in 2009 so was still under guarantee.

That was 14h20 last Tuesday.

At 15h30, we received a call from the Whirlpool technician – could he come ‘tomorrow’. Nope – we were going out. Thursday? Yes!

He duly arrived and started to repair the appliance. As he finished replacing the new compressor, he handed me an invoice. I told him it was ‘under guarantee’. Explosion! The electric lead was ripped out of the wall and he started to pack up.

Much negotiation ensued, many telephone calls, much pursing of the cheeks, throwing around of the arms and screaming. Suddenly, it was all over. The Whirlpool office had phoned – do it under guarantee, no charge. Our technician left.

On Friday, the Miele technicians arrived at their pre-appointed hour: 08h30. By 10h00, the fridge was installed, the doors changed and all the packaging materials taken away.

Our new fridge. Not Whirlpool!

Friday – 15h15 : a telephone call from Whirlpool. Is everything OK? But, please in future call us and get a dossier number before you call the technician. Please can they tell that to their website!

Friday – 16h15 : a telephone call from IKEA. Is everything OK? We apologise for your problems.

Well done IKEA. Sorry for you, Whirlpool.

Tourists flock to the Provencal markets in their droves over the season. However, many of the larger markets do not stop when the days draw in and winter is upon us.

Now, as the first stirrings of Spring happen, we thought that it would be nice to have a little showing of what can be seen during these ‘quieter’ and no less appealing times. Locals are more relaxed (if that is possible), there is time to chat and joke, and the prices are a little bit lower for accommodation, eating and drinking. Perfect for a Baby Boomer holiday!

A quite stunning display of flowers

The Patiserie groans with meringues and other delicacies for the cold winter evenings

Cheeses and cheeses.

With all that cheese, you need a little bread.

One of the stall holders lays the table for lunch - on the merchandise.

Standards are upheld at all times. Note the hubby raching for the wine of the left hand side and the basket of goodies on the right.

Spring is in the air! Mimosa in abundance.

Another entrance in our series

Menerbes

The Rosemary bushes outside our entrance are bursting into flower

“Down here in the South, we do things slowly”, Pierre says to us over an aperitif. Pierre and Sylvie had invited us for the traditional apero one evening last week.

The form is that you’re invited, and asked to arrive at 19h00. The duration is anything from 60-90 minutes and ‘normally’ wine or pastis is served. As you don’t want to criticise your host’s wine cellar, provision of a flower gift is the polite thing to do.

The reason why Pierre had implored us to slow down was that we had asked to book him for a ‘robot’ (aka kreepy krauly, pool cleaner etc etc). That was for April – far too soon to open the diary.

We returned home and tried to slow down.

A freshly scrubbed Menerbes bathes in the cool morning light

It’s been another week of preparing the properties for the season, getting everything ship shape and planning some serious garden improvements for when the weather warms up and we’ll be able to implement them.

All around us, there is infrastructure work going on. Roads are being painted, roads are being fixed (even ones into Menerbes which were damaged three years ago!); the Menerbes paving is proceeding (not apace but slowly and steadily and even the most cynical villagers are agreeing that is is looking ‘bon’); trees are being clipped and there is the constant drone of chain saws all around us. (Memo to Madame – any chance of one of those for my birthday?). Even the electricity supply is being checked by EDF our electricity provider : this has resulted in a number of power surges and outtages, wiping out a few music databases in the process. And, someone in Paris has decided that the signposting in our area needed to be improved, justas more and more people rely on GPS for their directions and the Luberon road signs are always commented on as being very good……. We have a veritable forest of signs at the entrance to the village.

Clipped lavender waiting for the hot sun

Down into the Village - paving completed

A huge section to do - the entrance to the Village past the Post Office and French Resistance Memorial

It's incredibly exact work - such an ancient art

The Village Square. Oh dear! A HUGE job.

Down the road in Bonnieux we have met a delightful and incredibly talented couple, Corinne and Roland who have a shop ‘Au détour d’une promenade’ selling reconditioned furniture and artefacts, as well as a B&B near to the village. We have taken a number of pieces to them and they have worked their magic. We can’t help but ask how much money they would make in cities such as Melbourne or Cape Town if they exported their skills there! The biggest story of the  week has been the fridge saga – but that’s for another post with lots of tags and search phrases!

Tourist activity signs give a prelude to what is to come.

The first step. The main turning into the village.

What the ex-pats call a 'Peter Mayle moment' - the cross roads outside the village. Take your pick, but don't forget to check the GPS as well!

Au bientot : Lovonne and Simon xx

This is the moment a group of tiny caterpillars formed an incredible 17ft long convoy to cross a road.

Some 136 caterpillars made the single line and wriggled top-to-toe across the road, linked by a thin silk thread which set their path.
And their safety-in-numbers approach had the desired effect as the slow-moving convoy was easily seen by motorists, who were held up for 20 minutes as it made its way across.

Thanks, John W.

The French Foreign Legion Engineering Corps in full marching order. Different to the regular French army whose Engineering Corps have an insignia common to other world armies of a flaming grenade, the Legion have two crossed axes.

Ceremonial dress is a blacksmith’s apron and weapon of choice –  an axe.

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