07 April 2011

An urban excursion

We had a very successful day shopping yesterday. That doesn't sound like a big deal, but it is. We drove up to Blois to price lawnmowers up there, but we also had a long list of other things we needed to buy. We try to group all these searches and purchases so that a single trip is as useful and productive as possible.

First on the shopping list was more paint for the stairwell and hallway. The painting project is ongoing. We knew what we wanted, which was more of the paint we used up in the loft last fall. And we remembered where we got that paint — at a big DIY store called BricoDépôt. There's one on the north side of Blois, out on the A10 autoroute.

This are the kinds of flowers that will be getting mowed down
once we find the right mower. Seems a shame, but...

Getting there was nerve-wracking. We're just not much on driving in cities any more, I guess. Blois is a very small city, but it has a dense network of small, narrow streets, a lot of one-ways, and the inevitable road works all around. We got lost. A couple of times we had to pull into driveways, turn around, and backtrack because we realized we had gone right past places we were trying to find.

The exterior roads around Blois are not much easier to navigate, especially on the north side. They're over-engineered and not really intuitive. In France, the people who design roads seem determined to make sure you can't get there — wherever you're going — by the most direct route. You have to go all around your elbow, which is most cases turns out to be around a big round-about — a carrefour giratoire, they call them — with gigantic trucks and small sports cars whizzing all around it.

Yesterday's sunset...

Anyway, I was talking about successes. And the weather was beautiful. Not only did we find the paint we needed — not the same brand, of course, that would be too easy — but we also found some wooden shelving units of the kind, style, and price that I'd been looking for over the past three or four years. And they actually fit inside the little Peugeot so I could get them home. I can finally scratch those off the shopping list.

...and a close-up taken through the linden tree out back

We also found an Asian grocery store that we'd been hearing about and trying to find for years and years. A friend had told us about it in 2005 or so, and we had looked for it before. Thanks go to Susan and Simon for mentioning the Asia Store in Poitiers. When I Googled that name, I found a place called Asia Store or Asia Foods or some such name in Blois. I got the address.

One more time, we rode all around in the little narrow streets of old Blois looking for it. I had printed a Google map showing one-way streets. Then there was the inevitable construction project blocking the very road we needed to take. That sent us off on a long detour. But we ended up finding the store, which was very small but well stocked with all kinds of exotic products and exotic peoples.

Parallel tracks that would be easier to navigate than
the narrow streets and traffic of Blois

I found fresh okra, which I and a very pleasant and talkative African woman picked over, choosing the nicest ones, as we exchanged cooking and gardening stories about okra/gombos. Walt found bags of frozen shrimp at good prices, and we had thought to put a cooler in the car so we could buy a couple of kilos of shrimp and get them home before they thawed. We also got a jar of peanut butter, another exotic find.

Oh, and lawn mowers... we stopped in three garden equipment stores on the way to Blois. The first one is right off the highway outside the town of Contres on the road to Blois. The man there was very helpful and informative. But he didn't have exactly the mower we had in mind. Farther north, in the shopping district that straddles the Blois "suburbs" of Vineul and Saint-Gervais, there was a similar store that had three brands of mowers, and one that matched our criteria.

The man showing us the mowers there, however, seemed kind of pushy to me. He tried every angle to sell us something — anything. I felt rushed. « Qu'est-ce qui vous fait hésiter ? Est-ce le prix ? », he said — what's making you hesitate? Is it the price? Is there some feature you want that this mower or than doesn't have? I'm sure he was trying to be helpful, but he asked too many questions, trying to pin us down.

Rush hour traffic around Saint-Aignan-sur-Cher

The Toro mower he showed us cost about 150 € more than I wanted to spend, and that's what was making me hesitate, but I didn't really want to say so. I was looking for the exit, and we finally told him we'd come back after we'd looked around a little more. At the next garden shop, the clerk who tried to help us was basically incompetent, and the mowers there didn't fit the bill. So it was back to square one.

The upshot of all this is that we have to go out again today and shop at a couple of more places. I found that over-priced Toro mower on the web site of a big store called Castorama, over in Tours, for 100 € less than the smaller store's price. So it's off to Tours today (an hour's drive), after a stop at our local BricoMarché store to check out a Honda mower they have on sale this month. At least the weather is again supposed to be beautiful.


  1. That's weird... we're shopping for mowers too! We sold our ride on with the house in France as the gardens here in the UK don't require such a grand mower! We've decided on a Honda after much debate and comparison!

  2. Beautiful sunset photo. I know excatly what you mean about the streets in Blois. We kept going the wrong way up one way streets and in bus lanes. It was very imtimidating. But amazing hot air balloons all taking off over the river.

  3. One of the things I love most about our little part of France is that "rush hour" never really amounts to much. We avoid going anywhere where it does these days.

    Is that a kind of purple cowslip that you are intending to cut down with your new mower? Shame !!

  4. Well, one of you will have to take a photo of the new lawn mower once you've found it :))


  5. "Exotic products with exotic people"- that's my kind of store!

    That flower looks a lot like a bluebell that blooms this time of year in KY. It starts off pink and turns to blue and likes to live near creeks. I miss seeing it...

  6. Pulmonaria officinalis
    al - germany

  7. I guess the search for a mower will give some of those flowers a reprieve. It's amazing how much difference the self propulsion makes on a mower. Good luck with the hunt.

  8. Dare I suggest - a Tom Tom? This will definitely help you avoid all your nightmare driving moments in France.

  9. I hate pushy salesmen. I usually just walk away and leave the store.

  10. Honda makes the best mowers in the world, ones that always start, almost always on the first pull. But, our new Honda self-propelled turned out to be so heavy that it was almost as much work as the old mower without the self propulsion. Turning it around at the edge of the grass was difficult. We ended up changing it for an electric mower that works great as is so very light.
    Dennis Martin


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