2007-05 (MAY, 2007)

Four+ Weeks In France - Week One

Wed: We left home at 15:00 to catch our 16:00 flight down to Christchurch. Ma collected us and took us back to their place for the night. We celebrated Holly's birthday with Nana & Poppy, complete with some splendid gifts and a yummy cake (all candles must now be blown out, according to Holly). We stayed up chatting instead of getting an early night - sweet!

Thu: At 08:00 we headed off to the airport. Our 9½-hour flight to Singapore departed at 10:50. Entertaining a two-year-old without her own seat made this leg of our journey seem very long indeed. Many people commented on how good the Dolly-girl was, however! We arrived into Changi mid-morning and checked into our hotel (the Furama City Centre Hotel🌐). Our room was pretty basic (as expected, being free with our flight package) and we all had to share the same room. Fortunately we were all too exhausted to care. Dinner was room service, and bed came soon after.

Fri: Today began stupidly early with breakfast in the hotel. Holly demonstrated a good, if somewhat flawed, understanding of how restaurants work when she turned to the nearest passerby (fortunately a member of staff) and stated loudly "lady, go get food". After breakfast we headed out to explore our surrounds whilst the city was just getting going for the day. We focused on the Mosque/ Pagoda/ Temple streets near our hotel. Next up was a swim in the hotel pool, which Holly enjoyed. The girls returned to the room for a sleep whilst I went for a good, long walk. My route took in the entire length of Orchard Road, Fort Canning Park and a return to Mosque/ Pagoda/ Temple streets, this time with a camera. We checked out of the hotel at 20:00 and boarded our bus back to the airport. After checking in, we headed off to the lounge to eat, and then found a play area for Holly. She was particularly taken with the Koi Pond. Our 13¼-hour flight to Paris departed at 23:45. Strangely, this leg of our journey was less tedious than the flight to Singapore - perhaps aided by the brand-spanking-new aircraft we were on (more legroom, better entertainment systems, etc.)?

Sat: We arrived into Paris CDG🌐 just after 07:00. Ridiculous queues and renovation work kept us from our shuttle bus until 09:00. Andy gave the driver the wrong address for our apartment, but, after disembarking with all our luggage, we managed to stop and re-board the bus before he drove away. Fortunately our real destination🌐 wasn't too far away. Then, in the confusion, we left our travel folder (complete with passports, tickets and all our money) in the bus, and so we spent an anxious few hours trying to track them down and get them back. Fortunately our apartment hosts were extremely helpful. After such a trying morning and early afternoon we weren't up to much for the rest of the day. Andy, in particular, was glad to see the back of today!

Sun: Today was all about acclimatization and finding our feet. We began with a stroll down Rue Monge to see if we could locate a café that we remembered from our December, 2005 trip to Paris. Alas it eluded us, but the one we settled on instead was almost as good. We enjoyed our first 'croissant and chocolat chaud' breakfast! We then made our way on foot along the length of Boulevard St-Germain and over to the Musée Rodin🌐. Inside we tracked down a Van Gogh picture featured in one of Holly's reading books, which pleased her immensely. She was also very taken with the statue of Balzac naked - his very fat tummy had her laughing out loud. From there we continued west to the Eiffel Tower🌐 in order to recreate a photo of Andy and Holly from our last trip to Paris 📷. All of Paris seemed to be out enjoying the fine Spring weather. By this time we'd all run out of steam, so we returned, by Metro, to our apartment. After a midday rest we headed out again into the late afternoon sun for a stroll around Ile St-Louis🌐. This island in the Seine is much cuter than it's big brother (Ile de la Cité🌐). We stopped along the way for 'the finest ice-cream in Paris' at Berthillon. We also took in the delightful St-Gervais et St-Protais church🌐, on the north bank of the river.

Mon: I was out the door early, on a mission to review and extend my Paris Meridian/Arago Medallions project. I walked the northern half of the route, beginning on the edge of the Seine, just south of the Musée du Louvre🌐. It was a bitter-sweet walk - I located three medallions that had previously eluded me, but I also found several blank spots where I had once found medallions (the first time I did this walk, December, 2005). After reaching the northernmost point of the route, I returned to the Louvre to try one last time to locate a pair of medallions that continued to thwart me. I suspected they were in a pair of rooms that are closed to the public, but I wanted to make sure. During my search I managed to find a place where I could look down into one of the closed rooms, and, sure enough, I saw one of what I was looking for (I even managed to snap a blurry photo for the archive by poking the camera in through the bars). I was back home to my girls by 14:00. In my absence they had been to the Ménagerie (zoo) in the Jardin des Plantes🌐. The highlight for Holly was a statue of a bear, which she kissed and cuddled for quite some time (she felt that being a statue was in some way an ailment, so she wanted to comfort and care for "the poor bear"). Our late afternoon outing was to take in the Palais Royal, Place Vendôme and the Grand & Petit Palais, but the rain came in as we were leaving the Palais Royal🌐 and we called it quits early. Andy cooked us a fine dinner and we all turned in early (I, for one, was knackered after my morning's walk).

Tue: Today was to be Château de Versailles🌐 Day and we were up early and out the door in good time. We walked down to Gare d'Austerlitz🌐 to catch our train out west of the city. 45 minutes later we were at Versailles station and 10 minutes after that we were in the grounds of the palace. The main palace was (as per our usual luck) covered in scaffolding. We decided to skip the interior and head straight out to the vast gardens behind. I'm not sure what I had been expecting, but words like 'grand' and 'majestic' failed to spring to mind. The place was very big and quite dull and I couldn't help but think of better things that such enormous sums of money could have been spent on (viva la revolution!). Andy wandered more extensively than Holly and I, and she found some gems tucked away. I only saw Nature subdued and gagged by spirit level and ruler. We called it quits sooner than we'd planned and returned to the city. We all went for an afternoon sleep, and then Andy went out whilst I stayed in with a fractious Holly Dolly. I made dinner for us all and then minded the fort again whilst Andy went out.

Four+ Weeks In France - Week Two

Wed: Today we elected to do a walk from our guidebook around the Marias. The area was pleasant, but the guidebook route seemed a tad arbitrary (known in our family as Fodor's Syndrome, although the guidebook today was The Lonely Planet rather than a Fodor's guide). We ended up at the Centre Culturel George Pompidou🌐 (or Pomperdoodle Centre in Holly parlance), but decided not to explore inside after remembering our general feelings about Modern Art. The girls headed home whilst I headed south to do Part Two of my Paris Meridian/Arago Medallions project review. I began at the Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris🌐 and made my way north. My walk today was a much happier one than Part One the other day - I found many medallions that were new to me and I found no additional 'missing' medallions. I returned home in time for dinner with my girls before retiring stupidly early (I'd done a lot of walking today).

Thu: Timmy and Marina had arrived into town the evening before, so this morning's mission involved tracking them down. I guessed the correct Novotel, out of nine in Paris, on the first go - sweet! We arranged to meet at their hotel, and they had breakfast whilst we made our way over. As we were walking we realised that today was a public holiday in France (Ascension Thursday), which, coupled with the inclement weather, made us anxious about queues and closures today. After collecting Tim & Marina we headed over to the Musée des Arts et Métiers🌐, my favourite museum in Paris. It was closed. We jumped on the Metro to Châtelet with the intention of walking up through the Jardin des Tuileries🌐 to the Musée de l'Orangerie. Andy and Holly peeled off at Pont Neuf to head for home, lunch and sleep. Tim, Marina and myself continued with our walk. We arrived at the Musée de l'Orangerie🌐 at 11:30, but they were not letting in people until 13:30 - strike two. So we headed south to the Musée d'Orsay🌐. The security gates broke down when we were five places from the front of the queue. So we were stuck at the head of the queue for another 45 minutes - today was obviously jinxed. We finally got in at 13:00, but the lack of lunch sapped our enthusiasm for taking in all the museum had to offer. I walked the kids back along the south bank and then pointed them in the direction of their hotel before heading for home myself. Today was Holly's birthday, so we continued the tradition we established last year by getting a baby-sitter for the evening so that Andy and I could go out and celebrate another year of being parents. We had an excellent meal at La Volcan🌐 on Rue Thouin before taking a stroll around the Place de Contrascarpe area. It was most excellent to be out after dark for once!

Fri: Today was my day to look after Holly whilst Andy went shopping. After a slow start, the Dolly and I were out the door by 09:00. We headed over to the Jardin du Luxembourg🌐 via the back streets. We began our ramble in the parks in the area at Jardin Marco Polo🌐, where we found a playground complete with a sandpit (a Holly favourite). Moving north we came to Jardin R Cavelier-de-la-Salle🌐. Further north again we entered the Jardin du Luxembourg proper. Here we ran around, chased pigeons, scared the ducks and crash-tested the sculpture on display. All good fun. After some snacks we returned home via more backways. The Dolly was pretty exhausted by the time we got in, and barely had enough energy for some lunch before going down for a sleep. I 'computled' (pootled on one's computer) for the early afternoon. Tim & Marina came over to ours for dinner and I cooked a feck-in-the-pot pasta dish for us all to eat.

Sat: We checked out of our apartment and made our way down to Orly Airport🌐 by metro and RER. We collected our hire car (a brand new Golf TDI - sweet) and headed south on the Péage. Many hours later we arrived in Berneuil🌐, south of Saintes🌐 (where we stocked up on booze and pasta), and located our house🌐 for the next three weeks. A long day of travel that was good to finish in such pleasant surroundings.

Sun: Today was a very lazy day. By midday we'd just about managed to get up, get dressed and get breakfast. In the afternoon we did a run into Saintes railway station🌐 (a dummy run for my evening run to collect Timmy off the train) and then made our way over to the supermarket to purchase provisions. Unfortunately it was closed by the time we got there. Dinner was a tad sparse, but the extensive booze collection helped ease the privation. At 20:45 I headed back into Saintes to collect Timmy. We were both slightly surprised to see each other at the appointed time (I him because he had had to change trains in Noites, and he I because I was driving a left-hand-drive, manual car in a town I'd only been into once). We chatted late into the night.

Mon: We managed a respectable start time today in order to walk to the next town (Tesson🌐) to find its famous bakery. After a 45-minute, 4km hike along the back roads we were greeted with the burnt-out remains of the ex-bakery of Tesson. Bugger. We walked home and drove to Saintes for supplies. Home again, we finally ate our fill. The afternoon was whiled away and I cooked us a 'Tourte aux Poivrons' (Pepper Tart) for dinner. Andy whipped up a fine salad and we ate outside under a blue sky. We ran Holly ragged playing on the grass with various toys and balls - she was glad to go to bed tonight! The evening involved chat, drink and taste-testing our extensive haul of French biscuit products.

Tue: I dragged the chain today and we were off and running much later than expected. Our first stop was at the boulangerie at Gémozac🌐 for pain, eclair and pain au raisin. We then headed west to the coast. Our first stop was Talmont-sur-Gironde🌐, a tiny village famous for its Romanesque church (Église St-Radegonde) perched precariously on the edge of a cliff. Talmont obviously sees a great number of tourists during the summer (if the size of the car park was anything to go by), so it was most pleasant to have the place to ourselves. We picnicked on the cliff above the water. Moving on we found a beach (in the proximity of Meschers-sur-Gironde🌐) that suited us all. Andy and Tim relaxed on the sand whilst I minded Sleeping Beauty. We all played on the sand and ate ice-creams. By the time we left it was after 15:00, so we abandoned a plan to visit Royan🌐 and headed back inland via the Château de La Roche-Courbon🌐, near St-Porchaire. We all perambulated in the gardens, before Andy and Timmy took a tour through the interior. Holly and I played outside. We headed home and Andy cooked us a fine repast whilst the boys drank beer and were entertained by the Dolly-girl. It was not a late night given tomorrow's relatively early start time.

Four+ Weeks In France - Week Three

Wed: We effected an early start today in order to get down to Bordeaux🌐 to collect Mark off his flight. We then made our way into the city and spent the best part of an hour trying to find somewhere to park. Our plan was to take in a walk, but we got as far as the first restaurant with outdoor tables. We were treated to a delicious lunch. Andy took Holly back to the car to sleep whilst the boys continued on the walk. The heat sapped our enthusiasm a bit, but the post-lunch stroll was beneficial even if we didn't take much in. We returned to the car and made our way back out to the airport to drop Tim off for his flight back to Amsterdam. The remaining contingent made our way back north to our house in Berneuil. Andy made dinner whilst the boys drank beer and shot the breeze. The day had not been much of a day for Holly and she struggled to balance a surplus of energy with a lack of sleep - it took some time for her to settle. We chatted long into the evening.

Thu: Today was the first day of Mark's holiday and we were more than happy to indulge his desire for a day of extreme laziness. In the afternoon we gathered enough energy to go to the supermarket and buy lots of booze and some steaks. Mark cooked us the steak (or 'mistake', according to Holly) for dinner and then we made a serious effort to put a large dint our haul of booze whilst sitting outside on a balmy, honey-suckle-scented evening. Bliss...

Fri: Today began very lazily thanks to the excesses of the night before. Andy and Mark headed in to Saintes to shop and explore whilst the Dolly and I stayed at home (I was enjoying my book, Cryptonomicon, immensely). Andy cooked us another meal from our Provencal cookbook for dinner and we drank Pineau des Charentes until the sun sank into the wheatfields behind our house.

Sat: Today dawned a tad grey and drear. Our list of indoor activities was a short one, so the plan for today was formed easily - we were off to La Rochelle🌐 to see the aquarium🌐. La Rochelle was 60km north of our village and Mark dibs-ed the drive up. Once inside the boundaries of the town, a seemingly endless procession of roundabouts and signs eventually led to the aquarium. Neither Mark nor Holly had ever been to an aquarium before and both enjoyed themselves immensely. Holly's eyes were out on stalks for most of our visit and she was pretty knackered by the end. I took her back to the car and settled her for a sleep. The adults then found a place for a picnic nearby. The rain had stopped, but a cold wind was still blowing, so our picnic had a functional feel, rather than a leisurely one. Andy headed back to the car to baby-sit whilst Mark and I trekked off to find the Musée Automatons. We eventually found it after following the pedestrian equivalent of the drive to the aquarium. The museum was a little disappointing - many similar exhibits of limited interest. The one outstanding item was the very last - a seated woman with a real pen that could write "á Perriot" (the name of the maker) on a sheet of paper. We returned to the car and thence to Saintes and the supermarket. Home again, Andy cooked us a simple dinner of lentils and salad (the 'sausages' I'd purchased smelled like silage).

Sun: Another grey start to the day had us heading into Saintes instead of out to the coast. Mark, Andy and Holly went for a swim whilst I went for a wander in the drizzle. Mine was an uneventful walk around closed shops and dripping sights, whilst the chaps had a less-than-successful paddle in a far-too-cold, and far-too-deep, pool. Mark got a good few lengths in, however. Our journey home in search of lunch was punctuated with many stops to double-check the closed status of every shop and bistro we could find. We ended up back at the house and cobbled together a lunch from what we had in the larder. The afternoon was spent lazing on couches, in front of various heating devices, and reading books. Bliss! Mark braved the wind for a mid-afternoon stroll whilst Andy and I readied the Dolly-girl for another outing. Our destination was Meubles Graham Barry🌐, a French homeware shop in the middle of nowhere, run by an English couple, which stocked an incredible array of very affordable nicknacks for one's home. Mark bought a vase and a set of herb jars, and we bought a trio of metal-and-porcelain hooks for the back of our bathroom door. We returned home (via our local shop) and all collaborated on the evening meal. The evening was cold and extremely windy so we sat in front of the firebox, drank wine and read books.

Mon: Today was a public holiday in France (Whit Monday) and we got off to a very late start. We tried to get breakfast in Saintes, but it was nearly lunchtime (thus violating the strict laws of French eating out) and had to settle for coffee and pastries. We then headed out to the coast for a look around Royan🌐. The day was cool and blustery and Holly was the only one of us enjoying the sand-blasted beachfront. The public holiday made for slim pickings for eateries (exacerbated by the fact that we were ready for lunch as everything was beginning to close - we were out of sync with all things food related today). We had to make do with salad and sandwiches on the waterfront. I returned to the car with Holly for her afternoon sleep whilst Andy and Mark went off for an explore. When they returned I popped back to a shop we'd passed and bought a genuine, blue-and-white-striped, Breton top. Our next stop was the exotic sounding Jardins du Monde (Gardens of the World), complete with butterfly house. If you're ever in Royan, and are desperate for something to do, I recommend you skip this - Holly was mildly freaked out by the butterfly house (she's never been that fond of bugs) and the 'ten themed gardens' reminded us all of a pitch-and-put golf course of the Hi-De-Hi variety. Back home Mark and I knocked up a monster roast chicken dinner for the troops - nice!

Tue: Today was Mark's last day with us. We drove back down to Bordeaux and parked up further north than our last visit. First up was a very pleasant lunch at 'Café Des Quatre Soeurs'🌐, just across the road from an old style Merry-Go-Round that Holly was very taken with. After lunch we tracked down a couple of kitchen supply shops where I obtained a set of medium- and large-sized Canelé moulds (Canelé are a specialty cake from Bordeaux that our family just loves). I returned to the car with Holly for her afternoon sleep whilst Andy and Mark went off for an explore. Upon their return we had an exciting, if somewhat stressful, trip out to the airport to drop off Mark (e.g. stroppy Frenchman getting out of his car at the lights to accost us for driving too slowly in his lane). Good-byes said, we got back on the road north. We were back at Berneuil just after 17:30 and grabbed some bread for our dinner from out local shop. A snack tea and baths all round, an early night ensued. The bad news for the evening was the cancellation of Lynda's visit (she was due to arrive this coming Saturday) due to ill health. :-(