2007-06 (JUNE, 2007)

Four+ Weeks In France - Week Four

Wed: Another grey start that dissolved into heavy rain. We headed into Saintes to attend to some chores (supermarket shopping, Internet, etc.) and another instalment of the 'looking for curtain fabric for our bedroom' saga. Morale was a bit low when we got home, but lunch restored us a little. We all went for a good, long afternoon sleep and awoke refreshed to find the sun beaming in. An altogether happier afternoon was spent playing, cooking and cleaning (in preparation for Lou & Suzanne's arrival tomorrow). A day that began shakily turned into a pleasant interlude between visitors.

Thu: Today was a lazy day with just the three of us in the house - we took advantage of the lull and did very, very little. At 16:00 we got on the road to La Rochelle to go and collect Louise & Suzanne off their flight from London. We were at the airport🌐 well ahead of schedule. Holly enjoyed herself playing in the forecourt of the airport and befriended several other kiddies with whom she played tag. The girls were crammed into our wee car for the 1+ hour drive back to Berneuil. I cooked us Spag Bag for dinner and a bottle or three of wine were consumed.

Fri: Today was another dull, grey day, so it began with a leisurely breakfast followed by 'The Little Mermaid' on DVD (ostensibly for Holly, who lost interest after 10 minutes). Our energies were gathered after lunch and we headed into Saintes for an explore. We parked up outside Église St-Eutrope🌐 and descended the alleyways to the Roman Arena🌐. Built in the 1st Century AD, it is one of the oldest amphitheatres of the Roman world. In its heyday its terraces were able to hold up to 20,000 people. Nowadays it is mostly in ruin and covered in grass, but it is still an evocative place. Holly enjoyed dancing in the middle of the arena and jumping in all the puddles ("I is Dora the Explorer"). We returned to Église St-Eutrope and had a quick look around the church and its crypt. Next up was a mega-shop at Carrefour, then home again for dinner and an evening of chat and wine.

Sat: Today we headed out to the coast north of Royan. This area is outside the Gironde Estuary and is thus exposed to the full might of the Atlantic Ocean. We chose St-Palais-sur-Mer🌐 for lunch and then moved on to the Côte Sauvage (Wild Coast), beside the Forêt de La Coubre (La Coubre Forest), for our afternoon explore. Here the girls and I climbed the Phare de La Coubre (La Coubre lighthouse)🌐 and were treated to a magnificent panorama of forest and sea. Descending, we bought a few souvenirs in the gift shop (the world's most expensive poster - the Lighthouses of France - was my particular purchase) and then stopped for liquid refreshments at the local café/bar. Andy was on child-care duties and chose to head off to find some sand for Holly to play in/eat. The girls and I eventually made our way out to the sand, but could not find Andy & Holly. We sat for a while and then headed back to the car, bumping into Andy & Holly on our way. Home again and more yummy food, good wine, chat and 'The Prestige' filled our evening.

Sun: The girls were due to fly out of La Rochelle in the late afternoon, so we headed up to the Ile de Ré🌐, just north and west of La Rochelle, for the day. We arrived in time for lunch and tracked down the fabulous 'La Bouvette' restaurant🌐, just south of the island's capital, St-Martin-de-Ré🌐. Here we were treated to exquisitely prepared fish dishes and magnificent desserts (and good coffee, too). We then drove into St-Martin-de-Ré for a brief explore. The town is gorgeous, but was mobbed with people, even though 'the season' had not yet begun - definitely a place to explore further, however. All too soon it was time to drop the girls back to the airport and bid them farewell. We returned to Berneuil and had an early night.

Mon: We thought we'd run a few (shopping) errands this morning, but were defeated by the unfathomable Monday opening hours. Our only success was the week's grocery shop. Home again for lunch and sleeps and then off again to La Rochelle to collect Bobby off his flight from Dublin. We returned to Berneuil and Mrs Mac cooked us a fine dinner to go with some good wine. We chatted late into the night.

Tue: Today was a designated 'car free' day. The crew wandered up to our local shop to buy bread for breakfast. Lunchtime seemed to come around quickly and we all went into the bistro in Le Jard🌐 for a slap-up, three-course meal. Most of the house needed a sleep after lunch, but I read (and finished) my book on the couch instead. The afternoon slipped away pleasantly and it wasn't until after 16:00 that we rallied ourselves for a trip down to Pons🌐 (primarily to purchase some more Pineau des Charentes, our aperitif of choice). Dinner was a simple affair.

Four+ Weeks In France - Week Five

Wed: Today we managed what had previously eluded us all holiday - a genuine early start. We grabbed breakfast out on the road west. Our goal was the Ile d'Oléron🌐, north of Royan. Our first stop was the capital of the island, St-Pierre-d'Oléron🌐. Here we ambled around the up-market shops and visited the church (closed to the public for a funeral) and the Lanterne des Morts (Lantern of the Dead), the tallest Gothic stone tower in all of France. Next up was the seaside village of La Cotinière🌐, where we stopped for lunch at a restaurant overlooking the pretty marina. After lunch it was time to find a beach for Holly to play on - La Grande Plage🌐 adjacent to St-Trojan-les-Bains🌐. Holly was in her element and particularly enjoyed taunting the Atlantic breakers. Her clothes were soaked by the time we left the beach and she was exhausted, but very happy. The final stop on our tour of the island was an excursion on the mini tourist train linking St-Trojan-les-Bains and Pointe de Gatseau🌐. We were just in time to catch the last train for the day. We had a small spot of confusion buying tickets for this jaunt - the combined ticket price for us all implied that we had purchased the train, instead of simply an hour onboard. But no, apparently 60 minutes of being shaken and deafened did, in fact, cost 5% of our airfare from NZ to France. Holly enjoyed herself, though. Home again and another simple dinner under a striking sunset.

Thu: After yesterday's road excursion, we were keen to stay nearer to home today. A slow start had us in Saintes for 11:00. I did some Internet stuff whilst Bob and Andy took Holly to the park. We met up again and had a pleasant lunch in a random bistro. Then it was home again for sleeps for most of us. Much, much later we jumped into the car for a long-postponed trek around some of our local Romanesque churches (an Andy favourite). First up was the church in the pretty village of Rioux🌐. Next was the acoustic wonder in Rétaud🌐. It was well past Holly's bedtime by this time, so we headed for home. With a lightning-speed turnaround, Andy and I were out again, for dinner at the local gourmet restaurant, 'La Rustica', in St-Léger🌐. High expectations diluted the pleasure in our second meal out without the Dolly Girl - it was nice to be out of an evening, though!

Fri: Today was Bob's last day with us, so we headed back up to the Ile de Ré🌐 for a bit more of an explore (again aided by an early 'on the road' time). Our first stop on the island was the gorgeous village of La Flotte🌐. Here we had a late breakfast, purchased a matching pair of tops for myself and Holly (oh dear, oh dear) and did a quick lap of the harbour. Lunch was a repeat visit to 'La Bouvette'🌐 - yum! Sated we headed to the north-east tip of the island to see the Phare des Baleines🌐, a pair of lighthouses dating from 1682 and 1854. A set of 'fish locks' (an ancient form of bulk fishing) can be found on this point, too. Our final hour on the island was spent shopping and strolling in St-Martin-de-Ré (Andy bought a necklace and a ring). We bid Bob a fond farewell at La Rochelle airport before returning south to pack up our household in preparation for our journey north the following morning.

Sat: We said goodbye to our little house in Berneuil at around 08:00. We got on the paige north and were in Tours🌐 by 11:00. Tours impressed us immediately by having a road system as bad as Bordeaux. We'd basically given up trying to find a park, and were heading out of the city, when we finally found a spot to pull up. We walked back into the centre on a specific mission to find an indoor decor shop, Madura, that Andy and Mark had seen in Bordeaux. Our mission to find curtains for our bedroom came close to fulfilment when we found something we both agreed on. Unfortunately they were out of stock. Cak. We went and had a very pleasant lunch at a random bistro to commiserate. After lunch we struck out east and south to see if the Chateau at Chenonceau🌐 was worth a visit. The short answer is 'yes', but bring lots of cash and have plenty of time and try not to have a sleepy two-year-old in tow. We didn't go in, and instead vowed to come back to this area on our next France Trip. Our accommodation for the night was in Amboise🌐, a thoroughly gorgeous little town (that will probably be the base for the aforementioned return trip). Unfortunately, unbeknownst to us, our B&B host had e-mailed us ten days prior to cancel our booking due to ill health in the family. She was most apologetic when we turned up and immediately arranged an alternative at a nearby hotel. We were happily ensconced by 15:30 and mucked about for a good long while before dragging our bones into the town centre. We we too early for dinner, but were not at all convinced that Holly would last the distance, so we grabbed some picnic supplies and had a family picnic tea. After a long day of travelling we retired early.

Sun: Up at 06:45 for our drive north to Paris. We dropped the car back at Orly airport just before 10:00 (we'd put 3665km on the clock over the past 21 days) and then bundled us and our luggage onto a train to St-Germain and our hotel🌐. Next up was lunch at a nearby café/bistro where we were subjected to the curiosity of the owner's wife and daughter for the duration of our stay (Holly and the girl exchanged sketches, though). I had one last item on my Paris Meridian/Arago Medallions 'to do' list (yup, I'm obsessed), so I ducked off for an hour whilst the girls slept. I returned to mind the fort and Andy went out for one last shop. All back together we decided to fill our late afternoon and early evening with a good, long walk through the St-Germain back streets. We visited the Abbey of St-Germain-des-Prés🌐 on our wander and then headed into the streets between the Boulevard and the River, where the evening bustle was just ramping up (this is my favourite part of Paris of an evening). We found an eatery where we had a slap up meal (complete with a 1l stein of Leffe for me). A wee bit more wandering had us back to our hotel (after a detour via St-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet🌐, across the road from our lodgings). We all slept well after a tiring day.

Mon: We breakfasted on pastries from a nearby boulangerie and grabbed a stand-up coffee to go with it. All packed up, we headed out to CDG on the airport shuttle. We boarded our flight to Singapore just after midday. We were lucky enough to score an adjacent seat for Holly to sit in, so it was a rather more comfortable leg than either of the outbound flights.

Tue: We got into Singapore early in the morning and checked into the Furama City Centre Hotel🌐 again. Holly and I went straight to bed, but Andy stayed up to have breakfast. We didn't emerge until the evening when we took the Metro up to Little India for dinner. We found a great little 'hole in the wall' full of locals and had a great meal. We returned to the hotel via Chinatown, where we bought Holly a sound-activated whistling bird in a cage (which she had spotted on, and had been wanting since, our initial stop-over).

Wed: We had another day to kill in Singapore, but didn't have a hotel room to use as a base, so we headed out to the airport and checked into the Transit Hotel. From here we all got to do some shopping and some sleeping - all very civilised. Our flight to Christchurch departed just after 22:00 and we were again lucky enough to score a seat for Holly.

Thu: Ma collected us from Christchurch airport and took us back to their house. The rest of the day was one of R&R and catching up. Milly & Mike came over for dinner.

Fri: Holly & I were up very early and kept each other company until the household awoke. After breakfast we were back out at the airport to board our flight back to Wellington. Milly & Mike met us there for a coffee - the last time we'll see them before they emigrate to the UK. We were back in our own house by lunchtime - tired, but very happy.