Tag Archives: Beach

Beautiful Provençal Scenery

16 Dec

Two weeks already!  Actually I have been keeping busy.  One topic I have been learning about is creating panoramic images using software to stitch multiple overlapping photos seamlessly together. Using this technique it is not difficult to create an image that is equivalent to having been taken using a 130 megapixel sensor. I tried uploading a couple of examples here but WordPress did not want to play nicely with them so I gave up.  But you can take a look on my Flickr page, here, if you are interested.  The captions that belong with them are…

1. The first Gorge du Verdon panorama.  Made using 10 portrait photos exported from Aperture as 8-bit TIFFs.  Calico (photo stitching software) created the panorama as a TIFF which I imported back into Aperture for a little post-processing.

2. In the village of Sainte-Croix there is a great viewing deck.  This image was made from 9 portrait photos exported from Aperture as full sized TIFFs, 66MB each.  Calico created the panorama as a 430MB TIFF which I imported back into Aperture for a little post-processing.  Then exported as 100% JPG and re-imported to get this image.

The weather has been awesome.  Frosts on many mornings but followed by clear sunny days and as long as you can stay in the sun and not in any of the slight breezes it is warm and comfortable.  We have been on a few outings and spent time catching up with folks.  Here are a few photos to tell the rest of the story.

Looking from the car park of the the 'cooperatif' after stocking up on local wine.  The tower overlooking the village of Taradeau is also the start of a walking trail that runs along the ridge to Les Arcs.

Looking from the car park of the the ‘cooperatif’ after stocking up on local wine. The tower overlooking the village of Taradeau is also the start of a walking trail that runs along the ridge to Les Arcs.

There are good views from near the tower but we couldn't get over how much smoke was in the air.  It had been a frosty morning and the air was very still but this was almost noon.  I remember being very surprised when we first came to Le Thoronet with the number of fires around the district where people just burnt off all their prunings and garden waste.  Since then we have heard that restrictions are being introduced.

There are good views from near the tower but we couldn’t get over how much smoke was in the air. It had been a frosty morning and the air was very still but this was almost noon. I remember being very surprised when we first came to Le Thoronet with the number of fires around the district where people just burnt off all their prunings and garden waste. Since then we have heard that restrictions are being introduced.

The day was perfectly still so I packed the tripod and camera and drove to Lac de Carcès to find the water looking absolutely mirror-like.  You might just see the road near the summit - that is the access to La Regalade, where we stayed last winter and will return at Xmas.

The day was perfectly still so I packed the tripod and camera and drove to Lac de Carcès to find the water looking absolutely mirror-like. You might just see the road near the summit – that is the access to La Regalade, where we stayed last winter and will return at Xmas.

While taking photos of the lake I saw this otter head into a sheltered alcove so I went to have look.  It was very shy and scarpered for a small island in the middle of the lake almost as soon as I was able to get any view at all.

While taking photos of the lake I saw this otter head into a sheltered alcove so I went to have look. It was very shy and scarpered for a small island in the middle of the lake almost as soon as I was able to get any view at all.

Back at the reflections, this is a panorama made from three photos.

Back at the reflections, this is a panorama made from three photos.

On Sunday the 8th we went for a drive to La Garonne, a beach near Toulon.  Perfect weather again and some rather nice looking places to live.

On Sunday the 8th we went for a drive to La Garonne, a beach near Toulon. Perfect weather again and some rather nice looking places to live.

On the Monday we went up to the Gorge du Verdon and it was looking stunning. I particularly wanted to take some series of photos that could be turned into panoramas later.

On the Monday we went up to the Gorge du Verdon and it was looking stunning. I particularly wanted to take some series of photos that could be turned into panoramas later.

This is across Lac de Sainte-Croix, the lake created when the Verdon was dammed, looking over the village of Sainte-Croix.

This is across Lac de Sainte-Croix, the lake created when the Verdon was dammed, looking over the village of Sainte-Croix.

This is how Sainte-Croix looks in the afternoon sun from the opposite side of the lake.  It really was a beautiful day.

This is how Sainte-Croix looks in the afternoon sun from the opposite side of the lake. It really was a beautiful day.

At the salt flats near Hyères on the 10th there were a range of wading birds.  Not being a bird expert I will stand to be corrected on the identifications but I think this is a grey heron.

At the salt flats near Hyères on the 10th there were a range of wading birds. Not being a bird expert I will stand to be corrected on the identifications but I think this is a grey heron.

Cormorants sunning themselves and flamingoes not doing much at all. We watched for about an hour but there was not much variety.

Cormorants sunning themselves and flamingoes not doing much at all. We watched for about an hour but there was not much variety.

"Get out of the way flamingo!"

“Get out of the way flamingo!”

We drove to La Tour Fondue which is at the end of the Giens peninsula.  It was pretty - by the time the sun came out from behind some clouds, the seagulls that had been sitting on the jetty and completing my picture had gone.  It is hard to get reliable help!

We drove to La Tour Fondue which is at the end of the Giens peninsula. It was pretty – by the time the sun came out from behind some clouds, the seagulls that had been sitting on the jetty and completing my picture had gone. It is hard to get reliable help!

Back at the salt marshes in the setting sun the flamingoes were at least starting to move about.

Back at the salt marshes in the setting sun the flamingoes were at least starting to move about.

In the same area, this is a juvenile flamingo.  They gain the pink colouring as they mature.  The blue line is the reflection of a lamp post.

In the same area, this is a juvenile flamingo. They gain the pink colouring as they mature. The blue line is the reflection of a lamp post.

We have a busy week coming up so you will hear about that in about ten days.  Until then, be good!

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An Epic Road Trip

25 Nov

We have covered a lot of ground this week.  It started in the Charentes on Monday.  We had a farewell lunch with John and April as well as packing and getting the house ready for John and Gaye’s return (yes, I know, two different Johns makes it confusing).  In the end we were finished early and that was just as well because John and Gaye arrived about an hour and a half ahead of schedule.  It was 19h00 when they pulled in and I went outside to move our car and it already had ice on it.

In John and April's shed - a set of racks once used for drying wine bottles.

In John and April’s shed – a set of racks once used for drying wine bottles.

The bottles are all hand made.  When stood on a flat surface they typically lean to one side!

The bottles are all hand made. When stood on a flat surface they typically lean to one side!

In the morning we hit the road at 10h30 after debriefing with John and Gaye, hearing a little about their trip and saying goodbye to Archie and Daisy (the cats).  Our first stop was Bordeaux and although it was cold the weather was quite sunny.  We parked fairly centrally and walked through some of the older parts of the city before it was time to head to our hotel.

The water mirror at Bordeaux.  We had seen this on a recent TDF and were lucky to have parked not too far from it.

The water mirror at Bordeaux. We had seen this on a recent TDF and were lucky to have parked not too far from it.

Looking back towards the Place de la Bourse.

Looking back towards the Place de la Bourse.

The Porte Cailhau if I recall correctly is the best preserved of the gates to the city of Bordeaux.

The Porte Cailhau if I recall correctly is the best preserved of the gates to the city of Bordeaux.

This was one of a series of sculptures that we came across.

This was one of a series of sculptures that we came across.

All the statuary from this fountain, and there was a lot of it on both flanks, disappeared during WWII and was rediscovered in Angers safe and sound a couple of years later.

All the statuary from this fountain, and there was a lot of it on both flanks, disappeared during WWII and was rediscovered in Angers safe and sound a couple of years later.

We had to scrape a good layer of ice off the car windows on Wednesday morning before driving to Arcachon for a quick look at the coast.  The day started cold, clear and still but on the coast the breeze made it feel very chilly.  La Teste-de-Buch is actually a bit south of Arcachon and is a summer holiday spot where good friends of ours have spent some family time but at this time of year it is very quiet.  The area from Arcachon to Biarritz down the coast is flat and largely covered in pine plantations.  Reminiscent of driving from Rotorua to Taupo or up around the Kaipara Harbour.

Us at the beach at Arcachon!  It was too cold to do much else.

Us at the beach at Arcachon! It was too cold to do much else.

The weather was a bit stormy by the time we arrived in Biarritz in mid-afternoon and we ended up in a bar ducking for cover from the rain.

It was windy and the sea was well stirred at Biarritz.  All the same, some hardy surfers, about a dozen of them, ventured out in the short time that we were watching.

It was windy and the sea was well stirred at Biarritz. All the same, some hardy surfers, about a dozen of them, ventured out in the short time that we were watching.

Most people take photos of this island/rock from the other side as an icon of Biarritz.  That looked like rubbish with the stormy and rainy conditions so I tried this.

Most people take photos of this island/rock from the other side as an icon of Biarritz. That looked like rubbish with the stormy and rainy conditions so I tried this.

Looking back towards to little island with the protected marina in the foreground and the Grande Plage and city in the background.  Being exposed to the Atlantic Ocean they must get some huge storms hitting here, hence the fortified marina!

Looking back towards to little island with the protected marina in the foreground and the Grande Plage and city in the background. Being exposed to the Atlantic Ocean they must get some huge storms hitting here, hence the fortified marina!

Looking south down the coast as it started raining.  Time to put the camera away I think.

Looking south down the coast as it started raining. Time to put the camera away I think.

It was only a 45 minute drive from Biarritz to San Sebastián in Spain on Thursday morning and we had plenty of time to look around before finding a tapas bar for lunch.  The place seemed to be a locals type of haunt, everything seemed to be €2 whether it was a glass of wine or items of food.  For some reason there was also sand scattered on the floor.  We did a bit more exploring after lunch and before heading onwards to Pamplona.

The beach at San Sebastián is protected by an island in the centre of the bay's entrance.  Part of the island is on the left in this shot.

The beach at San Sebastián is protected by an island in the centre of the bay’s entrance. Part of the island is on the left in this shot.

The weather was not too much better at San Sebastián on Thursday.

The weather was not too much better at San Sebastián on Thursday.

But San Sebastián does have a nice beach.

But San Sebastián does have a nice beach.

We found a charming little tapas bar for lunch with an owner who was more than likely a bit of a character.  The food was great and cheap too.

We found a charming little tapas bar for lunch with an owner who was more than likely a bit of a character. The food was great and cheap too.

Stopped a couple of times on the way from San Sebastián to Pamplona to take photos.  At the second stop we saw seven large birds of prey soaring and we think they were Griffin’s Vultures.  This was quite high up at the exit of the last tunnel we were to pass through.  We got hurried back to the car by the worsening weather and just as we got in sleet started falling.  We had seen a snowplough standing with its engine running at the first stop.

On the way from San Sebastián to Pamplona we made a couple of photo stops in the hills.  This is overlooking the village of Berastegi.  There was no other reason for the shot than I liked the scenery and the autumn colours looked so intense.

On the way from San Sebastián to Pamplona we made a couple of photo stops in the hills. This is overlooking the village of Berastegi. There was no other reason for the shot than I liked the scenery and the autumn colours looked so intense.

Our second stop.  That is the direction we are heading.

Our second stop. That is the direction we are heading.

Less than ten minutes later and the weather is closing in.  By the time we got back to the car there was just a small amount of sleet falling.

Less than ten minutes later and the weather is closing in. By the time we got back to the car there was just a small amount of sleet falling.

After arriving in Pamplona we walked into the old city under threatening weather.  Luckily I had a plastic shopping bag for the camera because I was not carrying my camera pack.  We explored for a while and saw where the bulls are released from for the annual running.  The the rain finally chased us towards shelter.  It was way too early for dinner so we stopped for some tapas and wine.  After that we started wandering again but only got 15 minutes before the rain was a problem again.  Later we stopped for dinner and to shelter from the rain at Café Iruña.  This is meant to have been a favourite haunt of Ernest Hemingway’s.  The food was delicious but we only had one dish each as this was our second stop for the evening.

Friday was spent further exploring Pamplona and clocking up over 20km on foot.

Since we were in Pamplona I had to show you this photo.  The red sign down there identifies this as the start of the annual running of the bulls.  I assume that the small car park with the big rails is a holding pen.

Since we were in Pamplona I had to show you this photo. The red sign down there identifies this as the start of the annual running of the bulls. I assume that the small car park with the big rails is a holding pen.

Once released they head off up the street past the coach.

Once released they head off up the street past the coach.

This shot was an hour later and it is dark.  The weather was a bit wet so we sheltered in a bar (sampling their wares of course!) until it was clear enough to wander again.  This rotunda is in the Plaza del Castillo.

This shot was an hour later and it is dark. The weather was a bit wet so we sheltered in a bar (sampling their wares of course!) until it was clear enough to wander again. This rotunda is in the Plaza del Castillo.

The Plaza del Castillo again.

The Plaza del Castillo again.

The interior of the Iruña Café was magnificent and their tapas selection was very good too.  Legend has it that Ernest Hemingway used to frequent the place.

The interior of the Iruña Café was magnificent and their tapas selection was very good too. Legend has it that Ernest Hemingway used to frequent the place.

The Town Hall looking great.

The Town Hall looking great.

The walls of the old town were heavily fortified (often to defend against the French!) and the defences were continually upgraded to deal with new threats.

The walls of the old town were heavily fortified (often to defend against the French!) and the defences were continually upgraded to deal with new threats.

France Gate - Pamplona is on one of the main routes of the El Camino de Santiago.  The pilgrims enter the city through this gate.  The chains and drawbridge are original from construction in 1553.

France Gate – Pamplona is on one of the main routes of the El Camino de Santiago. The pilgrims enter the city through this gate. The chains and drawbridge are original from construction in 1553.

I should have included something to give this context; this sculpture is about 1.6m tall.

I should have included something to give this context; this sculpture is about 1.6m tall.

A street view in Pamplona.

A street view in Pamplona.

Another one but more colourful and not atypical in Pamplona

Another one but more colourful and not atypical in Pamplona

Another street not far from the bullring (not on the path of the bulls).

Another street not far from the bullring (not on the path of the bulls).

The Pamplona bullring seems to have undergone a capacity expansion with a modern upper layer.

The Pamplona bullring seems to have undergone a capacity expansion with a modern upper layer.

I don't know what the banner is about but this is the entrance to the bullring and the end of the road for the bulls.

I don’t know what the banner is about but this is the entrance to the bullring and the end of the road for the bulls.

The food line up at the bar where we stopped for lunch.

The food line up at the bar where we stopped for lunch.

Back in Plaza del Castilla in the daytime.  A little too much ripple on the water for a good reflection shot.

Back in Plaza del Castilla in the daytime. A little too much ripple on the water for a good reflection shot.

We left Pamplona on Saturday at about 10h00 heading for Lerida.   The roads most of the way were péage (French toll road) standard but without the toll.  There was a section of 60~80km in the middle that was the old slow road but it was very scenic.  Didn’t stop to get out and take photos because of the usual difficulty with finding a suitable spot and also because it was blowing like crazy, easily 50kph. Luckily it was blowing with us.  The final new section of highway approaching Lerida was over 100km of very new construction.

Not much further along the road and this unfolds before us.  The photo struggles to do it justice; on the rightmost rock column there is a separate sliver standing like a dagger.

Not much further along the road and this unfolds before us. The photo struggles to do it justice; on the rightmost rock column there is a separate sliver standing like a dagger.

Only another couple of kilometres and now on the sunny side of the rock formation.  The village of Riglos is nestled near the base.

Only another couple of kilometres and now on the sunny side of the rock formation. The village of Riglos is nestled near the base.

An example of some of the beautiful scenery between Pamplona and Lerida.

An example of some of the beautiful scenery between Pamplona and Lerida.

We drove up an unmarked gravel track to take the previous photo and at the side were these retired road markers.  It was nearly noon and there was still ice on the puddles!

We drove up an unmarked gravel track to take the previous photo and at the side were these retired road markers. It was nearly noon and there was still ice on the puddles!

Once in Lerida we walked into the town and found the elevators to get up to the hilltop cathedral and castle.  We spent a couple of hours up there including watching the sun set (17h30).  Went back down to the town at about 18h30 which was now full of life but the main strip was all fancy boutiques so it took a while to find somewhere to even get a glass of wine.  After having that we searched for food but didn’t find anything of interest.  Back at the hotel we got directions to the quarter where all the restaurants were meant to be but it was underwhelming.  We were looking for something like we had enjoyed in Pamplona – a bar with tapas/pintxos lined up on the counter. We were disappointed and ended up in an overpriced pub.  It seems that style of food is not here, you have to order everything off the menu.  We had very much enjoyed our food experiences in San Sebastián and Pamplona.

The bridge an elevator that got us up to the Castle and cathedral in Lerida.  Just exiting the lift there is a viewing platform that allows a great view over the countryside.

The bridge an elevator that got us up to the Castle and cathedral in Lerida. Just exiting the lift there is a viewing platform that allows a great view over the countryside.

Everywhere we looked around here there were Catalan flags - on proper flagpoles and draped out of apartment windows.

Everywhere we looked around here there were Catalan flags – on proper flagpoles and draped out of apartment windows.

The site was huge - the castle in the background and the entrance to the cloisters on the right.

The site was huge – the castle in the background and the entrance to the cloisters on the right.

There was an uninterrupted 360˚ view from the top of the hill in the centre of Lerida.  This was taken not long before sunset (36 minutes) and the snow is tinted pink because of that.

There was an uninterrupted 360˚ view from the top of the hill in the centre of Lerida. This was taken not long before sunset (36 minutes) and the snow is tinted pink because of that.

The business end of the cathedral in the late sun.

The business end of the cathedral in the late sun.

Sunset was 17h31 and this was 17h15.  I changed to my 300mm zoom lens with CPL to get some shots of the snow.

Sunset was 17h31 and this was 17h15. I changed to my 300mm zoom lens with CPL to get some shots of the snow.

Most of the lower areas in shade but still sun on the mountains.

Most of the lower areas in shade but still sun on the mountains.

The view goes forever in the other directions as well.  This is 7 minutes after sunset.

The view goes forever in the other directions as well. This is 7 minutes after sunset.

Another shot of the cathedral tower but now under artificial lighting.

Another shot of the cathedral tower but now under artificial lighting.

Back down in the main shopping precinct the place was coming to life.

Back down in the main shopping precinct the place was coming to life.

We left Lerida on Sunday morning and drove again parallel to the Pyrenees foothills through some beautiful scenery including Montserrat in the distance.  We were in the centre of Girona by 14h30 but the shadows were already long so getting good photos was a challenge.  Girona has a huge cathedral and to make it even more imposing it is situated on the top of a hill.  Check it out on Wikipedia.

A pedestrian bridge into the old town part of Girona with the cathedral on the hill above.

A pedestrian bridge into the old town part of Girona with the cathedral on the hill above.

Same bridge, different angle.

Same bridge, different angle.

There are a lot of steps to get up the the entrance to the cathedral and even when you get there it is still a very tall structure.  Wikipedia tells me that the main part is 45m tall.

There are a lot of steps to get up the the entrance to the cathedral and even when you get there it is still a very tall structure. Wikipedia tells me that the main part is 45m tall.

I left it too late to do these shots along the river and the contrast went ballistic as the sun dropped low.  Still, it is a pretty location.

I left it too late to do these shots along the river and the contrast went ballistic as the sun dropped low. Still, it is a pretty location.

Note to self - plan shots better in future taking care of the available light!

Note to self – plan shots better in future taking care of the available light!

The sun is gone, just some pink clouds left.

The sun is gone, just some pink clouds left.

Back at the bridge after dark.

Back at the bridge after dark.

And now for something completely different…

I have decided to start a new themed collection - park benches, wherever they are.

I have decided to start a new themed collection – park benches, wherever they are.

Another instalment in the newly launched park benches series.

Another instalment in the newly launched park benches series.

So that is a slightly cryptic account of our week travelling down the western side of France and across the northern part of Spain.

Digital Asset Management – Organising Photos

21 Oct

Most of what I spent my time on this week will not be the subject of curiosity for most but I will share some of it for those who might be interested.  The subject is DAM, or Digital Asset Management or in this case, organising my photos.  I use Apple’s Aperture application for managing and post processing my photos and have done for about three years.  All my photos in that time are filed according to a simple but robust method so I can generally find what I want.  Before that I had the usual folders all over the place, inconsistent naming, no ratings, usually no keywords, no geotagging and pretty much a mess.  And I imported all that chaos of photos and folders into Aperture at the start and put it all together in a folder called “Imported” while it waited for proper attention.  It amounted to about 25,000 photos (and some scanned prints) dating back to 1996.  I had always intended to tidy it up but it is not a job to be done piecemeal.  So when the weather turned a bit wet and kept us indoors at the start of this week I decided to tackle this long deferred job and get it all done as quickly as possible.  I had given the approach to it plenty of thought over a long period so I knew exactly how I would go about it without it all collapsing into a total mess.  Still, it took about 30 hours over three days to get it sorted.  Photos from different events are now all in separate, dated and appropriately named projects, keywords have been rationalised and hierarchically structured, many more people’s names have been added, some geotagging is done and lots of duplicates have been eliminated.  Now my entire photo library is structured consistently and ready for the long haul.  And finding things is a breeze.  It was a lot of work but I think it will be worth it.  Many of the photos are not great shots but they do represent important memories with family and friends and as such they can’t be re-acquired.  Hence the need to properly organise them so they can be retrieved at will (I already have a robust backup system in place).

Following up on a loose end from the last post, Leanne did find me some information on the Michelin Plaques.  The information comes from a French website here, and is very badly translated automatically by Google.  So it must be read with a certain flexibility of interpretation!  Anyway…

With the rise of the automobile, and travels more “distant”, the question arises to move in space, and with the greatest possible safety …

The villages are not then listed. We must seek help on the road at every intersection … André Michelin then finds the idea of ​​plates showing the name of the common passage, on which it is often proposed to slow down from the safety of children, accompanied the words “thank you.”  

After World War I, he developed this idea by grouping posts all useful information. It uses plates enamelled lava, very durable and resistant to weathering, mounted on concrete supports.

The idea is so good and makes such services it is validated by the administration in 1931. It is then added traffic directions, priorities and other recommendations. All with Michelin advertising placed on the panel.

In 1946, a policy statement puts some order in all this by standardizing the information on the signs, and banning all donations panels, let alone with an indication of sponsor …

However, Michelin continues to provide panels, taking advantage of his knowledge, but by selling them to the administration.

In 1971, Michelin completely ceases to manufacture these panels enamelled lava.

On Thursday the weather was looking quite nice and we went to Poitiers, less than an hour away.  As usual there is more history than my little brain can absorb in one sitting so I resorted to taking photos as normal.  We only looked closely at a couple of the many monumental buildings but they both had very detailed and fine stone carving.  They were Église Notre-Dame la Grande and Cathédrale Saint-Pierre.

Cathédrale Saint-Pierre in Poitiers was about 800 years in the making and has beautiful carved stone arches.

Cathédrale Saint-Pierre in Poitiers was about 800 years in the making and has beautiful carved stone arches.

More detail of the central carving depicting judgement day.

More detail of the central carving depicting judgement day.

This is in the centre of Poitiers and proves that there are still people in France!  It was noticed that last week's photos in particular did not include any with people in until the last three specifically of Leanne.

This is in the centre of Poitiers and proves that there are still people in France! It was noticed that last week’s photos in particular did not include any with people in until the last three specifically of Leanne.

Église Notre-Dame la Grande basking in the afternoon sun.

Église Notre-Dame la Grande basking in the afternoon sun.

Again I managed to allow people into my photo, this time of the front of Église Notre-Dame la Grande.

Again I managed to allow people into my photo, this time of the front of Église Notre-Dame la Grande.

Like St Peter's Cathedral, Église Notre-Dame la Grande was adorned with fine stone carving depicting biblical scenes.

Like St Peter’s Cathedral, Église Notre-Dame la Grande was adorned with fine stone carving depicting biblical scenes.

Église Notre-Dame la Grande showing the story of Adam & Eve on the left and in the centre are the prophets holding scrolls with their prophecies for the life of Jesus. Of course I didn't know this but someone whose image was returned by Google Images did seem to know.

Église Notre-Dame la Grande showing the story of Adam & Eve on the left and in the centre are the prophets holding scrolls with their prophecies for the life of Jesus. Of course I didn’t know this but someone whose image was returned by Google Images did seem to know.

The interior of Église Notre-Dame la Grande was very dark so not a very clear photo I am afraid.  The painting is a 19th century embellishment.

The interior of Église Notre-Dame la Grande was very dark so not a very clear photo I am afraid. The painting is a 19th century embellishment.

The Town Hall, on a different and altogether grander square with lots of open space.

The Town Hall, on a different and altogether grander square with lots of open space.

Our other outing for this week was to Île d’Oléron on the coast of this area of central western France.  By the time we got to the coast it was a brilliant day and I for one was definitely overdressed.

Porte des Salines is on Île d'Oléron.  We had been given a rave review for this little restaurant which occupied some converted fishermen's sheds on the jetty.  In spite of the sign on the gable saying "OUVERT" it was firmly closed and would be until March 2014.

Porte des Salines is on Île d’Oléron. We had been given a rave review for this little restaurant which occupied some converted fishermen’s sheds on the jetty. In spite of the sign on the gable saying “OUVERT” it was firmly closed and would be until March 2014.

So we headed a little further along the south side of the Île d'Oléron to a lookout and beach access point.

So we headed a little further along the south side of the Île d’Oléron to a lookout and beach access point.

Looking approximately south down the beach.  Probably heaving in the summer but nice and peaceful in mid-October.

Looking approximately south down the beach. Probably heaving in the summer but nice and peaceful in mid-October.

Bleeding shadow...

Bleeding shadow…

The view to the north-west and into the Atlantic.

The view to the north-west and into the Atlantic.

And another one for good measure.  Soon we will be dreaming of weather like this so for now we enjoy.

And another one for good measure. Soon we will be dreaming of weather like this so for now we enjoy.

"WC on the floor for customers" - really?!?  This was in the café where we had lunch at Château d'Oléron.  It is an example of how badly wrong Google Translate can be!

“WC on the floor for customers” – really?!? This was in the café where we had lunch at Château d’Oléron. It is an example of how badly wrong Google Translate can be!

The harbour at Château d'Oléron is flanked by a rather large citadel. An historic photo shows the entire area in flames in 1945.

The harbour at Château d’Oléron is flanked by a rather large citadel. An historic photo shows the entire area in flames in 1945.

Here’s a thought… Standing on the top of the Citadel wall with nothing between us and a 25m drop onto rocks and certain death we both realised the tremendous value in not having life insurance.  Neither of us had any incentive to push the other off.  Life is good!

Inside the citadel the arsenal has been restored and the grounds seemed to be in use by a school group doing sport.

Inside the citadel the arsenal has been restored and the grounds seemed to be in use by a school group doing sport.

Looking across the small harbour to the citadel.

Looking across the small harbour to the citadel.

I have discovered where all the paint companies send the colours that didn't sell in the last season.

I have discovered where all the paint companies send the colours that didn’t sell in the last season.

Joined at the hip.

Joined at the hip.

Some of these colourful buildings seemed to be retailers or summer equipment hire places.

Some of these colourful buildings seemed to be retailers or summer equipment hire places.

Others you just couldn't tell.

Others you just couldn’t tell.

And my sad story for the week – I broke my phone.  Life was not so good on this day.

This is what happens when you leave your iPhone on the duvet then in the process of searching for it you knock it on to the floor.  The fall was 50cm on to a wooden surface.  I didn't even see it go, I just heard it clatter and when I retrieved it this was the result.  So that means a two hour trip to Nantes to visit the nearest Apple Store where they will relieve me of €200 to €300 to replace the screen.  Bugger!  It does still work though and the screen protector is holding all the shards of glass in place for the moment.

This is what happens when you leave your iPhone on the duvet then in the process of searching for it you knock it on to the floor. The fall was 50cm on to a wooden surface. I didn’t even see it go, I just heard it clatter and when I retrieved it this was the result. So that means a two hour trip to Nantes to visit the nearest Apple Store where they will relieve me of €200 to €300 to replace the screen. Bugger! It does still work though and the screen protector is holding all the shards of glass in place for the moment.

Until next week when I am sure to have some ugly stories about getting my phone repaired.  I am not looking forward to it.

Back to Summer

23 Sep

The weather back in Provence has been lovely.  Nice warm days, but not too hot, between 23˚C and 27˚C.  We had the Mistral blowing for a couple of days but thankfully that has stopped now.  Once the sun sets the temperature drops fairly quickly to remind you that the season is changing.  Overnight lows have been 12˚C to 15˚C, nice for sleeping but too cool to stay outside with a glass of wine until midnight.  Although come to think of it we still did that once this week and it wasn’t the time I ended up with a headache!

So given that we are on notice that this very pleasant weather will end soon we have been trying to make the most of it.  We have had one day at the beach (it was meant to be two but on the second day I woke with a headache and it only cleared at lunchtime, too late to go).  We have been exploring the scenery around Sainte-Victoire, near Aix-en-Provence.  We spent a day looking around the area surrounding Gourdon, a hilltop village near Grasse.  We also spent some time relaxing here at Sue’s place and doing domestic stuff like going to the supermarket.  All in all a very pleasant week.

Something that did end up taking a big block of time was installing iOS 7 on my phone and dealing with things that misbehaved as a consequence.  I seem to have it mainly working OK now and I am generally impressed with it.

Anyway, here are some photos…

Sue's cat, Jazz sitting on her car in the shade.  It's a tough life being a cat!

Sue’s cat, Jazz sitting on her car in the shade. It’s a tough life being a cat!

Perched on rocks overlooking the river Loup is the village of Gourdon.  The last time we were here cloud came in blocking most of the view to the Mediterranean.

Perched on rocks overlooking the river Loup is the village of Gourdon. The last time we were here cloud came in blocking most of the view to the Mediterranean.

Next to perfumeries the most popular business in the tourist village of Gourdon is running a café.

Next to perfumeries the most popular business in the tourist village of Gourdon is running a café.

Up the hill behind Gourdon was a bit like a moonscape.  The views were great.

Up the hill behind Gourdon was a bit like a moonscape. The views were great.

Looking out over the village of Gourdon towards Nice and the airport.

Looking out over the village of Gourdon towards Nice and the airport.

Leanne found some ripe blackberries...

Leanne found some ripe blackberries…

Leanne's harvest from which she made us a blackberry and apple crumble.  Served hot with vanilla ice-cream, excellent!

Leanne’s harvest from which she made us a blackberry and apple crumble. Served hot with vanilla ice-cream, excellent!

A quiet mid-week day at the beach.  This one is Plage de la Garonnette which is between Fréjus and Sainte-Maxime.  Sitting on the beach was lovely but even Leanne had to concede that the water was too cold for swimming.  I only went as deep as my big toe.

A quiet mid-week day at the beach. This one is Plage de la Garonnette which is between Fréjus and Sainte-Maxime. Sitting on the beach was lovely but even Leanne had to concede that the water was too cold for swimming. I only went as deep as my big toe.

Looking back into the bay at Garonnette.  This spot seemed popular for kids sailing.  There were Lasers and Hobby Cats lined up on the shore and lots of school-aged kids about.

Looking back into the bay at Garonnette. This spot seemed popular for kids sailing. There were Lasers and Hobby Cats lined up on the shore and lots of school-aged kids about.

This train of Optimists had obviously finished their sailing for the day and were under tow back to the club house.

This train of Optimists had obviously finished their sailing for the day and were under tow back to the club house.

We had heard good things about the Wine Cooperative at Taradeau so we dropped in for a look.  Nice shop, friendly staff, good wine, tasting, and a selection of single malt scotches as well.

We had heard good things about the Wine Cooperative at Taradeau so we dropped in for a look. Nice shop, friendly staff, good wine, tasting, and a selection of single malt scotches as well.

Jazz brought this trophy dormouse (a loir in French) to us one evening.  The poor thing was quite alive but frightened out of its wits.  We tricked Jazz into stepping in the house then closed the door behind her.  Within a few minutes the dormouse had regained its composure and disappeared into the night.  BTW, those concrete pavers are 320mm square.

Jazz brought this trophy dormouse (a loir in French) to us one evening. The poor thing was quite alive but frightened out of its wits. We tricked Jazz into stepping in the house then closed the door behind her. Within a few minutes the dormouse had regained its composure and disappeared into the night. BTW, those concrete pavers are 320mm square.

After carefully threading our way along a rocky access road for 20 minutes and then a short walk we arrived at Ermitage de Saint-Jean du Puy.  The main buildings were behind the camera but this tower was commanding a great view across the valley to Sainte-Victoire.

After carefully threading our way along a rocky access road for 20 minutes and then a short walk we arrived at Ermitage de Saint-Jean du Puy. The main buildings were behind the camera but this tower was commanding a great view across the valley to Sainte-Victoire.

A part of the view from Ermitage de Saint-Jean du Puy.

A part of the view from Ermitage de Saint-Jean du Puy.

A panorama taken from Ermitage de Saint-Jean du Puy.  Try clicking on it to enlarge it then zoom and pan for the best view.

A panorama taken from Ermitage de Saint-Jean du Puy. Try clicking on it to enlarge it then zoom and pan for the best view.

After leaving Ermitage de Saint-Jean du Puy we drove across the valley, crossed the A8 and worked our way towards the foothills of Sainte-Victoire.

After leaving Ermitage de Saint-Jean du Puy we drove across the valley, crossed the A8 and worked our way towards the foothills of Sainte-Victoire.

Getting closer to Sainte-Victoire.

Getting closer to Sainte-Victoire.

Our closest approach from the side of Sainte-Victoire.  There is a monument just visible near the end - that is La Croix de Provence.

Our closest approach from the side of Sainte-Victoire. There is a monument just visible near the end – that is La Croix de Provence.

Looking back at the end of Sainte-Victoire after leaving Le Tholonet.

Looking back at the end of Sainte-Victoire after leaving Le Tholonet.

As an exercise I put my 50mm f/1.4 prime lens on the camera for the visit to Villecroze and didn’t take my other lenses with me.  So no zoom, just a simple set up.  It is meant to be good practice to help you improve composition etc.  I thought it would be tricky but it turned out easier than I thought.  You just have to ‘zoom with your feet’, as they say.  Its also a lot lighter to carry!  Here are some examples…

Sunday morning we went to the vide grenier (flea market/jumble sale) in Villecroze.  I was surprised at how weathered looking the plane trees were.  They don't change colour and drop until late November.

Sunday morning we went to the vide grenier (flea market/jumble sale) in Villecroze. I was surprised at how weathered looking the plane trees were. They don’t change colour and drop until late November.

Of course we had to get some pastries and some bread while we were in Villecroze.

Of course we had to get some pastries and some bread while we were in Villecroze.

The square in Villecroze is lined on one side with a few cafés and restaurants.  Right next to where we had coffee was this sign for an ironmonger.  Last time we were here the big doors were open and the sounds of industry were filtering out together with flashes from arc welding.

The square in Villecroze is lined on one side with a few cafés and restaurants. Right next to where we had coffee was this sign for an ironmonger. Last time we were here the big doors were open and the sounds of industry were filtering out together with flashes from arc welding.

The Villecroze square is well covered by plane trees.  It didn't seem to be especially busy this time.  In the back of this shot is the primary school - boys on the left and girls on the right.

The Villecroze square is well covered by plane trees. It didn’t seem to be especially busy this time. In the back of this shot is the primary school – boys on the left and girls on the right.

Like most villages we have seen in these parts, Villecroze has a memorial to the Resistance fighters who helped liberate it in WWII.

Like most villages we have seen in these parts, Villecroze has a memorial to the Resistance fighters who helped liberate it in WWII.

Just a short one this week.  I hope you enjoy reading it.  Please post a comment.

After The Hiatus

16 Sep

I will try to post an update next week but no promises.”  Those were famous last words!  Our visit home to Auckland was an emotional roller coaster and left us quite exhausted.  I won’t go in to a lot of detail but a simple list might serve best…

  • We had a wonderful time catching up with family;
  • We also managed to catch up with several of our friends and especially had some nice meals together;
  • Darryn’s 21st was celebrated in two episodes, one with family and the other with his social circle.  All went well and we are very proud of our second young man;
  • I went to secondary school, university and then flatting with Albert.  Five days into our visit home and before I had seen him, Albert suddenly passed away due to a brain haemorrhage.  We attended gatherings at the hospital with his friends and family leading to the removal of life support and then of course the funeral in Rotorua;
  • I met up with a few people at the funeral who I had not seen for years.  I must try to do better at staying in touch in future;
  • I spent some time trying to help his family with the task of putting Albert’s affairs in order;
  • Another friend who had been staying with Albert for several years now seemed to need help in dealing with alcoholism.  I tried to help but time ran out and he was not ready to commit to dealing with reality.  Very disappointing but nothing more I could do at this time.  You can’t force someone to enter rehab no matter how obvious the need appears.  Being an alcoholic is not against the law, it is a lifestyle (that should be ‘deathstyle’) choice;
  • Leanne’s Dad was diagnosed as needing a pacemaker to moderate an irregular heartbeat;
  • We got to visit our bach (small holiday cottage) at Red Beach just north of Auckland;
  • Tony, a relative on Leanne’s side of the family, succumbed to cancer after a seven year battle.  Same age as me, more or less.  We attended his funeral on the Monday before we flew back to France;
  • I got to spend some very special times with my Dad, just chatting and pondering the world;
  • Leanne got to spend lots of time with her Mum & Dad;
  • She also managed to fit in a few local walks with her girlfriends, something they have all missed while we have been away;
  • We sampled some almost forgotten wines from our cellar and came up with some beauties;
  • Leanne and I spent some time out walking, visiting the Auckland Grammar School art auction and having lunch with our friends Bruce & Gill on the Saturday before we left.  Bruce had been snowboarding for a couple of days the previous week.  Then on Sunday afternoon we got a call to say Bruce had just died!  Again, same age as me, more or less.  Without warning or any history he suffered a massive heart attack while out kite-surfing.  We were absolutely stunned and deeply saddened.  How could this be true?  Unfortunately we could not stay for his funeral which was the Friday after our departure but our oldest son, Steven, attended for us.

I am still in shock at how all this happened in a five week window after we have been travelling for 18 months already with no major dramas affecting us.  I am torn between concluding that our timing was excellent on one hand or absolutely abysmal on the other.  As I observed in an email to a friend, ‘I need to leave NZ again asap before I have no living friends left!

As a consequence of all this turmoil I barely took any photos and really haven’t felt up to writing anything.  My apologies to all those faithful readers who kept checking back only to find nothing new.  Anyway, this posting is now going to cover the period from 5th August to 15th September.

The tourist information centre in Matamata has been transformed into a Hobbit-like house and I think it looks pretty cool.

The tourist information centre in Matamata has been transformed into a Hobbit-like house and I think it looks pretty cool.

And just so you don't forget where you are, this sits boldly in the landscaped central reservation of the town's main street.

And just so you don’t forget where you are, this sits boldly in the landscaped central reservation of the town’s main street.

Twin Oaks Drive in Cornwall Park (Auckland, NZ) usually has an intense display of daffodils.  I think I was a little too early but I didn't get back to check again later.

Twin Oaks Drive in Cornwall Park (Auckland, NZ) usually has an intense display of daffodils. I think I was a little too early but I didn’t get back to check again later.

Darryn posing with the cake Leanne made for the family version of his 21st birthday celebrations.  The sprinkles are in the shape of dinosaurs - never too old!

Darryn posing with the cake Leanne made for the family version of his 21st birthday celebrations. The sprinkles are in the shape of dinosaurs – never too old!

Darryn with his two Grandfathers - my Dad on his left and Leanne's Dad on his right.

Darryn with his two Grandfathers – my Dad on his left and Leanne’s Dad on his right.

Darryn making a point.

Darryn making a point.

Being Spring in NZ means blossom and that meant a rowdy picnic for seven tuis near Mt Eden Village.

Being Spring in NZ means blossom and that meant a rowdy picnic for seven tuis near Mt Eden Village.

Leanne made up this photo board based on various family photos plus some from his Facebook page that were provided by other helpful people (he won't allow his parents to be his fb friend).

Leanne made up this photo board based on various family photos plus some from his Facebook page that were provided by other helpful people (he won’t allow his parents to be his fb friend).

A ritual drinking custom at Darryn's other party which was held at a bar at the University of Auckland campus, Toasted.  It was actually a fairly orderly night out because it was the weekend before a week of assignment due dates and mid-course tests for most students.

A ritual drinking custom at Darryn’s other party which was held at a bar at the University of Auckland campus, Toasted. It was actually a fairly orderly night out because it was the weekend before a week of assignment due dates and mid-course tests for most students.

We were there too of course.

We were there too of course.

The weather was windy a lot of the time in Auckland so this view from Mt Eden looks a bit hazy.  Still, Rangitoto is very obvious in the background.

The weather was windy a lot of the time in Auckland so this view from Mt Eden looks a bit hazy. Still, Rangitoto is very obvious in the background.

The view from our bach is still clear after the tree work we had done earlier this year.

The view from our bach is still clear after the tree work we had done earlier this year.

Looking along Red Beach to the SE.

Looking along Red Beach to the SE.

This time looking roughly NE.

This time looking roughly NE.

Darryn helped with mulching the prunings from the Gleditsia tree.  Interesting pose!

Darryn helped with mulching the prunings from the Gleditsia tree. Interesting pose!

The magnolia near the gate started flowering after we arrived home and was still going when we left again five weeks later.

The magnolia near the gate started flowering after we arrived home and was still going when we left again five weeks later.

Highwic House is a NZ Historic places Trust property only a couple of kilometres from home but in 16+ years we had never visited it.  After seeing so many great sites in the UK we made a point of getting there.  More modest than what we have seen elsewhere but special because much of the history and the names connected to it are familiar to us.

Highwic House is a NZ Historic places Trust property only a couple of kilometres from home but in 16+ years we had never visited it. After seeing so many great sites in the UK we made a point of getting there. More modest than what we have seen elsewhere but special because much of the history and the names connected to it are familiar to us.

Another view of Highwic House.

Another view of Highwic House.

1996 Cranswick Estate Botrytis Semillon, beautiful!

1996 Cranswick Estate Botrytis Semillon, beautiful!

Gill and I posing at AGS on Saturday 7th September after visiting the Art Auction.

Gill and I posing at AGS on Saturday 7th September after visiting the Art Auction.

What could be better?  We finally managed to import some NZ Marmite into France.  When we last visited home in February the factory in Christchurch that makes it was still out of commission following the major earthquakes in the region so we missed out.

What could be better? We finally managed to import some NZ Marmite into France. When we last visited home in February the factory in Christchurch that makes it was still out of commission following the major earthquakes in the region so we missed out.

The other perfect spread on a fresh baguette with butter is Bonne Maman fig jam.

The other perfect spread on a fresh baguette with butter is Bonne Maman fig jam.

We flew out of Auckland on Wednesday 11th September at 17h50 on the Emirates A380.  I think that aircraft is great.  Once we got away from Melbourne and on to the 14 hour leg to Dubai I managed to get 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep in economy class. I can’t do that on a B747 or B777.  In fact the leg from Dubai to Nice on the B777 only served to confirm my very low opinion of that aircraft.  It really is an outdated piece of junk.

We landed in Nice on schedule at 14h15 on Thursday.  Unfortunately, by the time our bags came through we had just missed the 14h30 bus to the train station and the next one was at 15h00.  Once at the train station it was another 50 minute wait for the 16h01 train to Les Arcs which didn’t leave until 16h10.  Then it stopped at every station and upturned rock from Nice to Saint Raphael taking 90 minutes for the trip.  Jeremy was there waiting for us with his flash new wheels and we just managed to fit all our bags in the back for the ride to Sue’s place.  18h00 at Sue’s and time for a rosé.  It had been 46 hours since we last got out of our bed and 34 hours since we left Auckland.  All things considered we didn’t feel too shabby although we were both fading a bit on the tedious train trip.  Once we got a rosé into us and some conversation going we lasted another four hours before going to bed.

On Friday I dropped Sue at the airport in Nice for her flight to the UK and we basically spent the next three days taking it easy and catching up with one or two people.  We are looking after Sue’s place until 5th October while she is away.  On Sunday afternoon we met John who is housesitting at nearby place owned by a Kiwi lady for three months.  He is from Auckland and we had a bit of a Kiwi get-together at his place with Lew & Jean plus honorary Kiwis, Jeremy & Jo.

That’s all I have to say about the last six weeks.  Really looking forward to getting back into our alternative life here in France – house sitting, walks, taking lots of photos, touring, meeting people, etc.  And I am determined to get this blog back on track!  Thanks for reading.

Impressionists and the Clear Blue Skies of Provence

5 Aug

It really shouldn’t have taken me so long to publish this post since there are very few photos to caption and not so much to report on.  The week was largely spent in the processes of relocating and packing.  We started the week in Remoulins near the Pont-du-Gard, drove to Le Thoronet, took the train from Les Arcs to Nice, then flew from Nice to Dubai and on to Auckland arriving home in Auckland on Saturday afternoon.  Since then I have been struggling to get a decent night’s sleep.  The only thing that has been inducing me to sleep is sitting down at my computer and that has not been helping me get this post completed!  Anyway…

We awoke to rain still on Monday morning in Remoulins after our visit to the Pont-du-Gard on Sunday evening.  By the time we arrived at Tarascon for a short break and breakfast the sun was shining again and it was getting hot.

By the time we got to St-Rémy-de-Provence the skies were clear and it was a scorcher.  We had a bit of a walk, trying to stay in the shade, around this home of Impressionism then found a nice cool restaurant with a very good plat-du-jour.  Next thing we had another Kiwi couple, from Winchester just north of Timaru, at the next table!  They were an older couple on a six week holiday and were spending about a week here.  After lunch we had a quick look around some of the shops before setting course for Le Thoronet.

Tarascon is a small town near Beaucaire where we stopped for a break after leaving Remoulins.

Tarascon is a small town near Beaucaire where we stopped for a break after leaving Remoulins.

On the drive from St-Rémy-de-Provence to Le Thoronet we were just awestruck by how clear the air, skies and scenery looked.  Looking towards Sainte-victoire, an iconic mountain in Provence near Aix, from the A8 it looked like it was so close you could have reached out the window to touch it.  Sadly, being an ‘A’ road there was no place to stop for a photo and at the nearest service centre there were trees blocking the view – typical!  This outstanding clarity is one of the reasons that places like St-Rémy-de-Provence are so favoured by painters.  It was also one of our first impressions (excuse the pun) when we arrived in Le Thoronet in late March last year.

Our hotel in Le Thoronet was “Sue’s Place” and we arrived about 4pm.  Spent the evening chatting, sipping Rosé and dining.  It was nice to be ‘home’.

We spent most of Tuesday and Wednesday repacking, visiting and relaxing.  We did go to the Lorgues market on Tuesday morning and even got there early enough to get a park right in the centre and before all the stalls were set up.  Being summer holiday time the place was busy and the predominant language in the air was English.

On Wednesday evening Sue put on a dinner and invited Han & Rens and Virginia.  It was a very nice evening and the meal was excellent.  It was a real bonus to see Han & Rens again so soon too.  They have come down to look after Tutu while James & Lavinia are away for a month and Lew & Jean are also away for some days.

The scene at Sue's place set for dinner on Wednesday evening.

The scene at Sue’s place set for dinner on Wednesday evening.

Sue's back garden is now almost complete.  The perimeter is protected by an electric fence to keep the sanglier (wild boar) out.

Sue’s back garden is now almost complete. The perimeter is protected by an electric fence to keep the sanglier (wild boar) out.

We had an early start on Thursday so that we could leave the house at 09h20.  Sue very kindly dropped us at the train station in Les Arcs.  Everything run to schedule and there is really not much more to say until we arrived home.  Except perhaps to comment on the merits of the Boeing 777 vs the A380.  The sector from Nice to Dubai was on the 777.  In my opinion this is a dreadful aircraft – economy is overly cramped, it is noisy, the power outlets are not available in aisle seats, the overhead space seems lacking.  I just don’t like it.  On the other hand, the A380 is a magnificent machine, the opposite of the few things listed above and more.  Doing the 14-odd hour sector from Dubai to Sydney in economy doesn’t seem like a hardship at all even when you are 6’2″.  At least that is my opinion.

Steven and Darryn collected us from the airport on Saturday afternoon.  It was nice to be back home but it really didn’t seem like we had been away.  I probably made the same observation last time, but this trip was only five months.  The first thing to surprise us was just how warm it was.  Not bad for winter.  We spent the evening talking, Dad came around, the phone kept ringing…  It was also the final of the Super 15 Rugby, Chiefs vs Brumbies (so that’s why we saw all those Brumbies tee shirts on the flight?!).  What a close match.  Gladly the Chiefs prevailed 29-22 but it took a while for my blood pressure to stabilise.

Sunday was a nice warm day again.  We slept OK, not great so were feeling a bit tired.  We spent the day quietly and did some visiting.  In the evening, after sunset, Steven and I went up to the summit of Mt Eden to take some photos and managed to get a few keepers.

The view from the summit of Mt. Eden on Sunday evening at 18h40.

The view from the summit of Mt. Eden on Sunday evening at 18h40.

That’s about it for now.  I will be away this coming weekend so that means next week’s post will also be late, hopefully not as bad as this one!

Summer Heat In France

22 Jul

I think this week sets a new record for the lowest number of photos I have taken since this adventure started.  That means it will be a fairly short post.  It has just been too hot to be galavanting around too much!

The week started in the splendid company of the Hurpin family and friends at the summer holiday farmhouse they hire at Siouville-Hague which is near Cherbourg.  The weather continued to be perfect and even I was convinced to take a swim – what a mistake that turned out to be.  We got chest deep and using my watch I measured the water temperature at between 16.8˚C and 17.2˚C just 250mm below the surface!  I was loosing feeling in my feet so I put the watch on my foot and measured 16.4˚C on the bottom.  We lasted about 15 minutes before retreating to the warmth on the sand.  The speed at which the tide moves over the sand is impressive too.  The tidal range in this area is huge, 6.33m at its maximum between low and high tides.  So it covers and uncovers over 400m of sand every 7 hours or so.

We sang Happy Birthday to Leanne in French at ten minutes after midnight on the 16th before going to bed.  Wednesday was a travel day, we had about five hours on the road to get to Fomperron where we met and spent the night with Gaye and John.  We will be house sitting for them for nearly eight weeks starting at the very end of September.  They have a very nice spot in a small hamlet with lots of vegetable gardens.  It should be lots of fun and allow us flexibility to explore the region.  You will hear all about that later.

On Thursday we met Gaye and John’s English neighbours, a delightful couple, who will be our first call for any problems with things on the property.  We left Fomperron after lunch heading for Le Paradis to meet Nicky and family.  We arrived at 17h00 and it was hot.  Our assignment here is only nine days while they take a holiday at the beach.  Our charges here are 4 dogs, 3 cats, 5 goats (one due to kid this week, triplets expected), 15 chickens, several white mice, 2 snakes (hence the mice, i.e. food!), and an aquarium containing 20+ small tropical fish.  There are also three horses but Nicky’s Dad looks after them.

Nicky and family headed away for their holiday on Saturday afternoon which gave us Thursday night, all of Friday plus Saturday morning to learn the routines and have time for questions.  It was 34˚C on Saturday afternoon and we needed to stock up on groceries so we headed for LeClerc at Ruffec and spent some extra time in their chilled food aisles!  Of course our times out of the house were carefully scheduled so we didn’t miss too much of the TDF coverage on ITV4.

One of the items on the shopping list was some beer to quench the inevitable thirst that one acquires in this heat.  I scanned the beer aisle and found a two-dozen pack of 250ml bottles on special, without bothering to read the label – it was in the beer department.  It turned out to be  shandy with less than 1% alcohol and it tasted like ginger beer.  Actually turned out to be ideal in the heat.  Very lucky escape, I must remember to read the label next time.

On Sunday we went out for another drive around the area but we didn’t last very long, it was too hot.

Looking from the driveway of the house at Siouville-Hague towards the beach 1km away down the lane.

Looking from the driveway of the house at Siouville-Hague towards the beach 1km away down the lane.

A part of the garden we will be looking after in October/November this year near Fomperron.

A part of the garden we will be looking after in October/November this year near Fomperron.

We were told of some villages near our route where there were holly-hocks growing out of every crack in the pavement.  This one was Bagnault but I only got this average photo using the iPhone - it was just too hot to be bothered getting the DSLR out and spending any more than a few moments away from the air-conditioned comfort of the car.

We were told of some villages near our route where there were holly-hocks growing out of every crack in the pavement. This one was Bagnault but I only got this average photo using the iPhone – it was just too hot to be bothered getting the DSLR out and spending any more than a few moments away from the air-conditioned comfort of the car.

This is the Charente River which lends its name to the Département Charente.  The location is Verteuil and the chåteau is the 11th century Chåteau de Verteuil.

This is the Charente River which lends its name to the Département Charente. The location is Verteuil and the chåteau is the 11th century Chåteau de Verteuil.

Sunflowers near Ruffec.  Most of the fields around this area are either sunflowers, wheat or maize.  Wheat is being harvested now while this is the most mature field of sunflowers we have seen.

Sunflowers near Ruffec. Most of the fields around this area are either sunflowers, wheat or maize. Wheat is being harvested now while this is the most mature field of sunflowers we have seen.

A sunflower looking good.

A sunflower looking good.

The village of Nanteuil is signposted from several routes as a 'picturesque village'.  It certainly was and we did stop for an hour for coffee in the shade but it was far too hot to go wandering around.  Hopefully we will get back early one day this week.

The village of Nanteuil is signposted from several routes as a ‘picturesque village’. It certainly was and we did stop for an hour for coffee in the shade but it was far too hot to go wandering around. Hopefully we will get back early one day this week.

That’s it for the week.  Short and sweet.  I hope to have a few more photos for next week but as I hide from the heat inside the house finishing this on Monday afternoon it is 35˚C.  At these sorts of temperatures being out and about is hard work.  Even the pool at Nicky’s parent’s house, two doors away, is 31˚C so hardly worth the effort!

Leaving Scotland, Pausing in England, Destination France

15 Jul

It has been a busy week with lots of travel.  We even managed to see the TDF highlights a couple of times.

The week started at 6am on Monday when we got up earlier than usual to get packed and do some last minute jobs before the homeowners, Robert, Heather and Tracey got home.  Their flight was due at 06h55 but we knew that it was expected in 20 minutes early.  So we estimated that they would arrive at the house about 07h45.  Next thing we know they arrived at 07h15 and caught me giving the lounge a last minute vacuum.  Embarrassing!  Anyway they had had a good trip and after a cup of tea and some scones that Leanne had made we set off for Edinburgh.
The weather was overcast and cool and there were even patches of fog on the drive to Edinburgh.  We arrived at 10h30 and parked the car at our accommodation so we could walk into the old city.  By now the sky had cleared and it was getting hot.  We walked in towards the Royal Mile stopping at the Scottish National Museum on the way. It was magnificent and the model Watt double acting steam engine was running at the time. From there we went up to Edinburgh Castle for a look at the outside and all the grandstands ready for the Tattoo. Visited a Scottish National Trust property on the Royal Mile called Gladstone’s Land, a six storey 17th century home of a prosperous merchant. By then it was time to stop at Deacon Brodies Pub for a pint.  Plenty more walking in the heat during the afternoon.  We walked down The Mound and along the Princes Street Gardens where we saw a fantastic clock garden. Went to Charlotte Square and visited Number 7 which is also a Scottish National Trust property. Then we made our way back along Rose Street stopping for some chips and small beer on the way. Back up to the centre then down the bottom part of the Royal Mile to see The Palace of Holyroodhouse. Spent some time resting by some paddling pools then walked back up the Royal Mile to the Tollgate Bar for dinner. Wandered back to the hostel from there, getting back about 19h30.  We were both ready to sit down and rest for a while.  Overall, Edinburgh impressed.  It has a compact central zone, which although being a bit hilly is relatively easy to get around on foot, something we like to do.  Like Wellington in that way.
The weather was great again when we finally got up at 08h45 on Tuesday.  We packed the car and walked to the café we saw yesterday with the sign on it claiming that JK Rowling had written parts of her Harry Potter series upstairs.  We had a very nice coffee but I didn’t feel any urge to start writing a seven part children’s novel series.  Something that did catch my eye as we left was another sign saying, “Any children left here will be given a double espresso and promised a pony!”
We eventually left Edinburgh at 11h30 heading towards Northumberland. We stopped at Berwick-on-Tweed for a walk and some lunch. The weather was perfect, we were getting hot!  We got to Alnwick at 14h30, dropped some stuff at the B&B, left the car there and walked to the castle.  This is the first non-National Trust property we have visited, i.e. we had to £29 (~NZ$60) to get in.  That allowed us to visit as many times as we wanted for the next year, a benefit that most people could never take advantage of.  Anyway, it makes the 30+ National Trust properties we have visited look like an absolute steal at NZ$69 we paid for the NZ Historical Society membership which includes full reciprocal privileges with the National Trust, English Heritage and the Scottish National Trust.
Wednesday in Alnwick dawned overcast and it looked as though there had been a light rain in the night.  We were back at the castle by 10am for a tour of the walls and another look through the state rooms.  The whole place is magnificent; it is a pity that photography is not allowed inside though.  We got on the road after a delay at 13h30 (see the photos) and drove to a Travelodge a few hours down the motorway.  Were we on our way to Sevenoaks but we needed to break the journey.
We went in to Grantham for breakfast on Thursday morning and then to nearby Belton House.  That was a whistle-stop visit but still took two hours so we only got back on the road at 13h30.  We used Apple Maps as usual to navigate. There was a traffic delay of 15 minutes or so on the Dartford Bridge. Our trip on the M25 was going OK till 5km from the Sevenoaks exit, Jct.5. Then it stopped. It took 20 minutes to get to the exit and Apple Maps said go left. This was completely wrong and put us into the M25 roadworks and the next exit was 17km. What a screw up!  In the end it cost us an hour in heavy, stop/go traffic. We finally got to Dani’s place at Sevenoaks at 17h25 and immediately sent a brutal feedback message to Apple Maps while trying to calm myself down with a medicinal cold beer.  I guess it had to happen sometime – we have become so trusting of the directions from Apple Maps that we don’t even question them, even when they don’t follow the road signage.  It has always been OK.  Except this time.  It put us into the worst section of road in the world to be in on a hot Thursday afternoon at ‘rush-six-hours’ with bonus 25km of roadworks.
We eventually settled in to a nice evening catching up with Dani and then all of a sudden it was midnight!  Bedtime.
We spent Friday chilling out with Dani.  In fact the weather started out a little chilly too!  It was a bit foggy and overcast but by mid afternoon it was back to full heat again.
Saturday was scorching hot from the start.  Sally arrived with baby Stan just before we left so it was nice to very briefly catch up.  I think it has been at least 15 years since I have seen her.  Stan is now three months old.  We hit the road at noon and got to the Eurotunnel checkin in good time.  We ended up getting on to a crossing two departures earlier than our booking which was ideal.  Something I did not realise until this time was that the train travels at 140kph!  It is very smooth.
Once in France we filled up with diesel again and picked up some supplies at a supermarket near Calais.  After adjusting for the time difference, it was 4pm by the time we set out for Siouville-Hague.  We took an hour break along the way and arrived as René, Ulrike and family and visitors were sitting down to dinner.

Sunday was a very relaxing procession of good company, too much food, adequate drink, perfect weather and a nice afternoon nap.  Being Bastille Day we were treated to a fireworks display in the distance starting at about 11pm (by which time the sky is only just dark enough).

Before they went away Robert promised to get me dressed up in his kilt before we left.  he remembered and this is the result!  Not quite the right size but I squeezed into it.  The tartan is that of Heather's family, the Mowatts.

Before they went away Robert promised to get me dressed up in his kilt before we left. he remembered and this is the result! Not quite the right size but I squeezed into it. The tartan is that of Heather’s family, the Mowatts.

A dominant but grey exterior of the National Museum of Scotland was hiding this magnificent atrium space.  There was a working model of James Watt's double acting beam engine in here and I spent some time talking to the engineer who was running it.

A dominant but grey exterior of the National Museum of Scotland was hiding this magnificent atrium space. There was a working model of James Watt’s double acting beam engine in here and I spent some time talking to the engineer who was running it.

The sound of bagpipes was everywhere in the streets of old town Edinburgh.  It would have been rude not to include a photo of at least one of them.

The sound of bagpipes was everywhere in the streets of old town Edinburgh. It would have been rude not to include a photo of at least one of them.

The stadium seating outside the entrance to Edinburgh Castle ready for the Edinburgh Tattoo starting nextt month.

The stadium seating outside the entrance to Edinburgh Castle ready for the Edinburgh Tattoo starting nextt month.

This clock garden looked absolutely stunning, the best I have ever seen.  To the right were images of birds made with great detail.

This clock garden looked absolutely stunning, the best I have ever seen. To the right were images of birds made with great detail.

Edinburgh Castle is a fortress which dominates the skyline of the city of Edinburgh, Scotland, from its position atop the volcanic Castle Rock. Human habitation of the site is dated back as far as the 9th century BC, although the nature of early settlement is unclear. There has been a royal castle here since at least the reign of David I in the 12th century, and the site continued to be a royal residence until the Union of the Crowns in 1603.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edinburgh_Castle

Edinburgh Castle is a fortress which dominates the skyline of the city of Edinburgh, Scotland, from its position atop the volcanic Castle Rock. Human habitation of the site is dated back as far as the 9th century BC, although the nature of early settlement is unclear. There has been a royal castle here since at least the reign of David I in the 12th century, and the site continued to be a royal residence until the Union of the Crowns in 1603. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edinburgh_Castle

The Palace of Holyroodhouse, commonly referred to as Holyrood Palace, is the official residence of the Monarch of the United Kingdom in Scotland. Located at the bottom of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, at the opposite end to Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace has served as the principal residence of the Kings and Queens of Scots since the 16th century, and is a setting for state occasions and official entertaining.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holyrood_Palace

The Palace of Holyroodhouse, commonly referred to as Holyrood Palace, is the official residence of the Monarch of the United Kingdom in Scotland. Located at the bottom of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, at the opposite end to Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace has served as the principal residence of the Kings and Queens of Scots since the 16th century, and is a setting for state occasions and official entertaining. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holyrood_Palace

Arthur's Seat is the main peak of the group of hills which form most of Holyrood Park. It was very warm and the children's paddling looks were popular.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur's_Seat,_Edinburgh

Arthur’s Seat is the main peak of the group of hills which form most of Holyrood Park. It was very warm and the children’s paddling looks were popular. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur’s_Seat,_Edinburgh

The approach to Alnwick Castle from the gardens. The light patch in the lawn was one of many - this is where the spring bulbs were growing and have only recently been mowed.

The approach to Alnwick Castle from the gardens. The light patch in the lawn was one of many – this is where the spring bulbs were growing and have only recently been mowed.

The inner keep at Alnwick Castle with the chapel left of centre.

The inner keep at Alnwick Castle with the chapel left of centre.

The Percy family State Carriage - a luxurious state coach which once carried the 3rd Duke of Northumberland as George IV's personal representative to the coronation of Charles X in France in 1825.  It was repainted in 1902 for use at the coronation of King Edward VII, and was beautifully restored in 2011 for the wedding of the present Duke's eldest daughter, Katie.  Lady Katie's wedding dress is also on display in the coach house.  The coach was used again in June 2013 for the wedding of the Duke's youngest daughter, Lady Melissa, to Thomas van Straubenzee.

The Percy family State Carriage – a luxurious state coach which once carried the 3rd Duke of Northumberland as George IV’s personal representative to the coronation of Charles X in France in 1825. It was repainted in 1902 for use at the coronation of King Edward VII, and was beautifully restored in 2011 for the wedding of the present Duke’s eldest daughter, Katie. Lady Katie’s wedding dress is also on display in the coach house. The coach was used again in June 2013 for the wedding of the Duke’s youngest daughter, Lady Melissa, to Thomas van Straubenzee.

This was funny!  We were sitting at the café at Alnwick Castle at closing time and this staffer turns up with his battery drill and uses it to wind down the umbrellas.

This was funny! We were sitting at the café at Alnwick Castle at closing time and this staffer turns up with his battery drill and uses it to wind down the umbrellas.

Alnwick Castle still has 100,000 acres of land.  It is said that the Percy family once once so much land in England that you could travel from Alnwick in Northumberland to London without ever leaving their property!

Alnwick Castle still has 100,000 acres of land. It is said that the Percy family once once so much land in England that you could travel from Alnwick in Northumberland to London without ever leaving their property!

Until the 1970s this bridge was part of the A1, the main highway north.  It was built by the brother of Robert Adam.  As to be expected with every grand house in England and Scotland (or so it seems) Robert Adam was involved in the development/rennovation of the property.

Until the 1970s this bridge was part of the A1, the main highway north. It was built by the brother of Robert Adam. As to be expected with every grand house in England and Scotland (or so it seems) Robert Adam was involved in the development/rennovation of the property.

Alnwick Castle after sunset, 22h11m.

Alnwick Castle after sunset, 22h11m.

Our departure from Alnwick was delayed by the super-moron who parked blocking the exit.  As you can see in this photo, there was plenty of space to park without blocking the only access, but no.  She parked, locked the car and went to the shops.  Freaking genius.

Our departure from Alnwick was delayed by the super-moron who parked blocking the exit. As you can see in this photo, there was plenty of space to park without blocking the only access, but no. She parked, locked the car and went to the shops. Freaking genius.

From their own literature… This classic 17th century English country house is set in delightful gardens with a magnificent deer park. Perfect symmetry, opulent décor, fine furnishings and Brownlow family portraits give Belton both grandeur and a more intimate feel.

From their own literature… This classic 17th century English country house is set in delightful gardens with a magnificent deer park. Perfect symmetry, opulent décor, fine furnishings and Brownlow family portraits give Belton both grandeur and a more intimate feel.

Looking across the cricket oval at the front of the house (the south facing entrance)

Looking across the cricket oval at the front of the house (the south facing entrance)

The Orangerie and ornamental gardens.  On the right is the village church, a Norman construction.

The Orangerie and ornamental gardens. On the right is the village church, a Norman construction.

The beach at Siouville-Hague.  It is a very flat beach - at low tide the water is about 400m out.  This photo was taken at about half tide.

The beach at Siouville-Hague. It is a very flat beach – at low tide the water is about 400m out. This photo was taken at about half tide.

The water temperature is 14~18˚C in the summer (10˚ lower in the winter!).  This didn't seem to bother the ones more energetic than me.

The water temperature is 14~18˚C in the summer (10˚ lower in the winter!). This didn’t seem to bother the ones more energetic than me.

Victor doing a good impression of someone who does not feel the cold sting of the water.

Victor doing a good impression of someone who does not feel the cold sting of the water.

This is closer to low tide.  The little dots are people!  Not really visible in the haze is Cherbourg.

This is closer to low tide. The little dots are people! Not really visible in the haze is Cherbourg.

There had been a bicentenary of naval warfare celebration based at the port of Dielette and there were a number of classic sailing ships off the coast.  When the air is clear you can see the Channel Islands.

There had been a bicentenary of naval warfare celebration based at the port of Dielette and there were a number of classic sailing ships off the coast. When the air is clear you can see the Channel Islands.

This was at Port Dielette where the sailing ships were based.  It was only a couple of kilometre walk from the house.

This was at Port Dielette where the sailing ships were based. It was only a couple of kilometre walk from the house.

Lunchtime on Bastille Day, Sunday 14th July.

Lunchtime on Bastille Day, Sunday 14th July.

The Hurpin family rent this large farm house at Siouville-Hague every year and all the family and their friends come to stay.  It is like a carnival.  At dinner there can be 20 people of all ages around the table.  It is a wonderful atmosphere.

The Hurpin family rent this large farm house at Siouville-Hague every year and all the family and their friends come to stay. It is like a carnival. At dinner there can be 20 people of all ages around the table. It is a wonderful atmosphere.

That’s all for now, time to hit the ‘post’ button.

Then Through The Tunnel To The UK

8 Apr

It was clear and cold, about 2˚C, and frost lay in shady areas along the A13 as we drove to Rouen. We left the hotel in Versailles at 9:30am after the manager insisted that we have a complimentary coffee first. Got to Rouen about 11am and headed off to find the cathedral. The wind made it feel very cold out of the sun. Stopped at a café near the Joan of Arc cathedral and there was a little fracas between some local lads and a chair came flying through the doorway.  Colourful.

As we left the hotel in Versailles on Monday morning we spotted this display of old cameras in the reception area.  Various models of 'FOCA' cameras dated between 1945 and 1966.

As we left the hotel in Versailles on Monday morning we spotted this display of old cameras in the reception area. Various models of ‘FOCA’ cameras dated between 1945 and 1966.

The cathedral in Rouen.  Lots of interesting information here… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rouen_Cathedral

The cathedral in Rouen. Lots of interesting information here… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rouen_Cathedral

The detailed stone work on all parts of the cathedral are amazing.

The detailed stone work on all parts of the cathedral are amazing.

The pedestrian mall between the Joan of Arc church and the cathedral.

The pedestrian mall between the Joan of Arc church and the cathedral.

Detail of the clock.

Detail of the clock.

One of the building styles we now started to see in Normandy was this half-timbered look.

One of the building styles we now started to see in Normandy was this half-timbered look.

Here is a quote from Wikipedia: "The church of Saint Joan of Arc was completed in 1979 in the center of the ancient market square (in French, the Place du Vieux-Marché) of Rouen. This is the same location where Joan of Arc was burned alive for heresy in 1431. Prior to World War II, this site was occupied by a church of Saint Vincent, which was heavily damaged in battle in 1944. The stained glass windows of the old church were not destroyed and were incorporated into the design of the new structure, where one can admire them today."

Here is a quote from Wikipedia: “The church of Saint Joan of Arc was completed in 1979 in the center of the ancient market square (in French, the Place du Vieux-Marché) of Rouen. This is the same location where Joan of Arc was burned alive for heresy in 1431. Prior to World War II, this site was occupied by a church of Saint Vincent, which was heavily damaged in battle in 1944. The stained glass windows of the old church were not destroyed and were incorporated into the design of the new structure, where one can admire them today.”

Right next to the church were a couple of lads practicing their trials skills.

Right next to the church were a couple of lads practicing their trials skills.

It looks pretty hard on rims and tyres!

It looks pretty hard on rims and tyres!

And another one caught in mid-leap.

And another one caught in mid-leap.

The building on the corner is a listed heritage site that functions as a hotel.  I can tell you its GPS coordinates but I can't remember what it was called.

The building on the corner is a listed heritage site that functions as a hotel. I can tell you its GPS coordinates but I can’t remember what it was called.

Streetscape in Rouen.

Streetscape in Rouen.

Got to Hurpin’s in Caen at 3pm and by 4pm we were on bikes with René off for a tour.   Part way through the tour we called in unannounced on friends of René’s called Pierre and Claudine.  We had a cup of tea with them and they ended up joining us, chez Hurpin, for dinner later on.  Dinner was very nice and we also met another member of their extended family –  Tugba who is a German Turk staying for a year to promote German language in French schools as a part of a bilateral programme sponsored by Bosch.

As soon as René got home we were on the bikes for a pre-dinner tour around the outskirts of Caen.

As soon as René got home we were on the bikes for a pre-dinner tour around the outskirts of Caen.

We didn’t get up early on Tuesday morning but when we did we headed to the landing beaches.  Ended up at Omaha Beach for quite some time before continuing along the coast to Saint-Vaast-la-Hogue.  It was far too windy and cold to go wandering around as we usually would so it was a short visit before heading back to Caen for dinner and an evening of conversation, albeit in English!

Omaha Beach: At low tide this is what it looks like with the water at your back.  Can you imagine what it must have been like with the beach covered in obstacles and enemy fire raining down from the slopes?

Omaha Beach: At low tide this is what it looks like with the water at your back. Can you imagine what it must have been like with the beach covered in obstacles and enemy fire raining down from the slopes?

Inside the American Cemetery at the Omaha Beach Memorial there are lots of mature pine trees.  We saw more than 40 like this one that had toppled in the last few weeks.

Inside the American Cemetery at the Omaha Beach Memorial there are lots of mature pine trees. We saw more than 40 like this one that had toppled in the last few weeks.

Like this row here...

Like this row here…

Omaha Beach Memorial American Cemetery.

Omaha Beach Memorial American Cemetery.

Omaha Beach Memorial American Cemetery.

Omaha Beach Memorial American Cemetery.

Omaha Beach Memorial American Cemetery.

Omaha Beach Memorial American Cemetery.

Omaha Beach Memorial American Cemetery.

Omaha Beach Memorial American Cemetery.

Omaha Beach Memorial American Cemetery.  Passersby were stopping this veteran to have their photo taken.

Omaha Beach Memorial American Cemetery. Passersby were stopping this veteran to have their photo taken.

Omaha Beach Memorial American Cemetery exhibition centre.

Omaha Beach Memorial American Cemetery exhibition centre.

Omaha Beach Memorial American Cemetery.  This water feature was part of the exhibition centre.  Ample evidence of the strong wind coming off the sea but nothing to tell you just how cold it was.

Omaha Beach Memorial American Cemetery. This water feature was part of the exhibition centre. Ample evidence of the strong wind coming off the sea but nothing to tell you just how cold it was.

Saint-Vaast-la-Hogue - a sunny but bitterly cold and windy day on the Normandy coast.

Saint-Vaast-la-Hogue – a sunny but bitterly cold and windy day on the Normandy coast.

A fishing vessel coming in to port.

A fishing vessel coming in to port.

Saint-Vaast-la-Hogue maritime Chapell.  Only tiny but there were plenty of recent memorials to young local men lost at sea.

Saint-Vaast-la-Hogue maritime Chapel. Only tiny but there were plenty of recent memorials to young local men lost at sea.

It looks like it is meant to be a gate but I can assure you that it does not open.

It looks like it is meant to be a gate but I can assure you that it does not open.

I told you it was windy!

I told you it was windy!

This little ferry shuttles between Saint-Vaast-la-Hogue and the island in the background called Tatihou.  The ferry looks a bit like a duck to me.

This little ferry shuttles between Saint-Vaast-la-Hogue and the island in the background called Tatihou. The ferry looks a bit like a duck to me.

It is a duck!  It has hydraulically lowered wheels with hydraulic motors on them so it just drives up the ramp.

It is a duck! It has hydraulically lowered wheels with hydraulic motors on them so it just drives up the ramp.

Even the propulsion system is raised, lowered and driven hydraulically.

Even the propulsion system is raised, lowered and driven hydraulically.

On Wednesday morning we did get up a bit earlier so we could say farewell to René before he went to work and so we could get on the road towards Calais.  We said our farewells to Ulrike a bit later and arrived at Honfleur at 11am.  The place was just as lovely as we remembered it in spite of another day of that freezing northerly wind.  We stayed for lunch at a restaurant with views right down the harbour and then hit the road again about 2:30pm.

A very deceptive photo of the harbour at Honfleur - there was a bitter north wind blowing that totally sapped any warmth the sun was trying to provide.

A very deceptive photo of the harbour at Honfleur – there was a bitter north wind blowing that totally sapped any warmth the sun was trying to provide.

A fishing boat in the calm of the harbour.

A fishing boat in the calm of the harbour.

It was 5pm by the time we got to our hotel near Calais and there was the slightest bit of snow falling – not enough to settle, it melted as soon as it touched the car or the ground, but it was snowing.  And it was still windy so it felf really cold.  Again, once we went to the room we stayed there.

The EuroTunnel checkin was only 10 minutes away from the hotel.  We went in the self checkin queue. It said you just needed the credit card used to purchase the ticket in order to check in. But the machine would not accept my card and then Leanne noticed that our details were already on the screen – I had not looked up at the screen, I was trying to get my card into the machine. So they must have read the car registration automatically. Very slick. Next it offered to put us on the 8:49am crossing instead of the 9:49am that we had booked. It was now 8:14am so we accepted. We knew from the website that they would put you on a crossing up to two hours earlier if there is space.  Next was French customs then a 100m gap then English customs. Then the signs led us all the way to the shopping centre, through the car park and back in the direction of the tunnel. There were still more maze-like weaving before we drove on to the carriage.  The departure was spot on time and before we knew it, about 40 minutes later, we were in the UK.

I don't normally follow quite this close but he was maintaining a steady speed without braking.  The scenery was a bit boring.

I don’t normally follow quite this close but he was maintaining a steady speed without braking. The scenery was a bit boring.

And it was ever so lightly snowing here as well!  Just tiny dots blowing around and melting quickly.  Went through the Dartford tunnel – that was a trap. It has a £2 toll and they don’t take cards.  I knew there was the chance of hitting tolls somewhere and I had my card ready never considering that cards would not be accepted.  I managed to stop back from the gate a little between two lanes with the hazard lights on. Was able to reach back to my camera bag and get the cash quickly, even before any cars went passed us. Phew!

We also managed to negotiate all the interchanges using map snapshots on the iPad. Before we got to the house sit we wanted to find a Tesco and buy a SIM for my phone.  We got to our exit off the M25 and noticed a big Tesco building beside the ramp. Our lucky day!  We wound our way around the streets and into its car park only to find that it was an e-commerce distribution centre. Got directions to Ponders End and found a proper Tesco there. Got pre-pay cards for both our phones then had a coffee. Also bought some basic supplies and some sandwiches for lunch at nearly 2pm – a long time since dinner last night and we had only had an apple and two small biscuits since, plus the one hour time difference.  We had expected to have time for breakfast while waiting for the crossing but we took the earlier option.

We eventually got to where we were meant to be and spent the evening getting to know Sara, Richard and the four cats whose care would soon be in our hands.  It was still very lightly snowing and the weather generally was a bit filthy.

This is the village we are in.

This is the village we are in.

And that's our car parked outside lowering the average tone of the street!

And that’s our car parked outside lowering the average tone of the street!

Spent Friday mainly about the house and getting to know the needs of JB, Murphy, Pretzel and Pip.  Sara and Richard departed at 7:30am on Saturday and again we stayed close to home.  The cats are very distinctively individual and no trouble at all.  Often very amusing.

Meet Murphy, one of the four cats we are looking after for a couple of weeks in Hertfordshire.  I think he looks a bit like Garfield.  He is actually a very big and solid cat but is very placid.  This is his smiling face.

Meet Murphy, one of the four cats we are looking after for a couple of weeks in Hertfordshire. I think he looks a bit like Garfield. He is actually a very big and solid cat but is very placid. This is his smiling face.

Pip is the smallest of the troupe.  Being so dark, not quite black but very dark brown, she is difficult to photograph.  She is lovely but things can only be on her terms - if she doesn't want to be patted she is more slippery than a fish.

Pip is the smallest of the troupe. Being so dark, not quite black but very dark brown, she is difficult to photograph. She is lovely but things can only be on her terms – if she doesn’t want to be patted she is more slippery than a fish.

The weather on Saturday and Sunday was a big improvement over Friday even with the light frost in the mornings.  It is possibly the best weather they have had around here for months.  On Sunday we were picked up by Dave and Carolyn for a great lunch at a nearby pub.  They are working just 10 miles away from us so we plan to be catching up with them several times over the next couple of weeks.

I have just reviewed all the responses to my little challenge laid down in last week’s post about a deliberate error, and… well, there were none!   The error was in this caption, “The back wall of the Roman Theatre in Orange.  The protruding blocks at the top are supports for poles that suspended an awning over the inside.  We saw some photos from the time showing them in use.”  Some photos from the time?  Let me think about that!

So that’s it for another week.  No deliberate errors, just the accidental ones.

Week Four – Time Is Running Out

25 Feb

This week was very busy with administrative details but we still did manage to have some nice times with friends and some special family time around Dad’s and my birthdays.

In an earlier post I mentioned not taking many photos because this was home and all so familiar.  In an attempt to not take our home scenery for granted I did walk up to Mt Eden village on Monday specifically to look at some of the great architecture there.  The Mt Eden Village Business Association website has some good information and Google has much more.  http://www.mounteden.co.nz/village_main.htm

Till & Son was a bakery when it was established in 1885.  Now is a real estate agent's office and has been for 17 years that I have been in the area.

Till & Son was a bakery when it was established in 1885. Now is a real estate agent’s office and has been for 17 years that I have been in the area.

Cuckseys Building was originally established in 1873 as a timber structure.  It was replaced by the current brick building of the same name in 1905.  The top of Mt.Eden is in the background.

Cuckseys Building was originally established in 1873 as a timber structure. It was replaced by the current brick building of the same name in 1905. The top of Mt.Eden is in the background.

It has been a pub for some time now but, as its name suggests, it was once the Post Office.  The vault is still behind the downstairs bar and used as a storeroom.

It has been a pub for some time now but, as its name suggests, it was once the Post Office. The vault is still behind the downstairs bar and used as a storeroom.

Mt Eden Methodist Church.  Recently renovated.  It was originally built in 1899.

Mt Eden Methodist Church. Recently renovated. It was originally built in 1899.

Just around the corner from Mt.Eden Road in Stokes Avenue are these public toilets.  I don't know what if any history is attached but they are eye-catching.

Just around the corner from Mt.Eden Road in Stokes Avenue are these public toilets. I don’t know what if any history is attached but they are eye-catching.

Just one step further along Stokes Avenue is this neglected beauty.  Sadly, the developers will eventually probably raze it and build 3 townhouses.

Just one step further along Stokes Avenue is this neglected beauty. Sadly, the developers will eventually probably raze it and build 3 townhouses.

The Mt.Eden Bowling Club is 200m or so from the shops.

The Mt.Eden Bowling Club is 200m or so from the shops.

Tuesday was actually the day of Dad’s birthday and we met him for coffee in the morning which somehow extended to 2:30pm.  Steven joined us as well since his summer internship with EY has finished.

Wednesday was my birthday and Dad and I went out for lunch and to get some quiet time to chat.  We ended up at St. Heliers and after a nice lunch at Annabelles wandered a little along the beach.  It doesn’t look it in the photo but it was very hot…

The iconic Rangitoto viewed from the beach at St.Heliers.

The iconic Rangitoto viewed from the beach at St.Heliers.

In the evening Leanne, Steven, Darryn and I walked up to Mt. Eden and had a meal of ribs with fries and beer.  Very nice but for your health’s sake probably not something to do too often.

For my birthday we all went to De Post and indulged in their Wednesday night special of ribs, fries, aioli, a token serving of coleslaw and a beer for NZ$20.

For my birthday we all went to De Post and indulged in their Wednesday night special of ribs, fries, aioli, a token serving of coleslaw and a beer for NZ$20.

By Thursday the to-do list seemed to be getting longer rather than shorter with a bunch of work needing to be done regarding the boys’ study funding.  Oh joy!  Never mind, in the evening we had another fun BBQ.

Dinner at our place with Mr & Mrs Lumborg...

Dinner at our place with Mr & Mrs Lumborg…

… and Mr & Mrs McAloon (who ran away to Wanaka to get married on Valentines Day).

… and Mr & Mrs McAloon (who ran away to Wanaka to get married on Valentines Day).

On Friday night we caught up with David and Charmian over a five course degustation dinner at Wine Chambers.  We have been there two or three time before and it always impresses.  And naturally the company was excellent!

Craig flew up from Wellington for the weekend so we could catch up and I collected him from the airport around midday.  After stopping by home to pick up Leanne we drove up to the bach.  The arborist had completed his work so we wanted to see how the view had improved and the weather was great so a walk on the beach followed by a BBQ was hard to resist.  The two photos below tell the story of the view…

The blocked view from our bach towards the sea and Whangaparoa Peninsula.

The blocked view from our bach towards the sea and Whangaparoa Peninsula.

The view after the arborist had finished.

The view after the arborist had finished.

What a transformation!  Both these shots were take from the same spot on our deck.  We just spent ages marvelling at what we had just got back (at a price, of course!).  Our bach-neighbour Gary joined us for our BBQ dinner and by the time we cleaned up and got home it was 8pm and we wanted to get back to the city to look at the Chinese Lantern Festival in Albert Park now that it was getting dark.  It was a good idea but parking was a nightmare so after a couple of circuits we gave up, went home and opened some more wine.

On Sunday morning Craig and I went into the Viaduct Harbour area for a walk and a coffee.  The weather was perfect again.  The Rugby World Cup activities were centred here last year and much of the new Wynyard Quarter was specifically developed for that event.  What is left now is a great facility for the city and tourists with parks, cafés and arenas for cultural and sports events.

The bridge between Auckland's Wynyard Quarter and The Viaduct Harbour area.

The bridge between Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter and The Viaduct Harbour area.

Looking back to the city and Sky Tower from the Viaduct.  This area was where the Americas Cup bases were located for NZ's successful defence in 1999-2000 and not so successful defence in 2003.

Looking back to the city and Sky Tower from the Viaduct. This area was where the Americas Cup bases were located for NZ’s successful defence in 1999-2000 and not so successful defence in 2003.

The old Ferry Building on Auckland's waterfront.

The old Ferry Building on Auckland’s waterfront.

Another retained colonial building in the harbour area.

Another retained colonial building in the harbour area.

Before being made into the Britomart Transport Centre this building was the Chief Post Office.  It is at the bottom of Queen Street between Customs and Quay Streets.

Before being made into the Britomart Transport Centre this building was the Chief Post Office. It is at the bottom of Queen Street between Customs and Quay Streets.

Craig’s flight was early afternoon so after farewelling him at the end of a very good couple of days we headed home and joined our neighbours, Mark and Bronwyn, and friends for a BBQ at their place.  So many BBQs, such a short time… must be a great summer!

Just thinking again about all the things we did during the last few weeks is making me feel worn out.  I had better leave it there for now and have a nap.  Until next time…

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