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Just When You Think Everything Is Under Control

28 Feb

This post was due a while ago.  It has languished as a draft for the last two weeks as I have not been able to clear my mind enough to organise a few photos and publish it.  At the conclusion of my last post I mentioned looking forward to Dad’s visit.  Read on to find out why that got cancelled…

Monday 17th February was a lovely fine and warm day and we spent it going some gardening and relaxing.  We did settle down indoors to watch some highlights from the Winter Olympics ice skating in the afternoon.  So what could go wrong, huh?

Next thing I know there is a noise and Leanne is on the floor in the entrance to the kitchen.  She had tripped on the log basket beside the fire as she was stepping back and turning.  As she went down she automatically put out her right hand and it took the full force of her landing.  The time was 17h15.  It didn’t look too good and she was in pain so off we went to the nearest A&E.  We arrived at the A&E department at Brignoles, where there was a provincial general hospital, at 17h50.  By 18h10 she had had an x-ray and was in a treatment room.  Very efficient.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, she had fractured the radius and displaced the fragment in two planes – upwards and sideways.  This would require surgery.  Because she had eaten only two hours earlier they would not operate that night.  So without reducing the fracture (i.e. without even lining things up as close as possible) they fitted a support cast.  This turned out to be a huge bit of luck.
I left Leanne at the hospital around 22h00 and went back home to start dealing with travel insurance and contacting some friends.  Contacting friends turned out to be crucial.  We are blessed to have great friends who have expertise in a diverse range of fields.  In this case the medical field was trumps.  I sent a message to Belinda to tell her what had happened and the hospital’s proposed course of action.  She in turn contacted another friend who was an orthopaedic surgeon specialising in hand and wrist procedures.  The result was that we declined further treatment at Brignoles in favour of returning home for better treatment.  I finally got to bed at 03h20.
I should stress that this is not meant to be an indictment on Brignoles hospital.  They are a small provincial hospital offering a wide range of services to their local community including a general orthopaedic capability.  Auckland is a much larger city and we have a wider range of services available including a specialist hand and wrist department.  Any provincial hospital in New Zealand would probably have a similar capability to Brignoles.
So with the agreement of our travel insurance company Leanne checked out of Brignoles on Tuesday and we set about firstly getting Leanne’s recovery moving along so that we could take the long flight home and secondly finalising all our affairs in France.  Fortunately we were already working on the close out and compressing what was meant to take 4 weeks into one week was actually feasible.  We also had help from local friends like Jeremy & Jo and Sue.  In fact we stayed with Jeremy & Jo on the first night out of hospital and again on our last night before departing.  They really did pamper us.
The weather was also kind in  our final week – after a very mild winter things turned quite sunny and spring was in evidence all around.  At Jeremy & Jo’s place the mimosa (wattle to us) came in to full bloom and looked great.  One very strange thing did happen with the weather however.  We got up on Wednesday morning to find the cars, and everything else, covered with dirt.  It looked like the cars had been wet down and then very fine dust thrown all over them.  In fact, that was very close to what had happened.  Once or twice a year there is a weather pattern that causes dust from the Sahara to be conveyed north and to be deposited with the rain.  There must have been a huge amount of dust deposited that night because everywhere we went cars looked like they had been on the Dakar rally.  Up at La Regalade the lake looked dirty as did the swimming pool, the terrace and outdoor furniture.  It was a mess.
On Monday 24th February we finished packing and tidying up at La Regalade and drove to Jeremy & Jo’s where we were able to weigh our four bags for the first time.  Bugger!  97kg and our limit was 80kg.  After some serious culling of clothes and keepsakes we managed to get just under the 80kg mark.  It was also time to wash all that Sahara dirt off the car and take it to be sold.
We had arranged a couple of weeks ago to sell it back to the guy we bought it from so we had called him to change the date and he was agreeable.  So with Jeremy in tow we set of to do the deal.  My heart stopped when we got to Draguignan 45 minutes away because the gates to the car yard were locked.  However a phone call brought Matt to the yard and we said farewell to our trusty French sports car.
That evening Jeremy cooked up a delicious cassoulet for dinner and Sue, Robin and Tristan joined us for a very nice evening.  Morning came around a bit too quickly and in no time at all it was time to bid our farewells to Jeremy & Jo and board the mini van that our travel insurers had arranged to get us to Nice airport.  We left right on time at 10am and by noon we were in the lounge taking it easy.
Our flight home was broken in Dubai with an overnight hotel stay.  Nice to Dubai is between five and six hours and then you have time for six hours sleep in a real bed before the long stretch to Melbourne and then Auckland.  The flight to Melbourne was assisted by a strong tail wind plus Jeremy’s cassoulet was still producing its legendary motive force so the flight time was down to 13 instead of 14 hours.  I don’t know where the saved time went to because by the time we had spent 45 minutes getting through the security check in Melbourne (don’t let me get started on that topic!) we only had 45 minutes in the lounge before boarding the last sector to Auckland.
That last sector was three hours and went by very quickly.  We landed in Auckland on time at 13h45 and after a short delay waiting for the gate to clear we were on our way through the formalities and to the waiting taxi.  It was 3pm when we arrived home and Darryn was waiting together with Leanne’s Mum & Dad.  My Dad arrived a little while later and we had coffee and cakes while catching up on the news.  It was so nice to be home!
From here we will need to get Leanne’s surgery organised.  We don’t know exactly what that will entail or how long it will all take but I guess that will be another episode.

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!

Week Five – Frantic Then Relief

4 Mar

Monday was already time to start thinking seriously about what to pack.  We had brought home a few things that we had accumulated and/or no longer needed to have in Europe so the bags were very light, except for the heavy winter clothing that we had needed in Paris on our way home.  We needed a few items from home but we had to be very careful not to bring too much because within the month everything we owned in Europe has to fit into our little car.  And we need to live out of the car (renamed ‘our large suitcase’) for the next four months.  By the time we added a few small Kiwiana gifts to take back the two bags totalled 26kg – not bad when one of the bags was 4.5kg empty and the other was 2.5kg (a smallish soft roller type).

Before we left France Leanne and I had talked about what food we had missed since we left home.  We both came up with Indian or Thai and I added a good steak pie.  I had managed to breathe in a couple of pies already but the spicy food was pending.  So Monday evening we met Darryn after he finished work at Thai Eden, one of our favourite Thai restaurants and close to home.  Steven had gone to Wellington for a few days and he is not so fond of spicy food anyway.

Thai Chicken Red Curry - yum!

Thai Chicken Red Curry – yum!

Getting my computer and more specifically all my photos backed up and moved on to external drives, updating software and basically trying to get everything bulletproof for another spell away was still taking blocks of my time.  I also had some things to sort out on Dad’s system, mainly updates so he could access my shared PhotoStream on his iMac.

On Tuesday evening we had a bunch of friends around…

This time it was not a BBQ.  Instead everyone brought along a plate of finger food and we shared the various dishes over a few beverages.

This time it was not a BBQ. Instead everyone brought along a plate of finger food and we shared the various dishes over a few beverages.

The next two days were a bit of a blur with last catch-ups with family and friends plus all the other things that always present at the last minute.  Our departure was at 6:50pm on Thursday and Steven drove us to the airport in plenty of time.  The online checkin got us into a shorter queue but I don’t think it saved any time – the longer queue was moving quickly and people at the front of our one were repacking bags at the counter and buggering about.  We got there in the end.  At last it was too late for any more last minute things, all we could do and wanted to do now was relax.

The  A380-800 is a very nice aircraft.  In economy class the legroom was better than AirNZ and Air France that we have been on recently.  Power outlets on every other seat is really good for keeping various devices working for the long sectors these aircraft fly.

On his trip to Wellington Steven bought himself a Blues shirt (the Blues are one of the Super 14 Rugby franchises).

On his trip to Wellington Steven bought himself a Blues shirt (the Blues are one of the Super 14 Rugby franchises).

The A380-800 is a huge airliner.  More like a flying village than an aeroplane.  And so quiet.

The A380-800 is a huge airliner. More like a flying village than an aeroplane. And so quiet.

We had a short stop in Melbourne before the main leg to Dubai.  Why they have to do the full security screening again beats me.  FFS we were screened before boarding and we have just deplaned and our movements are restricted so all we can do is go to the boarding area.  Why screen again?  The same thing happened in Dubai.  The whole air security thing is out of control; nobody has thought the process through.  Instead they just keep throwing in more bureaucracy until the whole system is going to choke.  And don’t get me started on where they recruit their staff from.  Time to change subject.

Once we got back in the air I managed to get 6-7 hours sleep and watch a couple of movies.

In transit in Dubai at some unnatural time of the day and I spotted this beauty.  A bargain at less than US$35k.

In transit in Dubai at some unnatural time of the day and I spotted this beauty. A bargain at less than US$35k.

My apologies for the awful photo but there was no other way.  Anyhow, the contents of this window must have had a retail value around US$300~400k.

My apologies for the awful photo but there was no other way. Anyhow, the contents of this window must have had a retail value around US$300~400k.

It was about 5am in Dubai so we found a café and ordered two coffees.  US$12!  Wow.  These guys must have been trying to save up to buy some Macallan!  The sector from Dubai to Nice was on a B777, a big step down from the A380.

The landing into Nice was exciting.  I was watching the nose mounted camera.  The wind was blowing hard directly off the sea and across the runway; there were white caps everywhere so I guess it was at least 30 knots.  Anyway, the aircraft approached the runway yawed probably 45˚ into this wind.  I never saw the runway on the nose camera because it was pointing across the airfield and out to sea!  When the wheels touched down there was a lurch as it straightened then a bit of fish-tailing as the pilot must have been earning his wages on the rudder/steering pedals.  It was exciting and as soon as things were settled applause broke out from the back of the cabin.  Thinking about it, we were over the wing so down the back must have felt many times worse.  As they say, every flight that you walk away from is a good one!

This is extremely cool!  Right there in the baggage claim area at Nice Airport.  Someone has been thinking.

This is extremely cool! Right there in the baggage claim area at Nice Airport. Someone has been thinking.

From the airport we took the shuttle to the train station and then caught the train to Les Arcs where Jeremy and Jo kindly met us and took us back to their place.  We had a cuppa and a chat then with fingers crossed I went out to our car to see if it would start.  I needn’t have worried, it started immediately and ran like a clock.  By the time we got back to Carcès it was about 5pm.  The weather was beautiful, clear and sunny with no sign of last week’s snow that had marooned Jeremy and Jo at their house for a couple of days.  With the sun down it was cold so we got the fire started to take the chill off the place.  Bedtime was early and with thermals on!

Saturday was also a sunny, clear day and we needed to buy some food.  After going to Le Luc we headed back through Le Thoronet only to find both Sue and Lew & Jean out so we took the long route home via Entrecasteaux. It was too nice a day not to do some sightseeing even if we had been there before.

Le Vieux Cannet on the hill and vines ready for Spring in the foreground.

Le Vieux Cannet on the hill and vines ready for Spring in the foreground.

We had been told about the Entrecasteaux Cricket Club but only found it on Saturday.  The large building on the far side is the back of the château.

We had been told about the Entrecasteaux Cricket Club but only found it on Saturday. The large building on the far side is the back of the château.

The Château in Entrecasteaux.

The Château in Entrecasteaux.

Still in Entrecasteaux, this is the bottom end of the one-way section.  I love the interesting ways these places have evolved to use all the available space.

Still in Entrecasteaux, this is the bottom end of the one-way section. I love the interesting ways these places have evolved to use all the available space.

Call me crazy but I just had to take a photo including this rock wall.  The background is not too shabby either!  Note the blossom on the left.

Call me crazy but I just had to take a photo including this rock wall. The background is not too shabby either! Note the blossom on the left.

Sunday was another nice day but there was a bit of fog/haze making the distance look a bit murky.  This was the day we decided to go in search of the snow that the locals had been trying to convince us had drawn the Var to a halt last week.  The was no sign of it around here so we went for a drive to the Gorges du Verdon via the secondary route, the D13, via Carcès, Cotignac, Fox Amphoux, Quinson and ending up in Moustiers-Sainte-Marie for lunch.

Since we were passing through and the light was good for a photo of the cliffs at Cotignac, why not?

Since we were passing through and the light was good for a photo of the cliffs at Cotignac, why not?

Snow in the Gorge du Verdon area as seen from Fox-Amphoux.

Snow in the Gorge du Verdon area as seen from Fox-Amphoux.

One of my loyal readers (yes, Steve) commented on how long it had been since I had posted a photo of lavender.  So here is one with some snow for extra effect.  Enjoy!

One of my loyal readers (yes, Steve) commented on how long it had been since I had posted a photo of lavender. So here is one with some snow for extra effect. Enjoy!

We had not approached Moustiers-Sainte-Marie form this route before and the sun angle was almost perfect (an hour later would have lit the chapel up in the gorge as well).  But you take what you can get when you are an amateur.

We had not approached Moustiers-Sainte-Marie form this route before and the sun angle was almost perfect (an hour later would have lit the chapel up in the gorge as well). But you take what you can get when you are an amateur.

La Chapelle Notre Dame de Beauvoir in the gorge above the village of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie.  We didn't climb the steps up to it this time, I used a 300mm zoom lens instead.

La Chapelle Notre Dame de Beauvoir in the gorge above the village of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie. We didn’t climb the steps up to it this time, I used a 300mm zoom lens instead.

The route home was via Aiguines then on to the main route to Aups, Entrecasteaux, Carcès and home.

The remains of last week's snow around the château up at Aiguines above Lac de Sainte-Croix.

The remains of last week’s snow around the château up at Aiguines above Lac de Sainte-Croix.

What wonderful weather to welcome us back to France!  Next week I will tell you how long it lasted.  Stay tuned!

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…

Week Three – Red Beach, Dad’s 80th Birthday Party

18 Feb

Slept late at the bach and got up to yet another fine and warm day.  After taking a walk around Pinewoods we headed to the outlet shops at Silverdale.  Before going back to the bach we drove down to Orewa for a quick look and a walk on the beach.  It was glorious.  We then spent the rest of the day relaxing and catching up with some of the locals at Pinewoods.

Looking NNW from the cliff-top at Pinewoods (where our holiday place is located).  Orewa beach is on the left in the distance.

Looking NNW from the cliff-top at Pinewoods (where our holiday place is located). Orewa beach is on the left in the distance.

This used to be the Post Office in the small town of Silverdale near Red Beach.  At first glance it seemed a shocking colour to paint such a building, even if it was now re-purposed as a café.  But as I waited in the adjoining park while Leanne was clothes shopping it grew on me.  Now I like it.

This used to be the Post Office in the small town of Silverdale near Red Beach. At first glance it seemed a shocking colour to paint such a building, even if it was now re-purposed as a café. But as I waited in the adjoining park while Leanne was clothes shopping it grew on me. Now I like it.

Picnic table and beach - how much more iconic Kiwi can you get in one picture?

Picnic table and beach – how much more iconic Kiwi can you get in one picture?

NNW along Orewa Beach at low tide.

NNW along Orewa Beach at low tide.

SE along Orewa Beach at low tide.

SE along Orewa Beach at low tide.

The setting sun reflected off a window back along Red Beach with a paddle board rider just going out.

The setting sun reflected off a window back along Red Beach with a paddle board rider just going out.

The tide coming in on Red Beach on another glorious day in paradise.

The tide coming in on Red Beach on another glorious day in paradise.

The walkway from Pinewoods through to the beach.  The building ahead is the back of the Red Beach Surf Life Saving (we need a shorter name!) Club.

The walkway from Pinewoods through to the beach. The building ahead is the back of the Red Beach Surf Life Saving (we need a shorter name!) Club.

On Tuesday I managed to do the weed spraying and mow the lawn before Ken and Tricia (Leanne’s Uncle & Aunt) stopped in for morning tea.  We had a good chat and caught up on their family news.  We headed back to the city after lunch to start on the many things that needed doing before Dad’s party on the weekend.

The party was totally organised by Dad and Judith so all we needed to do was sort out clothes for three days and be there.  I also needed to prepare list of the photos we wanted taken by Jeff on Saturday afternoon.  Since I was MC there were also some formalities that I needed to prepare.  Dad was going to give a talk (because we were not having speeches!) on the highlights of his life so as an introduction I thought that I would first present some interesting facts about events on the 19th of February in history (Dad’s actual birthday is 19th February 1933) followed by setting the scene with some facts/events in 1933.  The first part was easy but the second was very difficult.  This was meant to be a joyful day but in reality 1933 was a very dark year in history – it was the worst of the Great Depression and many of the key events that led ultimately to WWII actually happened in this year.  Digging deeper I did find a few positives and managed to set the scene on which Dad could base his story.

It was a very busy weekend – we arrived at the venue with Steven and Darryn on Friday afternoon and left at lunchtime on Sunday.  It was held at the Ramarama Country Inn where they had motel units as well as the function room and bar.  There were 36 guests in total and many of them stayed at least the Saturday night.  The venue suited our needs very well.

Dad is from a family of sixteen of which eleven survive.  He is the third oldest by birth and the oldest surviving.  All remaining siblings were present for the weekend.  It was figured out that the last time all the siblings had been together was in 1963.  So taking lots of photos was a priority and we excelled.  Jeff took all the more formal shots, about 160 of them.  There are some great shots.  Because I was busy with other duties I gave my new camera and my old one to Steven and Darryn so they could take candid shots all weekend.  Between then they took another 870 photos and some were excellent.  Out of this 1000+ photos I selected about 240 together with Dad and put them on a CD together with the video of his talk so they could be sent to all the guests.

Overall the weekend was a great success.  It is rare in such a large family to get everyone together and be able to relax together and chat.  I didn’t get any work done on the family tree records as I had naively hoped but there is an interest in getting this project of mine pushed along.  Perhaps next year when I get home.

My Dad looking none of his 80 years.

My Dad looking none of his 80 years.

All 36 guests at Dad's 80th Birthday Party.

All 36 guests at Dad’s 80th Birthday Party.

All the surviving siblings, ranging in age from 80 to 56 years.  Four brothers and one sister have passed away.

All the surviving siblings, ranging in age from 80 to 56 years. Four brothers and one sister have passed away.

The cutting of the cake.

The cutting of the cake.

By the time we got home on Sunday to have a BBQ with Leanne’s brother, Bryce, and his family plus her sister Sharon, we were exhausted.  Any thoughts that we had ever really been in control of our schedule are now well forgotten.

Week Two – Camera, Sydney and Sandy Bay

11 Feb

The main event for me this week was a trip to Sydney to see Alan and collecting my new camera from duty free on the way.  Monday got lost on administration and preparing for a 4am wake up on Tuesday.  Booking a cheap flight departing at 7am seemed like a good idea at the time!  I managed to get to the airport in plenty of time and collected the package from the duty free collection point before settling down at a table to open it all.  Wow!  I knew exactly what I was getting, even the most obscure details but getting it in my hot little hands was very nice indeed.  First photo – the spirits shelf in the airport café.  Very original!

Alan’s timing at the airport to pick me up was impeccable.  He was standing there when I emerged from Customs and we got back to the machine to pay for the parking but there was no charge – still within the grace period.  That doesn’t happen often.  From the airport we went to Centennial Park where Miranda was waiting to meet us (well, met me really; she already knows Alan!) and then to The Gap for a walk followed by lunch.

Cliff-top walk in Gap Park on the peninsula opposite Watsons Bay in Sydney.

Cliff-top walk in Gap Park on the peninsula opposite Watsons Bay in Sydney.

The view across the top of Watsons Bay and back to the CBD.

The view across the top of Watsons Bay and back to the CBD.

The view from our lunch table at 'Doyles By The Sea' on Watsons Bay.  Very nice and rather pricey!

The view from our lunch table at ‘Doyles By The Sea’ on Watsons Bay. Very nice and rather pricey!

It was after 11pm local time when I had to throw in the towel.  These visits to Sydney are always so packed with catching up on what has happened in the last year or so, solving all the problems of the world, exploring places on foot and enjoying each other’s company.  I love it.

The following photos were taken on a walk from Lavender Bay in North Sydney to the far end of George Street near Rawson Place, about 12km in total.

On a walk around Lavender Bay to cross the bridge.

On a walk around Lavender Bay to cross the bridge.

The iconic Luna Park.

The iconic Luna Park.

The Sydney Opera House viewed from the top of the Harbour Bridge.

The Sydney Opera House viewed from the top of the Harbour Bridge.

The beautiful Queen Victoria Buildings in the Sydney CBD.

The beautiful Queen Victoria Buildings in the Sydney CBD.

Free gift with purchase!  I bought two 1TB external HDDs and got this gift.  Alan and I laughed our way up the street afterwards.

Free gift with purchase! I bought two 1TB external HDDs and got this gift. Alan and I laughed our way up the street afterwards.

When the café waitress was not watching this Rainbow Lorikeet stole a sugar pack from the service desk and proceeded to eat it.

When the café waitress was not watching this Rainbow Lorikeet stole a sugar pack from the service desk and proceeded to eat it.

On Thursday we started from Clovelly and walked to Bondi Beach and back, 11km.  Each day the weather is getting hotter – only 24˚C on Tuesday but 28˚C on Thursday.

Friday was just a short walk ending up along North Steyne Beach and into the shopping precinct for a coffee.  On the way…

On a walk around the coast near Manly Beach a couple of walkers had stopped and were peering off the path.  Not more than 3m from the footpath was this Eastern Water Dragon.  I got close enough with a 300mm zoom lens that in one shot I can see my own reflection in the pupil of its eye!

On a walk around the coast near Manly Beach a couple of walkers had stopped and were peering off the path. Not more than 3m from the footpath was this Eastern Water Dragon. I got close enough with a 300mm zoom lens that in one shot I can see my own reflection in the pupil of its eye!

Just loving the new camera!  Lots to learn though.

Alan dropped me at the airport just after 3pm for my 5:30pm flight back to Auckland.  Got home about 11:45pm.

While I was away, Heidi and Greg and family had arrived from Canberra where they are on assignment.  Greg works for the US Army and Heidi is the daughter of Leanne’s school exchange family way back in the day, Rick and Linda of Portland, Oregon.  Anyway, I got up reasonably early so I could catch up on their news (I hadn’t seen them since 1997 or so) before they had to leave for a trip to the Waitomo Caves.  They had a busy schedule of exciting activities over a two week NZ holiday.

Next it was off to pick up Belinda and Sara (daughter) for the drive up north to Sandy Bay.  James was already there with Penny and we were joining them for Saturday night.

This beautiful De Soto was spotted in a café car park on the drive up north to Sandy Bay.  There were many classic cars on the road so I guess there was a show on somewhere.

This beautiful De Soto was spotted in a café car park on the drive up north to Sandy Bay. There were many classic cars on the road so I guess there was a show on somewhere.

James and Belinda’s property near Sandy Bay is a very special place.  James is on a mission to build an elegant yet practical house on it (almost complete) and to protect large parts of the property from cattle, goat, pig, opossum and other predator pests so the native flora and fauna can re-establish.

The view NNE out to sea from the deck at James and Belinda's property near Sandy Bay.

The view NNE out to sea from the deck at James and Belinda’s property near Sandy Bay.

A 180˚ panorama from the deck.  The top railings are actually meant to be straight across the front, if you see what I mean.

A 180˚ panorama from the deck. The top railings are actually meant to be straight across the front, if you see what I mean.

After a bit of cross-country up hill and down dale it was time for a rest in the afternoon sun.

After a bit of cross-country up hill and down dale it was time for a rest in the afternoon sun.

Sunset from the deck at the end of a very nice day.

Sunset from the deck at the end of a very nice day.

James and I spent most of Sunday relocating the solar power control system and storage cells from their temporary home of 4 years in the hallway to the designated space in the laundry.  It took a while but we got there with no lost time injuries to report!

Leanne and I went via Sandy Bay beach to take some photos and then through Matapouri, Tutukaka and Ngunguru.

A small stream entering the northern end of Sandy Bay, about 10 minutes from the gate of James and Belinda's place.

A small stream entering the northern end of Sandy Bay, about 10 minutes from the gate of James and Belinda’s place.

We got to our bach at 9:15pm after picking up fish and chips from the Red Beach Takeaways right on their 9pm closing time -we phoned the order in as we passed Puhoi. We enjoyed dinner with a glass of wine then gladly went to bed.  It has been a busy few days.

The First Full Week

4 Feb

When I mentioned last time that this post was at risk of being late I never imagined that it would be quite this late!  It is now 4th March and we are back in France and I am only just finding time to write again.  Our whole time back in NZ was incredibly busy and enjoyable but we were both exhausted by the time we got back on the flight to France.  It will probably take a week or so to catch up with the posts now so bear with me.

I also forecast that this post might be short.  What I found was that because I was ‘home’ I took far fewer photos in general because I guess everything is so familiar.  Since I essentially build my blog around the few photos I select out of the usual multitudes, a lack of photos to start from means a shortened blog.

Our first week at home was a model of organisation and control when compared to the ensuing weeks.  We started attending to our various ‘to-do’ lists including catching up with family and friends, doctors visits, insurances, etc.

Steven and Darryn, with guidance from Dad, had done well in the garden.  These tomatoes were collected from self-sown plants from last year's crop.  They were very healthy, did not get watered for the month we were home and still produced excellent fruit.

Steven and Darryn, with guidance from Dad, had done well in the garden. These tomatoes were collected from self-sown plants from last year’s crop. They were very healthy, did not get watered for the month we were home and still produced excellent fruit.

On Tuesday, after dealing with some routine stuff, Leanne and I went up to our bach at Red Beach to spend the night.  For non-Kiwis, a ‘bach’ is local parlance for a holiday house.  Our bach is situated in a park called Pinewoods.  While there we arranged for some maintenance to be done and for the trees, that have now completely blocked our sea view, to be trimmed.

Looking SE at low tide along Red Beach.

Looking SE at low tide along Red Beach.

Three hours later looking NNW up Orewa beach and the wind is up making great conditions for all the kite surfers.

Three hours later looking NNW up Orewa beach and the wind is up making great conditions for all the kite surfers.

Must be home - there is a fern on my coffee.

Must be home – there is a fern on my coffee.

This was in the holiday park at Pinewoods and I just had to snap it.

This was in the holiday park at Pinewoods and I just had to snap it.

We returned home on Wednesday afternoon and in the evening Darryn had arranged for a group of us to go mountain biking at Woodhill Forest.  We met Jeff, Logan and John in the car park and set off.  Darryn had prepared my bike so even though it had not been used for a year everything was working fine.  Apart from feeling very unfit I was surprised at how well I went.  My heat rate maxed at 182bpm!  I generally felt very good on the bike and it made me realise that I do miss riding.  This will have to be a big focus when we return for good next March.  Remarkably, when I woke on Thursday morning I had no aches or pains, I felt great.

Thursday was spent on mundane stuff except for meeting Steven and Darryn at De Post for a beer after they had finished their respective work.  Happy hour from 5pm to 7pm and $5 Belgian beers.  Excellent.

More routine stuff on Friday – my photo collection from the last 10 months is over 330GB and the HDD on my laptop was within a whisker of totally full so some serious housekeeping was needed.  Also needed to properly set up my iPhone 5 and convert the old iPhone 4 for Leanne to use.  Not exciting but it all takes a lot of time.

On Friday evening we had a BBQ at home catch up with various neighbours and friends.

Catching up with friends over a BBQ at our place.  I don't know what Gary (edge of shot on the right) said but it did something to Darryn.

Catching up with friends over a BBQ at our place. I don’t know what Gary (edge of shot on the right) said but it did something to Darryn.

Leanne and I had a champagne breakfast with Steven and Darryn in Newmarket on Saturday morning.  This is what was parked outside…

NZ streets can look like a working car museum some days.  According to the registration plate this is a 1958 Morris Minor.

NZ streets can look like a working car museum some days. According to the registration plate this is a 1958 Morris Minor.

Dad and Judith came over for dinner on Saturday evening and we talked some more about the plans for Dad’s 80th birthday party next week.  On Sunday we had dinner with Leanne’s Mum & Dad at their place (with Steven and Darryn too).  They bought an iPad for Xmas and are getting quite good at using it already.  Visits now also have a tutorial aspect to them.  The iPad is an ideal platform for ‘late adopters’ – it is very user friendly, robust, stable and it is hard to actually do any damage or lose data.  The mechanical simplicity is also fantastic – no cables, keyboards, mice, speakers, etc.  I would recommend it to anyone who has until now managed to avoid joining the computer age.

One week done, three to go!  Stay tuned.

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