Fat pigeons

Jamie – 17 October 2011

We finished up our five days in Venice today. Bec and I were in Venice ten years ago (to the day) for our honeymoon and this visit served up constant lovely reminders of that wonderful time. It truly is one of the great cities to visit.

Being with children we did everything differently this time around.

We DIDN’T visit St Mark’s Basilica, or climb the Campanile, or visit the Doges Palace, or dine at Harry’s Bar or buy a cappuccino for ten euro in St Mark’s Square. We did all those things ten years ago and our children can do them when they come back some day – which I’m certain they will.

We DID go to St Mark’s Square everyday and feed the pigeons until they were too flat to fly (and found out that it was illegal on our last day. Sorry Ms Nasty Policewoman). Bec had found a small supermarket which sold 2 litre buckets of bread crumbs for 90 cents a pop, and promptly bought four. Our children consequently made several hundred winged friends many of whom would happily perch of Mylo’s hand, Sari’s shoulder or Foster’s head (often all at the same time). This of course also drew in other children and was enormous fun.

We DID visit the Giardini Pubblici on three of our five days. Who would have known that on a crammed island like Venice there would be an enormous beautiful park (created by Napoleon Bonaparte no less) with a marvelous children’s playground? My old friend Patrik Valsinger, that’s who – he put me onto it a day before we arrived and my children will be forever grateful.

We DID go to a Chinese restaurant on three of our five nights because that is what the children really really wanted, after having dined on pizza and pasta for the last three weeks. It was actually great food – “Tian Jin”, a few blocks north of the Rialto Bridge if you are ever in Venice and feel similarly minded. The other two nights we splashed out on some excellent local fare and the children produced some of their best behavior (which was lucky because one of the nights was our 10th wedding anniversary!).

We DID go on a gondola ride – something Bec and I oddly did not do on our honeymoon. I seem to recall our first night’s dinner at Harry’s Bar unexpectedly consumed my entire honeymoon fun-stuff budget and we dropped it, but looking back on it now that was a silly decision. This time around we picked a friendly looking gondolier and suggested to him a price which we understood was good value – and he was very happy to oblige. Either our research was off the mark or, more likely I think, he was just a very nice fellow. He was wonderfully entertaining and seemed to know exactly what would interest the children, even pointing out the house which collapsed into the canal in Casino Royale, one of Foster and Mylo’s favourite James Bond films. That really got their attention.

We DID go to Murano and marvelled at the art of glass blowing and glass art manufacturing. It answered a whole lot of questions that the children had never thought to ask. It also came with a great boat ride past the fascinating San Michele Cemetary Island which sits high above the water – because they can’t bury people on the main island can they – think about it!

We DID race to the canal which ran alongside our hotel every time we came or went, to see if the tide was in or out. The children were fascinated with the concept of Venice sinking into the sea and took each high tide to be a sign that this beautiful city’s end was near. Six hours later it was again saved, much to their amazement. I started trying to explain tides, the influence of the moon, the way the lagoon and the Adriatic Sea interact – and then I stopped. They will come to understand all that later on, and for the time being why ruin their fun and excitement.

We DID walk everywhere (except when we were on a vaporetto) and we did eat lots of gelato every day. But that has been the story of our time in Italy. Shoe leather and flavoured ice confectionary have been consumed in every beautiful city and town we have visited – Genova, Pisa, Belforte, Radicondoli, Siena, San Gimignano, Voltare, Rome, Florence, Verona and now Venice. We have loved our entire time in Italy and shall miss it greatly.

We drove just over five hours today from Venice, over the majestic Alps, and into Fussen, Germany – the land of castles, amongst other things. The temperature dropped markedly (the nights here are usually below zero this time of the year). Half a day in the car and we are in a new climate, experiencing a new language, seeing a new landscape and immersed in a new culture. This for me is what Europe is all about. Western Europe is actually incredibly small and lends itself so well to exploring by car.

We are off to Neuschwanstein Castle tomorrow.

The children - seeing Venice in style!

Mylo's portrait of Mum and Dad. Not bad.

Pigeon poo - the natural hair conditioner.

Mylo. Friend to all animals.

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Bleeding ears and shiny boobs

Jamie – 11 October 2011

Yesterday we finished up five lovely days in Florence. It gave us a very different take on the Florence we saw on our day trip from Belforte a few weeks back. This time around we explored the city at our leisure with a focus on family, fun and food. We walked in a different direction each day (the children on their scooters) and just followed our noses really – window shopped, enjoyed the buskers, rode the carousel, eat gelato, talked to the locals and took up all their suggestions on things to do and places to eat. We also had a lucky break with our accommodation in that we were moved from the hotel we had booked online to a nearby apartment they had recently acquired which was literally one block from the Duomo. The apartment had two large bedrooms, a living room, kitchen and 2 bathrooms. Perfect for a family of five!

Its only negative was the noise off the street, which was a 24 hour affair – not surprising given our location and more than offset by the benefits the location provided. I learnt to sleep with ear plugs.

Foster and I explored the Leonardo Da Vinci Museum which included fully working wooden models of many of his inventions including a tank, helicopter and machine gun. Not bad for a man who died in 1519! He wasn’t just an inventor – his CV showed that he was also a painter (think Mona Lisa / The Last Supper), sculptor, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist and writer. He was without doubt the greatest polymath (look it up!) who ever lived.

We went to a restaurant that we will long remember and which we wholeheartedly recommend to anyone visiting. Il Latini serves traditional Florentine fare under hundreds of hanging prosciutto ham hocks, which makes for a wonderful ambience. You have to book (there were queues a mile long of those who hadn’t) and the highly entertaining waiters won’t let you anywhere near a menu – instead they just suggest dishes, and none disappoint. It was not expensive for a good restaurant and it was one of those rare meals where all five of us came away very excited about what we had just eaten. Usually Bec and I are at polar opposites to the children on what constitutes an exciting meal.

Florence - during an evening stroll.

The Florence carousel - a daily activity for the children.

We are currently in Verona – home of Romeo and Juliet (and the Adamsons for two days). Apart from the fame afforded it by Mr Shakespeare, Verona is worthy of a visit for its beautifully preserved amphitheatre (which hosts opera and numerous other concerts every year), its striking main square, bell tower and shop-filled network of pedestrian-only streets.

It is however a nightmare to drive around if you are staying in the old part of town, as we are. Within minutes of hitting Verona we were less than 50 metres of our hotel but we might as well have been 50 kilometres away for all the good it did us. We had to track randomly through 50 narrow one-way streets and pedestrian-only zones. After coming to blows with GPS-Jane who seemed oblivious to these features we spoke to three separate policemen each of whom gave us a different set of instructions for cracking the maze. Erno Rubik himself would have had a meltdown, and I’m still not convinced the hotel itself can be reached if you follow the street rules strictly. We ultimately ignored a few one-way signs and got there.

It was worth it however. Within a few steps of our hotel we have the amphitheatre, dozens of quality restaurants and clothes shops. After three warm months of travel we can feel the cooler weather approaching and have started to invest in warmer clothes – coats, etc. Today we mailed a box home – full of most of our summer clothes and a few other non-essentials.

Foster and I climbed the bell tower – about our fifth bell tower of the trip. At 84 metres it was not as high as others we have climbed but the view from the top was again well worth it. As I was admiring the enormous bell and pondering its ringing mechanism Foster pointed out that it was 3 minutes to midday.

That explained why there had been two coach-loads of people heading down the steps at considerable pace as we were heading up, and why the other three people up there were inserting ear plugs. I seemed to have missed the sign that everyone else had read.

MAN, WAS IT LOUD – fingers in the ears did nothing and we both nearly needed a change of underpants. Foster proudly refused to block his ears (and was accordingly unresponsive to most questions put to him for the rest of the day). Talk about bad timing – if only we had waited an hour we would have been saved eleven of those blows to our heads.

Earlier in the day we had given Foster and Mylo the task of navigating us to Juliette’s balcony. They had the hotel-supplied map and actually came up with a reasonably direct route all by themselves which took about 10 minutes to walk. The house and balcony are contained in a lovely small cobblestoned courtyard, which also houses a bronze statue of Juliette.

Legend has it that if you rub her breasts you get good luck – as a result she has the shiniest boobs of any statue I have ever seen. Not surprisingly, of those seeking good luck, men outnumbered women by about twenty to one.

Off to Venice tomorrow for five nights.

Juliette's balcony, Verona.

Juliette, and her highly polished breasts.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Lost in translation

Bec – 4 October 2011

Sometimes you don’t feel like blogging….you just have nothing to say or nothing that you think would interest anybody…..and then you see something……..and bang …you feel a blog coming on.  So you have two blogs today – one from each of us !

My moment of blog ecstasy was on Saturday morning on the Autostrade heading from Belforte to Rome. Sitting behind a small car that had a sticker on it’s back window …………..well let’s just show you what it said…..

OK. We'll give you a wide berth.

The words LOST IN TRANSLATION spring to mind…..along with a few females that I know who could do with that sticker on the back of their car.

This moment of humour bought some light entertainment to our car as we progressed towards Roma and it started a conversation between Jamie and myself about our individual blogging styles.

When we started our blog, we each had a very distinctive style – Jamie was very much straight laced reporting with some humorous anecdotes served as a side order, and I had a style of observational storytelling peppered with a tinge of sarcasm and cynicism.

The question is….after nearly three months on the road together…..…have we changed as people….and as a result …..have our blogging styles changed?

According to my cousin and blogging queen extraordinaire, Ms Sarah Bryden-Brown, the answer is ‘Yes’.

Apparently our once very distinct voices have begun to merge over the last two or three blogs to the point where she was not sure who was writing.

Jamie and I put this down to a sense of relaxation and the ability to look at life in a more humourous way when you are happy.

We think this is a great turn of events……that our happiness and relaxation is coming across not only in our expanding waistlines, but also in our outlooks and commentary.

Jamie however always has to have the last dig at me and as he always jokes about my lack of capital letters, poor grammar and my very own personal made up language.  He took the opportunity to point out that maybe, I was merging with his voice as much as he was merging into mine, with the comment……. ‘Yes…our blogs voices are becoming more similar…I am starting to sound more relaxed and humourous and you are finally starting to use punctuation!!!!’ Touche….mon cherie!!!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Segways and swords

Jamie – 4 October 2011

I had my second haircut for the trip today. No need to worry about barber conversation this time as the nice old fellow didn’t speak a word of English. This was a clear frustration to him. Romans like to talk. Barbers like to talk. He is a Roman barber, so the inevitable happened – he experienced a massive conversation buildup which was only released when his poor wife walked in the door. It was a torrent of words which probably involved me in different forms but I was happily ignorant of it all. Twenty-five Euro and 15 minutes later it was done. Bene? he asked. Si, grazie – ciao!

I’ve really enjoyed Rome. It’s completely mad. We parked our car on the first day and wisely haven’t touched it since. There are virtually no lines on the roads and it is pure Darwinism as to who survives the daily commute. We haven’t actually seen an accident but we hear about four ambulances an hour screaming off somewhere – some dodo bird of a driver having lost the fight no doubt. The kings of the road are without doubt the taxi drivers and top of any to-do list in Rome has to be a cross-town taxi ride. It’s a visit to Luna Park, Monza and guided tour all rolled into one. It’s unbelievably exciting – accelerator punctuated occasionally by brake – and we try to do at least one a day. The drivers are almost always friendly, albeit they come across as reasonably disinterested in their primary task of delivering us alive – preferring instead to take a phone call or admire the female form.

Today the boys and I attended Gladiator School where a reasonably intense gentleman (possibly an off-duty taxi driver) took us through two hours of attacking and defensive sword moves. Thankfully the swords were wood otherwise our trip may have been over as of today – try containing a 9 and 7 year old to the five official sword moves of a Gladiator! They actually both got it at the end of the lesson but then wanted to add some pretty fancy Jedi twists which the instructor did not approve of – not authentic apparently. Anyway it was great fun with lots of “Aves”, “Vales” and bruised knuckles.

The Adamson gladiators, ready for action.

Yesterday Bec arranged for me to see Rome from the comfort of a three-hour tour on a Segway. I’ve always been fascinated by these self-balancing devices and the way they improbably stay upright on two parallel wheels regardless of whether they are stationary or in motion. I’ve also been a little put off by the image of fat tourists who can’t climb three stairs using them to the amusement of the rest of us. However, I am completely hooked – they are enormous fun, remarkably easy to drive, allowed us to see a large amount of Rome on-foot (ok, sort of) at our own pace, and no, there were no fatties in our group.

The guide was an affable Italian archaeologist called Fabio who made me laugh often for no other reason than his voice. He was the best Borat impersonator I have ever heard. “Pleez follow me. Upa-here we have some-ding very nice, very special for you. You like it, no?”.

We hovered past the Coliseum, Circus Maximus and Forum. We also visited the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (or SMOM), which I had never heard of but which is a Roman Catholic lay religious order and also a recognised sovereign state, based in Rome. So Rome in fact houses three separate sovereign states – Italy, the Vatican and the SMOM. The SMOM is completely walled in and sits on a hill above the city. There is a famous key hole in its main gates through which you can see St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City, perfectly framed by the key hole. It is a strange concept to be standing in Italy looking through the key hole of one country at the dome of another. This is also one of the best places to see Rome in all its panoramic glory as there are virtually no tourists around (as few know of it).

Over the last two days we have also explored most of Villa Borghese, Rome’s second largest park with 148 acres of rolling hills, gardens, a lake and the odd museum. We hired row boats, golf buggies and rickshaws, as well as played soccer with the local children who admitted that the Australian boys play football pretty well.

Soccer - a uniting game everywhere we travel.

The highlight of our time in Rome however has been a visit to the Vatican City, and in particular the truly beautiful St Peter’s Basilica, which has the largest interior of any Christian church in the world. We visited late afternoon on Saturday, having only driven into Rome a few hours earlier. The chairs were all set up in St Peter’s Square for a service the following morning.

In this day and age it can take a lot to make children stop in their tracks and just stare in awe. Ours were a little testy after their long drive in the car but Bec and I both smiled at their reaction as we crossed into the walled enclave of the Vatican City. For the first few moments they just stood silent and still. Then Foster said “this is awesome” and the other two nodded in complete agreement. The sun was setting and the whole area just seemed full of warmth – everyone smiling, looking relaxed and in awe of the views in every direction.

The Adamsons in St Peter's Square, Vatican City.

The Vatican chair arrangements. The 12th chair in the 37th row looks crooked to me.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

La Dolce Vita

Bec – 29 September 2011

And so it happened….as inevitable as death……we hit the middle of our journey.

I could try and deny it……… just as many humans do death……..but deep down we all know that none of us are getting out of this world alive and we also know that you can’t rewind time….. so as I write this blog ….. we HAVE crossed over the middle point in our travels… and so it is, that it must be accepted and embraced.

This week has been sheer bliss, sharing our home in Tuscany with Jamie’s sister Jo, her husband Alan and her gorgeous children Gulliver and Hilde.

There is nothing like close family and there is certainly nothing like sharing a life changing adventure with your loved ones, so we have been especially lucky that Jo and Alan decided to join us for a short time on our travels.

Very different to the pace of last week’s day trips and exploration around Tuscany, this week was filled with long lunches, children’s soccer on the terrace and lots of Uno. It gave us a chance to relax, breathe in and out and soak up the Tuscan sun, that so many fall in love with and never return from.

This really doesn't need words does it!!!!

Tonight we spent our last meal together at a restaurant in Radicondoli. It was very impressive, seated on the Pergola, looking over the Tuscan countryside and taking in the colours of the sunset. The food was simple and rustic, with the perfect blend of flavours, just what we were after, so the evening was always going to be a success.

The only thing that had the waiter stumped was when I asked for a coke……..what, he said…no vino for you. ……….no I replied in my most responsible voice….I’m driving…….he then replies…you don’t need to worry signoria …….all the policemen are asleep now …(it was 7.45pm on a Thursday night!!)

This is the wonderful kind of life that we have become accustomed to in both France and Italy, they both have different ways of describing it……in France it’s a certain joi de vive …a zest for life and in Italy it’s la dolce vita….living the good life. Whatever language you say it in…it means the same thing…and it will be something that I will miss sorely as we travel further north into Germany and across to the US.

There is a immense freedom in France and Italy to enjoy one’s life…in fact the inhabitants would see it more as a right. The food and wine simply assist in the enjoyment factor, but life is simple and the smallest things are celebrated. Everyone is included in the bounties that life brings. A simple act of waving and saying good morning to the farmer below our house the other day, led to a knock at the door and a gorgeous old man with a basket of freshly picked figs especially for me. I did not understand a single word he said but a few kisses on his cheeks were enough to make him blush and smile from ear to ear. Now, whenever I see him in the village he waves, dips his hat and chats furiously to his other little old male friends on the bench with him. I’m sure he is saying something along the lines of ….’see that young girl…if you take her a basket of fruit she’ll kiss you’….but you know what…I don’t care…..the fact is….he made me smile …..and I made an old man very happy…and that what I think life is all about.

I’m not really looking forward to entering back into the world of deadlines and time constraints. I have been able to let so much go ……and I have calmed so much that I’m not sure about how I really fit into my old space.

For now I am assuming that the pace of life and necessities of school terms will snap me back into gear….

Jamie is often perplexed by my sadness at how fast the days seem to be flying by, but I see it as such a wonderful thing that I am finding each moment so precious, so important that I do not want it to pass.

A wise person once said that “time flies when you are having fun”…………then I must be having the time of my life…because it is rushing by at the speed of light.

Jamie and Jo enjoying Caffe La Pergola

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Snakes and Bra bars

Jamie – 26 September 2011

We haven’t been near the computer for the last week.  Sorry to our regular blog readers – amazingly we average about 50 views a day – but we have been busy.  A highlight for us was the Broom family staying with us for the last week and it was sad watching them drive off yesterday for the next leg of their journey.

It has been tough.  I mean the lodgings are nothing like home (see photo’s below).

Our two week home in Belforte, Tuscany

The view from our bedroom window

Our meal table. Muesli tastes better when accompanied by a view like this.

Our garden. Foster and Mylo's soccer field.

No sooner had I written about missing the bell tower of Uzes, and Belforte comes over the top with its own bell tower which chimes every single hour of the day, with an additional single chime on the half-hour.  None of this stopping at 10pm and starting at 7am nonsense.  Also, in case the bell tower fails to interrupt your sleep the rooster has a special surprise which he rolls out at 5.30am.  The dogs love him doing this, and all tell him so.

Strangely we have gotten used to all of this and just roll over and go back to sleep.  If it was happening in Glen Iris I would no doubt be calling the police and starting a petition, but here it seems perfectly natural and just part of daily life.

Happily we are here for another week, and are sharing some of that with my sister and her family, who arrive tomorrow at the start of what promises to be a lovely three week European vacation for them.  So we are in a very social period of our travels which is a fun change and gives the children in particular some highly sought-after companionship from same-aged, like-minded, similarly behaved (you know what I mean) friends.

The Brooms and Adamsons have done plenty of exploring.  We went to Florence where we climbed all 414 steps of a .. guess what … bell tower. The children also rode a century old carousel and drew the said bell tower while being photographed by 30 Japanese tourists doing it.  We ate gelato.  Lots of it.  Bec and I also found a little restaurant near the Duomo that featured large in our honeymoon, 10 years ago.  It was a magical day and we have decided to return to Florence for a few nights in a couple of week’s time to re-acquaint ourselves with this beautiful city, this time with our children.

We went to San Gimignano – which also featured in our honeymoon – and revisited “Gelateria di Piazza” which still proudly boasts the best gelato in the whole world.  It has numerous world championship awards above the front door and on its walls. Who knew such a championship existed?  I’m clearly in the wrong job. We climbed another bell tower and marveled at another breath-taking 360 degree view of Tuscany.

We also ventured to Radicondoli (a beautiful village just 8kms away from Belforte which has more cats than any other place I’ve been to) and Siena (an hour away) whose old town is seemingly untouched by time.  We loved walking the old streets and had a wonderful lunch there.  Siena, in particular, is worthy of a second visit one day.

Today was fun.  It started with Foster finding a one foot long snake on the patio.  It was probably just admiring the view, and in any event took off across the grass, not to be sighted again.  We hope.

We subsequently googled “Tuscan snakes” and found them to be aggressive but thankfully not venomous.  The boys however lost their appetite for soccer on our beautiful patch of lawn.  I give it a day before fear morphs to pride, as the cousins arrive tomorrow and it will be a big story.

We then set off for another notable Tuscan town, Volterra, famed for its alabaster artistry and sheer beauty, being perched high on a hill with original fortified walls all still in place. Readers of the Twilight series of books will also know that it is the ancestral home of the vampires.

It is also home to a “Museum of Torture” which I came across and decided to visit.  Thankfully I did this on my own as it was one of the most horrific museums I have ever been to. There are literally hundreds of devices in there which have been used through the ages – some recently even – to ensure that someone dies a truly gruesome death.  The museum itself exists to repulse people and hopefully in doing so lead to the eradication of torture, which sadly still exists in many parts of the world.

While I came out thinking the visit was worthwhile in a morbidly interesting kind of way I should clearly have stayed with Bec.  While I was learning about guillotines and water-boarding, she and the children had come across “La Vena di Vino” a wine bar adorned with literally hundreds of bras hanging from the roof, donated by various women who have dropped by for a drink.  She of course completely failed to mention this to me when we re-grouped and it was only after dinner tonight that she told me about it and showed me the photo.

Volterra, lads – vampires, torture and bra bar.  Put it on your itinerary.

La Vena di Vino, Volterra. a.k.a "The Bra Bar"

I love this photo of Sari. At a war memorial in Volterra.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Mad butchers and faulty towers

Jamie – 18 September 2011

She didn’t kill us. In fact Jane our GPS navigator did a grand job in getting us from Uzes, France to Belforte, Radicondoli, Italy. Probably just trying to lull us into a false sense of security before she sends us the wrong way down an autostrade in a few weeks time.

The last few days have been a lot of fun. On Wednesday last week the Piedon Family Circus stopped for a day in Uzes. This is a true family circus where the five family members do all the acts themselves – assisted by a dog, a cat and a goat. It has been a while since I have been to a circus that included animals and while I am generally against the concept there seemed to be a lot of animal love going on in that tent (in a healthy kind of way).

The goat understood that it was expected to climb onto each of the tables which were being successively placed underneath her, and which got progressively smaller and smaller. In the end, drawing upon all her mountain goat instincts, she was somehow standing on a table that clearly belonged in a doll house and was about twelve tables off the ground.

The cat was much smarter. She emerged from her box in the middle of the ring, saw the flaming hoop she was supposed to jump through, and bolted out of the tent. Initially I thought it was part of the act – it certainly got a laugh – but the knowing looks between mother and son confirmed that pussy had gone “off-piste” and a slightly unprepared daughter was ushered out to do her hoola-hoop tricks. We were honoured with ringside seats and got to pet each of the animals, apart from the cat who was long gone. Three hours after the show the big top was down and the circus had moved onto the next village. What an amazing life.

On Thursday we drove an hour to Avignon, a much larger city but still with beautiful buildings, cobbled laneways, interesting shops and ice-cream to die for. It is also famous
for having a very impressive bridge which doesn’t quite make it to the other side of the Rhone river which it (almost) spans. I never learnt French but Bec assures me that anyone who did at school has a song (‘Sur le Pont d’Avignon‘) about that bridge drummed into their heads. She sang it for us all as we stood next to the bridge.

Apart from Bec’s singing, our children’s Avignon highlight was a butcher we found in one of the food halls. Butchers in France typically sell their meat somewhat “less processed” that their Australian counterparts. Heads are usually still attached to chickens, ducks, rabbits and even the odd boar. It kind of fills in the “missing link” between little lamb-ikins and those yummy chops that appear on our plate. I’m sure it has some people thinking about becoming a vegetarian. Not me. And apparently not our children, which is a relief.

Anyway, this butcher had a great sense of humour and upon hearing we were from “L’Australie” he proceeded to put on a short “puppet show” involving a skinless rabbit and a partially feathered chook. For the sake of this impromptu play he called the rabbit a “kangawoo” and the chook “le Coq”. In what was apparently a taste of what is to come in the current Rugby World Cup the Coq proceeded to do violent and unmentionable things to the Kangawoo. It was great theatre, being performed with enormous laughter from a man who reminded me of Obelix, minus his menhir.

The mad butcher .. before the rabbit and coq episode

That afternoon we returned to Uzes and joined our lovely friend Suzy Loret, at her invitation, for a very magical picnic down by the nearby river. We were joined by her daughter Poppy and a visiting friend Annie. Suzy and Annie had cooked the most amazing feast including quails, prawns, quail eggs, beautiful salads, dips and wine. Suzy had also come prepared for an egg and spoon race, an egg tossing competition, and one of those races to eat an apple on the end of a string. It was so much fun – we didn’t want that night to end, and it was such a special way to finish our time in Uzes.

The next morning we packed the car and set off for Italy. We decided to break the ten hour drive with a night in Genova. It was really just a hotel stopover and we didn’t see anything of the city. We are very much “back in the saddle” as far as driving goes. Jane helped us navigate the 130kph motorways and frequent tolling stations, while the built-in DVD player made for a very peaceful trip in so far as the second row of cars seats was concerned.

Yesterday we left Genova and decided to stop for lunch in Pisa which was on our route. It was a hot day but we enjoyed walking around the leaning tower and taking very touristy shots of us holding the tower up. The locals must just shake their heads at the hundreds of people who each day discover this “clever photo”. It was a two hour queue to climb the tower so we gave that a miss. I’ve done it before and Foster (the only child old enough to be allowed to climb) was unconvinced of the merits of climbing such a seriously compromised structure. I have to say, notwithstanding it has been in its current condition for 850 years (give or take some restorative work 20 years ago), I share some of his concerns. It is a serious lean!

Knowing our destination lacked a supermarket, or shop of any kind really, we did a big food shop in Pisa and then told Jane to take us to the small town of Belforte in Tuscany, some 90 minutes away. The countryside became progressively more “Tuscan” as we drove – rolling green and brown hills, tall narrow pines, patch-worked fields of harvested crops, and a regular series of medieval stone townships built precariously on the top of many of the nearby peaks.

We arrived at Torre Di Belforte, our home for the next two weeks, in the late afternoon. It is an amazing three-story stone house built on the edge of the Belforte township and has uninterrupted views out over the surrounding valleys and forests. As with our house in Uzes, it is another rare example of the house living up to (and in many ways surpassing) the photos we had seen on the web which got us so excited in the first place.

We are also very excited at the prospect of having some friends and family visit us while we are here. Our good friends the Brooms (another Carey school family) are visiting this week and next week my sister Jo and her family are staying for a few nights. We are all looking forward to catching up with great friends from home, especially as they both have similarly aged children.

Start singing ...'Sur le Pont d'Avignon'

The beautiful Poppy Loret - victorious in the egg tossing event!

Apple eating ... the hard way

Suzy and Foster

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

The boy’s birthday adventures

Jamie – 13 September 2011

Hard to believe we are into our fourth and final week in Uzes. It seems like only last night we were sitting in a French field with 200 locals woofing down garlic snails and lavender ice-cream as the sun set and the accordion played. But our month is nearly up and we shall have to remember how to tell the time again using conventional methods – we will miss the lovely bell tower and its deep resonant hourly reminders. You can hear it from every corner of the town, and it has become our friend. Speaking of friends, we have made lots in Uzes and have promised to stay in touch with many of them – we leave determined to keep that promise.

The last week has been packed with activities built around Mylo and Foster’s birthdays which fell last Friday and Monday respectively. Our families back home sponsored some wonderful days out.

Thank you to Susie, Dave, Ned, Harry and Milla Cohen for treating us to an 8km kayak trip last Friday down the Gardon River with its picturesque gorges. Mylo and I were in one boat while Bec and Foster were in the other (Sari was practicing her French with the babysitter). Nimes hospital would not have been impressed that Bec paddled 8km with her broken thumb but she wasn’t going to miss it, and considered a few extra days of pain was more than offset by the majestic view of the Pont–Du-Gard as we rounded a bend and she came into view. The Pont-Du-Gard is a Roman aquaduct bridge built by the Romans in the 1st century AD to carry fresh water 50kms from Uzes to Nimes. Despite being almost 2,000 years old it is wonderfully preserved and a great credit to the Roman engineers of the day.

Our stretch of river was wide and mostly shallow (so fast flowing) and it was a gloriously sunny day so the two boats engaged in some excellent water fights along the way. There were a few small rapids to navigate and both Bec and I had to jump out (in knee high water) on separate occasions to avoid the odd bolder or fallen tree which threatened to tip us over. Despite (or possible because of) my outstanding bladework I suffered my first ever bout of tennis elbow later that night. As someone who played tennis every week for 20 years I have long considered this affliction to almost certainly be a product of the mind. I now know that it is NOT. Happily it was gone by the end of the next day.

Drifting down the Gard

Pont-Du-Gard ahead Captain!

On Sunday the boys and I drove an hour to the outskirts on a rather non-descript town called Bagard. We did this as it is home to a boys paradise called Forestparc, which was the boy’s present from Pa and Mich. This is a pine forest adventure land for those who like to climb tall trees and pretend they’re a spider-monkey. The park contains dozens of “up in the tree” rope courses which cater to different ages, and incorporate over 100 different obstacles to overcome in and between the many trees.

Each course includes numerous zip-lines (or “flying foxes” as I’ve always called them) that transport you from one large tree to another one – sometimes up to 30 metres away. After some pretty full-on training at the start of the day you are belted up as if you are about to climb K2 and then clipped onto the life-line of the course you are doing. It is not without its dangers (hence the rather serious training) and I found myself obsessively watching each son clip on their first carabiner before unclipping their second as they transitioned to different sections of each course, all 10 metres above the ground! We had a great day but sadly no photos – the below is taken from the park’s website (you get the idea – vertigo sufferer’s nightmare).

Don't look down.

Finally, yesterday we revisited the Pont-Du-Gard, this time from ground level. There is an excellent modern museum next to the bridge which had some wonderful hands-on exhibitions for the children to explore. Most of it focused on the life and times of the local people in the first century, when the bridge was built, and on the principals employed to move water, sometimes great distances.

We then walked across the bridge itself with many others and were struck by how massive it is. We were also struck by the talents and stupidity of a group of teenage girls who suddenly decided to demonstrate their gymnastic skills on the edge of the bridge. It felt for a moment that we were about to witness a pointless tragedy but thankfully they dropped to the right side of the bridge after copping a serious ticking off from a wide-eyed official. I think our children thought it was all part of the show.

The Adamsons (nee Griswalds) at the Pont-Du-Gard

Skill 6/10 Stupidity 10/10

How not to eat an ice-cream

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Men In Tight Pants

Bec – 8 September 2011

The world is a wondrous place…many different cultures…different beliefs and ways of doing things…and I am so excited that we can expose our children to these….

but one thing I know we could do without is Men In Tight Pants. This is one of those things that I think we could, NO, should all have to live without. Unless you are Lance Armstrong riding in the Tour De France, there is no excuse for Lycra to be covering your nether regions.

I can understand world class bike riders vying for that extra scrap of ‘aero dynamic ness’ but let’s get serious here…do Bull Fighting Torreodors really need to be aero dynamic???

But I digress – let me go back and explain why I have suddenly become interested in men wearing tight pants.

Foster and Mylo are celebrating their 9th and 7th birthdays over the next four days and so we have been going on some wonderful excursions lately thanks to the generosity of certain family members to celebrate those special days.

Today’s exciting trip was thanks to Pa and Mich (my Dad and Michele). We headed south to Nimes, about 35 minutes away. Nimes is the home of one of the world’s most well preserved Roman artifacts, the Arena or Amphitheatre, and with the promise of learning about gladiators and bullfighters, the kids were raring to go.

[Side note: The Adamson Family do not support bullfighting in any shape or form]

We opted to head to the Square House first which is a perfect symmetrical Roman building right down the road from the Arena, to watch the 3D film ‘Heroes Of Nimes’ to give the children some visual clues as to what the amphitheatre would have looked like in its hey day and what went on there. They were glued to the screen and when the movie finished the kids clapped and cheered saying that was fantastic!

During our picnic lunch though we then heard from the boys just what their real thoughts on the bull fighting was. Both were appalled and could only see an animal that was being teased and tormented. I love it when the kids come to their own conclusions….especially when it’s the same one as mine!!!!!

Back to the amphitheatre and we entered an amazing old world of archways and steep stair cases that literally lead to the rooftops of Nimes.

Mylo and Sari chatted happily away whilst they completed and coloured in their booklets.

Whilst Foster and Jamie shared their mutual appreciation of gadgets and audioguides. Foster has officially achieved status as Jamie’s ‘Mini Me’ this holiday.

Jamie and his

There were exhibitions of the armour worn by gladiators and frankly I couldn’t even lift them, let alone fight for my life in them. The boys were entranced (including their father) whilst Sari would occasionally look at me and say “these are boy’s things for fighting…girls don’t do that Mummy”.

Which brings me back full circle to the men wearing lycra in unnecessary situations.

Along with a gladiators area there was a ‘Universe of Bullfighting’ display. You can imagine the amount of highly decorated, brightly coloured costumes that were on view. It was a Drag Queen’s den of happiness. The amount of glitz, gold braiding and fake jewels was phenomenal. Put yourself in a locked wooden box with a bull and you are in trouble…but go out anywhere dressed like that, let alone in front of a bull and you are really asking for trouble.

So as you are standing in front of these glass display boxes trying to convince yourself that these men are macho brave heroes, you move onto the next section which is their accessory cases. Yep, they go and top it all off with a gemstone trimmed hat, a pair of knee hi’s and some black ballet shoes with bows.

I can hear the rumbles of politically correct human beings saying that I should be looking at the majestic nature of the rich history of Bullfighting…not at the outfits they wear…and I can appreciate that.

I can see that, Bullfighting..at it’s origins is supposed to depict a dance….a dance of power and bravery….but guys …haven’t you ever heard of a ‘SOLO’. I don’t remember ever seeing a live bull in the dance of the Torreordor that Torvill and Dean depicted on the ice rink and that earned them an Olympic Gold Medal.

Surely in this day and age, when we have come so far in terms of human rights, can we not reach a little higher , stop teaseing the damn bulls and dance alone.

On the other hand, if I was one of those men dressed in those tight pants I would probably want to tease something and then kill it too…..so maybe we should spare a thought for them …dressed head to toe in the leftovers of Michael Jackson’s wardrobe with a self created front bottom (see photo below).

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Steam trains and Bec a Vin

Jamie – 7 September 2011

One of the beautiful aspects of the region around Uzes is that it is full of narrow country roads, lined with 50 year old Plane trees, alongside fields of sunflowers. One of the terrifying aspects of driving here is that it is full of narrow country roads, lined with 50 year old Plane trees, alongside fields of sunflowers… It can be white knuckle, teeth clenching stuff.

Admittedly our nerves may be a little frayed by the fact we are already onto our second leased car in three weeks, and that our car of choice is a rather large Renault Espace (a soccer-mum’s car as Bec calls it). You can literally count the ladybirds on the bark of each tree as we trundle down these beautiful roads, dodging each oncoming vehicle, some of them very large.

I’m also a little suspicious of Jane, our GPS auto-pilot. She sounds sweet, never gets stressed and gives the impression she knows exactly where she is going. She also has a habit of sending us along the narrowest, out-of-the way roads in the region, and suggesting we play chicken with the locals up one-way streets. Nor is it reassuring that there are other rental cars following us. They simply have Tom Toms too.

I sometimes wonder if Jane is a relative of HAL (of 2001, a Space Odyssey fame) and will be particularly vigilant next week as we drive along the cliff top roads of the Mediterranean into Italy. Three children in the back seat is distraction enough, and I don’t want her slipping anything like “at the next cliff, turn right” into the driver’s ear.

Anyway – after a couple of quiet days lying low in Uzes we have again ventured onto the roads in search of fun activities. Yesterday we drove about an hour to Anduze, a small country town south of here, where we caught a magnificent steam train to another small town, Saint-Jean-du-Gard, and back again. Both boys have their birthdays later this week and this trip was their present from my parents.

It reminded me of Puffing Billy, except that it went over Roman-built aqueducts, through a mountain via a 1km tunnel, and offered extraordinary views over rugged landscape dotted with medieval villages. The children were presented with small flags when they boarded and spent the next hour madly waving them at anyone we passed. We caught the end of market day at Saint-Jean-du-Gard and also enjoyed watching the surprisingly large fish swim upstream from the old stone bridge. We then had the obligatory ice-cream and caught our steam train back to Anduze.

It was a great day capped off by some babysitting last night which allowed Bec and I to go out to dinner at an Uzes restaurant we have often walked past and wondered about – the appropriately named “Bec a Vin” (which I believe translates as “mouthful of wine”). It turned out to be a real find. Whilst the restaurant itself is tucked away in the cobbled streets near the main town square, it hides inside its doors a beautiful small and intimate garden, with tables surrounded on all sides by towering ancient stone walls and featuring a giant fig tree through which a million stars twinkle. The food and wine were both excellent – it was a wonderful night.

Today I drove the boys to an outdoor adventure park (flying foxes, rope courses in the trees, etc) but unfortunately it was closed (contrary to their website’s guidance). No matter – we marked it up to driving practice for Dad, and returned to Uzes where all three children went next door to artist Maude’s house for their next art lesson. We shall wait and see what they return with!

The view from our train .. spectacular !

Foster and Mylo on the bridge in Saint Jean Du Gard

Sari and Mylo. Downtime in Saint Jean Du Gard.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The kindness of strangers

Jamie – 1 September 2011

Tuesday was one of those days that we would rather not have had.

Bec and Sari had left the boys and I at a rural waterpark 15 minutes from Uzes to visit the local supermarket for our evening dinner.  They were driving along one of the nearby country roads when an oncoming car drifted into their lane and Bec was left with no option but to take evasive action – that meant driving into a rather deep ditch that ran alongside the road. Thankfully the car did not roll but she hit the other side of the bank hard.

Both front airbags deployed – our car thankfully had a 5 star crash rating – and that helped limit Bec’s injuries to a fractured thumb, some torn ligaments in her left hand, and nasty bruising to her legs.  Sari was strapped into her child-seat and while the seat itself ended up horizontal she had been shielded from the worst of it and thankfully came away with just a superficial scrape to one of her legs.

The cars behind stopped to assist them out of the smoke-filled car (the smoke was from the airbags), and phoned for an ambulance which was quick to the scene.  The ambulance took them both to Nimes hospital (the nearest hospital, but still a 40 minute drive away) for x-rays and a proper examination.   We were advised today that the car will take 2 months to be repaired, so Renault – good to their contract – will deliver us with an identical new car tomorrow.  Amazing service.

Forty-eight hours after the accident and Bec is feeling pretty sore all over, but we are both just so glad that the outcome was not worse, as it could so easily have been.

Again we were blown away by the compassion and support provided by complete strangers – the occupants of passing cars who stopped and took control of the situation; the speed and kindness of the ambulance personnel; the three friendly gendarmes who stayed on-site for almost three hours until the car was retrieved by the tow truck; the Nimes hospital staff who tendered to Bec with efficiency and compassion (and awarded Sari a bravery certificate); the taxi driver who took the boys and I back to Uzes for less than the metered fare (Bec had virtually all my money!); and lastly our new friends in Uzes who arrived at our front door yesterday morning with several bunches of flowers.   Our kitchen is in bloom!

I would also like to acknowledge the efforts of Renault, from whom the car was leased, as they seamlessly arranged for the tow-truck, and a temporary hire car to bridge the gap until our brand-new replacement car is delivered from Paris (expected late tomorrow).

So we see this as a temporary setback and look forward to returning to “happy blog” postings.  Upon leaving the Nimes hospital Sari told Bec that it had been “a very exciting day”.

We are looking forward to lots more excitement, but not that variety!

A pretty sick tyre (and only 50kms on the clock!)

Deployed airbags. The inventor of these devices deserves a serious medal.

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Les Haricot Rouges

Bec and Jamie – 28 August 2011

We really weren’t planning to blog on a daily basis, but we have been lucky enough to have been invited to some amazing local events, and we feel like sharing them with you.

Thanks to our wonderful local friend Suzy, we find out about these intimate local gatherings that the normal tourist to Uzes would never know about. The Fete Des Escargot and last night were two such occasions.

Last night was a night of Jazz supplied by Les Haricot Rouges, a fantastic group of musicians who combine wonderful music with skits and improvisation. They have a very impressive 40 year history having played with the Beatles, Louis Armstrong, BB King, Dizzy Gillespie and Fats Domino! Even if you didn’t speak French you understood their faces and jokes – and music like that can’t help but move you with its energy and emotion. It is yet another universal langauge that we have come across.

After our great day with the children picnicking and dam-building it was fun to dress up for the night, with the children in the care of a very lovely 15-year-old, Celia, who Suzy – a total legend – had also arranged for us.

The night was hosted by a lovely couple who own a stunning 17th century three storey farmhouse called Mas Laurent, which is about a 5 minute drive from the centre of Uzes. About 150 of us were sat at small tables – decorated with bread, wine and olives – inside their courtyard which gave the night a wonderful intimacy. We were lucky to have been seated with some other english speakers – a young Dutchman, and 2 English couples – all of whom live and work in the region having decided upon a significant lifestyle change outside of their home countries. It was fascinating to hear their stories and they made us feel very welcome indeed.

We drove home at the end of the night beneath a blanket of stars feeling thoroughly uplifted.

A perfect night of jazz in a wonderful setting, Mas Laurent.

Yep, we're having a great time.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

A boys day out… With some girls as well

Bec – 28 August 2011

Just because of the way our family is structured we usually end up separating the boys and girls so that we can carry out activities that appeal to those particular sexes…but today was a lovely change from the norm.

Foster had found a perfect picnic spot on an outing with Daddy the day before and he was in charge of organising the family picnic for today. He gave me a list of foods he would like me to pack. He then proceeded to lead Mylo down to the spot. (I drove Sari as she is unable to walk distances at the moment due to her sprained ankle.)

It really was paradise and we settled in for a lazy afternoon.

Kite flying was first on the agenda, and they gave it a fantastic go. You can see from the photos that initially Foster and Mylo were getting quite tangled as they tried to work out where the wind was coming from and where to stand…..but they soon mastered the concept and the kite was a beautiful sight from the grass where Jamie and I were planted.

They even attracted a friend called Yannis from Morocco and I tried to translate between Mylo, Foster and Yannis….but as you know children don’t need much translation and soon we were heading for the river with sticks to race.

The sticks were put aside as the idea of a dam or ‘le barage’ came to mind. Very quickly the three boys had managed to erect an incredibly effective barricade. It was so nice to watch the boys working together to carry out their plans. Give a boy 30cms of water, a good supply of rocks and he’ll be busy for hours.

Mylo considering his next move

An hour flew by and we decided to finish off our day with a game of UNO. I do wonder just how many countries around the world have UNO as I have yet to come across a nationality that can’t play it. Whom ever created that card game must be very wealthy!!!!

In a field of flowers she plays .....

We are hoping to see our new friend again at the park or in the town.

Not a raised voice, not a single complaint, three exhausted children and two very happy parents.

I can’t help but think…..this is exactly the reason we are doing this trip.

Posted in France | 1 Comment

Caves and art avec Maude

Jamie – 26 August 2011

Today we went to a real hole…

.. and it was great. Grotte de la Cocalière is one of the most visited caves in Europe and about a one hour drive north of Uzes. We set off in our newly returned car, working perfectly now, and even Jane (the auto-navigator) sounded excited that we were all back together again.  We walked for a kilometer underground following an old (try 140 million years) underground river, and it was easy to understand its’ popularity.  The temperature was a very pleasant 14 degrees, some 20 degrees cooler than above ground and we all enjoyed our hour exploring stalactites (the rocky spikes that grow down) and stalagmites (the ones that grow up). A cute train took us from where we emerged back to the entrance.  We were not allowed to take photo’s but the below picture from their website gives you a sense of its beauty.

Grotte de la Cocalière

We have also been working on the right cerebral cortex of our children, with thanks to our lovely neighbour, Maude.  Maude is a local artist who – between paintings – runs private art workshops.  She speaks almost no english and lives in a true artist studio – hidden up a long dark stairwell and littered appropriately with easels, brushes, paintings and a wonderful view down the valley.

We had intended for the two hour lesson to be just for Foster and Mylo, but Sari recognised a good thing and insisted she too have the opportunity to express herself with some paper, paint, scissors and glue.  We were very impressed with their end work, which also serve as fantastic reminders of our time in Uzes.

Foster's work of art

Mylo's pastel lizards

.. and Saris' take on modern fashion.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Uzes – Market Day

Bec – 24 August 2011

Mecredi and Vendredi are market days in Uzes. The markets are always held in the main village square, La Place Aux Herbes. It is exactly as you would imagine a provincial market to be… fresh vegetables, fruit, honey, fish, chicken, salami, olives and local products made from lavender.

It is a feast for the eye as well as the stomach. There is nothing like buying fresh fruit and veg straight from the producers. There are no ‘puncy’ foods, just honest, simple ingredients ready to be taken home and lovingly prepared.

But what would a french provincial market be without a busker or two. The most captivating one of the day was a puppeteer who had a wonderful marionette. Sari was mesmorised and ending up making friends with both the puppet and puppeteer.

Enjoy the photos….

Sari with her new fan

Salami....spoilt for choice

Sari watching the puppeteer do her stuff

Bonjour Puppet

Enchante!

A kiss.......how French!!!

Our treasures from the market

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

It could happen to anyone ….

Bec – August 2011

What an interesting day!! If I wasn’t so totally relaxed I don’t think my control freak nature would have quite coped with it.

It all started with an early morning wake up call from my husband – early being 8am (early for us at the moment) and a mad rush to get dressed, eat breakfast, make sandwiches and herd three children and one husband out the door to head off for our trip to Grotte La Cocaliere (one of the 3 most beautiful caves in France).

We were on time, the children were in agreeable moods, and we were genuinely excited by the prospect of spending a large quantity of time underground in 14 degree surroundings, compared to the 38 degrees above ground.

Got to the parking lot where the three day old Renault Espace lives, find the space where it is located, press the remote …..and nothing….yes….nothing. No unlocking, no lights, no action what so ever. NOT HAPPY JAN!!!

The new car comes complete with a space age flat card key that doesn’t even need to be put into the ignition…it just needs to be in the vicinity of the vehicle…all this technology blows my mind……but when it doesn’t work it just blows!!

Thankfully we have a 24hr rescue line and we were told in broken english that I would be serviced by the automobile man in 1 hour… (I wondered if I should tell Jamie!!!!)

Turns out, more shenanigans were about to happen. They seem to follow me….or maybe I invite them….either way….they certainly make for some good stories!

I waited for my automobile man to service me….and I finally saw a tow truck coming around the corner. He saw me…I saw him and I waved. I went over and said thank you so much for coming to help me and that he could park on the top level as his truck was too big to fit into the car park (all this in very broken french). He was very friendly…told me in broken english to join him in the cabin and we drove off to go round the one-way village road and head back towards the car park. There was quite a bit of traffic and the round trip probably took about twenty minutes. When we arrived he said that he was impressed I drove a motorbike.

MERD! A motorbike…NO an automobile I say…no a motorbike..and he shows me his paperwork with someone else’s name on top. My conversational French dictionary just didn’t cover this situation and I scrambled to think of the words. All I could get out is “Tu est pour moi?” (are you for me?) and his reply was “J’ai regrette tu n’est pas pour moi” (I wish you were for me!!). Time to back out of this one…so with as many Pardons as I could fit into a second I scrambled off back to the street corner to wait for MY tow truck driver.

He did arrive……and of course he did not speak any English……..now I don’t speak ‘Mechanic language’….. not even in my native tongue ……so there was NO chance in French….. I decided I would resign myself to play the damsel in distress act and that seemed to work just fine for me and him.

The car was ‘Mal’ – not working properly – so it has been taken away to be fixed and it shall return tomorrow after lunch.

The caves will have to wait until next week. The boys were terrified that they would miss them…but we assured them that they had been there since prehistoric times… and chances are, they would still be there in seven days.

I have learnt my lesson and I MUST get a better dictionary and upgrade my french. Jamie on the other hand thinks it is quite hysterical that his wife, who loves to have a go at speaking languages, comes home with these wonderful stories due to crossed wires.

I think we should just chalk it up to one of those interesting days…I mean it could really happen to anyone…

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Dog hygiene and icecream

Jamie – 23 August 2011

The French are very good at many things, as our previous postings have highlighted.  But no one is perfect, French included.  They do fall short in one particular area: dogs.  Each morning I amble up our maze of cobblestone laneways to the nearest boulangerie for our daily ration of baguettes and croissants.  It is only about 50 metres but in that short distance I have to navigate around no less than 84 dog bombs. Some of them are quite large which surprises as no one seems to own a dog larger than a grapefruit.

It appears that, even in this quite magnificent little French village, the “pick up after you dog” rule has not arrived. So far so good – our perfect French country house with its perfect French coir carpet has not been soiled, and neither has our lovely new car. But I fear it is only a matter of time, as while Bec and I may be vigilant we have three young children for whom checking the bottoms of shoes ranks just below doing their teeth on the “what I want to do” scale.

The last day has been very peaceful.  It is hot during the day – mid thirties – so we wandered down to the village pool for a cooling dip.  We also tried about seventeen different flavours of icecream and sorbet. You have your classic flavours – vanilla, chocolate, lemon, etc.  But being in the country there are lots of exotic flavours which we are really enjoying– lavender, elderflower, rose, melon and wild mint.

We also enquired about babysitting which lead to a woman arriving at our house to interview us, inspect the house, and meet the children.  She wrote about four pages of notes and promised to be back in touch about sitter availability. Very interesting.  I hate to think what you have to do to get your children into a good school over here.  We especially liked some of her turn of phrases, such as “when there is war between boys is it ok to send one to bedroom”.  Of course! we exclaimed.  Turns out she too has two boys, 6 and 8.  Lots of knowing smiles and nods ensued.  Let’s hope we pass as Bec and I are very keen for a meal out that goes for longer than twenty minutes and where all of the food survives the plate to mouth journey.

By the way – the other night at the snail festival – not all our children were as initially taken with the menu as Foster ….

I am NOT putting that in my mouth!

… but he came around …

... hey, these snails taste good !

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Fetes De’Escargots

Bec – 20 August 2011

Bievenue Uzes…. and what a welcome we received!

We arrived in Avignon via the TGV, which is an excellent way to travel with children. Jamie had kindly booked us into a First Class carriage (cheap tickets if you buy prior over the net) which had us seated facing each other with a table between us so that the children could do their schoolwork, eat snacks or play UNO. They were incredibly well behaved and the three hours flew by.

We collected our car that we have leased from Avignon and we are now the proud owners of a Renault ‘Espace’ or a ‘Socccer Mum Wagon’ as I prefer to call it. Whatever you want to call it…it fits our luggage and family and that folks, is the only thing that matters at this point.

With a short stop to pick up some scooters for the kids, we were off to Uzes…guided by Jane from England …. aka our lady of the GPS.

I am a complete convert thanks to this trip and will be purchasing a TOM TOM when we get back to Melbourne. There is no way that we could have found where we had to go via a street map. Most of the Rues or Chemins are unsigned and only known to locals. Thank goodness Jane from England seems to be one of those in the know!

We entered the town of Uzes in what can only be described as ‘shock and awe’. Take every stereotype you’ve ever imagined about the south of France and Provence and roll them into one town and you’ve got yourself UZES.

Cobbled streets, sandstone buildings with pale aqua and green wooden shutters, jasmin, grape vines and ivy mimicing archways, blue and white enamel house numbers and several old and loved Citroens working their way around the town.

Our home for the next month

Uzes, France

Our contact in Uzes, Suzy from New Zealand, check us into our home for the next month and happened to mention that she was heading off to the Festival for the Snail Harvest. My ears pricked up and when we dug a little deeper we discovered that it was a festival to celebrate the harvesting of 280,000 snails, along with organic local produce from the surrounding regions.

Despite our fatigue we decided that it would be a sin to miss such festivities so we headed off with our directions loaded in the GPS and our tummies crying out for escargot.

A few towns and 1 hour later we finally drove down an unmarked, uncharted, dusty driveway to the Snail Festival. Locals were arriving by the car load and the sound of the beret wearing accordian player was enough to satisfy a weary traveller. We had stumbled on Francophile heaven!

How would you like your snails cooked?

Better than any episode of Rick Stein’s French Odyssey (sorry Rick) … this was trestle tables of men and women, young and old, enjoying local food, wine and each other in a paddock. The French don’t really need a reason to be festive….but if the snails are to be harvested …why wouldn’t you make it a celebration.

Fetes De'Escargot - Uzes 2011

Snails, beignets, canard sausscion, artisan nougat, crepes, glace, framboise, rouge et blanc vin and of course the obligatory frites were available for purchase…. and purchase we did.

Fresh Framboise

If we ever needed confirmation that our sons are adventurous eaters, even after the mussels in Paris, then the Escargots in Uzes rammed it home. Foster finished off a dozen of the creatures and proclaimed that his favourite was Escargot a la Bourguignonne, which is snails in their shells packed with garlic butter and baked in the oven.

A dozen for me!!!

There was laughing, singing and dancing along to the accordions but the show was slightly stolen when Sari got up to dance and another 4 year old named Nida joined her and showed her how to slow dance. The crowd went crazy and everyone clapped along ……Sari was absolutely delighted by her surroundings and her new found audience of around 250 french people who were already well lubricated.

Sari and Nida

At 10pm we headed home… with the children on a high and Jamie and I thinking about how lucky we were to have shared that evening with all those people.

Cheers to a fantastic evening!!!

You’ve really got to hand it to the French…they know how to live the good life…they are passionate about all the most important things in life…food, family, friends, music and wine. They don’t have the time or inclination for anything else..it would simply be a waste of precious time. The French are often characterised as being somewhat aloof and maybe even a little rude. I have not personally found this to be true…but I feel that if it were the case..it would only be because they do not and can not understand us.

We are the opposite to them…we think bigger is better…we think food should last for weeks and be packed in 10 layers of plastic. We send our children to bed when the sun goes down and celebrate things without them. We want every fruit and every vegetable available all year round even when it is not in season. We waste a large percentage of the animals we kill and foods we harvest because we don’t have a deep, rich cultural history which celebrates the continuation of tradition… but most of all we work to build our little nest eggs for all the things we dream of doing in the future – whilst the french are busy living each day and celebrating the here and now.

I’m sure that everyone one who travels has these moments of clarity when they can see the negatives of their own lives and the positives of the culture they are presently in…but I am really hoping that I can pack a few of the positives into my suitcase and bring them back with me.

Speaking of moments of clarity….Foster shared with us today some of his wisdom…he announced that girls like shopping and doing peaceful things and boys like adventure.

Truer words have never been spoken.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

A week in Paris

Jamie – 19 August 2011

A week in Paris can go very fast.  Our’s did. We had a fantastic time – here is a bit of a day by day summary with photos.

Sunday

Landed from London mid afternoon and taxied to our hotel, the Pavillon Saint-Louis Bastille in the 12 Arrondissement. This was a bit of an internet gamble but was perfect for a family of five and sensibly priced.  As importantly, it proved to be a great area for eating, walking and exploring, without being overrun with tourists. Highly recommended.

Monday

Bec has documented a lot of this day really well on an earlier blog.  We explored Paris the way it should be done – on foot.  After walking down part of the wonderful Promenade Plantee (which I later ran in its entirety) we continued down to the Seine where we enjoyed the riverside summer activities that the city lays on – faux beaches, petanque, ice creams.  After a couple of hours we went “inland” to the area around Hotel De’Ville and the George Pompidou Centre where the children loved watching the different buskers, and especially the bubble blowers (see photo on previous blog).  We finished up the day walking to the Bastille area where we enjoyed moules, pizza, etc.

Promenade Plantee. Once an above-ground railway line in the centre of Paris.

The children at the George Pompidou Centre

Tuesday

Tuesday was a full day at EuroDisney – a mandatory activity for a family with a week in Paris.  Apart from the mix of languages, once you go through those gates you could have been in Anaheim or Orlando.  The children loved every minute of it (other than the queues, some of which ran to an hour).   Unadvised evening rail works on the only line between Paris and EuroDisney meant that it took us 2.5 hours (rather than one) to get home (at 11pm).  This would normally be a major catastrophe in our family but on this occasion it didn’t really throw us – we were in such a good mood and made some lovely Italian friends on the platform and train.

Sari at EuroDisney ... happy girl!

Wednesday

This was a deliberately quiet day.  Sari and I walked 4km (with stroller) to the
Jardin Du Luxembourg, the second largest park in Paris.  Bec and the boys joined a short while later, having shopped for the perfect picnic ingredients – baguette, camembert, jamon, rocket, artichoke hearts, etc. We sat on the lawns, with priceless backdrops front and back, eating our delicious lunch before wandering down to the large octagonal pond where the boys sailed model boats which you could hire out for the princely sum of three euro per hour. The boys and I then walked back to our hotel before we went out for another streetside dinner (mussels again – this time both boys polished off bowls as big as their heads).

My kind of picnic (Jardin Du Luxembourg). PS - Guess who went to Diesneyland yesterday.

Foster and Mylo boating at Jardin Du Luxembourg

Thursday

Probably my favourite day.  We were up early (for us) and caught a taxi down to the Musee D’Orsay, in front of which we boarded a long canal boat.  We were taken down the Seine, past Notre Dame, before heading north up the 200 year old Canal Saint-Martin.  Over the next 2.5 hours we cruised along a 2km cave-like tunnel, went through 9 separate locks, which had us finish 27 metres higher than where we started back on the Seine.  I find that sort of engineering amazing, particularly given the lock system is largely unchanged in 200 years (other that some hydraulics being added to the gates).  The canal took 20 years to build and was funded by a new tax on wine.  Very French.

Cruising up the Canal St-Martin. This tunnel went for nearly 2kms. Very cool!

Next lock approaching. Canal St-Martin. Picture perfect.

Looking back at a double-lock we have just passed through.

Friday

Today was another quiet day.  We caught the Metro to Ecole Militaire where we alighted for our visit to the Eiffel Tower.  The boys and I climbed up the first two stages (which is as high as you can climb, but a little less than half way to the top).  The lift to the top was booked out although the views from our level were still breathtaking (or was that the 674 steps we had just endured?).  Bec and Sari ventured from the Eiffel Tower to Le Bon Marche, the oldest department store in Paris (and also designed by Gustav Eiffel – clever man – BTW, he also designed and oversaw the building of the Statue of Liberty which was a gift from France to the United States). I then let the boys decide how we spent the afternoon and was surprised that they wanted to watch the last Harry Potter film (for the second time in 2 weeks).  I enjoyed it the first time and was craving a few hours of English so we tracked down an English cinema (which we found on the Champs Elysee!) and settled in for some Expelliarmus and Avada Kedavra. Potter fans will know what I mean.

Tomorrow we catch the 9.15am TGV to Avignon for the start of our next exciting leg – our month in Provence.

Guess where we are?

Mylo and Foster on the Eiffel Tower .. chuffed after making it up 674 stairs!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

If you build it they will come

Bec – 15 August 2011

Without wanting to jinx myself I think I can safely say that as a family we had the “perfect day” today in Paris. A lovely combination of children’s and adult approved activities – all at the budget price of ‘FREE’.

The day started slowly and after a 10am breakfast we decided that we would simply head down to the banks of The Seine and walk for as long the kids would let us…hoping we may end up somewhere near Centre Georges Pompidou.

No sooner had we hit the edge of the river, we knew we had stumbled onto something quite wonderful. Every summer the French install beaches from Gard De Lyon right up to Pont Neuf. Not only do they truck in sand but they build cafes, ice cream shops, petanque courts and children’s water parks all onto cobblestoned walkways that would only be five metres at their widest spot.

The Parisians flock to these spots and they were all in their bikinis and on sun lounges behaving as if the footpath had always been a beach.

The children were captivated and the Adamson boys (Jamie, Foster and Mylo) played petanque (see photo below) for an hour. Sari helped by throwing a few balls then simply flirted with the local French passers by who wanted to take photos of her.

One older French man stopped to tell me in broken english that the red boy (Mylo) had a good petanque arm.  Reassuring, just in case the current chosen career path of being a hairdresser during the week and a Jedi on the weekends doesn’t work out for him.

Up in the Place de la Ville, on the streets above the man made beaches, there was yet another example of Kevin Costner’s greatest legacy …the quote “if you build it they will come”. Beach Volleyball courts complete with sand, nets and spectator seating had been erected onto one of the most beautiful and sophisticated squares in the city….right outside the Hotel De Ville there were men and women stripped down to their shorts and swimmers playing beach volleyball…whilst next door they had built a pool which housed little row boats for small children.

What this scene created was magnificent…you have the young French people coming out to participate in varied and exciting activities right beside the well heeled, coutured Parisians going about their high end shopping. A wonderful juxtaposition… just like Paris itself.

A short stroll along the Rue D’Rivoli found us at the Pompidou Centre… a masterpiece of modern, industrial architecture set amongst sandstone chapels from the 17th century…yet all the buildings old and new, seem to stand their ground and deserve to be there.

Foster and Mylo were fascinated by the ‘Bubble Man’ who managed to create enormous bubbles that looked like they could carry a small child away in them. There were the usual jugglers, musicians and acrobats ….. but coupled with space to run around…the children were in bliss and remained in good moods all day.

Jamie finished the afternoon with an 8km run along a disused aboveground railway line that has been planted out to create a corridor of green above the streets and crowds right in the middle of Paris.

Then we all headed out for Moules et Frites (mussels and chips) at a Belgian restaurant in the Place de la Bastille, where Foster polished off a huge bowl of mussels and proclaimed to LOVE them.

On the walk home…hand in hand with my children and husband I thought about what I initially thought I would learn from our world trip (in between stopping them from running out onto the roads).

I assumed I would learn about the countries we were in ..but I realize that I am learning about them (my children) and I am learning about the interests we share and the ones we don’t. I’m learning that Foster and Mylo are old enough now to discern the humor in many situations that would have gone over their heads before, and I’m learning that I need to let go….to let them have opinions and to take them on board. I’m struggling with the last one …….but build me a bridge… and I’ll try to cross it!

Seine beaches !

Petanque. Australian style.

Bubble boy Mylo

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment