Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Bordeaux sojourn

Bordeaux sojourn
Arrival
We smished down to Bordeaux in about an hour from Saint Emilion and followed George’s (the voice on Sygic maps) through tiny back streets to our destination where Olival awaited. Not quite correct, as Olival’s better half screeched up a flight of stairs and soon Olival himself arrived. There was a bank of cars behind us by then, but O opened the garage door and we backed into the secluded garage space in behind some ancient doors. Made it!
O took us to our apartment around the corner; up three flights of stairs; and into a small and odd-shaped space overlooking the river and back towards the main plaza and stupendous modern fountain. Fabulous views, but noisy with the windows open. Double glazing fixes this problem at night though. Perfect.
The fountain
The fountain requires explanation of its purpose and operation. Our walking tour guide Christine explained that the fountain was built over a spot where the Bordeaux buses are stored. What to do with this space? “I know”, says the designer, “let's build a fountain. Let's make it perfectly flag and horizontal and cover it with about three inches of water. Then it will mirror the beautiful buildings that surround it.” You can see the logic and great architectural thinking behind its planning. So the fountain was built. There was a problem though. When the fountain was up and running PEOPLE STARTED TO WALK ACROSS IT! It was a fun thing to do. From side-on it looks as though the fountain-ambulists are walking ON the water! Members of the local constabulary shooed these people away. “Get off the fountain!”, they cried. Only a couple of weeks later all the city burghers got together and decided to let the people have their fun splashing in the water. It is my favourite fountain in the world. [The fountain has three phases: 1. The water flows in, completely covering the huge area; 2. The water drains away, briefly leaving a mirror-like surface before it starts drying; 3. Great numbers of jets squirt water vapor (mist) into the air. Then back to 1. The whole cycle takes about 20 minutes.]
Cruise boats
There were two huge ocean-going cruise boats tied up when we arrived. Five or six storeys high they were! Big buggers. DJ and I wondered if we could enjoy a holiday of that sort and decided that we would in our latter years. We would have to have the best suite, of course. Goodbye to all that delicious inheritance money, girls! One of these cruise ships left yesterday afternoon when we were tasting local wine. The other one sneaked off this morning when the only ocean mist we have had on the whole trip descended on the city for about 30 minutes. It was there one minute and gone the next – headed for Bilbau. HAVE FUN YOU LUCKY CRUISE PASSENGERS!
Bordeaux impressions
Great city. Lots of hustle and bustle. Lots of tourists, but young and old in similar numbers. The huge tidal river provides a wonderful back-drop, with boats of all descriptions plying up and down. The tide runs fast in both directions, making the little ferry boat that takes passengers across and back to the other side ferry-glide across. [For those of you who do not know about ferry-gliding, just ask DJ.]
No cars first Sunday
A great feature of the city is that no cars are allowed into the old town on the first Sunday of every month. That's today. The streets are really quiet, as one would expect. We had planned to drive south-west down to Arcachon in the morning, but we are back now. DJ has scorched off to a gallery and will be back soon. I had better finish this blog!



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Monday, April 25, 2011

Istanbul III

An apology is needed here because I had not competed the last post before I sent it. What happens on the edit page is that the bottom (ie the bit you were working on) is inaccessible. There must be a way of finishing off on the iPhone, but I am yet to discover it.

Anyhow , Istanbul continued to engage us right up to the moment of departure. The trip time to the airport shrank from the 2 1/2 hours in, to one hour back. The risk of leaving the hotel at 9:30am, instead of the recommended 7:30am, paid for itself really, and we were able to inform the Stewarts, who were to leave the next day. Andy was keen for us to go later and thereby to use us as a test to see if he could sleep in. What a guy!

Too Roo Istanbul. Thanks for putting us up and putting up with us! We love visiting with youse and enjoying your hospitality!

Graeme

Istanbul II

Apart from the jolly little encounters with shoeshine boys, our dealings with the Istanbul populace was all very positive. Honesty and trust abounded. An example given by Andy summed it all up. He had given a 50 euro note, along with a 50 Turkish Lire (TL) note for a bill that totaled around 100 TL. These notes look much the same, but the euros were half again as valuable as the TLs. Andy recounted that there was no way the chap would let this error go undetected, despite the fact that he would do very well indeed from the mistake. He continued to try to explain Andy's error until the message got through, which it did in time.

Another intriguing, if a little annoying aspect of life in Istanbul is the Muslim call to prayer at various times of the day. The first one I slept through on account of my being so bushed the first night. No, not night, rather morning - at around 4:45 am! Steph and Jude heard it, but were able to re-enter the Land of Nod that first morning soon after it finished (it lasts about 15 minutes). You have all heard this Islamic exhortation to Do The Right Thing prayer-wise. It is all rather quaint to the non-believer and it takes place at various times throughout the day. Some times there are a number of mosques belting out different calls with the amplification turned up to high levels of distortion. At other times the single entreater only calls softly over a short (5-minute) period. But here is the most annoying thing: On some mornings there is no 5:00 am call at all! You become accustomed to the call; you anticipate the call; you wake yourself up in time for the call; BUT THE CALL DOES NOT COME! Silence! And do you think it is possible to get back to sleep? Not on your Nellie! Annoying, but it only adds charm to your stay in this charming city.

On one day we took the public transport ferry up the Bosphorous to within sight of the Black sea (ie to the end of the line). On arrival at a little town on the Asian side (name forgotten) we bought rolls stuffed with fish and caught a bus back towards Istanbul that immediately climbed to the top of the hill and meandered back through some little villages and increasingly bigger towns. Altogether it was a great little trip, though we did miss the stopover for a planned castle visit and did wait for over an hour for a bus that totally failed to arrive! Sometimes it is good to just take a ticket to the end of the line and see what happens. This was one of those times, capped off with a short 1.50 TL scoot back across the old Bosphrous to the European side and back to our hotel. Grouse!

Istanbul is certainly worth a visit. With heaps of bustle, plenty of touting entrepreneurs, and always lots and lots of people engaged in all the activities associated with life in a city by a huge connecting channel between two seas. fishermen with extraordinarily long fishing poles resting on simple, yet effective, hooking systems (effected with a swift whack on the rear of the pole with one's elbow)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

London to Istanbul

Eurostar back to London is always exciting. Stephanie, whose working visa had expired, easily negotiated British immigration in Paris, the officers joking with her about her wish to stay on for an extra week to 'attend' the royal wedding.

Gammar back to Jummy and Sam's joint the three intrepids hopped up at the ungodly of 4:15am to snaggle off to Luton for an early flight to Turkey. This was a really weird trip as there was no traffic on roads that normally only allow snail's-pace progress. Zip bang whack and we were standing in the queue for check-in! This we did not need to do, however, since we only had carry-on baggage! This we discovered with only metres to go in the line! Never mind.

3-hour trip in the plane sees us landed in Istanbul, buts ails-pacing from Sabiha airport the 20-or-so kms to the city over a 2 1/2 hour period (the return trip a week later took one hour). Andy, Grazyna and their daughters landed later on the day and experienced the same grinding journey. They had had a few days in Capadocia (spelling?), which sounded like a neat (please pardon the archaic American slang here). Houses appazzas are formed by tunneling into the scoria and carving out rooms in which to dwell and carry out all other manner of activities associated with life in that part of the world.

Here are some of the places we visited in Istanbul: the Blue Mosque, the mosque across the road from it that is now a museum, the Grand Bazzar, the Spice Market, a gorgeous, ancient orthodox church, lots of cafes and restaurants and the Mighty Bosphorous (the waterway leading from Istanbul to the Black Sea. We also spent some time in the Museum of Modern (Turkish) Art which commanded wonderful views of the Asian and European sides of the aforementioned Bosphorous.

Here is an incident that took place on one idiot strolling days: Steph had had her shoes polished by a little boy whose cutely pleading eyes she could not ignore. 5 TL (Turkish Lire - $3) the cost, including tip. That gives you an idea of the going rate. Some time later, as we strolled along, a much older (20 years?) shoeshine chap walked in front of me and dropped his brush. I picked it up for him and handed it back. "Gentleman!", he shouted, "Gentleman!", and made to offer a free shoeshine in gratitude. Soon, however, it became apparent that this was not to be free at all, and that the price would be 18 TL. By this time Andy was having his shoes shone by the first chap's colleague. I do not know how I could be so stupid, but I handed over a 50 TL note an asked for change! What a dill! JUST THEN I CAME TO MY SENSES (with Andy's and Grazy's help) and demanded the 50 TL back. This they (surprisingly) did and they were left with only 5. Quite reasonable in the scheme of things. It was annoying, but quite a-typical of the attitude of all the Turks with whom we had dealings.

Dear Jude had not observed the above incident, and the next day the same thing happened to her. A MUCH older shoe-shine chap dropped his brush in front of her and she was about to pick it up when Graz all but pushed her over to prevent her act of kindness. As we walked on, the smiling shoe-shiner was seen to be laughing to himself and acknowledging that his little trick had not worked. All very good-natured.

Gotta go. More later.

Hoo Roo,

Groombles

Thursday, April 21, 2011

France, not Paris II

The remaining two days in France were spent wandering the by-ways and backroads of Normandy. I don't know why, but I had imagined this nock of the woods as being dull and lacking in interest. How wrong was I? Car travel is not my favourite form of transport, but given the time constraints it suited the Ramblers Four very well, with lots of ideas for future (read 'real') rambling in the future ...

We visited four gardens over our two days at a cost of about 8 euros per head per garden. Each possessed its own particular charm: one open and rambling, one overgrown and clumpy, another open (again) but dotted with sculptures and lastly the garden designed and built by the Master: Monet, hisself. The visit to the sculpture garden was enlivened by the emergence of the youngish sculptor. He enthusiastically encouraged us to take our picnic in the grounds, scurrying off to fetch an additional chair from inside a 15th-or-so century chapel. He explained that the chateau in whose gardens we were picnicking had been owned by his aunt, but had been bought by the local council. He was working, along with an architect, on the artistic development of the site. He invited us to visit his studio when we had finished our repast, although when the time came he was not to be found and a couple of sullen chaps with no English gave us the cold shoulder when we approached the inner sanctum.

At the first three of these gardens we were pretty-well the only visitors. It is only very early spring and despite the abundance of flowers very few people were out and about. The weather was a bit on the cool side, but very pleasant nonetheless.

The highlight of course was 'Monet's Garden' in Giverny. Youse just HAVE to get there! It's not good enough to look at pictures, it has to be experienced at first hand. We stayed in a cute little farm-stay-like accommodation down by the little stream that runs through the town. It contains a little menagerie with a variety of animal life that includes a few wallabies. There are a number of not-so-good reviews of this little 'gite', but we found the place totally charming, friendly and welcoming. We ate a lovely dinner there that night and felt very much at home, as did the ferocial-looking bikies who took off with a roar the next day.

Dear Stephanie had a little adventure at our temporary place of residence that brought a tear or two of mirth from me, her father. It happened that she took an interest in a cute-looking chook (one of the type that has feathers right down to the ground, making it look as though it has no legs and merely wafts about the farm-yard). Anyhow, Steph approached this chook along one of the garden paths that surround the house, expecting said chook to run away from her. This it did not do! Rather, chooky-looky flew at her in a cute-chicken rage, sending Steph into a very hasty retreat towards her spluttering father who had witnessed the whole incident. A story to be admitted into the family story vault for the grand-kids (if grand kids there will ever be).

The next morning we were to head to Paris to rerun the hire car and to hop onto the Eurostar, but not before we looked at a fifth garden out the back of an inn in the Giverny village. It wasn't 'payant', but did possess its own particular charm. Another incident worthy of mention also involved Dear Stephanie. As the four of us wandered about the hillside on which the garden was set, a screech of delight issued from the lips of our first-born as she spied a snake! We all scurried over, but by that time said snake had found a hidey-hole, though not one that totally put it out of view. The bit of it I saw was beautiful, exhibiting a lovely diamond pattern. Dear Steph said that it was about a meter in length. One of the peeps in the pub said that these asps come out of the woods behind in search of water, of which there is a shortage around these parts at present.

On towards Paris after Giverny, along the Seine Valley, though the suburbs and industrial areas, finally snarling past La Defense, through the roundabout surrounding the Arc of Triumph and onwards in a Paris-traffic-grinding sort of way to the Gare Du Nord for the car drop-off, dreading all the while the impossibility of finding the Eurocar drop-off point. When suddenly there it is! A little hole in the city with Europecar drop-off point written in large friendly French right there in front of us. Down we hurtle, in we park, out we hop, up escalators we zip and not the Eurostar we hop! Soon we are zipping across the countryside in which we have been immersed UK-bound.

A great little Ramble!

Good-bye for now,

Groom-Choom!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

France, not Paris!

Imagine DJ planning to go to France without stopping off in Paris! Well it happened, and this is HOW it happened:

In the planning for this particliar trip, we were delighted that Gammar agreed to come with us and to look after us. Gammar had been to Paris and did not wish to repeat the dose. Fair call! Instead, she would very much like to visit Giverny, if that were at all possible. IT WAS, so off we went.

One of the true highlights was a ferry trip from Newhaven to Dieppe. This meant an early start from Hammersmith, but hell - small price for a smooth skitch (as it turned out) across the Ditch. I openly admit here to being a 'ferry freak'. Cars driving on (and off at the other end), huge clanking ferry doors shutting and opening at departure and arrival, taking turns about decks and watching receding Britain and approaching France are all part if the package. What a hoot! Steph was with us, so it was a real family affair (minus two).

One night in Dieppe was not enough. It is a lovely little seaside town. Lots of fishing smacks a-bobbing on the water and a lovely little harbour along which to stroll. We collected our hire car for our 3-day excursion on this Saturday because the shop would not be open on Sunday. [Good call or WHAT?]

Sunday was spent exploring the Dieppe surrounds. DJ had a book describing back roads in France and, together with Tina on the TomTom, we were all set. Along the coast we visited the disastrous landing points in 1942 (or 1943 - not too sure which) of the Canadians. This, apparently was the Gallipoli for Canadians. More than 20,000 killed! Words are not enough! Small compensation, but the learned lesson was the need for landing equipment for any future Allied invasion, when floating wharfs were used to great effect down the coast a few years later. How come we in Australia don't know about this (or am I the only prawn who doesn't?)

Anyhoo, gotta go now. Our flight back to London (from Istanbul) is boarding and I don't want to get left behind because it is pouring rain.

Hoo rooster!

Groombles

Monday, April 18, 2011

London

Aw gee, I just know I'm going to get int trouble here, but I am not such a great fan of London. There, I've said it. Get over it.

London is very busy. There's heaps of traffic and even more people (Steph and I call them 'peeps'. They are EVERYWHERE! It's scary.

Youse are probs wondering what is happening with The Ramblers. Why, for example, are they in Europe AGAIN??!! Well may youse arks!

We are here because Europe is here, that's why. See? Simple.

We brought Gammar this time. Dear Jude's (DJ's) mum, Margaret; known in this blog as Gammar, who has cousin, Judith (known as Jum) who lives in Kingston-Upon-Thames with her husband (known as Sam). There you have it. Gammar has spent most of the time at Jummy and Sam's, but came with us to France for a few days.

Dear Jude and Steph spent a day getting Steph's stuff ready for her English egress in a few weeks' time, while Gammar and I headed for The Tower of London. Here was an example of just how wring one can be about London if one leaps to uninformed assessments of London as a city of enjoyment. We, in fact, enjoyed quite a wonderful day.

We resolved early on to go by bus. The Number 9, in fact, from Hammersmith to Aldwich. What fun that was! Up on the top level of the bus, ready to pounce on the two front seats when they became vacant, we rolled on through the traffic, spotting all the crazy highlights that one hears about internationally: Picadilly Circus, St Paul's Cathedral, Latchford Barracks, Hyde Park Corner, where all the theaters are, the Albert Hall and some other really authentic London POI. Change on to the Number 15 and thence on to The Tower.

Not so many peeps today, as the weather was a bit on the cloudy/cold side and it was Thursday.

We took the tour with the Beefeater, whose speel WAS interesting, but was word-for-word identical with the other Beefeater guides we overheard later on. INTERESTING NONETHELESS! We saw ravens an jewells and the spot where Anne Boellyn had her head whisked off wth the French sword. Yikers! The experience was quite evocative, but it was a mite difficult to absorb oneself in the multitudinous epochs which Spanish the life of this grand old edifice. A few hours of gawping dies not do it any justice at all. The best perspective (and the most practicable) is to see ot in the light of 2011: Gammar, The Tower and me. The three of us in one place at one time. It will never happen again! It was great!

Having spent most our time on the bus getting there, it was now time to hurtle back to Steph's joint in Hammersmith to meet up with the sorters and packers and to have some dinns. We went on the Tube. We dined at one of Steph's locals over near the river (Thames) and right beneath the flightpath to/from Heathrow, Gammar having high-tailed it back to Kingston. We (Steph, DJ and Groombles were orf to Istanbul, Byzantium and Constantiople. But that, me coin bloggees, will be the subject of a later blog.

See youse!

Groombles