Thursday, July 08, 2010

Final Ramble

I COULD have taken the "Chrystal Cabin". This was promoted as the best option, because there were no queues and you could have 'soared above the forest' and enjoyed other such mind-boggling experiences. I chose to pay HKD50 less and queued for a standard 'cabin' on the chairlift to see the Big Buddah in the forest. It became apparent that the "Chrystal Cabin" was a glass-bottomed, air-conditioned car on the chairlift. While there was no queue for this experience, the wait was just as long, as there was only one "CC" for every standard car and I stood in line for as long as the "CC"ers did. I am not sure the extra cost provided any 'marginal utility' as an economist might refer to it.

The Ramblers separated again for the last full day - I to the Buddah and Jude and Ally to the Disney park. You will need to talk to A or J about their adventures, but I had a 'pearler' of a day. The chairlift ride was sensational, rising up and away from the outlet-shopping town of Tung Chung (last stop before the airport on the MTR train) and up into the clouds. Well normally there would be clouds, but not today (a Buddhist miracle, perhaps?).

The Po Lin monastery at the top is rooly rooly 'touristy', but there was a religious aspect to the goings-on that I was sure that not one of the experiences of the other two Ramblers. Hopping off the chairlift, the Rambler passes through a street lined with shops to provide the Rambler with any number of opportunities to acquire memorabilia of his or her trip. Razzle dazzle, razzle dazzle! Onwards and ever onwards the Rambler presses. Eventually he (or she) is rewarded with an opportunity to view the Buddah up close, a prospect that has been 'on promise' since its first sighting an hour previous from the comfort of the non-chrystal cabin of the chairlift.

At the foot of the stairs up to the Buddah is a ticket box. The lady inside persuaded me to buy a ticket that entitled Ramblers and other similar journey-makers to three things as follows:

1. Entry to the musuem
2. A bottle of water and
3. [Wait for it] am icecream!

Amazingly, one could not collect the last two items until one had passed through the museum! Of these three items, most valued was the bottle of water; then the icecream; then the museum entry. This despite the fact that the museum housed an actual relic of the Buddah presented by some keen followers in Sri Lanka. It was 'tres difficile' to identify exactly what the 'relic' was, as it was encased in 21st Century technology, viz. glass/perspex-looking encasement behind a protected-to-the-max clear barrier. Let me say that a good deal of trust was required in order to understand the true significance of what it was that one (ie me) was beholding.

Having 'done my time' in the museum, I dutifully exited and collected my bottle of water and ice cream. The bottle contained water in two forms: liquid and solid. Yes, a solid core of ice ensured that the remainder of the contents remained cold for as long as the water lasted. In the humid heat it was 'heaven on a stick'.

Further on from the enormous Buddha was a signpost to a monastery separate from the nearby one. Intrigued, I set out on foot to find it. No tourists here. No one really. The path that led into the forest was of substantial construction, but really only a walking path. It led on to a 'Youth Hostel' up off to the left of the path. This captured my interest and up I went. Surely enough, there was the youth hostel. Behind a huge wire fence. There was no sign of life and it was unclear whether it was in use. A decrepit sign outlined the opening times which were typical of YHA rules as I remembered them and it could well still be in use. Difficult to tell, however, and intriguing nonetheless.

Back to the track in search of the monastery, another blip on the path was a sign pointing to a camping area off to the right. Up I went to explore, finding a number of camping areas in terrace formation complete with camp-fire facilities and picnic tables made of concrete. Again, not a soul to be seen. Looked pretty good. A nearby sign contained a plea for all who used the site to look after it and to put rubbish into the nearby bin. Another sign warned of the danger of contracting dengue fever, advising of the need to keep away from shaded areas and to apply plenty of anti-mosquito gunk. I made myself a little promise never to camp here.

Again on the track I came across a huge Chinese-style gate that arched itself across the pathway. A youth of Eastern-European appearance came up the hill towards me. I asked about the monastery and he indicated that it was well worth a visit and much less commercial than the one back at the Huge Buddha. It was about 20 minutes away, down the hill. Off I went.

The monastery was truly amazing. It was a community that appeared to be self-sufficient, with a series of vegetable gardens. On a concrete terrace a whole lot of different spices and other such vegetable matter were drying in the sun. There were a couple of streets with dwellings and various prayer rooms. No sign of life until I happened upon a temple. Here a number of monks/nuns were engaged in a ritual that involved a lot of bowing, gong-striking, chanting and bell tinkling. They didn't appear to mind my stopping and looking. The monks/nuns were dressed in brown cloaks and all had shaved heads. They appeared to be of a different ethnic origin to Chinese in other parts of Hong Kong. A sign asked that no photo be taken.

On down the path to find the other side of the village I came across another temple. Here were two monks engaged in a ceremony different to that of the upper temple. Similar drum-hitting, tinkling and chanting, but quite a different routine. No sound other than those associated with the ritual. No other visitors that I could see and it appeared that my presence was not a problem for anyone.

On my way back up the hill to the chairlift I passed two monks walking separately down to the village, each pulling a shopping trolley (of the type my Grandma, Ethel, used in Preston all those years ago) and carrying an umbrella to protect themselves from the sun. No response to my greeting, they seemed intent on getting back to the village and resuming their amazing (to me) life.

The highly commercial monastery at the top of the hill seemed all the more rapacious after the tranquility of the one I had visited. The ride on the chairlift was just as enjoyable and I then hurtled in to the city on the MTR (train).

One final treat I had planned for myself was to take a ferry out to Lamma Island. It does not appear as though there are any cars on this island, but there is a pedestrian-only street that contains a number of seafood restaurants. I had been out there twice before - once with a crew from CSU, and once with Dear Jude. It really is a must-visit place, as the food is delicious and the ferry-ride is quite 'singular'. The fish dishes are as fresh as ever they could be, and this is evidenced by the actual fish swimming around in their glass tanks. The customer 'literally' (sorry Andy) points to the fish that he/she fancies for dinner and leaves it to the restaurateur to deal with it. Just HOW fresh do you want your fish?

Back on the second-last ferry at 9:05 pm and out to the Gold Coast to check on the adventures of the Disneylanders. You are just going to have to ask them about their day, because I am yet to hear from them directly. I had a pretty wonderful day.

Off home tomorrow.

No more Rambling for some time.

Stay tuned, there will be some overview blogs over the next little while ...

See youse soon!


Sunday, July 04, 2010

Language II & HK Rambling

It has so TOTALLY happened again! Little kids speaking the the language that I would KILL to speak fluently: Choyknees (Cantonese AND Mandarin)! These kids (like their French counterparts) look up to their caring adult and respond fluently in the language that eludes me. They are SO CUTE! They are SO ANNOYING!

Mind you, I do have total command of a few phrases. Here are at least 50% of them:

"Good morning"
"Thank you"
"How are you(se)?"
"My very good friends"

See how I'm really getting on top of the language? No wonder I am continually thought of as a 'real McCoy' around here (I hear shop assistants remarking to each other as I leave a shop: "But surely he is a native-born Chinese!" "No, I heard him say he was an Australian ..."). But I have to acknowledge that these little kids - some as little as 4-y-o - have perfect command. It's a worry.

There is a policy on this blog that 'everyone's a winner'. And I intend to keep it that way. No slagging off at individuals, or making fun of cultural practices. There are only two groups of people I cannot abide, and one of them is those who are intolerant of other people's cultures.

However, here are a few observations that I need to make about sightings in and around Hong Kong. The first is that last night we had dinner at an establishment called "Cooking Restaurant"(!) Another was called "Giant Foot Restaurant" and, though taste-tempting in its nomenclature, we sadly resisted. One other small observation is the number of people on hand in shops to serve you. I bought a pair of sandles the other day and no fewer than four persons waited on me, offering suggestions as to style, colour and price. FOUR! Ally bought a handbag at a shop out at Shen Zhen and again another FOUR peeps to cater to her every whim (and she had a few, let me tell you).

The change in time-zone has been a trouble. At some time between 1:00 am and 3:00 am one wakes. Totally. Absolute consciousness! All around is dark, and it is not clear whether the other two personages who share the room are sharing a similar state. Yet there you are. Awake. Nothing to do but stare at the ceiling. Read your iPhone. Wait in vain for UNconsciousness. For hours. Then it comes. Right on 8:00 am, when one should be hopping up, one nods off to sleep and DOESN'T WAKE TILL 11:30 am! ... By which time the included (ie 'free') breakfast time is finished! THIS HAPPENED YESTERDAY MORNING! Imagine how we felt! It's just as well we are getting this awkwardness over before we get back home. Imagine if that happens on Dear Jude's first day back at work (next Wednesday). We'd better be back on our best routines by then! Fingers crossed ...

One more HUGE ramble tomorrow: Dears Jude and Ally are off to Hong Kong Disneyland. I'm off to the other side of Hong Kong Island for some 'nature' rambling. Should be a hoot!

Get those hugging arms ready, We're a-coming!


Friday, July 02, 2010

Very 'Asian' around here

The people that surround us at the moment are very much "of Asian appearance" as they say in the Australian press. That would be because we are in Hong Kong, on our way home. What is remarkable, is that there are very few folk "of Caucasian appearance" at the hotel that Dear Jude had so cunningly booked for our last days as Ramblers. It is located at the Gold Coast (no, not the Australian version, which is full of sun-burned Victorians wandering about in a search for what the fuss is all about when there was never any fuss in the first place because Surfers Paradise was never a paradise for surfers but that's a long story).

THIS Gold Coast is not even the one represented in the 2010 World Cup. It is the Hong Kong Gold Coast and there is everything here that a fun-loving Chinese could ever want. Every World Cup game is promised to be televised live, there is a "Mighty Kidz" playground, a wonderful swimming pool an extensive garden and helpful staff to answer your every question and grant your every wish. Almost.

We snuck off to the city today and that took over one hour. Longer on the way back, but this is not the purpose of our stay here. Our main intention is to put a little bit of distance between the adventures of France and London and home, where we will be returning none too soon.

[A roar just went up outside the Business Centre at the hotel. Brazil ALMOST scored a goal in about the third minute. The Chinese punters erupted.]

Sure Hong Kong as one of the most dense populations in the entire world, buty they seem to 'do' space much better than in some of the spots in France we visited. No '3mm' rule here. There appears to be plenty of room for cars to pass each other, and there is no backing up if one car comes towards another on the same road. Perhaps this is a reflection of the fact that Hong Kong has not developed from plans made in the Middle Ages. Quite the contrarym, it appears to have been designed with the motor vehicle VERY MUCH IN MIND! I like Hong Kong, and am very much enjoying being here. There is nothing pretentious about the place. One could never say that about somewhere like Juan les Pins.

It was great to catch up with Steph in London and to see that she is settled in good 'digs' by the river at Hammersmith. The group in the house next door are being evicted because of continual loud noise and anti-social behaviour. What a pack of clods! The area around where Steph lives is TDF!

Dear Jude and I were upgraded to Premium on the way home. No such luck for Ally. This made the trip here very bearable, with just that little extra bit of leg-room. I do not understand why people complain about the food served on those long-haul flights. I have never had a bad one and the wine always tastes fabulous, though maybe that is because of the perception that one is receiving it free of charge. "Anyhow, I love it", as Madge used to say in that ancient commercial for dish-washing liquid.

Still a few more Rambles to do before getting home to Wangaratta. Georgia is delivering the car to us at the airport and then we shall scoot on up the highway. Billy Bonkers will get the bus back to Melbourne. What a GAL! She has really stood up for us back home, representing the family in a number of important ways. It will be great to see her again and give her a HUGE HUG! BTW, there will be a FEW of those dished out across the countryside. In many ways (apart from the enjoyment of overseas travel) we have been away too long and are looking foward to seeing our Australian chums.


[Another scream from the punters outside the Business Centre. Not a goal's-worth, but maybe a rooly great attempt. Gotta go and check it out ...]


Jude and Graeme

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

"What's it to you, Copper?"

Today was the closest I have ever been to the Wrong Side of the Law. The four of us (Ramblers Two plus Ally and Steph) were rambling through London's sights when the decision was made to have a look at a sitting of Parliament. Not a bad idea in itself. None of us had ever been inside and the queue wasn't all that long.

When it came to the scanning the bags bit I remembered the picnic knife we had bought in a market in France. I declared it when the bag came out the other side. The uniformed lady officer lifted the folded up knife with two fingers much the same as if it were a dirty little insect tgat had been playing in muck. Very soon she came back with another officer who asked about the knife's purpose, where exactly I had acquired it and was it of sentimental value. I was asked to accompany him to a room nearby. A third officer was summoned. This chap would make an assessment if the situation and decide the fate of the Rambler. "On this occasion," began Officer Three, "I shall let the incident pass. If you were a UK citzen I would have to arrest you, as this is a 'prohibited weapon'. It is a lock knife.". Now this was the first I had known it was a lock knife. It possessed a great more utility than we had imagined, as I was in constant dread of it closing on one of our fingers. The officer (Three) showed me how the collar could be twiste. Around to lock it open. Very simple. Very useful. Very confiscated! The shame-faced Rambler was shown the door to fellow-Rambler (grinning) and daughters (smirking) and we continued on to a VERY boring speech by some Honorable Member for Chillingsgate (or whatever) and then on to freedom.

The whole incident with the police was conducted with the utmost pleasantness. This included a little banter about the cricket and "did I know that Roger Federer was out of the tennis?". The knife had cost about 8 euros and the sentimental value was low. However, it has made a good yarn and provided a punctuation point for our European Ramble.

The shower is empty, I hear the other Rambler calling. Time to get up and face the trip to Hong Kong.

I'll be in touch ...

See youse!


One Last Ramble

The Chess Valley Walk rambles alongside the Chess River (hence the name) between Rickmansworth and Chesham to the north. I had done this particliar walk some years ago when Steph was on GAP year at the Rickmansworth Masonic School for gels and I wanted to take Dear Jude along it. Ally went shopping with Steph in the City.

Doing the walk provided a bit of a balance to the trip, finishing as we started, though to a much more modest degree. The Chess is not a huge river (only a few feet across in places), but it is clear and you can see brown trout swimming around in a very much 'trouty' way. Happy as Larry, those trout! Apparently the kingfishers love them for breakfast, lunch and tea! Ducks and swans on top of the river add more than a little ambience and apparently there are voles about. [That is not a mis-spelling. Your vole is the animal upon which 'Ratty' from Wind in the Willows is based. You can picture Ratty, can't you. Similar in cuteness to your bumblebee.] Informative signs along the walk tell about the wildlife and apparently your vole is difficult to sight. The best you can hope for is to hear a 'plop' as they drop into the water. No 'plops' for us today though. It was a 'plop-free' day.

The Ramblers were unable to complete the whole of the walk. This was mostly due to having taken 1.5 hours to get out of London to Rickmansworth. No trains for yonks, and the Docklands (where our apartment is) is quie the other side of the Big City. We walked out of the valley to Chorleywood station (how cute is that name?) and headed back to London and the girls. This is a highly recommended walk if you ever have a day free in London. You can get a map at the Rickmansworth library and I think it is also available online.

Back to London for dinner and a show package. The dinner bit didn't happen because there had been a fire in the restaurant and the show - Wicked - was agreed to be not all that good. Now many readers if thus blog I know will not agree with this assessment, but there did seem to be a sameness about all the sings and none seemed very memorable. The story did not link all that really well with the Wizard of Oz and there seemed to be a lot of screaming going on. The young part of the audience seemed to be getting into it, however and ut was close to a full house on a Monday night. Maybes we are getting OLD ... (though Ally and Steph agreed with us on this assessment). Not a total disaster. We did have a solid stodgy dinner at the pub across the road.

That's it for now. Not long before we head off to Hong Kong!


Sunday, June 27, 2010

Doin' the Underground Bobble

When you know the width and heights of steps that lead down into the bowells of the London Tube, you are able (with confidence) to master the Underground Bobble. Observers of this movement are left jaw-droppingly mute with admiration. "Will the 'Bobbler' fall on his face, descending with such rapidity", one asks oneself. "That chap bobbles so gracefully, but with such a hurry-on will he not TRIP?". He never does. He is much too seasoned an Underground traveller.

No 'Underground Bobbling' for the four of us on Sunday. Too heavily laden with travel bags. [Thank goodness Stephanie had met us at the station.] Too many flights of stairs between King's Cross and Limehouse (our stop on the DLR - Docklands Light Rail). Bobblers travel alone. They have no encumberances to interfere with their passage and they always look as if they are late for an important engagement.

Andy and Grazyna recommended these apartments and they are RIGHT ON THE MONEY for standard of accommodation, price and relative convenience. You get there on the driverless DLR that takes you abkve the roads (as opposed to under them).

Today we trained it to Wimbledon to have a look about, but found to our dismay that it was a lay day. Not to be disheartened, we went to a nearby pub and watched Germany thrash England. The poms were besides themselves with dismay and didn't take the loss very well at all. England DEFINITELY scored that goal that wasn't allowed (you all saw that) and never recovered. A young chap recently having emerged (saturated) from the fountain at Trafalgar Square (we had over into town by that stage) bailed up Dear Jude and explained how lame-brained the English defence had been in allowing that third goal (you all saw that one as well), explaining that he had learned about that error in primary school. He was a bit pissy-boots, but seemed to be still having fun. We headed off to try for standby tickets to Phantom, but they were taking a night off as well.

Finally we 'bused' and 'trained' it back to Limehouse and then down to the docks for a light dinner at The Narrow, a pub that happened to be part of the Gordon Ramsay group of pubs. This was not a deliberate aim if the day, but the bar meals of fish cakes, sausages and mussels (separate meals, these) which turned out to be a highlight.

The other highlight was seeing Stephanie's house down near the Thames at Hammersmith. Quite a lovely three-level house, this, with Dear Steph occupying a big room right at the tippy top. Altogether too perfect! Steph has plans to travel over the summer holidays, so if anyone wants to rent it while she's away, I am sure that something can be worked out. Send me an email if you know of anyone who will be in the area at that time. I am going to try some Underground Bobbling tomorrow when Dear Jude and I hurtle out to Rickmansworth to do the Chess Valley walk to Chesham. We have to be back in time to see Wicked

Saturday, June 26, 2010

No More Megan!

What a huge day we have had! Belting across France from Annecy to Paris took us across fairly uninteresting country, really. The odd chateau loomed in, and then out, of sight. Ancient farm house clusters at the bottom of gullies (not the top of hills, as in Sunny Oz). Past the walled royal forest at Fontainbleau and into the streets of Paris.

The TomTom took us right throug the centre. Down Avenue General le Clerc, then Avenue Denfert Rochereau, Boulevard St Michel, on to Rue Sebastopol, turn left and you're there (or thereabouts). Hotel d'Amiens is home for the Ramblers' final night in La Belle France!

Dropping the bags and the girls (Dear Jude and Ally), I continued the prior direction straight across town and on to Charles de Gaulle Aeroport. Let me tell you that I was rooly optimistic to think that I could get out there quickly. No way! Every Frenchman worth his salt was headed either home or off to the provinces for the weekend. Bumper to bumper on the motorway, with three or four metres' progress only with every forward movement. Inch by deadly inch the traffic snarled forward. Now I had no plane to catch. Time was not an issue. What WAS an issue was the gazole (diesel). Having been determined to return Megan with minimal levels of liquid energy (at least less than what was in her when we picked her up), I was not prepared for the 'running out of petrol' scenario. As we millimetred our way forward, I watched the needle head south. Wait a moment. Isn't that a petrol station approching at a VERY slow pace? YES! IGNORE IT, Megan! We can do this! And we did. At some random point in the freeway the pace lifted and we reached Terminal Three in good time. With just enough fuel to take the next person to about half way to the nearest fuel depot. We had done it, Megan and I! I said my farewells and headed for the Gare du Nord. What WILL Megan get up to next? We'll never know...

I'm writing this on the Eurostar as we hurtle towards London. I have to turn my iPhone to flight mode now in case it interferes with the navigation system.

Hoo rooster!


Thursday, June 24, 2010


Speaking French MUST be easy. Little kids as young as three years of age can do it! I can't. A lot of me wants to, but if I could it would take a lot of the fun out of travel. On first hearing a language spoken it sounds like babble. We have all 'been there'. But if you listen, especially if you know the context, some of the spoken words start to make sense.

It seems as though Parisians speak very fast and take a great deal of pleasure in doing so. Whether this is a deliberate ploy to prevent foreign access to the language is debatable, but the total effect is at least to delay acquisition of this intriguing way of communicating.

Some encounters with foreign language are most edifying. An example for me took place during a walk by the beautiful Lake Annecy yesterday. Past the boat restaurant and the fountains, over 'Lover's Bridge' (over the canal) we saw a sign advertising the rental of boats that can be propelled through the water by means of energy generated in much the same fashion as cyclists use. You know what I mean. You have seen them for rent on many an Ausralian beach or lake resort. Your kids nag you to 'have a go' in one , and you reluctantly agree, only to fond that you quite enjoy the experience. What are they called? In Australia (and in England) we call them "Peddle-Os". Here in French-speaking Annecy they are called "Pedal Eau"s - 'pedal on water'. Get it? I think the French can justifiably claim first dibs on that one, don't you?

Just a little aside on the use of language in this blog. You will notice that I have not taken any cheap shots at the French. Here are some French words ripe for punning:

piscine (English: "pool"),
bastide ("artificial village with straight streets and town square built in 12th century to keep English at bay"),
oui ("yes" - see 'piscine', above).

AT NO TIME have I lowered myself to such depths. [However, there is a Mars Bar for anyone who can cleverly form a sentence in English that cleverly includes these, and any other Franglaise words into a sensible double entendre sentence! It is not Fran Vaughan's style to enter into such depravity, so the contest is wide open. Besides, Fran is already owed two Cherry Ripes!]

Despite all the problems I have encountered with French, it remains an intriguing language and one I would very much like to master. Its rhythm makes it delightful to listen to, whoever speaks it. The skylarking boys on the skateboards, the smoking pastis drinkers in the bars, the market stall holders and the spruiking bateau renters all convey a wonderful musicality that I shall miss. Back to speaking English on Saturday after we drive back to Paris, drop off the car and hop onto the Eurostar bound for London on Saturday.

Talk later ...


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Annecy IV

Back "home" to Annecy the three friends journied. A 500+ KM trip completed in probably as many hours. Getting out of Paris to the south was problematic, as the outer ring road was littered with accident sites and the traffic growled us around till we could peel off to the south and away towards Dijon and on to Annecy. We did not stop to pick up any mustard. Ally snoozed and so did her mother. I took a power nap at a wayside stop before powering off down the highway again at 130+ kmph. What a blast! Only cost 45 euros on the tollway, but there was only one pay station, so we weren't held up for too long there.

Arriving at about 7:00 pm, we went for a walk with Ally down to the lake. There was evidence of another festival or other in evidence, as tractors had obviously run back and forth across the grass in one patch. It was all churned up. We headed to a newly-constructed stage, where a band was rehearsing and checking the sound for a concert to be held in the next little while. This was a seriously good band, with every one of the band members exhibiting a quality of music generation that defied belief. Guitar riffs to die for. Vocal gymnastics from the lead singer (male) that would put Julie Andrews to shame. A bass player and a drummer who were really, really, REALLY good. Ally and Dear Jude have gone to do some serious shopping, so I have been able to sit and some quality time with you, blogging. I have set them the task of finding out the name of the band, so that I can relate it to you on their return. We are pretty sure that the Office de Tourisme will be able to tell us.

All the above re Annecy only adds to my determination to return to this place at some time in the future. You should plan to come too. There is always something going on. Just to remind you, there are the water sports, the snow sports, the cycling, the tourism and the cultural events. Annecy is one of three finalists for the 2018 Winter Olympics. Sadly for their hopes, we were in Stary Smokevic in Slovakia when they were in the midst of their bid for the Winter Olympics a few years ago. They were unsuccessful. Let's hope that it all works out for Annecy and they are not held here. It would be a shame to risk the conversion of this lovely backwater into a tourism-dominated city. But perhaps I am being a little too selfish in this wish.

To demonstrate how much Annecy means to me, I have just now added the word to my dictionary on the computer so that it does not always appear with a squiggly red line under it!

Currency valuation relativities are best learned, I now believe, via the sport known as 'shopping'. This morning, Ally and Dear Jude were hard at the computer/iPhone, looking up the value of the euro against the pound and the Australian dollar. This is education in its rawest form. I recall scouring text books and studying flat out in the bowels of the Baillieu Library in FIN211, or some other subject, and still couldn't get it. These expert shoppers and wielders of credit cards develop an innate understanding and knowledge of the loss of confidence of the euro in favour of the AUD in NO TIME FLAT! One can only stare in amazement and disbelief. [It has been determined that there is JUST THE RIGHT AMOUNT OF TIME in Paris next Saturday to pick up that pair of boots while ole Groombles takes the car back to the airport before we leave for London on the Eurostar.]

It's lovely and sunny outside. Last week, while we were in Paris, it teemed with rain here. You can see this in the muddy patch on the grass where the last concert was held. It wasn't there at the time of the animated film festival. [By the way, did you know that Fantastic Mr. Fox took out this year's honours?]

I had better get cracking with the lunch, so that the girls can tell me all their adventures in the shopping mall. I'll get back to you with the name of that band. I am sure it is a famous one ...

Hoo rooster!


Unanticipated Paris

We'll take free days in Paris any time, so when Ally's flight from Hong Kong was delayed by 24 hours we happily crashed in with Andy, Graz and Jessie from one clan and Liz, Tony and Cammy from the other. Eight of us in one apartment, but we fitted in remarkably well. Not too many fights. Well none, really ...

Highlights for me included a stroll up to Sacre Coeur with Andy to check out the artists plying their trade in the tourist square that everyone visits when they get to Paris (and why shouldn't they?). I would cut off both my arms to be able to paint/draw like those people. Rolf Harris: Eat your heart out! Walking is probably the best way to suck up the 'vibe' of Paris (or any city really). Life appears in miniature, from scurrying mums with little kids clutching their hands, through lounging males with suits and nowhere to go or do (How do they afford the suits?), to the ever-present beggars who sit, seemingly in vain, holding their little cups up to the passing crowd accompanied by either one/two dogs or children. The way up to Montmartre took us past poorer areas of Paris, populated by more recent immigrants from Africa and Eastern Europe. The language, the sights and the smells are quite different to those experienced in the 'museum piece' that is "Paris-by-the-Seine". No less enjoyable for that, however. [We got a bit lost coming back from the hill because one of us (I think it was me, but wish it was Andy), set his (or her) phone to the wrong Rue de Faubourg. Why, oh WHY do they need TWO Rues de Faubourg in Paris?].
nother highlight was watching the procedure involved in getting a boat through the lock at the end of our street. The drop in water level in the canal is quite marked at that point. There was probably a waterfall there at some stage. Everyone knows how locks work, but the great thing about this one is the lock operator , who appears to be quite a character. He chats away to all and sundry, walking briskly between the electronic booths/stations that operate the gates. I would have thought that a single, central station would have been more appropriate (and possible), but that would have de-personalised the operation and taken all the fun out of it. The process unfolds as follows: Greet boat captain; explain paperwork; stride to operation point 1 and open booth with key from huge bunch; chat to captain while boat being secured;
stride to booth at point 2 at other end when lock filled/emptied; chat; open booth with another key from huge bunch; chat and return to start again with next boat. All this proceeds with a great deal of enthusiasm and this chap certainly appeared to enjoy his job! Who wouldn't?

Tony's friend Laurent ("Lorron") was another highlight. He told us about his acting experiences and meetings with Jean-Paul Belmondo, Gerard Depardieu and Famous Others on various film sets. [Laurent would make a valuable contribution to the cast of Ricky Gervais' Extras series.] He had photos of himself in costume taken with various of these famous actors a d showed them off to us in between puffs of Camel cigarettes. [I don't know too many people who smoke any more and anyone who does, should stop]. Anyway, Laurent is a character and I was happy to meet him. We all went out to dinner and ate cassoulet (slow-cooked sausages, chicken and other meats in a slurry of white beans - a speciality of Provence and one TO DIE FOR). The restaurant was very friendly and very welcoming and we all nine had a ripper of a night.

Catching up with Jess and Cammy were also higlights for me. We don't see
much of them in Australia and offspring of friends change quite rapidly in interests and size in those intervening years. It is fascinating to see what sorts of adults they are becoming. These two are no exception and they should keep up the good work. Cammy promised me he would give up smoking soon.

Every moment is a highlight in Paris, but they are too many to be relating here. The Ramblers hopped up early on Tuesday and drove to the airport to pick up Ally. In the carpark our car documentation was checked by a plain clothes police officer straight out of one those Jean-Paul Belmodo movies referred to above and his off-sider who was learning the ropes (Laurent could have played him 'on his ear'. "Any proplems?", I asked. "Non", replied the captain, "c'est OK". As they left us to our Ally-collecting, I heard (at least I THINK I heard) the off-sider ask his boss whether the people they had dealt (ie The Ramblers) with were, in fact, French ...

Back to Annecy then. A big drive, but to a place we know that Ally will enjoy.

See youse!


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Somme Valley

The Rambling Roses split today! Only for the day, but we went separate ways. Dear Jude took off with Liz, Graz and Tony. Andy, Jess (daughter of Graz and Andy, living in Sweden while completing a Master's degree in landscape garden design) and I took off for the Somme valley. Can't say much about the shoppers' day, but we three 'Sommers' experienced the whole range of emotions available to we humans. Well, almost.

Here was a day of contrast on a wide scale. While I was keen to visit the grave of my grandfather's older brother, Andy took the opportunity to visit the spot where his grandfather had earned the Victoria Cross. Here's where the contrasts began.

James Henry Rose had barely finished his indentures as a bootmaker's apprentice when he enlisted in the Australian Fifth Battallion and headed overseas. This appears to be an odd thing to do, given that his paternal grandparents were both German (in fact, they had immigrated from Prussia in the early 1850s). His maternal grandparents had immigrated from England. "Jim" had been in France for only a few weeks when he was wounded in the upper body ("thorax") and taken to the British treatment at Puchevillers. He died a few days later of infection from his wounds and was buried in a cemetery to the west of the town. He wad 20 years of age.

Charles Stewart on the other hand, Andy's grandfather, survived the war. He was awarded the Military Cross for leading a group of men up a hill into the firing line of a machine gun post. Not once, but five times! Successfully. The citation for his actions can be read in the official record.

Here we can see two quite differing first-hand experiences of World War One. Private James H Rose, who dies only weeks after arriving at the front, and Lieutenant Charles Stewart who performs extraordinary acts of leadership and survives. The day was one of extreme emotion. I cannot remember having been more moved by the sadness associated with seeing the grave of a relative who had died at such a young age. Jess found Jim's headstone in the first row of them, among the line of soldiers who had died on 20 August 1916. We took a few photos and then I lifted away the blue flowers growing in front of the headstone. The inscription reads:
"In loving memory of our dear son and brother (Jim) Loved by all". If tgat doesn't reduce a person to tears nothing will. And it did.

It has to be said that the cemetery is maintained in an immaculate state. The lawns appeared to have been mown regularly and often. A graet variety of flowers have been planted in front of the headstones and not weed can be seen. The cemetery consists of 25-30 rows of bright white headstones of identical dimensions except for one, which is inexplicably larger. There are about 1,000 graves here, enclosed by a low brick wall. It is located to the west of the town of Puchevillers and sits on it's own, completely surrounded by wheat an cereal crops. It is truly beautiful. We spent quite a time here, wandering around and reading the inscriptions on the stones. There was also a visitor's book that I signed. Someone had left a typed copy of a last letter sent from a British soldier who had died in 1918 to his father. Impossible not to feel the inordinate sadness associated with this tragedy.

We then made for a village near St. Quentin, where Charles Stewart made his amazing contribution to the Allied cause. Whereas Jim Rose had little opportunity to make a hge impact given his brief time at the Front, Charles made a huge impact by taking the initistive to storm a number of machine gun posts, successfully capturing them. We walked I'm the wood ("copse") where the German gun battery that pounded the village stood. We parked the car at the top of the former railway cutting that provided the shelter fir Charkes and his men to run at, and wipe out the machine gun posts. [Andy had copies of documents sent by his father that described these actions.].

After walking around the copse and talking to the lady who owned the former mill where a second German gun emplacement had operated, the three oc us headed 'home' to Paris. The car was quiet for a relatively long time. We were soon back on the motorway, however, battling the Parisienne weekend holiday-makers as they scotched back into ghe city at 130+ kmph. It had been an emotional day, but also quite an uplifting one as well.

Ally emailed to say that her flight from Hong Kong had been delayed by 3 hours. Somehow that didn't appear to be much of a tragedy. I am sure she will make her way to meet up with us tomorrow and the three of us will then be barrelling down the highway for another week in Annecy. Stay tuned, and I'll tell you about that later

So long, it's been good to know you.


Graeme Charles Rose

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Ghana vs. Ausralie: LIVE on this blog!

I have decided to commentate the second half of the match Ausralie vs. Ghana. Here goes:

Yellow card on the Ghanian chap! Sensation! Can we get the goal? No!! Too high! Way too freaking high!

Another yellow card! No good though, no goal from thaty! Where's Harry when you need him?

Oopsies! Free kick for interference with the goalie. Pathetic! WHERE is the umpy's HEAD?

Ghanian free kick over the top of the bar!

Australie looking good in this second half.

[Tony reckons only 3 more minutes to go.]

Corner for Ghana! Booooo!

Save by the Australie goalie chap! Goodonyermate!

Up the Auralie end now. Last chance for Ghania, but no! Selfish shot WAY over the top of the goal.

Ghanian chap down. I think I see blood.

Is that Chipperfield CHATTING with a Ghanian? Surely not!

Three minutes of injury time left. CAN THE team of Green and Gold champions DO IT?

One-One! Can it be TRUE? Reminds me of last week's Maggies:Demons result. Good for the World Game, though.

Stay tuned to this blog for a ball-by-ball description of the next Ausralie match!



Friday, June 18, 2010

Final Night in Esvres

Sorry, can't blog right now, I need to dress for dinner. Yes, we are dining at Chateau de la Villaine ...

... Back again! Great night, let me tell you. Not a Frenchman in sight! Not tgat it would have been less than great with a Frenchman for company, no way! It's just that, of the 10 persons seated around the table, not one was of French extraction. The hosts, as already mentioned, are Dutch and the other couple was from South Africa. The two who came along later were visiting from Scotland. They appeared to be Scottish. They spoke with a Scottish accent. Plus the six of us. What jocund company it was! Joke (remember the pronunciation) and Adrien ("Arrien") took turns to explain each course as well as the origin and style of the wine. All exquisite decor, food and beverage. Tony played piano to add a touch of class to the evening. All round, it was another fabulous night in the Loire. Our last for probably quite some time.

Today was spent mostly at the Abbey Fontevraud, having driven in convoy to Saumur in the morning in search of ribbon (brocade) and lunch. Richard Le Coeur de Leon (remember him?) is buried here, along with his mum, Eleanor of Aquitane. Richard's brother John rests (let's face it, he's not resting; he's dead) somewhere in Britain, he, his brother and his mum having had an almighty blue and a falling-out of gigantic proportions. Apparently, Eleanor had conspired with her sons against their father (her husband) Henry II of England, but had failed to overthrow him. Eleanor spent two weeks in prison for her trouble. Just before she died (well after Henry, her husband), she became a nun and in all probability went to heaven. I believe there is something in this story we can all take away with us. But I'm not really sure what. Henry II is buried here as well (he's dead too).

What a day! Tomorrow we head to Paris for a couple of nights via Chartres. It should be a giggle, especially with all of us (yes, all seven) crammed into a unit that accommodates six. Should be a hoot, nonetheless. I'll let you know.

Enough Rambling news for now. I'll keep you posted.


Rambler Parking

I just squirted back to the 'Payant' car park here in Saumur ahead of the others because of an amazing thing about parking I thought I'd tell you about. It seems that in some towns (eg Saumur) that you do not have to pay over lunch time (1200 to 1400). Perhaps this has some relationship with the absolute sanctity that surrounds lunchtime. Persuing this line of thought, perhaps it is recognition by the local authorities (the Mairie) of the fact that no one can be seen outside a lunch spot (restaurant) anywhere in France. LEAST OF ALL YOUR PARKING ATTENDANT!

I'll leave that with you while I wait for the troops...



ABC and Football

The chateau at Chenonceau is a pretty big chateau. This whopping great castle was built over the Cher River. That's right, it straddles this huge river and the water gushes underneath it all day, every day. Catherine de Medici lived there and ruled France from a little room after Henri II, her husband, died. Catherine had five daughters, all of whom became queens. One of these was Mary, Queen of Scots. Now most of you will know this, but I thought I'd just run it by you in case you didn't.

5,000 people come through this castle on a quiet day. 20,000 hurtle through when it's busy. That's a lot of peeps! Not so many yesterday, but still a tidy few. Some rain about, but that made it an ideal time to 'do' our paying entry castle. Here are some other interesting things about the castle. In World War One it was used as a hospital for wounded soldiers. Another interesting thing is that in WW2 it straddled the border between occupied France and Vichy ("Free") France. We are told that many hundreds of French made it into Free France through this chateau. But here's a question: How the he'll did the Nazis not twig to this? I mean, "Hullo!". Over there is a castle. It stretches from Nazi France to Free France. OF COURSE there are people scorching across of a night time. "HULLO!!!!". Anyhow, that's what happened. Appazzas, a great big gun (Nazi) was trained on this chateau for the whole duration of the war, in readiness to 'take it out'. Thank goodness that never happened.

It's a gorgeous castle (though not my favourite). Gardens magnificent, green frogs making a racket in the non-flowing, part of the moat. Extraordinary. Only time for one chateau in any case today. Too much time spent wandering around thisy... You know who would love it here, don't you: Marg Molloy and Fran Vaughan! Oh yeah, and Pete's duck Vic. He could gobble up all those frogs in the moat.

Arriving 'home' late afternoon we called in for a drink at a little bar near the station in Esvres-sur-Indre. The resident afternoon drinking team advised us that the Big Match was on at 8:30. We decided to join them later on in the evening.

So, after a lovely dinner at home in 'our' chateau we mosied on down to join the party. The first thing to note was the relative absence of supporters. No more than 30 really, if that. It wasn't that there were a whole heap of bars around Esvres. No. There just weren't the fans that we expected. And it didn't stop there! We arrived just before half time and Tony had struck up conversations with the chaps at the bar in his Fluent Fronch. Graz had whipped the pants off some little kid at darts and Jude, Liz, Andy and Graeme were lolling on the couch drinking alcohol in one form or another. Let's face it, everyone was drinking alcohol (except the kids).

Now here's the strange thing. When Mexico scored a goal, everyone in the pub cheered! This was a genuine cheer and not a glum face in sight. The second goal by the Mexicans BROUGHT THE HOUSE DOWN and soon after that people began to drift away home. "What is going on here?", I hear you ask. We did too. Apparently, the French in these here parts believe that the French football team is made up of spoiled, overpaid losers who fight harder for their club than their country. They were not well thought of here, let me tell you. [The situation was different in Tours, we were told by Andy and Graz, where the 0-0 score in their first match. Great French support there, apparently. Go figure!]

Gotta go on another Ramble

Hoo Roo,


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Avoiding ABC Rambling

Our pals The Cunninghams who refer to "ABC Syndrome". This phenomenon takes place within an Australian traveller's brain when he or she visits too many castles (or chateaux) in one day. They are heard to mutter, "Not Another Bloody Castle (or Chateau)!". ABC Syndrome is to be avoided at all costs. There are far too many gorgeous castles around the Loire to allow oneself to get cross at them. The Ramblers and their current companions-in-rambles, viz. Andy and Graz, Liz and Tony, have made the decision to limit such visits to two per day. One from the outside and one paid entry. This has worked a treat to date and each of these visits brings forth fresh gasps of astonishment and marvel. Not one sign of ABC Syndrome from anyone!

Take today's 'payent'. A much smaller chateau, to be sure, but easily the most 'liveable' and homely. We were greeted at the gate by the owner, a descendant of the Polish soldier who fought for one of the French kings (or maybe it was Napoleon) and who was given the chateau in gratitude for the fine job of fending off the Russians. This owner chap spoke Polish himself and he a d Grazyna had a jolly good 'mag' in that complicated-sounding language. He gave us a discount of 1 euro each and offered a genuine wish that we enjoy our visit to his chateau. And we did!

The highlight for me was a lovely spiral staircase that we were allowed to walk up (lots of these joints have barriers that block off the enthusiastic ABC Syndrome candidate). This one made enjoyment and direct experience almost compulsory. There were also some intriguing old family photos as well as some wonderful paintings on the walls. [There were some mounted heads of dead animals as well, but these should be overlooked and forgiven because of the wondrous nature of everything else.]

Yesterday's chateau was a 'pearler' as well. This one we accessed on bicycles we hired at Blois. Jude, Andy and I (Graz took the bus) struck out along a bit of a skanky track alongside the Loire. It turned out to be not quite so skanky near our lunch spot and got even better once we left the river and headed off to the chateau. It was along this road that Dear Jude came a cropper. She was having a 'sticky beak' at a building hidden behind a huge hedge, when BLAM! SMACK! WHACK! she embedded her handle bar into the indicator light of a parked truck belonging to the local council ("Mairie"). A sore wrist, a bruised tummy and a couple of finger-cuts resulted, but Dear Jude can at last be welcomed into the sibling-hood of cyclists having taken the obligatory fall. Welcome to you, Jude!

The Chataeu-At-The-End-Of-The-Bike-Ride had its own brand of charm, perched as it was in the middle of a paddock. For Jude and Graz this was a 'payant', while Andy and I were content to gaze from the outside and then to tootle off back to Blois on our bikes. [Fortunately there was a spot near the chateau where bikes could be dropped off.]

The ride back to Blois was much nicer than the rode there, with sleepy villages to hurtle through and bois (woods) and forets (forests) to capture our imaginations. Andy really pushes the high gears and it was a job keeping up with him. I told him about spinning and the virtues of low-gear riding, but he much preferred the big gears, complaining that these hire bikes could really do with one more higher gear. I gave up and did some high gear pushing myself. We only got lost once, but were put back onto the right path by a callow one-language youth, who pointed to the road we should have taken. He disappeared over his bridge, while we two headed to Blois along our ever-changing pathway to the carpark, the car, the trip back to the chateau, the girls and the trip back home to Esvres to meet up with Liz and Tony.

No ABC Syndrome as YET! We still have a couple of days in the Loire, however, and we shall need to keep our wits about us. I'll let youse know ...

Till then we remain,

Your Favourite Ramblers!

Monday, June 14, 2010

A Lovely Chateau

Let's face it, all the chateaux in the Loire Valley are beautiful, wonderful and otherwise possess qualities of such headshaking beauty as to challenge one's sense of wonder - to the limit! Lovely, yes, but where is the historical PAIN? Not ONE Cathar in sight. No beheadings (that I can see). No burnings or even good old-fashioned hangings. Instead, we get treaty signings, garden plannings and tapestry weavings. OMG, how yawnsville!

Mind you, the company is fabulous. [Not that prior co-Ramblers weren't up to the mark, far from it!]. Andy and Grazyna seem to share our emotional attitude to chateaux in a way that no other person ever really could. For example, one chateau per day seems to be our absolute maximum. We headed off to check one out today, and it turned out yo be a real 'pearler'! It was called Chateau Villandre and it had, within its walls, a most agreeable garden. We spent most of the day there, if we came to think about it, and we just - well - Rambled through it.

The bottom part of this garden was full of veggies, all grown within spaces surrounded by box hedge. I know that this is not everyone's cup of tea, but I like it. Standard roses were planted randomly within these box hedge to give the allusion of monks tending to the daily chores attendant upon the gardening process. These roses did not look at all like monks to me, but I appreciated the effort of the designer. Up on another level was the herb garden. I got into serious trouble with Jude, supported by Andy, for crushing the TINIEST leaves from each of these spices and smiffing the resulant gooey mess. "what would be left of the garden if EVERYONE did that?", asked Andy and Jude in unison. Graz stood by me and joined kn the smiffing process in an attempt to identify each different herb. There were eight different types of mint - each with its own distinct aroma. Eight I tell you!

The next level of gardens was just as wonderful and the next even better (this whole garden is built into a small valley, don't you know). Included in it's design was a grass tennis court, a Children's playground, a maze, a pool garden and a garden with six or so love motifs represented in shaped box hedge. I hadn't been 'in to' gardens till now, but I could see what all the fuss was about. The best view was from the top of the castle keep tgat had been preserved since the time of Henry II of England who had signed some peace treaty here, having been trounced by the French in some battle or other.

One of the aspects of the time in this fabulous garden was that we did not have to be anywhere in any tearing hurry. It was a day of quiet, contemplative rambling, free from deadlines and any sense of rushing.

After this chateau we headed for another town with a chateau. However, on this occasion we bought icecreams (I chose a double boule of cherry and chocolate - eat your heart out) ) and contented ourselves with a walk around the town with the occasional peep into the castle grounds for free. No one felt the need to pay another 12 euros each to go through the gate. [My icecream lasted car longer than anyone else's, so I won!]

Home to (another) omlette for tea, a couple of wines and off to bed. Collingwood drew with Tge Dees but, hey, what better team to draw with? It had been yet another perfect day of French Rambling and I loved it!

Too Roo Blue!


Sunday, June 13, 2010

"Our" Chateau

The chateau where we are staying this week is pretty impressive. It has pointy turrets and it sits on a rise looking over the extensive grounds. Our 'gite' sits somewhat distant from the chateau, which is most appropriate since the 'hoi poloi' should really be permitted to go about their recreational activities without their day being spoiled by the Common Travelling Rambler (ie us).

It is evident that Dutch Adrien and Dutch Joke have a lot of work in front of them to get the somewhat decaying buildings to a state of non-decayingness. Not that they are atually falling down mind, it's just that everywhere one looks there is a job that needs to be done. Soon. No doubt Adrien (aged middle-to-late 60s) has a list on his fridge prioritising the tasks needed to be done 'tomorrow'.

On one side of the grounds below the chateau is a tennis court (a few puddles, a few weeds), doesn't matter. On the other side of the grounds is a huge windmill. This structure is of quite some hisorical interest as it was built in the late 19th century, but looks quite modern. It is made of metal and has a twirly-curly spiral staircase wrapped around the tower that the blades stand on. The rotating vanes are encased in a circle of metal such that they turn inside this frame. This is what gives it the 21st century look. Two bus loads of historical enthusiasts have come to have a look at the chateau and its windmill since we have been here, so it must be well known in the Right Circles. Adrien says that we can visit the windmill, but that we have to wait till after 6:00 pm. Not sure why ...

Anyhow, our current accommodation is quite special. Grazyna can take the credit for this discovery and has been awarded 5 points (from Andy) as a result! Congratulations Grazyna!

We think that Liz and Tony will arrive from their wedding (not THEIR wedding, but A wedding) in Munich last Saturday, but we have not had any news of times. I am certain they will turn up. They always do.

Better get back to my AFL app now, the third quarter must have begun and the Mags will have jumped ahead - of that I am quietly confident.



Rambling to (and around) Le Loire

Big day driving today. Lots of tolls equals stops to pick up tickets issued from automatic dispensers at random spots along the tollway and money drops at equally random exit points. The last one blew us away since both credit cards were rejected and all we had was a 50 euro not to cover a 12 euro fare. Imagine the trepidation of sliding the 50 euros into the note-receptical. Doesn't matter.

It turns out that you DO get change, but not in crisp notes. [Remember that we are sitting in a queue of impatient French tollway drivers, whose very existence turns upon their access to the tollway payment station for which we are the sole inhabitants, thus preventing their egress.]. You get change in 1-euro coins. Ching-ching-ching-ching-ching! Down pours the change in a cascade of chinging similar only to a win at the pokies at the Casino or the SS&A club. Fist-fulls of euros are retrieved before the way can be cleared and the traffic can flow. Such are the trevails of the inexperienced French tollway Ramblers.

It really was an eventless trip across La Belle France, but it did take all of 5.5 hours of travel, plus stops. We eventually arrived at our chateau in Esvres in good time for a wonderful dinner experience with our friends Andy and Grazyna and four new Best Friends.

Adrian and Joke ("Y-oak-e") - Dutch nationals - own the chateau where the meal was served. We four (Andy & Graz, Jude & I) inhabit the gate-keeper's cottage a few metres away. "Radar" (that is how his name sounded) and Beatrice were the other two (Swedish) guests who had rooms in the main chateau).

This was a meal to remember forever, with wonderful food served with matching wine and careful explanations/descriptions of both wine and food, interspersed with anecdotes and stories from all thereuntofore assembled. For, example, the Dutch Adrian and Joke described the process/problems associated with buying the chateau. It seems that it is not a simple procedure, as a whole range of people have to agree with all aspects oc the sale before it can proceed. Towards the end of the negotiations Adrian chanced upon a meeting with the 'notary' (solicitor) associated with the vendor family. "No", he said, "I have not heard from the family that a price has been agreed, and by the way, they could get a mch higher price from people I know in Paris." [This following definite acceptance of the sale price agreed by Adrian with the family.]. "Yes it is," countered Adrian ...As it turned out, according to Dutch Adrian, the family accepted the figure for which they had 'signed off' and the sale went through. Things do not always proceed so smoothly, apparently however.

Today was spent hurtling off to another market in another lovely Loire town down the road ('Amboise'). Another market (avec mattress man) produced another set of wonderful culinary and shopping delights. We bought a ready-cooked roast rabbit for dinner and a 'grande' paella for lunch.

A real highlight of the whole trip was a chance tour through the back garden of a lovely French lady from Paris who owned a cottage in the town. A cliff at the rear of the cottage garden contained a series of caves that had been inhabited by 'Troglodites'. These caves had been converted to modern habitable dwellings and were totally charming. The best aspect of the tour that this lady conducted (in French and English) was the obvious joy that she derived from showing her visitors around this wondrous facility. She was effusive on her descriptions of life as it had been led by these ancient people. She was generous in her sharing of her knowledge and understanding of these dwellings in her back yard. This lady even had a glass of wine for us to share at the end of her tour. ALL AT NO CHARGE!

Back at the chateau we ate our rabbit and drank our wine 'al fresco' in the little garden out the back of the gatekeeper's cottage. We flung ourselves into bed at the end of yet another day's fabulous adventures in France.

You all need to get over here some day soon, you know. There are far too many adventures to be missing out on, you know ...

Your Best Pals,

The Ramblers!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Miscellaneous Ramblings

Here are some short blasts on stuff I have been meaning to impart:

1. Rubbish (and rot)

Throughout France, the rubbish tins are communal. Take your rubbish , wrapped in a new black purpose-built bag and drop it in the bin at the end of the street on your way to work/school/shopping. Some towns have separate recycle bins, others don't. Bottles get dropped into bins with found holes: kerrsmash! I am not sure how Brenda and Mal McKay and other residents of Haute Waldara would think about SHARING rubbish boxes!

2. Kissing

Everybody kisses when greeting/departing. Not on the lips, but into the air on each side. Now I know that you know this, but what you DON'T know is thdt the number of fresh-air shots DIFFERS from town to town.

Paris is definitely a 2-kiss city. Down south in the Dordogne (and also in Mirepoix), the 3-smooch variation came into play. Somewhere in our Rambles there was a 4-side variety (not sure exactly WHERE. [This may very well have been on the Azure Coast, and included man-on-man kiss greetings - A-sgusting!]. Back here in Annecy we are back amongst the "One Each Siders".

There must be adjacent towns/cities all around France where different kiss-greeting systems exist. Woe betide anyone who stuffs up! Especially for the man-on-man variation! Could get quite tacky! For the Sister City arrangement between Annecy and the Rural City of Wangaratta, I propose a 17-side variation, including men. This COULD test the counting ability of some Wangaratta Rovers supporters, but all-in-all it would be great for World Peace. "Think about that one, Tony".

3. Fluffy Man Scarves

It is Verair Frairnch for men to wear fluffy scarves with their jackets and collarless long-sleeved t-shirts. My new friend Stefan in Juan-Les-Pins had a string of scarves in his office. I can only imagine that he chose one or the other depending on his mood. I can't see this fashion taking off in Wangaratta. How long do you think one wound last standing on the hill at the Norm Minns oval with a fluffy scarf around one's neck? Probably only till 10 minutes into the second quarter! One would probably only last that long if the Maggies had got off to a good start!

That's it for now. You've had enough! Anyhow, I've heard that there are buckets of snow on the mountain. Get yourselves up there and strap on your skis! No time for blogging -there's skiing to be done!

Hoo Rooster!


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Lyon Rambling

On Wednesday we piled into Megan and headed off to Lyon, the second biggest city in France. The GPS provides a great deal of confidence to our street negotiations and location of parking areas.

Lyon lies about 1 1/2 hours away in normal driving conditions (ie 130+ kmph on the tollways) and we arrived in good time for a solid Ramble. Parking right under the Hotel de Ville (town hall), we emerged into the centre of the city and headed for the 'Office de Tourisme' (guess what that is ...). Then straight to the Museum des Beaux Arts for look around and squizz at some of the beaux arts that were inevitably displayed there. Now I've seen some beaux arts before, but these beaux arts were REALLY beaux.

One section of the museum consisted of scraps of silk fabrics that were made YONKS ago when Lyon was the silk weaving capital of Christendom. There were ancient tapestries as well. To DIE for! Dear Jude was rooly taken by the display in the next section of the museum where 20th century costumes from operas and such were interspersed among 17th/18th century displays of furniture and other 'sorts of shit'. Dear Jude really loved this part of the museum. Dear Graeme caught up with the continuing tale of woe of his racehorse Dash on Over, who always starts slowly, then realizes there's a race on and charges home, only to be squeezed/bumped/interfered with and written up in the Steward's Report as to why he failed to make it to one of the places that doesn't pay out any money. The great thing is that Jude loved this museum AND THAT'S ALL THAT MATTERS!

Next we Rambled off to a wonderful abbey. Here found that a not-so-wonderful funeral was jus about to begin, so we weren't able to go in. So there is nothing more to report on it. So there!

Bateau Rambling next. Yes, that's right. A boat trip. It was included in our tourist pass/museum entry deal we picked up at the Office de Tourism. We hopped on board with all the oldies and set off. Down the Saone river to begin the trip, then up and down the Rhone river for the middle bit and then back up the Soane river to finish off. Much is made of the confluence of these two rivers because there is a big new development happening there. The guide book says it is due for completion in 2010. All I can say is that the builder chaps need to get a wriggle on (much the same as Dash on Over, but much less immediate).

Hopped off the boat, along with the oldies back where we started and headed for the fenicular that was to take us up the hill to the cathedral. Oopsies! Fenicular not running. Broken. Under repair. Not to worry, we hopped on to the other fenicular that took us up the hill, but in another direction. Walk to the cathedral past (another) Roman Amphitheate, through some lovely gardens and past a toot-whistle-plunk-boom music school right to the cathedral at the top of the ridge looking over the town. Quite impressive, the cathedral. Quite impressive, the town. We could see the Rhone and the Saone running ever-so inevitably to their confluence. We could see the building site. We could see the boulevards and byways of Lyon right there at our feet. It is a lovely city and we must come back to it.

Time to head for home now, we Rambled back to the Hotel de Ville, into Megan and off to the 130+ kmp tollways. Oopsies! Traffic jam! Going Home time for commuting Lyonnese folk. Hold your place in the line time! Don't let anyone in to your line if they haven't spent their minutes in the queue. No PUSHING IN!

After inching our way forward for about 5 km in about 3/4 hour we were again winding up to 130+ kph eastwards towards Annecy and home. Yummy pizza for dins (guest book recommendation) and then hit the hay. Sleep within nanoseconds. Wonderful!

Annecy Youth

We are yet to see one youth in Annecy DOING THE WRONG THING. Not one. The closest I came was to observe one chap of youthful appearance ride his bike across a grassy patch that was clearly identified as a picnic area. (I mean, "HULLO00!")

At the movies the other night, no alcohol, no screeching, no shiakking. Nothing. Just good natured 'having-fun-edness'. This is an attitude that the youth of the Rural City of Wangaratta could well emulate. Especially at 'The Pubs' of a Saturday night.

Youth across France are much the same as Youth anywhere. Of course they are 'out there'. Isn't everyone who is a Youth? Of course they are Different (isn't Kip Frawley, isn't Charlie Blanch isn't Jonno Vaughan?).

Youth observed in the possession of skateboards are all intent on perfecting the trick of stomping on a corner of the skateboard, spinning the skateboard and jumping. The object is for the Youth in question to drop back down onto the skateboard and continue his journey seamlessly. THIS ALWAYS FAILS. The Youth resumes his (mostly his, not 'her') journey without acknowledging his miscalculation of the physics of skate-board spinning, only to repeat the failure some time later. I have YET to see this trick performed perfectly. I reckon Jonno could do it.

Anyhoo, that is all I have to say about the Youth of Annecy.


Rambler 1 (as distinct from Rambler A)

Annecy III

What a day this has bin. What a RARE MOOD I'm in!

This was the Big Ride day we just had to have. Back along the bike path, past where we first tentatively rode out on our second day. Past where we joined it at the top of the lake after our Round The Lake in a Day jaunt, where that path joined the Rail Trail.

Yep! This is a rail trail similar to the one that eminates from the fabulous Regional City of Wangaratta. The Annecy equivalent has a tunnel, however, and a couple of cute pedestrian overpasses. Apart from this, the idea and the cycling experiences are very similar. It could Very Well Be that a sister city relationship could be formed between Annecy and Wangaratta that created a fusion of cycling affectionados and share a system of intercity tours/races/campings and other similar 'sorts of shit'. Of course this will require lots of between-city communication and cross-city travelling, but I know a couple who would be great ambassadors for Wang! Yes - the Minns! Prue and Ian Minns should be the ones who come over here and haggle a place in Annecy folklore! [Of course Les Ramblers would step in if Les Minns were unavailable].

One of the necessary preconditions fo a successful Annecy cyclist is for a person to sport a magnificent moustache. Those who flick past on our left (remember left/right-hand driving - it's the same for cycling), can be seen with curly-twirly moustaches of some disinction. They are most impressive - on some of the blokes, as well! [Gavin Frawley sports a moustache from time to time, but he would have to get serious if he wants to mix it with some of the Annecy boys!].

Anyhoo, back to our trip today. Our destination was a little puddle, the size of a titchy lake at a town called Marlens ("Marlonn"). This 'lake' measured only about 200X50 metres, but looked to be very deep. The water was very clear, with a deep blue hue to it. Jude was the first to spot it at our picnic spot - a whopping great big fishy something that slowly glided by. It would have weighed in at about 3 or 4 lbs! Later, a school of about 8 fishies of about a "pound, maybe pound-and-a-half" drifted nonchalantly past. Fisher Heaven! There were a couple of Simple Fisher Folk trying their luck in the pond, but didn't seem to be doing much good. Not to worry - there's always tomorrow!

Having finished their lunches, The Rambers hopped back on their bikes and began the return journey. They were tired. They were happy, when they arrived home to their appartement-by-the-river. They had had a swim in the lake to freshen up and they had downed a couple of scotch-and-cokes. Doesn't matter. They were ready for a scrummy meal bought from the amazing charcutier downstairs.

It is nearly 7:00 pm, but the sun is still blazing outside. Jude is looking forward to catching up with Andy Stewart ("Sing us a song, Andy") and I am looking forward to a Huge Hug from Grazyna Kulig. On Saturday. Doesn't matter.

Take care, youse!


Lapin a la Moutade III

It was delicious. Get into it!

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Annecy II

I think that Annecy is the destination that gets the Most Liveable Award of all the places we have visited on our Ramble. And that's not just because there's a huge animated film festival on here at the moment (although it must be included as a factor).

The other night we took ourselves down to the park by the lake by the canal at about 9:30 pm. A sizeable crowd was building in front of a huge inflateable movie screen. A crowd-warmer-upperer was teaching the crowd a mass dance that appeared to be the 21st century equivalent to line dancing. Lots of arm waving, moving to the side, moving to the other side, clapping and then more arm waving. All this accompanied by a pop song in English. The warmer-upperer really had that crowd pumping!

After an hour or so that activity ended and a group of honchos from the film festival hopped up on stage and talked about its goings on. In French, of course. Then an American chap explained how good it was to be in France (in English) and introduced his new animated movie about clocks in a shop at night. One of the clocks was always running 10 minutes late, which really got up the noses of all the other clocks. Now one night a robber came to steal clocks just after midnight so that he could do his robbing after all the chiming had finished. However, the little clock chimed his usual 10 minutes later, thereby alerting a police officer and aborting the robbery. Well, you can imagine what a hero this turned our little running slow clock into! The other clocks stopped bullying him and the clock maker fixed him right up so that he always ran on time. No need to examine the logic of this short movie. The animation was fabulous and it was a cute story. The American chappie assured us that this was the VERY FIRST TIME that this film had been seen in public! Wowsers!

The Ramblers were rather bushed, so we left our rather ideal spot in the crowd after the clock movie and left the crowd to watch the main feature (in French) to the unbelievably well behaved crowd (no alcohol anywhere to be seen). There must hace been upwards of 2000-3000 people there! It was FAR too late for The Ramblers, whose bottoms were getting cold sitting on the concrete light pole base anyway. We choofed off home to bed to prepare ouselves for a Lyon Ramble in the morning. The moment had been magical with the lake-side setting, the well-behaved crowd of mosly young people (20s to 30s, with some young families mixed in), the fading light, the beautiful lake and the fabulous mountains. I shouldn't wonderthat the lake freezes over completely in winter.

I do know that there is lots of great skiing to be done in the colder months, both downhill
and cross- country. But then again, the city is ideally situated, isn't it, with the French Alps glowering in the background and Switzerland only a stone's throw away it is all way too perfect! Add to that the water sports, walking and cycling in warmer months and Hey Presto, ideality! Wangaratta with a lake!

Nighty-night, y'all!

The Ramblers

Tuesday, June 08, 2010


Here is a link to the recipe for 'Lapin moutarde':

Here us the recipe for boeuff borgignon:

Have go and let me know!

La Groombler!

Shopping Annecy

Heading out to the other bike hire shop (theirs was closed on account of it being Tuesday), it started to rain. Not heavily, but a few large drops. Graeme glanced skywards and then across at Jude. No good beating about the bush here, it was time for some decisive action.

"Looks like rain," observed Graeme, pulling out his green rain jacket.

"It sure does," replied Jude, wondering why such a gob-smackingly obvious statement needed to be made at all.

"Let's call a lay-day on the cycling and take a day orf," offered Graeme. "You could go shopping."

Jude's reaction could only be detected by the keenest observer of Shopper Begaviour. Her eyelids gave the merest flutter. Her nose shifted slightly in an upwards direction (as a fawn snuffing the changing wind direction in the first days of spring). Her eyes took on a glow that revealed her innermost delight. She feigned nonchalance, "I suppose the weather does appear a little on the inclement side," she offered, continuing the pattern of stating the bleeding obvious begun by Graeme. "It COULD be a good day for a little shop." [You will note here the clever use of the word 'shop' in the form of a verb].

On their return to the apartment to change into shopping clothes, the threat of rain had completely disappeared and the sun was out. Nearly. Doesn't matter. After a little nap/read of her book, Jude left Graeme to blogging and preparation of his dish of 'lapin moutarde' with Zara Annecy and Galleries La Fayette firmly in her sights.

The seasoned observer of shopper behaviour (viz. Graeme) stood aside and LET THE SHOPPING BEGIN!

The River

The river ("Le Thiou") that flows out of the lake and past our joint looks more like a canal. It is concreted/enstoned. It runs right up to and past the buildings on each side. It is about 10 metres wide, but its depth varies. Little bridges dart out from between the Very Old buildings and a family of 11 ducks (ie nine chicks) skitch busily around and about. [Pete's duck Vic would love it here in spite of the obvious language barrier.]

When I say the water depth varies, I mean that it varies from day to day, and not from spot in the river to spot in the river. The other day a hunky young chap waded into the river to retrieve some token that a jeune fille had dropped off the bridge. He waded in at top-of-leg level. The next day he would have done it in ankle-level. The lake seems to be kept at some optimal level and there is some mechanical device or other that appears to facilitate adjustment to it. All part of a Cunning Plan, I bet!

The clear water rushes past us at a great rate. Downstream it passes under a church and here you can observe hundreds of little fishies swimming about, pointing upstream in search of food. You can bet that most of them will grow to be big fishies and be caught and eaten by the Simple Fisher Folk who can be observed in their boats or on the banks with their long fishing poles and loads of optimism.

Jude and I have just returned from having hair cuts - "Rambler Cuts". Jude's is 'Verair Frairnch' and looks smashing. Mine looks as it always does after a cut, but with a certain 'Rambler' touch. It has its own brand of grouseness.

I'll leave you to ponder how we look as we go off on another cycling adventure ...

See yas!


An Email! II

The email I received from Ford was titled "Les Froggies". Now I have never heard of Les Froggies. Maybe he played on the half-back flank for Williamstown back in the sixties. [That's how far Fordy's memory goes!]. Maybe Les is a distant relation to the former Australian fast bowler Froggy Thompson!

Anyhow, it got me thinking again as to why we have seen not one reference to frogs' legs as a 'delicacy' here in French-people's land (ie France). Not in a resaurant. Not in a charcuerie. Don't they eat them any more? I ate some when I was in Nanjing a couple of years back, but not a whiff of their presence here.

OK, another Cherry Ripe for the person who can provide more information about either frogs' legs as a delicacy OR about Les Froggies himself. [Did he win any best and fairest awards, for example].

I'll leave it with you!


An Email!

I just received an email from John Ford (two in fact). This person is a reprobate, but is "mostly harmless". He barracks for Essendon (or "Essedden" as followers of that club are wont to call it).

You have no idea how good it is to hear from someone who is following the blog. It is grouse. The email address is:

Love to all!


Monday, June 07, 2010

Annecy Rambling II

This city/town has been greatly influenced by the nearby mountains in its architecture. It became apparent when we were cycling round the lake yesterday. The stand-alone houses, especially the older ones, were very reminicsent of the Swiss chalet style with which you are no doubt familiar. Souvenir stalls around the city sell the clanking cow bells for you to take home and hang on your wall to remember your trip. I looked at the map the other day and, blow me down, there was Switzerland! Seemingly just a stone's throw away from Annecy! [There is still enough un-Swiss-ness here to remind oneself that one is still in France, however. It's not all THAT freaking Swiss.]

Grassy parks and gardens surround the lake making it a wonderful place for a holiday. Many camping parks along the shores are testament to the fact that the old 'lac d'Annecy' is a popular tourist summer destination. [There are plenty of vacancies in these 'campings' at the moment, though, summer holidays are still a good way off.]

Apparently the lake wasn't always as pristine and clear as it is today. In the early 1950s the decision was taken to clean up the cesspool and rubbish dump that the lake had become (YUCK!). Today, the travel book tells us, more than 20 million holiday-makers come to Annecy to buy cow bells to help them remember their trip. That's a lot of cow bells!

The hire bikes on which we rode around the lake were brand new tourers. Quite light and, overall, very impressive. It took us 4 hours to circumcyclate the lake, including a perfect lunch stop beside a chateau. [Bloggs 'pinged' us with news of a visit to the Blanch household of Georgia, Banjo and Hugh. He had missed them though and was kicking himself.]

The total distance around the lake was just over 40 km, so it wasn't a huge day on the bikes. It did serve as a gentle reminder of just how unused to cycling our bottoms had become, however. Not to worry, there are lots of dedicated bike tracks (as well as dedicated cyclists) around and about these here parts. It's a sunny day AGAIN here today and we shall be venturing even further afield on our bikes.



Lapin a la Moutade II

One of the amazing things about the French is their tendency to offer edible creatures with their heads attached. In fact, the recipe on which I am currently working list (as per previous blog) as: "one ... rabbit, with head on, if possible".

Now take yourself down to any butcher, charcuterie or supermarket and you will see the little dudes all tied up, skinned, with their heads still quite firmly attached: chooks, ducks, pigeons (these may well have been quail) and rabbits.

Now this observation may well be more revealing of us as descendants of the Anglo cultures. Perhaps we are way too sensitive to the death that is attendant upon the consumption of our daily repast. Even so, no permission to cook 'lapin' was forthcoming till I had found two hind quarters of rabbit nicely presented in plastic wrapping.

'Moutade' is mustard, and the two styles of it prescribed in the slow-cook recipe should make for a delicious meal tonight. I'll let you know ...



Lapin a la Moutade

I am having a go at cooking rabbit (French: 'lapin'). The ingredients list, as number 1 item: "one rabbit, wild or farm-raised". I was left wondering what other sort of rabbit there could possibly be in this world. I puzzled and puzzled, and then it came to me. There IS another category of rabbit: "pet". For the recipe, I have gone for rabbit bought at the Carrifours ready-wrapped in a plastic container.

I'll let you know how it turns out...

Your Favourite Blogger,


Cathars Were Gnostics

I have been puzzling as to why the Cathars got up the noses of the Catholics at SUCH a rate of knots. It seems that they were a brand of Gnostics. That is, they reasoned that if God made the world, and that world contained imperfections and other not-so-wonderful, even yukky, things (eg death, mozzies and funnel-web spiders), that God wasn't so wonderful and pure as was believed by the Catholics. God was a mixture of good AND bad. This, for the Catholics, was herecy and anyone who believed it deserved no less than to burned alive in the public square.

The Cathars, armed with this world view, believed that they should lead a 'good', pure life. They should do so in the quiet of their own homes and not bother other people with their ideas. The book I have been reading (The Cathars, by Sean Martin), suggests that they had attitudes very much like Buddhists. They did not build churches and they left very little by way of literature. We know about them today mostly due to the evidence they provided to the Inquisitors, who took committed their testimony to writing before hauling them off to the stake.

Here is a link to guff on Gnosticism (just for interest, not for conversion):

There seems to be very little reason to dislike these good-living, peaceful folk. Sure they had some funny (by today's standards) ideas, but that is not reason enough to set fire to them. Here are a few of these ideas/attitudes:

1. They did not approve of/believe in marriage(!)
2. They believed that Jesus was not a man, but rather a spirit who entered Mary through her ears. [I am not making this up - though Sean Martin MAY be doing just that]
3. They followed the teachings of Jesus' brother James (as distinct from Jesus' pal Peter, who was the first Pope of Rome)
4. They believed that women were part of the evil of the world that God created. [Confusingly they also believed that women were equal to men and they were able to occupy high office within the church.
5. There was a process by which certain of them could achieve high office within the church and become Perfects. This process was called the consolomentun. This process could only be administered by other Perfects and it was also given to those about to die, after which no food was to be eaten by the dying Cathar. The consolomentum was often (according to Mathews) the prime cause of the believer's final demise.
6. Cathars were often pals with lordlings who controlled tracts of land desired by larger forces such as kings of England, kings of France and Simon de Montfort. They didn't have a stray dog's chance.

These were seriously weird people. However, it is my strongly-held view that they did not deserve the obliteration, anniliation or genocide that was visited upon them first with a Crusade and second with the Inquisition. Nonetheless, deservous or not, it DID happen and no Cathar is left to put his or her side of the story.

I'll leave you to ponder this and to see if there are some lessons we can all take from this story. [For example, it is best to be a Geelong supporter in 2010 since they have the strength and power necessary to take out this year's Grandy - even though the Mags still have a good chance.]

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Annecy Rambles

Having dropped Susan and the girls off at Avignon (Sooz to begin her live-in homestay French course and Steph and Jenna to fly back to London), the Ramblers pointed Megan northward and choofed off to Annecy. I had never heard of it before, and neither had you, in all probability. Let me tell you though, that there are hundreds of thousands who had! And they were all downtown in the city when we arrived. Saturday night was THE time to hang out. The place was jumping! The crowds were seething! The parking was IMPOSSIBLE! Our apartment is located in the central part of the old town (vieille ville), so skinny, windy streets were in abundance. Visions of multiple bag-hauling relays over huge distances filled our hearts with dread. But wait! Isn't that smart red sports car about to leave that spot a mere 40 metres from our front door? YES! That smart red sports car IS about to leave that spot 40 metres from our front door! Yippee! Another miracle!

Half an hour later we are fully settled into our apartment on the tippy top (ie third) floor. No worries about parking until Monday because Megan is 'sauf' in a 'non payent' (ie free) street park for all of Sunday.

Massive loads of people surged through the streets, alleys, restaurants and bars in Annecy of a Saturday night. It is a resort town. Beautifully situated beside a huge lake, it is a fresh water Byron Bay, but a bit bigger. Our apartment looks out onto a river flowing out of Lake d'Annecy, coursing its way north to the coast (as rivers around here have a habit of doing). People are engaged in all manner of lakey activities: swimming in it, sailing on it, fishing in it, restaurant-on-a-boat eating on it, hang-gliding over it and (as we did on Sunday arvo) riding bikes around it. As well as a swim. 30+ degree temperatures made for a great wind-down after a frightfully long day of driving.

Sunday morning was market day and all the usual suspects were in attendance. And yes, over in a corner amongst the clothing stalls, the peeling fruit knife man and the hat stall was the - you guessed it - the mattress man! I think we are being stalked! We bought the ingredients for Sunday night's omlette (no, NOT from the mattress man, give me a break) and stuff for the rabbit mustard stew I am planning for Monday night. I'll let you know how that turns out ...

Gotta go and attend to more lakey things.

See youse!



I know that barrackers of teams other than Collingwood are great in number (probably almost as many as there are Collingwood supporters), and it is youse to whom I address my comments.

How many of youse (other than Footscray followers) wanted the Doggies to catch up to the Mags in the last quarter and then kick a slightly higher score prior to the sounding of the siren? ALL of youse, I bet! Well it just DID NOT HAPPEN, did it? Suffer in your jocks! Th Mighties hung on for all they were worth and hung on to their well-deserved place high on the ladder. What a team of awe-inspiring CHAMPIONS!

Go the Mighty Magpies!

Your Best Pal,


Saturday, June 05, 2010

Last days in Haute Provence

More Rambles around the old HP, along with some in Provence Lower. Here are some of the joints we popped into:

Minerbles was the setting for Peter Mayle's book about his Year in Provence. Another delightful town on a hill (all the towns on hills are delightful - yet to see a dull one). May very well have sighted PM himself, but never having seen him, nor even a photo of the chap, how could we ever know? On the way we saw one field of blooming lavender and promised ourselves a return for a photo. But it never happened ...

King William I of England came from Orange. Along with Mary. This town has been occupied by many different Powers, including the Dutch, the Visigoths, the Romans and the French, but not in that order. The best part of Orange, however, is the ginormous Roman theatre that dominates the city. It is HUGE! Appazzas, it was dug up in the early 20th Century, having been used for a variety of purposes that included: theatre (Oh derrr!), prison, fort, and (wait for it) village! Yes, at one time it housed an entire village! Houses were built up against the walls of the stage and the natural rock amphitheatre. You can still see where the roofs had been attached to the stage wall. During the GL (Glorious Revolution) the government ordered the evacuation of the village, but it took 20 years for this to happen. Then it fell into decay and it wasn't till the early 20th Century that it was excavated and restored to its present stunning majesty. It is now used as a theatre again and now playing the Phantom of the Opera. Check this beauty out on the web - there must be something on it.

The thing to do at Nyons is to have a look in the olive oil (huile d'olive) museum. Of course this is where you (and taste) buy all sorts of local produce, including wine, cheese, olives and of course the oil. The museum itself was cute and informative, as was the movie that ran in a continuous loop. However, the highlight was the ancient gentleman (89-y-o) who set his sights on JLR. "Who is with her?", he asked Susan in Fluent Fronch. Sooz's wiggling finger indicated that it was GCR and the blonde that made up the Couple. The rheumy eyes displayed a level of disappointment that only rheumy eyes can (poor chap!). Anyhoo, it turn out that this Ancient Personage is the owner of the whole show. He berated Susan in heavily-accented French on the health-giving qualities of cold-pressed virgin huile d'olive and was later seen addressing a group of well-behaved primary school children sitting in a demi-circle at his feet. Later we saw his fizz in the posters advertising the joint. [This is not a unique experience for Jude, as similar situations have arisen at the Cliff Booth winery, I have been reliaby informed, but that was BG, so I only have the word of the likes of Dianne Albiston and
Ewan Smith on that]. Sooz spoke at some length with this aged person (I actually think she fancied her chances, despite her brunettedness) and ascertained that his first language was probably Provencale and not French! Most place names around these here parts are presented in two languages, so the language must still be in use.

Lots more cute villages with cuter chateaux atop were visited by The Ramblers, Susan and our companions for the week Stephanie Rose and Jenna Holwell. They all defy description and you'll just have to come and see for yourselves. It's worth it many times over.

On the last night with our companions we drove to a teensy village high above Buis-Les-Baronnies for dinner. While the reports of the cooking from the others was not glowing (I quite liked my beef corgnettes), the experience was something else. In this tiny square (I know, ANOTHER tiny thing!) the village children and village dogs played around
our feet while the older villagers drifted in for their meals and/or drinks. The locals were either middle class professional types, farmer types or hippy types. The French chatter in the fading light with the mountain and valley views made for a perfect end to a wonderful sojurn at B-L-B. Lots of driving tomorrow, so I'd better get some sleep. More when we get to Annecy!

See youse!


Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Market Day and a Ramble

Yonks since we Ramblers had been for a walk and today was determined as
the day. In between set-off time (2:00 pm) and decision-making time (9:30 am) was market Rambling. Yes, today is market day in Buis-Les-Baronnes. You turn left out of our street (6 metres wide) into the main street (10m wide) and all is not as it was. Stalls line one side of the street and, where it is wide enough, one stall on each side. As usual, the market is filled with local produce. Snossages, cured hams and dried meat, fresh vegetables of all description, clothing, fish, footwear (Sooz bought a rather fetching pair of shoes for walking), jewellery and mattresses. Yes, the Mattress Man - or at least A mattress man was there in all his glory. This chap was counting a wad of money as we strolled past, so he seemeded to be doing well.

True to the form of the locals, we stocked up on all our provisions and went home to a wonderful lunch of paella bought from a rather debaucherous older chap who definitely had an eye on my gorgeous travelling companions (who could blame him, really?). Steph and Jen got stuck onto the buying. They are on dinner on Friday night. Boy O boy, am I looking forward to that!

After lunch we had a bit of a snooze before it was time to head off up the hill/mountain. Steph stayed home for a sleep. She has been working very hard and has a bit of a cold. She needs to catch up on some sleep. Mount St Julien dominates the town to the south of us and we have a great view of it out our windows. It has a summit that pierces the skyline and can only be described in the following terms: "craggy AS!". The trail was marked with red and white stripes or crosses that guided our way. It is part of the GR7, s walk similar to the GR4 that we encountered in Chasteuil (remember?). Up we went, higher and higher, until the valley lay very small below us. On the other side of the valley we could see the tiny village to which Dear Jude and Jenna cycled to check out a lunch restaurant yesterday. By jingoes, it did look tiny and cute from where we climbed.

The route took us to the bottom of the craggy bits, around the contour, and then on to a ridge that took us up to a spot where we could look back past the crags and down to Buis-Les-Wassername. Stupendous! Returning along a ridge the other side of St Julien, we dropped down to the town and home to Dear Stephanie, whom we found well-rested and having screws of her book. On thecway we met a chap taking his bottles to the recycle bin. On hearing that we were from Australia, he immediately began making plans for us to do a house-swap sometime in the future. Why not?

I am off to grill the sardines I bought for entree in the market today. Mustn't dally!

So long!