Friday, 29 February 2008

Disneyland

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Walk-a-thon

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Our first day in the big city and the weather was crappy. We decided to squeeze in some "boring" educational stuff. We clocked up quite a few kilometres, taking in Champs-Elysees, Jardin des Tuileries, Louvre, Forum des Hales, Georges Pompidou, Hotel de Ville and Notre Dame

The boys held up very well - all it took was some bribery aka Mc Donald's for lunch. Which we immediately regretted given the complaints about my selection of kids meals. Thirty euros (or NZD 60) later I think we have finally broken out of the advertising trance.

It was a funny sort of day. Jack's highlight was riding the metro.. he would be happy to do this all day.

WaterFountains

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James thought these big red lips were really cool. His highlight was riding the merry-go-round at the Hotel de Ville (the Marie of Paris).

I asked him to keep a look out for any pretty girls for me. He took this responsibility very seriously and he kept on saying, " I see one, I see one" and pointed to his mother:)

He will sleep very well tonight.

Henry had the pleasure of holding my hand for most of the day. His highlight was either watching the canal barges on the river Seine go under the bridge or exploring the crypt at Notre Dame. He couldn't decide which.

At least he has forgotten about his earlier obsession with the various "rude bits" which were either on display or missing from the Louvre exhibits!

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Mona Lisa

I was pleased to finally see the Mona Lisa painting and could have spent a lot longer at the Louvre if we abandoned the kids.

Notre Dame was impressive. So much so, I could almost have a religious experience: no - no its gone. Sorry Mum.

My highlight was enjoying a fantastic meal at Chez Justine's in Rue Oberkampf, without the kids - we had pre-arranged a babysitter for tonight.

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Check out the wannabe Venus de Milo's on the left.

Well, that's a wrap for me tonight. This blogging business can be tiring and time consuming.

Tomorrow if the weather gods are not too unkind we are going to Euro Disneyland.

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Thursday, 28 February 2008

11e Arrondissement

James, I'm sure that you would find this impressive.  Just logging in from our apartment in Paris and I can detect 26 different wireless networks - all security protected!!
IMG_1298 After a somewhat harrowing day travelling, it is always good to rest up and have a wine. 

We have rented an apartment through Paris Attitude.  We are staying in a 2 bedroom, 4th floor apartment on Avenue de la Republique, a very handy location in the 11th arrondissement.

More stories to follow - I need some sleep.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Paris Beckons

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Been a bit slow on the blog this last week. Busy Busy. 

We took the car in to the garage on Friday and they wanted to keep it, they provided me with a jalopy loan vehicle which I had to return on Saturday. Peugeot assistance then arranged for me to pick up a rental in Sarlat which we drop off tomorrow as we board the train. Lots of running around but good practice for the French.

Yesterday we headed in to Perigueux, the provincial centre of the Dordogne to apply for our "Carte de Sejour", a residence permit.  It was all pretty straight forward and painless thanks to help from Corine (from La Masion Bleue). Corine has been our translator, guide, agent and has made the transition from New Zealand to France that much easier.    We should hear back from our local Marie in around 10 days.

I caught Ange eyeing up quite a few of the shops in Perigueux, no doubt she is already planning a return visit.  She has a list of things which were supposedly not shipped with the rest of our stuff.  It makes for a good story.

Today we getting ready for the trip north: finalising accommodation, train tickets and baby sitters.  We have a early start tomorrow.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Bambi's Cousin

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Bambi's cousin came noising around the front garden today, obviously looking for his missing friend. He had a feed and then disappeared. Haven't seen any hunters staked out in the front garden yet - that can be the subject of the next Bambi blog.

Monday, 25 February 2008

Organic Veggie Garden

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The back garden - some of it at least

Well here goes!  Our first attempt at growing our own veggies and fruit.   It starts with laying out a garden, which is what I'm doing in the picture on the left.  Got the rotary hoe going with minimal difficulty. We marked out a space (5mx7m) which should be plenty big enough and still leave Jack with a huge football pitch.

We'll get the planting underway as soon as we get back from Paris. 

The weather has been amazing this last two weeks, temperature  has been peaking between 18-22 degrees which is very uncharacteristic for February.  All the plants and bushes have started flowering.

Spring has come early. What is it like back in Auckland :)

Friday, 22 February 2008

Peugeot 307SW

Car Ding
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I need to get the car fixed following my run in with Bambi (blog here).  As this picture shows the damage is pretty minimal.  I was very surprised - it was a huge deer.

I read an article in last weeks Herald on Sunday (here) about how Peugeot have engineered their cars to withstand minor impacts with limited damage. In my experience this seems to hold true.

It has been great to drive a new car, although a little nerve-racking to drive on the right side of very narrow roads. 

The best feature of the 307SW, by far, has been the ability to re-arrange the rear seats (as shown in this 2nd photo). Trust me you need to have had experience with cramming three young boys together in one row of seats to fully appreciate this feature.  It makes a huge difference.

The boys are pretty taken with the glass roof: on some of these small roads the views are all above you. 

Babybel Maxi (by Henry)

Babybel This is my favourite cheese in New Zealand. I have one in my lunch box every day. I really like getting the yummy cheese out of the red skin. 

When we were at the supermarket I saw these HUGE ones on the shelf. We bought some but mum won't let me eat it all by myself - I have to share with James.  Jack doesn't like cheese, he likes tomato sauce, I hate tomato sauce.

It isn't fair cause I don't have any of Jack and James' tomato sauce so why should they have some of my cheese.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Castelnaud Castle

Our routines are now well established: Wednesday = no school = mini-adventure.

We presented the kids with quite a few options.. all they wanted to do was visit more castles. Which is just as well as we still have quite a few to get through.  So we headed north, 20Kms, to Castelnaud Castle, which overlooks the Dordogne river within sight of its arch rival Beynac Castle (the subject of a previous blog).

Brief History:
The barons of Beynac were semi-permanently in conflict with the lords of Castelnaud. During the Hundred Years War Castelnaud sided with the English in conflict again with Beynac down the river.

In 1442, tired of the English hold on Castelnaud, the King of France ordered the town put under siege. The siege lasted three weeks. The English commander ended it by giving the keys to the castle and 400 crowns for his life. Thus the English were finally driven from Castelnaud. They left French soil after the battle of Castillon (1452) which marked the end of the Hundred Year's War.

In around 1520 an artillery tower was added to the castle but by then castles had lost their military significance. It is still a pretty cool feature though. 

Staircases!
Well we went up and down a few. Poor James, each step is like 30cm, so he has to climb his own height every 3 steps. Here is a good shot of him complaining.

This staircase was in the artillery tower, as you see they are near vertical.

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Early Gun

This 16th century gun looks pretty mean but I wonder how effective it was in battle.

West View

There were some great views from the top of the castle. This first one was looking east out over the Dordogne river.

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On the other side of the Castle, looking down the river to north-east, you can see Beynac Castle quite clearly.  It is easy to imagine the old foes staring at each other across the river. This shot was taken at 6x magnification.
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We had a good look around and left not long before closing time.  I found it very interesting to see how the castle had been altered as a result of the introduction of gunpowder/artillery.

All up we had a really good inexpensive day. There were many more pictures of the castle as this entry is already quite large I'll sign off here and head off to bed.

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Castelnaud Castle (from the North)

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View from the car park with the village in the foreground.

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Looking through one of the gun ports. The walls of the artillery tower must be 3 metres thick.

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Henry takes aim.

James Door

James found this cool door "only for little kids", it was locked unfortunately.

Mangonel 

Jack explaining how the "mangonel" worked.   Henry is looking for the lever to pull. 

Birkenhead Soccer Success

image Great news for our local (NZ) football club, Birkenhead United.  The under 16 team won the Presidents Cup tournament in Phoenix, USA.

This team was in full fund-raising mode last year for this trip and the older boys spent time coaching Jack's age group in the off-season.  This involved 3 on 3 games which were great for developing ball skills.  Jack's team did very well and just missed out on getting into the final.

Read more about the U16 team exploits here.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

TGV to Paris

TGV Just booked us on the TGV from Bordeaux to Paris.  We are heading up next week for the school holidays.  Been looking around at prices and deals for couple of weeks now. It is a bit of a lottery to get the cheap deals, the general rule is to book early but it seems that good deals pop up closer to the time as well.

I found a few good sites (click here 1 and 2) which explain the ins and outs of booking SNCF tickets through their web site.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Domme


Today's history lesson took us to the bastide (medieval fortified) town of Domme, which was founded in 1281.  The town is perched on a cliff peninsular overlooking the Dordogne river.
Supposedly up to 130 Knights Templar were imprisoned here following the dissolution of their order in 1307 by Pope Clement V.  Graffiti left by the imprisoned knights is still visible on the tower gates.
Domme is pretty touristy sort of place, anywhere in the Dordogne that wants to charge for parking is likely to be swamped by tourists in the summer months.
We had a bitsy lunch paying tourist prices but had lots of fun exploring the town.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Daily Chores

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Our new local.....

Yes the daily pilgrimage for fresh bread is now a well established routine involving considerable planning and thought. There are two boulangerie's in Villefranche and we have favourite selections from each.

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Boulangerie

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While not a daily chore, collecting "eau de source" is another routine. While the tap water in France is fine to drink; this natural source of fresh water just outside the town is a regular stopping place for us locals:)

We use it for the coffee machine - so we get through a few litres each week.

We are starting to meet more locals, a lady from St.Cernin introduced herself today while we were out shopping in Villefranche. She either lives next to the Marie (Mayors office) or she is the mayor of St.Cernin. The think it is the former as I'm sure I have meet the mayor already. In any case she was very friendly.

Actually everyone has been very friendly.

Training Training

Mapmyrun We have been stepping up the training for the Paris half-marathon, which is coming up in just over two weeks.  All up, we completed a hard 16Km today, definitely rest day tomorrow. 

The roads here are fantastic: rustic, peaceful, scenic with loads of hills and the possible routes are endless.  I can't wait to assemble the bikes and get out even further.

I use the Map My Run website to plot and plan routes. These days I find it quite easy to gauge the distance of a run by the time it takes but for training purposes it is good to get an exact distance.  

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Château de Biron

This Wednesday "family outing" was quite laid back.  We had been pretty busy unpacking and sorting out things and only ventured out in the afternoon. 
 
We tried to explore Chateau de Biron but the main building was closed for some reason. We will be back.
 
Also spent some time exploring the town of Belves, another very picturesque local town. 

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Bikes, Computers, Coffee Machine

image Yes - we finally have all our luggage. We had air-freighted 5 boxes, including our bikes and other important stuff (aka Ange's coffee machine) to Paris. Also arriving was most of our winter clothes which I had mistakenly packed in the wrong box.

I was dispatched to pick it all up. It was a long and uneventful drive north. Except for the part where I had to detour into Paris to get more gas, only to find that Sunday afternoon 5pm is actually rush-hour in Paris, although I still don't understand why. After some delay and dubious road choices I eventually made it to the Hotel. I still managed to complete some scouting of accommodation for our upcoming family trip before crashing at about 11pm.

The next morning was pretty stressful. Did I mention I can't speak much French? The shipping agent couldn't speak English. With some difficulty I managed to follow her directions to find the customs building and then the depot yard. It was a major relief to load the boxes into the car and head South.
After driving for roughly 600km's and only 3km from home, Bambi jumped out in front of my car. Yes, I killed Bambi. Fortunately there was very minor damage to the car and our insurance is comprehensive, with no excess. Another good reason to consider EuroLease if you plan to hire a car in Europe for more than 16 days.

Much of the Dordogne is forested. The area around St.Cernin very wooded and is full of wild pigs and deer. It is hunting season at the moment, until March 15th, and the place is also crawling with hunters. We see them all the time although they don't come too close to the house (that is the wild life and the hunters).

The next day, on the way to school, I showed the boys where the deer lay just off the side of the road. It was gone in the afternoon when we picked them up from school. Henry decided that it must have just been having a rest and that it had now gone off to play with its friends. This was a good ending to the story and we left it at that.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

FC LA MENAURIE

image The football club of St-Cernin and Mazeyrolles, named after the river that runs between the two villages.

The website  http://lamenaurie.free.fr/

We had a pretty good day, spent most of the day immersed in the french language which is a good thing.  But still scary. 

20 Rue du Pave - Zone de Fret 6

Off up to Paris tomorrow to pick up the rest of our luggage which has been sent by air freight.  It is a long way to go but it was by far the quickest and most cost effective way of getting the rest of our things to France.   It should all fit in the car. I could always leave Ange's bike by the roadside somewhere.
image The map below shows where I'm going. Follow the route to CDG around Paris, get on the A1, take exit 6, roundabout, left and then right.

Football Practice

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Photo borrowed courtesy of "This French Life" 
Jack had his first football practice today.  The coach is actually our nearest neighbour and is a really nice guy. He came over this morning to explain how everything worked, in French of course, but we managed.  We need a medical certificate & some paperwork etc - that was expected:)

The coach has two kids (8,11 years), his youngest and Jack are only 5 days apart and they are in the same class at school.  I'm sure all the boys will hit it off.
Football practice is a bit of a family affair with cake and coffee for the parents. It was really pleasant and well organised. 

After the game Jack was invited back to house of his new friend to play, we are off to pick him up at 6pm and have been invited for a aperitifs.

The football club has a web site, I couldn't find it so will have to ask for the address.

Monpazier

Decided to treat the boys to a Pizza lunch, celebration of completing their first week of school in France.  After a good feed we took a stroll through Monpazier, the "sister" village to Villefranche around 20km away.
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The pizza was well worth the trip - I think we will be back.

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