Saturday, 29 March 2008

London's Calling

We are heading to London for 10 days in April. Ange's 40th is on the 21st April so this will be a good chance to drag the kids back to visit all our old stomping grounds. 

We have booked flights on Ryanair, get this, our flights are technically free (cost €0.01) but when you add airport taxes, luggage, check in and handling costs the expense comes in around €200. Still not bad for 5 persons return.

We have booked a apartment right next to Portobello Rd Market, so I suspect it will be very "lively and cosmopolitan" just as the rental agency have described.

I also looked at some other apartments in Bayswater & Paddington but they were either a little dodgy or too expensive (and in some cases both).

Monday, 24 March 2008

Les Jardins Suspendus de Marqueyssac


The Gardens of Marqueyssac date from the 17th century and are located on a cliff spur which would have been carved out by the formation of the Dordogne river. The gardens conveniently located in what I call the "tourist triangle" between Sarlat, Beynac and Castelnaud. You can get a sense of how busy these places will become in the summer by the size of the car park.

Every Easter they hold an Easter egg hunt (chasse aux oeufs) for kids, we went along to check it out.


It was good fun, the views of the valley were really spectacular and the gardens and walkways were beautiful. I'm keen to go back without the kids to explore the site more fully (there are over 6 kilometres of walking tracks).

The kids had good fun, coloured eggs (hard-boiled) were hidden all over the place and they had to find five different colours in order to redeem a small bag of chocolate treats. The weather was kind to us, while still cold the forecast rain and winds did not materialise.

Marqueyssac_Ange Marqueyssac_DadJames Marqueyssac_Jack

Marqueyssac_Boys2Marqueyssac_James Marqueyssac_Boys

Marqueyssac_Tunnel Marqueyssac_GardenMarqueyssac_Beynac

As with many places we have come across, entry for kids under 10 is free. Adults cost 7 euros each, I thought 14 euros for the five of us was pretty reasonable. You can just see Beynac Castle in the background of the last photo.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Easter Weekend

EggHunt Good Friday is not a public holiday in France.. the kids went to school on Friday but they have Monday off.

They have an interesting setup here: May Day is the only statutory public holiday and all the rest are negotiated as part of employment  agreements.  I don't understand it, here is the wikipedia link on public holidays.

The weather packed in on Friday as predicted.. we had a few snow flakes on Saturday. The boys were invited to a birthday party on Saturday afternoon, Izzy is in Jack and Henry's class and she turned 7. Izzy's mum and dad are English and have lived in France for around 6 years. It was a good socialising opportunity for the whole family.

After our chat about good 'ol Santa, Jack has also figured out who the Easter bunny is and has promised not to reveal the secret to his younger brothers.  Last night he waited until his brothers had fallen asleep and came downstairs to ask me a few questions.  This knowledge didn't damper his excitement for the egg hunt this morning though. There was no chance that the eggs would melt before they were discovered, it was freezing cold.

The great hunt was delayed until after the coverage of the Malaysian grand prix and a cooked breakfast - thanks Ange.

egghuntall Found One James

Friday, 21 March 2008

The grass is greener...

We have a fairly large garden at Pech de la Mas - it's huge. Fortunately Pavlos also has this cool ride on mower..  I have always wanted to use one of these.

The weather report for the Easter weekend is crap, even predicting snow!!  I wanted to get in and finish the lawns while they were still dry.  Needless to say it was good fun..

lawns1 lawns2

James if you visit us I will let you have a turn.. a speed limit will apply though. 

Ah.. should also mention. We saw a fox today as we were on our way to pick up kids, it was just 50 metres down the road from the gate. It stopped looked at the car, walked to side of the road and stood its ground as we drove slowly past. First time I've seen a fox - just as well we don't have any chickens.

Get on yer Bike

After flying our bikes half way around the world, sacrificing poor bambi along the way, it was well past time to clock up a few kilometres on them.

It was a rather auspicious start: Yes - I'm allowed to tell you that Ange fell off at the gate. I thought she was just behind me and got to the top of the hill before I realised I didn't have a tail. Anyway, I do believe that it was my fault, after reassembling the bikes I had set her seat too high.

Here are the obligatory snaps of the day:


After today I'm sure that these bikes of ours will more than pay for the cost of getting them over here.   I'm so looking forward to exploring the myriad of back roads that crisscross the Dordogne.

Visite Médicale

We finally received our letters from the République Française advising us that our medical appointments are booked for the 3rd April in Bordeaux. We need take our passports and a few hundred euros each for some fee or stamp duty. These medicals are required for the Carte de Séjour, our residency permits.  For some reason they have not booked appointments for the kids.. a small relief but I'm sure it's a processing error.

Our fingers are crossed that this will be the final step in what has been a rather drawn out process of getting permission to spend a year in France. 

At this stage it hard to let the bureaucracy get to us. We are already here, having fantastic experiences and we just need to just push on and get through all the red-tape. I am sure that immigrants to NZ have to go through similar endless hurdles.

We must always pity the bureaucrats because they can't experience life without permission in triplicate.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

School Wednesday

I had better remind you that there is no primary school on Wednesdays otherwise this post may leave you somewhat confused. We are using Wednesdays for home schooling to ensure the boys don't fall behind in the NZ syllabus.

Today Ange took on the lead role as school teacher based at the kitchen table. I provided the entertainment for the breaks. It was a very productive day but the headmistress told me that we will have a different arrangement next Wednesday. We also took the boys on a short bush walk (now that hunting season is over) and we explored an old stone hut.

The swing got plenty of action and is proving a popular distraction with the boys.

viewfromtop Henry Bushwalk Gardeninsidehut SwingJames

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Périgueux Shopping Expedition

I have always found shopping overrated so it is safe to assume this is going to be a short blog entry.

After dropping the kids at school we drove to Périgueux, we were shopping for... the sake of shopping (I'll leave this in and see if it gets edited out). Ange was expecting to explore a few Prada-type outlets but the pickings were slim (fortunately). She did eventually buy some clothes and stuff but overall I think she was disappointed.

The highlight for me was being left alone in a big sports superstore: I got a pair of hiking shoes and some essential supplies for the bikes. I also came across this shop below, check out the Easter egg with the red ribbon in the centre of picture on the right (Mum - you need to click on the picture to see a larger version of it).

eggs1 eggs2

Monday, 17 March 2008

Château Biron: 3rd time lucky


On our first visit the Château was supposed to be open but wasn't. On the 2nd visit we got our days mixed up: closed on Samedi. So we returned on Dimanche after our pizza outing in Monpazier. Finally, it was open, nothing like a bit of anticipation.

Château Biron boasts a XIIth-century dungeon, some renaissance apartments and plenty of interesting architecture ranging from the XIIth to the XVIth century. It also has a two-storey chapel, the top chapel was reserved for the gentry and the lower was for the peasants!

The site is at the top of a hill and has 360" views that are pretty impressive.

(This next section of the post is dedicated to Dr Greg Bisset)

It was very interesting: we learnt that even way back in the XIIth century they had chiropractors.

These early practitioners worked down in lower parts of the castles, I suppose that if you had a bad back you wouldn't want to be walking up too many stairs.

work bench
A good quality adjustment table takes centre stage in these ancient treatment rooms. You have to wonder just how many patients had been treated here all those years ago.

The chap who used to work down here certainly had lots of equipment. I did ask if anything was for sale but alias no, but don't worry Greg, I will keep looking.

backrackAbove is a photo of the "Stretch-o-Back": way back in the XIIth century this was the latest innovation in clinical traction and decompression therapy.
Waiting roomAnd here we have the patient's waiting room. Looks a wee bit cramped but they get lots of chance to stretch out after.

Anyway, back to our tour of the castle. While Château Biron isn't nearly as spectacular as Beynac it was still a damn good adventure. We were provided with a very detailed guidebook which was full of interesting facts and stories. This helped to bring the château to life. One example of this was outlining all the sleeping arrangements: the Lord's mistress slept in the attic tower, near the dodgy back staircase which seemed to have no other purpose than to connect to the main stateroom via the roof.

Here are a few photo's to give you a taste of our outing.

image Bironcoutyard don_chappel window seatJack View James Henry stairs


I have been getting slack: no posts for over a week. Anyway, talking to Mum today reminded me that she is checking on this site almost every day for news. Get blogging Don.

I have added a new link to the site which enables readers to get email updates of new posts, not sure how well this works yet. AND I am also working on a map, which will graphically link/show posts where the posts originate from.. it should help put things into perspective... but it is not ready yet. But Wait. If you call now you also get....

So what news:
After a few very full on weeks we have been cutting ourselves some slack. The focus this week has been getting the kids back into their school routine and catching up on some shopping essentials - more on that later. Ange has even been out for a few runs in the rain, I joined her for the first time today after the sun finally presented itself.

Last Wednesday was our first attempt at "Home School Wednesdays". While the kids are managing fine at Le Got, in the short term they will struggle with the language barrier and we need to ensure that they don't fall behind the NZ curriculum. I will expand on this concept in a separate post.

Weather was crap on Saturday so Dad decided to take the family on one of his "well planned" Sunday drives.. Anyway, by "well planned" I really mean navigation without the aid of maps. It was a very successful outing, although Ange may disagree with me on this point. The good bit was that we stumbled across two new castles and a few caves that we didn't know about.

Pizza at Monpazier was back on the menu last Sunday for lunch. Part blackmail and part treat, this outing is now locked in as a family favourite. Only disappointment was that the waiter only spoke English (how did he know? my French pronunciation is perfect!). After lunch we finally managed to see inside Château de Biron, 3rd time lucky....

Monday came around pretty quickly and after dropping the kids at school we headed to Périgueux, the préfecture (capital) of the Dordogne département. It was all about shopping, shopping and more shopping: the day is still a hazy blur in my memory. I was there, I think.

Over the last week, Jack and I have been planning and building a swing in one of the big trees in the back garden.. The initially concept called for a flying fox but this was always going to be a stretch. Anyway.. the swing finally went into commission just before dinner tonight - I am quite proud of this contraption and I am sure a picture or two will slip into a future post somewhere.

aAhh, I should mention we have three confirmed "bookings": Dr Hu, our NZ family doctor is due for a visit in May. Alex.J, the MAD Dutchman, is landing for a flying visit in early June. Jack's buddy, Matthew and family are spending a few days with us in July. My aunt in Dublin and my cousin are very keen but timing is TBC. I need to work on my mum but its a timing thing. I also need to give James and Ash another prod or two.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

A Good Cheap Red


Ok, so this isn't a fancy blog title but then this red on the left  from Costières de Nimes is equally un-presumptuous.  These vineyards are south of Nimes, not far from the Mediterranean coast.

Ange and I have been trying quite a few different reds and this is one of our favourites, but get this: it costs 1.64 euro a bottle (NZD $3.20). 

We are still not used to choosing wine by the region rather than the grape variety but I sure with regular practice we'll get the hang of it.  Wine is still really cheap in France, plenty of good choices between 3 and 5 euros.


Monday, 10 March 2008

Origins of a Biscuit


I have received a question from Betty and the ladies of the St Vincent de Paul Opportunity Shop in Timaru (See Map insert opposite).

Why do we call ourselves the "Biscuit Bunch"?

Anyone who has a started a blog site recently will tell you that most choices for Blog site names and web addresses have already been taken.  So in searching for a quirky and original  blog name I decided to use my "alternative surname".

The origin of this starts on my first OE trip some 20 years where I ran into trouble with the pronunciation of my surname, Bisset.  I was constantly being misheard because of my "heavy" accent.
(they would hear P..... and not B..... which doesn't sound good at all).

My partner in crime and travelling companion at the time, another Don, decided to call me Biscuit and the nickname just stuck.

I think the "Biscuit Bunch" is an apt web nickname for the Bisset Family.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Welcome Home

After a good early start we caught the TGV from Gare Montparnasse. The prices for TGV tickets is pretty reasonable: it was 17 euro's each for the single journey (Paris to Bordeaux). 

The trip south was non-stop and we pulled into the Bordeaux Saint Jean in just over 3 hours.  At one stage the train runs alongside the motorway. Cars travelling around the 130km speed limit appear to be crawling along as the train leaves them for dust.

We picked up a rental car and managed to navigate ourselves out of Bordeaux without too many mistakes. We then headed west stopping briefly in Bergerac, our nearest city.  I had a good sleep in on Thursday, only to be woken up by Peugeot Assistance to say that our 307 was ready to be picked up.  It is great to have the car back, even the short journey back from Bordeaux in the rental proved quite testing with the three boys sitting next to each other. Never again I reckon.

It is good to be home and settled in once again, a big of un-packing and washing to do. But hey, I had to get the blogs up to date first.  Now that's done (they have sneaked in below), I'll have to find another excuse.


Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Bisset "Square"

The blogs are backing up on the old computer and I'm struggling to get time to finish them off.  Sadly, our time in Paris is almost up and we have been walking hard!
We are off to Gare Montparnasse early tomorrow to catch the TGV south, we are picking up a car in Bordeaux and heading home.  Hopefully, with a bit of sightseeing along the way.
Bisset_Square I had a breakthrough discovery this week, while perhaps not that unique it was very refreshing.  Imagine busy street, metro station and over-excited children. Mum is off shopping buying tickets or bread or just looking at some dress etc; us boys form a square. First person to break the square is a "whatever".
It works, I was amazed - they stand still like statues, how long will it last, it must wear off eventually.

Panthéon Visit


History/ Synopsis:

The Panthéon (1789) was originally a church but after the Revolution, it was converted into a mausoleum for the great philosophers, military, artists, scientists and heroes of the French Republic.

Occupants of the crypt include Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Zola, the Curies and Alexandre Dumas.

In 1851 physicist Léon Foucault constructed a 67 metre pendulum beneath the central dome.  Foucault's experiment created a sensation as it was the first dynamic proof of the earth's rotation in an easy-to-see experiment.  A working replica of a Foucault pendulum is currently on display in the central dome.

it was quite fascinating to see the building (earth) rotating around the swinging pendulum. It is a difficult concept to grasp until you see it working.


Our Visit:

For our last full day in Paris and we choose to explore the "Latin Quarter" on the Left Bank of the river Seine.  We wondered the streets, had a picnic in a park and explored a market before heading off to the main attraction of the day: le Panthéon.

The architecture is really amazing but the boys were more interested in the pendulum and the crypt.  This has given us some good options for extra-homework - they don't know this yet.

For me it was interesting to see the resting places of some VIPs from the French revolution.  Ange was very interested in Marie Curie mausoleum, which was a good thing because the next stop on the secret tour was the Curie Museum around the corner.

Another good day with lots of walking. It didn't take long for little James to fall asleep on the metro going home.

image Pendulum 

Look Up 

Outside Patheon Crypt
Down in the crypt, lots of passage ways, interesting design and lighting.

Left:  Outside the Panthéon
Patheon Crypt2
  Marie Curie Study1
Above: Marie Currie's study
Right: outside the museum
Rue Pierre and Marie Curie