Legends from our own lunchtimes

Monday, April 30, 2012

- Void to Demange-aux-Eaux

As we watched the calm come over the port last night it was hard to believe that just hours before we had seen sixty kilometre winds below the footbridge.

The calm remained with us today as we climbed the rest of the mountain.  Jean-Wolf, the owner of the barge we had been following for the past few days kindly allowed us through the Mauvages tunnel ahead of him as in theory we could travel much faster than he, and we could perhaps gain a lock or two's distance in the course of the afternoon.

With the tow barge inoperable, as the first boat through we again had the glorious experience of five kilometres of perfect tunnel reflections.  For almost an hour we had our optical senses attacked as we seemed to be simply floating through space.  It is hard to believe how difficult it is to maintain a straight course in the presence of such a strong illusion.

Strangely, at the other end of the tunnel, the first lock on the downhill run was unmanned, and closed with the intercom turned off for good measure.   After several hours we were able to summon some assistance from a bemused executive who wasn't quite sure why anyone would want to be navigating anywhere the day before May the first, when everything would be closed anyway.   After explaining that we thought a nice little village a few kilometres down the track would have been a great place to stay, we apparently mutually decided that perhaps the mooring below the lock would be better, and there was room for Jean-Wolf above it should he also very wisely decide not to continue with his journey.

So here we remain, near Demange-aux-Eaux for the next twenty four hours, a place that is so quiet it makes the harbour in Void last night look like a beach resort in high season.

Oh darn, we're stuck in the middle of nowhere, rural France.

What ever shall we do?

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Moving on relentlessly
- Toul to Void

We are nothing at the moment, if not determined to get through the tunnel at the top of the hill, from which it will be a gentle run through the Champagne region, to Paris.  With that in mind we actually rose in time to buy the day's baguettes, had Mr P clearing the port of all flying insect pests and were ready to leave on the stroke of nine this morning.

However, a few strokes before then, the nice Danish man in the yacht in the next mooring wandered over to the lock gates to wait for the light to change to green.   It's no fun sharing a chain of locks in an uphill direction with a yacht whose shape is distinctly not parallel to the sides of the wall, they tend to bang and flail and their mast stowed overhanging the hull can get quite threatening to anyone else trying to sit quietly in the washing machine with them, so we thought we'd wait a bit.    An hour actually, we decided we'd wait an hour.

Which as it turns out, is exactly how long it took for the monster barge to arrive as it did, just as we were about to leave.   This for those who don't know, meant a fairly lengthy wait at each of the next ten locks, in winds increasing to the point where the "fun" flags were definitely coming down, but like the old sea dogs we aren't, we persevered, wondering how many people in the world right now had the opportunity to visit a new waterfall every thirty minutes or so.   

Berthed tonight after four days of serious travel, we are trying to gain some perspective on the hectic pace of our journey thus far.  In four days we have passed thirty-eight villages, towns and settlements,  we have negotiated thirty-six locks and we have travelled a total of one hundred and seven kilometres.

That's the bit we really find hard to put into perspective.

In four days travelling at what we consider to be a completely uncivilised pace, we have managed to travel exactly eight kilometres more than the distance from our house at Dicky Beach to the Brisbane International Airport.  If we were on our way to visit our kids south of Brisbane, we'd be there by Tuesday.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

A day on the river
- Champigneulles to Toul

If we were to make real progress on our Parisian quest, we thought perhaps we should be at the first lock at opening time.  That's nine am, and most would agree a time better reserved for lying warm under a doona.  The promise of a warm day and a temperature already in double figures did spur us on though, and when we got underway we only missed our self imposed deadline by fifteen minutes or so, which we thought wasn't bad even if it did take a couple of cups of coffee to get us there.

Because this is France, the friendly lock keeper we were relying on to make it all work seemed to have adopted a much more sensible approach to starting his day, and we waited for almost an hour for him to press the button which would allow us to take the ride down that last four metres or so to the Moselle.  I suspect that the effort of having to get to the office at seven to let the barge through may have taken a lot out of him.

The freedom of the big river and it's twelve kilometre per hour speed limit can apparently be a "let the hair down moment" in craft that are differently configured.  For us it is wonderful to be on what seems to be an infinitely wide waterway if not particularly liberating in the velocity stakes. 

In theory we'd be able to push poor Joyeux to that sort of speed if Mr P were a little younger perhaps and perhaps not quite so many kilograms of groceries were on board.   Theory and practice collide brutally on the river, and well we remember last year, making what we considered to be good progress only to have Paul and Bertha pull alongside to see if there was anything wrong.  This year, with Mr P wound out to a dizzying eighteen hundred revolutions per minute, we managed to average better than eight kilometres per hour against two of current, which we thought was quite impressive really.

I'm not sure if it was the noise or the smell of the diesel or just that normally we'd take two days to travel this far, but by the time we arrived in Toul, another of our favourite cities, it was mid afternoon and we were ready once more for a stop.    

Friday, April 27, 2012

One day later
Somerviller - Champigneulles

 We thought we'd push it hard today, get a few miles under the bottom and all that, so we were up at the crack of nine, in what was almost brilliant sunshine, and even more brilliantly, with barely a few kilometres travelled, spring turned up for an hour or so and what a difference that made to the world!

The forecast did suggest that this little spurt of sunshine was but an omen for what may happen in a day or two's time and that getting excited about it might not be an appropriate behaviour, but we took what of it there was to take and happily smoked off into the morning, ready to provision the ship at our favourite provisioning spot, on the outskirts of Nancy.

We really love that place, Nancy that is, not mooring along the back wall of the supermarket smelling more than ever of beer processed through kidneys, and we felt super guilty as we passed by the harbour trying not to take so much as a sideways glance.  For the first time in three years, we have passed Nancy without spending a few days or even a week poking around it's squares and alleys, but we are determined to keep trucking on.

A little further down the waterway, there is a harbour with pontoons that are covered by ducks.  It's a place called Champignuelles and it would have won me a sheep station last year if Jacques had one to bet.  That Jacques of "travelled every waterway in France and live just a bit up this one fame", like every other boat person in France it seems, did not know of the existence of this little harbour, despite it actually existing on the main channel a mere six kilometres from Nancy.    

We like to stay there too, because it's free and very close to all sorts of facilities, and when we are people possessed with the urge to travel as fast as we are, it gives us a real head start to the main lock dropping us onto the Moselle, and our first gateway to what lies in the West.

So after another arduous day at the helm and our larder filled with supplies that will last until the next supermarket, err… tomorrow, we are able to tick off another twenty or so kilometres in the log.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Springing into action.
Lagarde - Sommerviller

What  is supposed to be spring to our untrained eye still looks a bit like winter, only with grass, it feels like winter too, to us at least.  We are assured that when the time comes the leaves will begin to move, the flowers will bud and the world around us will change.

When the time comes for a change, it just arrives without warning for us too, as it did when we woke this morning.  Suddenly the tasks that yesterday were necessary to have complete before departure, were no longer important.   The only thing that matters when that feeling is upon us is being underway, so as yet unfitted fenders were lashed to the roof waiting for another day, and before he could do anything to resist we were poking the geriatric Mr Perkins in the ribs, trying to rouse him from his slumber.

He remains quite cantankerous but the wiring renovations completed last year have taken the sting out of his starting argument at least.  The love that Bill lavished on him over winter has left him with a much greater ration of oil than we would normally allow, and like a fat old Labrador, he's gulping it as though there will be no tomorrow,  but apart from the odd hiccough he grumbles away all day pushing us along at our usual walking pace.

Five hours at six kilometres per hour and nine locks further down the canal we are moored, alone in the countryside and we are on our way.  Life just looks different somehow.

We have another hundred and sixty or so locks to pass before we reach Paris, and are just happy to be on the move, although it must be said that we were just as happy sitting still not twenty four hours ago.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

It's rain, Jim, but not as we know it
- Lagarde

The weather forecasting device I prefer provides mostly a graphic readout.  For days it has had two little golden balls representing sunshine beginning the day after tomorrow.    It has become something of a ritual for me to log on each morning and smile as I watch them both jump one further day into the future.

Today however, while they did jump as expected, now promising fine weather on Friday and Saturday, they seemed to be caught somewhat unawares by the immutable fact that this morning we woke with the boat and for that matter the entire port and even the village beyond, bathed in luxuriant sunshine.

This it seemed was a sign that perhaps at long last I could get the windows back where they needed to be, and finish all the outside jobs that should have been completed on the day that we arrived.   There seemed little point in wasting time, so we bounced out of bed well before ten, had a leisurely breakfast and an even more leisurely cup of coffee while sitting in the aforementioned sunshine.  Then, as the weather was so pleasant, we wandered up to the lock to see Monika and Jim safely on their merry way and returned just in time for the cloud to start building along with the wind, making conditions terribly unpleasant for working, let alone working outside.

But a man has to do what a man has to do, and by the time the first few drops of rain had fallen, it was lunch time, but the windows were finally reinstalled.   The next day or two will be nervous ones, waiting and watching after every squall to see if any errant drop finds its way through the fresh sealant.   We've also replenished our gas, filled the watertanks, replaced the waterpump which we replaced yesterday and have generally stowed pretty much everything ready to get underway.

There are a few odd jobs remaining, but they can be done at any time, we have no excuses, we may move on soon.

For now though, we are just happy sitting watching the rain on the OUTSIDE of the windows.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

If we take the photo in the late evening, the sky looks blue!
- Lagarde

The German tourist would have been, if I were any judge of character at all, typical of his ilk.

He wore a black ski suit (or what I take to be a ski suit but may just be fashionable "walk to the marina" wear), stocky of build tending towards too portly for his loose fitting tights and topped by what would have been a head of grey hair had it not been shaved a few days or perhaps a week ago.  Had he been sporting a pair of white shoes and a heavy gold bracelet or a signet ring with a Mercedes badge on it, the picture in my mind would have been complete and I may have thought I was back at Marina Mirage.

There was a sort of confident rather than arrogant air about him, as he wandered quietly down to the end of the pontoon where I was intent one more time on not completing the reglazing of the front window.  I didn't ignore him, but I didn't look up either until the inquiry came, in an accent which I barely understood.

"Parlez vous Anglais?". Nothing in that question or the manner in which it was asked meshed in any way with the view of this fellow that I'd already formed.

"Enough to make myself understood," I replied in my most laconic tone, with perhaps a dash of whimsy thrown in.

"Ochhh dar's greet" he in turn responded, in a most un-Teutonic way and then proceeded to enquire very politely if it was OK for him to berth his hire boat in front of us.

Jim it turns out, speaks German without any hint of his native Scottish brogue.  A Scotsman called JIm, can you imagine it?  The ski suit, usually worn by tourists as some sort of affectation, is apparently actually the most convenient way for a Scottish Ski instructor from an Austrian resort who lives in Germany, to keep warm and dry when he's hiring a boat in France.   

 His wife Monika who is German but uses the bits of his accent that he no longer needs when she speaks English, rues the way her once Oxford tongue began to dissolve from the day that she met him. 

Who needs windows in a boat when there are two more delightfully colourful lifetimes to find out about and only one night to do it in!

Monday, April 23, 2012

- Lagarde

There's a dull eerie glow emanating from the fore cabin.  That's the one that more than anywhere on the boat used to do a pretty fair imitation of a colander in pretty much all weather conditions except bright and sunny.

Fort two years I've had "remove and fix windows" on my list of things that I hoped would go away if I ignored them for long enough, but no matter how hard I look, they just seem to sit there smiling at us while standing over a puddle of water after rain, like a not yet house trained puppy.   It's not much of an inconvenience except for anyone sleeping on the forward bunk, which we are not, but it needs to be fixed eventually.

So today, in bright sunny weather and a bit of the same forecast for tomorrow, I began the job which above all others I just knew would not be straight forward.  It's the sort of job where one thing leads to another and before you know it, it's taken two days to do a simple thing.

It's the sort of job from which once started, there is no retreat, which of course is why the rain started unexpectedly, and just as unexpectedly the forecast for tomorrow changed with the job half done.

Maybe we will stay here tomorrow after all.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

- Obernai, Alsace

I may have inadvertently given the impression yesterday that as soon as the weather began to clear, I would be outside ticking things off those carefully prepared lists.   

That is all very well in theory, but when it did, the day turned out to be Sunday, a day when no right minded person in France would do anything except perhaps have a long lunch with friends, so immediately after rising I went scrambling through some lists I had prepared earlier until I found one with "Nice Lunch" written on it in my own clearly legible hand, and a box beside it with no tick in it.

This fortuitous find neatly coincided with an offer to accompany Jacques and Maggie on a small motoring journey through Alsace's Wine region, where it has to be said there is no real shortage of delightful spots in which one can quench alternately one's thirst and appetite, both of which we managed to do with such enthusiasm, some would say diligence, that we didn't actually need to take aboard any further sustenance before retiring for the night.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

- Lagarde

Suddenly it seems as though this simple blog has become the weather channel. With a forecast predicting exactly the same for a few days yet, there is unlikely to be any relief from either the conditions or the reporting of them.

Thankfully when the sun failed to make an appearance this morning I was entirely aware that it was now Saturday, so after considering carefully the long list of tasks that need attention before we steam away, and equally carefully weighing up how uncomfortable I might be if I ventured outside to attempt any of them, I elected to remain snug, warm and horizontal for just a bit longer.

I think I'd still be there too if it wasn't for a slow wave of guilt building as the sounds of the other of us busily sorting things at the other end of the boat began to penetrate my cone of laziness.  This guilt I assuaged by writing lists all day with a pencil, then duplicating them in fountain pen, crossing off some items with a black fine-tip, before marking them all "low priority".

I'm not sure at the moment if indeed the recalcitrant leaks in the fore cabin windows are all that low a priority, but they can't be fixed in the rain, and when it's stopped, well the importance of fixing them will be somewhat diminished, so perhaps I am right after all.

Tomorrow I really should begin, but we have places to go, things to do, people to see.

Raincoats to dry.

Friday, April 20, 2012

It may be cold, but I can say "Thirty" in French

Communicating by telephone is a terrifying experience if one has little comprehension of the language pouring out of the earpiece, iPhone or not.

So when the nice young man at the mattress shop, explained that the delivery guy would phone us to arrange a time for delivery, it sent cold shivers down my spine, even more than did the slushy sleet that tumbled on occasion from the sky.

The prospect of having to telephone the rental car people to enquire why they weren't at the office at the appointed time was no less daunting, but thankfully, one of the other less than gruntled customers waiting in the ice-rain, took it upon himself to phone first.   He then helpfully repeated for my benefit an entire chapter of something of which the only words I heard were "trente minutes" and although I have not quite at this stage learned to count to thirty, a quick guess (and a check with the dictionary App) had me thanking him profusely for his assistance, and we stood together silently for a time, wondering awkwardly how to pass the next thirty minutes.

"What is your impression of the current political and economic situation in France?" I ventured, repeating in phonetically passable French, one of the phrases from our favourite language programme that I had learned by rote.

For the next trente minutes I was regailed.  He told me in, had I been able to understand, no uncertain terms, exactly what his impression was, and all I had to do was offer the odd "Oui" from time to time to keep the conversation rolling. 

Having thus fumbled through two tests, the dreaded phone call arrived, and with it a continuous stream of completely unfathomable monologue.   I had heard enough key words to confirm that indeed it was something to do with a mattress delivery, but nothing else.

Falling back on that same language CD, I fired back my most practiced phrase: "I'm terribly sorry I don't speak French".

"TRENTE MINUTES" came the simple reply.

"oui, oui, merci, super, génial, au revoir" I sung into the phone, and in thirty minutes our mattress simply miraculously appeared.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Sorting Stuff
- Lagarde

Leaving a boat to fend for itself in temperatures that reach minus twenty is always a little disconcerting.  This is particularly so when one lives on the other side of the world although, there is little point in being concerned through all the inclement times so usually we are not, preferring to discover any damage after the event.   

There is also little point in dwelling on the work that must be undertaken for the first day or two aboard, like removing winter covers, or describing how my numbed fingers fumbled while untying the covers so that I found myself separated from my beloved Leatherman.   

It was less than three metres away, and I suppose the water may have been a degree or two warmer than the air, but I prefer sadness to bathing in yesterday's breakfast, so there it shall remain and sad shall I  be.

There's no point at all in describing scrubbing the soot from the winter fires from the decks, unpacking all the things we so carefully packed to keep them free of the dreaded winter condensation.   Err… sorting out the one bag of linen which for some inexplicable reason managed to fill with water at some time in the thaw.

Neither is there any point in photographing the untidiness.  The view from the window is part of the reason we are here after all, and with it just an upward glance away, the work of sorting is relatively pleasant with the heater ticking over in the background.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Homeward Bound
- Belgium, Luxembourg, France

I have it on reasonably good authority that the computer power that was used to land man on the moon is so inferior to that contained within an iPhone that it is hard to believe they came from the same planet.

Such is its extraordinary ability, that not only did it wake us in time for a leisurely farewell breakfast, it guided us for five hundred kilometres across three countries to a clearing near a small village on the banks of the Moselle River, where we found an even smaller campervan where inside hidden behind mounds of steaming food on the table, set at precisely the time it managed to predict from the outset we found Warwick and Julie.   We had managed, through some miracle, to intersect with the trajectory of their mother ship as they travelled on their journey from Portugal to Holland.  Our life has become a chapter in a sci-fi novel.

Sadly, its computational prowess also extended to reminding us all too soon that we still had an hour to journey's end and really we shouldn't sit swapping yarns all day even if we haven't actually yet started to catch up on the bits that have happened since our last meeting barely seven months ago.

So reluctantly we pushed on home to Lagarde.  Home to where we had a boat to sort out enough to find somewhere on it to sleep, preferably before dark.

Home to Joyeux and Maggie and Jacques and Frida and Michel and Bill and all the other characters who live in the background of the story that is our other life on this side of the world.

As we sat late in the evening with Jacques and Maggie, nibbling on fresh sheep's cheese, finishing our third meal for the day in the company of friends, how could we not feel just a teensy bit grateful for our lot, and for the circumstances that led us to the path on which we travel?


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A stroll by the seaside

When the forecast was for weather other than of the kind our overly generous hosts would have preferred, they suggested we take a ride on the Tram to Nieuwpoort.

This they assured us would keep us warm and perhaps dry and on the way we could decide from which stop to alight to meander home.  They mentioned in passing that perhaps strategically, "down-wind" would be a good starting direction for our walk.   We took no notice of the little voices in our heads and followed them out the door.

What a treat that outing would have been on a sunny day.  Streets abuzz with people, sun sparkling off the water, the most incredible collection of sculptural pieces along the waterfront boardwalk beside the largest marina in Europe, and fish markets and holiday shops abuzz with activity.   Today it was definitely a treat, but of a different kind altogether.

It seemed as though our hosts, who are entirely accustomed to the cold were themselves not entirely sure that they enjoyed being out at all.  Although we could happily assure them that we were (sure, that is) it seemed that no one else in Belgium was actually going to venture out this day either.  When one can walk for a few hours with bags of fresh seafood under arm, and one's only concern is to stop the fish freezing on the way home, for the Antipodeans in our group the experience is to say the very least, novel.  

As we watched the sun peek through in the dry mid afternoon warmth of the fifth floor apartment, we assured our hosts that we were very happy indeed not to venture out to see the sculptures that we had missed in the morning's outing.   They in turn, assured us as we helped them dispose of a great feast of local delicacies from the sea, that we had experienced a day which was perhaps typical of it's kind.  A day when one ventures out into the cold, warms up with soup at half time in a cafe to fortify oneself for the journey home, then arrives home more grateful than ever for the miracle of central heating.

Another box ticked!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Act Local

We are yet to meet anyone who has been to Brugge who has had a bad thing to say of the experience, so when Dave and Ria suggested that it might be a pleasant way of filling in a day who were we to suggest otherwise?

Having a pair of locals leading us on our tour would of course make it easy for us to melt in with the crowd, to slip unsighted around the tourist traps and into the really interesting stuff behind.  Not for us the touristic breweries, the lace and waffle shops.  We didn't have to buy chocolate just because we were in Belgium, and given our usual mode of transport, we certainly had no desire to ride on a tour boat, nor to follow a guide with a colourful umbrella or silly doll on the end of a stick speaking in several languages at once.

So we did things only the locals do in Brugges, in weather varying between "brisk", "quite chilly" and "go inside now you fool" we took coffee beside the canal where the tour boats leave, sipped "beer and cheese" soup for lunch (no that's not a misprint) in a brewery while watching the horses pulled their tourist-laden carriages across the cobbles, had waffles with our mid afternoon coffee, while in between browsing the lace and chocolate shops.  Perhaps we did sample each of the latter, but it was in moderation as a local would of course.

Between these things we walked, guided by Ria and her determination that we would not miss a nook or cranny during our brief overview of the sights and tastes of Belgium.

Those tourists really don't know what they were missing!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Chilly Reception
Sint-Idesbald, Belgium

As we walked along the beach with Dave and Ria, in the cool of the evening, verging on quite cold actually and very similar come to think of it to the cool of the rest of the day, except with wind and sand thrown in for good measure, we found it difficult to believe that it had been only a few days ago that we were visiting the Hospital at Baune in the south of the Burgundy region of France. 

It seemed like at least a month ago that in that place Roger gave us a rundown on the Flemish influence in Burgundy and how sometime a few hundred years before Australia was "discovered", the Duke of Burgundy,  who at the time was a chap with the unlikely name of Phillip the Good, had married an apparently less than handsome young lady who just happened to be the heiress to the whole of Flanders, giving him access to the ocean.  This turned out to be quite a useful asset for a chap intent on getting into the import-export business, as apparently he was.

Arriving in Flanders ourselves this afternoon, grateful to have been travelling in a heated car and oblivious to the single digit temperature outside we gained absolutely no appreciation whatsoever  as to how, all those years ago, anyone could have thought that owning a port a thousand frozen kilometres from where one produced one's product could be in the least bit helpful, but it all turned out be an immensely successful venture apparently.

Somewhere else in the history of Flanders a fellow named Charles the Bald made an appearance, and although he has no connection with the story, he sounds like exactly the sort of bloke that deserves a mention in this note. I can attest, being similarly endowed to his good self, that if Charles didn't own a sophisticated polypropylene thermal beanie that came down over his ears, he would have been very wise indeed to have never ventured out among the dunes in the cool of a spring evening.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

La Ferté-Saint-Aubin

Eventually it had to happen.

"De gastro food experience" arrived in the wee small hours of the morning, and in this instance I'm not referring to the perhaps unfortunately named restaurant magically photographed in Brugge a few days after posting this.

After almost forty years of travelling with a small kit of emergency medicines which has never been called upon in anger, the opportunity finally arrived for it to provide a little comfort in the wee small hours of the morning.  Sadly when it did, we discovered that the entire kit had been left in the bathroom cabinet in Dicky Beach which is just a bit far to walk to in the middle of the night.

The whole affair was a rather dampening end to a rather brilliant if very late (and I suspect in fairness to the restaurant concerned, unrelated) night of dining, and to make matters worse was of sufficient severity to dampen the entire morning, blank out the afternoon, and threaten to do the same to the evening as well.

But there was this cassoulet on the make in the kitchen, a special blend of duck and beans and sausage and secret herbs and spices traditionally cooked in the south of France for a millennium or so, and yet another date with a bunch of apparently insomniacal friends of Celine and Dume, so a miraculous recovery was ordered, and arrived in the nick of time.

There's just no time for a twenty-four hour bug around here!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Back to the future
La Ferté-Saint-Aubin

We are the first people from outside his family to stay at Jackie's place.  

He comes each day to open the shutters and tend the chickens and his vegetable garden which are a constantly changing feast, although presently it lies in wait for this year's planting as the seedlings mature in their hot boxes.

Over the course of the past few years we've had many a meal of the sort of tomatoes that one only reads about in story books, ,and a supply of lettuce that is as long as summer,  climbing beans and mushrooms and eggs which magically appear from the back of his old Peugeot, and now it seems we have become so ingratiated in his family that Celine's guest room is no longer good enough, we must stay in her father's house.

He hasn't actually lived here for a decade, and in stark contrast to his garden, nothing inside the house has changed for twice that time, it seems to be his personal attempt to coerce time into standing still.

Celine's room is as she left it, the living room and kitchen are as they were in the sixties when the house was built.  Apart from the calendars on the kitchen wall, and the posters from the toilet walls dating from the early eighties there is not a sign that the world has moved on.  There are no digital clocks blinking in the night, the microwave oven has been there I am sure, since before microwaves were even discovered.  It looks like a television set, although the television set looks like what someone who had never seen a television would imagine a television set might look like well into the future, if the future was in nineteen sixty-two.

And we are here, wandering down memory lane, trying to recognise each of the countries represented by Celine's little collection of dolls in national dress, still in their oval cellophane boxes, giggling at the lightshade with the dancing elephant motif, remembering that wallpaper in the living room with the alternating pink and yellow roses, making the most of it, before we have to return back to the future.


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Around the block

We are creatures of habit and ritual, even those among us who strive to leave all that behind are completely, sometimes painfully predictable.

For instance, we always promise ourselves that we will get underway "first thing" in the morning, knowing full well that "first thing" means "after rising late, having a leisurely breakfast, hanging around for a chat, packing up, maybe having a coffee and a bit more of a chat - oh goodness is that the time we'd better be off or we'll have to stay for lunch"

Hire care people are the same.  They smile and make a great fuss about how new the car they are about to entrust into my care is, give a quick run down of all the controls while at the same time failing to point out exactly where the fuel filler cap is and how to get it open.  They explain with a broader friendlier smile that is almost paranormal that we have an unlimited kilometre allowance in our contract, yet when we return the car a few days later having travelled across six continents and a few island states, they silently raise an eyebrow in disapproval.

When we combine the two, we just end up being grateful for those marvellous tollways, the ones that transport us so efficiently to our destination almost before we can say "goodbye Roger, hello Celine."

This morning, Chalon-sur-Saône, this afternoon La Ferte Saint-Aubin.


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Côte d'Or

Burgundy is an actual colour named after a certain type of wine, it's also not entirely coincidentally the name of one of the better known wine regions in France.

What is more difficult to fathom, perhaps even confusing for the wine luddites in our number among whose ranks I presume myself to be preeminent, is that not all wine produced in the region is in fact burgundy.   I would hazard a guess from what I've seen today that most in reality is not.

Even more confusing perhaps is that grapes grown in Burgundy, are actually produced in a region known as  Côte d'Or  which when translated into English means more or less , "Slopes of Gold".

This name has nought to do with mineral wealth apparently and every thing to do with the appearance of the vineyards in autumn when slopes are cloaked in a golden curtain of leaves about to fall. Today though, the colour was anything but gold as the reflections from the brand new wire trellises made them look for all the world as though they'd been draped in gossamer by some giant creature, and the steeper slopes, well let's just say that gold is not a colour that comes to mind when viewing them from any distance.

For those among us who may think the origin of the name is a little inconsistent there is an alternative theory:

The wine industry is quite heavily regulated, to the extent that on these slopes, production is limited to one bottle of wine per vine.   At a price typically ranging from thirty to fifty Euros per bottle for product grown here, often more, if one were to multiply this selling price by the number of vines,  a certain logic appears in the taxonomy.

Somewhere between Beaune and Dijon

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

So this is Burgundy

The weather forecast this morning was promising.

As we lingered over our breakfast in Silhouette's main saloon, staring through the ports across the Saone, it was apparent though that what the actual weather was promising was temperature far below a civilised one, and to send us back wet if we were to venture out.

When we were last here in Chalon-sur-Saone it had been damp and chilly but it had been late in Autumn when one expects that.  In spring we simply assumed things climatic would be perfect so we hadn't planned to stay with Roger long enough for rain clouds to clear.  We had planned to spend the day in Beaune after all, arguably at the very historic heart of Burgundy.

Then it dawned on us.  Not the sun, it's still safely tucked up somewhere above the ice and cloud, but the fact that we'd planned our week.  Planned it.   Damn!

Sure, we'd left it till absolutely the last moment, arranging our itinerary the night before we left London, which by my watch was still less than forty-eight hours ago, and that should have meant something.

Clearly it had not.

Even last night, just a few strokes before midnight, while arranging the hire car, I hadn't twigged the peril we had placed ourselves in by making plans, we were after all, going to be in Orleans on Wednesday and Belgium on Sunday and Lagarde on Wednesday of next week.

What if the rain doesn't go away?   What if it's drought breaking week long flood inducing stuff?   What if, what if, what if?

We can't spend every day sitting in cafes drinking coffee and eating "steack and frites" like we did today.

Can we?

Monday, April 09, 2012


Today was a day of things familiar;  waking before the alarm, the path to St Pancras first thing in the morning, the Eurostar security where jewellery won't trigger the metal detectors and laptops can stay in their bags, the first "bonjour" as we enter France though still very much geographically in the centre of London.

A little while later, at three hundred kilometres per hour we pop out of the tunnel and everything changes, it's no longer an international call to phone our friends to confirm arrangements for the night.   We arrive and buy our onwards tickets from the nice young lady who apparently can't speak English, but is patient and helpful to correct my awful first attempts to communicate, still without the use of verbs and eventually gives in and asks us where we are from.

Then we sit for four hours in "our" corner of the cafe in Gare de l'Est, where two coffees and a pain au chocolat will pay the rent all day.

A man with a dog arrives at the next table, and we know we are in Paris.

Sunday, April 08, 2012


Continuing our ramblings in the coolroom that is London's Autumn, today took us across Kensington to the flower-draped Churchill Arms where hidden in the back rooms behind the ancient public bar, one will find purveyors of Thai cuisine of the kind, surprisingly perhaps, that one finds in Thailand.

Within the darkened cave that may well have been a stable at some time not so long ago, light magically filters through a myriad of hanging plants reflecting in shuttered mirrors along the wall which provide an effect so magically convincing that if one hadn't actually entered from the grey of outside, one could be forgiven for believing it was real.

This kind of falsehood is not new in these parts though.  As we walked up Leinster Gardens earlier in the day, Julian pointed to a house in the middle of a row of immaculate six storey terraces, which had no curtains.   Actually what looked like windows were cleverly painted slabs of masonry, the panelled doors were brick detailed in render, the entire facade was just that, a facade.

In the lane behind the reason became clear, the site was actually a house-sized vent for the underground, it must have been "pleasant" for the neighbours in the age of steam!

Apparently some time in the 1930's an entrepreneurial scoundrel once sold tickets to class-hopping hopefuls, to enable them to attend a soirèe at this entirely fictitious house with its real and most prestigious address.  The amount involved was said to be significant, apparently more than the asking price for our lunch almost a century later.

To be fair only our windows were make-believe.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Feels like...

I'm always a little bemused by the weather reports which say things like "The temperature at the moment is eight degrees outside, feels like three".

Actually it was eight degrees when we ventured outside today, but it didn't feel like three, it felt exactly as though we should wander off to Notting Hill and spend a few hours hanging out in The Windsor Castle where perhaps we might get a few plates of serious pub nosh, some pork chops with leeks and mash perhaps, or even an ox-cheek pie.

So we did.


Friday, April 06, 2012

Out and about on Good Friday

If one is intent on visiting the Tower of London, there is in theory a quite simple way of obtaining a hefty discount on the admission cost.  This involves purchasing an overland train ticket for transportation to the venue on the day of entry, filling in a small form, providing photographic ID, and politely declining to pay the "voluntary" donation fee tagged to the ticket price which would go some way towards offsetting the cost of the rail tickets.  

If one doesn't live within cooee of an overland rail station, there are no trains going anywhere near the chosen attraction and it's Good Friday, a day when in London life slows to something akin to a speeding bus going over a very small speed bump, the simple method outlined above becomes more convoluted.

Undeterred, having managed to obtain said tickets and in the process wangling a hefty £40 discount for our little troupe, we eventually found ourselves outside the Tower of London, where the guide books tell us two million people each year queue to see the crown jewels and other less savoury artefacts from its gruesome past.

The guidebooks may have omitted to mention that the majority of those two million people visit the place on Good Friday, having first queued at Paddington station to obtain their discount vouchers, this does place an enormous pressure on those visiting the ancient complex to "move along please, move along.  Thank you".

So much pressure to "move along" is exerted while viewing the actual jewels that one is actually conveyed on a moving walkway, travelling even faster than the bus mentioned earlier.  There would be no time for photographs even if the use of a camera were allowed.

After a few hours of jostling in a crowd which felt at times as though we were in sideshow alley at the Ekka on "People's Day", we retired to the calm of one of Julian's lunch time haunts, the Roman wall that once formed part of the fortification of the city of London.    The remnants of the wall stand in the very shadow of the Tower, amid and through modern structures, standing silently almost unnoticed.

The wall is more "our" kind of "attraction", of the kind which lie waiting to be rediscovered, offering time to contemplate the contrasts between now and then, to wonder what might have been or might be in the future.   The openings in them give glimpses of other eras, but there is no explanation needed from the audio guide, no grating explanations read loudly from a newly purchased guidebook.

We can happily report that once again we've "visited" the Roman Wall, and finally after all these years that we've "done" the Tower of London.

While mentally scrambling over the exposed surfaces of the wall, it occurred that there was an obtuse connection to Easter as well.  After all, if it wasn't for the Romans…..

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Window Shopping

It's getting cooler by the day, although the forecast keeps pushing the negative temperatures away till tomorrow, pretending that the ice isn't coming at all.

As we were wandering aimlessly round Notting Hill today in temperatures not quite in double figures, I did wonder at the appropriateness of the shoes in the window displays.

There was also a bit of wondering as we peered into the windows of the Funeral Parlor with their cheery displays "honouring the victims of the Titanic" and more wondering whether there is a monthly celebration to be held, of mega-death through history, and incongruously probably due to brain freeze, why the coffee we had with our lunch doubled in price because we "ate in".

Later, I uploaded a few dozen Sunshine Coast Daily photos to be published in coming months, and wondered if the sky was ever really that blue, and whether people really did wear so little in the way of clothing in other places.

How quickly we forget.


Wednesday, April 04, 2012


I didn't get my timing quite right this year.

It is our custom to prebook just two things on our annual journey and make the rest up as we go along. These are our return flights to London and our Eurostar ticket to France, which we contrive to allow us two weekends with the kids and a bit of time in between to visit other friends out of the City while the family members are off being busy executives.

This year, we landed on a Monday, which was exactly the day after the first weekend we'd hoped to be here for, and booked to leave the following Monday, puzzled at why travel was so expensive on that day. Sure, it's obvious with the benefit of hindsight and a calendar, but we usually eschew both of those things which is why we inadvertently booked to travel back to France on Easter Monday.

This gave us a bonus few days with family of course, but also meant that we had insufficient time to travel to the midlands to make our intended visits this time round, so we are stuck, oh dear oh woe, with filling in our days wandering around Hyde Park and thinking warm thoughts and feeling enormously grateful to our offspring various for giving us the opportunities they have over the past decade.

By choosing as they have to live in London, each in turn, we've been compelled to visit as often as we've been able, and astonishingly when we total our visits, we've actually lived here in the City for five or more months. When we wander along the banks of the Serpentine as we did today, stopping at the Lido for coffee, then across Hyde Park past the Prince Alfred memorial to Kensington itself, it is not as tourists we travel, but as residents,  people for whom these surrounds are familiar.  We are here often enough to notice subtle changes between visits.

We can gauge progress on construction works, see how last year's ducklings are going, or wander among our favourite trees watching as the buds develop on every branch, half-wishing we would still be here for the explosion of colour which will take place in a week or two.

We popped into the Science Museum today mid our meanderings, and quite coincidentally spent an hour or so becoming acquainted with the history of time keeping and clocks. It seems that it is really only since the beginning of the industrial revolution that man has been conceptually bound by time.  Before the invention of the clock, deadlines as we know them simply did not exist.

I am not sure that I believe that entirely, but I like the thought. The concept of living in a timeless state is an admirable one, and we have determined to undertake the pursuit of that state of being with some vigour.


If we remember.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Another day another market

We hadn't been to Camden Markets since before the fire that burnt out all the good bits; the antiques and bric-à-brac chaps. On a post-breakfast whim, we, after deciding that we are rather fond of the whim and promising to use it more in our planning this year, determined to make use of what was undoubtedly the last sun of the week, and head off in direction Camden Town.

With a forecast temperature maxing out at a mind numbing eight degrees, we took our jumpers out of the bag, the ones from the outdoor clothes shop back home, and wandered off wondering how it was possible that two people who just two days ago felt quite cool sitting on a verandah as the evening temperature plummeted to twenty-two, could now feel quite comfortable comparatively scantily clad in a climate which would be perfectly placed inside a device used to keep beer chilled.

The markets themselves did not disappoint, full of colour in the broadest sense,  and plagiarised Banksy postcards made to look original by large signs forbidding photography.   Without the Beatles, Princess Di and Banksy, and perhaps to a lesser extent that other well known Brit, Marilyn Monroe, there would be no printed tee shirts and seven hundred unemployed vendors in Camden I think.   It's a shame that such a great opportunity to present original work is squandered in the name of putting food in the mouths of the stall holders children.

Perhaps it's a bigger pity that there are so many prepared to pay actual money for this stuff that the stall holders thrive.  One vendor read the label on my jumper as we wandered past and called me over, "Kathmandu" he exclaimed in a somewhat excited tone, continuing with "Have you been there?"

Alas I explained, I hadn't but it is on our list of places to go, people to see, and I did add by way of explanation that on this occasion the word served merely as a brand for stuff that keep us warm.

He seemed a little taken aback, "It's the capital of my country," he explained, adding in a puzzled tone. "How can they sell out the name of my country's first city like that?"

He could see there was nothing I could do to rectify this travesty, shook his head in disbelief and offered us two Banksy original-copy tee shirts for the price of one.


Monday, April 02, 2012

Three... err I mean TWO!

As we walked from Paddington Station to Bayswater this morning, clattering our bags across the cobbles, even through our fatigue we could not help but notice the delicious liquorice monochrome of the trees, still leafless, almost as they were when we left them six months ago.  Once again we succumbed to an overwhelming feeling that time has simply stood still in our absence, as though we were returning the day after we left.

This feeling is neither deja vu nor surreality, perhaps it's between the two, as though we live in two parallel worlds instead of being conscious of the fact that we are actually living a string of consecutive experiences.

Jetlag has much to answer for.

Two, quite coincidentally I'm sure, is also the number of minutes it takes after boarding an aeroplane for me to remember how much I really don't like being encapsulated in that particular manner, and as it happens it is also the number that exactly represents the temperature when we arrived in London this morning.

Despite rumours to the contrary, spring has definitely not arrived, there is decidedly no heatwave and the blip on the records which showed a twenty degree maximum for a day or two last week was just that, a blip.

Perhaps one of the benefits of experiencing the numbness that jetlag brings, is that it leaves our senses oblivious to the temperature, or maybe that was due in part to the jackets that we had thoughtfully carried with us as we boarded to be used in the unlikely event of a thirty degree drop in temperature.


Sunday, April 01, 2012

April Fool's Day

Suddenly, the banging together of our heads has stopped.  We are packed, we have left, we have said our goodbyes and returned the rental car.

We have passed the gates which signify that we have left Australia, are sitting quietly in no-man's land, watching the almost empty international terminal below, and a familiar but surreal emotion engulfs us, as we pinch each other and wonder if the last six months actually happened.

Tomorrow when we leave the silver tube that will have been our home for 24 hours, we will be in London, living a life we left behind in late September.

We feel jetlagged and dislocated at the very thought of it all.

Perhaps it's just an April Fool's Day joke

Take a deep breath

One last sunrise over Moffat Beach for the summer, and really there was nothing left to do, just bung a few things in a bag, run over the pace with a mop, and pop down to the big smoke to mind the littlies for the night.

How on earth could those simple tasks have taken more than twelve hours of non stop, if not frenetic activity?

Twelve hours to pack two bags and sweep, and write last minute notes, and clean the car, sort out the battery charger, get the tools away, perhaps wash just a few more things, and see the neighbours and........

Will we ever learn?
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