Saturday, 30 March 2013

Happy Easter

Happy Easter to all our lovely friends and family from France. We have had an enjoyable break so far. Even though Good Friday is not a public
holiday in France the international school had a teacher only day which was great for us. James had to go into work but as he had been away with work for the last couple of weeks he just went in for half a day - yah. It was a beautiful day so James took jasper for a bike ride and then Hannah and I went for a walk. We then spent the evening at the Good Friday service. James went early as he was in the choir. He decided to bike and unfortnately as it had just started raining he fell off going round a roundabout. Luckily he wasn't badly hurt and praise God there were no cars near him at the time. The choir sang beautifully and it was a lovely service. The children went out to the children's programme and came back into church with these fantastic Easter gardens.

The French don't seem to do hot cross buns but luckily james went to the UK from Sunday till Tuesday and managed to pick me up some from Marks and Spencers. I repaid the favour by Penelope and I making sme gluten free ones on Wednesday afternoon.

Today we decided to head to the village of Castres and then to the Le sidobre valley to look at the amazing rock formations which have big boulders on top of little boulders. The weather wasn't great so we had a cruisy morning at home then headed off after lunch. Castres is a very pretty village with the houses built on the river. We had a wander through the square and over the bridges.

A village we would definitely like to come back to on a sunnier day.

James had managed to pick up some local maps at the tourist office so we headed off in the direction of the boulders. We took a wrong turn but a very helpful old man gave us directions in French not at all perturbed by the fact that we couldn't speak any French. We found the car park got out of the car then heard the most tremendous amount of thunder. Being forever optimistic we set off and managed to see a few boulders before the rain and hail came down!

We raced back to the car then headed for home via Lautrec - another gorgeous French village set on a hill, that we will have to come back to.

A great day spent exploring the Tarn Department and now we know what's there we will be going back!

Have a wonderful Easter everyone. Much love x

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Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Skiing in andorra

Each year airbus puts on a skiing weekend in Andorra for customers and since we are the Air NZ customers we got invited along. Even though a bus was provided we decided to drive, mainly so we could leave a bit earlier on Friday. We also did not know how the kids would go on a bus for four hours. We were very thankful of our decision as there was a detour due to an avalanche and the bus took almost five hours. It took us 3 and a half when it is normally about 3 by car.

We arrived at the hotel at 8pm and checked into our lovely rooms. Even though our room was not adjoining the children's as we were at the end of the corridor it was fine. We went in search of a restaurant and found a medieval themed one just round the corner.

The food all came out very quickly so the kids were all tucked up in bed asleep by 10pm.
We were due in the lobby to catch the bus at 8.30am the next day but because the others had not arrived till late then went for dinner the departure time was extended to 10am.  We eventually all got on the bus and headed for the Arcalis ski resort. After a slight detour (the driver went the wrong way and discovered it's very hard to turn around on a ski access road so had to keep going until he got to a turning bay) we finally arrived!

We knew we could get lessons but we hadn't realised that airbus had hired ski instructors for everybody for the two days. Our children were the only kids so Hannah and Penelope had a wonderful ski instructor called Remy all to themselves. He was so fantastic and James and him worked really hard with Hannah to overcome her fears. Hannah had found our last skiing experience quite difficult due to the blizzard conditions whereas this time it was sunny with no wind - perfect!

Hannah and Jasper with Remy

Penelope on the magic carpet going up the slope.
While James was settling the girls in I realised that the instructors were not just for the beginners but for all levels so I jumped into the intermediate group with Jasper and one other guy. We too had a great instructor, called Carlos, who focused on our technique.

Jasper getting ready to ski.

After lunch it was James turn for a ski so he joined an advanced group and had a great afternoon exploring the mountain with yet another fantastic instructor! I stayed with the girls and enjoyed seeing their progress. We finished just after 4pm to catch the bus back down the mountain. James and Jasper continuing skiing for another hour and got the second bus back.

Dinner was scheduled for 9.30pm which was a bit late for our kids so an early dinner at 7.30 (yes that is early for the French!) was organised for them. James took them down while I got ready and I arrived in the restaurant just as they were finishing a big bowl of spaghetti sauce with GF penne pasta each. They were all full after a big dinner so we were all surprised when the waiter brought out their main course of homemade chips and a delicious chicken casserole! Luckily James and I were both a bit peckish so were able to help them finish it off.

The first course!
The hotel had organised a babysitter for us so she took them back to their room and put them to bed while we went to the hotel bar for cocktails. We had a lovely evening of socialising eating and drinking and James even had a bit of a dance - I went and relieved the babysitter as it was getting late.

On Sunday we woke to a cloudy, snowy day and were unsure if we would be able to ski or not. We were heading to a different field called Pal and as it was only a 20 minute drive we decided to check it out and if it was too windy would just go back down to Andorra and go shopping. We took our own car up this time since the bus was heading straight back to Toulouse after skiing. It was snowing on the mountain but was not cold or windy so fine to ski. We found Remy and handed over the girls. He said we didn't need to stay with them so James, Jasper and I all headed off with Carlos. Pal is a huge resort and unlike skiing in NZ you just ski from one valley to another with chair lifts taking you from place to place. At one point we were on the border of Andorra and Spain. Luckily we had Carlos with us otherwise we would have got lost as the field is so large! The slopes near the resort were busy but once we got further away we were the only ones on the slopes which was fantastic. James and Jasper even did a bit of off piste skiing. They took me back to the girls after about two hours and then went off and did some skiing through the trees on the mountain bike tracks.

A very happy Hannah after a days skiing.

I arrived back at the learner slope to see Penelope and Hannah both skiing down the slope on their own. I felt so proud of them both but especially Hannah as she had overcome something that had been challenging for her. She was very proud of herself too which was just lovely to see.

We then had lunch and said a huge thanks to Remy and Carlos and the wonderful airbus staff who had organised such a great weekend. We will definitely putting our names down for next year!

A well deserved lunch after a busy morning skiing!

Posing for the camera with the fantastic ski instructor!
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Monday, 11 March 2013

Kids back to school

We have had a lovely school holidays but I must say I am really enjoying just sitting at the table with no noise apart from the tick of the kitchen clock. My plan for the morning is to go for a bike ride then I have a meeting with the educational psychologist at school about Hannah. Hopefully some good things will come out of the meeting and we can move forward. Hannah is desperate to stay for lunch and that was the fist thing she said when I told them it was back to school today. I am unsure as to why the school is resistant to her being there at lunchtime but I do think it would improve her behaviour as she would have something to look forward to each day.

We had a lovely weekend and the sun shone which made it even better. On Saturday James and Jasper went to the Toulouse vs Bordeaux rugby game. James got box seats courtesy of airbus so Jasper enjoyed sitting in the comfy seats drinking as much coke as he liked.

Toulouse won by one point so they were pleased about that.

While they were at the rugby I took the girls to the chocolate show that we had a flyer for. It was across the road in a convention centre called la phare, so very easy for us to walk across. The French make great chocolate and we had a lovely time wandering around tasting chocolate and then finally choosing some to take home.

Unfortunately it is all gone now as it was too yummy and we just ate it all up!

Another beautiful day Sunday so after church we looked at our local map for an interesting place to go. We decided to head to Samatan which is about 30 minutes south of here. It is famous for its fois gras market on Mondays and as we drove into the town there were lots of statues of ducks around the place. We drove through the pretty village and headed to the lac. We had a nice walk around the lac and a play on the man made beach.

It will be a good place to visit in the summer as there is a big water slide and you can swim in the lac - jasper saw a couple of small crayfish though so not too sure about swimming in it!
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Thursday, 7 March 2013

My gorgeous children

During the holidays I have been taking photos of the children as the moment arises and I thought I'd share some of those photos with you all.

Jasper with his best French pose!

The day after Penelope lost yet another tooth - she now has four missing teeth!

Jasper holding the meringue we bought in Nimes.

What a striking family!

Standing underneath the gondola that takes people from one side of the canal to the other in palaver.

Penelope having her gallette and chips - she didn't eat the bread!

Out for a coffee today with Jasper and Hannah on the way to pick up Penelope from a sleepover. Hannah was so excited to be getting a drink of coke!

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Tuesday, 5 March 2013

A weekend in Nimes

We set off on friday just after lunch heading for Nimes. James had to go into work in the morning so we did well to be on the road by 12.30pm. Even though it was 300km away we made good time and decided to stop on route at Montpellier which is about 40km before Nimes. We are use to the terrible traffic around Toulouse so were pleasantly surprised when we managed to navigate ourselves into the city centre with ease. We found a great car park building (thanks Ken the GPS) and came up the escalator and into the main square.

We walked through the cobbled streets to the arc de triomphe and into the Jardin des Plantes which is apparently France's oldest botanical gardens and was laid out in 1593.

The Aqueduc de St-Clement

By this point Jasper was desperate for the toilet so we started the elusive find a toilet in France hunt that we seem to do every time we arrive in a new city. We can't work out why the French do not like to have any signs for the toilets and where do they all go? Perhaps the diet of coffee and bread stops the need. Anyway we used the worldwide toilet fallback McDonald's, ignoring the 'for patrons only' signs on the doors!

We then jumped in the car and headed for Nimes. I still have not got use to the staggering amount of history and amazing places there are to visit in France. Around every corner there seems to be some gorgeous little village, or a significant historical monument or building. This was the case when we headed to Nimes. According to our guidebook the outskirts of Nimes are bleak and traffic clogged but if you get past all the truly awful high rises you get treated with an amazing city centre. The main reason we went to Nimes was because I wanted to go and see pont du Gard which is a 2000 year old aqueduct built during the time of the Romans to carry water from Uzes to Nimes for the temples, fountains and baths that were being built. As Nimes is close by I thought it would be a good place to stay to access the bridge. I also read in our lonely planet guide book that it had a Roman amphitheatre. We have seen lots of castles and Jasper and James have had medieval battles up and down the side of hills and I thought that this would be a good opportunity to see a different slice of history - the gladiators! Nimes was truly beautiful with not just the amazingly preserved arena but also many other beautifully restored buildings showing the progression of history. The arena is still used for concerts and for bull fights and is an amazing building. Best of all it was not crowded and no queues so we could just wander as we pleased.

Not only has Nimes done an amazing job of preserving their historic monuments but they are also just about finished a city rejuvenation programme. The pedestrian boulevard between the train station and the city has had a lot of time and money poured into it and looks fantastic. It includes lovely planted areas, a playground, cafes, water features and paving. It is a great example of what can be done with a bit of planning and money and made us think of Christchurch and how wonderful it would look if they did something similar to the Christchurch square.

The boulevard outside our hotel

The hotel we stayed at was in a great location right on the new boulevard between the train station and the city centre. It was a quaint two star hotel but we had to adjust our expectations when we walked into our room. We normally stay in apartments which have a kitchen and a lounge and although we realised that this would not have a kitchen we did not really realise that our chamber would be just two bedrooms then down a hallway the toilet and bathroom. It had nowhere to sit and watch tele and nowhere to make a cup of tea. The idea is that you pay an extra 7 euros per person for breakfast which for us isn't great as there are five of us so it gets expensive plus gluten free was not catered for. So instead we took our toaster and jug to our room (even apartments don't have these) and managed to make our breakfast in our room - gave new meaning to the term breakfast in bed! We did have to go and buy a couple of mugs to have a cup of tea but apart from that was all fine.

Once we were settled in we set out to have an explore and get some dinner. We discovered a Ferris wheel by the arena so James and Jasper had a go.

James and Jasper in the Ferris Wheel
The view from the top

We then went in search of somewhere to eat and got reintroduced to the French habit of eating late. We looked into several cafes where people were eating only to discover it was the staff eating their dinner - it was about 6.45 by this stage. In the end we went into a bar and had a drink and waited till 7.15 hoping that by now something would be open!

Having a drink waiting for the restaurants to open

We went back to the bistro recommended by the hotel and yah they were open. We had a lovely meal. Jasper and Penelope had beautiful salmon for the kids meal!
We then walked back to our hotel through very deserted streets and came across the first of many crocodile statues in Nimes. The crocodile recalls the city's foundations, when retiring roman legionnaires who had sweated with Caesar during his river Nile campaign, were granted land to cultivate.

Crocodile fountain

The boulevard was now lit up by a green light along the water feature, I guess to stop people falling in, it also looked very pretty.

Due to heating that would not turn off we all had a bit of an unsettled night but managed to get up and out into the beautiful day and I even managed to find a cafe that did takeaway coffee.

First off we headed to the arena and had a great look around helped along by the audio guides. The children got activity books to help them learn about the use of the arena through the ages. Jasper loved the idea of gladiators but Penelope struggled with the fact that bull fighting still took place so we had lots of interesting chats.

The arena with the ferris wheel in the background

Hope no Gladiators come running in!

Outside the arena.

As part of our entry ticket we were entitled to go and watch a 3D movie about the Heros of Nimes. This was held in the stunning roman temple Maison Caree.

Jasper standing on the remains of a Roman pillar.

On the steps of Maison Caree

The movie was very informative and not gruesome which was a relief for Penelope especially and it was a pretty special thing to watch a movie in such an amazing building and then walk out and be in the city that the movie was about.

Thankfully our search for a cafe for lunch was a bit easier then it had been for dinner and we found a great little local cafe serving steak hache and chips for the kids. James tried the raw beef specialty and I had the plat du jour (meal of the day) which was a fish parcel with rice. All very French right down to the little French lady in the corner having her coffee with her cat on her knee.

From there we headed to the Jardins de la Fontaine, which are another wonderful roman monument.

The Roman Baths

The gardens hold the remains of a spring, temple and baths and a walk through the gardens brought us to the tour magne, a tower that was built in 15 BC. Jasper couldn't resist the temptation to run up a tree that was on a serious lean.

We climbed the 140 steps to the top of the tower for a view over the city.

Climbing up the tower steps.

The view from the top.

We walked back down to the gardens and had a lie in the sun while the kids rolled down the hill. Then went to look at the temple of Diane before giving the kids a ride on some bikes they had for hire in the gardens.

Temple de Diane

James took the kids back to the hotel for a rest and I went in search of the shops and a coffee. It was lovely just wandering down the old cobbled streets and Nimes is big enough to be interesting with a variety of lovely shops but small enough not to get lost. I even managed to find my way back to the bakery we had seen the night before which had the most amazing meringues. I had a yummy coffee then headed back to the hotel to collect the others. We had decided to do early simple dinner and had brought some gluten free buns with us and went to Quick (like Burger King).

The next day we got up and away by 10 and headed to pont du Gard. It obviously gets very busy here in summer as there was a new car park and information centre which was huge. We wandered down the path and were treated to the majestic sight of the massive bridge.

We had a great explore and Jasper managed to find a narrow rocky path to take us on to get a good view. Even though you can't walk on the top of the bridge we managed to walk through the tunnel that was used to carry the water through to the aquaduct. We walked across the bridge to the other side, found a playground and toilets and the kids and James threw stones in the river. I imagine in summer it gets very busy as you are able to swin in the river.

We had decided to head to the beach for lunch and found a place in our guidebook just south of Montpellier that looked promising called Palavas-les-flots. It was incredibly busy but we managed to find a park and then wandered down to the esplanade. We decided to get take aways for lunch and eat on the beach as that was what the locals were doing. We ordered our galletes and chips with the idea that the GF family members would just not eat the bread. The French do not do fast food and we discovered the reason for that, they can't! It took 40 minutes for us to get our food and we could not work out why. It wasn't a problem though as the atmphosere was great with lots of people and the sun shining and the beach right there.

The beach was nicer then it looks in this picture, it wasn't all rubbish bins and high rises, although we don't know what the obsession here is with building ugly high rise apartments right on the seashore.

We then went and got an ice cream from the most amazing glacier, walked along the beach back to the car.

Another great adventure!

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