Wednesday, 31 July 2013

The costa brava - an unexpected success

As we have just recently bought a roof box for our car for our Switzerland holiday we decided that it would be a good idea to test it out on a shorter journey. I was very keen on going to San Sebastián on the Spanish Atlantic coast, which is meant to be lovely. We wanted to discuss the idea with James parents as well as check out the weather so left it until last week. Unfortunately there was not much accommodation left plus the weather forecast wasn't that flash so we decided to head to the other Spanish coast. We did a bit of research and James fond a nice apartment in a town called L'Estartit (just south of Roses where we went at Christmas time). I was feeling a little sad as had really wanted to go to San Sebastián but decided that we can always go there another time. We just booked two nights so didn't have much luggage but were pleased with the way our 7 seater espace plus the roof box fitted everything for the 7of us in.

We headed off on Sunday morning and decided to have lunch at Collioure on route. Unfortunately due to the fact it is summer and there is limited parking we could not find anywhere to park so David and Sue had to be satisfied with photos of this gorgeous town from the viewing platform on the side of the road. We carried on around the coast to the next little town, Port Vendres, and easily got a park and had our packed lunch looking out at the fishing boats. We also were unlucky enough to use some of the worse toilets in France. They were clean but the lights weren't working and there was no natural light so it was pitch black with the door shut. Penelope had to hold the door open for me and I was very thankful no one came in! Plus no toilet paper or hand basin (maybe there was and I just couldn't see it).

Anyway we jumped back into the car with the debate of who sits where as the DVD player in the back wasn't working so we had to do a bit of negotiation! We carried on to L'Estartit being guided along by Ken - the GPS. We arrived at our destination and Ken had us going down these very narrow cobbled streets looking for our hotel. We went down one street that was so narrow that the little French lady sitting outside her house had to tuck her feet under her chair just to let us pass - she wasn't that thrilled to do it either! We got to the end of the street only to discover that it had a sharp right turn and James had to do about a 20 point turn Just to get around the corner without swiping the side of the car. At this point we were wondering just accurate Ken was! I looked up the address on my phone and discovered we were in the wrong town and that L'Estartit was still 6km away - phew! We headed onwards and found the Pierre & Vacances apartments easily! Our apartment was lovely - 3 bedrooms plus a fold out bed in the lounge, great kitchen and a lovely balcony. Perfect for all 7 of us and would recommend to anyone and would go back again!

The view from our balcony.

The kids were a bit hot and bothered so decided to go for a swim in the pool. Sue and I went to check out the town with the task of finding somewhere for dinner. We found a nice place that we all later went back to. We wandered down the mall among the souviner shops and I got a few birthday presents for NZ family as well as a hat.

James and David had taken the kids to the beach and Sue and I set off to find them - which wasn't that easy as the beach was so crowded!!! We eventually found them thanks to Sue spotting James and Hannah getting out of the water. We had a bit of a relax and a play on the beach before heading back to the hotel to get changed for dinner.

We had a great meal out and introduced Sue and David to Sangria ( a Spanish drink made with red wine, lemon, lime, oranges, brandy, sugar and ginger ale). They had a great seafood paella and James and I shared Tapas while the kids had chicken and chips!

The restaurant we went to is the one in the middle.

After dinner we wandered back up the shopping street which was now very busy and bought more hats and watched people pay to put their feet into a tank full of small fish!

The next day we decided to walk around the coast to the viewing area but unfortunately only got as far as the End of the town as the path was fenced off due to rockfall.

We had seen ticket booths for boat and snorkelling trips so James, Jasper and David decided they would like to go on one. Sue and I were both a bit anxious it might be rough so didn't want to risk getting sea sick - the boys said we made the right choice! Also, Hannah wasn't herself and did not seem well. We had a coffee and an icecream at a little cafe on the pier and then went back to the hotel for lunch.

The boys had a great boat trip. It was one hour and 45 minutes including a 15 minute swim.

Meanwhile back at the hotel Hannah had crashed big time and had a fever and was very unwell. I went and got some Pamol for her and she perked up a bit but hated taking it!

When the boys got back they looked after Hannah and Sue, Penelope and I went for a walk along the beach and Penelope found some sand dunes to slide down. We had nachos at home for dinner and then Sue very kindly looked after Hannah and the rest of us went out for icecream and then down to the beach. Jasper and Pen had a blast making a sand castle and enjoying having the beach pretty much to themselves (quite unusual for the costa brava I think). We decided to take advantage of the bars on the beach and while the kids played David, James and I enjoyed a pitcher of Sangria.

Tuesday was our last day and thankfully Hannah was much better. James had a work phone call at 9.30 so we packed up and headed to the beach while James worked and then he met us. UnFortunately in Hannah's enthusiasm to get into the water she dropped her glasses only for them never to be seen again! Thankfully our lovely friend Vanessa had found her other set of glasses when she had done exactly the same thing the week before at the water slide park! You would think I would learn and get her to give them to me before she gets anywhere near the water! So we no longer have a spare set!

It was beautiful on the beach and as we had arrived early we got a great spot and we all had a lovely time relaxing swimming and building sand castles.

Reluctantly we left the beach as we had to check out by midday. We wanted to check out some more of the coast so headed south stopping at Pals on the way. Pals was a beautiful medieval village on a hill with lots of little narrow streets, gorgeous shops and wonderful historic buildings.

We found a quirky little cafe for lunch with a great view and average food, Sue's asparagus and shrimp omelette was a bit strange although Jasper got rabbit and chips which was very tasty.

We left Pal and headed to the coastal town of Sa Riera. We headed down to the village past parked cars then back up the other side with nowhere to park and heading away from the sea! Oh well! We decided to change plans and head to Sa Tuna instead. We wound down the hillside among the trees and terracotta roofed houses and found a parking area. We paid €2 to park then walked down the hill to the small, beautiful stone beach. James, Jasper and Hannah went for a swim and when they came out said that the water was full of fish.

Jasper desperately wanted to go back to the car and get his snorkel gear but we managed to convince him against it! After a final swim with the fishes and an ice cream we headed back to the car and home.

A wonderful three days and a great precursor to our Swiss holiday!

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Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Oh that's right we're in France

I feel like we have adjusted quite well to life in France and although there are lots of differences between here and home we are quite well settled. I am fully aware that I am in a different country and that things are done differently here. If I had wanted things to be the same as in NZ then I wouldn't have moved. Every now and then though the differences catch me by surprise and this was the case last Wedesday when the girls had their first swimming lesson. I had thought that having individual swimming lessons for the girls during the holidays would be the best way to go. Our local pool has an English speaking instructor who made contact with me and was happy to give the girls lessons every second day for the first two weeks of the holidays. A bit got lost in translation though as I thought they were each getting an individual half hour lesson and it turned out to be together for half an hour.

My idea had been that Penelope and Hannah would have their lessons and Jasper and I would watch. Upon arriving at the pool I discovered this was not to be the case. If I wanted to watch I had to send the girls into the unisex changing rooms unaccompanied while I waited in the foyer and watched them swim from behind glass - this was obviously not going to be to be able to happen as it was a new pool for the girls and they didn't know who their instructor was plus leaving Hannah to get changed, get her towel and goggles plus find the right place to go was all asking a bit much. So I reluctantly paid the €8 (NZ$12) for Jasper and I to enter the pool. On entering I discovered that apart from the life guards I was the only one not in a swim suit and just spectating. This is very different from home where most parents would just send their kids into the pool for swimming and just sit and watch happily from the sidelines! I also learned that not only did I have to pay for the girls swimming lessons but I also had to pay for their pool entry fee. The instructor was obviously not a employee of the pool but just used the facilities to give lessons.

It all worked out fine in the end but just reminded me of the things I take for granted from home that will be the same here and are very much not. The French must think I'm a bit of an oddity fussing about paying for pool entry and then sitting on the side of the pool in my shorts and t-shirt.

On the plus side the swimming instructor, Jerome, is lovely and although he finds Hannah a bit of a struggle at times as she wants to do her own thing rather then listen to him the girls are doing really well. Penelope has improved her style heaps and is also a lot more confident and is diving down to the bottom of the deep pool and jumping in which is great. The lessons have definitely been worthwhile and a continuation in me learning about French culture!

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Thursday, 11 July 2013

Last few days of Mums stay

Mum left over a week ago now and is settling back into winter while summer in Toulouse has finally arrived and it is suddenly very hot. It is like someone has flicked a switch and we have been having temperatures in the 30's for several days now. It is lovely and hot although it doesn't seem to heat up properly until about 2pm and is still very hot late at night. The kids are enjoying the pool and even though it is shared by all the houses in the street yesterday it was empty most of the day and only got busy at bout 7pm. I think a lot of people are still working and even though school is out a lot of kids are at holiday programmes.

When it is now so hot it is hard to believe that just over a week ago I was in my boots and jacket going to Paris! Mum and I got up early and decided to drive to the airport (actually that was Jasper's idea) as last time I got a taxi it cost me €45 for a ten minute ride. Finding a park was a bit stressful but we made it in plenty of time. The idea was for me to text James where the car was so he could collect it later. Instead of texting him I texted all the details to a friend who wondered why she was getting all this info about carparks from me and of course I didn't realise my mistake until the plane touched down in Paris. Luckily James doesn't get phased easily so just rearranged his plans to fit around my mistakes - oops.

We had organised for a taxi to pick us up from the airport but the message must not have got through as there was no taxi for us. Instead we joined the quite short que at the tax stand and were very quickly heading into Paris. Our check in was at 1.30pm but even though it was only 9.45am decided to drop our bags at the hotel. The maitre'd was not that thrilled to see us so early even though we tried to reassure her we didnt want to check in just put our bags somewhere secure. With a bit of an eye roll she put our bags in the office and we were out into Paris. It was hard to believe that we had left our house at 6.30am and were walking the streets of Paris by 10.15am. First stop was to find a cafe and have a coffee. I used my very basic French to order our beverages and food and the waiter thanked me for using French - so that was nice. While at the cafe James rang to say the meeting at the new school for Hannah had gone well and that she would be starting sometime in the new school year once a new teacher aide had been found. Such a relief after a very stressful time with IST.

Next on the agenda was the Arc de triumph which was very impressive.

We then wandered down the champs de élysées stopping in at a few shops on the at. The Louis Voution shop caught our eye and we went in but at €300 for a wallet we weren't tempted - although it amazed me how many people were actually buying stuff.

We found a nice cafe for lunch then wandered down to the louvre. Although there was a bit of a que it only took 20 minutes to get in and then once we were in the building as it is so emourous the masses of people just got swallowed up. Because it is so big there are cafes in each building but for the privilege of doing so it will cost you! A coffee cost €5 and even though Mum felt like a cup of tea she could not bear the thought of paying €9 for a pot of earl grey. The view out the window was pretty impressive though.

We continued to look around and made our way to the Mona Lisa which had a big crowd around it but we still managed to get a good look. We then went and found some Monet's - which seemed to be at the top of an endless staircase (thankfully we found the lift for the journey down). After four hours in the Lourve we decided we had had enough so wandered back to our lovely hotel (recommendation here for the Best Western Trocadero - great location, great, sized room and great price). We then wandered across the road and went and had dinner and decided to go take a look at the Eiffel Tower by night - magic!

The next day we decided to do the Hop on hop off bus, Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower. It is was a bit cold and drizzly on the bus but we didn't stay on long choosing to get off at Notre Dame. There was a stage set up outside and singing going on and we discovered the church was actually closed. Mum worked out that as it was the 6th of July that it was St Paul's day and it was closed for a service. We went back later in the day but it was still closed and wasn't opening until 4.30pm. As it was at the opposite end of Paris to where we were staying we decided we would just have to leave it - a good excuse for Mum to come back to France.

We decided to head to the St Germain area and found lots of lovely little Parisan alleyways and cafes. We headed to the Pantheon and Mum shouted me the entry fee. I loved the Pantheon as after seeing so many churches it was really nice to see a beautiful historical building that was not a church. It had the most amazing crypt that just seemed to go forever and was filled with memorials to interesting political figures. It made me think how many of these people had been revolutionaries for a good cause and perhaps despised at the time by those in power.

We decided to get Macdonalds for lunch and sat in the beautiful Jardin du Luxembourg surrounded by tourists and Parisians.

We then jumped back on the bus and carried on around to the Opera. We decided to get off and go to Galleria Lafeyette the big department store. They had just started there big sale and there were hundreds of people crammed in. It is a beautiful building with a gorgeous domed ceiling and balconies. We headed to the roof and admired the view.

We got back on the bus and headed for the Eiffel Tower. The que was as long as predicted and as I had not been able to book tickets online (there were no more allocated tickets left for Friday or Saturday) we got in line. All in all it didn't take too long to get up and from the time we started queuing until we came down was two hours - so a pretty good way to spend the afternoon in Paris.

The next morning we were up early to catch a taxi to the airport. Charles de Gaulle isn't the easiest airport to find your way around but we managed to get Mum checked in and went and had some breakfast. We then said our goodbyes and I caught the train to terminal 1 to catch my plane which was a couple of hours later. Unfortunately I had a bad headache coming on and ended up being quite sick so was very thankful to finally get on my plane so I could sleep.

After having Mum here for 5 weeks the house felt very empty without her. Life though as continued to be busy as both Jasper and Hannah came down with the chicken pox the day after mum left. So unfortunately they both missed their last week of school - extra sad for Hannah as she is not going back to IST.

This week though everyone is healthy and the kids are at a holiday programme run by our church every morning. The kids are loving it and it has been such a blessing for me to have a break after a busy few weeks. I even managed to go for a walk this morning before it got too hot.

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Thursday, 4 July 2013

Hannah's last day at IST

Today is Hannah's last day at IST although she has got the chicken pox so has not been at school since Monday.  I filled in the parent feedback form today that came with the school report and decided that I would blog my response and so here it is.

Overall I believe that Hannah has had a positive year at IST.  She is working well in the classroom with the TA, has enjoyed going on school trips, was in the team that came second on sports day, has preformed beautifully in the Christmas and summer shows and has socially integrated successfully.  In the summer term since she has been working with the new TA she has been meeting her work expectations from the NZ correspondence school and I have been able to post work back to regularly to NZ.

The things that have held Hannah back from further achievement are the unrealistic expectations of Hannah to be working at a year 5 level as well as the refusal for Hannah to be able to stay at School at lunchtime.  There seems to be a lack of empathy and understanding for Hannah and her disability that I can not understand.  Hannah has been treated differently from her peers and yet no allowances for her disability have been made.  The TA has shown that with realistic expectations and a positive attitude then Hannah can be fully included and progress.  The classroom teacher has worked well with Hannah this term and Hannah enjoys being part of the class, although I believe that managerial restrictions placed on Hannah and the teacher have restricted further development.

We have been very disappointed by the attitude of management towards Hannah and the inability to be flexible in regards to her disability.  We are still at a loss as to why Hannah has had her place withdrawn for the 2013/2014 year especially in light of the fact that the special needs policy has been changed to appear more inclusive.  Also, as another special needs teacher has been employed the issue of resourcing is no longer relevant.

We realise that Hannah will not be working at a Year 6 level next year but any good teacher should be able to differentiate the curriculum to meet the needs of the pupils.  I am positive that given the chance both of the year 6 teachers would easily be able to cater for Hannah's needs within their programmes.

When the TA went to the school before she started working with Hannah she was told by the managerial staff that met her that they wouldn't be accepting any more children like that (referring to Hannah) ever again.  This is such a disappointing attitude and very upsetting to hear especially when IST is the only English speaking school in Toulouse and the logical choice for expat families who have a child with a disability.

Our desire for Hannah is for her to be nurtured and appreciated for the wonderful person she is.  This has been done by many of the teaching staff at IST but unless their is an attitudinal change within management towards children with disabilities then there is going to be continual failure of inclusion.

So that is my last rant to IST.  I have done a few now and they have all fallen on deaf ears so I expect this one will too, but it is good to get alot of those thoughts and concerns off my chest!!

On the positive side, Hannah has been accepted into the CLIN (a class at a local primary school for non-French speakers).  She will go mornings for a few months before being transferred into a ULIS(a unit for children with special needs but in a regular school).  The teacher and Principal of the new school seem really lovely and her new teacher seems very happy to include her into the classroom.  We are also now under the care of the French ministry of Education who are all lovely and are keen to help us in any way they can.  I just need to be able to learn French a bit quicker so I can communicate more easily without having to use a translator.  She won't start at the CLIN until they are able to find her a teacher aide which could take a few months but until then it is holidays and then I will home school her.

Well I better take her to say goodbye to her teacher and teacher aide and her friends.