Thursday, 7 August 2014

Toulouse to LA

We left Toulouse almost a week ago and am feeling homesick already(that is for my French home). I loved France so much, made all the more special by lots of fantastic travelling, wonderful food and many lovely people that we met on the way. That being said we are all ready to go back to NZ.

We were lucky enough to be upgraded to business class (a perk of being relocated back to NZ by Air NZ) and had a great flight.

Penelope all set up and ready for the 10 hour flight.

James and Hannah were up the front and had to be on their best behaviour as Rob Fyfe (ex CEO for air NZ) was sitting two seats behind them. We arrived into LA at 7.30pm and headed straight to our hotel. Our hotel was right near the airport which was nice and convenient. None of us slept that well and we were all awake bright and early. Our first impression on LA was lots of lining up for everything and huge amounts of food. For our breakfast we had to queue and got eggs, bacon and sausage - not much fruit on offer. It was all very yummy though and set us up for the day. We headed to the rental car company to get our car and were quite horrified by the queue to get the car! It took over an hour to get our car and then we were off to explore!

As it was now almost lunch time we headed straight for the farmers market in west Hollywood. James and the kids had a gluten free pizza and I had Chinese. We then headed to the Grove shopping area which was very nice with lots of lovely shops.

Hannah posing with Isabelle at the American girl doll shop

Penelope was desperate to head into Hollywood so we drove to Hollywood boulevard and found a park. One of the interesting things about LA is because everyone drives it is very easy to get around and also very easy to find a park. The parking buildings are easy to find and easy to drive in - especially after narrow little French streets. Hollywood boulevard was very busy but we still managed to find some famous stars and get our photos taken with a few famous characters (for a few dollars of course).

Outside the Chinese theatre.

Lots of people were lining up to get photos of Michael Jackson's star but James just quickly took one as he walked by!

Jasper was very happy to get his photo taken with bumblebee!

Hannah was very excited to get her photo taken with a minion.

It was very hot in LA so we decide to cool down with an icecream. Jasper found this great ice cream parlour where you chose your ice cream flavours then your add ins and then they mixed them up together - delicious!

We decided to leave the busyness of Hollywood and head into the hills. We went for a drive on Mullholland drive and Penelope chose which house she would like to live in when she's a famous movie star!!

View down into LA from Mulholland drive.

A wonderful day and was topped off by drinks at the hotel bar and then leftover pizza for dinner. Best of all though is that we all had a good nights sleep.
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- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, 21 July 2014

Farewells and final adventures

The last few weeks have flown by in a packing frenzy. All our boxes have gone on the plane that James is delivering so we are just living out of our suitcases for the next three weeks. We have had many farewells and are very blessed to have met so many lovely people in France.

The leavers from Year 4

Jasper with his buddies from year 5

Hannah's wonderful speech language therapist, Florence.

Jasper with his mates playing quiddich in Our back yard at his leavers sleepover.

Our goodbye BBQ with some of our lovely friends we have made.

Penelope's lovely group of friends who came for a sleepover.

Goodbye dinner for us and housewarming dinner for our friends Jackie and Felix and family.

Off to the Tour de France with the Patreane's and Caleb Wilson - such a fab day. The drive home was pretty bad though due to the tour traffic. We ended up going off the main road and winding up over the hills and the two and a half hour journey ended up being four hours.

Afternoon snacks at Rozenn and Mary's house to say goodbye to the Hicks who have gone back to the States.

James' replacement in Toulouse is Mark Wilson. He and his family, who are good friends of ours from Christchurch, arrived at the end of June. Jasper has really enjoyed having Noah here and they have really enjoyed catching up. We will look forward to hearing all about their French adventures when they come home in a year or so.

Our second last day in Toulouse and a chance to say goodbye to CJ, Cyrus Alexia, and Alivia from Church.

We sold our car to Bob (who is also in Toulouse to replace James) and as he lives right in the centre of Toulouse we all decided to have one last trip in. We finished our French adventure with one last ice cream from our favourite gelato shop in Capitole.

We have had a very busy few weeks but it was so lovely to be able to say goodbye to all the special people that made our two years in Toulouse such a special time.

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Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Heading home

It's official, flights confirmed, handed in notice on our rental accommodation, we are coming home.  We leave France on the 1st of August and head to LA where we will tour around California for a bit before arriving in Auckland on the 10th of August.  Hard to believe that we have been here almost two years.

We would have loved to have stayed in France given the choice but Air NZ has the policy where they swap their overseas workers out after two years to give someone else a chance.  I can understand the policy to a degree but not sure how realistic this is when families are involved.  We have invested soooo much time into being able to live here and have spent hours filling in paperwork for everything.  We had to exchange our NZ drivers licence for French ones and seem to have had to get several different visa documents  - more hours spent at the prefecture (immigration/licencing office) then anyone should have to experience in a lifetime!  All that is behind us now and it would have been nice to have had a few months where we could just relax and enjoy our surroundings but instead we are now having to close all the accounts and organise freight and pack to leave.

It has taken me a long time to come to terms with leaving but am now feeling happy about going home - maybe the fact we have had flooding the last two days (while James was away) and our street looks like any street in Chch is helping.  Also, James is away alot - 2 or 3 days most weeks so I am looking forward to him not going away so much if at all!  The other huge benefit for us going home is that Hannah can get back into regular schooling.  I have enjoyed homeschooling her and it has strengthened our relationship but France is not really a homeschooling friendly country and I did not find any homeschooling network or down syndrome support group to connect with.  I have been very blessed though with wonderful friends here who have welcomed Hannah with open arms and she has always been welcome at craft group, ladies lunches and Bible study and has helped me look after the babies in the fortnightly creche group (MOPS) which I volunteer at.  She has also been welcomed into Girl Guides and Jiving Juniors dance class which she has loved and she will miss!!

As we look to the future I think of all the wonderful things about moving back to NZ especially friends and family who we can't wait to see again.   It is exciting to see what this next stage of our life holds.  We have been offered full settlement for our house and can rebuild it if that's what we want to do.  I am also looking forward to the relaxed kiwi attitude and the proximity to the outdoors and the beach and my children being able to walk barefoot again.  The children are looking forward to a much shorter school day and the freedom of being a kiwi kid.

So now the countdown begins.  Sue and David are our last visitors and leave next Thursday, which is also the last day of the French school year.  Then we have three weeks of summer to enjoy and spend time with our lovely friends here - bbq's, sleepovers and pool parties may just take priority over the endless packing and cleaning.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

A long weekend in Toulouse

The French love their holidays and they seem to have a lot, especially in May. This last weekend was a long weekend and as Thursday was a public holiday most schools and businesses took the Friday off as well - a bridging day (faire le pont) they call it in French. James had been in Naples from Tuesday till Thursday night so we decided that rather then go away we would just do some things around Toulouse. Plus the weather forecast for the places we wanted to go wasn't that great.

After a rather lazy start to Friday we headed off into Toulouse after lunch. We wanted to go to the Musee de Augustins and luckily for us for some reason it was free - maybe because it was a holiday. We had a great time looking at all the statues and the beautiful paintings. I love how the French are so good at restoring and using their old buildings. This beautiful museum had originally been a monastery and each room has been lovingly restored and used to exhibit parts of Toulousian history.

The cloisters.

Being photo bombed by Hannah!

My favourite statue in the museum and Jasper's feet!

The Romanesque sculpture gallery.

We had a lovely look around and then headed to MacDonalds for a drink and an icecream.

One of the things we have wanted to do while living in Toulouse is to cycle part of the canal du midi. We had picked up a map in Toulouse and worked out the section that we would like to do. Saturday was quite overcast and grey so we headed to the coast as it was suppose to be sunny by Carcasonne. It was still raining at Carcasonne so we kept going. We eventually came out into the sun so stopped at a rest stop for lunch and had our sandwiches. We decided to head to the coast and ended up going all the way to Narbonne. The med is renound for its strong winds and today was one of those windy days. We studied our map closely and headed for a little town on the canal called Capestang. It was windy but tolerable and best of all it was warm and sunny. James unpacked all the bikes and put them all together and then we set off.

Waiting at Capestang for James to unload the bikes.

About to set off.

The beautiful Canal du midi.

Stopping for a rest.

We stopped at a little village and found this lovely cafe under the trees. The owners had a very familiar sounding accent and yes they were from Auckland. So nice to chat to some kiwis again and they made great icecreams and really good coffee!!!

We headed off again feeling refreshed. We had decided that we would cycle for about ten kms then James would cycle back and collect the car. We ended up cycling just over 11km and we found another cafe and a perfect place to stop and wait. Jasper hadn't had enough cycling so jumped on the third wheel and went back with James.

Boats on the canal.

A good place to stop and wait for Daddy.

A long day of exercise and beautiful scenery and totally worth it.

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Sunday, 11 May 2014

Another Peniscola blog

Here is my blog from two weeks ago which I managed to save.

Hard to believe that a week ago we were by the sea, relaxing at the beach.
Hanging out by the pool at our hotel.

We spent Tuesday morning chilling out then after lunch drove the 4km from our apartment down to the castle town of Peniscola. It was a bit cool but we soon warmed up walking up to the castle.

We hadn't brought much money with us so had a wander around the outside of the castle and decided to come back the next day instead. Peniscola is very beautiful with lots of steep, narrow streets with interesting little shops and a gorgeous view around every corner.

Hanging out with the knights of the Templer.

We got some drinks and icecreams on the way back down the hill.

The next day James headed off on his bike and the kids and I headed down to the beach - picking up a few buckets and spades at the local shop on the way.

Counting up the shells - Penelope found 200, all which came home with us!

We decided to head back to the castle in the afternoon.
Heading over the bridge to go into the castle a different way.

We were amazed at how well restored this amazing structure was.

Up the stairs to walk the ramparts. Jasper had managed to pick up a sword on the way to add to his European sword collection.

A great couple of days.

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Peniscola holiday

Having lots of trouble with blogger at the moment. Wrote two blogs and it wouldn't post them and now they have been deleted - very frustrating.

I will have another go and see if I have a bit more luck this time.

At the National park looking South towards Peniscola.

We went for a walk and stopped at this gorgeous beach for a picnic and a swim.

Playing in the sand before heading to Peniscola castle for a look around.

Peniscola Castle.

The gorgeous town of Peniscola.

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Sunday, 4 May 2014

Sunny Spain

Since moving to France we have been blessed enough to be able to do lots of travelling and have seen so many wonderful things. One thing we hadn't really done is just have a relaxing holiday where we don't do much at all! So for the spring break we decided to book a week in Spain with the sole purpose of playing at the beach and relaxing at the pool. Being someone who finds it challenging to do nothing I booked in a couple of days at a theme park on the way down to our destination.

We left Toulouse on Saturday afternoon after Hannah had been to dancing and Jasper had been to the morning of his soccer tournament. We needed to stop for dinner so decided to stop in at Barcelona for a bite to eat. James and I had been to Barcelona 17 years ago and I remember it as a vibrant but slightly run down city. It seems to have been taken over by the tourism machine and has now got the same generic shops as all the other big European cities we have been. Gone were the flamingo dancers in the square and the musicians playing on each street corner. It is a lovely city though and we had a great meal at a nice new restaurant that was very family friendly. The driving was still crazy though and James did very well navigating through the one way systems where several roads all converged into one.

After dinner we got back on the motorway and headed further south to Salou where we stayed for two nights while going to Port Aventura. We arrived in the dark and couldn't find the hotel so I had to get out and have a look for the right place and we eventually managed to find the entrance. The apartment was nice and spacious and Hannah was delighted when she opened the curtains the next morning and could see the beach!

Just by coincidence some friends from Toulouse were staying at the same apartments so it was nice catching up with them the next morning. We then drove the few minutes to the theme park. Jasper was desperate to ride the big roller coasters and has been focusing on growing the last few weeks so that he would be tall enough! He had to be 140cm and decided to wear his trainers just to ensure he was tall enough which he was.

Before riding the roller coasters

After riding the roller coasters!

The roller coaster!

James and Jasper had a great time on the two big rides.

This is more like the girls and I - The Chinese teacups.

The chuppa chup ride.

While they were queuing for the rides the girls and I went on a ride which involved going on a boat and squirting people on other boats with water. While we were lining up we noticed that the majority of people were wearing jackets. We decided to be hardcore and go without jackets (plus James had the money so I couldn't buy any). Luckily it was hot as we got soaking wet and we seemed to be targets without coats on! There was a man on another boat who seemed to have it in for Penelope and would fire mercilessly at her - meanwhile he was fully covered with a raincoat!
Waiting to get on the Angkor ride.

Yes they have coats and we don't!

More water guns on the side of the path.

We had a great day going on lots of rides and also got to go and watch a show - which Hannah loved!

The singing, dancing, magic trick show we went to.

After riding the Tukaka splash ride

We had just been through that and no we weren't wearing jackets!

We ended the day by watching the parade and being blown kisses by Elmo.

We got back to the Apartment quite late and couldn't get into it. The caretaker had to come up and replace the batteries of the key code and then we eventually managed to get in and cook some dinner.

The next day we spent a lovely hour at the beach with our friends then headed back to Port Aventura for another day of riding roller coasters. We had hoped it would not be as busy as it was a Monday but it was and the queues were even longer. We all went on the water pistol ride together which was great fun (we had brought jackets with us this time). Then James and jasper went and queued for 50 minutes for the roller coaster. We spent the rest of the day getting wet on roller coasters and having a blast. A great place to spend two days.
Lining up to go on the fish ride.

Hannah and I ready to go on the parachute ride.

Up to the top!

The Wild West show.

We left the park at 5pm and drove an hour down the coast to the town of Peniscola where we were going to spend the next six nights. We had booked a ground floor apartment which was the right thing to do as we were right by the playground, grass area and the pools - perfect. We went for a walk to get dinner and discovered that our accommodation was not that near any restaurants. We eventually stumbled across a lovely little restaurant serving tasty food. The wind had died down a bit so the walk back to the apartment was not quite so cool.

The next day we woke to a lovely still morning and we went straight down to the beach to explore. One of the nice things about going on holiday is discovering all the little interesting shops to buy things and to get a bargain such as €2 for 2kg of strawberries at the little fruit and vege market just down the road from us!

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