Are they coming home?

Paris, 18 October, 2012

Dear G and J

Oh how time flies. And us too. We are soon to leave for home, and that means 30 hours flying and somehow keeping the four quiet, if they decide to come with us, that is. Sydney will, that’s for sure. The others? Maybe. The one I am most concerned about is Dexter. He has a mind of his own. He is one smart frog. The others basically follow the chips, or carrots, or sausages. Dexter, though, is smarter than that and he may need some convincing to come with us. Still that’s a few days off…

But – getting back to the seven things. If you remember, I’ve told you four. The last three are all of the exhilarating kind.

The Frog-eyed Peas have kicked up a storm. It is amazing. The four made their first appearance in a street parade where a whole lot of bands were carted on the backs of trucks along the rue de Rivoli. The trucks stopped at intersections and the bands all did their stuff. Well, the whole of Paris went ballistic when the Frog-eyed Peas had their turn. Thousands climbed on the top of bus shelters and danced, thousands more followed the truck with the four, singing along to Yesterday and The Rainbow Connection. There was even, at one point, a mass yodel. Sydney almost passed out with the thrill of it!!!

And it didn’t end there. That night, the Frog-eyed Peas played, by invitation, at the Paris Opera, which is much larger than the Khandallah Town Hall. Jan and I were even allowed to attend for free, and best of all, we could go back stage and look out at the crowd.

There was only one downside to the whole matter and that happened after the concert at the press conference. Yes, they were so popular that they have already had their first press conference. Anyway, rather alarmingly, and this is the only time this has ever happened, all the paparazzi cameras went off at the same instant. Whoa ho, what a flash. I have managed to get a copy of the photo and, as you can see, the flash is ballistic. The downside? There was a distinct smell of singed feathers following the photo. However, a quick check showed no real harm done to the famous plumage.

Later . . .

Oops, had the most serious interruption. Jan appeared with a bag of pain au chocolat and by the time I had finished my share, I completely forgot to finish off the postcard.  Well, no harm done … on with the story. It is now tomorrow, which is a bit confusing because that would make yesterday today with no international date line in sight. Are you confused? I’m confused. But anyway, the story…

The next day, which of course is two days ago now, we had a very serious meeting with the Frog-eyed Peas, and Dexter decided they would come to New Zealand, but not with us. You see, early on in his career in the circus, Loppy had a most unfortunate accident on a high wire. Apparently the act was for Loppy to dance on the high wire while the knife thrower threw knives between his (Loppy’s) legs. The whole act ended up in a heap on the floor and Loppy now hates heights, so the Frog-eyed Peas are coming to New Zealand by ship.

Dexter has organised a gig on a cruise ship that arrives in Wellington in December. It is my job to book the Khandallah Town Hall for their first New Zealand gig.

We waved good bye to the four from the banks of the Seine and watched as they headed down to the coast on a peniche, ready to join the cruise liner.

Jan and I are heading off to catch the A380 for the long trip home. We are a bit sad not to have the Frog-eyed Peas with us, but relieved too.

Well, I guess that’s the end of Sydney’s adventures in France, but it sure isn’t the end of Sydney. Given half a chance, he’ll pinch anyone’s chips. One thing we know for sure, wherever Sydney is, a fracas will not be far behind!

See you in a couple of days.

Pop

Copyright © L. Rivers 2012

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Nearly home

Melbourne Airport, Tuesday 23 October, 2012

Here we are, just about to start the last leg of the journey home. Had a good flight so far, but the eyes are a bit red-rimmed and am having  a bit of trouble holding them open. We are certainly converts to premium economy, what a difference the extra leg room makes. And of course for this last leg we get business class. And you know what that means. Qantas lounge! Yummy breakfast bar. A shower! I repeat, a shower! What a treat.

So, journey nearly over. Just had email from landlady in Paris to say she hoped we’ve had a good journey home and that it was now fine and sunny in Paris. Isn’t that always the way? Still, it didn’t matter that it was grey and overcast and sometimes rainy during most of our three weeks there. It wasn’t cold. And the rain was nothing an umbrella couldn’t handle. Also, remember what a run of fine and sunny and hot weather we had for the bulk of the trip. I still find that amazing.

Signing off for now. Just time for a coffee and then it will be boarding.

 

Au revoir Paris

Heathrow Airport, Sunday 21 October 2012

Well, here we are, at Heathrow, through security and sitting watching the passing parade of people heading through gates 23 to 42. We are here with plenty of time to spare, and only one minor drama so far – I thought I’d lost, or left behind, the security wallet with the house keys and stuff. Couldn’t find it in my backpack, nor in my suitcase – so a second, more thorough look through backpack and, of course, there it was all along. Typical, eh?

So we said au revoir to Paris on Saturday after quiet couple of last days, which included a bit of shopping and a final walk along the Seine to Musée D’Orsay and back home through the Tuileries. I do love those gardens. There was a new open air exhibition of modern sculptures this time, dotted throughout the gardens. We didn’t see them all, but those we did ranged from amazing to incomprehensible. The one that captured our attention was a very long tree trunk with its branches, a sculpture with a bronze patina. We weren’t sure at first if it was a real fallen tree or a sculpture. Another fave were the bird sculptures on one of the ponds, and even though it was odd, we liked the tower of casserole dishes.

And we spent time watching children sailing the hire model yachts on a pond. Lew says they sailed very well even though they were rudimentary models with tatty sails. The kids were having a great old time, running round the pond following their yachts and using long poles to push them out from the edge to keep them sailing.

We also saw the old ‘oh my gosh, is this your gold ring’ scam in action again, though we didn’t see anybody fall for it.

Saturday, we caught the Eurostar to London. We were sitting in a group of four seats, with the other two people a retired French couple. So my farewell to France included a pleasant conversation in French about France, New Zealand, our holiday in France, their trip to England, and other sundry things. It was a pleasant and affirming way to say au revoir to France.

Today, another pleasant meeting: this time with Isabelle, our former French teacher at the Alliance Française. Team French, she says hello to you all.

And now, time to go and choose a book for the journey. And then, in 30 hours or so, we’ll be home.  Yay! Looking forward to catching up with everyone. Sometimes I think the best part of a holiday is coming home.

Several several hours later, Changi Airport

Quick update from Singapore. Good 12-hour flight from Heathrow, managed some sleep. Soon boarding for next stage, to Melbourne. I like these overnight flights, much easier to get some kip. Ok, that’s the update, now to try posting this. Eight hours to Melbourne, short break, then the last leg to Wellington. Double yay!

Would you believe it…?

Paris, October 16, 2012

Dear J and G

We were exasperated. We are now exhausted. But we are also exhilarated. There is so much to tell you. Seven things have happened.

One, there was a prolonged squawk and, you’ve guessed it, Sydney’s back. We were so pleased to see him. A big bundle of snowy white feathers without a hint of singe. He smells better than he has for years. I guess a few chips and a visit to the dump may change that. I wonder where the Paris dump is?

Then, and this is the second thing, Dexter knocked on the door. Well, we didn’t know it was Dexter until after he had told us his name. Would you believe, it was, and I kid you not, the banjo-playing frog. His name is Dexter.

Well, we then put the whole four together. They get on like a house on fire. There’s lots of sparks, and sometimes we can see Sydney sidling off to ensure that he doesn’t get singed.

The next thing that happened – they argued. They’d decided to get together again and give it one more try as a band, this time as a quartet. Sydney said he wanted them to be called Le Chippolaaaaaaatas (again). Thumper said he wanted them to be called the Four Carrots (can’t figure that one out). Loppy said he quite liked Le Chippolaaaaaaatas because chipolatas were long skinny sausages, and dogs liked them. Sydney said chippolaaaaaaata is the cry of the lonely seagull.

When the argument was in full flight, Dexter did a riff (just like the one Michael J. Fox does in Back to the Future). This brought the argument to a thunderous halt. In the ensuing silence, Dexter looked at each of the other three and said, punctuating his words with loud strums and the occasional pluck, ‘We are not Le Chippolaaaaaatas, we will never be the Four Carrots, we are, and Paris is ready for this, the Frog-eyed Peas.

This announcement was met by stunned silence. Even Sydney shut up. Jan said it was the first time for many years she had seen him with his beak closed. I looked at Dexter with admiration. Frogs are so smart, I thought.

As both Loppy and Thumper were wearing frog eyes already and Dexter, of course, can never take his off, it was only left for Sydney to put the eyes on (and not the rolly eyes either).

Jan said at that moment the eyes have it, and we all rolled around laughing. It was such a great moment. It was the moment of the formation of what may become one of the great bands of history. Here’s the first photo of the Frog-eyed Peas. Note that Dexter is looking very pleased.

The battery on my computer is running down, and I need to do the dishes, and I can’t tell you the next three things that happen until tomorrow. But believe me, I have told you about the exasperation and the exhaustion and I’ve just started on the exhilaration. There is more to come.

Pop

© Lewis Rivers 2012

From Z to A, Pt 2

Paris, October 18, 2012

Yesterday, it was another early start to make sure we were at the Gare du Nord in time for our Thalys train to Amsterdam. No problems, made it easy, though the early start (up at 5.45 a.m., which is way, way too early for me) meant I nodded off for a fair bit of the journey. But it was a journey without incident, unlike our trip back from Zurich, which I’d forgotten to include in the last blog. That trip was definitely not without incident.

More precisely, Lew nearly lost his wallet to a pickpocket but realised in time what was happening and shouted ‘You thief, you’re stealing my wallet’ or words to that effect. Just goes to show how quickly and easily it can happen.

We were getting on the train at Zurich to come home, and there were people bunched in the carriage foyer trying to get themselves and their luggage through the door and into the carriage proper and their seats. Except not all those at the top of the stairs were trying to get through. There were at least two, maybe three, young women, sans luggage, hanging around the doorway, blocking the way and making it difficult for legit passengers to get through with their luggage. I was making my way through when Lew started shouting at one of the young women. Everyone froze.

In the ensuing confusion, the young woman in question left the train and walked (not ran, so she knew what she was doing) into the crowd and away. I don’t know where the other woman went, but presumably she, too, melted into the crowd. Luckily, because Lew caught on quickly to what was taking place and reacted so vocally, no wallet lost and no harm done. It does tend to make you suspicious of the people around you, though. Must be something of an upsurge in train pickpockets because there were announcements on the Thalys train the next day to be aware they were operating not only at stations but possibly on the train itself. That was the first time we’d heard such public announcements.

But, back to Amsterdam. What did we think of Amsterdam? Well, we liked it well enough but… for some reason, although it is picturesque, it took a while to work its charm on us. Maybe it was the cold and overcast day – the coldest morning so far and I’m so glad I had my woolly jersey with me; it didn’t stay in the bag for long, I can tell you. There was a period when I wished I’d brought my merino base layer top as well. So maybe it was the weather, or maybe our expectations were too high, or maybe we were just a bit too tired and all travelled out.

Whatever. We bought tickets for one of those hop-on, hop-off bus barges – expensive, I thought, at 22 euros each; you don’t really hop-on and hop-off the way you do with a tram, for instance.  But it is a good way to see the city from the water and of course the navigator-cook loved it. I did too, though that was partly because it was under cover and warm!

I had no idea the canal system was so extensive, no idea at all. It’s fascinating to look in to a city from the water. However, we both had the sense of a city in slow decay. The canals were lined with boats never used and rotting away. We saw only one private boat being used on the canals; the rest were all tourist boats.

There were also narrow canal houses on pontoons on many of the canals, some in better condition than others. I bet the occupants get sick of people on tourist barges looking in. Some have great gardens though. The canals themselves didn’t bear looking at too closely: very murky green-brown.

We got off the bus barge at the museum stop, but didn’t feel up to visiting another museum (in this instance, the van Gogh museum). Probably a mistake, but we had seen some of his work already at the Musée D’Orsay. What we did do was buy one of the best takeaway lunches I’ve had. We guessed it would be good because there was a line of people along the pavement waiting to go in. It was a tiny shop serving hot soup and choose-your-own-filling sandwiches. Except yesterday, it was soup all the way, nobody taking sandwiches as far as I could see.

They offered about six or seven choices of soup. We both chose pumpkin and fresh mint with roasted cashew nuts sprinkled on top. It was yum, totally delicious. Came with a bread roll. We chose corn bread with toasted pumpkin seeds. Again, totally delicious. One of the best soups I’ve had. The shop was called the Soup Shop, I think, or the Soup Place. Try it, especially on a cold day, if you ever get the chance. It’s on the corner of a street that has lots of antique and art shops, though maybe that’s not enough detail for you to find it! It was the start of the charm offensive by Amsterdam!

We continued to warm to Amsterdam after we completed our canal tour and started wandering around the streets. It was picture book pretty, with tall, sometimes narrow, sometimes crooked houses, narrow cobbled streets, and bikes everywhere (I thought Strasbourg was bike city, but had to rethink that after seeing the number of bikes, stationary and in use, in Amsterdam).

Best of all for me were the plants in tubs or growing in the smallest thimbles of dirt: street gardening like I’ve never before seen. I think it was the variety of plants used, with so many large shrubs and climbers, all on narrow streets used as though they were private gardens. I loved it, and couldn’t stop taking pics.

I was also fascinated by the variation in design in the square glass windows above the doors to the apartments. Lew was fascinated by the rope pulleys on the outside of the buildings used to bring furniture and who knows what else up to the upper storeys.

I would’ve liked to see the flower market but we decided, given our history of getting lost, it wouldn’t be wise to venture that far from the railway station in the time we had left. Something for the next visit perhaps.

And that, as they say, was that. We had a forgettable afternoon tea at a forgettable café, and then it was time for the home trip. It was a slower than scheduled trip, thanks to problems with the line between Rotterdam and Antwerp, but it was a comfortable one.

Today, a slower day, sorting ourselves out for leaving, doing a bit of shopping and general wandering around the streets of Paris. It’s always the way – just when it’s time to leave, we discover all these cafes and shops that look so interesting! In one lovely little shop (plans to go back there) we were surprised to be asked if we were from New Zealand. Turns out the young man behind the counter had just returned from several months backpacking around New Zealand, and loved it. We were impressed he recognised our accent and didn’t, like so many others, confuse it with that of West Islanders.

Late in the afternoon we shopped and shopped and shopped until Lew was perilously close to dropped (I know it’s not grammatical but it does rhyme). We are both ready to come home. Lew says he is looking forward to a real house again and a city that does not have 12 million inhabitants. I’m looking forward to a decent cup of tea. And a house where I’m not hearing ‘ouch, that hurt’ every five minutes.  Lew says it’s okay to long for home. He also says work beckons. I say, that’s music to my ears.

From Z to A

Paris, October 17, 2012

We’ve just arrived home after a day trip to Amsterdam, somewhat later than planned because of a fault with the signals on the TGV track between Rotterdam and Antwerp. So this is going to be a short blog to bring things up to date from Sunday.

So, first, Zurich. We had a great time in Zurich, thanks to the very warm welcome and hospitality of D, P, and the two children. Thank you both, and we look forward to catching up again in a couple of months or so. Nice to hear a Kiwi accent too!

It was a full-on two days. We arrived early afternoon, had coffee at the tallest building in Zurich, a walk to the park and children’s playground and a tram home when it started to rain. Loved the trams, as we have in every city we’ve been in that has them. Such a good way to provide hassle-free transport. In the evening, dinner at a beer hall; good food and a great ambience — a good choice for family dining.

Next day, we were on our own as D & P had work. We took the trams and did a little explore, without getting lost I might add. We went to Sprungli for coffee and cake. Delicious.  We went for a walk down to the lake, followed by lunch – one of the best meals we’ve had. A pasta dish for me, in a cream sauce with a touch of chilli and a beef and risotto dish for Lew. The menu offered a choice of only three main dishes, which included the soup of the day and a salad if you wanted them. The place is called Restaurant Viadukt. Try it if you’re ever in Zurich.

After lunch we checked out the Freitag container shop – a stack of containers selling expensive bags made out of used plastic, we think railway wagon tarpaulins. They were a bit too distressed-looking and expensive for us, though I did find a couple I liked. There were other unusual shops there too, one in a converted bus, plus some attractively unkempt gardens, one in a huge upturned skip.

We liked Zurich for its human scale (though the railway station was huge and confusing and despite the very good instructions from D & P on how to get there, inevitably we took the long route to our train!). It’s also pretty, with the lake and the trees in their autumn colours. I did find it discombobulating, after a few weeks getting my ear accustomed to French, to be hearing Swiss German and realizing I didn’t have a clue what was being said. Luckily everyone seems to speak English. It did make me realise, though, that I’ve become more comfortable with being immersed in French than I thought.

Well, that’s as much updating as I can manage this evening. The Z is done. The A will have to wait till tomorrow.

One hour from Paris

Paris, October 13, 2012

Crikey, you see. This is what happens if I don’t write every day. One minute it’s Wednesday night and the next it’s Saturday morning and I’m playing catch-up. And trying to remember what we’ve been doing.  Nor do I expect to get very far just now as I’m writing this while waiting for Lew to return from some grocery shopping, and then we’re off on a day trip.

So here’s a quick catch-up. Thursday we did the Saint-Martin Canal trip, from Port de l’Arsenal to Bassin de la Villette. The navman loved it, absolutely loved it. I thought it was pretty good too. I’ve got lots of pics of mossy brick walls and steel gates with water gushing. There weren’t heaps of other people either. Needed 12 to do the trip and only 11 booked so there was a moment there where we wondered it if would be a happening thing. But no, enough turned up, maybe 20 or so in the end. Far cry from the prison boat in Strasbourg.

Company we went with was Canauxrama, good value for money at 16 euros each, two-and-a-half hours for the trip. Again, the guide spoke in French and English, didn’t feel compelled to speak every moment of the journey, and made very good coffee into the bargain.

It was a bit spooky going through the Bastille tunnel, didn’t pay to look up at the roof at some points. Here’s what Lew’s got to say (he’s back with croissants to go with coffee).

(Quoting) This is a really good canal trip. There are four double locks, two tunnels, two ponds and a reservoir. Along the way I saw an old peniche with two modern 60 hp Mercurys on the back. It was moving along at fast walking speed. I also saw the best live-aboard canal boat of the whole trip (see pic). It was a well proportioned, double-ended, steel peniche. I could live on it very comfortably, Jan too I think – there was room to grow tomatoes. (End of quote).

So there you have it. Enjoyable voyage whether or not you’re a mad boat person. We opted to hop off at Bassin de la Villette. There’s huge red buildings at the Parc de la Villette (science centre one side, music centre the other) but we didn’t explore. Looked to be just conference facilities, though I think there are gardens that would be worth an explore another time. Lunch at a kebab place and home by metro.

Later…

Well, this afternoon was one out of the box. Despite the rain, we had a top afternoon, doing one of the ‘One Hour from Paris’ trips. We managed to find the book in English a couple of days ago, and for today’s trip, Lew chose a visit to Conflans-Sainte Honorine, a village at the confluence of the Seine and the Oise, about a half-hour on the RER. As well as two rivers for Navman to explore, there was also a Musée de la Batellerie (a museum of the history of the inland waterways of France), plus some bits and bobs of gardens for me. It really was a magic day. Anyone coming to Paris, I’d recommend this book ‘An Hour from Paris’ by Annabel Simms. We had a good coffee on arrival at a small tabac-type place and after our visit to the museum, a late lunch of crepe (me) and bruschetta (Lew) at a delightful place with good food and welcoming staff. Called La Place (I think) – it’s down the musée end of the town, opposite the river, if you’re ever in the area.

Lew was over the moon with the afternoon. He loves inland waterway craft and says the museum was a dream come true. A small museum, it nonetheless rates right up there with the best on this trip, better than the Paris maritime museum, and up there with Jersey – in large part because it is about inland waterways and is the only one he’s come across so far.

We managed to find our way there and back without incident. It was a slightly different story yesterday evening, though, when we decided to walk home from the vicinity of the Gare de Nord. Our infallible sense of misdirection kicked in. We found ourselves walking on top of the Canal St Martin tunnel at Bastille, the very same we’d motored through on the cruise barge the day before, but in a direction at a tangent to where we needed to go for home. Luckily we happened upon a not-too-busy brasserie and a helpful bartender, and after an apero we caught a no. 96 bus for home.

And now to bed. Big trip to Zurich tomorrow, with early start.