Monthly Archives: September 2012

Paris: Assault on the senses


Saturday 29 September, 2012 (note to self, Sat 29, not Sat 28)

Well, here we are in Paris, gorgeous sunny day. Not sure of the temperature as we’ve not ventured out yet. We are still soaking up the ambience of our petit Parisian studio. Lew is enamoured of the coffee-making machine, which takes little round coffee bags and makes a cup at a time. I’m on my second.

I’ve just braved the shower. It is a bit weak, which is a good thing, as otherwise there would be water everywhere.  Gotta be a bit brave, too, as there is not a lot of frosting on the window that opens on to the circular courtyard, which means of course, an open view to and from other apartments. A rather vulnerable feeling.

I think this flat was made with smaller people than Lew in mind.  Think play hut rather than chateau. The basin in the bathroom is the span of a hand, set in a tiny alcove. This demands a new skill to the art of teeth-cleaning.

The entry door is ferocious and a little bit frightening. Lew says it’s like a door to a bank vault. I’m intimidated by it and just hope I never forget to go out without the key cos it slams shut with a vengeance, no handle on the outside – not that a handle would make a difference if you’d forgotten the keys.

Train trip yesterday was through some of the nicest countryside we’ve seen so far. Of course, we did miss the best of the south, with the sunflower heads already dried off. But through Bretagne, along the train route at least, it was mostly all green pasture and refreshingly few maize fields. Lots of trees, either as boundary plantings or groves. Not a lot of animals on view; cows mainly, though not heavily stocked.

It was a bit of a shock to arrive at noisy, dirty, bustling Gare Montparnasse, after the seaside ambience of St Malo and the rural tranquility of the train trip. Even though we travel light, it is a hassle getting on and off trains and the metro with bags. Luckily we arrived early enough to avoid the Friday rush on the metro. And our apartment building is blissfully quiet, even though it is mid-Paris – 500 metres from the Louvre (supposedly – we’ve still to suss that out).

Later . . .

Well, we’ve been out a couple of times now. First for a bit of an explore, to get to know the neighbourhood. What an assault on the eardrums. Especially from the gendarmerie, or maybe it’s the police, I’ve never understood the differences. When they respond to an urgent call, it seems it’s always a plain car first followed by up to five vans filled with police carrying sub-machine guns, with sirens wailing and blue lights flashing. One procession had an ambulance behind it. And I used to think it was noisy at times along Adelaide Road.

We had lunch in a park, found the Notre Dame, and Shakespeare and Co (bookstore), where I bought a book to read (a Barbara Trapido, if you’re interested.) We were looking for the book One Hour from Paris, but sadly there wasn’t one in stock. However, the shop assistant, who knew the book, recommended one of the destinations – Moret sur Loing, so we’ll be checking that out. We saw the Eiffel Tower in the distance. Yay! I didn’t see the Louvre but Lew assures me we did pass it.

One thing I like about Paris is the number of small local parks and gardens. Today, for example, there was the park where we had lunch (Square de la Tour St Jacques), and then the one alongside the Notre Dame (Square Jean XXIII, I think), which had the most wonderful woven and metal constructions that provided frameworks for climbers. And then there is one of my favourites, the garden near to Shakespeare & Co, the Square René-Viviani – didn’t get a pic today but must get back for one.

We took what turned out to be a very long way home, all within a 500-metre radius of the flat. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.

Then it was time for a kip and to do some washing – although we’re having trouble working out the dry cycle: as at the time of writing, Lew’s stuff’s been washed (but not dried) three or four times. For me, I’m relying on the old piece-of-elastic-between-two-chairs trick. This is the first time we’ve not had some sort of fold-out airing rack, and we miss such a simple but effective and useful bit of kit.

But I digress. This evening, it was out for an assault on the ears of a different sort. We went to a recital at Eglise Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre (la plus vielle église de Paris). Recitals by various musicians are held here regularly to raise money for the restoration of the church. We’ve been before, and it was a ‘must do’ this time. This evening it was a soprano singing Ave Maria and other songs. Lew loved it and says her voice could have filled an auditorium. She certainly had a powerful voice, and I’m glad we weren’t sitting in the front row. In Wellington, the noise control officer would’ve been called. The audience loved it though, with enough clapping to ensure she sang an encore.

This time, it was a straightforward trip back home. I think we are starting to get a sense of the geography. Or am I tempting fate?

PS. News of Ziggy. Apparently he has settled in well, and though we understand he is a slimmer version of his original self, we are reliably informed that ‘he’s certainly not wasting away’. Sounds like our Ziggy!


Sydney goes sailing . . . of sorts

St Malo

September 27, 2012

Dear J and G

Today, we have just got up. It’s coolish but sunnyish. After the strains and worries of the last few days, we are looking forward to a quiet day of bus rides, chateaus and gardens. It will be a relief to be free of the Sydney storms and the frog frets. Not to mention Thumper, so I won’t. I feel quite light-hearted, in fact.  We’re quietly confident Sydney will not get into any more scrapes. After all, he is confined to bed rest and feather restoration for a few days. The Seabird Protection Agency (SPA) has got Sydney taped.

It’s such a relief to have most everything under control (we’re still a bit nervous about the rabbit and the pesky frog). Have to go now, Jan is calling that it is time to catch the first bus to Chateau Malo. We do like a good castle. And where there’s a castle, there’s usually a garden, so that keeps you-know-who happy. I will finish this letter when I get home. . . .

It is now late afternoon. I am home and aghast! It’s nothing but trouble, trouble, and more trouble. The lesser of our troubles is there is no chateau at Chateau Malo. We got to Chateau Malo and found it is simply a country village without even a café. As I had suggested the visit, and promised a garden, Jan did the rolly eyes at me. That really helped − not.

Sydney Seagull: Sand Sensation

Now for the real drama. That fool of a bird, Sydney, not content with stuffing himself with chips and growing new feathers, has taken up land yachting.

Not your ordinary, average, everyday duffer out-for-a-bit-of-fun-to-help-your-feathers-grow-back sort of land yachting, but hard-out racing.  He’s even thinking of turning professional and taking part in the All-Europe International Pro-Am Land-Yachting circuit.

Why can’t Sydney be happy doing prolonged squawks, eating chips and keeping an eye on the dump like all the other seagulls? If it isn’t goblins, it’s merry-go-round horses; if it isn’t merry-go-round horses, it’s ninja pigeons; if it isn’t ninja pigeons, it’s supersonic flying. And now it is the pro-am land-yachting circuit.

The auld mug of land yachting

This is going to be another disaster, probably a real doozy. And it’ll be left to us to pick up the pieces and dust off the feathers. Personally, there are times I believe we would be better off with feathery dusters rather than dusty feathers.

I’ll keep you informed.


© Copyright Lewis Rivers 2012

Paris, with reservations


September 28, 2012

I’m feeling sick. I got the day wrong! It was Friday that L-from-French arrived at Roissy Charles de Gaulle, not Saturday as I’d thought. This is one I can’t blame on Navman,  c’est totalement ma faute, c’est moi qui dois dire ‘mea culpa’. No matter there was a high probability we would’ve missed her anyway, because of the luggage problems. Or that we wouldn’t have been in Paris anyway, as our flat wasn’t available till tonight. Or that I’d said to Lew she must have a long stopover at wherever it was she had the stopover. It’s one thing for the Navman and I to lose our way, but this . . . well, enough said. Here’s hoping we get to see her soon.

Our petit studio is probably the smallest of the four we’ve been in yet, but the most modern. It is tiny but perfectly formed. It has a separate toilet (in a cupboard, but with a door – our benchmark, remember), a tiny kitchen, a tiny shower, but everything modern. Every last bit of space has been put to good use. There is a dishwasher under the stairs with a wine rack on top, a tiny cupboard under the stairs for the vacuum cleaner, a larger cupboard under the stairs for the wardrobe. The stairs, by the way, have no connection with the flat. They serve the next floor, which would have been, in former times, the maid’s quarters for all the apartments in the building (remember the film about the women on the sixth floor?)The living room, doubling as the bedroom, is about 4 x 4, maybe a bit smaller, but again, everything is well thought out and space is well-used. There is a settee and behind it is what I call a Mason bed – a pull-out bed from the wall, which goes on top of the settee when it is down. It’s ingenious.

Arrival in Paris was not fraught, exactly – we were pleased we weren’t rushing for a connection, as we were last time we passed through Gare Montparnasse on the way to St Malo. But it was noisy and busy and hot, and a stark contrast to the quiet pace of St Malo we’ve been accustomed to for the past week. Getting to our flat was a straightforward ride on the metro, ligne 4 from Montparnasse to Chatelet. Even though we haven’t been out to explore, apart from a 5-min walk to the supermarket, it’s obvious we are right in the midst of things. The building our flat is in is something else. Apparently one of the oldest buildings in Paris that is residential.

At the moment we are sipping a rosé to toast being in Paris and watching TV, first a game show that one didn’t need a lot of French to follow, and now the national news, with the current item on JK Rowling. Will be lights out soon, I think. Here’s some images from St Malo that I think I’ve not used yet. If I have, well, here they are again.

Last Day in St Malo

St Malo

Thursday September 27, 2012

Well, here we are, last night in St Malo, and off to Paris tomorrow. Honestly, I don’t know where the days go. So much more to do here, both in St Malo and the wider region, but no time. Another place for the ‘must come back to’ list.

We’ve loved St Malo – I know that’s what I said about Strasbourg and Toulouse. But it’s true. Each place has been completely different but each has been wonderful. Mind you, I think you could pretty much pick any part of France and have an adventure.

St Malo has been a paradise for Lew, with its beaches, boats, ships, inner and outer harbour, the lock . . . I too have loved it, even though I don’t have quite the same enthusiasm for all things nautical. (Good photo ops though!)

Now we are into that time of packing and cleaning, ready for le départ tomorrow. Luckily it is not such an early start, we are being picked up at 11.00 for a train leaving at 11.40.

We’ve had a quiet day today, all up. We bought a couple of 24-hour bus tickets again, with the intention of going to see the Chateau Malo, as a starter. Turns out Chateau Malo is not a chateau but the name of a village just out of St Malo. I don’t know what tourist book the great navigator was reading when he told me there was a chateau with a garden there. I think he was just feeling a bit sorry for me, what with the imbalance in the ratio of things nautical to things garden this week.

So after a quick visit to Chateau Malo, it was back to town and a walk around a different bit of the harbour, where we saw (and I quote) a boat very similar to Swirly World (Andrew Fagan’s boat, in case you don’t know). It’s an 18-foot ocean-going sloop for a single-hander. This one had (still quoting) a Perspex dome in the cabin top for the helmsman to get a good view of what’s happening around him without getting wet. These are remarkable boats though I wouldn’t want to go to sea in one (end of quote). Personally, I (that’s me, not Navman) thought it looked a bit decrepit and I wouldn’t want to go once around the harbour in it, let alone around the world.

We tracked down the meaning of the symbol of the flying ferret we keep seeing. It is, in fact, an ermine, apparently Anne of Brittany’s favourite animal and now the symbol of St Malo. (I’ve been trying to get to grips with the complicated history of mediaeval Brittany, but I’ll leave it to you to do your own research). The symbol is on brass discs embedded in the pavement throughout the intra muros (old walled town – most of which has been faithfully reconstructed after Allies bombed it in WWII). The discs are the markers for a pedestrian walk of places and features of interest. Being us, we didn’t bother doing the walk as such, but it was fun coming across the discs.

We ended the afternoon strolling home along the promenade. As always, heaps of people out on the beach, in particular, today, kite boarders and windsurfers, with a few hardy swimmers. Also lots of people strolling, like us, mostly French from the conversations I overheard.

Which reminds me, we finally got to walk the ramparts together yesterday. We had a lazy morning before heading out for a walk of the local neighbourhood. We ended up at the harbour (of course) and then into the walled town and a spot of shopping, despite Navman’s allergy to all shops other than €1 shops or those with remainder racks. Luckily he found a liquidation sale where I managed to find a couple of things I liked.

Our goal for the afternoon was to find an exhibition of old maps. It was in the Chapelle Saint-Sauveur, a magnificent structure in itself, with its high vaulted ceiling and chandeliers. The exhibition, Le Monde Fabuleux de la Cartographie, was worth every centime of the €5,60 entry fee. I loved it: the maps (end of 15thC to 19thC), the models, the old navigational instruments and the modern computer program that let you see all the planes in the world that were flying. New Zealand had only three – it was the middle of the night there of course. There were 7,000 aircraft flying over Europe at the same time.

And after that, a walk of the ramparts (together), the promenade, and home. Not quite the end of the day for us though, as just after tea we had a visit from our landlady who brought us the most delicious apple cake, still warm from the oven. Yummy, the perfect dessert. I need that recipe! And if ever you need a place to stay in St Malo, this is the one.

While we are talking of gardens (cake — apple – fruit tree – gardens: get it?), there are a number of roundabout plantings here with shrubs for permanent height in the middle, surrounded by annuals. There is even one large roundabout we’ve been past a few times in the bus that has pine trees in the middle. Around the trees is a discontinuous lime green fence made from what looked like manuka stake. On the outside of that, plantings of annuals. It looks great. Other gardens use structures (nautical theme, of course) to give height and a framework for climbers.

And, while I’m on the topic of gardens, remember I was a bit surprised and pleased to see flax and cabbage trees here in St Malo? Well, they were evident in abundance on Jersey. I guess that tells you something about the climate.

Jersey is another place worth a longer visit than the day trip we did – though a day is better than nothing. We managed to get to one village by bus but ran out of time for a trip to a second village.

Reminders of the occupation and liberation are very much in evidence in St Helier, in street and building names and a remarkable bronze sculpture celebrating the moment of liberation. I’ve already mentioned the occupation tapestry at the museum.

Lew says Jersey is only the beginning of the Channel Islands. I think that’s code for we are coming back one day. The Jersey visit has been a highlight this holiday for him, but he still wants to go to Guernsey and Sark.

Well, time’s up, gotta get my packing done, too much busy-ness going on around me for me to ignore it any longer.

To sea in a saucer of ocean

St Malo

September 25, 2012

I’m feeling a bit owl and pussycat-ish tonight. That’s because we went to sea today. But unlike the owl and the pussycat, we didn’t go to sea in a pea-green boat, but in a saucer of ocean. Well, that’s according to the great navigator. He says that when you are on a ship, all you ever see is a saucer of ocean, and it could be a saucer of ocean anywhere in this latitude, north or south. There’s no land in sight, we could be in Cook Strait. So he says.

Well, we could’ve been, but we weren’t, because I know we were on the ferry to Jersey. Luckily it wasn’t the lumpy sea I feared; in fact it was a smooth crossing there and back, about 1hour 20 mins each way. For Lew, the voyage itself would have been enough, but we also had a good day in Jersey. We had to do the full immigration thing to get in, but the plus was a good chat with the immigration officer who said he’d once been in Bergerac but guessed we wouldn’t remember seeing that (he was right). And he stamped our passports with a Jersey stamp – not something every one-day immigrant received.

It was a long day, up by 5.30, on the bus at 6.30, at the ferry terminal by 7.00. A few anxious moments trying to work out where we got off the bus, but the driver made sure we got the best stop and that we knew what direction to go in after that. Bus routes look different in the dark of morning. And we arrived back home about 10.00 tonight, after a walk in the moonlight along the promenade. So this blog is going to be more highlights than details.

Best moments – for Lew, the boat trip there and back, of course. The hearty English breakfast, much needed after the early start. And the maritime museum, which we both found exceptionally interesting – even non-nautical me. Lots of outstanding photos of boats and of seafaring people particularly those whose every day involved the sea, such as lifeboat men and fishermen. Some great portraits. Lew says the ship models were very good, very accurate.

It is a living, active museum, with good interactive displays as well as some on-site boat restoration. Another highlight of the museum was the Occupation Tapestry. This consists of 12 panels, one from each of Jersey’s parishes, depicting, chronologically, scenes of life on the island from 1940 to 1945. It is an amazing and moving work of art.

There are nautical notes everywhere, evidence of the importance of the sea to the Channel Islands.  And it’s done so well. There’s the seats named after old boats and ships, the latitude and longitude lines writ large at the end of the marina, the Beaufort scale embedded in the pathway (each level of force described in layman’s terms), and seats carved with the alpha, bravo alphabet and signal flags, Morse code symbols and the semaphore alphabet.

That has to be it for tonight…brain won’t work any more, too long a day. More to come . . .

We live in remarkable times

Thumper in St Malo?

St Malo

September 26, 2012

Dear G and J

We certainly live in remarkable times. Sometimes nothing is as it seems. We thought Sydney (or El Syd) was trapped in Toulouse, the banjo-playing frog was in St Malo, and Thumper the rabbit was in Jersey. Wrong, wrong, and wrong again. Let me update you on the current status of our feathered, furred and green-skinned friends.

But first, I am no longer getting headaches from the whack with the smack and my ribs are on the mend, though it I can only do pained laughs. Jan said so can she. I am not sure what she meant as she did not get a kick in the ribs.

Back to the other three. Firstly there is no sign of the banjo-playing frog. He is not in St Malo, we can only hope he is in Paris. It seems logical that he will be in Paris as that is probably the best place for a musician to break into the big time. Though, on reflection, the thought of any of those three ‘breaking in’ fills me with a distinct sense of unease.

 Now, Thumper. He is here in St Malo! Jan and I caught a glimpse of him! He’s living in a commune, would you believe, in the middle of the roundabout just before the Channel Islands ferry terminal. Early yesterday, just before daybreak, we hurried around the roundabout on our way to catch the Condor Rapide (not the greatest name) to Jersey.  And there in the middle of the roundabout, on the large grass area, just in front of the ruins of an old fortress, were a bunch of rabbits. Light was just breaking so they were quite shadowy and we could not get a photo. So you may well ask: how did we know Thumper was there? Because they were playing leapfrog. And because there was a rhythmical beat that could only have come from one rabbit.  So we know Thumper is in St Malo.

We heard him again on our way home from the Jersey ferry late last night, but this time he was playing a gig for a bunch of tourists on an oak-timbered, raised poop, full-rigged gaff-mizzened replica Spanish galleon. Who know, maybe today we’ll meet up with him and we can organise how his is going to get to New Zealand.

Now for news of Sydney. The prognosis is good and we understand he will recover and the feathers will grow back. Apparently the shish kebab chef was quite apologetic and said he had never before mistaken a seagull for a chook.

Turns out Sydney started out flying to St Malo supersonically. But he experienced turbulence and couldn’t fly straight. There was too much friction and his feathers had a major singe-out. Given he’d already lost feathers in the late night squabble in Toulouse with the supersonic Spanish seagulls, this had misfortune written all over it. He lost height, speed and directional control.

Luckily, moments after stalling, he had the excellent good fortune to fall on top of a pigeon-post pigeon. Both crashed to earth. Again with extraordinary good fortune, both survived. With goodwill beyond the call of duty, the pigeon, although a bit winded, slapped a stamp on Sydney, gave him a rather painful whack with the franking machine, and sent him on by sea.

Hence Sydney arrived in St Malo on the Bretagne (a Brittany ferry) where all the crew promptly went on strike. Sydney struggled out of the second-class mail sack, scoffed a couple of cold chips, fell over the handrail and plunged into the sea. Being the Channel and not the Med proved bracing for Sydney and he paddled along the coast, looking like a half-tide rock. Neither fish nor fowl would come near him. Sydney does not look his best half-plucked. Also with far fewer feathers, he does not float so well.

Sydney washed up on the beach near where we’re living, only to be picked up by an old lady who thought he was a dead, plucked chook. She took him back to her hotel and demanded he be shish-kebabed. Just at the precise moment before the plunge of the skewer, the chef heard a feeble squawk. The kitchen froze – the chef, the sous-chef, the demi-chef, the plongeur (dishwasher to you and me), all the waiters, the maitre’d, even the lettuce and tomatoes.

Sydney was saved. He was sent to Les Thermes Marins, a restorative spa (Seabird Protection Agency), to recover. He is, at this very minute, eating chips to his heart’s content while reading ornithological books and waiting for his feathers to grow back. His recovery is under way. I think, though, we may have heard the last of El Syd and supersonic flight.

Now, in two days we are off to Paris. I am hopeful that in Paris we will be able to bring the three together (providing we can find that pesky frog) and maybe have everything in place for our return home. What a worry, what an effort. I think we will need a holiday at the end of all this drama.


© Lewis Rivers 2012

Riding the buses in St Malo

St Malo

September 24, 2012

We explored St Malo by bus today. A 24-hour ticket costs €3,20 per person so it is an economical way to get around, plus it saves the legs. It also means we can use the ticket to get to the ferry terminal tomorrow morning for our trip to Jersey. If we wake up in time. Though I’m sure Navman will have the alarm set, no way will he miss out on that trip. I’m a bit nervous about the weather; hope the sea isn’t too lumpy. By the way, I insisted he explain a dipping lug, so he’s provided a visual primer of basic boat recognition (see below).

But I digress. Today, the buses. There’s a bus stop just outside our flat so naturally enough we caught a bus from that (Ligne 5), direction Croix Deshilles. Lew and I’ve decided it was a forgettable destination. There was another bus at the terminus so we caught that and went to the end of line 9, a village called St-Jouan-des-Guérets. It seemed to be a dormitory suburb of St Malo; not much in the way of shops though there were plenty of people going about their business. Some lovely old places but also plenty of new-builds, though in the style of the old.

Good gardens too. I’ve noticed geraniums make an appearance again, here in St Malo, and hydrangeas also feature strongly. I’ve also seen New Zealand flax (Phormium tenax) used in a couple of roundabout plantings — the common variety, in full flower. Also some cultivars (a red, a variegated, and a small green) in other street plantings, as well as a cabbage tree (Cordyline australis). Another feature is frequent use of pleached trees along the streets. Stunning.

Anyway, we just managed to get to La Poste in St-Jouan-des-Guérets to post some letters before they pulled the shutters down for lunch. Very nice, very helpful staff. And real stamps. If you get a letter postmarked from St-Jouan-des-Guérets, keep the envelope to show us, please!

We then walked till we got a view of the sea but it was way too far to reach on foot. Caught the No. 9 bus back to St Malo, to the stop nearest to Naye, the ferry terminal. We needed to check our bus route for the morning as it is an awfully early start, and too far to walk from the flat to the ferry. We spared the Condor Ferry staff another visit and lecture, though I did have some trouble restraining Lew. The terminal has good toilets, though, and they are free. Not that I object to paying, it’s just that I’m scared I’ll lock myself in the public pay ones on the street, and Lew will have to call for help to get me out. Unless, of course, he’s decided I’ve gone on ahead home, and he leaves me there.

We again saw the lock working at Naye, this time to let a garbage barge through, where it picked up some rubbish near the entrance to the lock. We saw, close up, the road roll back allowing the lock gates to open for the barge. Even I found it interesting.

After this little diversion, we caught the Ligne 3 bus, direction Rothéneuf. This terminus was the best of the day, with a pretty little beach, Plage du Havre, just a five-minute walk away. After a short time at the beach, where Lew tasted the sea – when I asked him why, he said it was to see if it tasted the same as the South Pacific. Sometimes I think he’s one marble short of a picnic (and before you comment, I like the occasional mixed metaphor).

The weather is continuing to be kind to us, though today I was glad of my merino thermal base layer. It’s been overcast, windy and sometimes sunny (what city does that remind you of?), but the rain held off until the end of the day. We’d just hopped off the bus at the end of our tripping around when it bucketed down. We, along with several others, took shelter at the bus stop until the downpour finished, which took all of five minutes. The camaraderie that accompanies such chance encounters is always a pleasure.

So here we are, finishing up after an early tea, planning on an early night, ready for an early start in the morning. Early for us, anyway.

Oh, and for those who are interested, I’m reliably informed the sea here tastes the same as it does down under.