Autumn in Paris

Paris, October 10, 2012

Overcast again today, but the rain held off, and it wasn’t cold. No wind, makes a difference.

Started the day in what’s become our usual leisurely fashion. It doesn’t help that it doesn’t get light until quite late here, about 8.00 am. Will be strange when we get home and have to adjust to daylight saving. Slight crisis for me in the clothing department, given recent washing disasters, but decided the patchy trou could be passed off as a fashionably distressed look. (In fact, the only thing distressed was me; the trou didn’t look fashionably distressed or fashionably anything, for that matter.)

Spent the late morning and early afternoon wandering around town, this time making our way to Ile St Louis, where we had lunch (filled baguette) at the pointy end of the island. Navman was perfectly happy because he could watch the commercial traffic to his heart’s content. M-from-London joined us later on and we spent a very pleasant afternoon in the Marais, mostly window shopping but with an occasional purchase by some of us.

Ended the day having an aperitif dinetoire (not sure about that spelling, will have to check it out) at the home of friends of M-from-London. A big thank you, A. and S., for your hospitality; we had a great evening and enjoyed meeting you and your friends – fabulous apartment, fabulous food, fabulous company!



We have our canal cruise tomorrow (yeah, I got it wrong about it only being on Friday) and someone who shall be nameless decided we should do the morning one, so time to get some shut-eye as we have an early(ish) start tomorrow.


Oops, may have made a bit of a blunder with the title of the blog. Apparently Mac is a slang term in French. For the record, Mac is my Macbook Air, bought specially for this trip because of its portability and light weight (11-inch and weighing about 1kg).

It’s the first Mac I’ve owned, and I am a convert. I’m still not expert at using all the features (plenty of time for that when I get back home, eh Andrew?), but it has certainly lived up to expectations. Anyone thinking of travelling, this is the machine you need if you’ll be doing much writing. I had considered an iPad, but so glad I opted for little Mac Air. Not much time for reading on this holiday, but have done a heck of a lot of writing – as you will no doubt know, if you’ve managed to reach this far in the blog. Little Mac is perfect.


Thump at the door

Paris, October 9, 2012

Dear J and G

Gee willikers, we have the feeling things are going to get better and better. It is now the morning after the day before which is the day I’m about to describe. Early yesterday we heard a thump at the door. On opening it, I found a bedraggled brown rabbit with purple and yellow streaks running through his fur. That thump at the door was Thumper at the door!

In between the sobs, we learnt that Thumper had decided rabbits shouldn’t try to change their spots. Indeed, he realised rabbits weren’t meant to have spots in the first place.

The sorry tale is that Thumper, the new Parisian rage, had been caught in a big rainfall and all his spots had run. Well, we brought Thumper inside. He had a shower and spruced up. I guess the most amazing thing, though, was that when he appeared at the door he was wearing frog eyes.  Thumper said frog eyes were going to be the next big thing in Paris.

Fortunately, Thumper and Loppy the curly-haired, floppy-eared Chloe lookalike got along well. They even shared a dinner bowl, though Loppy wouldn’t eat the carrots, which suited Thumper just fine. He wasn’t at all attracted to the sardines in aspic. That night they both slept on the window sill.

About two o’clock in the morning, when they were sound asleep, Jan and I woke up and saw, out the window, a bright, yellow beaming moon.

And there in the distance, between us and the Eiffel Tower, was the banjo-playing frog floating to earth under a parachute. As he passed by, he gave a huge wink and a big smile, and strummed the chords of ‘You are my sunshine’.

We looked to see if the frog had frog eyes and realised that of course he did, he was a frog! Jan and I went back to sleep, both of us contented because all the signs were that things were looking good.

With luck, the frog will find our apartment. It is clear to us that the secret for finding frogs is not to try too hard. Let them find you. This is now our strategy. We think in the next few days we will have the four quirks together and who knows what may happen. Perhaps it will be Le Chippolaaaaaaatas déjà vu all over again.

I’ll keep you posted.


© Lewis Rivers 2012

Some gardens, but mostly boats

Paris, 9 October, 2012

I unexpectedly found some wonderful gardens today, had a conversation about crabapple tart (I think), enjoyed my first pastis on this Paris visit, and practised my French on A., the very patient friend of M-from-London. Other than that, it was a quiet day.

It’s become our habit to start the day late and today was no exception. We managed to use the washing machine to get towels washed and dried without any major mishaps, had lunch and, later in the afternoon, met M-from-London (here on a work-related conference).

Mission for the afternoon was to book tickets, if possible, for the Canal St Martin cruise from Port de L’Arsenal to Bassin de la Villette. This is a trip that has come highly recommended (thank you E.) and we are keen to do it. But it seems that, because the ‘season’ is over, this particular trip is not on offer until Friday, so we’re crossing our fingers that I’ve understood the French correctly or we may miss out.

The walk to Port de L’Arsenal, along the Seine, gave Navman many opportunities to exclaim ‘Oh look at that . . . ’ One example: a double barge, in tandem and not parallel (makes them very long, I’m told) carrying so much golden sand it looked like it was sinking. As M-from-London said, it would take just one seagull landing to sink it. (It was much lower in the water than it looks from this pic.)

Later on, at the Port de l’Arsenal, more boats: Navman estimates there were about 200 privately owned launches, peniches and other vessels of various sorts. This collection included a small fibre-glass keel boat similar to a Reactor. Its mast was nowhere in sight. There was also a Krogen 54 (an American-designed passage maker) we’d seen in St Malo a few days ago.

We also liked a white Dutch double-ended inland sea sailing barge (you can tell this is being dictated, can’t you). More than 100 years old, it was a lapstrake steel/iron construction from which the leeboards had been removed. We were discussing what a great boat it was when along came the owners. Turns out they’re permanent live-aboards from Australia, recently arrived from the Netherlands to winter over in Paris.

But for me, it wasn’t the boats that caught my interest, but the gardens along the basin. This included a row of what I think were crab apple trees. My admiration of these led to a conversation (in French) with a boat owner about how beautiful the trees were in spring with their blossom and how the ‘miniscule pommes’ were edible. I believe he said they made a tasty tart, but I may well have that wrong.

We finished the day by having an apero with M. and her friend A. (a pastis for me, love that aniseed flavour), and the opportunity to speak a little French – a most enjoyable end to what’s been a relaxed and relaxing day.

Quiet Monday

Paris, October 8, 2012

We spent the day doing nothing much at all. Slept in, after our late arrival home last night. Who would’ve thought that sitting on a train could be so tiring! Or that one sometimes needs a holiday from being on holiday!

It’s been raining all day today but even so, not particularly cold. I did buy an umbrella; my rain jacket is ok but isn’t particularly nice to wear when it’s wet, which sort of defeats the purpose. So we now have a black umbrella each. I bet neither of them would last long in Wellington.

Interestingly, although it was overcast and drizzly in Brest, it wasn’t windy as I’d expected. L-from-French was pleasantly surprised, I think, to find that what the locals called windy would be considered nothing more than a breeze in Wellington. From our short visit, it certainly seemed more an umbrella than a raincoat sort of place, which bodes well for her. None of those tell-tale inside-out-brollies in rubbish bins you see so often in Wellington.

We did venture out later this afternoon for a walk, this time in the fourth, the Marais. Lots of interesting little streets and boutiques, very picturesque. We stopped at the very popular Le Loir Dans la Théière (not pictured!) for afternoon tea. This salon de thé is named after the dormouse in Alice in Wonderland (or so Wikipedia informs me). I had the house specialty of lemon meringue pie. Delicious, but a gigantic piece that defeated even me, with my sweet tooth. The walk there and back shook the cobwebs out, and hopefully means I’ll sleep tonight.

In the absence of anything vaguely interesting to report – I’m guessing you’re not so interested in how we ruined some of our meagre supply of clothing today by using a washing powder with too many bleachy hungry enzymes in it – I’ll sign off and get on with some TV watching. Navman is already in the land of Zeds.

New kid on the block

Paris, October 8, 2012

Dear G and J

Amazing, absolutely amazing. We travelled all the way to Brest and there, sitting on the ground, outside a circus that was closed for the winter, was an unemployed, curly-haired, floppy-eared dog, much like Chloe, looking wistful. Turns out his name’s Lope-along Cassidy, or Loppy for short.

Loppy needs a new gig for the winter months. He was also getting a bit tired of his circus job because the knife-thrower had failing eyesight and Loppy had difficulty putting plasters on his rump (no thumbs). How could I refuse to take Loppy, particularly, and if you look at the picture carefully you will see them, he was wearing an Alice band with frog eyes. We thought Loppy may be very useful.

I asked him to give me a quick demonstration of his singing voice (I have a very cunning plan). Loppy does a lyrical howl with the occasional bark of a seal. Jan and I nodded to each other and with huge smiles all round, Loppy hopped in my backpack and came home with us to Paris.

I’ve included a photo of Loppy’s favourite spot for having a sleep at the apartment. As you can see, Loppy was not there when I took the picture. He was out in the kitchen practising his somersault technique – a bit difficult given there is no room to swing a cat let alone somersault a dog.

We really hope we can get the whole four together and help them re-launch Le Chippolaaaaaatas.


© Lewis Rivers 2012

Brest and back

Brest–Paris train

Sunday October 7, 2012

We’re travelling back from Brest to Paris, after spending the night in a great value hotel in Brest – the Abalys: cheap (€37 for the two of us), clean, comfortable, and with particularly welcoming and helpful staff. This included giving the mariner-cook a poster he admired of an exhibition of modern marine paintings. The hotel came highly rated on, and it certainly lived up to its billing.

Highlight? Just hanging out with L-from-French, of course – coffee, macaroons, nattering . . .

In the afternoon, we visited the maritime museum. This is more than a museum, it’s a tour of the whole Chateau Brest, with all its nooks, crannies and towers. We walked up stairs, down stairs, along ramparts and back, into a tower, outside a tower, into other towers and out, up, down and roundabout. A lot of walking outside, never mind the rain.

Big L pronounced it a ‘stand and look at’ museum, rather than an interactive one (seemed pretty interactive to me, with all that walking, and my knees agreed), but ‘a damn good one’ with a stunning setting, many good models, and some exceptional art work. Smaller L was the history buff, reading about the building – which, she tells me, started life as a Roman fort and was added to over the years by the English and French. It is certainly impressive.

Apart from the chateau itself, the best bit for me – and this surprises me, being, as I am, something of a non-nautical type – was the exhibition ‘Portraits de Bateaux’, which included ‘portraits’ of merchant vessels and a variety of other works (finely detailed blueprint-type drawings of vessels, sketches, water colours) by Breton artist Henry Kérisit.

Both Lew and I liked Brest. Not a lot of tourists, but a great harbour and marina, (so I’m told; I didn’t get down to see). Lew  says there’s some interesting boats, one of which is a ‘wrong-way round the world’ racing yacht (the fleet of these called in at Wellington in the late 90s). Then there was, on top of a container at the back of a shed, the mini-Transat yacht (18-feet long, raced solo across oceans). Also a high naval presence (naval sail training vessels pictured) and a couple of old-type sailing boats, including square-rigged.

Like all French towns and cities, Brest does the public garden bits very well, and it has some great sculptures. There was one garden I glimpsed just at the end that looked interesting. No time to see it, but the smaller L has promised to check it out for me.

Then it was time to catch the train(s) home. Great weekend, sad to leave.

Choucroute charcuterie

Brest, October 6, 2012

Well here we are in Brest. I thought I wouldn’t be able to blog tonight, no Wifi. But no, here we are in our hostel accommodation, with Wifi. And who should be sitting opposite me at the table? No not Mr Ed, but L-from-French, typing furiously because she has a bit more time to write emails here than is afforded by a quick visit to MacDos after supermarket shopping.

We arrived in Brest at just after four, very long day on the train, but enjoyable. The trains are so good. Very warm welcome at the station! We sussed out some accommodation, and then sussed out L’s apartment. Very spacious after our doll’s house, I nearly got lost. Then dinner out, from which we’ve just returned.

Murray, you would’ve been proud of Mister Ed and L because they opted for the choucroute charcuterie. Mister Ed was stunned and amazed at how many helpings L managed. I was stunned and amazed at the amount they both packed away – as our waitress said when she brought the dish, it was enough for two or five. I had pasta, are we surprised? Well at least it wasn’t goat’s cheese salad.

L says hi team, she’s missing you all, and hoping that you’re working hard on your pronunciation.  I believe that, in addition to working hard herself (she started teaching last Monday), she’s also indulged in a bit of retail therapy. I’ll leave her to fill you in on the details, but I understand it has involved a jacket, boots, a top … but of course she did have a few days without her luggage.  I indulged in some minor retail therapy myself (with help from guess who) in the form of a French language game called Dobble. So, team French, be scared.

Tomorrow we see the (marine) sights of Brest with our new tour guide.