A Travellerspoint blog

LA CÔTE ATLANTIQUE

On a sunny day we headed down to the coast, about 1½ hours away from La Maison. The skies were clear and full of plane trails.
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We passed through Chantonnay and around Roche-sur-Yon down to the seaside town of Sables d’Ollone. We walked along the harbour quay, passing dozens of tempting restaurants and cafes, along to the magnificent beach, where several people were swimming.
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We then meandered back through the pedestrianised shopping area, but all the shops were closed as it was lunch-time [David reckons it's the best time to take Sandi shopping!] We happened upon this charming little street with shells decorating all the walls.
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By now we had worked up an appetite, so searched until we found the most appealing menu. We had a scrumptious lunch of langoustines, seafood paella, poisson et coquillages facon bouillabaise, duo de pot de creme and Baba au rhum.....delicious!
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Then we drove back home the long way, via Luçon and Fonteney-le-Comte.

One morning we found Max lying on the sofa looking very poorly. He had a dead mouse next to him, which he had not eaten, which was unusual! Over the course of the day he seemed very lethargic and refused to eat. We eventually decided to take him to the vet as we thought that perhaps the mouse was poisoned. It was also a possibility that he had had a severe fright, or a narrow escape from dogs or a car, as his fur was matted in places. As soon as we produced the cat box he perked up, so we decided to watch him overnight. He started drinking some milk and later some food, and spent the night recuperating in this old pram in our bedroom. By morning he seemed back to his usual self.
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We had heard that the market in La Rochelle was even better than the one in Fonteney-le-Comte, but we had to wait for 2 weeks before the weather cleared with the promise of a sunny day. We set off in thick mist in faith that it would clear, which it did. It took about 1 ½ hours to get there, but once there we enjoyed browsing the large outdoor market as well as the indoor stalls.
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We wandered through the old centre of town to the old harbour and the quay-side, where we enjoyed a good plat du jour in the sunshine.
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The old city gate and clock on the quay.
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In the town centre, the shops are protected by ancient stone collonnades, to keep the shoppers dry.
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Just look at the temptations the Patissier puts in his window!
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On the way back to the car park we came across this beautiful carousel.
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Later we tried to drive over the connecting bridge to the island of Ile de Re but turned back when we saw the toll was €9, and since we've already paid out a small fortune for French tolls, with more to come, we decided to capture the experience digitally!
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Posted by davidsandi 03:03 Archived in France Comments (0)

EXPLORING VENDÉE

The Vendée countryside is very pretty with expansive, finely ploughed agricultural lands, trees displaying all the shades of autumn, and lots of sturdy cows.
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The country lanes are very quiet and even the villages seem to be hibernating. The houses are functional and floral gardens are almost non-existent; certainly nothing like the beautiful colour-filled gardens of the English. There seem to be quite a large number of retired English folk living in the area, and we have met some of the neighbours. One of them, Jane, explained the possible origin of the many large crucifixes to be seen dotted all over. Apparently, they were erected about 50 years ago to commemorate successful missions to convert the heathen in foreign continents.
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We were puzzled by these parasitic bundles growing in many of the trees, and were later enlightened that this is Mistletoe!
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The town of La Chataigneraie [la chataigne is a chestnut] is about 14km away with this grand example of a French chateau on the way.
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It has a superb supermarket, Super U, with the most mind-boggling selection of cheeses, regional wines, patès, chocolates, baguettes etc, and other foods that we hadn’t even dreamed of! Cheeses, thick cream [crème fraiche epaisse] and wines are cheap even by SA standards, but fresh fruits and roast chickens are expensive. Apparently there are over 1000 types of cheese made in France [including an array of goat and sheep cheeses, which makes David very happy!]
The mini trolley is definitely not big enough for what we want to buy!
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Celery this big makes Sandi very happy!
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On our first Sunday we went to the nearby village of Bazoges-en-Pareds. Pareds comes from the Latin for "land of grassy valleys". The history of the village goes back 6000 years! We visited the Dongon, which is a medieval castle built in 1380. With spartan rooms on 4 floors and a outside parapet around the top, it is more like a fortified tower than a residence.
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The view of the village from the open parapet.
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The adjacent castle garden has been reconstructed along medieval lines, and is divided into 16 squares, each bordered by chestnut hedges. The squares are divided into areas for vegetables, medicinal plants, aromatic plants, and plants used in witchcraft. To the right one can see the round dove-cote.
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Beautiful, but toxic Aconite flowers.
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On the side there is an orchard [where we scrumped a few windfall apples and pears] and a large round dove-cote. It was built in 1524 and owned by the Lord of Bazoges, as only noblemen were allowed to own a dovecote. Every pigeon hole represents ½ a hectare of cultivated land owned by the Lord. When he sold off some land he had to block off the required number of nests.
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One Saturday we went to the street market in Fontenay-le-Comte, which is a little town about 30 minutes away. The market was both outdoors and indoors and full of bustle and atmosphere. A big clothing section as well as foods; cheeses, olives, patès, honey, fish and shellfish.
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One day, while shopping in Chantonnay, David decided to have his hair cut [Sandi's attempts at hair-cutting not being quite up to par!] The hairdresser was happy to accommodate him without a rendezvous, but he got tongue-tied trying to explain, in his best French, how he wanted his hair cut. She hauled out a catalogue of young, dashing men modelling different hair styles, which made it even more difficult! Anyway she got on with it, gabbling in French, which was hard to keep up with while sounding intelligent, and the outcome was a little shorter than intended!
Decorative cabbages, which Sandi loves, in the streets of Chantonnay.
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The nearby village of Mouilleron-en-Pareds is proud of its good patisserie and of being the birthplace of Georges Clemenceau. The streets were full of lovely autumn colours.
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We took a frosty walk up on the hill to look at the old windmills [which give the village its name] and the views over the countryside.
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One of the mills now contains a tiny, round chapel!
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After several days of rain we found two crops of mushrooms growing in the garden.
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They looked like the brown mushrooms we buy in the shops, but to be sure David took one to the pharmacie to be identified. Unfortunately the young pharmacist didn’t really know, and wasn’t prepared to say whether we could eat them or not. One of the English neighbours, David, said he would eat them, so we decided to have some for supper. They were delicious, but Sandi stayed awake most of the whole night, just to make sure we didn't stop breathing. A few days later we took some of the second crop to another pharmacy in Chantonnay, and the older pharmacist had no hesitation in giving us the OK. So we picked the whole crop with glee!
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On another sunny day [there have been only three in two weeks!] we drove to the little village of Vouvant; reputedly one of the most beautiful villages in France. It is an old village on a hill surrounded on three sides by the river Mere.
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The Melusine tower forms part of the old ramparts.
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The Church of Notre Dame has a high ceiling, but is without much adornment, except for the Norman carvings around the door.
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From there we went for a walk in the Forest of Mervent-Vouvant and saw plenty of holly, some plants even sporting a few bright red berries on the tallest branches. We couldn't resist bringing a few sprigs back to grace the kitchen table. The forest was originally owned by the lords of Mervent, then in 1674 became the Royal Forest; it is now a national park.
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Posted by davidsandi 08:30 Archived in France Comments (0)

LA MAISON "House-and-Cat-Sit", VENDÉE

We spent 2 days travelling from Morges to Vendée and finally arrived at our French house-sit in the Vendee at 18:00, after stopping overnight at Bourges in the only campsite that is still open at this time of year. After checking in, the van suddenly refused to start, because we had been charging the leisure battery all the way, and the van battery had run flat. Our spirits sank, as we hadn't even got through the booms yet! So there we were - so near to our pitch, and yet so far. David hauled out the leisure battery and tried to boost with it, but eventually, in desperation David called the RAC for assistance. By dint of luck, prayer and invocations of all sorts, Mr Stubby started again, after a 30 minute rest, and David could cancel the call-out. We were so relieved that we treated ourselves to a superb meal at a French restaurant we came across, after wandering through the old part of town.
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We also had a look at their superb Gothic cathedral, St Etienne; it must have the tallest nave we have ever seen, very stream-lined with no frilly bits, but quite breath-taking!
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This old clock and astrological time-keeper has been going for hundreds of years.
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The cathedral also looked stunning at night
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This time "Molly" our temperamental satnav managed to steer us clear of the toll roads, but retaliated by sending us across some tiny country roads. Due to this confusion, and the extra mileage clocked up, we suddenly realised, with trepidation, that our fuel situation was lower than anticipated. The next village had no garage and nor did the next. The next one had tennis courts, so surely they would have fuel? Nothing! By now we were really below empty, so David asked for guidance in his best French, only to be told that the nearest fuel was another 15km away. With no alternative and the imminent prospect of running out on a deserted country road we set off. After a very long and stress-filled 15km, and many prayers, we at last found fuel, and the van sucked in 5 litres more than its capacity! Whew!!

With the unexpected delays, we finally reached our destination, as darkness was falling, and a rather concerned looking fellow came out to greet us. The British couple, who were the in-situ-sitters for the month before we arrived, gave us the hand-over rundown, and we finally met our three furry charges - face-to-face. We felt we knew them well already though, from photos and parental communications during the arrangement period.

Our first thoughts on seeing the place were: Wow, this is to be our house-sit for the next 7 weeks, and what a fabulous place it is! The approach is down a long, rough driveway through the fields, which opens out into a wide gravel area, surrounded on 4 sides by a very old French farmhouse with barns, cellars and 3 gites [holiday apartments].
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The view of the house from the side
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Ducking through the front arch, [in fact David has to duck through all the doorways!] one finds oneself standing on the entrance floor of undulating, large white flagstones. The white plaster on the walls is crumbling in many places, and patched up in others. At the entrance to the main house, where the plaster is still intact there are marvelous painted murals on both sides, which could date back to 12-15th century. Although faded, they are still distinct, making one wonder what stories are attached to their history.
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Remnants of trompe l’oeil brickwork are seen in the recesses where the plaster has not yet crumbled. Next, one’s eye is drawn to the stone stairway leading upstairs, which is so foot-worn that one has to balance on each step! In fact, one's sense of balance becomes dodgy, especially when coming down the steps.
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Note the hole halfway up the stairs: it provides a clear view of the front door from the toilet under the stairs, apparently through which invaders could be shot in days gone by!
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The sitting-room [salon] upstairs and the bedrooms all have thick, gnarled, wooden beams, sagging under the weight of the terracotta tiled roof, with small dormer windows pushing bravely through. Plenty of opportunities here to knock oneself out! Which both of us managed to do, with great pain!
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The stone walls are mostly about 1m thick, and one corner room has narrow slits [now little windows] through which the farmhouse could be defended if under attack.
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The many rooms and attics are an Aladdin's Cave of books, old furniture, bric-a-brac, memorabilia, and antiquities - including this full-size suit of chain-mail standing in the corner of the back-kitchen. Quite creepy to some, no doubt, but highly amusing. Fortunately the spirits wandering about are all very benevolent - so we weren't spooked in any real way!
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The TV show "Cash in the Attic" would have a lucrative field day here!

We spend most of our time in the enormous farm kitchen, which boasts a wood-burning stove-oven that is used both for cooking and heating the room [although there is central heating too]. The aromas and sounds of wood and bubbling food pots, rain on the windows and flagstones, along with the comforting vision of the three cats [Claudette, Max and Minnie] snuggling down on the comfy kitchen sofa beside the stove, make for an idyllic experience.
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The “snug” is a tiny room, which also has a wood stove and has Sky TV [limited channels though] projected enormously onto the wall for viewing pleasure. After being TV-free for so long it's fun to watch again, especially since there's a new season of Strictly come Dancing and the X-Factor on at present. The three gites and the swimming pool are all locked up and “winterised” until the summer returns.

There is a herd of white charolais cows grazing lazily outside the windows on most days, dubbed Les Blondes by Sandi
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and the chestnut and walnut trees have finished dropping their crop, which lays out like a picnic blanket below.
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The pears and apples are still dropping their fruits; unfortunately the pears don’t taste as good as they look, but the apples have been divine just baked with raisins and cinnamon in the wood-stove, or enjoyed as traditional tartes au pommes, which Sandi has been producing with gay abandon.
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We didn’t dare to taste these exotic looking mushrooms, which were later identified as Magpie inkcaps and toxic!
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At night, under a clear, star-speckled sky, everything is still, except for the occasional hoot of an owl, a far-off bark or two, the occasional moo from one of the bovine girls, and the purring of cat "engines" - but also very often we're serenaded by the elements, as the wind howls, a shutter bangs, and the incessant rain drums diverse rhythms on the rooftop and skylight, as we snuggle under the duvet. From our bedroom window we occasionally witness a spectacular sunrise!
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On Sundays the calm is interrupted with sporadic gunshots as the farmers go hunting.

Of the three cats that we are looking after, Claudette, the mother, is quite shy and took about 3 days before she came in to feed in our presence. But she's warming up to us rapidly.
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Max and Minnie, her adorable children, are very friendly and happy to sleep on our bed at night, or one’s lap when trying to write on the laptop [and frequently they squat right on the keyboard when our backs are turned - with crazy results at times - deleted files, screaming screen etc!],
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or settle on the "stylish" pink velour seats of the van in the hope of going on an adventure!
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Minnie is usually the naughty one and will sometimes tear around the salon and hide under the chair-throws upstairs, or scarper in behind the lining of the kitchen sofa, taunting her brother with her fabric-draped, writhing antics. She doesn't usually like being picked up, but will allow Sandi to cuddle her on occasion.
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Max, gorgeous, indolent and abundant lad that he is, came to supervise the gathering of walnuts, but preferred to curl up in the walnut basket and take a ride home.
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Their favourite tinned food is lapin [rabbit], along with dried tuna and salmon pellets, which they seem to go through rather quickly, since they ignore other wet and dried food left here for them. So it's frequent trips to the store for more bags of seafood goodies! They're also all most partial to milk, and whatever tidbits are in the offing. You must be able to tell by now that we're besotted with these highly individual purr-factories.

Although we have had some sunny, clear days, the weather has been mostly grisly and cold with plenty of rain. In fact, the rain that started on our arrival, broke the dry spell since April. This is immaterial to us as we have plenty of work to do on the computer, and otherwise, as well as also needing the time to catch up the backlog of this travel blog. It's great being able to read in bed for several hours, and enjoy a patisserie with our morning tea - such a lazy treat. We have developed a dangerous taste for Pains chocolats au amandes!
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Daily there is kindling to be chopped for the fires, food to prepare on the wood-stove and DVDs or TV to watch in the evenings [in between spells of other work-related activities]. Life doesn’t get much better or slower than this!

Sandi has surpassed herself by conjuring up the most delicious meals in the big, yellow-painted kitchen. Much of it is done on, or in, the wood stove/oven, but even with regular stoking it does not reach a very high temperature, so everything slow cooks, which seems to enhance the flavours! We have had Swiss fondue, raclette, tartiflette, roast duck in orange, minestrone, prawns in garlic butter, Hollandse biefstuk, tartes au pommes, au abricots, au pruneaus, au poivres et chocolat, etc.
Raclette and bubbly for lunch....can one be more Continental?
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Tarte au pruneau [plums]
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With her hair pinned up and wearing an apron in the yellow farm kitchen, it brings back fond memories of long-ago days, on the small-holding in Sunvalley where we lived 30 years ago, where Sandi spent many hours revelling in her culinary skills.

Posted by davidsandi 08:20 Archived in France Comments (0)

GRUYERES ET BERNE, SUISSE

On Thursday David connected up the battery and we took off on a day trip to Gruyere, on our own. Beautiful scenery all the way and an interesting cheese-making demo and exhibition at the Gruyere cheese factory.
The automated cheese-turning machine turns and salts thousands of cheeses daily

The automated cheese-turning machine turns and salts thousands of cheeses daily


Separating the whey

Separating the whey


Sandi was fascinated by this automated self-cleaning toilet seat at the cheese factory

Sandi was fascinated by this automated self-cleaning toilet seat at the cheese factory


The loo flushes within seconds of getting off it, the seat spins around, getting spritzed and wiped along the way, and all it doesn't do is wipe one's nether bits!!
Off course we had to have an obligatory Gruyere cheese fondue in the fromagerie restaurant before heading up to the village of Gruyere itself – in the freezing cold wind and 3degC temperature.
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After that we took the long route home, via Chateau d’Oeux and the Col de Mosses Pass, climbing high into the mountains, with frost on the grass verges of the road, and snow capping the mountain peaks.
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Several family members were aghast at our prospects of driving the van up snow-covered or icy passes without winter tyres or at least snow chains. So our project on Friday was to acquire some chains; either to rent or buy second-hand. These proved not to be viable options so we bought some new ones at Jumbo superstore for only €35. David decided he needed to try them on, as this was a totally new gadget for him, and to struggle under freezing conditions with frost-bitten fingers on a high mountain pass in a blizzard, was not a pleasant thought. One is supposed to slip them behind the wheel without jacking the car up, but because the rear wheels are twinned, they would not slip between the wheels, so David had to jack the van up, and presto! no matter how he and Marc wriggled and pulled they would not fit. He eventually decided they were too small and had to exchange them for bigger ones which fit easily. So now equipped with snow chains, and the compulsory luminous jacket, tow-rope, warning triangles and fire extinguisher we are ready to tackle any mountain pass!

Friday evening Loise and Laurent invited us to a movie and pizza in Lausanne. The pizza and the beer [brewed on site] were good, and not too expensive, but the same didn't apply to the movie. [A movie ticket costs SFr18 which = R126!] This little excursion added to the deepening dent in our poor old budget!

On Saturday uncle Christian invited us all to dine with him at his regular restaurant, where he lunches 3x a week with several other well-to-do retirees. As we were enjoying our desserts, cousin Jean-Marc arrived on his Harley Davidson from Geneva, to chat.
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Daniel and Liz drove us out to Berne on Sunday. We had wonderful panoramic views of the old city from the Rose Garden,
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before descending to one of the bridges over the Aare river to join the crowd looking at the new bear cubs from Russia, which are in a newly created garden next to the river. We wandered up the main street admiring several fountains, the sheltered colonnades, and waited for the town clock to strike three. The figurines have performed their routines daily for hundreds of years!
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We were then treated to a yummy traditional lunch of bratwurst, potato rösti and apple strűdel.
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We stopped in front of the Bundeshaus, the seat of the Swiss Federal Parliament
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before wandering around the old part of town.
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The doctors trying to emulate the entwined serpents of a fine caduseus, spotted on a nearby wall.
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The Munster St Vincent is a Gothic church dating back to 1421.
IMG_0744.jpgThe famous Tympanum ceiling in the foyer

The famous Tympanum ceiling in the foyer


Mermaid being throttled by the gargoyle!

Mermaid being throttled by the gargoyle!


IMG_0753.jpgThese interesting fellas belonged to the Guild of roof artisans

These interesting fellas belonged to the Guild of roof artisans

On our return, Daniel's kids joined us and we all had supper together.
Phillippe, Sandi, Daniel and Alexandra

Phillippe, Sandi, Daniel and Alexandra


David and Stephanie

David and Stephanie


Liz and David

Liz and David


Phillippe, Stephanie and Alexandra

Phillippe, Stephanie and Alexandra


The family, especially Marc and Jocelyne, have been incredibly loving and kind during our 10-day stay, and we feel enormously blessed by their nurturing.

Posted by davidsandi 10:16 Archived in Switzerland Comments (0)

MORGES ET ENVIRONS, SUISSE

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We arrived in Morges, Switzerland, to stay with family, Marc and Jocelyne Wanner [David's uncle and aunt], at about 7pm – after a long trip on the Autoroute from Paris. We programmed Molly [our GPS] to avoid the toll roads, but after a detour through Fontaineblue she steered us back onto the autoroute and we ended up with another €35 toll GRRR!!!!!!
We stopped in an aire for lunch of baguette, wine [Sandi only, not driver Dave], and pomegranate.
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Sandi's passion for pomegranate remains rampant.
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The countryside was fairly flat, with occasional chateaus.
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Armed with some "pad kos" we crossed the Jura range of mountains, which was displaying all the autumnal colours and flurries of falling leaves. Wonderful Jocelyne had a great supper waiting for us and we flopped into bed early-ish, to sleep the sleep of the road-weary travellers.

The Swiss weather was pretty warm for the first few days and David was quite happy in slops and shorts. On Thursday we basically loitered indoors for the morning, to catch our breath, then popped in to visit tante Henriette for tea, and back home for yet another scrummy dinner.
A clear view of Mont Blanc from the balcony

A clear view of Mont Blanc from the balcony


Jocelyne and Marc feed and wine us so well we’re going to be many kilos heavier by the time we leave! At this point we had best explain that lunches and dinners are not events that just fill the tummy. They are social and gourmet events, usually interspersed with consultations with the French and English dictionary, as we all play at wordsmithing!! Often there is a starter, like grapefruit, or special cured meats, followed by a cooked meal of fish, meat or chicken with several veg, and often salad too – plus wine twice a day. Then there is dessert – 4 choices of ice cream or home-made chocolate and/or raspberry mousse [so far] and biscuits, then fresh fruit, peanuts, then coffee and Swiss chocolates!! Sandi manages to pace herself, but David simply cannot say “No” [surprise, surprise]! We’ve worked out that we spend 4-4 ½ hours at table each day [breakfast 1hr+, lunch 1 ½ hrs, dinner 1 ½ -2 hours]!! We find we are exhausted at night, because of all the fine French we try to absorb, as well as the heat. The flat is very warm +- 25 deg C [so we keep popping onto the balcony for a welcome breather, where the temp is at least 15 deg colder], and keep our bedroom window open all day and night to cool the room.

We were invited to dinner at Liz and Daniel [David's cousin] on Friday evening. Liz is from New Zealand, and the whole family – papa Daniel, and 3 gorgeous kids; Alexandra [in matric], Stephanie and Philippe [both studying Economics at Uni] - can speak English, so chatting was not a strain. Trying to understand the nuances, and contribute to French conversation, when there are more than 2 people chatting, can be quite taxing! After a delicious meal, Liz produced a regional speciality for dessert, just to finished us off. tarte au resin.

On Saturday we strolled along the lake, Lac Leman, under clear skies and sunshine, enjoying the last of the dahlias planted in profusion along the promenade. Of course Sandi took a zillion shots with the new camera.
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We came across a tree full of these strange fruits.
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We even found some highly fragrant musk roses, which instantly brought back visual and olfactory memories of the glorious Bulgarian Rosa damascena.
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The hedges full of bright berries were another favourite.
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Then another dinner at the flat that night, with Francois [Marc & Jocelyne’s younger son]and Marion, his partner. They were invited for Sunday night, but surprised us all by arriving 24 hours too early!
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On Sunday – brunch with the Wagnieres – Loise, Laurent and baby Ellia, and the parents, cousin Eric and Corinne. A divine coffee-shop experience in the village of Echallons [Maison de Ble et de Pain], where everything is locally produced and one can watch the bakers doing their thing while eating scrumptious yoghurt, viande seche, cheeses, patisserie, breads, jams and bottomless cups of coffee, tea and/or hot chocolate, with tarte au crème to finish.
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After that we took a trip up Mt Pelerin to a special viewpoint to see a panoramic view of the region, walking up through a forest to a lift station, which takes one up to the top of a tower overlooking sheer beauty.
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Vineyards along the lake
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Then a short visit to Loise and Laurent’s home in a lovely rural village called Apples, before heading back to Morges for more food!
Loise and Laurent's beautiful daughter, Ellia

Loise and Laurent's beautiful daughter, Ellia


By Monday the weather suddenly changed and the daily temperatures dropped by 10 deg. We took a rainy and misty trip up into the Jura mountains for a cheese fondue of note at the Maison Dent de Vaullions, before a quick visit to Marc and Jocelyne’s dear little chalet next to the Lac du Joux.
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We even spotted an original bricelet machine hanging from the rafters!
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We took off on our own the next day, which was clear and sunny, but frosty, with the help of a Mobilite public transport ticket, to visit Lausanne and Ouchy.
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We took a quick walk down to the Morges market in icy cold weather and bought some sunflowers and walnuts for M&J.
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We were amazed to see a sign board outside a shop, advertising some hearing aid or other, with our dear friend, the lovely Dalene Morriss’, picture on it! Wow, her model shots have appeared all over the world!
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We walked back for another family lunch, this time with uncle Christian and his cousin Christiane.
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David accompanied M & J for the afternoon, while Sandi stayed in the apartment to complete some Council work which had a deadline, while Christiane was given a lift back to her 4 storey home in central Lausanne. She has an elevator in the house to take her to the top floor of the house where she lives. There are 3 apartments on the other floors, which she rents out to tenants. The afternoon proceeded with a visit to tante Marie, in a nearby old-age home,
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followed by a 5pm painting exhibition where Marion had some paintings for sale. The snacks were very colourful, including this pain surprise which is a hollowed-out loaf, made into sandwiches, which are then stacked back inside.
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On our return the amazing Jocelyne effortlessly whipped up yet another great meal, in time for a 7.30pm dinner-date with Anne-Christine [Marie’s spinster daughter].
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Posted by davidsandi 10:15 Archived in Switzerland Comments (0)

VERSAILLES

rain

The Palace of Versailles, even in the low season and on a miserable day, is a busy place. We joined a very long queue, in the rain, to get entrance tickets, then jostled our way through the crowds to see the sights of the palace.
The roof of the  Royal family chapel

The roof of the Royal family chapel

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View of the gardens from the first floor

View of the gardens from the first floor


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The famous Hall of Mirrors

The famous Hall of Mirrors

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Front facade of the Palace

Front facade of the Palace


The King's bed

The King's bed


Marie-Antoinette's bed

Marie-Antoinette's bed


Here is a selection of some of the murals, paintings and chandeliers in the many rooms.
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Napoleon Bonaparte


A long hall with paintings depicting all the famous French battles.
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Descartes

Napoleon

Napoleon


The Palace from the front

The Palace from the front

The Palace from the gardens

The Palace from the gardens


Splendid as it all is, both the crowds, and the opulence, eventually become a bit overwhelming, and we gladly decided to call it a day. Enough is as good as a holiday, or so the maxim goes!

Posted by davidsandi 08:32 Archived in France Comments (0)

LA FRANCE ET VOILA PARIS!

overcast

We had pre-booked a ferry crossing via the Camping and Caravanning Club for Sunday at 12:15. We arrived at the Dover terminal in good time, and found the check-in very efficient and speedy. We were allocated to queue in lane 172 until boarding, which also happened surprisingly quickly. After driving on board, we found a table on the restaurant deck and shared a plate of roast chicken and chips and a slice of chocolate cake, washed down with our can of smuggled-in Stella, as we bade farewell to the white cliffs of Dover. They are truly white from a distance, but close-up they look quite grubby! The trip over took 90 minutes, but we had to add an hour onto our watches when we arrived.
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Driving off the ferry we soon joined the autoroute; a new experience for David to be driving on the “wrong” side of the road! The signs soon indicated it was a toll road [peage], but gave no idea of how much it might cost. We went through a gate where we picked up a ticket, which we eventually had to hand in at the exit gate 250km later. We were stunned to be charged €35 [R400]! The road was good and we enjoyed the drive, stopping off for a pique-nique lunch on the side of the road at one of the frequent, excellent rest-stops [aires].

The fun and games started when we hit Paris, as firstly the traffic became insane. Thousands of cars and people, and we didn’t know why! The road to the campsite was cordoned off and the police refused to let us go past and refused to explain. Very stressful for a while. Anyway, we parked off-road and Dave hopped out to go and find out what was going on [in his best French]. Turns out there was a HUGE Grand Prix event at a stadium, which flanked the road we needed to reach the campsite. The road was eventually opened and we could go through, but arrived at the campsite in the dark, much later than anticipated. So it was hook-up, eat-up, and sleep!

We spent 2 days in the campsite in the Bois de Boulogne [which is the area famous for prostitutes!], but our site was hooker-free [but unfortunately nor hook-up free]! The toilets were so dirty compared to the UK ones [one generally has to squat and most people seem to miss!] and we paid twice the price for the site [€30], but we were camped beside the Seine after all!

The weather in Paris was wet and grey, but that didn’t stop us exploring the city with our Mobilis cards, which gave us unlimited travel. Only problem was that we were unaware of the crazy opening times for many of the tourist sites. So off we went on Monday morning to visit the Rodin Museum, only to find it is closed on a Monday! The restaurant where we enjoyed a romantic [shared] omelette and glass of wine in 1979, as a newly-engaged couple, was still there though. We were tempted to go for a deja vu repeat experience, but opted instead to head for the Champs-Élysées, la Madeleine, the Tuileries gardens and the Louvre Art Gallery.

Our first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower through the mist

Our first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower through the mist


Hotel des Invalides, which houses the army museum

Hotel des Invalides, which houses the army museum


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We were fascinated with the statues and lamps on the nearby Pont de Alexandre III.
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On the other side of the river we found this statue of the familiar and famous [but not French] statesman.
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Here is the Petit Palais and across the road, the Grand Palais.
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Fabulous buildings and statues, but no access indoors anywhere. We walked up the Champs-Élysées to the Place de la Concorde.
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This was the site of the execution of Marie-Antoinette, and previously called Place de Louis XV, then Place de la Revolution.
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The red-granite obelisk in the centre was a gift from Egypt and used to stand in front of the Temple of Luxor 3300 years ago. It weighs 250 tons and proved quite a technical challenge to transport 180 years ago.
IMG_0369.jpgIMG_0358.jpgThe description on the obelisk of how it was transported

The description on the obelisk of how it was transported


The nearby two matching fountains represent the Seas and the Rivers.
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The Tuileries Gardens were very sparse in winter.
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Sometimes one is the statue, sometimes one is the pigeon!

Sometimes one is the statue, sometimes one is the pigeon!


Some thoughtful authority had decided to jolly the drabness up with some modern sculptures.
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We unfortunately didn't get to see inside the Louvre because we arrived there an hour before it closed, and we couldn’t justify the entry fee for only 1 hour …… and alas, they were also closed on Tuesdays!! We had no internet connection at the camp-site so had relied on the old copy of The Lonely Planet guidebook Jamie had given us, which was out of date regarding opening times etc.

Not to be daunted, we set off for Montmartre to visit the Sacre Coeur church, which was splendid, and enjoyed listening to a beautiful service of music and song, delivered by 6 nuns with heavenly voices.
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We then explored the area, which was great fun, with Sandi finding a really cute little ooh-lal-la purple plaid cap, which has been great for keeping the cold off the noggin ever since!!
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After that we had a Moulles et Frites supper at a sidewalk café before heading back to the camp-site to rest our aching limbs. On the way we had a spectacular view of a silvery full-moon over Paris from Sacre Coeur, but unfortunately our camera battery went flat, so we missed the photo opportunity!

We found out Versailles was open on a Tuesday [but not a Monday] so headed there for the morning. [See next posting for photos.] What an astonishing place – all gold, crystal, and historical splendour. Hell on the feet though! After spending a few hours there [including an hour queuing], among thousands of tourists, we headed back into the city to the Latin quarter near the Sorbonne. We enjoyed the magnificent fountain of St Michel
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and a brief visit to Notre Dame Cathedral, before doing some window-shopping.
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The quaint streets are full of brasseries, cafes and tourist shops [we didn’t even venture near all the fancy brand-name stores]. By then we were whacked, so stopped off for a beer at a side-walk café; it was fun to watch all the people going by and guessing what they were up to.
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The restaurants were all offering special “menus” for supper, many displaying brochettes [kebabs] with sea-foods in their windows.
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So we succumbed and each had a delicious meat brochette in a cute little Greek café after the guy enticing patrons in, offered us a reduced price of €10. After watching some street break-dancing, it was au revoir to Paris as we descended to the Metro to get back to the campsite for some sleep and prep for an early morning departure to Switzerland.
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Posted by davidsandi 08:03 Archived in France Comments (0)

CAMPING IN LONDON

The camp-site at Crystal Palace was as nice as the one at Charmouth, with lots of trees, grass and lovely ablution blocks. Although right on a busy road, we were never disturbed by traffic noise. The bus stop was 5 minutes down the road, and the trip into London took about 40-50 minutes by bus and tube. David disconnected the battery of the van, and we each bought an Oyster card and loaded a 7-day Travelcard onto it. For £33 each it gave us the freedom of unlimited travel for the week. Our accommodation cost £110 for the week, so all the essentials were then taken care of.
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On Monday we explored Trafalgar Square area
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and went to the National Gallery [free!] to enjoy the fantastic works of art. Sadly the JM Waterhouse exhibition Sandi was longing to see ended on 13/9, and there wasn’t really any significant Pre-Raphaelite painting in the Gallery. We ate our corned beef bread-rolls at the fountains, having decided to make lunch daily to try to avoid expensive temptations!. We could not believe that all the pigeons [barring a few old renegades] have gone; no doubt chased away by some pest-controlling hawk. We both had happy memories of feeding the pigeons in Trafalgar Square many years ago.
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We walked around Soho for a while and came across this arch with the meaningful inscription.
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China Town is such a buzz [super lekka], with red lanterns adorning the streets and Chinese restaurants +++.
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We stopped to buy a few supplies in one of the little food stores, but basically went in just to look at all the amazing ingredients. Sandi loved it, then back home to Crystal Palace campsite to recover from serious “Disney foot”! [A term coined by the Nye boys when we visited Disneyland yonks ago, and their feet became too tired to continue walking.]

Tuesday was supposed to be partly spent at the Indian market in Ealing, Wembley, but that was a bit of a bomb-out, as we spent hours getting there and wandering up and down the wrong end of the very long Ealing Road. Anyway, it was what it was. We then went off to meet Buz [Dave’s best man], and walked in Regent's Park with him before going back to his flat for dinner.
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It was good to catch up with him, but it was rather late by the time we finally left there, getting back to our little house-on-wheels way after midnight.

Wednesday we finally found the right section of Ealing Road and the fab pukka Indian market, filled with great fresh produce and wonderful herbs and spices [and cheap punjabi suits which Sandi couldn’t resist so bought 3 for the grand total of £17.50 !!] We passed this fabulous Hindi temple under construction in Ealing Road; it looked like an intricately carved sand-castle.
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Then, with rucksack loaded with veg supplies including juicy ginger and fresh turmeric root,
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we made our way back to the city and visited the British Museum [free too], which was so huge it was overwhelming [but very grand] – couldn’t do more than see the ancient Egyptian exhibition, but definitely worth another visit in the future. The fact that the camera battery went flat 5 minutes into the excursion meant we had to capture the rest of the memories with our eyes only.
Seated Sakhmets

Seated Sakhmets


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Then it was a much-anticipated treat of an eat-all-you-can Chinese dinner in China Town, and then the highlight treat of a live show -"We Will Rock You" at the Dominion Theatre thereafter. It was difficult choosing just one show out of the many on offer, but we had missed this one when it was in Cape Town. It was FANTASTIC!! worth every penny of the [half-price] tickets we bought. The live band played Queen's music to perfection, and the actors [singing, OTT acting, and dancing] were totally outstanding. We finally limped home, exhausted but happy, and had to lie in a bit the next day, because we were so whacked!!

In the afternoon we had made an appointment to visit the Haven Centre for breast cancer sufferers in Fulham. The director, Caroline, showed us around the centre; a beautifully appointed, converted and decorated old church building. How we would love funding to set up a clinic of similar style and purpose back home. We'll keep dreaming and manifesting!
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After that we headed back to King’s Cross where we met old pal Jonathan Shopley for a catch-up and supper.

London markets were on the cards for Friday, so we browsed Spittalfield Market, which was very plush, and Petticoat Lane [complete trash on sale there now], then Shepherd’s Bush [now nothing like the memories Sandi had of it when she last visited a few years back when Jamie was living there]. We then headed to Kew Gardens by tube. The open-grounds parts of Kew Gardens were underwhelming [compared to Kirstenbosch gardens], but in fairness, it is probably also the wrong season to visit.
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Sandi was delighted by a huge pine tree sporting little pine cones, like candles on a Christmas tree.
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The old glass house was interesting as it was filled with tropical and medicinal plants.
Bottle palm

Bottle palm


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The lily house had a selection of lovely waterlilies
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Loofah fruit

Loofah fruit


Nepenthes ampullaria

Nepenthes ampullaria


and the modern Princess of Wales House contained a tremendous variety of flora from tiny stone cacti to glorious orchids.
Colchicum autumnalis

Colchicum autumnalis


Swamp Bay Magnolia

Swamp Bay Magnolia


Stone cactus

Stone cactus


Passion flower

Passion flower


Orchid

Orchid


Orchid

Orchid


A most fascinating Day-of-the-Triffids-like plant: Aristolochia grandiflora or pelican flower from the Caribbean

A most fascinating Day-of-the-Triffids-like plant: Aristolochia grandiflora or pelican flower from the Caribbean


Variegated leaves

Variegated leaves


Little robin red breast

Little robin red breast


Underground there were some exotic creatures such as this Green water dragon
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Kew Palace is the smallest palace of the Royal family and is situated in the grounds.
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We got back early-ish (7pm) [1½ hours on public transport - aaaah London!] and Sandi made us a delicious prawn curry supper in the van, inspired by the turmeric root and Indian spices from the Ealing Road marketplace. Kitchen prep area is "pens-en-pootjies" on the bed, as there's no room for us both to stand in the "kitchen" area of the van, so when it comes to the cooking part we either swap places, or one of us has to stand outside! The joys of compact living.
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We decided to take it easy again the next morning, as the wind was howling and we were rather tired of hours and hours on buses, trains and underground. We thought of seeing a movie but decided to meet up with Buz on the South Bank, before wandering up to Covent garden for a leisurely supper at Wagamama. Seems we always end up there when in London, to which Jamie, Lissi, and Greg can attest, as we took them there for meals.
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London was great, but we were exhausted every day, suffering from Disney foot, Kew knee, Brixton toe, and Evangelist ear [black woman screeching the gospel at our regular bus stop in Brixton!]
To us it will always be a vibrant city, filled with wonderful experiences, and with so much to still see and do, we hope to return one day before the Zimmer frames get us.

“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life…
...for there is in London all that life can afford."
- Dr Samuel Johnson, 1777

Posted by davidsandi 01:00 Archived in England Comments (0)

FOSSILS IN DORSET

DORSET AND SOMERSET

We finally got going on Wednesday, and, armed with a geological pick, we headed for the Jurassic coast to hunt down some fossils. We went down a steep, narrow, winding road to look at the coastal village of Beer, and stopped to pick blackberries on the way back. We had to fight our way through spiderwebs though! In spite of her arachnophobia, Sandi ventured up close to take pictures and sample a few irresistible berries.
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Just past Lyme Regis we camped at a very pleasant camp-site above Charmouth for the night. The following morning we drove down to its well-known beach, and found a swan with her brood of teenagers at the river mouth.
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The black clay cliffs which are loaded with fossils

The black clay cliffs which are loaded with fossils


David then proceeded eagerly to cleave open rocks and scratch in the shales below the cliffs for fossils, as happy as any kid bent on destruction-without-censure!
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Alas, we found none, but a kindly gentleman gave us a little pyrite ammonite he had just found in the shallow water.
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The view towards Lyme Regis

The view towards Lyme Regis


Moving further along the coast we had a good vantage point overlooking Chesil Bank, which is a beach of shingles 29km long, joining up with Portland in the distance [from where Portland stone originates]
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We drove up through the vales of Dorset [Thomas Hardy country] and stopped to take photos of the giant on the hillside at Cerne Abbas. No-one knows whether he is 400 or 1500 years old, but his outline is carved into the chalk of the hill, and he has certainly been around for a long time! Cheers to anyone who can keep it up for that long!
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Beautiful autumnal red ivy in the village of Cerne Abbas.
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We felt so welcome on arriving at Ebu and Jeremy again and spent 3 wonderful days eating, walking, and picking blackberries in the hedgerows, with Sandi capturing scores of beautiful pictures, as usual.
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Ebu in her kitchen with fresh vegs from her garden
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Snowberries

Snowberries

Old Man's beard

Old Man's beard


We also picked huge bags of damsons [similar to prunes] from the neighbour’s orchard, which Ebu turned into delicious damson puree for us. Delicious with icecream or thick cream!
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Ebu took us to nearby Lytes Cary manor, but unfortunately it was closed. We did, however have a good walk around the estate.
IMG_0133.jpgSheep eating chestnuts

Sheep eating chestnuts

Hedgerows full of blackberries, but we were surprised to still see blossoms around

Hedgerows full of blackberries, but we were surprised to still see blossoms around


IMG_0141.jpgRed currants

Red currants

Dandelion

Dandelion


We spent a fascinating hour or two in the Terry Pratchett shop in Wincanton, poring over the fantastical souvenirs for sale, chatting to the larger-than-life characters milling around the shop, and getting drawn into the complex mythology. The rotund owner and creator puffs constantly on his pipe while talking, which miraculously never falls out of his mouth. The affable ginger cat we photographed months earlier was still sunning itself in the window!
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Then it was time to head up to London; Ebu and Jeremy couldn't believe we were finally going!
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Posted by davidsandi 03:00 Archived in England Comments (0)

FRUITS OF DEVON

Devon & Somerset

We both flew back to Gatwick airport on 17 Sept via Dubai. We had breakfast at 0300, then stopped for 2 hours at Dubai, taking the opportunity to buy another Canon camera [at 0500!] in the tempting duty free hall We love it! It is much lighter and slimmer than our weighty, but faithful, old PowerShot, and the shutter speed is also much faster. We then had another breakfast at 0700 on the plane, arriving in London at midday. Fortunately we had only 15 minutes to wait for a coach to Heathrow, where we had an hour before our coach to Exeter. While in the bus terminus, a man arrived with a beautiful falcon, which proceeded to fly around the terminus, from point to point, for 45 minutes. The resident pigeons disappeared within seconds! We chatted to the handler who says that their pest-control presence there once a week is enough to prevent the pigeons nesting in the eaves, and also keeps other pests at bay. Very effective and ecological pest control.
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It was lovely to see Judy and Rob again, and to marvel at the bounty in their garden.
A bowl of raspberries and blackberries from the garden

A bowl of raspberries and blackberries from the garden


Grapes ripening in the front porch

Grapes ripening in the front porch


Crab-apples

Crab-apples


Elderberries

Elderberries


Red sunflowers

Red sunflowers


A lush geranium specimen

A lush geranium specimen


The van, a.k.a. Mr Stubby, had been booked in for a service on the Saturday; but after starting first time, he would not budge! After breakfast David got Sandi, Rob and Judy to help push, after putting planks under the wheels, but to no avail. Mr Stubby did not want to leave the orchard! We learnt that the brakes had probably locked onto the wheels, so after jacking him up and giving the rims some good hard tapping, David managed to get him moving and off to the garage - at last. When he came back after 3 days, we parked him in the orchard again for the night before our departure. Blow us down if he didn’t have a flat tyre in the morning!
While David was busy at the garage, Sandi found lovely llamas, in an opposite field, to photograph.

While David was busy at the garage, Sandi found lovely llamas, in an opposite field, to photograph.


On Sunday we all [D,S, Rob and Judy] drove up to Ebu and Jeremy to join them for their 50th wedding celebration. Their son, Dominic, wife Helen, and gorgeous grand daughter Beatrice, completed the party. We had a wonderful lunch and afternoon walk, before driving back to Ebford.
Judy baked a delicious cake for the occasion, and much mirth and merriment ensued when we stopped the car at the top of the road, to put the finishing, fresh floral, touches on - in the boot - so that the cake could be presented with the flourish it deserved!
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50 Golden Roses from a gallant gent to his gorgeous lady
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Ebu with young Beatrice
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A view over Holton village
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Dominic and Helen
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Rob and Beatrice - the oldest and youngest family members at the celebration
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Rob and Judy
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Sandi was booked to do a 3-day course in Huddersfield, but unfortunately the tutor was admitted to hospital, and had to cancel at short notice. Although disappointing, this was fortuitous, as the van took longer in the garage than the time we had allocated for the service, so we used the extra time to explore Devon.

Judy took us for a lovely amble on Dartmoor, near Widdecombe-on-the-Moor.
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We came across this ancient sheep enclosure with the ruins of the shepherd's hut. Someone had left evidence of some harvest ritual in the hut.
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Wild ponies abound, and are actually fairly tame, seeming not to be fussed by walkers.
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We enjoyed wonderful views of Dartmoor, with several hills capped by torrs, and the trees a tapestry of green hues .
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On the way back we stopped in Bovey Tracey at the House of Marbles, where we could watch glass-blowing, play with the intricate marble cascades in the museum section, and marvel at the displays of the history of marbles [while reminiscing about schooldays]. We were fascinated by the moving marble artwork on the wall.
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Janet had given Sandi a tenner, to spend on herself, so she bought a beautiful perfume bottle with a stunning marble stopper, as a memento, from the enticing House of Marbles tourist shop in the complex.
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On Tuesday we spent the day in Exeter city, and happened to pass this ornate door to the Guildhall, so out came the camera!
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David was highly amused to find the answer to swine flu in a pharmacy, and insisted on being photographed with the evidence!
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Apart from needing to do some shopping we wanted to visit the house that David's uncle, David, was renowned for moving. It is of historical value and unfortunately was sited where the new ring road was planned to go. David, the architect, had to devise a way of trussing up the house so that it did not collapse, then hoisting it onto rollers, and trundle it 300m up the hill to its current position. He did it successfully, and the house has been occupied by many differing tenants to date. In spite of achieving this incredible feat, his name is unfortunately not mentioned in the official records!
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There's a lovely little watercolour of the house in the posting [Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Yorkshire], from the 2009 Topsham Art Exhibition. If it wasn't already sold when we saw it it would have been very tempted to buy it.

The house is adjacent to the old city wall, into which many other structures have been built.
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The old clock tower opposite the House

The old clock tower opposite the House

Posted by davidsandi 06:01 Archived in England Comments (0)

DIE VOORKAMERFEES

DARLING

sunny

On Sunday 6th September we attended the Voorkamerfees in Darling with Janet, Paddy and David, Si and Ingi and Shana and Gillian. The festival started a few years ago with support from the Nederlandse Art Council, with the idea of show-casing local and international talent in a unique setting. Each artist or group is hosted by a home in the small country town, and patrons are bussed in local taxis to three of the venues for a half-hour performance in each. We queued up for a taxi to take us to the first voorkamer.
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We were entranced by the famous SA singer Amanda Strydom who sang for us with such passion.
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Then off in the taxi to the next voorkamer in the “Coloured” area of town.
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Here we were regaled by a young Zimbabwean with the story of his flight from a desperate Zimbabwe with his friend Jacob, who he lost to the crocodiles of the Limpopo, and how he struggled in Joburg and eventually became an actor in CT. It was a sad story but told with such passion and humour that one could not help enjoying it. We bought one of his little “wire-and-bead” Jacobs as a memento, and he now sits on the dashboard of our van.
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The third act was a lady from UCT who played beautiful classical guitar.
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While waiting for our last taxi ride we found a lovely patch of arum lilies, and could not resist capturing our friends, the Lilleys, in the Lilly field.
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By now we were simply glowing with culture, so we found ourselves a spot to spread out and enjoy the splendid bring-and-share picnic under the trees, before heading home.
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Posted by davidsandi 04:51 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

THE HIGHS AND THE LOWS OF OUR CAPE TOWN VISIT

all seasons in one day

Arriving back home was quite eerie; while it was lovely to be home, it was quite interesting to see the house differently arranged, according to Simon and Ingi's [a.k.a. Ping] style, as is the garden. Although they were apprehensive about our opinion of these changes, they had nothing to worry about, as we were happy, and all was good.
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It was strange to come back from a gloriously abundant [florally speaking] UK summer, straight into a wet Cape Town winter. Simon and Ingi, the skatties, planted Sparaxis bulbs to surprise, and Sandi's favourite pansies were in bloom in the front bed to welcome us!
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As it was David’s birthday, the family gathered for tea to welcome us.
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Although Jamie and Lis couldn't be there for this occasion, they arrived in time for Sandi's birthday, so the MamaSan had her brood all around her at last.
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Another cat, Tai Chi, has joined the family, making a total of five furries in situ.
And here she is - practising to be a surfer dudette on Jamie's boards!
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The three "new kids on the block" having din-dins on their own
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but granny Amber won't eat with the rabble!
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Daisy, our other matriarch, refused to be photographed, but we had to sneak in this old shot of her just to complete the furry fam bit.
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The younger ones take great pleasure in chasing the two older ones, which involves much yelling and waving of arms from all of us! Punjab, the pâté prince, decided to start spraying all over the place, as he was probably unsettled too. Simon and Ingi insisted on us having their master bedroom [i.e. our old room] in the house, and moving into the granny flat, which is packed to the rafters with our boxes. Not what we had planned, as we had intended to move into the granny flat, but very kind and thoughtful of the darlings. So there was much to-ing and fro-ing, as we daily retrieved clothes and belongings from each other's rooms! No wonder the cats were confused and both T'ai Chi and Gobbelina perched on high vantage points to watch the crazy antics of their humans.
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The things that were wonderful were:
• Seeing family and friends again
• Looking at the mountain every day
• Winding up the cuckoo clock
• Eating out in CT
• Eating abundant sushi at the Blowfish
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• Drinking cheap, but good Goatshed red
• Seeing a new direction develop for the Greenhouse
• Getting David’s new driver’s licence just in time before we left again
• Comparing one’s freedom with the existence of colleagues
• Meeting two of Jamie's new puppies, Mowgli and Kong
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• Having a lesson with Anton on the lawn in Kundalini yoga
• No deterioration on David’s hearing test
• Celebrating both our birthdays and wedding anniversary at home.

Things which were not so good were:
• Packing up the practice at the Greenhouse, 6 months after we had spent so much time and effort leaving it in good order, and 25 years after we had started it
• Not having enough time to really enjoy CT as we had hoped
• Sandi’s home PC which crashed, had its innards replaced, but never really woke up from its long sleep
• Sandi’s colour laser label printer which jammed, and has not yet recovered, in spite of several visits to the repair shop. Not ideal in the middle of product production time [very stressful as there were lots of bespoke remedies and product orders requiring personal preparation before we left again]
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• Having to share one car between 4 of us after Simon overheated the Carina, and it was out of action for a week
• Sandi dashing off to Johannesburg for two Professional Board meetings, and the politics that always accompany such events
• Finding 2 London congestion charges in the post [£182] along with a lawyer’s letter of demand
• Noticing how the cost of living has increased sharply in SA since February
• Both of us having flu [again!]
• Having to deal with practice taxes etc
• David dropping a concrete slab on his finger, while repairing the driveway.

Gastronomic highlights included many good meals enjoyed in the company of dear friends and family:
• As-much-as-you-can-eat Sushi at the Blowfish
• Shabbat with the Morrises [Sandi had flu and regretted not being up to her usual hungry self to enjoy the feast]
• Lunch at Constantia Neck with Granny Gaby and the family [without Sandi, who still had flu]
• Our favourite Chinese fare at Mainland China
• Shabbat with Janet and Tash
Sandi cuddling Janet's little dog Boebie

Sandi cuddling Janet's little dog Boebie

Simon will drink anything out of a nasturtium leaf!

Simon will drink anything out of a nasturtium leaf!


• Indian supper and pizzas cooked by Simon and Ingi’s friends, in our kitchen
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• Lunch at Fyndraai near Franschoek with Bernard and Jeanne Brom, and a lovely walk through the vineyards of the estate
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Dew drop on a vine stem

Sun setting on the Franschoek mountains

Sun setting on the Franschoek mountains


• Lunch at The Goatshed, Fairview Estate - our fave cheese and wine destination
• Lunch with Madel, our boys' 1st Montessori teacher, and long-time family friend
• Supper with David and Paddy Lilley
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• Mia’s first birthday tea - the youngest Duk/Nye family member
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• Sandi’s birthday dinner at Magica Roma, our home-turf Italian delight
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• Greek supper at Marika’s with Ian and Dalene Morris
• Many gourmet delights prepared by Sandi at home - for birthdays, anniversary, and just to feed the mob
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• Addy, our beloved housekeeper’s, famous samp and beans a.k.a. gnushu
• A celebratory lunch for nephew Greg’s birthday at Tania [Sandi's sister], Rebecca, and Grandpa Jack’s home.
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• We also had a spectacular picnic in Darling, but more about that in the next posting.

What a celebration-filled month!

One crisp and sunny Sunday afternoon Dalene and Ian took us for a walk in the Tygerberg Nature Reserve [its existence hitherto unknown] where we walked among Bontebok, fynbos and had stunning panoramic views of Cape Town, while sipping chilled Veuve Clicquot and eating choc-dipped strawberries. Those Morrises sure are stylish!
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So, all in all, the Nye roller-coaster experiences continued, but we decided to test our philosophical bent and patiently accept that: "It is what it is", and just get on with it. Home is however truly where the heart is!
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Posted by davidsandi 04:48 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

NEWCASTLE-UPON-TYNE & YORKSHIRE

We spent 2 nights with our friends the Bracchis, Sue, Kev,

and their lads, Michael and Matthew, in Newcastle, before moving down through the Yorkshire moors towards the coast.
The Bracchi clan - Sue, Michael, Matthew and Kev

The Bracchi clan - Sue, Michael, Matthew and Kev

Beloved friends

Beloved friends

We stopped off in the pretty little port of Whitby, which would have been far more appealing if it were not raining. We spent the next 2 nights at the Scarborough campsite, also mostly in the rain. Campervans come in all shapes and sizes!
The big ..........

The big ..........

and the small of campervan life!

and the small of campervan life!

Sandi had an interesting experience in the shower next morning. There were only 2 shower cubicles and several people queuing. A foreign woman went into the one cubicle then proceeded to have a long conversation on her cellphone, before even turning the shower on. Sandi eventually got into the other cubicle and showered while the woman continued to chat. The woman, eventually finishing her call, started singing tunelessly, and turned on the shower taps. Sandi had just finished drying herself in the adjacent cubicle, when her feet got spattered in warm, smelly urine from the woman next door! Speechless, she washed and dried her feet again, while the woman continued singing and showering. This was all a bit too ethno-bungo for Sandi who fled the shower, only to find that it was raining cats and dogs outside. Undaunted she put her towel over her head, and headed out in the torrential rain – in the wrong direction! After 10 minutes of running around in circles, with all the caravans looking the same to her unspectacled eyes, she found herself at the reception office, where they offered her an umbrella. “Too late” she cried, but was quickly shown where the van was - in site #13! She arrived at the van and warned David not to utter a word, but he couldn't control himself, and was in hysterics of mirth. According to him he was very sympathetic. " Bah humbug" she declares!! Drenched to her underwear, she dried off after her “second shower”, and by this time laughing herself, dressed in whatever dry clothes could be found, ready for a walk into town via the cliffs.

The cliffs were only a short walk away, so we set out during a brief spell of sunshine, skidding our way in the mud towards Scarborough town.
View northwards from the slippery cliff top

View northwards from the slippery cliff top

View across Scarborough beach, towards the town

View across Scarborough beach, towards the town

As we descended to the beach and the town itself the heavens opened, yet again, and the hail came down. Once again we were trapped by the elements! We discovered that Sandi’s jacket was not waterproof, and umbrellas do not function inside out! Remembering our Bulgarian hail-fest during the Rose festival, we just stood there in fits of laughter. After the worst had passed we squelched past all the beach-goers crammed into their colourful beach huts, drinking coffee and revelling in their dryness. With a touch of “sense of humour failure” we shopped for a more waterproof jacket - a tough, yachting, garment - and vowed to take the next bus home [to the campsite] as we were not going to squelch in our soggy shoes for 2 miles to get back. The next bus was in an hour and by then we were in a better mood, as the sun came out and dried up all the rain. We ended up walking back and stopped at the pub for an excellent carvery for £3.50. We [especially Sandi] felt we really deserved it!

Had a long drive next day to Kidderminster [near Manchester] where we met up with Jonathan Mills [Judy’s son, the Druid, who invited us to the wonderful Stonehenge experience]. We took him for supper in the pub nearby, before turning in for the night in his driveway.
Lovely rain-dappled lillies in Jonathan's driveway

Lovely rain-dappled lillies in Jonathan's driveway

Another long drive next day down to Ebford where we spent 3 days sorting out the van and packing for Cape Town. Sandi had fun capturing the summer flowers and fruit in Judy and Rob's garden.
Sunflower and Bee

Sunflower and Bee

Crab apples ripening

Crab apples ripening


Judy's beautiful dahlia

Judy's beautiful dahlia

Judy invited us to an art exhibition in Topsham, which she had organised and in which some of her paintings were exhibited. We were charmed by some watercolours of "The house that moved", since David's uncle, David, was the architect responsible for this historical feat.
The house that moved

The house that moved


A painting of a typical English countryside that took our fancy

A painting of a typical English countryside that took our fancy

David took the van to get 2 cracks in the windscreen repaired and, £40 later, got back just in time to catch the bus to Heathrow. We were each taking different flights home, with Sandi flying direct and David flying via JHB. David tried to charm the air steward into bumping him up to Business class as it was his birthday while in the air, but she would have none of it [his charm must be wearing off!] The birthday boy was however welcomed home with open arms!!
Janet welcoming David and Sandi home on 5/8/09

Janet welcoming David and Sandi home on 5/8/09

Posted by davidsandi 10:36 Archived in England Comments (0)

SCOTLAND AND TRAVEL PLANS REVISITED

rain

We spent a blissful 2 weeks at Bernie and Estrelita's, in Livingston, chilling out and informally house-sitting their lovely home while they were in the USA.

Bernie and Estrelita's house in Livingston

Bernie and Estrelita's house in Livingston


View from their front door

View from their front door


These 2 weeks simply flew by, with us not doing very much other than catch up with ourselves and enjoying a spacious, peaceful, fab-u-loos, non-moving home.

This reflective time allowed us to review how we were doing on our walkabout and we decided that prolonged periods of camper-vanning, with short overnight stops wasn’t ideal for us. We decided we need to spend longer in an area, and occasionally we need to have our feet on the ground, with a clean toilet at hand [hence the fab-u-loos reference]!

Out of this review grew the idea of formal house-sitting. So all systems go, we planned to line up a few sequential house-sits in France, Portugal, Spain and Italy, our intentions being [if we got such assignments], to spend a few weeks in each place, and to fill in the gaps between assignments in the van. So we subscribed to 2 online websites and started creating a website of our own, as a forum to advertise our services. Other than the text, we needed pictures to illustrate our abilities and credentials, so that Speedy-Jamie-the-Webman could get creating. Selecting pictures and writing words was quite fun, as can be seen below.
Gardener Sandi says: "What a lot I got."

Gardener Sandi says: "What a lot I got."


Gardener Dave, fondling the produce!

Gardener Dave, fondling the produce!

With Jamie and Lis's Bali trip imminent, there was no time to waste.
Lis and Jamie

Lis and Jamie


Jamie secured us a domain, and in record time, voila, www.goodhousesitter.com was up and running, and we were ready for offers!

By now our B and E had arrived back from the States and we were enjoying some great friend-time with them.
For the next few days we engaged mainly in some excellent astrological consulting with Bernie, checking to see whether the stars and planets would provide clarity for us on several issues about which we had to make decisions.
Astro-Bern

Astro-Bern

In between we did a bit of gardening, helping Bernie put in some berry bushes and harvesting some fresh vittals!
Bernie working up an appetite!

Bernie working up an appetite!


Sometimes we just watched Estrelita take advantage of a sunny spell, while we sipped something fine, and she worked up a thirst!
Estrelita hard at work

Estrelita hard at work


Berry-nice gardening

Berry-nice gardening


Working 9 to 5, what a way to make a living!

Working 9 to 5, what a way to make a living!


Sandi and Bernie foraging for food

Sandi and Bernie foraging for food


A Livingston Lovely lurking in B and E's garden

A Livingston Lovely lurking in B and E's garden

At night we had wonderful chats around the kitchen table, gorging on the delicious suppers Sandi cooked:
the old stand-by, Roman lamb, seafood chowder, Nye veg and ribbetjies bake, honey-glazed chicken wings etc. These feasts were declared so good that B and E declared they did not want to let us leave! What a way to make friends feel good!!
Bernie and the breakfast bib

Bernie and the breakfast bib


Rude boy! Why do boys always play with their food?

Rude boy! Why do boys always play with their food?


Before leaving we visited Queen’s Ferry for brunch with Bernie.
Queen's Ferry is a cute village on the river Forth situated between two impressive bridges.
Queen's Ferry quaint high street

Queen's Ferry quaint high street


The road bridge over the River Forth

The road bridge over the River Forth


The River Forth rail bridge

The River Forth rail bridge

At brunch we tried haggis for the first time! It is like a spicy, nutty mincemeat [made from sheep’s heart, lungs and liver with oatmeal and suet, all cooked up in a sheep’s stomach] - sounds a bit vile, but is actually rather delicious.
The much-maligned HAGGIS!

The much-maligned HAGGIS!

Wandering down the street we came across a little bookshop overflowing with used books.
The caretaker said to take as many books as possible, and to leave a small donation only if we felt like it.
What a dream! We staggered out there, laden with masses of reading material for the months ahead.
Who needs to pay a quid+ per book at the charity shops?!
The Bookshop-beamers

The Bookshop-beamers

We finally tore ourselves away from our South African pals on the Sunday, but not before being treated to a splendid traditional Scottish breakfast prepared by Estrelita - haggis and all, nog al!

Our first stop en route to Newcastle-on Tyne, for a few more days with our Bracchi pals, was the now famous Rosslyn Chapel, not far from Edinburgh.

In the past 2 years since Dan Brown included the chapel in his book [The Da Vinci Code] the number of tourists visiting has multiplied ten-fold.
The whole chapel has been covered with a “roof” for the past 10 years, while they work on restoration and drying it out.
Rosslyn Chapel with preservation works in situ

Rosslyn Chapel with preservation works in situ


Rosslyn Chapel as it could be without the scaffolding!

Rosslyn Chapel as it could be without the scaffolding!

Inside, it is small and as there were lots of people, it was not easy to move about freely.
The carvings and details are quite exquisite, inside and outside, and well worth the visit.
Rosslyn Chapel details of stonework

Rosslyn Chapel details of stonework


Rosslyn Chapel - part of the exquisitely carved interior

Rosslyn Chapel - part of the exquisitely carved interior

The Apprentice Pillar is so-named, according to an 18th century legend involving the jealousy of the master mason in charge of the stonework in the chapel, and the skill of his young apprentice. The apprentice carved this beautiful column in his master's absence, and on seeing it the master was so enraged with envy that he whacked him on the head with a masonry mallet and killed him. As punishment for his crime, the master mason's face was carved into the opposite corner to forever gaze upon his apprentice's pillar.
Apprentice Pillar inside Chapel

Apprentice Pillar inside Chapel

Posted by davidsandi 08:05 Archived in Scotland Comments (0)

WALES AND LAKES

We set off across the Severn Bridge [shocked at having to pay the expensive toll of £10] to Cardiff, where we had a camp-site in the centre of town next to the stadium where the Ashes cricket was being played. Of course the camp-site was full of rival Aussies and Brits, and we were lucky to even get a site. The walk into town was through a lovely garden alongside the river Taff.
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We drove through the Brecon Beacons nature reserve, hoping to find a camp-site near Brecon, but they were all full. We then pushed on for a couple more hours to the coast, just north of Aberystwyth. The site was sloping so much we needed several wooden blocks to prop up the front wheels so that we didn't slide out of bed!
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The campsite was called Ocean View, but we didn't think much of the view!
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We explored the seafront promenade of Aberystwyth,
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found a beautiful pub-front in town
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and admired the war memorial with a lady arising from the ashes.
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From there we visited Aberaeron, where the streets are lined with Georgian houses painted in pretty colours, which makes a pleasant change from all the grey and brown stone of so many British towns.
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The goal was to sample the famous honey ice-cream on the quay, which was good!

We pushed north again, landing up in Porthmadog, and having to stay in a cheap, but crappy camp site, as the others were full. It was raining heavily by now and "cabin-fever" was starting to develop seriously. We couldn't wait to get to Scotland where a week in our friends' empty house with a clean, hot bath awaited us.

The next day found us in the walled town of Conwy on the north coast of Wales. After a rip-off pub lunch, we walked on the quayside in the sun and found the smallest house in Britain.
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We didn't visit the castle, but were intrigued with this enormous crack in the town wall. Apparently when the Victorian engineers tunnelled under the wall to build the train line, it appeared, and in spite of the best engineering efforts has remained to this day!
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We had a long, four hour drive to the Lake District, where we overnighted near Kendal. Here we decided to join the Camping and Caravan Club to save on site fees in future.

We headed for the nearby Windermere lake, stopping in Bowness-on-Windermere to look at the swans fighting each other off their cygnets.
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Lots of holidaymakers about already and the English schools aren't even out yet! On the other side of the lake we visited Hilltop cottage, the home and garden of Beatrix Potter.
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We almost caught a glimpse of Peter Rabbit under the flower pots!
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Sandi took lots of photos of the flowers that Beatrix loved and grew in her garden.
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We had to wait an hour for our timed-entry to the cottage, so what better way to kill time than to enjoy a pint of the local beer in the sun outside a cute pub, admiring the view?
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We looked across the street to this house,
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where we found "Mr Macgregor" basking in the sun.
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The rain came down again, and we had another four hour drive to Livingston, where we had the luxury of Estralita and Bernie's house all to ourselves for the next week. How nice it is to have space, a clean bathroom and a modern kitchen in which to unwind. Even though the weather was unsettled for most of the time, it was wonderful to have the time to sort ourselves out, and catch up with the Travel blog; like a holiday within a holiday!

Posted by davidsandi 04:39 Archived in Wales Comments (0)

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