Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Monday, February 18, 2008


You know the feeling of learning a new skill you thought you never be possible. Very proud, totally chuffed, a tad smug, and a instant expert who must run out and buy a gnarly hat.

This is me right now.

A few weeks ago Rob wanted to go Snowboarding again. He had been a couple of times before and picked it up pretty well. He asked me to come up to Arizona Snowbowl on a Friday and have a go. I said yes, mostly to get up there and check out the view. I figured I'd never be able to stand on the thing let alone move it. On the way up I suggested I'd do the lesson but probably won't do the Ski Lift and maybe only do half day, because no way could I manage all of that. Rob didn't think it worked that way and just rolled his eyes. I bought my camera and a book so I could wait for him in the Lodge.
We got there, hired the boots and board and went to the 10am lesson. Rob went Intermediate and I went totally No Clue Beginner. The teacher was really good and by the end of it we were catching the easiest chair lift and coming back down, mostly standing up. It was the first time I've ever been on a lift and its the hardest part. I still come off and fall over every time.
Rob's teacher mentioned how 'monty' he was....I could have told them that.
After the lesson I caught up with Rob, we lunched and caught the next easiest lift up, the Hart Prairie which is pretty long and to my brand new snow eyes, steep and steep.
I could motor down it, using controlled turns, stops, a fair bit of flailing and falling over but mostly in control.
I must say I was pretty happy with myself.
Its all about using the edges of the board. Heels or toes. Heels is way easier as leaning back feels way more stable then leaning forward.

This is me at the end of my second day.....totally

Today we went again.
Being a long weekend Sunday, it was packed but managed to get in enough runs to feel satisfied. Rob, Laura, Sallie and the kids went off to the harder slopes while I had a ball hooning down Hart Prairie. I still can't get off a ski lift without taking a header, its the part I dread the most but can still laugh about it.
Its really, really cool.
I can stand up, I can turn, I can stop, I can go fast, I can totally stack it, admire the view and get back up.

Planning on going again on Tuesday.....hooked... me?...only a bit.

Nick understands

Sunday, February 10, 2008



Our last few days in France consisted of heading vaguely northward towards Paris. We really didn't know where we were going but The Lonely Planet did right by us again.
A little town called Amboise, outside of Tours mentioned Clos Luce, the house where Leonardo Da Vinci spent the last 3 years of his life under the patronage of Francois 1, who wanted nothing more than just to hang out with Leonardo and tell 'no shit there we were stories' and wouldn't we all.
Apart from that he was free to let his amazing mind be amazing.
Tank Boy

We spent the night in a Youth Hostel, which seemed totally surprised that old people would venture to it since it felt like a school camp, we had to move the single beds together so one of us could fall through during the night.....hey Lonely Planet..we love you... but it was cheap and comfy enough, and was on the island in the middle of the Loire River so we walked across the bridge to the main town.
We got to the house right on opening so we had the place to ourselves for the most part. The house is beautifully restored and and morning light through the windows made the place very inviting, the same light Da Vinci would have drawn and pondered by. It was cold and frosty and my feet were frozen but the in great Hall they had lit a roaring fire. You get so used to heritage places being protected that the fire surprised me but I welcomed it and finally got feeling back into my feet, and it did add to the atmosphere of the place.
They had many models of his designs, some useful and worked, some fanciful but you could see where he was going with it. The gardens where loverly and had big models which you could play with, turn the Helicopter blades, spin the Tank, made the Water Wheel lift water. It was all very cool, though cool is a feeble word to use.

Me at the Maze of my Star Trek face tattoo

Rob had been to the Loire Valley as a kid so had a few memories of the area. One place he remembered fairly well was Chateau de Chenonceaux.

Me at right of Chateau de Chenonceaux.

It is built over the River Cher and is very grand. We wandered through the maze, the gardens and the building. I totally recommend traveling in the off season to these places, sure some things aren't open but it totally makes up for it with the lack of other people, and the ability to really look and soak up the atmosphere without hordes of others trying to do the same.
We had a great picnic on the river wall near the Chateau.

Being the classy tourists that we are, we had no cups so had to daintly sip our Vin from the bottle. Tastes better that way, trust me.

Rock Huggers

Next stop was Carnac on the South coast of Brittany, which promised Standing Stones Galore, and it didn't disappoint.

Kermario Alignment. Carnac

We drove along a road and saw some stones in a field, stopped, got out and had a look. As we crested the rise they were was a bit of a WOW moment. I love the WOW moments, they happen to me often when faced with wonderful human or natural beauty.
There is over 3000 stones in various alignments plus a few in tucked away in secret pockets of woodlands, one of which we stumbled across and had a picnic lunch within.

Upgrading, Carnac.

From Carnac we hooned North to Mont Saint Micheal, another place that Rob remembered as a kid. It is pretty impressive, built on a rock that gets cut off from the mainland during high tide. We splashed out a bit and spent the night there. Its very touristy, which was good since we were tourists but it was low season, and after dinner was empty, so we ran around, up and down, ducking through ally ways, trying not to fall off battlements, exploring at night. Our own personal Castle playground.
The next morning we were the first to gain entrance to the Abby. Beautiful and godbothering.
Walking though a great underground bit I got to a totally dark passage way, could faintly see a outline of a archway and slowly moved forward, knowing there was steps in my dark future I moved back and tried to look around to the left and my eye socket met stone in a very ouchy fashion. It hurt to blink for days. When I tried to show Rob the darkness (through my pain) they turned the lights on, and it led to the Crypt.
Either a smoting or lazy light turneronerus.
Sunset on Mont Saint Micheal

After the Mont we got on the peage toward Paris. It was ohh soo foggy all the way. All of northern France must have been smothered in grey.

We stopped in Chartres to check out the Cathedral. We parked in the Cathedral parking station, figuring we must be close. It was soo foggy, and we stood around trying to get our bearings when I pointed to a rather large thing looming out of the fog...and lo it was a rather large Gothic Cathedral looming out of the fog. We went that way.
13th C stained glass, fog or no fog is stunning.

We had one more day in France, our flight out was 10am, so we figured there was no rush getting back as we would stay in hotel near the airport. We had to turn in the hire car and find our terminal so the more time the better.

We slept in a hotel near a airport. Flew home.

I miss the Pain.

Lots More photos on Flickr...

No slide shows for you...

Monday, February 04, 2008


The Dordogne Region is rich in history and human going ons. You can't go 10 minutes without tripping over something interesting and more often than not tasty.

Highlights, skipping over how good the food was and how much Fromage was ingested and how much I miss the pain. I'm sure you get the idea.

Chateau de Commarque was shut and the door bolted, so being hardy tourists we scrambled up a mossy wall to have a poke around. It was built in the 12thC and was passed around between the English and French and the Protestants and the Catholic for a while. Who probably all hated each others decor, now its what we call 'Mossy Green' with 'Moss' undertones.

Once Were Stairs, Commarque.

It also had many caves cut out of the limestone beneath where the troglodytes dwelled.
I want to be a troglodyte when I grow up.

Exploring Commarque

Chateau de Beynac is a built on a very high impressive cliff, no way we were going to scale that. Lucky it was open and crossing palms with Euros was all that was required to have a run around.
It too was passed around between the French and English, with Richard The Lion Heart living there for a time. The Dordogne River was the boarder between French and England in the 1300-1400's and Chateau de Castelnaud on the other side was English. I'm sure many taunts and trash talk were thrown around.

View From Beynac

It was were the 1999 version of 'Joan of Arc' was filmed and the village below was were 'Chocolat' was made. Me and Johnny Depp in the same village!!!! only 8 years apart....
school girl sigh

Organ Gun Has Flavour

Chateau de Castelnaud
has a great warfare museum inside and full size working Trebuchets outside. We got there kinda late so didn't have a huge amount of time, but we checked out all the displays, ran up and down spiral staircases and itched to load up the siege weapons.

Sweet Sweet Siege Weapons

Stepping away from from the Middle Ages for a bit we took a journey through space and time to when our ancestors were even shorter and smellier but sure could paint and hit rocks with other rocks.

Grotto de Font De Gaume is a cave with many polychrome paintings of animals that don't exist no more. Only 200 visitors and day are allowed and it is one of the few caves like this still open to the public.
Lascaux, is in the region but is shut completely to the public and Lascaux 2 the replica was shut cause it was January.
It was amazing to see actual art done around 14000bc, give or take. The tour was in French so with Mike's mad French skillz we could at least get the gist. The main one being, if you touch, lick, photograph or eyeball too hard the walls, they throw you out.
Parts of the cave was pretty narrow and short...hehe to all the over 6ft peeps in our party.

Bison, part of Font-de-Gaume

Musee National de Prehistoire
Had a huge range was flint axes, arrows, burial artifacts, jewellery, history of the area and whacking things. Had great little videos showing various skills like how the flint knifes were made and used for skinning and cut meat, and how to carve a Venus from sandstone.

On our last full day in Belves was the day Mike and Laura had to leave to head back to Madrid for the flight home, so we hugged them goodbye and the 4 of us decided to go and see the 'spooky Nazi town' has we were calling it then, now I call it Orador-sur-Glane.
The Lonely Planet briefly talked about it as a town that was destroyed by the Germans in WW2. I guess morbid curiosity was the main driving force for going. It is up near Limoges and took us about 2 hours to get there.
They have left the town as a memorial and built another Orador next to it. The museum was closed but gates to the town were open. It was a sobering experience. Walking down the roads looking at the destroyed buildings and trying to imagine what that morning before the Nazi's rolled in was like. Each building has a sign with what type of store it was and who owned it. Cars are still parked in driveways, tilework is still visible and tools are scattered about.
There is a still used cemetary at the back with a underground section with all the names of the killed and displays of common household items, money, children's toys, melted and fused glasswear.

Orador-sur-Glane. Believed to be the Doctor's car

The information I could find about it seems to show that there was absolutely no reason for it to happen, not that I can imagine a reason for it to ever be justified but this was a total massacre.
On 10th June 1944, the Der F├╝hrer regiment of the 2nd SS-Panzer Division Das Reich was sent to this village to get 30 hostages in exchange for a German Officer who they believed was held there briefly then moved on.
Instead they moved in, killed 642 people and torched the town.
Mind boggling.
It was one of those experiences I'm really glad I did, but not in a huge rush to repeat it.

After that we drove home and spent our last night in our little peaceful village. The next day we drove Fitz and Leala to the train station so they could fly back to Oz. Rob and I still had 3 days to reach Paris for our flight, so we wandered northward checking out a few cool things on the way.

Friday, February 01, 2008



What can I say about the little hilltop town that was our home for a week.
'Bloody Amazing' leaps to mind.
It was gorgeous.
Think of the most typical French medieval village you can then squeeze the pure essence of it out and rub it all over your body while eating fresh baked Pain smeared with your body weight in Fromage while sipping a Bordueax and you will be close.
The house was wonderful and welcoming and all 8 of us fitted in quite comfortably.

Loungeroom View

It was a great base camp for day trip and the region of the Dordogne is packed with more fabulous little villages, castles, troglodyte caves ( i said troglodyte alot, its such a great word) cave paintings and vistas that make you go all thing.

The door to the house

We saw several groovy castles and cave paintings in the area, but since I haven't put the photos up on Flickr yet, I'll talk about our adventure in Carcassonne and beyond. Dr Nik has been living in Marseille for the last 8 months so we arranged to meet half way in the walled city of Carcassonne. The night before we had a big dinner and drunk lots. Mikes brother who lives in England flew over with his girlfriend for the weekend, so it was a night of catching up and general good times. We were all a bit seedy the next day and left late for the 3 hour drive.
I got to drive and we took the paege/toll roads for most of it. They can be expensive but with the speed limit at 130km/hr its totally worth it. I was quite comfortable sitting at 150km/hr and was still getting passed. God knows how many speed cameras we set off in the course of our trip.

Exploring Carcassonne

We got to Carcassonne, caught up with Nik and spent the afternoon exploring the castle. It is pretty impressive, well restored and the streets are crammed with tourist shops and cafes. The hostel inside was closed, so we found a hotel outside the walls but with a excellent view from the terrace.
One of our favourite games is 'Carcassonne', so I brought it with me and spelt out the name of the group blog I babble at. Its important to maintain the geek image while in foreign climes.

Yes, yes I'm a geek....lucky so is everyone else

The next day we picked a interesting looking castle mostly at random to go and explore, and boy did we choose well.

The good things in life

About an hour south heading for the Pyranesse is Chateau de Puilaurens. A completely crazy arsed castle on a knifes edge built in the 12th Century by people who were not afraid of heights.
It was closed being January and all, but a small chain wasn't about the deter us. The trail up is steep and rocky and looking up at the walls is a bit dizzyfying.
The place is outstanding. Restored places are cool, and gives you a good feel to how it must have been like to work and live there, but for me a good ruin has much more of a impact. Give me a crumbly, overgrown wall any day.

Picnic view

We weren't the only ones to break in, people with small children and even smaller dogs wandered through and lolled about but it was a dozen at the most.
We had a great scramble and a superb picnic lunch with a view to kill for. Most of our meals consisted of the most yummiest bread, cheese, pate, jamon, and wine...simple and perfect.

Nothing like a good ruin
We managed to drag ourselves away, drop Nik off at Carcassonne for his train and headed back to Belves for more thrilling adventures and cheese.