Saturday, August 24, 2013

A Journey to Camelot

Ugh.  I've been sick all week and haven't had much energy to get out and do too much or see much.  Luckily for you (since I know you're just dying to read something) I managed to get out the week before on the holiday they have here in Aug., but hadn't written about it yet (though photos have been up for a while).  Not sure what the holiday was for, but everyone was off of work, most of the stores were closed and the tourist sites were even more crowded than normal.  I took the opportunity to get out of town, with a small group from my French class, and head an hour and half northeast of Paris by car.

Here is my Journey to Camelot:

Okay, so it's not actually Camelot, which should be a given considering Camelot would've been in England not France, but some of you might recognize it as the legendary castle of Arthur due to the recent BBC series (also shown on Syfy in the US, and now on Netflix) called Merlin.  Actually there have been several other TV shows and movies to use this site for filming:
I think I've seen all of these (with the exception of Wizards of Waverly Place) and did find myself with a sense of deja vu (a French term, which ironically the French don't use).

(all TV/film references taken from wikipedia,


You can see why they choose this place to film.  It is picturesque and in remarkable condition.  That is not an accident, of course.  The castle (which is actually Chateau Pierrefonds) was mostly destroyed in the early 1600's and not rebuilt until the 1850's when Napoleon III intended it for a royal palace.  Alas, it wasn't destined to be inhabited by any royals and instead ended up as a museum when it was completed.  That's great for us since it has kept the reconstruction open to the public and well maintained.
Here is the guardian awaiting you as you climb the stairs to enter the palace.
There are now a bunch of empty stone rooms that are pretty standard castle stuff - cool to see, but not very photogenic.  After walking through several of those mostly empty stone chambers you wind up in the great hall.  This photo is taken from the middle looking toward one end, meaning this is only half the room.  Unfortunately this room, while brightly colored and well painted, is pretty empty.  Originally the great room was lined with suits of armor from various periods in history, but they have since all been removed.  Bummer, I dig that stuff.  Maybe I'll have to take a visit to Les Invalides in Paris to get my fix, but not until after tourist season is over.
Below is a picture of the chapel.  The base of this statue actually sits about 8ft. off the ground.  I couldn't take a picture of the whole room due to the giant Japanese tour group that always seemed to stand in front of anything that I wanted to take a photo of (including the one thing that was worth seeing in the great room - a giant model of the castle).  Thus the downside of being in France in Aug. - you are never alone, not even close to being alone.
After several minutes of waiting for the crowds to pass, I did get a picture of the entrance to the crypts.  Since this castle was never really lived in after being reconstructed, the crypts were never used.  If you didn't know better though you'd think you'd stepped into the burial ground of several hundred years of French royalty.  Apparently kings, and other nobles, would choose their coffin design well before they actually died.  They would hire a sculptor who would then make a prototype (or maybe a few), the king would give his blessing (or not) and the sculptor would then make the final version.  The "prototype coffin" would then just sit in some dusty corner, I guess.  Thankfully, historians located many of these prototypes, spanning a few hundred years and several families, and put them in the crypt of Pierrefonds Chateau.  The lighting is poor and no flash photography is allowed so this is the only photo you get.  This was probably the most impressive part about the tour.  I wish my French were better, as they had audio playing in the crypt at certain stations, supposedly voices of the "inhabitants".  Oh well, another reason to go back someday.
Here's a view of the town looking from the castle ramparts.   
Here's a better picture of the town taken after leaving the castle and getting some delicious coffee and creme brule ice cream.

Well, that's about it for now.  I am happy to report that I didn't find any signs of the invasion spreading to the country side.  The invaders seem to be content to inhabit large population centers for now.  If you're looking for a place to escape their reach, the country side seems to be a safe place ... for now.


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Day at the Beach

This post was authored by Charlotte: 

On the weekend we went to Ohope beach. We jumped the waves and some of us got soaking wet! It's still winter so we couldn't go swimming. We also built a few sand castles and wrote messages in the sand to our dad. The beach is on the Pacific Ocean, it was exciting  beacause we don't go to the beach very often because in New Mexico  we live 901 miles from the Pacific Ocean. We also went fishing at the harbor. But we didn't catch any fish :(, it was still fun though :) because we got to see other people's fish that they caught .

The tide came up and swept the castle away

View of Whale Island from Ohope Beach

Carson building the sandcastle

The water was just warm enough to jump the waves


Message to Dad

Harbor Side

Going to the beach was fun! And I can't wait to go again:)


Saturday, August 17, 2013

Run for your lives!

Apparently I'm too late.  The little aliens have spread all over the city.  They've been reportedly escaping (or invading, not sure of the source) since 1998 when they first appeared around Bastille.  As there are now thousands of them throughout Paris (a couple more pictured below) I'm afraid this city might be lost.  And it doesn't stop there.  There have been sitings in major cities all over the world, and they apparently currently inhabit the Hollywood sign in California.  After having countless sitings since my promenade around the 11th and 12th arr. last weekend I have stopped taking pictures of them so as avoid being reported to their leaders as a hostile entity.  I need to keep a low profile now if I am to monitor their activities.  Here are a couple I saw in Belleville (in the 11th) the other day.

Actually I lied.  This first one is just around the corner from me on the way to Bastille.  He's one of the larger ones I've seen.  Size and proximity to the location of the original sitings tell me this one's been around a while.  A smaller one surveying a street corner in Belleville is below.
I might just need to man the lookout at Parc Belleville myself.  It's one of the higher points in Paris and should give me a good vantage point from which to watch for more of these invasive alien blockheads.  See for yourself (Parc Belleville photo below).  Proximity to Bastille is also good here, though as that seems to be the point of origin I may run the danger of being over-run.
These petits etrangers (little foreigners in French) are certainly not stupid.  They have infiltrated our internet (you know, that series of pipes) and have setup a nice cover story for their appearances.  Apparently they are claiming to be the innocent product of a local Parisian street artist who has posted additional "art" projects in other cities he has visited.  I'm not so sure.  Until this is cleared up, rest assured I will be watching.

To see their cover story for yourself visit the "artists" page:

or their wikipedia page to see just how extensive this coverup is:

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Bridal Veil Falls

We took the short hike to Bridal Veil falls on one of our first weekends.

Maori carving greeting at the beginning of the trail.

You reach the top viewing platform first.  

It is a 55m drop off over a basalt cliff.

Hiking down to the bottom

About halfway down

Delaney took this one:

The kids at the base

A shot of the mostly native forest

And a koru, the inspiration the symbol found in many Maori objets d'art, symbolizing new life, growth, strength, and peace.  (It appears in the carving at the top).

Monday, August 12, 2013

Space Invaded?

So for our two readers, if you have been reading via the desktop browser site (rather than the mobile site) then you may have noticed that I have put a slideshow of all of the photos from the blog on that main page.  If you are astute (and I'm sure you are) you will also have noticed that there are more photos in the slideshow than have actually been posted.  That's because I tend to upload the photos at night after I've been out for a day, but don't actually feel like writing anything, or, frankly, have anything worth saying.  So, photos just float around there for you to guess what I might write about next. 

Can you guess?  Yep, Space Invaders!

During one of my weekend walks I stumbled upon the location (pictured below) of the space invader prison, or their next landing site, I can't be sure.  I suppose it could also be a toilet, but I waited for some time and never saw anyone exit from the single locked door on the east side.  If there is a space invaders game in the toilet, however, I might not have waited long enough.
 Not convinced?  Take a closer look at the mosaics on either side of the building.

I told you!  I figure with the 2-D nature of those little guys, and at the dimensions they appeared to be on my old 13" TV that I had my Atari 2600 hooked up to, that we could literally fit an infinite amount of space invaders there.  If my hunch is right then the Parisians are doing the world a service by keeping these petite extraterrestrial gremlins locked up.  Of course, the way the locals slurp up snails and munch on frogs, perhaps they have escaped and are controlling the local populace in a "body snatchers" sorta way.  If I don't come home and stop posting stupid little stories you may need to call in Galaga.  Not really sure what's going on here, but this place requires some persistent monitoring, like I said - it could just be a toilet.

At any rate, if all goes wrong and those invaders get out causing mayhem and destruction, at least there is a cool old hospital (St. Anoine's) right across the street (hidden behind the trees).

On the less sinister side, this old church is on the historic places list (though honestly, what isn't on that list in Paris) and right around the corner from my apt.   Best I can tell, this little church isn't really known for anything other than receiving more than 300 bodies (sans heads?) from the Bastille guillotine in one year, since it was one of the closer churches with a graveyard.  Now there is a nice little playground and flower garden in front.  I hope they moved the bodies first, though that might explain why the flowers grow so well.

I walked all over Paris this past week end so there are a few more pics but not much to say about 'em.  What's to say really when every time you turn around there is another historic place, monument, museum, memorial, etc.  Though I have to say, while it doesn't get boring you do start to become desensitized to the "oldness" of it all.  Anyway, here are some more pics:
Had to take the obligatory photo of Le Tour Eiffel as seen from Trocadero.  I have been here so many times that I probably wouldn't have come over this far west in town if I hadn't promised the kids a picture of the Eiffel tower.  I'm glad I did though.  It is always impressive to see up close no matter how many times you visit it.  With that said though, I literally walked out of the Metro station, took the picture, turned around and boarded the metro to my next destination.  When you see the crowds here (especially in Aug.) and have gone up and down several times, you don't really want to hang around.

Next is just another shot of Notre Dame from Le Rive Gauche (left bank).   If you've been to Paris and walked amongst the throngs of tourists in the old part of the Latin quarter you have been near here, but maybe never passed by.  This is one block past where most tourists tend to go, thus the empty street even on a Sat. afternoon.  To me this is Paris.  A grande cathedral, a quaint medieval street and some old - now preserved - crumbling buildings with some (unknown to me) historic significance.

Not really sure why I took the next picture (therein lies the danger of posting photos before writing about them) but it does show a typical street and architecture of Paris.  Nothing special (from a Paris point of view) but I do like all of the roof tops and facades of the buildings in the city.

This is the Place de la Nation that sits inside a giant round about and a top a big metro station.  I hadn't been out here before.  It was nice to see a different part of the city.

I saw this graffiti during one of my promenades through the arrondissements.  It reminded me of the NSA, snowden, wire tapping taxes stuff that's been in the news for months now.  That is definitely not lost on the Parisians.  It even came up in my French class today.  What can I say ... nothing, or atleast that's what I tend to say.  I have enough to worry about without involving the NSA.

Well that's it for now.  I'll let you know if I see any little pixelated creatures roaming my neighborhood.


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Why We Came to the Southern Half

 Wow, we have almost been away three weeks now.  One of the hardest things is being separated from TJ.  I am trying to give twice the hugs to the kids.
Originally we were all going to go to Paris, which had been in planning stages since July 2012.  

Some time early this year my mum said she would love to see us, her grand kids that is, again soon, I was welcome to chaperone.  She gets concerned the kids will forget who she is... well that is the guilt trip I hear.  The last time we saw them was when they came to stay two years ago, in July 2011.  And the last time we all came out to New Zealand, we still had a lap-sitter on the plane (read: reduced fare), Carson was 17 months, Delaney 3 1/2, and Charlie was still Charlotte ( or maybe CharChar), she was 7.  TJ and I were 30-somethings! 

Us traveling to NZ is the only way we can get together now due to my Dad's heart condition, and the fact that we live at 7200" in Los Alamos.  Last visit he ended up visiting the cardiologist and getting an oxygen tank to use sleeping.

We discussed it for a few weeks before we decided what to do, trying to weigh out how we could make it happen, and deciding what would be the best thing to do.  Basically, until I win Lotto, we cannot do two big international trips with all five of us in a minimum of 2yr span.  I plan to play lotto while I am here though, and with a win, TJ can jetset over to see Charlotte's year 6 performance at Rototuna Primary school in late September.  

I have always wanted for the kids to know more about their New Zealand DNA, by spending more time than a 3 week Christmas visit.  To be connected to the New Zealand side of their family, including grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles, and 2nd cousins.  To become familiar with the New Zealand lifestyle, get to know the countryside, the subtle cultural differences living in another English-speaking western country, where their roots are.  
They are certified, passport carrying kiwis.  We thought it would really give meaning to that in their lives, after this experience of growing up kiwi for 5 months, in place of an international school experience in France.  With this being Charlotte's last year in Elementary school, and Carson getting to start school, it also seemed like the opportune time.  

For me, I have reached a transition in my life having been home with 1 or 2 preschoolers for the last 8years, and now having the youngest start school.  So when people ask what I am going to be doing, I really don't have anything lined up.  Unfortunately I have not been able to run for almost 3 months now because of an injury.  I brought along my violin though, which I am not that good at, but I'd really like to be better, and play more fiddle style tunes.  So I am playing most days and I figure in 40 more years of regular playing, I could possibly be a decent fiddle player, and it will also be something I can continue to enjoy even with plantar fasciitis, calf tears, etc.  into my 70's 80's and beyond.  

I am going to be organizing our October holidays trip to the South Island, which is going to include train tickets, Inter-island Ferry tickets, a rental car....and an itinerary!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Gladiateurs de la petanque

Overall I have been very busy, but not too much to write about.  I'm just trying to find enough hours in the day to attend my French classes and go to the lab.  As a result there isn't much time for anything else, other than a quick trip to the Monoprix down the rue to pick up some groceries.  I haven't even been able to make time to get back to that cool climbing gym that I saw on the weekend.  I'm afraid all extracurricular activities will have to wait until my classes finish at the end of the month.  I do hope to get out to see a sight or two this weekend; le tour Eiffel, at least, as I promised the kids that I post some pictures of it this weekend.  Until then here is a picture taken from my chair looking out my office window toward Les Jardin des Plantes.

This was taken on the one rainy day of the week, so no blue skies.  Other than that day the weather's been really nice.

It wasn't all work and confusion (i.e., struggling through French classes), however.  I did manage to get out yesterday when I was invited to play petanque, better known as bowles or bocce to anyone likely to read this.  I hadn't actually played in 25 years and had forgotten how much fun it is, and a bit surprised at how it can be so fun for such a simple game.  But what's not to like about standing out in a beautiful setting, drink of choice in one hand and ball in the other all while surrounded by 50+ other people doing the same thing and obviously having as a good a time at it as you.  The best part is it doesn't even matter if you're any good; in fact it might even be more fun if you're not.  It certainly is more funny.

Last night's petanque battles were held in the Lutece Arena, an ancient Roman arena in the center of Paris, which also just happens to be a stone's throw from my lab/office.  Amazingly, in all the times I've been in Paris I had never been here.  It's easy to miss, but a nice place to check out if you're interested in history.  It's quite humbling to stand in the center of a place like that and see the pieces of history that surround you from ancient times to the present.  Makes you realize just how short a time you are here.  Here are a few photos to give you an idea.

The entry to the arena. 

Walking in I'll admit to being a bit nervous; no, not for the battles that were about to take place, but for putting myself in a situation where I would actually have to use some of my pitiful French.  For better or worse that was minimized, as the Frenchies that I was with - from the medical imaging lab where I worked several years ago - are all English speakers.  Some aren't even French, so most conversations came back to English in the end, if they didn't start there to begin with.

This is the inside of the arena where we were gathering.  I was a bit early, so it looks emptier than it actually was.  Above it looks like maybe 3 games going on, in the end there was probably at least 10 - 12.  Below is an "action" shot .... ooo, now doesn't it look exciting?
I survived my first battles of the wild game of petanque, winning 3 of 4 matches (or at least being on the winning team) with the 4th being called due to the park closing (though to be fair we were losing).

On one of the other nights of the week I passed the Paris Plage (i.e., the artificial beach they put on the banks of the Seine in the summer).  I took a couple pictures there too.  Here is one looking from one of the ponts (bridges).
As part of Paris Plage, they also put beach volley ball in front of the Hotel de Ville (city hall).
And yes, hordes of people really do come to sit out on the "beach" at these places, dressed as if they really were at a beach and no one looks at them strange for it ... except maybe me.  It all seems a tad contrived, but they seem to enjoy it so who am I to judge.

One more pic, mainly for Kay.  On my way past the beaches I went by Notre Dame and saw the hideous monstrosity they have put up there for the 850th (yeah, 850th) anniversary of the cathedral.  It's pretty appalling, but I guess it serves a purpose (other than obstructing the view).  It is a grand stand so they can seat people in front for concerts and other performances.  Still ugly though.

That's it for now.  A+