A French Family Affair and a Little Bit More

Moving Across the Planet

Leaving Sydney one afternoon and being in France a morning later still astounds me. The flights were as comfortable as they could be.
The journey for our planned Christmas with Emlyn and friends in Mont- Pres-Chambord brought us to Charles de Gaulle airport in the morning. From here we had to find the train for the final leg to Tour to be collected by Emlyn.

But first the train - it seemed simple enough and it mostly was but there were a couple of humorous moments such as
1. Standing on the departure platform and being asked by a local if this was the correct platform - which we eventually discovered with our adopted friend, a busy lady with very upbeat personality, had been changed but we had significant difficulty establishing just which platform it would be. When we did find the right platform then the access was down a set of stairs - no escalators or lift operating - and a large crowd of travellers with luggage and children focused on getting to the soon to depart train. Ever so pleased with the lightness and ease of our baggage at this point!!

2. Finding seats on the correct carriage and thinking that these weren't individually allocated - which they can be but then again they might not be! Anyway we found some fellow French travellers who were very kind and communicative (yes!) and they helped to clarify both the seating arrangements and when we would need to disembark.

Arriving at Tours only half an hour late we were greeted by Emlyn and big hugs and Philippe, a generous and friendly man who drove us to their little village Mont-Pres-Chambord where we found our abode for the next week.
A very welcome shower then off to meet the rest of the family and have lunch. There was friendly and fun conversation in both French and English.
With Typhaine and Emlyn we headed to a local supermarket and as the evening before Christmas Eve it was like being in any shopping centre anywhere - a little bit crazy but successful - Ian scored a local SIM card much to his delight!
Finally back to our cottage and a very, very welcome horizontal rest.

Christmas Eve and a little bit more

Sleep had restored me and a new day dawned (quite late in fact). View from our bedroom window when we woke - even a little sun crept through!

After a simple cheese and bagette breakfast with a cup of tea we were collected by Emlyn for a visit to Chambord Chateau.
A stunning place with a long history and a particularly elegant double helix spiral staircase. Although the architect isn't known there is a suggestion that Leonardo Da Vinci had a hand in the design. The purpose of the chateau was mostly hunting and the usual 'I am King' statement from Francis 1st. The grounds are bigger than the size of Paris. Even being winter the sun was shining and it was a quite stunning.

An afternoon rest was required in preparation for the evenings activities. So back to the cottage and snoozing - very welcome indeed.
Christmas Mass at 8ish. A Catholic mass - all in French - managed to stay warm - and understood little but the some tunes were familiar.

Back to the family home for dinner - they really do eat late on Christmas Eve because once the meal is done it is then past midnight and presents can shared.
But to the food first. Foie gras (duck) yum, then Coquilles St Jaques - so yummy (will need to do this one at home) and finally Norweigan omelette for dessert - more yum!
By now it is well past midnight and Emlyn has donned the Santa hat to hand out presents. After gifts and much wrapping unwrapped the day comes to an end at 2am when we wander back to the cottage and fall into bed. Interestingly the street lights go out at 10.30 so just as well we have the trusty app for a flash light.


After an eventful and late Christmas Eve Christmas morning was a slow start and we arrived back at the family home at around 1ish. Today is about the gathering together of the extended family.

As we entered the home there were a number of cousins already ensconced and we had the pleasure of being introduced to so many people who were both very welcoming and prepared to speak English - very gracious of them because it meant that we had some interesting conversations.

Lunch was at a table, beautifully decorated, set for 25. Before taking our seats we were given champagne and starters - all beautifully presented on trays offered around. These were petite bits of scrumptious flavours - and so neatly done. Once seated at the table we started with a fish mix moulded with a mint sauce poured over it and tiny tomatoes. It was followed by Turkey, potatoes and carrot and interesting mix of nuts and beans - not sure what it was but it was definitely yummy.

We finished with three types of ice cream logs - quite stunning and all delicious but the citrus and grand marnier one had my vote!

As the afternoon progressed the games came out and there was much 'fun around the table' as well as at the Wii.

Another meal was served at about 8ish - quiche, salad and as always baguettes. Then a cheese plate and tea to finish the evening. I lasted to nearly 10.00 before thinking I would fall off my chair in sleep - so back to our retreat and sleep!

Not Boxing Day here

So once again having had more horizontal sleep, and quite a lot of it, we wander off to meet Emlyn and Typhaine to head off for a day's outing. The plan is that as the day is warm (relatively speaking) and potentially dry we shall see the Chenonceau Chateau.

This amazing place bridges the Cher River, significantly fast flowing due to excess rain at present, and it relied heavily on women to both come into being and remain there.

Initially it was Diane de Poitiers who created the spectacular gardens and home. She was a favourite of Henry II and he gave her the place in 1547 but when he died his widow, Catherine de' Medici, made her give the place to her and she continued to extend the gardens and building. From Chenonceau Catherine looked after France as regent and apparently when young King Henry III was crowned king in 1560 the first fireworks display was seen from here. It continued to be a more female dominated place with Louise of Lorraine, wife of Henry III, until 1601, Louise Dupain,(1553-1601) during the age of enlightment. Marguerite Pelouze 1836 -?? and Simone Menier 1881 - 1972.

So from here we head to Amboise - a busy town with a large castle and the home of Leonardo da Vinci for the last three years of his life. But first lunch - a busy little cafe where we had some soup - yum - and yes there was baguettes involved, and Ian has a form of Bruschetta again yum!

So we wandered the town and found many homes and buildings in the rock of the area - not just built from but dug into the rock. We climbed many steps, I remember Paris for its many steps, to a high point to look over the village and then walked downhill to Leonardo's joint - didn't choose to pay to go through but saw plenty anyway. Remember that large castle - well it is large and although we didn't go through it I did find Ian, Emlyn and Typhaine up against one very tall wall of the place.

By now it was getting dark - nearly 5pm. We headed back to our place and then to the wired and warm residence for another delicious meal but with a few less people - 10 for dinner. We had Pork Pâté following a soup course first.

Comfortable talk and laughter around the dinner table brought us to street lights time out once again - that's 10.30. So back to our quiet, warm and most comfortable cottage. Feeling like we have been here for quite along time now and we have settled very easily.

A village visit

The day dawned with rain and clouds so it would seem that our planned walk to the village bakery would not happen. So we made the mandatory cup of tea and surprisingly the clouds cleared and the sun even came out.

To the village we walk - observing the various dwellings and buildings along the way. I know we left at 9.30 am but even as the 10am time ticked over the life of the village was slow to get going. The bakery where we selected some croissants and a baguette was looking very inviting and having made our choices headed for a supermarket at the other end of the village, finding a post office along the way.

The supermarket yielded some eggs, sparkling water and clementines. So now we had breakfast rations we headed back. No rain and even some watery sunshine meant a successful walk so now to cook the eggs and toast the baguette - the croissants had long ago been consumed - yum.

The afternoon had some potential but as it unravelled Ian joined our hosts on a walk around a local lake, I found a comfortable corner to settle in and read.

We had invited the clan out for dinner. A favourite restaurant of the family's had been selected - Italian in Blois. This was our first drive into the city and it is interesting to see a city by night for the first time. With a cathedral and castle dominating the centre of the city it has quite some character and age. We shall return to visit Blois in the daylight soon.

A grey day and rest

The morning light struggled today - a very watery day indeed. Spending the day indoors is an excellent plan. So after breakfast there is a movie to enjoy. An old and funny French film about the German occupation. Called La Grande Vadrouille - It certainly had humour and I think it captured some of the French / English subtleties as well as some of the class characteristics of the French while always managing to ensure that the Germans appear the fools.

During the afternoon we wandered around the streets of Mont-Pres-Chambord. It is both old and new but it has many interesting stories to tell. One such story was during WWII. On the 21st August 1944 (21 Août 1944) there was a massacre here in the village. Returning German soldiers killed 15 civilians in the village believing them to be either part of the resistance or at least responsible for hiding individuals responsible for trying to prevent the soldiers take their chosen path. So there is now a street named 21 Août 1944 and an annual ceremony to acknowledge the event.

Sunny Blois

Our last day and the sun beamed! We left early to visit Blois, a close city centre to Mont Pres Chambord. We planned to see both an old church, St Louis, and the Royal Chateau Blois. Arriving a quiet Saturday morning where a city is slowly coming to is a lovely way to watch it come to life.

We were the first to enter the chateau for the day. There is something to be said for visiting places here in winter. It is both beautiful and relatively quiet.

The building has four distinct facades - each representing the period and person of the time. From the 13th century medieval gothic fortress to the flamboyant Louis XII of early 1501 to the Renaissance with Francois I in the 1520s and then to the Classicism of Gaston d'Orléans of the 1630s.

The medieval hall - and it is large.

The Flamboyant.

The Renaissance

Classicism. But put it all together and it becomes Château Blois!

Inside offered a visual feast as well.

From this magnificent feast we headed back to the town which was now busy with the local market. Another visual feast.

To finish the outing we visited the cathedral - another old and solid statement from history.

Before finishing the expedition we found our way back to the car via the 'old' lane ways of Blois.

Trains, trains and trains

Today has been a travelling day. Four train trips and our destination - Derbyshire where we plan to celebrate the new year with friends.

The first leg of our train day. Blois to Austerlitz. A comfortable enough trip but there were definitely stairs involved - again! From there we had one metro trip from Austerlitz to Gard de Nord the on to the very fast Eurostar to St Pancras from St Pancras the to final destination Derby.

The Eurostar hit some speed. Ian clocked us on the train with this app.

A warm and cosy destination!

And a comfortable bed. - leaving us in no doubt as to just where we were!


A plague, a village and two New Years

The revised plan for today is to visit the village of Eyam. This village came to our attention when reading Year Of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks and when we realised that the location of the village she had written about was close to Phil and Darley then we thought that we might get the chance to visit. Eyam has become known for how it closed its village borders once The Plague hit town. It was a wet, grey day but this was no deterrent!

We arrived in Eyam just in time for lunch and a New Years toast for our Aussie New Year. We had a feast and a beer before then walking the streets of Eyam and finding the museum. A fascinating place - telling not only the plague story of the village but a balanced and broad story of village life through the ages.

Some of the healthy souls of Eyam.

This is what the doctor would have worn to visit an ailing patient!

The grave of the wife of the minister who lead the town in making the decision to close its borders. He lived but sadly she didn't.

Ian outside Eyam Hall.

A damp drive returned us to a warm abode and preparations for New Year's Eve. The plan is for some of the friends / neighbours to join us here - both for an informal meal and some party games - the speciality of Darley - before watching the fire works from London (on tele) and welcoming in the new year - apparently Ian will be at the back door on the countdown holding a piece of coal and then entering at midnight to place the coal on the hearth - it's a northern thing - I think?

The evening included much laughter and scrambling trying to get a London cab wound up on a piece of string before your opponent.

It was 2am before we finally crawled into bed - an excellent and very full day.

Sun, a picnic and a forest

The sun is up, the sky is blue so let's picnic! New year had dawned and it was a dry and sunny but not so warm morning. I certainly declined the offer of a cup of tea in the garden to start the day.

We slowly, and I like slowly a lot, prepared ourselves for the outing. After a creamy porridge breakfast followed by Darley's home made bread toasted and lashed with butter and jam I felt I might be ready for the day. I forgot to mention that we also fitted in a load of washing and hung it on the line. We packed ham salad rolls - using the previous nights left overs - mince pies and a thermos for tea. Collected the compliant Maisie and headed off for Birches Valley.

This location is a forest with options for bike riding, a 'hut, hut' course and then you could choose to walk through the forest on the sculpture walk. Guess which one we chose!

The place was alive with people activity and given the muddy and wet terrain, the cold and limited sun I was impressed by the resilience of so many to just get out there and enjoy the day as much as possible.

Tracy, Phil and Maisie ready to go.

Ian standing next to the earth mother sculpture.

I did say that the forest was alive with people!

Guess what this sculpture is. And yes that is Maisie's tail too.

Just the right sculpture for Ian - I do believe it is one KT! And Maisie is still with us.

The walk was very welcome, cold faces and cold fingers for some but most refreshing and fun - I even played the drums echoing across the forest as I hit the up turned plastic containers with sticks from the forest.

Before departing, and appreciating the warm car - a lot - I observed that there were more than a few rugged individuals who were wearing shorts and tee shirts ONLY!. I know you can warn up on a bike but really?????

Back to the warm cottage in Mayfield to tea and crumpets.

We grazed on the left overs, chatted, laughed and had a very relaxed and comfortable evening. Finishing the day at a regular time was appreciated - the party animal in me is not a stay up late kind of animal really.

A visit to Ashbourne and a journey back to London

Today we will go into the village of Ashbourne. This lovely village has a history of being a point at which many roads meet. It is a market town and it is known as both The Gateway to Dovedale and the Gateway to the Peak District. But it also has some seriously large trucks squeezing through the very old and narrow roads.

It so looked like it should have fallen over!

Those cobbled stones of the market place.

Apparently this village has a significant number of pubs. There is one suggestion that one in four buildings has been and alehouse, pub or inn at some point in it's history!

Our sojourn in Mayfield / Ashbourne has been preceded by many and I feel we have been in good company. We have been very well cared for by our most excellent friends and hopefully we will be back to see them again soon.

Departure to London is due so it is back on the comfortable and busy train. But the final view of the countryside from our local abode is very beautiful.

The final morning view from the best and most delightful cottage in Mayfield.

We didn't get to first class.

Ready to go!

London Town and the British museum

A dry morning with sneaky little streaks of sun offer us a morning of adventure around the world in the form of the British Museum. The place is pumping with visitors all absorbed into the very large building and exhibitions contained within.

Get ready, get set, get ready for the British Museum.

Before entering the Museum this pub came to my attention across the road. A sport free pub! Yippee.

Back to the museum - lots of stuff to look at, read and digest.

Interesting wild life and I think I might have made this pot on the iPad!

A Greek temple - one goddess in the front!

Studying amongst the collection.

From roaming the ages to the great outdoors again.

Outside the pub again - at least the Bloomsbury set also wandered this space - so I feel in good company.

Ian discovered this business on our way to Oxford Street. I leave the rest up to you.

And finally in Oxford Street. Between the Christmas sales and school holidays there is no shortage of a crowd. What fun it is to be in this city.

V&A Museum and messing about on a boat

Another exciting day in a great city. First we headed to the Victoria and Albert Museum, known as V&A. Another place that absorbs people very successfully. Full of a variety of collections and specialist exhibitions. But the building was most impressive although getting information about it was not easy.

The busy entrance hall which we entered from the tube line tunnel.

My first view of the external of the building.

Some of the glass collection.

Part of the silverware collection - not sure what you serve in this one!

Tiny, really tiny, mosaic work.

Although the table is a challenge to sit at!

Everything gets to be decorated, even the steps.

Loitering in good company.

It is an impressive courtyard.

Our next adventure was to Westminster Pier to hop on a boat to Greenwich. To see the city from water level is to see it as so many would have experienced it historically. It is a very busy waterway today but I imagine it has always been so.

Big Ben - looking very shiny post Olympic spruce up I suspect. And Boadicea and her daughters protecting London.

The Globe - I think it is my favourite place in London.

The Traitors gate entrance to the Tower.

Herschel's telescope on the top of the hill at the Observatory.

Standing either side of the line - without the queue and crowd.

A serious ship in a bottle outside the Royal naval college.

Returning in the later afternoon and dark meant we were treated to the lights of London.

Twelfth Night on the Epiphany

Our last day in London - and what a day. We planned a visit to Harrods for lunch goodies before heading to Piccadilly Circus for a Twelfth Night performance.

Checking out Harrods before entering.

This is just the escalators - plenty of glamour here!

Our seats from on high - great viewing!

Preparing for the show - makeup and costume on stage - magical transformations.

Standing on the corner after the show - program in hand.

Me in front of another delicious plate of food. Simon the Tanner's, the pub down the road from us, does good work.

Camberley and New Forest

On the move again. An early start to get to Waterloo and then to Camberley.

The Old Vic theatre opposite the station - Kiss Me Kate is currently running.

Lunch at the Alice Lilse Pub. Alice seems to be the last woman beheaded in the country - her crime being harbouring two fugitives on the run from James II.

The thatched cottage of friends we spent evening with.

Paris days

Our last three days of this adventure will be spent with Emlyn and Typhaine. With various activities on the plan we started by finding a place to eat dinner.

Heading down the wet but colourful street for dinner in the Latin Quarter on the left bank.

Inside the restaurant where I ordered some delicious Duck - sorry no picture - I was too quick! But there is dessert - blackcurrant gelato with blackcurrant cream - perfect end to a meal!

It would seem that the time here is all about the food - well it is excellent - but in between there is also getting too and fro and wandering various parts of the city. Always interesting, always people heading out and about and loads of buildings, old and new, to wonder at.

The morning of our second day in Paris offered some more rain but it was very soft and definitely not too cold. We waited outside the Louis Vuitton main office building.

Both of us in front of our delicious lunch!
After eating we walked and found interesting parts of Paris.

Outside the Pompidou Centre - wacky, but fun building.

Toasty warm hat and gloves purchased in Tasmania (Oatlands). Juts right for walking round a cold city in the evening.

Paris on our last day - the sun even came out!

Crossing the bridge towards Musée d'Orsay. Lots of locks on the bridge - go figure.

Musée d'Orsay - way too hectic for any commitment from us to line up so we found somewhere to have lunch!

Better than a chocolate shop.
We head back to the very sunny and hot climes of home early tomorrow. The last three weeks has been packed full of wonderful, generous and warm people as well as lots of fun action. This was somewhat spontaneous visit and it has been most excellent.