Wednesday, 28 November 2012

We plan a bushwalk and end up in the snow!

Tuesday 27 November

We seem to have had a very wet night with a thunderstorm in the distance.  At least, when I wake up in the middle of the night I see lightning in the foothills and I hear the rain coming down.  Best try and go back to sleep again.

Still, I wake up at 6am and get out of bed.  No use trying to go back to sleep yet again.  And no, I'm not going to say a word about those blasted beds...

After a shower and breakfast the sun shows itself for a few seconds, but it is still a bit damp outside.  We spend the morning keeping ourselves busy with this and that.  Towards lunchtime it's dry outside and we plan to try this bushwalk again after lunch.

No good.  As soon as we leave the driveway the first drops fall again.  A well, we can go for a drive instead.  Anything better than staying inside all day.  We first make our way towards St Marcellin.  We have a good detailed map and find the scenic way towards this little town.  Next we cross the Isere River and drive to La Balme de Rencurel via Pont en Royans and Choranche. (We would have loved to visit the caves here, but not in this kind of weather...)  We seem to be getting closer to the foothills of the Alpes.  It's a beautiful trip and indeed a scenic one as mentioned on the map, although most of the picturesque valleys are hidden by the low hanging clouds.

Most of the pictures are taken through the windscreen, because it's raining too much to try and go outside the car.  We like to avoid the main roads and so far we have stayed on secondary roads, however, the road from here to St Gervais is going to be even less than that.  We decide to give it a try, but at times it is pretty hairy.  Many hairpin bends and steep slopes on 'my' side of the road.  Mostly only room for one car, so I am constantly keeping my fingers crossed that we won't meet a car that is coming the opposite way. A lot of water is coming down the mountains after a few days of rain and the rivers are running fast.

Then we pass through a gorge with very little room on either side of the road and overhanging rocks:

There are also plenty of tunnels.  Some wider and lighted.  Some dark and so narrow that there's only room for one vehicle at the time:

From a great distance we have seen snow in the mountains, but not for one minute had we expected to go that high.  Well, life is full of surprises....  After a while we get to a meadow that has had a light sprinkling of snow.  See the picture and look at the meadow above the roof of the house:

And before we know it everything around us is white and we are driving through sleet instead of rain.

It is a beautiful sight, but we are glad that the roads at least are free of snow, because we don't have snow chains in the car (we think).  After a while we get to one of the very narrow gorges again and from here we are going downhill, meaning that it's the end of snow range. One last tunnel (the darkest and narrowest one) and from then on winding road until we arrive at St Gervais.

Here we cross the river Isere again and drive home via Vinay and another scenic drive (hidden in the clouds and mist) until we are back home some three hours later.  Well, it was an afternoon well spent and the rain didn't even bother us.

At home we enjoy a nice cup of coffee and afterwards I work my way through an avalanche of email messages that have accumulated over the last few weeks.

I hope you have enjoyed our little tour through the mountains.

See you later.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

One gets used to most things...

Monday 26 November

...but not to an uncomfortable bed.  Another wasted effort, swapping mattresses.  We slept a bit better, but not well enough to leave the situation alone.  Tonight we're going to sleep on the bed in the spare bedroom.  Last resort!

We're also missing a nice cup of coffee.  So far coffee making has been a bit of an effort as well. There is no kettle, so if we need boiling water for instant coffee (which we don't like at all) we have to boil water in a sauce pan or in the microwave oven.  The latter works faster, but........ the timer doesn't work, so we need to constantly keep an eye on our watches.  So, being fed up with that and with drinking instant we go to the shops.  With a bit of effort we find the Super U  that we visited on the way from the airport.  I remembered having noticed that it was a sort of Kmart thus selling more than just groceries.  We find a decent coffee maker, buy ground coffee and a few other groceries and make our way home again.

Frank feels quite at home again behind the steering wheel

The groceries shopping done, time for lunch!

By then it's lunch time.  We go French today and have our beautiful French bread with St Marcellin cheese. This is a local cheese that we discovered in the fridge.  It's sharper than goat's cheese, although it's made of cow's milk, but once you're used to the flavour it's quite nice.

We had wanted to go for another drive in the afternoon, but the weather changed all of a sudden.  The wind disappeared and it started to rain.  So, the bushwalk we had planned will have to wait for another day. Instead we explore the surroundings closer to home i.e. the farm buildings and other parts of the house.

The house is one long building, set against a hill side, or rather carved into the hill side.  The first half consists of two living quarters that are the mirror image of each other.  Downstairs two rooms with in entry into one of them, like the door leading into the kitchen area on the right.  Opposite this door are the stairs to the first floor, which contains three rooms.  From the first floor a set of stairs lead to an attic.  Only the rooms on the ground floor are interconnected.  Upstairs there are no connecting doors between the bedrooms. Only the first part of the building has been restored.  It has central heating and a 'modern' kitchen.  Looking at the wallpapers the restoration dates from the 70s.  (Pictures will be taken later)

The other half of the mirror image contains the old kitchen and, what is now, an office/library.  If one is interested in old houses (like we are) it is quite interesting to see how those houses were built and how people lived in the past.  Come back to this page later as I will try and take some more pictures tomorrow in daytime.

The second half of the building contains stables, a work shed and hay loft.  It looks like slaughtering may have been done here too in the past, but I am not too sure.  Surprisingly the stables contain a bathroom and toilet.  It must have been an earlier addition, because it's all a bit dated.

Next to the stables is an old workshop with woodworking machines (pictures below).  Not surprising, because René's father and grandfather used to make wooden boxes and handles for rakes, pitch forks and other farm tools.

A band saw of considerable size

A drill stand of equally impressive size

and a 'biggish' planer...
Above the work shed is a hay loft and behind the house, and cut out into the hill, is an open area, divided into two parts by a wall, which can be entered from both sides.  The whole building, including the open area at the back is covered by an enormous roof.  The house is built, like all local farmhouses, of rocks that are found in the ground in this area.  I will tell you a bit more about it at a later stage.  Again, more pictures will follow too.

After our bit of exploring it's time for a cuppa (a decent one this time!) and shortly after that it's dinner time.  Since I have discovered some, also locally made, real goat's cheese in the fridge I want to try something different for a meal.  Stir-fry comes to mind.  So, later we enjoy a lovely meal of stir-fried pork, potato pieces, witlof, goat's cheese and walnuts.  Not bad for a cook without a lot of imagination. LOL

And after a while it's time to try out our 'new' bed. :-)  See you tomorrow...

Exploring our surroundings

Sunday 25 November

Sunday morning.  I am up at 4.30am.  Frank, who's been awake the best part of the night gets up a few hours later.  We are not quite cranky, but after another bad night we're not in the best of moods either.  After breakfast Frank has had enough and decides to swap the mattresses of the two beds to see if it will make any difference.  We'll let you know tomorrow. ;-)

Breakfast was more like brunch, but tasted soooo good.  Fresh croissants. Can't wish for anything better...  Ah well, bagels with fresh cream cheese come to mind, but we're in France now.  Better forget our American adventure.

Then it is time to try out the car and go for a little drive.  Shouldn't be too hard, after we've been driving on the right side of the road for 6 weeks in the States.  René's GPS is a bit difficult to use, so we're happy we've brought our own.  At first we have problems setting the home location, because the GPS can't find the address.  However, there's always more than one way to skin a cat and we just set the current location as home address, et voila! It works.

The Rhône-Alpes hidden behind the first line of clouds above the horizon

It's a pleasant drive to Romans-sur-Isère and not too far off for a first little trip.  Romans, situated on the river Isère as the name implies, is well-known for the manufacturing of shoes, and industry that started at around 1850.  Plenty of shoe shops, of course, but since they are all closed on Sunday I am safe!  We walk a bit through the little town and take some pictures.  Nothing special, but enough for a first outing. There are also a shoe museum and a pogne museum.  We've been to neither, but we're here for 8 weeks, so who knows....  Plenty of bakeries too, and all are open accept for the oldest producer of pognes, Pascalis, where we believe the museum to be located.

The Tower of Jaquemart Clock in the distance

The jacquemart (bellstriker) at the top of the tower

A fountain at the foot of the tower

A barometer on the wall of the tower

A rather steep street lined with shoe shops

Of course this denotes the shoe industry of the town

Murals above a little shop

La pogne de Romans

St GeniS cakes
On the way back we pass through St Antoine L'Abbaye.  We don't stop,  because we know we will return here some day.  Gabrielle (René's sister) has invited us to visit and we will visit the abbey together.  Gabrielle apparently is the mayor of this beautiful little town.

A quick impression of the abbey of St Antoine L'Abbaye
Again we only have a simple meal for dinner as we are still not very hungry at night and today we manage to stay awake till about nine.  Then it's off to bed to try and see if the mattress swap has made a difference.

An old farm house in Montfalcon

Saturday 24 November

As I mentioned yesterday I was going to tell you more about the house and show you some pictures.

Indeed, the first impression wasn't too good, even though we knew we were exchanging my place for an old farmhouse and I had seen the pictures of it.  However, if you arrive, tired from a long, not too comfortable plane trip, and discover that not only you can't find a comfortable seat, but the bed is not that crash hot either, it is altogether a bit disappointing to say the least.  So, when we got up on Saturday morning we were far from refreshed, because we had been sleeping in a bed with sagging mattress and a 'roll' for our heads, rather than the pillows that we are used to.  This resulted in a stiff neck for me, which, together with my sore leg did nothing to improve my outlook for the day.  Frank fared a bit better than I did and he eventually ventured outside to inspect the rest of the house.  So, pictures and description might follow some time during the week.

After breakfast we unpack and install ourselves and all our gear, including laptop and mobile phones, and try to stay awake. ;-)  I have brought my bobbin lace work again on this trip, but discover it hasn't survived the bag handlers' treatment of the luggage too well.  It might need some repair work before I can use it again and most certainly I'll have to make myself a new pillow when we get back home again.

Dear neighbour Mireille had turned on all the heaters in the living quarters before we arrived, but after we've had a shower we find we need to turn them down as the heat is overpowering by now and we definitely don't need a heated bedroom.  No matter how cold it is, we prefer to sleep in the fresh air with an open window.

Then it is 10am and a car stops in the yard.  It's the boulanger (baker), who delivers every Saturday and Wednesday.  What a bonus!  Real bread, instead of the rather tasteless square slices from the supermarket, and of course we want a few croissants and gateaux (cakes, but nothing like the cakes we know in Australia!).  When she returns next Wednesday we might also try a pogne, the local round bread in the shape of a crown, flavoured with orange blossom.

The rest of the day we are still in recovery mode and don't feel like undertaking anything.  I work on my blog, and I am quite content to do some reading on my new Kindle, which, thanks to my lovely daughter-in-law, has plenty of reading material on it. The maps that René has left us are quite handy.  They give me an opportunity to do some arm chair orientation for the moment.  We don't feel like having a big meal for dinner, so it's an uitsmijter (Dutch dish with fried eggs).  This comes in handy as we have doubled up on eggs and have rather too many of them...

Not long after dinner we call it a day, because we are still pretty tired, so we hop from our uncomfortable chairs in our uncomfortable bed, hoping for a better night.

As I had promised some pictures earlier on I'll show you a few here that I have taken a few days after I wrote this update:

The kitchen-cum-living area

Walnuts from the farm

Official living room, but not in use (ah well, we use it as our storage area) ;-)

The windows: in inspiration for my dollshouses

Front door opening into the kitchen

Full length of the house, including the stables and work shed

Window with shutters (still in use)

Frank in the one-and-only (not so) easy chair
More pictures tomorrow...

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Time for an update

The last few days before our departure have been rather busy (as usual) and thus no time for updates.  On Tuesday our exchange came closer with the arrival of René from Montfalcon (Rhone-Alpes, France).  As we have only one car temporarily, I had to drop off Frank at Cleveland for a hospital appointment, drive back to the airport to pick up René and back again to Cleveland to pick up Frank in return.  After that we could finally make our way home.  The rest of our time together we spent getting better acquainted, discuss exchange matters, go for a test drive (René normally doesn't drive on the left side of the road) and have dinner with with friends to introduce them to each other.

Frank, René, Ferdie, Leonie and Marion at the RSL for dinner

Unfortunately I only have this not-so-clear picture available, waiting for René to send me a better one.  Earlier in the day René spent some time repairing my vacuum cleaner which had a blockage.  He was happy to do so while Frank was mowing the lawn and I had to attend to various other household matters.

René the repair man :-)
Thursday 22 November

Finally the day has come.  We get up early to wash the bed linen and towels and since the weather is fine I get everything dried before we have to leave.  I don't know why, but I just can't get excited about this trip.  Perhaps this one came too hard on the heels of  the trip to the States.  I don't know.  We'll just have to take it as it comes I guess...

At 10am we get into the car and head for the airport where René drops us off and takes the car home.  He is  confident enough to drive after yesterday's trial run.  As we are never interested in duty-free shopping we get through customs and security and find an airport restaurant where we can have lunch. After that I have a moment to take some general pictures and some of clever sand sculptures, exhibited at the airport:

View of the shuttle bus pick-up area

Dolphin sand sculpture

Hibiscus flower sand sculpture

Surfer sand sculpture

Our plane nearly ready on the tarmac
Finally the time has come to check in and we board our flight to Singapore.  The first of three flights to get to Lyon.  In Singapore we have some time to kill (approx. three hours), so we walk around and look at all the changes over the years, since terminal three has now been added and finished as well.  After a cup of coffee it's boarding time, so we head to the gate for British Airways who'll fly us to Heathrow.

Here we have to go through security again and to my surprise my backpack, which contains my handbag and lots of smaller items, has to go through the scanner more than once.  Now, this backpack was a quick last decision before we left, because normally I pack it in my suitcase. As it has gone through security in Brisbane without any problems I was surprised and couldn't understand what the problem was.  But finally, oeps.... my bright red pocket knife appeared to be the offender.  Overlooked, because it's always in my backpack with a number of items that we take when bush walking and I hadn't even remembered it was there.  Ah well, it got confiscated of course, but that was all.  After I signed for handing it it (did I really have to sign for that???) we were free to join the other travellers again.  And so much for security in Brisbane!

As I said, we are flying British Airways but we'll come to regret our choice of BA, as the service, seating and food leave a lot to be desired. After the first stretch, operated by Qantas with their usual excellent service, this is a real let-down and I am glad I am asked to fill out a survey form. Oh, I have informed them alright! :-)

At 5am we land at Heathrow airport and have to walk through a maze to find the bus which brings us to a different terminal, where again we have to walk through a maze to find the gate for the next flight.  Since the seating had been so bad I have more problems with my sore leg than I had straight after my fall three weeks ago, and the long walk is not making it any easier, but I finally get there under my own steam...

The last stretch of 1-1/2 hours to Lyon is a breeze.  Also operated by BA, but the service, seating and food are a lot better.  A pity that the long 14 hour flight had to be the bad one!

In Lyon it's even colder than it was in Heathrow and I am glad I've kept my winter jacket handy.  Frank was more optimistic and has to get changed at Lyon airport after we collect our luggage.  René's sister Gabrielle is waiting for us and after her husband Bernard brings the car around we set off on the last leg to Montfalcon, which is situated approx. 90 km from Lyon airport.

Halfway we stop off at a restaurant near St-Etienne-de-St-Goirgs where we have lunch.  So far I haven't spoken more than a few words French, because my brain seems to be frozen.  At first not a French word will cross my lips, but slowly I am getting accustomed to the sound of the language and it all starts slowly to come back to me.  No real conversation by a long shot, but I can ask a few simple questions by now and answer a few as well.  After lunch we go to the supermarket to stock up on fresh vegies and other perishables.  Of course everything is labelled and I recognise most of the words, which makes the shopping quite easy in the end.

The last bit of the trip is via Roybon where we are pointed out the hairdresser, supermarket, pharmacy, post office, etc.  Apparently this is the nearest little town where we will do our regular shopping and where we will fill up the car.

At last Gabrielle picks up the keys at the neighbours' and we are 'home'.  She and Bernard show us around and then leave us with a promise from us that we will ring them to spend a day together and perhaps visit the abbey in their home town.

The house is an old farmhouse and is as we have seen in the pictures.  However, it appears to become a bit of a disappointment as time goes by.  One thing we must say: René is a very organised person if nothing else.   The kitchen cupboards are well stocked as are the fridge and freezer.  The cellar contains boxes labelled from A-Z and the contents are listed in a booklet that is ready on the table for us, with everything else we need to know.  Maps, a box of chocolates and small gifts in the form of  two 2013 calendars are left for us as well.  However, we wish the house was as well furnished as the cupboards, fridge and freezer were stocked...  Never before have we seen such sparsely furnished surroundings.  There is a living room, but it doesn't quite deserve the name.  The entry is into the kitchen which doubles as the living area, because it contains the one-and-only easy chair to be found in the house and the big flat screen TV on the mantelpiece.  In the centre is a large table with four (uneasy) chairs.  The kitchen bench and cupboards are along the wall underneath the stairs to the first floor.  It's 5pm, we're dead tired, and since we have only one not-even-comfortable chair between us we decide to go to bed and have a good sleep...

The bedrooms are upstairs and we just manage to get our heads down (on a 'roll' rather than pillows) before we are dead to the world.  We sleep 12 hours straight and wake up early Saturday morning and not very refreshed, but I leave the rest of the story (and pictures) for tomorrow...

Sunday, 18 November 2012

We're leaving!

Yep, we're leaving the country.  Storm season has arrived! It's getting too hot under the collar.....

No, seriously, we are leaving soon, but not because we're afraid of thunderstorms!  We're slowly getting ready right now, will be picking up René at the airport on Tuesday (he's leaving today) and we will be catching our plane on Thursday, so the next few days will be rather busy.

In the meantime we have had a very interesting weekend with one thunderstorm after another rolling in from the west and causing lots of havoc and the usual damage, in particular in the Brisbane area.  Our local newspaper, the Courier Mail, shows some spectacular photographs on line, so, if you are interested, click here and have a look at some 150 pictures.  This will have to keep you entertained until I start blogging our next trip again.  Till then.