Category Archives: Seeing the World

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ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

Christchurch. It’s an odd place. And I’m in an odd space, straddling the fence (as uncomfy as it sounds) between the arrogance of a newcomer who hasn’t yet seen the diversity and complexity of a place and so can make sweeping judgements based on a narrow view (ie. man, cantabs are a fit bunch, all biking up Hackthorne Road at half-8 every morning…) and the other side of the fence: feeling completely ill-qualified to say or even really think anything with any kind of certainty about this place.

a different perspective

Living here, on the hill, where I’ve never lived and spent very little time before, I am realising that some of my assumptions about Christchurch, in the more-than-decade I lived here before, were always a bit skewed to my neighbourhood, the demographic of the majority of my friends and acquaintances, my similarly-limited experience of the other cities I’d lived in (Auckland and Hong Kong) and the things I liked and didn’t like about those ex-homes…

a different demographic

Kids are a quick introduction to a wider demographic. Though some would say the parent-crowd is a narrow demographic, it’s still new to me.

Socialising without widely-used and widely-available public transport is different. The hours here are generally so much earlier than in France. I went to a writers group that was all over before nine and we didn’t even open all the wine. Catching-up with old friends and making new ones are both different experiences to hanging out with people you bump into every other day. Sight-seeing in a place that you feel you belong to is different from sight-seeing in a foreign land.

New Zealanders seem obsessed with their houses, their diets and which brand of yogurt or detergent is best, but actually those are probably international obsessions and I’m someone who a) doesn’t own a house, b) has had to change brands of everything (and used to teach media studies, so can preach with the best about how marketing is aiming for brand loyalty big time – YOU’RE BEING MANIPULATED), and c) my most successful diet involved generous doses of bread and cheese. I walked a lot. I still walk a lot. I have no intention of cutting bread or cheese. Or cheesy bread.

In some ways, things and people seem same-old, but at second glance not really at all. And, of course, Christchurch has changed. We were here for the earthquakes and a year of aftershocks and demolition and adjusting. But in the three years we’ve been away, the demolition has gone rip-roaring on and driving through the city I keep getting completely disoriented. Rebuilding has now (finally!) begun, in some areas anyway, and in the empty spaces, the waiting, other cool stuff, temporary or not, has sprung up: bars and cafes made of scaffolding and builder’s plastic, art installations framed by cranes and construction. And then there’s the street art. It’s not new, but I suppose I came to appreciate the street art in Paris and coming back, it’s a nice surprise.

official street art, an oxymoron?

So there’s the official kind, which is impressive and some is just plain beautiful…

elephant street art

street art in christchurch

…but street art with permission seems a little oxymoronic, don’t it?

unofficial art installation

And then there’s the unofficial kind, the twisted remains of steel reinforcement, the pillars channeling roman ruins (the poorly upkept type, sure) and the illegible paint-job behind the security fencing.

So walking through christchurch is a vastly different but not unpleasent experience. The cathedral’s a bit of a shock everytime I drive up Colombo Street and I’m suddenly there (so many of the buildings in the lead-up have gone that I don’t realise I’m close until I’m there). I’m not one for fierce attachment to buildings and that might be because I moved internationally when I was twelve, twice, and then again when I was fourteen, inter-island-ally, and so my concept of ‘home’ is indecisive, to say the least. I am very glad, however, that they are saving the Art Centre.

cranes and work

For my non-cantab readers, this was the old university buildings but has long been an arts and culture centre of the city, with weekend markets and every day artist studios, theatres, cinemas, museum space, community classes, galleries, the works. The first time I ever exhibited paintings it was on the street outside this place. I took a creative writing class here while I was working on my first ever novel. Luuk and I went on our first date to see ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead’ at the Court Theatre and then to Dux-de-Lux for their legendary seafood pizza.

Just over the road from this pile of rocks, is the YMCA, and they’ve been hosting a whole hoard of street art in an exhibition which closes, um, tomorrow…

spectre exhibition, chch ymca

Large and small, super-famous and not-so. Street art of a variety of shapes and flavours.

tilt and banksy

Tilt and Banksy co-built this half-white, half intense tags and full-colour, room. The nearest picture here reads, ‘I can’t believe you morons actually buy this shit.’

Heh.

canapes, can o' peas - what's the dif?

Having just spent three years wrestling with French, this one resonated.

not louis vuitton

This one just made me laugh because I had a friend in Paris who was a designer for Louis Vuitton and even he said he couldn’t say it right.

Luuk and I walked the streets after seeing the exhibition and found heaps of work on the walls of the city. ‘Tis a right mess in there, but it’s cool to see progress and there’s something therapeutic and metaphoric about finding beauty in a mess.

I’m happy to say it’s not metaphorical for my life as a whole right now. We are settling down and our place is nearly organised. The routines are starting to fall into place and it’s not hard to find beauty. Don’t look at the crumbs on the carpet or the coffee grinds on the kitchen bench, just feast your eyes on the Southern Alps, the bright, dusty plains, the immense sky, the motley autumn trees, and if you listen, you’ll hear the birds in the Kowhai outside the kitchen window.

In my next installment I might show you around the house a bit. By then I’ll finally have all the pictures up on the wall.


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signing off

I started this blog after we’d already been in France for a few months but for most of the time we’ve lived here, it’s been a sort of travel-meets-expat blog, with forays into parenting and politics and writing and all sorts. However, we are leaving France in less than two weeks and so things will change.

I will write a little something, I’m sure, about re-adjusting to New Zealand, about going back, reverse culture shock and all that jazz.

And I’ll still be writing books. One day, some of them will be published, so this website will remain my home base online. The flavour and frequency of blog-posts will change, but this feels a little like goodbye.

Mind you, everything feels a little like goodbye this week. I went to my final writers’ group get-together last Friday night. I hosted my final Friday morning prayer thing (which never got a name but will continue without me and might yet…). I’ve been to my final french class and tomorrow I teach my final English lesson.

writers' group

This is the kids’ last week at school and halte garderie. The thank-you pressies and cards are sitting on the bookshelf will all the other things I must remember to give or give back to people.

Several large pieces of furniture have been dismantled. The basement storage space is empty. Our house is full of boxes and lists and my next job is to go through all the lists and pull it all together into one big list of all the things going in the container. I have an episode of ‘Call the Midwife’ all lined up, ready to keep me company while I do that scintillating job. (Hopefully it won’t have me in rivers of tears like the last one did. Wonderful catharsis though it is…)

So here’s the plan:

Monday 16 Feb – moving out of our flat

We’re staying in a hotel in the vicinity of Paris and taking advantage of things like Disneyland, sometime in here…

Sunday 22 – flying out of France

Tuesday 24 – arriving in NZ (the length of the flight is having a similar effect as ‘Call the Midwife’)

We’ll stay with Luuk’s folks in the Waikato for a couple of weeks and we will spend a couple of days in Auckland, and maybe in Tauranga too.

Then we’ll drive down to Christchurch… exact dates yet to be confirmed. We really must get onto that – ferry tickets and whatnot.

Right, on with the packing then. (Have I suddenly started sounding like something out of 1950s London?)


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Deep breath, and…

wait. It’s too soon to actually pack. It’s too soon to get rid of furniture we actually use. There’s a bunch of phone calls and things to book and organise… but actually not much we can do to prepare for moving back to New Zealand.

We are, by the way, moving back home. In a month. A month, today, in fact. The urgent things are booking the shipping company and getting Elena her visa. Thank heaven her application is now off in the post and we can only… wait.

WHY does she need a visa? That’s always the next question. Well, she’s Dutch. She was born in France so the Dutch won’t allow her to have dual citizenship. She can be a New Zealander, because I am, but she’d lose her European citizenship, which she might want when she’s older… so we’ll get her New Zealand residency. Eventually, like Luuk, she’ll have Permanent Residence and will have every right of a NZ citizen, bar a passport… so that’s all fine, but in the meantime she has to have a visitor visa.

And hopefully, before we move out of our apartment, she’ll have one.

The other question I’m getting a lot is WHY do you suddenly have to move? The plan was for August and now it’s for February, and WHY?

French law says your landlord can only kick you out at the end of your lease (3yrs) if the owner is either selling or moving in. They have to give 6 months notice or else it rolls over for another three years. Our lease is up mid-February and our landlady gave us 6 months notice but we thought she’d be nice and let us stay for an extra few months if we promised to leave – signed something, even – in July. We asked… no answer. We didn’t chase it up fast because it seemed like a reasonable request, but eventually we asked again… no answer. Eventually, in November, she gave a definitive NO. So we tried to find a place nearby to move to, but come Christmas were having no luck and two moves in 6 months is unnecessarily stressful…

So one it is.

Back to Christchurch for the immediate future, but more aware than ever that the future is a tricky thing and who knows?

I suppose it’s fair to say I’ve been quite stressed. Quite sick too, but the doctor put me on powerful antibiotics so it’ll pass. Once I’m well, I’m sure I will feel less panicky about things, so long as no more idiots go on a murderous rampage just a couple of neighborhoods away… That’d be good.

Perhaps it was a bit reckless to go into Paris on Thursday, just the day after the Charlie Hedbo shootings, but as far as we knew the guys had gone north east. But I hadn’t been to a French class in over a month. So I went. Never mind that one of these nut jobs shot a couple of people in the southern part of the city, quite near Antony… because at that point no one realised he was one of the same guys who’d done the Charlie Hedbo lot.

On Friday I actually did have to go into the city, to take Elena to the ONE doctor in Paris who can do a medical certificate for NZ immigration. I had the beginnings of a horrible throat infection, and a grumpy 2 year old, and taking the train meant…

1. joining the morning rush on the RER B (no chairs and no way I can let Elena out of the pushchair, but she’ll try to get out anyway), and

2. changing trains at Denfert Rochereau, with about a million other people, and not breaking stride (which would cause AT LEAST ten people to collide) while lifting 15.5kgs of Elena plus whatever the pushchair weighs and carrying it down and up several double and at least one triple staircase.

So I get to the doctor and I have the wrong papers and the secretary seems like she’s going to help me out (print the right papers) and then she gets confused and thinks I have the right papers, so I go ahead with Elena to see the doctor (after waiting for a while in the lobby with a 2 year old and no toys and an annoying video ad playing on repeat for plastic surgery – think breasts spontaneously changing size and shape, bottoms defying gravity, the sort of thing you absolutely want your 2-year-old seeing ten times over). And then we figure out that no, indeed, I do have the wrong papers, but now the secretary is adamant that she can’t print documents for clients, and Elena is ready for her nap and throwing a bit of a tizzy and I’m feeling quite ill and I crack, ie. start crying, then pull myself together enough to make another appointment for Monday.

I leave and stand on the footpath and have a good cry – which gets you no comments, not even a sideways glance, in Paris. It’s kind of nice. I cried, confident that no passers-by would interrupt me with their concern. And then I went to the New Zealand Embassy to get certified copies of our passports. Oh, it was nice to speak English to people with NZ accents and who could actually do the thing that I was asking of them.

Elena was asleep by then, so I went back to Antony (all the train crap again – although I did get a seat for the last leg of the trip). It was nearly time for Elena to go to nursery so not worth going home. I needed to eat but the cafes were all packed. It wasn’t quite raining, but misting, so we found a damp bench under a tree and shared a sandwich.

I dropped her off at nursery then went home and discovered that just a couple of arrondisements away all hell was breaking loose. I was kind of a mess at this point, but I lay on the couch and watched TV until I had to pick up Louis from school. The watching TV probably didn’t help but lying still did. The hostage situations were all over by six pm. And I’d been looking forward to writers’ group; I’d read all their pages and they’d read mine, so off I went to the city again. Three times in two days.

Such a stressful trip. I mean the sieges were over at this point so it shouldn’t have been, but the train kept stopping between stations, and I could just see everyone trying not to worry. But then at St Michel some idiots were yelling on the platform and there was a bang and then a minute later two more bangs – I don’t know what was banging but it must have been nothing serious and the train left the station. Just some idiots… just freaking everyone out. All these slick Parisians with their expressionless faces. Except for the half dozen people who gave in to curiosity and craned their necks to see out the train windows. Anyway, I got to writers group safe and sound. Got a bit drunk, unfortunately, but perhaps that was inevitable.

What a week.

This week has been thankfully uneventful. My throat was horrific so I opted out of everything I could opt out of. I sorted Elena’s application and got myself to the doctors, and the antibiotics are kicking the throat infection’s arse.

Is that everything? I had a huge catch-up to write and I suppose I haven’t talked about Christmas and our trip to Belgium and all of that, but too bad. It snowed in Belgium. We won at cards (we played 500, so all credit to my Dad who taught me). Good chips. Excellent beer. A couple of stressful travel-related dreams. I read many books. That is all.


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the opposite game

Remember that game? It was popular with kids who also liked the phrase, “Stop hitting yourself.”

Well, calling the school holidays HOLIDAYS is kind of like that – the exact opposite, and sometimes painful.

But this time we had mum come to visit, ie. I did less housework but more sightseeing and it was mostly painful to our feet.

Luuk and I took advantage rather deftly and went away for the weekend the day after she arrived. Mum’s a trooper. In fact, within an hour of her arrival she was being schooled in French by Louis. The kids have a skill for giving adults books in languages they don’t speak. I just make up stories that match the pictures of the dutch ones.

Anyway, so Mum’s visited us in Paris a few times before, but this time we were both feeling a bit more determined to see some of the sights she’s missed in the past. Rather than hang around Antony with the kids. With the dregs of jet lag still doing their nasty thing, we started with something little: Saint Sulpice –

saint sulpice

 

 

The kids took a lot of photographs, which turns out is a great way to keep them entertained while we look at stained glass and frescoes. But we still didn’t stay long.

autumn on the seine

And then on Wednesday we upped our game and did the Louvre.

kids at the louvre

I’ve only been once before, and this time we covered a lot of ground. The Richelieu wing, which we didn’t even go in last time, was great. The kids respond really well to the sculptures… when they’re not running around and getting in trouble with the security guards.

Elena at the Louvre

After that we needed a lazy day, and Thursday is market day in Antony, so we did that too. The kids enjoyed having Gran around.

cricket in franceGran and Louis playing cricket.

morning tea with gran

 

 

 

Morning tea at the park.

On the weekend we drove out to Giverny, to visit Monet’s gardens.

elena at monet's gardensElena and the water lilies.

louis and gran and giverny Louis and Gran, talking about the flowers.

louis running around at monet's garden

Of course, the good thing about gardens is that the kids can run around. Not so much in the house, so we did a quick dash through that.

And then drove off to find a picnic spot. Luuk had done his research (of course) and found a chateau we could visit nearby – a proper ruined castle type thing rather than just a fancy house.

chateau gaillard

elena and the sheep, near Les Andeleys

No picnic spot is complete without some wandering sheep for the kids to watch.

elena at chateau gaillardElena climbing around the ruins of Chateau Gaillard.

We were all exhausted after that so stopped in Les Andeleys for a coffee before driving home.

Mum powered-on, the next day, and did Versailles, while the rest of us lazed about. I had writers’ group. The kids napped.

I got a babysitter for for the Monday, so that Mum and I could do some stuff in Paris without dragging the kids about. We started at Montmartre and went on a bit of a walking tour, of our own design, going past the cemetary, the moulin rouge and the moulin… ah, the other one… and then up to the art market. We walked down the steps from Sacre Coeur and then went to the fabric shops.

Holy cow, the fabric shops! Even I shopped up large, and I don’t even sew (but someone’s getting material for christmas).

We grabbed lunch and then found our way to the Marais and only got a little lost on our way to Victor Hugo’s house.

maison de victor hugo!That’s me, outside Victor Hugo’s house. The plaque is very faded but there it is!

We wandered around, looking for yummies for Luuk’s birthday and any cute shops we fancied. Stumbled across a couple of thrift stores that would make certain people I know salivate. Floors and floors of cramped motley messes of clothes and accessories… I tried to take photos but they all look awful. And we didn’t end up buying anything. I’ll have to go back another day, when I have more time and energy.

One last gem we found before we headed home – this old cloister.

art in a cloister, in the maraisWhich was hosting a random but cool art exhibition.

Mum packed in a few more Paris sights but me and the kids saved our energy for the Salon du Chocolat.

paris in chocolat

Elena, enjoying the Salon du Chocolat

It was chocolate tasting to the n’th. Holy cow. Mum quickly started saying no thanks. I held out a little longer. The kids didn’t say no at all, not once. My best efforts to get them to eat something-anything-else was a waffle.

Then Mum had to head back to NZ and that left only a day or two of holidays.

not-spider cookies

We made a meagre attempt at pirate costumes and spider cookies for halloween.

More chocolate? Well, yes, actually. We ate so much chocolate at the Salon du Chocolat that we didn’t feel like chocolate and seriously under-shopped! Who’d have thought?

So it wasn’t a HOLIDAY of the restful and rejuvenating kind, but it was great. Visitors give us a great injection of make-the-most-while-you’re-in-paris, that is just not maintainable most of the time.

That said, this weekend we’re going away to do something restful AND uniquely-french: staying at a country house in the Loire with some Brits!


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wind-down

We’re usually the ones who take-off on holiday on the evening of the last day of work, or at crack of dawn, next morning, but this time we are taking an entire leisurely Saturday to pack and potter around. A much more relaxing start to a holiday.

We have three weeks and first stop is Switzerland. This time tomorrow, all going well, we’ll roll into Geneva, kids fresh from a very long nap. What shall we see? I guess I’ve got some reading to do. There’s a lake, definitely, and mountains, it being Switzerland. Fortunately, most of the five hours-or-so drive is within France, and I can hot-spot the 3G on my phone and use my ipad in the car to google things. Ah, the joys.

The next stop on our trip is properly in the Swiss Alps, and then we head down into Italy, where we will chill out by a lake for a few days. From there we will stop off at Milan, Padova and Venice before heading north to Salzburg.

I make no promises but there might be a blogpost from Salzburg. I’m glad we are going back to Italy; it was pretty awesome last summer. I suspect we’ll need warmer clothes this time, as we are basically lapping the alps – which gives a rough idea of our complete route.

Fewer days are set aside for dedicated lazing about, than last summer, but we will be seeing all sorts of stuff in five different countries. And we’re driving which gives us a bit of freedom – and I’m not gonna lie, air conditioning is nice. Public transport in Italy in August… steamy.

I’m glad we didn’t rush off first thing today. I’ve had the kids home with me all week. We’ve cleaned out the perishable foodstuffs and stayed on top of the laundry but packing didn’t happen till today.

What did we do? Well, there were three markedly different huts – not bad for our cozy wee living room.

inside the first hut

Inside the first hut, a picnic for the toys.

hut number three

The third hut, before the friends arrived. They had a real picnic lunch in there.

On discovering the ludotheque was closed for the week, we took advantage of good weather (which didn’t last, I’m sorry to say) and visited a different park to usual, at the other end of Antony.

exploring the distant playgrounds

The distant park – which still has sand!

the favourite playground

And we went back to our usual haunt – the kids’ favourite park in town.

working on the cycling skills

And when the rain came and went we dashed out to the closest park, and Elena biked!

We ate our breakfast one morning by the fish pond.

breakfast by the fishpond

Mmm, fresh pastry and ominous skies.

fishes!

But the fish were out and the weather waited a little while.

Another day, we stopped in at Louis’ favourite cafe, for hot chocolates.

chocolat tiede

Or rather, ‘chocolat tiede’, so that it’s cool enough to drink.

menu angst

And the kids had more fun with the menu than the tiny waffles.

There was a little down-time each day, while they napped. I’ve been trying to make all the broad-strokes edits to my manuscript, according to some horribly wonderfully insightful questions and suggestions from an editor. Meanwhile, Luuk has had a FULL ON week at work, and had left-over work to do every night. Needless to say, we were in no shape to pack and go first thing today.

And I finished my major-edits about an hour ago. Hurrah!

And margaritas! Had to use up the limes, of course.

Occurs to me now that there are clothes in the machine, clean and wet and not getting dry enough to pack. So much for being on top of the laundry.


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busy somethings and busy nothings

We had a mad couple of weeks, and then things calmed down and the quiet is a different kind of mad.

First, the mad weeks – the busy doing something bit. A kiwi friend came to town and so I played tour guide, which I love. We walked our feet off. The first day we went to Versailles and (finally) saw the Trianon and Marie Antoinette’s wee (not actually tiny) village.

too early for the trianon

The Trianon doesn’t open till midday – consider yourselves warned – so we wandered around the lake and took in another angle on the palace and gardens before we went into the Trianon.

the grand trianonThe grand trianon was like a summer house, a cottage if you will. But giant.

the petit trianonAnd then there’s the petit trianon, which is small, I suppose, but set among vast gardens.

marie antoinette's farm

And beyond that is the village that Marie Antoinette had made, so that she could experience authentic french village life… yep.

exploring marie antoinette's village at versailles

Me and Elena at the little village.

The kids were exhausted long before we were done. That place is huge. It’s beside Versailles, so the very concept of huge is seriously warped.

music and fountains

Luuk took the kids home, after a fortifying ice cream, and my friend and I continued on to the palace. The fountains in the gardens were all going, and some even had music playing, so it was quite spectacular. Transporting, really. It is hard to imagine the opulence of life in this place when it was a palace.

On Monday, we went to Paris but our tired feet kept us from going far – just a lap around Notre Dame and a little of the little Ile St Louis. We stopped in at Shakespeare and Company and then had some lunch.

worn out in Paris

Elena slept through lunch.

And then we headed back to Antony in time to drop the little lady off at halte garderie.

Tuesday we were amped and organised and showed up at the Louvre just after it opened… except it didn’t open because it never does on Tuesdays. Quick change of plan, which was nervous-making given I’d forgotten my phone. Its handy-dandy maps of Paris and GPS functions are good at times like these. We winged it and found our way to Sacre Coeur, then the Amelie Cafe and the Moulin Rouge.

creme brulee at Les Deux Moulins

Creme Brulee at Les Deux Moulins

After all that traipsing about, I left my friend to find the Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower by herself and took Elena to halte garderie. I took the afternoon off.

In the evening, we went to see La Belle et la Bete – Beauty and the Beast. It was brilliant. It was in French. But there’s not a lot of subtlety in musical theatre and we picked up most of the jokes.

la belle et la bete

The staging, the costumes, the music, was all brilliantly done – lavish and hilarious and even a little bit moving – when chip, the little boy who’s been trapped in a tea-cup, gets to be human again – aw. And the feast – ah! – the plates and napkins and cutlery all prancing about. The plates lit up. There were streamers shot into the audience. If you’re in Paris, and you can stretch for it – so worth seeing.

Wednesday, my friend went to the Louvre, and Louis and I hung out at the ludotheque while Elena was at halte garderie, so that was nice and chilled-out for the morning. On Thursday we stayed in Antony and went to the market. We met up with a friend of mine in the morning and another came over in the afternoon. The first was about to head off on holiday, the second was about to head off for good. It’s an expat thing, and it sucks, but it’s also very predictable. You make these friends knowing you’re only going to live in the same place for a few months or years. This particular friend is a writer and a great babysitter, so she will definitely be missed!

The next day our visitor left and the kids and I had a lazy day. Lazy was also the plan for Saturday, but it was gorgeous weather and while I’d got plenty of exercise, walking around Paris during the week, Luuk has a desk job – so it was bike ride time! We went up the hill to the coulee vert and discovered a new play ground. We came back to rest our tired muscles and then heard from Kiwi friends who used to live in Paris, but have been in Lille for a year now. They were in town, just for the night, and so we biked up the hill again to catch up with them.

Well after the kids’ bedtime, we biked back, and got home only to discover that Luuk had forgotten his back pack. So he did the hill three times on Saturday. Sunday, we felt quite a lot of sympathy for the tour de france cyclists. It was the final day of the tour and they came into Paris via a road that is only a short walk from our house.

ready for the tour de france

Waiting for the bikes.

So that was all the busy somethings. This week has been busy nothing. Halte Garderie is closed for the summer, and Elena and I are getting rather tired of each other. Louis still had the holiday program to go to, but I’ve not been well, just niggly things that mostly wear me out rather than make me feel sick. Getting out of the house and doing anything interesting with the kids has just seemed like a huge effort. Hopefully I’ll get better, get my energy back, because next week Louis isn’t going to the holiday program and I will have them both to myself, all day, every day.

To think, once upon a time I thought being a full-time mum and home-maker was right up my alley. Turns out, I have a very small capacity for playing with very small children. I run out of ideas, and patience, horribly fast. A few hours, a morning, is fine, but then I’m ready for some time to myself.

Two of them, together, can be great if they want to do the same thing, together, and happily. The playdoh colours are all mixed together, but hey, they’re happy. I can join in, then wander away and do some housework or a blog post, then peal the colours apart and put the playdoh away and organise lunch. It can be relaxed, but it tends to go that way for just a fraction of the day. And there tends to be rather too much television on.

‘George of the Jungle’ is the current favourite. I do an excellent jungle-man yell.


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the plot thickens

… but it all comes out well in the end.

I have a whopper of a bruise on my leg. We visited the netherlands a couple of weekends back (goodness, has it been that long?) and while there, we went to a monkey-centric zoo. It was a fantastic afternoon for us all, but this place, Apenheul, is very well set-up for the kids. The playgrounds are modelled on the spaces designed for the monkeys to play in. I was always so jealous of the monkeys’ ropes and swings and climbing frames when I was a kid. There was this one rope swing and no one around, so I showed Louis and Elena how it worked.

 

I grabbed the rope, took a few steps back and leapt on. I wrapped legs around the rope, hooked my ankles and ouch. The knot, which is supposed to keep my bum from slipping off the bottom, dug right into my leg. Now surely I’ve done this a hundred times as a kid, and yes, I was always wondering where all my bruises came from, but what a shiner! I look like someone took a piece of 2×4 to my leg.

They didn’t. I was just being a monkey. We were up in the Netherlands for Luuk’s family reunion, which was so much fun I forgot to take any photos. We drove up on Saturday, went to see the monkeys.

at apenheul

The kids freaked out a little. Mainly because the monkeys were climbing on the pushchair. The next day we wandered around the palace grounds, in the town where we’d stayed.

wandering around the palace

Wore the kids out so they’d sleep before the family reunion.

The reunion was at a little hotel. We basically drank and ate all afternoon – ham rolls, apple tart, a buffet of quiches, soup, and finally a few chocolates for the road. The dutch were playing in the football, so a large proportion of the family gravitated to the tv. The hotel sent us packing at half time so some went to the food festival across the way, who had the match on, but we had tired kids, so we headed to our hotel. We listened to the commentary, in dutch, in the car. It was amazing how much I could pick up just from tone of voice.

The next day we had coffee with Luuk’s brother and his wife, and with Luuk’s uncle and aunt, and then lunch, and then we drove on to another city to visit Luuk’s grandmother.

pressies from oma
There were presents for the kids. And food. Everywhere we went. All we do in the Netherlands is eat. Yeah, because that’s so different from when we’re at home…

IMG5828

Photo I took day after we got back.

We returned for Louis’ last week of school. He is now on summer holidays, les grandes vacances. He is going to a holiday program three days a week, which is even longer days than school. I was nervous on Monday. I made sure he was at the same program as a friend. But he was ready to go off with the other kids before said friend even arrived. Monday evening he didn’t really want to leave. Yesterday he painted a castle.He’s off today, but looking forward to tomorrow.

I tend to dread school holidays. I used to be a teacher so this is quite the turn-around. But with Louis at the holiday program and Elena doing halte garderie as per normal, until the end of July, I’m able to go on as usual, or close to it.

I finished my mad-cap novel, the one I dashed out in under three weeks, and now I’m juggling two projects: edits of a contemporary novel that my writers’ group is helping me revise, and an adaptation of my other historical novel into a screenplay. I’m not sure it’s fantastic screenplay material, but I want to get all the way through the process of writing a screenplay. Writing one from scratch will be less daunting if I’ve done it before.

 

Meanwhile, Luuk and I have finally made some plans for our summer holiday. We have three weeks in which to rest and see some sights. We were initially dreaming of a couple of lazy weeks sandwiched between a little sight-seeing in Greece or Croatia, but the cost of flying there is a little daunting. If we drive, we can stop at sights along the way, but that’s a whopping great drive. We started looking at those ‘sights along the way’ and we’ve decided to skip Greece and Croatia, for now, and instead will dip into Switzerland, Northern Italy (things we didn’t see last summer), Austria and a little southern Germany.

Perhaps we’ll be more organised next year, snag us some early-bird cheep airfares, and gallop around (cough-laze-about-cough) the Adriatic next summer.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dik_wnOE4dk

Tell him he’s dreamin’.


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between trips

We had a lovely weekend in Dijon, while the kids stayed home and had a lovely weekend with Brendan and Erin.

Luuk, in Dijon, France

Luuk, wandering the streets of Dijon.

We ate multi-course meals at a leisurely pace, took our time in museums, slept in, and only stopped for nap time because we wanted to. It was our first night away from the kids together and it was great fun.

On Wednesday night we’ll pack up the car and head off to Bretagne for eight days of sight-seeing and seafood, and with any luck some family fun. The region is famously beautiful when it rains… and since it’s raining here too, we might as well go to where the rain is pretty.

I’ve been putting photos up on my facebook and twitter feed, and will continue to do so. I’m not going to write a whole travel-log post on either of these trips, probably. Just some long, chatty captions, perhaps.

In the meantime, Louis has two days of school, and Elena’s not having any halte garderie. She still hasn’t got visible chicken pox, but there’s a lengthy incubation period so it’s probably still coming. She’s staying home rather than spreading it around, and we are continuing with the potty training. Fun fun fun…

Five signs you’re in the home of a potty-trainer:

1. The floor is cleaner than you’ve ever seen it. (Don’t think about why.)

2. There are lots of towels on the line. And in the laundry pile. And possibly smack-bang in the middle of that vast, clean floor. (Too late, you thought about why.)

3. The toilet paper has been rolled up. As in, it was at some point unraveled and then re-rolled.

re-rolled loo paper

 

Dry and safe, but disconcerting, nonetheless.

4. Sticker chart(s) on the fridge.

5. Bare-bummed kids are a dead give-away. Otherwise, watch out for those brand new packets of tiny knickers, all ready to go (long before the kid is.)

What’s worse is that you’ll never need these five signs because we’re probably talking about potty training. Sorry.

Now, I’ve got laundry to do, and also a little bit of planning: got to get my head around a few little writing projects I can do during kids’ nap times, and possibly while we’re on the road, over the next couple of weeks.

 


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chocolate therapy

It’s true. Chocolate does not cure chicken pox. We are yet to ascertain whether or not it makes Elena immune. She is spot-free as yet, but not going to Halte Garderie because apparently she’ll be contagious before she’s spotty. Louis’ pox appeared after we’d already been staying with friends for a couple of nights, in Lille. Oops. Too late, they’d all been exposed. But only the baby hadn’t had it before. Good luck, JJ. Hope you sleep right through it, kid.

So, there was one day of our holiday in which we were all good and healthy, basically. And we went to Bruges, which is less than an hour from Lille, across a border you wouldn’t know was there (except your cell phone company texts to say they’re ‘with you’ and these are the roaming charges…).

belfry, bruges

The belfry tower in Bruges.

looking down a well, bruges

Louis and Luuk in a very old well. Let’s say they’re looking for chocolate.

virgin and child, bruges  I recently saw Monuments Men (good one. See it.) and in the film, one of the artworks threatened by the Nazis is Michelangelo’s Virgin and Child – in the middle of this photo. A bit of action takes place in this church, where the statue stood before the war and (spoiler alert) returned later. I was keen to see the place, and the statue, so I bullied everyone else into it.

our lady of bruges  Cool old church, undergoing refurbishments. On the plus side, entry was much cheaper than usual. In france churches are free to enter, but not so everywhere else. We’ve paid in england, italy and now belgium. But fair enough, must cost the earth to preserve stuff for so long.

refurbishments, our lady of bruges

I do like looking at old stuff. Call me a patina junkie.

more modern sculpture in our lady of bruges

Quite like the more modern art as well. Louis, inside this other Madonna and child statue.

So that was Friday. Saturday I woke up all head-coldy and Louis, covered in pox. So we took it pretty easy.

connect four, or five, or three

The kids, messing with a board game. Not playing it.

what I did Saturday morning...

I did manicures with a six year old… pas mal. And read.

After lunch, the dads took the kids to the park and us Mum’s relaxed, got the roast on, and hid the easter eggs. Sunday was meant to rain so we did the hunt early.

The kids had a restrained but appetite-destroying amount of chocolate. We grown-ups probably ate about the same amount, in all fairness, but that didn’t damper our enthusiasm for the leg of lamb. Not one bit. I do a mean roast potato. Marcelle’s gravy was gravy baby.

Sunday we went to an English church in Lille. Elena and I helped with some easter egg smashing, all very symbolic of Jesus of Nazareth, defeating death… and yummy. And possibly exposing quite a lot of people to chicken pox, though probably not, because she hasn’t visibly got them yet.

We were going to visit the market in Lille but parking proved a problem and so we had lunch at a family friendly (but painfully slow) restaurant, and then returned to chez Leo’o for a little lazy indigestion.

rocking and rolling

Some slept. Others did not.

And then, because lunch was so late, we had to work up an appetite…

backyard soccer, pros and toddlers all together

Just a little light backyard soccer. Nothing to see here.

backyard soccer

Hard work, facing a professional sportsman, but all those years playing goalie paid off. It wasn’t a total walkover until I joined in.

elena swinging happy

Elena found a safe spot, where she wouldn’t get trampled. Smart kid.

After the kids were in bed, we cracked out the easter treats for the grown ups. Hot chocolate spoons from Bruges, and some good old Whittaker’s peanut slab from NZ.

hot choc spoons from bruges, belgium

Monday we headed home… via (well, not strictly via) Dunkirque and Calais and the Baie de la Somme. First stop, Dunkirque. It was a bit early for lunch, so we wandered, and then settled on La Pataterie, a baked potato chain restaurant we’ve never tried before.

There was a play area, a high chair and a changing mat in the loos. Who cares what the food is like? But it wasn’t bad at all. Then there was the circus, right there, how convenient. We went to visit the caged animals… hopefully not supporting any horrific abuses in the process. I dread the thought. But the kids do love them horses.

And the tigers and elephants and baby goat, leaping over it’s mother gleefully. It’s hard to compete with tigers and elephants but the kid made a noble effort.

Louis approved.

The kids were asleep before we even got to the coast. But Luuk and I enjoyed the meander around the port and the breakwater.

lighthouses, dunkirk

Lighthouses aplenty!

driving around the harbour at dunkirk

Lots of cool lifty-uppy and swingy-roundy bridges.

lighthouses at dunkirk

And more light houses.

There was a road across the top of the breakwater, which we missed access to.

on the breakwater, dunkirk

So we stopped to have a look-see.

And then drove on to Calais. We woke the kids, because we’d promised them some beach. So we had afternoon tea on the sand, at Calais. And to build castles.

luuk and kids at calais

Apple compotes and old snickers bars from the car-stash. Gourmet, much.

pier at calais

We walked up the pier, Louis on his bike, scooting around all the many fishing poles.

watching the fishermen on the pier at calais

Watching the fishermen cast, in the shade of the lighthouse.

The kids didn’t want to sleep again, so the trip from there on was a little less peaceful. We stopped to take in the view, at one point.

elena looks out on baie de somme

Lovely misty sun. Lovely restless toddlers.

windmills in baie de somme

Windmills!

kids at baie de somme

Happy kids. And then we put them in the car.

And they were less happy kids… and then (thank heaven) sleeping kids. Bit of a late one. Direct drive from Lille to home is about three hours. The dunkirk-calais detour should have added an hour and a half, plus a meal time.

Two meal times in the end, and three hours of sight seeing. Long trip, in the end. But we probably won’t make it back up to that bit of France. For eight days in May we’ll drive around Brittany and a bit of Normandy, but not this far north. So it was good to see it while we were there. And it was great to catch up with the Leo’os, our good kiwi friends who are moving back to Christchurch within a month of us! How cool is that?


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the nether… regions

It’s been quite a week. That seems to happen a lot.

Luuk got back from Japan, and then three days later we went to the Netherlands for the weekend. How’s that for a succinct summary?

But wait, there’s more. There were other nether-lands. The nether-regions of my adolescence reared their heads (too many metaphors? too bad) – I went to a Backstreet Boys concert. Yes, ’tis true.

And ’twas awesome. I haven’t been to nearly enough concerts in my nearly 30 years.

backstreet boys, dancingThey did their wonderful dances, all in time and basically actions to match the lyrics. Corny? Yes, a tad. But awesomely so.

If you know and love ’em, you know what I mean. You’re smiling. You’re probably doing a quick youtube search to refresh your memory… If you don’t know what I mean then don’t look it up. It’s probably important to be introduced to this stuff when you’re going through puberty – to develop a taste at an early age. Like with marmite.

Anyway, Erin and I had a wonderful time dancing and singing along, occasionally screaming, and repeatedly saying, “I can’t believe I’m actually here!” They sang many of their old hits and a few of their new releases. Catchy tunes and sentimental lyrics, but I like one of their new ones a lot. They wrote it for their kids. They’re all grown up (the boys, not their kids).

The next couple of days, wow, I felt old. Luuk was recovering from jet lag and off work, so we took it easy. Thursday, Louis’ school had a special day – all the kids were to come dressed up for the ‘bal de la mer’ – an ocean-themed dance. They did a little parade, all in their costumes, for the parents.

dress ups at school

 

Louis (in civvies), parading with his teacher and classmates…

Unfortunately, Louis would not wear the awesome shark costume we borrowed from his friend. He wore it before and after school, but would not let us put it on him for the actual period in which all the kids were together and dressed-up.

shark in the car!

Shark in the car!

Luuk and I took advantage of both children being at school/nursery, and went to see The Grand Budapest Hotel at the movies. We were the only people in the theatre! Middle of the afternoon, at an english language showing, and we had the place to ourselves. And then we went for coffee. We called it our anniversary.

Next day, Louis skipped school, and we all bunked off to the Netherlands. We had bought Louis a new bike and it was much cheaper to have it shipped to a dutch address, so we were headed for Luuk’s aunt and uncle’s place near Nijmegen. But we had all day to get there so we drove via Reims.

cathedral at reimsThe Reims Cathedral

We had lunch and then wandered a bit around the town, but mostly looked at the Cathedral. The stained glass is incredible! So many different styles within one structure. And I found one by a favourite artist –

chagall window, reims cathedral

A window by Chagall.

We had to get a move-on, to be in the Netherlands in time for dinner.

The drive is over 5 hours, from home to Nijmegen. The shorter route is getting old now (we’ve done it a few times) so this other way was more interesting. Parts of it have dramatic scenery, but lots of northern france/belgium have a similar look about them… from the main highways, anyway.

driving north, in france

 

Driving north, from Paris to the Netherlands.

We stayed with Luuk’s uncle and aunt for the weekend, which was mostly very restful. Louis loved his new bike and Elena, not quite ready for his old one, enjoyed a little ride-on toy they had on-hand. They also had a swing (they have grandchildren of their own…) and lots of toys for the kids to spread around the house…the swing!

On Saturday we visited Nijmegen, a beautiful and OLD city.

de brocante, nijmegen

De Brocanterie, in Nijmegen – a great place to hide from the rain.

Luuk’s cousin came to visit and after a fortifying afternoon tea…

elena and oom pieter

… we went for a walk on the dijk. That’s right, they live on a dike. I’d never seen one till we visited them a few years back, so I’m going to show you around…

walking on the dijk

This is the road along the top. To the right is an area which floods. You can see the river in the distance. When the river is low, cattle graze this bit.

the house by the dijk

This is the left hand side, looking down toward the houses and farms which are lower than sea-level but, thanks to the dijks, don’t flood.

We walked down to the river, which is sort of part of the Rhine.

on the river waal

It was cold, but the rain held off and we threw a few stones in the water (this is one of the kids’ favourite pass-times). Unfortunately, some of these stones were horse poop. Probably. River-water-treated-stone-like-poop. Yum.

The kids were grizzly and miserable walking back… being carried, in fact. And they’re fat hobbits – yeesh! We worked up an appetite and boy, did we fill it. We did raclette for dinner!

Sunday morning, we headed off early, so as to avoid the eight pm crawl into Paris. But we had enough time to stop and see a bit of Antwerp. We went to a (Belgian – duh) waffle house for lunch and then walked around, stretched the legs, and stumbled upon the Rubenhuis – the house of Peter Paul Rubens. He was an artist, and he designed the building himself. The signs said it was noteworthy, so we went for a nosy.

rubens' house in antwerp

View from the garden, showing one wing of the Rubenshuis.
(The other wing is quite different.)

The kids were being rat-baggy, so there was no dilly-dallying, admiring paintings for lengthy periods. But, I’d recommend the place to anyone passing through Antwerp. Lots of art, but not enough to overload, and combined with interesting stories, cool architecture, and a garden… very well-balanced.

There is also a chocolate factory/shop just across the way, so if you need to recharge…