Australia

We’re havin’ a heatwave…

For all readers and fellow bloggers in the northern hemisphere, I bring you a little light relief. Just something to remind you that your snow and ice storms will come to an end… summer will return, I guarantee it!

Some thoughts and images to warm you up today…

Here in Perth, Western Australia, we are having a heatwave. Just a short one, 3 days. Yesterday was pretty warm, today’s temp is forecast to be 44. Slightly cooler tomorrow.  weather forecast

I probably don’t need to explain that’s C, not F.

Morning coffee on the balcony is pleasant; I still have shade. The heat is dry, much more comfortable than humidity… My favourite spot for breakfast, morning coffee, an evening wine… and writing. 2014-01-11 10.14.34

I can hear the neighbours  already cooling off…

2014-01-11 10.21.58

Meanwhile, Saturday morning skydiving is popular, tourists enjoy an air-conditioned cruise up the river towards the Swan Valley wineries… and jetskis race each other on the water…    Skydivers1   2014-01-11 14.35.24  IMG_6177  IMG_6180

Meanwhile… the heat usually brings out some of the worst people. One minute Perth is lazing under a hot sun…  2014-01-11 10.49.12

and the next minute King Park is on fire.

Most of our summer fires are deliberately lit. People have lost their homes and died through the actions of lunatics such as this. I hope they are caught quickly. Thankfully this fire was all extinguished 2 hours later.

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The news helicopters get in close… IMG_6171

By now the beaches will be filling up. The afternoon sea breeze is not even in yet… the afternoon is getting hotter.

Au revoir mes amis, time for a swim myself! 🙂

Old Swan Brewery building. Perth, Western Australia
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Who am I and why am I here?

A rest in the park

Who?

I am an Australian woman who, along with my husband, took advantage of a window of opportunity to leave our working life for a year and go to stay in France.

Why?

Why France? We had been on holiday in France before and simply fell in love with the country so we wanted to see more.  A lot more.  The solution was to apply for a long-stay visa, organise some rental accommodation, rent out our place in Perth, start learning French… and go.That was two years ago now.

What?

We rented in 3 different locations around France, but travelled to many more, both by car and by bicycle. Our year soon turned into two as we realised we weren’t going to explore even half of what we wanted to, let alone speaking the language in one year alone. So we went into the local sous-prefecture and extended our visas.

This blog started as a way for me to document our adventures in cycling, exploring France, wine and cooking (which was a great side effect of not working and living frugally!).  I guessed that the things we loved doing, the places we loved exploring and the foods we loved cooking (and eating) would also appeal to others around the world, especially the Francophiles out there, so here I am.

Next?

We are currently back in Australia and returning to work, but planning frequent visits back to France with a scheme to have another year off before too long. There are still a lot more parts of France and Europe that we want to discover.

To celebrate my return to Australia and a fresh year blogging, I have decided to update my theme with a new look. There are many things we’ve celebrated recently with our family, including 21st birthdays, a wedding, Christmas and the new year and a 50th birthday. All of this has kept me away from blogging recently, but I am back for 2014.

 I hope you enjoy both my French and my Australian posts, and I would love to have your feedback and comments!

Happy new year from the land of black swans

Black Swans

Happy New Year!  I hope 2014 brings much joy and happiness to all.

At the moment, TC and I are enjoying summer life in Perth, Western Australia, where the native swans are indeed black. It occurred to me that readers who have never visited Australia may not know this, so I thought I’d share with you this information about black swans.

We have a little apartment overlooking the Swan River, so this features a lot in our daily lives. We also like to cycle along the banks of the river where we often see the lovely swans. The Swan River is also home to some other lovely creatures – dolphins. On the weekend we were treated to a great day out on the water thanks to our friends who had just taken delivery of their new boat (don’t you love friends like that!) when we saw some of them up close. Sometimes we can even spot them in the water from our balcony.

My friend Angela is a keen photographer and she has kindly agreed to share the pictures she snapped on that day. There is just something about dolphins that makes you smile and it’s always so exciting to see them up close in the water!

This year I plan to post a mix of our adventures in Australia and France, along with my attempts in the kitchen of course, so I hope you enjoy them… à bientôt!

perth sunset

A sentimental journey…

Sete, from Mont Saint Clair

Well it finally happened. Our time in France came to an end after 21 wonderful months and sadly, we packed up and made the journey back to Australia.

I put off my packing as long as I could, but with only a week until departure day, I could not delay any longer. I must be the queen of procrastination, as it has taken me just as long to write about our departure as it took me to face up to the packing! Thankfully, TC and I devised a future plan to have us back in our region, the Languedoc-Roussillon,  before too long so we do have great things to look forward to. We have some very kind friends who offered to store belongings for us so that when we do return, we have some household items and clothes to begin with, so that certainly made our sorting and packing easier.

Saying “au revoir” to our village friends was very sad and I admit to shedding a few tears… but at the other end of the journey was to be the reunion with all our family members and the friends we left behind two years ago, so it was a time of very mixed emotions.

When the day came, more wonderful friends drove us to Agde for our early train bound for Paris. The weather fitted our mood as the morning was cool and grey with a few drops of rain – the first we had seen for weeks after a lovely Mediterranean summer. Loaded up with all our baggage and some last bottles of wine from friends, our instructions were to enjoy a glass or two on the train and a picnic on the banks of the Seine before leaving France. After a teary farewell on the platform, we were off, taking long last looks at the countryside we will miss so much.

We arrived to a balmy Paris, left everything at the hotel and set off to enjoy the beautiful City of Lights one more time. This time, we discovered the area along the Canal Saint-Martin in the 4th and enjoyed looking at all the boats moored there, before doing some last-minute souvenir shopping, then heading off to the Seine for our little picnic of wine and nibbles. As usual, I waved madly at all the tourists on the boats – one simply MUST when one is picnicking on the banks of the Seine!  After sunset  we strolled through St Germaine des Pris and went for dinner at the very popular La Jacobine in the 6th.

Then it was back to the hotel for a decent night’s sleep before the long trip. For those who have never travelled between Europe and Australia, you’ve probably heard that it is a long journey. If so, you’ve heard correctly – it’s very long!

The trip began with a private car transfer to Charles de Gaulle that I had pre-booked for 8am Friday (fantastic value and highly recommended), a nice quick check-in followed by breakfast in an airport lounge then boarding the flight for Singapore (around 12 hours in total). We had a quick transit through Changi airport in Singapore with enough time for a refreshing shower, some cold drinks and a quick internet check, then boarded our second flight, to Perth (around 5 hours in total), finally arriving at 1.30pm Saturday afternoon.

I wore two things that were important to me on my journey. One was my new Croix du Languedoc pendant to remind me of our little corner of France. This cross is one of the emblems of the Languedoc-Roussillon region, which is where we have lived for 16 months. I am not a big buyer of souvenirs, so this beautiful silver pendant is one of the only true souvenirs of our time in France that I have taken back with me. Another of course being a bottle of perfume from the Fragonard range that I love, a memento of a day in Grasse and a scent that will always take me back.

The other thing I wore for the journey was my football scarf. By this I mean Aussie Rules football, or AFL to us.

Our flight landed at a time that was right in the middle of the AFL grand final match, which my team was playing in for the first time in history, so of course I wore my team scarf on the journey all the way from Paris. We arrived home just in time to watch the final quarter on TV, but my team lost, so there is nothing more to be said about that.

Except that on arrival at Perth airport, we rushed into the immigration queue to have our passports checked then went off to the baggage claim area – and a number of airport officials, one after the other, kept coming up to me with very serious looking faces… I was quite startled thinking “What do they want me for, what have I done??”  until I realised I was still sporting the scarf – and they were just checking whether I was aware of the (dismal) score! And unfortunately I was, thanks to other passengers checking news on their phones as soon as our flight landed.

On to the next stage –  a hectic schedule of reunions with family and friends…  but for now it’s au revoir to the countryside we have grown to love.

Here are a selection of our last photographs around the area, and before I fill you in on our activities in Australia, I have quite a few more French posts to catch up on, so you haven’t seen the last of my travel pics yet! Enjoy…

The Port

Au revoir mon village… à bientôt!

Who was seen in Tignes?

We were lucky enough to have some family come to visit us during October and November which was a first-ever European trip for them. One of the things they really wanted to do while here was to go skiing. In Australia, going skiing is not a cheap or easy thing to do because there are only a couple of spots where there is actually any snow in the whole country. As we are from Perth and those mystical places are over in the eastern states (over  3500km away) and up in the mountains, many people from Perth rarely get to see the stuff, if ever, which is why we get so excited about it. Australia 1

We had been on a skiing holiday in Australia, but there was a lot of snow cannons and not much of the real stuff falling from the sky. Not to mention with the crowds present, the snow that was there was pretty hard and icy anyway.

So, October came and off we headed to the snow for 2 days of playtime.  I had to do a lot of research beforehand to find the most likely place that would have snow at that time of year and that turned out to be Tignes in the French alps. Tignes

They were open for their “Autumn season” which was ideal for us.  There were several other things that had to be planned carefully and then they all had to work on the day for this little trip to be a success. We had a baby in our group so there were extra considerations for our precious little bundle.

First we had to choose the location and book some suitable accommodation and hire the ski gear. We then decided to hire a car that was bigger than our little old jalopy so that we had more luggage room and also so that we wouldn’t have to worry about breakdowns up in the mountains. We needed it to actually snow that week and we needed to figure out how to use snow chains and possibly drive on bad roads. We also had to hope that the baby could cope with a 7 hour car trip there and back, and we were trying to do all of this without going bankrupt. There were times I felt a bit overwhelmed trying to get it all together.

But, we were lucky; the snow gods smiled on us and our little trip away turned out to be absolutely perfect. Our darling baby was so good in the car we were amazed; the snow arrived in the village just as we got there so we had two beautiful days for skiing; an English friend recommended an online site for booking the ski gear (which saved us almost 50% on the cost, thankyou!), and we found the best hotel possible for our family group!

On the morning of departure, TC and I went & collected the hire car, we loaded up with bags and baby at the house and were then on the road for the 550km drive. Why does this part always take longer than planned? This did go surprisingly well with rest stops and a good lunch break where our bub could have a stretch and a little play. We got to the mountains as it got dark, something I was extremely grateful for, as two of us are very nervous passengers on narrow, steep, roads so the dark hid those particular horrors for us! However, these roads meant that we made much slower progress for the last 30km or so and arrived later than we had hoped. Thankfully there was only evidence of ice on the roads for the last 5km.

We pulled into the village at 7pm to find the guys at the ski shop just locking up, but on hearing that we had booked our gear, they were so very helpful and sorted us all out.  From there it was a few metres up the road to the hotel and we could finally put away the car keys and relax.

So, which hotel? Hotel Vanoise, located smack bang in the centre of the Val Claret village at Tignes. Hotel la Vanoise

This hotel is a small, family owned & run business and what a lovely place it is. I first found the hotel via the Tignes official website, here, but I am a fan of going directly to businesses whenever I can, so I quickly discovered the hotel’s own site and booked directly. Being used to extremely inflated Australian accommodation prices, I was pleasantly surprised to discover the surprising rates here which also included breakfast. This was starting to seem too good to be true.

I don’t know about you, but I have never really known how the star-system works for accommodation.  I kept looking at the 2-star rating for the hotel, then reading the descriptions and I kept getting the feeling that the two didn’t really match. I mean, the hotel sounded clean, comfortable, well located, with ensuite bathrooms, adequate heating… but only 2 stars? And all this for less than the equivalent of $100 Australian per night? What? How?

I decided to trust my instincts and went ahead to reserve two rooms and I am certainly not sorry I did. I am calling this a find!

I went with the “superior” rooms just so that we had maximum space (I had learned by now that room sizes in general in Europe are very much smaller than hotels in Australia and Asia) and these rooms were definitely adequate for two people. Our room actually had a queen bed plus a single so you could get three in the room if you needed. There were also lots of little cupboards and spaces to put things, so the room did not have to be cluttered all. The other room had space for the baby cot (all made up ready for us) so this was perfect. All rooms have a balcony and, since the hotel is so central to the village, the views from all rooms include part of the village with the surrounding mountains as a backdrop. Stunning. view from hotel more views from the hotel

The hotel is also surrounded by several chairlifts – not running during our stay in autumn – that would be perfect in the high season. Literally ski-in, ski-out; a term which had always puzzled this little antipodean. In other words, once you are dressed ready for the slopes, you don’t have to trek for ages or take any transport to get to the chairlifts. Even the funicular railway, which takes you straight up to the top of the Motte glacier in an impressive 7 minutes, was only about 4 minutes’ walk from the front door. Snowboarding slope  Val Claret chairlifts

Once we were inside the hotel, it got even better. This is a true family business, being owned and run by a brother, sister and husband team, along with a small number of hired staff. On arrival, it was clear that we were already expected. We were given our keys and an explanation that we could also take a dinner option, at the very reasonable price of 15Euro per head, which we quickly decided to take up given the hour we had arrived. We found out later what good value that was, but in the meantime we headed to our rooms to settle in. The dinner turned out to be a 3-course meal which included fresh daily soup, a small salad buffet, a plat du jour (dish of the day) cooked to order, followed by a small dessert buffet. One of the hired staff is their chef who comes in each day and wow, she produced some wonderful, hearty, homely, French meals during our stay.

We did venture out to other establishments for lunch, but we were most pleased with our dinners in the hotel each night. Before dinner, TC and I would enjoy an aperitif in the small bar, chatting with the owners and other patrons before joining our family for dinner. One thing that still amazes me is the ability to take your pets with you on holidays in Europe, and we managed to get a good dose of kitty-cat-patting when we met Leo, another resident guest that week; perfect since we miss our little moggy so much!

Mornings were for skiing, we spent our afternoons exploring the village (which didn’t take long as it is not very big and was also mostly closed as the proper season hadn’t started) and our evenings in the hotel. After dinner each night, we enjoyed the lounge bar, either on our own or with other guests, chatting and playing games. We loved the personal touch in the hotel, things like when I ordered a glass of champagne, our hosts explained this particular, little known champagne house happened to be friends of their parents (and it was good champagne too, I wish I could remember which house!) and being offered a taste of the local digestif, good for warming the bones after a day on the slopes.

What about the snow? I was the voluntary babysitter for the duration, firstly because I love our darling baby to bits and couldn’t get enough of him while he was over here, and secondly because I had had reconstructive knee surgery not so long ago and had no desire for more torn or broken bits thankyou.   So while I was happily trudging around with the stroller and one little cutie-pie bundled up to the nose in his snowsuit, exploring the village thoroughly and enjoying coffees around the place, the others spent two days out on the slopes with a ski instructor and snowboarded until they were exhausted.  the gang heading off to ski  TC getting skilled  action on the snow  Tignes Val Claret  Our baby in snowsuit  Coffee in lounge Cupcake with snowball  cupcake with snowball 2

They pronounced the first day’s snow to be a little bumpy and icy in spots, but the second day was much better. Fortunately and unfortunately there was great snowfall on our last night which meant we got to experience it for the first time in our lives, but also that in the morning as we were leaving, there was fabulous snow on the ground and skiers were even playing on the flatter parts right next to the village. Oh well, c’est la vie!  Val Claret lake

Because of that snowfall, we got our first experience with fitting and using snowchains (thanks to  youtube and our lovely hoteliers for their advice). We successfully drove out of the village and after about only 20min we were able to whip them off again and be on our way. Leaving in daylight meant that we got to see the full beauty of the mountains at the beginning of the snowy season. Driving down from Tignes

All in all it was a wonderful short snow break, but one that we will all remember very fondly.

And since I asked “Who was seen in Tignes?”, the answer is “I was!”

I had a friend in London watching the webcams so I made sure I was captured by the Val Claret webcam, 1st November at 10:40am. Even though its a little far away, you can see me with our baby in the stroller – indicated by the red arrow! Cupcake on webcam 1  Cupcake on webcam

Australians all let us rejoice…

aussie flag

Australians all let us rejoice,
For we are young and free;
We’ve golden soil and wealth for toil,
Our home is girt by sea;
Our land abounds in Nature’s gifts
Of beauty rich and rare;
In history’s page, let every stage
Advance Australia fair!
In joyful strains then let us sing,
“Advance Australia fair!”

Beneath our radiant southern Cross,
We’ll toil with hearts and hands;
To make this Commonwealth of ours
Renowned of all the lands;
For those who’ve come across the seas
We’ve boundless plains to share;
With courage let us all combine
To advance Australia fair.
In joyful strains then let us sing
“Advance Australia fair!”

Happy Australia Day everyone!!

Oh and LOVE Google today 🙂 google Australia Day

1 year ago…

western-australia-kangaroo-beach

One year ago today TC and I boarded a plane in 35C heat, with two suitcases, one guitar and one-way tickets to a wintry Paris…

This week we collect our renewed visas for a 2nd year. We are so glad, even though the second year will be strictly “on a budget”, because there is no way we’ve seen enough, done enough or experienced enough to go back yet. We don’t speak enough French yet!

And since I didn’t start this blog until November, I’ve got a lot of posts to catch up on, and more adventures to come….

Like a bat…

Vegemite.

For the uninitiated, its a thick, black spread made from yeast extract, tastes extremely salty, and is what the average Australian kid has at least once (if not very regularly) on toast for breakfast when growing up. Well many adults do too for that matter.

Oh, what’s like a bat? Sorry not the vegemite. Well, we’ve been out cycling yesterday and today, about 40km each day. Yesterday nice & gentle, taking it easy after the Christmas foodfest. Today much harder because it was windy. Oh and lets face it, I was enjoying a direct tailwind for once.

I often think of that Tom Cruise line, “I feel the need, the need for speed!” Yes, I have to admit I like the feeling of speed. At my age, given I’ve only been cycling for 4 years, and only on a proper road bike for less than 2 years, most of the time I get to feel that glorious feeling of real speed is when I get the chance to scream downhill. On that rare occasion that you get the perfect combination of steep hill, smooth road surface, lack of gusting cross-winds and lack of cars zooming scarily close. It’s really exhilarating and if you haven’t tried it, I recommend it to everyone! I did experience that a few weeks ago on my ride with TC and the French “boys” in town, which was a high point of that ride.

However, today I got to experience the next best thing, riding on a flat, smooth surface with some beautifully shaped bends and curves, with a strong wind directly behind my back. And no pedestrians. This is bliss. After our two days of gastro-indulgence (I will post about that soon), I think TC was feeling a bit more lethargic than me. Yesterday, I have to admit, it was nice to really take it easy and cruise along for once. Yes, I am one of those people who is always so competitive with myself that I can’t help pushing myself, you know – really pushing myself, on most rides. So after not riding for a few days, then the lovely cruisey ride yesterday, I have to admit I was feeling energetic. So much so that when I felt that wind on my back, I just pedalled faster and faster, put my head down and got in the zone. Before I knew it I was checking over my shoulder every 5 minutes to see where TC had got to!  cycling along beach 2

When he finally caught up, it was only to comment “Where’s the race? You’re like a bat out of hell!”  Ha, yes I felt good. And it’s not that often that I genuinely outstrip him for a whole 20km.

And I have to say the weather this week has been just lovely for riding. If we’ve had rain, it seems to have only been at night. We’ve had either full sun or a little cloud during the day. Very very nice.  Cycling along beach 1

So… returning from a ride like that, a hungry girl needs one thing: vegemite. I’ve managed to combine the best of both worlds by spreading my vegemite, along with a healthy serving of butter, on the fresh baguette I ran around the corner to get.

Bliss!

What’s that thing you just have to eat when you return from a ride, hungry when you’ve had a good workout? Vegemite baguette