A giant catch-up post – April to August

Okay, so it’s been quite a while since the last update. Sorry all! I’ll try not to leave it so long again. We’ve had no regular internet access at home since June, so it makes blog posts just a little more difficult.

Generally, we’re both well – healthy and happy. Bruce now has a permanent position at Agralis, we have a new house, so we’re feeling more settled and still soaking up as many French lessons as we possibly can. I’m studying French madly – 1-6 hours of audio lessons per day while I work. Plus, I watch movies, try to read things etc. But really, I just need to hear and speak more French. My understanding is still heavily academic. I need more French friends (that don’t know any English). But, that will come when September starts and France stops having its month-long holiday (called August). I’ve found a few choirs to join (although they seem a little old), so at least that will get me out of the house, singing and chatting to Frenchies. Bruce has the exact opposite problem to me. He needs to speak French at work & he hears office French all the time, which is draining – he comes home wrecked every night. It’s really very tiring to translate all day. But he never gets a chance to do lessons, so he’s speaking very broken French with awful grammar. End result is that he’s far more confident talking French than me, while I ponder my sentences more and the conversation races off without me. But enough about French.

Bruce has been extremely busy working and driving all over France. And since driving isn’t something you can decide to go home early and not finish, he hasn’t really had much time for anything else. He comes home close to 9pm most nights after travelling, which is just enough time to feed him and send him off to bed. Crazy. This also means that he doesn’t have time to hassle our internet provider about getting the house some internet. During Winter/Spring he was off on work trips 2-3 days a week. Even when Bruce isn’t off driving, he works late most days (until 7-8). Anyway, what this means for me is that I’m the one doing all the cooking, shopping, cleaning, housework, unpacking, errands, bookings for travel, organising our lives, etc on top of my own work (not complaining, just saying). I’m basically Bruce’s personal assistant and housewife (he doesn’t see it that way though). It’s also tough doing all this without a car. C’est la vie!

A huge part of feeling at home in France involves syncing with the locals – working out when to work and when to run errands. I think I’m just starting to get in sync. At first, I kept trying to do the errands first thing in the day (since they were more time-critical), but France doesn’t really work in the mornings. It’s actually best to head off to run errands at about 4:30-5pm. That way you’re just ahead of all the office-working errand-runners (who tend to run errands 5:30-6:30). If you try before midday you run the risk of places not being open at all. Between midday-2pm is lunchtime and barely anything is open. If it is, they’re understaffed and it will take you an hour to do anything. 2pm onwards is when things really pick up, but I hate interrupting myself in the middle of my day to run errands – It takes too long to get started again. Since most places stay open until 7:30pm you’ve still got quite a while to get stuff done. It just means you have to be used to eating dinner around 8-9pm. So, if I eat a snack at 4:30pm and then head out to do errands it all works out perfectly. And, all of this is made even easier with our fantastic new location.

We’ve moved into a new townhouse (see the youtube tour) in a nice part of town which is part of a small closed-gate community which shares a communal pool. It’s a 5 minute walk into Le Passage shopping district, where there’s a Wednesday/Saturday food market, two supermarkets, bakeries, lots of other shops, a café, a wine cave, DVD place. Old Le Passage is only 10 mins away (slightly different direction), which has the Mairie (mayors office), library and the bridge over to Agen. Just across the river is a huge selection of restaurants and bars – it’s the big food district. There’s also the main park where fairs and exhibitions are. It’s only 25 mins walk to get to that part of Agen (the Jardin/Garden district). From there, you’re minutes away from Boulevard de Republique, which is the main heart of Agen with shops all along its length. Our favourite toy shop is at our end, while the Sunday markets (another 15 minutes walk) are at the far end. Basically, we can walk to most places we want to go within 30-45 mins. And if you take a bike it’s even quicker. Another bonus is walking the other direction – It’s only 10 minutes walk to the canal. Plus, our closest section of the canal is the tree-lined bit which is really pretty. Back to the house itself, we bought beautiful, old furniture from our old landlords and got all our new whitegoods in one hit. We’re still busy nesting and setting up the new place, plus we have a patch of empty backyard that needs a vision. But essentially, our house has pretty much everything we need except internet.

The internet dilemma is a great one and a fantastic lesson in how not to privatise government monopolies. France telecom is as messed up as Telstra & has more power. We made the mistake of signing up for phone and internet bundled through a competitor, Free. Free needs France Telecom to set up our phoneline before anything can happen, so naturally France Telecom don’t care and have put the request at the bottom of the to-do list. Meanwhile, we can’t break our contract with Free or in fact do anything except wait. We know now that we should have signed up with France telecom first and then transferred the number. Oh that 20-20 hindsight. Anyway, as soon as France Telecom actually set us up with a phone line, Free will hopefully get us connected quickly and we’ll be back online. My current arrangement is using a 3G dongle, so it’s the same as using internet over a mobile phone. It’s slow and expensive. What would normally take one hour takes five hours using this internet (and costs about 35 € or $70). In the meantime, I’ve managed to sneak some photos online while I worked at Bruce’s office on occasion, but without enough time to explain them to anyone.

Anyway, I’ll have to try and squish all the main events of the last five months into this one huge post. Here goes. As you will soon see, we’re living it up here – enjoying the sun, the fact that France is so close to everything and that there’s so much to do in Europe.

April brought in some warmer weather, letting us eat outside most evenings. Over the Easter weekend (sadly, while Bruce was away) I got a brief visit from Tim and one of his friends. We also cruised around one weekend and got acquainted with some of the local towns.

We started May with a trip to the farm of the mother of Bruce’s boss. We stayed there for a weekend and went to the Musée de Goya and took walks around Revel from there. It’s a very, very pretty area.

May gave us teasingly warm days and then torrential rain. It’s beautiful to watch and shows clearly why Spring is just so much more exciting in Europe than in Australia. There’s flowers, greenery and birds EVERYWHERE. Adelaide’s seasons just seem so much more subtle.

Just before our Paris trip, Bruce somehow managed to drag me on one of his work trips to a lovely (almost seaside) town of Perpignan for one night, which was a very unexpected bonus. It’s down near Spain and feels very Spanish (well, it does to me, but I’ve never been to Spain).

Paris with Jason Standing was an amazing whirlwind tour. It was my first time in Paris and Bruce’s first time in the centre as a tourist. The main event was Bobby McFerrin, but we figured we could do high-speed sight-seeing while we were there. We got straight off the train and went to the catacombes. Good plan, since we lined up for nearly two hours before we got in. Incidentally, Jason had planned to go to some other catacombes in Paris, but somehow we wound up at these ones. Jason met us in the line, so we had plenty of time to catch up before touring. Many, many dead bodies later we were appalled to find ourselves starving hungry and back in the mid-afternoon daylight, but that didn’t stop us wolfing down some Moroccan food before more touristy stuff. We took in some beautiful gardens, a decent beer spot, the outside of the Notre Dame, some cutesy restaurant district and finally found our hotel with just enough time for a quick shower before heading out for the show.

Bobby McFerrin was every bit as good as the word-of-mouth hype we’d hoped so much was true. He launched into some mellow, but beautiful piece to begin with, mesmerising the whole audience for a solid half-hour or so. When we came out of our trance he was ready to get the place jamming. The rest of the night was spent bouncing between listening to him performing amazing solo works and watching him include members of the audience for some improvisation and tricks. A surprise guest was Camille (of “Ta Dolouer” fame), who he’d become friends with during a recent workshop. They performed her song with Bobby jamming in his merry way, which led to some fun duo improv. Over the course of the night, everyone in the house had a great sing (see this youtube clip for an idea) and was left with no doubt that Bobby McFerrin is both a fantastic musician and a brilliant entertainer – and he clearly loves every minute he gets to sing!

Sunday we checked out the Georges Pompidou art gallery, and quickly checked out the opera house, Eiffel Tower and other tourist hotspots, then it was back on the train home for us.

Read more about our Paris trip by Jason here or check out Jason’s pictures here.

June was fairly uneventful travel-wise as we were busy searching for, signing for and moving into the new house. We started June with a quiet birthday party for Bruce, then Bruce went and proved he was getting older by doing his back in. Just in time for moving house – unfair! So, I got to move all the boxes by myself (Aside: his back is mostly better now). On the fun side, I got to spend one day taking kiddies to a fair (It’s a hard life). We were also treated to a visit from the lovely Jen, who timed things perfectly for being able to see both the old house and the new house. Later in the month, we were shown how birthday parties are really done.

Bruce and I went to the local wine cave to see if it was any good. It was FANTASTIC. This place is within 5 mins walk of our house. We walked in, said we were new to France and that we wanted to try wines. They sat us down, fed us tapas (all of their food was amazing) and the best part of a couple of bottles of wine. They tried talking to us and soon worked out how bad our French was. But, they kept trying. They were all very friendly and they obviously loved the place, the wine, the atmosphere and the food – as did we. We bought two bottles of each wine we tried, and somehow ended up only paying about 8 € ($16) for all the wine and tapas we had while we were there. Then they also gave us a waiter’s friend. Seriously, we’ll be back there often. 

In July, we went for a trip to Toulouse (for Leonard Cohen) and Bruce took a long weekend so we could explore a little. Leonard Cohen was a great show. He pulled an enormous amount of talent on stage, created some amazing new versions of his music and managed to stay sprightly all evening. The evening was indeed magic and we are so, so lucky to have seen the show.

The Friday afternoon, we were lucky enough to catch a pedestrian tour of Toulouse in English. This was a great starter to our weekend of exploring, because we’d seen most of the important old buildings, learned a little of the history and had clear ideas where we were going to spend more time at over the next few days. Lucky for you guys, we also forgot the camera that day (I know!!).

One museum we spent most of a day in is the Musée des Augustins. The building itself is a museum piece (an Abbey from way back), but inside there’s a huge variety of ancient stuff and relatively modern artwork. It’s actually got the biggest collection of Roman statues in the world (if I remember that right), plus it’s got  good selection of medieval tablets, gothic church statues, gargoyles, paintings and whatnot. Quite worth spending a few days wandering around. It’s also got concerts in the church regularly, so we’re hoping to cruise over for some of them soon.

We also spent quite a significant amount of time in Jacobins, since it lends itself rather well to photography (see the youtube clip of entering Jacobins). We need to do more research and go back for another trip, because we’ve already forgotten most of the important history of these places.

When we were in Toulouse I got to fill up a couple of shopping bags with Indian spices, so I’m able to make pretty much anything Indian (and most Asian stuff) as long as I have a recipe (please pass any great recipes my way!!). Oh curry. I really miss good curry – and Thai food. France really isn’t big on anything that even sounds like it’s heard of spices. There’s Asian restaurants, but it’s very French Asian. Same goes for Indian, although I think it’s a little more authentic. But African is win. We went to an awesome Moroccan restaurant in May and I think it’s my new favourite restaurant. 

The night before Bastille Day is when Agen has the Bastille Day fireworks display. We’d forgotten about them, and so were at home watching movies instead of by the river in Le Passage like the rest of the town. We stepped outside to see if we could catch a glimpse and were treated to a fantastic half-hour display right from our back door.

We raced over to England on a whim (planned months ahead) for a special weekend at Bletchley Park. We were only in London for a day and a half. Expensive craziness, but it was fun. We caught up with Richard and Hilary on the first night. Bletchley took up most of Saturday (with tours, lectures and geeky awesomeness – Craig, Cecilia and her boy were with us here), then we caught up with Aussie friends in London (Craig, Michelle & Jen, plus some RADA friends of Jen’s) until the wee hours of Sunday morning. We slept in an excellent youth hostel (called “The Clink” – it’s a restored watchhouse) for about 3 hours and then made our way back to the airport for a 9:50 flight (which we nearly missed). Ryanair only does one flight to our part of France on a Sunday and they’re basically only running the flight in order to run a more reasonably-timetabled flight to pick up English people who have spent the weekend in France. I think the most unexpected thing about our trip to England was arriving in France and feeling like we were home again (especially since we’d arrived in a city we’re not exactly familiar with).

August began with a delayed Christmas in July. We couldn’t pin down our guests until August, so that’s the way it goes. We had gifts, pudding, ingredients and recipes sent from Australia, so all we had to do was cook it all up and host a long lunch. As I prepared away, I realised that all the bits of lunch that the French see as vital (like entrées and cheese) were not quite in sync with all the compulsory parts of the meal which I had been sent recipes for. So, the menu just kept getting bigger and bigger – I wrote it out for a laugh. After stuffing ourselves with goodies and opening presents, the afternoon turned into an excuse to play every game we owned, do puzzles and teach kids how to juggle. As you do.

After much badgering from the girls, we finally went for a trip to Parc Walibi (2 mins up the road from us – check out the Parc Walibi website). Yes, that’s the French-Belguim theme park’s own special way of spelling Wallaby – the wallaby is the park mascot and there are little cartoon wallabies all over the place. I thought it was going to be more of a waterslide fun park, but it turned out to be more like Seaworld. We saw sea-lions, rollercoaster rides, the world upside-down, terrified kiddies, water all over us and lots and lots of lines. Fun & exhausting. I’ve still got a sunburn line.

We’ve spent most of the rest of August lying low, saving pennies (well, Euros), setting up the house, unpacking a bit and chilling out. Since France is essentially on holiday for all of August there’s not really a lot that can be done. This is a good thing, since we just need to not do much for a bit. It’s sunny and warm, so we’ve spent evenings walking to the canal, playing games, reading, listening to music, watching movies. General summer holiday excitement. It’s a bit of a bummer that we don’t have an outdoor table setting yet, but since the backyard isn’t much to look at yet (and it’s bloody hot out) we’re not too fussed.

I did manage to spontaneously go along with another of Bruce’s work trips to Perpignan last week, though this time it was just for the day. We picked a random seaside town for me to hang out in (Canet) for a few hours while he worked, then on the way back we detoured past a statue and an old ruin we’ve been eyeing off from the highway for a while. Perfect daytrip – hope I get more of them!

Just to keep you all in the loop, future travel plans will involve us heading to Barcelona with some Aussies in England, plus we’ll be heading to Adelaide.

I’m still trying to upload pics from the start of the year (and last year!), so some of these photo albums will fill up a little more over time. In fact, I’m sneakily adding one or two pics to new albums just so I can link to them when I post this blog post. Sorry that’s a pain, but that’s the way it is. Coming soon: Bruce losing his hair, Bruce’s trip to Vienna, a random work trip of Bruce’s, more of January. There might also be short videos added to some albums. Er, later.

By the way, if you want to know our new address for any reason, it’s available for friends to see on my Facebook profile, or you can email us and ask for it.

Okay, well that’s it for me and this post. I’ll try very hard to not let it slide for that long again. Bruce may even write something one day too (I’ll believe it when I see it!). Maybe if I update more frequently I can actually get into some detail instead of just barely managing to cover all the important bits. Even with stealing paragraphs from emails here and there I’ve taken most of a day to write this. *sigh*

Right. Bye for now!