Saturday, 31 May 2008

Vive La France...part deux!

Tuesday morning saw us leave our B & B - which, it must be said, had the best shower I have ever had in my life, if you're in France, go there... worth it for the shower alone!
We hit the road on our 438km odyssey to our next digs - an 11th century castle in the Lorraine region near the border with Luxembourg - but more about that later.
We did more war-ry stuff, stopping off in Le Quesnoy, a fortified town that NZ soldiers liberated after 4 years of occupation in 1918... naturally, the people there were pretty stoked by this and are quite fond of kiwis; there are several streets named after NZ, Avenue des Neo-Zelandais, Rue de Nouvelle Zelande, Rue de Waikato and Rue de Cambridge... as well as a Square they re-named Place de All Blacks! It was so nice to see bits of home when we're so far away, although certainly not what we expected to find in rural northern France!
Photos here:
Bonus find in Le Quesnoy: Asterix, in French, in the supermarket... for €5! Hooray!
We embarked on a walking tour (again in the bloody rain - grrr) which was a bit of a task in map-reading and patience on Kent's behalf, but it took us around the town's fortifications, which date back to Napoleonic times, and to some of the memorials to the New Zealand troops... and past the biggest Maori fulla you have ever seen (check the photos below and you'll see what we mean!)
Back in the car, and onto the toll motorway... €20 poorer and several hours later we arrived at the castle in Jaulny, thanks to the magic of TomTom... there is NO way we'd have managed navigation without it.
The town itself is the stuff of postcards, overlooking a valley, on a hill and most of the buildings are hundreds of years old - the kind of place you'd like to fold up and put in your pocket... and the castle is breathtaking - I could go on and on about it, but it might just rank as my all time favourite place EVER... I think Kent is in agreeance.
Again we had a lovely host, Anna (who spoke great English, which was a godsend, as my French doesn't stretch much further than the standard yes, no, thank you and hello... and Kent's is virtually non-existent), whose family has owned the castle since the middle of the 1800s. Some of the castle is a museum, with full suits of armour, a summons to war (in French, obviously) and so many priceless treasures - and they actually belong to her and her family!
Her loveliness just proved that the reputation the French have for being rude is clearly unfounded, I suspect it might be the English habit of refusing to learn or even try to speak the local lingo and just speaking slower and yelling that might evoke this legendary attitude, but we saw none of it from anyone; they even smilingly put up with our pidgin attempts at speaking French. The language thing does sometimes cause a few crossed wires - a great example: after Anna suggested to us that we visit "Noh-See" the next day... we were stumped, until I asked her to write it for us, and found that it was Nancy... which immediately led me to think of 'Allo, Allo', as I'm pretty sure I remember a scene where Rene tells someone both he and his brother were "Nancy Boys". She said the city was beautiful, and very special, and she wasn't exaggerating... very European, with a large square and gorgeous architecture, beautiful park etc etc etc...
On our way back we checked out Pont-A-Mousson (about 20mins from Jaulny), yet another beautiful town... there are just so many of them around!
More photos:
Last installment on it's way shortly...
K & E x

Friday, 30 May 2008

Vive La France... part un!

It's been awhile. This can be attributed to two things:
1)Eryn discovered Facebook... and what a huge time-thief it is!
2)We spent loads of time getting ourselves sorted for our road trip to France, which was ace!

We madly decided to take the mighty Corsa to the continent with us... I say mad because there is an engine light of some description that just keeps going... but so does the car, so it can't be all bad! I'm picturing Dad rolling his eyes at that last bit.
First lesson - Driving laws in France are quite different than in the UK - obviously there's the whole 'other side of the road' thing, but in addition, you have to carry a high-vis jacket, one of those red triangle things, a fire extinguisher, spare lightbulb kit, first aid kit, ownership/registration and insurance papers... information that might have been more useful to us, had we found out BEFORE we boarded the ferry. Evidently checks on foreign cars are frequent and the punishments handed out are quite harsh... so that had us a bit anxious before we even docked at Dunkerque.
They take their Sundays quite seriously over there, so there was practically nothing open when we arrived, but we did manage to find a great Maritime Museum with all sorts of bits in it, particularly about the mass evacuation in 1940... if you're not interested in war history, best stop right here, as the rest of the trip was full of it.
We stayed in a very cute B & B, our host, Nelly (whose husband is Jean-Luc - could he be any more French??!) was lovely, despite protesting that her English wasn't very good (it was better than some of the students Kent has encountered in England) and sent us to La Coupole, a huge concrete dome, built by Hitler & co in WWII to launch V2 rockets at London, the next day. It was impressive...even though it was abandoned towards the end of the war. Probably for the best, methinks.
From there we were headed to Ypres/Ieper, which meant we needed to cross the border... well, I say border, but really it was more like a petrol station forecourt, unmanned, where you don't need to slow down, into Belgium. My hopes of getting another stamp in my passport were dashed... thanks very much, EU.
Cue lumps in throats for both of us... which might seem a bit on the dramatic side, but when you consider that Ypres was the focus of much of WW1 - it was pretty much destroyed during the war, then rebuilt afterwards with money paid in reparation by the Germans, and that it's surrounded by Comonwealth War graves sites (we saw at least a hundred signs for different ones from the car), it certainly makes the whole thing seem so much more real than 5th form history ever did... We were lucky enough to see the Last Post played at the Menin Gate in Ypres that night, something they close the road for and have done every night at 8pm since 1928! It was very moving, as the gate itself is a giant memorial to 50,000 fallen, with every single one of their names engraved in the stone.
I was mildly put out as I couldn't find any Kiwis but it turns out that it wasn't big enough for all the names they had orginally planned, and the NZers decided to put the names of our boys on one of the other memorials - Tyne Cot - fortunately, it was just down the road at Passchendaele. It was raining at this stage, which seemed quite fitting. There are 11,856 men buried there, with a memorial to a further 35,000 missing - and an entire bit of it dedicated to Kiwis - which started the waterworks again - we were really just blown away by the sheer numbers of people, mostly younger than us, who died for their countries. Just thinking about it still makes me feel so incredibly humbled... but enough being maudlin for now... That's not even halfway into the trip...
Photos are here:
More soon,
K + E x

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Dublin Photos... finally

Before I forget, after the whole "Oops, Kent? I think I lost the camera..." debacle, here are the photos from beautiful Dublin...
Would love to hear what you've been up to...
Eryn x

Monday, 12 May 2008


Prior to two days ago, my knowledge of Irish people consisted of watching reruns of Father Ted, that movie about a dead guy who wins the lotto, reading Angela’s Ashes, and a couple of fairly depressing filims about the IRA… We didn’t go anywhere near ‘Craggy Island’, so I couldn’t possibly comment on Ted & Co, but on the whole, it was much as I’d imagined; Dublin is a beautiful city, the countryside is lush and the people are very friendly – with the best accent ever!

Not surprisingly, as many people had warned us, our Ryanair flight was delayed, and it was already pretty late on Friday night, so not the best start, but it tied in quite nicely with my plans to go late-night club hopping in Temple Bar with Kent… yeah, right.
After a comfy, if too short, night’s sleep in our rather luxurious hotel, we hit the footpath to wander into the centre of town… in the rain, ick! It stopped almost as soon as we got to town though, and the rest of the weekend was actually pretty nice - phew.
We took the hop-on, hop-off bus tour of the city – a nice way to check out the sights and decide what we wanted to see later… which led us to a tour of Kilmainham Gaol, the onetime home of some of our Australian neighbours’ ancestors. It also held the leaders of the Easter Rising of 1916, most of whom were executed within days of being arrested… a major landmark in Irish republican history. Our guide was really passionate and she made the whole thing quite real, and I have to confess that I had a lump in my throat in some places; it was very moving… certainly wouldn’t recommend it if you’re looking for a pick-me-up!

We had dinner in a quite little traditional pub just off the Temple Bar, minus the hoardes of hens-parties… complete with a ‘Smokers Beer Garden’ which really meant a covered in area that collected smoke and sent it back inside to the rest of us – nice! If there’s one huge difference we’ve noticed on this side of the world, it’s how many people smoke, and how much less hysterical non-smokers are about it; not sure if that’s a good thing though…
Next day was a bit of a rush to get going in time to get to the bus stop for our tour out to Malahide Castle and the Coast… bed was a bit too comfy and we overslept! We did get there in the end, and it was worth the hurry, as Malahide is a beautiful castle, which was lived in until the mid-70s when the last owner had to sell up to pay inheritance taxes, then she high-tailed it to Tasmania… it must have broken her heart to sell the home her family had lived in for a staggering 900 years! Kent was in his element, and managed to find out that they still hire out the Grand Hall for banquets, complete with string quartet, for the teensy sum of €3000 plus €75 per head for minimum of 30 people, so I think it might be a while before we can afford that (but it would be a pretty amazing experience…). We also headed to Howth, for a wicked view over Dublin Bay – lucky the sun was out, and we could see quite a way across. We also saw the school where U2 met (they’re very proud of their rock music
protégées in Dublin) and heard a few great (and some tall) tales from our guide.

You may wonder why there are no photos… keep reading and all will be revealed.

Our afternoon was somewhat more adrenalin-filled; we took a ‘Sea Safari’ out of the River Liffey and into the Irish Sea in an RIB (rigid inflatable boat – those open ones that bounce around like nobody’s business in the waves – eek!), around Dalkey Island, Dun Laoghaire and the Muglins… which sounded JK Rowling-esque enough to keep me happy. It was quite exhilarating – not something I thought I would love, but I did – and sooo much better than a boring/sedate cruise up and down the Liffey.

From there it was a short wander to the bus station, past a canoe polo game we stumbled across en-route, to get to the airport… where I lost our camera.

Yup. Lost our camera… bother… or something stronger.

Needless to say, there wasn’t much joviality on the plane home. After a similarly quiet drive, we arrived back in Ipswich about 12.30am; not the nicest with Monday morning looming at work for both of us… and still no camera.

It’s not all bad, though. Someone found the camera and handed it in (which was lovely, am so incredibly grateful to whoever it was – hopefully lovely things happen to them) and it’s now winging it’s way back to us in time for our drive to the continent in less than two weeks… so I will post the photos soon.

Take care,
Kent & Eryn x

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Bank Holiday

Who knows exactly why they have it - but the first Monday in May is a bank holiday... I think it's their equivalent of Labour Day, but not 100% sure.

To celebrate, we burnt some fossil fuel and took a cruisy drive to Bury St Edmonds, which is about 30 mins away from Ipswich. Quite possibly every person we've spoken to since we arrived has encouraged us to visit there, and we've finally made it. It was another lovely warm day, no doubt due to the aforementioned fossil fuel burning, (although we're both still finding it weird to have this time of year getting warmer instead of colder... not that we're complaining) and yet another place to add to the list of places to go back to, but it's easily the prettiest town we've found in Suffolk, with a Gothic cathedral, ruined Abbey, and public Abbey gardens... photos are here:
The British go a bit crazy when it starts to get warm - you can bet your bottom dollar (or pound, I suppose) that as soon as the mercury is over 18, the blokes have their tops off... whether they have the bod for it or not. Seriously, they do. I counted 21 in Bury alone... I stopped after that, and have decided that it's just part of the culture and I should stop judging - good luck with that one, huh.

After that we went to Pakenham Water Mill, just outside Bury, which was recorded in the Domesday Book. The current mill was built in the 18th C and is still operational - in fact, we've just eaten dumplings with our dinner made from flour milled there! We had a guided tour of the mill and its surrounds, and managed to blow a few on second-hand books, not quite what we were expecting to buy at a mill that dates back to 9 hundred and something!
Kent & Eryn x

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Ahoy there

Hi! Busy couple of weeks behind us, and it's fair to say we're both completely over this 9-5 malarkey! Managed to celebrate Anzac Day, albeit only with a couple of poppies, not a dawn service, and even then, I had to enter some fairly longwinded negotiations with the RBL (the equivalent of the RSA) to get hold of them, as they don't like them being worn outside of Remembrance time, which is November... I did suggest the woman I spoke to might like to remember that other countries fought in the war too, and that we were all on the same side. She was not amused by this stage. Neither was I, but after a bit more explaining (I honestly thought they would know about Anzac Day, being a vets organisation, but apparently not) she did let me have a couple of poppies (which are rubbish compared to the ones at home). Really, you'd think I'd asked for two of her children, not a couple of bits of paper and plastic!
We have been getting better at not wasting our time away from the office and last weekend we headed up to Norfolk (the next county over from us) to go boating on the Broads, which are a series of canals/lakes created in the Middle Ages when England had a desire to burn peat like it was going out of fashion, so they dug lots of it up, leaving bloody great big holes, which have filled as the sea level has risen.
Thank goodness they did, really, because it was quite fun - Kent even let me control the boat for some of the journey - brave, given that it's all the opposite to what we're used to: steering wheel on the left, keep to the right, etc. To be fair though, at a speed of 5mph max, there wasn't too much danger... and we did manage to pull a couple of what might loosely be termed 'donuts', but they're a bit less spectacular at 4mph. It may also have been good practice for when we take the car over to France, Belgium and Luxembourg at the end of the month - eeek!
Being spring, the trees are looking a lot less skeletal than when we first arrived, and there were lots of baby things around, ducklings following their mums into the water and the like, and it was all rather lovely (and interesting too, Kent informs me)...
Along the way we encountered pirates... the stag party variety, who'd decorated their boat with Jolly Rodger flags and dressed up (which I've suggested to Kent for my next birthday celebration)...the Ice Cream boat, which is like a Mr Whippy, only on the water - especially brilliant, as it was by far and away the warmest day of the year so far - I even managed to stay in tshirt, shorts and jandals all day - hooray... and some of the cutest thatched roof cottages. It's not hard to see why it's a very popular area in the summer, our photos are here:

We both agree that, if we're being impartial, Norfolk is quite a bit prettier than Suffolk, though we won't be saying that out loud anytime soon.
We headed up the same way yesterday, to King's Lynn, about an hour and a half away from home, to have a nosey but we forgot to take the camera - oops! It used to be the third largest port in England and has ties to Admiral Lord Nelson, who led the English to victory (and promptly died in the final moments) in the Battle of Trafalgar. Princess Diana went to primary school there, and it's about 6 miles away from Sandringham, where the Queen lives sometimes... We didn't go there though, as I was in my jandals and in no state to be having tea and cucumber sammies with her majesty - as we share a birthdate, I feel sure she would have invited us in for high tea. With no camera to prove our new friendship either, it would have been a journey wasted, so we'll save it for next time.
On our way home we visited the Wash, where Kent suggested we wait until after a gigantic ship had gone past before we left. Whilst it was indeed an interesting sight, the resulting waves which came up and onto the marshes where we were standing were less exciting and more, err, marshy. Our last stop was Castle Acre, which, as you might guess from the name, has a castle - one which is falling down and was therefore free to visit. It's also the home of our favourite pub so far, 'The Ostrich', so we'll definitely head up that way again soon.
Kent has also requested that I mention the football - he's been at the Ipswich Town v Hull game this afternoon, which everyone (well, me) thought was a foregone conclusion, as Hull are at the top of the league and Town have been floating around the middle... but it was a Town 1-0 victory, so he is happy - although he informs me there were a couple of questionable refereeing decisions, but hey, his team won, and could still make the playoffs (if lots of others lose, and if you stand on your left leg, and poke your right eye with a wooden spoon, I imagine), so it's all good.
That's us for now, we're off on our mystery trip next weekend, so will be in touch soon.
Kent & Eryn x