home about favouritesarchives

Endless Summer – France 2

September 1st, 2015

Monday August 10

The Princess and I headed off to Caen to visit the shops. “Are you looking forward to it?” I asked. “Yes,” she said, “I have put it in my calendar.” “Really?” “Yes,” she replied reading from her phone, “Go you know where with you know who.” I have pointed out that her mother may be a Trojan Horse in this keeping things from Google.

Notwithstanding that almost all shops in Caen are closed on a Monday morning (good to know though belated in our case), we had an excellent time. She got gladiator sandals and I got a tablecloth. Then we went for lunch and after some floundering around which she bore with exemplary patience, we found the restaurant. It may perhaps have been hunger that made her less than entirely patient with the father and young son sitting nearby.

Father: C’est qui?
Infant son: Puts hands in front of his eyes and laughs.
Father: C’est Guillaume!

Repeat many, many times.

Father: C’est qui?
Infant son: Puts hands in front of his eyes and laughs.
Herself in hissing undervoice to me: I imagine it is Guillaume, like the previous 22 times.

However, lunch came and we were cheered and all was well with the world. And notwithstanding the fact that I dropped and broke my phone on the way back to the car, we were both rather pleased with ourselves on our return.

We found that the courgette problem had reached critical proportions in our absence though.

Untitled

Tuesday, August 11

Before we went to France, we had decided that as we were relatively close to Paris we would go for a day trip. As the actual day for which we had booked train tickets approached, Mr. Waffle and I became consumed with fear that we would spend a fortune and they would hate it. Matters did not begin propitiously. An attempt to book tickets for the Eiffel Tower before leaving Ireland was met with a blank non. Top tip, book two months in advance. No, really.

Tuesday was the day and it dawned extremely rainy. I insisted on getting up at 7 because I was worried about traffic and missing the train. In consequence we were in the station 40 minutes in advance of departure time. This gave us ample opportunity to verify Ouest France‘s reporting on the urban, edgy nature of the station and surrounds.

I had been, with the greatest reluctance, persuaded by Mr. Waffle to leave our raincoats in the car. The rain was coming down in sheets. I was afraid.

Parked beside us in the station and sitting behind us on the train was an English family with three children aged about two, four and six. The youngest was in a buggy. They looked quite glamourous and tanned and I was impressed by their coolness and, frankly, also by their bravery.

The train journey was uneventful but I was able to verify from Ouest France the reason for the traffic jam on the motorway out of Caen the previous day. Apparently a consignment of frozen peas had fallen from a lorry. No injuries but quite the traffic jam. Aren’t local newspapers fantastic? There was also the tale of the family of six who were speeding to the South of France on their holiday and inadvertently left the 3 year old at a motorway stop. It took them three hours to notice and the gendarmes were annoyed. The child was unhurt and the parents relieved, apparently all the children were asleep and it was only when they woke up that they noticed one of their number was missing. Let he who has never lost a child cast the first stone etc.

When we arrived in Paris at 11, it was boiling and I rejoiced that we did not have our coats. We took the metro into town and went for a sustaining and reassuringly expensive cup of tea near the Sainte Chapelle. The children were pleased. We were pleased.

We went to Notre Dame and sustained a shock. Good lord, the queues. I have been to Notre Dame loads of times and never remember queuing for any length of time. Mr. Waffle pointed out, I probably hadn’t been in August. We went to the dusty park behind and considered our options. It was a low moment.

We trekked across to the Île St. Louis and had a walk around. It was toasty. We found a restaurant. It was not the best restaurant I have ever eaten in but, you know what, there was food that everyone ate and our waiter was charming (what is it about this trip to France and the charming French people?). He chatted to us; he had a friend who lived in Dublin and loved it; he gave us a copy of le petit futé. He was really lovely. The children got to speak French. It was all good.

IMAG1636

We went off to take a bateau mouche. We found one that was just leaving. It wasn’t too crowded; the commentary was fine and we got to see almost everything. I had never been on a bateau mouche before and I was a bit sneery about them. No longer, this was fantastic.

Untitled

After the bateau mouche the children got some souvenirs from the bouquinistes and we went for a further restorative cup of tea (at the pain quotidien – ah a piece of Paris that is forever Brussels).

2015-08-11 16.21.35

There was a funfair in the Tuileries and after the children had dutifully inspected the Louvre Pyramid we broke the wonderful news to them.

IMAG1657

While the children spent their money judiciously, Mr. Waffle and I sat in those green chairs in the park and waited happily in the shade. It turns out, extraordinarily, that a fair in the Tuileries does not charge more for its excitements than one anywhere else.

2015-08-11 17.52.19

Untitled

After the children joined us, the Princess and Mr. Waffle went up the park to inspect the perfect alignment of the Arc de Triomphe and Place de la Concorde and the Louvre while the boys compared the guns they had won at the fair.

As I sat there peacefully, I heard English accents and turned around to see the English father from the train with the two younger children. The baby had wilted and was protesting angrily about life and they all looked a lot less dapper than they had at 9 in the morning (as we did ourselves but starting from a much lower base). I was torn between admiration and smugness. It’s just so much easier to do this kind of thing with older children but still it is impressive to do it with three small children; what will they tackle when their children are 12?

We went back to the station to get the 8 pm train back to Normandy. After the stresses of the day I bought a “Royals – Hors Serie” featuring the European royal baby boom and also, mysteriously, Celine Dion’s children and whatever happened to Macauley Culkin. Don’t judge.

We were home by 11 (still raining in Normandy), tired and dusty but pleased with our achievement.

Wednesday, August 12

We recovered at home for the day. The boys played an elaborate game in their room with the guns they won in Paris.

The cat warmed to us a bit. She brought us a dead mouse as a sign of her affection. Mr. Waffle nobly disposed of it.

IMAG1707

Sometime later herself said to me, “What is that behind the door?” I peered, “A rag?” “Eye of the bat,” said Mr. Waffle – still bitter about this test that I did really well in – entirely scientific:

He dutifully hauled a second mouse corpse out from behind the kitchen door where the cat had put it for safe keeping.

That night there was a spectacular thunderstorm. The absence of shutters allowed us to fully appreciate it. The cat and the dog slept with the boys.

Thursday, August 13

Herself was ill during the night and still felt seedy in the morning so we woke up to a sick child and, bonus, no electricity. Our hosts had left pictures of the fusebox and instructions on which buttons to press but neglected to say where it was, so Mr. Waffle spent a happy half hour exploring the basement and the stables in the driving rain.

Shot of the stables, so you can appreciate the range of the search:
IMAG1713

He met with some success but the kitchen remained without electricity. We were, at this point, well known to the local tradesmen and the electrician came very promptly and tripped the trip switch. Embarrassing but all to the good.

In the local town, there was a cycle track running along the river for 20kms. It wound up in Caen. I thought it might be nice to venture along part of it. Herself was sick and the boys disagreed with my assessment. Nevertheless, I was determined. I cycled in along the back roads. In a complex fox and geese type arrangement, Mr. Waffle then drove in with the two boys and their bikes while herself stayed in the house recuperating and reading my “Royals hors serie” (what have I done?). Our cycle was reasonably pleasant given that it drizzled throughout and the boys would have preferred to have been exploring the functionalities of the PlayStation back at the house.

2015-08-13 16.30.22

The electricity went again while we were out and it was definitely not the trip switch and the electrician was summoned. Inevitably, he came while Mr. Waffle was collecting the boys and their bikes and herself was alone at the house. He was quite an elderly gentleman and he was maybe not entirely clued in to what 12 year olds might be expected to know. She didn’t know where the junction box was. He proposed doing something with the power. Did she approve? It was hard to know as she didn’t understand what he was proposing. She went for no as the safest option. He was displeased. She tried yes, he seemed to like that better. Mercifully, Mr. Waffle returned at this point.

Your heroine meanwhile was slogging back from the village uphill. I ended up accidentally going back by an entirely different route from the picturesque country roads I travelled on the way in. I found myself on the main road (not a motorway or dual carriageway but nonetheless busy) with no verge and a low but very solid concrete wall at the edge of the road. It was genuinely one of my most scary moments as a grown up. There were times when I thought I might actually be run over and die. I would have phoned for help but my phone was dead so there was nothing for it but to keep going. I’m still alive, as you may have guessed.

Friday, August 14

There is a Sugar Loaf in the Suisse Normande, it is called the “Pain de Sucre” and we decided to climb it. It was not high. We brought Viva the dog and went up the quite gentle hills (though steadily uphill for an hour or so which did not fill the boys with joy).

2015-08-14 12.16.14

IMAG1692

Downhill was pleasing though and Viva was delighted with the whole trip.

As a reward for the effort in walking we had pizza for dinner. Joy was somewhat confined by the masses of ham which appear to be a feature of the Norman Margarita pizza.

Saturday, August 15

We went to see the Bayeux tapestry. I’ve seen the Bayeux tapestry quite a few times at this stage but, fortunately, my memory is so poor that I am always surprised afresh. It was cleverly laid out and not too busy and, all in all, we were quite please with the tapestry and, indeed, the town where we enjoyed a cup of tea and a visit to the cathedral (you know, because it was there).

Sunday, August 16

The countryside was full of war cemeteries. We went to a Canadian one. I was a bit dubious about this outing but it was very moving and I was surprised how sad it still is to see those rows of dead young men with their identical headstones.

Untitled

These were the same as the ones in Arbour Hill in Dublin as the Commonwealth War Graves people have an impressive reach.

2015-08-16 14.27.42

We went on to Falaise where there was organised fun at the castle where William the Conqueror was born.

Falaise

2015-08-16 17.51.11

We had some success there, in dressing up in armour:

2015-08-16 15.45.09

Untitled

And exploring the castle with an iPad

Untitled

but it was quite warm and crowded. Please admire Michael’s loyalty to his toasty hoodie.

We were not, however, as unhappy as the Kentucky students who were on an exchange programme. They had been promised Deauville by their college (Kentucky and Deauville both being strong on horses) but instead found themselves in the tiny hamlet of Falaise doling out iPads to tourists. I can attest that they were speaking a great deal of French but perhaps not using the full range of their vocabulary.

Monday, August 17

We took a last walk with Viva and then we left. We were sad to go but, on the other hand, some of us were really, really glad to be going back to our own house with our own toys.

IMAG1731

When we got home, we found that the French people had left some courgettes in the fridge for us.

And today is September 1, so I think we can truly declare the end of summer 2015. It was good while it lasted.

Endless Summer – France 1

September 1st, 2015

Sunday, August 2

We left the house in good time. The never to be forgotten trauma of 2010 has had a lasting impact.

Untitled

We even had time to stop for lunch where the boys enjoyed the distinctly unusual combination of Yorkshire pudding and chips.

2015-08-02 12.46.00

The boat was uneventful which is probably the best one can hope for.

Untitled

Monday, August 3

We arrived in France and it was warm and sunny. This alone was a real triumph. This summer in Ireland, the weather has been appalling.

We were staying in Normandy and only had a two hour drive from the ferry which I truly recommend. We swapped houses again and, by arrangement, when we arrived at their house, the French people were preparing to leave. Our hosts talked us through various logistics and we scooted off for lunch. We explored the local tourist office where the woman behind the counter was charming as she told us of the joys of the “Suisse Normande” Spoiler alert: it is nothing like Switzerland. We dropped into the local church – bombed in the war and rebuilt – and the cleaner bustled up to us and I feared the worst. However, all she did was show us a carving of a bat and ask whether the children needed to use the toilet. Truly these were bizarrely friendly French people.

And then we came back to occupy our lovely house.

When I have shown people the pictures of the French house, their response has been, “no offence but what did the French people get out of the deal?” I suppose we are urban and English speaking which has some attraction. Nevertheless only consider what we got out of the deal.

The swimming pool in the garden:

Untitled

The trampoline in the garden:

Untitled

Untitled

The large house set in extensive grounds:

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

The front garden:

2015-08-04 09.17.56

Front elevation as our friends the estate agents say:

2015-08-05 10.02.25

However, we did not get a washing machine. Regrettably, our hosts’ machine had died the previous day and they left us numbers to wrestle with the local washing machine repair people. Sigh.

Another defect became apparent that evening. There were no blinds and no shutters. I was baffled. I have never stayed in a house in France without shutters or blinds. We contacted the French people. Apparently, the shutters had gone for repair and were due back, but alas, no sign.

In the bathroom, madame had left a note.

2015-08-05 11.35.56

It says no one will see you, if you don’t turn on the light. As I stood in the shower facing the window and saw the man with the combine harvester working in the hay field across the road, I fervently hoped that she was right.

Tuesday, August 4

I was awoken by the noise of an alarm. On closer inspection, it transpired that the boys had found a monopoly game with a credit card machine that made an excellent zinging noise. The Princess and I drove into the boulangerie to pick up breakfast and for much of the journey I drove the car on the right side of the road. A win there.

We all went into the market in the little town and, as a treat, the children got pizza. Margarita was what they were hoping for but it came with the most extraordinary quantities of ham on top. I suppose French people like ham but Michael only likes it in his lunchbox surrounded by sliced pan. Alas.

Having spent much of the morning, hanging around the house and, more excitingly, the pool, I felt it was time to get out. The French people had left their lovely, lovely dog and their rather aloof cat so we brought the former with us which made the walk somewhat more acceptable to the children but not much.

Admire Michael’s refusal to remove his hoodie with fleecy inside on what was really quite a toasty day:

2015-08-04 15.03.15

Our hosts had left us a tick remover – horrors – and we inspected the dog on our return but all seemed well despite the dog’s insistence on rolling in the dust.

That evening we had fried courgette for dinner. There was a vegetable patch and it was producing courgettes like there was no tomorrow. Also tomatoes though, personally, I find those much easier to get through.

Mr. Waffle pointed out that French people must have been dealing with a glut of tomatoes and courgettes at the same time for centuries and he wondered whether they had come up with anything other than ratatouille to deal with this. The internet indicates not.

Wednesday, August 5

To the children’s great delight, we spent the day in the house and they were able to play in the pool, on the trampoline and with the, surprisingly entertaining, badminton set. A man came and delivered a temporary washing machine. Our host was the pharmacist in the local village and we were discovering that his name was one to conjure with when it came to addressing domestic difficulties.

Thursday, August 6

After our day of indolence, we felt that some touristing was called for. We took ourselves into Caen. It was very warm. And dusty. It was in Caen that it started to become apparent to us that all history in Normandy is focussed on two items: William the Conqueror and the D-Day landings. Caen was a good example of this because much of it was bombed to bits by the allies in advance of the landings but among the surviving bits are William the Conqueror’s castle; the Abbaye aux Hommes where he is buried; and the Abbaye aux Dames where his wife is buried. Of course, we covered in some detail how he was known as William the Bastard for many years, until he became the Conqueror. This was delightful news to the children.

Untitled

Untitled

After our rather warm day out, we were delighted to come home to the pool. We had courgette pasta for dinner.

Friday, August 7

We decided to go and look at a two star Michelin château. Because. Due to poor organisation, we left just before lunch. The whole of the French countryside in August is a desert containing no restaurants. In Saint Pierre sur Dives we found ourselves going to a restaurant with napkins and older guests and a supercilious waiter because it was the only establishment open. As I picked up the menu, I nearly cried. I thought there was absolutely nothing the boys would eat (a note to the effect that at least my daughter eats most things should be inserted here as she points out her virtue is never acknowledged and I know she is going to read this). However, to my astonishment, the boys ate some of the charcuterie and, though not advertised, the restaurant supplied chips and, on request, ketchup. It is hard to say which of these things is the most surprising. An elderly lady hoved up to our table to tell me to enjoy these years which are the best of my life and to wish us a lovely holiday (we were clearly the only non-locals in the place). The Normans are the friendliest French people I have met; the fact that there appear to be no foreign tourists in rural Normandy may contribute to this, I suppose.

The château was fine. As we were walking in, a man who looked very like Ed Milliband was walking out, subsequent inspection of the photos of the owners revealed that it was none other than the count himself dressed in the standard French bourgeois gear of brightly coloured trousers and a jumper tossed over his shoulder. He seemed cheerful unlike poor Mr. Milliband. The castle was built in the 1750s. Apparently the owner was keen to incorporate the church from the town in the demesne but not the town so he had it moved 800 metres down the road. There is something about that story that says, “Revolution is around the corner.” Oh, wait. Anyhow, the castle has an extensive collection of miniature furniture that the Princess and I inspected while the rest of the party explored the gardens. Undoubtedly the best part of the garden was the “surprise water garden” (is that even a thing, in English?) where jets of water kept appearing unexpectedly. It was clever. The children were not entirely displeased which is pretty good for a trip to a castle.

Saturday, August 8

We went to the big museum in Caen about World War II. As we went around, I kept thinking about the granny in the family in Paris where my mother-in-law was an au pair in the 60s. Apparently she (the granny) used to say, “ils nous ont envahi trois fois” and that does come across. What I hadn’t realised is that the D-Day landings were a bit of a disaster for Normandy because although they were liberated, which was welcome, much of Normandy was bombed to bits in June 1944 to make way for the allied advance. Some 20,000 people in Normandy were killed, and as they said beside a picture in the museum, “The Normans, welcomed their liberators, particularly in places where they hadn’t been bombed”. I can imagine.

Untitled

It’s a modern museum with lots of interactive material and for three hours I think we all found it really interesting. If only, we could have left then but, my besetting sin, I wanted to see everything and that last hour was a mistake (though interesting – it was about the cold war). When you are nine, four hours in a museum, however, interactive, is too long.

The boys were very doleful and hungry on the way home. They did not like dinner and while Daniel gloomily ate a little, Michael and I entered into our own cold war over what is known in the family as “The Chipolata of Doom”. As we took up our entrenched positions, I was irresistibly reminded of the rutabaga scene in Jonathan Franzen’s “The Corrections”. Though I would just like to say that Michael did not have to sit there all night (or even after dinner ended) and the portion was a minuscule piece of one sausage. Still, not my finest hour. At the end of dinner, Michael asked sadly when we were going home.

Sunday, August 9

We go to mass in France so that the children can understand how speedy mass is at their local church in Dublin. We went to mass; it was lengthy and hard to understand.

Given we were at peak understanding for all parties of the logistics of the D-Day landings we took ourselves to Sword beach. It was unpleasantly filled with seaweed and somehow the coast felt more like the North Sea than the Atlantic, so I can’t say that I recommend it, unfortunately. I can’t feel that the experience was improved by my asking the children to imagine the soldiers swarming onto the beaches.

After our swim, the Princess and I went for a walk and she spotted a “brocante”. In we went, filled with delight. After some deliberation, we bought a profoundly impractical duck-shaped water jug. On our return to the house, after a family conclave and, in honour of the local big man, we named the duck “Guillaume le Coin-Coin”. That’s right, you may laugh but do you have a novelty jug which fits in the side of the fridge? I think not.

Untitled

As night fell, the boys came downstairs to look at the bats: “we want to go on a bat walk”. They were entranced looking at the bats flying around in the deep blue early evening light and it was quite magical. Mr. Waffle said quietly to me, “Did you know that there was a pond in the grounds?” No, I had not noticed the pond but the bats were swooping over it hoovering up insects. That is a big garden where a pond goes unnoticed for days.

On the minus side, the dishwasher started to leak.

That’s enough for tonight. Stay with us for week two – coming soon – when our heroes go to Paris for the day.

Baking

August 23rd, 2015

The Princess has been baking like a demon since we got back from France last Tuesday.

Biscotti:

Untitled

Brownies:

Made, I understand, while I was in Cork for 24 hours. No visible trace remained on my return.

Jalousie:

2015-08-23 15.01.48

It’s a kind of slatted apple cake. Chiefly chosen because the recipe calls for a kilo of apples and we have three apple trees.

It’s immensely complex and she was up at dawn this morning freezing and grating butter, refrigerating the dough and then taking it out, rolling it, folding it and re-refrigerating it. Her operations were not helped by being interrupted by mass. The archbishop was present and it went on for an hour and a half. She was fit to be tied. As she was rolling out after mass, I heard her sigh sadly, “If only I had a marble rolling pin.” I would like you to know that I have never hankered after a marble rolling pin. She must get this interest in baking from my mother. I understand these things often skip a generation.

She is starting secondary school tomorrow and, I suppose, this may lead to a mild slow-down.

I made mirabelle jam myself. Go me.

Untitled

Details of our French holiday to follow when we are all feeling stronger.

En Vacances

August 2nd, 2015

If all goes according to plan, which is not at all a given, we will be boarding the ferry to France as you read this. Full blow by blow account of our French extravaganza on our return in late August. Hold your breath there.

Coast to Coast

August 1st, 2015

On Wednesday evening I went for a walk in Dalkey at the southern end of Dublin Bay. It was all very pretty and mercifully rain free after a miserable wet day. On Thursday morning, the children and I were up and out early and off to Howth at the northern end of Dublin bay. We got the ferry out to Ireland’s Eye which was nice if rather fuller of dead seagulls than we might have liked.

2015-07-30 11.23.30

2015-07-30 11.42.01-1

2015-07-30 12.52.35

2015-07-30 12.47.46

That evening we all went out to Monkstown out near the southern end of Dublin bay for a family dinner.

I am exhausted from driving and darting up and down the Dublin bay coastline.

On Friday, the children and I went to the zoo with some friends to recover.

2015-07-31 16.13.42

Today, we are counting down to our departure for the continent.

Sugar Loaf

July 31st, 2015

We climbed the Sugar Loaf during the week. Due to my legendary sense of direction, it took us two tense hours to complete the one hour journey there. If I never see the ludicrously named hamlets of Stepaside, Kilgobbin and Scalp again, it will not be too soon.

Lovely views from the top though.

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

And, I managed to get us home in under an hour, notwithstanding rush hour traffic, so that was something. It would be churlish to point out that the climb up and down only took about 90 minutes. Sigh.

A Game of Two Halves

July 30th, 2015

The Princess was very keen to go to Cork for the weekend alone. With some trepidation, we sent our precious 12 year old off last weekend. I really thought there wasn’t much possibility for disaster. She’s a train veteran and it was a non-stop train, how bad could it be?

Well, on the way down, there was a drunken man in her carriage announcing loudly and intimidatingly that he had just been released from Mountjoy (Dublin’s largest prison). The staff were called but they went away again when he sat down and my poor 12 year old was petrified. Not helped by a six year old running up and down the carriage telling the man he was drunk; some kind of altercation ensued between the mother and the drunken ex-prisoner and the mother and six year old (who had been sitting opposite herself) hightailed it out of the carriage. Herself was terrified and wouldn’t talk to me on the phone in case “he would hear”; I was hearing this blow by blow by text message. I was very upset for her. Mercifully, a kind, saintly midwife sitting nearby asked the Princess whether she was travelling alone and suggested that she sit in beside her for the remainder of the journey which she did, very gratefully.

After the initial trauma, her weekend in Cork was terrific but it would be useless to deny that she approached the train ride back with some trepidation. She met the midwife again in the same carriage so that was a relief to her but they were the only two people in the carriage. One of the staff sat down opposite herself and asked was she travelling alone. She said that she was and he pointed out that every other seat in the carriage was reserved for Dublin supporters who would be getting on in Thurles and they might be a bit rough. Would she like, he asked, to move to first class. She would like. “What about the midwife?” I asked. “I waved to her as I went past,” said she. She travelled back to Dublin in first class. “I am never going back,” she said to me firmly. We’ll have to see about that now.

So, hats off to Iarnród Éireann for prompt action on the return journey but, alas, for the outward journey. Still, I think she is prepared to go on the train alone again, provided that she can travel first class.


  • www.flickr.com
    belgianwaffle's items Go to belgianwaffle's photostream
  • September 2015
    M T W T F S S
    « Aug    
     123456
    78910111213
    14151617181920
    21222324252627
    282930  
  • Categories

  • Subscribe via Email

  • Site Meter

Administrative

Write


Subscribe Share