31 July 2011

The Atlantic!

AS U.S. EAST-COASTERS, our main ocean playground was always the Atlantic (usually Myrtle Beach, SC). Now we go to the 'sea', not the 'ocean' because we live so close to the Mediterranean. But yesterday we got to experience the Atlantic once again -- this time on the other side, in La Rochelle, France. We didn't swim because we spent the day looking around the city and its gorgeous port. But we'll be back for a day in the ocean soon.

Here's the old port in La Rochelle with two of the three large towers that have guarded the city since the 1300's. The tower not in the photo is just off to the left and is the only surviving lighthouse from the medieval period in all of Europe.

[Fun note: 4 weeks ago a round of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series were held in La Rochelle. The divers dove off...you guessed it...the large tower on the right. A small platform was erected on the top and divers plunged to the water below. Take a look at this great promo clip:]

30 July 2011

New Book Out

REMEMBER VIC'S BIG Walk? Sure you do. Vic is our friend who walked from his home in southern France to the home of his birth in Northern England. Yeah, that's nearly 2000 km and he did it just in 70 days, arriving at his birthplace on his 70th birthday.

Well, now you can read about his journey in a new book which has just been released in digital form. You can order it here. It's available in various forms, including Kindle.

26 July 2011

Western France Weather

WHILE OUR FAMILY and friends melt in record temperatures back home in DC, I had to hit the stores to find a sweatshirt yesterday. 100+ on the East Coast is not fun -- that humidity sucks the life right out of you. Our family is very much into cool summers so the low 70s we are experiencing now is just perfect.

But I feel for those in high heat and hope things get more reasonable soon.

Sky TV

WE HAVE SKY TV this summer and I've already found a show I simply can't watch: it's a documentary called Beauty Queen at 11 and I got through about 10 minutes before I had to change the channel. It reminds me of what a great film Little Miss Sunshine is.

XIIe Siècle

THE REGION OF France where we are spending the summer is perhaps most well-known as the battleground between the House of Valois and the House of Anjou in the 100 Years War. It's complicated, but the two feuding families both claimed rights to the French throne after the end of the Capetian line of the kings in the early 1300s. The Anjou, also know as the Plantagenet, also claimed rights to the crown in England and were in fact ruling England at the time so the war involved both English and French armies.

Much of this area was already quite established by the time the war began and we have seen lots of evidence of that already. Every little village in the Poitou-Charentes has a Romanesque church that dates from the 12th or 13th century and they are incredible to see. Many are very small -- with only room for 50 or 100 people -- but to know they were erected so long ago is amazing. Our village church was completed in 1189.

We've been exploring cities and villages (like we like to do) and two of our favorite so far are Angouleme and Poitier. I wouldn't call either 'spectacular' in the way Sienna or Avignon are (to pick cities of roughly the same size), but each has some very nice parts. Poitier, for example, has a gorgeous cathedral that dates from the 12th century and was the setting for one of the rounds of questioning of Joan of Arc in the mid 1400s. It also has a market right next door that has been running (almost) continuously since the 1150s. A market virtually every day since the 1150s!!

Rare family shot in Angouleme.

The Chateau in Angouleme.
As the sun is setting over the Notre Dame in Poitier. Can't see us, but can see the cathedral.

Hotel de Ville, Poitier, France

23 July 2011

Just a Thought on Beauty

JUST A THOUGHT: There may be countries as visually and beautiful as France, but I can't imagine there is one that is more beautiful. Every year the Tour de France reminds me of this. The last two days in the Alps have been incredible.

Les Twins

I WAS GOING to put up a quick post about digging around in backed-up sewage, but decided to go with a quick video clip instead. The sewage story will have to wait -- assuming I can even bring myself to mention it again. Instead, take a look at Les Twins -- this clip is an impromptu routine that I like even better than they stuff they do more formally (on talent-type shows in France). They really are pretty good.

18 July 2011

Top of the Class(es)

THE SCHOOL WHERE I teach received the best Bac results in our département (Alpes-Maritimes). Just saw the story in today's paper. A whopping 96% pass rate -- and it's one of the bigger schools in the region.

Well done!

15 July 2011


THE LAZY SUMMER mornings that the kids have been enjoying since school finished was interrupted this morning by a 6:30am wake-up call. After a quick piece of toast each that Kerri prepared, we hoped in the car for the 10 minute drive down to La Ferme de Chassagne in the nearby village. Our mission: to help bakers at the farm prepare the daily bread.

Last week we went to a evening market in the incredibly cute village of Verteuil-sur-Charente. While we were there we bought some bread and cheese from one of the local producers and got to talking a bit about where they were located, how they made their bread, etc. It turns out that they are only 5 km from our house and every Tuesday and Friday morning they welcome visitors to and 'help' them bake bread. As long as you are there by 7:00am you can see the whole process, including how they heat up the wood-burning oven.

The baker and her 'volunteer' -- a very nice young kid from Germany, treated us very well and not only showed us how they do their work, but let the kids have a go with their own dough.

Just a little house in the middle of the farm with a little sign in the window.

Henry has a lesson in how to knead and shape the dough.
Another family came to help and watch as well.
That's 25 kilograms of pain de campagne.

Julia's turn.

La Ferme de Chassagne bakes about 350 kilos of bread dough (and about 10 varieties) two days per week. It is not a large scale bakery so they don't bake every day. In fact, the main goods they produce and sell locally are legumes and sunflower oil. But today was bread day and it was worth getting up early on a beautiful, delightfully crisp summer morning.

10 July 2011

USA - France Up Next

SPENT A COUPLE hours this afternoon watching...get ready...the women's World Cup. This goal by the US in added time of the extra-time session is as good (and dramatic)a goal as you will see on any level. The US went on to win in a shootout and will now play FRANCE for a spot in the final.

Fun for the whole (American) family.

09 July 2011

TDF - Chateauroux

IT'S ONE OF those things we just do. Ever since our first family trip to France in 2003 we have made it a point to go to as many stages of the Tour de France as possible. Kerri actually saw the Tour in person long before I did (she saw a couple of stages while on a summer trip to France back when she was in high school -- and even got a Team 7-11 hat from Raul Alcala, I think), and now we drag the whole family along. Although there is usually only about 1 minute of real action, what the Tour does exceedingly well is milk that one minute for everything it is worth. How? By passing out free crap!

About 1 hour before the riders pedal through, a massive caravan (parade) rolls through with motorized "floats" which throw candy, hats, pens, refrigerator magnets, coffee packets, laundry detergent, key chains, more hats, and even bottled water to the spectators along the side of the road. The parade often lasts nearly 40 minutes and if you get aggressive you can end the day with a real load of things that you really don't need. [Note: to be fair, some items are actually quite useful. For example, we won't need to buy laundry detergent for a while since I think we have about 15 packets 'X-tra' that a guy in one of the cars just threw down at our feet.]

Yesterday's stage finished in Chateauroux and we made the beautiful drive from the Charente in time to place ourselves near the sprint finish. The atmosphere was great (as usual) and the riders were a bit tense after the race (also usual). As we went back to our car we passed the hotel where BMC, Liquigas, and Saxo-Bank were staying and the riders seemed to be in a bit of a bad mood (not unusual, I might add, for Cadel Evans who always seems to be ticked-off at something or someone). Quite a few of the riders had fresh road rash from the spills they had taken earlier in the day.

Yes, we got free Bic pens.
...and free stuff from Cofidis.
...and what everyone needs: a hat umbrella.
Finally, the High Road boys led out a great sprint win for Cavendish.

07 July 2011

Not By the Sea For a While

OUR THREE WEEK temporary stay in Antibes is behind us. Now that we are away from the coast, we have only the photos to remind us of sea. That'll work for now...

Villeneuve Loubet

Henry just ran and jumped, ran and jumped, ran and jumped...

...and ran and jumped...

...and stopped to empty the rocks out of his shoes.
Then ran and jumped, and ran and jumped...

05 July 2011

Department Charente

AFTER A RELATIVELY peaceful 12 hour drive, we arrived in the Poitou-Charentes region on Saturday evening and have begun to settle in to our home for the summer. We are in the Department Charente but are very near the border of the Deux-Sevres. We've only begun to explore the region, but for now we're just enjoying the house (a converted animal barn with massive stone walls), the weather (perfect), the yard (including the basketball hoop), the English satellite tv (Food Network!), and the rolling hills full of either vineyards, sunflowers or giant rolls of hay.

It's going to be a particularly busy summer for me (more later), but my first day on "the job" was productive so I'm off to a good start. This morning I've been sitting by the phone waiting to hear about the bac results at the CIV. Initial reports are fairly good.

01 July 2011

That Time of Year Again

IT'S BECOME ROUTINE: pack up the house, spend a few weeks in a small apartment, load up the family car, drive somewhere, stay for 8-9 weeks.

For somewhat complicated reasons (not too complicated explanation here) we leave this region of France every year for two months. Each year we try to pick somewhere unfamiliar -- somewhere we have not been before, or at least not spent much time. Like I say often: we're not sure how long we're going to be doing "this" so we're trying to make the most of the time we have. This philosophy can lead to minor headaches and inconveniences, but it's always worth it in the end. Always.

Our last three summers have been spent in three distinctly different areas: the foothills of the the Pyrenees in South/Central France, the suburbs of Strasbourg, and a farming village in central Italy. Tomorrow morning we leave Antibes and head west -- very far west -- to the Poitou-Charentes region of France. The house we have rented for the next two months is just couple hours north of Bordeaux near a town called Ruffec. As is our custom, we've found a place that is bit removed from the normal tourist destinations and we've quite pleased about that. We get enough of that environment during the year.

Off we go!