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adventures in France and England

today I’ve started using the WordPress Image Uploader to upload and manipulate images.  Up until now I’ve resisted doing so due to some innate need to control everything by hand (re: resizing the images into thumbnails by hand, using SFTP to get them uploaded onto my server and then linking to them using HTML).  Well, no longer!  So far the Image Uploader seems to make things much easier, and there’s also a handy WordPress Image Gallery that you can use to display sets of images.

enough about WordPress features… here are some pictures from our recent travels around France and England.

the other week we went to the Zoo de Champrepus, a zoo near our house here in La Manche (Basse-Normandie).  For a small zoo it was actually quite good; there was hardly anybody there, so we had a nice private tour of the grounds and managed to get up close and personal with some of the residents.

Zoo de Champrepus

The arch at the Zoo de Champrepus

the highlight of the trip to the zoo was a visit into the lemur grounds within the Madagascar exhibit. You could walk right up to the lemurs and hang out with them, and they wouldn’t run away or otherwise react to your presence. The lemurs were funny; they would wander around the grounds when it was cloudy, but as soon as the sun would come up they’d prop themselves up to bask their bellies in it.

A sunbathing lemur at the Zoo de Champrepus

A sunbathing lemur at the Zoo de Champrepus

meanwhile, here is a fellow making fresh crèpes for us at a weekend carnival that took place in the town of Saint-Hilaire-du-Harcouët near where we live. The most interesting thing about the carnival (to me at least) was how carnies from all over France came to set up their booths, rides and attractions inside the town. The side streets of Saint-Hilaire were overflowing with trailers and camper vans full of the workers running the festivities and their families. I know that my stalwart crew tends to move around quite a bit, but in comparison to these people we’re downright sedentary.

Making crèpes at the carnival in Saint-Hilaire-du-Harcouët

Making crèpes at the carnival in Saint-Hilaire-du-Harcouët

a few weeks ago we took a trip to England to stay with some friends of ours (the family of a high school friend from Toronto) who are living in the town of Reading. While we were there the families toured London and went to LEGOLAND in Windsor. It was a great trip; I’m sure it was refreshing for the kids to get to hear people other than their parents speaking in English to them!

one fun aspect of the trip was taking our car on the ferry from the port at Ouistreham (near the city of Caen) to Portsmouth in England. Even more fun was the trip back, where we got a cabin for our family of four on the ferry. The kids loved it… plus I got to take a nap.

Leaving the port of Ouistreham

Leaving the port of Ouistreham

while in England we traveled to the city of Bath to see the ancient Roman baths. It was fascinating to me to see structures so ancient, and to imagine what life must have been like back in the old (like, REALLY old) days. Callum, for one, really digs that sort of stuff.

The Roman bath in Bath, England

The Roman bath in Bath, England

on our way back from Reading to Portsmouth to catch the ferry back to France we paid a visit to Stonehenge (yes, I did just link to that). After visiting the Roman baths (old) it was interesting to visit Stonehenge (even older). Architecture has really come a long way in the past few thousand years.

while visiting the ‘henge I conveniently forgot my phone in my car and was unable to take a picture of it. So when we got back to the car I snagged my phone, ran back through the tunnel under the road that leads to the site, and snapped a quick photo of the path leading up to it. It’s not much, but hey, it’s better than nothing. Maybe.

The path leading to Stonehenge

The path leading to Stonehenge

and as a parting shot here’s a picture of the best pub in Paris, where my friend and co-worker Ian and I visited during a business trip to Paris… the Great Canadian Pub!

The Great Canadian Pub in Paris

The Great Canadian Pub in Paris

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Normandy

the big news from our family is that, as of earlier this month, we have moved from Paris to a small stone house near the town of Saint-Hilaire-du-Harcouët in La Manche, Basse-Normandie (department 50). The differences between our old lifestyle and our new lifestyle are staggering… while in Paris things were quite busy, with lots of cars and scooters and people, here in the countryside it is extremely quiet and we’re surrounded by cows. Here’s a picture of the place where we’re staying (click for larger):

Fields of Normandy

the property on which our house stands contains a river that serves as the border of the French regions of Normandy and Brittany, in the northwestern part of France. Our kids are enrolled in a Catholic private school in the nearby town, and so far they seem to be doing quite well there – their French has definitely improved since we arrived in Europe in January. It’s been great to have experienced Paris, with its trains and crowds and bustling lifestyle, and then to make the switch to this area, which is one of the most peaceful I’ve encountered. We really like it here so far.

last weekend we went to Le Mont Saint-Michel, an island off the coast of Normandy that features a walled town and an ancient abbey. We had a great visit there – it was certainly one of the most interesting places I’ve ever visited! Afterward we went to a nearby beach, where the kids played and collected shells. Here are some pictures of the place (click for larger):

Le Mont Saint-Michel

The abbey at Le Mont Saint-Michel

our other big news is that we now have a Shetland Sheepdog (Sheltie) puppy named Lilou, who we bought from a reputable “éleveur” in the Franche-Comté region in the east of France. She is still quite young (now only three months) and full of energy, but already we’ve been teaching her tricks (sit, down, stay, and come) and she’s been catching on quickly. Shelties come in three colors: sable, blue merle, and tri-color; Lilou is of the tri-color variety. The kids have learned a lot from being “puppy owners” – they take her for walks, teach her tricks, and basically carry her around the house wherever they go. Here is a picture of her at eight weeks of age:

The abbey at Le Mont Saint-Michel

finally, this afternoon I took the kids to the nearby metropolis (relative to where we live, at least) of Avranches to buy some running shoes and fall jackets at the Décathlon. While we were there we visited a jardinerie (garden center) and found out that they stocked something the kids have been obsessing over lately through books and websites – carnivorous plants! We bought two different types of pitcher plant (Nepenthes) and a Venus Flytrap (Dionaea Muscipula). When they caught sight of the display in the store their faces lit up like light bulbs. Here are the kids in the back of the car with their new plants:

Carnivorous plants

I’ll admit that the pictures I’ve posted here on my blog I’ve stolen directly from my Twitpic page, which I’ve been sharing pictures through via my Twitter page. If you’re a Twitter user, follow me if you care to – I’ll be adding more pictures from France as soon as I take them!

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life in Paris (so far)

today marks the day that we’ve officially been living in Paris for a month, so it’s about time for a brief update with some pictures. It’s been great so far – we’ve been having fun experiencing the language and culture, not to mention the cheese.

we spent our first two weeks in a two-bedroom apartment in Versailles, home (of course) of the Palace of Versailles, a pretty fascinating place full of interesting history. While we were in Versailles we searched for a full-time place; we ended up finding a four-bedroom house (somewhat of a rarity in Paris and its suburbs) in one of Paris’ eastern neighborhoods. We’ve furnished it, albeit somewhat sparsely, mostly with furniture from IKEA. What can I say – that place is crazy and very crowded (even on a Sunday evening) but if you’re looking for decent build-it-yourself furniture with names you can’t pronounce, IKEA is your go-to destination.

so that’s it for the update (I did promise it would be brief). Up next, a few pictures from our adventures.

here are some Eiffel Tower pictures (clicking on them makes them bigger of course)… a picture of the tower from below (as taken by Yvonne) and pictures of Callum and Amelia, on the tower, with their mini Eiffel Tower figurines.

The Eiffel Tower from below

Callum with his mini Eiffel Tower

Mia with her mini Eiffel Tower

a picture of the Disneyland Paris castle – it is pink!

Disneyland Paris castle

the dragon lurking beneath the Disneyland Paris castle (don’t be scared – it’s not real).

Disneyland Paris dragon

here’s a picture of Callum and Mia and the unhappiest card guy in Alice in Wonderland. I’ll let you figure out why. Mind you, he certainly looks happy…

The unhappy card guy

the gang (minus me) on the teacups. Yvonne made that face for the camera’s benefit – they really weren’t spinning that quickly!

Disneyland teacups

finally, here’s a picture of Callum with his LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT 2.0 robot and some other stuff he created with his kit. He’s really taken to building and programming robots – Santa really hit the mark last year with this gift.

LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT 2.0 robot

that’s it for now (though that’s quite a bit, by my standards anyway). We’re currently at home watching Looney Tunes on our new TV – if ever there was a show that was tailor-made for Callum, this would be it. He can’t stop giggling!

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the elderly French lady

This evening I took a quick trip to the Carrefour, the local grocery store here in our (temporary) neighborhood in Versailles. While there I bought three things: a chocolate bar (with caramel), a box of Jaffa Cakes, and a small bottle of Chimay Blue. Okay, I’ll admit it… I was feeling rather snackish.

I got into a checkout line with my items and prepared to wait. In Paris, from what I’ve seen at least, long checkout lines are the norm… whenever the lines seem to dwindle down to what to my North American senses seems to be a reasonably sized queue, they start closing lanes (I’ve been at the tail end of two lanes that they’ve closed in this manner). Ahead of me was an elderly French lady, probably in her late 70s or early 80s, and ahead of her, a lady about my age or a little older, with a fussing baby. The elderly lady’s items consisted of vegetables, fruits, more fruits, more vegetables, two types of baguette, and some Omega 3 butter-like spread. I’m not usually self-conscious about what I buy at a grocery store, but compared to what this lady was buying (healthy and good for you stuff) my beer and chocolate seemed like a pretty poor showing.

At any rate, when the elderly lady saw how few items I was buying, she quickly told me to go ahead of her in line. Mind you, this is an elderly lady telling a young(-ish) man to step ahead of her in line… normally it should be the reverse! Of course I refused, but the lady insisted quite strongly I go ahead of her, and it seemed to me that it would make her very happy if I did so, and so I did.

When the lady with the fussing baby ahead of me was finished checking out, before she left, she turned around and thanked the elderly lady (who was now behind me – stay focused here) for letting her step ahead of her in line. That’s right, I was the second person this elderly lady had let in front of her. The elderly lady responded with “it’s no problem… I have kids too.” (for those interested in the French language, the French way to say “it’s no problem” is “il n’y a pas de quoi”.) And before I started checking out, the elderly lady started chatting merrily with the lady behind the cash register, and of course as soon as they both heard my accent (which happens as soon as I open my mouth to say just about anything in French), they started chatting with me too, asking me where I was from and what I was doing in France.

There’s a lesson here that I can’t quite put my finger on, but from what I could see this elderly lady was pleased to be able to let us youngsters (comparatively anyway) speed our way through life, while she herself took the time to do nice things for other people and to enjoy her time wherever she happened to be, even if that place happened to be the checkout line at a crowded grocery store. It’s a lesson that some of us (myself included) could probably stand to learn earlier in our lives, while we still have decades ahead of us to take advantage of the joys it can bring us.

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07. Feb, 2011
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vive la you know where

exciting news – we’re moving back to France!

I’m going to be working for Varicent, a software company based in my native Canada, but I’ll be working from France and managing projects in Europe as well as in the Asia/Pacific region. My last day as a program manager at Blackbaud is this Friday – it is certainly a bittersweet moment to leave the company, as I have had a great time working there, and have made many amazing friends at the company and here in Charleston.

the reasons for our moving back to France are probably self-explanatory for any who know us – we loved living in France the last time we were there; several years ago I completed a Masters of Science at Groupe ESC Clermont in Clermont-Ferrand, Auvergne. And it wasn’t just for the cheese (though I do so love the cheese) – as a Canadian, not to mention a Canadian born in Quebec, the French language is very important to me, and one of the alpha reasons for our wanting to move abroad is to get the kids – now 7, 5 and 3 – into a French school where they can undergo complete immersion and become fluent in the language. Some friends of ours decided to do a similar thing a few years ago, and their kids are now completely fluent in the language and loving attending a local school in Provence. Yvonne also plans to perfect her French, and my own could certainly use some improvement.

the when and the where of the relocation are a bit up in the air at this point – we’re currently thinking Paris, Lyon or Lille by the end of the month, but a lot depends on the logistics of my new job, for which I will be undertaking new employee orientation in Toronto starting next Monday. Whatever the case, it’s very exciting and a bit scary, but we’re really looking forward to the challenge of it all!

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the region in photos

I haven’t posted a lot of pictures lately, so I figured that today I’d write a bit of a photo-journal and include a few photos here so that people might see what we’ve been up to and what the region around Clermont-Ferrand looks like.

here it is…

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05. Feb, 2006
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had to happen sooner or later

winter has officially come to Clermont-Ferrand; that is to say that this morning during my walk to school I saw a good many cars driving around covered with snow. Not just a light dusting of the stuff, mind you, but a good inch and a half of hardcore, in your face brrr powder. In the city, where I live, we didn’t see as much snow as in the suburbs (especially near the mountains, of course), but during my walk through the Jardin le Coq (a large public park in the center of town) the grass was coated with a fine layer of white.

it was nice to see!

of course, by the time Y and the kids met me for a (chilly) picnic lunch in said park, the snow had disappeared. But it will be back.

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25. Nov, 2005
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Auvergne

this has truly been a weekend for eating.

last night a friend had a group of friends from Lyon come for dinner, and we all had Raclette – it was awesome. Part of the fun was the way you eat it – since you basically melt pieces of cheese over ham, bread and potatoes, it takes a while to eat and you spend a lot of time sitting around talking, which is cool.

then, today, a group of us (a different group of friends) drove to the Chaudefour Valley to a friend’s father’s restaurant. The region is amazing – here is a good article describing what the region is like. The mountains and valleys were breathtaking, and surrounded by swirling mists. At the restaurant we all ate Truffades, a dish from Auvergne (this province) made with potatoes, cheese, and I’m not sure what else. It was excellent – eating at this restaurant in the countryside was extremely French – the only thing that could have made it any more French would have been if the chef (and server) had come out of the kitchen while we were eating to play the accordion. Which, of course, is exactly what he did – I think that was a first for me!

at any rate, it is experiences like these that make me very happy that I decided to take my courses here in French – along with the language comes a great deal of amazing culture. It’s the sort of education you can’t get from a book.

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13. Nov, 2005
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pasta

I am currently at my friend Carlos´apartment with a group of friends. Carlos, a Mexican exchange student doing the same program that I am doing (but in English), lives on the 5th floor of a very old building near the cathedral here in Clermont-Ferrand, and in order to get up here you have to climb a rickety old spiral staircase. Quite some exercise! Anyways, this evening, two Italian students cooked us some pasta – quite awesome.

my new apartment is great: It is brand new and a 20 minute walk from school; a long way by downtown standards but well worth the walk. At the moment it is completely unfurnished – I am in the process of buying the things I need before Yvonne & Co. arrive mid-November. It´s a lot of work, especially considering things take a long time to achieve in France. For example, the phone line that I ordered last week and the corresponding high speed Internet connection won´t be available until the middle of next month, and the fridge that I ordered that was supposed to arrive on Saturday (I waited all day in my empty apartment for it!) never showed up. But that is just how things are in France it seems – things definitely happen at a different pace than I am used to.

the food and drink here are awesome. Yesterday I bought a box of cookies for a Euro that are some of the best I have tasted – chocolate with orange. So amazing! The coffee here is fantastic, though I can only drink one small cup of the stuff or I´m up twitching all night long. And the cheese… oh the cheese…

also, we have Monday and Tuesday off (French holidays) so that´s always good!

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30. Oct, 2005
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up

today my friend Damien and I climbed the Puy de Dôme; at 1464 meters tall it is the largest of the several inactive volcanoes in the Clermont-Ferrand region. It took us about two hours to hike our way up the mountain and back down again. It was a lot of fun and a good trek, especially after having attended a party last night where there was much eating and drinking (of wine, cheese, paté and foie gras, no less) – the fresh air and the exercise was well worth it.

while up at the top of the mountain we were pretty much inside of a cloud – we ended up soaking wet not from the rain or from sweat but from the cold humidity of the cloud. At the top we had a great view of Clermont-Ferrand and of the surrounding region, though Damien’s camera ran out of batteries before we reached the top (and I left mine in Canada). Nonetheless, I’ll try to post some pictures later.

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