A Travellerspoint blog

April 2015

To Spain and back again...

sunny 25 °C

We've been weaving back and forth between France and Spain along the Pyrenees. To cross the mountains we either drove over or under. One tunnel was over 5 km long and the snowy mountain passes were topped with ski hills (our first snow in a year!). The scenery was spectacular and we were glad that pretty much stumbled into this part of France.

Simon, as is his thrifty nature, found a camping discount card online that gave 50% off hundreds of European camp sites in the shoulder seasons. We stayed for 15€ to 25€ a night plus perks next to some amazing attractions. The campground in Barcelona provided a free bus into the city center, a shop to buy fresh baguette and a petting zoo. The campground in Ax Les Thermes was a short, pleasant walk along the river to yet another quaint town. It was set up for tourists with a gondola that went from the town up to an area of three ski hills. It is famous for its hotsprings but we couldn't go into the posh thermal baths because they didn't allow men to wear loose shorts, only tight speedos. I think its a weird french hygiene thing because we saw the notices posted at other swimming pools. In the village we had a rare meal out and resisted the temptation to have raclette, because not only was it expensive but so unhealthy, the cheese wedge they melted onto potatoes was the size of James' head! But we all had delicious three course meals and once again the wine was cheaper than water (1.50€ per glass). Campgrounds here are a legitimate tourist draw, many have waterparks and other fun activities. They are well-supported by the community, one had a bar that catered to campers (see below). We quite enjoyed camping except that doing schoolwork and eating were a bit tricky as most of the campgrounds expected you to bring your own picnic table. We got tired of sitting on the ground so for the last week we rented another bargain gite near the town of Oloron-Ste-Marie. We were deep in the country-side tucked up next to the mountains but still got fresh baguette delivered to us every morning :)

As we drove through both countries the evidence of warfare between the two was quite obvious - castles and lookout towers perched on each peak. We hiked up to one in France that was famous because it held up to a nine month siege (Montsegur, if you are curious). The hiking was really good in this region, lots of trails and we were able to drive right up to the alpine. On our hikes we saw an isard, european vultures, a super worm, and many hawks circling in their mating dance. Mqost of the other native wildlife we saw in zoos. We stopped at the Parc D'Ours thinking it was a bear sanctuary (this is one of only two places to find brown bears in europe) but it was a small zoo with four grizzly bears in a large enclosure and a collection of the native ungulates In enclosures you could stroll through. Nice, but we are nearing our threshold for visits to zoos.

That said, our final day in France was spent at Zoo La Fleche. Remember how we let James and Neve watch lots of french TV in order to practice their french? Well, their favourite show was a reality show filmed at Zoo La Fleche detailing the lives of the zoos animals and their keepers. We offered them EuroDisney but they both wanted to go and see the stars of the TV show. It was a great experience! Sealion, parrot and raptor shows combined with some unusual and exotic animals. Neve was thriled to get autgraphs from her favourite keepers. The next day we said a fond farewell to France and boarded the Eurostar in Paris, excited to be on our way to England.
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Posted by Arin MacDyer 11:46 Archived in Spain Tagged arin Comments (0)

Being a caveman

sunny 25 °C

When we first arrived at Niaux Cave nobody was there because they had just left on the 11 30 tour and we still had 2 hours before we went on the 1 30 english tour. So we thought it woud be a good idea to go and have our picnic lunch. At 1 30 when we got back and it was time to go and see the cave paintings. it was a long and spooky walk, in it was an active cave so everything was dripping and there was puddles everywhere i was the only one that didn't step in any. Our guide told us that the cave paintings were 14,000 years old. She also told us that the artists had to be very quick painters because the torches they used for light only lasted forty five minutes. But when we got to the black room the only part of our tour that had animal paintings we saw there were everywhere goats buffalo horses but no reindeer their prime food source. The main theory is that the animals that are in the caves are sacred.

After we went in the cave we drove down to a cool outdoor museam called Prehistoric Park. We went there because our guide recomended it to us and said we could throw spears. When we got there we went directly to the spear throwing i was a bit better than everyone because our chimney sweep in Nordegg taught me how. After that we went to do painting with the exact formula that the cavemen used. Next we went to the demonstration of how to make fire from scratch with no matches. First he put some powder made from those big mushrooms that grow on dead trees. Then he cracked flint and iron ore together he said you can not create fire with flint on flint because it produces white sparks that are not hot enough to make fire. Then the mushroom powder starts to smoke he told us that the mushroom powder was so extremely flamable that even one spark woud make it burn then he added pine needles and then made a nest of hay and then he stuck the fire in it and it lit.

After that he also demonstrated how to make fire by rubbing wood together. First he took a bow strung with fishing wire. Then he wrapped the wire around the stick placed the stick in a little nick that he had just made in the wood. And started to move the bow from side to side and the stick whirred round and round. Amd smoke came out of the nick. If you ever try to do this at home use a cherry wood stick and a conifer wood plank and dont forget to make the nick in the side of the plank.

The park also had stuffed cave lions, mammoths and bison.

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And finally, in the middle of the night here yesterday i was woken up by a giant bang and shake. Neve and i hid under our covers. In the morning e found out it was an earthquake!

Posted by Arin MacDyer 04:34 Archived in France Tagged james Comments (3)

Why would anyone want to eat sheeps brains?

sunny 24 °C

We are in France. I decided to make a blog on all the strange food we have seen in supermarkets in Europe.

1 Sheeps brains. why would anyone want to eat sheeps brains?
2 Pigs ears. I dont see the purpose of this and it would probobaly taste very waxy.
3 Sheep , cow, and pig hearts. That is just discusting i would never want to eat an animal heart blah!
4 Whole goat heads eyes and everything.
5 Chickens with feathers, heads, and feet still intakt.
6 Whole sharks looking at you from the sea food section. This is very sad becuase sharks are my favorite animal and how did they even get thst i thought shark fishing was iligal in most countrys.
7 French don't make their own milk so you are always buying powdered milk or some weird artoficial formula.
8 Rabbit. Our dad made us eat rabbit can you belive that it could have been somebodys pet ! I didnt like it anyways.
9 French grocery stores have this weird system and it works like this you put the bag full of fruit on the scale and then you press either saying fruits or exotiques then you put the sticker on.
10 But the best thing about grocery stores here is the dessert section is huge and nothing is over 5 euros.

After Pezenas we went down to Barcelona for 3 days. One very odd thing about Spain was that we were an hours drive from the french border and there was completely no Orangina not a drop. On our first day we took the free shuttle bus that our campsite provided. When we finally got to Barcelona i was not suprised to find it CRAZY busy. Then when me and Neve discovered there was an aquarium a gondala and lots more we werent so eager because my dad was telling us that we had to go on the gondala before the aquarium but a half hours pestering did the job. We were in Barcelona for three days but we never got to go on a tour of the stadium humph! We have one more week of France to go and then were going to see my grandma and grandad and aunts and uncles in England!
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Posted by Arin MacDyer 01:35 Archived in France Tagged james Comments (1)

Getting Fat in France

semi-overcast 18 °C

We've chased the good weather to the south of France and are nestled into a little gite in the garden of a vineyard.We are surrounded by vineyards, a few smalll wheat fields and a peach orchard yet are only a ten minute walk from the town of Pezenas. Exciting news, Neve has learned to ride a bike! So in reward for doing her schoolwork we've been on long rides throughout the countyside. James has not forgotten his french and has been putting on his best accent to order crepes in town, buy food and spices from the market, and talk to people we meet on our outings.

We are certainly enjoying the food and wine in France. The bad weather in the north encouraged long brasserie lunches, three delicious courses spread over two hours. Before Al Mac and Cindy left we a particularly memorable meal on a patio in the heart of the medieval city of Carcassonne-the starter salad was chicken gizzards on top of lettuce, duck cassoulet, and crepes with creme for dessert. Yum. There are picnic spots everywhere so now that spring has arrived we bring our baguette and stinky cheeses every time we leave the house. I am so happy to be having fresh Pain au Chocolat with my morning coffee. Simon can't leave the grocery store without Creme Caramel desserts in the cart. We've tried fantastic local wines and can't believe the quality for less than 5 euros a bottle. But don't worry too much for our health, the fresh produce is also fantastic and way cheaper than we expected it to be.

We've spent a fair bit of time catching up on schoolwork but each day have headed to a different highlight in the region. Pezenas itself has been really lovely to walk through with its 16th century buildings filled with artists and other quaint shops - no tourist crap here! The Saturday market was nearly as lively and interesting as those in asia. I've discovered a love of ornate doors and have found kindred spirits here who collect and display doors in a museum, free for everyone. Pezenas is noted for its sweet/savoury petite pies and berlingot, which are handmade boiled candies. We biked over to the factory and got to watch them make a batch of lemon candies, samples gratuis...

Its not far to the Mediterranean so we spent an afternoon birdwatching along the coastal salt marshes and were thrilled to spot wild flamingoes. In the other direction we drove the Cirque de Navacelles, a large canyon with (of course) a village built at the very bottom of it. In that range of hills there are hundreds of caves carved out of limestone and we toured a very grand one called the Grottes de Demoiselles. Because it is very low season for tourists we had a privite tour and got to hear music in the central cavern called the cathedral. It was huge and had amazing stalactites and stalagmites. The acoustics are so good that they hold church ceremonies and classical concerts here regularly. This region has some really interesting roman relics in betwen a market and a long lunch (ha ha) we were able to check out an underground warehouse built 2000 years ago to store wine and oils. It was a museum, but could still be used today it was so well crafted. The exposed stones on the ancient roman superhighway that runs through Norbonne were good too.

Its Easter and for Albertans used to mostly snow still on the ground, or brown at best, it is post-card spring outside. Daffodils and irises are in bloom, the trees are budding or are full of blossoms, baby lambs in the fields, and we even got to do an egg hunt outdoors today. Neve paid her allowance for the privilege of walking a lamb on a leash, James learned how to steer a go-cart down a hill. Chocolate eggs are really tasty here...Life is good.

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Posted by Arin MacDyer 12:35 Archived in France Tagged food arin Comments (5)

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