Sunday, August 21, 2005

Paris


This will technically be my third time in France. In 2001, I went to Paris, Nimes, Nice and Monaco (not France, but I'll just consider it the same country). In 2003, I went to St. Malo and Bayeux, in the North of France. St. Malo is probably still one of my favourite locations in France. Currently, we're in the Champagne region.




On Saturday, we'll be taking a train to Bordeaux, renting a car from there and travelling around that area for about 10 days. Should be interesting...R and I don't usually fight...until we get in the car.

Some thoughts on France...

- I still can't figure out the utility of a separate room for the toilet. Except maybe to avoid toilet bacteria landing on your toothbrush.

- Asking a waiter to separate a bill in a restaurant is at least as hard as pulling teeth. At most, they'll take the total bill amount and divide it by the number of people at the table.

- A fair number of people in the service industry seem to behave like doing their job is a favour to customers. This does occur at home, but not as regularly (mind you, I don't use the service industry as often at home).

- Contrary to my expectations, most people don't switch to English when I speak to them. Woohoo!

- Wine is cheaper than pop....which must be a sign that I should just drink wine.

- Reality television here actually features REAL people, acting like REAL people. What a concept. I spent some time watching L'amour est dans le pré (not sure if the link will work). The translation is "love is in the meadow". I'm not sure if it's the equivalent to "love is in the air" or is "meadow" refers to the "contestants" being from smaller towns. The basic concept is that 4 singles (male or female) show up at a home. I guess their profiles are featured online. These people are from more rural areas, where it would be more difficult to find a partner. Once in the home, they receive letters from interested suitors. From these letter, they select those that they would like to meet. They then meet up with these people in Paris and "interview" (read: sit down and have an awkward chat) the suitors. But here's the interesting part. The singles and their suitors are REAL PEOPLE. They don't look like barbie/ken dolls. They're not all between the ages of 18-35 and they aren't suave. They aren't flown off to white sandy beaches or castles rented out for the evening for the couple. After meeting all of the suitors, two are selected. The suitors then travel to the single's house (usually a farm) and do normal farming type stuff. Although there is still the unrealistic component of living in someone's home for a week and the competition with another suitor, the people generally act like normal people. Like the one woman yesterday had two guys at her place and for dinner she warmed up pizza in the microwave.

I guess my point is that the contrast to North American reality tv was pretty stark. It's kind of sad because what is represented on reality television skews our ideas of what it means to be a real person. It's probably oversimplified for me to say this, but I do generally notice that at home people carry themselves more self-consciously. It almost seems like people in France are less concerned with how they "should be" and put more energy toward "just being". I know...I know...correlation does not equal causation. But - would a reality television program at home thrive if the premise was creating a love match between two 50 year olds? I think we're distracted with trying to obtain an unrealistic standard.

- It is possible for a nation to switch to reusable (cloth) grocery bags when stores do not make it convenient to receive plastic bags.

Here are some pictures (some are R's from before I arrive, some I took):

Moulin Rouge:

Notre Dame Cathedral:




Sacre Coeur:

Arc de Triomphe:

Sainte-Chapelle:


Louvre:


Alexandre-III Bridge:



Eiffel Tour:



National Assembly:


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Saturday, August 20, 2005

Gouffre de Proumeyssac, La Roque Gageac & Jardin de Marqueyssac


To start our day, we drove about an hour from Sarlat to Gouffre de Proumeyssac. According to my French-English dictionary, a gouffre is a cavern. In the region, there are both natural and prehistoric gouffres. The one we opted to visit is a natural cavern. When you first walk into the gouffre, you can hear water dripping, but it is otherwise very dark.

I was very well behaved and adhered to the "no pictures" rule until I saw that everyone else was taking pictures. Then, all bets were off.

When the gouffre was fully lit up the view was beautiful:





When you visit, you can do the traditional tour, entering by foot through a tunnel. Or, you can pay for a special entry where you are lowered for the top of the hole in a hot air balloon-type basket. You can see the basket being lowered in the picture below. It's the darker-coloured basket. The other white form is part of the cavern. I believe they call it the octopus because of its shape. If I recall correctly, the forms develop because of the


The stalactites and stalagmites were beautiful.



After the gouffre, we headed to a village called La Roque Gageac in order to go canoeing on the Dordogne River. Thankfully, the weather was beautiful.



I would love to spend some time in a hammock looking up at the clouds. I only got a few shots of the clouds while canoeing:



We passed by a number of castles during our brief (9km) paddle.







Thankfully, despite R's canoe-directing abilities, this wasn't our boat.



After paddling, I was feeling a bit ambivalent about going to see a garden. I am SO glad that we went to Jardin De Marqueyssac. I didn't really know what to expect and was completely blown away.

When I saw all of the highly groomed trees in the pamphlets for the jardin (garden), I wasn't sure that it would be my thing.

We had already visited Versailles a couple of weeks earlier and I had had my fill.

Let me tell you, this garden was a highlight of our trip for me. Growing up, I've always like the fantasy/quest-type movies. My favourite film for years was The Neverending Story (the first movie, not so much the sequels). I also love labrynth. Anything where someone is going through a fantasy maze-type world where you have to beat the monsters and solve the puzzles to make your way out. Games like Zelda are completely addictive for me.

This park felt like it would be a great setting for a fantasy movie:






On Thursdays in July and August, a lot of the paths are lit up by candlelight. A group of 3-4 guys go around with mini torches and light hundreds of tea lights.
I even took a picture of this guy's butt to prove it:



Just be aware, if you pay to get in before 7pm, you have to leave the park and pay again to re-enter.

The darker it gets, the cooler the candlelight becomes.



The garden, or what I would describe as a park, includes about 6km of trails.

Along the trails, there are many unexpected things to be found. Near the entrance, there is a cafe where you can look out over the entire area. Perhaps the highlight of this area was the man playing the piano and the peacock that stood beside the piano obsessed with the music.

On the opposite side of the park is the belevedere. It looks out onto castles (Beynac and Castelnaud), the Dordogne River and La Roque Gageac.



It's times like these that I wish I had a better camera (and better photography skills).

Of course, no enchanted park is complete without a random thingamabob:

Or a little hut (this is one of two in the park):

A beautiful sunset:

Clouds that look like flying monsters:

And amazing musicians playing in a field:



I only filmed a brief bit of their song because my memory card was running low.



Actually, I feel a bit sad that I can't go back to the park. I'm sure there would be new things to discover each time I went back.

UPDATE: Check out The Biscuit Bunch's blog. They're a family from New Zealand who has been spending the past year or so in the South of France. Possibly the coolest parents ever!

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Friday, August 19, 2005

Halifax


here are some pictures of the harbour from my trip to Halifax (the Province of Nova Scotia is featured in the article link) last week:






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Tuesday, August 9, 2005

British Columbia: Part 4


Here are some more shots from the ferry back to the mainland.





Our second last stop was in Squamish. It's a pretty small city, but seems to be well-known for it climbing.



We took a short hike to the Shannon Falls. Well, this sign wasn't exactly encouraging of hiking the entire way up "The Chief".



The hike we did led us through some beautiful trees and vegetation.



And then to the falls...



We spent the rest of our time in Squamish with some friends that live there.

After Squamish, we made our way to our last stop...Whistler.

Whistler, or Whistler Village, where we spent most of our time, is a cute pedestrian-friendly area that is designed to separate you from your money. There are tonnes of adventure activities to take part in, but be prepared to fork out a fair bit of dough for it. Also, as somewhat expected, most people that work in Whistler are from England or Australia.



It found it difficult to take a picture that actually captured the feel of
the village. Everything is designed to look cottagy and natural...even still - there's no denying how commercial it all is. Like Banff, it's great to go, but be prepared to spend money or to feel like you wish you had more money...or both, mind you. There are a tonne of outdoor gear shops. Any clothing/gear lines that you would find at a place like MEC have individual stores in Whistler.

The day after arriving we went Ziptrecking with Ecotours. Click on the yellow tab on the left of the link where it says "watch video" for an idea of what this is like...minus the snow for us. Of course, Coldplay makes everything a little bit cooler. Oh shit...just as I was searching for Ziptrecking, I found this story. Conveniently, not mentioned during our trip.



Of course...the obligatory foot shot!



Here's the guide showing us how to hang upside down. I was too much of a wimp to do it...plus I wanted to get a foot shot.



There are two tours...one where you can hang upside down (on one of the lines) and one tour that goes faster, with longer lines...that end in the village. Our tour has better views...but it would have been cool to go faster too.

The big thing to do in Whistler, in the summer, is mountain biking... I don't have a full understanding of what this includes...but young kids seemed to be doing it too - so it can't be that difficult. Actually, there are four difference levels from easy-expert. So, I guess it depends on experience and how crazy you are. But, believe me, this is expensive too.



The next day we took the gondola up to the top of Whistler Mountain. Another expensive, but worth it, thing to do. The gondola takes about 25 minutes to get to the top. From there you take a chair lift the the real top.





Sorry...had to put that one in...

The views are unbelievably beautiful and there are some trails to hike at the very top.



Ack...I keep scrolling through my mountain shots and no one picture gives justice to the views. I guess you'll just have to go yourself.



The impression you get about BC is that people are smoking pot everywhere. This is not true. I only smelled it once in Whistler. In my impression, it was much more prevalent in Montreal. I also heard a report that Quebec has surpassed BC in its grow operations.

Since the rest of the trip just includes driving back to Vancouver (on a highway that will be under construction for the next 3 years), I'll end my trip report here.

One last thought..Of this entire map of BC, all I saw was a small portion of the South-West tip of the province.

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