Sunday, September 25, 2011

Early Melbourne Scenes

This post is painfully slow as I'm working on dial-up speed here but I just need to put in an appearance.
Melbourne has put on a lovely spring weekend with the trees and plants giving off their new colours. Our garden is sprouting green, white, purple and red throughout the yard. The Jacaranda is starting to come to life after hibernating during winter.
The spring weather gave me a chance to mow lawns, organise hard rubbish for next weekend's hard rubbish collection and have a Sunday BBQ.

Anyone for an Ice Cream on such a lovely weekend?
Planning next May's trip to France is well underway with the flight tickets now booked and most of the accommodation confirmed. It should be a great 60th birthday for Sue to remember. A birthday dinner in Paris with family - doesn't get any better.

Or a cake and hot chocolate at a Melbourne Tea Room from the 30s.

And then we can finish off with a coffee on a Melbourne tram.
Only six more days before we are back on our regular broadband speed - but we will try to bring you Wednesday's in France even if I have to do it at work. It's about our first encounter with the Chateaux of the Loire.

Friday, September 23, 2011


I notice that a few of my favorite Bloggers are taking a break. I'm forced into one till the end of the month unless I can steal someone's wifi. I'm afraid that I've run out of broadband for the month and I'm not sure why. I do have two sons that enjoy downloading movies and I did download "Lion in Winter" this month so that might have something to do with it.

I can't even read my favorite blogs at home as it takes toooooooo long to load. I'm having anxiety attacks - no decent internet, what did we fill our time up with before the internet? There might be a list of household jobs at home for the weekend.
Oh, I should explain, I'm doing this from work - better get back to it.
CYA Soon!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

CHATELLERAULT & the Motor and Bike Museum

For no other reason did we (I) visit Chatellerault than to see the Moto and Velo Musee. A friend who assisted me in partly sponsoring my book on motor racing in Australia suggested that I visit some of the many motor museums in France that he had the good fortune to visit. Chatellerault was one of those. There were others, one of which I stumbled upon in Provence in our third trip to France. I have to say that this one in Chatellerault was a gem. The settings for the bikes and cars on display were superb. Attention to detail was excellent.

 Bicycles and cars have been a great interest to me over the years. The history of the different marques, particularly French and Italian bikes and cars have always taken my passion more than American cars.
The history behind the drivers and riders these marques have always enthralled me. With bicycles, it was the successes of Anquitel, Poulidor, and later Fignon and Hinault that I would read about in magazines that came to Australia.
As a 17 year old my first two cars were a Citroen Traction Avant and a Renault Dauphine. Other Citroens, Renaults and Peugeots followed through the years.
It was only natural that Chatellerault was on my list of "must see" museums.

The Town of Chatellerault is near the confluence of the Vienne and Clain rivers and was known for its manufacturing of cutlery and sword making in early times. Later it became the centre for arms manufacturing and this is where the museum is now housed - in the old arms factory.
We arrived, not knowing where this building was located so I found a parking spot as close to the Tourist Information centre, down some back streets on the banks of the Vienne. I eventually found the Information Centre but unfortunately had forgotten where I parked the car with Sue waiting for my return. Eventually by walking towards the river and then along its banks, I finally located a very patient wife and the car.
I handed the map to Sue and off we went to find the museum.

On arrival, there were very few cars parked nearby and I feared that it maybe closed. Fortunately it was open but we were amongst a very few people to enjoy the museum. On entering the doors, I was filled with great expectations of what my friend had described to me back in Melbourne. I wasn't disappointed.
The displays were excellent with backdrops of large panels depicting advertisements, newspaper cuttings and histories of the cars, bikes, drivers and riders. I could have ambled on for hours.

The way back from Chatellerault to Chinon took us by the great stone walls of the Richelieu forest. We were not aware of Richelieu as a town or much of Cardinal Richelieu's perfect village. It wasn't until we stopped for a coffee at Champigny-sur-Veude that we saw the Chapelle St Louis with its magnificent stained glass windows. I'm told that there was at one time a Chateau beside it but during Cardinal Richelieu's time of building his prized town, he had the Chateau pulled down and used much of the materials in the building of Richelieu as he didn't want any rival buildings nearby. I've tried to research this theory without much result.

It was a nice interlude to our drive back to Chinon as a storm was brewing over the valley. It had been a long day and we were looking forward freshening up before going to dinner at the local Italian restaurant in the main square. Tomorrow was a tour to three of the local Chateaux, another big day in the Loire.

But that's next Wednesdays in France.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The GREAT OCEAN ROAD and Amy's Gran Fondo

At the last moment I had the opportunity to ride the Gran Fondo, a bike ride of 120 kms along the Great Ocean Road and out the back from the coast in the Otway Ranges. The event was organised by the Amy Gillett Foundation which was formed from family and friends of Amy. She was killed in Germany while out training with the Australian women's road cycling team when a driver ran into the bunch.
With fine, clear spring weather forecast, it seemed that we would have perfect conditions for this great ride.

We left the seaside resort of Lorne at 8.00 am and for the first 40 kms we rode where the two blues of sky and sea meet. To the left of us was Bass Strait and a cloudless sky. The weekend before was the opposite with rain and hail. How fortunate we were that the weather Gods were kind. As we rolled into Skene's Creek we faced a right hand turn and 10 kms of climbing to the top of the Otway ranges.
My pace was fairly slow however the advantage in that, was the opportunity to take in the view of this beautiful part of Victoria's country side. The terrain then gave way to rolling hills for next 50 kms before the last 10 km climb to the actual finish line. The great part was that after crossing the line we had another 20 kms back to Lorne, all down hill. With speeds of 50 to 60 kph, it was a welcome relief from the the tough grinding inclines earlier in the day.
Meeting my fellow riders from our group back in Lorne, many heroic stories were told and retold. I'm sure the stories will continue until our next epic bike ride.

We were on our way to the staring point at Lorne by 7.00 am for an 8.00 am kick-off.
With Bass Straight to the left and the Otway Ranges to the right, this 120 kms ride was to have its many challenges. The whole circuit was closed of to traffic therefore offering a very safe environment.
A little bit of France in the car park.
At the starting line, I joined just under 3000 other riders for a pleasant (Ha!) 120 kms at Lorne.
One wonders if these two ladies were amused by the antics of the hordes of Lycra clad men and women of all shapes and sizes invading their seaside village!!!
Here's a little video clip of the coast line and the Great Ocean Road.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Omphaloskepsis is contemplation of one's navel as an aid to meditation.[1]

The word comes from Greek omphalos (navel) + skepsis (act of looking, examination). Similar words are "omphaloskeptic" (one who engages in the practice) and "omphaloskeptical" (related to contemplation of one's navel).
Actual use of the practice as an aid to contemplation of basic principles of the cosmos and human nature is found in Indian yoga and sometimes in the Eastern Orthodox Church.[2] Some consider the navel to be "a powerful chakra of the body".[3][4]
However, phrases such as "contemplating one's navel" or "navel-gazing" are frequently used, usually in jocular fashion, to refer to self-absorbed pursuits.

I have no idea what this all means but I plucked it from Wikipedia and thought it sounded intelligent.

This last sentence is the one that Sue tends to slot me into with our (my) blogging.
It all started back in 2008 on our second trip to France. It was a way to keep family and friends involved with our adventures - "why would they want to" Sue asked? Again my ego jumped to my defence, "why would they not want to?" OK, that's me but then why blog, why write a book, why do anything?
Because its fun, you meet people, you learn stuff. OK, its good for the ego as well.

Well, here we are three years later and its been enormously satisfying and maybe even therapeutic.
November 2009 we (I) put a "Stats Thing" on our blog and only yesterday it ticked over to 50,000 hits.
I'm not sure how this all works, maybe somehow, some times, somewhere, someone does a Google thing and types in Melbourne and poor souls get our blog.
All I know is that we have met some nice people, get some nice comments and like I said, its therapy for some of us closet authors.

Whoever you are out there, and we know a few of you as commentors and fellow bloggers, thanks for popping in occasionally.

And to those who pop in, please leave a comment and say hello.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Fontevraud Abbey was not far from Saumur and Chinon, between the two but farther south. It was another "must see" destination while in the Loire. Why? As well as the folklore of Jeanne d'Arc, the history of King Henry II of England, Richard the Lionheart and then later, Eleanor of Aquitaine have enthralled me, more since returning from the Abbey and France generally.
Our travelling companion in our four visits to France is becoming a little tattered.

Before the visit we only knew what we had read from our trusty DK Eyewitness Travel book of France - I have to say that after four trips to France to date, it has become quite ragged but it is still a close friend on our bedside table. The pages are covered in highlighter pen marks of various fluro colors to denote the places we have travelled and want to visit.

The Loire with heaps of highlighted memory destinations.

The Abbey was first founded by Robert of Arbrissel in 1100 as a monastery for both Monks and Nuns. Being a man ahead of his time and possibly the first French male feminist (is there any such thing?), he declared that the Abbey would be lead by a Nun, always! The first was Petronille de Chemille.
The Abbey was a refuge for poor women in need of care along with prostitutes, lepers and the aged. When we arrived we were amazed by the surrounding walls that hid the buildings within the grounds. We drove down a small road by the walls into a valley over an ancient stone bridge before returning to find a closer parking spot. Walking through the gates of Fontevraud Abbey, we looked upon these amazing structures built from as far back as 900 years ago.

The first stop is through the more modern souvenir shop where we paid our entrance fee (well worth every Euro). Walking down the pathway to the Abbey in the afternoon sunlight, we were surprised once again that there were very few other people about.
On entering the open expanse of the Abbey we were feeling rather small. As we walked further in we could see four effigies before us. Eleanor of Aquitaine with King Henry II of England effigy's lay beside Richard the Lionheart beside his sister Joan. Although their effigies are on view to see, it is believed that their remains within the Abbey are unknown, if in fact they are anywhere within the Abbey.

The walls hiding the view of Fontevraud Abbey.

Richard the Lionheart's effigy.

Eleanor of Aquitaine alongside King Henry II

King Henry II

Richard the Lionheart

The unusual and very different structure with the spires is
thought to be the kitchens of the Abbey.

The gathering outside the Abbey's kitchens were the most people we saw on our visit.
Sue looks up towards the ventilated chimneys of the kitchens.
 During Napoleon's time until 1963 the Abbey became a prison. Since then the French Government financed its restoration to where it has become one of the most visited sites of the Loire. We certainly are pleased to have taken the opportunity to spend a few hours absorbing the history of "Abbaye de Fontevraud".

While on this first trip to the Loire we visited the Chateaux of Chenonceau, Villandry and dÚsse but more about them next Wednesday.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

FRANCE Next Year

Sue took me to Paris for my 60th - it's her 60th next year so I gave her the choice, diamonds or Paris.
You guessed it, we will celebrate Sue's 60th at a Paris restaurant.

Yes, that's us on my 60th birthday dinner delight in 2010.
Not much happened in "Melbourne - our Home by the Bay" this weekend. Well we did start the weekend with Friday night at a local restaurant, then a Saturday morning ride on Beach road - the normal "belt em up" ride. I'm really getting a bit too old for this stuff....But the coffee and chit-chat afterwards makes it worth while.

Anyway back to our planned trip next year.
After two nights in Paris and Sue's birthday dinner, we jump on the TGV to Marseilles for two nights before picking up a hire car.
Then we go to Frejus on the Cote d' Azure for a night before moving on to Vence in the hills behind Nice.

A painting by Paul Cezanne of Marseilles

The ruins of a Roman aqueduct near Frejus.

The village of Castellane where we spend a night before travelling through the Canyon Verdon.
I've always wanted to travel through the Canyon Verdon so we stay a night at Castellane before experiencing something we will remember for a lifetime.
We make our way to Aix on the Friday night before arriving in Saint Remy de la Provence. We stayed at the same villa in 2008. The owners, Josianne and Louie are perfect hosts and we have recommended many friends to stay there.

A street in Aix.
My daughter Carly and her partner Sharn will join us for the week so that we can share the sights and experiences from 2008. This time I hope to finally drive to the top of Mont Ventoux as opposed to riding there!!!

Sue looks out the window of the cottage in Saint Remy. Can't wait to say hello to our hosts from 2008.
After our week in Saint Remy in Provence, Carly and Sharn follow there own travels as we drive to the Loire via St Etienne, Moulins, Bellac for a night each. We stay in Chinon for two nights in the same B and B that we currently have been posting on "Wednesdays in France". Looking forward to meeting Helene and Jean Michel again.
After Chinon we are catching up with up with Carol and Michael, an expat couple from the UK who have a lovely cottage in Thenay not far from Pontlevoy. More about that experience in a future post on our 2009 Wednesdays in France. There are others we hope to catch up with in the Loire (you most likely read their Blogs - we do) before we head back to Paris for 5 days in an apartment to cook, eat and drink fine wine. We have friends in Paris that we owe dinner so that will also be an experience of seeing old friends.
Do you think this trip may be a time to meet and greet - we hope so.

Now we must ask you to offer us any advice on the "must see" things along the way. Be it sights, eateries, wines to taste, we will welcome your comments please.

Friday, September 09, 2011

SATURDAY SONG - Mixing it up with the Mixtures

Back in 1970, it was all flairs, long hair and platform soles - gosh it looks ugly now, but it was fun.
The Mixtures played around Melbourne and had a few hits, one being the Push Bike Song.
Two things I like about this clip from 1970 is that it shows Melbourne in a different era than today. The double road passes by the then newly built Saint Kilda Marina and then down Beaconsfield Parade in Middle Park to Port Melbourne. We  ride this route with Port Phillip Bay in view most weekends. The other reason to play this song is that it has bikes in it (Did I hear you say typical). I don't really like the song all that much but after 40 odd years, it does bring back a little whimsy.

Enjoy your weekend.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

SAUMUR and the Cadre Noir

 Saumur and the Cadre Noir

Sue was pretty excited with the prospect of seeing a performance of The Cadre Noir at Saumur. She made me leave hours before the starting time so we had some time to see a little of Saumur, not enough, but some.
Saumur was just a little upstream from Chinon. We took the road that ran by the Vienne to where it joined the Loire river. Along the way we were amazed by several Troglodyte homes carves from the soft white limestone cliffs and ridges. We drove by the village of Montsoreau with its fine Chateau overlooking the confluence of the two rivers. It would have been a nice stop but Sue was on a mission - there would be no stopping until we reached Saumur.

We passed by Souzay-Champigny with its fine examples of further Troglodyte buildings and still no stopping but there in the distance, the Chateau of Saumur looked down upon us as we drove into the city. Guess what - we were early and so there was a little time to kill before driving out to the Ecole Nationale Equitation and the Cadre Noir. I needed some extra cash so we wandered the streets to find an ATM, then Sue finally relaxed and we sat in the sunshine with a cup of coffee with the Chateau rising above us. The buildings below in the old centre made the setting perfect. Yet just around the corner from where we sat was a much more modern Saumur that gave the impression that you could be in any regional business district anywhere in the world.

We sat with a coffee, taking in the local ambiance of Saumur in the warmth of the spring mid-morning.

With a little time to spare, we were able to discover some of the laneways in old Saumur.

On this visit we came across Cardinal Richelieu - we were to become more familiar with him later, but that's for another post.
A poster for an event this month - any readers going?

An early painting of the Cadre Noir

The sign the greets you in the lawns of the Cadre Noir

As we wandered about the grounds we could see the riders preparing the horses for the performance we were about to see.

In fact there was an audience - its just that Sue needed to be the first seated.
Alright, I was excited OK?
I'm not sure where or when I first heard about Cadre Noir, same as my excitement about seeing the Bayeux Tapestry. Having said that I probably learned about the tapestry in the early 60's in Primary School. In those days Australia still believed it's history was that of England, and that was taught. But, I digress.

Before I go any further I would like to apologise for any lapses of fact. I'm sure you'll forgive me if I'm wrong and go for the big picture!
Cadre Noir has military origins and continued that way until the 1970's when the French cavalry ceased to exist. They had a long, noble and well respected lifetime as a military force to be reckoned with.
The French Government then decided they would become an academic riding school and train future Olympians and world champions in equestrian skills...which they have!
Cadre Noir means of course (in Australian) "mates in black" The members wear the famous black uniform, while their students wear blue.
My French sadly lacking, I had been dreading the phone call to book our seats for the performance. The phone is the harshest way to demonstrate inadequacy in language! Our gracious hostess, Helene from Chinon did that for us, so after that all was plain sailing.
The equestrian centre is about 6km from Chinon in a forest.....I can't begin to tell you how my nerves were tingling. As we got closer there were many very handsome horses in the fields beside the road.
Arriving there I was thrilled to see there was an outside ring where they warmed up the horses, practised, whatever, and where you could stand close as you liked! Oh joy! 
Don't worry, Leon didn't get it either.
I probably should explain, that a large part of my wasted youth was spent on horseback, and I didn't stop until I was pregnant with our elder son and not allowed to ride! It was a way I decided if the guys I went out with were good enough to keep for a while! Leon passed....although he never stopped shaking and saying that he just wanted to walk on the "thing"!
So, in we finally went. What a huge indoor auditorium. Apparently seats 1500 people. Was almost full too.
The performance probably lasted for an hour and a half, but for me it seems to flash past in minutes.
They showed the abilities of the horses both on a long rein (with the handler on the ground beside them) and as ridden horses. They also at times had the horses performing together as a troupe.
Highlights for me:
 The long rein activities were performed to the strains of classical music in the background. As much ballet as horsemanship.
They maintained and emphasised their military  background, by bringing tables and chairs to the middle of the arena, setting them up and then the horses jumping them in various combinations. NOT something to see in normal dressage or jumping competitions, but a reminder that these horses were to be trained to overcome all obstacles.
Airs above the ground. OMG
Lawrence I hope you're reading this, cos I have no doubt I'm boring the crap out of everyone else!
Well.....I guess you could say I had a good time. I would very much like to go back again next year, but it's all a matter of timing. They have a limited number of shows per year and we were very fortunate to be there at the right time.
Seeing Cadre Noir was a huge highlight of my trip in 2008.

Leon back again.....

Since returning from our 2008 trip we discovered a Saumur bubbly - its very nice but its the pleasure linked  to our memories of experiencing Saumur. Who knows, but we enjoy our Friday night start to the weekend with a glass of Saumur Brut.