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Malves en Minervois

sunny 25 °C
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Sunday, October 9th

SHNAIO! (escargot)

You know when you fist pound and one person puts two fingers underneath the other person’s fist to make a snail? Ya, well that’s kinda become a family joke now. Hence the title. Mum and I like to say it with an English accent, “shnaio”, but Ali likes to do “escargot road kill” with Dad. This is accomplished by doing the snail, saying “escargot” and having Dad lay his hand out flat as if the snail has been run over by a monster truck. So yeah, hence the title.

So far on the blog it has mostly been Dad doing all of the entries. Okay, Dad has been doing ALL of the entries. I figure maybe I should do one to spare me from the inevitable future nagging from the rents. So I will talk about today I guess, in Malves. We woke up after a good sleep, Alison in particular. She slept for around 11h, she must have been POOPED. We, or rather, Mum, made crepes (egg + cheese, butter + sugar, nutella) for breakfast. They were delicious! We had spoken yesterday evening with Line’s mother about using four of their bikes so that we could have a bike around the lovely French countryside. They had left our bikes outside in the courtyard (just across from the castle!!!), and after some testing out, we left with the destination of “the next town”. Or as we say en français: “la prochaine ville”.

Here are some facts:

1. The scenery was B-E-A-U-tiful with the fields of grape vines lining the road, rosemary encrusted with escargot, and our little town and its castle that you could see if you turned around. We also had a look at the Menhir de Malves, an ancient standing stone about 5 meters high, with another 4 meters under the ground.

2. It was very windy. I’m not talking about wind; I’m talking about massive wind. It was like being in a hand dryer. Not just any old hand dryer in any old public bathroom, though. It was like being in a DYSON hand dryer, like the ones in the Wild Play bathrooms. Yes, that’s right. A (giant) Dyson hand dryer.

3. We got sun! Yay, for all the clouds threatening rain yesterday, the sun shone down on us the whole way. We took pictures for all of you who don’t believe us. Mind you, it’s pretty much the only sun we’ve had so far in France. (Note: Please remember that, so far, most of the trip has been 30+ degrees)

4. Despite all of this, some members of our team, erm, did not quite enjoy themselves very much. The trip started in tears for Alison who, it seems, could not control her bike against the tough wind, and was finding it hard to pedal. Not to leave any important details out, her bike was way too big for her in the first place. It was an adult bike, but a smallish one. Still, she is only a small girl.

We eventually made it to “the next town” of Villalier. Upon entering, we saw a sign pointing down to the left, away from the town and away from where we had just come that read: Chais du Terroir. Dad reckons it means: chair of terror. Hmmmmm... don’t think so, Dad. We found a park bench to sit down on and have our apples and our corn nuts which we had bought at the Carcassonne Saturday clothes market, which was almost entirely hosted and frequented by Moroccans. Not much to say about the town itself. It was windy. Oh, yeah and the streets were lined with plane trees (like the one in front of our house back home that you must have seen on Google street view, Joe. :P) We walked our bikes around the town (max. 5 min) then coasted all the way down the slight hill back to Malves. Dad and I (“And me too!” says Alison) leaned over our handlebars to go faster reminding me of Finlay V. when we go skating as a class.

As I type this, I am sitting at our kitchen table, eating Camembert cheese on day old baguette and drinking 100 percent grape juice out of a wine glass. It sounds so French (except for that they would drink wine, not grape juice) that I almost can’t believe it. But here I am. France, or Paris rather, was Alison’s request for our trip. Mine was Morocco. You might think that it would have been France, as that’s the only language in Europe that I am able to speak (‘cept for English in England), but to be honest I wasn’t actually looking forward to France. I wasn’t NOT looking forward to it, it’s just that I didn’t know what to expect. But all in all, I like it here. The small towns (Carcassonne, Malves) more so than the big cities (Paris). I have been (asked doesn’t seem like the right word. neither does forced. maybe advised?) to handle most transaction-making and direction-asking and hotel-calling etc. while everyone around me speaks a language that only I can understand in our family. That’s fine with me, I’m not complaining. So far everyone I’ve spoken to has been nice, sympathetic, willing to slow down their speech and repeat what they said if necessary. I don’t know why the French have a bad rep for being snobbish or mean. They all seem fine to me, other than being crazy drivers.

A bientôt!

-Sunny

Posted by teamkarim 12:25 Archived in France Comments (0)

Carcassonne

sunny 26 °C
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Tuesday, October 11

Ok, first I'll apologize for not updating for so long. We had wifi in Venice, but we were pretty busy and didn't manage to write that blog while we were still there. Then, we had no wifi in either Paris or Malves en Minervois. So, we are currently in Carcassonne, staying at the Youth Hostel right in the old walled city. Tomorrow, we catch the train to stay in Toulouse for one night, with our primary purpose being to catch an Easyjet flight to Lisbon. We had intended to take a Ryanair flight from Carcassonne to Porto, Portugal, but Ryanair kept declining to process our payment. So, onward to the next budget airline!

Lisbon will be a first for all of us, although Susan has been to Portugal before. After Lisbon, well, I don't know...

By the way, feel free to send us a message if you're still out there! We can be reached at the usual email addresses. Even though we are enjoying ourselves, we do miss our friends and family.

Quick update on Carcassone while I'm here, although it's a bit of the usual: walled city, beautiful, UNESCO world heritage site, nice lower town (Ville Bas), canal tour (same canal as Aunt Joan and Uncle Freddie were on), girls did some shopping, etc. blah blah blah

Posted by teamkarim 12:30 Archived in France Comments (2)

Carcassonne (Alison speaks up)

sunny 26 °C
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Tuesday October 12th

When we first arrived in Carcassonne we did an audio tour. I felt like a noob holding a big phone- ish thing but I learned a lot. We had a hostel in the old city (``la cite``) and you had to cross a drawbridge to get into the old city. The castle was on the very top of a huge hill (of course). It seemed even bigger with packs on. When we went into the castle we had pretty good views and at one point you could even see our hostel. The castle was really old and we saw a short movie about it from inside it. The old city had lots of curvy roads, but not many cars. We also went on a canal tour and it was really beautiful from what you could see. I really enjoyed Carcassonne!

-Alison

Posted by teamkarim 13:30 Archived in France Comments (0)

Toulouse, the city, not the artist

sunny 25 °C

Wednesday October 12th

Toulouse is known as “la ville rose,” the pink city, due to the prevalence of brick buildings. We have another, equally catchy appellation to propose: “ville complet,” the city of full hotels. We arrived fairly early at about noon, although our train from Carcassonne arrived about forty minutes late. Plenty of time to find a reasonable hotel and see a bit of Toulouse before having an early night in preparation for our Easyjet flight to Lisbon. But wait ... the usual internet sources of hotel bookings were strangely silent with respect to Toulouse. Hostelword, Hostelbookers, booking.com, venere ... none of them had any listings for Toulouse. Last night we sent off an email to one of the Lonely Planet recommended hotels. Their response was waiting this morning: Sorry, we are “complet,” full, for Wednesday, but here are several other hotels to try.

When we arrived at the Toulouse train station, we called these hotels, but all of them were full. So, Susan and Sunny headed out of the station, canvassing the neighbourhood hotels, which were plentiful. All full. One hotel did have a couple of free doubles, but they would work out to 104 Euros total, which is pretty pricey. It turns out that Toulouse is a big business town, and all of the hotels are busy during the week. Although, if we ever came back on the weekend, we would have our pick of the town at slightly reduced rates. They returned after a gruelling hour-long search, with no good news to report.

The next step was to try the Youth Hostel, which apparently doubles as a home for needy youth. Unfortunately, as they didn’t answer the phone, this required Susan and Sunny to make another long trek to check it out. They returned after an hour, with news that the youth hostel was not only full but also required a minimum two night stay, not mentioned on the website. Moot point. By now we were more than a bit unhappy with Toulouse, particularly since we only came here so we could leave. They did receive from the hostel a sheet of paper listing about fifteen other possibilities. We called as many as we could before the cell phone ran out of time. Another trek to a different hotel down the road was also unsuccessful.

By now, we had either called or walked into at least twenty hotels, and the lack of success was making us wonder if the airport would be open all night. Sunny quickly went to the hotel that had previously had two expensive doubles available, as by this point this seemed like a viable option. Naturally, however, by this time they were full. Before giving up and heading to the airport, we still had a few hotels left on the list of fifteen. Well, what luck, we bought a phone card, Sunny called, and discovered a hotel that actually had space, and at a comparatively reasonable price of 80 Euros for two doubles.

After a mere five minute walk towards the centre of town, a route that Susan and Sunny were already reasonably acquainted with, we found the Hotel Tivoli. Look it up on Tripadvisor. But please, don’t tell us what it says, because we don’t want to know. On the plus side, we actually got a room with two beds for a mere 50 Euros! A room for all of us, more or less, for only 50 Euros, in France! This is madness, sheer madness, absolutely unheard of! Well, we would have gladly paid a bit more to improve our living conditions, as we actually stayed in a nearby restaurant (flunch, more on that later, perhaps) for over an hour after finishing our meal, partly to enjoy the people watching, but mostly to avoid having to go back to our hotel.

Toulouse in brief...

Pro: Europe’s largest Romanesque cathedral, consecrated around 1050.
Con: We arrived at the cathedral at 5:54, just as the man closed the door: “Nous fermons.” It’s really nice on the outside, though.

Pro: You can, with a bit of work, find a relatively cheap hotel room.
Con: You actually have to stay in that hotel room, rather than the Best Western across the street.

Pro: The town centre seems quite attractive, with groovy pedestrian friendly vibe and awesomely cool fancy brick buildings.
Con: None, really.

Pro: flunch is a much cheaper place to buy something resembling an actual meal than virtually anywhere else. Plus, it’s fun to muse about the many middle-aged men eating there alone, and critique their choice of food from the buffet offerings available. Plates filled with beige? Not healthy. No wonder he’s single. Artfully arranged salad and mini-bottle of wine? Possibly a good catch for someone. Why is he dining alone at flunch??
Con: Unless flunch just happens to be two doors down from your incredibly scungy hotel, you are unlikely to ever know about it, and will have to choose between spending your life savings on dinner, or searching for a supermarket and buying dinner there.

Posted by teamkarim 13:24 Archived in France Comments (0)

Lisbon

sunny 30 °C
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Saturday, October 15

Well, today is our last day in Lisbon. I should have written about Lisbon earlier, but now it is almost time to pack it in. Today we went to Sintra, about 40 minutes by commuter train to the west of Lisbon. Lord Byron described it as "Eden". (Susan: I think "Eden" is defined differently if you are Lord Byron... he must think Eden was a place to spend a lot of money on Portuguese handicrafts and meals, while admiring the palaces that your fellow rich Edenites have built there. It's pretty, though.) We would add that it is nice, but packed with tourists and a bit overly expensive to visit the "must see" sights. We declined to pay 36 Euros for the family (which incomprehensively is defined as 2 adults and ONE child, whereas everywhere else a family pack gets you two adults and two children) to see the Palacio de Pena, which actually looks very cool. But, we have just booked a NEW flight, so we are pinching pennies.

Actually, our new flight is quite economical. Susan is very anxious to see Toledo, which we have never seen, despite having been to Spain numerous and plenty times. The problem with Toledo is that it is in the middle of Spain, and the only way to get there is to go to Madrid. But Madrid is nowhere near the south of Spain, and it is about 70 Euros to go from Madrid to Sevilla. So, our solution is to visit Toledo, but then take another Easyjet flight from Madrid to ..... Marrakesh!

Morocco, here we come. This has the benefit of being about the same cost as a train from Madrid to Sevilla, but it gets us much farther. So, we can do Marrakesh and Fez in Morrocco, then head back to Spain. Ecomonical, and super duper cool.

Tomorrow, we leave Lisbon to go to Evora for a couple of nights, then probably Elvas (no, not Elvis), then hopefully Toledo, which will be a bit of a long voyage.

Mirador, with view of Alfama, in Lisbon

Mirador, with view of Alfama, in Lisbon

Pre WWI tram, in Lisbon

Pre WWI tram, in Lisbon

Typical tiled building, in Lisbon

Typical tiled building, in Lisbon

Lisbon? I like the sidewalks. All the roads and sidewalks are made of stones, like the world's biggest patio. After seeing Lisbon, I can no longer be quite so pleased about having finished our Patio Mark II, because every single sidewalk in Lisbon is the world's longest patio "work of art." I will post some pictures when I have a chance.

Lisbon? Efficient public transportation, including some way splendid trams dated pre-World War I. A great Alfama (moorish quarter), including a museum devoted to the history of fado music, which is kind of like a milder form of flamenco.

Lisbon? Cheap. The hostel is not embarrasingly cheap, at 70 Euros for all four of us. Although it does include unlimited free breakfast that technically could actually last all day. But tonight's dinner (rice, salad, vegetable soup, and wine) cost only 7 Euros (3 for the wine, but it beat any $10 bottle of wine in Victoria). And we tried some Port today in Sintra, excellent but we could not afford the 3000 Euro bottle of 150 year old...

Lisbon? Nice, although a bit "urine" smelly in a few parts of the city, I think maybe their sewer system needs some updating. Have you ever been to Capital Iron and walked from the parking lot past the Hot Dog cart, and it was maybe a bit overly odouriferous? Like that, only probably worse.

Lisbon? We had some dessert (1 tart and 3 "suspiros", delicious meringue) for 2.4Euros after getting back from Sintra.

Lisbon? Good. Hilly. We stayed an extra day, but we are outta here tomorrow.

Lisbon? Are you kidding me? 31 degrees yesterday, and 27 today. Normally, our hostel fellow tells us it would be about 18 or maybe 20 degrees. 31! Are we lucky weatherwise or what...

Posted by teamkarim 14:43 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

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