Monday, 31 March 2008

Hot Chips, Anyone??

After arriving at the Etap hotel we decided to have some dinner and get to bed at a reasonable hour, being aware that we would lose one hour of sleep - due to the advent of daylight savings we were required to move our watches forward an hour during the night (at the same that Western Australians were moving their watches back one hour, making our time difference now only 6 hours).
We were given directions to a Pizza restaurant less than a kilometre away and hurried there with rumbling tummies. Roger ordered two pizzas to share, but Bonnie insisted she didn't like pizza and wouldn't eat any. Because we knew Bonnie would be hungry in the night and she needed to eat something (but refused all that was on the menu) I asked the waitress if they had fries. She replied that they did, and would we all like some? I am sure that I told her we would all eat some and two serves should feed all of us.
But maybe my French isn't so good. When she returned she brought a huge serving of chips for each of us. Yep, six plates overflowing with hot fat greasy chips, worth about 20 euros, or nearly $40AU. Yummo... or maybe not.
Feeling guilty for my mistake I consumed many of the chips, because I didn't want to have 10 euros worth of chips remaining on the table when we left. So to my Weight Watchers leaders, if you are reading this, please forgive me. And I swear I will never order chips again...

Is it Christmas?

The trees in the background of this photo had decorations on them that looked like Christmas decorations. We're not sure if they are left there from last Christmas or getting ready for next Christmas...
This is in the Etap hotel near Aix-les-bains where we stayed on Saturday night. We got a really cheap room - only 61 euros for the room and breakfast for all of us. The room had a double bed with a single bunk above and another very skinny little bed beside it (2'6" bed). Hugh slept in the big bed with Roger and me, Sophie and Odette shared the bunk and Bonnie had the little bed. We thought it was great and started checking out where all the other Etap hotels are around France. At this price it is even cheaper than youth hostels (auberges de jeunesse) AND it had its own bathroom with shower over the bath. And a TV.
When something seems too good to be true it probably is...
In the morning when we went to breakfast there was a different woman at reception from when we checked in. She asked our room number, then counted us and asked if we had all stayed in the same room. "Yes" we replied, "It was great!" She didn't look happy and told us that the room was only allowed to have 4 people in it. If there was a fire they could be in big trouble and the young lady who booked us in could lose her job. Did she know there was six of us? I said that maybe she hadn't seen all of us when we booked in, because I didn't want her to lose her job, but in fact she had taken all six of us upstairs to see the room. Next time, we were told, we would have to have two rooms.

Our spacious and comfortable room at Etap hotel

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Another Trip To The Snow

We went and found some snow to play in this afternoon. This time on this side of the valley, at Col de Marcieu. Although the ski station is closed we played in the snow, on the luge, and tried to start to learn to ski - with Roger as our instructor. Sophie stayed up surprisingly well. I can't say the same for myself, and I don't think I'll ever become a skier. I can honestly say I now have more respect for those who make skiing look easy.
On the way up to the ski field we were surprised by the amount of snow on the ground, on the houses, on the cars, and in the fields. Everything was pretty much covered with snow, and I guess that is a result of the heavy snowfall over Easter. It is a pity that most of the ski stations will be closing in the next few weeks.
Here are some pictures of the kids enjoying the snow, although when I look at the enlarged picture of Sophie and Hugh in the luge (above) I am not sure that the look is one of pleasure.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Les Bougies Magiques

Today was Sophie's 10th birthday so I made a cake and decorated it with ready-made icing decorations. It looked very pretty. Then when the girls came home at lunch time they put the candles on it. I looked at the packet which said "Bougies Magiques" which means "Magic Candles". I did momentarily wonder at the name, thinking that it gave the candles an air of mystery, but I didn't read the small print on the back of the packet.
So it wasn't until Sophie blew the candles out that we found out what "Magic Candles" actually are... They are candles that magically light again when you blow them out!! That is why there is so much smoke in the photo. We ended up having to dip them in a cup of water to make sure they were properly extinguished, but gee it was fun. With little kids you usually have to light the candles several times so that everyone gets a turn at blowing them out. But magic candles save you the trouble, by lighting themselves!

More Snow!!

Sophie has never woken up on her birthday and seen snow before. This morning the snow was even thicker than it was last week. I just have to show you a few photos I took this morning when we took the long way home after dropping the girls at school and the bus stop.

By this afternoon most of the snow had gone, with only small patches in protected areas, like at the foot of the slide in the playground. When Hugh got wet pants we discovered that there was also a big puddle of water resting on the slide.

Looking up to our house from the main road through the village

Odette seems to have recovered from her cold and was back at school today. Hugh still has a pretty disgusting nose that he wipes on his hand if we don't get to him first. I suppose it is expected that we should suffer from these winter colds now that we are in winter.

Monday, 24 March 2008

Saturday Shopping

Roger reckons that the supermarket carparks around here have better views than any he has seen before. So we thought it might be fun to take a photo in the carpark of any supermarket we go to.
Here is Roger with the kids in the carpark at Carrefour near Grenoble.
We had been told Saturday was not a good day to go shopping. But with the kids having lunch at home every day we hadn't had another time to go to Grenoble to the bigger shops. We needed to go to the supermarket, and Sophie kept reminding us that it would be the last shopping day before her birthday (hint, hint...).

Roger packing the shopping at the Carrefour checkout

We started at the big Carrefour store, where you can buy almost anything.
There is even a McDonald's restaurant there, so the kids could have a play. But wait, where was the playground?? It was a corner upstairs with playstations and magnadoodle boards. Not exactly the sort of playing we're used to!!

Our next stop was Decathlon, the sports shop. And wasn't that fun? Hugh wanted to ride on the little bikes and scooters, and Bonnie wanted to try on all the snow boots. Then the kids discovered the walking and stepping machines, and Hugh discovered some balls. We needed to buy some "apres-ski" warm boots for both me and Hugh (the others all found ones in the Marcoux house to fit them). It happened to be the last day of "Trocathlon", which was sort of like a clearance sale and used goods sale in a marquee next to the shop. In there I found a warm waterproof jacket that I could zip up, and Roger bought some gloves (last time he tried to have a bike ride in the morning he nearly froze his fingers off). Sophie found some used roller blades that fitted her (with plenty of room for growth) so we agreed to buy them too, as they were only 5 euros.
Sophie tried out the rollerblades on the school hardcourt just down from our house today. As neither Roger nor I have ever had roller blades we couldn't give her any tips on how to use them. And we can only hope that she gets better with practice!

Happy Easter

I was going to take a photo of the gorgeous Easter eggs and bunnies that the children got for Easter. But I was too slow!!
Here is a photo of the kids enjoying the chocolate anyway.
Stef's Mum gave them each a gold-wrapped Lindt rabbit, so not only do we have an exchange house, but exchange grandparents too.
Easter Sunday was as it is at home, but the fact that there was no holiday on Good Friday (and the kids had to go to school) and that there were no Hot Cross Buns made Easter different from at home.

Friday, 21 March 2008

Le Lapin de Pâques (Easter Bunny)

The Easter Bunny came to Odette's school yesterday. When I rang up to say that she was sick and would not be coming to school the teacher said that it was a pity because they had a special surprise in the morning. I had to go to the school to visit the "cantine" office so I made sure that I went at 9:30 and took Odette with me.

Le lapin, and the special Easter duck (Odette assures me it is a duck) that the children made at l'ecole maternelle (pre-primary)
The kids sang some little songs with actions, but of course Odette didn't know them. There was a big basket of eggs that came with the rabbit and when the teachers ran away with the basket and said they were going to eat them all there were loud protests from the children.
The rabbit was very well behaved and all the children got to pat him, though Odette was a bit scared to touch it at first. When she did touch it she said that it was very soft. At the end the teacher asked Odette how we say "Merci" in English, only she asked in French so Odette didn't know that she was meant to say "Thank You" to the rabbit for the visit.
At the cantine office I booked all three girls in to eat at school on Mondays and Thursdays. Monday will be a holiday for Easter so they will have their first school "cantine" meal next Thursday. Each meal costs 4.20 euros. Roger is hoping it will make them appreciate his cooking!! I am hoping that spending more time with other children instead of coming home every lunchtime will help them learn to speak French more quickly.
And we both hope that they will eat the food (we have at least one fussy eater at home) and have good manners in the cantine!

Having the kids eat at school two days a week will give Roger a break - he has been managing the kitchen since we have been in France, as well as driving the girls to and from school. It appears the work is quite tiring because this is a picture of him asleep on the sofa before the girls went back to school yesterday lunch time.

The First Day of Spring

What a surprise we got when we woke up and looked out the window this morning... It was snowing!!
It has changed the look of the village, and obliterated the mountains in the distance. And it has made our steps slippery - Sophie fell on her way to school this afternoon and had to change into a dry pair of pants before she left the house.
The snow was quite significant in the morning, but after lunch it started raining, which turns the snow slushy.
Everyone wants to go out and get the luge to go tobogganing but Odette and Hugh have both got bad coughs and runny noses. I don't want them to go out in the cold. Yesterday we went to the pharmacy and bought some medicine for them.
Stef has given us some directions for how to get to another small ski field on this side of the valley, where there should not be too many people and we could have some fun in the snow on the weekend.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Driving the wrong way

With kids having to be in different places at the same times I have had to take the plunge and drive this week. Roger has no trouble handling the driving, but I was nervous to drive on the "wrong" side of the road. Surprisingly it was not the driving on the right hand side of the road, but the driving on the left hand side of the car that has confused me the most. Both of the Marcoux's cars are manual (I prefer to drive an automatic and our car at home is automatic) so I wasn't too keen on the gears. The gears have to be changed with my right hand, and I regularly find myself reaching down to the left when I need to change gears. Hill starts are tricky too, with the hand break on the right hand side. It is something that you learn and it becomes second nature so that you are no longer conscious of how it is done. But change the rules or the situation a bit and my mind has gone into overdrive.
Nevertheless I have managed OK, although after the first trip to La Buissiere (only a couple of kms down the road to Bonnie's school) I hesitated before I returned. I sat in the car and thought "how did I do that?" and wished I could wish myself home again instead of having to drive myself there.

Roger at ease behind the wheel of the VW.

No school on Wednesdays

As today was a Wednesday we decided to go to Grenoble to explore the city a bit. Stef's father Georges offered to show us the way to drive to a Parking station on the outskirts so that we could take the tramway into the centre. It is a cheap solution for a family as you pay per car for the parking, and your tram tickets are included in the cost of 1.50 euros.
Before we left Georges explained to me, in French which I thought I understood, how we would get there. We followed him across he river, along the autoroute and towards Grenoble to the vicinity of the University as he had said. But then he took the exit number "un" (1) and I was sure he said exit number "deux" (2). He signalled madly with his hand out the window and we followed, but then decided that he must be signalling that he was leaving and we should go on. We went around the round-about again and took exit number "deux", and then got completely lost. We saw the huge looming blue shape of the new IKEA store and took refuge in its parking area. What to do now?? Roger suggested that we should ask another family who were getting their kids out of the car at the same time as we arrived, so in my not very best French I asked them if they knew of the parking station we were looking for. They did not, but they knew where the tramway was, and that you could park for free at several places. The very friendly French man took roger in his car to SHOW HIM where the parking and the tram station was. Meanwhile the children and I went into the IKEA store and had fun looking at the room displays and Sophie decide which home set-up she would like to have when we return to Australia. Eventually Roger returned and we used the IKEA restrooms and had an IKEA hot dog.
When we got back in the car I convinced Roger that we should try to find the way that Georges had explained to me. We drove around for a bit, and Roger recognised where the friendly French man (whom he referred to as "my mate") had taken him. We parked and took a tram into Grenoble, but after we had been on it for a few stops we realised we were on the wrong line and had to change trams. Eventually we made it into the centre and went to the "office de tourisme" and got ourselves a map. Then we leisurely wandered the narrow streets, chasing Hugh to stop him running onto the road because we had left the pram at home. The girls wanted to visit every little shop we saw, but by this time it was nearly time to go home again. Galeries Lafayette provided some fun on the escalators and a toilet stop, and then "pasta via" provided some dinner. We took the correct tram back to where we had parked, and navigated successfully home. By this time the kids were well and truly ready for bed and we put them straight to bed. Roger had already locked the door and we thought a child was banging, but there was someone at the door...
It was Georges, who had spent two hours looking for us after we had left him at the round-about and tried to ring us without success. His hand signal had meant that we were to follow him! I had heard right when he said we should take exit "deux", but when he got there he realised he had made a mistake and exit "un" was in fact the one we should take. We felt bad that he had been worried about us, he felt bad that he had lost us; and he drew us such a good sketch of a map that I am sure we could find the parking station blindfolded next time we need to go there.

School times

Now that all three girls are going to school we are battling to juggle their comings and goings.
Their schools all have different times for arriving and leaving and the timetable looks a bit like this:

8:30 Bonnie starts school
8:35 Sophie starts school
8:50 Odette starts school
11:45 Odette comes home for lunch
11:45 Bonnie comes home for lunch
11:50 Sophie comes home for lunch
13:05 Odette returns to school
13:45 Bonnie returns to school
13:50 Sophie returns to school
16:10 Odette finishes school
16:30 Bonnie finishes school
16:35 Sophie finishes school

But now Odette can go to school in the morning and come home again in the afternoon on the bus, so we only have to drive to her school at lunch times. BUT it means we have to remember the bus times which are 8:40 and 16:17. Bonnie will be able to take the bus when she has approval, and that will make it easier too. But Odette's lunch break is fairly short, and doesn't give much time to get home, have lunch and return to school. So she will eat at the school "cantine" as soon as we can arrange it. Then to be fair we will probably have the other girls eat at the cantine too, at least a couple of days each week.

On Wednesdays there is no school, but on Saturdays there is school in the morning. But the Saturday mornings have different times from the weekday mornings so we have to remember another set of times:

8:30 Bonnie starts school
8:35 Sophie starts school
9:00 Odette starts school
11:30 Bonnie finishes school
11:35 Sophie finishes school
12:00 Odette finishes school

Odette at L'Ecole Maternelle at La Flachere on Saturday morning

Monday, 17 March 2008


Click on the photo to see more photos from our first day in the snow.

I am 42 years old and it is the first time I have been in the snow! For the children too it was their first time. We drove up the mountain on Sunday and found a ski field, at Pipay (les Sept Laux). After driving up into the mountains on winding roads I usually feel a little nauseous, so it is hard to enjoy the spectacular scenery.
We hired a luge (toboggan) as we couldn't find one at the house. Didn't think of looking under the swimming pool deck, which is Where Stef later told us we would find theirs!
We took a picnic and ate it in the lunch room provided. The children really wanted to go up on the chairlift, but as we can't ski there didn't really seem to be any point.
The little plastic toboggan that we hired was plenty of fun for our first time in the snow. There was a little fenced-off section reserved for "la luge", so we played there for a while, and the kids experimented with making snow balls. Snow started to fall gently to add to the beautiful setting. As the snow grew heavier it was time to come back to the house as we had arranged to have afternoon tea at the neighbour's house. We have met Francoise before, but not her husband Thierry.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Where is the corkscrew?

Le tire-bouchon?

Where would Stef hide the corkscrew?? Roger couldn't find one, but downstairs he found this hook thing with a good screw thread on it.
It makes a good corkscrew!!

Was the wine too strong??

Hugh didn't quite make it through dinner!!
Roger is blaming the French wine...

Thursday, 13 March 2008

3 girls, 3 schools

Today Sophie had her first day at school. She was very keen to go, and said she had a good day; tonight she said she was very happy. Her school is just below the house, so when the kids are playing outside we can see her from our balcony. She came home for lunch - 2 hours from 11.50am until 1.50pm. The children in her class were excited that she was there - they have been waiting for her arrival. When I walked her down and we met the teacher there was a row of girls standing quite near, all of them looking and seemingly fascinated by Sophie speaking in English to me. She held my hand quite tightly and I had to remind her to smile, so I guess she was a little nervous. They soon asked if she wanted to play, and that was it. There are 17 girls in her class, which is a nice change from the mainly male dominated class at home. But Sophie assures me that even though there are not a lot of boys they are far more annoying than the boys at home!

After picking Sophie up when school finished at 4:35 we drove up the road to find Bonnie's school at La Buissière. Her teacher, Guillaume, had already unlocked his car to leave, but he was good enough to come back and meet us, and show Bonnie her classroom. I had thought she would go to school tomorrow, but he said she should come on Monday, which Bonnie is very happy about.

We drove from La Buissière to La Flachère to find Odette's school. The road winding up the mountain was narrow, and I began to feel nauseous (Roger was driving - I'm not game to get behind the wheel yet). We discovered this is not the best way to get to La Flachère. Next time we'll remember to take an easier road. La Flachère is nestled right at the foot of a steep mountain face and the scenery is spectacular. Odette is happy that her school may not be close to home, but it has the best views! We were too late to meet the teacher, but arranged to go back again tomorrow at 10:30.

We continued driving and went to the Super U supermarket to get a few groceries. The children bought slippers because they have to take their shoes off and wear slippers in the classroom.

Arriving in France

We are here!!
In France at last.
The photo shows us before we checked in at Perth International Airport on Monday 10 March.

Arriving at Lyon on Tuesday morning Stef's parents were there to meet us. They had two cars and managed to fit all of us and all our luggage in for the drive to our place at Sainte Marie d'Alloix.
Sitting in the "wrong" side of the car and driving on the "wrong" side of the road was a little unsettling at first. Stopping often to pay tolls on the roads was something we will become accustomed to here.
I had butterflies in my stomach as we arrived at our new home. But I need not have worried. The house is lovely, with a great feel about it. The views are spectacular. Today we can see the snow-capped mountains behind the mountains that define our valley.

Friday, 7 March 2008

French Family Arrives

On Wednesday we hired a mini bus (12 seater) and we all drove to the Perth International Airport to meet the Marcoux family. For about 40 minutes Sophie and Bonnie stood near the customs exit where the disembarking passengers trickled out. For about 40 minutes Roger and I entertained Hugh, trying to keep him distracted and away from the escalators that went up and down and were such fun to ride on.
We were very excited when we saw Stef and Marie and their children appear. Somehow they didn't look as excited. They looked drained, and maybe a little relieved after their long flight. After only 40 minutes in the airport I was relieved to see them too! I don't know how I'll go on the long trip next week, although Roger says Hugh will be OK on the aeroplane because at least he can't get out!

Roger and the children went back to Dalyellup to settle the French people into their new home, while I stayed in Perth with my sister Jen. I had my follow-up appointment with the breast surgeon on Thursday. All along I had thought that there was nothing to worry about, that the chances of developing cancer were very small and that I would be fine - which in fact was the case. After telling myself I wasn't worried, the good result was still a huge relief. It made me realise that I had entertained the fact that maybe I wouldn't be going to France just yet. Feeling extremely healthy, Jen and I decided to celebrate!! A few glasses of champagne later, and peak hour traffic hampering our progress, she delivered me to the railway station and I travelled back to my family.

Now I have to finalise the packing!!Both families together in Bunbury

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Still Here...

This post is to say nothing.
Except that we are still at home.
Still not packed.
Still waiting to go to France...