Dubrovnik – a beauty spot

Kia ora from Dubrovnik

Kia ora from Dubrovnik

The sun shone, the water was warm, crystal clear and bluer than the sky.  The Adriatic Sea did not disappoint.  We’ve spent the last two weeks in the Dalmatia region of Croatia that borders the Adriatic, staying firstly at the southern end in Dubrovnik then in Korcula town on the island of Korcula.

The main reason for the trip was purely for a summer beach holiday and Croatia’s Adriatic coastline could not have been better.  We swam every day at some beach or another; there are squillions to choose from, and all picturesque.  Most of the swimming spots are rocky, stony coves and inlets rather than sandy beaches.  At favoured spots people sit perched on rocky outcrops, drape themselves over the few weathered slabs of rock or nestle into worn hollows to soak up the suns rays, altogether looking a bit like a seal colony.  Other places are remote enough that you can have a small swimming spot to yourself.

In Dubrovnik Old Town we stayed in a lovely cool apartment tucked into a quiet corner inside the city walls near the Maritime Museum.  Our regular swimming spots only two minutes walk away included the area on the sea wall by St John’s Fort, and a spot through the hole in the wall at the end of Pobijana Street where Buza café occupies the most spectacular terraced site with views over to Lokrum island and out to the deep blue yonder.  Its also where daredevils jump off the rocks into the sea below.  (We didn’t).  A couple of times we packed a simple picnic lunch and took the ferry boat to Lokrum to enjoy the less populated spots there.

Besides all the swimming, Dubrovnik is a beautiful and historic city.  It has “atmosphere” in abundance.  In between close together stone buildings narrow streets are paved with smooth worn flag-stones that gleam in the sunshine as if polished.  In the baking heat tourists amble past sleeping street cats while swallows dart about, swooping up and around the terracotta roofs and the bell towers.  The old town is completely encircled by thick stone walls built progressively from the start of the middle ages to fortify the city; in the later stages (14th century) forts were built into the walls for extra protection.  Taking the 1.9km walk all the way round the city wall was definitely a highlight.  In the morning sunshine the views into the old city from the high perspective of the walls are magnificent and meant we avoided the crowds and the intense heat as the afternoons regularly climbed past 30 degrees.  That was swimming time!

We took the cable car up Mt Srd above the city to see the Fort Imperial built during the time of Dubrovnik’s occupation by our “old acquaintance” Napolean Bonaparte (he got around a bit).  Inside is an interesting exhibition of the history of Croatia’s Homeland War 1991-95; the time of the break up of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.  It was sobering that I remembered watching TV news bulletins of the conflict, that people we met had lived in Dubrovnik through that time.  Twenty years on, Dubrovnik is attractive, it buzzes with tourists especially in the evening when the restaurants come alive in the squares of the old town and down every street no matter how narrow.

It was hard to leave, but we had a ferry to catch and more beaches to explore.  Next stop Korcula………next post.

 

More photos here.

At the beach in Paris

Paris Plage along Voie Georges Pompidou

Paris Plage along Voie Georges Pompidou

Paris has loads of beautiful things to see; art-works, architecture, gardens and parks, monuments, views and perspectives that will stop you in your tracks.  But, it doesn’t have a beach.  It’s not even within cooee of a beach.  Except from the 19th of July to the 17th of August the beach is brought to Paris.  Five thousand tons of sand is transported by barge from the canton Gaillon-la-Campagne in Haut-Normandie and deposited in three locations in the city to create beaches for Parisians; the Paris Plages.  This is the thirteenth year that the Paris city administrators have set up the beach city to bring a bit of vacation vibe right into town.

A stroll along the beach

Strolling along the beach

Alongside the right bank of the Seine on the Voie Georges Pompidou from the Pont Neuf to the Pont d’ Arcole there is a one kilometre stretch of golden sand beach complete with deck chairs, water sprays, ice-cream stands, tai-chi lessons, chair massage practitioners, petanque pitches, cafes, dancing lessons, a sand-castle building competition and more.  There are beach attendants in bright life-saver like uniforms and the Red Cross are there too in case of over exertion, over exposure (to the sun) or any other summer ailment.

One of the attractions at this city centre beach is the model of the Eiffel Tower made out of 324 red café chairs.  Why would anyone do this?…..Well to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the 324 metre high Eiffel Tower (built for the 1889 Paris Expo) and the typical folding café chair (aka bistro chair) built by French outdoor furniture manufacturer Fermob.  I was impressed; a very clever idea, and just how those 324 chairs are arranged is nigh on impossible to discern.

The big square at the Hotel de Ville (the Town Hall) is also covered in sand and is the location for weekends of beach volley-ball, rugby, beach tennis, and the FNAC music festival.

Out in the 19th arrondissement at the Bassin de la Villette (further upstream from the Canal St Martin I wrote about here) there is another beach installation.  At this beach there is a flying fox over the water, various water rides, boats and cruises as well as the deck chairs and beach games, ice-creams and cafes.

I’ve been spoiled living in Wellington with a walk along the beach front as my daily route to and from work and I really really miss the beach.  So a pilgrimage to check out the Paris Plages easily lured me one hot sunny day.  Crowds of people, (though not overwhelming), sunbathing, having fun and generally a thoroughly jolly atmosphere made for a pleasant stroll and if there had been any unoccupied deck chairs I might have stayed a while longer.  Sadly, I still couldn’t dip my toes in the water; even Paris can’t beat Wellington on a good day.  ( I cant resist showing you….)

 

Oriental Bay Beach, Wellington NZ.

Oriental Bay Beach, Wellington NZ.

Very soon I shall be dipping my toes, and hopefully the rest of me, in the Adriatic Sea.

 

Celebrating the National Day

Leading the parade along the Champs Elysees.

Leading the parade along the Champs Elysees.

Outside of France it’s called Bastille Day.  Here it’s just called “le quatorze juillet” – the day that France celebrates its nationhood; the republique and its values of Liberty, Egality and Fraternity.  The chosen day, 14 July, recognises the date in history – in 1789 – when the infamous Bastille prison in Paris was stormed by the revolutionaries principally to obtain supplies of gunpowder and bullets for their fight.  As a prison the Bastille was commonly used to hold prisoners at the whim of the ruling monarchy and as such the sacking of the Bastille and release of prisoners symbolised the destruction of absolute power of the monarchy.

Elsewhere around the world the events that triggered national days are equally interesting if a little less colourful.  The Americans celebrate getting rid of the British, (signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4th 1776), the Australians celebrate the arrival of the British (on 26 January 1788, they needed to replace the 13 colonies they lost in America), and in New Zealand we celebrate a treaty with the British (Treaty of Waitangi signed 6 Feb 1840).  The British themselves don’t have a national day as such, although they have plenty of other great pomp and ceremony days.

In the spirit of the original event in France (arms acquisition), the main event these days is a grand military parade along the Champs Elysees.  Having decided we ought to see the parade live at least once, (even though you probably get a better view watching at home on the tele) we arrived early and after passing through the security barricades took up a spot not far from Mc Donalds.  It was a glorious sight; the avenue that is, not the golden arches.  The majestic tree-lined perspective from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde bedecked with patriotic red white and blue tricolors, huge tanks, trucks, missile launchers, and I-don’t-know-whats lining one side of the road sporting full camouflage paint (a very fashionable palette in clothing right now) and military personnel in a great variety of dress uniforms from camouflage with coloured cravats and colourful epaulets to sweeping red and cream cloaks, some with red trousers and feathered hats, others with white knicker bockers and large floppy white hats, and many more.

en route to the parade

en route to the parade

Dress uniform

Two hours standing waiting was enough to get to know our neighbours; mostly non-Parisian, but visiting French folk, foreign tourists and expats like ourselves.  While we waited the army personnel put the final spit and polish on the military hardware.  It was already so impeccably clean I wondered if it had ever been used.  Anticipation built as the soldiers manned (and womanned) their stations for a final pre-start inspection of the troops and the hardware.  Ten o’clock start time, on time, hurrah.  Soon Monsieur le President drove past waving to the crowd, justifiably proud and probably pleased for a morning of popularity.  He was followed by immaculately groomed horses and riders; each rider’s headdress comprised a long ponytail, red for the ones playing musical instruments and black for the rest.  Next up, the spectacular fly over by jets streaming out lines of red white and blue behind them, followed by more jets and helicopters beating the air.

And then, more waiting, waiting, waiting.  At that point we realised a tactical error in the selection of our viewing point.  We were above the side street where the marching troops entered the avenue, so while our crowd waited getting more fidgety and impatient for action, the splendid parade including representatives of all the nations that took part in the first World War, filed down the avenue out of our sight!  Damn.

Of course we weren’t the only ones waiting……the military folk manning the heavy equipment had to bide their time too and naturally even well trained military bladders have to respond to the command of biology.  For their relief there were bright blue, completely non-camouflaged port-o-loos stationed at intervals along the avenue.  Desperate for some relief to the boredom the crowd cheered and applauded any soldier who availed himself of the facilities.  Eventually the big guns got moving; tanks rumbled and squeaked their way along the avenue, trucks carrying impressive looking missile launchers filed past and soon it was all over.  By the time we had navigated through the departing crowds into the side streets we met up with the big guns returning from Place de la Concorde and parking in the street parallel with the Champs Elysees.  People were taking photographs with the soldiers, some even hoisting kids up onto the tanks for a photo.  How cool!

 

At night we watched the firework display on the Eiffel Tower – the live televised coverage this time from the comfort of our armchairs.  Friends tell me that Parisians are more likely to celebrate 14 July by dancing at the traditional Firemen’s Balls held in each arrondissement in Paris and in many towns and villages around the country.  Apparently fire stations, public squares and the street frontages of mayoral offices are given over to an evening of music, dancing and festivity.  Sounds good, so maybe next year we’ll investigate that – and report back of course.  Vive la republique!

 

Summer season of friends.

Visiting favourite haunts

Visiting favourite haunts

It’s summer at last; a long spell of hot days with glorious sunshine in a piercing blue sky followed by long balmy evenings, and daily routines – especially blogging ones – thrown completely out of order.  I love it for all sorts of reasons; tennis (watching), gardens, Tour de France (watching), national holidays, World Cup football (watching), beaches and best of all, friends.  We’ve had a number of friends visit Paris in the last month, although I have to say it wasn’t always hot and sunny when the first visitors were here, but the last couple of weeks have been sublime.  Out on excursions I’ve found places I haven’t seen before even though I’ve walked the particular route many times before.  That is the beauty of leisure time, a casual pace and time to explore off the beaten path in the company of lovely people.  I really appreciate that our friends take time to get in touch and catch up with us when they are here.  It’s very special so thank you Di, Anne, Liz, Mike and Ingrid.

 

We’ve had a short excursion to England to visit long-time friends from New Zealand who live most of the year in Cheltenham, and some of the year in Auckland.  We spent a couple of wonderful days with them exploring the Cotswolds countryside and the beautiful regency town of Cheltenham.  Angie and David kindly took us to visit Hidcote Manor Garden, a place I have wanted to see ever since my “passionate gardening phase.”  I feel inspired all over again.  Gazing out across the rural vistas from the edge of the garden I could see exactly the sort of scene I had imagined years ago reading Thomas Hardy’s novels at school, even knowing I was in the wrong county.  We were perfectly far from the madding crowd.

 

We finished off the three days in Cheltenham with a weekend in London to see our son Sam and his girlfriend Anna who are settling into the thrill of London life, and excited to be living the Big OE dream.  (We are still excited to be living our OPOE* dream!)  Sam and Anna indulged me by posing for a photo shoot in their winter hand-knitted jersies despite London putting on the hottest temperatures for the summer so far.

 

Ready for winter

Ready for winter.  Anna’s jersey is from Debbie Bliss Fall/Winter 2011 magazine.  Sam’s jersey my own modification of two patterns.

The out-of-routine routine continues for a couple of weeks and then we will really be on holiday.  I won’t spoil the surprise yet and tell you exactly where we are headed, but you know I do like to be beside the sea.

OPOE – have you figured it out? Old Person’s Overseas Experience

War stories

Joe Sacco mural at Montparnasse-Bienvenue Metro station

Joe Sacco mural at Montparnasse-Bienvenue Metro station

There is a moving history lesson on display for commuters rolling along the travelator in the Montparnasse-Bienvenue Metro station at the moment – until 31 August.  The folding “comic strip” artwork created by Joe Sacco depicting the story of the first day of the Battle of the Somme, July 1st 1916, has been blown up into a 132- metre long wall-sized poster story.

It’s impressive; it would be enough to stop you in your tracks if the moving carpet would allow.  I went back to the start, this time walking on the solid tiled floor to take my time looking and reading.  In the poster version the scenes are captioned in French below the pictures, with German and English translations above.  The drawings are so cleverly detailed; it’s the minutiae of each scene that brings out the tragic horror of the battle; thousands of soldier figures waiting, sleeping standing up, walking, marching, falling, wounded, dead.  Stark facts reinforce the enormity; thirty thousand troops lost in the first hour of the battle, knocked down like skittles.  Handsome, young human skittles.

Catastrophic losses sustained in the first hour of battle

Catastrophic losses sustained in the first hour of battle

Well worth a visit, or detour through Montparnasse metro station to see the mural.

Speaking of falling like skittles; the Tour de France has been rolling through the countryside in which the World War One battles took place.  You might have seen television coverage of the fields and fields of white crosses, or of fields of blue flowers, the blue cornflowers, called Bleuet de France.  The cornflowers grew in the battle riddled fields as did the red poppies, and like New Zealand and Australia (and other Commonwealth countries) have adopted the poppy as the symbol of remembrance for those who served their country in war, the Bleuet is the symbol adopted by France.  The French soldiers were also called the Bleuets because of the pale blue colour of their (new) uniforms.  Germany adopted the Forget-me-not flower (Vergissmeinnicht) as its symbol of remembrance.

 

Knitting military uniforms

Uniform for British soldier

Uniform for British soldier

Barbara and I have been knitting military uniforms.  Small ones; very small in fact.  We are just two of the team knitting doll-sized beige 4-pocket jackets, trousers and brimmed hats for the British Team (L’équipe Britannique).  All together there is an army of knitters making uniforms for tiny woollen soldiers of all the countries involved in World War One.  The project, commissioned  as part of the  World War One commemoration programme, is called WoolWarOne and is under the command of talented knitting artist, Anna who created the blog Délit Maille.

Délit Maille is more or less pronounced Daily Mail and is a play on those words:

délit means an offence

maille is the word for a knitting stitch

Délit Maille chronicles the daily news with knitted caricatures of personalities in the news.  Anna’s first creations for Délit Maille were knitted versions of Dominique Strauss-Kahn and a hotel maid.  She followed up with a woolly Berlusconi doll complete with party girls, then a small sized Sarkozy doll.  Just before kick-off at the World Cup she posted pictures of Didier Deschamps and Franck Ribéry dolls.  You get the idea?

Quirky, bordering on kitsch even, these knitted characters are rather clever.  The Musée d’Art et d’Industrie André Diligent called La Piscine de Roubaix, near Lille, asked Anna to create an army of knitted dolls as part of the commemorations of World War One.  The exposition WoolWarOne will be on show at La Piscine de Roubaix from December 2014 to April 2015.

Meanwhile Anna is organising knitters worldwide to produce tiny knitted backpacks, helmets, belts, braces, jackets and all the uniform details to dress, as authentically as possible, the miniature battalions of French, Belgian, German and Russian, American, Scottish, British and Commonwealth soldiers.  Still coming are Greek, Turkish and Indian soldier dolls.  As well as despatches on her blog, there are Facebook and Ravelry groups for communication and at intervals she holds workshops where a troop of knitters get together to knit, sew and dress the dolls ready for their places in the exhibition scene.  It’s quite fun, there is a lot of camaraderie and the project has created sufficient media interest for France TV3 to air a story on their national news bulletin.

Back in the trenches in Montreuil, Barbara and I commandeered one of our regular Tuesday afternoon get togethers for an ANZAC knitting blitz, complete with ANZAC biscuits as per the NZ Edmonds cookbook recipe.  These were truly Allied ANZACs since I used French butter, French brand flour and sugar and Marks & Spencer’s English brand rolled oats, coconut and Golden Syrup.

We are planning an expedition to Roubaix in a few months to see the exhibition.  We’re keen to see the final designs included on the British Team soldiers to designate the ANZACs.  A full de-brief of our mission will be reported of course.

Revisiting Clichy Batignolles Martin Luther King park

A year ago I posted a story about Martin Luther King park and the residential building projects going on around the park.  At that time a green living wall was being attached to the side of one of the new buildings.  Well look at it now…..a lush, healthy vertical garden.

 

Vertical green garden

Vertical green garden

There is great progress on this park project.  It’s exciting to see each stage come to fruition and the works in progress advance visibly week by week.  We now have a beautiful wetland space with waterlillies, reeds and several other water plants.  The aquatic residents – and their offspring – have moved in and look very content.  This morning while I was exercising and the ducks were still sleeping there were workmen preparing the muddy edges for the next extension of planting.  Beyond this wetland area in the middle of the park, the north park is now open with a grand adventure playground, petanque pitches, various green spaces and the re-located basketball, football and tennis grounds.  The original spaces for these in the south park have been subsumed into the work on the extension of the Line 14 metro.  In total the park now provides 6.5 hectares of space, which will ultimately become 10 ha on completion of the project.

The Clichy-Batignolles area is one big urban development scheme comprising the park project, transport improvements (Metro, train and tramway), development of additional housing (3,400 households for an expected 6,500 inhabitants) complete with social services such as crèches, schools and aged-care, commercial services, car parking and recycling, plus the development and installation of the Cite Judiciaire (aka Palais de Justice de Paris comprising the High Court, magistrates courts and police ministry).

It’s ambitious, complex, costly and necessary.  Above all it’s enjoyed already.  It’s the little things that deliver so much.  In the grand scheme of this project the water spout space is probably a small thing.  But at 4 o’clock every afternoon when the water pumps rumble under the concrete slabs and the first jets of water spurt sky high the enjoyment value is measured in the squeals and laughter of the kids dancing in the water jets.  In the heat of summer in the concrete heart of a big city it’s magic.

 

The completion of the project is planned for 2017-18 with delivery of the Palais de Justice and the Metro line 14 extension.  It will be the culmination of years of planning (from 2001 onwards, which included plans for development of the site as the potential space for hosting the 2012 Olympic Games, but London won the bid), preparation with acquisition of the land (it was railway land) and creation of the Zone d’ Amenagement Concerte (ZACs) needed for public works programmes, and hours, days and years of hard work on site.

I cannot say enough good things about this park; as a nearby resident – albeit a temporary one – it adds considerably to the quality of my Parisian life.  I certainly want to come back and see the finished project.