Sunday, March 24, 2013

Arles, a Break within a Break

Where was I?

Did I mention that this March is the coldest in half a century in the UK? And that there has been a lot of snow and floods. People have died, public transportation has been cancelled, and general miserableness has blighted the land. So, we went to the South of France to see some sunshine. The day we arrived was very cold, with pouring rain and driving winds and we wondered whether we had made a mistake. But the next day dawned fair and the day after that was perfection. We had a great time. There was sunshine. And flowers. And blossom in the fruit trees.

 Arles is a 40 minute train ride from Marseilles airport. It's chiefly known today for its connection to Van Gogh. Even though he didn't spend that long in Arles, it is where he cut off his ear, poor guy, and painted some of his most famous paintings. We didn't 'do' the Van Gogh stuff. There were also groups of pilgrims there, as it's one of the starting places for the Chemin de St Jacques de Compostelle. We didn't 'do' the pilgrimage stuff. We were there for sunshine (the COG) and the Roman remains (me).

Arelate, as the Romans called it, was a fairly important city for them. There was a big port on the Rhone River, which runs through the town. And, more importantly, there is a large Amphitheatre, built right after the Colliseum in Rome, a lovely theatre, the remains of a necropolis, a lower level of the Roman forum, and part of a huge Roman bath complex. There are also some museums (which, alas, were mostly closed while we were there. And there was sunshine. Did I mention that? And flowers. And Blossom. And it was in the 60's mostly. We stayed in a lovely little hotel in a very old mansion equidistant from the Roman theatre and the Amphitheatre. It was a really splendid hotel, very quiet yet
very centrally located. The first picture is the entry door.

   The second picture is the entry hall.
  The third is the stair to our room.

 Finally , our room, , which must have had 18 or 20 foot ceilings with old wooden beams. It also had a lovely large modern bathroom. We had asked for a 'Superieur Deluxe' room because we were going to be there so long (and because it was off season rates, so why not).  We were not disappointed.  What you can't see is the way the light came in the very large windows.  It was beautiful light.


Saturday, March 16, 2013

Off to France

We were sitting at the breakfast table one morning last week, when The COG happened to notice an online ad for cheap flights to Marseilles. Next thing we knew we had booked them. So we are off to Arles tomorrow. Why Arles? We didn't want to go back to Marseilles and Arles was small enough, close enough and seemed like a good place to spend 4 or 5 days. the weather there is a bit warmer than here, though not a lot. But we hope to see some sunshine, at least. I'm not taking my computer, and I don't know if I'll be able to blog from The COGs ipad.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Walking the Seven Sisters, at last

Because of the weather, we haven't been able to do our usual walks. It was a relief yesterday to finally get out for a walk. We had a plan: The Plan: Get up early, eat breakfast, stay offline, catch an early bus to Cuckmere Haven, then walk east along the tops of the Seven Sisters, arriving at the end, the National Trust place in Birling Gap just in time for lunch overlooking the water. Then walk out to East Dean to catch the bus home. The Reality: Got up shortly before 10am, got online, shower, breakfast, realize the time and get down to the bus stop at 12:15. Moved to Plan B, which was take the bus directly to East Dean and lunch in the Tiger Inn, a favorite old pub. Then, walk to Birling Gap and go west along the tops of the Seven Sisters ending at Cuckmere Haven to catch the bus. It was actually kind of nice to have a hearty lunch before starting the walk. I had really underestimated the difficulty of the walk. Think about it - Seven Sisters means 7 very steep uphills and 7 very steep downhills. This isn't so bad in normal conditions but there was a lot of mud and some snow and nearly the whole way was slippery, which meant that every single step was more difficult than normal. It was a tough walk, but it was so fantastic to be out in nature, walking on the cliffs over the sea. I don't know what it is about walking like this, but it's so soothing to the soul, somehow. This first picture is looking back at the way we had come. That red speck in the middle, is a barn and it's about half way between East Dean and Birling Gap. You get some idea of the snow that remained in patches, particularly on the down side of the hills. There were two markers along the way. The first commemorated the gift of 'Michel Dene' to the National Trust by the landowner, a Mr. Robertson,to honor two brothers lost in WWI. The other was a 'Sarsen Stone' given by Viscount Gage of Firle and commemorating the gift that made another part of the South Downs Way public land in the 1920's. This is the 'Sarsen Stone' one. Viscount Gage of Firle is from the same Gage family as General Gage, who kinda lost the Revolutionary War. Just a small historical side comment, nothing to do with the walk. Also, kind of irrelevant is that a sarsen stone is some kind of glacial remnant. It's apparently something special, I don't know what exactly, but it's what Stonehenge is built from, partly. The next picture is looking back toward Birling Gap at one point we saw these falls of chalk. There have been a lot of warnings locally about the effects of this year's storms on the chalk cliffs. It's dangerous to go near the edge now and also the tides and especially storm tides are really dangerous to those walking the beaches below the cliffs. You can't see it well, but there's a little point of cliff that sticks out just below the falls and it had a deep crack in it, so it's going to fall soon. Another delightful moment on the walk was a circle of chalk we encountered. No explanation of who made it or why, but it was lovely to see, especially at a time when we had climbed what we thought was the last hill and discovered there was one even steeper and higher ahead. The chalk circle lifted our hearts at the right moment. This is looking back at the COG and the circle. The white in the photo is snow, not chalk, btw. All of these pictures can't capture the sound of the wind and the sea birds and the smell of the fresh air which together made the walk wonderful. Finally we reached Cuckmere Haven, with only 3/4 mile or so to walk out to the bus stop. We were very tired and sore because we are old and slow and the slippery slopes made it a difficult walk. When the COG checked his Fitbit pedometer, we had done 14,000+ steps and the equivalent of 84 staircases. A little disappointing because we did 17,000 steps (but fewer staircases) the day we spent in London and were much less tired then. But it was still a great day. Here's Cuckmere Haven, which has kind of an interesting history involving smugglers, Victorian engineering, World War II shenanigans, and modern Conservation - Ecology considerations.  But more about that another time.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

More Weather

Last Tuesday: This Tuesday: We had the coldest day in 27 years and a few inches of snow. There were two memorable events. First, I was alone in the flat and I heard a big engine revving and wheels spinning. It was a double decker bus struggling to get up the road in front of our house. It got to the top, slipped sideways and could go no further. It may have hit a parked car. It was towed away sometime later. Second, the COG was off taking photos in the snow. He had gotten quite far up the seafront and walked to the nearest bus stop (maybe 1.5 or 2 miles across town from home). After he had waited a long time, the electronic board that tells when the next buses are arriving went off. It came on a moment later saying that all buses had been cancelled, so he had to walk home in the cold, snow, and terrible walking/driving conditions. He survived, of course. All the snow is gone, now.

Lowering Skies - Weather

low-er-ing (rhymes with 'sour-ing') dark and threatening, as the sky, clouds, or weather, overcast; gloomy. I first learned this word while reading Return of the Native in 11th grade. I am now experiencing it in Britain. We had a couple of lovely days when we first arrived, then lowering skies, then 5 inches of snow and the coldest day in nearly 30 years and now we are experiencing classic British weather. It's cold and cloudy with a chance of sun or cold and cloudy with a chance of rain. Not complaining, just explaining. We've had no walks this time except around town. It's been pretty quiet here. In a nice way.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Gomez 1997 to 2013

Today we are grieving for Gomez, who died yesterday in the fullness of old age. He has been going downhill slowly for the past 6 months or so, but got much worse over the past couple of weeks. We, of course, are in Brighton so Son of had to deal with this. But there's a comfort in that, too, because Gomez always loved Son of more than anyone else. Gomez has been a part of the fabric of our family life for 16 years, since he was a tiny 8 week old kitten. He had a full sized space in our life. My day began with Gomez running up to greet me chirping and purring. Then we would have a bit of a cuddle and a chat, while I cleaned his dishes and fed him. We all sat elsewhere, so as not to disturb him, when he was taking up this chair or that sofa. We planted cat nip in a shady spot for him, we made room for him to lie in the shade of the planters on our deck. We grocery shopped where we could get the chicken livers he loved so much. Now we have a Gomez-shaped hole in our family. He had a good life and he died well-loved and that is as much as any of us can hope for. We will miss him.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Puzzling British Signs, a continuing series

Spotted on the undercliff walk en route to Rottingdean(yes, we are back in Brighton).

I have no idea what it meant.

Kind of Cool, Historically speaking

On Valentine's Day, we drove up to Portsmouth and had lunch and walked around town. While there, we spotted this tree:

And here's the plaque by the tree:

Pictures, as promised

Miss A. concentrating very hard on an interactive exhibit at the Science Museum.

Working a puzzle at the Science Museum.  Miss T. like wearing her beautifully bobbed hair in pigtails, like Miss. A.

Miss T. smelling a lily at Como Park. 

Miss T. and her Dad admiring a creepy crawly at Como Park. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Catching Up

Went to see family in Minnesota, where I presented the little girls with their diaper bags.  I had no ego attachment to the bags - they were hugely fun to make and that was enough even if the girls didn't play with them immediately.  I knew they'd enjoy them ultimately.

However, it turned out to be much more instantly satisfying than I expected. Miss T. clasped the bag to her chest and said 'Grandma, I've been wanting one of these all my life.'  A very sweet moment.  And Miss A. loved the little pack of 'diaper wipes' (actually small packets of makeup remover from Target).  She spent the duration of my visit cleaning various doll's bottoms.

I have some pictures that I'll put in my next blog.