Archive for May, 2008|Monthly archive page

Left brain engaged

Saturday, May 31st, 2008
Right Brain/ Left Brain Quiz
The higher of these two numbers below indicates which side of your brain has dominance in your life. Realising your right brain/left brain tendancy will help you interact with and to understand others.
Left Brain Dominance: 12(12)
Right Brain Dominance: 9(9)
Right Brain/ Left Brain Quiz

As Maggie points out, they don’t really tell you HOW this helps you to “interact with and understand others”.

In the famous “turning girl” test, no contest I was seeing her spin clockwise, and therefore was right-brain dominant. I think this just shows that I’m getting my logic on today…

Everything is for sale, but not between 12 and 2

Saturday, May 31st, 2008

France: Day Three in Narbonne

This day almost started early when Andrew buzzed me on my BB at 3:42am (um, we’re 6 hours ahead, darling). I thought it was the alarm. Managed to go back to sleep after swearing a bit.

The French milkmaid at Pont Vieux was in a tizzy because the toaster wasn’t working, and she got us a new one and then figured out that someone had turned off the powerbar and thus the toaster wasn’t getting any juice. She gestured to us how proud she was for figuring it out :)

We lugged the backpacks through hurricane winds to catch an early train to Narbonne. Mistaking the cool air for cold air, we also layered up our clothing, forgetting that with the exertion, we’d be sweaty puddles by the time we got to the station. There was some disrobing as soon as we got there.

At Narbonne, the hotel was kind enough to let us have a room right away even though we got there at 9:30am or something. La Residence is a former manor house – we’re talking 14-foot ceilings. Really neat sense of style as well. We dumped off our stuff (glad to be free of the extra weight to better battle the winds).

Narbonne is an old Roman town. Nice little downtown with the requisite square, and the best dog anywhere, whom you’ll meet shortly.

Cathedral on the way to the courtyardWe went to the cathedral first – it’s not completed, because when the wanted to expand, the municipal leaders at the time lost their collective shit over the idea that an old roman wall would be “interfered with”, and the building was never completed. What was done was quite impressive, and judging from the faded paint that is still around, the thing would have been done up like a French circus if they ever restored it to its original display. It has quite a few impressive painting too. Looks like lots of money has been a part of its former life.

Across from the cathedral is a courtyard and the bishop’s palace. There are now two museums there, and some municipal offices. We did the archaeological museum and the art museum before lunch. Some interesting pieces in the archaeological museum, most of them Roman. The art museum was mostly not great, but there were one or two pieces that were worth the price including a Jan Van Meer. Oh, and some gorgeous Roman mosaics that I tried to walk on before a busty French security-woman shushed me away. The strangest (or worst) part was the state of repair in the art museum. There were cracked windows, peeling wallpaper and one room had a colony of mold making it’s way down the wall. In a room with books. That are presumably susceptible to moisture. wtf? Oh, and the books? Medieval leather-bound and gorgeous. Some of the china was pretty great too – I wouldn’t mind taking one of those babies to the Antiques Roadshow.

We had lunch on the square and a pizza place. Sounds strange maybe, but the French? They love their pizza. Oh, and wine, of course–a Narbonnaise this time, which was not as good as the Minervois. At the cafe, there was a little Jack Russel who became known as “Pizza Dog”. Pizza Dog would wonder to the limits of his kingdom (i.e. the end of the tables in the square), look around, and then saunter off to the next alley for a sniff and wander. Then his owner would call him back and make him sit, or set him in a big potted plant like an erstwhile garden gnome. But as soon as his back was turned, Pizza Dog would look left, then right, then take off again. Awesome.

Via DomitiaAlso awesome was the centre of the square – where they have opened up an area so that you can see the original Roman road that still runs under the city. Called Via Domitia, this road went from Barcelona all the way to Italy – we’d run into it again in Nimes.

Lunch is a two-hour affair in these parts. Everything except the cafes closes between 12 and 2, so there’s nothing to do but enjoy your lunch. I’m trying to picture how that might work in North America, but I can’t see it happening. I mean, this is a nation where we insist that our pharmacies are open 24/7.

After lunch, we did the “Tower” which was part of the palace. Not much to look at inside. Reminded me of Boldt Castle if you’ve ever been there. This thing was built in several stages as the “Donjon” and apparently they did keep prisoners there during the French Revolution. Melle went up to the top top and took some cool pictures.

From there, we did a quick tour of the House of the Blue Penitents (there’s lots of penitents in France – there were Red ones and Black ones and more Blue ones in other towns). Poor thing was stripped ugly inside though. All of the architectural features were gone. They use it now for contemporary art shows and the current one is collage work, which was very nice, but still.

HorreumNext up was the Horreum – a beautifully preserved Roman undergound storage facility. They aren’t positive what it was used for, but things like grains and vessels and such seems most likely. We were astute enough to notice the different brick patterns in the walls. Of course, our speculation is the higgledy-piggledy pattern was Tony. Tony was more interested getting to his beer than worrying about walls. Then the “subway tile” look was Joe. Joe was reasonably sober at work, put in his time. Did a good job. But the diamond pattern? That was Nico. Nico was the show-off wallbuilder and everyone hated when Nico was on the job. Of course, I saw on Discovery just this week that the Romans used the diamond pattern as a way of dispersing weight underground, particularly in areas prone to earthquakes, so maybe Nico came from Naples or something. Anyway, the Horreum is set up now with moodly displays of Roman pottery and carvings – Mithras anyone?

After a nap back at the hotel, we were ready for dinner. On recommendation from the hotel clerk, we went around the corner to a place called Milo Melo–a Brasserie. We had the audacity to show up there just before 7pm, when everyone knows that civilized people don’t eat until 7:30 at the earliest, so the place was closed.

There was another couple looking in the window, and surprise not, they were from Canada (Quebec). She was Quebecois but he was English-French. He insisted that they were understood perfectly despite the accent, but then the waiter didn’t understand what he was saying :) Anyway, excellent French waiter let us into the restaurant early and we turned down the invite to share a table with the Quebec couple.

The decor was quirky and cool, and everything in the place was for sale. Melle ordered the steak, and the only size it came in was the size of Melle’s head. We’re talking a full plate of meat about 2 inches thick. I had lambchops. Two things: they don’t think much of vegetables (a few well-boiled carrots) and they have a lot more fat in their meat than we do. I’m sure it adds flavour but you really have to hack up your dinner to get rid of it. It was accompanied by another great Minervois wine, and by the time the ice cream arrived, we were numbly content and full and ready for bed.

Milo Melo

I took it like a woman!

Friday, May 30th, 2008

I had a cavity filled today. I hate dentistry. The sounds, the smells, the needles.

Anyway, I got the young dude and he thought it might be a good idea to try filling my cavity WITHOUT FREEZING. Reasoning that the whole needle thing probably contributes to my penchant to bite or punch someone approaching my mouth with an instrument of torture.

The signal was that I should raise my hand if I experienced any “sensitivity”, and then he had the cheekiness to warn me not to “anticipate discomfort”.

Well, 15 minutes later I was drilled and filled. And I didn’t bite once. I feel so empowered.

Screw Limoux!

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

France: Day Two in Alet-les-Bains

As mentioned (I think), we booked a train (or so we thought) to Limoux. Sitting in the train station, Melle noticed a little bus icon beside the destination name, so we went off to the info booth and established that we were actually taking a bus from the little courtyard beside the train station. Fair enough.

Cathar countryIt was neat to drive out in the gentle hills beside the Pyrennes. They’re really not “mountain” – reminded me of the Laurentians – old and rounded by time and weather. Anyway, coming into Limoux, it was very obvious that Limoux was mostly a big strip mall. Not so conducive to seeing small-town France. So, with some quick thinking and fast-talking we bought another ticket on a bus that was just leaving to a little town called Alet-les-Bains. The guide book mentioned a ruined abbey and hot springs, so we were game.

Alet-les-Bain AbbeyGood to know if you decide to visit yourself: this town of 500 is closed on Mondays :) We found the Info Office right by the basilica. Homme running looked just like Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons. Anyway, after establishing that we were from Canada (not Ireland or the Netherlands, which were his first two guesses). Info Office Guy told us that he was heading into Carcassonne for the afternoon and would be closing up in 15 minutes, and the abbey was locked up. So, HE GAVE ME THE KEYS. TO A CHURCH. Melle photographed the event to show that I did not, in fact, burst into flames upon gaining entry. It was so worth it. We took a passel of pictures and had the keys back to him in about 20 minutes.

Since everything was closed, we wandered around the town. It has perfectly preserved Medieval houses at it’s main square – wonderful to see. Medieval houses in Alet-les-BainsOne of them claims that Nostradamus spent some time there. There were remnants of the city walls in some places. We did find the hot springs, but they are enclosed in a rather modern building so we couldn’t get in. Nature called and we had to use a public WC – the squat kind. Not for the feint of step.

Anyway, there was a hill in behind the town with the remains of a wall or something, so we found a back path and climbed up. Ran into two couples from the UK there, along with their dog Barney. From our perch, we enjoyed a lunch of granola bars and half an orange (thank goodness for emergency supplies). The view more than made up for it.

We got back to the little bus shelter on the side of the highway for a pick-up and were greeted by an interesting character with no teeth, a bulbous nose, gin blossoms and a graying ponytail. Just as we entered, it rained the one and only time the whole week. And he did not like it. With some harsh French and hand gestured, we were given to understand that “rain sucks”. He did say that he knows three English words which were able to puzzle out: “chais” (cheese), “small” (smell) and “shows” (shoes). He also likes to camp or lives in the campground outside of town; we weren’t clear on that one.

We had the same bus driver on the way back and he gave us a knowing smirk as we boarded due to our new-found friend.

Back “home” in Carcassonne, we had a great nap, then headed back up the Cite for our last night and dinner in the square. Our waiter did a good impression of an English footballer but he knew his wine. I thought we’d try a more local vin de pays but he gave that incredibly French sneer at that, so I said “Minervois” just as he was saying the same thing :) We weren’t disappointed. Tonight’s dinner buddies were also from Texas – well he was. She was from Bourdeaux originally.

People watching was fun as always – and there were a few guys out with some hawks (for a bird show) that were pretty spectacular. As well as a man in a pepto pink tux.

Wine and the Cite

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

France: First Night and Day One in Carcassonne

Plane trip was fine and we arrived in Carcassonne via train from Toulouse just before noon. At the layover in Dusseldorf it was about 2am Canada time and we were a little punchy so we amused ourselves with people-watching. Melle spotted a table full of her Dad’s clones and one was enjoying a paper spread with a scantily clad woman.

Carcassonne is a wonderful little city. Very walkable. Our hotel, Hotel Pont Vieux, booked on the Interwebs, was across the Pont Vieux in the old city just outside of the Cite walls (the actual walled city). There was a terrace on the third floor with a view of the walls of the Cite and I was hard pressed to want to leave.

We decided the best course of action was to stay up until bedtime and get our clocks adjusted, so we beelined to the Cite for a bit. Feeling cocky, we even scaled the side of a hill on the way up. The flocks of old people in the caravan park were suitably impressed.

Went into town to a square where there was supposed to be a wine festival going on but there really wasn’t. So, we had some food and drank some wine open air (where we did most of our eating – we need more patio dining here). Two gentlemen at the next table heard us speaking English so we got to talking. Turns out they were .com first gens. We traded bon mots on corporate types and parried on the vagaries of software sales. They thought we were firecrackers, and we did our part to extend the Canadian reputation for smarts (and smartasses). They were wandering around buying Old Masters art, so they did okay out of the .com boom.

The wine we had was a Minervois, and I’m making a big recommendation – love them. We ended up having quite a few of them during the week. In fact, I’m now going through withdrawal since my wine consumption is no longer about a bottle a day.

Cite at nightAnyway, we got back to the hotel and went back up to the terrace and hung out there for a bit before heading to bed. The view at night is just unbelievable. Just like the postcards promise. Considering we’d been up for about 36 hours by then, we did well to go to bed.

This hotel offered the breakfast of French champions: eggs, meat, cheese, croissants, chocolate cereal and they even had decaf! The girl who ran things in the mornings was a very hyper curly-haired kind of maid. She was very flustered that we fed ourselves without first getting a tour of the breakfast room, which, apparently, was a necessary part of her duties for each and every guest.

Back to the Cite for a tour and it was great to be there early in the morning on a Sunday. We had the place to ourselves for the most part and got some great pictures sans peoples. Line-ups did start for the Ramparts tour. Some Taiwanese ladies from a tour were in front of us. They chattered away to each other quite a bit, but when they wanted to complain about the wait, they switched to English :) It was quite amusing to watch them talk to the ticket girl who spoke in French, and Lady 1 answered her in English and then translated the whole lot to her friend.

We took the French tour since the English one wasn’t until the afternoon. The guide knew his history and there was an older man there that must have been a retired history teacher or something, cuz he was asking all of the great historical/archeological/conspiracy theorist questions that I would have asked if I could speak French fast enough. I had no problem understanding what they were saying though – I’m sure it helped that I knew quite a bit of the history already.

And we got to walk Des Ramparts!!! (that is the way that it must be said, at all times). Pretty awesome about the towers we went through too – first one was of military importance, built for Trenceval, yadda yadda. By the time you get to the last one, he tells it was built by a Duke for a fun place to hang out and look over the city. There’s an ampitheater too – they still use it for opera and such.

Des ramparts

For lunch, we had the very traditional Cassoulet. Basically, you take some meat. Specifically duck parts, sausage and about 3 pounds of fat. Bake it with some beans. Throw in some toast. Awesome stuff and you can see how it would have been good “stick to your ribs” fare in the day. My Dad would love this stuff. The fat though? Just gross. Most sane people just put it off to the side but I saw one French guy across from us scoop it up in a big forkful and wolf it down. I swear I spit up a bit in my mouth. We had a bottle of wine with lunch (another Minervois) and the bestest homemade vanilla ice cream I’ve ever had. You can tell I was on the vacation diet.

Then we wondered over to the other side of the Cite to the Museum of Torture, which was not worth the price of admission. Kinda soft S&M and misogyny thrown in with torture machine reproductions and models of castles. There werw a few that stayed with me though – the Pear comes to mind.

After another walk around town we walked out of the walls over to the cemetary to see what’s what. I like visiting cemetaries – I think they tell you a lot about a culture. What we saw is that Languedocians all have family crypts and they’re big on not pissing off the dead. Every one had memorial plaques, ceramic and real flowers, gratitude plaques, gifts… and if you’re interested, they still have some space.

River AudeWent for a short stroll on the Aude (the river that runs through the city). Story there is that Aude was the beautiful daughter of the local count. She was murdered (hacked to death according to the Torture Museum) and then they named the river. We did find the cathedral in town as well, but it was closed. The big front doors were being used as a goal by some boys playing football.

Then we went to the train station to see if a daytrip to Rennes-le-Chateau would be possible for the next day, cuz, being that close to crazy mecca? However, it was a logistical nightmare and we’d get all of half an hour once we got there, so I had to give up my dream. Next time, I swear. Instead, we decided to go to Limoux but that turned out differently (as I’ll tell you about on Day 2).

We went back up the Cite for dinner in the square. Salad with turkey gizzards were offered, but I went with goat cheese salad and pizza instead. Yes, pizza. They loves them some thincrust pizza in Languedoc, and they do it very well. Mine was reasonable, but Melle had this “4 cheese” one that shimmered like a lake of fat in the soft amber lights. Wine this night was a Corbieres, I think. Another vin de pays. Not as good as the Minervois.

One thing we noticed: guy fashions include headbands, manscarves and man purses. Sometimes all 3 at once. And believe it or not, there were a few that could pull it off.

We got back to the hotel and a youngish Aussie couple had put the security code in the door to get in but couldn’t get it to lock again. We tried every which way to get it locked again but had to rely on the goodwill of the public in the end to not come in and rob the place blind. No frantic French in the morning, so we assumed it was fine.

Nothing walk-up to the terrace for a look, and then off to bed.

A life in photos

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

Here’s the backstory: Man takes a polaroid every day for 18 years.

And here are the photos:

I’m baaack

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

I will be posting the adventures of Melle and Sherry. Short version: walking, cobbles, ramparts, duck parts, wine, wine, wine, stairs go up, doors!, stained glass windows, temple, train, bus, train, rues, cafe, dogs, canals and awesome weather.

Talk soon

Thursday, May 15th, 2008

Off to France on the morrow. Have a great week and don’t tell me what happens on Bones or House or Battlestar Galatica…

Travels (get out of my head)

Thursday, May 15th, 2008

With the impending trip to France tomorrow, I could tell you about the significance of the trip, since this is the 3rd year we’ve tried to go and life kept getting in the way of our plans in earlier years. I could tell you about my thoughts regarding the fact that people insist that I be EXCITED, but I’ve already ranted about that one and then Melle wrote pretty much what I would say on both topics here.

And then there’s the whole going off the grid thing and the fact that each of my parents called tonight to check – bags packed? yes. house cleaned? yes. are you EXCITED?? grrr. But Melle wrote about that here. (Though, I’ll still have my Blackberry in case I need an Interwebs fix).

If there’s any doubt that we share a brain, or that we are well-suited travel partners, it is officially perished.

Women, not girls, baby

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

Go take this quiz right now: 80s lyric quiz

If you don’t end up singing absurd declarations of love out loud or swearing at the screen because a word is on the tip of your tongue, you’re not doing it right :)

Link from Popwatch