dimanche 25 novembre 2012

week thirteen - lots of friends, old and new

This has been a week filled with fun and friends.
It started on Monday with the girls and I joining Marco's Master's gang at his university for Chinese dinner night - each country represented has the students preparing a meal for the rest of the class.
The six Chinese students made yummy Chinese version of pho - broth in which they cooked fish dumplings, lamb meat slices, daikon, potatoes - very tasty. It was lovely getting to meet all of Marco's colleagues who we hear so much about each week.
En route to arriving at the party, we learned that Geneva has been selected as 1 of 4, and 1 of 2 kids, for her original painting which she submitted to a local contest. SO PROUD!!
If you've not yet voted for her on facebook, you do have until Dec 14 to do so and encourage all your friends. Think we've determined first prize for the kids' section is an Xbox - likely will see how we can convert this into Euros ;)
I had to rush off from the dinner (which didn't end up turning out to work) to meet my dear longtime friend Ken at the train station as he joined us for a visit on his French odyssey. Sadly, I was an hour late getting there as there really aren't any buses leaving from Marco's university in the south side of the city after 7 p.m., travelling to a Metro stop so I could get to the north/central trains station.
Thank goodness for Wi-Fi (please pronounce as Weee-Feee) connections and fb so Ken knew to hang out.
Tuesday we did some great visiting in the city and then Ken had the privilege (?) of keeping my girls occupied while I had Geneva's Professor meetings - parent/teacher interviews with the 8 Professors of her subject classes. Pleased to say that she is across the board seen as a hard working, well mannered, serious student and a pleasure to be in class. Along with doing well, in spite of her language disadvantage. Yayy Geneva, two big scores this week.
Wednesday the girls are half day but this week, Elena had a full day off for a teacher PA day - actually rescheduled from this coming week so a film crew could shoot a movie inside their school. Exciting and whistful for me.
Ken and I took the morning casually then had the girls join in a lovely afternoon cafe lunch plus wander of the city.
Thursday, Ken decided to get back on the walking trail, which he'd been doing in Normandy, so left us for a walkabout for two days.
I resumed my English teaching duties, both with Elena's class and with Thomas, my tutoring charge.
I realized how much I enjoy it and enjoy my time with the kids - I think the same can be said both ways.
Friday was a relaxing down day - needed it.
Saturday was a funny adventure - we met Ken in the town he'd walked to west of the city - L'Isle Jourdain - fantastic Saturday market - and then made our way south to the Pyrenees to share with Ken the beauty plus pleasure of thermal baths. Wouldn't you know this is the two week window when all the thermal baths in the Pyrenees close for break as it's after school vacation and before Noel?! And ALL of them close - we know as we drove to the next town over just to check. That said, we were introduced to Luchon and some lovely driving so made it worth a trip, even if we didn't get to take the waters.
I shared Sunday morning market at St Aubin today with Ken - so great - and we found the musical man from the day previous in L'Isle Jourdain at our Sunday market here along with the guy from whom I bought the two plates I treasure at home on my last trip here 5 years ago - very exciting for me. Resisted buying anything more - just barely.
We didn't resist buying some yummy market food and shared Aligot (this version of mashed potatoes and Tomme cheese also had other bits so was more like delicious hash browns) along with kicker sausage/pepper paella on yellow rice. Oohh soo good!!
I pushed the afternoon agenda to drive north one hour to the town of Albi - everyone thanked me after as it was gorgeous. Beautiful old bridges, a stunning castle, fantastic church with an entrance that almost looked Gaudi-like. Also the home and museum dedicated to Henri Toulouse-Latrec which we didn't even make it to - we just had lovely wanderings - so clearly we'll have to go back.
Ended our day with a tasty chicken dinner - a nod to American Thanksgiving - however no turkey as my local market vendor had sold out already to all the Americans here. Funny.
We also made ourselves mulled wine, which we'd sampled at the brasserie the day before in Luchon and it afforded me the chance to meet the local wine shop guy at Carmes market whom I not yet stopped at. We did actually buy a litre of local wine out of his huge cask, which he filled into a water bottle. 1 litre = 1 euro 50. Seriously. And it was tasty even before we corrupted it with carmelized brown sugar, cinammon, lemon and heat.
Tough life I'm leading here.
While dinner was on the go, our awesome neighbours in Toronto skyped us into the local Santa parade going on down our Toronto street. Definitely do miss these kinds of local activities and fun with friends.
Can't have it all.
Did I mention it was 18 degrees yesterday and today?
Enjoy what you've got when you've got it, yes?
Here we go - on to almost December. Wow!
Until next week - bisous et a la prochaine semaine,

dimanche 18 novembre 2012

weeks eleven and twelve - fin de vacance de Toussaint and back to it

My blog has suffered a bit with vacation absence - desole - however, as all my students are back to it this week, I'm reinstating my Sunday blog date. Let's catch up...
On arriving back from our fab time in London, the girls realized the end of vacation neared and began to melt down anew with the prospect of going back to school. Didn't matter that we still had a great weekend get away ahead of us with our Irish/Spanish friends. The return to school loomed large - mostly the things they don't like - and the anxiety of going back was tough.
We got past it - mostly with the reassurance that vacance de Noel is a mere 6 weeks away with visitors arriving in less than a month (and now sooner). Was a minor salve to the bitter pill.
That said, we did have a fantastic weekend away. Thank goodness for our dear new friend, Eimer, also history teacher, who fashioned us a lovely gite to stay at near Boussac; an itinerary filled with the prettiest village in France (St Cirque Lapopie), one of the most famous pre-historic grottes (caves) in the world with knock your head off beauty and amazing prehistoric cave paintings - some massive in scope (Grotte Pech Merle), a museum dedicated to the local Frenchman who discovered the Rosetta Stone along with deciphering hieroglyphics (in Figeac), and one of the more famous pilgrimage stops in France (Rocamadour); along with hilarious company, loads of laughs and some amazing food.
We drove 1 1/2 hrs north of Toulouse to la vallee de Lot - beautiful views of fairly high hills (maybe low mountains) surrounded by lush green valleys with the Celee river running through. Gave us pause to feel a bit like we were in Ireland with the lush of the green and all the stone houses + fences around. Very different views from Toulouse - again, so interesting to be such a short distance from home and in what feels like very different country.
The joke for us about "the most beautiful village in France" was that our family never actually saw it in daylight. With all the timings, we ended up driving through it at dusk twice then stopping for dinner once. What we saw was lovely and I'm sure we'll need to go back to try again. And can I pause for a moment to note my very first black truffle omelete - we were in truffe country! - along with some pretty lovely foie gras?! Ahhh... (full on exercise mode must start soon!!).
Pictures on facebook - help yourself to them :)
We stayed up so late both nights that by the time we returned home, later than planned on Sunday night, the girls were so exhausted they had no time to fret or fuss and straight to bed/sleep.
Monday morning came with minor consternation from all 3 students in the house but life goes on.
And girls, on returning to school, realized it's not such a prison - much more worry built up in their heads.
I had a break from English class with Elena's CM1's this week as they had a pre-planned visit to the Musee des Augustins to see the gargoyles and replicate drawings of them. Geneva's class also had a museum visit - St Raymond - to study archeology. Guess the profs needed a slow build back into school as well.
Marco has received marks for his early exams and he's pacing up to where he needs to be. This past week was a tough one in terms of subject matter. However, the one bright point was that his exam was shifted to Thursday rather than Friday so less time to stress and a Friday that he could just do labs in and come home in a happier space.
I caught up on errands, laundry, domestic stuff - for those on fb, you'll have noted my title upgrade to Chef de Famille (a potentially less derogatory term than femme au foyer). I also caught up with mom friends, highly necessary as my French was beginning to slide after two weeks of parlez en Anglais. Friday, I took an hour to walk in a southerly direction after school drop off to see a neighbourhood I hadn't wandered in yet. I do really enjoy the beauty of the new city we are sharing for the year.
We kept our weekend plans to a minimum this week. We all needed some down time. I got to a new outdoor market today - St Aubin - and it's a big one.
The girls and I had another comedy routine (twice really) getting to a local pool by transit. Yesterday, we took some time to find our bus stop, coming out of the metro, only to realize that the bus only runs every hour and the next one wouldn't get us there in time. We considered walking but the driver assured us it was a long way up a steep hill. Today, we found the right schedule and bus, only to have the instructions drop us 2 stops later than necessary and we had a good hike to get back to the pool which was open today. Oh well, folly for our stories.
Christmas decorations are going up here and I'm in great anticipation of the Christmas market which will take over the Capitole square soon. Also now greatly anticipating the slate of visitors we have on tap, starting tomorrow and not ending until we get through vacance de Noel. Fantastique!
Hoping you're all well as we approach 3 months in Toulouse. Wow! Makes us realize both how quickly time flies, how we have to keep appreciating the time we have here, and truly how much we do miss our good friends and family at home. If we've not talked in recent times, know we continue to think of you.
Bisous et a la prochaine semaine,

mercredi 7 novembre 2012

week ten - vacance

Blog post delayed by having too much fun on vacation to get to it. I know, no one feels sorry for me. Get it - I'm living the good life.
The week started with amazing new Toulouse friends offering us their car and their ski chalet apartment in the Pyrenees for an overnight visit. Spectacular! And it was - the scenery was fantastic.
We had to stop at one point on our approach to take pictures of the majestic white peaks we were climbing towards. The second stop was for the sheep and their hearders on the highway. Very authentic. They had bells. Then there were the donkeys neighing. Then we were driving along the road where the Tour de France cyclists had to climb in the mountains - how the heck?! Names of cyclists still evident on the pavement. Took pictures of the signs for Steve - can't wait to see if we'll see it in person this year.
And then we were turning through the valley along to climb up the twisting highway through picturesque mountain villages on the way to the top - these are mountains!! And only 1 1/2 hrs south of Toulouse.
Our neighbours have this lovely new apartment in the complex right at the top base of the mountain/ski resort. Nice! It was deserted as not yet ski season. Nice! They've already asked us if we'll be joining them for skiing this winter and we've said absolutement!!
Sadly, the next morning, I was feeling wiped out so left it to Marco and the girls to climb up the face to the top and wave to Spain.
A nap recovered me and we packed up to head to the local thermal spa town - several in the area and one recommended by our friends as best for kids. Tough time - soaking in warm thermal spa water with amazing Pyrenees view in the background. Ahhh.
Evening drive back to Toulouse and two days to get ourselves together plus laundry done before the girls and I departed for London on Friday. Sadly, Marco decided he needed to stay as it wasn't worth just a weekend - he has to be at school this week.
We arrived midday - 1h 20 min flight - yay - to easy train connect to Southbank and Denise's pretty garden flat on Kennington Park Road.
Weather cooperated most days - thanks, London! - so we got lots of brisk but sunny skies.
Highlights included great local gastropub plus local coffee shop with super friendly Trinidadian owner, Frankenweenie at Leicester Square, Borough Market visit for Sunday dinner supplies, Camden Market visit to meet up with our good friends Carl, Ingrid and Louie, Covent Garden shopping, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, the British Museum, a dinner at Jamie's Italian plus another revisit to our previously found pizza fav on Southbank.
Lovely to wander and be tourists - thanks for the great welcome back, Dee + London.
Back now just in time to squeeze in one more mini-break before the girls are back to school next week. We're off on Friday to meet up with our Irish/Spanish friends north of Toulouse to see some pretty countryside and visit caves with prehistoric drawings.
Yes, tough go right now!
Then more visitors right away plus more soon.
The girls are also counting to Christmas visitors - now just over 5 weeks away.
We are very lucky - we know and will keep enjoying as we should.
Hugs to all - a la prochaine semaine.