Sunday, April 29, 2007

Two Hour lunchtimes

The BBC site has an article about France's two hour lunchtimes. Once I came to understand them, I loved them. Once I realised that the only place open in French villages between 12 and about 2.30 was a restaurant, I no longer hated the 'morgue like' feel of the village at that time, and I learned to relish the practice. If you missed lunchtime, you remained hungry: I learned to time my cycling to coincide with lunchtimes!

From the article:

"The village she meant seemed dead, its one road silent and eerily empty.

All that was missing at this French high noon was the tumbleweed.

But opposite the Romanesque church - whose bell tolled an ominous half past one - a lone restaurant was indeed open - and absolutely packed.

This was where everyone had gathered from miles around. Farmers in grass-stained overalls clinked hearty glasses of red wine, discussing the calving season as they tucked into bleeding steaks, while a stone-mason earnestly discussed politics with a carpenter, gesticulating dangerously with his fork.

The fear is that banishing what is bad could endanger what everyone likes most - the sense that people in France still matter more than money, and that a good lunch is worth making time for
The restaurant's rather rotund golden labrador bounded up eagerly as we arrived, wagging his tail.

Hot on his heels came the equally round chef, to welcome us almost as warmly and advise on what to eat.

I felt as though we had walked into a family party, as others turned to greet us with a bonjour and a smile.

On offer was a three course meal for just 12 euros (£8) each, clearly created for a clientele with plenty of time for lunch.

Anxiously, we asked the waitress how long the meal would take. She gave a not unfriendly Gallic shrug. "As long as it takes." But that was not very long at all.

With remarkable efficiency, we tucked into pate on crusty warm bread, home-made chicken stew, and a fresh berry and cream pudding - and were out of the door a mere hour later. Everyone else was still there as we left, looking faintly puzzled at our unseemly rush."

The other wonderful thing about French restaurants was that the service was so good. Sometimes on my bike especially, I felt incredibly welcome, and well cared for. Some days I would emerge from a village restaurant, and feel like I had been treated like a princess.

Colm Toibin and Croagh Patrick

I have read a few books by Colm Toibin, and have just discovered he had some similar experiences to me at Croagh Patrick. (Read here for my account.)

Some quotes from Ch4, The Magic Mountain, in "The Sign of the Cross" by Toibin:

"Now we turned and trudged on, the terrain becoming more and more difficult."

"Nothing had prepared me for the last part of the climb. The rise was very sheer and there was nothing to hold onto. At every step I sank into a bank of large slippery stones. I moved slowly on my hands and knees in the wind and the driving rain."

I guess I was lucky here: the horrendous wind and wetting rain started while I was on my way down! It then became a real effort to stay standing and not be blown over. On one occasion I slipped, and was then rolled around on the ground by the wind. Fortunately, apart from a bruised elbow, I wasn't injured, much to the relief of the guy just above me on the track who yelled "I'm coming!" but who then saw me get up on my own.

"Everybody concentrated on each step, and on making sure not to fall and knock other people over. We clambered forward. It was impossible to see how close the summit was. At times progress seemed impossible; there was no foothold, and if you moved, you displaced rocks and stones, and there was still no foothold. Men and women walked down as best they could, pushing the staff into the ground ahead of them, letting it sink in between the stones, then sliding gingerly down. If they caught your eye, they smiled encouragement. People kept telling you that you would reach the summit soon.
When I got there, I was exhausted and exhilarated."

I know what he means! In my own account I wrote:

There was quite a celebratory feel at the top, and a real feeling of camaraderie amongst those sheltering by the wall of the oratory. It is not a 'long' climb, but the last section is very steep, and the rocky surface is difficult to maintain your footing on. You cannot see the top and have no idea how much further you have to climb, until suddenly, you are on the summit. I think we all felt that the hardest work was done! (We were all sooooo wrong!)

Croagh Patrick is about 762m high. That did not seem like very much. But the steepness of the last section, the nature of the small rocks you had to climb on nearer the top,
the fact you could not see the summit, the wind and slippery rocks on the way down, all made for quite a hard climb. I reached the bottom with a sense of relief and achievement!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Round trip to Ahuriri

Time for a wee holiday expedition today, (before a southerly arrives tomorrow with strong winds, rain and cold temperatures.) It was time to 'kill two birds with one stone': I wanted a few more photos of Ahuriri Estuary for the poster I have to make with data from our NZ fauna field trip; and I have never been on the Napier-Taupo Rd and felt my edumacation was therefore lacking.

So here is one viewpoint of the Ahuriri Estuary in Napier. The tide was lower than this when we did our sampling, a little to the right of this view. But we didn't see many birds: the arrival of 80 students + 10 tutors and lecturers was undoubtedly enough to send all sensible birds to more distant parts of the estuary.

This morning was a gorgeous morning, and I was able to watch this heron for a while.

I love coming upon waterfalls I have never heard about as I explore different parts of NZ. Today's treasure was next to the Napier-Taupo Rd, the Waipunga Falls. (This photo doesn't really convey quite how large they were.)

I enjoyed the Napier-Taupo Rd. There were some steep climbs (as I had expected) and some rugged country. Then as I neared Taupo, I was amazed to find some plains! Tauhara, which looks quite a small mountain viewed from Taupo, looks rather large when you see it from the angle you get approaching from the plains.

On the way home along the Desert Rd, I passed Ruapehu. The edges all looked more jagged without much snow covering. Some of you overseas may have seen reports of the lahar that went down from the crater lake at the top of this mountain just a few weeks ago.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Kapiti Island

Time for a little bit of attention to this poor neglected blog. It has suffered while most posting has gone to my nomad blog. But here are a few photos from the trip I took to Kapiti Island yesterday. (Two are repeated from nomad blog: sorry if you have just come from there!)

Kereru (pigeon, endemic to NZ) were abundant and everywhere. With predators gone, you could see them in places you would never see them on the mainland, eg this one was pecking on the grass as a hen would in a backyard coop.

My favourite shot was of this kaka. I have never seen one so close, and maybe never will again....
This little shy weka was pecking in the leaf litter to find its food.

Here is the boat returning from the mainland at Paraparaumu to take us off the island at the end of the day.