Thursday, October 28, 2004

The Isobel portfolio

As noted on October 26, I spent a productive four minutes with the F5, 2 rolls of Astia and my granddaughter. Here are the results.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Fuji UK Processing

The two examples below were scanned from slides processed by Fuji UK. As I mentioned earlier this month, it was with some trepidation that I finally tried a different processing shop (AZ Photo Lab in Houston are that good!) Well, I am very pleased with the results - no water stains, nominal dust and everything done right. The system takes about 4 days including first class postage in both directions (the films go in a pre-paid mailer, the slides are returned for a nominal pstage charge). Slides can be mounted and come in Fuji-green boxes!

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Olivia (with Alex)

A "Mother and Child" portrait:

Isobel - Age 1

Isobel taken during a "David Hemmings Blow Up" type session with the F5. Up close and comfortable!

Saturday, October 23, 2004


The past twenty four hours has been one of activity in the dining room. All that good paint I bought from Jewsons has been applied, except for the trim gloss which will have to wait a few days (it stinks and we are having house guests on Monday night!)

It has all been very satisfying. There is no doubt that Dulux Trade paint is exceptional. And good Harris brushes and rollers make the work flow (pun!) efficiently. I would guess that preparation and clean up take about 75% of the total time, so if you just like to paint this can become a costly experience (brushes can be cleaned and in fact they get better with use).

So, once the gloss trim is on, where to next? The guest bedroom beckons.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

The last leg

Up early to catch Le Shuttle. Then a huge traffic jam on the M20 caused by a Polish articulated lorry (18 wheeler to US readers) that decided to leave the highway. Then it started to rain. Welcome home!

The past 14 days have been great - the longest holiday April and I have enjoyed together. All the pictures below were taken by April using her Canon digital. We plan to do a proper travelogue later, using film as well as digital.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Montlucon to Boulogne

We managed to drive into Paris (well, La Defense) by taking a wrong turn onto a toll road! Other than that it's getting colder by the kilometer.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Nissan-Lez-Enserune to Montlucon

The weather has changed! Cold and rainy for the return journey north.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Day 6 - Nissan-Lez-Enserune

Our last day in Nissan and a significant change in the weather - it's cold and windy! We had planned to spend time by the pool and try to store up a few more sun's rays for the long winter ahead. Instead we went to the wine cooperative and bought our stored up sunshine in the form of several cases of wine! Then a quick stroll around the village to take pictures and buy lunch from the boulangarie.

Here is a photo of our home for the past week. Our apartment is behind the main house (right of picture)

Our final evening was spent in a typical Logis de France - L'Hotel Residence - where during the week we have sampled a wonderful selection of French cuisine accompanied by the local wine - a big thank you to our hosts for directing us there on our first night in Nissan.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Day 5 - Nissan-Lez-Enserune

The weather started cloudy but we had already decied to spend the day back in Collioure and this was a very good decision. We made good progress and decided to visit some of the small villages flanking the mountains west of Collioure. We ran into a lot of English residents during the course of the day and it would seem that this area is slowly being taken over by sunseekers. Too bad that one attractive village has had its creperie turned into an Irish bar serving fish and chips! Before reaching Collioure we took a look at Argeles sur Mer and Argeles Plage and have to disagree with the guide book that this is a place not worth stopping for! As the photo below shows, the beach is an expanse of perfect coarse sand.

The very last beach before the Pyrenees come down to the Mediterranean is called Racou Plage and here we found several rows of small beach houses forming a summer community.

So, on to Collioure and a picque-nicque on the beach, but not before we both enjoyed a long swim in the bay. As the afternoon cooled down we took the opportunity to stroll around the town, fast emptying of the day tourists.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Day 4 - Nissan-Lez-Enserune

Closer to "home", a day of exploration. First, a visit to the ancient ruins at Oppidum d'Enserune, located a few kilometers north of Nissan. This hill settlement was first occupied in the 6th Century BC and continued until the 1st Century AD, at which time it was abandoned. Many of the remains are still buried and excavation is taking time (as funds, no doubt, are hard to come by). The museum contains an abundance of material collected from the site.

Very near the ruins there is the Malpas Tunnel, a short stretch of the Canal du Midi that passes beneath the ridge on which the ruins are located. We watched several canal cruisers pass by.

The weather began to warm up, so we decided to check out another beach resort area, Cap d'Agde. This is a modern development which has been tastefully executed though we are sure it becomes very busy in August! The Cap is composed of volcanic lava flows that extruded out into th sea from an inland vent. The rocks are black to dark brown and contain lots of evidence of volcanic ash and bombs (rocks ejected from the volcano that land on its surface. We drove past the large naturiste area (a commune that claims to be the largest of its type in France) and parked on the cliff edge near Le Conque. A short walk found us on the beach and swimming in the Med. Cap d'Agde has a charm that is lacking elsewhere along the coast but it does not compare with Collioure.

Early evening our hosts at Paradix invited us in for a glass of wine and we shared views and opinions on many things, using our expriences as illustrations. A delightful evening on their large balcony, watching a fine sunset. The wine, a Sauvignon Blanc from the local cooperative, proved to be excellent and confirmed a decision we had already made: to visit the Caveau for a tasting as well as a "few" purchases!

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Day 3 - Nissan-Lez-Enserune

Collioure is a long way from Nissan (1-1/2 hours) so we chose for Tuesday to be a rest day, rising late and doing little but shop for pastries and then lounge by the pool until mid afternoon when a few clouds rolled in. This prompted a short excursion to test the theory that other beaches in the area might be better than the ones visited on Sunday evening. As a bonus we included the Montagne de la Clape and the ancient fishing village of Gruissan, just in case the beaches didn't pan out.

We had found a recommendation on the internet that the beach east of Gruissan was worth a visit. Well, it isn't! The sea is clean, of that there is no doubt, but the sand has an unattractive color and texture and there is no shade. It's such a pity that some of our English and Welsh favorites do not have warm Mediterranean waters lapping on their shores. Perhaps global warming could help?

Gruissan is a mix of the old and the new. The original village is built concentrically around a small hill with a tower that goes back 1300 years - the Cathars once dominated the coast. Unlike the tourist-dominated old town of Collioure, old Gruissan has a sense of community. But this is being subsumed under a vast sea of new development.

We also visited a large disused quarry on the Montagne - this entailed a short walk to view the dark green waters in the quarry floor. Hiking is supposed to be popular here but there is little evidence of trails and footpaths other than to "sites of special interest".

For dinner we decided to eat out at the local Hotel Residence, a fine restaurant serving traditional French food. Beautifully prepared and presented, the three courses chosen were rich in flavor but light in content - not at all fattening!

Monday, October 11, 2004

Day 2 - Nissan-Lez-Enserune

Monday started out a little cloudy and this determined our plan of action - to drive toward Perpignan and then explore the eastern end of the Pyrenees. Autoroute 9 made this a relatively easy target and we were soon in the foothills, thinking of Lance Armstrong as he used these mountains to forge ahead in many of his Tour de France victories. The minor roads are in excellent condition but very windy (and windy at times too!). A sharp shower forced us to consider the coast and we could see it was bathed in sunshine, so by early afternoon we were in the delightful small town of Collioure, an ancient fortified bay with quays and beaches as well as promenades.

The old town is typical Mediterranean, with narrow streets and, no doubt catering to the large numbers of tourists, lots of signs to remind that Matisse "discovered" this backwater and made it famous.

We found a spot on the beach (small pebbles, not much sand) and tested the clear, warm water in the harbor - clean, exhilarating but busy (we are, after all, used to places like Padre Island!) Then, as the clouds rolled in, we reluctantly drove off south for a few kilometers to see if the other towns are as special - they are not but the coast is quite spectacular! Collioure therefore seems to be the gem of the Languedoc-Roussillon coast. But we suspect that this may not be the case in August when it will be inundated with tourists (it was busy enough today).

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Day 1 - Nissan-Lez-Enserune

The eTrex GPS unit says we are 1,041km from home (as the crow would fly). It's actually taken us a lot more miles to get here, so today we rested up, spending time in the sun by the pool that is shared between the owners and their four apartment guests. The weather is true "Indian Summer" - warm when the sun is out but cool in the evenings.

Late in the afternoon we decided to go out and investigate the nearby beaches. To be brutally honest, these are not what we came for and the modern developments reminded us of Galveston Island in Texas. So somewhat disappointed we decided to go home and plan a trip for the morrow.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

St. Nectaire to Nissan-Lez-Enserune

Another long day in the BMW (incidentally we now know we made the right decision in shipping it over to Europe!) We drove south to the Mediterranean along the toll-free Autoroute A75. This road passes through stunning scenery but the highlight must surely be the Millau Viaduct. Still under construction, this structure claims to be the highest bridge (i.e. distance below the deck) in the world. It is certainly quite breathtaking. We took a side trip to a viewing area, driving up a winding single track road to get there. By next spring everyone will be flying across the Tarn Gorge without stopping to admire the technology.

Our destination, an apartment in the small town of Nissan-Lez-Enserune near Narbonne, turned out to exceed all expectations. More about this in the days ahead as we are booked in for a week.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Montlucon to St. Nectaire

The day started with continuous rain beating against the windshield, not a good omen as we headed to hopefully warmer and drier climes further south. This day was committed to less driving and the opportunity to visit the Puy de Dome, an area of recent but now extinct volcanos immediately west of the city of Clermont Ferrand. A road has been constructed to the top of Puy de Dome, from which excellent views of lesser volcanic cones can be seen when the clouds disappear (which they did!)

Our next night was to be in a Chambre d'Hote above the spa town of St. Nectaire but we had plenty of time to picnic high in the foothills flanking Mont Dore, another (older and larger) volcanic center. St. Nectaire once had popular thermal baths and has obviously seen better days, but our B&B was incredible - located high on the hillside with dramatic views of Mont Dore as well as the town below.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Calais to Montlucon

The day started with fine weather interrupted by sharp showers, but a fine sight of the White Cliffs of Dover from 19 miles away evoked strong emotions, based upon WWII history. We followed the Autoroute to Rouen, then drove across country to Orleans before joining another Autoroute to Montlucon. This small city is roughly in the center of the country and is a good place to stop for the night after about 7 hours on the road. In fact we stayed two nights as we had family to visit!

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Off to France!

Two weeks in France! The first holiday of such length we have ever experienced! Imagine then, the surprise (shock) when we found that April's passport has expired and it is only 30 hours to our scheduled departure on Le Shuttle! Thankfully the UK Passport Office can move quickly enough and by making a detour into central London, we were able to leave the country legally with every prospect of being able to return!

The Eurotunnel option to cross the English Channel is now the preferred route and we can see why. Show up 30 minutes before the scheduled departure, drive on to the special trains and 35 minutes later - voila! France. Once on French soil we knew our first Chambre d'Hote was only minutes away but through a quirk of French autoroute signage we overshot the exit. We later found out the exits had been renumbered! Anyway, as darkness approached, out came the GPS system and we were safely in our French B&B in minutes.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Route 66/GPS update

Route 66 has a good web site with available downloads for upgrades to their software. I noticed that the GPS function has been greatly improved with potentially no lag time. Also, the printing functions under OS X 10.3 are now more stable (they were basically unstable before). This, then, is becoming a very useful set up and we are about to put it to the test in a big way!