Thursday, December 17, 2009

Winter Wonderland

Steve picking out a snack!
Where we stayed
Ahhh.... the French Alps!
On top of the ski hill at Bernex
After a full day of riding
Sure Dana, your outfit is cool
In Thonon
Walk in the forest
Beautiful forest walk together
Steve driving the tractor!!

We travelled all day to get to Evian les Bain. Despite a train being cancelled and some other issues we eventually made it, although later than scheduled. We called Philippe from the train station and he came to pick us up right away. There is no snow in Evian but, up the mountain where they live there is lots of snow and mountains! It is so beautiful! Fact of the day: Evian les Bains is where Evian water comes from. We met everyone in the morning after breakfast; there is also a family from Hungary who is staying here. Steve got to drive the tractor and helped move wood, bee hives, and a heating system (he really enjoyed it). Dana plugged up gaps in the wood with paper and glue. Throughout the week we helped close in a room by building walls, putting up doors, and putting a wood stove in to help keep us warm (we are working in a large building not insulated, so heat was very appreciated). Philippe and his wife Cecille have two girls; Camille (Ca-me) who is 11, and Morgane who is 8. They speak mostly French but, they do speak and understand some English so we can still communicate.
It has snowed most of the time here which we have really enjoyed! It has been around minus 7 on average. On our time off in the afternoon we have gone for a number of walks in the nearby forests, and also to the towns of Evian and Thonon. On Friday we were invited to Morgane's School play, which was really cute with lots of good food and drink. Saturday we went snowboarding in the French Alps all day!! Dana made a fashion statement with her colourful snowsuit kindly borrowed to her. It felt good to go out and snowboard again, even though we waited a couple of times while they did avalanche blasts (it was opening day and they were not ready!) Also not having goggles made visibilty difficult when passing by the snow making machines. We are sore now but it was totally worth it! In the evening Philippe took us and the girls to Montreux, Switzerland! There is a really good Christmas market there that they go to every year.
On Sunday we went to see Philippe sing in the men's choir group he is apart of. We heard Christmas carols in French. We really felt at home here. It was wonderful to sit by the fire, have a christmas tree, and have lots of SNOW!! The family made us feel so welcome and were so generous with everything. Now it's off to Paris for Christmas!! So Merry Christmas to you all!! We love you and will miss not being around this year but, will be home soon!

Bordeaux, take two!

Dana and Lauren
the Cathedral and passing tram
at the Christmas market
Steve and Lauren
Lauren, Dana, and Steve in Bordeaux
Us at the water mirror
Lauren and Dana at the sweet shop
Oh Christmas tree!

For the weekend we headed back to Bordeaux to actually see the city and Lauren. On Friday Lauren had invited us to her churches young adults Christmas party. They were going to be playing white elephant and so if we wanted to participate we were welcome to. So our plan was to pick something up when we arrived in Bordeaux. Our train was a little late getting in, so we had to quickly rush to find something and make it to Lauren's on time. Everything worked out fine and we made it to Lauren's pretty much on time. Again she made us feel welcome and glad to be there. Within a few minutes we were out the door and heading to the church. It was a very fun evening. We got to meet many of Lauren's friends there and had a nice meal together. There was salad, veggies, meat and potatoes with melted cheese, and pop. After supper we heard a message and sang Christmas songs all in French! It was awesome! Next was white elephant. Everyone chose a number to see the order in which we would go. There was no limited for how many times something could be stolen but' there was a time limit. It was really fun. Dana ended up with a box of chocolates, Lauren, a calendar, and Steve, a beach mat. We then hung out for the rest of the evening and had some tea and dessert. Sometime during this Steve noticed one of the boxes of chocolates we brought was still under the tree so, he swiped it! Lauren gave her calendar away, Steve gave Laurn his beach mat so, it all worked out in the end. We walked back to Laruen's after the event was over and hung out for a while. Then Lauren went over to her friend's place for the night. The next morning Lauren came back after she was done teaching English; she teaches some children and families English two times a week. We had some breakfast and then headed out to explore Bordeaux. We ran into some of Lauren's friends during the day and had a wonderful tour of the city from Lauren. We stopped at a known bakery in Bordeaux and purchased some macarons (raspberry, pistaschio, and black currant passion fruit) and canelles. We spent some time walking around a cute Christmas market and then Lauren treated us to some yummy raisin and nut bread and then a coffee at a cute little cafe. We ate our desserts with our coffee because that is the only way to do it! Chloe, another one of Lauren's frineds joined us for coffee as well. We spent the evening in Bordeaux taking pictures and walking around and then headed back to Lauren's for supper. We enjoyed some yummy pasta together and then went to Lauren's friend's for her birthday! We had a very fun evening there and met lots of people from Winnipeg (as well as other places)! Then we all went back and had a slumber together! In the morning we said goodbye to Lauren and headed to the train station to make our way to Evian les Bains for our next help exchange!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Parsnip throwing, chainsaw hogging, soldier eating Aussies!!

(L-R) Kevin, Dana, Amber, 2 of Kevin's friends, Dusty, and Steve at the telethon
Dana, Enid, and Amber

(L-R) Dusty, Amber, Kevin, Enid, Dana, and Steve

Dana in the hot tub

The Gites

Kevin is a very funny easy going Englishman who moved to France 7 years ago with his wife Enid (she was in London when we arrived). We arrived at the house where Sally and Sam were waiting to greet us (their two dogs) and we met Amber and Dusty the two Australians who were also staying there. Kevin showed us the gite (guesthouse) we would be shaing with Amber and Dusty. We each had our own upstairs with bedroom and bathroom, and shared a kitchen and commom room on the main floor. Beside the gites is a workout facility with sauna and a hot tub. We were albe to unpack and relax and then Kevin took all of us into town for the telethon that was happening. The Telethon happens all over France and it is to raise money for children with Myopathy and related diseases. We had a nice meal with an endless supply of wine and were able to meet some of the people from the town. Everyone there was super friendly and inviting. We had a really nice time. Thoughout the week we helped with jobs around the house and yard. Steve and Dusty tackled a massive hedge that needed to be groomed and cut pretty much in half... a chainsaw was lost in the process. Kevin cooked us amazing meals everyday! Everyone was great and a pleasure to be around! We took advantage of the gym and especially the hot tub!One of the days we went with Kevin into some of the surrounding towns where he showed us around. Enid came home at the end of the week from visting the UK. She is wonderful and lots of fun too! The night she returned we all shared a wonderful meal together and lots of laughs. It was great to meet Amber and Dusty too! They were very easy going and fun to be around. They have been away from home for three years traveling and working and still have a ways to go before they plan on going back to Australia. For our last breakfast Amber introduced us to soliders. It is a fun breakfast they had as kids. You soft boil an egg and put it in an egg cup. Then you cut the top of the egg off and cut your toast in strips. Finally you dip your toast in the egg and enjoy! It was fun. As for the parsnips... we'll leave that one out. We had a wonderful week there!

Bordeaux, take one !

We left at 8am to catch our first train on our way to Bordeaux. We arrived in Hendaye with 5 minutes to catch the next train to Bordeaux, we made it but it was full. So we spent the next 5 hours in the train station in Hendaye because it was raining! Which turned out to be good because while we were waiting we were able to reserve our train to Paris for Christmas (we got the last two seats!) We finally caught our train and arrived at the University where Lauren met us with a big Canadian hug. It was great to see a familiar face, and she made us feel so welcome! She had two exams the next morning so she left to study and stay at a freinds place and let us stay in her room. After having some bad sleeps, it was nice to sleep in and take it a little easy. We got to see Lauren just before we left and we promised to be back next week. We caught our train to Marmande in the early afternoon. Our next host Kevin picked us up at the station and brought us to our next help exchange!


We got our picture the next night
Dana feeding the birds
Parque del Buen Retiro
Downtown Madrid
The lights went out!

The next moring we arrived in Madrid. We slowly made our way to a hostel we were thinking of checking in to. When we found it the staff were very unfriendly and wouldn`t check us in until we booked on-line, but he wouldn't even let us use the computer there! We found a wonderful hotel nearby that let us use their internet for free even though we were not guests there. We ended up finding a way better hostel in a better location! After we checked in we met some new friends there. There was a guy from Belgium, two girls from Sweden, two guys from Quebec, an Aussi, and an English girl. We spent the day and evening walking around Madrid. In the centre of one of the squares there was this huge Christmas tree made from lights that we wanted a picture with. We were getting our camera set up and had taken a couple sample shots when our watches struck 10 pm and all the lights went off! A Spanish couple just laughed when they saw and then said something in Spanish, we didn't have to understand to know that they were making fun of us! The next day we walked around again to see Madrid in the light of day. We went to Parque del Buen Retiro which we really enjoyed and saw many beautiful buildings. The Park had some very tame birds that would come eat out of your hand! We did some shopping and went back to the hostel for a late supper. We hung out with all the people there for a while and had some free sangria from the hostel. The next day we were leaving very early so, we packed everything up and got ready to leave. We are headed to Bordeaux to spend the night at our friend Lauren's and then off to a help exchange!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Life on the Farm!

To the Farm!
"The Shitter"
Papa Pig
Steve washing his clothes
the house
Dana and Jolle cleaning olives
Dana with eighteen layers to stay warm and her wacking stick
Baby pig....oh and Dana
Three not so little pigs
Early morning fog

We arrived in Pedrogao Grande by bus. After a few unanswered phone calls, Mane came to pick us up and took us to his farm... we weren't worried. We were given a tour of the house and grounds once we arrived. We were shown the garden, our room, the rest of the house, and cellar. Dana noticed that in the tour we were not shown where the bathroom was... hmmm. Well, there was no bathroom! Outside there was the "shitter", guess what that is for and to go number 1 the whole outdoors is your bathroom! You just had to make sure you didn't go somewhere someone would find you. They are almost completely self sufficient; they have solar energy, vegetable gardens, 70-80 goats, chickens, pigs, fruit and olive trees. The only running water comes from a pump which is outside. The house is heated by the open fireplace or from cooking using the wood stove. Mane is a cheese maker (mostly busy during the summer months), which he sells at the local market, and to those who stop by. His son Jolle (yo-lay), Jolle's girlfriend Gillian (from the US), and Mane's girlfriend Sabilla were also there helping on the farm.
Our typical day would start when the rooster crowed at 4 am, but we would try to go back to sleep. Next the rooster would crow around 5 and so on until it was time to get up for breakfast. We would have breakfast around 7:45am, then pick olives from 8-12/1. We would have lunch, then the goats would get milked by Mane and Jolle, Gillian would feet the pigs (which just had babies), and after that we would help clean the olives we picked in the morning until 5pm. We had a little time off before we would help prepare supper and eat around 8pm. Everyone would go to bed around 9:30pm. It was quite rainy and cold during the week, so our shoes were usually quite soaked and our hands were also cold. But don't get us wrong, it was a really great experience. The whole family was very nice and it made us appreciate certain things quite a bit more to say the least. On our day off we went to visit the town of Pedrogao which is quite cute. It was Mane's birthday on our last night so Sabilla had a small party which was fun with good food. We met some of the neighbors and everyone was up later than 9:30! We left the next day by bus to Lisbon to catch a train to take us back to Madrid. There were some minor complications but, we made the train in time and that's all the matters!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Lisbon, Portugal

Our first Christmas tree
Dana inside the castle
Overlooking Lisbon from Castello de Sao Jorge
2m waves off the coast
The pier
Beautiful garden in Sintra
Castle in Sintra
On the stairs in Sintra
Castello San de Jorge
Regieira Castle
We took an overnight train from Madrid to Lisbon, needless to say we did not get a goodnights rest! We arrived at 7:30am, and slowly made our way to a suburb of Lisbon where our couch surfing host lives. We walked, then took a train, then a bus (which dropped us off too early), to finally arrive at our meeting place outside the Blockbuster! (yes the same chain as in Canada). Sofia was not there, so we called and she came shortly after. That afternoon she took us to see the town of Sintra. Steve drove her BMW there because Sofia had a sore foot, he thouroughly enjoyed driving! Sofia gave us a guided tour of the national castle even with her being on crutches. We also peeked around the grounds of the Regieira castle. We hung out, ate some tasty Portugese desserts, and sampled Ginja (Portugese liqueur) in a chocolate cup! Sofia made us an amazing Portugese supper with cod and potatoes. The next day Sofia dropped us off in Lisbon and we ventured out on our own. We went inside Castello de Sao Jorge and a church called Se de Lisboa, and enjoyed exploring and taking in the view of the city. Later that night Dana and I cooked for Sofia and Nuno. We really enjoyed hanging out and getting to know them. The next morning we checked out the central market which is a giant flea market, but pretty much a big garage sale. We then caught the train to our help exchange by Pedrogao Grande, central Portugal.

Monday, November 30, 2009

L'Ampolla & Valencia

Dana getting creative. That's a bus going by
Steve in Valencia
In Plaza de la Virgin
Amazing sky at sunset in Valencia
Us, Andreas, Patrice, Lluisa having our bbq
tree after we worked on it
tree before
Dana on our bike ride in L'Ampolla
Lluisa was there to pick us up at the train station with a friendly smile! She is a very kind and friendly woman. When we got back to her place she showed us our room. It was beautiful! Very bright and clean with lots of space and our our bathroom! We aren't in the main house which is located a bit higher on the hill. We were in a guest casita attached to 3 others and a kitchen, and also a yoga room on the back side of the kitchen. They are in the process of setting up the place to host yoga retreats. In the kitchen they had lots of food and leftovers for us for dinner. Lluisa left us to have the evening to ourselves and said we would meet in the morning. We met Patrice, Lluisa's husband in the morning, he is French, and a funny guy. The wind was crazy on our first day, Dana spent the day doing small chores with Lluisa and Steve sanded an old wood table. The next day the wind was even stronger and they gave us the day off because it was very difficult to work outside. We did yoga in the morning with Lluisa. It was a little different than we were expecting, but it was relaxing. The place is beautiful! There are plenty of trees and green around us. From Patrice and Lluisa's house you have a view of the delta and can see all the way to the Mediterranean. The only problem is that there is not much to do here. All the roads around us lead to peoples houses and it is olive tree after olive tree. So a day off did not give us many options, especially since the nearest town was not very close to walk to. There is another helper working with us , his name is Andreas and he is from Hungary. Patrice drove the three of us into town so we could use the internet and have something to do. L'Ampolla is a small town with beautiful seaside. We spent the rest of the week working in the garden, cleaning things up, and doing general maintenance. We ate on our own for breakfast and dinner, but there was plenty of food and leftovers in the kitchen. We all eat together for lunch which is always amazing! It is like we eat at a fancy restaurant every day, we are very spoiled here. A few nights we went for a walk, a bike ride, or played ping-pong outside. Lluisa is the only Spaniard in the area, all the neighbours around are from Switzerland. One day a man named Peter drove by and invited us to go and see the olives being pressed. It was cool to see; it is quite a process. After the olives are cleaned they are put into a machine that purees them up. Next the mush is spread evenly into these round piles of baskets. The weight crushes the olives which makes some of the finest oil and then the baskets are pressed in a machine which extracts the rest of the oil. We were given a bottle from last year which was amazing.
On Sunday we went to Valencia; we stayed with a couch surfer named Carlos! He was a very nice guy studying economics at the University. Valencia is a very pretty city! We really enjoyed the buildings and the atmosphere, especially at night time with the fountain and everything lit up. We walked through different plazas, cathedrals, and basilicas. The next day we went to the central market, which was huge. We bought some fresh oranges which were delicious and some paella which was okay. (a little too fishy for our liking) We packed up our stuff at Carlos' and then headed back to L'Ampolla. We spent the next week doing similar chores of cleaning and gardening. We spent one day olive picking, which turned out to be not too bad, we picked 50 kilos of olives. Dana made a pumpkin pie with a pumpkin they had bought. She was very happy because she missed making one for Thanksgiving. The week went by very quickly and on our last day we had a huge barbeque. Lluisa bought chicken, rabbit, and sausage from the butcher. We also had barbecued veggies, guacamole, and potatoes! It was extremely tasty! We said our goodbyes and shortly after eating she drove us to the train station. It was sad to leave because we finally felt at home there. Now we are off to Lisbon!