As I sit here in Paris, with a view of the arse-end of Notre Dame out the window of a free apartment (thanks Karsten and Sarah!), I can’t help but think that 2010 has not been all that bad. Somehow though it just didn’t seem to flow the way I wanted it to, but I’ll come back to that later, maybe.
It’s been an eventful year though, that’s for sure.
Shoko and I often get asked what the heck we’re doing here in France. It’s never an easy question to answer for me because all I want to say is ‘I came for the cycling’, which usually leaves people with a quizzical look on their face and the conversation nearly always dies right there. Well, I’m glad to announce that we have a much better answer now, or at least I can borrow this one from my wife. See, Shoko actually wanted to do something productive in France and she had ‘art school’ in her mind from the beginning. The first year we were here she was a full-time student at a French school at the University of Montpellier; the next year she continued to take lessons and went to night school in Nîmes to take art lessons; then at the beginning of this year she began signing up for a couple of concours (competitive exams) for the Ecole des Beaux Arts. On her 2nd try she got accepted and that prompted us to move to Nîmes.
France is a crazy country. Anyone can apply to its universities and if you pass the concours then you can attend an institution of higher learning essentially for free. This is quite a far cry from Canada or Australia, where international students are lucky if they get away with paying two or three times what locals have to (which is already far too much). Vive le solidarité! Here’s where she spends most of her time these days.
We had three sets of visitors in 2010. First up were Thilo and Maya, good friends from our dragon boating days in Singapore who have moved back to Europe and decided to come to the south for some warmth in the spring. Joke was on them, unfortunately, and it was rainy and cold nearly their whole long weekend. But we still got out on the Canal du Midi for a boat ride and Maya got to dip her fingers into the Mediterranean.
Next up were Mom and Tom, regulars to Europe in the fall and lucky for me because it saves me airfare back to Canada every year! They were doing an independent trip this year and spent a whole week (I’ve seen them in London, Paris and Barcelona in the past, but literally for hours because they were always stopping over on tours) with us in the south. We took them all over the place, including a couple that I’m sure mom could have done without – the Millau Viaduct, the tallest bridge in Europe; and Mt. Ventoux, a famous mountain smack dab in the middle of Provence, with all the twisty, windy, hairpin roads you’d expect here. She was a trooper though and never complained..until she got home maybe.
Last of the visitors were Sonya and Ali, friends who are 5 years into a round-the-world cycling trip that we welcomed to our condo in Singapore a few years back. I think they were a bit shocked with the lack of comparable luxury they found in Nîmes, but they were polite enough not to show it. If you’d like to see where they are at the moment then check out their excellent website here.
And speaking of websites, I got around to putting something together this year that sort of resembles one. It was an idea born of the blog I run here; namely, putting up a site for people interested in cycling in the area we live in (Languedoc-Roussillon) with routes, points of interest, practical information and crappy photos. It’s a work in progress and I need to add a ton more routes to make it useful, but it’s a fun project and gives me more motivation to get out on the roads and explore. Here is the URL:
And the blog:
And Shoko’s gotten in on the act as well, so if you can read Japanese here’s hers:
Of course Shoko and I escaped a little in 2010. In March we took the motorcycle over to Italy to see a cycling race and made a weekend out of it by exploring a little of Menton, on our side of the border.
It wasn’t for fun, but we did enjoy a couple days in Toulouse while Shoko suffered through her first concours.
We also did a big bike ride in the summer. The trip started in Nice and finished in Prague and can be seen in all its gory detail in my blog, starting here. If you have the stamina, there are 10 or 15 blog articles on this trip. Good luck!
And finally, thanks to our generous friends, we can end the year off in Paris and all we have to do is make sure their cat Mats is well fed.
So now we live in Nîmes. What the heck is that?. First of all, it’s completely different from Montpellier, which is only 50 km down the train line. Nîmes is an ancient city (Roman) that is sleepy and laid back compared to our old home of foreign students, northern tourists and endless festivals. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. However, after two years living above the Vodka Bar (and on the same square as a Spanish tapas joint, a popular brasserie, another bar of dubious ownership and clientele and..a sushi bar), we are good and ready for a little ‘laid back’.
Nîmes retains a good part of its Roman heritage. There are two outstanding buildings that date from this period – both are still standing, and one is still being used for its original purpose, i.e. entertaining the locals with blood sport. Just now they use bulls instead of gladiators.
The other is the Maison Carrée, which is neither a house, nor square, but is one of the best-preserved Roman temples in the world. It has just received a good brushing and is now almost blinding in its beauty.
Hope you all have a wonderful 2011! Gerry and Shoko.