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Pointe-a-Pitre

I think the weather is still cold enough to share some more of the welcoming warmth of the Caribbean, especially now that Death in Paradise has left our screens for another year (sniff!).

Guadeloupe has an administrative capital called Basse-Terre, but the happening place to be is Pointe-a-Pitre, right in the centre of the island and not far from the airport. We made a couple of trips there, even braving the transport system and taking the bus in. In previous years everyone used the bus and there were comparatively few cars, but then wham! bang! that scourge of French life, a strike, meant that the buses were out of action for a few weeks and so everyone who could went and bought themselves a car. Hence the buses are quite empty now and the roads are full!

Back to La Pwent, as it is known in creole.  When we visit, there is one person above all that we must visit….the man who pushes his brightly coloured cart around town making sinobol! What is that, I hear you ask? Let me explain. Take a huge chunk of ice, scrape at it with a special grater, pop the crushed ice in a plastic cup, add lashings of sirop de menthe and sirop de grenadine for a lovely green/red colour, stick a straw in, and enjoy!  Great to suck away at on those hot days, not so great if you are avoiding sugar…

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Just behind Bertie in the previous picture is the marché, one section sells fruit and veg, the other gifts, both are very much aimed at tourists.  I have been frustrated with presents I have purchased in previous years that have actually been made elsewhere and had Guadeloupe stuck on them, so I made an effort to find genuine local products this time.  I am not sure how successful I was but at least they didn’t have “fabriqué en Vietnam” on them!  At this market I picked up some local jam and some cute shakers made of coconut shell.

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Just behind the market is La Darse, the port area where all the big ships used to come but now they have a different port and this is simply used by fishermen.  Here is one of their boats…

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…and here is what they are selling – tuna!  I am always surprised at how big it is, and that it has any link with what we get out of a tin!

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We wandered through the main shopping streets, including the crazy rue Frébault, and couldn’t quite believe how many shoe and clothes shops there were in one small area, not to mention all the Haitian women selling oversized underwear on the pavement in front of the shops!  It really is a hustling bustling place, many shops even have an MC standing inside with their microphone announcing to the passing potential customers all the treats there are to find within…  When I returned the following week to do wedding shopping with my shopaholic sister-in-law, we went in each. and. every. one. of those shops.  Ouch.

If you are in search of some culture rather than shopping, there is the cathedral St-Pierre-St-Paul and the town square, la Place de la Victoire (named for a victory over the English, hmph!) which has a pleasant children’s play area, if you can bear the heat!  Nearby is the Musée St-Jean Perse – for all Death in Paradise viewers, they used this colonial house for the episode about Le Clerc and the Deadly Curse, as the place the main pair visit at the start to learn more about local culture.

On this particular occasion, we headed back to the cheaper non-tourist market by the bus station, picked up some pineapple and dried plantain chips, not to mention a well-needed bottle of water, then squeezed into the surprisingly busy bus home.

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A Wedding – Gwada style

The original aim of our trip to Guadeloupe was to celebrate Bertie’s parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, however, his sister took advantage of the presence of all but one of her siblings (when they number 12 that is no mean feat!) to get married.

I have heard many stories about Guadeloupean weddings from Bertie, mainly how 300 plus people will be invited to the evening do and yet still more will come sneaking in, hearing about free drinks, but I had never actually attended one, so I looked forward to filling this gap in my cultural knowledge.  And a learning experience it was! Lessons learnt:

1. How you look is SO important. Hours are dedicated to finding the right outfit and accessories. Evening dress is probably best for women, though men seem to get away with less formal attire. Further hours are given to preparation of hair, nails etc on the morning itself. Even a slight matter such as making the official ceremony in the town hall is not to get in the way of being ready!

2. Being on time is a very relaxed concept. See above (very few people did make the town hall!).  We waited 20 minutes in the heat for the priest to arrive at the church celebration.  The evening meal, hopefully announced on the invitation as 7.30pm to eat at 8.30pm, was in fact served at 10pm! No matter, most the guests didn’t arrive till then!

3. After the ceremony all the cars in the bridal party will drive around town with lights flashing and horns beeping. Just because. Onlookers – feel free to join in and beep back!

4. One can never have too many cakes. There were in fact 20 to choose between that evening. The highlight was the one shaped like an island with a fish swimming around underneath it!

5. Nor can one have too much food or drink.  In fact, there should be enough for everyone to come back and enjoy the next day. And quite possibly the day after. And the day after…

6. Early birds beware, it will go on late!

7. The bride and groom get a marvellous throne to sit on/stand by whilst they welcome their guests. I guess if you have 300 there a place to sit is not a bad idea!

8. A lot of work is done by family and friends, so your holiday will be taken up by plenty of wedding preparation. Perhaps Bertie’s other sister had this in mind when she arrived on the evening of the big day, rather than two weeks in advance like the rest of us!

9. If you wear heels double the height of your highest ever pair, get practising in advance!

10. There will be a lot of dancing and loud music. The aforementioned sister told me that she generally loses a couple of kilos just from dancing!

All in all it was a very successful event enjoyed by all the family.  I must admit, by 1am I was happily back home in my bed, glad to kick those heels off!

Here is a very small selection of the many family photos I took that day!

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Death In Paradise

Today I am going to shamelessly plug the BBC’s entertaining detective show that is Death in Paradise – Tuesdays at 9pm and then on iPlayer, no excuse to miss it, especially as it was filmed in good old Guadeloupe!

When we went last summer I cherished a small hope that we would see it being filmed, but I had no idea if they were filming and with our lack of car, couldn’t see how we would get over to its location in any case.

Well, after two weeks of waiting, a car finally became available – note to self, book in advance in future! To say it was no object of beauty would be an understatement, but at least it moved – though its habit of stalling meant that I was very nervous on any hills! We then got a slightly better car the following week, phew!

On Ascension Day (bank holiday for the French) Bertie’s sister invited us to les hauteurs (literally ‘the heights’, and believe me, they are high!) of Deshaies on the west side of Guadeloupe to meet an in-law, and hope sprang in my heart, just maybe….!  Having finally found the house (road names are significantly lacking in this land, our direction for one house we visited was “by the breadfruit tree hanging over the road”!!) and somehow having made it up the incredibly steep drive that so many Guadeloupeans manage to deal with on a daily basis (thank goodness we were in car no. 2!), we enjoyed a quick visit then set off down into Deshaies to investigate.  As you can imagine, we were thrilled to discover that the quiet beach we usually visit was overrun with lorries, cars, people, cameras – all very positive. A quick look at an official document stuck up in the car park confirmed that yes indeed, filming was going on there that day. We were amused to see that they had taken over a usually rather elegant beachside restaurant as the mess room, and from previous experience, we wondered if they too had to pay nearly five euros for a cup of tea??

We had a quick chat with the director, wandered around a little, and were told filming would start in an hour, so off we went for some food.  Unfortunately for us (but good for them!), Guadeloupeans take bank holidays seriously so we arrived at the Supermarket just as they shut the doors for the day.  We ended up with some odd assortments of food from the only open shop in town, including rolls that turned out to be mouldy, but at least they were stocked up with magnums on a special one euro offer!

Back to watch the filming, and we were delighted to receive a warm welcome from the cast members we met, Fidel and Dwayne, also Londoners.  Then we were as silent as we could possibly be once the cameras started rolling…. Actually, watching filming in the boiling sun with three children is not that fun, who would have known it such a long, drawn-out process? Soon they were clamouring to be going in the water, not simply watching random policemen who weren’t really policemen being pushed in! So after an hour or so we set off for the next part of our trip, looking forward to seeing it on screen in the not so distant future.

I mentioned this visit to my brother-in-law that evening and he told me that he had actually been employed as a driver for their huge vans lugging all their equipment up into the mountains during series one.  He had even been offered a part as an extra but had turned it down as other work came up – what a pity, he could have been gracing our screens!

Thursday night we were catching up with this week’s episode and there it was in the advert for next week, the very scene where Dwayne takes his dive! We were there! Recognise any of these?

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A Bit of Warmth

I know that some of you readers have reached the warmth of summer (enjoy!) and some of you perhaps never leave it, but here in the UK it has turned cold all of a sudden.  After a disturbingly mild Christmas (didn’t feel right singing “on a cold and crispy morning”…), the ice alert has started to flash on the car dashboard and the snow has arrived!

So as a change of scenery for my fellow Brits, I thought this was as good a time as any to (finally) post some photos from our month in Guadeloupe last summer.  Certainly a cheaper way of warming up than all these holidays to Australia that the radio keeps advertising!

Our first week there was pretty calm, mostly spent at home or in Bertie’s local town as we were car-less, so we were very excited to get an invitation to stay that first weekend in a holiday apartment by the sea with his sister and her friends. Highlights – being right by the sea with an air conditioned bedroom, not to mention a tv to watch the opening ceremony of the Olympics back at home. Lowlights – I got my first (and only!) really bad sunburn, sigh, and practically fainted – I was very glad for that air con! The sea was a bit rough for my liking although it didn’t put the kids off! And why did French tv not show the home nation during the opening parade?? I sat through two hours of other countries….for nothing!

In Pursuit of the Normans

October half term saw us back in France for family duties so I was delighted to combine it with a bit of history and homeschool!  Unfortunately, during the trip both my camera and Bertie’s mobile decided not to work at the same time and my phone with its pictures was stolen a few days later, sigh.  Still, as someone remarked, it is a good reason to go back!  In the meantime, I have included a few photos from other sources whose web pages are very interesting to visit.

Our route took us via Normandy from where dates the start of Bertie and my belle histoire d’amour all those many years ago!  After catching up with old friends in Caen and Falaise, we made our way to Paris via Rouen.  I remember passing through very briefly in the rain on a school trip, but it was a much more enjoyable visit this time.  We walked for a while around the town before finally finding Rouen Cathedral whose first point of interest for us was being the place where our Little Duke was consecrated, although it would have been an earlier building on the site of the present  one.

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www.injoanofarcsfootsteps.com

We were also looking for the tomb of William Longsword, the father of our Little Duke (otherwise known as Richard the Fearless) as well as William’s father Rollo, who sailed from Norway down the river Seine to invade Paris and was given the section of land known as Normandy (named after these Viking “Northmen”) to get him out of the French king’s way.  Despite my year studying in Normandy, I had never realised before how separate the Normans were from the French, with very different roots and a distinct identity, and it has been fascinating tracing their origins.

www.traveltoeat.com – you can find Rollo and Richard Lionheart there too

We saw plenty of other interesting tombs in the cathedral, including one of our own kings, Richard the Lionheart, whose story we are reading just now.  It was a real test of my Latin to work out what each tomb said, but Richard handily had his feet resting on a lion!  One photo I am sorry not to have was of rows of various statues, many of them well-known figures such as the apostles and the prophets, but also some rather scary looking ones who looked just like The Silence from Dr Who!  No idea what that was all about…!

Chronologically earlier in our trip but historically later was our visit to the home town of the more well-known descendant of Rollo, William and Richard: William the Conqueror.  Chateau Guillaume-le-Conquerant Falaise was a great place to visit, with a lot of the castle intact and an interesting theme of chess running through it (for LissaLou), a display of types of weapons (for JoJo) and of course the sight of medieval toilets to bring many chuckles!  There is a bit of a biais towards William and against poor Harold that we staunch English folk did not appreciate (!) but I guess allowances must be made…

In the town there is also a statue of William on his horse flanked by the six Dukes of Normandy who preceded him: Rollo, William Longsword, Richard the Fearless, Richard the Good, Richard the Third (didn’t last long enough to get himself a fine name!)and Robert the Magnificent.  Little surprise that such a terrifying looking man caused such havoc and distress for my unfortunate countrymen all those years ago.

www.kolumbus.fi

Preparing For The Olympics…

A great exhibition at The Museum of Childhood gives you the opportunity to pit yourself against the cyclist Sir Chris Hoy over 1km.  Having tried the course myself, I can vouch for it being hard work!

But well done to our three wannabe Olympians, who completed their course in their own sweet time! (And a special commendation to Latana, the only member of our group to make the top ten Leaderboard!)

And if all this cycling is too much for you, well, you can always take a break and join the fire service or become a Victorian maid!

A Country Fair

Here was a treat for us townies…a trip to a Country Fair

Our first ever viewing of Sheep Shearing!  Fitted in beautifully with our recent chapters of  The Children of Willow Farm.

The sheep didn’t make it easy for him, but he won out in the end!  Apparently each fleece is only worth a couple of pounds and the shearer gets only half of that for his efforts.  But it does save the sheep from potential serious infection from flies laying their eggs in the wool.

Next up was the one and only….Lamb National!!  Can you see the little teddies hanging on their backs?  We had to choose our favourite and cheer them round the course, Bertie’s Mint Sauce left the others in the shade!

A stallholder after my own heart – why content yourself with simply painting a ready made willow shape, when you can learn to actually make one yourself?  Our children all had a go and were very pleased with their efforts!

We didn’t even have time for the falcons, wood-carving, candle-making…definitely a visit for next year!