Was It Something I Didn’t Say?

A few months back, I messed up the medial collateral ligament in my left knee. My kine – physical therapist – told me that riding a bike would be better for healing my knee than would walking. So unless it’s super-windy or raining, I take a ride every day after lunch – nothing major, maybe 15kms/9miles.

Being France, there are plenty of trails a cyclist can take. Most days I take a road past a couple of gites – essentially farmhouse B-and-B’s – with some pretty fields.


A gite.

A field of the pretty but rather unfortunately named rapeseed ('colza' in French).

A field of the pretty but rather unfortunately named rapeseed (‘colza’ in French).

The path leads to a small forest and from there you can branch off in different directions. But regardless of which path I pick, the return always brings me back to a path that follows a little stream and there’s a cute little wooden bridge going over a set of rapids. It’s there, in the middle of the narrow bridge, that I stop for a drink of water and watch the rushing water.


The Aussonelle stream, which eventually flows into the Garonne River.

One Sunday, I was on the bridge, just finishing my drink and getting ready to start off for home when I saw a man and woman on their bikes heading up the slope to the bridge. As I said, the bridge is narrow but I moved over as far as I could and the guy went riding past me.

The woman, on the other hand, waited at the entry to the bridge and – remember, this outside of a small town in France and I hadn’t said a word – she says: “You can go first.” In English.

As I got near to her, I asked, “How did you know I speak English?” With a Spanish accent she replied, “I don’t speak French.”

Well, alrighty then.

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The Goog in Bilbao

Wow! Is this really the first entry in 2019?! Alas – and heavy sigh – it is. Apologies. Being a full-time (as in: I get paid to do it) writer, writing on days off just isn’t the first thing to pop into my little noggin.

Still…here we are.

The Goog. That’s what everyone who’s anyone calls the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. We went there during our stay in San Sebastian. Even though it was a while ago, I remember that when we left San Sebastian it was grey and drizzling. Yippee. An hour later, we’re in Bilbao and there’s actually some sun poking through the clouds. Yippee!

Honestly, when you visit the museum you could spend a nice afternoon just looking at the structure itself and the artwork that surrounds it.

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The exterior is built to resemble sails, reflecting Bilbao’s maritime history.

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World’s biggest guard dog.




I hope those are eggs.

Things get interesting on the inside, too.


A bird-like inflatable suitable, I suppose, for Thanksgiving.

But my favorite installation plays a key role of the beginning of Dan Brown’s ‘Origin’ – his latest ‘oh this starts out really cool, oh there are some nasty villains, what tricky clues and Geez Louise, what a god awful ending’ book. If you read it, you’ll remember Robert Langdon using these ‘sculptures’ to evade the bad guys. I had trouble picturing them when I read the book, so it was good to actually be able to visit and explore them.

They are from Richard Serra and called ‘The Matter of Time’.DSC00146DSC00147

At ground level, it’s hard to grasp just how big these works are. But when you look at them from above it’s easy to see how Professor Langdon could have evaded the bad guys.

Next up: A return blog entry to Corsica.

But if you want more photos of the Goog, here’s a link to our collection on MSN One Drive.

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Christmas 2018 in and around Toulouse

It’s been a while since the last post. Sorry about that. Between work, travel and an injury, I haven’t had the time.

So to spread a little sunshine (during what is a too-long foggy period), here are some photos of Christmas-related photos from the mall and downtown Toulouse.

We start at the LeClerc Commercial Centre in Blagnac:


The Christmas Queen and members of her court.


The kids don’t seem too frightened by the Adorable, er, Abominable Snowman.


Nothing says ‘Christmas’ quite like a pair of white-clad women on stilts and wearing unicorn horns.


Even Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer can use some backup brightness.


Behind Rudolph, bears and deer and a I’m-dreaming-of-a-White-Christmas tree.

And then it was time to head into Toulouse to get a glimpse of Santa’s home and workshop:


The workshop.


The elves’ (not Elvis) bunkhouse.


Santa needs a lot of mailboxes (and apparently a signpost in English).


Even reindeer could go inside.

Meanwhile, outside of Santa’s house and workshop:


Nice product placement. Note: I have no idea who or what Oliver Coleman is.


Laughing (?) reindeer in a stable with a rather large-antlered little deer.


The two elves (not two Elvises) look a lot grumpier than I do.

And, so, as 2019 is nearly set to begin, I’ll make a resolution to post more stories in the coming year.

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Bring Your Own Medicine.

I have bursitis in my right shoulder. That’s kind of odd because I’m left-handed.

Anyhoo, after seeing a kine (physical therapist) several times without any improvement, my general practitioner sent me to rheumatologist for a cortisone injection (infiltration in French). The specialist looks at my x-rays and MRI results, manipulates my shoulder and agrees that I need a shot.

So I get one.

Then, she writes a prescription for me. It’s for the cortisone. She tells me, “I just gave you a shot, now I need you to replace it.”

There’s a pharmacy right next door (how convenient), so I present the scrip and receive a box with the cortisone (just 5.50 euros – or less than 7$ if you’re curious). I return to the doc’s office and present the receptionist with the ‘refill’. I get my bill for the office visit and off I go.

Hopefully – and the doc said this – I will see improvement beginning this weekend.


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A Chinese Tourist, Napoleon’s Birthplace and French Pastry

It was a cold like any other cold: I got it from a Chinese tourist at Napoleon’s childhood home and it took special measures to cure.

A little background: Corsica is a beautiful island in the Med that is part of France. Back in 1769 (August 15 to be precise), lil’ Napoleon Bonaparte is born in Ajaccio, a small city on the west coast of the island that would later become the capital. A territory of the city-state of Genoa for centuries, revolutionaries in Corsica declared independence in 1755, which Genoa didn’t recognize. In 1768, Genoa cedes Corsica to France (under Louis XV) and the next year (when Nappy is born), French troops beat the Corsican army. Except for a couple of years in the 1790s, Corsica has been part of France ever since.

Seemingly everyone we know in France has been there and raved about it. So the lovely missus and I recently decided to spend a week there. (Blog post and pix to come. And we agree: the place is magnifique.)

Naturally, the island claims Napoleon as their own and all sorts of monuments, squares and streets are named after him as is virtually every other bar, cafe and tourist shop.

Anyway, to make a long story short – too late – we’re in Ajaccio and go to Napoleon’s birthplace, a charming little place on a very narrow street.


Be it ever so humble…

We’ve reached the top floor and I’m looking at some artifacts when someone behind me coughs directly onto my left hand. I turn around and it’s a guy who’s part of a group of Chinese tourists. A few seconds later, he coughs again – this time directly onto my upper arm. Neither time has he covered his mouth. I know I must’ve looked angry because when I turned around to say something to him – in French or English, I hadn’t decided – his wife notices my expression, grabs hubby and pulls him away to the next room (where he continues coughing away).


His bedroom. Was he already thinking complex thoughts (pun intended)?

I tell the missus that if I get a cold, I know who to blame.

Sure enough, three days later I have a sore throat and I’m going through tissues by the gross (no pun intended).

After five days, I’m doing a bit better and after dinner, as M and I are watching TV, I’m feeling a bit peckish. Other than the light from the TV, the house is dark but I know what I’m looking for: a clear plastic box with a few tournades, a flat pastry wrapped sort of like a barber pole with custard and little chocolate chips in the seams. I see a half piece – perfect! I pair it with an adult beverage, we watch the rest of the show and head to bed.

Next morning, I get up and M asks how I’m feeling. “Really good,” I reply. “I think the cold is gone.”

I go to make a cup of coffee and think about having a tournade to have with it. I look at the box and – uh oh – the tournades have got mold – and plenty of it – on them.

Near as I can tell, I had French pastry penicillin. Regardless, the cold hasn’t come back. But I think the next time I go for a snack, I’ll turn the light on.

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Krakow – All It’s Kracked Up to be and More

With the schools back in session and everyone back to work, it was the perfect time to take a vacation. So that’s what the lovely missus and I did. For our first week off we went to Krakow, Poland. Mostly undamaged during World War 2, Krakow is a beautiful city and wonderfully inexpensive.

Our base was the Hotel Copernicus, located on the city’s oldest street and right between Wawel (vah-vell) Castle and the historic Market Square. In its past, the hotel was a residence for church officials and a dormitory for university students and, yes, Poland’s favorite astronomer also stayed there (but the rates have gone up). We decided to splurge and upgraded to a room that features a fresco dating to 1500.


We’re assuming this wasn’t some type of crib sheet or medieval graffiti.

For our first night, we decided to do something a little different: We went to a log cabin-style restaurant featuring a polka band and dancers.


Of course, there was kielbasa.

When visiting Krakow, the star attraction for many is the Market Square, inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site on the very first such list. The second largest market square in Europe, this place bustles with activity all day (and night) long. In the center, it features the Cloth Hall and its beautiful arcades. In one corner stands the magnificent St. Mary’s Basilica (alas, closed for renovations whilst we were there) and in the opposite corner is the much smaller St. Adalbert’s church. And lining the square are dozens (hundreds?) or bars and restaurants.


St. Mary’s Basilica – listen for the trumpeter every hour.


The Cloth Hall


Just some of the people exploring the market square.

At the other end of the ‘Royal Avenue’ is Wawel Hill, with its Castle, Cathedral and lookout points.


On the ramp leading up to the complex.


The cathedral and some side chapels.


Nighttime view of the castle.

The next day we were off to – where else? – the salt mine. I thought that this would be rather boring. I’m happy to say that I was completely wrong. This was a fascinating experience (despite our tour guide’s audio system not working very well).  The Wieliczka Salt Mine, in existence for more than seven centuries claims to be the oldest salt mine still in operation. And we’re not the only ones to find this an amazing experience: it was also included on the first UNESCO World Heritage list. The miners carved beautiful and whimsical statues throughout the complex. There’s even a church down there, some 100 meters or so below ground.


A princess and knight.


Bashful? Grumpy? Sneezy? Who knows?


A church where everything except the pews is made from salt.

Despite being relatively left alone by the Nazis during World War 2, the city does have a sad history with regards to its Jewish population. A ghetto was erected – its residents were forced to build the walls – and the Jews were forcibly moved there. Within the ghetto was Oskar Schindler’s factory (which offers a very moving tour) and Steven Spielberg filmed much of his movie within Krakow. Nearby is the Empty Chairs memorial, where 33 empty metal chairs represent the tragedy of Poland’s Jews.


It was sobering way to spend our last day, but we’re glad we did.

So if you’re looking for a place that is beautiful and historic, interesting and vibrant and filled with friendly people (many of whom speak English), I can’t recommend Krakow strongly enough.

Do widzenia!

If you want to see more photos, I have some small collections on MSN’s One Drive:

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San Sebastian, Spain

Recently, in a futile effort to escape from what was an extended rainy spell in Toulouse, we headed to San Sebastian, a foody city on the Atlantic coast of Spain.

I say ‘futile’ because the closer we got to the city, the harder it rained. Still, it was nice to get away and have some, indeed, wonderful food. And with Bilbao only an hour away, we went to visit the Guggenheim Museum.


Like I said, a futile attempt to escape the rain. At least on the first day.


A pretty clock complete with barometer, which was, of course, reading low pressure.


Putting a bright smile on a dreary day.


Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Probably looking for drier climes too.


Town hall…at night (for you Sponge Bob fans).


Be it ever so humble, this is what we called home for the weekend: the Hotel Londres, grand dame of the beach.


A pretty nightscape featuring a park, town hall and Jesus on a hill.


Low tide at night.


Low tide during the morning.


The camera has a great zoom.


Based on our start, who’d a-thunk I’d need shades?

Note: We learned from a restaurateur that San Sebastian has 200 days with rain per year. I really need to do better research.

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My Favoritest Aircraft: The BelugaXL

One of the things I like most about my job is that I get to see some really cool things that the general public doesn’t have the chance to do. On July 19, I was lucky enough to have one of those experiences: I was present for the first flight of the BelugaXL, Airbus’ newest super-transporter.

Airbus currently has five first-generation super-transporters: the Beluga ST. It’s always been a favorite of mine to spot one in the skies over the west side of Toulouse. The new BelugaXL is larger than the ST, which will help Airbus meet some production ramp ups.

And so on a beautiful, albeit very warm, Thursday morning, the newest Beluga began its flight test campaign with a four-hour flight. Thousands of employees – including many who worked on the aircraft – lined the runway at Toulouse-Blagnac Airport to witness take-off, which happened shortly after an ST also took off.

Early afternoon, the XL returned and the flight crew and executives gave some brief remarks followed by a party.

Here are some of my favorite photos:


The older model: the first Beluga ST.


The new model: the smiley-face livery on the first BelugaXL. The lines are strips of flight test equipment.


The new kid flying over its older brother.


Doing a fly-by prior to landing. It’s a mite bigger than the tracker plane.


Smiling and ready for its close-up.


Jonah (times 5) and the whale.


The orange-clad flight crew and Airbus execs.


New and old as seen from the party hangar.


XL and ST taking a break after an eventful day.

Final note: Since then, I’ve seen the XL smile just a couple of times. It’s my new favoritest (real word) aircraft.

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One of the traditions I had forgotten about after we left was Carnaval. This is not to be confused Carnival, the party hearty festival in Brazil or the masked ball time of year in Venice.

Think of Carnaval as a cross between Halloween without candy and Guy Fawkes Day without the fireworks. I remember that our prior hometown of Leguevin had a Carnaval each spring and was pleasantly surprised to see that our newly adopted hometown of Pibrac scheduled one as well.

The idea of Carnaval is that come springtime, the town makes an effigy – ‘Monsieur Carnaval’ – and put’s him ‘on trial’ for all of the wrongs that he committed last year. Then they torch him (like on Guy Fawkes Day), thus ‘guaranteeing’ good weather, abundant crops and – who knows? – fertility in general.

Alas, the first six months of this year being ‘crappy’ (an official meteorological term) – i.e., rainy and cold and what-the-heck-is a ‘sun’? – when the Carnaval was first scheduled back in March, il pleut des cordes – it’s raining ropes, which is better than raining cats and dogs, but still. Anyway, they cancelled the event.

So a few weeks ago, they tried again. The reason you need decent weather is that there’s a parade with the kids all dressed up in costumes (a la Halloween). At Lego Land, they just made a big loop through town. Here, they started at a middle school and ended up down at the big park near us. People from the mairie as well as the town police blocked off the roads.


The head of the parade

When the kiddies and parents arrived, they were accompanied by a clown band.


I’m hoping that French kids don’t mind clowns as much as American kids now do.

Pirates and princesses, cowboys and ballerinas, police officers and super heroes:


Hail! Hail! The gang’s all here.

When the gang had assembled, municipal workers brought in Mr. Carnaval, who turned out not to be anywhere near to a person-like effigy. Instead, it was a four-sided box painted with a circus theme.


The calm before the firestorm.

And there was no trial. The workers just doused Monsieur Box with lighter fluid and – voila! – touched a torch to ‘him’ and up in flames he went.


Where there’s smoke…


There’s fire.

Note: The skies were cloudy but the rain held off…until Monsieur Carnaval was reduced to just a frame. It started sprinkling and just as we made it home – about a 10-minute walk – the skies opened up. More raining of ropes. Guess M. Carnaval wasn’t happy about not receiving a trial.

PS: It rained pretty much most of the following week. Sigh.

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Payback’s a…What’s the Word I’m Looking For?

Recently, I went to the pharmacy to get a prescription refill. When I entered, there were two people ahead of me: a lady and a man. As I stood there, I could see that the young lady waiting on the gentleman had…the LOOK. The deer in headlights expression that I sometimes see when I try to explain or ask for something in my getting-better-but-still-needs-work French. She had no idea what the guy was saying to her. I heard him use some French and some English and at one point he starts tapping his forearm with his fingers and saying ‘the blood, the pressure, it’s high.’ Something clicked and the girl went back to the stockroom. I smile and say to the guy, “Brit or American?” “Brit,” he replies. The girl comes and gives him his meds. As he passes me, I tell him, “Next time, tell them you have ‘hypertension‘. That’s the French word for high blood pressure.” He thanks me and leaves.

It’s my turn and I get the meds without any issue.

Then…I go next door to Carrefour Express, a smaller version of a regular Carrefour grocery store. Our ice maker had stopped working so I wanted to see if they had an ice cube tray. Unfortunately, I had forgotten the word for ‘ice cubes’ (it’s glacons). So I stutter a bit and say “J’ai besoin de quelque chose pour faire de la glace” – “I need something to make ice.” The French language being what it is, glace can mean ice, ice cream, mirror or window. Now it’s my turn to get the LOOK. The cashier calls to one of her colleagues. He comes up and try a variation: “J’ai besoin d’un plateau pour faire de la glace” – “I need a tray to make ice.”

Something clicks and he takes me back to the freezer section, where he opens a door and grabs a bag of ice. Close but no cigar. Trying again to say that I want to make ice for myself, he now understands: “Désolé. Nous n’en avons pas” – “Sorry. We don’t have those.”

I thank him and return home. I go to Google Translate and discover what I should have said is: “J’ai besoin d’un bac à glaçons.

Serves me right for laughing at the poor guy with high blood pressure.

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