Archive for the ‘holiday’ Category

Bordeaux week 2 – surf dudes and card sharks

Four of us left early(-ish) one morning to head for the Atlantic coast. Gabe, beach unfriendly, stayed at the gite. 75 minutes drive later, we parked, walked through a pine wood and dunes onto a long, wide beach. I discussed the possibility of a surfing lesson in French and then in English with Vincent, a lean, tanned surfer. Eliza and Robin were given clammy wet suits and waited for the rest of Vincent’s class. Eventually, he said they could start. 

For the next 90 minutes, as the tide swelled inwards, Robin and Eliza went from lying on the board to picking themselves up and standing, if only for a few seconds, as waves swept them towards the beach. “The best thing of my 13 years” said Eliza. Robin was just as enthusiastic.

Every night, we settled around the table to play cards. Whist, contract whist, black two, hearts, etc. Gabe had a lordly air, playing to win and controlling the music. We were each asked for a track, which he might censor, before calling up on Spotify and certainly criticise once it was playing. The cards games were keenly competitive, verging on the unfriendly. Robin, tired and less adept, was heckled for holding up play or teased for poor judgement. The edge to the evening was broken when we wrapped up the game and headed to bed.

Bordeaux week 1 – sleep, eat, rest

Gabe flew with us. For two days in the run-up to the holiday he had called L and my bluff and said he’d prefer to spend two weeks with his Grandpa than fly. As L and I made ready with compromises, he backed down. His aspiration for the holiday: sleep, eat, rest.

Mornings in the gite passed quickly. The kids rose late and lazed around the lounge with headphones and devices. To those activities they would return directly from finishing lunch. But some days we enforced trips: to Saintes, Bordeaux, Royan, the beach at St-Palais-sur-mer. These risked, and usually resulted in bad tempers, with frequency related to increasing age of child. The tempers could be assuaged with pizza lunch, or ice cream.

We went kayaking up a river that flowed gently into the Gironde. Robin and I had just established a good rhythm when a kayak occupied by two grey-haired men and a young woman capsized. Hampered by language and them being too heavy to haul onto our kayak, they spent ten minutes in the water holding onto their upturned vessel before they maneuvered to the bank, tipped the water out of their kayak, climbed back in and continued their trip.

Back at the gite, the pool and table-tennis prompted the most activity, particularly from Robin. We borrowed bikes and cycled on the narrow roads bordered with vines and sunflower fields. A couple of evenings, they joined in the rounders match run by the hosts’ children, involving the kids of the other gite and the French children staying with the owner.

Sights of Tuscany

The children might have settled for two whole weeks at the villa, but L & I led us away every second or third day to a Tuscan sight.

In Pisa and Florence we scaled tall buildings: the leaning tower and the domo. Robin was enthralled by the climbs and the sense of height. Eliza was anxious and needed a hand to be held (almost as much as I did) as we walked around the summit of both climbs. Gabe made it to the top of the Leaning Tower, briefly, but pulled out of the ascent of the domo before the section that took you up stairs cut into the arc of the lower level of the dome.

The children were more reluctant to appreciate the architecture from street-level – apart from in Pisa where the tower offered photographic opportunities. We managed an hour and a half in the Uffizi: Eliza most focused on the art; Gabe on historical and cultural facts; Robin under intense strain.

More popular was a day at a crowded water park. As a threesome, they queued for trips down slides, not demanding L or I participate.

But every trip out was tolerated knowing that it would bring a reward in the form of ice cream, coke and pizza.

Calci

Two weeks holiday in a villa situated on a farm in a valley outside Pisa.

Robin

Robin inhabited the pool as much as he did the villa. He took every opportunity to be there and then stretched that opportunity to the maximum. Of a uniform depth, Robin could on tiptoes just stand with this face, tilted upwards, out of the water. Hour after hour he immersed himself. Gliding, twisting and spinning like an otter in the water – his favourite manoeuvre was a backwards turn under water. Then batting a ball around, or wrestling a lilo. And always diving or pitching himself back into the pool.

Gabe

Gabe was more taken by the charms of the villa. He lay on its sofas in the red-tiled living room for hours, particularly through the morning and early afternoon. He read To Kill a Mocking Bird and Harper Lee’s sequel in long spells of intense concentration. He surfed on his phone, listened to music and by the second week there was the Olympics, through the lens of Italian TV.

But he was more sociable than last year and when he came to the pool he orchestrated games – happily and unashamedly competitive.

Eliza

Eliza inhabited a middle ground: reading and playing on her phone at the villa, but more easily drawn to the pool than Gabe. There she sat on the side of the pool, often with a book as an excuse not to get in and face the shortlived cold shock. But once in the pool she joined in with Robin and they played together as they have done for nearly ten years. Eliza even took part in the one bounce games of footie beside the pool.

Having swum and splashed for a while, Eliza loved to lie on the red stone that surrounded the pool, soaking up rays from the sun and heat from below, leaving a damp body imprint on the stone that she would jump up from after a few minutes to admire.

Out in Languedoc

The Domaine’s electric steel door drew to the side with the touch of a button fob and we were out into Languedoc, near Beziers. Beaches, predictable destinations, proved unpopular, with complaints about sand and saltwater rashes on Robin. 

The best watery fun was had on a floating, inflatable obstacle course at Cap d’Agde. For an exhausting hour, the kids, clambered, slid and threw themselves into, along and off bouncy obstacles and into the lagoon. The course was very lightly supervised (although we all wore life-jackets) so everyone helped one another out of the water and back onto the inflatables for another round of charges, leaps and slides. 

We also swam in the fresh water of the River Herault, from the shore at the far side of a lake from Pont de Diable where devil-may-care youngsters plunged 30m from the bridge. Our youngsters liked the thrill of the current that pulled them out of the lake and down the shallow river. 

We did a high trees adventure, again lightly supervised in French style, climbing, balancing and sliding along zip-wires. We knew we had to stay clipped on to the wires, but were left to manage the obstacles at our own pace, without warnings or encouragement. 

With so much to enjoy at our domaine, we stayed within an hour or so of Beziers. Two exceptions were: to visit the Curries’ Proven├žal holiday home and a trip to Carcassonne, the return from which was long and arduous as it coincided with a storm that threw so much water on the road that the lines marking the lanes were hard to see. 

We visited local towns, but two cathedrals in the first three days of the holiday was held against us by Robin. The best trip to a town was to find ice-cream in Beziers. The destination we chose, a bar on a square, serving many flavours of artisanal ices, was a near perfect fulfilment of an admittedly simple need. 

At Domaine St Pierre-Le-Vieux

The pool was where the kids excelled: diving into the water, hauling themselves out, joking and challenging each other. Allowing a few minutes to dry, then back awkwardly over the gravel without shoes and a dash across the lawn into the apartment to rejoin games and videos on their tablets and phone. Gabe, flat on his bed, with curtains drawn shut; Eliza and Robin sprawling on the sofas, or wedged against a wall where their device was recharging. 

But there was also tennis – mostly for Gabe, Robin and me. Played in the heat of the day, the twilight or the cool approach of a storm. A rotating game of singles, one service game each and a long tie-break if those games were served. At the start of the holiday, Eliza and Robin hunted lizards around the monastery grounds. Eliza built up an unassailable lead. 

Meals also absorbed the hours. Sometimes on the terrace, until we became perhaps complacent about outdoor eating or intolerant of ants dropping from the creepers above. After the evening meal, we played scrabble and more often cards: Liar, Black Two. Gabe could sometimes be persuaded to put down his phone and join us. Robin sometimes had to be persuaded to go to bed to stop his tired incompetence messing up the game. 

It wasn’t holiday euphoria, but a real measure of its worth, that had us all conclude St Pierre-Le-Vieux was our favourite holiday home. 

Half-term holiday

An idle start to the half-term holiday became much more active when we drove north to St Andrews. On the first day there, after a trip for Robin and me to the barber, we played badminton. Half-court singles and then doubles. Gabe and Robin played a tight match with Gabe lying on his back close to the net and Robin limited to hitting the shuttle-cock into the front portion of the court.

On day two, the boys and I played tennis. The sun was low and stingingly bright. After some rallying, we played two-game matches. Robin, flailing his racket and rushing around the court, frustrated Gabe by breaking his serve. Cousin F’s arrival in the afternoon brought garden football and a gymnastics routine with Eliza.

On day three, Robin and Eliza (reunited as pals), went swimming together. The first time they had been in a pool without an adult. Meanwhile, Gabe and I played a keen match of table tennis on a squash court.

With Grandpa aiming to sell the house, it may be our final stay in St Andrews.