Tuesday, July 31, 2012


May/June 2012

Rhonda's Comments:  Ken's last salute
Well I know when I finished the last blog that we felt that would be the last one as we had sold the boat and were heading back to New Zealand to start a new life.  Following publication of that blog we received over 400 responses ranging from readers saying good bye to others asking that we continue on with our blogs at least until we had got home and settled down again. Some of the emails were quite touching and from people whom we were not aware had even been following our adventures but admitted having done so for the past 3 and a half years. It was amazing and when we considered that they lived in almost every country one could think of, we were touched and so decided to bash out another blog to cover the handover of “Somewhere” and onward to our trip home.

Rhonda's Comments:  Hope you have just as a wonderful adventure as we did Steve.
Despite the hassles of making the sale of the boat a smooth transaction thanks to the interference of the buyer’s London based Marine Solicitor, all was finally been resolved and we welcomed Steve onboard on Sunday the 13th May, signed our sale and purchase agreements and handed the keys over on the Monday. As a reward for Rhonda putting up with me for 3 and half years living on the boat (and I have to say I could not have done it nor enjoyed it without her) but I guess it is just as well I am so relaxed and easy to get on with. Yeah………. I took her to the Moulin Hotel in Moissac for dinner and the night as a treat. For those who don’t know the hotel is sits right on the Tarn River and was originally a mill built in 1457 so the brickwork and underground areas which are now steam rooms and spas etc are amazing. We got a room looking up the river over the very spot where we had moored up last summer for a week or two before being driven back to the canal as the rising water levels can make mooring dangerous there.

It was strange to sleep in such a big bed again and to have ceilings about 6 meters above ones head. The lamb diner meal was delicious and dessert a real spoiler. The free spa bath and sauna were really nice too and we finished it all off with a delightful continental breakfast. Even Harry enjoyed the room as he could see out of the floor to ceiling windows which opened out on to a balcony, hence he could see the dogs and people walking by below. It will be a rude shock for him when we go back to New Zealand as dogs aren’t generally allowed in any shops there let alone hotels or motels unlike the UK and Europe where he has been made welcome almost anywhere and everywhere including all hotels and restaurants even a couple of Michelin Star world class establishments we have been fortunate enough to visit during our time here.

Steve, the new owner moved onboard and settled into the strange new surroundings only to find that when he went for a shower the water would not drain away so despite our best advice on how to correct this problem he had to wait for the local Capitan to attend to the problem. Isn’t it always the way that some difficulty shows up when you are trying to make it all go well for all. I remember our first night onboard for us when we were so tired after 30 hours flying across the world and we kept hearing the water pump going on and off and if it hadn’t been that we were so tired we would have been awake all night I think until by fluke, I discovered that the bathroom tap was sensitive to being turned off by being put into the upright position otherwise the tap trickled causing the pump to switch on and off. Oh dear, life on the waterways.

Rhonda's Comment:  I knew I was short, but
this is ridiculous! 
Later that day we drove down to our friends farm house just west of Agen to look after it until late June while he headed off to meet up with his family back in New Zealand so it was a case of learning how to feed, water and amuse his two pigs, feed and pamper his dog who was feeling a bit neglected with him going away plus re-learning how a huge house works with all its French idiosyncrasies including the water supply, the swimming pool and cleaner and the ride on lawn mower of course. Oh well it will be fun for sure. After dropping Andrew at the station in Agen we went shopping to a huge nearby supermarket and stocked up on food and drink to suit for our stay and then snuck back to sit down and finally relax in this beautiful rural area in peace and quiet.

With time to relax and ponder over what has been, I have also been able to catch up on some reading which included a book which Rhonda had read and recommended to me. For anyone interested in the French life style with all its quirky little characteristics including all about its unusual structure of local government and rules etc this book titled “Au Revoir” by the Australian author Mary Moody who ‘ran away’ at 50 to spend 6 months living in the south west of France, is an absolute beauty. The book is written so descriptively we can only say you won’t read better if you have any thoughts of coming to spend a period of time in this great country. It will make you laugh and want to make you cry as she takes you through those 6 months of living on her own in villages mixing with the ‘real’ French. Truly it is a fantastic and very real read.

Apart from the changeable weather we have experienced which while being unusual for this time of the year is disappointing as we had hoped to be swimming as soon as we moved in. Last night we had a thunder storm which was the biggest I have experienced for many years and which went on for nearly 6 hours coupled with heavy rain so the fruit trees were damaged quite a lot. We awoke to find that the electricity for the water pump and pool filtration had blown so had to get that fixed so I could water the pigs which are fenced at the bottom of the yard. Harry took to cramming up against us in his usual “S*** and a Shiver” when conditions like this come along and even Sativa, Andrew and Laani’s dog which we are looking after, decided that it was a good idea to push her way into our bedroom too and slept on the floor jammed up against the side of the bed. Talk about keeping dogs for our protection. What a joke.

After three days of continuous heavy rain with mind and feeling as though we were in another country rather than France as this time last year we were soaking up the sunshine and swimming every chance we got to visit a local piscine (pool). We had a couple of our boating friends come to visit for lunch which should have been outside under the shade shelter but we had to sit inside but had a good chat anyhow. They were moored up on the Lot where we had started to head for when the deal for the sale of the boat came good. With all the rain we were asking how was this area and they expressed concern over the rising waters but later that night after even more heavy rain the VNF marine authorities had to move boats from any river moorings to inside the locked area away from the effects which was good but for those who couldn’t be shifted, the owners had to vacate to a gite (hostel) nearby and with the rising waters it picked up a few of the smaller boats and sat them on top of the jetties or pontoons. Very frightening but our mate Terry stayed on board his 12 m cruiser and “rode” out the storm. Braver man than me for sure.

Well like all good things and all bad things there is an ending and the rain stopped and the sun came out and all was at peace with the world again so the skimmer and the pool cleaner were switched on and yesterday Rhonda and I had our first swim for the season. Just beautiful too once you got used to the temperature of the water. We had three visitors who called unannounced. One was a painter and decorator who claimed he had to come and do some work on the outside of the building but after a text to Andrew in New Zealand he was told to “go away” as one does as he is typical of the bands of gypsies who infest the country at this time of the year and try to gain work. How he knew we were here on our own baffles me but the gates got securely locked again. Later that day a ring on the front door and again a couple who we didn’t know wanted to come in but as they couldn’t speak English we refused them entry but after a lot of gestulating and showing us keys the penny eventually dropped that they were in fact the owners of the whole property and wanted to get into the locked shed to get tools etc. Another reason why we should have learned French before we came to this country but it all ended up well after he rang his daughter to get her to speak to us in English.

Last but not least was the appearance of a meter plus long snake which came slithering along the pool decking and scared the heck out of me only to disappear below the pool banking then the next day as Rhonda sat out buy the pool it came swimming past and again slithered below the deck. When we mentioned this to Andrew in one of our emails, he said “Do not kill it whatever you do as it serves as a rodent disposer”. If he thought for one moment I was going to get any closer than a double barrel shotgun would allow, he is sure mistaken as I am terrified of them. Oh well lets hope the dogs don’t decide to chase it.

While all of this carry on has been going on, we were negotiating to buy a property for our retirement north of Auckland in the Bay of Islands which has always been a favoured spot of ours due to the magic scenery and aquatic activities for which the area is world renowned. We made an offer subject to our final approval when we were due back in New Zealand in July but were told that we would not get the property so should make an unconditional offer as another party also wanted it but needed some time to get their matters into order so in true Blakie mode we made an unconditional bid based on the photos, write up and visit to the property by our good friend Jenny who knew the area well and also what sort of home we required.

Well you may imagine how the mind was racing with all the questions “Have we bid enough? Have we chosen the right place?” and so on. Well while we sat here in the dark awaiting advice from New Zealand in their daytime we really felt like two kids at Christmas time and then the email came through with the news that our bid had been successful and we were the new owners of this wonderful property. I am sure our behaviour was quite childish really but we now have a home to go to when we get back. I am sure we will hear comments from our family and friends suggesting we have lost our sanity but we really wanted this property as it did as they say “ticked all the boxes” so we have it now and also we have been able to negotiate over the furniture which was shown in the range of photos listed and which has been placed in storage while tenants moved in for a short period. So all being well this array plus our own container load which is also in storage in Auckland should allow us to settle in as soon as we get home.

Our great pal Kerry from Napier has been assisting in the hunt for a suitable car for us so when we spotted the one on Trade Me which we wanted and Kerry was able to check it out, he will drive it to Auckland so we will have wheels awaiting us when we get off the plane so to speak. It was Kerry and Liz who were going to house Harry for a period after quarantine until we got home but due to us now having a house we can collect Harry ourselves but they still want to come with us to collect Harry so we will have a great time together as they are staying overnight at the same motel as us.

The kids and friends are excited that we are coming home after four years away so dates have been written on lots of calendars and I am sure when we do get there we will enjoy lots of greetings, kisses and cuddles not to mention all the chat, cups of coffee and tea plus wine and other such tongue looseners as the days go on but of course we have yet to complete the journey and we do look forward to our next few weeks stay here and then our drive to Paris over 6 days while we look at some more of this wonderful country. We then fly to Malta for 6 days then to Dubai for 7 more days followed by 3 days in Singapore then home.

Rhonda's Comments:  We are so going to miss lunches like this with great friends, Alan & Nicki.

In the meantime of course, we have several activities here to complete like seeing folks who have become friends and who are still in this area plus enjoying or enduring depending on ones point of view, 4 days of almost non-stop TV viewing of the Diamond Jubilee from London. Rhonda’s love of the royal family meant that she watched every moment of any bit of TV coverage from the pre-event activities to the full day Thames river 1000 boat flotilla to the concert outside Buckingham Palace to the church service at St Paul’s Cathedral and the following lunch at Westminster Hall with the Fly-Past finally closing the official events late on Tuesday afternoon. I know there were interviews with folk who had slept out overnight to be in the right position to “see the Queen” with thousands queuing from 6 am each day to ensure they would have good views of the passing parades and activities. Amazing when you consider that over 4 million people have attended the Jubilee activities, yet only 29 arrests were recorded for anti-social behaviour for the whole period. Imagine the behaviour if that many had turned up for footy games…….

Rhonda's Comments:  More farewells but we hope we will see you all on this side of the world soon.
It says something about the wonderful example set by the Queen showing dignity, standards and restraint which rubbed off on the visitors and when you consider that thousands stood for up to 10 hours in the rain on the Saturday, uncomplaining to watch the flotilla navigate that stretch of the Thames or to get only a glimpse of the Royals attending a particular event. One has to be impressed to say the least. Again it was a showing of the stoic attitude of the British people and may it long continue.

On Friday the 15th of June we packed up the rental car and headed off on the last land sections of our French adventure. We drove to Brantome for a delightful lunch and to see the oldest church spire in all of France. This town is set alongside the river Drone and a large part of the old town is set right into the limestone cliffs and these caves include at least a part of everything from restaurants and housing to commercial car parking. A fascinating place and well worth a visit for sure. After a few hours of sightseeing we headed off to Limoges for an overnight so we were at the town of Oradour-sur-Glane for first viewings the next morning.

Oradour-sur-Glane is a town which during WW2 was a simple small community of under a thousand people just getting on with life despite having German troops camped outside of town. On the morning of the 10 June 1944 the troops entered the town herding all the occupants into the town square where they ordered all the women and children of all ages to go to the church which had only two doors which could be opened. In the square they made the men folk start digging a large trench while they started to hang from trees or buildings any “listed” Communists or Spanish emigrants plus local officials like the mayor and religious ministers etc. This was done in front of the standing locals and then the soldiers were given the order to fire, and every person in that square was executed by these firing squads and the atrocities carried on as officers walked on the bodies to shoot any person showing any sign of life. They then turned their attention to the women and children locked into the church and they poured drums of oil and petrol and diesel in through the windows and set it alight. One can only imagine the horror of those poor souls as they fought and scrambled to try to get away from the flames and trying to protect their children while the soldiers fired upon any persons trying to escape the inferno. In all, over 600 people were killed with only three escapees in total living to be able to relate to the world this horrible event.

As if this wasn’t enough the German soldiers looted every house and business and then lit fires in every building, destroying all standing structures and throwing the remains of the bodies into those fires to try to eliminate any traces of this evil deed. As a tribute to the town folk the government at the end of the war decreed that the town skeleton would stay as a memorial to the 600 plus who perished. The photos we took are only a small reminder of what must be regarded as a very dark day in Germany’s history.

A new town has been built almost alongside the old ruins and is laid out in the same pattern as the old. Well worth a visit and some thought as to man’s inhumanity to mankind.

Following the visit we headed off across some great farming countryside (huge plains of slight rolling country for hundreds of kilometres) using the minor roads and on to the city of Tours which is a really large city in every respect. We stayed out on the outskirts as we have become folk who don’t like big towns or cities if we can avoid them.
Rhonda's Comment:  A visit to Chenonceau.  Harry was
even welcome inside the Chateau.

Tomorrow we will drive again on the country roads to Bayeux where Rhonda hopes to visit the UNESCO listed famous tapestry denoting William the Conquerors’ conquest of England in 1066. This embroidery is almost 70 meters in length depicting 600 people, 200 horses and forty or so ships plus hundreds of animals and mythological figures and was completed in the 11th century and in the following 900 years it has been hidden umpteen times and protected from destruction and now hangs for all to see and marvel over.
Rhonda's Comment:  Harry has the best seat and view in the car as we head north to Paris.

As we were staying at Bayeux which is just a short hop from the beaches with names like Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword all famous or infamous as being the beaches where the Allies landed on 6th June 1944, D Day, to begin the liberation of Europe and generally named as the beaches of Normandy, we made a visit to the area. We went to the coastal town of Arromanches which is in the central area of this landing zone and where the famous Mulberry Breakwater which was towed in sections across the channel from England and was anchored into place to provide a harbour-like shelter for unloading facilities for the Allied drive and proved very successful until storms late in August destroyed it but not before 18,000 tonnes were unloaded from the ships and landing craft every day over a period of a month. It was called Winston Harbour after the British Prime Minister of the day and many of these huge concrete monoliths are still visible from the shore today.

The beaches as listed above are still places where tourists and servicemen, including some who served here during the war pay homage to the 100,000 personnel and civilians who lost their lives in this region and who are buried in a number of cemeteries nearby. What a sad, wicked loss of life for all nationalities who were involved. To visit he American cemetery alone where some 9,500 servicemen are buried is a very sombre sight indeed. The continued drive across this beautiful country was a sombering few hours as one reflected on what had gone all those years before.

After a nights stopover at Evreux, we headed to Monet’s Home and Garden in Giverny where we spent a couple of delightful hours wandering through the great layout and visiting the water gardens where he painted some of his wonderful works of art and lived in these magnificent garden surroundings. As the day went on, I bet there were a thousand or so sightseers paying their 9.50E to take a look with most carrying cameras and snapping on almost every scene and flower that was there. With gardeners working in every plot it seemed, I wondered just what it would be like to be able to sit back and order all this work to be carried out to ones whim. Oh well another lottery ticket may solve the problem.

While in this area we visited a huge model train layout housed in an ex-farm barn, so one gets the idea of the size of the layout inside. Dominated by the German model train maker and Faller the model building manufacturer it was just amazing. With some 230 locomotives, 430m track, 650 houses and buildings, 1,250 vehicles and people, more than 2,500 lights, it included little working features and structures such as cranes, concrete mixing trucks, fairground attractions, cable cars running up the mountains, helicopters and even an ice skating rink with the figures pirouetting around ever so beautifully. With a number of trains running on the tracks at any given time, there is so much to see for kids like me.

From there we headed into Paris to get everything sorted for Harry to go off to quarantine and then on to his flight back to New Zealand followed by 10 days in quarantine there before we are able to pick him up. I bet if they made humans tolerate these sorts of controls there would be no shortage of seats on flights or availability of upgrades to business class etc. Never mind, it will soon be over and we too will be home in Godzown ready to settle down (who knows) into our next adventure.

I have decided that we will finish the run of our blogs now when to avoid boring you with domestic type details so will take this opportunity to say “Farewell” and “Thank you” to our friends, readers and followers who we have had so much encouragement from and to use the famous Virgin CEO, Richard Branson’s wonderful title from his book which is so apt, “Screw it, Just do it”, and the great saying from our dear friend and solicitor in New Zealand, Andrew Stokes who used to tell Rhonda and me “Life aren’t a dress rehearsal, just get on and do it” and thank goodness we did. Maybe you can follow these wonderful sayings yourselves too.

To all of our readers whom we haven’t been able to contact directly to say “Cheerio” we now do so and thank you for your moral support as we have tried to keep you informed of our travels and adventures and do sincerely hope that you too get the chance to “JUST DO IT.”

Happy Cruising
Ken, Rhonda and of course Harry