In September one of my friends came to visit me in France. As I’d had a lot of visitors already this year and it’s quite hard work entertaining and looking after them - sometimes I feel like I’m running a hotel without getting paid – I had suggested a couple of nights away staying in the Cognac region. It’s only about one and a half to two hours drive away, but I’d never been there before and I’d been told that it was a beautiful place to visit.
We decided to spend the first night in Cognac and I booked a lovely bed and breakfast in the old part of Cognac. It was just a stone’s throw away from (= close to) the river. The old part of Cognac was cobbled (= paved in cobblestones which are stoned that have a rounded edge so the surface of the road is uneven) and quaint (= had an old-fashioned charm or attractiveness). Our room had old beams (= long pieces of wood supporting the ceiling) and a view into the pretty courtyard garden (= small garden surrounded by walls).
We chatted with the French owner for a while and then went for a walk along the beautiful, tranquil river:
We chose a restaurant with a fantastic view over the river and enjoyed a simple meal before taking a short walk around the old district of Cognac and marveling at the age of some of the houses:
The next morning we enjoyed a leisurely typically French breakfast of warm croissants (= savory pastries) and butter (my friend enjoyed the local jam too, but I’m not a fan of it) with the owner, and took another walk along the river. We drove to the modern centre to look at the shops and the bustling square and pavement cafés and bought some sandwiches and snacks.
Next we set off for nearby Jarnac.
The most amazing show at Puy du Fou, however, is the night time show called ‘Cinescénie’. The audience arrives in their thousands to await nightfall. Whilst we’re waiting we’re encouraged to get into a good mood by participating in Mexican waves along the long rows of people.
The most overwhelming aspect of the spectacle is the detail and sheer number of people involved in it. Between 1,000 and 1,500 people take part - from young children to elderly people and plenty of animals too. The majority of the people are from the local area who are just proud to participate. Only a small number of the participants are professional, paid participants such as the daring knights on their chargers. Their jousting (=a combat in which two knights on horseback attempt to unhorse each other with blunted lances = long sticks/weapons) displays are breathtaking. The story unfolds to tell of the war and fighting in the region.
Throughout the whole evening it seems impossible to feel sure that you aren’t missing some of the action as everywhere in front of you something different and exciting is taking place: groups of people dancing, a bullock pulling a cart, a girl shooing her geese, a young boy herding his sheep, the knights or the soldiers. The costumes are amazing – a blaze of color for those representing the elite (= richest or most important people) of the medieval period and the brightly colored uniforms of the soldiers from a later period contrast with the whites and browns of the clothes of the poor peasants.
Finally, it builds to a crescendo (= increased sound, a climax of sound) and the music peaks (reaches its highest point) and is accompanied by a stunning display of fireworks setting the night sky alight against a backdrop of a burning castle.
For a sneak peek (= hurried, furtive look) at it watch:
Our final daytime adventure was a new attraction that had been built and put on for the first time this year. It depicted (=showed) the region at a time of war and the men were getting ready to set off to do their duty leaving the women in charge of the castle and fortress. Before they left we were treated to a dashing (= lively, gallant, showy) display of the knights’ jousting (= combat on horseback where each of the knights tries to unseat the other using a blunt i.e. not sharp lance) and proving their daring and courage. Next we were all amazed by the men’s riding capabilities as we marveled (= wondered, filled with admiration and astonishment) at their acrobatics standing on their horses, swinging themselves from side to side and turning around on their horses whilst galloping along. Soon my hands were feeling quite sore from applauding so much!
Before they left for war, a magic lance (= a long wooden shaft with a pointed metal head, used as a weapon by knights) was given to the shepherdess who was the sweetheart of one of the knights.
Next a small group of pilgrims and priests arrive and ask the castle for board and lodging (= something to eat and a place to sleep). However, not everything is as it seems as, in fact, they are soldiers in disguise! They open the gates to their marauding (= raiding) army and it soon looks as if all is lost and that the castle will easily fall into their hands.
We mustn’t forget our shepherdess and her magic lance! She conjures (= do something as if by magic or with a magic spell) victory out of defeat with her magical powers! The special effects during this scene are amazing with the castle walls dropping into the earth and the castle itself rotating on its axis (= moving around on a central line of its structure). Any engineers among you would no doubt be impressed!
Let us know if you have any fantastic tourist sites in your country to rival (= compete, have something equally good) Puy du Fou! Describe them for us.
Our next adventure at Puy du Fou was to visit the spectacle titled the Vikings. All started off very happily with a wedding ceremony and glimpses (= brief looks, views, sights) of English village life. Animals once again featured (= appeared) largely in the performance with geese, wolfhounds, even some shy deer as well as the stalwart (= strong, brave) horses making an appearance.
However, once time had passed and the married couple had had a baby, the peace was shattered (= broken) by the dramatic entrance of a Viking ship and its marauders (= invaders, attackers) attacking the village intent on ransacking (= robbing) and pillaging (= robbing using violence) the village and killing the occupants.
They set fire to the village to destroy it and killed a lot of the villagers trying to defend it. The young woman struggled desperately (= fought) against the Vikings and screamed as her baby was torn out of her arms and thrown into the river.
Suddenly an ancient Viking ship rose from beneath the river. Strangely there were people on this new apparition (= something that appears and is remarkable or startling). The fighting came to a halt (= stop). Next a priest ascended (= rose, came up out of) from the river carrying the baby and it was still alive – a miracle!
The villagers started to rejoice (= celebrate, be happy and joyful). The Vikings -seemingly astounded (= amazed, surprised) by the strange happenings – joined in the villagers’ celebrations and it seemed as if they would unite with (= join together with) the village community.
The next show was the one that a lot of visitors feel is the most exciting. For this we entered a building that was built to resemble the Coliseum at Rome. There were thousands of people in the audience seated around a huge arena.
Each of the shows has its own story and this one began with some Christians drawing their symbol of a fish in the sand of the arena. Unfortunately for them they were caught by Roman soldiers and placed in a cage ready for their punishment.
The ‘Games’ were to honor the Emperor and started with a procession of animals, people and other ‘booty’ (= spoils/wealth taken from an enemy in a war) captured by the Romans in the course of expanding their Empire. In the procession we were amazed to see ostriches, camels and a leopard in a cage.
A number of other Christians were also herded into the arena. The Commander of the Roman soldiers declared to the Emperor that he had fallen in love with a Christian girl and had converted to Christianity. He begged that the Christians should be allowed to follow their faith without punishment, but the Emperor was steadfast (= firm in purpose, wouldn’t change) in his hatred and ordered the soldiers to seize their commander. He declared that the Commander along with the young men who’d been captured earlier should fight the best gladiators. The huge gladiators entered the arena armed to the teeth (= heavily armed with dangerous weapons). The Commander had his sword but the young Christians had no weapons to defend themselves and had to find what they could in the arena. Soon the Commander was fighting the gladiators alone as the Christian boys had been slaughtered (= brutally killed). Against all odds (= despite the very low probability of success) the Commander defeated all of the gladiators. The Emperor was still unwilling to show mercy and ordered a chariot race against his best teams:
We supported the Commander in his white chariot and cheered when he won the race. The Emperor however reneged on (= went back on; went back on his word) his agreement and threw him in a cage, tied the Commander’s Christian lover to a post and ordered the lions out to feast. Despite the soldiers encouraging them to ‘eat their dinner’ the 3 lions merely snarled (= growled threateningly) and lay down. Next a tiger came leaping out – but that too ignored the sacrificial girl and bounded to the other side of the arena.
Finally, a senator came to plead the case of the Commander and berated (= scolded, rebuked) the Emperor for not honoring his promises. The Commander rallied the soldiers back to his command and the Emperor was thrown into the arena and chased out by a hyena.
My great nephew was spellbound (= fascinated, entranced, as if under a spell) throughout the whole show! It was an amazing spectacle.
In the next show we witness a Viking attack!
Last week I was visited here in France by my sister, her husband and my great-nephew (my sister’s eldest grandchild). My great-nephew, Brad, is a very lively 5 year old! I’d organized a full itinerary for their stay here and, although I knew it would be exhausting, I was sure it would keep him entertained during our stay.
The highlight of the trip was a day out at a special park called ‘Puy du Fou’. It’s only about an hour and a quarter’s drive from my home. We knew that we’d be busy throughout the day so we actually hoped that it wouldn’t be too hot as that would make it an exhausting day.
We were lucky with the weather as it was a nice heat – occasionally cool and occasionally hot. When it got hot, my nephew entertained himself by cooling down under jets of misted water – he thought they were great fun.
There’s a huge choice of things to do at the park but, if you are only there for a day’s visit, then you have to limit what you try to do and see and plan your day like a military campaign! The shows start at specified times according to the program of the day.
The first attraction we visited was ‘The Ball (or I prefer to think of it as a ‘ballet’) of the Birds’.
The human participants were all dressed in medieval costumes and we, as the audience, sat in a large arena. The spectacle uses 250 birds in the show and 50 different species of birds. There were doves, different kinds of owls, eagles, vultures, and a serpentine bird that ‘danced’ whilst it attacked a (rubber) snake. The birds themselves swooped and hovered over our heads and, occasionally when coaxed by a handler, sat on people’s heads too. Instinctively I ducked as they flew over my head – they were so close it felt like they parted my hair as they flew over! Some of the birds were released from a balloon high in the sky and came plummeting (= dive, drop, plunge, swoop) down to receive tasty morsels (= small mouthfuls or portions of food) of meat.
The grand finale was a balletic (= like a ballet, graceful and with precision) swooping and diving display of numerous birds – seemingly in time to the accompanying music. It was a magical sight!
‘Bastille Day’ is celebrated in France on 14th July. The name originates from the storming of the Bastille which occurred in Paris on 14th July, 1789. The medieval fortress and prison in Paris known as the Bastille represented royal authority in the center of Paris. Its fall was the flashpoint (= critical point or stage - particularly one likely to erupt into violence) of the French revolution. The Bastille and its fall have come to represent the French Republic and 14th July is a national holiday in France.
In the little village where I live in France it is a day to enjoy sociably with friends. The village square proudly flies its tri-colored flags and the committee in charge of the celebration has been busy organizing food and drink for the occasion. From midday people start to congregate in the square in front of the medieval tower to purchase their lunch. This is traditionally garlic bread, mussels and French fries, wine – no French lunch would be complete without it – followed by fruit tart, cheese and coffee. One of the local men rushed over brandishing (= waving, carrying) bottles of rum and brandy to ensure we didn’t drink our coffee ‘neat’ (= without anything in it).
During the afternoon you can entertain yourself by watching the go-karts racing down the street as the main street has been closed to traffic, or play a game of ‘palet’ (= a traditional French game where you throw disks onto a board and aim for the ‘jack’).
The local cafés and ice cream parlor do a good trade throughout the day, as do the artists’ studios in the village. Once it gets dark then it’s time to secure a good viewing point over the river to watch the fireworks display. This is always spectacular and warrants (= deserves) its round of applause at the end.
Finally you can spend the next hours dancing in the square. It’s quite a family affair with many of the young children allowed to stay up late and take part in the dancing.
We returned to Surabaya by train. On our travels we’d not found any souvenirs or gifts for my friend to buy to take back to her friends and family. So a serious shopping trip was top of the itinerary for the day.
The shopping malls in Surabaya are excellent so I knew for sure that she’d find things there but, for a choice of more unusual items then I suggested we first visit the traditional shop called ‘Mirota’. It was well-stocked with a huge variety of handicrafts and batik (traditional, printed material in cotton or silk), as well as well-crafted furniture, pottery, ceramics, paintings and antiques. The handicrafts originate from all over Indonesia. As we wandered around we could listen to typical Javanese music. I was a regular customer at Mirota because it also operated an exchange bookshop for English books where you could purchase books, read them and return them and receive a lower price on return. It also had a small café selling traditional drinks, ice cream and snacks.
Next I suggested visiting ‘Pasar Ampel’ – this is the vibrant, colorful market in the Arab quarter. Many of the stalls were selling food - the dates were gorgeous – but there were also stalls selling material, scarves, pashminas and leather goods. Here my friend had to hone (= improve, perfect) her haggling (= negotiating for a low price) skills to be sure of getting a good bargain!
Finally we stopped off at Tunjungan Plaza which is the mall opposite the Majahapit hotel. Here the main department stores of SOGO and Matahari provided a great choice of gifts to finish off our shopping expedition.
The sulphur miners stopped, accepted our cigarettes and chatted for a while. They thought they were very lucky to have this job as their pay (which sounded abysmally low to me!) was far higher than if they’d had a normal job. Aside from the demanding physical toll on their bodies -which was evident when we asked their ages and privately thought they looked at least ten years older – we were told that they had to sleep here half-way up the mountains, only returning to their families one day per week. We stopped at the ‘dormitory’ half-way up the mountain and were shocked by the cramped (= crowded, limited in space) sordid (= dirty, filthy) conditions they were expected to endure – and pits dug as toilets nearby.
Our journey ended at the top with a spectacular – if smelly – view over the crater. If you arrive after 9a.m. apparently the view tends to be obscured by mist.
However, for the miners, they still had to traverse (= cross) a steep and narrow path down into the crater to hew (= cut, hack) sulphur out of the crater. They needed to be sure-footed for no one could survive a fall into the sulphur lake.
I felt humbled by these men who not only didn’t complain about their lot (= fate; destiny) in life but even considered themselves lucky carrying out this dangerous and physically taxing (= burdensome; makes you feel tired) work. Our guides had even carried our packs for us during the climb! I was pretty sure a day of work in the crater and climbing up and down laden with sulphur would kill me!
We were starving so, as soon as we reached Banguwangi, we headed straight for a restaurant to eat. Our guide took us to a traditional restaurant and suggested that he ordered some typical dishes for us. That was fine by me. I couldn’t stop laughing however when the soup arrived - my friend’s face was a picture when she scooped up her first spoonful and found chicken feet in it! Still, she was happy enough with the simpler chicken legs and rice for the main meal.
The next morning we had an early start as we needed to get to the foot of Mount Ijen by 7:30a.m. to start the climb before it got too hot. The drive over was lovely and passed through areas that had formerly been colonial coffee plantations as well as some pretty villages.
We started the climb promptly on our arrival. Our guide had warned us that the workers would stop us and that we weren’t to give them money, but he’d stopped en route and we’d purchased cigarettes which he told us to offer them instead. I felt a little uncomfortable at the thought of handing out cigarette as a non-smoker but deferred (= yield, submit, follow) to his judgement.
The climb was a steep winding track up to the crater. En route, sure enough, we encountered (= met) the workers already making their way down. I was amazed and horrified to see their loads! They carried baskets full of sulphur weighing approximately 70kg which was about their own body weight. Most of the men were wearing flimsy flip flops and a few were proudly wearing wellington boots.
To be continued in the next blog post…
We were dejected (= depressed, low-spirited, disheartened) to hear that the only route out of remote coastal Sukamede was to retrace the journey we’d made the day before! We groaned at the thought of another ‘massage’ – we were still aching from the last one! There was nothing for it – we had to grin and bear it (= endure something in good humor)…
Once again our lodgings were supposed to be simple but clean. They were mini-log cabins on stilts surrounded by trees and adjacent to a sandy beach. There was just one man in charge of the accommodation and obviously our ideas of cleanliness were far removed from his! The cabin was ant-infested! The windows were covered in monkey excrement – it made us wonder how much sleep we’d get if they were about… Not only that but there was no food available – it was going to be a long drive to eat. Naturally we weren’t impressed by these poor facilities as our accommodation had all been organized in advance. Our guide tried his best to get things cleaned up but all the guy did was come over and rub the windows with a filthy rag. He put some different covers on the bed, but they still looked filthy. I’d already been bitten by ants and felt very itchy…
We looked at each other and said ‘No way! We’re not stopping here.’ I went out to the guide and driver to see what our options were and we decided to continue on to Banguwangi and stay in the hotel there again.
To try to get something positive from this stop we visited the Hindu temple in the forest:
We also climbed the viewing tower to see if there were any animals on the prairie/savannah. We were out of luck – it was mid afternoon and the best times for viewing were early morning or early evening.
Next day we are going to visit the sulphur crater at Ijen…
Once again, like on my travels in Borneo, we were waiting to hear of a turtle making its way onto the beach to lay its eggs. We still remembered our awe on ‘Turtle Island’ in Borneo watching 120 eggs being laid – each looking just like tiny ping pong balls. Here in Alas Purwo it was also a ranger protected area and, once the mother had left, the eggs would be dug out and taken away to protect them from predators (rats, monitor lizards etc). After our exhausting journey we felt really tired and decided to set a deadline. As we’d already witnessed this amazing sight once before, we felt that it didn’t warrant staying up all night – perhaps in vain. Our deadline came and no turtle had arrived so we went to bed.
Next day we learned that just one turtle had arrived to lay its eggs in the middle of the night. We went to see some cute little hatchlings:
The hatchlings were only tiny but they had very strong little legs and flippers.
Even with all of the efforts of the rangers and protected areas, their chances of survival on release into the sea were still slim – with perhaps only 2 – 3% escaping predators such as gulls and crabs.
There were also some larger tanks holding some older leatherback turtles in order to give them a better chance of survival once they were released.
Next we make a visit to a Hindu temple and Sadengan prairie nature reserve…
Next came the most arduous (= steep) and grueling (= exhausting) drive of the trip. The next section of the route to Sukamade involved a tortuous climb along a steep and winding road. The road quality was questionable too! We had been told by our guide that we needed to hire a four-wheel drive vehicle and its driver for our trip and thank goodness he’d given this advice and organized it! We hadn’t gone far when we came across a family in their people carrier which had overheated and broken down. There was no way they were going to be able to make it across. Their only chance was to wait for it to cool down and turn around.
The road was so uneven and bumpy we had to hold tight onto the handles inside the ancient Jeep and, even so, we felt as if our teeth were rattling. Our guide laughed and informed us that we were getting an impromptu (= sudden, done without preparation) ‘massage’ – free gratis (= at no cost). We thought wistfully (= with longing) of hot stone massages, delicately perfumed oils and the tender ministrations (= act of taking care, looking after) of our masseuses back in the five star hotels! Still, we were on an adventure and the discomfort would soon be forgotten.
We arrived safely at our destination – the tiny, out-of-the way village of Sukamade. As we’d been promised, our accommodation was very simple and basic, but scrupulously (= extremely) clean. We needed to stretch our legs (= go for a walk after a long period of sitting) after the journey. Once again the local villagers were very friendly and welcoming:
My friend, Mary Rose, originally comes from a dairy farm in Ireland and she put all of her persuasive skills to work trying to entice (= lead on, persuade with some reward) the cow to come and say ‘hello’. It took quite a lot of time and effort, but she was eventually successful!