It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Have you ever thought about people coming to live in New Zealand from other countries?

We are those people now. Those people you may not be sure whether you should talk loudly to as they may not understand. Those people who don't quite know the right social niceties to say at the right time. Needless to say, it can be a little awkward. It has definitely given me a greater appreciation for people learning English as a second language.

Recently we decided to rent a car and do a day trip to La Rochelle (click here for info). It is about a two hour drive from Bordeaux. It is a picturesque wee city with a thriving tourism industry based around the Old Harbour (Vieux Port). Some of its architecture dates from the 14th century. When we were there, there was a marathon on and also a chocolate festival so there were a lot of people there. We visited the large Aquarium, which the children loved. There is a tunnel just for kids which goes underneath one of the tanks so kids feel like they are among the fish. At the end, there is a huge tortoise rescue centre where you walk along rope bridges and stairways and the tortoises swim alongside.

We had lunch at the restaurant at the Aquarium, where I had a delicious salmon risotto dish. The rice was so creamy (I'm sure it would have had cheese in it). Dessert was a pear tart with decadent salted caramel icecream.

Next we went to the Musee des Automates (museum of automated machines), which is filled with moving toys and puppets. The kids thought it was cool, pressing the buttons to see what the models did, but Dave and I found a few of the displays quite creepy. There was a life-size Paris street circa 1900 complete with buskers, bakers, artists. Next door is the model railway and model boat museum which included a display of navigation history. Master 6 loved the light and sound show with model galleons having a battle on a pool of water, complete with cannon fire. (Miss Two decided she did not want to see this and screamed until she was taken out).

On our bike rides, we discovered an amazing park, Parc de Majolan, which was designed in the 1880's in the romantic style of the time to resemble the ruins of a castle. It surrounds a large lake. There are also caves you can enter in the summertime. The park is filled with beautiful bridges, crumbling archways and even peacocks amongst a wilderness of trees. It was like stepping into Middle Earth and the kids found a playground with a flying fox.

At this point, it is just over a week til Christmas and there is an amazing winter atmosphere here in Bordeaux. There are lovely Christmas markets everywhere where you can buy hot spiced wine (vin chaud: recipe here) to warm the hands and insides as well as all sorts of crafts and gifts. The market in the centre of town is open every day for a month prior to Christmas. As well as the market, there are crowds of people shopping every evening in the city centre (Rue St Catherine - apparently the longest pedestrian street in Europe) under beautiful lights. Outdoor ice skating rinks also seem to be popping up everywhere. We visited one in Arcachon where Master 6 tried it for the first time and loved it so much he wanted to go back the next day. Pere Noel (Santa) arrived on a boat while we were there and there were free hot chocolates and pastries for all the kids.

We bought a little 120cm tree and some simple gold decorations and lights. Miss Two finds it absolutely irresistible. Advent calendars seem to be a really big deal here. The kids being allergic to milk products, they always miss out on the chocolate-filled ones. So we bought them Playmobil ones which have a toy behind each door. We have been singing carols in both French and English. See my son's performance of Vive Le Vent with school here. He has come a long way in just two months of school. He doesn't speak French a lot at home but when he sees his friends, he chatters away like any French kid. He finishes school on Friday for a two week break (he thinks this is extremely unfair as his friends in NZ are having a 6 week summer holiday!). I don't think there is much chance of it snowing but it will definitely be a different experience having a winter Christmas here in France.

Joyeux Noel everyone!

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