Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Day 212 : Captain Penguin

When we visited the barge museum last week I spotted a little souvenir fridge magnet of a boat (let’s say barge!) to add to the extensive and eclectic collection adorning my fridge. Definitely fodder for a photo project one day, but I digress.

On returning to the barge I figured that if I could find a suitably magnetic surface I could give my diminutive penguins their own barging experience. I struggled to find anything that would sustain a fridge magnet but after testing pretty much everything metal on the barge, I realise the flag pole on the roof would suffice. It was extremely hot, sizzling hot up there, the reason we generally didn’t hit the sun beds the crew diligently laid out for us every day. To get an extreme close-up, I figured I'd attach said magnet to the flagpole and then ever so carefully situate the penguins. Oh so fiddly! And then lie face down on the upper deck, with the close-up filters screwed on to my camera, three, no two, actually one of them will be enough. It was a pretty tough task, those penguins are rickety and hampered by the full-on blast of the late afternoon sun, but finally the little waders stood up long enough for me to photograph them.

As a final flourish I decided to customise them, a J for our captain carefully navigating the difficult locks and C for the captain-in-training. The other passengers suggested I share the image with the features stars but I figured it would take a lot of explanation as to why I carry miniature penguins around and secondly why I thought they should be represented as thus. However I did and J took a photograph of my photograph, which I guess is a good sign. C wished I'd send it to him and I was able to mention yet again our abject wifi deprivation! Though I'm pretty sure they could use the wifi (weefee), but the passengers couldn't because the mechanism that charged us per hour was not functioning! Hmmm! Our chef seemed concerned as to where he was, obviously in the galley whipping us up something fabulous.

Random but I had time for such craziness!


Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Day 211 : a little Cartier Bresson

I have a little time to hit the streets again before the car arrives to take me to the airport. Not quite enough time to strive for the perfect decisive moment, but a brief channelling of Cartier Bresson is definitely in order. I'm wandering the little streets and passageways in the old town behind my hotel. The narrow passages, which are supposedly unique to Lyon, were originally built for the silk weavers to effortlessly transport their wares between the shops; more recently, during WW II, the French resistance used the little lanes to hide themselves from the Germans.

There are interesting ornate water fountains and elaborate door furniture but a couple of children who seemed determined to go in a contrary direction to their parents caught my eye. And naturally I had to think black and white if I'm considering a homage.

Today is the sunniest day it has been during my quick foray to Lyon, sadly it’s all over too soon before my car awaits to whisk me off to the airport...back to life...back to reality. Quel dommage!


Monday, 29 July 2013

Day 210 : Lyon in colour

I'm relieved the rain has abated today I really want to explore Lyon and ideally not get too wet in the process. The winding little cobbled streets are flanked by coloured houses just begging to be photographed. The view from my hotel has a fine cluster of these houses overlooking the River Saône.

Lyon’s fortune was made in silk weaving and now Lyon is famed for the food. You cannot fail to see, smell and taste the importance of gastronomy to Lyon on every corner, in every street. There is a surfeit of cafés, brasseries, restaurants, patisseriers, boulangeries, and other eateries wherever you look. For a late lunch meandering through the tiny streets I settle for a Breton crêperie and a buckwheat “complete”. I want to conserve my appetite as Lyon is home to Paul Bocuse and I'm very keen to sample his wares on my visit.

I've been spoilt with excellent fine dining on our luxury barge, so I eschew the ’proper’ eponymous restaurant and make a reservation for his “Le Nord” restaurant instead. Now to spend the rest of the day building up an appetite. There's shopping to be done, I spotted some interesting sparkly things through the windows of the very shut shops yesterday. And Sonia Rykiel is having a sale, it would be rude not to! Armed with my new goodies I cross the pedestrian suspension bridge and explore more hiddley, piddley cobbled streets. In my enthusiasm I've left it late to return to the hotel to freshen up and try on my new purchases but I squeeze it in and head for the very typical French brasserie of Le Nord.

I'm not disappointed and certainly don't go home hungry after tucking into a couple of local specialities - Lyonnaise Frisée Salad with the meatiest chunks of lardons ever (possibly an entire pig cut into slices) followed by Veal Escalope with Macaroni Cheese.

As I discovered last night in the rain, walking along the Saône back to my hotel, that Lyon is also beautiful at night. The clearer weather has brought more people out and the steps leading done to the river are dotted with couples enjoying some alone time under the stars. Last night here, I’m determined to make the most of it.


Sunday, 28 July 2013

Day 209 : Lyon lit up

Sadly had to pack up and leave the barge today, bade farewell to everyone and go our separate ways. The weather, to ensure the dampening of the mood, is drizzling and then rapidly increases to proper rain. I make my way to Dijon station to catch a train to Lyon for the final few days of my holiday.

Lyon is veiled in grey, the rain is still failing as the cab drops me off at the hotel. As usual on a Sunday in France everything seems very shuttered up. I ask advice at the hotel for a nice restaurant, hoping that somewhere would be open. The receptionist made some phone calls and suggested I made my way to Entrecôte. I hadn't heard of this restaurant before, with its set many of walnut salad followed by steak, done to your liking, with a special garlic, buttery, je ne sais quoi secret sauce and frites. It took a long time to be seated, but it was worth the wait in the end. I've since learnt that there are three of these steak restaurants in London, so I can relive that meal back home.

The wet streets are pretty empty, I make my way over the wet cobbles and find myself walking down the side of Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Lyon.

The sky is black but seemingly swirling with the still remaining clouds, the cathedral is illuminated from below to a warm honey colour meaning I can still capture a pleasing image despite the late hour.

Lyon has an infamous festival of light each early December, seeing the cathedral and the other illuminated buildings with the light flooding into the River Saône makes me think I should be booking a return visit in December to see all this turned up to eleven.


Saturday, 27 July 2013

Day 208 : The treat of total tranquility

It’s the wee small hours on an incredibly quiet barge. We are moored in the most secluded spot we’ve been all week and now everyone has gone to bed, though there were only two of us up, finishing our wine from dinner and putting the world to rights.

The sunset was dramatic, as the vibrant smears of pink, yellow and orange streak across the sky I climb up on the roof to get a better vantage point. My favourite shot has the sky throwing a multicolour layer on the jacuzzi, where we’ve spent all day gently drifting.

I sit up on the roof listening to the gentle buzz of other guests below. I want to imprint this image on my memory so when the craziness of work kicks in again, I can summon this vision as succour, balm, a little piece of total tranquility.


Friday, 26 July 2013

Day 207 : Les beaux tournesols

I've transferred my obsession about poppies to sunflowers. I've only see one slightly bedraggled looking poppy but fields of sunflowers lie enticingly out if camera’s sight through the coach windows or just too far from the canal side. But that's part of the hunt. Even if they are close I'm thwarted by them pointing in the wrong direction. There is a misconception that sunflowers follow the sun during the day, hence the French name tournesols, but even if they do rotate as they grow when they are young the mature flowers face east. Which is really infuriating when you're due west of them on a gently drifting barge.

But after taking every opportunity to seek my prey we hit pay dirt in our night’s mooring location.

We’ve been aboard all day, several of us decamped to the jacuzzi, well it has the best view after all. Wearing a big hat, a camera in one hand, a glass of chilled rosé in the other, this really is the life. Today is the day of the many locks so we get to see Julien, our capitaine in action. Many of the locks need some vigorous winching to open the gates and let the water rush through and the whole exercise is fascinating to watch.

Our only excursion today was to visit Alain in his lock-keeper’s cottage. He has a museum chock-full of curios, odd souvenirs, found objects and frankly weird things. Apparently most have been donated by visiting ’bargees’ but it’s hard to understand why anyone would have some of those items casually about their person. I donated a penguin, he seemed to be lacking one in his acquired hoard. Though he did seem to have a mountain lion on a much greater scale. I'm not sure where the penguin would fit in though!

After our browse through Alain’s bizarre collection, we went for a meander around the secluded area. We’re not near a town tonight, there's little apart from a few cottages, an empty towpath as far as the eye can see and many fields. And one of these fields contains sunflowers Hooray I can walk round to the other side of the shy flowers I might be able to get the shots I crave.

It also seems appropriate after abandoning one of my diminutive penguins to a new life being the toy thing of an angry looking mountain lion I should create a cavorting penguin vs. sunflower image. They don't make my heart sing quite as much as poppies do (but that is a long held, deeply rooted fixation), but they are bright, bold and beautiful and I'm delighted to be able immerse myself in some lone sunflower time!


Look who woke be up this morning...

The early morning quiet is broken by a brief tap on my porthole window and some quacking. And when I pulled back the curtains the beady eye of a duck is staring me in the face. It seems they recall where they had a fine supper last night!

If I look to the right, at the bridge we crossed into Saint-Jean-de-Losne yesterday, the ducks are rather dramatically silhouetted against the early morning tendrils of sunlight. I'm rather fond of the bubbles rising in the water too!


Thursday, 25 July 2013

Day 206 : swanning around

We’ve had a very barge-y day. This morning after our buffet breakfast we congregate in the vibrant seating area, lower the screen and have a presentation. Audrey tells us about our barge Jeanine (formerly the Lorraine), explains the history, how it was built for passengers unlike most of the cargo carrying barges which are a different shape. Our hull is 5cm thick which, as Audrey ponders, could probably withstand Panzer tank attack (or those U-boats we heard about yesterday in Chalon) though there's nothing to indicate we may need our extra fortification. When the Lorraine was up for sale Croisi Europe were persuaded to buy it by some of our crew. Initially they were planning to just hire the crew for their other vessels but fell for the charms of the barge as we did. During the enormous total refurbishment project Audrey did her stuff on other boats in their fleet whilst as we can see from the photographs, Julien our capitaine and his second Camille rolled their sleeves up (more likely whipped their tops off, as we've discovered is their wont when they’re out of our sight!) and assisted with the paint job. They had input in the design also, designing a bespoke wheelhouse that can lower for the low bridges makes our barge rather the Rolls Royce of barges and the envy of the waterways.

We learnt the new new name is in honour of the company’s owner’s wife who broke a bottle of Crémant de Bourgogne (the local equivalent to Champagne) of the bow, part of this bottle hangs in the wheelhouse as a good luck charm. Jeanine was also instrumental in designing the new, vibrant, modern interior, special kudus for the twigs set in resin coffee table we all covert!

As well as everything you've ever needed to know about our barge we learnt of intriguing methods of getting from higher to lower ground rather than locks. There are curious barge lifts and alarming looking swing bridges. Later today we will be visiting the bargees’ museum as will see a lot more about the history of barge transport.

First we have another delicious lunch. The food onboard has been pleasingly to a higher standard than I'd hoped and we are being finely dined. Georges, our taciturn chef is producing delicious and elegant food but most of our praise sends him scuttling back into the galley, I think he's very shy. For lunch we normally have a roast with various vegetables and salads. And we enjoy Audrey’s “cheese corner” each day, she is taking us on a cheesy gastronomic tour of France. Eschewing both goats’ cheese and blue cheese as I do I thought I'd miss out but we've tucked into stunning Morbier and a double cream that sadly I cannot discover the name of, Compte and Brie de Meaux, with these cheeses they are definitely spoiling us!

After lunch grabbing hats and sunscreen again we meet our guide for a tour around Saint-Jean-de-Losne. Coincidentally our guide is seemingly named after the church - The church being John the Baptist and him being Jean Baptiste. He surprises us by constantly scanning a piece of paper during his talk and pausing to check where he has gotten to. We’ve had such excellent guides, clearly knowledgeable and passionate about their subject it’s curious to have one so lacking. After mumbling through his written notes he excelled himself by suggesting we sat in the cool pews of his namesake church whilst he walks to the front, to the aspe perhaps? He then proceeds to deliver his entire diatribe at the front with his back to us. Slowly we all turn to each other and shrug, no one has a clue what he's talking about. He was waving his arms enthusiastically towards various features, windows, paintings but I've no idea what was said. Not sure if he honoured his namesake church at all.

After a visit to some elegant rooms where all the local couple notarise their marriages we sample some cubes of pain d’epices and other local specialities. We then cross the road to the barge museum, now we are all confirmed bargees we are intrigued by the history and lore of the other bargees before us.

After our dinner the ducks circling our barge encouraged us to see if there was any French bread remaining and it transpires there is plenty. The ducks are very happy. As the sun is setting word has got around the wild fowl community and a trio of swans glide into view for their share making an attractive tableau.

Scenes like this, the quiet (save for the occasional quack), the gentle lapping of the water against the sides of the barge, the inky black skies with the lights twinkling from the town imbibes such a deep tranquility that I just want to stay here forever and can’t imagine going back to all the madness at home. But isn't that what holidays should do for you?


Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Day 205 : moon moon river!

Today we’ve been visiting Chalon, it’s another scorcher and we’ve been diving from shady patch to shady patch. Chalon is gearing up for a big street art performance festival. Everywhere you turn there are fire eaters, dancers, fly posters and er...a pig with an overcoat with rubber gloves for hands. Our guide was a lovely German woman who had fallen for her adopted country, was very interesting regarding the early history of Chalon-sur-Saône and the more recent in WW II when Chalon was split between the occupied zone and Vichy. Some of our party were easily old enough to have fought in this war and her slightly German focused commentary didn't seem to go unnoticed but luckily there was nothing to take offence at. This area of France near history is intrinsically woven with the fortunes of the vineyards and which side of the line your vineyard was situated during the occupation.

There's a photography museum that I'm hoping to visit but it closed shortly after our guided tour finished. I hoped it may extend its hours in honour of the increased footfall for the festival but, sadly, this wasn't the case. The museum is here because one of Chalon’s acclaimed inhabitants, (Joseph) Nicéphore Niépce, is said to be the father of photography and some fine examples of his early work are housed within.

Our guide suggested that after our dinner we should return to the town to check out the festival in all its glory.

The last couple of nights our barge has been moored in a secluded spot, you see the odd cyclist or dog walker but really not much else. Suddenly we’re tethered by some steps right in the centre of all the action. The steps seem a popular spot for people to congregate, have a small picnic and as it gets later, all the local boys to hang out with their beers enjoying a bit of lively banter. Most of us decide to stay on the barge after dinner, we can drink our wine, hear the music from across the river where they seem to have a bit of a music festival with a centrepiece of a giant golden mosquito, and not bother with the crowds. One by one we realised that in the clear, darkening sky of twilight we could clearly see two full moons shining for all they were worth. There was some discussion that we’d perhaps had too many post-dinner drinks and a couple of wags claimed to only see one moon to confuse the others more. I climbed on the roof with my camera to get a better view and it really did look like the moon had acquired a twin, enhanced by the stillness of the night.

The tranquility of the buzz of the drinking boys, the strains of music floating over the river and another bottle of rosé was suddenly shattered by a proper, big, fat thunderstorm. The boys scattered sheltering under anything they could find. The moons betrayed their fakery by dancing wildly and erratically (though any more rosé and we may have been doing that also) and as a dramatic finale the sudden squally storm caused, what we could only believe was, gas and a flame to get too close and a small fireball appeared when a moon once was.


Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Château de Rully

After a delicious lunch we head off again, this time I ensure I don't miss our disembarkation. We’re heading for our first wine tasting session, at the delightful Château de Rully between Mercurey and Chalon-sur-Saône. The house has been in the same family since the 12th century, the family name has changed with cessation through the female line and we were lucky to have our guided tour by the very personable Comte Raoul de Ternay. As he comes over to greet us the foreboding clouds are blackening over his imposing castle.

We duck inside just before the heavens open and we get introduced to his ancestors via their portraits plus he tells us stories and his interpretation of some of the earlier ones. There’s a beautiful wooden staircase that the Comte assures us doesn't creak as he used to be able to sneak back into the castle without waking anyone when he was a boy. We see the delicate, ornate furniture and original mirrors in one of the salons they rarely use because of the fragility. The oldest mirror is in six pieces as these were the largest size mirror could be manufactured in the 17th century, the latter, when technologies had improved in the next century, was made in two pieces.

I loved the tale of his great grandfather falling into the dry ditch that was formerly the moat, so he filled it in. And his ancestor Marie Ferdinande Agathonge de Vaudrey who was born in 1740, and married when she was only 16. She was widowed at 32 with 15 children to look after. During the French Revolution she was imprisoned as an aristocrat but the local people were fond of her, stormed the jail demanding her liberation. Eventually the authorities cave into the protestations and her release was probably one of the most instrumental factors in keeping the château in the family.

Surrounded by these verdant vineyards, unsurprisingly wine is very important the family, in the dining room we are shown a special enormous wine glass that could accommodate an entire bottle that another ancestor would always carry on his travels. In the corner of the room we espy a curious Italian nativity scene with slightly sinister looking cherubs brought back from travels.

Our final room is the fabulous kitchen with walls hung with copper pans, bowls and moulds and dominated with an enormous fireplace. The Comte demonstrates a substantial spit roast and explains the etymology of the word “barbecue”, it sounds plausible though I thought the origination was Caribbean, there’s no doubt, however, you could whip up a substantial meat feast here.

The rainstorm has brought down the temperature a little but we were still grateful to descend into the cave for the wine tasting part of our visit. It was a fascinating château, family home and vineyard, oh and some delicious wine.


Day 204 : chasing butterflies

I nearly miss getting off the barge this morning, I was switching my strappy sandals to something a little more substantial as had been suggested. The bell had rung and I was just slipping on the second shoe, as I ran up the stairs I realised everyone had gone, we were rising in a lock and I had no way off. The crew helped me onto the roof, indicated I should jump onto the lock wall but thinking how incredibly likely I could slip on my first day and render the rest of my holiday immobile, I declined. Fortunately Camille flung the gangplank across the chasm and I could step safely to terra firma clutching my tripod, hat and plenty of bottled water.

We pick up our guide and head for the woods and a waterfall. The late summer has more or less dried up the water so it's now just a trickle down some greeny rocks. After that we climb higher to get a fine view over the countryside. It is seriously hot, the sun is relentless, I'm glad I purchased the sunscreen and packed a hat. Everywhere I look I see butterflies and decide to make it my mission to capture a butterfly photograph. They're nippier and wilier even than bees, they linger so briefly on all the wild flowers and bushes around us. Eventually after tweaking the shutter speed I finally get one clean shot and a handful of near misses.

I'm reminded that I'm not on a photography holiday and despite other keen snappers, there’s no time to dedicate to getting that perfect shot, I just hold everyone up so I'm going to have to rein my creative tendencies in or I'm in danger of being left behind.


Monday, 22 July 2013

Day 203 : all aboard the good ship Jeanine

Many people I know prepare for going on holiday by doing extensive research on their intended destination, possibly calling ahead to make choice reservations, pre-ordering some travellers cheques from their bank, stocking up on the necessary toiletries and general accoutrements, leaving the open suitcase close to hand inciting the gradual addition of neat piles of folded holiday attire. I tend to do things a little differently...note I don't say “better” but “differently”!

I will have done some research when booking the holiday, generally intending to do more nearer the time, and then I run out of time. I have been known to be organised and book the odd restaurant but this time I'd gathered a list of possibly eateries in Lyon, as I cannot visit the gastronomic capital of France with indulging in some culinary delights, but I've not made a definite decision yet. I had tried to buy some Euros at M&S when I spotted a favourable rate for cardholders but fairly unsurprisingly I don't carry my passport around, so was thwarted. I definitely should have bought sun tan lotion with a super high factor, but totally forgot but I did actually organise a new bathing costume for the jacuzzi (well, it would be rude not to!)

Despite best intentions, I always seem to end up packing at the last moment. I will have made an eleventh hour list in the packing app on my iPad and then be hurtling around grabbing: a sun hat, carbon fibre tripod, hiking boots (no, maybe not required on this occasion), sandals, a stack of random floaty dresses, skirts, tops and shrugs that I will be slightly perplexed by my own choice of on arrival, jewellery (vitally important), oh and some extra bling for ’gala night’, extra memory card, camera batteries and charger (I’ll concede they're more vital), underwear (also rather crucial) a pashmina or two, or seven, did I remember to pack the hat? As long as my passport, ticket and credit card are stashed safely in my bag I guess I'm sorted.

The cab arrives, I'm wracking my brains to think if I've forgotten anything but so far, it seems good. As I'm flying British Airways for the first time for many years I'm hoping to explore terminal 5 but my flight annoyingly leaves from terminal 1 instead. I organise a delicious salmon platter for the flight, much to the jealous stares of the other passengers and even the air hostess who was handing out the inflight ’meal’ of either a couple of cookies or a bag of nuts.

The plane is met at Lyon by a perky representative and I'm trying to guess who my fellow travellers are. I figure it totally wrong but we congregate and we wend our way to our minibus for our final drive to the barge.

M.S. Jeanine (motor ship) is an imposing sight, she is lording it over the other barges and will be our beautiful home for the next week. The interior has just been completely refurbished and what could have been dull, clinical and practical is elegant, luxurious and vivid. The corner seating is all richly upholstered in white Charolais cow hide, though apparently (and luckily) it's forgiving of red wine stains!

I realised on the bus trip that I'd forgotten to pack heavy duty SPF sun tan lotion and I suspect we’re in for a lot of hardcore sun so I disembark again in search of protection. By the time I return, more passengers have joined us, it’s time to spruce up for pre-dinner drinks.

We meet our crew (dishy captain!) and break out the Kir, before tucking into our first very fine meal. I think I'm going to enjoy it on here.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Day 202 : the sky is alive...

Passing through the centre of Richmond heading for the station later than I'd intended, possibly the story of my life, the sky above me is full of birds. I turn into the cobbled road after the Richmond Riverside development to see if I can get a good angle. On the left is red-brick Richmond Museum, on the right is the lemon coloured Whittaker House, which used to the head office of UPS, when I worked for them so long ago) and also has the dubious pleasure of being the building that Mr. Bean drops from the sky in front of in the opening credits of his TV show.

I rather like the silhouettes of the flying birds against the pastel-y sky. Time to go on with my epic journey, I'm heading for Upminister, the entire length of the District Line, or would be if the obligatory weekend engineering works hadn't taken chunks of the District Line out of action.


Saturday, 20 July 2013

Day 201 : second century...done!

I’m delighted that I've reached my second century, 200 days into my 365 photo-a-day blogging project. I still struggle to blog each day, on the actual day, and invariably end up playing catch up at the weekend, this one being no exception.

I can see my themes have altered dramatically in these 100 days rather than the previous 100. I've experienced my first studio shoot, finally got to Dungeness again, had a long weekend in France and discovered close-up filters. The first 100 days featured the underground, tubes and stations quite frequently, and occasionally snow. More recently it’s been all about flowers and tiny details. The late, reluctant spring was meticulously recorded, each bud, blossom and raindrop. Each time the sun showed its face I was there with a camera.

I finally got my wish and was able to walk through a beautiful poppy field, it had been raining all day so it was a much muddier experience than I'd envisaged. I took hundred of pictures of poppies over several days and immortalised them in screen savers, ’business’ cards and postcards.

Sunsets still feature strongly, I'm sure I’ll always be a sucker for a pink sky. My miniature people/animals have started to appear more, the close-up filters opening up a whole new world of possibilities. I’ve amassed a small penguin army and they will be popping up every now and then. There's been a smattering of black and white photographs, a handful of blue skies and the infamous Gummi bear murder! Architecture has figured more, there was a bit of a racing car, sparkly things, birds, bees and a Snog (frozen yoghurt).

I've spent more quality time in Richmond with my camera, it is sacrilege I live in such a beautiful place and don't appreciate it enough. I'm making amends there.

And as for the next 100 days...the first 10 are in France, there's another studio shoot coming up and I definitely will be checking out the Hairy Goat mystery day. The clicking continues!