Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Stop 1 out of Paris: Vigneulles-lès-Hattonchâtel

We left Adrien's apartment in the great 10th arrondissement and dragged our unwilling suitcases to the Gare du Nord, to take the RER to the airport. Apart from a non-stopping lift that forced us to carry the overweights down a flight of stairs, all was smooth ... and we eventually (with some misdirections) rendezvoused (as they say) with the TT shuttle and collected our white Renault Scenic.

Off we went, with Jane, our trusty electronic guide taking us along non-toll routes towards France's north-east. We were to arrive and check-in at out first stop, a B&B, after 5 pm, so the slow route of backroads was ideal. It also enabled us to see villages, cornfields, expanses of wheat and mysterious twig-like crops. Nothing will be explained.

The area is the Meuse, between Verdun and Metz. People come there to visit WW1 battlefields, but not us. We came for a lovely B&B ... and because Barry Jones told us that Metz Cathedral has the largest expanse of stained glass in ... what ... the world?  Europe?  the Meuse?  Metz?  Somewhere at least.

We stayed in the middle renovated third of a chateau in the lower village of Vigneulles-lès- Hattonchâtel (VLH from now on), with the older (apparently) village of Hattonchâtel on the ridge above it.  The B&B, La Renommière, was beautifully structured and furnished, with great hosts; there was a lounge and breakfast room on the (relatively) ground floor, bedrooms on the second floor, with lots of practice climbing wooden stairs. A terrace at the back for breakfast; an extensive garden and small swimming pool. Our room was itself a two-level suite, with sitting area and large bedroom, and a steep wooden staircase (!) leading to an immense U-shaped bathroom, featuring a spa (with under-water lights and built-in music) that we didn't use, a shower with multiple settings and jets that we did, and double glass wash basins.

We ate at a small restaurant behind the B&B: pleasant and a light meal.

The next morning, after breakfast, we drove up to the upper village, wandered into the church (open) and past the chateau (closed), and then drove to the fortified church at Woël (closed) and onwards to Metz.

Several times round the northern suburbs until Jane was cowed into submission, parked on the outskirts of the old town, and walked into the centre. In the Cathedral, congregation and celebrants were practising something ... maybe the 3 pm mass.  Yep - there is a lot of stained glass, but the verticality of the gothic made it hard to really appreciate, and we thought we preferred Chartres.

Wandered a little more, and then decided to do what we normally do ... take the local tourist train ... you know, those little daggy white or yellow or red or blue sets of carriages that trundle around the streets and give you a  guided commentary of who lived where, when it was built, what function it used to have, what it's used for now, and who just needs a new couch.

Great fun ... and we drove past our car in the parking area at one stage to check that it was OK ... and that we remembered where we'd left it.  (We'll see how many of these essential train experiences we can accumulate on this trip.)

Back to VLH ... and eventually to another light dinner in the same restaurant ... ruined by adding to the earlier over-indulgence of a banana split, by some eminently moderate sorbets!


Friday, 26 June 2015

St Pancras Diversion

I caught the earlier train from Cambridge to Kings Cross, and hence was at St Pancras International much too early to check in. Faced with a wait in the terminal, I wandered and saw the statues that I'd glimpsed previously in passing, but never really seen. The two towering figures farewelling or greeting ... and around the base, a series of small, three-dimensional bronze scenes.  Brilliant!  Here are a few of them ... maybe add more later:

Meanwhile in Cambridge

While Pat suffered in Paris, I Eurostarred it to London and then trained to Cambridge for the fifth international Student Voice Seminar/Conference. This is the third one that I've been part of, mysteriously elevated to a co-planner along with Alison Cook-Sather (the originator) and Bethan Morgan - with other consultations from Dana Mitra and Lena Bahou. This meant that I organised the opening 'getting to know you' activity - a 'dance-card' version of a bingo sheet - and also was able to facilitate some sessions by opening my mouth Australian-style and being pushy.

These are wonderful gatherings: about 60-70 people who share similar orientations, and talk about participatory approaches in education that excite us. Each has a theme around 'bridging the divide' so it was pleasing that that there were again academics, teachers, students (secondary and tertiary), policy people and so on. Again some folks from the Danish student group attended and presented, and two teams of students who were involved in local 'students as researchers' initiatives, took part in a panel around this.

As well as formal short presentations of papers, there were workshops, descriptions of practice, 'un-conference' sessions (around topics generated by participants), sharing of practical tools, and some short keynote sessions. These latter presentations marked that this occasion was the end of the initial phase of seminars, dedicated to the work of Jean Rudduck (presentations by Michael Fielding and Susan Groundwater-Smith) and to the continuing initiatives of Alison Cook-Sather (by Lena Bahou).

Michael Fielding
Susan Groundwater-Smith
Lena Bahou (on right)

I was again enthused by the commitment and reflection of people from many different locations, and with many different approaches within the shared range of understandings of 'student voice'. There was a great discussion about 'power' facilitated by Eve Mayes; we talked about ways to build commitment beyond seeing students as 'cute' respondents; we argued about rubrics; we shared resources and ideas.

For more details of the seminar, see the great on-line descriptions and blog at:  https://cambridgestudentvoiceseminars.wordpress.com and particularly the link to the 2015 Seminar: https://cambridgestudentvoiceseminars.wordpress.com/2015-seminar/   There's also a storify of tweets that starts at: https://storify.com/Blodwen123/5th-cambridge-student-voice-seminar-2015 - thanks to Bethan.

Bethan and Alison
This was the last of the original seminar commitments. There was, however, strong commitment to keep the gatherings going. Next year looks like it could be in Vermont, USA; the following maybe in Dublin?  And, who knows, maybe one in Melbourne or Sydney some time after that.

And then it was back to Paris to a Gare du Nord blockaded by taxis.  But more on that elsewhere ... luckily we're in walking distance of the station.


Sunday, 21 June 2015

Our first few days in Paris

Something like: "departing is such sweet sorrow", but then again, Paris awaits.

Thursday afternoon, 18th June, at the airport, my first big sigh. Phew, we did it. Nothing I can possibly do with the list that still rampages through my head of things that must be done before departure. Will our adorable Saska be all right? Yes, a lovely wonderful couple are staying in our home to continue the pampering. So tick to that on my list. Is the house clean and welcoming? I think so, thanks to the ministrations of Gemma, wow, a cleaner par excellence. Was our home really that dirty? Anyway, tick. 

What about all our gorgeous friends, without their kindness and company for three months? Well that's what FaceBook, blogging, Instagram, Viber, WhatsApp, FaceTime, Messenger, text, email....is for. Staying connected and avoiding the stamp queues in post offices. And that's what makes returning delightful. Planning the catch up, preparing the CD-R photos highlight package, and cooking special meals to celebrate countries visited. So another tick. Just get on the plane Thurgood.

Day 1 à Paris melts all those anxious thoughts. We needed to hang cool until after 1pm before moving into the Airbnb apartment in the 10th arrondissement, having arrived about 7am. But it's not a hard thing to do really. The Canal Saint-Martin was an easy place to meander, take in the tranquility of the warm air, the plane trees, reflections of a city scape in the water, and the barges gracing the waterways.

Looking up at the buildings and landmarks that are celebrated in song and memory, we walk and watch Parisiennes and visitors to the beautiful Parc des Buttes Chaumont. An easy way to rest and recover.

Then on to our apartment on rue de Lancry. Compact, clean, bright, airy, quiet, well located. Lots of ticks to our first stay. It's a lovely neighbourhood with some good local shops. Patricia Wells, the chef and cookbook writer which includes the great app, "Food Lover's Guide to Paris", says If I thought about relocating in Paris I would definitely consider living around the corner from Christophe Vasseur's boutique (Du Pain et Des Idées), where his pain des Amis is pure perfection - moist, crusty, golden, delicious. And we live for the moment just around the corner! And the coissants for our first breakfast were a bit of perfection too.

Lots of nice looking restaurants and cafés, including our Thai dinner on the first night, my lunch today, Sunday, as Roger whizzes across to London, and lots of street activity.

Our first full day in Paris, Saturday 20 June focussed on "returns": to the restored stained-glass windows of the Sainte Chapelle, to sitting up close to the next table at a French bistro, the Conciergerie (the prison during the reign of terror), Roger's one of many CD shops on the Boulevard St-Michel, and to the café in the Place de la Sorbonne next to the first hôtel in Paris I stayed in, with Janine, some decades ago. The hôtel is greatly renovated, looks like part of a chain, but still brings back memories, particularly of Janine insisting I put my smelly shoes out on the window ledge at night. Good call, Janine.

Paris is still a bit of fairy dust magic to me, and at the same time reminds me of what superb café/restaurant service we have in Melbourne, in contrast to that of Paris. You wait a long time for orders to be taken, and bills to be presented. But in between, it's not bad at all.

A bientôt, Pat.