Thursday, June 15, 2006

Jardin d'Aclimatasion/Fountaine de Mars

Today we slept in. By the time we moved around, the thunder had quit and the rain nearly had. We gave the kids some options, the science museum or le Jardin l’Aclimatasion, an amusement park/fun park combination. One of our guide books told us the park has a train from one of the Metro stops into the park. We found it, after some hiking and asking directions of a very kind Parisian woman, and waited at the unmanned stop for half an hour before giving up and walking along the tracks to the entrance to the park. A funny system, the park open but not fully open, not all rides operating, but we were free to pay the full price admission and wander around to see what was operating. In spite of only parial functionality, we had bumper cars, a canoe ride, big slides, some trampolines and fun house mirrors before finishing the visit with a small roller coaster ride. All of us are pretty foot tired from the Louvre and necessary metro hiking yesterday, and four weary Markses hopped the line toward the Musee d’Orsay, Paris’ other large museum.

We stopped briefly for a snack and a drink before going to the museum, and enjoyed a couple of hours with the impressionists. Not nearly long enough for Jena, but we saw amazing works by Degas, Gaugin, Monet, Manet, Renoir, Van Gogh, and others. Musee d’Orsay is better organized than the Louvre I think, and easier to get around. We returned to the apartment and headed for dinner near the Eiffel Tower. We stopped at La Fontaine de Mars, a small restaurant on a plaza with a small fountain, and had the best meal we have had so far in Paris. I had fricassee du petite lapin au moutarde (baby rabbit in a mustard sauce), Jena had confit de canard (duck confit), Jesse had grilled salmon, and Duncan had a stewed chicken. Everything was excellent. We walked to the Eiffel Tower from dinner hoping to go to the top, as it was after 10:00, and found that the top was overcrowded and closed to additional visitors. We decided to delay our visit rather than be disappointed by only getting to the second level, and will return another day.

By the time we got back to the flat, tired and footsore, it was after 11. Good sleep tonight! Tomorrow another sunny day in Paris.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

We Came, We Ate, We Louvred...Then Ate Some More

Today we awoke to cooler weather, a welcome respite from the heat of the past two days. Duncan had a 0945 appointment with the anesthesiologist, so we hopped the Metro after a quick breakfast in the apartment, and three stops later were at the Hopital Necker. Dr. Rouse, the anesthesiologist, was terrific, and gave us the information we needed to prepare for Duncan’s admission to the hospital on Sunday. After the appointment, we had to experience the monolinguist’s runaround: trying to figure out how to ensure that we receive the care we need on surgery day when the hospital doesn’t accept American insurance, can’t phone the doctor to determine the duration of the stay, and seems to have an, “Ask around the corner and down the hall” answer, in French, to our questions. Two hours later we were out Euro 3800 (about $5000 on our credit card thanks to the recent beating the dollar is taking) and just glad to be out of there.

We headed to the Montparnasse area of Paris, 14th arrondisement, and found some lunch at local chain Joel de Bruxelles, (Mussels from Brussels, as we call it.) They have the same kind of terrific mussels and fries that we enjoyed so much in Bruges last summer, along with Belgian beer. It was relaxing and good, and then we took the Metro to the Louvre.

Now I could probably visit the Louvre the same we did the Sistine Chapel in 2000: Plow headlong through the centuries of art in the Vatican Museum and do a face plant in the chapel, staring straight up at “The Ceiling”. Unfortunately, those who put the Louvre together didn’t put Mona Lisa, Madonna on the Rocks, Venus de Milo, and the Rembrandt and Boticelli stuff in the same room, so the headlonging was, well…head longer. We saw some great stuff, guided by Jena’s, “Oh my God!”s and spent about 3 hours in a place that is overwhelming. I’m not a good museum person, but I like art. So I felt somehow guilty blowing past the enormous masterpieces such as Napoleon’s coronation in order to get to the ‘good stuff’, but at least we didn’t blow Euro 10 on the DaVinci Code audio guide to the People Magazine nonsense rekindled by the release of the movie. While in Egypt I purchased a papyrus reproduction of a calendar found on the ceiling of one of the temples, Karnak maybe in Luxor, or Abu Simbel...I can't remember. After trucking into the Pharoahonic Egypt exhibit, we found that the particular piece had not been available for viewing by the public for months or years, and was in a place in the Louvre not open to the public. C'est la vie.

Head-longing through the Louvre left us needing another round of Belgian beer, so we took the Metro back to the Rue Cler neighborhood, to a bistro near the apartment for a cold drink and a welcome sit after 2 hours of hospital line-standing and 3 hours Louvre-ing. A plan formed to get a dispense-a-chicken (you know…put in a Euro 10 note and get a chicken and potatoes out), some cheese, fruit, greens, salad, bread, dessert, wine, olive oil,….Pretty soon we were stocking up a pantry that would make a Mormon mother drool, well, except for the wine part. We had a great meal with fresh straw and blue berries, figs, salad greens with goat cheese and bread, 2003 Bordeaux, chicken, potatoes, and pastries for dessert, and retired to the flat for an evening in.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Bonjour a Paris!

Bonjour a Paris! We were among the last who departed AIS at 6 p.m. on Sunday and had what was for some the last ride to Murtala Muhammad International Airport. There was champagne on the bus, some tears, but everyone was happy to be leaving for a while. Our friends from Exxon/Mobil with their five kids were on the plane, and one of the kids wanted to sit with Duncan, so I got ‘bumped’ up into business class for the first time, much to Jena’s annoyance. It is comfortable there, and although legroom has never been a great concern for me in economy, the ability for the seats to lay nearly flat is a big bonus when attempting sleep. The champagne and French cheeses were pretty nice also! I had a terrific conversation with my friend Roger who is a geologist for Exxon/Mobil, in which I learned a lot about the development aspects of the oil industry. I got more sleep than I usually do in economy, didn’t wake up with a sore neck every 30 minutes having to find a different position, but for some reason was extremely tired when we arrived in Paris at 0550 on the 12th.

We collected our 4 large bags and wheeled them to the Metro where, struggling with my pidgin French, managed to purchase week long Carte Orange passes for the family. These allow us to use the Metro and bus system for the week. The Paris Metro system is fantastic, and makes most areas of the city within a short walking distance. The troubling part for the Marks family this morning was the vertical portion of the navigation, something that doesn’t show up on the well designed Metro maps. We lugged our bags up and down too many stairs, sweating and cranky, for an hour and a half until we emerged at the Ecoles Militaire metro stop, walked a block and half around the corner, and met the agent for our Apartment.

We are staying in the Apartment Chams du Mars-Cler apartment, 24 Rue de Bosquet in the 7th arrondisement (district) of Paris. It is about a 10 minute walk to the base of the Eiffel Tower right around the corner from the Rue Cler neighborhood of shops and restaurants. We dumped our bags and took a walkabout, getting a little breakfast of croissants, juice, toast, hot chocolate, and coffee at a neighborhood restaurant, then wandering across the Champs de Mars park which is at the feet of the Eiffel Tower. This gave us the lay of the land and we were able to find many promising restaurants, a supermarket, and various paths through side streets leading to and from our apartment. With our luck, the apartment is about 30 meters from a major intersection upgrade. Paris is experiencing slightly warmer than normal temperatures, and outside our windows we hear jackhammers, concrete cutting equipment, beeping back-ups of equipment, in addition to the normal sounds of the city. Without air conditioning, the windows are open most of the time. We escaped from the noise as soon as we had a restful 2-hour nap. And hopped the Metro toward Notre Dame, where we were to meet our friends Heather and Craig, and Jason, Tina and Bella at the Shakespeare and Company bookstore across the street. We arrived a little early and took a walk around and inside the Notre Dame cathedral. While it is impressive outside, the interior rivals St. Peters in Rome for its magnificence. Particularly striking are the enormous stained glass windows through which the late afternoon, nearly midsummer light shone with intensity, emphasizing the deep purple, red, green and yellow hues, contrasting with the dimly candle-lit interior.

We were a little late meeting our friends, and so didn’t stay as long as I would have liked, but the kids enjoyed it and we joined our group at a restaurant down the way from the bookstore. One Belgian beer later, we decided to hop on a boat tour on the Seine, for a trip back to the apartment. The pass, for which our metro Carte Orange gave us a 30% discount, allows us to use the boats for 2 days for another hop-on/hop-off transportation option. The cruise along the Seine was relaxing, and beat walking to the metro. We got off at the Eiffel Tower and walked back to the apartment. Heather had forgotten some needed medicine, so she and Craig returned to their place and met us back at a restaurant at about 9:45. Bella was getting pretty tired and cranky, so we said bon nuit to Jason and Tina, and they returned to their hotel.

Jena and I, the kids, and Craig and Heather found a restaurant not far from the apartment on Rue Cler where we had a terrific dinner of duck, salmon, goat cheese salad, rigatoni, and fresh red wine. From there we wandered back down to the Eiffel Tower and it’s illuminated magnificence, bought a bottle of red wine for 5 Euro from a guy selling it in the park, and watched as, on the hour, thousands of twinkling white lights sparkle through the Eiffel Tower like champagne bubbles. It was a great end to our first day in Paris, and we said good bye to Craig and Heather who are getting married in July, two days before we return to the northwest from Hawaii. We are sorry we will not be able to attend their wedding, but are glad we had time together in Paris.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

End of School 2005-2006

We have closed the book on another school year and are letting the stress of the hectic last month slowly subside as we prepare for a busy summer. The end of the school year here is bittersweet. For teachers everywhere the school years’ end brings days without students, longer sleep, and summer activities that are not bound by the bell schedule. Here the year’s end also brings some relief from the crazy world of West Africa, the unpredictability of things that should be commonplace, like power and a predictable travel time for shopping, and looking forward to finding food items and consumer goods that are either unavailable or priced out of reach of ex-pat teachers.

The end of the year here brings goodbyes too. Sixteen teachers and administrators are leaving AISL over the next couple of days, and are scattering around the globe to their next great adventures. Several, including our superintendent, are returning to Tacoma. But some, even some who came from Tacoma, are returning to different locations, Nairobi, Sacramento, Vancouver, and Morocco. It is hard to have lived and worked with people for over two years, and one day the van picks them up and you wave goodbye for perhaps the last time. Vows are made to stay in touch, but I fear that the pressure of busy lives and miles will erode the connections. I will miss every one of my good friends, and wish them the best as they move on. I dearly hope that we connect again to catch up, reminisce, and smile at the craziness we experienced together.

We are also looking forward to the new friends we have met through email, but have yet to meet in person. Many of them will arrive in August a week before we return, and will have a nearly empty compound to navigate until the bulk of the staff return around the 18th. I hope we can set them up for a smooth transition and a fitting welcome.

This spring we have navigated through Duncan’s serious elbow injury, watched our friend and colleague Jeff become chief of a village nearby, had the challenges of the selection of a new superintendent, watched Tacoma’s new superintendent decimate the ranks of friends and co-workers, and grimaced as the AISL board moves through their clumsy steps at extending the offerings here through twelfth grade. In order to fund the high school that is being built the board is accepting increased numbers of students. We are dealing with the largest enrollment ever at AISL, including many students with special needs such as limited English speaking or learning disabilities, for whom the school doesn’t have the resources to meet their needs. The increased enrollment has caused every teacher except the kindergarten classrooms to move. The majority of the junior high core classes, including math, will be in the annex, a building designed as a student activity center and not to house classrooms. My classroom next year is approximately 60% of the square footage as this year and I am expecting up to twice as many students. I’m considering stacking the desks.

There are a number of remodeling projects planned for this summer, including enlarging Jena’s classroom to accommodate up to 25 pre-K students. That’s right, a pre-K class with 25 students. This involves knocking out two walls and building another to connect her classroom with what is currently a first grade classroom. The junior high classrooms are to have walls opened up and windows installed. On Friday the school carpenter was in our flat for 5 1/2 hours to install a doorknob with a lock. After 5 1/2 hours of work he left, and the door contained a new knob with a key that doesn’t turn nor lock, and we are in no better shape than before he started. I fully expect to come in August with gaping holes in my tiny classroom where windows should be, no walls in Jena’s classroom, and a host of other incomplete jobs that will interrupt the routine of school through December or January.

In the meantime we are packing many things into a few short weeks. We travel 11 June for a stop in Paris on the way home to Washington. Several other families will be on the same Air France flight on Sunday evening and will have a chance to experience some of Paris together. Some good friends from Exxon/Mobile who have 5 kids, the oldest of which was in my algebra class and the youngest of which was in Jena’s pre-K class, will be on the same flight. Stephen, the oldest, coined the phrase “teacher class”, that grade of airline travel never experienced by oil company employees or their families. Their kids and ours are all friends, and in a very generous act (perhaps disguising a sanity preserving move) they offered to have the kids switch seats with us, so we may be enjoying the good life in business class while the kids hang in economy.

Although planned two months ago, stop in Paris is proving to be serendipitous. Since Duncan broke his elbow in early May, was evacuated for treatment and returned to Lagos, we have had to alter our return date to accommodate surgery to remove cast and pins, and get him on the road to a full recovery. Jesse and I are looking forward to the guided tour of experienced Parisians Duncan and Jena, to give us the full treatment (where to find good cheese and yogurt, wine shops, parks, navigating the Metro, etc.) and Duncan seems excited to be able to show us around.

We found that renting an apartment for several days is more cost effective than hotel rates, and so are staying within a 10 minute walk of the Eiffel Tower. Our friends Craig and Heather, and Jason and Tina, are going to try to hook up with us for dinner at the apartment or a café nearby. Our apartment stay ends on 18 June, and Duncan enters the hospital that evening. We fly to the states on 20 June, so we arranged hotel accommodations near the hospital and the Montparnasse Tower for the other two nights. This architectural monstrosity is said to have the best views of Paris and the Eiffel Tower, partially because if you are inside it, the ugly tower is not in your view.

From Paris we return to the states via Cincinnati, and arrive at Seattle Tacoma International Airport around 10:30 p.m. on 20 June. After a whirlwind week of preparation for the 2006 version of the Victoria-Maui International Yacht Race, we travel to Victoria B.C. on 1 July for the 3 July start. The race is tracked online (see www.vicmaui.org) so if you are interested you can watch Kahuna’s progress. We expect around 15 days to Lahaina, and after Jena and the kids, and my folks meet us there for a few days, we return to Portland on 23 July. Sadly, we will have to miss the wedding of our good friends Craig and Heather who are getting married in Vancouver on the 22nd. From Portland I travel to Everett for a math conference for three days, then we have about 10 days to relax and see friends, and fly out to Florence, Italy on 9 August. We return to Lagos on 18 August.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Medical Evacuation

26 May 2006

We are rapidly approaching the end of the school year, and it is turning out that the roller coaster that is life in Lagos is providing additional challenges this spring. On Friday, 5 May, Duncan was climbing down from his bunk bed and caught his pant leg on the ladder, lost his balance, and fell on the floor onto his left elbow. I was downstairs in the neighbor’s flat, and Jesse came down and said, “Duncan needs you.” I went up to the flat and he was sitting on the couch, holding his elbow. “I think I broke my arm.” He was clearly in pain, so we gave him some kid’s Tylenol, called our doctor, who told us to call first, and then go to a clinic nearby to get an x-ray. We hunted down a driver, and went to the clinic. The doctor arrived and put a cast on the arm without an x-ray, and gave Duncan a shot of pain meds, something like a high powered ibuprofen, then sent us home.

The next morning at 10:00 we returned to the clinic for an x-ray. The tech had gone home the evening before, so we couldn’t do it then. When I saw the x-rays it was clear that the elbow was broken and that he would need some pretty careful treatment since it was so close to the joint and the growth area. We returned to the flat and I began to organize the plans to evacuate him. AIS contracts with International SOS, an insurance company that provides for emergency medical evacuation, and I was on the phone with London, then Paris to make the arrangements. In the meantime our doctor came to the flat to examine the x-rays and to talk with the SOS doctors, and the superintendent was on the phone with Air France to get Jena and Duncan on that night’s flight to Paris. We packed, got all the stuff in order, and, not knowing whether they’d return before the end of the year, put them on the plane to Paris.

The flight arrived in Paris at 0600, and SOS made arrangements for Jena and Duncan to be met at Charles de Gaulle airport by an ambulance and taken directly to Necker Pediatric Hospital in downtown Paris. Duncan was in surgery at 0900 until 1400, and they had to realign the bones, put two pins in, and cast it in a full arm cast with a sling binding it to his body. He got out of surgery just fine on Sunday evening, and in spite of a very stressful day for Ken not having any information, and Jena waiting for 5 hours of surgery and ICU recovery after, he came through the surgery very well. Duncan and Jena spent a couple of painful days in the hospital struggling through the pain medications and finding a comfortable position before being discharged on Tuesday. They also were evicted from the hotel the next morning, and so had to find another, which was a bit of a dump, and arrangements were made for a different hotel for the remainder of their stay. They ended up returning to Lagos the following Tuesday, 16 May.

I am grateful for the assistance that SOS and Air France gave us in getting him treatment, and Mary Wilson and others here at AIS for helping us through the crazy period of getting it all organized. My worry now is that he has had some nerve damage and is unable to straighten the fingers on his left hand. The French doctors are not concerned about it and are certain that it will regenerate, albeit slowly. I want him back to normal right now and am having to struggle with my impatience.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Spring Break 2006: the Cote d'Azur, France





On 14 April we traveled through St. Tropez on our way to our hotel in Villefranche sur Mer. St. Tropez is that postcard Cote d’Azur town from Coppertone commercials of the 80’s, “For the St. Tropez tan…” The rich and famous stop there on their yachts to see and be seen, to hang out on the Mediterranean. We drove forever to get into town, and it’s the off season. Found a parking spot within walking distance of the harbor, and found a small crepe place to have lunch. After dining we strolled around the marina where we were awed by the size of the yachts, one of which was at least 200 feet long and had a helicopter pad on the transom. Amazing, obscene, tantalizing. The kids loved it, and enjoyed having their picture taken in front of a black Ferrari Enzo parked in front of a yacht flying an Italian flag.

After lunch we drove farther east along the coast road, through Nice and Antibes, to Villefranche sur Mer where we stayed at the Hotel Provencal. Our room on the third floor overlooked the red tiled roofs of the town and the harbor, replete with yachts and tenders, although not of the scale we saw in St. Tropez. From Villefranche-sur Mer we traveled along the coast, visiting Antibes for the Picasso museum, which was unfortunately closed as the building was being renovated. We went to a terrific market there and bought cheese, dried mushrooms and sausage to bring back to Lagos. We also took a day trip on our last day to Monaco and the casino at Monte Carlo. It’s Euro 10 just to go in, so I didn’t think it was worth it. We wandered into Monte Carlo, past the grand stands and catwalks for the TV cameras set up in preparation for the Grand Prix race to be held in May. Duncan and Jesse enjoyed the numerous Ferraris and other exotic cars gathered outside the casino, and could visualize themselves at the race with cars whizzing by.

We returned to Lagos on 17 April, refreshed and loving France, the food, the wine, the people, and the climate. We are planning on passing through Paris on our way back to the states in June.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Spring Break 2006: Arles, Provence, France





Since my last entry, the AIS School Board has hired a new superintendent, as has the Tacoma School Board, and the Tacoma voters failed a levy and then passed it on the second try. I took a group of 7th graders to Greece (see www.getjealous.com/aislgreece) and the Nigerian government shut down the country for five days to take the census. Time is flying this time of year. Hard to believe it’s been a week and a half since we returned from our Spring Break trip to the south of France on Monday, 18 April. I want to bring the country back with me, at least the cheese, wine, seafood, pastries…oh let’s just bring it all.

Our Air France flight to Paris departed Lagos late on Friday, 7 April. Arriving early Saturday morning at Charles de Gaulle airport, we changed planes and arrived in Marseille in mid-morning. The weather was sunny and cool, spring-like. Got a rental Citroen Picasso (cue the irony music), and headed off into the sunshine for a leisurely 2 and a half hour drive to Arles where we spent four nights. We planned on a stop along the way for lunch, but didn’t really find a good spot. After learning to navigate the French highway sign system, we left industrial Marseille for the heart of the Rhone valley. Arles is a combination of newness and medieval/Roman design. We found our lodging at Hotel le Calendal, a stone’s throw (literally I could have hit it with a rock) from the Roman amphitheatre at which bull fights (the ribbon catching kind, not the kill the bull kind) are still held. It is a picturesque old building with the pastel color combinations typical of Provence. The interior is filled with natural light from an atrium, and the staff are friendly and knowledgeable, willing to let me try to speak to them in the French I remember from two years of high school classes 23 years ago. Apparently my pronunciation is pretty good even if my vocabulary and grammar are pathetic, as on at least a couple occasions waiters or hotel staff have said so. We parked the car, stashed our bags in our room, and walked to the Sunday market. A five minute walk from the hotel found us among blocks and blocks of vendors with tables of produce and crafts, carts resembling butcher stores and deli counters, complete with refrigeration, and overflowing with cheeses, pastries, meats, and many of the wonderful things that Lagos is completely lacking. Jesse spied a basket of raspberries and Duncan a basket of strawberries and we devoured them, the first fresh berries since leaving Washington in August. We also purchased some salami and cheese, and a couple of baguettes. Hey, when in France, do like the French! The market shut down about 2:00 and so we strolled around Arles to get the lay of the land, visiting a building with a large square courtyard full of flower gardens in the height of bloom. This used to be the hospital that Van Gogh went after lopping off his lobe. It now houses shops and a modern media center/library.

We returned to the hotel to freshen up, and walked a short distance to a restaurant recommended in one of the guidebooks. Lamb, pasta, great sauces, washed down with the local wine served in pitchers for about Euro 6 per liter. I love this country. Of course there was crème brulee for dessert and terrific coffee. We retired to the most restful night’s sleep I’ve had in months. There was no incessant buzzing of the air conditioner, no clunk as the compressor turned off or on, no nasal wailing from the Imam at the mosque at 5:15 in the morning. I actually didn’t open my eyes until after 8. The hotel includes breakfast so we went down to be greeted with fresh eggs to cook to our liking in a large vat of boiling water, ham, cheese, breads and croissants (we prefer chocolate!), cereal, juice, and coffee or tea. We met Robin and Craig, a couple from Philadelphia who are staying there with their two kids, Wesley and Haley. At breakfast we thought it’d be good to have a plan for the day, so after consulting the guide book and Robin, decided to visit the site of the village of Les Beux, a medieval walled city at the top of a hill surrounded by olive groves and vineyards. While the outer parts of the city araea filled with touristy shops and restaurants filled with Provencal items, the center is a museum/archeological site with reproductions of a catapult and a trebuchet, and interesting information about how the city provided refuge for the inhabitants. We also were introduced to the famous Mistral, the wind that blows out of the alps and whips among the hills in Provence, nearly being blown off the hilltop. We had lunch of pizza and salad at a restaurant in Les Beux before returning to Arles. The city was prepareing for an Easter weekend festival, and we had to stop at the traveling carnival for bumper cars ride and a turn around the kiddie car ride. The French seem less concerned about safety than Americans, although much more so than Nigerians. There were no seatbelts on the bumper cars and it was all I could do to keep Jesse from flying from my lap as Duncan and the owner’s daughter rammed us repeatedly with their cars. That evening we wandered around looking for a place for dinner, finally stopping into what looked like a sort of a dive, but was one of the only restaurants open nearby. The waitress was surly, had a stud in her nose and looked to be about seventeen. The owner was in his early 20s, tattooed, and dressed in a t-shirt and jeans. It turned out that the surliness was because the waitress wasn’t feeling well, and the meal turned out to be excellent. I had duck breast in lavender honey sauce, Jena had a veal chop with mushroom cream sauce, and the kids were in heaven eating their spaghetti with clams and mussels. It was among the best meals we had in France, and I couldn’t help thinking that if this little dive can do this, just think of the possibilities.

After another restful sleep we awoke to another nice breakfast and rain. We decided to go to the Pont du Gard in spite of the weather, and by the time we arrived it was raining pretty hard. We stopped at the souvenir shop outside to purchase a parapluie (umbrella), and walked the 500 meters or so the base of the ancient Roman aqueduct. The Pont du Gard is one of the largest sections of aqueduct still standing and has an arch in the main span longer than those typically found. It is quite an amazing piece of engineering, sloped so that the level decreases 56 feet over the entire 31 mile distance bringing water to Nimes, and carried water for over 500 years. We had a nice hike and the rain abated a little, so we climbed up to a vantage point above the aqueduct which offered terrific views and a walk through a rock tunnel through which the aqueduct ran after it crossed the gorge. A nice hike and some good photos, and we bundled back into the car to travel to St. Remy. Here we got our first lesson in the timing of French hospitality. It turns out that lunch occurs between 11 and 2, and if you want lunch at 2:15, your options are severely limited. We strolled through about a half a dozen restaurants before giving up, heading to the boulangerie down the road for a couple baguettes and pastries to go with the salami and cheese we bought at the market at Arles. Asking in my broken French where I could buy a bottle of wine, the woman at the boulangerie directed me down the street on the right. Five minutes later I was at a winery where the proprietor had me taste three different Cotes du Rhones. I got two bottles of my favorite (one opened upon request) and two small tasting glasses for Euro 9. I love this country. We rolled down the road until we found a side road leading out through the vineyards, pulled over and picnicked in the car with bread, cheese, salami and Cotes du Rhone. It was one of those great spur of the moment things that can happen when you travel. The weather cleared and we spent some time taking photos and walking among the grapevines before returning to the car.
That afternoon on the way back to Arles we stopped at Avignon, of nursery rhyme fame. Sur la pont d’Avignon, on y danse, on y danse. Sur la pont d’Avignon, on y danse tout en rond. (On the bridge at Avignon we dance, we dance. An the bridge at Avignon we dance all in a circle.) We made it to the ticket counter a half hour before closing and were almost denied our danse sur la pont. I had to talk the grumpy clerk into taking our money, pointing to the kids and making a sad face. It was sort of anti climactic. The bridge hasn’t spanned the river for many years, but is a cool reminder of medieval times, replete with drawbridge and a guard tower. Plus there’s the song. We wandered through Avignon looking for a place to eat and finally had a mediocre meal at a restaurant on the square. It was late when we got back to Arles and hit the hay.

The next day we got a real taste of le mistral, the wind from the Alps (some say from Siberia), as we drove through the sunshine of a clear spring day to visit some of the Cotes du Rhone wine country. We stopped in Vacqueyras at a cooperative that allows you to taste a number of wines from a variety of producers in the region. There we tasted several varieties from Gigondas, Vacqueyras, and Cotes du Rhone. Against one wall rested a row of spigots like gas pumps, each labeled with different wines, and from which were filled a variety of containers with the cooperative’s wines. Bottled wine was also available, and we bought a couple of bottles, and a box filled from the spigots.

During our stay at Hotel le Calendal in Arles, we met a couple from Philadelphia, Craig and Robin, with their 5 year old son and 3 year old daughter. We had dinner with them one night and lunch on our last day in Arles. It was nice for the kids to have some other kids to pal around with, and we enjoyed their company. When we left Arles on 12 April to travel to Isle sur la Sorgue, we left what turned out to be the best hotel of our trip, and took an afternoon trip through Rousillon, the hilltop village surrounded by brilliantly ochre cliffs, a color reflected in the buildings of the town. The town was nice, very touristy, with small shops lining the narrow streets. We had a picnic in the car before climbing the hill to the town, wandered through, and took some photos. Then we found our lodging in Isle sur la Sorgue. Hotel Cantosorgue is contemporary, clean, and void of character. It was cheap, though, but too far outside the town to walk to. Parking was a nightmare in the town, but we made due. We had dinner in a restaurant recommended by Rick Steves, and were pretty unimpressed. While Isle sur la Sorgue has potential with the Sorgue river flowing through the town, it was not our favorite place. We took a walk up to the source of the river in the hills above, and had dinner the last night we were there in a terrific little place we stumbled upon.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Greece Tour Day 4: Independence Day



Today we awoke, packed, and left the hotel in Olympia for the 4-hour bus ride to Delphi. Today is Greece’s Independence Day, the anniversary of the fight with the Turks for control of the country. Because of this we found that the Delphi Museum would be closed, so we sought another activity to enrich the day. We rode the bus for about 2 hours to a small town where, after a ten-minute walk into the heart of the town and finding a spot on the sidewalk along the main road, we waited for the Independence Day parade to begin. The mayor was speaking from the square with loudspeakers wired along the parade route so the crowd could hear. The parade finally started and we were entertained by groups of students from the various schools marching in their school uniforms, many groups led by a student holding the Greek flag, with the crowd applauding as they passed.

The group returned to the bus with a casual stroll along the beach including plenty of rock skipping and throwing stones into the water. Aboard the bus we traveled to a small taverna in a nearby town for lunch outdoors under a tent. We are beginning to tire of the food, as the menu in the tavernas is very similar everywhere. All the students have been able to find something they like, but having the same selection every day gets tiresome. The sign outside our restaurant said ‘pizzaria’, but with a group our size the menu is usually limited and we were not able to order pizza. We returned to the bus for the ride on to Delphi, about 800 meters high into the mountains of Greece. It is very cold, close to freezing, with a fine mist and ominous black clouds shrouding the peaks. After checking into the hotel we were treated to a lesson in traditional Greek dance by our tour guide Irene in the lobby of the hotel. The group includes some natural dancers and an abundance of left feet. Afterward we had a little free time to explore the shops and streets of Delphi before dinner at a taverna, followed by a lesson on bridge building by Mrs. Robnette. With lights out at 10:00, it has been a long day. Tomorrow we go to the land of the Oracle of Apollo.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Greece Tour Day 3: Olympia





Greetings from Olympia, site of the ancient Olympic games. I have not had a chance until now to update the site, and will add more student notes as I am able. The students are doing well with a lot of energy and are enjoying the learning. We have a few that are already running out of spending money, a few who are learning what it is like to live 24/7 with the same group of folks (it’s a little more demanding than 6 hours of the school day) and some who think they are nocturnal. Overall, it’s been a great learning experience so far. Enjoy the updates, and you may want to start with the March 22.

Student anecdotes for Day 3:
Javier:
-We went to see the Olympia stadium
-Chris got stuck in the bathroom (at the hotel)
-We met some new friends

Temi:
-We went shopping for the first time in Olympia
-To Mom, I am taking my malaria pills

Wade:
-We went to different places for shopping
-We hiked up a mountain looking for flowers, animals and life
-Stayed in a better hotel than last time
-We got free water on the bus

Today after an early breakfast we checked out of the hotel and boarded the bus, leaving Napflion behind as we traveled west to Olympia, site of the ancient Olympic games and the birthplace of the Olympics themselves. The bus ride passed over many winding switchback roads as it climbed the mountains, over the top and down the other side, leveling out along the Ionian Sea shore. The weather remains spring-like, large puffy clouds in a sky just a shade lighter than that of the Greek flag. The almond trees are bursting with pink flowers and the citrus groves hang heavy with lemons and oranges.

We arrived at the site of the Archeological Museum of Olympia close to noon. Because the sites are still on winter hours and close at 3, we opted to visit the museum and the archeological site first and have lunch later. Mr. Cain and Mrs. Robnette walked into town and grabbed some fruit and small sandwich snacks to tide over the teenagers until lunch time.

At the museum we viewed the artifacts removed from the ancient Olympics site. One large room contained walls of mostly headless statues of the gods, but also those of philosophers, generals, and orators. It seems that since the Greeks in the classical period gave great importance to the human form they would have statues made and change the heads out as they fancied. The reliefs and statues from the pediments above the entrance and back wall of the Temple of Zeus were reassembled along opposite walls, and on the adjacent walls the panels telling the story of the Twelve Labors of Hercules were displayed.

Leaving the museum we downed our snacks and walked to the entrance to the Olympics site. The students broke into their groups and explored the grounds with the help of a map and descriptions of the various buildings and temples on the site. After visiting the stores building, the gymnasium where athletes and their trainers worked, the Temple of Zeus, and the workshop of Pheidias where he constructed the enormous statue of Zeus, we walked to the stadium. This area is a bowl-shaped area of grass with a long rectangular dirt area in the middle upon which the competitions were held. The original five Olympic events (discus, racing, chariot racing, boxing/wrestling, and discus throw) were held over a period of five days, and occurred every four years beginning in 776 B. C. We capped our visit with a race on the ancient stadium floor, which Toby won with Wade a close second. As we exited the site very near the 3:00 closing time we passed the location of the basin from which Olympic torch is lit for every Olympic games since 1936. Interestingly, it is done by placing a mirrored surface to, in the words of our guide, “collect the sun’s rays” and ignite the torch. Mr. Marks was very pleased when he asked what shape the students thought the mirror was and many responded, “A parabola!”

We boarded the bus and had a late lunch at a local taverna, and walked to our hotel. Students went on a brief nature walk in the area, then returned to downtown Olympia for some shopping time before dinner. We have a long bus ride tomorrow, which is Greek independence day, so another early morning.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Greece Tour Day 2: Mycanea




This morning most of us awoke at 0730 for our 0800 breakfast meeting. Some were early, a few were late, but we boarded the bus at 0830 and with a small itinerary change, opting to begin the day with a visit to the castle of Palamides that towers 798 feet over Nafplio in the hills above. The fortress, built around 1715 by the Venetians after recapturing the city from the Turks, was reached by climbing nearly 1000 steps. Students were given the option of riding the bus up or climbing, and everyone chose the stairs. A stiff breeze off the water whipped the Greek flag on Burtzi castle in the distance as the morning sun shone across the Bay of Argos and Nafplio harbor. The Burtzi fortress was built around the same time and was the residence of the official executioner since he was not allowed to live in the city. It was a beautiful morning for the climb. We explored the fortress for about an hour, visiting the small prison cell and the arched niches which housed the cannon.

Following a short refreshment break at a small kiosk outside the castle, we boarded the bus for Mycenea, the supreme city of Greece from 1600 to 1100 B.C., ruled by King Agamemnon during the time of the Trojan war. This archeological site was discovered by amateur archeologist and lover the works of Homer, Heinrich Schliemann, during the 1870s. Students explored the ruins of the ancient Acropolis, including descending 60 steps into the earth in what was a cistern used by the residents to store water in the event of a siege.

After lunch down the road, we stopped at the Mycenaen Pottery Center Ceramic Workshop to see how they create authentic reproductions of museum pieces. There we were introduced to the “Cup of Justice”, designed by Pythagorus, which, when filled to a certain level, acts like a normal cup. However, if one tries to fill the cup with an excess amount of a beverage, the entire contents will drain out through a hole in the bottom.

After loading up on pottery the group headed to the theatre at Epidauros, the best preserved Greek theatre that dates from the 4th and 5th centuries B.C. The theatre has 55 rows of seats and holds 14,000 spectators who came to watch Greek plays acted out in the open air. The theatre is amazing in that its acoustics are so perfect. We tested the acoustics as the group climbed to the upper levels of seats and Mr. Cain dropped a coin in the center of the circular stage area, the sound of which was easily heard at the top of the theater. Students drew some sketches and took some measurements of the theatre in preparation for a math lesson later in the evening.

We returned to Nafplio for a writing assignment and some shopping time in the square in the old part of town near the hotel. We then walked to a taverna for dinner, After ice cream, we returned to the hotel for a short discussion of some Greek mathematicians and some of the mathematical properties of Appolonius’ conic sections (circle, ellipse, parabola) and how the parabolic shape of the theater is what focuses the sound waves of the performers to create the acoustic properties. We were in rooms by 2200 for lights out. Wake up call at 0630 tomorrow.