Saturday, 28 August
Around 2:30pm I arrived at the Auckland International airport. Normally I’m not that excited to be leaving New Zealand, but with the current state of affairs in the country and the poor job the government has done getting us vaccinated with only around 20% of the population double vaccinated and a recent break out of the Delta virus variant, I was actually quite excited to be leaving the country.
Not surprisingly there were very few people about in the terminal as there are very few planes coming and going from New Zealand, particularly as everybody arriving has to isolate for at least 14 days, due to the lack of vaccinated population. Secondly it’s really hard to get a space in quarantine to return to New Zealand, so consequently many airlines have dramatically reduced the number of flights and out of the country. When checking in I was given a $35 voucher to spend at a bar, the only one open in the departure terminal as under level four lockdown rules all the lounges are closed at the airport. With only a few people around it was a quick trip through immigration and airport security. I wandered through the closed shops to the bar and presented my voucher to find out they did not sell alcohol, so I settled for a cup of coffee and a stale sandwich for the exorbitant cost of $27.
Not to worry though I was soon be seated on the Emirates flight and airborne, with a glass of wine in hand and a lovely meal as we headed to what I thought was supposed to be Dubai, but turned out was a stop in KL in Malaysia to refuel and pick up a few passengers. One young lady boarded in KL in a full protective suit, mask, goggles and all; there was no way that the virus was gonna get her.
Landing in Dubai, the airport was reasonably busy, all the shops were open and people were wearing masks but going out about their business as normal. The lounge was open where I enjoyed a good breakfast before boarding the flight to Lisbon. It was supprising to see the number of large aircraft surrounding the terminal. It looks like the rest of the world is getting on with life while NZ sits self-isolating in the bottom corner of the world.
As we left Dubai I was sitting on the south-side or starboard side of the plane as we flew over the Palm Island, and from there over the Sahara desert.
As I looked out past the triple seven engine, which was part of what was thrusting us forward at around 700 miles an hour I wondered if we were ever going to make these electric and how many batteries would have to fly to get that thrust. As we flew west across the desert every now and again large green circles of vegetation appeared. It’s almost like add water and you can grow anything, anywhere – then suddenly it goes back to miles and miles of sand, sand, rocky mountains and sand. We flew across the gulf of Aqaba, then across Northern Egypt and the Suez Canal and out into the Mediterranean, well above the coast of Libya and the other northern Africa states, then across Spain and Portugal.
Landing at Lisbon airport, apart from people wearing masks there was no sign of people social distancing or other things that people do to stay safe from the pandemic. It was almost like there wasn’t one – only the masks gave it away. Boarding the flight to Marseille the crew chief constantly checked people with cloth masks to make sure they were a compliant mask – well I presume that’s what he was doing I couldn’t really understand what he was saying.
30 August 2021
Arriving in Marseille there was no immigration or customs as we had cleared these in Lisbon. Sylvia was there to meet me for our little-under-an-hour drive to the place we will be living, near a little town called Caissargues, just south of Nimes. The house, which is rather large, is about 300 years old, made from stacked stones from the surrounding paddocks. As far is I can establish the stones were sort of laid with a concrete type substance. Later the walls were plastered to give it that solid stone look. The external walls are about 600mm thick and there are some internal columns that are some 500 mm². There’s an old stone step in the kitchen that’s been nearly worn flat over the years. Exposed in some places are some old logs that are obviously holding things up and that have been riddled with borer over the years. The house is among a small group of buildings that are surrounded by fields and fields of vineyards, this being a large grape growing area. About 96% of the wine that comes from here is made into red; I’m told it’s not exactly up-market. Three friendly white horses also hang out in a bare paddock behind the house.
Saturday 4 September 2021
The first week here has flown by, getting various things organised, joining a gym, signing up for French lessons (poor teacher) etc. and the first weekend had arrived so we decided to head to a little town called Uzes, which Sylvia had discovered a few weeks before. The drive out there takes one through some quite nice country and across some very dry looking rivers.
The town has been around from the early BC days. Situated at the headwaters of the Alzon river in the first century the Romans built an aqueduct to take water to the city of Nimes, some 50 km away. Over the centuries the town has been run by various bishops and on occasions been fortified. It is now famous for its farmer’s markets on Saturday mornings. Fortunately we were there early enough to avoid the crowds and enjoyed some breakfast and having a wander around the town including the old castle, which I’m not sure how how long has been there but apparently is still occupied by some sort of royalty from time to time. It is also nice to see, as with many of these old European towns, how they just made the buildings fit the spaces available.
Sunday, 5 September 2021
We took a drive across to Arles, a city on the Rhone river. The waters of this river start in Switzerland and by the time it gets to this part of France it’s quite a large river and used to transport cargo from Port Saint Louis du Rhone to the various towns and cities along its banks. There are also many canals for irrigation that run off the river, providing much-needed water to the large agricultural area in this part of France. As we drove down the river towards the mouth most of the paddocks are quite small and look like they use flooding-type irrigation to grow their crops. As we reached the river mouth there are large salt flats that have been there for over 100 years harvesting salt for tables around the world.
This area is also renowned for its birdlife with hundreds of pink flamingos wading the shallow waters, among the many other birds that hang out in this area. Past the salt flats there is a long beach that runs along the coast, popular with hundreds of people picnicking. I reckon tents or umbrellas are essential to keep out of the hot sun.
As we were heading back through the little town of Salin De Griraud, with it almost barrack-style buildings, we spotted a side road; the map indicated it led to a ferry crossing,
We headed down the road and soon the car ferry turned up and we were whisked across the river (a new experience for Sylvia) to Port Saint Louis du Rhone. The town by the river is quite picturesque with a harbour area full of yachts and other pleasure craft, and a number of cafes and restaurants, which by this time of day were all closed. Just to the east of the town is a large container port and industrial area. As we headed north again along the west bank of the river required on trade by a lineup of wind turbines, obviously producing some of the local electricity. The land was pretty somewhere on the west of the river with most of it divided up into small paddocks and we even manage to spot some of the famous-in-this-area wild white horses that run the plains.
Wednesday 8 September 2020
Over the past couple of weeks we have heard machinery moving around the area from around 5am each morning; they knock off at around noon. This is part of the grape harvest. On the corner just west of us there are a number of large yellow bins set up. Little Renault tractors tow hydraulic trailers back to there and tip the grapes into the bins. To date I had mainly seen the harvesters in the distance apart from one by the bins under repair one day. Today I was lucky as they were harvesting the vines near the house so I took a wander down and had a closer look. The tall blue machines straddle the vines and move along quite quickly. There are plastic fingers at the front of the machine which rotate upwards and somehow the grapes are stripped from the stalks leaving the stalks and the leaves on the vine. From the amount of air blowing out of the machine I have a feeling the grapes are blown into the bins on top of the machine. Every few rows they stop and tip their load into the trailers which transport them back to the yellow bins.
By 1pm that day the harvest was over and the bins were gone.