A drive on Christmas day.

Christmas is almost long forgotten, but so much happens around Christmas that you don’t find time to share it all. Christmas day was so cold and windy that we thought its better to go for a drive. Stopping, looking quickly, hurrying the ones taking photographs so we can get in the warm car again. : )

A first stop in Cergy at the Axe Majeur… An impressive place. Urban landscaping they call it. 


Then off to Auvers sur Oise where Vincent van Gogh lived for a while (and died).

Marleen greeting Santa Claus… opposite the Auberge Ravine where van Gogh hired a room.


Then off to see his grave and the church made famous by van Gogh.


we had to warm up again… for that you need coffee and a crêpe…


Lastly the beautiful town Pontoise. Remembering the cold early mornings I dropped Jaco and Pieter off at Pontoise station.



and then back home to the fireplace and a nice Christmas dinner.


A week of ‘last times’

End of year, end of our time in Cergy-Pontoise, last ballet class, last gymnastics class, last time dropping someone off at Collège le Moulin a Vent, last time… That was what this past week was like. Now, after doing some things for the last time, the year has officially ended and the kids are on holiday till September.

The reason for having ‘last times’ again is that we have bought a house in a small village, called Beynes, and we will start moving next week. The house implies for sure that it will be a working holiday for this family. I will write more about the house and our renovations when we are there next week. For now I can say that the house was build in 1840, it is big enough for a family of six and was cheap enough for us to buy. Big, old and affordable only means one thing: lots of work… But that’s not a problem as we are also six people that can clean and paint. : )

These two photo’s from the estate agents’ website convinced me that we have to visit this house…

from the back…

front entrance…

Before the big move starts next week, lets get back to the ‘last times’ again. Franci had her last ballet lesson and then the dance concert last night. She danced beautiful and I am sure aunty Belinda from Monte Vista’s ballet would have been very proud of her. This year’s danse classique was taught by a friendly lady called Sylvia.

movie legends… Black Swan, Titanic, Marilyn… 

Then the last gymnastics lesson on Friday and Cergy’m Club’s end of year gala today. From the youngest group of 3 year olds to the current France gymnasts, all showing off their skills and entertaining us with fun dances.

This afternoon we remembered again the displays at ACS Gymnastics. With the nice Cape Town weather it was held outside, so they had space to do crazy things like boys doing somersaults over cars… and more. Each club is special in its own way. The best memory of our year in Cergy will be Cergy’m Club. The girls were so happy there and are really sad to leave, but Fred recommended a club close to the new house; ‘where the coaches are just as friendly as them,’ as he said. : )  So, with a very special goodbye card and some tears the group of girls said goodbye… They will keep contact on facebook and see each other again at next year’s competitions.
It feels like a long time ago that Mandi and Franci joined the club, speaking only a few words of  french. The coaches had to ask one of the girls to show them what they have to do as they couldn’t understand. They had good laughs with the girls correcting their pronunciation and they again teaching the french girls some afrikaans words. Even Fred thought the girls could teach him how to convince us in afrikaans not to move. : )

To Fred, Audrey and Elsie, the gym coaches, and a very special group of girls: Thank you for a lovely gymnastics year. Even difficult days for Mandi and Franci weren’t that bad as they could look forward to going to gym that evening.    à bientôt

This year and next year.

It’s still the confusing thing of ending a year (school) in the middle of the year. We almost can’t believe it, but we are really at the end of our first year in France and the end of the first schoolyear. The boys are on holiday already. A 12 week holiday till they start the next year in September. (Not to forget that there are also 8 more weeks of holiday during the year.)  They did spoil my previous post I must say…  I had all these nice words about them repeating this year, but it is actually good and then they came home with reports saying that they’ve passed! I had to change the post and now it does not read so nice anymore. But, it’s ok   : )

Let me explain a bit about French schools. They don’t write exams. Kids are evaluated through the year with tests; announced and unannounced, and also receive marks for participation in class. The next interesting thing is that parents have a say in whether a child should pass or not. At the end of each term; before you receive the report, you can ask for pass or repeat. The school will respond with what they think and you can accept that or not. At the end of the year if you and the school still don’t agree, you can appeal. What I appreciate about schools here is that they look at the whole picture. The boys chose to do Premier S next year. That will be the direction with maths, science and computers. Because they showed that they are good in maths and science, they were passed to Premier. They had a good mark for their FLS french (Special class for not french speaking children), but no mark for the normal french class. Because they are going in the science direction and will do much less french and history next year, and no biology, they could pass. It makes a lot of sense. They will have to still work hard, but at least with ‘nicer’ subjects. And they could finish school in two years time.

We get the keys to our (very old) new house in three weeks, which is just to say that we are moving. That meant changing schools. (Which everyone was happy to do.) As we are moving to a new department, we got the news that we have to work through the Inspection Academique again. That’s the schools department. The first time we waited six weeks for them, and we had the help of the relocation company, so we were not really excited to hear this.

We don’t give up, so we grabbed all our french and went to see them. Unbelievably with the first visit the lady made an appointment for us at the girls’ new school and we were there last week to register them. All sorted. Then a next visit for the boys and tomorrow we will go to register them at their school. I must say we understand most of what they say now and with a whole lot of grammar mistakes and wrong words, they actually understand us, so we get to organize it all. And people are mostly very appreciative and friendly about our efforts. : )

The girls did really well this year. The negative side of the FLS class is that they are not really taken seriously. They attend some of the normal grade classes, but are told to sit at the back and do their FLS work. They also didn’t get handbooks. But these two girls changed this a bit. : ) Mandi was working hard at home, trying to understand. Doing maths with just the bits she could write down in class, so at the end of the first term I asked the teacher to give her books and let her at least try. The same for Franci. And they surprised the teachers. There were still subjects like history and biology that they did not do it all. They also missed many classes being in the FLS class. But by the third term they were both doing the best in their normal french maths class. Franci enjoyed it so much when monsieur Hanin, the maths teacher told the class (with a smile) that everyone that has less marks than Franci, has detention after school. And there it was the whole class. : ) And he asked Mandi’s class if they are not ashamed that a FLS child is doing better than them. : ) The new school was impressed with their reports and the teachers remarks, and they were also quite excited to have ‘foreign’ children in their school who can speak english. This school does not offer FLS and have only local french children and no immigrants like the previous school. The school here in Cergy consisted mainly of immigrants. Most of the kids speak Arabic at home. Many kids from Turkey and Africa as well.

When they were tested last year, the academique actually moved the girls up one year, compared to where they were in South Africa. I think if we really asked for it, the girls could pass to the next grade, but they both chose to repeat this year. Franci need to improve in reading and writing french. The speaking is going well. Mandi would have gone to highschool which adds some other difficulties, so we were all happy for them to repeat.

Apart from schools we do have summer now. Its just that it happens only every fifth day, or maybe seventh… : ) Ok, we have summer days every now and again.

We could have a nice picnic at the water park here in Cergy…

and the poppies are really pretty now…


Spring is in the air…

Yes, its officially the end of winter. Temperatures are up and we can think of putting our jackets away. Maybe not too far yet… today is a bit chilly again. : ) The first sign that spring is coming are the daffodils. Many of them and everywhere.

and then some small bulbs trying to compete with them…

The streets are lined with pink blossoms. For them you have to be quick. I watched one long street with trees on both sides. A pink passage, but I waited too long. Greedy… wanted more pink flowers and then when I arrived with my camera the flowers were covering the street. C’est normal. Well, I didn’t get to photograph the long street, but still some nice pink trees.

…and some just show their soft, new green leaves…

and then the tulips arrive with their deep, bright colours and take over the show…

I will leave them for a next post. They need a bit more time to be at their best… : )


Me, RSG and Chérie FM

I still listen to RSG, Radio Sonder Grense, here at home. Mostly to lighten the task of folding and ironing washing in the afternoon, while listening to ‘Tjailatyd‘. You don’t have to concentrate too much, just some company in the background. That is a big change from Cape Town where I could listen to RSG in the car as well. Now I listen to Chérie FM while driving and now I have to concentrate to try to understand! Ok, that is only when I am alone in the car and there aren’t any teenagers to change the station to maybe Virgin or NRJ.
Chérie FM shows my age. They often play music from my highschool or university days. You could hear a song from Flashdance or Dirty dancing maybe. : ) Some french music as well, but still less lively (noisy I could say) than the Virgins and NRJs!
What made me talk about radio stations was that on Tjailatyd everyday a listener describes his or her daily trips in the car, so I was wondering how I would describe my daily time in the car here in Cergy-Pontoise.

Each morning starts with a trip to Pontoise train station. That is either at 7, 8 or 9 am, depending on the boys’ schedule. Things start a bit later here in France, so the 7am trip is very quiet, almost no cars. We know that we have to leave 5 minutes earlier for the 8am mornings. Early mornings they have their breakfast program on my radio station. We hear the weather for the day and when it is an 8 am morning I catch the ten questions in 1 minute on my way back. Even more focusing to understand at least one question… and feeling good if I actually do get some questions. Did I mention that this radio station is of course all french?
Pontoise is lovely. An old town with buildings that remind you of apartments in Paris. Two beautiful old churches and a rich history with the impressionists that lived there.

…as we come around the corner into Pontoise… 


…looking up to the old church from the train station…

Driving through Cergy is nice too, because there are so many trees. Now they are all still bare, but in summer it feels like you are driving through a forest, although you are in the middle of a town. It is a new town that developed over the last thirty years and looks like any town in South Africa…

as these signs will show you… they only welcome you in french…

The next trip will be taking the girls to school. Just around the block. 8h30 or 9h30, depending on their schedules. At 8h30 it takes longer as we pass a primary and preschool and all the moms and dads are crossing the road with a pram and a toddler or two. We pass the station closest to us, ‘Cergy le haut‘, and if we look to the right at the station we can see the tall buildings at La Defense in Paris. We have to look quickly where the trees open, but if we had more time we could look for the highest point which will be the Eiffel Tower.

Because Cergy-Pontoise is an area consisting of twelve towns I do different things in different towns. There are signs telling you which town you are leaving and which you are entering, otherwise you would think you are always in the same town. Our house is in Courdimanche, but as I take the first turn the board tells me that I am now leaving Courdimanche and entering Cergy.
If I run out of something and just want to quickly go get that, I drive through Cergy for 100m and then am told that I am now in Vaureal. This Intermarché is the closest shop to me, but small. Also I have to check the time as they are closed between 12 and 2pm.
For real shopping there is a bigger Carrefour in Puiseux-Pontoise, and for real nice shopping I drive to the big hyper Auchan. I can take the highway, the A15, or I can make it a nice trip between farms and through the pretty little town Boissy l’Aillerie.

The afternoon times I can never plan before. The girls can finish at any time. Its different every day. Maybe at 4 or maybe at 5 or maybe a teacher is absent and then even earlier. The boys somedays take more busses and trains and come home or I wait for their call to fetch them again at Pontoise.

This is not the end of our day yet. I must still take the girls to gymnastics. Right on the other side of Cergy, almost in Pontoise. Now we take the A15 and only pass through the new town to the big new gym. If the boys have gym too, two days a week, our trip finish with fetching them at the gym at 10pm. Then everyone is ready for bed to wake up at the right time to start the next day’s trips on old and new roads, through old and new towns here in Cergy-Pontoise.

La compétition

To do a post about our first gymnastics competition in France does not make much sense, because it was almost the same as what we knew in Cape Town. We sat long on hard seats and the program ran late. The parents were friendly, we drank ‘tuckshop’ coffee and we ran around with our cameras. One difference was that the ‘tuckshop’ sold croissants and pain au chocolat… with the chips and chocolates. All that was really different was that the hall was WARM (with 6 degrees outside). We were remembering sitting under our blankets in Oudtshoorn or the Velodrome. : ) The gymnasts walked around in their leotards and Alfie did not hang his big jacket around their shoulders before they compete.
They played lively music for the gymnasts to march on, but the judges didn’t get any mention or music… that they can learn from South Africa.

This was actually a very relaxed competition, don’t know if they get more serious later on. France has 26 regions, which are divided into 95 departments. Our region is Ile-de-France and is divided into four departments of which Paris centre is one. We are number 95, Val d’oise. This competition was for Val d’oise only and to qualify for competing in the Ile-de-France competition. The girls did well. Franci was first on beam and came 4th overall. Mandi was first on floor and came 8th overall… fell off beam twice : )

the girls were pretty and Fred the coach was his usual calm self…

...and just as the ACS coaches would do… tells you with a smile that something was bent, but it is OK…

…a nice day in Goussainville, close to Charles de Gaulle airport.

Cergy’m club won 14 medals and the next competition is in two weeks time. A team competition where the club will compete as one team.

A new routine

It feels like the last few weeks were really busy, or maybe we just have to get used to the new routine… or maybe… because there is no routine.
We have to get used to getting up at six some days, or rather to remember which days to get up when!
No morning is the same. It depends on their classes when everyone has to be at school. Some days each one starts at a different time and have lunch at different times and of course finish at different times! Here if you don’t have a class you don’t have to be at school. Then it happens almost every day that one of them phones me to say that a teacher isn’t there (or have a headache…) and they can come home.

Also in the last month: I broke a tooth, Danie broke a tooth, Mandi fell on her hand and was swollen and blue for a week, but luckily didn’t break anything and then to top it all, Jaco broke his foot.
All of this would have been nothing if we were still in SA, but add french and doctors with different ways of doing things to that, and its a whole new story.
The strangest part with doctors here is probably the absence of receptionists! Danie made my appointment with the dentist, (he had to go first). So, you enter their building and there is nothing and nobody. Now you wonder what next?! Do you walk down the passage and knock on the closed doors? There was an empty waiting room. Then I saw a sign that says, ring the bell and wait: Rang the bell, sat down, and now wonder if they heard the bell. Waited a minute or two, rang the bell again and waited again. But, not strange to them, the assistant came to fetch me and at least, the ‘dentist work’ was the same. : ) Afterwards you pay at the doctor. Everything happens in his consulting room. Just him and his assistant and they do everything.

Mandi of course had to go to the doctor and go for x-rays, but we survived that.
Jaco broke his foot at 10pm, with the next day being a public holiday… now we also know where the emergency clinic is, but that was not the end for him. He needs to get an injection every day to keep the blood thin. Now we know that you can get visiting nurses at home or could see them at the medical center at certain times. In the meantime the nurse showed Jaco how to do it and he just injects himself! Still not the end of this story: there are also blood tests once a week at the laboratory. Each time I test how long I can last before I have to say: “Je parle un peu français”, when I don’t understand what’s going on anymore. My most used phrase to tell them I only speak a bit of french. I feel really good when I leave and realize I understood everything and they understood me, and I haven’t used my phrase! : )

…and crutches in french? ‘Cannes anglaises‘… English walking sticks. : )

In the meantime winter is coming closer. Day temperatures are now between 5 and 11 degrees. The sun only rise after 8am and most mornings we have thick fog.

Autumn in France

It seems like suddenly in one weeks time, all the leaves had turned into their autumn colours. Yellow, orange, red… Since yesterday it is cloudy and every time I want to go for photos, it starts to rain, but I got some. The temperature is now around 15 degrees on the warmer days.
Danie left for Lisbon today for a meeting this week. I think he will have some last summer days down there.


…and that means leaves to rake…

 …and fun…

The schools, gymnastics and the ‘Axe Majeur’

20 September 2011

There are no ‘new’ news about the schools… The kids did their tests 10 days ago and now we have to wait for the letters to tell us where they must go. The tests went well. An english comprehension test, which was easy and then maths, which was easy as well! So, according to the French school department they are all up to standard. : )
We thought the tests were because they can’t speak french, but when we came there and everyone else spoke french (they were all from french-speaking countries) we realised it is everyone coming from another country that must be tested. The people from the departement only spoke french, but their was a friendly mother from Mauritius who translated for us when we did not understand… I have to say that they actually felt bad that they could not speak english.
We tried to contact the schools directly, but they just said no, we have to work through the
‘Inspection académique’.
What we know is that the girls will be in ‘collège‘ (middle-school, gr.6 and gr.9), just not where, but there is a school in Cergy with a class for non-french speaking kids. (just a block or two away)
The boys will be in ‘lycée‘ (high-school, probably gr. 10), but it seems that the closest class for them will be 30 min away by train. The man that tested them, is a teacher of such a class. He said he had kids from 80 countries through the years in his class, but never from South-Africa and he was keen to take Jaco and Pieter, he was just not sure if he still had place in his class. His school is in Argenteuil… a kind man. They will all four be in classes where they will be taught French.
In the meantime we carry on with our French lessons and wait for the letters… the french like letters, no e-mails, but printed on paper and mailed to you. : ) As I’m saying what they like… they also still use cheques a lot. Danie hasn’t had a cheque-book for years in SA and now he writes cheques all the time. : ) And don’t even ask how much concentration it takes to write all those numbers in french… ‘Trois-cent-quatre-vingt-dix-huit euros et cinquant-sept centimes‘ 398,57 : )

The gymnastics is going very well. Mandi and Franci gym four evenings a week and are in the competition group. The gym and equipment are excellent. And the most important thing is that they love their new coach, Frédéric. They say he is just like Alfie (ACS, Monte Vista), funny and making jokes all the time. : ) Frédéric would not know what a huge compliment that is, because Alfie has a talent for working with kids… and he is an excellent coach!

The boys also joined a class last week. They have a class for high school kids and young adults who just want to stay fit and keep their gymnastic skills. So they go two evenings a week (8h30 to 10pm!) and really enjoy it.

To add some photo’s, I will show you the Axe Majeur Horloge. This is what Cergy is known for. As you approach the town on the highway, you see the signs on how to get there. They call it landscape architecture and was designed by Dani Karavan, a landscape architect… of course. : ) There is a whole lot of symbolism in this structure, but one day when my french is better, I will read the book that explains it all. He used the number 12 as a symbol of noon and midnight, twelve apostles, twelve tribes of Israel, twelve astronomical signs… (!?… weird?)  that’s why there are twelve columns, etc.
It is 3.2km if you walk from the top to the bottom (and a LOT of stairs!)

It starts with this building up on the hill, with the axis (the axe) in the middle.

and as you turn around here, you see the columns. Everything cement and gray…

…and then the surprise when you walk just behind the columns… a lovely view…
the red bridge that crosses the Oise river and then the ‘ile astronomique‘, an island that forms a perfect circle, which I think is man-made. 

The buildings in the background are at La Defense, Paris.

The highest point on the left is the Eiffel Tower and the big block just to the right of the centre, the Grande Arche.

For the locals this is a favourite spot to exercise… running those steps up and down…

A busy… french… week

13 September 2011

Last week we had no choice but to have long French conversations… with few French words. Monday me and Jaco went to subscribe him for drumming lessons. The lady could only speak French, but she was so friendly, laughing about everything. Well, with lots of concentration and her repeating a few times, we understood each other and he was booked to see the teacher this week. As we walked out of there we were thinking that maybe he will go back to find that we entered him for playing the harp in a symphonic orchestra. : ) … but the end of this story is that he decided not to do this as it seemed to be more percussion than drums and I had to go back and explain that again.

The second thing was getting haircuts. I have now learned not to start a conversation with asking them if they can speak English. If the answer is ‘non‘ they get such a fright that they stop talking to you completely and you want them to rather speak french as we do understand a bit. She only asked the other ladies something and then said ‘you wait’. Me and Jaco waited for more than an hour and then he did get a real nice haircut. With Pieter we tried another hairdresser which went better, at least we could make an appointment.

Then there was Mandi and Franci’s doctor’s appointment with a ‘french-only’ doctor. He was kind and sweet with the girls. He asked them all the questions in french: Name – then they had to spell it for him, date of birth, and so on, but they could answer everything – in french. : )

So, maybe our french-understanding is coming on. Speaking is still difficult. I still speak in single words, no sentences.

Oh, I also got library cards (from the french-speaking lady). Now me and Franci are reading a book: ‘Les nouvelles réflexions d’une grenouille..‘ (the new reflections of a frog) with google translate next to us… : )

To colour this ‘french’ post I will add some photo’s of this weekend’s ‘Cergy Soit’, a festival with drama, music and all kinds of funny things. We only went on Sunday evening just to see what it is about.

after me, it’s closed… : )