Thursday, 24 January 2013

201. Réseau Comète on the map..

24th January 2013. As both my regular readers will be aware, since living in this region, I've taken a great interest in the Comet Line - a network that was set up in WWII by a 24 year old Belgian woman - Andrée de Jongh. Her noble aim was to assist evading Allied aircrew shot down over the Low countries to return to the UK via the Pays Basque and on to Gibraltar and home.

If this subject is new to you, then scroll down and look in the left hand column to where it says Shortcuts.. Click on Comet Line. A few minutes reading there should bring you up to speed. For quite some time I've been of the opinion that the activities of Comet during the war deserved a large scale map and so I've been busy the last few days populating an interactive map with sites of special significance to those interested in the Comet story. The map coverage extends from Spain, up through France to Belgium and a few sites in Germany.

Holding your cursor over any of the locations should bring up its brief description - and clicking on the location should bring up an image after a second or two's delay. To see the map in full screen, click here. If you wish to see a satellite view of the map, click on "Satellite" in the top left hand corner. Use the +/- signs at the bottom right to zoom into and out of the map. The locations are accurate in 99% of cases down to house level so it is worthwhile zooming in. If you wish to have more space for the map and get rid of the listing of all the sites of interest, click on the stylised arrows in the top right hand corner.
Please let me know if you spot any major omissions or inaccuracies. The images are a mix of my own plus those I've trawled from various places on the net. If I happen to have used one of your images and you'd rather I hadn't, let me know and I'll remove it.

31st January 2013. I've been busy lately working on things related to the Comet Line.. so I haven't had much time to scribble here. Just thought I'd mention that we had lunch outside today in Bayonne.. It's still January and it was 17-18°. There's a good little Italian on the banks of the Nive - we've been there before and it's worth a look if you find yourself in Bayonne. Tick VG!

2nd February 2013. It was a great afternoon for some serious armchair sport today - it was the first day of the annual 6 Nations rugby.. There were two matches yesterday - the first turned out to be a thriller in Cardiff between Wales (last year's Grand Slam winners) and Ireland. The lads in green held out to win 30-22:
The other match was England vs Scotland  for the Calcutta Cup. This is always a fiercely competed fixture as this is the one that the Scots hate to lose. Yesterday's match saw a hard-fought win for England by 38-18. Some commentators have suggested that the 20 point margin of victory was not a true reflection of the game but that's how it finished. As always it was hard to watch - my legs were twitching constantly! Here are the highlights:

4th February 2013. Yesterday saw Italy squaring up to France in Rome - the final match of the first weekend's 6 Nations action. And what a game it turned out to be..! For the second time in 2 years, the Azzurri of Italy beat les Bleus of France in a - at times - ragged encounter. I have to say that there were times in the second half that France appeared to have lost all cohesion and they looked like a dispirited rabble. I think it was the worst display by a French team that I can remember. I don't think the sole answer lies in changing the manager either. England faced a similar situation after the last RWC and they appointed a new manager who rebuilt the team with many new faces who play a different game to the sideways crabbing tactics that they showed under Martin Johnson. I wonder if Guy Novès (manager of Stade Toulousain) will be offered the post?

I don't think it will be too long before Italy move up the pecking order in the international rankings table. Here they are winning 23-18.    

9th February 2013. It's been a wet week here in the Pays Basque - too wet for outings on the river - with only the 6 Nations rugby this weekend to add some sparkle. Today sees Scotland play Italy in what I expect to be a bruising encounter at 1430 UK time then France play Wales at 1700 UK time - with both sides there looking for their first 6 Nations win of the 2013 series. What could be better after a good Sunday lunch than Ireland vs England in Dublin. (at 1500). This promises to be a cracker of a match by two sides that are widely tipped to be the best this year. Too close to call in my opinion. All matches are being shown on BBC1. Watch it live via this!

10th February 2013. I mentioned earlier that I've been busy with the Comet Line lately. Here's a video I put together of some of the many courageous people who chose to involve themselves in what turned out to be an extremely dangerous occupation. If you click on the YouTube logo and watch it there instead of here, then look underneath the viewing screen and click on "Show More", I've written brief notes and in most cases included a link about each of the men and women.

Monday, 14 January 2013

200. Let them eat cake..

11th January 2012. As we seemed to have shaken off the worst of the flu bug we'd had over the Christmas period we decided to go out this afternoon for our first walk of the New Year around Biarritz. As usual, the intensity of the light seemed to crank itself up a notch or two as we drove through Biarritz's winding streets towards the sea. A few minutes later we were walking along the sea front and we did what pensioners do best - we found a seat in the sun!☺ 
Place Bellevue
We couldn't take our eyes off the compelling display of towering waves that were rearing up and crashing in thundering explosions of dazzling white foam against the rocks. It was difficult to estimate the size of the breakers but I'd put the highest of them up around 4-5 metres high. There were a few hardy surfers out there mixing it with the choppy waves, but the conditions didn't look ideal for surfing to my untutored eye.
After a while the dog became impatient for some action and so he led us along the front to the Place Saint-Eugénie before we turned back to walk up through town via the Rue Mazagran to the Place Bellevue where we stopped at the newly opened extension of the temple to the art of the pâtissier and legendary tea room (salon de thé sounds better!) - the Miremont (above) - that faces the sea.
If you're going to stop somewhere in Biarritz in the late afternoon for a cup of tea or coffee, there isn't anywhere better. Then there are the cakes.. I'm not normally a great cake eater but I have to admit that these are pretty special:
A favourite watering hole for us in the centre of Biarritz is the well-situated Royalty in the Place Clémenceau - ideal for people-watching.

Another is the 1930s Art Deco Hôtel Plaza - which is ideally situated to watch the to-ing and fro-ing of daily life outside - or, in the case of adverse weather, there's a very comfortable bar and lounge inside. There's often a cool jazz trio/quartet who play here too. Madame gives the Plaza top marks for its hot chocolate by the way!  

14th January 2013. Across the border into Spain for a quick shopping raid at Venta Peio, Dancharia. As we climbed the mountains on the way there, one or two of the peaks were dusted with snow, like icing sugar. Arriving at the almost empty car park, in contrast to the hectic crowd scenes witnessed there in the build-up to Christmas, we virtually had the place to ourselves - and standing in the Spirits section, I was close to being hypnotised by four long shelves groaning with many of the finest available Scotch whiskies, including more than a few gems such as Talisker and a cask-strength Glenfarclas. I've said it before but there's a lifetime's study waiting here!

Here's the late George Harrison with a little known version of an old song (c1931) originally recorded by Cab Calloway..          
Guaranteed to have you humming it all day!

Thursday, 3 January 2013

199. Ready for another one?

1st January 2013. Happy New Year folks..!!
I've had this clip sitting in my camera since we were in Nantes - it's of the huge - and I mean huge - mechanical elephant at Les Machines de l'île that we took a ride on:

As usual, the Christmas and New Year festivities have flashed by as if on Fast Forward.. Despite not being at our best due to the flu-like lurgy that gripped us we nevertheless had some memorable moments. 

One evening we went out in the car to take a look at Biarritz and its annual light show. Town was full of rubber-neckers all doing the same thing.. wandering around entranced by the laser lights. Some of the lighting was really magical - for me, the first prize went to the thousands of small LEDs that festooned the palm trees in front of the Galeries Lafayette department store in the Place Clémenceau. This is the best image I could find and it doesn't do it justice I'm afraid. Many of the landmark buildings in Biarritz had these changing scenes (above) projected on to them.  

Changing the subject a little: One of my New Year resolutions is to finally make the breakthrough with my 5 string banjo. I didn't manage to play it much last year - what with all the translation work I was doing - so this year I'm determined to move up a level with it.
This rare image (pass your cursor over it to start it off) shows the little-known first attempt by der Führer at creating a mass movement. Despite playing his heart out in the quarter finals of "Germany's Got Talent", the country wasn't quite ready for Adolf's brand of  torch-lit Bluegrass Line Dancing mit lederhosen and so, after this crushing disappointment, he put his banjo away for good on top of his wardrobe and he joined his local Parish Council. The rest is history..

Now if you're feeling some post-Christmas blues, and you need a lift, take a look at this!

And finally, on the subject of the New Year, here's how it looked down on the river Thames - as always, best in full screen, HD and sound cranked up!