Balloons & Spires

A pre-dawn start today (11:45 Australian time… we’ll have some adjusting to do on our return next week) for a balloon flight in Goreme.

I counted I think 102 balloons, around 24 passengers to a balloon so this is a serious business here. For comparison, the township of Urgup has signs claiming 19,700 (permanent) residents. It is quite remarkable how successfully Cappadocia markets itself in the global tourism industry. The aerial vantage point is a great way to appreciate the natural rock spires and canyons.

Our travel agent organised a tour with a Turkish travel agent who ultimately organised with Kaya Balloons. They ran a professional, safe and friendly operation and we seemed to be ahead of the pack on take off, giving the pilot more opportunities to get lower & closer I think.


Hot Air Ballooning is a very inefficient, unpredictable way to travel. The pilot can gain and lose altitude, and that’s about it. So it was a credit to the man driving ours this morning that we could drift along the valley, at times so close we could touch the tree tops.

Dawn came after very clear skies, soft, pale gradations of light, a slight haze on the horizon. And an amazing number of balloons. I now wish to know the collective noun for hot air balloons.

Cats in Istanbul

I have a theory on national civic development. As countries move from some Hobbsian “State of Nature” through to highly developed, there are several key regimes of treatment of stray dogs. At the worst, stray dogs are food. At the best, stray dogs are lovingly captured by local authorities assigned that responsibility by one or two other tiers of government, and transferred to custody pending adoption or execution. It is only in the middle of the spectrum that stray dogs exist in any quantities roaming free in populated areas.

So Turkey is perhaps a corollary of this theory. With scarcely a stray dog to be seen, it seems that the stray cat’s life is easy, perhaps even pampered. There are a variety of theories as to why. What I do know is that on the whole they are very cute.




The drive from Breuzeville-Grenier to Bayeux would essentially take us through Lillebonne, so we took the time to stop and see the “Theatre Romain”. Somewhat hysterically, the gardening crew were mowing the 45-55 degree slope of what was formerly tiered seating… with ropes. A top rope to control the fall of the mower and a bottom rope to steer. Despite being told by the tourist office the theatre was closed, the gardening crew and everyone else at the site seemed keen to have us walk around.

The theatre escaped being quarried for its stone in the 1800s, and is currently having access ramping built around the periphery. Across the road a museum houses excavated artefacts from the theatre and the region, including coins and amphoras. Coins included those minted under the reign of Constantine, by which time the Roman empire was moving eastwards – as Danielle and I would be soon.

We walked through the remainder of the quite busy village centre, marvelled at the terrines, and wrapped up what was meant to be a ten minute stop with a visit to the Boulangerie-Patisserie… for a most excellent Tarte Citron – lemon tart. Beautiful shortcrust pastry.


Midi Pyrenees

We arrived at Toulouse (Gare Matabiou) courtesy of an overnight train where we only had bunk bed (couchettes), not seats. After freshening up and petite dejeuner at the station, we went to rent a Citroen, but discovered, that opening was only at 9am on a Sunday. So instead we went to drop bags at the Pheonicia, but to our happy surprise were given our room.

We drove down to Tarascon sur Ariege, stopped in at the tourist office. Then struggling to find anything open on a Sunday, we abandoned plans for picnic on the Ariege and instead had kebab. Very tasty kebab however, huge amounts sauce on the halal chicken(?)

Driving a little further along the valley to Niaux and then a short climb up the hillside brought us to the Grotte de Niaux. A large overhang hosts a tourist office and lookout, as well as being the way into the cave system through a man made entrance.

The original entrance is quite silted up and almost impassable. The graffiti on the 800m approach to Salon Noir was a remakable entree to the cave art, with crude “I was ‘ere” style charcoal names & dates. The earliest was I think in 1584 and a large number in 1700 and 1800s. In the Salon Noir, quite high in the cave complex, it opens out to a circular chamber with a very high roof. Around the chamber, paintings of bison, ibex and horses were in various levels of preservation, from quite damaged and indistinct, through to “could have been done yesterday”.

Photography within the cave is not permitted.

We drove back through to Tarascon, and took some time to explore, climbing up around the ramparts (which were the back doors of houses numbered 1 & 2 on their street). Exploring some tiny cobbled laneways and a church that was probably used as a place of worship for Cathars.

We took the slow route back to Foix, driving a complete loop through numerous small villages in the Pyrenees, including a circuit around Montsegur. Sadly, there wasn’t enough daylight hours remaining to climb the castle that was one of the last hold-outs of the Cathars.

Fortification ruins from the middle agesRoads in the region

Driving back to Toulouse took us through Foix, so we stopped briefly for dinner, cassoulet of duck and a salad, and a couple of more glasses of very inexpensive but good wine.

View from the town park nearby dinner

The heel turn

The train journey from Toulouse to Paris saw the heel-flap emerge, and the heel turn was done by time we arrived in Le Havre. the next few days we spent with Roger Driving and Danielle Knitting around the Normandie region (a most agreeable arrangement for a knitter!). I thought I had finished all the gusset stitch decreases, until we got on the train to Berlin last night, and realised that I had incorrectly started decreasing in the wrong place some time back – ripit, ripit!
This morning, we awoke alternately racing through the German countryside at 200km/hr and crawlinging for no apparent reason. The gusset decreases are all now re-done, (in fact I overshot by one decrease, not paying attention), and now I look foward to some mindless instep knitting.


Having had two rather full tourist days whilst dragging round the jet-lag crankiness, I still find Paris marvellously interesting.  Public buildings are decorated tastefully. 

The Metro is efficient.  Historical events shaped the culture they have today – we have agreed we need to read a lot more to sort out all the Louis and the Napoleons, and to determine the real motivation for French art and the revolution.

The food is all good.  I don’t understand why the food is so good.  We wonder if it relates to butter content……..

Today, I get to see Foucault’s original Pendulum!

Saint Chapelle

Breathtaking. Anything other than wide angle HDR won’t do it justice, so this is just a teaser.


The rest (updated now):

Car prices in the UAE

So spending the afternoon walking aroumd on Abu Dhabi At this time of year really required mall air conditioning. From what the taxi driver said, even the round-the-clock construction work crews break between midday and 3pm for the heat. So in the new Centrepoint mall at Marina Village, not only are there approximately 40 watch stores, but you can also browse a Emirates Motor Company show floor. All Mercedes dissappointingly (where are the ferraris?) but keen keen prices. If I travel internationally each year I may avoid ever buying a new car out of resentment for Australian price structures. Current model C63 AMG Coupe going for about $105k Australian.