Amiens

Amiens cathedral
Amiens cathedral

After visiting Amiens once, I decided that as my friend was coming to stay for a week I would leave most of it uncovered and would explore it with her. We did this, and I found Amiens to be a fabulous city with loads to see and do both in itself and in surrounding villages that are far enough away to cycle there.

I’ve got quite a few photos of Amiens but that’s because there is quite a lot to photograph. There’s lots to explore too, from the amazing Gothic cathedral which could house 2 of the Paris Notre Dames, to the St Leu ancient district with it’s old canal side buildings, to the vast ‘Hortinollages’, the houses built on the canals in the marsh.

One night we were sitting in the square in front of the cathedral, enjoying the peace despite there being an awful lot of people around. We wondered why so many, but we put it down to the fact that it was a lovely night, the cathedral looked gorgeous with it’s lights on and it was so peaceful. Just as we agreed to leave around 10:30 pm, the flood lights suddenly went out. That’s unusual as mostly they stay on until midnight in France, but what made it odder was … people were clapping!

We were then rewarded with a spectacular show. As can be seen in the photos, the doorway arches are covered by carvings. Apparently these used to be coloured and it was only when restoration of the west portico began that this fact emerged. So, some clever person set out to recreate what colours would have been there, make some kind of film of it and project it onto the cathedral at night. What a wondrous show! I took closeups to show the detail they’d gone to and how some of the statues looked with and without the colour.  We were gob smacked and my friend was moved to tears by the amazing spectacle, so beautiful and so unexpected. We had to go back a second night just to take sure we had really seen it!

Madeleine cemetery
Madeleine cemetery

We also visited the Madeleine cemetery just north of Amiens. It’s a cemetery which in the past housed tombs of the wealthy who could afford somewhere for their entire families to be buried. It’s odd to say that it can be fun and interesting to visit a cemetery but it was! Look out for the grave of a very famous author buried there, who settled near Amiens and died there.
Look out also for the tomb that appears to have been broken open. Human remains can be seen clearly but my French isn’t good enough to go and ask what happened there. My imagination is good enough to invent my own story though. 🙂

It’s easy to navigate round Amiens, it’s got a zoo, the Hortinollages, St Leu which has moorings and we parked for a couple of nights in the free car park by the moorings. It’s got a lovely market and a great park which are both well used by residents. It’s also got the Madeleine cemetery and a laundrette and you can read about the laundrette in another post.

Samara

Iron age hut

Samara was a wonderful find as we both enjoyed the 2 days we spent there. It’s a reconstruction of iron and bronze age settlements that did exist in the area at the time.

The buildings are constructed using the methods from that time and with only the tools available to them then.  (Sadly this rule is broken only by the blacksmith who for some reason has some electrical devices.) Nevertheless it was great fun watching someone make fire completely from scratch. He used things from the ground and trusted techniques and made fire every time.

The potter was quick and efficient and that was a lot of fun. From experience when I was a teenager at school it wasn’t that hard either. Of course it’s all in French so you miss a lot, but you can make it up as you go from what they’re doing. Sadly the potter had a large sign behind him saying no photographs. I felt that didn’t quite fit in with the nature of the place as a whole so I took one anyway.

The lady making the willow baskets was much more friendly and despite the fact she spoke no English and I speak only the odd word of French, we used effective body language to make ourselves understood. I now have some willow in the van ready to make my first basket 🙂

In one of the iron age huts, which really aren’t that basic you know, a young man saw me trying to get a nice picture of sun streaming through a window and being diffracted by the smoke from the fire. He began wafting the fire to make it smokier for me. His colleague then used broken English as best she could to tell us about the hut and the people.  Another guy was hitting something with a hammer and completely ignored us when we said hello so we left him to it with his chickens heh heh.

There’s acres of ground to explore once you’re in there, a restaurant and shop and all the things you’d expect. It was only €7 I think for entry and if you keep your receipt you can come and go as you please, but we had a fantastic day there and stayed happily in the grounds the night before and after.

The evening we visited, we were walking along the riverbank when we came across a small pony in grounds. There was a very touching moment when it and Jack touched noses through the fence. Ahh!

Beetle
Beetle

Also I found a bug which was fluorescent! It was amazing, clinging to this stick I spotted it in the dark easily from around 60 feet. I couldn’t believe it when I found what it was so had to bring it back to the van to photograph it. Sadly, after all the attention it turned it’s light off so I didn’t get a picture of it glowing. 🙁 Fascinating though … I wonder what it is?

Picquigny

Some flies
Some flies

Picquigny was a nice little village that we stopped off in, on our way to Samara. The riverside walks are awesome and you can actually walk to Samara from here. It was so peaceful there and we only passed a handful of people.

My friend Nicki from Dorset is a budding photographer, and there is a pond near her house where she got some amazing pictures of dragonflies one day. That set me off wanting to take some as I rarely take pictures of animals or people.

So I took some last year when I was in Dorset and I got some rather nice ones. So because of that I spent a very enjoyable couple of hours until the light faded chasing insects by the riverbank near Picquigny in the hope of a decent shot.

I almost wore my camera batteries out in my attempts to picture them, but I was pleased enough with some of the results.

Naours

Naours
The caves at Naours

Naours just north of Amiens has what they like to call a subterranean city. It’s basically a network of 35km of tunnels dug out of the chalk and flint, to allow locals to live and hide there from the Germans during the war.

One part had a cave-in and took locals 4 years to clear they say.

You only get to see a very small part of it, I’d guess it would be repetitive anyway to see much more as it was built to hold 3,000 people. The clever priest who thought of the idea also tried to make most of the alleys mirror the layout of the town above them and even named the alleys with the same names as the streets above. This helped people find their way around and also made it seem more homely. There were tunnels in the roof that vented smoke to the surface, which came out through the chimney of one of the houses. Very ingenious!
It very much reminds me of the man-made caves in Kent built for the same reason, I can’t for the life of me remember the name of them though.

If you look at the photos you can see very black bits in the chalk. This is what the French call Silex but we call flint. They left it there as it’s very hard and helped strengthen the caverns.

This is an amazing construction designed to hold an entire village including their livestock, in complete secrecy from those above ground. The motivation and social cohesion needed to build something like this probably just doesn’t exist anymore.

Acer Aspire 8930

This is typed on my brand new laptop, the Acer Aspire 8930, bought about 8 weeks ago in desperation when Vodafone failed me (yet again!) and I thought my trusty old Dell was broken.

It’s an awful laptop and here’s why.

Although it has an 18.4in screen and is 1080p HD, with wcg (whatever that is) the screen image quality is awful. It’s bigger which is better for work, but move even a couple of inches left or right, or up o down from dead centre of the screen, and the picture starts to deteriorate. It’s extremely difficult editing my photos as I have to move my head all over the place to keep my eyes on the same plane as the screen. IN addition, the slightest bit of sunlight blinds you and even bright daylight obscures the screen.  Thumbs down for the Acer screen.

Next up is the all powerful Tube, true 5.1 surround sound. It’s dubbed (pun not intended) by Acer as the best sound coming from a laptop. Well I’m here to tell you different.
If you play a CD on it yes, the sound is pretty good, however if you play a DVD it’s a different story. What happens is if the voices are good, the background music is tinny as anything, ruining the DVD of course. If you go into the Acer HD audio manager and untick “swap centre/subwoofer output”, the opposite happens: the background music is great but the voices are thin and tinny.
Huge shame, as I have a collection of almost 1,400 DVD’s, that’s how much I like my movies. Thumbs down for the Acer sound.

Blu Ray? Pah. I bought one disc to try it out and guess what? Absolutely no difference whatsoever between that and a DVD. IN fact it’s significantly slower to load, and I got skipping and jumping as it tried to read the disc. The inbuilt Acer program for playing DVD’s doesn’t migrate to Window 7, so you have to find a player yourself and pay extra for it.
Thumbs down for the Acer Blu Ray player.

Ports……2 USB. 2 USB! Can you believe in this day and age, they fitted only 2 USB ports on a machine as physically large as this! Thumbs down for Acer design.

The full size keyboard is appalling. You have to thump it to get it to register a key press. I now have aching fingers regularly due to having to hammer the keys. Thumbs down for the keyboard.

Now this laptop claims to have a 2 gig processor, 4 gig of RAM and over 2 gig of video memory. Why then is it soooooooooooooo slow! It has by far the worst performance of any computer I’ve ever owned, despite having the highest specs. Thumbs down for performance.

It’s not easy to open with one hand and it uses quite a lot of power, so overall it’s a massive, huge thumbs down for this, and as Acer flatly refuse to supply me with a Windows disc unless I buy it from them, I will absolutely never touch another Acer again.

Ticked off!!

Ticks on Jack's nose
Ticks on Jack’s nose

Jack has been chasing wild rabbits for days. He’s not even come close to catching one, but not for lack of effort.  He’s loved the exercise and I’ve loved seeing him happy and doing what he’s supposed to do. However the downside is that he has caught dozens of ticks 🙁

I’ve twice laid him on the sofa and spent around an hour and a half taking them out one by one. I stopped counting at 63 in the first session. Some of them are so small it’s unreal. I used a close-up lens to show this little lot grouped around his whiskers. You can see the small white dots. There’s also black ones and the odd red one. Presumably they’re at different stages of feeding?

Now if you’ve got good eyes you’ll spot around 2 dozen in this picture.  I didn’t imagine ticks could be so small and that’s the time consuming part of it, finding them all then being able to actually get a hold of them with the tick puller. Some were right in the base of his whiskers and they really took some digging out. The trick is in not tearing off the small tubes they insert into his skin to feed with, but in spinning the ticks body to ensure the tubes slide out complete. Leaving bits of insect in his skin can lead to infection I read. So I’m really careful as I don’t want more vets bills!

Whether the ticks are to blame for his missing whiskers I don’t know. I’d not noticed any missing before now. I doubt it as all ticks do is feed on blood and spread disease. A woman I know has Lyme’s disease as a result of a tick. I’ve checked myself over and luckily I don’t have any.

Yes Jack has been Front-lined. I’m guessing that when you have your face stuck in the entrance to a wild rabbit warren several times an evening there’s nothing that’s going to be effective against them, but I can’t wait for them to drop out, and have ticks all over the van. Yuk!

More ticks on Jack's nose
More ticks on Jack’s nose

This photo clearly shows a black one as well as a white one. I assume the black ones have fed and the white ones haven’t?

These ones are easier to see as the hairs on his snout are so short.  I found some on the base of his foot behind his pad, on his testicle, in the folds of his ears and one sneaky one that I missed at first as it was attached so close to his nipple.  I’m fairly certain that there will be some I’ve missed despite dedication to the task of cleaning my little man up, so I dug the Bob Martin tick spray out and soaked Jack where his fur is longest, at the back of his neck. Oddly, I’ve not got one from there yet and my guess is ticks might like short hair so they can get to the skin easily?

I think I’m gonna Frontline Jack again anyway and check him every other day for more, in case there’s hatchlings or the odd one I missed.

What I’d like to know is, what useful purpose do ticks actually serve? None? Thought not. So come on scientists … develop a poison and eradicate them from earth! One of the benefits of being top of the food chain should be getting to choose who stays and who goes!

The last photo below shows half a dozen of the little buggers hiding in his eyebrows. One was almost in his eye!

Ticks on Jack's eyebrow
Ticks on Jack’s eyebrow

 

Jack laid there, either laid out on his belly, flat on his back or on his side jammed in between me and the cushion so I could easily get at them, without so much as a whimper. He went to sleep mostly while I got on with the task, letting me check between his toes and completely unflinching even when I was taking them from his eyebrows.

He’s the best dog ever and he earned himself some chewy dog choc for being such a brave little soldier 🙂

Update**

Apparently Frontline lasts for 3 months. Yep … Jack was done over 3 months ago! Duh at me.

Satellite woes…

Well the Alden satellite is performing OK as long as the wind stays down. It’s almost useless in 10 mph or over winds. The laptop appears fine since I uninstalled that IOBit software, but the batteries still seem to be wearing more quickly than they should. I think eventually I’m going to have to find a decent auto-electrician and find out exactly what the problem is.

Wish me luck tomorrow as it’s Monday, back to work and it’s been windy all weekend. As Blunderfone is still not working I rely exclusively on the satellite now.

Love in the laundrette!

After searching for 3 days I finally find a laundrette when I get to Amiens. I’m not desperate yet, ‘cos none of my undercrackers have been turned inside out so I’ve got six months to go but … my sheets feel like cardboard boxes so am thinking it be best to get them all cleaned up.

Laundrette
Laundrette of lurrrrve

So anyway I have 3  loads and I get them all in separate machines, select the right programme (cos you know what happened in Chateaudun!) and go to put my money in. Now, French laundrettes work differently to ours. There’s one box that controls all the machines and it takes coins or tokens. So I insert my €3 and press 1. Check behind me and the washer is going so cool, one down two to go. I stick another €3 in and press 2 … nothing. I press 2 again, nothing. I press return coins, nothing. I belt the machine with the heel of my hand, nothing. Bugger. So I stick another €3 in and press 3. Aye machine 3 starts up so that’s all cool, so flushed with that success I stick yet another €3 in and press 2 again. Nothing.  Hmmm.

Well before I have a chance to do anything else this very cute little chick who I’d noticed with her Mum comes over and speaks in excellent English, “You have to call this number for each incident.” She points to a call-us-if-there’s-a-problem number on the wall and as I don’t appear to have a phone and can’t speak much French, she gets her phone out and starts dialing the number.  I’m well impressed. But before she gets connected, the mother does something to the machine and it starts up. So I’m full of thank you’s and that and chuffed that everything’s going so well.

I start cracking onto hot chick, turns out she’s Romanian studying in France and her English is exceptional. As is her arse 🙂  So of course I sucked my belly in, stuck my chest out and gives it some for Britain. She’s putting up a game fight but I reckon I’ve got this in the bag here like. ‘Til mother decides they’re going elsewhere while their washing is in! TUT! So I’m left in the laundrette with a fat Indian and two noisy French lads. Thanks.

So later on hot chick comes back, without her Mum. She smiles as she comes in and she’s checking me out the whole time she’s putting stuff in the dryer, so I get up and she says yes please, she’d like a hand with her washing. So I’m helping her put things in the dryer and I tried very hard not to grin, but it did cross my mind that now I had actually had my hand in her knickers hahahaha! Aww come on I’m a single bloke …whaddya expect!

Anyway we’re chatting on getting on like a house on fire and I’m wondering if she’s ever had it in a camper before? Will she be up for it? Well who knows but for now she’s on her way out again while her clothes are drying. Hmmm I think she’s playing hard to get. So later, I’m putting my own stuff in the dryer when hot chick comes back to collect her washing. I of course drop what I’m doing to help her and we’re chatting, smiling etc. She’s checking me out all the time  and she’s only maybe 25-28? I’m 49 and look it  so maybe she’s just one of those chicks who’s into older men. I don’t care I’m loving it. So we finish her washing and I try to move in for the kill but she’s resisting! Dammit why do girls do this! Fat Indian and the French boys have been watching me the whole time and now there’s another bloke in, so I’m feeling that I need to close the deal here! Then … she leaves! She heads for the bloody door saying Bye! I can’t believe it! But wait … a backward glance, a smile, she hesitates, stops, turns, and heads back to me! Whey hey! She comes right up face on, gives me a huge beaming smile and says “I also know where there is a good hairdresser for you to use while you’re on your holidays.” Dumbfounded I reply that it’s fine cos I always cut my own. Her face says “You can tell.” so I just smiled and waited for her to bugger off. Cheeky bint.

So the moral of the story is, when in foreign laundrettes keep an eye out for East European lesbians!

Troyes

Troyes at night
Troyes at night

Stupid title, but Troyes apparently is pronounced Trwarr, like the French 3. I came across it after leaving Reims and not really having any firm plan, was just driving to see where I arrived. I came across Troyes and I’m glad I did. It’s a most gorgeous place full of character and old buildings.

It’s easy to get around the place but like a lot of French towns, the market is not cheap. However one stall charged 1.40 for a bag of radishes whilst another 30 yards away charged 65 cents. Weird. Lovely place to wander round though and I’m sure that some of the old  buildings are actually brand new. However if so they are really well built and it’s so difficult to tell that I wouldn’t care. It looks great.

Another thing I found in the town centre is a carousel. These seem popular with the French for some reason. In the ultra modern la Defense district of Paris, by the Grande Arche there’s also a carousel and I’ve seen others dotted about.

Head for the hills!

So, I’ve found Alden’s unit just outside of Strasbourg and I need somewhere to spend the night. I could easily stay here except it’s still oppressively hot and humid and I’ve had this fantastic idea. I can see just north east of me some hills. Hilly ground usually means cooler. So, sweat running down my face, legs swollen with the heat, eyes blinking the salt away and hands slipping sweatily on the steering wheel, I head for the dam hills!

On the way I can’t resist stopping to take a photo of a field of sunflowers. It looked lovely in the evening sun. So did the cornfields with hoses irrigating them. It looked way better than the pictures suggest, but then I never claimed to be a great photographer: I wish I was.

Dambach la Ville
Dambach la Ville

I continued on not really knowing where I was going, just roughly following the road to the hills for a cool night. Then I came across this archway, quite small, and clearly part of  a walled in structure. I checked it and guessed (rightly so) that I would just say fit through in the van so I drove through it and instantly had to stop, as I saw the most beautiful, characteristic old building to my left. I had to get out and take a picture. When I did, I realised there was more, then it dawned on me that the entire village was an old rustic settlement of some kind. It was outstandingly beautiful and I just started walking round it. Every turn was another old building and they all looked like they were at least 250 years old. I find out later it’s called Dambach la Ville and is only the home of the Vins Ruhlmann-Schutz Vineyard and Winery, which counts among it’s wines Pinot Noir, Muscat and Riesling and has been around since the 14th century. So that explains the weird looking vines behind the car park.

What struck me was the way the Boulangerie, the restaurant, the wine shop and the town hall had all been kept in the old style . It was sometimes difficult to see what a shop was until you got close to it. Children played in the street as in any village and a couple of young men were standing outside what I found to be a public bar. It’s a gorgeous place and I loved it so, having found a matching arch on the other side of town to where I’d entered, I got the van, went through the opposite arch and found a free public car park. 🙂 Excellent, great place to spend the night and it meant I could wander the town on the evening which I did.

On top of the north gate, there was a large nest with 2 large birds in it. Whenever they sense danger they made a call which sounded like a small stick being hit quickly and repeatedly off a hollow wooden tube. Kind of like the sound a woodpecker makes when pecking, but a richer sound and lower note at the percussive parts and slower. That’s the best way I can describe it and I’d love someone to tell me what birds they are if they know.

So, the Alsace region is a place I’d like to explore some more. I can’t at the moment as I have to be back to Paris to meet a friend who’s flown in for a few days. I’ll definitely be back here though.