France here I come

Finished work, I can see the ferry from here, I will be on it at 10pm to sail to France. I can’t wait!

I get so excited like a big kid lol then I get to French passport control and I start to smile a lot. Then I reach British passport control and I start to laugh. Then we board and I start to calm down because I feel like I’m coming home. There is clearly something wrong with me cos I don’t hate the UK, quite the contrary. But there’s just something about roaming the continent and exploring new places. 

Hopefully this visit I’ll get to do Amsterdam finally, and Auschwitz. That’s my two main things. I’d love to go back to Neuschwanstein too but it’s OK if I don’t manage it. The way I’ve worked it out I’ve got until about the end of June before I need to return, and that means I can make another 2 month trip toward the end of the year. 

Happy days. 

My sad return

Sadly, it’s almost time to get the ferry back to England. 🙁

I’ve got some things to do including at work but the main thing is my 5th grandchild is due anytime soon! That’s the main reason I am returning so I’ve come to Autingues to get the dog sorted.

Auntingues
This is next to the car park for the vet in Autingues. Northern France is quite flat and sometimes featureless but that doesn’t stop it being pretty. Sometimes it’s nice to be able to see for miles.

Any time you return from an EU country you must have a registered vet administer a worm tablet. That’s it. And some charge €52 for that one thing! haha They sure know how to fleece tourists. You must wait between 1 and 5 days to return so it’s worth getting it done a couple of days before returning, as generally speaking the further you are away from the ports the less they charge. 

It’s always a bit of a wrench too coming back to the UK. Nothing against the UK I love the country, but it’s just the end of holiday mode. Life feels just so much more relaxed on the continent.

‘Parting is such sweet sorrow…’

I recall many years ago when I had a fairly responsible job I went to Thailand with my then girlfriend and we spent a month there just roaming around and enjoying exploring the place. Neither of us had been before and so everything left us wide eyed. 

When it came time to return home and go back to our jobs I was quite depressed for a while. I decided then and there to make much more of my spare time and my next job would not be full of responsibilities. I wanted a decent work life balance. 

For the rest of the time in that job I spent almost every weekend away and a while after coming back from Thailand we bought our fist camper to maximise our weekends away. We won it at 9 pm in an eBay auction for £1000 and set off at 10 pm to catch a train down to Cornwall to pick it up. We got there about 9 am the next morning absolutely shattered but we spent the next year flogging that old camper all over the UK.

We had a blast and I sold it back on eBay a year later for £1000 and we splurged on a brand new coach built motorhome the following month. That’s the one I still use and I can’t imagine life without it now. 

Oh well, bye Continent, I’ll be back! (Said in my best Arnie voice!)

Caen, France

I came to Caen once before, some years ago and kinda drove straight through it. I was headed to Mont St Michel and sometimes when I get something in my head I am 100% focussed. Well, not so much now but I used to be. So this time I decided to stop in Caen and check out the war memorial.

Caen British Memorial Garden
Separate plaques at the Caen British Memorial Garden commemorate each of the battalions, units and corps that fought during the battle to free France.

I vaguely knew Caen figured heavily in the war and I found the memorial very easily. Luckily there was an aire there too so I had no problem parking for the night. 

The museum is spread over a massive area and has huge fields and woods around it so there was lots of walking for me and Jack. I did of course enter the museum but I was still waiting for my pay to go into the bank and could not afford the €30 odd it was going to cost. I explored the grounds instead. 

The British memorial was only completed in 2004 although it was considered to have been started in 1988 when the then Israeli president planted a single tree there. 

Caen British Memorial Garden
The Caen British Memorial Garden commemorates his Majesty’s forces but also the merchant navy and civilians who contributed.

It’s quite sobering visiting any of the war graves or memorials of which there are many in northern France. The mood is always sombre but that’s the knowledge of what went on that makes you feel that way.

“Lest We Forget…”

One man created the whole war. One man. It’s very frightening to think that so many people can be led by one single maniac to carry out atrocious acts on their fellow humans. 

They say “Lest we forget” but it’s not really a case of forgetting. It’s a case of being drawn in irrespective of the horrific memories of what went on for those years.

Caen British Memorial Garden
This garden was designed and built on behalf of the British Friends of Normandy with the help of the city of Caen.

I sometimes think they glorify war and ennoble the dead in order to encourage more to be prepared to fight when the day comes that those in charge want to take something for their own.

Our leaders have not stopped going to war ever since and probably never will do.

It’s about power, resources and greed and you can’t cure politicians and business leaders of that. 

Mont St Michel, France

I made it down to Mont St Michel. Bit of a hike but I’ve been wanting to return ever since I first visited in 2009. The place is amazing. It’s an island and has an abbey on top, with houses in the middle and at the bottom almost at sea level, accommodation for workers. 

A lot has changed at Mont St Michel since I was last here. For a start the enormous car park has gone completely. I recall dozens upon dozens of motorhomes there the last time, but it’s all been left to go to the sea now.

Mont St Michel and bridge
Over €200 million has been spent de silting the area around Mont St Michel.

Apparently the maintenance was too expensive so they let it go and built a brand new set of car parks slightly north of the old one, with a bridge connecting the island with the mainland. Free buses go from the car park to the island if you want them or you can walk.

Parking for cars starts at €6.30 for 2 hours but longer than that and you must pay the 24 hour rate which is  €12. Everyone of course will pay the €12 because who wants to park for only 2 hours? It takes a half hour to walk there and back anyway.

For campers you can have a look at the car parks for 30 minutes for free. I have no idea what that plan is about, because 30 minutes is only long enough to get to the mount from the car park. I suspect they allow you that time to convince yourself you want to pay the daily fee which is €17.20. That’s a hell of a money making racket isn’t it?

Oddly there is a horse drawn carriage which is a slightly different way of getting from the car parks to the mount and that costs only €5.30 one way, which isn’t bad value at all. 

Dam over the Couesnon river
Erected to control the river and the silting of the area around the Mont. It incorporates seating as it is a perfect viewpoint for Mont St Michel.

Payback?

There’s a dam further up the river which is all part of the de silting plan which apparently cost over €200 million to put into place. Clearly the French Govt want to get that money back very quickly so they fleece tourists to achieve that. 

You must be aware that once on the mount itself it is very expensive. So your entire stay could cost you an arm and a leg. My advice is visit but start very early on the morning and see as much of the mount as you can. Take your own food so you don’t spend a ransom on the restaurants and leave after nightfall when it’s all lit up and looks beautiful. 

I didn’t go on the mount this time, I was there really to take some photos which is what I did and then I left.

As always. here’s a handful of those pictures.

Amiens, France

Ahh Amiens I’ve missed you! I haven’t been here since 2009 and I do love the place. This was where I saw my first Lumiere when my friend was visiting. 

Amiens cathedral.
As part of their Lumiere season the Cathedral of Our Lady in Amiens was treated to a spectacular light show which included lighting the cathedral’s gothic facade with the original colours it was painted in when first built.

Some people say it’s nice to come home but I don’t feel that way about where I was born or brought up, I feel that way about places I have a connection to. I definitely have a connection to Amiens. As I said I saw my first Lumiere here. The cathedral in Amiens when originally built was painted in bright colours. The Lumiere was intended simply to recreate those colours and show how the façade would have looked when originally built.

They made a show of it of course with some music as well and it was an amazing spectacle. It was all the more exciting as we had not expected it. We were simply sitting in the public square enjoying the balmy night and were in fact ready to go back to the van when the Lumiere started.

There’s an excellent Saturday market in Amiens too and I recall standing in front of a stall packed with lettuces of all different varieties. Of course I love salad so this was a treat for me and I was eyeing them all up and I asked what one variety was called and he replied “Salade.” I pointed to another and he said again “Salade.” So I pointed to an odd looking one and said “Salade?” and he nodded lol

A woman was standing by me and she turned out to be British as she explained that you simply point to which ones you want, even the French don’t learn the names of all the varieties. I felt a little foolish but laughed anyway. Later, the one I picked went into a salad and it was the most delicious lettuce. Mmmm.

Parklife

Parc St Pierre, Amiens
The main park in Amiens. It’s got a lake, running track, sports areas, wildlife and of course lots of well tended grass.

Jack of course loves the park next to the city, the Parc St Pierre. I recall trying to teach him to swim here when he was young but he wasn’t having it. He’d rather spend his time chasing ducks and anything else he thinks he can kill. 

It’s a huge sprawling park and even late at night I feel safe walking through it despite the odd lurkers here and there.

I recall once coming back through at about 1 am with all my photo gear and there was a large group of youngsters sitting on the steps chatting and laughing as youngsters do. As I approached they made a way for me through the middle of them and two of them said ‘Bon nuit Monsieur’, which I thought was pretty dam charming. 

I spent a few days here and in that short time I felt utterly relaxed and recharged. Sometimes being in a favourite place for a short time is all you need to recentre yourself. 

There’s a surprising amount to see in Amiens but it’s also a lovely city to relax in and even in the centre of the city prices aren’t inflated as they are some places. I highly recommend a visit and here’s some more photos to whet your appetite. 

It’s time to go …

Ferry
Ferry

Well there I was in Arques, minding my own business when I happened to pass a vets. I popped in and asked “Je boisin de prendre de rendezvous pour mon chien pour le vaccine”?

She replied “Aj’hourd’hui?”

I said “Non, Vendredi. Cinq et demi?”

She checked her book and said “Oui monsieur” and that was it. I was booked in for Jack’s vaccinations to return to the UK.

I wandered back through town to the van, choosing the route along the canal which takes about an hour and a half. When I got back I started the laptop and booked ferry tickets for Saturday morning.  I had to do it sometime, I’ve got things to attend to not least taxing the van and getting new insurance. So … there’s me sitting by the dock, watching my boat come in. I have to say I am mightily sad. However ….

Hands up those who believe in fate? I took Jack off up the car park as we had an hour to wait and it’s a large one, so he could have a run around before the crossing. We wandered to the far edge which was partitioned off and around the top where there are some huge dumpsters.

As I was passing one, I heard a faint yowling. The unmistakable cry of a frightened cat. It only took a minute to find the pathetic little creature, stuck in one of the dumpsters and he was clearly cold, frightened and very much trapped.  I jammed a block of wood under the lid of the dumpster and stuck the camera in. This is what I saw. I’m 5′ 7″ so the top of the dumpster is about 6 feet, and the lip, where they’re emptied and there’s a hatch on the front, is easily 4 feet off the ground and weighs a ton. Kitty has no way to get out of that thing. Interestingly, kitty had no way to get in either.

I checked around it cos I’ve been around cats all my life and I know how agile and purposeful they can be. However I decided there was no way that this cat could have got himself into this dumpster. So, who put him there and why? Someone who didn’t know the rules for bringing animals into the UK? I’ve no idea but I decided I was going to get kitty out!

I climbed onto the top of the dumpster to check out his situation and got covered in oil and grease and unspeakable things in the process. There’s a hatch on top so I had a good view of him.

Trapped kitty
Trapped kitty

Now as you can see, if I go in there and try to catch him, quite apart from getting ripped to shreds I am going to struggle to get out. The roof of it is easily my head height, so getting out would be possible, but I’d have to throw my clothes away and would still stink for a week.

So, I found a pallet and broke off 2 lengths, then used a larger block to jam the lid up. This way I could easily slide the two pallet planks down the sloping entrance to the dumpster, and within a second of my going round the back and banging the metal wall of the dumpster with a brick, kitty was up those planks and away like a shot.

So,  I still have to get on the ferry and come back to the UK, but at least my four month stay in France left one person extremely happy.  Bon chance kitty and Hiya UK, see you in an hour or so!

I’ve been to church!

St Maclou
St Maclou

I found this church in Rouen, called St Maclou’s. Turns out that it is named after a Welshman called Mac Low. Not only that, but the town in Brittany called St Malo is named after him!

Anyway, not by any stretch of the imagination is this church the nicest one I’ve come across, but it did have something about it and I enjoyed my visit so much, I stayed for mass.

I love the way the French sing during mass, and I love the way they turn and shake hands with anyone who is close to them during the sermon. Despite being brought up catholic I’ve never seen this happen before although friends of mine say they have.

I’m going back to take some more pictures later as the ones I have got were taken on a very high ISO and Canon hadn’t sorted out a decent noise filter for the 5D grrrr

The Sucata run

What the heck is the Sucata run? Well, sucata is Portugese for junk. Here’s an explanation from the sucata website at http://www.sucatarun.com/

The Sucata run boys
Some young men driving the Sucata run that I met in Rouen

The Sucata Run is a bargain basement banger rally tour where teams of up to 4 people drive to Europe’s most westerly point in 4 days, in bangers costing no more than £250. It takes place over the August bank holiday weekend (27th – 31st) and culminates at the breath taking Guincho beach on the Portuguese coast.

I met up with some of the boys on the quay at Rouen. Pictured are Lindsay, Ross and Richard from the Top Gun team. Their Volvo is cleverly disguised as a fighter jet and they are cleverly disguised as Maverick et al lol

The lads say they saw the challenge on Facebook and decided to sign up for it as Richard so eloquently explains, “Well it seemed like a bit of a laugh and raises a few quid for a good cause so why not. ”

The boys were very tired when I met them but were all set for a night on the tiles in Rouen later. I couldn’t help but grimace when, as I walked the dog next morning, I saw them being roused and moved on by French cops at 5:30am.  Ohhhhhh their heads!

Dooo Dahh Dooo Dahh!!!

It just occurred to me that since I came to France, I’ve rarely seen the police or other emergency services and rarely heard a siren, even in Paris. But since I came to Rouen on Sunday I’ve heard nothing but, every single day without fail, at least a dozen times a day. When I can spot them, it’s a fair mix of fire, police and ambulance.

I don’t know if they have a different policy in this city that they must always use sirens, but it’s weird that when I first drove in I had the feeling of not liking the place for only the second time since coming to France. (The other time was Reims) There was a period today where for 20 minutes solid there was a siren sounding. Weird.

Do blondes really have more fun?

Well … this one doesn’t!

Workaholic
Workaholic

See I’m in Rouen, lovely city where they burned Joan of Arc. England was actually run from here once over. Anyway, the Seine flows through here and there’s a fair to middling trade from the barges which sweep up and down the river most of the day. These barges are 4,000 tons and 150 metres long lol Oh yer they big buggers.

Anyway there’s some smaller ones too, about 12 feet wide and 40 feet long. Where I’m parked on the quay there’s 2 such barges, clearly being lived in now and no longer working.

So there I was working away on the laptop when I spotted this blonde walking her dog. She headed back to the second barge off the quay and clearly she lives on it.  About a half hour after walking the dog, (9 am) she comes out with some bright red marigolds and a red handled broom, even a matching bright red bucket! hehe So she sets about mopping the deck part of the barge.

Well after a little bit I pay attention cos she’s standing on the barge taking her trousers off! Hehe turns out she has shorts on underneath but as I had the camera ready I snapped a couple of pictures of her working away anyway, as I knew I was going to write about her.

Anyway the point is, she worked ALL day. I mean from about 9 am, til just about the time I finished work at 4 pm. She scrubbed with a scrubbing brush, she wiped with a cloth and she brushed with her red broom and she cleaned that entire 12 ft by 40 foot boat by herself, getting down on her hands and knees and constantly dipping her bucket on a rope over the edge to fill from the river.

Not just the deck mind, she cleaned the windows of the deckhouse, the gunwales and even the mechanism that controls the anchors. Believe it or not she even leaned right over, dipped her broom in the river and brushed the anchors themselves clean!

Apart from an hour for lunch she worked the whole day cleaning that boat and I almost felt like going over and congratulating her and asking if she’d do my camper lol

(Actually I cleaned mine from top to bottom last week, inside and out using babywipes but that’s another story :))

So … whilst she clearly is a clean and motivated person and should have a gold star for being so house proud, she is living roof that blondes do not have more fun. In fact, it looks like she has about as much fun as Gordon Ramsay at Sunday school.

Versailles

The palace of Versailles
The palace of Versailles

Visiting the Chateau de Versailles has long been an aim of mine but for one reason or another I’ve never been before now. As I have a friend over for the week I decided we’d spend the last day in Versailles before heading back to the airport.

I’m pleased I made that decision as the palace and grounds are fantastic.

The satnav brought us to the coach park right out front which was €53, so we headed for the massive car park next door which turned out to have height barriers on. So I quickly swung a left and headed roughly in the direction of the south side of the palace. Sure enough, within a mile I’d found a place to park right opposite some little used gates. 🙂

There’s two little huts, made to look like tents on either side of the gate entrance. (It turns out there’s lots of gates as the grounds are absolutely enormous!) As we look beyond them we can see a path that continues for about a mile dead straight, lined with trees either side. In the middle is what looks like a lake, but when you get up to it it’s the grand canal which is about a mile long they tell me. When you reach it, look east and you see the palace about 400 metres in the distance. It’s bloody huge!

We decided to waste no time and headed up toward it, past the fountain that turns out to be Apollo. It’s very reminiscent of the Trevi fountain, with men blowing horns and leading horses as they charge out of the water. I suspect one inspired the other somewhat. The marble statues that line the path up to the main palace are of Bacchus, Saturn, Apollo etc. All marble, real major works, none of your plaster B n Q jobbies. A lot of steps takes you up to the palace back door. Even before you get the map you know this is going to take more than one day.

To the credit of whoever runs the palace the majority of it is actually open to the public. (Once you get in as there are only 3 people taking payment and only one of those can take debit cards!) Oddly though despite most being accessible, we were finished in about 4 hours. Later I came to the conclusion that this was because the interior of the palace is nowhere near as splendorous as the exterior. There’s simply not that much to see. The audio guides are brief with very little detail, and apart from some chairs, desks, clocks, beds, mirrors and paintings, there is just so little to look at, ponder about and ‘Oooh’ over. The spiral staircase in Chambord is way better than any in this palace, and the great hall in Chenonceau is almost as impressive as the one here. I did find 2 paintings of Psyche, which as you know from my visits to the Louvre, Canova’s sculpture of her revival with a kiss is one of my most favourite pieces of art. It was fascinating as I spent quite a significant effort trying to photograph Psyche’s face, which in the sculpture is very difficult, but I managed. It is pleasing to see that there is a definite resemblance between the painting and the sculpture. Maybe you don’t think so or maybe you can see it, I think it’s definitely there though.

Going back to the grounds, you could spend a week here. There’s Marie Antoinette’s former estate to explore, a farm, miles of grounds and miles of tree lined alleyways with little and large pieces of art dotted everywhere. Rowing boats and cycles to hire and woods and forest to explore as well as the mazes and gardens. I also spent the entire Saturday in the grounds after my friend had gone home and most of today (Sunday) despite the poor weather. Try not to buy anything in here it’s incredibly expensive. The smallest 50cl bottle of water is 3 euros, the boats are 11 euros per 30 minutes. The pass to enable you to see everything is 20 euros per adult. The pass is excellent value for money, you will I am sure get your 20 euros worth easily if you go early and stay late. If you don’t have much time pay 13.50 euros per adult and that gets you the major part of the palace. The gardens and grounds are free. You can spend the entire day there if you wish. It’s only the palace and other buildings that you pay to access. However there are special shows sometimes, such as the evening firework display, musical fountains etc which are included in the ticket price and the gardens are locked for those. If you really are stuck for time and want to ooohh and ahhh I’d consider foregoing the palace itself and visit the Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon instead.

As always I’ve taken some photos, which mostly follow linearly the order that I visited the palace and grounds in.  I rarely take photos of people, but I took a few this time as I felt they could express something better than I could:  families enjoying their time on the boats; an old Englishman writing his diary; a Spanish girl who stood for ages staring at the palace in amazement.  I’ve sectioned the photographs, so go here for the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon and Marie Antoinette’s estate and finally here, for St Louis cathedral and some general pictures of the city.

I’d recommend the Chateau de Versailles to anyone visiting this part of France as a fantastic day/weekend out and a must see.

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.

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.

Paris

Paris metro
Paris metro

Along with a friend I got on the train to Le Grande Arch de la Defense, walked all the way down the Avenue de les Grande Armee, took in the Arc de Triomphe then set off to the Trocadero to see the Eiffel Tower. We then walked back to the Place Charles de Gaulle, headed down the Champs Elysees through Place de la  Concorde and down toward Notre Dame.

We did loads more that day that I won’t bore you with, but I took lots of photographs, this is one of my favourites showing the hustle and bustle of the Paris metro.

A French woman’s home is her castle

Chateau Chenonceau, Loire Valley, France
Chateau Chenonceau, Loire Valley, France

Ahhh one of my favourite Chateaux, Chenonceau is built as you can see right over a river. It’s an incredible building and I love the look of it and the grounds that surround it. It’s got a fabulous long avenue of trees leading up to it, then a small keep type gatehouse even though there’s no gate there.

There’s a full market garden and a maze in the woods and the old stables have been converted into a restaurant. If you take in the grounds you could easily spend a day here. I noticed people walking into the kitchen, taking a photo then leaving. But if you looked around there was things to see.

Like the weight that hung off a gearing system. It was led out of the window on a thin rope. As it sank it turned the spit, then when it got to it’s length it could be cranked back up again. Very clever I thought.

So well worth a look around I think and it has tons of fantastic history for those who wish to investigate.

Loches, Loire valley

Loches in the Loire valley
Loches

I found this town by following a sign for a chateau, then when I drove in I instantly saw the very appealing old quarter. A lot of French towns have these old quarters, which is nice cos some of them are incredibly pretty and interesting. You can almost imagine the history down the ages because of the houses and the streets.

I took some lovely photos and was a little annoyed when I lost the CF card with them on. It was only a 4 gig card and not an expensive one so lucky there, but I don’t know if I’ll be back at Loches so I lost the memory and that’s what is important to me.

If I get the opportunity to go back there I will retake them, although that seems unlikely at the moment. Europe is too large to go so far back to what is really a small and relatively unimportant town.

Le Mont St Michel

Mont St Michel at night
Le Mont St Michel

I’ve been wanting to visit Mont St Michel for a long time. I saw it ages ago in some magazine or other and I loved the idea of it. The photo was a night shot much like the one here, so I hope mine inspires someone to see Mont St Michel as that photo years ago inspired me.

This blog is not intended to be a history resource, so I can tell you only that the rock that sits on the sea bed was chosen to build an abbey on as it was easy to fortify and was separate from the mainland, often being cut off by the tide.  Of course once the abbey was built so came all the attendant buildings for people to live in, shops, chapel, cemetery etc.

It’s an amazingly beautiful place and well worth a visit. I went during the late afternoon and early evening and wandered around the entire rock, although the abbey was closed by the time I got there. I returned after tea to see it on an evening and it’s very atmospheric and pretty. The tat shops are shut of course but the restaurants are open and if you can afford them they look very nice. Most are attached to hotels but I didn’t price them.

You can walk along the old walls, picnic in a park, and if you hunt around you can find an alleyway that is slightly hidden, helped by the fact it’s only about 16 inches wide. There are many little hidden corners but that’s the smallest I found. Some of the roofs still have wooden shingles and they’ve done quite a good job of making the modern fit with the old. I went back the following day but missed the abbey again and I was leaving that day, so it’s something to return for.

I love old quaint things and this is about as good as it gets, I wasn’t disappointed.

Lets start at the very beginning …

In the Beginning…

We came back early from France about 2 weeks ago. Me and my partner have officially split, so I took the rest of my holidays by myself in the van. Although the flat is mine, I’m going to stay in the van until she finds somewhere to live.

If I can find a way of working it, I am going to rent the flat out and live in the van for a year. lol Yes live in it and work from it. I got this job so I could work from the van so living in it is just one step further. It will take her some time to find a place anyway, so why not enjoy being out and about in my van?

Ohhhh the excitement of beginning new adventures!