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. ūüôĀ

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 ‚ā¨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 ‚ā¨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 ‚ā¨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 ‚ā¨6.30 for 2 hours but longer than that and you must pay the 24 hour rate which is  ‚ā¨12. Everyone of course will pay the ‚ā¨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 ‚ā¨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 ‚ā¨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 ‚ā¨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 fa√ßade 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 ‚ā¨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. ūüôā

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. ūüôā

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.