Anglin’ for Sur Angles – No More Chateaux PLEASE!

Well hello Viewers, it is so nice of you to join us once more. Sorry it has been such a long time between Blogs, but we have been everywhere, and seen so many things.

In our last episode, we had undertaken the great crusade de La Loire, and had been absorbed by the grandeur of “Chamboi” and the homeliness of Cheverny. We were also annoyed by WordPress not uploading our photos so that we could ably compliment the narrative. Sorry to say, but the narrative has won over again to some extent with the multi-media as WordPress continuing to playing silly things, being very very slow to upload.  We humbly seek your “discernment”.

We departed Cour Cheverny in the “direction generale de la Limoges” at “aboutment” 10.00am on April 28th. The weather was overcast and with a hint of rain, the temperature still in bed trying to get warm, and that lazy breeze was still hanging around.  We had “generalment inclement weather” for the prior two days, and by the 28th it had not gotten any better. A good day for driving in “mon peugeot” in other words.

But Mira found an extra 50Eur she didn’t think she had, so we chose to see one more chateau on the way south. Chateau Chenonceau.

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I was not going to go another day wearing long pants, so opted for my long short pants instead. As you can see, I was the only one wearing shorts that day, long or short. I do look good don’t I?   Here is another one of me inspecting the kitchens, inclusive of prototype 3 layer rotisserie operated by throwing a weight out the window. This kitchen was upgraded with electricity and running water during WW2 when the chateau was used as a hospital. Wondering around a drafty chateau, on a coolish day of only 8degC, although I would not admit to Mira at the time, I was very glad to hop back in the car our after visit.

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From a  historical background, the “Château des Dames” was built in 1513 by Katherine Briçonnet, and successively embellished by Diane de Poitiers the mistress of King Henry II, and then by Catherine de Medici, the wife of King Henry II. Chenonceau was protected from the hardship of the revolution by Madame Dupin, who was considered by the local population to be very benevolent, and she put forward its importance for crossing the river at that point, so she was spared.

Catherine de Medici is said to have ruled France for some years from this Chateau. Henry II had installed his mistress Diane de Poitiers here for some years, and when he died in a jousting tournament up the road, Catherine de Medici forced her eviction and took it over. It has a fascinating history and is currently owned by the Meniers Family (fine chocolate maker) since 1913. It was used as a Hospital during WW2 with some 2500 soldiers convalescing there during the war.

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A brief history of Chenonceau is included using the link below;

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Château_de_Chenonceau

The Chateau is very special, built as it is now extended over the river on multiple piers. The gardens were spectacular in flower, on the one side pinks and whites, on the other purples and whites. With the backdrop of rich greens framed by the river Cher, the gardens were beautiful to view, along with the chateau itself.

We spent some hours taking in this wonderful location and its history, but we still had over 200 kms to travel to Angles-sur-L’Anglin, so the GPS was tasked with “direction rapid sans tolls”, and we sought relief from the cold in the car as we headed off in the general direction of Le Blanc. A routine “arete” at a Boulangerie somewhere near Loches in Indres-Et-Loire, where once again my language skills supplied nurishment for us, the weary travellers, including the regulatory fair  bit of mirth for Mira and the locals. I am right into this “bonjournee” business now, followed by a hearty “auvoir”, and a wave of the hand in the air.

We pulled over again not long after to fill our laps with breadcrumbs, together with the odd piece of “fromage” or “jambon”. Still not a lot of “salat” to be had with our baguettes, but a “fraise et creme patisserie”, “sans le froi graz” is a regular treat, and rapidly fills the lap with crumbs of a different nature if one is not careful.

Our destination was just to the west of Parc naturel regional de la Brenne, in the  beau village de Angles-sur-L’Anglin. Our room was the centre two windows on the first floor.

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The village is above the river Anglin of course. This view from the ruined castle wall is below.

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The day we arrived, the Owner was in a tiz, there was a water leak in one room, so the hotel water had to be turned off until it was fixed. Hence, we had to stay elsewhere. How fortunate that the plumber also ran a B&B. We were quickly transferred to Tony and Lorna’s for the night. Dinner consisted of burgers and chips at a cafe near the Castle, followed by beer and wines with Tony and Lorna who are Poms.  We had a great night and made new friends.

Next night was back to the hotel after Tony had fixed the plumbing, we kinda sorta  thought we had a better time in the B&B.

After Angles, we headed south via Limoges to Sarlat-de-Caneda, mostly along the motorway. The middle area of France has some lovely villages, but it would have taken us far too long to navigate through them to our destination, so we just set the GPS to “Get Us There Quick”.

Sarlat was the best stay by far we have had, from a sightseeing point of view. The accommodation was a studio apartment right in the centre of town, so we had the opportunity to buy some things and cook the odd meal in-house instead of eating out. Sarlat is the busy centre for the Dordogne River experience. By this we mean, some places are very quiet, not a lot of places to see or restaurants etc. Sarlat had a bit of night life and real sense of energy, but not the sleezy type. Sarlat was wonderful to walk around at night, restaurants open, bars open, people walking in the streets, it was lovely to experience.

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Our apartment was up the street immediately left of where the above photo was taken. The red window to the left is our apartment.

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Market days were Wednesday and Saturday, by far the bigger event was on the Saturday. All the streets of the old village were full of stalls. Local vegetables, cheeses, meats, and Fioe Gras by the tonne. No lets make that by the ship-load, and here I am not a good speller.

The Dordogne is the epicentre of Fioe Gras. You can have anything you like in a restaurant as long as it is Fioe Gras. You can have goose Fioe Gras, or you can have duck Fioe Gras. So they grow gooses and ducks by the ship-load, force feed them so their gizzards are bulging, then wacko, cook ’em, and mince it all up for Fioe Gras. Or, as I have said elsewhere, duck gizzards and fat!  You don’t believe me do you? Well, thems are Gesiers in them cans…

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But, “arretez s’il vous plait”, we are here to see the Dordogne.

Our first day in Dordogne was dampish and a cool breeze, so we decided to head out to see another chateau, this time the Chateau Des Milandes, the former home of Josephine Baker, the American artist who became French and fought for France in the Resistance during WW2 . We gained a new appreciation for a wonderful woman, who fell on bad times in the end, but is highly regarded in France being awarded the Legion D’Honeur, Frances highest honour. When she died, her good friend Grace Kelly arranged for her to be buried in Monaco.  It will be good to see her resting place.

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The Valley of the Dordogne is a relatively small area, but just beautiful. We visited Domme, Beynac and La Roque Gageac, all visible from Parc du Marqueyssac et Chateau.

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Below is the view from the lookout along the ridge behind where Mira is standing, looking down over La Roque Gageac.

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The village is nestled under the cliff face with the river alongside. Very picturesque.

We spent one day visiting the valley of La Vezere River, starting with the site of Lascaux II on the outskirts of Montignac. It was here in 1940 that three youths found a cave that yielded one of the worlds greatest paleolithic art finds. The drawings are estimated to be 17,300 years old, and while we only got to see some duplicates, the duplicate cave cost 15 Million Euros to build, and is perfect to within a millimetre. Having since seen photos of the originals, the duplicates were spectacular.

We drove down the valley towards Limieu, visiting a number of Troglodyte Villages built into the limestone cliffs.

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After a visit to the site of where the supposed “Shroud of Jesus” was located, late this was found to be a fake, we headed back the village of Beynac to visit the 13th Century Castle. Amazing, simply amazing, from dungeons to towers and fortifications to keep the baddies out.

Well, time for a quick break. I will try to catch-up with where we are in the South of France over the next day or so. In the meantime, stay safe and keep well.  We are just loving France.

Laurie & Mira.

 

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The Loire Valley – The Search For Chateau Viti Flor Continues

Our introduction to our accommodation in Cour Cheverny was interesting as we said previously, but once we were settled in, it was rather nice.

Unfortunately, arriving on a Sunday is just as bad as arriving anywhere, any day of the week, between 12.00pm and 2.00pm in France, everything is shut. Our choice of meals in a small “villarge” in France, when staying in a B&B, or as they call them here, a “Chambre D’Hote”, is limited. The most expensive restaurant in France was open however, so we reluctantly sought sustenance within.

Next day, thankful for a much lighter wallet, we decided that the “Upper Loire” needed some serious searching, and our main focus continued to be for the elusive Chateau Viti Flor. The brochure of 76 came in handy, and the “Numero Uno” chateau outside of Ile-de-Paris is that of Chateau Chambord. So with the address keyed in, we were off the  general direction.

And this is what we found….

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The drive from the front gate to the chateau was dead straight for 5 kilometres. The boundary of the estate has a 32 kilometre stone fence. The chateau is gob-smackingly beautiful, and debates still occur as to whether Leodardo D’Vinci was instrumental in its core design. From the layout and some of the influences, one has to concede that he could well have been involved at some stage.  The centre section with all the turrets, was the original chateau. It has been added to by various Kings over the ages, with the addition of the two “wings”. From the inside, you would not know they were added later.  It is huge, and our photos cannot do it justice. The photo below shows the internal double helix spiral stair case, the room is 11 metres by 18 metres, and there are four of them per floor, and there are 3 floors. Regarding the stairs, the King can use one and his entourage the other, when moving between floors. The same applies when moving between rooms on each floor, with outside walkways for “plebs”, and inside corridors for the King. The Kings used the internal corridors to visit the various bedrooms of wives or mistresses so they would not be seen.

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As you can see, the room has a fireplace. Well, every room has a fireplace, so the reason for all those turrets and chimneys poking out of the roof. “Chamboi” is THE chateau in the Loire to visit. No wonder they chopped peoples heads off during the Revolution. When the population found out the extent of the extravagence by so called Royalty, I probably would have had similar thoughts.

We called a halt at this point, having spent most of the day wandering through “Chamboi”, our audio guides worn out from replaying explanations of the rooms, the corridors and furnishings. We decided we should head home to rest, but not before we went to visit Chateau Cheverny. This chateau was in our backyard, so to speak, so a quick visit was appropriate. When we arrived, being holiday Monday, it was about 4.30pm, the people milling around put us off an afternoon visit. We decided to return the next day.

Cheverny is a chateau that is still lived in, it has family photos on the piano, but has only ever been closed on three occasions. Once for the Queen Mother to visit, once for Princess Diana and once for a family wedding. That tends to give you some idea of the costs to upkeep these places. They never close, the “tourisme” income is too important.  Mind you, none of these places are cheap to visit, especially with the exchange rate the way it is.  Most visits are costing in the order of 10Eur each, plus audio guides of another 5Eur each. So 30Eur is approximately $45AUD per visit, to anything.

How many chateau have we visited? If you wanted to visit the lot, be prepared to hand over $3540 for the privilege.

For dinner this night we found a local pub open after a short-ish walk. The meals were nice although suffering from serious deficiency in vegetables or salad.  It is amazing how you begin to crave for veges or salad after a period of restaurant/pub food. The French eat meat, mostly they eat duck gizzards in fat. You can ask for anything you want here, as long it has duck gizzards and fat. Mira chose an alternative the other night, garden snails. For once that did not come with duck gizzards in fat. It didn’t have veges or salad either, but thankfully no duck gizzards and fat.

Did I tell you that I am over duck gizzards and fat?

Well they can shove their duck gizzards and fat. The bread is really nice here, but more often than not, it comes as a side dish to duck gizzards and fat. Thankfully they don’t serve duck gizzards and fat with their pastries. I am not sure that duck gizzards and fat goes all that well with strawberries and custard pastry. We went into a small market yesterday, and every stall was selling some form or other of duck gizzards and fat. In one stall, you could buy everything made from a duck,  every part of the duck, breasts, legs, gizzards, in plastic bags full of fat. Duck anything in fat is the order of the day here in France.    We washed our meals down with a nice crisp local Rose. We have taken to drinking Rose with our meals, it seems to wash the fat off the duck gizzards much better than a full bodied red. Maybe they put more detergent in the Rose here (??), but it seems to work wonders. But when we are having it for breakfast, lunch and dinner, it may just be a bit much considering over eight weeks travelling. Hopefully I can be quickly weaned-off the Rose when we return home, I am already fully weaned-off duck gizzards and fat for good.

So, where were we?  Ah yes, we decided to revisit Chateau Cheverny the next day, and to our surprise, the crowds had gone. The near empty carpark was a bit of a giveaway, and we held our breathe that it wasn’t closed and this was just the cleaning staff.  In we went, expecting to hand over our regulation 30Eur for “billet” and “audio geed”, but “non, only 25Eur today Missuier”.  We went ahead feeling a little less pressure to “get our moneys worth”.

Maybe this was the famed Chateau Viti Flor, and the Grail may be within?  We asked if the chateau would be closed to entry of others while we visited but just received blank looks. I put this down to my French dialect possibly being misunderstood. Mira feigned interest in trinkets in the Souvenir Shop while I was having this conversation.

The entry to the grounds of the chateau leads you to this vista.

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Either Mira was trying to be a bit “arty” taking this, or she slipped on a bit of duck fat on the driveway. Heaven nows how much they paid to spread the pebbles either side, but it must have been a lot, there are acres of pebbles here.

The inside was probably the most “homely” of all the chateau we have visited.  That is most probably because the owners still live in the chateau, on the top floor.

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Nice to have your own Military Museum. The decore was still all original, as are the furniture pieces, dating back to the 16th Century.

We wandered around the grounds and found some very pleasant sights. I would really like to show you some of these sights, but WordPress isn’t playing ball at the moment, it is not uploading photos. So maybe I will leave that to another day when it is feeling better. The camera is now up to 2560 photos taken since we arrived, the benefit of digital technology. so maybe WordPress knows something we don’t, and isn’t going to allow us to bore you to death.

We wandered the chateau grounds, including having a go in the labyrinth. I don’t mean to say we had a “go” in the labyrinth, I meant we walked through it. Mira said the general rules for labyrinths is to keep going left. While Mira went in and kept going left, I walked round the outside doing the same. It seemed to work for me, but Mira wasn’t quite so lucky. I waited for a while, and when Mira did not come out, I went in, and instead of turning left, I just followed the sounds of female expletives and soon located her, near where we started. We then set off together, turning this left, and that right, and when all else failed, stepped through that gap and this gap we shouldn’t, until finally when we had run out of expletives, we found an exit. Luckily we did, as we were both in need of a stop at the cafe, and not to have a drink.

One might say it was a useless waste of 30 minutes. Others might say at least it was a better walk that one in a park chasing a white ball. We finished the day with a bagette for dinner “sans la froi gras”, but “avec la Rose”. Neither of us was to interested in restaurant food that night. It is therefore reasonable to assume dear friends that the chateau we visited in Cheverny was not the chateau we sought, and neither did we find the Grail we seek. We are in agreement that we are doing our best in this search, spending lots of the kids inheritance in doing so, but we will just have to try harder.

Our next day is scheduled to take us south into the Dordogne (pronounced “Dordone”), to the beau village of Angle-sur-L’Anglin.  That is about 250kms of driving, so we will be anglin’ to speak to you then, and hopefully show you some more pictures, if WordPress decides to play ball.

Laurie & Mira.

Loire Valley – In Search Of The Little Known Chateau Viti-Flor

You may recall that our last stay was in Pouilly, not far from Mont St Michel. Well, our next place of search was to be Angers in the lower part of the Loire Valley, but to get there, we headed to Vannes via the Carnac Stones, for an overnight stay before moving on to Angers. The highlight of our stay in Vannes was the carpet on the floor of our accommodation. It was intended to be imitation floor boards, but carpet. Very stylish if you ask me. I think we should get some for our our place at home and rip up all the travertine tiles.

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We were both amazed at how close to naturelle the carpet was to the original floor boards, one really could not tell the difference….??????????????

We could not get out of there fast enough, and set the GPS for anywhere other than Vannes. We headed to Angers for three days before venturing further up the valley, towards Paris, to the towns of Tours and Blois, where we were told that we should find the odd Chateau or two.

The first Tourist Information Centre we when we arrived in Angers,  gave us brochures that listed no less than 76 Chateaux for our visiting pleasure. I immediately handed my navigateur the list, and said “here, you choose”!

As we left Vannes, we had already booked accommodation in Angers, so we spoke nicely to our GPS, and gently caressed the touch screen to select the address, to which we were rewarded with another exciting “shortest mapped route – sans tolls”. So off we headed in the general “directionment” of Angers. Our route would take us via a specially selected “Beau Village”, but alas, sadly, when we got there, it was lacking somewhat in the “beau” department. Housing built in to the river embankment, reminiscent of Coober Peddy does not make it a “Beau Village”. A Renault dealership, with garage spaces dug in to the river embankment, does not make it a “Beau Village”.

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With GPS softly caressed again, and she still speaking with us, unlike our 2013 model, we headed off towards Angers.

Our arrival in Angers was fairly uneventful really, a stop to buy “une baguette et custard tartlette” for lunch, “avec arette cet un parc” to consume said “deliciousment”, we arrivee in Anger “apre midi”. As you can now see, I am almost bi-lingual. When I speak to the locals in their native tongue, they are very nice. They always smile and laugh, mostly uncontrollably.  Mira lets me do all the talking, she just likes to stay in the car.

Angers has a medieval chateau, dating to the 10th century.

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Well, that was until they started digging and found a “cairn” that was identified as being founded some 5000 years ago. The current structure used to have cone tops on all the towers, but advances in “defence strategies” during the 1600’s, saw them removed so that stones and other projectiles could be thrown with greater accuracy.  The moat was never filled, instead one King used it for his menagerie of animals he brought from Africa and Asia.  Inside the Chateau, we got to see the “Tapestries of the Apocalypse”, which are over one thousand years old.

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The tapestries stretch along three walls, as in the photo. The tapestries were a remarkable set of woven stories based on mythological events.

We then went off to investigate another chateau, that of Chateau Le Pluisse de Bourre.

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From Angers, the road took us again up-river, through Tours, to near Blois, to a very nice Loire Valley hamlet of Cour Cheverny, and our stay in very quaint accommodation at L’Beguinage. On the way, some more chateau to cast a searching eye over. Mira in the gardens in the grounds of Ambois Chateau, and then the chateau above the town of Chinon.

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We decided one more visit along the way was appropriate, so Chateau Villandry and its magical gardens was keyed into the GPS.

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At the end of the day, we had an interesting arrival at our accommodation, with the gate closed and nobody at home. Luckily, another couple staying at the place arrived and through my expert French, we managed to gain entry and contact the owners. Mira stayed in the car and just laughed.

Our room was worth the bit of hassle.

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So here we might leave you for the day. Next instalment we will bring you something totally different and exciting. We will be visiting more chateau…….

Laurie & Mira.

Just Busy, Busy, Busy – The Grail Still Eludes Us

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Wow, how time flies when you are having fun? When we last left you, we were in Bayeux in Normandie. As I write we have moved around and seen a lot, and are now in Cour Cheverny, not far from Blois in the beautiful Loire Valley.

We left Bayeux for Mont St Michel in Brittany on 18 April, travelling via the medieval walled town of Vitre, then to the coastal town of Carnac. P1010546

Vitre was indeed surprising in its defensive focus with huge walls and fortifications.  An amazing town to visit, very old of course, wonderful to walk the streets and see such beautiful buildings so well preserved. Inside the centre castle, the town had a wonderful display recording the significant losses incurred by the population of the town during WW1.

Our journey then took us onto the coast of Brittany to the fields of rocks known as the Carnac Stones.

The literature says these are a “dense collection of megalithic stones, consisting of alignments, dolmens, tumuli, and single menhirs.” There are over 3000 megaliths set in more than 5 kilometres of fields. Medieval or not, one would have to suggest those who put all these rocks in the fields were somewhat dense to think that there was some merit in doing it.

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It was possibly somewhat dense of us to go looking for them as well. But it was interesting to see them all aligned in the fields, and the town of Carnac gets “megalithic tourist income” from them these days. I wonder if the neolithic folk of the past even thought that one day future generations would be making money out of them?

Our place d’abode, was a B&B in L’Bois Crepi in Pouilly. The B&B is owned by Jean-Paul and Brigitte Gavard. Jean-Paul is a very interesting fellow, a dairy farmer, recently retried as a director of the district co-operative, also recently retired as a director of the regional Credit-Agricole Bank, and an ardent French patriate. A lovely person too boot, he, Brigitte and some of the family have been to Australia on a farming exchange to Victoria. All the family at some stage during the three days, visited to say hello to us Aussies.

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Mira was very keen to try her hand at being a “milkmaid”. Jean-Paul was keen to see her try, and I was just as keen to stay as far away from such silliness as possible. Jean-Paul arranged for us to visit the farm during milking, Mira was suitably dressed up as a milk bottle, and then following a brief lesson, was let loose at the “udder end”.

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Forty three photos (attempts) later, one on three to go?  Our B&B had surpassed our expectation on only the first day, what other B&B’s in France will let you milk the cows?

Back to Mont St Michel, the island is just sheer majesty looking onto it from the coast across fields of canola. Looking from the island, the scene is just as incredible.

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The French Government is keen to de-silt the surrounding bay, so have dammed the River Couesnon with a tidal floodgate, and are progressively removing the road embankment that has existed since the 1800’s, replacing it with a lengthy bridge you can see to the left. Once inside Mont St Michel, the architecture is even more impressive, with building upon building being added onto the preceding structures. P1010441 P1010483

We searched and searched, but no Grail was found.

On 20 April, we sauntered further south into Brittany, to another medieval city, that of Dinan.

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We stopped for lunch in a quiet square in the town, and you can see, true love is sharing a Strawberry Flan for desert.

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I only got 3 of the 7 strawberries, that is how caring and sharing I am.

On then over to Dinard on the coast, to see if Grail was lurking by the sea. P1010383P1010421

It seems that when the tide goes out, it GOES OUT!  And when it comes in, well you have to be quick to get back across the only sand bridge to the land before it all goes underwater.  The bay in the first photo has the high tide beach to the left, that is a good 300 metres round the corner. At one stage we saw a bloke pushing a pram across from one side to the other? The beach is good for beach sailing, the thin strip of water was full of windsurfers and kite surfers. The breeze was a good 60kph on shore, and bitterly cold. Mira reckoned the North Pole was just over the horizon, and it is.

So when all was said and done, still no Grail, so home to a lovely dinner at the  Hotel de Selune in Ducey, bathed in the glow of the setting sun. P1010311

We will be back to you soon, when we get some wifi that is a tad faster than of late.

Laurie & Mira.

Normandie – A Lesson on Gilliam Le Conquerant

The Old City of Rouen was most surprising. The place of the public roasting of Joan of Arc, thankfully we do not go that far  these days when we roast politicians and sports stars.

Leaving Rouen, our journey took us west to the coast of Normandie, south of Le Havre,  to the wonderful coastal village of Honfleur.

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We spent most of our day just walking the quaint streets of Honfleur, the town dating back to the times of Richard III in 1027. In later years, the French used this port to attack England, in particular attacking the town of Sandwich in 1450, thereafter we believe they tried to rename it “Bagette”.

From our overnight stay in Honfleur, we then headed along the coast, using our favoured technique of “shortest mapped route”, via Villers-sur-Mer and Carbourg to Courseulle-sur-Mer, which was the centre of “Juno Beach” where the Canadians came ashore on 6 June 1944.  We had considered a visit to Caen (pronounced Say-ee), to see the last resting place of “Gilliam le Bastard”, as he was known, but we chose to go to the beach instead. It was close to peak hour in Say-ee.

“Juno” is the arrow  second from the right.

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The locals were said to be very pleased when the Canadians arrived and liberated their beach house. The photos show the before (now restored), and then the after.  Maybe the French are easily pleased?

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Unfortunately, the beach was not being patrolled by the Lifeguards, and the sign said there were strong currents, so we decided against chancing the surf.

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The tide was also on the “way out”…

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When the Canadians came ashore, they brought with them thousands of bicycles which they used to facilitate communications. Here are few they left behind.

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At this point in time, we had started to feel somewhat overwhelmed for the poor French People. Their entire history includes seemingly constant warfare. From medieval times, through the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, they have suffered wars that they, or someone else has started. This is a beautiful country, and the people are no different to Australians, except they speak a funny language. It is a measure of their resilience and fortitude that they can keep picking themselves up and getting on with life.

So in our melancholy state, we too picked ourselves up and went to find ourselves a beer. And as luck would have it, we were staying at Le Bayeux Hotel.

Would we find this elusive “Grail” in Bayeux? It is a place steeped in history dating back to Gilliam le Conquerant himself.  The relic of “le Tapastrie”, recounts in over 70 yards of expert needlework, the fight by Gilliam in 1066, at the Battle of Hastings, to regain the lands of England, his kingdom, and stick it up the nose of his brother Harold.  Not sure if he did anything to his nose, but he did cut his head off.

So then, in no too finer needlework, the tapestry shows that Gilliam did his fair share of raping and pillaging in his time, and then a bit more pillaging,  and then some more, and without doubt as chronicled, probably a fair bit more raping, before his days were done. And throughout all this time, the tapestry says he and entourage drank a whole heap of wine, and a great deal more of cider, they call here “Calvados”.  In French the term for consuming this stuff is “blow zee head off”.

Now not only was Gilliam born out of wedlock to his father “Robere de terd Duke of Normandie”, but when he became King Gilliam I, he set about playing havoc with all the communities of what we know of Normandie, Bretagne, and Picardy in France, and also of England, Scotland and Wales. No wonder they called him “une bastarde”.

Alas, we did not find the “Grail” of which we speak. Le Bayeux Hotel had only beer in cans…….sacre bleu!

So, mon ami, the search continues another day….for now..auvior.

Laurie & Mira.

Sacre Blu – Enculer un pneu à plat

What more needs to be said?

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apart from, “would you like another view?

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Only 440 kilometres on a set of tyres, and this is what happened.

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Do you think that they would even try to plug it?  Oh no, said it was all too hard. I am deliberately not showing Mira’s face in this, she was wearing that angry smirk she can get sometimes, “told you so, told you so, you just wouldn’t listen, driving too close to the gutter, it was going to happen sometime” kind of smirk. Well it was either hit the gutter or hit the other car, so I took the softer option. Thankfully we were only doing 30kph.

Well, with that exciting start our day, well not quite, it happened about mid morning, we were on our way to Rouen. We left Heilly under grey and cold skies, a temperature hovering around 6 deg C. We couldn’t help by try to image how those fellows would have felt lying out in the open, in the mud and slush in freezing temperatures, being shot at.

But today the countryside, “eet is very much differentment”,

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The area around Bonnay today is green, and soon to be blossoming with gold. Come Anzac Day, the fields will be flying our colours majestically, and as our friend Pauline from Quattro Auto has been heard to say more than once, “oh the caaaannnooooollaaaaah!”.

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Our journey today would be from Heilly to Rouen via Giverny, which is just near Vernon to the east of Rouen on the Seine. It is one of our favourite places, the place for Monet’s Garden.  We set the GPS to “via Shortest Route”, and happily (for the time being), off we toddled along the “B”, and sometimes “C”, and then some “D” and even “E” roads, and even the odd “Farmer Pierre” roads. When the cow muck started to get up around window height we would reluctantly reset the GPS and try a different route.

On more than one occasion, I was swearing, that we were heading in the wrong direction. But as a positive change from our last Peugeot in France, our GPS was still talking to us, and politely suggesting that we “turn around at the next opportunity”, whenever we departed from her suggested route. It has to be said that setting the GPS to “Mystery Tour” mode is really a lot of fun. You never know where the hell you are going to turn up. She selects some wonderful “via points”, that happen to include some beautiful villages, lovely vistas, and the odd farmers fold yards. But, in the end, when we actually arrive in Rouen, precisely on “peak hour”, she then tells us through her “won’t accept” response, the final street destination we are seeking, she doesn’t know where that is?

Sacre bleu……

The odd sight along the way, included the following on a main “A” road, it was an interesting time for container trucks.

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Some chateau in the villages.

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The weather warming up by mid morning to near 26deg C, bringing out the odd toy now the weather was fine. This Spyder was truly immaculate, and within a kilometre, “enculer un pneu a plat”. Bugger.

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When we had resolved our “pneu a plat” issue, by handing over copious amounts of Euros, we journeyed on to Monet’s Garden to view what early arrivals in spring were on offer, and we were not disappointed.

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Of course, the green and gold was in full display.

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And then in the middle of all of this….isn’t that nice?

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We then headed off to Rouen, a bit of excitement on arrival with peak hour traffic, and “her ladyship” not playing ball, but eventually we found our hotel and decided a late evening wander in the “old town” was needed. We returned in the morning to take these snaps. Every good city has its cathedral, and Rouen has one of the tallest.

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Rouen is where Joan d’Arc was burnt at the steak, probably in the end, being well done. She has since been made a saint through efforts of the Notre Dame in Paris. The night of our arrival we dined in the Place Joan d’Arc, but we chose a selection of fish dishes.

The Clock Tower is mid way between the Cathedral and Place Joan d’Arc.

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The little shop on the bottom left of the second photo is where I thought I would like to buy myself a really nice pair of bottom hugging stretch pants. They are really good apparently, they hold your bum quite firm and give you really good support, so I’m told.  I wonder if I will actually get to wear them, or just watch someone else?

The next set of photos is the Palace de Justice in Rouen. The building was destroyed by Allied Bombers in 1944, and it took 50 years to rebuild using the same  materials and techniques used in its original construction. Simply stunning outcome.

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Well then, that is it for the time being, we have wasted enough of your time for another day, stay safe and well, we will write again soon.

Laurie & Mira.

The Somme

Time has come for us to depart Paris for now, and begin our journey around France in search of the Holy Cup. We have again enjoyed Paris, it is a magic city. The next part of our journey begins in Northern France, in the area known as The Somme, in Picardy.

The Somme is of course significant to Australian history, as it is here that our country lost more soldiers than all the other wars put together. It was on the Western Front from 1915 to 1918 that the AIF lost over 51,150 men, while at Gallipoli we lost over 8140 men. We lost over 5000 men in a single day at Messines in Belgium in 1917. It has long been on my bucket list to visit here, knowing that my grandfather fought here and lost so many of his mates here. Good friend Bob McKinnon’s grandfather was in the same Battalion, and lucky for us, our grandfathers returned following the war, despite the 65% death/injury statistic.

But enough of the statistics, we left Paris on Friday 10 April and headed to Charles De Gaulle Airport where we collected our lease vehicle. Quite nice to hop into a brand new Peugeot 308, 2014 Europe Car of the Year, with only 2 kms on the clock. Like “ducks to water” we drove out onto the wrong side of the road and headed for the nearest service station to fill up. We then headed north from Paris for the 100+ kms drive to our overnight stay in the village of Heilly, about 19 kms east of Amiens.

We drove much of  the way via back-roads, and hopefully we will do more of the same throughout our stay in country France. The countryside is as green as, mixed with the browns of freshly ploughed fields, the patchwork is wonderful. The early budding on the trees and the occasional burst of flowers from a magnolia tree, or a spattering of daffodils in the gardens. The day was warm and sunny, but we were told to beware, that could all change. We drove towards Villers-Brettoneux via Creil, Chantilly, Clement and Montdidier, and I was so pleased to finally reach the village of Villers-Brettoneux by mid afternoon. As we drew nearer to the Somme area, we began to see the occasional cemetery with the unmistakable white headstones of the War Graves. From the Somme to the Belgium border, approximately 300 kms, they say there is over 1000 similar cemeteries, where the fallen, from both sides, are buried. Every one of them is tended to with care by the CWGC and the French people, and they are immaculate.

The Victoria School in Villers-Brettoneux flies the Australian flag every day, as does the school in Le Hamel. The Anglo-French Museum is in the Villers-Brettoneux school and has a small collection of Australian WW1 memorabilia. Lorraine the attendant, greeted us and remembered my emails to her so she was very helpful.

Our stay will be in the village of Heilly (pronounced – ay-ee), which is about 5 kms north of Corbie, along the Somme River, on the road to Albert. The village is about 7 kilometres from Villers-Brettoneux, and as we drove towards Heilly via Corbie we passed the Australian Memorial to the right, high on what was known as “Hill 104” during the war. We would return the next day to pay our respects.

Corbie is a larger village/town now, having become joined with the village of Fouilloy, and is a mix of both the old and the new. All the villages of the Somme seem to be very quiet, mainly farming villages, where the farmers live in the village but tend their fields out of town. Heilly is a remarkable village, its history dates back to medieval times, with the “chateau” long since gone, but still the remnants remain impressive. One part of the old estate would make a wonderful cricket or rugby ground.

My further research of my grandfathers times here during WW1, reveals that he spent some nights in Heilly in March 1918 on his way from Ypres in Belgium. His battalion then moved to Bonnay not 2 kms down the road, then to south of  Villers-Brettoneux at a place called Cachy, where his battalion was forced to withdraw a number of times to the woods nearby, under shell-fire from the enemy. During the following 6 weeks until the end of April 1918, they would join the fighting for the protection of Villers-Brettoneux in major battles on the 4th April, and again on 24th and 25th April, before his decimated battalion was disbanded and the remaining men distributed between the 33rd, 34th and 35th Battalions.  Aiding the disbanding decision, was the fact that they lost their Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Milne with 6 other officers on the 17th April 1918, under shell-fire when his command post was directly hit.

Our accommodation was at a place called L’Auberge Fleurie, a wonderful little Restaurant/Motel in the town. We cannot recommend it highly enough. Fabrice and Marie are wonderful hosts and take every opportunity to speak to us in English, they are Australian-French, not French-Australian if you get my drift.  They adorn the place with Australian flags for Anzac Day, and have on permanent display the Aussie Flag,  kangaroo road signs, emu signs and koala signs. The rooms are basic but comfortable and clean, the food, Fabrice is a fine chef, prepares is wonderful, complemented by wonderful wines from all over France. Marie-Anjolique is an absolute delight, this is a gem of a place for anybody who wants to visit the Somme.. P1000795

On Saturday, the weather dawned cold, windy and wet, the previous day was wonderful and warm. We had struck the tri-fecta. So we decided to start with a visit to the nearby cemetery of Heilly Station, established as a place to inter those who had died while in medical care at Heilly.  It looks like a small cemetery, but holds 2460 fallen, including over 500 Australians. P1000664

We then headed back to the Australian Memorial on “Hill 104”. The first photo is the view to the east from the tower, Amiens is on the horizon to the right. P1000677

The next is the view to Villers-Brettoneux on the rise to the south. P1000676

The next is the view to the north to Corbie on the River Somme, Le Hamel to the very right, Bonnay and Heilly on the horizon.  The hills are really no more than brows on the landscape. Maybe 30 meters high, but were obviously much sought after tactically. It is hard to imagine the devastation of the time, none of this picturesque landscape existed during the 4 years of the war, just dirt and mud and destruction

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But amongst the great sense of sadness we were feeling, young Rahni from Oatley Public School in Sydney has been here to remember a fallen soldier who he/she is not even related to.  It does make you very proud to be an Aussie when you see simple gestures such as this, but a lot of effort made to make that gesture.

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Second Lieutenant V C Stevenson (Military Medal) died on 14 July 1918 aged 26, was from the 34th Battalion. The 34th travelled to the Front on the same ship as the 36th Battalion. We left this place of remembrance and drove via Le Hamel to visit the memorial of the Battle of Le Hamel, the greatest victory of the war, designed and lead by the Australian AIF under General Monash on 4th July 1918. A decisive battle against the enemy, all over in 93 minutes. It would go on to be used as the model that would ultimately be used to end the war on the Western Front from August to November 1918.  A memorial that is a “must see”.

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Next we went on to “Le Grande Mine”, known as “Lochnagar Mine”. This was exploded under the enemy lines on 1 July 1916 as part of the lead into the Battle of the Somme, in which Great Britain lost 56,000 men in one day. P1000708

It is a memorial today, it is 93 metres across and 60 metres deep. The size of it is obvious compared to the village. 60,000 pounds of ammonia went up in one hellova bang. The enemy line was right over the top of the explosion. Despite the losses by the enemy, they regrouped and defeated the British Army in the battle, retaking the area around the crater.. We then headed on to the Canadian Memorial, which is an area of some 600 acres of well preserved trenching from both sides.

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It was from these very trenches that a Battalion from Newfoundland went over the top in 1916.  710 men from that battalion were killed in the next few hours. Only 68 remained. It was very solemn to walk those duckboards. The Great Britain Memorial was as chilling as the rest. There are 16 columns holding the memorial high. 76,000 names are inscribed on the columns, each name belonging to a soldier who has no known grave. Yes, that is right, 76,000 men still unaccounted for under the Fields of Flanders and the Somme. That takes your breath away.

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Saturday evening, while we had another delightful meal prepared by Fabrice, Mira and I recounted our feelings and observations to each other, to try to come to terms with the absurdity of what we had seen. The numbers of people who died in that war is staggering beyond belief. Russia, 4.5Million. Germany 3Million, Great Britain, 1Million soldiers alone. My god. It places a whole new meaning on “Lest We Forget”. Sunday, we ventured over to Albert to see The Somme War Museum. It is directly below the Cathedral, housed in a 250 metre long tunnel. Interesting artefacts and themes. We then headed into Amiens, parked by the lake, and then walked into town. We saw a side of Amiens that we missed last time, the river Somme and tributaries flow through the city via canals, and the city has developed some lovely areas with eateries etc beside the canals.

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So, our tour of the Somme is at an end. One more night in L’Aubegine Fleuri and then on to Rouen.

Keep safe everyone, until next time.

Laurie & Mira.