Vicarious Travel Log #4: France, Part 1

This is the 4th installment of my mother’s travel log.  You can find the previous parts here.  Free wifi being what it is in France, they’re having trouble providing pictures to illustrate their updates – so I continue to pull visual aids from the web.  That’s okay though because it makes me research the places they’ve visited and makes my vicarious experience that much more interesting.  As usual, feel free to leave comments – they enjoy hearing from you!

St. Gilles-Croix-de-Vie

St. Gilles-Croix-de-Vie

On August 1 we woke up in St. Gilles to cloudy skies so decided to head to our friend Laurent’s house. On the roads south it poured rain. August 1st is also coincidentally the beginning of the traditional French holiday time. The roads were full of trailors and vans full of food and pillows, kids and dogs, bikes and plastic sand toys. They were headed for their annual break on the sea side or in the mountains and even a deluge wasn’t going to dampen their spirits! We stopped at a service centre and although the lines were 30 people deep (and that was for the toilets) there were smiles everywhere.

We arrived at Laurent’s (our faithful Gloria GPS guiding us on narrow hilly roads) at mid afternoon. Laurent had e-mailed us that some cousins were visiting the house and they were Beatrice (cousine), Lorthaire (mari), Céleste (fille, 8 ans), Jean-Charles (cousin), Nathalie (femme), Louis (fils, 8 ans), Garance (fille, 2.5 mois), Bianca (chat siamois, 3 ans) eating apricot flan. We were immediately ushered in and given coffee and tart.

The house was built in 1874 and is built in a classic symmetrical shape; centre hall with rooms leading to the left and right, large windows evenly spaced. Unlike most of our centre hall plans, the stairs are in the back left corner and so wide they occupy the space of a room and lead up to the second floor and attic and down to the cellar. On the second floor there are six bedrooms – 3 large, 2 medium and 1 small as well as a large bathroom. We set up camp in an empty room and learned the idiosyncrasies of the house from Laurent’s cousins and their families who also took us out to dinner and fed us from their massive stores of food. The French have truly learned that armies travel on their stomachs.

We stayed a couple of days, repacked our stuff and set off back north to pick up my brother Pat and his wife Laura in Paris where that economical and reliable Air Transat had deposited them at Terminal 3 of Charles de Gaulle airport. (I wonder if I can get a product placement payment?)

North-Western Regions of France

North-Western Regions of France

By now the sun had returned and we set off to explore north/north western France (Normandy and Brittany) in the sunshine. Just as well the sun shone because we went first to Dieppe and the Canadian war cemetery there. It is a beautifully kept place planted with flowers, mostly rose bushes. The majority of the graves were of boys the ages of our sons (20 to 24) so it was particularly moving even though our own fathers were too young to be directly involved in the second world war.

Canadian War Cemetery at Dieppe

Canadian War Cemetery at Dieppe

Later, Pat and Laura jet lagged it to bed and Michael and I enjoyed a great meal at the little hotel where we were staying. We lucked out there. The hotel was supposedly a 2 star. As a hotel it was a reach for that second star but the dining room was another matter. Soon after we sat down it became clear that this place was a favourite in the neighbourhood. There were family special occasions being celebrated, a group of regulars as well as people like us, passing tourists. We enjoyed our meal immensely.

The next day, we set off for another war memorial at Juno beach where the Canadian troops landed on D-Day. There is a very good museum manned by Canadian university students who lead groups around the museum and onto the beach and through the remaining German bunker, explaining how and why things happened. We were left wondering how any of the soldiers managed to get ashore given the dangerous traps all along the beach.

Tank at Juno Beach

Tank at Juno Beach

From there we tried to see a bit of Mt. St. Michel but there were so many visitors that we couldn’t find a place to stay. Mt. St. Michel is a monastery built out in the water which was at high tide completely surrounded by the ocean. There is a causeway now and the State is reworking the parking somehow to facilitate the millions of tourists who visit annually. We weren’t among them. Instead we found a hotel and went to St. Malo the following day. St. Malo is particularly close to Joshua’s heart because when he was in school in France when he was ten, his favourite song was about the sailors from St. Malo. If I remember correctly, the fishermen from St. Malo used to fish for cod on the Grand Banks. A long way to go for fish and chips.

St. Malo

St. Malo

We walked all around the walls (St. Malo is a fortified city and often the best way to see this kind of city is to walk around their walls and look down and into the windows of the housing in the town.) We all, except Michael who apparently didn’t want to be on our team, bought striped shirts so we all look just like traditional French sailors.

Chateau de Chenonceaux

Chateau de Chenonceaux

After St. Malo, we went inland to the Loire valley to see my favourite chateau, Chenonceaux. It is built over the river Cher which is a tributary of the Loire. During the first world war it was a hospital and during the second it was at one point on the front line offering a unique way of crossing in and out of enemy territory. Barring all this war history, it is a lovely, graceful “summer house” designed by a woman (Katherine Briçonnet). I keep forgetting that we usually travel in the off season and the numbers of visitors amaze me.

By then it was time to stop driving and we set off for Laurent’s house in Croussac. (Don’t try to find this place on a map. It has several houses and a population of about 15 including us. It is near Orliac de Bar, which may be on the map.) We settled in and had a bit of down time especially for our marvellous driver, Michael. Laurent’s family had moved on for the next part of their holiday (coincidently at St. Gilles Croix de Vie where they had been vacationing for many years.) They generously left a crammed fridge and larder so we sat back for a bit and looked at the hills and watched the Migs practice flying from some airstrip that may have been many kilometres away. One morning two elderly jets flew by at almost level with the windows of the house.

Market at Tulle

Market at Tulle

We visited the market at Tulle (which we found inferior to our beloved market in Marseille) and ate at a local restaurant. We had an exciting middle of the night trip by ambulance to the local hospital after Laura fell in the night landing hard on the back of her head and her neck. Good thing we bought a phone for emergencies. It was our first call. It was quite the trick trying to tell the ambulance service where exactly we were but they got here and after an x-ray determined that nothing was broken we returned home and had breakfast and another calm day to recover.

Oradour sur Glane

Oradour sur Glane

Our other outing was to a village called Oradour sur Glane. It is a village where near the end of the war  Nazis locked the entire population of about 650 in the church and burnt the village. There were mostly women and children. The town has been left as it was, cars in the street, burnt shops and houses only the stone walls left standing. It too was a sobering visit.

Pat and Laura were looking forward to visiting the champagne district and had arranged a tour. We took them to Limoges to buy tickets to Paris then on to Epernay for the tour. The next few days they were to visit Paris and then head home on August 20. It is August 19 as I write this and we have heard that they had a good visit oiled with champagne and were in a nice hotel in Paris. (thanks to Hotwire…another product placement fee?)

And us? Well we have been making visits to towns and cities in the area and working (Michael) and knitting and reading and writing postcards (me) and some days looking out at the rain and trying to keep warm. The temperature here fluctuates dramatically even during one 24 hour period. We are eating croissants and good cheese and trying wines we know nothing about.

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One Comment

  1. Marie
    Posted August 24, 2010 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    What an adventure! Chateau de Chenonceaux was one of our stops many moons ago. I am going on an exciting adventure myself in a couple of weeks. Shhhhh, don’t tell anyone, or everybody will be jealous. It involves a big brick building and lots of little feet. A la prochaine!

One Trackback

  1. By victor on July 29, 2014 at 4:54 pm

    pet@waitresses.sweater” rel=”nofollow”>.…

    thanks for information….

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