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Skookum Blogger reporting for duty!

From Victoria back to France, and the joys and sadness of international travel.

Our return to France required quite a lot of preparation and forethought; indeed we booked our tickets back in November. Air France announced it now has a service from Vancouver to Paris direct so we thought it would be a great idea to check it out. But more about that later.

This blog is mainly about family and friends so if you are a ‘boater only’ kind of reader you may want to skip this edition and wait for our adventures down the Marne – next blog.

The winter in Victoria was very mild – so warm and dry that many of the local ski hills on Vancouver Island and in Vancouver did not have enough snow to open for very long. It is the first year in a long time that we had not been skiing at least once. We enjoyed being back with family and friends for a few months, so we could enjoy Christmas and spring time in beautiful Victoria. It gave us time to work on the house. Martin (my superman hero) painted and decorated our bedroom (first time it had been done in 12 years) and sanded the floor so well that we able to put in a Danish (white wood) floor.

decorating job Newly painted bedroom and floor

Next, my Herculean husband replaced 40 ft of the 102 year foundation in our basement, clearing the area, jacking up the house with a post and beam system, digging out the old concrete and building a form for the new concrete pour, and finishing off the work with concrete. It took him (and a couple helpers from time to time) about 5 weeks – but we now have a stable house. Not bad for a guy who is looking at 70 for his next birthday.

foundations of house

The foundation replacement for our house

My mother came in mid-March with three cousins (two of my first cousins and Veronica’s daughter in law) from Cambridgeshire. As you may remember, we moved my mum to a small house on my cousin Veronica’s property last October, and their whole tribe have been so kind that I was glad to be able to say a small thank you for all the care they have shown her. My cousins spent two weeks in Canada, they brought my mum out (at 88 she can no longer travel alone) and we had a great time exploring the sights of Victoria (Butchard Gardens, the Inner harbour, the West Coast) and shopping. I was entertaining some serious shoppers so had to take them to all the malls and shopping areas., where they marveled at the differences and the lower prices.

Cousins on the ferry 2015

Cousins on the Ferry to the Mainland

After 10 days in Victoria I took them on the ferry from Nanaimo to Whistler Mountain to see the resort, buy chocolate and go on the famous Peak 2 Peak. We stayed at a Whistler cabin that a dear friend so kindly let us use for the one night we were there, and then we went to Vancouver. I spent a day or so with them in Vancouver (even made it to IKEA), then I headed back to Victoria and left them staying in a hotel suite on Robson St (again in the heart of the shopping district).

Cousins ta Whistler

 Whistler Olympic rings

My mother was not very well while she was in Canada. She contracted some virus that gave her a terrible cough for many weeks, it was eventually killed after 5 lots of antibiotics. Being the tough old solider (her words not mine as she was in the Army Transport Service during World War II), she kept going as best she could. She spent her 88th birthday with us. We even took a three day driving trip to Pender Harbour (2 ferries and 200 kms each way) to visit a dear friend of ours and have lunch with some other friends on the way back. My mum also flew up to Kelowna to see our friend Norma for three days and had a fabulous time. Shortly after that she flew back to the UK accompanied by my son (her grandson) Tim. As the family travel agent I was charged with the task of booking flights, trains, ferries etc as required. Mostly it worked, as a mistake is rather costly and irritating. I made a couple mistakes so was both irritated and poorer.

Happy Birthday Mum

Mum’s 88th birthday

Tim took his grandma back to Cambridgeshire, but did not stay long as he had a date with our cousins from Hull at the International Rugby Tournament in Twickenham, London. He took the train from Peterborough to London, made his way to Twickenham and met up with Vince, his sons Jordan and Billy and a bunch of crazy Hull guys all celebrating (very much) the International Rugby 7’s and the odd birthday. It was a three day drinking party with a little sport thrown in.

Space cadets

Space Cadets on their way to Twickenham

The guys were all dressed up – first in Space suits (don’t ask), then in fuchsia T shits. British men are very silly sometimes, they never fail to find or create humour in everything they do, including their sport. The dressing up part has become very normal for spectators, and the jokes flowed.

Screen Shot 2015-05-27 at 9.41.46 PM

More crazy rugby fans from Hull

Tim was asked to wheel one guy who was strapped into a wheelchair (he was having a 60th birthday), into the disabled spectators box. He did so and had a front row seat for the Canada/New Zealand game. Tim spoke to the Canadian team manager and showed his rugby credentials through his friendship with Phil Mack – one of the Canadian players currently on the injured list. Sadly the Canadian team lost, but there is no shame in losing to the Kiwi’s who usually have the strongest team in the world. I am sure the Kiwi’s are so strong in rugby because they dance a Haka (Maori battle dance) before every game. Maybe the Canadian team needs to ask some First Nations to help them develop a pre-game ceremony to help psych themselves up for the next game.

Rugby game

The Game with New Zealand

Anyway three days of partying and jetlag made Tim quite tired so he spent the next day or so recovering, and visiting a few places around the area where his grandma is now living, before he set off for Paris, and northern France.

In the meantime Martin and I were preparing to return to France. We rented out our house to a family who lived just down the road. They have a heritage house that was being lifted (yes, for you non-Victoria people we lift houses and re-build underneath them) and needed to move out for 4 months while their renovation is completed. So our house will be inhabited by a young family (3 children), who, I am sure, will enjoy the amenities – hot tub and girls play house! We did have to a lot of cleaning before we left – stove fridges etc. In fact I cleaned out three fridges (one on the boat) in almost as many days during our transition to France.

We (Martin Kerry and I) rented a car which we dropped off at Vancouver Airport on May 18th. We were flying on Air France – having booked our tickets 6 months in advance. I must say I was a bit disappointed – the flight was an hour and a half late leaving and we were in the air for another two and half hours before there was even a sign of a drink, and dinner was another 45 mins after that. The food was very ho-hum, as was the choice of wine. I expected in France to have a least a good bottle of wine and some nice French cheese. No such luck; non-descript plonk and a ‘singles’ package of Armstrong cheddar, a piece of cake and an inedible potato salad with a chicken main course. Then there was nothing else for 5 hours until we were an hour out of Paris. It was unlike KLM, where the flight attendants came around with water every hour and ice cream every couple of hours plus an invitation to go to the galley if you wanted anything else. If I known how unexceptional the service, food (which was also rather meager) and flight would be I would have flown Air Transat and saved ourselves $350.00 (it would have paid for Kerry). At least with Air Transat I had no great expectations – even though their service has really improved over the last few years.

We arrived safely in Paris the next morning, and had to find our car rental company – which was two terminals away from our landing place. Everything seemed to work out with Firefly – the ‘Rent-a –wreck’ version of Hertz. Getting to other terminal was a bit of nightmare as there were barriers to stop us using carts to get onto the monorail train that runs between the terminals at Charles De Gaulle Airport, so we had to move Kerry, the dog-box and our cases manually down a set of stairs and onto the train and find our car rental. (Remember we had been awake about 24 hours by this time).

Then I negotiated the drive from Charles De Gaulle airport back to the boat in Sillery (about 160kms/100miles). It was a bit harrowing until we hit the main road to Rheims. (I watched the movie ‘Taken’ the next day, and this put my nervousness into perspective. I was right – it was like driving Spaghetti Junction). We arrived unscathed back at the boat and had to start setting up some systems – water, gas power, food, bedding etc. By about 7:00 in the evening we had food and a nice bottle of champagne and went to newly made bed! We had been up for about 36 hours.

The next day we spent in Reims setting up our internet connection (we now have switched to Orange – France), grocery shopping, cleaning up the boat and setting up for our summer cruising. Sillery and our neighbours; Eric on ‘Caro’, and Keith and Vicki on ‘Jaime’ remained the same. The day after I drove our rental car back to the Charles De Gaulle airport (another white knuckle drive) returned the car and met Tim at the airport. He was arriving from the UK, after spending time with his grandma and other family in Wisbech. We went into Paris and stayed in a hotel close to Gare du Nord and Gare de l’Est. My plan was that we would arrive in Gare du Nord from the airport and leave for Reims from Gare du l’Est. It was the nosiest hotel in the whole of Paris, lots of immigrants, travelers, restaurants, bar, sirens and car horns.

Paris 1

Paris – where else?

But then I had, what I thought was a better idea – Martin could join us on the Sunday (we arrived on Thursday – late evening) and have a short visit in Paris – maybe even get to Versailles and the three of us could drive back to Reims – saving us about €70. However things did not quite go to plan.

On our first day in Paris – Tim and I went to the Louvre. Anyone going to Paris must visit the Louvre and Tim was no exception. He was amazed at the building as he had seen pictures of the pyramid, but did not know the rest of the palace existed. The Louvre is an incredible museum and art gallery – apart from the Renaissance works (including the Mona Lisa, a few Botticelli’s, Titians and other famous painters) there are works of art from all periods from all of Europe. In addition there is a collection of 50,000 sculptures in the museum from Antiquity to the Renaissance and beyond.

Le Louvre 4

Louvre

le Louvre 2

Louvre

The Louvre began as a twelfth century fortress on the Seine. Apparently the term Louvre is derived from the Saxon word ‘loevar’ – meaning fortress dwelling. By the 14th century it had become a library built by a king of France known as Charles the Wise. In 1536 Francois I started to build a Renaissance palace , which was completed in stages by Louis XIV. The decadent king actually abandoned the building in 1682 in favour of Versailles. Demolition was considered, but the building was saved, and it was eventually opened to the public as a library and gallery in 1793. Napoleon I filled the galleries with artifacts, works of art and object d’art. This was ‘tribute’ from the nations he conquered during the Napoleonic wars.

Le Louvre -external

Outside the Louvre

Le Grand Louvre project was built in 1981 by the then President Mitterrand. The new design was developed by Chinese American architect Ming Pei to create light and brightness to the galleries and exhibits. The Louvre is so full that the collections are almost beyond words and certainly priceless. Wondering through the halls of this venerable building I had several thoughts – one was how marvelous and life like these sculptures were – even though the faces of the models all seemed the same, secondly they were in perfect condition (fully restored and in some cases replicated) and lastly that I needed more statutes in my garden.

Le Louvre 1

Some interesting garden statues

After a mere 5 hours in the Louvre we headed out down the Champs-Eslysée towards the Arc du Triumph. Part of this world famous road (after the Place de Concord) is a park – Tim and I sat for a while out of sight of the traffic (which is so noisy) and enjoyed the green space and shared a bottle of water. Europeans seem to use their city parks well. After the green space there is the Champs-Eylsée of shopping and restaurants – so we did the tourist thing and had wine and oysters in one of the road side café’s. Tim’s vocabulary by now was limited to ‘WOW’ and ‘bon’. By the time we were at the Arc de Triumph we were so tired and it was about 8:30 pm so we headed back to the hotel. Wine was the next order of the day and some food so we went into one of the local bars (brasserie).

On the next table we heard the voice of a young woman (in English) speaking about her home on 5 acres of land that was not a farm. I thought she was Canadian, as only Canada could anyone own 5 acres and leave it fallow. Tim asked her if she was from Canada – it turned out she came from Nanaimo (where Tim lives). Who would have thought in a city of 10 million with millions of visitors that we should meet another Nanaimo resident! Anyway it was one of those unlikely coincidences that occur every so often on our travels.

The next morning we had an agenda established so I called Martin. He was on his way to Paris – a day early with Kerry in tow. This threw our plans for a loop so we waited for him to arrive and set off to look (driving in the crazy Parisian traffic) at the Notre Dame and the somber memorial to the ‘Deportations of World War II’ and saw more of the city ending up at the Eiffel Tower.

Jewish memorial - Paris

Commemoration Gate of the Jewish Deportations from Paris in WWII

This was the highlight for Tim, who patiently waited in the line-up for 45mins to ride the elevator almost to the top. Martin and I went for a walk with Kerry and met him at the bistro just near this famous landmark. Tim was thrilled and we enjoyed his story of meeting every nationality possible on his way up to the top. We all stayed at the hotel but decided to head back to the boat in the Sunday morning traffic. Martin was a real hero, driving around the city in the daylight and at night with only his I-pad for guidance.

Tim near the top of the tower

Tim up the Eiffel Tower

Monday was a holiday in France so almost everything (including the locks) was closed. We had enough food onboard, so shopping was not a problem. We went into Reims for a few hours to look around the city but most of it was closed. The Cathedral and Mars Gate (Roman building) were impressive. We even went to the night-time sound and light show at Reims Cathedral.

Reims - light show

Reims Cathedral Light and sound show

Tim went back to using ‘Wow’ and ‘Bon’ as we did a tour of the Charles d’Cazenova Champagne house and had a few samples as part of the tour. Unfortunately Tim contracted the “Champagne taste on a beer budget (CTBB) syndrome” which he will have to live with for the next while in Canada.

Oak Barrels with wine for champagne

Chardonnay wine getting ready to become Champagne

He and Martin had some fun speculating on the use of the baguette as a measurement for all of France, and discovered that both the length and the weight of a baguette could be viable measures for almost anything. How many baguettes is it from Reims to Epernay (where we drove the next day)? We reckoned about 16,200 baguettes (a standard baguette must be 26 inches long {0.6 meters} x 27kms, and it must weigh 250 grams). You do the math. Anyway we all had fun using the French baguette measurement system for all kinds of things.

Tim and I spent time in Epernay and the next day we left the dock and set off down the canal for the third time towards Mareuil Sur Ay. It took us about 7hours and 14 locks for us to reach this little town. We spent the night there and the next day headed for Epernay for Tim’s last day in France. He was not ready to leave France but we booked him on the TGV to Paris for his trip home on Air Transat.

2 comments on “Skookum Blogger reporting for duty!

  1. Wow and Bob
    Thanks for the update.
    Sorry I didn’t see you were in Victoria this time.
    I love reading your blog.

  2. I meant Wow and bon.

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