I took the incredible TGV from Montpellier to Paris (Gare De Lyon), the three hour journey was the first of three trains that connected remarkably well. After arriving in Paris I made my way to Gare De Nord to catch the Eurostar for London St Pancras. Both trains were very comfortable and it was hard to notice that we were traveling at 294 kph (about 200 mph). Eurostar arrived into London two hours later, so I could walk from St Pancras to catch my final train to Peterborough. Virgin trains were a bit of a come-down after the flashy French ones. We arrived on time and my cousin Veronica together with my mum picked me up at the station.
Mum and I went out for dinner and got ourselves ready for our little holiday. She had rented a large quite lovely house in a tiny town on the northern Suffolk coast called Southwold. I was a little apprehensive, but was quickly charmed by this delightfully quaint seaside town. My cousin, her husband and other members of the family were there for weekend, by Monday there were the three of us. On the Tuesday I went off to London one day to meet some of the members of the Marco Polo (our winter cruise boat) Creative Writers.
We had a reunion in central London (a place I find very difficult to navigate) and exchanged stories and read our contributions on the topic of reunions. Janine made us a lovely lunch and drove us back to Victoria Station so we could all go our various ways. We chatted so much that I felt very guilty about not cleaning up after lunch. Janine was a gracious host and she accepted our apologies for being late, and was thrilled with the flowers, card and chocolates we brought in appreciation of her kindness. We are planning another reunion in April – so it may become a regular event for this special group of scribes.
Back in Southwold we enjoyed a week of sunny warmish weather (for mid September). This little town of 400 has a beautiful 15th century church; St Edmunds, museums and some interesting muse housing. The streets and houses were very Victorian, and place has hardly changed in over one hundred years.
The beach huts and Southwold pier added to the charm of the place and were very in-keeping with the architecture. The seafront was a lovely throwback to a time when trains brought wealthy Edwardians to paddle in the sea and promenade on the pier, with all its attractions and amusements.
The local brewery called Adnams is a major employer in town. It is discreetly located behind a row of workers cottages. The brewery is not limited to beer, it makes vodka and gin and even brings in wine, all of which are sold in the Adnams store. There is also a small fishing fleet lands the fresh fish and seafood sold and cooked in the local restaurants. We bought some sole and a dressed crab on our last day to take home, it was so fresh that it tasted of the sea.
We took a couple of days out touring, one of which we spent in Lowerstoft, about 11 miles north of Southwold. This town was once a seaside resort and fishing port, but sad to say, it has seen better days. It is the most easterly point in the UK and could be a great holiday town, but looks dilapidated and quite worn down. We looked the real estate values, which were much less than the very up-market Southwold where a tiny fixer-upper costs about £300,000.
Another day out was spent at Snape Maltings, a collection of malt storage barns that has been transformed and re-purposed as a concert hall, galleries, shops and eateries. The change began with Benjamin Brittan – a famous modern British classical music composer, who developed the Aldeburgh concert hall in 1948. The music festival and Snape Maltings have continued to expand, as have the preserved wetlands – a coastal haven for hikers and twitchers.
We returned to Wisbech with enough time to unpack and repack my bag and then I returned to France by train from Peterborough to London to Paris to Nimes. Trains are quite amazing forms of transportation – fast, on time, roomier than planes and less stressful. It took about 8 hours to back Nimes where Martin, Kerry and our friend Michael.
While I was away Martin and Michael left Lattes and headed toward the Etang du Thau but a Mistral came up so Martin returned to the Rhone-Sete canal. He and Michael visited in Aigues Mortes, stopping in at Carol and John’s place, then mde their way slowly back to Avignon via St Gilles, upstream on Le Petit Rhone and then to the big Rhone river. We had found a local wine vendor in St Gilles, but Michael discovered it also was a place you could take a bottle and have it filled for €1.25. So they drank a few bottles of very cheap wine, went to a large wine warehouse with Carol but saved the best for last.
Michael only had one more day with us so we decided to go a really famous wine village – Chateauneuf de Pape. This is hallowed ground for winos and the wines of Chateauneuf are considered to be some of the best (and most expensive) in the world. Chateauneuf de Pape was the summer residence of the Popes who lived in Avignon during the fourteenth century. We toured the Pope’s palace – which is a shell of half a building (keep). We also identified the13 different grapes grown in the surrounding vineyards. Then it was time for lunch.
We were in Chateauneuf du Pape (the village) and have numerous opportunities to taste the wine. But it was lunch time so we sat down in the centre of the village where there were 3 restaurants. We ordered the menu, but of course had to have a bottle of the local plonk! So we did spend €49 on the bottle of local wine that accompanied the appreciation lunch from Michael, and then I bought a white Chateauneuf that found it’s way back to Canada.
Michael left for Spain the next day, and we took our final voyage for 2016 from Avignon back to L’Ardoise (about three hours upstream). It takes a few days to shut down the boat. Emptying systems, packing stuff away, and shutting things down took us until October 1, then we had a few days to get to Charles De Gaulle airport. Leaving the boat at the end of the summer is always a wrench as we go into change mode.
We hired a car from Europcar, and started towards south west to Pont de Gare, a superb Roman aqueduct to walk back through time. It was an amazing feat of Classical engineering, and it’s long term survival is a tribute to the architects, engineers and builders of Antiquity – they really looked to the future.
The Pont du Gare is a UNESCO world heritage site – there are lots of them in Europe. The headquarters of UNESCO is in Paris and has been in existence for about 50 years. French historical sites are a no-brainer for a UNESCO designation; places like Arles, Avignon and our next destination – Le Puy en Velay are perfect historical documents of our past and maybe our present.
It’s ancient buildings cover the history of St George founder of Le Puy in 250 AD. The city is filled with many churches and hostels for pilgrims heading to the Santiago de Compostela, a serene twelfth century cathedral and a 1868 statue, high on a hill called Notre Dame de France.
We climbed up the vertical hill to the statue and took in the view. Martin, of course, had to go to the top of the iron lady, and look out from the dome. (The statue looked remarkably like the Statue of Liberty – but smaller).
This lovely city of Le Puy en Velay was a hidden gem (now discovered by numerous pilgrims and tourists) a bustling town of 20,000 people in the centre of the Massif Central on the Haute Loire. We enjoyed our Sunday morning wondering the streets before we headed out in a North Westerly direction to Chartres.
We wanted to spend a night at Chartres was to see the lumiere on the sides of the churches and other buildings around the city. Of course the light show began after dark. We were staying close to the inner city so could walk, after a very nice dinner, to the illuminations. It was a free show – certainly worth the night we spent there. The next day we went back to the amazing Cathedral that houses 176 stain glass window and three stain glass rose windows and the most famous labyrinth in the world.
In the afternoon of our last day in France we drove on a very windy road to Giverny gardens – Monet’s muse and home. Claude Monet was born in 1840, then lived and loved in many places while he painted and created the “impressionist movement”.
His first wife died, he met a new wife and raised a blended family and finally found his home and hearth – the house and gardens at Giverny. He moved to Giverny in 1883 and set up his gardens where he lived out his days and painted in relative peace until he died in 1926 aged 86. The Giverny gardens were very lovely, and certainly a major tourist centre located about 50 miles east of Paris, , the famous Water lilies murals are housed in La Orangarie gallery.
After our two day jaunt to non-canal places in France we headed to our hotel near Charles de Gaulle airport. We had a picnic in our room and settled down as the next day was going to a long one. Our return to Canada was relatively uneventful as we (including Kerry) flew from Paris to Amsterdam to Vancouver.
The most interesting part of our journey was in Schipol Airport, Amsterdam, where I met a friend who was on her way back to Victoria after a trip to Tanzania. Elaine and her husband had a long flight from Africa, a long wait at the airport and then another nine hours with KLM. Everything went well until we arrived in Vancouver, where we had to wait for over an hour to collect our luggage. We rented car after than and were lucky enough to catch the 5:00 pm ferry and arrived home about 7:30pm – happy to be there and ready for a sleep in our own bed after a 28 hour day.
I remember our excitement when we returned to Canada in 2015 – a federal election was imminent and no-one could call the outcome. Happily it was a good outcome and Justin Trudeau as leader of the Liberal Party, to the surprise of the many, won the election and took Canada in a new direction. This year, the world is watching the outcome of the American election. Hopefully Hilary Clinton will win, she is certainly the best candidate, and hopefully the Republican Party will be kicked out of Congress to allow the US to join the rest of the world in the fight against climate change and the fight for social justice. The US and the rest of us have been in a safe pair of hands for the last eight years. President Obama has taken his country from ruin to prosperity, from being hated to being respected, from hopelessness to being inspired while facing the racism, aggression and anger that seems endemic in the US. (Rant over).
Now we have returned to Canada after our fifth summer in Europe. On reflection it was a wonderful summer with good weather, lots of visitors and visiting, new places, new water ways and even a bit of swimming. The troubles at the beginning of our trip – poor weather, flooded bilges, bug bites, stress and upheaval seem to have paled through time as we enjoyed the sun and the Rhone with all its history and flavours. Our visitors made everything fun – even the hard parts like going down the Rhone with a 90Kph wind called the Mistral at your back.
I am nearly done with Skookum and life on the canals. We have travel thousands of miles, had numerous adventures and spent quality time with some remarkable people, but it is time to do something different. At the moment, our plan is to sell Skookum next year, after we finish our voyage in Bordeaux (but you know that a plan is simply a basis for change). So we will put a ‘for sale’ sign on the boat as we head back to St John de Losne in Burgundy. We can sell the whole boat, or my preference is to sell shares in Skookum in return for summer sailing the waterways of Europe. A time shared Skookum with three or four other partners would allow everyone four to five weeks every summer (on a rotating basis) to sail around Europe for very reasonable price. Any reader interested in such an arrangement please contact me. ‘Time-sharing ‘ Skookum makes sense financially, organizationally and practically, but this just a notional plan.
So next year is already taking shape, in the meantime we will enjoy our winter in Victoria. Most Euopeans think we a bit looney to spend the winter in Canada, but they don’t know our secret. The blog will be back next year when we will know more about the future of our world.
Until then Au Revior beautiful France, and glad to be home in Canada.