We have been on the road for a month visiting with family and friends in the UK France and Germany. Martin says I shouldn’t devote too much of the blog talking about our family and friends but they are the reason we get to so many lovely places and take in so many sights, monuments and experiences. But I do understand that it may get a bit boring for readers interested in the boat thing. For me, my blog is also a diary of sorts so that when I am really old and incapacitated I re-read my adventures during our seven summers on Skookum. So bear with me on this detail – we visited some interesting places and drove thousands of kilometers in Scarlet in the heat.
We left la Grau d’Adge on July 6, Mike and Jacqui were installed on Skookum for the next month and we were driving north. I was very stressed when we left – so much so that I left my Ipad mini in the hotel – so we had to go back and get it. Luckily we were only on the edge of town.
Our journey took us through the middle of France and Massif Central. It was a hot day (what else is new this summer) as we drove to one of the engineering wonders of France – the modern (opened in December 2004) Le Viaduct du Millau in the Department of Aveyron. This was a joint Franco/British project designed by Sir Norman Foster and engineered by Dr Michel Virloguex that spanned the gorge valley of the Tarn River. The four of the steel and concrete pylons were over 1100 ft high (taller than the Eiffel Tower) as they connected the two sides of this vast gorge with a bridge that was 2.5 km long. We drove over the bridge and took pictures from the visitor centre.
Our driving day ended in a town called Bourges where we booked into a funny old hotel. Bourges was a gorgeous Gothic town in the heart of a France. It has lots of medieval buildings and a beautiful twelfth century Cathedral.
Bourges buildings and Cathedral
We continued our journey the next day as we headed through Paris on our way to Dunkerque. Paris was its own adventure as we narrowly escaped a vehicle accident on the road that is a kind of by-pass for the capital. Five lanes of traffic were all going in the same direction were slowed down when the back axle from a small trailer bounced across the road. The taxi in front of us stopped as the axle came to a standstill. Martin slammed on the brakes and hoped the cars behind would do the same thing. Luckily we were unscathed apart from some rapid heart beating but we did see the car and trailer sans back axle, five lanes away on the median.
The drive to Dunkerque took us through Normandy, which looks a lot like the Prairies with harvested wheat fields spanning the horizon. We stayed in a funky student style hotel in the town and enjoyed a bucket of mussels and fries plus wine before going back to hotel for an early start.
The next day we took the DFDS ferry to Dover, down the M20 through the tunnel north to see my mum in Wisbech. We arrived after two nights and 1000km in Scarlet with plastic window and everything else intact. My cousin had gone on holiday the morning we arrived so I was concerned to stay with my mum while Veronica was away. Lilian was also preparing to go on vacation with Joan to Jersey in the Channel Islands a week after we arrived. Joan arrived and off they went using a door to door service that took them to the airport and returned them a week later.
White cliffs of Dover
Martin and I went off to Skegness – my cousin Valerie kindly let us use her holiday chalet located about 5 miles out of the resort. It is a lovely spot – wide wild beaches, sand dunes and a few welcome sights like a pub just off the beach that welcomed dogs. We took a few walks along the beach over the two days, then headed up to Hull to visit friends and family. We stayed in our friend’s home (they were on our boat), which is close to town, for a couple of nights. Then we took off for the City of Liverpool.
Liverpool was a bit of a blast for me – I graduated with an Honours degree from Liverpool University in 1975 and had only been back once since then.
My last trip to Liverpool was in 1984 for the Flower Festival, which was one of Liverpool’s early attempts to become a tourist attraction. Fueled by money from the EU, becoming the European City of Culture in 2008 and a UNESCO designation for its splendid waterfront architecture in 2004 Liverpool has become a premier tourist destination.
The city is the home of the Beatles and other bands that made up the ‘Merseybeat’, two major football teams, the beautiful Catholic Cathedral (affectionately known as ‘Paddy’s Wigwam’) and the waterfront buildings from the heyday of Liverpool’s maritime history.
The city has an incredible history as a major seaport, industrial and cultural centre. Waves of immigrants – the Irish in the 1850’s the Welsh in the 1880 former African slaves in the 1770’s, Caribbean people in the 1960’s , Europeans, Chinese, and even Confederate Americans have shaped the culture mosaic of the city. Liverpool was also the centre of the Transatlantic slave trade between West Africa, England, the West Indies and the southern United States. The city’s population increased from 80,000 in 1800 to 700000 by 1900, and was a city of slums and abject poverty as well of obscene opulence which experienced many economic ups and downs. It was the home port of the White Star (think Titanic and Olympic) and Cunard Lines that sailed the North Atlantic. These companies and vast port industries supported the building or the famous waterfront buildings at the Pier Head
Pier Head: Royal Liver Building Cunard building and the Liverpool Maritime Building
When I lived in the city during the early 1970s Liverpool was becoming a poorer place. By 1981 there was 20% unemployment and a sense of hopelessness that resulted in riots and marches demanding the right to work. The resilience of Liverpudlians, with their wry sense of humour and determination saw the future in terms of tourism and changed the face of the city from dire to fun and hope.
Liverpool capitalized on its famous sons – the Beatles, the splendid buildings and a diverse culture that offered something for everyone. We stayed for a couple of nights in the Adelphi Hotel an example of the Edwardian opulence that has now become a rather shabby shadow of its former self. Still elements of the once great hotel in the heart of the city still remain – especially in the ballroom and reception area The rooms however needed refurbishment and a nice paint job.
We wandered around the busy downtown core and visited a couple of museums on theAlbert Dock. The Museum of Liverpool was especially interesting us as it had an exposition called Double Fantasy which chronicled the lives of John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
Many of the exhibits were familiar to us as we were raised in the age of the Beatles and have followed their lives and deaths over the last 50 years.
We toured the Cathedral and the University, and also visited a couple of famous pubs – the Philharmonic (where Paul McCartney did his recent car-karoke concert) and the Cambridge – a campus pub that was a favoured lunch time hang out for students like me. I felt Liverpool was now a much better place than the city I left, although there are still great economic inequities, and Liverpool Eight is still a hang out for homeless people and drug addicts. It has hope now and can be proud, as the Liverpool and its people have accomplished a great turnaround of fortunes.
We left Liverpool and headed back to Wisbech to spend some time with my mother. My cousin Paul arrived from New Zealand so it was great to hang out with family. Martin and I went off on another adventure in Scarlet when we drove another 300 miles to visit our pals in Devon for five days. As a Canadian, I understand long distances, driving for hours was not a problem, but the heat and the incredible traffic made our journeys longer and more stressful.
Before we left we had another stress – our lovely Kerry became ill. She had an abcess that burst on the side of her neck. Martin feared the worst but the vet indicated she had had a piece of spear grass stuck in her neck and it had festered. She was put on a course of anti-biotics and a twice daily cleaning of the wound and was soon healthy again. Spear grass is the enemy of animals; for years I have checked Kerry’s paws to ensure that none had found its way into the deep crevies of her pads, but I never expected it would go for the jugular and become lodged in her neck. However the vet assured us she would be fine and she seems well and healthy for an 11.5 year old dog.
She is now getting stiff so now we give her Glucosamine which seems to give her more of a spring in her step. In addition we try to protect her from the ever threatening ticks with a treatment once per month. We have not regretted one day of having our dog on our travels she is an integral part of our adventure and has shaped many encounters and pathways since we began in 2012.
Meeting our friends in Somerset and Devon was a wonderful reunion as we were last down in the South West in 2016. George and Pam live in the most lovely place on the river Dart in Devon, while Ray and Maggie live in rural Somerset in an delightful valley just outside of Bath. We met them on our epic cruise down to Tierra del Fuego in January and February 2016. At the end of our 54 day cruise, I invited Table 5 (our friends from Devon and Somerset and others from Lancashire) to Victoria for dinner on September 23rd 2017. We had had dinner together on board the Marco Polo every night for 50 consecutive nights celebrated birthdays anniversaries etc and laughed a lot so it seem fitting to continue the adventure Last September (2017) four out of the six dinner mates came to Victoria for dinner. Ray and Maggie came for six weeks and did a grand tour of western Alberta and British Columbia. They are hikers and nature photographers so thought BC was marvelous. George and Pam made a last minute decision to come to BC and stayed a couple of weeks, enjoying the art and culture of the West coast. We had our dinner and a few days sharing our house and city sight seeing in glorious Victoria.
Dinner in Victoria 2017
It was our turn to enjoy their hospitality in Stoke Gabriel, Devon, although the weather was not especially cooperative as we had a couple of downpours. Undaunted we had a BBQ in the rain and laughed at ourselves for being so stoic.
George and Martin messing around on the River Dart
We also visited a couple of delightful Devon towns – Totnes where we also connected with Martin’s cousin Jackie (our host in southern Spain) and Dartmouth where the local chandelery proved to be a source of a few bits ( mainly new 20 m ropes) for Skookum
Maggie and Ray also came to stay so the six of us had another reunion. We went on to visit them in Somerset to break our journey back to Wisbech.
We made another family stop on the way and visited Martins ‘nephew’ Guy who lives in a lovely Cotswolds village called Sheepscombe. Guy who was also working at the time was thrilled so we had a quick bite and went on our way.
I love the South West of England and believe if I had stayed in the UK I would have made one of these counties my home.
Back to Wisbech for a few days with my mum and my cousins, a haircut for Kerry and a closer look at the ancient centre of Peterborough and the Cathedral of St Peter. Interestingly Catherine of Aragon is buried here.
St Peters, Peterborough
It was interesting because we went on to London for a couple of days with Martin’s sister on our way back to France and visited Hampton Court Palac. It was made famous by Henry VIII but had been the home of many kings and queens of Britain.
The Victorians restored as an English monument and today it is a brilliant educational tourist attraction.
I was impressed by interactivity of the exhibits and was most impressed by the kitchens where cooks dressed in period (Tudor) costume toiled over a fire, making pies and chatting with curious children.
Other actors/docents walked the streets within the castle. We also visited the gardens as they backed onto the Thames. Images of Royal Tudor barges came to mind as walked through the formal gardens to the riverbank.
Hampton Court Palace
It was an interesting afternoon but the weather was getting hot again. The next day we set off back to France and Germany on the ferry. Our first stop was in Reims – a favourite of ours. We stayed in the Crystal Hotel – an old hotel in the heart of the city. After an evening of Moules et frits ( Mussels and fries) and the purchase of a few bottles on champagne we were on the road again on our way to visit friends in Germany
Brigitte and Peter won the ‘post code’ lottery when it comes to a lovely part of the country. The Vosges Mountains and Black Forest are either side of the Rhine valley. The area is agriculturally highly productive and also produces some of the most beautiful wines in the world. I noticed that Germany was considerably cheaper than France – even the wine seemed discounted.
Martin was a little under the weather so Brigitte and I had a day out in Freiburg. I swam in the local outdoor pool (just across the road from her house) every day I was there and we went on an electric bike outing one evening for supper. Again we left on another hot day without air-conditioning and spent nine hours traveling to our next destination near Bagnols sur Ceze in the Ardeche.
Finian is a new friend who has made the leap from Tasmania to France. He was originally from Ireland. lived for many years in Oz and now returns to Australia every winter ( summer in the southern hemisphere). His new venture is a B & B hosts in a house he acquired and renovated a few years ago. It is a little off the beaten track but in the middle of vineyards and hilltop villages, swimmable rivers and resorts. I would certainly recommend his Chambres d’hotes in St Andre de Roqupertuis as ancient/modern serene calm accommodation with a great breakfast. The breaking news is that it will also soon have a swimming pool.
Our final push back to Beziers and the boat was another hot but short drive. It was great to see Skookum after 36 days on the road. We were home again – our home in France. The temperatures were becoming bearable as we missed the 42C and we can now sleep in the cooler nights. Lots adventures still to come but right now we are just back messing around in the boat.