Sunday, 8th November 2020. It’s remembrance Sunday in the UK but not in France. Here, they remember on the 11th November each year, which is, of course, the correct date to be remembering. I took a moment or two just now to think about those lost in the two world wars and those who die everyday in some distant war and will pause again next Wednesday.
What a week it’s been! I now have my MA in Creative Writing…pat on the back for me. Ninette Hartley BA (Hons) MA. Sounds and looks good. My mum and dad would be really proud, and I know Geoff, and the rest of our family are delighted. Just wondering if I might be able to add any more letters after my name. . . hmm . . . perhaps not.
Celebrating my MA with a glass of Crémant and my Portfolio of Poems — of which I am very proud.
Dance and Poetry
I learnt so much during the year, but the most impressive thing was the number of books I read, many of them I would not have chosen for myself from a bookshop. I have broadened my reading. There was a lot to cover in just one year, and part of me wishes I had taken two years and given myself more time for each module. However, as it has turned out with the Coronavirus, after Easter it was taught mostly online anyway. I feel so sorry for my friends and colleagues who are missing out on the face to face teaching and mixing with others to discuss/argue various points brought up during the term. Coffee and lunch breaks in the Post Graduate Common Room were always the highlight of the week.
Last week I took part in an intense memoir writing course organised by Hamish and Rebecca from The Garsdale Retreat . They made sure our timetable was full, with workshops in the mornings, a chat room open in the afternoons and evening entertainment including readings and music recitals. At the end of the week the course participants read from their own work. Cathy Rentzenbrink was the tutor. A famous memoirist herself, with three books already published (which I can highly recommend) and a novel due out in 2021. You can read all about her here . Cathy gave us many useful prompts to help dig deep inside ourselves and to bring all those memories to life on the page, in a structured, interesting and engaging way. I have the tools now, but can I do it? We shall see.
My writing room here in France. Jpeg loves to sit with me in here. Back in Dorset my writing area is on the landing, and she’s never allowed up the stairs. I might have to change that when we get back. Only while I’m writing though. Otherwise she can stay downstairs.
Happy Zooming Faces
This week was also the second session leading my own Creative Writing Workshop for a cancer support group back in Dorset. They are a great bunch of people, and as we get to know each other, the creative writing juices are flowing (nice cliche for you!). I was nervous the first week, but now I can’t wait for the next session. I consider myself a facilitator rather than a teacher.
View of the valley during our 1hour walk with the dog today (Sun 8th Nov)
The weather has held up this week and we’ve been on some wonderful walks with the dog. She loves it here and we are settling in well for the winter despite the Confinement France’s lockdown, which is pretty tough. We can only go out for one hour a day for exercise and for essential shopping and we must complete an Attestation de Déplacement Dérogatoire a certificate of travel. You must write down the time you leave your home, sign it and carry it with you. We also have to carry our passports with us to prove who we are. Today is the tenth day of lockdown and we have been careful to obey the rules, so far we have not been stopped – but then again we are on the edge of a small town and mostly walk in the seclusion of the vineyards.
Attestation de Déplacement Dérogatoire,
Has anything else significant happened this week? I can’t remember. . .
I’ve recently spent two weeks in France with The Man, where I’d hoped to cycle along the banks of the Loire, picnic in the sun with a glass of Rosé from Provence. Relax and enjoy the flowing of the river, the afternoon sun and listen to him read poetry lovingly in my ear. Well, the weather put paid to all that. Torrential rain and heavy low cloud, mist and showers followed us from Cherbourg to Biarritz, here, they said the weather had been bad for several months! It was hard to believe. I did manage to get on the bike a few times and twice with The Man, so all was not lost but what a disappointment. This blog post has been a long time coming and I’ve got no man here to check for mistakes. He’ll read it later and no doubt be emailing comments or writing them in the comments section below. We can’t all be perfect though can we? (I fear some of the French spelling could be suspect). Anyway, take it or leave it, I won’t be offended.
First Time Out on the bikes – Biarritz (nice château in the background – our home for two nights – see photos below)
We did stay in some beautiful hotels and some not so good but the accommodation, on the whole, ranged from comfortable to luxurious and as you’ll see by the photos it didn’t rain ALL the time.
We travelled from, Cherbourg to Vannes, then on to La Rochelle, Bordeaux, Biarritz, Burgairalles, Vaison-La- Romaine, where The Man cycled up Mont Ventoux three times from three different start points on three consecutive days — Chapeau! (that’s what they say in the cycling world apparently). After Provence, we headed to Bourges, Saumur and finally St Malo where I left him in the drizzle and mist to cycle his way back down through France to Nice. (Mad or what?) I drove back on my own to Cherbourg where I caught the 18.30 ferry to Poole and home to Dorset before midnight.
I’ve picked a few photos from each place and given a little narrative to accompany some of them. We had great food, wonderful wine, visited many interesting little towns and loved it all — in between the rain. Enjoy.
Lovely Old Shutters
A Galette – Britanny Fast Food
The Streets of Vannes
The Streets of Vannes — our first stop. Nice hotel with plenty of parking. A galette for supper, quick breakfast the next morning and back on the road.
Love this image, guy on the harbour playing his guitar
The Waiters Race!
Dinner in the busy square
Same Square, Empty in the morning
La Rochelle — Lovely, I enjoyed this town and the evening stayed fine for us. We managed somehow to eat lunch and dinner which we don’t often do but both were most enjoyable. But with only a one night stop there wasn’t enough time to really explore.
Cathedral of Bordeaux
View of Bordeaux — Amazing architecture
Bordeaux. Stunning Cathedral and the Buildings of the City are uniform in colour and architecture. I found it a little overwhelming, so many people. No parking at our hotel and we had to park the car in an underground car-park and walk. Which, is okay but not ideal. Things were a little tense in the car with me driving and Geoff navigating via the satnav and google maps but we made it without coming to blows. We had a good walk round in the evening but I was happy to leave and move on in the morning.
It was very wet on arrival at this gorgeous hotel, we were early and our room wasn’t ready but they welcomed us into the house and we sat in the sitting room to have a snack. I took the opportunity to drink a glass of rosé and tried hard not to be too miserable about the weather. We drove into Biarritz for supper but as it was a wet evening we didn’t spend any time looking around. Another time perhaps. I did like the place.
View over a Biarritz Beach…or is it? I’m now confused.
We cycled from our hotel to Anglet and then along the coast to Bidart and back to the hotel. Negotiating some pretty steep hills to get us up from the beach and onto the higher coastal road. Thank goodness for my battery. I don’t know how Geoff does it, must be in the thighs.
Bike ride with friends – sunshine!
View towards the Pyrenees, Pic de Burgarach in the distance
Le Petit Verger…Nice little B&B
We stayed in a small town called Brugairolles whilst visiting friends who have a house in Cailhau, both villages are close to Carcassone, but we didn’t visit this time as we’d not been impressed on our last visit. The landlady at the B&B was very sweet and couldn’t do enough for us, but she was unable to give us a key and waited up for us to come home. We were very late the first night and felt like naughty boarding school children when she opened the door to let us in!
Third time – enough!
clouds at the top
clouds on the top from below
It’s all about The Man and why not? I was very proud of him cycling three times up this amazing mountain which features frequently in the Tour de France. It’s 21k (approximately) of cycling uphill and then zooming down the other side. At the top, it can be cold, 9deg on one day when it was 25deg at the bottom. He set out to do it and he achieved it. Well done Geoff! I only drove up once and that was enough. The other two occasions I met him at the bottom.
While Geoff cycled I explored the area around Mont Ventoux visiting the towns of Sault and Malaućene.
Sault — a lovely town in the centre of the lavender growing area. We were a bit too early in the year to get the whole experience but I would like to go back when the fields are in full bloom. July/August I think.
Main Street on a Saturday in Malaućene. . .I bought some local strawberries from smiley man and then thought the lady at the other stall might be a bit upset (didn’t want to mess with her) so I bought cherries too.
On my way back to collect Geoff I passed through Aurel a delightful hamlet
I also visited the launderette !!!
We got used to seeing these skies. This is the veiw over Vaison la Romane
Lovely but old…the room (and me)
As a treat we stayed in Le Beffroi in Vaison-La-Romaine for our last night in Provence – it was beautiful, check it out here.
Onwards — to the Centre of France and Bourges…long drive but worth it.
Hotel de Panette
Lovely old Chair
Breakfast was amazing
Hotel de Panette Probably one of our favourite hotels. Lovingly restored and they’re still working on it. Click here to take a look at their website.
The photo below is the main door to the hotel and their next project is to restore it to its former glory — you can make a financial contribution if you like 🙂
The street outside hotel
I went for a wet cycle ride – just so you know
More of Bourges — click on a photo to see caption
Oh…and I went to the launderette again…
Our last proper stop-over was Saumur and I loved it. The sun shone (a bit) I went for a bike ride to find the Cadre Noir de Saumur (it’s all about horses) and we went for the longed-for cycle ride along the Loire Valley for 36k. Great apart from where the river had flooded the cycle path and it turned into a kind of obstacle course with The Man carrying the bikes up the thirty-nine steps (with a little help from me when it was my bike).
Our Bike Ride along the Loire
My visit to the Cadre Noir de Saumur is worthy of a blog of its own but I’ll just leave you with these few photos. I spent a wonderful hour and a half looking around. It’s the National Riding School of France and the students, masters, grooms, helpers, in fact, all of the members of this unique school seem to be genuine horse loving people. The horses live a life of hard work and pleasurable relaxation. They have every facility that any equine could need. Then, at the end of their working life, they’re sold on for only around 1000 euro but they must go to a good home where they will have an easy retirement. They check every year to be sure they are being well cared for. Ahh… isn’t that lovely?
A touching moment between the Riding Master and his horse
And finally, St Malo where we stayed in the old town. A wonderful example of a fortified city. The satnav refused to find the road where our hotel was situated and as we wound our way through the narrow one-way streets it was easy to see why. Rabbit warren doesn’t even come close. The evening we arrived the weather was not too bad but the morning when Geoff set off on his bike ride was cloudy, misty, dull and disappointing. What a shame.
I said goodbye to The Man and sent him on his way. I drove to Mont St Michel but the carparks were enormous, full and a queue a kilometre long so I began to wind my way towards Cherbourg and stopped on the way to admire the windmill and view the mount in the mist in the distance.
BYE BYE, YOU MAD LOT! St Malo to Nice June 2018
Can you See the mount in the mist?
Lovely little windmill
Mont St Michel and the Little Windmill
Land Ho! Dorset Here I come…
I took so many photos it was hard to choose which ones to upload and even harder to edit and in the end, I confused myself. So If you see one that is in the wrong place just keep it to yourself and bear with me. Bye for now.
Jpeg back in her home country…I actually think she prefers England…but who knows?
We returned to the place in Italy where we lived for eight years and it was a strange experience. Full of mixed emotions and a short journey of discovery about the impossibility of turning back the clock. We had a wonderful time when we lived there. We loved the weather and made good friends, but folks move on and things change. For four weeks, we stayed in a lovely house in Montevidon Combatte, about 4 kilometres away from Petritoli, our Italian ‘home town’. We were meant to be on holiday but it never felt like that to me. It was as if I still lived there. The consequence of which meant that I couln’t be bothered to go sightseeing – in fact I couldn’t be bothered to do anything which is not only silly it was a waste of time. I must admit I did enjoy lazing in the sun by the pool
We had a fabulous pool and the surrounding Marche countryside was as lovely as ever.
I tried, unsuccessfully, to write. I managed to produce four poems whilst staying near Lucca in the apartment on my own with the dog. The Man cycled from Rimini to Pisa with his mates from More Adventure … but after that short period of time, the muse disappeared – stage left.
Now, we are home in Dorset, the weather on Thursday was beautiful and welcoming after our long drive back. We stayed in two different places this time on our return journey. The first stop was Asti where we had a brilliant apartment, close to the centre, with secure parking and it was seriously dog friendly. Fabio (the owner) was most welcoming and couldn’t do enough for us and Jpeg, which went over her head of course. She travels quite well but after six hours in the back of the car she’s had enough. We do stop every now and then for short breaks, not just for the dog to stretch her legs but for us too – and to change drivers.
Our excellent accommodation in Asti
Asti did not grab me, there was no ‘wow’ factor to it, except for the enormous car-park in the centre, the biggest town centre car park I have ever seen. It is used for the annual Palio (horse race). I didn’t realise they had one so something I must read up on. I’m not sure the photo does the size of the car-park justice…but it was a whopper!
Asti Central Car Park
An average meal was taken at the Tartufo D’Oro and the man overcharged us… we paid for someone else’s pizza and bottle of water as well as our own food. Should have checked the bill more carefully GB! We paid cash so no chance of a refund. Anyway, I think I’m at the end of the line with Italian food. I love it, but the menu does not vary from place to place…I don’t care if I never see another slice of prociutto crudo (Parma ham perhaps to you), accompanied by formaggio (cheese) and melon…for at least ten years.
Next stop was Bourges, (which I kept calling Bruges, much to The Man’s amusement)…
I am in love…
We arrived somewhat harassed as the trip from Asti took much longer that we expected with traffic hold-ups etc., fortunately we had started early in the morning (09.45) so got to our accommodation before dark. I had chosen the hotel Chatueau De Lazenay because the room had a little kitchenette which would allow me to cook. Sadly, it was lacking in utensils of any kind and although Eric, at reception said we could ring down for anything we wanted and they would bring it up. I couldn’t be bothered. My enthusiasm for cooking up a delicious meal flew out of the window to join the aforementioned muse.
The best thing about the hotel was the situation. It was beside a beautiful lake with a path surrounding it for walking, running and cycling of 6k. (Actually, I’m not sure about the cycling). I took the dog out as the light began to fade and she had a wonderful walk, as did I. Following her supper, she gave a big sigh as she finally got into her bed and realised she was out of the car…at least for the time being. She is so good and always relaxes fully in any B&B, hotel room or apartment that we rent, allowing us to go out and eat without any fuss.
The lake and the pathway and Jpeg (she’s not too keen on the water but was fascinated by the birdlife)
We took a taxi into town for an extortionate €20 to the restaurant Gargouille…. A great meal was had, French cuisine is always excellent and it was a welcome change from Italian. I had decided to embark on #soberoctober so no wine or champagne for me on this trip but I did have a delicious glass of lemonade. The Man had vegetable soup, steak, and lemon meringue pie. I had fish and chips followed by pannacotta with bourbon biscuits and forest fruits, served in a kilner jar. No photos I’m afraid. I became irrationally embarrassed at the thought of photographing my food with my Iphone…but I did photograph the drinks!
I cannot wait to go back to Bourges next year when we plan a longer trip around France. I want to explore this beautiful town and all it has to offer. We are in fact, going to take lessons to improve our French beyond O’ level standard…at the moment, whenever I open my mouth to speak French, Italian comes out!
Olivespastavino and The Man went on a road trip. From Petritoli to England – ‘twas fun indeed! We left town at 07.30 hours (note my log like tone) on Friday 3rd July and on the first day drove all the way to Dijon in France. Sensibly we had invested in a Garmin SatNav – it worked well and the computerised Italian and French pronunciation was hilarious and kept us entertained during the many kilometres. I had packed sandwiches and drinks so that we didn’t have to stop for a meal on the way.
We did 11 ½ hours of driving which The Man and I shared – I usually do most of the driving when we go anywhere but 11 ½ hours would have been ridiculous. The Man and I very rarely have a cross word and this doesn’t change when we’re in the car – which is a good thing when you’re travelling over 2000 kilometres. We are good travelling companions.
When I drive he talks about the countryside we pass through. I know a lot of it is probably BS but honestly, it keeps me entertained and his knowledge of European history is pretty good so I learn a great deal about the first and second world wars as we travel. The problem is I don’t retain the information and can’t make notes with my hands on the wheel.
When The Man drives, I talk about how much writing I’m going to do over the next few weeks, all my ideas and how I’m going to get my novel finished by the end of August. He smiles and makes encouraging comments, but he knows I won’t do nearly as much as I say. He is my greatest fan and a good editor but he doesn’t push me hard enough.
Anyway, back to the journey. Of we went, up the A14 Autostrada, no traffic jams – not even as we skirted around Bologna – on we sped round Milan, through the Montblanc tunnel and into France then wending our way through beautiful countryside and eventually – ‘you have arrived at your destination’ said the SatNav.
The first night was spent in Aparthotel L’Urbaneva in Dijon. Secure parking, close to the centre, lovely hosts and an excellent room. We showered quickly and walked into town to find somewhere for supper. We passed by a few places which were too full and ended up in the Central Place restaurant, where we enjoyed fabulous French cuisine washed down with a rosé wine from the region.
Of course one has to taste the mustard if one is in Dijon. This proved a little difficult at first because the shop was closed the evening we arrived and then – shock horror, it was closed in the morning too but we were relieved to see it opened at 10.30 a.m. How very French and sensible – not like Italy where they open at 8.30 and close at 12.30 for 3 or four hours.
When the shop eventually opened The Man tasted and enjoyed a bit of mustard (that is not a euphemism) – he particularly liked the rhubarb flavour. There was so much choice it was hard to make a decision so we stuck to what we knew – a small jar of whole grain for the enormous cost of 22 euro. ‘You’ll not be lathering that on in large dollops’ I told The Man, ‘you’re going to have to make it last!’
We said our farewells to the mustard man and by11 a.m. we were on the road again and heading for the small town of Brandeville, in the region of Lorraine, close to Verdun. We’d allowed ourselves plenty of time to get there and took a route away from the motorway through the massive fields and plains of Northern France. We passed through Domrémy-la-Pucelle, the birthplace of Joan of Arc and stopped to take a few photos. Unfortunately, the house and museum were closed but I managed to get a few shots and The Man filled me in with a few extra bits of the story (possibly invented) even though I know it well.
At Brandeville we stayed with friends in their wonderful countryside, summer home. The village was very small and we learned that it was one of the first places to be occupied in WW1. Close to the border, the local men and the army tried to hold off the Germans but sadly they were taken by surprise – there were many fatalities, injuries and men taken as prisoners of war. Our hosts took us for a walk and we were able to pay our respects in the small military cemetery to those who lost their lives in August 1914 and later.
I loved Brandeville and the surrounding countryside and we plan to return.
The following morning we made our way to Verdun and the route we took passed many battle sites and destroyed villages. It wasn’t difficult to imagine the terrible fate of the French people during the First World War and what it must have been like for the civilians living and working in the area. It seems they lost everything.
We went to the Douaumont Ossuary, a grand memorial under which are held the bones of 130,000 unknown soldiers. In the grounds in front of the memorial are the graves of over 16,000 – you can read about it here.
A truly moving place. I could not believe that the official opening had been in 1932 and many heads of Europe and the World attended. It is unbelievable that seven years later Europe was at war again. How could that be?
We also visited the Trench of Bayonets
I felt humbled by the sight of the simple crosses, barbed wire and earth. The thought that men had died here, buried alive whilst ready to ‘go over the top’ bayonets fixed. The bayonets have now been removed, for what reason I do not know, but on this original postcard you can clearly see them. What a terrible thing war is.
Time was running out so a quick tour of Verdun was all we could manage (we plan to go back) we had lunch on the Quai de Londres (The London Wharf). It’s an area on the ‘left bank’ of the river Meuse which has many cafes, restaurants and shops…a place for the boating fraternity to pull up and stay for a few hours or days. A very pleasant lunch was taken.
We made our way to Arras having booked accommodation in La Cour des Grands just outside the town. The hosts were welcoming and so helpful. There was no restaurant but they booked a meal for us at Amarine. The Man said he had the best fish and chips ever…must admit they looked good and didn’t resemble anything bought at the seaside fish and chip shops in England.
There was so much history to see in the Verdun area The Man and I plan another visit next year. In fact, we’re thinking of taking a six month or one year road trip, travelling around France, Spain, Italy and anywhere else the fancy takes us. Not sure I want to be that nomadic and I’m not sure what Jpeg and Mickey would think of it…
Gotta go…it’s up in the high 30’s here at the moment so need to get down to the beach for a cooling swim.
By the way, the first traffic jam we encountered on our road trip was when we hit England! The queue for the Dartford Tunnel was a mile long!