A Week in Berlin Part One…Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday…

We flew from Bristol to Berlin on Sunday 25th September and after dropping our bags at the hotel and having a bite to eat we took a short walk to Alexander Platz, which is when we discovered that the Berlin Marathon had been run earlier in the day. There were lots of road blocks and barriers erected everywhere, and a great many tired looking people filling the restaurants — and their stomachs — sporting finishers medallions around their necks.

I immediately loved the vibrant atmosphere in the famous Alexanderplatz. Young people milling around or sitting in groups drinking and eating. The pervading smell of doughnuts, fried onions, and other street food assailed my nose. It was exciting. Equally delightful were the backstreet areas and their small squares with trees.

Below is the Neptune Fountain to be found in the gardens behind Alexander Platz. It was originally situated outside the City Hall in the Palace Square.

Continue reading to see where and what The Man and I got up to on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday:

Monday:

We walked from our hotel in Mitte, to Unter den Linden, past the Humboldt University, up to the Brandenburg Gate. I wanted to have coffee in the famous Adlon Hotel but it was closed to non-residents. However, they did own a little coffee shop right next to the hotel so we went in there to have our breakfast. We were in Berlin for me to do some research but also as tourists because neither of us had ever been to the city.

After our breakfast we walked to the Holocaust Memorial. A unique memorial which, in it’s simple complexity (if that makes sense) took me to a strange and thoughtful place where I spent a few moments to contemplate the horror and pointlessness of war, the loss of so many lives and. . . the human race never learns — at least our leaders do not.

From the memorial we made our way through the Tiergarten which was much bigger than I ever imagined and we only walked through a tiny part of it.

Tuesday:

We ventured to Charlottenburg, an area I was particularly interested in for my research. Our first time on the U-Bahn. The payment system was a little unnerving but actually, once we got the hang of it, very easy. Once you have bought a ticket, either for a single trip or another option such as a twenty-four hour ticket for A, AB or ABC zones, then you validate it and that’s it! No barriers to wait at, no queuing behind someone who’s app won’t work, or their ticket doesn’t scan… it’s not at all stressful. We didn’t get lost once. We walked from the Sophie-Charlotte-Platz station to the Charlottenburg Palace, passing through a fairly affluent residential area, with wide tree lined streets, big houses or apartments. The architecture dating from 19th and early 20th century, some of which managed to survive the WW2 bombing of Berlin.

The palace, both the old and the ‘new’ extension, was interesting and historical. I often don’t bother with the audio guide but we did this time and I would highly recommend using them. It didn’t cost any extra, but enhanced my tour of the palace by explaining the functions of the rooms, the paintings, furniture and history of the place. So much more enjoyable than just wandering through the rooms randomly and reading a few information labels on the walls. One of my favourite rooms was the Gold Ballroom — it took all my restraint not to waltz down the room (in fact I did do a little turn or two 😊). Peruse the photographs in the slide show from the U-bahn to gardens of the palace.

Wednesday Morning

Not far from our hotel (less than a ten minute walk) was the Märkisches Museum. It opened in1908 after several years of construction. The museum today shows the social and political history of Berlin. It is one of the best museums I have ever visited. Once again I used the audio guide enabling me to gain so much more from the exhibits.

We walked through the rooms which were arranged in chronological order beginning around the 12th Century right up to the the 1970s. There was so much to see in each era, including Berlin’s collision with the plague, a model of Berlin in the 15th Century, and a big scale model of Berlin from the 1700s where one could see the city wall around the edge and The Man and I could just about pick out where our hotel was now standing. The rise of Prussian militarism, three internal wars, culminating in German unification. History of WW1, the post war economic collapse, and Hitler’s rise to power. WW2 and on into more recent times.

We had fun with the jukebox and I had fun in the barber’s shop — I took my research seriously, honestly!

Wednesday Afternoon – The Wall

I was ten when the Berlin Wall went up and I couldn’t get my head around it all. I remember asking my dad why they didn’t just walk around the edge. . . I think he must have thought me too young to need an explanation. From the Märkisches Museum, we crossed the river and walked the 2.5km alongside the River Spree heading to the East Side Gallery. After walking for more than a kilometre we found ourselves beside a long stretch of the original wall. I wasn’t sure if the wall was in its original position or not, because it’s hard to follow the route today not knowing whether you are, in what was East or West Berlin. Fortunately for me, I happened across a young girl in a kiosk carrying a clip board and folder. She was part of a volunteer organisation who work to preserve this section of The Wall for posterity. She explained that ‘Yes, this was the original position of the wall’. There was 1.4 kilometres of it and we were at the end. She showed me a photograph from the 1960s and pointed to a building, ‘See that building, it still stands there, and houses The Wall Museum.’

She explained that the graffiti was done on The Wall by people from all over the world immediately the wall began to be demolished in 1989. I took some photographs but they’re really not that good. Being there was the best thing.

We had walked along The Wall, on what had been the Russian Zone. Immediately on the other side of the wall it was still the East and the border for the West was on the other side of the river. And of course… a wide dead zone between The Wall and the river. It doesn’t bear thinking about. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to look out of your home and see that barrier knowing that some of your relatives were out of reach on the other side of the river.

Of course many people tried to escape and very few made it. We had seen some memorials on the fence when walking the day before. I’ve posted a photograph below.

We visited The Wall Museum afterwards and by the end I had a much greater understanding of what the German people on the East had to endure. Splitting families and holding people in a country where they don’t want to be just seems barbaric.

We watched interviews with escapees who succeeded and those who didn’t but survived. We saw photographs from the period1945/6 up to 1961 when there was a little more freedom of movement between East and West. We then saw the agony which began on August 13th 1961.

Of course there is so much political history and the subject needs much greater research and serious study to make any real comment here on my blog. I suppose what I can say, is that prior to my visit, I had only superficially thought about Germany after the war and now I have come to realise what a dreadful time the ordinary Berliner had. That child of ten had no comprehension of the division of Germany and Berlin between the Allies (France, Britain and America) and the Russians.

Below is a Slide show of the East Side Gallery

A little bit of 2022 Graffiti on the West Side of the Wall. Apparently it is privately owned and the owner doesn’t mind.

My next blog will cover Thursday, Friday and Saturday in Berlin. Potsdam Palace, Bratwurst in Savigny Platz and terrific brunch in Arminius Markt!

Note Number 86. . . Je ne comprends pas les règles. . .

Note Number 86. . .  Je ne comprends pas les règles. . .

Blog - 1Waiting for my takeaway…Facecover – not allowed in France

We are now entering our third week of lockdown in the Languedoc region of France. The weather has been pretty good up to now, and things aren’t too bad. There’s been a plethora of Zoom events to attend and this week I have managed, two poetry sessions and a Royal Ballet live streaming. We are not allowed to walk more than a kilometre from the house but we can go 5km to the supermarket. I prefer to walk or bike it to the local shops whenever possible.

On Friday, I walked into the village to collect a takeaway, Pot au feu au 3 viandes, basically a French stew.

french stewIt was delicious, I forgot to take a photo but here’s one courtesey of The Hungary Bluebird. (I’ve never been here so can’t recommend it). Anyway, on the way there I met the village policwoman who informed me that my “facecovering” was not allowed and that I had to sport a proper mask. She didn’t arrest me or anything, in fact, when I said I was on my way to The Rex to collect lunch she raised her eyebrows and let me carry on (there might have been a smile under her mask). I wanted to point out that the two workman she was speaking to wore no masks at all, but didn’t chance my luck. My French isn’t good enough and it spoils the flow when you have to keep looking on your phone for the translation.

I’d arranged via FaceBook messenger, to collect the food at 14.00 – I could not have been more exact, but of course when I got there the whole place was shuttered up. I managed to contact them again by messenger, and he happily replied, “J’arrive dans 15 minutes”  I’m guessing he thought I wouldn’t turn up. I sat outside the closed café, pushing myself as far back to the wall as possible, now aware of my illegal face covering, I hoped nobody would spot it.

The stew was delicious, lasted us two meals and cost us 20€ which was a bargin as far as I was concerned. No cooking for me. It was worth all the aggro to be honest.

Caux Garden 2 - 1

Next day, I went on my bike into the village to do a spot of “essential” shopping. I put on my “proper mask” which actually was a lot more comfortable to breathe in than my face covering so I’ll be happy to wear it in future. I bought some batteries, which I now know are called les piles in French. I thought it was just batterie, but the very lovely man in the tabac didn’t know the word. Must be a dialect thing, or my pronounciation more likely.

I love the butcher…probably not a politically correct to say that, and what I really mean is, I love the butcher’s shop. It reminds me of when I was a young girl. Nothing is prepacked and they freshly mince the beef while you wait. I bought a chicken, and the butcher kindly chopped off it’s head and feet and removed the innards, hmm. The point I’m making is that it’s all a lot more organic here.

Blog - 4Check out that sausage!

I’m sure many of you will tell me that there are plenty of butchers in the UK like this, and I know there are at least two in Bridport, it’s just a different experience here. I’ll get over it I’m sure. By the way, even in the supermarkets there is not a single “out of season” piece of fruit or veg. No strawberries, peaches, or soft fruit. There are apples, pears and oranges. There are bags of mixed salad so I suppose it won’t be long before there are boxes of raspberries and nectarines available in the winter. Talking of supermarkets, I went to do our big shop during the week and I needed to buy a cake tin and a mixing bowl. Cake tin no problem, the isle was open but the mixing bowl arround the corner with the plastics was cordoned off with the red and white tape. I just didn’t get it, but, I asked at the help desk and all I had to do was fill in my name, phone number and email address on a form (they love forms here). I was then allowed to buy the bowl after I had finished and paid for the rest of my shopping. They converted the purchase into a click and collect transaction which made it legal. Needless to say, I still got in a muddle and had to re-enter the shop via a different route. I swear the security guard said, ‘Les anglais sont fous ils ne savent rien”. You can get the gist.

Left: shelf open for shopping. Right: shelf closed, non-essential ???

Dog walking is done every morning before breakfast with The Man, and it’s been great so far. This morning, Sunday, was a bit of a miserable one so we didn’t go far. The Man managed to find some useless pieces of stuff in the fields and on the footpaths. Honestly, it’s like walking with a child. Everything he finds is a treasure in his eyes. He’ll never change, he always thinks that a stone might come in handy; a piece of metal could fix that door. A wooden stick as big as a shepherd’s crook was brought home last week. He’ll never use it though, it will just sit outside the front door waiting for that golden opportunity when he’ll use it and say, “I told you…”

Left: Reflector light from a tractor, I admit he did leave this on a fence post for the farmer, but it was a hard decision, he so wanted to bring it home along with a big stone. Right: Our two sticks. Mine is used everyday…the shepherd’s stick well…

 

Miserable Day Today

Off to enjoy roast chicken now before a catch up Zoom with a few friends later this evening. I’m trying to only drink on a Saturday and Sunday which has been fine (only done it for one week!

wine

Trying out the local red. 

 

 

Note Number 73…Sicily…

Note Number 73…Sicily…

scopello 3

Scopello

I arrived at St Pancras from Paris, met up with The Man and we headed to Gatwick for an early flight to Palermo. We stayed at an airport hotel, the Hampton by Hilton. It was an average hotel for bed and board, and the best thing was the short walk from hotel to airport terminal, without having to go outside. We were able to check our bags in from 8pm the night before which allowed us to get up at the last minute and stroll to the departure gate in time for a 7am flight.

Sicily was hot, 30 degrees plus, but a dry heat and very pleasurable on arrival. Collecting the hire car was, – as usual, in Italy – a mission, and then driving it out of its parking space took the skill of a car-contortionist – or just a very good driver (me) with the unnecessary input of a back-seat-driver, (The Man).

We made it to our holiday rental home without mishap, only a slight disagreement with the sat nav we’d taken with us from England, so we resorted to google maps, which I have to say, took us around, for the rest of the trip, without a hitch.

I would like to take you on a tour of ancient ruins and wonderful cities, but, actually, despite good intentions to visit Agrigento, Palermo and possibly Ragusa (of Montalbano fame), we actually ended up staying within the confines of our local area, Scopello. We did manage trips to, San Vito Lo Capo, a beautiful seaside resort, with beaches and port; Trapani, a lovely old town once you find the old town; and, finally Castellmare del Golfo – our closest big town, with a port area, restaurants and shops.

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Our house was situated in Scopello, near to a nature reserve, beach and the village of itself, which although touristy, had many local visitors and offered a choice of bars and restaurants. We favoured a bar on the road from our house to Scopello, which had good coffee, great pastries and delicious arancini; a rice ball filled with cheese and ham, or ragu, or anything you like really. Going to try and make them at home sometime.

arancini-rice-balls

Arancini

The pool at the house was amazing…no other word for it…or perhaps ‘painful’ might fit.  It was ‘bio natural’ if you just walked in and swam around it was heaven,  but it had a sand base, (sandpaper more like) and although it wasn’t deep, some side areas sloped steeply into the pool and it was easy to scrape your toe on the side. (I’m still wearing the plaster). Delightfully, because I didn’t mind them, we were joined by some little frogs — shared pool took on another meaning. We bought appropriate foot wear to deal with the problem. Not sharing a photo!

The Pool, daytime, night-time and one of the dear little frogs.

Our experience of Sicily left me with mixed feelings. In the area where we were, the northwest of the island, its hills and mountains are very dry and obvious fire-burnt. Hardly any green vegetation at all, except on private land where watering night and morning was in evidence. We saw lots of little bush fires, either started deliberately or more likely by a cigarette thrown from a car. The fire engines were constantly on the go. Very close to the house there were blackened tree carcasses and singed olive trees. It must have been scary to be there when it was actually burning. We are used to Italy having lived there for several years, but Sicily was something else when it came to rubbish and drainage. The sides of the roads were littered with plastic bags, mattresses and bin bags full of goodness knows what. The collecting bins overflowing with detritus. There didn’t seem much of an effort for recycling. ‘They’re putting the glass and other recycling bins, out on the 1st October,’ we were told. Not a great deal of civic pride in evidence here.

On the first Tuesday we were there the rain came down – it was heavy when we were driving back from Trapani. The drains were unable to take the deluge, but they weren’t just overflowing they were ‘pumping’ the water out onto the roads…gallons of it. Instead of driving back down the main A187 we were driving down a river. Very scary. It appeared the drains were really only a couple of feet deep and covered with flimsy gratings. I wonder who was in charge of the original job?
For a few days, we were joined by a couple of friends from Le Marche, Italy (where we used to live), John and Tiziana – John cooked a couple of meals for us (Take note The Man!) and Tiziana was an inspiration to me – to take more exercise. I was a tad lazy in Sicily. We both walked down to our local coffee shop, and the men drove down to join us, for The Man to eat proper Sicilian Canolli – but hats off to her…Tiziana walked back up the 2k steep road, and almost beat us home! What a gal! It must be all the crisps she ate. I tried that but it didn’t work.

Canolli! – John and Tiziana…Tiziana walking…The Man and I in our favourite coffee shop. 

The Local Grocers…wine 2 euro a bottle…it was good too! 

I’ll leave you with this…don’t know who won and sorry about the bad language at the very end. 

 

Despite the few niggles, Sicily is a beautiful rugged country and I would definitely go back for a second visit. Next time, instead of lying by the pool all day, taking an occasional dip and reading three books. I will honestly get out and visit the ruins and see more of the country. In the meantime, I start my MA at Exeter, tomorrow, 23rd September. I’ve attended induction day already and I am very excited!

 

 

Note Number 72…36 Hours in Paris…27 kilometres walked…

Note Number 72…36 Hours in Paris…27 kilometres walked…

This time last week (Thursday 5th September) I travelled to Paris on the Eurostar with my daughter Emily Rickard. She’s an Interior Stylist/Designer. For the last couple of years we’ve tried to get to MOM – Maison&Objet, a major French trade fair for interior design. At last we made it!

Neither of us had ever been on the Eurostar before and it had been over fifty years since I last visited Paris. Excited! Of course we had to start with champagne and nibbles.

euro star

Our seats weren’t the best, backward facing side by side but we soon moved to a table seat and were able to enjoy the journey with some space around us. A very smooth uneventful journey, except when I flushed the loo, the most terrible noise echoed around the whole train and I thought I’d pushed the emergency stop button by mistake. However the guard assured me it was just coincidence – the noise was something to do with going through a tunnel.

Apartment Building and our Entrance in the Courtyard

We found our Air B&B without a hitch although getting into it was a bit of a mission, the key box was hidden in a dark stairway. It was a loft apartment, on the ground floor, (aparently the description of ‘loft’ doesn’t mean it has to be in on a top floor or in the roof — news to me!). Modern and well laid out — I say that tongue in cheek as Emily had to climb a precarious ladder to her bed, as though in Nelson’s Navy and on top of that, the bathroom protruded into the living area, and had obscured glass walls except for the bottom couple of feet. Weird. If you didn’t know the person sharing your accommodation intimately at the begining of your stay, you sure did by the end. Anyway…enough let’s move on to Paris and the trade show.

Emily ‘feeling’ the floor mounted on the wall and Yes…my feet hurt too! 

It was enormous — several different halls at the Paris Nord Villepinte Exhibition Centre, with themes from furniture, household items, gifts, clothing, fancy goods, games etc., exhibitors from all over the world. I was completely out of my depth but followed my boss (I was the assistant) holding her bag and hanging back when she was networking or asking sensible questions. I didn’t go much on some of the stuff she raved about but that’s a generational thing I expect.

Some weird and some wonderful…rabbit chairs? You’re kidding…the little blue one was more my style…not at all sure about the furry bunnies though. 

I really did like these lamps though…but not quite enough room in the Dorset Cottage for any of them.

Couple of Duck/Geese lamps and weird ‘dog-leg’ table 

Getting around Paris on the metro was a challenge, but between us we managed. My foreign language skills revert to Italian when I open my mouth to speak any other language but English. We took one taxi while we were there and the rest of the time we walked. Twenty-seven kilometres to be precise— yes 27 in two days. Amazing!

We went to the department store MERCI — very interesting place. Incredibly expensive but all set out like a second hand shop and jumble sale. There was a recycling theme going on at the time.

MERCI — a glimpse of the merchandise – My arty shot of Emily inside – the recycling fiat 500 outside 

We saw a big chunk of Paris but never got as far as The Louvre or the Eiffel Tower…next time. Enjoy the photos, I thought it was the best way to show you.

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Next blog…Sicily

Note Number 69…Writing Conference Weekend…New Friends… New Inspiration…

Note Number 69…Writing Conference Weekend…New Friends… New Inspiration…

Well, like the old saying about waiting for buses I don’t blog for ages now two come in less than a week, and there might be another on the way!

From Thursday 11th until Monday 15th July I became a student again…well kind of…I went to Lancaster University for the Romantic Novelists Association Conference. A long, long drive, but it was worth it I think. It was full-on, with workshops, lectures and one-to-one appointments with industry specialists. I met a publisher, agent and an editor. All three had different ideas about my novel, but the agent and editor showed enough enthusiasm for me to keep at it! Significant changes will be made over the next few months, and I feel inspired to continue with the story but make some massive cuts and re-writes. I have decided that the protagonist in my novel is a bit weak. She’s one dimensional and lacking in spirit. I’m going to give her a makeover and make her more exciting, someone that the reader will get right behind and will on to achieve her goals.

My room and the view (if I leant right out of the window) 

A great deal of food and wine was consumed, new acquaintances made, and old ones rekindled. I had a great time, although I came home exhausted. I slept in student accommodation, which was fine, but the single bed with springs and a thin mattress left much to be desired. Although everything was modern and it was an ensuite room, (one of about 8) with a shared kitchen, I could understand why some students feel a bit isolated when they first go to university. Thrown together with others they don’t know, and some may not have been away from home before. I said this to a few people who didn’t agree, but then on BBC Radio 4, just the other day, I listened to two students talking about how difficult it can be making friends at Uni. Many students hideaway and chat on Facebook, Twitter Instagram etc., to friends they’ve left behind. You can listen here 

Like I said, I made some new friends, one of them has an uncanny resemblance to me! Or is it just the hair? We’re all hoping to meet up at other writing events or just socially during the year. We sat together at the Gala Dinner. Wonderful.

ladies copy

My new friends from left, Suzanne, Louise, Me, Helen (my lookalike) and Jan.

Great to meet up with you lovely ladies…see you soon I hope! 

Note Number 68…Barcelona (or Barca as The Man calls it!)

Note Number 68…Barcelona (or Barca as The Man calls it!)

The poor dog has been in and out of the kennels over the last few weeks because The Man and I have been busy, busy busy. He went off cycling in the Pyrenees (I think I told you that) and I went to meet him in Barcelona. I should, of course, have posted about this before now but, life got in the way, as it does.

Barcelona. . . I loved it and cannot wait to go back. Apart from all the beautiful architecture — Gaudi — and the fantastic food — tapas. I loved our hotel which had a roof terrace with a swimming pool — well more of a plunge pool really, but it was fandabulous!

Hotel Roof Terrace and View of Cathedral

We visited Gaudi’s house, and it was much smaller than I’d imagined and internally quite understated, which is surprising considering the decorative nature of most of his work. The furniture was ergonomic and modern. What a man! The gardens were beautiful but swarming with tourists — Yes, I know we were tourists too! We took a taxi to the house, which was just as well because it was all uphill and several kilometres. But, we walked back to the Sagrada Famiglia.

Click on Picture to see Caption

It was a hot, long walk and I needed a drink and something to eat. I ordered a Sangria as I thought I should try one but, I didn’t specify the size. Big mistake.

I assumed it would be a wine glass full. How wrong I was. I did my best but gave some away to the chap on the next table and left a quarter in the bottom. It cost 18euro as well!

Sangria

SANGRIA…ahh

I previously booked tickets, for the Sagrada Famiglia, which was a good idea — the place was packed with tourists, but that didn’t detract from the splendour of the building. I have visited many churches and cathedrals, and often it’s pretty much, same old, same old, but the Sagrada was a new experience. The light entering the nave through the stained glass windows was breathtaking. The shape of the roof, the sheer individuality of the architecture — unbelievable.

On one day, we took the tourist bus — what a good idea. Sitting on the top of a bus, with our earphones plugged in, able to relax and take in all the sights. By far the best way to see a city. Past La Pedrera Apartment block. World-famous, need I say more, except that apparently, it’s impossible to have bookshelves in them because of the ‘wobbly’ walls.

la pedera

La Pedrera (from the bus) 

The bus tour took a couple of hours and went out of the city to the Olympic Village from 1992. Around the Port and through the main city areas. I didn’t take many photos because I was too busy looking.

Bus Trip Views (I’ll try harder next time) 

We visited the Boqueria Market, which was impressive by size, the vast amount and the diversity of food, but we weren’t impressed with the restaurants and bars there. However, we discovered the Santa Caterina market quite close to the Cathedral. It wasn’t as big as Boqueria but on the side of it was a great tapas bar, Cuines. Can’t wait to go back!

Market Food 

More Market Food

Cuines at Santa Caterina Market 

We did visit the famous old Els Qatre Gats where Picasso, Gaudi, Hemmingway and probably many other artists, writers and musicians took their refreshment in their day. It is easy to imagine them all meeting and discussing various art fomrs, from the décor and arty atmosphere of the place. But the food? The service? Not impressed. Expensive and the meat was tough. The piano player was little better than Less Dawson and he wasn’t trying to be funny! We won’t go there again but we can tick the box.

Els Quatro Gats…sadly no photo of the piano player. 

Our favourite eating place was Alcoba Azul – we went twice. (I knew it was going to be good because my daugher recommended it and honestly she it very particular about restaurants. Thanks Emily.) A fantastic, crowded, buzzy atmosphere with locals and tourists together. Excellent service even though the place was busy. The tapas food delicious — we couldn’t decide what to eat so ordered far too much. The waitress from Italy couldn’t do enough for us…Sara. You could also eat out in the small square. It’s a tucked away place, not easy to find but worth it.

Alcoba Azul and Sara (We’ll be Back)

Next blog post — RNA Conference… watch this space.

Note Number 57…A Writing Retreat…

Note Number 57…A Writing Retreat…

I’ve just returned home after four nights away in the beautiful Devon countryside, in the village of Sheepwash. It was a writer’s haven. Good healthy food, endless cups of tea or coffee, (and delicious wine), homemade cakes, flapjacks, gluten-free or vegan if required. Debbie Flint knows how to look after her guests at Retreats For You

Wine O’Clock…Table Laid for Dinner…Debbie working hard in the kitchen.

I loved my bedroom which was spacious, well-appointed with kettle, tea, coffee etc., towels, bathrobe and slippers. A writing desk close to the window where I could look out to a street in the village.  My one concern had been that I would have to share a bathroom (although large) with three other guests. I need not have worried. I never once met anyone coming in or out, nobody ever had to knock on the door to disturb me and I didn’t have to knock on the door to get anybody out! There was another bathroom on the ground floor, so we all managed very well thank you.

Retreats for You the big white house in the corner. My lovely room. The Village Square  and Pub at Sheepwash. Two lovely horses walking by my window. 

This was a screenwriting retreat organised by Retreat West . Our teacher, for three mornings was C M Taylor, or Craig to us. You can follow him on Twitter @CMTaylorStory. He shared his screenwriting and novel-writing expertise with us and we were all enthralled. Well, I’m easily pleased. NOT TRUE! This week I have learnt; techniques for structure, planning, character building (fictional character that is not mine) and so much more (what a cliché cop-out). From a personal point of view, I recieved some solid advice about which point in the story to begin my novel, which I hope to finish one day AND I would like to write the screenplay for it. A girl can dream can’t she?

the gang

All working very hard…(I need a haircut!)

Above all it was a productive, fun week with lovely people, all with one common interest— WRITING.

Amanda, Sylvia, Gayle and Craig…hope to see you all again soon and Debbie of course oh and Linda and the lovely young… something beginning with N…but not Ninette, I am so bad at names (help me out here screenwriting chums).

I am going back in November for the flash fiction retreat run by Retreat West, you can find the link here…hurry, there are only two spaces left!

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I have borrowed a book from the library in the Phonebox, I went cycling twice in my four day visit, I had a brilliant time. Devon is a beautiful county 

 

Note Number 56…All about our Trip to France…

Note Number 56…All about our Trip to France…

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 ride out Biarritz

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.

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.

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.

 

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.

Beautiful Biarritz

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.

The Hotel Chateau de Clare de Lune Click to view

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Biarritz Bike Ride

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.

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!

Mont Ventoux

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.

Aurel Village - lovely

On my way back to collect Geoff I passed through Aurel a delightful hamlet

washing

I also visited the launderette !!!

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 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 🙂

door to hotel

More of Bourges — click on a photo to see caption

laundrette again

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

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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?

Saumur Hotel Château Bouvet Ladubay and a few shots of Saumur

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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.

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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 GB and lads

BYE BYE, YOU MAD LOT! St Malo to Nice June 2018 

Mont St Michel and the Little Windmill 

coming home

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.

Note Number 40…Cycling, Creating Havoc, Circumnavigating… IOW

Note Number 40…Cycling, Creating Havoc, Circumnavigating… IOW

Er...someone taking the P?

Kelvin, The Man and Lou…someone’s ‘aving a larf! 

This wasn’t my first visit to the Isle of Wight, if you remember, we went in August 2016 – for The Man to cycle round it. He went again a few weeks ago so you would have thought he’d had enough but no, he had to do it again. This time it was a team effort with the members of Bridport Cycles. It was the inaugural Kapton Krypton HandiKup IOW. A cycle ride for a club member who has the big C and wanted to set something up for the time when he might not be here. It was decided they should make the first ride in 2017 and that he could participate in his own memorial ride, (which would be a first). Twelve of the riders cycled from Bridport Cycle shop in Symondsbury to Lymington on Friday 13th to catch the ferry.  On Saturday, thirty-two of them cycled around the IOW and then on Sunday, ten cycled back to Dorset and their various homes around the county. A bloody good show I say. The Man did the whole thing and I was very proud of him…around 215 miles in total. I tagged along behind, carrying bags, spare parts and a pump…  One member was lost on the Friday due to mud on the road and a subsequent broken wrist, he bravely cycled on to the half way point of the morning, Ruby’s Cafe in Wool and then cycled home again…What a star.

Broken Wrist

Brave Man…home at last nursing a broken wrist…There’s always next year Lloyd  (photo curtesy Liz I assume) 

On Saturday evening there was dinner at the Albion Hotel, who, despite very late notice, managed to turn out a scrumptious meal for thirty at a very reasonable cost to all. In fact, they were only given our menu choice at 7.30pm and dinner was served at 8pm. Not bad eh?

I wrote this poem on Saturday afternoon and I’m sharing it with you here.

KK HandiKup – Isle of Wight Circumnavigation

A couple of Richards, a Tom Dick and Harry,
A Cat and a Bev, don’t think there’s a Sally?
I find it hard to remember the names
And when in their Lycra they all look the same.

They cycled around either clockwise or anti
Some followed their own – modus operandi
Stopping for coffee, tea and for lunch
They really are an eclectic bunch

It wasn’t a race but they wouldn’t be told
Some of them rushing as if going for gold
Others taking time, enjoying the ride
Cutting the corners – I’m on their side

I drove the back-up, following the mob
Well, actually, I wasn’t really sure of my job
I decided at lunch they could manage without me
And retired to my hotel for cake and for tea

Nobody wanted a pill or a plaster,
On the day, there was no major disaster
Surplus to requirement, of me there was no need
So I set about organising the evening feed

We had dinner on Saturday at the Albion Hotel
Which is stuck in the 80s, not a great sell
They did their best with the troublesome lot
I fear, the managers, may have lost the plot

But, prizes were given, people did shout
Others moaned and gave a good pout
But, I hope they all had a jolly good time
And didn’t find it too much of a pantomime!

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The photographs are not all mine but I hope nobody minds me using the odd couple that aren’t.

Note Number 39…Home and Away…

Note Number 39…Home and Away…

Jpeg in the shade of an olive tree

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…

i love bourges

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!

soberoctober

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!

A little taste of Bourges…