In the footsteps of the famous

We didn’t plan it this way, if fact we hardly planned it at all. A six week Grand Tour of Europe in our motorhome, visiting places we’d not seen. The rough outline was to start off in Holland, go into Germany and then play it by ear as to where next, with a visit to Weimar high on our list of “must sees”. Leaving in late summer, we were to return in early October. Our default plan was that we would follow the sun. This we did, but we somehow also managed to follow in the footsteps of the famous.

In Hamelin we couldn’t help but be immersed in the story of the Pied Piper. From the campsite by the River Weser it was an easy walk into the town, and once there we appropriately followed the sound of music, as did the children in the famous story. There was a festival in full swing. Live bands ranged from jazz to noisy europop. We’d missed the weekly enactment of the Pied Piper story but we spotted several “Pipers” decked out in full costume. We didn’t see any rats…

Travelling east through the Harz Mountains we reached Weimar, famous for the founding of the Weimar Republic between the two World Wars, and a hot bed for German creativity. The Bauhaus Arts and Crafts Movement was founded there, writer and politician Goethe lived there, as did poet and playwright Schiller. Composer Liszt also lived for some time in Weimar.  Goethe & Schiller

We visited the homes of both Goethe and Schiller, now interesting museums with rooms intact as when lived in by these two cultural giants. Weimar itself has a pleasant cosmopolitan atmosphere, wide leafy boulevards and extensive parkland. The central square is dominated by a statue of its two great men, who were close friends.

In the original rough plan, it was planned that we would continue to head east towards Dresden and then to Saxon Germany with its weird rock formations. But the weather app was reporting highs of 13 degrees there, with rain, so we implemented the default plan and followed the sun south.

Friedrichshafen on Lake Constance appealed and the well-appointed lake shore campsite was a pleasant 10 minute walk from the town. Views across the lake to the Austrian and Swiss Alps were a daily delight, as were the nearby nature trail, cycle path and lakeside bars where we enjoyed our early evening weissbier. Once again we were travelling in the footsteps of the famous. Friedrichshafen is home to the Zeppelin Museum, and is the city where these airships were born. The Museum is well worth a visit, with a mock up of part of an airship. We learned that they were built with large viewing windows on the underside, giving passengers a wide angled panorama of the earth below. After the Hindenburg disaster in 1937, this method of air travel ceased, but it’s still possible to take a trip in a Zeppelin over Lake Constance. It’s a fascinating and impressive sight to see one pass overhead.

We moved on, travelling through Switzerland, Italy and into France where we stayed in St. Rémy de Provence. We knew it was famous for Van Gogh’s painting “Starry Night” but there were only a couple of tatty information boards about this. St. Rémy is also the birthplace of Nostradamus, famous for his prophesies, but we saw no other reference to him at all apart from a side alleyway named rue Nostradamus, and a Banksy-type graffiti image of him on a wall. Did they miss a trick here in St. Rémy by not featuring him more, or are they a bit ashamed of him and his prophecies?

Heading north we stayed at the municipal site in Langres, set on the ramparts of this picturesque hilltop town, once again chancing upon another famous figure. Philosopher and writer Diderot was born here, and Langres proudly celebrates the man who wrote the Encyclopédie, a dictionary of arts and sciences.

Famed for its archiQuiche Lorrainetectural grandeur, Nancy beckoned. The École de Nancy led the Art Nouveau movement in France and the city offers a visual feast to be savoured. Whilst there we sampled one of the region’s famous dishes. I have to question the saying, “Real men don’t eat quiche”. The portions of Quiche Lorraine we had for lunch were so large and rich we didn’t need to eat for the rest of the day!

This edited and updated article first appeared in the Murvi Club in-house e-magazine.

Paradise found

It doesn’t take much to make me happy. Give me a few butterflies and birds to look at, maybe some dragonflies and bees, and I’m in my element. Of course, all this has to take place somewhere warm and sunny and preferably on a campsite which is not just any old campsite, whilst spending relaxing days of leisure in Audrey, our motorhome.

carpenter bee in pollen

One September few years ago this state of relative bliss was achieved. Having travelled south through France via a couple of sites in the Loire region we revisited the Dordogne and the aptly named Camping Le Paradis, a beautiful sub-tropical garden of a campsite with large shaded pitches and immaculate facilities.

Leaving behind the mosquitoes which had feasted on my blood in the Loire, we didn’t encounter any at Le Paradis, in spite of its direct access to the River Vézère, which flows alongside the site. Here I was able to indulge in close up viewing of shiny violet-black carpenter bees as they busied themselves amongst the colourful flowerbeds on site. These solitary bees are alarmingly large and make a loud buzz as they swiftly fly between flowers, seeking out pollen. One of the many I saw was smothered in it. They rarely sting and nest in dead wood, hence the name. In bee-spotting mode, I watched a red tailed bumble bee, also busy with pollen. The black and yellow furry stripes on its abdomen made it look as if it was wearing a frilly ra-ra skirt.

Lush vegetation abounds on site and in addition to the many different kinds of bees, the flowerbeds are visited by hummingbird hawk moths, fascinating day-flying moths which hover as they collect pollen through a long proboscis. They resemble real humming birds, have beige furry bodies and black and white striped rear ends. They’re a delight to watch but are difficult to photograph as they move so fast. Time can stand still just observing these insects go about their daily life.

There were plenty of butterflies to keep me happy as I walked along by the Vézère with views of the historic Roque Saint-Christophe on the opposite bank. This large IMG_3682prehistoric dwelling has numerous rock shelters on five levels, which have been hollowed out from the limestone cliffs. Earliest traces of occupation go back 50,000 years.

Having been to this ancient site, it was the butterflies which demanded my attention. Adonis blues darted across the nearby fields, in and out of the long grasses, and sometimes visited our pitch. They look like bright jewels in the sunshine. Meadow browns were everywhere, mostly where it was sunny, whilst the speckled wood butterflies preferred the shaded areas along by the river.

The high point for me was spotting a lesser purple emperor butterfly feasting on horse dung in a field not far from the campsite’s community herb and berry garden. Seeing this large and rather beautiful butterfly as it tucked into what might be considered a disgusting meal, the interconnectedness of the web of life was demonstrated while its wings reflected a purple sheen like shot silk.

And then, of course, there was the snake. Walking along by the river bank one day, I’d stepped off the path to get a better view of the water as it flowed over some reeds. “Why are you standing next to that snake?” asked husband. Executing a backwards leap that would have had a ballet master shouting “Bravo!” I managed to take in the lazily curled length (50-80cm according to my research) of this smooth snake (rapidly researched when we got back to the van together with its status – non-poisonous), before it quickly slithered into the nearby undergrowth. No photo of this; I was as busy getting out of its way as it was getting out of mine!

We did tear ourselves away from the flora and fauna to go to the nearby attractive town of Sarlat, well worth a visit, but decided to give the Lascaux 2 caves in Montignac a miss. The lure of the leisure time in the sun was just too strong to be ignored!

This edited and updated article first appeared in the Murvi Club in-house e-magazine.

Albenga

Albenga cafe

A photo from a few years back, taken in a back street of Albenga on the Italian riviera.

It was an interesting city to visit, a bit scruffy and crumbly, its narrow streets hung with washing from balconies, friendly cafe’s, a cathedral and many tall towers.

Exploring the maze of streets we came across this one, a cyclist appearing from around the corner and people meeting for a late afternoon drink.

D-Day: a personal 75th anniversary commemoration

I grew up with the photograph on the left in a frame on top of our piano. My mum told me it was my cousin Bertie, who was killed by a sniper along the Rhine, a month before WW2 ended. That’s pretty much all I knew for many years and I didn’t think much about it until I was contacted several years ago by a cousin, Bertie’s sister, who was asking for family stories as she was putting together a family tree.

I’d not seen her for years so I called her to pass on a few details for her project. We talked about the family, which for me was a treat because I’m an only child and very much the baby of the entire family; everyone was and is a lot older than me. I remembered Bertie’s photo and asked about him, and discovered the very dramatic true story of the experiences of this young man who I never knew. He was 23 when he was killed, and he is buried in Hanover War Cemetery.

Bertie was a member of “A” Company of the 8th Battalion of the Parachute Regiment ACC and he was parachuted into France as part of the D-Day operations on 6th June 1944. The weather was bad and the paras, dropping from the gliders which carried them, were blown off course from their target. Bertie, in a group of 40 paras, was found by 17 year old Gaston le Baron who was helping the resistance, and had gone into the marshes near the River Dives to search for the paras who he hoped would help liberate France. Continue reading

In the Cloisters

072 najera cloisters 1

What were they discussing, these two middle-aged men in the cathedral cloisters in Najera, Spain?

It was hot and sunny, and I remember how cool and pleasant it was inside the cathedral and the cloistered area.

I liked the shadows formed by the fancy stone work of the arches, stopped to take a photo and noticed these two stocky men in shirt sleeves, deep in conversation.

This one from the archives; it’s not especially good quality, but I like the way it captured that moment. Two locals chatting, with a small group of tourists at the far end.

Ever faithful

Dogs with bone

When I visited the Basilica of St. Denis, in the Paris suburb of St. Denis (also the banlieu where, a couple of years ago, an armed seige by police took place after a terrorist terrorist attack in central Paris), I came away with plenty of photos of the stunning tombs of the kings and queens of France who are buried there.

It’s an amazing place to visit, especially if you like cathedrals, but this one is full of effigies, each depicting the deceased in repose with symbols relating to their life included in the marble sculptures. It’s like a cross between a cemetery and an art gallery.

The details on the effigies are impressive, giving them a life-like appearance, even in death. Hands, feet, faces and draped fabric all have an aesthetic beauty.

I was particularly drawn to those effigies which had loyal dogs at their feet. This signifies loyalty to the crown and the sovereign, and dogs are usually found beneath the feet of women or children. If the dogs have a bone between their paws, as in the photo above, it means that the body is buried in the tomb.

Some effigies have lions at their feet and these will always be on the tombs of men. Other animals found beneath feet are dragons, a porcupine and there’s a ferret beneath the feet of a count who was reputed to be a great hunter.

The day I visited Saint Denis it was bitterly cold outside and not much warmer inside the cathedral either, but I forgot about the cold, so stunning were the statues.

The last time I saw Paris

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Photo by Barry Hopewell

I’ve not been to Paris for a while, and some of my visits there have been in winter when it can be excruciatingly cold, but if it’s dry, bright and sunny, it’s nigh on perfect. It’s preferable to being there in the heat of summer, when it can be unpleasantly sticky and heaving with tourists.

I came across this shot of Notre Dame taken several years ago. Tinged with wintry sunshine, it is seen through a tangle of bare branches. The bookseller’s stalls – always worth a browse – were open for business, but it wasn’t a day to loiter too long before finding a warm cafe and some chocolat chaud.