Friday, August 8, 2008

Travelling in France. The beginning...

Sydney to Hong Kong to Bourdeilles

The long planned holiday in France took some unexpected turns. For a start, of course, flying business was most luxurious, Qantas being better than Cathay in my opinion, at least when it comes to the bed bit. Cathay was not designed to fit my length and had bumps in the wrong places, but we may not have had the latest seats. Cathay service was delightful and the space available for each seat was exceptional. We enjoyed a few days in HK and met with Joanne, a friend from uni days, which is always a delight. Went to Macau (this is the facade of the old Jesuit church) and Chung Chau where we saw part of the bun festival where people climb mountains of buns and burn incense to the ancestors. Nosiy and interesting.

Incense coils

To begin with in France it mostly rained. It was wet in Giverny again, though not so much that we couldn't visit the gardens. Made for disappointing photos though and the hordes of tourists make it almost impossible now.

On to Dinan, a delightful medieval village with very steep streets. Nick found the luggage difficult to lift up a ramp, stairs and more stairs and we put it down to old age. Next day we wandered the town which is full of half timbered buildings and cobbled streets.
La Mere Poucelle where we ate lunch.

And a view of the river from the bridge

That night Nick was breathing fast in his sleep and I was thinking murderous thoughts about his smoking. In the morning he could hardly catch his breath and we called an ambulance which took him to hospital. They found he had severe pneumonia in his right lung and he was hospitalised and put on a drip and "antibiotiques" for two days. Our travel insurance will cover most of the costs, thank heavens. I did wonder if he picked something up in HK but we will never know that. Luckily madame at the gite could accommodate me for a further two days. When they let him out it was with 10 days of very heavy antibiotics. He was supposed to stay in Dinan but we ended up heading for Chinon.

The over the top statue of Jean d'Arc in Chinon

The drive really sapped his energy but we had 5 days remaining there to recuperate and take things gently. So we did not see all the chateaux we had hoped but we did see Azay le Rideau, Fontevraud Abbey, Montsoreau and and the town of Candes St Martin. We got a few days of reasonable weather.
Azay le Rideau

Fontevraud Abbey

As we moved on we detoured to a place called Oradour Sur Glane which was a town entirely destroyed by the Nazis in WW2 and now kept as it is as a memorial. Basically they herded all the women and children into the church and lobbed in some grenades and shot the men in groups around the village. Over 600 people and no reason ever discovered except that it was planned and deliberate. I heard that only one person was ever imprisoned about it.Then they burned the town down. It is incredibly moving to see the remains of the pram in the church or a bed in a house, the tiles on the butcher's wall which would have been blue to repel flies, now all black, or the tram line and overhead wires in the street. The French keep it weeded and mowed but make no attempt to restore it. It breaks your heart both for what was lost and for man's calculated inhumanity to man.
The butcher's shop

The church with the remains of the pram

On to Les Griffons a lovely small hotel in Bourdeilles which is on the river Dronne. We were right on the river with a window looking out on the bridge. Sunny when we arrived after driving through heavy rain so we saw the river looking pretty and sat in the sun for dinner that night (and watched the river rise...and rise) People had to move their cars from the parking lot.

Impending storm

Apart from some fine evenings it poured and sightseeing was rather curtailed though we saw some chateaux, including the one in town and some lovely churches. We visited an abbey at Chancelade and the priest we spoke to (Augustinian Canon Regular) told us of a tiny priory called Prieure de Merland set in the woods so we went there too. It was partly Roman and incredibly moving.

The food has been good, some excellent food on the last night at Chinon but especially in Bourdeilles, where the hotel had a very good kitchen . I ate carpaccio of raw fish seasoned with a vinaigrette dressing, roast breast of duckling cooked rosy with an almond flavoured sauce (not at all fatty) and a chocolate cake with tiny sour cherry garnish (griottines) that oozed sauce when I cut it. Not recommended by my dietician but very, very good.

Tomorrow night we eat at an experimental restaurant in Pauillac, highly acclaimed but we may be asked to inhale perfumes as we eat or eat food in a certain order to develop full flavours. Should be fun. I will report later.

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