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France and the inter-war period

I had planned to post a little earlier in the week, but things have got rather hectic at work. I will go into that in my next post. But I did say mid-June, and mid-June it is.

We (Rebecca, Joan and I) drove down towards Gatwick. On the way, we had planned to do Sissinghurst Gardens. Somewhere along the way, though, while I was plugged into an ipod and noise reduction headphones, the plan got changed and instead we went into Hever Castle, once upon a time owned by Anne Boleyn. The highlight of the place was being told the pattern of the Henry VIII's wives: Divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived. I wonder how different history would have been if Henry VIII had decided that it wasn't the church's teachings on divorce that needed reforming, but rather the teaching on polygamy. Discuss. If you find yourself there, I'd heartily recommend doing the gardens only rather than house and gardens. On the other hand, I'd do a beer garden in preference to doing the gardens (although the mazes were vaguely interesting).

We then went and picked up Keith from Gatwick and headed down to Canterbury. The next day, we saw the Cathedral. This will be the last I write about cathedrals, churches, castles, chateaus or any related c word, with one exception. This is not because I didn't go to any others. It is just because I find them less exciting to write about than I do to... umm, seeing as I didn't exercise my right to a say when the trip was being planned, I don't realy have a right to complain either. The others hopefully enjoyed bits and pieces of them, and, more importantly, went because that's what tourists do.

From Canterbury, we went to Dover, where we did a tour of the secret military tunnels from WWII. This, I enjoyed. They had taken a lot of the artefacts out for refurbishment, so they had some actors instead, which was quite entertaining.

A short ferry ride later, and we were in Boulogne. We drove down to Arras, where we spent the night. If I was writing as we went, you would get a real in-depth about the food. Sadly, I'm not, so you won't. The French do now eat a fair bit of lamb, although not as much as beef. Dinner was vegetarian...

We stayed on one of the two town squares. Apparently it was noisy. Fortunately for me, sleeping has never been something I've particularly struggled with (do you suppose it could have something to do with the fact that I don't have large quantities of caffeine in my diet?). Unfortunately, others in my party are not so fortunate and didn't have nearly so good a night's sleep.

The next day, we saw the town hall, which had some stuff showing the town pre- and post-war demolition. We then went and saw various Battle of Somme and other WWI stuff. There is a Canadian one near the site where a lot of Newfoundlanders died. We were fortunate enough to have a tour by a volunteer from Canada. He was very knowledgeable and it was a very good tour. It was quite horrific to see just the sheer number of young men that died for no particular reason (c.f. WWII, when it was a battle with slightly-evil-of-centre trying to stop extremely evil). No matter what the destructive power of tanks and aircraft are, at least they have put a stop to trench warfare.

From there, Chartres beckoned. The night was spent in the Mercure (an upmarket Ibis) and dinner was Buffalo Grill (I didn't feel like eating in the hotel). In the morning we found somewhere typically French and overpriced for breakfast. I figure you may as well eat hotel breakfasts - they are still decent - and you will get far more variety and value for lunch and dinner. We then ... and then we wandered around the town. We had lunch by a stream in town. It was quite nice.

Next stop was Blois (which, when said with a French accent, sounds like you have had a bit to much vin and biere). Our last night in a characterless hotel (Ibis - I don't mind it, but I do like actually seeing local places with character. Whether or not I would stay in the Paris Hilton, however, depends on whether or not I'm trying to gratuitously put in frequently searched words on my site...) For dinner, I picked out a place which specialised in local produce. I was driving. Keith took great delight in telling me how nice his dessert wine (pudding wine, to my British readers) was. Rebecca trumped him and let me try some of hers.

The next night was in a charming place near Tours called La Mere Hamard. During our time in the Loire region (the interwar period of the trip - while we're at it, you'd think, knowing they were living in the interwar period, they'd've been better prepared for WWII), we tried quite a bit of local wine, including having a tour through the vast cellars in Vouvray. We also went to (exception coming up) the Chateau where Leonardo da Vinci spent some of his final years. I'd never realised what a militarist he was. I think the Left should boycott all of his works. It would amuse me for them to do so.

After the Loire, we went to a small town in the south of Normandy called Rhanes (but, using weird French pronunciation, sounds more like "run" than rains"). Camembert and Calvados and Cider come from Normandy. Over the last few days of the trip, I had a fair bit of the first, tried the second, and see no reason whatsoever to have any of the latter. I did, however, try a local pear cider, which was delicious.

Rebecca and I went for a walk around Bagnoles, a local spa town, while Joan and Keith did the cliched must-see touristy thing. In general, I find it is a good idea to avoid cmstt. I think I have my parents-in-law's agreement on that point. We had a nice 13km walk though (after, of course, having lunch at a place known for serving calf's head. No, it didn't come with skull. Yes, it was nice. It was kinda like boiled brisket).

After Rhanes, we then made our way up through Normandy towards the coast. We saw a lot of D-Day stuff, including the very well-done American Cemetary. We also made our way to Bayeaux to see the tapestry. There is a Welsh-accented joke in there as a pun on "by here", but I don't think enough of my readers will get it to make it worthwhile. The tapestry is worth seeing.

The night was spent in St Vaast-la-Hogue. We had a really, really big meal. You know, the sort of meal where a 4 course meal becomes 7 with things like a shot of gazpacho between courses. It was yummy though. Particularly the camembert fritter for the cheese course.

Next day, into Cherbourg then into Poole for a surprisingly low-tear goodbye as we left Keith and Joan at the train station on route to London, while we went home to find the house covered in a layer of dust.

We had the house rewired while we were away. The sparky seems to have done a good job, and they have cleaned up as well as can be expected, but there are some things that will only be done by the residents. That's us.

So there we were, back home, relaxed, and ready to return to normal...


Comment from Richard Watson

I though that cider made with pears was called Perry.

I respond

It is in the UK. In France it is called Poire with an accent somewhere or other. Given that it tastes nice, I'm loathe to tar it with the same brush as the musty, horrible stuff they call perry.

Also, apologies to Todd for taking so long to put up his comment in the last post before the war commemoration and entry.

Also, apologies to anyone reading these comments for the bad pun in the last sentence.

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