Thursday, October 30, 2014

And now they have gone.

I haven't written for a few days.
I gave my mind a bit of a rest, but also, my daughter and her partner were coming over from Düsseldorf and I wanted to devote my whole time with them as I hadn't seen her for over six months and their time with us was a priority.
Alas, they have returned today to their adopted home and consequently, we feel very lost without them here already.
Florence is, as you know, a beautiful city. It is full of people from sun up to sun down. It is a crazy noisy place, especially around the Duomo which is where we are residing for a week and it is such a contrast to where we live 'normally'.
Just to set the scene, I will tell you dear readers of our adventure, getting to Florence.
We left Paris on the day we were supposed to.
We had a long train ride in front of us and both Murray and I were excited at the prospect of catching up with our daughter and her boyfriend after seven odd months.
The train we hopped onto from Paris was great. We had decided to travel first class and we were in a compartment by ourselves. Lots of leg room, newspapers if we wanted, drinks and food all part of the service.
 Such a contrast to train service in Australia.
The only problem was that initially when announcements were made they were first made in French, then Italian and then in English.
 We travelled through the countryside on a very very fast train getting up to speeds in excess of 250 kms. per hour. We had coffee, we had bread (French style) and we continued on and on....
Beautiful countryside zipped by and I swapped sides of the train to take photographs, trying to record as much as I could. (God help me when it comes time to edit these photographs as I'll be at it forever).
There came a time when we stopped at a town called Chambery in the early afternoon. We had made typical time and all was what we thought on schedule.
At this point, we were under the impression the train would continue on to Turin where we would hop off, then board a train from Turin to Florence.
We had been given a pre determined arrival time and other than having to disembark at Turin and board the train to Florence, we were not aware of any other changes.
You can imagine then dear reader, our profound discomfort at this country town Chambery after the train had stopped, a large number of people got off the train. We waited thinking we were continuing then all of a sudden, the train started going backwards!
We looked at each other, wondering if we had missed something in our instructions and thought that perhaps the train was going back a little way then would travel on to Turin as we presumed.
You can then imagine our further discomfort when we continued going backwards, getting to a pretty busy town by the name of Aix-Les-Bains then even further on to a town Annecy before realising we had been thwarted in our attempts at freelance travelling through Europe!
Once we realised THIS train was stopping at Annecy (never heard of it before this day) and not going any further, panic mode set in and all I could think of was that my beloved daughter and her boyfriend would be waiting at Florence Station for us and we would not be arriving. We would be lost somewhere in France and be set upon by goodness knows what...
We asked a young station attendant where we were and what was happening. She did not speak our panicked language and directed us to the information booth man who spoke neither French (our version-bear in mind, all niceties had gone out the window by then) and definitely not English!
He waved us onto the ticket office and I had visions of us camping there for the night until an interpreter could come and save us from our 'Lost In France' plight.
We waited for ages here as there was a queue and we were 5th. in line and every person ahead of us had their problems to deal with before us and there were only three women behind the counter and they seemed interminably slow.
Eventually, "Next" meant us and we walked up to the lady who was to throw us a lifeline that afternoon and explained in broken English and broken French our plight...
'We had booked a train from Paris to Florence. We knew we had to swap trains at Turin (Aka Torino) but not one person had told us about Chambéry'.

The lady who shall be known as 'Elizabeth The Lifesaver' was brilliant. She was :
A) Cross for us
B) Sorry for us
C) A Multi skilled problem solver for us
D) Able to not only book a ticket for us to Turin that day, but booked us accomodation in Turin for that night as we had missed our connecting flight of course and booked us an ongoing passage via train the next morning to Florence.
E) So sympathetic when I began to weep, me thinking our daughter would be distraught and beside herself when waiting at the station in Florence with no Ma and Pa rocking up that evening.
F) Our proxy support, taking us personally to the platform we had to be on to catch this later train to Turin.
I will forever be in her debt as she made what was a scary experience initially into a bit of an adventure (Turin was a bit on the side... An extra bit perhaps).

 Merryn and Kieran were in Florence that evening and we weren't and that was my primary cause for distress.
 We finally got to Turin and found the hotel booked for us. Once I was able to message Mez and let her know our dilemma and received her reply and reassurance I felt much better.
As you can imagine, I had been so looking forward to catching up with her that a few hours delay seemed like a lifetime at that stage so I was quite emotional that evening.
The hotel in Turin was a funny place.
The room was tiny, the bed comfortable. The ammenities were basic but adequate. The room was very hot and when Murray put the fan on, a lot of dust flew down from the ceiling so consequently, the fan was turned off immediately.
There were beaufiful wooden doors that opened onto shutters that in turn opened onto a balcony which overlooked the street. We were on the third floor of this hotel, but there was no view as our street was a main street with a very similar building opposite.
The story goes that Turin (AKA Torino) was the very first capital city of Italy until they decided Florence would do. They then decided Rome was even better but that's another story!
Prior to the recent global economic crisis there was in excess of 1.5 million people living in Turin, but with that horrible impact, many people have left this beautiful town and their population in now under 900,000. There are beautiful streets with colonnade arcades for miles and miles, but there are people sleeping on cardboard in those streets which tells us poverty is rife in this city now, which is ever so sad. This information is imparted to us, compliments of our taxi driver in the few short minutes it takes to get from the station to our temporary accomodation.  He is a lovely man who tells us he wants to visit Australia, especially Sydeney (sic)!!!
The night passed quickly enough and the following morning we are at the station quick smart to catch the train onwards to Florence, ensuring this time there are no hiccups.
We board again and cannot believe our luck that all is good and Florence is on the map this time without a problem.
I might add though that it's very confusing to pull up at a station on the outskirts of Florence, known as Florence and think you have to get off, until I ask someone "Is this Florence central?"....
"Oh no Signora.... You must get off at Firenze Santa Rosa, which is the next stop"
Lordy me, we nearly did it again!!!
We eventually got off at Firenze, Santa Rosa. My heart was in my mouth, so impatient I was to see my daughter.
There were crowds of people as we struggled off, some getting on (for this train was travelling to Rome) some getting off....with people all over the place. I craned my neck to see if I could see my girl and all of a sudden I spy Kieran in the distance (he is very tall after all) and I start to cry.
There is a clearing, and then I see her and the tears start to really fall. The anticipation has been so great with this delay happening that I am beside myself to see her and envelope them both in a big hug.
We laugh at each other when we finally get there as she is crying too. All I can say is thank goodness for dyed eyelashes!!!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Brief Encounter

We are now on the train travelling at high speed to our next destination which is Florence, Italy.
We have successfully disembarked and have had no issues hopping aboard the VVVFT to Torlino where we will swap trains for Florence.
We had our last sumptuous meal this morning with Mal and Chris. Mind, I was so full after eating too much these past days, I really have little appetite and eat because it is in front of me rather than because of appetite. I did order Eggs Benedict today as a last treat, but they fail to arrive. Our waiters are very busy multi skilling this morning, helping to empty rooms, remove luggage and begin the arduous preparation for stripping the rooms.
As this is the last tour for the season on board The Scenic Gem, the boat will go into dry dock once she has been emptied and undergo maintenance and any repairs in preparation for the next year tours.

Following on from our trip through Vernon and Giverney with the visit to Monet's garden we travel further again on our way back to Paris, stopping the night at Conflans. This all occurred yesterday and is our final leg of the trip before returning to a busting city yet again.
Conflans is another pretty town from what we see with a large amount of goods and services transportation occurring on the waterways as well as our aspect of tourism.
This day is the day I have been so looking forward to for it is the day we visit the beautiful village of Auvers-sur-Oise which was the final place Vincent Van Gogh lived before his death around 1890.
As was stated yesterday, we learn that Vincent, as he preferred to be called, led a troubled life, rejected by his mother when younger for no particular reason, and only having his brother who was 4 years younger as his emotional support in those years before his death.
Vincent had a significant psychiatric disorder and was admitted to an asylum following living in Paris which he did not enjoy, prior to relocating to Auvers-sur-Oise where he had hoped to regain his passion for life and health.
Deep dark depression was Vincent's burden and initially when relocating to this country town he had a burst of mania that saw him create a tremendous amount of paintings in a very short period of time.
Bear in mind that some painters of this time might take up to a year to complete one piece of artwork. Vincent in the 50 odd days he was at Auvers-sur-Oise painted hundreds of canvases with some of them being his most memorable.
All he wanted was to be at peace with himself, as he wrote, in numerous letters to his brother and to have some recognition of his artwork, but alas that was not to be whilst he was still alive. Like so many artists of great and profound reputation, his genius for his craft was not acknowledged till after his demise which occurred in mysterious happenings.
There are theories he committed suicide, there are theories he was shot intentionally and there is the theory he was out hunting and was shot accidentally. No one really knows what happened to this man other than his wounds caused him to return to his abode where he lay in agony for two days before death overtook him. His brother was with him at the time and cared for him till the end. The room in which Vincent lived and died remains untouched to this day and all there is to remind us of his presence is a symbolic chair facing the garret window. There are holes in the wall where he hung his artwork to dry and a presence of greatness once being within.

We wander through the village and look upon the fields where he gained inspiration. We visit the catholic church where he would spend time as he was a devout man, at one stage in his life wanting to become a protestant minister like his father. We wander the streets and stroll along the steps he once ambled along, with very little of the scenery changing from one century to the next in this country town with no walls and no housing estates. Just a little bit of traffic from time to time making us aware as we cross the Main Street to be careful.
We visit Vincent's grave, located up a hill out the back of the town in the local cemetary and we learn how his brother died not 6 months after Vincent from complications of syphillis which Vincent apparently had as well. They are buried together in a little plot and we have opportunity to pay our respects to this man and his brother Theo in a cemetry that also contains soldiers buried in haste during the second and first world wars also.

This is my piéce de resistance for the trip as I have for a very long time felt a spiritual connection with the story of this man and his life for reasons I will not go into at this time as I have written of them previously. 
Needless to say though, I once met a little man who was named Vincent also but who never had life to draw breath.

"This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you"

We finally say farewell to this place and return to our ship for our last sail back to Paris.
Dinner this evening is a gastonomique degustation delight (with wines to match!!!) which is delicious but as it is the last day is a 10 day gastonomique delight where I haven't had to cook or decide what's for dinner I am a bit over the richness of the food despite the individual flavours and the abundance...or should I say overabundance!
We sail into Paris around 9:30 that night and are up on deck in time for the multitudinous lights on the hour every hour. 
Tis a very beautiful way to return to the City of Love and we are truly grateful for all we have experienced these past 10 days or so.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Adieu, adieu to you and you and you!

Well, it's our last morning.
We are waiting for a summons to put our bags outside and then travel with four others to Gare du Líon.
Outside (it being Sunday morning), the river is being used for a rowing /kayaking race and we stand at our window and wave as they travel past at lightening speed.

Our last two days have been full on artist influenced.
We were docked at Vernon on the 9th. day which was a Friday?
This gave us opportunity to cycle again (and with more confidence) to Giverney, some 6 kms. from Vernon. No falling off today!
Firstly we had a trip to Monet's beautiful exquisite jardin and we, like many other like-minded souls oohed and ahhhed at the layout and were able to place some of his paintings with what we saw.
Even though we are now in autumn over here with the changing of the leaves to that glorious rusty red colour, there are still flowers blooming and there is the occasional bee doing his or her job for the honey population of the world.
We enter Monet's home and I noticed a significant colour theme for each room, such was his penchant for all things beautiful.
No dab dark rooms for this man as they are all pastel themed and the furniture remains as it was when he resided there. The kitchen is an amazing enormous room with blue and white tiles as a splash back throughout. It's a very pretty light room and I am sure many a fine meal has been created within these walls.
There are still some of his pieces of art work there as well as other impressionist painters of his time and we are not allowed to photograph them which is rightly so.
I might add, to get to Monet's garden, as we rode our trusty bikes today, this time with Pete who is the gadget man on the trip with his fine array of camera gadgets, including of of those head piece things.
Our fellow bikers are Judy (from H&A) and Bruce and so that makes up our "Team Scenic" as we strive along, all five of us, clocking upwards of 25 kms. per hour as we pedal and occasionally let the motor take over. (I have to get myself one of these I have decided)!
We stopped at a church on the way to the gardens and viewed where Monet was buried with his family and took a quick look inside to appreciate the peace and tranquility. There are so many churches we have entered whilst in France and each one is unique with its sense of serenity and beauty.
We marvel at cows in this countryside and the stone walls along this designated bike/pedestrian path.
People smile and nod as we ride past and we laugh like school kids, enjoying this sense of craziness and freedom. It's amazing how riding bikes brings out the carefree child in us all.
After learning about Monsieur Monet and his beautiful garden, we eventually have to return to our boat.
Peter, Judy and Bruce decide to try out for Le Tour de France and careen as fast as they can back along the bike pathway. 
Later we watch a video Bruce made of Judy as she is speeding along in excess of 30 kms. per hour. I might add that he was riding his bike too trying to keep up at the same time. Needless to say he nearly came a cropper a couple of times which is so funny afterwards but I dare say scary at the time. 
Rather than return to the bateu too soon Murray and I meander back stopping occasionally to gaze at the countryside and just enjoy this leisurely 6 kms. ride. The weather is cool and there are occasional spots of rain but nothing dampens our enthusiasm other than knowing we will soon leave here.
We eventually return to the boat and return our bikes after negotiating the traffic the wrong way around.
Lunch is waiting for us on our return and we catch up with our delightful new friends Mal and Chris and rehash the morning events.
The afternoon sees us sailing on to Vernon (I think) and we chill as the boat glides along socialising  as one does on the cruise.
Remember I spoke at the beginning of the trip about people groups and how our personalities expand as we get to know one another.
We have been blessed with the people on board. The majority are from various parts of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, United States, Great Britain, Wales and even one couple from The Bahamas. We all appear to get on together with no significant personality traits demonstrated. There are no apparent arguments between groups and despite there being access to alcohol 24/7, no boorish behaviour to complain about either.
The youngest in the group are two women in their thirties who appear to have a good time although I think the night life is not to their liking. The oldest are at least in their eighties and obviously have no intention of stopping their travelling at this stage of their lives either. Out of the 120 odd tourists on board, some are retired, some, like us are continuing to work and are solicitors, an orthopaedic surgeon, writer/actors, medical receptionist (married to the above surgeon), teachers, artists, all from very different walks of like when you take the time to stop and chat.
As the tour progresses and we are closer to the final destination of Paris once more, people are more friendly and email addresses are exchanged with promises of keeping in touch between groups. There is even the occasional Facebook link up as well which is good for the soul, as you can never have enough Facebook friends!

Le Chateau pour Monsieur Benedictine(not his real name)

This was the day we travelled to Caudebec-en-Caux, arriving there sometime around 3 am. Whatever the time, we do not know for we are firmly tucked up in our beds fast asleep and there is no indication we have arrived at port until we awaken.
There was a tour to be done this day but some have opted to stay on board instead of hopping on a bus yet again after two previous day's lengthy bus tours.
I thought...."Well, when in Rome....or Caudebec-en-Caux as it may be", I would jump on the bus and do the tour on offer sans husband and so I did just that.

Forgive me my profound lack of historical knowledge and I will take poetic license with this story, but the story goes that once upon a time, in a country town known as Fécamp, there was an order of Benedictine monks, going right back to the Middle Ages.
Now, they were a pretty poor order and it was cold, wet and miserable a lot of the time. One of the monks hit upon an idea to create something to warm the cockles of their collective hearts and thus began the secret herbs and spices recipe for a drink known as Bénédictine.
They used all sorts of flavours....anything they could lay their hands on it seems that grew from the ground and wasn't poisonous. There was thyme, lavender, mint, chamomile, pepper, you name it, it was added to this liquid that was then placed in barrels and allowed to ferment over time. This was created in their monastery and I dare say they shared it from time to time with the locals and eventually word got out that there was something pretty special in this place.
This boivré gave them some comfort for a long time and made them all happy until a wealthy baron came along in the 18th. Century and patented their liqueur whilst still encouraging them to continue creating the base.
I shall call him Monsieur Le Bénédictine and he was ever so wealthy that he built an enormous mansion (chateau) across the road from the new premises he built once he extracted the recipe from the now defunct order of monks.
To this day, Bénédictine is still created across the road from his chateau on a much larger scale and its shipped around to all countries of the world.
As it is so exclusive and there was lots of money floating around thanks to this now even wealthier man, he decided to tack on a museum to the factory.
This gentleman you see had a bit of an O.C.D. Disorder and wherever he went he collected stuff.
He amassed hundreds of pieces of religious art and statues.
He collected keys by the hundreds and locks for those keys by the hundreds also. He collected wooden figurines, he collected rare china pieces, you name it, he collected it. Added to all this 'stuff', he decided he would flamboyantly decorate this factory come museum internally with stained glass windows, marble staircases, parquetry floors, decorous architraves with buttresses soaring high to the ceilings added to which there were numerous chandeliers in every room also.
So, this is the Bénédictine Tour. We learnt about this enormously wealthy man who became even wealthier. We saw his collection of everything and last but not least we see where the liqueur, Bénédictine is nowadays created. Of course, at the end of our tour we are given a sample of the real, raw thing and it still has the power to warm the cockles of your heart, even with a little tipple.
It is then into the gift shop we go (yet another captured audience) and of course I purchase a bit of this and a bit of that to take home...
Personally, I am not sure I like the bite and flavour of Monsieur Le Bénédictine's liqueur, but then I am me and I am a little fussy when it comes to all things spiritual!
We return to our boat and off we sail again, this time to Vernon. Whilst floating back towards Paris though....for we did a U-Turn when leaving Le Havre.....we are given a cooking exposay on how to make proper Crêpe Suzette using just a touch of that secret herbs and spices liqueur which is magnifique I must say.
This is a kind of sad part of the tour as we are starting to talk about how we will be saying farewell in just a few short days.
Tonight though is the Captain's dinner and we have to dress up. For me, the quandary is what the hell I will wear that:
a) I haven't worn before,
b) Is clean
c) Is fancy schmantzy for the Captains Cocktail Hour and Captains dinner.

I hit upon a dress I have worn previously, but IS clean (hopefully) and is nowhere near and fancy as some of the other costumed and bejewelled womens' clothing but, hey, what the heck, I am me and what you see is certainly what you get.
It was yet another fun time as it turns out with a lot of fancy food (yet again).... Bloody raw minced meat for starters and no, I did not eat the Steak Tartare unlike others....sorbet between courses etc (which incidentally I did eat) and other foods and then it was 'Let Down Your Hair Time' with the crew we have come to know and love providing us with a funny floor show and then disco afterwards where they get everyone up to dance.
All too soon though it is time for bed yet again for we old farts and so ends yet another day on this amazing brilliant water way.

Friday, October 24, 2014

I think it's day 9.

I'm kind of running out of time here.
There's so much to do each day I'm finding it harder and harder to remember where I was the day before.
Yesterday though was easy to recall as we visited the landing sites at Omaha Beach, the American Cemetry and the D-Day Landing Museum at Arromanches Beach.
We were up early yet again, (6:30 am.) and on the buses by 8:30 to travel to the coast? Once again we travelled through beautiful country towns, typically French and I marvel at the agility of bus drivers who manage to fit through the narrow roads without incident.
We arrive eventually at Arromanches after being given an ongoing commentary by our guide who today is brilliant with her narrative telling us the stories of war and how the local people coped with invasion. Her mother was a little girl when this all happened so her story is second hNd but extremely accurate and she narrates with a sense of the time and with much animation.
We have a look through the museum which focuses on the D-Day Landing and surprisingly there are quite a large number of people there (for a mid week) and we then watch a news reel movie for 15 minutes which tells us the story of how the allies worked out a plan to make an artificial harbour off the coast of France so as to transport soldiers, artillery and tanks from Britain by the shortest possible route. There were paratroopers also with one of the first being caught in a tree and shot by the opposing forces. The first number of tanks that came over also were driven into water too deep for them and a large number of American soldiers drowned as a consequence also.
Those that made it to the beaches were shot by the enemy as they were easy targets...sounds a bit like Gallipoli doesn't it. I can only wonder why men do not learn that killing masses and masses of men is not the answer.
You may recall 'Saving Private Ryan', the movie. The reality of what happened is similar to the initial scenes as the Americans landed on the beach and the actual story line is true regarding the soldier who lost three brothers as a result of the war. The only main difference is that a priest was designated to find him, not a platoon as was demonstrated in the movie.
We leave Arromanches then travel to a beautiful country manor house where we have lunch which consists of a three course meal.
This is Normandy we are told, where food is cooked in cream Nd butter, never oil and they drink a distilled apple brandy during their lunch to aid digestion. First course was similar to fried Camembert cheese only it was sharper and to die for. Second course was for Murray, a roast pork with vegetables and for me a piece of baked cod which also was wonderful, and I eat every little bit.
We then had an apple sorbet with this liqueur I mentioned earlier and trust me, just two to three teaspoons of it and my head is swimming.
Dessert is then served and is not one, not two but three different cakes... One is Neapolitan, one is coffee and one is like an apple cake. Once again... Magnifique!
This is all followed by coffee and chocolat!
Mon died, how do they eat like this all the time I wonder.
Following lunch we are encouraged to wander around the farm house and take numerous photographs as it is absolutely out of my world at least.
It's time then to climb back on the bus and go onto The American Cemetry which once again is so moving, I cry.
There are rows upon rows of crosses, as far as the eye can see. Every so often there is a Jewish Star Of David instead for those who were not Christian but Jewish boys. I will call them boys as the youngest in the cemetery was 14 when he died. There were many others of course of various ages and the beauty of the place is not that they were buried according to rank. Soldier was buried next to soldier, regardless of where he stood and what he was so it is not unusual to see. Private buried next to a major or even a general.
There were few exceptions with regard to where people were buried here. The brothers I mentioned before from Private Ryan (not their real name of course) were buried together as were a couple of brothers from other families but generally as I said before, soldiers were buried as they died and were not even buried alphabetically. Incidentally the one brother who was found initially did not return home, choosing to stay and fight with his comrades. Approximately 12 months later he was repatriated home to rejoin his family and lived a long life.
Once we have very quickly visited the Visitors Centre at the Cemetry which is a sad but amazing place we return to our bus and travel quickly down to Omaha Beach, one of the landing places. We alight from the bus and spend a short time there. It's beautiful yet again with children playing despite the inclement weather, others riding horses on the beach and there is freedom all around. So different to those days of bloodshed, death and trauma.
I collect a pine one and a couple of beach pebbles to remind me of the day, in the future Nd it's time again to mount our trusty bus and wind our way back home yet again through different villages yet again.
I have made myself a promise that I want to return to this beautiful place....there are so many bed and breakfast places which would give us a good base to explore further so our next European foray will be an even longer one than this time.
We are back to our boat by 5:30 pm. and prepare for dinner, the inaugural seafood buffet.
That is a story in itself. We were fashionably 5 minutes late and I have never seen so many avaricious poisson eating carnivores fighting for the opportunity to access the mussels and oysters and crayfish. We eventually got our share and were once again happily replete (it's not like we've had the opportunity to starve!!!)

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Le Havre/Honfleur

'Today is yet to be another big day as we are traveling by bus again, to the Normandy Beaches to view another historical component of our trip. More about that tomorrow.
Today I write about our very brief sojourn into Honfleur yesterday to gaze admiringly at the quaintness of this busy seaside village.

Following our trip to The Somme the other day, Murray and I watched Schindlers List which didn't finish until 2:30 in the morning. Consequently we were very tired yesterday morning but given my shift working hours I was able to adapt to the lack of sleep a little better than Murray.
We had free time in the morning so a sleep in was in order, then up for yet another delicious breakfast.
Mind,  the volume of food is enormous and overwhelming at times.
My breakfast appetite is getting smaller and smaller and whereas on day 1 tried many different foods, now I am happy to settle with porridge, a slice of toast and a cup of coffee to start the day.
Have I spoken about our bed on this boat? I actually want to take it home with me. So very comfortable and follows my every contour as I snuggle up at night and very conducive to a great nights sleep.  I wonder if we can fit it somehow  in our luggage and transport it home with us. Never have I slept in such comfort. Even my bed at home gives me aches and pains of a morning, but this bed has me feeling ever so refreshed on awakening.
Anyway dear reader, I digress from the day's topic.

Following this first meal of the day we went for a stroll across the road to a contemporary shopping complex conveniently situated not far from our docked boat. We purchased a new pair of jeans for Murray plus a couple of gifts for soon to be recipients. They will find out who they are when receiving them!
I might add too that prices are relatively reasonable here compared with what we would pay back home. By the time our shopping foray had ended it was a once more time to return to le bateu for more food...this time in the shape of our daily lunchtime smorgasbord.
It is going to be so difficult to return home and prepare our meals ourselves, not to mention have to make decisions on what to purchase and how to cook it again.
I can well understand why people would want to perpetuate this experience and reside on a boat such as this indefinitely.
Following lunch those who wanted were welcome to join a shuttle bus and venture through the industrial area of Le Havre, and over the enormous span bridge into Honfleur for an historical glimpse into yesteryear.
To gain a full impact of this address dear reader, I suggest you google Honfleur if only to look at the professional photography of this beautiful town. It was unfortunately dull, wet and windy when we were there (thanks Mr. Hurricane), still a photographers paradise mind, but less so than on a clear day with blue skies.
Our day as mentioned before was cold, intermittently wet and unfortunately grey which diminishes the colours that abound as you will see when I eventually get my photographs on line.
There remains though an inherent beauty here with its cobblestone laneways only wide enough for a cart, and our guide regales us with tales of people in the Middle Ages taking their lives in their hands when walking along first thing in the morning as people emptied their chamber pots into the alley ways. We look towards four storey cottages running along the edges of the Quay made of timber and paint. Such tiny little cottages individually painted to reflect their owners colour schemes may have four maybe five storeys on one side and maybe two or three storeys on the other to accomodate the steep hill incline behind the buildings. There is a harbour that houses local fishing boats with shops surrounding it on three sides and beyond there are those little cobblestone streets again winding around and up the hill with shops of all varieties scattered along them. Such a pretty place is this.
We are shown a timber church created in the 1500's that is still standing intact and sit inside briefly to savour the atmosphere of quietness. Durning the wars the churches were taken over by the invading countries and were used as stables for horses so they were often filled with straw, horses and soldiers.
Once the formal part of our tour is over we are given free time to wander at will until five o'clock. I now get to photograph quaint alleyways and steps and shop fronts as well as inspect the goods available to tourists and make a couple of purchases as I go.
I'm still flummoxed occasionally when I speak à la français as people presume my comprehension is much greater than what it is. I then have to confess "Je suis australien" and some laugh and translate what they have said, some just continue on.
It's all part of the fun though and I continue to amble along enjoying my presence here. I have stopped pinching myself but I am ever so grateful for my experiences in what I have seen so far of France.
All too soon it's time to return to the bus that will take us back to our boat and I am so tired I go to dinner n'avec pas une shower.... still in my grotty clothes from the day, but I am past caring.
Dinner is once again a 4 course affair with wines to match. We sit with our friends again, Chris and Marilyn and discuss the day's activities and all we have seen.
Following dinner there is a Dixie Jazz band playing for a bit and they sound pretty good. Murray has gone to bed by now and I sat and listened whilst I blogged for a time.
The drummer from the band decides to play some of his music on my iPad ( they probably thought I was a little rude, blogging as they played) but I laughed and he had a twinkle in his eye so all is good with the world. It is soon time enough for me to wander upstairs to our cabin and it's time for bed yet again.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Last Post for the Somme.

Yesterday was a vey emotional day for many of the group.
Some had decided not to travel to where we were going because of their dislike of war and its consequence but, in memory of our forefathers, in memory of our ancestors and in memory of their children (our parents) this was to be a highlight of our trip on all things French.
Some two hours from Rouen is where soldiers fought 100 years ago for freedom, not only for France, but for all over the world.
Australian soldiers as well as British, Canadian, American, New Zealand and the French, let's not forget the French soldiers, fought for their right to be normal living human beings in their world as well as ours and so we knew this was where we wanted to go for the day.
We had an early start being up with the birds, so to speak, and our bus trip took as mentioned before, two hours at least.
Our initial port of call was the Australian/French War Memorial which was placed atop a hill that was so fiercely fought for all those years ago. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers died, brothers, sons, husbands, boyfriends and lovers whose lived were cut short as a consequence and are buried in cemeteries dotted all around the landscape as we drive by.
The memorial to those fallen as mentioned is placed utop a hill that is not too far from Amiens and is very close to Villers Bretonneux. The grave sites are so very moving as not all of them contain names. Many are marked as "Unknown Soldier". Some are marked with names, some have their rank and some have little epitaphs from family from home.
It is a cold windy place and the moisture from the ground wets my shoes before too long as I inspect the final resting place of many soldiers.
I feel like I am walking in water but I have the comfort of knowing that once I climb aboard the bus again my feet will dry out partially.
At the very least, I will be able to have a warm shower tonight and change my clothes which is far far much more than those who fought during that time, ever had a hope to do.
We climb up to the top of the monument and wonder at the scenery that surrounds us, all the while taking photos of the idyllic country side with the only sound a being tractors, the occasional bird and a few cars in the distance.
I look to where the patchwork farmland is carefully manicured and think how pretty it is.
How different to one hundred years ago when there were holes in the ground with broken, splintered trees and bodies lying every which way.
Eventually we are encouraged to return to our bus and so, we journey on to our next stop which is the township of Villers Bretonneux.
We alight the bus and look towards the school that was razed to the ground during that horrible dastardly war and since then has been built again, ably partially assisted by fundraising from children from Victorian schools. The children here are constantly reminded of the sacrifices made to restore their school with a plaque out the front, not to mention signs in the school yard about the Australians that supported them as well.
We are encouraged to travel upstairs to the Villers Bretagny museum which contains relics from the 'Great' war, memorabilia from soldiers who were pining for their homeland and photographs, oh so many photographs of sad lonely faces so many miles from their homeland wondering what the hell they are doing amidst all this madness and chaos.
There are uniforms to gaze at, pieces of shrapnel, defunct guns and parts of cannons and tanks that had blown up during the fighting.
It is the photos though that catch my attention and make me weep for those boys that were never to return home to their families.
Unfortunately, it is soon time to move on for we can only spend a short time here.
We return to our buses and on we go to our next spot which is a villa/hotel where we receive a delicious lunch of quiche, soup and dessert of lemon tart.
It is during this time at lunch that I am so fortunate to have the opportunity to volunteer for something that will resonate with me for a long time after this trip, but more about that later.
We soon move on from this place, this vast countryside with its farms, villages and graves.
We visit yet another grave site and pay our respects to fallen soldiers and then finally move on to where the Battle for the Somme occurred.
This place is so incongruous. The sun is shining when we arrive and the leaves are dappled in their light.
There are forests to my right and left and if I did not know the history I would delight in the innocence I find before me. This innocence though is only of my imagination for this is where thousands of soldiers lives were destroyed in one foul swoop one morning, early, to retain an advantage for the country they were fighting for. Once upon a time, there were trenches here, mud filled rat infested swaps where soldiers froze and fought and wondered if they would ever get out alive from this hell hole. Now it is a peaceful,tranquil place with nary a sound other than birds and tractors in the distance.
Whilst at lunch earlier, our tour guide came up to our table and asked if someone would like to volunteer to read a poem written some three years ago by a descendant of a soldier who fought and died in the Great War.
Me being the volunteer that I am spoke up immediately and said that if it was ok, I would love to read this poem. I was to read this at the Memorial Centre by the grave sites of the French soldiers who died in the Great War and was to be read in front of 100+ people on our tour but that did not phase me. It was the words in the poem that put a lump in my throat and made me weep softly and wonder how on earth I would manage this.

"Why do you cry"

I stood in a field in a faraway land drawn to the spot but could not understand
What made me stop right next to this grave and what was this strange sad feeling it gave
Though the all alone I really felt a presence of someone so I just knelt
It seemed I needed to sit in the cold and wait for something to me to be told
Why do you cry the young soldier said and why are you her in the field of the dead
His voice was so soft I hardly could hear and when I first looked there was nobody near
He looked like a shadow in his old uniform and it seemed to me he could never be warm
I knew in my mind he could not be real but it seemed his presence would help me to feel
What all people think when they come to see the place where their loved ones lie over the sea
He asked me again and when I replied I said it was for all of mankind that I cried
I cry for the children that were never to be when all of the soldiers came over the sea
I cry for those fathers who all had to stay as their sons went to war in a land far away
I cry for the mothers every last one who watched as the war took their dearly loved son
I cry for the girl who lost her sweetheart as she waved him goodbye when they had to part
I cry for their friend who at home had to be as their mates went to war far over the sea
I cry for the man who lies in this ground not knowing if ever his body was found
I cry for the freedom this hero gave me and I cry that his knowing this never will be
I heard a soft sigh and his voice gently said this is my grave and though I am dead
You have found me and so I know I can rest happy to know we all gave our best
I then saw his eyes fill with tears so I said why do you weep for young soldier now dead
As he faded away like I knew he would do his voice said my son my tears are for you.

Written by Ray Jackson. Rememberance Day 2013

When the time came and I was fitted with a microphone, I drew strength from those in the ground around me. I drew strength from my husband as he stood by my side and I drew strength from my children as well. I faltered a little a couple of times but got through it, pleased with my effort and walked away proud of my contribution.

Soon it was time to leave this place and return once more to our buses for a long journey home.
I slept fitfully as we travelled homeward and dreamt of trees and children. There were large silent windmills in the distance and I marvelled at how the world is accepting and changing in some places, whereas war and death continues to be perpetuated in others.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Day whatever, first stop Rouen.

We're up before dawn this morning for a 2 hour bus trip to the Somme Battlefields.
Today's writings though are about tracing the steps of Jeanne D'Arc in the city of Rouen as we did yesterday.

We had arrived here the evening before and our tour organiser had explained to us about the birthplace and death place of Joan of Arc, also known as Jeanne D'Arc.
I was a trifle disappointed yesterday as we docked at what appeared to be a very industrial part of the city with a huge fairground over the road, fully equipped with a Mighty Mouse, Ferris wheel and other amusements. I had thought we might have to contend with squeals and sideshow music thought the night but the fair is only just setting up and besides, I have come to realise that once our cabin doors are closed, no sound appears to penetrate so I am more than happy.
The morning offers us a beautiful still river with early clouds floating overhead beautifully reflected on the glassy surface.
 Despite the carnival on the opposite bank.
Following yet another substantial breakfast, we are off on a walk through the city with a local tour guide and she takes us initially to Rouen's Notre Dame Cathedral which was partially destroyed during the Second World War. Some buildings still to this day remain in disrepair which is tragic given the date of their origins but many have been restored post wars and it is obvious.
The cathedral itself has received numerous bombings from both sides of the warring countries in their attempts to destroy the town's communication facilities but like all good catholic towns the main cathedral has been repaired as quickly as it could be. There are 100+ cathedrals in this town but we are guided through the main cathedral with its light filled towers. There are areas where the stained glass has not been repaired but where it is still intact, the colours are vivid especially when the sun shines through.
I manage to sneeze in the church as we are are sitting, listening to our guide describe the politics around 1600 AD history of the area. The sound reverberated throughout the church so I am aware why people talk in hushed tones as sound carries throughout and secrets can be heard at opposite areas of this church with its vaulted ceilings, if people are not careful.
We soon leave this place and marvel at the detailed construction of the facade out the front.
We then traverse along cobblestone streets which were created hundred upon hundreds of years ago looking into closed shops (unfortunate for us women with itchy purses) but much to the relief of our partners and husbands.
The photographic opportunities are endless here also and it is halfway through this walking tour that my camera battery decides to give up yet again. What is it with me and batteries I wonder.
Murray and I make a pledge to return here this afternoon to photograph certain aspects I have missed out on this morning.
The discussion turns then to Jeanne D'Arc and we are shown 'her' church and where she was held prisoner for a time and I cannot but wonder if my shoes walked where she walked so many years ago.
There was a farmers market happening in the square in front of us so we take a look there as they are beginning to set up for the day. This Rouen Farmers Market occurs once a year for this particular weekend so once again we are blessed to be here at the right time. Many are dressed in period costume, women in long white dresses with red scarves and men in pantaloons and white shirts with blue or red cummerbunds.
There is food to be sampled and fermented cider to be drunk and some of it is free and people are encouraged to help themselves to samples. I had a delicious doughnut pastry with a sweet white sauce inside. Delicious doesn't begin to describe the flavours that greet me as I place it in my mouth.
We then decided to return back to the boat after Murray bought some macaroons in one of the specialty patisserie shops to give to our entertainment tour guide who had expressed a love for these typically French melt in mouth meringue biscuits, previously.
Another option this morning as well as our walking tour was to travel to a macaroon factory where that group were given opportunity to make their own individual macaron. Alas there are no samples when we return (me thinks they ate 'em all on the bus on the way home!).
Yet another lunch (which you think you don't have appetite for until you're confronted by all that wonderful food), not to mention my now customary glass of white wine and it's time to venture forth again into the city, this time sans tour guide.
We got back to the cathedral, retracing our steps with a photo bomb by a French gent who thought he was très amusant and returned to the farmers market which which was by now jam packed with people. There were buskers and families and farmers selling their wares. So difficult not to buy fruit and vegetables that looked like they were fresh from the earth here but we did buy some biscuits the vendor assured me were very crunchy...making funny sounds with his mouth as he did.
We decided to return home once it began to rain and walked through a flea market as we did.
I know now flea markets in France are very similar to flea markets in Australia where people sell as much trash and treasure as they can and people try to barter to get the lowest price possible.
There are clothes and shoes and hats, even wigs, makeup, jewellery, crockery and various other items that had seen better days.
We made it back to our boat in time for Murray's now traditional siesta before dinner and my hair appointment with  the onboard hair stylist who did a great job on washing cutting and straightening my hair despite lacerating his thumb with his previous client. 
Back into the lounge for a chat with some of our new found friends then our entertainment guide comes in to discuss tomorrow's events which for the majority of we tourists will be quite emotional.
We are off to the Australian-French War Museum, Villers-Bretonneux and the Somme Battlefields tomorrow and it is to be an all day experience so our guide talks about the options for travelling and what we will see on the day.
Following on from there is a discussion regarding the impressionists of the 19th. Century including Monet, Renoir, Manet and Van Gogh to name but a few for those who elect an Impressionism Exhibition and museum instead of the First World War component.
Once again, another grandiose dinner is eaten by us all, then it's off to bed for the majority as I don't know about anyone else, but by the end of each day, I am becoming more and more weary.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Les Anderlys, Day 2 of the cruise. Now it's Saturday.

Here I am , sitting having an American coffee with 2 petit macaroons. It's  morning tea time and I am overlooking our beautiful Rivé de Seine at Rouen, a large city north of Paris which contains approximately 100,000 residents.

Yesterday morning I awoke at 5 am., and began to compose my blog in my head for the day so thought I might as well arise and go sit on our private baloney and write some more as we sailed along the river. 
It was still quite dark outside and like all places country it was very difficult to differentiate between river and land at that time. Looking up I could see the stars which are so different to ours at home but at the same time, reassuringly familiar. Occasionally as I watched the landscape a large white fragment would loom by our boat and we would pass whatever it was. This substance was set back into the land, not close to the boat and I pondered briefly on what it may be but did not give much credence to its significance at the time because of the visual difficulties.
The beauty of the boat is the silence as we travel along, so as the sunlight gradually appeared to merge into the new day one could listen to birds chirping along the rivers edge.
Gradually as daylight took over from darkess I was able to visualise what it was I had been looking at in the black. They were immense limestone impresses in the hills as we sailed past this part of the country and through the course of the day they were very evident in places. Some were so uniform and square, I thought they might have once been battle forts long since forgotten and left by local landowners to the passage of time, but on closer inspection you can see that with wind and rain through the many years of their existence the elements have further exposed these walls and who knows, maybe in another 1000 years the landscape will take on a completely different persona as it is worn away even more.
We arrived this morning at Les Anderlys, a beautiful country town with typical French village scenery I had only read about before. There have been many times I have pinched myself to ensure that what I am looking at is real after all and not a figment of my overactive imagination. 
This village is so beautiful with its laneways and petite shops and alleys and boulangerie patisserie shops and market squares and churches....every town has its church it seems.
Our boat is moored in the heart of the 'old' part of the town and our activity selection for the day is to hop on motorised bikes and traverse this place.
We stayed local to the boat initially just to familiarise ourselves with the mechanics of the motor on the bike and once we were comfortable, off we went inland as it were.
Our first foray was the local streets and roadways. The hardest thing is remembering we must ride on the opposite side of the road. Don't think these French people would appreciate us having our own sense of road rules, so therefore we must abide their laws and that took a little getting used to also.
As it was early there was only a little traffic around so the gods were easy on us fortunately at that time. There had only been three of us who had selected these bikes and so Chris, the other 2 wheeler joined us on our adventure. We then decided to travel up the local hill to where King Richard, The Lionhearted once lived. Now I managed to make it part of the way up the hill thanks to my trusty battery bike but closer to the summit the pathway became one with very loose gravel and I think my bike felt my apprehension and started to slip backwards. Needless to say, Klutzy Balnaves managed to fall off her bike, skin her elbow, graze her ankle and place a big bruise on her buttock. As a consequence I got to push my bike up the remainder of the hill to the top where the views of the valley were magnificent and breathtaking, so my mind was far removed from my fall and I soon forgot about it as we wandered through the ruins of what was once a huge castle, equipped with moat, drawbridge and dungeon.
I walked down the slippery part of the pathway again, holding onto my bike with the brake on, as the one thing I have learnt about these contraptions is that they are very heavy and will have a mind of their own if you let them!
We eventually got to a more stable road surface and with brake still on and motor off, travelled back down the road, marvelling at the speed going down.
Back into the town again, we then rode on to a market which sold fruit, vegetables, handcrafts, clothes and shoes. This is quite similar to our own markets at home, but still a pleasure to experience, especially as I purchase a little psychedelic bag for work to carry my 'stuff' in all the while conversing with increasing confidence with the stall holder.
 The little bag is 10 euro which is a reasonable price and I am happy.

Once again we return to the boat on our now trusty bikes as we are riding on flat land. We still had an hour or so before we need to be on board again so Murray and I rode along the river pathway for a bit then returned our bikes before taking a stroll in the opposite direction.
It is so very peaceful here along the river. Occasionally we come across someone sitting, reading and others just strolling, admiring the day, we discover the local 'hopitale' and ambulance parked out front and there is a rather large building next door with beautifully maintained gardens called *** Retreate.
Next to this is a very old building which I presume is the original hospital which has since been superseded by the contemporary building in the same grounds.
Before too long, we have to say farewell to this lovely idyllic place and return to the ship for lunch as we set sail to further along the Seine.

The afternoon is filled with travelling along the river past little towns with their cottages and mansions situated along the waters edge. Some people are sitting outside and wave as we go past, others choose to ignore the tourists, possibly thinking us to be a blight on their otherwise pristine landscape, but c'est la vie.
Have I mentioned the weather? This day is glorious with clear blue skies and sunshine. The temperature hovers around 25 degrees in the afternoon and as we sit outside so as to appreciate the beauty of this land as we glide past, I think to myself I should have packed for summer, not autumn. 
We run from side to side of the boat initially oooohing and ahhhhing at the countryside, towns and cottages that we sail past. It seems there is a photo opportunity at every turn of the river, it is so picturesque.
Eventually Murray wanders off the have a sleep and I go downstairs to get out of the sun for a bit and to do some blogging before dinner.
Dinner once more comes and goes. Tonight it's Coq Au Vin and it's delicious. We are told they use roosters rather than hens but I cannot tell the difference. My palate is certainly bourgouis as always but I am enjoying every bit of it regardless.
Post dinner we are invited to a music trivia game held in the main lounge.
Might I brag and mention that out of six respective et mes amies won le competition...unfortunately we had to share the winning bottles of very raw cider and a suspect bottle of vin de blanc with Judy (she of Home and Away) and her team dammit! I suspect they had a bit of a head start given their background but nice to know we came up to par with them anyways.
For the first time in my life this evening, I tried a martini...shaken not stirred as everyone delights in saying. The bloody martini tastes like straight gin and vermouth, which it is of course, is bitter and horrible. The best part was the olives in the glass to be frank. I believe there will be no more martini for this proletariat in the future.
Our musician who composed the quiz encouraged everyone to get up and dance in between questions and your team scored extra points if you did. Needless to say this was an excellent encouragement to throw off our age cloaks and pretend we are youthful again for a short while.
Bruce also gave what is now his nightly donation to the music and sang his version of Unchained Melody whilst all the time gazing adoringly towards his lovely diminutive Judy who in turn sits gazing at him (all rather sweet actually).
Soon enough it is time again to wander off to our cabins for a well earned sleep. No early rising for this gal tomorrow if I can help it.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Day 4 and 5........How time flies.

So, here we are, almost at the end of our Parisienne experience.
I have had some issues with transferring my writings to Facebook, hence the delay, but I went a-finger walking online just now and have found another escape route in which to transfer the words so, here I am again.
This is almost the end of our Paris time, but the beginning of our sojourn alone the Seine River (once the boat gets started).
We were to experience a full 24 hours of climatisation action to the watercraft before we left (which incidentally was half an hour ago) and unfortunately our initial view from our cabin was that of a similar boat, although, if we stood on tippy toes and leant out our window we could see Le Tour Eiffel so, me no complain.
I just could wait to get going.....
Yesterday was initially pack up day and even though we had bought nothing of substance it was a bit difficult to do the zips up already on the suitcases. Bit like our tummies at the end of the cruise I suspect.
We bid a fond farewell to the staff at La Citadines (especially Elizabeth who plied us with food at the petit déjeuner) who ordered us a taxi and we were off. Our taxi driver is a Cambodian gentleman who has lived in Paris for 20 odd years. We learnt that with him not speaking English and we not speaking much French but we all got by and fortunately he was able to find the park where we were to board....
Marc Citröen Park which is well known for its atmospheric balloon rides if you like.
With many a merci from us and countless au revoirs from him we climbed from Le taxi and stood outside our new residence.
Once we had boarded and were shown our palatial cabins...a king sized bed, lovely ensuite with rainbow coloured shower, L'Occitane toiletries (my favourites!!!) plus a mini bar with wine, spirits, soft drinks, chips and chocolate that is all part of the deal! Plus we have a balcony were we can sit and enjoy the passage of time and river if we so choose which is more than enjoyable. The crew on board here are great so far. Respectful, polite and welcoming which must be a bit difficult for them time after time. This is the last cruise in this season here on the Seine as winter will set in soon and they all plan to return to their home countries...Hungary, Spain, Croatia to name three we know of so far.
We were given a 'light' lunch once on board....which was amazingly good healthy food, then we went for a walk in the afternoon, through the helium filled balloon park to a school district with lots of shops. We are looking to purchase a SIM card for the iPad as the wifi is a bit iffy and also to see if we can purchase something to download photos from my camera.....
That is the reason this is a dialogue only n'avec pas de photography. I have taken lots and lots of pics of course but unfortunately I have no way of downloading them onto the iPad at this time, but maybe in Florence we might find someone willing to help us.
We are told Tabac shops will sell them but no.... Papier librarie mais non.
Never mind. Just means a BIG influx of photos somewhere along the line or maybe when we return home! Regardless, the stroll through suburban streets is lovely and when I smile at strangers, they return my joy at being in the place I have always harboured a joy to be.
Our walk ends soon enough and we are back on board the boat and it is time for a meet and greet situation.
The average age of people on here it seems is around the 60+ mark with a few younger and a number older. We met Ginny and her husband Bob from Boston! They appear to be what I believe are typically refined gentry. Bob worked in business until retirement and Ginny (short for Virginia) worked in education and language for children with learning difficulties. Ginny herself was apparently dyslexic but was not aware of this until much later in her life, hence her passion for children with learning issues. Just to set the mood, she told us of a girl she went to school with who bore the same name but for some obscure reason had to put up with Virgy which was apparently quite unpopular!
We meet many others whose names for now escape me. We met our 'butler' and our stewardess Ramona who are apparently here to cater to our every need, but, we are simple folk and at least, our demands will be minimal. Of this I am sure.
I find these meet and greet things a little daunting for I am shy, even at my age. What I need to remind myself of is that there are others who are similar but there also seem to be others in groups...friends on the cusp of retirement, others experiencing a girls holiday away....for this is definitely not a blokey treat.
Mind, there is so much food and alcohol available it wouldn't matter who or what you are.
I just know I will have to pace myself as I have to fit into my work clothes on my return!
Following the ad hoc cocktail party (1st. night, informality is the go) it is dinner time, with a sumptuous banquet.... A smorgasbord of local delicasies with a never ending platter of food, and waiters offering any choice of wine left right and centre.
Following this sumptuous meal, we stagger home with very full bellies and it is time to sleep on our new beds.
The bed as mentioned before is king-sized and sumptuously comfortable. We each have our own doona/duvet and before too long we are asleep.

Next morning we arise and stare out at the view of the boat next door, wondering what it'll be like once we have left this Quai de Marc Citröen. This will happen this afternoon, but first we have a breakfast, walking tour of Paris and yet another meal, this time lunch, to contend with.
Did I tell you about the mood enhancing shower with its array of psychedelic lights? Did I also tell you dear reader about the toilet system that runs on a vacuum? Every time I go to the loo it makes me think I am on a plane as they both use a similar system.
Breakfast was had following as mentioned before a mood enhancing shower. Another variety of food I would never contemplate in my normal everyday existence.
It was then time to board a bus and return to the heart of Paris for a guided walking tour with two local guides who are obviously very passionate about their city.
The girl ( who is possibly around 25) , we shall call her typically French. She is lithe and agile and wears her trench coat with much aplomb. Her hair is long and it is worn carefree and loose. She reminds me of a current French actress whose name escapes me right at this time but she is softly spoken, but also very articulate as she describes the history of this place.
The male guide, Luc, who is our alternate tour guide is also quite handsome of face. Initially I suspect him to be of a similar age to Mathilde with dreadlocks that are reasonably short. His skin colour is a little darker than Mathilde's peaches and cream complexion. Whereas Mathilde is soft, pleasant and knowledgable, he is animate and passionate and commands attention when he speaks as he makes you laugh with his explanations of the gypsy tricks and how to be so careful when out and about.
They take us on a walk around Le Jardin des Tuilleries (Tile Garden), so called because this was once a Tile Factory. The garden is amazing for its uniformity and formality which is the French way apparently. You are also not permitted to sit on the grass, so there are seats everywhere with a number of people already occupying them, talking, resting, reading newspapers as we stroll by. Next we are off into the city and gaze with open mouths at the high class jewellery and perfume shops. We stroll past the Ritz where Princess Diana spent her last few hours.
We have accessed the tunnel twice now where she with her lover Dodi El-Fayed and their driver were killed, once with our taxi driver and once with this bus trip. Both times we are shown the exact spot where the accident took place, so even now, some 14 maybe 15 years later, this woman remains very much in the minds of the French.
We stopped by what appears to be a blank shop window with a little inset and inside that inset there is a colourful pottery pig! Our tour guide tells us this shop is so exclusive that you need to ask someone rich and famous (Angelina Jolie is mentioned) where the actual shop is in the square as they do not want the riffraff coming in.
They still even utilise the garrets at the top of the buildings for these more than exclusive shops where the jewellery makers work. It is all under camera surveillance as theft is quite common here so it is said.
We then stroll from Napoleons Square which is all under renovation (yet another excuse to return to view it all completed) and wonder at the Opera District with its magnificent buildings and tiny little opera houses all still very much the go here.
So much to see.....
Our time is up eventually on this walking tour and we soon return to the boat for lunch, then a talk about emergency procedures "Just in case", where our lifeboats are and where our life jackets are (2 in every room). Jackets that is, not lifeboats.
It's then free time to mingle or become reclusive again as we take off on our voyage or even check out what is available on the boat, or eat yourself stupid if you so desire until lunch time which was a very formal sit down affair with three glasses for wine and a fine array of cutlery. This is a buffet and there are specialty foods which I have never tried before and so I had truffles for the very first time in my life. Not sure if I will be a fan in the future, but it's all part of the experience.
I do not want to regret not doing anything whilst on this trip so I will try 'almost' anything as I go....
Have I mentioned much about the people on board?
Such groups remind me of people in antenatal classes which I did for a number of years a while ago now.
You have the 'quiet' ones, ,the people who do not like to mingle, you have the 'loud' ones,...those that like to be heard at the expense of others, you have the 'funny' ones....those that tell jokes constantly and you have those that just sit back, take it all in and then over time choose which people to sit with. I mentioned Ginny and Bob initially. We have since then met others of a similar age...Peter and Karol who are both teachers and Anne and Dom who are Peter and Carols friends. Anne is a primary school principal and Dom was a university lecturer in art who retired a few years ago and now purely paints for pleasure.
They are lovely people as are many others we chat with and its nice to share experiences, lifestyles, work ethics and even politics. Most have grandchildren (we don't at this time...hint hint), some are couples, some are girlfriends as I mentioned before and some are singular doing this Normandy tour for their own personal reasons.
We are here for our own personal turning 60 just one of those reasons and it's always an interesting topical point to discuss.

It's now time for our formal dinner on this first night aboard and it's apparently The Captain's Dinner, although the captains sits in an enclosed area away from his passengers and I can hardly tell you what he looks like other than his being half my age! 
It is an a la carte dinner with appetisers, entree, sorbet, then main and then dessert with selected wines to accompany one's dinner. I will not bore you with every tiny morsel of food that passes our lips but rest assured dear reader it is delicious and we manage to eat every morsel!
I have already had one Long Island Iced Tea which I consumed on our first night on board and that was enough to ensure I had a good nights sleep.
Every day has a new cocktail theme and today's cocktail has a maraschino cherry in the base as well as lime and lemon. The flavour is unusual and contained gin, lemon juice and sparkling water, its name is French 76. 
I plan to have the cocktail of the day every evening  when I think of it.... One of my 'trying' experiences.
Following the dinner we all adjourned to the lounge for some music and it was rather pleasant just letting the world go by until bed time came around yet again.
Did I tell you we have celebrities on our cruise? Some of you may remember Judy Nunn who was on Number 96 some years ago and in more recent years, Home and Away. She is also a celebrated writer of repute nowadays also and both she and her husband are here with us more unrecognisable people. She is quite affable actually and we have chatted if only to say hello. Her husband Bruce Beresford is one of those loud people I was talking about earlier and he has already established to all and sundry that he is a singer, taking over the microphone a couple of times.
A couple of songs from Bruce, a watch of people dancing then it's time for bed for this old duck as there are more adventures to be had tomorrow.
As we return to our suite, I marvel at how smoothly the ship slips through the waters of The Seine River and long for the morning when I can see what we are passing.
It is very dark out there already and I am aware just how fortunate I am as I slip off to sleep.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Day 3 of Paris.

 Once we had repaired ourselves after a long day walking, it was time to recharge the bTteries Nd have some dinner
This was to be our last full day of the independent Parisienne lifestyle.
We have been so busy for the past 21/2 days becoming familiar with local landmarks and traversing along this romantic river, that time has flown and this time tomorrow we will be established in our new residence on the Seine. This will be our home for the next 11 days and even though we have very much enjoyed our initial foray into all things French, step 2 promises to be even more exciting than step 1.
So, up with the birds today....speaking of, I am certain crows caw here with a distinct French accent. They do sound different to the crows of home and are more guttural sounding. Perhaps it's related to standing on the heads of so many statues that are prolific around this wonderful city, who knows.
Anyway, as I wrote, we arose early today to ensure we fitted in as much as we could.
Breakfast was amply provided yet again by The Citadines and we ventured forth a little after 9 this morning. 
Once again there were numerous beggars who had slept rough over night, even across the road from the hotel outside a shoe shop that I had selected a pair of shoes from (in my dreams). 200 E was the asking price but they looked decidely comfortable. This adventure is just starting out though so I don't want to spend all my money in one hit and I consequently desisted in purchasing them.
It had rained a little overnight and this morning the sky was decidedly overcast with grey clouds looming over the Eiffel Tower way.
We decided to walk to our first stop this morning as according to the maps it is not too far.
So, walk we did and just when we weren't too sure and asked a lovely lady who offered to help us foreigners with maps going every which way, she laughed and said "you are there"!
Loosely translated, this means we had arrived at the back end of Le Louvre. I was looking for the pyramids made of glass but didn't realise the whole vast area of the world famous art museum was in fact an enormous former castle (one of many here in Paris) and was built around a town enormous town square to be precise.
We walked into this square, jaws agape, at the enormity of the building with its own columns and statues and cobblestones and yes, beggars and people walking dogs and others going to work as well as those pesky tourists out for another day of queuing.
There were two queues at the entrance to Le Louvre. One was the queue if you had purchased tickets in advance and the other was a queue for those silly enough not to have purchased tickets in advance. Guess which queue we joined when we should have known better! Mind, we were just as quick to get through as those who had foresight and clear thinking under their belts as we all had to submit to X-ray machines regardless of our intelligence in case we were bringing bombs or acid or paint I guess into Le Louvre which is kind of sad when you think about it.
Anyway, we were cleared of any suspicion, rode the escalators down into the bowels of A Very Noisy Place and then had to join another queue to purchase tickets to enter (yet again)!
After that queue we were so disappointed as we got through quickly we decided to join yet another queue, this one to provide us with a talking guide as we gazed in wonder at the art there before us.
This queue was a little longer as the one guide present had to explain to every individual how to get the earphones and the hand held interactive pilot how to work. I don't think he did a very good job as I could not get mine working no matter what  I did. Eventually I asked a guide sitting there looking decidedly bored how to get it going and he pressed the volume button and voila! there was someone's talking to me all the time. Too bad I couldn't hear them before.
Well, we walked up numerous flights of stairs. There were so many, I began to wonder if I would develop altitude sickness before too long. I might add that we came across some magnificent works of art as we explored the Denon Wing. Many recognisable pieces were there, fragments of my childhood when I studied art and had a significant interest in what now appears to be Italian Art. The vast pieces we saw were created by so many and even today there were artists in residence, painstakingly copying major pieces of art presumably for their own pleasure.
There were statues galore, people galore and the noise....oh the noise. It started out to be a gentle hum, but as we progressed deeper and deeper into this fortress, the hum grew louder and louder. We followed our ears and because of signage knew where we were off to, and after a few twists and turns there 'She' was, awaiting my eyes to fall upon here.
The Mona Lisa folks, sitting there with her enigmatic grin, probably wondering what the crush of people  were all about but getting on with it all the same as she puts up with this type of behaviour every day.
There was pushing and shoving galore as we all attempted to get prime advantage pics. No opportunity for selfie pouty poses with Mona Lisa here, the most celebrated painting in our lifetime..
There were guards ensuring not one person got too close and the crush of people phenomenal.
That was something I will not care to repeat ever.
Eventually we found our way out of Le Louvre (literally had to retrace our steps to the beginning), joined  yet another queue to return our interactive earpieces then we were out of there.
It was amazingly refreshing to walk out into the rain and after being besieged with umbrella sellers we made our way to The Bus Stop to hop on the bus and continue our travels.
Next stop was 'fait accomplee' with yet another tick on the bucket list. This was a visit up the Champs Élysée which loosely translated means Elyssian Fields, something I did not know until now, to visit the L'Arc de Triomphe. 
Ahhh......... Paris is so beautiful with its wonderful statues and monuments, with so much history and with its genteel gracious people. I have yet to meet anyone who was unwelcoming and or rude to us. Admittedly we do try to speak a little French which I am sure is appreciated but everyone smiles and seems happy with our presence. All the more reason to return sooner rather than later once we go back home.
L'Arc De Triomphe is spectacular with its vista from afar and as you get closer and closer you begin to appreciate the enormity of the structure in itself.
We did as good tourists do and travelled up to the summit so as to appreciate the views of all Paris, including the view towards the Eiffel Tower. The construction of streets and roads from a central position provided Murray with much amazement. The theory is that the roads were built some hundreds of years ago so that soldiers were able to visualise the peasants and fire upon them when necessary.
Once we had met that achievement and we were back on the ground yet again, we then travelled via bus back to the Eiffel Tower stop to view the city from on top the adjoins hill at********
I was beginning to feel decidely weary by then as it had been yet another long day full of walking....up stairs, up hills and down again. This is central Paris and there is so much happening as we walk by. You don't see just one police car with sirens blaring, you see three or four in quick succession often. We saw cheap trinket vendors arguing frequently with each other over territorial rights, we saw children, dogs...little dogs, never large dogs and we saw so many young folk smoking. It seems to be the Parisienne way here that it is ok to smoke either on the edge of restaurants, on the streets wherever. Interestingly there are very few older aged folk such as ourselves come dinner time walking the streets. It's all young aged folk and I feel we are tolerated because we are tourists but who cares when you're on holidays anyhow regardless of your age.
Eventually we returned back to our little abode and had a rest before preparing for our last independent dinner in Paris.
Once we were ready, we strolled the streets again until we found what we were unconsciously looking for..., an Asian  restaurant with a chef in the front window hand making his own noodles and pastry for the delicasies within.
We walked in and were waited on immediately which was lovely and within 5 minutes our entree orders were made available to us...steamed prawn wontons with a touch of soy sauce which were hot andc delicious. We had only just finished these when our main dishes arrived......Murray had a beef stir fry with noodles and I a chicken dish which was also delightful.
Once this was completed we then paid and departed, going for one last stroll along the cobblestones to look into the shop windows and pretend we were French again.
Once again, it struck me how this is a city for young people, a very active lifestyle for them in bars and restaurants...with many riding bikes and scooters with the occasional roller skates for good measure.
Soon enough we were home again and ready for a good nights sleep yet again to prepare for yet another day.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Day 2 of Paris

We slept the sleep of the dead (almost, not quite) last night as the long time on the plane had exhausted us both.
I had had a luxurious bath before retiring last night, something I don't do very often nowadays. I read a little then slept a lot.
Mind, I was a bit disoriented when awakening as the sounds (water fountain and people laughing) are not the normal sounds I listen to first thing in the morning as a rule. Usually it's birds and motor mowers.
It actually sounded like a beach initially, but then I realised where I was, so I got up and watched the sun spill into the square where we are, and watched five separate plane trails, all there at the same time in the sky above as people walked their dogs....(le petite chien) and workers bustled on their way to travail close by.
Eventually we both awoke, showered, and dressed for a big day out then went down in the lift for 'le petit dejeuner' provided on the ground floor.
I have realised I am a little hesitant in using my scanty french for fear parisiennes will laugh at me. It's a big inferiority complex I have and I will have to swallow it.
Mind, last night in my wanders on my own, I came across a yummy boulangerie that advertised the best baguettes in Paris and spoke to the woman behind the counter in broken french and.....she understood me!!!!!!!
Today as we were walking the streets along the Seine (more about that later) I said "Bonjour" to a gentleman who could see we were tourists and he commented on my 'lovely french accent" so I should be happy with myself.
Anyhow, I digress. Following breakfast, we ventured out into the world and decided after much discussion that we would see how we went walking to The Eiffel Tower.
It was actually a wonderful stroll and we came across many sights one does not normally see in Melbourne. The architecture is amazingly beautiful, possibly because we are used to more contemporary buildings back home. We crossed bridges back and forth to see this city at large and came across Pont Neuf, reknown for all the padlocks placed there by lovers and the like from all over the world.
We came across gypsies, quite distinct because of their skin colouring who wanted to trick us with their golden ring on the ground trick. Fortunately I had seen one woman do it in front of Murray....pick the ring up off the ground that is, so when the second woman did the same, we were 'en guard'!
They pretend someone has dropped a ring then pick it up in front of you and claim they have just found it. This first woman asked Murray if it was gold then asked him for money for a sandwich... all in the same sentence. They then offer you the ring and if you accept and take the ring then chase after you for money! We were onto their scam fortunately and knew just to ignore after the first encounter.
There are so many tourists like us on the walk to the Eiffel Tower. So many with their cameras, talking selfies with Go Pro cameras and extended sticks. Kind of detracts from the beauties of the sights when you see so many doing the 'lip pout in front of Eiffel Tower' pose.
The Seine is a gently lapping wide river. Many tourist boats travel up and down as do occasional cargo boats, we even saw one boat transporting a car, tyres and tubs of probable oil as well.
There are also many people doing it tough it seems, sleeping on the pavements, begging and generally down and out. I suppose this is their life and perhaps they are happy in a sense. It is not for me to ask, judge or criticise. Occasionally you will come across someone begging but we have not been hassled when we refuse. They just turn onto the next person and ask for money again and again.
There are so many beautiful people here also. I now understand what I have read about the women of Paris. They really are magnificent in their dress. There is very little obesity from what I can see out in the streets and most of the women are extremely well turned out in their clothing, footwear and hair styles.
I feel quite dowdy in comparison.
Anyway, we walked and walked, calling into a pharmacy to purchase some Nurofen on the way for my sore back and then all of a sudden we were there at Le Tour Eiffel as were thousands of others.
This was supposedly a quiet day as the kids are back at school the world over but we still had a wait to purchase tickets for about 1/2 an hour, then a wait to go up the lift, plus a wait to go to the toilet on the second floor, then a wait to go right up to the top, then a wait to come down to the second foor again, then a wait once more to go down to the ground, but, boy was it worth it.
Too bad we chose our own pathway and didn't purchase tickets prior to the event but you live and learn and we know that tomorrow we will buy in advance!
For those that have not been to the Eiffel Tower, it is a mammoth structure and can be seen from all parts of Paris, standing in the sky waiting for its tourists to arrive each day. Fortunately, the sign people create notices in multiple languages telling us the costs to climb aboard (30 euro each to get to the top) . You have the option of lifts and or stairs and so, up we went the quickest of ways to the second floor. We took numerous photos and it was here that I realised that the battery on my camera which I had not charged since purchase had not been fully charged and after 10 photos or so, told me it was exhausted and consequently could not take any further photos.
All I can say to that is thank god for smart phones!!!!
We bought a bite to eat on this second floor (a baguette for Murray, a toasted ham and cheese sandwich for me), then joined the queue to go up to the top. The views from up there were fantastic and we are so happy with what we did and saw but just a bit more disappointed we didn't have a functioning battery in my camera to take more photos with.
 In our travels today we chatted with a male couple from Canada (outside a shop close to our apartment, that has stuffed rats in the window), who told us we each had different accents, a brother and sister from Qld (in the queue for Eiffel tickets on the ground), and a young couple from Norway (in the queue to go up to the top of the tower). We are all visitors from other worlds and have a united excitement about being here in the City for Lovers.
We eventually descended to the ground and were besieged by men wanted get to sell us artifacts that were not strictly legitimate. In fact, there are signs posted that ask you not to purchase from the street sellers. There are signs as you enter the lifts to beware of pickpockets and everywhere people urge you to be cautious for there are people who will do you harm if you allow them.
When we returned to the earth we then decided to try out the On-Off Bus and we were pleasantly surprised with our lesson on Parisienne history and architecture. We listened to tales about Napoleon, Marie Antoinette and Rodin (I even saw 'The Thinker's backside) plus the building of some rather amazing man-made creations. The buildings are beautiful and there are so many iconic places well as Monsieur Eiffel's tower....... the Champs Élysées which beckons us tomorrow, Notre Dame Cathedral, Le Louvre....and so on and so on. We know an early start is in order as there is only one and a half days before we board the boat and even though there is an unspoken promise of returning here some other time already, we want to see as much as we can this time around.
Back into our neighbourhood we go, on the bus, then disembark at Stop No. 5 and as we get off there are police cars with their sirens blaring, rushing past in quick succession.
We stopped at a cafe for coffee, lemon tea and cake, then we are back at The Citadines before we know it.
Already we are becoming street savvy in this cosmopolitan neighbourhood and I love it!!!!!!

A short respite tonight to recharge the batteries (I am talking human bodies here as well as the other kind) and out we go again to stroll around the local community prior to la grande déjeuner. I watched Midnight In Paris a couple of years ago and wasn't overly impressed with the movie but now I think I will watch it again when I return home to Melbourne, for the streets take on an ambience of their own when the sun disappears at the end of the day and the lights return to bathe the cobblestones in a completely different hue.
We walked a few blocks feeling more and more confident of our bearings then found a quiet little café which was well frequented where we ate. Murray's choice this time was a César Salad, whereas I had a cheese, aubergine, artichoke and capsicum pizza which was delicious. It was all washed down with a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon too which was yummy as well.
Soon enough it is time to return to our temporary abode and bed beckons us in preparation for yet another busy day tomorrow.

Bon Chance mes armies.
Au bientôt tout suite.