Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité

23 Jul

This posting is a double issue covering 9th July to 22nd July because we were away right through the period that I would normally write.  It has been a busy time.  I hope you enjoy the read.

The period started with a gathering at the holiday home of fellow Kiwis, Anne & Richard.  They held drinks for their various local friends but especially any other Kiwis who were within striking distance.  It was a fun evening chatting with lots of different folks who all had their unique stories about how they ended up in this corner of southern France.

On Friday evening 13th July we boarded the overnight train to Paris at about 9.45pm.  We had a sleeper couch in a cabin of six and we rock and rolled through the night to arrive in Paris at 7.30am on Bastille Day.  Leanne had taken a sleeping pill and slept reasonably but I didn’t want both of us to be stupefied in case something went wrong so I just grabbed bits of sleep when I could.  I wasn’t feeling too bad by Paris having had a cumulative 3~4 hours sleep.

René very kindly met us at the station and took us directly to his friend’s place not far from the station where he and Gabriel (youngest son) has stayed the night.  This was a real bonus because we had the chance to shower and change before going to the Bastille Day parade.  While we were doing this René went to the bakery returning with a tasty selection for breakfast.  René’s friend Guy was wonderfully kind and we soon sat down to a lovely breakfast spread.  What a perfect start to the day!

After breakfast we had to drive across the city to get closer to the Champs Élysées where we would watch the parade.  Parking was tight and several streets were closed but we found a good spot and set off on foot.  We ended up on the north side of the Champs Élysées between Avenue Matignon and Avenue de Marigny.  It turned out to be a good location when combined with a stroke of genius from René – he brought a small step ladder along!

René brought along his ladder and it was well used. We even had a few strangers stop and ask to take a look from it. That is Gabriel taking a picture with René on the left and Leanne on the lower rungs

While I am no expert on military hardware nor a regular patron of parades, this was an impressive display.  Multitudes of different divisions of manpower plus enough mobile equipment to destroy anything in the way then place temporary bridges and set up essential infrastructure like microwave towers, power plants and water purification/desalination plants.  There was also an aerial display but from our vantage point they were largely obscured by the large plane trees.  No, that was not intended to be a pun!  I won’t fill the blog with lots of similar parade shots but here are a couple that are a bit different.

Mr. Hollande, France’s new left-wing President who spent all his time looking to the right as the parade passed us!

Some people had priorities other than watching the parade

René and Ulrike’s son, Victor, is studying medicine in the French Army and this year was marching in the parade.  We knew what his uniform would look like but we did not know when his unit would pass nor where in the grid he would be marching.  So whenever a unit came by that looked likely I climbed the ladder and reeled off as many shots as possible.  We didn’t manage to spot Victor going past but afterwards when we reviewed the pictures on the iPad we found about 4 shots with him in frame.  We were delighted with this outcome from what was essentially a lottery.

These are the army doctors. Victor is in the second row, fourth man in, wearing glasses.

Once the parade had completed we had a rendezvous with Victor at the car before driving back to Caen where it is a Hurpin family tradition to host a party on the evening of Bastille Day.

We met up with Victor and his friend Guillame after the parade

In keeping with another tradition, René took us out for a tour of Caen by bicycle before dinner.  Just a 16km flat circuit along the river, into the countryside a little then looping back into town and back to the house.  It was good to get on a bike again, and out and about plus get some fresh air.

Chez Hurpin overlooks the horse racing circuit in Caen from where the Bastille Day fireworks display is launched and is a perfect location from which to view the proceedings.  The display started at about 11pm because only then was it dark enough for good effect.  None of my pictures were great, I did not have a tripod.  However, the display itself was fantastic.  And contrary to recent performances, the weather was clear, calm and not too cold.

Victor in civies at home

Escargot and cider appetiser before dinner. Very nice!

The weather on Sunday was a bit mixed with rain halting Leanne & I on our bike ride along the canal to the coast, a 25km flat loop.  On the way we were going to stop at Pegasus Bridge bridge but we turned back at the peripherique overpass when the skies opened.  We changed plan and headed back to the castle and for a look around town instead.

One of many impressive churches in Caen. This one I think is St Peters and it is viewed from the Caen Castle

Not to worry though, after a full dinner, wines and a bourbon nightcap, René announced that he was keen to go for a bike ride!  So at 9.15pm he & I set off for Pegasus Bridge, 12km away.  It turned out to be ideal riding conditions and very enjoyable.  Along the river cycleway there were dozens and dozens of rabbits, some of them not even bothered to move more than a few inches from our wheels as we rolled through.  These photos from Pegasus Bridge were taken on an iPhone 4 at around 10pm…

Pegasus Bridge where the allies landed by glider on 5th June 1944. The nearby café was the first house in France to be liberated.

The main plaque reads, in English… ‘This was the first house in France to be liberated during the last hour of 5th June 1944 by men of the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry in the British 6th Airborne Division under the command of Major R. John Howard’.
The second plaque reads… ‘Café Gondrée was used as an aide post from the night of 5th June 1944 wherein shelter and medical treatment were given to the casualties of the battle to hold the 6th Airborne Division bridgehead’ – 6th June 2009

Glider of the 6th Airborne Division taken leaning over the perimeter fence – at this time of day everything was locked up

By the time we got home at 10.45pm I had pedalled 50km for the day and felt great but definitely ready for some quality sleep.

On Monday morning we had to farewell the Hurpin family, they had been wonderful hosts to us.  We were collected from Caen railway station (easiest place to meet) by Dave & Carolyn and after having crêpes for lunch we headed, via IKEA naturally, back to their place near Argentan.  The place they are now at is called Chateau La Motte and looks lovely.  At least it does when it is not raining!  The way the weather has been in the north so far this summer I am led to believe it has not looked its best very often.  But we brought some fine southern weather with us so everyone was happy.  Once we had requisitioned supplies from a nearby supermarket we settled in for an evening of good food, wine, conversation and of course a couple of single malts.  Hmmm.

The front gate and associated buildings that are now holiday flats and also the apartment where D&C live

The chateau itself

See what you can come up with for a caption for this one.
Best so far… “Now girls, who’s volunteering to help with dinner… ” – Jeff

I couldn’t help it…

The neigh bours! Not on the property but just across the road (sorry)

We had a relaxing morning on Tuesday before heading in to Argentan for a quick look around followed by some local sightseeing.  By 7.30pm we were in Fleuré at a favourite restaurant of D&C’s where they treated us to an excellent meal.  We only had room for one single malt when we got home before closing out another very enjoyable day.

A view of the cathedral in Argentan. The picture boards inside showed the transformation from a ruin after WWII back to it present glory. It was only completed in the late 1980s

Inside the cathedral looking towards the high altar

On Wednesday morning there was no time to do anything much except get organised for D&C to deliver us to the train station bound for Paris.  Another farewell after a wonderful time catching up and getting a small peek into another part of France.  Hopefully they will get down south in September for a few days, we do hope so.

The train got us to Paris by midday but we didn’t want to carry our bags around so we caught the bus from Montparnasse station to Gare de Lyon where it took us half an hour to find the bloody luggage lockers!  What a zoo.  That meant it was already 2pm by the time we got to Place de la Concorde to start our wandering.  It was also very hot and windy.  We walked most of the way up the Champs Élysées towards the Arc de Triomphe, picking up some lunch along the way.

No caption required!

By now it was time to find the Metro back to Gare de Lyon for our train at 16h49.  The ride back on the TGV was uneventful getting us to Les Arcs, Draguignan on schedule at just after 9pm.  We even found our car was still in the same place in the free car park at the station – a good result.  By the time we got home it was about 10pm and definitely time to pay down the sleep deficit from a busy and very enjoyable weekend.

Thursday and Friday were spent largely catching up on things here but Friday evening was a bit different.  Twice each summer, in July and again in August, the local winegrowers cooperative in Le Thoronet puts on the “Miraculous Fountain” event.  A very old fountain at the bottom end of the village is converted to run on Rosé!  You buy a glass for €3 including a lucky dip ticket and then it is all-you-can-drink for the rest of the night.

All you can drink for €3 is a winning concept in this area!

Filling glasses at the fountain.

Our wine glasses and lucky dip prize.

One of the larger than life locals gave us a great insight to French driving etiquette while we were breathing in all this Rosé.  I was describing our experiences on the narrow country lanes here where if you meet another vehicle both stop and somebody has to reverse.  Somehow that always seems to be us.  He explained how to deal with this.  Essentially it should normally be quite apparent who should go back.  If this is you, you reverse as promptly as possible to the first possible layby and let the other car past.  If it is the other driver who should reverse but they refuse to move then you slowly, very slowly reverse.  But you go past the first layby and keep slowly reversing to the next one all the while smiling nicely!  Brilliant.  He concluded by proposing that the essence of being French is to be able to tell someone to ‘fcuk off’ with a smile on your face.  I have got a lot to learn… the smile 😉

This fountain, in the square outside the Mairie in Le Thoronet village, is also a sundial complete with a seasonal correction table on a plaque.

I had some very good caption offers in response to the last challenge – they can be seen in the comments for that blog.  See how this week’s challenge goes!


3 Responses to “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité”

  1. Deondina July 25, 2012 at 14:05 #

    thank you so much for your dedication, it makes us readers come to your website everyday.

  2. Jeff July 25, 2012 at 05:07 #

    I forgot to mention the shot of the young french girl doing her makeup instead of watching the parade is excellent.. she probably has her priorities right. I hope you got a signed model release for publication.. otherwise if she finds your blog she’ll sue!! 😉

  3. Jeff July 22, 2012 at 23:32 #

    Caption for Leanne photo..”Now girls, who’s volunteering to help with dinner.. ;-)”

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