Tuesday 24th June 2008, On board the Normandie, heading for Portsmouth
We arrived back in Caen a day earlier than expected and our hostess Geneviève was still away on a visit to Rochefort, north of La Rochelle, with friends. The thought of a proper bathroom, a bed, a washing machine, a comfortable sofa and real wine glasses rather than plastic beakers, decided us to make straight for Caen rather than visiting any more of the interesting towns along our route. Geneviève had already given us the keys to her house so we would always have somewhere on mainland Europe to call home. However, we'd all forgotten the need for a key to the gate! Fortunately her mum, Germaine, lives nearby and took it in her stride when two scruffy brown gipsies turned up on her doorstep asking if she had a spare key. After welcoming us with tea from her pretty new tea set she accompanied us back to the house and unlocked the gate. That evening we wallowed in the pleasures and comforts of home and by the time Geneviève returned the following night we had organised a Greek supper for her, complete with retsina, vine leaves, giant beans and halva.
We turned out backs on the blog over the next few days and enjoyed being with friends and catching up on sleep! It was complete bliss! Modestine rested her wheels in the front garden for several days, our laundry was properly clean again, as were we, and we are now feeling mentally refreshed.
Over the past few days we have enjoyed several meetings with members of Geneviève's family, all of whom we have known for many years. In some ways our arrival acts as a catalyst to reunite the family who all call around to see us or invite us over for supper. It's a lovely feeling to be made so welcome and a delight to see the children whom we have known since they were in their prams. Now they are living and working in Paris, or students at university, or even parents themselves.
On Saturday the three of us went for an afternoon stroll along the wide sandy beaches of the D-Day landings, silent today except for the sound of the wind in the grassy dunes. The sea and sky are always a magnificent bright blend of light shades of blue, green and grey along this coast. To see something so beautiful and recall that is was once the theatre of one of the bloodiest battles of modern times is always sobering. As we returned home we stopped at one of the many military cemeteries scattered across the countryside, maintained by the War Graves Commission. This one was mainly for British soldiers, all of whom died in the surrounding fields during the D-Day landings in June 1944, some within days, all within a couple of weeks. Most were in their early 20s. The white headstones stand in neat rows, roses at their base, stretching out across immaculate green lawns. To either side there were similar graves to the German soldiers who also died. So many young men, so much waste. It was a beautiful, tranquil and thought provoking place. The messages in the visitors' book from families visiting their relatives who lie here are amongst the most touching things we have ever read.
Back home, pandering to Ian's obsession with manhole covers, Genevieve presented him with an early birthday present.
Back in the 1980s the French government introduced a national evening of music to celebrate the summer solstice. This is now celebrated in the noisiest possible manner throughout the night every 21st June. After supper we went down into the town to see what was happening. The streets were thronging, the restaurants, bars and hot dog stalls were doing a roaring trade, while the punks and heavy metal enthusiasts were just roaring. Watching the punks with their colourful Mohican hair styles and heavy boots surging around in an anarchic attempt to dance – known as "moshing" - was one of the funniest sights we've seen on our trip!
Inspired, Ian decided to join in with his infamous "pointy dance". He was immediately joined by a group of enthusiastic locals only too delighted to dance with a British pensioner!
On Sunday we went down to the market by the canal basin. It was as colourful and lively as ever. We resisted pressing offers of free kittens and returned with bags of French melons, cheeses and tarragon to prepare a chicken supper for Marie-Françoise, a friend from Caen library service.
On Monday we drove to Bayeux for lunch with Chantal and to see what progress she has made on the rebuilding of the ruin of the ancient house she purchased in the heart of Bayeux a couple of years ago. There remains much to be done and it is far from habitable yet but with the water and electricity now connected we were able to dine at her picnic table in the midst of the builders' rubble and paint pots. We were her first visitors for a meal so we celebrated with a bottle of rosé cooled in a pan of cold water from the tap where the sink has not yet been installed! We enjoyed seeing the new stage of development but would never wish to undertake such a massive venture. We wonder whether she really will be installed by September as she imagines.
Afterwards we explored Bayeux in the afternoon sunshine. There were more English than French on the streets but it's easy to see why. It is a most attractive town with its superb gothic cathedral, huge grassy Place de Gaulle, beautiful 18th and 19th century buildings and of course the Bayeux tapestry depicting the defeat of the English at the Battle of Hastings by William the Conqueror. - By chance we heard a feature on the Today programme this morning suggesting that it had been produced in England rather than France and calling for it to be displayed in Britain. Somehow we don't think this will go down too well with the French! It is, after all, high on their list of national treasures! In any case, it is superbly displayed here and at over 70 metres long it would be a risky business to move something so fragile to England, if only for a temporary exhibition. We saw a superb touring facsimile exhibition in Denmark a couple of years ago. Why not bring that to Britain instead?
Now we are on our way to England for a couple of weeks, first stop Brighton to see out daughter Kate before she sets off on her own travels for several months to Bolivia and Peru in a few weeks time. What sort of an example have we set? Who are we to say she should be sticking with her job and paying her mortgage regularly? At least we did all that before travelling, but life is very different today than when we started our working lives.
Wednesday 2nd July 2008, Exeter
We have been home a couple of days now. The garden is slowly returning to normal but as the hedges and borders are restored, the garden waste piles up at the bottom of the garden. It is a novelty for us to be back in our own home as guests of Paula who has been house sitting for us during our absence and will continue the good work when we leave again next week.
We have spent a very happy few days in Brighton with Kate and later in Oxfordshire with Neil, Jeev and our adorable little granddaughter Deyvika. She is now eight months old and a constant source of delight and exhaustion to both her parents. She is lively and active, doing exactly what one would expect of a baby her age but being so tiny she seems just like a little dolly as she clambers around the furniture, races along the hallway and totters around with her brick trolley. She has developed so much since we last saw her in late March.
We will start up the blog again as we continue our travels. If you have enjoyed travelling with us down to Greece, why not stick around and see where we end up this time? For you the travelling is easy, you just need some coffee and a few minutes to spare from time to time. For us poor folk it's hard work! All that travelling, meeting interesting people, lazing around in the sunshine, discovering new countries, people and languages, deciding where to go and finally writing it all up. Poor us!