Thursday, 22 June 2017


Tuesday June 20.
In the past we have found 'Discovery Walks' a great way to see the sights of a city with a native guide and today was no different. While we waited we watched a big group of young Spaniards shaking breadcrumbs into each other's hair then taking photos of the pigeons scratching for them. There was general hilarity and many photos. 

We chose the walk through the area of Saint Germain and the Seine but due to excessive heat (36c), we avoided  the river and stuck to shady cobbled lanes of  Saint Germain. We met our guide, Eric, in his pink vest, at the front of Notre Dame and were lucky to have only one other young English couple with us which meant we could hear every thing and ask questions at will. 
The two cathedrals are representive of the original divisions of the city. On the left, Notre Dame belonging to the walled Latin Quarter where wealth and education was the norm, while on the right was the Romanesque Church of Saint Germain des Pres, (church of the fields), built in the poorer settlement outside the walls. The lower cost of living there attracted tradesmen, students, musicians and artisans.
Taxes were levied on the number and size of doors and windows, resulting in small buildings, with few windows, small doors and dark interiors.

Eric was a great source of local knowledge and pointed out the homes and haunts of many famous Parisiennes. Robespierre and Benjamin Franklin frequented the coffee shop below and Eric said the popular Piano Bar cabaret was an excellent, bawdier, alternative to Moulin Rouge! We planned to go until we realised it kicked off at 11pm and closed at 6am.... past our bedtime, especially after long days of sight-seeing!


Some interesting facts we learnt were
*Saint Germain grew up outside the walls of the Latin Quarter,  where the university was sited, and was a tax-free cheaper living option which attracted artists, students, and musicians.
*cul de sac translates to 'arse of sac', a bit of a dig at gentrification!
* traditionally, the wealthy criminals were beheaded and the hoi-poli were subjected to the more painful death by hanging, until the revolution when all were guillotined. (Liberty, EQUALITY, fraternity).
*The cobbled streets slope towards the centre so when the 'slops' were thrown from the windows above, they would run into the centre and drain away when it rained. Before the slops were thrown it was mandatory to give three warnings to passers-by so they could move to the wall in the lee of the deluge!!
*during the Nazi occupation, Pablo Picasso, despite being Spanish, stayed in his Paris house (below) and painted his gruesome comment on war, 'Guernica'. When a Nazi officer asked " did you do this?", his response was "No. You did!"



As we walked, Eric drew our attention to the small theatres, many still in original condition, where old films, often black and white, are regularly shown. Paris has a huge movie audience, but the big commercial cinemas complexes, with multiple screenings are nowhere to be seen.

Some observations.
* lots of smokers everywhere, including restaurants.
* clean, efficient, affordable Metro system.
* mostly slim populace, walking and cycling. Electric bikes are available at convenient pick-up /drop-off points on street corners.
* electric cars and charging points everywhere.
* no road rage. Slow traffic, tolerant drivers.
Eric pointed out the advertising booth below and told us they are gradually being replaced with modern bill-boards. He felt it was another loss of traditional character in the city.
Wednesday June 21.
On the train there was an unpleasant incident when five railway police came through checking tickets. The young woman beside me couldn't produce a ticket and became very aggressive, shouting and gesticulating. She stood up and argued and yelled non-stop and at the next stop made a break for the door. The officers restrained her and then frog-marched her off at the next station.

We started the day with a nostalgic walk to Ile de St Louis where we stayed with the GGs in 2013, especially to take photos of Notre Dame framed with trees in summer foliage! Previous trips have been in winter so greenery is a novelty for us!


This little group of young students were under the shade of a bridge on the left bank of the Seine and were the first indicator of the Fete de la Musique, an annual event in Paris which encourages musicians to set up anywhere in public space to perform.

We revisited The Luxembourgh Garden too, to see it in the spring. It was cool under the big shade trees and we sat awhile watching the passing parade.



It was great at to be in Paris for the 'Fete de la Musique' which celebrates the Summer Solstice. It is a day and night of free gigs, of all music genres across the country. There were bands and individuals on almost every corner, park and square set up with their amphliers, watched by appreciative audiences. 

The atmosphere was amazing, sometimes deafening when two groups were close. We ate dinner at a  pavement table with a jazz band behind us and a rock band in the restaurant across the street. Beside us, in the spirit of the night, was a budding trumpeter!!
We called it a night and dragged ourselves home about 11pm.

Thursday, June 22nd
We caught the train out to The Bois-de-Boulogne, which is home to the racecourse and Roland-Garos Tennis Centre. It is also where the prostitutes set up their colourful tents and cars each morning in preparation for plying their trade.
It was very hot so we didn't stay long and headed back to our favourite watering-hole for a cool ale.
Before we left there was a burst water main in our street, sending a plume of water about three storeys into the air. The local kids were having a great time cooling off there and the gutters were overflowing. When we came home it was still spouting and we were concerned we'd be without water. Gratefully it is now fixed and all is well.


Sunday, 18 June 2017


Saturday June 17.
After saying our good-byes to Philippa and Alan, we packed the car and left for Paris. We stopped at a lay-by for lunch and were surprised by the large, shady area which provided toilets and lots of seating.


After a long hard day of driving  and with a sigh of relief, we delivered the car undented to the Eurocar drop off point.

Our Paris exchange family advised us to catch the RoissyBus from the airport to the back of the Opera House building where they would meet us. After several unsuccessful attempts to ring them from the airport to let them know we had arrived, we asked a stranger what the Paris code was and, voila, we were successful. We caught the bus, a non-stop delivery to the centre of Pars, where they were waiting. They were double parked and in the midst of the mayhem led us to the car and quickly drove from the square to their home. They explained the necessary details over a cold beer, handed over the keys and headed for their house in the country, 150 kms from Paris. They are a warm and welcoming couple of our vintage.

The small apartment is on the 5th floor and very comfortable and central with considerable security. The nearest metro station is Voltaire.


Sunday June 18
We ventured out in the late afternoon to explore our immediate area and found the nearby parks and streets full of Parisienes relaxing and kids playing.
There were three basketball courts, a large playground, seats occupied by oldies watching the passing parade, kids swimming in the fountain, boule players and onlookers, sun- bakers, sleepers and lovers, all within a block of our place.
Eventually we joined a large crowd at the corner bar and relaxed with a spritz. We rate it the iconic drink of this trip!!

 Monday June 19.
We walked down to the Voltaire metro station, bought tickets and caught the train directly to the Louvre Museum stop which was easy. The entrance was a sea of people entering and leaving so we squared our shoulders and went for it! We had a plan of attack and stayed with it except for a detour to see the Mona Lisa. Strangely, she hadn't aged a bit since we saw her last in 1975!


We surged in with the crowd and found our way to the Islamic Art (700-1800.)
On display were ceramics, miniatures, glassware, wood panelling, carpets and ceremonial weapons. They reflected the splendour of a civilasition that extended from Spain to India.



We queued from lunch which we ate on the ramparts with an expansive over the palace, the pyramid, and the triumphal arch with a view towards the  Tuileries Garden. We sat at table with a Canadian couple and chatted about our shared experiences of house exchange.


We were interested in the drawings, prints and engravings, pastels and watercolours from 1350-1850 which are held by the Louvre. They are the world's finest collection by renowned Eurpoean artists, but are light-sensitive and can only be presented for short periods in temporary exhibitions. We were lucky to see them.
Lastly, we saw the Spanish paintings (1400-1850) by El Greco, Ribera, Murillo and Goya.
After deciding 'enough was too much' we caught the train home. 



Monday June 12 .
We decided to walk upstream from the town along the tow path beside the canal.
The scenery was beautiful with lush grasses and spring flowers everywhere. They are regularly tended by council workers who replant and water them when necessary. We stopped to watch as baskets and men were hoisted up in a cherry-picker to the strong brackets above our heads. They made adjustments to the hoses which deliver water to the baskets when needed. The beautiful flowers are a feature in almost all the towns and villages in Brittany.


As we came back into the town we noticed the wood piled into the fork of a tree and behind the home. There didn't seem to be the same amount of wood as saw stacked everywhere in Slovenia though.
We ended our walk in a small bar/restaurant on the canal and ordered the set menu and drinks to reward ourselves for our efforts!
Little did we realise how hugely delicious it would be for a very moderate price of €12 each. Three courses, then cheeses with drinks included and the raspberries came from the bushes behind us in the garden.


Tuesday June 13.

 We enjoyed the walking tour so much we decided to hire bikes and ride the next day.  
 Only electric bikes were available ( luckily we thought!!!), so we paid our €17 for a half day and peddled off along the river, downstream with our packed lunch.

The tow path was completely flat and easy to ride so it was no hardship to cover a fair distance.
We stopped often to look at the locks, birds, buildings and beautiful trees and an Englishman capturing the beauty on canvas.
There were a few fishermen along the banks of the canal using incredibly long poles (no attached reels) which I hadn't seen since I was a child.
We stopped to eat our baguettes stuffed with meat, salad and the pumpkin seeds which Herta gave us. Some of us dangled our legs over the lock wall while a younger person had a snooze in the sun! 



It was a very relaxing last day for all of us and our last with dear friends Libby and Eric who fly home to Darwin tomorrow. Bon  voyage!

Mohon Village.
Our gite, more than 300 years old, was a very comfortable home with three levels with exposed beams, sloping floors and low ceilings.
Our exchange hosts Alan and Philippa were next door and on the far left of the building was another small unit which they rented or exchanged as well.


  Council Chambers.

On one of our walks Glenn and I saw the caravans, a man fishing and a woman hanging washing so we said hello and they invited us onto their land They were an English couple who were setting up a carp farm for sport fishing and planned to live in France. They had been successful in getting their daughter into a primary school which was essential, and they we very pleased as they considered the French school system superior to the English. They told us they paid €14,000 for a habitable house which amazed us but after talking to our exchangees, we realised that the French are happy to sell to the English who will then renovate old farm houses and they sell them very cheaply.


Wednesday June 14

Libby and Eric left today and caught the train from Rennes to Paris. The traffic in Rennes was a nightmare, with the station under renovation and surrounded by hoardings which made locating the entrance difficult. Although we'd allowed plenty of time, in the end we dropped them as close as we could and they did a 'bag-drag'. We rang them a bit later and were relieved to know they had caught their train. We had a great four weeks together and will miss their driving energy and happy faces.

We parked easily in the big carpark in the centre of the town and sat and had a coffee while we waited for the Information Office to open, accompanied by 'larger-than -life nymphs'  (and friend)! The office is located in the Gothic chapel built for Saint-Yves Hospital which also holds a permanent exhibition called 'Rennes, a City of Art and History'. The decor inside and out abounds in surprising sculptures of animals and large display boards are very informative.

Glenn led us into the Cathedral of Saint Peter which was restored in the second half of the 19th century and holds many treasures including a Roman high altar and an impressive organ. The cathedral has witnessed important moments in history including the coronation of dukes and duchesses of Brittany. It's interesting to note that I used to have to drag Glenn into churches and cathedrals, but now he can't walk past one without poking his head in to check out the architecture! No surprise really as they are sacred, calm spaces in our fast-paced world, where we can rest and sit in awe and wonder.



Next on our map was The Portes Mordelaises, also called the 'Royal gate' in reference to the Dukes of Brittany, who, before being crowned in the cathedral, passed through the gate having taken an oath to defend the independence of the region. It was rebuilt in the 15th century.and has a double drawbridge. Unfortunately we caught a number of large tour groups which makes the photograph a bit difficult!


We walked through the Place Des Lices, a large square where one of the largest markets markets in France is held every Saturday morning. It was a former medieval jousting area that hosted Knight's tournaments. The local speciality - the galette saucisse (sausage in buckwheat pancake), was in evidence on menus everywhere.


We bought ice-creams and sat on the steps of the Opera House, facing City Hall and watched the world go by. Again we became aware of the tightening of security as four heavily armed soldiers on high alert, walked through the square.

Friday, 16 June 2017


June Friday 16.
It was only twenty minutes from LIZIO to MALESTROIT, another 'little city of character', so we thought we might tick off the last village on our list.
We were pleasantly surprised by the Church of Saint Gilles, the foundations of which are one thousand years old. The church leaflet, in English, says the church "has lived in the rhythm of the city, sharing its joys and misfortunes. It stands in the heart of the town, a witness of its long history and a link between successive generations...... We hope the windows light up your visit."
The chancel of the primitive chapel was built in the 11th century. It originally housed a sacred Spring which now lies outside the walls.
The medieval animal paintings on the vault date back to the time of the Crusades which explains these unique oriental motifs in Brittany.


We were surprised to find the canal when we walked through the town and then more so when we saw the very deep lock there. Several canal boats were moored upstream beside the tow-path edging a lush parkland.
The sign outside the lock master's house made certain of the direction people were travelling!



LIZIO. Friday June 16

Today is our last full day in Brittany.

Libby spotted an article about this village so we drove 30 minutes or so through beautiful country-side to have a look.
Along the way were many wind-turbines, prolific in this corner of the world, quietly producing re-newable energy, without polluting the environment.

The next good idea to greet us in this tiny village in rural France was a re-charging station for electric cars. 
It was across the road from large, Hand-carved wooden sculptures.

A few kilometres outside the village we located ' the world of the poetic scrapman' where he has created a surreal place of colourful dreams, with decorative Eco-homes, changing sculptures and unruly machines, many wind -powered. It is a work of 25 years at this stage.
He is known as 'the recycle King' and judging by the numbers of excited school children who had been bussed to see his fantastic world, his work is certainly appreciated!

Back in the village there were a few static exhibitions of period clothing, a class-room and a dining room.

We were amazed to see a baguette vending machine and as we gazed at it a man drove up, opened it and re-filled it with fresh bread. Obviously there isn't a bakery in the village but fresh bread is available at any time for 1€10. I have to say it was an incongruous, 21st.Century-touch in a medieval village!



We wandered the quiet streets and enjoyed the beautiful square and gardens and potted plants. Brittany does spring flowers very well and it seems the local councils keep them looking good.

We finished with a cup of coffee under the shady umbrellas, at the only bar, small but well patronised by the local people. There is truth in the old adage - 'use it or loose it'!