PARIS, PARIS, PARIS

Monday, 22nd May

We arrived in Paris at about 17:00 hours on 20th after a most enjoyable Tour. A taxi quickly had us at our accommodation in the Latin Quarter, 6th Arrondissement. The French taxi driver was excited that we are Aussies and said we had chosen a very good area in which to stay. Erika and Seyedeh, a friend from Switzerland and a friend from Germany were soon there to welcome us (all staying at Hotel Saint Pierre). A Dinner booking at Le Trumilou had been arranged by Moira who was also in Paris – how exciting to have these girls in one place – my adopted daughters from far and wide.We had a fun night!!

Following is a brief overview of our Paris excursions – Day ONE -Breakfast at Saint Severin, visited the famous bookshop, Shakespeare and Co., Walked along the Seine on a sunny morning until Seyedeh left us to fly back to Germany, Walked to Bon Marche (founded 1852, first ever modern department store), purchased delicacies for a picnic in the park, walked back to Hotel, Erika and I set out for the Laundry and caught up with washing and wrote postcards over a cup of coffee. A SLIGHT disaster in the evening when guided by GPS and a friend (!!!) we took over an hour (should have been 25 minutes) to TourMontparnasse arriving at 10 p.m. We had tickets for two visits so were there to do our night visit. Montparnasse Tower is a blot on the landscape but is an amazing viewing platform to see the whole of Paris spread 360 degrees with the Eiffel Tower sparkling. We took the Metro for the return journey and were home by 11:30. DAY TWO – Breakfast (morning tea for me) at 10 at the Shakespeare and Co. Cafe seated outside with Notre Dame Cathedral just across the river, a short shopping time and back to Hotel to meet Moira at 11:30. (she had checked out from her accommodation so left her bags in Erika’s room), Metro to Pere Lachaise Cemetery in the 20th arr. the burial place of many identities including Oscar Wilde, took time out to enjoy baguette lunch, Metro to Montparnasse Train Station to activate EURAIL Pass (waited over an hour) and waved goodbye to Moira who was on her way to San Malo. Enjoyed our second visit to the Tower this time to view Paris in daylight hours. DAY THREE – Now we are three. Today we rode the Metro many times as we went from one side of Paris to the other. First walking up to Sacre-Coeur and the area of Montmartre, a known area for markets and street artists and then to Vigne du Clos (a very old vineyard) passing Cabaret au Lapin (haunt of Pablo Picasso). There are two remaining old windmills in the area and one is situated behind Moulin de la Galette Restaurant. We enjoyed our lunch nearby at Autour du Molin Restaurant while seated at the top of a cobbled lane viewing Invalides as it shone in the far distance. Time to walk back to the Metro and a short visit to Jardin des Plantes before returning to the hotel so that Erika could get her bags and set out for the Airport to fly home to Zurich

LE MONT SAINT MICHEL

Thursday, 18th May

Outside of Paris,Mont Saint Michel is the most visited tourist attraction in France. After planning a visit on a previous visit to France and it not eventuating, I am pleased to be there as part of this Backroads Tour. This remarkable medieval walled city, crowned by its great gothic abbey, is built on a small granite outcrop standing all by itself in the flats of the estuary of the river Couesnon, in an area now known as Mont Saint Michel Bay. It is one of the first monuments to be classed as a UNESCO world heritage site, as far back as 1979. It is not just a church on a rock but a whole city, one of the few places in France to have preserved intact the walls and defences. The small city still has inhabitants, though not many full-time.  In addition to its religious monuments there are very old houses, narrow streets, hotels, restaurants and  souvenir shops plus souvenir shops….

Over one million tourists flock here every year. The Abbey situated at the very top is a fine example of medieval architecture, different parts dating from different periods. The impressive Gothic choir dates from the period following the departure of the English. I climb the 900 steps to the Abbey and join the congregation at the Mass. The singing is beautiful in a building with amazing acoustics. My only disappointment on this day is that the sun is not shining – we had constant rain. It is always difficult watching one’s feet on wet stairs whilst holding an umbrella and taking photos and, at the same time trying to dodge many tourists and absorb the views. It was certainly a different experience in many ways.

TIDES: The Baie de Mont Saint Michel is one of the most steeply tidal points in Europe with a tidal variation of almost 15 m.

THE OCCUPATION TAPESTRY

When visiting St. Helier, Jersey, Channel Islands, we visited the Maritime Museum where a section of the buiding has been dedicated to the display of an amazing tapestry. In 1988 a project to use local skills to ensure that the 50th anniversary of the Liberation of Jersey was commemorated in a suitable and memorable way was proposed. It was to be 96 inches by 36 inches and it was estimated that it would take three years to complete. The enthusiasm was so great that it was decided that as many islanders as possible should be involved. The complex task of stretching and mounting the panels was carried out at Hampton Court Palace. It became the largest single community effort ever undertaken on the Island. After 7 years in the making the Occupation Tapestry was finally presented to the public on Liberation Day 1995, unveiled by the Prince of Wales.

A video presentation filled in all of the fine details of this amazing team effort.

Having endured 1,773 days of occupation by GERMAN FORCES, Jersey is finally liberated by British Troops of TaskForce 135 on 9 May 1945.

THE GLASS CHURCH MILLBROOK, ST. LAWRENCE, JERSEY

On the last morning on the Island of Jersey (Channel Islands) it was suggested that those who wished to visit this special Church walk down the hillside path at 9:00 and be picked up by June in the bus at 10:00. Several of us were keen to do this but were very disappointed to find that, because of work in progress, there had been a delay and it would not be open to the public until the next day. (They had not changed the date on a sign at the front). A lady of the congregation could see our disappointment and was kind enough to let us take photos from a side door. The attraction lies in its glass – not the stained glass of ancient churches but the moulded white glass formulated by Rene Lalique and used by him to make much of the furniture of the Church, normally associated with wood or stone. Every piece of glass in the building was made by Lalique – hard to believe, but true. The windows are composed of panels and depict the stems and leaves of Amaryllis belladonna, or the Jersey Lily. The Cross is the focal point of the Church and stands over 4 metres high.  This is all under natural light from a skylight.

It rather pains me to report these details of such beauty without having had the joy of witnessing it for myself BUT I was very pleased to have the short glimpse given by a kind lady. An uplifting start to a most enjoyable day.

ST. HELIER – JERSEY

Tuesday, 16th May

St.Helier is the chief town and the Capital of Jersey, Channel Islands. The town lies along St. Aubin’s Bay opposite a tidal island known as L’Islet (accessible by causeway at low tide), on the south side of Jersey Island. The town is named for St. Helier, a Frankish missionary who was reputedly martyred there in 555.  The town originated as a fishing village.  Harbour works were begun in 1700 and the modern harbour dates from 1841. About one-third of Jersey’s population lives in St. Helier which is the focus of island transport, commerce, government and cultural activity.  The Islands of Guernsey and Jersey are very different in character, ambience and architecture with Jersey being a place of business and tall modern buildings.  Both are places of great history but Guernsey has the charm of cobbled streets and stone cottages.

ELIZABETH CASTLE sits on a tidal island within the parish of St. Helier. Access to the Castle is via a causeway from St. Helier at low tide or on a Castle Ferry, namely Charming Nancy, a wading vehicle that can reach the Castle regardless of tide height, weather permitting. A one-way trip when the tide is high takes about 15 minutes and that was our way of access. Construction commenced in the 16th century when the power of cannon meant that the existing stronghold of Mont Orgueil (visited yesterday) was insufficient to defend the Island and the Port of St. Helier was vulnerable to attack by ships armed with cannon. It is named after Elizabeth I who was Queen of England around the time that the Castle was built. Mont Orgueil has a small but beautiful 17th century garden and stunning views over Gorey Bay where we enjoyed lunch at our leisure.

 

ELIZABETH CASTLE – ST. HELIER, JERSEY

 

 

 

THE ISLAND OF SARK

Sark is one of the few remaining places in the world where cars are banned from roads and only tractors and horse-drawn vehicles are allowed. In 2011 Sark was designated as a Dark Sky Community and the first Dark Sky Island in the world. Sark consists of two islands, Greater Sark and Little Sark which are connected by the Isthmus called La Coupee that was built in 1945 by German prisoners of war under the direction of the Royal Engineers. Sark was occupied by German forces between 1940 and 1945 (along with the other Channel Islands) and liberated on 10 May 1945, a full day after Guernsey.

Passengers (that was us) and goods arrive by ferry from Guernsey and are transported from the wharf by tractor-pulled vehicles.  We had a delightful day in two horse-drawn carts. Our driver has lived on the Island all of his life and that would be the case for about 50% of the residents.

We were given much historical information and I (for those who know me) of course, was delighted to visit the La Seigneurie Gardens with its Maze, its Pond and its Rose Garden plus an abundance of cottage garden flowers blooming profusely.

 

 

CHANNEL ISLAND SNIPPETS

Thursday 11th until Sunday 16th May

Following are bits and pieces of information I have gained through recent seeing, reading and listening.

Clustering just off the coast of France, the islands 0f Jersey, Guernsey, Sark and Alderney (the main four islands) overflow with exquisite coastlines, beautiful harbours, shaded lanes and old world charm. There are many lesser islets and a labyrinth of rocks and reefs. They are situated 80 miles South of the English coast and 10 to 30 miles off the north-west coast of France.  The Islands are proudly independent, self-governing British Crown dependencies. English is the main language  and although place names look French, local pronunciation is very different. The islands print their own version of the British Pound which isn’t legal tender on the mainland  but British money can be used on the Islands. (It will be a bit of a challenge to use local money before we leave)

We entered the Islands  at Guernsey, one of the two main entry points, and spent 3 nights at Saint Peter Port with its beautiful seafront Marina, narrow cobbled streets and historic gardens – considered one of Europe’s prettiest harbour towns. Our walk through Candie Gardens with Spring flower in profusion and lovely views over the town and across to neighbouring islands was a delight. BACKROADS Touring lived up to its name as June drove down many very narrow lanes edged with dry stone walling so that we experienced most areas of the Island by bus from our accommodation. Her competency is second to none and when something doesn’t quite work to plan and timing she always has an alternative.

The Islands were the only British Territory to endure German occupation during World War ll. Anticipating invasion, some 30,000 of the islands’ then 104,000 residents evacuated before the arrival of German forces at the end of June and beginning of July 1940. Some were deported as slave labourers, Jews were sent to concentration camps and many were reduced to near starvation by the end of the war.

One of the many highlights was a meeting with Molly Bihet who, as a 9 year old child, witnessed the Nazis arriving on her island home in 1940. Listening to her stories of life on Guernsey was a uniquely unforgettable experience. Molly’s home has always been Guernsey and she still lives near Les Canichers where the events took place. We first met her when visiting the German Occupation Museum one morning and then later in the day she came to our Hotel where she chatted for an hour and many purchased books she had written.