July 26, 2013

First Days in Kent


“America:  It’s like Britain, only with buttons.”  Ringo Starr

Carol writes:  We selected the shortest ferry crossing from France to England--Calais to Dover in only an hour and a half.  We camped for the evening in the parking lot at the Port of Calais where we were entertained by a constant stream of campers and cars parking for a few hours and then hurrying off one by one to their assigned ferry gate.  We were parked very close to our neighbors in a jam-packed lot, so it was a noisy and hectic night.  As we had been warned, and just as I got good and drowsy for a short night’s sleep, Bastille Day fireworks started blasting off from a nearby pier.

When our 4 a.m. wakeup alarm sounded, we made quick cups of coffee and proceeded to French customs and then a few yards further on to British customs.  We answered a few questions that are typically asked and then were sent smoothly on our way to our assigned lane for loading the vehicle deck on the ferry. 


As the first pink rays of dawn appeared in the sky, we were underway across the English Channel.


I have heard references to the ‘white cliffs of Dover’ many times in my life, but watching those magnificent cliffs slowly emerge through the mist on the English Channel was a special treat.

 

In no time at all, we had driven out of the vehicle deck and were exiting the port area in Dover.  With a great deal of apprehension, Al and I began our whispered mantra of “keep to the left, keep to the left.”  Driving on the left side of the road proved to be far more complicated than just taking the lane on the other side of the road.  An entire lifetime of driving habits had to be rewired in our brains.  We had negotiated roundabouts throughout our travels in Europe, and we had mastered them pretty well on the Continent; however, suddenly, we were required to enter a roundabout circle in the opposite direction!  It was nerve-wracking!  Left turns were easy if you remembered to stay to the left after you turned, but it was the right turns that were quite scary at first.  Now, we had to train ourselves to look at the traffic in the opposite lane barreling toward us on the passenger side, then yield before completing a RIGHT turn.  I will candidly confess that even after five days here, I am still a very uneasy passenger—and all of those speed demons in the opposite direction are coming toward us on my side!  I don’t think driving on the left side will ever be a piece of cake…

Aside from learning to adapt to different driving habits, we have found our first days in Kent to be a welcome change.  Our first lunch of fish and chips at Papa’s in Folkstone was hands-down the best restaurant meal I have had in 3 months.  After tending to a little business, we acquired a British SIM card for our cell phone that will cost only 3 pence (cents) a minute.  We also purchased a WiFi hotspot (called a Dongle) that we can use wherever there is cell phone coverage, even in our own RV!  Although we had quickly adapted to the routine in France, we both felt that daily life had suddenly become a little easier with a few new technical perks and no language challenges.

Our game plan had always been to head to Scotland, the most northern area in the United Kingdom, so that we could take advantage of warmer weather, longer days, and less crowds (hopefully).  But first…there were a few sights along the way in Kent that we wanted to see, starting at Canterbury Cathedral.


Oh, the history that has played out in this famed house of worship!  Canterbury Cathedral is probably most famous for fact that under orders of King Henry II Archbishop Thomas à Becket was murdered in the Cathedral in 1170.  Three hundred years later, King Henry VIII demolished (now Saint) Thomas’ shrine which had attracted pilgrims to the cathedral for 3 centuries.  Today, a lone candle burns at the exact spot in the cathedral where the shrine used to be displayed.


In order to maximize our appreciation of the historical sites we plan to visit in the United Kingdom, Al and I are reading a book about the history of Britain, so we were excited to find tombs of some of the royalty we had been reading about, among them King Henry IV and his wife Joan of Navarre,


and Edward Plantagenet, “The Black Prince.”


Despite the unusual heat wave, we enjoyed a short walk around the town of Canterbury to the ruins of a medieval castle,


then past a military service recruitment center that got Al’s attention…


One of the best deals for the extended-stay tourist in the United Kingdom is a membership in the National Trust.  Membership entitles you to free admission and free parking at all trust sites, and there are literally hundreds of them—houses, estates, castles, gardens—in short, anything of historic or natural significance in the UK.  Ever since we had received our booklet of national trust sites in the mail last fall, we had been anticipating visiting many of these sites.  Now, we couldn’t wait to get started! 

Fittingly, for our first trust site visit, we chose Chartwell, country home of Britain’s much-loved Sir Winston Churchill. 

 

No photos were permitted in the house, so I have borrowed a few from the Internet.

 
Churchill's Study
 

   Churchill's Art Studio
All of the rooms at Chartwell were filled with Churchill memorabilia, and the walls were covered with his paintings.  In Sir Winston’s fascinating art studio it was interesting to see what an accomplished artist he had become.  Churchill also loved the landscape and nature around Chartwell, and much of it was created by him—lakes, a swimming pool, garden walls, flower gardens, and a children’s playhouse.

 

One of the most poignant features on the grounds was the fish pond and chair in the spot where Churchill loved to sit and feed his goldfish.


Al and I finished the afternoon at our first trust site feeling quite satisfied and pleased with our visit to Sir Winston Churchill’s beloved Chartwell, a home that clearly inspired greatness in such a monumental historical figure.

“History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.”   Sir Winston Churchill

July 18, 2013

Last Days in France


“The rewards of the journey far outweigh the risk of leaving the harbor.”   Anonymous

Carol writes:  When we left Paris and headed north to the coast, I had the opportunity to get in one of my ‘wish list’ stops at Giverny, where the artist Claude Monet and his large family lived for 40 years in pastoral bliss.  The famous pond full of floating lilies that Monet painted obsessively in all kinds of lighting, in addition to the wonderful Walled Garden that he designed, were in splendid condition.  The garden contained every variety of perennial I could imagine, along with wonderful iron trellises of climbing roses.

 
 
The water garden with its stands of bamboo


and grand weeping willows along the edge of the pond of water lilies was a photographer’s paradise.  It was hard to stop taking pictures.

 
 
 
After Al had attempted half a dozen shots of me by experimenting with all kinds of camera settings, we finally got one that worked with me in the shade and the pond in the sun.  We could sort of imagine Monet’s fascination with the lighting at the pond.


Our guidebook pretty much gave the Monet house a pass, but that comment could have been written before the 2012 restorations were completed.  We thought the house was wonderful, especially the yellow dining room and the blue-tiled kitchen.  No photos were allowed in the house, so I have pulled up a few from the Internet.
 
 


After spending a few hours walking around Monet’s little corner of rural paradise, it was easy to see why he spent so many years of his life there and was so prolific and inspired in the new style of Impressionism.


DIEPPE:  Our next stop was on the coast in Dieppe, a destination not covered at all in our guidebook.  Nevertheless, we found Dieppe a very nice city in several ways.  Much like Honfleur, it had a very picturesque commercial and pleasure harbor


that has served as an inspiration for some of the same artists that painted in Honfleur.  Boudin, for one, painted the harbor with a viewpoint of the high ground with its conspicuous church.  Our camp for the night was just below this cliff.

Boudin's "The Entrée of the Harbor, Dieppe, 1896
 
Dieppe was also the site of an attempted landing that resulted in a tragic failure for the Allies in WW II.  On the beach there was a monument to the brave Scottish regiment that suffered terrible casualties in the failed raid.


The beach at Dieppe was not a typical sandy beach but was a small rounded-stone beach that somehow seemed more appropriate for a beach so far north.  It was very windy with lots of whitecaps out over the Channel, but that didn’t stop some very experienced surfers who went running barefoot over the stony beach and into the water to catch some pretty impressive waves.  Similar wind and wave conditions at Florida beaches would have definitely been “red flag” warnings.


We took about 3 days to saunter along the coast up to Calais to catch our ferry ride to Dover, England.  One night we stayed in a beach camp


with a town view of some impressive white cliffs overlooking the English Channel.



Sunset was a popular time for some quiet thoughts on the beach as the sun set over the English Channel.


 
The next two days were devoted to doing last-minute laundry and cleaning chores at two campgrounds out in the country.  The first night we had white cows, goats, donkeys and chickens as our neighbors.


The next night we had a most interesting stay on a farm where we were surrounded by fenced dairy cows and chickens running around at will.  One particular rooster with his companion hen was particularly vocal, and I predicted that rooster would be the one who would wake us up early the next morning.  That was an easy prediction; it was 6:30 a.m. when he greeted Al outside our bedroom window.

 

This morning we arrived in Calais and are parked for the day and most of the night in the ferry terminal parking lot.


The date is July 14th, France’s Bastille Day, the day that the French mark as the end of the monarchy and the beginning of the modern republic.  We’ve been told to expect fireworks along the harbor tonight.  Tomorrow at 5:40 a.m., our ferry will depart for its hour and a half crossing over the English Channel to Dover, England.   We can only wonder what adventures await us in the United Kingdom.

During our 8 weeks in France, we saw so many fabulous sites and met countless wonderful people of all nationalities along the road and in the campgrounds.  It is with lots of happy memories that we bid France a fond “au revoir.” 

“A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”   John A. Shedd 

 

 

 

Last Weeks in France


“Traveling tends to magnify all human emotions.”   Peter Hoeg

Carol writes: 
HONFLEUR:  As we left the emotional scene of the D-Day beaches, we continued to drive along the scenic northern coast of France, along the English Channel, and stopped for the night in picturesque Honfleur.  We had read that because of Honfleur’s beauty and partial resemblance to a German village, Hitler decided not to destroy it in WW II.

 
In any case, Honfleur was very picturesque.  The natural unusual lighting found there has fascinated many artists over the centuries, most notably Impressionists Claude Monet and Eugène Boudin.  We found that the art scene is still active, especially along the quaint harbor where we saw several artists working away at their easels,

 

in front of an old-fashioned carousel.


Once again, I was intrigued by displays all around town that pointed out a specific viewpoint that was captured in a painting by one of the Impressionists.  Boudin and Monet both painted the bell tower and the unusual wood-sided exterior of Ste. Catherine Church.
 
Monet's Bell Tower of Ste. Catherine

…and Ste. Catherine was a unique church, especially on the inside where the wooden architectural features looked like the interior of a Scandinavian ship.


The kneelers were interesting—miniature chairs turned backwards toward the “pew chair,” with high backs to rest hands and arms and woven straw-like seats for the knees (ouch!).


Before we left town the next morning, we couldn’t pass up a stroll through Honfleur’s huge Saturday market.  We left quite happy with a 3-pack of local cider (sweet, not sweet, and rosé) and a bag of madeleine biscuits which we thought would serve as the perfect shortcake with our fresh strawberries.


 We spent that night in one of the nifty small-town airies that are so prevalent in France.  Aires are little ‘freebie’ campgrounds that usually have water and sewage dump facilities that are set aside by small communities for camping travelers wishing to spend the night as they are passing through—quite a nice custom!  Our shady spot in front of an old stone wall next to a grand weeping willow tree was a welcome respite from the heat and was a great spot for doing some catch-up work on the blog.

 CHARTRES:  We headed inland from the coast for a slight detour to Chartres for no other reason than to see its famous cathedral—“arguably Europe’s best example of pure Gothic,” according to our Rick Steves guidebook. 


 
In addition to the grand Gothic exterior, for me Chartres Cathedral’s highlights were the Blue Virgin window from the mid-12th century, with Mary’s dress in the highly-prized “Chartres blue,”



and a framed reliquary of what was purported to be a fragment of the Blessed Virgin’s veil, although the truth of this claim has been disputed.


 PARIS:  Eight years ago, Al and I spent a delightful week in Paris and so we had already seen many of Paris’s wonderful sights.  Nevertheless, I just couldn’t leave France after 2 months of travels without seeing Paris one more time, even if just for a day.  For me, Paris has a mystique like no other city I have ever visited.  So…we picked a convenient campground outside the Paris traffic ring and made our visit to the city as a day trip by train.  We got off the Metro at the Tuileries


and made our way to our morning’s destination at the Orangerie Museum, best known for its collection of Impressionist paintings, the most famous being Monet’s water lilies—eight gigantic paintings displayed along the walls of two oval rooms, exactly as Monet intended for them to be displayed.  OK…we saw the water lilies, and they were impressive—indicative of an obsession on Monet’s part--but it was the rest of the museum’s collection that pleased us the most, especially the temporary exhibit of Italian artists of the Impressionist era, the co-called 'macchiaioli.'

Our day in Paris continued with a stroll to see Notre-Dame Cathedral once again.  This time, however, right away we noticed how beautifully clean and pristine the cathedral stone looked, both inside and out.  “Our Lady” had been thoroughly revitalized for her 850th anniversary this year, and there she stood in all her medieval Gothic splendor, with all the saints around her façade staring out into the crowd. 

 

 We continued our meander over the famous bridge that crosses the Seine River behind the cathedral at its most photogenic viewpoint, and had our picture taken in the same spot as we did 8 years ago. 

This time, the bridge railing was covered with thousands of locks left linked to the bridge railing by couples from all over the world who have chosen to symbolize their undying love with a simple lock.  I sort of get it…


We continued our walk through the Latin Quarter where we saw the Pantheon, France’s monument to its people and history,


 and the Luxembourg Garden, home to the present-day French Senate which meets in the regal Luxembourg Palace. 

 

Around the palace gardens were large and welcoming areas of shade where Parisians and tourists alike were relaxing and waiting out the heat of the day in their preferred manner—reading, snacking, dozing, socializing, dining or having a drink.  We chose the ‘gelato’ method.  On one of the park benches a very nice lady, who told us she splits her home between Paris and London (wow!), strongly advised us to wait out rush hour when she heard us discussing getting on the Metro nearby.  She told us to linger for a few hours over a drink at a local tavern because she knew from experience that rush hour in the underground Metro would be extremely crowded and unbearably hot.  That seemed to be excellent advice, so we took it and had a hassle-free, no-crowds train ride back to our campground. 

My last thought as I drifted off to sleep that night was that I was very happy with one more day in Paris.
 
"I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris, and I have enjoyed it."  John F. Kennedy, May 31, 1961