Friday, 30 October 2015

Calvados and beyond

While in Rome ... my s-in-law's application of this is to buy the local products, including the brandy.   Peter spotted a small war graves cemetery at the same time Judy spotted a sign for Clavados at a farm gate.  It was our lucky day, the driveway to the farm was beside the cemetery.  

You can see the farm where the clavados is produced in the background of the tiny cemetery below.  It is the smallest in Normandy containing 47 British, one Czech and one unidentified grave. 

A sign erected by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission explained the cemetery is undergoing an upgrade, hence the dead grass. 

The next day we visited the Commonwealth War Graves cemetery at Bayeux, where there are 4,648 burials, mostly from the Invasion of Normandy.  Most were British but there are also Canadians, Polish, Czech and about 400 are German.  Opposite the cemetery stands the Bayeux Memorial which commemorates more than 1,800 Commonwealth forces who died in Normandy and have no known grave.  In a weird way it has a look of an English garden, with pretty flowers and immaculate lawns.  There is not religious symbolism, its a place to simply reflect on the fallen. 

Maybe it's the simplicity of the layout that evoked such an emotional response in me.  I don't think anyone could spend time there and not feel the sadness.  The three of us, without any discussion, wandered off in three different directions, each lost in our own thoughts.  From a school sports field not far away there was the occasional sounds of young, enthusiastic, happy voices.  There could not have been a better sound track, a poignant reminder of the youth of many of the dead.  

Headstones carry the persons name and are engraved with their cap badges. Many headstones have family inscriptions to their loved ones.  Even the graves of unknown soldiers have the simple but beautiful inscription of "Known unto God." 

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission tend the cemetery beautifully.  Perhaps a better word is reverently.

Earlier in the day we had visited the Memorial Museum of the Battle of Normandy.  I found this to be a bit heavy going although I do think it is an outstanding museum telling the storiy of the D-Day cross-channel attack and the series of battles in the two months following.  A movie (English and French versions play at different times) brings to life the course of the invasion and following operations.  It was difficult to take photos with all the reflections because of the exhibits behind glass.


A contrast of technologies between the above and the below.  I wonder how much notice these two were taking of their surroundings and if they learned anything. 

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Mont St Michel

If you know me well, you'll know my heart doesn't do a lot of skipping and leaping but it sure as hell did a leap, might even have skipped a beat, too, when I first spotted Mont St Michel in the distance.  It's a mesmerising sight even from afar.  Little wonder it is one of France's most recognizable landmarks and attracts more than 3 million visitors each year.  

The staggering location has long inspired awe and the imagination.  It's been an important pilgrimage center since A.D. 708, when (according to legend) the Archangel Michael told the local bishop to "build here and build high." With uncanny foresight he reassured the bishop, "If you build it…they will come."  Believe that if you will!

I started taking photos from the car park which is over 2 km from the island.  From there we made like sardines in the modern electric shuttle bus across the causeway to join the throng of tourists winding our way through the narrow village street bordered by museums, restaurants and shops.

The walk in the abbey is a one-way route through fine — but barren — Gothic rooms. A rented audioguide explains where you are as you explore the impressive church, delicate cloisters, and refectory (where the monks ate in austere silence).  A highlight is the giant tread-wheel, which six workers once powered hamster-style to haul two-ton loads of stones and supplies from the landing below. This was used until the 19th century.


We were constantly climbing steps towards the abbey at the top.  The crowds thin out the higher you go and the beauty of the place becomes more awe inspiring and, in my case, literally breath taking.  But I made it to the top.  Or as close to the top as tourists are permitted to venture.  There are plenty of places from which you can survey the bay stretching from Normandy to Brittany. 

There's no way I can convey the beauty of the place.  It is simply magnificent.

I'll share here, also, my favourite photo of the day:

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

The channel hop

When my trip was in the planning stage my brother recommended Bayeaux as somewhere for me to visit in France.  He suggested we could "jump on a ferry" and do a quick trip before leaving for Turkey.  I didn't know anything about Bayeaux or its famous tapestry but I soon discovered it was near Mont St Michel which I was going to leave on my Bucket List because of the practicalities of getting there.  My brother can make dreams come true!

Another smaller ferry leaving port before us.  

How lucky are those Brits to have the rest of Europe practically at their doorstep!  We took an overnight ferry from Portsmouth to St Malo in Brittany.   What a way to travel!  Standing out in the wind to watch the land fall away, a stroll around the ship checking out the bars and restaurants, a pleasant dinner and glass of wine, then off to our cabin.  The drone of the engines and the rocking was an invitation to sleep.  I was vaguely aware that sometime during the night we bumped around a bit but I didn't surface from my sleep.  We returned on the 'quick' evening ferry from Cherbourg, where I snoozed in a comfortable reclining seat and people watched. 

The 170 metre (560 ft) Spinnaker Tower as we leave Portsmouth.

St Malo must surely be best approached from the sea. The old town is encircled by medieval ramparts and towers, behind which rise stately granite mansions built in the 17th century and the cathedral’s graceful spire. It’s hard to believe what you see is not the original.  St Malo was severely bombed during its liberation in World War Two and rose again, painstakingly restored stone by stone.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Back to England

After sitting in the train for about 10 hours on my return to my brother's home after my adventures in Ireland and Scotland, I was eager for a long walk.  The last of the crops were being harvested and I no longer sneezed every other minute.  

What we would call trespassing here, is called freedom to roam in England.  I followed the paths my s-in-law had taken me on before I left for Ireland but it did feel a little strange to just stroll up the driveway to a private and rather grand home, enter the grounds and stroll along their laneway.

This freedom to roam system must be impossible to police, yet it works. It seems farmers happily keep the paths open and maintain them for the benefit of walkers and, in return, Joe Blow public respects the farmers’ land, crops and animals.  Mutual trust and respect - I like that.

Within metres of my brother's home is the smallest church in England.   It seats just 27 people and was once used to give shelter to pilgrims on their way to Glastonbury to visit the shrine of St. Joseph of Arimathera.  It was a bit before the days of the music festival. Tradition has it that it was founded in 1235 and in 1340 it was rebuilt by Richard Plaisted.  The little hamlet, Chapel Plaister, takes its name from this builder.

It stands very close to a busy road, under huge old trees.  I should have braved the traffic and crossed the road for a distance shot rather than wait beside it while Peter retrieved the key from its hiding place.

 This is a bit blurry but you can see how narrow the little church is.


That sign beside the front door really is necessary.  You could probably take 3 or 4 steps out the door before being barreled by passing traffic.

There's another quaint little church not far from Peter and Judy's home.  It stands in an old and overgrown graveyard.  The sort of place a ghost would love.

Peter rested on the seat outside the church door while I wandered around.  I thought he made a perfect Waiting for God image sitting there looking towards the heavens.  I don't post process my photos, don't have the imagination or the patience.  But with this one shot, I wanted to give it a try.  And while I was fiddling, this happened.  Sorry, Pete, I just love it!  With a bit of luck neither he, his wife nor his children will see this post!  Shhhhh!

Monday, 26 October 2015

A bus and several trains

On Saturday evening (22nd August - how time flies) I'd seen a young man waiting at the bus stop opposite the hotel where Graham and I were staying and asked him about bus routes, fares, etc into the city.  A bus would take me right to the railway station, he assured me - if the blankety blank thing turned up at all, them being late isn't the problem, he said, them turning up is.  I didn't feel very re-assured when half an hour later he came into the hotel to ring for a taxi.  So I convinced myself that the service would be more dependable on a weekday and on Monday morning, leaving plenty of time until my train was due to depart, I waited at the bus stop.  The bus was a bit late but I still had plenty of time to catch my train.

 At a train station somewhere between Inverness and Bristol.

I wanted to have one long train trip as part of my travels.  I love train travel, but unfortunately, we do not have a very practical and efficient network in New Zealand.  And they know how to do train service in the UK!  It's simpler than flying - no having to be at place of departures hours in advance to queue for security checks.  The seats are comfy, the views magnificent and constantly changing. From Inverness to Bath, take a paint chart's shades of green and apply them to the countryside - you see them all. Little towns and villages flash by.  A few brief stops at large towns to pick up and drop off and the occasional short wait to keep the train on schedule, it seems to get ahead of itself, never behind. 

Cropping fields glide into rocky outcrops, then transform to grasslands, towering mountains, velvety valleys, from the rugged to the dramatic to the just plain beautiful.  Occasionally someone comes along to check tickets and sell food and drink.  (The coffee was bad but I didn't expect it to be good.) 

I have to admit to freaking out a bit at Edinburgh station, one of the places I had to change trains.  It was much bigger than I expected and I couldn't find my next train listed on the huge electronic departure screens.  Of course, I did in the end, but how was I to know that the train to Wolverhampton would be the same as the train to London Euston? So many people scurrying in all directions, everyone in a hurry, I got quite muddled there for a while. 

The only photo I took was the one above but I made notes in my diary.  And I chuckle as I read, "ScotRail - get seat 01, beside luggage storage area.  4 old ladies with HUGE suitcases - wouldn't all fit - yelling match, - canna ya and woulda ye."  You know how sometimes you watch something and really understand where comedians get their material?  The yelling back and forth was between two of the ladies who went ahead to find their seats "before the train starts up and we all end up on our backsides and you break your hip again" and the two who were left to stow the luggage.  One was on the wrong side of the luggage and had to crawl over one of the bags to get to her seat.  They just left the bags in the passage having agreed after much shouting back and forth that no-one would need to go past until the next stop.  Except, of course, unless someone wanted to go to the bathroom.  Which, of course, one gentleman did.  Actually, I think he just wanted to see what all the fuss had been about.  The inspector stopped in his tracks when he came along to check tickets, I caught his eye and his expression told me he'd seen it all before and was no longer amused.  He found the culprits, (must have taken a deep breath) and informed them he would store their bags elsewhere and went back to checking tickets.  A deeper breath must have been required when he discovered the ladies were in the wrong carriage but he seemed to think it would be easier to sort out later than try to move them.  The next time the inspector came past we had a bit of a chat and laugh about it.  The whole episode quite made my journey!  

I was impressed with the punctuality of the trains.  BritRail blotted their copybook on the very last leg of the trip because of major work on the Bristol to Bath line.  The train was so late it was cancelled in the end and we were put onto the next train.  One of the other passengers told me that been happening all the time lately but if I were to go back to the station the next morning (it was now somewhere around 9 pm) I would get a refund.  My worry was would my brother still be waiting to meet me at the station?  Of course he was, although it took us a while to find each other.  

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Time to move on

I didn't intend one of the last photos I took while in Graham's company to look quite as forlorn as it does but it seems appropriate for a goodbye.

Remember the quote “You may delay, but time will not.”  We had run out of time.  Graham had to drive on to Glasgow that afternoon to keep a hospital appointment the next morning.  I know how pathetic I am at saying thank you to people.  I hate to get sentimental and soppy, don't know why I just do.  That's purely a private thing.  Sometimes the lump in my throat prohibits too many words.  Our goodbyes were brief.  And anyway, even if I'd tried to find the words, it would have been pretty tough thanking Graham for the wonderful, wonderful time I'd had on Lewis and the mainland. 

So I booked my dinner and went for a long walk along the waterfront.   To start with I climbed these hundreds of stairs to visit the Dolphin and Seal Centre - but, as it was a Sunday, they had closed early.  I had the company as I climbed of a lady who I'd say is older than me who had just popped down the steps to the little shop on the waterfront for some milk, only to find it was shut.  She was having a good old laugh at her own expense for forgetting the shop is shut on Sundays.  No wonder she was so fit if she goes up and down those steps on a regular basis.  

It was a pleasant afternoon, a bit of a breeze but not cold.  I headed towards the bridge.

I was in a thoughtful mood, reflecting on the differences between here and home.  The new house I passed is an example.  We don't have the same uniformity and symmetry of houses.   I do like how so many houses in different areas are made of the same local stone and even new houses are built from materials so they look the same as their much older neighbours.  But the attached houses - I wouldn't like to live in one of those.  I can see how attached, terraced houses squeeze as many houses as possible into one street - and give thanks that I live where space is not at a premium.

I also found an example of how different the vehicles are.  The two above could be on any street here.  But the two below are distinctively different.  I smiled at the thought of those low cars traveling down our road.  They would be scraping the stones all along the way.

I was so lost in thought I lost track of time and by the time I got back to the hotel I was late for dinner!   Luckily the waitress agreed that it was a glorious evening for a long walk and wasn't at all annoyed.

I went for another short stroll before bedtime, admiring the lights of the city on the other side of the water.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Inverness and beyond

We had just one more day to take in the sights around Inverness and Loch Ness.  I shouldn't admit this but I can remember back to the days when I didn't believe there was such a place as Loch Ness, I thought it was a mythical place, just part of the Monster story.  Can't remember what I had for breakfast, mind. 

A felt a little of the wonder I may have felt as a child when I had my first glimpse of the loch.  It just didn't seem possible that millions of others had seen it before me. 

If I'd been around 4,000 odd years ago and had to choose a spot for my castle where I could keep an eye on what was going on for miles around, I couldn't have found a better place than where Urquhart Castle stands.  Quite a few others, over the years, have thought the same way. The current castle ruins which date from the 13th to the 16th centuries, are still impressive.   Of course there has been considerable conflict and loss of blood but I'm sure, along the way, the castle inhabitants must have occasionally paused in their warring to appreciate the magnificent highlands scenery.

Walking from the visitors centre to the ruins you're reminded of the troubled times of the past by this massive catapult (the inscription said it was a Trebucket).  Imagine that hurling rocks which would weigh around 11 kg (24 pounds) at unwelcome visitors!

 Remains of the old gatehouse

 A bonny guide explains the different weapons of warfare.

 Lovely light, a reminder that it wasn't all about battles

 I decided while we were there that I wanted to buy a picture book (for Aiden, my youngest grandson) about Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster.  You wouldn't think that would be difficult, would you?  There were plenty but they were hard backed and heavy.  I still had a month of traveling ahead of me and was determined to add as little as possible to the weight of my suitcase.   Graham is always so accommodating, and at the third place he suggested I found what I wanted.  The man who served me, upon hearing my accent asked the usual - Where are you from? Where have you been? Where are you going next?  When I said we're going to Beauly next he pondered, "Beauly.  Beauly is ... Beauly is ... Beauly is what it is."  That left me wondering what the hell was wrong with Beauly.  Don't know what that guy's problem was, I thought it was delightful!

Beauly means "beautiful place" and the locals certainly make every effort to make it so.  I'd admired the window boxes and potted flowers in England and Ireland but Beauly put them all to shame.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Goodbye to the Outer Hebrides

I had my Peter Pan moment on the ferry as it pulled away from the Isle of Lewis headed to the mainland. 


I told myself I'd never forget my week on the island with Graham but already the days are getting muddled in my head and I forget placenames.  That's why I've been posting in such detail about my visit.  I know I'm going to revisit these posts a lot in the future. 

Image result for goodbye quotes

Our first mission on the mainland was to visit the tourist information office and find beds for the night.  Graham had already searched with no success but was confident the info office people would find us somewhere.  We sat outside the office for ages waiting for the lady to return from lunch.  We weren't alone, the number of people waiting was growing by the minute.  Poor lady, when she arrived, she was so embarrassed to see so many waiting.  Her colleague who had been locked out with us took care of all the others who had been waiting.  Luckily, their demands weren't great.  Unlike ours which was a real challenge.  Her persistence paid off and we could carry on knowing we had a bed waiting in Inverness at the end of the day.

We headed north from Ullapool, east to Lairg, then south to Bonar Bridge and on to our destination.

Lairg is famous for hosting the largest single-day sheep sale in Europe.  I loved how they pay homage to the sheep at the tourist centre. With so many sheep in New Zealand, I don't know why we don't have some of these.

Inside the tourist centre I found another claim to fame.  The bits in the middle of the plaque are scented wood carvings.  I didn't take a photo of the facilities, they weren't anything special. 

We were riding on more single track roads which are only wide enough for one vehicle and have special passing places into which you can pull off the road to allow an oncoming vehicle to pass.  Or, if the passing place is on the other side of the road and another vehicle is approaching you wait on the road opposite the passing place for the other driver to pull off the road.   It's all very civilised.  

And guess what I discovered this morning? Their Highway Code, section 133 states:  In Scotland it’s usual to give a friendly wave as ‘thank you’ if another road user has reversed or waited for you to pass. It makes all the difference! 

I'd started noticing in Ireland that when drivers acknowledged another's courtesy they wave differently from how we wave here.  Here in NZ most rural folk give a wave to anyone they pass on the roads outside the towns.  In Ireland and Scotland a lot of drivers lift the whole hand, palm open facing the oncoming driver, the thumb sticking out at right angles.  A full, open handed wave, often accompanied by a dipping of the head.  I wish now I'd been paying more attention.  I suspect those who practised this wave weren't on familiar roads and really appreciated the courtesy they received.  A few were even more enthusiastic lifting hands and extending the arm up and in front, like a solitary high five.  The head would bounce more than dip.

Others are a little more casual, keeping the thumb wrapped around the steering wheel and lifting the four fingers in greeting before slowly returning them to the wheel.  I can't make up my mind whether they are less confident and reluctant to release control over the wheel or more casual.  

I did see a few of the single-digit salutes that we do when we hoist a lazy finger (or two maybe) from the steering wheel.  I've noticed that I also give a bit of a nod of the head and even if I haven't had time to lift a finger, I do the nod.   I guess it's the locals who do this wave there, too. 

We stopped for a stretch and stroll in Bonar Bridge, a smallish town with a long main street opposite the river. 

The next three shots are between Bonar Bridge and Inverness.

Our accommodation had been booked at the North Kessock Hotel on the outskirts of Inverness,where the River Ness enters the Moray Firth.