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09 June 2014

Chateau June 2014


It’s always a little overwhelming when we arrive and have to start cleaning up the weeds, and the millions of dead flies in the house.   However, the warm welcome we receive from our neighbours and friends makes up for it all.

The day we arrived was VE Day, Victory in Europe Day, so a public holiday in France.   We drove through the lush green countryside coming from Geneva passing through several tunnels and emerging into yet another dramatic scene of tree covered mountains, with still some snow on the tops and sparkling lakes.

The wild flowers are beautiful, meadows covered in buttercups, roadside covered in
cowslips, dandelions and clover flowers, hawthorn bushes loaded in creamy white blossom, poppies in abundance.
   
Crashed pergola, oh dear!
The drive to our village takes 2 hours, and we arrived in the village about midday.  As we drove up the road there was a crowd of our old friends standing outside the Mairie, celebrating VE Day with a Vin d’Honneur.  So we had to stop, massive kisses and hugs and a very warm welcome.   Eventually we made it home, and Alain had opened the shutters and lit a fire, as the house inside was very cold, the fire made a huge difference.

Our pergola had crashed during the winter with the weight of thick snow.  It is normally covered in a beautiful pink rambling rose.  Sadly we have had to cut that back, but it is a pleasure to work outside, writing at the stone table beneath our new pergola, ably put up by Alain.

It was very cold when we first arrived, so a good time to plant the vegetable garden.  Neighbours offered excess plants and seeds, so now there are tomatoes, beans, spinach, carrots, salad, peppers, onions, sorrel and one courgette.  No room for anything else.

The fruit trees are absolutely laden with young fruit.  In our garden, we have a pear, an apple, a quince, a fig tree and lots of currants and gooseberries, cherries, plums and raspberries.  They are all laden, but I guess some of the fruit will fall.

The roses are incredible, and sometimes I walk in the garden just to be surrounded by that wonderful heady perfume.

wild rose on side of the house
wild strawberries & raspberries
in the garden
 We have harvested buckets of cherries, and are picking raspberries every second day.  The currants and gooseberries will be ready in no time.  I have made elderberry flower cordial and cherry cordial, both delicious in a long glass with ice.


We have just returned from a trip north to Belgium, Flanders and Picardy for John to research an article he is writing for the Goulburn Post on 4 young Tallong men who fought in the 1st World War, and are buried there.  A very moving experience. It was a good trip, but very long.  

We stayed in the nature park of ornithology at the Baie de Somme for a few days, a wonderful place to see.   So after our hard work looking at excellent museums and sad cemeteries, we needed a treat.  We stayed in a very nice hotel - on a small hill overlooking the bay, in grounds of 15 hectares, a kind of series of cottages, - very pleasant, with a good restaurant etc and set by the bird sanctuary.   We treated ourselves to a very special sea food platter, wonderful. Always amusing to see the dogs tucked under arms and on laps in the hotel restaurants, I was astonished to see them arriving even at breakfast time as well as dinner!!

We have been drowning in cemeteries galore, French, commonwealth, even German (mind you crosses shared with 4 dead) the weather was very cold, I was wearing my down coat every day, and so glad of a quick crochet hat I made before we left our home!!!

What a surprise to find a Chinese cemetery - to learn that thousands of Chinese were
brought here to work during the first world war, not only backing up the armies with munitions skills, but also working on farms because there were no longer any men to do so. The Chinese were prisoners in camps supervised by the British, but strangely enough paid the same rate as a French journalier. 5 francs a day.  Most of the unfortunate Chinese died after the war of Spanish flu.   The other surprise was that the cemetery is kept by the Commonwealth War graves commission just like the thousands of others, and kept beautifully.


I never thought we would go into a church or cathedral to keep warm, to get out of the cold wind - in the past it has always been a trip into history, beauty of art work and to cool down in the heat….  the weather has been terrible. We ran into First Communion day when we got to Reims - the cathedral was packed and we couldn’t walk around.  Listened not for the first time to a sermon on the five loaves and 2 fishes!  don’t know how many of the young things were listening...

However, the grey cold, damp, foggy weather went with our project, a melancholy one.  In Flanders we were treading on the dead everywhere.   How can people live from day to day on top of 500,000 dead?  would you not wake up at night thinking of a young man’s face as he drowned - wounded - in the mud???   I imagined their ghostly voices talking, crying…      cemeteries everywhere, we have done enough…  

We visited the Vis en Artois cemetery where my uncle’s name is carved in stone. Robert William McMurtry.

Sadly he died at the end of the war, 20 years old, having fought in and survived the most horrific battles, including the terrible battles at Passchendaele, in the previous few years.  This is a place where there are thousands of unknown soldiers - bodies have never been identified, and were never accounted for, presumed dead.  One very sad addition on a cemetery register was a young man of 24 years who was shot at dawn for deserting. Couldn’t cope with the horror and was punished by death.

Ypres cathedral, completely rebuilt after the bombing
Amiens cathedral was so rich and luxurious - (even a little cage with a “genuine” head of John the Baptist!!)…… everywhere gold, I thought several times of the child abuse enquiries and the wealth of the church, the carvings, ornaments, paintings too  much.  I always find the confessional cages worrying. 

We stayed overnight in Troyes before setting off for home.  Nice town with half-timbered houses and the River Seine snaking around it linked with canals.  You can see at the end of this blog, we took lots of photographs.

This is a photo of a sculpture in a museum in Groesbeck, near Arnham, Netherlands – very moving – it says it all.
Groesbeek museum by Fransje Povel-Speleers

For those who read the Goulburn Post, there will be a series of articles by John soon.

After a drive of 2,000 kms and 10 days, we are back home after climbing hundreds of steps in towers and view points, and touring the champagne cellars at Pommery. 

Summer has arrived with a vengeance.  
Wow it’s hot, particularly in the afternoons and evenings.  We are enjoying having meals on our galerie (stone balcony), but have to wait until after 8pm to have dinner, when the sun goes over the hill opposite. There is a warm breeze and we listen to the blackbirds singing.  I love the warmth of the huge stone slabs.

We have had some lovely dinners with neighbours, and some great walks.  I have rejoined a relaxation/Tai Chi group who meet once a week in the village hall, which is always a pleasure.  

John has started playing bridge in Charnay again, he has a fan club there, and enjoys the challenge of the game very much.  

I am delighted to have found a spinning and weaving group in the region, Le Filage de Bourgogne, and will spend next Saturday with them, when they plan a dyeing day.  I have been spinning while watching the tennis to accumulate some skeins of wool for the dyeing day, and will have fun experimenting with colours and meeting the other members of the group. 

Our valley on a warm summer's day
This is one of the many public holidays in June in France, so today is quiet - no one cutting their lawn (yet) and the heat is building up.  I will soon have to escape indoors.

For the rest of the month - we plan a picnic on the plateau with a group of friends for midsummer’s night and will make a trip to Paris for a few days on 28th to visit Stewart and Lesley McLennan.   They have their barge parked in a bassin off the Seine near Bercy and we have managed to book a room in our favourite eco chain of hotels, the Ibis Style, within walking distance of them.

Next weekend we will go on the randonnĂ© at the next village, Jalogny, the shortest walk is 10 kms, so we might be forced to take a short cut!  However there are plenty of resting stops with refreshment and food, so we can take our time. Hope it’s not too hot.   The weather forecast says there will be a thunderstorm on Wednesday, so that will give me a break from watering the garden, and I guess will knock down the last cherries that are too high up for us to pick.

Photos below - I am afraid mixed up, but most have captions.
 
Open market at Reims

Reims Cathderal - pulpit

Reims cathedral

Weeping angel - Reims


St John the Baptist???








Ypres cathedral - completely rebuilt

Champagne country

Reims - Les Halles

Tasting at Pommery



Maison des Oiseaux

Sea food platter at Cap Hornu

A cooler at Troyes




artistic neighbour...

donkeys and buttercups

200 year old ledger

construction of new pergola 

Alain with new pergola - almost finished

a walk in the woods

pre dinner at neighbours - cat begging to get something

Tasting at Pommery cellars, champagne country

The unknown soldier - in every cemetery

1st world war cemetery

German cemetery, two names each side

Our hotel at Cap Hornu - Baie de Somme

our garden
roses everywhere


Elderflower juice -delicious

Cherry cordial - delicious

improvised weaving - without a loom
Tasting at Pomery in Champagne country
Passchendaele museum