Friday, July 22, 2016

From the Welsh Seaside and South London

Any possible view of the Irish coastline was obliterated by a thick bank of fog. Aberaeron is a seaside town with pastel-coloured houses and a harbour full of boats.

The fog tumbled quickly landward and we, along with the town, were enveloped in a chilly mist.

My cousin's husband showed us quickly around the town, and then we went off to visit a manor house that I'll tell you about later. 

We did return to town for lunch and the sun made another appearance. We ate at the restaurant in the bright red-orange building at the end of the street - The Hive. The Fish and Chips were crispy and filling.

For navigation on this trip we're relying on a GPS, known here as a SatNav. We downloaded the maps and routes onto my phone and it's served us well. Or so we thought. 

When we left the Cotswolds on Tuesday, we soon turned onto a small road and came upon a large fire truck blocking it entirely. Hmmm. What could be happening? I volunteered to check it out. 

Walking around the fire truck, I came upon a group of firemen and a few farmers looking at something in the ditch. Nothing seemed too urgent. A little closer look revealed a large, dead cow that they were trying to hoist out of the ditch. Poor cow.

me: How long do you expect the road to be closed?

fireman: Do you live around here, love?

me: No, we're just following our GPS.

fireman: Where're you going? 

me: Wales.

fireman: Wales? (blank look) (then, to his mates) She's going to Wales.

(heads all swivel my way) (laughter)

second fireman: Wales? You need to get to the A.... (whatever it was)

Lots of directions ensued, to which I nodded and went back to the car, where Tim had already figured out that, although our sweet-voiced GPS lady was taking us to Wales, she appeared to favour the scenic route. We laughed all the way to the main road. I'm sure the men went home and told their wives about this lady with the strange accent who thought she was going to Wales on their country road.

The scenic route to Wales got us there just fine, although we wished Mrs. GPS would have taken the direct, main road route. Paper maps are not a bad thing. We couldn't figure out a way to make her choose a different route. 

A classic Morris Minor car parked in Aberaeron. It coordinates well with the house in the background, doesn't it?

I'm writing this post from a hotel near Gatwick Airport. We fly out tomorrow at noon. Our lovely vacation is at its end. There are more photos and more stories to tell, but for now, our hearts are beginning to yearn homeward. I'm thinking of what's blooming in my garden, and how much weeding there will be. I'm longing to hug my children and grandchildren, and sleep in my own bed. 

Thank you for your warm comments on my travel posts. I've enjoyed composing them, thinking of how much I enjoy others' such posts, and wanting to bring a little bit of France, England and Wales into your lives as well. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

More about Sudeley Castle

I was so enchanted by Sudeley Castle that here is another post with more photos. The Cotswold countryside is full of fields and pastures that resemble a patchwork quilt with wide blocks of green forests. 

More of the ruins of the great banqueting hall, this time taken from the second story of the house, in the section still lived in by the family. This view is from one of the guest bedrooms. 

Elizabeth I visited the castle at least 3 times. She got on well with her stepmother Catherine Parr, and likely spent some time there with her before she (Elizabeth) became queen. The knot garden is based on a design from a dress that Elizabeth I wore for a painting that hangs in the castle.

Another detail of that banquet hall ruin. Can't get enough of it. 

This rose climbed very, very high to bloom alongside the empty window. I zoomed in as much as possible to get this shot. 

There's a wonderful rose garden, with all the roses labeled. I took many photos there, but this rose was against the castle wall, nameless, but oh, so wonderfully scented. Isn't she beautiful?

What did we do today? A little of this and not much of that. Walked a little, got lost, drove even narrower roads without a scratch, sat in the garden here and read. I have nothing but admiration for English drivers. They are patient with us, seem to be able to stop on a dime to avoid collisions, and take the narrow roads with savoir faire. Amazing!

Tomorrow we head for Wales. 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Out and About - Sudeley Castle

Here we go. Up the hill, hoping whoever is on the other side is hugging their side of the road. After a good night's sleep and a good breakfast (I ate well, Tim had half a piece of toast and some tea), we programmed our little GPS (on my cell phone - without data!) for Hailes Abbey and Sudeley Castle, said a little prayer, and ventured out. 

Here's another stone wall. I told you there would be more. Isn't it picturesque? 

So. First thing - I've been mispronouncing Sudeley - it's "Soodeley" with a long "u", not a short one. Before visiting the castle, I knew that the last wife of Henry VIII (who managed to outlive him and keep her head) was buried in the church here, and had lived here with her second husband, Thomas Seymour (who was later beheaded by Queen Elizabeth I). Whew! That's a lot of history just there. But there's so much more. I won't burden you with all of it, but I was fascinated.

Sudeley Castle (with a long "u") is set in an AOB - Area of Outstanding Beauty. Gentle hills, clumps of forest, sheep grazing, golden stoned cottages - it's pure loveliness.

So what does one do with a very large tithe barn missing most of the walls and all of the roof? One creates a peaceful garden. This is half of the garden, behind the unseen photographer is the other half. 

Earlier today we visited Hailes Abbey. That will be another post. Hailes Abbey was destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII. Thomas Cromwell was Henry VIII's minister who oversaw the destruction. 

Ironically, Oliver Cromwell, Thomas' great-great-grand-nephew, destroyed much of Sudeley Castle years later during the English civil war. 

The remains of two walls of the banqueting hall loom over the gardens evoking the grandeur of the past. Empty windows frame the view of the yew hedge and rose knot garden.

Roses, clematis, and all sorts of plants clamber up the walls. There's a lot of scope for imagination here, and plenty of inspiration for photos. 

Another window from the banqueting hall ruin. And a stone chair. Not too comfy looking, but elegant with its festoon of roses.

Here's a view of the church with the castle in the background. Oliver Cromwell did a number on the church, too, using it as a butcher shop for hanging animals, and cutting meat on the communion table.

Acts of terror and desecration are not new, unfortunately. Power and greed corrupt throughout history. 

But let's move on. Don't those clouds add to the mood of the photo? We're enjoying warm, dry, beautiful weather. 

The building was left roofless and vandalized and the church members gathered in a very small chapel accessed by this door.

The quietness and peace of the gardens belies its disturbed past. 

In 1979 the present owner, Lady Ashcombe and her late husband, created this garden in honour of their wedding that year. Wide beds of perennials line each side. Tim and I sat on one of the benches for some time, soaking in the warmth and sunshine.

The rose garden is worthy of its own post, too, later. I'll leave you with Rosa Eglantyne- isn't she a beauty? 

Tonight we're going to The Apple Tree pub for dinner. Tim's ready to eat a proper meal. Thank you for all your kind comments. I wish you could all be here, too. What fun we could have had at the castle today.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Taking it Easy

Scientists say that learning new things is a good way to maintain brain plasticity. Our brains had a good workout yesterday as we rented a car and drove to the Cotswolds. Tim drove and I went "eek, eek" from the driver's seat. It seemed like cars approaching around corners were going to drive straight into us. As we left the motorway (the M roads), and the A roads, the way became narrower and narrower. I sucked in my stomach and pulled my elbows closer to my body in an involuntary response to shrink the car. It didn't work. But somehow, we made it without incident. Thanks be to God.

As we zoomed along, tall stalks of cow parsley waved at us from the roadsides. In places, the road seemed to be a mere track between two high banks. Unnerving. Then I saw my first Cotswold stacked stone wall. So picturesque. There was no way I was going to ask Tim to stop for photos. Where would we stop? There's no shoulder. 

The wall above surrounds the churchyard in the small town of Woodmancote where we are staying. It's so pretty. There are bound to be more photos of stone walls. 

We arrived around dinnertime and after settling into our Air BnB room (delightful), and talking with our host, we walked into town to find some dinner. We didn't have much luck. The one pub was full up until 11 pm, and the other we tried didn't serve food in the evenings. A dinner of ale wasn't appealing, so we found a pizza place, ordered, and walked home with it.

Before we went to bed, I started feeling a bit off. In the middle of night, Tim began. Something we ate, I assume. It's been a very quiet day here. Tim slept most of the day. I was doing better so I walked, much more slowly than usual, to the local Tesco supermarket and got him some Sprite. He slept. I read. Watched a little television. Took a nap. He still didn't want anything to eat in the evening, so I took another walk to Tesco's and bought myself some bread, cooked chicken and an avocado for dinner. The rental car is only in Tim's name so I can't drive it. Can't say that's a bad thing.

If we have to be ill, we've settled in a wonderful location. Our Air BnB lodging has a private entrance through a sunlit conservatory where I'm sitting now, at the table, overlooking the very quiet and pretty garden, and an upstairs loft bedroom and bath. 

I'm feeling much better and Tim seems to be on the mend as well. Nothing to worry about. Tomorrow we hope to visit Hailes Abbey and perhaps Sudeley Castle. I don't think we'll be doing a vigorous hike quite yet.

Thank you for all of your comments on these posts. I will catch up with you when we return from our travels. I took these photos during my walk to and from Tesco's this morning.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Found While Wandering

I awoke early this morning and something on Facebook sent me to the news. I am so shocked and saddened to read of this latest attack in France. Should I write about lovely things when so many are hurting? Yes, I shall. For if we stop living our lives in the old ways, if we become creatures who scurry into isolation and suspicion, then those depraved terrorists have won. I will pray for France and for those who are hurting. I will be vigilant. But I will not hide away in fear.

On Tuesday morning we left our floating cocoon of luxury and took the Paris Metro up to the Gare du Nord. We had hours before our flight to London and so we put our luggage in storage at the train station. 

Paris is a huge city with plenty of pavement and tall buildings. But tucked away behind some of the massive doors that attract my eye are little gardens. A Parisian tour guide told us that if the doors are open, we should feel free to wander in. So we did. Several times. Peaceful green oases. Some formal, some intended as playgrounds. 

Bright flowers, usually just one kind. Red geraniums in one garden, pink hydrangeas elsewhere. Roses in yet another.

This garden is not behind doors, but tucked away at the end of a winding narrow street. It's really three garden rooms, each leading into the other. The first room has a plaque - this is the Anne Frank Garden, and there is a tree, grown tall now, that began as a shoot from a chestnut tree she could see from her hiding place. 

The next room contains the rose walkway and trellis seen above, with benches for contemplation, and a green lawn area where a yoga class was happening. 

Further in, a playground rang with ... not the sounds of children at play, but workmen with noisy machinery making improvements. 

Perhaps Anne Frank's example would be a good one to follow today. She maintained her curiosity about life and people. In the midst of fear, she found the ability to see beautiful things.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Let's Take a Walk

We'll begin on the main street of Auvers sur Oise, beside a park. A statue of an emaciated man with paintbox and easel slung on his back and shoulders dominates the little park. Yes, it's Vincent Van Gogh. 

Let's walk together through this town where he spent the last 70 days of his life.

On this sunny July day, flowers look their best. We slowly wind our way upwards through narrow streets, taking time to admire the colours and textures along the way.

Looking down, we notice metal circles set into the pavement, providing direction to many of the artist's more famous haunts.

There's an unconfirmed, but persistent, piece of history in my family that we are related to Vincent Van Gogh through his mother's family. We often refer to the artist as "Uncle Vince."

We continue upwards and round the corner. There it is - the church made famous by Van Gogh in his painting l'Eglise d'Auvers sur Oise. It looks less impressive to me than the painting. Here it seems to be just a rather ordinary Gothic church. Van Gogh imbued the scene with tortured emotion with his brush strokes and colour choices.

Let's continue on up the road, past the church. Soon we come to the edge of the village. Wheat fields stretch golden into the horizon, almost ready for harvest. Many of the last paintings of Van Gogh feature these fields.

Look to our right. There is a cemetery, surrounded by stone walls, with a metal entrance gate. We enter and make our way to the back of the cemetery. There, against the outer wall, are the graves of Vincent Van Gogh and of his brother, Theo. They loved each other very much, and many, many letters passed between the two of them. Theo was a successful art dealer, Vincent an impoverished painter. Theo supported Vincent throughout his life, and encouraged him in his work. Although Theo had a wife and child in the Netherlands, his wife knew how much the two brothers loved each other and brought Theo here to rest beside Vincent.

Out into the fields we go again, here to stand where Vincent set up his easel and painted the wheat fields with those ominous skies and black crows. Skies are blue today, and the fields empty of crows.

A copy of the painting marks the scene. We make our way back towards the village along a narrow footpath.

Back through charming streets where houses wear brightly painted shutters,

  where alliums bloom against stone,

and roses creep into windows.

We enter the Auberge Ravoux where Vincent boarded in a tiny room reached by a winding dark staircase. No photos are allowed of the room. It is empty save for a single chair. 

Instead, we'll sit for about 10 minutes in another room and watch a movie, wordless, that entwines Van Gogh's paintings with quotes from his letters. It's lovely.

Poor Vincent Van Gogh suffered terribly throughout his short life. Mental illness, loneliness, and poverty dogged him at every turn. Yet, like all of us, he determined to express his thoughts and emotions. Unlike most of us, he did it through his paintings. 

And so, we finish our walk, thinking about love and beauty as people have done throughout time. 

Beside the Auberge Ravoux a tangled garden drowses in the sunlight.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

A Visit to the Beaches of Normandy

Historical events of monumental proportions occurred in Normandy. From here rose the medieval king who conquered England, and this land was the rope in a tug-of-war of power between England and France for generations.

More recent history is commemorated in the World War II memorials of D-Day, June 6, 1944, when 156,000 men landed on the beaches of Normandy and began the liberation of France and the downfall of Nazi Germany.

It was a sobering day. The rows and rows of tombstones in the Commonwealth graves (there are 18 graveyards dedicated to the Commonwealth which includes Great Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand). 

Roses grow between the graves along with lavender, poppies and other flowers. They are beautifully maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. 

The headstones are identical white stone made unique by the emblem at the top - here a maple leaf for the Canadian troops. 

There was so much to see and to absorb at these sites. A one-day visit is hardly enough. 

I learned much about the preparations for D-Day and how it all began with 6 gliders, each filled with 30 men and two jeeps who were to land and secure two bridges, just 400 metres apart, so that when the landing of troops occurred, they would be able to cross the rivers with ease.

Above is the original Pegasus Bridge, taken just 15 minutes after the gliders landed. The Pegasus Museum gave a great overview of the event. 

This photo of the new Pegasus Bridge looks much the same as the original (both are counterweight bridges), but is larger. The first glider landed shortly after midnight at the site of the first monument. Incredibly accurate. Gliders were silent (until they landed), so the surprise was a success. 

Once the bridge was taken, it had to be held until the troops arrived. Shots were fired from roof of the chateau in the distance, but those shots could not be returned, for the chateau was a maternity hospital and the Allies did not want to harm the mothers and children there. 

This house and coffee shop, right beside the bridge, was the first house liberated by the Allied troops. It belonged to the Gondree family and the daughter still owns the house and lives there.

More shots were fired from the tower of the church, and these were returned. 

How peaceful it all looks today. A young man fished in the river just below the bridge. Patrons enjoyed coffee and ice cream at the house/coffee shop. Young families strolled by. 

The water is so blue. People lie on the beach, sunbathing, while children run in and out of the water. 

These caissons were towed over on D-Day to form an artificial harbour at Arromanches. It was to this harbour that the materiel for continuing the advance into France arrived.

I was struck by this juxtaposition of war and peace in the square overlooking the sea at Arromanches. A gun memorializes the soldiers who fought there. Next to it is a carousel with merry voices and cheerful music. 

On to Juno Beach, the landing site for the Canadian troops. There is a museum here, and a preserved German bunker. 

Tim on Juno Beach, now a peaceful place of pleasure and play. I am proud to be a Canadian, and never more so than after seeing the role my country played in the war. 9% of Canada's population at the time took direct part in the war - the highest contribution per capita of any nation.

Let us not forget the sacrifice of so many.