Saturday, May 08, 2010

On Bumblebees

I have been meaning to write about bumblebees for quite some time. We first saw them on the Dales Way. In Britain. They are wonderful little creatures. In Britain they were black all over. Here in France they have yellow sripes as well. Richmond colours. Perhaps the ones we saw in the UK were juveniles and they would develop the yellow sripes as the season wore on (it was early spring when we were there ...)

Why are bumblebees all that marvellous? I'll tell you. They are cute; they mind their own business; they operate alone (you will never see a swarm of bumblebees) and they bumble along, never giving you a chance of getting to know them. Little puffs of cuteness black-and-yellowly scooting across the landscape in a self-absorbed, determined quest for sustenance. But who can tell what they are eating? They don't seem to be seeking out flowers. They are aren't sucking anyone's blood. They don't have stingers. They just 'are'. I love them. As much as moles.

I saw one today at a chateau we were visiting and I realised I had not seen a bumblebee for quite some time. I felt loss at having had no contact with one.

Bumblebees make me feel happy and I wish we had them in Australia. [Then again, if they were introduced into Australia they may well transmogrify into monsters, as what happened to the cane toad and the prickly pear. They might have developed teeth and stingers and tusks and have started carrying off sheep and small dogs. There may be no way of getting rid of them ...]

... but I do like bumblebees that I have met over here and needed to share this with you ...


Next day after Cunninghams' arrival The Ramblers decided to give them some space and go for a drive. C's had been to Oradour on a previous trip and did not need to go again. I can now see why. It was the most sobering experience. Jude had read about Oradour as we passed Limoges on our way to our Beynac (just near the wrong Beynac). We decided to come back to visit later.

Oradour-sur-Glane is the site of a most horrible Nazi massacre of a whole village on June 10 1944. The Allies had just landed in France and the war was turning against the Germans. There were other factors that led to the incident, but overall there is
no clear explanation as to why it happened.

The short story is that the village was surrounded by military vehicles and the inhabitants -all the inhabitants - were herded into the town square, separated into groups of men in one group and women and children in another and then machine-gunned. The town was then looted and burned. In all, 642 people were killed.

For many years the town was left as it was. The incident was too raw to be faced. Finally it was decided to leave it as a memorial to the uselessness of war and the effect that it has on those who perpetrated this act. They were determined, methodical and brutal.

What remains now is the town as it was found on the day after. All the houses are roofless. Walls are crumbled. The Germans had tried to eliminate all evidence And survivors of the shootings by burning everything in sight. Burned-out cars rest in the streets or in garages. The old tram-line, with its overhead electric wires still runs along the main street, buckled now but a very real testament to the ordinariness of the village life that had been.

It is not a small village. Streets of ruined houses criss-cross the main street and the town square, where the village people were assembled lies off to one side. The church where the women and children were shot is accessible and the bullet holes can be seen in its walls.

This was a very sad day. The groups of school kids there on excursion were nowhere near as boisterous as you normally see such groups. No photographs were allowed, so we don't have any (though plenty were being taken by others). Jude and I walked around in silence. It was all too real and too shocking. We bought a little book that outlines the events of that day, written by one of the five survivors. It also outlines what life was like prior to that day in words and pictures. All very sobering.

The museum/memorial constructed at the entrance to the village was very well presented and gave a very clear account of the incident and the context/background, both in terms of world and local events. It is well worth a visit.

We drove back to Beynac (two hours, 120km) to check what the Cunninghams had been up to. We understood that ours was a trip you need only do once. It was a very powerful experience.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Beynac III

Cunninghams arrived late last night. Seems they set their TomTom to a slightly different location as well, though their error was nowhere to the same degree as ours - only 5 or 6 kms or so AND it was made by the Helpful Harry at the car lease joint. The town we are staying in is called 'Beynac et Cazenac'. They went to the other one, Cazenac, which is just up the hill a titch. They got in at 10:45 pm and we talked till 1:00 pm. A great old catch-up.

[Now I have just re-read one of my postings about not receiving emails/comments. It does sound a little abrupt. It was added as an afterthought following one of my more lengthy submissions. The only motivation was to find out who is 'on air' - who is listening. Just curious, that's all. So I hope I haven't offended anyone, especially my regular commentators. Sorry if I sounded cross. The only person I ever set out to offend is John Ford. I certainly am not. In fact, I am rather enjoying the writing.]

Meanwhile, back to the story ...

Gloomy weather these last couple of days. This only adds to the wonderful atmosphere of the region, however. Richard, Coeur de Leon - Richard I(The Lionheart - probs because he had the heart of a lion, or at least SEEMED to have) of England (you know the chap) occupied these here parts all those centuries ago. Gallooping across the countryside, he completed many a maraudering expedition, bashing up the French before heading off on a Crusade to the Holy Land. Old Richard did not spend much, if any, of his life in England and only spoke French - some King!

Apparently, Britain controlled lots of France at this time and this region contained the border betwen the two countries. The English occupied the chateau (castle) we can see out of our window (up the valley) and the French occupied the one above our joint. There was never any direct conflict between the two, apparently, but I bet there was some pretty intense glowering, just the same. Just like you expect to see Noddy and Bigears stick their heads out of the windows from houses in Dinner Plain and wave greetings, so here you expect, at any moment of the day, a gallant knight to clip up to one of these-here castles and sing out, "Rapunsel, Rapunsel, let down your hair". But I suppose such knight would be well-advised not to, as there is far too much traffic zinging past along the road below linking Bordeaux with our closest town, Salat. His voice just would not carry.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Email contact

Hang it! Why not send us an email?

Perhaps youse are reluctant to add a comment (thanks to those who have). We would love to hear from you!

Graeme and Jude

Motor Rambling

Here are some observations about driving in mirror land:

1. It's scary. You need hold your nerve AT

2. Despite 1. (above) You Can Do It!

3. You make mistakes but, hey, how else can you (one) learn? Just make sure that all your mistakes are little ones.

4. Remember that RIGHT equals safety (NOT left).

5. Difficult turns are the LEFT (not right) turns.

6. Give way at all times, but don't go cowering off to the right all the time. Remember that you have just as much 'right' as the next French person (almost).

Inside the vehicle things do not always go as planned. For example, windscreen wipers are often activated at turning points, even though there is absolutely no prospect of rain. The other thing is that the next proud owner of Morgana (our car) will not detect the totally imperceptible scratch marks on the (left-hand) driver's door made by the current driver on a vain attempt to find the gear stick. We had ordered a manual car at a time when it felt like a cool thing to do.

The final comment about driving is that GPS systems, of available and operational save marriages! Yes, folks, our Tom-Tom has delivered us to our keyed-in destination for innumerable trips. Note that I do not write 'chosen' destination, as an earlier blog attests (ie the Beynac experience), but rather to the destination keyed in at the start of the trip. The computer-activated voice is all-forgiving when a navigation error occurs. No spousal interaction is necessary. The driver merely follows the directions that eminate from the device following a 'recalculation' by the machine. Hey presto, we are back on track and destination-bound. The only task is to decide what's for tea and whose turn it is to cook. Argghhhh, this is the life!

... and that's it. Simple. Practice makes perfect, and improvement builds on improvement. I fear that the real test will come when it is time to revert to right-hand drving on our return. We'll just have to wait and see ...

Gotta go. Jude has selected 'The Eiger Sanction' for ou last night alone before the Cunninghams arrive tomorrow night.

Off for some Video Rambling now.


Ramblers X 2

A Little Walk to Keep the Juices Flowing

Our Best Pals in Badaginnie, Chris and Julie Walpole, bade us attempt a little walk they had attempted out of Tremolat. So we thought we would have a crack at it ourselves. Tremolat is yet another of the gorgeous villages that inhabit France (and no doubt the whole of Europe) that one can never get sick of discovering. AAfter a 30-minute drive downstream, we bounded straight to the Information Shop to obtain a map for the walk. The shop attendant lady was typical of those who occupy such roles in similar establishments. Extraordinarily helpful and understanding, with just the right amount of English to provide assistance (it is moments like these visits when I wish I had more French, in order to make their job a little easier). English versions of the map and directions were printed off on a rasping, swishing dot-matrix printer and the Ramblers were off!

The walk took us past the church ('eglise' - which I had mistaken for the 'English' on prior occasions) and on to a tiny hamlet perched above the village. Onwards and upwards into a bois (wood) and then into a foret (forest). Confident of our location and direction we followed the dirt track, eventually emerging onto a tiny sealed road amid another little hamlet. Here we were to find a signpost to a 'croix'. No such signpost was to be found. Alas AND alack! Although not 'lost', we did not know EXACTLY where we were according to the map, OR the directions. JLR thought the way to be in THIS direction, GCR thought it more than likely to be up this OTHER track. 'Flexible Jude' deferred to the GCR way forward and we confidently headed off in (what turned out to be) the wrong direction (bugger!).

A foret link path eventually put us back onto what seemed to be the right track (we never found out, really, because the map and directions really LEAVE A LOT TO BE DESIRED! We walked back along the road to Tremolat with broad, sweeping views of the Dordogne from way up on the cliff-top. Fabulous! [Along the way we scrambled up the cliff-face on our left to what looked like an ancient, abandoned house. It was ancient, but work had been started on a restoration. With nobody about, we went in and made some gratuitous comments about its efficacy and beauty to no one in particular. But there was somebody. An owl! A HUGE, grey owl. We had disturbed its day-time snooze and it took off, scaring the clappers out of us. It seemed to stand(?) 18 inches tall. It was a whopper! A couple of circuits of the 'house' (it was quite small) and 'Owley' flew off into the bois ... We would have missed him/her if we had not lost the 'walk'. I think there is some sort of philosophical message there somewhere, which I shall leave with you.]

The walk back to Tremolat was spent playing 'Wouldn't it be great to buy that lovely house that overlooks the Dordogne'. There are heaps 'a vendre', and it makes you wonder why. GFC and pension funds undermined? Bought for rental, but no punters? Got too old to maintain the joint? There are many (too many?) English people living around these here parts, as evidenced by the existence of an active Anglican church in the next village we visited, and an English language newspaper 'The Advertiser'. [It is a spell-breaker to read an English newspaper here in the Dordogne. It tends to reduce the travelling experience to an unwanted level of ordinariness. Don't do it. It is much more preferable to maintain your sense of wonder; to be immersed in a sea of naivety, surrounded by unintelligible language, spoken and written. Who really wants to know that Marjory Phillips has just opened a B&B and is hoping to attract lots of visitors this coming tourist season?]

Drive back to our pad under the ramparts after a gaz-oil (diesel) top-up for Morgana and a super-marche top-up of fuel for us (we are having a go at cooking some lovely boueff bourgignone (spelling?) tomorrow and have to get the ingredients ...

Hoo-roo for now. Heaps of Rambler Cooking to do ...



Monday, May 03, 2010

Beynac II

Looking out of our window we can see a paddock. No, a field. It is across the way from the Dordogne River, a mighty flowing river that skitches along at quite a rapid rate, in a huge bend. We occupy the outside bottom of the bend's 'U'. The river flows from left to right. The field, about the size of the MCG on a good day, is flanked by trees coursing off at right angles to the river. There are similar-sizes fields on either side. Beyond the fields, the landscape gives way to hills that rise into craggy outcrops. Pretty routine, you might say to yourself.

But wait. Is that a huge CASTLE perched atop one of those crags? Yes , it is! And is that ANOTHER castle a bit fourther down the valley? And another? Yes, yes and yes! Wakko! And aren't we observing this astonishing landscape from a house perched teeteringly on a similar rocky crag-like castley arrangement ourselves? YES!!!!

The above are the only words I can dredge to describe where we have set up camp for the next two weeks. Ken and Nada Cunningham are in the air as I write, and shall soon be tooting their car horn in the very narrow lane that rises steeply to our front door. I am certain that there were only 3mm of space either side of our car as I parked to unload our cases on arrival. Parking is quite some 400 metres away. Thankfully it is not an auto-friendly village. This only goes to amplify its beauty. I am off now to buy a 13-euro a week parking ticket, so I had better get cracking.

So long for now - I have some parking ticket Rambling to do!


G & J

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Beynac I

Words are inadequate when it comes to describing the beauty and majesty of this neck of the woods!

Your Favourite Ramblers

J & G

Bike conversations

Just thought I'd tell you a little of what it was like riding along through the Champagne area. Here is an example of a conversation:

GCR: Jude, did you see the interesting-looking fisherman on the left by the side of the Aube River with the cigarette stuck in his mouth?

JLR: No. Did you see the interesting thing I just saw on the right?

GCR: No. What was it?

JLR: Not telling.

GCR: Go on, tell me!

JLR: No.

Lilly-of-the-valley on May Day

At many spots on our trip across France yesterday, people (mostly young kids) were selling lilly-of-the-valley bunches that they had collected from the woods and forests. Jude bought a bunch from a kid in a little town along the way where we stopped for our baguette. Two euros, which I thought was a bit pricey, but Jude assured me that it was the going rate. Gorgeous!

People seemed to be harvesting these flowers all along our road, with their cars pulled off the side of the road in little tracks. Either they were hunting for lilly-of-the-valley, or they had lost their contact lenses out there in the bush. They looked very intent!

(Hullo to Ken and Nada's granddaughter Lilly!)

Troyes to Beynac

Huge driving day ahead of us today (Saturday). It is Mayday, and the French are on holiday. No shops open, so Jude, ever-so-wisely, suggested a shop (verb) for food on Friday. Good call. Well-provisioned, we set off in our Megane, named 'Morgana' now, full steam ahead, for Beynac, a good 5 to 7 hours away. We set our TomTom up and headed off. Simple. Follow the directions and all is sweet.

Now did I mention that there are two Beynacs? No, I didn't. But there are. Ever so fortunately, they are almost in a direct line from Troyes to the one we wanted, so we didn't lose much time, but boy were we glad it wasn't the other one where we were to be staying for the next two weeks. Lovely in it's own way, the wrong one was a suburb (pretty suburb) of Limoges. I am sure the inhabitants are very happy with it, but I also bet that there aren't too many French who make it a oliday destination!

Our Beynac is absolutely wonderful. Youse will have to wait for a later post to hear about it, though, because this one is for the trip.

My friend Gavin Frawley has a trick he uses on bush walking trips when some marvellous creature appears before us (eg lyre bird, wombat, goanna, sparrow). He rather amusingly holds his hand over his mouth, in 'air microphone' attitude and pretends to be calling in the critter for our pleasure and enjoyment. As if he is controlling it. Works a treat, I can tell you. Anyway, we had a couple of such moments during our drive.

The first was a town market that was in full swing. We stopped here at Varzy and had a wander among the stalls that filled the narrow streets up one side of the town hill and down the other side. Brilliant! All sorts of cheeses, sausages, fruits and vegies, meats, foi gras, flowers and mattresses. Yes, mattresses. This, I felt, was pushing entrepreneurship a little too far. Who knows, the chap may well have made quite a killing on the day! (it is said that the French are not good at entrepreneurship. They don't even have a word for it!).

The next Gavin Frawley 'call-down' moment came when we found ourselves in the middle of a cycle race! Flooding memories of our cycling buddies, including Gav, were ignited. Here, first, were the back-markers; next the pannetoni (I know, it's really called the peleton) and then the first to go. There were the cheering crowds waving banners (mums and dads really) and the marshalls with paddles raised to cars like ours that needed to slow/alter their speed/direction. Eventually we peeled away and were able to resume our route. Fabulous!

For a couple of hours we scorched along a motorway that let us wind up to 130+ KM/hr. Boy did we hoot along then! Morgana really let fly, though still there were cars passing us at what must have been 150! Very exciting, though a little TOO much pepper for Jude!

We reached our Beynac at around 7:00 pm and were completely gob-smacked. I'll tell you about that later. In the mean time, we gotta get rambing, cos we are rambling kinds of people!


The Rambing Roses!

Rambling across France

Last few nights spent off bikes and out of walking boots (they were shipped back to Sunny Oz from London), as we turned our faces to the next Great Challenge, the - wait for it - the Outlet Shops. Yes, Troyes is known for these, along with the afore-mentioned Troy gold weight measure. Jude had had her turn walking and cycling, but now it was MY turn for a good old rummage through the label outlets that included La Coste, Adidas, Gant and Hugo Boss! Seventh Heaven! Shopped till we dropped.

After the magic of the (shopping) morning, we hopped into our little car and drove out to, we were told, the best place in the area to taste champagne and to make our selections for purchase. At our destination (Montgueux - about 30 minutes out of Troyes by car) we found the advice to be true. There were PLENTY of wineries that offered tastings and sales, it's just that THEY WERE NOT OPEN THIS DAY!!! Rats! Back to Troyes we scuttled.

Jude visited the museum of modern art in the afternoon, while I looked through a bike shop and fiddled with the phones. Credit sucks out of my iPhone 'like there ain't no tomorrer' an d I do not seem to be able to make calls. The internet seems to be working on it though (letting me do this blog).

One more night in our little old, bit dilapidated, but very welcoming hotel and we will be heading south for our next chapter.

Stay tuned ...