0500hrs on the 1st March and our drive back to UK starts; we were going to go a day or so earlier but we were “Parrot sitting”. We were very honoured to be trusted to look after Rita’s parrot “Jack” whilst she and her whole family had headed to over to the US to visit Disneyworld.
Our first stop was Andrew’s new home in Frejus (south of France), a hectic, 12-hour journey with minimal stops using expensive toll roads all the way. We were welcomed at the “building site” by Andrew and were told his plan to have a bed “up and running” for us didn’t work out and that we were booked into a local hotel for a couple of nights. After an enjoyable French meal and catch-up we went to our hotel, exhausted.
We arrived back at the “building site” the following morning and took in the magnitude of the project Andrew was undertaking, converting this building from
four small flats into one, very nice home for himself. Everywhere you looked there was work in progress but looking past all that, we could see a very “quirky”, “different”, and very modern living space; though not quite to our taste!!! We think, (well hope), Andrew was pleased for our visit as it gave him the excuse
to forget about the builders etc., and go out for a few hours. We had a very pleasant drive along the old coast road to St. Tropez where we had an enjoyable lunch and a relaxing walk around the harbour enjoying ice creams in the warm spring sunshine.
The next morning we headed north to Orleans where we spent a night with Catriona, Mike (Christine’s Nephew) and the two boys, Tobin and Max. Their apartment is right in the centre of Orleans so the buildings are not modern and their flat
was on the third floor with no lift; steep stairs and everything has to be carried up, ugh!!!! We had another enjoyable evening catching up with all the news etc., and naturally discussing the pros and cons of Brexit as we both have a vested interest.
The next morning Mike left early to go to work, the boys went to school and Catriona
had some business to complete before she could go “out to play”. We therefore took this opportunity to wander about Orleans “in the rain and cold” to get a feel of the place before the 3 of us met for an early lunch.
Orleans is on the River Loire and has quite a history stretching back to when Julius Caesar conquered the area in 52-BC. During the reign of Charlemagne,
(800AD-814AD) Orleans became the intellectual capital, and in the 10th and 11th centuries was the second most important city in France after Paris. Of course the most commonly known historical fact is about Joan of Arc, the “girl” who led the French army against the English in 1429 and broke the 7-month siege during the 100-years war: (1337-1453). In the 16th century Orleans was a Protestant centre until the Roman Catholics took control in 1572 when they massacred around 1,000 Protestants on St Bartholomew’s day.
The centre plaza of Orleans was very modern with trams running around it and the centerpiece is a statute of Joan of Arc. Running of
this plaza is a modern street with fancy shops and at the end stands the magnificent Sainte-Croix Cathedral, started in in the 13th century, then largely destroyed by Protestants in 1568, and reconstructed after King Henry 4th of France made funds available to rebuild it. This cathedral is the same size as Notre Dame in Paris. Naturally much of the centre of town has been rebuilt following destruction caused by bombing etc., during WW2.
After a pleasant lunch with Catriona we headed north to Cherbourg to catch the overnight ferry. We were dreading this passage as there was a storm passing through the English Channel during this time and the wind and rain were frightening but I have to say we escaped, luckily the storm had passed us just in the nick of time, and we had a very smooth crossing.
We arrived in Poole early on the morning of Tuesday 5th March and headed to Portsmouth where we stayed with Jenny and Bill but prior to arriving at their home we spent the day in A & E Portsmouth as Christine was suffering extreme chest pains. Fortunately, and after numerous tests and many hours sitting in corridors, she was discharged as the tests they did confirmed her heart was good. Unfortunately these tests did not find out what her problem was but she did feel better. Met up with Kathleen and Tom and went for a lovely meal in local pub.
After 2 nights at Jenny and Bill’s we headed to Essex for a night before heading to Northampton for a weekend with Mark, Paula and the family.
We had a good and relaxing time catching up with all the news, especially the girls with their studies and love life etc., and being the middle of the 6-nations, watched a couple of matches on the TV.
We headed back to Essex on the Monday and had a hectic week at Jane’s and we were taken to ballet, gymnastics, swimming, pre-school etc., with Mia.
Friday morning and we were off again, this time to Towcester near
Northampton to Visit Jeff and Hillary for a “fest of Rugby”. We had tickets for the England V Scotland under 20’s game at Franklins Gardens, (home of Northampton Saints) in the evening where England scored 45 points against Scotland’s 7, a resounding win. On the Saturday we headed down to London as we had tickets for the main event, the “Calcutta Cup”,
England V Scotland at Twickenham, and being a late kick off we had booked into the Crowne Plaza in Ealing. This match was the classic game of two halves. England totally dominated the first half going into the break at 31:7 ahead. After half time there was a total reversal, Scotland totally dominated the second half and after a final scramble in the 82nd minute, George Ford managed to score a try under the posts and when he converted it, England matched Scotland’s score. A very
disappointed Scotland following their gallant effort; and naturally a disappointed England, that ruined their chances of winning the 6-nations championship. Actually it was the fairest result under the circumstances and added to the atmosphere and excitement within the stadium, all of which made this a fantastic fixture.
Back to Towcester on the Sunday morning as we were then then off to Franklins Gardens again, this time to watch Northampton Saints; they were playing Saracens in the premiership cup final. This was an extremely exciting match, which, un-expectantly Saints won 23:9 and won their first bit of silverware this season; long may winning become a habit!!! Following this game we had another superb curry at the canal side Indian “Spice of Bruerne” at Stoke Bruerne.
Monday morning and we were off again, this time to Chester to have a night out with our good friends, Dave and Leisha. We stayed on the Chester Race Course and met them around the corner at the “Architect”, a Georgian designed pub serving traditional “good pub food”. What a good night we all had; we recounted our canal experiences and stories; we laughed, I don’t think we have laughed so much for quite some time; we drank, I don’t think we have had so much drink for such a long time, and after a very congenial evening went our own ways. Fortunately we hadn’t too far to stumble back to our hotel whilst Dave and Leisha fell into a taxi outside the pub!!!!
The other reason for visiting Chester was to finalise arrangements with my decorator, carpet man and managing agent for my new rental. Once completed we headed off to the Peak District to stay with Marian and Martin. A little bit of a detour on our journey south but always good to visit them in the peak district, however, Martin was on his own as Marian had gone to visit her Mother. Whilst there Martin up-graded my laptop and it is so much faster, thank you Martin.
Wednesday 20th March and we went South again, this time heading to Portsmouth, naturally via our usual haunt, “Ockham Bites” for our favourite double bacon baguettes. Whenever we are in the UK it is strange how we always seem to manage a visit here.
Thursday and our last full day in UK and we had a number of things to do but the two main reason for being there was to collect all our boat “things” from Tom’s loft. These were left after we sold “Megastar” at the end of last year. But firstly a quick visit to Pat, (Christine’s sister), where we met up with Marian and to check all was well following Pat’s new hip operation, then onto Tom’s. Our concern was that we had forgotten what there was in his loft and worried it wouldn’t all fit in the car, but once we arrived and lightened the burden in his loft, we were unexpectedly surprised that with Christine’s careful packing it all fitted into the car; what a result. After a superb dinner with Tom and Kathleen, but before we headed off to catch the overnight ferry to Le Havre, we made a quick, un-scheduled visit to our friends Dave and Sue who were very surprised to see us. Next stop Ferry queue, fortunately the weather was better and we were looking forward to an un-eventful crossing.
We arrived early morning in Le Havre with insufficient time for
breakfast, so once we cleared the town, we headed into Honfleur. This is an old and very pretty and quaint little town situated on the southern bank of the mouth of the
River Seine. Historically it was a very important port, firstly during the 100-years war then later as the starting point for goods travelling to and forth to England, Canada and many other places. We enjoyed breakfast overlooking the harbour with its multi-coloured buildings all around. Later we took a walk around and decided we needed to come back here at a later date and explore it properly.
Today we were driving to stay with old pals of mine, Sandy and Wendy who live near Lorient, (Brittany), on the west coast of France. The last time we had seen them was when they stayed with us in Spain a couple of years ago, so there was much catching up to do. Again we had lots of laughs and after two nights set off, heading back to Andrew’s as we had been informed this time we would have a bed inside the building site. We had had enough of long days driving, so decided to stop half way at a place called Brive-la-Gaillarde, again quite an attractive centre to mooch about, though it was cold.
Off again south, the weather improving as each mile went by and finally we arrived at Andrew’s, not knowing if we had a bed in the house or in the local hotel. Andrew greeted us with the good news, we were staying in the house, and looking around, it was obvious there had been a fair amount of work done since our previous visit, 3-weeks earlier. We had another good two night visit, with Andrew managing his time between his business commitments, watching his small army of builders going about their business, and looking after us: however, our opinions on this house haven’t changed, its not for us if for no other reason there are steps everywhere!!!
Leaving mid morning and not wanting a repetition of the 12 hour drive we did on the way up, we booked into a hotel in the ancient town of Tarragona with its many Roman remains. This place goes back to 2407BC and is steeped in History. In the evening we did have a little time to look around the central area of the town but not the interesting parts, so we must return someday.
After a good breakfast in a very comfortable 3* hotel that most probably should have been a 4*, we headed back home, arriving early evening and we were very happy to be back having driven 3,574 miles.