If I am making a long journey I spend quite a time looking for cheap ways to do it. This time I plotted Paris to Zagreb on Google maps, saw the stop-offs it suggested I made, and from there checked the airlines for who flew where. In the end I found a cheap flight to Milan from Paris which was straightforward, and then took Flix buses the rest of the way.
That part was arduous with local transport from Milan Airport to Monza to get the bus, which was delayed so that was already 10.30pm, although the wait was made more enjoyable with a conversation with a masters student studying in Padua. She told me where to go when I made the change there. I think this was my first 11pm – 1am sightseeing trip!
Then the over night part in the hottest bus I have ever ridden was quite a challenge, plus we had to get off twice at the Slovenian – Croatian border for passport checks despite it being the 32nd country to enter the European Union. Is that what we have to look forward to now just enough British people have voted to leave? What a calamity.
However, I did eventually get there and was met by the wonderful dancing Lea (who I met in a woman’s dormitory in Graz last year and kept up with on Facebook).
‘Croatia was, and still is, the hottest piece of geographic real estate in Europe. Croatia is the gateway between north, south, east and west in Europe.’ From inavukic.com (no longer available).
During my first day I stayed close to where the apartment is and look what I found: Bundek lake with woods in Gradski Park, and the Museum of Modern Art on Avenija Dubrovnik (all less than 15 minutes walk).
The familiar smell of Autumn, insects and wildflowers I am used to, sunshine on my skin.
I sat back against the tree and relaxed my pelvis. Smelling the rotting earth at my feet, I reflected that it is hard to write when I am unsettled. I relax and exhale, feeling myself let go.
I walked around the lake shown above and there was the other side of it – all open and sculpted.
Like Norway, I am in a country where I speak none of the language and cannot make sense of the signs around me. I quickly learn please and thank you by asking shop owners to teach me. I smile a lot.
Charenton-le-Pont to Richard-Lenoir métro 5. 5 kms (Charenton-Ecoles metro, Place du Cardinal Lavigerie, Avenue Jean Jaurés, Rue Claude Decaen, Place Félix Eboué, Rue de Reuilly, Rue Faidherbe, Rue Godefroy Caraignac, Square Saint Aboise, Boulevard Voltaire, 11th arrondissement, Richard-Lenoir métro).
Parc Zoologique de Paris.
I was deposited by my bla bla car from Reims in an area I had never previously visited. I decided to walk T the Maria Canal for my Seiki Shiatsu workshop with Catherine Dompas, but I dawdled so much, I had to ake the tube the rest of the way!
Where people live – I have seen this all over London and Paris recently: more people made homeless by the rich-poor divide.
Wherever you go in Paris there’s something lovely to see amidst the blocks of flats, supermarkets and cafés.
Beautiful sun throwing shadows.
Église de Saint-Esprit.
There is a garden in front of the Saint Aboise Church in memory of the Monks of Tibhirine (Algeria). They were horrifically murdered in their Abbey during the Algerian Civil War. A French film was made about it, Of Gods and Men, was awarded the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2010.
To get to Richard-Lenoir métro from Boulevard Voltaire you take a left and walk through a public gardens with vines and a playpark.
An impressive floral display for the end of October.
I just can’t seem to stop taking pictures of flowers! I have added links to a blog I have just discovered (London wlogger – we seem to like the same things) and other London gardens which will be sure to delight.
The garden is round the back and I visited when the rest of the museum was being renovated.
Wu Chi – undifferentiated timelessness, the un-manifest aspect ofthe Tao.In peacock feathers from the garden birds.
I enjoyed teaching an introduction to Chi Gung for a group of Masters students (Greek, Dutch, American) from the Netherlands before I left. Their performances at Thursday’s showcase were stimulating: a two-hander addressing non-binary issues in an appropriately naïve style, and a quirky performed reading reminding me of the toymaker in Copélia.
View from the garden. It was colder in the final days, but I still did T’ai Chi there in the morning sun.
Delicate ivy ‘drawings’ on the wall.
Silver birch bark – surely the origin of the design of camouflage clothing!
Autumn leaf burning by E. I sat and watched the burning embers and the small flames lick as the sky darkened. The fire was still warm in the morning.
The walk back to the station took me past Halloween house decorations, the luminous sumac tree, and a village hall (last time the gate was shut and I couldn’t see in, so this time I crept up and peered in the window – they were all playing cards in there!). Then there were two furry friendly (hungry?) donkeys who I was instructed not to feed, and several people who kindly stopped to offer me a lift, which I declined so I could walk.
The WW1 memorial for the dead soldiers, significant given that the topic of my studies is death.
Strips of roots growing across the bottom of the tree.
A whorl of bark.
Flowers found at ground level on the pavement.
Outside the old school is this lovely sundial with the inscription La grive aux raisins (thrush with grapes is a delicacy and also the name of the local newsletter) andon the gate of the village room.
View from the train to Reims.
Another sundial, a giant one in Reims lit up in the night. Cadrans Solaire de la Marne, also connected to WW1 as the River Marne, site of the battles of 1914 and 1918 where the German advancements were halted.
From the back of a toilet door at Le Maryland bar in Reims – not so very respectful of our monarch!
This bar is near the Cathedral and I do not recommend it as it was full of smokers and smoke, and with men making not so-funny remarks. I didn’t feel comfortable there on my own.
Sculpture by Armelle Blary https://armelleblary.com in a window in Reims – inspired by the work of Louise Bouregeois I would guess.
Les bunnies. At the home of Julie Martin who was my bla bla car driver 10 days before and who kindly invited me to stay on my return. Together with her lovely flatmate, Marie, I was cooked two sorts of crêpes which were delicious.
Many thanks to them for their hopitality. Check out their innovate business: Be Vegetal My Friend which offers all sorts of workshops with plants and flowers, plus you can see Julie demonstrating what she does, and go there to get designs for your wedding or event.
Julie Martin, Be Vegetal My Freind, in her element!
Yesterday I lay down on my back to do my exercises under a tree with my eyes closed. I was focusing on my breath and muscles, moving through my paces. I opened them on hearing a tweet and there, in the spreading branches (don’t they always spread?) and bright leaves, was one, no, two, a whole flock of little birds with long tails bobbing up and down, jutting their tiny heads and flitting fast from place to place. I couldn’t see their backs because I was underneath, but there were hints of pink adding to the brown and beige. They took no notice of me, which was nice.
As I watched, a beastie with many legs crawled up the edge of my arm and onto the top; another one went in and, thankfully, out of my ear; an ant went all round my knee.
When I went to the loo I sprayed soft moss fronds and scratchy bits of autumn twig on the floor!
Later sitting at my desk, writing, the lime greenery was only broken by the odd brown leaf and matching beech nuts opening their hard lips to the air. From the first floor I am half way up where the branches are thinner. It all shivers and sways gently, not much, almost settling, continuing its dialogue with the breeze.
This morning I stood beside another one to do my T’ai Chi. Just as I got to move 134 I found myself back at thirty something so I completed almost a whole second round (140 in total). I got slower and slower. In the fog I saw the tips of my fingers, covered in fine rain, shift in my peripheral vision and I felt myself sink a little.
It’s trunk was very quiet, half in, half out of the ground. I couldn’t see it move although I knew it was, inside. It stood there before I got here of course, and stands there now. I tried to emulate it. I thought of the tree, being in all weathers; watching people, animals and insects coming and going over the years. The wind rustled it. Then did the same to my hair. I stood, learning.
Then I stood still, ‘standing like a tree’ (it’s a chi gung exercise). It was lighter now (approaching 7am). I enjoyed it.
First in shoulder stand and then bottom in the air – the world looked lovely even upside down looking between my legs.
After I gave Shiatsu to a wood worker this morning, I left him on the mat and walked to the window. High on the second floor I was level with the top of the tree and there was a woodpecker. No, really. Right there. Black and white all down its back with a red top knot and knickers. The window was closed, but I saw it noiselessly tapping inbetween tilting its head to the right as if looking to see if anyone was coming.
When I looked back into the room and asked how L was doing, he said “floating” and then there was a wait. From inside himself with his eyes tight shut he added, “my body’s fizzing”.
I didn’t try to take a photo of the woodpecker in case I disturbed it. However this little critter, a ladybird, was on my last piece of apple (from the tree in the garden) when I came back in.
I sit and work in the garden and the hot sun heats my lower back beautifully. I tan.
A peacock feather.
I look up as something thuds. An apple lies beside me. As I watch, whisper of a leaf; an acorn drops. Fruits still red and ripening.
Giving one Shiatsu per day for the community.
Looking down onto the village..
St Joan of Arc – one of the luminous stained glass windows of the chapel.
The garden from inside.
J makes dumplings – there is always lots of kitchen activity: fuels the brain!
E collected ceps and more in the woods for sharing.
I took a walk to the Intermarché/ supermarket on a sunny Sunday.
School and graf / graffiti.
On first sight I always think this means ‘no singing in public’!
Pumpkins (above) and the last tomatoes (they are sweet as sweet).
The local library where MT volunteers.
The garden is the best place for writing. The light is inspiring. I caught myself thinking, ‘With this beauty and peacefulness I don’t need to eat’!
The slightly weird grottoes showing above the trees, which catch the morning rays.
The ringing singing tree, surely.
After my tour, I sat in the garden as the sky darkened and the moon brightened. The last of the sun illuminated the tops of the birches and their tiny leaves flickered in the wind. The cyprus stood steady, turning a black silhouette before the rest. I watched a plane go past a star – that’s what it looked like.
An almost full harvest moon
Then an owl hooted: sometimes singly, followed by silence, then four in a row. Baby blue clouds appeared and a gauze of them passed in front of the orb which altered the light on the lawn.
The sound in the trees kidded my body into thinking it was colder than it was. Still, I pulled my hood over my hat, poked my thumbs through the holes in my sleeves and wormed one hand up the opposite arm. The chickens had been put to bed I realised, and there was no sign of the peacocks. A dog barked. The church bell tolled. I recognised a halloween sky but minus the bats! And I knew there was revellry going on indoors.
The Piano Concerto No. 21, 2nd Movement “Andante” by Mozart plays over and over in my head. I get down to the next chapter.
Oh the Autumn colours please me! As this is farmland, there are sheep, and further along the way, horses too.
With a lot of space to wander and feed. They aren’t fazed by me at all.
One matching chestnut, one dappled grey and one white. I wonder again, do horses (and cows) communicate with each other? Do they vary their behaviour at different times of the day? ‘It’s getting dark guys, let’s have one more meal and then lie down for the night!’
Here are the wide open arable fields where huge spreaders are spraying (just like Kent!). There are almost no flowers or birds as a result of the chemicals. These are recently sown and ploughed fields.
I follow the sign posts and there are also familiar neon arrows at ground level to keep me right – pointers for a run or cross-country cycling no doubt.
I remember the red and white stripes of the French walks I made in Normandy, but as always the entrances and exits for walkers are unusual.
This one was a sort of turnstile of oxydised metal.
I tread quietly. Once I enter the woods, the leaves are falling randomly around me and there is a sweet autumnal leafy smell.
Saw-edged sweet chestnut leaves litter the way, bronze and tan.
Ash and sycamore, acorns in cups, chestnuts in their prickly cases.
There are no fuchsias here like in Ireland, the hedgerows are instead bountiful with clematis, their furry seed heads studded with dark brown cores.
A tweet here and there; a rustling up high; and chirp chirp as a bird darts past.
I pick my way over sandy white soil, and admire the whispy grasses.
Laden with ruddy apples, on a carpet of windfalls.
Downhill, past domestic vines, beehives and allotments with bright flowers, I discover Saint Thomas.
The mairie, town hall
Ceramic flowers on a grave
By the end of the day, the effects of the sun as she brightens the wall and path shining low now behind a telegraph pole or street light so a shadow is thrown.
I am in Champagne country, in Picardy. I took the train from Reims.
The driver waited patiently
The countryside looked amazing through the train window – flat, on into the distance, great expanses of single colours.
I visited the Artisan Baker and then left my rucksack under a tree as the Intermarché was in the opposite direction and I was tired.
I set off with the additional weight of shopping (root veg and cheese) and the first place of note I passed was the library – so surprising to see one in this small but well resourced village. The three women greeted me effusively and showed me around, asking me questions, instructing me on how to use it and proudly showing their collection of English books. Marie T was just leaving, she said, and offered me a most welcome lift, telling me her incredibly sad personal family ‘death’ story on the way. She said that volunteering at the library had been her lifeline and now she was living again.
I am staying in a old convent (where nuns are or were is always a good place for me). It was used as a prison and a hospital in the past by the Americans and the Gestapo so it has a chequered history.
18th October 2018
Early the first morning, the cockerel (that’s him above, all white and fluffy) asks us why we are not outside yet. He is right, it is a gloriously sunny morning. I found a spot between four silver birch trees for t’ai chi.
Later I was greeted by Johnny the gardener and able to keep practicing my French. Everyone is really friendly.
The hives are not producing honey but they have a local source.
Spiralling up to a pool of sunshine I sit and soak it up, starting my writing.
L from New Zealand crouches in a grotto – he wears nail varnish and makes both art as well as shelves – his contribution to the community.
I move as the sun goes behind trees, finding new spots.
Collecting windfalls – brown, yellow and red; prising walnuts from their damp black coats; snapping hazel shells for a breakfast from the garden.
Someone has made apple cake and roasted some chestnuts which I add to my banquet.
We drink tea and eat homemade cakes during the English conversation group that evening. I learn about some of the local people, their jobs, travels and families. We have a laugh.
One and a half hours from Paris Nation by Bla Bla Car, Reims is in champagne country. Not far from the Belgian border, it is just north of the Wildlife Parc Naturel Régional de la Montagne de Reims, west of Metz and south of Lille.
I visited for part of a day and there is undoubtedly more to see. Julie, my driver, deposited me at the Gare / station (there are 2 entrances) and as we bade each other goodbye she kindly invited me to stay with her in a week’s time – she is a couch surfing host.
Opposite the front of the station is a park, Square Colbert, which was completely closed for landscaping, and beyond that, along the Boulevard du Général Leclerc, are the posh hotels. At right angles is Place Drouet d’Erlon, along which you will find eating places galore.
I unfortunately chose poorly (I wanted a place in the sun and a chèvre / goats cheese salad). I do not recommend Café Le Gaulois – the food was very poor quality and over priced.
The Catholic Église Saint-Jacques (Church of the patron Saint of the caminos (walking pathways, les chemins) in Spain (the one who gave Santiago de Compostella its name).
I found the Musée des Beaux-Arts quite by chance.
The next stop had to be the cathedral, stunning against the blue sky.
Round the side of the cathedral the Carnegie Library can be found.
I passed the Opéra, the opera house on my way back to the station.
October 10 2018: Kent – parts of the Greensand Way and Medway Valley Walk.
Distance: 6 miles / 9. 66 kms
Duration: 2.5 – 3 hours
Weather: glorious throughout
Stiles crossed: numerous
Railways crossed: 2
Boats sailing past: 3 yachts, 2 dinghies with outboard motors chugging away and 3 canoes
Churches: St Mary the Virgin, Nettlestead
Grand country houses : 2 – Roydon Hall and Nettlestead Manor
I started walking across the Lees in Yalding around 9.30 am after a starry night and a misty morning.
The Lees, a low-lying meadow, flood regularly caused by two rivers joining the Medway here – the Teise and Beult. Indeed my father once crossed the submerged road thinking he would be fine and became stranded, having to leave his car and wade back.
On a day like today, the water looked beautiful, producing stunning reflections on its smooth surface.
After some confusion caused by my thinking that the locks beside Teapot Island were the ones mentioned in the leaflet (details below), I set off along the pavement towards Yalding Station from where I walked a few days before using my phone torch in the pitch dark. With the canal on my left and the incongruous new wooden houses appearing upside down under the bridge, it was only a short way to the Marina and Hampstead Lock.
Skirting past the new building, I took the left fork and crossed the first railway line. Then a series of fields and woods, easily found for the most part.
There was a path which is accessed beside a sweet cottage and that is hard to find but a kind woman noticed my confusion and pointed it out.
The low point of the walk came when the leaflet directed me to cross straight through the middle of a huge field. It looked pretty but there was no obvious path as before and I spied a large red farm vehicle in the far corner, so I decided to skirt instead, through the long, wet grass. To my utter dismay the farmer was spraying green chemicals and went as close by me as he could without actually running me over. There was no way to avoid it and the smell hung in my nostrils for the next hour. (I arrived home with a most unusual headache and had to go to sleep. On waking I searched the Internet, discovering what they were and how harmful they can be up close. I showered and am hoping for the best).
The noxious fumes abated temporarily as I made my way through the welcome cool woods, away from the acrid smell I thought, to the altogether sweeter scent of chestnuts. The fences made me wonder what they were protecting and brought to mind the small trucks I came across in the Austrian mountains where single men collected wood. There was no sun except in dapples and a grey squirrel leapt across the path. I could still hear the warning parp parp of the train as it came to level crossings in the distance and the drone of far-off traffic, but also the birds squawking and crawing and tweeting.
Sadly, despite the wonderful view, once out of the trees the very strong fumes were evident for miles.
The fences became much stronger and the gates quite serious, when I came across the deer on my left standing still, observing me. I startled a reclining stag and away he bounded, taking off and landing from all four feet at the same time which always makes me laugh.
Then the flock of curious youngsters gathered and crept closer until one of the stags stretched forward his neck and bellowed, causing them to pause. He moved into the centre, whereupon the second, smaller male departed. The others continued to stare, their ears pricked. It reminded me of the grounds of Knole House in Sevenoaks where I grew up and where I first saw deer roaming like this. Further on, three more lazed in the shade of a great oak until I disturbed them. They had fawn spots on their backs and white bottoms with black stripes down the middle!
The red brick Elizabethan Manor house, Roydon Hall was on my left now, with its stepped roof edges and old-fashioned chimneys. Apparently it has an escape route below the cellars, but it appeared to be boarded up although the the lawn was newly mown.
I expect they call this prison-like fencing, ‘managed land’.
There was a square tower with a turret and lake to my left (though later I thought perhaps it was plastic-covered crops) and satellite dish to my right.
This was the only slight incline and at the top was what I assume was a folly. Its yellow stone and Grecian columns were set amidst lush foliage in the midday sun.
As I strode down the lane, two women and four walking poles approached me to ask directions.
Several miles along the road took me to the St Mary the Virgin church at Nettlestead with its simple 13th century tower and possible Saxon foundations.
Set in an equally charming churchyard, the building was started by the magnificently named de Pympe family. It has six notably large windows commissioned by Reginald de P.
At the top of each window stand angels with curiously feathered legs. (taken from the history leaflet)
In addition, I was shocked to read that
The original glass of this window with the rest of the 15th century glass in the church suffered damage by impious hands at a time unknown. (Taken from the plaque)
And furthermore, that the visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury in July 24th 1895
… was well nigh “a visit of surprise” so short was our prior notice… And here let me say at once how troubled I am to think that in the hurry of the moment some members of the Parish Church Committee were overlooked. (From an account in the church).
Not far away was an entrance to the Medway river path where I stood back as a cyclist whizzed past.
It was a gentle stroll back to the Hampstead Marina alongside various water crafts including one propelled by a man with a long white ponytail and no shirt, sitting behind an infant in a baby seat and a woman who talked incessantly.
Tall trees shushed a plane and helicopter and the smells were all fruity or woody, wet or damp.
On arrival there were three men with two boats watching as a fourth opened the lock. I joined them as the water slowly filled the space between the gates, fascinated as they floated through and boarded for “a couple of miles down and back, and then a pint!”
I retraced my steps to The Boathouse for a half of Shepherd Neame’s Autumn Ale. I was admiring the hops when a couple stopped to tell me what they were and that they had been hop pickers years ago. Hundreds used to come from London to join the workforce at the picking season.
The sign said,
Cheers! Yalding has always had a strong connection to alcohol! At one time it was producing more hops than any other parish in England. It is also famed for its cherry orchards and the (sic) remains of the Medieval Vineyards have been found in the area. The various crops have been used to produce wine, beer and cherry brandy..
You can download the pdf of the walk leaflet here. It is pretty good and contains useful and accurate photos of fields with superimposed arrows showing where to go. The second paragraph of number 2 is a repeat so ignore this.