Discovering Marseille and Her Old Town

 

Discovering Marseille

 

Sailing into Marseille, the Basilica de la Notre Dame de la Garde greeted me even while my boat was still far out to sea. Her golden Madonna has been calling sailors home down the centuries. Then came the Chateau D’if. How could I sail past without thinking of The Count of Monte Cristo?

Part of what I love about sailing into a port is how so much of the old town lies by the water waiting to be explored. Like many a Mediterranean town, Marseille began as a village by the sea, and this is where her heart still lies. Palaeolithic cave paintings have been discovered nearby; the village of Massalia was the first Greek settlement in France, established around 600 BC. It was conquered first by the Romans, then by various other nations and city-states during the sea-sawing of alliances which marked medieval and Renaissance Europe. Continue Reading →

On Finding My Great Uncle’s Grave

My great uncle's grave from anneharrison.com.au

On the 8th September 1916, my great-uncle died from wounds sustained during the Battle of the Somme. Second Lieutenant Henry Byron, 1st/5th Battalion, South Lancashire Regiment, was twenty-two. His brother – my grandfather – enlisted at the age of fourteen, had a kidney shot out in Ypres, contracted TB while convalescing, and was shipped home with six months to live. Deciding escape was the only way to survive the miasmas of war-time Liverpool, he worked his way to Australia, jumped shipped in Perth, and died at the age of ninety two. He could never bring himself to return to France and visit his beloved brother’s grave – my daughter and I were the first in the family to do so.

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Staying in the Hôtel-Hopitel Dieu, Paris

 

 Hôtel-Hospitel Dieu

I lay in bed, staring at the flood-lit towers of Notre Dame. The sky-light in my room looked straight onto the cathedral. Founded by Saint Landry in 651 AD, the Hôtel-Hopitel Dieu was the first hospital in Paris, and still cares for ill Parisians. The ghosts of some 1300 years of medical history glide along its marble corridors, whispering in consultation outside the wards, then pass into the old-fashioned lifts to visit the fourteen quiet hotel rooms hidden on the sixth floor.

Hotels can be seen as merely a place to sleep, or they can be another layer in all the experiences of travel. They don’t have to be expensive (fortunately!) but as I love pre-dawn and evening strolls, and watching a neighbourhood change by the hour, I try to pick a place to stay somewhere interesting for my walks. If the hotel comes with its own history, is in a old part of town and has a great cafe or restaurant nearby (hello, Paris!) it’s hard to resist. The Hôtel-Hopitel Dieu offered it all.

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Mont St Michel – An Earthly Image of Paradise

 

 

Mont St Michel rising from the sea

The train sped through the rainy afternoon, past green fields dotted with stone farmhouses and fat cows. As dusk gathered the train finally stopped in the deserted village of Pontorson. In the gloom it took me a while to find the exit from the station: a walk over the tracks then through a knee-high gate, to the patiently waiting bus.

After some twenty minutes the lights of the island suddenly appeared. Against the darkness Mont St Michel rose from the sea, unchanged from medieval times when the island became a mystical emblem of the heavenly Jerusalem, an earthly image of paradise.

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Driving Le Grand Canyon du Verdon

2011-12-26-11-38-51

In autumn, Le Grand Canyon du Verdon in Upper Provence becomes a place of colour and empty back roads, scented lavenders and spectacular scenery. A short drive from many a popular destination, it is often forgotten by the tourists buzzing along the more crowded coastline.

Trigance, a short drive from Castallane, makes an excellent base. The Knights Templar did just that, for Trigance lies on one of the old trade and pilgrim routes. Here the Knights built a fortified monastery, which then became Le Chateau de Trigance (now a hotel with a restaurant reputed to serve the best cuisine in the region.) From a distance, as the towering fortress rises out of the plain, a medieval hamlet at its feet, it seems little has changed since the Crusades. We parked our tiny Citroen 2CV – too large for all but the main street – and watched as our luggage was winched up to the castle by an intricate set of pulleys; we were left to negotiate the endless stairs.

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