Walking the Île St Louis, Paris

Paris - anneharrison.com.au

For the short while I had in Paris, every day I would venture down to a little supermarket on the Île St Louis. I never left empty-handed: a smoked chicken, some quail, or perhaps some cheese; yoghurt in its own ceramic pot (which I collected and brought home), a bottle of red. Consisting of two aisles barely wide enough for people to pass one another the place could hardly be classified as a supermarket, yet it was not a corner store, for in that small shop lay a wealth of offerings to put any supermarket to shame. The shop was simply the essence of the Île St Louis.

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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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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

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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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Le Vieux Paris – Walking the Île de la Cité

 

Île de la Cité from anneharrison.com.au

Where else to begin exploring Paris, but where the city began? Walking through the Île de la Cité covers some 4000 years of civilisation, from when the first Gauls settled here to those living statues who daily pose outside Notre-Dame for tourists.

Paris began her life on a boat-shaped island in the middle of the Seine. The city’s coat of arms proudly displays a boat tossed by the waves, above the motto fluctuat nec mergitu: she is tossed by the waves but does not sink. By the 3rd century BCE, the Parisii tribe had established a fortified settlement on what was to become the Île de la Cité, although other Celtic tribes had lived here from at least 2000 BCE. (Canoes dating back to almost 4000 BCE have been found on the banks the Seine.)

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