Packing It In – 10 days

Maussane les Alpilles is a lovely, but gentrified, small commune that has a wonderful feel to it, especially at this time of year. A small square, bustling with locals, sitting in the cafes, the fountains and statues adding to the ambiance. A local boules match added to the spectacle, we knew it wasn’t as easy as they made it look! The church, for a population of less than 2.5k was as usual, grand but in a cool dramatic kind of way, no gold in sight. As we were seeing in France, the 14 reliefs depicting the Stations of the Cross were fantastically carved. We didn’t see this in Spain but all French churches have them, it seems.

The star of this area however, and one of our favourite experiences this trip, is ‘Carriers des Lumieres’, an arts centre with a difference! At Baux-de-Provence it is a projection show in an old quarry, cathedral like in scale, flat carved walls, perfect for an immersive experience of Van Gogh, De Vermeer and Mondrian art. Created with such talent, the projected art is in such fine detail and with clever animation built in, it truly is a mesmerising experience. We sat for a very long time just watching the show, it differs around the inners of the quarry walls and came away with a greater appreciation of the works, having seen them in such a different light and the imagery being in so much detail (versus a gallery). As you can tell, we were quite taken by it. Tough one, choosing pictures!

Baux-de-Provence itself, is a hill top medieval village, very picturesque and set among the sandstone formations and usual erosions in the wider area. Clearly a tourist spot, lots of ‘shops’ but the views were spectacular. From our base the following day was a beautiful bus ride, you don’t hear that very often do you, to Arles.

Arles, a Roman town famous for its two Amphitheatre on the banks of the Rhone. The largest, modelled on Rome’s Colosseum, is of 90AD and has 120 arches, held over 20k spectators of chariot races and battles galore. These days, its bullfighting, plays and concerts… quite a mix! We didn’t go in, we’d read a lot that it was better from the outside and the glimpses of scaffolding proved that correct. There are pockets of ‘Roman’ all around the town so it makes for a super wander. Original elements such as columns from the Roman Forum, cleverly incorporated into newer buildings. The brick vaulted ceiling of the Town Hall was fascinating and St Trophime Cathedral, Romanesque design, was immense but austere. A very long main knave with narrow, corridor like knaves each side, it was dark but numerous, varied chapels added interest, great ceilings and unusual aspects. The Chapel of Relics and The Chapel of Entombment being a couple, although a certain person was nearly thrown out for suggesting the nun was in leather… Anyhow, a great wandering place, Arles has lots to see, shabby chic architecture (did the French coin that phrase anyway?!) and several gelato shops 🙂

Next stop, Lyon. Thankfully dodging the rain, a decent walk to the station for an easy train into the centre we were immediately struck by the grand architecture, wide streets and grand public spaces and squares. A cool but bright day, lots of people lounging around, mumbling about pension age reforms, it was fascinating. We wouldn’t class it as touristy at all, France’s 3rd largest city, it has the usual global brands on the main street but off there, plenty of eateries and drinkeries. Dominated by the Rivers Rhone and Saone it has a modern vibe and multicultural buzz.

Highlights for us were Place des Terreaux with the Lyon Hotel de Ville and Fontain Barthold, such detail, both gazeworthy! The Eglise St Nizier with two different bell towers and the star, Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourviere, Lyon’s own ‘Sacre Cour’. Perched high on a hill overlooking the city we opted for the ‘effort route’ versus the ‘coca cola route’ (taxi) and were very much rewarded at the top. We’d not seen anything like it for a long time, the Basilica interior was akin to Russian or Greek Orthodox in colour scheme, design and feel, the intricately designed mosaic walls and floors were immaculate. Such wonderous surroundings, incredibly ornate and colourful. It was built using private funds 1872-1896 on an old Roman Forum. Most underground crypt’s are fairly stark, not this one, just stunning!

We’d adjusted our plans to avoid any French disruption at Calais given the political goings on, so headed further north through Is-sur-Tille, a small, Cotswoldesque town, very pretty, up to Charleville-Mezieres. The further north we travelled, the weather got wetting and the prices increased 😦 Intrepid as we are though, we headed out with coats and brolly’s to explore. We were a tad confused when we saw one of the road signs though! Manchester? On the River Meuse, they were originally two communities on opposite sides of it before being merged in 1966. Hence there’s two of most things! It’s seen some events though, occupied on 1st and 2nd World Wars the evidence remains, most buildings have bullet holes in them still. Equally, it’s a mix of new build among the old, dating back to C17th. Randomly, one may think, Puppetry is an important part of the culture (Politics of War and Puppets… hmmmm….?!) There’s a puppet festival every three years and it’s home to The International Puppetry Institute (de la Marionnette) and there’s also a Puppetry College. So even in bad weather, a fascinating town. A sizeable music festival every year, it’s a vibrant place.

The stumble across moment for us though, was the pretty grim looking exterior of Basilica of Notre Dame. It was open so we thought we’d take a peak and oh my word! The rmearkable edifice was begun in 1499 but has had so many periods of bad luck, it’s a wonder it is still there. Damaged in 1815, 1870, 1914, 1918 and 1944 it is finally restored and we can only keep our fingers and toes crossed. The 66 windows have been painstakingly created in a modern style, shedding glorious light into the building, from the grey outdoors. René Dürrbach, a pal of Picasso (clearly the influencer of the day!) designed them (starting in 1954, finishing 1979) 1000sq mtr, it’s a unique work of its kind in Europe. An abstract composition, very symbolic, the windows depict the journey from Garden of Eden through to Jerusalem and the colours flow with the seasons. The Eglise Saint Remi was a bit of a let down after that but it did have an unusual pulpit design!

‘In Bruges’… well we’d seen the film years ago and had always wanted to visit at it looked spectacular, so why not? So much to see and new styles of architecture being more northern again. Near where we stayed, the urban area was so not like the ‘cookie cutter’ UK, every house on the roads seemed individual, interesting in design, even if updated somewhat and all, even if simple, were stylish. Hints and tips into our little note book if we ever build our own! The electric bus took us into the centre where we found ourselves in touristville, yes we couldn’t avoid it here! Anyway, picturesque, very photographable and full of sights, chocolate shops, beer shops and waffle shops. Oh, and chip shops too. Belgium is apparently, famous for their fries, including claiming the origin of them. Sadly, not for us, we couldn’t turn a blind taste bud to the fact they are cooked in beef fat. There is genuinely a Friet Museum! There’s also an ornamental cat shop!

Plenty of places to visit, here’s a selection. St Salvador Cathedral is a bright and airy space, mixing the modern with the old it’s a great space for quick look. The Church of Our Lady has an amazing vaulted brick ceiling. Wandering, it’s not that bigger place, there’s so many great buildings. The unpronounceable Gruuthusemuseum with it’s tiny towers and red windows; and the Belfry of Bruges, such a prominent medieval symbol, owning the main market square. Several small highlighter pens and the local youth, on bikes, (you’d never see it in UK sadly) crowded the centre! Also there, the Provincial Court, pale, gothic revival, and now a government meeting house. Burg Square houses Bruges City Hall, flags dominating the exterior with quaint red dormers.

Of note for us was Basilica of the Holy Blood, interesting outside with gold motifs, the interior was a shock, it was so different, slightly reminiscent of a medieval jester in style, it was adorned with colour and fancy. There is supposedly a phial relic containing Christs blood in a shrine. Thinking of the sense of place, we can’t ever understand why people visit these places and then sit and worship the phone god? We instead worshiped a drink in the late sunshine watching the world go by…

So from Bruges we neared the end of the Visa Tour as we called it. Heading to Hook of Holland, we boated across and since being back have been at SMC for van bits, service etc, done goodness knows how many loads of washing at The Redditch Aire (courtesy of Nicks M&D) and started thinking about all the stuff we have to do, and people to see in the next month before our home on wheels gets put on a new boat, in a different direction. We are back at The Ranch and already have our jobs list from Pamela, including the usual sewing repairs to Bobby’s garments. She says it’s not ‘cos she rips them off him but we’re not convinced… Anyhow, all’s well that ends well and we are glad to be home, even if it isn’t really our home, but you get the drift!

For those concerned about the feline one, she’s back to being clean and oil free. In her last days of the trip, she had a go at football but didn’t like the loneliness on the pitch. She also developed a penchant for other peoples mats, hiding in plain sight under them. The boat across was fine as she had her own bunk, we shared one 🙂 She said she enjoyed her trip but did like being back in a house so she could run around more with freedom and get up to mischief high up. She has even explored the interior of her shipping crate, little does she know! Now we are back at The Ranch she’s back to mousing mode and tormenting Smartie, Wylie and Hattie. Who knew that the French create wine for cats too? Cheers Everyone!

2 thoughts on “Packing It In – 10 days”

  1. Some great photos there, I particularly like the Basilica of Notre Dame….not sure what it’s all about but it looks good. It’s been a great trip. Roll on the next one and we’ll catch up in between.
    Cheers Lesley


  2. Looks like you had another fabulous trip

    The Carriers des Luminaires has just shot to the top of our Must Do List💕


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