Norm’s Britain and beyond… 2017 – Episode Ten

Saturday 23rd September 2017

It’s with some sadness to realise that this is the last day of our tour. Sadness because what was a group of people of diverse backgrounds, ages and interest became such a cohesive one and a pleasure to travel with, is breaking up. On most tour groups I’ve travelled with there was always one – and occasionally two – who consciously or otherwise did not fit in.  In that regard, this group was a welcome exception.

But enough of that, we had a long day ahead and I better get onto recording it. Using on this occasion, motorways rather than Back-Roads preferred backroads, we set off not too early on our 200 km to Chartres and its Cathedral. We took a break at a motorway Service Centre after about an hour for a comfort stop and coffee.  Here I was able to demonstrate my suspect technological skills by ordering a N’espresso double espresso from a totally automated dispenser only to find that it didn’t like any of my credit cards, and without any obvious way to cancel the order, I left it to work it out for itself – dIscreetly  of course. In the end I settled for an ice-cold Starbucks Frappuccino from the self-service fridge.

We arrived in Chartres at about midday and were told we had until 3:30 pm to view the Cathedral, explore the town and have lunch in our own time and own pace – a sensible arrangement in that it made allowance for our individual preferences of religious or secular interest.
Most of us headed straight for the Cathedral, wisely it turned out, because the big crowds started to arrive not too long after us. I had visited Chartres on a previous occasion but on this visit was able to spend all the time I wanted just soaking up its splendours.

For the uninitiated, the Cathedral was built between 1194 and 1220 and is best known for its fine sculptures from the middle of the 12th century, the magnificent 12th and 13th-century stained-glass windows and its stunningly carved choir screen. Some of the photos may, I hope, do some of that magnificence justice.

For the first half hour or so, I did a leisurely circumnavigation of what is a really very big building, mentally noting the features I wanted to return to. On the way I stopped occasionally to say a prayer or two or light a candle or two or just sit.

Of the photos that follow, I can identify and have captioned all except the stained-glass windows, the titles of which have thus far eluded me.

Chartres Cathedral, Chartres,  Centre-Val-de-Loire
West facade, central portal
23 September 2017
Chartres Cathedral, Chartres,  Centre-Val-de-Loire
Choir Stall Carving – The Three Wise Men (1621-1635)
23 September 2017

Photos: My visit to Chartres Cathedral, Chartres, Centre-Val-de-Loire – 23rd September 2017

I spent close to an hour and a half in the Cathedral by which time all my fellow travellers had headed for the town – a small and attractive one – to stroll or lunch or both. After a quick, for me, exploration of the Main Street, I made my hungry way to the small café that we passed on the way to the Cathedral and appeared to a number of us as a good place to have lunch. If any of them had lunched there they were all gone by the time I got there.

Undeterred, I made my way down the narrow stairs to a quirkily shaped and decorated tiny dining room that was close to full of what appeared to be almost entirely locals. But the very Gallic owner responded very positively to my “Un, s’il vous plait” and found me a stool at a bar looking out on the lane behind. Clearly family-owned the menu was a small one but included beef bourguignon which sounded just what I wanted – and it was. It was preceded by a bowl of mixed olives and crackers, crusty bread and a small carafe of a local dry white wine. An appetising way to start.  The beef was every bit as good as I’d hoped – being quite a large serving of this deliciously rich casserole served with tiny round green beans and disgustingly good buttery mash. As you can imagine I enjoyed every morsel, putting the crusty bread to good use in mopping up anything left in the bowl. A great French food finale!

I just had time then for a quick foray into the part of the town where I had sighted a half-timbered house from another time, and a photo of it has joined the library.

Chartres,  Centre-Val-de-Loire – Half-timbered house close to the Cathedral
23 September 2017

One thing that nobody could miss in Chartres was the security presence. As a major tourist attraction in regional France, the Cathedral and its visitors must be rated as one of the most vulnerable targets in France. Certainly there were plenty of uniforms about including local and national police and two small units of the army all in body armour and heavily armed. A bit scary, but reassuring at the same time.

Then it was time to head for Paris and the end of the tour. The 90 km journey was scheduled to take an hour and a half but, in the end, took close to two, courtesy the horrendous Friday evening rush hour traffic once we reached the outskirts of the city. With limited parking in front of our drop-off hotel in Saint-Marcel, Tony and Bill unloaded us and all our goods and belongings in record time and with a hasty “au revoir” they – and our trusty coach – were off.

It was just as well we had made our farewells last evening as all but two couples had arranged to be picked up on arrival and in what seemed no time at all had disappeared and I was the only one left in the tiny reception area that had been packed a few minutes before.

I had arranged to be picked up at 6:50 pm for transfer to Charles de Gaulle airport for my 9:50 pm departure and I must admit to being somewhat concerned, given how traffic was, that that was running it a bit tight. Worry wort to the end, I rang Emirates in Sydney who reassured me that the time that was set was correct, the driver would be there at that time and, unsaid but implied, “stop worrying”!!

There was nothing for it then but to do just that. And to that end, I went to find a drink. Being a very small hotel it didn’t run to a bar but the receptionist said “But we do have a wine bar” and pointed to what looked like a tall automatic beverage dispensing machine. And that’s what it was, an automatic wine dispenser.

Apparently it was designed for wine-tastings and dispenses a properly aerated and (if white or rose wine) cooled glass from an individual test tube type glass cylinder of red, white or rose.  It works in much the same way as a coffee capsule does but is perhaps a bit more sophisticated. So intrigued was I that I found more information about it on a website and, for those who may be interested, I’ve provided a link below:

Although designed for wine tasting I thought that for a small hotel with limited space for a bar or storage it was an innovative and simple way of providing its customers a needed glass of wine or two.

I had a choice of 2 whites, 2 reds or a rose and chose the rose. Perhaps recognising my need,  I was very soon the satisfied holder of a glass of rose with a typically French flinty taste but which, in the circumstances, was just what I needed. If you get the impression that I enjoyed it you’d be right – and I would have had another one if I hadn’t run out of Euros.

The Emirates car and driver turned up on the dot and after a hair-raising and unbelievably short 35 minutes we were at the airport. Oh why is it that I worry? No answer necessary.
Check-in, Border Control and security screening passed as efficiently as I’ve experienced anywhere so I was able to fit in another calming glass of rose before boarding.

Once on board and settled, I realised – or perhaps for the first time admitted to myself – how tired I was. In any event, after a light meal or rather a light sampling of a larger one, I slept right through to Dubai.

Sunday 24th and Sunday 25th September 2017

My transfer to the Sydney flight, again via Bangkok, was another of those rushed walk, rail-shuttle, walk treks that I have come to dread and, if the truth be known, hate.
On this leg which left at 9:45 am, I had hoped to finish my Back-Roads survey and start on this episode. In the event, I did nothing more than eat sparingly and sleep.
As was the case on the outward leg, there was no plane change at Bangkok but on this occasion we were all required to take our belongings off and complete the same security screening as if we were joining afresh. This we were to complete within 30 minutes, itself a challenge. But when we returned the plane was not ready and we stood for another 30 minutes or so before boarding.  And guess what I did, ate sparingly and slept!!

We arrived on time in Sydney and, after what seemed like an endless walk to the terminal hub, processed my way through Border Control and baggage claim with relative ease. I again used the Airport Link train to get to the Domestic Terminal where I was nice and early to check-in for my 10:05 am FlyPelican flight to Newcastle where Carolyn and Tony were to pick me up.

And that’s where my dream run ended. An Air Traffic Control outage which must have started around the time we landed meant that both international and domestic flights were either being cancelled or postponed. And as some of you may have seen on the newscasts from Sydney, the airport’s Departures Hall was nothing more than a scene of chaos as the heaving throng of frustrated and angry travellers tried to get information.

Knowing that my flight had been cancelled, I fought my way back through the throng so that I could get outside to get the mobile signal I needed to let Carolyn and Tony know – and work out with them how to re-group. The outcome of this is that I would get the train to Hornsby in the north of Sydney which would shorten their drive to Sydney a little and avoid the worst of the traffic.

This we did and Tony and Carolyn welcomed me back into the fold picking me up soon after 12:00 noon – not that much later than we would have been without the disruption. I don’t really remember too much of the trip back to Berrico, but I do remember the wonderful welcome Mia, Audrey and Nicholas gave me.

Rewarding as the whole trip was, it was great to back home, again, in the bosom of our family and the love and care I receive there.

As for the trip itself:

    1. I can now say that that brick wall that shielded my great great grandfather, James, is well and truly broken down and some new pathways identified. And I know I’m going to enjoy following them up.
    2. The tour of the Channel Islands was a revelation not just for their beauty – and they are beautiful – but also for the history from the Stone Age to the more recent and sometimes horrific past. I had expected the beauty but I hadn’t expected the impact of the history and I now feel that it was the combination that made the visit so meaningful for me.
    3. My visit to Roger and Denise and the opportunity to catch up, share memories and just “chat” as we have done over so many years. My thanks again.


So, another dream fulfilled.

Finally, my sincere thanks to Carolyn and Tony without whose loving support this dream trip would not have been possible.