Kate had last week off for half term, and Lisa got only half Friday and Monday. One day Kate and I set out for Bodiam Castle in East Sussex. This castle was built in 1386, was probably burned during the civil war and gradually decayed for 200 years until it was cleaned up and presented to the National Trust. It’s a compact fortress surrounded by a lovely moat. After we walked through and around it, we tried to get home on small roads. Took forever, but it was fun.
Kate enjoyed being outside working with Mr. Clewes. He was able to get her to practice her violin by telling her he was sure she couldn’t really play a tune. Another day she went to the office with John, staying the full working day. She was really tired when they got home and chose to stay at home the following day just diddling around.
John took Friday off, we pulled Lisa from school, and off we went to Paris for the weekend! The first fun thing was riding on the hovercraft across the Channel. We just looked at each other as our “flight” was called. They always referred to it as flying! The vehicle takes about 25-30 cars and extra foot passengers. The loading is relatively quick. Passengers leave their cars being lashed down by the crew and go to either side cabin to sit in airline type seats. Hostesses ask each adult if they wish to purchase anything from the duty free shop and bring your items to your seat. Kate and I decided to go to the loo and understood why they urge you to remain seated most of the time – it’s almost impossible to walk! The girls who work in the craft are used to it. John says they have their sea legs. They trot up and down the aisle with little difficulty while Kate and I lurched the few steps we walked.
The hovercraft is about as noisy as a prop jet. After the engines rev up, it slowly rises up in the air and slithers off the sloping ramp onto the water. I think all of you would enjoy it, with the possible exception of Julie and Chrissie. The return flight was rough because the sea was not calm, but we just enjoyed being bumped around. It could be compared with flying in an airplane through turbulence. It took half an hour to go over and 45 minutes to return, and the fare has been reduced so that it is the same as going on a regular ferry.
We were surprised at the openness of the countryside on the way to Paris. It is empty land! All is farmed or used for industrial purposes, but there are few towns and only a few houses in sight from the highway. The city itself doesn’t seem to be surrounded by suburbs like most cities we’ve seen; you’re in the country, and then suddenly in the city. The traffic was something else again! It took hours for us to work our way to the hotel near Orly Airport, and this was at 3 in the afternoon. After we settled in the hotel, we decided to take a drive toward the city while waiting for the dining room to open. We figured the traffic couldn’t be heavy on the way in and past rush hour. It was. We found ourselves squeezed along with the crowd before trying to make a block and reverse our direction. One block took half an hour. That is not an exaggeration! We were so glad to find the hotel again, though we’d wanted to eat in an outside restaurant (by outside I mean not at the hotel, not outdoors). We ate, put down a tired little boy and went to bed ourselves.
Saturday we had a later start than planned, but did get in Versailles to see the Palace. What opulence! The innards are all marble, gold, mirrors, chandeliers, and paintings. It boggles the mind that a few people could live in that way when the rest of the country was in abject poverty. No wonder they parted Marie Antoinette from her head!
It seemed a fairly long way to Chartres (pronounced “sharts”, I think). It was worth it for the view of the cathedral from a distance. That church is considered by many to be the most beautiful in the world. It sits on the top of a steep hill and seems to be a beacon to the world for miles around. We worked our way up steep lanes seeing what a medieval French town must have looked like. There were times the Peugeot had to squeak between two buildings; an American car simply wouldn’t have made it. All parking places were taken above ground, so we went into an underground car park. It was a marvel – two concentric circles held hundreds of cars, and you’d never have guessed it was there close to that ancient cathedral.
The stones are obviously very old, and the floor from the back up to the chancel is cobbled like an old street. It’s the first time we’ve ever been in a church with such a rough floor. By late afternoon on a cloudy day you could almost not see the ceilings. The windows glowed with a soft light, and the colours were the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.
We walked into the shopping part of town to find people scurrying about and business as lively as could be at 5 in the afternoon. Most impressive were the flower stalls doing a brisk business in potted plants. We later found out why. We had forgotten it was Halloween and the next day All Saints’ Day. It seems to be the custom in France to decorate graves with plants for All Saints’ Day. On Sunday EVERY cemetery looked like a flower shop! We saw numerous glowing spots of colour in the landscape on the drive back to Calais (that ends with “lay”), and each one was a cemetery.
We found out that hand-knitted Norwegian sweaters are very absorbing items. I hope you enjoyed the above description because I’ll now tell you how the day started out. $ wouldn’t eat breakfast, whimpered in the car as we drove away to go sight-seeing, so I took him on my lap. You guessed it. He let loose with all the orange juice he’d insisted on drinking. It kept coming and kept coming. Got on the car carpet, my legs, and all over $, mostly on his sweater. The sweater absorbed a great deal. We immediately turned around to go back to the hotel, and I washed out everything by hand while John and Lisa cleaned the car. He and Kate searched until they found Woolite, and soon the sweater was smelling sweet again. We took the ice bucket from the Holiday Inn and started out again. Every time $ looked green, cried, or burped, I shoved his head down that little plastic bucket. Luckily, nothing else happened. We did enjoy our day and got to see much that we’d wanted to.
Sunday we walked around the inside of Notre Dame looking at all the beautiful windows. What a treat to hear the bells pealing and resounding down through the church, though it wasn’t loud at all inside! We stayed for part of the service until $ had had enough. The boy choir was so much better than we’d have thought. Many French choirs sound terrible compared to English or German ones, but this was an exception. People kept streaming in to attend the service. It was very moving.
The Seine flows right by the church, all hemmed in by stone banks. A short way down the street is the Eiffel Tower, and we also drove to see the Arc de Triumph or however you spell it. If I can’t spell English, I know you’ll forgive my French.
This morning (Monday) Kate was supposed to go to school, but threw up three times instead. Lisa has been very kind to her, fetching her drinks, books and such. I washed three loads of clothes, spread Carpet Fresh in the car, and returned overdue library books. I’m so glad Kate can aim at a bucket and not do her thing on me! Tomorrow all should return to normal.
Paris is surprisingly open with very wide boulevards, unlike London’s narrow winding streets. John said the man who helped design Paris also had a hand in the design of Washington DC. Most of the areas we were in came from this period.