Here is Geoff at the Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower is very tall and we went up to the top of it yesterday. This moment was long awaited and Geoff’s impatience to get to the top was very keen. Before he died, Geoff‘s brother Ian had first on his bucket list going to the top of the Eiffel Tower. This was a dream unrealised and Geoff wanted to do it for Ian. Mission accomplished!
The tower and the view from it were both mesmerising. So we took far too many photos. Maybe this says something about tall things in flat surroundings by rivers. We behaved in a similar fashion in the Rhône delta last week. Flamingos! Not only are they tall and lanky, they are shockingly and gaudily pink. They stand there waiting to to admired and photographed like so many Eiffel Towers. They are not hard to see—they are in flocks of hundreds like the fluorescent Eiffel Tower souvenirs bunched for sale on the footpaths of Paris.
Let me backtrack again. About two weeks ago, we left our cabin in the woods in the hills near Barjac and made our way by bus and train to Nîmes. We broke our journey in Avignon to inspect its bridge and stock up on groceries.
At Nîmes, we were met by one of our hosts, Francis, a British birder. It was because of Francis’s willingness to take us to the Camargue, the nature reserve at the mouth of the Rhône, that we chose to stay in La Petite Maison, a cottage owned Francis and Caroline. They also run the B&B in the big house.
Our decision landed us in the small village of Congénies and to a wonderful welcoming community. Congénies is a historic Quaker village with the oldest purpose-built Friends Meeting House in France. It dates back to 1822. (You can read more about it at www.maison-quaker-congenies.org.) It is the only place of worship that is open each week in the village and we went along for an hour of silence followed by discussion and a sit-down lunch. We felt immediately at home and welcomed into a local community that includes a good few retired expats—mainly from Britain—who have made Congénies and surrounding small villages home. It remains to be seen what Brexit means for them.
Interestingly, one reason that Brits are fond of retiring to France is the health system, which they say is better, more user friendly and cheaper than back home. I tested this myself and, with the help of our hosts, took an irritated eye to the local GP and a chipped filling to the local dentist. I received prompt, relaxed, good, and reasonably priced care.
Francis took us twice to the Camargue, an expanse of wetlands and farmlands. We saw more than fifty species of birds, many new to my list. Many of these were hard work to spot, but not those flamingos. Long rows of them stretched out across the lakes and ponds.
We also saw many of the iconic Camargue white horses and black bulls. There is a strong Spanish influence in this part of France and a running of the bulls takes place through Congénies. We learnt that the French generally do not neuter their animals, hence all the bulls. They also do not neuter their cats so wild/stray/feral cats abound. Our hosts have rescued seven of them.
As we were packing again, we got news of a new great-nephew. Felix Grimes Ledger was born to Freya and Scott on 6 October. When we left the peace and quiet of Congéies, we did so with a vengeance. We boarded a TGV that took us a great speed across rural France on its dedicated line and, before we knew it, we were in the heart of Paris, brimming with traffic, boulangeries, pâtisseries, and shops of every description. We even found a haberdashery in our street that had as many buttons as flamingos and just the right one for Geoff’s jacket.
We are staying in an apartment in the 11th arrondissement. We think it is the owner’s holiday home by the shelves stocked with books, teapots and everything you could possibly need. Accessed through a nondescript door next to a pharmacy into a quiet courtyard, it is easy to forget that Paris buzzes outside.
Our friend Sue from London joined us in Paris for a couple of days. We went to the American Episcopal Cathedral with her—the other end of the spectrum to the Quaker meeting—with its magnificent choir and all the trimmings. Together, we toured the Seine by boat (bateau mouche), bus and foot, by day, and relaxed in the apartment by night.
Which brings us to the Eiffel Tower. From that dizzy height, we have come back down to earth and are reduced to doing our washing in preparation for moving on tomorrow. But not before we go to see Tosca at the l’Opera de la Bastille tonight.
Until next time, Chris and Geoff
P.S. It is still sunny here but cool. After the excitement of the Eiffel Tower we joined this crowd sunning themselves in the Tuileries Garden..