(From June 2013)
I’m on holiday in France for a month, far away from my normal life and all the things I do, day by day, week by week.
The holiday was planned to include a visit to my brother and his wife, who is very ill with cancer. A tough few days. Great to spend a little time with them but there is so little anyone can do to help in their situation. I can only support, and as I’m in the country, phone regularly in their time zone. I know that helps. My brother is sole carer and is away from his own home (Ireland), so that his wife could be closer to her mother.
When I’m far from home I always think about what I want to do differently when I return – it’s a good time for reflection and evaluation: what is good about my life and what do I want to change?
This holiday we decided not to hire a car, because however convenient, cars involve stress: driving on the other side of the road, road rules in another country, parking, and finding the route without getting lost too often. And so this time we’ve used buses and trains, and the metro in Paris, and I’ve been surprised at how efficient it’s all been, even though we’ve got soaked a few times when it’s rained and we’ve walked long distances as stations and bus depots are rarely in the centre of a town or village. The greatest discovery was that there is a train that stops in our little village and it will take us to Bordeaux when we leave next week. We thought our journey would involve an expensive taxi fare and then a long train journey.
On days when it’s been impossible to get to our destination, we have taken a taxi. In St Cyprien, where we are based for two weeks, we found a lovely taxi driver who is prepared to pick us up, leave us where we want to go and come back for us later on. One day this week he drove us to Domme, a beautiful village near here, inaccessible except by car. On the return trip he drove us the more scenic route, assuring us he wouldn’t charge the extra, adding that he liked helping people and showing them the countryside.
Meeting French people, striking up interesting conversations with total strangers is one of the things I enjoy most of all. The French are always amazed we have come here from Australia and several have told us it is their “reve” (i.e.dream) to go there. Our taxi driver dreams of visiting the Great Barrier Reef to do some snorkelling.
This has been the first time we have done a walking holiday – for a whole week in Provence. We walked on our own, with clear maps and directions provided by the company in the UK, who also booked our accommodation and arranged for our luggage to be transported. This meant that we experienced magnificent, unspoiled countryside. We stayed in some lovely places and some rather strange ones. We rarely saw other people on our meanderings. It was wonderful to be in the heart of nature, enjoying birds and wild flowers, mountains and streams, and relishing a sense of freedom and a delight in nature.
Since completing our walking week, we have continued to find interesting walks in the Dordogne, again enjoying the sights and sounds of this beautiful area. French people are often criticised as being rude and unfriendly – we have met extreme kindness wherever we’ve been. One day this week, as we were puzzling over our map, slightly disorientated, an elderly man stopped his bicycle and got off, offering to direct us. This morning a woman pulled up in her car, as again we were pouring over our map. She gave us clear directions to the village.
Another time we came upon an elderly man sitting on a wall beside the river. We had a long discussion with him – he told us he was 86 years old and was widowed three years ago, after 60 years of marriage. He left school at 12 because of the war but he described himself as an “autodidact”. He said he can teach himself anything – to compose and play music, to paint, to design a house (which he did only 6 years ago). His name is Monsieur Ferrari and he thinks he must be related to Enzo Ferrari – he can take an engine apart too. He encouraged us to go to Bazenac where he used to live and to see his house, then to go into the church where there is a photo of him and his wife. He maintained the church garden there for 60 years. We plan to go there this week. I feel blessed to have learned to speak French as a child – it makes all the difference. Living in France for a month, enjoying the countryside, the food and the locals, has been a treat.
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