Saturday, October 26, 2013

Performers Without Borders (or safety nets)

These daring highline walkers are helping fund raise to send Jake Hirsch Holland to Ocotal, Nicaragua to work with Performers Without Borders. They are performing at the Spectrum Renault building until 5pm today, so if you rush over to West Swindon you might just catch them.

Young would be highliners

What it's all about

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


And then in the afternoon we went to Rouen - there was no hanging about on this trip!

Famous for its medieval streets and the Notre Dame Cathedral, we were deposited for a mere two hours to explore this ancient city. With so little time we were restricted as to how much we could actually visit.

The Notre Dame Cathedral was, of course a must, but even here we only had time to walk briskly round. Building began on the present cathedral in the 12th century but a church has stood on the site since the 4th century. In 1876 the construction of the Tour Lanterne (Lantern Tower) elevated the cathedral to the tallest building in the world, a record it retained for just four years. Monet painted the cathedral more than 30 times between 1892-93, capturing it in different light and weather conditions. In April and June 1944 WWII bombing raids badly damaged the south aisle while the North Tower was burned. Since then the Cathedral has been in a permanent state of repair. On the day of our visit there was some kind of fair in front of the cathedral with a display of folk dancing taking place. Visitors were encouraged to participate. It looked quite simple but I know from past experience this is not always the case. I was once persuaded to join a line-dancing display at the County Ground and discovered that I have absolutely no sense of rhythm and lack coordination or the ability to remember half a dozen repeating steps, an embarrassment I was unprepared to revisit. We pulled odd faces and shrugged, a caricature of the noncomprehending French tourist abroad - quite why I'm not sure, it just seemed to come naturally!

We gazed in admiration at the 12th century Gros Horloge - an astronomical clock - and the footings of another building, which looked as if they were probably very significant, but unfortunately not to us.

And then it was a sprint back to our coach, where we sat for more than half an hour as two of our party had misheard the time directions. I hoped we might clap and cheer in the spirit of our coach confinement and camaraderie when at last they arrived, but we sat in silence and tactfully ignored the fact they had kept us waiting so long.

Montmartre here we come - and it's still only Saturday.

published courtesy of Jeri Dansky

published courtesy of Ben Bawden 

Gros Horloge - the astronomical clock

Our meeting place - minus two

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Monet's Garden - in need of the National Trust

I don't very often leave the confines of Swindon, but I recently marked a significant birthday and my daughter treated me to a weekend in France to lessen the pain.

We had a wonderful, if frenetic, two days courtesy of Newmarket Holidays and saw some amazing sights. We stayed at the Best Western, St Quentin, Maurepas, an adequate hotel where they were oddly very precious about how many croissants one ate at breakfast, and woe betide guests if you messed up the ticket system, as I managed to!

Our first trip was to Monet's magnificent gardens at Giverny. Now, I hate to be a typical moaning Brit abroad, but really, the National Trust would do it so much better!

Monet moved to the idyllic village of Giverny in 1883 where he began work on the garden that inspired him for more than 43 years. Ten years after moving in, Monet bought a neighbouring piece of land where he created his water gardens, inspired by the Japanese gardens he loved so much. Sadly today the gardens are separated by a busy road and accessed by a dreary underpass.

Apparently 500,000 people visit during the seven months that the gardens are open so I doubt whether it is ever possible to wander around without hoards of tourists, but I couldn't help but wonder if there might be better ways of handling the traffic. Yes, the guide at the door did hold back the crowds, but for nowhere near long enough and there didn't appear to be a ceiling on how many people were allowed in the house at any one time as everyone pushed and jostled up the stairs and through the rooms.

The water gardens are breathtakingly beautiful and despite the hundreds of visitors it was still possible to take unspoiled photos, but unfortunately the iconic Japanese bridge was never free of people. Another suggestion - why not have a guide in place who can occasionally stop the flow of traffic here as well.

The house and gardens were beautiful and we thoroughly enjoyed our visit. However, if you were hoping to garner a flavour of how the property might have felt during Monet's time, you would be out of luck.

So my helpful suggestions would be - traffic control through the house and on the Japanese bridge and cheer up that dank, depressing underpass. There's this French Impressionist artist who painted stonking great big pictures of water lilies that would look really great reproduced here.

The iconic Japanese bridge.

With photographs prohibited in the house it's fortunate there is this one on the official website of  the yellow dining room.


Monet's favourite watering hole in the village of Giverny.

The parish church in Giverny

Monet's grave