Tag Archives: Lyon

Tuesday 6th October 2020 – REGULAR READERS …

Vegan Pizza Dominos Leuven Belgium Eric Hall… of this rubbish will recall that LAST YEAR IN MONTREAL I came across a pizza place that had started to sell vegan pizzas as a mainstream meal.

Here I am in Leuven tonight, and what do I find but that another, different pizza chain is now offering the same. It’s most unlikely that I’ll be able to find them in France, with France about 100 years behind in this respect and Leuven is likely to be in the forefront, having such a huge student population as it does, but it’s certainly progress.

The only downside of this is that I didn’t see the notice until after I’d bought the food for my stay here for the next few days. Had I seen it earlier, I would have changed my meal plans. This kind of thing needs encouragement.

What also needs encouragement is my early starts in the morning. Another day where I was out of bed, up and definitely about this time, long before the third alarm went off. First task was to release the gas in the Kefir, and second was to feed the sourdough. It’s like having household pets in here now and that was something from which I have been trying to escape. The idea of having ties like this of any kind is not part of the plan.

So having loaded the working files onto the portable hard drive, done the washing up, had a shower, taken out the rubbish and bleached the sinks, shower and toilet and finished the packing, I hit the streets.

Trawler Port de Granville Harbour Manche Normandy France Eric HallLast night, the day’s photographs finished with trawlers unloading at the Fish Processing Plant.

So today we start as we mean to go on with a carbon-copy of last night’s photograph, except of course that it’s somewhat lighter right now. And there’s a trawler manoeuvring around in the harbour too. Although the harbour gates are closed, the tide is well on its way in and so I imagine that the gates are about to open and the trawler is ready to leave.

And so I headed off towards the railway station. It was windy, but nothing like as windy as it has been, and the weather was doing its best to rain. It’s a good job that I’d prepared by wearing the correct clothes.

84565 GEC Alstom Regiolis Granville Manche Normandy France Eric HallThere was still half an hour to go before departure time when I arrived at the Railway Station.

And here we have a disaster. The coffee machine is out of order. I’m not drinking very much coffee these days but I still fancied a cup this morning due to my early and somewhat energetic start. The train, a GEC Alstom Regiolis, was already in at the platform so I was able to board it, find my seat and settle myself down in comfort.

Somewhere along the route I was joined by a miserable, bad-tempered old woman who had clearly got up on the wrong side of the bed and who moaned all the way to Paris. And for the first time ever, I managed to go for most of the way without crashing out. Just 10 minutes or so. I was able to do quite a bit of work.

One of the jobs that I did was to listen to the dictaphone. I was with someone last night – it might even have been Castor I dunno. It started off with meeting somewhere – we had to meet and I had to go on back to my digs. I’d looked at a couple of digs and wasn’t really keen on them but the 3rd one was OK so I’d booked in there. Then I had to go out to meet whoever it was. It turned out that 1st of all it was yet another boy from my school days and we met in Claughton Avenue. I said that we had better go to check to make sure that my car was still there because I’d left it there a day or so ago. It was the old Ford Escort that I’d had. We walked down the whole length of the street looking for this Escort but it wasn’t there any more. I thought that either we were in the wrong street or someone has pinched it. If it’d been pinched, it’s been pinched and it’s far too late to do anything about it now. It was all about worrying about a car or worrying about a bike When we got to the end there was a bike rack with a pile of bikes and someone in charge The guy whom I was with picked up a bike and sat on it as if to cycle off Some old guy who was in charge said “put that back! It’s not yours!” My companion replied “ohh yes it is!” so we had this “no it isn’t – yes it is” bit and in the end he said “no it isn’t” and handed the bike back. The old guy said “thank you very much”. By now the situation had advanced and I was with Castor – it could have been Castor, it could have been anyone. We’d come out of a huge building complex type of thing and we had to go home to where my digs were. I said “come this way” and she replied “no, it’s this way”. She wanted us to go in exactly the opposite direction but I was insisting that it was my way and she was insisting that it was her way She’s had a bit to drink and was a bit unsteady on her feet so in the end I guided her back In the end we ended up somewhere walking home and I suddenly realised that you needed a special code to get into the building where I was staying and I didn’t have that code I thought “how am I going to manage that?” To make it worse, whoever I was with decided that she wanted to stay the night with me I thought that ordinarily this would really be my lucky night but how am I going to manage this if I can’t get into my building? I supposed that I could conceivably go and find a room for us in a hotel but it was now something like 02:00 and what hotels with rooms would be open at this time of night? We were on foot so we couldn’t go far. It all became really confusing as well as being a really feverish night again

It’s a common, recurring theme, isn’t it? Here I am, with the bird on my plate and just as I’m about to get my fork stuck in it, something always comes up to spike my guns. Story of my life, I suppose. And Castor too!

A little later I was back in a similar kind of situation and a similar kind of situation running a chocolate factory and mixing chocolate. There was some kind of dispute about the recipe and in the end she chose one. We were busy making it and we got a couple of blocks to take back to the hotel where we were staying to try them out.

Exterior Entrance Gare du Nord Paris France Eric HallOur train arrived in the Gare Montparnasse about 2 minutes late but the Metro trip was rapid and straightforward. Some people didn’t find it that easy though. There was a barrage of ticket inspectors checking everyone’s tickets and a few people fell foul of them.

When I arrived at the Gare du Nord I had half an hour before my train was due to leave so I went for a walk around outside. One thing that I do like about the Paris Metro is the beautiful art-deco work of the entrances. This one, across the road from the railway station, is a typical example.

There were not very many people at all in this photo, which is not what you expect outside the Gare du Nord. In fact, one thing that I did notice was that the Metro was much quieter than usual and the station was quite empty. This virus is certainly affecting the business habits of the inhabitants of the city.

Paris Gare du Nord France Eric HallAnother thing that I noticed was that outside the Gare du Nord thee was a placard saying that planning permission had been obtained for various alterations.

The work that is planned to be carried out is quite extensive and substantial. It’s going to change the aspect of the railway station quite considerably and that’s a shame because the station is a beautiful building and a rare survival of decent 19th Century railway architecture.

Somewhere here and there I have a few photos of the exterior of the railway station but I don’t have one of this angle here. I reckon that I had better take one to add to the collection just in case they are really going to alter it in any major way and we might not ever see it again.

TGV Duplex Inoui 218 Paris Gare du Nord France Eric HallBack inside the station there was still 20 minutes to go before the train was to depart. I wasn’t going to loiter around outside too long because it was raining and it’s dryer inside.

There was already a train parked in our platform. It was one of the TGV duplex trains, built by Alstom and are getting on for 25 years old now. But nevertheless, they are still very comfortable and very rapid too.

We weren’t allowed on board yet so we had to wait around for another 10 minutes before we were allowed on board. During that time they were loading up the train with the foodstuffs and drink for the journey. I’m not quite sure why because it’s not as if it’s actually a long way to Lille on a TGV.

TGV Duplex Inoui 214 Paris Gare du Nord France Eric HallThey eventually allowed us through towards the train. This train set consists of two units joined together and my seat was is in the farthest unit.

We actually left on time and hurtled off into the wild blue yonder at 300Km/H. The train was actually half-empty, which was something of a surprise. Like I said earlier, people’s habits are changing.

Our train arrived in Lille-Flandres 5 minutes late, and then there was the hike down the road to the Lille-Europe railway station. The rain had stopped by now so it was a really pleasant walk down there, although I had to get a wiggle on because they don’t allow you very much time to make the journey and there isn’t a shuttle-bus or anything to connect up the stations.

TGV Lille Europe France Eric HallNegotiating the layabouts with their savage dogs at the entrance, I made my way into the station. Still 5 minutes to go before my train was due to arrive which was just as well because the singing was wrong in the station and I had to walk almost the full length of the platform to where I had to board.

Bang on time, our train came in. It’s the TGV that comes from Montpelier and when I lived in the Auvergne I used to catch it quite regularly from Lyon when I was flying out to North America from Paris Charles de Gaulle.

Arriving on time, leaving on time, and reaching its destination, Bruxelles-Midi, bang on time too. This isn’t the SNCF as we know it. There’s a story that goes around France about how kids spend all of their maths lessons working out train arrivals and departures, and then when they start their working life they encounter the SNCF …

SNCB Siemens Class 18 electric locomotice Brussels Gare du Midi Belgium Eric HallHaving arrived in Brussels, I didn’t have to go too far or wait too long for my train to Leuven. It was due to come in at the next platform.

This is the express from the Belgian coast to Welkenraedt on the German border. It’ one of the Siemens Type 18 Electrics, about 12 or 15 years old and designed by Chris “Failing” Grayling. Consequently they came with a great many problems and Siemens had to pay a hefty fine. Once they were eventually put right they’ve proved to be the backbone of the SNCB’s express passenger service.

Regular readers of this rubbish will recall by the way that there’s a story to Welkenraedt and WE’VE BEEN THERE to find out about it.

We arrived in Leuven on time (I’m not used to this) and I was soon installed in my room here. One of the benefits of being a regular here is that when there’s room, I am given a free upgrade and as it’s quiet, I have a duplex apartment.

Down at Carrefour to do my shopping, past the pizza place, and then back to here for tea (falafel burger and pasta followed by fruit salad and vegan sorbet) and to watch the football. Connah’s Quay Nomads in a torrential rainstorm against Caernarfon Town.

In the first half, it was all one-way traffic towards the Caernarfon goal. Caernarfon only made it into the Nomads’ penalty area once so you will not be at all surprised to learn that the half-time score was Nomads 0, Cofis 1. Such is the nature of Welsh Football.

The second half was a much more even contest but the Nomads were playing with the rainstorm pushing them forward and they ran out 3-1 winners in the end , 2 goals of which were scored by the centre-half Priestly Farquarson who was pushing up behind the attackers on several occasions and relying on his pace (because he is quick) to get him back.

It was however quite quaint to see, every time the game stopped, a hand come round the front of the camera with a cloth and clean the lens of the rain that was soaking it. That brings back many memories from a less-sophisticated past.

Tuesday 28th July 2020 – I’VE BEEN RELIVING …

… a photo that was taken 50 years ago, almost to the very day.

view butte de suin 71220 saone et loire france eric hallBut as you admire a few photos of the glorious views from today’s lunch stop, I’ll start off by putting things in their proper order.

To start with – or, more to the point, not to start with – I missed the alarms this morning as usual and it was more like 07:30 that I finally ended up crawling out of bed.

No breakfast this morning either. In view of the virus situation it’s a bag already made up and deposited outside your door and that’s not really very much good to new as there is nothing really in it that I could eat.

Instead I carried on with some paperwork for a while.

view of alps butte de suin 71220 saone et loire france eric hallNerina had been off doing something or other during the night and the first person to come back was Hans complaining that the collection had been absolutely nothing. I carried on waiting but as I walked away I had Nerina’s coffee with me and her white tag so I had to go and put her coffee back at the foot of the stairs into the cellar. Someone made the remark that that coffee was ruined. I said “it was only made 10 minutes ago” but they said that it had all skin and everything all over the top of it as if it had been made a day or two. I brought it down to show them but Nerina came down. I told her what hans had said about the collection and she replied that it was pretty miserable. There weren’t all that many people there. We carried on walking and she asked “is there any possibility that you can do something about your language courses, especially July and August as it’s going to clash with something here with the choir?” She told me all about it. I wasn’t sure that the language courses ran through July and August – they only do through the school term time. I said “that’s so far ahead that we don’t really need to see about that right now”. We went for tea and tea was porridge. People were making their porridge up and burning it. Mine was quite reasonably good and I was eating it. This Chinese waiter came past and saw one of the porridges on someone’s table which was burnt. he said “you’re just ruining that porridge here”. I asked “how would you go about doing it?” He said “you start off by making a tower of cereal and then you and then he started rambling and I couldn’t follow or understand so I asked him to repeat it. I couldn’t understand it again so he said it a second time.

view to south wast butte de suin 71220 saone et loire france eric hallAnd there was far more to it than this but as you are probably eating your tea right now i’ll spare you the details.

Having finished my notes I packed my things, I headed off out to the van with my luggage. On the way past the reception desk in the hotel I did pick up a coffee on the way out of the hotel. At least it was free and I had a free hand to carry it.

Having forgotten once more to take a photo of my night’s lodging I found my way around the industrial estate to the LeClerc where I picked up a few more travel essentials to ease me along on my journey to wherever it is that I’m going (which I still haven’t decided yet).

view to north butte de suin 71220 saone et loire france eric hallIncluding a new SatNav.

The one in my van is a cheap thing, about 7 or 8 years old, well out of date now and apart from that, the connection is loose. So you’re driving along and you suddenly notice that it’s switched off and you missed a turning or two a long way back. It takes a while to make another connection and then it drops again and we repeat the process.

In Leclerc though, they had a decent mainstream one with free updates and because it was the last one – the display item, they knocked me something off it.

There was some excitement there too. Someone wandering around without a facemask was being given a PV – a Procès verbale or on-the-spot fine by a Gendarme.

view to north east butte de suin 71220 saone et loire france eric hallBack on the road again I headed on eastwards along the big dual carriageway towards the Rhone valley.

A little later on during the morning I stopped again in a suitable lay-by near Charolles. We had arranged to have a Welsh lesson this morning.

Determined not to miss it, I’d configured Zoom on my telephone and I attended that lesson accordingly. It wasn’t very convenient but at least it worked, which goes to show just how useful modern technology can be. This opens up all kinds of possibilities for the future.

view of church butte de suin 71220 saone et loire france eric hallFor lunch I found a beautiful spot on a butte overlooking a village called Suin.

The N79 is a road that i’ve travelled on several occasions and each time I’ve been along it, I’ve seen a sign for a scenic viewpoint, the Butte de Suin. That seemed to be a suitable place to stop for lunch

It took quite a bit of finding too, for although it’s only a couple of miles as the crow flies from the N79, it’s a long and tortuous route to arrive at the summit and I was starving by the time that I reached the top of the butte

view in direction of cluny tournus autun butte de suin 71220 saone et loire france eric hallMy butty with its assorted fillings was all the more delicious because of the wait and the view was even more delicious. It enticed me to spend a good hour or so having a wander around.

If the altimeter on my telephone is correct, I’m an 592 metres right now, on a bluff overlooking a couple of river valleys right on the watershed between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean river system. You’ve seen in several of the previous photographs the kind of view that there is from up here on top, but I’m not sure what that is on the horizon over there.

It could be a broadcasting aerial I suppose, or else it could be a water tower. But it’s far too far away for me to identify it clearly.

view of alps butte de suin 71220 saone et loire france eric hallWe are so high up here that away in the distance when the weather is clear you can see all the way to Mont Blanc in the Alps.

It’s over there in that direction towards the right but unfortunately you can’t see it today which is a shame. If you peer through the gloom and the haze you can just about see the outline of the Alps on the far side of the Saone Valley.

That’s probably 100 or so kilometres away and Mont Blanc is a long way further off beyond there on the border between France and Italy. And that reminds me – it’s been years since I’ve put my sooty foot in Italy. It’s high time I went over there again but I don’t have time right now.

butte de suin 71220 saone et loire france eric hallOn top of the Butte de Suin is a statue of the Madonna.

The design of this statue is said to be inspired by the statue of the Golden Madonna that can be found in the Basilique Notre Dame on the top of the Fourvières Hill, the eminence that overlooks the city of Lyon.

That statue was designed by Joseph-Hugues Fabisch and erected in 1852. The one here at Suin dates from 1884 and from what I’ve seen, the two do look pretty similar.

statue of madonna butte de suin 71220 saone et loire france eric hallThere’s quite an interesting story that’s often told around here about the positioning of the Madonna on top of the hill here.

Elderly people talk of how many pairs of oxen and the hordes of men who were required to drag the statue to the top of the hill, even though it’s many years before their time. And each time you talk to someone, it’s always a different number of oxen and people involved in the work. It’s just like some of these Chinese whispers

And don’t ask me why she has what looks like a radio aerial stuck behind her because I don’t know that either. I suppose that it might be a lighning conductor.

butte de suin 71220 saone et loire france eric hallApart from the statue of the Madonna that we have already seen, ther ehave been a considerable number of curiosités built here on this summit in the past but unfortunately there are little if any visible remains.

The first recorded object up here was a temple that the Romans built to honour the dod Mercury, one of the 12 major Roman gods and was said to be the god of commerce and also of travellers, and it’s for this latter reason that I imagine that his temple was erected in such a prominent spot because from here he would have had a really impressive view of all of the traffic travelling up and down the valleys at the foot of the rock.

That might also explain why in medieval times there was a castle built up here. In the lawless days of the 13th and 14th Century any nobleman bent on on improving his financial situation could see the travellers too from miles away and send out a war party to exact a toll from them.

view of church butte de suin 71220 saone et loire france eric hallAnd the existence of the medieval castle might also explain the presence of the village here.

There had been a settlement of sorts here for a good many years and known to have been in existence in the 11th Century but the castle would have required all kinds of ancillary staff – farmers, millers and the like – who would not live in the castle but would want to live close by for protection and their presence would attract other tradesmen.

There was a church known to be here in the 10th Century but the present church has been altered and modernised so much that it’s impossible to say whether there are any vestiges of the original church

butte de suin 71220 saone et loire france eric hallThe castle was demolished as a consequence of the Wars of Religion

What we’re seeing here is not part of the medieval castle but the site of an orientation table. That was installed here in 1963 and renovated in 2008.

Something else that we can’t see either is a rather large medieval cross on the summit that was known to be here in the 10th Century and which I imagine (but I don’t know) would have been swept away when they built the castle up here.

What we can see, apparently, are 52 church towers. But I didn’t stay to count them all. I have things to do, places to go and people to see.

col des enceints 71520 Bourgvilain saone et loire france eric hallBack in Caliburn I set off to drive to Leynes and the house of my friend Jean-Marc and his wife.

My route through the back lanes of Burgundy took me over the Col des Enceints on the D212 between Bourgvilain and Pierreclos. it’s 529 metres high, but a climb up of 242 metres. Plenty of hairpin bends and at one point there’s a climb of 12%. That’ll warm up Caliburn ready for his visit to the Alps in a couple of days time.

20 minutes later I turned up the house of Jean-Marc. He was a boy with whom I had a school exchange back in 1970. We had lost touch after that but a casual meeting with a relative of his 6 or so years ago had enabled us to re-establish contact.

We’ve seen each other a few times since then and it’s nice to be in touch and exchange news.

We had a good chat and then we went round to see his mother. She’ll be 90 very shortly but I’ve seen 70 year old people much older than she is. She’s in the peak of health both physically and mentally which is astonishing.

50 years ago it was the birthday of Jean-Marc’s sister and we had taken a photo of the party. Today the three of us (without Isabelle) arranged ourselves as we had done back then and re-took the photo.

Back at Jean-Marc’s, Jacqueline had already prepared a meal. Stuffed courgettes, which brought back many happy memories of living in the Auvergne when courgettes would be on everyone’s menu at this time of year.

Our conversation continued, as we had a lot to say, for quite some considerable time until bed time. They had very kindly offered me a bed for the night which was very nice of them, and I took myself off there and that was that.

Tomorrow I’ll be moving on because there is still plenty to see and to do that must be done while I’m still able to do so and, more importantly, before we have this second lockdown which I am anticipating once the holiday season has finished.

Wednesday 13th July 2016 – I’M BACK …

… in Leuven. My stay back in France didn’t last too long, did it?

I had another good sleep, only having to leave the bed once. Well, twice actually, but seeing that the second time was 05:50, just 10 minutes before the alarm was due to go off, I didn’t bother going back downstairs. Instead, I dressed and went down to make breakfast.

By the time that I had done that, made my butties for lunch and had a shower and change of clothes, it was 07:10 and Terry was ready so we hit the road.

It was a beautiful drive right across France to the Rhône valley and Lyon, and we were there on the outskirts of the city by 09:20. The next 6 kilometres was a different proposition. With the traffic queue that we encountered and then the changes to Lyon’s road network that weren’t shown on Terry’s Satnav, it was 10:10 when we arrived at the station. It’s a good job that we had allowed plenty of time for the journey.

There was however plenty of time for a coffee as the TGV was late arriving. 11:00 was the time of departure, but we finally set off at 11:25. We stopped at Marne la Vallée, Paris Charles de Gaulle and Lille as I expected, but also at Haute-Picardie and Arras which I hadn’t realised. Consequently it was 15:30 when we pulled into Bruxelles-Midi.

The journey wasn’t boring though. I did a pile of work on my website, though and I was sitting next to a woman whose father was born in Les Ancizes. We had a lengthy chat about the Auvergne, and she and I set the world to right about the Brexit. It’s not very often that I meet someone who thinks along my lines.

A brief amount of excitement at Bruxelles-Midi was when I bought my ticket for my onward trip to Leuven. I used one of the automatic machines and I received my ticket, plus one from the previous passenger who had clearly forgotten to pick it up. I had to find an information booth to leave it there.

15:56 was my train to Leuven, and by 16:30 I was there on the station. And it was pouring down too. It started almost as soon as we arrived at Charles de Gaulle and had continued for almost all the way. Typical Northern French and Belgian weather.

It soon brightened up though and so I set off for my place of residence. Half an hour’s brisk walk it took me to arrive here and that was carrying a large bag too. That made me think how much my health must have improved. I would never have done this two or three months ago, and round about now i ought to be experiencing a collapsed blood count and expecting a blood transfusion instead.

It’s nice to be back in my little room again, even if I am moving on to another room tomorrow. I grabbed a coffee and sat down for a relax. Tea was rice with lentils peas and carrots and it was delicious too. I must remember to buy some more boulghour tomorrow.

Now, I’m going to have an early night. After my marathon voyage today, I reckon that I’ve earned it.

Tuesday 12th July 2016 – I NEEDN’T HAVE BOTHERED …

… to go to all of this effort and worry about this morning.

I breezed into the bank, checked my accounts, and then gave the bank cashier the kind of instructions that would normally have caused a considerable amount of upset and confusion, and probably have led to the involvement of the bank’s Head Office. And I was prepared for quite an argument too.

But to my total surprise, and in an attitude that is going to change the way that I think about banking in the depths of darkest rural France, the bank clerk carried out my instructions to the letter without even batting an eyelid and, even more astonishingly given everything that was involved, without even asking to see any identification.

We were in there, out and gone in less than two minutes and that must be something of a record.

I had a reasonable night’s sleep in the nice comfy bed at Liz and Terry’s. So reasonable in fact that I only left it twice, and when the alarm went off at 07:00, I promptly turned over and went straight back to sleep. It’s been a good while since I’ve done that, hasn’t it?

Off to Pionsat and the bank, and then round to my house to sort out my mail and pick up a few things that I might need. And what a mess my place is in. Brambles, weeds and long grass everywhere. It’s just so depressing. I’ve asked Terry if he’ll attack it with a strimmer if he has five minutes, then I’ll be able to find the front door.

We went shopping for food, and I bought a baguette to make some butties for tomorrow seeing as I’m back on my travels to Leuven after all of this. I didn’t get to stay for very long, did I?

Nothing happened in the afternoon – I stayed in and did some work on the blog to bring it up-to-date – and then tonight after tea we had the laugh of our lives.

Celtic, Scottish football champions, were playing Lincoln Red Imps, Champions of that major and important footballing nation … errr … Gibraltar, in a Champions League match which could not unreasonably have ended up with a cricket score. And the final result? Lincoln Red Imps 1, those giants of Scottish football … errr … 0. I’ve never laughed so much in all my life.

So another early night, because it’s a 06:00 start. I need to be on the road by 07:00 as it’s a long way to Lyon and the Part-Dieu station for my train. But at least once I’m on it, it’s direct to Brussels with just three stops and no messing about in Paris.

Over 800kms in well under four hours. That’s the beauty of the TGV

Friday 3rd June 2016 – I’M BACK …

… in Soissons again – at the Hotel Premiere Classe of course and I suppose that you are all wondering why I don’t move in here.

But the reasons why I’m back are twofold – firstly, I’ve come to recover my mobile phone (which I now have in my sweaty little mitt until I leave it somewhere else) and secondly, and more importantly, I’ve been let out of hospital today.

The doctor came along this morning and told me that nothing now is likely to be done to me until they receive the results of my samplings back from the laboratory, so if I were to stay in the hospital, I’d be just kicking my heels until then. And so I decided to take my wracked and ragged body off for a change of scenery, and they’ve given me an appointment for Monday 13th (yes, the thirteenth – good job it’s not a Friday!) of June. That’s when we’ll (hopefully) find out where everyone has been going wrong with my diagnosis.

I spoke to the girl at Social Services and after an inordinately long wait, she confirmed that they would have me back at Pellenberg from Monday until the day that I go for my results. That gives me a week to track down a room in a house and now that I have my phone back, I hope that I can do that.

But the result of having to wait around so long was that it was 15:30, instead of 14:00 when I left the hospital. And after another session where I jammed the exit at the car park, I was of course decanted straight into the traffic. Not quite as bad as the last time, but bad enough all the same. I stopped off to pick up some fuel at Mont St Jean, given the excitement that’s going on in France at the moment.

The drive down was uneventful although I did pick a new route – down the péage and then onto the motorway for Reims and Lyon, leaving somewhere short of Coucy. And luckily, there was a guard on duty at the tollbooth who recognised Caliburn as a van and not a lorry and I paid just €4:40 for the tolls and not four times that. I hate these automatic tolls.

The road into Soissons is a road that I know well from the old days, bringing me past the walled city of Coucy-le-Chateau (which readers from way back will recall us doing the touristy visit early one morning in midwinter many years ago on our way back from an Open University Students Association meeting) and straight into the town, and now I’m holed up in the Premiere Classe where I’ll be staying until tomorrow.

And I hope that I have as good a sleep as I had last night. Not the best, it has to be said, but my room-mate didn’t snore at all as far as I could tell and once I’d finally managed to go to sleep, I just had the odd awakening here and there and was dead to the world when the nurse awoke me. I’d been on a voyage too, but don’t ask me where because I’ve no idea now.

Still, tonight I’ve asked for the quietest room in the house and judging by this and that, I might actually have it too. Let’s see how I’m feeling after a good rest and a good breakfast tomorrow, hey?

Thursday 15th October 2015 – NOT A SINGLE PHOTO …

… for the return journey today, and I’ll tell you why in a moment.

But I left you last night with me dozing off in the middle of a film. And I awoke to find that not only were we starting our descent to Frankfurt Airport, I’d actually missed my breakfast seeing as how I’d been asleep. And that’s not something that happens every day – missing out on a free meal. Mind you, I made sure that they knew that I was awake and so they quickly brought me my breakfast and coffee before we landed.

And I’m not quite sure if we landed or if we were shot down over the airport. It was a really rough arrival and when I looked out of the window I could see why. It was blowing a howling gale and teeming down with rain.

I had to travel right across to the other side of the airport for my connecting flight to Lyon. That took a good few minutes and a tram ride, I can tell you, as well as another passage through “security”. And I’ll tell you this – if the passage through “security” at Frankfurt could be completed in the same friendly, relaxed and informal manner in every airport throughout the world, then flying would be a pleasure. I spent more time discussing cameras with the guy at the gate than I did discussing security issues.

Our plane was parked up on the concrete pan right back across to where I had originally arrived, and so we were bussed right back over there. And as we turned around a corner of the building, a huge Airbus 380 took off right alongside us. It was absolutely immense and dwarfed the A340 upon which I’d arrived and which we drove past a minute or so later.

There was no chance of my taking a photo of my aeroplane in this wind and rain. I was drenched just crossing the pan from the bus to the ‘plane and it was freezing too – much colder than it was in Montreal and that’s a change. Anyway, it was a Boeing 737-300 that we had and it’s been years since I’ve flown on one of those.

And here’s a thing. Why is it that when the chief steward of the plane announces on the PA system announces that “you should not be sitting next to an emergency door if you are unable to open it”, they become quite upset and all peevish when you try to open it just to make sure?

And there was no snack for me on this plane either. But the stewardess found me a banana, which was very nice of her and I much appreciated it.

At Lyon, the wind and rain continued and it was even colder than at Frankfurt. We had a little drama on the tram at the airport as a foreign lady had boarded without having a valid ticket. She was waving around the receipt, claiming that that was all that she had received. However, when I had bought mine, two tickets had fallen out of the machine. I’d taken both with me onto the tram intending to give the spare one to the conductor, but here was the reason right before me.

At Lyon Part-Dieu, there was no train for 2 hours and so, now that there’s free public access internet at the station, thanks to the SNCF, I caught up with some stuff on the laptop and then went to the Subway around the corner for lunch. Handy places, these Subways, even though the price in Europe is twice what it is in Canada which is totally ironic seeing that food is twice as dear in North America as it is in Europe.

I had a good deal on the train – €33 and a bit – for my journey to Montlucon. And I had to run between trains at Riom as ours was 5 minutes late arriving from Lyon, so no time to photograph either train (no chance of doing the Lyon one at Lyon with the rain) and I arrived at Montlucon bang on time, with Liz waiting in the booking hall to take me home.

But I didn’t go home. Instead, she took me home for a nice meal and shower, and a nice warm bed. 2°C it was as we passed over the Font Nanaud and I can see me lighting the fire as soon as I return home. Have I ever lit a fire so early in all the time that I’ve been living here?

Friday 14th August 2015 – ZURICH IN THE RAIN

view from premier class hotel lyon part dieu france
Having crashed out at some silly times like 22:00 last night, and having slept the sleep of the dead, I was up and about, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, by 06:00, admiring the view from my hotel window. And a nice warm shower quickly brought me round into the Land of the Living.

By 06:30 I had finished watching the film that I started yesterday, then edited all of the photos, uploaded them onto the web and then brought my blog

up to date, all by 08:30.

I’ve had a good breakfast too – I’m not sure at all that there will be something for me to eat on the plane to Zurich and while I’m now in possession of a fruit loaf and some biscuits (as well as a bottle of water), thanks to the Carrefour Hypermarket in the gallery down the road, on these kinds of journeys the plan is to eat when I can.

I’ve uploaded a pile of radio programmes to the laptop too, to refresh the radio library, and with a few other things that needed to be done, I was out of the hotel and gone by 10:45.

airport tram lyon part dieu airport st exupery lyon franceAt the station (the other side of the station) there was a tram already parked at the platform ready to go to the airport so even though there’s a €1:00 supplement (on what is already a steep fare) for tickets bought on board, I wasn’t going to hang about. A bird in the hand … and all of that.

Lyon airport is something of a maze, and to make matters worse, you have to look long and hard for a baggage trolley. I couldn’t find one, and at first I thought that they simply didn’t have one, but I later saw someone at the check-in with one so they must exist somewhere. But the terminal is big, clean, light, airy, and there are not too many people about. At the baggage check-in, I didn’t even have to queue. There was an assistant waiting for me.

Even the passage through “security” was relatively stress-free, although the woman at the scanner had a good moan about my camera. I think however that that is more to do with the fact that she was of the moaning type, rather than for any other good purpose.

dash 8 400 swissair flight lyon france zurich switzerlandAs for our plane – well, what can I say? It was nominally a Dash 8-400, built by Bombardier in Canada, but you don’t need to be an aircraft expert to recognise this for what it is – a Vickers Vimy.

Orville and Wilbur Wright were at the controls, Ameilia Earhart was sitting at the back, and I had to move Glenn Miller’s sandwiches off my seat. That’s the kind of plane that it was.

view fromair dash 8 400 taking off from Lyon st exupery airport franceI shan’t say much about the flight. The events speak for themselves. We had to wear our seatbelts throughout the entire flight and they refused to serve tea and coffee at any moment during the flight. All of the kids were screaming during the flight, and one or two of the adults were too. Not for the faint-hearted, this particular flight.

And as for the landing – well, we didn’t actually land. It was more like we were shot down over the airport. But even that didn’t deter the passengers, many of whom rose from their knees to give the pilot a round of applause – presumably to celebrate the end of the flight

And it was here that everything started to go wrong. I was waiting for over an hour for the hotel shuttle bus to arrive, which it never did. And no-one answered the hotel telephone. Eventually, another hotel bus driver told me that there wasn’t one for the Ibis Budget Hotel. He offered to take me for 20:00 CHF

However I’m not easily taken in by this kind of thing and I walked down to the bus station. Here, one friendly river with whom I had quite a chat with whatever German I could remember. He sent me over to the 510 bus an while the driver was a little on the grumpy side, he put me off at the right place and pointed out the way to the hotel from there – all of 50 metres.

At the hotel, there’s no electrics for guests. All of the sockets are these two-pin mini-continental sockets and you need to buy an adapter – cost 10CHF.

We had a few words about that, and at the end of our debate she finished with "is there anything else that I can do for you?"
Well, she was in her early 20s, long blond hair, a nice shape, but I remembered where I was."No thanks. You’ll probably want me to pay for it".

old land rover snow plough zurich airport switzerlandWhen the rain stopped (did I say that it was p155ing down?) I walked back to the airport for a recce. I ended up walking past the car park for a hire company. And here parked at the back was an old Land Rover snowplough that had clearly better days.

In fact, this is quite a rarity here in Switzerland. There are all kinds of old cars in the country but mostly quite expensive and fully-restored. I can’t say that I have ever seen a vehicle in this kind of condition lying about like this.

zurich airport switzelandYes, I really did walk back to the airport. It took me all of about 15 minutes. And I’m glad that I did because it gave me an opportunity to photograph it

I discovered that a 24-hour ticket would cost me 13:20CHF to cover all of the zones that I need to get into the city, and so I duly did. Had I done that earlier, instead of paying the bus driver for the single journey, I would have been quids-in. But you have to pay to learn.

I found an all-night supermarket, lots of water, and a main-line railway station where, inter alia a train goes every evening to Budapest. I made a note of that. But I’ll tell you something – I was astonished by the number of beggars (mostly young, fit types) loitering in the streets.

zurich city centre by night switzerland

Another thing that I noticed was that allbut one of my night-time images of Zurich didn’t come out. I’d gone into the city with the intention of trying out the camera on the phone at night in an urban environment, and the result has not been succeesful. The daytime ones work fine as you can see, because everything to date has been taken with that.

And on the way in, I noticed at the Haldenbach tram stop an imbiss type of place so I leapt off the tram (such are the advantages of a 24-hour tram ticket) and yes, they did indeed sell falafel.

So I’m fed and watered and ready to bed. But I’m struggling to come to terms with Swiss prices.

Thursday 13 August 2015 – FOR THE FIRST TIME IN MY LIFE …

…I’m ready well in advance of time to go.

Well, I’m not. I have been looking for three days for the $200 that I drew out of my Canadian Bank before leaving last October, so I’m having to go without it. And now I know why I drew it all out too. My Canadian bank card expired back in May!

So I hope that my European cards work, otherwise I’m going to have a couple of problems.

Mind you, it was touch and go that I got here in time this morning. I’d been out in Eastern Europe in a city that straddled the border between the East and the West. I was in the east with a party of people (as it happened, people with whom I worked in Stoke on Trent) and we were in a coach or a train that wasn’t moving but the seats were comfortable. Anyway, who should turn up but Nerina, with her Afro haircut of the early 90s. She sat next to me and ended up sharing my bunk, and I could see all of the people looking around and quizzing each other as to who she was.

I asked her how she had made it over to here – did she come by rail through the East, because I was interested in the trains that she might have seen, but she had come to the railway station in the West and walked across the border, which disappointed me.

So first job was the washing up. And that was when I made a startling discovery – that I had brought some water up last night to do the washing-up, and then left it on the side and went to bed. I’m definitely getting old, aren’t I?

And then there was the beichstuhl that needed emptying, cleaning and refilling, such delightful jobs that I have.

I’ve also cleaned the waste bins and isn’t that a first?

Liz came for me and we went to the mairie to pick up a Certificat de Domicile but as I expected, it’s closed for the holidays. I must remember to ring up on Tuesday! I did meet Valentin there though, loading up the Commune’s little van. We had a good chat and it seems that he’s re-signed for Pionsat this year, and that’s good news! I’ve no idea why he went to play at Terjat.

piaggio APE brasserie de la gare montlucon allier franceLiz and I went for coffee in the brasserie opposite the station.And while we were there, this interesting Piaggio APE pulled up just opposite.

I had a brief chat with the owner but he didn’t say very much. But he didn’t mind me taking a few photos of it (it’s always polite to ask).

It brought back a few memories of the Piaggio APE50 that we discovered on waste land in Brussels and which now resides – or it did, the last time that I heard anything about it – in Stoke on Trent

SNCF single unit diesel passenger train franceHere’s my train – a little single-unit diesel. I’ve not been on one of these before. But it’s nice, clean and comfortable – a far cry from anything that you find on the rails in the UK.

And we set off bang on time too, which is another far cry from life on the rails in the UK. And one thing that I like about France – “we regret that the toilet on board the train isn’t functioning. If you need this service, please make yourself known to the guard who will arrange for a longer stop at one of the stations that we visit”.

Mind you – I was half-expecting that we would be offered the possibility to pull up on the main line at a suitable hedge.

I didn’t realise that there were two railway stations in Montlucon – but I do now!

The line to Riom is what can best be described as “bucolic” – what one writer once wrote as a “merry, mazy ramble” across the Auvergnat countryside. I’ve advanced about 25 kms but it’s taken me an hour and a half and about 90kms to do it.

diesel multiple unit riom puy de dome lyon franceAt Riom it’s pouring down – a real torrential downpour – and my train is bang on time. And then this is where I realise that it’s lunchtime and for once in my life I’m caught without a supply of food about my person.

By the time I reached Vichy it had stopped raining, but it had started again at Tarare.

place part dieu lyon franceFirst stop at Lyon was at the Subway for a very late lunch. And it was at here that we had the usual Subway dialogue-
Our Hero – could I have a 12-inch with nothing but crudités?
Serving Wench – do you want cheese with that?

trolley bus lyon franceThere are trolley buses in Lyon these days – I hadn’t noticed that before. It seems that all of this “obsolete” transport of the 1950s – trams, trolley buses – was not obsolete at all. In fact, it was a hundred years ahead of its time. And it seems to be doing its work here in Lyon too because the streets are much less crowded than any other European city that I’ve visited recently.

As for my hotel, it’s 5 or 10 minutes away from the station. It’s modern and clean and tidy, with all of the services to hand. I had a lovely vegetarian pizza (I always bring my own cheese) for tea. It seems that this idea of flying out of Lyon, at least to here, is paying off in spades.

And as good an idea as it might have been, it could be even better too, believe it or not, because there’s a cheap budget hotel – the Athena – with rooms at €58:00, actually built into the station block. A walk of about 50 yards.

I shall have to look closely into this, but not tonight because although it’s only about 22:00, I’m crashing out.

Wednesday 12th August 2015 – AT LAST!

This Hyundai has finally gone.

But it’s not gone far – about 400 metres to the wide grass verge.

Terry turned up tonight with his Jeep Cherokee 4×4 and that made short work of moving it. Unfortunately, Terry’s trailer is just too small for the Hyundai so there’s no possibility of putting it on there. And with me closed down for my holidays, I’m going nowhere tonight with my Brian James car transporter.

Consequently the Hyundai sits on the grass verge and there it will stay until the owner has come up with a Plan B. What this will be will be a depanneuse – a breakdown truck. And had a breakdown truck been summoned on Friday, this Hyundai would have been gone long ago with no stress and no bad feeling and no nothing.

And of course, the question of the degreaser for this oil slick. The car’s owner “didn’t have time” to pick any up. Why am I not surprised? But at least, Caliburn is back home where he belongs.

All of this is an object lesson in how doing things “on the cheap” rebounds with a vengeance because I’m never ever going to be doing anything coming from over there ever again. “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me!”

But last night, I had a bad night. I was still awake at 05:00 and I woke up again at 06:30. Clearly the stress was getting to me and I really didn’t need that with what I had to do today.Nevertheless in between the bouts of sleep this afternoon I’ve managed to do such a lot of what I had to do and I’ll be finishing the rest in a moment when I’ve eaten my pasta.

And I had a stroke of luck too. I’ve been hunting high and low for my Vox Bass amPlug – the one that you plug into the jack socket of the guitar and plug earphones into it so that you can hear what you are playing. It’s never come to light.

And then there I was, I suddenly had a brainwave, remembering what bag I had taken with me to Belgium and Germany a few months ago. And sure enough, there scrunched up in the bottom of the bag, was my amplug. That cheered me up. On the downside, with sorting out this Hyundai, I missed my shower window. I was looking forward to that, with new bedding and new clothes waiting for me. I’ll have to wait now for Lyon tomorrow night. I hope that no-one on the train complains.

So now I have something like a tidy attic, some bags all packed (and I bet that I have forgotten hordes of stuff) and just a few more jobs to do before I go. I’ll try to have an early night – I need it after last night to be sure, and I’ll be fighting-fit for tomorrow.

Thursday 9th October 2014 – WELL, I WAS RIGHT ABOUT ONE THING.

I missed the connection at Brussels.

And not by 5 or 10 minutes either, but by a whopping couple of hours too. It took all night to evacuate this ill person and her baggage and we were about a couple of hours late before we took to the sky.

The flight itself and the food were excellent but the in-flight entertainment was rather rubbish. There wasn’t a single film that I was interested in seeing. On the Sports Channel however there was the World Cup semi-final between Brazil and Germany from 2014- the match where in a devastating spell of just 6 minutes half-way through the first half the Germans totally demolished the Brazilians.

At Brussels, those of us with onward journeys to attend to had to regroup in order to see what they airline had in store for us. For me, they could move me onwards to Paris via … errrr … Frankfurt am Main. That was clearly out of the question. However, there was one person who was flying on to Lyon and so that gave me an idea. When I was at Montreal I heard them call an Air Transat flight to Lyon and while I’m not overly impressed with Air Transat, I still put into the back of my mind the idea to go around to the airport at Lyon to see what I could see and to spy out the land.

This seemed like the opportunity and so I made the appropriate noises at the airport staff. There was indeed flight to Lyon but at 17:00 in the afternoon, meaning that I had 5 hours to kill. A meal voucher for €16:00 to compensate me in part for the inconvenience meant that I could have a meal but even that voucher only made a slight hole in the price of the meal, prices in Belgium being what they are. But nevertheless, the choices of meal here seem to be better than what was on offer when I was stranded at Paris Charles de Gaulle last year.

zaventam brussels national airport belgium october 2014For the rest of my stay in Brussels, I also took the opportunity to go for a wander around the airport, inside and outside. It’s been a long time, 9 years in fact, since I’ve been here and there was a time when I was here a couple of times a week, back in the good old days.

So braving the horrendous weather outside, because it really was bad outside, I went for a look around.

zaventam brussels national airport belgium october 2014There have been some tremendous changes to the airport in this time. Outside, there’s an enormous amount of redevelopment and much of the old building is being swept away and replaced ith more modern stuff.

There have been even more changes inside the place. A huge programme of expansion has taken place with all kinds of new terminals and departure gates and I do have to admit that it is quite a significant leg-up from how it all used to be in the past.

The plane to Lyon was one of these small 70-seater things with about 40 passengers on it. The flight took a quite reasonable 75 minutes which wasn’t bad at all, even if there was no special meal for me. That came as no surprise seeing as how I’d chopped and changed from one flight to another – it can’t be helped. I was glad that I had had a meal at Zaventam. And descending into Lyon through a thunderstorm, we were being tossed around like a cork on the ocean. Not for the faint-hearted, this descent.

Lyon was a very nice airport, quite modern and up-to-date, and the tram connection to town, quite shockingly expensive at €15:70, was nevertheless straighforward and direct, to right opposite the main railway station in town. No issues whatever with this at all (apart from the cost of course).

The ticket for the train to Riom cost a mere €16:00 with my senior citizen’s railcard (and that puts into perspective the astonishing price of the tram ticket) but there was a wait of 100 minutes for my train. No mind – it gave me an opportunity to look around outside the station. In the square behind the railway station there were all kinds of food shops, including a Subway sandwich store so I grabbed a foot-long vegetarian and orange juice there – that was tea sorted out.

Further investigation revealed that just a 10-minute stagger away from here is one of these Premier Class tourist hotels. A modern unit-type hotel with en-suite facilities.

So the verdict on Lyon as a departure point for Montreal? Well, even if the only flight offered is an Air Transat service, then I am no longer going to struggle all of the way out to Paris Charles de Gaulle. Apart from the tram fare, everything else that I would need is right here in front of me at Lyon, much more so than at the airport hotels in Paris. There will also be a saving of over €200 on my travelling costs and that, dear reader, is all that you need to know.

The train to Riom presented no problems whatever, and Terry was there to meet me at the station. Liz and Terry offered me a bed for the night, for which I was extremely grateful, and I was out like a light. It had been a long day.

Tuesday 26th August 2014 – WHAT A FLAMING SHAMBLES!


This afternoon at Gerzat we had about 2.5 hours to record our radio programmes for Radio Arverne before I needed to leave to catch my train. 6 programmes this week, which meant that we would need about 2 hours or so.

Normally we would arrive there at about 14:00 and so our 2 hours would take us up to 16:00 leaving plenty of time for my train at Riom at 17:06. However, thinge never normally go according to plan and so we set out earlier, arriving at 13:45. I’d also had some kind of premonition and so on our way down to Gerzat we had stopped at the railway station at Riom so that I could pick up my ticket and so miss the rush-hour rush.

And I’m glad that we did, too.

When we arrived at the radio station, the junior engineer was outside smoking a cigarette. And inside at the office, the secretary told us that it was indeed the junior engineer who would be recording us. “Ahh well”, we breathed a sigh of relief. “He’ll be here in a minute”. That was famous last words, wasn’t it?

By 14:10 I was starting to become restless so I told the secretary how pressed we were for time. She phoned him up and then told us that he would be here in a minute.

By 14:25 I told the secretary that to call him again and tell him that at 16:30 we were walking out, regardless of wherever we were in the programmes.

Anyway, he turned up at just before 14:30 and by 14:34 we were ready to go. At least, some of us were. The engineer had a friend in the recording booth with him and was too busy chatting to see our cues. Every cue was missed and at one stage we overran because he had failed to give us our time signal.

As a result, at 16:30 precisely, we upped and went, even though the final programme was only half-way recorded. How they intend to finish it, I really don’t know, but ask me if I care.

For a change, everything went well-according to plan at Marcillat with Radio Tartasse. It’s usually there that we have our major issues but today, everything was ready and passed off without a hitch, even if I did forget to take my memory stick with me (good job I had the laptop in Caliburn).

It was nice to see Liz and Terry again after all these weeks and to talk to them about their holiday, and Terry gave me some really good news. Apparently Toolstation, Screwfix’s big rival, has now opened for business in France. They don’t stock the range of goods that Screwfix stocks, but from what I have seen, their prices for what they do carry are cheaper. I’ll be interested to see how their prices compare to Brico Depot. Anyway, it’s nice to see one of the major UK D-I-Y suppliers taking the initiative in France.

local train riom chatel guyon lyon perrache puy de dome franceAt Riom Station, my train came in on time. It’s been upgraded from the original rattletrap to something more modern, but it was jam-packed with people. There wasn’t a spare seat on the train. I’ve no idea what was happening there.

And not only was it on time leaving Riom, it was actually on time arriving at Lyon Part-Dieu too. And I felt so much better when we arrived too – leaving all of this mess behind.

TGV lyon part dieu france
However, being on time at Lyon was more than can be said for the TGV. It was 10 minuts late pulling into the station. And the fact that I’m passing comment on it shows you just how unusual this is. Normally, the trains run bang to time.

And while the luggage space was comparatively full, there were quite a few empty seats on the train. Not like last year when we were crammed in like sardines.

So by the time we got to Phoe … errr … Lille we were 27 minutes late, 3 minutes short of the magic 30 minutes that gives me a 25% return on my ticket. And now I’m in my hotel – a 10 minute walk from the TGV station. I’ve had a hot shower and I’m off to bed.

Friday 20th December 2013 – DIDN’T WE HAVE A LUVVERLY TIME …

day out coach trip bus ride pionsat clermont ferrand puy de dome france… the day we went to Clermont?

Thanks, Marianne, for ringing me at 06:30 otherwise I would still be in bed now, but anyway off to a garage along the road between Pionsat and St Eloy where Marianne was to leave her car for a service, and then we headed into Pionsat to catch the bus.

33 of us, there were, on board heading for Pionsat’s annual shopping trip to Clermont. Many towns and villages in the rural Puy-de-Dome go there on the same day and the Conseil-General have a little welcoming celebration with coffee, orange juice and croissants – just as well seeing as how I didn’t have any breakfast. And we received a free tram ticket, shopping bag and little Christmas present too.

The queue for the tram was enormous and so we walked to the centre, which was quite nice seeing as we passed by the city’s cemetery. One thing about Marianne is that she’s just as interested in things like this as I am and an invitation for a stroll around the dead centre of any kind of urban settlement will not be sneezed at.

cemetery clermont ferrand monks puy de dome franceThere were formerly many religious establishments in Clermont Ferrand and we stumbled across many communal graves in which various groups of nuns had interred their departed members.

The communal graves of the monks were however much more interesting. Tucked away in a quiet little corner of the cemetery behind a few enormous tombs is their last resting place – one headstone for each establishment and a little plaque for each brother who is interred here. Things like that are quite poignant really.

And I wonder who is involved in the upkeep of this little plot because some of the communal graves of the nuns are, well, very sorry spectacles indeed.

commonwealth war graves cemetery des charmes dechaux clermont ferrand puy de dome franceThere’s also a Commonwealth War Grave here in the cemetery at Clermont Ferrand. 22 British, Canadians and New Zealanders are buried here. 21 are Air Force men and quite clearly three groups of 7. Pilot, Flight Engineer, Navigator, Wireless Operator, Bomb-Aimer and a couple of gunners.

One group died on 5th March 1944, another group on 10th March 1944 and the third group on 27th July 1944. Clearly three Lancasters shot down in the vicinity and with the proximity of the huge Michelin tyre factory – just a couple of hundred yards away from where I was standing taking this photograph, then no prizes for guessing what they were doing – or trying to do.

Or so I wrote at the time. Subsequent research revealed something rather different.

Only one of the aircraft was a Lancaster engaged in bombing the Michelin factory (with an alternative target of the marshalling yards at Aulnat).

These were the crew of Lancaster B III serial ND513 of Squadron 207 RAF, carrying identity EM-R. The crew led by Squadron Leader Dudley Pike had set off from Spilsby in Lincolnshire on 10th March at 19:42.

The aeroplane suffered a direct hit from flak and exploded in mid-air. The wreckage crashed close to the Anne-Marie-Menut roundabout between 23:00 and 23:30.

The earlier crash, on 5th March 1944, was actually a Stirling B III serial EF215 of 75 squadron RAF (although many of the crew were New Zealanders). She carried identity AA-M

She had taken off from Mepal in Cambridgeshire on 4th March 1944 at about 20:51. She had been loaned to SOE (the Special Operations Executive) and was on a training flight parachuting arms to the Resistance in the Auvergne.

Because of the foul weather (blinding, gusting snowstorms were reported) she couldn’t see the torch signals and so aborted the mission, but ran into the side of a Puy in the Le Cros – Douharesse area.

The upper middle machine-gunner luckily survived the crash and was arrested. The others perished and, according to a report issued at the time, the cause of death was as much exposure to the elements as the injuries received in the crash.

The third aeroplane Was another Lancaster B III, serial number ND527 (only 14 machines newer than that lost on 10th March). She carried identity LE-O and belonged to 630 suadron RAF, although some crew were Canadians.

She had taken off from East Kirkby in Lincolnshire at 21:17 on 26th July 1944 to bomb the marshalling yards at Givors, south of Lyon, but at 02:45 the following morning, in the middle of a violent storm, she was involved in a mid-air collision with Lancaster ND856 of 82 squadron.

The pilot of the plane attempted a crash-landing just south of St Ignat, 14kms north-east of Riom, but collided with trees. The plane burst into flames and the crew was immolated.

Incidentally, ND856 exploded in mid-air and its remains fell to earth four or five kilometres away. The crew was originally buried in the local cemetery close tot he crash site but were later exhumed and re-interred in the big military cemetery at Mazargues, near Marseille.

lieutenant W T L Short commonwealth war graves cemetery des charmes dechaux clermont ferrand puy de dome franceThe 22nd grave is that of Lieutenant WTL Short and his is an interesting story.

It doesn’t matter what your perception of the RAF Bomber Command is (mine is that they were a bunch of mass-murdering war criminals, but that is by the way), no-one will dispute that for the expense and effort involved and the number of casualties that they suffered, they were pretty much ineffective and much more could have been achieved at far, far less expense by quite simply parachuting into the target area a bunch of commandos armed to the teeth, with the aim of sabotaging the factories and their output on the ground. The rail campaign of Summer 1944 is a classic example of this, and who remembers the Heroes of Telemark?

But a close look at the headstone of Lieutenant Short will reveal that he was “attached to the FFI” – the Force Français de l’Interieur, which is the politically-correct way of describing the French Resistance. And I can’t help thinking that for what he cost the British Government, his efforts were probably far more cost-effective than those of his 21 neighbours. And what is even more sad about all of this is that if you go to The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website

and carry out a search for the Des Charmes Dechaux cemetery in Clermont Ferrand, you’ll find entries for the 21 airmen but no entry for Lieutenant Short.

basilica notre dame du port clermont ferrand puy de dome franceFrom there we walked on into town, stopping halfway for another coffee of course. Crossing the road we went to the Basilica of Notre Dame du Port.

This church dates from the 6th Century and was founded, so the story goes, by St Avit who, as we all know, comes from down the road here at la Cellette where he had a spring and a hermitage. The church was destroyed by the Normans during one of their invasions of the 10th Century and subsequently rebuilt. Unusually, the crypt is open to the public and so we went down there to see what we could see but the short answer to that was “nothing”. It did not escape our notice, however, that the crypt only stretched so far underneath the church.

town hall clermont ferrand puy de dome franceMarianne then took me to see the Town Hall, which is just around the corner from the cathedral, the famous cathedral where Peter the Hermit summoned the First Crusade back at the end of the 11th Century.

The Town Hall was an interesting place to visit. It was formerly some kind of Abbey, as you can tell from the inner quadrangle and cloisters. But we couldn’t go inside for a nosey – it’s lunch time already.

And what do you notice here? Yes – a blue sky. It was depressing, wet and miserable this morning, just like me. But now it looks as if the sun might be coming out.

clermont ferrand puy de dome franceThe Christmas Market was next on the agenda. That was in the square at the back of the cathedral, the square that is dominated by the Puy de Dome, which you can see all bathed in snow and wun on the skyline in the background.

At the market I bought my final Christmas present, so I’m glad that I came here, and then we headed off to the Tourist Information and the Conseil General where I picked up an enormous pile of stuff for Radio Anglais. We won’t be complaining about lack of events and information now for quite a while with all of this stuff that I’ve collected, and I made a couple of useful contacts too.

big wheel ferris place de jaude clermont ferrand puy de dome franceMy main reason for being here though is to hold Marianne’s hand on the big ferris wheel in the Place de Jaude. In her capacity as hournalist she decided that it would be quite a plan to get to the top and take some decent photos, but she’s not very good at heights. Consequently I was roped in for moral support.

The wheel is quite high as you can see, and the views from the top, such as this one looking north-west, are absolutely splendid. Mind you, I was quite disappointed as it was the smoothest ride that i’ve ever had. It gave no real sensation of movement and it certainly didn’t seem as if we were anything like this high.

cathedral clermont ferrand puy de dome franceMind you, another lifetime’s ambition has been accomplished. Taking a photo of the cathedral at Clermont Ferrand is next-to-impossible as it is hemmed in by all kinds of other buildings and there’s no really good shot.

I’ve been experimenting with extreme-length telephoto lenses from the surrounding summits of the Faille de Limagne but they haven’t really worked out. But sod that for a game of soldiers now. Up here is the nicest view of the cathedral that anyone could hope to see.

So a visit to a bookshop, a quick coffee and then back to the bus and home to 2°C.The temperature has plummetted and we might well be back into winter at last.

Tuesday 24th April 2012 – Miserable, wet, grey and depressing…

… but that’s enough about me. Let’s talk about the weather.

And that’s also miserable, wet, grey and depressing.

But the exciting thing is that I’m sitting at a desk looking out of my hotel window and I can see the planes taking off from the runway at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport. And in 8 hours time I’ll be there too.

sncf multiple unit train riom puy de dome franceThe train journey was exciting and I’ll do this again.

The one from Riom to Lyon was a multiple-unit thing that rattled and clanked its way along.

No coffee unfortunately but at least the seats were comfortable and there was plenty of room.

At Lyon you leave the train, go downstairs where there’s a waiting area and a coffee machine. When your train is called you go back upstairs and there you are. Simple as that.

lyon part dieu double decker tgv franceThe TGV was a double-decker thing and athough we had a 20-minute wait for a late connection we went like stink as expected.

The lateness didn’t matter one single iota. I walked straight out of the airport onto the hotel shuttle (once every half-hour) that was already outside.

So if we had been on time I would have had to wait outside the airport for 20 minutes.

Downside of the TGV is that coffee on the double-deckers is a long walk away and luggage space is VERY MUCH at a premium. Upside is that my train was going to Lille Europe and there was a TGV coming from Brussels on the opposite platform.

Doesn’t that open up exciting possibilities for my British and Belgian friends? Both of them!

Anyway, here I am. And there I’ll be in a bit. And, as I said to Bill as he dropped me off at Riom railway station,
“Thank you Bill for bringing me here”.
“You’ll be an inspector, have no fear”

Saturday 21st April 2012 – I’ve been slowly …

… organising myself today. And I mean “slowly” as well. But who knows? I might even manage to do it too.

First piece of good news came in the post. If you remember, I bought myself a really good mobile phone in Canada in September. But when I came to use it in February, it wouidn’t power up, no matter what I did to it. Anyway, to cut a long story short … “hooray” – ed … I noticed last Saturday that one of the guys at the football had exactly the same phone. So I accordingly took mine down on Sunday and we tried his battery in my phone – and it worked fine.

So thinking “battery”, I ordered a new charger off the internet. Anyway, the charger arrived this morning so I plugged it into the phone and sure enough, it powered itself up.

Putting some credit on the UK phone that Percy Penguim gave me in December – the one with the UK SIM card in it – that’s not proving to be so easy. I can top it up from overseas using a credit card, sure enough, but when it comes to “please enter the numbers of your postcode” it all goes off the rails. “You have made a mistake” says the recorded message. But ohhh no I haven’t. Well, Perhaps I have. But it’s not the mistake that they are thinking of – the mistake I made was using a SIM card from O2 – a poxy introspective xenophobic British company that totally fails to consider the possibility that someone with a foreign postcode might want to use its service.

No wonder Britain has come off the rails, when it can’t cope with “overseas”.

But astonishing news on the travel front. I had planned to go to the airport from Montlucon, meaning a change at Bourges, another at Vierzon, then trying to cross Paris on the Metro and then taking another train from another station in Paris. And how I hate that journey too. But for just €20 more, I can take a train from Riom to Lyon, and then the TGV direct from Lyon to the airport. No struggling across Paris, no lugging heavy suitcases about up and down stairs, no fighting with Paris commuters. And the TGV is soooooo much more comfortable as well. Even better – my return flight lands at 06:12 in the morning and there’s a return train journey following exactly the same route, at 08:52. That gives me time to find my baggage, find the station, have a coffee and breakfast and I’ll be home by 14:00 all nicely relaxed.

At my destination in Montreal though, there was a slight hitch. The hotel that I’ve been using has been under repair and refurbishment for years and so prices have been ridiculously low. And it’s also in the part of the city where I need to be, for all kinds of good reasons too. But when I went to book it just now, it’s clear that the extensive renovations are now finished as the prices have gone through the roof.

Anyway, there’s one of these chain hotels not too far from the airport, and they have a special offer on right now. Furthermore, three of my most favourite shops are only just round the corner, within walking distance in fact if I fancy walking. So that’s that sorted out too.

At the football, there are no matches at Pionsat this weekend and so I saw Marcillat play Ygrande. A totally astonishing 3-3 draw – astonishing because Ygrande scored one of their goals and from the kickoff Marcillat roared straight up the pitch and scored themselves. And blow me down if 10 minutes later we had exactly the same thing again – a carbon copy. BUt the highlight of the match was the referee. I’ve never ever seen a game so well-refereed as this one tonight. So much so that I went over to the ref after the match and told him so. Credit where credit is due.

Tomorrow I’m cutting my hair, and then I’m packing. Strawberry Moose is already packing his bags and is quite looking forward to the journey.

And so am I