Posted in Life, Travel

Day #8: Mont Saint Michel

Jeudi 28 Decembre 2017

A guest post by Tim Moss

Much of the trip had seemed a little impossible at the planning stage. Convince Sharon to trek half way around the world, at a time when maximum temperatures were likely to only just edge into positive numbers? Impossible. Travel through so many countries, in such a short space of time, and still feel like we had a sense of each place? Impossible. Get up at 5am, make our way across an unknown city (Paris), find a completely new train station and navigate to our early train, just to journey for several hours at high speeds, to see a lump of land in the middle of the ocean? Yep, you guessed it; impossible.

And yet there we were, rugged up (as usual), Sharon with more layers than your average filo pastry, boarding the train to Mont-Saint-Michel. I didn’t have a strong idea about what to expect, but I was enjoying the adventure. And the first-class train carriage. My early advice about travelling in Europe is to always travel by trains if you have the time, and to always travel first-class if you have the money. It’s the only way to go…

The train pulled away smoothly from the station right on time, and the first half hour was spent zipping through a series of tunnels (I think? It was pretty dark outside, but these were definitely darker), each more ear-popping than the last. And then, whoosh, out into the countryside, past green-edged paddocks, tiny barns and houses with earthy coloured thatched roofs, a rather exorbitant number of powerlines, and so on, all punctuated regularly by a new ear-popping sound, that of the similarly svelte bullet trains going in the other direction. Sharon jumped a little each time, through the whole trip. At one point I looked at the speed indicator – 317 kilometres per hour. Yep, impossible, but there we were, in a smooth, air-conditioned bubble.

I’m a little hazy on the rest of this part of the trip, mostly because I might have napped a little to make up for the early start I suspect! But the hours passed impossibly quickly, and with just a short hop on a shuttle bus, there we were, at Le Mont.

When you get to Mont-Saint-Michel, you have a choice – you can hop on a shuttle bus (which is somewhat convincingly panelled to look like a wooden carriage, except for the diesel fumes and lack of a horse at the front end), you can ride a horse-drawn carriage (although the horses appeared to have slept in on the day we visited), or you can walk the 45 minutes to the island. Despite Sharon’s ongoing knee pain, we decided to act like pilgrims and make the journey on foot. I’m so glad we did. You walk along a nondescript gravel path for about 15 minutes, with very informative (I assume) panels about grasslands and birds and stuff, and then the path opens up, and there in front of you is the most impossible thing of all, Le Mont-Saint-Michel.

Frankly it’s a little hard to describe it, but just imagine your average tidal wetland. It’s flat, there’s some water but because the tide is out there’s not much of it, and a few small rocks creating something of a border or boundary for that puddly water residue, and then some muddy flatland that seems to go on forever. And then, rising out of this completely ordinary landscape (believe me, I’ve tried for several minutes here to make it interesting), is a rock. And on that rock is a wall. And behind the wall there are turrets, ramparts, buildings, flags, lights, seagulls, people, and rising above it all, seemingly perched on just a tiny triangle of land, impossibly small, is the abbey, which is everything except tiny and impossibly small. It’s quite an impression, and easy to forget where and when you are.

Once we’d picked ourselves up from the ground after being bowled over by this incredible view, we finished our pilgrimage and made our way in… Somehow we managed to find the back way to the abbey, past groups of people washing their feet after exploring the wetlands outside the walls as people have done for centuries, past armed men entrusted with keeping order as armed men have done on Le Mont for centuries (hopefully we didn’t look too rowdy), past dozens of tiny doors that seemed to lead to sheer cliff faces, or to tiny rooms with no clear purpose, up stone steps worn to smiles by generation after generation of tired feet, and miraculously to the front door of the abbey.

At this point, I’ll just share some general impressions, as the overall experience was quite profound and worth experiencing first-hand… There are still monks in the abbey. They live, work, and share their modest lives there, surrounded by swarms of tourists but somehow still able to live lives of peace, tranquility, and worship. And they have extraordinary singing voices, if (like us) you should happen to find yourself wandering through the main chapel as mass is taking place. Those voices and the whistling winds have been finding harmonies for an impossibly long time, and I feel extraordinarily fortunate that we arrived there at that moment so purely by chance. The abbey itself is almost impossibly complex, to the point where those trying to interpret the layout now are simply unable to describe why some rooms exist; there are chapels, refectories, crypts, a scriptorium, rooms with great wheels turned by the feet of prisoners held in the abbey when it was a prison, cloisters, gardens, great halls for receiving dignitaries and kings, and then there are other rooms, spaces that link these purposeful rooms, spaces with fireplaces large enough to hold entire trees, and spaces that… well, do something. It’s like a home improvement reality show has been running for centuries – “I reckon we could add another well here to really spice things up a bit”, and somewhere along the way, the reasons for that work were lost.

But this is perhaps an injustice, as the spaces that we can explain are extraordinary, and the design shows a level of sophistication and insight into not only the engineering required to build a remarkable space, but also the ways space can be shaped to create an emotional response (like the tall, slender windows in the refectory, that bathed the room in light but are invisible as you enter the room). This is an abbey of drama, prestige, intrigue, history, story, and time. And it is still unfolding, still being told…

As our shuttle bus groaned away from the kerb on our return journey, rain had started falling in earnest. A kind of light mist began to curl around Mont-Saint-Michel, softening the lines, reducing clarity, wrapping it up again, ready for tomorrow’s pilgrims, tomorrow’s tiny marks in the impossible pages of its time.

Posted in Life, Travel

Day #7 – Paris

Mercredi 27 Decembre 2017

A slow morning as we pretend we live in an amazing Parisian loft. Tim had found a supermarket nearby last night and we started the day with a home cooked breakfast.

We found a laverie around the corner, in the cobbled laneway we’d walked through last night, and despite the instructions being in French we worked out pretty quickly how it worked. We were so adapt we were able to help a young French man who didn’t speak any English, and a young couple who didn’t speak English or French who were so appreciative of our help they bought us a Nutella crepe! I wanted to sit there for the rest of the day helping people, but once our clothes were washed and dried Tim insisted there were more interesting things to do in Paris than hang around a laverie hoping for Nutella crepes!

We were booked to go on a photo tour of the canals around the Bastille area (where we were staying) but the weather wasn’t good and just after lunch it was cancelled. We decided to head out in the rain anyway and made our way to Notre Dame, a wander through the Latin Quarter, an hour or so in Shakespeare and Company and a cruise on the Seine where the rain on the windows made for a great impressionistic shot of the Eiffel Tower.

It felt much colder today than when we were here before Christmas – it got to 4C (felt like 1.4C) but I still didn’t complain. I was actually warm, probably because I had so many layers on – only my nose and eyes were exposed to the elements, and walking back from the cruise I pulled my buff over my nose so not even that was cold. Weirdly, my hands stayed warm even when I wasn’t wearing my gloves!

The rain didn’t appear to be stopping, so we headed back to our apartment where it was cozy, warm and amazingly comfortable.

Mel wrote to say it was snowing in Cheddar! It feels cold enough to snow here … wouldn’t that be good?!

Posted in Photography

Day #6 – Cheddar – Bristol – London – Paris

Tuesday 26 December 2017

Our whistlestop trip to Cheddar was over and we headed back to Bristol via Cheddar Gorge. It had rained overnight – hailed even if the ice on Melanie’s car was anything to go by – and there was plenty of water lying about. Mel had just finished saying that the particular road we were on sometimes floods, when we crested the hill and saw the flooded road ahead of us.

The Gorge is wild and rugged and we’ve decided we need to come back in the warmer month to explore it more fully.

What a treat it was to spend a few days with family when we’re so far away from home – a real shame we couldn’t spend more time in England to catch up with Aunty Carol. Next time!

We arrived at the bus terminal with plenty of time to spare, and were fortunate enough to catch the earlier bus, meaning we weren’t so squeezed for time in London getting from Victoria Cross to St Pancras. Our Uber driver took us past Buckingham Palace but we didn’t have enough time to pop in.

Buckingham Palace from the back of the Uber

Why don’t we have trains like the Eurostar in Australia? It’s fast, it’s clean, it’s comfortable … we hurtled across the English countryside and then the French countryside in comfort and before we knew it were back in Paris.

Adrian, our AirBnB host for this part of our stay in Paris, had given us detailed instructions for getting to his place from Gare du Nord and despite it being dark by the time we arrived we found our way through cobbled laneways and the early dinner crowd with ease.

Djidji – Adrian’s assistant – was there to welcome us and show us all the features of the apartment. She spoke enthusiastic, but broken English, which was still much better than our French, and we eventually worked things out.

The apartment was amazing, with the world’s comfiest bed – if you’re heading to Paris in the near future and looking for a fabulous place to stay let me know and I’ll give you the details.


Posted in Life, Photography, Travel

Day #3 – Paris

Samedi 23 Decembre 2017

When Tim mentioned he’d like to go to Paris for Christmas, I have to admit that my response was not one of enthusiasm or excitement.

Christmas in Paris means winter.
Winter means cold.
I hate the cold.

No, you don’t understand.
I really hate it!

But I said yes anyway – who could say no to Tim’s obvious enthusiasm and excitement, and I made a promise to myself to limit my whingeing about the cold to a bare minimum.

Luckily for Tim, it hasn’t been too cold so far. 10C each day – which I’ve been able to live with quite comfortably. It helps that we stocked up on merino tops, merino thermals, merino socks, merino buffs … and, for me, fur-lined boots. Sharon, a colleague from work, lent me her duck down, knee-length puffy jacket and matching beanie … so with multiple layers, and thus, nowhere for the cold to touch my skin, I’ve actually remained surprisingly warm.


For both of us!

The l’Orangerie was on the agenda for today – a Christmas gift from Daniel and Cathy – and sitting (calmly – as the sign asked us to) taking in Monet’s waterlillies was a fabulous way to spend the morning. One of the things I love about Paris is the ready access to artworks we often don’t get to see in Australia – except for travelling exhibitions. Downstairs from Monet’s waterlillies were works by Picasso, Modigliani, Renoir and others … a visual treat!

We find our way to No Glu – a gluten free cafe (thanks Michelle) – for lunch (our first meal for the day) and do a lot of Google translating to work out the menu before the waiter brings us the English version.

It’s started to rain but we are warm and dry inside our layers as we make our way to the Louvre – ready to laugh our way around it. Cedrik is our guide – a historian and stand up comedian. It’s an entertaining way to see key works in the world’s (second?) largest museum – apparently, if you were to spend two minutes looking at each of the art works, you’d be there for 150 days!

It’s an overwhelming place – so much history, so much art, so many people and selfie sticks and pushing to get a photo with the Mona Lisa. We didn’t push, but we also didn’t get selfies with her. Her smile was enough thanks.

On our way to and from the Louvre, we make some of our own art works – works of a photographic nature. Here’s a small sample of mine. As you can see, it’s a very wintery day!

From Pont Neuf looking towards Tour Eiffel


Looking from Richelieu Passage into the Musee du Louvre


The French Institute – home to the Immortals
Posted in Life, Travel

It’s finally happened …

Just over five years ago – on September 28, 2012 – I packed my bags (well, ‘bag’ actually because I only took one) and headed to Paris and from there caught a train through France and Italy to Germany, stopping off at various places along the way. I went on my own – Tim had something else on – although I did meet up with my niece Sarah and her (now) husband Ben in Venice for a few days.

The year before – on September 28, 2011 – I had also packed my bag and headed to Paris to spend some time with various members of my family before the majority of them headed on a bike and barge tour to Bruges. I was fat and unfit in those days and decided to spend my time wandering around Paris on my own and visiting Elke in Germany, rather than jumping on a bike and riding for days and days.

In that year – 2011 – my granddaughter Lily was born (on the day I left), so the date remains in my memory long after other details have seeped out. What did I wear on the plane? How and when did I get European money? Useful stuff like that, that would come in handy right about now.

I vowed and declared I would return in 2013 and my hope was, every year thereafter.

I didn’t.

Fast forward to today. 20 December, 2017.

Our (yes, Tim is coming with me this time) bags are packed and we’re ready to go. Almost. We have time for dinner and a shower before we head to the airport – and one final check to ensure we haven’t left some small detail unattended to – like grabbing my passport from the drawer where I shoved it last month, hoping it would never see the light of a security check because the photo is THE worst passport photo. EVER. No, it truly is.

I can tell already that this is going to be a different sort of adventure.

For one thing, it’s winter in Paris and I’m not a big fan of the cold. My challenge will be to not whinge about it. It’s going to be a really (really) big challenge. Except I keep hearing how beautiful it will be, so a tiny part of me is thinking that it won’t be as much of a challenge not to whinge as I think. One challenge has been to pack for the cold when it’s 36C outside – trying clothes and my fur-lined boots on has been a sweat-filled task of epic proportions!

We’re going to France and Italy and the Czech Republic. Neither of us speak French, Italian or Czech and that wouldn’t usually matter because English is quite widely spoken, except that Tim has particular food intolerances (he doesn’t tolerate onion and garlic, for instance) and neither of us thought to learn to say ‘no onion; no garlic’ in any of those languages. We also neglected to learn the word for bathroom. Luckily for us we live in the 21st century, not the ones before, and that means we can use technology when our attempts at miming fails. We might even bypass miming ‘I need the loo’ and go straight to the technology.


We’ve booked photo tours in each major city we’re visiting – sometimes more than one – plus a ‘laugh your way around the Louvre’ tour with Cedrik – a clown. And yes, I checked, and no, he doesn’t dress up like a clown. He’s just a funny and entertaining man who makes the Louvre all kinds of fun. Daniel and Cathy gave us tickets to the Musee de l’orangerie so we’ll have fun exploring that as well.

We’re catching trains – my favourite form of transport – from Paris to London and from Paris to Mont Saint Michel and from Paris to Venice (via Basel and Milan). And then we’re catching a plane from Venice to Prague.

It’s going to be all kinds of interesting.

In a few hours we’ll be on our way. The excitement is building!

Who knows, we might even get some snow … although we possibly should have gone to Tassie for that!!

Ready … set … almost time to go!
Posted in Flowers, Photography


I’ve not been out and about much lately, so this flower is from the archive. This was shot in the ‘studio’ (aka the spare room with lights squished in where we can fit them).