I’ve had enough…time to cut and run

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Ponte Vecchio in my widow’s weeds. And the beginnings of a change from dark to blonde hair.

My first experience of travelling solo came 6 months after my husband suddenly died. It was less of a rational decision and more of a subconscious uncontrollable urge to run away. The urge came on a Wednesday, built up through Thursday and by Saturday I was in Florence, Italy. By myself. In a country I didn’t know with a language that I didn’t speak.

I prepared well for the trip. I went to the hairdressers and dyed my hair blonde. I then rang my sister and told her the news. She was more shocked about the hair than the sudden trip to Florence. “Why?” she asked to both. “I just needed to” was my response. Lucky for her, I hadn’t done what I really wanted to do, which was to shave my head completely, in a outward display of the inner pain that I felt.

 

Anyway. Solo travel to Florence. Why Florence? Well, firstly it was a place that I hadn’t visited with Mr T so there weren’t going to be any memories. Keen to secure a First Class Honours in Widowhood, I had read and promptly acted on the idea that, to cure oneself of constant reminders of the past, it is necessary to create new memories. Secondly, it was a place to do things. I dreaded being alone and having nothing to do but stare at happy couples, in love, or even not in love. Everywhere I went, people were in couples. Meh…

Having a love of Art and Art History, I knew that if anywhere was going to soothe my aching soul it would be Florence, city of Renaissance Art and Architecture, where I could get lost in history, culture, anything. I also love Italian food so I knew I wouldn’t starve. It’s only 2 hours from home so it was practical, in case anything should happen at home and I needed to rush back. It was only 2 hours from home so that if I should have an attack of mad cow’s disease I could be returned back to my local psychiatric unit, which was keeping a close eye on me at this point due to my manic depression.

 

It wasn’t so much the practical issues of travel that concerned me. I was always the one to book the holidays, arrange the transfers and pack the cases. Solo travel meant being alone. Having no one to share my thoughts with. No one to enjoy a glass of cold wine or beer with. No one to share the joy of visiting places only previously seen in books or magazines. No one to say “I can’t believe I’m standing in front of ….” for the umpteenth time. Was it really going to help?

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Looking up for God in the Duomo… not finding Him. Feeling abandoned in the presence of serenity. A desperate feeling…

How does one travel alone without feeling isolation and like everyone is looking at you, feeling sorry for you and wondering just what you did that was so bad that no one would go on holiday with you? When I’ve spoken to people about solo travel, they tend to fall into one of two camps. There’s the “oh yeah, I do that/would love to do that”. Or, more often, there’s the “God, I couldn’t do that. What? Just you? No one else? I wouldn’t have the guts”. Is it guts or lack of choice? Or just a desire to be hidden amongst a multitude of people who didn’t know my story and frankly, didn’t care. I needed to escape the cloud of despair. I needed to forget what had happened for just a short time and be somewhere where no one knew Mr T. I seem to have been married to the most well known landlord in Britain.

 

It began that fateful night when the lovely police officer, whilst taking my statement, recognised my husband and  said “Is that Richard Taylor?” “Yeah”. “Blimey, I was only in the pub a week ago”. The following day I had a phone call from a local Funeral Director. “Hi Vickie, I don’t know if you remember me but it’s Debbie from the pub. You know, Gill’s friend”, “Hi”. “Er, I hope you don’t mind but the case came through about Richard and I wondered if you would like me to organise the funeral”. “I didn’t know you were a funeral director?” “Yes, would you mind?” “No, that’s a great idea”. Mr T was off to meet his maker with the help of a friend. What could be better?

 

Over the course of the next few weeks, I came into contact with: a random AA guy because my bloody car broke down (still in Mr T’s name) “Oh, I heard about Richard. Great guy, so sorry”. A taxi driver who happened to start a conversation as we drove past the pub that what was my home and now wasn’t (I moved out) – “Poor bloke had a heart attack”. “No he didn’t.” “Oh, how do you know?” “Because I’m his wife and I was there”. The teachers at my girls’ school knew what had happened before we had the chance to tell them – they used to have lunch every Friday in the pub.  My eldest daughter was having her hair cut at a local salon when one of the other customers started gossiping: “Richard from the Nurseryman had a heart attack and died” (No he bloody didn’t!) I couldn’t get away from him.

 

This still happens albeit on a less frequent basis. I learnt very quickly how much my husband was loved and respected. This had increased my anxiety about the funeral. What if people thought it was  rubbish? What if we forgot the cutlery and people had to pick up the chicken with their hands? By May I’d had enough. I was off.

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Has anybody seen my husband?

Mr T and I lived in a pub. He ran the pub and I drank the wine and taught foreign students how to speak English (not at the same time). There are now countless numbers of Chinese and Arabic students wondering around Nottingham asking strangers “D’yow no the wayi te thi airport?” I digress. One of Mr T’s more irritating habits was to disappear. He could be anywhere in what was a very large pub. I spent most of our 15 years together asking people “Have you seen Richard? I’m going to bloody tag him”.  When he was buried I at least thought that I would now know where he is… not so.
One day last year, I visited Mr T at Tithe Green, http://www.woodlandburialoxton.co.uk/, but spent 30 minutes trying to find him. This part of Sherwood Forest is a meadow, which is left to grow wild flowers and has no headstones (only slate plaques laid flat on the ground). Mr T and I had accidentally stumbled upon Tithe Green Burial Ground after a visit to Rufford Park, where we escaped from the stress of pub life by taking a flask of tomato soup, ham and mustard sandwiches and a bag of bird seed. We were driving home when I spotted a road sign advertising the place. “Ooh look, an ancient burial ground” says I, always the geek and always eager to visit a new place of English Heritage. Perhaps a long barrow would be found, or a circle of ancient stones. It turned out that the “burial ground” is just that. A part of Sherwood Forest that is laid aside  for modern day burials rather than for our fore fathers. Nevertheless, we took a  couple of leaflets from the handy container in the car park and read through it at our leisure in a nearby pub. This was about 3 years before Mr T died. We kept the leaflets and later put one of each inside our wills. If and when we died, this is where we’d like to go. When Mr T died, it was assumed that the funeral would be at the local crematorium. We had already made other plans. He was off to Tithe Green.

A tree is planted in memory of the loved one  (Mr T’s is a Rowan – lovely berries in the winter), and as they’re all young trees, they look the same.  The land looks so different in winter and summer. My husband had been buried in November 2011, so that by the time I finally  went back to visit after the funeral (couldn’t bear to visit for ages afterwards), the whole place had changed. Trees covered in leaves and flowers everywhere. No bloody husband.

I wandered up and down each row, reading the names on each plaque. I found Mr T’s neighbours; a lovely lady who was a music teacher was somewhere nearby. As was the doctor and the plumber. In November 2011 As Mr T was a local pub landlord, we figured that this little community would be in need of someone who could pull a mean pint and decided to put Mr T and his “basket casket” in with these other fine folk. Yes, when choosing someone’s grave, it is vital to consider all of the variables. I didn’t want him hanging around with n’er do wells, and a plumber was always useful when the public toilets blocked for the tenth time so I figured Richard would be appreciate of one for a neighbour.

I found all his neighbours, but Mr T surely had disappeared. I even thought of ringing the local pub at one point, convinced that he’d nipped out for a Stella and lime.

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I eventually found my husband…

 

Finally, after much frustration (had they actually dug him up and moved him somewhere quieter – he did get rather vulgar when he was pissed and I could imagine the neighbours complaining about his stupid jokes),  I spotted the estate manager chatting to a lady who was holding a box, so I wandered over to them. “Can I help you?” says the awfully helpful Steve. “Er, I appear to have lost my husband” says I. “Oh, I can certainly help you with that. I just have to inter this lady’s ashes and I’ll be right with you”. Cue mortified look from me, who promptly shuffled off muttering “so sorry to disturb you”. Eventually I did find Richard, who no doubt was having a huge Sid James like guffaw at my expense. He now has fat balls hanging from his branches which the birds love and I can find him at a moment’s notice.

..

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Birds love fat balls…

Sorrow is the seventh wave…

 

Life without Mr T consists of waves. They begin in a small way. The sorrows I mean. They trickle in and then fall away again with the minutae of life. The grief appears as pin pricks in the eyes and in the heart. It  slowly retreats again as daily tasks and busyness, and joy of life takes over.

Without warning, the grief spikes begin to gather momentum and to close in. It can be in the morning when first awakening, hopefully to be calmed with life’s daily grind. Or it can be an early evening feeling, when the day’s work is done and there’s nothing to fill the mind other than the past. This is when I try to  focus on the future and make plans. Life must continue after all, in some form or other.

So I push onwards, onwards and onwards…

Then comes a day like today.  The seventh wave. A day when no matter how much the sun is shining, how many birds in the park are entertaining me with their squabbles over left overs from yesterday’s picnics or how many children run around with joy in their hearts, glad to be free of the chains of the classroom.  Or even the fact that I am travelling around this beautiful country (France), with all that it has to offer. This day belongs to my husband. I cannot “think of the good times” and “be glad that he didn’t suffer” – how does anyone know this anyway? What happens when the light goes out of someone’s eyes as they look at you? The seventh wave of sorrow will wash over me and there’s not a thing I can do about it. I have to succumb and go under. I have to take a deep breath and just hope that, as for the past 2.5 years, I will resurface. Again.

 

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I took this picture of myself and then promptly burst into tears….

 

I’m feeling sorry for myself of course. I’m grieving for the loss of my own life. Of my own present and for our future lives in Spain, which would have begun in a month’s time.

For the loss of the one person in my life (ever, including the shrinks) that truly understood me. That never questioned my sometimes skewed view of the world – because he thought that way too. That shared my love for hardware shops,  with all the paraphernalia and the smell of wood, varnish and the opportunities presented in the gadgets (I love gadgets). Stationery shops and the smell of new plastic pencil cases. The potential wrapped up in a brand new pen. For the absence of a love that understood how  people can rage and shout and still be in love. For the loss of the recognition that sometimes I need to be alone, I cannot communicate and I cannot cooperate  but how, at other times,  I cannot abide solitude and need to just cling to him, digging my nose into his womblike armpits; to feel safe.

So I try to be still. I try to let the wave wash over me and feel the emotions. To embrace them as signs of the love that we shared, of the love I still carry. And I weep. In a park. In Grenoble. Full of people eating their baguette lunches  on the grass and enjoying the sun. For me, the sun will come out again and the wave will recede. Soon…

In the wee small hours of the morning… Tea and Venn Diagrams…

One of the things about being a widow- or any type of singleton I guess- is the joys of being able to keep weird hours. Bed at 18.30. Awake with tea and cupcakes at 03.30. The only thing that keeps my circadian rhythms within some sort of normal boundaries is my part time job at a pet shop. And that’s a weird job anyway, given that I either start at 06.00 or work until 20.30, with copious amounts of rabbit poo and customers wanting massive goldfish in tiny tanks…

It’s safe to say that I’ve had approximately 4 normal nights of sleep since Mr T left. Admittedly, some of this is due to age and my bladder’s inability to hold onto liquids for longer than 3 hours through the night. However, most of it is due to a restlessness I’ve acquired. I live in my head most of the time, unaware of the latest trends in music, tv programming and Pokemon crazes.

Apart from world news for which I have an obsession, I have lost interest in people and what they get up to. I have a running commentary in my head where Richard tells me exactly what he thinks of the state of the nation. We chat inside my head about the minutiae of life. And so I’m never alone. He took me step by step recently, through the redecoration of my staircase (“don’t forget to put dust sheets down and get the Hoover under the hole you’re drilling to suck up the dust”), and eases my anxieties by making me list what is wrong and then drawing up action plans. He even reminds me to take my pills.

What a pity he can’t spoon with me at the end of the day, the way that we used to…

Widowhood is different to other losses. It’s the loss of the other half of a partnership that’s so close, each person can speak for the other, can think for the other and completes the other. The loss of a partner involves the loss of a half of oneself. I kind of thought that the other side of me would regrow with time, or that I would find another Mr T to fill that hollowness. Well, it’s 5 years in November. And in the Venn diagram that is life, I have still been a lone circle, wandering around in a confused state, waiting for the other circle to come along, merge and form and new whole…

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When two lives merge into one…

Then I met Buddy…

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One day Buddy came into my life…and gave it back to me.

Climb every mountain… in the French Alps

Lunch in the French Alps. An enormous roquefort and walnut salad. Sadly no wine as I’m en route to Monte Carlo.

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I love food.

It’s been a difficult couple of days, widow wise. When I’m not on the road I have time to think and time to miss. So I check in with friends, feel the love and pick myself up by my bra straps…

I went sailing past the Furnicular railway at Saint Helene-du-Touvet, on my way to Monaco. I was half an hour off  my route. I seriously contemplated giving Mont Blanc a miss, feeling tired and a bit deflated. Then I remembered that I probably wont get another chance in the next few years to come back. I shouted at myself, turned up Clapton’s Layla, reset the sat nav (obviously, I was looking for a little village, not a bloody town). And I’m so glad that I did…

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Hmmm. Yup. I really am going up the side of that mountain in a rickety carriage…
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At the top of the mountain was a fine little inn where I sampled a (small) beer and lots of cheese 🙂

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Moral of this holiday…. keep going. Even when you think you’ve had enough, just push on. The results are usually worth it 🙂

I rode the furnicular railway withsome trepidation. I’ve not got a particularly good head for heights, and this railway is practically vertical. It’s a half an hour ride on a rickety (although I told, safe) truck with windows…. thats the only way that I can describe it.

The little single gauge carriage rattled and clanked its way slowly up the side of the mountain. Mont Blanc hover into view, in all her majesty. We passed waterfalls and streams gushing down the mountain sides. No Eidelweiss but maybe it’s the wrong time of the year

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It was as rickety as it looks, but great fun!
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A world away from reality…and I liked it…

This region of France probably has more in common with it’s Swiss, German and Italian cousins, than its distant relatives in Paris. The people look different – definitely the darker Italian types around here.

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Hang gliders leap off the top of mountains surrounding Mont Blanc…one day I might join them…
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Definitely more Swiss than French. At the top of the mountain…

I chose the day well. Hot and sunny with a little mist and cloud grazing the top of the mountains.  I was glad I had taken the detour. Another part of France which is so completely different to other regions.

In France and wishing I could get that Bonnie Tyler song out of my head…

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Why a French road trip?

Well, first and foremost, I wasn’t planning on doing this road trip at all. I inadvertently ended up with a return ferry ticket for myself and my Mini, and had shelled out too much to cancel/change the details. So, Newhaven – Dieppe was my destination, whether I liked it or not.

I decided to take the opportunity to do another of many firsts since Mr T left me…take a ferry from my fair isle, cross the channel and drive around a country. Since I had some spare time, and a spare ticket for France, it seemed logical. 

Except… in theory, yes, why not? Just mosey on down to the south coast of England, starting at 3.30am in order to catch a boat (do we catch boats?) in some torrential rainstorms following a heatwave. (Ok, we’re talking the UK here, so in reality we had some heavy rain after two quite warm and sunny days). Drive through France from  Amiens in the north to  the French Riviera in the south, via the French Alps (no snow at this time of year but some dodgy hill starts might still be the order of the day at some point),  in a car whose steering wheel is on the wrong side, on the wrong side of the road. Without anyone being there to back seat drive for me (sometimes this can be useful), or see around lorries/tractors/blind bends when attempting to turn right. For 3 weeks. By myself. Using another language. Extremely badly. What could possibly go wrong?

 

Sur le pont D’Avignon? Mais non…

Sur le Pont d’Avignon
L’on y danse, l’on y danse
Sur le Pont d’Avignon
L’on y danse tous en rond

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I wasn’t feeling in the mood for dancing, despite the beauty of le pont d’Avignon.

So, after a great time in Marseille, I was flagging. I had driven 1500 miles, spent most of 15 days by myself, and lugged my rucksack, cold box and backpack up more stairs than I care to remember… and I was remembering many things…

It was coming up to Mr T’s birthday. I was having a great time, but I knew that it was coming to an end. And the sorrow was beginning to increase. More and more, I was feeling the black cloud coming over, reminding me that, in a few days time, I should have been enjoying my husband’s retirement day and we should have been finalising our plans to move to Spain to begin a new life. Except that wasn’t going to happen. Instead I was alone, grieving again.

Avignon is the place where the Pope used to have his Palace, and what a palace. It’s also the place of  the 15th century bridge or “pont”, on which traditional dances were held.  But I was tired, listless and losing enthusiasm at a rate of knots. Where previously I would have eagerly bought my ticket, a guide book and enjoyed a selfish afternoon, immersed in culture, language and history, all I could do was stare at the beauty of the place…and feel nothing. I felt ashamed that I felt nothing. As though I was incapable of appreciating the fine architecture. I apologised to Avignon. It wasn’t its fault, it was mine.

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Palais des Papes… Where I realised I’d had enough

My final meal in France was in a delightful restaurant where I ate all manner of fishy things and met a wonderful waitress called Adele (with an accent over the first e). She sensed my loneliness and pepped me up with funny stories, her own dreams of travelling to England and how she had had a row with her boyfriend the night before. My impending misery dissipated for a while… along with a few glasses of rose and a beer.

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Something fishy going on… and lurking under the white fish were 3 snails… chewy but delicious
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Adele my delightful waitress…
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Feigning happiness but feeling weary…

I sat and watched the world go by. I watched families, couples, children, all strolling in front of me, lost in their own worlds. I wondered what problems they were facing, what issues were going on in their lives. I spotted a little girl, engrossed in a cartoon artist’s work, innocent of the knowledge of future sadnesses that she was to face. I wanted to reach out to each and every one of them. To tell them that I was alone, and ask them if they would just hug me. And I’m sure if I had, I would have received what I was aching for… but we don’t do things like that, do we? I had skin hunger. An overwhelming need to communicate intimately with someone who knew me, loved me, cared about me…

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I was unsure about his artwork, however this little French girl seemed impressed… or maybe she was pointing out some home truths…

I was beginning to use alcohol as an anti depressant – never a good sign, since I get high on life. And drinking is totally useless on a driving holiday. I awoke the next morning, with a headache and heartache. My next journey was to be onwards to Arles, where Van Gogh lived and stayed in the psychiatric hospital for a while. This was becoming a little too close for comfort.

I had 4 days of my journey left, and approximately 1000km. I sat in my hotel room and despaired at my inability to carry on. My weakness for letting the clouds build up and my overwhelming feelings of isolation. I rang  my friend. He said “Come home”. It was all I needed to hear… Van who?

Marseille – The French Connection, The Count of Monte Cristo and “The meeting place of the entire world” (Alexandre Dumas)

I had reservations about coming to Marseille to be honest. It seems to be a real mixed bag down here. There are some dodgy areas to be sure. I guess every large city has them whether they’re in the south of France or not. But I’d seen the French Connection, and heard about its ancient history and was curious.

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Gene Hackman in French Connection II, and some cute french cars…

By now I was on day 14 of my 21 day road tour around France, and fatigue was setting in. Because I’m only staying in a place for 2-3 nights maximum it can be difficult to make connections, and it’s also tiring. The same conversation about myself. People are very curious about this solo, female traveller with appalling French. But they are curious in a nice way and I have had the most wonderful reception from the people here. Do try to speak some French, it gets you a long way and then most people speak a little English so you can have a decent conversation.

Anyway, onwards 2.5 hours from Nice towards Marseille. I stayed at the Belle Vue Hotel which overlooks the old port and is a wonderful place to people watch. Don’t expect luxury but the rooms all have a wonderful view, which is what you pay for. Having said that, they are clean, the staff are very friendly and there is a wonderful bar where, if you’re lucky (and I have been, twice so far) you can get a balcony table and watch the world go by. Breakfast is E10 and a good, traditional, continental fayre. Definitely worth a look.

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Not a bad view from my window…
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My hotel window, overlooking the old port and the Notre Dame de la Guarde – the Basilica of Marseille…
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contemplated getting one of these myself, to shelter from the blistering heat
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Off to Chateau D’If on the hourly boat, the sea breeze bringing welcome relief from the afternoon heat
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Fun to watch fellow solo travellers wandering around, taking selfies…and becoming a bit of an expert myself 🙂
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waiting for the boat to take me back to mainland Marseille… and joining in the fun of offering to take photos in return for ones of myself which include both hands…

             

I love Marseille. It’s a place where you can see people from every corner of the globe. There were jazz musicians playing next to African musicians; the smell of all of the different types of food was mouth watering.

When I’m on the coast, I eat fish. What better food to eat than one which has made it from ocean to table within a few hours? Solo dining in France is easy peasy. It’s tourists that seem to have a problem with it. I enjoyed countless numbers of lunches and dinners with only my fellow waiters/waitresses for company. It’s a great opportunity to try out your French, (I speak French, they speak English, that way we both get to practice), and waiting staff are the perfect people from whom to extract local knowledge about where to go, where not to go, and where to get the best deals. Try it. They won’t bite. And you might even get an extra sneaky glass of wine if you smile sweetly enough… 🙂

On the subject of dining for one… some rules:

1. The view. Get a table with a view. Preferably in a piazza, plaza or somewhere where people and the world wander by. You’ll have no need to open that book that you’ve brought along with you.

2. Friendly waiting staff. They will entertain you, treat you and if you’re lucky, take a great photo of you with yet another glass of wine and cigarette…

3. Eat early. By early, I mean around 7 ish. The restaurant will be quite empty and you will have the pick of the tables. Also, you are unlikely to annoy the maitre d’ with your insistence on having the premier table in the restaurant…by yourself…for the whole evening.

4. Dress nicely. The maitre d’ is likely to enjoy having you sit in prime position in his restaurant as you make it look good. They don’t underestimate the value of having good looking customers sitting at their  tables, so take advantage.

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Moules et frites… naturellement. Courtesy of Sarl Collins, 42 Quai du Port 13002 Marseille France A decent quay-side restaurant. Nothing fancy, just good food, decent wine, low prices and a fabulous view of the world going by…
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Yes I was at a table. For one. Eating. By myself. Get over it…
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The scary looking Maitre D’ seemed suitably impressed with my nonchalant table for one…and entertained me with a rendition of Nessun Dorma, accompanied by the obligatory accordionist

Marseille is a cosmopolitan melting pot.  Economic conditions and political unrest in Europe and the rest of the world brought several waves of immigrants during the 20th century: Greeks and Italians started arriving at the end of the 19th century and in the first half of the 20th century, up to 40% of the city’s population was of Italian origin; Russians in 1917; Armenians in 1915 and 1923; Vietnamese in the 1920s, 1954 and after 1975; Corsicans during the 1920s and 1930s; Spanish after 1936; North Africans in the inter-war period ; Sub-saharan Africans after 1945; the pieds-noirs from the former French Algeria in 1962; and then from Comoros In 2006, it was reported that 70,000 city residents were considered to be of Maghrebian origin, mostly from Algeria. The second largest group in Marseille in terms of single nationalities were from the Comoros, amounting to some 45,000 people. Souks jostle for position next to huge Cathedrals topped with golden statues of the Virgin.

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One end of the street…
15 august procession of the assumption marseille
…and the other end of the street.

A wonderful place to sit and watch life go by. As in any place, just hang onto your wallet…

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a city that definitely never sleeps…

Today I took a boat to the Island where Chateau D’If is located.  It  was Marseille’s equivalent of Alcatraz and where the political prisoners were taken during the Napoleonic times. It’s also where they threw 3,500 Protestants (Huguenots) in gaol.

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France’s equivalent of Alcatraz in the USA
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I’m Catholic so they let me go…

Chateau D’If is also the setting for the fictional novel by political writer Alexandre Dumas, “The Count of Monte Cristo”. Edmund Dantes is put in gaol for crimes he didn’t commit and spends many years at Chateau D’If. In the same way that people think that Sherlock Holmes existed, they generally believe that Dantes did actually become a prisoner here. It is also supposedly the place where the Man in the Iron Mask was imprisoned. Both fictional characters however there were many political and religious people who were sentenced to stay here, and died before their release. It’s well worth the boat trip to visit and see the graffiti left by prisoners as well as the cells:

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Better than Banksy in my opinion
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Much smaller than it first appears…
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Too hot in the summer, freezing in the winter, many prisoners died from the conditions

By the way…Did you know…. the French national anthem stems from a song that a group of Marseille revolutionaries, who walked to Paris, sang during the road. The song became know as the Marseillaise and became the anthem. There you go…. 🙂

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Marseille revolutionaries walked to Paris singing a particular song…which later became the French national anthem.

La mer….

 

I had to begin my post about Nice and the French Riviera with this delightful song, which always makes me think of the south of France…

Travelling solo can be tricky, especially when you only stay one or two nights in each place. It’s more difficult to form connections with people as it takes a while to get your bearings and confidence. That’s when organised outings can be useful.

So, I met JJ in Monaco, when I went for my little ride in the little red car. He actually lives in Nice which was my next port of call and so we arranged to meet up this morning, for coffee (cigarettes obligatory), at Wayne’s Bar (www.waynes.fr), his local and the place to go if you want to converse in English…

The great thing about meeting local people is that they can give you local knowledge. I expressed an interest in spending the day at the beach but wasn’t overly enamoured with Nice. It’s nice … if you like tourists, gift shops and souvenir shops.  However the shops are open all day long , which can be a relief after my failing to remember on each occasion that France closes at 12pm for lunch…until 3 or 4pm…

So I was recommended a place called Juan Les Pines… a 20 or so minutes train ride between Nice and Cannes. I could have driven but was told the parking would be horrendous…which was absolutely right. So, in my bestest (which is diabolical) French, I found the tram to the train station and then the train to Juan Les Pines.

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Nice Ville train station, waiting for the train to Cannes which stops at Juan Les Pins

 

And I did it. I have to admit feeling a sense of pride when I actually found myself at the beach (sand, Nice is pebble), with a baguette and a coke, sunbathing with all of my clothes on. Because you see, my skin hates the sun. Thanks to my Irish heritage, I break out in hives and a curious lobster like complexion if I don’t apply Factor 500 and wear the equivalent of a bed sheet on the beach. Which generated more than a few curious stares from onlookers – all French – all gorgeous (not many chip butties are eaten in these parts) and all bronzed. Not to mention the fact that I was a female, alone

 

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topless sunbathing… it’s not for everyone…
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I did bare a shoulder… eventually!

 

If you want to be a female solo traveller…get used to being looked at. Not out of any animosity, just total curiosity. But there’s no hiding the curiosity with French people. They will stand and gawp at you quite openly. I ‘m surprised I haven’t been carried off to the local zoo at an exhibit…

 

 

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Those storm clouds eventually scared everyone off the beach…

 

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Chilling in the afternoon sun…

 

My last night in Nice was great fun. JJ introduced me to his wonderful daughter Leia and in turn, I was introduced to some great (if a little crazy!) guys at Wayne’s bar. Do go here for a drink. It’s good fun (can be loud after 10pm) and it’s an English speaking bar so you can seek out people to talk to when you have tired of conjugating the past tense in French. The beer gives you courage to have a joke but please be prepared to explain yourself – British humour is different and we tease an awful lot (well, I do anyway). People can take us literally. I tell people that if I am smiling when I say something then I am joking. Then they will do the same thing with you! Just don’t get too drunk otherwise you put yourself in a vulnerable situation, which is very easy to do…

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Lovely French guys at Wayne’s Bar.

 

Being arty farty… and as if by magic, the shopkeeper appeared…

I do like a bit of art. No, honest, I do. I don’t know why. My daughter is an Art/Art History student so I guess having all that arty farty stuff around has been rubbing off on me for the past couple of years.

Art was the raison d’etre of my first visit to Florence (not, I have to admit though, the subsequent ones…which were more about using my own imagination with a certain local chef…)

I thoroughly recommend using guided tours if: 1. You are a solo traveller ( a great way to meet like minded people in a safe and public environment) and 2. You have, like me, no idea what you are looking at.

Guided tours, such as those arranged by http://www.viator.com are the perfect way to really get to know about a specific type of art. The guides are experts in their own fields and have a passion for passing on this knowledge to others. I always try to use one when attending a gallery. However, none were available for the artists that I have seen in Nice (Matisse and Chagall) and Antibes (Picasso), so I had to rely on what I had learnt on previous tours, and the amazing information that I have gleaned from daughter no. 2 over the past couple of years.

It is said that artists come to the South of France for the light, and then stay. Well, I’m totally with them on that one. Today I understood why it’s called the Cote D’Azur. The brilliance of the colours is astonishing. It has to be seen to be believed, no photograph can do it justice. I’ve visited quite a few places over the years, on the Mediterranean but none have provided the startling clarity of light. It’s as though God’s passed a j cloth and some Windolene over the whole place so that it sparkles. The blues of the sea and the sky are enchanting. Do go. You’ll love it.

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No photoshop needed here at Antibes. No wonder Picasso stayed.

 

Anyhow, back to being arty farty. For an unquiet mind such as my own, art provides tranquility. Don’t ask me how it does this. It just works. When the mind is restless, as mine is quite often, spending time in a calm, quiet environment, staring at stuff, trying to understand what the stuff is trying to say (if anything), seems to provide a perfect distraction. Yes, I know psychiatric units provide calm, quiet environments too but I’m trying to keep out of those…

So I found the Museum of Matisse in a little town just outside of Nice called Cimiez. And I got him. I just totally understood why he was such a genius (no, stay with me on this one, I’m not about to dig out my wimple and turn all Sister Wendy).  I loved the way that I could see a bunch of squiggly lines on a white canvas and interpret it as someone dancing or someone happy. I loved the paintings with the colours that depict emotion. I didn’t need a book to tell me this. I just saw it. Maybe it’s a benefit of lithium?

 

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In my element. Art quietens my unquiet mind.

 

When you’re alone, your train of thought is just your own. No one is around to make suggestions to you about what you are looking at, it’s just your own interpretation. And the great thing about art is that there’s no right or wrong answer so your opinions are as valid as anyone else’s. And I always like to be right.

 

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Matisse; expressing le joie de vivre with such simplicity. Alternatively entitled: Me, when I’m right.

 

 

And before anyone says it, yes, Matisse could paint properly!!!!

For me, the picture above has more expression than the one below, yet is much simpler. I like this idea. Cut the crap and get to the point. Works for me.

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yes, it’s an early Matisse.

 

So I really liked Matisse, and I went to find him in the Cimiez cemetery to tell him so…

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Matisse. A top bloke.

 

Feeling inspired and full of arty fartiness, I made a move down the hill back into Nice, to the Marc Chagall museum. When I later asked my new French chums if they’d visited either museum, they just looked at me and said “Non. We live here”, which I guess is true. When you live somewhere, you tend to leave the touristy stuff to, well, tourists.

Marc Chagall was a Russian Jew who moved to France when young. He painted a lot of weird stuff, like people with their heads off, walking on their hands, that kind of thing. And whilst I liked his paintings, I couldn’t help but think of the children’s classic cartoon, Mr Benn:

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Marc Chagall
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Mr Benn at the Circus

 

Perhaps I’m not such a good art critic, after all…