It’s just before 7am and after an unexpectedly longer stay in the UK than planned, I am finally en route home and back to Andy in Provence, and if all goes well, he should be waiting for me at Avignon just after 9.15 tonight (hopefully in Fifi, as that would be even more perfect)
It’s been such a strange time and although, since buying the house over 5 years ago, we have had to spend time apart, managing life between the two countries, this year has been the hardest yet. I know it’s our fault, we didn’t need to set sail on this mad-cap adventure, and yes we should have just been happy with our comfortable, little family-life in the pretty south west of England, but we would always have wondered if we should have done it, and one thing I am keenly aware of, is that life really is too short for regrets.
So over the years we have spent blocks of time apart, but 18 months ago vowed that we would stop that, or at least reduce the periods we had to be apart significantly, but having added Brexit and Covid into the mix, the last 12 months has proved to be the most complicated yet. In fact it has actually has seemed to become more challenging the more time has gone on.
When I left Provence 6 weeks ago, heading back to Exeter to collect our youngest from Uni, the plan was quite simple. I would go back, quarantine for the stipulated 10 days, and pay the £250 that was needed for me to have the tests that were required on Day 2 and Day 8, with an additional ‘early release’ one in Day 5, to enable me to get out and about. Then I would be able to make the most of my time, see family and friends that I haven’t seen for over a year, collect our youngest and get him settled back in Exeter, before I would head back to spend a couple of weeks with Andy, before he came back to see the boys and settle Tom back into his new Uni accommodation.
When I left, the signs were all good, the levels of the virus were dropping in France, vaccinations were going well (we and both been double-jabbed) and surely the signs were that France would move to the green list, meaning by the time Andy returned, the quarantine and tests would no longer be needed. The plan seemed sound, but we should have known better.
Life then took its next sharp turn, and instead of going green for travel, the restrictions for France were unexpectedly reinforced (thanks to what seemed to be the threat of a variant of the virus that was rife in Réunion about 3000 miles away from mainland France) and all our plans went out of the window. Both our hearts sank as we realised it was more sensible for me to stay, and see everything through, rather than Andy have to travel, quarantine and pay yet another £250 for more tests … it all seemed so hard, especially as the border was being opened to double vaccinated Brits travelling to France without additional checks and balances. To say that it was frustrating was an understatement!
Once again we were going to have to be apart for much longer than planned and more importantly Andy would not be able to see the boys, or visit family and friends either. If I’m honest a little (or actually a rather large) cloud settled over my head, a blanket of grey, drizzling on my normally sunny disposition, and Andy felt the same. We were destined to have to spend more time apart, when this had never been the plan.
I hunkered down and just got on with sorting the garden out, spring-cleaning the house from top to bottom, perfecting my bread baking ….I may now be able to give Andy a run for his money in a bake-off ….and pottering down the estuary on my bike, sitting down for breakfast & morning coffee with Andy via Facetime, kept going by the Tour De France and more recently The Olympics …
Our friends in Provence were superb, and I joked that Andy was like Paddington Bear, as it felt as if I had left him with a marmalade sandwich in hand, with a little note around his neck saying ‘Please look after this Bear’… Not that he needs looking after in any way, shape or form, but we both hate having to spend time apart and our friends know this. He spent his days cycling, pottering, reading, walking Millie and seeing friends, simply marking time and slowly but surely, ticking the days off.
In the end, it has turned out to be a really tough few weeks, with the planets aligning to create an almost perfect-storm of problems, in both countries. Just about anything that could go wrong, did go wrong from Covid arriving in Tom’s flat 2 days before he was due to come home, to injury and finally bereavement … It’s hard to believe so much could happen, and I’m sure if I read it in a book I would say it was fanciful and ridiculous for so much to take place in such a short time. Suffice to say I didn’t think it was worth buying a lottery ticket!
Anyway, amidst the chaos, the time has passed and it has been so lovely to see the boys, catch up with them and learn their plans for the next few months. But I am so relieved to finally be back on a train, on my way home to The Luberon, to see Andy, catch up on the garden, which seems to have grown like mad since I left, and hopefully see the last few lavender fields & hear the final screaming of cicadas before this summer starts the subtle shift towards autumn .
So far, so good …. the trip home is under way and this time I decided to head down by train, as it is the nicest way to travel, and I love walking between stations, finding my way through London and Paris to make the connections. The journey always feels so much more ‘real’ than it does when I come down by plane. You get a sense of place, a feeling of progression and can simply sit back and watch the countryside flash by and change as the miles pass under the rails.
So here I am, just approaching Hungerford now on the first leg of the trip from Exeter to Paddington, a little town we used to visit regularly many years ago, when we lived in Wiltshire, spending a happy few hoyrs fuddling around the antique shops. So I’ll leave you for the moment and just enjoy the trip and my memories … If all goes well the next paragraphs will be from the Eurostar.
Well I made it, and am now sitting on the Eurostar as we start to pull out of St Pancras, so despite all my worries, my anxious triple checking of all my documents, and that nagging sense of foreboding that something was going to go wrong, something has finally gone right and I’m on my way back, under the sea to France.
I love walking through the cities, so had planned my route between the stations in London, looking forward to a gentle stroll under the warm August sun, enjoying the sights and sounds of the capital. Surely that’s not unreasonable, it is mid summer, and the day had started so beautifully in Devon.
The weather Gods had decided otherwise and as we pulled out of Reading, the skies grew progressively darker and by the time we pulled into the station at Paddington, it was tipping it down. ‘Just a shower!’ I said cheerily to myself, popping on my mac and opening the brolly I had thrown into my bag as we left the house this morning.
As the rain (it’s only a shower) dropped down, I followed a route that took me along the main roads, passing Baker Street, Madame Tussaud’s and the British Library. Another trip down memory lane as I walked past the green dome that had been the Planetarium, when I had first visited the city on a school trip in the mid 1970s.
I walked along the edge of Regents Park, a soggy haven of green amongst the modern buildings edging the road. A beautiful Regency crescent with elegant, columned porticoes curved away from the road…
Dominated by the sight of the BT tower, high above it.
But as I walked the rain got heavier, and by the time I was at the British Library, it was almost at cloudburst levels. It certainly wasn’t ‘just a shower’, in any way shape or form. The torrential rain was filling the gutters, blocked drains turning the inside lane of the road into a lake, with buses creating waves that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Olympic surfing competition.
Streams of water were running out of the side roads, trying to join the main river, and the sound of the rain was almost enough to drown out the sound of the traffic, which in central London isn’t easy to do
A few hardy pedestrians and cyclists were still out, having resisted the temptation to pop into one of the many coffee shops and cafés, but pulling my suitcase with one hand and holding my brolly in the other, I was just getting soaked. My shoes filled with water, and I have a feeling my suitcase was filling too, but I had a connection to make and so I kept walking.
By the time I arrived at St Pancras, dashing under cover, where a crowd of people were sheltering from the rain, my case and bag were drenched, and although the brolly had kept the bulk of me dry, my feet were beyond wet. I may as well have walked in bare feet, as I couldn’t have been any wetter if I had. In fact I would probably have been better off, as I am not sure my shoes will dry out by the time I get to Provence.
So happily out of the rain, I settled down and had a coffee with some toast, content in the knowledge that I just had passport control to get through and I would finally be able to believe I was on my way home.
I had every possible piece of paper with me… my ticket, my passport, my vaccine passport, my declaration d’honneur that I hadn’t got Covid symptoms, a copy of my marriage certificate (as the vaccine passport is in my maiden name – and I didn’t want to risk there being an issue), along with a photo of both sides of my carte de séjour that had arrived in the post, literally a few hours after I had left home six weeks ago, in the hope that it would show I was resident and would be able to avoid having my passport stamped. I really had tried to plan for every eventuality.
In the end it was all very smooth, and the passport officer checked everything, apart from the marriage certificate and waved me through. I could finally relax.
Heading up to board the train, the sun was shining and the sky showing blue through the vast arch of glass above the platform. If I hadn’t still got soggy feet, I could easily have imagined the rain to have been a rather vivid dream.
So I’m en route now, the next stop is ,, for the first time, hoping for just a little more space, not realising it included a light lunch and wine too. I may have spoiled myself for future trips now!
Hopefully when I arrive it won’t be quite as soggy, and I am keeping everything crossed that there will not be any major disruption from any of the anticipated protests as I make my way through the streets and boulevards there too.
Needless to say, I’m keeping everything crossed and will update you again once I am on my third and final train…. The TGV to Avignon.
I did it, I am on the last of the 3 trains and about to depart Paris for Avignon on the TGV, and it would be fair to say that I am rather tired as it has been a long day of travelling, but it has been fun too.
After the morning’s walk through London in the pouring rain the sun came out for this afternoon’s amble through Paris and the city looked beautiful, as always.
On the way across on the Eurostar, I noticed that there was due to be a demonstration in the Place de La Bastille this afternoon, so decided to try to avoid walking that way and finding myself in the middle of it. My hunch to avoid it was confirmed when over 20 Police vans passed me, with blue lights flashing and sirens blaring, heading in that direction. I was happy that I had looked at alternative routes…
So I headed out of the station, down to the Place de La République as normal, before heading off down a different road, taking me along some pretty streets, with some superb, albeit faded, and at times slightly deshevelled, remnants of a Paris of yesteryear
The route took me along typical Haussmann boulevards, wide streets edged with elegant houses and trees, with S me of the stonemasonry stopping me in my tracks, like this incredible detail of sunflowers high above the street
One street I walked down was wide enough to accommodate a line of petanque pitches under the shade of the trees, creating a green barrier between the carriageways. It was lovely to hear the clank of the boules striking each other and the animated chatter from the group of old chaps who were playing there. It may have been the centre of Paris, but it could equally have been a scene from any village square in Provence.
The sight of the traditional Metro signs, mean you can’t be anywhere else than Paris, and I thoroughly enjoyed my walk through Popincourt, with its lovely buildings, bars, cafés and food shops…
I eventually emerged near the station, by the wonderful Viaduc des Arts where the old railway line running along the top of the brick viaduct is now a tree-lined, green walkway, whilst the arches below are filled with unique workshops and shops for a range of different artisans … which as you can imagine is somewhere I am always happy to browse.
However browsing would have to wait as although the sky looked blue in front, it was turning an ominous grey behind, looking stark against the stone of the buildings that were still bathed in sun. And after this morning’s soaking, I didn’t fancy getting that wet again!
Quickly, I abandoned the window-shopping and headed straight for the station, which proved to be an excellent decision, as within minutes of arriving, the rain was so heavy that it was coming through the glass roof onto the concourse below. I must admit that I was happy to be under cover, and just getting the occasional drip on my head, rather than suffering a second dousing of the day!
So here I am, on the TGV heading towards Marseille, watching the golden fields of northern France hurtle past the window at around 300 kilometres per hour, now incredibly happy that in a couple of hours I will be getting off the train at Avignon and will be back with Andy again.
I’m finally drinking the wine that I saved from lunch on Eurostar earlier. The bottle is no longer chilled and I am the first to acknowledge that the paper cup may not be the height of elegance, but at this point in the day, I really am beyond caring…..
Santé, it’s good to be back.