Category Archives: France

An Alternative World Showcase at EPCOT

In my last post I took you to Disney and World Showcase at EPCOT.  There are eleven countries showcased at the theme park and some time ago I wondered why it was those particular eleven and speculated on an alternative selection.

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Postcard From Mont Saint-Michel, France

Mont St Michel Postcard

From the Visitor Centre there is free bus transport to the tidal island but we choose to walk so that we could appreciate the stunning approach much as monks or pilgrims would have had over the centuries and it took us forty minutes or so to reach the entrance.  I thought there must surely be a fee, but no, it too was free and I liked this place even more.

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Entrance Tickets – Château de Pierrefonds

Pierrefonds Castle

Finding a castle to visit is not difficult in France because, according to the Official Tourist Board, there are almost five-thousand but it seems to me to includes a lot of questionable small Chateaux in that number. For comparison there are eight hundred in the United Kingdom and just about two thousand five hundred in Spain.

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Newark-on-Trent, The English Civil War and The Castle

Newark Civil War Statue

After leaving the church I made my way through the elegant streets of Newark passing by half timbered medieval houses, grand Georgian mansions and rows of traditional shops.  In places it reminded me of The Shambles in York but without the crowds or the tourist tat shops.

My next destination was the National Civil War Museum because since my Dad bought me an Airfix model kit of Oliver Cromwell in about 1960 I have always been fascinated by the English Civil War.  I think this was a defining moment in my life, I immediately became a Roundhead, a Parliamentarian and later a socialist, on the side of the people fighting against wealth, influence, privilege and injustice.

There was also an Airfix model of Charles I but I had Cromwell first.

Crowell Charles Airfix

I also blame a book my Dad gave me about British heroes in which Cromwell was included but Charles Stuart wasn’t.

An illustration from the book…

Oliver Cromwell

In 2002 the BBC conducted a poll to identify the Greatest Briton and Cromwell came tenth, hard to believe that he could come behind Diana, Princess of Wales  and John Lennon but there you are, such is the nature of these polls and the mentality of the people who vote.  Two thousand years of history and Princess Diana and John Lennon make the top ten.  It leaves me speechless.

Due to its strategic significance linking north of the country with the south Newark had an important part to play in the Civil War and the town and its castle supported the Royalist cause and suffered in three destructive sieges which brought destruction, pestilence and disease to the town.  Parliamentary forces and their Scottish allies were desperate to oust the Royalist garrison. The last siege saw over sixteen thousand troops seal off the Nottinghamshire town and dam a river to stop water mills producing bread and gunpowder. An outbreak of typhus and plague added to Newark’s woes as the population swelled to six thousand as people fled to the town from the countryside, creating near starvation conditions.

A third of the inhabitants died and one in six buildings were destroyed.  Despite this calamity, the Royalist troops refused to give in.  The garrison were brave supporters of the King and the Cavaliers but eventually were obliged to surrender upon the inevitable capture of Charles.

It is an interesting museum but I found it a little disappointing, it is rather small and although it has some interesting exhibits the information boards and displays give only facts but not interpretation.  I wanted more than iron breast plates and plumed hats, more than flintlocks and helmets but I guess museums like these are for tourists rather than historians.

Newark Civil War Museum

I have always considered the English Civil War to be the most important conflict of modern Europe because this was a revolution which provided a blueprint for those that followed, principally the French Revolution of 1789 and the Russian Revolution of 1917.

The revolution begins with the moderates calling for reasonable and restrained reform for the exclusive benefit of the aforementioned wealthy and privileged who wanted even more power and wealth.  The problem with moderates of course is that they are on the whole reasonable people but by beginning a process of reform they provide an opportunity  for radicals and agitators to go much further and the English Revolution like those that followed swiftly gained pace.  After the radicals came the extremists, then war, then terror, then regicide.

The English Civil War swept away the supremacy of the Church of England, ended the Divine Right of Kings and embodied the principal of Parliamentary Sovereignty into UK politics.  It was the end of medieval feudalism and paved the way for the agrarian and industrial revolutions of the next century.  At its most radical period it introduced the principals of socialism and even communism through the power of the New Model Army and the social ambitions of the Diggers and the Levellers, both proto-socialist political movements.

It is a shame that King Charles had his head cut off but even after sixty years or so of being given that Airfix model I confess that I remain a loyal Roundhead rather than a Cavalier.

One thing that I did learn at the museum is that musket balls were made from lead and that 1lb of lead would make twelve balls and that this is the origin of the twelve bore shotgun.

Newark Castle 01

I finished my day at the ruins of Newark Castle. Prior to the Civil War it was a grand medieval showpiece fortress but today it is an empty shell. The Parliamentarian forces blew it up and left it derelict to make sure that it could never again be used as a royalist obstacle to parliamentary supremacy.  After the troops were obliged to leave it fell into disrepair and to the mercy of stone thieves who dismantled it as a convenient supply of building material until we are left with what we see today.

It is still rather grand, especially when viewed from the opposite bank of the River Trent but beyond the outer east wall nothing remains except the ghosts of history and pleasant modern gardens.

I had enjoyed my day at Newark-on-Trent and as I drove away I thought to myself that it was about time that I spent more days in the United Kingdom.

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Postcard From Île de Ré, France

Ile de Re Postcard

“The French cannot get the hang of queueing.  They try and try but it is beyond them… you see orderly lines waiting at bus stops, but as soon as the bus arrives the line disintegrates into something like a fire drill at a lunatic asylum….” – Bill Bryson – ‘Neither here Nor there’

Today we planned to take a bus ride to Saint Martin-de-Ré on the Ile de Ré that was about an hour’s journey away, so, knowing that the French are the World’s worst queue jumpers we arrived at the bus station in good time to find the departure point and stand with sharpened elbows at the front of the line.  There was no line of course, just a disorderly crowd of people that was steadily getting larger and more excitable as we waited for the bus.

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Thursday Doors – Vic-Sur-Aisne in Northern France

Vic-Sur-Aines France Picardy

Vic-Sur-Aisne turned out to be a rather interesting town. During the First-World-War it was almost permanently on the front line with fighting never far away. It sits equidistance between the major battle sites of the Somme to the north and Verdun to the east. What made it important was that it was a major railway interchange where troops would be transferred back and forth to the battle lines in between front line duty and periods of rest or to be hospitalised.

This meant that it came under regular enemy fire and even today the older buildings in the town show pock-marked battle scars where shells and bullets had picked away at the stones and the bricks.

You can read more about my visit to Vic-Sur-Aisne by clicking here.

Vic Sur Aisne Door

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

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A Postcard From Northern France

France Postcard

My favourite part of all of France.

Something like ten-million British travellers arrive in Calais each year and then without looking left or right, or stopping for even a moment head for the motorways and the long drive south and in doing so they miss the treat of visiting this Anglo-neglected part of France; the Côte d’Opale is a craggy, green, undulating and often dramatic coastline stretching for eighty miles between the port towns of Calais and the Baie de la Somme and the mouth of the river.

English tourists may avoid it but it has been long prized by the French and the Belgians, who enjoy the informal seafood restaurants in fishing villages dotted along the coast and the miles of intriguing coves and sandy beaches that run all the way down this coast that looks across at the south coast of England and leaks away inland to a glorious countryside.

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Early Days, 1957 Part One – Sister, Scouting, Soccer and Space

1957 andrew-and-lindsay

In 1957 there was big news on the home front when my sister Lindsay was born and I got a new hand knitted cardigan.

Here we are sixty years later, still smiling…

Andrew and Lindsay

But around the world following the excitement of wars and revolutions in 1956 this particular year seems to have been less frenetic.

The Treaty of Rome established the Common Market, which was a deeply significant event that has shaped the recent history of modern Europe.  This has become the European Union and has undergone a number of expansions that has taken it from six member states in 1957 to twenty-seven today, a majority of states in Europe.  Britain joined in 1973 after a long period of being denied membership by France and in particular the deeply ungrateful and shameless Anglophobe President de Gaulle.

Forty-five years later a majority in UK wish that de Gaulle had got his own way.

1957 europe common market

1957 was the fiftieth anniversary of the Boy Scouts which began in 1907 when Robert Baden-Powell, a Lieutenant General in the British Army, who had served in  India and Africa in the 1880s and 1890s held the first Scout camp at Brownsea Island in Dorset.

I joined the Wolf Cubs when I was seven years old and after I had passed all the tests and received my Leaping Wolf Certificate moved up to the Scouts when I was eleven.  At first I was in the Paddox Troop but later transferred to the Hillmorton, which was good for me because dad was the Scoutmaster, which gave me a bit of an advantage when it came to passing tests and getting badges.

This is me in 1965 wearing my version of the Aussie Baggy Green Cap.

swd774

I liked the Scouts and the quasi-military organisation that came with it with the uniforms and the kit inspections, the law book and solemn promise and the fact that I could legitimately carry a hunting knife on my belt without being challenged.  Boys stayed in the Scouts until they were sixteen but I never saw it through to the end; Dad fell out with the Group Scout Master, Harry Newman in 1969, walked out and never waggled his woggle again and that November I discovered girls and that hanky-panky was much more fun than gin-gan-gooly and that was goodbye to the Scouts, which was a shame because I was only a couple of tests away from my First Class Scouts badge at the time.

You can read more about the Boy Scouts in these two posts…

Age of innocence – Boy Scouts

Robert Baden Powell and Scouting

1957 lewisham rail crash

On a serious note there was a major train crash disaster in 1957 when two trains collided in thick fog which killed ninety-two people and injured another one hundred and seventy-three.  I mention this because the accident was in Lewisham in south-east London and only a couple of miles or so from the town of Catford where my grandparents lived and who we used to visit regularly.

In sport Stanley Matthews played his last game for England at the almost unbelievable age of forty-four.  He has the record for the longest serving England career at twenty-three years and remains the oldest man to ever play for England.  Let’s face it; it is completely unlikely that this record will ever be beaten.  He didn’t retire from football altogether at this time though and he continued playing at the very highest level in the English First Division with Stoke City until he was fifty years old when he finally retired in 1964.

stanley-matthews

I can actually remember seeing Stanley Matthews myself because from about seven years old dad started to take me to Filbert Street to watch Leicester City.

Football grounds were totally different to the all seater stadiums that we are used to now and were predominantly standing affairs.  I was only a little lad so it was important to go early to get a good spot on the wall just behind the goal.  This required an early arrival and although matches didn’t start until three o’clock dad used to get us there for the opening of the gates at about one.

This must have required great patience on his part because two hours is a long time to wait for a football match to start standing on cold concrete terracing and I really didn’t appreciate at the time that all of this was done just for me.  In the 1960s of course it was common to have pre-match entertainment when local marching bands would give a thirty minute medley of tunes up until kick off time so at least there was something to watch.

lcfc-filbert-street

Footballers like Matthews were completely different from the prima donnas of the modern game; they got stuck in and played like men with a big heavy leather football, shirts that became waterlogged and uncomfortable in the rain and the mud and boots that would have been more appropriate for wearing down a coal mine.  What’s more it wasn’t unusual to watch the same eleven men play week after week because they just shrugged off the knocks that put modern players out for weeks.  An injury had to be almost life threatening to stop somebody playing in those days.

Off the ground there were two important airborne events in 1957 that were important for the future.  There was the first flight of the Boeing 707 which was to become important in increasing travel opportunities and in the USSR the sputnik programme began with the launch of Sputnik1, which was an event that triggered the space race between the two world superpowers the US and the USSR both bursting with testosterone and competing with each other to rule the modern world.

space racespace man

Early Days, 1956 Part One – The Balance Of Power

andrew age 2

I continue my look at the World during my lifetime and now I reach 1956 when I was two years old with a dodgy home haircut, a nautical jumper, velveteen shorts and a firm grip on the family cat.

In this year there were some really important events around the world that were to have an influence on international relations over the next twenty years or so.

In the Middle East the Suez Canal was of very high military and commercial strategic importance because it provided a convenient link from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean and the United Kingdom had control of the canal under the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 but on July 26th Gamal Abdel Nasser the Egyptian President, announced the nationalisation of the Suez Canal Company in which British banks and business had a significant financial interest.

The British Prime Minister, Anthony Eden, was outraged and up for war to teach the Egyptians a lesson and Britain together with France, who were similarly upset, made threatening noises and began to prepare for an invasion with large forces deployed to Cyprus and Malta and the entire British fleet was dispatched to the Mediterranean Sea to deal with the upstarts.

1956 suez

The crisis began on 29th October and the next day the allies sent a final ultimatum to Egypt and when it was ignored invaded on the following day.  Someone should have told them that this was no longer the nineteenth century of Benjamin Disraeli and Napoleon III and they couldn’t go throwing their weight around in Africa like this anymore.

Almost simultaneously with this event there was a crisis in Eastern Europe when a revolution in Hungary, behind the iron curtain, deposed the pro-Soviet government there.  The liberal government formally declared its intention to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact and pledged to re-establish free elections.  By the end of October this had seemed to be completely successful but on 4th November a large Soviet force invaded Budapest and during a few days of resistance an estimated two thousand five hundred Hungarians died and two hundred thousand more fled the country as refugees.  Mass arrests and imprisonments followed, the Prime Minister Imre Nagy was arrested and executed, a new Soviet inclined government was installed and this action further strengthened Soviet control over Central Europe.

1956 soviet tankStalin's Boots HungaryAnonymous Pedestrians Wroclaw Poland

From a military perspective the operation to take the Suez Canal was highly successful but paradoxically was a political disaster due to its unfortunate timing.  The President of the United States Dweight D Eisenhower was dealing with both issues at the same time and faced the public relations embarrassment of opposing the Soviet Union’s military intervention in Hungary while at the same time ignoring the bombastic actions of its two principal European allies in Egypt he found himself severely compromised.

It was also rather a nasty concern that the Soviet Union threatened to intervene and launch nuclear attacks on London and Paris and fearful of a new global conflict Eisenhower insisted on a ceasefire and demanded that the invasion be called to a halt.  Due to a combination of diplomatic and financial pressure Britain and France were obliged to withdraw their troops early in 1957.  In Britain Anthony Eden promptly resigned, in France there was a political crisis, a period of instability and the collapse of the Fourth Republic in 1958.

1956 anthony eden  egypt_russian_1956

The Hungarian revolution and the Suez crisis marked the final transfer of power to the new World Superpowers, the USA and the USSR, and it was clear to everyone now that only ten years after the Second-World-War Britain was no longer a major world power.

Since that time Britain has only once acted in a military matter without checking with the President of the United States first, when Margaret Thatcher sent troops to retake the Falkland Islands from the Argentine invaders and things are so bad now of course that British Prime Ministers like Tony Blair simply do as they are told by the American Head of State as though they are the President’s pet poodle.

This change in the world balance of power was highly significant and provided the tense atmosphere of the Cold War years that lasted until the Berlin Wall finally came down in 1989.  In 1955 the two British spies Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, who had fled in 1951, turned up in Moscow and I spent my childhood with a dread fear of the USSR and in an environment preparing for imminent nuclear conflict and the certain end of the world.

secret bunker

During this time the very thought of visiting eastern European countries was completely absurd which makes it all the more extraordinary that in the last few years as well as going to Russia itself I have been able to visit the previous Eastern-bloc countries of Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Slovenia, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and the Czech Republic.

Cold War Europe

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Early Days, 1955 Part Three – Disney, McDonald’s and La Résistance

1955 disney

“The people of McDonald’s need guidance. They need to be told that Europe is not Disneyland…. It should look like a normal European bistro and nothing to tell you from the outside that this is a McDonald’s except for a discreet golden arches sticker on each window and a steady stream of people with enormous asses going in and out of the front door.” – Bill Bryson, ‘Neither here Nor there

The year 1955 unleashed another American icon on the world when Walt Disney opened his Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, California.

Sixteen years later the World Disney World resort opened in Orlando, Florida and although I have never been to California I went to Disney World three times in the 1990’s which was good fun but at least one time too many.  My young children enjoyed it of course but I tired of the theme parks fairly quickly and looking back I would have to say that I liked EPCOT most of all and here in Walt’s own personal dream my favourite was the World Showcase.

Disney World Epcot

In 1955 Disney and McDonald’s almost got together when Ray Kroc wrote to Walt Disney offering a deal: “I have very recently taken over the national franchise of the McDonald’s system. I would like to inquire if there may be an opportunity for a McDonald’s in your Disneyland Development.” The story goes that Walt was too busy to deal with the matter himself so he passed it on to the President in charge of concessions.  Allegedly he agreed but wanted to increase prices by 50% with all the extra profit going to Disney.  Kroc refused and it was to be another thirty years before they worked together.

I am not sure just how big a set-back that was because since then McDonald’s has globalised and like a giant tsunami swept into every continent  in the World, the company has more than forty thousand restaurants in over a hundred countries, with two million employees and serving nearly seventy-five million people every day which is a staggering 7.5% of the World’s population – but perhaps some people go twice!

Although a lot of us deny ever dining there most of us secretly do.  Take the French for example.

The French are famously snooty and protectionist about all things Gallic and they didn’t take very kindly to Micky Mouse when plans were revealed to open a Disney theme park in Paris and the proposal was a subject of fierce debate and controversy.

I like France but the country has a massive unjustified superiority complex and the French are so up themselves about things like wine and food and language whilst they turn a blind eye to dog poop on the pavements in Paris, too much garlic in their food and Charles Aznavour as a cultural icon.

As Disney threatened, French intellectuals and conservative republican traditionalists denounced what they considered to be the cultural imperialism of Euro Disney and argued that it would encourage in France an unhealthy American type of consumerism.  But they were powerless to stop it and it opened anyway in April 1992.  There was one final act of defiance in June of the same year when a group of French farmers blockaded Euro Disney in protest of farm policies supported at the time by the United States.

As heirs to the revolutions of 1789, 1830, 1848 and 1968 French farmers in gilet jaune  need of course only the tiniest excuse to raise a barricade, shut down motorways and burn tractor tyres.  Booking a ferry ticket from Dover to Calais always includes that inherent risk.

Today the theme park, rebranded as Disneyland Paris, welcomes over fifteen million guests a year and half of these visitors are from France and that is more than 10% of the population of the country!

And this statistic raises another important issue.  The French boast that with over eighty million people a year they are the most visited country in Europe but it turns out that 10% of these visitors are going to Disneyland and think they are in the USA!

EPCOT France

After language the French get most uptight about food and for McDonald’s the battle for France was one of the most difficult.  The first outlet was opened in the Paris suburb of Créteil in 1972 and in 1999 a farmer turned environmental activist and anti-globalisation protester Jose Bové gave a whole new meaning to the term ‘drive-through’ when he vandalised a McDonald’s in the town of Millau in the south of France by driving a tractor into it.

jose-bove

At the time he was running for President and must have thought this would be popular with the French electorate but he was no match for Le Big Mac and this act of folly completely scuppered his chances. The French it seems didn’t want a modern day Asterix the Gaul swinging a battle axe heading up their government. The first round of the presidential election was held  and Bové finished an embarrassing tenth, getting barely one percent of the total vote.

By then, the Gallic dam was well and truly breached, McDonald’s was expanding rapidly in the land of classic cuisine and fine dining and had three hundred more restaurants than when Bové began his futile campaign.  The company was pulling in over a million people per day in France and annual turnover was growing at twice the rate it was even in the United States.  Against McDonald’s, Bové had lost in a sticky landslide of mayonnaise, milkshake and ketchup.

He spent a few weeks in jail but unbelievably went on to become a representative at the European Parliament.  Little wonder the people of the UK want to leave!

More evidence of French snobbery…

“Lots of people around the world are completely bemused by the fact that French people want a McDo at all. Many of us see gastronomy in France as something to be cherished and a visit to McDo is letting the side down and a slap in the face to the heritage of French cuisine.” – a patriotic French website

Even though the French still maintain that they despise the fast food chain an awful lot of people eat there. Across France there are nearly twelve hundred restaurants and in Paris alone there are almost seventy restaurants under the golden arches with even more dotted around the outer suburbs. That’s much the same as London, but with only a third of the population.  McDonald’s, or “McDo” as it is known, is France’s dirty secret.   In 2017 sales exceeded five billion euros.

That is more than it generates in the UK and in terms of profit, France is second only to the United States itself and it has the most locations per capita in Europe and the fourth-highest rate in the world ( USA, Japan, China are the top three, the UK is seventh).  It is now so firmly a part of French culture that the menu includes McBaguette and Croque McDo and in 2009 McDonald’s reached a deal with the French museum, the Louvre, to open a McDonald’s restaurant and McCafé on its premises by their underground entrance which is probably why over eight million people visit the Museum every year, not to see the most famous painting in the World but to get a Big Mac and Large Fries!

Mona Lisa with Fries

Statistically (but questionably) France is the most visited country in the World but most likely because most people want to go to eat at McDonald’s.

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In the world of national and international politics, in this year Winston Churchill resigned as Prime Minister in Great Britain and Juan Peron, who was famously married to Eva Duarte, or Evita as we popularly know her, was overthrown from power in a coup in Argentina.  Cardiff became the official capital of Wales, Austria was restored to the status of sovereign independent state and faithfully promised the world to remain forever neutral and the Soviet Union finally declared the end of the Second-World-War with Germany.

In sport the 1955 Le Mans disaster occurred during the 24 Hours motor race when a racing car involved in an accident flew into the crowd, killing the driver and eighty-two spectators which in terms of human casualties was, and hopefully always will be, the most catastrophic accident in the history of motor sport.

mcdonalds-france