Tag Archives: Napoleon

On This Day – Boulogne, France

Even though travel restrictions are easing I am not yet minded to risk it so I still have no new stories to post so I continue to go through my picture archives and see where I was on this day at any time in the last few travelling years.

On 11th August 2010 I was in France in the Northern port city of Boulogne.  I have been to Boulogne several times and I am happy to declare it one of my favourite cities in all of France.

Boulogne Old Town

I like Boulogne, I like Northern France, I especially like Northern France in August because all of the French people have gone south leaving the north for us Brits and the asylum seekers trying to get a boat to cross the English Channel.

The old town is built within the original Roman walls and has recently been well restored and it was in complete contrast to the concrete and glass of the sea front and the modern glitzy shopping streets.  Here is the beating heart of a medieval city with history gently oozing from every corner with a castle, a cathedral and narrow streets lined with charming properties, little shops, inviting cafés and bars.

Boulogne 02

From the car park we walked along the main street full of interesting shops and busy restaurants and under the walls of the huge cathedral which was rebuilt in the nineteenth century as a symbol of the revival of the French Catholic Church.  During the 1789 Revolution the old cathedral had been closed, Catholicism was replaced by order of Robespierre by ‘The Cult of the Supreme Being” and Christian worship forbidden.  The Church was declared the property of the State and then dismantled and sold for building projects, stone by stone.  In 1802 Napoleon reinstated the Catholic Church in France.

The medieval cathedral was the site of a shrine to ‘Our Lady of Boulogne’ a representation of a vision that appeared in Boulogne in or around the year 646 and which arrived in a boat without sails, oars, or sailors, on which stood a wooden statue of the Virgin holding the Child Jesus in her arms.  The French Revolutionaries didn’t have a lot of regard for this sort thing and so at the same time as they destroyed the cathedral they burned the priceless wooden statue as well.

Anyway, the church was rebuilt in the nineteenth century complete with a massive dome, one of the largest in Europe, and inside there is a modern replica of ‘Our Lady of Boulogne’ which is one of four that were sculptured in 1943 and toured France until 1948 when it was known as ‘The Lady of the Great Return’ and is today symbolic of the reconciliation between nations.

This was nice I thought, such a shame that we in UK have foolishly chosen to turn our back on Europe…

Boulogne 01

From the cathedral we walked along the Rue de Lille and negotiated the pavement table barricades scattered almost randomly across the pedestrianised street and then to the Hotel de Ville with its immaculate gardens like a green  oasis in the centre of the cramped city where we stopped for a while and enjoyed the hot sunshine and the contrast of a cool beer under the shadow of the city’s twelfth century UNESCO World Heritage Site medieval Belfry.

Inside the town hall there was free entry to the Tower that included a guided tour and history of the building which was helpfully given in English as well as French.  There was a long climb with a couple of stops for informative narrative and there were good views from the top of the tower and we were lucky to be part of only a small group of visitors because we had time and space to enjoy the rooftop vista.

Boulogne 09

We left the old town by a gate next to the Castle Museum and I am forever amazed at the bits of trivia that I pick up on my travels because who would have guessed that inside is the most important exhibition of masks from Alaska in the whole world?  I couldn’t help wondering why the most important exhibition of masks from Alaska isn’t in Alaska?

After the break we walked half of the walls and then returned to the car to go to the fishing port to find some lunch and after we had some difficulty finding a parking spot we strolled casually down the hill into the town past the Nausicaa Aquarium, one of the largest aquarium museums in France.

We strolled along the busy docks which, it turns out, is the biggest fishing port in France and there is a large fishing fleet including deep-sea trawlers and factory ships, as well as smaller sea-going and inshore fishing boats.  A third of France’s fresh fish catch is landed here, and a huge quay-side fish processing factory makes 20% of the nation’s tinned fish, and half of the frozen fish, fish fingers and other fish based ready meals.

Boulogne Fish Market Postcard

At a seafront restaurant we asked for menus but things went spectacularly wrong when an unexpected strong gust of wind blew my glass of beer over straight over.  It was getting quite windy now so we tried two or three different tables and then abandoned the seafront lunch idea and returned instead to the shelter of the old town where perhaps we should have stayed in the first place.

Here we selected a restaurant on Rue de Lille and ordered what we thought was going to be a snack but turned out to be quite enormous meals which, although we didn’t know it at the time was going to spoil our evening meal.  Mum didn’t enjoy her Welsh Rarebit, Alan had an oversize omelette, Richard had a pizza that would have been sufficient for all four of us but I did get the pot of moules marinière that I had been promising myself.

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

Boat Ride to Corfu Town

Corfu Town 05

The architecture of the town is Venetian; the houses above the old port are built up elegantly into slim tiers with narrow alleys and colonnades running between them; red, yellow, pink, umber – a jumble of pastel shades which the moonlight transforms into a dazzling white city…” – Lawrence Durrell –“Prospero’s Cell”.

Travelling to Corfu town by speed boat seemed a good option rather than taking the long tedious journey by car all around the bay because even though it was rather expensive (€23 each) it only took twenty minutes.

The boat bounced over the gentle waves and we looked unsuccessfully for dolphins as the direct route to Corfu town bypassed all of the holiday resorts and modern concrete hotels that punctuate the horseshoe bay below Mount Pantokrator and then passed below the monstrous cruise ships  in the harbour which seemed almost as tall as the mountain and shortly after that we disembarked at a small jetty quite close to the old fortress.

The old town of Corfu with its pastel-hued, multi-storey Venetian styled shuttered buildings, peaceful squares and graceful arcades was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2007.

Corfu Town 07

History has left the Ionian isles with a fascinating cultural legacy, the result of Corinthian, Byzantine, Venetian, French and British influences that extend from architecture to cuisine, English breakfasts, lunchtime pasta and fine French evening dining.

Corfu Town boasts the stateliest of Neoclassical buildings, legacy of the nineteenth century British Protectorate of the Ionian islands. Earlier during two short spells of Napoleonic occupation the French left their mark. This influence is best seen in the arcaded Liston, a tribute to Rue de Rivoli in Paris and a sun-drenched venue for sipping coffee and people-watching.  Before all this, the Venetians bequeathed all of the Ionian islands a distinctive landscape of Italianate buildings, silver-leafed olive trees and grape-heavy vines.

Margaret and Kim explore the old town…

Corfu Town 01a

Finally we arrived at the focal point of the city, the tall, red domed church of Agios Spyridon where lies the mummified body of the patron saint of the island, Saint Spyridon himself, and inside tourists jostled with Corfiots to push their way into a tiny side chapel to visit his heavily embossed silver tomb where “…he lies in hibernating stillness in his richly wrought casket, whose outer shell of silver is permanently clouded by the breath of the faithful who stoop to kiss it” (Lawrence Durrell).

We passed through the heavy doors into an alternative world of black robed beardy priests, local worshippers and travelling pilgrims all lining up to kiss the lavish icons of their favourite Saint.


I don’t know for sure if this was a special day in Corfu for Saint Spyridon but I suspect it might have been because inside the place was so busy it resembled the first day of the Oxford Street January sales and people were pushing and shoving and waiting in a long line for their turn to visit the silver casket and to make a request for a miracle cure or for the winning lottery numbers.  And the queue wasn’t moving very quickly because having stood in line for so long the pilgrims had plenty of time to draw up an expanding list of requests and having finally made it to the front no one was inclined to rush the experience of an audience with the preserved corpse and everyone seemed to stand around for eternity kissing the icons and the casket and saying personal prayers.

All of this icon kissing means quite a lot of unwanted spit and saliva of course so to deal with this cleaning ladies with spray cleaners and dusters circulated constantly to wipe away the slobber and the germs on a continuous and never ending polishing circuit of the church.

After almost two thousand years the preserved relics are not in great shape and the right hand is missing altogether because that is in Rome, so the mummified skin and bone is covered in a sort of embroidered carpet, I assume so that it doesn’t scare the children half to death!

Spyridon is a very important to Corfu who at various times is said to have saved the island from foreign invaders and from outbreaks of deadly disease and because he does his best to try and deliver on the requests of the visitors to his tomb.  He is so important to Corfiots that apparently Spiros is even today the most common boys name on the island.

Saint Syridos Siver Coffin

This is my favourite story – it is said that at night when everyone is gone and the town is empty he rises from the silver sarcophagus and walks the streets of Corfu granting people’s wishes.  Every year he wears out a perfectly good pair of shoes and every year he has to be fitted up for a new pair. This is a true story.  Really!

Sadly there really wasn’t time to stand in the line of people and shuffle slowly to the chapel containing the relics and I couldn’t really think of anything to ask for anyway, except perhaps could Leicester City win the Premier League again this year, so choking on incense and elbowing our way past genuine pilgrims who wanted to discuss their ailments we made our way to the door and back out into the sunlit street.

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

Entrance Tickets – Venice Museums


Next door in the Piazzetta is the Doge’s Palace with Gothic arcades at ground level and an elaborate loggia on the floor above and a long queue of people waiting for their turn at the ticket office.

We joined this and enjoyed the sun as the queue moved slowly past and around the street vendors and the ladies selling bags of grain for feeding the birds.  The Palace is a museum now and we took the route through the rooms where great works of art were displayed and then crossed the Bridge of Sighs to reach the old Palace prisons on the other side of a canal.

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Venice Museum

Northern France, Wimereux and Ambleteuse

Northern France Wimereaux

It was only a short drive from La Colonne de la Grande Armée at Wimille to Wimereux and after only a few minutes we were parking the car again on the seafront where a lot of people were gathered to watch a sailing race just a few hundred metres out to sea.

The tide was fully in and surf was crashing over the sea defences and onto the pavement so we had to take care not to walk too close to the edge and get a soaking and stayed close to the back edge and walked past the rows of beach huts, all painted a uniform blue and white and each with a charming, sometimes obvious, sometimes esoteric, nameplate attached to it.

Wimereux became a popular seaside resort at the time of the Second Empire, a hundred and fifty years ago and today retains an air of sophistication that presents a slightly faded but still elegant seaside resort with hotels, bars, cafés and restaurants, and an alternately sandy and rocky shoreline.  

This was a charming place full of families on the beach and I was struck by the fact that if the French continue to take their children to cultured and sophisticated places to enjoy simple natural pleasures such as this lovely unspoilt place this tradition is passed on down through families and will forever be this way, down through the generations.  Contrast this with an English family that take their children to Skegness for ‘Games Zone’, fish and chips, penny arcades, bingo, candy floss and football shirts, which simply perpetuate all of the the disagreeable things about the English seaside. 

Wherever I go I am always struck by the fact that everywhere has a tale to tell and at Wimereux it is the story of the first recorded death in an aviation accident (not counting Icarus of course).  Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier was a science teacher and one of the pioneers of aviation and he made the first manned free balloon flight on 21st November 1783 in a Montgolfier balloon. He later died when his balloon crashed near Wimereux on 15th June 1785 during, what must with hindsight surely have been, a ludicrously ambitious attempt to fly across the English Channel.

Wimereaux Northern France

The sun was shining, the temperature was rising but there was a stiff breeze blowing in from the sea so we found a bar with protective glass panels and sat with a beer and enjoyed the view across the water, the competing sail boats out at sea and the beach activity that was increasing all the time as the tide started to retreat and more people were drawn down onto the caramel sandy beach.

After our walk along the seafront we left Wimereux and drove the short distance to our next destination on the beach and added the car to a ribbon of vehicles parked along the side of the road and next to the sand dunes that neatly separated the beach from the road.  It was a short walk along a rugged path to the beach and when we reached it the tide was fully out and there was a wide expanse of sand that stretched for two kilometres all the way to the little town of Ambleteuse to the north.

Ambleteuse is a picturesque village that used to be a harbour and has a lot of association with England just across the Channel. The reason it is here relates to the temporary needs of various invaders for conquering people from either side of the English Channel.  It is said that Julius Caesar used this convenient place to set out from for his invasion of Britain in 54 BC.  Henry VIII of England had two forts built here to maintain a show of power towards the French kings.  James II fleeing England after his abdication arrived here in 1689 and Fort Mahon, built to protect the harbour in the seventeenth century, was used by Napoleon to moor port of his England invasion fleet in 1805.

Nowadays Ambleteuse is a very quiet sophisticated seaside resort where fishermen’s houses line the seafront next to once grand nineteenth century villas which go back to a time when this was a popular place for holidays for people from Lille and Paris and it became a middle class holiday resort for those who enjoyed sea-bathing and hunting, shooting and fishing, playing golf, good living and fine dining.

At about this time our thoughts turned to dining for ourselves and a spot of lunch and we returned to Wimereux and returned to the restaurant that we had visited a couple of days earlier where we agreed not to order too much food and then went right ahead and did exactly that and worried again about spoiling our evening meal so we were careful and made sure that we left some on the sides of our plates so that we wouldn’t make the same mistake again.

As it was our final day we needed to purchase some cheap wine to take home and pulled in to do some shopping at a store called Auchan which was positively massive and for someone who doesn’t like shopping completely overwhelming in scale so we agreed to stay focused and after being momentarily distracted by the free samples of meat and cheese made our way straight to the wine section and made our purchases.

For our final evening we enjoyed drinks on the terrace where we chatted to fellow guests all of whom seemed to have stayed at this hotel several times before and were full of praise for the place and then we had a final excellent meal and at this point I think I knew that it was inevitable that I too would almost certainly become a returning customer myself.

Russia, Saint-Petersburg to Peterhof

Kirov Statue

The driver was in a particularly impatient mood this morning and he constantly switched lanes in a rather pointless objective of finding the quickest running line and although he sometimes temporarily gained a few metres this was always ultimately unsuccessful.

It was clear however that he wasn’t prepared to sit around in the traffic jams and he began a quest to find a short-cut through the side streets which fifteen minutes later our guide, Anna, declared to be a stunning success as we crossed the bottle-neck bridge across the River Neva and gradually began to make improved progress as we headed south and west out of the city.

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Venice, Piazza San Marco

St Mark's Cathedral Venice

“Though there are some disagreeable things in Venice there is nothing so disagreeable as the visitors.”
Henry James

Napoleon may or may not have called the Piazza San Marco “the finest drawing room in Europe” but whether he did or he didn’t it doesn’t really matter because it is indeed one of the finest squares in all of Europe.

San Marco or is the principal public square of Venice where it is generally known just as ‘the Piazza’.  All other urban spaces in the city (except the Piazzetta) are called ‘campi’ (fields).  The Piazzetta (the ‘little Piazza’) is an extension of the Piazza towards the lagoon in its south east corner and the two spaces together form the social, religious and political centre of the city.

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France 2010, Boulogne Sur Mer

Street Entertainer Boulogne Sur Mer

We were all relieved to find that it wasn’t raining and it looked as though Camille’s welcome forecast was completely accurate because the weather this morning was in complete contrast to yesterday, the sun was already shining and the sky was a blank blue canvas.

We followed the early morning routine that we had already established, went to see the ducks and the hens, visited Camille and saw the rabbit and walked a while through the village before returning to the cottage for our usual farm house breakfast, part English, part continental but every day a perfect combination of the two.  On account of the good weather we did some washing and hung it on the line before we finally left the cottage and set off for Boulogne about twenty-five kilometres away.

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Ljubljana – Rainfall Capital of Europe

Continuing our walk around Ljubljana we visited the walls of the old Roman city and another church, the Cerkov Sv Janeza Krstnika before we turned and returned to the city centre passing through the impressive French Revolution Square where there is a monument to one of the great men of Europe.  Well, he might have been a bully and a tyrant and not many places have monuments to Napoleon these days but here in Ljubljana they have cause to remember him fondly because for a short period from 1809 to 1813 he brought a brief moment of enlightenment to a perpetually repressed nation.

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France, Napoleon Bonaparte and the Old Town of Boulogne

La Colonne de la Grande Armée

The sun was shining and down at the coast the wind had curiously dropped so it was warm as we walked past the main shopping street and back up the hill towards the medieval castle.  This time we walked for a while outside of the walls and then we went inside and with more time available today explored some of the back streets and alleyways.  This was our last day and my last opportunity for my favourite moules et frites because although I had had them the previous evening this had been a bit of a rushed affair.

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France, The Opal Coast and Ambleteuse

Ambleteuse beach

Ambleteuse is a picturesque village that used to be a harbour and has a lot of association with England just across the Channel. The reason it is here relates to the temporary needs of various invaders for conquering people from either side of the English Channel.  It is said that Julius Caesar used this convenient place to set out from for his invasion of Britain in 54 BC.  Henry VIII of England had two forts built here to maintain a show of power towards the French kings. James II fleeing England after his abdication arrived here in 1689 and Fort Mahon, built to protect the harbour in the seventeenth century, was used by Napoleon to moor part of his England invasion fleet in 1805.

Read the full story…