Churches, Cistercians and burnt-out cars: everyday life in Entre-deux-Eaux, August – December 2023

To download a printable PDF version (no photographs)
click on this link 
.pdf (four A4 pages)

There are links to photographs in the text and
clicking on the photographs in the text will show a larger version

A larger selection of photographs of
Avallon, Vézelay, Vault-de-Lugny,
Pontaubert, Saulieu, Saint-Père and Fontenay

The second part of 2023 here could be summarised briefly as August, absent in Letchworth; September, hot, health appointments and short holiday; October, restaurants and rain; November, decluttering and rain; December, Christmas thoughts.

It was good to spend time with Leila and with Toby and his family while we were over in August. Jacob is growing up fast, and he and Stella moved house over summer, but fortunately they are still near his school. While Leila was with us we took Jacob and Farrah to a water park which they enjoyed in the hot weather. On our way back to Entre-deux-Eaux we had a lovely day with Ann and Derek in Folkestone, wandering along the clifftop and round the harbour, before a belated birthday lunch at a small restaurant in the old town, then afternoon tea in Dymchurch with Helen’s former London flat-mate.

We returned to a series of appointments in September, Helen to what John calls eye-waggling (exercises with the orthoptist) and dermatology and John to very helpful appointments with an audiologist with a particular interest in tinnitus; John can now hear so much better with his new hearing aids. On a Sunday between appointments we took advantage of sites being open for Patrimoine or Heritage Day and drove over to Plainfaing to see the wall paintings in the Town Hall (which weren’t as interesting as they sounded), and started reminiscing about restaurants we used to go to in our early days here. We drove up the narrow lane to the ferme-auberge which was still on the hillside above, with a coach outside which seemed to be connected to a volleyball team, though the group sitting at the outdoor tables looked a bit past their sporting prime.

Fraize school mural

In a back street in Fraize we stopped to see the recent wall painting on the end of the school (which was where Ghislaine, who comes regularly for English conversation, taught for many years), then looked in the church, which had an interesting wall painting above the war memorial showing local WW1 trench warfare (we haven’t seen that before in a church). The huge old factory has also been restored and is full of sale goods for the Emmaus homeless charity. Then, alas, on our way home, the front tyre of Bluto caught on a sharp curb of a new chicane and it seemed an awfully long hot walk home to get one of the summer tyres from the farmhouse. We were so glad of two cars so we could drive back in Snowy, and John changed the wheel quickly.

Realising that, due to a postponed appointment, we had a week at the end of September without appointments, we rapidly booked a gîte in part of France we could easily reach in a day, threw together some clothes, tea bags and guide books, and set off in Snowy for Avallon in the Burgundy/Franche-Comté region. It proved to be a most enjoyable break (certainly better than the over-hyped “Romantic Rhine” at the end of June). The weather was sunny but not too hot, the gîte comfortable, and the churches beautiful.

Tout d’Horloge Avallon

We unpacked at our gîte (Saint-Père) which extended across the upper floor of an old town house in a narrow street (rue Maison Dieu) by the market square (it was well we had no heavy luggage as we had to climb a flight of steep outside steps, avoiding a somnolent cat, to reach the front door). Then we walked down to the picturesque Tour d’Horloge, collected leaflets and an up-to-date parking disc from the Avallon Tourist Office, and looked round the 12C Saint Lazare church. Although the small town looked fairly prosperous, its Romanesque church was woefully neglected, with damaged portals, chapel frescoes almost indecipherable with damp, and woodwork long deprived of polish. Was the boat propped in a side chapel, part of a saint’s attributes or just dumped? Old buildings along the ramparts, on the other hand, had been carefully restored.



World Heritage Vézelay’s Romanesque/Gothic Sainte Marie-Madeleine next day, when we finally reached to top of the hill, was a lovely contrast, as the light and airy basilica had been carefully restored by Viollet-le-Duc, with spectacular archway carvings and detailed column capitals. We saw it first from the road, rising dramatically above the vineyards. It took a while to reach it as we strolled up the pilgrim road of the tiny town looking in tourist boutiques and courtyards, and paused for coffee, quiche and hazelnut tart. We weren’t there in the main tourist season so the town was relatively quiet. Afterwards, having spent time inside the basilica we followed a footpath down to La Cordelle, the tiny Franciscan chapel. We returned another day to look round the former house of novelist Romain Rolland, now a small museum, with artworks by Leger, Miro, Kandinsky and Picasso.

Vault-de-Lugny frescoes

The village churches were also interesting with the angels blowing their trumpets at the corners of Saint Père’s church tower and the frescoes of Vault-de-Lugny. In the small town of Saulieu, we admired the droll capitals of the twelfth century century basilica (though thought its blue and gold organ looked like a fairground one), then looked round an adjacent house containing sculptures of Pompon, whose famous polar bear was featured on the brass arrows pointing from the car park to the museum.

Pompon boar

We particularly liked a running rabbit, a pelican and a rampant boar and Helen couldn’t resist buying a red coffee mug featuring the polar bear which is a daily reminder of that handful of sunlit September days in Burgundy.


We had a shock on our return to Entre-deux-Eaux, and still have a daily reminder of that too. We had set out early on that last day, taking a cross-country route to the Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay. Founded in 1118, over 200 monks had followed the rule of St Benedict, though it declined in the sixteenth century when the King rather than the monks appointed the abbots. After the Revolution it was, like so many ecclesiastical buildings, sold as state property, and later bought by Elie de Montgolfier, who transformed the huge building in which the monks had an iron forge into a paper-mill. A son-in-law bought it in 1906 and started a massive renovation, demolishing all the paper mill buildings. Now the simplicity of the lofty church, cloisters, huge communal dormitory and work areas are silent again, though the water harnessed by the restored forge can be heard. Another coach-free World Heritage site.

And the shock? On Friday, as we drove up our road, we saw two burnt out cars outside our neighbour Ludo’s small repair garage. Behind them a burnt concrete electricity pole still stood, but its recently installed fibre cables were lying, severed, on the ground. So the 9 houses further up the road, including ours, were without phone, internet or TV and the farmer could not use the internet-controlled automatic milking equipment. As we stared, horrified, Ludo’s father returned from SFR, our mutual phone and internet service provider, clutching a temporary SFR box which allows internet access through the mobile phone network, and told us how to get one. The next few days were occupied with phone calls, visits, and sorting out the temporary box. The cables were mended and rehung more quickly than expected on the following Monday. It seems to have been a deliberate fire which the police are investigating. But, as far as we know, the arsonist and their motive have not been discovered and the blackened car carcases are still outside Ludo’s garage.

One unplanned side effect was that when we went into Saint Dié to the SFR shop, we also wandered round the Geography Festival, which we hadn’t hitherto been too bothered about this year. With the departure of the former mayor, it is now a smaller event, with fewer sessions of interest, but that day the cafes were busy in the sunshine, extra tables were being laid for lunch outside restaurants, and a small band was strolling down the main street. The book tent had as large and busy a display as ever, which inspired us afterwards to look round the newly-opened multimedia library building.

The next morning while we were still in our dressing gowns (possibly as late as 10.30), the doorbell unexpectedly rang. Our surprise callers were an English-speaking man (of N. Irish and Welsh descent) and two of his French friends. He has just moved from Colmar into a house on the other side of the village, and they had all been down to the village bar (“very friendly locals!”) and been told about the English couple in the house with the blue shutters. So we invited them in for a chat. He later brought round some home-made cake and flyers for a photography exhibition in Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines where he was exhibiting, so we went over to see it.

Blanc Ru – winegrower’s salad starter

On the way back from Sainte-Marie, we noticed that a village restaurant in Wisembach, which had been closed for several years, had re-opened. As we were now into autumnal rain, when our main diversion becomes weekly restaurant sorties, we tried out the Blanc Ru one very wet day. When we phoned to book, we were lucky to get the last table as its very reasonable menu of the day attracted workers from the local factory as well as the usual retired people. It felt like a family enterprise, with mother in the kitchen, a bustling daughter taking orders and serving, a son behind one bar and towards the end another son appeared. The thirteen euro menu was chalked on a slate on the gatepost: a hearty starter of winegrower’s salad, main of chicken and chips, and stewed damsons with ice-cream for dessert. With the rising prices of everything, our favourite Imprimerie restaurant is cutting back; it now only serves a menu-of-the-day on weekdays (and neither of the more extensive menus we used to choose) and a single surprise menu at the weekend, while one waiter, Guillaume who joined last year has returned to his old occupation of nursing and its better pay, and the shy co-chef is (reluctantly, it seems) serving at table. One Saturday we tried a menu-of-the-day at the Bouche à Oreille in Raon l’Etape (they too were full and turning away customers).

But we went up-market for John’s birthday at a starred restaurant, the Nouvelle Auberge, in Wihr au Val in Alsace, only to find at the end of the meal when we came out, that Snowy wouldn’t start – the ten year-old battery had finally died! No garage in the village, so we had to phone our insurers (French car insurance includes breakdown cover), who organised a mechanic to get us started. He turned up twenty minutes later from a nearby town, used a booster pack to start Snowy, and gave us a stern warning as we set off – “don’t stop the engine till you get home”. We didn’t, and a new battery is now in place!

Jodphur railway station ticket office in 1986

In November we started decluttering, but got diverted by some of the things we came across! Among them were Helen’s handwritten account of our second Indian journey (1986) which she has been typing up. That made us realise John hadn’t finished scanning all the slides in 2011. And, after finding an alternative following a scanner failure, John’s Indian slides have now been added to his computer.  Lots of lovely memories as the rain continued outside.

The young man who has been helping this year with heavier garden tasks recovered from his latest illness/injury and came with his taciturn father to do a lot of tree pruning and cutting back of bramble and wild rose thickets, which was very useful. We rescued lots of the hips to decorate the house and make a Christmas wreath for the door.

Enfin restaurant

At the end of the month we tried a new-to-us starred restaurant in Barr, over in Alsace. As the streets and shops of Barr are very festive in mid-December for their Christmas Market, it was a disappointment to find most shops closed apart from barbers, hairdressers and bakeries. The only festive things were the Mannele in the bakeries – the spiced brioches in the shape of little men which are offered at St Nicolas (6 December). But the Enfin restaurant was bright and bustling; we thoroughly enjoyed their seasonal menu and wines and will return in the New Year.

We had cold days and our first snow of the year at the beginning of December, very light, but enough to add a festive touch without becoming a nuisance. St Nicolas has now visited the children; the mulled wine, mice in white outfits (tree decorations), wood turned and ceramic artefacts have appeared at the Christmas market in the nearby village of Sainte Marguerite; our ceramic angels are on the windowsill; and our aromatic wreath of sage, lavender and bay leaves, scarlet hips, ribbons and silver baubles is on the front door.

Christmas greetings to everyone from Entre-deux-Eaux!

Scanning the past – sixth update

Having spent 2011 scanning slides, negatives, and photographs, last month I discovered I hadn’t completed scanning all my slides after we returned to E2E in New Year 2012! I still had about 1100 Fujifilm transparencies from our 1986 India trip and other miscellaneous boxes of slides making a total of about 1500 still needing to be scanned.

I started scanning again using my Epson V700 Pro flat-bed scanner. With a twelve-slide carrier, it was taking about 45 minutes to complete so I could just leave the scanner to run. One day having already scanned 108 slides I left the scanner processing the next batch and went shopping. When I returned after about 90 minutes I discovered the scanner was making juddering noises and the carriage had stuck. It would not reset using the scanner program and, after finally turning it off to stop it, the scanner failed to reset/restart.

I searched online for possible causes or fault-tracing and contacted local PC repair services without any obvious solutions. The V700 had cost about 400€ in 2011 and second-hand machines are still about that price. There were several broken V700 for sale for spares at 100€ and a “new” motherboard would be about 250€. The current equivalent is the Epson Perfection V850 Pro which costs about 1100€! So I wondered whether there were other options?

I have a Canoscan 8400F in Letchworth. I needed a document scanner in the summer 2023 and the Canonscan appeared on Freecycle! It was in the original packaging and had various film holders which I did not examine as they weren’t of interest at the time. According to the specifications, the 8400F 35mm slide carrier holds four 35mm mounts and probably scans them at a similar speed to the Epson.

Given the resolution of digital cameras has improved significantly in the last 20+years, using a DSLR with a macro lens to photograph slides has now become a common alternative. I already had a Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 60 mm f/2.8 Macro for my camera so I did some quick tests, just with the camera on a tripod.

JJC film copier

Those results were good so I bought a JJC film digitiser set for less than 100€ to allow me to continue using my camera with more suitable equipment. The kit has metal spacing adapters for various DSLR brands and macro lenses, a slide/film strip adapter/carrier and a diffused LED light source. I added a rail, for additional rigidity, and the foam damping.

I used the kit to copy the remaining slides using the Olympus high resolution mode and the results (a 67MB ORF + 21MB JPG) are better than those I’d was getting from the scanner (I’ve now yet to decide whether to redigitise some of my older slides!) I developed a routine (checking for dust, putting in slide carrier, taking the photo after a 4 second timer delay to eliminate any slide carrier shaking movement) which allowed me to average 25 mins for a tray of 50 slides – so much quicker than the 4+min per slide scanning time using the Epson, although requiring constant attention.

The only significant differences I’ve found compared to the scanner is the JJC slide carrier does not hold the “fatter” old Agfa, etc. plastic slide holders (which were one of the reasons the prongs on the Epson slide carrier broke (see fifth update), the slides did not “pop” due to the heat from the scanner as the LED light is cool, and there is no software to do automatic scratch correction (the scanner software uses an IR light). All the slides I had were in thinner paper mounts and all had been kept in slide projector trays in boxes so were in very good condition without any scratches. I didn’t need to do any colour corrections for the Fujifilm slides except to adjust for a LED 6500K light source.

As an aside, I have also discovered some 127 film negatives from a junior school trip in 1957(?). I don’t have any prints of those. I will need to make a card carrier to digitise those and make adjustments to the camera to film distance. I assume that was the only film I used in that Agilux Agiflash camera? I only really remember using the Gratispool “free film” service, which had paper negatives, but I think they must all have been discarded?

Barbecues, riots and the romantic Rhine: Everyday life in and around Entre-deux-Eaux, February to July 2023

To download a printable PDF version (no pictures)
click on this link 
.pdf (eight A4 pages)

And few photographs of
Boppard, the Rhine, Schloss Stolzenfels, and other castles and the
Chagall stained-glass windows at St Stephan’s Church, Mainz

On evenings in our tranquil French village, we watch a lot of crime dramas. Our images of the deprived suburbs of Paris come from dramas like Engrenages (or Spiral), with their desolate backgrounds to the crimes tackled by Captain Laure Berthaud, Gilou, Tintin et al. We were on holiday in Koblenz (more about that later) at the end of June when the rioting broke out across towns and cities of France following the killing of seventeen year old Nahel Merzouk by a traffic police officer. So we did not see the TV images of Nanterre, to the west of Paris, but could picture the scenes of anger and violence.

At a distance, we read about the burning of cars and attacks on government buildings spreading to other towns and cities in France, the closest to Entre-deux-Eaux being in Strasbourg and Colmar, though we later learned that there had been a few cars burned in Saint Dié too, as young people (mainly of North African descent) showed their anger against police and government.

Earlier in the month we had met up in the centre of Strasbourg for a peaceful lunch by the canal with friends who live outside the town. After the events in Paris, their friend who lives near the cathedral rang to warn them not to come back into town as she had been so frightened during a night of rioting, close to all the explosions of firecrackers, tear gas grenades and shouting. And a shoe shop owner described how she had managed to close the shop and get the protective grilles down in time, although tear gas came in round the door and filled the shop, but she could not leave because of the rioting, so had to take refuge in the cellar, sealing its door against the tear gas. Other shops had their windows broken and goods pillaged and there were fires set alight.

When we returned to Entre-deux-Eaux from Koblenz, we did not hear much horror in the village over the killing of a teenager by police. He, after all, was from the feared banlieux or suburbs, whose youngsters of North African descent are perceived as a constant threat to civilised society. Previous violence and destruction on the streets of Paris and other towns by the Gilets Jaunes pension protestors, who seem to be mainly white, while deplored, had not created the same level of aversion and fear.

Local sympathy was not with the youths of the banlieux but rather with the mayor of L’Hay les Roses, whose house and family in the southern suburbs of Paris were attacked by protestors with a burning car. People throughout the country were encouraged to show their support for him by assembling peacefully at midday at their town halls. On her way to the nearby pharmacy and post office in Saulcy, Helen saw about twenty people gathered around their mayor in his sash on the steps of the mairie there, while a hundred were reported to have gathered in Saint Dié. Far more money came flooding in to support the mayor of L’Hay les Roses, than did in support of the bereaved family of Nahel Merzouk. So much for Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite. Helen remains more troubled by the counter-productive destruction of libraries and schools than of parked cars.

The situation continued to simmer. Here there have been minor deterrents to village rioting and rampaging. When John went to get petrol for the car and to fill up a can for the ride-on lawn mower, a prefectural notice on the fuel pump forbade the filling of cans (potentially for Molotov cocktails?) Also we could not buy private fireworks for Bastille Day (though we do in fact possess some elderly bangers). Because of the sécheresse or drought, there was also another prefectural order forbidding firework celebrations where forests were within 200m. Would our village celebrations on the evening of 13 July be modified?

A couple of weeks before Nahel’s killing you would have seen a very different image of French life if you had investigated the sounds of mirth and merriment emanating from a nearby copse encircling a pond. No, it was not the day of a teddy bears’ picnic, but was the day the pensioners of Sainte Marguerite have their annual barbecue. It is a few years since we have been to one of these bucolic feasts, and everyone was looking a bit more battered by life. The former club president, amiably clutching his glass of sangria, has retired (but was toasted for continuing to lend his fishing pond for the feasting), the new president had both his knees bandaged, the sporty cyclist was on crutches after a hip replacement, and the elegant 86 year old at our table was knocking back a small heart-shaped pill, one of her ten daily regime.

The men in aprons masterminding the BBQs were a new generation of cooks, but there were still a couple of the founding members of the group serving the food. The impromptu choir serenading the former president were old faithfuls, but the comedian was a more recent vintage (though we still failed to understand the punchlines). The tent was larger than the old one, which was just as well as there must have been fifteen or so tables of 8-10 merrymakers. Its shade as welcome, but it was not challenged by rain this year. The leisurely lunch lasted about five hours.

People had already bagged their seats and some were queuing for their glass of sangria when we arrived, but members of the games and the brain-teaser groups shuffled along the hard benches to make room for us, then found an extra plastic chair for John to preside at the head of the table. He had to take care not to tip back on the uneven ground and join the fish in the pond.

One of the new chefs, with an unreal looking tan, confided that he had personally made the pâté which would be served first, with salad. We had all brought our own plates, cutlery, glasses, water, wine and coffee, so set them out in readiness. As we had only recently returned from England, we fielded the usual questions about the coronation and Queen Camilla, before agreeing that the pâté was indeed very peppery.

The BBQ pork, when it appeared after the sangria and nibbles and then pâté, was perfectly cooked, and served with potato salad and grated carrot. Large boudins blancs (white sausages) appeared next. After an interval, during which John showed our companions photos of the kestrel chicks on our windowsill following a query, slices of pork belly bacon were brought round, followed by large chunks of Brie and baguette. Things went quiet after that, so people started sharing the coffee they had brought. Then a car made its way cautiously on the narrow track around the pond bearing the desserts – the îles flottantes would never have withstood the heat if they had sat around while we ate our way through the previous spaced-out courses.

Age, however, had caught up with the pensioners at our table, and we were all (except John in his chair) finding the wooden benches extremely hard. So after the new president had circulated with his unlabelled bottle of spirits (probably an overproof pear or plum liqueur, drunk neat by the men and drizzled over a sugar lump by the women), our table started packing away their plates, cutlery and glasses and making their farewells. So we are not sure when the revelry finally ended at other tables.

There have also been the annual events, which we have written about before, like the Entre-deux-Eaux flea market on the football pitch at the beginning of June, and the meal and amateur drama production in Saulxures village in February. “Oui”, the drama at the latter was about the frustrations of a wedding planner and a young engaged couple, and was performed after the cast had brought round large plates of food to the audience (instead of leaving them to queue up as in previous years).

A novelty this year in February was the Chorale and Karaoke in the village hall. Unlike the last concert in the village hall, this one was packed (was it the lure of karaoke?) The Chorale opened with gospel songs in English, which sound rather different with no “h”s pronounced and “th”s transformed to “z”s as in cartoons of the French. One singer in the back row was particularly expressive, swaying and waving his wine glass. But there was also a very good young female soloist. In the interval Helen was introduced to one of the singers who was keen to have some English conversation practice (her reading skills are very good, but speaking is more difficult – we have included practice pronouncing “h”s and “th”s during a few afternoons a month). Helen left before the second half began, so cannot report on village karaoke talent.

Our neighbour, Daniele, had accompanied Helen to the concert, as a diversion before her forthcoming shoulder operation. Unfortunately the unexpectedly large audience may have been the source of the Covid which then kept her isolated in her hospital room, unable to receive visitors or leave. Helen saw her husband on the road one afternoon, and asked how she was. He was very perturbed as he had been looking everywhere for her missing cherished cat; he dared not tell his wife, as their previous cat had been run over last time when she was away convalescing from the operation on her other shoulder. It was a great relief to learn next day that he had eventually heard a famished miaowing in their cellar (where he had already looked). Soon after that, Helen and another friend drove over to Baccarat to see Daniele in her convalescent home, the grandly named Chateau Baccarat, where an entertainer was strolling the corridors playing an accordion. Daniele had acquired the nickname la marcheuse, as, being the most (or possibly only) mobile resident, she would walk several times round the grounds each day. We admired the grounds as we joined her for a circuit.

It was around this time in mid-March that our thoughts turned to the garden and we discovered that the floor of the small potting area inside, at the back of the second barn, was covered in white polystyrene granules. The lerots (dormice) had been spending the winter months tunnelling through the polystyrene insulation above the plasterboard ceiling and it was dropping down between the unplastered board edges. So John took down the plasterboard, and put down little plastic bags of pink rodenticide pellets both in the potting area and nearby boiler room (where the pests had nibbled the glass fibre in the casing). Helen swept the shelves clean (taking the opportunity to throw out quite a lot of accumulated containers), and the industrial vacuum cleaner gathered a huge quantity of polystyrene granules. It was gratifying to see the bags of pink grain torn open, pellets scattered, and later to discover corpses.

On the more pleasant subject of human rather than rodent nibbling, one March day we decided to try a newish restaurant, Le Valtrivin in Hachimette, Alsace. Its website explains that its name is a contraction of Valeria, Tristan and Vin (or wine) and that the chef Valeria is of Russian origin, while Tristan is an experienced sommelier. John was intrigued by their huge wine list – 54 pages of wines. This seemed at odds with the dated, bare dining room in a modest hotel and bar, which the couple were running unaided. It still had the feel of those cheap French hotels where back in the seventies and eighties one would turn up unannounced around 4 o’clock to get a room and meal on a first-come, first-served basis. Valeria’s food, as in the old days, was well presented, though not very exciting. We only wanted a glass of wine each but there was no wine-by-the-glass in the list to choose from. We asked, and Tristan was prepared to open any of his many bottles, though without quoting a price. The local Ammerschwihr bottle of pinot gris he opened for our two glasses was good as was a bottle of red he opened for a single glass (and both were reasonable when the bill came) and the remaining wine in the bottles was offered to another table. Perhaps his bottles were all discounted ends of series (the couple had previously run TrioVino, a wine-tasting for tourists enterprise in Lyon).

It was while we were relaxing over a meal at our favourite restaurant, L’Imprimerie (which alas has increased its prices considerably) that we began to discuss how to celebrate Helen’s 80th birthday. Helen had always said she didn’t think the excitement of 80th birthday parties was a good idea, as various friends of her mother had died shortly after their celebrations. However, it felt a long time since we had seen many of our friends, what with Covid and other health problems, so we decided not to be superstitious and began to make plans for a “do” in mid-May.

As a result of lots of e-mails and our preparatory trip to Letchworth over Easter, on 12 May the Train Gang and partners met up for the first time in several years, and in the evening joined family and helpers for tasty tapas-style dishes and interesting-looking cocktails at a restaurant in Baldock. The next day we were delighted by how many people made it to Letchworth for the party, despite rail strikes and miserable weather. Those who braved the garden was grateful that Alistair ignored our firm instructions not to get logs or risk lighting a fire in one of the gazebos! Indoors, John, Leila and Ann continued to be busy in the kitchen, while the rest of us gossiped over food and drinks and Toby and Derek kept the younger guests amused with games. Bruce wandered round taking photos of everyone, though sadly Helen’s cousin and her husband arrived after the family photo was organised. The next day was lovely and sunny, as the gazebos were taken down and the workers relaxed under the parasol eating and drinking left-overs. The following days were also warm and sunny – and would have been ideal for an outdoor party. An unexpected trip to see the musical Hamilton in London was Toby and Rachel’s birthday gift to Helen, who also took the opportunity to catch up with some London friends who hadn’t made it to the party. We had well and truly celebrated the milestone.

The male brings a vole

There have been births as well as birthdays to celebrate. A lot of you have been following the return of the kestrels at the end of January (several months earlier than previous years) to our attic windowsill for the third year running. If you missed that, you can catch up on the 2023 kestrels website. By the end of April, six kestrel eggs had been laid, and while we were in Letchworth in May, we were able to follow their progress, thanks to the new cameras John had hurriedly installed after the earlier than expected return and he was able to update the website and YouTube feeds. We were glad of that, as all six eggs hatched at the end of May, just a few days before our return to Entre-deux-Eaux. We were then able to watch their growth as the males brought mice and lizards for the female to feed to them until they were ready to fledge. This occurred at the end of June when they were 32-35 days old, which is later than the usually reported 28-30 days, possibly due to the extreme heat. Sadly their departure was again while we were away. So, alas, we were to return to an empty nest – or windowsill. But there have been occasional return visits of the juveniles or the parents to the nest in early July.

After a while back here, we began to feel restless. The river Rhine between Cologne and Mainz is promoted as “the romantic Rhine” with its castles, gorges, vineyards and Lorelei legends. Phrases like “melodramatic panorama of nature” and “backdrop for the portrayal of human passions and destinies “ abound, along with mention of the music of Wagner, the literature of Goethe and Heine and the paintings of Turner. The area is also a World Heritage Site. So during a very hot spell of weather here at the end of June, the idea of spending a few days drifting up and down that stretch of the Rhine on an old paddle steamer or on local ferries, was appealing. We are only an hour’s drive from the Rhine, and it is easy to cross into Germany from here. We decided to head north and base ourselves in Koblenz (four hours drive from E2E) after stopping overnight on the Sunday in Mainz (which we had to remember to call Mayence to our French neighbours) to see the cathedral, Gutenberg museum, Chagall windows, and meet up for dinner with a friend, Heide, who lives in Frankfurt am Main.

Chagall windows, Mainz

Our cheap hotel in Mainz was on the far side of the railway line, and on that very hot day we slogged past the main railway station four times in and out of the city; it seethed with travellers, local buses, police and drinkers. It was the weekend of Mainz’s Johannisnacht festival (which we did not know about until Heide mentioned it when we suggested meeting up), so we had to inch through the big squares near the cathedral which were packed with people celebrating Johannes Gutenberg in the hot sunshine. Few people were honouring his achievements in the rather disappointing Gutenberg museum, where there were special demonstrations on a replica printing press. Perhaps his legacy was being toasted in beer, lurid ice cream, candy floss and curry wurst, among the bands, stilt-walkers and fairground rides, which lapped up to the cathedral. We may have been jaded, as we found the interior of the cathedral lofty, dusty and soulless – like a railway terminal. However, after a further hot walk to a hill (where better to place a church), we were revived by the hushed and prayerful St Stephan’s gothic church with its dramatic blue windows by Chagall. Chagall, who was Jewish, made them at the end of his life as an acknowledgement of the need for reconciliation, and they were completed after his death by others. In the background musicians tuned up, people gathered in the cloisters, and a concert began. Sadly Heide was unable to join us in the evening because of the heat.

Boppard Sesselbahn chair lift

Next day we drove slowly along the river and through hilly vineyards to Koblenz, During our four days we were to see the Romantic Rhine by car, boat, train, cable car, chair lift and on foot. But, for us, its mystique seems to have vanished under the pressures of mass tourism. We saw none of the hazy scenes that Turner painted nor sensed the dramas, chivalry or warfare of the ruined castles. We both felt that our most enjoyable view was during an afternoon ride on what felt like a family-run ski chair lift from the valley to the surrounding hills followed by a short walk through the woods to a café with a loud, bossy waitress; there we relaxed over coffees and enjoyed the view down over a huge bend in the Rhine near the small town of Boppard.

Rhine ferry

That morning had seen us perched on rocks at the feet of the Loreley (or Lorelei) statue, unmoved by her allure or the clouds of gnats, but more fascinated by the series of very long, fast-moving freight trains on tracks on both sides of the river as they plunged into or emerged from the ornate railway tunnels through the gorge. We also watched goods moving along the river more slowly in barges, including a laden scrap metal one. We (and the Loreley) were passed by the regular tourist boats, including the Goethe paddle steamer which we had travelled on the day before. (The young waiter on the Goethe had been unmoved by the series of castles we were passing – an every day background to his work – he just wanted to discuss John’s Olympus camera as he hoped one day he might be able to afford something similar, though it would cost over a month’s wages). We never established the priority rules for barges and boats going up and down the Rhine and the frequent nippy little car ferries crossing from bank to bank (there being no bridges across the Rhine between the outskirts of Mainz and Koblenz). For us, crossing on the busy little ferries was more entertaining than lazing on the pleasure boats (and we had to do several as the valley road on the eastern side had sections closed for repairs).

As well as boat and car trips, we travelled by train along the Rhine back to Koblenz, having taken the paddle steamer journey one way. We also joined young people returning home from school or college on the “picturesque” Hunsruck Railway from Boppard to Emmelhausen in the hills. It is the steepest adhesion railway in western Germany, climbing 336 metres in eight kilometres, through five tunnels and over two viaducts. But because of the forest on both sides, the promoted picturesque views were much more limited (apart from the last minutes of the return descent) than those from our single track railway over the Vosges from Saint Dié to Strasbourg.

Schloss Stolzenfels

As for castles, we looked at various silhouettes from a distance, strolled round the outside of the Sankt Goar ruins (as it was closed on Mondays), and, after slogging up its long and winding drive, joined a guided tour of the interior of the Schloss Stolzenfels summer residence of the Prussian Royal family. We must have helped to polish the Stolzenfels wooden floors as we shuffled round wearing enormous slippers over our outdoor shoes. Next day it would be closed for a film crew. We also spent time looking round the huge Ehrenbreitstein fort, one of several surrounding Koblenz, which had been rebuilt in 1801 after the French revolutionary army destroyed the old castle/fortress (we realised again how little we know of European history and the wars between the various states and provinces, which bear little resemblance to modern-day Europe). The journey to and from it was by cable car, with great views as it crossed over the Rhine and, on the return trip, of the whole of Koblenz (but we still thought the chair lift at Boppard was more intimate and dramatic).

Saint Alexius

We also visited quite a few churches and for the first time saw a large fresco of scenes from the life of Saint Alexius (the one who lived under the staircase in his parents house, unbeknown to them, doing good works, and whose name we first encountered in a little auberge restaurant St Alexis and chapel in Alsace). The fresco was in the Carmelite church in Boppard, which also had some magnificently carved choir stalls. In the nearby church of Saint Severus there were ceiling paintings as well as vibrant modern stained glass windows by a local artist.

Every morning started with a filling German breakfast at our Koblenz hotel (again close to the railway station and overlooking the bus station), though we were amazed by how much some of the portlier German guests could stuff in. Breakfast lasted us all day and by the evening we were usually too footsore to want to go far afield. So, apart from a good meze bar in the centre, the other evenings we ate at nearby at Greek, Italian and Croatian restaurants, at all of which the portions were still pretty large for those of us brought up on strict instructions to eat everything on your plate. The Croatian restaurant was especially good, and the chef even emerged to apologise to John as his sea bass, being rather large, was taking a long time to cook; it was skilfully filleted at the table and John happily ate it all. At the end a small glass of plum and pear liqueur unexpectedly appeared with the bill.

On the drive back to Entre-deux-Eaux on the Friday we stopped in Worms to see the Romanesque red stone cathedral, the museum’s Martin Luther room and the old Jewish cemetery. Once over the NE border of France (where the narrow, wooded German road turns into a wide French motorway), the heavens opened and rain pelted down. Helen inadvertently drove onto the new Strasbourg outer tolled bypass, guided by Waze (as she points out, that choice was not there last time we drove that way), but at least it avoided the busy inner bypass at rush hour.

Next day, back home, we agreed that we felt underwhelmed by the glories of the Romantic Rhine. Is increasing age (Helen is now rather self-conscious about that) responsible for an increasing loss of wonder? In Paris the funeral of Nahel Merzouk was held, and rioting continued at night.

During July we have settled back into the quiet of Entre-deux-Eaux and picked quantities of raspberries, loganberries, tayberries, blueberries and wild strawberries which had ripened in the heat while we were away. The vegetable patch, unlike the fruit cage, is sadly bare this year, with three beetroots, three courgettes, two squash and some straggling broad beans the only survivors of our various absences during dry weather conditions. It has continued to be hot here, with occasional heavy rain and storms, though it has been worse on the plains of Strasbourg, where our friends report up to 37°C in the shade. But still, fortunately, not as bad as the extreme temperatures that are being experienced by residents and holiday makers in southern Europe.

And, given the riots, were there any Bastille Day fireworks?. Various communes especially in Ile-de-France and le Nord cancelled their 14 July fireworks, but Paris went ahead with theirs around the Eiffel Tower. Next day newspapers triumphantly reported that in Paris and its suburbs there were only 62 fires (a drop on last year of 70%) and 53 arrests (an 80% drop) and that throughout France that night only 255 vehicle were set fire to (as opposed to 423 last year). Moreover only 7 police, gendarmes and firemen were injured compared to 21 in 2022.

Entre-deux-Eaux has its feasting, fair and fireworks on the evening of 13 July. At the end of a hot day we felt a bit apathetic about walking down to the village and standing around for ages, so stayed at home with the fan on, watching TV. But when we heard the first bangs, we went out on our balcony and saw a short, defiant display above the trees, which looked as if all the different fireworks had been set off simultaneously in one glorious multicoloured outburst. Next evening on the fête nationale itself, we responded to more bangs around 11pm by dashing again onto the balcony. In the opposite direction from the previous evening we could see Saint Leonard’s rather sedate sequence of fireworks. Entre-deux-Eaux’s, however brief, had definitely been more spectacular. From male voices down our road came a rather tuneless rendering of the Marseillaise.

a juvenile returns

New kestrels web site

I’ve now created a new web site 2023 – Kestrels in Entre-deux-Eaux which includes photographs, videos, links to three live webcams on YouTube, as well as links to the 2021 and 2022 web sites.

This is from one webcam. The male kestrel flies in and out of the nest three times trying to attract the female

Sunshine, amphitheatres and painted walls: three days in Lyon, January 2023

To download a printable PDF version (no pictures)
click on this link 
.pdf (four A4 pages)

There is a gallery of some photographs of Lyon
including a gallery of the frescoes we saw
There are also
clickable links in the text

Depressing leaden skies, muddy footpaths and puddles. The last of January’s festivities, galette des rois, champagne, dancing and lunch for the village elderly had taken place. Dull damp days lay ahead. We have never visited Lyon, so, on the spur of the moment, on Sunday, we researched hotels, packed clothes and set out to drive southwards through Monday’s snow showers for a change of scenery. We were also to benefit from a change of weather, for, although it remained cold, the sunshine was invigorating.

Lugdunum amphitheatre

We soon realised that our knees are not what they used to be. We had decided to work our way through Lyon’s history, and, of course, history starts with the Romans. One of the Roman sites in Lyon, Lugdunum, lies on the Fourvière hill above the Rhone and Saône. Fortunately the strike of some transport workers on that first full day, Tuesday, only slightly slowed our journey across town from our hotel by tram, metros and one of the two funiculars. We still take a childish pleasure in funicular rides. As we emerged from the tunnel, the expanse of the Roman theatre (the oldest in France) and adjacent odeon amazed us. Bright winter sunshine lit up the tiers of seats, and as we paused on our steep ascent of the amphitheatre and turned round, the concrete offices and apartments of modern Lyon basked in a soft lemon light below us. The brutalist concrete site museum buried in the hillside was as dramatic as the amphitheatre, and the finds of urns, sarcophagi, bronze inscriptions and mosaics were perfectly at home beneath the museum’s soaring concrete columns and arches.

Steps up to old townFrom the museum we walked up towards the Basilica Notre-Dame-de-Fourvière, searching, in vain, for coffee. The glittering mosaics of the basilica and a metal tower (an imitation of the Eiffel Tower) were no compensation for the lack of refreshments, apart from a very expensive restaurant. To add insult to injury, the other funicular station was closed, we assumed as part of the strike. So we set out to walk down the hill to the old town and its cafés. Our ageing knees soon gave way on a long steep flight of steps. When we finally got to the bottom of the hill, we sank gratefully onto chairs in a coffee shop in one of the fine renaissance buildings on Rue de Boeuf. Later, on the metro, we heard an announcement that funicular F2 line was closed because of a “technical incident”. The next day we noticed that the central cable had been removed, which would account for the lack of service!

On the second day, Wednesday, we explored the mediaeval and renaissance streets of the silk merchants in the old town at the foot of the Fourvière hill, with their enticing narrow, covered passageways (traboules) and courtyards behind heavy doors. We wandered into the renaissance buildings and hillside gardens of the powerful Gadagni Florentine bankers. A restored clock, l’horloge aux guignols, had been re-installed there and we watched the two puppets striking the hour. We continued along the Rue Juiverie from which the Jews had been expelled in the fourteenth century to be succeeded by wealthy Italian merchants and bankers. And suddenly we were at the incongruous small St Paul railway station. The enticing aromas from the bakery opposite the station lured us in for large pastries (savoury and sweet) and glasses of milky coffee. We walked on, drawn into St Paul’s church by the sweet recorded music. In an alley, we were accosted by a smoking restaurant worker who insisted that we should cross the footbridge over the Saône to the Presqu’ile and see the famous Fresque des Lyonnais.

Bookshop fresco

Our first glimpse was of a charming bookshop painted on a ground floor wall, but rounding the corner of the building, seven stunning storeys of painted wall opened up showing over thirty famous Lyonnais characters, including the Emperor Claude, the cinematographers Auguste and Louis Lumière, author Antoine de Saint Exupery and his Petit Prince, and chef Paul Bocuse. We returned to the old town to see the gothic cathedral of St Jean. Our explorations ended in the huge Place Bellecour, with its big wheel and its stalwart naked stone warrior guarding the plaque to resistance members shot there in 1944 by the Gestapo (whose headquarters were close). From there we caught the metro and then tram back to our hotel.

Cité idéale

Our apartment hotel (Otelia Gestetud) was in a modern block on the T2 tram route; there were few shops or restaurants nearby, but a large number of funeral parlours which were handy for the two large cemeteries and crematorium de la Guillotière on either side of the railway line. This may sound a grim location, but we found the hotel well staffed and equipped, clean and comfortable, and with parking below. At the beginning of the twentieth century the cemeteries lay on the edge of the city, with fields and farmland beyond. A forward-looking mayor and a local architect, Tony Garnier, who had visions of the Cité idéale with its separate industrial, hospital and hygienic housing areas, planned a large housing estate here in what became known in 1917 (after America’s entry in the war) as the États-Unis district. We decided to spend our last morning looking at the flats which (like social housing schemes in the UK) were so innovative for their first residents in the thirties. They have since been renovated, and in the nineties striking paintings were added to their blank end walls.

Cité idéale abbatoir fresco

In addition to the Fresque des Lyonnais which we had seen the previous day, we had also enjoyed the three striking frescoes of the Tower of Babel just beyond out hotel, so on Thursday we walked from Babel down the Boulevard des États-Unis to the Shanghai frescoes and then on to the wall paintings of the Cité idéale. The five-storey apartment blocks looked spacious, with their large balconies and garden walkways. They were originally designed as two-storey buildings but the mayor insisted the design was changed to four storeys and then sometime later another storey was added. The paintings on their end walls showed Tony Garnier’s plans and illustrations of his ideal city, and ideal cities in Egypt, India, Mexico, Quebec, the USA and the Ivory Coast by other artists. At the end of the development was a small park with attractively engraved quotations about resistance and liberty. Then, unexpectedly, we were in a thronging covered market, bright with shiny peppers, tomatoes, and colourful headscarves.

The T6 tram from the market passed the huge iron, glass and concrete abattoir created in 1914 by Tony Garnier. We had seen its airy interior depicted on one of the murals, with Lyon dignitaries and impeccably clean cattle (not a cow pat in sight). After falling into lengthy disuse, it was restored and is now used for concerts and sporting events. We also paused to look at frescoes commemorating the Mexican artist Diego Rivera, before catching a T1 tram across a curving bridge to the Musée des Confluences.

Musée des Confluences

Appropriately for a museum which included natural history exhibits like a mammoth skeleton and dinosaur eggs, the striking modern building looked from a certain angle like a crouching armour-plated prehistoric animal. We wandered through displays of juxtaposed artefacts from different times and places (bewildering for those of us who like our history to be chronological rather than thematic “magic” “eternities” or “societies: the human theatre”).

On the way back to our hotel, we looked at more of the frescoes on the other side of the Boulevard des Etats Unis and stopped at the tiny Musée urbain Tony Garnier which was now open, but our legs were by now too weary to linger too long over the fascinating twentieth century artefacts and film footage. We were glad to put our feet up in our hotel room before setting out for our last evening meal in Lyon.

Lyon is noted for its famous chefs and restaurants, but our trip was too last-minute to allow for booking any of them. Nevertheless, we enjoyed some varied meals. Many restaurants in France are closed on Monday so the choice was even more limited on our first evening. We walked into the Part-Dieu quarter north of our hotel, to the Asmara Eritrean restaurant, where we ate with our fingers, rolling assorted specialities in torn-off bits of injera (sour dough pancake).

Daniel & Denise bouchon

As all the trams were due to stop running at 20:30 on the second evening due to strikes, John bravely drove us to the old town through Lyon’s rush-hour busy streets. At one of the touristy bouchons (traditional Lyonnaise cuisine restaurants), Daniel et Denise, Helen was delighted to find old-fashioned red-and-cream checked tablecloths, and we ate traditional dishes like the pâté en croûte starter (which looks so like pork pie) and our main course of roast pork pluma and black sausage with roast potatoes and macaroni cheese, followed by apple Tarte Tatin or chocolate dessert. The following evening, groups of diners shivered outside the slightly more up-market Table 101 until Madame deigned to let us in. But the food was beautifully cooked and presented, so all was forgiven as we ate our way through a superior pâté en croûte or some dainty snail and sweetbread ravioli, followed by sturgeon or veal and then fancy desserts.

Poivron Bleu salade de pouple

The meals seemed to get better each evening, culminating at the Poivron Bleu. Helen thought this was going to be a posh place, but it turned out to be more of a convivial narrow passageway running back into the narrow kitchen, with two enthusiastic waiters and a chalkboard menu. Imagine the best prawn cocktail, substitute octopus, chick peas and lemon and curry gel for the prawns, and that was our salade de poulpe starter. The pork main course was delicious, and the desserts too. One of the waiters made a point of giving a long description of the making of the lemon cake dessert to everyone apart from us (why not us?) Was he also its proud creator? Chef rather than waiter?

It seemed a shame to leave on that sunny Friday morning. But we were given a reminder of places we had seen, as our satnav guided us along streets through the city centre which we had seen in the dark from trams and buses, then plunged us into a long tunnel (1.15 miles) all the way under the Roman remains on the Fourvière hill. The petrol station we were heading to closed as we got there (presumably for a petrol delivery), so we saw more of the far side of the hill before filling up elsewhere and joining the A6. As we drove northwards, the skies got greyer, and, would you believe it, the moment we passed sign announcing that we were back in our region, the Grand Est, the drizzle started.

However, the good news is that, during our absence, a young-looking (over a year old) male kestrel has returned to inspect their old quarters on the attic window sill. We have not previously seen one as early as January. So John is having to rush to reinstall their balcony extension and put the second camera in a better position. He thought he had a month or more ahead for renovation works!