Saturday, 9 August 2008

1: Salut from Lyon!

In the end I didn't need to utilise my midwifery skills when I stayed with Trisha the night before catching the ferry to France. The good news is that I got a text message yesterday morning in the hills above Lyon that Trisha and John had a baby girl - Charlie Eilish Moore - last Thursday morning, so congratulations Trisha and John and bon courage avec parenthood!

Following a very bountiful 'full Irish' breakfast I left Trisha's two weeks ago today and took the 20 hour sailing from Rosslare over to Cherbourg. From there I headed via the Normandy D-day landing beaches across Normandy and after a few days I joined the river Loire in Orleans and then followed it upstream to Roanne in central France. I then left the relative flatness of the Loire to cross over to Lyon and the Rhone valley to take a couple of days off the bike and catch up with a couple of friends. Following an exceptionally hot couple of days in Normandy, rain and thunderstorms have been a pretty consistent feature of the trip so far, but this is often more welcoming than the hot sun, especially on the hills.

In Normandy I happened to follow a route that retraced the allied advance into that region after the D-day landings on 6th June 1944. It's still a very humbling experience for me to witness these sites that have now overgrown the destruction and death that once took place here, and to visit the cemeteries where the dead are buried, almost always young guys several years younger than myself. You are also aware, however, that in such situations it is always the victors who get to immortalise their dead and I wonder what efforts have been made to help the German families remember there dead youngsters too? Similarly, in the British military cemetery at St. Charles de Percy, I was reminded how often the contribution of Irish soldiers to the Allied cause was overlooked at a time when the Irish government and, in particular, the then prime minister De Valera, was trying to maintain a facade of neutrality. I recalled that it has only been in the very recent past that WW2 veterans in Ireland have been officially supported in their memorial services. Many of the headstones bore Irish surnames and in the cemetery registry book several of the dead soldiers had addresses in the Irish Republic, these just representing one small part of the numbers who perished during the war.

Just before reaching Lyon I managed to meet up with Celine, a friend from Dublin, and her wonderful family at her mother's farm near the village of Montrottier in the hills above Lyon. They were all about to head back to Ireland the following morning but I had a great evening re-learning how to socialise and maintain conversations for more than five minutes. Celine's parents met when her father Brian came over from Ireland to work on the farm during the summer holidays, picking strawberries and then tobacco later in the season. Times have changed, however, in many of these small farming areas and of the eleven farms that used to exist in the valley, only three can now operate on a full-time basis, with these three farms renting the land of the other farms that have gone out of operation. The beauty of these rural areas can conceal the difficulty that people have in finding employment and continuing to live there. In addition, there is the familiar pressure of people moving in from outside the area, buying properties to use for just a couple of weeks a year, thereby forcing local people out of the housing market.

Apart from Orleans, which I passed through on an empty wet Sunday afternoon, Lyon is the first city that I've stopped in or indeed gone through whilst in France. So I've been making the most of visiting local watering holes and enjoying urban features, including this internet cafe, as it has been surprisingly hard to access the internet in rural France, even in decent sized towns. Well I'll go now and make the most of it before leaving tomorrow for Le Puy en Velay and the start of the Camino de Santiago.
Lyon, France
Trip distance: 1106km

1 comment:

Alastair and Merle said...

Amaziong trip and the photographs are outstanding
Hope that the rest of your trip goes well,I believe you are going to Mauritania
Best Wishes
Merle and Alastair
PS Gavin has posted your poles