According to Trevor, France is everything that people make it out to be and then some. Imagine breakfasting on warm croissants from the boulangerie every single day, and enjoying art museums. The Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Seine, culture, and great food. As Frank Zappa once said, “there is no hell in France”. The country’s long history lends itself to beautiful ruins, castles, architecture, and culture, but each time the Barrs have visited France the experience has been different.
However, he warns, traveling in France is second to none in expense in Europe. But, there are things to do in France without spending a lot of money. The Barr’s solution was to enjoy the smaller towns and purchasing their own food from the local merchants. The food in Europe is nothing like here Trevor explained. It’s fresh, and because there were many bread, cheese, and meat shops around, it was quite easy to enjoy delicious food on a budget. In fact, wine is cheaper than water.
The best way to get around France is via the high speed rail, and their first stop was Caen. If you haven’t studied your history books Caen is the capital of Lower Normandy and home to the Caen Memorial Museum. It is regarded as the best World War II museum in France and only 15 minutes away from the D-Day beaches. Trevor said the museum was amazing, and made the whole family proud to be Canadian. When they went to Juno Beach he said it gave him the chills just remembering the soldiers who valiantly fought on those very beaches on June 6, 1944.
The Egise St Pierre church on the south side of Caen was obliterated during the war and rebuilt. It was built in the 13th and 14th centuries, and there was an added addition in the early 16th century. The church is best known for its 245 foot tower whose spire was destroyed in 1944 during the war and then restored. It is across the road from the Caen Castle which mostly was destroyed in WW2, but the ruins were preserved. In a footnote – at the end of the bombing in WW2, the civil population of Caen had fallen from 60,000 to 17,000. After an emotional journey to Caen, next on the list was the town of Foix.
Trevor described Foix, which is situated at the base of the Pyrenees mountains, as similar to a painting that Walt Disney might have created. It is a circular town built around the Foix castle that stands at the junction of the rivers Arget and Ariege. The Chateau de Foix was built in the 10th century as a stronghold for the Counts that ruled the Bearn area. It is also home to 11th-century church and narrow streets lined with medieval, half-timbered houses. In Foix lies the popular sub terrain river of Labouiche – the longest underground navigable river in Europe -and the Lombrive Caves which form an impressive limestone subterranean gallery. The Barrs spent 3-4 days there enjoying the locals (with very few tourists) and said it was 30-40% cheaper than visiting the larger towns. As his kids were in french immersion they played in soccer games with the local kids and made a lot of friends. One thing he kept mentioning during the interviews was that they never worried about their children during their travels. I found that so refreshing and wonderful.
On the way to Andorra la Vella, still in the Pyrenees, the next stop was what one would call the ‘Aspen of France’. Ax-les-Thermes is a ski resort/spa town well known for its sulfurous hot springs first developed in the 1300s by King Louis to treat soldiers returning from the crusades afflicted with leprosy. The Bassin des Ladres (lepers’ pond) still sits in the center of town where you can soak your feet in the warm waters for free. It is approved for the treatment of rheumatism and sequelae of trauma and the treatment of respiratory tract. Would you believe there’s never any ground snow in the winter as the hot springs flows beneath the pavement of this ancient city.
If you journey by train the average journey time between Ax-les-Thermes and Barcelona is 6 hours and 42 minutes but the Barrs decided to take the bus and head to Andorra La Vella next. Andora La Vella is actually a luxury town retailing duty- free electronic and designer goods. Pretty odd for a town that Trevor called a pinprick between France and Spain. Each day was a new experience for them as they never had fixed plans. They were travelers not tourists. A traveler just reads a map and goes. Stay tuned next week for more of their “9 sets of luggage” journey.
Author’s Note– It is one thing to write about something and do research as you go along, but after I saw Trevor’s pictures I shook. When I saw the pictures of Caen and Juno life became so real.
“June 6, 1944 the 3rd Canadian Division landed on Juno beach. It was time to payback the Germans for the slaughter at the Dieppe raid two years earlier. At the end of D-day the Canadian forces proved that they could fight along side the Americans and British and teach the Wehrmacht a lesson.
Bagpipes played their eerie sound as the Royal Highland Regiment left the harbour in England. They played the pipes on the transports as they rocked up the shore. They bagpipes howled as the Black Watch hit Juno Beach The bagpipes gave a simple message to the Germans defending Juno beach: we are crazy, we are coming, and you are going to die.”