Oradour-sur-Glane

26th May 2022

My posts on this blog are generally very lighthearted as I always try to look on the funny side of life, and always try to have a laugh whenever I can.

However whilst travelling in France this year I saw a road sign to Oradour-Sur-Glane, a name I had heard of from a documentary on television and so I decided to pay a visit.

The photos that you see are those that I took on my visit but the words are copied from the Oradour.info website as I didn’t want to make any mistakes with something as serious as this. It makes for some very grim reading.

10th June 1944

Towards the end of the Second World War, in a peaceful part of Vichy, France, there took place the war crime of the particularly horrible murder of 642 men, women and children. (There is the possibility that the true death toll could be higher than this figure, say 643, or 644, due to the likelihood of some very young babies not being included in the original total).

On the 10th of June 1944, a group of soldiers from the Der Führer regiment of the 2nd SS-Panzer Division, Das Reich, entered and then surrounded the village of Oradour-sur-Glane, near to the city of Limoges in the Haute Vienne Department of France. 

At first, they told the Mayor, Jean Desourteaux, that there was to be an identity check and that everyone must assemble on the Champ de Foire (fairground) whilst this took place. After rounding up all the inhabitants that they could find, the SS then changed their story from that of an identity check, to one of searching for hidden arms, explosives and prohibited merchandise. The soldiers then said that whilst they searched for the arms, the women and children must wait in the church and the men in nearby barns.

The women and children were marched off to the church, the children being encouraged by the soldiers to sing as they went. After they had left, the men were divided into six groups and led off to different barns in the village under armed guard. When the people were all safely shut away the SS began to kill them all.

A large gas bomb, seemingly made out of smoke-screen grenades and probably intended to asphyxiate the occupants, was placed in the church, but it did not work properly when it went off and so the SS had to use machine guns and hand grenades to disable and kill the women and children. After they had subdued all the occupants of the church, the soldiers piled wood on the bodies, many of whom were still alive, and set it on fire.

Only one person managed to escape alive from the church and that was Madame Rouffanche. She saw her younger daughter who was sitting next to her killed by a bullet as they attempted to find shelter in the vestry. Madame Rouffanche then ran to the altar end of the church where she found a stepladder used to light the candles. Placing the ladder behind the altar she climbed up and threw herself through a window and out onto the ground some 10 feet below. As she picked herself up, a woman holding her baby tried to follow, but they were seen by the soldiers and both woman and child were killed. In spite of being shot and wounded five times, Madame Rouffanche escaped round the back of the church and dug herself into the earth between some rows of peas, where she remained hidden until late the next day.

 At the same time that the gas bomb exploded in the church, the SS fired their machine guns into the men crowded in the barns. They deliberately fired low, so that many of the men were badly wounded but not killed. The soldiers then piled wood and straw on the bodies and set it alight, many of the men thus burned to death, unable to move because of their injuries. Six men did manage to escape from Madame Laudy’s barn, but one of them was seen and shot dead, the other 5, all wounded, got away under cover of darkness.

 Whilst these killings were taking place, the soldiers searched the village for any people who had evaded the initial roundup and killed them where they found them. One old invalid man was burned to death in his bed and a baby was baked to death in the local boulangerie’s ovens, other people were killed and their bodies thrown down a well. People who attempted to enter the village to see what was going on, were shot dead. A local tram which arrived during the killings was emptied of passengers, who after several terrifying minutes were let go in peace.

After killing all the villagers that they could find, the soldiers set the whole village on fire and early the next day, laden with booty stolen from the houses, they left.

The soldiers then journeyed on up through France to Normandy and joined the rest of the German army in attempting to throw the allied invasion back into the sea. Many of them, including Sturmbannführer Adolf Diekmann, who had led the attack on Oradour-sur-Glane, were killed in the Normandy battles

What has fascinated people ever since the 10th of June 1944, is why did the SS act as they did? Why did they turn up at Oradour that day and without mentioning anything to the inhabitants, kill them all? That a few people survived the attack was not due to any lack of zeal on the part of the SS, but why did they do it?

There had never been any obvious Resistance activity in the village, the Germans had never been attacked by the inhabitants and after the killings were over the SS left without saying why they had done it to anyone at all. If the attack had been a reprisal for some violence towards the German occupying forces, it would be normal for the Germans to say (loudly) to all the local population, ‘that’s what you get when you help the Resistance, let that be a lesson to you all!’. But they did not, they carried out the operation and left without giving any explanation to anyone at all. 

We should all learn from the historic evils of war……..but here we are 78 years later and it’s Russia who’s at it this time!

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France May 2022

Covid had prevented us from visiting our favourite caravanning destination, France, so it was with great anticipation and excitement that we hitched up the caravan for the long journey down the M27 to Portsmouth.

We took an overnight crossing to St Malo and then a days’ drive to the île d’Oléron where we were to meet up with our friends Kevin and Maggie, whomoved over to France before the pandemic to start a new life!

It was a lovely place to celebrate my birthday, plenty of great seafood and quaffable wine!

However I did get a bit of a surprise when I ordered a glass of red wine! (A ‘vin rouge’ for those who don’t speak French!)

After 4 days of taking in the sights, sounds and tastes of the seaside we headed inland to see Kevin and Maggie’s new place in the heart of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine countryside. The nearest town is Melle.

It’s huge, and there was plenty of room to park our caravan for the next part of the trip.

One of our day trips took us to Verteuil-sur-Charente where Kevin had seen James Martin (the T.V chef) trying some of the local delicacies. One in particular was the brioche, which we sampled along with a cup of coffee on the banks of the river. It was unlike any other brioche we had tasted, similar in consistency to lardy cake and absolutely delicious.

We had a walk around the charming town before meeting up with a couple of Kevin and Maggie’s friends and having a lovely long lunch at a local bistro (not the one pictured) which we later found out was run by an Englishman.

We did a fair bit of al fresco dining whilst we were here. Kevin has a healthy appetite and loves to cook. One of his favourite dishes is pizza and he has a small pizza oven outside in the “hanger” just in case anyone is passing and fancies a quick hot and spicy! Here we are in the lovely outside open barn area (the “hanger”)!

Another day trip took us to Cognac, a lovely town to visit. Neither of us like brandy so the only bottle I purchased was a chilled water! The park was very peaceful and wouldn’t have normally been a place we would visited if it hadn’t been for looking for a geocache!

It looks like Maigret is in town!

Kev’s reputation amongst the expat community has spread far and wide, and he volunteered his services (and mine!) to provide evening sustenance at a local wedding!

It didn’t seem like long before we were heading back to St Malo for our return crossing We had a little heart-stopping moment when the satnav took us down a VERY narrow road on a peninsula It was so narrow that I had to unhitch and turn the caravan around using the motor mover…….just the thing you don’t want after an eight hour drive!

We always like to spend a couple of days close to the port before going home as it’s such a fascinating place with so much to see.

We, or should I say I, even found time for a little bit of geocaching in the boat graveyard!

The gardens of a nearby Chateau were free for us to wander around and admire all the wild flowers

St Malo is a beautiful walled town that is often bypassed by people driving off the ferry and continuing on to their ultimate destinations. We love it and are always greeted by great views when we stroll along the ramparts.

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Dominican Republic

Amber Cove

As already mentioned in a previous bog, as soon as most people get of the ship the first thing they do is look for a bar or cafe with free Wi-Fi. Some stay there all day, but I don’t have the right constitution for drinking all day long, although I have tried on many occasions but always failed dismally!

Today we were at Amber Cove which is a purpose-built cruise terminal in the Dominican Republic. It’s a bit like Disneyland without Mickey Mouse but with more clothes and souvenir shops!

I thought Jane might have looked a little bit happier than this at the prospect of a bit more shopping!

We had booked a tour from the ship entitled Puerto plata and the beach. 

Our first stop was Puerto Plata and this was an interesting place with a history going back to Christopher Columbus, but despite all that it was the dancing donkey that I liked the best!

Feed the birds tuppence a bag…….well 2 pesos actually!

It’s hot work being a tourist, and fresh coconut milk really quenches the thirst. What do you think of the shirt…may be a little too subtle?

The beach was to be the final stop on our tour today.

A meal was served  as soon as we got there and then it was time for a swim……..not too sure if they got that the right way round!

It was very windy and with the waves crashing on the shore it was ideal for kite surfing, but a little more difficult for a swim. 

Mind you it was great fun and very refreshing. Then it was time for a lay down on a sun bed and a chance to get lightly roasted. With the wind and the sun it was a little like being in a convection oven. I’m writing this on the way back to the ship in an air-conditioned coach and I can sure feel like I’ve overdone it today!

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St Maarten

Day 5

The small island of St Maarten is half Dutch and half French. We were visiting the Dutch side and we were berthed in Philipsburg. To be honest I don’t think we made the most of our visit here, our last couple of days had been very busy so we decided not to book a tour and just mooch about by ourselves.  We decided to have a later start and then wander into town for a look around the shops (Jane’s idea not mine!) There were, however, 5 other cruise ships in at the same time as us and everything was packed!

Philipsburg is quite a small town with some lovely old buildings and I expect it would be very restful if it wasn’t for all the other ships!

However, the bars and restaurant owners were pleased to see the influx of holiday makers after the forced shut-down caused by the pandemic. There were so many people queuing for seats in restaurants for meals, and to use their free WI-FI, that it was far from the Caribbean ideal!

The standard of graffiti on the walls here was on another level than I’m used to in the UK, it certainly added to the charm of this place!

When we ventured a bit further from the centre of town it got a lot quieter and the beach was almost empty. This was the place I choose for my swim and the water was just lovely!

At the end of the day there was a bit of a traffic jam as the ships set sail for their next ports of call. I hoped they weren’t all going to be the same one again!

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St Kitts.

Day 4

St Kitts Rainforest discovery 

Our transportation for today was another truck with bench seats, this one however was a little more luxurious as it had seat belts which were really needed just to keep you from sliding all over the place!

We had a great guide who was not only knowledgeable but great fun too. 

The ship berthed at a purpose built cruise terminal so there were plenty of shops and bars with free wi-fi, so I took full advantage of the bars and wi-fi and Jane had a good look around the shops!

Our tour to the rainforest started at the ruins of the Wingfield sugar plantation.

The gardens were full of colour and they certainly were a welcome change from the dreary grey that we had left behind only a few days before!

We saw a demonstration of “Batik” fabric printing, which produces the most vibrantly coloured fabrics and takes a great deal of time. Consequently the fabrics were very expensive, so it was just as well that our luggage allowance for the plane back wouldn’t allow us to buy any to take home!!

An example of the local “Batik” fabric printing, I think it’s of some chap called Bob Marley, I’m not sure if you have ever heard of him?

This little fellow was keeping his eye on what was going on around him…….too many people about!

After our look around the old plantation house and gardens we then headed on in to the rain forest. Our guide pointed out many different trees, birds and animals along the way. I didn’t manage to get any photos of the monkeys or the humming birds as they moved too quickly but I did get a few shots of the trees as they were a little slower. Jane was the first to see a monkey and at first I wasn’t sure that she had, “Then I saw here face and now I’m a believer”!

We had to cross many raging rivers on our tour, sometimes swinging on vines and other times fording across waist deep as the water cascaded around us!

I saw this tree but funnily enough I decided not to enquire any further!

This was our mode of transport on the day, the journey back to the ship was more fun and carefree than the trip here as we had sampled a whole bottle of the local rum that was made here on the plantation, mixed with a little fruit punch!!

We stopped at another bar on the way back to the ship just to try one more of those rum punches……they are the main reason that these blogs are getting to you now, way way way after the event!

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Caribbean Cruise 2022

(We are back home now and have access to good, fast, free WI-FI, so this is being written retrospectively)

Barbados

Days 1 and 2

Gatwick/Barbados 

We still had one more test to pass and then we would be on our way to Barbados.  We had already taken a PCR test the day before at Eastleigh football ground as this was required for Barbados immigration, and now it was time for the P&O lateral flow test so we could  “ bubble up” to catch the flight and then board the Azura. 

We passed, we were good to go….. the holiday could begin!

The flight was only 8 1/2 hours but the difference in the weather was huge, we left a cold grey rainy Gatwick and arrived in to a very warm Barbados. 

As we had already done all the customs and Covid checks at Gatwick we were able to get straight off the plane and right onto the bus that was waiting on the runway, and then drive directly to the ship. 

The drive from the ship was an experience……. and not necessarily one I’d like to repeat…….very loud  reggae music, no air conditioning, and no suspension (I must be getting old!)

We had the next day in Barbados, enough time to get over the jet-lag, have a look around and pop into Woolworths to get some tonic for my duty-free gin !

I’m not sure it’s the best way to start a cruise……with a tight T-shirt! Maybe I should listen to Jane a bit more and eat a fraction less!

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Time To Go Home

All good things have to come to an end and after having spent 5 lovely weeks in Spain it was time to say goodbye to the sunshine and head for the cold at home.

We planned our route home so that we could pop in and visit Jane’s cousins Janice and William, and Williams wife Selina, who have all recently moved to the Spanish town of Pego, which is not far from Valencia. It was great to catch up with them all and to see their lovely new home. It was also great to have local guides who could show us around the area and take us to the best restaurants!

After a great family catch-up it was time for us to head up north to Santander so that we could catch the ferry home. It took me by surprise how quickly the weather changed as we turned inland and it wasn’t long before we found ourselves surrounded by snow as we were climbing to Teruel, the high spot of our journey back. I found this slightly disconcerting as I had never towed in the snow before, but thank goodness the roads were kept clear and there were plenty of snow ploughs on hand. We managed to get to our overnight stop in Zaragoza without too much trouble!

When we arrived in Zaragoza the skies were clear but it was bloody cold. We stopped in the middle of the city in a municipal campsite, I think we need to return here and explore a bit further……but when it’s warmer!

After a long 12 hour journey we eventually made it to Santander. It shouldn’t have taken us that long but we had a few problems finding a campsite, the one we had originally planned to stay at turned out to be too high in the hills and with snow forecast we both thought it better that we miss this one out and get closer to the city. Our next choice turned out to have closed several years earlier…..which we only found out when we got there! Our next option was a grass pitch on an exposed headland which we had visited previously, and as by this time the wind was getting up to gale force so we thought this wouldn’t be a good idea. We were beginning to worry that we might not be able to find a safe place with power to spend our last night in Spain………but Jane turned up trumps after a furious bit of Googling….. and we got the last space (in the car park) on a site just out of town. We both slept well that night!

The next morning we could see from our window that the see was looking a bit rough which didn’t bode well for our 30 hour crossing to Portsmouth that afternoon, the vast majority of the journey being across the Bay of Biscay…………

We arrived at the port early at midday for our 3.30pm sailing. Normally arriving that early means that you can get on board pretty quickly and are you able to enjoy a meal before the ship sets sail………. on this occasion that didn’t happen. I think with all the extra checks that COVID has brought to us the check-in took us much longer, with many vehicle being turned away. It also didn’t help that we had bikes on our roof making us just that fraction too tall to get on the higher decks so we were one of the last cars to be boarded as we had to go on the bottom deck…………We had been sat in the car in the cold for nearly 3 hours by now, only moving a couple of car lengths at a time, stop start, stop start, so when we finally got the signal for us to get on board…….disaster….. we had a flat battery……..panic…….we were now the last car on the dock……what to do? Luckily we managed to get a jump start from a P&O van………Thank god!!!!!

As for the crossing, it was a bit rough but after a good meal of Beef Bourgignon and chips, accompanied with a few G&Ts, we managed to ride out the storm…….In fact the only problem we had was the mayonnaise incident……but that’s another story!

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Next Stop Los Madrille……

Time to move on. We had planned to spend half our trip in Pinar San Jose (a campsite in Zahora, near Barbate), ,on the Atlantic coast and the other half in Camping Los Madriles which is in a lovely village called Isla Plana, on the Mediterranean coast. However, the weather in Pinar was so good we thought me might as well spend the whole time there. Although the weather started well, the trees that provide a lovely shade during the height of summer worked against us in the beginning of the Spanish winter. We decided, as we knew the campsite in Isla Plana was more open, that it would be well worth the 2-day drive to get a little more sunshine around the caravan (or at least Jane did)!

The quieter roads disappear as soon as you get down level with Gibraltar and you are faced with the Spanish version of the M25 as you pass Algeciras, Marbella and Malaga, which is always fun when towing!

At least when you find a rest spot they come with great views!

Our overnight stop was in the small resort of Motril and the campsite was just over the road from the beach. The only problem with having the sea so close at hand is that the campsite was very tight to manoeuvre in with quite a lot of trees to watch out for, and the pitches were very small!

But after a long drive it was very handy to walk across the road for an evening stroll along the beach.

Los Madrilles……..borders of bougainvillaea and nice wide open pitches with a view of the sea……….

It’s a lot less windy here and in consequence a lot easier when riding your bike. A perfect opportunity to do a little more Geocaching……..Jane thinks I take a few too many risks whilst I’m climbing over the rocks in search of there caches, but in reality she knows that I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to hurting myself so she doesn’t moan too much!

Sometimes the tracks are a little too rough for cycling……….

But the views are always worth it when you get to the top!

This part of Spain is more popular with the British, and consequently they are well catered for. I managed to get my hands on a couple of life’s basic necessities, which due to Brexit we can’t now bring over with us…..

Jane thought that my new sun hat was a little on the large size!

We took a trip in to Cartagena, and it was only when we got there that Jane told me she wanted to spend the day shopping……she took this picture of me by the statue of another man that didn’t want to go shopping!

The Ventura was in port whilst we were there so the shops were even busier than normal!

A great sunset on our way back from shopping, and as I was good Jane bought me a cake for behaving myself!

I’m not too sure of the story of this area which has been barred from all motorised traffic, but there is a lovely coastal walk past many deserted and crumbling buildings. It was once a community with houses, farms, barns and villas, and our only thoughts were that it must have been too expensive to maintain the crumbling infrastructure. It was a lovely walk, though, and with the added bonus of a few Geocaches along the way. (Mind you there were a few I couldn’t find, so next time I’ll have to bring along someone with a lot older and far wiser head on his shoulders ……….Kev Heard…..)

A Sunday morning cycle ride in to the nearby town of Mazarron to get the papers and have a full English……….lovely!

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Sherry Sherry Baby……

Jerez

The last time we were in this area we didn’t get chance to see a couple of their world renowned attractions. The first thing we booked up on our return this time was a trip to the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art to see the famous dancing horses.

We weren’t disappointed ……

The venue was stunning and such a beautiful place to showcase the skills of these horses and their trainers!

The arena was less than half full so we managed to get a seat with a good view………this photo reminds me of a children’s T.V series in the 60’s but I can’t quite remember the name…..I’m sure it had a very catchy theme tune though!

After the show we drove in to the centre of Jerez for a spot of lunch and to find where our tour of the Gonzalas Byass bodegas started……..

We found a convenient underground car park in the centre of the old town and when you emerged from the subterranean parking you were treated with some stunning buildings ………….

And luckily enough there was a sign on the wall which pointed us in the right direction…………..

Not far now………we walked through these gates only to be told that the visitors entrance is around the corner……….

Once inside we had a very knowledgeable English-speaking guide who took us through the many bodegas…………

And through what were once the streets of Jerez……….

But have now long since been taken over by the Gonzalez Byass company. The vines cover the streets keeping it nice and cool in the summer.

The old tasting/quality control room has been left just as Jane left it 10 minutes before!

There is a room full of casks that have been signed by the rich and famous over the years…..Bobby Charlton, The Duke of Edinburgh and Orson Well just to name a diverse few!

Mice are aplenty down here, and this little ladder has been placed by the side of a sherry glass so that they can get a little taster before they go to bed! A selection of photos on the wall show where the mice have actually used this ladder, but unfortunately none came out to pose for me!

“Well that concludes the tour”, said the guide, “follow me to the bar and we will see about getting you a taste”, and what sounded like a stampede overtook me to get to their seats first!

So in the end we got to taste the product. I was driving so I only took a little sip out of each of the 4 varieties that they served for us. That left Jane had to finish off nearly 8 glasses………….. !!!

And she wouldn’t pose for a photo afterwards so I have reenacted one for you for dramatic effect!

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Another Busy Day or Two…..

These days when I wake up early I don’t have the hassle of having to drive in to Southampton and open up the shop….now I’m lucky enough to be able to do or go wherever the fancy takes me, and when you are this close to a beautiful long deserted beach you just have to make the most of it!

This particular morning it was my great pleasure to catch half a dozen horses going at full gallup along the surfs edge! In this photo the horses are just about visible, but by the time I got my phone ready all that was left were the hoof prints in the sand!

We have taken a few trips slightly further afield to explore some more of the Pueblos Blancos (white villages) of Andalusia. The village above is Arcos de la Frontera which we visited on a bright but slightly chilly day

It’s amazing to think that the picture on the left shows one of the main roads of the village. Thank goodness we parked outside and walked up, even though it was quite hard work!

We visited Medina Sidonia on a grey rather chilly day so we didn’t see it at its best…..mind you the tapas was rather nice even if we did get a bit wet whilst eating it!

The starting point of one of our walks along the cliff tops of Barbate was the little village of Los Caños de Meca, and we walked along the beach watching the surfers preparing for their day’s enjoyment. I was going to try belly boarding but Jane didn’t seem to think there would be a board big enough for my belly!

The walk up to the cliffs was challenging but well worth the effort once you got there, I think the trees looked like big bunches of broccoli…just saying!

After a long walk and carrying a rucksack full of Jane’s food and her various layers of clothing……….

Its time for a little light refreshment……with a view…….

This guy was out fishing when we started our walk and was still hard at it some 3 hours later!

After all the previous day’s hard exertions, the next afternoon we decided to go down to the beach and read our books. Whilst we were there this chap came riding past on a white horse, he was having terrible problems making it continue with their journey as every time a wave came in the poor horse stopped!

So at the end of another hard day reading and sitting on the beach watching white horses, it was time to visit the local bar and watch the sun slip slowly into the sea…….

Catching a glimpse of the Trafalgar Lighthouse hard at work………….

…. before seeing what Netflix has to offer!

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