We drove from Saint Quentin down to our next destination, a tiny village in Normandy near (ish) to D-Day stuff and Mont San Michel (actually turns out we are not really near to either, but geography be gone). Rural France is strange. Firstly, there are many, many signs that indicate leaping deer. On a yellow diamond sign there is a picture of a leaping deer and then the number of kilometres we might expect this phenomenon to occur (14 kilometres and so on). But in all the kilometres we have done, and all the signs we have seen, we are yet to see any deer like, leaping or otherwise. Sad. Indeed, everything is so incredibly groomed and furrowed as far as the eye can see, it would be hard for anything to leap about in rural France without a permit and perhaps a day pass. I think Australians see landscapes as often 'empty' - the proverbial wilderness. Here there is no wilderness. There is only industry and organisation. Everything here feels known.
The second thing about the French countryside in November is that we drove passed many, many field that were plowed and then piled up beside the field was a huge mound of what looked like potatoes or turnips. We wondered if it was either the food that had just been plowed, or what is about to be put into the ground. But this was repeated multiple times as we drove west through the landscape. Zelda began chanting 'potatoes' when she saw a pile (and this was intersperced with 'cow' when she saw a cow and so on).
And lastly, in my vast experience of rural France, there are few people here. In England, the little villages were heaving with people walking about. Here, it is empty of people. You might (though not on a Sunday or Monday when - we discovered - EVERYTHING is shut) see an older person stumbling down the road with a walking stick on their way to the shop. but that is it. It is a landscape utterly without people.
We sped around the outskirts of Paris and then out into Normandy. Verneuil sur Avre is not far from Paris - about an hour - and we chugged into the village at about two. And there, sitting behind a large wall, was the sweetest cottage and it is all ours for one week. We were very hospitably greeted by the owner who showed us the layout, left us chocolate and butter, and then departed. We walked around the village, bought pastries from a charming girl who had no English to our no French but we managed to buy most of what she was selling. I cooked my first dinner in a French kitchen and I couldn't have been more delighted. I channeled Elizabeth David and MFK Fisher and wished I had bought them along with me (you can only carry so many books, particularly ones you have read before). Everything was perfect ('You cook better in France,' said Paris. God love him.) I'm wondering how we can ever leave.
We were all woken periodically by the bells that ring from the Gothic cathedral outside our window. It was a pleasure. I have tried to take multiple pictures of what we see outside our windows but somehow the camera can't capture it. You have to take my word for it.
I have attached photos of the children on the River Cam in Cambridge, the family walking through WWI trenches in Beautmont Hamel and me cooking my first French dinner.