Warning – these first two sections are a bit of a rant! Skip to section 3 for the nice bit!! Our first booking to go to France to see my Mum and Step-father, Alan, in April 2020 all seemed so simple until Covid and Brexit meant that a degree was required or gymnastic qualification to get through the metaphorical hoops put in our way.
The April 2020 flights were cancelled and we optimistically rescheduled them for October 2020. Wrong!! Once again flights were cancelled and travel to France only allowed for exceptional circumstances. We missed a small window of time when travel was allowed then the Autumn lockdown meant we were now rebooked for April 2021. Wrong!!! 13th September 2021 was the next red letter day and Jon was jettisoned from the travel plans to keep the testing costs down a touch.
We had both learnt a whole new vocabulary whilst researching the ever changing restrictions and guidelines: Amber/Red countries, Passenger Locator Forms, Sworn Statements, pre-departure Polymerase Chain Reaction Test (PCR), NHS Covid Pass, Travel Insurance, TousAntiCovid App, Day 2 return PCR and surgical mask. Then there is the Brexit Proof of Accommodation paperwork which you may or may not be asked for. Gone are the days of just a passport, boarding pass and EHIC card.
The French just being French?
All through these travel restrictions and cancellations my Mum and Alan, both in their mid 80s, kept healthy so it was a tricky balance to judge the best time so that we did not inadvertently take the virus to their very rural door. The French vaccine rollout had also been appallingly slow.
Eventually, after a lot of visits to a totally unstaffed vaccination centre with locked doors, they had their first vaccine in April 21 only a few weeks before we had our first dose and we were way down the UK vaccine rollout list in comparison. Scepticism of the AstraZeneca vaccine and supposedly the UK pinching all the vaccines were the French Government excuses. More like horrendous bureaucracy – her eventual appointment took more than an hour to administer. How efficient were the UK in comparison?
Now I have got that out of my system I can focus on the trip itself. Chauffeured to the airport by Jon, I was feeling very spoilt but equally sad to say goodbye. He is always 100% supportive when I need to head off alone but admits that he feels hopeless when I’m away. A few long overdue visits to see some cousins and lunch with some close long standing friends, Keith and Nicola, would hopefully alleviate some of the hopelessness. As for me, I seemed to have all the correct bits and bobs to get through to the very empty departure lounge.
After weaving my way through the very irritating World Duty Free shopping I was met by a very handsome and polite Easyjet Cabin Manager, also know as our son, Ryan. Lucky me!! I constantly badger him to try and get on any flights I have so that I can have that proud Mum moment but the nearest he could get on the day was a departure 15 minutes later than mine from the next gate. He would be flying in our slip stream to Madrid.
It was lovely to see him and get a hug, even though all the other passengers wondered who the hell I was to get a personal escort. The gate staff also looked a bit freaked out in case he was doing some sort of mystery shopper assessment.
My Mum had insisted on picking me up at the airport but promised not to come into the airport. Too many potential Covid carriers. A quick pick up in the car park and before we knew it we were at a very nice rest area 25 minutes outside Toulouse eating the biggest Cornetto in the world. Who knew they did them?
About another half an hour and we were in the pretty little village they live in, St Antoine.
A Little Bit of This and A Little Bit of That
I had a 10 day stay and the priority was to spend time with both my Mum and Alan who had lacked family visits for such a long while. They are both really active but I also like to help out where I can so splashed a bit of paint around, created havoc in the greenhouse and dug up all the annual plants which were on their last legs.
This left plenty of time to rummage through knitting patterns and material with Mum and marvel at Alan’s 3D printer. By following tutorials he is now proficient and can print small parts for his model boat building. He is currently working on a hovercraft.
Pilgrim Route Santiago De Compostela
The tiny village of St Antoine takes its name from the Antonine monks who settled here in 1146. In 1176 a hospital was built to treat patients of Ardent Fever which was caused by a fungal disease in rye which ferments and poisons the flour. It causes burns, gangrene and hallucinations. The village lies on the most southerly pilgrim route through France to Santiago de Compostela on the west coast of northern Spain. Every morning a varying amount of walkers, doing sections of the route, hike through the village wielding cameras, backpacks and hiking poles to take pictures of the chateau and church.
The Scallop Shell is an iconic symbol of the pilgrim route and is used as a marker to direct walkers. The village also has the a variety of walking boot flower baskets as a novel welcome.
A Solo JWalk along the Santiago de Compostella
On my last day I managed to don the walking shoes to walk to the next village along the pilgrim route. Flamarens is around 6 km away and with beautiful weather I headed off. It is a walk Jonno and I have done together before so it made me miss his company even more. The views and colours were amazing and kind residents along the trail put out coffee and cakes for weary travellers a small donation. On one section there is even a little shack to shelter from the rain, or in my case the sun and these types of things are scattered all along the 1200 km route.
Cheerio ! I’ll be back soon!
Fingers crossed it will be sooner than the 2 years it took me this time. Thankfully all my tests were negative – it would have filled me with dread and guilt if any of my tests had been positive. Flights are already booked for 2022 so here we go again! Get those JWalking hoop jumping shoes at the ready!
13/09 – 23/09/2021