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Brian's Diary
Life in Geneva and other places
Easter Sunday provided the opportunity for a community outing so I planned a visit to the more than 900 year old Carthusian monastery and museum of Grande Chartreuse. The monastery was founded by St Bruno in 1084 in a remote mountain location between Chambery and Grenoble, about a 2-hour drive from Gaillard. We set off at 9:00 and despite a couple of wrong turns in Chambery we reached the museum at around 11:15. The wrong turn meant we approached our destination via the winding, scenic route which we had planned to take on our way back.

As we discovered that the museum was not due to open until 1.30 we set off on the 30 min walk to the monastery itself. The monastery is only accessible by foot and is not open to the public, but with difficulty I was able to climb the surrounding hills and obtain vantage points from which to take some photos.


Monastery at Grande Chartreuse

We returned to the car and drove to the nearby village of St Pierre de Chartreuse where we we had an enjoyable dinner at a restaurant before returning to the museum. The museum was housed in a 12th century building, formerly part of the monastery and provided a very detailed insight into the lives of the monks.


Entrance to monastery at Grande Chartreuse

Although living in a community, each monk had his own cell with a small walled garden and a workshop attached. Here he ate, prayed, studied and worked alone, only coming together with the other monks for a community meal and walk outside the monastery once a week on Sundays (although the meal is taken in silence) and for the recitation of the office seven times a day (1:15 am!, 7am, 10am, 12pm, 2.00pm, 4.00pm and 6.45pm ) This means the monks retire to bed at 7:30pm, get up for prayer at 11.30pm, and retire again to sleep from 3am – 6:30am! Certainly not a form of religious life that would suit me! Each monk also had .

Interestingly all Carthusian monasteries in the world are built to a similar design. A documentary film about the monastery entitled 'Into Great Silence', received acclaim on the film festival circuit following its release in 2005.


Museum of Grande Chartreuse

After visiting the museum (a visit that ended up taking more than two hours) we stopped briefly at the gift shop where the famous liqueur was also on sale. The order is supported by the sales of Chartreuse liqueur which has been popular in France and later around the world since the early 18th century.

We returned via St Laurent du Pont and Chambery, arriving back in Gaillard about 7.00pm. An enjoyable and interesting day.
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Again I did not encounter anyone as I rose, had breakfast and prepared to depart a little before 9am. I had to vacate my room by 11am but did not want to head for the airport too early or lug my bag around with me, so I arranged to store my bag (minus passport, wallet, laptop, camera etc) in the vacant shopfront next door which could be accessed via a door in the house.

I headed towards the central city via an alternative route and made my way to the cathedral via the Christmas steps. I completed the tour of the cathedral that had been cut short on my first day then headed for the Lord Mayors chapel only to find it closed for a staff holiday.


Christmas steps

On my way to visit the first church established by John Wesley (1703 - 1791) in the mid 18th century I stopped at the church of St John on the Wall before reaching the 'New Room' the chapel associated with John Wesley and the oldest Methodist building in the world. I was greeted by a friendly guide who provided some information about the birth of Methodism which had its origins in Bristol. He was a little vague about what the Primitive Methodists were about however. (I told him that my great great grandfather had been a Primitive Methodist lay preacher in Australia). I spent a little time viewing the exhibits and reading about Wesley. His message especially appealed to the poor and dispossessed and he attracted opposition from the established church of England and from the merchant class due to his strong opposition to slavery.


Entrance to the 'New room' - the oldest Methodist building in the world

A short walk brought me to St Philips priory which was the oldest religious building in Bristol. Despite what the noticeboard out the front indicated, it was closed, so instead I wandered a couple of large modern shopping malls, had some lunch, then returned to retrieve my luggage after walking back via the old market district. I picked up my bag (intact) and retraced my steps to the bus station. I ended up being the only passenger on the bus!

I checked my emails at the small but modern and comfortable airport in Bristol while waiting for my flight which went off without incident and I was back in Gaillard shortly before 10pm.

My overall impression of Bristol was that despite the fact that it had some fine old buildings and some impressive modern ones, overall it seemed a little run down and shabby with many derelict shopfronts and other buildings. Graffiti and litter were also widespread which detracted from its appearance.
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After rising around 7.30am I made my way down from my third floor room to the basement kitchen where I was able to help myself to a breakfast of cereal, toast and tea. Instructions for breakfast and the wifi password were displayed in the kitchen/dining area - I still had not encountered my host, nor did I meet any other guests although there were at least six rooms in the building some of which were certainly occupied.

The weather was again fine but overcast with some sunny breaks, although there was quite a cold wind. My first destination was the Cabot tower on Brandon Hill. I made the 30 min walk there without any problem after stopping to admire the impressive Bristol University building along the way. The steep climb up the stairs to the top of the tower was rewarded with some fine views of the city.


View of Bristol and its harbour from the Cabot Tower


Cabot Tower

I descended the tower and made my way through the nearby village of Clifton to the famous Clifton suspension bridge across the Avon gorge , designed by Isambard Brumel and completed in 1864. I climbed to the nearby observatory (also the site of a prehistoric ring fort) to obtain a vantage point from which to photograph the bridge and while there was approached by a more professional looking photographer who informed me that he was there to photograph the fly past of a squadron of British Navy Lynx helicopters which were being de-commissioned. As the event was due to take place ‘in a few minutes’ I decided to wait and join the growing number of spectators who had assembled to witness the event, but eventually my exposed position and the icy wind decided me to move on.


Clifton suspension bridge

Of course as I made my way down to the bridge and across to the visitor centre on the opposite side of the gorge the group of helicopters made their fly past! i managed a couple of photos from the bridge and then continued on my way. The visitor centre was quite interesting (among many other things I learnt that the bridge could support 871 people of my weight! I thought that seemed a rather low figure, as given the length of the bridge it seemed to me that number of people could easily fit on the bridge at the same time – what if there was a large procession or column of soldiers marching across for example?)


Flypast of Lynx helicopters

I made my way back through Clifton village towards the centre of Bristol and down to the harbourside again. This time I took the short ferry trip across the river to the other famous engineering feat associated with Brumel, the SS Great Britain. At the time of its construction in Bristol in 1845 it was the largest passenger ship in the world. Its design was also revolutionary in that it was built of iron rather than wood with a screw propeller. Originally built as a luxury liner for the transatlantic run (Bristol to New York), its owners were forced to sell it in 1852 and it then served to transport thousands of immigrants to Australia during the period 1852 -1881. Sold again it was retired to the Falkland islands until it was scuttled in 1937. In 1970 it was salvaged and towed back to Bristol where it was painstakingly restored.


Royal York crescent, Clifton village

The visit to the ship was a little more expensive than I had anticipated but it proved to be worth it as I found it most interesting. Although providing luxury accommodation for first–class passengers it also carried steerage passengers and the accompanying audio commentary, taken mainly from diaries of passengers making the journey to Australia, I found particularly interesting given that so many of my ancestors would have made the journey to Australia in conditions like those displayed.


SS Great Britain

From the SS Great Britain I made my way along the harbour (on the opposite bank to the previous afternoon) to the M-shed where after some lunch (where I had the chance to sit down for some much needed rest) I was able to visit the free museum which told the story of Bristol and its people through films, photographs, exhibits and displays.

I found the sections on the slave trade and the bombing of the city during WWII to be of particular interest. The story of Edward Colston was especially thought–provoking. On the one hand he was a most generous benefactor to the church (although only to the Church of England to which he belonged) in Bristol, supported innumerable charities and initiatives for the poor, endowed schools and hospitals, and served as a member of parliament. His name permeates the city with buildings, schools, streets and even a local bun named after him. By the time of his death it is estimated he had given away almost all of his money (the equivalent of £19 million). However on the other hand the source of his wealth was largely due to his profits from exploiting the slave trade.

The beautiful church of St Mary at Redcliffe was my next destination. I was welcomed on arrival and provided with a very useful double-sided page to use for a self-guided tour. The connection with William Penn, the founder of the US colony of Pennsylvania (married in the church and whose father is buried there) I found especially interesting.


Church of St Mary at Redcliffe

I continued my journey through the older part of the city to the castle park. A castle at Bristol was built in the 11th century and played a key role in the violent struggle that erupted following the death of King Henry I. My ancestor Stephen, King of England, was imprisoned there in 1141 by the half-brother of another of my ancestors Empress Matilda. It was destroyed on the orders of Cromwell in 1656 in the aftermath of the English Civil War. Only some ruins are visible today.


Ruins of Bristol castle

Nearby was the shell of the church of St Peter which was destroyed in the German bombing of Bristol during World War II and is now a memorial to those killed in the blitz.


Church of St Peter. Destroyed in a German bombing raid in 1940, now a memorial to the civilans killed in the bombing blitz

I returned to my accommodation, tired but satisfied with my day. I purchased something to eat at a nearby takeaway, checked my emails and wrote up this diary account before turning in.
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The costs of flights from Dublin any time around the St Patrick’s Day holiday tend to be exorbitant. This was again the case when I looked to book a return trip from Geneva to Dublin for the recent Board meeting. Some investigation revealed I could travel to Dublin via Swissair for a reasonable price, but all flights out of Dublin were very expensive. With some creative thinking I finally resolved to take a Ryanair flight to Bristol (relatively inexpensive due to it only being a 40 min flight) and from which I could book a direct inexpensive flight from Bristol to Geneva. Not having ever been to Bristol, I thought I might to stay over for a couple of nights and explore the city.

For accommodation I decided to try booking online using Airbnb – something I had heard favourable reports about but never tried. It turned out to be a fairly simple procedure and I was able to choose a basic room within walking distance of the city centre and central bus station (important for getting to and from the airport) relatively cheaply.

All went to plan. My 12.30 departure from Dublin allowed time for a leisurely trip to the airport and had me in Bristol before 1.30pm. I was pleasantly surprised that there was no immigration check on arrival and I walked straight through the terminal to find a bus to the city waiting outside the door which I boarded and arrived in downtown Bristol 30 mins later. Much of the journey was taken up with an interesting conversation initiated by a fellow passenger.


Bristol City hall

I had previously plotted and printed off my walking route to my accommodation and after pausing for a sandwich and drink in a small square enroute, I arrived at my destination without a problem. I followed the instructions and let myself into the building then searched in vain for my room that I had been advised would have a key in the door! Apparently the instructions had been changed but the message was sent to me after I was airborne and so I did not receive it. Fortunately I was able to find another guest who kindly phoned the proprietor and I was able to sort out my room.

The room was clean, the bed comfortable and there was an ensuite bathroom. It was all very small but that did not bother me as I did not intend spending much time there.

I deposited my bag, put a few items in my daypack and set out to explore the city. I retraced my steps past the bus station and headed for the waterfront, collecting a few brochures from the tourist office on the way.


Bristol harbour

The port of Bristol is on the River Avon, several miles upstream from where it enters the Bristol channel and the open sea. The sheltered harbour was the source of the cities prosperity (although much of its prosperity in the 17th and 18th centuries was built on the slave trade). It was from Bristol that the explorer John Cabot set out on his famous voyage of discovery in 1497 which took him to the coast of North America an event commemorated with a statue and the reconstruction of his ship the ‘Mathew’ which was moored in the harbour.


Replica of the 'Mathew'. The ship sailed by John Cabot on his voyage of discovery to North America in 1497

I followed the harbourside trail along the river for quite some distance before heading inland and visiting Bristol Cathedral which faces the city hall across the broad expanse of College green.


Bristol cathedral

After stopping for a traditional English meal of fish’n chips I made my way back to my accommodation and had an early night after first spending time planning the following day.
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We set out for the 40 min drive to Rouen the next morning after breakfast. The route took us through the town of Barentin. Here Wilf detoured to show me the spectacular 33 m high viaduct, consisting of 27 arches that had been built by Irish and British navvies in 1847 under the supervision of Joseph Locke (whose statute we also visited). Locke was an English civil engineer responsible for the construction of many rail-lines in both England and Europe. Wilf was a great admirer of his achievements and had several books relating to his life and work.


Railway viaduct at Barentin

As it happened, Barentin was the birthplace of Lucien Brunel (Fr Jacques) a Carmelite priest and headmaster of a boarding school that hid some Jewish students during World War II. The story is told in the movie ‘Au Revoir les Enfants’, one of my favourite movies. Fr Jacques died in a German concentration camp and was named as one of the ‘righteous among the nations’ by the government of Israel in 1985. A statue in his honour stands outside the parish church in Barentin which we visited.


Statue to Lucien Brunel (Fr Jacques) in his home town of Barentin

Continuing on to Rouen we parked close to the centre of the city and made our way to the old market square where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in 1431. I was a little disappointed in the site which I found very cluttered, with the temporary stalls from the recent Christmas market and a giant ferris wheel occupying much of the space. A new market complex and a modern church had also been built in the square which together for me had the effect of drawing attention away from the memorial to Joan of Arc. Whilst the church did not appear very attractive when viewed from outside, I have to admit that the interior was quite attractive with its stained glass windows and tasteful furnishings. A quiet corner was set aside to tell the story of Joan of Arc.


Rouen. Old marketplace. Site of burning of Joan of Arc

The famous cathedral was our next stop. Rouen itself has many well preserved old buildings which made for an interesting walk both to the cathedral and as we made our way to other sites. It was difficult to obtain a photograph that did justice to the famous façade of the cathedral with its incredible detail. We had time to explore the interior of the cathedral but I was unable to locate the grave of my ancestor Empress Matilda (an uncrowned ‘queen’ of England). As we were being hustled out of the Cathedral which we discovered closes at lunchtime, I asked the attendant where Matilda's grave was located only to be told she was buried in Caen! It was only later I realised she had confused my request with Matilda the wife of William the Conqueror. In any case the tomb in Rouen cathedral is not prominent as I did have time to carefully check all the side chapels and around the main altar without success.


Rouen cathedral

A short walk from the cathedral brought us to the ancient charnel house and mass grave of plague victims which proved interesting with its macabre decorations on the buildings (which was later used as a school for poor boys by the De la Salle Brothers.)


Rouen. The Aître Saint-Maclou, a former charnel house. Note macabre decorative details.

Other sites visited were the churches of St Maclou, St Ouen and St Gervais (site of the convent, long disappeared, where my ancestor William the Conquerer died) as well as the Gros Horologue (famous clock) and the Joan of Arc tower, the only remnant of the castle where Joan was imprisoned and tortured.


Rouen. Great Clock

After lunch we visited the Joan of Arc History museum where the remarkable story of this extraordinary young woman was told through a multi-media presentation in the building where her posthumous retrial and rehabilitation took place.


Rouen. Typical building in old part of the city

Finally we drove up to St Catherines Hill, a position providing a fine panoramic view of the city and which was a most strategic site for control of the city during the wars of religion.


Rouen at evening. View from St Catherines Hill

The evening and following morning provided an opportunity to finalise the annual report before I boarded the train at Yvetot for my return journey after what had been a most enjoyable and fruitful few days thanks to the wonderful hospitality of Wilf and Anne.
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Dieppe was the site of an ill-fated Allied raid in August 1942 which was designed to test the German defences and gather information which could be used in planning the D-day invasion which eventually took place almost two years later (in lower Normandy, not anywhere near our location). As Wilf had a keen interest in history he had collected a number of books dealing with the Dieppe raid including the memoirs of Major Derek Mills-Roberts an officer in the No.4 commando led by Lord Lovat which was the only unit participating in the raid that achieved its objective.


Varangeville sur Mer. Site of German gun emplacement destroyed in Dieppe raid. Inscription reads: Site of the german battery 813, composed of 6 peces of artillery of the 150 destroyed on the 19 August 1942 by the 4th British commando of Lt Colonel Lovat as part of the Allied Operation Jubilee.

We drove first to Quiberville where the bulk of the No.4 commando landed and made its way inland and across country to approach its objective, the Geman Hess battery, from the rear. We then made our way to Varengeville-sur-Mere, home to an artists colony (some of whom are buried in the churchyard). In the 19th century the famous painter Claude Monet was a frequent visitor to the area and we were able to view some of the sites from which he painted.


Varangeville sur Mer. Information board showing paintings completed in the Varengeville area, the top one by Claude Monet

Wemade our way down onto the beach and walked along the sand to Varengeville. The beach was overlooked by steep chalk cliffs, but in several places narrow gullies led to the top of the cliffs. It was one of these gullies that was used by the commando troop under the command of Mills-Roberts to attack the battery. We followed the route of this group of commandos and climbed the narrow gully, with Wilf, book in hand, reading Mills-Roberts account!


Route from beach used by group of commandos under Mills-Roberts to initiate attack on German battery at Varengeville-sur-Mer

We were able to follow the route past the houses and tavern mentioned in the account, then made our way through the wood which opened out into a clearing where the German battery had been located. The attack was launched from here and joined by the bulk of the force which attacked from the rear of the position. Complete surprise had been achieved and the gun emplacement destroyed before the commandos withdrew to the beach from where they were safely evacuated. The site was now largely built over by modern housing apart from the remains of a concrete bunker which contained a plaque commemorating the event.


Harbour at Dieppe

We continued on to Dieppe itself and walked along the foreshore. The mile-long beach was the scene of the main attack led predominantly by Canadian troops. As the advantage of surprise had been lost, the beach was exposed to heavy German fire and the steep, pebbly beach was unsuitable for tanks (which arrived late in any case). The troops were largely unable to clear the obstacles and scale the seawall and eventually forced to withdraw after suffering heavy losses.


Dieppe. Picture shows the beach (site of main landing) th esplanade and town which few troops reached.

We walked into the town, viewed the harbour and had lunch before visiting the other two landing sites at nearby Puys and Berneval. The site at Puys gave the clearest indication of the difficulty faced by the invading troops. A narrow beach, with gun emplacements built into the surrounding cliffs, and a high sea wall blocking access to the village. As soon as the drawbridge of any landing craft was lowered the troops were raked with machine gun fire. Those who managed to get ashore were pinned against the seawall and exposed to fire from the guns mounted n the surrounding cliffs. Of the 556 men in the Canadian regiment landing at Puys, 200 were killed and 264 captured. Overall 60% of the 6,086 men taking part in the raid who made it ashore were either killed, wounded or captured.


Harbour at Dieppe


Beach at Puys. Site of "Blue beach". The heaviest casualties of the Dieppe raid occured here with hundreds of canadian troops killed before they could reach the sea wall.

On our way back to Vautuit we stopped off at Veules-les-Roses and walked through the village. It is not officially listed among the ‘most beautiful villages in France’ but I believe it deserves to be with its attractive traditional Norman houses, the bridges crossing the stream flowing through the village, the remains of the mills and waterwheels dotted along the stream and finally an attractive beach where the stream entered the ocean.


Veules-les-Roses


Veules-les-Roses at dusk
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Each year it is necessary to produce an annual ERI report for various authorities such as the Irish Charities Regulatory Authority. For the past couple of years I have met with the chair of the ERI Board to work on the compilation of the report. This year Wilf and his wife Anne were staying at his son’s holiday cottage at the village of Vautuit, near Dudeville in Upper Normandy.

I took the train from Geneva to Paris in the morning, transferred via the Paris metro from Gare de Lyon to Gare St Lazare and took another train to Yvetot where I was met by Wilf. I arrived in the late afternoon. Yvetot is a small market town which was largely destroyed by Rommel’s blitzkrieg offensive in 1940 so there was little of interest to see. Accordingly we did not linger in the town but took advantage of the remaining period of daylight to drive to the coast at Saint-Valery-en-Caux where we had a brief walk around the town, viewed the harbour and beach and enjoyed a cup of coffee before making our way to the cottage at Vautuit.


Cottage where I stayed

The following morning was spent working on the report, interrupted by a pleasant walk around the village of Vautuit. After lunch Wilf and I set off on a driving tour of the surrounding area. We first visited the Benedictine abbey at Saint-Wandrille-Rancon. An abbey has existed on the site since the 7th century and has been destroyed and rebuilt several times, but there is currently a community in residence.


Church at Vautuit


Ruins of Abbey at Saint-Wandrille-Rancon

From there we stopped at Caudebec-en-Caux on the Seine. Unfortunately the low-lying fog limited visibility, but we took a short walk through the town. It too had been badly damaged during World War II so most of the buildings were relatively modern. A short drive along the river brought us to Villequier where the celebrated author Victor Hugo had a summer residence (now a museum). It was also where his daughter Leopoldine (aged 19) and her husband drowned in a boating accident. We visited their graves and those of other members of the Hugo family in the local churchyard.


grave of Leopoldine, daughter of Victor Hugo, and her husband

From Villequier we followed the Seine upstream to Jumieges managing to outpace a large freighter that was travelling to Rouen (the Seine is navigable for large ocean going ships as far as Rouen which was an important port particularly in the middle ages.) Of course we had the advantage of being able to travel more directly as the ship had to negotiate the winding course of the river. Jumieges is the site of the ruins of a 7th century Benedictine abbey. Burnt to the ground by the Vikings it was rebuilt on a grand scale by William, Duke of Normandy (an ancestor of mine) in 942 and consecrated in 1067 in the presence of another of my ancestors, William the Conquerer. It survived various wars until the French revolution and only an impressive set of ruins now remains.


Ruins of Abbey at Jumieges

We crossed the Seine via a car ferry then returned to Vautuit by way of the Pont de Brotonne, an impressive suspension bridge that carried us high above the Seine. Some more work on the report that night meant we were free to take the planned visit to Dieppe the following day.
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The flight from Geneva to Casablanca was uneventful, and with a good free Wifi connection and a book to read, the 6 hour wait for the connection to Freetown was not a major concern. However the 6 hour wait stretched out for almost another 2 hours which meant that we were boarding around 2:00am which made it a long day!

The boarding proved chaotic. Passengers ignored the queue and surged toward the check-in counter, many with more than the permitted items of carry-on luggage. Airline staff seemed powerless to stop passengers who refused to transfer the items to the hold and many heated arguments further delayed the boarding. The flight was also fully booked which meant there was a problem trying to stow all the bags, with a woman passenger opposite me unable to take her seat as the plane taxied out to the runway as it was stacked high with bags! Somehow everything was stowed and everyone seated just as we took off, and four hours later we landed in Freetown.

We cleared immigration, changed money, retrieved our bags and found the bus to the ferry to Freetown. Dawn was breaking as we entered the Freetown harbour and rang Andrew Turay who arrived shortly afterwards to take us to the Brothers residence in Tembe Town, one of the three Brothers communities in the capital. I was pleasantly surprised at how comfortable the residence was with a fine view over the town.


View of Freetown from Brothers residence

We had something to eat, settled in then accompanied District leader Noel Bradshaw on a drive to the beach for a walk. I was impressed with the location of Freetown, with the houses built on the hills which enclosed the harbour and its long stretch of sandy beach, reminiscent of Ocean Grove! It was easy to see the potential for tourist development which had commenced before being halted by the civil war which lasted over 10 years and which was then followed by the Ebola outbreak.


Beach at Freetown

I had no time to explore the city further, although I would have liked to do so, as we were informed that we would be leaving for Blama the following morning. We duly set off on the four hour drive, initially through the suburbs and outlying settlements of Freetown, then into the countryside. I was struck by how little of the land was cultivated. We passed through many small villages a collection of houses with small plots for growing food and wandering goats and hens, but there was no sign of any larger scale farming or any other signs of habitation, just bushland.

The site on the roadside where Br Senan Kerrigan had died was pointed out to us en-route. He was an Irish Christian Brother working in Sierra Leone when he was shot by rebels as he was driving back to Freetown. The attack occurred during the civil war and it is presumed the gunmen wanted to acquire the vehicle. The fact that it was being driven by a white man probably suggested to them that there may also have been valuables on board. The Brothers accompanying him helped him from the vehicle and seeing he was severely wounded left him under a tree beside the roadside to seek help. By the time they returned he was dead.

Thankfully we encountered no such problems, and we briefly called in to each of the two Brothers communities in Bo, the second largest town in Sierra Leone. After some lunch we continued on to our destination at Blama.

Blama turned out to be a small town and the Brothers' house was located in the grounds of a church complex that also housed the local parish church and both primary and secondary schools. The house was large and rambling. There was no internet or hot water available, but there was electricity and we were able to watch some British soccer on TV on both nights we were there. We discovered that the Brothers had a great interest in the soccer and all seemed to be passionate supporters for one or other of the major teams Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United etc.


Brothers residence at Blama

I did take the opportunity to have a haircut (the cost was less than a dollar) and also took a walk through the town the following morning. We also accompanied one of the local Brothers on the 30 min drive into Kenema where he was visiting the hospital and attending to a couple of errands. (Kenema was where the workshop was due to take place the following day.)


Blama

After two nights Blama we returned to Kenema and the sprawling complex of the Diocesan Pastoral Centre. It was a quiet location, attractively set among trees and the accommodation and food were satisfactory enough, although again there was no internet or hot water for showers. There were 34 local brothers in attendance including some who had made the journey from Liberia or Ghana. In addition about 15 members of the Brothers network in Bo and Blama were also in attendance. Our workshop went well and seemed to be well-received. My time was largely taken up with the workshop or in socialising with the participants, but I did have the chance to walk into the town. At the conclusion of the workshop about 20 of the brothers renewed their annual vows during mass on Sunday evening.


Kenema


Kenema

The following day we were driven to the airport at Lungi. This time we went directly to the airport as there was no need to return to Freetown and catch the ferry. That provided an opportunity to see a little more of the country. As our flight was scheduled for 5:30am it was necessary to book into a hotel at Lungi the night before. We arrived from Kenema in the early afternoon, and checked in. It was good to have an internet connection and a hot shower!

I had an early night as we needed to be ready to leave for the airport at 3:00am. I managed several hours sleep. As it turned out the flight was not crowded and we checked in without difficulty only to find the flight was delayed. To add to my frustration my computer decided not to work!

The flight to Casablanca was uneventful, but the delay meant we only just made our connecting flight to Geneva. We arrived in Geneva on time but discovered that our luggage had not made the connection. It was delivered 24 hours later but as we were home by then it was no great problem.
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After a few days of cold and wet weather, the weekend forecast predicted a couple of mild and pleasant autumn days. Accordingly I organised a visit to La Salette, the site of a Marian apparition in September 1846 and a place of pilgrimage up to the present day. The journey took us past Annecy, Chambery and Grenoble - cities I had visited previously. After Grenoble we left the motorway and progress was slower through winding roads and small towns and villages as we made our way into the mountains. At Corps we turned off the 'Route Napoleon" to make the final 14km ascent to the sanctuary of Notre Dame de la Salette - the site of the apparition almost 6000' above sea level.


Shrine of Notre Dame de la Salette (Our Lady of La Salette)

Briefly the story of the apparition began when two children, Maximin Giraud (aged 11), and Melanie Calvat (14) were minding cows in a pasture above the village of La Salette when they encountered a 'beautiul lady' seated on a stone and weeping. She rose and spoke to the children before climbing up a path and vanishing from their sight. The children , both of whom were illiterate, recounted their story and the lady's message. Eventually after a five year investigation the Bishop of Grenoble determined that the apparition of the Virgin Mary to the two shepherds 'bore the characteristics of truth' and the faithful 'had grounds for believing it'.


Site of the apparition

Work on the construction of the present basilica commenced in 1852 and was completed in 1865. Whatever one thinks about the authenticity of the apparition, there is no doubt that the shrine with its stunning, isolated location and quiet, reflective atmosphere is ideal as a place for prayer and contemplation.


Village of La Salette viewed from the sanctuary

I visited the basilica, its adjoining visitors centre and chapel, the cemetery and of course the site of the apparition itself. After lunch in the grounds I took one of the marked trails and climbed to the top of the pass which commanded a spectacular view of the surrounding peaks and the adjoining valley.


Another view of the shrine


View from the pass above the shrine

Around 3pm we began our return journey which retraced our journey along the 'Route Napoleon' so named as it was the route taken by Napoleon after escaping from his first exile on the Meditteranean island of Elba. He landed on the French coast near Cannes on March 1st and then made his way towards Grenoble. About a week later he reached Corps, and the following day outside the town of Laffrey he was confronted by troops sent by King Louis XVIII to arrest him.



Laffrey. Prairie de la Recontre

The encounter took place in a field, the Prairie de la Rencontre (Meadow of the Encounter) now a major historical site. http://www.isere-patrimoine.fr/3136-napoleon-at-laffrey-meadow-of-the-encounter-1815-2015.htm After a tense stand-off it is said that Napoleon walked to the front of his troops and challenged the royalist forces to shoot their emperor with the words 'Soldiers, do you recognise me? If there is one amongst you who wishes to kill your Emperor, here I am.' With their commander failing to give the order, the troops lowered their weapons and joined Napoleon on his triumphal march first to Grenoble then to Paris which he reached on March 20th. This was the beginning of the 'hundred days' leading up to Napoleon's final defeat at Waterloo on June 18th.


Statue of Napoleon at Prairie de la Rencontre
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In the first week of October, I joined around 200 delegates from our schools all around the world in Kolkata, India for the inaugural Edmund Rice Education Beyond Borders gathering. It was a great opportunity to reconnect with many of those I have met on my life's journey (I knew about a third of those in attendance), and to meet and connect with others and explain our work in Geneva.

I flew out of Geneva on Thursday afternoon and after a couple hour stopover in Dubai landed at Kolkata early on Fri morning. Kolkata airport was very different from my previous visit several years before when I thought it the most chaotic airport I had ever visited!

A 40 minute taxi ride brought me to the Peerless Inn, the venue of the Congress. I had arrived a day early as I wanted to watch the AFL Grand final and didn't want to be in mid-flight while it was taking place. (At the time I made my booking I had hopes Geelong might be participating). As it turned out the internet connection at the hotel was pretty hopeless and whilst I could more or less follow the scores, it was impossible to watch or listen for any length of time before the connection dropped out.


View from my hotel room

I went for a couple of walks on Fri afternnon and again on Sat while waiting for the other participants to arrive. Apparently there was a major festival coming up in a few days time and the streets were jam-packed with shoppers making it almost impossible to move. (The hotel was located adjacent to a major market and shopping district). It was also extremely hot and humid with the result that I was in a lather of perspiration within a few minutes of setting out on my walks.



Above and below - Steet scenes in Kolkata. (These was taken in quieter streets, I could not begin to get my camera out of my bag in the more crowded areas)



The Congress began with a spectacular ritual involving lighting, music, and dance organised by the nearby Brothers school at St Joseph's Bow Bazaar. Established 124 years ago it was the first Brothers' foundation in India. The welcome involved students and teachers from each of the three schools in Kolkata: St Josephs, St Georges and St Marys, Dum Dum.


All participants were ritually welcomed to the Congress. Here Alberto (from Buenos Aires) is receiving his welcome.

The following four days were taken up with some keynote speeches, discussion groups, presentations of the ministries and activities carried out in each region of the world and presentations about future possibilities. I was particularly encouraged and interested in the prominence given to education in human rights and engagement in advocacy. I also had the opportunity to speak briefly about our work for the benefit of those who are still not fully familiar with the work of Edmund Rice International.


One of the regional discussion groups in session

There were also some gatherings and meals at night which I attended - a welcome from the Archbishop of Kolkata and a social evening put on by the local Indian Brothers at Dum Dum (which we travelled to via the very crowded metro)


Section of the Congress participants at the reception organised by the Archbishop of Kolkata. (I can be found in the photograph)

On one afternoon delegates were taken on a walk through the streets Kolkata led by a group of students from one or other of the schools. A choice of around eight alternative walks were offered and I chose the historical walk through a section of Kolkata in which many buildings dating from British colonial times were located. (On my previous visits to Kolkata I was familiar with most of the content of the other alternative walks).

We visited the mansion of the Governor of Bengal, the Town hall, the 'Writers building' and most interesting of all - St John's Church. The church dated from the 18th century and is the oldest in Kolkata. It was set in extensive grounds which provided an oasis of calm and quiet away from the noise of the traffic in the surrounding streets. As in many churches I have visited in England, Ireland and other parts of the former British empire, there were many plaques on the inside walls the church, often commemorating military personnel who died or were hilled on active service. Given that I have two ancestors who served in the British Army in India, including Samuel Cassidy who served in the Bengal Artillery of the East India Company and survived, (fortunately for his descendants), I was interested to find plaques relating to those who served in the British army in Bengal.


St John's church Kolkata

The grounds also contained many graves and memorials relating to colonial times and including those who died in the various colonial wars that took place over 150 years. I was particularly interested in the monument to those who died in the infamous 'Black Hole of Calcutta" which was located in the church grounds on the site where the bodies of the estimated 123 prisoners who perished were dumped in a ravine. The Black Hole of Calcutta was a small dungeon in Fort William (since destroyed and rebuilt at another nearby location) where troops of Siraj ud-Daulah, the Nawab of Bengal, held British prisoners of war after the Bengali army captured the fort on 20 June 1756. After the fall the fort, the surviving 146 British soldiers and persons, Anglo-Indian soldiers, and Indian civilians were imprisoned overnight in conditions so cramped that many people died from suffocation and heat exhaustion.


Monument to those who died in the 'Black Hole of Calcutta'


Detail of the monument

I left Kolkata early on Friday morning following the conclusion of the Congress on the previous day. I returned via Dubai and reached home at Gaillard around 9.30pm on Fri night.
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