Thursday, June 28, 2007

Grotty

This morning was a 6.30 am start, which was not pleasing to me, followed by helping the world's stupidest children make their sandwiches. I had to tell not one, not two, but about twenty of them that it actually helped to open the (cut) baguette up completely to fashion a sandwich, instead of slotting the butter knife into the narrow opening and then trying to insert the fillings in like a letter into a post box. Les enfants terribles! This, by the way, is a judgement in which the teachers wholeheartedly concur. All I heard all day was how terrible the kids are, how they're all looking forward to the imminent end of the year to be rid of them, and how they'd never take them on another trip again...

Apart from that though, I had a very easy day because there were two drivers with the coach, so no navigating duties for me. Even though I would have made a better job of it than the crazy route they took I tells you! First stop was a bakery, not the same bakery we went to the other day, but in fact a superior bakery where I got a free pain au chocolat AND a free croissant. Score! The kids also got to have a go here making their own croissants and pains au chocolat, which I trust were promptly binned on departure. Here I learned that, in France, a crescent-shaped croissant signals it's made with margarine, whereas the straight ones are made with butter. Talking of which, I couldn't see super well over all the kiddies, but his method of making the croissant dough seemed to consist of wrapping a sheet of pastry around a big lump of butter and pounding it with a rolling pin before putting it through the rolling machine. So that's why croissants are so buttery good!

After that it was another two hours down the road (driving time today of 5 1/2 hours, seriously ridiculous) to the Grottes de Naours, which my driver repeatedly called, in what I believe to be a non-ironic fashion, the 'grotties'. The grottes are man-made caves carved out of the chalk rock, which the people of Naours were wont to hide in in times of distress. Originally they were a Roman quarry - for some reason the Romans liked to somehow start down below and dig up, makes no sense to me, but there you go. When the Roman Empire collapsed and the barbarians overran France, the people of Naours got the bright idea to just hide in the old quarry for a spell. It obviously worked, and they decided to carve out over 300 underground rooms over the next 500 years. They would usually only spend a couple of days or a week there, but apparently on at least one occasion they were down there for a month - about 2500 people and their animals, which can't have been fun. And for some reason their toilet was in the sheep pen... As time went on, the grottes were also used to avoid paying the much-hated 'gabelle' or salt tax in the 18th century, and then the ceiling to the main entrance caved in and the grottes were unused and forgotten until 120 years ago, when they were rediscovered. After this, they were used as an Allied hospital in the First World War and by the Nazis in World War Two (nothing in this part of France is untouched by the world wars, seemingly). All quite interesting, and worth seeing, especially since no-one else here has been, so I'm lucky to have had the chance.

Disappointingly, the proposed 'rain-date visit' to Agincourt did not go ahead since today was the first day in forever without any rain, naturally. So instead we spent about an hour herding the kids through the gift shop, fun times.

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