One Door Closes...

November 11, 2010 Great Britain by Steve Martin Edit

It’s the end of our time in the UK and Europe and stress levels are rising. Once again we will be homeless and lugging suitcases, strollers and Child Car seats around with us. Once again we will be tourists rather that travellers.

We’ve been on the move for over 6 months and it’s a bit of a shock to think about the places we have visited and the things we have done & seen.

In that 6 month period we have lived for a month in France, walked the streets of Pompeii, driven under the Alps and toured countless Mansions, palaces and cathedrals. We’ve managed deal with seven different languages  and we’ve also gone to some places only a handful of non European tourists visit.

One of those places that stands out is Oradour-Sur-Glane. It is a WWII ghost town in the very heart of France. When travelling through the north of France we took in many of the World War I & II memorials that dot the landscape. They are moving and sombre and have a gravity and quiet dignity. Oradour-Sur-Glane is different. It makes you angry and sad and confused and dismayed.

On the 10th of June, 1944 the town of Oradour was destroyed as part of the war. Many towns were ruined, but this was different because it was the scene of the systematic execution of the 642 residents of the village in an act of Nazi revenge. One hundred & ninety men, two hundred and forty seven women and two hundred and five children were killed in a rampage by a German Waffen SS company.

The Nazi’s separated the men from the women and children and took the men to 6 different barns in the village. They were then shot in the legs before being covered in fuel and set alight. The women and children were locked in the church which was also doused in fuel and then set alight. When they tried to escape through church windows and doors they were machined gunned.

During that attack the rest of the village was looted and razed and that is how it remains today. The village square is still there. The Doctors ruined car is still parked outside the Pharmacy. In the remains of buildings the signs of everyday life lie rusting in the rubble. The village is filled with the hulking shells of buildings that still show signs of the life that was once lived there.

After the War Charles de Gaulle decided that the village would be preserved as a reminder of the horrors of war, and the horrors of the Nazi regime. As a tourist attraction it’s not the happiest place we visited, but it was certainly one of the most moving. Like many other tourist attractions, Oradour Sur Glane has its own slogan, “Remember”.

While Oradour was deeply moving and also deeply disturbing there are many other places that standout and continue to resonate. The ancient city of Carcasone, the fishing villages of Cinqua Terra, our tour of Nurnberg with friends Denis and Tanja Katzer are all highlights.

But so far my heart belongs to Scotland. If you have looked at pictures of the Highlands, and you thought it looks incredible, chances are that the picture you are seeing is not close to living up to the reality. It is perhaps the most extraordinary landscape I have ever seen in my life.

Red-brown mountains topped by deep grey rocks under a fast moving sky which is throwing brilliant sunlight and deep shadow across the landscape all at once is just awe inspiring. We saw mountain passes devoid of trees with a small stone cottage or two defying the most hostile weather. Somehow landholders scratch a living out there. I can only imagine they continue to live there because it is just too beautiful to live without.

Then there’s Wales. The land of the Dragon and the skinniest roads we have travelled so far. A place where it is still common for people to speak Welsh as their first language, and where road signs contain place names that have 15 letters, only one of which is a vowel. Wales, like Scotland, is beautiful and remote and wild. The bad news for England is that these two countries make the English countryside look bland and sterile in comparison.

However, for us this part of the trip is over. It is done and it is dusted. And as much as we would like to stay and explore for a while longer, we have sold the car and the caravan and we are planning the next phase, The United States of America.