Thursday, July 23rd ~ Normandy area of France (part 1 of our day)
Well, the farmers are still on strike which is making it all the more challenging for us to get around. It is causing a nightmare for Uniworld to figure out how to reroute us via bus so that we can avoid the many closed highways, bridges and round-a-bouts. It has added a lot of strain and stress to the bus drivers as well as our tour guides. Our busses are very large, and maneuvering them down narrow roads, and make very tight turns in medieval cities is difficult.
The farmers seem to have a legitimate need to be heard, and having a strike is the way they make themselves noticed here in France. I will try to find the article again, but what we read yesterday, I believe that around 60,000 farmers here will be forced to file bankruptcy this year alone. It is primarily those raising beef who are currently having the most problems.
First, here is a map showing the area where we were on Thursday. I marked on the map where our ship was docked in Caudebec-en-Caux. There are three bridges that cross the Seine in this area. Two of them were totally blocked (the two northern ones) and the third bridge was open intermittently.
Here is a picture of our guide, Dominique with her head together with our driver, Gaspar, looking at a map trying to figure out a route we can take to bypass the blocked roads.
Tim was able to pull Google maps and learned that the blockages were extensive on virtually all major routes, round-a-bouts and bridges, bringing traffic to a standstill in many areas. Sadly many tourists who have come so far to see major scenic and historical sites are being turned back.
Tim and I were fortunate to land the front seat on the bus today so we had a bird’s-eye view of what was happening in front of us. Dominique said that bridges #1 and #2 were impossible, but we were going to try to take bridge #3 if it had not been completely blocked by the time we got there.
As we waited in a long line of traffic on the approach to the bridge, we watched as a motor home tried to block another farmer’s tractor and large truck loaded with manure coming to add to the blockage. Please forgive the marginal pictures as they are shot through the bus windows and we are fighting reflection issues.
The barricades reminded me of Les Miserables, but on a smaller scale, thank goodness. They go up in the morning, and in some cases are cleared and taken down at night, then the farmers arrive again early the next day and reconstruct them, dumping new loads of rotting meat, burning logs, hay, loads of manure, or whatever they can use to block the way.
We finally made it to the bridge to cross. Many of the bridges require a toll payment which can be paid via credit card or cash on an automated panel.
The silver lining is that when we finally got past the blockage, and progressed down back roads to avoid impassable areas, the scenery was lovely.
We drove through the smaller villages that we would normally have bypassed on larger/faster routes. We also got to drive the district filled with thatch roofs.
The roofs in this area are made with reeds, clay is placed on the crown and then iris bulbs are “planted” on top, along with some “hen and chicks”. The plants help hold in water and act as a natural fire deterrent. I would love to see them in the spring when the iris is blooming.
Some of the major roads have stayed blocked around the clock. We are heading back toward Paris and will arrive there I believe either Friday night or Saturday morning. The roads look like a complete mess there, but that may be because the Tour du France ends in Paris on Sunday. Could be interesting…
Stay tuned for part two of todays post to learn what we were able to squeeze in, even with all the detours.
Hint: Uniworld did an amazing job and we ended up with a happy, tired group by the time we made it back to the ship.
Gratitude Moment: Today I am grateful for the EXTRA efforts that the Uniworld staff, our guides and drivers put in to make sure our holiday was not ruined due to an unfortunate local strike.
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