You will forgive me if this entry is a strange mixture of the personal and the reflective. I am keeping notes on the program, but the traveller’s tales don’t make sense in this first week without the reflections on the program, so you will have to accommodate the religious and spiritual dimension of much of my journey! Just like the poppies in the wheat fields around the town, he said poetically.

The train trip through the French countryside was a reminder of what an amazing country this is. I think the French have a particular take on the idea of humanity, surely a legacy of the Revolution, but there is always something else, a relationship with the earth, perhaps, that gives France its unique air. Notwithstanding its amazing cities, ranging from the historic to the determinedly utilitarian, the countryside is still ‘real’ France. So to be in the very provincial and historic Indre is a treat, even though on the surface, Issoudun does not look much.

That digression can be a glimpse of later reflections. The first day was quite intense, even though I managed ten hours sleep on the night of our arrival. The journey to get here was not ideal – I would not recommend leaving the day after completing a stressful task and spending 36 hours in transit, and hope to arrive rested!

It wasn’t a bad trip (thank you, Cathay Pacific) and I managed three hours sleep on the first leg and six on the second, as well as a nice nap on the recliners in the Hong Kong terminal; but sleep is something best experienced in a bed! By the time a reached Paris, I was feeling a bit shabby, and carrying my gear through the terminal and metro and finally Gare d’Austerlitz didn’t help. Fiona’s offer of a shower was a godsend (I wonder if I can find one at CDG on the way home), so while she popped out for breakfast, I cleaned up and changed shirts and felt much better, thank you very much.

We grabbed our tickets and popped into the cafe across the road for lunch. I had a country salad, which was fantastic – hard cheese, thin sliced cured ham like pancetta, all with greens, tomatoes, croutons and a perfect vinaigrette. And, of course, perfect bread! You just can’t get it anywhere else.

We made the train trip without seeing anyone, although we had a great conversation with a couple in the midst of a fantastic trip who were on their way to stay with friends in Bordeaux. Coincidence: the friends were ex-Chev teachers.

As we got of the train at Chateauroux, we found familiar and unfamiliar faces, which would be sharing the next week with us. The trip finished finally at Issoudun Station, with our bags taken up to the Hotel Chevalier – as it is now called – while we walked through the town, into Place de Sacre Coeur, and came for the first time to the Basilica and the house that Jules built.

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I can’t fault the hospitality or the accommodation. I have a second floor room overlooking the Lycée. En suite and all found. Wired Internet only – I didn’t think to bring my spare airport! Wifi in the conference rooms only. We are immediately on a French diet, with the big meal in the middle of the day, with cheese and dessert followed by coffee.

You will have to wait for an introduction to the gang, because I’m exhausted. It’s 9 pm and I am ready for bed. Bon nuit.

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