View from gîtes landscape
Fran White

Fran White

Travelling to Europe during a pandemic

Eurotunnel Le Shuttle – bringing Europe closer since 1994

Things are never as bad as you think they are going to be. As I set out on my journey to visit my daughter in France, during a pandemic, the preparation seemed overwhelming. Too much. Embarking on “Le Shuttle” however reminded me of childhood, of storybooks – but more Harry Potter than Beatrix Potter.

Heading south felt energising and uplifting. Moving closer toward family and friends, new experiences, new memories, places, and people to be discovered.

My daughter, we call her Sal, and her partner bought a property in Burgundy in December 2020 & eventually moved there full-time in March 2021. I was keen to see this and help them set up their gîtes. We had “seen” the property on FaceTime, so I had an idea of the layout, but not where everything was in relation to each other.

Once I started driving on the motorways, I realised I was re-igniting my “travel muscle”. I left the motorway at Beaune and was suddenly in the unspoilt countryside with small villages and vineyards as far as the eye could see. 25 minutes later I reached their village. St Sernin du Plain is perched high on a hilltop and their property has a fantastic view across the valley, toward vineyards, distant hills and villages.

During my stay, we visited a few of the local tourist spots. I found our visit to the Hospice de Beaune very moving – even more so as, a sign of the times, one of the rooms was being used as a vaccination centre for Beaune residents. I also drove to Vezelay, the site of a Cistercian Abbey on the hilltop which is part of a Pilgrims way. I met up with an English friend who has lived in France for 30 years. We also visited a market in Chagny and made two visits to Ikea in Dijon in four days; I wasn’t sure if I was in Croydon, Sweden, or France!

Hospice de Beaune

It was fun to help with the preparation of the gîtes as it included visiting local DIY shops and supermarkets to source curtain poles, hairdryers and pressure cookers for the gîtes; things one might not necessarily do as a tourist.

I was surprised however by the amount of work to do. I wielded a decorating paintbrush for the first time in years – so not in the studio for once. My son-in-law introduced me to a clever window cleaning trick involving washing up liquid and a squeegee. We upholstered a headboard using an up-cycled display curtain from my old shop and made bed valances without doing any sewing.

Being with and working with my daughter was really enjoyable. She took me on an escorted wine tour in a 2CV and we went to the Roman style (but not old) amphitheatre in her village to hear chamber music. We also took the Couchoir wine trail in her village, visiting four makers including a lady whose wine is highly regarded.

Fran with her daughter at a wine tasting

When I returned to the UK I was required to self-isolate, which was a perfect opportunity to tidy up my studio and sort through and pack away various old projects. It also gave me the opportunity to work on a submission for Artists into Europe using photographs I had taken on my trip and referencing my recent “Armchair traveller” studies.

Mont Roman Amphiteatre
Mont Roman Amphiteatre

As an outcome of this trip, I have decided to blend my photography and drawing even more. It has opened my eyes to looking anew at all the travelling I have done in the past, maybe I’ll be able to incorporate past experiences with my newest ones.

I can’t wait to go back, but I must be patient as I have an operation scheduled, plus the wider family activities need to be considered. I am looking forward to returning however very much and being more of a tourist. I would love to visit Cluny, a Matisse Gallery I saw signposted from the motorway, and a museum in Dijon. I would also like to travel further south to visit LUMA Arles, an experimental cultural centre with a tower designed by Frank Gehry which was inaugurated in June 2021.

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