Thursday-Thursday, May 23-30, 2019
With decent winds we left Alderney for the 24-mile sail to St. Peter Port (aka, Saint-Pierre-Port), the capital of the Bailiwick of Guernsey, which is one of the three Crown Dependencies of Great Britain.
After 5 hours we arrived at the harbor entrance, requested permission to enter and did so after waiting outside while a large ferry docked. Next we waited for one of the marina skiffs to guide us carefully to one of the floating pontoons.
We opted for those docks in lieu of Victoria Marina, an interior harbor protected by a sill from low tides*.
Originally planning on getting a berth in the marina, we decided not to risk crossing the stone barrier: some cruisers in Alderney mentioned they had heard of a boat with the same draft as ours (2-meter or 6’ 6”) getting stuck on the sill (!). No thanks. Plus, the pontoons were only a three-minute walk from one of the main streets.
I have to say living in Maine one gets use to tides and steep ramps to and from floating pontoons, but in this neck of the woods, they can get a heck of a lot steeper…
which is why many boats are built to sit on the ground when there’s no water under them.
JUANONA, not so much.
*A sill is a barrier that captures a harbor’s/marina’s water at high tide and retains it during low tide. Basically, just think of it as a bathtub for boats.
And, in spite of the rather tired and dingy appearance, the showers provided luxurious hot water with strong pressure (similar to Alderney’s) and appeared surprisingly clean. Actually, even the public restrooms throughout the islands seemed exceptionally clean. No laundry facility at the marina, but we found one in town easily enough. With a supermarket nearby, plenty of buses and ferries within a five-minute walk, and a great Tourist Information (TI) Office just across the street, the location offered everything we needed. Oh, yeah, and a great coffee shop, too :)
Doing some quick research online we discovered a fabulous treasure in St. Peter Port–Hauteville Maison, also known as Victor Hugo’s House.
Having visited his apartment in Paris a few years ago, to tour his home here seemed a no-brainer. Especially since this is where he wrote one of our favorite books and musicals, LES MISERABLES. Just writing that makes me break out in song, lucky for Max it’s not out loud.
Reading that they required reservations and noting none available until the following week, I thought we’d miss seeing it. But, the lady at the TI suggested I try calling, and, voila! a last minute opening for the hour-long tour was available.
The house had actually stayed in the family until 1927 after which Hugo’s granddaughter and the children of his grandson donated it to the City of Paris. When water leakage damaged the interior, the billionaire art collector, François Pinault (also, a key benefactor of the Notre Dame roof re-build) funded the entire, 3 million-euro renovation in 2018. Fortunately, careful restoration left the house the same as when Victor Hugo lived here.
Not being up on the details of this novelist/poet/dramatist/artist, we learned that Victor Hugo’s (1802-85) political beliefs morphed over the decades, from supporting the monarchy to opposing it. The latter occurred when Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte (1808-73) threw a tantrum over the one-term limit of his presidency and staged a coup d’etat. Having a way with words, Hugo coined the derogatory (but, one must admit, clever) phrase, “we have had Napoleon the Great, now we have Napoleon the Small”, a none-too-subtle expression of his feelings towards Louis-now-self-titled-Napoleon III.
He (Hugo, not Emperor 3) avoided arrest by heading to Brussels in December 1851. But his stay was short due to the proximity to France and a formal decree of exile, so he left for Jersey in 1852 where other non-Napoleon III supporters lived.
But, Hugo obviously knew how to p_ _ s off royals. An unflattering article about Queen Victoria’s visit to Paris in 1855 caused his next boot out of a country. Not that he wrote it; but, the article penned in London was re-published in a Jersey paper by some of his fellow exiles. When they were expelled from that Channel Island, Hugo decided to also leave in a show of support.
He moved to the nearby island of Guernsey in 1855 and with the success of THE CONTEMPLATIONS, a poetry book, he purchased the house in 1856. And proceeded to decorate it. And, boy, did he decorate.
Arriving before our scheduled tour, we had access to his backyard,
and, while Max enjoyed the ambiance here,
I went on the hunt for a cup of coffee, which I found just up the street in a hotel with another lovely garden view.
A young guide with a lilting French accent (of course) led our small group of ten through the public rooms where he entertained:
the Billards Room with family portraits and drawings…
the Tapesty Room wallpapered with oriental rugs (a small sun-lit room next door offset this dark one)…
the Dining Room with Dutch Delft tiles, and where he provided meals for the city’s poor children,
along with lessons of life, which were also carved into the decor.
Stairs to the first (what we call second) floor landed us in an elaborate hallway off of which were two richly,(overly so in my opinion) decorated lounges for more entertaining,
with one end of the two rooms suitable for presenting plays.
Then to the second (third) floor where the hallway served as his library, which included one of the first ever editions of an Encyclopedia…
and opened into a large study and bedroom, but one he never slept in.
To the tippy-top third (fourth) floor where he did actually sleep…
and work (this is the room in which he was sitting in the sepia photo above…
and where, finally, I would be able to rest if I lived here) as he looked out to his garden and the sea beyond to France.
Throughout the house the guide pointed out Hugo’s fascination with Chinese culture, one shared by others during this time.
(Ellen, note the peacock :)
I can’t imagine how wonderful it would be for those who had studied this man’s life and work because for me, not well-versed on Hugo, this tour was fascinating and a definite highlight of our time here.
Unlike some of our other cultural visits we didn’t tour a lot of museums here. Actually, as I write this, I realize Hugo’s house was it as far as museums go. We did, however, do a quick stop at one other building, also overly decorated: the Little Chapel.
We reached this little (and, it is wee) site after a 30-minute bus ride to the center of the island.
Along with a group of other curious tourists we hopped off to stroll the one-minute walk to a building festooned with broken pottery shards.
Inspired by a similar chapel in Lourdes, this grotto chapel was the third one begun by Brother Déodat. His first one (9’x4.5’) was too small as was his second (9’x6’), and I love this–he decided the second one didn’t fit the bill when the Bishop of Portsmouth couldn’t fit through the door.
The one we toured measures 16’x9’, and, as you can see, we easily stepped through the opening.
Being un-consecrated anyone and everyone can mediate/pray/worship/perform miracles here. And, visit for free with donations accepted.
It is lovely it its kitchyness and fantastical mosaics,
It’s also where Max caught the spiritual glow.
As I said, basically you could walk through the chapel
and out the door
in 20 steps.
We could have dwelled a bit longer but…. And, evidently we weren’t the only ones feeling as such because we joined the same stampede of visitors who caught the bus out with us who were now determined not to miss the next bus heading back. Otherwise, we’d all have to wait another hour and there’s just so much cemented pottery shards I can take at one time no matter how devotedly placed.
Another day, while waiting for our coffee place to open we popped into a larger place of worship, the Town Church.
Spotting a guy who appeared to give impromptu tours we asked him about some mounted plaques. For the next 15 minutes he entertained us by pointing out some of the more interesting of these memorials.
When I asked about a rather prominent one for The Very Reverend Daniel Francis Durand and noted it was pretty cool he was the son of the guy who headed up Canterbury, he laughed and corrected me saying,’no, that was something stated to make him sound important: he wasn’t literally the son, he simply came from there.
He then walked us over to the memorial of Captain Nicholas Messier, a privateer (aka pirate) who fought the French. Our informal guide appreciated the hypocrisy for he said isn’t it wonderful how someone is lauded by the same people who could just as easily have treated him as a criminal. I think I could use this guide on all our tours…
One of the largest plaques immortalized one of the most famous islanders, James Saumarez, Lord de Saumarez. He fought with Lord Nelson in the Mediterranean, though not at the Battle of Trafalgar. The two officers had a strained relationship, and our guide mentioned it was due to Saumarez not approving of Nelson’s romantic liaison with Lady Hamilton. As our host stated succinctly, ‘Saumarez was a prude.’
Our last critiquing of these plaques concerned one dedicated to Rear Admiral Thomas Saumarez Brock (his father being another famous islander, Isaac Brock, who defeated the Americans when they attacked Canada during the War of 1812) and his wife and her eldest son. Here we learned their daughter used plundered marble from the Roman Temple of Diana in Ephesus, a famous ruin in Turkey… and, bragged about it.
It’s also when I noticed a clerical collar peeking out from our guide’s sweater.
I left that church thinking now, he along with a few others, is a minister whose sermons I wouldn’t mind listening to. Nothing like some irreverent humor to spice up one’s Sunday :)
Next, the great outdoors…
Fantastic! I love having a traveling teacher! Thank you. xo
The history is amazing! Looking forward to the next time we can catch up with you! Xo