Showing posts with label champagne. Show all posts
Showing posts with label champagne. Show all posts

Saturday, 15 June 2019

Donjeux by the Canal

Saturday 15 June 2019

Nido’s parked up on yet another free aire - they’re coming at us thick and fast!  We’re making our way down to the Comte region, heading for an area near the Jura mountains.  This one is just outside the village of Donjeux, in the south-east of the Champagne region.  Again, it’s free to stay, with free drinking water and unlimited electricity.  It’s by a canal and next to the ‘Halte Nautique’, an area where the boats can moor up and also enjoy the free facilities.  It’s a small aire for only four vans; we’re parked in a corner and blocked in by a Dutch van, but it’s not a problem; Cathy had a chat and let them know we’re not rushing off in the morning.  The canal is teeming with life, with the natterjack toads making a right old racket!  There’s a few fishermen along the bank and I’ve seen plenty of small roach in the shallows and what looks like tench on the surface.

It rained hard in the night and I had to close the skylight above our bed at about 0145 as the odd raindrop was making its way down to me, but we woke to clear blue sky and a warm sun.  We know from experience that many of the shops and supermarkets are closed on Sunday (tomorrow), so we popped into the Carrefour in Epernay (a major Champagne producing town) to top up with food and diesel before starting today’s journey.

We’re keeping our travelling down to about two hours per day to ensure we don’t spend too much time on the road, which can become tiring day after day; we have plenty of time on this trip. So arriving here at 1300 was ideal and, after a spot of lunch, we took a walk along the canal towpath to the next village.  Sitting in the village square opposite the Marie’s office, we enjoyed watching the acrobatics of the swallows and swifts as they dived and turned feeding on the flies, before swooping into their nests under the roof eaves to feed their young.

Cathy cooked a lovely risotto and we’re sat outside the van, overlooking the canal with a cup of tea.  We’re getting back into the van routine, with our allotted jobs (Cathy’s inside and mine outside), remembering to plug in gadgets for charging as we drive along (although with so much free electricity it hasn’t been a problem) and making sure all the skylights are closed and doors and drawers secured before we drive away.   

View from the galley

Donjeux aire

Halte Nautique, also with free water and electricity

I think this garage needs a new PR & marketing team!

They were most disappointed we had no food for them

Friday, 14 June 2019

Shorts in Champagne

Friday 14 June 2019

Nido’s parked up on another free aire, this time in Mareuil-sur-Ay, deep in Champagne country.  This was the first proper Aire we ever stayed on back in 2013 on our first French motorhome trip.  It’s next to a lovely river with some large houseboats.  The village is home to several small, family Champagne houses.  After a rainy start this morning, the weather has definitely warmed up - it’s shorts time!

On our way down we stopped off at the town of Laon.  This walled town with several medieval gates, sits on on the spine of a high, narrow ridge, overlooking the plains of Champagne and Picardy.  It has a large gothic cathedral, built in the second half of the twelfth-century.  We parked up alongside the city walls and enjoyed a lunch looking out over the plains.  It was only a short walk into town and the display of coloured umbrellas above the main street leading to the cathedral gave it a festive atmosphere.  Just south of the cathedral on Rue George Ermant is the little octagonal Chapelle des Templiers - the Knights Templar - set in a secluded garden.  Built in 1140, it’s now showing its age, with several large cracks in the wall and entrance to the chapel closed to the public.  Still, it was lovely to sit in the quiet garden and imagine it in its heyday - and it fed my fascination with the Knights Templar.  I hope to come across more evidence of their existence in France over the coming weeks.

There were a few spaces available on the aire at Mareuil-sur-Ay, so we took one under the shade of the trees.  After a cup of tea sat outside on the grass, we walked a circular route along the riverbank and across bridges, followed by a quick wander around the small, quiet village, peering into the courtyards of some of the Champagne houses.  It’s now still and very warm outside as it starts to get dark. Our neighbours were listening to what sounded like the French equivalent of Britain’s Got Talent (not!) on TV, but they’ve now closed up so now only birdsong - and in particular the lovely call of swifts - breaks the silence.

Laon walls

Chapelle des Templiers

There's Nido in the middle!

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Why's the Froome Dog running?

Thursday 14 July 2016

Shopping List:
Loo roll

It's Bastille Day, although you wouldn't think so.  It's like any normal day in France - quiet roads, villages and towns like the Marie Celeste, supermarkets shut at lunch time. I expected a UK-type bank holiday - horrendous traffic jams, 'super-sales' in all the shops, drunks outside the pub, torrential rain.  Well, we had some torrential rain on and off today, but we also had some hot sunshine.  But France has been quiet (at this time we didn't know about the dreadful events in Nice that evening).  There were loads of fireworks late last night in Mutigny, so perhaps they celebrate the night before.  One thing I have noticed though, is that the French like to have a Brocante - or car-boot sale - on or around Bastille Day.  And this isn't the sort of car-boot sale we know - in a muddy field with people selling piles of rusty tools and videos (who has a video recorder these days?).  No, a French Brocante is held outside their house on the pavement - on either a wallpaper paste table or actually out of the back of the car - outside their house. So, as we walked (yesterday) or drove (today) through the the villages, every other house were having their own little car boot sale.  We were restrained and didn't buy any kiddie plastic tricycles, wine racks or tacky ornaments! 

Back to the real world. On our way I stopped off at an Intermarché armed with the above shopping list, before driving to today's stop. Nido's parked up in a lovely aire in the village of Coucy Le Château Auffrique.  There's 5 pitches, separated by grass and beds of flowers and shrubs.  For €5 we get unlimited electric, 10 minutes of fresh water and free use of the toilet (in which we have not ventured - this is France after all!).  And we also have any excellent view of Coucy Castle on the hill above us.  Once settled in, we enjoyed our lunch while torrential rain did its best to ruin our day (it failed).  We walked around the uphill road and entered the village by one of the medieval gates and towers.  Along cobbled streets we paid our €10.50 and entered the castle walls.  The expansive grassy area inside was set up for medieval jousting and other such events, but not today - yesterday, tomorrow and the day after - but not today!  Still, we felt we had our money's worth, walking around the walls, the main castle and the many towers and subterranean caves and dungeons.  There were great 360' views, including little Nido down in the aire below, surrounded by the big A class and coachbuilt motorhomes.

A little history lesson - listen carefully:

The first castle on this site was built in 920 by the archbishop of Reims to protect his territory at Coucy.  It was extended from 1079 onwards under the dynasty of the Lords of Coucy. They dominated the history of the castle for three centuries. In 1220, Enguerrand III of Coucy, a warrior at the Battle of Bouvines (on 27 July 1214, Phillipe Auguste's Royal troops beat the coalition financed by John Lackland's England) and in the expeditions against the Cathars, had the town enclosed and built the existing castle with its enormous keep. One hundred and fifty years later, Enguerrand VII, a great diplomat, transformed the building into a sumptuous palace. He died without any male descendants and in 1400 the Coucy estate was bought by Louis of Orleans to strengthen his Valois duchy. Following the Fronde in the 17th century (the last war waged against the King of France by the lords of the kingdom from 1648 to 1653), the castle was broken up and abandoned. It became national property at the Revolution and was used as a stone quarry until it was bought by Louis-Phillipe in 1829' then by the State in 1848.  Several architects in turn including Viollet-Le-Duc, worked to preserve the ruins.  Used by the French Army as a HQ in the First World War, it was later captured by the Germans who, as they moved out in 1917, used 28 tons of explosives to blow up the four towers and the keep (they also blew up a lot of our chip shops in a later war - perhaps the castle was practice). Don't you just love free pamphlets!

As we walked around we spotted loads of different 'Masons' Jobbers' marks' on the hand-cut and carved stones. These were signs made by the stonesmiths and masons, who were paid by their job marks left on the blocks in order to receive payment for their toils - hence the term 'a job lot'.  Castle visit done, we wandered around some of the narrow streets and on top of the village walls (including coming across a group of latter day stonemasons working to prepare the Laon Gate)' before my 'beer radar' led us to a bar/tabac.  Cathy sat at a table outside and I wandered in to order a couple of beers. It was a typical French bar - a few old chaps and the barman sat on stools staring at a TV mounted high in the corner.......watching the Tour de France!  I'd seen nothing of it for 12 days, but a quick chat with the barman confirmed it was the stage to Ventoux.  I watched for a couple of minutes, then remembered 'the boss' was outside and waiting for her beer, so I reluctantly dragged my self away.  Although, to be fair, she did say I could stay in the bar to watch the race.   I popped back in later to use the loo and was confused to see Chris Froome, wearing the leader's Yellow Jersey, running uphill, sans bike.  Now even the most unsporty amongst you will know that the Tour de France is a race on bikes - it's not a running race!  So I was a tad confused, not helped by the fast French commentary.  He eventually got a bike, which clearly was worse than something you find in the canal, as he quickly dumped it and waited for the Team Sky car, jumping on and finishing the race, although I have no idea of the impact on his current lead.  I eventually found out he was caught up in another rider's crash with a motorbike. I look forward to seeing it in the highlights when I get home.

Back in the van we enjoyed a hot shower and a dinner of potatoes and carrots roasted in 'Oska', plus veal chops and red pepper cooked on the Cadac BBQ.  With a couple of glasses of red wine and a final flurry of sunshine and clear blue sky, it was a good ending to an interesting day.  Tomorrow we head for the coast of Northern France for our last couple of days. No doubt the weather will deteriorate as we get closer to Blighty. Perhaps we should just turn around again and head south to follow the sun?

I pulled over and saw this massive German war cemetery - sad sight

Lovely aire with a view of Coucy castle

One of the latrines in the castle - a very long drop!

Can you spot Nido?

Another Nido view

All set up for tomorrow's jousting 

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Champagne lifestyle

Wednesday 13 July 2016

Nido's parked up in another free aire in the village of Mutigny, high on a hill and completely surrounded by grape vines - we're deep in champagne country.  When we arrived we were alone, but a couple of vans have turned up since.  

It rained quite heavily last night and again after breakfast, so I waited until it stopped before moving the van over to the service point to fill up with (free!) fresh water and dump grey and black waste.  We stopped off at the Super U on our journey for food and diesel, before arriving at our first planned stop - a free Aire alongside the huge man-made lake of Der de Chantecoq, parking up with around about 20 other motorhomes. We enjoyed our lunch then started a walk around part of the lake.  At the start a woman stopped Cathy to ask if we had a portable gas stove she could borrow and which was our van.  Cathy said she looked very shifty and something didn't quite feel right about her. Also, the lakeside walk was on a boring concrete road with views of but no access to the lake.  We have a rule that if one of us feels uncomfortable at a stop, then we'll just move on, no questions asked. Well, I wasn't keen on the view and Cathy was suspicious of that woman and her male friend driving around in his car.  So I looked up another aire, we drove off and are now happily parked up with amazing views over the champagne vineyards.

We had a brew on arrival then went for a walk.  First we wandered through the tracks between the vines, noting the terroir was very stony and chalky, but clearly the vines like it. Back up the hill, we walked into the village.  Although quite small, there are several small, family champagne houses, offering tours, tastings and the opportunity to buy a bottle or two. The locals were also setting up for some form of party at the village hall, maybe for tomorrow's Bastille Day celebrations. 

Back at the van Cathy prepared a delicious dinner of pan cooked salmon, with vegetables and lentils, which we enjoyed with a (cheap!) bottle of Saumur cremant.  Now washed up, we're sat looking at the view, with a mix of dark clouds dropping sharp but short rain showers, combined with the occasional shaft of sunlight.  It's quiet, we're full and no doubt will be nodding off soon - so it's goodnight from her and it's goodnight from him - goodnight! 

Post-lunch walk - great skies

ooh - we're heading into that!

Great view from the aire at Mutigny

Future bubbles!

One of several small, family champagne houses in the village

Sunday, 2 June 2013

A time to reflect

Sunday 2 June 2013

We're parked up at an Aire alongside the river at Mareuil sur Ay.  It's small with only 8 spaces and there were only 3 spaces left when we arrived at about 1245.  Judging by the number of motorhomes that arrived and left disappointed, it's clearly popular. We have a lovely view over the canal and the sun is still shining at 2100.

We were awake at 0515 this morning to clear blue skies and, after a quick breakfast, we packed up and left the car park in Cite Europe at 0730.  It was a fairly long drive today - 5 hours - but we wanted to head south towards the sunshine.  Not long after leaving Calais, the many Commonwealth War Graves signs reminded us that we were in the area that saw much fighting in World War One. Although we've seen the cemeteries on the TV and in books, the first one we saw for real took our breath away.  The sight of so many gravestones, perfectly aligned and so well tended, is a stark reminder of the pain and futility of war.  We stopped at the Cabaret Rouge British Military Cemetery, just outside the village of Souchez. We took a quiet walk around in clear blue skies with skylarks singing above us - it was very peaceful. Most of the dead were in their early 20s.  They had been buried with their mates from the same regiment. What was even more poignant was the vast number of graves of unknown soldiers. We only covered one small area of the cemetery and this was only one of many hundreds of similar cemeteries, but we wanted to pay our respects in some small way.  We carried on with our journey south and as we past one of the final, large cemeteries, Emilie Sande's version of 'Imagine' started to play on the iPod.  A fitting finale to a sobering and reflective morning.

We carried on south, entering the champagne region and into the city of Reims.  As we passed,the champagne houses of Tattinger and Veuve Cliquout, I had to fight hard to keep Cathy locked in the motorhome to prevent her leaping out and scaling their walls!  We carried on, past the town of Epernay before arriving in Mareuil sur Ay. Although it's a fairly small village, it's surrounded by vine covered hills and there are many champagne houses in the village.  Sadly, like most things in France on a Sunday, they were all shut!  After a quick lunch of pâté, rillette, cheese & baguette, we took our chairs and kindles and spent the afternoon reading and snoozing by the riverside.  Later in the early evening we had a walk around the village to stick our noses through the large, wrought iron gates of the champagne houses and returned to the motorhome for something to eat.  As the sun sets, the wind has dropped and we're ready for sleep.  Tomorrow's first job is to find somewhere to buy a Jeton token so we can top up with fresh water.  Then we'll empty tanks and be on our way.  I've not felt like a bike ride yet. With two long driving days I think I'll go my first spin in a couple of days, when I'm feeling a little more relaxed and in the holiday zone.  Tomorrow we plan to meet up with some friends who run a Tea Shop in a small village by the Canal near Dijon. So it'll be another fairly long day in transit but we'll be a few hours further south and several degrees warmer!

Cabaret Rouge British Cemetery
There name liveth for ever more

Our first ever Aire
Champagne anyone?