Thursday, March 15, 2012

France Mar 2012 - Reims, Paris and Albert

France is a big place - there is so much to see. And as you can tell from this and the previous blog entries, we tried to do it all in a week!!

Sat 10/3 Beaune to Reims

First job was breakfast, of course. Next we cleared up and left Vergisson, to head North towards Beaune (pronounced “bone”). This is the heart of serious red Burgundy. After a short 100km drive North we popped into Beaune to check out the market and architecture. We then did a driving tour thro Cote de Beaune, to the South of the town. The countryside is similar to Macon, hilly with quaint villages dotted among vines as far as the eye could see. We stopped for lunch atop of one of the hills and feasted on jambon, bread and cheese from the market.

Next it was North again, heading towards Dijon and the Cote de Nuit area. This is a narrow strip of vines which contains some of the biggest names in the region, France, indeed the world. And they are tiny – Domaine Romanee-Conti is the most expensive and most famous pinot in the world. Wikipedia tells me that a single bottle of the 1990 vintage has sold for almost US$11,000. No, it was not on free tasting, and no we didnt buy any!! And the vineyard is 4.4 acres – Geoff and Leanne, our friends in Melbourne live on a 5 acre block that is bigger than Romanee-Conti. We popped into a Cave and tried wines from a few areas around Beaune, and the credit card was given a nudge once more. Am sure the car groaned when we got back in, with another box of wine.

It was then time drive North, from Dijon back to Reims. Time for a couple of Leffes then bread, cheese, meats and wine. Yum once more.

Sun 11/3 Paris

The 9.15 Train took us to Paris est. It was meant to be a 45 mins journey but took 2 hrs! What little comfort we had was knowing that its not just the UK rail system that has problems

The Metro tipped us out at Place de Bastille – a flashpoint in the revolution but nowadays a groovy spot with the biggest opera house I have even seen. We did a walk thro two arrondisments – the Marais and Les Halles, covering the Jewish quarter, the Pompidou Centre, St Eustace, Forum Les Halles, the Bourse (stock exchange) and the river Siene. Lunch took the form of a falafel in the heart of la Marais, which was noteworthy enough to make this blog entry.

For our main course, we headed North to Stadt de France to see the best rugby match we have had the pleasure to watch. Thank you Bob for the tickets – everything about it was just wonderful; the atmosphere, bands, tension and the small matter a very close match that ended France 22-24 England, but only after a Trahn-Duc drop goal attempt dropped a meter under the bar. Swing Low, Sweet Chariot....

We managed to get an early train back to Reims for a mirror image of the previous night – beer, bread, cheese, meats and wine. Yuuuuuuum. Readers may be starting to notice a thread here....

12/3 Reims to Albert

Our last full day in France on this trip started with breakfast then a quick schlep across to Reims Cathedral. This is at least our 3rd trip to Reims, yet Notre Dame never fails to take the breath away. It is architectural history, from the middle ages to now. French kings were crowned there, one at the behest of Joan of Arc. It was clobbered on both world wars. Some of the older stained glass remains but much was removed by the Germans, and some of the modern replacements includes the work of Mark Chagall among others. These word will not even try and do the place justice – its a staggering building.

Grog lovers will know that Reims is in the champagne region. So off we popped on our next driving tour, down to Epernay and its surrounding villages. The scene was very similar to Burgundy further South - miles on miles of vines, with lots of people bending over pruning back the vines to the main root.

Our trek towards Calais saw us detour slightly to the West, to the Somme. We were last here in 2001, but the place is so huge there is always more to see and take in. Our first stop was Villers-Bretennoux and the Australian memorial. Like many sites on the Somme, it is a sobering, yet inspiring place to be. The rows on rows of white headstone, beautifully kept by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission are a sad reminder to those who fell in battle. Even more so are the names of 11,000 or so whose bodies were never found, doe to the fortunes of war. As recently as 2010 as large mass grave was found at Fromelles, which has created big news in Australia recently, as relatives of lost soldiers have been asked for DNA to help identify lost men. And this all happened close to 100 years ago. The memorial is pock marked, after fighting in the second world war.

We drove down the road from Albert to Bapaume, dropping into the remarkable Newfoundland (Canadian) Memorial at Beaumont Hamel. The Canuks bought a piece a land where the Newfoundlands came up against heavily entrenched German lines, just a few metres from their own. The trenches have been retained, and a short walk allows people to see just how close they were. No mans land is like a lunar landscape thanks to relentless shelling. Two more cemeteries show the outcome.

13/3 Albert to Calais to Kenley to Bristol

We just had time to visit the Somme trench museum in Albert before heading off to Calais for our train thro the tunnel. A 250m disused WWII bomb shelter has been converting into a fascinating museum, with a great trench simulation with lights and sounds and a few stuffed rats.

Our train was at 12.20, we had lunch with Nicko, picked up the bass, which only just fitted into the car with all the grog, then headed back to Bristol in time to unpack and tend to a couple of attention starved cats.

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