The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow……
…..and if not, there is always the ‘day after that.’ But when you are camping and living in a 12 foot long house – ‘that darn it, shows all the dirt,’ you cross your fingers and your toes for that big ball in the sky to shine down upon you…. The world just LOOKS better. But when it doesn’t, and the grey clouds refuse to part and your soaked through…. you just gotta’ grin and bear it.
Sunday, September 11th: Like for example, when we headed into France, we made a pit-stop into Luxembourg, Luxembourg. (Hmmm, kind of like visiting Iowa City, Iowa- Poor post office.) We went mainly for the el cheapo petrol that our German friend Steffen told us all about (that perked our ears when its over $80+ to fill up our thirsty Diva). We arrived and the heavens parted and no sooner did we take one step out of the van then did it started chucking down. But would that stop our afternoon adventure as we made our way through the city of Luxembourg, Luxembourg? …. Okay, so maybe it was more the fact we found parking—and we didn’t want to waste it. (You know how priceless this is) But regardless, we were going to traipse through that city on a Sunday and soak up the sites. Lesson #1- It was Sunday (nothing is open) and Lesson #2- Cafés don’t much care for soaking wet tourists that just want a cup of coffee (but good ol’ tried and true McDonalds, accepts EVERYONE) Lesson #3- We should’ve stocked up on ice in Germany. Because unbenounced to us, we were just coming upon the lands of no ‘cubes de glace.’ (ice cubes)
So as we were stocking up on our el cheapo 1.32 euros per liter petrol on the way out of wet Luxembourg (in Germany it was about 1.50 euros) I popped into the gas station to pick up some bags of ice for our cooler as we have had no problem finding this through England, Denmark and Germany. (We have an excellent cooler box system in the van that is insolated and even has a drip spout at the bottom to let out the melted water….right out the bottom of the car, brilliant!) Well, you would’ve have though I asked for the ‘rain to CEASE’ as she gave me a funny look—then, before I knew it produced small zip lock bags of hand made ice (most likely for their own beverages) and charged me 2 euros. I wanted to be polite, so I paid the kind lady, and thought perhaps she must have misunderstood. We then spent the next 4 hours driving into France stopping at every bloody grocery store/convenience store/gas station…. and no a one, not one person had any idea what I wanted with a ‘bag of ice.’
Which leads me to one conclusion; certainly there isn’t a lot of coolers sold here then, either. What about outdoor parties? Barbeques? PICNICS?! How on earth do they ever keep their saucisses (sausages) bière and vin blanc cold as they bask in the sun on the overlooking the vineyards? ….one point against France just coming into the gates, I am afraid.
Monday, September 12th: But then…. *insert one long dramatic strum on the harp here* The French redeemed their selves in full, because the very next day after spending a beautiful evening at a campsite in the town of Verdun, France- this is when we had our first ‘Pain au chocolat.’ Or what we most commonly called it as it became our weakness- “The Pain of Chocolate.” A gorgeous warm french croissant filled with ooey gooey chocolate goodness. Does life get much better? I think not. Let the French be stingy on their ‘cubes de glacon’ just so long as they carried on making all those baked goods.
So onward we went—Heading south to our destination of the Chateau for our first work away project. We were due to arrive the 15th of September, but still had a few stops on our adventure left. The sun was shining, our pores were oozing butter from our ‘new found love’- and we were now ready to wash it down with some lovely bubbly. We were heading to Epernay—the capital du champagne and home to many of the world most celebrated Champagne houses. It is said that beneath the streets in 110Km of subterranean cellars, more than 200 millions bottles of champagne, just waiting to be popped open for some fabulous occasion. For us, just getting from A) to B) was enough to celebrate…. So I couldn’t wait to get my hands on some ‘real’ bottles of Champagne. Oh sure, I’ve had the bubbly before, but it must COME from this region to be able ‘trademark’ it as real-true-blue champagne. Unfortunately, little did we know that fancy tastes call for fancy costs. …. Someone very near and dear to me once said that she was “On a beer budget with champagne taste.” Well, we were determined to have champagne swirling in our mouths by the end of the day REGARDLESS of our beer budget. Perhaps it wouldn’t be Moet & Chandon (which was just around the corner—and 11 Euros for just a 1/2 glass tasting!), but the local champagne we purchased at our campsite that night, well—it did just fine. (As we feasted on cheese and meats upon of our table/toilettes.)
SIDENOTE: We were hoping to take a jaunt down the Av de champagne (where many of Epernay’s Champagne houses are based) but alas, after finding out the prices of tastings—we could afford only one. And ended up at Achille Princier. However, each tasting makes you take a ‘tour.’ Which involves a long and ‘informative’ (as they say) video…. and then a walk throughout its cellar. We just wanted to get to the good stuff…. After 8 Euros per person for 3 teensy tinsey small tastes of their champagne, we buggered right off. We could purchase a bottle for that! FYI- In France, usually most vineyards/local wine cooperatives/private cellars offer free tastings (which we were in search of) but alas, not in this region. C’est FANCY in Epernay!! ….That’s 2 points against France.
Tuesday, September 13th: The next morning before we drove towards our next destination- we headed up towards the hills to visit a quaint town called Hautvillers. (Where three centuries ago, Dom Perignon created Champagne as we know it…. So it lays the claim of the BIRTHPLACE of Champagne!) The vineyard views had me doing ‘jazz hands!’ I was so thrilled. …..as to me, it’s one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. I can’t seem to soak it in fast enough…. how the vines are all aligned in straight rows up and down the hills, deep purple grapes hanging down from the curved stocks and how lush the world looks when its in your view. France, you’re back in the game.
So we were on our way to the town of Troyes. It worked perfectly into our itinerary as it was along our ‘toll-less’ roads we had come to know and love (avoiding the motorway at all costs!), was small enough to maneuver around in one day and had a campsite. Brilliant. Other then that, we knew little about this medieval town we were about to embark upon. But to our surprise, as soon as we stepped our TOES into the ‘cork shaped city center’ I felt like I should start looking for the 3 Musketeers. It was sensational….. I can only describe it as Renaissance Festival-tastic with its half timbered buildings, mysterious alley ways and cobblestone laden streets.
One of my favorite bits was Ruelle des Chats (Alley of the Cats) as dark and narrow as it was four centuries ago- its truly like you are stepping back into the Middle Ages. The stones at intervals along the sides were installed to give pedestrians a place to stand when horses clattered by. Can you even imagine?? And I was on one foot, wearing flip-flops AND jeggings holding onto a beam….. How did they EVER balance with their heeled shoes and poufy corseted dresses? France, you are now in the lead!
So after a ‘proper exploration’ of that magical town of Troyes (quite possibly one of my favorites yet) and a quick peak at the covered market (who needs sunshine when you have blocks and blocks of market priced food/chees/meats…. all under one roof?? ) we decided to press on and spend our last night in Diva in a town called Chatillion-Sur-Siene.
Wednesday, September 14th: What a way for us to end our journey down to France then in this small charming town along the Siene…. and how ironic that we ended it with the ‘cheapest campsite’ in Europe, yet! At 11.80 Euros and at top of a beautiful hillside we couldn’t go wrong. We could even walk right into town to purchase our first bottle of Cremant de Bourgogne. (Burgundy’s own bubbly—much tastier in my opinion and priced more towards our ‘beer budget’).
We also had a lovely picnic (sans cooler) at the Source de la Douix. Which is a 600L a second artesian spring that flows from the bottom of a 30m cliff. One of the oldest Celtic religious sites in Europe. There was a sign on the cliff the read “In the early ears of the Christian era, people were drawn to this spot for its healing properties….Although 180 meters of its underground course through the limestone has been explored, the aura of mystery still surrounds the springs.” Pretty sensational. There was definitely an ‘aura’ when we took a picture at this incredible Celtic site…… It was certainly a magical place, and we were luck enough to have it all to ourselves as we enjoyed our picnic that afternoon.
It was also ONLY fitting that we ended our 12 day- 900 mile road-trip adventure from Denmark to France by setting up our table inside and having breakfast on that morning of the 15th of September for the very first time. We had to chuckle….. it worked out pretty well, it only took us a few months and 4,700 miles later in Diva to figure it out. Go figure.
So….. that ends the PART ONE of our Viva la France journey. To think, it had only just begun…. we had ‘castles yet to storm,’ bikes to ride, pain au chocolat to eat and beautiful Montagny vin to drink….. The best was yet to come, I hope you enjoy the view. I know it sure looks good from here.