All Citied out!

Day 15 – 11/07/2017 – So, from our initial outset of walking from Calais, France to then using the train network to continue our journey by visiting Cities across France, Switzerland and Italy, being thoroughly spoilt by staying in hotels rather than the ‘coffin’ tent and campsites has been a whistle stop tour! Our life prior to this adventure, such City breaks would have been a well researched and planned week-ends away using the precious 20 day annual leave allowance from the daily grind that pays the mortgage for a house whereby we spend less time in than the office…Figure that one out, if you can! In the 15 years together, we have not made the time available as often pushing these trips to the back of the long list of ‘things to do’ to now having visited them in under 2 weeks! It has been a full on and have to say, in need of some ‘rest & relaxation’ time by the beach and balance the mind, body and soul by simply being in the spiritual Maijella of Abruzzo.

So we leave Pisa behind and head across the spine of Italy towards the stunning Adriatic Coastline to Pescara. Our route will take us through Firenze and again the train is of exceptional standard, the U.K. Network could be learn from our European cousins! I was desperate to use a bathroom and not one to generally use public toilets (however this is easily overcomed when travelling) I head to use the facility…The train may have been clean but upon entering the room the room smelt of urine, floor was sticky luckily I had toilet paper with me…I pressed every possible button, panel in sight, but do you think I could get the toilet to flush? Nope…so, slightly I’m arrested and hoping no one was waiting to come in, I hastily leave the room and descreetly ask G to go visit the toilet and see if he can work out how the toilet flushes! Luckily, there were no other passengers in ear shot…G came back having realised that once you leave the room the toilet flushes automatically! (The pan was empty when he went in, thank goodness!!) drama over…😳

We had to change trains at Faenza with a 1hr wait so we went to have lunch at the station restaurant. The connecting train arrived on time and an air conditioned compartment train with allocated seats. So back packs on trying to walk the narrow passageway in the hope that no other passengers were coming in the other direction…so we locate the compartment and can only see 1 seat available in the 6 seated compartment. So, we slide the door open and explain that our seats are in here, a young Italian lad confirms that his seat is occupied by another passenger hence him sitting in one of ours and the woman sitting in the other seat just shrugs and mumbles in Italian! Great, so this is how it is then, we are currently blocking the passageway so no one can pass, well it would definitely invade ones personal space if they do try…the conductor arrives asking the problem and we explain that our seats are here but 1 is already taken and no one seems to want to move, if it was a short journey I would not have bothered, us English do not like to make a fuss in general and I’m not one for a scene…but I am not standing in the passageway for the 3hr journey…she asks for tickets and turns out that the strugging, mumbling woman’s seat is actually in the compartment next door, she however, wanted to sit next to her friend hence not moving…well she spent the remainder of her journey in the passageway on her phone, suffice to say the journey was peaceful as the other passengers had earphones in and or slept. The weather outside was extremely hot so the aircon struggled to keep the compartment cool, the sunshade was down the whole journey so no view out the window, trying to stretch out was impossible due to the close proximity of the other persons legs/feet. Having to then look out of the door when the passengers opposite decide to munch their way through their food in front of you! I could not wait to get off this train…

We arrived at Pescara and now needed to get a bus to the Airport where we had booked our car hire. We had not realised at the time of booking that we could have collected the car from the local office outside of the bus/train station…so we now try to work out which ticket we need to purchase and then which bus to get…is nothing ever simple? It is ridiculously hot and trying to keep calm, Struggling to understand which bus we needed I interrupted a couple of a Italian bus drivers in conversation and got told the stop number. Once on the bus, the driver was clearly having a bad day as he was very irratic in his driving and lacked any patience with passengers even pulling away from the bus stop having seen a passenger running for the bus! We eventually arrive at the airport thank goodness and go to the car hire desk, within a few minutes we were in the car and on our way up the mountains, oh the joys of having a car is bliss!

We arrive at our little retreat and there is work to be done in order to set us up, it’s July and its extremely hot as Italy is experiencing a heatwave which began in June, so land needs attention as is overgrown as usual and the house is like an oven and needs airing and cleaning…we manage to get organised within a few hours and then relax with a few glasses of wine under the portico, watching the sun- set over the Gran Sasso Mountain range whilst discussing what we are going to do for the next un-expected stay of 3.5 Mths in Italy!


What happens next…

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Decision time…The leaning tower it is then…Pisa, Italy 🇮🇹 

Day 13 – 10/07/2017 – So we set out on our 4 month adventure back at the Port of Dover, Kent, UK with 65ltr & 50ltr back packs carrying the bare essentials in order to walk & camp the ‘Via Francigena’. We had already completed the Canterbury to Dover section in May and the sheer excitement of taking this time out from the daily grind, spending quality time together by walking through France, Switzerland to Rome, Italy was a real adventure! The longest time either of us have ever taken away from working life was 2 weeks in one go! Holiday allowance is so ‘precious’ that in order to spread out the time equally across the year we usually only ever take 1 week (2 days to travel & unwind, 3 days cramming in as much sightseeing /relaxing, 2 days used travel & stressing about going back!) you know how it is…

Walking through France along canals, in woodlands and on numerous country roads was exhilarating in itself. We wanted to camp along the way however, as the days went on we found it difficult to find campsites along the route that were within a ‘reasonable’ walking distance. We were using the Cicerone guide book to follow the route of ‘Sigeric the Great’ and wanted to camp as much as possible, trying to find registered campsites along the route was not as straight forward as we had first thought. On paper hiking for 25-30km each day didn’t seem too much of a task and generally it isn’t…however, add a 50ltr backpack (full) and it kind of slows you down somewhat especially after the first 15km. 

So we had to make a decision… 

1) Dump the back packs? – not happening! #mostexpensivebagiown 

2) Buy a Donkey – is that even possible? #donkeyforsaleinfrance

3) Postpone the walk and enjoy ourselves? – tough decision, walking shouldn’t be painful! #soundslikeaplan

That’s it then, decision made, not entirely happy as I’m not one to give up on a challenge! That said, we would need double the time in order to complete the walk by only covering 15km per day, we cannot offload anything to lighten the load as we are carrying the bare minimum as it is. In our opinion and now experience, in order to complete such long distance walking a daypack just carrying food and water would be sufficient with planned stops where your kit would be waiting for you, but then that does not allow you the freedom to just stop when and where ever you like, not making your own way just following the paths of others.

Over the past 12 days we have covered a vast distance by foot and rail. Following the route until we arrived at Genoa. This morning I have learned that G has always wanted to visit Pisa, Italy 🇮🇹 so, with back packs at the ready we head towards the rail station to purchase tickets and off we go!

We arrive at Pisa, and it is stifling hot! Still nowhere booked for the night but plenty of time as it’s not even lunchtime yet. So over a coffee and wifi I manage to locate a reasonably priced room…many hotels were either fully booked already (it is July) or way over our travelling budget so using ‘head over heart’ I reserve a room at Hotel Leonardo It takes us around 20 minutes on foot to locate the hotel, the room will not be ready until 2pm but there is a room whereby we can leave our belongings and with a quick ‘cheeky’ change of clothes we leave the bags and head out to find this ‘leaning tower’! 

Whilst wandering the streets heading towards the location of Campo dei Miracoli, we decided to have a ‘Cono Gelato’ at the special tourist price of €4 each, well they were ‘queen’sized! Soon after we reach Piazza dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles) and there it is…the tower, standing proud…well alright, not quite so proud… a little on the tipsy side 😂 and it is of course heaving with tourists and souvenir or tatt sellers (as we call them) dotted along the pavements and in the entrance. 

So, here we are, the ‘leaning Tower’ of Pisa… I have to admit that I was a little ‘underwhelmed’ (not unusual to the ones that know me..) as the Duomo di Pisa (Cathedral) and the Baptistry are both of exquisite grandeur that I feel The Campanile (Tower) is quite insignificant, that said the Campanile is the most visited attraction in all of Italy and anyone that plans a visit always mentions that they are off to see the tower, ‘technically’ it’s pretty amazing to have leaned so far and still open to the public so I guess this is why so many are intrigued and drawn here. We spent quite some time people watching taking ‘selfies’ and positioning themselves in such a way that looks as though they are pushing up the Tower…it was all quite amusing, then G suggests that I too join the several hundreds of other tourists to “stand side on and arms stretched out with palms upright…that’s it, now hold it…say ‘formaggio’! I’ll give him ‘formaggio’ I’m the one that takes the photos I’m not keen on being in them…


We wander around some more admiring the buildings and then walk through the local artisan market where a seller has made bracelets out of cutlery! Yes, old cutlery with detailed handles, you know the sort Grandma would have had, the cutlery not the jewellery 😂 They were pretty cool…right up my street…as upcycling is very close to my heart and of course…I wanted one, G just kept walking saying yes they are great…I tell you what, I will make you one! Yeah, yeah…but he did, a day later, a little raw in its state and needs some fine ‘tuning’ however, made it none the less and saved us €25!

So we arrived back at the hotel and the receptionist gave us the key to room 325… albeit on different floors but the room numbers 25 and 17 have been a reoccurabce throughout our trip…The room was still occupied by the ‘chamberman’, whilst waiting in the hallway I was sure that I felt the building move, mentioned it to G just in case it was me being overheated, lack of lunch, definitely not any side effect of drinking in the hot sun…he felt it too…the earth moved for both of us! Yeah baby! We mentioned this to the ‘man-maid’ and his response was “possibly, it is a very old building!” Well, what could we say to that but thanked him kindly and entered the room for some much needed ‘air-con’.

Later that afternoon we ventured out to find somewhere to eat a late lunch and came across a bar/restaurant along one of the streets, so we sat down and ordered drinks to begin with, it was quite apparent that the waitress was either having a particularly bad day or nearing the end of her shift as she was somewhat ‘fed up’ in her deminure,  there was an obvious newbie on the shift as when she was clearing a table she dropped a glass and was really upset…the kind of upset whereby she knew that this would be taken out of her pay…however, more attentive than the other one…

We ordered some pasta dishes and then waited to see what came out…there was a table of Americans next to us (again) nothing personal just an observation but they are so damn sure of themselves and loud…it makes interesting listening for us people watchers/listeners…it’s not that we have nothing to talk about ourselves but being with each other 24hrs a day, it’s nice to just sit and chill…and listen…’oh my what one has’ and ‘what one is getting’ and ‘one is better than the other’ for goodness sake, stop trying to out-do each other! No one really cares what you have or don’t have and if they do, well that’s their problem…

So late-lunch over we wander through the streets some more looking at the markets and shops. We stop off for a liquid gold refreshment…I mean beer, but at €6 for 2 small 200ml beers it may as well have been liquid gold! It’s a tourist trap expect to pay the tourist prices…we later grab some pizza from a local pizzeria ‘recommended’ by Ian, G’s Bro! It would be rude not to 😜x

So that was our fleeting visit to Pisa…where will we be tomorrow…keep reading to find out!


(A couple of photos for my friend Mrs B. Embroidery shop and cake candle shop! 😘) x

Genoa, Italy 🇮🇹 sightseeing day

Day 12 – 09/07/2017 – G has woken up with a headache! Of course, nothing to do with the copious amounts of red beer consumed last night though! We head downstairs to the breakfast room, not expecting much as it’s complimentary with the room however, pleasantly surprised, lovely choice of continental meats, cheeses, yogurts and freshly baked croissants, cakes and biscuits all to be washed down with fresh juices and coffee….mmm, that should help soak up some of the alcohol before we set out for a full day of sightseeing. 

So, the Genoa area has been inhabited since the 5th or 4th millennium BC, and in the early centuries slowly grew its merchant ships to become the leading commercial carrier of the Mediterranean Sea. The Genoese invented and created the cloth ‘blue Jean’ from which derived the name ‘jeans’ for which was used to protect their goods from weather on the docks. Also the birthplace of Christopher Columbus. In today’s times Genoa has an industry for cruise ships and tourists. 

We head towards the ‘Centro Storico’ old town, the buildings are of such grandeur they shadow us from the early morning sunshine whilst strolling along the cobbled pavements however the heat of the City is not so forgiving. In some parts it looks dirty and drab, but once inside the rich cultural history of art, music and cuisine reminds us of its glorious past. Part of the old town was inscribed on the World Heritage list (UNESCO) 2006.

A few pics above of some of the places visited including Basilicata Della Santissima a stunning Cathedral with Gold frescoed ceilings. Porta Soprana is the most well known gate in the Genoa City. Genoa has the most walls and longest surviving in all the Cities in Italy. Piazza De Ferrari situated in the heart of the centre and is renowned for its Fountain. Located near the fountain are headquarters for banks and other financial institutions mainly referred to as the City for local Genoeses. 

We continued our sightseeing in the afternoon by heading out towards the coast to enjoy the beach. We walk the Main road passing the port and found ourselves in a fisherman’s bay where the locals are taking advantage of soaking up the sun on the small sandy beach or sunbathing on the rocks. We sat for a while on the rocks and then decided to make our way back as it will be a good 10km walked upon returning to the hotel. The reward is a Gelato to keep us cool in the hot sun. 

Later that evening we dine out in a local restaurant whereby there appears to be some friendly rivalry between two restaurants in order to get the customers in, we had already decided to go into this restaurant earlier in the day so no selling needed but let the waiter feel like he had made a victory against the other reassuring. The restaurant itself had a huge pavement area sited away from the road on a slope, this should be interesting when they bring out the drinks etc… I’m still not 100% comfortable with  eating alfresco with the insects but I do love people watching and we are hungry and not interested in walking any further. 

Whilst waiting we observe an American ‘larger than life’ family also looking for somewhere to dine for the evening, they were across the road looking at the Kebab takeaway (I know this sounds very stereotypical and not intended to offend) however, they have a young child with them and she is whining that she just wants Strawberries! So far on our travels I have heard many American accents and the sheer fact that they appear unreserved unlike us English. So they are clearly unable to satisfy the child at the Kebab shop and is inticed over by the waiter, all bar the Dad, he’s dead set on Kebab! The waiter confirms that he has Strawberries for the child and they are seated next to us and in my view…this is not good, as my eyes and ears are drawn to the accent and I left my invisible cloak back in the room! I smile pleasantly at the little girl as I struggle to stop staring….this is confirmed when the Mum says to me ‘Bounjorno’! Having had my staring acknowledged I return the greeting and place my attention back to G. Unfortunately, due to the volume and tone of her accent I am unable to avoid raising the corner of my lips into a full blown ‘dimpled’ smile when She then announces (in an American accent, who is large than life) that she really wants to try the ‘melon wrapped in Parma ham’! Are you kidding me? Does America not have melons? with Ham? I guess it really is the simple things in life that I must take for granted! 

 Lausanne, Switzerland 🇨🇭 to Genoa, Italy 🇮🇹 

Day 11 – 08/07/2017 – so we arrived at the Lausanne rail station for 9.30am grabbing breakfast on the go as we have decided to head towards Milan. We purchased the rail tickets, the journey will involve a change of trains at Domodossola station. The route was very pretty travelling up into the mountains heading towards Brig then changing at Domodossola to Milano. The train was late arriving at Domodossola station and we had to locate the next connecting train within minutes…OMG! We had to literally run from one end of a station to the other as we counted down the platforms we got to 17 and still, we cannot see the platform number that was showing on the departure board…the clock ticking (I mean how difficult can it be?) when suddenly we notice that that the platform actually shares the same track as platform 17 but some 50 metres down the track….it is not obvious…for a moment there I was beginning to think it was a ‘secret’ platform that only the locals seem to know about and we were like new recruits joining Hogwarts…time is not on our side and we do not want to miss this connecting train as will incur a few hours before the next one. G, in the mean-time has already sprinted down the platform like a greyhound chasing a rabbit, I on the other hand wishing that I had my extreme sports bra on, the one that feels like I am wearing a back brace…if nothing else it would have prevented the poor train driver from having to watch my chest swishing from side to side as I attempted to run with a heavily laden back pack, monkey mascot hanging on for dear life and sounding more like ‘wheezy’ from Toystory by the time I jumped onboard, phew! OK, so I may not have ‘jumped’ onboard…but, I made it…(after a shot of ventolin) and breathe! 

We finally arrive in Milano Centrale Railstation! It’s as busy as any City with increased security all over the place, we have noticed the presence of the Armed forces & Police at each of the stations within Europe so far. We need to decide whether to stay in another bustling city or if we go further out. Time for lunch, so we take up the opportunity of free wifi, aircon and some ‘dirt’ from a familiar fast food chain that is know as the king of burgers! Whilst waiting for G to return with some chicken meat in a bun and fizz, I check out the next possible stopover. Genoa has shown up as a destination reachable from Milan so after the pit stop, we head off to get a ticket…whilst G is purchasing tickets at one of the machine a black lady asks G to buy her a ticket, being the English gentleman that he is, offers to help…what he didn’t realise was that she wanted him to ‘buy’ the ticket for her! For which then his kind generosity ended, unfortunately there were many people begging at this station. Without sounding harsh, we cannot help everyone.

The train seems to be already on the platform earlier than stated on the board so we board the train and find a seat….once the journey is in full swing, another passenger seems to think that we are in his seat, well his ticket shows a seat number and ours does not? it appears that we have boarded the Intercity train that reserves a seat and is more expensive….oops! So the conductor sorts it all out and we pay the additional cost and get to stay in the seats as appears that other passengers are also sitting in the wrong seats, but they had paid. Well another lesson learned, check the trains as they never usually leave earlier than stated. So after a stopover station visit to Milan, using the €1 toilet facilities, had lunch at the king of burger chain, bought another train ticket we finally arrive at 17:30 in Genoa…so, next step, to find our room for the night at CIT Hotel Brittania.

Located a stones throw from the station, ✔️for convenience whilst walking, we check in and head towards the room ready to offload the bags. So, we open the door to the room and firstly the intoxicating smell of air freshener hits me and immediately feel the need to grab a shot of ventolin, secondly the room looks like that of an 80’s porn movie ( G’s description, ha ha) lovely view from the window of yet another ‘fire escape’ stair well! (Seems that these online booking hotel sites secure particular rooms for an economical price) I know that if I was to spend anymore time in this room I would need medical attention so, I take myself off to reception to explain that I’m asthmatic and that the scent in the room is far too strong for me be able to sleep in without medical attention, the receptionist is able to assist with just another 3 rooms and calls for the housekeeper to show me the rooms. I finally settle on room 125 which has a patio (upgrade?) is light, airy, has aircon and no air freshener in the air or in sight! Vast improvement on the ‘pornmovie’ room but it appears that these rooms are used for pet owners and smokers, as duely noted from the neighbouring rooms…so we have called it a shatio or a shitdeck! The hotel is quite tired however, the staff are very accommodating, towels and sheets all fresh and toiletries aplenty and includes breakfast and all in budget, so we offload our kit and take to the streets to check out Genoa! 

So as we head out from the hotel towards the port our first impressions were not quite as expected, there are many different cultures, groups of males that appear to be migrants from across the waters. As we wandered along the port we came across yet another music festival! This one was ticket entry only and feeling exhausted from a day of travelling we decided to look for a place to eat. Heading back towards the hotel, G suggests popping into a bar that is playing music, so we head in and the waitress/barmaid welcomes us in, explains that there is a buffet and beer deal on if we want to help ourselves? We decided on a pasta dish and 2 pints red beer, found a table and sat down to watch what appeared to be pre-selected karaoke contestants in full swing including a panel of judges and camera crew! Well the evening entertainment  certainly put a positive spin on our initial doubts here and with weary heads (quite possibly the effects of the beer) we head off to bed and look forward to digging beneath the surface of Genoa tomorrow.

Lausanne, Switzerland 🇨🇭 – Sightseeing 

Day 10 – 07/07/2017 – We decided to spend another day here in Lausanne and set off in search of the shores of Lake Geneva which we could just see in the distance from the hill top street view. The walk down looks easy enough, great workout for the thigh muscles…however, that would mean working the calve muscles coming back up right? Well it seems the lovely hoteliers have thought of everything…including a tram pass for our stay, to ensure we really experience the local life a little less painfully and without the risk of a cardiac arrest upon returning! Having purchased breakfast on the go from a patisserie we later stumble across the The Olympic Museum, with a panoramic restaurant with a view over Lake Geneva and the Alps this is a must see attraction. Set over three floors, the exhibition presents the origin of the games, the competitions and the athletic spirit through over 150 screens and 1500 objects. The Olympic torches and medals of all of The Olympic Games as well as the equipment of the most famous athletes. It really is quite lovely here, a relaxed, extremely clean and well maintained gardens. The main park entrance leads out into the main road that runs alongside the Lake which is an added bonus so we were able to walk the path around the lake. There is a 5* hotel whereby several A-listers have and still do reside, Gstaad Palace Hotel welcomed guests such as Sir Winston Churchill, Elizabeth Taylor /Richard Burton era (the pair owned a chalet here) and is still a popular celebrity resort hosting Madonna, Anne Hathaway, Valentino fashion designer. Today residents include Julie Andrews, Bernie Ecclestone and Johnny Hallyday. The Swiss are notoriously private people so anyone seeking discretion can be sure to receive that here…

As we continued round the lake we could see a secure outdoor children’s pool that was in full swing with parents entertaining their children. We sat on the lake wall for a while absorbing the sun rays and tranquility as we watched a few locals swimming the lake, triathletes we suspected as a couple of them had already exited the water and were placing their trainers on and peeling off wetsuits to then continue on with a run…feeling exhausted seeing so many energetic people has tired us out…so we head towards the tram stop 😂,  not knowing where we would end up but in no particular rush this would be a great way to see more of the area. 

After a pic-nic style lunch we headed for lausanne Cathedral in the heart of the old town, the majestic cathedral overlooks the City, seen as one of the most beautiful gothic art monuments in Europe, it attracts more than 400,000 visitors every year. After a full afternoon of walking and sightseeing we decided to look for somewhere to eat, it is busy-everywhere…we very nearly ended up in…dare I even say it…McDonalds! We ended up in the Steakhouse next door sitting for too close to other diners as the restaurant attempts to cram diners in outside on the pavement…firstly to make it look busier and secondly, it’s far too hot to sit inside. It’s expensive, but then everything is here…I end up with a salad that lacked any imagination and G has ribs as usual… Having awkwardly eaten said meals we are now €50 euros down and I for one am now regretting G’s street food option as the festival continues up in the old town and probably would not be feeling quite so ripped off and in need of a sweetener…so we wander back into the old town grab some freshly made Churros. We then head back to the hotel room that overlooks the Cathedral bridge from our window to listen to the brass band that are performing Bond theme tunes whilst feasting on churros and red wine! 

Aurevoir Dijon 🇫🇷 – Boungiorno Lausanne 🇨🇭 

Day 9 – 06/07/2017 – All packed and ready to go, we set off from City Loft apartments at around 9.30am having enjoyed our stay here in Dijon. At this precise moment in time we have no idea where we are going to be tonight..the feeling is of excitement and adventure for me and my observations are that G also appears to be settling into this spontaneous approach to travelling. To be honest, I think that anything other than walking long distance with the backpacks right now is appealing to G…

The weather is hot! really hot…our tops are already soaked through just from walking from hotel to the station. Mmm…just gotta love a sweaty top within half an hour of putting it on…not! Anyway, having checked out available routes from Dijon we decide to head for Lausanne, Switzerland. A bit of a wait at the station but this will allow us to acclimatise to the heat and give me plenty of time to look for our next accommodation for tonight.

So, having travelled what feels like all day due to the spontaneous approach we arrive at Lausanne. Using the invaluable maps.me app, we locate the hotel and follow the route. So, we are in Switzerland and although thoughts of the 1978 childhood programme Heidi came to mind it did not occur to me that the city centre would also be built on a mountain 😳 ha ha…so up we go and I mean up…the incentive is a glass of wine at the aptly named hotel  Swiss Wine Hotel yes, I know…travelled by train, staying in hotels and drinking wine? Feeling of guilt? Well just a little…hey, life is about experiences and making memories and we are definitely doing both of these.

We arrive at the hotel, melting from the hike uphill in the blistering heat…hotel is amazing with a room with a view of the Cathedral it is stylishly decorated throughout and we have also arrived in the middle of another music festival…could not have planned it better. Having settled in and freshened up, we head out to be entertained, wined and dined. No shortage of any of these as there are bands playing in several places set up around the centre, street food stalls of Pasta, Chinese, Potatoes, Sausages, crepes and sweet stalls and a bar stall on every corner using re-usable festival advertised cups, so you can wander round and fill up at various places at a reduced price…when I say reduced price let’s just say we didn’t get drunk on the discount 😂 

What a day, what a night, what a place!

Bounanotte!

This place is ‘Moutard’ 🤣 Dijon, France 🇫🇷 

Day 8 –  05/07/2017 – Tourist day today as there is much to see here in Dijon. Up✔️dressed✔️sun lotion✔️and walking shoes on✔️First stop…breakfast at a lovely air conditioned Boulangerie Paul, history relates that the ‘pate viennoise’ used to create croissants was popularised in France thanks to a small bakery in Paris called Boulangerie Viennoise, opened around 1838 by an Austrian former artillery officer called August Zang. This style of baking became all the rage, so in spite of their origin in Austria, these melt-in-the-mouth morning treats are inextricably linked with France.

So having indulged ourselves with delicious French pastries we head off for some culture…The Church of Notre Dame of Dijon, considered a masterpiece of 13th-Century Gothic architecture, it is located near the Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy which is our next stop. 

The palace constructed around 1450 was once home to Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy. Since inauguration in 2013, one can visit fifteen newly renovated rooms featuring art from the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Around 500 works dating from the 5th to the 16th century are displayed in rooms in which the original architecture marries well with contemporary. The Fine Arts Museum of Dijon is currently in phase 2 of the museums overhall and is scheduled for completion in 2019 in which time a total of 50 rooms will have been redone in order to present the Antiquities and 17th and 18th century collections.

Having immersed ourselves in so much history it was perfect timing for a leisurely late lunch since the midday rush was well and truly over. We found a lovely little restaurant in Place Émile Zola where we chilled out with a glass of wine…or two.


The remainder of the day was spent meandering the maze of streets that always seemed to lead us back to the centre Place De La Liberation, a huge paved open space surrounded by restaurants, bars and water fountains that shoot up from the centre of the paved area whereby onlooking parents watched amusingly whilst their children got totally drenched…it looked so much fun, oh to be that innocent age again.

(Additional photos to follow from camera as need wifi and charging cable…😳)

 Châlons-en-Champagne – Dijon…(pass the mustard G!)

Day 7 – 04/07/2017 – Up bright and early this morning as there are far more exciting things to see and do in Châlons-en-Champagne than just a campsite…amazing the effects that an overpriced plot of grass for a ‘coffin’ sized tent and zero facilities can do to get you moving in the morning…There were many other early rises on site too as we prepared to pack away the wet ‘coffin’. A couple we had met the previous evening had cycled from Holland down to Spain were on their return trip and had completed many other cycling tours across Europe and didn’t envy us walking with the backpacks…Mmm…this cycling malarkey is looking very appealing right now, panniers on and the wind in your hair? Yes, I can definitely see us doing this in the future…I may even be able to keep up with G for once! We hadn’t left the site long before we heard the ringing of bicycle bells…yes…the Dutch couple were on the move. As they past, they wished us ‘Bon voyage’ and us in turn waved them on whilst walking and they soon disappeared into the distance, just as I had imagined…’panniers on and wind in their hair’!

The route was the reverse of yesterday and as we walked back through the park we could see that the clean up operation in full swing from the previous evening of entertainment. We took a moment to sit and eat breakfast on the huge scramble net that was intended for the youngsters…well it’s early morning and we are young at heart…I am feeling very lethargic though today, the effects of an unrested night, backpack feels even heavier and legs do not want to move more than 5km today…G has described my walking pace to that of a spoilt sulking teenager dragging her feet…how rude! but true…

As we approached the city centre we are presented with ‘half timbered’ houses dating back to 1800’s, Cafés in full mid-morning swing, tables and chairs spilling out onto the pavements brimming with locals already caught up in conversations, others enjoying a café whilst reading the daily newspaper. We get the usual ‘inquisitive’ looks whilst we offload our packs just for a moment and soak up the atmosphere and also to kill some time whilst we wait for the Saint Etienne Cathedral to open. Other sites we saw were Notre-Dame-en-Vaux Church and Hôtel de ville (Town hall) Shortly after we head towards the Gare as today we are getting the train to Dijon. We have a 2hr wait before the next train arrives so rather than just sit and wait I decide to walk the platform minus the backpack and in doing so manage to clock up 3km! Whilst pacing up and down the platform many different trains pulled through, commercial transport carriages, passenger trains and then a train pulled through carrying Army jeeps and other vehicles required to carry out their jobs and the carriages up front were full of soldiers…where had they been? Where were they heading…witnessing this certainly makes you wonder how the families of those at war all those years ago and still today must have felt and feel when their loved ones are lucky enough to return from such assignments from serving their countries.

Around 4pm we arrive at Dijon…oh man it is hot! Damn hot! We set off to locate the apartment and after chasing G through the streets at pace, we locate the building. We arrive hot, sweaty and longing to cool off and freshen up and off load the back packs once again….now I know we have not walked anywhere near what we set out to achieve and the train has taken the strain but we are not out to prove anything to anyone other than ourselves. This is our time out and want to enjoy it and not end up hating it and in turn each other so, we have made a decision to go and visit a few cities whereby in the past have driven through, trying to follow the ‘via francigena’ route as much as we can but with the added assistance of the train. 

We arrive at City Loft Dijon and greeted by a friendly receptionist whom checks us in and hands us the entry card to the apartment room 17. The space is ample enough for us to firstly dry the tent out from the dew still clinging on from this morning. The view from the window is nothing to write home but best placed should we need to escape quickly or feel the need to join the staff for a swift cigarette break! We are on a budget…it’s cheap…it’s clean albeit a little dated with a toilet that sounds exactly like those on an aircraft when flushing…we later learn that this is connected to a water saving system! All refreshed, we head out and find a lovely restaurant seated in the square where we can enjoy a meal whilst watching the children playing in the water fountains that shoot up from the floor. We finished off with a Glacé each and a bottle of vin rouge purchased from the bar Le bel’hambra conveniently located near the apartment. It was quite apparent that the bar was closing up for the day with chairs on tables and mops in hand…however, an Italian man appeared from the back of the bar and asked us what we would like and happily served us. All the excitement of not knowing where you are going to be each day is all rather exhausting and looking forward to exploring the Dijon sights tomorrow, so we retire to the apartment and rest up for the remainder of the evening.

Reims – Châlons-en-Champagne

Day 6 – 03/07/2017 – Bags packed and ready to get back on the trail, we took advantage of the elevator for the last time heading down towards reception. We have had such a lovely time in Reims and sure to return again sometime soon. Our departure was going to incur a slight delay due to a power cut at reception…within half an hour, we were on our way and heading towards Sillery some 10km along the canal path. The path is well utilised by walkers, joggers, cyclists and the odd angler basking in the glorious sunshine in the hope that their line may attract some interest from a curious but unfortunate fish…At around 8km we found a bench to sit and rest up for a moment, whilst we were trying to cool down I could see that heading towards us was a group of cyclists. I could hear the ringing of bells and the chattering of excited children accompanied by teachers in tow…such a lovely scene and all so pleasant, as each and every child that passed us all said ‘Bonjour’! Actually, we have noticed that all children throughout our journey in France are all very pleasant and always say ‘Bonjour’ whether they know you or not and I must say it is quite comforting as certainly makes you feel welcomed.

We have taken the decision to utilise the rail network along with walking (not one for giving up easily this has been a difficult decision to make) as the back packs are far too heavy and are a hinderance to the distance needed to cover in order to keep on track and as we are utilising campsites as opposed to religious accommodations these are becoming more difficult to locate on foot and often not located on the ‘Via Francigena” route. As we approach Sillery via the canal path we have to take a detour away from the canal path heading towards the village in order to locate the station. After another 30 or so minutes we finally come across the station, almost feels like we have gone back in time and waiting for the tumbleweed to pass through…you really get a sense of nostalgia here as nothing appears to have changed for a very long time…The train arrives promptly and we board heading towards Châlons-en-Champagne a 35km journey, the clean, empty, air-conditioned spacious carriages are a dream, UK train companies have a lot to learn from our European friends when it comes to public transport…Not long into the journey a very pretty, fully made-up, hair impeccable, uniformed ‘hat’ wearing conductor enters the carriage and takes payment for the trip, we chat with her for a while as she is curious as to where we have come from and going to, for someone who clearly takes the time to make an impression her presence did not shine and she appeared quite distant and withdrawn having told us that she was working 6 trains that day I get the feeling like most of us that working-life sucks!

We arrive at Châlons-en-Champagne station and check our map app to locate the campsite for tonight, as I mentioned earlier campsites are not always local for those using public transport. We set off for a 5km walk in the hot afternoon sunshine to locate our pitch for the night at Camping de Châlons-en-Champagne **** As we walked away from the station we came across a very busy, friendly Boulangerie Grand Mere and purchased lunch. We continued on, the route took us through Le Grand Jard Parc lots of activities going on here and even a random ‘White Elephant’ floating on a lake. preparations also in full swing as yet another music festival by the looks of it. We sat and ate our lunch here and watched as Mum’s with toddlers sat eating picnics and children playing like hamsters in the air-filled balls on the lake bounced into each-other. Eager to get going and to locate this 4* campsite we headed out through the parc and along the canal path and then finally through a housing estate? We entered a road which had houses either side and the entrance to the campsite was at the end…the view from the end of the road could only be described as an entrance to an old western ranch! The signage is very tired…oh dear…well like it or lump it…Im not walking any further today so here goes…as we enter the site there is a building to our left marked ‘reception’ so G heads on in, moments later he returns and has instructions as to where campers can pitch…the furthest point out…we pass caravans and camper vans that are all using the electric hook-ups, yapping dogs that have been tied up let us know that they are there, we locate the area for us ‘mere’ campers for which backs onto residents gardens…nice. Located close enough for the bathroom facilities we decide to own our space…once pitched up I took a wander to check out the bathroom facilities…

So the washing location appears very dated, washing up area and laundry sinks (with the scrubbing ridges on them just like ‘Granny’ would have used back in the 40’s) the showering area has a sign up ‘apologising’ for being out of action as there is no hot water! So having pitched up we will have to use the facilities across the park…We take a stroll to see the facilities available as the website states

  • Fishing
  • Playground for children
  • Petanque ground
  • Tennis / Volleyball / Badminton / Football
  • Table tennis / Mini-golf course
  • Bike rental
  • Recreation room with TV, library, games, table football, billiard game (extra charge 5 Euros Hour)

OMG…if I had travellled to stay here for a holiday with/without Children for any length of time then I would be very disappointed indeed…How this can be rated as a 4* is beyond belief…this is one step up from the horror that was my ‘first’ encounter of a French campsite back in the beginning of the walk…and that was closed!

Playground for Children, Nope! I personally would not let a child near this…Pentanque ground, has not been looked after for years by the look of it?…Mini Golf, Really?…and as for the recreation room, you gotta be kidding me right? There was a bar (it isnt what you think, its a shack) whereby you could purchase an ice cream and a caraff of wine but to be honest…no…we ended up finding a local shop just up the end of the road and bought some beers and snacks from there, we were going to head back into the centre to check out this music festival but the thought of having to walk 5km there and back and to walk the same route again in the morning was all too much for today, so we head back to the ‘coffin’ and knock up some supper and drink and hopefully sleep this night away ready for an early start in the morning…


 

 

Reims (rest day, Champers anyone?)

Day 5 – 02/07/17 –  My bed squeaks and the mattress is not memory foam…at one point there I thought that I was being sucked into a sink hole, well you hear of such things happening, don’t you. One minute you are resting your weary head and the next, well who knows what’s happened only ‘room service’ knocks on the door with breakfast (OK, slight exageration) and you and the bed are nowhere to be seen! I’m guessing that ‘perhaps’ the beds get pushed together more often than not…hence the crater shape that has been moulded over time or this room is generally used for larger clientele? OK, now I’m worried…I know I have some saddlebags, panniers, muffin top, call it what you will exercises to do but my derrière I thought was OK? Lol. No matter how hard you try to keep to the edge of said mattress,  very quickly the crater sucks you back into position…G on the other hand has ‘slept like a baby’ and is liking the twin-bed arrangement as has woken up with covers intact! We have a king size bed back in England and I do like to starfish, rotate and end up cocooned within the bedding, very similar to that of the work of a silkworm whilst G fights to regain a ‘handkerchief’ sized piece just for his dignity!

This room does however have a selection of teas/ coffee making facilities including gift wrapped biscuits! G makes the morning brew (it’s good to keep some routines going even when travelling 😄) then showered/dressed and ready to hit the streets to find a local patisserie for breakfast! 

The morning flew by and lunch was calling, we had walked so far and visited some amazing places. We started our day from ‘Square Colbert’ opposite the ‘Gare Reims Centre’ (railway) and walked along Les Hautes Promenades along here you will also see  La Porte de Mars an ancient Roman triumphal arch. It dates from the third century AD and is the widest arch in the roman world, although currently under construction with protective hoarding surrounding it which was a shame however, needs must in order to preserve history for generations to come. If you are partial to the odd bottle of champers, then Reims is a must for you…at the end of the tramlined promenade we found  Charles de Cazanove one of the many producers here. Just sited further on rue du Champ de Mars you will find G.H Mumm. As we strolled on, locals were gathering in cafés enjoying the sunny Sunday with families. We stumbled across an indoor antiques market situated in Halles Du Boulingrin G was more than happy for me to spend as long as I liked in here in the comfort of knowing that I would be unable to buy the cutest of keepsakes that caught my eye due to walking with an already full back pack! Whilst I was left to salivate over furniture and other interesting items that I felt could do with a ‘Shaz-over’ G was with curiously looking at a cabinet of trinkets, that upon closer inspection included a selection of hand carved…well, shall we say…ladies toys. We left shortly afterwards and headed out to locate Musée Automobile upon arrival though it was evedent they are closed on Sundays…another time then. The paths from here branch out to many other Champagne producers such as Ruinart, Taittinger, Martel and Veuve Clicquot. We decided on a visit to Basilique et musée Saint Remi and en-route we pass Vranken Pommery and Villa Demoiselle. At the end of the road we watched as blacked out Mercedes people carriers entered a gravel driveway. Well of course, I had to do a walk by and see what all the fuss was about…it turned out to be a 5* Hotel and brasserie Les Crayeres it was a shame that we had just eaten our daily baguettes of cheese and ham washed down with France’s finest bottled water, otherwise we would have popped in for lunch! Another time maybe…The basilique Saint-Remi was a welcomed break from seeing so many sights and the tranquility that these buildings offer whether you have religious connotations or not, I feel at peace when inside as the hustle-bustle of outside life just melts away.

We head back to the hotel campanile for a freshen up and afternoon tea before heading back out again as we have heard music being played from across the canal so we set out to investigate what is going on…we have so far, managed to arrive unbeknowing of planned music festivals so we walk in wonder of what may greet us. En-route across the canal we locate Lanson this to be our final champagne site. We enter Parc Léo Lagrange and immediately can see that this is a well utilised park for young and old alike. Hidden within the tree lined winding paths discretely located are outdoor fitness sections, 2 guys were working on the upper body doing pull-ups…an older couple dressed elegantly (as noted throughout France & Italy) walked slowly hand in hand. We appear to be getting nearer to the action and as we walk up some steps and notice a skate park in full swing…young and older teens practicing their skateboard, scooter and BMX skills, parents with younger children are also out on their first scooters watching in awe as the well practiced are flying through the air as one with board, bike or scooter. So refreshing to see so many youngsters and families all making full use of the facilities…what we were about to walk into next was totally unexpected but now we know why the music had been playing all day…we had found ourselves right in the middle of FISE Xpérience 2017 Professional BMX riders and Skateboarders performing stunts that seem impossible with 2 or 4 wheels . As the competition hots up the crowds support with ‘oo’s and ah’s as each competitor ‘steps it up’ not unlike that of the display of a male peacock when trying to impress…flying through the air like rockets, spinning like Catherine wheels and on occasion their pride dented as the stunt fails and gravity takes hold. As the outdoor display ended we noted the locals exiting the park and heading towards Rene Tys Sports Centre I have learned of late to do as the locals do and you won’t go far wrong…so we did and found ourselves seated in the stadium awaiting the indoor finals for BMX’s. After 45 mins watching practice heats we decided to call it a day and head back and find somewhere to eat…it has been a busy weekend and we are to get back on the road tomorrow so plans needed to be made. We end up eating pizza in France…a lovel pizzeria L’Antica and one final visit to our local watering hole for strawberry beer at Ernest Hemingway’s.

Reims you did not disappoint…we will return ❤️