Arrived at Lac de l’Orient near Troyes on Friday after our longest drive yet- about 430 km. Probably the max we would want to do in one day. There were not many campsites in this area and heavy rain meant most grass pitches could not be used. Luckily they let us park on a turning circle. So far we have been lucky and haven’t had to take the trailer off. But our luck with the weather has run out! We have had lots of rain here but luckily it hasn’t affected our exploring too much. We spent one day exploring the Côte de Bar champagne area including visiting Essoyes the town where Renoir spent much of his time and sampling some local specialties, We chose a small restaurant for lunch and was was trying to decide whether to try the local andouille the, a type of loose sausage- when I discovered it was made from tripe it was no thanks. However the French couple next to us had ordered it and wanted me to try theirs! And wouldn’t take no for an answer. Can’t say I would be able to eat more than a couple of mouthfuls- it was quite strong. We (I) had a great time chatting to them in French. I am pleased I am able to converse in French to that extent.
Another day we travelled up to Epernay the main champagne area – no visit here is complete without a visit to the Moët et Chandon champagne cellars, if only to gaze upon the many thousands of bottles of Dom Perignan and have the customary glass of Moët afterwards. Found a fabulous restaurant for lunch – can’t let the standards slip. But having been to another gastronomique restaurant the night before, my body was telling me “enough of this over indulgence” .
After 5 nights we moved on for an overnight stop at Verdun, the scene of one of the bloodiest battles of WW I. No campgrounds in our campground bible in the area so decided to try a France Passion site instead. These are people who live in rural areas and are happy for mobile homes to stop for a night at no cost. Often they have produce /wine etc for sale and it is polite to buy something for them in return. After checking by phone to make sure the space was big enough for us, we arrived to find it was a road side shop selling cheeses, charcuterie, and other local products. So of course I spent the next 40 minutes being given samples of everything to try (not a hardship for me) and came back to the van with a good wee selection – Richard’s comment “what more cheese!” Good practice for my French as she didn’t speak a word of English. A bit weird being parked in full view of the main road but a peaceful night.
Verdun was fascinating. We visited the Memorial du Verdun which is built on the site of a village obliterated by heavy shelling over the course of the 10 month battle in this area in which 300,000 died and 400,000 were wounded. The Memorial did a pretty decent job of recreating the feel of the battlefield right down to the fake mud you could walk on with bits of old weapons scattered around coupled with original film footage from the battle. We also managed to fit in a visit to one of the Forts that defended Verdun so valiantly (Fort Douament) as well as an underground Citadelle in Vedun which was built in the 18th and early 19th century. A recurring theme of the last few days seems to be being underground- first in champagne cellars then in the dark subterranean tunnels of the forts and Citadelle. They have 2 things in common – they are wet and cold. Even the Moet cellars had water seeping everywhere.
The following day we managed to fit in visits to Fort Vaux and the Ossuaire de Douament, regarded as the most significant monument of the First World War in France, which houses the remains of all the unknown soldiers who perished there.
Next blog- Germany and the Moselle Valley