24/6/18. You have been spared the usual drivel for the last few days because Stephen’s tablet, on which it is mostly written, has not been behaving itself – as in, the screen keeps dying suddenly and won’t come back to life for ages despite all efforts but then, suddenly, it works for no apparent reason. Strange. Still, it is working at the moment so let’s see how long it lasts.
Thankfully the weather has cooled a little since the scorcher on Wednesday and the wind has increased – which has been a blessing most of the time but a pain occasionally.
The route has been a mixture of excellent voies vertes (green ways) alongside first the Littoral Canal du Marne and then the Marne-Rhine Canal and quiet roads which have been centrally flat or flattish as we followed the Marne valley. For a large part of the time we were going past vineyards clinging to the steep hillsides. At one point the chalk escarpment reminded us of the North Downs near Box Hill where there is a large vineyard (Denbies) that produces some fine English sparkling wine which had beaten “proper” champagnes at some tastings.
More recently the countryside has been more given over to cereals, rape, sweetcorn and sunflowers although there are still many signs announcing small producers of the famous tipple.
We have again had mixed success with finding campsites. In Épernay we stayed at the large municipal site which was pretty good although it was quite a long walk out of town – and the town was not particular inspiring unless you are in the market for buying champagne in various sized bottles (in one shop window we saw a 7 litre bottle!) from many different vineyards.
We found the municipal site in Vitry-le-François but we were told by the tourist information office that it closed two years ago. So we had to resort to a hotel again but we’re pointed in the direction of one that was a very reasonable €51 for the night. Incidentally, the lady in the tourist information asked Stephen which departement he was from (for her statistics) and, when he said he was English, complemented him on his French! He wasn’t convinced she was being entirely truthful but was happy to take the complement for his schoolboy language skills!
By Saturday we had made our way to Bar-le-Duc where the municipal site is simply delightful! It is small (25 spaces), adjacent to the chateau and has great sanitary facilities. The showers are incredibly spacious, free and the pushing the button gives 30 seconds of hot water at a time (much better than the usual 5 or 10). And, wonder of wonders the toilets actually have seats and loo paper!!!!!! This is almost unheard of in French campsites. The only downside is that it is not very busy which makes us fear that it will go the way of the site in Vitry and close which would be a real shame.
We have stayed here for two nights so that Christine can have a “pill day” and go to church (surprisingly lively compared to other French churches she has been to) while Stephen went for his statutory bike ride which followed some of the Voie Sacré (or Sacred Way) which was the road that supplied the French defenders during the horrendous Battle of Verdun in World War 1 which saw the deaths of hundreds of thousands from both sides.