Troyes – French Adventure 2012 Part 1:

troyeshouses

As soon as I disembark whatever means of transport I’ve chosen to traverse La Mer (Euro-tunnel in this case)  I feel I’ve come home…….it’s never been my home, my French is tres crap and I have no French connections at all but it still feels so right.  I will go to great lengths to get my French fix, lies, bribery, threats, self-denial, gross exaggeration – there is no level I won’t sink to in order to secure my crossing to France. This year had even involved various levels of threats to the passport office finally culminating in tears of despair after they’d made a monumental cock up; we finally received the new passport on the morning we travelled! Thanks to family, friends and the UKCS guys for seeing me through one of my darkest hours.   Therefore on a sunny dawn late August we arrived with very little money (lie number one = “it’s fine hon, we can afford it”) and a whole lot of  joy in my heart – Bruce was snoring loudly in the passenger seat so I’m not entirely sure he felt same elation.  Perhaps I should explain that we were child, or rather teenager free and Bruce was asleep because he’d been doing a gig in London while I slept for a few hours at his sisters house in Rochester before we caught the 5am euro-tunnel-train type thing.

We had endured a wet, miserable summer so far but this weekend the temperature had started to soar and as Fugly chugged along the troyescathedralmotorway, the heat increased.  The air-con still didn’t work, Bruce woke up in a sweat and the benefits of my 1.5 hours sleep were wearing off at an alarming rate.  As we pulled off at Troyes, in the now searing heat, the elation had turned into dehydration and our communication was reduced to a short, clipped bark, sometimes accompanied with a low growl and a cutting remark.  We parked close to the center of Troyes and found a square with some cafes, nice but not remarkable.  After we had sat and lapped up the atmosphere and the coffee we headed to another square with a market place where there was a stage and live music.  I love live music and outdoor concerts but I think tiredness and heat were starting to win the day and my energy levels were such that I couldn’t even be bothered to snap at Bruce in the usual tired and grouchy manner, not even a little snarl.  We started to walk back to the car when I spotted some medieval timber buildings around a corner………….and so began my love affair with Troyes and our holiday for real.

boat trip and france etc 040Troyes is the capital of the Aube department within the region of Champagne-Ardenne, south of Reims, on the road to Lyon.  Troyes history dates back to Roman times and includes Joan of Arc, wrangles and treaties with the English throne, a revolution or two and of course the obligatory Great Fire.  It’s location and annexing from Champagne caused uprisings as late as 1911 and resulted in the wine growers being granted permission to label sparkling wine from this region “Champagne”.  The French and their wine eh? This historical melting pot has resulted in some fine architecture, Troyes cathedral being a fine example.  Work started on the gothic cathedral in the 13th century and continued into the 16th century so it’s worth a look if only to honour the tenacity of the builders and craftsmen.

In medieval times the city was a bustling trade centre and gave its name to Troy Weight which is apparently a measurement for gold, as I have had no gold to weigh I am unfamiliar with this term. In 1524 the Great Fire destroyed the city bar one or two buildings.  All this history and drama serves to make Troyes an interesting place but what really floats my boat is the half-timbered houses that survive from the 16th century in the old town.  Their pretty pastel colours, crookedness and shabby chic authenticity is irresistible to me, I was drawn towards these buildings from a chance glimpse around a corner and soon a whole mini-town opened up before us.  Bruce, who is unmoved by boat trip and france etc 042inanimate pastel coloured buildings and generally doesn’t give a flying fig about history began to to take the tiniest bit of  interest as he caught a whiff of French cooking.  The lunch time menu was being prepared in the numerous restaurants situated in rustic twisted buildings with their tables pouring out onto the narrow sunlit streets flowing effortlessly, like wine, from building to pavement.

boat trip and france etc 043We stopped for lunch, rude not to really.  The restaurant was called Rouge et Noir (ranked 12 out of 111 on TripAdvisor) and we opted for a table in the sunshine against the church wall.  I was so impressed to find a vegetarian option on the menu, in fact I had to look twice and then ask Bruce to confirm that we were in France, meat eater central, and that I had found a restaurant with a vegetarian option.  Slightly taken aback I perused the menu while Bruce ordered drinks.  I opted for the vegetarian platter and the drinks arrived –  Orangina for me (driving and a total lightweight) and the most delicious red wine I have ever tasted for Bruce.  As we sat in the sunshine supping our drinks I watched the stress lines visibly dissapear from Bruces face, his dimples began to reappear and the smiles became more regular.  He was positively elated when he put the first boat trip and france etc 044mouthful of food into his mouth, the whole dining experience including the service couldn’t have been bettered. Viva la France!  The food, the drink, the location, the weather and the ambience combined to provide that perfect holiday feeling expressed with a long, deep sigh of contentment.

Our intention was to motor as far south as possible and find a campsite by 5pm however, after a long, lazy lunch in the sunshine the thought of getting back into a hot car with no air con was about as appealing as eating live cockroaches.  We checked our phones for the latest weather which basically said we were in for a couple of days of hot sunny weather then back to the miserableness that had been our summer in the UK, at which point I suggested we went to Lac D’Orient, a few miles east of Troyes.  We sauntered back to the car hand in hand, the stress and worries of home finally banished and 1 weeks worth of time for each other to look forward to……………

The Lovely Lakes & Boozy Blackpool – Part 1

Happy New Year! After a very busy and hectic Christmas and New Year, Bruce and I decided we needed a break, just the two of us. As relationships go, ours had got lost somewhere between the logistics of raising 3 teenage boys(and a part-time pre-teenage girl) and the demands of work.  We usually go to Malta, visit family and hang out in Paceville, bar & club central of Malta, and despite being the oldest swingers in town we have a great time.  This year our finances couldn’t stretch to that or much else to be honest, so when I received my daily Groupon e-mail offering a 2 night stay in the Lake District, bed and breakfast with 1 night dinner thrown in, I jumped at the chance.

 

That is how we ended up one Thursday afternoon at the Lancrigg Country House Vegetarian Hotel & Restaurant near Grasmere, Cumbria.  On approaching the Hotel from the single track valley road you are met with a pleasant country manor with curvy bay windows and rounded chimneys.  The views across the Easedale Valley are gorgeous and the setting quiet and secluded.  William Wordsworth and his wife spent many times here with their friend, I believe her name to be Elizabeth, who then owned the house.  The owner was quite something, she was involved with prison reforms, womens welfare and freedom of slaves as well as having some distinguished friends, Darwin and Dickens included. It is these connections and the setting that attracts people to the house, the staff informed us many literary people came to stay however it was mainly Grouponers there during our stay.

 

The interior is cosy, a bit dated and shabby but the atmosphere is so warm and relaxed and the staff so professional and welcoming you hardly notice the decor. We enjoyed a fabulous vegetarian meal; as a vegetarian myself I could be biased but Bruce, a carnivore, thoroughly enjoyed his pumpkin and cashew nut pie. We spent the evening in the lounge, with a roaring fire and glass of wine, talking to other guests and generally putting the world to rights. As we talked I thought of a time when Dickens visited or Wordsworth perhaps sat in this very room discussing issues of the day – prison reform (criminal justice), emancipation of slaves (racism and the recent Stephen Lawrence verdict) womens rights (we didn’t get round to that one but I did exercise my right to have another glass of wine). We slumped into our comfortable bed, knowing that breakfast would be served until 10am and had a fabulous nights sleep.

The next day, after a scrummy breakfast, we took a short walk through the wooded grounds of Lancrigg and into the valley. The weather was moving in so we did a circular back to the hotel and decided to take Fugly the Car on a whistle-stop tour of the Lakes. First to Buttermere, one of my favourite parts of the area which you reach through a bleak and mountainous pass. We paid £3.00 for the car park and walked the short distance to the Lake shore and waterfall. It felt like we were about to be engulfed by the mountains as the black low-level clouds and rain moved in. We quickly walked back to the cafe and dried out enjoying a coffee, Bruces trainers did not dry out though so he spent the rest of the day in his ‘posh’ shoes. There are two hotels here in the middle of nowhere; The Bridge which I’ve stayed at a couple of times and adored, especially tea and cakes at 4pm after a day out on the fells and The Fish Inn which used to do a very good value lunch in the bar, both are closed early January so we were thankful for the newly opened cafe.

Onwards to Keswick to search the charity shops for a pair of trainers unsuccessfully but I can highly recommend the Oxfam shop and Bruce bought a scarf from Cancer Research. I’ve spent many hours in Keswick but it was throwing it down and I didn’t intent to spend hours this time however I couldn’t resist the over priced but very old-fashioned sweet shop. We bought my Dad some fudge and then ate it, whoops sorry Dad! Car Park cost £3.00.

To Hawkshead where they have car park cameras which send an automatic fine if you don’t get your ticket within 15 minutes – cost £3.00. There’s an option to use a credit/debit card but after several attempts with various cards, no success so we nipped across the road to the cafe. The staff informed us of the Big Brother cameras and Bruce went outside in the pouring rain again to a mostly deserted car park to pay another bloody £3.00 so we could have a coffee and look around Hawkshead. The coffee was lovely but the weather was not so we headed for the ferry to Bowness along an increasingly flooded road on a dark January evening – I love a bit of drama. The ferry takes 5 mins maximum and cuts out the need to drive around the bottom of Windermere – cost £4.60. The rain was relentless so we took shelter in a bar and chatted to a couple from Kent and had a few drinks. We had spotted that Jacksons Bistro did an early evening special set price menu but by the time we left the bar we had missed the dead line, we went in any way. The food was bistro style and delicious, after 2 days of Veggy grub Bruce thoroughly enjoyed his duck. We left and wound our way back to the hotel, avoiding the floods along a dark and deserted road.

The next morning the rain was now a fine drizzle and the wind had got up (weather wind just to be clear although all that vegetarian food….). We had breakfast and set off to party in Blackpool. To be continued……