I fear that I am becoming a francophile. The list of good things is getting too long. It now includes empty roads, cheap hotels, people who say bon jour and au revoir in cafes, small repeater traffic lights at a level where you see them, lots of aires with picnic tables and clean loos (and, in one on the A4, piped traffic news as you pee), better coffee, moules frites, markets and food shops in city centres, a positive attitude to culture (including art on the autoroute verges on the A4), free cathedrals (candles extra for those who need them), subsidised museums and art galleries (average cost to us €3.50 per visit), eating out of doors, people who have real conversations in cafes, nuclear power, a desire to save Greece. ….
And, miracle of miracles, they seem to have almost eliminated tipping.
We have stopped at Laon on our way back to Calais, largely because it is on the right road and has a handy Ibis. However we have just returned from a brief exploration of its medieval city and cathedral, both of which are fantastic. Forget about Reims (except for the Chagall and Simon glass); Laon cathedral is bigger, brighter (with whiter stone), has a better location (views to die for on both sides) and has statues of animals protruding from its towers. It was apparently an important stop for pilgrims going from Canterbury to Rome, and also for those going from the low countries to Santiago de Compostela. What a serendipitous find, and yet again I knew nothing about it. To cap it all, the organ was playing as we walked round the cathedral.
Home tomorrow. We decided that since we are only 2 hours from Calais it does not make sense to kill most of the day in Boulogne or Calais, so we changed our Eurotunnel to midday on13th. It will be a long drive home, but that is inevitable. I shall miss the empty roads as we drive up the M20 and round the M25!
The Mercure Petite France in Strasbourg gets my vote as best hotel so far. Excellent position, best shower, best aircon (it actually changes when you change the setting!), equal best soundproofing (quadruple glazing, as there was in the Reims Novotel), best in-room coffee, best bedside reading lights, two proper chairs (Gwen’s top criterion), good breakfast included and all for €80 a night (albeit on an Accor “40% off offer”). Unbeatable value in a big city. Why do we have to pay more than double this for worse amenities in London? I’m considering emigrating (getting here on the empty roads, of course).
Today was the hottest day of the trip, reaching 33C. Thanks be to aircon in our Mercure!
We started the day with a boat trip around the island and out to the European Commission site. A good way to survey the whole city centre, and to assure us that it would not be worth taking the tram out later to walk the Euro site.
When the boat docked we were right behind the Palace de Rohan, which does not contain my favourite outdoor clothes shop, but does house three museums. We foolishly decided to see the Musee des Beaux Arts and were a bit disappointed – early art is so last century (or four). Lunch soon followed and I experimented with a Salade Strasbougoise. This rather overdosed on cervelas (pink sausage) and gruyere, and under-dosed me with flavour, but it passed a pleasant hour with beer and shade.
This afternoon I left Gwen reading and went to see the Tomi Ungerer museum. This was a real hit: Ungerer, born in Strasbourg, was an artistic polymath. He wrote and illustrated children’s books, drew cartoons and satirical sketches, and dabbled seriously in erotica (look for his Joy of Frogs for further evidence). I have included a few of his more innocuous drawings below. The first is the cover of Moon Man, one of his books for children.
The evening concluded with a very pleasant meal under the (allegedly) oldest tree in Strasbourg, where the temperature had dropped to below 30 in the shade. I like Strasbourg, but I heard more English spoken than anywhere else on this trip.
We have stayed in many hotels, B&Bs, ships and even friends’ houses. Over the past decade there seems to have been one inexorable trend: stuff on your bed. This is usually combined with a warm room, such that one could easily sleep with a single sheet or light duvet. Why then is the bed invariably piled with bolsters, pillows, cushions, throws, that funny band of material across the lower half and even, in the most extreme cases, soft toys? And what is one supposed to do with these (large) things while sleeping? The whole available floor ends up knee-deep in soft detritus.
Meanwhile in the bathroom a contrasting minimalism is evident. Instead of a piece of soap and and a tiny bottle labelled shampoo we find a single allegedly multi-purpose squeezy tube which delivers a dollop of gunge inadequate either for washing or shampooing ones (abundant) hair. And while I’m whingeing why, if I’m lucky enough to find tiny bottles, is the print on them so small that I have to leave the bathroom to find my glasses?
To end on a positive note our current Mercure also has fluffy dressing gowns, a fridge containing FREE soft drinks, a Nespresso machine with six capsules, and an iPhone dock. (But the dressing gowns cluttered up the bed!). And we are enjoying our holiday tremendously.
We left our humble B&B after breakfasting with a delightful Belgian couple (Bart, Els and their son Rene – they wanted a mention, although they have no way of finding this blog!) The drive to Strasbourg was easy and we made a minor detour to Rhodes on the edge of the Etang Stock for a breath of lake air. Finding parking in Strasbourg looked like being a nightmare, but we eventually found a good place, discounted by the hotel (Mercure this time).
The city itself is wonderful (at least the old bits we have seen so far). We found a bar with a dozen different draught beers (it was 25C plus by then) and once fortified, tackled the cathedral. I had never heard of it, but for centuries it was the tallest church in Christendom, has stonework to die for, an organ and an astronomical clock and excellent (but traditional) stained glass. We then retired to regenerate our batteries (fifth consecutive day of walking more than 12,000 steps) before re-emerging to eat dinner on the terrace of a restaurant overlooking the river (the Ill, not the Rhine, at this point).
Plenty left to do tomorrow.
PS the language is confusing, with French and German words mixed apparently indiscriminately, and the odd bit of sexism surviving (see Baileys entry below).
We were in Nancy by 10.30 this morning and had another two pleasant surprises. Our first visit was to the Ecole de Nancy Museum, which displays the Art Nouveau furniture, glass and ceramics produced by Emile Galle, and his collaborators Victor Prouve and Louis Majorelle. We were both blown away by the beautiful furniture, including a famous bed with butterfly motifs at head and foot.
We then walked into the centre of Nancy to Place Stanislas. This square, its buildings, sculptures and gilded ironwork, is clearly the reason Nancy has its world heritage status. I have never seen anything like it – grand, beautiful and clean. There was nothing playing at the Opera House but we spent an hour in the Musee des Beaux Arts, which had a basement full of glass by Galle and the Daum family. Gwen was in her element, and is currently filling her holiday notebook with much more detail.
We are enjoying our second evening in the modest B&B at Alaincourt la cote. The owners are friendly and the garden is lovely, but it is a long way to the nearest restaurant. We have just driven back from Chateau Salins where we enjoyed a very modest pizza (at a very modest price). Strasbourg tomorrow.