1971: June 11, Strasbourg-Nancy-Rheims-Aubigny

Friday
So much for the clear skies and settled weather of last night! Rain went on during the night, and continued relentlessly as we breakfasted. No hope of a break while we packed the car or tent, and had to fold a soaking tent on the sodden grass with the rain dripping away. It took ages, as things do in the rain, and we did not get into Strasbourg until 10am. Had a much needed coffee (Sarah had hot chocolate, Andrew a glace aux fraises) in a cafe near the cathedral, then went in to the cathedral.

First impression of darkness, then of stained glass – they have some beautiful glass, including two lovely rose windows, indeed the glass is the chief glory of the cathedral. They also have a fascinating astronomical clock, showing all manner of information apart from just the time of day. Near it was a pillar with several figures carved out of it, giving a very delicate effect. After the cathedral we walked round a hideously expensive food shop – the wine was pricey by English standards even! Everything was beautifully displayed – there was a lovely mural, done with Smarties and small biscuits – but the prices were ridiculous.

Left Strasbourg at 11am with depressing prospect of a long journey over bumpy roads in intermittent rain. En route we passed a batch of walkers on a Strasbourg – Paris walk – loads of people had turned out to see them, we wondered just how it had all been arranged, e.g. stops for the night etc. Great difference in walking techniques between the leaders – proper road walkers – and the tail-enders – just walking. Remarkably few places where one could picnic – if there were lay-bys they were small and no toilets therefore very smelly. The lack of toilets in Italy and France is something upon which I can become quite explosive – don’t they ever need them when out from home? It was ironic that the one public convenience we saw was Fermé, and in a garage the toilets were locked as it was the lunch hour. Eventually we had to use a much-used clump of bushes by a lay-by – ugh!

Ate a delicious lunch however, from the Bagg market – roast beef, pâté – tomatoes and cherries, and scrumptious French bread. Drove on past Bar-le-Duc, which looked fascinating, a Renaissance hill top town, and over switch-back roads, bounce, bounce, bounce. David in his ‘head down, foot down until I get there’ mood, protests from the rest of us mounting. He got his deserts when we ran out of petrol on the main road to Reims, and had to hitch a lift back to the nearest garage for a couple of cans. A kind Frenchman gave him a lift to the garage and back to the car. Roads up in Rheims vicinity added to the unpleasantness of the journey – goodness knows the French roads need something done to them but we seemed to be finding all the stretches that were being done. Eventually reached Aubigny camp site at 7pm in fine weather, and got the tent up. The site looked just as scruffy as last year, though fuller.

Fed the children tomato sandwiches, tinned pineapple and the remains of a bottle of rosé and got them into bed. A family arrived who had intended travelling to Lugano by the car sleeper, and had discovered on arrival at Calais that the French railways were on strike… So they were going to have to drive there, with overnight stops which was a bit of a blow. We set off for the restaurant we had fancied last year only to find a little notice on it announcing that it had closed on Friday evening… No comment – the thought of that restaurant had kept us going through the ghastly journey. Went to the camp site cafe, rather resignedly and with no great hopes, to see what they had on offer. To our surprise, we had a super meal, served with aplomb by 12 year old Pascal, the only member of the family who spoke English. We had a large hors d’oeuvres of tomatoes, cucumbers, and assorted charcuterie, then well garlicked steak, chips and haricots verts (masses) with a carafe of red wine, followed by coffee. At the end of this we were replete! Another couple had a similar meal – they had been camping at the NSU site just along the coast from Punta Sabbioni, and they were telling us about it. They had liked it, but we thought it sounded horribly regimented. Went to bed feeling battered but not at all hungry!

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