Olivespastavino and The Man went on a road trip. From Petritoli to England – ‘twas fun indeed! We left town at 07.30 hours (note my log like tone) on Friday 3rd July and on the first day drove all the way to Dijon in France. Sensibly we had invested in a Garmin SatNav – it worked well and the computerised Italian and French pronunciation was hilarious and kept us entertained during the many kilometres. I had packed sandwiches and drinks so that we didn’t have to stop for a meal on the way.
We did 11 ½ hours of driving which The Man and I shared – I usually do most of the driving when we go anywhere but 11 ½ hours would have been ridiculous. The Man and I very rarely have a cross word and this doesn’t change when we’re in the car – which is a good thing when you’re travelling over 2000 kilometres. We are good travelling companions.
When I drive he talks about the countryside we pass through. I know a lot of it is probably BS but honestly, it keeps me entertained and his knowledge of European history is pretty good so I learn a great deal about the first and second world wars as we travel. The problem is I don’t retain the information and can’t make notes with my hands on the wheel.
When The Man drives, I talk about how much writing I’m going to do over the next few weeks, all my ideas and how I’m going to get my novel finished by the end of August. He smiles and makes encouraging comments, but he knows I won’t do nearly as much as I say. He is my greatest fan and a good editor but he doesn’t push me hard enough.
Anyway, back to the journey. Of we went, up the A14 Autostrada, no traffic jams – not even as we skirted around Bologna – on we sped round Milan, through the Montblanc tunnel and into France then wending our way through beautiful countryside and eventually – ‘you have arrived at your destination’ said the SatNav.
The first night was spent in Aparthotel L’Urbaneva in Dijon. Secure parking, close to the centre, lovely hosts and an excellent room. We showered quickly and walked into town to find somewhere for supper. We passed by a few places which were too full and ended up in the Central Place restaurant, where we enjoyed fabulous French cuisine washed down with a rosé wine from the region.
Of course one has to taste the mustard if one is in Dijon. This proved a little difficult at first because the shop was closed the evening we arrived and then – shock horror, it was closed in the morning too but we were relieved to see it opened at 10.30 a.m. How very French and sensible – not like Italy where they open at 8.30 and close at 12.30 for 3 or four hours.
When the shop eventually opened The Man tasted and enjoyed a bit of mustard (that is not a euphemism) – he particularly liked the rhubarb flavour. There was so much choice it was hard to make a decision so we stuck to what we knew – a small jar of whole grain for the enormous cost of 22 euro. ‘You’ll not be lathering that on in large dollops’ I told The Man, ‘you’re going to have to make it last!’
We said our farewells to the mustard man and by11 a.m. we were on the road again and heading for the small town of Brandeville, in the region of Lorraine, close to Verdun. We’d allowed ourselves plenty of time to get there and took a route away from the motorway through the massive fields and plains of Northern France. We passed through Domrémy-la-Pucelle, the birthplace of Joan of Arc and stopped to take a few photos. Unfortunately, the house and museum were closed but I managed to get a few shots and The Man filled me in with a few extra bits of the story (possibly invented) even though I know it well.
At Brandeville we stayed with friends in their wonderful countryside, summer home. The village was very small and we learned that it was one of the first places to be occupied in WW1. Close to the border, the local men and the army tried to hold off the Germans but sadly they were taken by surprise – there were many fatalities, injuries and men taken as prisoners of war. Our hosts took us for a walk and we were able to pay our respects in the small military cemetery to those who lost their lives in August 1914 and later.
I loved Brandeville and the surrounding countryside and we plan to return.
The following morning we made our way to Verdun and the route we took passed many battle sites and destroyed villages. It wasn’t difficult to imagine the terrible fate of the French people during the First World War and what it must have been like for the civilians living and working in the area. It seems they lost everything.
We went to the Douaumont Ossuary, a grand memorial under which are held the bones of 130,000 unknown soldiers. In the grounds in front of the memorial are the graves of over 16,000 – you can read about it here.
A truly moving place. I could not believe that the official opening had been in 1932 and many heads of Europe and the World attended. It is unbelievable that seven years later Europe was at war again. How could that be?
We also visited the Trench of Bayonets
I felt humbled by the sight of the simple crosses, barbed wire and earth. The thought that men had died here, buried alive whilst ready to ‘go over the top’ bayonets fixed. The bayonets have now been removed, for what reason I do not know, but on this original postcard you can clearly see them. What a terrible thing war is.
(you can read about the trench here)
Time was running out so a quick tour of Verdun was all we could manage (we plan to go back) we had lunch on the Quai de Londres (The London Wharf). It’s an area on the ‘left bank’ of the river Meuse which has many cafes, restaurants and shops…a place for the boating fraternity to pull up and stay for a few hours or days. A very pleasant lunch was taken.
We made our way to Arras having booked accommodation in La Cour des Grands just outside the town. The hosts were welcoming and so helpful. There was no restaurant but they booked a meal for us at Amarine. The Man said he had the best fish and chips ever…must admit they looked good and didn’t resemble anything bought at the seaside fish and chip shops in England.
There was so much history to see in the Verdun area The Man and I plan another visit next year. In fact, we’re thinking of taking a six month or one year road trip, travelling around France, Spain, Italy and anywhere else the fancy takes us. Not sure I want to be that nomadic and I’m not sure what Jpeg and Mickey would think of it…
Gotta go…it’s up in the high 30’s here at the moment so need to get down to the beach for a cooling swim.
By the way, the first traffic jam we encountered on our road trip was when we hit England! The queue for the Dartford Tunnel was a mile long!