Sunday 29th March 2015, Champagne–sur-Loue
Well Thibaut is now a married man! The sunshine yesterday morning turned to rain just as everyone gathered at the mairie for the most exciting event to have happened in Champagne for a very long time! The mayor was resplendent with his tricolour sash but looked far more anxious than Thibaut and Camille. Over 100 people crowded into the grande salle and amidst much giggling the ceremony began. The mayor, in his panic, lost his place in the script. Apologising he explained that he was a complete novice at weddings this being his first one. Thibaut assured him it didn’t matter and that he was also a novice at his first wedding! Amidst much merriment the ceremony continued. It was amazingly low-key and as the mayor handed them their certificate there was cheering and much banter along with clouds of floating bubbles instead of messy confetti.
Outside in the rain photos were taken and other village residents gathered to offer congratulations. By this time, with the streets of the village completely clogged by parked cars, there were several assorted tractors waiting to pass. Eventually a long cavalcade of cars, interspersed by farm vehicles and camping cars made its way out of the village following the single track road beside the Loue. Everyone was flashing their lights and hooting constantly, as is the French tradition. Never, I imagine, has the village known anything quite like it before! We followed in convoy some thirty miles up into the mountains onto the next range of the Jura plateau. The rain continued and by the time we reached the village of Bolandoz where a hall had been hired for fun and frolics there was a thick mizzle blotting out the surroundings.
The reception was completely home-made but the fun was far greater that way. Rather than spend money on a wedding Thibaut and Camille were saving everything they could to finance their planned travels. French weddings are different from English ones and the aim here would seem to be to affectionately embarrass the newlyweds as much as possible. There were emotional speeches with photos of their childhood and little anecdotes from their lives. There were lots of tears, hugs and kisses. We felt rather bemused by it all and began to doubt our ability to understand French at all. Bless them, they then repeated some of the essential bits in English for us! Thibaut probably wrote the English bits for the lady acting as master of ceremonies. Family members and friends then stood up and recounted tales and there was much clapping, laughter and wiping away of nostalgic tears. Camille’s mother and her friends then stood up and began singing a song they’d written especially for the event and everyone was expected to join in the chorus. Thibaut and Camille then spoke of their love for each other and plans for their happy future together. To us it all seemed a terrifying and rather embarrassing ordeal.
At last we all went through to the room where the real celebrations began. Again, everything was done by the families – Thibaut had even been rushed to hospital in Besancon in the middle of the previous night when he cut his hand badly while making the decorations. It was an awesome undertaking with tables laid and decorated in blue and yellow. Outside, under an awning in the rain two huge sangliers (wild pigs) were roasting over an open fire while inside Roland’s wine was served and canapés consumed. These were really good, though I stuck with drinking orange juice having no desire to drive back down through the mountains in the fog and darkness later with even a drop of alcohol inside me.
Everyone was squashed together and we squeezed between them all, knowing nobody except the central characters who were obviously too occupied to be disturbed. We passed pleasantries with people but found conversation difficult above the hubbub around us. We did though manage to chat briefly with Thibaut and Camille who told us of their plans to walk across Asia and find work in New Zealand once they arrived.
They have a blogsite to record their journey. We have followed several daunting expeditions by young people we’ve met on our travels – cycling to South Africa, motorcycling to Vladivostok and more. This time it will be really personal. They will be starting from St. Petersburg and crossing Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kirghizstan and China on their way to Australia and ultimately New Zealand. English is likely to be more useful to them than French so all those hours poring over Harry Potter will now be paying off. Hitch hiking and walking across China sounds an adventure too far for us. We’ll be armchair followers. Anyone curious can see more at latransasiatique.org.
Around 6.30pm we decided to slink away and get down to Salins before darkness fell. Explaining to Susanne that we didn’t want to get stuck up there overnight we filled up on concoillotte and canapés and left.
By the time we got back to Champagne darkness had fallen and another campervan had discovered the campsite was open early. With the mayor invited to the wedding yesterday there is nobody around to pay until the season begins on Wednesday.
Susanne and Roland intended staying up there overnight with Roland’s sister in their campervan. Others were sleeping in the dormitories upstairs overnight. I suppose we could have stayed but with no heating or water in Modestine we didn’t fancy it. Today the rain is torrential and we’ve not yet found the courage to leave our warm capsule and venture up to the top of the village to see if Susanne and Roland have yet returned.
Monday 30th March 2015, Champagne–sur-Loue
Eventually yesterday there was a short gap in the rain and we ventured out for a drive in Modestine. We didn’t go far but it was enough to realise that the Loue was about as full as it could get without actually flooding. In Quingey we tried the local bar in the faint hope of finding internet access. Rural France still has a long way to go before it links to the wider world. We were not surprised so settled instead for a couple of coffees and half an hour watching the trotting on the bar television with the locals. Returning through the village of Champagne we discovered Susanne in her garden looking pensively at a bouquet of flowers. She and Roland had just arrived back from “là-haut” where the festivities had continued until 7am! The flowers had mysteriously appeared in her garden and she had no idea whether they were for her, nor where they’d come from.
She told us that in this weather we’d do best to move into her basement flat immediately, it was no time to be hanging around on our own on a campsite on the banks of the river and the last of the guests had finally left. So we closed the gates of the campsite against invading campervans and moved up to her courtyard where Modestine would be well above flood level.
We have to confess that in the cold and wet we are far better off in her flat with room to spread out, watch French TV, blog at the kitchen table and make use of a proper bathroom and a washing machine.
We’d forgotten that the clocks changed over the weekend, making two advances since we’ve been in France. No wonder we never seem to wake up until gone 9am each morning!
Today we’ve done very little, mainly just catching up on blogs and emails in the tourist office in Arbois. We have though had several long chats with our hosts as they invited us to hang our damp laundry in their huge loft. It’s full of Roland’s lumber and things that have been there since his father was a boy. It’s a brilliant place for drying laundry too, especially in the depths of a snowy winter, as frequently happens.
Returning from Arbois this evening we noticed that the Loue has burst its banks, flooding the fields alongside. The road is still passable but the village is apparently prone to being cut off. We may end up being here for longer than expected!
Wednesday 1st April 2015, Champagne–sur-Loue
Yesterday we woke to constant drizzle. The last few times we’ve been here it seems to have been raining non-stop. As Michel, who normally manages the campsite, has been away and we’ve not been able to pay him, we went across to leave the money at the mairie. The mayor said he’d really enjoyed Saturday and was proud to have finally married someone. He was also up at the celebrations at Bolandoz with the rest of us.
During the course of the day we made contact with an English family who had somehow picked up on our blog a few years ago and follow our visits to this region. They own a property in the village of Ivrey not far from here and we have been in contact as they are staying in their house at the same time that we are here. We had never met them but they drove over in the rain to meet us and spend a pleasant afternoon in our kitchen drinking coffee and swapping notes about the region. They have owned their property here for twelve years and grow all sorts of vegetables despite having to leave them unattended when they return to England. They usually arrange their autumn visits to help their neighbour with his grape harvest. Their main home is in Lincolnshire on the far side of the Humber Bridge from Beverley where our son Neil and family live. It’s a small world.
After they’d left we went upstairs to explain to Susanne why her flat downstairs has suddenly been full of noisy English chatter. Then Michel from the campsite arrived with his receipt book, to collect our money! We explained we’d left it at the mairie but as the table there was smothered with large scale maps of the village as someone attempted to identify the boundaries of the field he was selling, it might have been accidentally swept into one of the filing cabinets! So he then had to go off in search of the mayor. First though he joined us for a convivial chat at Susanne’s kitchen table. Susanne says she gets lonely up there but it’s hard to believe. Most of the village seem to pass through there at some time or another!
Today we drove to Arc-et-Senans to check out train times for visiting Besançon. It’s a tiny, unmanned station and a train arrived while we were working out the timetable. We decided to climb aboard when another passenger assured us we could pay the guard. We never found the guard on the train and at Besançon, although we found automated ticket machines there was nobody to take our fare. So inadvertently we got a free ride! Fortunately we worked out how to buy our return tickets but it was really complicated with so many options to select and card details to key in. Were we travelling in a blue period? (How did we know, we’re not Picasso?) Were we pensioners? Had we got a senior rail card for France? How many of us were pensioners and did we have any accompanying grandchildren? Behind us the queue grew restless but our tickets were finally printed out and then we only had to get them stamped in an automatic machine before going on to the platform. It was fortunate we’d understood it all as we were inspected on the train. We do try to be model visitors but it’s not always easy.
We spent a really nice day in Besançon despite the cold and a couple of sleet showers. It’s a rather elegant and dignified city without making any obvious attempts to be so. We have described the town before and most of today was simply enjoying what we’ve done previously. We walked the pedestrianised streets of attractive 17th and 18th century buildings with their individual shops – we found two lute makers in one street! Would we find two in the whole of Britain? There were large private houses, convent buildings, an ancient orphanage, the Hôtel du Saint-Esprit, huge and beautiful churches, attractive fountains, an archaeological garden on the site of the Roman theatre and many monuments to worthies of the city – Lumière brothers, Victor Hugo and an impressive monument to the Bisontins who had died fighting for France in North Africa, Indo-China and Korea.
After a scrappy lunch with students near the university building we climbed the steep streets up to the citadel. The famous Porte Noire, so named back in the middle ages, has been cleaned since our last visit and is paradoxically now creamy white! The cathedral, just beyond it is however as dark and gloomy as ever. A late friend of ours, once librarian at the University of Besançon, used to complain he felt unsafe walking around in the cathedral because his eyesight was limited and it was so dark. Today I completely agreed and held tight to Ian as we climbed up and down steps and stairs in the semi-darkness.
Up at the citadel we discovered we now needed to pay ten euros each to enter, but all museums were included. Previously the fort was free and we’d paid individually for each museum. As we have already explored Vauban’s fortifications and visited all the museums we explored some of the later surrounding ramparts instead to enjoy the views, before making our way down to the streets of the city again.
By this time we were freezing so stopped off for a coffee and a couple of poisons sablés (shortbread fishes) as it is 1st April and it’s the custom in France to have confectionary fishes on this date.
Back in Arc-et-Senans we found Modestine looking rather surprised as she thought we’d just popped off to consult the train timetable and she’s expected us back hours ago! The sun was shining as we returned to Champagne and Michel waved as we passed the campsite, now officially open since this morning.