Wednesday, 20 June 2012

A week in Provence.... part 2

And so it had begun, our journey to Provence in the South of France was underway and, so far, no real problems. Friday started much as Thursday had finished, dry but windy. Surprisingly for me I managed a really good nights sleep. Usually I wake early for the first few days away, not this time, I awoke feeling good and raring to get moving. After breakfast we checked out and with much joie de vivre made the short journey to the Eurotunnel terminal. It must be said that this facility is one of complete and thorough efficiency. And it is huge. All roads seem to lead here and the traffic congregated as we edged closer towards its jaws. There was a series of twisting roads and a collection of small roundabouts that just seemed to slow things down, then we were sort of there, crossing lanes, filtering through various traffic management systems - no real problem, I suppose I was expecting to simply drive into a gaping hole somewhere. Then there was a hiccup, as we approached yet another sign directing us toward departures it was clear that the overhead nature of its construction would not allow Gary's 'team car' to pass underneath - we watched him veer off with a sudden swing to the left - and he dissapeared for a while. I had visions of him being strip searched just around the corner, his carbon tubes sawn through in a vain search for illicit substances..... but no, a few hundred yards later he was back, but on a separate road running parallel to the one we were on.

Checking in was remarkably simple, as we approached the machine it already knew who we were, we were offered two options - one was for the crossing we had booked and the other for one we hadn't. The one we hadn't was at an earlier time, we decided to stick to what we knew, so did Gary. John didn't. Maybe the sun blinded him for a moment, or the effect of an early breakfast and the fresh air had left him confused? John opted for the earlier crossing and accordingly headed straight through to the train and under the sea. We should have done the same really but there was no time to confer. Anyway, he was only about 15 minutes in front. Finally we were hearded onto the train like a long line of mechanised cattle. A man walked along the parked line "Window down, First Gear, Handbrake on" he repeated, over and over, we listened as his voice gradually faded as he walked the long line.

The journey was remarkably smooth and quick - by the time we'd had a look at the newspaper it seemed we were there. Gary commented later that he was a bit disappointed with the journey. He had expected to be able see fish swimming around through the windows, like a drive-thru Sealife Centre.

Exiting the train and getting on to the roads we needed was as circuitous as it was in England. Various roundabouts and roads that seemed to take us round in circles. But soon we were where we needed to be - in Calais heading for Beaune and hopefully avoiding the Peripherique around Paris. We had a journey of 375 miles in front of us. We'd lost an hour simply by crossing the Channel - we needed to get moving. If you've never tried it, driving in France is okay - the idea of being on the 'right' quickly becomes normal, and moving the wrong way around roundabouts etc is easier than you might think, plus there is generally less traffic on the roads over there. Soon we approached our first Toll Booth - there's lots of these in France - most of the main 'motorways' are Tolls. We went through, took our ticket and moved on, Gary was few cars behind and we assumed he would soon catch up. After about 20 miles there was still no sign of Gary - I decided to give him a call. This was the first problem of the trip. As he drove into the Toll gates, he had, quite understandably, been concentrating on which one to go into, making sure he was lined up so that Val could get the ticket out of the machine etc - he simply didn't notice the height restriction. So he hit it, knocking it off its hinges and causing a minor tailback in that lane. Thankfully there was very little damage, his bikes were undamaged but the roof rack system ended up a little bent. He hung the sign back up, did a few roadside repairs to the roof rack and then he was back on his way.

The Abbaye
The remainder of the journey was, thankfully, event free. Soon we were travelling through the countryside of one of the key wine centres of France. We were navigating by vineyards; Gevrey Chambertin, Nuits saint Georges, Beaujolais et al... Beaune is the wine capital of Burgundy and is surrounded by some of the World's most famous wine villages, the town is rich in historical and architectural heritage and we were booked at the magnificent Abbaye de Maizieres - - right in the centre.

The Abbaye is a 12th century former Cistercian Abbey, it is superbly atmospheric and decorated with antique furniture. The reception and dining area are contained within a vaulted cellar, a dark, brooding space with candles and tapestries. Our bedroom was up a tower, I counted 94 steps to the bed - it was like climbing the steps to a bell-tower. We enjoyed a few bottles of wine and a meal in the evening, L'escargots and Beef Bourginon and then we enjoyed a short wander into the town, just metres from the door.

We're definitely here now - real France. Bring it on.

Wine at the Abbaye

In the restaurant

No comments:

Post a Comment