Tuesday, September 4, 2012
Day 6 - Laon to Reims (Saturday 1st September)
I have been seriously battling with updating this from my tablet so if it is published incomplete please forgive me. Keith has been posting on my behalf and he will update it when he can.
So day 6. One thing I have learned is that no two days are the same. Having enjoyed the ride back on the route through back roads and farmland with it's standard navigational and cycling difficulties and the serious uphill at the end to get to Laon I found a campsite that was so far from anywhere especially the obligatory 2 beers and supper, that I cycled on and booked into a cheap hotel. Gotta tell you this... the receptionist speaks English and when I asked if she could find place for my bicycle she said, with a smile, "Of course, Monsouir, we French know that sleeping with one's bicycle is no fun.... the conversation is so limited" :)
Back to day 6. First I oversleep by an hour,then rush breakfast and packing only to find that sometime during the night puncture number 2 had developed. Fortunately easy to fix before the day starts. Somewhere in the forest tracks from the day before no doubt a thorn lay in wait.
The Mistress will rein you in...
Early morning, Laon, beautiful day. Quick visit to the unbelievably architecturally designed breathtakingly huge Cathedral, pop into the Office du Turisme for a better map then abandon the trail for the day and follow my own route 'cos the day is full of farmland and forest tracks and I've made a decision to do my own thing.
Cathedral, seriously not to be missed whether you're religious or just impressed by the incredible skill and quality of workmanship of days before plastic.
At Office du Turisme I ask the young man behind the counter to find me a back road route that gets me to Reims without going on the D1044 which, as we already know, is fobidden to cyclists. He confidently pulls out a local map, spreads it in front of us and begins. "Aaah the D70 then.. No the D597 then.. Uhm"..and so on for ten minutes. Then he straightens up, folds the map, says to me "I cannot do this, all I can tell you is, it's going to take you a very long time".Then with a flourish he caps his pen and hands me the map. "Here you are Sir, take this map, it's free" and disappears never to be seen again.
At that very moment, I felt a warm breath play across my face, the sweet smell of newly cut hay enveloped me, I felt a gentle warm, caressing touch on my shoulder and I heard a sultry husky voice whispering in my ear, "Follow me". Mistress Via Francigena knew there is no other way.
So I followed the route, cursing in fields of thick grass, cursing doubly when I miss a narrow, half-overgrown track and slog unnecessarily for a k or so before a farmer turns me round. And then... sheer delight, easy hard tracks through beautiful forests, cool and damp, green and dense. Up hills and down dales, sometimes on roads through little villages. Steep climbs and exhilarating downhills. Oh but life is so good.
Reims in the distance, pulls me along. Now of course to find accommodation and explore the city. On my way in I pass Mumm's, Krug, and Louis Roederer... so exciting. I found a place to stay at the Hotel Alsace. Dubious looking but half the price of the hotel next door, owner spoke English and it is situated nicely between the Cathedral, which is mostly at the centre of town, and Mumm's where I'd already booked from Peronne the day before. Bed and room were clean and breakfast was good with owner very helpful. I'd stay there again.
Off to supper. By following the noise and lights I found Reims' "Long Street" and discovered the "3 Brasseurs" who make their own beer on the premises. Ordered a beer and the local much enjoyed dish "Andouillettes". Anyone wanting a description of this dish can ask me personally. Let's just say it wasn't to my taste. Never again. Engaged in conversation with a young Chinese lady, Huang Deng, aka Crystal, who lives in Reims, speaks perfect English, is a student who has just completed an MBA and who offered to be my guide for the following day.
What a magical day.