Read this blog: The one where we revisit Reims
Wednesday 27th to Saturday 30th September 2023
We set off early in Al the Motorhome to travel through the Channel Tunnel to Calais.
The last time we took a motorhome to Europe in 2018 it was the original [larger] version of Alan and before any additional restrictions resulting from Brexit or Covid. On that journey we took our dog Ralf and whilst we were more or less waived through, he had to have been vaccinated against rabies; have his own pet passport; be seen for a health check by a vet before leaving the UK and be seen again by a vet within 24 hours of leaving Europe to return. We were so grateful to our friends Richard and Mandie for their hospitality and their support on this previous visit and for making an appointment for Ralf with their vet.
This time there were border controls and stamps in our passports before we could board Le Shuttle.
From Calais it was almost a straight motorway down to Reims – our first stopping off point on our way to watch New Zealand play Italy in Lyon – and we were struck by how little traffic there was on the French roads, particularly compared to the tailback we had passed going northbound on the M20 as we left the UK.
The aire in Reims is next to the car park for a football stadium and very close to the A16 motorway exit so there is no need to drive through residential streets. It is quite spacious and also just a short walk into the city so we would certainly recommend this as a stopping off point and will probably return.
We were not sure how vigilant the border controls would be so we had not packed fresh produce. However, their only concern was whether or not the LPG was turned off. Robert had to demonstrate that it was not connected by trying and failing to light the hob.
When we arrived in Reims we therefore wanted to buy milk for our morning coffee and something for breakfast so we walked to a nearby supermarket. There were long queues as there were only two cashiers on the tills but the delays were compounded by the woman in front of us opting to use the old fashioned method of paying by cheque. By contrast Robert used his Apple watch.
With breakfast organised we then strolled into Reims to see what we could remember from our first visit about 30 years ago when a dear friend Martin worked and lived here.
The cathedral looked familiar, but many of the details of our earlier visit remain sketchy for both of us: possibly because we decided to undertake a taste test with Martin, comparing actual champagne with some méthode champenoise and some really cheap dry white fizz. [This was long before the rise in popularity of Prosecco.] Three bottles were opened and a glass of each poured for each of the self appointed judges to sample. By the end of the evening we all agreed that the first bottle should be the real thing but after that no-one would be able to tell the difference.
We certainly couldn’t.
We found L’Explorateur, a bar along Place Drouet d’Erlon, which was showing the rugby. By coincidence, the couple who were parked next to us at the aire also came in to watch. It turned out that they were on their honeymoon, travelling between several of the Scotland games and that the date of the wedding had been chosen specifically to accommodate a RWC honeymoon. Matilda felt relieved there had been no sporting fixtures in August 1990 and considered that she had got off very lightly with a honeymoon planned entirely around a trip on the Flåm Railway in Norway.
We also remembered Martin’s balcony from where he used to take aim at passers-by with a water gun. Having exchanged a few messages we managed to identify it and send him a photo. Martin then recommended the moules in Le Grand Café which was just across the street. . .
. . . and so we went there for our our evening meal. Robert ordered Moules Dutch style gratin which is served with cream, curry and gratinated gouda [see Dish of the Day]. So it was moules but not really as we know it.
The following morning we set off for Lyon where we were booked onto the Camping de Lyon campsite with electric hook up and full services for two nights.
We decided we would settle in and stay on site and allow the driver to rest. Robert cooked more paella than we could eat.
When we arrived, Robert was particularly pleased to find that the bar had been set up ready to show the rugby on both an inside and an outside screen.
Indeed many of the motorhomes were displaying the national flag for the team they were supporting so there was a double sense of bonhomie amongst the rugby fans in the bar who also had motorhomes. After eating we went to watch the late match.
The following morning we caught a bus into the centre and once again tried to remember details from our last visit which in this instance was back in July 2016.
Matilda stipulated that she needed to eat something before a 21:00 kick off and we stopped at a restaurant near the cathedral, called unsurprisingly Café Cathédrale, for lunch before travelling out to the stadium.
Our table had a view of the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière which was built high on the hill between 1872 and 1884 to thank the Virgin Mary for having spared the city from invasion during the Franco-Prussian war. We had climbed up on our last visit but plan to use the funicular when we return for another match later in the trip.
Robert had arranged to meet an old friend from home who also had tickets to the New Zealand vs Italy match. Gill and Paul had already watched a match at the OL Stadium and unlike at Marseille or Lille, there were bars next to the ground where fans congregated before the match.
Unfortunately, although we had been anticipating that Italy would present New Zealand with a challenge, the match was much more one-sided than we had hoped. The stadium was an interesting open design with views of the city [see feature photo].
Because of the issues which had been reported about fans leaving the various grounds, and the apparent lack of transport back to the campsite, we had booked a hotel in the centre of Lyon, leaving Al securely locked up.
Although Matilda had declined the free soap on offer in our Marseille hotel because of the Ibis budget branding, Robert was delighted with the free gift from Mercure Hotels which met us on our return from the match.
The next morning we returned to collect Al the Motorhome and to drive to Mâcon.
Looking at the map, Matilda had been hoping for a pleasant riverside stroll into Mâcon but the first section was fairly industrial, punctuated by out of town restaurants and sports facilities. We did eventually reach the River Saône [which joins the River Rhône at Lyon] and the medieval arched Pont Saint-Laurent. This is a well-established river crossing and the site of a prehistoric fording point.
The Romans built a wooden bridge here before it was replaced by a stone bridge in the eleventh century. This was added to over time and at one point two fortified towers loomed on either side of the eleventh arch. Now, you can take selfies with the town sign situated on the bank nearby.
The town seemed very quiet as we strolled around and most of the shops were either closed or closed for lunch. It definitely had a week-end, end of season feel to it. By contrast, the Chambre de Commerce was imposing and on a completely different scale to the level of business which we could see being conducted around us.
The Église Saint-Pierre de Mâcon was built between 1859 and 1865 in a neo-Romanesque style with a three storey facade. The two towers are 53 metres high.
The Maison de Bois in the Place aux Herbes is the oldest and perhaps most famous house in Mâcon, dating from the late 15th/early 16th century. It gets its name from construction of the upper three floors which are made entirely of wood with detailed carving beneath a cantilevered roof. The second floor facade is perhaps the most ornate and includes an array of idiosyncratic characters both real and imaginary.
The Vieux Saint-Vincent is Mâcon’s old cathedral which was demolished during the Revolution, and the only structures left standing were the towers; the narthex or porch area and the span which connects them. There are murals preserved on the interior but we could not find a way in and suspected that, like much of the rest of Mâcon, it was closed when we visited.
Having watched one match in a bar we returned to the campsite to eat and watch the final game.