Sunday, 4 September 2016

To the manor drawn (Sainte-Menehould to Chateau de Puxe)

I wake up early in St Menehould and want to get out of here.   .
Even though the hotel rolled out the red carpet and has good reviews I am not happy here.
My gut feeling is mumbling something.
I'm not sure what it is saying, but it ain't good!

I have breakfast at 7:30 am.  Oh, yum, this is worth 9 Euros. This is the REAL Continental Breakfast.  Fresh baguette, croissants, and pain de chocolate, ham, cheese, and they even have one of those boiling water contraptions with hangers inside, in which you can place a chilled chicken egg and using the provided egg timer cook to just the softness that you prefer.

During the apres-petit-dejeuner cigarette, I notice that the weather forecast has indeed been accurate. It's raining, but the intensity is already diminishing. Let's hope that trend continues!

When the bike is saddled and ready to ride off, the rain has stopped.

Google maps sends me along the usual mix of decent gravel roads and quiet, mostly car-free paved roads.

Along the way: some more monuments to Germans' ability to tell the difference between right and wrong

Even though the threat of rain is ever-present, it stays dry.

Free Food !

When I roll into Verdun, a city whose name that has been soaked in blood and misery from many wars throughout the centuries, I don't really expect much. WRONG again. Verdun is beautiful.  It has a bit of Amsterdam, it has a bit of Paris.  Learned something else.

It's a good time to recharge my battery and fill my stomach.  I find a nice restaurant right on the quay promenade. The place has an extremely effeminate young waiter in his early 20s who is very friendly and helps me hunt through the restaurant for an outlet for my battery charger.

I order the French national dish, Entrecote avec frites.

When I'm quietly working away at my food, I realize that the couple in their 70s at the table next to me are from Suabia in Germany. I recognize the accent from my Dad's Dad.  I'm not trying to eavesdrop but can't overhear the husband in a hushed but urgent tone admonishing his wife "You GOT to stop doing that. Stop shaking the table. Once in a while is fine, but NOT all the time. And this morning when you stepped into your skirt. It was like you were afraid of it"
A clandestine shot of the German woman. The German man's hand is visible handling his BEER.
Add to that that earlier both had been giggling at my fruity waiter.  Stay on your side of the border if you want to spread misery !  It never stops. A waitress explains to them in English what is in a certain dish or salad. The German hears one ingredient and instantly interrupts "NO!".  Not a "No, thank you". Just "NO!".  
Then he gets up and returns his wife's dish to the kitchen. It's exactly the same one that I am eating.  By now all the guests from all the other countries are STARING at the Germans.  And they're not even realizing it.  They keep bickering away at things that are WRONG with the food. NEVER happy.  

WTF???   No wonder there always was war between people like that and the more laissez faire French.

From Verdun, the road leads up into the hills.

Somewhere in the far distance over there people speak German 

This being the area around Verdun, it is no surprise that there is a German soldier's cemetery along the roadside.  I only realize when I read the description that under these relatively few crosses on this relatively small lot rest almost 8,000 young men.  Having been first exposed to these places on last year's bike trip through Normandy, I now take the List of the Buried out of its water-proof cubby hole and look for names.  There is one of my father's side of the family, and there is someone from Grandma's side. And one from adopted Grandpa's relatives.   I have no idea whether these are very close relatives, but try to remember that in 1916 there were are LOT fewer people on this planet 

A while later, Google Maps delivers me to Le Chateau de Puxe.

The Chateau is lovely, so is the room. The owner/caretaker is also lovely in her own way but unfortunately she is NOT tech-savvy.   

I tell her TWICE that her internet router needs to be rebooted because despite excellent signal strength, I don't get ANY internet.  She tells me to sit in the kitchen because "then you are closer".  Do I look that dumb?  Why can't ignant people just realize when they have no clue instead of making life so hard for less ignant human beings?

Of course it does not work in the kitchen.  Does she check back with me? Mais Non.  

It gets worse. It's Sunday and the 10 km distant supermarket closed at noon and won't re-open until tomorrow.

6 pm rolls around and I have figured out that if I connect to THE OTHER WiFi server that's visible (some garbled name) and use the password for the Chateau WiFi I DO GET internet.  When the Lady of the House hands me a business card of the restaurant that she made reservations for me at 7 pm, I tell her all this, get a BLANK look and a shrug of the shoulders.

Ah well. I have internet and my miserable mood that is overly evident in the above paragraphs soon vanishes.  The lady of the manor is actually quite nice and tries her best to be a great host at which she even succeeds. Time to accept the fact that some people just do not do tech.

The bike being faster than most bikes, I get to the restaurant at 18:30 pm.  The door is locked.  OK, let's just hope it opens at 7. I hop into the pub next door for a glass of Rose to bridge the time and do some work and again am amazed by the friendliness of rural France. Not only do they want to make room for me at the bar, the owner empties the dregs of the bottle into my glass filling it to twice the normal amount, and the older man that had moved away to make room for me makes Uh Uh noises, to which I make my first ever joke in the French language.  "C'est O.K. Je suis sur un velo, Pas de voiture !"  They even giggle, but that might just have been my ridiculous French ;-)

Every time someone enters the bar, they make the rounds of the maybe 8-10 customers, shake hands and kiss cheeks.  The amazing  thing is that they all also come to my table to bid me "bon jour" and shake my hand.  This is not the first time I notice it and I'm starting to like it a lot.

7 pm. I walk next door, try the door, and it's open.  The nice (NOT) people gave me the table RIGHT AT THE entrance door and right next to the door of the LOO.  

But after I drink another glass of Rose quickly and comment that their Escargots were 'Tres bon', the waitress seems to warm up a bit.  And the escargot were VERY nice. I even use some baguette to sweep out some of the garlic-and-herb-laden molten butter ;-).

Ordering the Prawns and St. Jaques pizza wasn't the best brain-work I have done today, but then I have a weakness for  Noix de St. Jaques (NOT the nuts of holy Jack but Scallops) when I'm in France. When did the WAY-too-much-cheese pizza movement take hold in France?  But since due to the closed supermarkets I will have nothing to munch on tonight, I will take the leftovers with me. Nothing better than cheese and bread to counteract too much Rose. Speaking of Rose, where is my third (fourth?) glass ????

Given all that Rose, the 9 km ride home to the Chateau are just rosy ;-)

Since I was asleep rather quickly with all that good French wine inside me, I also wake up early.

Coming back into the room, I notice something that seems at first very strange.

The reflection of the lamp shade in the window seems strangely blurred.
Not strange at all, because these are OLD window panes.  And believe it or not, glass is a liquid. Since liquids flow, so does glass, only REALLY SLOWLY.

During a discussion with the lady of the house during a yummy breakfast I start appreciating her more.  She actually asks where I and my bicycle have come from and where we are going. 
I'm not sure whether the all too frequent absence of that question is a result of only an all too obvious lack of interest or the fact that in these car-obsessed days people just don't know what to make of a bicycle anymore.  

Time to roll.  The Fatherland is looming nearby.

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