Monday, 25 July 2011

Mustard and many balloons!

And so to continue, a slightly shorter blog than usual as we have a busy day ahead and with moving on tomorrow, we don’t know where the next wi-fi connection will come from. The Olive oil place was a good as hoped with a small olive grove to look around, a film about the history and production of the stuff, a look around the factory (off season at the moment!) and best of all, a tasting of various oils and ‘table olives’ – all so different – and then a big shop! Temptation everywhere........ The wind got very strong up in our mountain top campsite at the beginning of last week and life there became less pleasant, so we moved north last Wednesday, taking in a lovely night stop at one of the free France Passion sites in the next village to our very first France Passion stop nearly two months ago now. It was in a very smart vineyard and we enjoyed eating Gold medal winning olives along with Gold medal winning wine wine from the vineyard in the late evening sunshine outside the van overlooking an idyllic French lane! The lady in the wine shop told me all about the Salon de l’Agriculture competition in Paris every February when all the best that France can produce comes together for tastings and judging – the public can go too – sounds like the perfect weekend away!

Onwards up the motorway bypassing Beaune – sadly as it one of our favourite wine cities – but neither of us had visited Dijon before – yes, the home of the mustard – and so it had to be done. We had identified a campsite down on the river, just 20 minutes walk from the centre of the city, and booked in for one night. It was drizzling and windy but we put on our big raincoats and hiked along the little river into the city centre – surprise, it has a mustard shop very like the one in Norwich (if slightly larger and older), and we risked the bus back after having a drink just outside the wonderful Place du Ducs, a huge square infront of the Palace where the Dukes of Burgundy lived until they were ousted in the French Revolution. It had fun little dancing fountains and we were amused by a couple of young kids who thought it was fun to get totally drenched by walking through them, even though it was a cool breezy evening! The following morning we did not need to leave camp until noon, so we took the bus again to find that Friday morning in Dijon is where it is at..... the huge Victorian style market hall was buzzing, and outside stalls of all types were mingling with the coffee and wine bars. We stocked up the fridge with fish, pates and veg – all fresh and good quality – the French know how to eat!

And so onto Lorraine, that area of France that has changed political and national hands so often in the past. As we drove up the motorway we could see the terrain changing to include far more livestock than before, and the villages began to look more alpine with sloping roof tops and tall steepled churches. Unfortunately the rain followed us, and we arrived at our new campsite in a heavy shower – always good fun. They had apparently had rain all week and the ground is just mud. Totally unpleasant as it is always difficult to keep the floors of the toilet blocks clean and we dared not put down our flooring outside the van as it would be too muddy to pack up again. The camp was filling up with caravans, campers and tents, many with trailers alerting us that they were balloonists from all over Europe. That first evening I had to delay cooking the tea twice as we were called outside to watch and photograph groups of colourful hot air balloons rising up above the hill and over the camp. Quite a breathtaking site! The following morning was more rain so sadly the balloons did not go up. We had other plans and set off on the tourist trail again, this time to the historical city of Nancy with the largest and most beautiful French classical square in Europe, listed in the UNESCO World Heritage sites. It was a lovely day out, riding once again on the little Tourist Train and walking miles around the city centre.

By now, my sister and brother-in-law had arrived in the area, they had a warm snug hotel room (!), and we arranged to see them the following day as once again afternoon rain stopped the evening balloon flights. So yesterday, quite unexpectedly we found ourselves visiting an old fort on the Maginot Line, built during the 1930s to protect France from German invasion. It was manned by over 1000 soldiers for four months, all preparing for the worse, but it never came and during WWII the Germans simply came round the top through Belgium! This network of underground tunnels is now looked after by a team of enthusiasts and it was a fascinating (if cold) visit – rather long at 2.5 hours – but very different! And so that brings us to today. This morning, despite early rain, the balloonists did get their wish and at 8.00am we had a text – ‘we are up in the sky – worth a look’. And we got up and we looked and it was worth it! Fantastic sight of hundreds of balloons (more than Friday evening) sailing over the French countryside. My sister’s balloon captain says we might get a flight with them tonight – our last night in the area – so fingers crossed for the weather and I will report in when I can.... Take care.

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