Don’t Let it Bring you Down: French Open Weekend

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Friday 27th May
After leaving work I made my way to St Pancras so I could catch the Eurostar. I had misread a message from Victoria which nearly caused complete chaos on my arrival. It was 23.30 by the time I arrived at the station and as it was late I decided to get a taxi. Fortunately the queue was long because by the time there were only a handful of people ahead of me I heard someone shout my name. I looked up and to my surprise saw Victoria standing there. Victoria had told me she would meet me at the station but I’d not read the message properly and had therefore nearly gone straight to our accommodation.

I briefly met her friend Omar and we then got a taxi together. We walked the final section because the driver got lost even though we could both see where to go on Google maps. The streets smelt of urine and it was very late by the time we arrived at our Airbnb. It was quite a small bedsit in need of some (a lot of) tlc, especially the bathroom. With a bit of work it could have made a pleasant studio for an artist. Instead once we had made our beds (a sofa bed and a single mattress) it looked like a squat.

Saturday 28th May
As my alarm went off it felt a nice change to have woken up in the country I was visiting but after just over 5 hours sleep it was still a bit of a struggle. The shower helped to revive me a bit and Victoria got up once I was done. We’d booked a day trip to explore the Champagne Region and had no difficulties in finding the pick up point which was near the Louvre. Once we had checked in, we even had some time to wonder down to the Seine

We grabbed seats at the back of the mini bus and I promptly fell asleep as Victoria successfully captured on video. When I did eventually open my eyes the scenery was very pleasant with wheat fields on one side and vineyards on the other. Occasionally there were large cemeteries and it wasn’t until our tour guide pointed them out that I realised they were for soldiers from First World War.

Our first stop was the lovely village of Hautvillers. We wondered along what appeared the main street, passing various “Champagne Houses” as we made our way to the small church which contained the Grave of Dom Perignon. Our guide explained how Dom Perignon had mastered the technique for creating champagne which is still used by most companies.

We continued on to Verzenay so that we could visit a Lighthouse which had been built to promote the local champagne. First we visited the museum which explained the work carried out in each season and whilst the audio guide was good I skipped a lot of the sections because some were quite repetitive. Next we climbed the 100 steps to the top of the lighthouse and then wondered around the gardens.

Our next destination was Reims where we had the opportunity to get some food before a visit to the Cathedral and then ultimately the whole reason we’d done the tour, a trip to one of the Champagne Houses to sample their Champagne. We had lunch at Le Grande Café and were joined by two others. I opted for the tagliatelle with snails in a cheesy sauce and I have to admit it was really tasty though I’m still unsure what snails actually taste like. We made our way back to the coach and briefly stopped off at the Vranken Pommery Champagne House.

We continued to the GH Martell Champagne House which is now a museum as the production has moved to a site with more space. First we were given a tour around the cellar and our guide gave us a history about how Champagne is made and explained some of the techniques that were used in the past. I was aware that Champagne was created using different blends of grape however I didn’t appreciate how much the Champagne can vary. After the tour we were taken to an elegant lounge and got to sample three different types including a rose. Whilst it was good to try the different styles we believed we were going to the famous Moët Champagne House and it was disappointing that the information we had on our itinerary differed from our schedule. It would also have been nice to have tried Champagne from other companies rather than only experiencing one

We arrived at the Cathedral which had been severely damaged during the first world war. This included the smiling face of one of the angels at the entrance, which was faithfully reconstructed after the war and the roof which has also been repaired. European Cathedrals whilst grand all now feel much the same to me now and there wasn’t an obvious draw so Victoria and I left to look around the souvenir shops and were able to try a free sample of the pink biscuit that is often dipped in Champagne.

Pretty much everyone on the bus fell asleep on the way back and eveb though one of the passengers had been 20 minutes late we arrived in Paris earlier than expected. On our way back to our accommodation we stopped off at a creperie called Crêperie A l’Etoile d’Or and both inadvertently ordered the same dish but were both happy with how good it was. Unfortunately (or rather fortunately for my waistline) I didn’t have room for one of the Nutella filled chocolate crepes.

Once we were home I realised that the Champions League Final between Real and Athletico Madrid was on the free sports channel, and felt very content as I watched it with a beer. Victoria went to bed so I turned the commentry down which made no difference to my enjoyment because I’d not fully understand what the French commentators were saying. I was getting in to bed when Athletico equalised towards the end but despite feeling tired stayed up to see Real Madrid eventually win the match on penalties.

Sunday 29th May
Victoria was up first and after my late night from watching the football I initially struggled to get out of bed, not that I was feeling overly snug as the mattress I was on wasn’t the best. Once we were up we found out Victoria’s friend Omar, who had volunteered to drive us to Monet’s house, was running over an hour late because he’d set his alarm for the wrong day.

We therefore decided to walk to a nearby bakery called Horaires where I ordered a Pain au Chocolat and returned back to where we were staying. Shortly after Omar arrived and we made the hour long journey to the village of Giverny where Monet’s house and garden were located. By the time we arrived we had long missed a tour Victoria had organised for us around the gardens and it hadn’t been possible to book us on a later tour.

We saw that there was a free tour through the house and it seemed there were others waiting. The lady was from America and despite speaking in clear English said something none of us quite caught about the group being small. Ultimately it meant we ended up sitting on the sofa for an hour as she described the tour of the house, without actually taking us on it. Some of what she said would have been interesting if we had been in the house but instead it meant nothing and all felt a bit weird.

Before going in to the house we decided to walk around the flower garden and arguably the more famous Japanese garden which was used in a lot of the art work. Both had been designed by Monet and we saw and walked over the bridge famous from his painting now “Bridge over a Pond of Lilies” and saw other aspects of the garden immortalised in his paintings.

After we had explored the gardens we walked around the house and some of the facts the lady had told us had stuck in my brain. Most of the house had been left how it had been in Monet’s time but the paintings he had once kept in his study and in other rooms have now been replaced by copies. Perhaps we would have spent longer in the house and the gardens with a guide but as it was we seemed to have seen everything quicker than I expected.

We had a late lunch at one of the restaurants near the house before calling in to the tourist information centre to decide where else in the area we could visit. Ultimately we decided on the ruins of a castle called Chateau Gaillard, one of the oldest Norman castles and a historic village called Venables which Victoria wanted to visit because she had a work colleague whose family was historically from there.

Chateau Gaillard was in a particularly stunning location on top of the hill and the ruins added to the dramatic scene. Victoria and I explored the grounds which were free whilst Omar moved the car and eventually joined us. We then drove down the hill in to the village which looked pleasant but rather than getting out decided to continue the journey to Venables.

We arrived in Venables and aside from a small church it didn’t appear there was anything else to see. The village didn’t even appear to have a shop so after walking to the Welcome sign so Victoria could get a photo we returned back to the car and started the journey back to Paris. The traffic was particularly heavy and so we didn’t arrive back until quite later than planned.

Victoria and I then walked to a sushi restaurant which was relatively close to where we were staying but by the time we had finished the rain which we’d seen forecast on our mobiles in the run up to the holiday finally struck with avengement. We held off leaving the restaurant as long as possible but it was clear the rain wasn’t going to pass so we ran. Once home we were both soaked and put the heading on full blast to dry out. This time it was my turn to fall asleep first as Victoria had to finalise her future travel plans.

Monday 30th May
Visiting Roland Garros had really been our whole reason for meeting up because we had previously done Wimbledon and Melbourne together and I was excited when I woke up (despite the rain) because we were finally going. After showering I went to the shops to buy us ingredients for baguettes and to give Victoria space to get ready because our apartment was very cosy (small).

My phone indicated that there would be a clearing of the clouds and so once we were ready we made the journey to the historic venue. By the time we arrived it was raining harder than it had been when we left and we huddled under my umbrella as we waited in the queue to get in. Once we were we made way to Court One because that was where one of the singles matches we had tickets for was being played.

We made our way up the steps and entering the arena saw that the covers contained huge puddles. We huddled in the gangway as we waited for news and as the official app was giving no information besides sales of towels and other tat I started to look on Twitter. Eventually we decided to leave the court when it was clear play wouldn’t be starting anytime soon and went in search of a cafe.

On our way we stopped of at Suzanne Lenglen Court where a gangway had been opened to allow non ticket holders to get a photo. We were desperately trying to stay warm, especially Victoria whose finger had gone numb due to the cold and we were also both feeling quite tired and bitterly disappointed. We weren’t allowed in Philippe Chatrier to take photos and so visited the shop and then the museum. The museum was fairly interesting and contained items collected over the years but the trophies had been removed. It was whilst we were in the museum that the Twitter account announced that for the first time since 2000 there would be no play all day.

We made a fairly hasty exit and on our way home stopped at the Eiffel Tower which was shrouded in fog. We eventually got in, cold and wet. Neither of us had much enthusiasm to do anything else in the day but as it was our last evening together I suggested a dinner cruise. I still hoped that to some extent the day could be salvaged and we rested in our accommodation for a few hours until it was time to leave.

We arrived at the meeting point in plenty of time and at the same time as two other couples. One guy was standing there and explained to is that due to the rain the pick up point had been changed. We had no chance of getting to the new location in time which just added to the disappointment of the day. We made the journey anyway and rather cruelly saw the boat pass us just as we arrived on the river bank. We followed it for a while but eventually accepted there wasn’t a second pick up point.

It had been raining continuously for 24 hours and now hungry as well as wet, cold and drained ordered a starter from one of the restaurants on the river bank. Slightly more energised we returned to the pick up point so we could join a later cruise. It seemed the whole day had been against us and I think we both half expected to get turned away however we were allowed on and given a seat.

Shortly after we took our seat a group joined with a small dog which shook its wet body over the seats. I like dogs but this was probably the final straw for me. I found an attendant and pointing at the dog going woof woof and then imitating sneezing I got us moved to the other side although unlike some tables we were still not even given a bottle of water (some had champagne) and no one took any drink orders.

Even though it didn’t do the full route it was a really lovely experience and we still got to see the Eiffel Tower lit up and a replica of the Statue of Liberty. The 3 course meal had been good and I was able to add foie gras to a growing list of French foods I’d had over the previous few days.  The journey home was, fortunately uneventful though we still required the heater on full blast once we got home. It had

Tuesday 31st May
Neither of us wanted to get out of bed because we could hear the rain still pattering against the window. With chores to do such as laundry and posting some items back to Australia Victoria eventually made the first movements. I shortly followed. Rather than waiting at the launderette we went to another local bakery to get breakfast before I went back home and Victoria went back to the launderette.

We then both spent quite a bit of time sorting out all our clothes before we left together for the final time. The plan was to go to a roof terrace cafe in the Galeries Lafayette shopping centre and we went via the post office. We arrived at the shopping centre and to my horror I realised I’d left my train snacks at home. Whilst Victoria did some shopping I dashed back and we met up again an hour later. The hardest part of my journey had been finding my way out of the huge shopping centre.

The lunch was average, but more importantly it was nice to spend some time together when both of us were relaxed, not wet and not in a hurry to get somewhere. We walked to some of the shops together before eventually I had to say “see you soon” without knowing when that will be. I was sad to go, part of me wanted to stay but as Victoria rightly pointed out I should have been glad to be leaving. It is true that it was only our companionship which had been any type of light or joy by the end of the trip and I hope Victoria has better luck on the rest of her travels. As for me, I return to Paris in less than a week before going to Bordeaux for Euro 2016.

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Posted by Travels and Rambles

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