Archive for the ‘France’ Category

The High Alps – Day 43

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

All I see is white. There is little hope for rescue. Karina has lost her toes to frostbite, and we ate the last of the dogs last night. It fell to me put the faithful trusting hound out of its misery, before sautéing it in a red wine and garlic sauce. The wind howls at us like a banshee day and night, and I find myself longing at each step for a crevasse to swallow me up like it took Sebastian, and put an end to this futility. Only the thought of once more seeing cricket on the village green keeps me going, along with my crystal meth. Tell Fanny to keep her chin up.


We had a coffee in one of the rubber-necking cafes on the pedestrianised avenue of Aix-en-Provence, or Exy in Provence as I named it when we got the bill, and contemplated our next move. We could head east along the Cote D’Azur through Cannes, San Tropez, Nice and Monaco to Genoa, or chance the van in the mountains and head north to Geneve. After staring at the road atlas until my eyes started moving in and out of focus, we decided we’d take the high road, as this would let us go through Switzerland then drop back down to the Italian lakes, and we had some friends in Geneve who we could get loco with, Swiss style.

Karina and I had been in Aix before, in a freezing yet romantic December, and though it was a beaut little town. Its warm yellow buildings hid a town of bars and boutiques, student hangouts and street markets, and blokes bickering over boules. Karina checked out the clothes and bought herself a pair of earrings, while I sprayed myself with a sampler bottle of aftershave that hung around me in a cloud of eye-watering musk for the rest of the afternoon.

We cooked up a lunch of our usual beans and rice while parked in the median strip, then decided to take our first motorway to the town of Gap, the theory being that it would be easier on the van than the backroads we’d been holding up traffic along, though the tolls can be quite hefty in France. We headed north into the Rhone Alps, part of the Alps that I’d not traveled through before, and followed up a wide bottomed ex-glacial valley (Im a geo, and I know a wide bottomed ex-glacial valley when I see one) with peaks of folded sandstone in an area of stark beauty. We passed the magnificent fort town of Sisteron, and I asked Karina weakly if we could get her Sisteron drugs, before reaching Gap, nestled in the palm of the surrounding mountain fingers. We stopped here for while, as both the car and my throat needed some lubrication, before we attempted the high road to Grenoble. The town had an artist thing going on in its mall which we browsed down, though none of them were Rembrandt, and I was happy to find no Gap in Gap.

The road to Grenoble quickly turned steep and windy, and the mountains we passed got bigger, though I should point out this was only in comparison to ones we’d encountered previously and that they didn’t visibly gain mass as a result of us transiting their base. After driving around a long cold-looking lake we started to pass a lot of Napoleon references in the street and place names, and inferred that the Emperor with the Napoleonic complex must have passed through here with his Grande Armee at some stage. Coming close to Grenoble, we worked our way higher and higher before going down an exceptionally long steep (12%) slope that I was grateful we weren’t driving up.

Grenoble is a big town, the queen of the Alps, with a big student population and progressive politics. We parked the night just next to the river near the old city, and wandered in that evening. For a Tuesday night it was packed, with veritable enchiridion of funky overpriced bars and haunts. Karina wondered whether they all had to work tomorrow or not. We had a drink in one then settled in to watch some free screenings of a short film festival that was happening in one of the squares. The French shorts were about half short films and half animations. I’ve seen a shedload of movies over the years and consider myself an open-minded film buff, but while the animations were excellent both in their ambition and realisation, the short films were some of the most dreadful self-indulgent tosh I’d seen from somebody given access to a camera: dull with nursery school level narratives. One about some sheila trying to fly a kite on the beach was particular waste of celluloid. Still, it was free…

The next day we continued through the Alps, from Gremoble to Megeve following a steep river canyon most of the way. We van made a couple of paff sounds, like a pissy backfire, so we pulled over and had some lunch while it cooled. It seemed to go away when we continued on to Chamonix. Karina and I have at various times contemplated buying an apartment in Chamonix or Tignes-Val D’Isere and wanted to check out how busy it is in the summer. Chamonix was absolutely chockers with punters, though how many to the week rental Im not so sure. We stayed in a campground in Chamonix-Sud, under the morning shadow of Mount Blanc and the Aguille Du Midi, capped with snow and looking magnificent. We decided to walk up to a waterfall that afternoon. After starting off on the wrong side of the river we had to ford a fast and icy stream then scramble up the steep slope before we could join the main trail. At the waterfall under the slopes of Mount Blanc, we thought about traversing across to the bottom of a nearby glacier, but it was getting dark and the arse-end of the glacier looked kind of dirty from a distance, so we hiked back down then rode out bikes back to the campsite.

The next day was hot, and the parasailers out early, spiraling down the valley trying to catch the thermals. We rode up the valley towards Argentiere. Le Brevant gondola was closed for construction and the Aguille du Midi costs too much, so we decided to take the bikes up La Flegere cable car and ride down. In hindsight this was slightly ambitious given the state of bikes. Mine was a street bike, not a mountain bike, and Karinas bike’s brakes weren’t working properly. The trail down was very steep and coved in loose rocks and gravel. Karina had a couple of small stacks, had we had to walk a few sections. After about a third of the way down we really weren’t enjoying it, so I decided to try one of the walking trails that seemed longer and more zig-zaggy, but less steep. The trail was rideable and encouraging for the first couple of hundred meters, but gradually deteriorated into a very narrow scrambly trail with steep rock sections. We ended up basically having to push, man-handle and carry the bikes down about another 1200m vertical which was very strenuous on a hot day. The first beer we had after coasting back into the centre hardly touched the sides. That night we went into a bar that had free wifi, and met a friendly Australian couple in a bar who invited us back to their apartment where they had a couple of bottles of plonk. We chatted into the wee small hours.

The next day a thunderstorm was brewing and we nursed the van and our hungover heads along the motorway to Geneve.

Agde to Arles

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

Up until now, I havent been impressed with the beaches of the French part of the Med. The whole Cote D’ Azur you have to do breastroke to keep your head above the used condos and frite packets floating around in there. Nice has pebbles instead of sand, which brings to mind when I thought I’d get out of London for a day at beach in Brighton. I was that depressed to find rocks bigger than my fist instead of sand, and a turgid sea of cold brown water. Anyway, Agde, or more precisely the Cap D’Agde, which is on the Southwest side of the Rhone mouth, had decent sandy beaches and sea that you could see the bottom of. Speaking of bottoms, where we camped was right next to Europe’s largest Naturism camp. Id been once before to a nude beach in Brazil, hiking for miles through the scrub near Buzios with Karina to discover she was the only women on the beach. But this place was like a city. Curiousity got the better of us and we decided to pay it a visit. Now I’ve grown more comfortable in my own skin as I’ve got older, but pushing a shopping trolley down the supermarket aisle starkers was an eye opener for me, and I decided not to have sausages (or bearded clam) for dinner that night. The place was huge, with hotels, campgrounds, shopping malls, bars and beach. We had a lay on the beach, after some precautionary sunscreen, and I have to admit swimming then showering and laying on the towel are better without the possiblity of sand in your bathers. They advertise as this clean, back to nature lifestyle, and there were a few bare-arsed families that probably fitted that bill. But I detected an undercurrent of sleaze, with lots of single blokes with jewelery in interesting place, and 3 or 4 stores selling bondage gear. Then again, maybe they were just Germans.

After a few days in Agde, and a more extensive suntan than Im used to, we headed to Montpellier. We had a friend of a friend to catch up with, but I was buggered if I could find where I’d written his number. Montpellier is a big town and an old city that seemed to have only one way in or out in the van. We thought we’d keep pressing on as I was eager to see Arles before night fall. This involved driving through the Carmargue, the swampy delta where the Rhone meets the sea. Famed for its Carmargue horses, of which we saw one munching forlornly in a drainage ditch, and mosquitos, of which we saw plenty.

Coming into Arles is like approaching any French town. First you have farms and light industry, then the big Hypermarts, then a zone of service stations and car dealerships that give way to some high rise apartment buildings, then a commercial residential zone of lighting shops and bakeries, and finaly the elegant architecture of the old city at it’s centre.

I had my heart set on visiting the roman arena in Arles. Id never been in the Coliseum in Rome, due to a combination of big queue and general miserliness, but this time I wanted a gander. It was very well preserved and had been in use since 56AD, not to mention it’s appearence in the rather good film “Ronin”. The old city was a narrow maze, and we were lucky to make it out of there, let alone find a parking space. We manged to find one by the river and wandered in and up to the arena. They were selling tickets to the Bullfighting that had just started, to which Karina bluntly refused to go (see earlier posts). But someone explained it was a special “Carmargue” style where the object is to take a ribbon from the bulls horns with a small handheld hook, and that no bull were killed, she relunctantly agreed to join me.

There must have been 25 guys in the arena with the bull, who took turns to run at the bull before leaping quite athletically (you would to if you had a bull’s horn just about to turn your date into a shashlik) to safety of a fence with running board around the bottom. The bulls varied in size, with the bigger bulls provide more entertainment (i.e. chance of gore). The first one managed to jump the fence and terrorise the front row spectators. Sitting on a sunny evening in a 2000 year old arena was quite atmospheric, and I thought “put this crowd in togas, have a couple of albatross sellers, and I could be Alius Maximus”

After the last bull trotted out of the arena like he’d done it a hundred times before, they had a fairly over the top awards ceremony with marching bands and women in traditional dress (they looked like milkmaids) that seemed to drag on until every last partipant had an award. We took the opportunity to jump into the arena and get a bulls eye view on things.

After a glass of wine we wandered back to the van and drove out along the backroads towards Aix en Provence. We stayed on the outskirts of a minor town, where the local kids took turns to ride a loud trailbike up and down next to our camper. I unscrewed the back of a powerbox in an effort to ‘borrow’ some electricity (it’s not stealing if you cant see it) but the bastard hadnt been wired up to the mains yet, so I stopped short before attempting this and probably electricuting myself.

Languishing in Limoux

Thursday, July 17th, 2008

Now I know several people were betting on when our van would die, and those who picked France almost got lucky. After Andorra, we had two more high passes until the terrain finally flattened out somewhat. After the last pass, we were coasting into a village when the van started making a disturbingly loud thunk thunk. I pulled it over and looked at the engine to see if if anything obvious had gone wrong. I’m not a totally shit mechanic, though having your own garage and mechanical team when I was working at the mines encouraged laziness and a cavalier attitude to driving in what I considered a personal rally park. I know how engines work and what each part does, but things that go wrong under the engine case I hold my hands up, and it sounded like it was coming from inside there. I adjusted one of the air intake seals that had slipped down and gingerly tried it again. The sound briefly went away, possibly because of cooling down, but returned under load after a few kilometers. We decided to coast downhill to the bigger village of Limoux and look for a mechanic. It was about half past eight on a friday night but we saw one open and still working who agreed to take a look. He reckoned it was the piston valve that wasnt closing properly on our forth cylinder, and said (at least I thought he did, he spoke only French) he could try to adjust it in the morning. The oil was low which was probably the cause. Id been checking every couple of days and it had stayed steady for a two weeks between the high and low marks, but something must have happened in the last day or two to make it lose quite a bit, grumbling up hairpin bends can’t have helped.  He was a talkative bloke, Francoise, who rambled for hours in french with barely a comma, despite the fact that we have only the basic grasp of the language, telling us about his divorce, his two girls in university and something about cancer. It doesnt pay to offend your mechanic so we listened politely to almost midnight and then slept in the van on his lot.

The next day we waited to after lunch when he got underneath and fiddled while cranked it off an on for him. He said the valve wasnt closing and it would need the whole engine out. He could start next week. 80 euros lighter for just two hours work Karina and I drove out to the camping ground promising to come back monday. As we pulled into the entrance doubts began to creep in. The noise had gone away and the van actually didn’t seem to have lost any power. The prospect of hanging out for an indeterminite number of days in the village while he tinkered away with the meter running didn’t exactly thrill us, so we decided rather adultly:”fuck it”, and to drive to Carcasonne, about 30km away to the north. If the sound returned so would we. As fate would have it, the van seemed to cruise to Carcossone in good order, though at one point I thought I heard a phantom noise that turned out to be cicadas in the fields nearby. Carcassone is a  beautiful fortress on the hill from the outside. Inside it’s like medieval world at Disney. I had a beer to calm the nerves and quench the thirst as the day developed into a scorcher.  We typed the coastal town of Agde into our GPS, and I followed the pink line through the baking vinyards of the Roussilon. It looked like our Capybara would live to fight another day

Pyrenneean Progress

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

In my mind Ive always dismissed the Pyrennese, that mountainous seam that welds Spain onto France, as kind of pissy. Not a proper mountain range like the Alps, the Andes or the You Yangs. But after slowly chugging up, over, and down seven passes around the 2000m mark in 2 days, I have a new found respect for them. Steep, lofty, and extensive, I seldom got out of second gear in the van.

The road hairpins its way past ski resorts, high alpine meadows with herds of goats and cows with their bells dinging, waterfalls and rocky crags and bluffs. The French side is a bit greener, with resort and spa towns nestled in the valleys. We took a couple of hitchers up to a mountain lake, Lac Estaing, and cooked lunch next to a busload of Paisley parish penshioners crooning ‘Flower of Scotland’ and other party pieces.

I guess the other thing to note is that we were following the route of the Tour de France, two weeks before they were due to come through. The first give away is the amount of graffiti on the road tarmac, done in large letters with the hope of being picked up by the TV helicopters. A lot was about the Contador team that I couldnt always translate but I think was suggesting that they were a pack of cheating druggie scum. The other stuff varied from the personal “LOIC 2008” to the imaginative “CUNT CUNT CUNT CUNT”. The road was also full of riders, generally middle aged guys in full cycling gear, no doubt reviving boyhood fantasies of winning La Tour as they labour up 1 in 8 degree slopes. We saw quite a few that were gasping and looked close to tears or total mental breakdown, still with a fair bit of the hill to go. It brought to mind the film Belleville Rendevous (Les Triplets de Belleville) and the scenes of the gasping riders. If you havent seen this one I thoroughly recommend illegally downloading it.

Eventually, we crossed the border backover into Spain again, where the grass is yellower and fuel is a lot cheaper. Having been through Luxembourg I thought it would be unfair if having come so close we avoided Andorra. It’s feeling might be hurt.

Surfing in Anglet

Sunday, June 29th, 2008

I wanted to drive along the coast down to biarritz, but a few roads led to a dead end at a french missile base. Instead we came across the worlds tallest sand dune just south of arcachon. We walked to the top and though skeptical at first (i once worked in the Great Sandy Desert in australia and some of the dunes there were pretty damn big) I had to admit that this takes the bicuit for bigness. I think it looks even more impressive as it sticks out like dogs balls from the surrounding pine forest.

We picked up a couple from the french alps who were hitchhiking their way down south. We really enjoyed their company and had a few beers with them in Capbreton before we parted company. The guy gave us a very generous gift about the size of a dice. Having done a lot of hitching i try and pick them up when I can and they generally turn out to be cool despite the paranoia about axe-wielding rapists. And it goes both ways, with people who pick up hitchers being the nicer sort in my experience.

We went through the surf towns of Hossegor and Capbreton before settling on Anglet, which has six beaches in a row just north around a rocky headland from Biarritz. They are mainly shifting beach breaks, the only point break coming south of biarritz in a break called le surf that has long peelers more suited to longboarders and goatboats when I saw it. We camped in a carpark next to the beach, and the next day hired some boards and went for a surf where the swell had picked up a little bit. karina was keen to do a session at one of the many surf schools karina using our solar drip shower. angletthere, and after 10 years in london I thought I could definetely use some improvement. The lesson started off him telling us to put our boards down and go for a bodysurf, and I thought to myself, “I cant believe i payed 25 euros to go for a fucking bodysurf”. However in the end he gave me a couple of things to work on that I reckon will make an improvement to my surfing.

The next day the wind was still onshore but the swell was much improved, closing out a few areas with big heavy tumblers. I began to see why the area was rated highly, and there were some good surfers out pulling off ripping moves. The water temperature, though not as warm as Brazil, was fine with or without a rashie, though I did cop a lot of sun as I stayed out a fair while before coming in. I took a few short surfing vids that I´ll post as soon as I´m able.

surf in Anglet

We ended up staying 5 days all told, and rode our bikes into biarritz a couple of times. It was good to be in one place for a while, though we do have a lot of miles to cover. On the last night we had mojitos on crowded and informal clifftop bar in biarritz, and watched the sunset over the atlantic.

suited up and ready to surf, angletThe next day we made our way through the foothills of the Pyrannese to San Sebastion in Spain, where im writing this now. I can see my euros drain away with the clock, so i reckon that´s enough writing for now. more later.

sundown in Les surf, biarritz

friendly hitchers

Al in contemplative mood, biarritz

ka on arrival in angletKa on monster Grand Playa

Nosing the clarets

Sunday, June 29th, 2008

karina in the medocAfter Nantes, we took a windy route along the coast, alternating between rocky holiday towns and marshes used by the salt industry and oyster farms. We headed for lunch at La Rochelle. I’m running low on adjectives to describe some of the good french towns, but i guess elegant and salty would do it for La Rochelle. The old city has great markets and boutiquey shops and the waterfront bobbles with ships in the sun.

The scenery as we went further south changed to the typical French atlantic type of pine covered dunes behind long straight sandy beaches, that continues all the way down to Biarritz. We camped alone for the night in one of them, and had a nice (probably illegal) campfire on the beach while a fat full moon rose up in a starry sky. We had a private ceremony where we burnt the remaining cheque books from visa-side of the business we sold.

The next morning we crossed the gironde in a pricey car ferry, that great downward cut in the side of France. On the south side of the bay are the world famous bordeux wineries of the Medoc and haute-medoc, that have lodged in my consciousness thanks to James Bond ordering the Chateaux Lafitte Rothchild in one of his many movies. On the hottest day so far, we piloted the van down small laneways beween row after row of ripening grapes, in a countryside dotted with chateux and villages. We stopped at a village fete of sorts at a small village, where the locals sat on long trestle tables listening to a one man band belt out synth french pop. Seeing us empty handed, some of the woman quickly put a cake and glass of rose in front of us. It was saturday, and most of the Vinyards were closed to visitors,ka and al in bordeux but we stopped at a local wineseller who was happy for me to taste the lot of them. i noticed at the BYO fete that most of the locals had plastic bottles of wine, instead of labled bottles, and it became clear that it is far cheaper to buy the wine from great steel vats than by the bottle, though I did splash out on a local Grand Cru bottle as gift for some friends of ours. Suitable refreshed, we continued to the city of Bordeux.

After parking it soon became apparent that there was some kind of music festival going on, with bands of every description playing in the streets and squares of the old city. Reggae, techno, military brass bands and some remarkably good indie rock bands were all in the mix, so karina and i got into the swing of things with a glass of punch and dancing in a night I’ve only vague memories off. I remember us crawling into our van that was like a sauna after the heat of the day, just as a big thunderstorm hit and thankfully cooled things down as we drifted off to sleep. We both nursed fair hangovers the next day.

cheese farmal doing air guitar near beachSt Karina\' \

The van in Vannes

Sunday, June 29th, 2008

ka with new friend, village outside rennes

We arrived in the pretty Brittany port of Vannes on it´s weekly market day of monday, and it was packed with shoppers. We parked on the point near the boneyard, and rode our bikes down into town. The food on display was mouthwateringly good, with charcuterries (butchers), fishmongers, bakers, and local artisanal producers diplaying the local tasty tidbits. Karina really rates French fashion, and happily browsed the stalls and clothes shops with a knowing eye, dragging me along in her wake. We had had a plate of delicious brittany oysters in a bar that seemed to be popular with the fishmongers who had finished hosing down their stalls, washed down with a tasty crisp chardonnay. After cruising the plains of northern france and the low countries, we were finally on the Atlantic coast and faced a happy stretch ahead of us of sun sand surf and the odd bottle of wine.

We pushed on south that night to the big university town of Nantes (pronounced something like ‘not’) where we decided to splash out for a camping ground so we could have a shower and recharge our equipment. It was a al in streetmarket, Vannesstately town of impressive building and squares, but with a modern feel to it, and also had trams which coming from melbourne I have soft spot for. The campground had its fair share of goth and emo looking kids, in town for a nearby death-metal music concert called Hellfest. We had a beer and watched a disappointing Euro football match without sound. The next day we awoke to drizzling rain, so we decided to have an easy day of working on the Van and battling to get any signal out of the campground wifi.

I have some childhood memories of campgrounds on Victoria´s various surf beaches, but, our old vw aside, modern campers are a new beast entirely. They pull up and then use a remote control and servo-motors to position it perfectly, something my dad relied on child labour to do (though after hours in the backseat in the australian summer, anything to stretch butcher in covered market, Vannesthe legs was appreciated). Most have hot and cold showers, sattelite tv with plasma screens, and everything to make sure you dont strain yourself. And europe has hordes of them lumbering around the countryside. Its enough to give me an inferioty complex, until it comes to fitting in a parking space or squeezing under the 2m height bar that france has erected in a lot of places to block the big campers from staying there. That´s when our nimble brown van comes into it´s own.

oysters and chardonnay in vannes

vannes harboural driving

Monks on the mount

Sunday, June 29th, 2008

mont-st-michelI remember seeing pictures of this of the fairytale little island of Mont St Michel in books as a nipper, and in the flesh it looks just as unlikely. You see the top spire and then town underneath before you even see the sea. It was kind of on our way to Brittany, and the weather had finally turned up the thermostat. A long spit of land joins the mountain to the mainland on the normandy coast. This can be submerged on big high tides, but on our visit the tide was out and it was mudflats going way out into the bay. The spit of land was used as a carpark, and i´d guess at at least 400 cars and 40 buses lined the entrance. Upon entering the gate a single road spirals up to the abbey perched on top, and the road is packed with gift shops, museums, restaurants and lots of people. We had a beer and a crepe, a normandy speciality, on a inside-mont-st-michelterrace looking northeast across the bay while the blazing sun pinned me to my plastic chair. We climbed the steps to abbey, but decided not to pay the entrance fee. I´ve always found active churches charging admission a bit cheeky, not to mention against their own tenets. Canterbury catherdral springs to mind. Defensively, you can see why the fortress slash abbey was always a tough nut to crack, though as Bill Bailey points out, the weak point is always the gift shop.

After the mont, we headed south through the regional centre of Rennes, with the aim of staying in the Forest of Paimpont, which is supposedly of king arthur fame, though quite a few other countries have laid claim to him in what I thought was a tale of medieval fiction. Anyway, we arrived at the village but there was no forest to be seen, so we drove around a bit looking for it before camping in a pleasant village municipal park replete with ducks and a welcome toilet block. i had a fish without luck on the lake at sunset off a little jetty while karina read and we tried a nice bottle we´d bought in lorraine, while eating saucisson, pate and bread. I saw the lake was covered with hundreds of insect skippers. somebody had told me once that if you alter the surface tension of the water with detergent the buggers instead of skimming will sink. So in the interests of science i took a bottle of zapf or whatever the belgian equivalent of fairy or palmolive is, and then had a buddhist remorse as just a few squirts seemed enough to capsize the lot of them. Ces´t la vie

Ahh Paris.

Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

old-car-on-the-roadWe had to be in Paris on Monday as karina had some visa buisness to do and i had some post. I took the backroads through slightly rolling farmland east of Paris as far as I could, but eventually we hit the Periphique, the ring road around Paris, and with it the bumper to bumper traffic. An hour of crawling later, we camped in the big park just outside Roland Garros. We rode our bikes in the next day, crossing the Seine river and did our chores close to the eifel tower. Both Karina and I dig paris, and have been here quite a few times. Like Amsterdam, bike is a good way to get around. The arondissements around the Eifel tower arent my favourite. I find the shops a bit overpriced, but wandering the streets you can still find the odd gem or insanely specialised shop selling violin strings or teas labelled “tahiti mix”.

As we drove out of Paris we started talking about Eurodisney, and karina mentioned there was an ‘Asterixland’ to which my response was “Why has no one told me this before?!!”. But it was too late to turn back. We swung past Versaille and then Chartres on our wayout, both with impressive edifices, a palace and cathedral respectively. But we didn’t go in. We pulled over down a lane, cooked a tasty dinner of saucise, rice and lentils and tomatos, then fell quickly asleep. I managed to reverse into a grassy embankment while maneuvring the van in the dark, leaving our exhaust pipe hanging off the muffler. I cut it off rather than leaving it dangling, and our van now sounds considerably more farty. I might stick it back on with bog and muffler tape when it comes time to sell for it’s rapidly decreasing resale value.

Al paris

Epernay – fizz wizz

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

The French like their lunch, and like their weekends. Not that others don’t, but French take these things with considerable gravity. Consequently, everything including supermarkets but barring the odd restaurant and bar, shuts down between 12:30 and 2pm and on weekends, Sundays eing especially dead. So when we drove band playing in eperanayinto Epernay on Saturday at the heart of the Champagne producing region, I carefully consulted all the literature to find where we could drink the most champagne for the least money, and then found that all the champagne house were closed apart from the most expensive tour at the stately Moet and Chandon. The tour was alright but not expecially revealing, and I made a mental note to bring a bag if ever I come next time as they leave a lot of bottles lying around and the security was non-existent. The bubbly they serve at the end was rather nice if overly long anticipated. I wondered how all the grandeur of the estate survived the revolution but it seems the Moet family did well by bribing Napoleon with lots of champers. We camped by the river on a sunny day, and the town had a little fete of sorts with a dom perignon8 piece brass band playing funk.