Friday, September 25, 2015

European Roadtrip: Amsterdam to Annecy

The wonderful Place Francois Rude in Dijon

My experiences of road trips have been that sometimes, there are real treats to be had in the least expected places. After landing in Amsterdam and spending a day around the city, Caroline and I had planned to drive to the French Alps where we were to stay at Annecy. We were taking a fairly straight route down through Belgium, into the Ardennes region of France, and then down the Eastern side of France with overnight stops in Charleville-Mezieres and Dijon. We weren't too sure what to expect along the way, though we had planned to stop at Domremy la Pucelle to see the memorial to Joan of Arc.

We left Amsterdam and immediately became lost in roadworks, driving in the wrong direction for about 15 minutes. This would become par for the course. We found the right way and headed towards France. Neither of us had spent much time in Belgium, and I really don't know why as it is such a beautiful country. Much of our route followed the Meuse river in the Wallonne region of Belgium, a truly beautiful area of the world with Dinant being our favourite spot. Having been born in England, I still have trouble believing I hadn't even heard of Dinant as a town when it really is stunning.

Dinant, on the Meuse River

We carried on our wending way to Charleville-Mezieres, the capital of the Ardennes region of France (and Belgium). This was where our navigation problems really began to surface. It was beginning to get dark as we reached Chareville-Mezieres, which made things harder, and we were both tired from the drive, and I guess a bit of jet lag catching up. Anyway, we couldn't find the way to go, got lost in one way systems, and the peculiarities of French road signs didn't help. Luckily, my minuscule knowledge of French, coupled with a strangers minuscule knowledge of English allowed me to gather directions for where our hotel was. But the problems didn't stop there, on what was turning out to be a very long day. We were low on fuel, and couldn't find a petrol station. we were directed to an automated petrol station, but I didn't have a credit card on me, only a debit card, which the machines wouldn't accept. We went to sleep a little stressed, very tired, and a little worried about our ability to get fuel.

Woinic Boar, symbolic of the Ardennes

The morning brought clarity to our thinking, new hope, and determination to just get on with things. A delicious breakfast, and directions from our kind hostess allowed us to fill up with no problem. The previous evening, the only stations open in the vicinity were automated, but in the morning all petrol stations were open. With a full tank and clear heads, we headed to Domremy la Pucelle, the birth place of Joan of Arc. But we took the wrong road again and ended up in Reims! Still in the general direction we wanted to go, we decided that we'd spend a couple of hours in Reims and forget about Joan of Arc. We managed to navigate the town better this time, and went to the Cathedral, a truly spectacular gothic structure. Reims Cathedral was the place where many kings of France were crowned and it has a brilliant array of stained glass, foremost of which was a window designed by the artist Marc Chagall. No photos I could take would do it credit, it really is beautiful craftsmanship.

Wonderful stained glass at Reims Cathedral

From Reims we headed south to Dijon which we found ok, although again we became lost in the maze of the old town, and again were helped by a local who guided us to where we wanted to go (we were actually very close!). We had a little stroll in the evening, and spent a couple of hours around the old town the next day. Dijon is very old, pre-dating Roman times even, though much of what can now be seen comes from the middle ages onwards. The interesting fact that I learned about Dijon is that the city has an affinity with owls, which can be seen dotted around the architecture and in the pavements. Apparently, visitors to the church of Notre Dame can touch a bas relief carving of an owl for good luck. I didn't know this, and although I saw the church I never touched the owl. However, luckily, I don't believe in luck.

Palais des Ducs, Dijon

We left Dijon in good spirits, having been charmed by the city, managed to navigate out of the town well, and dropped on to the right road towards Annecy, where we arrived to witness a sunset over the lake, which lays claim to being the cleanest lake in Europe. We have 3 nights in Annecy to check out the alpine air and surrounds. So far this roadtrip has taught me:

- be open minded and accept that changes of plan aren't necessarily bad things
- trying to communicate to people in their language gains respect...and the French are a generally helpful people
- French road systems and road signage is not easy for non-French to understand
- French food is amazing, and I will probably arrive back in Australia the size of a small planet!

Sunset over Lake Annecy

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