|Lille Cathedral - Notre Dame de la Treille|
Sunday evening, returning from Belgium, we checked in our hotel in Lille, still under the spell of those magical “B”s I wrote about in my previous post. Monday morning we woke up eager to go and visit the city; it would have been a shame not to, since we were in the area – that was the whole point of our road trip: to go home and make the journey worth our efforts, make it the highlight of this summer, although spending time with our families back home is always an exciting event we don’t get the privilege to experience every year. Lille started humbly, because we didn’t have great expectations; we parked the car bang in the centre again, paid about 8 euros, but it’s our way of contributing to the city’s maintenance – I encourage myself. Out of the car park, right in the middle of the central square, we started exploring. We rarely use maps, they take so long consulting! I prefer asking the locals, trying to use their language to the best of my abilities and it’s always a pleasant exchange: I leave with the information I need and a smile on my face and hopefully my interviewees as well. We walked the streets, enchanted with the shops’ windows again ( it’s an absolute art here in France), we marvelled at the majestic beauty of the cathedral, with its translucent marble façade – what an architectural statement, so original and modern, in a captivating antithesis with the rest of the building’s style; we walked around the cathedral, astonished and puzzled, trying to figure out whether that was one building or maybe two joined in one and we discovered other little treasures right behind it: an arch of chained houses, one cuter that the other, among which what must be the smallest city house in the world! We laughed and wondered whose idea that was and imagined how the interior was like. Then, more streets and shops, churches and the lovely canal, across which we discovered the Citadelle and the Zoo, a lovely park where many groups of young children in their summer holiday clubs were having their packed lunches, supervised by their teachers. They were so small and adorable and their French was the sweetest music my ears ever heard! And go see the monkeys, the rhinos, the zebras, the funny looking birds and the pelicans, the meerkats - all for free, again. And back to the centre, following the same route a tres amable French lady showed us, taking her time to come with us for a few minutes and direct us to the right street. French people are so kind and amicable, they’re easy to talk to and they’re always happy to explain things but ask you questions as well. “Where are you from? Are you here on holiday? Did you cross the channel? Oh, mon Dieu!”
Enthusiastic with all the sun we enjoyed, all the lovely images we recorded in our memory and on our cameras, we drove to Reims, hoping to discover other marvels. After the loveliest journey through the fields of France, painted in gold and yellow, jewelled by huge, round straw bales that from a distance looked like yellow beads scattered on the sun-tanned skin of the Earth, we got there, hypnotised by the graceful spins of the eolian mills, giant ballerinas on one elongated leg. “Take the first exit”, Sabrina, our voice urged us. Just when we were about to enter the city, we thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea to check the timings and the distances and see what time would we get to Dijon, where our next hotel was, and what time we had available for sightseeing in Reims. Zero. Worse, we would be 20 minutes late for the check-in, that closed at 9 pm. C’est la vie, no Reims this time around. Let’s try and make it to the hotel in time, we decided. And then, the race against the clock started: 21:19, we gained a minute! 21:17, the car was making us proud. And the race continued, among other fields of gold and other giant beads of straw: it was the quintessential road-trip! We were driving, enjoying it and getting the most idyllic scenery on the sides of the road – it was magnifique! That’s exactly what I imagined our road trip would offer us! Cherry on top, we made it in time to the hotel, because the satnav suddenly remembered autoroutes existed and invited us to take the motorway for the last part of the journey, making us gain more than 30 minutes and lose 8 euros. Fair game!
Late dinner at Flunch, the place Anita is now in love with (pay for the meat and enjoy everything else “a disposition”) and quick shower, followed by sudden sleep. Very sudden! But what relaxation the morning after not having to check out! We booked two nights in Dijon, knowing we would get here at night and wanting to give this place a chance as well. So we did, today.
Tuesday, the 28th of July. Journal entry. Breakfast at Flunch again, simply because we got coffee tokens last night, which we didn’t use, and, most importantly, they make crepes with Nutella! Fab breakfast! Exactly what we needed to give us a kick for the day and to last us until dinner. Yes, Anita decided she wants dinner again at Flunch, she won’t have it any other way (and after the generous crepes, there’s no space or necessity for lunch).
Our day started in Dijon this morning and ended in a little village up in the mountains, where I wanted to stay. Like… forever! Dijon was another example of how great French people are preserving their history and making it the best asset they have. What a marvellous place! Palais du Ducs and Musée des Beaux-Arts, Dijon Cathedral, Notre Dame of Dijon, Canal de Bourgogne, Kir Lake and Jardin Botanique – are only a few of the treasures the capital city of Burgundy is proudly displaying to the many tourists flooding its streets. Colourful historical flags, gothic and art deco architecture, fountains, live music, markets, shop windows in vivid colours, adorable little mansards with cute balconies, flower pots exploding with colour – what a treat for my eyes and ears! Merci, Dijon! Pour tout!
Back to the car and on the road again. Destinations: Semur-en-Auxois, a medieval citadelle, and Flavigny sur Ozerain, a medieval village, both recommended by a friend of mine that lives in France. We were actually meant to meet and do this together, with our families, and I would have got to finally meet Vlad, her 5 year old son that makes me laugh on the phone every time his mum and I talk and he’s there in the background being silly and naughty and adorable and I felt a bit sorry when she phoned the day of my departure to let me know they couldn’t make it due to other commitments. I’ll get to know him one day, I promise! I still got to see the places Gabriela recommended, though, for which I’m truly and forever grateful because they were examples of the profound culture of France, those hidden treasures a simple tourist like me wouldn’t know about and what a loss! We drove on the most wonderful roads among valleys, hills, fields and forests, some curvy and risky, others narrow and sweet, country roads that make even a reluctant driver like me want to drive. I was there in the passenger seat, absorbing all this beauty with my eyes, with my soul, feeling the sun on my arms and cheeks or smelling the rain a few hours later, on our way back - a synesthetic symphony that played all the right chords! But the real spectacle were these two destinations: the cutest houses one can imagine, arches and towers where people really live, flower baskets hanging at all the balconies, vintage little shops, guides dressed in medieval costumes – my heart was jumping up and down with joy. I even found their Post Office and sent the card with Notre Dame of Dijon to my elderly neighbour Maureen, who has no one in this world, apart from a niece in Australia. I thought she would like to find a little message from us in her mail box, a picture of the “Black Virgin” sent all the way from France! You know how old people are: a little something like that could make her weak heart beat faster and more convinced life is still beautiful. That’s if the Royal Mail doesn’t fail her.
And then, the final gem: that little village up in the mountains, where silence is omnipresent, palpable, those small, adorable stone houses with pink or blue shutters with heart shaped cuts in the middle, those little doors and stairs, almost made for tiny people (they might be, I haven’t seen anyone, the village looked deserted…) - all seemed dropped from the colourful pages of a fairy tale book. Right there and then, a seed was planted in my heart. Yes, I dream I’ll buy one of those tiny, adorable houses made of stone, up in the mountains, when I’ll be little, one day. I’ll listen to the silence and I’ll write books. For children, maybe. Or for tiny people with big hearts (like the ones on the colourful window shutters). France will stay in my heart, although tomorrow we’ll head to a different country and a new adventure. Au revoir (because I WILL see you again).
C 'est Fran…tastique, I tell you!