Hansel and Regrettal
Today started as yesterday with a veritable breakfast feast! This morning however, I decided to break open one of the cheeses – a ‘munster’ – a soft cheese from the north east of France. I know enough about cheese to know that I’m being totally ignorant when I saw it was truly disgusting! As soon as I pierced the rind, I could smell it’s pungency and feel my eyes water so what compelled me to put it in my mouth is beyond me. Still, my mother taught me manners and she was there watching so I had to finish it. All I can say is that it taste like the cow it came out of or may a goat or perhaps an unholy union of the two! None the less, I was grateful for the generosity of the offering and the delicious home made cake that got rid of the taste, if not the memory.
All packed and ready to go, we bade a long farewell to Sylvie and Eric which included a tour of their picture perfect French country kitchen and a demonstration application on three of my nails of the latest Chanel colours. It was sad to say goodbye but we did as we must with no less that 4 kisses for each person.
And with that, we were off to trace the final champagne trail out of town to Troyes, the third major ‘city’ of the Champagne region – if Reims is the head, Epernay the heart, then Troyes must be the bum and that seems about right – they don’t even produce any champagne! None the less, it is very picturesque with it’s gravity defying collection of 16th century buildings which although warped and slumped so much that in places they join overhead, still serve their original functions as shops and residences.
We left Troyes around 4pm thinking we were making good time to get to our final destination for the day, Dijon, just a couple of hours drive away. Now, here’s where we went wrong: to begin with, we’re not actually staying in Dijon but in a little place in the forest ‘just outside’ of Dijon. We didn’t have the address per se because apparently if you put it in the GPS, it takes you to the wrong place so we were working from a description translated from French. Also I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this or not, but neither Mum nor I have any sense of direction and our GPS is %@#*&!.
We’re now engaged in a game of brinkmanship with it where she tells us how many kilometers we have to drive in one direction and that she’s about to shut down so we quickly plug her in which renders her useless and measure the kilometers on the speedo and unplug her in time, mostly, to give us the next set of directions – this is frighteningly inefficient and unreliable in the French countryside when you’re turning here, there and everywhere every few kilometers!
So we passed the turnoff for Dijon and we drove and we drove and we drove some more. The GPS was getting fractious and so were we… 6pm…7pm…8pm… The setting sun was absolutely glorious but terrifying as we headed ever onwards, through village after village which we once found charming but now only tormented us with their winding ways and smug quaintness! Dijon was becoming a distant memory as we seriously started to wonder if we’d somehow gotten it all terribly confused.
Now relying on high beams and scraps of GPS, we found the village and the landmark church from which we were to follow the instructions – turn right, over a bridge, carry on, turn left up a gravel road with letter boxes for 2.5 kilometers to arrive at a big house on the left. Simple enough.
We saw a bridge, went over it, followed it down and sure enough, there was a gravel ‘road’, no letter boxes but it was pitch black so maybe we just couldn’t see them. On we went at a snails pace with rocks flying up under the car… 1km… 1.5m… a cow… 1.8km…end of road, no house.
Now bear in mind, at this stage, we’re not at all convinced we’re even in the right village and by ‘village’ I mean a church and some houses – no cafe, no pub, no restaurant, certainly no alternative accommodation and getting a little late to go door knocking. Mentally, I was telling myself that we wouldn’t die, we’d just have to spend the night in the car.
We used the last of the GPS battery and our patience to get back to the church to try again and suddenly there it all was – all the signs and names and letterboxes we’d been looking for. We found our gravel road, only slightly more car friendly than the previous one and inched down towards what we desperately hoped was our place.
The closer we got, the better a night in the car seemed as forest closed in around us narrowing what could barely be described as a road into a path. We saw faint light at the end of the tunnel and then suddenly a grand brick building loomed like a haunted castle. For added effect, the sound of our approaching car sent no less that 10 cats scurrying!
It was so dark that we actually had to use a torch to find our way around the building which apparently had no entrance. We saw the spectral vision of our host sitting alone in a dimly lit kitchen, looking every bit the fairytale witch. Without need for words, we exchanged looks which gave consideration to turning tale and running. Before we could though, Anne (our host, not mum) appeared as if by magic out the front and called to us – it was too late, we had to go in.
There’s no denying that this place is grand and beautiful, in fact, it bought immediately to mind the description of Manderlay (haunted mansion) in Daphne Du Mauriers novel, Rebecca. Our apartment within it is like no place I’ve seen with centuries old brick walls and furniture so beautiful, old and rare that it should be protected in a museum, not in use. But it is seriously spooky! The empty cot in the corner brings back memories of every ghost baby horror story I’ve ever heard, so much so that I’m expecting to wake up and find bloody footprints around the room (have we all heard that one or just a product of my own youth misspent on too many horror stories?).
Mum and I have separate beds but she’s already made it clear that if I get scared in the night, I can climb in next to her in such a tone that makes me think it’s just as likely that she’ll climb in with me. We’re laughing about it but at the same time we’re counting on the fact that we’ve visited enough cathedrals and lit enough candles on this trip to have bought us some protection for the night!
We said au revoir to our gite and to our hosts, Sylvie and Eric with a little sadness in our hearts leaving this nice couple and the area of Champagne behind. We headed towards Troyes and there we visited another cathedral and lit candles for our loved ones. Then headed to the “cat alley” where the buildings just about meet in the middle as they date back to the 16th century – they evoke images of swashbuckling and the Three Musketeers.
Our epic adventure to our current address which had our imaginations running wild after winding our way through dust and dirt and scary forest. We were met in total darkness by several cats and a wizened old lady with bright red hair in an old cardigan and slippers giving the appearance of a spooky witch.
She showed us to our apartment which is very large – the bedroom/dining room are about as big as our hall and bedroom area at home (plus we have our own kitchen/laundy and bathroom. I had half a sleeping tablet so I could sleep through any hobgoblin attack and I let Naomi sleep by the door so they’ll get her first!
What made me smile today: Passing a lady on a horse and cow all on its own looking at us strangely because it knew we were lost too. Love to all.