Another month, another place and two new travel ideas.

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Yes, this was all I had and most of that was computer stuff!

The next day dawned with a well rested Fergy and brought with it not only a new month but also the Mayday public holiday which I had totally forgotten about so most places were closed. I had decided that I was going to go to Dijon for no better reason than I wanted to buy some mustard to send home to my foodie friend. Honestly, I am not joking. I did eventually manage to purchase said delicacy but I never got round to posting it and at time of writing in July 2018 it is still sitting in my London flat awaiting delivery!

Even after all these years I still keep discovering new ways to travel and this was one such day as I had my first experience of carpooling. It had happened quite randomly as I was searching on the rather useful Rome2Rio website for my potential options and carpooling was one suggested. I must say that whilst I had obviously heard of the concept before I had never really considered it but it looked like a very cost-effective option, being just a touch more expensive than a bus and far, far cheaper than the train so I thought I’d give it a go.

I used a website called BlaBlaCar and was put in touch with a young lady called Natasha who was making the rather long journey from Luxembourg, which turned out to be her family home, and all the way to Clermont Ferrand (her current home) by way of all major points in between. I was a bit hesitant about having to submit an image of my passport to the website but I suppose that is to ensure the safety of the drivers, there are a lot of crazies out there. In the event, I went on to use them a few times with great results and, as far as I can tell, was not subject to any form of identity theft so all appears good.

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Natasha picked me up bang on time outside the train station in Nancy (where I had had the obligatory drink, but only one) in a comfortable but rather full car. It appeared she was effectively moving all her worldly goods and possessions and so there were only the two of us along with all the baggage. We set off and immediately got to talking, once again completely in French. She spoke good enough English but was somewhat hesitant to do so. This was no problem as I was actually getting used to speaking nothing but French by this stage and was amazing myself on a daily basis that I could actually be understood. We chattted about this and that but of course, with me being me, it had to all get a bit surreal.

A while into the journey the conversation somehow included the fact that I am a musician of no fixed ability at which point the charming young lady did no more than turn off the stereo and demand that I sing for her! What? I was stone cold sober as I had not been drinking, being unsure of the situation regarding comfort breaks en route. It is a known fact that I never knowingly perform whilst sober so it was a bit of a strange experience with just the two of us in the car and me knocking out everything from Irish folk songs to the Beatles and the Stones by way of just about everything in between. It was totally a capella and accompanied only by my drumming on the dashboard. As I say, totally odd.

After a brief pit-stop at a motorway services not far from Dijon we were back on the road and the journey was finished uneventfully as Natasha was a very good and safe driver. She dropped me at the railway station as arranged and we parted on great terms with a promise that we would go out for a drink if I ever made it to Clermont (regrettably I didn’t).

I knew that the apartment I had booked in Dijon was literally ten minutes walk from the station and so first things first and straight into the bar at the station for a pint of lunch. I normally don’t go in much for station bars as they are usually a ripoff, being geared towards a fairly captive audience but this place was rather pleasant. It was not markedly more expensive than other places which I was still finding rather expensive even by the London standards I am used to. A couple of very pleasant pints and a bit of a chat with the barmaid and it was time when I could check into my apartment.
This was a day of firsts as until this trip I had never even considered the concepts of carpooling or of renting a whole flat (apartment) for myself as I am perfectly happy saving my beer tokens for, well, beer. I am quite content in hostels or cheap hotels as I am sure my reviews here will attest but I had had a quite wonderful experience in Metz with a similar place which I hope you have had a chance to read about and so I decided I would chance it again in Dijon. What an inspired choice it turned out to be as I hope the following paragraphs will show.

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I loved the name – Sweet Home Dijon – as it was reminiscent of the song Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd which is one of my favourite rock tracks ever. I had found it on one of several online booking sites I use and if the reader searches on the name given or the address of 15B Avenue Albert 1er 21000 Dijon they should find it. I always like a central location as it usually leads to slightly more expensive rates but when balanced against the hassle and expense of getting public transport to a more remote suburban location then I reckon it is a price worth paying. Sweet Home Dijon had a wonderfully central location on Rue Albert 1er which is basically out the back of the rather decent train station although be aware that the rear entrance closes at night so you have to walk the long way round but even that is not too far.

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Not to everyone’s taste but it suited me.

I should say that the front (only) window looks out over the marshalling yard of the station which may not be to everyone’s taste but I love trains so it suited me nicely. Despite the proximity to the station and the fairly main road to the front of the premises, external noise was never a problem.

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I shall not go into the details of how I accessed the premises in order to protect the security of future guests but suffice to say that the instructions e-mailed to me were spot on and I managed to open the door onto what I can only describe as the flat (apartment) I always wanted to live in. Without going into details too much, I shall let the images speak for themselves.

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Yes, it was a studio flat i.e. no separate bedroom but it had everything I would have required and then some.

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The kitchen would have made a Michelin starred chef happy with every gadget known to man, the sofa bed turned out to be delightfully comfortable and the bathroom not only had endless supplies of hot water at a very decent temperature but also a washing machine which was very welcome to a man who was travelling on not nearly enough luggage and needed laundry on a regular basis.

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The whole flat was absolutely immaculate, I reckon it would have taken me a week to get it looking that spick and span.

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To get there I walked past the Ibis Hotel which is no more than about 100 yards away and looked at the room rates which were over double what I was paying for that wonderful flat. Don’t get me wrong, I have had many very pleasant stays in Ibis Hotels and have no issue with them at all but I really did think I had much the better of the deal as evidenced by the room rate on the sign outside especially when the Ibis inexplicably bumped up their prices the second day I was there.

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I know the superb apartment I have described was a little outside my normal price range but that is purely due to me “flying solo”. For a couple sharing the costs then this wonderful residence becomes much more affordable and is vastly superior to a soulless hotel room. I really cannot speak highly enough about this place which was one of the highlights of my three and a half month trip.

I sent my mate Jo a Whatsapp message with a picture and her two word reply was “very swanky” which I reckon just about summed it up.

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Well pleased with my choice of bed I decided to have a bit of an explore and headed in what the road sign indicated as the “centre ville”. As I say, I had picked Dijon purely on a mustard buying whim but what an utter delight it proved to be. I suspect that unlike other European cities, Dijon must have been relatively untouched by the Second World War as there is still any amount of very old architecture to be seen. It is utterly delightful.

The first place of note I discovered was the Porte Guillame in Place Darcy.

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This is where it is.

It is true that the Porte Guillaume (William Gate) looks a touch incongruous now sitting in splendid isolation as it does in the middle of a tidy pedestrianised area surrounded by shops and a cinema etc. It has the appearance now of a purely monumental structure but it was once a functioning defensive gate in a system of city walls. It was not the first such structure in this location nor was it the first name given to such gates which seemed to vary according to the political whim of the day.

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I believe RF stands for Republique Francaise (get me with the French).

The first record of a gate here is in the 12th century and was originally known as the Porte de Condé after the Governor of the region. In a fit of revolutionary zeal it was renamed Liberty Gate at the time of the French Revolution shortly after this version of the gate was constructed in 1788 in the neoclassical style and to the design of Claude-François Attiret. Attiret was a famous architect in the Burgundy region as well as Paris where he still has several works exhibited in the Louvre. The current name refers to William of Volpiano who was variously known as William (Guillaume) of Dijon or William of Cluny (962 – 1031) and was a Benedictine monk originally from the Piedmont region of modern-day Italy. He was associated with many religious establishments but notably the Saint Benigne Abbey in Dijon hence the local connection.

Today it is a very popular meeting place, especially amongst the young people who seem to congregate here at any time of the day or evening. Whilst I don’t dislike the Porte Guillaume at all and it is obviously well maintained, I cannot help feeling that it is disproportionately large for it’s 21st century surroundings although it must have looked fine when the walls were there but what do I know?

First things first and so time to find a bar. OK, I had put a couple away in the station buffet which I shall tell you about in the next instalment but that had been a while previously.

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I have been drinking for a long number of years and, before anyone starts on me I know it is not clever and I certainly do not advise anyone to imbibe the way I do. However, it has led me to some of the most remarkable places with my travelling allowing me to indulge my pastime in countries near and far. In terms of physical appearance and location I would have to say that the Au Moulin a Vent (Windmill) bar / restaurant in central Dijon has to be in the upper echelon.

I chanced upon this place when I was wandering about with no idea where I was or where I was going as I had not orientated myself yet. I found myself in a small square which boasted a lovely fountain and a roundabout (carousel) which transpired to have been designed and built by one M. Eiffel. You may have heard of his Tower in Paris. My eye next fell upon the beautiful medieval building which are such a feature of this amazing city and you can see in the image. Pleasing as it was aesthetically, it turned out to be a bar / restaurant as well so happy days.

As I have mentioned this was the first of May (Mayday), the international socialist celebration and a public holiday in France which probably accounted for the roundabout and as such the place was completely packed inside and out in the lovely and quite extensive al fresco area. I had to hang around for a little while until a small table became available and I planted myself there. I have to say that service from the traditionally attired waiter was a little slow but that was to be expected given the circumstances.

I ordered a large beer as is my wont and it eventually arrived, reasonably served but nothing to write home about and in truth I cannot now remember what brand it was which must say something. In a departure from normal Continental procedure I was asked to pay when the beer arrived as opposed to the usual pay at the end system but in their defence it was manically busy. The beer was definitely more expensive than usual but I suppose you are paying for the location and possibly the fact it was a holiday.

I would recommend that the reader stops here for one drink just to soak in the amazing atmosphere and then moves to one of the numerous other, cheaper bars in the area. Obviously, the roundabout will not be there but it is still worth it for the beautiful surroundings and the building itself.

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A typical Dijonnaise street scene.

Time to walk a bit further in what proved to be an architecturally stunning city and by the time I inadvertently came upon the Church of Notre-Dame of Dijon in the centre I really was suffering complete sensory overload. I had started the morning in Nancy which is no less than a UNESCO World Heritage Site and then found myself wandering round Dijon which, in my humble and totally uneducated opinion, should be. I literally did not know where to look next. OK, I had a half an idea there was a big church nearby as I could see the top of it even above the closely packed streets of fairly tall medieval buildings that been holding me in thrall and naturally I had to go and investigate.

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In truth I thought this must be a Cathedral as I know the city was big enough and important enough historically to warrant one, which it does, but that is elsewhere. This is the Church of Notre-Dame of Dijon and I must say I have been in much less majestic cathedrals around the world. This is such a superb monument to a God I do not even believe in although that is irrelevant, it is a subject I have mentioned before in this journal and won’t labour the point here.

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The front of the church is a slightly unusual configuration of two tiers of pillared openings above the three main entrance ways but it contains absolutely my favourite feature of the whole building which are the amazing gargoyles that you really should have a look at. They are only late 19th century replacements of previous incarnations and are merely decorative rather than functional but they are very beautiful if gargoyles can ever be said to be beautiful. Legend has it that the original gargoyles were removed shortly after the church was opened in 1220 with the building replacing an earlier one on the site. The reason for the removal was that one of the original gargoyles allegedly fell on the head of an usurer standing outside waiting to be married and killed him instantly. Strangely, the gargoyle was an image of a usurer which is a bit spooky if true. The whole front facade is completed by two turrets which I also found slightly unusual.

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On entering the church the thing that struck me most forcefully, as it often does in such buildings, was the sheer height of the vaulted roof. How 13th century workmen with only the most primitive tools, scaffolding and so on managed such a feat never ceases to amaze me. What makes it the more remarkable is that due to constraints of available space there are no external buttresses as is usual but the entire structure is supported internally.

Features of note include two automatons used to tell the time and an external statue of an owl which is said to grant wishes if you touch it with your left hand whilst making one. The owl is also now the “mascot” of the city and even features on the badge of the local football (soccer) club. Whilst these are secular features, the main item of sacred interest is undoubtedly the Notre-Dame de Bon-Espoir aka the Black Madonna to whom various miracles have been attributed not least causing the Swiss Army to lift a siege in 1513 and the Nazi German forces to up sticks and go away in 1944.

The Black Madonna phenomenon is of great interest to me as it has many esoteric associations with Knights Templar and the like and is especially relevant in this region as many of the major players in the original brotherhood were from here. I won’t bore you with it all but it is well worth looking up.  I had not been thinking about it but on reflection later I found it strange that I had made my way from Flanders to Burgundy which were the centres from which the original Templar cadres were drawn.  As I have mentioned elsewhere I do have a huge interest in crusading knights of all Orders and again I had to wonder if something had been propelling me in that direction.

One way and another this is a superb church building in a country that is certainly not short of them and you really should visit if you are in Dijon.  Once more I shall create a separate entry to give you a better idea of the grandeur of the church and not clutter up this entry unnecessarily.

By this time I was suffering architectural overload not to mention a slightly stiff neck. Here I was in another beautiful French city and again rubbernecking slack-jawed at what appeared to be an unending supply of the most magnificent old buildings. I have a habit of always looking up when I am sightseeing as ground levels can often be vandalised by modern shop fronts but the upper storeys are frequently left intact. Hence the neck problem.

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After the Church of Notre-Dame, my next major discovery was of a secular nature – the Hotel Aubriot.

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I am not sure if the Hotel (not a hotel in the accepted English sense of the word) is generally open to the public as it is now privately owned but I was there on Mayday which is a public holiday and it appeared shut although still well worth a look from the outside. The building originates in the early 13th century and is built on a large vault or cellar which was originally the haunt of money changers. About 1320 Hugues Abriot was born here as son of the then owner Guillaume. He was eventually to become Provost of Paris and Bailiff of Dijon amongst other positions and is an important figure in French history although, in the way of these things, he fell from grace somewhat spectacularly later on.

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In due course and after various renovations the building became a court in 1739 before passing through various other hands, eventually ending up in possession of the poet Stéphen Liégeard who became aware of what had become the much mutilated original finery of the building during renovations in the early 20th century. He ordered it restored to it’s original glory much to the joy, I am sure, of anyone passing today, myself included.

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I have to say that I rarely follow designated tourist “trails” as I much prefer to just ramble aimlessly and see what I stumble across and it is a travel style that has yielded me some great results over the years. However, I always say that there is no “right” and no “wrong” way to travel, a maxim I wish some of the travel snobs would pay attention to. I realise that self-guided or even guided tours are of great value to many travellers and I would never decry anyone for going on one especially where time may be an issue.

In Dijon the tourist trail is that of the owl which is the symbol of the city and named after a much worn statue on the side of the Eglise Notre Dame de Dijon which is said to grant wishes if you touch it with your left hand and which I have dealt with elsewhere on this journal entry. Although the trail and the attendant literature is offered in many languages, the French term for owl trail is “le parcours de la chouette” which is yet another small thing I have learnt whilst researching pieces for this site. I never stop learning doing this.

I did not do the entire trail myself although I certainly saw enough of the marker signs which are very well situated. There are triangles, usually on the pavement, with the point directing you on your way and each venue of interest is marked by a slightly larger numbered rectangular marker, as pictured. Trust me, you will not miss them. The route is circular and nominally starts at Place D’Arcy but obviously you can pick it up wherever suits you best.  Even without following the suggested route a walk round Dijon yields an absolute cornucopia of wonders, it is a superb place and, no, I am not getting paid by the local Tourist Board.

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There is a booklet for the tour available from the Tourist Office at 11 Rue des Forges, 21000 Dijon but also at various locations around the route. Well worth doing if you don’t want to miss anything as, let’s be honest, the locals should know best.

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I suppose the next move was inevitable really. I had started the day in Nancy with a couple of beers followed by my wonderful day of sightseeing which naturally involved a few more beers. I was tired, inordinately thirsty and ever so slightly off the beaten track so there was only one thing for it and that was to hit the bar. I would not say I was lost, I just wasn’t not entirely sure where I was but I knew I was safe as my digs were right by the station and that couldn’t be too hard to find surely.

 

Thus decided, I happened upon the Bar Le St. Nicolas and a quick surreptitious glance at the guys sitting smoking outside (I never stare) coupled with another one through the window indicated that this may very well be Fergy territory, allow me to explain. Whilst I can do it, I am not a huge fan of overpriced and terribly trendy establishments and this was certainly not one of those. A few tattoos on display from the guys outside coupled with what appeared to be fairly ribald chat, no frills apparent inside and I was in like a shot to find that my quick recce had been entirely correct. I like places with a bit of an edge, a bit of life and this was certainly it. No, I do not want to go to a bar where I am going to be stabbed or shot but this was just what I wanted.

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OK, I was getting silly by this point.

Certainly I was pretty rough-looking and so no eyebrows were raised until I opened my mouth to let loose with some of my pretty awful French which obviously marked me as a foreigner. I suspect this is a rarity here and did cause the odd glance but nothing hostile at all. A quick chat with the server as to a recommendation for beer produced a very well-kept and welcome but eminently forgettable St. Omer which I do not remember having had before but know now is a brew from the Pas-de-Calais region some distance away. This only made sense to me whilst researching this entry when I discovered it is owned by the Heineken global monster. No surprise there then.

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The table football when it was not being used.

I took a seat in the corner and settled to watch the sport on one of the large screens adjacent. I noticed that there was a table football next to me which was no problem at that time although it did get busy later in the evening when all the young people / students piled in. Certainly the prices are very competitive which may encourage them although it did lead to a couple of injudicious elbows in the ear or shoulder from over-exuberant practitioners of the table football art but always done with good humour, effuse apologies and never a hint of aggression.

OK, the beer was fairly average and in normal circumstances I would probably have tried to visit several more bars on my way home but I think the fact that my saved images tell me I was here for over three and a half hours probably tells the reader all they need to know. Bar Le St. Nicolas was great fun.

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OK, it is a railway bridge but I thought it looked lovely at that point.

I did manage a couple more on the way home and then so to bed in my Ideal Home Exhibition showhouse for yet another great night’s sleep which was becoming quite the norm now.

More of beautiful Dijon tomorrow so stay tuned and spread the word.

Another two for one deal and all the fun of the fair.

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What a lovely day.

The 29th of April (remember this trip was supposed to be a four day one from the 2nd of April) came and I was in a very comfortable room in a hotel somewhere in the middle of France. Frankly, if you had asked me on waking which city I was in, I could not have told you. It was just that kind of trip and I was frankly questioning my sanity by then but my mental state has always been a moot point anyway. I reckon that by normal definition I am completely insane but at least I am not dangerous except to myself.

I was just “on the road”, going completely native and thoroughly enjoying it. I was travelling again after not feeling much like it for a while. I did not really give a damn when, if ever, I returned home. I had to go to Canada later in the Summer but I could do that from anywhere here.  That would be another great trip.  As long as I had access to a washing machine, a bed for the night and somewhere to wash my stinking bones then I was good to go, to use a hideous American expression.

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Another day, same old bars.

Once again I didn’t do much of note except walking around, taking a few pictures and just being totally happy. That is really all I require from my travels. Naturally a couple of bars were visited and I ended up back in the Milton for another catch up with the writing. I was still grieviously behind but making a bit of progress.

Everything was good and it was a happy Fergy that eventually turned into his very comfortable bed and as that was such a short instalment I’ll head straight on to the next day.

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Yet another lovely day for a walk, so I walked.

The last day of the month (were there 30 or 31 days in April, I could no longer remember?) appeared and I was still on the road, remarkably well rested and up and running to face the day. This four day trip was certainly turning into some sort of mad odyssey and I was loving every moment of it. It was just a thing of joy to me, a realisation of the way I had always wanted to travel when younger but work usually got in the way. OK, I was very lucky and had extremely sympathetic bosses who would let me run around for perhaps five weeks even though the rules stated no more than four. It helped that I was usually going away in January or February when nobody else wanted time off as most of my colleagues were married with children and so tied to the school timetable.

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Nancy in the Spring sunshine.

This time I was totally free. I was retired, had some money in my pocket, had my passport safely stowed and I was just going to take this for all it was worth. I think it was about this point that I even stopped thinking about going home. I was just going to roll as far as I could and, when I wrote this some weeks later, I still had no clue where I would end up. I reckon there is a decent book to be had out of travelling to, say, Singapore with four days worth of clothes! Frankly, the mood I am in then it was possible.

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It was my last full day in Nancy and I was just having another stroll in this beautiful city when I came across a funfair, carnival or whatever you want to call it although I believe the correct term in French is Foire Attractive. It may certainly have been described as attractive but the word I would more readily have used was huge. I have seen many such events before and this was easily the largest I have ever witnessed. It was centred on the Cours Leopold which is a reasonably large space and literally took it up completely. Naturally I had to have a look round which I did.

I was actually lucky enough to find the fair when I did as subsequent research shows that it visits Nancy annually for the entire month of April and this was now the 30th of the month.

Walking around, I saw every kind of ride and attraction you could imagine from pretty tame carousels etc. for the youngsters up to some pretty terrifying looking pieces of equipment for the hardier adult souls. I must say that I love rollercoasters and the likes in theme parks but I am just never convinced about the safety of something that is moved about on the back of a lorry and stuck up in the middle of a park. I just cannot see how they can be stable enough. I have no doubt that the French have some very efficient health and safety types to check such things but I thought I’d give it a swerve, unlike the beer tents.

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Now that looks good.

Obviously with it being France, food and drink were very much in evidence and I visited one or two of the beer establishments although it certainly did put a strain on the wallet but I suppose that is to be expected. As for the food, well, it was certainly several steps up from the greasy hamburgers and two-day old hot dogs you would be likely to be served at such an event in UK. The French really do know how to do food and apart from all the usual tooth-rotting treats for the kids, there were entire family groups sitting down to meals that would not have looked out of place in a permanent bistro a mile down the road. I think my favourite was the two complete sides of meat awaiting barbecuing. Judging by the amount of wood laid out for fuel, it was going to be some ox roast.

As always, I hope my images do the Foire more justice than my meagre prose does. Again I shall construct a gallery entry with my surprisingly new-found skill to give you a look round the place through my slightly scuffed camera lens.  I do realise it is a once a year event but, if the reader happens to be here in April, which is not a bad month to visit, then it is well worth a look even if you have not got the little ones with you.

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OK, I had to take a skyscape.

A slow amble round the environs of the fairground yielded a few more images and points of interest.  This is a statue I( found of Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc).

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Statue of Jeanne d’Arc.

I read a lot and have a head full of strange facts, most of which are probably not factual at all but I shall run one past you here.  Don’t ask me where but I read years ago a plausible explanation for the actions of Jeanne d’Arc who I am sure you are all aware of and so I shall not recount the tale here.  It is suggested that the “visions” which led her to actions so totally unusual for a female of that era were caused by eating diseased rye which was the standard bread flour in her area at the time when bread was very much the staple of the diet.  No, I have not totally lost my mind here although she may have.

There is historical evidence that the rye crops had been diseased by poor weather and in such a condition would have produced a substance akin to, if not indeed exactly, ergotimine tartrate.  Unless you are a chemist or a dyed in the wool hippy you will probably never have heard of it but it is a precursor compound for synthesising LSD.

Was Saint Joan, as she is now, simply tripping when she decided to lead an Army?  Who knows and more to the point, where do I collect this stuff from?  Anyway, yet another example of all my travels offering up things that relate to what I already “know” or which become relevant later on.  I have long since ceased to be amazed by it.  OK, enough of the philosophy although travel must be arguably the most philosophical human endeavour and so I shall return to my own trip (merely alcoholically induced).

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I have no idea what it was but it was a gift and I drank it.
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Hopefully not made from diseased rye!

Another series of bars led me back to my abode via a meal and yet again it was La Patate Gourmande and another great plate of kebab meat and their excellent sauteed potatoes which I was becoming inordinately fond of. They are good at frying potatoes in this part of the world. Those that know me know that I am not renowned for eating a lot so it was good to get something in me.

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Just what was needed.

This little trip was becoming madder by the day and I just did not want it to stop. I was on the road, I had no clue where I was going and I had become myself once again, the usual Fergy, the lunatic road warrior of old.  I was reasonably clean thanks to a decent shower, had clean clothes if in limited amounts and I just wanted to roll. This is what I reckon I was made for.

I get into a second month in the next instalment so stay tuned and spread the word.

All the fun of the fair.

Here we go again, another gallery post about the wonderful Foire Attractive (funfair to you and me) that I came upon accidentally on it’s last day of a month’s residency in a park in central Nancy.  Against all expectations, I really do think I am getting the hang of this running my own website business.  There are only another six options of posting that I have to work out but I’ll get round to them in time.

 

Let’s be honest, we all love funfairs so please have a look at these images and, as always, apologies for the quality.

March to the Marche (Market).

My first foray into publishing a gallery seems to have gone OK so I shall push my luck here and attempt another, this one dealing with the superb Central Market in Nancy.  Again, no text and minimal captions but I do hope you enjoy the images.

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How I wish I had had a kitchen.
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Give me a duck and I have the sauce sorted.

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Mils from the sea and fresh as you like.
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Maybe seafood instead?
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Look at the eyes.
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I adore seafood.

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Fromage Francais, how wonderful.
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Plenty of choice.
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Where would you start?

Well, that is my gallery of the market and I hope it has published properly and that you enjoyed it.

What a place the Place is.

I am probably getting hugely over-confident here but I appear to have successfully published a couple of gallery posts on my site which I am getting rather attached to.  Yes, it is a huge amount of work and there are literally years more to come even to catch up on past trips never mind what I do in the interim but at least I know my work is relatively safe here on the principle that I am probably unlikely to shut myself down as has happened to me too often before with commercial sites.  Having said that, the way I am with computers anything is possible.

I mentioned in a previous post that the centre of Nancy is a UNESCO World Heritage site and it is truly breathtaking.  Understandably I took a lot of images, far too many to put in a normal post here so I am constructing this page purely to showcase some of them.

I think that against all the odds I have accidentally worked out how to do a gallery properly (not like the previous efforts that looked like a normal post) so further virgin territory for me, let’s see how it goes.

In the unlikely event that anyone reading may wish to read the nonsense I write then please feel free to pass on to the next post.

 

I become ludicrously French.

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I tried to get arty in the morning. My hotel.

The morning of the 28th April arrived thankfully rather more pleasantly than the previous day had ended as at least it was not raining. Time for me to go for a walk then as I do like to do.

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I had seen a covered market near where I was staying and decided that would be good for a look round. I am completely drawn to markets and this one proved to be an absolute beauty albeit with the rather prosaic name of Marche Central.

It is one of the very many oddities of my existence that I absolutely detest shopping and yet I could spend a whole day wandering round a market. My idea of Hell is Oxford Street (the main shopping street in London where I live) and yet markets seem to draw me. I specifically love Asian markets as I hope to show here when I ever get round to transcribing the 12 years of very hard work that was almost destroyed when the wonderful Virtual Tourist website was killed off. I have umpteen images of markets from that continent.

Failing one of the Asian variety, what else would you fancy if you were looking for a market? Well, how about a French one with France being arguably the home of gastronomy, which in itself is a French word I believe? Add into the mix that it was just at the start of asparagus season and asparagus is one of my favourite vegetables (along with parsnips and potatoes obviously, with me being from Northern Ireland where we grow the best spuds in the world) and a French market was just a magnet for me. Forget the concept of a child in a sweetshop, this was Fergy in a market in France and it was about the same emotion multiplied by a factor of 10.

In fairness, I was a little sceptical about the Marche Central (Central Market) at first as it just looked too tidy and modern and as if it was almost a tourist attraction but a wander inside soon proved to the contrary. This is very much a working market and I would suggest that I was probably the only non-Nancéien in there. Yes, it was off-season in what is after all a UNESCO listed city but I suspect that even in the height of summer the locals will outnumber tourists 100 to one. This is a proper functioning market and an utter delight to be in.

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Look at the eyes!

Apart from the white asperge (asparagus) already mentioned there was meat and excellent looking fish. Normally I would be a bit suspicious of fish this far from the sea (it is fairly inland here) but I have a half an idea of what I am looking for and it all seemed to be terribly fresh with the mackerel as pictured a particular delight. A quick look at the eyes will tell you. OK, you come here to read about my travels and I tell you to look into the eyes of a dead fish. Sorry.

The shellfish also looked suitably fresh and the fruit was a feast for the eyes, never mind the palate. However, no French market, or indeed French village, would be complete without the fromagerie (cheese shop) and the Marche in Nancy delivers in a huge way. I adore Neufchatel and especially Roquefort but basically all French cheeses suit me and there probably was not a variety that was not represented here.

Apart from all the wonderful stalls, there were many cafes and restaurants dotted around the outer part of the market and all undoubtedly showcasing the products from this wonderful venue. If I have one regret it would be that, whilst I was very happy with my hotel, I wish I had been in a hostel so I could just have filled a couple of shopping bags and cooked for a week with the finest ingredients going. Maybe next time.

Even if you don’t wish to buy, you should definitely visit here.

I did take a number of images and, rather than make this entry interminably long I shall attempt to publish a separate one purely to showcase a few of them. This is quite a serious technological step for me and anything may happen so don’t hold your breath!

Leaving the market and ignoring the obvious delights of the many nearby bars, I decided that a bit of a further exploration was in order and just took off randomly as always. As usual I had no map, no guidebook and realistically no bloody clue. I just trust the Fergy “nose” as it rarely fails me and yet again it came up trumps. I discovered what must be the “jewel in the crown” of this fine city in the Place Stanislas which is almost indescribably beautiful and so very, very French that it is almost a cliche.

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Utterly gorgeous.

This superb open space is on the UNESCO World Heritage List alongside the nearby Place de la Carrière and Place d’Alliance and it is the Place Stanislas which could reasonably be described as the heart of Nancy. In days past I wrote for an excellent website called Virtual Tourist and I had a page on there detailing all the UNESCO World Heritage Sites (WHS) I had visited. I shall attempt to recreate that here at some point although I have so much else to do first. I am sure most of you will be aware of the WHS programme but for those of you who may not be or who just want to have a look at the list here is the website.

I had more or less stumbled upon the Place Stanislas in my usual unplanned way and researched it at a later date. It was built between 1752 and 1756 to the design of an architect named Héré and is, to put no too fine a point upon it, stunning as are the immediate environs. I had no idea at the time but this square was built for, and named after, a chap called Stanislas Leszczynski which is, I think you’ll agree, hardly a French name. M. Leszczynski was an odd sort of man and without getting too far into mid 18th century politics he was a King without a kingdom here in a sort of almost pastiche Disney way but like all good stories it has a happy ending insofar as he ended up King of Poland. More relevantly he was Duke of Lorraine at one time (Nancy is in the Lorraine region) hence the magnificent square that bears his name here.

I fear that no words of mine will do justice to the Place Stanislas and hopefully the images will serve it better than this prose as it is just a magnificent place (in all senses of the word) to sit and watch the world go by. Again, I shall publish a couple of images here and attempt to compose another page solely for further images.

I mentioned Disney above and Place Stanislas would certainly sit comfortably in any theme park in the world to the extent that you have to virtually pinch yourself to remind yourself that it is real but it is. The entire South side is taken up by a wonderful building which houses the functioning Town Hall, another side has the Opera House and a very grand looking hotel with the other two sides occupied by old buildings housing a variety of businesses, primarily cafes and one of which I shall tell you about in a moment. Every route leading off the Place (or onto it depending on which way you are going) is adorned with gates ranging from the merely impressive to the absolutely jaw-dropping.

Even without it’s very prestigious internationally recognised designation, no visit to Nancy would be complete without a visit here and I really do recommend it.

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My choice of cafe.

Here I was in this magnificent square and there really was only one thing for it, I had to do a bit of French “cafe society”. There were a few hardy souls sitting outside a particularly grand looking cafe and I decided to join them although the interior of the Grand Cafe Foy was delightfully inviting and certainly “grand”.

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What about this for a coffee?

I chose a seat with one of the finest views I can remember as I hope the images attest and ordered a coffee from the attentive and very smartly dressed young waiter. You did indeed read that correctly, I ordered coffee instead of beer which is a remarkable event in itself. Yes, I was a scruffy looking brute although the waiter never batted an eyelid, he probably just marked me down as some Bohemian spirit which I suppose I am in many ways.

Using my mobile ‘phone (which I still did not understand properly and cannot work out even to this day) I managed to send a message to my friend. If you have been kind enough to work your way through this whole series of entries it was the same friend who had inadvertently initiated this whole mad adventure and I told her that I had become all Frenchified. I fully appreciate that the majority of readers will look at this and go, “So what” but believe me when I tell you that for someone as utterly technophobic as me this was my Everest. To send a message internationally and attach a photo, that is a very long way above my pay grade. To do so in such a location was merely an added bonus. It was true, I was regularly speaking a language I barely understand, drinking cafe au lait in a charming square in a French city I knew nothing of and sitting in the glorious sunshine of a Spring morning.

How completely wonderful and it did do much to lift my spirits as I had somewhat fallen out of love with travelling for reasons discussed previously. I was getting my travel mojo back with a bit of a vengenace.

I have to say that when the bill arrived for one coffee it was eye-watering and that was not merely due to the cold, it is ruinously expensive here but I fully realise that you are paying for the location and that is pretty priceless. I cannot remember exactly how much it was although I know I could have fed myself for a couple of days on it but I know it was worth every centime or whatever the € equivalent is.

Having immersed myself completely in the cafe society of the Place Stanislas and nearly bankrupted myself in the process (it was actually worth it) I was heading the short distance back to the area that I had established myself in which was centred on the Rue St. Julien where my hotel was. I felt quite comfortable in that part of town. I spied the accurately if unimaginatively named Restaurant Le Saint Julien and decided that a beer was in order as it usually is for me.

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It was early afternoon but the place was just about empty which is always a slightly worrying sign but I decided to persevere and spoke to the “patron” behind the bar who told me the kitchen was closed but I could certainly have a drink although he was closing pretty shortly.

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That was fine by me and I was duly served with a large glass of Feldschlösschen which I had never encountered before and my subsequent research has shown that it may have originated in either Dresden in Germany or else in Rheinfelden in Switzerland. It was a fairly generic lager of no particular note although kept and served well enough. If it was the Swiss variety which seems more geographically logical then it is owned by Carlsberg which would go some way to explaining it’s totally unmemorable taste.

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Time for a smoke.

I said that the place was “just about empty”, which is true but allow me to explain. There was one other customer there, a middle aged lady enjoying a glass of wine in the smoking room to the front of the premises and which is actually probably the best place in the house. It affords a view onto the street which makes it excellent for people watching even on a day like this when it was really too chilly to stand outside.

I still do not understand how the smoking ban works in France. In some places it is a total ban, in others there are small rooms like this set aside for the purpose. I don’t know if there is a national policy or if matters are determined on a local basis. Whatever the situation, it afforded me the opportunity to say hello to the lady and have a bit of a chat with my newly rediscovered. We had a great time, it was just another lovely little travel interlude.

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Although I did not eat there, this is very obviously a food-orientated place and the blackboard outside was advertising “plats du jour” (daily specials) for a touch under €10 which in this area represents very good value. Rabbit in mustard, salmon, steak or pizza for that money is good going. Undoubtedly there is a full menu on offer although I did not peruse it. Whilst it is mainly a restaurant, Le Saint Julien is a charming place just to pop in for a drink but do be aware of the afternoon closing.

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It was a perfect day so what better to do after Le Saint Julien than head to TBHQ aka the Milton (via a couple of pit stops) and write it up? If you don’t know what TBHQ is, have a look at the previous entry where I explain it. Obviously, the problem with that was that I was still about three weeks behind with my writing but it proved to be a most pleasant afternoon and evening in charming company again and I did manage to write up a day or two despite the best efforts of various delightful French people to distract me. Yet again I did not speak a word of English all night and was becoming increasingly amazed at my facility in the French tongue. It is quite amazing what you know that you don’t know you know!

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I eventually tore myself away from HQ with the intention of grabbing a quick bite before bed but, as always, I got distracted, the distraction in this case being the pleasant but extremely crowded XXXXX Bar La Quincaillerie. Like the Milton this is a predominantly young place and apparently very trendy but again it was friendly enough and the bar was extremely well-stocked but it was a little crowded for my liking and so I only had a couple.

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After this last watering hole I did make the  kebab shop I mentioned in the previous instalment and where a very decent kebab and sauteed potatoes certainly filled a hole before off to bed with another great day behind me.

How French had I become?  An arty type photo before I was rightly awake, visit to the market, leisurely cafe in a World Heritage site, a couple of bars and speaking French throughout, it was getting crazier by the day.

More of beautiful Nancy in the next instalment so stay tuned and spread the word.

Raindrops keep falling on my head.

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Room with a view (of the local shop)!

The 27th of April came and it came in lovely style as one of the images here (a view from my bedroom window) attests but it wasn’t to last as the weather quickly degenerated into the dismal drizzly rain that I have become so accustomed to on this trip. I was talking to a French guy a little later on my rambles and he told me that April and May were the worst months to visit France in respect of the weather. Trust me to pick them! He reckoned that, whilst it was cold, February or March were better as it did not rain so much.

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By the time I got myself together and out the door, the weather was already closing in and so it appeared that it was a day for bar-hopping, not that I need any excuse to do that. I had probably got no more than about three hundred yards before the rain came on quite heavily. As I had no wet weather gear it was a case of any port in a storm and appropriately enough the port was Cafe Les Docks which was the first bar I saw.

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A fine bar (the barmaid’s posterior is coincidental, I assure you).

I should say that Les Docks is not a place I would probably normally have chosen as it was on a fairly main drag and looked ever so slightly “posh” to me whereas I tend to prefer little back street “hovels” (I do not use the word at all pejoratively) which seem to be more my style. Still, it was that or getting soaked as it had just erupted pretty hard so any port in a storm as I say.

Dripping just a little I went into exactly what I would have expected in that area and with that external appearance. It was a modern city-centre bar with decor to match, the obligatory large screen TV’s and so on. Certainly it was spotlessly clean so no problem with that. When I had to use the “facilities” they were equally modern and spotless and so, again, no complaints.

It was fairly quiet when I visited and I was promptly served with a large beer by a charming young lady, some generic brew which was probably Heineken as it is massive in these parts, which was well-kept and served.

I should offer a word of explanation here. People may ask that if I could not even remember six months later whilst originally writing this what beer I was drinking, then how can I say it was good? A very reasonable question. The answer is that if it had not been good I would remember and I work on the principle that a beer was well done unless I have a recollection to the contrary. I always remember a bad beer!

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Look at that weather!

Eventually the time came where my nicotine levels were approaching the critical and I had to venture into the street for a smoke. Fortunately there was a decent sized awning there covering several al fresco tables. Given the location I would suggest that this would be a superb place for people watching on a decent day. Thankfully, the weather seemed to be clearing a bit and so I returned to the bar, finished my beer and headed on a bit further.

After my enforced sojourn due to the somewhat inclement weather (where was the Spring?) I was heading along the Rue St. Georges when I had to cross a side street. Yes, I remembered my childhood training of “Look left, look right and look left again” (obviously reversed in Europe where they drive on the wrong side of the road, and I do say that tongue in cheek before anyone starts a war) but then I looked down and was a little surprised by what I saw. Difficult to describe and so I hope the sole image attached here assists but it was a functional pedestrian crossing which looked just a little bit arty. Well, completely arty, truth be told. I did make enquiries later and it is not just a random piece of art, it is a legally binding road marking, at least insofar as any road marking is legally binding in France.

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Did you ever see anything like this?

I have to say that I was a touch surprised and treated it as I do any French PedX (i.e. that it does not exist) as the Federal States of E aka the EU have micro-managed everything to such a degree I could not see how this would be allowed but apparently it was. Yet again, I always find myself learning whilst writing for this site and my latest small discovery is that Nancy is designated as a “Ville d’art et d’histoire” (Town of art and history) and it certainly struck me thus when I was there, I did rather like it.

I fully appreciate that this is a lengthy piece about a single PedX (I did find others around the city in many different styles and all equally non-conformist) but I offer it merely as an example of the strange little things the traveller may come across on a visit to this most artistic of cities. It really does pay to keep your eyes open here, you will find all sorts of quirky little things.

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Keep on keeping on as they say and the next place of note I saw was the Batteurs d’Or. Now I am a complete Philistine when it comes to matters artistic and really don’t know a Cubist from a cue ball but the one artistic style I vaguely recognise is the one known as Art Deco which was popularised in the 1920’s and 1930’s and I absolutely love it. It was a joy to me therefore when I stumbled upon this bar in the early afternoon.

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How funky is this?

Having already had one soaking from a weather system that seemed intent on drenching me with minimum warning I was keeping a weather eye and spotting the clouds darkening and the wind getting up I knew it was time to get inside and rapidly. Once bitten, twice shy as the great Ian Hunter once famously sang and I had just about dried out from the last meteorological episode and so I moved myself fairly sharply into the bar, the name of which, if my appalling French does not desert me, means the Gold Beaters.

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I simply loved this.

It would be no exaggeration to say that my jaw dropped as soon as I stepped in the door as this was Art Deco central, it was unbelievable. I cannot ascertain whether the bar is original or a carefully worked piece of more recent interior decoration but either way it is stunning. Certainly the exterior of the building would suggest it is old enough for this to be the original design. After a moment to re-locate my jaw to it’s normal position I approached the bar as I still had some sense of priorities. The place was fairly quiet after lunch so service was quick and friendly with a well-kept beer quickly produced. I mention the lunch service as les Batteurs is very much food orientated, indeed I would suggest it is more restaurant than bar but in France the demarcation seems to be much more blurred than it is at home.

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When the time came for me to take myself outside for a cigarette I took a moment to check out the very pleasant al fresco dining area although it really was not the weather for that sort of thing but I would suggest that on a decent day it would have made a great place for people watching, situated as it is on a busy city centre street.

There is little more to tell about this bar as I just sat and drank in every detail of the superb decor not to mention every drop of the several excellent beers I had. Well, I couldn’t leave that place after just one, could I? On a more prosaic note, when I had occasion to use the “facilities” they were as spotless and gleaming as the bar itself.

If you are in central Nancy then you really should make a point of dropping into this wonderful bar.

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I spent a wonderful couple of hours in Les Batteurs before dragging myself away for another stroll around and, wouldn’t you know it, I found myself back in the excellent L’Ambassy bar I mentioned in the last instalment so that was another chink of time spent. I wasn’t worried as I had my bearings worked out. I usually manage that fairly quickly.

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My next “find” in Nancy on this first full day there was to be an absolute beauty, not only because it was a great little bar with well-served beer, friendly staff and equally friendly customers plus all the modern appurtenances one would require of such places but because it just had that certain something. I am almost afraid to say “je ne sais quoi” but the French express it so much better than we do in English. There you go, I have probably just reviewed the Milton in about one tenth of the words I would normally use but obviously I am going to expand on that now. Sorry, folks.

The Milton, as most places I visit, was picked purely at random and from a street with many other cafes / bars / restaurants on offer. It was the Fergy “nose” coming into play again and as usual it did not fail me as this is indeed a great little place.

In times when I was happily writing for the great Virtual Tourist website I would always establish what I would semi-jokingly refer to as VTHQ if I was to be a few days in a particular location although now I suppose I must call it FRHQ as I am writing for my own site now. Basically, the requirements are pretty straightforward. My HQ requires a power point to keep my laptop charged as I use it a lot, an internet connection as decent as local conditions allow but first and foremost it must be a bar I would want to drink in even without the technological aspect. This establishment scores highly in every department.

The Milton enjoys a central location which was fortunately not too far from my hotel, it is very clean and tidy with friendly staff, most of whom I got to know. It has umpteen power points and super fast wi-fi which reflects the modern appearance (I suspect it had been recently refurbished) which suits the tech reliant clientele who are in the main young and disturbingly trendy, it really is a hip sort of place. I was a little put off the first time I went in as I am a scruffy sort of brute and I thought it was just not my type of place but the friendliness of the staff and indeed several patrons I chatted to subsequently quickly made me feel right at home.  Apparently, I can mix it with the hipsters even with my appalling French and even worse wardrobe.

A few more beers and so to bed.

Again, I return to an earlier theme here in that some people would say that this was a wasted day and why did I not visit two museums, an art gallery, two churches and a prehistoric archaeological site? Sorry, folks, but I don’t work like that. Certainly, I Iike all the afore-mentioned attractions but my primary reason for travelling is interacting with people and I spent a very decent day in a few different bars chatting to some interesting locals. I got a bit of this journal somewhere less than a month behind (I really was slipping by this point) and just generally immersing myself in ordinary French life.

Yet again I slightly astounded myself by conversing in French the whole time. I doubt I spoke a word of English the whole day. It was actually quite satisfying when I paused to consider it. By now I had even got to the point of making (very poor) jokes in French. This is not surprising as my jokes are pretty weak in English anyway.

Another day in this most pleasant of cities and more to come in the next instalment so stay tuned. and spread the word.