We left Reims and our lovely apartment somewhat reluctantly this morning. It was a glorious day again, and John had picked out a couple of last places to visit before we headed out. The first was a building from the 1920s where you could see the influence of Art Nouveau in the lines and decoration. The next was the back of the cathedral...a different perspective to the other 2 days. Amazing that it took us three days to take in all the aspects of this incredible building. The gardens sur the derriere were full of blossoms. You get really spoiled by the number of gorgeous gardens and flowers everywhere in France. The final stop was a Roman 'entrance' - a series of pillars jutting up strangely in the middle of an urban space and park.
After our mini-tour, the next stop was a boulangerie and patisserie before heading out for the canal again. Quiet after yesterday, it was easy cycling giving us plenty of opportunity to gawp at the working warehouses that line the canal from about 5km out. It was reassuring to see that the canals are still used to ship goods and produce around France.
The further we got away from Reims, the more 'rural' the canal path became, changing from tar seal after about 10km, to a wide gravel track, to a narrow, chalky, bumpy track, to a bike wheel width chalky, bumpy track. This meant concentrating otherwise it would be relatively easy to end up in the drink! We did come around a corner to find two walkers sat in a shady spot in the middle of said track. They seemed really reluctant to move their pack, boots and feet to let us pass...but hey, they looked as though they had been walking for hours.
We came off the canal, and stopped for morning tea by a lovely looking wooden river boat, where we were serenaded by swifts coming in low over the water to snap up insects.
The route up through the village was...up. In fact, as we swung around one corner a lovely old gentleman, grinning broadly, said in French (I think), you have a steep hill to climb now, tracing a steep curve with his hand and arm. It was indeed a climb, but a lot was shaded by trees, and the view from the top was great. We could see the cathedral at Reims in the distance, with small clumps of woodland dotting the distance between, and a vineyard dipping down the slope immediately in front of us.
The rest of the days was rolling hills, often tree-lined, with patchwork arable fields around us with dark green kale, blue-green corn, golden barley, and fields of purple poppies (for the food industry I suspect).
We took a couple of unexpected detours (aka getting slightly lost), but the pay-back with those moments are the unexpected sights and experiences, such as a lovely old bell on a wall, or a plough surrounded by flowers.
Tonight we are staying at a chambre d'hotes in a lovely little village, so small that the proprietor is making us dinner as there is nowhere to buy food or eat out. From the landing if you peer through the ivy-framed window, you can see l'egilse (church) just across the lane. In a few minutes, showered and refreshed, we are going to head out for a stroll down to the river before returning for a bite to eat and an early night.
Today we left the vineyards behind after giving thanks to the gods of wine and moved into a vast arable region with wheat and barley growing over the horizon where I gave my own thanks to the small but very important gods of all things pastry-like. The roads rolled over gentle hills and down to small villages in the valleys while the wind was just enough of a breeze to keep us cool but not really slow us down. The fields were busier than the roads with harvesters and massive tractor trailers making the most of the long dry days.
We have started to use our awesome aeropresse coffee maker - the last gizmo to be pulled from the bags. Check them out online, they make a good cup of coffee.
Our progress means that we are now almost at the northern tip of our tour of NE France which we reach tomorrow at Charleville-Meziers. From there we follow the River Meuse South upstream past Verdun before heading West and meandering back to Paris.
There are more campsites now, so Hazel is happy, but we are really enjoying the chambres d'hôte experience as well. In fact, we are currently both beached after being fed far too much by our current hosts. Deliberately not thinking about the weather which has been fantastic so far. There are some hills ahead, which I am also trying to ignore.
Highlight of today was seeing my first baguette dispensing machine. A marvel of technology brought to you by the inventors of bread that you can hide down the leg of your trousers.