I thought I should let you all know how we’re doing on our journey by car back to Vilanova.

We left Dundee on Tuesday morning and, despite the wave of snow that had passed by a couple of hours earlier, we had a carefree journey south. Our first big moment was only one hour into the long trip back when we crossed the River Forth by the new Queensferry Crossing, the first time we had had the opportunity to use the bridge since its opening last year.


As we continued south, it felt like a million folk had been scared off by the snow, as the roads were very, very quiet, possibly the quietest we had ever experienced in our long list of drives south. We took the wee road down to Coldstream, crossed the border into England then opted for the Wooler road, stopping there for a bowl of soup before continuing on to Newcastle and Leeds.

We made good time and almost surprised Auntie Ellen & Uncle Terry by our prompt arrival at 16.00, the earliest we had predicted we would arrive. As always, we were greeted with open arms and had a lovely meal and catch-up with my Dad’s brother and his wife, both now in their 80s but doing really well it would seem. Naturally, we both slept like babies and, after a full English breakfast, we were on our way south again, down the A1M and M11 to London then the M25 round to the Dartford Crossing, over the bridge and down the M2 to the Channel Tunnel terminal just past Ashford in Kent. Luckily there were no delays at all on the approach to the Dartford Crossing and that was another first.

I had a quick 40 winks as we chugged under the Channel and Mary woke me with “We’re there!” as the train pulled to a halt in Sangatte just outside Calais. Off the train and straight off down the A1 with no formalities whatsoever to our first destination now leaves me with the impression that we’re about to give up this trouble-free, seamless travel for a situation we know nothing about. It can’t be for the best, can it? Anyway, enough politics! On our way down, we decided to attune our ears to French again by listening to the radio. But we began to pick up word of untold disruption around Paris after their heaviest snowfall in over 40 years, to be followed that night by temperatures down to -10C! As it was dark, we hadn’t really noticed the snow in the fields, only spotting the evidence once we reached Reims city where the streets were far from clear.

We found our hotel easily and managed to find a free parking spot on the street outside. The trouble was that our room was on the fourth floor and there was no lift! Thank the Lord we are reasonably fit 50 & 60 somethings otherwise we would really have had a problem getting the bags with our valuables up those stairs. Steep and twisty and not for the faint-hearted they were indeed!  A late tea of 2-day old boiled eggs and ham sandwiches was a prelude to a night of deep sleep and we awoke to a snow-covered scene outside on a very crisp, if not bone-chilling, morning. But intrepid travellers don’t let snow and ice stop them from seeing new things so off we popped for a day in Reims.


Mary outside the hotel in Reims

The cathedral was of course our first stop to see where most of the kings of France had been crowned but we later found the Basilica of St. Rémy which was even more interesting. When we arrived there, we couldn’t initially get in because there was a funeral just ending and there were hundreds of mourners waiting outside. We eventually discovered that the deceased was a popular musician of the area who had died young but the whole thing with the drums and the music was quite something to see. Inside the basilica it was stunningly beautiful and we both agreed it slightly outdid the famous cathedral. Having had enough of churches for one day, we went for a stroll around the town to get Mary’s 10,000 steps on her Fitbit and to choose a restaurant for dinner. By the time we got up those stairs back to the room, we were both exhausted and quickly nodded off on the bed. Tea became a carry-out carbonara and the rest of the evening was TV, books and Spider Solitaire. Sorry to disappoint!


A winter’s scene in Reims

We took it easy getting ready to leave on Friday morning but were soon gliding down the motorway towards our next stop, Dijon. Well, at least until I spotted a sign for Colombey les Deux Églises. “Isn’t that where Charles de Gaulle is buried?” I asked of Lady Burton. Her reply was that she thought it might be, so I swung off at the next exit, followed a surprisingly tiny road for about 20 miles and drove in to the very village where the ex-president of France and war-hero was laid to rest. There was a large exhibition and museum on top of a hill dedicated to the great man and outside was a gigantic Cross of Lorraine in a memorial garden. We then drove into the village itself  where we found the cemetery and the grave of de Gaulle (but not before getting a ticking-off from a policeman for parking on the wrong side of the road!).


La Croix de Lorraine


The last resting-place of Charles de Gaulle (the white grave on the left)

As we reached Dijon about tea time, it started to snow again only this time it continued for the rest of the evening. When it stopped, the temperature plummeted below zero again and everything froze. Luckily we’d raided a supermarket en route and were able to cook our own dinner as I’d booked an Apart’hotel this time. The room was very well-equipped and we felt right at home. Having discovered that the rates for the underground car park where we’d left the Audi were 10€ for up to 24 hours, we were able to have 2-3 hours visiting Dijon after Saturday breakfast before heading off south again. We also left it late to avoid the predicted heavy holiday traffic making for the ski resorts of the French Alps (that’s where all those hundreds of Brits who passed us at 100 mph were going!) But there was only one small hold-up on the motorway and that was an accident with 2 write-offs. With the weather cold but bright we made Lyon for 5 p.m. The SatNav on my iPhone took us smoothly to our next Apart’hotel, we checked in, parked in their private garage and went to our room.

What a pleasant surprise to find an absolutely beautiful studio-style room with great kitchen facilities, a big, comfortable bed, modern dining table and chairs and a desk. Brilliant value for what we paid! We chilled out on Saturday night, made ourselves a Spag Bol and sank a bottle of Côtes du Rhône to celebrate. Maybe it was the driving, maybe it was the wine, but I slept soundly again and we awoke at 9.00 ready to tour Lyon. Yes, we know it was Sunday but we had no choice but to Ho see what was open. After breakfast we walked 500m to the Metro station, bought a day-pass each and set off for old Lyon.


Place de la Republique, Dijon

When we alighted at Vieux Lyon (no kidding!) we were right next to the cathedral and as it was raining we went inside. At the door we were greeted by 4 heavily-armed soldiers coming out. Now, it just so happens that I had seen 4 similarly tooled-up soldiers outside our hotel in Reims 2 days earlier and just yesterday we’d seen 4 armed soldiers patrolling the streets of Dijon. This suggested to us that France takes the continued terrorist threat very, very seriously and intends to be ready to respond quickly to the next attack. These guys were packing large, automatic weapons and clearly meant business should they need to act.

The cathedral under renovation was nothing special I have to admit and we quickly moved on to the old narrow streets and the bridges over the Sâone river. Mary noticed that our Metro tickets were also valid for the funicular to take us up the hill to the Roman amphitheatre so we went there and enjoyed a couple of hours in the now pleasant sunshine. A few streets away stood another huge church dominating the entire town and Mary said she’d read it was a Basilica dedicated to the Blessèd Virgin Mary. Definitely worth a look, we thought. How lucky we were to choose to visit what turned out to be a wonderful church ( two actually with one on top of the other!) with tons of things to see.


The Fourvière Basilica

Back outside, we admired Lyon from the viewpoint, took a few photos then walked back down the hill to get our daily exercise. We crossed the Sâone, walked through a couple of squares and found ourselves at the river again! What? The notice told us we were now about to cross the famous river Rhône. Ah-ha! We did not realise that Lyon stands at the confluence of TWO great rivers which merge to form the mighty Rhône as it heads for the Mediterranean Sea at the Camargue (white horses, remember?) west of Marseille. So, having learned something new, we took the Metro to go visit a famous façade painted 3-D style to create a wonderful optical illusion and can report it to be even better than they say.


Honest it’s just a painting!

But we were getting weary so we made our way back to the Apart’hotel via a shop where we bought things to cook for our tea. We have now eaten it and I’m writing this while Mary is watching Casualty on BBC iPlayer!

Right, that’s us up to date. I’ll report back in a couple of days when we reach Vilanova. Tomorrow it’s down the road to Montpellier via Valence, Montelimar, Orange and Avignon. Might meet the odd Pope: you never know!


On a bridge over the Saône (or was it the Rhône?!)