Thursday, August 9, 2012

Paris in August

We are loving our time in Paris! We expected that we would, but we did not anticipate that Paris would be fairly affordable even in high season. We have rented an apartment in the 2nd arrondissemont with everything we need and some lovely additions, like a cappuccino maker. Other than our rent, museum and velo lib passes, and groceries we have spent very little here.

The velo bike rental system is amazing. I first became a convert in Toulouse when we studied French there. The bikes make it easy to wiz off to museums and sites and then return home for lunch and a break before heading out on another bike somewhere else in the afternoon. The distances in Paris are ideal for velos; using the metro would actually involve more walking and take more time. Best of all it's August, so all of Paris on vacation and as a result traffic is very light. We were even able to cycle through Place de Concorde with only one near death experience (only kidding mom)!
The velo game can, on occasion, be intense. Eight euros buys you an unlimited number of 30 minutes rides for a week, but sometimes it is a mad dash to find a station to park the bike when the meter is running out. It is not that the bike will suddenly turn into a pumpkin, but additional charges will kick in.

The fact that most Parisians have left the city for the month is a bit strange. In certain districts the town seems empty or sleeping, but the contrast is huge when you reach within a block or two of any of the major sights. Swarms of foreigners queue up for hours to get into the Louvre or the Musee D’Orsay. Thankfully the museum pass allows you to jump to the front and get an even bigger overdose of art. Gord and I are visiting three museums a day and definitely are at the addict level.

We love Paris and now that we have found this perfect home away from home I hope we return many times.

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Saturday, August 4, 2012

La Sarraz to Lausanne: The importance of literacy

Our last day on the Via Francigena was a difficult one largely as a result of failing to follow good Swiss instructions. The signage for bike and pedestrian routes is amazing here. For the past two days we have been following bike routes primarily, so it seemed sporting of me to take the pedestrian route for our last day. Apparently the word pedestrian does not include bikes pulling trailers. As a result it was a rough go down to lac Lamond. Gord walked behind me so he could help lift the trailer over roots and rocks as we made our way slowly towards the lake. At the lake we both immediately went for a swim clothes and all!
Once we followed the lake around to Laussane we were sobered by the huge hill we had to climb and push the bike up to get to the center of town. I was confused by the bike sign that seemed to point into a building, but ignored it to concentrate my energy on pushing up the hill. There are moments on long days where according to Gord, I get kind of surly, and this was one of them. If he hadn't finally agreed to a beer stop things might have gotten ugly. With the cooling elixir I was able to push up the final blocks to our hotel.
It turns out, once again, literacy is a golden tool. The sign I had ignored earlier was indicating that bikes could travel up the hill on the funicular .?!!**#!!

Our 960 km trip on Via Francigena has come to an end for this year but it has only convinced us that it's time to take up Italian so we can return and head into the Alps that are waiting for us.

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Friday, August 3, 2012

Sainte-Croix to La SarrazDown

Today was almost a pedal free day for me as I lost most of the height of two day's climbing in just 30 minutes. Gord took the more direct gorge route that was stunning. After such a great effort, particularly on my part, it was time for a coffee break. Conveniently we ran into Alessandro and Magdalena, two Italian pilgrims that we have been following for several weeks. We had formulated our on version of their lives based on the traces left in visitor's books and comments from our hosts. It was great to finally meet them in person and hear their version of their own lives. This brings the grand total of pilgrim sightings to: 6!

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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Pontarlier to Sainte Croix: Switzerland- First Impressions

                                 Gord eating lunch just before the Swiss border- oops wrong photo!

As soon as we crossed into Switzerland the neat as a pin green fields and hills looked like they had been photoshopped into perfection. I was also struck by how flag happy they were until Gordon filled me in that yesterday was their national holiday.
If my first impressions had to be summed up with just one word it would be "clean." I actually saw a city worker in Saint Croix vacuuming the side walk. Yes things are also definitely more expensive here, but we expected that. The organization of markers for walkers, cyclists and even skiers is also outstanding.

We made our final major ascent today and are currently relaxing at the B&B les Replans high above practically everything except mount blanc. My knee was much happier in my support socks even if I was committing a major fashion faux pas.

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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

To Pontarlier: Red Jersey day!

It is time for an update of the Tour de Valise. Today the tour climbed up into the Jura mountains on the most challenging leg of the race. The leader of the pack, and coincidently also the tail, climbed up the first 12 kms at shocking speeds ranging from between 4.3 to 9km/hour. The wind generated by these sorts of speeds can almost but not quite blow away the local biting flies. Canadian champion Ruth McDonald demonstrated her specialized "side hill gouger" wonky pedaling technique, whereby she mostly climbs with her left leg protecting her ever so tired right knee. A great day on the tour with McDonald earning the red jersey.

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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Besancon to Vuillafans: Up!

Gordon - Today we were reminded that France has a third dimension - up. We are in the foothills of the Jura mountains, and suddenly we cannot wander at will on a network of secondary roads laid out on a two dimensional surface. While we must now follow river valleys, or pay a surcharge struggling over ridges, we are delighted to find ourselves in such a beautiful landscape. Much of the land is forested, and because there is a layer of limestone near the crest of the hills, there are numerous white cliffs above us.
We passed through the town of Ornans this afternoon, famous as the hometown of the painter Courbet. It was easy to see where he may have gained some of his inspiration, as a continuous line of houses built out over the river defined its banks, while above the town buildings topped the white cliffs.

We have covered over 800 km at this point, but we only have time for four more days of walking/riding. This will permit us to get to Lausanne. We cross into Switzerland the day after tomorrow, and we are already starting to feel the influence of that country. Some of the houses have an alpine look, the cows have bells, the price of accommodation is rising, and Ruth is starting to yodel.

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Monday, July 30, 2012

Gy to Besancon

Ok things are getting hilly! Lots of climbing today with more ahead. We now only have five more days to Laussane, where our pilgrimage ends for this year.
Now it is time to relax.

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Dampierre-sur-Salon to Gy

"Madam, voulez vous regarder l'eglise?" she asked with a huge hopeful smile on her face. When I responded positively she ran home to fetch the key. Skipping back with two others in tow she very seriously opened the church and escorted me inside. She seemed to be as impressed as I was by the well preserved 12th century church. It turns out my tiny guide is just visiting this town too and staying with friends who watch out for church visitors. After the tour I settled on a bench for my lunch and before I could say, "I love French cheese," my little friend was back, asking if I wanted any pizza, water or coffee. I agreed to a petite cafe which was delivered by the lady of the house on a tray.

We arrived in Gy in time to visit the chateau and have a drink in the square before heading back to the gite for dinner. We received very special treatment at Gite de la Fontaine. When I called, our host explained that the gite was full with a group of 12 Germans hiking on the Chemin de St. Jacques, but that they would give us a room with them and feed us dinner.

The room turned out to be theirs, and the dinner was a lovely feast of local fair. We sat and talked all evening as if we were old friends. What a lovely evening!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Champlitte to Dampierre-sur-Salon

What a perfect day! This morning we left Champlitte to connect the dots between beautiful villages strung out along the gorgeous Salon valley. It rained last night leaving everything lush and sparkling when the sun came out. We changed our planned route slightly to see the village of Montot when a sign indicated that it is listed as a historical monument. The town was wonderful with the remains of a 15th century fortified chateau. But what made the day extraordinary was meeting Henriette & Alain and being invited to share a meal with them.

They had also walked the camino in Spain and kept a watchful eye for pilgrims passing their house. We had lunch in the 17th century farm house that Henriette had grown up in. After the meal, which included perhaps the best wine we have ever tasted, Alain walked with us to the next town.
While the landscape, history, food and wine are all excellent reasons to visit France, the warmth of the people we meet is what keeps bringing us back to this country.

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Friday, July 27, 2012

Langres to Champlitte - Changing Architecture

Gordon - As we have crossed northern France we have noticed significant changes in the architecture of houses and public edifices. Some of this is dictated by the availability of materials (brick in Pas de Calais versus stone in areas further east), some reflects history (everything in the Somme region was built in the 1920's after being leveled in World War I), but some just appears to reflect local taste. For example, we passed through an area where exposed timber, bearing a resemblance to Tudor style, was popular. There was another region where many buildings had root cellars with beautiful stone frames for the access doors. Most unexpected of the local preferences, however, are the roof tiles on churches in the Franche Comte region, which we recently entered. The tiles appear to be glazed, come in a variety of bright colours, and are often arranged in complex, repeating patterns. The roof of the cathedral in Langres has a pattern that resembles the machine readable ikons that have become common. I can imagine extraterrestrials flying over the cathedral and reading the code as "Christian house of worship", or perhaps "take home a family pack of tasty carbon based life forms today".

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Thursday, July 26, 2012


Langres has been a real treat. It well deserves its ranking in the fifty most beautiful cities in France. It is our favorite city so far. In spite of the heat we still had to do the 3.5 kilometer walk around the cities ramparts. In every direction there are beautiful views of French farmland, hills, and forests.

This is an exceptionally beautiful area of France.

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Mormant to Langres: Pilgrim Privileges

If I ever come back to France as a regular tourist it will be quite a shock. The pilgrim welcome or l’acceuil du Pélerin is a very special thing. Whether it comes in the formalized welcomes at the cathedrals of the larger cities or the simple exchanges with locals in villages, we are treated as honorees guests. For example,this morning I stopped to wait for Gord in the beautiful village of Leffonds. I found a shady spot in the main square and was immediately approached by a gentleman who wanted to know if I was going to Rome. He then offered me coffee or water. Soon his wife arrived and she asked if I needed anything and then continued to ask why I was doing the pilgrimage. I was honest and told her that although I am not religious there is something spiritual about these routes. They are much more than grande randonnes and somehow seem to help me gain a perspective that I need to live in our modern world. That answer seemed to be acceptable to her as she nodded with appreciation. Her husband then went inside to bring out the post card that they had received from another pilgrim who made it to Rome. After once more offering me anything that I needed, Gord arrived and we went on our way.

Tonight we are staying with the Priests at the Presbytery in Langres and again the welcome has been warm and generous. We have a room that looks out on the cathedral, a small kitchen and yes (reverent pause) a shower. For this privilege we have payed 10 euros. Now Langres is an expensive and touristy town. When we tried to book a hotel they were fully booked with the exception of a suite for 250 euros!! The pilgrim privilege however is about much more than the obvious monetary benefits - it is an genuine friendliness and respect that is given to us everywhere we go.

This is why I seem to be addicted to pilgrimages- for the daily reminders that people are good and humanity is an awe inspiring thing.

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Monday, July 23, 2012

Bar-sur-Aube to Clairvaux to Chateauvillian: Medieval Touches

I am making my husband very happy tonight. Now don't worry, I am not about to say anything inappropriate. I am making my husband happy because tonight is our third night in free accommodation. This area has really embraced pilgrim hospitality with either the Marie or the church offering very basic places. Last night we stayed at the Presbytery in Bar-sur-Aube. It was as nice as any Chambre d’Hotes for one. I say one because there was only one single bed. Gord was a true gentleman however and slept on a thermarest on the floor. Tonight we have two beds and lots of space but no shower or hot water. A touch of medieval hygiene to add an air of authenticity to our trip.

We had hoped to stay in in the only other place in town, the highly recommend chambre d’hotes run by an English couple, but after several calls with no reply we settled in here. They also operate a wonderful restaurant which must keep them away from answering or checking messages. After a dinner of the best duck I have ever eaten the owner asked where we were staying. He sheepishly acknowledged that he should be checking his telephone messages.

It all worked out very well however and other than smelling a bit more than usual we both had a great sleep. Tonight, however, I will shower!

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Brienne-le-Chateau to Bar-sur-Aube: Summer Has Arrived

How quickly we forget the cold weather now that summer is really here. There wasn't a cloud in the sky all day today. The area has also transformed from a flat plain into the rolling green hills and valleys surrounding the river Aube.

We said goodbye to Paulo this morning as he headed off for a side trip to Troyes and a rest day. We spent a lovely evening last night together at the free pilgrim gite in Brienne-le-Chateau. We bought all sorts of treats from the boulangerie and Paulo made an improvised spaghetti carbonara. Washed down with wine and great conversation it was a lovely evening.

I decided to test drive my expensive new air mattress to great disappointment. By one in the morning I bailed on the experiment and climbed onto one of the beds. I guess this princess has a back not made for camping any more. I still think if I can rig the right pillows duck tape and bungie chords I should be able to camp comfortably.

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Sunday, July 22, 2012

Chalons-en-Champagn to le Meix-Tiercelin to Brienne-le-Chateau: Straight

Roman Roads are straight!
Ruth: We have spent the last two days primarily on the Roman Road. This is the original route between Canterbury to Rome. These roads were built long before the pilgrims, and for war and empire not faith. These roads are so well built, and their routes so well chosen that most are now buried underneath the tarmac of main highways.
These roads are straight. So straight that at any point I could throw down a compass and it would always be going directly south.

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Friday, July 20, 2012

Bouzy to Chalons-en-Champagne: Gliding along the Canal

Ruth - The only thing better than a hard packed grassy towpath to ride along is a paved one and today I had some of each. Twenty of our twenty-five kilometers were spent gliding along the Canal de Marne into Chalons-en-Champagne. Gord and Paolo walked together as I rode ahead and periodically stopped and waited for them. During our picnic at one of the locks we were treated to two boats going through. The second boat was owned by an Australian who offered us a lift into town. We declined but later ran into him in the central square.
It was another lovely evening beginning with champagne from Bouzy shared three ways in plastic cups on a park bench. Dinner afterwards was a gluttonous feast of choucroute ie sauerkraut accompanied by a farm yard full of dead animals.

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Reims to Bouzy(really)

It was a beautiful 30 km walk today. The first 10 km were on the towpath along a canal. We then passed though a series of cute towns nestled in thousands of acres of vineyards. Champagne is the life blood of this area. In one town, population 1100, there are no less than 80 champagne houses. This is Disneyland for wine aficionados, with champagne tastings, champagne shops, a champagne museum, and the odd incidentals of the tourist trade, such as a lighthouse 400 kilometres from the sea. However, caught up in the the spirit of the region we did pick up a 19€ bottle of local bubbly in the aptly named town of Bouzy.

Time for an update on the Tour de Valise. Today as I climbed through the forest I was unable to dodge the Danish media and a group of fans lying in wait for me. Ok, they were really waiting for a group of Danish cyclists enroute to Paris on a fundraising ride for kids with cancer. They offered me coffee and Danish sweets to take and share with Gord. The treats made our forest picnic into an event. It’s important to feed Gordon before he gets mean (please see attached picture of Gordon before feeding time).

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Reims: Champagne

When in Champagne one must tour a Champagne house and taste their product. We chose the Taittinger house and were not disappointed. Taittinger is located over what was both a 4th century chalk mine and the subterranean remains of a Benedictine Abbey. Perfect conditions for the fermentation of Champagne.

In the afternoon we visited the Cathedral and appreciated the pilgrim's welcome there. Champagne even figures prominently in the cathedral with huge stain glass windows depicting the cultivation of the grapes and the process of making the bubbly. We were also treated to the Chagall windows in one of the chapels.

Later we reunited with Philippe and his friend Claude for a lovely dinner. Afterwards we hunted down Paola who we heard was staying at the youth hostel. We surprised him at his door and invited him to join us for some Champagne - generously brought by Claude. It was a perfect way to celebrate together.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Corbeny to Reims: Not all Roads lead to Rome

Not all roads lead to Rome as it turns out. I left Corbeny shortly after Gord and headed off confidently in what turned out to be northeast. It was the right road just the wrong direction. I realized my error about 4km out but with a map in hand I didn't want to retrace my steps so I compounded the problem with a 20 km tour of the surrounding area. Roads are generally well
marked in France but today when I needed them they were not. When I met Gordon several hours later be had walked 12.5 km and I had cycled 33! So much for bicycle efficiency. We are now in Reims where we will stay for two nights to enjoy a rest day and see the sights.

I seem to not have much luck buying a replacement pair of cycle shorts. The ones I bought today are a wee bit too transparent!! Gord says they're fine, but without getting a Brazilian it would be illegal in most countries. I will be wearing these with shorts! No photos forthcoming.

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Location:Place Drouet d'Erlon,Rheims,France

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Laon to Corbeny: The Land of Kings

It was cool but sunny as I coasted down off the hilltop of Loan.Today was a beautiful day with rolling vistas and forests steeped in history. If you are a historical fiction junkie like me you know the area between Laons and Reims well. Whether you are reading about the Carolingian kings at their capital at Laon, or Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI failed attempt to escape France you are here.
At Corbeny we are very close to the famous Chemin des Dames where the daughters and ladies in waiting of Louis XV would ride to their forest lodge. Traces of this rich historical past are everywhere here.

At the hotel named for the Chemin des Dames we enjoyed our pilgrim meal with Philippe as our conversation drifted once again to the camino and the sense of connectedness found in a shared common purpose. Philippe read us the poem he was given at Canterbury as a part of his personalized pilgrim blessing.

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Location:Corbeny, France

Cessieres To Laon: Tous les Vaches

Ruth - After a long day yesterday, today we just had a short 10km up to the fortified city of Laon. It is wonderful to be back in a Medieval world with twenty first century comforts. Nous sommes bien enstaller dans le hotel des Chevalliers( I love that expression). To be well installed anywhere in France makes it sound like a more permanent arrangement.

Laon is fantastic, with a 12th century gothic Cathedral that is truly inspiring. It did in fact inspire others including Chartres and Notre Dame de Paris. This cathedral should really be called Notre Vache for its bigger than life oxen guarding the towers. Apparently when two oxen were struggling with their load of building stone during the construction of the cathedral another ox magically appeared to help out and then promptly disappeared once the load was delivered.

Speaking of cows, at our restaurant today I complemented the patron on the pepper sauce and he proceeded to give me the details of the recipe. I told him that it was difficult to find creme fresh in Canada and he asked, "What, you don't have cows there?" It was a lovely steak dinner; I had mine rare and Gord had his blue. There has been quite a lot of raw meat eating this trip. I am starting to see the attraction as long as they are not still mooing.

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Saturday, July 14, 2012

Via Fracigena Daily Notes on route

Work in Progress: I will continue to edit this page as we travel. Please forgive errors and omissions.

1. Canterbury to Calais
We stayed in the older section of the Canterbury Cathedral Lodge: 60£ with huge buffet breakfast. It was lovely to be on the Cathedral precincts.
We followed National Cycle Route 16. Longer than Raju and Chinn's route by two or three km. Pros: very well sign posted, beautiful 12th century church with tympanum and rose window at B? and great for bikes. It is a corrugated landscape with lots of ups and downs before the final long decent into Dover. We were racing to catch the ferry and left very early to leave extra time. It turns out if you book a later ferry if there is room they will let you on an earlier one. Usually an hour earlier but they put us on one two hours earlier.

2.Calais - Guines
We stayed at the very friendly Hotel
Particular Richelieu in Calais 55€ for a double. Very friendly.
We used Raju's guide for this section that follows two canals to Guines. On the second canal I biked on the road on the right bank and Gord stayed on the foot path on the left.

3. Guines- Licques
There is a Campsite just out of Guines.
If it is open, you must stop for local info at the Guines tourist office!!! They will print you color maps and detailed ones of the route through the forest. It's easy with their map because the trees at the edge of each forest bock are numbered just like on the map. The VF markers start when you leave the forest. The route is unsurfaced but my non mountain bike and trailer were fine on this section.
We stayed at the Pommes des Trois Pays in a little trailer they save for Pilgrims at Licques :26€ for two ( we were quoted 45€ ahead of time, but they must have dropped their prices for pilgrims). Dinner is available and they sell bread in the am. Very friendly.

4. Licques - Wisques
Chinn and Raju take different routes. Chinn's follows the way the French are in the process of marking but Raju's is 7 km shorter. We followed Raju's here. This section is a number of small lanes and roads and fine for a bicycle. There are a number of long climbs followed by a number of equally long and luxurious descents.
We stayed at the Abbay Saint Paul: Donativo (we were told it's free for real pilgrim but we paid anyway)they feed you dinner and breakfast. Very quiet and welcoming.

5. Wisques to Amettes
We stayed in Amettes with Mme and Mon. GEVAS 72 € for two with demi pension or double without dinner but with breakfast 40€. One of our favorite places. Fantastic people, food and charming farm.

6. Amettes to Ablain Saint Lazaire
This was a diversion do that we could visit the Canadian Memorial at Vimy Ridge. We stayed at the lovely Chambres D'Hotes:Auboutzeur
192 Rue Lancino, 62153 Ablain-Saint-Nazaire.

7. Ablain Saint Nazaire to Vimy Ridge and down to Arras
We were off the route here to take in Vimy Memorial. Note the Youth Hostel and campground are closed in Arras. We stayed at Le Porquois pas Chambres D’Hotes and were treated as royalty - their first pilgrims! 60€ double with amazing breakfast.
8. Arras to Bapaume Le Sars
the route down from Arras has now been marked with the new Via Francigena Grand Rondonee red and white! It should be all completed in the summer of 2013 in Nord Pas de Calais. No camping in Baupaume. All the hotels were full so we booked a Chambre D'hotes 6.5km past Baupaume on the road to Albert.

Location:Rue Serurier,Laon,France

Saint Quentin - Cessieres: Marathon Man

My marathon man is doing the full distance today. 46 kms without any missteps or deviations. I am in a small town about half way waiting for him in a bar hoping he will arrive because the natives are very lively. It is Bastille day and I expect, by the exuberance, that the drinking began early. I don’t think these places get a lot of single foreign women. When Gord arrived and asked to use the washroom one of the men at the bar mimed how to use a squat toilet. Too much information!!!

We have had a number of glorious appearances of the sun today which increasingly became the norm rather than the exception. I can handle almost anything as long as I get a bit of sunshine. I was even able to pull out and use our massive tube of sunscreen.
I wonder if Gord will be as tired as me. The tour de valise is very slow with a head wind. My average touring speed was only 11km/h today. pulling a 40lb trailer is quite different than just biking. Those guys on the tour de France don't even carry their own Camembert and wine.
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Friday, July 13, 2012

Peronne -Saint Quentin: Departments in France

Today started very well with a breakfast of quiche, coffee and pan au chocolate. I love French bakeries. The sky was overcast for the first hour of riding but after a stop at a cafe and reading for a while I was caught in a torrential storm. Gord said it just passed over him in about 5 minutes, but I must have been riding the same speed as the storm. My shoes filled with so much water I had to stop and pour it out. Boy I am really ready for the tiniest bit of summer.
But enough about the weather.
It turns out France is a series of islands. No really I am serious. The country is divided up into a number of departments and when you are in one trying to get any information on the next one just a few km away it is like asking for a safe route to Mordor. Even the maps are islands with all detail ending at the departmental border. The Via Francigena passes through corners of a number of departments very quickly and we always end up in towns with tourist offices just at the edge of the abyss. In Bapaume, for example, our friend Philip discovered that there is no bus between Baupaume and Peronne because Peronne, only 24 km away, is in a different department. Within three days we have left Nord Pas de Calais to briefly pass through the Somme and now we are in L’Aisne. This means we usually leave a department with an excellent map of the region that we would have preferred to have when we entered the department. So I am going to just offer up a minor suggestion for the tourist offices in France. Why not not share a little information with each other or even swap some maps? You could make a day of it, bring a picnic and enjoy the borderlands. We have enjoyed all of the departments we have visited and we really think they would too.

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