The River Marne… after Paris we entered the now peaceful and green countryside along the banks of the river..dotted with small market towns of les Andelys, Meaux, Chateau Thierry, Dormans and many others.
Every small town has an impressive church, several centuries old and each bigger than the last, many have an ancient chateau, and each has a market. They are simple but clean, and closed as the grave from 12:00-14:00 hrs when a Frenchman goes home for lunch (and we always forget this and walk 3 km. to the baker to find it shuttered. Jan cannot live without his daily baguette! The weather is 25C+ all through September-fabulous. We take it very easy. It´s so lovely here.
p.s. The church statue is clutching a bunch of grapes after a local wedding. Who says the French have no humour?
We find them extremely polite, (small greeting rituals required in every shop), interested ,good humoured and cheerful. Old fashioned courtesy prevails, even in the young who respectfully greet us with bonjour “messieurdames” when passing on the street- actually makes you feel kind of old! but it´s very nice, too.
Each small town also has it´s memorial to both WWI and WWII for it was here, in the Marne, that some of the heaviest battles were fought and 1.5 million Allied soldiers were killed. At Dormans, the moving 4th national French monument –a double chapel houses the bones of 1500 unknown soldiers. As we approached the chapel, we were puzzled and astonished to pass soldiers in uniforms-both German, French and British. It was a re-enactment for the 90th anniversary of the Marne battles of 1914-18 – members of an historical association who had travelled from all over Europe. We visited a dugout trench , field tents, and their camp. It gave an eery reality to the past . Indeed, even today these tiny towns must surely live in the shadow of all that death.
A tall lighthouse beside the chapel is forever lit, it is said to guide all the fallen lost souls back to their comrades. At night it is very quiet and very dark here. It´s not hard to imagine.We did not visit the nearby Somme and Verdun. The small ones were enough.
We did visit a very local café,however, with no menues…you took what you got. Lovely local champagne from small local vineyards- an owner showed us around his cellar. The first barge shown behind us is where we almost got squished, hanging on to the side of him. Beautiful inside!