Wednesday 17 September.
A vehicle started sounding its horn in the street about 5:30am, it was picking up the grape pickets. We heard the ones in the room next to us leaving. We hadn't been a sound from them during the night, they must have been fast asleep and no wonder if they start at 5:30am and work all day in the fields in the hot sun. They must be dead beat by the time they get back in the evening.
After this early alarm we dozed for half an hour then read the newspaper on our IPads. The other two occupants, their names were Jacques and Gerard, didn't move for another hour then we all got up and packed. I got my blog ready for posting and we used Moira's iPhone as a router but it was slow when I tried to publish and eventually gave up. Surprisingly we both managed to download today's newspaper. Before going down for breakfast Gerard put some money into the Pancreatic Cancer collection box that Moira carries in the pocket at the side of her rucksack.
For breakfast it was just bread and coffee. Jacques and Gerard were already having breakfast with Mne Jacquersminet when we arrived and were surprised when we asked for coffee. They were drinking tea and it looked like they had a friendly bet with Mne J that we would have tea as well being Brits. They serve the tea and coffee in bowls similar to cereal bowls and you have to watch that it isn't too hot when you lift it. Mne J only asked for a donation, we gave €60 (€30 each) as suggested on our accommodation guide. Moira gave her a €50 and a €10 note. The woman looked at the fancy design on the '10' she hadn't seen one like before. I examined it and found it was a Clydesdale Bank £10 note. Maybe this was an omen for the Referendum and we will using the Scottish Bank notes as Euros.
We made our way down through the town and picked up the D26 road to the next village of Ambonnay. It was again through the vines and the road was very busy with vans and tractors setting up the picking process that was going on among the different estates. After Ambonnay the vines seemed to disappear, a lot of the fields had been ploughed ready for panting and further on the there big mounds of sugar beat awaiting collection. Just on the outskirts of Conde-sur-Marne we found a convenient bench for a 5 minute break before continuing. We didn't go into the village but picked up the Canal Lateral a la Marne which we followed for 20 km all the way into Chalons-en-Champagne.
The towpath began as a twin track through the grass. Is was all right and easy walking. When we reached the first lock at Vraux the surface change to tar and it was like that all the way to Chalons. We had a break at that lock and I made a cup of tea which we had with a biscuit. While we were sitting drinking our tea Jacques and Gerard passed, they had left before us but somehow we had got in front. On the go again the walk became monotonous, the canal was straight and didn't take the slightest bend until reaching Chalons. The only thing that broke the tedium was the bridges and locks and once we saw a heron taking to flight as we disturbed it. The flat straight walking on tar began to affect my back and it steadily got more painful. It wasn't on the same place that crippled me on the first day from Canterbury but up near my shoulder blades. It didn't influence my walking I was still able to stride out but it was painful nevertheless. We stopped at a bridge into the village of Juvigny for lunch, a chicken sandwich and tea, there I stretched out on the ground which seemed to ease the tension. After that I stopped every half hour for a good stretch and this kept me going.
As we got nearer the city houses and factories began to appear and the canal took some twists and bends. Ahead could be seen the pointed tower of St Etienne Cathedral and further to the left the twin spires of Notre-Dame en Vaux. When we reached the bridge into Chalons I had to sit and ease my back and Moira went in search of water. It had been extremely hot today and we were both feeling dehydrated but there were no taps at the nearby lock and no shops in the area. We headed into town and there was a street map at the end of the bridge enabling us to find our way to Notre-Dame en Vaux where Mne J told us there was accommodation for pilgrims with credentials. She was wrong but the charming and very helpful ladies there phoned around and found us a cheap hotel only 5 minutes walk away, Hotel de la Citie.
We had a nice big room en-suite and the first thing was to get a cup of tea brewing. We lay on the bed quenching our thirsts and relaxed for an hour. After showering and changing we headed back into town in search of a supermarket. We hadn't seen any on the way in and decided to ask the ladies at the church. Typical of the French this caused a lengthy discussion and argument with arm waving and shoulder shrugging. Eventually a man there indicted to follow him and it was about 100 metres away in a Galleria in a pedestrian precinct. We wanted to visit the Cathedral but couldn't find out when the supermarket closed in order to shop on our return. In the end we shopped and I carried the bag to the Cathedral.
We should have gone first as the Cathedral had just closed when we arrived there. It was a pity because it had some good stained glass windows. It was a 12th century structure that had been again destroyed by fire, then after reconstruction badly damaged and used as a stable during the Revolution. The building now is more recent, 19th century. Outside was a war memorial commemorating the French dead in many wars. There were a few killed recently in Afghanistan, according to the newspapers one would think it was only the British and the Americans that were involved there !
Back at the hotel we had another picnic in the room. There was still some meat left from the roast chicken Moira bought the other day and we had that with tomato and cold slaw. A yoghurt and apple for dessert did us nicely. The WiFi was only good in the dining room and Moira managed to contact Suzy on FaceTime. Hollie was in bed so we didn't see her. They had been to St Andrews for the day and she was very tired. Later I managed to get my blog from yesterday posted.
Back in the room where we enjoyed a bottle of red wine from the supermarket, back to the cheap plonk. We then caught up on the news in the papers. The Referendum is tomorrow and the result will be first thing Friday morning. Suzy had posted our vote so now we wait and see !