Saturday 20 September.
I got up at 6:30 am to the loo and when I came back the lights were on and everyone else was up. We were now able to pack without disturbing anyone then we had breakfast. The guy had delivered plenty of bread last night and there was enough left to take with us for lunch. Jacques and Gerard were also making an early start this morning and left before us.
From here we had the option of taking a cross country route if the weather was good or stay on the road. We were opting for the off road one but we couldn't find the turning so had to stick to the road. This resulted in us doing the 5 km to the village of Braux after all. There was another small village to go through, Yevres-le-Petit, before reaching Ronsay-l'Hopital which has strong associations with Napoleon. There was a battle here during Napoleon's retreat from Russia. About 500m off the route was the Eglise Notre Dame a 12th century church consecrated by St Thomas a Becket. We would have liked to visit the church but my back was beginning to play up again and an extra kilometre didn't appeal.
Carrying on we ran in to trouble finding the route. The first 3 km were all right as we passed a big sand extraction plant with a large pond. Then the phrasing used in Cicerone can be confusing, eg ' as the road veers to the right, KSO(L) [keep straight on left] on an unsurfaced road for 100 m to meet the D396, then TL [turn left]' We came along the road as instructed and it bent or veered to the right and turning to the left was an unsurfaced road but it went off into the distance, there was certainly no main road after 100m. We decided to have lunch and plonked ourselves down on the road with a gate to lean against. A car came along and I waved it down and found out we had to go further along the road for the KSO(L). We found it after lunch, the veering to the right was actually a right angled bend.
Back on track again it was a slog along 6 km of a fairly busy road. This might well be part of the Roman Road system as it was straight all the way to Brienne-le-Chateau. We could see the chateau that the town is named for sitting on top of a small hill above the town. There was a big market festival going on in Brienne-le-Chateau when we arrived. Rue de Pasteur where our hotel was had been blocked off for traffic and was full of market stalls. We had to squeeze our way through the throng of people looking for our hotel. We found the other hotel in town, the Croix Blanche, but reached near the top of the hill where the Chateau was perched. We headed back down through the crowds and discovered that Hotel Les Voyageurs was on the other side of the main road, I should have turned left instead of right.
The hotel wasn't that great, rooms above a restaurant and bar. But the room was en suite and good enough. Gerard had booked two rooms in his name and I was worried that if they didn't turn up we would be charge for both rooms. Moira paid up front and it cost €45, so they can chase Gerard where every he is for the other room. As soon as we were settled Moira went out immediately in search of a supermarket while I showered. She got a bit lost and it took her about half an hour to find an InterMarche which was only a few minutes away. She got ham and cold slaw for dinner and a can of beer to quench our immediate thirst.
After Moira showered we went for a walk around the town and market. We met J&G wandering about and they had successfully made it and were in the hotel. First of all we were looking for the Tourist Information Office. This was another struggle through the crowds and stalls. There was a band making its way to the square and holding up progress. Eventually we reached the info office at the far end of town and the woman was very helpful. She stamped our cards and booked a hotel for us in Bar-en-Aude where we are making for tomorrow, at first she was frightened we wanted the municipal gite for pilgrims but we told her we had been informed it was closed. She told us it wasn't actually closed but being used this week-end for some people involved in the festivities. Attached to the Tourist Office was the Musee Napoleon which was originally the Ancienne Ecole Militaire founded in 1776 and where Napoleon studied from 1779-1784.
Heading back again we and a closer look at the stalls and found it wasn't any different to flea markets we had been to the world over. The only difference was this one had bands and the one we followed going out were now performing in the square. They weren't very good just a lot of banging of drums. We visited the local church and it had some fine stained glass windows. They all seemed to be telling a biblical story, some we could recognise but other were obscure and the details given were difficult to translate from the French. But most were very colourful and striking.
Before returning to our hotel we walked up the hill to the Chateau. It was behind locked gates and just looked from a distance like a huge stately home. An information board told us that it had been taken over by some state medical authority and was now a mental asylum. It was well after 6 pm when we got back and Moira prepared our picnic meal. Just as we were starting Suzy phoned on FaceTime and we saw Hollie this time as she hadn't gone to bed yet. After a chat we settle down to finish dinner and listen to some BBC radio programmes. The WiFi was very good, I posted all my blogs and picked up the radio loud and clear.
There was a lot of noise outside with revellers making their way for the market. Also the bar attached to the hotel was directly below our room and we had the smokers out in the street talking loudly. It was about midnight when it quietened down and we were able to get an I disturbed sleep.