One photographer’s journey across Europe to capture those last moments before we say farewell, adieu, aufwiedersehen, goodbye … brought to you as it happens.
I heard clip-clop noises coming up behind me in a narrow street and on turning round wondered whether it was a horse-driven tourist carriage. Not at all: they were collecting rubbish from bins dotted around the town.
A view of Besancon, seen from the Citadelle, a huge fortress built by Vauban, the great French military engineer in the 17th century and which overlooks the town.
My journey has now come to an end and I return home tomorrow. It’s been quite a trip and while I may not have walked all the way from Calais to Besancon along the Via Francigena, a distance of 650 kms, I have done a great deal of walking around the places I have stayed in!
I was on my way to my final destination, Besancon, and had to change trains at Dijon. When I saw this notice, I laughed and felt I must make use of the facilities.
The centre of Besancon is situated in a horseshoe shaped bend in the river Doubs. Consequently it has many bridges, one of which continues to attract these padlocks.
This is the biggest town I have been in, with it’s own particular character. Plenty of individual shops, indoor market and hardly a high street chain that we are familiar with – quite a relief!! Victor Hugo was born here as was Raymond Blanc, of Le Quatre Saisons fame!
This is a typical street scene within the walls of Langres. There is a wonderful ‘slow’ atmosphere here and it was a joy just wandering around and wondering what was around the next corner.
I came across a group of vintage car enthusiasts on an outing in various old cars. Two things struck me: not much of a need for roof racks now because we all have suitcases on wheels and this particular car somehow reminded me of family holidays as a child!
A short train ride has brought me to Langres, a small town stuck on a rocky promontory encircled by a wall. Imagine my surprise when I came across this notice as I walked round the walls. Somehow I don’t think the two cyclists are heading to Beaconsfield, though I did meet two British cyclists who were riding from Avignon to Lille!
There’s nothing quite like sitting in a cafe and ‘people watching’! A moment ago both were looking at their phones but I was just too late to catch him with his head down!
A little known fact: Jeanne Manse, one of the co-founders of Montreal was born here! As was the better known Diderot, philosopher and inventor of the encyclopaedia.
Life here in Bar sur Aube seems to be lived in the slow lane. Shops shut at lunchtime and there is very little hustle and bustle. These houses are typical of the centre of town, each different, giving an attractive air to the place.
This stately swan on the River Aube glided by as I reflected on my travels to date. But the heat began to addle my brain so I opted to spend the afternoon by the hotel’s swimming pool!
I have been on the move for two weeks now and this is an example of the colourful trains I have been travelling on. I am now in Bar sur Aube, a small town where life seems to be conducted at a slow pace – shops shut for lunch!
And some curious shops they have too! Here’s one that can provide you with all the luxuries your dog might want!
I have finally run into more French election activity. I chatted briefly to the En Marche candidate and took a leaflet from Le Pen’s lot. Lots on TV about it but my French is not up to understanding much of it!
It was also Market Day, with stalls both inside and out. This stall holder looks as though she has forgotten something!
I have now arrived in Chalons-en-Champagne, a small town with large buildings, monuments and Cathedrals and lots of history. Not only is it where the Via Francigena crosses the route to Compestello, the Roman road, Via Agrippa, from Milan to Boulogne came through here too.
In the centre of the town are many of these timbered buildings which are quite a contrast to the late 19th century stone ones. And, yes, it was another very hot day!
As I am following a pilgrimage route I am spending some time in vast cathedrals. This is the tomb of St. Remigius in the basilica of St. Remi, a less visited site than the more famous cathedral in Reims. In this area the Saint baptised Clovis and hundreds of followers in the 400s resulting in the spread of Christianity throughout France. Here endeth the history lesson for the day!
“And the dog came too”! He (or maybe she) seems to know the camera lens is pointing at him!
Despite a very hot day, I wandered off the tourist track and came across this amazing mural. A woman came up to me while I was looking at it and in very rudimentary French and English we agreed that it was a fine painting but one of great sadness. There is high youth unemployment in France and I think this reflects that.
The walking route out of town follows this canal, so as another gesture I walked along it for about 4 kms. It was a busy towpath with lots of runners, cyclists and walkers, though I have yet to meet anyone who is walking to Rome!
This is a shot of the landscape through which I have been travelling. It all looks peaceful now but over the centuries it has seen many battles.
I have now arrived in Reims, capital of the champagne country, and the site of many historical encounters. This bus obviously realises it is in Europe too!
I am now in Laon, a small town with a medieval centre and magnificent cathedral which sits along a ridge 2 kms long. This chap just happened to be sitting alongside the walking route out of the town.
Interior of Laon Cathedral
A little known fact: the mother of Charlemagne was born here, he having united most of Western Europe in the late 700s/early 800s.
Another little known fact: Laon is twinned with Winchester!
France also has problems with homelessness. This chap was in Heroes Square: a few minutes later he had slipped onto the ground and continued sleeping.
Despite trying to get an explanation of what was going on here, the language barrier failed to produce an answer. It could have been kick-boxing but it was accompanied by African sounding drum beats.
This was taken in one of the many churches in Arras around midday. I hoped they included a prayer for the Manchester bombing victims. There has been a great deal of coverage about it here on TV and in the papers.
But life goes on: this was taken from the top of the Belfrey tower on the Town Hall. I didn’t quite get vertigo though I did feel a bit wobbly!
Having woken up to the news of the Manchester bombing I can’t help reflecting on why people go to ‘war’. Here in Arras much is being made of thanking the British and others from the Empire for all they did in WW1.
In contrast all is now peaceful here with opportunities to sit in the sun and watch the world go by.
I did very little research before I left as I just wanted to see what I would come across as I rambled around. Thus I find the unexpected and this was bourne out while in Arras. 100 years ago this month was the Battle of Arras in WW1 and commemorations had just taken place. A moving exhibition by Canadian artists was on display and this group of elderly visitors were being shown round it. By the look of them, some may even remember WW2. Inside a group of primary school children were also having described to them one or two of the paintings. I was struck by the contrast between the two groups and hoped the young ones would learn some lessons from history.
Arras was badly destroyed in WW1 and most of the centre was meticulously reconstructed in the 1920’s, this Mansion being an example.
The main purpose of my ramblings is to follow the Via Francigena, the pilgrimage route to Rome, as far as I am able travelling by train as I am not up to walking it! It’s 2096 kms to Rome from Calais and as a gesture I did 4 of them along the seafront.
Although not possible to see the cliffs of Dover in this image I could certainly see them with the naked eye. For many pilgrims that view across the Channel was the last they would see of England for many months.
The holiday season was about to begin and so smartening up of beach huts was obviously in order.
Wandering around Calais I came across people campaigning for the upcoming legislative elections in June. The lady is a supporter of the First Party, a left-wing party with concerns about the environment. I came across many young Africans, with nothing to do, sitting in the parks. They may be hoping to get to the UK, which is tantalisingly close – you can see the White Cliffs of Dover from the beach.
The ferry to Calais was crowded. Watching dozens of huge lorries drive on gave me an appreciation of the amount of trade the UK does with Europe – will this continue to be so? The weather was gloomy leaving the UK but the sun was shining in Calais, so I had a warm welcome to Europe!