Friday, 29 May 2015

Bloody Good Chap goes to France: Introduction

Most stories start from the beginning, and some start from the end and go back to the beginning... flashback stylee (on this occasion the misspelling was intentional). But on this occasion I am going to take an unconventional turn and start from the middle of my trip as it was at this juncture that I found the essence of why I chose to travel solo, across the breadth of France, in the first place. 

Picture the scene: The author of this piece downing shot after shot of slivovitz chased with half pints of Ardennes-style beer on a barge perched on the Meuse. This was ‘Mawhot’ Charleville-Meziere’s main evening hangout, named after a legendary lizard that is said to inhabit the murky river waters that flow through the town. The crowd that evening was lively, and the rare-arrival of an Englishman was something of a novelty, especially one wearing rust-coloured cords and wearing a blue tweed sports jacket... adding to the experience, it could only be the Bloody Good Chap. Patrons decided to try to out-do each other in terms of largess and I was plied with all manner of lethal spirits as Aswad’s Greatest Hits played on the establishment's sound system. 

Just as the band's 1988 smash ‘Don’t Turn Around’ had finished, there was a call for silence as a buxom creature took to the floor with an accordion and started to play Breton sea shanties. This seemed rather odd, considering that we were, perhaps, in one of the most landlocked regions of France, but I went with the flow. Soon we were all dancing arm in arm, my new friends Yvette and Matthieu encouraging me to join in the singing and dancing, then ‘Request for the English! C’mon Marie, one for l’Anglais’... 

I don’t know if you have ever heard Kashmir by Led Zeppelin played on the accordion, and in retrospect I think I committed blasphemy in asking for this 8:28 minute epic to be delivered in such a style but... the fog of plum brandy, brown beer and a pack of Gitanes clouded judgement somewhat. This slow song is, how should I say, much, much slower when played in the style requested, but it didn’t matter, it was all in the spirit of the occasion. We partied that Wednesday night away as the famed rain of the low countries beat down on the roof of the barge, and the bartender got ready to pour another round of liqueurs and small beers. 

We finished around 05:30, and I woke up feeling like death, with a tongue like sandpaper, ruddy cheeks and stinging, crusty eyes, but very happy. I had found out what it was all about to travel solo, meet new people, have new experiences  without the encumbrance of friends or family in tow. It felt liberating and showcased the friendliness and inclusiveness of my destination. 

In this seven-parter series, I intend to take you through each of the seven locations I visited on my journey: Nantes, Angers, Tours, Reims, Charleville-Mezieres, Metz, Nancy and Strasbourg and hopefully give you an insight into each of their unique characters. Perhaps it might even inspire a future visit or holiday. 

Coming up: In part one, I delve deep into the traditions of Nantaise cuisine sampling some delicious food, mulling over Muscadet and trying out some of my broken french! 

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