Saturday, 27 August 2016

Up the curly river to Madagascar

Life is full of little imponderables. Why, for example, might a very ordinary row of brick terrace houses built between the railway line and the river Meuse, a kilometre or two north of Monthermé, be called 'Madagascar'. This would be like visiting Hebden Bridge and discovering a nearby hamlet called Peru.

The road to Madagascar
In fact the last 24 hours has been full of odd little incidents, some vaguely stressful others just slightly odd. Let's start with the odd. Yesterday cycling up the voie verte we were intrigued by the sight of a young woman striding down the trail clutching a rolling pin. What's the back story here? Is she a noted pâtissier who habitually carries the tools of her trade even en vacance? Or a girl who takes personal security very seriously and has found whacking would-be assailants with a rolling pin more efficacious than pepper spray? 

Next, the sight of a bare chested young man sweating profusely as he towed a rickshaw behind his mountain bike - the trailer was occupied by two enormous alsatians. Weird. Why not harness the pooches to the trailer, ditch the bike and make the dogs do the work? It is possible to take animal rights a tad too far.

Then there was the Billy Goat Gruff moment....
Every barrage on the Meuse is being renewed and a new system of hydro electric plants being installed.
I wonder what a French version of Dr. Who would be like - time travel in an ancient viridian painted pissoire?
Moving on from the mildly entertaining to the slightly annoying. Sometime yesterday, probably in the late afternoon, the water pressure in Revin's camping municipal reduced to a trickle. La Direction summoned le plombier; after a period of ritual Gallic nonchalance, le van blanc des plombiers arrivé. Les plombiers survey le problème, correctly diagnosing a leak at the main stopcock, but then planted a pickaxe straight through the mains feed thus rendering the entire site utterly dry. Maintenon l'équipe plombiers buggeron-off à Mr.Bricolage. Les campeurs vont ape shit, "Alor! Ou est l'eau? Mon Dieu, la toilette chimique est bloqué avec de la merde comme samedi soir à Glastonbury!" Thankfully complete social breakdown, like something out of J G Ballard,, was narrowly avoided when the plumbers returned, water was restored, and the inhabitants of the campsite spilled out into the roadway to give thanks for this miracle like a dumbstruck rent-a-crowd in The Life of Brian. 

Today also had its moments. So much so that we wondered if there should be a particular term to describe minor glitches that befall motor home owners - mohoments - perhaps. Both mohoments were GPS related. The first was a Google maps meltdown. The co-ordinates for Intermarché in Monthermé had inexplicably been placed in the midst of the ancient quarter next to the river, a picturesque place of medieval housing with overhanging gables, laconically parked cars and challengingly placed bollards. There was not even enough room for a camion frites let alone a supermarket. 

The next challenge was to find the aire at Bogny-sur-Meuse. It certainly was not near to the chained-off war memorial among concrete pots of red geraniums where our trusty Satnav had taken us. This failure was either a misprint on the Campercontacts app, or more likely, a transcription error by yours truly. Finally I spotted three motor homes across the river and remembered looking at the place on streetview at home. About turn, over the bridge, and help was at hand. An English guy flagged us down and said he was about to leave so we could have his end of row space. The Belgians next door popped out and told us about a turning area nearby that saved me doing a three point turn. Satnavs and apps and Google assistants are great, but thankfully humans are still on hand to help each other out when the electronics fail.

Bogny-sur-Meause Aire - nice spot and places available on a Saturday in August.
Montherme  3km downstream - more famous...and more crowded.
Aside from the attrition of  everyday failings, life goes on as before, with cooling trips up and down the cycle trail (almost 50 miles now), periods of seeking shade from the day-time heat. It was 36 degrees in the van when got back from this afternoon's ride. It is lovely here, look see - here's the photos to prove it.

Montherme - the 'boucle' (meander) here is famous
Back up the trail - 39km today!

Montherme's pompier training by the river.
The village public bath house - in Art Deco style

And a Palais de Danse from the same era...

complete with flapper sculpture

Not what we wanted to find when we got back to the van

We tend to eat out most of the time....

Unsurprisingly after the heat of the day cloud began to build,
soon after we got a bit of thunder and some light rain, but no relief from the heat.
Oh, I almost forgot, why 'the curly river to Madagascar'? Well, all the touristy posters have pictures of the 'boucles de Meuse' especially the one that almost surrounds Monthermé. In French boucle means meander. As Gill pointed out, Goldilocks in French is Bouclé d' or - so bouclé can mean curly too. We liked the idea of curly rivers. This afternoon we ended up pedalling further than we planned, doubling back on the bike trail retracing the road-route we had followed this morning. In fact, back all the way back to Madagascar, hence - today's trip 'up the curly river to Madagascar'.

The trail to Madagascar

and one of the native dwellings.

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