Charleville-Mézières (3rd time)March 27 in France ⋅ ⛅ 10 °C
We are at Charleville-Mézières, in the Champagne Ardenne region, for the third time of this tour, having previously visited in July '16 and November '17. It was one of the first official aires we ever stayed, when in our old van, we took a week to visit the dealer in Germany where we bought our current motorhome, Martha. The aire itself requires vans to park side on to each other on a slope and its old service machine is out of order, meaning there is no fresh water. Perhaps it is our historic connection that keeps drawing us back, but we really love the place. It is situated on a large river island in a horseshoe meander of the Meuse. Overlooking a marina, we are in an area of the town dedicated to leisure, with a rowing club, indoor swimming pool, walks, cycle tracks and of course the obligatory petanque pitches nearby. A short walk over the powder green pedestrian bridge transports you into sandstone streets and the hustle and bustle of town, in whose heart you'll find the beautiful, cobbled Place Ducale. Classy cafés, bars and restaurants spill tables and chairs out from underneath the stately porticos into the open air and at this time of year a lively buzz emanates from whichever corner the sun is shining on. A fairground carousel adds a touch of magic to the scene.
When leaving our previous stopover at Boussois, Vicky spotted a bulge in Martha's left rear tyre as well as a broken cable hanging down. Whilst we had the front tyres replaced in Norway back in 2017, the rear ones are the originals, meaning they are 4 years old and have travelled over 53,000 miles. Will searched online and found a tyre specialist (point S), just a few kilometres from our intended aire and added it as a waypoimt to our journey. Arriving at 1:30pm we waited half an hour for them to open. They checked the specs and although they didn't have anything suitable in stock, they could order new tyres and fit them in two day's time for €213 all inclusive. This suited us well and we agreed to return then. Although we don't understand all of what is being said in French and are only able to express ourselves in very basic terms, we really appreciate having taken the time to learn enough of the language to get by in situations such as these, without requiring the person we're conversing with to go out of their way and speak our language (although many choose to practice their English with us!)
We snapped up the last space at Charleville-Mézières and Will fished in the marina while Vicky sat outside and got to work with a needle and thread, repairing tears in our insulating windscreen mat. As the sun began to get low in the sky, we wandered into town and picked up some fruit at our favourite grocers. We remembered buying freshly made pasta on a previous visit, but perhaps the little store had shut down, as we didn't manage to find it. Never mind, Will cooked up veggie spag bol with some dried pasta we had in the cupboard and we'd enjoyed soaking in the jovial, early evening atmosphere.
The following day's weather was good for outdoor activities; the sky wasn't clear but enough sun came through to warm the air. Vicky set out on foot for an early morning explore of the steep, wooded hill behind the aire, dropping down and crossing the familiar road bridge, whose stand out feature is the national flags flying at an angle over the water. Looping back, she walked the length of the small, mid-river island, upon which the pedestrian bridge touches down. There was a multitude of Spring flowers spreading their petals, from clusters of primulas in white and lilac to a spread of white woodland flowers with glossy, deep green leaves that covered the ground.
By looking on Trip Advisor, we discovered Charleville-Mézières was the start of the 85km Trans Ardennes cycle route, leading north along the winding course of the River Meuse, to Givet, near the Belgian border. It had been ages since we'd taken the tandem out together and this sounded like just the sort of route we'd enjoy (it was flat)! Maps.Me showed that the town of Nouzonville was just 9km downriver and had a few bars, a boulangerie and a waterside picnic area; perfect!
Closed roads made it a little difficult to start with, but we were able to cycle the perimeter of our island and cross over at the south end, to where the Trans-Ardennes track began. It was a great route that took us away from roads and wound between tree clad hillsides, past fields and little plots of land that looked as if they were used as summer getaways. We even passed a mansion with a small herd of deer!
Leaving the bike at the outskirts of Nouzonville, it didn't take us long to get our bearings. The place was a bit run down but the four florists on the high street seemed to be doing well! We'd spotted 'Bar Sulky' on Maps.Me and had been won over by the name but on closer inspection, it turned out to be a horse racing bar that didn't look very inviting, so we went to the popular boulangerie who did a lunch deal. From a range of savoury pastries, paninis and baguette sandwiches, Vicky had a cheese flan (the only veggie option) and Will a ham baguette, accompanied by a rasberry tart, custard slice and orange juice. We took them back to the out of town picnic area and ate overlooking the water. The flan was disgusting, but everthing else was scrumptious! All in all, we cycled about 20km and would definitely recommend the route to anybody in the area. It was well maintained and a great way to see the Ardennaise scenery without having to climb any hills!
On Friday we drove the short distance to point S and were pleased when they remembered us. Martha couldn't fit inside their garage but they pulled their van alongside her in the car park and within 30 minutes of arriving, she had a new pair of good quality mud and snow tyres! We asked the mechanic about the broken cable and caught the word 'brake' in his reply. The ABS perhaps? Although the dashboard warning light hadn't come on... He said it would need to be changed, but that it didn't matter, so we left with just the new tyres to ponder what to do next...Read more