April 12, 2008 GMT
Black Sea, Warm Heart
7 – 9 April 08
We had planned to spend two days in the Bulgarian centre of Plovdiv, but early on the second day it started raining and kept raining for the next 48 hours. Despite a hotel room slightly smaller than a shoebox, we settled in to watch cable TV, read and wait. We ventured down to the bar only for beer and braved the weather outside only to eat.
Jo ventures out to hunt and gather in torrential rain at Plovdiv. Riding jackets are better in the rain than our down jackets.
On our third night we decided that we would head to the Black Sea coast the next day, rain or no, and went to bed listening to the steady beat of the storm against the window. I slept fitfully, waking every hour or so and looking out to see the rain heavy and consistent. Sometime not long before dawn, however, the rain cleared and we woke to crystal skies and an icy wind that was slowly drying the roads.
We bolted. The road to the Black Sea coast runs across the black soil of the Thracian Plain. This expanse of fertile flat-lands covers one third of Bulgaria and runs north to the border and the Danube River Delta. It also explains the historic wealth of these lands and why Thracian wines were world famous before the Romans had introduced grapes to the Gauls. We rolled through the major coastal city of Burgas and cruised south into the little coastal town of Sozopol in the early afternoon. It started to rain shortly after.
The town of Sozopol has been developed for many years and has a seedy “Bondi” look about it; although, the lack of surf gives it away.
For the next two days we explored the 200km that constitutes the Bulgarian Black Sea coast. The first thing we noticed was that we were asked routinely if we were visiting to buy an apartment or land. There are real estate agents everywhere specialising in selling property to Western Europeans. We didn’t bother to tell the locals that living where we do in Australia, the Black Sea coast isn’t great value at any price.
A few older villages on the Black Sea are being restored to show the traditional pine over stone architecture but most of the coast is being pulled down to make way for new development.
Most of the coast is a construction site. Huge villa and resort developments are underway to satisfy the insatiable appetite of poor UK or German sods who missed the cheap deals in Spain and just want a place in the sun; a cheap place in the sun. For about £150 k you too could buy a three bed apartment on a hill, some distance from the sea, but with a sea view. The further up the coast we rode the more depressed we became.
This monstrosity of a resort has a faux ship built out from the hotel containing the restaurant and other facilities needing a little ambiance.
In our explorations down back roads (oh the joys of being an independent traveller) we found two overgrown old holiday camps dating back to the communist days. They had the look of military camps with low-set huts and communal facilities. They were almost laughable compared with the huge resort developments just a few kilometres up the coast. But as we discussed our discovery we realised that our best family holidays had never been in resorts. It seemed to us that most families could have as much of a memorable holiday at Comrade Butlins as they could at the Ramada Black Sea Resort.
We were too depressed by all of this to stay on the coast. We think that this will all end badly for the Bulgarians. Between boorish Westerners and corrupt local officials the whole of the coast will soon be alienated from the ordinary people and Bulgaria will be poorer for it. We headed north-west away from the coast, back into the rural heartland to close-up on the Danube River.
We found the Srebarna Wetlands on our way north. In a country as small as Bulgaria, there are few areas for wildlife so this was a pleasant place for a lunch stop.
After a ride halfway across the country (not so far really) we reached the Danube and the Bulgarian frontier at the town of Ruse. We took a room on the 13th floor of an old Soviet era hotel that was ridiculously expensive and falling apart. It did, however, give us a wonderful view over the city, the river and the port.
The old city of Ruse was a pleasant (grounded) experience after the coast.
The river port at Ruse was quiet while we were there but we do like a room with a view over a port any time.
Some barge trade still goes up and down the Danube but up until 100 years ago the river was the means of most trade and cultural exchange. We reckon it’s thanks to the river that the Bulgarians and Romanians make such good beer!
We spend our last day in Bulgaria wandering around the old city while I snapped some shots of some of the old Soviet era cars that are still on the roads.
The ubiquitous Ladas still keep going despite their age and the beating they get from the locals.
This is the iconic East German Trabant. These are now a cult car in Germany complete with restoration clubs and specialist parts suppliers.
I didn’t know what this one was. Perhaps it is an old Dacia “Renault knock-off”. If you know please let me know.
Bulgaria had been a pleasant surprise for us. Despite the difficult language and Cyrillic script, we were very comfortable there. The people were genuinely friendly and pleased that we were not just there to buy a cheap apartment. The wine was fine. The beer was beaut. And, we fed ourselves well and often. A good result all round.
The most telling comparison for us in this country was not between city wealth and rural poverty. Rather, it was between the cities with their ample and well ordered Soviet era parks and public spaces, and the coastal areas where rampant capitalism will soon alienate the entire coastline from the Bulgarian people. A stifling communist administration never had much to recommend it, but neither does the unfettered development now underway.
Posted by Mike Hannan at 04:51 PM
March 02, 2008 GMT
Reflections on Tunisia
21 Feb - 28 Feb 08
Our Tunisian adventure ended pretty much as it began with a long wait at a ferry terminal and the Elephant strapped down in the belly of a ship. Although the passage was only 10 hours from Tunis we paid the extra for a cabin as we expected the ferry to be more crowded than the trip over from Marseille.
We spent our last week in Tunisia at the faded seaside town of Hammamet in a comfortable apartment with a sitting room overlooking a courtyard with a large fig tree that was the night roost for hundreds of noisy sparrows. We had a lazy week of late coffee and pastry breakfasts and after dinner strolls for gelato, with vigorous 2 hour walks each day to make sure we felt virtuous enough to enjoy our dinner.
Apart from giving us a rest after many weeks of almost constant movement, the break gave us some time for reflection on our Tunisian sojourn. It has also marked the first six months of our journey.
Wonderful antique shop in Hammamet. (Peter Pursey take note.)
We have felt comfortable and at home in Tunisia. The Tunisians have been good hosts and the country, while lacking the(geological) drama of Morocco, has some wonderful sights mainly in the deserted south. It certainly provides a better desert experience than the over exploited patch of sand that passed for the Moroccan desert.
We left just before the Hammamet half marathon. This was a shame as we were both looking forward to the run.
Regular readers will have seen our wonder at the archaeological sites. These were stunning and numerous and were the highlight for us both. Visiting in the dead of winter we often had these places to ourselves with plenty of time to look for the small detail that gave a clue to the lives of the original inhabitants. Grand temples are all well and good, but the real story of their lives is more often in the plumbing!
(Apologies to Mike Russell)
A section of the 134km aqueduct that carried water to Cathage built by the Romans and maintained in service for about 800 years.
We have eaten simply but well in Tunisia. The food is probably less distinctive than Moroccan fare but we could generally go to bed with full bellies for a few dollars. The small local restaurants all had basically the same menu and similar prices and all have at least one TV in the corner at full volume.
A sandwich (with tuna) and a glass of wine for lunch in Le Kef.
The Tunisians eat tinned tuna with almost everything. It dresses all salads, comes on pizzas, is an essential ingredient in most fast food and all sandwiches. It has even replaced the anchovies in puttanesca sauce. Sacrilege!
We have also seen and been seen by a measurable percentage of Tunisia’s school children. There are three levels of schooling here from the primary kids with kid-size bags to the young adults doing the four-year International Baccalaureate. Each of these groups has two sessions of schooling a day and the start times for the classes are staggered. This means that all day from 07hr to 18hr there are kids going to or from school and, since Tunisians only walk on the roadway, riding through any town is a slow process of weaving through throngs of young pedestrians. They do at least look well fed, smartly turned out and happy!
The Elephant gets a bath in preparation for Italy.
So, a good time overall. But we do have one gripe. Tunisians are, in our experience, the world’s best litterers. Our previous record holders were the Syrians who found new and interesting ways to dress the landscape with plastic bags, but these folk are a cut above that standard.
The Tunisian president has launched an anti-litter campaign but it has yet to have an impact on the behaviour of the people. It is common to see a parent unwrap a sweet for a child and throw the paper on the ground. People of all ages, both genders and all social classes act with the same assurance that they have a perfect right to turn the land into a rubbish dump. They don’t seem to see the rubbish or care about it.
Rubbish is everywhere but no one seems to notice.
An army of street cleaners manage to keep the main areas clean.
The major urban and tourist areas are kept clean by armies of street sweepers who work throughout the night to get things tidied up for the morning. But out of these areas where there is no clean-up service the rubbish just mounts up and no one seems to care. In many small towns the inhabitants literally live in a stinking rubbish dump of their own making.
This is not to say that the people or their houses are dirty. Far from it, they are invariably clean and well presented. It is just that no one feels any responsibility for those spaces that are not their direct property.
For us travelling, this is a complete pain in the arse. No one wants to stop for a break in a rubbish heap, but any area that could be used as a stop would invariably be filthy. The Tunisians can’t blame this state of affairs on anyone else. There are, from our experience, plenty of poorer people who manage to keep their plot neat and tidy.
OK, that is our one beef off the chest!
On board the ferry, Eurostar Salerno, we found our cabin and drifted into a peaceful sleep blissfully unaware that the Italian border police would find new and interesting ways to torture us in just a few hours time.
Posted by Mike Hannan at 03:41 PM
January 25, 2008 GMT
20 to 24 Jan 08
This is our last post from Morocco.
The Riff Mountains were different to every other part of Morocco we had visited. This place has a Wild West feel to it. Everywhere here you get the impression that central government control is “limited”.
On 21 Jan we rode over the Riff Mountains to the Mediterranean coastal town of Nador with the hope of getting a cheap ferry to Sete in France on 23 Jan. We couldn’t get a cabin, and Nador wasn’t the sort of town we wanted to spend a week in waiting for another ship. We headed north along the rugged Mediterranean coast to overnight at the town of Al Hoceima before pressing on to Tangier.
We were parked in the main street studying the map and deciding which of the unattractive accommodation options we would take, when a fellow asked if we needed help. Within a few minutes we knew that Stephane was French and that he was working in Al Hoceima for two years for his French company.
After considering the accommodation options, Stephane offered us his spare room and organised a garage for the Elephant. Once we had stowed our gear, we had a guided tour of the waterfront, selected some fish from the fishermen on the docks, and had them prepared by a nearby restaurant.
Stephane and I had some background in common so we had plenty to talk about (apart from Morocco) and he was also astute enough to organise a couple of cold beers to top off a wonderful evening.
This was to be our last night in Morocco and we couldn’t have had better company or a better time to remember.
The next morning we said farewell to Stephane and headed into the Riff Mountains for the gruelling eight hour ride to Tangier. We arrived just before last light and purchased a ticket on a fast ferry to Spain. Jo fought it out in the passport line while I manoeuvred the Elephant through the traffic jam and we were on the ferry a few minutes later and with a few minutes to spare before departure.
By 2100 on 24 Jan we had cleared Spanish immigration and were heading for a hotel. After six weeks our Moroccan adventure was over.
We stayed in Morocco longer than we planned and we were reluctant to leave, but we still have a long way to go and we need to keep heading east.
Morocco has a reputation of being a paradise for bike riders and it has lived up to its reputation for us. The fantastic mountain and desert roads should be obvious from the photos. We have also had a bit to say about the food along the way as well. It is probably also obvious from our posts that we have felt very much at home here. The Moroccans are genuinely friendly and hospitable, there is none of the anti-western rub we have experienced elsewhere, and there is little crime and no alcohol induced violence.
We have made ourselves a promise that this will not be our last winter in Morocco. There is simply too much more to do.
Our enduring memories of Morocco:
Frozen mountain roads.
Amazing scenes at every turn.
Great history that is part of life and not just a packaged experience for tourists.
The rhythm of rural life.
Mopeds everywhere and….
…the amazing things that can be done with them.
The architecture and heroic colours.
The mountains and…
…the mountain roads, that just…
…go on and on.
Good bye Morocco!!
Posted by Mike Hannan at 10:34 PM
October 22, 2007 GMT
Up and Over
15-21 Oct 07
Against common sense we continued to head north after Laon into cooler and wetter weather. We were traveling north to see some old friends now living in Belgium and it would have taken more than a little cool weather to keep us away.
We decided, for no particular reason, to spend a night in Brussels. A number of our friends and acquaintances have been posted to Brussels for work over the years and we felt we should have a look at the place for ourselves.
We charged across the border and ploughed into the city an hour later. The first thing we noticed was that there are few if any bikes and the drivers are hopeless compared with the ever courteous French. We have played in some of the worst traffic in the world over the years and Brussels doesn’t rate as a congested city. The drivers, however, are keen to make up for the lack of volume and chaos by a lack of manners.
Riding the fully laden Beemer in the city is an interesting exercise. I reckon it is like riding an elephant. You are pretty sure you are in control, but you know that is only because the elephant doesn’t have anything else to do right now!
After a tour of the town we decided that a night in Brussels would be like a night in Inala and, having had a night in Inala already, we headed out of town to look at another part of Belgium. We settled on Waterloo.
The main attraction at Waterloo is, of course, the site of the famous battle that saw the last defeat of the Emperor Napoleon. Regardless of our grip of the history, we would have known who the other major protagonist was by the number of GB number plates around the area. Unfortunately we found the tourist sites to be in a poor state of repair.
The main feature is this statue of a lion, facing towards Paris, erected by the victors.
This act of hubris by the victors set the tone of European relations for the next 80 years.
We refused to pay the €6 entrance fee to the monument and wandered around the high hedge built to block the view. On the back side we saw a rabbit head under the hedge and investigated to find a tunnel through. We climbed through, had a look, and took our photo.
Next to the Lion on the Hill is a better monument; a pile of EU subsidized sugar beet waits to be collected.
It was time to go onto Jurbise.
Bob and Bronwyn Blevins live in a small village near the NATO Headquarters where Bob works as a lawyer. When we arrived Bronwyn’s parents were in residence but the house had plenty of space for the extras.
Bob and Bronwyn, Bronwyn’s parents Dawn and Bob and a couple of blow-ins.
Three days in residence gave us time to get a little domesticated…..
….work out how to make Belgium charcoal burn, and…
…play with the dog Sandy (gorgeous girl).
One highlight of our visit was to meet the neighbors Alan and Françoise. Alan is a keen biker and we spent some time comparing bikes and riding experiences.
I don’t think Alan’s BMW RT 800 was ever sold in Australia. It is, however, an ideal bike for the environment with good weather protection and excellent luggage. Alan has done 110 trouble free km. I hope I do as well with my BMW.
We also me Sophie, a veteran marathon runner, part time philosopher and generally good bloke.
It rained for two days while we were in Belgium so we were happy to find a dry road for the run back to France.
Amiens, 150 km south in the Départment of the Somme, was our next stop to visit the WWI battlefields most important to Australians.
From a neat and warm hotel in the middle of town we discovered another great little French city.
Amiens has the biggest cathedral, a Notre Dame of course, in France. This gothic monster would swallow up two of the Paris version.
The Amiens Cathedral Notre Dame is a monster. The tiny blue dot on the steps is Jo. I couldn’t get back far enough to get another 20m of the spire in the frame.
Two nights in Amiens allowed us to visit Villers-Bretonneux and the nearby Australian Memorial. V-B was completely destroyed in what they called the Great War, although my grandfather, who fought at the nearby Mont St-Quentin once pointed out to me that there was noting great about it.
The Franco-Australian Museum in Victoria School in V-B is modest and well presented. It has some excellent photos and a few quality exhibits. It was well worth our €4 entry and we stayed until the attendant told us she was closing to take the mandatory long French lunch.
Jo amongst the exhibits in the Franco-Australian Museum in Villers-Bretonneux.
Feeling like lunch ourselves, we headed out to the Australian Memorial near Villers-Bretonneux and parked the bike in front of one of the impressive porticos that mark the entry. Armed with our lunch box we headed up into the cemetery section of the area and found a bench to spread out our bread, cheese, ham and wine. Out of the wind, and in the sun, the memorial is a beautiful place clearly intended to inspire contemplation.
Right out front is always a good place to park a bike.
While we were there three men with a taxi waiting moved quickly around the memorial and departed. An older gentleman walked through as quickly as he was able, puffed up to the top of the memorial tower to take a photo before rushing away to his waiting taxi. A young man moved through quickly but stopped to share some wine and bread with us before rushing off with a glance at his watch.
The memorial tower at the Australian Memorial is beautifully maintained.
As we packed our modest lunch and continued with our visit two women arrived and stomped through at the double march. They spent less than 5 minutes in the park and when I spoke to one of them she said she has to rush because they must be someplace else, sometime soon. She left with the parting remark that: “they were all so young.”
Jo and I were left a little unsettled by our fellow visitors. Surely this place is not the type of tourist attraction that you can collect like a stamp. Why would you come if you couldn’t spend even a few minutes thinking about what it all means?
The final insult was the comment about the age of soldiers. If this person had really looked she would have seen that this is not a memorial to the naive enthusiasm of the Gallipoli force. The Army that triumphed at Amiens was hardened and experienced. Its legacy was not the heroism of its soldiers, although there was plenty of that. Rather, it was a force that best understood modern planning and staff work. Its greatest battles were won through detailed planning and an understanding of how to coordinate the forces in a modern battle.
We rode back to Amiens grumbling about “bloody Australians”.
Amiens city itself has some wonderful features:
Swamp areas near the town were drained with a series of canals that provided high ground for vegetable growing (called Hortillonnages) providing a wonderful park area in the middle of the modern town.
Canals in town at the Saint-Leu district provide a distinctly Venetian feel.
All of this water provides great opportunities for local recreation. Here they fish for, you guessed it, carp.
Jules Verne was a famous Amiens resident and we took the deluxe tour of his house where most of his books were written. As usual, it is a well presented attraction and well worth the entry.
We put back our departure form France for a day to allow the worst of the traffic returning to England after the RWC Final to clear and, on a cold, wet morning on 22 Oct, we rode up to Calais and onto the Channel Tunnel Train.
Our 5 weeks in France are over and there is still much we don’t understand about this wonderful country. We will be back in Paris in a couple of weeks; maybe we will find some answers there.
Posted by Mike Hannan at 01:59 PM
October 15, 2007 GMT
Running the Ramparts
14 to 15 Oct
Riding the back roads of France on a Sunday is a delight. We left our cosy hideout at Bouy-Luxembourg on a cool, clear Sunday and headed North West through deserted secondary roads. The hunting season had only opened a week before and every kilometre or so a shooter walked through the cropped fields with a shotgun over his shoulder and a dog bounding along behind. Sunday is a Frenchman’s day to hunt and a good day for small birds and furry animals to lay low.
Our destination is Laon, an ancient citadel town and seat of power. We see it rising abruptly 100m above the plain on a hard limestone outcrop with the spires of its 12th century cathedral stark against a powder blue sky. The site provides a natural defensive position that dominates the surrounding plain; the perfect spot to rule a kingdom. The Carolingian Kings knew a good thing and made it their capital for 150 years until 987AD.
Even from the same level on the top of the citadel the spires of the 12th century cathedral are impressive. From the plain below, they must have truly amazed the ordinary folk of the middle ages.
The citadel dominates the plains below in every direction.
Our arrival at the old city corresponded with the running of le Circuit d’Remparts. This annual fun run (I know “fun run”is an oxymoron, but bear with me) is a community event based around the old city and has categories for little teckers over 500M codgers over 3300M and the young guns over 10 km.
The little teckers bolt away for their 500M run. Everyone got a prize of sweets with the winner awarded a trophy.
Part of the old city was blocked off for the event but we were able to park and walk in without difficulty. While negotiating the barricades, we realised that this was the third town that we had arrived in to coincide with a fun run. This cool, stable weather in the early autumn is obviously the time for these events, but it is impressive that they are commonplace across the land.
Also impressive is the level of community support and involvement for these local events. There is clearly a lot of it going on.
The young bucks put in the hard yards climbing back to the old city.
The old city was interesting, but a little tired looking. It seemed that many of the businesses had moved to the newer area “downtown”, as the locals called it, and a new economy had yet to develop “uptown”. Still, it is a lovely little town and we found ourselves looking in the real estate office windows at the price of the nice houses with great views along the edge of the town and calculating the price in A$. Not much change out of a mil for those interested.
Laon has another big church dedicated to the Madonna, this one a little lighter and less forbidding than many others.
The traditional businesses seem to be struggling in the old town, but we noticed this sign of the times.
The best part of our visit to Laon, however, started in a car park. We had arrived, locked up the bike and were busy orientating the map when we were approached by a couple and asked if we needed help. Jean and Françoise are locals, proud of their town and keen for visitors to enjoy it. We struck up a conversation that ended in us being invited to their home for drinks that evening.
We found a delightful chocolate shop where Jo bought some local specialties with champagne liqueur centres so that we didn’t arrive empty handed.
Jean and Françoise were wonderful hosts and drinks and nibbles went on far later than we anticipated. Françoise turned out to be a history and English language teacher who spoke the lingo with a beautiful soft accent.
Jean and Françoise with a couple of scruffy bikers whom they picked up "up-town".
We found out all manner of wonderful local information and enjoyed their company very much. We hope to keep in touch with our new Laon friends and visit again……after the weather warms up!
Posted by Mike Hannan at 02:17 PM
October 14, 2007 GMT
A Tale of two wineries
A Tale of Two Wineries
Every year thousands of tourists flock to the village of Épernay, 25 km south of Reims in northern France, to visit the great champagne houses gathered along the av de Champagne. Even on the cool autumn day, well out of the tourist season, that we visit, there are enough visitors for the cellar tours to depart ever 20 minutes at the Moët et Chandon headquarters. Our group has about 15 English speakers including UK, US and Australian accents and we wait for our tour to start in a lavish hall displaying posters of beautiful young things, with perfect smiles, telling us that champagne is sophisticated.
Nowhere near as important as putting bubbles in beer!
We are guided by a young man, named Julian, with a soft French accent dressed in the corporate uniform of black suit, black shirt and black tie. He guides us through an in-house video that sets the tone with slick production but no useful information and a walk through parts of the 28 km of cellar tunnels set aside for tourists. He explains how champagne was made emphasizing hand turning bottles and long family traditions.
Skipped over in the presentation are the simple facts that champagne is made like any other modern wine; fermented in huge stainless steel vats in an industrial shed then turned and purged by machines. It has been made this way since the 1960s and it would be impossible to make a million bottles a year any other way.
Under questioning Julian admits that the “family” not longer controls the company which has been part of a conglomerate since the 1980s. The family values till drive the company we are assured.
We then appear in the tasting room for our one glass of the product before being abandoned in the boutique with the expectation that we will buy a bottle or two to take away with us.
We rush out into the cool autumn afternoon and leave without looking back sure that we have just been given a one hour advertisement for the champagne lifestyle and paid $20 for the privilege.
Épernay is the centre of a French marketing marvel that has sold wine with bubbles as a lifestyle accessory for 90 years. A visit to the great champagne houses, however, is not the whole story of the district or this amazing wine style.
While 75% of the vineyards legally able to provide grapes for true champagne lie in the Marne département around Reims and Épernay, the other 25% is situated more than 120 km south in the département of Aube. The wine growing area in Aube is more limited and centres on about 20 villages from Les Riceys in the south to Bar-sur-Aube 30 km to north east.
The Aube wineries have a long history of champagne production but, when the areas for inclusion in Champagne’s Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) were established in 1909, the Aube département vineyards were not included. 18 years of conflict, including crippling strikes and confrontation followed. The chaos was such that the Army was brought in to regain government control.
Riding through the Chardonnay vineyards in Aube is a delight.......
....even on a bitterly cold and foggy day!
By the time the dispute was settled and Aube was included in the areas of the Champagne AOC, the major producers of the north had established market dominance in a new, image driven, wine market. As a consequence, the southern wineries lack the pizzazz of the big names, but that doesn’t diminish the quality of the product or experience of a visit.
We select a wine maker in the south at Celles-sur-Ource on the basis that they advertise that English is spoken and turn up at the door of Champagne Marcel Vézien unannounced. It is a bitterly cold foggy day and customers are thin on the ground. The locals complain that it is unseasonable weather but we suspect that they are just being polite to visitors.
This is a family business run by Jean-Pierre and Marie-José Vézien. There is no charge for tours or tasting and we settle into the warmth of the tasting bar with Marie-José for a chat about the history of the vineyard and the wines. There are no special tourist areas dedicated to the image of the product or the company. Jean-Pierre wanders through in work clothes for a chat. The business goes on around us.
Unfortunately the bike doesn't handle as well after excessive tasting of champagne, regardless of rider skill.
We select three champagnes for tasting, a chardonnay, a pinot noir and a rosé, and taste them in that order with the stronger rosé last. All have strong varietal character, interest and complexity. We purchase two bottles of the rosé to take with us for a friend in Belgium and a bottle of the chardonnay for that evening. Our host packs them in boxes for transport and throws in a reusable stopper, a pen, a key ring and smile.
These shelters, called cadole, were built in the fields by the workers to provide protection from the elements. These days,the workers jump in the mini-bus and whip into town for the two hour lunch break.
Caught somewhere between the marketing triumph of the Épernay houses and the small family vineyards of the Aube is a more complex and reassuring story than we had anticipated. To visit one is to find champagne as a lifestyle accessory prized for its brand name and exclusivity. To visit the other is to get involved with the wine for its own sake.
Posted by Mike Hannan at 09:55 PM
A Small Museum in Troyes
A small Museum in Troyes
One of the delights of being an independent traveler is finding the unexpected. Sometimes it is a small bar, warm on a cold day, where the locals embrace the traveler and tell you their special secrets. Sometimes it is a small museum or local history overlooked by the rest of the world. A visit to Troyes, 200 km east of Paris turned up just such a gem.
Troyes is an ancient city, burned down and rebuilt in the 16th century, with wonderful Renaissance architecture. Hidden down a narrow street, at 7 rue de la Trinité, the Maison de l’Outil et de la Pensée Ouvrière (the Museum of Hand Tools) is announced with a small sign easily overlooked by the passer-by. The building itself dates from 1556 and was the family home of a rich merchant, Jean Mauroy. Jean and his wife, Louise de Pleures, died without children and willed their estate to provide a college for young orphans.
The administrators of the estate established a workshop for knitted stockings that allowed the orphans to follow an apprenticeship as textile workers. It eventually became the most important manufactory in Troyes.
In 1969, the City gave the building over to the establishment of a tool museum and library. The Museum welcomed its first visitors in 1974. In the intervening years the Museum building has been restored and the collection developed.
The Museum is beautifully presented and a delight to explore.
The Museum displays hand tools used by all of the important trades from the 18th and 19th centuries, the time before Mechanization. The tools are displayed by trade and also by tool type. The number of trades represented is amazing. Carpenters, stone cutters, tilers, brick makers, farriers, masons, coopers, blacksmiths, furriers, millstone dressers, glove makers, clog makers and many more find space in the galleries.
Display cases group the tools by trade and by tool type.
If you can’t guess what these cutters were for, then ask for the exhibits list in English.
Like many of these small museums in France this one is beautifully presented. The display cases are well laid out, well lit and uncluttered enough to display the exhibits clearly. Our €6.50 admission gave us use of a folder with the numbered exhibits named in English which was very useful for some of the more esoteric items.
A beautiful spinet made with traditional tools and methods demonstrates that the old skills are being kept alive.
A visit to the tool museum is a wonderful counterpoint to visits to the grand chateaux of the Loire Valley. The tools are practical but simple and seem to our modern eyes to be too primitive to have produced the beautifully crafted buildings and furniture of the chateaux. But used by craftsmen of great skill these tools were enough to build both the beauty and excess of the chateaux and thousands of less spectacular but equally elegant items of everyday life.
The tool museum was an unexpected find.
Posted by Mike Hannan at 09:40 PM