John Deere Invades Dijon

2018-06-02 20.36.52

I hadn’t really appreciated it before but this blog-writing malarkey provides numerous opportunities for time-travel.

That is, so far, the blog has jumped around Europe with only a vague notion of any chronological timeline – and in doing so, we’ve also skipped chunky bits of travel, mainly because: a) they’ve been unremarkable; b) I’ve just been too slow to record them or c) just got hopelessly distracted by Conspiracy Theories, Dentists and Clip-on Sunglasses. (Yes, we bought a ‘new’ laptop specially for this trip but so far I’ve not found any retail outlet offering additional typing-fingers, so I’m still limited to three active digits and a thumb, delivering what feels to be a blistering 20 typed words a minute.)

And since part of our objective has been to accurately record our Knumptyvan travels (so that we can look back with fond memories once we get too old to clamber into the cockpit anymore) here – almost by way of journalistic Polyfilla – are what I hope will be a couple of holes filled in the storyline.

The Channel Tunnel was a first-time for our Knumptywagen and very smoothly it went too, especially as we’d misunderstood the duration of the underground journey by incorporating the hour’s time difference between the UK and France, so our expected ‘crossing’ of 1 hour and 35 minutes took just 35 minutes, and in a way, we felt vaguely disappointed by our endearing stupidity.

Out we popped onto what my parents always referred to as ‘the continent’ and found the nearest autoroute to hurtle south, headed for Reims as first stop, which has already been reported elsewhere, courtesy of nearby Jonchery-sur-Vesle, where we had found a welcoming and authentic French bistro for beer and food prior to a romantic overnight in an Ernie Leclerc supermarket car-park nearby.

Onwards then down more autoroutes (paying the tolls in order to speed our journey) where Dijon became our next stop. Yes, famous of course for its mustard but also, we’d read somewhere, for gingerbread because the city straddled historic European spice routes. We were headed for a basic (i.e. cheap) motorhome stopover or ‘aire’ but arrived too late in the day and found it already rammed full. As luck would have it, this aire was immediately adjacent to a proper, riverside campsite and as we joined a two-van queue at the barrier, a guy emerged from the office to tell the driver of the van which had joined the queue immediately behind us that the site was now full. Our skin-of-the-teeth-last-available pitch was perfectly acceptable and the site was an interesting mix of tenting motorcyclists (they do love revving their engines for no apparent reason, don’t they?) as well as mixed nationality vans and caravans.

Dijon itself was but a short cycle ride alongside a picturesque river and we enjoyed a pedalled cruise around gently thronged pedestrianised streets, eventually finding a classic covered market, closed, but ringed by bustling pavement restaurants and café bars.

It seemed as if the circus had also arrived in town at the same time, as a parade of agricultural vehicles led by two very new, very shiny and very large green and yellow John Deere tractors clogged up the perimeter streets. Their massive tyres dwarfed slightly anxious diners as they rolled close by – to be followed by manure-splattered pick-up trucks containing an array of bleating and mooing farmyard animals, staring impassively as they witnessed parts of their cousins being consumed before their very eyes (avec frites, naturellement.) The entire market area ground to a healthy-smelling halt as horse- and cattle-boxes were unhitched and manoeuvred into display positions in any available space. Caricatures of French farmers with ash-extended white-tipped fag-ends bimbled about, gesticulating and shouting at one another while their drifting smoke covered up the more bucolic aromas.

By this time, we’d managed to secure ourselves ring-side seats at a pavement café bar (almost as dangerous as at a proper circus) while an entertaining and mixed collection of Motorists of The World – who’d become unwittingly interspersed within the whole vehicle-based farmyard parade – themselves became stationary exhibits of frustration, resignation or amusement as we watched them sitting in their open-topped Fiats, Ford Mustangs or Porsches, slowly marinating in their own Gallic annoyance and the smell of manure.

Eventually, the farmyard circus managed to disband itself into an area alongside the market where they immediately used a pre-established giant barbecue to start cooking wholesale samples of the meats which were clearly still represented by the live calves, cows, goats and horses (blinking benignly as yet more cooking smoke drifted into their twitching nostrils) and which were now tethered passively alongside the cooking area like some bizarre form of tourist petting zoo.

Having now completed our own repast and enjoyed the chaotic and delightfully free entertainment, we saddled up and retraced our route back to the campsite in the lowering late evening light (sadly still without spotting any evidence of either mustard or gingerbread outlets.) Here, we enjoyed an in-van nightcap, put ourselves to bed and were eventually lulled to sleep by the sound of large-capacity motorcycle engines being revved needlessly into the small hours.

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