Aix and pains

Swimming in the Marne Canal

I’m not in Aix, obviously, that’s way down south, and I’m only just entering Champagne country.  But I think that may be where this wind is coming from.  It’s warm and welcoming, which is nice, but it’s not the right direction for cycling.

Today promises to be the first proper hot day.  The forecast is for a balmy 27C, which some people might think I’m barmy to cycle in.  But I like it.  It’s going to be 38 degrees by the weekend.  So I need to push on South, where with any luck it will be 42, or something like that.

Champagne.  There’s a lot of it about.  Mostly it’s still in the fields, of course.  But there’s an air of expectation.  And a lot of people encouraging it, mostly with various kinds of trimming, it seems.

The aptly-named Bouzy will be the place to go, surely.  I’m not wrong.  In the villages leading to Bouzy even the lampposts are drunk.  In Bouzy itself, every other house is advertising Champagne in one way or another, and the church spire seems to lean in homage.  The church is locked, so perhaps it’s having a day off.

Then the grandly named V52, a newly-tarmacced cycle path along the Marne Canal.  The water is an unfeasible, enticing, and possibly dangerous, aquamarine.  But there are fish in it, and lots of weed, so it’s probably clean enough.

The first rule of swimming in a canal, of course, is to know where you’re going to get out.  I could definitely get in.  But the neat shuttered bank looks too high to climb out by.

Five miles further along, past a heron that doesn’t move when I cycle within ten feet of it, and the bank is lower.  So I swim, in a nearly weedless section of the unfeasibly aquamarine water, down and back to an old bridge that only carries a footpath going nowhere.

It’s warm and wonderful, and I could stay here all day if I didn’t have miles to go before I sleep.

The original plan was Vitry-le-Francois, fifty miles away.  But I’ve no accommodation there, and it would leave me with seventy miles tomorrow, ending with a couple of serious hills, and a concert.  So it would be better to go further today, if possible.

It’s a very late lunch in Vitry.  But even then I can’t eat much, after the Crystal Hotel’s overwhelmng breakfast in Saint Quentin.  If this were a proper holiday I’d then be sleeping in the sun.  But I’d better press on, and see if I can shorten tomorrow’s itinerary.

Brienne-le-Chateau is a very convenient stopping place.  I couldn’t go a pedal-turn further anyway, so it has to be.  The hotel isn’t the most salubrious, and le patron isn’t the most welcoming, but it will do just nicely, thank you.

I nearly forgot the aches and pains I was going to tell you about.  I’ve got a very sore hip.  And my bowing arm, which suffered a debilitating carpal tunnel syndrome a year or two ago, is too weak to hold a bow properly.  If I played the cello today, I’d be holding it like a knife, or a saw – which wouldn’t inspire confidence in an audience.

And talking of pains, have you seen the “pains artisanal” they make in France these days?  Delicieux.  Mon Dieu.

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