Sunday, February 11, 2007

Travel Tales: A day trip to Besançon

Our 25th wedding anniversary was on Monday. Given that we both enjoy travelling so much, we immediately thought of marking the day with a little trip to somewhere, anywhere, on Saturday. It could only be a short day trip as our son needed us to be home, but hey, a day trip can be good!! As usual, I pulled out my books, maps, brochures and favourite Internet sites to find our destination to-be. Nothing outdoors as the weather was at its miserable best. As I spread out my map, Besançon jumped right out at me. Less than 2 hrs away, in France, my very favourite country, with some outdoor options near by in case the day turned out well after all, it was quite ideal.

The drive across the Juras was very scenic and we enjoyed the drive even though it rained non-stop. As we had slept in and left rather late, my dear man was ready to eat lunch by the time we reached there :) So after picking up a 'plan de la ville' and other brochures from the tourist office, we took a walk around town looking for options. I must say, much as I love France, they do not cater to vegetarians at all!!! My man being willing to eat anything which flies, walks, crawls, swims or moves in any which way, has it easy....but I didn't want to eat a few leaves of lettuce with an optional tomato thrown in for lunch on a cold day, not again!! I left him looking longingly at menus featuring snails and frogs legs..and even kangaroo, and finally found an Iranian restaurant which had a couple of vegetarian choices. In turned out to be nice restaurant, and my man found his starter, Halim, to be cooked to perfection, and enjoyed his lamb and rice immensely. As we were the only ones in the restaurant, the young Iranian woman managing it spent a good few minutes chatting with us. It was interesting to hear her immigrant story, and her impressions of living and working in France.

We then spent a couple of hours strolling around the city centre. What strikes me as interesting is that one can blindly pick up a spot in France, just anything out of the map, and it has an interesting story to tell...most probably starting from Roman times, a pretty river, a few nice churches and an interesting square, beautiful old houses, cobble stoned streets, nice shops, any number of restaurants (in summer spilling invitingly onto the pavements) and elegantly dressed women looking as if there are no calories in the food they eat!!! Its a wonder!!!

Besançon definitely lived up to all of this. Its centre cosily enclosed in the curve of the river Doubs, it has a 12th century Cathedral St John, the 18th century Eglise Sainte Madeleine and Eglise Saint Pierre, Pont Battant which is founded on a Roman bridge and the impressive Citadelle, 17th century military architecture. I wonder what they call their cream and grey stone..everything seemed to be built of that, I just loved the colours. We peered into churches, strolled down looking into shops, looked longingly into the temptingly decorated pastry shop windows, identified Victor Hugo and Louis Pasteur's homes, took flattering pictures of each other, and tried not to shiver in the cold and the rain. I didn't torture my man by dragging him through the art museum, but I secretly decided to come back in the summer by myself.

We then drove up to the Citadel with its huge walls and wonderful views with the intention of doing a walking tour on the ramparts, got off the car, and then retreated back in again...the rain, the wind and the cold was not appealing at all!! Telling each other that we will be back, we headed back home, stopping for a few minutes at Ornans, a picturesque little village, the birth place of Courbet. I had wanted to see the waterfalls at the Source de la Loue but it was definitely not an outdoors kind of day. In fact, the Franche-Compté region has much to offer in the way of waterfalls (which I really like and go in search of) and caves as well as beautiful riverside walks and water sports in plenty for those with adventure on their minds. Satisfied with 'its not that far, let's come back in the summer', we headed back home.

I read through this as I write, and it seems to be a pretty limp (and wet) travel tale, but in fact it had been a really nice day out. Most times I pack our travel days with one monument after another, I demand to know when something was built and by whom and why and I want to look at every exhibit in every museum. I research well before I go, and enjoy every minute because I have stories which make it all real for me. But days like this are also wonderful travel days, when you can't remember one single fact, when you have not stepped into one single museum, but instead absorbed the colours of a place, its atmosphere...and that's what I have of Besançon from our day there.

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