Two days in Guines (20 miles from Calais) got us sorted out and we took time to see a major WWII site. This is the unpronounceable Fortresse de Mimoyecques a splendid example of just how barmy Hitler and his mob were. This enormous complex of huge tunnels cut into the Calais countryside was designed to house 50 special guns and form the V3 – vengeance weapon 3 after (or before as originally planned) V1 doodlebugs and V2 ballistic missiles. It was to 'bombard' London 119 kilometres northwest. With shells a mere 15cms in diameter! It took thousand of prisoners to build. The barrels were 150 metres long and were multi-charge – that is every few metres pairs of side chambers were designed to add their explosive pressure to speed the arrow-like shell on its way. When it left the barrel fins were to pop out and help guide it towards London.
Despite experiments which showed what we might all guess - that the barrels exploded under the pressure – they went on building it. Because the shells were so small it was decided that 50 such guns would be needed to fire every 90 seconds and so deliver 3,000 shells per day on central London – a total of just 90 tons of high explosive. Or about the same as was delivered to Hitler's German by half a squadron of Lancasters. Compared to the blitz it was pitiful but it would have been scary – a silent rain of death.
Except the work was obvious from above, we knew their codes and so we and the US started bombing. Very heavily. Effects were too small so Churchill personally gave the go ahead to use the new earthquake bombs – six ton monsters from Wellingtons and the like and an 11 ton beast (called Tall Boy cos it was) from Lancasters etc. That did it OK – the roofs came in and the entrance was blocked and everyone went back to more intelligent activities.
You enter by the severely damaged main tunnel way and can see several of the side tunnels that survived the attacks. In one there is a replica of the gun. It was so small I had to ask if it was a scale replica. I was told it was full size – it was only 15 cms shells the French lady said almost apologetically. That's six inches folks. Ships had ten and 12 inch guns! All that effort for so little and in the end for nothing.
Off then to Troyes, a city we have often though worth a look and so it has proved. Our campsite is some way from the city (19k in fact). We are on the edge of a very large lake, on of a complex and this the eastern and so called Orient. They were created in the 19th and early 20th century too overcome a bad habit of the Seine – it flooded Paris too often. The lakes are not on the Seine but on a key tributary, the Aube. They provide water during the summer and autumn so the level falls. Come the winter and spring it rises again with water that would otherwise have ended up on the Quai d'Orsay or in the crypt of Notre Dame. All this is in French so I may be off in detail.
The site is very nice and we have had a privilege that will not often come this late in the year. For by now the trees should be fully leafed but on arrival were pretty bare. The fine sunny weather has started a rapid spring and its is a joy to watch. By the time we leave we shall have and may even need full shade! (Spoke too soon – wind swung to north east and now a mere 11 C with wind chill. Cold. Bright but very cold.
But to Troyes. An ancient city with Celtic origins, Greek and other invasions and Roman occupation. From there it ran the gamut of Goths and Huns and Carolingean and Merolingians et al. The result is a city of many different churches in many different styles. And a centre that was seriously smashed by the latter stages of the Second World War. The Germans, again, chose to try a bit of resistance here and Troyes paid the price. Hurrah for the French though for, unlike we foolish Brits, they re-built the ruins as they were before Hitler hammered them. The result is a fine city centre with every age of building from late Tudor (pardon me France) timber frames, through 17th and 18th century charm to impressive 19th century Gothic. Here and there the 20th century intrudes in varying degrees of ugliness and some 21st century efforts prove either that we have learned nothing or a lot!
It is full of cafés and restaurants and squares and fine shops. We lunched in a bistro named to honour and decked to commemorate the city's artists and tucked into a minute square, surrounded by 16th century galleries off the Ruelle des Chats. This tight little street was so named for the feline 'parquers' who leapt from jettied overhang to overhung jetty with gay abandon. Not any more – even the carved cat from one of the main timbers has gone.
France can still ruin the environs of any city with adroit skill and Troyes is only an exception in one regard. I am informed by my retail adviser that it is famous for the 'factory outlets' which I am assured are not shops or stores. Here are two of these malls on the outskirts of Troyes and both look remarkably like Braintree's similar development. With one notable exception which is to our credit – these are stunningly ugly whereas Braintree is merely unimpressive but tidy.
It will please some of those who know us that we had to do some shopping for food on the way home. An Intermunch Super sufficed. Two things of note – French prices have risen again and are getting very close to the UK. And there is ever less difference between French supermarkets and our own. Barring Waitrose I'd still pick a Frenchie but for how long I wonder.
And now a small admission – I have succumbed to the Sat Nav. For years I have viewed it as a £200plus solution to a £5 problem. For long have I argued that I have a perfectly good Sat nag who sits beside me armed with an atlas and and attitude. Why should I have need of an electronic replacement which will lack her charm and sense of humour?
Anyway now you can get one for under £100 we have our first sample from Garmin. Tinkerbell I call her and I am beginning to warm to the thing. True she is absolute crap on rural roads, especially if you know them well. Yes she will fail entirely to observe that the road you are joining is the MAJOR road and you should be stopping or giving way. There are times when her routing can be cranky (although I have sorted out some pretty strange result of poor preferences. So since when did 'avoid' mean 'never use under any circumstances'? I reasonably assumed that 'avoid toll road' would mean a simple preference for not paying where possible. Oh no, Tinkerbell got it into her head that a 40 kilometre detour round Rheims was better than four euroes of A-road. Turned that off, I did. Now of course she won't use anything BUT toll roads! Oh yes and despite the quality of the GPS service following some instructions literally would send our caravan up a cul-de-sac! Given the accuracy of GPS the thing must have seen the extra right turn BEFORE the right right one? And today she told me to turn right on the D960. I was on the 960 and what was signed was a Z-bend. We got there to find a chalk farm track had caught Garmin's attention and caused the bizarre instruction. No mention of the succeeding left hander though! So I am ambivalent yet.