As I had previously only ever been to Dunkerque and Paris, Arras became my all-time favourite place in France within minutes of arriving there.
Arras, apparently, is one of the prettiest towns in Northern France. It dates back to the Middle Ages when it was renowned for its tapestries, but much of it was destroyed in World War I. It has been beautifully restored though, so within just a few more minutes of checking in at the palatial Chambres d’Hôtes (a most hospitable establishment bearing the same name as the place I stayed at during my visit to Maastricht in November 2012 . . . perhaps it was following me around) I was out on the streets with my camera snapping away at La Grande Place and the slightly smaller but equally grand Place des Héros, the Cathedral pockmarked with shrapnel from two world wars, and a thousand and one lovely old churches and houses, windy medieval streets, public gardens and an absolute throng of good spirited activity.
I think we would have similar impromptu outdoor communal gatherings in England too if we had evenings as warm and sunny as this one. Everywhere I seem to go on my travels there are squares and gardens where people get together at the closing of the day to chat and drink wine and unwind in such a beautifully civilised way. So far removed from the cider drinking chavs in Chippenham market place. Stop moaning Terry and do something about it!!!
It had been a very long day. I had worked in a care home for a couple of hours in the morning before setting off. So something quite rare happened tonight in that I was back in my room by half past eight. It was the sort of balmy evening that I love so I sat at the table with the windows wide open so I could look out onto the lovely old French gardens each time I looked up from writing in my journal. From outside I could hear the trains rumble through the nearby railway station. From inside I could hear my French music from the 1920s and 1930s drifting through the still air from my iPod speakers.
Charles Trenet I love you!
The typically French feel to the evening was further enhanced by a bottle of Vieux Papes vin rouge, which I think translates as ‘Old Paps’ and which was quite appropriate because it tasted as rough as old paps did, I guessed.
I had a strange feeling in my hollow tooth tonight. It was as if a feeling of forgiveness towards France had swept over me, even though there had never been anything to forgive. Rather inexplicably, I had had a bit of a pomme frite on my shoulder for years about French people and their strange land and stripy shirts and accordions and the television sitcom 'Allo 'Allo. I had met one or two French folk who had irritated me a bit (and I had once met some French Canadians when I was in Quebec City who were complete and utter twats) but on the whole, like in any country, the vast majority of people seemed to be very friendly and the country itself was beautiful and the little town of Arras was absolutely gorgeous.
Place des Héros, Arras.
So with a glass of Old Paps in my hand I forgave France and asked if France would forgive me for my years of unforgivable Francophobia if I promised to visit her more often in the future. A done deal, I suspected!