TRAVEL: BUSKING TO SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA
Sunday 23 May 1999
After breakfast, a guided tour of the Moselle with my hosts, culminating in the newly restored chateau de Marlbrouck, scene of an English defeat in 1705. Campaign described by excessively enthusiastic guide, who dragoons us into singing victory hymns. Should I join in, or retaliate with Agincourt song? Cowardice prevails. I feign tone-deafness, and mime.
Set off after huge barbecue lunch, walk through tiny hamlets, past many abandoned farms. Suddenly, a squeal of brakes, and four festively clad French women surge on to the pavement. Youngest staggers over to me. "I've just been confirmed. Have some champagne." I drink. They applaud, then vanish into a house. Camp outside a farm. Family celebrating their daughter's confirmation. Invited to join the party: more champagne. I think I'm going to like France.
Family breakfast, walk all day, camp outside farm. Invited to eat with farmer and three beautiful daughters. Meal lasts an hour. Post-prandial drinks last until midnight. Yes, I like France.
Metz, another park-like city with huge walls. How do they do it? Also a long history. Founded by Romans, destroyed by Goths, re-founded, destroyed by Huns. Re-re-founded, fought over by France and Germany for a millennium. People here still feel mistrusted by Paris for being almost German. They dislike their neighbours in Alsace - for being almost German. Politics are complicated here, but they really believe in Europe.
Joined in the evening by the Three Beautiful Daughters and attendant boyfriends (curse). Taken out for a meal. We're in France, so what do we eat? Pizza.
Cross-country towards the Vosges, which are now looming on the horizon, four long days, march ahead. Beautiful countryside, oil-seed rape and rustling oaks, but sad. War cemeteries everywhere: Franco-Prussian war and two world wars. I count 20 on my map without even trying.
Camp outside a forest lodge. Invited in. "It's my daughter's birthday!" Cake and wine again. It's tough travelling here.
On towards the hills, past Bitche, one of the fortresses of the Maginot line. Follow the Roman road - straight into a bog. Slog through bush, briar and mud for three miles, emerge ragged and reeking. Wash off the worst in a stream, go shopping. Chemist's assistant gives me free bar of soap. Is this a hint?
Camp outside stately home, invited in. First stop: shower. A light meal follows: prawns, salad, steak and chips, three sorts of wine. Then the local speciality: schnapps. Home-distilled. More than 57 varieties. Sit up sampling until long after midnight. Now that's hospitality.
Vive la France!
For more information on the charity trombone walk, visit the website at www.netplaycafe.co.uk/bone
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