We arrived next in the town of Charmes, having made the decision to stay in a paid commercial aire with WiFi, so that we could watch the next instalment of the 6 Nations rugby from the comfort of Benny. Our first impressions were not too favourable; at this time of year it was a scruffy aire with the best canal-side grass pitches barriered off and all water points turned off, bar one free-standing hand pump in the services. The toilet block and showers were locked and unusable, so we felt there was no real value for money in the overnight fee that was, unjustifiably, the same as the peak season summer rate. But we found all that out after we’d entered through the pay barrier, so we parked up with our intent on watching rugby, opened a few beers, settled in and forgot about the cost.
After our initial concerns, we came to enjoy the easy, lazy existence in the aire, so we ended up staying two nights, to watch the Sunday match, to allow us to visit the town and to complete some essential overdue jobs. We charged batteries, sorted clothes, filled and emptied Benny then washed him to a shine. We were feeling lazy and tired, in real need of a few days off to relax and recharge, so this break from travel came at a good time for us. We had a short walk along the canal and the town centre but otherwise simply spent our time in the pursuit of nothing at all.
We headed off mid-morning to visit the nearby city of Nancy. Previous city visits had made us wary about our approach and parking, it being our usual nemesis in large towns and cities, but on this occasion it all worked out nicely. We deliberately stayed east of centre, near to the river and we found a large supermarket with a half empty parking lot, so we stopped quietly out of the way of regular traffic flow in an unused corner. From here we walked about 15 minutes, less than a mile, to reach the heart of the centre.
The streets on the approach were seemingly familiar, with glimpses of memories being stirred at each turn, built from fragments of places visited previously. A similar architecture, or stone colour, or feel perhaps, to other places we had recently visited, although we couldn’t quite grasp the detail of the nagging memory. We passed the University of Nancy where many students lingered in the grounds. We spotted many fast food outlets strategically positioned within a few steps of the lecture rooms and halls.
Within a few minutes we reached the opulent main square of Place Stanislas, the true heart and centre of Nancy. Built by Emmanuel Héré between 1752 and 1760, the square hosts many detailed features, including the Hotel de Ville, a solid neo-Classical building with decorative Juliet balconies and balustrades. The Musée des Beaux-Arts and the Opéra Théâtre buildings both form part of the solid perimeter of the wide square, with wrought iron gates, railings and lampposts completing the corners, all gilded with bright gold. One corner of the square hosts a large fountain featuring Neptune and Amphitrite set in and around the brightly coloured and ornate gates.
Leaving the square we walked under the Arc de Triomphe, built in honour of King Louis XV, to reach Place de la Carrière, a wonderful tree-lined street lined with distinguished, regal buildings that now serve as government offices. From here we wandered into the Parc de la Pépinière, a large city park set out in a formal, English style. There were a few joggers and dog walkers, but very little else to see, with only bare trees and wet grass, although we were sure it would be stunning in the Rose Garden in late spring or summer. The cafes and ice cream stalls were all shut up and quiet, the nearby boardwalks empty of milling crowds, the air not filled with the riot of playing children, but it was still obvious what a beautiful park and surroundings this would be, and again we lamented our winter tour.
We walked through the park and around to the Vielle Ville, the old town, first passing the city’s 19th century Gothic revival church, Basilique Saint-Epvre, with its soaring 87 metre high tower. We followed the now noticeably smaller and quainter medieval passages to reach the 14th century Porte de la Craffe, a fortified town gate with huge conical-roofed circular towers that had served as a prison until the French Revolution. We saw the Palais Ducal and Musée Lorrain, constructed in a flamboyant style with copper towers and a tall decorative ridge, looking quite similar to buildings we had visited in Copenhagen. From here we headed south, where we passed the Lycée Poincaré then cut diagonally across the Place Charles III before zigzagging our way back along busy shopping streets to Benny.
We had spent only a few hours in Nancy, at likely the most out-of-season time of the year, and it still impressed us greatly. Like most places we’d been, it deserved more time and consideration than we offered on this visit, but we certainly hold hope that we will return and experience the city at its beautiful best, some glorious summer’s day.