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Via Francigena, days 6 and 7: From Reims to Chalons-en-Champagne and Brienne-le-Chateau

It hasn’t been easy to keep up with Blog posts. It is so much easier to share small insights and pictures on the EyeCycled Facebook page, but I’ll try to reduce the lag by being more to the point and less detailed on the posts. I do intend to write about each day in more detail upon my return anyway.

Day 6, 4/Aug (Thursday): From Reims to Chalons-en-Champagne

I left the hotel around 8:15am to get a McDonalds breakfast (closest thing open) and walk to the tourist information Office to get my pilgrim credentials stamped. As I was walking I saw 2 typical touring cyclists stop at a nearby café. I wanted to go talk to them, but decided not to as I wanted to be at the tourist Information Office as soon as it opened at 9:00am. After leaving the office I saw they were still at the café and couldn’t resist. As I suspected, they were also Via Francigena pilgrims or bicigrinos, the 1stI had met since leaving Canterbury. We had a little talk took their picture, but when we left I thought that would be the last time I’d have seen them as they were following a different guide and not all routes are the same (the major stops are though).

En-route to Chalons I passed through Verzenay (stage 21 of the Lightfoot guide) and Condé-sur-Marne (Stage 22 with Chalons being stage 23) . The route Google Maps traced had a little of everything. I rode alongside canals, on paved roads and on forest and canal dirt tracks. There was also quite substantial rain this day. Some of the canal towpaths were quite muddy and in places very narrow and slippery. It almost caused me to fall a few times. On the other hand quite peaceful and beautiful as well.

Eventually the muddy canal towpaths became a smooth concrete paved cycle lane, like only the French know how to do (well, not really, but much better than the British ones).

As I arrived in Chalons and was taking some pictures I saw a small cycle-touring family arrive. The Slovenian man was cycling in France with his 2 children, the girl aged 6 and the boy aged 13. He said he wanted to show his children that there are more good people in this world than bad ones and that cycle-touring was ideal for that. Can’t argue with it, totally agree.

Continued riding around Chalons, looking for the tourist information centre and when I found, guess who I met there? The 2 bicigrinos from the Café in Reims. If we had agreed on a time and place it probably wouldn’t have worked.

The 3 of us decided to stay in the same hostel that night and in the hostel we met Fabio and David. Fabio was cycling from the Netherlands, were he lives to his home town of Brindisi in Italy. David was walking from his home town in Belgium all the way to Santiago de Compostela. Fabio cooked a fantastic pasta for the 5 of us and then we went out into town for beer. A truly enjoyable day and night.

Day 7, 5/Aug (Friday): From Chalons-en-Champagne to Brienne-le-Chateau

The cycling day started pretty much where it ended the day before, at the nice and paved canal towpath, but at some points the towpaths degraded to narrow dirt tracks as well. Giuseppe and his wife had left early that morning and this far I didn’t see them again. They were also under a very tight timetable as they had to arrive in Rome by the 24th of August. I did get a chance to say goodbye to Fabio and David though.

On my way to Brienne I passed through La-Chaussée-sur-Marne (Stage 24), Vitry-le-François (Stage 25), Saint-Remy-en-Bouzemont (Stage 26),  Lentilles (Stage 27) and finally Brienne (Stage 28).

The same type route from the days before (bit of dirt tracks, road, etc), but with one added surprise. On my way to Lentilles Google Maps thought it was a good idea to ride alongside train tracks. Yes, there was a hint that a dirt track existed besides the track, but it was barely visible. Mostly covered by the stones used alongside train tracks. Not avery enjoyable ride at all and the stones made me lose my balance quite a few times. Thankfully I always managed to recover.

Most of the villages I rode through had nothing really special, but In Lentilles I visited a 16th Century church build of wood and clay, the Church of St Jacques et St Philippe. Looking at the simplicity of this church, in comparison with the ostentation of cathedrals passed made me think that if Jesus was re-born it would be in a simple place like that he would probably chose to worship God.

As I arrived in Brienne I went straight to the tourist Information office. Collected my stamp and the lady asked me if I was going to stay in town or travel further. She said they had a municipal pilgrims’ hostel in town and that made me decide to stay. I paid her the €10 for the night, she gave me the keys, a map and explained how to get to the hostel. Then she told me “you can’t miss it! There are 2 deer heads in the front wall of the building.”. I then remembered I had read about this place when researching the route. Some pilgrims had reported the place to be haunted.

As I got there, I had the entire 3 floor house just for me… No one else to share it with. There gave me shivers as the house was indeed a bit spooky.

Thankfully, I had a good night sleep and calling Ghostbusters was not needed.

Before I close this blog post, let me remind you that this is also a charity bike ride. If you enjoy reading these posts and following my progress in Facebook, why not contribute with a little to a good cause? My charity of choice for this ride is Mind UK, one of the UK’s leading mental health charities.

Hope you are enjoying the posts in the blog and Facebook. It takes quite a bt of effort to get them done (especially the Blog posts) and they are responsible for late nights, despite having to cycle all day next day.

Thank you for your time and your support to my cause.

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