Leaving Faversham early in the morning with the mists draping the roads, then a calm ferry crossing to Calais (meeting up with friends on the boat). The design qualities on these vessels is calming in itself.
Then onto the roads - so smooth and (because we're paying tolls) empty and easy. There are the signature tokens of being French - the repeats of trees, the art along the motorways, the well-designed aires, the businesslike activity of road gangs who seem to make light of their sometimes massive challenges, the naming of all the rivers, tunnels and viaducts. It's organised.
We stopped for lunch at one of our old haunts, the Aire de la baie de Somme, where we bought packets of our favourite sweeties - the macarons d'Amiens - a fantastic medieval meld of almonds and honey. The view from the cafe window is of the brutally designed little lake and grass planting, looking particularly unlovely at the moment. But the seven drakes and one duck were happy enough bobbing into and out of the water.
We had booked into a hotel in Tours for the night - getting round Rouen was much easier than before with all the traffic jams on the other side of the road - how satisfying. When the sun was out, everything was far too hot. The windows in the new car are too big - eh! When the sun disappeared into the huge wintry cloud sequences it was all too cold - we had to have the heater on. Maybe the jet stream is too far south. It's very odd weather this year.
Tours of course is lovely - our hotel has a parking at the back. We walked out in sunshine and with only light clothing - and then the rain started. Tumultuous. Luckily for us, this being a Catholic country and a tourist city, the huge doors of St Martin's cathedral were open. We ducked inside with two purposes. To avoid the monsoon and to see the church.
Oh height! oh stained glass! Oh chanting! Such beauty! The thunder storm raged outside - even high up in the nave we could hear the weather bashing against the roof. The rain hitting the pavement and steps outside made a loud hissing splashing splatting noise. People were sheltering in the porch like us.... Some monks started their plainsong up at the altar..... The sound itself - this combination - was magic.
As the rain gradually came to a stop, the skies cleared, and then more rain came. We had a drink - everyone was waiting to see if the rain had really stopped.
The atmosphere is uplifting - the book shops and antiques shops, bric-a-brac, ethnic cafes and restaurants - Ethiopian, Lebanese, Syrian, Turkish, Chinese, Indian, and of course a lot of French ones including the regional specialists and a cheese resto (le Souris Gourmande). The bar-tabacs are stashed with fags. There are so many tiny shops, not chain stores. Music everywhere - people carrying cellos, practice sounds coming from the conservatoire, posters for gigs, and unusual brass instruments for sale.
We found a restaurant, family-owned, where the cooking is like the old days - absolutely superb, everything about it done with pride, not very expensive, but full of respect, flavour, pleasure, grace and love.
Do not hesitate to eat there if you visit the city. The waiter - a young man - is the son of the owner and a sommelier in his own right. Does anyone in England aspire to be a waiter?
When we came out, to wander back to the hotel, the sky looked beaten up by the storm, with a strange orange light, and there was a huge rainbow in the sky - double, triple.