Visit to Longpré June 2005

 

We set out from Eastry at 18:00 on Friday 24th June for our trip through the tunnel to Longpré. Although the weather had been very hot in England we passed through some spectacular storms on our way in France but arrived in a dry and warm Longpré at about 22:00 to be met by our hosts outside the town hall.

During an official reception inside the hall our new Chairman Roy Marshall made his introductions and Alain Defebvin, the Longpré Chairman,

welcomed us all. Over glasses of wine and slices of cake we met old friends and made new ones. Guests and hosts were introduced, some long established exchanges and others new, whether old or new the welcome was warm and friendly. After the reception we were taken by our assigned families to their homes for a much needed sleep (in many cases the sleep was preceded by further offers of food and a little something to drink!)

The following morning was bright and warm and after ‘petit déjeuner’ we were driven to the nearby village of Naours1 where we were visiting an underground ‘city’. For the benefit of the guide, so he did not have to switch between French and English for the tour, we separated into two groups the French speaking group went into the underground city first while the Eastry contingent travelled on a sightseeing train to the hill above the caves to visit the windmills and enjoy the view from them. By the time we returned it was our turn to travel underground. The site was originally a chalk quarry from the 3rd century, and then used as shelter from invading armies, it is classed as a real city and all dug by hand. In the 300 000 cubic meter area there are 28 galleries (2000 meters long), 300 chambers, 6 chimneys, public squares, and a chapel all at a constant temperature of 9,5°C (a welcome change from the heat outside).

After our tour we were treated to an excellent picnic in a canvas covered area set aside for just that. The hosts had prepared a fine spread of food:- tarts and flans, salads, pies and cold meats, not forgetting a large selection of wines and aperitifs and deserts, what made it particularly enjoyable was that everyone shared whatever they had taken along, making it a very convivial experience.

 The picnic finished, we returned to the cars and set off again, but after only a few hundred meters we stopped in Naour village itself where we were given a talk and tasting at a farm producing cider. From there we travelled to the city of Amiens 20-30 km away. We spent the afternoon wandering around the city with our own hosts, with a visit to the huge Gothic cathedral and of course the shops.

Everyone reconvened at about 18:00 at a pizza/pasta restaurant on the outskirts of the city, where we were treated to another feast. We were able to help ourselves at a large salad bar, followed by a choice of main course and desert from the set menu, again a very genial time was had by all.

However the evening was not yet over- we all returned to Amiens city centre to watch a fantastic display at the cathedral. Not exactly a Son et Lumiere, but equally spectacular. When it was sufficiently dark, the front of the cathedral was lit by a series of laser lights, with the ornate carvings which cover the cathedral picked out in the colours believed to have originally adorned the figures and carvings. (During restoration work to clean the soot blackened cathedral, traces of colour were found on the statues and from this, the idea of the light show was conceived). It was an amazing sight2 and one well worth a visit if you get the chance. A late night stroll along the bar and restaurant lined streets next to the river Somme in Amiens was a fitting end to a great day.

Sunday morning soon came around and this is the traditional time for the Longpré-Eastry petanque match (the reason I first became involved in the twinning was to play this match in 2000). Eastry were short of regular players and had to draft in the new Chairman - Roy and his wife, neither having played before. The match is taken seriously by both sides and the winners (not surprisingly in this case Longpré, although Eastry gave a good performance winning 2 of the 5 games which make up a match) get to keep the Ashes until the next match.

After an exchange of gifts and medals, the teams and supporters visited a local bar for refreshments before returning with their hosts to enjoy a meal before the coach departed for the journey home.

The weekend was a great success and everyone had their stories to tell, most of which were about the warm and generous welcome they had been given, and a strong feeling that we would do our best to make our Longpré friends as welcome when they come to Eastry in May 2006.

More photos here.

Nick