Fountain in Jardin Darcy Park

For Day 16 of the 30-Day Challenge I am writing about one of our best experiences on any holiday.

Today we leave Pontarlier and get back on a train to make our way down to Montpelier. The reason for heading that way was to visit the town of Millau and see the longest and highest bridge (or viaduct as some referred to it) in France. We had heard about it from the Top Gear show. It looked so amazing that we just had to see it. 

What we also learnt from our experience on this particular day was 1) not to plan too long a train ride at one time, 2) to check if it is necessary to book a seat on the train as this is sometimes needed and 3) ensure that you get into the correct carriage according to the details on your ticket. We almost went to Marseilles instead of Montpelier! There is only one train a day out of Pontarlier so we had to make sure that we caught it but that did not have any effect on the hotel staff. There was no one at the front desk when we came to check out and had to go looking around the hotel. Then we still had to do the 20 minute walk to the station. It meant no time for breakfast but our change over at Dijon made up for it.

Fountain in Jardin Darcy ParkFountain in Jardine Darcy Park

We knew that we would be changing trains at Dijon but we had not realised that we had a 3 hour stop over. What were we going to do for 3 hours? Well, we were pleasantly surprised. We went to store our luggage at the Tourist Bureau next door to the station where we found a very helpful lady. She took our 2 suitcases and locked them away before asking us what we were going to do while waiting for the train connection. When we said that we had no idea, she offered us a book on Dijon and showed us how to use it to see the places of interest in the town. 

Ducal Palace now arts museumFormer Ducal Palace now a museum in Dijpn

It was the best system of walking a town we have encountered. Fitted into the sidewalk were small, brass owls with the beaks pointing in the direction of the next place of interest. It was so easy to follow and at each point was a large brass square with an owl in the centre pointing directly at the particular item. In the book there was a short description of the item in various languages – simple, easy to follow and yet with all the necessary information. We managed to fill the 3 hours quite easily and really enjoyed the time too. And, yes, Dijon Mustard does come from Dijon. It originated in 1856, when Jean Naigeon of Dijon substituted verjuice, the acidic “green” juice of not-quite-ripe grapes, for vinegar in the traditional mustard recipe. 

Monument of Jardin DarcyMonument to Jardine Darcy

Half timbered house from 14th centuryHalf timbered house from the 14th Century

Medieval churchA medeavil church in Dijon

It was here that we learnt about booking seats on some trains and also reading the seating card properly. When we returned to the station having given ourselves plenty of time thank goodness, we collected our luggage and went straight to the platform indicated. There was an official there who asked for our seat booking ticket. We both stood there with questions written all over our faces. Seat tickets? But we have a Pass. Yes, but on some trains you have to make a booking. Expect the Unexpected! Luckily I was 5 years younger than I am now as I had to run back to the entrance, pay the 2 Euros each for the seats and run all the way back. We had to be on this train.

We hopped on and found the seat numbers as shown on the tickets and sat down for the 2nd half of the journey. At Lyon a number of people boarded and disembarked and before we knew it we had 2 ladies insisting in a highly indignant manner that we were sitting in their seats. Looking at their tickets we saw the same numbers as ours BUT we had missed the carriage number and we were in the wrong carriage. We had to get the luggage down off the racks and battle our way 3 carriages forward. That was lucky because if we had stayed in that carriage we would have been with those which would be unhitched from this train and linked to another to go to Marseilles.

Otherwise we arrived safely in Montpelier at about 5pm and had to find a place to stay. We had originally booked a place near Millau without realising that it was a 2 hour drive inland from Montpelier. Taxi – very expensive, no hire car and the coach only left in the morning. The fellow behind the counter at the station was very helpful and contacted a local hotel for us which turned out to be a very nice place in a lovely area.

Then we enquired about getting to Millau the following day and this was quite an experience. I was pronouncing it Mill ow and he had no idea what I was talking about. Eventually I spread my arms wide and said ‘big bridge’ and his colleague said something in French which included ‘viaduct’. Ooh, you mean Me oo. He told us that our Pass would be accepted on the coach and we must be at the bus stop outside the station at 09:00. These were very nice French citizens.

Millau viaduct and mountainA portion of the Millau viaduct

Bridge over the roverBridge over the river in Millau

Old ArchwayAn old arch in Millau

We walked the km up to the hotel and were shocked at how dirty the sidewalks were. Dogs had been allowed to defecate anywhere and no cleaning up done, homeless lay all over the place and lots of buskers. We went for a stroll through a lovely park where the aftermath of a market was being wrapped up and even chatted to a couple of street entertainers.

Supper was from McDonalds to finish our day. Not our choice of food but it filled us up. We had done and learnt a lot.