Thursday, 12 May 2016

Vienne et Valence: Veni Vidi Biscuiti

Vienne, France
October 2015
The French call the Austrian capital Vienna "Vienne". How strange, then, that we found ourselves in Vienne in France! It was quite different from the Austrian version, its main claim to fame being a collection of Roman ruins scattered around the city centre (Vienne became a thriving urban hub under the reign of Julius Caesar).

In the shadow of the impressive temple of Augustus, we sipped at Oranginas. Our waiter was unusually friendly and seemed genuinely happy waiting tables. I'm glad he found something he loves - you don't see that every day.

Having to wear our coats in the chilly mid-October air, we strolled through the streets and enjoyed the plastered buildings which happened to be autumn coloured like the trees covering the nearby countryside.

Heading back to the car, we passed under a grand Roman archway.

Right next to it was this medieval half-timbered house which was more than a little crooked! Fitting in with our modern day zeitgeist, the ground floor had been turned into a kebab shop.
Leaving Vienne behind, we settled into a campsite and overcame our inherent laziness to cook a meal. As I washed the dishes in the communal kitchen/bathroom, the lights timed out and I had to feel my way over to the switch so I could finish washing the pan. I had barely even noticed anyone in the shower before, but once the lights flicked back on I heard a timid "danke" from a cubicle. You're welcome!
After the sun set, the temperature dropped even more and we slept huddled up in our winter jackets. It may have been the plummeting temperatures that caused us to hibernate like bears and only wake up at 11:30am. Not knowing what time checkout was (and not wanting to be charged for another night due to oversleeping), we hurriedly packed up and left.

Valence, France 
What's this? Not only did the French steal Vienna, but Valencia too?! That's right, Valence is a city in the Drôme region of France and what the French call the Spanish city of Valencia. Clearly it's not just the Americans who steal good place names from other countries. (I'm just kidding - it was the Romans' fault as the Roman name for Vienne was Vienna! If only they knew the confusion they would cause in future millennia. Both Valence and Valencia were also founded by the Romans, so it's all connected and nobody is a name stealer.)
Now I'll be honest: the main reason we visited Valence was for a biscuit.

Un Suisse! The story goes that Napoleon exiled Pope Pius VI to Valence where he lived out his final days under the closeful watch of his Swiss guard. Wanting to pay tribute to this interesting piece of Valence's history, a pastry chef invented the biscuit, which is flavoured with candied orange peel and orange blossom.

We acquired our biscuit from the famous Maison Nivon, an artisan boulangerie-patisserie. They sold Suisse biscuits in many different sizes, from "fun sized" to that of a 6-year-old. Unfortunately I found the biscuit very dry and not very flavoursome, but it was an experience and history lesson in itself.

Just down the street from the bakery was the train station, and outside it a statue of François-Désiré Bancel. A popular politician in the 1800's, he denounced the policy of Napoleon III and was exiled to Brussels where he took up a teaching position at the Université Libre de Bruxelles. This statue was erected in 1897, carted away by the German army in 1942, and then returned to its original position in 1950.

Following the street away from the train station, we came to the Kiosque Peynet, a cute gazebo standing out in front of the surrounding mountains.

Attempting to find a campsite that night proved to be terribly unproductive. Most were shut for the season, reopening in the spring, and some were open only to campervans as the toilet blocks had been closed down. As the evening ticked by and we still hadn't found a place to camp, we tried our luck at a roadside hotel. Yannick approached the main doors and saw no signs of life apart from a large dog who hurled itself at the glass doors separating it from the encroaching human, murder in its eyes. Needless to say, we drove on and managed to find another (less dangerous) hotel that had wifi and a heater. Indoors living! Woo!