MES AMIS, LET ME TAKE YOU ON A TOUR OF AMIENS

Irish Daily Mail - - Travel Plus - ON HIS TRAV­ELS MAL ROGERS

THE FULL CY­CLE OF FRENCH HIS­TORY

THE Tour de France pays a visit to Amiens this week, as in­deed did this col­umn. It’s one of France’s more un­der­stated cities, and cer­tainly should be top of any ‘hid­den France’ lists.

Once the chief town of a Celtic tribe, the Am­biani – yep, as Celtic as you or me – Amiens has been through the great minc­ing ma­chine of Euro­pean his­tory.

Af­ter the Celts came the Ro­mans, then the Goths and Visig­oths and the Normans.

This cor­ner of Europe has also been scarred by the 20th cen­tury’s world wars.

Some of that his­tory is still on show – the city re­mains criss­crossed by ten­drils of the Somme River, lead­ing to the Hor­tillon­nages, a net­work of canals cut out of the marsh­lands of the val­ley 2,000 years ago.

Tours on mo­torised punts through these wa­ter­ways give a sin­gu­lar view of the city.

It’s doubt­ful if this canal trip gave Jules Verne his in­spi­ra­tion for Twenty Thou­sand Leagues Un­der the Sea, but it’s pos­si­ble. The nov­el­ist lived here and now takes his eter­nal re­pose in the lo­cal La Madeleine Ceme­terie.

You can take a Jules Verne walk, dis­ap­point­ingly not called Jour­ney To The Cen­tre of Town, or visit the Jules Verne In­ter­na­tional Cen­tre on Rue Charles-Dubois.

From here you’ll emerge on to the Rue de Otages, and you may fleet­ingly be­lieve you’ve stum­bled into a film set – half-tim­bered houses, pave­ment cafés where groups of men smoke Gaulois cig­a­rettes for a liv­ing (as far as I could make out).

The Cathe­dral of Our Lady in Amiens is the largest Gothic church you’ll see in this neck of the bois. To­day a UNESCO World Her­itage Site, it looks as if it could com­fort­ably ac­com­mo­date Co. Louth.

In­tri­cate stat­ues, painted al­tar friezes and stained glass glo­ries adorn the build­ing; all this plus the relic of John the Bap­tist, housed in a jew­elled case. It would be fair to point out that other places also claim the earthly re­mains of John, that main mover and shaker of the early Chris­tian church. Those old bones of con­tention again.

Mean­while back with the pelo­ton, the Tour de France cy­clists head to­wards the com­pelling town of Car­cas­sonne – where it’s a rest day. That’s good, be­cause there’s plenty to see should the cy­clists fancy some light sight­see­ing du­ties.

The tow­ers of its citadels reach­ing the sky present one of the most strik­ing im­ages in Europe – the whole thing looks like it’s tum­bled out of a pass­ing fairy-tale, but don’t be fooled.

His­tory both dra­matic and ter­ri­ble lurks round every cor­ner of the city.

From the bat­tle­ments you can al­most hear the Black Prince’s war­riors spurring their chain-mailed horses to­wards the city, bent on mis­chief. The Cathars lived here, and con­nec­tions with the word ‘cathar­tic’ are no co­in­ci­dence.

The Tour restarts on Tues­day, 24 July, when it heads to the moun­tain stages of Bag­nèresde-Lu­chon/Saint-Lary-Soulan Col du Portet.

DRAW­ING A LINE ON DRUGS IN AN­GLING

NEED­LESS to say there will be many sam­ples taken to test for drug-tak­ing – the Tour in the past had been a by­word for sub­stance us­age. Other sports are now anx­ious to en­sure their par­tic­i­pants are clean.

Per­haps spurred on by the French cy­cling au­thor­i­ties’ stand against drug us­age in sport, the An­gling Trust, Eng­land’s na­tional govern­ing body for com­pe­ti­tion an­gling, con­tin­ues its cam­paign to keep fish­ing clean.

Ac­cord­ing to their web­site: ‘The An­gling Trust works with UK Anti-Dop­ing (UKAD) and the In­ter­na­tional An­gling Con­fed­er­a­tion (CIPS) to en­sure the in­tegrity of our sport is pro­tected. The use of per­for­mance-en­hanc­ing drugs and other dop­ing be­hav­iour se­verely dam­ages the le­git­i­macy of an­gling and un­der­mines the in­tegrity of the sport.’ But which drug could pos­si­bly en­hance your per­for­mance at an­gling? A few cans of lager, maybe, to help you doze the af­ter­noon away. Or beta-blockers per­haps. The heart drug stops you get­ting too ex­cited. I’ve only been fish­ing once, but en­joyed it greatly.

With un­be­liev­able skill for a new­comer I was able to hook sev­eral un­sus­pect­ing trees.

A few cans of lager would prob­a­bly have im­paired my judge­ment.

TO HAVE YOUR CAKE AND EAT IT

‘I JUST saw a woman with a fancy wa­ter bot­tle, but in­stead of wa­ter it was full of Jaffa cakes. She is my hero,” said the Tweet from Ge­or­gia San­ders.

I’m pretty much in agree­ment with that sen­ti­ment; it’s not too far a step from the lad I once saw at a rugby match open­ing his flask and pro­duc­ing an enor­mous sausage roll.

WORLD­WIDE WEBS

IT seems that spi­ders can travel thou­sands of miles by re­leas­ing trails of silk that they use to pro­pel them­selves with the wind.

But some of this ‘bal­loon­ing’, as it’s known, has been ob­served when there is no wind to speak of, when skies are over­cast and even in rainy con­di­tions

So what’s hap­pen­ing here? Bi­ol­o­gists from the Uni­ver­sity of Bris­tol think they know – the spi­ders are ac­tu­ally fly­ing.

They fan out their strands of silk to make what is ef­fec­tively a wing, and then em­ploy some elec­tro­static force. Of course, the dis­tance these spi­ders travel is noth­ing com­pared to my own wing mir­ror spi­der.

Many of you out there will prob­a­bly have your own trav­el­ling arach­nid.

My one, who has been with me since at least last Christ­mas, has braved rain, wind and sun­shine – and seems ut­terly con­tent. He has re­cently vis­ited the Game of Thrones route in Co. Antrim and Co. Derry, and then made his way to (all the while af­fixed to the mir­ror) the Mourne Moun­tains and onto the Coo­ley Penin­sula.

I did how­ever give a wide berth to the very fine Seaforde Trop­i­cal But­ter­fly House in Co. Down.

I sus­pect it would have blown my spi­der’s mind.

THE WORDS RIGHT OUT OF HIS MOUTH

FROM the first minute I heard fla­menco mu­sic I was hooked. The raw pas­sion of the Ara­bic and Gipsy mu­sic along­side that in­sis­tent gui­tar strum­ming – the re­sult bris­tled with se­duc­tive mu­si­cal ten­sion. This was in Bal­ly­mena. An An­daluz group, lately per­form­ing at a fes­ti­val in Belfast, had made the trip to an arts club in Co. Antrim. Thanks to the in­ter­est in­stilled by them, I’ve since made many pil­grim­ages to Cadiz, Jerez and Seville to fully ap­pre­ci­ate the art­form.

Of course, one of the plea­sures of trav­el­ling is to ex­pe­ri­ence the ver­nac­u­lar mu­sic. A mem­o­rable con­cert for me was see­ing ZZ Top in Texas; left me won­der­ing if this was the finest South­ern rock band in the world, or a pri­vate joke of un­fath­omable com­plex­ity.

One act I’m quite keen to catch in the near fu­ture is Meat Loaf. The singer has an­nounced a 2018 tour; but the odd thing is that, al­though he will be ap­pear­ing, he’ll not be singing.

ML has said that he’ll ‘pass on’ vo­cal du­ties to Caleb John­son, 2014 Amer­i­can Idol win­ner.

This strange semi-trib­ute act is surely the ul­ti­mate out­sourc­ing. Per­haps the non-singing Meat Loaf should change his name to Mute Loaf. Or per­haps: The Artist For­merly Known as Mince.

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