Life & Style Weekend - - MAGAZINE | ESCAPE - WORDS: ANN RICKARD www.an­nrickard.com

Cel­e­brat­ing the 100-year an­niver­sary of the Ar­mistice on Novem­ber 11 were world lead­ers, dig­ni­taries and roy­alty. They con­gre­gated in France in the rain for many com­mem­o­ra­tive events and Don­ald Trump didn’t get his hair wet once. Among the cer­e­monies and events – and you might have missed it – was a visit to Com­piegne in the Pi­cardy re­gion of France, where the Ar­mistice treaty was signed in a rail­way car­riage in a clear­ing in the mid­dle of a for­est on Novem­ber 11, 1918. We had vis­ited that train car­riage (a replica now) in that for­est just a year ago on a tour or­gan­ised by crew on our Euro­pean Wa­ter­ways barge dur­ing a de­light­ful canal cruise into the Pi­cardy re­gion. We knew noth­ing of the rail­way car­riage or the nearby museum fea­tur­ing pho­tos and repli­cas of tanks in WWI, nor did we know much about the sign­ing of the Ar­mistice. How­ever, we took to learn­ing from our guide and walked through the car­riage – im­mac­u­lately pre­sented right down to the china and glass­ware on the ta­ble – but we were not awed by its sig­nif­i­cance then. We are now. There is al­ways a fris­son of thrill when a des­ti­na­tion you have vis­ited comes up on the telly. Of not the same sig­nif­i­cance as the Ar­mistice sign­ing, but still a small quiver was a re­cent 60 Min­utes show fea­tur­ing the still-curvy Pamela An­der­son in­ter­viewed about her strange sup­port for Ju­lian As­sange. The in­ter­view took place in the im­pos­si­bly pic­turesque port of Cas­sis in the south of France, where we had spent an un­for­get­table week in July this year. Even though it was hard to take the eyes off An­der­son trip­ping pret­tily around the port in a pink ging­ham sun­dress, the real star was the Cas­sis back­drop. Ap­par­ently An­der­son lives in the hills above Cas­sis with her French soc­cer-play­ing boyfriend and she’s a reg­u­lar visi­tor to the small port. Hun­dreds of bob­bing wa­ter­craft, end­less bistros packed with peo­ple eat­ing moules, busy wait­ers in cafes serv­ing Aperol Spritz, bas­kets of flow­ers hanging from poles – there was Cas­sis on the telly look­ing like a trav­eller’s dream des­ti­na­tion, a place that makes you want to shout, “I must go there”. And we al­ready had. If this sounds smug, it is. But there is more. Even Mr Bean’s Hol­i­day movie caused pleasant con­nip­tions in our house­hold when he ar­rived at the Avi­gnon TGV in the south of France, a train sta­tion we have vis­ited at least 20 times and nav­i­gated our ner­vous way out of in a hire car on to the busy streets of Avi­gnon. “Look, we’ve been there,” we shouted at the telly. “There’s the street where we made a wrong turn. Look at those leafy plane trees … I want to go back.” When Mr Bean ar­rived in Cannes for the film fes­ti­val, our ex­cite­ment frothed over. There was the Boule­vard de la Croisette we had so re­cently walked. We caught glimpses of cafes where we had sipped pink wine, a de­signer shop we were too scared to go into. It was al­most as good as be­ing there again. In the same movie Mr Bean dined at the gilded Le Train Bleu restau­rant at the Gare de Lyon sta­tion in Paris, and yes, we had been there re­cently as well. You might re­mem­ber the scene where Mr Bean was so hor­ri­fied by the plate of oys­ters pre­sented to him, he slipped them one by one into the hand­bag of a lady at the next ta­ble. “We’ve been to Le Train Bleu,” we shouted at each other as we recog­nised the sheer op­u­lence of the restau­rant. We were like over-ex­cited chil­dren on Christ­mas morn­ing. Le Train Bleu is all about Belle Epoch glam­our: chan­de­liers, fres­coed-ceil­ings, French for­mal­ity and gas­tro­nomic plea­sure. In a rail­way sta­tion. P.S. Small apolo­gies for all this show­ing off, but the flashes on the telly of places you have vis­ited is all part of a trav­eller’s ex­cite­ment.

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