Boats and planes and trains - and indeed cars – were the various ways in which 14 intrepid Royston Rotarians and partners/daughter travelled to the 41st get together with our now well established friends in Paray Le Monial. Apart from a few fraught moments (nearly missing trains and - fortunately - just missing a rather large lorry) the journeys seem to have gone well.Once there and after a short rest we started the usual ritual of eating, and eating, and eating, and late nights. At various very large and beautiful houses, which if transferred to Royston would be spectacularly expensive, we were treated in separate groups to some wonderful appetisers followed by lovely meals. Amongst much broken French and English, jolly conversations were held with only a few mentions of the B word.The next day, just about managing to fit in some sleep before an early start, we were off to Beaune for various attractions, starting at a cooperage. Now if you thought, as I suspect that many of us did, that making barrels wouldn’t necessarily turn into a barrel of fun, then we couldn’t have been more wrong. Our guide (the business owner) spoke superb English and was audible (mostly), despite the loud hammering that is an integral part of cooperage, and really fascinating. We were taken through the whole process starting with the 250 year old oak woods that were originally planted to supply warships but which, because of the advent of metal ships, became an excellent raw material for barrels. The trees are carefully grown to meet the specifications required to produce the best barrels. The manufacturing process is highly labour intensive but with hints of automation, including lasers burning customised information and patterns into the lids. At 700 Euros per barrel they are only used in the production of top end wine.From here we went off to, inevitably, eat again, followed by a tour of the beautiful Hospice built in 1443 by Nicolas Rolin, the very enlightened and philanthropic Chancellor of Burgundy, although there was an element of booking his place in heaven. The roof of part of the hospice consisted of beautifully coloured and patterned tiles, but the star was actually the uniformly grey slate tiled roof. While everyday roofing material nowadays, apparently slate tiles were ridiculously expensive in the 15th century and hence a statement of enormous wealth.The trip was finished with a visit to a vineyard where most descended into the basement and subsequently from where the sounds of slurping of wine emanated. As we boarded the coach, a few unsteadily, a substantial number of boxes of wine appeared and were placed in the luggage hold, suggesting that our hosts had taken full advantage of the visit. Back to our hosts for a rapid change of clothes before departing to yet more wonderful houses for large quantities of food and broken but fun conversations. With many of us not getting home until the early hours, luckily Saturday we were allowed a slightly longer sleep in before some of us visited the museum in Paray Le Monial. One thing that is really striking is that P-le-M is of similar population to Royston but has a wonderful shopping centre with lovely looking shops and hardly a sign of a chain shop. Who is the nation of shopkeepers now one wonders? Also the museum was splendid, a wonderful building with some stunning exhibits. Helped by an English guide we were treated to full explanations of his 5 chosen best pieces, the highlight of which was a truly spectacular marble sculpture, modelled by Joseph Chaumet at the very beginning of the 20th century. It tells the story of the life of Jesus and I would defy anybody, religious or not, not to appreciate this incredible artefact. Were there a ‘7 wonders of the sculpture world’ then this would surely be amongst them. You will not be surprised to hear that we then had lunch! Those who chose the light salad option were presented with enough food to feed a cow for several days.The afternoon inevitably featured the famous ashes. This consisted largely of 10 pin bowling where it was surprising that the alleys still functioned after our attack upon them. Some launched the bowls high into the air to land with earth shuddering bangs, while one who shall remain nameless, Mr President, managed to bowl over the partition into the next lane and then nicked some goes from a fellow bowler. Also there was table football and a kind of shove football. The latter was hilarious, fast and furious and in which Ray managed to score about 11 goals and, most being in the wrong end, still lose 11-2 to Kash. On the billiard table Chris Richmond didn’t quite get the hang of the technique and the green baize looked alarmingly at risk at times.After the games many, particularly those who took part in the shove football, needed showers before the evening dinner. Here we were honoured with some very nice food and the usual speeches. Already aware that Pallavi was a fluent speaker of French she now came into her own by keeping those monolinguistic English visitors informed of what was going on. President David’s speech was delivered in what sounded like excellent French and accent, and was extremely well received by our French hosts. We look forward to reading the English version in the Rotarian. Gifts were exchanged, including a Cambridge scarf and mortar board from us and scarves of the local football team to us. Also Paray presented us with a replacement for the lovely 40th twinning anniversary glass plaque that was unfortunately broken during their journey to us last year. The results of the ashes were then revealed and to our intense surprise(!) we triumphed by a score of 8 hundred and something points to 7 hundred and something, thereby alleviating the trauma of the Eurovision song contest.Sadly the next morning we had to leave on our boats and planes etc (well actually no boats on the return journey) but only after a spontaneously organised breakfast at Khalid and Samira’s maison where an amazing spread of bread, croissants and cakes materialised. Our hosts were, as usual, incredibly generous and friendly, putting on a great programme which everybody thoroughly enjoyed. To see the (English) text of President David’s speech, click here.Words and pictures by Ray Munden, To see all the photos of the visit click here.
Hammering a unique serial no. into the barrel
The pretty coloured tiles, superior to the modern type
The slate tiles indicative of 15th century wealth
John about to launch the bowl
The intensity of the table football
President David with his well-received speech
President Gerald with his Cambridge scarf & mortar board