Welwyn Anglo-French Twinning – Past Events

That Was The Weekend in France
by Vernonne Allen

Friday June 3rd and 35 members of WAFTA travel to France. Most by Eurostar, much easier than our old coach and ferry routine. A few come by car. In the early group, I travel on the 9:22 Eurostar, arriving in Paris in time for lunch opposite the Gare du Nord station. Here we linger happily over oysters, steak tartare, wine and other French delights.

Welcome Reception at Champagne-sur-Oise 2011

Others, preferring a lie-in, take a later Eurostar. Late afternoon finds us all at Gare du Nord’s suburban platforms. Champagne-sur-Oise is a similar distance north of Paris as Welwyn is from London. Our French hosts greet us warmly as we step off the train. Old friends kiss cheek to cheek – two, three or even four times. Newcomers are also kissed. This is France! Then we are whisked off in various cars to a reception given at the Mairie (by the Mayor). Here are drinks, short speeches (with translations) and exchange of gifts. English tongues attempt French, Gallic speakers dust off their English; somehow conversation flows.

Programmes are presented: traditionally a secret until our arrival. As always we would be entertained in our host’s homes that evening. An early start is indicated next day – remember we have set our watches forward an hour – 8:30am at the Place de Verdun in Champagne-sur-Oise for the coach to Paris. First to the Musée Grévin waxworks, then a picnic in the Jardin des Tuileries, a Bateaux Mouches cruise down the Seine and an Oriental Night. Fortunately, Sunday is free with our hosts.

Each French host family welcomes several people; four of us stay “chez Baspeyras”. For 14 years we’ve exchanged with this lovely family. We are delighted to see all three daughters, two now with partners and discover that a much-awaited grand-daughter is about six weeks off being born.

On Friday night Brigitte produces a typical French meal. Perhaps because over the years we have introduced them to fish and chips, beef Wellington, shepherd’s pie, trifle… She trumps us with fois gras, frogs legs, escargots (snails), duck confit with mushrooms, garlic, chestnuts and apples, salad and cheeses then a huge patisserie: a Saint Honoré cake. Husband Jean produces a different wine for each course.... finishing with champagne. This meal continues until gone midnight!

Musee Grevin in Paris

Next morning, what a relief, only coffee and croissant! The weather is extremely hot and despite great sights on the drive into Paris, it’s a relief to go into the cool museum. Grévin Waxworks presents celebrities of today and French history most cleverly. It’s fun spotting who is real and who is wax… at one point a French child pokes my husband thinking that he too is a waxwork. My, does she jump when she realises her mistake!

The rest of this hot Parisian day goes as planned with a chance to see many famous landmarks, especially from the river.

Welcome Reception at Champagne-sur-Oise 2011

Returning from Paris we relax before preparing for the “Soirée Orientale”. At a local hall, transformed for the evening, men are given red fez hats, women jingly scarves to tie around our hips. Belly dancers start the evening with a swing. The meal – couscous prepared by the Algerian mother and aunt of one of the French hostesses – is astounding. This is not a weekend for dieters! Everyone enters into the fun; French children as young as four are up all evening dancing. The French know how to party, we English do our best. Dancing continues past midnight.

Sunday morning: our kind hosts leave us slumbering! Then a sortie to the supermarket (in France it opens morning only on Sunday), a leisurely lunch… our hosts offer oysters or smoked salmon and asparagus, roast beef, cheeses and fruit salad… and relaxation. Other twinners (possibly eating less) are taken by their hosts to the market and local places of interest.

Finally, time to leave; more hugs, kisses and photography, then, three trains later on Sunday’s 22:06 from King’s Cross, an excited chatty crowd share their experiences and discuss how to entertain our French hosts in 2012…

Why not join us?

Vernonne Allan