I have never visited a twin town on purpose before and to be honest when we stumbled across Troyes (France) the twin town of Chesterfield (UK) where I was born and raised I was still none the wiser. You would never have thought they were twins because upon first glance they didn’t bare any resemblance of each other whatsoever. So, unless you already knew about their sibling bond then how on earth would I have ever known… The good thing for me is upon this revelation, it definitely offered me something to write about.
We arrived in Troyes around nine pm after a monumental drive from Verona (Italy). We didn’t prebook our hotel, we just drove into the evening and picked somewhere when tiredness took over. We just picked a signpost and then booked 30 minutes before arrival via a popular booking app. How ironic that our chosen destination would be Troyes!
If I am being honest we didn’t find out until a couple of days later after chatting about the trip to a family member that we had in fact visited Chesterfield’s twin. I’m not sure if this means I have failed within my responsibility to be a proud Cestrefeldian or that it’s not a very good advert for our local tourist board. I can’t ever think of a scenario where I could have missed this knowledge unless I frequented my local tourist information centre as a child to top up on my local knowledge.
Maybe it’s because the secondary school I went to wasn’t that interested in a student exchange program albeit a very lucky escape for the parents and children of Troyes!
Or maybe it’s because these links are set up between councils to offer the odd free holiday for the mayors of each town. I am really not sure.
Who, what, why, when… who cares, the good thing is I know now.
Troyes is twinned with the very town I grew up in called Chesterfield. Chesterfield is a medium sized town positioned smack bang in the middle of England. Home to The Crooked Spire, the currently "not so mighty” Spireites (Chesterfield FC) and the adopted home of the industrial pioneer George Stephenson who helped to put the town on the map during the industrial revolution. The place as grown quite a bit over the years and with the local economy growing we have seen a healthy boom in the towns food & drink sector. Main Roads have become more vibrant over recent years where diverse cuisines, wine bars and craft pubs can be frequented.
After we had checked into our hotel we wondered into Troyes town centre but it was dark when we arrived so I couldn’t compare the twins geographically very well. The place felt about the same size of Chesterfield and it wasn’t busy with students or tourists so there is at least one trait the twins have in common. We arrived in the centre with the intentions of finding somewhere to eat and relax. We didn’t build our hopes up or wasn’t expecting to much as we were very tired, not done our research and truth be told we just wanted to fill a gap and wash it down with something that would put us to bed. Even as I write this a voice in my head says how rude! One of the gastro-capitals of the world, satisfying palettes around the globe since the creation of the knife and fork and here I am wriggling out of my duty as a so called human being. I apologise now for my lack of culinary manners.
We walked up and down a few dark streets that seemed to lack street lights, peering in windows to bars and restaurants and to be honest I still wasn’t “feeling it”. It was becoming that time of night where if we don’t find somewhere quick we will just go to a shop buy a “rubbish sarnie” and then go back to the hotel failed in our quest to truly feed the beast.
After thirty or so minutes wondering around like starving lemmings it did allow us to soak up some of the architecture and unexpectedly the buildings were quite mesmerising. Tall Medieval buildings lined the streets. All the wooden lats painted in dark colours but then in-between the lats the render was painted in different colours, pinks, yellows the full spectrum. The floor was predominantly cobbled and we were met by the odd open square which would typically feature a water fountain. Like many places in Europe the squares embraced the younger generation. Pockets of young people gathered in the towns nooks and crannies drinking wine and what looked like a general catch up their daily unfolding. All seemed very jovial in fact it was very tempting to join them.
Amongst the medieval buildings also stood the odd gothic church. The place felt like It had been crafted around the very words of Alexandre Dumas, I was half expecting d”Artagnan and the Three Musketeers to stroll right into shot. Exploring the town centre really did offer the perfect opportunity for me to see a glimpse of the twin that sat several hundred miles away. The sibling mannerisms or characteristic traits that the twin shared where obvious in this part of the town.
Following the tall overhanging line of buildings lead us to a small restaurant quite French in style. It wasn’t in the town centre and we did pass it early on while strolling but we met it again once we completed our full circle. Upon entering the restaurant a mature couple sat at one of the tables greeted my partner by saying, “bon soir madame” which I thought was very welcoming. The restaurant was modern in design lots of red leather upholstery and down one side of the room it was mirrored which made the place feel a little bigger. Around thirty chairs in total and ten of them were being kept warm but we did arrive late in the evening so not sure if it was busier earlier or not.
We were met by a waitress who didn’t speak any English so we were passed onto the chef who explained the menu as it was written in French with no translation. It was tricky to start with and we do always feel a little rude when the hosts have to go out of their way due to our lack of local tongue. Although my partner did very well in communicating via broken French sentences which they warmly received. Excuse the Derbyshire joke but to say it was our twin town not once did anybody say “duck” at the start or end of their sentence. The only duck being spoke about in this place was on the menu.
We were passed the wine menu along with a couple of recommendations which we pondered over for a short time. We didn’t want to cock up on the wine as not so long ago we were potentially going down the path of “stale shop sarnie” so this scenario really did get our taste buds dancing. We opted for a French (of course) red number from the Cotes Du Rhone Region 2012 - E.GUIGAL.
As you know it is tradition to let the lady try the wine first, but on this occasion I thought ‘hocky sticks’ to tradition and let the cave man part of my brain kick in. This is an experience I craved first dibs on, so in the most manly of fashions I took the situation and glass into my own hands… I am obviously lying! Of course I let the lady try the wine first albeit begrudgingly!
The wine was “tres bien” exactly what you would expect, it really didn’t disappoint. My partner asked the waitress (in French), “What time do you close?” which she replied “When people finish and go home". This was like music to our ears. In my mind d’Artagnan was doing a little celebratory dance just inside the door after leaning his musket to one side, obviously ducking his head so he could fit his feather through the door that was strapped to his Boland hat.
This meant we could sit and enjoy the wine and take our time ordering the food as the wine itself was something we wanted to prolong as much as possible without offending our hosts.
The wine was so good! So typically French in taste if I dare say so without meaning to be vague. It was deep and rich in colour with a very soft finish. I admit it’s a basic explanation and I definitely wont be doing it justice. I can assure you I have totally exhausted my wine vocabulary and it’s not me being lazy. You just have to believe me when I say this was a good wine.
While sat relaxing, glass in hand we finally felt as though we were settling in after the lengthy drive we had earlier that day. Feeling more at ease we could now daydream, staring out of the window or what other people might call “people watch”. We noticed a few people wandering around the streets but once again it seemed to be locals. People obviously in transit but it didn’t seem to be any further than to a shop to buy cigarettes or maybe on their way back from work. It was very similar to being sat in a restaurant in Chesterfield town centre on a midweek night. Noticing this once again offered another similarity into the behaviour of the twins. Separate but still the left arm of each twin doing exactly the same from all that way away.
Looking into the wine bottle we could now start to see to print of the table cloth appearing through the body of wine, so we thought it might be a good time to order our food along with another bottle of the same wine. I opted for steak with sautéed potatoes and seasonal vegetables. Perfect for what my stomach was now shouting at me. I ordered it medium which can be a brave move in some restaurants but I am more than sure it wasn’t going to be a poor quality steak if the wine was anything to go by. My partner ordered Mussels in white wine sauce better known as “Moules Mariniere”. Secretly, I couldn’t wait to see it and have a cheeky taste of her selected dish. I have heard so much about this dish and what a delight it is when done properly, it’s up there amongst the heavenly of all the dishes. I can picture Ambrosia himself chowing down on this one. I have been informed many a time that not many dishes can surpass this one. So no pressure at all then chef!
So after a little more people watching and me starting to feel numb from the waste down I made eye contact with the chef and politely offered him a glass from our bottle which to our surprise he accepted. I don’t mean that in a tight arse, glutton kind of way, I mean it in a genuinely positive way. Even if we were merry by this point the interaction between us was nothing short of heart warming. Cultures colliding in front of our very eyes, acknowledged in brief by the very smile that sat just below our red rosey cheeks. Now call me an old romantic but it had the sentiment of long lost cousins making up for all those forgotten years. Our parents being separated at birth due to war torn lands, only for the future generations to make up for lost time. At that very moment It didn’t matter that none of us in that room was fluent in each others native tongue. We all understand the language of clinking glasses and the gesture of sharing a beautiful glass of red together and thats exactly what we did.
The time was now approaching eleven thirty pm and the combination of not much sleep, the ten hour drive and wine-a-plenty was quickly becoming hysteria. I remember laughing more than I should do about the most insignificant of things. For example the craziness of our four thousand five hundred mile round trip that was coming to its conclusion in the morning with a drive back to the geographical twin of the very place we were sat. I was quickly sobered up with an imaginary drum roll that started in own my head when I had seen our food had been dispatched from its place of creation. It was like a voice in my head was shouting “quick, act sober and sit up straight”. A round silver bowl was placed on our table, which in time would become home to the empty mussel shells. Our mains then swiftly followed.
Now I wouldn’t say my dish was an anticlimax at all, it was lovely. I enjoyed it and the steak was great… yum! yum! However, in comparison to my partners choice of dish it kind of felt like I was eating the runt off the menu. As I watched in admiration the way the soft succulent mussels were skilfully removed from their vessels then popped in her mouth with a slurp of white wine sauce my brain was also imagining what it must taste like. Now at the time it was a strange concept, eating a rather nice steak with lovely vegetables while simultaneously imagining what the dish across from me also tasted like was a bizarre sensory concept. Have a think about that one!
As my partner very elegantly despatched the shells into the fancy silver bowl it took me back to an earlier point in the evening when i was fantasising about stealing the first taste of the wine and all I could think was… “touché”
Brimming with satisfaction we cleared our plates, licked our lips, paid our bill and said our farewells to our ‘long lost cousins.’ How ironic that during the meal we really did feel that we had been welcomed like family members. Sharing drinks, clinking glasses, gesturing with our hands while nodding and smiling. Only to then find out a few days later that we were family in a geographical sense just not in a blood sense. Well, if anybody from Troyes ever reads this then please make contact as we would be more than happy to return the hospitality that you shown us.
Written by Richard Antonio Alsop