Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Central France. Day 9.

So we participated in the fête du vélo d'Anjou'; loved the congeniality and Frenchness of it, despite the inclement weather. The first 22k along the Loire we were cycling into some serious wind and the occasional rainy squall. Didn't even take my waterproof cycling jacket off except when we stopped for lunch along the way. Suppose we're a bit of a novelty ourselves on this local ride. A few people found it interesting that we had come all the way from Australia for a second year of cycling on this special day when they close the roads to motorised vehicles along both sides of the Loire.
'See yourself doing this again next year?' I asked Al.
'Yep,' he said.
Me too. It's a great big day.

We decided to light out for the territory today. That is, try to find somewhere new and wonderful; easy to do in France.

Set up Jane, our navigatrix and allons-y. Off we go.

Now after about 2 hours on the road I get crabby. It's a bit tense finding your way with Al driving this behemoth. And he's doing a good job but he nearly cleaned us and a French woman up when he failed to give way to his left at one stage. He squeezed my knee in apology.  i know it was just a momentary lapse in concentration but I'm a panic merchant and I don't cope well with adrenaline.

Time for a lunch stop. Found a good relais on a roundabout. They all seem to be good. I love that all these tradies - chantiers? - stop for a 3 course 'formule midi' - at noon. There they are in their grubby work clothes slicing off gourmet cheeses after a good meal complete with vin de table.

Meanwhile, I had a delicious poelie of coquilles St Jacques - a creamy pan fried mix of julienned veges and scallops - and Al had a potful of moules - mussels - in a cream sauce and frites. We both pronounced our food delicious.

We didn't make it to our destination though. Stopped instead for a tour of the Chateau of Chenonceaux; huge tourist attraction that I'd read about as a student of French. The place was amazing but it was brimful of tourists - why am I always the one who has to concede? - and school kids, flashing their cameras on the tapestries despite the constant warnings not to. The village of Chenonceaux was pretty, quaint and equally touristique. Still, glad to have seen the place although I have to be in the mood to 'absorb' the feeling. Again, what am I? A clairvoyant with a mainline to Catherine de Medicis?

I couldn't face another 2 and a half hour drive so I suggested that we visit Loches, only 27k away.

Al agreed of course; he usually does. We drove through some beautiful tilled countryside to get here on roads barely wider than our van. When we arrived at Loches, having given Jane no new address, we tried following the signs to the 'camping'. We missed our way and went up tortuous lanes between old stone houses. Was so narrow we had to pull our side mirrors in. Always gets fraught at this stage. I think I started crying!

'We've got to love each other,' I said to Al, because up until then I'd been screaming abuse at him.

Jane, the bitch, was leading us a merry dance. 'Turn around where possible' she says, in her clipped British tones.

I switched her off and we winged it. Al finally found a lane he could reverse into. I leapt out and danced behind the van, winding my arms. Eventually we were back on track and I wondered if tonight would perhaps be the night, such was the frisson in my loins when I saw the 'camping' sign.

So we made it here to the 'Camping La Citadelle. 

And as soon as we pulled into the outer car park and saw the piscine - swimming pool - and the decheterie - place where you empty your van's waste water - we both declaimed: this place looks familiar.

It was. We came here last year. We'd already wandered around the citadel in the rain here. I caught a cold from 'Paisley Pants' - can't link to the post on my iPad - and got food poisoning from a crepe with Rocquefort cheese.

No matter. It's mild, the sun's intermittently shining and warmish and I've washed and dried my laundry which is good because I'm down to my last pair of undies.

Another Chablis? Pourquoi pas - why not?

Friday, June 21, 2013

Wet Wayfaring Fools, France

Why am I writing and not out pedalling around the French countryside?  Because it's raining and cold, about 15 degrees. We've even had the heater on. Don't think we've had to do that on a previous SUMMER holiday in France. It's quite bleak. But there's no point in complaining about weather. The inside of our van is cosy and it's quite peaceful with the pittering of rain on the skylight.

Wasn't too bad for a couple of hours this morning. Took our 'new' bikes out for a spin and got that incredible feeling which I'd describe as smug incredulity.

As I said, we're in Montignac, Aquitaine. It's very picturesque; 10th century castle on the hillside; winding lanes between stone houses. Gorgeous. We came here because the campground, situated on a river in the grounds of a 17th century mill, sounded nice.

As we were eating our lunch today - me, confit duck; Al, duck cassoulet - we were remarking on the masses of tourists. Must have come in on buses, we said. Kept looking at an advertisement over at the office de tourisme. Lascaux, we were saying. Sounds familiar. Hmm. 

Perhaps it's one of the places I read about when I was studying French, I said.

Kept eating.

I'm sure I've heard about this place, said Al, forking a few more of his beans. Something about cave paintings?

Let's check out the tourist office later, we decided.

So, Al and I, wayfaring fools that we are, have stumbled into a place visited by about 250,000 people a year, yet we had no concept of the big deal.

It's only a UNESCO world heritage site due to the replica of caves containing 17,000 year old rock paintings.

Amazing. Call me an ignoramus, but I couldn't be bothered shuffling through with thousands of other tourists. 

Tomorrow, after a five hour drive, Saumur and fête du vélo - cycling festival - d'Anjou. And more rain.

Glad we brought the wet weather gear.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Wet, wet, blisters, wet. France.

Poor me. So it rained on our parade.suck it up.
All okay now but anyone who's flown 'steerage' for 23 hours would have to agree that it's a penance. Yes, I'm sure I've committed something - heaps - to deserve it, if only in my thoughts.
Flew to Singapore, Charles De Gaulles, Paris then straight on a train for about 4 hours arriving in Bordeaux mid afternoon, Sunday, having left Melbourne mid afternoon Saturday. Still freaks me out.
Bordeaux is beautiful. I'd link to it if I had the means. It's ancient & ultra modern special combo with the architectural antiquity, history & space age public transport. Seems everything connects.
We found our way out to our b & b, booked through Airbnb.
 Knocked on the door of this stone house. No one home. Our host had left a key in the letter box giving us access to her entire beautiful home. I'm amazed at people's trust in others' goodwill.
Virginie, our attractive host, welcomed us when she returned from the pool. Oh BTW, it was 31 degrees.
She recommended a few good restaurants. We ate great mussels, squid & smoked salmon at a bustling restaurant called Le Petit Commerce. Got very busy. A queue formed, probably cos it was damn good.
Next day, Jane, our sat navigatrix, walked us a few k to our Ecocycle store. Virginie, our host, had recommended this for good velos d'occasions - second hand bikes.
Unfortunately they were closed Mondays. Bummer. Walked to another grotty bike shop a few k away, LibertyCycles, but didn't like the look & they were closed for 2 hours, as the French do at lunchtime & good on them.
Relieved to find a pharmacy that wasn't closed cos I had a painful blister, despite my brill Eccos & orthotics. Maybe I should walk more regularly. Nah. Prefer cycling.
Anyway, the white-coated assistant in the pharmacy cleaned & dried my 'wound' & applied a plaster. Brill service. 
More amazing service simply buying bus tickets in a 'news agency'.
Thank you, I said, bowing out backwards.
No, it's I who thank you, said the shopkeeper, bowing me out.
Yeah, big deal, but so amiable. (Who am I? A minor character in a French farce?)
Even the ticket inspectors on public transport are obliging. Helped us get on the right bus; very solicitous.
More slogging the pavements & gawping, helped by friendly locals. Felt we had to visit a cathedral cos a solicitous old dame recommended it. We'd already passed on it cos we'd seen another church earlier - yeah, muse around with one's cap off gawping beatifically at the stained glass & marble monuments - 
but we didn't want to let madam down so we went that way then ducked down a lane. Hoped we wouldn't catch up with her on the main drag.
Good dinner later: I had the veal with morels & julienned veges; my companion had the pork fillets.
And then it started raining.
My expensive Netti cycling jacket didn't stand a chance. And as for my goretex lined Eccos? Once the rain had breached the waterproof lining, the lining held it in little squelchy pods. Trench foot basically. Al the same. 
Next day more relentless torrents, during which we managed to buy 2 bikes & solve the goblin's riddle of where to collect our campervan. 
Phew. Really exhausting, but the shoulders have dropped somewhat since arriving  in a place somewhere near Perigueux. 
In the background, the sound of water rushing through a 17th C mill & birds singing, evidently delighted that it's stopped raining, as am I.
Al's more readily getting the hang of driving this time.
Me? Loving speaking French & stuffing my bouche - mouth - with fromage, pâté & vin blanc.
Apparently I have a good French accent too. Bit of revision this past year has paid off.
And my Continuous Glucose Monitor is the bomb. I'm almost normal. As if.