Monday, July 22, 2013

Refuge in a bakery.

What is it with me and seeking refuge in a bakery full of delicious aromas; sweets and pastries I'd best not eat?

I'm in Cedars Bakery, High Street, Preston. Just had half a sumptuous chicken pie that contained some surprise potato that I haven't bolused for but hopefully the 7 k slightly hilly cycle home should take care of that. That's if I can bring myself to leave this warm haven and go home. Al isn't home until this evening which leaves me and mum.

If you read back through my posts, skipping the France bit, you'll know that my mum is quite lovely but that I'm having difficulty sharing my house with her and her 'memory loss' - the euphemism for dementia.

She's been back with us now for a week and it's hard work. She demands attention. She can't just 'be'. She needs reorienting every morning and it's all about mum. 

I started working parttime a couple of years ago for my health's sake, so I could wind down from my stressful secondary teaching job. Now, though, I've lost my weekends and my days off. If I'm not constantly attending to mum and answering her repetitious questions about how much her house is worth, where she lives, whether there's anyone else in the house and who is that man in the kitchen - Al - how to work the washing machine and a myriad other inane questions she gets the huff.

'You need not worry about me any more,' she'll say, cross, pouting, frowning, pseudo 'in charge'. 'I will find my own place to live.'

But that isn't an option. She would need to live in supported accommodation. I've checked out a few places and they're not for my mum.

At my house she can safely go to the supermarket or walk down to the local shops. I even got her to go to the Anglican Church two blocks away yesterday. She's always gone to church. I'm hoping she can find a community of support that doesn't involve sitting around with old people wearing bad dentures trying to tap a balloon into a waste basket. 

Meanwhile I'll keep cycling, trusting she's okay alone and knowing she'll have forgotten how angry I was when I left her an hour or so ago.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Bordeaux to Paris

Massive day today. Started yesterday really, when Al nervously drove the camping car back to Beausoleil Camping, in Gradignan, 10 k from Bordeaux centre. As they say in the guide book, it's a clean small ground with shaded blocks. We chose it for its proximity to McRent, Merignac, where our camping car was due back this morning at 9 sharp.

We did the big clean up last night; emptied cupboards; donated some food to our neighbours who reciprocated with a couple of delicious chocolate ice creams. Good trade. 

We were both on tenterhooks this morning though, knowing we had to get the damaged van back for its inspection. Could have done without the 'deviation' - detour - on the morning route. Had Sat Nav Jane confused. 'Turn around where possible,' she says. 'Take the next right and make a U turn where possible.' Al was swearing, but we followed the yellow 'deviation' signs several k out of the way it seemed while Jane continually 'replanned' and eventually found a way through to 'you have reached your destination'.

At McRent, after Al humbly proclaimed 'I have to report an accident' to the male receptionist - don't know what else to call him. The receptionist and some other guy - perhaps a mechanic - inspected the van and 'oh la la-ed' as if the van was their own personal property that we'd deliberately wrecked. I walked off. Needed to keep my comments to myself. 

For the next 40 minutes - I marked the time - we were ignored; given a silent treatment of sorts while a report was prepared. Very tense. Eventually I couldn't stand it any more and asked, in French, if it was possible for Monsieur le receptionist to communicate with us what was going on. After all, this was the same bloke who'd been effing and blinding back on June 18, regaling us with the story of how his friends called him 'fuck off' because he swears so much.

'I am preparing a report,' he told me curtly in English. 'And you are unlucky because my dad died last night so I don't want to talk.'


'I'm sorry,' I said.

'It is not your fault,' he replied.

After that we endured another 20 minutes of seriously abject silence before finding out that the excess we had to pay on the van was close to €1600. Farque alors. It's only €500 when one rents the same van in Germany.

And then a turnaround. 'Can you call us a cab?' I asked.

'Where do you want to go?'

'The airport?'

'It's okay. I will drive you otherwise it will cost you a fortune.'

Couldn't say fairer than that.

At Bordeaux airport we caught a shuttle bus to Gare St Jean, the railway station in Bordeaux and then bought tickets to Paris. The fast train travelling at 350k on some stretches between Bordeaux and Paris was quite amazing.

So here we are, in our hotel room at 11.13 on Tuesday night. Al has passed out after the strain of driving that camping car for three weeks. Me? I'm too excited to sleep. I wanted to skip and twirl when we stepped out of la Gare Montparnasse into a Paris evening. I've been to Paris twice before: once in 1980; again with Al in 1985. Now I'm wondering why I've deprived myself of coming here on our last two visits to France. Don't know why it feels so emotional to be here. Perhaps it's the stress we've endured since our bad day about ten days ago. Perhaps it's because, as I've said before, I'm the French pretender, and Paris is the place to do it.

As soon as we arrived this afternoon it felt right. We checked into our hotel - lovely - showered then hit the streets again. When we consulted our map, a woman stopped to help us, drew a map on a scrap of paper and worked out a good route for us to follow tomorrow to enjoy what she thought would be the best of Paris, given we only have a day to spend here. 

I'm thinking already that on my next French vacance I might simply rent an apartment in Paris for a time.

We certainly won't rent a van in Bordeaux, France again. The service, and the van, was definitely second rate compared to our experience renting in Munich. It also cost heaps more per day to rent in France. The van was a bit grubby, for example, some unwashed cutlery; a picnic table, for which we'd paid extra, with missing components, so it was as stable as spreading a Venetian blind across a couple of trestles, ie., useless. No kettle, so we had to boil water in a saucepan with a loose handle. amazing what you get used to. (Yeah, first world probs. But we paid €122 a day for that van.)

The driver's seat, which turns around to make a lounge chair, was missing a locking device so occasionally, as Al would be negotiating his way around mountains, the chair would come loose from its moorings and Al would be swinging around like Luke Skywalker riding shotgun in Starwars. Potentially catastrophic. And the chemical toilet. Let me just say blerk. I thought it was verboten to crap in those things, but clearly ... Well, enough said. 

Anyway, I'm in Paris now, at least for another night, so I'd better get to sleep so I can ride the velolibs or whatever they're called tomorrow.

Bon nuit.

BTW: found out from a couple of Brits yesterday that I can buy a new TomTom GPS/sat nav that factors in the size of one's vehicle. That would have saved us a bit of trauma. Next time.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Playing the endgame.

We've set ourselves up in a 'camping', as they call them in France, about a half hour's drive from Bordeaux near a village called CrÄ—on. We drove for four hours from 8.30 this morning to get here.

I didn't sleep last night. Was wide awake at 2.30 am after receiving the information from sister, Reggie, that mum would be dropped at my house in Coburg, Australia, on July 15. Okay, back on duty in my brain, which has already got me on high alert.

But it wasn't just that that woke me. It's playing the endgame on a holiday like this, and let's face it, it's been a rollercoaster. 

The endgame requires a strict schedule. Dispose of the bikes, somehow, return the camping car, and this time face the damage bill for an avoidable prang that's been eating at us since it occurred over a week ago. Then there's figuring out how to make all the public transport connections, cos poor me, I get to spend two nights in Paris.

Sounds absolutely pathetic, but it's white knuckled stress for a neurotic like me. 

As far as driving goes here, the other drivers are generally polite and cautious. The roads are safely marked and chicanes slow down traffic. But it's foreign. It's not home. And we're driving a sizeable truck, even though it's called a 'compact car'. As I've already mentioned, some roads are so narrow you suck in your tummy to get through and god help you if a car, or semi, yes, is coming the other way.

Thinking of all this got my stress hormones happening. Sister, Jane reckons I'm an adrenaline junkie cos I keep returning for more. I'm not though. I hate adrenaline; makes me feel desperate and today it had my blood sugar in the 20s. (I have T1 diabetes.)

I got up at 4.30 this morning, sick of lying on our cramped smaller than double bed and went for a ride through the camping ground to find the facilities. Was kind of fun. Wondered where the stars were. When it lightened it was foggy. I've only seen stars once on this rain sodden trip to France, where incidentally it's now HOT AND BLUE. Yes, just when it's almost time to go home

When Al woke up at about 6.30 he was unusually anxious too. That caused me even more of an adrenaline surge. He needs to be in charge. Don't like it when he goes all dithery on me.

After a brief confab during which I bitched about the cold shower I'd just suffered in the dark sanitaires with some madam making her tea and having an early morning fag, Al and I agreed to make a dash from Cahors, where we'd arrived late the previous arvo, to Bordeaux to try to resell our bikes at Ecocycle Merignac, from whence we'd bought them.

And that was it. We were on the winding road carefully following Sat Nav Jane's directions for close to five hours, despite having done a similarly long drive from Carcassonne to Cahors the previous day.

(Carcassonne, by the way: put it on the must see list.)

The reason we had to return the bikes today, Saturday, even though the van's not due back in Bordeaux until Tuesday morning, is that Ecocycle isn't open on Sundays and Mondays. We'd bought them for €320 3 weeks earlier. Given how few rides we've managed due to inclement weather it seemed every ride had cost us about €60. 

Anyway, we high-fived each other when we arrived at Ecocycle, found it miraculously open during that lunch-time shutdown - c'est exceptionnel, said Monsieur le bike seller - and sold our bikes for €168.50. Made us feel a tad better.

Now we have a couple of days sans bikes, to read books and relax by the pool; the type of thing one does on a holiday if one is not us.

Feel better.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Yes, you can fit a campervan through the eye of a needle. En route toAlbi.

The needle's eye bit occurred later. It was after Al had pulled over into the edge of the narrow road to let another vehicle pass. Never mind me screaming Edge! Edge! An almighty crash ensued coming from under our van.

Al swore and stopped. I got up to investigate what had fallen inside the van.

Weird. Everything inside was intact. Checked the back of the van. seemed okay. Drove on for a bit on this seeringly hot blue day. 

Stopped for a sandwich. Realised a rock, or something else hidden in the undergrowth, had ripped a bottom panel from the passenger side of the van. How had I missed that before when I was doing my round? Didn't look in the right place.

Very, very stressful.

But then Al and I reassure each other; enumerate disasters we've survived - remember the passports and cash in Vietnam?  Yes, first world problems, but they feel bloody awful when you're experiencing them. 

We're good, we say. We're driving through unexplored territory in the south-east of France. Life is sweet.

Then Sat Nav had her say: turn left in 100 meters. Bum. We missed it. Jane readjusted, as she does, then drove us into a trap, perhaps as some sort of vengeance. (I'll have to stop anthropomorphising that piece of equipment.) We looked down an impassable lane: ancient mossy shoulder high stone walls on either side & a 'road' consisting of two tyre tracks. We were fucked.

Couldn't reverse. No option but to proceed with mirrors folded in. Figured we were up for insurance excess anyway but we hoped we wouldn't get further damage to the van. Crawling through at snail's pace with branches scraping the driver's side, we got through. The lucky bit was that Al was able to drive straight across the road and into a lay-by of sorts. He could not have turned the wheel without incurring major damage to our rented van. He managed to get through, with me sobbing - I'd held it in when we'd hit the rock earlier - and some branch scrapes on his side. That miracle man didn't touch the walls.

The French word for relief is 'soulagement'. I've used it a couple of times today. Once, when we found a mechanic in the middle of god knows where who kindly removed the broken panel on the van and secured the electrics. The second time was when we arrived here at Camping Albirondack in Albi, where the 7th stage of the Tour De France ends on July 5. 

It's hot, quiet and restful now we've stopped driving on those horrific lanes that pass as roads. We've got a cycle into the 'centre ville' to enjoy tomorrow, and I've shaved Al's head, which was getting a little too peach fuzzy, if you can imagine a peach with grey fuzz.  He is thus transformed. Wish I could do the same for me. Perhaps a little foundation?


Monday, July 1, 2013

Rocamadour. Who knew?

Today we/walked climbed down into this medieval village in the Dordogne region called Rocamadour. 

Yesterday we were so busy looking for a camping ground called Le Roc, that we didn't find, that we missed the signs saying that the road down into Rocamadour wasn't suitable for campervans. We made it through anyway. Twice. Not without palpitations,pulling side mirrors in and praying. We had to do the road a second time because we needed to return to a camping ground we'd passed earlier on our fruitless search.

It was alarming, but on reflection, one of those things one is glad to have done.

Have to say this place is wonderful. My legs, however, are killing me. So glad squats are part of my exercise regime. Good for climbing hills and steps. 219 steps up to the virgin's chapel at not quite the top of Rocamadour. The pilgrims used to do it on their knees saying a prayer for each step. Then there's a climbing zigzag path through monuments representing the stations of the cross. I stopped looking at them cos I started getting irrationally emotional based on my Judeo-Christian inculcation.

The walk was so arduous that I imagined Christ carrying some hardwood cross. With splinters.

Happily I've walked back up the 60 percent inclined hill and I'm installed in a bar, with Al, overlooking Rocamadour.

It's named after St Amadour, an abbott whose well preserved remains were apparently discovered there. Later they were destroyed by looters at some other time in history.

I'd never heard of Rocamadour; didn't know that it's the second cite in France , after Mont St Michel, despite all my French studies and visits. According to a shopkeeper, who patiently chatted despite my laboured French and helped me with a couple of words and conjugations, Rocamadour isn't that well known, in contrast with those places one immediately associates with France: Mont St Michel, the Eiffel Tower, the Loire Valley and the Riviera. She believes the south-east is a little overlooked.

If you are coming to France put Rocamadour on your list of brilliant places to see and do. There's lots of climbing and walking involved but it's so worth it.

The weather today is perfect: low to mid 20s; the sky with scudding white clouds; light refreshing breeze. Haven' t heard many English voices today but there seem to be quite a few tourists and Sunday day-trippers about. Nothing like the hordes trampling Mont St Michel though. I've been able to enjoy a leisurely stroll - on the occasional flat bits

There's a massive cave here too - grotte des merveilles - but I didn't fancy a visit. I overdid that one last year in a troglodyte cave in Loches. Had a bit of claustrophobia along the labyrinthine self-guided tour. I'll look at a photo.

Now, our late lunch was par excellence. Didn't expect that in a tourist spot. We ate at a restaurant with an outdoor terrasse overlooking the valley. The restaurant is called Le Terminus des Pelerins - the last stop of the pilgrims. We both had salads which were delectable: lettuce, tomatoes, walnuts, vinaigrette dressing; some sort of thin salami cut into bite-sized disks, a generous slice of tasty duck terrine, cured ham and a pat of goats' cheese to die for, as they say. We bought another 6 pats of the goats' cheese at a local store in Rocamadour, so good was it.

I know I'm given to hyperbole but credit where it's due. I'd put that salad up there with the best, most timely feeds of my life. Perfect food; perfect setting; perfect day. I'm becoming as repetitious as a politician.