Thursday, June 23, 2016

It's raining again.

Okay, won't use that cliché, first world problems. Oh, it seems I have.

Bearing all that in mind this is what's largely been happening for three weeks: rain. Various kinds. The pelting, frightening, soaking deluge that catches one on one's bike, amidst traffic, suddenly, in Auxerre as one is heading back to the flooded 'camping'. One is without shoes because they're drenched. (Yeah, boo hoo.) Then there's the type of rain that shrouds the hills and vineyards as one is cycling back to the camping in Beaune, Bourgogne, after a surprising - cos it wasn't raining - blissful morning's ride with occasional sunshine peeping through the grey-wash. But mostly the rain's been that all-night pittering or smashing on the roof of the rental van. We heard it first when we picked up the van in Munich, three weeks ago and it's been a regular feature of our days and nights here in Germany and France since.

But we're troopers. The waterproofs have had a good workout and we've headed out on our velos - bikes - anyway. We've put in lots of ks and admittedly have generally laughed at our 'misfortune'. Is it misfortune when one is lucky enough to have left all responsibility behind on the other side of the planet for six weeks? Don't think so. 

Nonetheless, it casts a pall that dulls the verdant landscapes and makes me happy to have the activity of doing a load of washing and drying.

Currently, we're on the Atlantic Coast. Read cheek by jowl camping grounds - holiday villages I suppose. All neat and well appointed with swimming pools and water slides. The Atlantic Ocean is a .7 k sand dune walk away from our camping and it looked bloody bleak. One young man was swimming amidst the choppy grey. I'm sure he warmed up, as you do after a while in the ocean, but I was a bit frightened for him. I didn't notice any warning signs. Perhaps it's safe.

I pulled my hood over my hat and secured the ties.

Weather notwithstanding, we were both a bit flat this morning with the rain pittering on the van skylight. You see we'd 'dared to dream' that we could make it to Saumur for our third time for the fête du velo - vintage cycling festival - held over the past weekend and we made it. I try not to to put too much store into these things in case I'm disappointed. But far from it. I'd say it was the best experience so far these hols and for a long time. Sad that it's over.

I come over here hoping to engage with the French. (I've written elsewhere about being the French pretender but I can't link to it on this device. Merde.) Well, apart from the magnificent cycling through the vineyards and along the troglodyte route - where markets and houses were carved out of the clay in the eleventh century - we had a real treat. A group of people were celebrating the fête with a picnic in one of the caves. This cave has a wood-fired oven and toilet facilities. (Pretty good cave.) The cave, all chalky white, is built into the cliffs on one side of the Loire. It's a room-like space that is open to the elements above. On that Saturday it wasn't raining.

We could hear lots of echoing voices as we approached. Didn't want to bust up their party, whoever they were, but I really needed a toilet stop. I barged through. Pardon, messieurs dames - basically, excuse me, I'm coming through. Pas de problème.

And after I'd washed up we were invited to have a drink. Next thing, we'd both got a glass of wine and a hunk of bread with chèvres - goats cheese. I chatted to Dianne, who had a bit of English. Between my French and Dianne's English we were away. It was marvellous. They were a group of neighbours and friends enjoying the special weekend. We shared their marinated duck and saucisson and stayed there with them in that cave for over an hour. Magic. Definitely flies in the face of all that guff about the French being unwelcoming. Very special.

So was Claude, well met at a wine and food pitstop along the vintage vélo ride around the Loire the next day. Claude had worked for the French government around the world including in Australia. Of course he spoke excellent English. Somehow, during the course of our conversation we had been invited to park our van at his place next time we're in that area. And I'm sure he was sincere.

Despite mostly bad weather, it's been worth the trip. I love the French culture and being able to improve my French conversation, love being with Al in our cosy van. Love not working. However, don't think I'm ready for retirement. (That's a whole nother story.)

PS: next day. Great forest cycle track along the coast around St Jean de Monts. Beach at low tide on the still but overcast day was amazing. Loads of activities for the masses of tourists who'll no doubt fill all the apartments, gites, hotels and campsites along this part of the coast in ten days time.

PPS: two days later - our first experience of a hot blue afternoon in France this holiday. Camped now in the picturesque well-appointed grounds of a chateau - Castel Campsite Le Petit Trianon in Ingrande-sur-Vienne. Quite enjoying sweltering heat and the peace of this place after the four hour drive to get here from the Atlantic coast.

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