A Travellerspoint blog

Where the bloody hell are you?

Or What happened to the Sun? An Australian perspective on France.

rain 10 °C

Yes I couldn’t resist using that dreadful catch phrase used by Laura ‘Who's a Slapper?’ Bingle…..because the past week has been bloody awful weather wise. No this blog isn’t going to be filled with a tirade on the inconsistent French weather. But I must confess after a week of rain I was feeling pretty grumpy. Where had the sun gone? This was supposed to be Summer- NOT Winter! It was pretty bleak all week long and I started to feel very trapped inside the van. I also felt very sorry for all the people who spent the last week in the South of France for their annual holiday. Camping, even in a warm cosy motor home, in foul weather is a grind. I do not know how the people lasted out in tiny tents and tiny caravans. The week of rain and cold winds made the campsite very muddy. The motor home looked like a Chinese laundry filled with damp clothing. Venturing out in the cold was not fun. In fact the last week was not enjoyable at all.

There I said it. But No more grizzles!

This is a blog entry which is going to have an Australian perspective on travelling. Not winging about the rain! Firstly I have to say I love France and I love the French. Despite the last week of bleak, Wintery weather, my love of everything French continues. O and I have been in France now for two months- we have done so much in that time- seen some fantastic places and have met a variety of very nice people.

Who ever said the French are arrogant have a very wrong and distorted opinion. Yes, at times the French are reserved and they do like to hear you at least attempt the French language. Well why not? We are in France after all. I have found the French as a whole to be very well mannered, patient and friendly. This has been our impression all across France- in the small villages and also in the large cities.

Yes I do understand the desire of the French people to have foreigners attempt to speak their language. It is a beautiful language. (That is until I start speaking very poor French with a horrendous accent!!!) When Orlando speaks French we have found that everyone has responded very positively and gone out of their way to help us. When I attempt to speak French I have found the French to also be very helpful with the one exception- they very quickly respond in English so I do not have time to crucify their language!!!

But I have to say the French are as a race charming and very polite. They are very willing to help (even when they don’t speak English…..and if you think about it why should they?) And I also like the pleasant greeting of ‘Bon Jour Madame and Monsieur’ is always welcoming whenever you go into a shop to buy your bread and the people you encounter on the street. There is such a pleasant way here- less rage and anger- it is really very nice!

Orlando has been right in his element in France. As he knows quite a bit of French ( he speaks French very well and has been reading ‘Harry Potter-et le Prisonnier D’Azkaban’ with the occasional help from a French dictionary) he is able to chat to all and sundry. He has been able to communicate with all the campsite personnel, shop assistants and French people at the campsites. And when we have had trouble with the van he has been able to chat to the mechanics. All pretty impressive stuff- and as we have been around some fairly remote, non English speaking areas, a real blessing.

As I have a repertoire of about five French sentences- Bonjour!, Au Revoir! Merci ! and Je vou drais cette chose, taille trente-sept, I get by with lots of hand signals and arm waving. When that fails- I can draw really well!!! You would think this would cause the average French man to mutter something under his breath- and walk away but this has not happened once this holiday. Everyone who has replied ‘Non’ to my ‘Parlez-vous Anglais?’ has been very helpful, very friendly and polite.

But when O is lost in a deep conversation, I usually get the gist of what is happening, so I smile, and dumbly nod my head.
Boy I should have paid far more attention in Year 8 French at St Mary’s!

AF

Posted by AnnaFisher 10:28 Archived in France Comments (1)

Rain Rain - Go Away!

rain 17 °C

Hi folks,

Well, it hasn’t exactly been at the scale of the Biblical flood, but we have had a week of it. Our time in Lyon was, sad to say, almost a complete wash-out. An unseasonal wintry spell descended on the whole of France in the middle of June and ignored all entreaties to leave.

The lousy weather set in the day before we arrived in Lyon at a campsite whose name I forget; but it was a forgettable place anyhow. 95% of the caravans there you could tell were for the dispossessed - long-time residents and probably victims of the harsh European recession. For some, living in a caravan park is the only affordable form of housing.

Anyway, back to the story. We set up camp and within minutes the rain started. I don’t think it stopped for the next seven days! We arrived in Lyon primarily because I wanted to catch up with a dear old friend of mine, Nadine, whom I’ve known since pen-pals were the pre-internet social networking community of the day. Here’s a clue – we’ve known each other since around the time the Beatles broke up!

Finding the Indigo Campsite was surprisingly easy (thanks to instructions from ‘The Caravan Club’ handbook leant to us by a couple when we were back at Aix-Les-Bains). It was a well-set up place with modern facilities – efficient reception, bar, games-room and TV room (from which incidentally I and others watched a number of the World Cup 2010 football matches).

Ann and I ventured into town a few times and saw the sights, but the rain and the cold weather made it hard to enjoy sightseeing. Amazingly the rain even dampened Ann’s enthusiasm for retail shopping; considering the size and sophistication of this city, that would take some doing!

We read a lot in the van and tried to make the best of a bad situation. Just as disappointingly, I saw very little of my friend Nadine. It appears that I picked one of the two worst months to come over; her work as a lawyer and private commitments made it almost impossible to meet up.

However, meet up we did; but it meant having to hang around in Lyon under the slate-grey skies for longer than I, and particularly Ann, would have liked (we comforted ourselves by the fact that the whole of France was washed out – it didn’t matter where we were, we’d have been damp. And I’d sooner be stuck at a large well-equipped site than the previous one, ‘Trailer Trash Camping Ltd’).

To continue, the day after we got to Lyon, I managed to meet Nadine for a cup of tea in her office; and we arranged that I come over for dinner the following Tuesday, her only free night. I simply had to catch up with her two wonderful teenage daughters – Laura and Maëlys; we’d had such fun together the first time I’d met them on my Europe trip in 2004.

While there wasn’t much to talk about this week, it has to be said that Lyon is a beautiful city wedged between two large rivers – the Rhône and the Saône – which run like two converging railway tracks through the city’s heart. There’s a fabulous basilica on the hill – Notre Dame de Fourvière – looking down over the whole city. It was built in the 19th century; and whilst the exterior is magnificent, the interior is gaudily clad with gilt-rimmed religious iconography, mosaics and paintings - the whole being massively over-decorated – a gift for all those impressionable snap-happy tourists whose idea of sophistication is an Eiffel Tower snow dome!

My birthday fell on the Saturday – the 19th – the worst day of the bleak weather. We tried venturing into Vieux Lyon to sightsee, but gave up after a couple of hours. The only highlight was seeing two-raincoat-and-hooded figures ducking in and out of doorways to avoid the rain. They were Adrian Edmonson and Jack Dee (for those who don’t know, Adrian is probably best known as ‘Vivian’ in ‘The Young Ones’ and Jack Dee seen most recently as the acerbic stand-up comic in ‘Lead Balloons’). They were followed by a cameraman and producer/director; this would suggest a joint TV comedy in the offing.*

That evening we went for a birthday dinner at a restaurant near to our campsite and had a pleasant if not inexpensive meal. Sunday we ventured out again to Vieux Lyon on a slightly less miserable day and saw the basilica and went to the Miniatures Museum (well worth a look). Then on the Monday we went to have the car fridge looked at (for weeks now the 12 volt supply has been failing – this means that when we are driving, the fridge is off. All we got for our trouble was a bill for 60 Euros and the news that it wasn’t the fridge but a problem with the electrics - great!

The day before we left Lyon – the Tuesday – the weather was beautiful. Ann and I drove into the country and had lunch outside a small village called Ouing. It started out well, but afterwards our frustrations with the previous week’s weather boiled over into an all-out row; this rather took the edge off the bright sunny day. By the time I took off to see my friend for dinner later that afternoon, things had cooled off – just as well, I didn’t really want to return to the van to find that the door handle had been wired up to the 240 volts!

Dinner was fun and my three hostesses were as welcoming and happy to see me as any could be. I was sorry that the reunion had been so brief, but perhaps when we return to France, we might try a return visit. Nadine dropped me back to the campsite at about 11pm – long after the buses had stopped running – and that was the day.

Ann and I left Lyon the next morning on a beautiful warm sunny day and drove north as far as Macon, where we are now camped. It’s a nice bright camp, totally overrun by Dutch tourists (as most in France are), and we’re enjoying time sitting out under the trees with a warm wind blowing.

The only thing of note today was finding out on the Web that our disingenuous show-pony Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has been deposed by his deputy, Julia Gillard, following disenchantment by the Labour Party. Good riddance to bad rubbish I say!

So now Australia has its first lady prime minister. Christ, we’re turning into a matriarchal state. Woman Prime Minister, woman Governor-General (I prefer Governess-General myself – just kidding girls!), and a woman head of state. What next – you’ll be telling me Barry Humphries is really a woman!

Ann is crowing and keeps crying out, “Girl Power!” (oh, give me strength!)

ON

  • The guess was right - an ITV comedy made in 2010 called 'Monte Carlo or Bust' starred the two, and followed their travels through France via Paris and, yep you guessed it - Lyon!

Posted by OrlandoN 08:30 Archived in France Comments (0)

Aix and Pains

semi-overcast 25 °C

This will probably be the shortest entry on the trip so far. We’ve been installed for the last week at a nice touristy site two minutes drive from a pretty little town called Aix-Les-Bains, which itself sits alongside a huge lake (by huge I mean nine or ten kilometres long). We’ll be heading off in the direction of Lyon tomorrow.

We left Grenoble and took a leisurely drive to a small village called Allevard. It’s a place that caters for elderly sufferers of arthritis and other joint ailments by having them stay at a variety of hotels that provide healing thermal baths and spas. We’d stopped for lunch just a few hundred metres short of the town to enjoy the scenery – a lovely lake surrounded by green-covered hills; the whole bathed in warm summer sunshine. We had our usual baguette with ham and salad whilst watching hang-gliders leaping off the hills and mallard ducks bobbing along on the still waters of the peaceful lake.

We booked into a nice quiet little campsite which had free wi-fi that you could use inside your van (it’s been so hard getting that – normally you pay or, more usually, it’s free but you can only use it within so many metres of where the wireless transmitter is installed – a pain especially if you want to Skype someone). We both spoke to our mothers – a particular joy for Ann as I’m sure she feels a little excluded from normal social interaction not being able to speak French.

We were getting ourselves comfortably installed at the site when the sky clouded over and the distant rumbles of thunder were heard. I was still running the power cable out from the van when the rain started in earnest. By the time we were tucked up for the night several hours later, it was bucketing down.

We decided to move on the next morning and we arrived at Aix-Les-Bains early afternoon. We’ve enjoyed the week here and we both like the town very much; more so Ann who has been interested in buying property in France and has been shown through some ‘studio apartments’ (bedsits really).

Weather has been changeable, one day fine, the next day grey; but it’s been dry and not cold at all. We did have one night where the rain came down heavily, but I enjoyed watching the lightning storm through my little bedroom porthole.

I’ve had my first chance to wash the motorhome; although doing the roof area has been impossible (it’s not one of those with an external ladder). I’ll have to wait until Lyon and try to find a car-wash big enough for a three-metre high Transit van.

As I write this on the Sunday before we head off again, we’re both sitting relaxing under the van’s awning having just enjoyed a light repast of quiche and salad. Ann’s just finishing off reading her sixth novel since we set off (she’s read more books right through on this trip than I remember her doing in the past five years – that’s what happens when you don’t have a telly!)

ON

Posted by OrlandoN 06:46 Archived in France Comments (0)

Rocky Mountain High

sunny

We left Millau on the Thursday and took the circuitous route north because we had to cross the viaduct. The weather was fine for seeing the countryside and the approach to the bridge was exciting. The drive across seemed to take an age (in reality a shade over two minutes) as one by one we passed each of the seven cable-stay pylons. The bridge is like the world’s biggest work of art, seven gigantic sailing ships attached nose-to-tail across a vast gorge – breathtakingly beautiful!

Our next stop was to be a town called Mende, but it proved uninspiring. The place itself is nestled against an impressive backdrop of huge hills; but it seems a little industrial to be of any touristic interest. The campsite was disappointing too – expensive and seemingly a meeting point for professional motocross teams (there was a lot of revving of trail bikes all afternoon which didn’t impress us).

A BMW Motorrad team decided to have their month-end piss-up in the site opposite us; the bastards chatting and laughing till midnight! Not only that but they decided to get up at 6:30 am and start slamming van sliding doors. Obviously they believe that normal campers are impressed by their racket.

Ann and I had decided not to stay more than one night; so we drove out amongst men leathering up for a hard-day’s pissing people off.

The day improved somewhat as we headed east across uncertain territory to a small town called Montreal, paving our way to an assault on the eastern side of the country. Well, to say the day had its up and downs is an understatement. After an hour or so of pleasant hilly countryside where we rose high above the surrounding land, we came to a gorge which, unlike the one at Millau, hadn’t been forded. There was an hour of punishing climbs, descents, hair-pins and terrifying crash-barrier-less bends, difficult enough for an average sedan let alone a 3-ton motorhome! But the views of tree-covered hillsides and dramatic valleys were wonderful.

We took a break for lunch at a gravelly siding at the apex of a hair-pin bend and enjoyed our now regular baguette stuffed with jambon cru, cheese, rocket and whatever else might be lying in the fridge.

While it was still only mid-afternoon by the time we reached Montreal, we felt it had been an exhausting time for both man and machine; so we decided to look for shelter. The Montreal campsite advertised in the book didn’t take motorhomes; so a little disheartened we continued on to another pointed out to us by an obliging husband and wife who helped us with directions. To get to the small riverside village called Ruoms, we had to pass through a défilé, a narrow road bored out of the rock face following the Ardeche River – very cool! We installed ourselves at a quiet leafy campsite called La Peyroche for three nights. The chap running the place was very obliging and we had a relaxing time there. The village itself (which caters for water and aero sports lovers) has sold its soul to the demon of tourism because its main road in looks like a tacky Balinese shopping street, selling amongst other things Balinese clothing and other cheap souvenirs. Very disappointing.

Last night we were in Valence, a pretty university town with lamentable parking facilities for anything larger than a three-door hatchback. We stayed at an awful campsite which was just an add-on to a hotel; so the staff didn’t give a shit. It was also the most expensive site yet in France (the two campsites I have judged the worse so far have ironically been the most expensive).

Ann was happy with her shopping there; but we left at midday the next day and drove on to the site at St.Nazaire-en-Royans which we happened upon on our way east to Grenoble. It’s a quiet municipal site by a river, and the town is dominated by an impressively large aqueduct.

A couple of days later we drove on towards Grenoble, for no other reason than because I imagined the place to be vibrant and bright and ‘happening’. We had a pleasant drive on a brilliant sunny day past fields and trees and distant tree-covered mountains. The city lies between the moderately high hills on the west side and the simply gigantic snow-covered Alps on the east, separating France from Italy. Getting here meant following the valley floor between these two natural barriers.

I think Grenoble is closest to the stereotype of a French city that we’ve yet encountered. Its architecture oozes charm and I’m put in mind of French towns you see in old sixties movies. Of course the 21st century has all but expunged the romanticism you associate with French cities – everything is advertising and mobile phone stores and teenagers exhibiting their ‘individuality’ by looking like every other teenager.

But when all said and done, Grenoble is a very ‘sexy’ looking town – bright and modern with an idiosyncratic French feel. With the sun shining and the Alps as a backdrop, it worked for us.

Back to earth with a bump for a moment – Grenoble is not a motorhome-friendly town. And it has only one campsite, which for some reason our GPS had terrible trouble finding. We arrived a bit shattered and irritable; and to top it off, it’s in a suburb which can best be described as Grenoble’s low-rent area – well I suppose every town has to have one. The campsite mirrors its surroundings – almost everyone here lives in their caravans – low income families, fathers stripped of their livelihoods by grasping ex-wives, the dispossessed and just the oddballs. There were a handful of genuine campers here; but amazingly I felt really out of place, even though all the residents seemed friendly enough. I curiously felt like we were impinging on these people’s ‘ordinary’ lives – people who could never afford to go travelling for a year around foreign countries. Oh dear, enough of the bleeding heart stuff!

ON

Posted by OrlandoN 13:48 Archived in France Comments (0)

Bridge Over Untroubled Water

I have to say that the last week we’ve seen fabulous weather. The clouds started evaporating earlier and earlier in the days that we stayed at Le Buisson. On the day we left for Cahors it was a stunningly bright sunny day. We arrived mid-afternoon, having made an agreement that from now on we stop for the day by 4pm to avoid any bickering. Just before getting to the town, we stopped in at a small campsite called La Graves in a small village called St. Pierre-LaFeuille (part of a working farm) in order to ensure we had somewhere to stay (in reality it’s still the low season and there are always plenty of free parking sites). We drove round Cahors, a large bright leafy town, but couldn’t find anywhere to park the van; so we decided to retreat to our campsite. We only stayed overnight, but they had the hottest showers yet – fabulous!

The next morning we stopped just outside Cahors and parked up at a McDonalds in order to use their internet facilities. We each ordered for brunch something called a ‘Le M’ which was really nice – simply a sour dough bun with a beef burger, plain salad and a slice of Emmenthal or similar. It was the type of burger you’d make at home – simple but fresh and tasty. It didn’t have the sort of fat-laden floppiness you get from McDonalds back home.

We spent two hours sitting comfortably in our van in the car park ‘Skypeing’ our mothers, writing emails and doing our banking. We drove on to Villefranche-le Rouergue, a lovely little town trying hard to be a city. In reality, it was just the sort of place you can comfortably spend two or three days and see everything. It had shopping streets (as usual Ann was in her element), a lovely scenic riverside ambience that French towns seem to be famous for, and a rather impressive but incongruously monstrous church sitting atop the town. In fact most small towns in France have at their heart an historic symbol of Catholic dominance, usually a bloody great church or cathedral. It doesn’t take a great leap of the imagination to guess at the power and influence of the church in past times!

The municipal campsite was a mere 15 minutes walk from town; so it was a perfect spot to stay. It was run by a husband and wife team who were permanently cheerful, gracious and helpful. The sites were extremely well set up, with lovely blossoming trees providing masses of shade, easy access to water and power, and lovely grassy plots on which to sit and soak up the dappled warm sunshine. The camp was also the most populated we’ve yet stayed at, mostly French and Dutch tourists.

Ann and I really enjoyed our time there; and we were invited for drinks by an elderly pair of English caravanners who were over on their summer holidays. They’d lived forty years in Northern Ireland, and enjoyed regaling us with stories about their Am-Dram exploits and how they’d given a teenage Liam Neeson a leg up in the acting world. Nice couple.

We left there on Monday morning (today’s Tuesday the 26th) and drove to Millau, about 100km south-east, ostensibly to see the famous viaduct designed by Lord Norman Foster. We drove up to see it yesterday evening; it has to be said, what a mind-blowing piece of engineering – it is colossal! We stopped under one of the 343 metre high pylons where a tourist centre has been erected. When we leave Millau tomorrow we will drive on the bridge – should be great!

We parked up alongside the Tarn River at a quiet campsite called ‘The Two Rivers’.

-----
This afternoon the clouds started building and there were distant rumblings of thunder. A couple of hours later the heaven’s opened up – it absolutely threw it down for twenty minutes, rain and hail. That’s one way of getting a dirty van clean!

ON

Posted by OrlandoN 00:47 Archived in France Comments (0)

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