Well, if I was plonked into France without knowing where I was, I’d be hard pushed to admit that this place has nice weather. Talk about changeable! Yesterday we had a lovely warm sunny day here in Bordeaux; but once again today it’s grey and raining (although I confess that the sun is doing its damnedest to push through).
Ann and I are in a very nice clean well-run municipal campsite called Bordeaux Le Lac situated, as one might expect, next to a large lake. It’s also next to Bordeaux’s expo centre, a vast area dedicated to large exhibitions and the like. On Sunday we arrived at midday to the distant vocal ejaculations of a chap on the centre’s PA system, excitedly working the crowd.
Surprisingly we had little trouble finding the campsite thanks to Rob’s assistance (the chap at the Les Vigères campsite), and arrived safe and sound albeit under a grey rainy sky to this nice site. The wi-fi has been down for the past two days which has been very inconvenient, as both Ann and I really need to do some work on-line. The reception promised that it will be back on-line by this afternoon, but we’ll believe it when we see it.
Yesterday, our first full day in Bordeaux was spent pleasantly wandering through the centre of town (there’s a bus/tram service between us and the centre). With the sun out all day, the city was very appealing, with ultra-modern trams running alongside majestic French architecture.
It’s now the morning of the 15th. We stayed longer than expected at the Bordeaux campsite for reasons that will become apparent. We got our wi-fi connection, although it had to be accessed at the main office because they couldn’t get the network out to the vehicle sites. As compensation the usage was free to campers.
We had a second day looking around town enjoying the wonderful architecture and soaking up the French charm; our last day was to be devoted to washing and sorting out our on-line business. It turned out however that our ‘last’ day was actually our penultimate. We got up early on the 13th to a gloriously sunny sky, showered, put on freshly laundered clothes and enjoyed our last tea and toast breakfast in Bordeaux. We chucked out the rubbish, I turned off the gas, disconnected the electrical cable and did the final checks. We sat in the cab, and I turned on the ignition – nothing! I rested my head against the steering wheel and groaned.
For the rest of the day I remained in a less-than-happy mood as I tried to sort out the van’s problem. The battery was flat, but fortunately the camp had a hand-held battery booster – it doesn’t charge your battery, it’s just essentially a mobile spare. Once we had juice we took off looking for an auto shop or mechanics (the campsite let us take the battery booster with us, which was very nice). The only auto shop in the area was closed (as everything is in France when you need it). Ann seemed more interested in the clothes shops in the adjacent shopping centre; so my anxiety at having a potentially inert motorhome became more and more evident.
Encouragingly, we found that when we returned to the van, the motor kicked over fine. However it was getting late in the day and we decided to return for another night at the campsite and leave again early the next day.
Full of optimism, we turned the ignition key on the next morning – nothing! By this time I was hungry to beat this beast; so I told Ann that we were going to get the problem fixed TODAY, and that any suggestion of retail therapy would be met with the direst retribution. We went back to the Autoshop, bought ourselves our own booster (60 Euros), then headed off for our next destination.
Half an hour later at a small town called Cleon, Ann wanted to stop to replenish her wine supplies. We saw a likely shopping centre; and she pointed out an auto mechanics in the same block. I spoke to one of the guys there and asked his advice. While he was happy to test the battery for us, it turned out that the thing is locked away under the driver’s seat, totally inaccessible except by removing the seat.
He advised going back north to Liborne (thankfully only half an hour away) to the Ford Dealer. I rang ahead and got an appointment for 2:30. We drove there arriving just after midday. Everything in France closes between twelve and two; so we parked the van in the enclosure, took out our baguette, cheeses, jambon cru, and roquette and enjoyed a leisurely lunch under friendly skies.
The mechanics were great; they replaced the battery within 45 minutes, handed us a bill for nearly 200 Euros; and we headed east.
It had been a long arduous day; so I really should have kept the driving down to about an hour. However I pushed it a bit far, and by 6pm the campsite I’d found in the book seemed to have evaporated. Others in the vicinity of Coux-et-Bigaroque (where do they find these names?) seemed to be closed, even though the book claimed they were open from April.
I was tired and Ann was ratty. We finally returned to a site that Ann had pointed out an hour earlier very nearby in the village of le-Buisson-de-Cadouin; and here we are. Secluded, wooded and right alongside a mellifluous Dordogne river. We’ve decided to stay here for a few days, to take a holiday from our holiday!
Well, it’s been an eventful day. It’s the 19th of May, Ann’s birthday, and we’ve just returned from a nice meal out (more of that in a moment). Our campsite surrounds a rugby pitch; and as we returned from the restaurant in the semi-darkness we noticed the flashing lights of emergency vehicles on the pitch. What’s more there was a white helicopter sitting next to the vehicles. What’s going on we thought? We’d no sooner parked up as the helicopter roared into life. Ann and I ran to the edge of the pitch on the opposite side to where the action was and watched the chopper lift off and disappear into the night sky. Must find out what happened tomorrow!
We must be one of only three or four campers on this site (the hoards start arriving in about a month or so), so we’ve had a very peaceful week here, and the weather the last couple of days has been sunny and warm – at last. We’re off tomorrow – in some ways it’ll be a shame because we’ve rather enjoyed not doing much.
Having said that we haven’t really been idle. We’ve used this site - Le Pont du Vicq - as a central point from which we’ve explored some of the interesting sites in the region. We’ve seen Sarlat-le-Canedan, a wonderfully preserved mediaeval town, spoilt only by the tourist trade. We visited the Gouffre de Promeyssac, a fascinating limestone cave created over millions of years. And we’ve been to Lascaux II, a perfect reconstruction of the Cro Magnon caves made famous by the 17,000 year old paintings. The original site has been closed to the public for almost thirty years because of the effects of humidity on the paintings.
It’s a lovely area the Dordogne, with something to see in nearly every village. Tonight Ann and I went to the ‘Restaurant de l’Abbaye’ in Cadouin, so called because it’s smack bang next to an abbey. The village is quaint like so many in this area; and I thought it would be a nice idea to take Ann out for a meal at a place with a little bit of traditional French ambience.
Now French restaurants generally have two forms of dining – à la carte and fixed price – no surprises there. However unlike at home where the fixed price menu is a very pared-down selection of foods for the cash-strapped , the French ‘prix fixe’ is a legitimate option to the à la carte. They have a range of prices too, and both the entrée and main meals had three options apiece. Ann and I chose the 24 euro fixed price one which had five courses. Boy, was it good value! We’re always interested to compare prices with Oz; so we thought we’d play a game - ‘Guess what the meal would cost back home’. Now at current exchange rates, 24 euros is about $34; so we had a baseline to work from.
Our first course was ‘potage’, a decent-sized bowl of creamy seafood soup infused with garlic – delicious (although it could have been hotter). Our guess for the same thing in Oz was about $12. Next was a fabulous terrine and salad – delicious – Oz price, $15. Subtotal - $27. For main course, I had the fillet of cod in a creamy sauce with rice, a portion of vegetable frittata and salad; Ann had a fillet of lamb with crispy round pan-fried chips, the frittata and salad (it turns out that Ann’s fixed-price meal was only $21 because she asked for the lamb which was only on the à la carte menu) Oz price, we guessed around $25. Subtotal - $52.
Next a selection of three cheeses from a board that had at least 15 cheeses on it – everything from blue-vein to camembert, Port Salut to Emmental. Whaddya reckon, at home about twelve bucks? Subtotal now $64. Finally, a choice of desserts – chocolate mousse, crème brulée, floating island, strawberries with cream or ice cream and two or three others I can’t recall, We had the strawberries with cream – the cream was sweet and lightly infused with liqueur – yummy. I can’t see us paying less than ten or eleven dollars at home for that, can you?
All up I think the meal in Australia would have cost about $75 each, a far cry from the $34 we paid. Oh, I forgot to mention that we had a very nice Sauvignon Blanc for 14 euros – about $20 – easily two-thirds what you’d pay back home.
I came away from the restaurant feeling very pleased with myself. We’d eaten a huge dinner of good quality for next to nothing. My, how things have changed. Once upon a time if you’d come to Europe, you need to take out a second mortgage to eat out. I dare say you’d still pay a lot for a meal in highly touristy places like Paris; but this small village wasn’t exactly a tourist backwater. Of the six or seven tables occupied while we were there, at least half were booked by tourists. If anything you’d expect to be paying over the odds.
The upshot is Ann had a really nice birthday and she got her meal at a French restaurant.
Incidentally, the helicopter was needed for a medical emergency. A Dutch diner in a nearby restaurant had a heart attack (apparently he’ll be OK). It seems the rugby ground is used by the helicopter for serious medical incidents within a 15kms radius.