2013 France Part 3

Rather long and no photos. [photos now added]  Just trying to get the info updated as I don’t know how long it will be before I have my next wifi.

Wednesday 24 July
Stu went to the markets today where he bought peaches and strawberries. He managed to leave a few strawberries in his backpack where they got squashed by the waterbottles later in the day and leeched red juice down the back of his shirt and shorts. Not a good look but at least he smelt good.
As it turns out our friend’s husband didn’t have to work this week so we all toddled off to Carcassonne today. At first view it truly is like a fairytale castle with it’s towers and conical turrets. We did an audio tour of the chateau and ramparts and had lunch on the run. Went to the cathedral and walked around some of the grounds. There’s lots to explore here that isn’t streets full of shops and that was a pleasant surprise. Also discovered there’s a Youth Hostel there. That might be something to keep in mind for next time. This is definitely my favourite medieval town so far. Perhaps the cool breeze off the Pyrenees helped.

Carcassonne

Carcassonne

Carcassonne

Carcassonne

When we got home, our friend rang to book us a tour of the Airbus A380 assembly factory. It was like the Spanish Inquisition. We had to give our full names, dates and places of birth and my maiden name. When we go, we have to have our  passports and be there half an hour before the tour – presumably for a cavity search.
Friend’s husband cooked tartiflette for dinner. Friend was horrified because this is a winter dish. Regardless, it was fantastic. Kind of like a potato bake only so much better that I don’t think we’ll ever have an Australian style one ever again.

Thursday 25 July
This morning we went to Albi with Friend. The Cathedral is truly spectacular and is the highest in Europe made only of brick. Beautifully restored.
We had breakfast at a cafe which had run our of croissants. Stu says they should have their citizenship revoked. They did, however, have that other French cafe essential – the dirty, old French man smoking outside.
We walked down to the river the aournd the gardens, then continued on to Lisle sur Tarn where our friends used to live in one of the old medieval houses. Must have been a nightmare with those cobbled streets and the stairs in the building.

Albi

Albi

We were supposed to have a wine tasting class after lunch but Friend got the time wrong and it should have been this morning. So instead, Friend’s husband took us for a drive to a couple of different towns including Gaillac where it was 43 degrees (no, that’s not a typo) and to a different wine vendor where we tasted several and bought a mixed dozen.
I must admit, I’ve never really understood the use of shutters on windows. I thought at most they were to keep the wind out. As it turns out, everyone here seems to use them to keep out the sun and the heat. It’s understandable in a way in some of those towns where everything is stone, there’s no breeze in the narrow streets and no trees or even greenery to make things a bit cooler. They were surprised when I said that most of the shutters I’ve seen in Australia are purely for decoration.
Stu asked me the other day where “Prochaine” is, as he kept seeing signs on the motorway pointing to “Prochaine Sortie”. Sortie means exit, so he thought there were multiple exits to the same town. I had to chuckle. “Prochaine” means “next”, so all these signs are just saying there is something or other at the “next exit”.

Friday 26 July
We left in plenty of time this morning for our Airbus A380 tour to be there by 9.00 for our 9.30 tour. Considering the questions we were asked when booking, we were quite surprised that not only was there no cavity search, but they barely even glanced at our passports.
Some pretty amazing stats on these planes. The entire diameter of the fuselage of the A320 is the same as one of the engines on the A380. Each plane has 500km of electrical cable and needs 500kg of paint. That should make any home decorating you have to do seem like a doddle. And if you want to buy one to save you the bother of having to rely on airlines to get you everywhere, it will only set you back $440,000,000 US.  Once you have it, you’ll have to decide what to do with the 550 square meters of floor space. You can have pretty much anything except a swimming pool. Shall we go halves? They did tell us how much it cost to fuel it but I can’t remember. I’m sure that’s just a mere snip anyway. No worse than filling the ute – 1000 (or maybe 10,000) times or so.
After lunch, Friend took us to Corde sur Ciel – a medieval village perched on top of a hill. Steep, steep, steep cobbled streets – possibly the steepest so far. Absolutely worth it for the spectacular views. There was hardly anyone about. We put it down to the heat.
Friend’s husband was a happy man tonight. He’d had some duck hearts in the freezer and no one to help him eat them. Stu kindly obliged and I kindly declined.

Corde sur Ciel

Corde sur Ciel

The view from Corde sur Ciel

The view from Corde sur Ciel

Saturday 27 July
What a nightmare! We left Friend’s place as planned before 10.00am expecting a four and a half hour drive.
It took us 8 hours.
Apart from the traffic – it seems everyone in Europe was heading south – there were a couple of accidents to slow things down even more. We heard later that the news had said it was the worst day of the year on the roads.
Just my luck. No wonder I can’t win the lotto.
We finally made it to our little cottage in Vidauban in Provence. It’s lovely. We walked into the village for dinner then home and crashed. Walking to and from the village will keep us fit. It’s all uphill on the way back.

6

Sunday 28 July
We kept up the fitness regimen by walking down to the markets where we bought fruit and veg, ham, chicken, eggs and, of course, a baguette. Everyone would have known I wasn’t French just by looking at me. My carry bag is too deep and you can’t see the baguette poking out the top.
The lady who sold us the ham was like butchers everywhere – full of cheek. She jokingly preteded that she couldn’t understand us and said she was going to give us 50 slices when we’d asked for 5. Then she told us she had no change and waved us away after Stu paid her. Ha ha. My French isn’t that good, but it isn’t that bad either. All done with smiles so all taken in the spirit it was intended.
Stu popped out to the supermarket for the last of our French essentials – beer, wine and coffee. After that, it was declared a Deck Day. If you’re wondering what a Deck Day is, it’s pretty self explanatory but actually relates to cruises, where you choose to spend the day sitting on the pool deck reading or watching the passing parade while a nice waiter brings you cocktails. I didn’t have a nice waiter or cocktails, but I sat by the pool sipping rose for several hours then had a lovely Cruise Snooze in the afternoon.

Monday 29 July
We woke up to a huge thunderstorm that was very, very close. The thunder sounds different here. I would say it sounds French, but I suspect it’s just that it was bouncing off hills, which we don’t get at home.
We considered staying in again but decided to risk it and go to St Tropez as planned.
We fluked parking in the right area at Ste Maxime – we figured the ferries would leave from somewhere near the yacht club, but there were no signs that we could recognise.
We’d been advised to go early – very sound advice – and we caught a ferry that was full of grumpy commuters and no other tourists. The 15 minute ride got us there by 9.00. It was still a bit overcast but clearing, so looked like we’d made the right decision.
We gawped at the millions of dollars worth of huge yachts and wandered around without finding anything particularly interesting. We had breakfast and by then the Tourist Information Centre was open. We bought a map and a self-guided walk which took us around the old town. We dipped our toes in the Med and went off-route to climb the hill to the Citadel for some spectacular views.
We were nice and hot by the time we got back down to the town. The crowds were building and we decided it was time for us to leave. Had a rather expensive beer on the waterfront (15.60 euros for 2 – though the grumpy waiter never did bring my 10 cents change, so 15.70 euros) then back to Ste Maxime on the ferry. There were only about 8 people on our ferry, but the ones heading to Ste Tropez were packed. Looks like we got out just in time.

8 7

We started looking for somewhere to have lunch, preferably at one of the cafes or restaurants right on the beach, all of which seemed to have private beaches fenced off in front of them. This is a pretty weird concept for us – can you imagine anyone trying to rope/fence off part of the beach at Yeppoon, or Mooloolaba? There’d be a riot.
Anyway, these places seemed pretty expensive. We rejected the first one we stopped at, but it was practically giving its food away compared to the next one where they wanted 59 euros for a steak.
We ended up at a fairly large and slightly impersonal, but still OK, place in St Raphael where I had pizza and creme caramel and Stu had frogs legs (which he said weren’t as good as the ones he had in Singapore in 1980). Stu had a beer, I had a glass of wine then we both had coffee. All this for less than the price of 1 steak up the road. Bargain!
We headed home for a quiet night in. Our hosts had warned us they were having a party and would be noisy. We hardly heard a thing and they seemed to be done by 10.30. I think we could teach them a thing or 2. Karaoke on their deck for New Year? That should bounce nicely off the hills.

Tuesday 30 July
Woke to news from a friend on Facebook that there’d been a $136 million diamond robbery in Cannes yesterday. We weren’t quite that far along the coast, but if we had been perhaps we could have picked up one of the ones they dropped to cover the cost of our next couple of holidays.
We packed a picnic lunch to the lavender fields and the Gorge du Verdon. Not far down the road I started to fee sick and every twist and turn made it worse. Still, we wound down the windows and what was left of the lavender (most had been harvested) smelt beautiful. We persevered till we got to the lake (Lac St Croix) but decided against hiring an electric boat to go up the gorge as there were way too many people all doing the same thing. We stopped further up the lake where it was a bit quieter and I thought Stu would try for a fish but he wasn’t tempted.

9

I still wasn’t feeling the best so we decided to skip the drive along the gorge. I’m sure it would have been spectacular and the sort of thing I’d normally enjoy, but just the look of the squiggly road on the map made me feel worse. I hate to think what the reality would ahve been.
Stu had asked me earlier in the day when I had entered him in the French rally drivers championships. It certainly felt like that on some of the roads – but at about one fifth the speed they’d be doing. How there aren’t more accidents I’ll never know, given the speed some cars come round blind corners where there’s barely room for 2 cars to pass.

Wednesday 31 July
Popped over to Italy for the day – just because we could.
We decided to catch the train to Ventimiglia rather than drive so there’d be no issues with having a few drinks. It was a bit pricey, but not quite as much as we’d expected.
We didn’t have any encounters with Italian conductors (as a friend did many years ago), but there was almost an incident with a French one. We’d bought our tickets that morning for travel that day, but it seems they were issued for use anytime in the next 2 months and therefore have to be validated on the day of travel so they can’t be reused. No one told us this, not even the woman who had sold us the tickets and who spoke perfectly good English. Anyway, we got a good telling off but didn’t get the 25 euro fine (presumably each) which would have been more than the price of the tickets so then I really would have been pissed off.
We had a bit of a look around town then, keeping to the theme of steep and hot, walked up the hill to the old town. In a quiet corner of the path I managed to turn my shirt the right way in. I had had it on inside out without realising. Ha.
We walked back down to the waterfront for lunch. There was just a breath of breeze down there, but nothing up the top of the hill in the narrow streets. Stu had spaghetti with pesto followed by lemon tart. I had ravioli in cream sauce with walnuts. Good thing I only ordered the entree. I could still only eat half of it, even though it was delicious. I couldn’t manage dessert. We shared a bottle of the house rose and finished with coffee and a limoncello digestive.

01

03

02

I had been a bit concerned about the language issue but needn’t have worried. Being so close to the border, many things were in Italian and French, and some also included English. Our waiter at lunch spoke at least six languages (that we could identify).
Many of the shops were closed for lunch so we had a look in a few and waited for some of the others to open. We had ice cream/sorbet and just missed a train back so had to wait half an hour for the next one. This time we found the machine to validate our tickets and did the right thing.
The train trip home was a milk run so took ages – good for a snooze.
I’ve acquired a “thong tan”. For those who aren’t Australian and may have fears for the effects on public decency, please be assured that this relates solely to my feet.

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