Anna and the Innkeeper in France - 2012
Anna and the Innkeeper's first visit to France three years ago was an abortive one. We had planned on touring Provence for 3 weeks. We lasted 3 days. The south of France was in the grip of a heatwave. Salamanders we are not so we decided to move on and ended up in Germany. Via Italy and Switzerland. Not what we had planned, but in the end a most enjoyable journey.
This was the vacation of the roundabout. We were both somewhat irritable because of the heat. Anna always navigates and I drive. Just outside Sisteron is a large roundabout with umpteen exits. The GPS got its knickers in a knot and Anna, using the map alone, could not immediately decide which exit we should take. me: "Which exit, Anna?" Anna: "I don't know!" me: "You are the bloody navigator, tell me what to do!" Anna: "Well, stop somewhere so I can figure out where the hell we are." me: "We are in a bloody roundabout with 5 million cars behind us. I can't stop. I'm going to go round and round this f'ing roundabout until you get yourself sorted out". Anna: "Well I am f'ing done", throwing the map down. So, round and round we went. At first in complete silence. Me fuming. Anna fuming. After the tenth time around the circle, Anna started giggling. I started giggling. We both burst out laughing. I took the first exit, parked and we sorted things out. Our now pact is that, when Anna says that she is lost, I will find a place to stop and we will figure out where we are. Still, it left us with unfinished business in France. We will, DV, return this year and do a proper job of it. We have booked a flight to Paris via Doha on Qatar Airways for the 23rd April, to return on 1st June. Come hail, heat or snow, we will stick to the most pleasant task of wending our way through the French countryside. From Paris back to Paris. Along the following route: (as a broad outline only) [caption id="attachment_1186" align="aligncenter" width="450"] More or less where we intend going[/caption]
Christine and Jochen have invited us to spend 3 days with them in Germany, just across the French border. We will spend a day with them in Schelingen, drinking wine and eating. Then a day in Königschaffhausen-Endingen drinking wine and eating. Then a day in Freiburg, drinking wine, eating and attending the Cologne v Freiburg football game. Bound to put us in a great frame of mind for the rest of the trip. We will then return to the Alsace, probably Colmar, for a brief period of recovery before setting off again.
We have a list of towns that we would like to pass through and/or stay over at. Anna has a list of preferred hostelries at each town and has done extensive research, so the whole thing should be fairly straightforward. Here's the list: Coulommiers, Strasbourg, Colmar, Equisheim, Besancon, Annecy, Carpentras, Sisteron, Orange, Vaison la Romaine, Venasque, Roussilon, Gordes, Vence, Grasse, Aix en Provence, Arles, Avignon, Carcasonne, Cauterets, Pau, Toulouse, Saint Bertrand-de Gomminges, Montreal du Gers, Najac, Albas, Montpazier, Domme, Rocamadour, Perigueux, Brantome, Saumur, Amboise, Chambord, Loches, Cheverny, Chenonceau, Langeais, Angers, Fougeres, Paris.
Anna and I had a short discussion concerning when to spend time in Paris – at the start or at the end. I had no preference either way and agreed to her suggestion to spend the last week in Paris. As planning for the trip progressed, I started having second thoughts. I think that Anna has sandbagged me and it will require the greatest fortitude to emerge unscathed from this. I started getting suspicious when she produced a list of the clothes she intends packing. Barely enough to fill her small on-board suitcase. “And what then“, I asked, “about your main suitcase. Surely we can leave that behind?”. “No”, she replied,”that will be needed for our two pillows.” (Confession: on longish trips we travel with our own pillows. We generally leave them behind at the last overnight stop.) Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. “Surely we can squeeze them in somewhere...It does not make sense to return with an empty suitcase.” “I agree – makes no sense at all. I'll make sure it does not come back empty.” And there, dear reader, you have it. Anna's dastardly plan right from the beginning was to end the trip in Paris so that she can fill the empty suitcase. With clothing. And other French stuff. Probably even a handbag or two. Hah! I am, however, alert and aware. We shall see........
A pleasure to be savoured is the anticipation of something. Looking forward to a happy event is frequently better than the event itself. Not that we expect our Frolic in France to be anything but wonderful. Still, the anticipation is in itself great. As is the planning. Of which we have been doing a lot. (by which he means me, Anna, not “we”. I have been doing the work while he has spent a lot of time waving his arms about.) Anna has lists. Some of her lists have lists. I picked up her notebook this morning to check that all is included that should be - I take my supervisory role very seriously. Some entries make immediate sense:
Wine glasses (We wouldn't want to arrive in France sans wine glasses, would we?) Corkscrew Kindles and reading lights. (This year we are experimenting with clip-on reading lights for the Kindles. Last time in Europe we had to buy 2 sets of incandescent light bulbs to replace the weak, energy saving ones we found in bedside lamps wherever we went. Energy saving is good, but when you want to read you need decent light.)
Wine pump (This replaces the cork and pumps out the air above the wine. To keep a half bottel of wine in good shape for the next day. Not that we expect to leave many half bottles undrunk, but when it gets to wine it is best to be overprepared.) But then I came across entries that are, to say the least, cryptic.:
fynbagel snail stuff The mind boggles. I can understand that one can think of snails given our destination, but surely we do not need to take along things that relate to eating snails. The French already have plenty, I am sure. Nope, that's just not possible. What then? Anti snail spray in case we get attacked by a gang of crazed snails? Medication to guard against the dreaded snail infection? T-shirts with pictures of snails? I shall ask her and report back in due course. I will also get to the bottom of the fynbagel. Not so sure that I really want to know why we will have a fynbagel in our luggage, though. Custom officer: Have you any fynbagels in your luggage? Me : Who, me? Of course not. Wouldn't think of it, old chap.
I have compiled a list of my own. Known for my brevity, it is a short one. To the point. Functional. With no mysterious references to fynbagels. It is a list of French words and expressions that we should at a minimum be able to use. Essential stuff that the savvy traveller cannot be without. Such as “wine” - vin “red” - rouge “lots” - beaucoup “more” - plus “please” - s'il vous plaît Starting today, if a word is on the list, we will use the French rather that the English or Afrikaans. In the meantime, the dogs are getting a sniff that something is afoot. There is an definite air of apprehension about them:- All 5 of them: Becky, Bibi, Carlos, Sissy and Tutu. The cause of their apprehension is the presence in our bedroom of my red in-the-hold suitcase that is currently a receptacle for odd bits and pieces from Anna's list. Here is a pic:
Wait! Wait! What is that orange thing in the corner? Zooming in we find
Yes! The mystery of the fynbagel is solved. Anna, it seems, is determined to avoid a repetition of the episode in Slovakia two years ago when she had fun with stinging nettles. Her digestive system rebelled against the rich Czech food we had been eating and refused to operate the way digestive systems are supposed to. After two days, we had to find some sort of laxative. If you ever find yourself in the charades world champs, excellent preparation would be to try and buy a laxative from a Czech pharmacy where no word of English is spoken nor understood. Without making vulgar noises. Hah! Eventually we got some sort of figgy stuff that looked right and Anna chewed copious chunks. It worked. When we were in the middle of nowhere with a forest on the left and cars whizzing past. She made for the forest: And sat down in a patch of stinging nettles. And came running back 5 minutes later as hastily as she went. My gentle administration of soothing ointment to Anna's bum was the subject of many a curious stare from passing cars.....
A pork cutlet covered with melted Emmenthaler-like cheese, which in turn was covered with prosciutto, which in turn was covered with two sunny side up eggs. The whole was doused in a pork gravy and served with a pear sitting disconsolately in the gravy puddle.
Oh well. At least if we get lost in a forest we can mark our trail with sprinkles of fynbagel. No, I meant Fynbogel.
France - the beginning Travelling on an airplane is by definition a tedious and tiring affair. No matter that you have reasonable comfort and space. Sleep is still hard to come by. At least for me. Anna complained as hard, but every time I looked, she seemed serenely in the arms of Morpheus. Brave attempts were made to feed us something edible, but the only items of note were an extraordinary terrine of foie gras and a halfway decent Bordeaux. Landed in Doha, left Doha an hour later. Slightly haggard, we arrived in Paris at 4 in the afternoon, picked up our rental car (a Spanish jobby - Seat) and attempted to wend our way to Coulommiers where we had a booking for the first night at Isabelle Ferrandon's Moulin Du Ru guest house. The GPS refused to work. Probably the cloud cover. We intended buying a map at the first petrol station in any event, so we merrily headed towards Paris along the freeway from Charles de Gaulle airport. At leat we knew that we had to start going thataway to get to Coulommiers which lies east of Paris. Nary a petrol station in sight and Paris loomed large. Just about when we thought we might have to show slight signs of panic, the GPS woke up and all was well. The Moulin du Ru does a good job of hiding its location, but we fround it and checked in. The jovial Isabelle led us into her home, stuffed with bric-a-brac. She agreed to cook dinner for us and we settled in front of the fire with a bottle of so-so red supplied by the hostess. When we arranged the dinner, we had forgotton for the moment that the French eat late – at least much later than we are used to. This was a problem because we would share her family's table. Fortified by the red wine, we eventually sat down to dinner at 21:30, at which point Anna was half asleep and the Innkeeper ravenous. We had a boiled egg wrapped in smoked salmon, the whole set in aspic and served with sauce Hollandaise for a starter. Depite the innate weirdness of the dish, it was very good. The yellow stuff on the left that looks like mash is in fact the sauce. This was followed by a forgettable chicken with potatoes boulangere. We ate bravely and made approving noises. The French guests were consuming the chicken with gusto and it did not seem to be the thing to do to sneer at food they were enjoying. Then came the cheese course. Which consisted of Coulommiers cheese. A sort of a cousin to Brie. I had never heard of this cheese before and neither, I would wager, had anybody who does not live in Coulommier. The reason for this is its pungency. Come to think, pungent is too mild an adjective. Stinky cheese is okay, but the degree of stinkiness I am talking about here was beyond reason. It settled over the table with a marshy miasma. Pic copied from Wikipaedia - I did not trust myself not to shudder and so did not take a pic. The French at the table smacked their chops. Anna and the Innkeeper stared in horror, clutching at their throats. There was no way we were going to eat that. A milder version was produced which we nibbled at. Gingerly. Fortunately Isabelle also produced two apple tarts. Thus distracted we managed to survive the meal, took our leave and went to bed. 77Euro for the room was reasonable. 50Euro for the meal was not. The morning dawned gray and drizzly. 12C. We set off in the direction of Strasbourg, which we decided would place us in a good position to drive to Shelingen the next day to meet with Christine and Jochen. Anna had a list of hostelries in Strasbourg and booked a room for us as we drove. The countryside was heavily planted with canola and, while pleasant of aspect, not particularly stunning. We passed through small towns. Spring is in the air and flowers everywhere. The problem with going to Strasbourg was that we would be there for only one evening, then meet with our German friends and then go back to Strasbourg – we felt it deserves more than one day. About two thirds of the way there, we decided to rather head into the mountains and see what we find there. We cancelled the Strasbourg accommodation and ended up in Riqewihr, a small town with a medieval centre. We found a small room in the Hotel de la Couronne in the Rue Coronne right in the middle of the old town for 52Euro. Great value. The hotel is the one with the arch on the pic front right. We went walkabout (both sets of footsies still holding out). The Easter displays were still up. And had coffee and some pastries at this place: Off to dinner. Riquewihr is infested with eateries. As are all touristy spots in Europe, I guess. Pretty/scenic place => tourists stop => kitchy tourist shops and restaurants appear. The problem is, of course, that the place is in the first place worth visiting. So you put up with the crap at the periphery. In any event, there is a likely place down into a basement just across the street from our hotel. Thence we went. We sat down and, as is our custom, immediately ordered a bottle of wine to better be able to peruse the menu. In this case an Alsace Pinot Noir, seeing as we are in the Alsace and all. Pleasant wine. Bodes well. Hah! The menus came. There were 10 items on the menu and each and every one of them contained bacon and red meat. Anna went pale. We tried to negotiate a settlement with a waiter and the chef who neither spoke any English. Much arm waving later, we agreed that they would re-cork the wine and place it in a bag so that we could discreetly take it along. We paid and went. Anna took the wine to the hotel receptionist. (I told the Innkeeper to sort this dinner thing. No ways was I going to go back to the hotel every 10 minutes with a new bottle of wine) Anna muttered darkly at me and we set off down the street, in search of an Anna-friendly eatery. I decided that we should try the Hotel du Cert next. I mean, how bad can it get? At worst we send Anna back to the hotel with another almost full bottle of wine. (Hah! That is what he thinks!) My optimism took a dip when I encountered this just inside the entrance: Would you buy food from people for whom this is a mascot. Or a totem. Or something? Nevertheless, we are from stalward stock, so in we went. I ordered wine against the background of Anna muttering about wanting to see the menu first. (And he is supposed to be the logical one....) As I surmised from the start, all was well. We had a bottle of Beaujoulais Village (good) and Anna fell with a cry of glee onto a plate of Escargot with garlic butter and parsley. The parsley thing was new to us, but was really good. Cut through the oiliness of the butter. For mains we decided on a marmite each. Contrary to what you may think, this was basically a potjie. Anna opted for the marmite of many fowls and I for the marmite chasseur as in mit venison. She got a duck breast, a chicken breast, two chicken wings and a leg of goose. I got chunks aplenty of very gamey venison. All in all, a positive note to end the evening. Except to note that, with the wine and all, Anna was arranging salt and pepper pots in a row towards the end. A sure indication that she had reached her limit of le rouge. Which is what old France hands call red wine. Bonne nuit. We thought it a good idea to conclude each blog with a map showing in green our intended route and then alternating red and blue where we have been so far. See below. Our room in the Hotel de la Couronne was fine and good value for money. That said, at around 7 sq. m. it was probably the smallest room we have ever slept in. Schelingen The title of this blog may just be a tad misleading. Schelingen is not in France. That is because it is in Germany. In any event, that is where we agreed to meet Christine and Jochen at around 12:45. Note the German precision. Not 12:00, not 13:00, but 12:45. We set off after breakfast at the hotel – the usual Europen bread-jam-coffee-and-if-you-are-lucky-some-cheese-and-salami breakfast. We had a last look back at Riquewihr Our route took us through Ribeauville where Anna ordered a stop so that she could reprise the pastry thing she had the day before. We drove past meadows covered in yellow flowers. And after crossing the Rhine into Germany, arrived at Schelingen at the Gasthaus Zu Sonne. At 12:45. The precise Germans arrived at 13:00. Hah! Joyful reunion. We had a bowl of soup for lunch and set off for the winery Schatzle just outside town where we were greetd by the jovial Thomas Schatzle. He took us off to a picnic spot overlooking the terassed vinyards. And opened a bottle of his rose champagne. The terassing was done 750 years ago and the vines were grown here since the time of the Romans. Thomas is a most engaging host. Passionate about winemaking. We decamped to his tasting room, where a spread of bread, cheese and charcuterie had been prepared. Anna prevented me from reclording for posterity the fact that she ate ham. And enjoyed it. There was the most extraordinary speck, made by Gregor, Thomas' father. Thomas proceeded to open bottle after bottle of his white wines. Normally not wine drinkers, Anna and I joined in, at first manfully and then, as the quality of the wines became clear, with gusto. We tasted, I think, around 7 white wines ranging from Riesling, through Pinot blanc, Pinot Gris to Chardonnay. Extraordinary wines presented with passion by an extraordinary winemaker. We moved to a table outside where the procession of wines continued with the Schatzle reds. I think. At this point things were getting a bit hazy. I remember Jochen expounding learnedly and at one point he and I danced. Pure joy and a great afternoon with great friends and great wines. We left at 19:30 and went straight to dinner at the Gasthaus Sonne. Greate meal. Someone had steak with onions Anna had a sea Bass and there was a pork cutlet on the table as well. Great food which deserved better than our jaded palates. Oh yes, we also had two bottles of red wine with dinner. Our progress through France Königschaffhausen We had to move from Schelingen. Not sure why, but off we went 6 km down the road to Königschaffhausen. To the Hotel Adler. Whence we went to Freiburg. To have a look around. We will, when we return to the town tomorrow, not have time for sightseeing. We will return for a crucial football match between FC Cologne and Freiburg. Christine and Jochen are fervent Cologne fans, as are Ansgar and Monika, who will be joining us later today. We strolled around Freiburg for a while. Found a man with an organ (no monkey, though...) and walked through the market. Jochen has a passion for raw fish. Probably comes from his Nordic ancestors. Back to our hotel, where Ansgar and Monika arrived. We set off in a small bus for the vineyards of Marcus Bichon. He trained in South Africa and makes a Pinot Noir which I particularly admired when Christine brought a bottle to Mes Amis earlier this year. The inimitable Marcus took us through the vineyards, introducing us to his wines as we went. This was an altogether more sedate procession that the day before when we hard put to keep up with the succession of wines Thomas kept on producing. Marcus is a most engaging young fellow. Note the rows of vines behind him. He told us that a hectare or so of vines in this area is frequently owned by a number of people. The ownership is counted in rows - some people own 5 rows, others 6. Most of them do not make their own wines, but sell the grapes to a winemaker. Ansgar arrived sporting lederhosen. Austrian lederhosen. Why would be anybody's guess. He is not an Austrian. for all I know wearing lederhosen when you are not an Austrian may get you in trouble.... It may, of course, be that one connects more to the earth in peasant garb. The rest of us seemed to be doing ok, though. In the Kaiserstuhl area, of which this is part, wine makers practice insecticide free vine growing. The little red thing in the following pic exudes a female pheromone that apparently confuses the male insects and prevents them from easily finding female to mate with. Dangerous if this gets into the wrong hands. Can't have people wandering all over the show trying to mate with little red plastic thingies. Dashed uncomfortable, to say the least... Marcus' white wines were uniformly fruity to start with a shortish finish. Not nearly the complexity and incredible sophistication of yesterday's offerings. We did eventually get to the Pinot Noir which was as satisfying as I remember. It was a most interesting and satisfying day, in a bucolic sort of way. wandering from vineyard to vineyard with small towns serving as a perfect backdrop. We left Marcus at around 7pm and went to, I think, Endingen where we were to have dinner. Which we did. More wein and much gemutlichkeit. Most of us settled for the roasted chicken and Ansgar had bits of the head of a calf. Probably trying to prove that he really is a peasant at heart. Those were the two days of wine tasting. The weather was absolutely perfect both days - sunshine and not a breath of wind. Everything came serendipitously together to give us an unforgettable two days. The cherry on top would be if our team wins the football game, but perhaps that is a bridge too far. At least judged by the gloomy predictions by Christine, Jochen and Monika. Ansgar being an Austrian, was not entitled to a valid opinion. I repeat yesterday's map. The 6K of travel is too small to show. Freiburg and the football The day of the football dawned sunny and fine. Christine and Jochen dawned apprehensive. After breakfast - which was a splendid affair mit eggs und al - we went to Endingen to while away the morning sitting in the sun on the town square. Drinking coffee. And worrying about the game. Pleasant way to spend a morning in Endingen. Anna and I tried to cheer the gloomy pair up (Ansgar and Monika were off shopping in Freiburg), but was also secretly a tad amused. We went to Freiburg where a lot of people were making their way to the stadium. Anna and the Innkeeper were, even if I say so myself, which I do, resplendent in our football regalia. Thanks to Christine for the scarves. I offer my compatriots my sincere apologies for the hat. It was the only thing I could find at O.R.Tambo that fit. The fact that it is of Australian design is made more palatable by being made in China. The rest of the group wasn't too shabby either. Ansgar was off doing stuff that Austrians in lederhosen do before a game. The stadium is smallish - about 30,000 people. Germans, that is. About 10,000 Austrians in lederhosen. It was packed to the rafters. Unbelievably noise. People shouting, an announcer rattling on at 100kph. Taking our cue from our hosts, we enthusiastically joined in. The game started. Here is how it went: Freiburg scored a goal. Huge celebrations. Players copulating on the pitch. Freiburgers ecstatic. The gesellschaft Westermann gloomy. FC Cologne scores. Most of the stadium gloomy. Gesellschaft Westermann ecstatic. The Austrian waving his arms about in glee. Freiburg scores. See above. Freiburg scores. We leave. As we exit, Freiburg scores. Final score - Freiburg 4, FC Cologne 1. Oh dear. Gloom and doom. Much gnashing of the teeth. Back at the hotel, the gloom only lifted around round 2 of wine. And when we saw the waitress in her dirndl. Feeling much better, we were. Here is what we ate- ox cheeks Lamb Schnitzel - pronounced inedible and the spargel limp Anna had curried chicken and the Austrian had a steak Ansgar lugs a portable humidor around with him and produced a selection of cigars. Which the Innkeeper manfully tried as well. Off to bed. Strasbourg We had breakfast at the hotel, made our adieus and left. Sad on the one hand to say goodbye to good friends, but also are-assurance that, all things being equal, we will meet again. The three days in Germany has been great. It is always good to meet up with Christine and Jochen (and the Austrian and Monika), but somehow the universe conspired to make this occasion a special one. Certainly one for the memory banks. Except, of course, the football. And the lederhosen. During dinner the previous night the conversation turned to the weather. More specifically, the weather in the Alsace where we wanted to go. Ansgar had, at one stage, a satellite picture used by airline pilots on his IPhone. Complicated. Only to be understood by airline pilots. Which he is one of. Or wearers of lederhosen. Which he is one of. The consensus was that the weather is going to be grotty for a few days. Rainy. We contemplated fleeing to the south, but was reminded of the saying "Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass but learning to dance in the rain.". And decided to stick to our initial idea to go to Strasbourg. We took our leave, (much hugging and kissing) and trundled off to Strasbourg. On the way Anna paged through her notes and booked us a room in the Maison Rouge hotel in the Strasbourg old town, within easy striking distance from the Petit France area. which is reputed to be picturesque. So it proved. The hotel room is fine (not great) at 125Euro, breakfast included. The Petit France: We wandered around. Lots of people. When we came across this eatery: And had lunch . Anna wanted to try the flammkuchen. This is a sort of pizza. Very very thin crust and an Alsatian speciality. I should have know better after reading this item on the menu: but went ahead and ordered what I presumed to be a speciality Strasbourg sausage with fries. What I got was this: The flammkuchen was mildly interesting, the sausage horrible. C'est la vie, as we old French hands say. Late afternoon nap was followed by an expedition to find dinner. We seem to spend a lot of our time either eating or looking for a place to eat. (This is going to stop. We are eating too much. Far too much. We will get fat. ) We found the Chaine D'Or Brasserie a block from the hotel. Brasserie. I mean, that is authentic French, is it not. So, in we went. The bottle of Beaujolais we ordered seemed somewhat insipid- At least, at first. As the dinner progressed, it developed some muscle and was quite beguiling. Anna had a duck leg, or a cuisse de canard (as we old french hands say) and declared it to be delicious. The orangey stuff peeking out from behind the duck was a potato and carrot puree that was delightful. I had a reasonable Perch The restaurant had a special on - mains + dessert for 14.50 Euro. As long as you choose one of 5 mains and one of 5 desserts. Probably all mass produced for the day...... Anna's clafoutis was interesting. No pastry on top, but sago. Those who know her well would know that she fell on this like a wolverine... My desert was a baba au rum. They sure did not skimp on the rum. This was right from the islands, mon. The white stuff is cream. The liquid in the bottom is rum. Hah! The pics are reddish because I did not want to use a flash. At this points the place was packed. Tomorrow we will wander around Strasbourg and see what we will see. We are booked into the hotel for two days. The weather was supposed to be rainy. Clear skies, however. Some cloud later. The Innkeeper is somewhat upset. Once again he has been hornswoggled and outmaneuvered. I thought that the Hotel Maison Rouge was chosen because of its facilities and location. Au contraire, mesdames et messieurs. A plan was afoot, all part of Anna's Empty Suitcase Strategy. You see, right next to the hotel, I mean RIGHT NEXT TO IT, is this: The Strasbourg edition of most famous apartment store in France, the Galeries Lafayette.
(Oh tosh! He can make such a fuss over nothing. I have no intention of buying anything here. This is just a practice run......) Breakfast was ok. The usual fare. Great rolls, though. Thus refreshed, we set off to explore Strasbourg. Or, more accurately, the Galleries Lafayette. Sigh. (Lots to see and do in Strasbourg. The department store visit was to buy things HE has on a list. I just went along. Nothing wonderful in the store. We wandered around and then HE BOUGHT A HAT! I bought nothing. Zilch. Nada. Niks. So, is this going to be hats v handbags? I am up for it....) As we walked by the hat section, Anna insisted that I buy a hat to replace the Aussie/Chinese thing I have been going around with. Pricey, the hat, but she did so want me to buy one, so I gave in. Dashing, no? I could not find the stuff we really needed to buy (electrical extension, wine glass -we broke one of ours). We bought a tram ticket and set off in a tram on the theory that we should find a big supermarket on the outskirts of the city. And so it proved. Huge place- Photos were not allowed for some or other reason, so I had to sneak one sans flash. On the way back to the hotel, we got off the tram and had a hot ciabatta sandwich. I wanted to post a few pics of Strasbourg here, but the camera played up. I'll rectify tomorrow. Afternoon snooze was followed by dinner. We wanted to find a different place than last night, but due to both our feet playing up, we opted for the closest restaurant. We have perhaps been pushing the footsie boundaries a bit and will be careful during the next few days. We wanted to eat outside, but a couple of outside diners lit cigars. Anna is allergic to cigar smoke so we retired inside. I wanted to try the duck that Anna had last night and she settled for a veal schnitzel. Both very good, but we are slowly tiring of this style of cooking. We will, if possible, look for more diversity tomorrow. Footsies allowing. Dessert was chocolate fondant and creme brulee. The fondant not quite up to par and the brulee excellent. The bill, with a bottle of Beaujolais, came to 45 Euro. Our neighbours had the full monte seafood platter (50Euro each) which looked good. Perhaps a tad pricey. Come to think of it, for sure a bit pricey. Tomorrow - Colmar. Bonne nuit. Colmar An early breakfast (good - actual eggs and bacon included) and we set off for Colmar. More or less. Anna has a very detailed map of France, or rather a thick book containing detailed maps. She booked a room in the Hotel Marechal in Colmar and the intention is to get there after lunch. As it is only 65km from Strasbourg, we thought to take a route that leads through the Vosges mountains through small villages to Colmar. The villages of the Alsace are almost routinely impossibly pretty and quaint and picturesque and we wanted more of that. But first, a couple of pics of Strasbourg. Outside the very pretty (and very small) Petit France area, Strasbourg is uninspiring. Once off the main highway between Strasbourg and Colmar, the countryswide became more hilly and the road led from one quaint village to the next. Hohwald. Kintzheim. Orschwiller. And in Chatenois a small group of people were making music at the side of the road and dancing. We came to Kaysersburg and called a halt. Anna was hungry. I may have told you this before, but when Anna gets hungry, you stop and find food. Fast. She gets grumpy, to say the least. Kaysersburg: We order pastry and cappuccino at an outdoor cafe. The pastry was great - here is the millefeule: The view down the street: The cappuccino was a disaster. We will henceforth eschew cappuccino in France. We must have tried about 6 or 8, and all were terrible. They either replace the foam with stiffly beaten cream - quelle horreur! Or add chocolate to it. or do some other unspeakable things to it that only a gallic mind can conjure up. I do not know how they produced today's version, nor do I want to: I mean - just look at the thing! After the pause that partially refreshed, we headed for Colmar. This town is very similar to Strasbourg in one respect - mostly nondescript except for one small very picturesque are. In Colmar it is the Petit Venice. Our hotel room was not ready, so we wandered around. Someone somewhere still makes pedal cars. Around 200Euros. A typical Alsace product is a pottery casserole in rather gaudy colours. They come in all sizes, including one person size. tempting, but too heavy. Foie gras is still big in France. You are not going to get far pleading goose rights here. Non, messieurs et mesdames, foie gras est la France. In all the towns we passed through, we found someone, mostly kids and older women selling bunches of leaves with flowers. Clearly something today with the May 1 holiday, but we had to wait until I could get into Wikipedia for the answer - none of the French we spoke to knew. From Wikipedia: On May 1, 1561, King Charles IX of France received a lily of the valley as a lucky charm. He decided to offer a lily of the valley each year to the ladies of the court. At the beginning of the 20th century, it became custom to give a sprig of lily of the valley, a symbol of springtime, on May 1. The government permits individuals and workers' organisations to sell them tax-free. I was looking at the buildings and taking a pic or two. When I turned around, there was the Innkeeper at a hat stall. It was a close thing. I dragged him to a nearby cafe next to the canal, pleading thirst. We ended up having a beer next to the canal. Anna looking pretty and the Innkeeper his usual suave self Both of us contemplating the view: This one with the flowers on the left is specially for Ma Hetta: Later, much later, we went back to the hotel The front is somewhat unimposing, but the back overlooks the canal: It is the first building on the right. The leanto roof at its bottom contains its restaurant, where we are booked for dinner tonight. 150 Euro for the room, which is smallish, but fine: With a great view Dinner was like the curate's egg; good in parts and bad in parts. We had a bottle of Alsace pinot noir. We could, of course, have chosen a bottle of the 1999 Chateau Petrus, but I did not think the '99 to be particularly outstanding....... We were served an amuse. A herb mousse with a glass of tomato juice Beautifully presented, but boring. Things looked up with the mains. Anna had a sea bass with a crustacean samosa which she pronounced to be superb. I had pigeon breast with foie gras and green peas. Serves with a red wine jus. Great dish. We had desert which was totally forgettable. A millefuille of strawberries with no millefuile in sight and a rubarb tartlet with no discernable rubarb. Oh well...... Tomorrow we may just be headed for Burgundy.... Semure-en-Auxois We left a cloudy Colmar, headed for Semure-en-Auxois in the Burgundy area of France. The intention was to dawdle along the 230 odd km secondary roads, taking in the countryside and stopping here and there for refreshment. Alas, it started raining. First a drizzle and then a solid downpour. For the whole 230 kilometers. Not that we found the small towns along the way especially interesting. Sort of real rural little places with nothing to appeal to the traveller. Especially if you see them through a rainy windscreen. The countryside has meadows and trees And canola fields aplenty. Driving soon became a chore, especially with the trucks kicking up a storm. We arrived in Semur in the rain at 14:30, found a room at the Hotel Les Cymaises right in the center of town, and persuaded the friendly owner of a nearby bistro to make us a croque monsieur and a tarte Provincal. With a few glasses of his house Burgundy, the spirits were revived. The hotel is fairly plain, but is good value at 73Euro per night for the room, especially given its superb location. No more than 200m to the furthest eatery. It dates from the 18th century and, most important of all, has parking. This is of immense value given the rain and the state of our feet. Our room is cosily warm, large, a bit old-fashioned and dated, but spotlessly clean and fresh with a king size bed. Anna is planning ahead for the next few days. The rain has upset one or two things we really wanted to do in this area, such as visit Guedelon where 50 volunteers have embarked on a project to build a 12th century castle using only the tools and material available at that time. The place apparently becomes a quagmire when it rains. We really want to go there, so it means some reshuffling of other priorities are required. Which Anna is managing with the odd incisive suggestion or wise comment from me. (Wise comment? Indeed, without the Innkeeper's input I would of course have got absolutely nowhere. Hah!) In any event, there are other places to go to in the area, so we may well stay here for a day or two-three. So dinner awaited. We tracked down three restaurants via Tripadvisor. Tonight we tried Le Saint Vernier, a very small local eatery. The rain had abated, so we could take a leisurely walk to the restaurant. The only people other than us were locals. Much kissing on the cheeks and slapping on the back. Given the moustache of the barman/waiter, I am actually pleased that we missed that part. About 30 covers: Very cosy. And warm. Wine was immediately forthcoming. as we are in Burgundy, a local (Lyon) wine seemed apt. Pinot Noir is the goto wine in France. Not the scarce and frequently dubious grape back home. On to the food. I got a boeuf bourguignon and Anna Sole (not much on the menu for the non red meat person). Not bad, not great. Sole too oily, beef a bit blah. We could do this better without trying. Still, we did not have to cook. At 43Euro for the food and 26 for the wine, we are coming to understand why our European visitors cannot stop talking about the great value they get in our restaurants in South Africa. Back home this meal would be listed at half the price. If we sound overly picky, please forgive. We both have a deep appreciation of good honest food, but those that know us know that we also cannot but be honest about what we get to eat. Tonight's meal was really not bad at all, but somewhere one needs to set a scale against which to measure food. We have not eaten in Michelin starred restaurants, we have not visited the trendy temples of food, but we know when what is put before us is ordinary or extraordinary. We both hope that does not sound pretentious. That is not our intention. Walking back home at 21:30, with the rain holding off, we could get a pic of Semur in the evening. No tourists, rather spookily quiet. A very charming little town. Our home for at least two more days. Our progress: we seem to have problems sticking to the green line. I shall have to talk to the Navigator about that.... Guedelon Sunshine greeted us when we opened the curtains. A welcome relief, as we were told by sundry forecasting web sites to expect rain. For 8.50 Euro each the hotel gave us a baguette, butter, coffee and jam. (If you wonder why I do not use the Euro symbol, it is because I do not know where to find it, and my notebook will not do the alt-xxx thing). We are coming to the realisation that it is a bad idea to pay extra for breakfast at small hotels. Much better bet to have it at one of the local cafes. So, with a cry of glee we set off for the castle of Guedelon. Which is located between the towns of Saint-Saveur-en-Puisaye and Saint-Armand-en-Puisaye. Which are both in France. Brilliant sunshine. Bright yellow canola. So yellow it almost hurt the eyes.
Only about 85 kilometers to Guedelon, but the speed limit on the small roads we prefer is 90 and in the towns 50. The small roads inevitably pass through the middle of every small town on the route. Some consisting only of five houses, a pub and two dogs. You make no more than 60k per hour. Not problem, though. Or, as we old French hand say, pas de problème. The countryside is very pretty. Eventually, though, Guedelon. I can do no better than quote their website (http://www.guedelon.fr/en) In the heart of Puisaye, in Yonne, Burgundy, a team of fifty people have taken on an extraordinary feat: to build a castle using the same techniques and materials used in the Middle Ages. The wood, stone, earth, sand and clay needed for the castle's construction are all to be found here, in this abandoned quarry. Watched by thousands of visitors, all the trades associated with castle-building - quarrymen, stonemasons, woodcutters, carpenters, blacksmiths, tile makers, basket makers, rope makers, carters and their horses - are all working together to complete the castle. Most interesting. We found strange looking pigs Unfortunately no way of finding out more about the porkers - all the material available is in French. They do look vaguely medieval, though. The people who work on the site are all volunteers. To maintain authenticity, and, I guess, to be more colourful for the tourists, the workers all dress in period costumes. This guy was wacking away at a log using an adze to make a beam. There were shacks made of sticks around, used as workshops. This volunteer was making wooden bowls and other domestic utensils. One was dressing stone, Another building a wall and yet another wrestling big granite blocks. Note his lean-to shack in the background. The volunteers who stay on the site for a period stay in period huts. All working to build this - here is the almost completed great hall: And the tower Another view of the great hall: Here is the tower they are working on showing the wheel used to hoist stuff up. One worker acts like a hamster inside the wheel, turning it and via wooden gears wind a rope to lift stuff. Most interesting. Not the least because the initial vision of the two guys who bought the property has now, inevitably, became a very successful business. Last year they had 400,000 visitors. At 10Euro per adult and 8.50Euro per child, this is nothing to sneeze at. They plan to complete the castle in 2025 and will then start work on a monastery on the site. We thought that we would stay longer at Guedelon, but there was very little actual work going on that one could loiter and watch for a while. One thing is for sure - if the continue at the rate we saw, 2025 is a tad optimistic. The wall building guy in the pic above spent 10 minutes looking at his work, 10 minutes measuring something and 5 minutes tapping a stone with a trowel. Very happy with the morning, we drove back direction Semur. Stopped at Vezelay to have lunch. A hilltop town with steep streets (not foot-friendly at all). We each had a galette - pancake with cheese and ham (cheese and tomatoes for Anna) It seems to be de rigeur to slap a couple of salad leaves on every plate in eateries of this type. Why? Walking back to the car we passed the dazzling display of a wisteria in bloom Back in Semur, we settled down for a beer and a frappe, Pretty place, Semur-en-Auxois, but it is not yet the place where we would be happy to just sit around for a day or so, doing nothing, just reading. Oh yes, we heard you all the way from all over- the chorus of "That place does not exist." All we can say is "Watch this space." Dinner was at the Au Douze, on the Place de Notre Dame. Very modern and almost austere interior: Anna opted for a chicken with a white wine and onion sauce and I for duck. Both pics follow. Probably the most original presentation we have ever seen: Behind the bulb of the spring onion on my plate of duck was an onion ring, a radish, a scallop of lettuce and a sprig of parsley,all planted in pumpkin mouse like a bizarre little garden. Both dishes were, however, outstanding. The best food we have had in France so far. The food in the fancy restaurant in Colmar was close, but we were irritated by the pretentiousness of the service there. Someone hovering between courses to sweep the table with a little broom. Stuff that really detracts from the experience. The food garden tonight was just, well, fun. Walking back, at 8:45, the sun was still up. The moon rose behind the Notre Dame Cathedral and peace reigned. At least for tonight. At least in Semur-en-Auxois. Bonne nuit. Annecy This morning we were undecided where to go. The weekend is looming and with it the Presidential election on Sunday. We don't know what the French are like in the grip of election fever. Could well be a terrible thing to behold. We had a feeling that we should perhaps find a spot and hunker down until Monday morning. Essentially the question was where to hunker. We decided to go to Annecy in the foothills of the Alps. It looked like a scenic spot, has the obligatory medieval part of town and is not too far from Semur - 250km. We also decided not to follow our usual practice of driving along small roads, but to use the freeways. We just did not feel like 5 hours in the car. As a result, there is not much to report along the route: not much visible from the freeway. The toll for the 250km was 18Euro. Safely in Annecy, we consulted the Navigator's notes and got a room at the Hotel Alexandre in the Rue Vaugelas for 65Euros. Small but adequate. We set off to explore the old town. The triangular building in the last pic is the Palais de l'Isle. Built in 1132, it was the primary residence of the Lord of Annecy, and later became the Count of Geneva’s administrative headquarters, then a courthouse, a mint, and finally a jail, from the Middle Ages until 1865. Today it houses a local history museum. And there you thought us just common tourists who care not a jot for history. Hah! Annacy is, we think, an extremely hunkerable place. There is a lake also mit boats und al. That is for tomorrow. Only problem is that the Alexandre can only put us up for one night. While we strolled around the old town, we came across the Palais de L'Isle and got a room for two nights at 117 Euro. Right in the middle of the old town. Foot-friendly. With that taken care of, we found lunch in the Pizzeria Le Rital. We had a beer and ordered pizzas. Two humongous disks arrived: An afternoon nap, some reading and we were ready to venture into a by now cloudy Annecy. The Navigator was feeling queasy, so we abandoned plans to have a lengthy fondue dinner in a speciality restaurant. Must have been the oversized pizza for lunch. Settled in to a table at the Beau Soleil, a disreputable looking little bistro. Ok, so it was close to the hotel and our footsies were sore! Anna could not face protein and had a pizza (this time of normal proportions) while I decided to have a steak frite - quintessential French bistro fare. Good pizza, as pizzas go. Good steak frite, as steak frite goes. A bottle of forgettable Burgundy later and we were fed. Anna is concerned that it may seem to our gentle readers as if all we do is eat. And drink wine. Not so. We actually trundle around and observe all sorts of stuff that does not get mentioned in the blog. Things like trees and hills and hamlets and people and dogs. If we relate all that we experience, writing this blog would take up far too much of our day. From Annecy one can see Mont Blanc. With the last patches of winter snow still evident. There is a road that leads to the peak. Perhaps tomorrow, or perhaps while the French are in a voting frenzy on Sunday, we could see what Mont Blanc looks like close up. Still Annecy It turns out that the mountain I mentioned towards the end of yesterday's post is in fact not Mont Blanc. we know that because we set off today towards Chamonis-Mont-Blanc and the route took us right by the mountain in yesterday's pic. Gets confusing, this does. One pointy mountain with snow on it looks much like the next one. At least to the uninitiated eye. Of which there seems to be a lot about. None of the locals we consulted could give a definitive answer. "Non, non monsieur, il est Laudon". or "Mont Blanc" or "Ire". They should know, shouldn't they? Perhaps they are befuddled by voting frenzy. Given the lack of knowledge, maybe they should label them somehow. Be that as it may, we checked out of the Alexandre and set off for Chamonix-Mont-Blanc. The countryside and the architecture quickly changed to Alpine as we climbed. Splendid drive with the mountains around us. Yellow is a colour that we will always associate with France. The wide swathes of fierce yellow of the canola fields in Alsace and Burgundy and now the gentle yellow of flower-covered meadows. Gary-white streams of meltwater rushing down every decline and hollow. Eventually to end up in lake Annecy. Hence the canals, replacing what one presumes was an outflowing river in ancient times. Anna had a need. No toilet nearby, so the bush had to do. Thankfully no nettles this time..... We did not go all the way to Chamonix. Thick black clouds were rolling in over the mountains, obscuring the view. I did not fancy driving the very narrow twisting road we were on in pouring rain. Here is a pic of the SatNav app on Anna's smartphone: The twisty green line is the road we were on. Cue a plug for Co-Pilot running on Anna's Android Samsung. Brilliant software. Super accurate maps that reside on the phone. We will never again purchase or use a dedicated GPS. Here, at least, convergence makes sense. One device rather than 3 - phone, music and GPS. The Navigator put us on a different return route that led along the eastern shore of lake Annecy. We called a lunch halt in Talloires and found Le Comptoir de Sebastain, a small eatery close to the lake. Anna had a veggy lasagna (the very first time we found a pure vegetarian dish other than salad) The knowledgeable waitress recommended their plat du jour: perchettes with fries. She described it as small fried fish from the lake. (The Innkeeper would have ordered whatever she said. He is a sucker for pretty waitresses. Or at least ones with a pretty smile) The description was accurate. I did not realise that, when she said "small", she meant such small little thingies: Egad! Crisply fried and eaten mit head and derms and all. Delicious. 26Euro including a glass of wine for Anna. I had water. Pretty good water, mind you, but not quite the same. Oh well, one does what one must- I was driving. We noticed peculiarly pruned plane trees throughout our travels. Odd, almost misshapen and grotesque. Then we saw some with new growth starting to show and lanes of them with a lot of new growth. Apparently this is as a result of a system of pruning called pollarding. Long article on this on Wikipedia, if you are interested. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pollarding Back in Annecy, we checked in at the Hotel Du Palais De L'Isle, right in the old town on one of the canals. Small but surprisingly modern inside. The weather was really looking stormy, so we took a quick stroll along one of the canals. The problem with Annecy is that you just cannot stop taking pics. Around every corner one finds a view you want to remember. Like this one: The hat really does it, don't you think? Completes the ensemble, as it were. Off to dinner (you knew this was coming, did you not?) Le P'tit Zinc got the nod. The small zinc? The mind boggles. We were determined to get to the bottom of this, so in we went. It was raining. Rain has, in towns where restaurants are half inside and half outside, a compression effect. The number of French who wish to eat out does not diminish. The number of available tables does. Hence you may get to know a French person better than you may want to. Elbow to elbow stuff. When we got to the zinc place, it was thankfully still relatively quiet. We got a bottle of red from the Loire Valley and ordered food. As well. The place filled up quickly. The guy next to me used Brut aftershave and had hairy armpits. Anna got a chicken with a creamy sauce and cheese. Lots of cheese on the chicken breasts. Superb. This one goes into the notebook. I had a selection of charcuterie with a box of melted cheese (that is the round thing in the background). And potatoes. And lots of leaves. "Armand, what do you theenk theese dish needs?" "I think, Raymond, it weel be pairfect if we just put on more leaves..." "Armand, you are ze genius!!! Marie-Claire, bring more leaves!" Tomorrow is voting day. We cannot vote. That is because we are not French. All we can do is look, observe, and report the proceedings directly to you, dear reader. Ignore what the newspapers and the TV say. Here is where you will get the inside story. Bonne nuit. Still Annecy Lazy Sunday planned. We intended hanging around the hotel and the coffee shops of old Annecy. Remember the hunkering down bit? First thing though, was to take the pulse of the election in Annecy. I am sad to report that we saw no frenzied French. I set off for the Marie, which is the municipal building where one of the main voting stations were located. (Actually, I had to fetch something in the car which is in the car park below the Marie). Nary a voter in sight. I did see two men and a dog emerging from the voting area.
I am not sure whether the dog voted, but the men certainly looked a bit glum about their candidate's chances. Later in the day I tuned in to a French news station on TV to see if I can lift some interesting stuff for your edification. All I found was a pretty woman talking about something. Probably not the election. She looked far too cheerful. So there, dear readers, you have the election in a nutshell. You ask me, the dog should win. If it could stand. Which it couldn't. The Sunday morning market in Annecy takes over a chunk of the old town close to the hotel, so thence we went. All sorts of stuff on sale:- shoes, hats, clothing, handbags. Anna did not even lift an eyebrow in the direction of a handbag. Or a jacket. (Not wasting my energy this early in the game. Paris awaits....) Lots of fruit and veg. Great strawberries. At 4.90 a punnet. Beautiful baby potatoes. I enlarged the price. Ouch! Almost as eye-watering as the butchery prices. Around 20Euro/Kg for rump steak. Sausages. 4Euro each. About the size of a very fat frankfurter. Buy 10 and you get it for 25Euro. Interesting knives. Always a good idea to carry a knife. In case one is attacked by a sausage..... We spent some time thinking about the week to come, and how far we want to drive tomorrow. Or rather, have to drive until we get to Provence, which is where we want to be next. Answer: far. Then lunch. we got two sandwiches. Here is Anna's (mine was of more modest proportions, not worth recording): And hard at work: Just across the road from the lunch cafe, is the Churros guy. This is important stuff. I had to test and report. Which I did. Here is the small bag of churros at 4.50: The white stuff is sugar. Not castor sugar, granulated sugar. Truly awful. Deep fried dough covered in sugar. Next to the churros guy is an ice cream stall. 55 flavours on offer. What is a flavour in French? Why, le parfum, of course. In any event, the poster of the ice cream guy is translated into 3 languages: " Boules" (French), "scoops" and then the interesting "cucharada". Maybe Spanish. But great rhythm. "One Cucharada, two Cucharada, three Cucharada. Ole!" Try it. Off to dinner at Le Freti, a place that specialises in cheese dishes, more particularly fondues. It took us two days to get a reservation. Interesting lampshades made from buckets. We shared a classic French onion soup and fell in love with it. The couple next to us were talking and texting on their mobile phones. What a scourge this has become. Is civilised conversation then passe? Blah! Two tables over, the couple had a raclette. Melting apparatus and huge half moon of cheese. Our fondue came- a mix of Comte cheese from the Jura mountains, Fribourg from Switzerland, Emmenthal from the Savoie and Beaufort from Savoie (a district of France close to Annecy). Very, very good. Accompanied by a bottle of Pinot Noir, we were as happy as two people in love can possibly be. Most satisfying conclusion to the day. Tomorrow, dear hearts, on to Provence! Vence Annecy has a lake. With boats and all. A large lake. We forgot to take a pic and took a short detour this morning to rectify the omission. Early morning and the sun on the water did not make for a good pic. Nevertheless, here is the lake. The mood was grim in the breakfast room. Madame Georgia, who was is charge of serving breakfast, complained vociferously that her man, Sarkozy, did not make it. Annecy was apparently to a man (and a woman) behind the incumbent. Doom is predicted. We gave her a comforting hug and left early. If only they allowed the dog to vote... Not much to report today. We left Annecy, headed for Provence. To be specific, Vence which is only 30km from Nice. Long drive. We spent all of 7 hours in the car and only did an odd pit stop. We decided to get to Provence as quickly as possible. Some parts of France we are simply not going to have time to visit and the high Alps and Massif areas are two of them. The first part led us along a highway with the mountains looming on both sides. A breathtaking drive. The tall pointy mountains slowly gave way for more rolling hills and mountains sans snow. After leaving the highway just beyond Grenoble, a smaller road wound through the hills and mountains. Hairpin bends aplenty. This was a rather exhausting part of the trip. Beautiful nevertheless. We were glad to arrive in Vence. We found a room at the Hotel la Victoire on the Place du Grand Jardin. 80Euro. Small room, but functional, bright and clean. A cheery welcome helped dispel the travel blues and we took a quick stroll around Vence. Plenty of eateries around. It will be interesting to see to what extent the restaurant menus change from the ones we have seen for the past two weeks. Provencal food. Sounds good. On the way to dinner we passed a huge tree. Turns out to be an ash gtree that was donated to the town by Francois the 1st and planted in 1538. All the menus we saw (about 6 restaurants within no-sore-foot distance) were in fact different. Remember that restaurants in France have to have their menus on display outside. Makes it easy to go menu-shopping, as it were. No cheese in sight, nor a sausage or ham. Anna was smiling from ear to ear. For the first time veggies made a serious appearance. Rabbit, lamb, salmon, chicken, pheasant. Lighter preparations. We settled into la Cassoulette on the Place Clemenceau, mainly on the strength of the pheasant dish on their menu. Turned out that the pheasants had all been eaten. Disappointed, I settled for rack of lamb with barley and green beans and Anna for salmon with (smiling broadly) vegetables. (Two weeks and no decent vegetables! My insides were protesting!). We ordered a bottle of Provencal red. Absolutely superb dishes. By far the best we have had in France so far. Anna's salmon was moist, flavourful and beautifully accompanied by her crisp veggies. My lamb was, as ordered, rose. The barley was suffused with a rosemary and lamb jus- the perfect partner to the lamb. The wine was fruity, zesty and feisty. What a meal! We met Nancy and Jim from Minnesota at a nearby table. A little later Karel and Ansie from Pretoria took up their reservation for the table next to us. a great evening. The bill was an eye-watering 71Euro. On the way back to the hotel, we passed an estate agent's ads. More watering eyes. Just look at what they recently sold: Bonne nuit. Arles During a summit meeting yesterday evening, we decided to focus our time in Provence. Our itinerary will mainly be driven by a search for the rich Roman heritage of the area. It therefore seemed a good idea to base ourselves somewhere for a few days and explore from there. We decided that Arles will serve admirably. We considered whether we should first dawdle down the Cote d'Azur - Nice, Cannes and so. After about 5 seconds of deliberation, the answer was no. we cannot possibly visit the whole of France in the 5 weeks available. The only sensible way if to apply triage and go with things and places that stir our senses. Cannes et al ain't it. So we drive to Arles - 250Km from Vence. Mainly along the A8, dipping into the countryside every now and then. Interesting modern village on a hilltop. For a while, there was a mountainous backdrop to the winding of the highway. Think of Provence and the first thing that springs to my mind are the plane trees, especially the lanes of plane trees planted in a lane at town entrances, but also sometimes in the middle of nowhere. Roads lined with plane trees - a lasting mental image. We passed a farm stall and stopped to buy cherries. And to wonder at the peculiar bonzai-like tree next to the road sign. Rather sour cherries. Very interesting tomatoes, though. The middle ones are called "coeur de boeuf" or "beef heart", the ones on the right "ananas" or "pineapple". The left ones are "black from Crimea". Anna's advance research has been invaluable. She identified in each likely (and some unlikely towns at least two or three hotels within easy sore-foot distance of the town's interesting areas, with wifi, with parking and with a lift- all crucial criteria. Having all this to hand, it is an easy matter to decide on a hotel once we know where we want to stay. Last time in Europe we wasted a lot of time hunting for a suitable hotel. Her choice in Arles was spot on. Right in the middle of the town, mit valet parking nogal and all the other good stuff. We booked in for 4 nights with an option to extend for a 5th. Finding the hotel was an exercise in frustration. Streets that our GPS thought were two way turned out to be one way. Narrow bloody streets. Very narrow. Like this one: You cannot just drive down it - you have to aim very, very carefully. We went round the same dead end/one way no entries twice, sort of circling the hotel without being able to get to it. It required all my tact to keep Anna from panicking. Making soothing noises and patting her hand from time to time (not easy, I can tell you- take another look at that street...) I scooted the wrong way up and down a couple of one way streets. At this point Anna was gibbering... (When the Innkeeper gets going, he can at times come up with silly stories. I was calm. I am always calm. It was him who was upset. Blaming me for the GPS problems. Waving arms about. This was as close as we came to having a fight... I managed to calm him down and we got to the hotel eventually.) Eventually we got to the Hotel Du Forum. Mainly thanks to the fact that I kept my wits about me. (About him? sure, they were scattered all over the car!) A friendly porter took the car away somewhere to park it. A smiling Adriana at the reception desk gave us directions how to get to and from the hotel easily. We apparently tried to get there from the wrong end of town. In the hotel lift we saw a coat hook. Why does one need this in a lift? The mind boggles. The lift gets stuck. Hours later, it becomes hot and humid. You take your jacket off. You look around. Thank goodness there is a hook provided...... Lunch on the square in front of the hotel. Under the awnings due to a slight drizzle. Anna's butternut soup. (Very, very good) And my ham omelette with fries. Ok. The table next to us was occupied by a Frenchman, his wife and their little dog. You have to understand that "next to us" takes on a whole different meaning in French restaurants. Especially tables under the awning on the square. Elbow to elbow stuff. The dog was a friendly little beastie. I could reach down and pat him. Which I did. I did not think he has the gravitas for a candidate, though. One of the reasons for choosing Arles as a base, was the Roman remains in the town. When the Romans took the city from the Phoenicians in 123BC, it was already more than 500 years old. Today we walked to the Baths of Constantine, erected in the 4th century AD. Not well-preserved, it is nevertheless a testament to Roman architecture and building techniques. Fires were lit in several fireplaces causing hot air to circulate below the floors, which were laid on pillars creating a sub-floor space for the air to circulate. Fascinating stuff. We hope to visit the Roman amphitheatre in Arles tomorrow. And hang around and read for a bit. The cafes and bistros on the square just in front of the hotel will make the last bit easy. Dinner was at La Galoubet, a small eatery recommended by Adriana. We got there just after 7, was given a bottle of Provencal wine and asked to wait a while - they were still prepping. Anna reprised the sea bass (served with quinoia, mash and peas with a creamy white wine sauce) from Colmar and pronounced it splendid. I tried their duck breast. Served rather oddly with half a roasted courgette and two baby tomatoes. No sauce. Very good. The culinary sea change in the common on-the -street eateries is remarkable now that we are in Provence. Bonne Nuit. Arles day 2 Great breakfast at the Hotel du Forum - all the usual continental breakfast suspects, but with scrambled eggs. Today the intention was to wander around Arles, and spend time at the Roman amphitheatre. It was built around 90AD to seat 20,000 spectators. Chariot races, gladiatorial combat and the other stuff that amused the Romans. Most involving bloodshed. Hence the sand floor of the arena. When the Roman Empire fell in the 5th Century, the local population moved in and built around 200 houses (and 2 chapels) inside and against the stadium. In the Middle ages, it therefore looked like this: Note the arches - that is the two-tier arena. (pic lifted from Wikipedia) It was only in the 18th century that it was declared a monument and restored to its present state. From the outside, it now looks like this: We wandered around the outside, admiring the structure. In touch with antiquity. A physical thing that spans the centuries and in a very real way links the ages. And the people of now with the people of then. History come to life in an awe-inspiring way. Entering the arena, one finds oneself in a passageway that runs right around the place, just inside the arches. There is an entrance to the seats inside every 8 metres. Damn good crowd control, if you ask me. We entered. A huge, no, an enormous disappointment. The place is used for concerts and bullfights, so they had erected bleachers, pavilions, installed lighting and completely destroyed any sense of antiquity. They surely could have found a more gentle way of using the arena for events, but still preserving the essence of what the Romans built. No, they just buggered it up royally. We are upset. Most upset. In the circular passageway we frequently came across graffiti: No, dear readers, do not come to Arles for the amphitheatre. If you do, stay outside. Merde! We found a well shaded square nearby to slake our disappointment. and was soon feeling somewhat more cheerful. We passed a butchery and was even more cheerful knowing that we do not have to pay these prices back home (about R250): We have noticed something peculiar over the past few days. A lot of the French seem to be unaware of the fact that Spring has sprung. They still bundle up. Coats and parkas and stuff. Here is a small collage of people we came across on our walk back from the arena around midday. It is a sunny 25C in Arles today. And I thought the French are warm blooded. We found a table on the square in front of the hotel, ordered beer and settled down to a quiet afternoon of drowsily reading. And chatting. And people watching. A great way to allow the afternoon to drift away. Here is a sight to warm the cockles of a beer lover's heart - beer by the meter. The top one offers 10 x 250ml beers from their selection of beers on tap (they have 25). The bottom one a total of 5 litres beer from the tap (de Pression) in any size you want. We are not doing too badly language-wise. At this stage we can enquire for accommodation, book a room and order food and drink with confidence and in not too grotty an accent. It is dangerous, though, to become over-confident. Serious problems can arise if the French take you for a French speaker, albeit maybe from the provinces. An American next to us at dinner last night was more or less at the same stage of expertise. He asked a seemingly innocent question about one of the dishes on the menu. The waitress replied with 2 minutes of monologue and much waving of the hands. The poor man was clearly befuddled (as was I) and said "oui, Madame". Big mistake. She jotted something down in her order book, and went off beaming. Leaving our neighbour in deep distress. He should not have said "yes", but it is an easy thing to say if you think that you were both talking about the steak dish. Worst case you get it done not quite to your taste. But what if she in fact offered as a tasty alternative to the steak, their speciality of the day which happened to be bull testicles in a red wine sauce. And you said "yes"! The man was clearly sweating bullets until his dish came. With mash and mushrooms rather than vegetables. Which is what she was on about. Nevertheless, it pays to stay humble. And not to try to be French. Not that we want to be. Not after what they did to the arena.... A last word on the vagaries of the French language. When it gets to numbers, the French really lose it. Ten is dix, twenty is vingt, thirty trent, forty quarante, fifty cinquante and sixty soixante. All neat and fine. Hah! Seventy is soixante-dix (sixty plus ten), eighty is quatre-vingt (four times 20), ninenty is quatre-vingt-dix (four times twenty plus 10). Gallic logic, I guess. Dinner was at Le16. Dad and mom cooking and two daughters serving. We started with stuffed squid in a saffron sauce and I small clams with herbs and olive oil. The stuffing of the squid was slightly chewy but the squid and sauce very good. The leetle clams were a pain to eat - the leetle meat in each leetle shell about the size of your leetle fingernail. Very tasty, though. Anna wanted duck. They only had duck breast and were happy to cook it well done. Served with veggies and a rosemary and red wine sauce. Maybe too tough, but that is a result of grilling it to well doneness. Anna announced that she'll stick to duck confit going forward. The breast can really only be eaten rarish. I had a bull stew in red wine. Probably an old bull from the Camargue. It was not totally tender, but packed with the beefiest flavour imaginable. Totally unlike any beef I have ever had. Not great, but memorable. So, a bullish end to the day..... Bonne nuit. Avignon We left Arles early, headed for Avignon and Orange. Avignon to visit the Palais du Papes and Orange for the Roman theatre. Pope Clement V moved the papal seat from Rome to Avignon in the 1300's. The building of the papal palace in Avignon was started in 1334 and was completed in 1364 - all 11,000 square metres. The question that immediately springs to mind, of course, is why? It must have been an enormously expensive affair. The place is enormous. We parked in the Palais parking garage below the palace and as we emerged from the parking garage onto the square, this is the sight that greeted us: We wandered around some of the inside areas but skipped quite a lot of it - at least the upstairs bits. Steep and long staircases are not foot friendly. The pic below of the grand chapel where the Popes prayed was lifted from Wikipedia - we could not get a good pic. Just think: this is what they (the Popes) thought was required for their worship. The place left us with no particular feeling of awe. Admiration for the architectural skill, but very little sense of history. There is a coldness about the place that did not inspire us to test our feet against the staircases. Grand pile of stone, but what for? Surely nothing but the Pope's folly. A reflection of their aggrandised self-importance. The other feature of Avignon is the wall around the city. We tried to drive right around the road running outside the wall to get some good pics and maybe find a place or two to stop and admire, but we got lost and found ourselves on our way to Nimes. A portent of things to come. The GPS got us back on track to Orange. The Roman theatre of Orange was built in the first century AD to seat 20,000 spectators to various theatrical events that usually lasted all day. It is an awe-inspiring place to visit. This is the outside of the stage wall, built from sandstone. This is the stage wall behind the stage. Note the scale. We sat on one of the stone tiers where the spectators sat and tried to absorb the magnificence of this structure. It is truly overpowering. If you are not emotionally affected by simply sitting here, you have a soul of stone. A great, great experience. We sat and absorbed. Anna shed tears. The Innkeeper, being manly, swallowed a lump. I tried to take a panoramic pic of the wall to give a better idea of the scale. Did not work all that well, but here it is nevertheless. Note the imperial statue at the top middle of the wall. Here is a closer view: Rome churned these out by the dozen, to be shipped all over the Empire. An interesting feature was that the head could be replaced, thus saving a lot of money as emperors come and go. Just send out a cartload of new heads. We had lunch in a nearby cafe, a replica of 60's milkshake-and-burger joints. Great decor, so-so burgers. An accordion busker outside played well enough that Anna gave him a Euro or two. And a block further on a guy in a wheelchair had an owl on his lap. Our feet were hurting at this stage, so we headed home to Arles. Just outside Avignon we encountered the first signs pointing to Arles, and we switched off the GPS - the battery was getting low and we needed its help with entering Arles. Big, but I mean really huge mistake. All we needed to do was follow the signs to Arles. Right? Hah! We conveniently forgot that one of the important functions of the device is to give ample warning of road splits and turn-offs so that one can position oneself in the right lane to take said turn or split. The traffic was heavy and we were on a two-lane road. A sign pointing to Arles and indicating a left turn suddenly loomed. I had no chance to get into the left lane and we missed the turn. Things went from bad to worse from there on. We switched the GPS back on. It complained about the battery and switched itself off. We drove on, taking random turns trying to find a sign that made sense or a road number that the Navigator could find on her maps. At one point we were headed towards Paris. That one was easy - we made a u-turn. We crossed the Rhine. And recrossed it about 10 times. We found ourselves outside Avignon. We found ourselves in the countryside with no idea whatsoever where we were. We had to start rationing the water supply. All we had to eat was dried peaches. Starvation and dehydration stared us in the face. Then, round a bend, the magic words on a road sign :- "Arles". We stopped. Ate a dried peach in celebration and proceeded to Arles. Home sweet home. It took us 2 hours to drive what should have been 50km. We threw the car key at the porter and inhaled a beer and a glass of wine on the square. We had dinner some time later. Anna retried the soup she had two days ago. Not the quite the same. My onion soup was also so-so. Bland. The onions could have done with 15 minutes slow browning. 16Euro for the soups and 28Euro for a bottle of good Burgundy. Back at the hotel I found a use for the coat hook in the lift. A gentleman wearing a hat should doff same when he kisses a lady. If said smooching should happen in a lift, and continue for a while, holding the hat can be awkward. Hence: Bonne nuit. Arles last day Our last day based in Arles. We wanted to view the Roman excavations in Vaison La Romaine, then look in on the market at Carpentras and the hilltop town of Venasque. Along the road to Vaison (as us old French hands call it), we passed through lane after lane of plane trees. Impossible to resist snapping. When we arrived in Carpentras, the market was in full swing. We could not find parking within 4km of it and decided to carry on to the Roman stuff at Vaison. Vaison La Romain's claim to fame is the fact that the entire place is built on an old Roman town. The town is partially a typical Provencal hilltop town and partially located on the plain below. They were able to excavate those areas not covered by modern buildings and uncovered a treasure trove of artifacts and the remains of Roman villas and stuff. The place is mildly interesting as opposed to riveting mainly because the remains of buildings are just that - more or less the foundations. For the rest you have to rely on very flowery descriptions via the audio guides or use your imagination. Still, eminently worth the trip. We decamped for Carpentras to see if the market was still going. It was. Still no parking, so on to the hilltop town of Venasques we went. I'll post more pics of Venasque, because we fell in love with the town and decided to stay there tomorrow night. We passed by the La Maison aux Volets Bleus and the friendly owner Jerome offered us a great room at only 88Euro We grabbed it. How could one not, with a name like that - The House of the Blue Shutters. Further exploration of the town will wait until the morn. Jerome offered an early check in from 10am onwards. While winding our way down the hill, we decided to turn westwards and visit the Pont Du Gard, an ancient Roman viaduct. It was on our list of musts, and this seemed as good a time as any. The Pont Du Gard crosses the river Gard and was part of a 50km long viaduct that brought water from Uzès to Nîmes. The amazing thing is that the viaduct fell only 17metres over the 50km. The pont itself falls only 2.5cm over its 275m length. What a testament to Roman technology and ingenuity! Our first glimpse And then the whole structure came into view: Here is a better idea of scale - note the people walking along the lower level: Truly a breathtaking monument to human endeavour. We were astounded, amazed, thrilled and fascinated. all at the same time. I wish we could via pics give you some of that, but alas, the camera's battery gave out after the above pic. We returned to Arles for a last dinner, this time without pics. The day was a long one - we only got back close to 18:00. Dinner was at Le Plaza, a place with a sort of bullfighting theme. All well and good, but after a while the Gypsy Kings tends to pall on one... Nevertheless, a good dinner. Anna had a chicken tagliatelle and I quail with a raspberry jus presented, somewhat surprisingly, on cauliflower. Very good. A bottle of Bandol was foisted on us by an enterprising waitress at, I discovered later, an eye-watering 37Euro. (I told you earlier: he is a sucker for a smile). We'll make up with Vanasque tomorrow. Promise. Bonne nuit. Vanasque Saturday is market day in Arles. "Un bonne marche", the receptionist assured us. Tell Anna about a market and she's off like an olympic sprinter. So, to the market we went. It covers two large boulevards in Arles and is around 2.5km in length. A huge affair. Half food and the other half crafts and tacky Chinese stuff. We walked about 500m along the food side until the stalls started repeating. We bought some aged Emmenthal for our lunch later. And a tomato and a baguette. Cheese of every description. This looked like game sausages. Or maybe donkey. Dubious stuff. Olives and more olives. Fine foods - pates, pastas, quiches and more. Meat, of course. Spices. And, incongruously, amid the veggies, a guy selling mattresses. Amongst the non-food stuff, I lost Anna for a moment. I should have known.... This is where the locals buy their weekly supplies and they were there in their hordes. Nary a parking space anywhere within 2km of the market. This is, in fact, probably the greatest obstacle to driving through Provence. An empty parking space is a mythical thing, like a unicorn, that one has heard of but never seen. Normally hotels have some parking arrangement, but simply driving through a town and wanting to stop for a bite to eat can be a challenge. We drove through Isle-Sur-La-Sorgue and spotted a row of cafes along a canal. Mit fountains and all. Looked great. We drove around for about 20 minutes trying to find parking within 1 km, to no avail. So you either walk very far or, if you have sore feet, miss it. We missed that one. C'est la vie, as we old French hands say. Off to Venasque. Outside St.Remy-en-Provence, we drove through the longest and most spectacular avenue of Plane trees. Must have been all of 5 Km long. I cannot resist- another plane tree avenue pic: Venasque is a hilltop village. For defensive purposes, villages in the late Middle ages were often built on a hilltop, around a castle or château, with the field or vineyards on the plain below. When we were there yesterday, we took a few pics, including one of what looked like such a cosy terrace overlooking the valley. Around the corner was La Maison aux Volets Bleus, The House of the Blue Shutters. a guest house to which the terrace belonged. We knew that we had to stay here, and duly booked a room with a splendid, nay, a great view. Jerome welcomed us warmly upon our return and we settled in. Here is the view from the room, overlooking rolling hills and vineyards We took a leisurely stroll through the town. We came across what was clearly a wedding party outside the municipal office. With a guy ready to make music. He started playing and shortly afterwards the wedding party emerged. [embed width="600" height="335"]http://www.mesamis.co.za/images/wedding.wmv[/embed] We had a beer The warm spring afternoon seemed to drift by quietly, dreamily. We have a table booked for dinner in of the two eateries in town. Off to the Cafe Fontaine for dinner. Great looking interior. We got a table at a large open window overlooking the main street. It only gets dark around 9pm. Anna had steamed monkfish and I what was described as lamb fillet. From the size of it, it was more likely lamb sirloin. Good presentation but so-so on both dishes. without wine, 36Euro. With the bottle of local red, 58Euro. Back at the House of the Blue Shutters I bumped my head against the low doorway into our room. For the 5th time. Anna laughed like a train and had me pose, rather sheepishly, in front of it Bonne nuit. Carcasonne Pretty hefty drive today, from Arles over Roussillon to Carcassonne. All of 320km. We wanted to pass through Roussillon to see its ochre walls. Coloured red from nearby ochre quarries.Why they could not just stick to perfectly acceptable Provencal sandstone we do not know. We drove through the town, took a few pics and set off for Carcassonne. The Provence countryside hereabouts is sort of flattish, here and there a hill. Lots of vineyards and fruit trees and veggies. No large-scale cash crops. We scooted down the A7 freeway. Tolled. Costs about R1 per kilo, but the alternative, at least today, was not feasible. The smaller roads would have taken about 7 hours. The toll road took a tad more than 3. We wanted to go to Carcassonne because of the fortified old city. The Romans built fortifications on the hilltop in 100BC. From that time onwards the fortifications were changed, added to and elaborated through the centuries. A really old pile, although a lot of restoration was done in the 1800's. This is what it looks like today: Quite magnificent, even if you take into account the restorations like to conical roof in the pic above. Enter the walled city, however, and disappointment sets in. The place is tacky beyond belief inside. One pavement restaurant flowing into the next and one tacky souvenir shop upon the next. Carcassonne is clearly a victim of its ancient charm. 4 million tourists visit it each year. No wonder them place is packed with cheap shops and eateries. Oh well - one can always admire the outside. That would then also be our advice. By all means, visit Carcassonne, but for heaven's sake stay outside the walls. Even the horses used to draw tourist trams around the ramparts looked faintly ashamed of themselves. And so they should, with that dreadful crochet headgear... We did find a place that sells good chocolate. Bloody expensive, though. We loaded up on this, that and the other to end up with a fairly modest bag for 17Euros. We found a room at the hotel Montmorency at 100Euro. Hotels here are expensive. Food cheap. For dinner we had to go back into the old city - nothing else nearby. At the Cafe Rempart we had a cassoulet each. With confit de canard and, for me, a sausage. We were keen to try cassoulet. Maybe this was not the place, but it was not too bad. This is a dish with haricot beans, sausage and other meat. Interesting. I am not sure how authentic this version was, with the duck and all. Certainly something we can play around with back home. The dish clearly has peasant origins. This version was a tad greasy from the duck skin which was not crisped. I would have liked the removed duck skin crisped and served separately. Anna would have like some veggies in there. She felt it would not abrogate the peasantness of the dish. Still, we will be in the region for the next few days and I will certainly try this again. Bonne nuit. Rocamadour Today we bid the South of France adieu and headed for the Dordogne. The landscape changed slowly to become more rolling hills covered with woods. The architecture reverted back to the stone of the Alsace. We eschewed the toll roads today - the countryside looked far too interesting to simply whizz by. This is, I think, our travelling modus operandi. When the landscape is dull, whizz. When not, do not whizz. To whizz or not to whizz, that is the questions, my friends. We always seem to agree. Today we intended to dawdle. Albeit that we wanted to travel for around 250 Km to get well into the Dordogne. But then, we had no booking or set plan:- we could drive as far as we wanted to. Today we expected the drive to be part of the destination. And so it proved. Small towns nestled on hills among patches of farmland and forest. This was simply great. A feeling of peace and tranquility suffused us. From time to time we gasped at the sudden appearance of a town around a corner. Such as Villefrance Des Rouerque We tried stopping off in small towns here and there, but the dreaded parking spot problem thwarted us at every turn. As it was still early, we pushed on. Through Najac. Here we had another look at the map and decided to make Rocamadour our endpoint for the day, trusting Anna's extensive research. Along the way we passed through St. Cirq Lapopie, probably one of the most spectacularly situated villages we have ever seen. We arrived in Rocamadour and it is everything Anna's research promised. And more. Dating from 1100AD, it spills spectacularly down a cliff, above a tributary of the River Dordogne. Its sanctuary of the Blessed Mary has been a site of pilgrimage for centuries. We arranged with a hotel in the centre that we could drive in to the middle of the town, park in front of the hotel and see whether we wanted to stay. We parked, saw and booked a room for two nights at the Grand Hotel Beau Site. We will tell you more about stunning Rocamadour tomorrow. This is what it looks like: To dinner we went. At the restaurant of the hotel, which, so the internet told us, is pretty good. Note the smile on the Innkeeper's face. Also note that he had not yet had the menu to hand. Nor the wine list. Our neighbouring eatery was also sort of hanging off the edge of the cliff. The wine list arrived. I ordered a wine. Let it be stated for the record that I swear I pointed at a reasonably priced wine on the list. The wine that came, and I only realised this as we were sipping the first glass, was the next one on the list, substantially more expensive. I am convinced that it was my arthritic forefinger that was misread by the waitress. (She was pretty and had a pretty smile.......) We perused the menu, somewhat chastened by the thought that we had already blown 42Euros on wine. (We? WE? He, the Innkeeper did. I was, please note, was not consulted). Throughout all this turmoil Anna was composed. (Actually, I was not. I was thinking about how I am going to get rid of the kilos all this eating is piling on. And the Innkeeper - his belly is growing by the day. Wait until I get him back home. excercise, exercise is going to sort him out. And me, of course.) We were amused by this translation Anna had a beautiful duck breast with a quinoia and rosemary cake and a red wine reduction. Superb presentation. And so it should be. At the price they could have got Versaci to do the plating. After phoning the bank back home to arrange a substantial overdraft, I ordered scrambled eggs. With truffles. The very first time I had actual truffles. Good. Not great. The taste was disappointing at first:- mild, as opposed to wow! It grew on one as you worked through the dish. We shared cheese for afters. Rocamadour is apparently famous for its goat's cheese. We got a leetle round of cheese with a cherry confit. And lots of leaves. (Marie-Claire, thees plate of cheese has no leaves! Sacre Bleau! Bring the leaves, woman!) The cheese was pretty good. As goat's cheese goes. (Smelly and awful. Probably an old goat) The bill? I don't know. We told them to stick it on the room bill. Probably around 100 Euro. Eye watering Bonne nuit. The great thing about staying in one place for more than one day is that you can sleep late. Which we did. Stumbled into the breakfast room about 9:30. Great breakfast. Cheese, cold meats, great bread. The thing is that a continental breakfast is fine. As long as you get cheese and some cold meat. And, of course, yoghurt and muesli for Anna. At three hotels along the way we got bread, butter, jam and coffee. When we queried it at the hotel La Victoire in Vence, we were told with a very superior air "But monsieur, this is a continental breakfast!" when we asked for cheese. As if we wanted bacon and eggs. I cannot for the life of me understand how some hostelries do not appreciate the basic fact that the last impression you take away is that of breakfast. Such a stingy offering spoils whatever else may have been good and is often the memory you take with you. Rather than the fabulous bed. Or whatever. The meal at our hotel here at Rocamadour last night was good, but I will remember the attitude of the waiting staff longer that the meal. Not surly, but a complete disdain, as if we are done a favour by being attended to. We did not feel welcome at all. Basic fail. Could have been fixed by a smile and a welcoming word. With few exceptions, this has been our experience of French hospitality. In restaurants and at hotels. We were seldom welcomed with an attitude that says "Great that you chose to spend your money here." And, to boot, we start off by speaking French to them. As best we can. So it is not as if we are not sensitive to the fact that we are the visitors. We really bend over backwards to be at the very least gracious guests in their country. In 80% of the cases it avails us none. Here are two exceptions- reception staff at our hotel. Could not have felt more welcome. Well done, Nadine and Frederic.
In any event, a good breakfast. One feature of which was this huge loaf of break. 15Kg's of it. (This is my biggest problem in France - the bread. I eat tons of it and it all sits in places that I thought I did not have. The Innkeeper does not help. When I complain, he butters another piece and gives it to me, saying "Moenie worry nie, skattie") (translation: do not worry, darling) It was raining after breakfast. A dismal sort of drizzle. We tried wandering around, but it was dark and dismal. We took the lift up to the level where the pilgrimage churches are - all of 100 metres above the hotel level. We had a great view of our hotel. and the rest of the village. This is the site that the pilgrims visit. And have visited for centuries. The buildings are built against the rock face. Almost like an extension of cliff. At the arched entrance we found this rather poignant plague. It is better in French than English...... To a some extent a contrast with the busy commerce in the village below. But also a refreshing stillness - all the people visiting spoke in hushed voices. An air of reverence permeated the area around the ancient buildings. The back wall of one small chapel was roughly smoothed rock. The stained glass window behind the altar in the main chapel. We sat in the chapel and did what the plaque at the entrance suggested. (I knew when I first saw this place, I knew that I wanted to stay here for a day or two. Maybe the spirit of pilgrimage, maybe the chapels that have been here for centuries. Whatever it is, I am at peace here. If this was our only stop in France, I would have been content. My soul is at rest). We retired to a handy bar where we settled down to read. Does this sound insensitive? After the pilgrimage site? We don't think so. That experience we will carry with us. We ordered a pichet of wine. Up to now we have disdained the pitchers of wine, preferring to try lout wine from various areas rather than a sort of generic plonk. as value for money goes, a pichet (half a litre) stacks up pretty well at 6Euro against the 42Euro stuff we had last night. So, maybe more pichets. The problem ordering wine off the carte in France is that the wines are grouped by wineries with no indication of the grape or blend. So you order the domaine you like, rather than the varietal you prefer. Last night we got a malbec, not one of our favourite grapes. Generally, unless you know the domaines, ordering is pretty much hit or miss. Anna seemed pleased. We looked at the rain, read for a while. I a Dudley Pope and Anna the E.L.James bestseller. The Kindles are absolutely the only way to take books along on holiday. Convenience par excellence, as we old French hands say. We also had an unexpectedly big lunch. Maybe the cold and rain induces a hunger that would otherwise not be there. Be that as it may, we had duck leg confit with sautéed potatoes. And, of course, a pile of leaves. Wanna become a farmer in France? Plant lettuce. The round thing is the disk of Rocamadour goat's cheese. Delicious. (Awful and stinky. How I can love a man who actually eats this, I do not know.) As I said, delicious. We had another pichet of rouge. And had a nap. A lengthy, pichet-induced nap. (Here is the Innkeeper after lunch.) When we woke up, the sun was up and we explored main street. I looked away for a moment, and where do you think I found Anna? Of course.... Here are some images of the Rocamadour main street. Some souvenir shops, but somehow the whole is not tacky. Not at all. Anna did not buy anything. I bought duck sausages to take home. The sausage guy swore the stuff will last 2 months out of the fridge. They have a, well, hearty smell. Not sure whether I'm going to be able to get them past the sniffer dogs at Tambo..... (I am not sure he is going to have an opportunity to have the dogs smell it out. I may well chuck them long before then. Hearty smell? That is Innkeeper for STINKY!) So on to dinner. At the Le Terminus. We started by ordering a pichet of rouge. This after we sampled a Saint Emillion Grand Cru we bought earlier at a wine shop in our room. (remember that we travel with wine glasses?). We got an Amuse. Always a good omen. This was a terrine of duck with wedges of toast. Tres delicieuse. Anna wanted to try the cassoulet. Mit duck. A lot of duck and goose gizzards and foie gras around here. I have echewed the foie so far, sensitive to Anna's abhorrence of the gavage. The cassoulet had a pork sausage. Which, mirabile dictu, Anna had a substantial piece of. (It was just a bite or two. And yes, not bad, but the Innkeeper munched the rest) I had a steak with maitre d'hotel butter and veggies with a potato thingy. The steak was sub-par (last steak in France, I swear) but the butter was divine. That is the greenish slab on top of the steak. Also went well with the half of Anna's sausage that she left. The bill came to 45Euro. Main courses are generally around 25. If you are not careful where you point, that can easily double that with the wine. With a vin de maison in a pichet, though, add 7 or 8. We will look at the bill differently when we get back home..... Bonne nuit. Brantome We left Rocamadour and as the road wound away from the hill, we stopped and took a last look. We were more or less on the way to the Loire valley, but decided on one last stop in the Dordogne. Brantome got the nod. Shortly after leaving Rocamadour, the navigator made a mistake and sent us off on a small side road. A very small side road. (No, no. My directions were perfect. I said to him "Keep right" and he turned left! As the navigator I expect my driver to know the difference between right and left. Right is where I am sitting, left is where he is. Simple, no?) To all intents and purposes just two tracks meandering through the forest. Nobody in sight. Not even an animal. The road got smaller and smaller. An air of desolation hung over the countryside, as if all the inhabitants had left and forgot to return. This went on for a while. A long while. One's thoughts started turning to starvation. I did not like the way Anna eyed my thighs..... We carefully shared the last of the dried peaches....(He can really carry on, can't he. We were on this small road for no more than 20 minutes. One would swear that we were in the wilds of Africa.) I bet the folks hereabouts would have voted for the dog... Eventually we emerged onto a decent road and were back in civilisation. I lectured the Navigator most severely to be less careless. Most severely, I tell you. (giggle) We passed through Domme. We stopped for a while and thought about staying over, but it was early and we pushed on. Other villages spread there charms for us. Not to plunder, but to pause and admire. La Roquecageac. St. Syprien. Until we eventually reached Brantome. We found reasonable accommodation at the Hotel Charbonnel. Not great, not bad but at 90Euro quite acceptable. Here is the town: A stroll took us past a butcher with seriously tempting hams in the window. The white ones on the left are 2kgs of what is described as "heart of ham". We have this almost empty suitcase, you see, and I thought....... (hah! If he thinks we are going to use that space for ham, he can think again. We already have those smelly duck sausages.) We found a small hotel next to the river (the Moulin de L'Abbaye) and settled into their garden overlooking the river for a beer and a glass of wine. Most civilised. We could see the trout in the river. Clear, clear water. The trout, I think, could also see the angler trying to catch them. That must be why he did not catch one while we were there. We considered the Moulin de L'Abbaye for accommodation, but they were around 250Euro for the night. We were charged an eye watering 20Euro for the beer and glass of wine. Oh well... At least we could watch the guy fishing. Dinner was a forgettable affair at a bistro opposite the hotel. I forgot to take the camera. Anna ordered chicken and got duck. Which she ate. (I have now had it with duck. any more and I'll start quacking...) I had tough and dry lamb chops. As well that I forgot the camera.... Next morning we set off for Saumur, the start of the Loire valley part of our trip. The Loire valley stretches for about 200km along the Loire river. What attracted us to this area are the numerous châteaux and castles dotted along the valley. Saumur would be a good starting point and even maybe a base from which to explore. There was a complete absence of trucks on the roads - a blessing as we were travelling along single lane roads. Here and there poppies in the fields. It suddenly struck the Navigator that the absence of trucks must mean that it was a public holiday. In France, trucks other than the refrigerated ones cannot drive on Sundays and public holidays. This might be a small problem, as the French would be bound to make this into a long weekend. Anna had three hotels in Saumur earmarked and started phoning. Full. Next town on the list. Full. Oh dear. The first time that we have had this problem. Fortunately we only have to be in Paris in a week, so we are not pressed for time. We diverted to nearby Angers, found the Best Western D'Anjou hotel and booked in for the night. To replan and regroup. The Best Western hotels in Europe are, by the way, very good. They are almost without exception hotels that the group acquired. Well located, old buildings and nothing of the modern sleep factory about them. Angers is a modern city, and we have seen nothing driving in that makes us brave the rainy weather to explore. The hotel has a cosy bar and a restaurant. We spent an hour or two three researching and phoning around. We were right, the Loire is crawling with French people for the long weekend. No consideration for foreign visitors at all. The plan now is to use Loches, a small town near Tours as a base for three days. We got the last room in the Le Logis du Bief (105euro). This should get us clear of the weekend. During the three days we'll decide what to do with the last 3 days before Paris. Dinner in the La Salamandre restaurant at the hotel. We are now out of the Perigorde area where duck, goose gizzards and foie gras are the staple items on menus. Perhaps there is hope for my Navigator.... We got a bottle of the local Anjou red. No pichets on offer here. My eyes started watering.... We got an amuse bouche. A sure sign of seriously watering eyes come bill time. An asparagus veloute. Delicious. The Navigator found salmon on the menu The tomatoes and gherkins were a peculiar and unsuccessful side. The fish was stunning. I felt carnivorous and asked for a fillet steak. Here is the skinny about ordering steak in France. If you want it rare, order it medium. If you want it medium, order it well done. If you want it well done, forget it. Mine came rare - I ordered it "rose", a charming term I learnt in the Dordogne. Means medium-rare. It came with a slab of foie gras on top. (I really don't mind anybody eating foie gras. I object to the gavage and won't eat it myself. That's all. For sure I will stop the Innkeeper eating too much of it. Cannot be healthy.) Anna did not recoil in horror. It came with skewered baby potatoes and pan-grilled morels. Exccellent. Excellent. On the way back to our room, it struck me how much the passageway outside our room resembled a passage in a bordello. Not that I am familiar with the inside of bordellos, mind you. Bonne nuit. The Loire valley We set out from Angers cheered by a good breakfast. Actual eggs. Trust Best Western. We booked a room for three days at the Le Logis du Bief in Loches. The idea, you will recall, is to give us three days of château-ing and time to decide what to do with the last three days before Paris. The Logis du Bief is a guest house and we could only check in after 16:00, leaving ample time to pack in a château or two before we get to Loches. First on our list was the Château de Brissac near, amazingly, the town of Brissac-Quincé. Short drive from Anger and we were at the home of the umpteenth Duc de Brissac. We joined a group of about 60 folk for the first conducted tour of the day. Apparently one cannot just stroll around on you own. That would place all sorts of objects d'art at risk. And also expose the Marquise de Brissac, who is living the pile with his wife and 4 kids, to unexpected intrusion. We were given an info sheet in English and traipsed into the château, following the guide. It was impossible to take good pics, because of the throng of people. I could have taken great shots of 3 Japanese people, a fat Englishman and several hawkish looking French women with something vaguely château-ish in the background, but gave it a miss. I did dash back once to take a pic of the grand reception room. and got a good pic out of one window. We had two problems. The first was that we would read the piece in our info sheet about, say, the bedroom where the 3rd (or 5th or 6th) Duke did something or other in about 10 minutes. I mean that we read it in 10 minutes, not that he did whatever he did in 10 minutes. If the pace of the French guide was anything to go by, the Duke would probably have been at it for a while. The guide burbled on knowledgeably on the same topic for 20 minutes. In French. With us standing around, looking at stuff, and ready to move on to the next room. Sometimes the minutiae can be interesting, but to have each of the rather awful portraits on the walls explained in detail, was a bit much. The glazed expressions of the French-speaking part of the audience was testament to their boredom. Can you imagine ours.. So, up and down the staircases we went, our feet getting progressively worse. Mercifully, after 90 minutes, it ended and we could hobble back to the car. If the inside of the place came even close to matching the outside, we would have been agog. We were distinctly un-agog. The Duke is doing quite well out of the people traipsing through his ancestral home. 6 tours a day in season. If ours was an indication, 60 pax per tour at 10 each gives you somewhere around 3600 Euro per day. Probably for about 150 days per year. Gives around 500,000 per year. Not to be sneezed at. Our problem with the place was twofold :- The guided tour thing that left us standing around in limbo and Our feet - the traipsing up and down staircases and standing around did not do them any good. It was clear that our idea of doing 6 or more châteaux over the next three days would not work. Oh dear. Rethink required. While thinking, we drove along the banks of the Loire. The day was gray, windy and cold - our apologies for pic quality. This part of the country is flat with extensive cash crops on the farmland: Most of the small towns we passed through were relatively modern - 17th, 18 century. With an old bit poking out here and there. This requires further enquiry. Surely the Loire valley was well settled by the Middle ages. Where then, are the medieval towns? The old parts seem to be the châteaux and castles. Like this one we found in Chinon: Where we had a light lunch in a place specializing in light lunches. Sandwiches, galettes (slice of bread covered with stuff and cheese, then grilled. Served with leaves.) There was one man of about 50 serving a crowd of about 60. Busy as a one-armed barman at a barmitzva. Next to the river, a lane of trees. We arrived on Loches and found the Logis du Bief easily. We took one look at the street and our happy spirits took a plunge. So not stay-here-for-three-days: the Logis is on the left. Nevertheless, we put on a brave face and rang the bell. We were met by Jean-Claude, who took charge of our valises (that's what we call luggage in France, Fred) and sent us off to a nearby parking area. We returned to a warm welcome by Jean-Pierre and Moha. They offered us their Gite (that is what we call an apartment in France, Fred) at a small extra fee and we settled in happily. The rear of the Logis presented a totally different aspect, opening onto a terrace overlooking the canal. The interior of both the main house and our gite speaks of comfort, warmth and good taste. A great find. Jean-Claude has a baby schnauzer. Anna fell in love with it. We have a table booked at the Gerbe D'Or. Hopefully no bdap, says Anna: (bloody duck and potatoes) A 5 minute walk brought us to the "Shower of Gold". I'll mention this again at length in a later blog - how fanciful names for hostelries and restaurants seem quite acceptable in France. Names that would, back home, get you laughed out of town. Anna had curried cod and pronounced it very good. Maybe not enough of the curry sauce. There should be sufficient to mop up with the excellent bread provided. I tried the sea brass. The fish was excellent, but I think that it would be difficult to completely screw up fresh sea bass. Superb fish. Delicate, yet firm. The sardine sauce was a non-starter. Tasteless, bland and boring. The mash was good - chunky with sufficient texture to provide a counterpoint to the fish. Before we left for dinner, we had a bottle of Boujolais, so at dinner we made do with a pichet of the local plonk. Good, though. We'll tell you more about Loches, a most un-touristy village in later posts. Suffice to say, this is what real French village life looks like. We like it. Very much. We even found a place to buy. Here it is. Bonne nuit. Loches We roll the last two days at Loches into one because not much happened. It was cloudy and rainy. After a good breakfast at the guest house (with boiled egg and homemade yoghurt), we set off for the Chateau Amboise. In the town of Amboise. In Loches, a morning market was in full swing. I stopped and took a pic of the sausage man. (I had to restrain him from stopping in the middle of the street, dashing out and buying more sausages) I like this town. Unassuming, not a postcard shop in sight. Full of actual French people. I suspect that those we see at the tourist attractions are props hired by the French Tourist Authorities. This lot looked different. Carefree, relaxed. The day started really well when we got to Amboise and found a parking bay on the street within spitting distance of the château. The château. Thankfully, self-guided. Lots of people. Mostly French. In its present form it was constructed by Charles VII, King of France who, incidentally died at the place when he hit his head against a lintel. Frances I, a later King, invited Leonardo Da Vinci to work here. Leonardo died at the castle and is buried in this little chapel on the grounds: His gravestone (blurry - no flash allowed): We wandered through the place, our feet holding out well. Mainly because we could set the pace. Lots and lots of rather awful tapestries. Old, very old and through time bleached to an even brown. Really ugly but, I suppose, really valuable. Keep anything for long enough...... Charles' bed. Not so sure about the pink, m'lord.... The view from one of the towers: We were cheered by this château. We could dawdle where we wanted to and speed up past the boring bits. Here is the skinny - only visit chateaux where you can ander around on your own. Our feet were ok. Not great, but ok. The château itself was again more interesting on the outside than the inside. The exterior has a grandeur to it that is not matched by the interior. Dark and gloomy. We wanted to visit the Château Chenonceau next. It was clear that we would not be able to walk that one as well, but we thought to walk around the outside only. When we got there around lunchtime, a drizzle was setting in. The parking area was packed. The walk to the château, hidden behind trees, looked like Loftus on test match day. We counted 22 buses parked in the bus parking area. The place was a circus. We left, sad not to have experienced the undoubted beauty of Chenonceau, but glad to have avoided the risk of being trampled underfoot. And it was raining as well. This is what we missed (lifted from Wikipedia): By now it was pretty miserable. We were very happy to have the gite waiting for us. A much better prospect for a lazy afternoon if you have a small lounge/dining room. We stopped at a Carrefour and bought some prepared food for dinner. We played cards, drank wine. Had some crusty bread. and some wine. I spotted an interesting packet of duck in the supermarket: Thinly sliced duck carpaccio. Delicious. Anna, by now our duck expert, liked it as well. The next day we also had two châteaux scheduled. We awoke to another rainy day. Oh dear! We set off in the direction of Cheverney. Truly a miserable day, weather-wise. Unrelenting rain all the way. We kept hoping that it would clear up, but it didn't. At Cheverney we took a pic or two and headed back home. The sun peeked through briefly later in the day, enabling us to spend a short while on the deck with our wine. Still of good cheer, as you can see. We found a Chinese restaurant nearby and will have dinner there tonight just for a change of pace. We are not too despondent that we will leave the Loire Valley tomorrow. The picture that we had conjured up was of this 200km long valley centered around the Loire river, winding its way through villages and with chateaux dominating here and there. As in a valley: An elongated lowland between ranges of mountains, hills, or other uplands, often having a river or stream running along the bottom. The operative words here are "lowland" and "bottom". The reality is that it is a completely flat area. Like a plain. Whence the "valley" we do not know. The landscape is monotonous - mostly canola and wheat fields. If it weren't for the châteaux, this would be the last spot in France on our list. The châteaux are, for us, unfinished business. Mainly because of our feet, we could never really get to fully appreciate them. When we can have an agenda that is not feet-driven, maybe we should return for a few days on our way somewhere else and redo the château thing. Properly. As it is, we are comfortable that we have, within the given limits, done as best as we could. We did contemplate staying here for the next few days, but the weather forecast is grim. Rain and more rain. We want to go to the western part of Burgundy tomorrow for our last three days in the countryside. Before we go to Paris. We hope to drive to Vezelay and scout around. Hopefully leave the rain behind. We are not going to give a full report on the Chinese food. There will be rice. Bonne nuit. We bid Jean-Claude and Moha of the Logis du Bief adieu. Great stay, great place, great hosts. It was raining. Softly. A last look at the rather derelict Chateau of Loches. There are more châteaux in the Loire valley that you can shake a stick at. We intended heading back towards Burgundy. We seem to have a couple of days in hand, given that the Loire valley did not meet our expectations. And, of course, given that it is raining. We drove in the direction of Vezelay in Burgundy. You may or may not remember that we visited it about a week into our trip when we went to look at the castle builders at Guidelon. We had lunch at Vezelay and now thought that we could perhaps stay over for a day or so for a closer look at the area. Did I mention that it was raining? We took to toll roads as much as we could. A lot easier than having lorries slosh past you on narrow roads. By the way, the average toll seems to be in the region of 1Euro per 10 km or about R1.10 per km. Petrol is around 1.70/litre. Or about R20/litre. It was dark and quite miserable. It only served to depress us.... Slightly. It takes a lot to dampen our spirits. We passed through towns. Church spires loomed and receded. The streets a gleaming slash through silent towns. By the time we arrived in Vezelay, it was quite gloomy. We stopped at the hotel that we had listed, had toast for lunch (made and served by by the receptionist). Shall we stay? It was not unpretty, but we could not see ourselves there for three days, potentially in the rain. The Navigator consulted her charts, threw the bones and off to Auxerre we went. another 100 or so k's. More or less in the direction of Paris. Which is not the direction we took this morning. It was raining. We got to Auxerre late in the afternoon. Anna booked us into the Hotel Parc Des Maréchaux. Pleasant enough. We had a glass of wine in the bar, and tried to figure out what to do next. (Google is the traveller's friend). Auxerre quickly got the thumbs down for the last two days. We settled on Marly le Roi, a small town near Paris. We found a room for two days at the Hotel le Parc. No restaurant within rainy walking distance so we made do with the hotel's terrible room-service-only food. Warm soup, at least. The new day dawned rainy. As in pouring down heavily. With thunder and all. We set off for Marly le Roi. Somewhere along the way we had the idea that we should perhaps visit the cathedral at Chartres. The rain was easing slightly, and we had nothing better to do, so the 90km detour did not seem too bad. About 10km from Chartres the rain ceased, the clouds thinned and the sun put in a shy appearance. Just in time for our first glimpse of the cathedral. What a breathtaking sight! The cathedral was built around 1200 and is remarkable in that it has survived almost intact from that time. There is a most charming story that, during WWII, the Allied command gave orders for the cathedral to be bombed, believing that the Germans were using it as an observation post. I quote from Wikipedia: Colonel Welborn Barton Griffith, Jr. questioned the strategy of destroying the cathedral and volunteered to go behind enemy lines to find out whether the German Army was occupying the cathedral and using it as an observation post. With a single enlisted soldier to assist, Griffith proceeded to the cathedral and confirmed that the Germans were not using it. After he returned from his reconnaissance, he reported that the cathedral was clear of enemy troops. The order to destroy the cathedral was withdrawn, and the Allies later liberated the area. Griffith was killed in action on 16 August 1944, in the town of Leves, near Chartres. The nave was screened off - cleaning work in progress. From the piece of completed structure above the screen, the cleaned interior will be even more stunning. At the entrance the contrast between the old and the cleaned was striking. One of the many remarkable aspects of the cathedral is the stained glass windows, most of which have survived intact since 1200AD. The pictures we took cannot do justice to these astounding works of art, but here goes (the last 2, showing details that I could not capture, lifted from the internet): Truly a great experience. We arrived in Marly le Roi later in the afternoon. A small town, used by Louis the IV as a weekend hunting place. He built a château here, which was destroyed during the French revolution. The gardens were later redone. We will go and look at said gardens in the morning, said he, with an optimistic gleam in his left eye. Louis the IV was, after all, not called the Sun King for nothing... Marly is a splendid little village. We had a beer in the hotel bar. Every now and then the Navigator wants a beer and downs it like a first year student... Our hotel has a highly rated restaurant, Le Gramophone, and we found an Indian, a Moroccan and a Creole restaurant just up the street. Other than the Chinese place in Loches, the first ethnic eateries we have encountered. Maybe a change from standard French fare will be good. And it was good. This is a great little hotel - 15 rooms. We were received with bonhomie, smiles everywhere. At the restaurant Anna complained about the recent lack of veggies and were promptly promised "plus de legumes". With grilled monkfish. I looked at the rack of lamb and were talked into veal cutlets. Both very good dishes. No show, no great finesse, but good, honest cooking. I forgot to take pics until we were done, so here are pics of the leftovers on our plates. Parental guidance advised. Most satisfying. Tomorrow we plan a picnic. In Louis' park. That is he of the royal blood. The sun had better shine, else we will be moerig. (translation: grumpy). Bonne nuit. Marley-le-Roi Our full day in Marley-le-Roi was a quiet one. We visited the Parc du Marley - that is where Louis IV had his weekend pad. The grass was still damp beneath the trees, so we canned the picnic - you know what they say about damp grass.... There is still a lot of work to do if they want to bring the Parc to the glorious state it must have been in the days of the Sun King. Here and there we saw remnants of buildings. All in all, we would not drive 50ks out of the way to visit the parc. But, what the heck, we were here, so we drove through it, walked here and there. We returned to the hotel in time for lunch at Le Cottage, a really, really cottage-y place. So-so food, but pleasant, if rather cloying surrounding. We lazed the rest of the day away and had dinner at an Indian place up the road. Biryani - chicken for the Navigator and lamb pour moi. Both looked the same. Most satisfying. Just the right heat. The next morning we set off for Charles de Gaulle airport, returned the car with 5500 kilos on it. We had arranged with Green Shuttles to pick us up and deliver us to our apartment in the Rue de la Reynie. Pickup on time. Shortly after drop-off we were met by Ray Lampard, our landlord, who showed us around the apartment. A smallish lounge: Pity it's not winter. I'd love to fire up that little stove... Bedroom, bathroom, kitchen. all small, but more that adequate. Well equipped with CD mit cd's, TV, washing machine. In short, great value for 120odd euro per day. We are on the second floor of this building: and reach our etage (that's French for floor, Fred) using the smallest lift in the world. When we arrived, Anna went up with two of our small roller suitcases, followed by me with the other two. The two of us just fit in the thing. Without suitcase or shopping. Not a word about my tummy, say I to those about to refer derisively to said object. Not a word. A lift to foster intimacy. We trundled off to one of the eateries across the road- there are several, in fact about 12 within sore-foot-walking-distance. This one was called the Hippopotamus. We had wine (Navigator) and a beer (Innkeeper). There are times when nothing but a beer will do. Those times when your throat feels like the Karoo, and you are unable to spit even if you wanted to. When, for the past 15 minutes, your thoughts are obsessed with the idea of the taste of a beer. The coolness slithering down your throat, spreading a complete sense of wellbeing. This was one of those. If the burger and the calamari they provided was as good as the beer, the Hippo folk would be in the pound seats. A short shopping expedition to the supermarket down the road. Eggs, wine, ham and stuff for breakfast. We walked down the busy street towards the Seine. On the way Anna had to do some emergency foot repairs.... We crossed the Seine and proceeded to the Notre Dame. The idea was to spend some quiet time just sitting in the Cathedral. Great sight, the venerable Lady: As we got closer, we realised that all the folk you see in the pic at the foot of the cathedral were in one humongous queue to enter. So much for quiet time with throngs of people jostling around. We'll return early of a morning. When hopefully the tour groups are still eating breakfast. The streets and sidewalks everywhere were crowded. As in clogged with people. The sidewalk cafes and bars were elbow to elbow. Maybe the sun after days of rain brought out all the Parisians. Our feet rather uncomfortable by this time, we enlisted the services of Roth to take us back to the apartment. We have his number - we may well use this mode of transport again. Across from the apartment is a 50's diner. We paused to have a milkshake. And a coke float. At this point it was almost time for dinner. Short stop at the apartment to refresh and we were off to the Sun, a Japanese restaurant in the Boulevard de Sebastopol. Miso soup, followed by rice with an assortment of kebabs - beef, chicken, duck and pork. I swapped Anna one beef for one chicken. The white stuff was noodles. Most satisfying day. Lots of people around, though... Maybe we'll get to art tomorrow. We'll see. (We will indeed get to art. Not tomorrow, though. Tomorrow is set aside for shopping. The Innkeeper, of course, does not know that. Yet. ) Bonne Nuit. Paris We did not blog yesterday, mainly because we needed time to come to terms with a problem. Which was that Paris is a disappointment. How can we not be ecstatic about being in Paris? The city of light, the city of love. We should at the very least be very happy to be here. We are not. We are, in fact, disappointed. You should, of course, understand that we are not unhappy per se:- we are always happy just to be together. Paris just does not add much to our baseline happiness, if that makes sense. We were discontent and upset. Have we become blasé? Are we spoilt tourists? We simply had to understand our reaction to this city. So, we drank wine, and as we wandered around, debated the issue. We found the solution. It is simply that we have both been to Paris before, more than once. Our memories of the city are therefore bound to those first visits. Both with our then spouses. We are thus revisiting a Paris that is tied to our previous lives. The magic we experienced when first seeing the Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Champs Élysées. The buzz of the busy streets. The simple fact that you are in Paris. Those moments we cannot recapture. We thought that the magic would still work in the same way for us two. It did not. We need to create memories around other places, places where we can experience the magic for the first time together. And leave previously visited places and other memories intact. We have already lived those moments and need to treasure the memory rather than recreating them. Understand us well - we are still having a great time. Not in the sense we thought we would, but it is impossible for us not to have a great time anywhere. We are together, not so? We are also somewhat constricted in that we cannot walk far before at least two of our feet give up the ghost. That is a mayor problem in Paris. Nevertheless, we are working within what is possible. The Navigator very cleverly figured out how the Paris buses work. We bought a pass and traveled around by bus. Better because you can actually see where you're going. Takes longer than the metro, though. You also need to know which bus stops where. Which is why it is a good thing to take a Navigator with you when you go to Paris.... Here is an interesting pic: Paris Opera House? Concert hall? Nope - the Galeries Lafayette, a department store. Whence we went because Anna wanted to see the architecture. (No, no. The architecture is pretty special, but I wanted to shop. As in buy stuff. We wandered around for a while. Huge departments - perfume, clothing... I could not find anything I really wanted to buy. Not at the prices - ordinary jeans at 100Euro, tops at 80Euro... We left) Anna sniffed at the prices and we left. We had a burger at the 50's place across the road, and had an early night. Outside (thankfully quiet because of the double glazed windows), the street was still humming. This morning we decided to go to the flea market at the Porte de Clignancourt. This is reputed to be one of the biggest flea markets in the world, with over 2000 stalls coverings streets and alleyways on the edge of the city. It is huge. We only covered a fraction. Clothing, mostly from China: Odd bits of furniture: Posters: Rubbish (maybe some people would refer to it as "collectables"):