France

Figeac, France

I can’t get used to walking into toilets to find a man standing at the urinal. In country towns the toilets are combined!
I  also can’t get used to seeing dogs in hotels, which eat with their owners at breakfast in the dining room.
It amazes me how often you drive on a goat track to the middle of nowhere with no cars in sight, only to reach the ‘quaint little village’ and find a boom gate with a 3 Euro charge for parking and tourists everywhere. Our trip to Figeac, sent us over the Millau Viaduct and via a little fortified village called la Couvertoirade (which was ‘out the middle of nowhere but had a parking charge). We arrived late in the day at our 2 bedroom appartment, about 35 minutes before our friends Tony and Lorraine.

Rocamadour

Our first day together we drove off to Rocamadour to see the breathtaking view and visit the village. Colin decided it was a good idea to visit the caves as well. The only problem was that there was only one cave, we were on a tour and the guide spoke in rapid French, for what seemed like 3 hours. Colin almost ran out of the cave crying as it was too much for him to cope with. We are now calling him ‘cave man’. Luckily, Rocamadour made up for it and far exceeded our expectations.
Today’s adventure was Cahors and, Saint Cirq Lapopie. The later sent us on a goat track but was again a gorgeous place to visit with breathtaking views and beautiful gardens nestled in a cliff side.

Not Bastille day in Montpellier

‘What Bastille day activities do you have on here in Montpellier?’ Colin asked the Office of Tourism employee. ‘It’s not Bastille day, it’s a bank holiday’ he replied. Erm… interesting. We could have sworn July 14th was Bastille day. At least, after our Aussie friend told us via SMS.

'Painted buildings' on the back of blank walls

Montpellier was dead as a door nail anyhow so whatever the case, we almost starved to death because everything was closed (in the morning). Can you starve to death in one morning?

As is usual, we walked over Montpellier aimlessly and then went looking for the Tourist info centre. Every town we’ve been in we have had a wild goose chase trying to find the TIC. The signs are everywhere pointing down streets but we always seem to end up going in circles or nowhere. By the time we find it and get a map, we discover we have seen everything! This was no exception. We discovered the Arc de Triomphe, aqueduct beautiful gardens etc well before we got the map. So the next day, when there was a ‘bank holiday’, we had already covered all grounds and everything was closed in the morning so we were a little stumped. After strolling around for a couple of hours, the shops opened.

Our hotel had a door which opened into the 4 story shopping complex *groan*. After 3 weeks of little villages and small markets it was quite overwhelming to see so many people in one place. I know I’m a sad case, but the shops and the sales were pretty exciting for such a deprived case as myself. Col, of course, wasn’t too thrilled about it so I restricted my frenzy to 2 hours.

We’re off to Figaec now to spend the week in an appartment with friends. Back to the little villages which are more our style. Our luggage has grown considerably so let’s hope we all fit  in! My boasting of ‘carry on luggage only’ is a thing of the past.

Palavas-les-Flots

Our arrival at Palavas-les Flots was met with a giant thunderstorm which went for 12 hours (continual rolling thunder and flashes of lightening). The rain poured all night and met us in the morning with humidity and eventually more sunshine. This seaside town has the best sandy beach we have seen so far but lots of tourists as well. It has the funniest chairlift, which goes over a small canal to the other side so you don’t have to walk to the bridge to cross it. It’s about 50m long and costs 2 Euro.

I have almost saturated my desire to shop at markets… having been through  100 of them now… but I managed to fit in another one here. I found myself today getting into the back of a van (encouraged by a French man) with a curtain with canonball sized holes in it, to give me the necessary coverage for privacy, to try on a dress. ‘What I am doing?’ I asked myself. I must be desperate! I managed to get the dress on without exposing myself or getting driven off in the van and happily paid for it afterwards. I swear it was worth it!

Ordering tea off a menu and not knowing what you’ll get because nobody can explain it to you is quite an adventure. Last night I almost ordered bulots but discovered they are whelks, or sea snails in the shells. I should have tried them but I didn’t want to walk out hungry! So far we haven’t had a bad meal in France. Is it possible?

Surprises at Tarascon, France

An hour before we left Guissan we found the  biggest market ever!! We were late giving the keys to the owner because I wouldn’t stop looking at bargains. Neverthe less… we ended up on the road at 11am and stopped at AiguesMortes on the way to inspect the beautiful fortified village by the sea. We ended up there until quite late and arrivede at Tarascon at about 5pm… hot and weary from walking in the sun.

Our accommodation at Tarascon was a little more shabby than Guissan but comfy enough. We took off to have tea and when we turned the corner, there were 2 huge castles to be found. What a surprise!!

We will save them until tomorrow as by the time we had tea and arrived back at 10pm we were zonked (and here I am on the computer typing a blog post!).

Tomorrow we inspect Arles , which has a massive ampitheatre built by the Romans and it was fashione in the style of the Coliseum.and is still used for bull fighting (it’s in better condition than the Coliseum obviously!!).

We also have Nimes and Avignon on the agenda for the next couple of days.

Hooray!! I have fast and free wifi here.

Gruissan oui oui!

Guissan pron: ‘Gwissen’.

I’m glad these blog posts were prepared before departure. The internet is both expensive and slower than dial-up!!

After parting from our new friends at Estagel B&B, we arrived at Guissan to meet the owner of the appartment we are staying in for a week. He had carefully written out translations on a piece of paper such as ‘follow me’. If we tried to divert from his limited translations he got very flustered. We, of course, are very used to playing French charades and managed to get out point across as usual. We have extended our French vocab no end. Now we can say ‘Fromage’ (cheese), and many other useful words. We need to learn how to say ‘We are lost please help us’, although most of the time we can’t define where it is that we are going to. Most likely the questions would be ‘Where did we park our car?’ or ‘where is our accommodation, which we cannot remember the name of or pronounce properly?’.

Gruissan is where we hit the wall. The first morning I woke up at 10am which is the latest I’ve ever woken up in my life!! After spending 2 weeks climbing mountains to the castles on top, walking up stairs and hills all day in the hot sun, we hit our beach side accommodation, where we are staying for a week and passed out. Sitting on the beach and walking on flat ground is just what the doctor ordered for this stage of our journey.

Last night we were strolling along the beach at about 8.30pm, when we discovered a French rock band playing. They were wonderful and played The Easybeats, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Rolling stones. They had the English accent and pronunciations almost perfected. Col was in his element. We were the only ones who knew the words and called out ‘Aussie Aussie Aussie’ after the Easy beats… (like a couple of deadbeats!). The band played until midnight non-stop and our weary bones were even wearier at the end… which is why I slept until 10am this morning.

Our list of places to visit this week are Agde (2nd oldest village in France), Carcassonne, Narbonne and Beziers with about 6 other small villages thrown in if we have the energy. Right now I’m planning a day on the beach…my favourite place on Earth. The internet access remains a problem as the Careforre mobile card I bought in Spain doesn’t work in France. Stooged!

Estagel (in the Pyranees somewhere)

A little village called Estagel

Learning to speak French by full emersion is not working too well but we seem to get by with a lot of laughter and animation. If we say ‘oui oui’ and ‘voila’ a lot they are happy and we feel competent. This morning we chatted to a guest at our B&B by pointing to the food on the table and saying the name. If it got any deeper than this we had no idea what was going on.Remarkable conversation!

Our B&B in Estagel is set in a small village in the Pyranees mountains, France. Mature aged women sit on each street corner nattering on their deck chairs, sometimes with knitting and often planted square in the middle of the narrow road. The men do a similar thing but with their arms folded and a frown on their foreheads. After exploring Callouire and Ceret on the way we were quite weary but webdiscovered that the B&B was unattended, apart from by Blanc. the Border Collie. The neighbouring matured aged women offered their sympathies (in French) and assured us she would be there soon. Alas, after wandering the streets for a while, Michelle arrived apologetically explaining that her husband was in hospital having an op for cancer.

The B&B was a 300 year old building which has been restored beautifully. We took a great shine to the owner and her dog and she whipped us up a gorgeous meal for dinner where we chatted to the other guests who couldn’t speak English. The miming and charades were quite hysterical.

We stayed there for 4 nights, and felt quite a part of the village, exploring the Cathar castles during the day and other small villages, with the exception of Perpignon, which is a large place which we promptly got lost in. After a French lunch in Perignnon, at an Australian bar (where the menu was in French and nobody spoke English). At the point when we realised we had no idea where the car was, a massive storm hit the town with flash flooding and thunder and lightening. We were trying to shelter under a small canopy but got drenched regardless. Eventually we found the car and decided we were better to stick to castles and villages!

Col enjoyed taking the dog for walks in the morning. She jumped in the river and plays fetch, nagging continually for us to play with her. She is very smart and has us both enchanted.
Our climb up 2 of the Cathar castles have been huge highlights so far. They were way way up the mountain tops and quite dangerous and tricky to climb but well worth it. We climbed up to Le Chateau de Peyrepertuse and La Chateau de Queribus. Google them for photos… it’s worth it! I have limited internet so won’t spend the hour it takes to upload them for you.

Just in case you wanted to know…
There are more dogs than loos in France
For breakfast we have been eating Fromage (cheese) mixed with honey and cake or brioche
Laughter gets you out of any tricky situation
I have the record number of bandaids and blisters on my feet