Tuesday, 16 July 2013

La Belle France (Part 1 of many)

I've just uploaded a few pictures from France - just enough to show the highlights, and discovered that there are 91. That's a lot of photos. So I imagine that this will be a post in several parts. And I guess that I better delete some of them.

But lets face it, half the reason for posting all of this is that we enjoy looking back on it all. So even if you are bored, we won't be! But feel free to scroll past.....

Despite not being a morning person, I quite like getting up early when you are going on holiday, especially when it is sunny and warm (and when someone has brought you a cup of tea and spoken to you gently like you are an ill child that needs to be encouraged to try). So getting to the ferry for 9am wasn't too arduous, though it didn't make the A34 any more interesting.

But look how excited we all were:

The least said about the ferry trip (SeaCat from Portsmouth to Cherbourg - 4 hours too long!), the better. It was rough. Nathaniel and I were sea sick. With an emphasis on the sick bit. We survived by watching Scooby Doo in French on a big screen, and I could tell when he was starting to feel better because he started asking questions about the plot and became slightly uneasy as to how much peril was involved.

But then we arrived, and after half an hour, everyone felt much better and Thea had a nap. And we started the long journey south of Cherbourg along not very interesting roads through not terribly fascinating scenery. Once we hit the autoroute everything improved becuase you zoom over map pages so quickly when you are traveling at 130kph. We stopped at a service station ("aire") outside Argentan, which is interesting to no-one apart from me as Abingdon is twinned with Argentan, so I have been faintly interested in it ever since I could read the big town sign on the Nags Head bridge.

Eventually, just as we thought that we were going to have to take evasive action and get the kids out of the car, we arrived in Saumur. Twice. Because it appeared a bit more quickly than we were expecting, and we were suddenly hurtling accros a river that we didn't need to cross. Of course, trying to navigate around a French town for the first time with an inadequate map and two unimpressed children is not the easiest exercise, but it worked and we found ourselves in a perfectly reasonable supermarket to stock up on food and shortly after at the campsite.

The campsite wasn't anything special - just in a handy position in an interesting looking town in the right direction, but it was on a island on the Loire, had a great view of the chateau (of which we took no photos), and a swimming pool. We set up camp, had supper (marvellous french bread, cheese, yoghurt and beer - to start the habit) and coaxed the children into bed.

Aware we had a long drive ahead of us, we were up relatively early, and got breakfast inside us.

Nathaniel, Thea and I went to explore the swimming pool while Ian struck the tent. The pool was deserted, so Nathaniel splashed around in his armbands in the paddling pool and I admired the amazing view across the river to the chateau. Thea could not be persuaded into the water and walked around the pools looking at things suspiciously.

Then it was time to get in the car........

Encore de la France (Part 2 of the saga)

Its 257 miles from Saumur to Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, which is a long way to drive, especially when its getting hotter by the minute, and especially when the first 135 miles is along little one-carriageway A-roads. The sort that wind around villages and up and down hills, on which you might find tractors or Spanish lorries.

That first 135 miles was almost painful. But the scenery just kept on getting better (Bellac is beautiful), and the children were placated with stickers and we had french snacks to munch on. We stopped for lunch in a lovely aire in Fleure and ate bread and very stinky cheese and tried to expand Nathaniel's vocabulary so that he didn't shout "STINKY!!" for the next 10 days. I think the best was "That cheese has a distinctive bouquet". We used the primative but functional facilities and played on play equipment while Nathaniel watched French lorries.

Then people napped (who weren't driving), and we hit the autoroute which radically improved our speed and moods, and before we knew it we were speeding over viaducts traversing deep, twisting valleys and watching the forests becoming thicker and greener and more enticing. Every other village was signed as a Tour de France stopping point, and the roadside tourist signs showed increasingly interesting architecture.

And then we were there - we dropped off the autoroute into the Lot valley and as the road narrowed and snaked along the bottom of crumbling clifs, we realised that we'd left the camera in the boot and there was no way we were stopping to retrieve it. So my phone gave it its best try:

Alongside us ran a railway track. Sorry, an ex-railway track. We kept crossing back and forth and everytime, Nathaniel peered down the knotted bramble-covered tracks and exclaimed "It's the old route to Barnacle Bay". (Further reading of Race to the Finish for all those who don't know the reference.) This kept him happy for the whole 20 minutes!

The campsite de la plage, was lovely. Medium sized with shady pitches and a rather good river. We were very happy!

We poddled around the campsite, exploring and playing in the play area on the trampolines. We bought fruit and veg from the friendly man by the little bridge across the Lot, and Ian and the kids took early morning (!) trips to the bakery in the next village.

It was hot. Properly hot. Wonderful!

We took a trip in Cahors, but it was one of those ill-fated trips that was never going to work. We needed to go to a supermarket, but did that first (so that everyone was awake, but hungry). By the time we got into the old town (via an almost awful wait in a narrow side street for a lorry to get out of the way while local french people gave helpful advice in local accents), it was past lunch time and hotter than I can comfortably comprehend. We ate our bread and cheese in a park with a slide too hot to touch and then wandered down the river towards a mechanical clock that we had spotted on our way in.

Cahors is really very pretty. Its in a bend in the river with a riverside path running around it. The bridges are pretty. The buildings are pretty. The trees are leafy. I like french towns!

Thea fell asleep in a hot and crumpled pile in the carrier and Nathaniel admired the traffic controls.

The mechanical clock was indeed very good and Nathaniel sat in the full sun to watch it (and give instructions on how I should watch it so that it didn't miss anything), until we lured him away with the promise of ice cream.

Of course, Thea then woke up, and I "shared" my ice cream.

It was too hot, and not a good time to wander round pretty streets in an aimless manner so we headed back to the river. And what a river!

Nathaniel swam properly in his armbands (ie removed his feet entirely from the bottom and propelled himself at will to the middle of the river), Thea looked disaprovingly at the sand, and we all collected and threw stones. It was heavenly. How amazing to be able to swim around in a river in swimming costumes and not get cold! We did that a lot!

Another (hot) day we took a trip to Saint Cirq Lapopie which was the village that we were camped at the foot of. It is amazingly beautiful and repeatedly referred to as le plus beau village de France, but we failed to take good photo of it, not even from the standard pretty look out point that was not far from the campsite entrance. This is what we would have taken:
With thanks to Wikipedia and Adam Baker

The trip was almost derailed as when we approached the entrance to the village, we came accross the motorbike parking area full of bikes of all shapes and sizes. Nathaniel professed a great interest in staying there all day!

We had a very short wander (did I mention that it was hot?), as the kids were not keen on ambling through the tiny lanes running up and down the hill, and a very fine meal in a rather nice restaurant. Nathaniel discovered that he rather liked walnut and rochefort omlettes and Ian discovered that French goats cheese with honey was not the farmyard experience that he had previously found.

We climbed up to the highest point; this is it from a distance:

And admired the view.

NB The clump of trees on the righthand bank of the river is where our campsite was.

And Nathaniel took photos of shops that interested him

and got his own souvenir:

Then we retreated from the sun, back to the shady campsite for more swimming in the river and a new game - knights and castles (thermarests are brilliant building materials).

Pujo (Part 3)

Then on to Brian and Jacy's where did a great deal of not much.

It was a very fine campsite;

With very attentive, albeit camera-shy, staff!

We just relaxed! One day we never left the house. Nathaniel and Thea spent the morning hosepiping, and after nap time, spent the afternoon in the pool.

Thea was strangely reluctant to get in, and spent the whole afternoon playing with inflatables around the pool and sometimes dangling her legs. She wasn't terribly impressed when anyone went under water, and it took a bit of reassurance to stop her looking very worried when Ian or I took a running jump in.

The next day we ventured out (!) for a wander around the village and enjoyed just poddling along the streets, looking at the views, peering into people's gardens, and exploring the common land.

That afternoon we coaxed Thea into the water, and after that she was quite a water baby. She did, however, refuse to wear armbands - only wanting them on her legs!

We had a wonderful time. We sat and drank nice wine and ate wonderful food and chatted, and the children just roamed about. They loved the cats and Thea tried to follow them everywhere.