France Part Two - Loire to St.Paul de Vence

23rd May, 1995
24th May, 1995
25th May, 1995
26th May, 1995
27th May, 1995
28th May, 1995
29th May, 1995

Tuesday, 23rd May, 1995

Azay photograph

Azay le Rideau Chateau, Loire Valley, France

Drop Cap oday we went to see some castles. We drove first through Chinon, where Joan of Arc first came to tell the King to drive out the English. The castle is a ruin, but still picturesque. Then on to Azay-le-Rideau, a beautiful sight surrounded by a very attractive river as a moat. We went over it and saw all the old pictures and hangings etc.

Villandry photograph

Formal Gardens, Chateau de Villandry, Loire Valley, France

Drop Cap hen on to Villandry where, although the castle is a ruin under heavy restoration (corrugated iron, mostly) the gardens have been recreated in the classic medieval French style. There are three levels, water garden which drops water through channels and fountains to the other levels, one of little geometrical beds surrounded by hedges and the lowest is a vegetable garden, also geometrical, all planted in accordance with the colour of the plant. Quite fascinating, really. One of our party, Margaret Campbell, from NZ, slipped on a gravel path at Villandry and sprained her ankle, breaking a piece off the bone. She had to go to hospital to get X-Rays and treatment, later appearing at the wine cave for dinner , pushed around on a trolley used for the cases of wine.

Usse photograph

"Sleeping Beauty's Castle" of Usse, Loire Valley, France

Drop Cap n the way home from Villandry we passed the "Sleeping Beauty's" castle of Usse, very Grimm. You expect Rapunzel to throw her plaits out of a turret window, or a witch to fly overhead, instead of helicopter joyflights. In the village of Azay-le-Rideau, in the shop where I bought a badge and some postcards, there was a black and white kitten which made Mac's day. The French seem to go in for dogs in a big way, we've hardly seen a cat.

Drop Cap ur dinner in a wine cave tonight was very interesting. The tour was very informative, the wine was very nice, a sparkling white which we enjoyed and the meal and company was excellent.

Wednesday, 24th May, 1995

Drop Cap oday we went to Cognac. We had lunch there under a large umbrella in the main square in the rain (the first we've had in France). Then we went to visit the Otard Cognac distillery in Cognac Chateau, where King Francois I was born in the 1400's. We saw around the place and had a taste and bought a presentation box for souvenirs then took bus again for Bordeaux. This is a very big port city which specialises in exporting wine. Not particularly interesting from my point of view but the hotel is quite good (or would be if you could either open the window or turn on the airconditioning.) We are heading into the Dordogne tomorrow for Rocamadour. Mac and I keep singing "Rocamadour in the bosom of Abraham" and bursting into giggles. I'm looking forward to it though.

Thursday, 25th May, 1995

Rocamadour photograph

Rocamadour, France

Drop Cap aining again today which made it quite disappointing for Rocamadour which is a medieval gem built into and around and on top of a high cliff. But first we started off from Bordeaux and drove to Bergerac where we had what Jenny calls a pitstop (Pino called it "situations") Coffee and toilets. Bergerac is the birthplace of Cyrano de Bergerac of the long nose. I thought he was fictitious, but apparently not. Then on for a lunch stop at Perigeux, home of foie gras and truffles, both of which I can live without. We looked at the Cathedral which had huge and beautiful chandeliers and a very peaceful cloister with classical relics. We had a pizza and a "pichet" (500ml) of rose in a cafe off the market square, more twisting narrow medieval streets. It was good.

Rocamadour photograph

Tiny Curio Shop, Rocamadour, France

Drop Cap hen on, through steadily more dramatic landscape, gorges, mountains and forest, and unfortunately steadily more rain, to Rocamadour. As I remarked earlier, this is built all over a towering cliff. Cars can't make the archways, let alone our bus, so we had to get out and walk. Margaret came up with the luggage van. Our hotel is the "ancien hotel" of some old knight of Malta and is full of strange corners and crannies but at least the air conditioning works. I don't mean by that that I don't like it, it's great. We went for a walk along the street to see what there is to see, (in the rain). At a quaint and tiny curio shop I bought a wooden box with a candle in it (so handy for travellers) and a postcard since I can't take photos.

Drop Cap saw two cats today but Mac only saw one, a little black one near Brive. Mac is sleeping his way through a lot of France. To be fair, so am I and it makes me MAD. I want to SEE it. Tonight was our highlight dinner. The dinner was not up to what I was used to in Italy. We had to pay for our wine for a start, which we didn't have to do there. The food was good, except for the duck which was the main course,very fatty.

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Friday, 26th May, 1995

Drop Cap e rang Geoff this morning from a telephone in a small stone tower with a spiral staircase. All seems to be well. He says he has had two hypos, but only when Neil was there, so it must be his fault. It turned out fine again today, so I took some photos of Rocamadour on the way out.

Drop Cap e headed off for Lourdes and the scenery became quite awesomely lovely as we got among the foothills of the Pyrenees. There were patches of snow on the higher slopes as we drove first to the Betharram Grottes to drop off our people who were going there (not us, the way our feet have been lately) We drove along the Gave, a lovely white capped little river with part laid out as a white water kayak slalom course. The Gave flows right through Lourdes and bubbles and sloshes over rocks all the way.

Drop Cap ourdes has a spectacular castle and cathedral and a lovely setting but the town itself is far from religious ecstasy. It is absolutely teeming with crowds of pilgrims and those preying on them. The streets are lined with hotels and souvenir relic shops. Mac and I found it so almost obscene that we eschewed even buying a postcard to encourage them. Plastic statues of the Virgin Mary with battery operated coloured fairy lights surrounding them and just about any and every tacky thing you can imagine. The crowning effort was the entrepreneur selling "Lourdes soil" from a handcart. A spadeful each in a plastic cup.Yuk.

Drop Cap fter dinner we stood on our balcony and watched the beginning of the torchlight procession. The people flowed in a neverending stream up the street in front of the hotel, on crutches, sticks, wheelchairs, bath chairs, on feet and in bus sized ambulances. It was rather horrifying, most of them were elderly, what were they praying for? Eternal life, I suppose. We didn't go to the procession, though it is part of the tour. Huge crowds and religious hysteria don't appeal.

Saturday, 27th May, 1995

Canal du Midi photograph

Canal du Midi, Near Toulouse, France

Drop Cap truly awful night. The noise from the street kept me awake till all hours, and the soft bed made my back ache. Having been told very decidedly that the hotel would not open the dining room for breakfast before 7 a.m. we went down at two minutes to seven to find everybody there before us (eating) and no places left. So we didn't get any breakfast either. I was quite upset. Anyway we drove off towards Toulouse, retracing yesterday's footsteps, with the Pyrenees, snow capped and spectacular, much more visible today. Stopped at a roadside cafe beside the Canal du Midi and had a late breakfast, before driving on to Carcassonne.

Carcassonne photograph

The Barbican, Carcassonne, France

Drop Cap arcassonne was amazing! A 13th C city, almost intact, a beautifully preserved castle town with a gorgeous church full of beautiful stained glass and columns. We had an enthusiastic guide who knew all about the city and delighted in passing it on. We had lunch at a terrace cafe under an umbrella and generally enjoyed the scene. There was a lovely old 18th C carousel there which was taking the children for a ride, people playing folk music and manipulating marionettes. But we managed to avoid the torture chamber.

Carcassonne photograph

Carcassonne, France

Nimes photograph

Maison Carree (Roman Temple) Nimes, France

Drop Cap hen on to Nimes, an old Roman town with an arena where they still hold bullfights and several temples, including the Maison Carree. We went for a walk after we arrived to see some of the buildings and the medieval town centre. It was fascinating, since I had read Mary Stewart's "Madam Will You Talk?" so often and a lot of it was set around here. Tomorrow we see the Pont du Gard and Avignon. Mrs. Go, the Filipino lady who is one of our group, stepped awkwardly coming out of the church at Carcassonne and has done in her ankle. This is becoming an epidemic.

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Sunday, 28th May, 1995

Pont du Gard photograph

Pont du Gard (Roman Aqueduct) near Nimes, France

Drop Cap nother schemozzle this morning as we were told, breakfast at 6.45. We were all there (I have never known a group who got fell in so previous) but breakfast wasn't. No milk, coffee or juice until 7.15. I think personally that the staff had no intention of starting before seven but weren't going to fight about it, just passively resist. We were supposed to leave at 7.30. Finally got fed and off heading for the Pont du Gard.

Pont du Gard photograph

Pont du Gard in the Mist, France

Drop Cap t was very misty but that made it more atmospheric. It is a lovely structure, I hope our photographs come out. We walked out along it but it is a LONG way down.

Avignon photograph

Pont St.Benezet, Avignon, France

Drop Cap hen we moved on to Avignon where we saw the Bridge of St.Benezet, (the one which wouldn't stay up). We sang and danced under it and wandered up the steps to the Pope's Palace on the Rocher des Doms. It is a nice little town surrounded by medieval ramparts, very picturesque.

Avignon photograph

Cathedral, Avignon, France

Drop Cap fter this we headed for Nice. It is normal to see some of Monte Carlo in Monaco on the way, but the Monaco Grand Prix is on today and so we stopped at Cannes for a little while to make up the time. Nice is alright, so is Cannes although beach resorts are not my cup of tea, especially Mediterranean ones, not a patch on a Sydney beach. Our hotel, though is something of a dump to my mind. The room is the smallest so far, hardly room to swing a suitcase.

Drop Cap e did some washing then went out to explore the old town and find dinner. We got as far as the Flower Market, an area full of open air restaurants so we had dinner, Salade Nicoise (local speciality) for me, spaghetti bolognaise for Mac, cassata for me, strawberries and cream for Mac, coffee and amarettos. Nice, literally.

Drop Cap rs. Go has been to the hospital and apparently has fractured her foot. I would not have believed it. It wasn't that bad a fall. Anyway, they are thinking of leaving us here and going home to Manila. Poor Jenny, she looks so frazzled. But coping with this is what she is paid for.

Monday, 29th May, 1995

St.Paul de Vence photograph

Fountain, St.Paul de Vence, Provence, France

Drop Cap ell, the Go's left us today. It didn't seem the same without them photographing themselves with everything we passed.

Drop Cap e went to St.Paul de Vence, up in the hinterland of Nice. It is a lovely, ramparted hill village, all twisting cobbles (asking for another accident, Margaret did it on crutches) and picturesque alleys. There were fountains and flowers and we were early enough to dodge the crowds. The place was full of rather classy (as opposed to tatty) jewellery and art shops, very pricey though. I bought myself a T-shirt, but otherwise managed to resist. Even the shirt was much more expensive than I would normally pay but I wanted a souvenir (and something fresh to wear).

Drop Cap have decided not to go on the trip to Monaco this afternoon because I have caught the cold which has been circulating the bus with the airconditioning. So we had some lunch in a creperie near the hotel and came back with some aspirin to sleep it off. I heard that Jill Darrow, wife of the biggest loudmouth (NZ) of the tour had her bag stolen today. That makes three so far. One woman had her bag pick pocketed in Paris and one guy had an attempt made on his wallet but fought it off. Fact of life in Europe. So far, touch wood, we have been lucky, or careful.

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