Our last post ended with our arrival at Vers. I thought I’d better stop there as it was turning into a short novel. We had a rude awakening at 8am by the local cash collector banging on the door. Most Aires have a machine which takes coins or credit cards but not this one. The two ladies were more than a match for Gill’s teacher glare so she had to slam the door to make her point. Note to French local authorities – we’re on holiday – collect the cash in the evening!! Both our guidebook, and the notices around the aire said that Thursday was market day in Vers. Well…maybe it is but we couldn’t find it! Vers is three streets, a bridge and a car park and the market was nowhere to be found. The only sight of mild interest was 3 generations of Renaults in the car park and a destination board to Béars which I posted to a gay friend’s Facebook page!
We’d decided to take a run through the Aveyron Gorge so headed for the most picturesque section between St Antonin Noble-Val and Bruniquel. The gorge was beautiful – sorry there aren’t any pics but the roads were a bit tricky with nowhere to park the bus. You meet the strangest people on the road; when we stopped for lunch at St Antonin we found a motorhome-only car park in a lovely setting by the river. There were only a couple of spaces available so we reversed into one of them to find a grumpy elderly French lady gesticulating furiously out of her van’s window in the space next to us. She was livid! It seems we’d upset her by spoiling her view of the van parked on the other side..?
All the time Gill was making lunch this lady kept popping into the window and shaking her head and making grumpy faces. Our giggles probably didn’t help… In the end we decided enough was enough and closed our kitchen window blind in case she turned our milk sour. Weird folks the French. Weird but mostly lovely. We took a stroll to the river, where what looked like an old water mill was being converted to a youth hostel. When it’s done, the visitors will be treated to a lovely setting with fig trees growing by the river. The fruits weren’t quite ripe or we’d have helped ourselves.
Our Thursday night was in the big city! We had a ‘mare of a drive into the centre of Albi as the bridge Mr Garmin wanted us to take across the Tarn had a 2T weight limit – too much for porker Vince – so we had to find another way. The centre itself was undergoing roadworks so there were several incomprehensible diversions which found me driving through narrow streets confined by stainless steel poles. Very hard stainless steel poles eek! This wasn’t helped by the usual casual French attitude to parking where I was given 3mm either side to get through. I seriously needed a cold beer and a lie-down when I finally switched the engine off in a car park right beside the cathedral. Speaking of the French attitude to parking, we got a resentful glance on arrival from an elderly couple sitting enjoying the sunshine in picnic chairs right in the middle of the last remaining camping-car space, in a camping-car car park and they didn’t even have a bloomin’ camping-car! They’d stuck their knackered old Peugeot in a turning area. How dare I attempt to park my bloomin’ great motorhome in a motorhome space? Les crazy Anglais hein?
After a bite to eat and a bit of blogging we had just a short walk for a look around as it was getting late. Albi is famous as the birthplace of Toulouse Lautrec – there’s a museum here holding many of his works but we didn’t visit as it was quite pricey. Like M. Lautrec we found ourselves a little short… We did a circuit round the outside of the cathedral then found a spooky stairway down to the River Tarn. Although the views of the sunset were lovely we were a little uncomfortable with some of the characters we met there, and what they’d been smoking or injecting if you know what I mean. We hastily made our way back to Vince for a long night disturbed by young people out on the town a-wining and a-dining and unfortunately a-shouting and a-laughing all night. It was hard to be too cross with them as I may have er, been guilty of similar behaviour in the past. Last week actually. They were still at it when we got up at 8am – fair play!
The cathedral which we walked around in the evening, the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Cecilia is claimed to be the largest brick building in the world and it’s an amazing sight. Bulky and heavy-looking and frankly with not a lot going for it. However. When we took time out on Saturday morning to actually go inside, the contrast could not have been more stark. It’s absolutely awe-inspiring inside, the truly massive and airy space filled with intricate stone carvings and delicate friezes depicting the fates in store for believers and unbelievers. If what they envision is true, and we’re going to be poked with sharp sticks whilst being boiled in a cauldron and having our tongues ripped out by wee winged demons – sign me up for the Catholic faith when I get back! Ooh, sorry – first rule of travel blog: no politics or religion. Wrist slap.
After our healthy dose of hellfire & brimstone we needed coffee so cafés-au-lait were duly ordered and drunk outside the covered market. We ventured inside to get a few bits and pieces for the coming days; we bought some pre-cooked dauphinoise potatoes with garlic, and a lasagne for two from a stall where we obtained a small discount. You were right Tricia – they don’t like brown coins! I should explain that when we were in Najac we were told by our friends that the French don’t like coppers (the monetary kind, not the ‘let’s be ‘avin you kind) so they often just knock them off the price. Result! We went to another stall for two bananas and two peaches but Gill needed a defibrillator after we’d paid £3.50 for them. That’s expensive, apparently.
Getting out of Albi was marginally easier than getting in once we’d found the ring road. Mr Sulu had set the controls for Salles-Curan, a little further east than we’d originally planned but what the heck, it looked nice on the map, beside a large lake. We fuelled up on the way – sooner than normal, we still had half a tank – but we’d seen lots of panicking on the web about the fuel strike and our new friends Graeme and Sally had emailed about other travellers encountering problems. I think they’re mainly in the north but there’s no point taking chances so we’re good for another 500 miles.
As it turned out, our site is nowhere near Salles-Curan; the Lac du Pareloup is a strange shape and our site was quite a way round. We have mixed feelings about this one – on one hand the lakeside pitch and views are amazing, on the other there is nothing, and I mean nothing here apart from the campsite which is absolutely deserted apart from a couple of Belgians. And there’s no way we’re getting involved with anyone from Belgium. We’ve been taking advantage of a good price to chill out for a day or two, catching up with washing and giving Vince a good scrub inside and out. If Mrs Trellis from North Wales is reading, this post catches back up with real time too.
Today, Sunday 29th May has been our first day spent totally indoors since 12 April. You may have watched the news this weekend about the massive storms currently sweeping across Western Europe. We had spectacular thunder and lightning all last night and torrential rain all day; the sun has finally made a shamefaced appearance this evening but it’s still a bit windy to eat outside. Early night tonight, I think and as we’re only an hour from Millau we’ll head off tomorrow to see the world-famous viaduct across the valley before we start moving south to the mountains and onwards to Spain.