Last time we spoke, Vince was parked up in a campsite just outside Condom in the Gers region of South-West France. Since then we’ve been moving steadily eastward on our trek to the Alps, with our next port of call being Montauban.
I’m ashamed to say we didn’t really do the city justice; we arrived feeling a little tetchy after a few Garmin-related wobbles took us along tiny roads and over bridges which were only just wide enough to accommodate Vince’s rather portly waistline. Added to that was the sizzling sunshine as temperatures rose into the low thirties, so the shade-free couple of kilometers trek into town along the bank of the River Tarn, was not very enjoyable. We had a stroll through the old town which was a maze of little side-streets full of cafés and boutiques, but were grateful to get to the cathedral for a sit-down in the cool, airy and almost silent building. Walking back over the river on Montauban’s oldest bridge we’d seen enough to make us return for another visit some day but we were simply too shattered to walk around any more.
Our Montauban accommodation was on an aire at the canal port, where the Canal de Montech meets the River Tarn. By a major rail depot. And a main road. You can tell where this is going can’t you..? Surprisingly, the noise from an occasional passing train wasn’t an issue, nor was the traffic as we arrived after the Friday rush. No – what we didn’t spot until it was too late, was the huge tented bar-restaurant with one side open to the attractive canal basin. That would be the side facing us. From about 7pm car after car drew up to disgorge hordes of folks on a night out. The music became progressively louder and louder as the evening wore on, to the point where Vince was joining in by rattling the plates and flexing his walls with the beat! I may be exaggerating slightly but we were stuck between closing all the windows and skylights, and melting in the heat; or leaving them open for fresh air but being driven slowly mad by the music. Some choice.
To our surprise (and eternal gratitude) the music stopped on the stroke of midnight, so after another half-hour of car doors slamming and engines racing off, silence fell. Until 8am that is, when the bar’s cleaners arrived and switched the music back on while they worked – aaaaaargh! We’re definitely turning into grumpy old f*rts…
Saturday and Sunday were much more pleasant; still sizzling in the thirties but spent socialising with the good friends you met back in May in Najac. Cameron & Tricia picked us up, then took us for a lovely BBQ on their terrace overlooking the river gorge. They probably have no idea how wonderful it is for us to have a catch up, and speak English with people who aren’t me and Gill!
We spent one night in the campsite so we could get our washing done, then a second night on an aire opposite the campsite to save us a bit of cash. The aire was very good – originally it was a couple of tennis courts opposite Najac’s outdoor pool so the surface was great, and it had electricity & water points dotted all around as well as the normal service point for waste water.
We were the only people there, until I spotted an elderly French couple arriving in their equally elderly motorhome. I nodded and smiled as one does when they arrived at the barrier, then carried on with a few jobs on my list – like reattaching our towel rail which had vibrated off the wall (probably down to the loud music…) After ten minutes or so I noticed that they were still struggling at the barrier so I wandered over to see if I could help. The way the system works is that you select your length of stay from a menu, insert your credit card, pay your €8 and a ticket is printed out with a code. You drive up to the barrier, enter the code, the barrier lifts and that’s that. The couple had paid, had a ticket with the code – which they’d entered – but were so busy arguing that the barrier had lifted and dropped again before they could drive through!
Pas de problème! We’ll just re-enter the code and it should lift again – except it didn’t. We worked out that the system now thinks they’re inside already so it interprets a second attempt as somebody trying to get in as a freebie on somebody else’s code. Hmmm, ok then we’ll try entering the code on the exit keypad to lift the barrier to let them in. ‘Please drive up to the barrier’ was the next message. Dammit there’s a sensor under the tarmac at the exit so that didn’t work either. I knew what was coming next… ‘Perhaps sir, you would drive Monsieur Vince up to ze barrière, so we can eaupen eet, zen reversez backwards at grande vitesse for us to enter…?’ I’m a sucker for a good deed so that’s what we did, after I’d unplugged Vince from the electric, turned the driver’s seat back round, put all the dishes away which had been draining, put away all the lotions and potions in the bathroom so they couldn’t fall off the shelf…and so on.
The thing that occurred to me later, lying in bed, was that if the system thought they’d entered even though they hadn’t, and then after our reversing shenanigans it thought they’d exited when they hadn’t…what was going to happen when they tried to get out ‘again’ in the morning? We didn’t wait to find out – they may still be there now, arguing at the barrier!
Our travels today have taken us to Espalion, east and north of Najac, where unfortunately we found it impossible to park anywhere near the centre. We lunched in the outskirts beside an open-air pool, then drove through the town saying ‘Ooh look at the castle up there,’ and ‘Did you see that?’ or ‘Wow look at that shop front KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE ROAD!’ Not the ideal way to go sightseeing.
From Espalion we drove into the Cévenne mountains on our way towards the Ardèche region. The Cévennes (so far) are more like rolling granite uplands but very bleak and empty. It’s said that there are more cows than people in the region and that was easy to believe as we parked right in the cattle market in Laguiole. Everything here is either cattle- or cutlery-related. I’ve never seen so many knives in so many shop windows in my life. They are beautifully made by hand, and come with handles made of polished bone or hardwood. The prices reflect the days of work which go into making each implement – butter-knife for €75 anybody? We saw a complete canteen of cutlery for over €3000 eek!
I’m completing this evening’s post looking out of Vince’s windows into an eerie scene of misty tendrils weaving around the trunks of a pine forest as darkness falls. We’re having a cheap (as in free) night in an empty ski resort about 10k from Laguiole. It seemed like a good idea at the time but the dilapidated, dark and silent hotel behind us reminds me of the Overlook Hotel in The Shining, and I’m sure I just heard a twig crack under a stealthy footstep….