- I FORGOT TO MENTION ABOUT THE 50 PEOPLE WHO WERE TRAPPED IN THE CABLE CARS OVERNIGHT, IN THE MIDDLE OF WINTER A YEAR AGO. THIS WAS FOLLOWING A CATASTROPHIC MECHANICAL FAILURE. THEY COULDN’T BE RESCUED UNTIL THE NEXT MORNING. OH AND THEY HAD TO BE LOWERED 250 FOOT TO THE SIDE OF THE MOUNTIAN AND THEN HAD A FOUR HOUR TREK DOWN TO THE FOOT OF THE MOUNTAIN. (JULIE IS A BIT FUNNY ABOUT THINGS LIKE THIS.)
1/7/17 Leaving the Dordogne behind, we set off to our next destination. Heading east, we travelled along miles and miles of empty roads, through beautiful scenery, until we reached the tiny rural community of Bor-et-Bar. In fact, Bor and Bar are two small hamlets- so small that they are twinned to make one village. And we were still 5km away from them! Our new home was a gite on a working farm. Our only neighbours (other than the owners, who lived next door) were cows, chickens and rabbits. Oh, and flies-millions of them! Our mission for the week was to stop them from getting in the house; every time we went in or out, it had to be executed quickly. Thank goodness the place had air-conditioning, as you couldn’t leave a window open. This did mean that we couldn’t really spend our days lounging in the fabulous garden; although we did enjoy stargazing at night, when the flies went to bed. I’ve certainly never seen such magnificent night skies. IT WAS VERY RURAL……… JUST LOTS OF RABBITS AND COWS, OH AND FLIES… EFFIN BIG, BITEY BASTARDS!!! EVEN THE LOCAL HORSES ARE KITTED OUT IN A MESH VEIL TO STOP THEM BITING AROUND THEIR EYES AND FACE. HORRIBLE THINGS!!!! It also meant that we went out every day, to explore the area- which is known by various names: Aveyron, Occitaine , Lot, Tarn and Midi-Pyrenees (even though they’re miles away). I must admit, the whole regional puzzle can be very puzzling, but our French hostess explained that the whole country has been re-organised in recent years, and even the French find it confusing at times. And what a surprise it was! Just 3 hours from The Dordogne and just as beautiful, yet comparatively unknown to foreign visitors. Just the week before, we’d seen endless caravan sites and British, Belgian, Danish and Dutch cars, especially around the popular towns, like Sarlat. The supermarkets in the Dordogne had whole aisles devoted to foreign foodstuffs; peanut butter, Branston pickle etc. Yet here in Aveyron, the only English we heard all week was from our hosts- he was a Yorkshireman and she, though French, spoke flawless English. It’s hard to understand why, with The Dordogne just a few hours to the West and Provence just a few hours to the South, this area is relatively undiscovered. It certainly has more than its fair share of delights to offer. Here are some of the fantastic places we found on our travels: St Antonin Noble Val- A gorgeous little medieval town, with a real hippy vibe. LOVED THIS PLACE, EVERYONE SO CHILLED OUT, ALSO A LOVELY AROMA OF WHACKY BACCY IN THE AIR. Cordes sur ciel- A fortified medieval town, founded in 1222, perched on top of a hill which overlooks outstanding scenery. Like a set from Game of Thrones. We had a fabulous lunch in the main square and watched rehearsals for a medieval circus performance. Najac- another medieval town, with a huge square, surrounded by lovely restaurants. Penne- A tiny medieval village, with a ruined castle. Albi- well, we drove through it, and saw the famous largest brick Cathedral in Europe- from the outside at least- but couldn’t for the life of us, find anywhere to park! It soon became obvious why. We’d chosen the day of their annual guitar festival, which featured this year- ZZ TOP! We gave up in the end- a shame, because it was on Steve’s must-see list. He wanted to see the pigeon-eating catfish! Yeah, I know! BLEEDING ZZ TOP (I THOUGHT THEY WERE ALL DEAD!!!!) APPARENTLY THIS IS A REALLY GREAT 4 DAY EVENT, SHAME WE COULDN’T GET ANYWHERE TO PARK, LET ALONE TICKETS. REALLY GUTTED I COULDN’T GO IN THE CATHEDRAL (I’M BEING SARKY, I HAVE BEEN IN MORE CHURCHES AND CATHEDRALS THAN THE POPE LATELY! TOTALLY RELIGIONED OUT!!) HOWEVER I REALLY DID WANT TO SEE THE PIGEON EATING CATFISH. GUTTED.COM!! Belcastel- Oh, wow! A beautiful ( you guessed it) medieval village, situated on the river and dominated by a fairy tale 10th century castle which had fallen into ruins, but which was beautifully restored by a famous French architect. It now houses fabulous works of art and medieval armour. The gorges – when you are medieval villaged out (it does happen, even to us) nothing can lift your spirits like the natural beauty of fabulous gorges, carved out by millions of years of erosion. We spent so much time sightseeing that it became exhausting by the end of the week, so it was a real pleasure when Steve finally found somewhere that he was able to put his fishing rod ( bought in Spain months ago) and his fishing licence ( organised in the Dordogne, but never used) into practice. I spent a lovely, chilled day just sitting by the river, reading, while Steve waded out into the shallow waters and – well, caught nothing actually! WELL YOU SAY THAT…. I DID HOOK A VERY SMALL TROUT AND LOST IT. HOWEVER IT WAS A GREAT VENUE. NO OTHER TOURISTS, NO SOUVINER SHOPS AND NO HUSTLE AND BUSTLE OF TOURIST TRAPS AND PEOPLE TRYING TO FLOG YOU A LOAD OF OLD TAT. JUST A LOVELY RIVER TO FISH, OH AND HAVE SWIM IN WHEN IT GOT TOO HOT TO FISH, BLISS. 8/7/17 Next step on our zigzag journey around France was to Cabrieres-d’Avignon, in Provence. This involved us actually travelling back down South, via Montpelier, where we got totally lost. BLEEDING SATNAV…… HAD A FULL MELTDOWN AT A CRITICAL MOMENT. (EVEN SWEARING AT IT DIDN’T WORK.) Totally different from the Aveyron area, Provence has a very Mediterranean landscape- in fact, we felt for a while that we may have inadvertently crossed the border back into Spain! The forests gave way to olive groves and the sound of cicadas filled the air. Our new home was in fact surrounded by olive groves and the host owned most of them. Like The Dordogne, Provence is very popular with us Brits. Medieval towns and villages are plentiful. Some days, we explored the towns and villages just inland from the Cote D’Azur; Fontvielle, St.Remy, Baux de Provence, Gordes, Fontaine de Vancluese. Wow! Loads of rich Brits in huge villas. We much prefer the natural wonders though; gorges, rivers, waterfalls etc. CORR THEY’VE GOT LOADS OF MONEY ROUND HERE, REALLY MINTED. My lasting memories of this area though will be: Being serenaded by a Seasick Steve lookalike, singing the blues, while we had a lovely dinner in a hilltop restaurant. HE WAS GREAT, VERY INSPIRATIONAL. HE MADE ME WANT TO GET MY GUITAR OUT OF THE LOFT WHEN WE RETURN TO BLIGHTY…. THEN I REMEMBERED THAT I AM KNOWN AS THE ONE ARMED GUITARIST AT HOME OR THE INTRO MAN. HOWEVER WHEN HE WANTED TO FLOG ME HIS LATEST CD I JUST PRETENDED TO BE GERMAN AND OF I COURSE COULDN’T UNDERSTAND HIM. (MUCH TO ME JULIE’S EMBARRASSMENT.) Walking around the huge Roman amphitheatre in Arles, still used for concerts and bull-racing. Steve spending the day tie-dying some old t-shirts. Well, they’ll go with his hair! I’VE SPENT FAR TOO MUCH TIME IN THESE HIPPY VILLAGES. (NO DEAR READER, I DID NOT PARTAKE IN ANY WACKY BACCY….. NO GIT WOULD SELL ME ANY.) The fierce, dry, hot wind- the Mistral- which helped fan the flames of the terrible forest fires in the area just a few days after we had moved on. Attending the Bastille Day celebrations in the village on the night before we left. Meeting friendly locals, drinking wine and beer at one euro a glass, eating local food and watching the free concert laid on and which continued well into the night. These Frenchies know how to party! Shame we had to leave the next day, as the celebrations continued for 3 days. GREAT NIGHT…… BEER 1 EURO A GLASS, FANTASTIC BAND AND SINGERS. (I FELT SORRY FOR THE PERFORMERS THOUGH. IT WAS SOOOOOOO HOT THAT THE SINGERS HAD TO RESORT TO WEARING REALLY, REALLY REVEALING COSTUMES. I NEARLY HAD TO LOOK AWAY; ONLY NEARLY THOUGH.) IT WAS A SHAME WE HAD AN EARLY START THE NEXT DAY AS WE COULD HAVE STAYED INTO THE EARLY HOURS. THE LOCAL PEOPLE WE REALLY FRIENDLY AND MADE YOU FEEL WELCOME. I WAS EXPECTING THEM TO BE A BIT STAND OFFISH AS WE WERE TOURISTS, AS THIS WAS AN EVENT FOR LOCAL PEOPLE. I COULDN’T HAVE BEEN MORE WRONG, LOVELY PEOPLE. 15-7-17 Back on the road again. The summer holiday traffic has really started to become more obvious now that Bastille Day has arrived. This marks the beginning of the French summer holidays. And, as of next week, the Brit invasion will really start! The Aires, which were empty a few weeks ago, are now packed. By lunchtime, we had passed through the Ardeche region and entered the Rhone-Alps! OMG! We had loved the Pyrennes, but the sheer scale of the Alps is awe inspiring. Alpine chalets are dotted in their foothills and around the stunning lakes. We stayed in the lower half of one of these chalets in a small rural village, called St Ferrioles, just 20 minutes from Lake Annecy. The views were amazing. Oh and the temperatures, a mere 25- 30 degrees, were such a relief after Provence. Of course, Steve wanted to drive straight up the nearest mountain as soon as possible, so bright and early the next day, we went straight up Col D’Arpettaz. At 1500m, it gave him lots of winding roads to tackle; for me, the amazing views of the Alps and seeing the gorgeous wild mountain horses was worth the hair-raising ride. The sight of Mont Blanc in the distance, our destination for the following day, was wonderful. THIS REGION KNOCKS ALL THE OTHER FRENCH DESTINATIONS INTO A COCKED HAT. IT IS A TRULY STUNNING AREA. THE CLOSEST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED COL IS A 10 MINUITE DRIVE AWAY. IT TOOK A 35 MINUITE DRIVE TO REACH THE TOP, INCLUDING 27- SQUEAKY BUM TIME- HAIRPIN BENDS. BUT WELL WORTH IT AND THERE WERE LOADS OF OTHER COLS LIKE JUST THIS. STUNNING VIEWS FROM THE SUMMIT. One of the things we were determined to fit into our trip, when we were planning our adventures all those months ago, was the chance to take the cable car to the top of the Aiguille du Midi. This huge mountain (3842m- 12,605 ft) is the closest you can get to Mont Blanc. We had been talking about it since we left England and had booked the tickets weeks ago; and the big day had finally arrived! For the first time since March, our alarm was set to wake us at the ungodly hour of 6am. We set off on the 90minute drive to Chamonix, the ski resort where the cable car is based. Despite a major road closure, which forced us to take a mountain route, rather than the motorway, we still arrived in time to have a hearty breakfast and a little mooch around Chamonix. It’s a pretty little town, with a pastel green mountain stream running through it and lots of little shops selling ski wear and souvenirs. The snow-capped Alps tower all around, whilst bizarrely, people are milling around in shorts and t-shirts. Dozens of paragliders were soaring overhead, like butterflies. But more disconcerting, for me at least, was seeing the cable car swooping up the side of the mountain, like a huge bat; silent and swift; up and over the lower peaks. 6 AM… PAH I WAAS UP AT 5AM I WAS LIKE A KID A CHRISTMAS, I WAS LOOKING FORWARD TO SEEING MONT BLANC. At last, it was time to start queueing for our turn: the day involved a lot of queueing! We boarded the first cable-car, with 20 or so others, and then we were off! Despite travelling at around 30mph almost vertically, it was very smooth (apart from a couple of hair-raising sways) and within minutes, the town below looked like a lego village. The first leg of the journey took just 20 minutes and we soon arrived at the Plan de L’Aguille ( 2317m). Many people decide that’s quite high enough, thank you very much, and spend a delightful time taking photos and visiting the café. Not for us, though! Oh no. We were booked in for the second leg; a 10 minute journey in a smaller, faster, wobblier cable car, to take us up the last 1500m or so. Now those of you who know that I get wobbly standing on a table while putting my fabulous classroom displays up, may well be wondering what possessed me to agree to this madness. Well, I can honestly say, I really wasn’t all that concerned. Mostly because I’d done my usual trick of not allowing myself to think about it too much- denial is not just a river in Egypt you know. Also, my darling husband had reassured me that all would be well, and convinced me that I would always regret it if I didn’t go for the full experience. He did mention something vague about oxygen levels, but, if I’m honest, I didn’t really listen all that carefully. So the experience of hypoxia when we reached the summit was really quite scary! Basically, the reduction in oxygen starts to affect your body once you reach 8,000ft. I started yawning by the time we reached the first level. Within minutes of reaching the second level (12,605ft), I felt tired, breathless and very wobbly. My hands and feet were tingling and my lips were blue. I wasn’t the only one; loads of people were lying on the floor and quite a few were saying they felt sick. Lots of deep breathing helped, but I didn’t feel brave enough to do the final push (a lift to the very summit and a glass cage over a 1000m precipice). Of course, smoke-eater Steve was absolutely fine! He did do the final bit, while I wobbled my way around the viewing platforms, taking photos. So, do I wish I’d stayed at the lower levels? No way! The 360 degree views from the top, across all the French, Swiss and Italian Alps, plus looking DOWN on a massive glacier, made it all worthwhile. It was an unforgettable experience and one of the highlights of the whole adventure. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. DEAR READER THERE WERE A COUPLE OF OTHER BITS OF INFO I CONVENIENTLY FORGOT TO TELL ME JULIE, AS I KNEW SHE WOULD GET REALLY “WINDY” AND WOULDN’T BE UP FOR THE TRIP. BUT THE MAIN ONE BEING………………..