Sunday, May 06, 2007

Logbook: French Road Trip I

Frenchroadtripi1I spent last Friday hanging around my gite and Les Plantiers, sorting and packing my gear, looking at my maps and generally getting myself ready to be on the move again after two weeks in one place. I had one more lovely dinner in Katrine’s little hotel/restaurant and hit the rack pretty early. Thus, I was awake pretty early to throw my gear in the car, double check I had collected everything from the gite, get one last croissant at the bakery and take a final walk around town. Just as I was all ready to go, I ran into my landlord who invited me to his house for coffee. I was very glad to do so because I really didn’t want to just disappear after spending two weeks in their gite. We had a grand time, with Lisa showing me family photos and Henri commending me on all the French I have learned. I could understand more of what they were saying than I can speak, but we had fun.

Frenchroadtripi2With that “closure” behind me, I fired up the car and headed out of town, taking an indirect route to the highway -- across the mountains and down the “Gorges de la Jonte.” What a drive! I cannot recall ever having so much fun driving a car and enjoying endless spectacular scenery. I made frequent stops to enjoy various views, wishing at times that I didn’t have to pay so much attention to the road along the way. I stopped for a quick lunch when I hit the highway, then it was a pretty quick sprint into Toulouse. I had arranged to meet Julia -- the daughter of my good friend Mark -- who has spent a semester of her junior year of college in Toulouse. She had very helpfully researched a little hotel for me to stay in, but for which I had little more in the way of directions than the name and address. You can imagine my delight when, after only a few minutes of driving around the city I saw a sign for the place and was able to navigate to a parking deck only two blocks away! I called Julia to tell her I was not only “in town” but “checked in” and met her on the street a few minutes later. We walked around for a good couple of hours, looking at a few sights -- including the really fancy hotel that her father is going to stay in during his visit in a few weeks -- and looking for a good place to have dinner. I have to admit that I didn’t really like the “feel” of Toulouse. Granted, I was there on a Saturday night when everybody was out and about, but I found it to be a big, noisy, crowded city. Not really my kind of place. In due course, we found a nice place for dinner and had a really delightful meal together. While I have know Julia for some years now, we have never really had a chance to talk about anything in depth. Her insights into living in France, French culture and social customs were very informing and I benefited greatly. By the time dinner was over -- pretty late as is the custom around here -- I was ready to crash, so we said our “au revoirs” and parted ways. Thanks, Julia, for a really nice evening in Toulouse!

In the morning I got going at a reasonable hour and was on the road by about ten. From Toulouse to Bordeaux, I took a “real” highway -- the A62 -- and enjoyed high speed cruising on a superb motor way. I made several stops at plazas along the way to have coffee, get “gazoil” and stretch my legs, making the most of my “French road trip” experience. By about three in the afternoon I was approaching the city, again with little more than the name and address of my intended hotel destination. Once again, I was extremely pleased to simply follow the signs to “Centre Ville” and see the parking deck that was mentioned on the hotel’s website. A few minutes later I had parked, walked the 50 meters to the hotel and checked in. I hit the streets almost immediately and enjoyed several hours of walking around. Bordeaux is obviously a very old city with a great deal of history and, even though I probably only barely scratched the surface of it, I liked it very much. It is also a large city -- and I was there on a Sunday afternoon -- but it didn’t seem to have the same “big city” gestalt as Toulouse. I happened to walk past a Thai restaurant during my walk about and found myself very interested in having some of that different cuisine, so I did. Yummy!

This morning I hit the road pretty early and took mostly “A” highways north, making only a small detour to drive through the seaside town of La Rochelle on my way here to Nantes. Once again, I had only the barest intel on my hotel’s location and this time it didn’t work out quite so well. After entering the city, I drove around for almost an hour looking for something that sounded familiar but to no avail. I finally decided to just park the car in the nearest parking deck and figure it out on foot. I found a minimalist map of the city center -- really showing only the various parking areas and a few major landmarks -- in the parking deck office and was able to figure out from the guy at the office that I was only about a ten minute walk from where I wanted to be. So, I hit the streets, followed my good old reliable sense of direction and made my way in a respectable straight path to my little hotel.

I am now checked into a typically funky -- but adequate -- little room, updating the website before hitting the streets to find some dinner. My only concern is that I now have only the vaguest idea of where my car is, so I may have a bit of a challenge finding it to start my day in the morning. If successful, I will hit the road and head still further north to Bayeux and the D-Day beaches where I will stay for three nights. All in all I am quite satisfied with my “French Road Trip” so far. I have covered a lot of distance, but I have paced myself well and taken a good number of breaks along the way. My car is good, the roads are good, the maps are good and my attitude is good. I have passed through a lot of terrain changes and sensed a subtle but noticeable shift in environment. Tomorrow night I will be in the northwest corner of the country, looking forward to finding out what that is all about on The Voyage of Macgellan!

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