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Avallon, Day 5

Au Revoir Paris!

overcast 16 °C
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I was so sad to leave Paris. Contrary to what a lot of people say, the Parisians are lovely and most try their best to help you to communicate. I only met one arrogant person, at a market, when he tried to sell me a hat for 20 euros and I said it was too much, he waved me away saying, "au revoir."

Picked up my rental car at Orly Airport, a little diesel A-Class Mercedes - with GPS. It was a mission getting on the right track, got a bit confused over the GPS terminology at first & it had to recalibrate more than once! I also tried to turn the wrong way into a road & was stopped by a guy in a truck yelling "non, non, non!!" I thanked him, backed out & took off in the right direction. Also turned into the wrong lane once with oncoming traffic coming straight at me, but quickly did a u-turn around the traffic island & it was all good after that - well, mostly :-). Once I finally got on the right road in the right direction, it was pretty easy. The speed limit on the autoroutes is either 110 or 130 km - it felt a little naughty going that fast!

Finally made it to Avallon just after 2pm in one piece and found my hotel, Les Capucins. It's an interesting establishment, with a pretty flash looking restaurant at the front, and the rooms are less than upmarket, though clean & tidy. The decorating is somewhat eclectic but I guess that just adds to the charm. My room is on the 3rd floor up a spiral staircase (no lift) so there was no way I was carrying my 20 kg suitcase up there. I just took out what I would need for the night & morning & left it in the car. Went for a walk around the town - very "village-y", with really old buildings in various states of disrepair. Unlike Paris, where all the buildings I saw where well looked after, here there is cladding & roof tiles falling off & broken windows as if they don't take pride in the place.


Quite sad really because it could be really charming. Still, it's a fairly busy little place late in the afternoon & people seem nice. I finally found a place that sells cameras (only 2 models of Sony Cybershot, but better than nothing) & got one that will do the trick nicely. Had dinner at the hotel restaurant, the best dinner I've had and the cheapest too. The entree was delicious - what they call a soft white cheese, essentially a creamy, garlicky spread, with toasted baguette slices & a vegetable salsa-type mixture.

There was a sprinkling of rain on the way and the temperature has dropped, though it fined up late in the afternoon. Hope that bodes well for tomorrow.

I've changed my plans for tomorrow and won't be going to Chambord Chateau. It would mean over 8 hours driving in total, so I think it's best to leave it & spend more time in Vezelay in the morning & drive a liottle more leisurely for 5 hours or so instead. I'm sure there will be other chateaux to see on the way. There's a basilica in Vezelay that looks pretty amazing so I may check that out.

Posted by judesbucketlist 12:17 Archived in France Comments (1)

Vezelay-Sarrazac, Day 6

Lost & found

semi-overcast 16 °C
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Left Avallon at about 9am and drove straight to Vezelay. Wow, what a beautiful place!


Perched on a hill, this gorgeous medieval village is out of this world. There are signs encouraging tourists to see it on foot, for obvious reasons once you see how narrow the streets are. It's not a very big place, so the fewer cars the better.

A street in Vezelay - so pretty!

Right at the top of the hill is a basilica, still in use today, with a monastery just across the way. Because today is Sunday, they rang the bells for the call to mass while I was there - very moving.


Around the side of the basilica are the ruins of a 12th century abbey, which you can see in the photos. And the view from there was just stunning.

12th Century Abbey ruins


On the way back to the carpark, there was a man selling cherries - just 4 euros a kilo - very nice they are too! Also had my first experience of one of those "continental" loos, where you stay standing & just sort of, well, squat (see photo). Very strange, but workable. Thankfully most public loos are "normal" so far.


Left there about 11:30 and headed south east to make my way to Sarazzac. I had to check in before 7pm, so I had to make sure I didn't get lost too often. Well, I was just about to pay homage to the goddess GPS because she had been so helpful, when she decided to play silly buggers & tried to send me up a roped-off track in the middle of the countryside! I'm not sure, but I think it was someone's driveway. That wasn't the only time she put me wrong today, but I managed to sort it out each time & made it to the hotel just after 6pm. Guess it took about an hour longer than it would have if all had gone smoothly. I won't complain too much about the GPS since I would still be in Paris without it! Plus it lets me know when there's a speed trap in the area.

The motorways (autoroutes) are great here - every 40km there's a gas station and place to eat, and in between there's usually a rest area with loos & recycle bins, and sometimes a playground.

I'm off to Carcassonne tomorrow, should take about 3 hours, all going well.

Posted by judesbucketlist 14:11 Archived in France Comments (2)

Sarrazac-Carcassonne, Day 7

sunny 25 °C

Wow, it’s hard to believe I’ve only been away for a week, with all that I’ve packed into it.

Today, the GPS became my nemesis, firstly trying to get me to turn into a field, through a fence, and then actually sending me down a forest road in the mountains instead of a highway – 11 km of it! And the road I turned off before that was supposedly a dual carriageway, in the narrowest sense – to fit my car on one side of the centre line I would have had to cut some off it. I know I wanted to get off the beaten track, but it was ridiculous. You can see in the pics how narrow the forest road was – if I’d been in England I’d have expected to see a bloke called Robin & some merry men appear.


Surprised a deer or two didn’t jump out in front of me. Despite the fact that it’s mostly very helpful, the trust is gone & I will now make sure I consult my map as well. At least I saw parts of France I hadn’t expected to, and there were no tolls to pay. The views from the top of that forest road in the Montagne Noire at the south eastern end of the Massif Central are stupendous (see pics). NZ has some great views but you just can’t see as far without another mountain getting in the way. Here, there's an actual horizon.


I left Sarrazac (with the room key in my pocket!) at about 11am, and arrived at Carcassonne about 6pm – with a couple of stops along the way for photo ops, and food of course.

The town of Albi - if you look closely you can see the cathedral

Not too long after I left I found myself driving along with a high cliff on one side and a river valley on the other. I glanced up and was amazed that there was a house right on the edge of the cliff. I couldn’t stop straight away but did so a bit further on & took a photo.

I’ve marked on it where the house is & despite what it looks like, there's nothing but fresh air under the back of that house. Guess they don’t go out in the backyard too often!

Stopped over in a town called Figeac intending to have lunch there, but it felt strange, & uncomfortable there so I didn’t stay. It looks like a bit of a truckstop town. The town of Villefranche de Rouergue is a lovely looking place, perched on a cliffside like many of the towns in this area. It’s so amazing how hundreds of years ago they could build like this, and the houses are still there now. Today, builders don’t have those skills, despite all the modern materials & equipment.

When I finally got to Carcassonne, I was blown away. The medieval walled city (La Cité) is jaw-droppingly awe-inspiring (how’s that for a superlative!). It sits on a high mound surrounded by the outer town of Carcassonne. My accommodation is in a Chambre d’Hôte – what we would call a homestay – right at the base of the ramparts & it takes only 5 minutes up a track to the castle entrance. My room is lovely (as are the owners), with shared shower & the loo is downstairs. No one else is staying tonight so all good from my point of view.

La Cite - stunning!

How many wagon wheels, hooves & feet have trodden here over the centuries?

Lovely sunset from Carcassonne

Had dinner in the Cite, had to try the local speciality, pork cassoulet with duck confit – it’s basically a white bean stew with pork sausage & a duck leg. It’s pretty tasty & good comfort food, and the duck is delicious in it.

(There was no internet connection here, so uploaded the next day)

Posted by judesbucketlist 07:26 Archived in France Comments (2)

Carcassonne-Barbentane, Day 8

One-horse town

sunny 28 °C
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Daytime in Carcassonne

Inside La Cite

Decided to take the autoroute from Carcassonne today, given that the GPS seems to prefer that! But it does mean the drive is somewhat less interesting, with no forests to drive through - and also that this blog will be relatively short & the photos few. I did catch my first sight of the Mediterranean Sea on the way, but not for long. The weather is stunning, not a cloud in the sky & very hot here. Drove through some vineyard country and across the Rhone River.

When I arrived in Barbentane I thought I'd take in the sights - all two of them (not entirely fair because it does have its place in history with Celts, Romans, Barbarians & Sarrasins hitting town). I walked up the Montagnette (I guess that means small mountain) to the Anglican tower & the cemetery, and looked at the view across the valley.


Then at 2pm the local 17th century Chateau opened so I took the tour. It's not a large place but has some fabulous antiques - no photos allowed inside & the guide was watching like a hawk.


Found my hotel with some help from the GPS (finally) and it's one of the Logis chain so is quite good comparatively, if somewhat stuck in the '90s. Come dinner time I discovered that all 5 places to eat here were closed so had to drive to Avignon (of "Sur le Pont d'Avignon" fame). I had been looking forward to taking a look at Avignon & what I saw consisted mostly of driving around for an hour, looking for a car park! Will hopefully have time to see it properly during the day - probably on my way to the next place the day after tomorrow.

I'm staying here for 2 nights, and will head to the Camargue tomorrow, all going well. It's famous for its white horses and is a protected area with a huge ornithological park with flamingos.

Posted by judesbucketlist 14:52 Archived in France Comments (0)

Camargue-Aigues Mortes-Arles, Day 9

Flamingos & flaming poppies

sunny 28 °C
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This morning started out really overcast, but it soon burned off & became another hot sunny day.

The Camargue is the delta of the Rhone River as it feeds into the Mediterranean Sea, and consists mainly of marshes and salt flats. The landscape isn't pretty, that's for sure, with a lot of scrub and rushes. But it's ideal land for rice paddies and for sea birds.


The white Camargue horses apparently run wild there, but I only saw some in paddocks & saddled ready for tourists to ride - but they are pretty cool anyway.


I decided not to take a ride to save euros. I drove right to the end of the Camargue road, to Les-Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, a relatively new town built around a historic church on the edge of the Mediterranean. There are apparently about 4000 residents there, and 10,000 gypsies come and go. It didn't hold any interest for me and looked like a bit of a UK-oldies mecca!

I headed about 20 minutes northwest to Aigues Mortes (thanks Brenda) for a look around and some lunch. It's a medieval walled town (yes, another one!) and was bustling today. Lots of souvenir-type shops, as well as the usual brasseries and other eateries, fashion shops and art galleries. Because I was there at lunchtime, a lot of the shops were closed - French people like to take 2-hour lunches, so many shops close between 12:30 and 2:30pm, some till 3. It had a nice feel to the place & I wandered around for quite a while.


Aigues Mortes

In the Camargue is an ornithological park (Parc Ornithologique), which is open to the public and has about 7 km of tracks around the various marshes and small lakes. It took me a while to find it (it wasn't on the GPS), but I really wanted to see the flamingos that make their home there at this time of year. I wasn't disappointed - except they aren't as brightly coloured as the ones in the Menagerie in Paris.


I assume it's because the zoo must feed them those pink shrimps specially, whereas the ones in the Camargue may not get those in their diet as much. They still have the bright salmon colour under their wings & they do have a light pinky tinge. They're so graceful to watch, and it's easy to get a good photo because they move slowly. What's really cool is that they do a little shuffling dance in the water to stir up the silt and disturb anything edible that's there.

I had also read that there were muskrats there, and it's possible they may run across the path in front of you as you walk around. I was disappointed that didn't happen & had faced the fact that I wouldn't see one so started heading for the exit - and wouldn't you know it? There was one casually eating the grass on the way out (see pic). They are so cute, and a lot bigger than I expected. They're not really rats, just a type of rodent related to lemmings - thankfully! I was able to sneak up really close & get a video, before he realised I was there & raced into the bushes.

So cute!!

Headed to Arles after that, to check out the roman amphitheatre and arena. I couldn't get into the amphitheatre because it was too late, but it looked like they were setting it up for some kind of performance. It's used for concerts and the like, and there were spotlights etc, so didn't look very ancient from the inside!

Arles Amphitheatre

The arena is just around the corner, and is similar to Rome's Colisseum. It's also still used today, for bullfights (the bulls don't get hurt). I went in & even though there's scaffolding in place for repairing it, and temporary stands for the public, it's history is obvious. The tunnels that run around under the stands are full of historical character, and if you close your eyes you can almost hear the crowds from centuries ago. I can't wait to see more of this when I get to Italy!

Arles Arena

Inside the arena

Under the arena

Steps leading up into the arena - hundreds of years of wear

Had an early dinner in Arles since I knew I wouldn't be able to eat back in Barbentane - really nice pizza, best food I've had here!

For days now, I've seen these poppies growing wild along the roadside, much smaller than the poppies we can buy in the garden centres. These little spots of colour are so pretty, a surprising flame orange (not red), and you see them sometimes in pockets with lots of flowers, and other times just one lonely bloom. Even in the Camargue, not the most hospitable environment, there they are, still dotted here and there along the side of the road.

Off to stay in Villecroze tomorrow, near the Gorges du Verdon which looks amazing, and closer to that part of Provence with the lavender fields. Hope I get to see some of those. Guess it's up to my old pal, the GPS (who behaved herself today)!

Posted by judesbucketlist 13:34 Archived in France Comments (0)

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