So I wasted about 15 mins just on this week’s blog title. I drafted, then redrafted, then adjusted, then scrapped and tried again. We’ve done so much and visited so many places but I guess I can’t include them all. Then I was stuck because Monaco is its own country so technically it shouldn’t be lumped under the France banner so my OCD was going a little crazy. Anyhoo I guess I should get down to business.
Actually before I do, you may have noticed in previous posts that I always make mention of the rental cars we have and some likes/dislikes. What can I say, I love cars and bikes. One of the best things about this trip is that I’ve had the chance to drive so many different cars. My father organised the car for our month in France so no 1.0L hatchbacks this time around. We’ve got a brand new Peugeot 3008 on a lease and it has all the trimmings. It’s big, spacious and the turbo diesel has balls. We’ve done almost 3,000kms since we collected the car 2 weeks ago and I really like it. I think it would be better as an auto because diesels with a manual transmission always feel a little agricultural to me. Reminds me of driving my uncle’s hilux around the farm as a kid. How cars have come a long way since then, you don’t see canary yellow paint partnered with brown vinyl interior these days. Apart from all the plush stuff like leather seats, skyroof etc it has some great practical features like the speedometer and GPS instructions projected onto a screen in the dash so you hardly have a reason to look anywhere but straight in front. It has cruise control, but it also has a speed limiter which is far more practical for windy country roads. My only real gripe is the sensitivity of the parking sensors that ring alarm bells when they pick up some long grass. Oh that and the ugly colour! I’m just enjoying driving it while I can because I know that I’ll be back to poverty pack rental cars from now on.
On the recommendation of one of the neighbours down the road, we did a little day trip to Saint-Jean-de-Côle which is a much smaller village of only 350 people. The tiny population base combined with it being a Sunday meant that the town was moving at a snail’s pace. But that made it better for photos as Anna was able to get snaps of the laneways free of pedestrians. There was a beautiful chateau right in the middle of town but looked like a private residence so we were unable to have a look. It’s amazing to think how wealthy these families were that had these gigantic houses way back then. Mind you, you’ve got to be damn wealthy to have one now. Who could be bothered to clean such a big place though. Excessive wealth continued to be flaunted in front of faces as the week went on, but I’m more than happy to stick with my lifestyle at the moment!
Again on the neighbour’s recommendation we headed to another small town called Lisle. Now if Saint-Jean-de-Côle was snail pace, this joint was at grass growing pace. All shops were shut, all houses were shut up and no one was to be found. We walked through the town for about 5 minutes and decided that we’d been given a dud recommendation. We had packed a picnic lunch so I suggested we drive to the closest river in the hope for a picnic spot. Well it turns out that the river was the place to be and it seemed like most of the residents were swimming or lunching. We scored a picnic table on the quiet side of the bridge and gorged ourselves on baguettes, cold cuts, cheeses, foie gras and fruit. It was a perfect spot and a lucky find. Yep, I just gave myself a pat on the back.
One place that my parents have wanted to visit for years is Nice so we thought we’d squeeze in a little road trip with some stops along the way. Nice is over 850kms away so we shaped it up into a 3 night trip with sightseeing along the way. Planning the trip was quite easy, we looked at what the guided tours do in the area and just picked the things that jumped out at us. Perhaps a little lazy, but there were so many options over such a long distance.
Our first stop was in Carcassonne which is famous for its medieval old town with double walled fortress. Even though Anna and I have visited quite a few hilltop fortified towns in our 2+ months in Europe this one was still impressive, although definitely more touristy than the Italian ones. We had to park in the new town and walk our way up the hill which was not only great for photos but also for steps. I’m so bad on long car days, I snack on lollies to kill the time and I’m not walking. We didn’t have time to do a tour of the castle and ramparts but we enjoyed the self guided approach. Being so touristy, we had our work cut out for us keeping Mum out of the shops. She uses the excuse that she’s looking for gifts for the grandkids but we all know she loves shopping.
We then trekked onto Pont-du-Gard which is a Roman aqueduct that’s almost 2000 years old. It was constructed to provide a consistent water supply to Nimes which was a growing city. The bridge is part of a 50km system which was mostly underground. It’s an amazing feat of engineering, not only because it’s still standing after so long but because the individual blocks were cut at the quarry and then assembled onsite. The run of the bridge is only 2.5cm across the 360m length which was perfect for allowing consistent flow. Not surprisingly it’s a UNESCO world heritage and it’s definitely worth a visit.
The first night of the roadtrip we spent at Avignon and since we arrived at 8pm it was very much a case of dumping the bags and heading into town for dinner. Being a fortressed town on a river, I was expecting the town to be like Lecce in southern Italy with its beautifully presented lanes and well preserved facades. It wasn’t quite the case here as Avignon is essentially a university town. There were well preserved sections particularly around the Papal Palace and main pedestrian mall, but then as you head closer to the university the vibe went a little seedy. It started off with just the little things like youths loitering, then drunks, then some hobos and then streetwalkers. University towns do have their benefits though, like we found a basic pasta restaurant which had cheap set menus. It was terrific pasta and Dad said it was the best spaghetti bolognese he’d ever had.
The next day was a relatively short drive to Nice, but we decided to head straight there to make the most of our short visit. My memory of Nice were the streets crammed with cars and nothing has changed. We had picked a hotel with onsite parking but there was a car parked across the driveway, so after a few laps of the block we were finally able to get it. Some of the lanes were tight though and Dad did a good job of climbing the curb to squeeze past cars that were poorly parked. The hotel was an 18th century homestead with swimming pool. It was nicely decorated and had a balcony overlooking the pool which was perfect for our lunches or a pre-dinner drink. What wasn’t so great was the bathroom that had glass tiles in the walls! We tended to shower in shifts while everyone else was on the balcony.
My parents hadn’t been to Nice before so we walked down to the beach and followed the promenade to the old town. Along the way we came across the tributes to those killed in the Bastille Day attacks only 10 days earlier. It really puts it in perspective when you see children’s toys and a pair of pink sneakers, obviously the favourite pair of a teenage girl who was killed. There were many residents who were visiting the temporary memorial and continue to leave flowers and other items. We continued into the old town for a look around before we headed up to the lookout at Castle Hill. Unfortunately some cloud cover came over so the water didn’t look quite as blue as earlier in the day but it was a great sight. I don’t think my parents were too impressed when they discovered that there was a free elevator to the lookout, but I told them to think of the steps! I don’t think they care so much about the steps, haha. After all the walking we earned some time in the pool so we headed back for a swim which was very refreshing.
We headed to Monaco the next day and took the coastal road which wound its was along the mountainside giving us a great opportunity to see the big houses and the wonderful scenery. Upon arriving in Monaco we headed to the palace and were delighted that you could buy a combined ticket for a tour of the palace and then a tour of the prince’s private car collection – yes please! The car collection was definitely the best part but I’m not sure if Mum and Anna would agree. The collection was so broad, ranging from horse drawn carriages through to the latest supercars and F1 cars. Dad and I were in heaven as we checked out each car and discussed various points. After this we boarded the hop-on hop-off bus to get a quick snapshot of Monaco. We alighted at the Monte Carlo casino for a look but we didn’t enter the gaming area, as the lobby itself was impressive enough with its over the top decor. Plus it costs EUR10 to enter the gaming area and then I’d probably lose another 10 in one go.
On Thursday we headed back from Nice in one day which took about 11 hours but that’s because we took plenty of breaks. Between 2 drivers it was easy enough. The GPS sent us on a backway because of an accident on the main toll road. I’m not sure if it ended up being quicker, but the drive through the canyons of the national park was well worth it in its own right. A very lucky find. One thing that really surprises me is the dated toll collection system in France. Most of the tollways are point to point so you collect a ticket at one end and then you insert it at the other end and the gate will tell you how much you owe. The problem is they have some free sections near towns, therefore the tolled sections are all chopped up. The end result is that we paid over 10 tolls totalling EUR60 each way. It’s an essential evil unfortunately because going the back highways would take far too long.
After covering so much ground we’ve eased back the pace over the last 2 days. We did the usual Friday market in Brantôme and then we went for a tour of the Abbey, bell tower and caves. It was really interesting and I found it hilarious that a french lady brought her dog on the tour. The dog came in the church with us and even climbed the bell tower. We then looked through the caves where the monks settled in the area. They say the history of Brantôme dates back thousands of years due to the caves and stable water source. My parents brought over a bottle of my favourite Barossa shiraz so we enjoyed that last night. So good.
Over the next week we’ll be enjoying our last week of France before we head to Poland to see Anna’s relatives. I’m looking forward to it.
Fail of the Week
I don’t need to give too much commentary. Mosquitos + Anna don’t mix… check out that forehead!
Meal of the Week
On our last night in Nice we found a seafood restaurant that was fairly reasonable but very nice. Escargot, mussels, salmon etc. Beautiful!