Written 7th march
So, finally leaving France for the second (and hopefully last, unless we really can't find gpl or wifi in italy) time for this trip. It has been good to be in a familiar country where we can communicate with the locals with a relative degree of success - though down here I do keep being asked which part of france I come from as apparently I have an odd accent :) - where gpl is comfortingly frequently signed and wifi is so readily available - so useful just recently with all that 'real-life' which unaccountably is still going on elsewhere. I can't help but think it would be good if france were bigger and more central in Europe, just so we can pop back if we get stuck for anything - although on reflection I bet the french wish this were the case as well... ;)
But this trip is not about comfort zones - if it were I would still be in Balsham, with work tomorrow, cursing the snow like the rest of you... haha ;) - so onwards once more and we have at least been to italy before.
But, whilst we are en route to this happy land of wine and pizza, how to sum up france?
This is difficult as we have seen two very different parts of it at two very different times, both in terms of the seasons and our accustomed-ness to our van-dwelling, travelling lifestyle.
So best split it really.
Best recommendation: Top marks to my parents for Dune de Pilat. No other natural sight has so completely taken my breath away anywhere in the world before and only one other fellow traveller we have so far encountered has heard of it - we should get commission from their tourist board!
Best meal: steak-frites in L'Entrecote in Bordeaux no question. Moules-frites in random bar in St Jean de Luz a close second, and Moules de Bouffay and Quimper crepes also both well worth a stop.
Best random find: free wine tasting day at Planete Bordeaux.
Best attraction: the magical, fantastical mechanical elephant in Nantes, just an amazing feat of engineering and attention to detail.
Best place we stopped: probably La Rochelle. Not because it was especially fantastic, more because it was easy and comfortable, well signed, small enough to walk around, had a good tourist office and excellent brochure, the towers were interesting and after two weeks, our little town centre carpark spot really began to feel like home. We also got a lot done in those early fettling days, thanks to the scrapyard, vw shop, electronics shop and the ever-surprising Carrefour.
Best recommendation: tie for first place between Laura for Eze and Tom & Katy for ensuring we went to Millau. Out of all the high up villages and mazes of typical streets we have so far seen, Eze tops the lot - literally. It is beautiful. And the Millau Viaduct is beyond description, simply staggering. A thing of such immense, elegant beauty, I could stare at it for hours, even though it never changes whilst time, light and weather move around it.
Best meal: van cooked moules a la crème and tielle from the market in Sete - delicieux! Mussels will definitely feature on the menu again someday.
Best attraction: the stunning Gorges of Verdon, even though the best bit was closed due to snow - one to come back for...
Best random find: wine 'en vrac' in Aigues Mortes. Still drinking it (just)still tastes wonderful and makes us feel very french :)
By choice and circumstance, we have skipped through southern france quite quickly and therefore not done or seen a great number of things we might have enjoyed but of everywhere we have so far been, it is the easiest to come back to and back, no doubt, we will come - probably a touch later in the year before the crowds and to be surer of the sun - although with the fabulous driving roads both coastal and mountainous, I foresee arguments as to whether our return will be in the van or the midget - maybe when Will has sorted the fuelling or replaced the engine for a subaru or porsche flat six - lets face it, its going to happen at some point! - we can trail the midge and have the best of both worlds - we shall see :)
How about 'How Jules pulled Midgey' eh Bill? A much better tale with not a brown trout in sight... ;)
I have also found, for your delectation and delight, the particular plinkity plonkity feel good tune which has accompanied much of our france trip.
'Chupee' by Cocoon. It is a particularly fine example of the genre, with cheerily aposite lyrics including
We have gone to the country
In your old car
We have lost our way
So many times
I take you on a trip
Then something about lollipops and beavers... Well it is french! It may be heard here:
But I can't check it.
For the full sound track which accompanies this journey, you also need to find the one about internet porn, Lilly Allen 'Fuck You', and enless Robbie Williams and Phil Collins :)
For now though it is au revoir a la belle france, but certainly not adieu...