Paris to the Dordogne

Trip Start Mar 03, 2005
Trip End Apr 16, 2005

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Tuesday, March 7, 2006

DAY 4 WED Today we were to leave Paris for Nantes. As I heaved our large bags onto the Metro train at Clichy, toppling peak-hour Parisians and mumbling an embarrassed "excusez-moi" to all and sundry, I worried that our Eurail Passes might be rejected by an overly officious station person. Back in Sydney I had been just a little too efficient, entering our passport numbers onto the validation form before reading in the small print that it was strictly forbidden for the passenger to enter those particular details. I needn't have worried. Nobody noticed my crime and the TGV staff at Gare Montparnasse were charming and helpful. Their very helpfulness was to cause serious difficulties on our final train trip, many weeks in the future. The young lady behind the counter filled in the part of the form which I was supposed to complete, and not only that, she filled it in incorrectly. I pointed out the error and one of the other TGV staff wrote an explanation beside the entry.

The rail trip itself was quite a pleasant experience. The only way we could gauge the train's true speed was by focussing on the poles beside the track which zipped past us in a blur. We reached Nantes in just over two hours. It would have taken us two days had we driven from Paris. The Hotel Astoria was only a couple of blocks from the station and was certainly not related to the similarly named Waldorf Astoria. The tiny ladies at the desk spoke not a word of English, which was a slight problem as the room they had allocated to us proved to be already occupied. I indicated to the less feeble of the two that she should accompany me in the capsule which passed for a lift and was able to demonstrate to her satisfaction that the bags in the room were not ours but those of un autre personne. She finally saw the light but was loath to give me the key to our new room until I gave her the first set. I insisted that I had given them to her companion and we descended once again in the capsule to verify my claim. The other lady claimed ignorance, and we ascended yet again to the second floor where I discovered the missing item in my pocket. Was I embarrassed? Mais oui!

Our accommodation safely claimed, we walked a long, long way along Boulevarde John Kennedy in search of the Tourist Information Office where we obtained a map showing the half dozen places worth visiting in Nantes. I am exaggerating just in case a citizen of the city ever reads this journal. There were four places of interest of which the most impressive was the Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne, a solid castle surrounded by a moat which we passed several times but forgot to visit. We decided to leave our exploration of Nantes till the next day and, after dinner at a Thai Restaurant nearby, retired to our room.

As I write: We are supine on our bed watching CNN and its endless coverage of the Pope's demise. We have no tea, coffee or milk and the nearest alimentaire is a kilometre away. Our two cans of Heineken are consumed..........we have nothing else.

DAY 5 THU Memo to myself: stop exclaiming sacré bleu! We left the hotel at 9.30am to comb the city for any places of interest which may have eluded us yesterday. Nantes has three major churches and we visited them all. Cathédrale St Pierre and St Paul was especially impressive, its stonework gleaming white on the outside and so clean on the inside that one could have been forgiven for thinking that it had only recently been completed. All three churches (the others being Église St Croix and Église St Nicholas) were in the process of being thoroughly renovated and indeed we were to find church renovation going on everywhere we travelled in France.

We were quite proud of our ability to communicate with the locals, though I was glad Margaret wasn't with me when I tried to buy a lighter. Having no idea what the French word for lighter was I pantomimed flicking a little wheel while saying "phish". The girl knew right away what I wanted and I'm sure the strange smile she gave me was meant to convey her admiration for my communication skills rather than to imply that I was an idiot.

Our lunch in a small restaurant was much more satisfying than our expensive dinner in Montmartre. Duck, fritters and salad, beautifully presented. They even threw in two expressos for free. I thought this was due to our being polite and friendly but later noticed that the coffee was included in the price. I wish I hadn't been so effusive in my thanks! We sat under cover in the restaurant until a ten-minute downpour had reduced itself to a fine drizzle then returned to examining every ladies-oriented shop in the city. Fortunately the prices in such shops can only be described as exhorbitant and Margaret bought nothing. So confident was I that she would not be able to bring herself to buy anything that I continually urged her to buy a scarf, lash out on those shoes, blow a few hundred euros on that handbag. It was a bluff, which made me look generous and Margaret sensible.

Following a brief rest at the hotel (on CNN the late Pope was looking quite resigned to being carried endlessly around the Vatican) we strolled through the aptly named Jardin des Plantes . Most of the plants had not yet begun to flower but the gardens were lovely none the less. We paused to speak to an elderly French lady who was walking her dogs and spoke English much more proficiently than we spoke French. Margaret and she had a pleasant though somewhat extended chat while I attempted to converse with her hairy companions.

As soon as we walked through the door of our hotel the hotel ladies invited me to use their computer and I was able to write my first e-mail. I spent forty minutes typing away and when I finished I asked how much it would cost. The friendly woman smiled and said "very expensive". I assumed she was joking and that there would be no charge because I was so charming. Margaret was rather more cynical and, as I later discovered when I examined our bill, correct. I can't recall whether my use of the Internet cost me five dollars or five euros, though I think it was the latter. I vowed never to pay that much again.

We dined at last night's Asian restaurant for the second time because it was cheap, the food was good and there were no other eating places within a kilometre. Most of the commercial establishments in our area were sleazy in nature, offering peepshows, private booths and activities requiring the wearing of rubber suits. Why pay for rubber tights when you've got your own packed discretely in your luggage?


As I write: We are sitting in the departure lounge of Nantes Airport waiting to meet the Peugeot representative. I don't know about Margaret (who looks calm) but I am feeling very tense. Margaret will be doing all the driving, which is the easy job. As navigator and advisor I have tremendous responsibility.

Our leased Peugeot 407 was the height of luxury, even if it didn't have satellite navigation. The Peugeot gentleman told us that the car was fully insured so it wouldn't matter if we broke it. We assured him that we would do our very best to avoid "breaking it" then paid extremely close attention as he gave us detailed instructions on how to get to the nearest petrol station. As had been the case the last time we had leased a car, the fuel tank was nearly empty but this time we had no trouble negotiating several roundabouts and finding the Total station.

My very clever planning meant that we had to stay on the one road all the way to Poitiers, thereby avoiding the need to turn right or left which can be a bit tricky on your first day of driving. Margaret took a while to get used to the dimensions of the car and I was constantly cringing as she drove too close to the side of the road. After a while she became rather testy whenever I screamed and stabbed my foot on the imaginary brake so I clasped my hands in my lap and recited the Rosary instead.

Once we reached Poitiers we found ourselves driving around the ring road which encircled the city. It was a long, long drive but eventually I spotted the Formule 1 sign. All three levels of Accor hotel were represented, in ascending order of price and "luxury". We spurned the 26 euro Formule 1 as it didn't have cable TV and thought the Ibis probably too expensive. The Etap, at 35 euros, was just right and the room came with its own bathroom. There was nobody there and it took me quite some time to work out how to obtain a room using our credit card. The hotel was clean, though the smell of the sewerage system permeated the lower floor. Once inside Margaret headed straight for the TV to see whether they had finally finished carrying the Pope to his last resting-place. No CNN! No BBC! What a gyp.

With no funerals to watch on TV we drove into the heart of Poitiers and parked in a large parking station. Never again would we complain about parking at Westfield Parramatta.. When Margaret reached the top of each ramp she would have to do a three-point turn to go left or right and the parking spots appeared to have been designed for Goggomobiles rather than our big Peugeot. By the time we had walked the entire length of the town and found the tourist office it was 5pm. We had a quick look around the cathedral then headed back to the car.

Finding our hotel proved to be extremely difficult. We drove round and round, in and out of the city without being able to find the road back to Poitier Sud. It was peak hour but Margaret handled herself and the car with considerable aplomb. At long last we found the N10 and, not long later, the hotel. Poitiers had not proved particularly interesting but it didn't matter as it was only ever meant to be an overnight stop on the way to the Dordogne.

The way to our gite at Le Coux et Bigaroque, Poitiers, France
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