Au revoir France
I was planning to go straight to Venice but chickened out at the first opportunity. This of course is a dreadful lack of commitment to task (and worryingly early in the trip to start making such lazy decisions) but it would have been a 10 hour drive and there seemed to be little point in knackering myself (and maybe the car) so early into the trip. So I’ve booked a simple ‘agri-b&B’ just over the border in Italy. It has been hot here Friday and today Saturday – about 28 degrees. The newly gassed aircon is working a dream though.
I wanted to keep the interior of the car as clear as possible to avoid bits and pieces flying all over the place on cornering and braking. So the cargo cage on the roof has made this possible. To protect from the rain, and to protect against ‘prying eyes’, I have covered it in a plastic tarpaulin. Try as I might, I can’t stop it from flogging itself to destruction in the wind when underway. There are all sorts of straps and bungee cords up there but the flogging continued. I was up this morning trying out a new ‘design’ which seems to have worked.
It’s worth acknowledging that France has superbly smooth motorway roads. There’s not a pothole in sight and they make UK roads rather shameful in comparison. OK, high tax economy and toll funded but the outcome is plain to see on its road network. I’d feel rather proud to show off roads like these to visiting fellow Europeans. I feel a bit embarrassed by the UK’s offer. I dread to think what the roads will be like once further East!
I made my way from the still (just about) snow capped Pyrenees to the plains of the Garonne. Just 20 kms out, the odometer on the car, clicked onto 200,000kms. This was quite handy because to count my running journey distance, I need only look at it.
Once past Toulouse, fields of fruit and wheat slowly turned to vines – first Corbières, then Roussillon. Trees turned from pine to beech and then to Cypress as the Mediterranean nears. Past Carcassonne, the all-weather slate tiles of houses are replaced by warmer climate terracotta.
This weekend, I realised a little late, is a big holiday time for the French. There was a national holiday on Thursday. Although Friday is a ‘normal’ working day, many take leave and have a long weekend (called a ‘pont weekend’). For most children, it’s also half-term. Roads were forecast to be busy, particularly on Sunday as the crush takes place to return home. The sudden shift to warm weather will doubtless make it worse but my journey here today was pretty good.
The Cote d’Azur is a spectacular coastline with plenty of beautiful homes with views to die for. As you approach, very suddenly other cars become cabriolets and the Lamborghini count increases dramatically. It’s not the same for Monaco which is a rather glitzy, not to say tacky, overcrowded place. OK, maybe the Lamborghinis were in Monaco!
Whilst mentioning the Cote d’Azur, it’s worth pointing out that it rose to fashionable fame among the wealthy only in the late 19th century. The guy credited with putting it on the map was a certain Gordon Bennett. Actually an American with Scottish roots, he was the wealthy son of the Publisher of the New York Herald. He was a yachtsman, a car racer, polo player etc. However, he had a rather dodgy reputation for erratic, inappropriate behaviour. Hence the expression ‘Gordon Bennett’ to express shock/surprise.
The border with Italy passes very suddenly. You barely realise you’re in a different country were it not for the language of the road signs. The hills here fall steeply towards the sea. I last drove this road some 38 years ago. The hills are formed into terraces and somehow hundreds of glasshouses are fixed on them. This is/was big flowers and fruit growing country. The only thing that has changed is that some of the roofs of the glasshouses now harvest electricity from the sun, rather than produce.
I found a simple but very charming B&B. Its 'day job' is a lemon farm. Near zero english by the hostess and not a word in Italian for me. But we exchanged a few words in french which just about worked - until a roast suckling pig arrives for dinner of course!