Expect the unexpected!

The usual faff – sandwich buying and new boots for Lou before the pretty drive to lac de guery (once you leave le mont dore behind).  The car park wasn’t that full but families were arriving all the time. We got into our boots and set off for the Lac. I had been to the tourist office (part of said faff) to ask for the brochure of balades familial but she didn’t have it and said it was easy, just look for the papillon jaune, yellow butterfly, and follow them ‘autour du Lac’, words that would come back to haunt me later.

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It was lovely to be walking again in the sunshine and an easier walk in view after yesterday with all the climbing (!). The lake sparkled in the sunshine and an excited child ahead reminded us of Kai and his chatter. The pine trees smelled lovely in the warmth and I noticed pussy willows beginning to burst. After a short walk we noticed an information board to our left telling us to look out for woodpeckers and the path also moving away from the lakeside and up into a beech wood.  And up. And up.

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Eventually we were climbing up a steep and rocky slope, very glad we had sticks to use against the possibility of plunging back down. We looked around for the yellow butterfly and there it always was, painted on a tree up an impossibly  steep, and to us, treacherous slope. On came all the family groups plus others descending. There was the roar of a stream to our left and finally we realised we were being led up to a viewpoint of a thunderous waterfall. We had actually seen it just before from another angle across some vicious tumbled rocks that a couple of teen-agers skipped across for a closer look!

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After that excitement the path levelled off a little and we felt somewhat relieved but confused as to the direction it was taking us. Finally we arrived at a gate and passed into a meadow. The family behind us branched off to the right but then settled down to a picnic.

We soldiered on alone glad of the sunshine and soft grass to walk on. But on and on away from the lake that we could no longer see. Eventually, convinced we had somehow got ourselves onto the wrong path despite that flaming butterfly we turned back. That meant back down the horrendous slope. This time we followed a rope trail down over the rocks and roots but still not easy and still scary. Down through the beech wood and back to the lakeside we went.

Looking along the lake edge away from us we found two plank bridges and then an extremely muddy and shadowed steep rise beyond. No way, we both decided. Back to our starting point and regroup!

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At the log cabin Lou bought himself a beer in the boutique (no cold ones at the tiny food counter) and I got myself a cappuccino from the machine. 50 centimes, a steal. Outside there was an empty picnic table so we ate our lunch. It was half past twelve, we’d walked (!) for over an hour and needed the rest. Squinting at the map I could see that the so called sentier de decouverte, balisee with that dratted papillon, was where we had been walking and would have eventually turned sharp right and brought us back to where we were sitting, presumably without any heart stopping slopes to traverse. At no other point apart from the beginning did it go ‘autour du lac’.  Rtfm, our boys would say but for manual substitute map!

After a while Lou said he was ready to walk again and why not follow the track that said ‘ferme de puy may’ 2km and maybe the buvette signposted ‘1 hour’ maybe one and the same.  Why didn’t I look at the map? Why was I so trusting? So off we went along a broad track that is usually the start of the ski de fond at this time of year if snowy.  Up we walked – yes, up again. The path split and we went right hoping it was the way forward to somewhere or other.

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We found ice on the track and some snow at the sides and several walkers going in our direction or not. The pine trees gave way to open grassland. The redundant signs for skiing pistes were a sad reminder that we shouldn’t be able to do this at this time of year but were giving us a taste of what summer walking would be like. Each time we visit la bourboule we tell ourselves we ought to come up in the summer!

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The sun went on shining out of a clear blue sky but the wind came up and got stronger and stronger. I was glad I had brought my woolly hat and stuck my hood up over it in the end.

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And still the track went on and up with dots in the distance becoming returning (?) walkers or cyclists. We kept telling ourselves that perhaps around the next fold of land we would see something resembling a building. But no, just mountain tops in the distance and rising small hills around us.

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At last a building in the distance and a cattle grid across the track. Soon a sign announced the ferme de puy may and the height we were at. 1398 metres. My calves felt most of them.

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The farm turned out to be a ruin with evidence that maybe in the summer some sort of buvette parks up there. For now another sign told us the buvette was a further two kilometres.  Decision time. Walk another two kilometres with the slight possibility of a sit down and hot drink or turn for home?

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We turned for home although on a different day and in different circumstances we thought we might have gone for it. So now it was all downhill, gentle but down. The wind still blew and when a couple with two small girls, grand daughters? walked with us for a bit I wished the girls had some nice warm hats on!

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Some cyclists whizzed past on some odd looking bikes we had seen for hire at the log cabin. No pedals but some sort of power output. Getting back there ourselves it was choc and fizzy drink from the machine and the bliss of taking off the boots.  Looking at the map – finally –  I could see we had been headed towards the banne d’ordanche. A decent circuit if you gave over the day to it…and knew properly  where you were going!

So back to the Aviation hotel, so named because in the thirties, the Banne was famous for the gliding that took place there with the aviators staying at our hotel. Nowadays it is still a favourite place for model aircraft flying.

As it was his birthday we, I, had booked the table du trappeur, an intimate little restaurant with lots of wood and old skiing memorabilia scattered about where we had enjoyed eating in the past. The chap had said it would be second service and I was convinced he said eight fifteen. In fact he gave me the book to write  my name and number in and I thought I wrote it against 8.15. But when we got there at ten past he said he wasn’t ready, could we come back in a bit. So we walked up and down and presented ourselves ten minutes later. It then was  could we wait twenty minutes? I looked aghast and he told me I had booked for 9.15, The second service.  Bum! We couldn’t wait, we were hungry.

The birthday boy was very kind about it and we set off to try and find  a restaurant that would still accept us. The street was empty and the other places looked full. Normally at this time of year service finishes fairly early. Lou had looked at a menu board outside one place and had commented on the potee d’auvergnate, a ribsticking monster of a mountain dish. We went in with some trepidation but we were welcomed and offered a choice of table.

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Suffice to say, Lou got his potee but my steak was off so I settled for truffade which turned out to be much better than anticipated. For dessert Lou tried a verveine, ice cream soaked in eau de vie’. My poire royal, meant to be a  similar boozy concoction turned out to be a mistake by the waitress who gave me  a poire belle Helen. Just not your night smiled Lou.  Maps and menus – not my day!

 

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If at first…..

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After a certain amount of faff we finally arrived at the small parking area below the Roc de Courlande, the morning’s walking destination. A jolly family group came skipping down as we began. ‘We have to go up by the path to the right’ I confidently told Lou.

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After half an hour of trudging upwards with the Roc being slowly left behind us I called a halt, admitted failure and we trudged back down!

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Taking the jolly family’s route we soon saw the right turn up towards one of the three statues of the virgin which are sited on the Roc. Suddenly there was a shout from Lou behind me – the sole of one of his, admittedly, elderly walking boots had fallen off.  So we gave in to fate, stopped and ate our lunch (freshly made sarnies bought that morning from the baker in la b, part of the faff) perched on rocks above the virgin with a fantastic view in front of us.

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With a change of footwear back at the car we cut our losses ,or rather Lou’s, and drove up to the espace nordique of Chasteix- Sancy that we hadn’t visited before. Finding a cafe/bar open it was a cappuccino and a beer taken in the glorious sunshine. Time to count our blessings.

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Not wanting to waste that sunshine we backtracked to la stele, where we usually raquette walk, which had been virtually deserted when we came past earlier. There were still only a handful of cars parked up , perhaps Lac de Guery was similarly quiet? With only ski de fond signs to follow we struck out on Les Mouflons, just under four kilometres.

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Not far but far enough in the event as there was a fair bit of climbing….again. A black piste for ski de fonders, brave souls. We did find a fair bit of snow too where the trees provided shade.

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Luckily no one’s shoes fell apart and the tiny bar was open for tea and juice when we got back. A nearby monument to fallen resistance fighters reminded me how lucky we are to have our freedom to do this.

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So back to our room to watch the rugby.. ….again

I had hoped that a quick swim between the rugby and apero time would relax the aching muscles. But it was not to be. As I slipped into the water I realised the advertised temperature of 29/30 degrees was not happening and this swim would be invigorating rather than relaxing! After a few lengths avoiding some excitable children, clearly impervious to the chill factor, I trudged back up to the third floor and relaxed under a hot shower.

We took aperos in the bar opened up just for us (!) where I enjoyed a kir made with birlou, a locally produced sweet liqueur made from apples and chestnuts.  A bottle to take home, I decided.

Dinner was booked at the rather quaint Hotel de la poste et Europe.  The dining staff seemed a bit flustered but relaxed when I said we had booked. A straightforward menu with not a huge choice but with the mountain dishes well to the fore. I was surprised that half the dining room behind Lou was empty. Then about 8.45, late by French standards, in came the hordes. A coach party, we decided. Finishing off with creme brulee (me) and fruit salad (him) we left them just starting on their soup.

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We wandered along to another favourite restaurant to book the birthday dinner before climbing the seemingly ever steepening road back to the hotel.

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Oops!

Checking back in the diaries I see that it is two years since we last came to la bourboule. I remember now we were too creamcrackered after a round trip to the UK and la Suisse in early February to want to get on the road again.

But we were ready now. Not an early start as it is only a couple of hours drive away and the hotel check in wasn’t open until three. So a unhurried departure around eleven. Usually a quiet A89 autoroute so we were surprised to find the aire we chose for the coffee stop to be chokker. We followed two other cars through all the parking areas before giving up and leaving – caffeine deficiency looming!

At la bourboule we were too early even for the tourist office (2pm opening) so carried on to the lac de guery, a new place I had found online as a possible walking destination. The drive up was forested and twisty with a deepening valley on our left. Suddenly there was the lake, small and in the top of an ancient volcanic plug. No immediate space to park but soon we were at the col de guery where a large and fairly full car park materialised on our left.

We munched our sandwiches and then explored the ‘point de vue’ we could see – breathtaking. The twin peaks of Tuiliere And Sanadoire then off to the building further down. Toilets? Coffee? We found both in a log cabin that offered all the usual information and renting opportunities plus husky sledging rides –  sad that there is no snow.

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Back down to la bourboule where I finally found the tourist office for a brochure of summer (sic) walks. I took the map of the raquettes and ski de fond pistes as the girl said we could walk in those too. Still too early for the hotel we sat in a sunny terrace of a cafe so Lou could have his arrival beer at last while I tucked into a crepe, a mountain must.

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Finally booked in I was pleased we had a sunny room with a view of bourboule and the mountains beyond. I overheard the receptionist telling the people before us that they would need to ring restaurants ahead to get a table. Happily we  had taken the precaution of booking ours for tonight and tomorrow. So we lazed away the rest of the afternoon in front of the rugby and had to leave a very exciting match (France and Wales) to get to the Cyrano, a favourite, where one of the waiters kept us updated on the score!

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To raquette or not to raquette?

IMG_20200219_163313_767Looking back on the blog I don’t seem to have written about our tradition of raquette walking on Lou’s birthday recently.  However, a couple of years ago we decided maybe it was time to hang up the raquettes and just walk as we were exhausted after a couple of hours. But as his birthday approached last year Lou suddenly decided he quite fancied a mountain trip. Too late, I told him, everywhere books up very quickly. So we decided just to go up and walk a bit as la bourboule is only a couple of hours away and we knew the ‘pistes’. I found a hotel room in quite a quirky hotel and it turned out to be a good break. This year he has done it again! ‘No’ all through January and then ‘oh, let’s give it one more go’.

So our preferred hotel was booked (covered garage; good for putting on the chains and a tiny pool, great for unwinding after the trudging) and plans made. Then a complete lack of snow anywhere. Himself started talking of cancelling but optimistic me persuaded him we could find some green paths to walk and promptly began exploring possibilities with the help of the internet. So we are due to leave on Saturday. There was light snow, last Wednesday but the webcam shows it melting away. Never mind, it will be a break after being stuck in all through a wet January and the restaurants are good in the town…!

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montpellier mooch march 2019

 

Ever since spending my 70th birthday in Barcelona I have developed a taste for a city break to celebrate subsequent milestones. It used to be that we went away to do raquette walking for Lou’s birthday in February but last year we decided the time had come to hang up our raquettes as we were no longer coping with the effort required. We have given it fifteen years and visited some lovely place in the Pyrenees, Jura and Auvergne whilst staying in some quaint hotels but now time for something more restful. And a city break means shopping and March is warmer than February if we disregard last spring’s beast from the east.

We have driven south several times on the A75 when visiting places further on and have often said as we bypass Montpellier that we ought to visit it one day. That day had come. Comme d’hab it was only to be a two night break as that is the length of time we feel the cats can cope without us and a babysitter! I found and booked an ibis near the centre with parking and a restaurant to make life as simple as possible. Then changed the dates as on Monday, the birthday, most places were shut.

The drive down was pretty gloomy especially as we crossed the Millau viaduct with piled up storm clouds creating very atmospheric photo opportunities.

 

 

By the time we reached the hotel the sun was back out and it was appreciably warmer.
Our room was a shock and the reason for the lower price than other hotels close by revealed. The bathroom was behind a curtain. This included the toilet so an unexpected level of intimacy. Reading reviews I noticed it was often mentioned. but the full import had clearly escaped me!

With time before dinner we went off to explore the nearby shopping mall and found lots of places in which to lose ourselves for an hour or so. I had hunted for restaurants in walking distance but neither of us found the menus particularly inspiring. A nearby brasserie seemed to rely on a ‘frites with everything’ approach.  We decided on a drink in the hotel bar and studied their menu while chatting to the helpful barman.  So my birthday dinner was in the hotel restaurant.  We kicked off with oysters (Lou) and foie gras (me) and a good local white wine. Happy birthday to me

 

Tuesday 19th March

Breakfast in the buffet with sunshine streaming through the windows and an open door to the terrace outside. We could see the trees moving so knew there was a wind. Hopefully not as cold as last year’s in Amsterdam. As the researcher in chief when we visit anywhere (just curious, I say; nosey, he says) I had rejected the idea of the musee Fabre however celebrated it is.  For another time I decided. Meanwhile there was the old town to explore which was just a few minutes walk away on the other side of the Place de la Comedie, a huge concourse busy with market stalls, students and shoppers, and colourful trams coming and going along one side (Lou was to become very impressed with the frequency with which they came and went).  We stopped by the nearby tourist office to ask for a town plan.  I love a tourist office!  Once in the old town the roads narrowed and started to climb. We came to a pretty place filled with trees, Place Jean Jaures, of course!

 

From there we followed our noses and the map to find the Musee de Vieux Montpellier,  a bit tricky but we got there.

The musee is on the first floor of an incredibly ancient and beautiful building, the Hotel de Varennes.

 

 

 

The musee itself is only four rooms and a corridor! I had hoped to gain some idea of the city and its origins and thankfully there were some old drawings and plans that showed the old town surrounded by its walls once upon a time.  We crept around switching lights on and off with due reverence.  It really is an odd little place but the young woman in charge left us alone to explore such as we could. From there we nosed our way back to the main road climbing through the old town passing the huge prefecture on the way.  When Midi-Pyrennes was combined with Languedoc-Rousillon Montpellier was up against Toulouse as the city to be home to the new regional prefecture. Toulouse won that one.

We continued uphill towards the Arc de Triomphe sparkling in the sunshine.

 

 

Beyond it lay the Place Royale de Peyrou. at the far end is the Chateau d’Eau, a fancy watertower.  We were very surprised at how high this point of Montpellier is with its extensive views and is probably why the town was founded on this impressive promontory.  It was pretty windy and we decided against battling across to take in the chateau d’eau.  Instead we turned downhill to find an alleyway towards the cathedrale Saint Pierre.  Turning a corner I was gobsmacked by the enormity of the portico of the cathedral despite it being still several metres away.

 

 

Up close it was a real statement with its two conical spires dwarfing the doors.  The open entrance was around the corner as they so often are.  Inside the space was light and airy with lots of beautiful stained glass windows and, my particular favourite, two stunning rose windows.   I bought a leaflet in English from two gossiping elderly ladies in a kiosk and discovered the windows were of the Apostles on the east side and the Prophets on the west side.

 

Across the street on the wall of an alleyway I spotted a graffiti leopard. No idea of its significance if any but it ended up on my Instafeed, bien sur!  We were ready for a coffee by now so it was back to the Halle we had passed earlier near place Jean Jaures to sit and watch the world on its lunchbreak pass by.  Walking there i spotted big bunches of mimosa for sale, a glorious splash of yellow glowing in the sunshine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back at Place de la Comedie we debated where to go for lunch.  Somewhere selling a choice of salads was what we were after but such places seemed thin on the ground. Then we remembered there were a couple of places in the shopping mall so back we went to try there. A mock terrace surrounded by passersby where we chose ceaser salad which came with four huge chips on top, the weirdest and largest ceasar salad we have ever had!  After that and the wine we enjoyed with it.  It was time for Lou to rest his eyelids and I wasn’t averse to a little nap either.

When researching things to do in Montpellier I was pleased to find a photographic exhibition held in the Pavillon Populaire which is a building in the gardens, Jardins de Champs de Mars, next to the Place de la Comedie.  We were really enjoying the closeness of things to the centre!  The exhibition was of photos taken by Andy Summers of the rock group, The Police.  Due to the possibility of trouble due to a march by the CGT, the place was full of CRS and, oh joy, two police cars parked in front of the Pavillon underneath the banner announcing Andy Summers’ exhibition!

The exhibition was much better than I has expected with some beautiful images mixed up with small off the cuff shots and a video film documenting the slow disintegration of the group and their mutual antagonism.  However, the show was positive and fascinating and we spent a long time in there.  Afterwards it was time for an apero in the place once we could find some empty seats.  The place was full of families, joggers, people hurrying home from work, skateboarders, cyclists and a clown setting up his balloon modelling stall! I asked the waiter if it was always this busy on a Tuesday in March.  Everyone has come out in the sunshine he told me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we sat enjoying the ambience and while Lou did a bit of tram watching, I told him about the reading I had done while he was resting his eyelids.  The tourist office map had lots of incidental information about the town including the quirky trompe d’oeil on the place in front of the church of Saint Roch.  So off we went to find it.  On the way there were some examples of street art plus some unintended, I love the collages of old and new events posters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The trompe d’oeil was brilliant, encompassing the whole façade of a large house front.  Pictures were taken, the church was visited and then we wandered up around the back of the church past its tiny garden busy with mums and children and into more alleyways full of one off shops.  Montpellier is GREAT for shops!  Still full from the lunchtime salads, we decided we only wanted a small dinner and had done enough walking for one day.  So back to the hotel restaurant (I knew it was a good idea when choosing hotels) where we had an entrée and a pudding which was just right!

On our way out of Montpellier in the morning we drove via the river, Le Lez, which was advertised as an interesting place to walk. I wasn’t very impressed as the river had concrete banks which I always think is sad despite the grass above and the many trees. But it didn’t spoil Montpellier for us.  A city with a lovely ambience and one we would like to return to one day…and next time I’ll visit the musee Fabre as I have since discovered it has a collection of Coret’s, a favourite painter.

 

 

 

 

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amboise or bust

during may and june we look for a weather window of opportunity for a short camping trip as we are fair weather campers, bien sur!  last year it was the cevennes and the year before trebes on the canal du midi.  the bizarre weather of hot days alternating with storms and rain meant it was almost the end of june before we found three suitable days.   i had seen a programme on french tv a few years ago about the clos luce at amboise, the last home of leonardo da vinci, courtesy of an invitation from the french king francoise 1.  after some years of decline the house had been restored and a museum created dedicated to the work and creativity of da vinci.  the thing that fascinated me was the idea of the recreated models both within the house and out in the grounds.   we had discussed campsites and, under the impression that neither of us fancied the centre ville campsite (previous experience has taught us they can be noisy at night) i searched for somewhere just outside the town.  i found a small site right next to the river about fifteen minutes away near a village called mosnes.  as it was small and we were getting close to french school holidays i booked us in after checking it out on google earth and trip advisor and hoped it wasn’t a mistake.:)

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first there was the task of finding everything squirrelled away in the loft and workshop.  i tried to ‘lose’ some things not strictly necessary but only managed two folding stools, the washing line with pegs and a garlic press, more of that later!  the cats began to get jumpy as soon as they saw the food and water hoppers being filled up.  as it was summer and they virtually leave home at this time of year we decided they would be fine for a couple of nights even if  ‘howler’, a cat who has adopted us, dines well on the available catfood.

a familiar journey up to chateauroux and then onto the route national to amboise ignoring the gps which tried to take us off onto little yellow roads for most of the way.  the campsite was signposted by a narrow left turn in the centre of mosnes,  down a country lane and a turn to the left in view of the loire and we had arrived.  a cheerful welcome from the couple who run the place and a pitch with lots of shade.  then the ‘fun’ of erecting the tent in the full knowledge that the couple opposite had the same one and were probably watching us surreptitiously.  an hour later the tent was up and lou was looking for his ‘arrival’  beer.  oops, guess who didn’t move it from the fridge to the glacier?  mind you, i insisted it wasn’t my job!  happily the reception of the campsite doubles as a bar with beer on tap so lou was placated.

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the ‘sanitaires’ were spotless and even provided loo paper, a rare treat as campsites go.  we wanderd over to the riverside and sat awhile on a bench watching two dogs frolicking in the shallows and a couple who, equipped with enormous flippers, swam away up stream pushing said flippers. rather a pointless and splashy activity we decided.

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to my delight (it was a holiday after all) we discovered the campsite couple cooked fried food in the evening so chips were ordered.  we ate them with a tin of spag bol washed down with glanes rose (i remembered to put that in, lou noted) and bought magnum choc ices to follow.  as usual we watched with interest as various camper vans came in, noting we were all ‘of a certain age’.  as hoped the site was quiet and we slept well.

next morning the showers passed muster (clean, hot and decent water pressure) but i was caught out when lou asked for some pegs to hang up his damp towel. i ended up snapping some small pegs from the tiny teatowel airer!  After receiving lots of parking advice and maps from our friendly host we were off to amboise.  the parking advice proved useless as we couldn’t work out which left turn to take (it was the one way before town we discovered later)  so we turned into the narrow streets and luckily stumbled upon a free car park.  a sign pointed us towards the clos luce and after a short walk uphill we found it.

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i had bought our tickets online in advance so we wafted in and were directed to the entrance which is at the base of a tower and then you climb up a very narrow spiral staircase.   you arrive on the gallery from which one trip advisor reviewer said he looked at the gardens but didn’t bother to explore them.  his loss, i would suggest, given our experience of them.  first there was the house to explore; two bedrooms, a chapel, leonardo’s studio, his study and the refectory.  we moved fairly swiftly to avoid the school group hard on our heels

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then it was downstairs to the rooms given over to the models and plans.  we wandered and read and marvelled.  arriving together in front of the tank, we both agreed we had not realised the breadth of his invention.  swing bridges, a car (!) and a paddle steamer were wonderful and well displayed with videos available to help with visualisation.

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quite thirsty by now and having noticeed a very pretty rose garden below the refectory window we went in search of coffee.

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by the time we had finished our coffees we realised it was nearly midday, french lunch time.  watching the crowd numbers building up we opted to stay put and have lunch.  seated at a shady table in a little bay edged with red roses we enjoyed salads of the region and some cool pink wine.

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it was hard to leave our little ‘coin’ but the garden beckoned.  it is full of shady trees so it was very pleasant to wander up and down the paths (trying to follow the map) discovering the various enormous models.

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among them there was a swing bridge, paddle boats, some sort of water lifting thingamybob and even a flying machine in the trees above our heads makng me think of a pterodactyl.

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after all that gawping and retracing footsteps we were beginning to flag.  we decided we had given it our best shot and learnt a lot in the process.  time to move on.  outside the exit we found one of those little wooden ‘trains’ so popular in tourist towns.  after a chat with the driver during which i thought he said there was a stop in town we climbed on.  off we rattled with an english commentary.

in town we stopped very briefly for a red light and then turned for the river.  at a set of traffic lights on the bridge we jumped off before we were taken miles away.  lou said maybe that was what we were meant to do at the last set of lights…

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not sure where exactly we had parked the car it was a case of retracing the route we remembered from the morning.  we looked up at the enormous chateau walls and lou waited while i dived into interesting shops.

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the car was found and it was lovely to return to our shady site by the river.  we ordered fish and chips and sat drinking aperos on the little terrace where a world cup footbal match was about to start.  sadly we were not in the shade so we apologised and retired to the tent and our lovely cool corner.  the fish and chips were very good when it arrived as was the bottle of local rose we had bought at the bar.

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another peaceful night and then the task of packing up the tent.  we had giggled watchng the neighbours with the same model of tent packing theirs away the morning before.  the husband insisted on folding and refolding one of the ground sheets and the wife went round and round the outside of the tent sweeping the fabric with a small brush.

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‘don’t wait for me to do that’ i told lou.  although we haven’t used the tent that often we are fairly good at remembering where everything goes back into the car and top box.   lou always has his melodramtic moment telling me the tent won’t fit into its bag but with some sitting on it and squishing it by me it always goes in as do the sleeping bags! 🙂

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a couple of cold drinks before the ‘depart’ on the terrace and we were off.

‘it was good’ said lou.   praise indeed,  and true…

 

 

 

 

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After Amsterdam

Back from holiday we were plunged into ‘real life’ again so a pause in the blog. We enjoyed Amsterdam but made some observations about life there. The first thing I noticed on the drive north was the lack of signs saying we had crossed into Belgium and later, Holland. Coming home we saw them, maybe the signs were blocked by lorries? It did make us a bit disoriented but thankful that we can drive straight through. Long may it last even if it is a security nightmare in these troubled times.

Talking of security Lou was bothered by the number of scooter and moped riders without helmets. They whizzed around the streets of Amsterdam, dodging trams, tourists and cyclists with what seemed to us reckless abandon of their own safety. Something to Google!

Friends spoke of tulips and windmills but we didn’t see fields of flowers studded with windmills. I saw and captured on my phone one windmill beside the autoroute going and another coming home. Apart from the myriad offerings in the tourist tat shops, that was it.

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As for tulips I spotted the occasional one in shop windows or in the baskets on a couple of bicycles but that was all. However. I did appreciate the large glass vases seen in a gallery and a couple of cafes filled with tall fresh flowers with a token tulip in each. I imagine the cold spring must have delayed things. Mind you, Lidl had bunches last Friday when I dashed in.

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As we wandered about the place the smell of ‘herbal tobacco’ constantly assailed you. Lou said he didn’t notice but I have a keener nose. It reminded me of meandering along the river bank at Toulouse one sunny afternoon amongst the student population! 🙂

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There were bicycles parked everywhere and I was amused by a statistic I read that said at any one time there are 30,000 bicycles at the bottom of the canals and thousands more on land. My guide book suggested hiring one to experience the city as the natives do. No way would I attempt it! The trams and cyclists speed around seeming to know instinctively when one of the others is about to bear down on them. Plus there seems to be a one way system around the canals, up one side and down the other. Add that to not quite knowing where you are……terrifying!

 

Talking of canals, which is hard to avoid when discussing the Venise of the north, while on our canal cruise we were told a house we were passing was the old sluice house that once filtered the water of the canal and that each year there is a festival when people swim in them.

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Looking into the murky water not far below us on a bitterly cold evening it seeemd the height of folly.  Even the queen has swum in the canal we were triumphantly told. I’ve googled, of course, and she did swim in the canals as part of a charity event in 2012, when the city authorities pumped cleam water in to the particular canals used.  i still don’t fancy it!

Cheese features on many menus, ‘Old Amsterdam’ seeming the favourite. Whisper it quietly but I am not a fan of Dutch cheese so didn’t succumb to temptation either in a restaurant or in one of the many shops offering huge circular slabs of the stuff. They made good photos though. 🙂

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I mentioned the young people thronging the Moco gallery. That would please its founders. I’ve discovered (good old Google) that they are a couple who deal in art through their gallery and opened Moco as a way to bring art to a younger audience. From what we experienced at the cold start of the tourist season they have succeeded.

And lastly, the waiting staff everywhere. In the cafes and restaurants and our hotel we were treated with what came over as genuine care and interest and not forgetting the guides in the various museums. Information was shared and suggestions made in a friendly way which always enhanced the experience. It helped wipe away the bad feeling after the rudeness of the boat booth man!

Lou tends to operate on a ‘been there, done that’ attitude to visiting places but I wouldn’t mind going to Amsterdam again but when the east wind isn’t blowing!

 

 

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