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  • Day49

    Down to the Dordogne

    October 8, 2019 in France ⋅ ☁️ 17 °C

    Clockmakers might try to tell us that all days are the same length. Of course that is demonstrably incorrect. Today was a day that was obviously much longer than the preceeding days.

    We always knew that it was going to be a long drive from Rochefort to Salart la Caneda. Of course we had the advantage of a very sophisticated GPS navigation system in our oversized Peugeot 3008 to assist us every cm of the way. When we entered the destination details into the unit, it thought for some time and then presented us with a range of options to choose from.

    There was a "FAST" option that promised we could get there in about 3 hours. That would have been utilising the network of high speed toll roads. It would also have been extremely boring, but the real reason I rejected that option is that it would have cost almost 40 Euro (about $70 AUD) in toll fees.

    There were also a range of other options, including "SHORT", "ECOLOGICAL" (whatever that means) and "COMPROMISE". After due consideration I decided that it is always good to be able to reach a compromise, so selected that option. We were finally on our way.

    The skies opened up as we left Rochefort and almost immediately we began following a very complex set of navigational directions. It quickly became evident that selecting the compromise option put us onto the most complicated set of back roads and cattle tracks that would be possible. Not to mention the inevitable roundabouts at about every 200 metre interval. It was going to be a slow and tedious drive, but at least the scenery was glorious.

    We could certainly see why the Dordogne is such a popular region for travellers and also for expatriate English couples to settle. The rolling green hills, tiny villages and vineyards tempted us to stop every few minutes to take pictures. We would have taken more pictures, but I was starting to worry that, at the pace we were travelling, it was going to take us about 3 days just to reach the destination.

    The route did take us through the town of Pons. It proved to be something of a ghost town with most of the crumbling buildings looking like they had been abandoned decades ago. The only shops that were still open were the Tabac (tobacco shop and bar) and the boulangerie (every French person needs fresh baguettes twice a day). There was one other type of business that appeared to be still operating - the ladies hairdresser. In France these places are strangely named "Institute of Beauty", leading me to wonder whether the hairdresser in Pons could rightfully be called "The Pons Institute". Sometimes my mind works in weird ways.

    We were glad to be back on the move again, albeit at a glacial pace. The tiny roads twisted and turned manically, and every time we met an oncoming vehicle, I had to almost leave the road and drive along the side ditch. On each such occasion, Maggie would scream loudly, indicating her complete lack of confidence in my driving skill.

    An even more stressful event occured when we found ourselves driving through the tiny town of Aubeterre. We entered the place without undue difficulty, but soon discovered that the roads in the middle of the town were fashioned like a lobster pot. You could drive into them, but there was no way out. I circled around the tiny central square, giving great entertainment to the coffee drinking locals who obviously welcomed such an amusing diversion.

    The only obvious way out of the trap was through what looked like someone' s front door. Although the GPS told me to drive through the doorway, every natural instinct told me that it would be a one way end to the day's driving. I circled the bemused spectators a couple more times, weighing up my options.

    I eventually stopped in the middle of the road and sent Maggie to ask for directions. She came back a few minutes later with the advice that I had been dreading. The only way out was through the doorway and out via the living room. Apparently they assured her that the path does "eventually widen a bit".

    What ensued next was a terrifying series of low speed turns, interspersed with forward movements of about 5 cm at a time. Maggie stood in front of the car and tried to issue coherent instructions. I sat behind the wheel, almost soiling my pants. Why did Alamo think they were doing us a favour by giving us such a HUGE car, instead of the compact one we had booked ? I think I now know the reason - no one else would ever want such a liabilty.

    Somehow we eventually managed to get through the orifice, and I hope the damage will not be spotted when the car is returned. The road did eventually widen a little, but our progress was so slow that, a couple of hours later, we decided to abandon the COMPROMISE option and select the fastest route possible. It was a wise decision.

    Soon we were hurtling along at 140 kph and finally feeling like we were getting somewhere. We did get somewhere - the next pay station. I fed a handful of Euro into the machine, but by that time I did not care. I just wanted to get there.

    We eventually arrived at Sarlat at about 4.30 pm. It had been a very long day. I would estimate that at least 14 hours had passed since we left Rochefort at 9.30 am that morning.

    Our final challenge was to find a spot to park our (huge) car and then find the apartment we had booked for the next four nights. The owner had not returned the messages or calls we had made during the day, but fortunately he had emailed directions as to how to open the door.

    To our relief we did find the address and gained access to the building. Not so welcome was the two flights of steep, narrow stairs we had to carry (ie drag) our luggage up to the apartment on the second floor. Fortunately the unit itself was magic - spacious, clean and almost new. The views from the windows were wonderful. As for me, I was just relieved that we had arrived safely and that I did not have to drive anywhere the next day.

    Another most welcome development that had taken place during the day was that the wet weather had passed by and been replaced by beautiful blue skies and warm sunshine. The further south we travelled, the warmer it became. I almost thought that I would have to retrieve the pair of shorts that I had packed away somewhere deep in my lugagge.
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    Dennis Dawson

    The not so thriving main steet of Pons.

    10/9/19Reply