Currently traveling

A Tour de France

In 2019 a group of riders from the Australian Ghostriders Cycling Group are travelling in France to complete a cycling adventure in Provence, followed by a four week ride along the Loire. You are invited to share the trip with us.
Currently traveling
  • Day56

    Final Day in Paris

    October 15 in France ⋅ ⛅ 13 °C

    Yesterday we decided to begin our day with a rather unusual activity - getting new glasses from a French optician. It turned out to be quite an experience, but we both agreed that the end result really was worth it. The glasses were great and the fact that we got them in Paris will make them a great souvenir of this trip.

    Today was our final full day, so we had to decide just how we were going to use our final hours in this incredible city. We had so many options to choose from you might be quite surprised at the decision we made. After a lot of thought, I decided that I would go back to the opticians to get a third pair of glasses. I needed a pair specifically for using while I was sitting at the computer and I couldn't think of a better place to get them.

    So off we went back to the "10 Euros in 10 Minutes" shop. They seemed a little surprised to see us back again, but were happy when we told them the reason. After a new eye test and some selecting the frames, I was soon the proud owner of another pair of computer glasses.

    Since the area around Las Halles was rather unfamiliar to us, we also took the opportunity to explore the large open spaces and fascinating buildings that were there. We finally returned via the Louvre and across the Seine to our apartment. Since my GPS has been inoperative for the past couple of weeks, I could not measure just how far we walked in the past coiuple of days, but I would estimate that it would be at least 15 to 20 km each day. It was enough to make us thoroughly exhausted.

    One thing we have noticed over our our recent visits to Paris is how quickly the city is progressing towards being more and more bike friendly. Many of the major roads have now been narrowed considerably to create safe separated lanes for cyclists, scooter riders and joggers. The shared electric scooters are used by people of all ages and are obviously a very popular alternative for convenient commuting around the city. Paris is still nowhere near other famous bike cities, such as Amsterdam, but it is a long way ahead of Melbourne in this regard.

    After a brief rest we ventured out again. This time it was for a much more mundane reason - to do our laundry. Although the first laundromat we found was out of action due to some sort of malfunction, we did find another one that we had used on previous trips. An hour later we had bags of clean, dry clothes. If nothing else, it might help to make our luggage just a little bit lighter, since clean clothes must weigh a bit less than dirty ones.

    Tomorrow morning we will be cramming our bags for the final time, before catching a taxi to Charles de Gaulle airport. By Friday morning we will back back home in Melbourne. This trip has been one of the very best I can remember, but we are now both more than ready to be back with our family and friends. I hope you have enoyed sharing some of the adventure with us.

    And a final comment - we will surely miss those fresh baguettes every day.
    Read more

  • Explore, what other travelers do in:
  • Day55

    Lunettes Pour Nous

    October 14 in France ⋅ ☁️ 17 °C

    We had a big decision to make. With only two full days in Paris, we needed to choose our activities wisely. One thing we were both in agreement on was that we had no intention of running to and fro all day doing the normal "tourist things". There would be no Hop On Hop Off buses, no Louvre, no Musee D'Orsee, not even an Eiffel Tower in our plans. But what could we do ?

    When we had been in Nantes we happened to notice an interesting shop with the slogan "10 Euros in 10 Minutes". Although you might be excused in thinking it was some sort of fast food place, it was in fact an optician. Their unique claim was that they could make you a new pair of glasses in only 10 minutes, with or without a prescription. Not only that, but the cost could be as low as 10 Euros.

    I had to admit that it had us both intrigued enough to do some further research. We learned that each store was highly automated and could produce the lenses in only a few minutes. Our problem in Nantes was that we had arrived on a Sunday and the store (like just about everything) was closed. But we were going to be in Paris on a Monday. Voila !

    The more we thought about it, the more the idea started to take root in our minds. It certainly would be an experience to have an eye test in France and go home with new spectacles. And so that's what we decided to do.

    Our research had shown that there was a store on the right bank, about 1 km from our apartment. We arrived right on opening time at 10 am and then had fun explaining to the young staff that we were from Australia and were looking for new glasses. We were soon both ushered into a high tech testing room where we had new prescriptions produced (no appointment necessary).

    The next step was to choose our frames. It was here that we discovered that not all the glasses can be produced for 10 Euro. Most of the frames were from 20 Euro to 50 Euro and the price of the lenses depends on the complexity of the prescription. Presumably it was only people who required no correction at all who would be able to get the 10 Euro special.

    Even so, the prices were quite reasonable. Thirty minutes later I was the proud owner of two new pairs of spectacles and Maggie the owner of one new pair. Even with scratch resistance and transition lenses, the total cost was only equivalent to $300 AUD. And did they work ? Yes they really did. It will also be another fond memory of our brief time in Paris.

    The rest of the day we spent walking (and walking and walking) until we both felt completely spent. The weather still continues to be warm and sunny and we even took the chance to have a lovely snooze on a couple of the chairs in the Tuileries Gardens.

    We returned exhausted to our apartment for dinner, before having another nightime walk around the I'le de La Citie. The tourist boats were cruising the Seine and the distant light from the top of the Eiffel Tower was flashing across the low clouds. It had been just about an ideal day in this wonderful city.
    Read more

  • Day54

    And Finally .....Paris

    October 13 in France ⋅ ☁️ 17 °C

    It was rather strange "checking out" of a hotel when there was no one at the desk. In fact there seemed to be no one anywhere. We had been the only people at breakfast in the downstairs cafe and we noticed that the cafe closed as soon as we left.

    With no sign of a soul at the desk, we had no alternative than to just leave the key on the desk, manhandle our luggage down the stairs and out the door and then just let the door slam behind us.

    The sun was already shining brightly and the morning felt like summer again. Since we were still a little early for our train to Paris, we decided to sit in the sunshine doing crossword puzzles instead. The main Gare de Tours was only a 5 minute walk from the Hotel Linxa, so we had plenty of time on our hands. We calculated that we had already stayed in 29 different rooms so far on this trip. We were now about to proceed to the 30th and final room, before we caught the plane back to Melbourne.

    Soon we were seated on the train to Paris, the scenery was flashing past in a blur and we had even been able to find place for our luggage. This had been a long and complicated trip and it is always a relief when every single arrangement along the way goes exactly according to the plan.

    It was only when the train pulled into Montparnasse Station that things took a slightly weird turn. For some reason the train had been diverted away from the main station and we found ourselves climbing out in a completely unfamiliar part of the station complex. In spite of following the "Sortie" signs, we could not find any way to get out of the building (and neither could a group of French people who had the same problem). We even had a couple trips in an elevator, looking for an exit without success.

    By the time we eventually escaped via a construction zone, we were right around the back of the building and had a long walk back to the main entrance. Of course the inevitable happened - Maggie needed a toilet. I waited with all the luggage while she went back inside the station in search of a toilet. I stood outside and fumed.

    About 30 minutes we were finally in a taxi and heading to the apartment we had booked near the Seine. After some difficulty the driver found the place and we rang the owner to let her know we had arrived. The location of the apartment is exceptional - right near the Seine and opposite the I'sle de La Citie. The apartment itself was wonderful. Not only did it have heaps of room, it was brand new and fully equipped. It was easily the best accommodation we have ever enjoyed in Paris. We had arrived at the 30th room and everything had gone as planned.

    After settling in, we went out for a walk. Since we were so close to Notre Dame Cathedral, we went to look at the damage caused by the huge fire earlier this year. Although the entire region is now fenced off from the public, you can clearly see the stabilisation works that have already taken place. The beautiful flying buttresses have now been reinforced with huge wooden beams. Where the stained glass windows used to be are now sheets of clear plastic to keep out the weather. A large wooden roof construction is also taking shape, but we do not know if that is a temporary or permanent feature. It certainly was heartbreaking to see the damage at close quarters. We can only hope that those in authority will act wisely when choosing the best course of action to take in the history of this ancient building.

    We now have two days in Paris before beginning the flight home.
    Read more

  • Day53

    A Long Trying Tour to Tours

    October 12 in France ⋅ ⛅ 17 °C

    We knew it was always going to be a long day. With around 400 km of driving on unfamiliar roads to get back from Sarlat to Tours, I had not exactly been looking forward to the challenge, especially considering the propensity the Peugeot's GPS seems to have to keep directing us into the narrowest roads in France.

    Although we checked and rechecked the route on Google maps, the first 75 km was still rather tortuous. On the positive side of the ledger, the difficult roads rewarded us every few minutes with absolutely delightful scenery. If at all possible, the autumn colours seem to be changing by the day, and the colour palette that is displayed is amazing. Although we have often travelled in Europe at this time of the year, we have never stayed around long enough to witness the full cycle as the trees shed all their leaves for the coming winter. Maybe one year .......

    It was not until we finally hit the first toll road that we were really able to make up for some lost time. I wound the cruise control up to a little over 130 kph and was finally able to see the km start to fly by. We also started to see the first road signs pointing the way to Paris and counting down the km. In a way we felt like we were already heading home.

    The next long section of road was even better - not only did it have a 130 kph speed limit, but it was free. The GPS told me that there would be no turns for over 200 km. It was a little boring, but we needed to get to Tours before 5 pm to return the rental car.

    All was going very well until we saw a flashing light by the side of the freeway. It warned that there was a traffic accident ahead. On went the brakes (hoping that the cars behinds were equally alert). We were soon stationary in an endless line of vehicles. I was quite impressed that the GPS display on the dashboard had already turned red, indicating that there was a big delay on this road. I am not sure how it worked, but it was interesting to see technology in action.

    For the next 30 minutes we sat there. I started to have visions of us still being there at nightfall, but eventually the line of cars started to move and we were on our way again.

    It was then that another problem started to raise its ugly head - we needed fuel. Although we were still on that 200 km section of freeway, they do have "Aires" every 20 km or so. These are large rest/fuel/restaurant stops that are frequented by the huge tour buses. Every few minutes one of these awful buses pulls in to disgorge their bored passengers to make a beeline for the toilets and to buy some horrible plastic sandwiches. What a disgusting way to have a European holiday, but that is the way that millions of people get to experience France.

    It is always a confusing process to purchase petrol. We have had this problem before, when for some unknown reason, many petrol stations do not seem to recognise our VISA cards. We thought we had hit the jackpot when we discovered that this one was happy with our card. It was a pity that we could not follow the rest of the instructions. I should have felt the inner feeling of foreboding doom as I happily filled the car, but I was just relieved to hear the fuel sloshing into the tank.

    After filling the tank, I looked again at the instructions. The bowser already had our credit card details and I wondered how I was meant to tell it that the transaction was finished. I stood staring at the little images, until Maggie yelled at me from the car to "Get going". Maybe she was already needing another toilet stop. I climbed back in the car and continued the drive. It turned out to be an expensive mistake.

    The next couple of hours went by without incident (apart from several more toilet stops for Maggie), until we were on the outskirts of Tours. Since we needed to return the car with a tankful of petrol, we needed one more petrol station. We found one without much trouble, however this one would not accept our card. In such circumstances you have to resort to "Plan B".

    We noticed a friendly looking Frenchman at the next pump and indicated that we needed help. In a mixture of fractured French and sign language, we explained that our card would not work. He agreed to use his card and we immediately paid him back in cash. He seemed happy and so were we. It was another example of the fact that most human beings will treat you well if you are friendly and smile a lot.

    All that remained was to safely navigate the final few km into the centre of Tours and return the car. The rental depot was right at the train station and we happened to arrive at the same time as a major train. The streets near the station were jammed with cars trying to pick people up from the station. On top of this we had no real idea of where to return our car. The stress levels started to soar again.

    Fortunately I managed to find a blind alley and decided to leave the car there while Maggie walked to the rental car office. I figured that I had got it safely this far, they could figure out what to do next. A few minutes later a friendly young fellow came out, checkout the car to make sure we had not written it off and then bade us "Au Revoir". It was another chapter of our long adventure which had been successfully completed.

    All that remained was to catch a train to the Gare de Tours station and then find our hotel. When we emerged from the huge central station we immediately felt home. On our left was the huge Grand Hotel which had been our home about three week's earlier. The sky was clear and the temperature was in the mid 20s - it was delightful.

    A few minutes later we were searching for the nearby Hotel Linxa. We were a little underwhelmed to find that it consisted only of a door with a tiny sign. The door was firmly locked. We pushed the tiny button and eventually a middle aged guy came out to meet us.

    The listing on Booking.com proudly announced "We speak your language", however this must only be true if your language is French. The guy spoke not a SINGLE word of of English. In a country where we have been told over and over that all the children learn English in school, they must all be shocking students since most of them forget everything they learn as soon as they walk out the school door.

    Even more daunting that his lack of English was the fact that hotel had no lift, only a very narrow and very steep staircase leading to our room on the second floor. We were both tired and this was almost enough to break us. We dragged, pulled, heaved and lifted our luggage and then both collapsed onto the bed. This type of holiday is hard work.

    A little while later, when my breath had returned, I decided to check the on line banking to see that the day's transaction had been processed correctly. To my horror I found that the petrol station had charged me over $200 for the petrol I had used. Since the car could not hold a fraction of that quantity of fuel, I have to assume that whoever used the pump next was able to fill up on my account. It was another example of the perils of petrol purchasing in a foreign country.

    Although it was a rather unpleasant discovery, it was not the end of the world. We had survived the long drive, we had enjoyed a wonderful holiday and we were back in Tours. Tomorrow we will be in Paris. In the overall scheme of things, losing a $100 or so is a rather trivial matter. Perhaps we will regard it as a learning experience, in the meantime I can gain many brownie points by continually reminding Maggie that it was her fault, and that she will have to greatly reduce her spending for the rest of the trip.
    Read more

  • Day52

    An Indian Summer in Sarlat

    October 11 in France ⋅ ☀️ 23 °C

    I have to admit that we both believed that the balmy days of summer had passed by for another year. Over the past couple of weeks we could feel the increasing chill in the air and the skies were almost invariably overcast. It was certainly a far cry from those initial couple of hot and cloudless weeks we had spent in Provence at the start of this trip.

    You can imagine our surprise when we awoke to find that the clouds had all disappeared and the sun had regained some of its former sting. We had no ambitious plans for the day, since this will be our last "day of leisure" before the pace of things increases as the day of our return to Australia draws close.

    After a somewhat slow breakfast, we wandered back to the centre of the old town. Now that we have learned our way about we have discovered that there was a much quicker route than the one we had first followed. The place really was quickly beginning to feel quite familiar. We eve found ourselves referring to our rented apartment as "home". That was how we felt.

    By the middle of the day the temperature had risen to around 25C and the sun actually felt hot on our skin. I guess we were experiencing something of an "Indian summer" in France. At one stage while we were walking in a narrow alleyway, we heard an earsplitting noise overhead. It really took us a moment to figure out what was happening. It was a very low altitude flyover by some mighty fast fighter jets. I have no idea what type of plane they were, but the sound was quite terrifying. This is a spectacle that we never experience in Australia, I suppose because the few planes we possess are all situated somewhere in the north of the country. In France, the locals do not bat an eye when this happens.

    In the afternoon we decided to follow a quiet walking path up the hill to gain a panoramic view of the town. It went quite well until we realised that we had ended up in someone's private yard. Fortunately they did not send the dogs after us and we were able to safely retrace our steps.

    Tonight will be our final night in Salart as tomorrow we begin the long journey back home. By tomorrow evening we will be back in familiar territory in Tours as we return the rental car. On the following day we will continue our way to Paris by train.
    Read more

  • Day51

    Rocamadour - the Cliffside Pilgrim Site

    October 10 in France ⋅ ☁️ 18 °C

    "I think we should go to Rocamadour", she said. "It's very close to here", she added. Although I had never heard of the place, she convinced me that it really was one of the most amazing places in the whole of the Dordogne Region. In such circumstances it is futile to resist.

    "When do you want to leave ?", I meekly asked. Soon we were sitting in the car, entering the details into the GPS system. "This time we want the FAST option", I demanded. "No more of those tiny roads in the mountains".

    With the GPS loaded, we wound our way out of Sarlat and headed towards Rocamadour. According to the GPS, it was about 50 km and 90 minutes away. How did that calculate ? Soon I had the answer and it was not the one I had been hoping for.

    Once again we had been directed onto the narrowest, most circuitous, roughest and certainly the most dangerous tracks in the entire district. Where were the wide highways that I wanted ? Certainly not here.

    Within the first 10 km Maggie had changed her mind about seeing Rocamadour. "I want to go back", she screamed, with her fingernails imbedded deep in my right thigh. "It's too late now, there's no space to turn around". I also added "Remember that this was your idea, not mine". I also pointed out that it was about 50 km to the elusive hilltop town, hardly the "very close" that she had claimed.

    There was no denying that the scenery was beautiful. With the trees now fully decked out in the full range of autumn shadings, they were simply breathtaking. At times we drove above the Dordogne River, but the roads were always too narrow to stop to take a picture.

    A couple of hours of very nervous driving later, we finally arrived at the ancient town. The records of this place date back to the 12th century and it is surrounded in myths that have attracted pious pilgrims walking the Way of St James for hundreds of years. Whenever you see the way that the ancient stonemasons were able to build massive churches and abbeys precariously clinging to almost vertical cliffsides, you have to appreciate their skill and hard work. And all without the assistance of power tools and computers.

    Rocamadour was once one of the four most important pilrimmage sites in Christendom and it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Perhaps the reason for the religious importance was the discovery of an apparently incorruptable body in this location, way back in 1166. Early pilgrims used to climb to the summit on their knees but, since my knee is not yet fully recovered after my accident in Sancere, I decided against that option.

    In one place a large number of plaques testify to a range of miracles that have been attributed to divine intervention. Many of these miracles relate to ships at sea. That is why there are numerous models of boats in the church sanctuary.

    Of course Maggie took one look over her head and stated that she would NOT be climbing to the top. I reminded her that, if I could drive here, she could make the effort to overcome her fear of heights. She promised to think about it.

    After a lovely lunch on a terrace with a panoramic view and a little retail shopping therapy, she felt a little better. All women do. She reluctantly agreed to come to the top and, once she was there, she was thrilled at the unbelievable views we were rewarded with. Perhaps it really was worth all that we had gone through to get there after all.

    The drive back to Sarlat did not seem anywhere near as frightening, probably because we took a completely different route that time and avoided the tiny tracks.

    We finished the day with an evening walk around the centre of Sarlat and then returned for dinner in our apartment. It had been quite a day.
    Read more

  • Day50

    Sarlat la Caneda

    October 9 in France ⋅ ⛅ 15 °C

    It is a powerful feeling to be walking alleyways and staircases that have been trodden for hundreds of years. Since time immemorial (or maybe even longer) Sarlat la Caneda has been a centre of worship and trade. Much of the old city that you see today was constructed between the 13th and 16th centuries. It has also been a part of the French Camino pilgrim trail to Santiago, so it has been well visited by pilgrims on the way of St James.

    When we chose to spend four nights in this city we did not appreciate just how magical the place would be. Our first challenge on arrival was to find a place to park our rental car. There was no way that I wanted to accidentally get stuck with it in one of those tiny winding alleyways. That was a terror that I never wanted to experience again.

    To our relief we did find a public car park only a couple of hours walk from our apartment. Getting our luggage from the car park, through the city and up the 40 steps to the apartment was quite a physical challenge. Whoever said that holidays were meant to be easy ? I think that, by the time we get back to Melbourne, we will need another holiday, just to recover from this one.

    On our first full day in the city we decided to leave the car exactly where we had parked it and do our exploring on foot. It is always surprising that a place that looked so confusing on arrival, quickly starts to feel familiar. It did not take long for us to note a few significant landmarks and then to begin to build a mental map of our new surroundings.

    After a day of walking exploration, we retreated back to the apartment with a pizza and tartiflette purchased from the shop across the road. It was a lovely end to a glorious day in Sarlat.

    Tomorrow we plan to explore a little further afield, that is if our car is still there when we wake up in the morning.
    Read more

  • Day49

    Down to the Dordogne

    October 8 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.
    Read more

  • Day48

    On the Road Again

    October 7 in France ⋅ ☁️ 16 °C

    Driving in a foreign country can always be a rather stressful activity. Not only do you have the challenge of driving a completely unfamilar vehicle, but you also have the steering wheel on the wrong side of the car and a wrong side of the road to drive on. When you combine this with the challenge of navigating out of a big city, it is not a job for the faint hearted.

    At least we knew that the rental car agency was not far from our hotel in Nantes. Or at least it wouldn't have been if we had taken the correct route. We had awoken to the unwelcome sound of steady rain and this was still falling as we headed out the hotel door in search of the Alamo car rental company. With a name like that, I half expected Davy Crocket to be waiting for us with the car keys.

    Although we had Google's navigator to assist us, for some reason the navigation seemed to desert us at the critical time, only to reawaken in time to remind us that we had taken a much longer route than necessary. We even managed to include a couple of flights of stairs and a bridge crossing, just for good measure.

    We were probably not a pleasant sight when we arrived at the rental car office. The rain had saturated our bags and made us look like drowned rats. At least they were expecting us and they actually seemed to think that we would be pleased when they informed us that they had replaced our selected car with another of about twice the size. There was a good reason why we had chosen the compact Peugeot. When you are driving through medieval villages with narrow cobblestoned steets, the last thing you need is a giant SUV. But that is exactly what we were given.

    I had never even heard of a Peugeot 3008, let alone know how to drive one. All I could see was that it was huge. Genuinely huge. I immediately had awful premonitions of trying to park it in tiny parking lots and trying to squeeze it down streets that were designed for small horses. On a more positive note, it was supplied complete with a fancy GPS navigational system, which was just as well. Although we had taken our faithful TomTom GPS with us, when we went to turn it on we discovered that the last person we had loaned it to had somehow switched it to Spanish and we couldn't figure out how to return it to English.

    I sat in the driver's seat in the driveway of the rental car depot for what seemed like an eternity, before I finally mustered the courage to enter the motoring maelstrom of Nantes' peak hour traffic. The first few km were the worst, but gradually I discovered what each control did. The car even had some sort of undercar cameras which showed what the car was currently driving over. That was a first.

    Before long we were hurtling down the tollway at 135 kph. The rain was still pouring down, but I had found the windscreen wiper switch, so it wasn't too much of a problem. I still haven't discovered how to turn on the adaptive cruise control.

    Our destination for today was the moderate sized city of Rochefort. We safely arrived there around 3 pm and found that the city looked like it had been having a hard time of things. The shops were invariably run down, as were just about all the other buildings in the town. It was a far cry from the magnificent buildings we had seen in St Malo.

    The most amazing attraction we discovered in the city was a full size reconstruction of a sailing ship. We thought it was just some sort of museum piece, but it was actually intended as a playground for children. In case the thought of having your child swinging through the rigging about 10 m above the deck was enough to scare you, the sign did clearly warn that "it was only for children 6 years or older". I guess they do care about safety after all.

    We had booked an apartment for the night and were relieved when we were able to find a parking spot right outside the front door. A visit to the supermarket and boulangerie gave us all the ingredients we needed for a delicious dinner. We were even able to take advantage of the washing machine to catch up on our laundry.

    Tomorrow we continue our drive another 340 km to the Dordogne Region.
    Read more

  • Day47

    Back to the Loire

    October 6 in France ⋅ ⛅ 12 °C

    I must admit that we all felt quite emotional. It is not easy to say goodbye to friends you have shared so many experiences with over the past few weeks. It was also something of an acknowledgement that our time in France was inevitably coming to an end.

    Kay and Annie were catching an early train from St Malo to Paris airport. In a few hours they would both be on their way back to Australia. A couple of hours later we were farewelling Gael and Gerry as they headed off to spend a few days in Paris. That meant we were down to just the two of us. And where will will be going ? We will actually be heading right back to where we were about a week ago.

    It was time to pam (ie cram) the suitcases again for another train trip. With bulging zippers we said goodbye to the girl at the desk of the Beaufort Hotel. It had been our fourth stay at this hotel and we told her that we both hoped it would not be the last.

    As soon as we started rolling our way towards the train station, we started to miss the sound of the ocean. That continuous white noise of the waves and tides really does work its way into your subconscious. It is certainly a magical way to drift off to sleep.

    Our plan was to travel back to Nantes - the place where we had seen the giant automated elephant and dined like royalty at La Cigalle. That meant catching the train from St Malo to Rennes and then getting a second train to Nantes. Although the French make amazing trains that can cross the nation silently at 300 kph, their station design leaves a lot to be desired.

    It is apalling that so many of their stations still have no lifts or escalators. There is often no alternative to manhandling suitcases up and down long flights of stairs. I cannot understand how anyone with any sort of physical disability would manage. It is bad enough for people of "senior years", like us.

    Even if you successfully manage to get your luggage through the station and on to the correct train, there is almost no storage room on the trains for suitcases. We have often had to jam the case into the same seats we were sitting on and then have an extremely uncomfortable journey as a result.

    At least the train to Rennes was only partially full, enabling us to grab a couple of spare seats for our luggage. We then sat in fear that additional people would board the train and demand those two seats. Fortunately that did not happen and we made it to Rennes without incident.

    With only a few minutes to catch the next train, we performed the "suitcase two step" between the platforms, arriving exhausted at the Nantes train. In the process I think I also managed to do more damage to my back and knee. This really is the not so glamorous part of travel.

    Although the Nantes train was more densely populated, we somehow managed to find a tiny piece of space for our luggage and sat down to enjoy the wonderful scenery outside. An hour later we were getting off the train at Nantes. Ity almost felt like being back home again as the place was familiar. It was also significantly warmer than it had been in St Malo, so we were soon discarding our coats.

    After checking into our hotel we wandered back into the streets of the centreville. One shop caught our attention. It was an optical shop with a slogan "10 Euros in 10 Minutes". And yes, it is true. They can make you a pair of glasses for 10 Euro in 10 minutes. Everything is highly automated and done in front of your eyes. You don't even need an appointment OR a prescription as they can do a high tech eye test on the spot. It seemed an incredible concept and we would have gone inside and given it a try if it had not been a Sunday and if they had not been closed. I could do with a spare pair of 10 Euro glasses.

    Tomorrow we will be colelcting our hire car from the depot and then heading further south to the Dordogne region.
    Read more