There is a myth that abounds, that the French are a proud and rather ‘snooty’ race, disdaining to speak English and despising anyone who cannot speak their language. In fact I am sure that I contributed to this myth in days past, having received less-than-cordial treatment from some French people when visiting France some 30 years ago, on business. But I have to explode the myth: since we have been in this country (all of 5 days!) we have received courteous and friendly treatment – from strangers in the street to shopkeepers to fellow-campers. And wherever you meet someone, they will greet you with a friendly ‘bon jour’. The averted eyes and the silent passage of two strangers as in NZ is unthinkable in this country. To not greet another person with a ‘bon jour’ on meeting, and a parting ‘au‘voir’ if you have had a brief conversation with them, would be decidedly boorish. I like it.
I said we have only been in France for 5 days but we have covered a fair few miles (approx. 800km) and have seen a fair bit of the countryside – and we are captivated by it. We left England, having been almost driven out by persistent heavy rain, gale-force winds and cold temperatures over the last 2 weeks. (typical English summer some would say!) We awoke in France to clear blue skies and warmer temperatures. The wind persisted for a couple of days, but as we pressed on southwards, the wind dropped, the sky got bluer and the thermometer continued to rise. What a happy combination. The flat golden wheat-fields of the north have given way to rolling wooded hillsides, which seem to be heralding the onset of the Pyrenees.
Now we are resting up in an historic village named Uzerche: another idyllic spot found, yet again, almost by accident. Our ‘chefs de mission’ pick our destinations based on facilities available and possible interest in the locality. These two factors are given various weighting depending on where we are in the course of our journey. This place was chosen because it had the facilities and it was on our proposed route and it was about the right distance from the previous spot. We had no idea it would prove to be such a gem.
We arrived here at the end of a marathon 500km hike. We do not normally choose to do such a distance in one day, but our planners reasoned that the roads would be good, the weather was fine and the further we headed south the better the weather would be. They were right on all counts and here we are, basking under an impossibly-blue sky, thankful for the shade the trees above us are providing and enjoying the mid- to high-20’s temperature.
I must admit that we were not so happy when we first drove into the village: we had followed the gps directions and it had led us into the village, under a very picturesque arched bridge and up a steep hill. THEN we swung right, into an impossibly narrow street, still going upwards.
The street led us through a narrow stone archway
– the ancient gateway to the old fortified town, But we were not thinking about that at the time. Squeezing through the gateway, we followed the big van ever upwards, the streets getting even narrower and more twisty. Finally we crested the top – surrounded by chateaux, ancient houses and an old church. Down past a group of elderly dames enjoying the sun
No sign of a van park up here! We certainly could not go back, so on we went, plunging down the other side of this steep hill, road narrow and twisty until with relief we found ourselves coming out onto a normal width road once more. It only took a moment to realise that we had just completed ‘le grand tor’ coming out exactly where we had started! The big van swung abruptly into an opportune carpark and we scrambled in after them. Time to re-group and consult book and GPS. All seemed in order, except that there was obviously no van park in the middle of an ancient town on top of a steep hill! It was then that we realised that we were parked in the carpark reserved for customers of a pharmacy, adjacent to the park. With a courage born of desperation, we entered the pharmacy armed with the camp-site book, and haltingly asked if the person could help us to find this place. Ah! here was another of our friendly French people. Yes she knew the place and proceeded to give us rapid directions in perfectly good French, as to how to find the place. After struggling for some time – we to understand her, and she to understand the tortured French, she smiled and took pity on us, and told us how to find the place in very nice English! And the park was actually just around the corner.
The van park is actually the forecourt of an old, long-defunct, railway station. But it has all the facilities we need, and is absolutely free.
The rail tracks that led into and out of the station are now delightful, shaded walking/biking tracks.
At the edge of the park the bank drops steeply down to the river, and on the other side of the river, on an equally steep hillside sits the township that we drove through with such skill and courage a little earlier on.
We have since been on a walking exploration of the town and have loved it. The cobbled streets, the narrow staircases,
the old buildings,
the intriguing door-knocker,
the old church,
and the marvelous views
Ahhhh.. la Belle France!Tags: Food, Observations, Transport, Travel, Weather, Tag Index