A Travellerspoint blog

France

Southern France

From Toulouse to Nice (before heading into Italy...)

sunny 28 °C

Can I admit that I'm actually far too busy to regularly write a blog post? Only reason I'm writing this now is that I've just arrived in Pisa, needed something on my car seeing to, and as it's rather sweltering outside, I figured I'd stay in my air-conditioned Airbnb until heading out for dinner later. So I had a few spare minutes at least...

Anyway, my last post ended with my visit to Andorra. Still have some great memories of that place, and I thoroughly enjoyed my journey back into France. I took the old route, avoiding the tunnel, and had some great views passing over the top of the mountains. Going down the other side was quite amusing, particularly once I hit the border and the line of cars looking to enter Andorra, mostly French cars and people, looking for the cheap booze and fags on offer.

I was staying with a local in Toulouse but not through Airbnb, organising it through Booking.com. I hadn't been aware that was on offer and it is something I'll keep an eye out for later. Anyway, Michel was a lovely gentleman, spoke great English, and we enjoyed some good conversations, when I was about.

As I was only spend three nights / two days in Toulouse, I had plenty of time to wander and looking around. Being France, most museums were closed on Monday but I could still wander and take in the sights, the cathedral, basilica and other churches, while also just walking the streets. One thing I learned quickly is that Toulouse shared one thing in common with Bordeaux - the great pubs on offer! One pub I'd visited in Bordeaux was the Frog & Rosbif, and they had another pub in Toulouse. These sort of pubs are also good places to find fellow English speakers, and I eventually found myself chatting with an English RAF serviceman by the name of James. Top lad, and it was amusing to hear he was based only a few miles from where I used to and still live in the UK.

My second day was much like the first, though this time I visited a few museums, learning that Toulouse was once a Roman city by the name of Tolosa. Few Roman remains are left around the city, but the museum I visited was interesting, with quite a bit of information in English. Found museums can be very hit and miss regarding that, depending on the city you are in. I eventually ended up on the other side of the river, away from the centre, but to be honest, there wasn't much on offer. The one place I did want to visit was closed on Monday and Tuesday. Just my luck sometimes!

I can definitely recommend Toulouse as a place to visit. Plenty of places speak at least a little English, and as always, they appreciate if you at least try a little French.

On the way to Avignon, my second destination of three, I stopped at two places on the one. The first was rather unplanned until Michel suggested I really do stop there, a city by the name of Carcassone. I'm glad I did, as although I only spent maybe 90 minutes there, it was certainly an interesting old city, though absolutely teeming with tourists (yes, yes, I know I'm one of them!)

My second stop was planned, and had been on my itinerary from the moment I planned the whole thing. Pont du Gard, an ancient Roman aqueduct still in great condition. Knowing they were onto a good thing, the French have built an entire park around it, with all sort of restaurants, exhibitions and a museum. Plus you can also take a towel and your swimmers and go for a drip in the river, if you're so inclined. Anyway, the place was as spectacular as I imagined, while the museum was interesting, giving plenty of information about the construction of the aqueduct, but also the history of the region itself, mentioning one city that I would be visiting later on.

Avignon is a lovely French city, one perhaps overlooked by many tourists, though that's not to say I didn't run into a lot of them! I was staying in another Airbnb, not far from the centre. The first day was, of course, wandering Avignon. First thing was the whole reason I was there. The Papal Palace. And, I'll admit to be... slightly disappointed. I'd read plenty of reviews, and while it wasn't awful, nearly all the walls were bare, though there were plenty of artefacts to see. The walls that were still painted, and a couple were magnificent, we weren't allowed to take photos of those. But the rest of the palace was brought to life by THE PAD! Given some headphones and it give the history of the palace and the popes who resided in it.

The second major attraction is the bridge. There's bugger all left of it standing now, but again, in addition to the bridge was a museum which gave plenty of history and the one amusing feature was the rumour about the bridge. Was it ever completely finished? And, if it was, what was it like? According to the museum, it was built, but collapsed centuries ago, and was probably a good idea poorly implemented.

Avignon is full of museums to see, and just wandering the old city can see yourself finding little cafes to sit and enjoy a beer or coffee, or perhaps a small shop or museum. I followed one of the trails on the map which took me through the medieval heart, the streets and paths where cars simply cannot go. Stopped for the occasional beer before hitting the pubs for happy hour. France do love their happy hours!

Next day was a trip to Nimes, another French town with strong Roman origins. The main attraction is, of course, the Arena. Around two thousand years old, it's fair to say perhaps half of it is the original as it had required plenty of work over time. But it's still spectacular, again an audioguide provided, giving history of the arena itself, but they also focused on the gladiatorial contests that once took part. I guess they found a lot of information about them so added that in. The arena is still open to this very day as it will host plenty of concerts during the summer.

Nimes is a gorgeous old city, the old town full of narrow streets, again inhibiting cars from going down most of them. The ruins of a couple of Roman temples are definite attractions, and if you don't mind walking up a steep hill, you can also climb the remains of a tower overlooking the entire city. Admittedly, I'm not a real fan of heights. If I feel completely 'safe', I'm okay, but the climb up the tower itself was narrow, and... well, let's just I didn't look down until I was at the very top! The climb was worth it, though. The view was outstanding.

Day three was another day trip, this time to Arles, another old town with Roman origins. Again, this had an arena, in roughly the same condition as Nimes. But Arles is perhaps more famous as the home of Vincent van Gogh. He only lived there for around a year, but the city takes pride in the fact one of the world's most famous artists once lived there. If you look at his Wikipedia page, his work while in Arles was prolific, but don't expect any museums in the city to have any of his work. Anything to do with van Gogh in the city is simply to entice tourists who don't know any better!

There is a fantastic archaeological museum worth checking out, just a little outside the centre (a 15 minute walk at most). The best exhibit there is of an old Roman ship, which laid buried under sediment in the nearby river for two millennia. Dug up and painstakingly restored, it now takes pride of place in a new part of the museum. Unfortunately, this new part is the only one that really provides English translations of all the exhibits. The other areas, while incredibly interesting, had next to no English translations. Slightly disappointing, but at least entry was free that day!

To be honest, I could have spent another couple of days in Avignon, as there is Orange and Aix-en-Provence nearby that are also interesting to visit. Perhaps another time...

Anyway, my third and final destination in southern France was Nice. Now while I had the idea of travelling the coast road instead of the autoroute, I knew, at this time of year and the day I was travelling, the traffic would be horrendous. So I took the probably quicker way. My Airbnb in Nice was another apartment, quite smaller than my one in Avignon, but I didn't plan on staying there too much during the day, though it was still quite the walk from the centre.

As always, day one would be spent in Nice, but let's be honest, you don't go to Nice to spend all day walking around. You go to stroll the promenade, perhaps wander the old town, definitely hit a beach and just... relax. So the morning and early afternoon was spent doing the 'touristy' things, particularly going up the nearby ruined castle / fort to take in the views. Spectacular! Other than that, it was a wander around the old town, but to be honest, it was far too hot to be walking kilometres around town, so I made sure to stop every so often for... something cold... perhaps with some alcohol in it...

Made a friend that night in another pub, this one with an Irish theme. Yes, yes, shoot me for being typical but all the bar staff spoke English. In fact, most were Irish or American, and one or two couldn't even speak French! Anyway, made a friend that night by the name of Grant, and he was a drinking buddy the next three nights.

Day two was a trip to Monaco. It just had to be done. After grabbing a map, not that I needed one for what I wanted to do first, I walked the track, taking my time, and an enormous number of photos were taken during my walk. Took perhaps a couple of hours, before heading up towards the palace, which provided even better views of the whole of Monaco. The final thing for me to visit was a museum full of cars owned by Prince Rainier (and probably owned by Prince Albert) now. Though called a museum, it's actually a private collection. Quite a few F1 cars, sports cars and normal cars... though I'm not sure you can call a few Rolls-Royce's 'normal' cars. It was a great collection, though, an obvious sign of the family wealth.

But Monaco wasn't as expensive as feared, at least when it came to food and drink. Never paid for more than €5 for a beer, and food was cheap as well. Just stay away from the harbour-front, look around for deals, and it could definitely be cheaper than Monaco. Wouldn't want to know how much a night in a hotel cost though. An Airbnb would probably be far too expensive too! (Doubt anyone would even offer, to be honest.)

My last day in southern France was one of relaxation. I stayed in Nice and did precisely nothing. Woke up, slowly walked into town, had a rather ordinary lunch (suckered in by one of those cheap three-course meals. Should have read TripAdvisor first!) before enjoying one or two cheap beers, before meeting my drinking buddy for a final night of revelry. In addition to him, we were joined by all sorts. Remember chatting with a Canadian fellow who'd just moved to Nice, and also an old American guy who was living life to the full now that he was retired and widowed. It was a long night, probably not the best idea considering I was leaving the next day, but it was well worth it.

The next day, I did need a couple of hours to feel right before I left. It was time for country number eight of the trip so far.

ITALY!

Posted by benjamin2981 08:26 Archived in France Tagged beaches road_trip walking beach palace palaces cathedral roman hot nice nightlife avignon arena monaco toulouse arles heat arenas nimes roman_history Comments (0)

Exploring a little of the Loire and Bordeaux

Tours, Saumur, Oradour-sur-Glane and Bordeaux. Lots of walking, driving and history.

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Have quite a bit to catch up on. Been too busy either wandering around, enjoying a drink, or just... I don't know, doing other things than sitting in front of a bloody laptop screen. I'm on tour here, people!

Between Orleans and Tours lies the Chateau de Chambord. I really have to make sure I upload a photo eventually, because although it was on my list of things to definitely see and do on this trip, looking at photos on a screen is one thing, seeing it all in real life is another. The building itself was beautiful, but what was found inside was just the icing on the cake. Of course, one or two rooms were going through refurbishment, including what was the King's private chambers, so I didn't get to see how exquisite that may have been. I'm glad I visited before high-season, as though it was busy in April, I have no doubt it was quiet compared to the heaving masses that would visit during the summer.

Would I recommend it? Definitely. Not too expensive and wandering the chateau, and then the gardens, are definitely worth a couple of hours, and the cost of entry. Can't remember what it was, but nothing too obscene.

My drive from the chateau to Tours took me past one of the best sights so far. Purposely missing the autoroute, I travelled the D-roads and was taken along the Loire and eventually through the town of Blois. I could have stopped to take a photo, and although I did stop my car, I simply... looked, printing it into the memory bank. Absolutely magnificent. I honestly don't have the description to describe it. A clear blue sky. Sun shining. River flowing. And an ancient city quietly resting on the other side. That's a memory that I'll take back once all this is over.

Tours was probably the first city I visited where I hadn't done all that much research. Sure, I'd had a look at Wikivoyage and other online sites, but I travelled with the intention of simply wandering around. My little private Airbnb apartment was barely a ten minute walk from one of the main squares, which was absolutely heaving with students drinking when I wandered in that afternoon.

I had three nights in Tours, but only one full day there, as I intended to travel somewhere else the next day. What can I say about Tours? Not as pretty as Orléans but probably a better preserved old quarter, as I enjoyed spending time wandering the narrow streets. The cathedral was grand, as always, though I had to delay my usual wanderings as I turned up just when Sunday mass was about to start! There is also a large basilica on the other side of town, which while a newer building, did not lack for grandeur.

As for nights out, I think Tours had a lot of Irish bars. Maybe I'm exaggerating, but I'm sure I hadn't seen as many in one city up until then. Probably to do with the large student population. Hopes of meeting plenty of English speakers didn't exactly come to fruition, as I did read up that a couple of pubs would be full of English or American students at least, but I didn't have too much luck. That will be a minor problem at times regarding solo travelling, given that I am generally avoiding hostels (mostly.)

My second day saw me hop on a train and head west for around 45 minutes to a smaller town called Saumur. I'll be honest, the only reason I was visiting was to see the Museé des Blindes, which is basically a tank museum. Silly old me decided to just follow the signs to the museum, which led me climbing up quite the hill, though it did lead me past a magnificent chateau that overlooks Saumur. It must have taken me well over an hour to walk to the museum, and after consulting Google maps, I realised I'd probably gone the very, very long way.

As for the museum, I'm still trying to decide if this museum, or the Tank Museum in the UK, is better. The number of German tanks the museum in Saumur has was fantastic. All four variants of Panzer, a Panther, Tiger and even a King Tiger tank! There were plenty of French tanks, as well, plus a couple of rooms dedicated to Cold War weaponry, Soviet and American tanks, before the last couple of rooms had modern era tanks, including British, American and even an Israeli tank. Thankfully each tank also had a description in English, so in addition to a million pictures, I did quite a bit of reading. For anyone interested in military history and weaponry, go!

Leaving Tours, it was time to head south to Bordeaux. But as it was a long drive, I chose to break it up into two parts, intending to stop in a little town along the way.

That little town is called Oradour-sur-Glane.

I'm not going to go into great detail about my visit, and very few photos were taken. If you want to know, just look up the town name and the events of June 10th, 1944. The old town, now ruins, has been left a reminder of atrocities, not just in France, but across Europe during WWII. The one thing I remember is the near silence. People kept quiet. There was no laughter and the new road was far enough away you didn't hear cars. The only sound was of birds chirping. I'd been intending to visit since seeing it mentioned during the documentary series 'The World at War', and I'm glad I did. It probably doesn't have the same impact as Auschwitz, which I have visited previously, but there is something more... personal, I think, about Oradour-sur-Glane. The scale isn't the same at all but... I probably can't explain what I mean, to be honest.

I can say, hand on heart, that Orléans has a challenge after my visit to Bordeaux. What an absolutely gorgeous city! I think the only let down was the fact the Garonne didn't flow blue but it was a rather ugly brown colour. Other than that, can't have too many complaints. My Airbnb hosts were fantastic. Marie knew a little English, Pat not much at all, but they could understand me at least, and we managed to make it work. They provided breakfast each morning too, which was great, where I had some good conversations with a fellow traveller. She knew me as 'the Australian', and I honestly think we never swapped names! She was of French extraction, but had been living in Germany for 25 years, so her English had a heavy German accent, which I found amusing. Anyway, we shared stories of travelling and what we would be doing next.

As for Bordeaux, in addition to all the usual attractions, there was so many English themed pubs! And it was helpful that I heard more English spoken since leaving Bayeux, though I'm always willing to practice my crap French anyway. On my second night, I did meet up with a couple of young French students, shared a couple of drinks and a chat while watching some football, and had some chats with guys behind the bar, particularly about why so many pubs had British names, such as 'The Brixton', Le Frog and Rosbif', and I must suggest visiting this pub as they brew their own stuff, and also 'The Cock and Bull'. I found Bordeaux surprisingly cheap as well, though that may have been helped by the long 'Happy Hour' most pubs had each night

And so ends France: Part 1, as I will be visiting two more times during this epic trip.

Posted by benjamin2981 05:48 Archived in France Tagged history memorial museum cathedral chateau tour drinking bordeaux tanks saumur chateau_chambord military_history oradour Comments (0)

Day 11 / 12 - Orléans, or How I'm now a Jeanne D'Arc devotee

Drove - 124 miles from Le Mans to Orléans via Chartres / 19881 steps (11th) / 16784 steps (12th)

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I’ll admit, Le Mans had been a surprise. First by how pretty it was, but I’d also made some friends, a couple who I’ve already been keeping in touch with. I guess that’s the whole point to solo travel, to meet new people, but considering my French is bloody awful (I can read it better than speak or understand), I’ve been lucky in that I’ve met people who speak decent English.

But after yet only another couple of days, it was time to hit the highway. This time I was heading the closest to Paris I probably will during this trip, hitting the autoroute towards Chartres. Admittedly, I was only going to the city for one thing, to see it’s cathedral. I’m sure those of you still reading this are thinking ‘But Benjamin, you are not religious. Why all the cathedrals?’ Because they’re architecturally stunning and you don’t have to be a devotee to God to understand the symbolism.

I managed to find a spot to park in the only free car park in Chartres then walked up a monster of a hill. After picking up a map from the tourist office, I headed straight for the cathedral. I will now have to compare that one to Le Mans, and there are ever more cathedrals the longer I travel. The one in Chartres is magnificent though, and I can only recommend it. But there is more to Chartres than just the cathedral, and I did spend a couple of hours wandering the streets, grabbed a spot of lunch (a baguette filled with everything, I didn’t even realise!) and completed what I guess was the ‘tourist trail’, taking a few photo’s but generally just appreciating how peaceful it was. I reckon Parisians head to Chartres to get away from the hectic lifestyle of the capital!

Leaving Chartres, I avoided the autoroute that would take me to Orléans, instead sticking to the N or D roads, hoping I’d be provided with some sights on the way. Well, while I did pass through one or two pretty villages, the one word to describe most if it is… flat. Just lots and lots of farmland. And there were a lot, and I mean a lot, of wind turbines. Kind of kills the view…

Then there were the trucks I got stuck behind, and driving a right-hand drive car in Europe can make one slightly apprehensive when trying to pass, as I’m on the wrong side to see past, though I’ve managed well so far. I just don’t take big risks, making sure there is definitely nothing on the horizon before passing.

Thankfully the sat-nav didn’t try to take me around the houses going into Orléans, pretty much taking me through the town and straight to my place. Caterine had messaged that she would be heading off to Paris, but she was still home when I arrived, so at least we got to meet each other. Her English was fantastic, so communicating was a breeze, and she was friendly and very informative about what I could see in the city. We probably spoke for around fifteen minutes before she left for Paris.

That left me a house to myself. I will admit something. The driving does make me tired, as I feel I’m having to concentrate just that little bit more, particularly regarding speed limits, and French drivers love to tailgate (and not just me, I notice it when cars are going in the opposite direction.) There’s more to it than just that, but most days of driving results in me not doing too much that first night. So I headed to the local supermarket, grabbed some food and a couple of beers, and spent the night catching up on things I may have missed. Or, even better, watching things that are geoblocked on Youtube back in the UK!

The next two days were about one simple thing, or one person. Jeanne D’Arc, better known as Joan of Arc to the English speaking world. I don’t think I’ll ever visit a city as devoted to one icon as Orléans is to Jeanne D’Arc.

Streets, shops, café’s, you name it, there is something named after her. And there are numerous statues around the city as well. In addition, there is a festival every May 8th that celebrates her liberation of the city in 1429. Her house (rebuilt after being destroyed in WWII) is probably a site of pilgrimage for some. I found it a little disappointing, as there was only a movie played that showed the story of her life, along with a timeline and one or two other small things. I thought they would have had a recreation of what it might have looked like at the time.

The main cathedral has a shrine devoted to her, considering she is a saint. The stained glass windows along both sides tell her life story in ten stages. There was another church I visited, the Notre Dame des Miracles, which doesn’t look like a church from the outside, but inside, there was more devotion to her. In fact, I think it was slightly more moving than the cathedral.

I think it’s safe to say that Orléans will never forget Jeanne D’Arc!

Other than anything relating to her, I visited my first art museum of the trip. I don’t know art, but I did spend a couple of hours looking at some very pretty paintings. And I don’t know about you, but is contemporary just… I don’t know, weird in comparison? Anyway, there were a couple of rooms that left me staggered, the number of paintings, how large and full of life they were. I remember one in particular, not its name, but I do remember the eyes. It was like they were watching you in return.

Even the streets were beautiful. Walking down the Rue Jeanne D’Arc or the Rue Royale had me stopping to take pictures. I’m sure a lot of it was rebuilt after the war, but I’m fairly sure they’ve done it to match what it must have looked like before.

I even walked through a garden, though only because I found it amusing it was named after Louis Pasteur. Again, out of season as I missed the opportunity to ride a little train that goes around the park. (Joking, as it’s for kids… or am I?)

Finally, one cannot talk of travelling and not mention food and drinking. The happening place is Rue de Bourgogne (Burgundy. I didn’t even attempt to pronounce it the French way and ruin it) though, for scenery, a stop down by the Loire is a must on a sunny afternoon.

Anyway, Rue de Bourgogne is full of pubs, clubs and restaurants, it’s where I spent both evenings. Most pubs and bars had a 3 hour long ‘happy hour’, while I enjoyed a real ‘French’ lunch my first day. Can’t remember the name of the restaurant (and having trouble finding it on Google) but I had a 3 course meal (entreé, plats du jour and dessert) with a pint of beer, for only €22. Didn’t have to eat again that day! And the lady who served me, who suffered through my poor French, while she spoke a little English, was a delight. A real laugh, no doubt at my expense probably!

And so ends my three night/ two day stay in Orléans. Long enough to soak in the culture, see the sights, and enjoy myself. Thing is, if Schengen wasn’t the thorn it can be and is, I would have spent longer and driven around visiting nearby chateau’s, but alas, I have ninety days to cram in as much as I can. Next stop is Tours, where I’ve organised one day to tour the city, and Monday, I have booked a train ticket to visit Saumur, a town around 40 minutes train ride away.

Looking forward to it!

Posted by benjamin2981 08:20 Archived in France Tagged road_trip walking history driving orleans museum cathedral nightlife joan_of_arc airbnb chartres jeanne_darc Comments (0)

Day Eight & Nine, Le Mans - April 8th / 9th 2019

Fougères to Le Mans (7th) – 88 miles / 22169 steps (8th) / 15455 steps (9th)

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I’m not really sure where to begin!

Well, there was little point explaining much for day seven. After enjoying another lively discussion with Remy and Christine at breakfast, it was time to leave Fougères. I had my first experience of trying to find a petrol station on a Sunday, as I didn’t pass one leaving Fougères, so figured I could fill up in Laval before getting on the autoroute towards Le Mans. Although I didn’t come close to even the light coming on, it was something I will have to be aware. Most of my journeys are not longer than a couple of hundred miles to begin with, but I will fill up more often than not before the longer stretches. (Luckily my first really long journey isn’t until after Morocco in May.)

Anyway, finding my Airbnb host in Le Mans was simple enough, my sat-nav not sending me around the houses for once. And I really have lucked in with my hosts so far! Simone is a delight, with a wicked sense of humour. Within a couple of hours of arriving, she asks ‘Would you like a biere?’ Now, bear this in mind, she is a 70 year old woman, who just happens to love hosting people!

So we head off down the road to a local bar, where I’m introduced to some locals, and one guy, Antoine, spoke good English and had just finished his own travels in the USA. Must have spent a good couple of hours (if not longer, to be honest) before we headed back, with another friend in tow, Laura, who is also staying with Simone. I’m then treated to some home-cooked Vietnamese food before heading to bed. Not a bad introduction!

Monday was all about exploring Le Mans itself, leaving the motor racing aspect to the Tuesday. However, one thing I’ve learned rather quickly is that many stores and museums are closed on a Monday in France. The big stores remain open, and the more popular museums likely are too, but I was told by the lady in the tourist office that most in Le Mans would be shut. Still, my first port of call was the cathedral, better known as the Cathédrale St-Julien. The only word to describe it is… Wow! It’s not just the fact it’s bloody enormous, but the inside was a treasure trove of sights too. Seen one or two cathedrals during my travels and have to say the one in Le Mans is certainly one of the better examples.

Le Mans also had a rather well preserved old town, called Cité Plantagenêt. Though you won’t get lost along the narrow streets, the numerous old buildings certainly make you think you’ve gone back in time… until a car almost runs you over anyway. The old town is full of small shops, workshops, bars, cafes and, of course, most of them were closed. Go figure.

Heading down to the River Sarthe, one can also take in the remnants of what was once a Roman wall that surrounded the city long ago. What I did realise is that the old town and cathedral were built on a hill overlooking the river and everywhere else, as climbing back up the stairs towards the old town was a pain in the arse!

As it was a rather pleasant day, in fact probably the best day weather wise since leaving the UK, I hopped on a tram and headed to the outskirts of the city, to the Abbaye Royale de l’Epau. Knew nothing about it except it was an abbey, so paid the €5 entry, received an audioguide as well, and wandered the grounds. It was incredibly peaceful. There were not many visitors and the sounds of the city were left behind. I found myself just sitting down for a few minutes, enjoying the silence. Under-rated, if you ask me.

After the silence, I headed back into the city and sat at one of the many bars lining the Place de la Republique. It was rather warm in the afternoon and the top of my head is now paying for it, as I didn’t have a hat! I enjoyed a petit biere in a couple of the bars before wandering into a rather popular Irish pub called Mulligan’s.

And that’s why I woke up with a stonking headache this morning. I was sat by myself, just watching the TV with a pint, when I was approached by a girl as she heard me speaking English with the barman. I was invited to her table with a few others, and she ended up doing the interpreting, as most of the others could only speak a little anglais, and my francais is… well, probably not as good as their anglais. We must have sunk a couple of beers together in there before heading across the road towards another bar. I think I finally left at around 1 or 2 in the morning, couldn’t find a taxi, so I ended up walking for an hour or so back to my Airbnb.

For my second day, my wonderful host, Simone, had organised what was almost a personal guide to take me to the La Sarthe circuit. Katia was a motor-racing fanatic. Definitely put me to shame. She’d spent a few years living in the USA working in the Indycar series, actually living in Indianapolis itself, so her accent was definitely amusing to someone used to hearing accents of angleterre.

First stop was the La Sarthe museum, where I spent a good ninety minutes or so wandering around, taking too many photos of either very old cars, or very old racing cars. They had replicas of the De Dion Bouton, considered one of the very first automobiles ever made, and the very first Benz ‘motorwagen’. Being Le Mans, most of the cars were either originals or replicas of cars that had one raced the famous old track. We’re talking Bugatti’s, Bentley’s, Jaguar’s, Ferrari’s, Ford GT40s, up to the all-conquering Porsche and Audi teams. I think I took a photo of nearly every car. While I’m sure there are many collections that could rival, the only two I’ve seen that come close would be Donington Museum, which I believe has now closed, and the Mercedes-Benz museum in Stuttgart.

Katia then took me on a drive of the track, at least the public road bits, first passing Tertre Rouge, driving the entire length of the Hunaudieres straight, though we had to take roundabouts instead of chicanes, then the section from Mulsanne to Indianapolis and Arnage, before the track becomes ‘private’ and we headed off to lunch near the local karting track.

I’ll be honest, after all that excitement, and a three course lunch for only €12, I was knackered from the night before, and Katia had work to do, so she dropped me off back at Simone’s and I actually had a lie down! I did head back into town for a couple of beers, watched a bit of football (soccer), then headed back again, just in time to meet Simone, Laura and Katia for dinner, as the three knew each other as Katia and Laura had once been Airbnb guests of Simone’s. It was a good laugh, I couldn’t understand a lot of it, but Katia helped translate the important bits.

I’m actually writing this in Orleans, as I left Le Mans earlier this morning, having stopped in Chartres on the way (it was actually quite a detour, but worth it) which I might talk about in my next post.

PS – Maybe I’ve lucked in so far, but if you’re considering it, use Airbnb. My hosts have been sensational so far. Rose-Marie and I had trouble communicating, as my French is admittedly poor, but she was still lovely and very helpful. Christine and Remy were an utter delight, Simone was just awesome, while my current host, Catarine, was very friendly, though she’s had to disappear for a couple of days. Fingers crossed all the rest of my hosts are just as good!

PSS – I think daily updates are a bit much, so will probably just update at the end of each city visit or when I find enough words to describe what I’ve seen and done.

Posted by benjamin2981 11:54 Archived in France Tagged walking museum cathedral drinking old_town le_mans airbnb circuit_de_la_sarthe motor_racing Comments (0)

Day Six, Fougères - April 6th, 2019

16611 steps

semi-overcast

If all my Airbnb hosts are like Rose-Marie, and now Christine and Remy, then I’ve made a damned good choice using the service. The room I have is even better than the pictures, and the husband and wife duo have made me feel nothing but welcome in their home. This morning, Remy and I must have chatted away for at least an hour and longer, discussing a couple of my favourite topics, history and politics, while he happily gave his opinion on Fougères itself, and also describing other parts of France. The pair have done plenty of travelling over the years and have given me some solid advice.

Heading out into another overcast, but at least slightly warmer day, my first port of call was the tourism office, as although I know Fougères has a grand chateau (pictures incoming soon hopefully), I can be honest and admit I didn’t know much else about the town. The lady at the counter was very helpful, pointing out places on the map I might be interested in.

The first thing to notice, even before heading to the office, was that Saturday is market day in Fougères, most of the streets leading into the square blocked off. It had a very French feeling to it, go figure, and if you can think of it, they probably sold it. No end of fruit, seafood, meat, breads, clothing was sold. If I wasn’t feeling full from breakfast, and not wanting to carry around something half the day, I’d have certainly stopped to buy something!

I have a feeling I might say this a bit during April, but if I was here later in the spring, and definitely during the summer, then Fougères would look spectacular. I’m not sure if all French cities are the same, I’ll find out as I go along, but the two gardens I walked through on the tourist route would no doubt be a kaleidoscope of colours once the flowers are in full bloom. The public garden near the Église Saint-Léonard already had plenty of colour, in addition to providing breath-taking views of the Chateau de Fougères in the distance.

From the garden I headed down the hill towards the old medieval town, full of winding, narrow streets, barely wide enough to fit a car. There are still examples of medieval homes still standing and lived in, and despite being bombed during WWII (as described by Remy), most of the town, whether old or newer, managed to survive intact.

At the bottom of the hill, I met the walls of the chateau, having a quick look around the Église Saint-Sulpice, before I followed the road back up the hill, through the last remaining city gate. As I’m here during low season, the chateau was closing for lunch when I arrived. That gave me an excuse to finish the rest of the tourist trail, which included another public garden, before grabbing some lunch of my own (pancake wrapped sausage. It was actually rather nice) and treated myself to a small beer, sitting in one of the squares, listening into conversations I couldn’t understand as an old man played an accordion. The sun always threatened but never really came out.

The chateau re-opened at two p.m, and after paying the standard entrance free, I was given a free audio-guide and must have spent a solid two hours walking around the chateau, learning about the history of the castle but also of Brittany itself. As always, there was some myth involved in addition to the actual history. But it’s the reason why I’m doing nine-months around Europe. I’ll admit, apart from one or two places around the globe, Europe has always been my main interest in regards to history and is why I’m doing this trip now.

Christine gave me a good tip to head out for dinner, a small restaurant by the name of Le P’tit Bouchon, so I’ve headed back to my room to relax, as I’ve done a few hours of solid walking, and the hill back up to town from the chateau was a leg killer!

(It must be noted that the reviews for this restaurant can be considered mixed, generally regarding the owner. Even Christine mentioned it depended on the mood of the owner as to how I would be treated. Could be interesting! The good news is that both husband and wife, who operate it alone, do speak pretty good English, but I’ll try my little French, just to be polite.)

If it wasn’t for Schengen rules being an Australian, I would love to have explored this part of France for longer, but as I’m restricted to 90 days, I’ve had to plan this part of my trip carefully. So tomorrow, it’s back on the road, heading generally east towards Le Mans.

POSTSCRIPT

Holy moly! The meal was sensational. Entrée, main course and dessert, plus a drink (glass of Leffe), all for €21.50. The main course, macaronade, was probably one of the best things I’ve eaten in a long time. The sort of beef that just melts in your mouth. The dessert, a rather simple chocolate mousse, had me wanting a larger bowl of it. I’d read one or two harsh reviews of the guy who ran the front, and though perhaps a little abrupt, as he’s running the show by himself, with his wife in the kitchen, he was nothing but helpful and his English was, again, much better than my French. The only suggestion I would make to anyone reading this, who perhaps might head to Fougères, and wants a decent meal, make sure you reserve a table. I was lucky to get one without reserving, getting there early and dining alone as I was. He turned away plenty of people, as it’s only a small place, a dozen tables at most.

Not a bad way to end my rather short but sweet stay in Fougères.

Posted by benjamin2981 05:03 Archived in France Tagged walking history chateau airbnb Comments (0)

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