France 2014: Road Trip to Sarlat-la-Canéda

Last time we were in Argenton-sur-Creuse, in 2010, we took a road trip up to Le Mont St Michel in Normandy, a medieval town virtually atop a little island. Google it to have  a look. Is this a case of history repeating itself? Perhaps, but you have to expect medieval architecture scattered across France, which is part of the charm of travelling all the way to Europe.  Australia’s architecture is less than 250 years old, so even our old buildings are relatively new.

scenes around Sarlat (12) scenes around Sarlat (11)  scenes around Sarlat (9) scenes around Sarlat (8) scenes around Sarlat (7) scenes around Sarlat (6) scenes around Sarlat (5) geese symbol of Sarlat scenes around Sarlat (4) scenes around Sarlat (3) scenes around Sarlat (2) Hotel Compostelle

France 2014: Day Trip to Chateauroux

It all started off innocently enough. “Let’s drive up to Chateauroux.”

in Chateauroux

in Chateauroux

Great idea, but it became fraught with a triple whammy of complications:

1. Driving a different car for the first time (minor adjustment)

2. Driving on the wrong side of the road (major adjustment – as Australians use the left side, since we are one of England’s colonies)

3. Using our brand-new Tom Tom navigational system, which we had barely tried out in Melbourne, and suddenly we are supposed to know how to use it here. Fortunately the lady in the machine giving us directions kept her calm. At least that made one of us.

We can laugh now, but a couple of days ago it wasn’t nearly as funny. Dutchy has mastered the art of reversing. Taking wrong turns here is fairly easy, until you become accustomed to the way the signage operates. The arrows seem to point in a vaguely different direction to what you expect.

Before we even got onto the A20 to head up to Chateauroux the mood in the car became quite stony: his because he was not happy about turning the wrong way and having to reverse, and me, because of course I felt like I was unfairly getting all the blame. There and then I decided perhaps we shouldn’t be going on road trips together, when we had been having such a lovely time taking walks around Argenton, with no arguments. Trust a trip in the car to fuel a fight, or at least a stony silence.

However, we managed to get to Chateauroux safely, and even managed to find some free parking, due to the seasonal holiday of many businesses in France.

Dutchy with the car

Dutchy with the car

free parking this month

free parking this month

parking pay area

parking pay area

Coffee and cake, some retail therapy for me, with him tagging along helped alleviate the tension, and then a nice lunch at Patapain made the day improve further. I know which segment he preferred! We even broke our one-cake-per-day rule since it was our Big Day Out in Chateauroux, which is actually less than a half-hour drive from Argenton. It served as a good trial run to get to the station to pick up our Canadian friends in a couple of weeks.

Sandi at Patapain

Sandi at Patapain

tartelette aux fraises

tartelette aux fraises

Because the TomTom’s battery was running low, we had to find an auto shop to get a cigarette lighter connection, which he admits he didn’t bring to France. This was just outside Chateauroux near Brico Depot, a large hardware place similar to Bunnings, a home improvement DIY business. It took us a while to figure out they don’t seem to have actual driveways moulded into the kerb and channels. Rather, you just drive up over the shallow kerb, making it easy to miss the entrance to the place you want to go because there isn’t one. We managed to buy a cigarette lighter adapter, only to find that the cigarette socket in the car didn’t work when we plugged it in. Ah the joys of travel.

The old and the new in Chateauroux

The old and the new in Chateauroux

restaurant du theatre

restaurant du theatre

 

the boots I nearly bought

the boots I nearly bought

 

 

 

 

France 2014: Les Fleurs d’Argenton

 

Around Argenton-sur-Creuse there are lots of lovely pots of flowers, whether they are lining the bridges that span the River Creuse, or decorating the footpaths outside the houses along the narrow streets.

Being a medieval town, most houses are constructed from stone, and the house we are in is over 150 years old. Renovated by my sister and brother-in-law, it provides all the comforts of home, and having no garden means less maintenance. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate the flowers elsewhere.

 

Flowers along the Creuse

Flowers along the Creuse

pretty potted garden

pretty potted garden

a mass of flowers

a mass of flowers

France 2014: Home Cooking in Argenton

As part of our relaxation process during the three weeks prior to our planned Paris apartment expedition with two other couples, we decided to enjoy a few home-cooked meals since we have a lovely kitchen to work in. When I say work, the meals aren’t exactly labour-intensive, when you consider preparing some salad and cooking a couple of pieces of Atlantic Salmon or pork chops!

And yet how delicious these relatively simple meals proved to be. Was it the wine we enjoyed with them, the fact that we are on holidays? Either way, the flavours seemed to leap out at us with their freshness. Perhaps the long, long flight we endured with its less-than-appealing aeroplane food, added to this.

our first dinner of salmon yum

Our first dinner consisted of salmon and a simple salad, accompanied by an inexpensive vin petillant (sparkling wine).

Frequenting the local patisseries is a pleasant pastime, although we are limiting ourselves to one each per day, which we divide in half so that we can actually taste two.

The St. Honoré, similar to the Réligieuse, but larger, consisting of choux pastry filled with your choice of chocolate or coffee mousse, was delicious, as was the Milles Feuilles, literally meaning a thousand leaves, which describes the layers of light flaky pastry interwoven with magnificent thick and creamy custard,  a far cry from the Australian Vanilla Slice, sometimes irreverently referred to as a snot block.

sharing a mille feuille and a St Honore

Why would we waste time actually cooking dessert when you can buy these pieces of heaven?

France 2014: Etihad Experience and Beyond

The red-eye special has never been our favourite flight, but in this case it was even worse. WARNING: Do not read on if you don’t want to read about a negative experience, but at the end of the day these sort of things make the best anecdotes.

I have never before been on a plane where they virtually ignore you for over two hours before you get anything. In this case it was almost two and a half hours before we were given a meal. And bad luck about getting a drink; even water. EY461 was our first impression of Etihad and we were singularly, or doubly (because there are two of us) unimpressed. Even though the second leg of our flight from Abu Dhabi to Paris was better, first impressions last. I know we have been spoiled by the high quality of food on various cruises, but aeroplane food has now become quite second-rate and particularly because it arrived only lukewarm.

Arriving at Melbourne Airport, e-tickets and allocated seats in hand, we were rather disgruntled to find the plane had been changed and rather than having a cosy pair of seats near the tail end of the plane, there was a third seat. Fortunately the man who had the third seat was a slim, friendly fellow who happened to be wearing a really nice aftershave. Thank goodness for that, as when we had walked down the extremely narrow aisle an offensive waft of body odour accosted us. Remember, it could always be worse.

Our departure time of 22:40 ended up being 23:10. A few late arrivals appeared to have caused this, but I thought that was fair enough if there had been connection problems. The pilot made up some of the lost time, only to find that our own connecting flight from Abu Dhabi to Paris would be delayed half an hour.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, suddenly that  connecting flight was delayed for three hours. Oh dear, we had already booked and paid for our train journey from Paris Gare d’Austerlitz to Argenton-sur-Creuse, having allowed a generous two and a half hours to get from Charles de Gaulle Airport to the station.

flying into Abu Dhabi

in Abu Dhabi airport

Abu Dhabi airport control tower and palms

The narrow seats and aisles on the B777-300 hardly provide enough room for me, let alone a larger person. Intermittent sleep occurred. Meanwhile, we had put my laptop up in the cabin overhead lockers as I knew I wasn’t planning to use it on the flight and besides, my large handbag needed to fit under the seat, only to find that when I pulled it out to use it during our layover in Abu Dhabi, the screen was broken and hence I couldn’t use the computer. Spoke to an Etihad employee who took a note of this and told me to contact Feedback at Etihad and ground staff at CDG airport.

devastated to discover broken laptop screen

The highlight of the layover was spending AU$20 on two coffees and a muffin at Abu Dhabi, but it was worth it. I had also managed to sleep for forty minutes on a chair that looked a little like a sun lounge. Funnily enough, outside the temperature would have been at least 40 degrees, and yet here we were inside almost shivering due to the air conditioning. This paints an unrealistic picture in your mind of what it’s like in Abu Dhabi!

At CDG the Etihad booth was closed, apparently opening up three hours before the next flight, so I took a photo to prove that they were closed. Spoke to at least three other ladies who had various complaints against Etihad.

at CDG there is no ground staff

We caught the train into Paris on the RER Line B. Met Patrick, a very nice French guy with a good command of the English language. We exchanged details and Dutchy and I might catch up with him and his family in Perpignan during the next week.

We duly got off at the Metro station St. Michel-Notre Dame, only to find Correspondance to Line C was undergoing maintenance work, necessitating catching the Castor bus to Gare d’Austerlitz, and losing even more of our precious time.

I explained in French to the line of people at the Billetaire that I was Australian and our plane was late and the train would be leaving in ten minutes. They kindly let me get in, but in retrospect why did the ticket guy sell us tickets down at the far end of the train? I like to believe that he incorrectly thought he was giving us tix closer rather than further away, but qui sais? Who knows? As it was, this cost us 92 euros, which we hope to retrieve from Etihad, since it was all their fault. Having purchased the tickets, we managed to race to the platform with barely two minutes to spare; and it was the last train for the night. In our mad rush, I managed to fall over on the platform, skinning my elbow. One of the attendants helped us get to Carriage 16, where we collapsed into our seats with a sigh of relief. The 16 euros spent on the train on beer, wine and a shared sandwich constituted dinner.  Time passed quickly typing all my initial notes for this post on our fantastic little Samsung tablet and before we knew it the 2 1/4 hour trip was over and we were disembarking at Argenton-sur-Creuse station, with only a 25 minute walk left, with our luggage to reach our destination, which took, including the layover and transport, a total of 35 hours’ travelling. No wonder we were exhausted, not to mention jet-lagged. I told you not to mention jet-lagged!

typing up notes on our tablet on the train to Argenton

Dutchy is pleased to be on the train to Argenton

Hey, I’ve heard worse stories than this, and these adventures are all part of the travel experience. We got here safely after all, ready to relax.