The cutest places yet

Towers at the Chateaux

Towers at the Chateaux

Following some pretty extensive internet research  last night we decided on visiting three historic sites today.

The day started after nine, because it’s not dark until after 10pm there’s not much sense in starting too early, with another breakfast outside under a sun umbrella. Yoghurt, bread with ham and cheese, a croissant, orange juice and a cafe au lait, life is a birch some days. I’m getting a bit of a tan and have not had a jersey on since we touched down in Paris over a week ago.

The GPS phone apps are proving invaluable because my natural sense of direction never works in the Northern hemisphere where the sun travels through the south.

Our first stop was the hilltop bastide town of Montflanquin which was a bit of a climb from where we parked. My knees work pretty well on the flat or going uphill but are not so good going down so in each place we visited today the return trip to the car was a bit of a hobble. Montflanquin was established in the 15th century and the buildings are either a whiteish stone or partly timbered and so cute, definitely touristy with bulk cafes, craft shops and lovely flowers in pots, hanging baskets and gardens.

Our next visit was to Chateaux de Jonathon, a formidable, fortified medieval castle. Like most places there were several cafes, so it being lunchtime we sat under another umbrella and were serenaded by a hefty, elderly, eccentricly dressed gently who played guitar and sang a range of French and American songs. The lunch wasn’t bad either, Mark had the goats chese salad and I had a burger.

The castle was everything you imagine a medieval fortress should be with natural cave dungeons below, giant towers, some restored rooms and much of it ruined. Certainly one of the best I have visited. I sketched one of the towers and will try to add it to this post.

Our last visit was to Pujols, a smaller clone of Montflanquin but again with some lovely sites and great views.

Chateau de Bonaguil

Chateau de Bonaguil

Heading North

This morning with it looking pretty cloudy and rain threatening we decided to abandon the Pyrenees and head north to the Lot valley.

After another cafe breakfast sitting outside of coffee and pastry I wandered off to the touristy area of Pau near the Chateaux to try to find a souvenir of the town with the distinctive name. In contrast to the buzzy place it had been the last couple of days there was almost nothing open, but I did find one shop with what I was looking for.

We  had 160km to cover so we took the toll autoroute for the first half of the trip. Then cut off through a large area of forest stopping at the first village for a coffee and to pick up filled rolls for lunch. Villeneuve-sur-Lot is a pretty small city in the Lot river.

It’s raining a bit and Mark has just gone out for some snacks. A largish camembert for 1.63 Euro and a nice bottle of rose for 2.60 Euro.

More later!

After an hour or two relaxing and some wine and cheese the rain stopped and we decided on a walk heading through this lovely town with stone entry gates to many streets, half timbered buildings butting onto equally old stone ones. The view across the river was quite spectacular with more half timbered houses perched high on the bank. We went over an old stone bridge , along the other side of the river then back across another with a great view of the first bridge. And I managed this walk quiet comfortably without my walking pole.
We were only marginally hungry after our snack but it seemed a shame to let any potentially good restaurant go un-tried so we I had a ham, melon,lettuce and tomato salad while Mark was more adventurous with a salad of smoked duck, duck liver and pate on lettuce with an interesting cake like bread for the pate.

Bed time now!

Pau and about

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We started really slowly today after a good night’s sleep. After 9am we headed across the road to sit outside in the sun in our shorts and tee shirts. A couple of coffees with croissants and pain au chocolade then back to our hotel. Mark felt like a good walk but I’m still a bit dotterery, and with only one key, Mark decided we should find an app which would let us trace each other. So, about an hour later, after considerable frustrating geeking, I headed off with my painting gear for the art gallery. They have some good work including a famous painting by Degas so it was worth a look. Heading back to the Chateaux at the other end of the town (of course) I ran into Mark, it was after 1pm so we found a nice cafe and sat outside in the shade and had a salad. Splitting up again I spent an hour or so on a painting of the Chateaux.
When I got back Mark was pretty keen on a drive so we headed off into the Pyrenees crossing the Col de Marie Blanques (about 1100 metres and pretty windy and steep) before coming back into Pau by a different route.
7.30pm now so we’re off to find some dinner.

A quieter day

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Last night Mark and I decided to book a couple of nights in Pau on the edge of the Pyrenees so we had a much shorter drive today with a couple of stops in very attractive small towns. Our first stop was in Grenade-sur-l’Adour where Mark managed to listen (on line) to the Crusaders beat the Sharks while I sat in a small market and did another sketch. I bought two excellent nectarines for about 60 cents NZ and had a wander over a bridge where there were some people with Canadian style canoes on the river.
We decided to get lost for a while and turned off all navigation aids and put our map aside. The countryside here is rolling, green and the farming is dominated by giant maize crops with occasional paddocks of sunflowers. It gets a bit samey after a while but the villages are charming with big churches and arcades around the squares. We stopped again at Geaune (pic above) before joining the toll autoroute to Pau.
The GPS took us round the block a few times then told us we were at our hotel when we certainly were not, although we could not blame it when we found that the place was on a road closed to traffic. We found a 15 minute park and then the hotel but reception was closed until 3pm so we re-parked in an underground area and adjourned for lunch. The temperature was about 30 degrees so a beer in a shady restaurant went down well.
Back at the hotel we arranged parking and got complicated instructions on how to get the bollards lowered so we could get the car into the pedestrian area. We also have a remote control for the gate at the hotel.
Think we’ll go out for a walk shortly.

Later

The walk eventuated and took me to the Chateaux de Pau where Henry IV of England and also King of Aquataine was born. Apparently they show the turtle shell which was supposedly used as his cradle in the castle but as you can only visit the castle with a tour and the tours are only in French I may not get to see it. From a terrace which runs along one side of the city you can, they say, see the high Pyrenees, but today is too hazy for any view.

Driving Around

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We started today pretty slowly with Mark planning and booking his transfer to Almeria when he heads south and I go back to Paris then home. He’s meeting a friend and they’re sailing in the Mediterranean for a couple of weeks.
Packing up, checking out, then getting lost (ish) came next. We had to ask in a bar where the Europcar depot was. I had a good chat with the barman who seemed quite impressed that we came from Nouvelle Zealande. “So far” he said. He then came outside and pointed us back the way we had come, the depot was above the exit we had come out of the station through. Duh!
So we’re driving a Citroen C3 with 800km on the clock. I elected myself first driver because I have the most experience driving in Europe and we headed for Cap Ferret because Mark liked the name. It’s on the Atlantic coast and a surfing and holiday resort, a bit like Waikuku but with more beaches, higher dunes and more restaurants.
Mark climbed the lighthouse (pic above) but 258 steps felt a bit serious for Quilliam at present. It was after 2pm by now but we found a seat under a yellow umbrella at a restaurant and settled down for a, full menu, three course lunch. Mark had the oyster entree, Quilliam had the grilled camembert with Cranberries. We both had the fish with peppers and dessert was a strawberry tiramisu for Mark and raspberry with yoghurt for Quilliam. Excellent!
Next came a swim in the Atlantic for Mark but I just got to the top of the sand dune and watched because of the steep, long descent to the beach in soft sand.
We’re booking hotels one night ahead on the internet, it’s easy, cheap, and we know we’ve got somewhere to stay organised. Tonight we are in Mont-de-Marsan which was probably a bit too far to drive but we declared it another good day.

On the fast train

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    As predicted all I could manage last night was a pasta meal near our hotel then off to bed.
    After several coffees with a good breakfast this morning off we headed to catch the train to Bordeaux. I’m extremely impressed with the public transport system here in France. We only needed one metro train to get to Gare du Montpasse but after a lighting at the Montpasse Bienvienue station it was a ten minute trip underground to the main line station. I reckon we stood on a travelator over 500 metres long for one section of the walk.
    The TGV train system is very efficient, you check your train number and about 15 minutes before departure your platform number appears on the board. You then go to your allotted carriage number and take your seats, the train departs and later the inspector verifies your ticket.
    Travel at up to 320 km/h is very smooth and quiet, with much more to see than on an aircraft. France is a big place and we saw lots of crops including, wheat, maize, sunflowers, and nearer Bordeaux heaps of grapes (funny enough).
    Bordeaux is a lovely old city built of golden brown stone with many town gates, a beautiful old cathedral, cosy squares and mighty monuments. I managed to walk 5km (according to Mark’s phone) without feeling too bad. We ended up in a trend square really needing a cool beer, so while we sat and enjoyed the sun I made the sketch above.
    Pretty hot here, by the way, I don’t think I’ll need my jersey for a while.

“One night in Paris” and the following day

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Following on from my previous post of yesterday, Mark and I were feeling pretty shattered after our flights so we had a sleep for an hour or so with the alarm set for six pm. We then headed out to have a look at the Eiffel tower but a closed metro line derailed our plans (please excuse the pun) and we ended up at the Arch de Triomph. After a wander around we decided that the queue was not too bad so we headed for the top. Well I took the lift and won’t pretend otherwise, my knees were pretty sore and still have to last the best of three weeks. The view from the top is pretty amazing.
Multiple metro rides got us back near our hotel, by which point we were desperately in need of a beer. Two pints of Belgian Leffe with out dinner slid down pretty well.
This morning, after a mixed sleep Mark walked to Montmartre while I took the metro. We arrived at the nice park (with the merry go round) below the Sacre Coeur (pic above) simultaneously. It was great to be in the area again but this time I took the cable car up the hill. A photo or two were taken before we had a wander, and another sit down inside the church. Next up was a coffee near the Place de  Teatre and a quick sketch followed by a wander (read hobble) down hill past the Moulin de Galette.
We caught the train to the Pompidou centre from outside the Moulin Rouge. A quick lunch was followed by a look around the Museum of Modern Art which really is a great gallery. The highlight for me was perhaps a couple of works by Paul Klee or maybe some of the sculpture. Or maybe the highlight was our being shut in the gallery for a while as a result of a security scare. There were uniformed guards marching around and we were trapped behind fire doors for some time.
I staggered back to the hotel by train, while Mark walked again and we are currently relaxing and recuperating.
Whether I manage anything more than a brief wander out for tea tonight is undecided at present.