"Well, there is only one piece of advice I can give you," said the wisest of wise men. "The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world and never to forget the drops of oil on the spoon."

('The Alchemist' Paulo Coelho)

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Andorra and on to Marmande

Sunday 12th

Well, I'm afraid our internet connection has finally run out and it seems to be impossible to reconnect. So Net2Roam has cost us an arm and a leg, has sold us extra hours but with no chance of using them because the contract has run out. Anyone out there thinking of using it, the advice is don't. The connection is supposed to have been about 48kps but in fact it was slower than using Keith's mobile which connects at 9.6kps (and also costs a fortune) so I am afraid you will be reading this after we get back to Wales.
Anyway, enough moaning - yesterday we left Sevignon and head south to Andorra. The journey was fantastic although very winding and wiggly, through the Pyrenees. We were heading for Andorra La Vella, the capital, but eventually stopped short of that at another town called Encamp. Back in the sixties, Andorra was the place you went for bargain priced leather goods, so I was hoping for some fantastic buys but, alas, time marches on and although French and Spanish seemed to be flocking there to spend their euros, we did not see anything which struck us as anything like a bargain. Designer gear abounded, but not discount prices. I suppose I had been hoping for a continental Cheshire Oaks (out of town discount shopping centre) but I was to be disappointed. Not only that but they obviously don't have a thriving noise abatement society there either so it seems to be de rigeur to have your car stereo blaring at an unbelievable level of decibels as you hurtle murderously down the street, oblivious to other traffic or pedestrians. To add insult to injury, while we were walking up the main shopping street, a wedding party drove down, every car horn sounding at full blast. Apparently a quaint local custom!
However, it was fascinating to see and hear the mix of French and Spanish all around and to notice the difference between the two races. During our time here, with very few exceptions. any French people we have come into contact with have been unfailingly polite. They make a point of greeting each other. The Spanish and Andorreans, on the other hand, judging by yesterday's experiences, think nothing of pushing in front, barging through people and generally ignoring all around them. I know that's a generalisation, but that was our experience of one day.
After less than an hour, we had had enough of the noise and jostling and beat a hasty retreat back to the car park and out of Andorra. At least we can say we have been! We found a pleasant little hotel back in the Pyrenees where we stayed the night.
Today, we intended driving across to Biarritz , which we did, and staying somewhere near, which we didn't!
Sunday in France is a no-no as regards the intrepid traveller! No supermarkets open, and........in Les Landes, where we are now, at least.....no hotels open, it seems! I can only think that, having cared for visitors all through the summer, they have decided enough is enough and taken themselves off for their own holidays. Those who are still around don't seem to bother opening to new visitors on Sundays. We found 4 hotels, none of which were open, before finally finding our present one in a little town on the Atlantic coast, some way north of Biarritz, called Mimizan.
Camping areas are two a penny, but no hotels ...AND ...once again, no toilets!! I was threatening to disappear among the bushes at the roadside before we arrived here! What is it with the French? Don't they feel the need to answer the call of nature once in a while?
Tomorrow, we are planning to visit my old stamping ground, Marmande, a town to the south east of Bordeaux. I am looking forward to 'revisiting my youth'!

Tuesday 14th Sept.

Yesterday was a strange day. We set off from our night's stay in Mimizon towards Marmande. Having spent the first part of our holiday visiting the places where Keith spent family holidays when he was growing up, it was now time to revisit my old haunts. When I was at school, there was an exchange system in place whereby pupils interested in improving their skills in French and learning more of French life and culture, were paired up with like-minded French students and each spent a month in the other's country. So Dominique and I were paired up and were one of the successes for we visited each other not once but for three years in succession and we met up again while I was in college and had a 6 month stay in Tours as part of my course.
Dominique's family owned a shop selling seed and related merchandise to smallholders from the countryside around Marmande. She had a younger brother and sister and her Swiss grandmother lived with them. The pattern was that she came to us for a month over Easter and I went there mid July to mid August. Those holidays were among my happiest memories. I used to tick off the days for weeks before I went and was always heartbroken to have to come back. I fell in love with the French way of life and used to dream of someday being able to settle and live in France, but more of that at a later date. We went for days out at the weekends certainly, but mostly, we amused ourselves during the mornings and after the required 'siesta' after lunch, set off for the local river, the Garonne, for a swim and to sunbathe, That is where I learned to swim the first year I was there. It took many hours of effort on my part and patience on the part of Dominique and her family but I got there in the end!
Of course, knowing such a thing would be impossible, I nevertheless, cherished the hope that yesterday's visit would result in some rekindling of a link with those happy visits. I have long since lost contact with the family, more due to lack of effort on my part, I think, but I kept thinking that maybe the area would not be very changed or that there would someone I could ask for news of the family. Of course, with a gap of 40 years, common sense would indicate, not only that this was highly unlikely, but also that it's the kind of thing that only happens in novels!
By coincidence, Keith parked right outside the shop, now completely unrecognisable from that of my memories and closed to boot - Monday, as well as Sunday, everyone closes! All the other shops in the street had changed too, of course, as well as most of the area. The only part I recognised was the church. Having stood the test of time for hundreds of years, it was not likely to undergo much change in the last forty. I kept walking up and down the street, willing the past to merge into the present, searching for some small clue that would provide a link, but ...nothing. We walked under the trees where the men still play boules and Keith picked up a large conker from the ground and gave it too me as a reminder of my visit, and so, after about an hour, there was nothing for it but to set off once again and leave Marmande in the past and in my memories.

We had a quick visit to la Baie d'Arcachon in the afternoon but the weather was not very good and we turned towards Bordeaux for a hotel.

Today we decided we should lessen the distance between our present position and St. Lo, where we need to be on Frday night, so we headed north towards Nantes, taking a detour east to Les Sables d'Olonne where Keith wanted to visit a motor museum. We had some problems finding somewhere for tonight as, for some reason, everywhere around Nantes was full, so we pressed on to Angers, where we are now.

Did I mention that Keith has been strangely fascinated with the local hypermarkets here, called HyperU? This is where he insists that we buy copious quantities of butter, soft cheese, fruit and salad for our picnics, which is fine, except that, as I keep reminding him, we are travelling without the use of a fridge, so need to be careful not to buy too much at a time in case it goes off, I am expecting us to go down with some devastating form of food poisoning any day!


Railwayman39 said...

It's not just France which has a scarcity of toilets. The Council at Torbay, which is a honeypot in the summer, has closed ALL publoc toilets to save money.

gemmak said...

You were lucky....my school did an exchange with another on the same basis but we spent 2 weeks at each others homes,schools etc. The difference was that we exchanged with a school in....................Sunderland!!!!!!!!

Not quite the same, tho all these years later my 'exchange friend' and I are still in contact!


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