Not on the level

We needed a change. That might sound incredible when you consider that we’ve slept in different places every night for seven nights on the trot but the rhythm of our days have been pretty much the same. Get up, walk the dogs, shower, walk them again, choose our next stopping place, buy food, drive to the next place, settle in, walk some more, cook, eat, play cards, final dog walk then fall into bed and sleep like the dead. In between there are little gems like meeting interesting people and turning a corner to discover an incredible view. But we still needed a change, so we set about finding an entirely different kind of place to visit.

First of all we chose a place called Venerque. Judging by the pictures and description it looked like an interesting little town and we decided that it was a great place to go out for dinner. What a thrill! We could put something smarter than cargo trousers and t-shirts on and go out for a meal. Leaving Mazeres of the fish ladder fame proved to be as complicated as getting into it. The Satnav said we were only going about 30 miles but it was going to take us nearly two hours. We laughed. We shouldn’t have. We crossed the same railway line on three separate occasions, each time over badly constructed level crossings that shook all our dishes and nearly lost us some teeth. We entered a diversion that had no signs after the first one that sent us into the middle of nowhere and then about 10 miles later we finally got onto a proper road. It did take nearly two hours to get to Venerque and we weren’t feeling so chilled by the time we got there. Turning into the Aire de Camping Cars we discovered two problems. One was that there was a massive BMX event going on and the place was full of little boys and their bikes. The other was that the parents of the aforesaid little boys had taken all the space up in the Aire with their cars, picnic tables, assorted younger children and other family detritus so we couldn’t park up. We squeezed between two of them to get to the water, filled up the tanks and left again feeling disappointed. The town looked great.

To be fair we did get our own back by stopping in a place that prevented anyone moving their cars while we chose our next stop but only for about three minutes. I am quite scared of angry French mothers. I’ve never met one face to face but I’ve seen the look and it’s scary.

So we chose Albi. Albi is famous in France for having the biggest brick built structure in the world. It doesn’t sound very exciting but it is – trust me.

It's a cathedral and it is magnificent in a 'My goodness, they built all that brick by brick' sort of way.
It’s a cathedral and it is magnificent in a ‘My goodness, they built all that brick by brick’ sort of way.

Albi astonished us by providing overnight motorhome parking, completely free of charge, in the cathedral car park. It is a town very reminiscent of York with lots of little cobbled lanes full of expensive tourist tat shops and very expensive clothes and shoes shops and it is packed full of visitors. Anywhere like that in the UK, if they did provide motorhome parking, would charge a princely sum for it and place it at a distance from the main attraction. Not here. We were literally in the shadow of the cathedral in an area of the car park designated for motorhomes only. You could stay there for 48 hours free of charge. There is no service point at the parking so our hard won tank of water from Venerque was much appreciated. As well as gawping in awe at the cathedral and wandering around the shops we found that we could get to the banks of the Tarn river directly from the parking and walk the dogs along there. It wasn’t a restful walk as it was popular with runners as well as other dog walkers. Despite the fact that the town provides poo bags free of charge some dog owners seemed to feel it unnecessary to pick up their dogs’ droppings so it wasn’t unusual to see runners taking sudden swerves and leaps to avoid mounds of doggy doo. Believe me there must be some massive dogs in Albi. Having said all that, the views on the walk were wonderful.

Viaduct

City walls

We loved the town and the cathedral but we didn’t go out for dinner. It was just too touristy and to be honest, any menu we did look at had far too much emphasis on gizzards. We decided to have some left over Bolognese and several glasses of plonk and it was grand.

We'd managed to land an absolute peach of a spot to park Holly, right at the edge of the parking place and directly in line with the exit.
We’d managed to land an absolute peach of a spot to park Holly, right at the edge of the parking place and directly in line with the exit.

This can mean the difference between leaving when you want to and waiting for someone else to come back to their van in a very busy Aire like this one. After we’d settled for the night we sat in the dark watching massive motorhomes trying to get into spaces you would think twice about in a small van. It was more entertaining than Strictly and we wished we had paddles to hold up so that we could give them a score and make comments. You reversed well as you came over to the corner but your clutch work needs refining – Seven! (If you didn’t understand a word of that don’t worry – you’re just one of the few people in the UK who doesn’t watch Strictly Come Dancing or you’re not in the UK)

There was a tiny space to one side of us and a nice wee French lady pulled into it in a very small motorhome. She asked us if it was ok and we were very happy to tell her she was fine there – after all, if it hadn’t been her it could well have been a 9 metre A class.

So, our verdict on Albi is this – a great place to visit, fascinating cathedral that is currently being renovated at a cost of 2 million Euros and some fine window-shopping. The Aire is good but we realized it would have been a lot better if we’d gone mid week instead of Saturday night when all the French motorhomers come out to play.

Given the heaving mass of humanity that was in town for the weekend we opted not to take our free second night and move on. As we were getting ready to leave a very pleasant French lady approached and asked us if we were going. We said we were and she explained that they needed a bigger spot – looking up I saw her husband easing their massive A class motorhome out of a miniscule spot and heading our way. She must have been waiting, hoping that one of the bigger spots would come free. She was a lovely woman and started to give us advice about other lovely places to visit… all in French but with the help of her map and both of us concentrating hard we managed to get the gist of three lovely spots to visit not far away. The funny thing was watching her husband behind her riding the clutch desperate to get into our place before someone else nabbed it. Thank you kind French lady because you told us about our next place and it’s fabulous – but more on that tomorrow.

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