We are in Montrejeau, a delightful little town beside the river Garonne on the edge of the French Pyrenees. We’ve just been for a beer in a pavement café and it was strong stuff – Affligem if you’re into that kind of thing – so this blog might be a little blurry round the edges. As we nursed our beer and watched the world go by we were musing on different types of tourists. There are many who search for interesting historical sites and other places of interest. There are some who simply want the sunshine. Others are definitely into good eateries and drinkeries (is there such a thing?). Some like to shop whilst others like to look at famous works of art.
It seems that we are a different breed altogether. We wander, sometimes apparently aimlessly and find ourselves in places we would never have visited without a motorhome. We live pretty simply and we watch the world go by. We try a little communication, where possible, and smile at the people we pass in the street. The simplest things give us enormous pleasure. Certainly we enjoy a little culture when it appears on our route but we don’t deliberately go looking for it.
Last night we enjoyed the hospitality of Oloron Sainte Marie, which is the first big town you come to after driving the rather challenging road down through the French mountains from the Somport Tunnel. They have an Aire de Camping Cars quite close to the river and give free overnight parking to up to 20 motorhomes.
Having parked up, we walked through the town and bought a couple of pains au chocolat. Shirley had trouble making herself understood until she said “Comme une croissant mais avec chocolat.” And the lady said “Ah! Pain au chocolat.” And as we trotted along the street we laughed about the fact that the right words with the wrong vowel sounds can confuse anyone. Remember the British guy who played the policeman in Allo Allo with his classic line – “Good moaning!” Getting back to the van we met a lovely couple from Cornwall who were on their way to Spain on a five month trip. We shared experiences of places we’ve enjoyed and the things that can go wrong with a satnav. It was a pleasant half hour and good to have a proper chat in our own language.
Today, as we left the town, we stopped at an Intermarché supermarket because we wanted to use their rather nifty Laverie. These are laundrette washing machines placed outside the supermarket, encouraging you to put your washing in, pop into the shop while it completes its cycle and be on your way having achieved two tasks in the time of one. We of course are not short on time but we were getting short of clean knickers.
Just as I was taking the clean washing out of the dryer an elderly Frenchman approached me and asked if he could sit on the bench next to my pile of clean and dried clothes. We had a slightly crazy conversation in which he asked me if we were going to Spain and I tried to say that we had just come back. He looked a bit confused and it was only about half an hour later that I realised I’d used the wrong tense and told him that we would be coming back again in the future some time. Anyway he was more than happy to keep trying and we managed to have a great chat about what a lovely country Scotland is. I thought to myself that if we ever did come and spend a long time in France we should befriend older people. They have the time to spare and the patience needed to keep trying to communicate, whereas check out assistants in supermarkets tend not to – but that’s another story.
Washing put away in the van and breakfast eaten we were ready to start our journey to the next stop, this little town of Montrejeau. We were tempted to stop on the motorway at a service station called ‘La Tour de France’ and we weren’t disappointed. Not only did we get some fabulous views of the mountains but there was also a wonderful sculpture depicting the cyclists scaling the peaks. A French stick of warm bread picked up at Intermarché and some Brie made our joy complete.
You might be wondering how we decide where to go next. We have a method that is a slightly more informed version of finger in the air. We get out the map and look at the general direction we want to travel then we get the All the Aires book out and look at Aires de Camping Car on that route. We try not to drive more than 100 miles in a day so that there is plenty of time to explore where we land up. We prefer small towns and if possible we like to ride our bikes while we’re there. We definitely need places to walk the dogs and if we can get all of that and something of interest to see then we’re doubly pleased.
This place is right in the middle of the town and we have a fabulous view of both the mountains and the Garonne River.
We had a great walk along the river bank this afternoon with the dogs before retiring to the bar for our beer. No chance of cycling here as we’re at the top of a steep hill but we think our next stop will fulfil that for us.
Talking of tomorrow, I have to face it and I’m not looking forward to it – I need a haircut! It’s so floppy and out of control that even Shirley has noticed it. This is not good news. How on earth am I going to communicate with a hairdresser? I’m scared to say ‘cut it short’ in case she brings out the clippers and gives me a number 4 all over. And what about the small talk? I’m grateful for David, our lovely French teacher, who started every class with “What did you do at the weekend?” I can manage that bit at least. Watch this space to see if I have the courage to get it cut tomorrow. If I don’t, Shirl is threatening to buy me an Alice Band.