Tuesday 23 February 2016

Running up that hill

The bed wasn’t moving this morning. Which believe me is a good thing.

Clare likes windows
The day started with missy’s alarm charming her in to a state of blissful waking. I don’t think she actual said a rude word but she wasn’t as enthused about waking as you might think. Which meant I got first shower! Unfortunately as the thing had a monsoon like tendency a lot of water escaped but this did mean we were ready for the soggy delights that awaited us in Bourges.

Or would have done if the prospect of soggy delights left us wondering whether there was a better option.

Besides, so far we’d sort of stuck to the plan…

Anyway, first there was the important matter of breakfast and making an entrance. Which I managed to do by utterly failing to work out how to get the teapot lined up correctly to get enough eau chaud in to make things worthwhile. At least it amused the hotel manager. I’m sure that was amusement. On the bright side the food was quite lovely and I even managed to eat some healthy things. Just like little miss virtuous.

As we sat flicking pips (not a euphemism) around the restaurant to make things interesting for the staff we decided that maybe we needed to tweak the plan slightly. The definition of slightly was to essentially delete day 2 and move straight to day 3. And Montpellier. The logic was simply perfect, Clare’s perfectly adjusted weather app was showing sunshine. And we like sunshine.

This had the wonderful side benefit off meaning we could travel over the Viaduc de Millau

This also meant that assuming we could make the journey we could effectively have a bit of a day off and go play on the beach. As you do.

So, plan changed we headed out to the Contrary Clio, cleaned the lights, set a new destination and trundled off through Bourges looking at the soggy locals through the swishing of the windscreen wipers.

We’d decided that the best thing to do was to force a pretty route to a place near the A75 and then take the direct route from there to Montpellier, sort of best of both worlds. Important as the route was showing as being about a million miles. Well, 326 miles. But at 525km that sounded much further.

It was definitely a plan.

But oh what a route. The endless arrow straight roads were intersected with beautiful little hamlet after beautiful little hamlet. The terrain rose and fell, twisted and turned and after each small tweak in direction we exclaimed at how each place reminded us of Norfolk/Yorkshire/Hereford/Wales/Scotland/Teesdale/Northumberland and on the comparisons went. That said, madam still didn’t feel we were in a foreign country as everything seemed just a little too familiar. Yes, even with me incanting drive-on-the-right every time we reached a roundabout.

Which was quite often.

After a mere 34 minutes we made our first stop in Dun-sur-Auron to fill up with fuel as I really didn’t want to be surprised. What was a surprise was that when I googled it just now it was a really lovely place. First impressions can be deceiving…


The next stop was an impromptu “Oh my, places are open here let’s stop” at Monmarault. It seemed like a good excuse to stretch our legs, spend a penny and have a natter over coffee. The place we went to Clare had seen as we drove through the town, it turns out she can actually spot an open bar at 300 paces. It was very simple, very French and frankly very lovely. And the loo was oh so clean!

After half an hour we waved Bar Central goodbye and sauntered off to have a nose around town before heading back to the car and continue to our major waypoint. The thing was we had in our heads now how nice it would be to have lunch in a place like this so the skipper was tasked with finding a suitable destination and guiding us in.

Which would have worked if she wasn’t constantly being confused by the evils of Google Maps not quite matching Tom in terms of the route to take.

It was during this meandering that we had yet another unexpected stop. As we climbed wheezing up a very-very-very-very-steep hill, the one opposite the one we’d screeched down engine screaming as it controlled our descent, we saw a ruined castle in the distance. And a place to stop.
So we did.

Goodness it was pretty. I mean truly fab views and nice to just stare in to the distance at, well, everything. A view can only retain its charm for so long, so after one last clamber over rocks we headed back to the road in search of lunch.

The second place we looked at was open… Though we weren’t sure at first.

The thing was I don’t think they knew quite what to make of two middle aged english ladies turning up in a place that seemed to be popular with the local artisans. It seemed nice enough so we went in and after an initial bit of confusion we ended in the restaurant area. And had wine presented. Then food.

No nonsense about menus here!

Oh the food. Freshly made bread, a slice of ham each with butter and a plate of lettuce with a mustardy dressing and bacon bits. Epic. Clare had the wine neat, I had a tiny bit topped up with lots of water, it helped the food a treat.

Once we’d finished the serving dish was removed, not the plates as they clearly were thinking of the environment, and replaced with a wonderful simple bean cassoulet and a piece of pork that had obviously volunteered to be on our plates. Even the tomatoes seemed that little bit special.

When you thought things were finished the plates were removed and replaced with… Cheese!

Oh my. It would be rude not too. Talking of which…

At this point one of the gentleman sitting nearby came over to offer us the chance to buy some potatoes.
Hmm. Okay, not just ordinary potatoes. Slightly, err, misshapen ones.

Cue much giggling and blushing.

It all really went downhill from there as we struggled to understand the local dialect and the wall of flirting from the four locals. At some point pudding turned up, a delicious plum tart (I think) that normally I wouldn’t have had but I needed something to distract from the endless chatter. Oh and coffee.

Eventually the gentleman had to leave but the conversation continued and either one of them was asking whether Clare was married and on discovering she never had been proclaiming it a good choice *or* he proposed and they are now married. We’re not sure which so I’m planning her honeymoon just in case.

He even had some of his own teeth.


They left and we could finish in piece. Trouble was we could here they had gone in to the bar area and that was where we’d have to pay. Inevitably there was further confused conversation, more giggling and with great regret we headed out to continue our journey to Clermont-Ferrand.

But not until there had been much waving at us from the gentleman leaving in their cars and vans.

Pushing on we ended in Clermont-Ferrand some 40 minutes later and parked up in the Blaise Pascal carpark. Apparently he was born in the town. Now we knew quite a lot of this and more as missy had been swotting up as we bounced through the French countryside. We knew for instance that the buildings here were often black because of the volcanic stone in the area. Which has to be quite cool.

Inevitably we spent a lot of time in the cathedral, which was quite impressive, followed by a bimble around town to see what we could see. Mostly endless streets that seemed more impossibly gorgeous than the last.

Unfortunately whilst we could have spent days there I’d realised that the trip to Montpelier would take about 3.5 hours and it was later afternoon already. Eek. The decision was made that we would use the peagé and travel at the speed limit rather than pootling along at a speed guaranteed to make Greenpeace smile.

It was a very long way.

Rain in the distance...
I mean really very long. I struggle with distances now so I kept in mind that if I felt tired we’d change the plan and head for a hotel en route. Again, what an incredible route. Different to what we’d done early, but no less dramatic. And how we climbed. Our coffee earlier at been at around 1250 feet, which seemed high, but nothing like how high the A75 gets. At the peak I think we saw 1121 metres. Yikes, that’s 3677 feet. It’s not surprising the little car seemed to be struggling. The altitude changes were often quite dramatic and even as I write this I’ve still not fully recovered my hearing as the pressure hasn’t finished equalising.

We did see the bridge. But, sadly, it was very dark, though even in the dark it was very impressive. I will have to go back at some point.

The rain didn’t help but as we threaded our way down the hills with the engine screaming and no throttle things began to clear and within 30 miles of Montpellier all had become dry and we could even see the moon and a few stars. Fabulous.

By this point Tom had been reprogrammed with a Citotel as we liked the one we’d stayed in the night before. Not quite what we’d had in mind but the later arrival meant our options were limited. That said now that we’re a day ahead and can take some time to breathe we will also go looking for a nice place to stop as well as planning what the next stage in the Contrary Roadtrip will look like.

I’m sure it will be fab!

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