Wednesday 9 March 2016

Heading North

According to my phone it was 5am. Stupid body clock, we hadn’t gone to bed until way after midnight once we’d finished blogging and sipping the Chateau Plonk. At first I thought that the wind had got up and it was blowing a real hooley out there. But then through my drifting consciousness it occurred to me that may, just maybe, that it was actually waves on gravel. The sort that was on the beach outside. Oooh, beach outside! I looked out of the window. In the distance I could see the twinkling lights of Nice dancing like fireflies that are too scared to travel far.

All I could see of the sea was the brilliant white foam of the aquamarine water crash on the shore. It wasn’t a bad sight. I drifted back to sleep and woke once more at first light, the view had improved but as the sun has still lurking behind the hills it was all a bit grim. Grim is a relative term. As the sun began to clear the hills at 7:30am the blue of the cloudless sky beckoned. Tell me again why I’d decided that instead of doing a bonkers 8+ hour drive to Versailles and stay an extra night in Nice had I decided that we needed to get closer at Clermont-Ferrand.

Damn my sensible streak.

I showered and then flung open the windows to drink in the view. Over the last few weeks we’ve stopped in a huge range of places, but not one with a sea view, though that was tried at Krk just failed owing to the whole not being available thing! It was worth the wait as this time it was the complete sea, sun and sky combination. Obviously it was missing sand and the other S but still, can’t be greedy. Needless to say as I stood there wearing nothing more than a towel and a string of pearls I decided to troll all of Twitter with pictures of the view.

I’m an evil cow and I deserve my comeuppance.

Mind you, it will be the last time I can do this for quite a long while! Anyway, I finally dressed mostly because my lovely friend Mazza called me a trollop. Seemed fair. Needless to say I then went back to watching the world drift by. It was a view that was hard to ignore.

We bimbled down to breakfast, as it was going to be a long driving day I thought I’d best make sure I eat plenty, not that I ever need much encouragement. A range of foods, apple juice and two cups of tea later I was ready to go, it was time to up sticks and head North. Leaving the Côte d’Azur behind, I really am stupid.

First things first. We were pretty much out of sucky sweets and there was no water left in the car so we set sail for the nearest Lidl to replenish stocks. Ah the joys of driving in Nice, I know it’s far worse in summer but goodness was it entertaining skipping from point to point and being in the wrong lanes because the locals had double or triple parked because there were no proper parking spots. And because they could. Mind you I did see the municipal police expressing their displeasure at two cars parked on yellow zig-zags près de l’école. Very naughty.
We found the Lidl. It had a carpark next to it that looked like a quagmire of cars so I sadly decided to keep going, I wasn’t going to get a ticket - as I would as I’m British - simply because I needed a few bottles of water and wanted to say I’d been to Lidl. See, sensible!

So, the route was reset to Clermont-Ferrand and we were off. Slowly. Twisting left and right. Stopping at lights, playing guess the lane and generally marvelling at how anyone new how to get around. Near Nice airport it became particularly entertaining when we were suddenly driving on the left instead of the right owing to some mad road system designed to play with your mind. I was a mouse to the town planner cat and their were having a giggle. At one point Tom’s lovely assistant started to tell us something and then she shut up as she realised that maybe we didn’t want to hear. It wasn’t looking good.

An attempt was made en route to find another, but that would have been peeling off to Cagnes sur Mer and back in to traffic, sod it, we would get water etc. at a service station, if nothing else we head to stop for fuel, the distance was predicted as 385 miles with the Contrary Clio telling us she was good for 325 miles. Oooh I think we can make it…

At the first stop about 90 minutes later I managed to get lost in the service station. There were renovation works going on and it wasn’t clear how we could get to the café, mind you it also appeared like the fuel pumps were off limit. We drove on a bit. Then went in to another bit where a grill was, then realised that really was closed, so tried to double back, but couldn’t so we headed out, went round two or maybe three roundabouts and ended back at the filing station. Where the hell do we go?!

Enter one attractive frenchman that liked helping damsels in distress. He pointed out where we’d gone wrong and where we needed to go though he didn’t mention that THEY COULD HAVE SIGNPOSTED THIS. Still, it’s all part of life’s entertainment. And he was really lovely.

The next two stops and endless miles went reasonably well, at least if you ignore the slight worsening of the weather. It wasn’t great. At one point the temperature plummeted to 2°, the world disappeared in to a cloud of spray and the windscreen wipers worked overtime.

I looked at the pictures I took a few hours ago.

Like I said earlier, I’m an idiot. We went up, we descended, in the hills not far above us we saw snow, sometimes we drove through the clouds. All the time we were slowly but surely moving in on our destination . Finally we reached Clermont-Ferrand and following Tom’s instruction, the boy gets about. By some miracle we found the place first time and only overshot the car park entrance by a few feet, so adopting local techniques I pulled the car back and turned in to the private car park before abandoning the Contrary Clio on a corner

Once checked in it was a simple matter of collecting our bags and then going off for dinner. Except that I suddenly became obsessed with how best to combine the where-we’ve-been maps in to one. This was a genuinely interesting thing as the maps are simply fascinating. Owing to limitations in Google maps I could only do the going there or returning in a single map but I have a cunning plan for getting around that, something to do at the weekend as I’ll no doubt be bored without a flatmate to troll. Still, the maps were good and give an insight in to how far things are.

You see the trouble was we’d spent best part of seven hours driving with maybe an hour or so resting with coffee at service stations and we’d barely scratched France. So the combined maps give a view of how far we’ve actually been. But that is still without context. Against France the journeys look like a walk to the shops. But in reality? Well, if you put Nice and Clermont-Ferrand in to the directions thing in Google Maps you get about 386miles. Allowing for it being in KM. This is the about the same distance as London to Dunbar. In Scotland. Scotland!

That’s a long way.

Tomorrow, point to point with no Contrary deviations it’s 259 miles. Or about the same distance as from the centre of London to Durham. This we consider a short hop. Anyway, I digress. So I was sitting on the bad fiddling with visualising the data when I realised Clarissa was maybe hungry as she was tweeting about it. I finished what I was doing, pulled on a coat and we wandered off to see what delights this place had to offer.

Well… Beggars of course, and a disturbing number of n’er do wells seemed to be hanging around. We marched quickly from our adequate hotel opposite the railway station in to the old town where she’d assured me there were many restaurants. I didn’t mind. Inevitably the question came up about where to go, to be honest I really wasn’t in to the idea of looking at endless menus in windows for the right place so I said as much and that if she wanted me to choose it would be the first place we came to that didn’t look like their served up pies made from murder victims. That may have not been exactly how I phrased it but you get the idea.

So we looked at a menu at the first place we came to and… Went in as the pie was off. It was an interesting little place, with vaulted ceilings and an understated subtlety. As with last night the menu was on a blackboard and presumably changed regularly. It was also an interesting selection which is always a good thing, though with a few predictable items that made it easy for people to choose if they didn’t feel too adventurous. Plus an interesting wine selection. Choices made the conversation turned to food and the making there of. Always a favourite subject for me.
My starter was an ouef coulant à la carbonara, it was pretty much perfect with the poached egg being beautifully cooked and a fabulously yellow yolk. My main was medallions of cod - I think I didn’t make notes - with slices of potato, carrot and what looked suspiciously like romanesco broccoli. And finally to finish there was crème brulée which was as good as any I can recall.
And the wine? A 2012 Graves Auney Hermitage. Lovely. I think Clarissa summed it up best when she said “that was a very good meal”. Bit of an understatement, whatever the weather through at us during the journey the meal actually made it seem worth it.

So if you happen to be in Clermont-Ferrand then do visit L’instantané Restaurant.

We wandered back to the hotel which didn’t quite live up to the blurb but at least the rooms didn’t have a hint of tobacco smoke in them and I suspect I won’t be peering out like a loon in the morning to see the sights. Tomorrow is the last stop of the Contrary Roadtrip and will see us heading to Versailles, after that it will be off to Le Havre.

And the ferry home to Blighty…

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