Monday, June 13 ~~~ St Malo to Pierre-le-Buiffiere (ish)

had my first little “Squee!  We’re in France!!!” moment when we went around the first little traffic island on the way out of St Malo – the WRONG WAY!!!  Hubby coped admirably with driving on the”wrong” side of the road, and we were off and travelling.  we were on the road before 9am, but had a couple of stops before 12, so averaged about 25mph! >_<

and then we got sucked into the vortex that is Nantes.  this was our first encounter with a large French city.  every city on our route had a pretty good orbital road, and the idea was to hit this and avoid city driving, which none of us are fond of.  sadly, we had a bit of a fail on our first real test.  in my defence, it wasn’t all navigator (i.e. me) fail – none of the signs had road numbers on them.  nor did they seem to have notations for any place outside of the city.  this would have been fine, except for the fact that our map was not quite big enough to show local areas.  after about half an hour, though, we did manage to reach escape velocity.

twenty minutes past the city, Rural France began in earnest.  there were vineyards as far as the eye could see.

apologies for the crap pic - i was too busy squeeing...

and, unfortunately, the foul weather had returned.  i thought it was taking the Entente Cordiale a little far, to combine the French countryside with English Summertime weather.  the advantage of a road trip though, we already were finding, is that if there’s foul weather, you are very likely to leave it behind you soon.  and so it was.  as we passed Parthenay, there were golden fields stretching for miles, long, tree-lined roads…

*le sigh*

…and the sun shone gloriously.  so gloriously, in fact, that when we made a pee stop in the mid-afternoon, hubby had to cool his poor hot feet down…

a convenient puddle

a side note on French toilets:

they are known (certainly in the UK) for being “disgusting”.  well…  the public toilets are certainly… different.  as far as i’m aware (and please – correct me if i’m wrong), most of the Western world favours the “sit-down” variety, as popularised by Thomas Crapper and his colleagues.  the French have a slightly simpler arrangement.  basically, it’s a hole in the ground.  a porcelain-lined hole, with textured footplates, and (sometimes terrifyingly forceful) flushing water, but a hole, nontheless.  i had forgotten.  it’s a long time since i was last in France, after all.  but my memory was soon jogged.  and as i had crouched for the first time in about 20 years earlier that day, i was assaulted by the memory of my 14-year-old self laughing hysterically and almost unable to use the facilities because of this.  but i digress…

at some point during the afternoon’s journey, we were flagged down by a frantic looking Frenchman in a layby.  the conversation that followed was in pure Franglais (words from me, mostly gestures from H as his French was practically non-existent), but the essence of it was this:

he: My car is out of fuel, i have no money, the banks are closed, my baby is in the back and has no food, please help me!

we: er…um…er…ok, you look desperate.  here’s 10 Euros to buy some petrol.

he: (on seeing a 50 Euro note i failed to adequately conceal) No, no!  10 is not enough!  I need 50!  here – take my (ridiculously chunky and probably fake) gold ring in exchange! *pushes it into H’s somewhat bewildered and unresisting palm*

me: Look, matey – if you’re genuinely in trouble, you would be grateful for whatever help you could get and not ask for more.  we have no more to give.  it’s 10 or nothing!

he: (reluctantly) well…  all right, then.  but still, here – take the ring anyway. *begins to walk away*

H: *leaps out of Talula in pursuit* Here, take it back – we don’t want your ring!

me: (nervously) for god’s sake, don’t get out! (too late)

H: *gives the ring back and returns* *drives off as quickly as possible*

yeah, yeah, i know.  con artist, right? meh.  he might have been genuine, he might not.  but the nagging thought that he was made us give him some money.  soft as butter.  the bloody kicker was that not ten minutes after we set off (thankfully with our throats unslit), we got flashed by a speed camera.  in Talulah!  the only reason she was going 10k over the limit was that we were going down a steep hill, and H was trying to store as much momentum as possible for the steep ascent immediately following!  sheesh!

we were heading for a Village Étape i had discovered in the road south of Limoges, called Pierre-le-Buiffière.  if you click the link to discover what a Village Étape is, i’m sure you’ll see why we thought it a perfect place to pull in for the night.  however, when we got there, it was a bit of a disappointment.  as the village clock struck 8pm and we looked around for signs to the campsite (which turned out to be at the bottom of an incredibly steep and Talula-prohibitive hill – the village is situated on the side of a deep gorge), we were getting a little frayed.  Talulah was hot and bothered, and H was exhausted, having driven for almost twelve hours.  so i looked at the map again.  not far down the road, i spied a symbol for a motorway rest area.  we figured that at least there would be a car park…

bon appetit

La Squeak et La Talulah

…it was beautiful.  in essence, a large carpark with toilets (yep – more of the idiosyncratic French variety) – but it was so much more for weary travellers.  the car park was sectional, and landscaped, with trees and granite picnic tables everywhere, it was quiet, and peaceful, and clean.  not a speck of litter anywhere.  i quickly whipped up my very own recipe chilli-chorizo-noodle-thingy, and we sat outside to eat, listening to the chirping of crickets and the sizzling of grashoppers, and we were content.

M. Petit le Reynard

As was Small.  but more on him later…