Mon 2nd Nov – Mon 9th Nov
After our exuberant week of socialising and sampling some of the most delicious food and wine that France has to offer, the beginning of week 10 was a much more low key affair. Our only goal was to mosey down to Duras (just outside of Bordeaux) to meet up with Kenny, Alice, Nick and Chez on Friday Evening.
Now, as I rather belatedly start telling our week 10 story having just finished a rather exciting week 11 and now starting week 12, I find myself struggling a little to recall this rather more understated week.
Truth be told (I sheepishly admit) Monday and Tuesday comprised of rather a lot of sleeping after our several very late nights laughing and chatting with CH. After a brief stop in Chartres, we parked up in a quite rural campsite on the outskirts of Tours aptly named ‘Les Acacias’ and enjoyed some down time which for me comprised of reading, obsessively practicing French verb conjugations (an art I am determined to master), and walking 20minutes there and back to the local Carrefour each day to stock up on supplies (a meagre nod towards exercise that made me feel a little less guilty about our rather horizontal two day existence).
The visit to Chartres had been a rather ‘chimerical’ one (I love the thesaurus). ‘Chimerical’, in that it had the sense of an unreal dream about it, due to the dense mist that eerily engulfed both our drive to and our exploration of Chartres. Whilst on the one hand this meant that we didn’t fully experience the famous Chartres cathedral in all it’s magnificence (as its turrets were shrouded in the nebulous veil that had settled over the town), it did also mean that we experienced it in a completely different (slightly Edward Woodward-esque) light which was rather creepy and at the same time deliciously atmospheric.
Once inside we were able to get a more vertical view, as we gazed up at the lofty brickwork being lovingly restored by a team of dedicated perfectionists whose mission it was to take the scaffolding-clad stone back from an oily blacken state to a gleaming white (or carefully concocted lime stone colour). Some parts of the cathedral had been cordoned off to facilitate restoration which meant we very nearly missed the famous labyrinth on the floor but still got great views of the three beautiful stain glass rose windows (a huge source of inspiration for Daniel and Kira, who’s evening classes in ’Sacred Geometry’ I had had the pleasure to enjoy before our departure in Heidi).
Following our visit to Chartres and our two lazy days at ‘Les Acacias’ we headed south to the village of Messe in Poitou-Charente to spend Wednesday night at ‘La Grande Vigne’ a lovely little campsite owned by bubbly yorkshire couple Helen and Ian. All kudos to Matt who had managed to find this hidden gem amongst the millions of french campsites that had already closed down for the winter. Helen and Ian welcomed us with open arms and being the only guests we had the pick of the pitches in the pretty field next to their house and the two gites that they also hire out. Feeling grateful to find such an uncharacteristically homely and immaculate campsite, we gave Helen and Ian a bottle of David and Ben’s cider to show our appreciation and enjoyed our own bottle in Heidi that evening, comparing notes with them in the morning. We had awoken to glorious sunshine and having been assured by Helen that there was no need to rush off, we decided to take our bikes out to do a bit of exploring.
The country lanes with views across the fields that seemed to go on for miles made for a wonderful cycling. I loved the flatness… the lack of hills meant there was no need of elaborate gear changing (which for me inevitably means picking the highest gear on the steepest part of a hill and consequentially falling off), so we could just relax and enjoy the beautiful county-side. All in all we did a 20k round trip, through the neighbouring villages of Vanzay and Rom. In Rom we stopped and had a walk around the sleepy village taking in the beautiful traditional stone houses (the stuff of travel writers dreams). Needless to say, our eyes were immediately drawn to a beautiful rundown old house with a courtyard garden which we mentally renovated whilst peering nosily through the holes in the large wooden gate.
Realising that this was just a daydream we dragged ourselves away and were immediately brought back down to earth by the humorous spectacle of a baguette vending machine plonked in the middle of the square. After experiencing first hand the pride normally taken in traditional french cuisine, gourmet produce and french etiquette around food, both Matt and I found this somewhat surreal contraption highly amusing.
That afternoon we said goodbye to La Grande Vigne and headed southward once more, stopping for the night at a rural campsite near to Angoulême that was owned by a very worldly dutchman and provided a temporary home to a number of labourers working nearby.
On Friday morning after an hour’s walk to stretch our legs before we headed to the beloved town of St Emilion (a UNESCO world heritage site in the heart of the Bordeaux wine making region). Having been to St Emilion when I was little I had high expectations of beautiful buildings, glowing sunshine and elegant chateaux’s amid fields and fields of vines. These romantic images had stuck with me, and I was slightly worried that I had over embellished the experience in my mental reverie, but as Matt and I meandered through the cobbled streets of the little medieval town we were happily blown away by the magical beauty of it all… So much so, that we weren’t even phased by the astronomical prices as we sat down to enjoy a drink outside a little cafe at the top of the hill…after all… what could you expect for such magnificent views!
Feeling thoroughly relaxed we headed to our final destination of the week, ‘Le Petit Roche’, home of Nick (Kenny’s dad) and Chez (his wife), where we were to help them pack up the house prior to it’s sale. We had already been what’s-apping Kenny and Alice, who were in the Kenny’s pride and joy (a toffee coloured VW transporter) going head to head with Nick and Chez as they all missioned it up from Estoi in Portugal (their new home). Knowing Kenny’s determination to beat them to it, we were very amused when we received a call from a stressed out Ken, who (having been on track to get there before anyone) had accidentally missed a critical turning only to be taken 27 kilometers in the wrong direction…needless to say this hadn’t gone down well, and we knew that he was not happy when he made Alice drive the rest of the way (something that NEVER normally happens!).
After a leisurely drive from St Emilion Heidi pootled onto the front drive first, followed closely by Nick and Chez and then last, but of course not least Kenny and Alice. Though worn out from their drive, and us from our ohh sooo tough walk around St Emilion, everyone’s spirits were soon revived with wine, beer and a delicious curry that Chez had made earlier. The next morning we awoke to fresh coffee and a beautiful view as the sun rose over the hazy fields. The weather was so fantastic that weekend that we enjoyed every meal outside. There was not much time for sitting around though as we had a big task ahead of us, so everyone jumped into action sorting, packing and stacking and by the end of Saturday we had made great progress.
Hard work does not come without a little reward and that evening Keith and Elaine (friends of Nick and Chez) joined us for a few drinks. A few led to a few more and then led to even more, but the carnage really started when Nick produced a bottle of Jack Daniels…So before we had even started eating we were all pretty far gone! All in all it was a great evening with lots of laughs (and a few drunken photos to prove it..but I am not putting them on the blog!). I still felt bit drunk when we woke up the next morning, but Chez’s fried breakfast soon sorted us out, so we waved Kenny and Alice off and then carried on with getting the house packed up.
That evening Nick and Chez took us out for a meal at a local restaurant we had heard a lot about. It was owned by a very elegant Madam who looked after us all very well as we worked our way through the many set courses sampling the soup, omelet, steaks, beef fillets, cheeses and deserts. Keith and Elaine joined us again (luckily they had not be put off by the drunken antics of the night before), though it was a more low key affair as everyone was pretty tired from all the hard work. On Monday morning we woke up early in anticipation of the arrival of the removal men. Chez who had only had contact with them via email had spent most of the night having visions of no-one turning up and so was greatly relieved when she received a call to confirm they were on their way… The only question now was weather it would all fit in the vans!