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Argentat de nouveau

a travel blog by rickandsuejohnson

A return to a place we have grown to love
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Week one

Argentat, France

Saturday 1st August
Up early and away for just after 09:30. Followed TomTom suggestion of M6 and M1 to M25 and Dartford crossing. All went well until we got to 7 miles of QEII bridge, when we stopped in a queue of traffic. Took us 50 minutes to go that 7 miles and although I ran at 70 most of the rest of the way, we got to Dover 10 minutes after last checkin and saw the ferry being loaded while we sat there. Not all lost though, as we only had to wait 45 minutes for the next. Good crossing and TomTom made light work of the route to Guines, despite the road having been changed since we were last there: there is a roundabout with the camp entrance off it now! A nice pitch and a good early night 10:00, we woke early at 06:50 (French time) thinking it was much later and were surprised nobody was moving!

Sunday 2nd August
Managed to get away for 09:00. The longest hop on our trip at about 340 miles; Sue & I shared 2 hour stints of driving. Having programmed TomTom to go via Rennes, she took us flawlessly all the way to Chateauroux without a single wrong turn. Having found some problems in navigating through Rennes last time this was a relief. She even found us supermarket fuel so that we didn't have to pay motorway rates! The supermarkets here appear to have wholeheartedly committed to a chip and pin payment method that is based on the pumps as I refuelled without seeing a cashier! A nice pitch again at Chateauroux, having arrived at about 4pm. After a cup of tea and getting ourselves sorted, we had supper then went for a nice walk around the lake next to the site. It is a lovely facility.

Monday 3rd August
Up reasonably early; too early for the showers it appears as the hot water didn't come through the showers until after 8am!

Away shortly after 09:30, having got fuel from Leclerc, courtesy of TomTom. The way out of town shown by Tomtom was different to our usual route but took us to a southern access to A20, instead of the northern one we have used before and likely to be quicker. Our journey south to Le Gib now that the A20 has been extended around Tulle meant that only the last 30 miles or so of the 150 are not on A20. A good run down with Sue and I sharing the driving again. Only 2 problems – we decided to stop early for lunch at 12:15 but the French had got there first in large numbers! The first 2 rest areas we tried were absolutely packed with any spaces for car & trailer filled by cars if not actually occupied by a caravan. At the third rest area we went straight to the truck area and had lunch there. Something useful I have spotted this year is that the rest areas are marked on the Michelin map with a green spot either side of the motorway for basic areas and a blue spot for full service areas. The other problem en-route was motorway repair work following a fatal crash just north of Limoges this caused a bottleneck of some miles with very slow moving traffic. For the first time, I noticed the effort of towing uphill at very slow speed was more than the cooling system could handle and we got quite hot just prior to finally getting going.

On site we reported in and were told Francine had retired. There is a distinct family resemblance and suspect that a sister is now running the show. The changes appear to be superficial and aimed at making the place more attractive. As it was not too hot, we decided to put up the awning tonight, completing this by about 19:30. We got chips from the takeaway and enjoyed them with frankfurters washed down with a nice beer.

Tuesday 4th August

The day started bright and clear with a little mist hovering over the lake. It was going to be a very warm day. Texted Zoe 1st thing to wish her a happy birthday. We got croissants for breakfast from the shop then took Zoe's call on our return.

After breakfast had our shower then went into town, parked up in the market place (which has changed so that cars can now only park down both edges, albeit under the shade of the maples). We had a little wander to see what else has changed and found that while the town is essentially the same, a few shops have moved across the street into larger premises like the pizzeria and the fishing shop – which has now become a Millets and Kingfisher rolled into one with a gunsmith thrown in for good measure. Talk about celebrating the outdoors!! On the quay, we saw the gabare that was being made about 6 or 7 years ago sitting in the water growing old and not evidently used. Last time we were here, I am sure that they were giving trips up and down stream in it but perhaps this has not taken off in the way they hoped. While on the quay, we were delighted to see Roger's old Peugeot advertising a new venture – an art gallery and glacier with an address on the quayside. Of course we had to check it out. We had only had breakfast not long ago so were not so much hungry as thirsty as by now it was getting quite hot. We settled for a medium and a small pression. I had a little chat with Roger himself – telling him that we had heard that he had retired. He assured me that he had not and was now enjoying himself just running this little business with himself and his wife, working perhaps 6 hours a day rather than the 10 – 12 hours he had put into the café and no staffing problems. We shall certainly go back there for his ices later in the week.

Our next port of call was the tourist information office to check up on what was going on and to see if they could tell us of any internet café, since the campsite appear to have stuck with the one computer in reception (which is generously free, but since all the youngsters cannot possibly be apart from facebook for more than a few minutes, there is a constant queue to use it and the 10 minutes allowed is frequently exceeded). We were told that the town had set up a weefee facility in the square, so we shall have to try this out later in the week – internet al fresco! It has brought home how advanced the NZ campsites are compared with the miserable offerings in Europe anyway.

By now quite hungry we popped into what used to be Chez Roger to ask for a cassecrout only to be advised that they didn't do this and suggested we try next door! Obviously only a bar now. The bar next door appeared not to do snacks, so we just went straight to plan B and did our supermarket shopping and had something to eat when we got back to the site. Speaking of supermarkets, we went to Super U which used to be a huge place; they have had a revamp, turned everything through 90° and it appears to be smaller and contain less. We shall try the Casino next time, which has taken over the old Intermarche store.

We rested in the afternoon before having a stroll around the site to see if there were any old friends still coming back. Sadly, we didn't spot any of the old crowd – but our next door neighbour introduced herself and we found that they have been using the same pitch for the last 3 years and we knew one another from 3 years ago. They recognised us from the boat on the roof while they have changed their outfit.

In the evening, we had a barbeque with some limousin steak. Nothing fancy just grilled with a salad. It was absolutely gorgeous.

Wednesday 5th August

Another bright and sunny day; it is getting hotter. Went up to Marcillac la Croiselle to sail the boat on the lake, have a picnic and get in a spot of fishing. We needed bread, so had a look around the village to try and find a bakery. We have never explored it before so were delighted to find it was quite charming even if on exiting the car, the air raid sirens started up on (we assume) a regular test. I can confirm they work and could probably be heard in Limoges. The sound was obviously just on one dog's wavelength as he set up howling in harmony. The baker had stuck up a notice saying out of bread, so he had obviously heard of the nuclear threat and was stockpiling. Strangely, a couple of people walked out of the door with bread!

We got to the lake and set up the boat with the new trolley. It certainly made the job a lot easier as we could completely assemble and dismantle the boat next to the car rather than put the boat together, get it down to the water then make several trips to fill it with oars, motor and items for the trip. We stopped in a nice, quiet, deserted little bay opposite the slipway and spent a pleasant half hour or so watching the world go by. Back to the slipway, it was a cinch to take the boat out of the water and park it by the car while we had our picnic.

I spent a little while fishing but only caught one little chub who hopped off the hook as soon as he saw me! I think it may not have been ideal weather for the fish. We made another little tour of the lake before heading back to the site for an evening meal of omelette and salad. Temperature of 29°C at 7pm.

Thursday 6th August

Up fairly early so that we could get into the open market that's held every Thursday. It was absolutely huge and very spectacular but we still didn't find anything compelling to buy. Back to our pitch for a late lunch. It was by now very hot; the thermometer showed a temperature of 30°C in the shade mid afternoon. It was too hot to do anything but sit in our loungers, read and doze – which we managed without too much effort. We managed to rouse ourselves with some effort to make supper at 8 and enjoyed some nice pork cutlets grilled on the barbeque.

Friday 7th August

During the night we had the suspected rain but although at times it was quite steady, was not the storm we had expected. In the morning just after rising was when the storm hit but it was tame by Argentat standards. Some brief heavy rain, a couple of claps of thunder and the odd flash of lightning. Although I had prepared the defences, they were not needed this time. It rained intermittently most of the morning, so we sat and read. Sue got the washing on in the anticipation of dry weather later. After lunch the rain died off as suspected with blue skies and intermittent fluffy white clouds; once again giving a low layer of mist over the river as the moisture dried up.

We put the washing on the line and went for a 2 hour walk down the lane along the riverbank. There were a number of people fishing in the favourite spots and we were pleased to see that cruises by gabare have been started up river towards chastang. At the front of the boat there was an animateur who presumably was guiding the tour but he was also clearly entertaining the occupants as he sang songs that sounded folksy and we assumed were gabarier songs to put the masses into the right mood.

Back on site we collapsed into our chairs until we had to stir ourselves for supper; as it was looking a little black we didn't risk barbequeing but we need not have worried!

Coming up shortly ….................. Boules Carrees a Pierrfort

permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on August 10, 2009 from Argentat, France
from the travel blog: Argentat de nouveau
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Le Tournoi International de Boules Carres

Pierrefort, France

Saturday 8th August

Got up reasonably early and got packed for our trip to Pierrefort. By the time we had left the outfit ready for any weather in our absence and filled up, we were running a little later than we had planned. We went directly from Aurillac to Pierrefort rather than going via Vic-sur-Cere as we usually do. We stopped for a brief snack lunch on the top of the Auvergne plateau and wished Neil a Happy Birthday, quite gently as he was still feeling a little fragile after the previous night. The temperature had dropped from a cool 16°C when we left Argentat to a chilly 13.5°C on top.

Fabulous views and Sue's favourite kind of motoring on the way up. Going across the top, we saw a huge bird of prey, that lifted off from the top of a telephone pole as we approached, casually beating its wings in slow, majestic flight just ahead of the car. It was not a buzzard nor a kite, so I assume it was an eagle. We saw a kite as we approached Pierrefort, going about its business in a wide spiral about 100 feet over the car.

Arriving at Pierrefort, where it was a warm 23°C Rene was already hard at work starting the draw for the first group but he greeted us enthusiastically and was delighted that we had decided we would play this year. We checked in to the Panoramic, again greeted as old friends by Rosalie(?) with the customary Cantal 2 kisses on either cheek. We have never really fathomed the mysteries of this French traditional etiquette; its confusing enough alternating cheeks without having to remember how many you have delivered. Typically French, of course, there are differing numbers of kisses due, depending on where you are and the relationship of the participants. The average Frenchman will have learned this at his(or her) Grannies knee and it is now second nature but to the average English person it is a mystery. You can go for the safe bet of one on either cheek but then find yourself recalled to finish the job. It is a delightful custom – I just wish I understood it!

Rene had arranged for our inscription so when we showed up, Team 142 was swiftly up and running in Group B. Our first match was against a couple of lads who were apparently visiting their Grandma who lives locally. Although they claimed that they hadn't played much, they were either very good or very lucky – we only scored one point! Our second match was against another couple of young lads who were quite embarrassed to loose to us, I think. Our final match of the first round was against a couple of mature ladies and it was nip and tuck – the match not the ladies. On our way to the terrain, we asked the way of another player on his way to a neighbouring pitch. He was well oiled but reasonable coherent. However, he couldn't resist turning on the Gallic charm with the two ladies who good humouredly returned the banter. But one of the ladies made it quite clear to me that she would have two of him for breakfast! We managed to get a result and as a reward were through to the next round! This was against a team that mixed youth with experience. We were soon down 8-0 and it was not looking too good but we battled back taking one point at a time; finally going down 13-7! The boys bought us a commiseratory drink for which we were very ready. It was very warm and getting very humid. And it was now 8:30pm!! After our drinks we popped in to see Rose marie & Rene to see when we would be called to present the Shrewsbury Cup which was to be awarded to the best female team. It was not going to be very soon, so we went and had a shower and refreshed ourselves. After a brief discussion with Rose marie we went to have dinner, as otherwise the restaurant may be closed; Rene was to come and fetch us for the presentation when needed. In the restaurant, our table was next to a long table which contained a party from Clermont Ferrand, most of whom had been in the tournoi. Several of them we recognised from previous years and one older lady in particular recognised us; she had clearly been enjoying herself for some time and was leading some sing-songs. We were quizzed about where we came from then about le fut about which I said I knew very little, my interest being in rugby. Needless to say, being from Clermont Ferrand, they were all avid supporters and we had a discussion about which English players were involved in Ferrand and Brive (Jonnee Weelkeenson). Shortly after we started on our main course, we were called away for the presentation. I was pleased to see it was still there on our return - a delicious braised steak with mashed potato and being a warm evening was still very palatable. After an intermezzo of cheese, we had our pudding of cream filled choux pastry rather like a very large profiterole. During our sweet, the Ferrand contingent celebrated the 10th birthday of a little girl and we all joined in with singing Joyeux Anniversaire (same tune as Happy Birthday) not all of us knew all the French words and some improvisation was required. Panoramic had baked a special birthday gateaux for her, which looked very good.

We retired to bed close to midnight; as we were down two floors, we were not disturbed by the ball going on overhead!

Next – Les Monts du Cantal

permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on August 11, 2009 from Pierrefort, France
from the travel blog: Argentat de nouveau
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Week 2 - Monts du Cantal and back to base camp

Argentat, France

Sunday 9th August

During the night, we had a storm and when we woke it was absolutely going stair rods. It was a late rise morning. We made it for breakfast at just before 10 and I enjoyed a hot chocolate with my croissant and bread. The jams were gorgeous and looked home-made. The family had been up when we went to bed; they still had a café full and they must have been up for some time this morning. They can't have had much sleep but they all looked remarkably fresh. It struck us again how hard they work.

By now the rain had stopped and we popped down to see Rose marie; apparently the lease had run out on their gift shop and it had been bought by Utile – a sort of Tesco express. She summoned Rene and we had a little chat. Apparently, because of so many teams entered and because as the Tournoi ran on, some of the teams took to the bar between matches, it didn't finish until 12:30! Rene and Rose marie then had to have something to eat before bed and then up for work on Sunday – I don't know how they manage it. We were invited to stay with them next time and I guess we shall but I don't suppose we shall get much sleep!

We were given a basket of goodies and a €15 token from the shop which we spent before leaving. We decided to go back via Vic Sur Cere, then do a circuit of the monts du Cantal, passing through Murat where there is a huge statue of Madonna and child overlooking the town on a puy then on to Salers before returning to Argentat. The weather all the way was pretty awful; the temperature dropped to 13°C on the way across the Auvergne plateau. But through the rain, the scenery was spectacular. We stopped at a rest area just north of Vic to go for a short walk to see the Cascade de la Roucolle.

With the rain, it looked pretty spectacular. There was a sad note on the belvedere overlooking the cascade asking people to be very careful with young children as 4 year old Julian had fallen to his death there. Our next stop was the col de Peyrol which is apparently the highest pass in the massif central. I spotted a sign confirming that the pass was open, which was reassuring but I guess during the winter it would spend most of its time closed. Sue spotted a sign on the approach road saying that camper vans should not follow this route; needless to say we saw a number of either illiterate or simply careless people in their vans tackling the route. Fortunately, there was only one occasion when this caused a problem when two vans met one another on one of the many stretches of single carriageway (steep drop one side steep climb the other) necessitating some manoeuvring into a passing place complete with the inevitable queue of traffic behind each, which took time and some delicacy to avoid disaster. When we arrived at the pass, the rain was only falling gently but banks of mist floated across the top giving an eerie feeling. The views were constantly changing as the banks of mist cloaked the scenery as though it was playing hide and seek. We saw enough to know that this was a pretty spectacular place; if it was as crowded as this on a poor day, what would it be like in good weather? The route back through Salers was just as good; we decided not to bother stopping as it was pouring when we went through. We decided as we got back that it was amazing that we hadn't done it before and well worth the trip.

Monday 10th August

Got up quite late and went into town and got the blog started – ran out of battery before we could email everyone. Went shopping and had a late lunch. Generally had a relaxing day. The good weather has returned.

Tuesday 11th August

A very warm day, it started cooking quite early. Went into town again, added a bit more blog, uploaded some more photos, emailed family then went for a wonderful ice cream at Roger's new place on the quay.

This is ice cream as an art form and tastes as good as it looks. We went shopping before heading back into town to collect some hasticots for fishing later and then parked up in place Delmas for a walk through the old town along the riverbank. It was wonderfully peaceful.

Back on site the temperature mid afternoon was 28°C. We had merguez and chipolatas for tea with an oriental taboule and salad. After this I spent a couple of hours fishing from the harbour wall. There was plenty of fishy activity but I only managed to attract one small chub to the hook.

Wednesday 12th August

Another hot day in store, our neighbours left early at 8 and we waved them off. The night had been cold and the mists clung to the slopes around the site, drifting in spirals up through the trees but it was clear they would soon burn off. We put the boat together at the pitch, loaded it up on its trolley and then took it down to the launch point by the pool. The whole exercise was much less hassle than it used to be. We had a nice cruise up the river and back for an hour or so which was very refreshing with a bit of a breeze and the occasional splash. Since we have been here, we have been buzzed by a couple of Eurofighters flying at low level with a lot of noise, most days but while we were on the river, it was a Hercules flying just over the tops of the valley; at least it was a bit quieter than the jets! We have left the boat assembled outside the 'van ready for our next trip.

After lunch we sat out the hot (30°C again) part of the day reading (in my case) and sewing (in Sue's). Late afternoon we had a trip in the car to cool us down to survey the possibilities for tomorrow's lunch. We went up to Roche Canillac and back through St Martin la meanne. We have settled on Les Voyageurs once again.

We saw a lovely house on the outskirts of St Martin – a huge log cabin.

Quite a huge exodus of the Dutch contingent today; many of the pitches around us have been vacated; I suspect that most are trying to get past Paris by the weekend to avoid the congestion of the bank holiday weekend.

Noticably absent this year are the traditional dutch triangular tents that we used to see in profusion around the site 10 years ago. Only 2 to be seen at the moment.

After a barbeque, we chilled again with a glass of wine as the heat of the day subsided to a lovely, quiet balmy evening with the cicadas in full song as dusk fell. This is why we keep coming back.

Thursday 13th August

After opening my cards and pressies, we got up and through the course of the day spoke to all the family. We managed to make it into the street market in Argentat and had a nice little wander around the stalls, finding something in a toy stall that may be of interest to a certain young member of the family in a few months time at Christmas. This market wasn't as big as last weeks – I noticed in particular that the 'choose your own trout' stall where a tank of fish was kept in the back of the van, one netted out for your decision – which in the event of a positive selection resulted in a swift dispatch by a wooden priest and hey presto – very fresh fish to order. Another stall that had caught my attention was the 'choose your own pig'. The stall had cartoons of very happy pigs going about their business and if I understood the blurb at the front of the stall, it was advertising that all the produce was free-range and organically grown. The pigs had very happy lives – in fact they were so confident you would agree they encouraged prospective customers to come and see for themselves and choose their own porker for dispatch. Now I know I'm an old city dwelling softie but the idea of looking a pig in the eye and sizing him up for slices of bacon etc before passing the death sentence on an individual whose only crime was of being born with 4 trotters goes rather against the grain. Of course I shall not be thinking about this next time I have a bit of pork and lets face it, if it were a matter of the pig or I in a 1:1 situation, I'd make sure that he was the one who ended up on my plate!

After leaving the market, we went straight up to the restaurant, having had a slight disagreement at the crossroads as I had encroached while unsighted. Anyway it gave a young French woman an opportunity to use her full range of vocal talents and accompanying hand gestures before screaming off up the road at considerably more than the 50kph normally permitted.

Les Voyageurs was very similar to the last time we ate there. As a Logis restaurant, it is immaculately presented and feels cosy. An old building with ceiling beams and a very ornate grandpere cloche, beautifully laid tables and older clientele. There were 3 others when we arrived and I guess the staff were pleased to see the numbers increase by 67%.

We chose the set menu at €16.50:

I had the most delicious rump steak in a pepper sauce with tomatoes and a white sauce with courgettes and leeks accompanied by a sort of yorkshire pudding or pancake. Anyway it was very good. Sue had pave of salmon in a langoustine sauce with pureed carrots, cabbage in white sauce and the pancake yorkshire. She enjoyed it but thought that the sauce was a bit delicately flavoured. I thought I ordered 2 glasses of wine; 1 of rose and one of red; what I got were 2 rose and 2 red – oh well! For pudding I had a chef's selection of 4 puddings and they were all fabulous; I finished with a lovely lemon sorbet. Sue chose une assiette chocolat sweet and thoroughly enjoyed it.

We intended to go for a walk we have done before, maybe 10 years ago, but couldn't remember where the start point was. We moved off down the road then into some woods along a path but after ¾ of an hour decided it was not going anywhere and headed back. At least in the woods it was slightly cooler!

Back on site we chilled off in the shade and at about 8 felt peckish again so went down to the chateau for a pizza. It was very busy so we had a kir at the bar while we waited. After our pizza, decided to walk down to the chateau again to take some pictures of the new wooden decking for the tables as well as the view of the chateau from the pool while all lit up. This was rather difficult as I had forgotten my monopod which would have stabilised the camera for the longer exposure needed. They have made a feature bed in front of the chateau which is rather nice.

Friday 14th August

Up and into town quite early to do our shopping. Back on site we took the boat out for a run for just over an hour. While out we saw a lovely buzzard fly about 20 feet over our heads from one side of the river to the other to rest on some rocks. Sue tried to get her camera out in time to catch him but we are not sure she did. Once again, the breeze from our travel and the sounds of the water were very relaxing, although there are several bits of timber floating in the river and you need to be careful not to hit these; or indeed the many swimmers who take to the water.

Spent the middle part of the day trying to keep cool as the temperature reached 31°C in the shade in which we were sitting. As it started cooling at around 7ish, we went down to the pool area where I fished for a couple of hours off the quay. I caught 2 small roach and felt quite satisfied, especially as some people seem to have a strange idea of what constitutes acceptable behaviour and even when I had been there some time, people would come along and splash in the water feet from where I was fishing. Even less so when there was a nice clean swimming pool uncontaminated with mud, oil from boats and other detritus! There's none so queer as folk.

Back at the pitch we barbequed some sardines and very good they were indeed, washed down with a lovely rose.

permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on August 15, 2009 from Argentat, France
from the travel blog: Argentat de nouveau
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Week 3

Argentat, France

Sat 15th August

Updated the blog in the square (where we had to sit on concrete as the seating was all occupied) then off shopping; we were pleased to note that despite it being a French Bank holiday, the supermarket was open. We stocked up with provisions for the next couple of days – it was quite a joy as the place was almost empty!

Back on site,we went for a cruise up the dordogne again before a late lunch. We sat out the hot part of the day (31°C) in the shade of the pitch, then late afternoon we played boules outside the emplacement. We had a nice supper of chicken in a lemon sauce. We finished off with a coffee and cognac then ambled down to the chateau for the fireworks which were pretty spectacular.

Sun 16th August

Most spaniels I have known have been potty. There was a springer we had in Cyprus that I will not have known well but has left a memory of being one sandwich short of a picnic. And Meg & Graham had a pair of cockers that would have been certifiable if they weren't so soft. Our near neighbours, a youngish Dutch couple have one who appears to defy the trend. He is well behaved, does what he is told, is suitably enthusiastic, demonstrative and playful. They appear to be a very well organised pair, taking turns to do everything. Last night he cooked supper, tonight it was her turn. Sharing doesn't appear to come into it as the other completely relaxes while the other does everything. Even if I could cope with doing the relaxing while Sue worked, I'm not sure she would find it possible, especially when the roles were reversed!

Another interesting near family is a young French family of Dad, Mum & 2 little boys. Dad is the patriarch, laying down the law. He spends most of his day in what Ollie would call his wife-beater T-shirt and there is no doubt as to who is boss. Except, that is for the 2 boys, who have two speeds for everything; flat out and stop. The youngest has discovered that if he shouts loud enough, Mum or Dad will usually respond and he is pretty adept at blackmail, with his hurt cry. However, Dad is rarely amused and it doesn't appear to work too well – raised voices are much in evidence; good for him I say. It doesn't pay to kowtow to kids, they're generally much too bright these days! Division of labour is along traditional lines; Mum organises the kids first thing while Dad checks on world affairs with a quiet examination of the paper. After breakfast they all go shopping; the driving being part of Dad's responsibilities – on return, Dad takes the packages in for Mum to deal with while he returns to the serious business of politics. Mum gets lunch while Dad entertains the boys. All go swimming a suitable interval after lunch then Dad entertains the boys while Mum does the washing up and washing. Quite what Mum does late afternoon is not clear – perhaps she enjoys herself. Anyway, later she gets tea while Dad occupies the boys and they both have fun getting through the meal without too much interruption from the youngest who thinks he has spotted a window of opportunity to create mayhem. Quite rightly they let him run out of steam, while trying to interest him and telling him to be quiet and he returns to the table in due course. It is quite entertaining watching other people's problems.

We have two young couples, French one side and German the other. They are both quite charming but interestingly, its the young Germans who are the less reserved and we are always acknowledged as we pass.

As for us, we went to Beaulieu for a picnic lunch and a wander round the lovely town in the sweltering heat – 32°C; when we arrived we managed to make contact with Tom to wish him a Happy Birthday at a time we thought he may just have risen. We used the back roads to get there and back, rather than the main road. It was quite beautiful and we found a spot just above a cascade where I could do some fishing. I had to use worm as maggots are not allowed on the rivers. After a really relaxing if ultimately frustrating 2 hours without a nibble I packed up and we returned to the site where we barbequed lamb steaks which we ate with a fennel and aubergine salad with a pernod sauce.

We have become quite friendly with a Dutch couple who are visiting the site for the first time with their 2 teenagers. They have spent the day packing up their traditional tent and getting organised for a departure tomorrow. We invited them over for a late night coffee and cognac after they have finished. Tim Hortons (Timmee Hor-tons to some) provided the coffee which was much enjoyed as we sat and chatted (quietly) until midnight when we all retired amid much bonhomie.

Monday 17th August

The young French couple departed this morning, apparently they are off to see the sea and shortly after wishing them bonne route, our Dutch friends were off too. Marco apparently didn't have too good a night as he had found sleeping in a small tent rather claustrophobic, so they were not going to go too far today. I hope they made it safely.

Another hot, sunny day (31°C when we got back to the site). We loaded the boat and trolley onto the car with the fishing kit and went up to Marcillac la Croisille for a last trip on the lake and a spot of fishing. We crossed the lake to our favourite little bay and had a lovely picnic lunch. While we had lunch, we noticed a buzzard circling the woods a couple of hundred yards away and shortly after heard him mewing out of sight. After a very restful couple of hours drinking in the solitude and peace, we loaded up and went back to the car where we re-loaded the boat before going round the lake a bit further to find a nice fishing spot. I spent a thoroughly enjoyable few hours and actually managed to catch a couple of small chub. Sue sat in the shade and read or possibly just rested her eyes.

We said a fond farewell to Marcillac; we have decided to pack up tomorrow and spend a couple of days at Chateauroux. So tomorrow will be our last day here; we'll strike the awning early afternoon and load up the car ready for a fairly early start on Wednesday, which is predicted to be the hottest day of the year so far. But we would rather spend it in an air conditioned car than an airless campsite.

We have had a fabulous couple of weeks and the weather has been amazing; as always it will be sad to leave. As I write this M.Hiboux is hooting his farewell and the cicadas are in full song. I look up at the sky which seems so clear here and it only seems a very short time ago that John Parvin was showing Ollie what he could see up there; we spent many nights afterwards looking for satellite trails – but I can't see any tonight.

Depending on when & if we can get internet access, blogging may be even more intermittent this week!

permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on August 18, 2009 from Argentat, France
from the travel blog: Argentat de nouveau
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Final Week

Argentat, France

Tuesday 18th August

Over breakfast, reading the local paper, several articles on the back page grabbed us. This page is always a category of disasters and deaths and the reporting of this is usually done with a certain gusto, which is somewhat inappropriate to English eyes. One that didn't really fit into this category, must have been included because it was a slow news day. In Japan, a motorcyclist was in court for throwing his excreta at people he passed; his explanation to the judge was that he had too much stress at work.

Went for a last blog and ice cream at Roger's – Les 4 Rivieres. We thoroughly enjoyed these as the heat of the day built up. Roger welcomed our custom as usual and on discovering we were off tomorrow, advised us to watch our speeds. We had noticed in the local press that the police were having a crackdown on the A86 and A20 but his advice was appreciated.

We did our shopping and returned to the site at about 3, hoping that the heat would begin to reduce so that we could take down the awning a little more comfortably. It stubbornly remained at 32°C for the rest of the day, so we were absolutely streaming. However, we were all done by 6:30 when we went for a shower to cool off in preparation for our trip to The cafe at Rivieres on the road to Roche Canillac. On arrival, we noted it had a new name, so it is under new management. It no longer specialised in fish and when we asked if there was a table for 2 in the empty restaurant, the chef had to be summoned to see if he would cook for us. Fortunately he must have liked the way we looked as he said 'yes, of course'. It was explained that everything was cooked to order so it may take some time. We said we were in no hurry. The set menu offered a choice of starter – I had a huge tomato, sliced and in each slice was a piece of mozzarella; there were little pieces of tasty cheese around the edge of the plate and a drizzle of olive oil with basil. It was great. Sue had melon with parma ham and port that she made short work of, so I imagine it was good too. I then followed with a steak accompanied with stuffed fennel and potato, while Sue had Duck in an apple sauce and stuffed fennel. This course was very good too. The regulation cheese followed then the sweet of ice cream for Sue and crème brulee for me. It was excellent rustic and unpretentious cooking.

Back on site we were exhausted and tried to make an early night of it. There was no way – it was still very muggy and hot. Slept fitfully until it began to cool a bit in the wee small hours.

Wednesday 19th August

Up reasonably early to finish off disconnecting the van from services and readying it for the road. It was 22°C by 10 am so clearly going to be very hot. After a quick shower, we were ready to hit the road Monsieur opposite with the wife beater T shirt kindly offered to help manoevre the van. In the course of our brief conversation it transpired that he borrows his van from his parents who store it nearby. I mentioned that with 2 youngsters he must have quite a carful getting home afterwards. His brother is an engineer with Renault and it transpired that he will be able to replace his picasso with an Espace. That should solve his problems!!

On the road all went well until the car had to work up some of the hills on the A20, when it became apparent that the problem with heating is still there despite having had no problems since the run to Pierrefort. It was noticable particularly when going slowly in traffic or when toiling up the many hills around Limoges, when the coolant went from a steady 90°C and increased to up to 120°C at some points. I watched it like a hawk and took what action I could to contain it without letting it get out of hand. With the outside temperature climbing steadily to 38°C, it was quite worrying. By dint of nursing the car carefully to minimise the work the engine has to do, we were able to get the 145 miles to Chateauroux, where we were to spend a couple of days anyway. I rang RC motors to get a steer on which fuse may be at fault – checked the fuses, the fuse is not at fault. I had to ring NU rescue and explain the situation. They organised for a breakdown truck to pick the car up and take it to a local garage for repair. They would ring me the next day, after the garage has assessed the problem. One of the unlooked for benefits of the careful driving was the fuel consumption went from 19mpg on the way down to 21mpg on the way back, despite the conditions. And it has to be said that I was still travelling much of the way at 60mph!

Our pitch was a nice one with shade and there had been a little bit of wind to make the heat more bearable but it was 36°C on arrival and only began to cool marginally by 9:30p.m.!

Thursday 20th August

Another hot and stuffy night, although not as bad as last night and a lot better by morning. We managed quite a good night's sleep. After breakfast decided that we should plan on not having the car 'till friday, and thought we probably woudn't get any news on the car until between 10 and 11 so asked at reception where the nearest supermarket was. We were told no more than we absolutely needed; Carrefour was in the centre of the town. We thought we may have misheard as Carrefour was not marked in the centre on the map supplied by the campsite. Super U was and it was in the town centre next to a hotel. It was a 20 minute walk and appeared to have disappeared when we arrived there. Although there was a welcome breeze, the temperature had by now reached 28°C and it was quite warm though by this stage we must have got a bit acclimatised as we found it wasn't as impossible as it would have been a few days ago. We asked a lady who inevitably wasn't local, where the nearest supermarket was; she was looking for groceries and would like to know herself, she said. Our next contact was more successful and she said that the nearest was Carrefour, which was down by the station about 10 minutes walk away, access was by a passerelle. There was a tourist info centre next to the station and since we couldn't see any evidence of the Carrefour, popped in there. Yes the guy said, the other side of the station, if we were on foot there was a footbridge from the station car park. Sure enough, we found it where advertised; a huge Carrefour. By now it was about 11:30 and just as we were choosing our trolley, the 'phone rang. The car had been checked over, the fan was working and the thinking was that the main reason for the problem was the ambient temperature being so high. As it hadn't got into the critical stage, it was clearly within the working abilities of the car. We were told that the garage asked us to check the car but there would be no charges, according to the man from the RAC. (However, I was not surprised to find that the 48 minutes that the checking took, were indeed charged.) We decided that since the garage would probably close between 12 and 2, and it would take us an exhausting 30 minutes to walk, we would hire a taxi. An obliging customer service lady at Carrefour offered to order one for us, which we gladly accepted. We picked up the car took it to Leclerc (we didn't trust ourselves to find Carrefour again with the confusing one way system), filled up with groceries and fuel and went back for lunch at the site.

In the afternoon, we paid a visit to George Sand's house about 40 minutes south of Chateauroux. While it was quite interesting and we had the obligatory guided tour (understanding about one word in 10 of the enthusiastic verbal gushing of the guide) the heat and the time taken over each room meant that it was a bit of a trial. Apparently, Amantine Aurore Lucile Dupin, later Baroness Dudevant was an ardent feminist and as a female writer had to adopt the male nom-de-plume George Sands in order to get published – and this in egalitarian post-revolutionary France. (No mention of our own George Eliot). She was apparently the most productive and successful female writer in the world (no mention of our own Jane Eyre or Beatrix Potter, although it has to be said GS's output was staggering). I am sure that I understood that she frequently had house guests and a lot of the presentation was a somewhat breathless account of how marvellous her dinner table must have been; with references to Chopin, who apparently visited several times, Flaubert and several other creative geniuses I can't now remember. (Subsequent research has revealed that Sand had several affairs, including one with Chopin who must have been a very regular visitor and a lesbian affair with an actress; she corresponded regularly with Flaubert, and she took to dressing as a man – but I am sure that there was no hint of her eccentricity in the presentation, just an emphasis on how the great and the good beat a path to her door. She must have been quite a woman leading a bohemian existence which could only have been possible because of her family background; this would have made her a natural attraction to creative people). The gardens which were supposed to be special were a particular let-down. However, it was an interesting trip.

One of the side effects of the trip was it gave me an opportunity to see how stable the engine coolant temperature was. Rock steady at 90°C! Although the ambient temperature was probably less testing at only about 31°C – and of course we didn't have a ton of wood and metal attached to the towball!

On our return I checked to see if the main fan was working and was relieved to see that it was turning. After allowing it to cool, I checked fluids for the next stage as usual and thought I would look in the handbook to see what it said. Essentially, it said that if there is a high ambient temperature and the engine is working hard, it is normal for the temperature to increase toward maximum as long as the coolant warning light doesn't come on – so perhaps the garage are right. (However, it was steady at 90°C when passing Paris at 40°C some 5 years ago, so I'm not convinced). Anyway, we have decided to carry on tomorrow and see if we can get to Guines without incident. As today has been much cooler and tomorrow may be cooler still, we shall see. It is a much longer trip and if there is any hint of trouble, we shall look out for a VW dealer in Rouen. We have also got an up to date Michelin camping guide at Leclerc, so if things start to go pear shaped, we shall be in a position to do something about it.

Supper tonight was lovely pork steaks, barbequed to perfection by yours truly with an excellent salad by herself, followed by cheese and then by yoghurt and grapes. Talk about living the high life!

Friday 21st August

Off reasonably early, though a number of units had moved out before us. TomTom wanted to take us round Paris, so I progammed in a route via Rouen, thinking it would take us the same way as we came. However, TomTom had other ideas and instead of a fair amount of N roads, we followed the autoroute almost to Versailles, then out to Rouen. It was probably a slightly quicker route but not as attractive. Most of the motorway service areas, apart from charging more for fuel, also only stock the E10 unleaded 95, which contains 10% ethanol. Apparently all cars produced since January 2000 can run on this and it didn't do the Bora any evident harm, I only put in a little and topped up with full fat 95 at the first opportunity. This was in Rouen and was serendipitous for a couple of reasons. One was the engine was beginning to get heated in the stop start traffic along the approach to the river crossing; the stop gave it an opportunity to cool a little. The other was a poor lady whose card didn't work in the reader, so she couldn't pay for her fuel; the guy behind the desk was not very helpful, producing the usual, eloquent gallic shrug by way of assistance. She was English and had been trying for some time to top up on her way to Calais; she had even spoken to her credit card company to see why it wasn't working but they had assured her it was fine. Anyway she was absolutely distraught, so we paid for her fuel and she wrote us a cheque for the rough amount; I suspect that the cheque will more than pay for it – we'll send her the balance once we see what that is.

As we drove north, the temperature dropped and when we arrived on site it was a chilly 18°C; some 10°C less than we have been used to of late!

After pitching up, we made ourselves supper then popped down to the bar to see about the internet access that they are supposed to have here. WeeFee is available in the bar area for those with their own laptop – FOR €5 PER HOUR!!! This translates to roughly £4.60 at current rates so final communications will have to wait until after our return.

Saturday 22nd August

We got speaking to the couple next door with a young son in a campervan who have spent 3 weeks doing Europe. They have been through France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, France again, Spain and France. While we were assured that they had had time to absorb some of the local culture, I couldn't help feeling that it was a little frenetic.

Tomtom guided us to a Calais Supermarket on east side used by locals and I should think completely unknown to most tourists which was excellent for last minute shopping. From here we made our way to Calais centre and had a look at the magnificent townhall and gardens with photo exhibition. There was much honking shortly after we arrived and we were not surprised to see a wedding party turn up in very good spirits. The photo exhibition is one touring the world and contains some fascinating images. Some must have been manipulated in some way as they had sharp edges where you wouldn't expect to find them or a degree of contrast that was unlikely. But they were all extraordinary images, many of them looked like abstract art until you got close enough to see them clearly. Very clever indeed.

On to Calais plage and a walk on the sand so that we knew we had been to the seaside. It was a beautiful day and the weather was just right to be able to see through the crystal clear atmosphere over the channel to the chalk cliffs of Dover. We were feeling a bit peckish so found a restaurant offering galettes and sat down to order only to be told that there were no galettes or guaffres at this restaurant or indeed at the beach hut we tried subsequently so we settled for an unusual frites and crepe sucre with Kronenbourg!

We were stunned that the car park next to the beach was both huge and free – compare this with most places back home which wouldn't be able to resist the opportunity to relieve visitors of some of the weight in their pocket.

We drove along the coast to Caps Blanc Nez & Gris Nez and went for a walk up to the headland at Blanc Nez, finding a dead rat on the way. The views across the channel were once more staggering. At Gris Nez there was a huge, free car park with a boardwalk access to the promontory, with again, marvellous views.

On the way back to the site, the map showed that there was a viewpoint and we duly stopped to take in the scene. We were a little surprised to find that it was of a quarry! We should have seen the hint given in the marker board being sponsored by an aggregate company. Gazing down on a gravel and stone quarry is not really what excites us so we left.

Back at the site we got ready for our meal at the Auberge Les 3 Pays in Guines. We had had an excellent meal here 3 years ago but it had obviously changed hands. We arrived shortly after 7 and were surprised to be their first customers. I have always thought that the best indicator of the quality of a French restaurant is being busy with locals and I should have taken the hint. Having arrived without expecting to need plan B and feeling hungry, we studied the menu once we could drag the waitress away from her computer screen. We settled on the prix fixe menu and placed our orders. After a little while, the waitress came back to apologise that one of the dishes we had ordered was not available! We reordered and chose our wine only to be told that the bottle that we wanted was not available either! We are used to not being rushed in French restaurants and had expected that with no other customers to serve, we would get attentive service but we had bargained without the change of emphasis. It became clear that it was now more of a bistro/ bar for locals with pool tables in the back. People arrived and went straight through the restaurant to the bar. Until, that is a large family group arrived and went through into the back to a great welcome from the resident family. It was clear that they were close friends and the chef came out of the kitchen to greet them. This wouldn't have been very significant if we had not at this stage been waiting for our main course for some time but it was clear where her priorities lay. After our main course, we waited for our dessert; by now the family group had taken up station in an adjoining partition, laid up for them, where the chef was regaling the family. After a while she was reminded by the waitress that we were waiting for our dessert and was somewhat peremptorily dismissed. Anyway, we patiently got through our meal by the end of which we were almost still as hungry as at the beginning due to the length of the waits. To add insult to injury, as a gastronomic experience it only fulfilled the second part of the phrase; if I am generous I would say that the meal was very very average. Being British, we settled up at the first opportunity and left without leaving a tip but many would have just left without paying – I'm not sure that we would have been noticed! We shall not be revisiting! Ever!

Sunday 23rd August

Up early and away from the site in good time for the ferry. An extraordinary good crossing, apart from one or two noisy and (in a literal sense), unwashed fellow countrymen holding forth. It is depressing to find you are a snob after all!

A good run home with a stop at Oxford services for lunch. No problems with cooling, although we did have a short time on the M25 when the traffic was moving slowly and the coolant started to go a little above 90. I shall ask RC Motors to look at the radiator in due course as I am sure this is where the problem lies in sludging up.

As I look at my diary, to reflect on the holiday, I notice my bare feet which are striped with suntan between the straps of my sandals – zebra feet as Sue calls them (what's she trying to say; zebras have hooves!) Anyway, I think a definition of a good holiday would have to include zebra feet and we have certainly had an excellent holiday.

permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on September 7, 2009 from Argentat, France
from the travel blog: Argentat de nouveau
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