There has to be an exception.
Mentioned last time how friendly and helpful French people have been. There has to be an exception. The other day walking through village yearning for a coffee, came across this cafe, door open, darkness inside (but that’s not unusual we are finding) walked in as you do. I’m about halfway into the joint when “monsieur, monsieur, monsieur” can be heard loudly from the doorway we had just walked through. Turn around and there’s this woman who had been sitting at a table outside smoking as they do, and talking loudly on the phone, as they do, like one of those undesirable customers every cafe owner must get.My rapid retreat is followed by some un-understandable volley of rapid fire french. At this stage I realise she is the owner. “Deux cafe au lait sil vous plait” I ask, “OK”, then feeling like a bite, a croissant or similar, as you do, I ask in broken French, “and something to eat”. “OK”.
Thinking we are heading in again, I stride purposefully forward, my eyes adjusting to the darkness seeking the counter to see if there is anything to select from. Voila! I see a cabinet, like those drink cabinets they point too, with a get your own sweep of the arm, if you ask for a cold drink, move towards it, open it and start to look inside. Just at that moment my peace is shattered. Blaring from near the door comes “MONSIEUR, MONSIEUR, MONSIEUR”(thought that had happened a moment ago). But this time the smoking, loud talking outside proprietor is now striding towards me yelling “THIS IS NOT A SELF-SERVICE (REPEAT)”in broken English. Now we are even, but I’m thinking hey we are not really welcome here, so I wave Anne out of the place and follow to the much more dulcet tones of she with the loud voice’s “au revoir”.
We got what we wanted from a much nicer man in a much nicer place just a couple of doors along.
Cafes, as I’m sure you know, though different from ours in terms of offerings and coffee quality are an important part of daily life where dogs often outnumber patrons.
No we haven’t been to a bullfight.
But just as bullfighting in Spain is on the decline, we find a couple of rings in the area around us in France. Drove to a smallish village the other day and there near the entrance was a newish, small ring complete with toreador with horns on head statue.
Driving the vineyard lined narrow country roads is always an enjoyable experience for me. often vines give way to rough edges frequently with wild pomegranate, apples and escapee grape vines. The shooting season’s in full swing. Might have mentioned that before. Wandering the vineyards its amazing what you come across. And all that gunfire must have sparked the desire for a duck dinner. Well at least duck skewers on our bbq,
Many of the village entrance roads, and canal edges, are lined with plane trees. It is said Napoleon started this (somewhere I read the Romans did, so who knows) but now some are being removed as they have been responsible for car accident deaths.
Another constant here is the need for continual navigating around (well not always around as some just are not that shape), roundabouts that seem to have infested the country. The only things that contest these for popularity is churches. Even in our little town there are 2 I have found, usually locked only operating once of twice a month. Actually I think the roundabouts work quite well. some are large sods (I’ve driven around a number more than once trying to find the right exit. Others, small or barely existent. The need for so many, sometimes only metres apart, must come from the number of entry points each town has. Usually about six. On one occasion we “circumnavigate” a more triangular “roundabout”, and just when I think I’m through there’s a pedestrian crossing, an old couple waiting to cross, I wonder whereto and stop for them. They scurry across to some large wrought iron gates in the middle, open them and head into what is clearly their home. So a home in the middle of a roundabout, but that’s not all, as we leave the apex of the roundabout (?) I notice some impressive headstones. I guess the family burial plot, who knows, but in this triangular roundabout.
Round another corner, and another village. This one Poilhes has Canal du Midi running through it. A couple of significantly different boats pass on a bend in the canal.
Narbonne is a nice city for a day or two. Main attractions are its museums and cathedral, also the Canal de la Robine runs through it. Below the canal at night, part of the Cathedral of Saint Just, a recovered 1,000+ year old mosaic and a statue of someone I’m sure I know but just can’t recall for now.
By now the weather is turning colder and a strong wind is kinda making the day difficult.
Spent a night at a seaside holiday place La Port Nouvelle, lovely ocean beach, but not much else that’s memorable, except our hotel that is. The last place open I think, the room quite nicely done up with concealed blue lighting (ugh). The entrance was tiny, struggled to get our one bag though and even bigger struggle to get it in the lift, all so that when we reached our floor we could be assailed by darkness and an almighty stench. You know the one that you face when out of sheer desperation you are forced to enter a public toilet the local council has taken off its regular cleaning list. Shan’t be returning there. However did get some nice sunrise shots next morning.
We head to the area generally referred to as Aude Nature hoping to see and photograph some bird-life. Still seems scarce around the prime spots we were referred to, nothing to shoot, so give up on the west side of this great estuary and wetland area and head for the other side and the town made famous by the Newman’s. Not the Paul Newman’s, the Eric and Carol Newman’s.
On approaching Gruissan we come across another canal with a couple of old boat restorations going on. Here’s one of them.
Round the corner I spot some flamingos flying, not close enough, then go stalking storks.
Pretty much everything else seems blown away by the wind.
The wind we learn is the tramontane and can blow at up to 120k’s. It originates from the same central area as the better known mistral winds.
The town of Gruissan is like many here divided into new and old towns. The new is essentially built around 3 massive marinas. These are marina’s spectacular, ones that NZ boaties would just lust over. A really classy modern town that attracts 120,000 in the peak season. That’s over now and most shops and restaurants are closed. Enough are open though for us to get all the meals we need. The old city has the remains of a chateau on the hill, built about 1100 and a fairly typical small town, narrow streets, tight corners and streets littered with cafe tables and chairs to be navigated around. Oh of course a couple of great churches too. Not planning to, but late in the day we decide it’s worth staying longer and book into the 1st B & B (Chambres de Hotes) we come across. What a find. Probably the best accommodation on this trip, beautifully renovated and built from rock pilfered from the the chateau (you can what remains of the chateau below). All these places have so many stories. The proprietor of our B & B answers a lot of questions over breakfast and we learn a bit (I’m sure there’s a ton more) from him
Both the estuary (Etang de Thau) and the ocean are photogenic.
As is the Il’e Saint Martin salt works which date back to Roman times and as you can see still producing the stuff by the mountain-load.