Very cold and wet today with a maximum temp of 12 degrees and minimum of 1 degree. Another fairly pathetic breakfast, not much to write home about them, in French hotels though. Off to our cog train trip at La Rhune into the Pyrenees. Built in 1924, it takes 35 minutes to climb to the summit of La Rhune which is 905 metres (A bit on the small side for us after Jungfrau and the Matterhorn in Switzerland). It was 4 degrees and misty, as we waited at the train station, which gave it a really picturesque look in this very tiny village. It did remind us of being in Switzerland again, except it was colder here. When we reached the summit in this little open aired train, we were all frozen to the core and by then it was raining in on us too. The idea of this train, was to take us to the border of Spain, so we were all looking forward to that. Some more than others as there was a shop across the border that sold very potient alchol called Anisette. Naturally, not being drinkers, Des and I didn't need to taste this or buy it but we did enjoy our included cup of hot chocolate, which warmed us up. We took the obligatory photo of each other with one foot in Spain and one foot in France with Des singing something about "The rain in Spain falling mainly on the Plain" What, this was the mountain Des! Shut up OK and just get back on the train. Its too cold and wet here for me! The trip down was below freezing as now the rain was coming in on us all so 35 minutes downwards seemed more like 3 hours. Still it was another one of those unforgetable experiences we ENDURED!
Onto Biarritz for a hot lunch and a walk down to the lovely surf beach where it was too cold to linger there. Biarritz was a nice little town but the first cafe we went in to with 3 other couples from our tour bus was not nice. We actually saw 3 french waiters look us all up and down with utter distain and totally ignored us until we all gave up and left. They probably saw the bus drive by earlier and thought they would not lower the stuck up French ways to wait on us English speaking low lifes. No wonder France is suffering with the tourist dollar. We found a really warm little cafe further up the road. Basic food but extremely friendly staff and couldn't do enough to please us. I think this must happen quite a bit in Biarritz.
This time we actually were happy to be on the warm bus and off again on another long journey down yet another boring motorway to Bordeaux. My feeling by this stage: If Tralafgar added another 2 - 3 days to travel on lesser roads, the scenery would be much more interesting and therefore people may want to come back instead of thinking France was not a pretty place to visit. When we were on lesser roads, the scenery was lovely but we all know how boring motorways are eh.
Now we had left the hilly area and were on the flat - total flat again. Bordeaux is a pretty city with lots of Roman Architecture and an easy grid of roads making it easy to find your way around. The other thing about this trip we found, so often, we would only be in a town for 1 night and arrive at dusk or afterwards and be off by 8am giving us no time to have a good look at the area we had come to. Bordeaux was one of those towns. 2 days here would have been really good Trafalgar! We and the other NZ couple, Peter and Catherine found a little Asian Restuarant to have a delicious meal and a caraffe of Rose. All served by lovely young french waiters with the menu completely in French so it was a surprise as to what we were going to be eating. Our mains, we had guessed right so they were yummy. Our desserts, we had guess wrong - it wasn't chocolate log - we still don't know what we ate but it was nice though. On our way to this wee restuarant, we had passed though the square of the Cathedral of St Andrew. As it was late, the church was closed but their seemed to be something happening in the square that we soon found was a gathering of young Nazi facists. There was also heaps of Police with guns hanging around so we all moved away very quickly. It gave us a very strange feeling, very unnerving for us little peace loving kiwis. During our meal, they processed past our restuarant carrying raised flaming torches. It seemed fairly peaceful but the police and paddy wagons coming up at their rear may have been the reason for that. There were more police (hundreds by the look of it) than demonstrators. While they were passing, the lovely French waiter just quietly closed and locked the Restaurant door making us all feel a little more safe. We had also see Julien following all this to see what was happening and the next morning on the bus he said the Nazis are rearing their ugly heads again in Europe and it is beginning to look very dangerous again. He had never seen a demonstration like this and the raised flaming torches was a sign they are ready to strike. Well that didn't make us feel any safer did it!!!
We had to walk back the way we had seen them all heading, when we left the Restuarant at 10pm but didn't see them anymore. Here is this lovely old town with this as a memory for us and it wasn't good.
Sun 20th May Day 32 of OE and Day 8 of France.
Soon after boarding the bus this moring, we arrived in St Emillion, a lovely little old town where they grow graves grapes for graves wines. Many of the tour group tasted the wines while Des and I set off to enjoy the beauty of this old French Village and Church. Here there is also a church that only the locals can attend Mass at and it is in a cave under the village. The town reminded us of the village in "La Chocolat". Although the weather was again cold and wet here today, the village was still once again, beautifully unique and pretty. We got on the bus again and would you believe it - we spent the next 1 hour on the bus LOST! Des and I were sitting in the front seat today so we could verify this huge mistake by the driver and stupid Julien. We actually went around the same roundabout 3 times in that hour without Julien mentioning how stupid they were. It wasn't until he heard me say, "this is the third time we have been around this roundabout Des" that he actually apologized for getting lost ... for a time as he put it. This guy tells us he has been doing his job for over 20 years..... how can he get lost in a small area like this? Another experience we shall remember for a long time and another black mark for Trafalgar. Perhaps this is why it was easier to stay on the motoway as we hadn't even found our way back to it by then and, perhaps, that is why it takes so long to get to our next destination. Bearing all this in mind, this was the first time we had been able to sit in the front of the bus and actually see where we were going. Who knows how often this had happened before you have to ask yourselves. Unbelievable really! Just another tick for Cosmos as we were never lost with them. About 2 1/2 hours later we found our way to the next destination of Cognac, to a very wealthy distillery there. All the way, Julien was going on and on about Cognac and the good distilleries and the bad distilleries and that this was the only one to buy your Cognac from blah blah blah and even more blah!!!!! We had to go even though we actually weren't the slightest bit interested in how Cognac was made. The distillery was interesting even for us though as it was housed inside an old castle of Francis I in the actual church he had been baptised in. This castle was, in the 1700's, bought by a family who started the Cognac business that is still in existance there. Amazing that it was the church that the cognac is stored in the barrels. The most expensive bottle of Cognac, which Julien told us was the only one to buy there was over 4,000.00 Euros which Des seems to remember was about 750mils. Imagine that smashing on the plane back to NZ. No thanks Julien. He certainly must have been getting a cut at this distillery, we are sure.
Back on the bus, destination Tours. Very slow on the motorway as there had been a huge accident in the wet further along, which held us up as the traffic on a sunday afternoon was banked back 40km. That gave Julien more time to talk AT us about all the kings and queens of France and all the mistresses of the Kings. Unfortunately, that was my fault because I asked him a question about King Francis the first. I was possibly, a little unpopular with everyone else on the bus (that was 48 others I think). He never SHUT UP! Because of the 40km queue on the motorway, Julien chose to head off for a "Happy Place" stop for us and hopefully the backup would have cleared by the time we joined it again. Hell, everyone else on that motorway had decided to do that too so the queue for the ladies toilet was as long as France itself so I chose to hold on...... Why is it that the men don't EVER NEED TO QUEUE? but the women do? There was never enough time allowed for the womenfolk on our tour bus as you were only ever given 20 minutes before you had to be back on the bus. This was never enough time for everyone to have gone to the loo.
Back on the motorway to the banked up traffic and we still had 160 km to go and its 5.55pm already and we started off at 8am..... We finally arrived at 8pm a nice hotel in Tours though. There turned out to be quite a lot of Catholics on our tour including a Priest from Canada. We had dinner at the hotel and the Priest then doned his vestments and those who wanted to attend, us included, headed off to a conference room to celebrate Mass with Father Joe and Des leading the singing and me being the Minister of Eucharist. Just like at home really.