Friday, November 4, 2011

Vive la France, part 2

First of all, I owe an apology to all English-speaking French people. For example, the very pleasant girl who served us at Le Comptoir de l’Horte in Revel; and the lovely lady at the Domaine Laubarel winery ; and Vincent, a young man from Toulouse with whom we shared the dining table here at Chris and Donna’s place. 
Lovely lady at Laubarel winery
 We’ve been here nearly a week, but after the first 24 hours or so, the place felt like home, as if we were staying with long-time friends rather than at a B&B booked over the Internet. It’s called Le Moulin Pastelier, and is located the tiny village of Belesta en Lauragais, which I suspect none of you has ever heard of, and which took me forever to commit to memory. All the names of the little towns and villages here are beyond me. Long and awkward or short and awkward, I can't pronounce them. They seem to have too many vowels in unwieldy combinations. 
Unassuming facade of Le Moulin Pastelier

I was half looking forward to, half dreading, the prospect of airing my highschool French. All the way from Toulouse airport I mentally practiced a few choice phrases…
After leaving the highway and driving through narrow country lanes, feeling certain that we’ve gone astray, we found ourselves at the right spot. Parked the Meriva and rang the doorbell. A pleasant-looking blonde opened the door, and I braced myself and said “Bonjour!”, followed by a quiet Hello just to be on the safe side.
Imagine my relief when it turned out that Donna and Chris, our hosts, are British…  So obviously, I have a good excuse for not having practiced my French this past week.

Our first destination, on Sunday, not-so-bright and not-so-early, was Carcassonne, a pretty tourist trap in the shape of a Middle-Ages walled city. Michael had fond memories of the place from his previous visit there, some 50 years ago, on a school trip… I’d bet anything that it didn’t have as many trinket shops and restaurants fifty years ago…
Nina (with purple backpack) taking pics of the entrance to Old City of Carcassonne
Monday’s destination was Albi, a prettier city with a civilized old section, a grand cathedral, and a Toulouse Lautrec museum
Palais de la Berbie, Albi, now the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum

But the French being awkward, everything closes down between 12 noon and 2 pm; and lots of places don't even bother to open on Mondays. The owners are probably still tired from Sunday. Besides, Tuesday was All Saints’ Day; no point in opening shop on Monday just to close it again on Tuesday… But the weather was perfect for roaming the streets and trying to capture the falling leaves of autumn. While tourists like me can’t get enough of the beautiful tall plane trees* along the roadsides, I can understand how the locals might feel differently. Taking photos of them and sighing at their beauty is a far cry from dealing with the mounds and mounds of drifting leaves everywhere. Though leaves are probably the least of the problem, judging from the copious mention of those trees on the Internet. See, for example, what The New Yorker has to say, in this charming article
Autumn leaves (of the plane tree)

Finding your way around Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées  easy once you’ve done it for a week or so… But initially, what with crazy French drivers, fast roads, unintelligible names on signs, and winding country lanes  with absolutely no lights and no landmarks… it’s, well, tricky. So the GPS that our hosts kindly lent us was a blessing, when it wasn’t driving us crazy. To an extent, it was our fault, we hadn't configured it properly. You have to be very specific in choosing certain options, such as whether you want to go the fastest way, or the scenic route, or avoid toll roads, etc. But some of it is, I think, the fault of the developers who wrote rather annoying texts for the various announcements... When we didn't do what the program instructed us to do, it responded in a very insulting way, just short of calling the driver a bloody idiot. But most of the time we didn't switch it off, because it does have its advantages. Like when you’re driving in thick fog, or it pitch black, and can’t see where the next bend in the road is.

Back home, I didn't think much of GPS devices, having seen more than once how they led drivers astray. This particular one was a TomTom, a name I can't help but finding amusing. Yes, the logo is very cute; but I can't help imagining an Israeli agent trying to promote a GPS device called TomTom, which, when written in Hebrew, would probably be mispronounced as Toumtoum, meaning "idiot". 

That was around 700 words, very briefly covering our first 3 days in France...
Stay tuned for the rest of our adventures.

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