18 July 2007
I phoned Nigel in the UK at 05h30 our time with his wake up call and he said he has been awake for ages! We find this is always a problem when you know you have to get up early. He sent me an sms from the station to say that stage 1 of his trip was completed and then from Basingstoke to say stage 2 was fini. All went well and Nigel met up with Christelle and Patrick at Southampton Airport. I drove through to Limoges in good time and this time I did not miss the turn off to the airport! Christelle, Patrick and Nigel arrived on time at 12h30. C & P were stopped by customs and immigration on their way through, I suspect South African Passports had something to do with it but Nigel successfully talked to the guy and they were soon off the hook. We took a leisurely drive back home through the villages and we stopped for a picnic at Lac de Mas Chaban. We saw an Aesculapian snake crossing the road, quite big about 1.5 metres long, not far from the house. Octavie, David, Florence and the kids came around for a drink at 18h30 and after dinner we finally got to bed around 10h30. Christelle, Patrick and Nigel were all very tired after a long day and suddenly having to speak and think in French was a strain for Nigel after months in the UK.
19 July 2007
22 July 2007
We were on the road by 09h00, driving to Cognac on the N141 via La Rochefoucauld and Angouleme, arriving at 10h15. The English language tour at Hennessy was only at 12h15 which delayed our timing for the remainder of the day. We were taken for a trip up the river and then a tour of the warehouse with explanations from planting of the grapes to drinking the cognac. We then went back to the main building for tasting. On an empty stomach this may not have been such a brilliant idea but we weaved our way up through Cognac old town afterwards for an omelette and chips. Leaving Cognac later than planned, we followed the Charente upstream. First to Bassac to see the 10th century Abbey (now with a lift next to the stairs!) and then onto St Simon to see the Maison de Gabariers and local sights associated with barge building on the Charente in the 1800s. From here we made a loop around Chateauneuf sur Charente; the original town was burnt in 1081 and later rebuilt as a fortress. From the 17th century on, the barrels of wine and pineau were sent down to La Rochelle from Cognac in gabariers, the flat bottomed barges. We then made a quick stop at St Simieux, famous for its eels.
It was then back home again and Patrick and Nigel finished the primer on the shutters.
23 July 2007
We then headed towards Chalais and stopped for fresh bread and cheese lunch in the village square at Rouffiac. Chalais proved to be unexceptional, so we set off home via more picturesque by-ways, over the rolling hills and through forest areas, sunflower and maize fields. We stopped at Chasseneuil to visit the Resistance museum and the hillside memorial above the town. The rain came down quite hard while we were at the memorial but we managed to dodge most of the showers, so another good day.
25 July 2007
We were off at 09h00 for the long awaited velo-rail trip! The weather was cool and cloudy, but a 20 minute drive and some food shopping at Champion brought us to the old station at Roumazieres-Loubert (R-L). A quick safety briefing in French by the manager and we sped off, Patrick and Nigel doing the pedalling, with other groups following at intervals behind. Gentle inclines and declines brought us 7.5 km through leafy woodland to Manot in about 30 minutes, over a viaduct and 4 road crossings where we had to dismount, push the machine over and remount on the other side. Being the first at Manot, we were able to have hot chocolate (to warm up) and a rest while the other teams arrived.
After half an hour we started the return trip with Christelle and myself on the pedals. Such was the speed we generated that we soon caught the wagon in front of us, so we then swapped with them and continued again with Patrick and Nigel providing power. Back at R-L in 25 minutes, at 12h00, thought turned to lunch, so we headed for the Cote de Boeuf by Lac Lavaud at La Guerlie. A great spot in the now sunny and warming weather and the chosen menu of superbly cooked and presented grilled duck with vegetables and a choice of sweets for €11 was enjoyed by all. Thence to Brian & Erica where their Gites were fully booked for a welcome swim. We were home at 18h30 for a simple supper. It was a warm and sunny evening with great hopes for tomorrow.
26 July 2007
We had an early start at 07h00 on the Dordogne tour, so by 08h15 we were in Brantome, catching some rays and drinking coffee at a local café.
The big Tour de France day started with a 06h00 departure. Having seen the camper vans parking up at the roadside the day before, we decided to get to St Genis by 07h00. As it turned out, that was very early, as we were almost the first car in the car park!! But then it was only a 100m walk to our chosen corner, opposite a France TV camera which turned up much later. Many of the first spectators were only there for the freebie handouts (we got a few) from the caravane which came through at 11h00, but they disappeared by 13h00, at which point the riders arrived.
The weather was cloudy with a few sunny intervals and very light and short showers, not the
advertised menu! Each rider was preceded by a police motorcycle, or a car in the case of the major riders. We were impressed to see at first hand the sheer speed of the riders; at our viewpoint they were some 30 km into a 55 km time trial, all completed in 70 minutes!!
Rider intervals were set at 2 minutes, which extended to 3 minutes for the last 30 or so seeded riders. Barloworld riders were vigorously cheered by our yellow South African shirt-wearing team. All too soon, the yellow jersey was through at 17h05 and the local crowd – we estimated 20 thousand - slowly filtered back to their transport. Traffic was very slow to clear and we were forced to divert to back roads to get home in a sensible time.
29 July 2007
Home maintenance day! Patrick & Nigel went to buy bread and dump some bottles. After lunch, the car was spotlessly cleaned by Patrick; the garden was dug over, the grass cut, clothes packed and house cleaned by Christelle. The weather was much the same as yesterday – cloudy with gusty winds and short light showers; some sun, but not much.
30 July 2007
We were away on schedule soon after 07h00, with everything packed for the return trip to the UK via Dijon–500 km away-and thence to Reims.
Navigation went well until just before Dijon, when we suddenly found ourselves heading eastwards on the A36 towards Germany. Taking a round-about route to get back on track, we found a great village restaurant in Saint Nicholas les Citeaux, where we had a very good and reasonable plat du jour 4 course lunch and wine including sausages/ chicken main course for €10 each. No menu, but Nigel managed the translation adequately and we all emerged well fed!
Shortly after lunch, we were cruising slowly through the prime Burgundy vineyards near Nuits St Georges and Gevrey Chambertain before entering Dijon. It was very memorable countryside!
The town centre is largely cobbled and has few road markings; not a location for the tourist driver or the faint hearted! However, after some false starts, the GPS soon had us out of the maze and back at the hotel.