The car is ready, the children in their seats, Maria has the map, let's go to La Rochelle. The weather is cold, much colder than usual for the first of july...
The hotel is ideally located, a few kilometers at the south of La Rochelle. We have one big family room. I killed 61 (yes sixty-one) mosquitos in the room because the hotel crew has let the window open and we have a small lake in front of us...
Fort Boyard is not far away and the current greek team is in the hotel. Even if you don't know about it, you'll hear it. They are noisy and don't care about the other people. They smoke in the breakfast room when nobody smokes, take reserved tables at the restaurant just hiding the label "reserved". The hotel crew can't stand them and I can understand that. They told us it's the worst team they have seen, and they have teams from all over the world spending ten to fourteen days at the hotel.
As usual, there are now more pizzerias everywhere than seefood. Berk. A good restaurant in Les Boucholeurs : Le Platin.
We went to Rochefort and Royan. In Rochefort, the last bar on the left hand side in the main market street when you come from the large parking places charged us 0.4 euros for a small (12dl) glass of water. It was probably the first time it happened to us in the last ten years... Asshole.
Royan is very nice. Too bad one quarter of the waterfront is ugly, with concrete buildings from the 50's/60's. The rest of the town is great and I could spend a month there. It's amazing how the landscape and the people are different from the other side of the Gironde. In Royan, people have almost no accent. On the other side, people have a singing accent. Rocks and oaks on one side, sand and pinetrees on the other.
Took the boat to cross the Gironde, from Royan to La Pointe de Graves and drove south towards Hossegor to see my parents and leave them the children. Seefood from Ducamp's in Capbreton, of course. Oysters, shrimps, fish, aaaaah :-)
Leaving for Pau and Saint-Bertrand de Comminges. A very very very VERY small fortified village, old enough to have quite a lot of roman ruins, on the top of a hill in the Pyrenees. Delicious food at the hotel, l'Oppidum. A funny detail, about the roman roots of the village : the poplar is not a native tree in the Pyrenees. But the wild forest around Saint-Bertrand has a lot of poplars, really a lot.
The hotel l'Oppidum relies more and more every day on the Internet, of course. Most of their international reservations come from emails but because they are in a small rural area, even if touristic, they can't get broadband. France Telecom will provide aDSL access only if 50 want to subscribe. Hey, they are probably 30 people in the village during the summer!
Took the longest way to Foix. Saint-Girons and Saint-Lizier. It's 1pm, everything is closed, I mean really everything. Let's go.
Foix has an incredible and beautiful castle and it is the capital town of Ariège. Well. If that can be called a capital town. That's a small and quite sad city I must say. A lot of tramps. We chose one of the two famous restaurants in town, le Sainte-Marthe. Expensive prices, and nothing really special in your plate. Maria had an entrecôte Rossini but the topping of foie gras was really not a good one. My confit de canard was just lame, probably the worst one in my life.
Went to Andorra. Andorra is one of the "small european territories". It is a small principality, having its own seat at UN, with two co-princes : the President of the French Republic (hey, can you believe Chirac detains a temporal power ? bwahahaha) and the Bishop of Urgell in Spain. The bishop of Urgell is the last catholic cleric, besides the pope himself, detaining a temporal power. It's not in the European Union as far as I can tell, and its frontiers with France and Spain are a big supermarket. It's not what it used to be though, and the prices I found for 2 gigs CF cards or digital cameras were not attractive. Fifteen years ago, the french price of electronic devices was often twice the andorran one. Of course, it's another story if you like alcohol and smoke cigarettes or cigars. Next time, I want to go to Llivia, the spanish enclave in France.
Stopped in Tarascon sur Ariège on our way back. Small town, dying of rural exodus. It has a BIG cultural center called, of course, François Mitterrand. Its architecture is ugly, and it loses a lot of space. A good choice.
So many old cars in Ariège... It's probably a quite poor area in France. You can also find there "neo-68ards" as we call them. They left the city and materialism after May 1968 and settled in rural areas. Most of them left, but the ones who are still here are doing well. Ok, they still have strange clothes and look, and you wonder if their 10 years old children already smoke marijuana.
Carcassonne... Superb place, I just can't describe it. Give yourself a favor, spend two days in Carcassonne. We had lunch in the Old City. Surprisingly, it was good and the service was friendly and great. Given the number of tourists in the Old City, you could expect bad quality and rough people. No, they are polite and smiling and the quality was good.
Stayed the night at the Chateau de Cavanac. Great hotel, expensive though. My parents' friends Max and Annie told us the hotel's restaurant deserved a stop so we went there. Superb room, made for Dyonisos himself! Unfortunately, the food was not at that level, in particular for the price. The lobster was dry, the foie gras was so-so, the red wine, from the local vineyard, was just bad, a real "piquette" as we say here. The white and rosé were acceptable
more later...