Thursday, 20 July 2006

Tour de France 2006 - Day 7 - So Long and Thanks for all the Thunderstorms

Really not a lot to say today. We're coming home.

The meal last night was good food, but terrible service, Served in "jolie" surroundings of the local town square. By the time that we could have ordered a pudding we had moved onto going to sleep.

We didn't get a thunderstorm. It was a quite and stifling night.

Getting up at 6:30am we were on our way, fully packed and coffeed by 7:25. Then the endless autoroute. over 550miles in 8 hours. Two short food breaks, and constant driving.

Thanks to those who sent words of encouragement, enjoying the stories, and thanks to those who didn't and didn't complain!

Wednesday, 19 July 2006

Tour de France 2006 - Day 6 - A Thunderstorm, a Thunderstorm, My Kingdom for a Thunderstorm

Waking after another poor night, it was a trifle colder than previous mornings. Although it was sunny the wind was up and blowing in for the mountains. A couple of
cups of coffee and tea restored the warmth of the cockles (never quite sure what that means!), and a bright day beckoned again.

No need to move this morning again, we were exactly where we would see the race for the first time. All we had to do was wait, eat, and clear up the evenings debris. By the time the caravan appeared we were well ready!

Now the art of gathering stuff from the caravan is full of mystery. First, they like throwing lots out when there is a big crowd. But then you have lots of people fighting for it. So there's a balance to aim for. We got it right on col de Perty, and again here. Only a few people, but enough of a crowd to make it worth throwing stuff. Then I prepped the nearby people by saying I was collecting for "le camping avec les enfants". They collected loads and just gave it to me, "pour les enfants". I'm so bad, and they're so gullible.

Our immediate neighbours were a French family, who gave us horrible looks when we pulled in the previous evening, two older German men who had travelled down from Stuttgart in the same time we took from Cambridge, and a French lad, who had cycled up from God only know where, and got stopped when the road closed. It was a happy bunch, and with a friendly Gendarme to keep us in order we were well away.

After the caravan we had quite a wait for the cyclists. Time well spent reading up the tiny lead that Floyd Landis had got the previous evening up Alpe d'Huez . Wow, 10 seconds now in the race. Little things like eating lunch, getting the car fully packed ready to shoot off after fin de Course, merely filled the time between interpreting paragraphs.

The first set of riders, or echappe, arrived, Rasmussen amongst them, so I cheered him as the other riders were getting lots of French support. The next bunch appeared. Loads of faces I couldn't recognise.

Then the yellow jersey bunch. This time I could shout at Landis and wave my Union Jack around. I got hit by a full water bottle. Undetered, I waved it around again when I recognised David Millar, who gave me a nod back. Ooo, my day made!

Then I picked up the water bottle, and realised it was Cofidis. Why throw a full bottle? It could only have been Bradley Wiggins spotting the flag! Day made, twice!

Now some of you may be wandering about this Union Jack waving. After all, amongst us there is a little reticence to do this as it is often associated with less than salubrious activity. Well, I tell you, when there is so few British around you have
to make your mark somehow. The flag, although not my favourite did this, brought notice, and general happy banter from the French and others!

We left down side, trying our daring plan to get round to col du Glandon in time. It all went well, with a steady, if a trifle slow procession down to Bourg d'Oisans, where we spotted the debris of the previous nights party of 400,000 dutch on the hill up Alpe d'Huez. Yes, really 400,000 people. Just a note, the Tour is the most watched live sporting event in the world. It's estimated that 20million people will see it at some point.

The road up to col du Glandon had a notice saying "Route Barre", but we just drove straight through it. There was no-one there to stop us! The traffic up the hill
steadily built up as we caught up with slower moving vehicles. We were just getting in sight of the top when the traffic stopped. The road ahead was car-jammed solid.

There were camper vans here, there, and everywhere, and not able to move very much as they took up too much of the road. after some to-and-fros, I gave up, turned the car round in a handy space and parked up a small slope. We had very little time left, as circling helicopters attested. Lorna declined to try, as she would "slow me down", but I jumped on the bike and headed up the last 250m up, 4km to the summit.

I didn't see the leaders, but I did catch all the main contenders again, and with enough spirit left to cheer on those I recognised.

The rapid entrance also become a rapid exit. Jumping on the bike, I hurtled back down the hill, avoiding buses in the middle of the small road, and pedestrians trying to get in the way. I know that sounds horrible to say, but in France they are expected to get out of the way. The best way I could handle this was by being behind a French cyclist who unmercifully shouted at people. I popped in with the hopeful "merci" and winning smile afterwards.

Then we got to the free road, and the slightly rude cyclist ahead, who had jumped in front of me, was left in my smoking wheels as I shot up to near 40mph. I was going so fast I neally passed my own car, now not in any traffic jam. Throwing stuff back into the car we departed the scene with great haste, missing the thousands of cars still up there.

Now, after a slightly uneventful journey, we are camped at St. Martin d'Ubiage just east of Grenoble. The air is heavy and damp. We are praying for a thunderstorm.

Tour de France 2006 - Day 5 - Thunderstorm or Bust

Yet another sunny, blue sky morning greeted us. We were not impressed and wondered what we'd get by the end of the day. Nethetheless we put our best foot forward and considered breakfast.

Ah. When we were buying gas in the supermarket the previous day, did we consider the issue of bread for the morning at 2340m? No, I don't think so. The other slightly more worrying things were, in order, running out of beer, running low on wine, and running out of beer. If I didn't mention it earlier, I drank the last beer. Luckily, we didn't need beer until that evening, so bread was refocussed upon as the biggest need of the moment (although beer was at the back of my mind, just so you know).

We saw lots of people wondering around with fresh croissants. If only we'd thought the previous evening to order some from the col shop, sigh. We made do with slightly old olive bread and scrambled eggs. The French thought us mad to be cooking at that time, but what did we care!

I have to say that waking up and viewing the scenery from 2340m was "incroyable". The mountain ranges stretched away into the distance, some with dashes of snow where the sun couldn't quite bring the summer warmth to the heights. The valley dropped below us at an alarming rate,
and even the valley floor was still at 2000m. Taking in this vista at 8am was special, something you get to do once or twice in your life and be thankful you can.

We had a little wander up to the col shop, and found it doing the french verision of hot dogs. It was saussicon with Dijon mustard, spicy doesn't quite cover it. After a bit of a position check we sat next to the car under a ramshackle shelter from the sun. I've got quite good at these, cobbling together clothes and poles and catching in car windows, using stones in sheets, FSC lat style, to keep strings attached. Mind you I have to be good to create any shade in the completely dumb angle I always park the car at!

The good thing about being on this col is the way in which you can stand and see 3km of road winding back and forth from any position.

It was great seeing all the bunches of cyclists as they came up the route, one lot at one corner, the next at the following bend. Something was always happening in sight for a good 10 minutes! We cheering David Millar along and he heard us shouting in English in a sea of European!

We tried to do the clever thing and head down the mountain directly after the Tour, but it wasn't going to happen. There was a roadworks lorry parked in our bit stopping everyone leaving, and the police still had the barriers up at the col. It took about 20 minutes to get going and by then every Tom, Dick, and Harry was pulling out to get down the mountain.

We descended 1100m into Briancon, which at 1200m is the highest town in Europe. We were looking for "Route Closed" signs for the next stage up and over col de Galibier. But we found none. I did find an extra special sign, the one used to direct the Tour round roundabouts. Not just an arrow, but a complete sign with a roundabout and a picture of a cyclist. This was the Mecca of signs. I pulled in oblivous to the queue of traffic behind and ran for the sign. I gave waiting for the police to go by and grabbed it right off the roadsign it was on. I had it!

We could find no sign of closed roads apart from signs saying it was closed, when we were clearly driving up it. Eventually we decided to just go for it and shop in Chantemerle.

The shop, a "Huit a Huit" was confusing to get into. Then we realised that the TV was on, everyone was watching the Tour on a bench blocking the normal route in. We immediately stopped shopping and started watching. The leaders were just starting up Alpe d'Huez! This was captivating. We dragged oursleves away and got the shopping done, including two large cut to order steaks. Then we were captivated again. the shop owner, clearly as frazzled as a gooseberry, offered us this god-awful liquer to drink whilst we watched the stage develop. It was too difficult, but necessary, to drag ourselves away from the screen to go and set up camp under threatening skies.

Gently climbing up col de Lauteret we could see the chaos ahead. Absolutely everyone, and their dogs, were going up Galibier. Now the route up from Lauteret is a twisty windy 1.5 car width affairs. Trying to go up there, to the place were there is space for 20 cars to park is not easy.

We looked for places from Lauteret down the side in which the Tour was going to come up the next day. We found our spot, not as good as previous days, but duly the heavens opened to confirm it was right. Sometimes you can just get this feeling that things were meant to be. We were meant to arrive at our camping spot in time to cook supper just s the heavens opened.

Another shelter was needed. Unfortunately we had no waterproof tarp, just nice cloths. It held for the time it took to cook and eat supper, but only just!

But there again, we are camped under a glacier tonight!

Stop Press: The rain left and after we'd given it an hour to make sure it was gone, we had to do sometinhg else. After all we'd gone to bed at 630pm to get warm, that's not a holiday! A fun walk up the mountainside beckoned, and we made our way through a lovely but wet alpine meadow.

I held myself back from charging to the top, throwing open my arms and going on about the hills being alive with the sound of, well I think you get the picture. Suffice it to say the dark pink sunset background to the snow-coved peaks behind Alpe d'Huez was worth the wet and the climb!

Tuesday, 18 July 2006

Tour de France 2006 - Day 4 - Thunderstorm the Prequel

Another bright sunny morning greeted us at 730am and a quick jump out of bed brought a beautiful view across the Gap-Lac de Serre Poncon valley.

It was a rest day today so no cycling, no rushing to get into place, no buzz of excitement waiting for cyclists to go up steep mountains at silly speeds!

As we were nearby, i wanted to travel up the road tha saw a defining moment on the 2003 Tour, where Beloki had a back wheel puncture at 40mph came off and broke his hip, and Lance Armstrong went careering across a stubble field to avoid hitting him. I thought I knew the road, so we went up it. Nowhere on the way up did we find the place. Did this matter? Not in the slightest!

The views across Lac de Serre Poncon, backdropped by rocky mountains, and pinpricked with windsurfers was worth every km up. The road wound round the mountainside beyond the top of what I thought was the route and along precipitous drops. The road surface being less than good meant each bounce took us nearer the edge. Heartstopping and not just the views!

Back down in Embrun we stopped and found breakfast and a l'Equipe. This is the first time we found out about the crash on the previous day, on the bit of the mountain that we had dashed down just behind the Tour. No wonder we were stopped for a little while!

We drove on up the valley, well aware that our second gas cyclinder was getting low. We had never seen that kind of cyclinder at any petrol station, amongst the many types they sell. We found an Intermarche, and decided to push for it.

First, stand outside holding the empty cyclinder looking stupid. Wait for the petrol attendant to point to the exit. Go to the exit and look sheepish, expecting service or something only to be told to go round into the store by a cashier. Now, stand the other side of the cashier looking equally silly. Eventually start wondering through the store looking for anything. Find windscreen wash and decide not to bother then turn round and find gas cylinders. That was hard.

On our way again, up the valley to oujr overnight destination. We wanted to stay somewhere up the Col d'Izoard, which at 2340m is the second highest place on the Tour.

We meandered with the river (white water rafting here!) up gorges from 1000m to 1350m. Tunnels, bridges, overhangs, it sure took someone a fair amount of effort to get a road up here!

When we got to the junction at the top of this section, the sign said the road would close at 8pm tonight, which meant another right decision not to spend the night at a campsite in the lower valley.

As we climbed the mountain route out of the main valley, all of the early spaces looked full. We left the alpine pastures and started the zigzag of the final 500m ascent to the col. Every so often we stopped and looked at a spot. Eventually I got bored of stopping, said we're going to the top and coming down to find the first place. Then we hit the "Casse Deserta". It was a desolate, 200m cliff valley below and above with no room for a road, let alone any parking. However, we also knew that we still had 200m to go up before the top. 6 more hairpins and we were there, with stunning views across 2 landscapes. Not only that there was still parking space, and without too much effort camping space as well.

So, here we were. camping wild at 2340m. A good 800m higher than our previous record, and over 1000m higher than anywhere in Britain. That's almost twice as high!

After setting up camp, I threw my bike off the car and made a rapid bid to get to the "Casse Deserta". Not just that it seemed exciting and that the Fausto Coppi memorial was there, but Alan from Sheffield had turned up and was attempting to bore for England.

We met him last year in the Pyrenees, but he didn't remember us at all. Something about spending all his time talking about things he had done and what he does and doesn't like.

The shoot downhill was great fun and cheered all the way. I couldn't get up to great speed as there were cars getting in the way. Flying round the Casse Deserta was just that. I was on the cliff side of the road, with a 200m drop just metres to the right, doing over 30mph. It felt like I was flying!

Then back uphill. Oh good God. Yesterday was nothing, this was climbing. The gradient of 8% was so much more. I was straight down into my lowest gear, being passed by fit cycle club enthusiasts, but still being cheered by the French who were now quaffing wine.

Once back, Alan had gone, only to return later. We got food underway, apart from the lack of good "viande". I moaned a lot, which successfully wound Lorna up. Then ditant rumbles of thunder. Lightning streaking the far mountains, an incredible display of dark and light, but no rain. Then the heavens opened for the fourth evening in a row. We had rain 1 day in the previous 30 in France, what was this 4 days in a row business!

We retired to the tent, taking wine and good humour. The French in the camper van opposite couldn't believe us as we raised glasses at the and smiled, looking out into the storm. Well, it played back on us.

I felt a lightness of the bed and decided to sit up. As a put my hands down, it moved just like a waterbed. I sudden realisation that the tent was on top of about an inch of water, focussed our minds somewhat.

Rapid jumping out of the tent, and a quick slide up the hill, proved successful, and quite entertaining, I've no doubt! We lost our lovely completely flat spot to a puddle, appearing from nowhere and going to nowhere. If it was a clear stream gully I would have been remorseful, but no just a puddle.

Monday, 17 July 2006

Tour de France 2006 - Day 3 - The Revenge of the Thunderstorm

We woke to a still damp tent but with plenty of early morning gusto, coffee, tea, croissant, we were still off by 8am. Our aim to drive along the route until Col de Perty then find a good place to wait and jump and cheer when cyclists appeared.

As we left our saviour, Sainte Jalle, the mist disappeared and a stunning valley appeared. Lavender fields opiated our noses, purple etched our vision, and Provence filled our minds. We were only 15 kilometres from Le Grande Dame herself, Mont Ventoux. The valley floor swiftly dropped below us and a much wider vista supplanted, to give the full beauty of this part of France. A dry arid place, but with rocks, insects, and plants that conjure a joyful, warm Chadonnay with hints of rosemary.

After the first Col, we dropped back down and started the valley climb up to our destination for the day, Col de Perty. The valley just kept on rising, with the river keeping good tack until we got to the village of Ruissas. Ahead of us was laid out this twisting turning zigzag of roads up to the far summit: we had found the bottom of the climb.

We soon found a spot, about half way up with lots of shade and a great view of the valley below. We were going to see them a good 10 minutes before they got to us!

The tempurature was already pretty hot, so we quickly stripped down to cycling gear to get the job done before it was too much. "The job done" entailed doing a climb. I cycled all the way back down to the village at the valley head, then turned round and proceeded to cycle back up the hill. Many people now question my sanity, but most realise that if a hill is there, it should be cycled up. I got cheered by all I passed. Anyone dumb enough to cycle up these things, that towered above me I really should say now, needs a bit of cheering. I got back to the car in 25 minutes. I was impressed. Lorna was surprised. I think she wanted a good hour more doing the Suduko in the French press.

Lorna jumped on her bike and joined me in heading for the summit. It took another 30 minutes and more shouting, although this was mainly directed at Lorna, as clearly she was more deserving. I did get one "courage" from a French spectator, which I was mightly impressed with, it is the ultimate in Cheering support.

The top was 1302m, a good 450m above the village and gives me the distinction of having done a second category climb. I'd not done this before. A small tear slipped from my eye, mainly due to wind, and externally produced.

On the way down I stopped at the flag stall and bought a Union Jack. Not something I really thought I'd ever do, but there are so few English here, I needed to make a mark! I cycled done the hill the flag, a good yard in length, flying full from the handlebars. I got cheered all the way down, they'd never seen anything like it! It was magnificent!

Some added clips (uploaded 2011).

The publicity caravan was quickly there afer lunch. Again by our spot we knew everything that was coming a good while before it arrived. This time, we collected a king's ransom in goodies. Told you the mountains were better than the sprints!

After that it wasn't long before the helicopters appeared above and we could see small, slow moving vehicles, more commonly known as bikes. They came by in a few bunches. The first 6 riders appeared a good 4 minutes up on the main bunch. After cycling up the "hill" myself it was just outstanding how fast they were all moving.

We waited and waited for the Fin de Course to appear, but no joy. Someone even started heading down, and were suddenly stopped as a final cyclist came up!

When at last the Fin de Course appeared, we were very cheeky and jumped straight on the back of it. We thus joined the Tour cavalcade. We were part of it. We were cheered up the hill by all the spectators, I slapped high fives with kids and waved to anyone, whilst Lorna hide her head in shame, not believing I could be so cheeky. We made it out of there so quick. The descent was scary, although we also knew that no-one was coming the other way, they weren't allowed on the road until 10 seconds before we passed!

On the way down the yellow arrows got us. These are the arrows that tell the Tour where to go. There is usually 2 to 4 at each junction and one every 5km along a striaght road, just for comfort's sake! ("Have I gone the wrong way? huh, no there's an arrow"!) These are highly sought Tour prizes and Lorna had to stop me jumping out the night before and taking them before the race had come through. Well, in my defense there was clearly too many up! Got a little worried about being spotted doing this and having to spend the rest of our lifes in a local police station just for the cheek of it, so bottled it.

But now we are after the Tour, albeit by 10 seconds, and they are free! The issue was whether we stop to get an arrow and lose our place at the back of the train, and leave a space for other slower motorists to pull out, or get an arrow. In the end it was no contest. Two quick stops and runs got two arrows in as many minutes, then we caught up with the train in no time at all!

One idea about this dash down the mountain was to get to the stage finish in Gap before the cyclists did. There was a good chance since they were going over another pass before the finish. Our dash down the hull was proving very successful for this aim. The first village ruined it. First, the turn off the route, to use other less crowded roads, was blocked. Then a local gendarme decided to stop all vehicles travelling through his village, for no apparent reason. We were stopped there for 5 to 10 minutes. Then, for no reason again, we were allowed on our way.

The next town was a traffic jam, which we just extracted ourselves and went to the next town for a bridge across the river. In a very short amount of time we did make the main route to Gap and speeded along to our goal.

Roadwork Traffic lights. Don't you just love them. We got two sets in 1km, both on red for a long time, with nothing coming!

Eventually, in Gap, after dodging through a couple of barriers we were stopped by the police, parked up and rushed down the straight towards the final sprint. Too late, the main bunch had been through. We did get to see some stragglers coming in with much cheering from the crowds around.
Out of Gap and heading eastwards to get a good pitch for Tuesdays stage, Monday being a rest day. We got a good 15km before the traffic really snarled up. There was a "Camping a la Ferme" signed on this single track road to our right, so we took it. It wound around up into the hills looking more and more like a road to the nearest quarry.

We finally arrived at this farmyard and the heavens opened again. I parked up and saw the whole farming/camping community sat in the open barn having a party. It took real courage to get out of the car with my umbrella hat on wander across to this crowd of 20-30 French people and ask for "une place pour un tente pour un nuit". I was laughed at unmercifully, but I can get away with it!

Eventually it stopped raining, we got supper done and looked at the stunning view across the valley to the start of the Alpes proper. This was it, the real hard climbs were next.

Sunday, 16 July 2006

Tour de France 2006 - Day 2 - The Return of the Thunderstorm

We left the chateau and embarked upon the short 80 mile drive down to where we were going to see the Tour for the first time. It was at a place called Vallon Pont D'Arc and where the last sprint of the day was to be contested.

We set off on the national route of the valley, as it was a nice next-to-the-Rhone road and the first town was Tain l'Hermitage, the centre of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape region. As we approached the town we got our first hint of the issue to come. The traffic was queuing out of town just to get across the central crossroads. Hmm, was it a crash? Was it market day? We decided to think a bit more about the Autoroute, then saw that it was very slow as well. Then, it arrived in our minds (French thinking!). This was the main Saturday for everyone travelling south for their holidays! We stuck to the national route until Valence where the jam going through town would be worse than the Autoroute. It did clear up, but we were glad to leave
the rush southwards and find our way to the begining of the Gorges d'Ardeche. We did have the luck of using this route to get to the stopping point, a winding series of cliffs around the gentle river much populated with canoes and rather young people! Views were spectacular along 300m cliffs eventually arriving at the reason for the town name of Pont d'Arc, where a natural arch of rock, maybe 80m in height spans the river.

There was no sign of the race route right up until we crossed over it. Then the gendarme didn't want to let me back over again, vital for a quick getaway! We pushed, he relented!

We found a parking place about 200m from the roundabout. There were 2 German cars trying to park in the same little stretch and, despite there being plenty of space for all of us, once I'd nipped in, they shot off gesticulating wildly!

It was very hot but we found a shady spot and defended it. We defended it badly. The "rule" that you shouldn't stand in front of someone with a spot seemed to have been completely abandoned! People just stood in the road in front and when the gendarmes pushed them back, they just pushed us back without moving to a new spot. We were surrounded by Germans again, so maybe it was karma for the parking on some plan it didn't understand.

Suddenly 5 cyclists went past. We had no idea this would happen, they didn't seem to have half the motorbike calvacade that we know and expect. I managed to get a rather poor photo. Then back to waiting and being stood upon. Small town France seems a bit more rude these days, give me the mountains any day!

We waited a long time for the peleton, almost 25 minutes and as they passed i went for my trophy video placing of being right near the ground. There's lots of space down there and the passing bikes are really close creating a good level of excitement. So much so that I got a bit too close. One bike sent me reeling backwards, although simply through reaction rather than actually being hit. Video ends with a less than professional shot of the sky!

We extracted ourselves quickly after the race, a shoot through to the car, out on the road and pushing pedestrians out of the way our route back up the gorge. Quickly switched off the laborious route round the canyons and found our way to the top plateau. A quick stop at the nearest Champion, to stock up for the next couple of days. then on towards tomorrow's interesting country.

It was a great plan, except that as we wondered towards the eatern mountains, or as anyone not English will say foothills, the skies darkened considerably. It was black as night at 6pm. The skies opened and deposited what we expect in a year in Cambridge in about 30 minutes. You may say "Cambridge, that's hardly pushing it", but it was in 30 minutes!

We kept heading up through the north Provence "foothills" thinking that the tent wasn't up, no food was cooking, we still had nowhere to sleep, and, most important, I hadn't had a beer, with the skies still looking black as a Pathfinder supper.

Suddenly Sainte Jalle appeared. It saved us. It offered a damp but open campsite (several others were flooded). It was on the Tour route. It had a bar only 100yards from the tent. Luckily, the bar also did food. We ate outside under a canopy thinking this was the best of luxury compared to what we had planned in the weather. The French owners and waiters thought us mad to want to be outside in this rain, even under a strong tarp. The early food quite kept us in check, rather a case of a strong canape.

After a good evening, drinking the local wine from Mont Ventoux slopes, and watching Tour bus after Tour bus pass, we meandered to bed and the night took our dreams.

Saturday, 15 July 2006

Tour de France 2006 - Day 1 - The Road to Tournon Pier

Yes, up and at it at 5am, and those of you who really know me, know that it's easy to do! Cambridgeshire was bathed in this juxaposition of mist and sun that those to early summer mornings can only attest. Warm, wet beauty at a time were warm and wet should be made into phrases for a Catherine Cookson "novel" (just for Dom).

There was nothing worth speaking of through Essex and Kent except the ease of traffic which was a little less than forthcoming this time last year. It's funny how those two counties can either fail to please or fail to placate.

For God-only-knows what reason, the cartermaran SeaCat has stopped operating. It was quick, cheap, easy, always full And still failed. The channel tunnel is quick, easy, but bloody expensive. The ferry is easy-ish, cheap, but quite slow. So, we went on the Sea France ferry and found it quite okay. Load up time was good, travel time left enough for coffee, croissant, duty-paid, and a loo stop, and get off was very easy as we were 8th! So, despite some initial moans about that "darn slow" ferry, it all went okay.

We arrived in France a little bit later than we were used to, but set off down the Autoroute in great gusto. I don't know if I've mentioned the difference between the french Autoroute and the British motorway but it does deserve some discussion. We have far too much traffic and it doesn't pay for the privilege of travel. The result is Autoroutes are clear, everyone tries to move out of everyone's way, and driving is so much nicer than our 50mph car park effect!

It's been hot travelling. Hot enough for the air-conditioning to feel ineffective for the latter stages of the journey. Luckily enough the weather wanted to break and did. vast rainstorms overran us at Lyon darkening the sky and making all wildlife run for cover. It pelted it down with me rueing the decision to not take a waterproof because it's "only France, what can it do"! I'll see what the next few days bring if not a wet teeshirt or two!

We arrived at our destination at 6pm-ish. When I say arrived, we knew which junction to come off at, we knew which direction to go, but did we know the hotel? Hmm, oops! As we passed a sign, I vaguely mentioned that it might be then one we needed, then suggested that getting the hotel directions out of the bag might be useful. Up until then, it had seemed a pointless waste of valuable "hang pretty" time in the car. Yes, Neale, hang pretty, you could try it once in a while!

We turned round, and went up the track to the hotel. Out of a hilly forest this weird chateau appeared. It looked like a set from a particularly bad b-movie about things that try to come back to life, but never really make it. It was bathed in glorious early evening sunlight, thus removing the vampire theme quite easily. We strode into reception to be greeted by piano playing and gentle lapping light through ivy-drenched windows.
I lapped it up, leaned onto the desk and fluffed my French about "reservations", how cool. Just to add to it, I tried to eye up the piano player in a kind of "I know that tune" way only for the dog underneath to start raising all kinds of heel at that "weird large rucsac with 2 legs sticking out of the bottom".

Our room is in the middle of the serious Ivy-floe, giving us perfect photo opportunities from a wide car park and landscaped lawn. I say landscaped, it's more shaped with a view to finishing it off at some time in the future. It's not that the grass isn't there, it's just it looks incomplete, even with eveything in place. It's the wierd Romanesque figurine, the bizzare stone table in places that one might not expect.

In our room, the Tv didn't work, the shower wouldn't fix to the shower holder, the door wouldn't lock. We rued the fact that we'd failed to pack swimming costumes, thanks to the thought of freezing Alpine streams, when the 25m pool behind the terrace. However, the delapidated charm of this rundown chateau was hard to fault. Who cares about the TV and so on, when you're in a ruin!

We needed food as soon as we arrived, but there was a hour wait for the restaurant. Zthey offered us drinks on the terrace, and supplied a little snack of hot puffed spicy pastries. Tables were laid out, so we waited for food service. None came. Eventually, we worked our way to behind the main hall, laid out for a wedding to find the restaurant in a fair sized room. No idea that this is where we were meant to eat, not on the laid out tables outside!

The food was superb, as you'd expect, and pudding was acompanied with a torrential rainstorm neatly supplanted by a thunder and sheet lightning display. We walked into one of the empty, dark conference rooms, bedecked with 17th-19th century furniture, to watch the display without unnatural lighting spoiling the view. The water was spectacular and looked to have taken the carpark in a matter of minutes!

In the morning we found breakfast the same problematic affair, no butter, bad bread, and no service! Notices showed some brilliant literal translations of which "Room liberted and keys rendered by 11am" proved the favourite! I had made that rookie mistake whilst brushing my teeth earlier on finding "C" is for for Chaud not Cold. It made the morning, and I'll definitely come back here!