it was 11 years ago yeah we missed 10 so here we are its just like I remember it except that bit which I don’t really remember and we never actually went to that bit last time but I remember sitting there I think it was no there that was it wasn’t it and its even hotter if that’s possible but it feels like that to me so if we go up there we get to the belvedere right but I don’t remember this bit we must have just come straight up the main street before well we wouldn’t have been playing on the adventure playground then and looking for the toilets would we hahahahahahaha.
well look at that that’s nice where have you gone? no we’re not going to go in the caves because they’re rubbish even though you come out in the side of the sheer drop and get in a glass lift like charlie bucket although you don’t fly because if it flies there’s something very wrong and anyway we’re not doing that but I want to have a quick look at the sqaure and look at that view it goes on for miles its a bit like the view from down there but you see the difference you can see all the river from here, well, all the bits in the bit of the river that cingle isn’t the biggest but look you can see it all. I want a drink. there? here? let’s just go here. ok
chips and omlette. hmm. got any sandwiches? sondweech? jamon et fromage. oui, c’est bon merci. aah, come on everyone, drink it in. do you know, 11 years ago…oh, we have told you that. anyway, yes you can go and look at friendship bracelets but don’t upset that huge woman/man thing again or she’ll set the dog on you anyway what’s her/his problem we’re gonna buy something. she doesn’t know about the airport leaflet incident does she? how could she possibly know he’s such a fiddle and break risk. I just think she/he doesn’t like people. good job then, working in a shop. moan moan.
can I have some of that bread. that’s aireated that is. have we got any croissants? what’s that? what’s gruyere? can I have cheese? eeuw, that’s all red, look, it’s got red stuff coming out of it. is it? do you like that? what’s for tea? can I go swimming? but what if the alarm goes off. can you come with me. well, can daddy come with me? how long is it? oh, can I have one? what’s that? is that for us? I don’t like that. I have had it before, honest, and I know I don’t like it I had it at Bella’s house I did when I went there remember. honest. I did. when’s tea?
notwithstanding the fact that we didn’t get anything and now its like 1 pm so the whole country is asleep and we didn’t get anything yesterday because we were asleep and now its today and that chocolate bun doesn’t go 5 ways we’ll have to think about doing something tonight instead yes that’s right maybe we can go out that place looks nice maybe we could walk there but only if we don’t get as far as the observatory and daddy chooses that time to tell us that he’s only brought out 20 euros because he didn’t think they’d actually want to be buying anything so he had to run back in the 38 degrees back up the road back up the hill to the farm to get a new tshirt and more money and then, sod it, drive back down and park in town where everything’s closed anyway so we don’t even need 20 euros but this time we might so have you got any money. good. I know its hot we’re nearly there so who wants to go and see that funny metal person in that cafe where they give you tartazine for lemonade and you gag all the way through your baguette which was probably made by that fat bloke behind the bar who’s pointing his gun at the dog who’s snarling by the toilet which you’ll have to use because it’s the only one open I’m afraid so come on, let’s go.
ham cheese pasta melon apples grapes prunes danone red white lemonde vittel
it’s only 10 minutes down the road and it’s been a week already, yeah, I know, so why don’t we just do that? I feel like a quiet day after all and can’t be bothered to drive round for a hour trying to find my way out of a field of withered sunflowers somewhere between the buddhist pagoda and appelation controlée so let’s just take it slowly and we can even saunter if we feel up to it. there’s probably a bench there somewhere where we can sit all afternoon and watch the dutch come and go in their convoys.
rising the steps passing a couple of hopeless prams which probably weren’t designed for the 12th century we passed through the entrance gates and negotiated with a very french woman about the pricing structures which might allow us to have 2 of us and one of them at full but not them 2 as they’re under 7 but it says there famille which should include all of us right but that’s just 4 and there’s 5 of us you see and so should we get one of those and just pay for the extra 1, who is under 7 anyway, like we said, and, oh, right, it doesn’t work like that? pas de famille? deux adultes et trois enfant, mais, erm, les deux sont six ans et, elle, la, oui, la (zoe, come here, she wants to look at you), oui, bon, elle, la, elle a nuef ans, oui, um, c’est une biller de famille? non? deux adultes et trois enfants? pardon? libre? free? tout les enfants? ah! bon! (it’s ok Zoe, you can go away again now, she’s seen you) ok, deux adultes. pardon. et trois enfants? mais…
we handed over some money and she gave us an english guide book which was a photocopied affair in a plastic folder, much like the one we got at Marqueyssac which we put in our backpack and took home by mistake so we said we must not take this one home again which of course we did, adding to our new collection of english language guide folders for local attractions that we would leave behind in the gite so that the next people would take them thinking they are just free handouts and the people on the gate when they tried to pay would ask them where the hell they got that from. once inside it was obvious that they don’t have the same strict health and safety regulations over here as they do it english castles museums and monuments so we tied pieces of string around the children so that when they hung over the 2 foot high parapets we had at least a small chance of slowing their 50 foot drop to the valley below. it was also obvious that they were doing something akin to repointing on the upper courtyard which involved the tallest lorry-mounted contraption I’ve ever seen which was pumping cement about 100 feet up and over the battlements and about 50 feet into the roof area of the upper courtyard where monkeys were dancing around without hard hats and daft punk were playing harder, better, faster, stronger in the scaffolding. the upshot of this is that the upper courtyard was closed this year which didn’t seem so bad until you worked out that that was the very place that they film all the movies you’ve seen that they’ve filmed at this place and so you won’t get to see it and go ‘oh, yeah, that was that bit in les visiteurs II’ or ‘hang on, oh look, remember that bit in that james bond film’ and things like that so I got a bit grumpy and said I want to eat my sandwich NOW and so we stopped in the lower courtyard and took in the view though the very nice arched panorama and calmed down a bit.
there was still loads to see at chateau de biron, however, including a restored oak floor that you had to slide around on on small bits of felt under your feet, although we only realized that because other people were doing it, and there was naturally a nice graphic dungeon which was so dark (health and safety) that you couldn’t even see the small sign warning you about the small step you were about to take a small trip over which everybody did anyway. sam picked out everything ‘you see that that’s a rack that is that’s what they stuck people on and you turn those handles at the end and then that strrreetched people until all their bones broke and they came apart and all their guts flew out and look you see that that thing up there that that metal thing that’s a thing were they put bad people and squashed them in so their bones broke and they hung them out on big stick so they were still alive right and all the birds came and pecked their eyes out and stuff until they were dead and that that right you see that thing that up the back on the wall that right that’s what they used to tie people to you see those hooks at the end they tied their hands up there and then they tied their feet down there right see and so they broke all their bones, probably, I think, and they didn’t have any clothes on and they used to stick big bits of hot metal in them and when they weren’t dead yet they got a big saw and sawed them in half so all their guts flew out everywhere and they were like screaming everywhere and the dogs would come and eats their guts while they were still alive and you see that thing, ooh, listen, right, that thing is like a giant screw like corkscrew that is right but except they didn’t use it for opening bottles and stuff they used to put in on people’s heads and then turn that handle and it would crush their heads and their eyes would like BURST out and their guts flew out probably and all their bones got broken and you see that…’
I don’t know how he knew all that stuff. we don’t do that at home.
yeah so its in that little box you open it up right and there’s mr plastic head vegetable man with his pixie lute strumming the beach boys over a field of chaff, so that’s what its all about you see in them days they made their own entertainment and that you see is, well, you tell me, its a 6 foot idiot wrapped in fuse wire and one foot stuck in the past so I should imaging there’s something round here about geometric road alignment and bringing out your dead (I’m not dead yet) and see how clever they were? that one even has 2 tiers like that bridge what collapsed but I don’t think you’re supposed to touch that and, oh, never mind, look, its got a little button you press which transports you back to 1350 but with sennheisers on and an open bottle of vittel on the parkey.
well you get so much for the price don’t you? I mean, you might expect to get a bit of chainmail and some plastic bread or something but this is something else entirely. look over there. and next time we’ll be smashing hammers over the chisels of détant and snaring brick dolphins in sandstone nets until they start squeaking apolcalyptically about trains and we give everything to David who’s been scrubbing the plastic with his fingers again only for us to peel our skin all over the rim and leave a yellow detrius line over his hebrew symbolism he paid 3000 euros for but hey it lasts 8 years and so bob’s yer unkle. one day I’ll be back to poking sticks out the window at plebs and canvas taping the wing mirror but right now there’s another floor so let’s gawp at the orange boxes and give us a listen to that. it’s all in french. hang on.
we missed the 2:30 paint a cardboard bug face under a tree on the promenade slot and when we got there the tiny table covered in cut-out cardboard and poster paints was full of 5 year-olds with ribbons in their hair looking like something out of the summer mini boden catalogue and so they wanted to do it all the more but it was all being packed up at 3 so we said it was ok because we hadn’t even been the 2km up to the end of the garden yet and there was a brrriliant view there and anyway it was under the shade of the trees that way you see so let’s just do that and then we can come back and do this when it’s not so busy ok? as it turns out, it’s 2km uphill through the dusty gravel path and at the end there’s a rather well concealed mobile phone mast next to a wooden playground where you can climb on a dinosaur and swing down a vine and go round and round on a big round thing where there’s shavings all over the floor and a stone lookout that’s bizarrely cold but is full of 5 dutch people who all have calippos that miraculously haven’t melted which they must have kept in a tiny fridge they carry around in their backpack so it wasn’t all lost because now it’s downhill and round the corner so they can run all the way until their faces go #660000 and they collapse sous l’arbre and don’t want to do that painting anymore anyway. but she’s still there, cutting out fox’s heads from sheets of cardboard and lo, there’s 3 chairs and so everyone gets to have a go while I lay down on the grass and try to close my eyes while an italian baby is taking it’s first steps in front of the whole family tree and does really well to make it all the way over to where my sunglasses are and even better to step right on them. ah. well done! your first steps! grrr.
but we haven’t seen those mad bushes yet. where are they then? well, we walked straight past them when we went on the low path to the belvedere didn’t we? did we? yes. oh. so they’re down there. are they? yes. d’you know, I’m just too hot now, I can’t be bothered. we can come back another day can’t we. yes, but we won’t. yeah, we will. no we won’t and we have to walk past them to get out anyway so come on, let’s just walk slowly that way and we can get a nice cup of tea at the end. alright. where are they? that way. no, they’re that way aren’t they? no, because, look at the map, look, we’re here, they’re there, but we’re actually coming around this way so if you turn it upsaie down, yeah, right, see?
ooh look, there’s one here from 1974. it’s got french people and german tourists in flares and tank tops, see, they did wear them over here as well, but I don’t think those opening times are right and I didn’t bring any francs this time so we might want to dig a little deeper into the black hole that is the box of visitor attraction leaflets in the corner and see if there’s anything that has been updated since the troglodites lived in the walls. what does the rough guide say then. ooh, do you think they’ll like a garden? what’s a belvedere?
as we skirted around the edge of the river with the aircon set to wallpaper stripper we could see a number of things that looked like they might be a chateau with beautifully restored ornamental gardens as there’s apparently hundreds of the things around here and we’re not even on the right side of the river are we? hang on the map’s upside down and we passed that bridge half an hour ago and that was closed anyway so that’s why we’re on this side anyway look, if you look really closely on the bit where it folds and has gone all unreadable you can just make out the word Marqueyssac on that side of the river see? we’re supposed to be on that side. ooh look, nice chateau. give it to me. no, you look where you’re going, give it here. oh. but that’s not right. we should be there now. much as I’d like to see Josephine Baker’s place we didn’t plan to go there today so what the hell are we doing in the driveway anyway, oh, hang on, you see here where it says Marqueyssac, in this side of the river, right? well, we’re here, right? but the litte chateau symbol it is referring to is this one over here, not this one over here. that one is Castelnaud. no, hang on, it’s Beynac. anyway, you see what they’ve done right? look out you’re a bit close to the edge. they’ve put the label on the other side of the river, cos they ran out of space to get Marqueyssac on that side. we should be there. where are we now? here. oh.
there’s untold hilarity driving through enormous field sprinkler systems with the windows down when it’s 39° outside and you’ve just worked out just how much unleaded the aircon is using while it’s permanently on stun as we head for the car park which directs us everywhere on the left-hand side of the road which throws me for a minute but soon we’re parked up and as we leave the command module for the first time in about an hour the hot air peels the skin off our faces a bit like that bit in terminator when paula hamilton or whatever her name is is clinging on to the playground fence and then she gets blasted away by an apolcalyptic blastwave but still manages to hang on with her skeleton fingers and then wakes up. our first full day out and we’ve arrived. have you got the money? I thought you had it. no, I said can you put it in the bag. is it not in the back? why don’t you look? it’s not in the bag. what do you mean it’s not in the bloody bag. dad, I’m hot. dad, are we going in? what is it? it’s the garden we told you about. where is the money then? look again. it’s not there. why not? I don’t know. you’re joking. er, no. right, that’s it, back in the car. oh, hang on, here it is.
after the slow dash across never-ending vineyards and almost so beautiful I’m bored of it now it goes on forever rolling countryside sprinkled with chateaux and chats and eau and the odd chien, we arrived at stop number one of our, well, 2 stop tour, which was apparently 2 nights in a youth hostel inside a cistercian abbey in cadouin where they used to have in the 12th century a towel that was wrapped around the head of jesus christ on a bike that all sorts of people used to crawl to on their knees from all over the place until someone said they didn’t make towels in those days and anyway that came from persia or something and people started wriggling on their back to places like lourdes and a bloke in limoges who had an ancient baguette shaped like the virgin mary’s right arm instead. because we are the cheapskates we are, we arrived in france 2 days before we could move into our gite to avoid overhiked school holiday airfares, so had to get somewhere to stay for the first 2 nights which wasn’t a bed and breakfast by bordeaux airport run by steve and mary who moved out 5 years ago and have just about recreated eastbourne in the dusty old dining room or a novotel by the ring road, and so after a bit of searching around and a swift 30 nicker to get our YHA cards, we dropped a line to a very nice woman in the abbey who said hell yes they’ve got a family room thursday and friday night if we just bring our YHA cards it’ll be 126 euros for 2 nights. lest we forget, that’s 126 euros for 5 people for 2 nights including breakfast, which is about 150 dollars or something, but even better, only about 80 quid which is what it would have be each if we’d gone to hotel flightpath. and the place is fricken brilliant. it’s like having a room in a medieval reenactment, but without the annoying people dressed up as archers and wenches at the weeked in a field in loughborough. there’s still scratches on the bedroom wall from about 600 years ago and we just spent our time lounging in the courtyard, cooking our pasta in the shared kitchen with lots of middle class french people like us who are all very polite and wholesome and we realise we’re really on holiday now and the children gaily skip around the cloisters and little baby jesus appears from a packet of chocolate milk and winks at us and the world sings hallelujah as angels come down from heaven and turn back the corners of our bed sheets and lift us up the stairs and into bed with their little wings and the sun sets over the spire and everything becomes one.
actually, some kids loitered around outside our window talking bollocks in french until about 1 in the morning by which time the neighbours with tiny children are throwing fruit out the window at them and a storm comes over and unleashes about 2 inches of rain in 10 minutes at which point everyone is thorougly pissed off and wonders what the hell we’re doing here, nice as it is.
they sat behind me all the way talking some rubbish about the distance to the moon in light years which was just ridiculous so 1 second before the enormous hoover that passed for a plane we were in touched down at Bordeaux aiport I leaned over the back of my chair and pointed the camera out the window behind me to take pictures of wheels and tarmac, causing the 17 year old there to drop his fanta into his lap, short-circuiting his iPod mid-Lost Prophets. that’ll teach him to talk nonsense. he didn’t speak all the way to the terminal, but mind you, that was only about 20 yards, and then he started piping up again in a competition with his brother to see who could be the most ignorant. but it doesn’t matter. we’re in France now and soon we’ll be skipping through fields of sunflowers and peering through arches, laughing and taking pictures and ruffling each other’s hair like they do in those films where they’re trying to show you what an idyllic family life somebody had in flashback before they got trapped in a never-ending spiral of depression in their hotel bedroom following the acrimonious divorce and the kids moving to South America with mum’s new boyfriend just before they throw a tumbler of jack daniels at the tv in despair and then it cuts to a scene of coworkers looking concerned about their appearance and whispering behind their hands just before they get called to the boss’s office with glass walls and they have an animated silent altercation which leads to inevitable termination of employment and them storming out but it’s ok because they’ll meet a beautiful innocence-lost young woman in the alley they’ll spend the rest of the film looking for the meaning of life in elevators and it’ll end and the football will be next or at least a reality programme about perfectly coiffured ex-cops who chase other people’s pets-gone-bad for a living which you shouldn’t really watch but you’re hooked and it’s 3am before you realize it and so begins the never-ending spiral of depression in your hotel room as you have an epiphany of worthlessness during the ad break when you jolt yourself awake to find you’ve dribbled on the remote control and you now have to watch adverts for dog food that comes in foil sachets. forever. or something.
as my Avis Preferred customer profile had the wrong AmEx card details on it before we left, I had to make a regular voucher booking – yes, shock horror, no corporate car hire queue jumping and getting all self-satisfied in the process – we trundled the trolley piled high with suitcases and car seats and hand luggage (lots of it) to the Avis desk and did the driving license/passport/visa/no I won’t crash thankyou stuff and headed for the little kiosk in the car park. as we passed through the terminal doors and out of the air-conditioned relative comfort of the Bordeaux airport terminal building we hit a wall of what could best be described as ‘fricken hot air’. actually, that could probably be describe better, but that’s essentially what it was. 39 degrees and a hot wind blowing across the tarmac and we had that moment were you realise it’s lovely and hot but you know you’re gonna be moaning about it in about 10 seconds you English moany old English persons. anyway, the kiosk turned out to be preferred customers and plebs at the same time. ha ha! so I handed some bits of paper over and they let me know we had an oopel astrah, which I said I know but she said it’s that one over there the silver one and I said that’s an estate and she said sure eet iz and I said fricken a, that’s a bonus and she said nothing and looked at me like a stupid tourist. which is what I was, so I said goodbye and she said nothing and I said thanks and she said something to the guy in the Avis polo shirt who was picking his ear and wiping it on his trousers, so we just wheeled over to the astra, chucked everything in the back, got the kids out again and put them in the back seats, located what looked like the exit and drove straight onto the ring road, going 9 miles in the wrong direction.
there’s nothing like a trip to a regional airport to take a trip to a regional airport, so instead of parking in a pink elephant for a million pounds a day we shelled out seven pound fifty for a nice black taxi to Norwich International Airport to start our tour of bastides and empty roads. still, as there were five of us and black cabs aren’t the best luggage transporters (aside from people as luggage), we rumbled up the boundary road with 20kg suitcases and child seats flying around our heads, but it’s a small price to pay to pay a small price to fly. being the inconsiderate parents we are, we took our children out of school for 2 days in order to get cheap fares and so deprived them of valuable end-of-year educational experiences like stacking chairs or playing Monopoly, so I guess we’ll burn for that, or at least get in trouble with the school govenors. oh, hang on, I’m a school governor. I guess it’s alright then. anyway, the fares were a nice regional price with flybe.com and we’re looking forward to 2 and a half weeks in whatever you want to call the region of France we’re going to (Perigord, Lot-et-Garonne, Bastide country, Lot Valley, Haut Angenais or something, Aquitaine, South-West France – delete as appropriate to whatever bed and breakfast or rough guide you’re reading).
Norwich International is undergoing extensive redevelopment to make it a 21st century airport, so that means there’s a couple of partitions in the departure hall and some workman round the back smoking tabs. I say departure hall, but that might be overstating it slightly. departure room maybe. departure shed. something like that. anyway, we get everything shuffled through the baggage check, including our hastily wrapped up in a Daisy and Tom plastic bag child seats that went through the ‘special’ baggage check for ‘stupid’ items, make our way to the departure utility room and then, as we’re filtering through the final security check onto the tarmac, Sam proceeds to fiddle with and break a plastic leaflet stand, scattering 1000s of NIA and special offer leaflets over the floor and clattering deliberately (I’m sure) super-noisy plastic leaflet holders over an acre of hard concrete flooring in such a way that I’m sure many hands were hovering over panic alarm buttons throughout the airport just 1 step from total security incident. in the end, the Polish cleaner was very helpful with picking them all up again as I tried to reconstruct the 17 plastic holders into the 1 metal rack while presenting my boarding card and passports for the flight we were now already late for that we could see through the window about 10 yards away.
as I’d pre-booked everything, including seats, it didn’t matter anway, so we took our seats on the plane, which had propellers and wings on the top, which was a novelty for us, until we realized we would actually be sat next to the engines all the way and they’re not like jet wich just kind of whine, they’re props, which mean they rattle the whole bloody seat until you’re feeling like your teeth are falling out. whatever. we’re on holiday now so nothing matters. we taxi around a bit and then we’re climbing like a snail might climb into the sky and I’m pressing my face against the plastic windows because I can see my house from here, just like on that Camel album.
if you know what I mean by that, you’re probably Geoff Arnold.
to Nice this weekend then, which is nice. Sans children, not done for years. A couple of great friends getting married at Fayence, you see, at the beautiful 12th century Chapelle de Notre-Dame des Cyprès. We only had the local wine straight from the vineyard across the dusty road after service didn’t we? On a tressle. Sweet. Mind you, the goings on the night before were right mental, mate, I tell yer…
Straight into Nice Côte d’Azur airport on Friday night, on that there easyJet. Only cost us 17p. After reclaim de baggage we headed straight for the Europcar rental desk to begin our perfect weekend. Cross the arrivals lounge and through the car park in the balmy French evening air and everything is nifty. All smiles. All signing. But what’s that? Felt a touch of rain there. Ah, well, I just love getting caught in a warm summer shower. It’s so Frrrench. 20 paces later. What the..? Bleedin heavens open right up don’t they, and we’re lashing across to the poxy tent affair they have set up outside the desk. So I head in to the desk and natch, there’s about 20 other limp email printouts in front of me, tapping their Marlboro lights on the counter and threatening to lamp the guy behind the desk who’s saying “but we ‘ave non keeeys pour you”.
Anyway, cut a long one short, we got free upgrade to a Passat and headed into Nice to locate the Novotel. Neil, our mate, he’s got a booking at ‘Le Cheapo‘ by the train station, so we have to drop him first. Simple right? Well. 2 hours later, we’ve been driving the wrong way round Nice in the maddest thunderstorm ever, aquaplaning across 3 lines of traffic on the autoroute, and we’re not really getting any closer. We’ve got a multimap printout of 1 square kilometer, and we’ve never been on it. So, we’re just pulling out from between a derelict garage and a block of flats right, when THWACK, the loudest, most intense cracking noise you’ve ever heard, comes from the roof, and I’m thinking breezeblock launched from the 17th floor. By a bazooka. We look up for the house-shaped dent, but nothing. Oh well. We crack on. We’ll have a look in a minute. 30 seconds later, I’m driving the wrong way up some train tracks or something when I get a moment of clarity. “We just got struck by lightning“. All quiet. Then freakouts in the Passat and we’re swerving all over the Promenade des Anglais trying to jump out and stuff. Weirdness, I tell yer. We stopped after a bit and Neil pops out to take a shifty. “No dents mate, not a scratch. You know though, we’ve got a pretty big aerial”.
So that was that. We got struck by lightning and my teeth went a bit funny. Of course, being in a Volkswagen Faraday Cage meant it was ok, but, you know, at the time…
The wedding itself was perfect, and the weather Saturday & Sunday was spot on. On the Sunday, we headed to the seafront, to see the Nice Triathlon. I tried very hard to spot some Sun sponsorship, but it was mostly French television and carbon fibre, with a few ladies in swimsuits, which was nice.