France (Dijon, Annecy, Montpellier, Bordeaux, Sarlat, Carcassonne), France
We arrived a bit late in Dijon to do much, but what we did need to do was to book our next place to stayand unfortunately we had no internet at the pace we were staying, so we had to go on a bit of a mission to find a place that had wifi. After half an hour we were hungry so we gave up for the night and had some food only to be told that the place we had chosen had wifi - success!
So with all our errands done we could sleep easy and the next day went for a wander around town. There weren't many must see places so we just meandered, and no we didn't go to a mustard factory as it was too far out of town but we would have liked to! We did however get a delicious selection of cakes and a quiche each which marked the beginning of our love affair with French treats!
Then back on the train to Annecy, this place was up in the hills by the Alps and it was such a beautiful little place! I have never seen so many flowers, in gardens, in window boxes, in shops, everywhere! It was nestled in a pretty valley with a huge lake and boarded by steep cliffs. The town had small cannels running through it all with hanging baskets on the edge railings and ducks swimming in them, pretty, pretty, pretty. We thoroughly enjoyed this little town and meandering through its little streets was a treat. We were lucky this place was not over run with tourists (even though in the height of summer and winter its reported to be) and there was a nice selection of shops, but the best bit was wandering around the lake side and watching the boats and ducks drift past in the warm sunshine.
The next day we thought we would head all the way to Bordeaux, but when we got to the station we found that there was only one train that went early each day and we still wanted to stay in Annecy for a bit longer, so we decided on the half way point of Montpellier for the night. So we headed there in the afternoon and got to our hotel by taxi as the only one we could find was a bit further out of town. The next day we decided to take our time and walk back into town, which was fine, but man it was hot! We went past the station and got another ticket for Bordeaux that afternoon and then continued into town. We had a walk around and found a market and some pretty boulevards and squares but it wasn't what you would call a very exciting town. So we headed back with what we thought was plenty of time as we were going to get a taxi back to the hotel, but you know what, we couldn't damn well find one, or if we did it had someone in it. So we thought a quick dash to the railway station would be our best bet as there are always taxies there, but you wouldn't believe it there were none there and 4 parties of people waiting, and now we are starting to panic a bit. A couple of cars came then another but it went past and then another but it went past too, and by this stage we had 50 mins for a return trip and to be on the train. Then one more finally came and I think it really was the lady in front of us' turn but Mum was quick to chase it down and in we hopped and flew back to the hotel, we got him to wait while we screamed in and got our bags and screamed out and back to the station with 20mins before the train leaves. We also forget to check how much money we had as one trip to the hotel the previous night was 13 euro and we only had 25 euro on us, but back to the station with 10 mins left and it only somehow it only cost us 20 euro. We screamed in the doors to find it had been delayed 20 mins! Phewwwwwww. So we got some food and drink and casually wandered to the platform to wait and have a well earned sit down!
It was dark by the time we got to Bordeaux so we jumped into a taxi and went to the hotel, and as it turns out Bordeaux is stunning by night! The place was so well lit it was such a pretty ride down the street and into the pedestrian zone of town where our hotel was. We then quickly nipped out again into the bustling night and found a nice little restaurant down a side street and had an awesome meal. The next day we headed back out a bit earlier than the throngs of people and it was nice to have a bit of space, but it was funny because Bordeaux looks kind of average by day and we were quite surprised. The city had a nice feel but really lost all the excitement of the night before. It was also too hot to do too much so we just looked at the pretty buildings and river and found the most amazing chocolate shop where we gorged ourselves on sweet treats, then it was back to the hotel for a bit of a rest before dinner, which once again was superb (yes all we do is eat!). Back out into the night we walked a big loop around town, which was much nicer in the relative cool of the evening. We found a neat church and also a whole series of cow sculptures around town which were all painted in very novel ways. The next day posed a whole new challenge for us as we decided that we were sick of train station timetables so it was time to rent a car. This sounds pretty straight forward but in a foreign country driving on the wrong side of the road with traffic signs that you can't read made it, well shall we say, challenging?!
We headed off with Mum at the wheel and myself as master navigator out of Bordeaux and off east... yes that was our actual destination, we were very much winging it! Into the country side we went taking in all the fields and vineyards and old stone barns, navigating the road with pretty good precision. We stuck to the secondary roads to avoid the motorways and to get the nicest views and found that the French have a passion for roundabouts, tons and tons of roundabouts. Most of which are pretty well signposted but some however were not. So sometimes we found ourselves going around and around with Mums eyes on the road (as it was challenging using a car back to front with the levers on the wrong side and having cars pass on the wrong side of the road going the wrong way) and my eyes were glued to the signs, nope, nope, nope, YES , that one, go around again, no wait, that's the motorway, no wait, s*** what's the name of the road we are meant to be on?, does that one end up in Toulouse, ok, yes that one, follow the green sign... oh crap I mean the next one (then followed by illegal U turn) and we were on our way like er.. pros?
So in between navigating I was consulting my trusty Lonely Planet book about places to go in our general direction. We wanted to get a good stretch driven on our first day as we were eager and wanted to see a fair bit of countryside so we kept going, and going, and going, until we got to the point where even though there wasn't any place we wanted to stop, hunger and the killer desire to go for a wee (sorry for the honesty!) drove us to find the next town to pull over in. This happened to be Bergerac, which mum thought was funny as she used to watch the show of the same name. We parked on the riverside just on the edge of town, as we both weren't ready to navigate a town with the car yet and walked up the road to find pretty much everything shut! We found the main part of the old town down an ally way thanks to the help of a local pointing us in the right way and found somewhere to eat and relieve ourselves and we were both very happy! After more consultation with the book we decided our final destination for the night is a little place called Sarlat. We didn't get there till about seven that night and after a few laps around town searching for places to stay (as our choices has been reduced a great deal as we had to find somewhere that had parking available) we ended up on a street on the edge of town (luckily it was a pretty small town). We walked into a pretty place and asked for accommodation which they had and it turned out to be quite nice, not flashy but just really pleasant (it also helped we had the most adorable guy at reception which I fell in love with - man the French accent is irresistible!)So we were pretty chuffed with our effort having a place that we hadn't booked prior. And since we parked up at a reasonable hour we had time to go out for a bit of a walk and a find a very nice place for dinner where I tried foie gras for the first time - which was quite nice, but I don't know what all the fuss is about?
The next morning we went on a walking tour of the town. It was just a self guided track printed on the map we had but at every turn this place was beautiful, it really was picture perfect, and I got plenty of pictures till my camera died, but it was still just such a pleasant town to wander through and such a lucky choice at the last minute.
Off we set again in a general southerly direction through town after town after town all the while me scanning my book for places to stay. We thought it was going to be Toulouse, but after a bit more discussion we decided that we both kind of hate big towns so we opted to find something smaller, and that's when we found a place called Carcassonne which was meant to have an old beautiful walled city up on a hill. So we did a drive by through Toulouse and it was a pretty tree filled town but we were happy to move on, this however meant a fair bit more driving than we anticipated. We didn't get into Carcassonne until about 8pm and we thought we would have similar luck by just driving around till we found a place, but alas luck was not on our side this time! We went round and round and stopped and walked into a place which was full and found a number and rung another place and they were full and then went around again and got lost and got found again then decided to park the car and do a mission on foot. We asked a few people and they directed us in different directions for the same place which we never found (at this point my eternal optimism had turned into a seriously hacked off mood!) and then asked in at another then got told no but maybe try around the corner, and with great joy we were told they had a room! Whohoo!
We had wandered back to the car stopping for a coffee on the way, as we had past the hungry stage and just moved onto the parched stage. Then happily back in the car and with absolutely no enthusiasm- being past 10.30- we decided to go find this damn walled city on the hill, as that's why we came here because the book said it was lit magically at night. Now with a map in our possession from the hotel, we set off in the right direction and round the corner and over the bridge, and then, woahh! There it was on the hill looking beautiful! So stunning! A giant fairytale castle which was indeed lit beautifully. We found the next available park, which was kinda in some ones driveway, and walked back to have a good look at it, luckily it was definitely worth the hassle!
The next day after a good sleep in, we went and had a look around the old city but unfortunately it lost a bit of its gloss with the masses of tourist shops and hordes of tourists, but still a pretty neat place despite all that. We managed to find a delightful quiet tree filled courtyard and had a nice leisurely lunch to prepare us for the next leg of our journey.