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Wined, Dined and Back in Time - The South of France

FRANCE | Monday, 27 August 2012 | Views [430]

Us outside the ampitheatre.

Us outside the ampitheatre.

Wednesday 22nd August

Christine had only landed in Ireland three days ago and we were already on the move. Today we were off to France. It was an early enough start. Anne, Em's boss, very kindly collected the three of us and dropped us to the bus stop where we caught a bus to Cork airport. We arrived down to the airport at about 10am after a slow trip down, which included getting caught in a long queue of traffic behind five trucks carrying massive silos.

After getting the bags checked in we had plenty of time to relax, so we had a coffee and sat chatting for a good while. After getting a roll for lunch we went through security to the other side. We were flying Ryan Air so wanted to be there in plenty of time (you don’t get allocated seats – so you queue at the departure gate).

Our flight took off at 1:20pm on time. It was one and a half hour flight. We left Ireland on a warmish, overcast day and touched down in Carcassonne where the sun was shining and it was 34°C! Brilliant. We landed just before 4pm French time, and after walking through what seemed to be a shed really, we were ready to pick up our car and hit the road.

Unfortunately even though the rental car was prebooked there was still a considerable wait, more than an hour, due to there only being one person at the desk and about 10 people waiting for cars. When we eventually got to the desk we had completed paper work and needed to have a Visa card that could be preapproved for €1000! Unfortunately mine declined this and we were told that we could not take the car, there was no alternative. We asked if we could try Christine's card, the only credit card in our possession between the three of us and we were told "No, only a named driver can do this. No exceptions". It was about 10 minutes later when we asked to add Christine as a named driver (miraculously, the answer was “Of course”), and thankfully from then on the process went quite smoothly.

By this stage we were very relieved, but also very hungry and thirsty. So we went about 2km until we spotted somewhere to get a drink, McDonalds. Yes we are ashamed to be eating McDonalds in France, but it was not a meal, just a quick stop to get our energy back. After a sundae and a drink we were on the road.

We were only on the road for about 5 minutes when we spotted Carcassonne from the motor way, and it’s magnificent castle. We pulled off into a rest stop to have a better look, it was spectacular, with massive walls around the perimeter. After enjoying the view we hit the road, destination Portiragnes Plage, which was a coastal town about 110km east of Carcassone. We had been very lucky to be offered the use of the Beckett's holiday house here which were were thrilled about.

Our next stop was the all important one, Carrefour supermarket. It was only a medium-sized one, but it was a goodie. We found lots of tasty cheese, bread, wine, meat, olives, and fruit and vege. We decided we would have a picnic for dinner and proceeded to over-buy a variety of foods for this.

It was about 8:30pm when we found our house, and after a little search for our carpark we parked up and unpacked the car. At about 9pm, all tired for quite a long day of travel, we sat down at the table for a very tasty picnic dinner. This was Christine's first taste of France and she was thrilled to be having a dinner like this. It was still pretty hot as well, so we were happy to be eating this kind of food, not trying to cook a dinner. By the time we got ourselves organised following dinner, it was after 11pm when we got to bed.


Thursday 23rd

Happy 30th birthday Em! It started off well, a sleep in until 9am which was a nice start to the holiday. Em had made a itinerary for Christine's 4 weeks trip while she was over and thankfully today was a bit of a quiet day really. Not that we had to follow the itinerary of course.

After having showers and a small breakfast Em opened up her presents that we had for her. Because we were away, she had had a present and card opening session the night before we left as well. She was appropriately spoilt with lots of great pressies and fantastic cards.

It was time to do the French thing and go for a coffee and croissant, so we wandered down to a pattisserie that the Becketts had recommended and that we had spotted on our way into the town.

Em and Christine both went for coffee and a croissant, I was tempted by the custard square (Mille feuille in French) to accompany my coffee. After enjoying those in the sun we picked up a loaf of bread for lunch and then headed down towards the beach to have a look. Em dipped her feet but reported it was not quite as warm as the sea in Spain. Along the beach front was a little market which mostly had wine. Christine was tempted by the olive oil soaps. After a bit more of a stroll we went back to the house and had our second picnic for Em's birthday lunch, using our fresh bread with the left overs from last nights dinner. It was just as tasty!

After lunch we headed off down to the beach which was only a 5 minute walk away. Along the way we came across some monster trucks, the ones with the massive wheels. Wow they were impressive. They were there for a show that night. So we spent a few minutes admiring those before continuing on to the beach.

The sun was out and we all had a swim then sat in the sun. It was a little rough and the water was quite cool, but that is just us being extra fussy after the bath-tub sea water in Spain. The beach was pretty busy, it was almost the last week of European summer holidays so I imagine there were still quite a lot of people making the most of it.
It was a novelty to go swimming on Em's birthday that is for sure given that it really is the middle of winter in New Zealand, more or less.

When we got back we got ourselves ready for an evening out, and then drove on some very narrow back roads to a town called Agda. We’d had a restaraunt recommended to us and we decided to go there for Em's birthday dinner. It was a beautiful evening, warm, sunny and blue sky. Agda was a pretty little town, with lots of medieval buildings. We parked up and walked along the river. This was Christine's first real French place in terms of buildings, with iron window frames and other things like that. It was very pretty.

After having a bit of a wander, our tummies got the better of us and we went to Mare Nostrum. We knew instantly why Claudia and Kate like it, the theme colour is Pink! Very fitting for Em’s birthday celebrations.

We were actually the first there as it was only 7pm. It was a barge on the river and was a very relaxing setting. We had a 3 course dinner and enjoyed some very tasty meals. My entree was the best I think, a leek fondue served in a light pasty case, it was delicious. For mains I had duck and both Em and Christine had bass which was nicely cooked. It was served with an aubergine cake, which seems like a plan muffin mixture with aubergine through it. It was very random and really quite tasteless. it sounded much more interesting than it was.
For dessert again Em and Christine got the same thing, chocolate fondant and rasberry sorbet which was delicious. I just went for a lemon meringue pie (tarte au citron meringuee). It was all quite tasty and topped off a lovely birthday day for Em.

After dinner we wandered around the streets for another half an hour. We had noticed a floating stage in the middle of the river earlier on. It seems that the show was starting at about 10pm as a crowd was gathering. We were pretty tired so did not stick around to find out what it was about.

We got stuck on another narrow road heading back home. When we got home we all felt pretty tired so called it a day.


Friday 24th

We had a big day planned, so got an early start, and were driving out of our block at 8:15am. The plan was to drive north east to Nimes.
We had been driving for about one and a half hours, and had planned to get a coffee somewhere so we stopped into Montpellier. We parked up right next to an amazing Roman aqueduct which still had a considerable length of it intact. Quite amazing to think that it was probably around 2000 years old. It was not the last one we would be seeing today either.

We wandered into the shopping area and after enjoying a bit of a browse we found a really nice little local cafe down an alleyway where we stopped for our morning coffee and croissant. Only chocolate ones left, how disappointing :-)

From here we got into a bit of shopping. The girls went to a shoe shop which was of little interest to me. I did find a kitchen shop which was filled with gadgets, much more fun. They came and found me there and we enjoyed making a couple of small purchases. They had herb scissors which is a pair of scissors, but they have about 5 blades. How efficient and very cool!

After spending probably another hour browsing shops it was lunch time. We picked up rolls and quiches and walked back to the car. After having our lunch we hit the road, as it was about 1pm and we still had lots of touristing ahead.

Our destination was the Pont du Gard, near Nimes. We got side tracked in a small town called Marguerite in search of ice cream. Unfortunately everyone was having their siesta, (yes they do seem to do that in the south of France, just like in Spain), so we missed out.

We arrived at the Pont du Gard at about 3pm. After finally getting an ice cream, we walked around to enjoy the view. This was a personal mission as I had studied this at school. It is a Roman Aqueduct bridge which crosses the Gardon River. It stands at almost 50m tall, with three levels of arches. It was built in the 1st century AD to carry water from Uzes to what is now Nimes. The whole aqueduct was about 50km long and across this distance it descends a height of only 17m. Across the bridge itself there is only a 2cm drop. Astonishing accuracy for 2000 years ago! The setting it was in was quite beautiful, very hilly and bushy, and the river was beautifully clean. It was a hot afternoon with the sun baking us. We considered a swim, but did not quite make it, and we only had the clothes we were wearing.

We had a good hour there wandering across it and trying to fathom out how they built something so massive without powered machinery.

Our next stop was a supermarket for a drink. We went in for water and came out with a whole lot more, including cheap wine and foodie treats. We only had about a 30km drive to Nimes city itself, and after not finding any street parking we came across a parking building so that was great. It was about 5:30pm, quite late to start touristing in a new city. Unfortunately we did not have a map either. We started to walk, and try to follow signs. Thankfully we were heading in roughly the right direction and we found an information centre, which was very close to the Maison Carree, another Roman structure. It is one of the best preserved temples in the whole of the Roman empire, built in 16BC. It really was quite amazing to see really, such a beautiful old building standing there largely untouched – tall and rectangular with pillars on all sides.

Now with a map in hand we were sorted. Our next stop was the ampitheatre, which is was built around 70AD, and it still used today for bull fights twice a year. It was very much still intact on the exterior, parts of the tiered seating was no longer inside though. And unfortunately because it is still used, there are ugly steel seating frames everywhere. It still has a seating capacity of 25000 people now though.

We were inside for almost an hour, and it was getting close to 8pm. We decided to walk back to the car and see if we could pick up something to eat along the way. We were not successful in finding anywhere to eat and then got back to the car park to find the doors down and locked! Oh no! There were signs, but in French. Thankfully we could work out it was a 24 hour carpark, and we pressed a buzzer. After asking the man on the other end if he spoke English, and him replying an emphatic “Non”, there was a long pause. Then he proceeded to ask us (in perfect English) if we were parked inside and wished to access our car, to which was gratefully said yes. Thankfully it seems the signs in French must have read something like 24 hour access, entry to carpark from 7am to 8pm. It would have been very disappointing to get locked in the carpark! We moved the car to a street park nearby and found a Kebab place for dinner. We were not super-hungry, but needed to get some food into us before the drive. It was about 9pm when we finally got on the road.
We made great progress and got very close at about 11pm. Then the GPS had a bit of a fit, and misbehaved. It tried to take us on these random back roads and then on a dirt road. Eventually we managed to find a more main road, and it helped us out again by giving us a route we could actually drive. We made it home at 11:30pm after a massive day of touristing. Em still managed the day quite well despite being in the next decade of her life!


Saturday 25th

After such a big day yesterday we allowed ourselves a small sleep in. We got away just after 9:30am and headed for Pezenas, a rural town where we had heard there fantastic local markets on. It did not disappoint. We arrived at about 10:30am and it was packed. We managed to park in French style (up on the footpath) and got our walking shoes on. We were pretty hungry by this stage so the first aim was either a crepe stall or a patisserie. We got to a patisserie that was very busy and the cabinet looked fantastic so we proceeded to each order 3 things. It was mad, the 3 of us walking out with a couple of bags and a box of treats. The market was pretty much stalls on every winding street you walked, selling lots of things from the normal Europe market rubbish (cheap jewellery and clothes) to shoes, fruit, vegies, seafood, and other crafts. After enjoying some of our treats we continued our browsing around, and decided it was coffee time. Christine went for another lovely French coffee while Em and I stuck to the cool drinks. It was another beautifully hot, sunny day.

After our refreshments we found our way into a very old part of the town. The laneways are used as roads, but are only wide enough for one car. The streets are cobbled and the buildings are stone and have stood for centuries. There were some great little shops around the area which we enjoyed browsing in and making a few small purchases. We eventually emerged back into the more main roads of the town and found that the markets were packing up, well a lot of the stalls. So we had a bit more of a browse around the place on our way back to the car. It was about 2:30pm when we were leaving. We headed back to the house but had a stop to in at the supermarket. We managed to find another one that we had not been to and enjoyed yet another supermarket exploration to pick up a few pieces of tasty food for another picnic dinner.

When we got back to the house it was about 5pm. We were planning to go for a swim but a lot of grey clouds rolled in, so we just had a drink before having dinner. After dinner we enjoyed a quiet evening and watched a DVD.


Sunday 26th

It was our last full day in the south of France. After breakfast we drove to a small town, Bessan, where another market was on. This was on a much smaller scale, but still nice to have a wander around. We started off with a coffee (of course!) in the sun before browsing the stalls. They were mostly food stalls so we picked up some food for dinner - a couple of chicken dishes already cooked that we could just take away and heat up later on. There was a great antique / junk shop that we also enjoyed poking around.

On our way back we stopped into Portiragnes, the town near where we were staying and suprise surprise, there were markets on there too. Em and Christine had a walk around those while I went and dropped off the food. Those markets were much the same and they were done pretty quickly there.

After that we had lunch back at the house as we were starving. We had a lazy afternoon on the beach in the sun. The water was cooler than earlier in the week, so the swims were pretty quick.

After we got back from the beach we had an early dinner and started the clean up as well.
We had one last small taster of France, a crepe in the evening for dessert, but it was the worst crepe we have ever had! Disappointing but that does not matter. That finished off our day really, we continued with the packing and reorganising when we got home.


Monday 27th

Well the final stages of the clean up went well and we were on the road at an early enough time. We had about a 3 hour trip to Toulouse where we were flying out of. The trip up was slow in places, but we had given ourselves enough time. After we had a small lunch, we dropped the rental car off and then got Em and Christine checked in. Soon after that we said our goodbyes as the girls were flying to Paris. They got away on time and I flew out a couple of hours later back to Dublin to return to work. The end ouf our Southern France experience. We were glad to get some nice weather, good markets, and tasty food. It satisfied our French cravings.


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