Day 20 — July 20, 1996 (Saturday)
20.07.1996 - 21.07.1996
Up early to get everything packed, counted and folded according to the “rules.” The lady came promptly at eight o’clock to check us out and charge 10F for electricity for the week. Surprise — got a letter from Steve. That was fun. We got our deposit back and left — no breakfast.
Missed our turn onto D954 and had to turn around. It was a nice drive along the lake, then up into the mountains. We planned to stop at Briançon for sightseeing but somehow missed the turn and ended up on the road we wanted to our campground. Deciding not to tempt Lady Luck; we kept on going. Briançon will wait for another trip. The drive through the Ecrins National Park is nothing short of spectacular. Ecrins National Park web site
Somehow we ended up in a bike race through the Alps. That made driving a real challenge. The Alps here are spectacular — very high, lots of waterfalls, quite a bit of snow and even glaciers. The bikes finally turned onto a different road and we should have made better time, but by now traffic was terrible — Los Angeles at rush hour without the freeways! Where did all these people come from, hidden highways?
Our campground appeared without warning and we missed our turn. Traffic was so bad we couldn’t turn around, so we drove on into Bourg d’Oisans for lunch. After a harrowing trip through town — market day and tourists — we parked the car and started checking menus. Found a Hotel de Milan downtown with an acceptable menu and asked to be seated early on the terrace. They were obliging and we had our choice of seats — the French do NOT eat early. As we looked for seats in the shade, we discovered the terrace overlooked a small stream. We ordered the 70F menu and had a lovely leisurely lunch as trout frolicked in the stream below. I did not feel guilty eating one of their friends.
About 1:30 when all good Frenchmen are eating and hence off the road, we drove back to our campground to check in. Monsieur was awaiting us and we had a good choice of sites. Putting up the tent, we discovered a pole ring missing — glad it’s not windy! Walked around the campground and discovered there’s no restaurant. Guess it’s Casino Supermarché or nothing. Church in town is at 6:30 P.M. It's getting quite warm so we moved our air mattresses out under a tree for a nap. The campground manager speaks no English but he seems to understand our French . . . or he is a very good actor.
Notes: Europeans have these huge multiroom tents or what we would call RVs with a giant tent of one or more rooms attached. There appears to be a small front section that holds, for want of a better word, a chamber pot which seems to be used only at night, but I’m not sure of this. All Frenchmen appear to travel everywhere with a small table and dining chairs. I don’t know if campgrounds don’t have tables because everyone carries their own, or if everyone carries their own because campgrounds (and roadside rest areas most places) don’t have tables and chairs. I suspect the former because everyone stopped by the road for dinner can’t be a camper. I think Frenchmen are terrified of the idea of being caught someplace and not being properly served their dinner. We saw a few pique-niques being eaten sitting on the ground, but not very many. Most often, even in the wilds of the Mercantour, there was a table, chairs and a proper bottle of wine. [In years since we have noticed picnic tables appearing in many places. It is no longer a problem.]
The large tents are usually equipped with a kitchen, often including a refrigerator, so there are no barbecue grills in the campgrounds. Most actual living and eating does take place outside though. The tents are for sleeping, cooking and rainy days. We actually own a stove and picnic table, but even if we had known we would need them, I have no idea how we could have brought them on the plane.
Later — Drove into town for church and arrived an hour early so we walked around town. Now that market is over, it’s a nice pleasant little town. The church bells started ringing and everyone headed up the hill so we joined them. It’s a strange church — St. Laurent. I guess part of it dates clear back to the Fifth Century, more to the 15th and 19th and at one point there was a fire and in 1976 they decided to restore it. It is an interesting blend of old and new. I liked it. The old tower remains and something resembling grey cement has been used for the walls and pillars. They have a very old choir (the architecture, not the people) surrounding the altar area and an old side altar to the Virgin. There are a few old statues and very beautiful stained glass windows that serve as the Stations of the Cross. Above it all is an insulated flat ceiling that actually looks suspended and is a warm modern orange. The key to the success of the renovation is the Roman vaulting on the sides and the main church. It is done in very warm wood and set off by a ceramic tile floor in warm colors with a woven carpet repeating the colors in the large altar area. To further unify the scheme, an altar echoing the Roman arches is set on a lovely oriental carpet.
We actually followed the missal this week and got the hymns — thanks to a helpful lady beside Ed.
After church we walked downtown and stopped at a sandwich shop for a light supper. The young waiter was very nice and although he spoke no English, we managed to have a bit of humor. After dinner I asked for coffee and a few minutes later noticed our nice young waiter running down the street. He soon returned carrying a cup of coffee for me. He had to go to another restaurant down the street to get it! We left a large tip.
Wandered around town and found people feeding ducks at the river where we ate lunch. Watched for a while and headed back to camp. It’s getting chilly.