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Entries about 1996

Our First Cassoulet -- Delicious!

Day 7 — July 7, 1996 (Sunday)

Driving to Belflou and our next campground

Driving to Belflou and our next campground

It rained all night. Our poor tent was soaked. We packed it up wet, ate breakfast and paid our bill.

Hopped on N757, drove through/around Poitiers (don’t remember). We drove and drove and drove. Got lost in Brive and stopped for lunch at Balladins which seems to be a French hotel chain. Ed had fish and I had Veal Marengo that was like the osso bucco I used to fix when we lived in Connecticut. It was the best food we’ve had in France. It was good to get out of the car for a while.

We found our way again and headed south toward Toulouse. It is incredibly beautiful country — what we can see through the rain — reminds me of the Alaska trip when it rained nearly every day! Got lost again in Toulouse and got directions from an incredibly rude gas station attendant — at least the directions were good. [I must note here that the rude gas station attendant was one of only two rude Frenchpersons we've met in our 20+ years of travel there. Everyone else has been kind and helpful.

*****

Auberge Le Cathare and our campground

Auberge Le Cathare and our campground

Headed south out of Toulouse and the sun teased us by appearing for a few minutes. It also became very windy. We found N113 and then our D625. We missed a couple turns and had to turn and go back. At Saint-Michel-de-Lanès D33 looked like a turn into someone’s farmyard, but it was a road. The roads are lined on both sides with trees and it is gorgeous country. The roads got more and more narrow until we were on one lane to the campground at Auberge Le Cathare. It is in the boonies!! Auberge Le Cathare Campground web site

Campground at Le Cathare near Belflou, France

Campground at Le Cathare near Belflou, France


Our site is in the trees, but very muddy. We put up the soaking wet tent in a cold wind and left the rain fly off so the tent would dry. While it dried, we explored. Discovered, to my horror, that the bathroom facilities are strictly middle eastern, i.e., Turkish squat toilets. The showers have two clothes hooks but no shelves or place to put shoes. The laundry is the world’s smallest washing machine in a telephone booth. Yes, it is a real Superman-type phone booth! I did discover one toilet that is almost American, but there’s barely room to use it and no papier de toilette. I’m ready for the Auberge, but Ed hasn't taken my very obvious hints. An adventure . . .

Dinner at eight o’clock p.m. is a cassoulet — it better be good!

[As it turned out, dinner was fabulous. See the entry tomorrow.]

The Washing Machine in a Phone Booth

The Washing Machine in a Phone Booth


Entrance to Auberge Le Cathare near Belflou

Entrance to Auberge Le Cathare near Belflou


Lac de la Ganguise near Belflou

Lac de la Ganguise near Belflou

Posted by Beausoleil 10:47 Archived in France Tagged camping 1996 belflou cassoulet Comments (4)

Moving to a new campground near Narbonne

Day 10 — July 10, 1996 (Wednesday)

AutoRoute going toward Narbonne

AutoRoute going toward Narbonne

[I didn't take any photos on this day since it was mostly a moving day. We drove from one campground to another. I'm putting in two photos taken on the same road but these were taken in 2010.]

We broke camp, breakfasted in our lovely little Auberge and bid “au revoir” to Madame Casanave. Retraced our steps on the tiny back roads to Castelnaudry and got on N113 going to Narbonne. The closer we got to Narbonne the more Spanish the buildings looked.

No trouble finding Narbonne, and we headed to Centre Ville to get some francs. This morning at checkout Madame would take a credit card for our food but she returned our reservation check and asked for francs for the campground. “Camping and Caravanning” didn’t mention that little detail. What did people do before ATM machines? Traveler's checks, I suppose . . . and there is always cash.

Driving to our new campground near Narbonne

Driving to our new campground near Narbonne

Left Narbonne heading for the next campground and did our now-famous getting lost act. There were two roads on our map labeled D32 — one went to the beach and we couldn’t find the other that was the one we needed. We finally gave up and paid the A9 toll to follow the Michelin directions. It didn’t work well, but we finally found our campground and checked in. We hadn’t eaten; the restaurant and store were both closed, so we drove back into town and ate at Buffalo Grill listening to bad American country music, and yes, you can get a lousy meal in France — try Buffalo Grill! At least it was food. Better music would have helped . . .

Wound our way back to camp and set up the tent in a pretty strong wind. Ed is doing our first laundry in France (no dryers) while I write this perched on two air mattresses (no tables or chairs in campgrounds) in a tent that is trying to become airborne. Wish we had our portable picnic table, our camping rugs, a broom and dustpan. Air travel does not contribute to good campership!

The campground store actually sold clothes pins, so we hooked all our shock cords to nearby trees and hung up clothes! That done, we set off down the road to see if there was another D32 that connected the campground to Gruissan. We found ourselves driving along the Canal du Robine under a row of plane trees. It was like driving in a dream. Next, we crossed the canal and drove through rice fields and a nature reserve and found ourselves in Gruissan. The road wasn’t marked until after you left town . . . typical French road signs.

Back to camp! We decided we weren’t very hungry and didn’t want to order the usual French “menu” for dinner and picked out a pizza. The camp auberge lady seated us (along with two other couples), but when she discovered we only wanted pizza, she informed us it was only emporter (takeout). We asked if we could use a table on the absolutely deserted patio and were told that would not be possible. We ordered our pizza and left the nearly empty restaurant, with no doubt in our minds why it was empty, and had a picnic on the floor of our tent — mediocre pizza — mediocre wine. Humph.

We’ve noticed French campers seem to rent tents at the camp site and they are huge several-room affairs with a kitchen that includes a refrigerator. There are no barbecues or picnic tables because the tent kitchen also has table and chairs. Many people also seem to carry table and chairs in their cars. We’re suspicious that the large tents also have a bathroom of some kind because we seldom see French campers at the restrooms and the gentlemen are seen carrying buckets up to the restrooms early in the morning. I think we have a lot to learn. [The next trip in 1998 we found a few more picnic tables in various spots by the roadside and today, campgrounds in France are nothing short of luxurious and there are picnic areas all over the place. Progress.]

Posted by Beausoleil 13:46 Archived in France Tagged france camping tents 1996 Comments (1)

Canet-Plage ~ Spain ~ Saint-Cyprien-Plage (beach day)

Day 11 — July 11, 1996 (Thursday)

Driving to Colera, Spain from France

Driving to Colera, Spain from France

I slept well for the first time since Paris — the secret was letting some air out of my mattress. Since you have to order breakfast a day ahead and we weren’t here to do that, we got on the N9 south toward Perpignan and Canet Plage. Somewhere south of Narbonne, we spotted a little restaurant with a breakfast sign. I asked for petit déjeuner and the lady immediately asked if we were British. No, but the man on all my French language tapes was! I must have learned well enough to speak French with a British accent. We explained we were Americans and took a few minutes to catch up on world news. It was fun to carry on a conversation!

*****

Beach at Colera, Spain

Beach at Colera, Spain

We headed on toward Canet-Plage and drove down (or up and down) the Côte Vermeil. The Mediterranean is incredibly blue and the mountains come right down to the sea. We stopped to take photos several times. It was incredibly windy and when you walked along the road, your feet crushed wild thyme and the smell was heavenly. We were so close we decided to drive on into Spain. Now that the EU is a reality, you just drive through — no customs check, no passport check, no cute little stamp on your passport. We drove south to Colera and stopped to walk around. Had no pesos so couldn’t buy anything but enjoyed the little fishing port and colorful boats.

*****

The French / Spanish border on a very windy day

The French / Spanish border on a very windy day


We turned back north to France and stopped at the border to take pictures of me beside both France and España signs. Then we drove up to Cerbère where we had lunch on the veranda of La Dorade on the Mediterranean. I had lamb broquettes and Ed had chicken. Life doesn’t get much better than this! La Dorade Hotel-Restaurant; 1 Rue du Maréchal Joffre, 66290 Cerbère, France; tel: +33 (0)4 6888 4193; La Dorade Restaurant web site

Harbor at Cerbère back in France

Harbor at Cerbère back in France


Cerbère from the La Dorade Hotel-Restaurant

Cerbère from the La Dorade Hotel-Restaurant

Saint-Cyprien-Plage, the wonderful beach near Canet-et-Roussillon

Saint-Cyprien-Plage, the wonderful beach near Canet-et-Roussillon


We continued north to Saint-Cyprien-Plage, parked the car along the road and walked across a very wide beach to the Mediterranean, took off our shoes and socks and went wading. Our pant legs got wet, but it was worth it. It’s hard to believe there is such a lovely sand beach on the Mediterranean and yet there is no development and there is free parking. Where are all the tourists? They must be over on the stone beaches of the Riviera. Silly people . . .

Saint-Cyprien-Plage, the wonderful beach near Canet-et-Roussillon

Saint-Cyprien-Plage, the wonderful beach near Canet-et-Roussillon

Decided to skip Perpignan and wandered the coast back to Narbonne where we stopped at Casino Supermarché for picnic fare. Casino has the world’s slowest checkout people. They were so slow it was hilarious. They sit on little chairs and punch in numbers very carefully one at a time — spending a great deal of thought on each item. Fortunately everyone was just purchasing dinner and breakfast. We bought a round baguette rather like a giant bagel, cheese, peaches, wine and a peach tart and left . . . . laughing. We visited the gas station and then headed for Narbonne-Plage — a beautiful drive. No picnic tables — no surprise. We drove on to Gruissan and actually found three picnic tables (undoubtedly put there by an American) and had a picnic beside a little lake. No campground auberge for us!

It was a great day. [If you don't speak French and haven't figured it out from the context, "plage" is the French word for beach; hence, Gruissan is the town and Gruissan-Plage is the beach.]

Posted by Beausoleil 09:30 Archived in France Tagged beach spain cerbere 1996 canet-plage colera Comments (3)

Grasse Market Day - Fragonard Perfume Museum and the Alps

Day 13 — July 13, 1996 (Saturday)

Fragonard Perfume Museum

Fragonard Perfume Museum

Woke at six, showered and packed. We were the first ones at breakfast — café au lait today. We bid the kindly nuns farewell and drove down into centre Grasse looking for a bank. We found three in a row and free parking — a great deal. We used the ATM and walked around town a bit. Nothing was open.

Old Town Grasse

Old Town Grasse

We followed signs to Fragonard Perfumerie, my raison d’etre for coming to Grasse. We pulled into the parking lot and parked under a huge plane tree as directed by a gentleman who worked there. We had to wait ten minutes until they opened, and another few minutes for our English-speaking guide who was a very nice young French woman who once lived in England. She guided us through the various stages of perfume making, both historic and present, and then took us into the sales room where I asked her to let me smell every fragrance in the room. I finally chose five and headed for the soap room where we got Monsieur and Madame soaps for Charles and Angie, and a selection of soaps for everyone else — including us. Fragonard has a great gift shop.

Saturday Market in Grasse

Saturday Market in Grasse

Saturday Market at Place aux Aires in Grasse

Saturday Market at Place aux Aires in Grasse

*****

Lac de Serre-Ponçon driving to Jausiers

Lac de Serre-Ponçon driving to Jausiers

That delightful chore over, we headed north to Jausiers . . . . only getting lost once. We drove up and up and up. These really are the Alps! The French like to drive with one wheel over the center line which is somewhat unnerving with no guardrails and a several-thousand foot drop. I was glad Ed was driving.

We stopped north of Digne at a country auberge (The Edelweiss). I had lamb broquettes and Ed the lentils and sausage. We split a crudité to start and a chocolate mousse for dessert. We ate on the terrace with a great view of the Alps. The crudité was the best we’ve had . . . no shredded carrots here! There was a selection of nice crisp fresh vegetables that had been perfectly marinated.

Greater downtown Jausiers across from the church

Greater downtown Jausiers across from the church

Going on north we ran into light rain. We found Barcelonnette (with a Casino Supermarché) and Jausiers which is much larger (though small) than we expected. Checked into our timeshare early and relaxed for a while. I put my new Provençal tablecloth on the table to brighten up the living room. We need some flowers and Ed wants a candle. We even have table and chairs on the balcony looking out over the Alps.

We walked into Jausiers looking for a light dinner — very difficult in France — and couldn’t agree on anything so we drove back to Barcelonnette to the Supermarché to shop. We got bread, cheese, fruit, butter, wine, coffee filters and coffee. At the checkout the lady indicated the fruit had to be weighed, so Ed cheerfully handed the bag to me. I headed back to produce with no idea what I was doing, and fortunately happened upon a French woman in the same state of utter ignorance. Her pre-teenage daughter carefully explained the mysteries of the scale to us. You put the fruit on the scale, push the button corresponding to your fruit, and the machine spits out a ticket with the price. That done, we paid and drove back to our home for the week.

The little balcony of our timeshare. Fun!

The little balcony of our timeshare. Fun!


I moved some furniture around a bit and we tried the television for a while. French TV may be worse than American. There were some American sitcoms dubbed in French. There were ads for movies (both European and American dubbed), but nothing started until 10 P.M. or later. The French stop the world and eat from noon until 2 P.M., and again from 8 until 10 P.M., so it stands to reason that there is nothing interesting on television at those hours since no one is watching anyway — except possibly visiting Americans. We turned it off.

We ate our bread, cheese and wine and Ed figured out how to turn our sofa into a bed. As soon as our heads hit the pillow, I heard three shots and saw a flash through our drawn drapes. Ed, with his earplugs, heard nothing. After a few minutes, I heard more fireworks so went out on the balcony and then to the other side of the building at the bathroom window, but couldn’t see anything. Obviously, early Bastille Day revelers! I went to sleep.

Posted by Beausoleil 12:41 Archived in France Tagged alps 1996 jausiers lac_de_serre-ponçon Comments (3)

Bastille Day in Barcelonnette

Day 14 — July 14, 1996 (Sunday)

Eglise Saint Nicolas de Myre in Jausiers

Eglise Saint Nicolas de Myre in Jausiers

Today is Bastille Day (La Fête Nationale) so we’ll do our own belated Fourth of July celebration. Ed dutifully went out for our baguette while I figured out the kitchen. I bought the wrong coffee filters so had to make do. Ed plumbed the intricacies of the orange juice bottle and everything was ready when I discovered we had forgotten sugar for the coffee — gaaack!

We walked over to the church and discovered a little Bastille Day memorial service in the square next to the church. The church was larger inside than it appeared. They have a sun dial on the wall outside although I have no idea how accurate it is. Inside, there are eight side altars. The hymn numbers are preceded by a letter but I didn’t figure that out ‘til the last hymn. It’s a bit strange — you can have twenty-six different hymns numbered twenty-six. Since I missed the letter, we didn’t sing. Oh well . . . off to the laundry!

Saint Nicolas de Myre, side altar

Saint Nicolas de Myre, side altar

*****

Sbandieratori we saw later in Italy

Sbandieratori we saw later in Italy

The nearest laundry was in Barcelonnette and it actually had a dryer. It took us a while to figure it out as the instructions were in French, but we now have clean clothes. That done, we started to look for a restaurant, and picked an outdoor table at a nice hotel on the main square — across from the fountain. We had a great waiter, a young skier type. We got the 82F menu with trout, figuring in the mountains trout would be good. It was excellent!

After lunch, we wandered the town (with a Mexican store!) until we heard a band. We followed our ears to Place Manuel to discover a Sbandieratori demonstration. Ed had seen one of the costumed men walking around earlier. There were drums with sticks that had egg-shaped ends, herald trumpets with flags and a troupe of men in medieval Italian costumes carrying large flags with crests. The men twirled the flags (each man had two flags) and they threw them up in the air back and forth to each other. It was great fun. [We later saw the Sbandieratori in Italy. They are always spectacular.]

*****

Ubaye River at Jausiers

Ubaye River at Jausiers


Later we went to our supermarché and it had closed at noon — no sugar for my morning coffee! Headed home to rest and recuperate armed with tourist info and postcards. They were throwing fire crackers in the square at lunch so we’re hiding out on our terrace until Bastille Day is over.

After a quiet dinner on our terrace, we decided to explore. We started around our building when I became aware I had constantly been hearing rushing water. We found a little path and discovered the river Ubaye is less than a hundred yards from our room. We followed a footpath along the river to a bridge and crossed the Ubaye. It is narrow but swift. To our surprise, there was a park on the other side. Besides a lake, snack bar and children’s play equipment, they have a fake mountain to practice rock climbing. Several people were trying their luck.

*****

Château des Magnans in Jausiers

Château des Magnans in Jausiers

We continued along the river to the Col d’Bonnette which is the road on the other side of our resort and the highest paved road in Europe when you drive into the Mercantour National Park. We spotted a castle way up on a hill and walked up the Col d’Bonnette to see if we could get to the castle. After a few dead-ends — all uphill — we gave up and walked down into the town exploring. It was very quiet on a Sunday evening. We stopped at the Tabac and got sugar and coffee filters and back to our rooms. (I thought a Tabac was a tobacco store, and they do sell tobacco products, but it is really a store akin to a quaint 7-11. They sell groceries, snacks and many other necessities of life.) [Later discovered the tabac is a good source of maps and tickets for local transportation.]

Youth Hostel in Jausiers

Youth Hostel in Jausiers

Jausiers Tourist Office web site
Web site for the mysterious castle in Jausiers
[Some background: The Château we couldn't quite find was the Château des Magnans, a Mexican villa built 100 years ago by Louis Fourtoul on the site of a former silk farm. The name “Magnans “ means “glutton” in the Provençal language and relates to the voracity of the silkworms raised for the local silk farms. A silk farm is called a magnanerie and the manager of the silk farm is a magnanier or more currently, a magnan. When I taught school, a fellow teacher had her students raise silk worms as a project and when you walked in the room, you could hear them eating. Voracious is certainly descriptive. Fortunately we had a grove of mulberry trees outside our rooms to keep the little fellows well fed.]

Posted by Beausoleil 14:07 Archived in France Tagged france bastille_day 1996 jausiers barcelonnette Comments (3)

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