Saturday, October 11, 2014

Au Revoir, Méditerranée

After spending almost two weeks waking up to the sunrise over the water, we head north for Paris and parts west--far west.
From our balcony, sunrise over the Mediterranean

Our apartment is just above entrance with green tablecloth

Seaside walk in front of our apartment
Our host (landlord) arrived exactly on time to check the apartment and was most gracious (and discreet) in checking around at our cleaning job--stellar, I might add.  We had spent the early morning cleaning and went for coffee in order to steel ourselves for the day ahead.  The lavarie (laundramat) was closed, so I was unable to wash the draps (sheets) and duvet cover, and M. Rigo seemed unfazed by that though his wife may have more to say about it.  Right around the corner, we have visited a particular brasserie where we enjoyed either coffee or beer depending on the time of day.  We bid adieu to the Madame there, packed the car and carried out the bags of garbage that we Americans accumulate like nobody else.

After saying goodbye to M. Rigo and leaving him with his keys, we hopped into the car making our feeble attempts at showing energy for the day ahead.  We drove north toward Narbonne where the road is often very windy.  Fortunately, even the wind generators were still.  The last time I drove that stretch, I returned home wracked with pain in my arms and shoulders from clutching the wheel.  

The terrain changed from seaside and oyster beds to scrubby hills.  North of Narbonne, we headed toward Millau in the Central Massif where the hills changed to mountains and valleys.
Millau bridge approaching from south

Millau bridge from north side
Constructed 10 years ago, the bridge at Millau is the highest viaduct in the world.  The road bed is 900' above the River Tarn.  It's a magnificent feat of engineeering and construction spanning a deep valley in a way that is both practical and graceful.  It's a wonder to look at.

The skies opened and we were deluged with rain slowing us down and making the driving more challenging.  On the péage (toll road), signs are posted, which show that the normal speed limit is 130 kph.  When it's raining, the speed limit reduces to 110 kph, which means the 8.5-hour trip is stretched into a 9-plus-hour trip.
Speed camera ahead

Mr. Speed Camera--box in center with evil eyes
 I've described the speed cameras before, so you know we slow down whether we want to or not.

As we moved out of the Massif Central to lower hills again, the woods crept up to the road and the trees became skinny and tall the way they are in northern France (because they are constantly harvested).  By the time we passed over the Cher River (which runs through the Loire Valley and, in fact, under my favorite chateau, Chenonceaux), the sky lightened and we saw the sun peek through here and there. After the Cher, the landscape changed to flat long fields far into the distance--a little like the terrain in the agricultural central valley of California.  But different. . .

Closer to Paris, traffic became thicker and unpleasant.  Already tired, we became resolved to our fate of having to drive the périphérique around Paris at rush hour--in the dark--along with many others not wanting to be there any more than I did.  There were no other choices and I found a lane (as far right as possible without being kicked off at whatever the next exit was) where I sat--and I mean "sat," rather than racing smoothly along at my allowed 110 kpm.  We finally dumped onto the A6 toward Charles de Gaulle airport and headed for Senlis where we had hotel reservations.

When we finally pulled into the parking lot of the Hotel IBIS, it was past 8 p.m.  We had left at 10 a.m.  That 8.5-hour drive somehow ballooned to 10 hours.  We checked in, dropped our luggage in the room and had dinner at the hotel--not our first choice. But considering our day, that was the best choice.

Glad to be here.  Well, sort of glad to be here. . . 

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