Monday, November 10, 2014

France is no longer a far away land

After a weekend of endless parties, majestic dishes and delicious wines; Jim and I rented a car to go to France. The nearest place where we could find one with automatic transmission was in Girona, about 45 minutes north of Palamos. Jim made the reservation online, and all they had available was a VW Golf. On Monday morning, Marie-Laure took us to the train station in Girona, where we found a small office with a single agent and a line of customers at the door. The wait was a bit long and when it was our turn our VW Golf was not available. With great sorrow we learned that instead they had a Mercedes Benz for us, turbo diesel with only 5000 km. Half an hour later our white steed marched onto the highway to French land.

Our first stop was in the medieval city of Carcassonne. On the way we crossed many medieval villages near the Canal du Midi. As we had plans to visit that area during our week on the canal, we decided to move on our trip.
Plaza, Carcassone
Ferris wheel at the entrance of downtown Carcassone

Cathedral being restored

Monument to the heroes in WWII

Canal du Midi

We stayed in Toulouse the first night, before arriving to the hotel we had dinner at an Thai restaurant, where the food, for some French reason, was much more elaborate. The next morning we went to explore the city.

The canal du Midi was just a few blocks away from our hotel

River that feeds the aqueduct for the city of Toulouse

As we walked the streets of Toulouse, in search of the historical center, a bus stop. I asked the driver if he was going to the Capitol building. I barely understood his answer. Even though, we got in, to venture into the magical pink city (called like that after the colors of the buildings). Suddenly the narrow street became into a square; with farmers markets, cafes in the porches and lots of people walking around. The driver said to me: "Arrivé, madame."

Capitol building

Farmers Market


At 2 pm the next day, we left Toulouse toward Gujan Mestras, an hour from the city of Bourdeux. Cathy, another friend we met in Les Saintes, had invited us to stay at her place and show us the area. Thanks to our GPS, with an elegant British accent; we found our way. After an hour nap at a rest area, we got to her place. Unlike stoplights at all intersections in the US, the roundabouts in Europe made the driving a lot easier.

the beautiful sycamore trees make the highways so pleasant

Cathy was waiting for us with a feast of pepperoni, mushrooms preserved in olive oil, sardine pate, local and homemade wines, breads and cheeses (my weakness). After a 2 hour meal and great conversation, we retired to our lovely cottage. Cathy is not only a wonderful person, but also an excellent hostess. We were at her place two nights and three days, where we finally adjusted to the jet lag.

The next morning he took us to the Esplanade oyster-farmers.

Map of the areal

Traditional boats of Arcachon Bay
Fishermen cabin

The spouts glue themselves to this tiles

Then they are put in this cages in the water

Oyster shells are recycle

Dock where boats come with the oysters

Very friendly came begging for food

Our tour guide, on the back the fishermen cabins
Then we went to the Dune of Pyla, the largest sand dune in Europe, where David, Cathy's boyfriend, practices paragliding. There was not much wind, but enough to lift up the kites and color the place. Walking in the sand is hard enough, but climbing to the top is even harder. The view was amazing, the dune extends from the north to Arcachon Bay and to the south to a huge pine forest. The trees, despite being really tall, appeared tiny. The top of the dune; with its 4 km long serpentine shape, looked like the back of a dragon.

Hiking the dune

Paragliding, no much wind

The pine forest

Beautiful sunset

Getting ready to eat more delicious food

Then we went back to enjoy the sunset, an hour of wine and delicious picnic that Cathy had prepared. It had completely darkened when we gather our stuff and began the descent back to the car through a half mile trail of stones and sand. And just as we walked into the woods a tiny light peeked from behind the huge mass of sand. It was a magical moment to see the full moon rising over the dune.

The moon
Our third day with Cathy was a great surprise. Some friends invited us to go on a boat adventure around the Arcachon Bay. David prepared a delicious apple tart. And the weather couldn't be better; fresh temperature, sunny and not very windy. It was also low tide. Afterwords Cathy showed us the traditional houses of Arcachon. She made our stay in the area very special.

In low tide the boats seat on the mud

Entering the city of Arcachon

Our ride
Sand bar where oysters are farmed
Oyster boat

Life is good


Traditional houses in Arcachon

Alexander Dumas house
After a wonderful day we started a new journey to Saint Rojan; Just an hour away; where a friend was waiting for us. We were off to another adventure and more stories to tell.