These are to be the voyages of The Slogship Enterprose; and this is its maiden voyage. Posts as a whole will be intermittent over the next few days, depending on the availability of things called branchements, weefee, road signs not written by the sadistically dyslexic, Windows 8.1′s time of the month, and the failing energy of a blogger-cum-travel-writer.
I was going to venture down to St Jean de Luz on the French Atlantic coast towards northern Spain for the maiden voyage, but then the Meteo offered a forecast (revised) of rain, rain, heavy rain, cloud, heavy cloud, and all stops to plague-of-boils. So I opted instead for the Var, just West enough of the fame victims to be tolerable socially…but warm enough to be worth the effort. St Maxime showed sun, sun, sun, mixed cloud and sun and a temperature average of 20 degrees.
It got my vote, but not for the weather alone. In fact, I love most of the places on the way to it too: the Midi Pyrenees, snow-covered mountains to the right of ‘em, Alpine foothills to the left of ‘em, and that turn north after Montpellier towards Nimes, thence onwards to Avignon.
Avignon is a classic example of the Madness of Signwriters, in that you can belt up the autoroute for 140 kilometres and see Nimes, Lyons and bloody Delhi on the roadsigns…but not Avignon. Not Avignon, the famous and fabulously beautiful town of light-stone architectural beauty where you could allez-danser sur le pont. Only on the French autoroutes can you learn that you’re on the right road for Avignon a mere three seconds before the turn-off that says ‘Avignon Sud’.
The town of Avignon is not, of course, in the Var: it’s on the way to it – and is thus the perfect place to rest up before hitting the road towards St Tropez the following day. Not, I hasten to add, because I would ever want to be a dead cat being swung in San’trop: nope, the real promise for me is un camping that overlooks the physical beauty of St Maxime/St Tropez without the need to venture down there and watch the anorexics on display.
I first visited Avignon in 1972. To be more precise, that was the last time I visited it too. I was blown away by the delicately fashioned spires and turrets of the place….and its amazing wood-oven pizzas in the old town’s tiny back-street restaurants. So it will never be for me what the French call a Relais – a convenient stopping-off point. I prefer to think of it as an aperitif for even better things to come.
Bowling along in a motor-home in France requires the adoption of an entirely different set of attitudes to those adopted by normal motorists devoid of aspirations to be some sort of neo-modernist Gypsy. One must accept the fact that the alternatives open to one at the Autoroute péages are indifferent at best: that sometimes the tickets are unreachable on account of being unfeasibly far from a safe entry by the vehicle into the péage, and at other times they’re likely to cause serious trapped nerve syndrome on account of being at a level well below where one’s window is.
Anyway, tonight I am ensconced here at the Pont d’Avignon Camping site in the middle of a beautifully landscaped area tout près, as it happens, du pont d’Avignon. The town shall be revisited tomorrow, but only after I’ve had the night to dissipate the effects of ropes-learning when it comes to the motor home/technology interface.
I truly cannot embrace – after nearly half a century of coming here – the baffling, braindead rudeness of French drivers faced with a foreigner in front confused by the multiple-choice dog-traps on offer for payment of the road toll.
Imagine steering a 3.8i diesel engine monster towards seventeen potential ways to The Other Side, and having just 11.7 seconds to decide between uniquement telepeage, cartes et telepeage, cartes, cartes et monnaie, uniquement pieces, and who knows…perhaps even pas uniquement monnaie ou telepeage a choix mais de temps en temps des telecartes d’ors en croute de luncheon vouchers dans son jus de plastique.
Still, I have broken the back of this journey. After which there will be four days of no driving at all. Such is the blisful release I need from a three month spell of builders in residence.