|As you may - or may not - remember, I went to France the other week. Now, I hate travelling at the best of times, I was born was no sense of direction worth speaking of and I can get disoriented simply getting out of bed. Throw in air travel and a foreign language and that's pretty much it for me, panic sets in. Fortunately I had Donna along to bully me and to confidently take all the travel arrangements in her stride, leaving me all the necessary time to concentrate on panicking rather than dealing with anything. Much more efficient. |
We were on EasyJet, which truly gives one an appreciation for what created veal calves have to go through, there's EasyJet ORANGE (it has to be all in caps) everywhere and not only does this render the stewardesses ugly but it induces eye strain even when you're not focussing on anything.
Jesus was a bad sport when it came to the birthday bumps.
Gamer + Carcassone = Squee
|The trip over wasn't too bad in and of itself though the cloud cover pretty much prevented us from seeing anything at all until we landed in Toulouse (From the English - 'To Surrender, To be Beaten).|
I should probably take a moment to explain my problem with flying. I understand the science, I know how it all works so it's no a superstitious fear of 'magic' or anything, it's just this - OK, so planes rarely crash, but when they do, you're pretty much fucked. People walk away from train and car wrecks, they don't really from plane crashes. I demand that Zeppelins get brought back, they're civilised and they have the decency to crash SLOWLY. People survived the Hindenburg, they don't survive jets ploughing into the ground at 300 miles an hour.
As to Toulouse? We only really drove through it and didn't see much of it, basically it seemed like 'Le Basingsoke' with an airport tacked on.
|The other part about foreign travel in particular that chokes me up is all the security and checkpoints. I look like a hippy and travel terrifies me, so I always look suspicious. This is not good, especially since nearly being cavity searched entering the USA. Fortunately the trip out was not marred by anally fixated security monkeys. Indeed the passport control guy in Toulouse was slumped right back in his chair as though taking a nap. The word 'languorous' was invented for this guy.|
My dad picked us up at the airport and then we were off, driving through the - presumably - lovely French countryside at night. Of course, we couldn't see a thing. When we arrived at the old huntsman's house him and his new missus have taken over we could hear the countryside though, specifically a pond full of frogs on the property which were croaking, and laughing, at deafening volume. As well as the frogs there's a very loud woodpecker, three cats, two dogs and two donkeys to contend with. We gawped at the house for a bit and then ate ALL the cheese - which was to be a recurring theme.
Caution! Do not visit Carcassone after playing Assassin's Creed. The urge to jump out of the windows and engage in Le Parkour are almost overwhelming.
Yet another goddamn beautiful view at Carcassone.
|The following day we got to take a look around the place and go for a drive to see some French villages. My dad's house is a bit of a surprise really, but also not at the same time. It's very rural but has a nice office space with a quite muscular computer in it, it's decorated in a sort of rural-ish, minimalist style with lots of art posters and books and it has a lot of land around it with lots of trees. I never took my dad for much of a gardener, much more of a tech-head like me I thought, but here he is with lots of green grass and fruit trees, it's a bit disorienting.|
As to the countryside, which we finally got to see, it's a lot like the countryside around me except a lot drier and the soil is a lot more like clay. It's also a bigger distance between hills with a lot more flat open spaces and the crops are very different, a lot of fruit trees and bushes and not the more traditional grains and rape seed plants that we have around here. Everything's also a lot more spaced out, big gaps between the houses, no hedges, lacking the crowding of even farmland in England.
|The French villages were very nice, but they do all tend to become something of a blur after a while, the same pale, leafless trees forming avenues over the roads, the same 'L'Hotel de Ville' with the same dirty French flag hanging out front, the same pale yellow, tumbledown buildings, one after another and the same wisteria rambling over everything. When I say tumbledown I really mean it, half of these buildings looked like they were about ready to fall over. The French don't seem to be particularly houseproud and if you saw a building that wasn't leaning and about ready to collapse, odds are it was owned by a British or Dutch family that had emigrated to the area and fixed it up.|
Every other town or village also had fortifications, a legacy of the Cathar heresy, the Napoleonic Wars and the Hundred Years War, during all of which villages changed hands faster than Mr Igoe. One thing that still has us in stitches was passing through a little wooded area called 'Poupas', which is pronounced 'Poop-ass'. Yes, yes, I know, childish...
Look, I like castles, alright?
An ultramodern French privy.
|The following day we went on a road trip to see Carcassone. Carcassone is a fancifully restored fortified town, sitting next to the newer, proper town of Carcassone. The place itself is great, high walls, fortifications, a tastefully done tour that makes language concessions for 'Le Rosbeefs' which was welcome. French is a lovely language and all but it makes their crowd noise peculiarly quiet, they assign genders to inanimate objects and you can't swear as satisfyingly in French as you can in good ol' robust Anglo-Saxon.|
Carcassone treads a pretty fine line though, it is occupied by a lot of fine shops but amongst them there is a lot of tat and kitsch, which I'm told is gradually increasing year on year. It's not quite as bad as Mont Saint Michel and it's nice to see the medieval as a working and operating location but it does feel like it's fighting a losing battle against the tat. So if you're going to go see it, the sooner the better and go just off season if you can.
|While we were in Carcassone we ate at 'The Round Table', purely for reasons of irony, and ate 'sausage and chips' though, of course, this being France the sausage was of delicious high quality and the chips were actually thin slivers of oven baked potato, and it was delicious, as was the starter of fish soup and the pudding of proper creme caramel. England's getting a lot better on the food stakes but for a quick, tourist-trap meal that was pretty good and not too screamingly expensive either.|
The ultimate British tourist destination, a place full of dead French.
Lizards. Nature's GameBoys.
|On our last proper day we went to visit a French market in one of the neighbouring towns to Lavit (the closest village to where we were staying). It was a little disappointing in that most of what was on sale seemed to be American and while the market was overrun by Moroccans selling interesting things there wasn't a great deal of French people selling interesting things. The indoor market however was more French and sold seafood and local produce, including what amounted to pork scratchings, but made with duck, which were delicious, curse them for not being on sale over here.|
Overall it seemed like every other person at the market wasn't French, English, Dutch, German, Moroccan, but not French, a lot of Spaniards too, particularly visiting the rather ostentatious Catholic church that dominated that part of the town. I'm more used to the austere CoE and Protestant churches so the sheer gaudy kitsch of the Catholic churches was a bit of a shock.
|After visiting the market we went to a rather nice restaurant, run at least in part by a lady from New Zealand, but serving traditional French cuisine. I'd had snails before, somewhen, and recall them tasting like garlic chewing gum, so I went for that other stereotypical French dish, frogs' legs, for my starter.|
Frog's legs are... interesting. The texture isn't like much else I've ever eaten and they don't taste like chicken, more like pike if anything. A delicate, earthy, slightly fishy flavour that is easily overwhelmed by a sauce if you're not careful. For my main course, to compensate for the Frenchness of the starter I had roast beef and when it comes to main courses the French need to learn a little about proper portions, still, it tasted pretty good. I finished up with a nougat ice cream, which was delicious, but the nuts acted rather like aggregates in concrete, making it a bit tricky to carve up into bite-size pieces.
People actually use Carcassone, which brings it to life.
Yet more windy, medieval streets.
|Then the next day it was finally time to head home. We said goodbye to the cat that had adopted us during our stay (Pastisse) and took a final look around before heading to the airport. Here's where we finally got some trouble with security, probably because we were going early, the airport was quiet and the security people had nothing better to do. |
We'd been given some jam and cheese as a parting gift, seeing as how we had eaten so much of both while we were there. The cheese they didn't seem to give a toss about but the liquids issue seemed to cause problems for the jam.
Is jam a liquid? Where does one draw the line? How does a pot of home made jam pose a security risk exactly? Did we plan to force feed it to the pilot perhaps, give him a sugar rush so he would foul up the landing?
|We could have had a very interesting discussion I'm sure if the language barrier and authority problem hadn't been in the way. A jam, or jelly, isn't really a liquid is it? Not as the dictionary defines such substances. Where does one draw the line precisely? By some definitions glass is a liquid, where do the security services stand on oobleck? Is cheese a solid or a liquid? If you can take blocks of cheese through, how about fondue? What about brie? Enquiring minds want to know!|
Alas my French isn't good enough to engage in such discussions and I have no desire to have my bottom probed by French customs so we were forced to leave behind the jam and the bastards didn't even have the decency to eat it themselves which you'd think they might have, I'd rather somebody enjoyed it than it go to waste, but what can you do?
Here be hippies and new agers.
|We snagged some duck foie gras in the duty free (foie gras? What the fuck's wrong with jam then you continental cumrags!) and some nice chocolates in a metal egg for mum and then sat around twiddling our thumbs until the plane was ready to board. The stewardesses were even lazier on this flight, not even really bothering to go through the safety protocol. Once we hit the UK again our rapid progress hit a grinding halt with inadequate train platform signage and long delays between connections. I console myself with the knowledge that we actually have a public transport system that can get you there in the end, unlike America. Concentrating on problems with the US helps get over the English/French animosity.|
And that's it really! It was nice, but I still hate travel and foreign countries are strange and frightening!
Frog's legs. Tastier than you might think.
Nougat ice cream. Very yummy concrete.