After spending one day & one night tootling around La Ci
té (the medieval-walled-town-part) of Carcassonne
, we rented our car for the drive to the chateau. The Opel Corsa with no hub caps was not the black Peugot 207 I was hoping for. Also, unfortunately, it's the same car we did our driving lessons and tests in, which bought back bad memories. Also, unfortunately is was diesel - actually it drove quite well and I was impressed - but it sounded like a pretty shit tractor. To ease into driving on the other side of the road, I thought I'd terrify Laura by driving perilously close to the right-hand side - especially when near parked cars, ditches, or - my personal favourite - sheer drop-offs. To make it more scenic, we GPSed a route that took us via Castres
, up through the mountains and national park, and (by accident) the super-charming really-old-looking, no-cars-because-the-streets-are-too-narrow, stuck-up-in-hills-with bridges, funny-old-outdoor-squat-urinals-and-all Olargues
The chateau was cool. It's more-or-less a 3 storey square building enclosing a courtyard with several attached barns and outhouses. And a pool (of course). The owners were competitive body builders and have build a very impressive 2-storey gym complete with protein supplements and all. As there is no gym in the area, it has turned into a good sideline for them. But because it's an historic property they aren't allowed to advertise, or put up any signs. The best they can do is put a sign some distance down the road saying "gym in 500 metres" but, and this is truly French, the sign can't give any indication of which direction it's in. The property extends quite a way in one aspect and includes an abandoned orangerie. If you walked through the orangerie, or along the no-longer-used railway line across the road, you come to the spa town of Lamalou-les-Bains
To us, a "spa" is a place that girls go to sit around in bath robes while being up-sold ludicrously expensive beauty products. But the French spa towns are more like water-based outpatient clinics. After a few days in Lamalou you start to notice the preponderance of wheelchairs, crutches & bandages - in fact, in any given group of people, at least one person is likely to be looking fairly worse for the wear. So, in the nicest way, I think of Lamalou not of les Bains
, but of les cripples
- kind of like a leper colony with really nice boulangeries. Speaking of pastry, our initial efforts in the regard were a bit frustrated - if you're like us, if you're on holiday, by the time you sleep in, have breakfast & perform your ablutions lazily, it's around 1pm. That is indeed a shame, because in Lamalou (and I suspect most other small town in that area, if not the entire country) all the shops shut at 1pm to reopen at 4pm. Eventually we got it right, but on day #1 we were restricted to Lidl rations only.
Being, aside from the Ikea furniture, more or less an authentic country house, we had no aircon. During the day the temperature maxed out around 40°.
The shutters were shuttered, and on the days when we didn't foolishly adventure up hills or down gorges (we did both of these at my insistence and Laura's forbearance), we siesta'ed in our room, feverish, languid, and happy. On the first night I left the shutters open, and it was pleasantly cool. On night #2 I did the same but we inadvertently outsmarted a bat's echolocation: Laura woke in a start claiming rustling noises and I poo-pooed it as a dream - but there was no mistaking the wriggly fist-sized parcel in our net curtain. I have to admit, and I'm not proud of this, that years of apartment living has rendered me a little soft when it comes to non-domestic animals. But the burden of protecting my wife sits heavily on my shoulders and I'm not one to back down (except when facing that one type of bear where you're supposed to back down). I found the best course of action was just to close the windows on top the curtains - thereby ensuring the bat remained outside - and allowing him the opportunity to free himself, should he wish to do so. In the morning I checked tentatively, and confirmed he had made his escape.
In fact, this is was not the only act of heroism on my part. On another day I found a lizard in the same net curtains. (I feel I need to give a bit of context here: we have been constantly & shamelessly harassed by small lizards in the past. In Fiji a lizard had taken to living behind the toilet cistern - at night he'd (they're always "he's") creep out, and you'd get up to use the loo and flick the lights on, and he'd race back in - and we, neither of us, dithered on that
throne. Then in Goa, a different lizard (I assume) had taken to living behind the giant carved wooded headboard above our bed. Again the same thing - he'd creep out when it was dark or quiet - then any light or motion would see him to racing back in. It began to affect our ability to enjoy the headboard and we were forced to bring it to the attention of the staff. A group of them came in, first to remove the headboard, and then to deal with the lizard: after being exposed, he ran out of the room at a million miles with 3 or 4 men chasing him, and ultimately he succumbed to one of their shoes). With that in mind, I tried to loose the lizard from the curtain through vigorous shaking. When that failed, I tried to "bash" him off using Laura's magazine. It was successful, but along with the lizard, the magazine also exited in the window and ended up in the boules sandpit (from whence I was forced to retrieve it, a little shame-faced).
Then, on our last night, I got up to the use the loo... We had been talking to the owners about the local fauna - which had included scorpions - and I noticed a scorpion-shaped thing on the floor. It was small, and I prodded it with something and it didn't move, so I assumed it was the discarded exoskeleton of a scorpion. None the less I put an empty can over it, then spent the next 45 minutes wondering where the freshly decked-out scorpion could be (the sheets?) before falling asleep. In the morning I removed the can and lo! it was indeed a scorpion, and not just a shell. And this time it took off. I quickly replaced the can, and we put a bottle of shower gel on top of the can to weigh it down. Then we packed up, paid the bill, and left for La Grande Motte
, warning the owners on the way out.
Labels: david, holiday, Travelling