50th Birthday France Expedition

Flying with debilitating tooth pain: not recommended.

Getting from Tassie to France takes roughly 40 hours. I made a poor start, leaving the folder with all my travel documents on the table where I’d put it so I wouldn’t forget it. (Thanks for the mercy dash Mum) Still feeling the effects of a slowly healing dry socket, it seemed longer than 40 hours to the the point where if I’d had a TARDIS I’d have zapped myself back home to the couch. Long haul flights and dental pain is not a great combination. My brand new Lulu Lemon tracky dacks which had been awesomely comfortable on the plane were not so awesome when it came to sitting in sweltering train stations hoping the French train strike was finished. I was tempted to get changed on the platform, but having learnt from bitter experience last year that the French do take their dress standards seriously, I decided not to tempt fate by risking partial nudity. Fortunately the train strike was finished, and when I arrived in Blois my nursing travel buddies Jenna Chiffey-Gray and Stuart Debnam were able to revive me with the contents of their well stocked pharmacy. I felt better than Chris Froome after a few squirts of his asthma puffer. After an evening picnic of a couple of glasses of very drinkable €3 a bottle wine and some equally cheap but impressive cheese, I’m actually not especially tired despite having had zero sleep since leaving Tassie. The fact that it’s 10.00pm and still light probably has something to do with that.

 

 

 

France Day Two: The Unfortunate Smashed Light and Freaky Death House

Last night, I had the option of sleeping upstairs in a sweltering room on a comfortable mattress or downstairs where it was cooler on an uncomfortable couch. I chose a third option, dragging the comfortable mattress downstairs in a semi inebriated and jet lagged state. Unfortunately, in the process of doing this I rearranged the furniture so it would fit and knocked over a lamp which smashed on the floor. Stu reasoned that the best course of action this morning was for me to play the role of a clumsy imbecile who accidentally kicked the lamp over in my sleep. He mimed this to the owner while I nodded and grinned stupidly. Fortunately, he bought the explanation although the only time he’d previously seen me was the night before cheerily waving a wine bottle at him as I wandered past his game of boles.

Today, we had a 600k drive to Provence. To break up the drive, we decided to stop at a park half way. The Garmin in the car suggested one. The road soon turned into an overgrown goat track. As it was impossible to reverse all the way down, we continued until we came to an abandoned three storey mansion. It was in quite a scenic position on a hill and not all that far from the nearest town, but it did have a slightly disturbing feel to it. We still had our picnic and a bit of a snoop around inside, but have pretty much lost faith in the Garmin as a tourist guide. It would make a great location for a zombie movie but I wouldn’t place it on a list of top things to do in France.

 

Watching the World Cup Semi Final

Until tonight, the worst thing that has ever happened in the town of Cabrieres was the 1545 massacre of the entire population by papal mercenaries for delivering a batch of substandard wine and being heretics.* Tonight, this tragic event was almost surpassed when the restaurant tv reception dropped out 15 minutes before the France/ Belgium kickoff. We made the decision to eat out after I wasted an hour today trying to get Le Tour on our B&B set.

Thankfully, disaster was averted by an English tourist hot spotting the game on his phone for us. The entire staff seem to be watching the match, so I’m not sure who cooked the amazing food. The owners’ 13 year old daughter is the only one not glued to the screen, so maybe she cooked as well. The scallops were even better than the ones I used to have on a Thursday night at the Nubeena RSL.

Fun fact about the town: All of the buildings are made of layered stone set into concrete. This is possibly so that in the event of the locals deciding to ignore another Papal decree or ferment another batch of faulty wine, they can go into doomsday prepper mode, stock up on tinned food and wait out the attack in traditional French style.

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Once again, England saves France. This kind tourist hotspotted the game through his phone for us.

The Amazing Castle of Buoux

Today we intended to make a short detour on our way to Aix-en Provence consisting of a short walk in the town of Buoux, followed by a coffee and croissant. We spotted a sign that said Fort Buoux and assumed it must be close to the town. After an hour of not finding it, we gave up and discovered we would need to drive. Our intended 30 minute walk turned into an epic historical mystery tour.

I’ve seen loads of castles, from tiny ones in the Scottish Highland to massive English defensive structures and beautiful French chateaus. Today pretty much topped them all. At the base were Neolithic caves and burial grounds carved out of the cliff side. The actual 13th Century castle was at the top of a long climb with cliffs on three sides and is spread over roughly 800m. It took over 40 minutes to discover most of it. Although it was ordered destroyed by King Louis the Somethingth, there are loads of battlements, ditches, towers and remnants of the old village to explore. Attacking would have been pretty much impossible as the only way up is steep and covered fortifications. We were tired just walking it.

What was surprising was that apart from warning signs reminding people not to go near the cliff edges or climb on top of unstable structures, there were no safety barriers, railings or fenced off areas. The French have an incredibly relaxed attitude towards OH&S compared to Australia. You’re free to make your own decisions regarding personal safety, as long as you’re happy to accept the consequences of making bad ones. Overall, I suspect they have higher levels of health and fitness compared to Australians, despite the inevitable odd person falling off unstable castle walls and their cheese based diet. My diet today consisted of muesli tipped into a bottle of warm milk in the car because I’d neglected to make myself a salad roll before leaving the house. I think the French would approve of my poor decision making.

 

Today we made the most of the beautiful weather and flat conditions to explore the coastline in a 20k kayak trip. Jenna and myself shared a sit on kayak/ ski thing while Stu made the trip on a stand up paddle board. During the pre trip briefing, the relaxed French attitude towards OH&S was again apparent. “When you meet a big boat, even if you ave right of way, zey will not respect you, so be careful.” Basically they show you a map, tell you which bits to be careful in and let you go for it. The company do have rescue boats to come and collect people unable to complete the return trip, and judging by the lack of paddling technique in a few of the boats I’d say they would get a fair few call outs. I’m not sure if they charge extra for a tow back.

 

I decided to call our craft the Gerard Depardieu. I’m used to a skinny ski. The Gerard had the acceleration of a steam engine and handled like a shopping trolley full of bricks with a broken wheel. I also kept bashing my thumbs on the side because it was so bloody wide. Due to the heavy traffic of tourist boats which caused a bit of swell, I was grateful for the stability though. The beach at Calanque d’En-Vau was crowded but the water was amazingly clear. I’m still to get to grips with the lack of sand on European beaches, pebbly gravel is really painful to walk on. When Slartibartfast designed this part of Europe, he really should have spent more time on beach entry and exit points. The cliffs and caves we saw along the way were also very impressive, so if you ever get a chance to visit Cassis, I’d recommend booking a boat for a day.

Thankyou so much for all the wonderful birthday messages everyone. It’s lunch time here, and I’ve already managed a 5k run and a swim to counter the effects of my celebrations last night. We were looking for a vegan friendly place for dinner and weren’t sure if the restaurant selling ‘real sheep food and packets homemade’ meant bags of grass or some kind of pie, so went the safe option of a busy pizza place. After several wines I decided that the pizza I ordered was in fact the best one I’d ever eaten, and told the slightly bemused chef how impressed I was.

I’m pretty lucky that in the last ten years I’ve visited places and competed in events that in my younger days I would never have contemplated, and I’m fully intending to keep doing that as long as I can. My guidelines for maintaining optimal health include four runs a week, lots of porridge, Greek yoghurt, salads, small amounts of red meat and little to no alcohol. On my excursions to France I bend these rules to allow copious amounts of cheese, processed meats, croissants, anything in the window of patisseries that catches my eye regardless of how full I am and plenty of red wine. There’s an enormous lolly shop 100m from where we’re staying and in the interests of dental health have restricted myself to just looking and reminding myself that I’m not eight years old and that diabetes probably won’t help me lower my Parkrun PB.

World Cup Final

Today I had the good fortune to watch the World Cup in the country that actually won. I’m pretty confident in saying this will never happen to me in Australia, so I made the most of the experience. Rather than jostle for seats and standing room in a crowded pub or cafe, we opened the windows so we got the crowd noise and match commentary from downstairs and turned our tele on. This was quite a strange experience, as the pictures on our screen were on a ten second delay to what was being screened downstairs. When France scored, we got an advance warning of what was about to happen from the deafening roar. When Croatia scored, all we heard was a strangled scream followed by silence.

Having been subjected to many years of Australian commercial media soccer hooligan stories, we were expecting a lively night on the town when we went out for dinner. Fortunately, most of the locals were happy to do a bit of chanting and let off the odd emergency flare on their yachts. No smashed glasses, no scuffles, and even the cars with flags draped out of the windows were doing below the speed limit.

It wasn’t until we went out for dinner that we encountered the drunkest man in France, AKA Airhorn Man. Topless apart from being draped in the flag, Airhorn Man and his entourage spent the evening entertaining us (I use the term loosely) and our fellow diners in the narrow alley our restaurant was located in by letting off his airhorn. Repeatedly. After a few minutes, we were hoping the can would run out of propellant, however he either had an extra can stashed somewhere or had gone for the upsized version. By bogan standards he was annoying but harmless, however we were forced to endure his entertainment for half an hour after our meal as the waitress was run off her feet and possibly quite deaf as Air Horn man would give her a blast every time she walked past on her way to deliver another meal. After we left, he continued on his merry way, sharing the airhorn love with other eating establishments around the town until I expect he is either arrested, passes out or runs out of propellant in the can.

Sadly, today was my last day in Cassis. Tomorrow I head to Lyon to join my bike tour while Jenna and Stu head to the West Coast. I was incredibly sad to hear about poor Ritchie Porte stacking today. Last year he crashed five minutes after I arrived in my Paris hotel, this year he didn’t even make it to the Alps. I’m hoping next year is his year, although at 34 and with his numerous injuries I fear it may never happen.

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