Since this is Paris we have to go and see the
When we arrive we manage to park free of charge about 100 yards
away which is a good start. To go up it involves the usual IQ Test. Do we go up the Pilier Nord or the Pilier Sud? Or
either of the other two corners for that matter? Why is the queue for one corner longer than the queue for another? And
what are the giant fans for? Why does one queue have a trip through a security area and another corner does not? So
many questions and no answers.
We join a queue and hope for the best. For 12 euros each we finally reach the top. The most surprising aspect of all this is just how high the tower is - it literally dwarfs every other building in Paris. Later I realise that this is because it is 1,063 ft high which is 260 higer than Canary Wharf Tower which is one of the tallest office blocks in Europe! The view is phenomenal.
Later we pay a flying visit to the Palace of Versailles which is huge - quite what the golden balloon is I have no idea and to find out may well have involved the expenditure of money.
Finally, we hit the road to Tours where about 70 miles of Toll Road motorway costs us 16 euros and we arrive at our hotel near the railway station without any real problem, apart from the fact that the police have closed the road and the navigator refuses to believe the hotel exists but this is standard stuff for us hardy travellers. Evidently Winston Churchill stayed here so it can't be bad. The clock on the Town Hall which strikes every half an hour promises to keep us awake all night.
Having said that my overiding impression of France is how quiet it is in the centre of major cities - not a sound at night - you could be twenty miles from anywhere.
We do not hear the clock - maybe they turn it off at night? When we get up I remember that the car is parked in what
appears to be a proper parking bay on the street about a hundred yards away. I rush out to see if it has been ticketed but
there appears to be no need to pay - one car looks like it has been there for weeks.
Later we wander round Tours in the bright sunshine and eat some delicious cakes. The town is beautifully clean and the over-riding imprsssion is how civilised it all is. Clean, tidy and full of polite charming people. Maybe we should stay? If they will have us ...
Eventually, we set off for Limoges over back roads which the Tom Tom has cleverly found. We see virtually no cars - just the occasional tractor. Many of the roads are arrow straight and I find that I am doing 130kph plus - enough to seriously upset the Gendarmarie but fortunately they are nowhere in sight (nor, for that matter, are they hidden out of sight ).
In Limoges we find that we are in a hotel in an industrial park but it is clean, cheap and has free internet so that is some consolation for being marooned out in the sticks.
Limoges is France's answer to Stoke on Trent (porcelain) and I am not sure why we are here so we set off early for
the Hotel Eclargies which is on Route de Payrac in Rocamadour. Neither the road nor the hotel are in our Tom Tom but when
we get near to Rocamadour we see a sign to the Information Centre. Whether it is 50 metres away or 5 kilometres there is
no indication. We stop at a nearby structure that could be it but is not. Eventually we find it but all the parking is
full - clearly there is immense demand for information in Rocamadour or maybe they don't charge enough for parking. We park a couple of hundred yards away and walk
back to find it is closed until 1.30pm. We wait and eventually it opens and we find that our hotel is about 200 yards away
near where we had parked. Yet again our Psychic Powers have failed us.
The hotel is excellent, almost as nice as our flat which is lying empty in Gibraltar. We wander round eating ice creams which cost about 3 euros each on average. About double the cost of Spain. Rocamadour is spectacular and reminds us of Ronda in Spain. Very steep with long drops.
We walk back up the hill and arrive seriously hot at our hotel.
We depart from the beautiful town of Rocamadour and head south towards the Pyrenees. After a while we come to a
town which is clearly undergoing a frenzy of construction but where many of the hotels are closed. Yes - a high altitude
ski resort. I assume that the expansion is because many of the low altitude Alpine Ski resorts are failing because they
cannot guarantee snow but here we seem to be about 2,500 meters up and the temperarature is 15 degrees centigrade whereas
before we started ascending into the mountains it was 28 degrees. So, in Winter, lots of snow - maybe.
We find a nice room for 46 euros which contrasts with the 180 euros we paid in Tours for a much better room in a much nicer hotel. But still, not bad. We use some of the money saved to buy a 3 litre bottle of Bacardi for 28.5 euros.
Bombers, I assume, are the fire brigade.
In the night my girlfriend gets up to get a drink of water and then lies right on top of me. I point out that she is just
slightly too heavy "Oh" she replies "That must be the water I just drank".
It seems the town we have stayed in is called Pas de la Casa, (the Pass of the House). In 1954 it was just a couple of stone cottages but then the world discovered skiing and they started building and have never stopped since.
We head for Andorra la Vella, the capital of Andorra, which I had assumed would be a quaint old town of distinguished stone buildings full of yokels carving wooden trinkets while they tended their sheep. In fact it is a vast urban sprawl of tacky buildings and traffic jams. Best avoided.
We stop to admire a waterfall and while we watch a helicopter swoops in and plucks a digger from the hillside and charges off with the digger swinging like a pendulum. Wherever we look there is evidence of the endless pouring of concrete. I should have realised that the endless building and engineering work is merely a symptom of the property boom and while it may have something to do with melting snow in the Alps, it has a lot more to do with endless cheap credit that was not endless and has now ended.
We drive to Madrid through some amazing countryside. High planes of arid soil and huge rocky structures whether man made or artificial is not always clear.
We check out of our posh hotel and set off for the centre of Madrid which is five miles away. The traffic is bad and gets
worse. We had hoped to stop for an hour or so but it is impossible to park so my girlfriend takes photos out of her window
while people blow their horns.
The over-riding impression is one of elegance with beautiful buildings everywhere. When it comes to "tacky" the Spanish are up there with the best of them but in Madrid people of taste have prevailed.
We set off home to Gibraltar and soon find ourselves in a subterranean laberynth - Sphagetti Junction under ground. The Tom Tom gives up as it has no satellite signal and we drive in circles at very high speed for twenty minutes or so. My personal idea of heaven is Marble Arch when the traffic is moving really fast - real life dodgems and this is similar so I am not bothered and quite enjoy it but we are getting nowhere. Fortunately we have a huge sheet of paper with all sorts of coloured marks on it (called a "map" - they used to be very common). From this we decide to aim at Toledo and this does the trick.
After this we go through 400 miles of mountains, plains and olive groves and arrive home safe and sound. We go to Morrisons where I am irritated to find that Bacardi is cheaper than I remember - cheaper than in Andorra, in fact.
We have a very nice lazy day recovering. Robert Louis Stevenson said that "It is better to travel than arrive" and I can
see his point but right now I think that "East, West home is best" also has a lot going for it (C H Spurgeon - even
preachers can't be wrong all the time)
Later on we go for a walk to the new leisure centre to see if the cinema has opened yet - it hasn't. On the way out we try to get a drink of water from the pump but it does not seem to be working.