Thursday, June 23, 2011

Quality Time

The Big Smoke and Alistair.  What a prospect!

My intent was to help Ali packing after 3 years at Kingston Uni and I expected a lot of stuff in heaps together with indeterminate other things maybe even including people.  I had brought lots of black bin bags, bleach, cloths and what I hoped was stern resolve but in the end it wasn't really needed.  Ali has made do with a tiny bed-sit and his stuff was already conveniently bagged up and tossing it into a skip was (for me at any rate) a snip.  We will continue over Ali's football boots when we return.

The Royal Borough (no less) of Kingston is a nice place, only 3 miles down the road from Henry VIII's favourite home at Hampton Court.  I would have visited but the day I arrived was the day the drought officially broke in Kingston.  As Ali visited pals each evening after a day's cleaning and tidying I had the run of Kingston to myself.  Nice town indeed, well laid out shopping and pedestrian area.  Lots of bars and restaurants by the river and boy were they jammed.  Kingston is also home to Oceana, a dance club for young uns and a haven for all around that part of South London and as I chose to be there Friday through Sunday, I received a full dose seeing as I had chosen a Travel Lodge smack opposite.  It's a combination of being older and a different generation but boy were there some sights.  All the girls in skirts that could barely be called skirts and in the highest of high heels and the lads in jeans and T-shirts -- I wondered how that could be seeing as the girls went to so much trouble.  Ali gave me an uncomprehending stare when I asked him about it (he's a jeans/T-shirt guy).

Moving on and feeling considerably older I witnessed something I had heard of but never seen -- a couple of girls clad as described above binge drinking whilst hanging on to a rubbish bin.  This was before the club so I would hope they had some fresh breath sweets or something.  I cannot believe I did this looking back but the following day I checked the bin but found no signs of unfortunate and unforeseen expectorations, odd as the pair of them last seen had a bottle of white wine and another of Jack Daniels they were passing to and fro.

See trash bin to left!

The nice VW I hired from Europcar went really well and was incredibly economical.  I bought a tank of petrol in York and with driving down 250 miles and then going all over the place in London, Southend, Canterbury and finally down to Dover, I had used half a tank.  They even gave us a lift to the ferry terminal so we could hop on.

I also thought Renault were great.  Ali calls this a tax dodge -- renting a car for more then 2 weeks and getting involved in a guaranteed "sale and buy back" deal which cuts the rental cost, expands insurance coverage and gets you a car with 5 kms on the clock -- in our case a Renault Modus.  The pick up point is right in the terminal when you arrive and if nobody is there you make a call and 15 minutes later a delightful lady turns up and in only another 15 minutes does all the paperwork and the necessary to get you off on the road.  I had chosen a Modus because it wasn't too small and had a great rep for mileage seeing as we had grandiose plans to fulfill.

What! 5km on the clock!!

The Modus is NOT a handsome vehicle (sorry Modus) but as a means of transport it is second to none.

Note "tax dodging" number plates -- a give away according to the Renault lady
All the messing around had made us late to Calais so it wasn't until 3pm that we set off first stop to a hypermarket to stock up on essentials. I like Carrefour, really.  It is what Tesco, Walmart and Asda is now but it has been this way for 20+ years.  The stuff you buy can be cheap or top of the range -- its all there, you just make your choice.  However their DIY 24X7 gas station underneath needs work.  In fact all DIY things like this need work.  What if, say, you don't have a credit card that has a chip and pin number?  I don't, for example, so attempting completion of this relatively simple task became an intelligence test quite beyond me seeing as it was a public holiday in France and nobody breathing was around to help.  Fortunately Ali had encountered issues like this before and used his card and the deal was done and we moved on.

It never ceases to amaze me how quickly you become a complete moron in a foreign country when faced by the most simple of tasks.  It IS all about language of course and my umpteen years of French study and knowing how to rectify the grandmother's ear trumpet being wonky problem helped not at all when faced with a more contemporary chip and pin road block.

This put us waaaaaay back and our early thoughts about driving to Normandy or even the Vendee region were totally washed away.  We barely made it to Le Touquet, some 50 minutes or so away, before calling it quits which the Hotel Bristol accommodated in fine fashion.  Located some 50 metres away from the sea front and double that from the single street that is crammed with restaurants, clubs, pubs, bars and low life casinos, it was just perfect for us.  Mussels and seafood were the order of the day even though they were out of season and the tone was set for the trip.

The drive to La Rochelle was lengthy and the Modus performed well although we did discover that French radio stations cover all the FM wavebands so running the iPod through the radio was a waste of time.  It is also 700+ kms so the drive was lengthy even though we passed through some nice countryside.

La Rochelle is a lovely old city -- a theme that would recur continuously throughout as European towns and cities tend to grow up around the old settlements and then expand rapidly outside, but the heart remains in the 'old town' in whichever language you want to use.  My brother Jan has a friend there and visits often and has droned on about it so as it is en route to Bordeaux, we thought why not?

The town itself is based around an old port that used to be the scene of endless battles.  Remember Dumas' book 'The 3 Musketeers'?  They were always off to fight the rebels in La Rochelle as many out here were protestants.  Truth I suspect is they had money and weren't keen to pay taxes.  Once he'd had them sorted out, Louis XIV took their fishing business (La Rochelle fishermen ventured to Newfoundland for cod which is why they first settled in Canada) and introduced the 'only fish on Friday' rule for the people so he could sell them the produce he'd now cornered.  Viv and I had visited Louisberg in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia a year or so back and discovered this then so it was interesting connecting the dots back to the old country.  The fish were fantastic and mussels were of course in season so featured heavily.

The harbour in La Rochelle

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