Monday, 23 May 2016

Watership Drown

Saturday 21st May, 2016

There are many good things you can say about Camping Val d' Loire in Blois - its proximity to the cycle trails that run alongside the Loire, the pretty riverside location, the charms of nearby Blois, the easy bike ride to the Intermarche in Villneuil, however our abiding memory of the place will be the rabbits. There is a huge warren by the river bank and most of the day you find bunnies hopping about the place or grazing, quite motionless, so it is tricky to discern them among the many molehills. Having had pet rabbits when the children were small we are lapine aficionados, so we were happy to be parked-up among the bunnies.

I fear life in the riverside warren may be somewhat precarious. Like the residents of San Francisco, Tokyo or Naples, you sense the good life is only one natural disaster away from catastrophe. Since this lapine Arcadia is built into the banks of the great river its inhabitants live blissfully unaware that their existence is only one rapid Spring thaw in the Auvergne away from a bunny apocalypse.

Although the weather has been unsettled, a mixture of grey drizzly cool days and one stiflingly close one that built to last night's thunderstorm and downpour. Nevertheless, there have been dry spells where we cycled around the excellent local bike tracks.

Yesterday we spent the afternoon in Blois. Aside from the famous castle, the town itself is a pleasant, prosperous place with ancient streets, now pedestrianised and full of up-market shops.

Blois' famous gateway
The famopus Renaissance staircase has been hidden by flags so people cannot photograph it without paying for a fll tour of the castle - a bit mean, I think..

Peaceful park by the castle
kids are great!

The town centre is pedestrianised - a lovely place to stroll

Friendly locals!.
We camped here in 1979 during a road trip we took with friends, squashed together in an ageing Morris Traveller. Back then Blois was all faded grandeur and pale blue peeling shutters. It struck me how France changed under Mitterrand. When we first visted it really did conform to stereotypes, involving berets, rusting Deux Chevaux, alarming sanitary arrangements, quaint cafés and priorité a droite. By the mid 90s suddenly rond-point and Macdonalds sprouted everywhere followed closely by extreme urban traffic calming and stiff competition between  local Mairies to beautify their patch of La Republique with bizarre lamp-posts.

Recently I worked out that we had crossed the channel more than one hundred times; France is, for us, simultaneously familiar and foreign. We have not sufficient grasp of the language to truly be considered Francophiles. We are merely habitual tourists, and even though we cannot claim to understand its culture in depth, no matter how much have driven its highways and byways we still feel a mild thrill clattering off the ferry into the concrete sprawl of Calais docks. I wonder if Europeans have the quite the same sense as the British of being 'abroad'? Google translate comes up with 'a l'estranger' in French, but does that have the same connotation exactly? I like the way 'abroad' hints at a sense of expanding horizons. Logically its antonym should be re-narrow! That's how it feels going home, a sense that the familiar narrows the mind simply because it is less surprising or puzzling. I think we both enjoy being slightly puzzled; we are curious people.....


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