Friday, 30 September 2016

Frap

'Romorantin-Latheney to Périgeuex 191 miles. Périgeuex aire €6.00 

The A20 running south from Vierzon to Limoges then onwards to Brive la Galliard is a route we have taken often over the years on the way to the Dordogne. Not only is it direct, it is toll free, and if you are attempting to reach Spain quickly, then you need an boring dual carriageway to whisk you there.

The countryside between Romorantin-Latheney and Vierzon follows the valley of the Cher and the Canal du Berry that runs alongside the river. We passed some pleasant looking canal-side aires. Perhaps it's an area we might linger a bit longer in when we have time simply to wander in France rather than rushing through it en route elsewhere. Once on the A20 then it's back to trundling along with the trucks at 85kph for hours. It's only when you reach some hills to the north of Limoges that the scenery gets a little more varied. 

Here we turned off the motorway and cut southwest down the N21 towards Périgeuex. The city's aire had good reviews and seemed ideal for an overnight stay. Gill had only just uttered the words "The houses are beginning to look very Dordogneshire," when we passed a the sign marking the department boundary. Our arrival in Périgeuex coincided with the rush hour, luckily most people were heading out of the city as we headed in, still it was slow going. The aire is on the southern bank of the river l'Isle, down a narrow street overlooked by blocks of slightly grim looking flats. However, it's well signed. Finding the place may be easy, gaining access less so. The cost is €6.00 for 24hrs. You need to prepay with a credit card. The van in front took an age; when it was our turn Gill discovered why, the details of your number plate, and credit card need to be entered on a touchscreen which only displays two rows at a time with complicated instructions in French. The screen is so dim that in ordinary daylight it becomes almost unreadable. Finally Gill triumphed, the barrier opened, and we reversed into a space, because everyone else had. At 7 metres, Maisy squeezed in, a longer van would not have fitted. 

Before we ate, we took a short walk along the path by the river towards the town centre. The view was dominated by the domed outline of the Cathedral of St Front. The early Romanesque church is unusual in as much as its design is influenced by Eastern Christian architecture such as St Sophia in Constantinople or St Marks in Venice, or Moorish buildings in Spain. We did not have time to reach the centre of the city, but we have visited Périgeuex a number of times before, so we were happy to head back to the van dodging the after-work joggers and dog walkers. The aire takes over 40 motorhomes, it was half full when we arrived, and by the time we returned from from our stroll at least another half dozen vans had turned up. Initially this surprised us, but thinking about it, it was Friday night, and as we know from experience of staying in French budget hotels at the weekend, quite a few people go away for the weekend to have a meal at a good restaurant in a nearby place, so we speculated that motorhome owners may do the same.

Périgeuex's St Front Cathedral and the river l'Isle
The proximity of the public housing complex overlooking the aire is not an issue in terms of security, but we did experience a bit of noise from local youth playing French rap at considerable volume in the play park next to the aire. Frap as I call it is not my favourite musical genre, in fact it's bloody irritating after more than 30 seconds. The local frappers had only just gone home when the forecast thunderstorm arrived. Between the torrential rain beating on the roof, ever louder thunderclaps, the propensity of neighbours to rev their engines for no apparent reason and the 'close' airless atmosphere, neither of us slept well.

The aire at Périgeuex, OK. once you have mastered the 'advanced' entrance system.
I was a bit grumpy when I woke next morning, more so when I discovered that the roof light which l had left open on ventilation had leaked a bit, and we had a damp patch on the lounge seat. Our mood did not improve as we found the system for raising the barrier to exit the aire was even more arcane than on entering It involved bringing up your entry details and punching in a code on the machine beyond the barrier. Thankfully a helpful 'regular' came to give Gill a hand. Afterwards we speculated what you would do if you were a sole traveller when the exit code pad is on the far side of the barrier. Perhaps the aire is so full because it is half populated by marooned singletons still trying to figure out an escape plan. I think we were both slightly relieved to move on. Périgeuex is a nice old city, but unless you really want to see its famous monuments I think I would find somewhere a little more peaceful to stay, particular at the weekend.

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