Bonjour Tropézienne

Our next destination from Toulouse was Avignon, the ancient Papal city. The distance between the cities was about 331km – Google estimated 3hrs 13mins which would meant the actual driving time was going to be around 4hrs.

The journey was one of the longest ones during our road trip, therefore, mum and I decided to take it steady.

We took our first coffee break at Aire de Toulouse Sud on A61. ‘Shall we have a cake as well?’, I asked mum as I placed a tray with our cups of café latte on the table.

Mmmm, which one am I going for…

I decided on a Tropézienne, aka ‘La Tarte de Saint-Tropez’.

As legend has it, Brigitte Bardot loved this pastry so much when she and her then husband, a film director Roger Vadim, were filming “…And God Created Woman” in St Tropez and she came up with the name, tarte tropézienne.

The appearance of the cake was deceptive…

At first glance, the cake resembled a sugared doughnut because of the pearl sugar on the top. However, the pastry was surprisingly light, thanks to the airy texture of the brioche and the lemon flavoured custard filling. ‘Oh wow, this cake is divine!’, mum and I really enjoyed this sweet treat.

While we were at the cafeteria of the service station, a large group of nuns had arrived and they soon formed a long queue for the cakes.

‘Do you remember the nuns in your school?’, mum asked me as she ferried cake to her mouth. ‘Of course! How can I forget them?!’, I retorted. Those nuns buzzing around the cashier like the Minions in Despicable Me, reminded me the nuns I had to put up with when I was in high school.

‘I am very sorry but I don’t have a very high opinion of nuns in general.’, I shook my head and mum nodded in agreement. ‘Yes, they were a bit too silly and vindictive sometimes, weren’t they?’ Yes, most of the nuns I met in my school were cruel, cynical and narrow-minded! ‘Look at them. They are all middle-aged yet acting like a bunch of school children!’ The nuns were still clamouring at the cake counter, each of them demanding their treat impatiently.

Oh well, after sacrificing most of the pleasure the life offers, eating is the only fun left for them, I imagined…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Beer & chat @ Toulouse

After coming back from Toulouse’s shopping district, we headed to a restaurant / bar near our hotel for beer and food. It was a rather hot and humid day and the idea of drinking ice cold beer really appealed to us.

I am so glad that your hip is getting better, mum!

She certainly was more comfortable than a few days ago.

While mum stuck to a glass of well-known brand, I opted for a white beer from Belgium.

The beer was aromatic and strong. I liked it!

For food, we shared sausage & chips and salad with cheese.

During our dinner, an elderly couple were ushered to a table next to ours. At first, we didn’t pay much attention to them and carried on chatting in Japanese as we sipped our beer and pecked on our food.

Then out of the blue, the elderly woman turned to us and started talking to us, ‘Vous êtes Japonais? J’adore le son du Japonais même si je ne comprends pas!’

From my very limited French, I gathered that they were here for holiday like us. In return, I explained to them how we arrived at the city and how we intended to travel to the south of France and beyond.

‘We used to live in Vietnam.’, her husband said. Until then, he was very quiet and only nodding in support while his wife was chatting to us.

It was again due to my limited ability to communicate in French but he was trying to say that they used to live in Vietnam when they were young but they had to flee their beloved house and community because of the Vietnam War. ‘C’était très très triste.’ They both shook their heads. Oh how I wished if my French were a lot better so I could express how sorry I was! ‘C’était trés tragique.’, I managed to say but nothing else…

When we went back to our hotel, we discussed how upsetting it must have been if you were uprooted from your home because of reasons beyond your control. There are still so many people who have to abandon their homes and communities because of conflicts and natural disasters. We really mustn’t forget our sympathy and compassion towards those unlucky people…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

To Toulouse

After swinging by the famed train station so mum could admire it from a car window, we headed towards A20 which would lead us to Toulouse.

The distance between the two cities was about 290km and the journey took just under four hours.

We had a break at a service station near Masseret…

In the inside of the motorway services, we found loads of local souvenirs…

Many violet related products were sold there. Mum later regretted that she didn’t buy boiled sweets which were made from violet then. ‘It would have been fun to try them with my friends when I was back in Japan!’ Mum lamented.

However, we bought a box of canelé to try later at the store and moved on to have coffee and apple pie.

Coffee tastes nicer if it is made by a human behind the counter, not by a vending machine, mum and I agreed as we shared the cake.

One thing I remember very distinctly about this service station was some idiot parked his van very very close to my car and it caused a huge problem! If I weren’t this petite and flexible, it would have been impossible to climb into the seat from the co-driver’s side and therefore we would have to wait until the idiot returned to his car…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Tours to Limoges

Our first dinner in France was a very modest affair. Apart from the fact that the day we arrived on was a French bank holiday, therefore, most of the shops except newsagents were closed but also we, especially mum, were exhausted from a long drive. ‘Shall we eat our emergency foods?’ Mum sighed. ‘Japanese pot noodles?! Yeah, let’s!’ I was rather excited because I hadn’t had any Japanese instant noodle for years!

I must say I found it rather surreal that mum and I slurping the noodle and watching a French news programme on a flatscreen TV attached to the wall. ‘Have some plum tomatoes, mum.’ I passed a plastic containers with the tomatoes to her. I found those tomatoes at a general store / liquor shop which was a stone’s throw from the hotel. The shop was rather shabby and sparsely stocked but I managed to buy tomatoes, apple juice and yoghurt for the next day. I reckoned mum might have liked to have breakfast in our room rather than to visit a dining room because of her hip problem.

The next morning, we set off to our next destination, Limoges. From Tours, we took A10 and found the route pretty straight forward. ‘Look mum! You see the word “Poitiers”?’ The city was where one of the famous battles of the Hundred Years’ War took place, and I was excited to be close to the place even though we were passing it by on a motorway.

At a service near Luant, we had lunch. Instead of pre-made sandwiches, we decided to have some hot food – grilled fish on a bed of pilau rice each and a bowl of salad to share.

The dish was good except it was a bit under seasoned. Having said that, some people may have to watch out salt intake for their health reason, we thought.

One thing we found it shame during this road trip was how rare it was to come across motorway services which were equipped with decent eateries. We didn’t expect gourmet dining but hot food cooked at the premises. However, most of the services, except a couple of exceptions, offered pre-packed food and hot drink from vending machines only.

We found a “what to do when you are attacked by terrorists” instruction on the wall of a toilet.

Unlike during our visit to Strasbourg last summer, we didn’t see any group of soldiers patrolling the streets this time. Yet, the notice on the loo wall reminded us how real terrorists’ threats still were in France.

Between Tours and Limoges, there was a famous national park, le Parc natural régional de la Brenne. There was a large map of the park by the dining area.

We arrived at a hotel just before 3pm. As we stepped out of the car, we found the air warm and slightly humid as if it was going to rain later on. ‘Bonjour.’ I and mum walked through an automatic door and met by an owner of the hotel who somehow reminded me David Bowie – slender, blond and tanned. While mum sat on a chair by the vestibule, I asked him where I could find a pay-point for public parking. ‘We need to sort it out too!’ A couple who were checking in before us wanted to know the location of the machine also, so we all followed the owner to the corner of the street and bought tickets to display on the dashboards.

The hotel had a sweeping spiral staircase which was decorated beautifully, but alas, no lift! ‘Sorry mum.’ I apologised to her while I hoisted our cases to upstairs.

Our room had a large window which faced the street and the bathroom was large and well-equipped.

‘Now, we have to sort out our dinner.’ Mum appeared still not quite fit enough to walk too far nor to go up and down the stairs. ‘What do you wanna do?’ Mum suggested if we could have a little stroll around the vicinity of the hotel and decide what to do about the food. ‘Hopefully, we may find a deli or a bakery nearby!’

Unfortunately, we didn’t come across anything as such. There were a plenty of cafes and eateries but they were closed as the time was mid-afternoon, too late for lunch but too early for dinner!

Then, we bumped into the couple who we met at the hotel hall. ‘We are trying to find some shop to buy snack.’ I confided to them. ‘Ohhh, it’s not easy in France, is it?’ They suggested that I should ask the guy at the hotel.

Sure enough, he directed me to a Carrefour City which was situated a block away from the hotel. We have been sniffing at the wrong tree!, mum and I lamented. After taking mum back to the room, I went to the supermarket alone.

At the shop, I bought two boxes of salad, cartons of juice, a bag of croissants and four small boxes of yoghurt. ‘So the dinner is sorted then.’ I also bought a huge reusable Carrefour shopper made with cotton and the bag proved to be a very valuable asset during our road trip.

Now, I am gonna visit the famous Gare de Limoges-Bénédictins!

‘I will take pictures and show them to you, mum!’

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

How things used to be

This lunchtime, I took Bella for a walk around Hoxton and Shoreditch before heading off to Heathrow to pick up my mum.

Let’s grab a quick bite at Friends of Ours on Pitfield Street…

On their menu, there was lemon Ricotta hotcake which would come with caramelised banana, raw cacao brittle, passion fruit purée and creme fraiche. Ohhhh, lemon! It sounds a bit like Harry & Meghan’s wedding cake, I wavered momentarily.

No, eat properly!

I opted for mushrooms on toast instead. The dish was very wholesome – consisted of oyster & portobello mushrooms, baby kale, chickpea hummus, Jerusalem artichoke on top of a slice of organic sourdough bread.

Is there anything for me?

Sorry, Bay-Bay. I have nothing to offer other than a bowl of water.

Next to the eatery was a pub, the George & Vulture, and it was very busy with lunchtime crowds who seemed to be impatient for the weekend. Who can blame them? It’s Friday!

After lunch, Bella and I strolled towards Shoreditch High Street. As we walked down Rivington Street, I reminisced about the time when there were decent fashion boutiques around Hoxton Square. There were two prominent shops such as Hoxton Boutique and Start and I used to look forward to checking what they had on their rails. Where have they all gone? I felt sad as we walked past the spots where they used to be.

On our way back, we found another new development on Bevenden Street…

I hope this is nothing to do with the Kardashians!

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

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