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

J’aime l’autoroute française!

We checked out of our hotel at Reims around 10:00 and headed towards our final destination, Calais. The city was 274km away and A26 would take us there.

I must say, driving on the French motorway was a pleasure…

You see what I mean?

Especially, the landscape around Arras, was very flat and open. The scenery may have lacked the grandeur of the Alpine region with the rugged peaks and winding roads, but I preferred the calm and predictable vista on A26 after the continuous driving of the past nine days.

There was just a blue sky and golden crop fields on the both sides of the motorway…

Another thing I liked more about driving on the French motorway than on the German equivalent, was there was hardly no bullies behind their high-powered wheels. I really was fed up with those German drivers who tailgated my car and pressurised me to move to a slower lane despite my speed was nearly 90mph while we were in Bavaria.

The French autoroute was all calm and civilised…

As we got closer to Calais, we started to see more cars with the British number plates. ‘What shall we do at Calais?’ We would have more than six hours to kill before boarding a train home…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Autoroute 26 Calais to Reims

The announcement urged us to get back to our vehicles and we scrambled to our seats and fastened the seat belts. I glanced at mum and said ‘This is it, mum! Are you ready?’ Mum adjusted her sunglasses rather nervously.

I wasn’t too worried about disembarking from Le Shuttle and joining A26 as I had done it before when I drove to Paris with Mr.B. From Calais, A26 was the only motorway and the direction was clearly signed, therefore, it would be very difficult to go a wrong way.

*Please note that all the photos taken from the car during our journey were shot by my mum with her iPod Touch.

Once we were away from the perimeter of Calais, the sceneries changed to a large expanse of the golden crop fields which were capped with the blue sky…

Our destination of the day 1 was Reims which was 274km (170miles) away from Calais. One thing I was totally forgetting about was Autoroute 26 was a toll road. In Britain, most of the motorways were free except some bridges and tunnels, therefore, I became nervous when I saw gates with paying stations which were blocking my way. As we approached, I could see a driver in front of me pressed a button on the machine, like he was exiting a car park. As he pulled out a ticket, a barrier lifted and off he went. ‘Ok mum, push the button and pull out a ticket like he did!’ Poor mum, who was petite, had to undo her seatbelt and hoist herself out of the window, and reached towards the machine. Viola! It worked and we were on our way again.

I can’t remember exactly how often we had to go through the ticketing barriers but there are more than a few of them along the route. The toll could be paid with either cash or credit card, and the methods of the payment each machine accepted were clearly visible from the distance. I was glad to have my mum sitting next to me because it would be very awkward if I were travelling alone as my car was right-hand drive and all the paying stations were designed for left-hand drive!

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

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