Monday, 4 April 2011

SLEEPLESS NIGHTS AND BORDEAUX CYCLE TRACKS

MONDAY 4TH.APRIL

The Aire at St.Jean de Luz came highly recommended by several, esp. Marianne who declared it to be her favourite, and was therefore something of a disappointment. In fact we only headed there as it had been so warmly recommended and had we known what lay in store may well have gone elsewhere.
The location is perfect in one sense that you only have to cross the road to be in the port, 2 mins takes you to the heart of the town and superb restaurants and 4 mins to the superb beach and promenade that, in our humble opinion, beats Biaritz......BUT....
The Aire is long and narrow and only one entrance, about 15m. wide with spaces for 20 vans so that once you are committed to entering from the busy main road you are already pointing the wrong way if you discover that it is full as you had not had time to assess the situation before you were on it and had to make a decision. If it is full, you have no room to turn round and must therefore reverse out onto the main road, making a reverse u-turn so that you will be pointing the right way as you cannot cross the double white line onto the other carriageway. FORTUNATELY we did not have to do this but we spent many happy hours watching others do it. We arrived about 11.30 and there was just one space, nicely situated facing the entrance, so no danger of being hemmed in by other vehicles parking close....and there wasn't more than 3ft between vans.
All this though paled into insignificance when we discovered that whilst our front end was 8m from the main road,our rear end was 2ft away from the platform of the main town railway station with a busy urban timetable, an intercity connection to Paris and a TGV connection to Nice and Cannes. I assured the GF that the trains would not run all night, a fact she ungraciously threw back in my face at 3am as the TGV engine stopped opposite our bedroom and hung around,engine roaring, as it was presumably killing time to get back on timetable. Between the road and the railway, sleep was very difficult to come by and the Gf was not best amused come breakfast time since we had to contend with the hottest day of the trip and have all the windows open or suffocate......
Which was a pity because St.JdL is a great town with a stunning beach and promenade round a horseshoe bay and the views of the coast from the headland were terrific with great waves and surf. The town is extremely well healed and we realised we were back in civilisation when the first ( and only ) 2 coffees of the day came to 7€20 (the last 2 coffees in Spain -incl a baguette- were 3€25). So on Friday we walked all round the bay and over the headland through beautifully kept gardens and promised ourselves to come back and spend more time one day. On Saturday, I was told to find somewhere else to spend the night.
So we found a campsite just up the road. The TomTom, which has been extremely well behaved all trip decided that the entrance was in fact at the rear of the property down an extremely steep and narrow dead-end. Rude words were uttered as I extricated ourselves with difficulty....this followed the pantomime of finding the local Carrefour which had been relocated since I downloaded all the Carrefour locations onto the TomTom last year....
The campsite when we eventually found the entrance,only opened for the season on friday but was already doing good business. A 15 min walk took us down to the great surfing beach and so it seemed a good place to stay for the next 3 nights....wrong again. It started raining on Sat. night and by sunday morning the sloping grass pitches were looking distinctly wet and slippery. I watched 2 vans struggle to get any traction so made a management decision and we left whilst the going was good.
The rain got worse and we decided to head 15km inland,to an Aire that also came highly recommended by magazine article, on a lake at the charmingly named St.Pee sur Nivelle. Found it without trouble and it may one day entice us to stop and explore but as the rain was now set for the day we had coffee, talked it over and decided to head north to Bordeaux to a newish campsite we found in the book that seemed very convenient.
So indeed to Bordeaux and a real gem of a campsite a few minutes off the ring road, and adjacent to a lake a few miles north of the city centre. The site is very new but is nicely landscaped with lakes and fountains, full of ducks and croaking bullfrogs ( or maybe toads - who knows). It is not mature yet but will get even better with age as the trees and plants grow. It also has a very swish restaurant open to the public and as it was Mothering Sunday, I took the Gf for dinner courtesy of her 2 sons who's account has been debited with another €57 - (which has reminded me that last years €60 is still outstanding) - and I must say that the Chateau Pichon-Bellevue 2003 was worth every penny.
We also discovered that Bordeaux boasts 650km of cycle tracks so on Monday, having woken to the sunshine again, we set off to explore. I have never experienced city cycling like it ! The bike rules in Bordeaux and the cycle paths have their own signposts and traffic lights and bikes seem to have priority everywhere - even being allowed to cycle wrongly down oneway streets and through pedestrian shopping malls and squares. It was a real pleasure and we had such a lovely time that we stopped for lunch. We also ran into Paddy Ashdown who, I am sad to report, claimed that he had no recollection of me buying him a half of bitter in The White Hart when he was first canvassing to become the Mp for Yeovil and whilst perfectly civil, failed to respond in kind. I will not be buying him another one ! He did let slip that he was in Bordeaux researching for a book he is writing on the Cockleshell Heroes, a plaque to whom was unveiled here last week.
So this extremeley busy and convenient campsite will make a fine jumping-off point for going to Spain or returning to the UK. We could do Calais with one stop from here but will take 2 and I am sure we will use it again...and I would like to cycle round more of Bordeaux.

NB I discovered the cycle tracks when I picked up a booklet with maps and instructions - it lists 14 offences that can be committed when using the tracks, with instant fines ranging from 11€ to 750€. The contraventions range from having faulty brakes to using a mobile phone and riding more than 2 abreast. I managed 2 offences but got away with it.

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