A road, a railway line or a dog

A road, a railway line or a dog. The title of this blog came to me just before we went out for tea. We are now on the last leg of a fantastic 17 day European road trip which has taken in a war Cemetary in Belgium, a winestrassefest on the banks of the Mosel in Germany, camping at 5800 feet in Switzerland, three days on Lago Lugano in the Italian Lakes, four days at Monza for the Italian F1 Grand Prix, three days on Lac d’Annecy and three days travelling home. 

Just before the point of this blog, I have to have a little rant – indulge me please. We are in a small town well off the tourist route. We asked for a recommendation for a restaurant at the campsite reception and we were given a choice of three in the town 1km away – Saulieu. After a very pleasant afternoon relaxing by the pool, swimming and reading Amanda Owen (The Yorkshire Shepherdess – who hails from Newsome in Huddersfield) ‘s new book and Slaw listening to Chris Evan’s audio book, we walked down to the village and asked for un table a deux at ‘Le 7’. My French held up well as I asked for a table, chose an interior one and deciphered (in a fashion) the menu for Slaw. We made our choices – I had the ‘Cocktail Le 7’ as an aperitif;  Gin, jus d’orange, grenadine and cremant, and Slaw had a demi pression (it was a 1664 so no complaints today thank goodness!) I chose from ‘Le menu 7’ – a goat’s cheese starter followed by a fish and chorizo kebab, a cheese board, then a dessert of almonds, chocolate mousse and M & M’s. Slaw had a ham and potato salad, followed by the suggestion du jour – faux filet de bouef Charolais, saignant (medium rare).  We had a local rose wine (Slaw was shocked at the price – 19 euro for a 50cl pichet) but it was very nice! I’m getting round to the rant – honestly 🙂

We were greeted in French, the waitresses spoke French, the menu was in French. There were somethings I didn’t understand, but I got the gist and we didn’t have any major mishaps. The majority of the diners were French. We are in France – it is to be expected! After a while, another English couple came in, they spoke no French; they asked for a menu in English. Really? This is not a seaside resort, or a big tourist area. Why would a local village restaurant have a menu in English? I found it downright rude. They were behind us so I don’t know what they ended up with! France is a huge country, travelling through on your way to a tourist destination, have the common decency to learn a few words and buy a decent phrase book which gives you the basics of a menu. Rant over!

A road, a railway line or a dog. It doesn’t matter where we camp; UK or Europe, we always encounter one or the other, or even all three! Sometimes we know what to expect – for example Hendre Mynach in Barmouth. Beautifully situated next to the sea, just a railway line and a promenade in between. The trains are infrequent and you train yourself to zone them out. Our last campsite this trip was in Saint Jorioz (pronounced San Jorio – you only pronounce the CaReFuL consonants at the end of French words), beautifully situated in the Rhone Alpes, but a road between the site and Lac d’Annecy – turns out it was a bit of a drag strip at night! In Switzerland camped on the shores of Lake Silvaplana the road behind was audible. 

At Macherio, off the beaten track in Italy, 2.5 mile cycle ride to the race track at Monza, the railway was distant, the road was a backstreet, but there was a blinking dog across the valley that barked all night! I think we are yet to find a campsite without the noise of a road, a railway line or a dog!

Doors of Annecy

We arrived at Saint-Jorioz on the shores of Lake Annecy after the madness and heat of the Italian F1 Grand Prix at Monza. It was cloudy and there was a cool breeze. It was heaven! We chose the campsite Europa for its proximity to the cycle path that runs 30 kilometres at the side of the lake connecting Annecy in the north and Albertville in the south. The campsite is an ACSI site and charges 19 euro per night, out of season, for a motorhome and two adults. Not bad you might think; but Mrs Slaw didn’t read the small print in detail and we realised just before arrival the shop, bar and restaurant are now closed and the use of the swimming pool is not included in the price. Hmmm. Okay, the least time spent on the site the better.

We cycled 10 kilometres from Saint-Jorioz up to Annecy on the cycle path. It’s flat and very easy to follow along the shoreline and takes approx 40 minutes. Along the way, we noted alternative camping places for if we return. There is a campsite at Sevrier, Le Panoramic, that offers a motorhome pitch for two adults for 8 euro per night. No arrivals before 6pm and all departures before 10am. Not bad and, at 2.30pm, there was a row of motorhomes parked up waiting for 6pm. Hopefully the campers were not sat inside twiddling their thumbs, but out enjoying the beautiful area. We also came across an aire 1 km south of Annecy behind the car park at Chemin de Colmyr. You can park there for up to 24 hours for free. At 2.30pm it was crammed full. So full, there wasn’t even space to open a locker door between them!

We locked up our cycles at the port and went off to explore the old town. Quaint, cobbled streets crisscross under dark archways. Above are brightly painted medieval buildings with shuttered windows festooned with flower boxes. A water inlet flows through the town to the port and rusting metal waterworks provide a focal point for budding photographers. A single cygnet swam gracefully up and down, gaining independence from its parents who appeared to be posing for the coach load of Japanese tourists, but it was obviously still downy and young. Annecy is a perfect picture opportunity, but marred at present as the world famous Bastille is undergoing repairs and is shrouded in scaffolding and sheeting. As you wander through the town, photographs present themselves at every turn; street lamps modelled on old gas lamps, clocks high on buildings, floral displays lining the water perfectly framing your shot, and iron water pumps providing a bathing opportunity for pigeons. Slaw was as happy as a pig in the proverbial!

But it was the doors that caught my eye. Some tucked away in a dark corner, hidden from view. Some in full view, but unseen by the passing hoards. Beautiful wooden doors. Some polished, some dull and dusty but with intricate wrought iron work and some so leaned over it would be a miracle if they still open. The doors hold so much history. Who has been through the door? What was their purpose? What life celebrations and tragedies have unfolded through them? I am always compelled to touch wooden doors; to connect with them, and to trace the grooves worn from a lifetime of use.

Street cafes are in abundance and after a pleasant stroll, we joined the tourists in the Cafe des Ducs overlooking the water and across to the church square. We ordered deux bierre blonde et un bruschetta. Mrs Slaw sat back to enjoy a bit of people watching and Slaw started moaning. ‘Is your beer alright? Mine tastes funny’. Oh no! Scenes of Italy all over again when Slaw argued with an Italian over how Peroni should be served! I took his from him and he ordered a St. Stefanus instead. Admittedly, the blonde had an unusual sweet and floral taste, but it was only ‘unusual’; there was nothing wrong with it.