Wednesday, July 22, 2009

8 Days in Provence

Well, not quite a year, but it will have to do!

So, I am coming to the end of what has been an idyllic little holiday to the south of France. It has been quite a revelation to me and quite possibly the most relaxing holiday I have ever had. Staying at my in-laws house (read - purpose built villa complex thingy) has been wonderful once we got over living in someone elses house. We've had a hire car which has allowed us to potter off to places when needed but most of the time its been about chilling out in the sun, reading, writing Beat to Quarters and exploring French supermarkets.

Now, those that know me will be aware that I have never been very pre-disposed towards our gallic cousins in the past. In fact I have resisted any and all attempts to get me to go to France as I really just couldn't be bothered. It was sort of an irrational revulsion type of thing. Well, I am pleased to report that it has sort of disappeared. It has all been quite charming actually. My main barrier has been language - I don't speak French and I find British people who go to other countries and expect the locals to speak English about the most embarassing, insulting and generally arrogant thing we can do. I still feel that way but as it happens, I actually speak far more French than I thought and that o-level standard can get you through most day-to-day interactions. Most things can be navigated with a number and the name of an item, a quick 'bonjour' and 'au revior' and a 'merci beaucoup'. I've had to bust out a 'Je voudrais' and a ' Je suis anglais' when I was asked a direction, and thats about it. Modern society, as it turns out, doesn't require much actual verbal interaction.

What also helps the language barrier, of course, is that the English language has a metric ton of words based on the French and French has a ton of words adopted from English/American. Between the two, there are only a few things you cannot guess at and in those cases, there are pictures!

The food, as you would expect, has been very nice indeed. I have been filling my face with cold meats, umpteen different cheeses, breads and sausages. They also have a better class of diluted juice over here, which is no doubt corroding my teeth like battery acid, but its dead nice! Only downer is that the bread in France goes stale in minutes, it would appear. Daily baguettes are needed! We had an expedition in the supermarket trying to identify what Gluten Free was in French ... 'sans Gluten' - who'd have thought eh?

The animal life has been interesting. Massive green beetles? Check! Wasps like something off a Sinbad movie? Check! Ants you could saddle? Check! Seriously, the ants are enormous - about a centimetre long and then some. The ground in the forest (where we are staying) moves with them!

The roads are, as you would expect, 'interesting'. They have deep open irrigation ditches to each side of the road with no barrier between the car and the ditch. Combine that with the thin and winding roads, the higher-than-the-UK speed limits, the insane scooters, the E600 excess on the car insurance and the E800 desposit on the hire car and well, its been fun! Motorway toll roads as well were a bit of a shock. The drive to Toulon (about from Newcastle to York) cost us E20 in tolls (thats about 16 quid in real money) and the petrol is about the same price as it is in the UK. In fact, whilst I accept that the place we are staying is quite expensive and exclusive, at these prices the UK isn't exactly 'rip-off Britiain'. I spied a Pokemon starter for 'only' E23! Yowzers!

Other random things - we nearly got hit by a bona fide 'dust devil' on the road. French comics look like UK annuals, very cool. The Froid/Chaud on the taps still confuses me. I found that looking both ways still works well for crossing the road and yes, inevitably, despite meticulous planning and checking I *still* set off the metal detector at Newcastle Airport. How? I have no idea and neither did they!

Return to the UK tomorow, all fully charged and ready to rumble,

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