Thursday, August 23, 2001

I say honeymoon, I mean Tournee des Magasin Le Vieux Campeur.

To those happy people leading completely fulfilled lives without the old camper; I deviate with an explanation. The logo is an old man with a very long white beard that actually looks like long blonde hair (weird), wearing a flat cap (I guess it could be a beret), chewing a flower. It has stores at several locations around France in Paris, Lyon, Sallanches and Thonon (only one left to go to now) and is populated by highly specialised nerds (like those people in record stores). Apparently it’s a fun place to spend many, many very interesting hours. They also produce catalogues that provide additional hours of entertainment to those who are unable to visit the stores as regularly as they would like. Au Vieux Campeur also has a website, but it’s just not the same. In short it’s a disease, a mental illness. The first step is admitting it. The GM has reached that step. He realised this when he couldn’t travel without his catalogue. No need for a book anymore, just take an Au Vieux Campeur catalogue with you. Another great idea is to keep old catalogues so you can compare the latest models of jackets/boots/mosquito nets with the previous models.

Day 1: We started off at Le Manoir at Oustau de Baumanière in Les Baux de Provence, a beautiful village but unfortunately now basically the whole village is a museum. May I highly recommend the lobster dish at the Oustau de Baumanière.

Day 2-3: We crossed over to Spain and stayed at the Torre Del Remei in Bolvir (right near the border). We were upgraded to a James Bond–like suite complete with circular bed and matching circular windows. The Fiat Punto was definitely a star, managing to absorb a Paella pan and a Jamón. I would also like to officially thank all those who contributed to the decoration of the Punto that saved us from a parking ticket.

Day 4: Approach Carcassone via the D11 and you get the Disneyland view of Carcassone. The Hôtel de la Cité is situated right in the old city.

Day 5: Le Vieux Logis Tremolat (Bordeaux), we dined outside under the Linden trees, whatever they are.
And it wouldn’t have been a road trip if I hadn’t gotten lost.
This time it really was a doozey, but I have many well-founded excuses of how this happened:
The scenery is so beautiful it’s very tedious to have to look at a map all the time; I was there to see the sights not take a course in orienteering. I am out of practice from reading maps, in Malaysia they are so inaccurate, and a hangover from the war – maps can’t be too accurate.
Don’t name villages in France with similar names especially if they are within say, three hours drive of each other.
And finally I am a female, there is irrefutable scientific evidence that men are better at reading maps(1), we have other much more useful attributes too numerous to mention. So if you don’t want to take the more scenic route read the bloody map yourself.

Day 6-7: Marais Poitevin, where we stayed in a real live chateau, the Château de Curzay

Day 8-9: Domaine des Hauts de Loire where we took a hot air balloon ride over the many chateaux at sunrise that was absolutely magical.

Day 10: Lyon - Au Vieux Campeur No. 2 (no. 1 was Paris)
We stayed at the Villa Florentine, a beautiful hotel in the old part of Lyon, even the bathroom had a fantastic view, and were taken out by the Lyon Barfly to his bar (of course).

Day 11-12: Chamonix - Au Vieux Campeur No. 3 (also close to No. 4 but sadly unable to visit due to lack of time).
We had a close encounter with hailstones the size of ice cubes; very exciting in a convertible with a large crack on the front windscreen. And where we went for a little walk. I thought we were just going for a little stroll on the ice and was quite unprepared for the 4 hour hike from Aiguille du Midi 3,843 m to Pointe Helbronner on the Italian side. I should have guessed, our guide was Mountain Man, (ex Advertising Man now Book publishing Man - Mountain books of course) infamous as the man who allegedly tried to kill the GMs petite Maman and Franck, on the same little walk (different weather conditions apparently). We had to borrow/hire all serious equipment (anything required in addition to jeans and t-shirt) and got very dirty looks from guided tours completely outfitted in brand new colour co-ordinated gear. We had to go most of the way roped to MM and wore crampons and the GM even got to carry an ice pick. It was awesome, definitely the highlight for me. We stayed at the Le Hameau Albert 1er and ate in the 2-star restaurant with MM (and his wife), who said to the sommelier ‘whatever you recommend’. The GM nearly chocked on his amuse-bouche. The wine in was absolutely amazing and Spanish.

Day 13: Sestriere - Think `The Shining´ (in summer, in Italy - go on use your imagination). We stayed at the Principi di Piemonte Grand Hotel, a 100-room hotel, (I think we were the only people there) last decorated in the 70s, lots of orange and brown and fringed lampshades, just outside a deserted ski resort (well it was June), spooky.

Day 14: And finally, Nice - Fabulous darlings. Stayed at the Negresco, a pale pink Belle Époque wedding cake (with pale green piping) on the Promenade des Anglais. Think lawn green, bright yellow, hot pink and velvet in rich red and gold, furnished from the 16th century with tapestries on the walls, a royal blue carpet with golden fleur de lys and an antique 4 poster bed with a fake fur bedspread. Apparently inspired by the Kings Bedroom in Versailles.

And the weather was just perfect everywhere, the hailstorm in Chamonix was just a half hour episode.

1 ‘men are better at spatial-navigational skills such as map reading and judging distances’
Kimura, D. (1987). Are men’s and women’s brains really different? Canadian Psychology, 28, 133-147.

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