No torrential rain and a shorter (albeit by about 90mins) journey meant that this leg of the trip was less arduous than that of the previous day. With no memorable scenery the only highlight of the drive was watching the trip counter pass 3,000 miles during the second stage – followed shortly afterwards by the moment which marked the trip equalling one tenth of the car’s total mileage. The latter fact being of little interest to anyone – except those of us with a more nerdish nature.
A mid-afternoon arrival in what was once the defacto capital of France was followed by a visit to the reason why: the Palace of Versailles. Le Roi-Soleil moved the court (and by extension the government) there once he’d finished upgrading his father’s hunting lodge and it remained there until the revolution forced his great great grandson to move everything back to Paris just over a century later.
I’d been to the palace before, back in 2003 when my dad celebrated his 50th by taking the family and some of his closest friends to Paris for a long weekend, and at that point the signs of neglect were obvious. Vicky and I didn’t go inside the palace, choosing instead to wander around a portion of the massive 800ha gardens*, but from the outside it was very noticeable that things have changed over the last 13 years. The two pictures of the Bassin de Latone shown in this post are from my first and second visits respectively and you can see the difference.
With Vicky meeting up with an old colleague, I was on my own for dinner so decided to ask the twitter hive mind for recommedations. This did, of course, mean that some people suggested I try the local McDonalds (you know who you are) but also produced a couple of more sensible ideas. One of those was L’Aparthe and I had, once again, a very pleasant meal and a carafe of red wine.
All good things come to an end however and the 0600ish wake up the next morning to ensure that we made the ferry out of Le Harve at 1100 was a sign that that point had been reached.
* To lapse in to journalism measurements for a moment this is approximately the equivalent of 800 Trafalgar Squares
Sadly we had to depart the warm, sunny interlude that was Nice and head north because we do have a ferry to catch on Friday. I already had commitments for this weekend when the trip was planned else we’d probably have aimed to cross back to Blighty on either Saturday or Sunday in order to ease our passage across France.
With Vicky meeting a friend in Versailles on Thursday, we’d picked Clermont-Ferrand as a suitable place to stop between the two places. Whereas our daily drives had, up until now, been between 3.5 to 5 hours (including breaks), today was going to be about 6 hours before coffee breaks. With the torrential rain that we encountered on the approach to Lyon this only went up since muggins here was not about to do 110km/h on the wrong side of the road in someone else’s right-hand drive car when the windscreen wipers are going full blast.
By the time we rolled in to town night was falling so taking a walk around was clearly out of the question – and we were also tired after spending so long in the car – thus it was simply a question of where to eat once we’d had a rest. The rest turned out to be a bit longer than expected as Vicky had become lost in google map geekery and so was oblivious to the passage of time. I shouldn’t complain since I’ve spent plenty of occasions myself lost in code and suddenly looked up to realise that an afternoon has passed and I’ve neglected to eat or drink.
Unlike Nice, we opted for the first place we found in the old town (since that was where all of the restuarants seemed to be) – and that was not in any way a bad choice. If you do find yourself in the city and wish to eat somewhere that is approved of by two obviously bonkers Englishwomen then L’instantané Restaurant is the place to go.
Thursday morning was rather colder than it had been the previous day on the south coast but dry unlike our departures from Venice and Pisa and so we took the opportunity to have the stroll that our late arrival the previous day had ruled out. The cathedral in the centre of the old town is most impressive – both inside and out – and was producing feelings of déjà vu in the driver. This was, in turns out, because she and Clare had briefly stopped in on their way out but this had been forgotten thanks to the multitude of places she has visited over the intervening 16 days.
Photographs taken, it was time to continue our trip northwards…
After briefly delaying our departure from Pisa so that we could have a cold shower or, more accurately, walk around the city in the rain in search of postcards, a cash machine and a post box, we left in search of another toll road and the penultimate country of our journey: France.
Much of the road can be summed up in one word: tunnels. Genoa might be worth seeing, it might not, but given that they’ve tunnelled under it and through it, I barely saw any of the city from the road as we went through (strictly obeying the speed limit of course).
Unlike my travelling companion it is my first time on the south coast of France (having previously only visited Paris and Dunkirk or passed through the country in a coach on my way to Austria to go skiing) so we’d decided to stop in Nice for the night. With a hotel room overlooking the Mediterranean and the sun in the sky, we unloaded the car and then set out for a stroll along the Promenade des Anglais (yes, the English are entirely to thank/blame for Nice having an esplanade) after passing through the marina with its risible set of luxury yachts belonging to the more impoverished billionaire oligarch*.
With the sun going down we sat and looked out over the sea for while, including watching traffic out of the airport, before heading back up the seafront and then in to streets behind it for a spot of dinner. With Vicky happy to try the first eatery we come across (unless it’s a chain), I’m the fussy one who will happily wander around in search of a place she likes the look of. What I eventually settled on was a place called Daddies Bistro. Empty when we entered, it filled up a bit later with locals (always a good sign) who were apparently well-known to the staff (an even better sign). The food did not in any way disappoint. Indeed I would go as far to say that it was one of the best meals I’ve had on this trip and I’d recommend the establishment to anyone passing through Nice.
Not, all told, the most exciting day of the trip but a very relaxing one.
It appears that the French, having thrown out Sarkozy in May, are rapidly losing faith in his replacement as well. This in and of itself is hardly newsworthy but what caught my attention was this:
The French government announced a €2.3bn programme to create jobs for 150,000 young people without skills […]
By my maths that makes works out at about 15,333 (plus shrapnel) EUR per job. Which, given that the dead hand of government is involved, seems far too cheap. I assume, therefore, that that figure is what will be paid to the recipients of the non-jobs which they intend to create in an attempt to massage their unemployment figures and that the administration costs haven’t been taken into account.
Translating this into a slightly less worthless fiat currency, it works out at approximately 12,140 GBP or fractionally under the our minimum wage (assuming a 40hr week).
Although labelled “jobs for the future”, critics dismissed the scheme as an old-fashioned “make-work” programme. The state will pay 75 per cent of wages for youngsters hired by councils or voluntary organisations to take part in environmental, social, cultural or sports projects.
[Labour Minister Michel] Sapin said the scheme – which will create 100,000 jobs in the public sector and 50,000 in the private sector by 2014 […].
And the critics would be right. 150,000 people taking more money from the French taxpayer than they would be if they were on benefits is not really the way to run a railroad.
I haven’t, I confess, been taking much interest in the reshuffling of the presidential deck chair that is the forthcoming French General Election but it seems as if Sarkozy is currently expected to finish no higher than the first loser’s spot.
And it looks like Sarkozy is worried as well, if his threat to quit politics if he loses is to be taken with anything more than a pinch of salt.