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The story of Fandancer
French motorways and toll booths
George. Sunny but cold!
Mon/01/12, Beaucaire

We had a hire car last week when my daughter was here, and were able to experience at first hand the peculiarities of the French system of road signage. You would think that a sign for the Airport would be easily visible, and displayed a long way ahead of the turning, but no, all you get is a tiny symbol on a sign located immediately where the turn off is. Too bad if you are in the wrong lane, like we were! We ended up having to onto a motorway until we could turn round and come back, but little did we know that the French had another trick up their sleeve, the motorway toll! So not only were we on the wrong road, we had to pay for the pleasure!

So after about 8 miles going in the wrong direction, we see the traffic slowing down in front of us, and realise it is the Peage or toll booths. But do the French display the prices in advance so you can be prepared and fish out the right number of coins before you actually get there? Of course not! No indication at all of how much to fork out. Not even on the machine itself. So we approach an automatic machine at random, one of those which has the basket thingy you throw coins into, and luckily there is a Madame there in a fluorescent jacket, appearing to be making some adjustment to the barrier.
"C'est combiien, Madame?" I ask. "Sur la pont d'Avignon, le chien est sous la table, la singe est dans le sac blah blah blah " she replies.
So I bravely throw in 2 two euro coins and hope for the best.

I didn't realise it didn't give change, and the barrier wouldn't open, but Madame Fluorescent was very nice about it, but she then proceeded to dismantle the whole machine to try and return my coin to me. Bearing in mind that we were now going in the wrong direction and going to be very very late in getting to the airport, I didn't care about the change, and just wanted her to open the gate so we could be on our way. But no, she continued to take apart the machine, and eventually found our coin, which she then re-inserted into the machine and gave us the correct change from another machine, she then had to open another box to operate the lifting of the barrier. I was getting more and more stressed, but eventually we got through the peage.
"Quick, turn round when you can, we're going in the wrong direction!" I requested of my patient and long-suffering husband, so about 100 yards past the toll booths there was a road junction with a roundabout. We negotiated the roundabout and turned 180 degrees, and then found ourselves back at the same Peage from which we had just left, in order to get back to the junction for the airport. So we paid the same amount for another toll, luckily using the right coins this time, and set off for the airport .......

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St Remy and Van Gogh
same as usual ...
Thu/01/12, Beaucaire

I'm a bit embarrassed that this site is called Sailblogs, as since I started writing it, we have not sailed at all, and even worse, we have been in one location for over four weeks now, so maybe I should find a blog site called AlmostPermanentResident.com. But I hope you will forgive me ....
I'm glad all that Christmas and New Year stuff is over, I feel better already! And the days are getting longer - it's still light at 5.30pm here now. All the decorations and lights have been taken off the boats and put away for another year. Apparently there was a competition for the best decorated boat, (we didn't enter) but the winner is not announced until mid-Feb, when all the entrants are invited by the Mayor to the Town Hall and are given a bottle of wine each. I hope we can manage to infiltrate this holy shrine without an invitation, as I think our last minute pseudo-decs of two strands of gold tinsel and some red beads should definitely be rewarded for effort.
Yesterday we went to St Remy on the bus from Tarascon, only one euro each, a 20 minute journey through some beautiful countryside. Beaucaire, where Fandancer is moored, is actually in Languedoc-Rousillon, but Tarascon, over the bridge, is in Provence, as is St Remy. Beautiful huge trees lining the roads, gorgeous brown and red and orange terracotta roof tiles, poplar trees in the distance. Just like an impressionist painting! And that was what we were hoping to see in St Remy, for this is the town associated with Van Gogh for the last years of his life, when he was a patient in a psychiatric hospital on the outskirts of the town.
We firstly walked round the old town to get our bearings, and I took some photos. We had a snack lunch in a local bar, just coffee and a croque monsieur. All the local bars seem to have these electronic Lotto terminals, and although I don't know much about the French lottery, it appears they have many more different draws than in the UK, it seems there is an hourly draw, and several daily draws of the lucky tickets! I think this game was secretly designed by men as a way of giving them an excuse to rush to the local bar and have a drink at frequent intervals in the day, while checking their tickets and waiting for their winning numbers to be displayed on the screens.
There is always some Frenchman in every bar who rushes in and orders a drink while holding a wad of tickets, then is glued to the screen for five minutes, then shrugs his shoulders, tears his ticket in half and throws it away, buys another drink, and then another book of tickets, and so the cycle is repeated ....
After leaving the entertainment in the bar, we followed the Van Gogh route out of the town and down the road to the hospital. At various places en route there are 22 boards each displaying one of VanGogh's famous paintings; he painted 150 while he was in St Remy, they used to let him out of the hospital so he could create these masterpieces, and you can see some of the actual sites where he must have sat to paint the olive trees, mountains, cornfields. I was very much hoping that if we got to the end of the route there would be some sort of reward to collect (as you know, I am very competitive), or maybe the final board would be in a bar where a free drink would await us. But no such luck. We managed to find all the 22 boards except for three, which I believe were missing, as we looked everywhere in the location where they were supposed to be, without success. One of which was of course, the final display board, which was obviously missing on purpose, so they didn't have to give out a prize ...
We were able to go into the visitors' area of the hospital, and it was absoloutely beautiful, breath-taking. There were some cloisters, built in the 11-12th century, and a lovely chapel. All very calm and peaceful. Unfortunately the main display was closed, which was the room where Van Gogh actually lived, and did some of his paintings, and also we didn't get to see the art works in the gallery painted by present day patients, but the gardens and other areas we saw were really lovely. There was no one about, it was so quiet. Tim said when I go completely doo-lally and mental, (not long to go, then!) he is going to book me a place there. I will resist the urge to tell further stories or make any jokes about psychiatric hospitals as it would probably offend some people, but you could write to me personally if interested .....

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Sur la pont d'Avignon
George. Blue skies, sunny. Ha!
Wed/12/11, Avignon

Bonjour mes amis,
I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas. It's very different here in France, they dont celebrate in the same way, much less hectic. No cheesy music in every shop, no horrendous decorations or displays of inflatable Santas, they don't have crackers or mince pies, no carol singers! They just seem to treat it as a normal day - all the Boulangeries were open for baguettes and croissants, and even the local bus was running!
Yesterday we took the local bus to Avignon, only 1.50euro each way. The buses are like huge luxury coaches, sometimes with only 3 passengers! It's a good way to see the countryside, lots of pretty little villages, fields of fruit trees, vines, the Alps in the far distance.
Avignon is an ancient walled city, the wall is complete, with lots of 'gates' where the roads enter. It must have been amazing to live there in the Middle Ages or whenever it was built. As with many of the old french cities we have visited, there is an 'old town' consisting of narrow cobbled streets, high buildings, ancient churches. It didnt seem very busy, so we decided to have a walk around before lunch.
Of course if you go to Avignon, you have to see the famous 'Pont' from the song I learnt in French when I was a child. Nowadays, the bridge is incomplete, it no longer spans the river, and they make you PAY to go on it! We didn't think it worth paying, so instead we walked up to the castle and the lovely surrounding parks and gardens and took some lovely photos from the top. There is a huge castle, abbey etc, beautiful architecture.
When we walked back down to the town square, the town was much busier, so we found a restaurant for lunch. It was really sunny, blue skies, so we sat outside on the terrace and ordered the Plat de Jour which was fillet mignon. For dessert we were very naughty and we both ordered a 'Cafe Gourmand' which consists of a nice strong coffee, but the good bit is that it comes with four little tasters of delicious desserts on one plate! Caramel macaroon, chocolate cake, chocolate brownie, creme caramel. It was all disgusting and I only ate it to spare someone else the horror - LOL! See photo!
This morning I volunteered to do the broadcast on VHF radio which is like an information service to everyone in the port - quite scared in case I made a mistake or someone asked me something I could not answer, but I just followed the script and it was fine! So now I can officially add the title of boat DJ to my CV. If I get asked to do it again, maybe I should add a jingle or two, or introduce a topical quiz, or I might have a 'Fascinating Facts' section. For example did you know that Beaucaire is on the same latitude as Toronto in Canada? And that the average French person eats 45lbs of cheese a year!
After breakfast Tim and I walked to the local 'Brocante', which is a bit like an antique market crossed with a car boot sale. Lots of things for sale that we could not identify. I told Tim it was lucky that we did not live in a house, as I wanted to buy lots of things, little copper pots and pans, garden planters, french posters and photographs, pretty boxes etc.
More news soon!

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Once uPon a time at the Coiffure ...
George. Sunny but cold.
Wed/12/11, Beaucaire

OK, just a quick five mins to spare, so I thought I would tell you about my visit to the Coiffure yesterday. I just picked one to go to at random, as there are literally dozens of ladies hairdressers here! As in every town. Even some villages we have been through on the boat had a Coiffure but not any sort of food shop! They also always have a dog grooming parlour, which is hilarious! No Boulangerie or bar, but you can get your dog washed!
Anyway a very nice French lady called Veronique was in charge, she did the colour, covering up acres of chevaux blancs, then a young boy aged about 12 took over. He spoke not a word of English, but we had a form of conversation in which we established that he had five sisters and a brother, he was the second oldest, he lived with his girlfriend, he can speak Creole, he has relatives in Guadeloupe and Martinique (French colonies somewhere ). He had heard of Portsmouth because of the football. I ran out of French after that!
When he washed the colour off my hair, he used what I can only describe as cold water. He asked me if it was ok and I said it was too cold, but a) either he thought I said MORE cold, or b) they had a problem with their water heating, or c) French ladies always get their hair washed in cold water. So I put up with it.
I noticed they didn't use any conditioner or any products at all, no mousse, blow dry lotion, styling creme, nothing! Maybe I should have asked first.
Anyway, after a very thorough wash, Veronique returned, cut my hair just how I like it, then asked me how I wanted it dried. "not too curly please, just bouncy curls, smooth not frizzy". "I will make your hair like the Quinn ov Inglint". She told me.
OhmiGod I thought, she is going to make me look like an 80 yr old lady with tightly permed grey hair ! Help me! " no no, not too tight curls" I tried to explain. Then I had a thought - " OHMIGOD SHE IS GOING TO DO MY HAIR LIKE CAMILLA PARKER-BOWLES!" as She is also blondish with bouncy blow dried curls! Do they think CPB is the actual Queen? Has there been a death and we've not heard about it?
Anyway I was actually quite pleased with the result, although I wore a woolly hat for a couple of hours afterwards to calm the bouffant style down a bit ...
We're just about to go out for a Christmas lunch with about 10 or 12 other boat people to a local restaurant, so if any of them ask me how Charles is, or where I got my hat for the royal wedding, I'll have to have words with Veronique ....

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Day out in Nimes, more photos in gallery
George. Blue skies, sunny. Ha!
Sun/12/11, Beaucaire

Hello everyone, yes, I'm still here. Been so busy, no time for internetting! Markets to look round, logs to collect, boats to decorate, trp to hypermarket, coffee in the sunshine, and a bus trip to Nimes!
Last Tuesday we caught the local bus to Nimes, about 40 mins away. Only 1.5 euro to anywhere on the bus, Nimes one end of the line, Avignon the other. We loved Nimes, a really lovely town; but there have been so many lovely towns on our trip! The town is very old, existing in Roman times. There is a huge bullring which was once a Gladiator arena apparently, (dont worry, the French bullfight is not like the Spanish -they tie a ribbon round the bull's horns and the bullfighters have to remove it. Sounds a bit girly really, like undoing the ribbon of the girl sat in front of you at school then running away).
There is also a bullring here in Beaucaire. When I first heard that, I was imagining and hoping with fingers crossed that it might be like the new Bullring shopping centre in Birmingham, with a Selfridges etc, but no such luck.
Anyway, back to Nimes. It was a lovely place to walk round, The old town was really attractive - narrow streets, tall buildings, and wonderful individual shops, lots of nice restaurants. Very picturesque! And sunny too! Places are so much nicer if the sun is out. The architecture was slightly different to other towns we have visited, much more Spanish, its not all that far to the Spanish border really.
We had a coffee in La Place de Horloge (square with the clock tower), I just love sitting watching people! Bizarrely there was a woman with two tiny tiny pygmy goats on a trolley. I think she was collecting for an animal shelter. I wanted to buy one, but Tim said No Goats on Boat!
We also found a huge Roman temple in the middle of town, in beautiful condition, with columns and a roof, better than the Acropolis but not so big. We also saw a lovely street with a type of canal in the middle, with lots of pretty bridges, which led up to the gardens, but we didn't have time to go there - save it for next time.
We chose a little café restaurant for lunch, where lots of local people seemed to go, which is always a good sign. I had Tarte d'Oignon to start, then ham and mushroom galette with salad then coffee, Tim had a hot cheese starter, then a lovely fish dish, and a rice and caramel pudding. Excellent value for 12.50 euros each.
We've been in Beaucaire over a week now, and getting to know the town and have met some more boat gypsies like us. Some people have lived here on their boats for over 5 years! There's a little community of English, Dutch, Belgian, Danish, everyone very nice and helpful. There seems to be an annual competition for the best decorated boat, some people have really taken it to extremes, with much thought and creativity in evidence, eg Santa on a bike, a moving reindeer and sleigh, Santa in a deckchair, piles of presents, more lights than Blackpool! I managed to find some gold tinsel and some icicle decorations, so as not to let the side down, but I think we will only get the booby prize.
On Wednesday we are meeting up with about ten other boat gypsies for a Christmas lunch at one of the quayside restaurants, so more news soon!

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The Drac, and winning a fireman in the raffle ....
Sun/12/11, Beaucaire

Now ..... I want you to imagine you have been asked to design a location for a film which is set in the period between the Middle Ages and the end of the 17th century. What sort of things would you have in your film?

How about narrow cobbled streets, tall, three storey houses made of pale brick, with coloured shutters, terracotta tiles, ornate balconies, elaborate carvings? Then you could have some shady squares with tall plane trees, and some arched walkways linking the streets. There would be a market square with a huge town hall. An imposing cathedral with a beautiful round domed tower and stone gargoyles. You could have some town walls with imposing gateways leading down to the river; and a castle ... yes, you must have a castle, a stereotype fairy castle with round turrets, a moat and drawbridge, high towers with narrow windows. And how about a small bull ring on the edge of town? And a place for the old men to play boules?

Then how about a town myth? A story about a creature called a Drac (a bit like a dragon) who could change into a human but remain invisible, a Drac who kidnapped a local washerwoman for seven years because she was the one person who could see him, so he gouged out one of her eyes?

Well, all of this is actually real! This is Beaucaire, where Fandancer is moored in the canal basin which is in the centre of this town. I can't believe that no one knows about this place, it is totally amazing! Everything is so old! Eat your heart out you Americans! This place was built long before America was discovered! But its not like one of these towns where they preserve and restore everything in an artificial way and charge you to visit the buildings; this is an actual living town with a large population living in the middle of history.
The downside of this beautiful place is that there are hardly any shops! There are some small local businesses such as Boulangerie, Boucherie, Patisserie, Fruit and Veg, Epicerie, Tabac, Chemist, Coiffure, and quite a few bars and restaurants, and strangely, three or four quality jewellers shops, and there is a very good market twice a week, but the town hasn't been ruined by any modern chain stores, phone shops, DIY emporiums or Poundland shops. There is a huge out of town commercial centre with several massive hypermarkets which are a bus ride away. The bus service is very good, a flat fare of 1.50e so you could also go to Nimes or Avignon.
The Christmas Market was held this weekend; a lot of effort has gone into putting up many stalls selling a huge assortment of local produce, which is clearly where the locals buy all their presents. In the market square there was what seemed to be a huge farm, with animals of every description in pens filled with straw. Lots of things for children, such as Punch and Judy, face painting, Pere Noel, etc. I am waiting to hear if my raffle ticket sold by the local firemen has won me a prize, which hopefully will be the use of a fireman in uniform for the day .....
And the weather has been wonderful! We sat outside for a wonderful lunch of freshly cooked paella and a carafe of wine, the display on one of the shops said it was 20deg C in the sunshine .......

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