Friday, August 27, 2010

They've got some pretty big slugs here in France. The black ones are common in the woods around my house, but I've rarely seen the spotted kind. There it is! Special for the Shootout. If you'd like to continue with me on my little trip to Poitiers, read on!

Part 1
That sense of queasyness as the train to Paris slid silently away from the quay and north to the capitol. Almost lost my balance and I'm not doing anything but sitting here writing.
So starts another bacation. This end of summer I found myself pretty much caught up, room for a breather before the term starts and my calender becomes full of appointments. I have a week, but decide to take just three days away, and the rest around home, hiking and picking blackberries and digging in the garden.
What the sign says as we pull out of the station, right on time.
It's raining for this first day, though only slightly, and it stops by the time we make Vichy. When I descend from the train at St Germain des Fossés, the town is damp and half-closed.
I was here once before, years ago, on a weekend excursion, just going to see. I was hoping St Germain would be a little more lively this time around (it not being a Sunday in February), but with vacation season on it's even more shut than before.
I would like two things here, a cup of coffee, and a sandwich to eat on the next train. With nearly two hours layover, I have plenty of time to find them, and to take a stroll around. Just one of the bakeries is open - they can't all be closed at once - for a classic ham & cheese on a baguette. For my coffee I'd aimed to go back to the bar-café at the top of the hill, the last one on the right before you get to the church, where I was so warmly greeted by the french & english owners for lunch on my previous visit.
The sign is off the door and the windows are papered over. Closed for some time now, from the look of the yellowed and crumbling paper. I wonder what became of Fréderique and her husband. Back to Manchester?
St Germain and the thousands of towns like it are not the place to go to make a fortune. Nobody here does much better than eke out a modest living, just enough to keep the car running and the lights on. So I have my coffee in a little bar farther down the street. A place that looks like they'd like to close up and move home again, but this is home. It's not the same place I had coffee last time, which I saw on passing was still open but just as dingy and 70's orange & brown as before. Depressing place, that one. Not that this is much better. Not that any place I've found so far has been much better, except for the lamented Fréderique's, and that was mostly in the atmosphere of hope and good cheer emitted by my hosts. This one is marginally better than the 70's one. The yellow paint around the windows is peeling and the chairs and tables could use changing, but it's better. The coffee is alright. Unfortunately, the law against smoking indoors doesn't seem to have penetrated this far into small-town France.
Often, I go indoors to escape the smoke, as most people flock to the sidewalk tables because they can light up there. Here I flee the indoor air.
Back at the station, some interesting photos. Pigeons walking around on top of the translucent roof, an elderly passenger worried about finding car number 3, a station cat scampering hurriedly into the weeds, then lying down there defiantly. The quay fills up with passengers waiting for my train, yet another way of getting to Moulins. It's odd there isn't more business built up around the station. St Germain is a transfer point for a lot of people, coming and going to Paris, Lyon, Clermont, Tours, Bordeaux, from any number of towns in central France. Yet there's not a tobacconist or newsagent or bar or in fact anything up here at the station. There was a bar and restaurant, sadly closed now, taunting us with its signage. People with just half an hour don't make the trek to town, close as it is. People with luggage don't with any amount of time.

Finally, my train. We see Moulins...
...Saint Pierre des Corps
where I get off before it moves on to Tours.
Saint Peter of the Bodies?
Hmm, this could be an interesting place, this St Pierre's.
Only, it's raining again. Just a bit, but enough to dampen my enthousiasm for hiking to town. I have less than an hour, and it does seem to be a ways. Coffee at the St P of the Bodies' train station is execrable*. Don't have it.

The approach to Tours is long and slow and it looks like good, good hiking out there.
After checking in at my hotel, which seems quite nice though it is awfully hot up there on the top floor, I go out in the persistent dregs of the rain. Poitiers is a nice, smell city. Maybe the size of Clermont, it's hard to tell exactly.
The center, built up in a bend of the Clain river, has nots of nerrow streets that protect it from an excess of traffic (everybody knows the streets are miniscule and there's no point driving there). There are green spaces along the river, and just strolling around I come across signage for the GR655. That's one of the Grande Randonnée trails that make it possible to walk from one end of the country to the other. I could have walked here from Clermont if I only had an extra week and sufficient maps. I take a look at the GR655's itinerary on a map in a bookstore. With the GRs being always well indicated, I figure tomorrow I'll just follow it on down the river, lunch and the camera in my bag.
The architectural marvels of Poitiers are mostly ecclesiastical in nature. In fact, a lot of stuff seems to have happened here in the 11th and 12th centuries. Four old and fabulous churches in a row, and I didn't even see all of the older city. I only went inside the first one - that's how fast I get saturated - but it was beautiful. The walls were still painted, at least evrything beyond the altar. The saint's remains were in the crypt, and people were going down there to see her. What I liked best were the colorful carved angels watching over the altar.
Since my umbrella was dying - it announced this by losing its handle and then refusing to keep it in anything but an upright, in-use, position - I started to look for a new one. But I seemed to be in the wrong part of town for sort of cheap umbrella-selling shops I hoped to find. Anywhere tourists congregate, you're sure to find umbrellas for sale. Except in Poitiers.
The weather people say it isn't supposed to be wet tomorrow. But without my anti-rain charm, what chance does this have of being true?
A shower and a bit of rest, and it's down my street to a place I saw advertising stuffed rabbit thigh with rosemary and thyme and home-made pasta. I thought I had seen crème brulée on the menu too, but that must have been their rival across the street. Happily, they do have melted chocolate cake instead.
Every bit, from the melon&mint soup teaser, through the 3-salmon first course, the exquisite rabbit with its al dente fettucini, to the I can't possibly finish this rich chocolate dessert but somehow I do, was superb.
And that was just a nice, cozy little place down a quiet street. A couple of kids running around, not terribly expensive (though more than I usually spend), the owner friendly and happy to chat but not intrusive. Exactly the sort of place you hope to luck into when travelling. The Poitevin, a block past where rue Carnot changes names. The Poitevin: that's like naming a restaurant in San Diego the San Diegan. All to the very end, that is, when with my coffee they serve a surprise plate of sweets, and one is a citrus purée. A very nice mouthful, but completely in conflict with the coffee. The hotel isn't very well insulated, but thankfully the children down the hall go to sleep early. I leave the window open beyond teh drawn sheers and the sounds of the trains coming and going and freights just passing through continues throughout the night, just comfortably audible.

I should be able to upload the rest of the photos tomorrow, for the rest of the story. For more Shootout participants, click here!

*Is that a word in English? If it isn't, it should be. They use it a lot in French, derived, as you can guess, from excrement...


nuts4fruits said...

yikes, I'd run like the wind if I saw such a slug. which is odd because I've spent many hours admiring snails.

Titus said...

Great post NanU, thanks.
And yes, it is a word in English.

Sarah said...

Oh oh oh oh I so loved that!! Thank you for taking us along!! Wow!! I think my favorite was the bird from below...wonderful shot!!
Wonderful shootout!!

NanU said...

I was pretty sure of that, Titus. English contains most all of the romance language words, often in three or four forms; it's more a question of which ones are common currency and which are just there gathering dust.

Doreen said...

very cool! is the last shot church doors? that is awesome! the bird shot was cute too. have fun!!

Pauline said...

There are too many great words sitting around gathering dust, Nan!
Really loved riding along with you on that post, although I must admit I'd be more than a little annoyed if I travelled all the way to France for bad coffee! Love your railway station shot with the anxious lady!

psychelyn said...

interesting, thanks for sharing. i love visiting plaves like that old church and the likes. very nice pictures too. :)