Travelling through France from Spain is never dull, but our latest journey in mid November 2018 was definitely special. This time we travelled west across Spain from our village of La Fresneda in order to cross the Pyrenees in the Basque country just above the famous city of Pamplona. We spent the night in a vast deserted car park next to a (closed) nature and adventure park and I was, quite unusually, taken ill. I had to find a doctor’s next day or could not face the 1,000 mile drive to England. Dr Carlos put me right, but the treatment seemingly denied alcohol which, though not essential, does light up the nights of travel.
We stayed in the delightful Basque village of Lantz on the second night, it was small, but had both a restaurant and a shop. Only problem was both were closed. The locals were very friendly so I approached a lady and asked in poor French if anyone raised hens in the village and might allow us to buy eggs. She said no, but told us to wait where we were and quickly rushed back with five eggs! She then wouldn’t take anything in payment for them! Aren’t some people generous? This enabled to have a decent meal in the van, and it was very good.
Later in the trip we left the lovely village of Beaumont Sarthe just north of Le Mans where we had dined in a warm, friendly place served by a shy but helpful fourteen-year-old young lady. The village had an excellent river, ancient chateau and delightful gardens. However, heading into Alencon the road was blocked: black smoke poured from the roundabout and there were many people there in yellow hi-vis jackets. It seemed to us that there had been a bad accident, but this was no accident. In fact it seemed more like a street party - at a roundabout! Cars and vans were parked any old way, tyres were burning smokily, wooden pallets were burning merrily, and music was playing loudly in competition with sirens, car horns and raucous singing. I found it all quite exciting; many years had passed since my own demo days.
We were allowed to weave the van around part of the roundabout, the yellow draped figures shouting merrily at us. They were all smiles for us, but there was something altogether more serious going on. Just beyond the roundabout I parked up and walked back to join in. The smoke, the noise, the friendliness, the bizarre spectacle itself really energised me. I learned that Macron was the problem. To quote from one ragged poster he was: pompier, dictateur, royaliste, menteur, arrogant, opportuniste, nuisible. You probably get the message. Motorcyclists were a central part of the protest: revving their machines to the point of near explosion, roaring up and down the traumatised roads, weaving around the crowds. The protestors told me that it was all about increased taxation, especially on fuel. I didn’t know what side I was on, but I certainly felt part of the crowd. We had to take the toll road to get away – that cost us nearly forty Euros Mr Macron.
Then we were blocked again at Rouen, both in and out of the city, this time with larger crowds and longer delays. Hey, this was not so much fun after all. We then travelled north to Abbeyville where we hoped to sleep for the night en route to Calais for our boat to England the next day. We could not get in! Yet another protest barrier greeted us as we came off the main road, Darkness was falling when we were finally allowed to pass that barrier and then we hit another! Someone told me that we probably would not get into Abbeyville at all, so I reversed back and headed out into the darkness.
Fortunately, after some twenty miles, we found Chez Natalie, a small pub cum restaurant. It was open and welcoming. We had a great French meal sitting next to a warming wood stove whilst watching the recollections of the revolution on TV – we did not see ourselves: our part in the revolution remains a secret. However, the whole thing was an interesting experience giving an insight into both the French mentality and, perhaps, my own.
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