This morning we had our first real taste of autumn. As we drove north through the wooded and undulating Gascon countryside, a thick mist shrouded everything. After an hour or so the mist began to burn off and we were left with another day of unbroken sunshine and beautiful arable French countryside.
Those of you have travelled regularly in France will know that the French male is particularly uninhibited when it comes to urinating. In Britain if a man gets caught short they will find a very discreet bush or hedge and ensure that nobody can see before they relieve themselves. In France men do it all over the place, spurting forth almost whenever and wherever they wish. With our now extensive travels throughout Europe, it is something that is seen occasionally in other, mainly Southern European countries, but the Frenchman is the pre-eminent perpetrator.
As we pulled into our favourite supermarket in Agen to top up on a few emergency supplies, the origin of this strange behaviour became clearer – they start at a young age. A woman was walking in the car park towards the store when one of her two sons, probably about 8 years of age, obviously decided he wanted to urinate. Without a by your leave he whipped out his whanger and proceeded to water one of the beds of plants in the MIDDLE of LIDL’s car park. Not even discreetly on a bush to one side – right in the middle! Now say what you like about LIDL but I don’t think it deserves that kind of treatment.
We continued to travel north on Route Nationals and smaller roads until we reached our stopping point for the day, a free aire (44.685098, 0.894992) in the small town of Monpazier. Much to our surprise the aire was actually fairly full and we have been forced to park on the soft grassy part, so we are hoping it remains dry.
Monpazier is a traditional Bastide town. Built about 700 years ago for Edward I of England, it is laid out in a strict grid pattern, with a market place, not a church, at its centre. The marketplace was the key part of a Bastide, because one of their main raison d’etre was their ability to generate taxes on trade for their lord. The marketplace is therefore particularly elaborate with a covered area on all four sides set aside for tradesmen.
This is the first Bastide Sarah and I have knowingly visited. When we think of old villages, such as the many we visited in Spain in the last few weeks, a vision is conjured up of narrow, twisty, disorganised streets. Monpazier is the opposite of this, with strictly organised streets, all laid out in straight lines, at right angles to one and other, with street widths and house dimensions all controlled.
Monpazier, is quite a decent sized settlement and seems to be doing very well from its Bastide and France’s Prettiest Villages status. There are plenty of restaurants and shops mainly aimed at tourists, but also grocers, butchers and bakers clearly indicating that this is still a living village. We had a lovely time wandering around and were particularly surprised at the number of shopkeepers who spoke good English. When we first started visiting France as a couple, 35 years ago, it was very unusual to find any English spoken, not so much today.
Tomorrow we will continue our meandering way north. This time we are aiming at another of France’s Plus Beaux Villages, a three hour drive north, but I hope for a proper French croissant from the local baker before we start our journey!!