May. It rained all day today, just lightly most of the time, but non-stop. I had a few hours in the morning to wander around in Toulouse some more, and found some interesting monuments and buildings. It is Labour Day, so almost all the shops are closed, there are no buses running, and the streets are very quiet indeed. This will be good for my drive to Millau, as the roads will prove to be very quiet.
I collected my rental car just after lunch. It was a Fiat Panda, another car much favoured by James May from Top Gear (he owns one), and what a great car! So easy to drive, especially when compared to the Dacia I had in Ireland, and much nicer inside. Taller gearing meant it wasn’t being thrashed on the motorway, even at 130 km/h, better seat, much easier to start off with the manual gearbox, etc. Of course, being Italian, not everything worked perfectly, and whenever one had the headlights on, the engine warning light would come on! I had no problems with driving on the right-hand side of the road, perhaps stored reflexes from my six months driving in the USA.
The countryside along the drive was beautiful, especially between Albi and Millau, with rolling green hills covered with farms, but also high hills, steep river valleys, rocky outcrops and cliffs. Unfortunately it rained for the entire trip. Close to Millau I had my first views of the viaduct – it is extremely large, and dominates the land and sky, whilst blending with the scenery as well. There is a visitors centre at the base of the fourth pylon and I stopped here to see the displays and video. Very interesting.
My hotel was a château, with a fancy restaurant, a bit above my usual fare, but I had chosen it because it has a view of the viaduct, and they were happy to accommodate my GF diet. Quite an historic place, and in beautiful grounds.
I headed off to several of the best viaduct viewpoints, but the worsening rain and the clouds made for a disappointing afternoon/evening, with viewing largely compromised. Of course, as soon as I gave up and went back to the hotel (after getting lost in Millau - amazing, narrow medieval streets), the rain stopped and the low cloud cleared away!
Panoramic View over Millau
Gives some idea of the scale of the viaduct in comparison to its surroundings
I headed off up to the premier viewing point, which is a rest area on the motorway just before crossing the viaduct from the north side. No rain today, and the clouds were beginning to clear. Wow! What a great view – 360 degrees, including the viaduct, the Tarn River valley and the town of Millau below, the farm country all around, the cliffs and ridges, and the motorway. I took a ridiculous number of photos. Then I drove across. No real sensation of great height (at its highest point, the deck is almost as high as the Eiffel Tower, and the towers considerably higher), because one can’t really see down, but a really long bridge! (2.6 km from memory). The drive back to Toulouse was very pleasant (about 2.5 hours), although there was more traffic, the sunny weather more than made up for it, with great scenery to see.
In another Top Gear reference, the guys on Top Gear give a particular derogatory name to aggressive/smart-alec drivers – if you’ve seen the show you’ll know the name. They regard Audi drivers as the worst, and after driving in two countries over here I can definitely confirm that Audi
drivers indeed display the worst and most intimidating behaviour on the road. I hope none of you reading this are offended!
So, on my third trip to France I finally was able to see the Millau Viaduct! And it was awesome! Well worth the trip over to see it.
I am now at the home of my host family. They have four students staying here, of which I am by far the oldest, by about thirty years! I feel rather out of place, and I suspect the same young demographic will be in evidence at the French language school. I will have to maintain a young approach on the inside! Conversation here is entirely in French, which I find very tiring and quite difficult. I must admit to being pretty tired after four weeks of travelling. Hopefully a daily routine at school will be less draining.
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