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Published: March 30th 2008
Quick, everyone, high-5.
If you asked me 6 months ago if I thought I could successfully circumnavigate Europe, even with Sat-Nav, I probably would have said "Yeah, sounds like fun" before scurrying back to my room never to be heard from again (my family is used to this). But thats exactly what I have done. As of right now I'm in Kent, England.
To catch up:
Avignon is a big walled city. And I mean walled: it looks like it could have been built last week - it's fully intact, about 5 metres high and has parapets every couple hundred yards. I think the only hope invaders had was if they happened to bring a ramp and a monster truck. Or Chuck Norris. Anyway, the first thing I spotted was a gigantic building called the Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes). I struggled to get the whole thing in one photo. I met a school group of Aussies from Ballarat and had a brief chat with one of the parents - its nice to talk to someone normally once in a while and share your experiences.
From the Palace I just wandered around the streets, having a look at the shops and eating very unhealthy looking pastries. I stayed in a place just outside the city walls - the front desk lady was very helpful - and went back in the next day. This time I was able to get into the garden behind the Palace, which had some nice (not quite breath-taking) views of the surrounding countryside. I was able to spot the Pont St Benezet, an old bridge - most of which is at the bottom of the river - which used to stretch to the other side. (Um, yeah, bridges do that. Ed)
I left Avignon keen to finish the next leg of the drive, which would put me on the tallest bridge in the world, the Viaduc de Millau. Unfortunately from this moment on the weather turned grey. I did my best with the photos, but the contrast between grey cloud and grey bridge *may* have messed with the camera a bit. Amazing bridge though. A couple of the roads curled their way under it, so I drove all over the countryside taking shots and just standing in awe. Again - like with the caves - your mind just refuses to comprehend the size of the thing your seeing. The tallest pylon is 343m to the tip, and the highest point the road hits is 270m above the river. The pylons start at 25m across at ground-level and taper to 11m at the bridge. Wikipedia has a big article on it.
I eventually found my accommodation (so new, it wasn't in the GPS), a small hotel behind a bowling alley. Nice rooms, and the paint still smelled new (not that I commonly smell paint). Millau itself is undergoing a bit of an economy boost care of the bridge, so new shops are popping up all over the place. Not a bad area, wouldn't mind seeing it in 5 years or so.
I had decided on a whim that my next stopover would be Orleans, a good 6 hours drive skipping the toll booths. On the way I saw a man driving his lawn-mower down a small town main street, and drove past a wind-farm stocked with giant propellers.
I believe Orleans is where the whole Joan of Arc thing happened, judging by the number of statues and plaques. It's a very nice looking city with big open squares and a very slick tram service. The cathedral was a thing of magnificence, plus they had a few other throwbacks to the Middle Ages. And still the rain continued. My next stop was Paris: to drop the car off at Peugeot and see a bit more of the city.
However, the place I'd booked was stuck in the middle of the Indian ghetto or something. 15 minutes to the train station - good. At least 30 minutes to anywhere interesting - not good. I dropped the car off and had a chat with the man there about my trip. Next stop, my hotel. It's really not fun hauling 30-odd kgs from train to train to hotel, especially in the rain, dodging beggars. The rain didn't let up so I stayed in for the rest of the day. The next day showed promise: the sun was shining and I had plans. I walked down towards Notre Dame, which inadvertantly took me straight through the red-light district. It was still *ahem* active at 9 in the morning. I walked with blinkers till I reached the river. Notre Dame is mighty impressive, but because it's in Paris it's not quite as grand as you would expect. It doesn't have the presence of the cathedral in Orleans, for example. But hey, here's me rambling when I have a train to catch.
I trained to Calais, got the ferry across the channel (I wanted to Eurostar, but they needed a CCard.) and here I am, back in England. The weather hasn't changed, but at least I can have proper conversations with people.
The Peugeot 308 Turbo-Diesel: I have driven this car for 24 days. From pickup in Lyon I drove up through the French Alps, across Switzerland, nudged through Austria, seen a bit of Germany, from the east to the west shores of Italy, tootled around Monaco and speared up through France. The final odometer reading was 5,579k's. The car could go 1200 k's on a tank of diesel, and could have done more if it had a 6-speed for the highways. I'd own a diesel if it wasn't so slow. You needed a fair run-up for overtaking and 130 was about as fast as you'd want to go. Still, it did the job marvellously.
Hopefully this PC can do photos properly, I'll update the other entries too.
See you Thursday. The plane gets in at 6.30am...
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