Thursday, 26 January 2012

France, Return to Carcassonne

On the way down to breakfast the next morning, knowing how precious the French can be about their language, I attempted some simple communication with the receptionist about the arrangements for petit dejeuner. I am fairly certain that I selected the right words but graciously concede that I may not have had them in the correct order and this is an annoying thing about the French because they like you to try and speak their language, which is fair, but then ridicule you if you don’t get everything absolutely grammatically correct, which isn’t very encouraging. It’s a good job we don’t humiliate them when they mangle the English language with zis and zat and their inability to understand when and when not to use the letter H, but anyway, this woman looked at me as though I was from the very bottom of the evolutionary chain and asked with a large dollop of sarcasm if I would prefer it if she spoke English? Most Europeans are really pleased if you attempt a few words but the French really don’t like anything that they perceive as a corruption of their ‘beautiful language’ and I nodded meekly and said yes please.

It was overcast and much cooler this morning as we walked through the streets of Castres to the car park and we were glad to get in the car, turn the heater on and set off back to Carcassonne for our early afternoon flight as yesterday’s blistering afternoon temperature was fading away into a recent memory. I was fairly sure of the way to go but the Satnav lady decided that I would like to take the difficult scenic journey instead of the direct route and before we reached the main road at Mazamet she took me onto a minor road and into the ForĂȘt de Montaud and soon we were climbing again along winding roads through a deciduous beech forest back into the Black Mountains.

I could have asked Kim to plot a more sensible alternative route using the paper map but the truth is that she isn’t too good with maps and this responsibility generally brings on a panic attack as he stares blankly at the multi coloured squiggles hopelessly looking for a clue and before she has even pinpointed our position it is generally too late because we will have missed the turning anyway. I shouldn’t really be critical because her inability with maps would be rather like me being asked to interpret a knitting pattern and she is very good at that.

I suppose this was going to save us a kilometre or two and it was quite picturesque but it was at the expense of our timetable and as we planned to drive into Carcassonne and to La Cité for a final coffee before going to the airport at a convenient junction I eventually overruled the Satnav and instead of driving deeper into the forest made for the direct route and the main highway.

We arrived in Carcassonne at ten o’clock which gave us an hour in the old fortress so we walked through the main gate and the narrow streets and made our way to the main square where it was too chilly to sit on the pavement so we were forced inside instead. While we sat with our final drink we reviewed our holiday and made a comparison between France and Spain to see if we could reach consensus on which we like best. We had enjoyed visiting this region of France but I have to say that we both agreed that we have a preference for Spain.

It isn’t fair to make that statement without some explanation so here are our reasons: First of all the centrepiece of every town and city in Spain, the Plaza Mayor, which is the first place we visit when we arrive somewhere new but there isn’t the equivalent in France; secondly, Tapas and the complimentary bowls of food in the bars and bodegas which the French don’t do and thirdly, staying with bars for a moment, the prices are much better in Spain because I can never understand the sky-high price of drinks in French bars and restaurants; fourthly I’m afraid it is back to the unpleasant subject of dog excrement because this really is a most disagreeable aspect of France.

Leaving the city we drove to the airport and returned the car and when I enquired everyone seemed to have forgotten about the refund that I was due on the rental overcharge and I had to remind the staff at the car hire office. I didn’t get the refund of course just a sort of vague promise that it would be sorted out and that was the best that I could hope for without making a scene or trashing the place.

Although the airport was tiny it had a high quality restaurant overlooking the runway and bearing in mind that the last place anyone would choose to go out to lunch in England would be Stansted or East Midlands Airports this seemed to be a popular place with local people who were arriving here by the tableful just for their lunch. As we sat by the window waiting for the plane to arrive the weather continued to deteriorate as grey sky muscled in from the west and brought some spots of rain and by the time we had passed through security and immigration control and were boarding the plane there was a downpour which gave everyone a thorough soaking as they queued to climb the aircraft steps.

Like the terminal building that struggled to accommodate all of the passengers the runway looked barely long enough to cope with a Boeing 737-800 and I noticed that the end of it curled up into an incline like you see on aircraft carriers presumably to give the plane a bit of last minute assistance in getting off the ground but the pilot got us up without incident and we quickly flew into the clouds and below us France was completely obscured from view.

Back home I contacted and their customer services department told me that it would take at least twenty days to deal with the overcharging mix up but they would deal with it as soon as they could.

post script: It took nearly thirty days, several emails and a critical blog post to get it sorted but I did eventually receive my refund but I’ll think twice about using ever again.

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