Marigold Says...

Random thoughts on travelling and life in general.

Judging by the sunrise over the Med it’s going to turn out nice again

Brits Abroad? Avoid Where Possible.

G Says...

A few years ago we were wandering, fairly aimlessly, through the arid countryside of Algeria in our venerable no-mod-cons camper van and found ourselves in Souk Ahras, formerly known as Thagaste. A man stopped his car- an ancient Mercedes saloon they stopped making about forty years ago - to come over and welcome us to his country – it wasn’t a region that sees many tourists.

In a conversation mainly notable for being one of the rare occasions (unique, maybe?) that my command of the French language, our only means of communication, exceeded that of the other party, he referenced Saint Augustine of Hippo who was born in the town.

Having some interest in Philosophy I had heard of Saint Augustine as a devotee of Cicero and I subsequently discovered his interest in philosophy derived from the long lost ‘discussion paper’ Hortensius in which Cicero and others pondered on the best use of one's leisure time. At the conclusion of the work, Cicero apparently argued that the pursuit of philosophy is the most important endeavour in life.

I don’t necessarily agree with him, sorry Cicero, but as he wrote this in 45 BC I imagine alternative leisure time options were rather less widely available.

Saint Augustine became and remains the Patron Saint of Brewers. I came across an extremely pious account inferring this was ‘because of his conversion from a former life of loose living, which included parties, entertainment, and worldly ambitions. His complete turnaround and conversion has been an inspiration to many who struggle with a particular vice or habit they long to break.’

Parties, entertainment and worldly ambitions, eh? Who knew they were bad things?

A quotation attributed to Saint Augustine struck a chord. Here it is: ‘The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.’ Well said, Augustine. All that loose living must have inspired you.

Marigold lusting after a 'proper' camper van.

It's a beast.

Meandering around France must be one of the best ways of passing one’s time, but not without its pitfalls. We had spent the day on the coastal strip between Narbonne and Beziers, back to back sandy beaches bathed in glorious sunshine.

When it became apparent we needed to sort out accommodation for the night, typically neither of us had given the matter much thought. We found an Internet connection and Marigold announced, ‘leave this to me.’

After ten minutes searching she claimed success and we set off for a reasonably priced seafront luxury hotel ‘just up the road.’

Ten miles of winding, narrow roads later we’d passed through an assortment of seemingly deserted villages, but not found the hotel in question. Marigold questioned a couple of villagers who looked at her in baffled amazement. It was only when Marigold wrote down the name of the town where the hotel could be found that enlightenment dawned.

‘Oh, but that is many, many kilometres from here,’ one woman said with an expression suggesting it would be wise to give up our quest. We set off again and after no more than an hour, although it seemed like a week, reached the town we sought. I have blotted its name from my memory, something something sur mer is the best I can do, as the elusive hotel continued to elude us.

Finally we reached journey’s end, an aparthotel said to be on the seafront and very popular with French clients who returned year after year. The hotel was incredibly dingy, peeling paintwork, rusted downspouts – shabby but not remotely chic.

There were a dozen or so Frenchmen, in their 70s, on the verge of rioting on a boules court where rules had evidently been flouted. Noisy, excitable and most certainly threatening their blood pressure levels we tip toed past and found a door saying Reception.

After the grim exterior I wasn’t expecting anything fancy in our room. Amazingly, it exceeded all expectations.

Not in a good way.

‘Only one night,’ said Marigold, by now in open denial of this hotel having been her choice.

I opened the curtains and discovered the recommended sea view. Of sorts. The ‘sea front’ claim was technically correct, albeit with a fair degree of license. There were no buildings between our balcony and the sea. There were, however, vast tracts of swampy mudflats and boasting a sea view would be a struggle for even the most creative estate agent’s ‘glimpse of the sea’ description to pass without complaint.

Ah well, only one night.

It was a long night as the boules contingent found many opportunities to continue their argument in neighbouring rooms, but at least it became relatively quiet at three in the morning. At four am the local bin men turned up and bashed skips around below our window for a good half hour.

We didn’t bother with breakfast even though it was included in the price. You win some, you lose some.

We drove into town.

It was closed.

Until Easter.

The hotel receptionist had whispered the news that the day of our arrival would mark the end of the season and forty five other guests would have to travel several miles away for a place to sleep tonight as the hotel owners had decided to close down for renovations. Nobody had yet told the guests who were booked in for another three days.

Marigold barely uttered a word of complaint in the hour and ten minutes it took us to find a café that was open for business. When they say it is the end of the season around here they really mean it.
What would probably be termed a road side diner in other countries was open and almost as pleased to see us as we were to be fed and watered.

We were in a French supermarket the other day trying to find an ‘adapteur’ to connect one of our English plugs to a French socket. Yes, of course we took some with us, probably a dozen of them at least, but I’d forensically reduced the car to its component parts and still couldn’t find one anywhere.

Unfortunately, locating one in a big French hypermarket was proving equally fractious. Marigold’s whoops of triumph when she finally struck gold may have been heard in the next town. We were on our way to the till area when we were accosted by two (obviously British) women waving their arms excitedly. When it became apparent we were fellow Brits they looked relieved.

‘Finally, someone who isn’t foreign’ one declared. Hmm! There are rather a lot of French people in here, but we’ve only come across two ‘foreigners’ apart from ourselves and we’re talking to them now.

What burning issue of the day demands our attention, I wonder. Brexit, climate change, can it be true that John Bercow has really gone, what will it be?

The answer is a massive let down. ‘Have you tried any of these French ready meals?’

The question is presented in a manner suggesting the future of mankind depends on our answer. We glance at the selection of meals merely requiring a microwave oven to be transformed into a gourmet feast. We don’t tend to shop in this aisle, but managed to say so in a resolutely non judgemental fashion.

‘Only, we’ve got guests arriving at the weekend and they’re dedicated foodies. Do you think I can make this look homemade?’ The stouter lady, it’s a close call but I’m still trying to be non judgemental, holds up a cardboard box promising the consumer all manner of delights.

I look at the photograph on the box and decide this is a question worthy of Marigold’s attention. I wander off as if my presence is urgently required in the tinned preserves aisle.

As incurable hodophiles we often go ‘abroad’ and many of the Brits we meet on our travels come across as a breed apart. I can make allowance for holidaymakers; they’re usually focussed on spending one or two weeks trying to get as bronzed as possible in the shortest time.

Yes, their version of ‘bronzed’ would be three pages removed from ‘tan,’ way out there next to fire engine red, in a Dulux paint colour chart, but they always seem happy enough with the result.

The Brits who offend us, mightily, are expats. Namely the ‘we live here’ brigade. Now, we’ve been part of that group over many years and a vast number of our fellow long stayers have been wonderful people so please don’t imagine I’m venting out of simple residual grumpiness.

Simply put there are many Brits scattered across Europe in particular with whom we have no common ground other than a shared country of birth. If I met these people in England I would avoid them so why imagine I should have the slightest interest in their lives merely because they’re ‘British?’

A case in point.

We were sitting in the lobby of a French budget hotel the other evening, simply because there were two armchairs near Reception and only a bed in our room, no chairs. Catching up with emails after a few days on the road can be a fraught process. Friends/relatives/fans, (okay forget the last one), find it hard to accept access to the Internet can be patchy ‘on the road.’

Marigold is replying to her third ‘where are you, are you dead?’ email when a middle aged couple arrive at the front desk looking very annoyed. ‘Took me twenty minutes to find this hotel yet your information clearly states it is two minutes off the motorway’ the man bellowed at the receptionist.

In English.

I took notice as I had also followed the two minutes from the motorway directions. It took me two minutes!

The reception was a delightful young woman, originally from the Ukraine but married to a Frenchman, and we had been chatting earlier for quite a while. She spoke a little English, but as English was her fifth language we cut her some slack!

‘There’s no point in even talking to her,’ the shouty man’s wife said, ‘she’s only going to speak French, they don’t bother to learn English.’

The Receptionist did indeed speak fluent French. She was also fluent in her native language as well as Russian and Polish. When the woman started shouting I decided enough was enough.

‘What’s the problem?’ I asked, trying hard to be civil.

‘They want us to pay double, that’s the problem.’ I looked at the paperwork she was brandishing.

‘You’ve booked two rooms,’ I said.

‘Well, obviously that’s a mistake. I probably pressed the key twice when I booked online. Now this stupid girl expects us to pay for two rooms.’

I had a brief conversation, in my sadly inadequate French, with the Receptionist. She does not have the authority to cancel a booking as it was made through a third party site. I told Mr and Mrs Harvey the situation.

Mister Harvey was not easily pacified. ‘Now look here,’ he shouted, ‘and do not interrupt when I am speaking. I have lived in France for the best part of ten years so don’t imagine you can put one over on me. We booked a room with this hotel for tonight. I expect a key to that room at once and a refund for the other room.’

The Receptionist shrank back. ‘I cannot refund,’ she said, ‘not booked with hotel.’

‘See, she speaks English,’ Mrs Harvey snarled, ‘she’s just trying it on. We want our money back.’

Bitterly regretting my involvement I made further enquiries and passed on the information that a refund could only be obtained from the booking agency, not the hotel.

‘Oh, this is ridiculous, give us the keys to both rooms if we’re expected to pay for them.’

‘Well, you won’t get a refund from the agency if you use both rooms,’ Marigold piped up.

Ever practical.

This sensible advice was not what they wanted to hear and it all kicked off again with the wretched Harvey couple bellowing abuse at all and sundry. ‘Foreigners ‘ was the term most in use, seemingly oblivious to the fact they were the only actual foreigners involved in the argument.

The next morning we were about to leave when we heard Mrs Harvey complaining, loudly, about ‘not even a rasher of bacon on offer’ in the 5 euro ‘Continental breakfast.’ We scarpered before they started demanding a copy of this morning’s Daily Mail.

Outside two van drivers were chatting prior to setting out on their day. One obviously French, the other speaking French in an evidently Eastern European accent. The subject under discussion was the wretched Harvey couple. I got the impression they hadn’t been impressed.

The Polish/Romanian/Bulgarian driver summed up his opinion of our fellow Brits with much arm waving. ‘Les Anglais, jank,’ he said. I used to have fairly regular contact with members of the gypsy community and the Romani word he used was familiar.

In English we’d probably substitute another four letter word, one starting with sh and ending in t.

Who needs the Brexit debate when so many of our our expat citizens are doing such a splendid job of offending the nationals of the country in which they’ve been allowed to remain?

We resolve to attempt to conceal our immigrant status for the rest of this trip.

' On the Sea Front,' allegedly

Breakfast, at last

Lesson learnt, this is our hotel on the following night. Same price as the sea view one too.