Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Winnebago Nights (Part Cinq)

The thing with going on holidays without making any reservations or hard core planning is the excitement/risk you make when it comes to a place to stay. Some find it more relaxing to go with no schedules while others want certainty. Although I was really worried, not having a set schedule worked out better for us over all. This was the case except in Narbonne.

Narbonne is located at the southern end of France. Beaches line the shores with towns scattered all across. Since the summer holidays had just began, we found ourselves going from one campsite to the next all with no vacancies. In the end, we were fortunate enough to find a parking lot devoted to camper vans right next to the beach and decided to park there for the evening. Its times like these we are thankful to be driving around in our own little house.

Although we were parked in a parking lot for the evening, we were right next to the beach. Can't think of a better parking spot than that.

Another dinner created from the tiny kitchen of our happy van.

After checking out the beach, we settled in, made dinner and enjoyed the ocean breeze. But as evening came and the sun began to set, we found ourselves restless and decided to walk into the nearest town. It took us around 45mintues to get there, but was quite happy we did. What looked like a sleepy town with rows and rows of quiet town houses as we approached, we suddenly reached the town center at the beach front and saw a bustling night life, full of stands, shops and restaurants. We picked a restaurant facing the beach, ordered our desserts and drinks and enjoyed the evening with a mediocre band playing on the beach. It was only the next day that we realized it is Bastille Day, thus the festive atmosphere the night before.

A happy me waiting for my dessert.

The next day we decided to head back northwards, towards the direction of Stage 16 since it looked like there would be no vacancies anywhere south. We ended up in a town called Saint Bertrand de Comminges and camped just next to it at Camping Es Pibous. Since we were nowhere near the beach, we were able to get a spot and settled in for the day. This would be our favorite campsite of the trip.

Hubby next to our campsite sign.

From afar, Saint Bertrand looks as if it has just popped out of a story book. The Cathedral Sainte-Marie stands proudly, with village houses clustered underneath. You could mistake it for a castle, like so many others and imagine the times when kings and queens sat on their thrones, watching over their people. We all thought there would be nothing much to see at the top of the hill, just the church. But as we entered the stoned walls and reached the church, we were welcomed with a few hotels, shops and restaurants. It was in this little town that we found my favorite restaurant of the trip, Chez Simone.

Entrance to Chez Simone.

Balcony seating.

To tell you the truth I was never impressed with French cooking. All the french restaurants in HK have their noses up each others butts and many times I don't know if people actually like the food or just say they like it because its French. I didn't see the beauty of cooking in so much butter and salt. How can you enjoy the true goodness of the ingredients if they're drowned in butter. Whenever we ate out and I was asked for a suggestion, I would always say as long as its not French, I'm game.

After eating at Chez Simone, I suddenly told myself, "so this is French food!"

Local wine recommended by the server.

Pate/terrine that was at least a whole cup worth.

Blue cheese salad big enough for 2!

Garbure. Doesn't look like it, but it was a BIG bowl.

Cassoulet. Trust me, at least 3 people can have a meal out of this.

The servings at Chez Simone are huge! It truly is a family style restaurant. We had starters of salads and terrines and were greeted by 4 huge plates of food. After struggling to finish them, we were presented with 3 POTS of food. The cassoulet is a french stew with beans and meat. The garbure is a cabbage soup with pork, potatoes and vegetables. M ordered a chicken stew that was so darkly cooked in its sauces it was falling apart. We knew there was too much food, yet we couldn't stop eating. I could taste each and every ingredient clearly. In each bite and slurp, I can taste and smell the hours and hours of stewing, of energy put into making each dish. I was impressed that in a place where a restaurant could easily become a tourist trap, because there are only 2 restaurants in town, that they still made the effort to make good food. Chez Simone is a proud restaurant. It is there not because it so happens to stand on a cliff, next to a church with patrons at their mercy. It is there because it offers good food. Simple as that.

Because we did not have to be at the next Stage until Tuesday, we decided to stay at Saint Bertrand for 2 nights. It was the first time during our trip that we stayed put for more than a day and just relaxed. We did some laundry, read our books and just enjoyed the scenery.

View of the town from up top.

Cathedral Sainte-Marie.

Random shot of Hubby walking down the road after dinner.

One of the crosses on our walk back to camp.

Every morning around 5am this farmer walks his cow to whichever pasture for the day. Then in the afternoon he walks them back for the evening.

The life line at each campsite. Its funny how all the outlets and water taps are from the same source. I wonder if anyone has ever gotten zapped. So you take your cord, plug it into the outlet then plug the other end into your camper van.

Our camper van, laundry hanging in the background.

View of the church from our campsite.

I had to take a picture of our neighbors kitchen set up. How cute is that?

Next stop, Stage 16, Col du Tourmalet.

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