Paris to Saint Flour
We woke a little before 7:00 am, feeling adjusted to the time zone and reasonably refreshed. Breakfast at the hotel was the typical European buffet and we each had combinations of cereal, rolls with ham, salami and cheese, boiled eggs, croissants, yoghurt, juice and coffee. We left the table feeling well set up for the day and wasted no time finalising our packing and checking out of the hotel. After pulling our luggage the couple of hundred metres up the street to our car we were on our way following my Google maps directions for the few minutes it took for the GPS to get a lock on the satellites.
Apart from one missed turn that was quickly corrected by the GPS recalculating, we had no problem finding our way out of Paris and onto the road south to Orleans. However, it was slow progress because the traffic was heavy and chaotic, with motorcycles frequently running up between lines of cars. It took us the better part of an hour before we were clear of the worst of the traffic but that was no more than 20 km or so.
I had noticed on the directions map that I pulled from Google Maps before leaving home that Chartres, famous for its cathedral, was not far off our route. Majella agreed to the deviation and I redirected the GPS to navigate us to Chartres via the non-toll roads. It took us most of an hour to find our way to Chartres through some pretty French countryside. Our path took us past fields of grain in various stages of maturation and through several towns or villages with interesting buildings, old and new. Sam was fascinated by the variety and took several photographs as we went by sights that interested him.
Eventually we spotted the Cathedral in the distance. We took several photographs from the car as we approached – a lucky decision because it really requires a bit of distance to capture the whole of the building in one frame. Once in town we opted for the easy solution and parked in the officially designated parking station. From there we walked the short distance to the Cathedral where we spent about an hour walking around the inside and outside of the magnificent building. We each found plenty to interest us about the design and history of the cathedral and the hour went by quickly.
It was time for lunch when we finished at the cathedral so we wandered through the town, found a supermarket, and bought the makings for a picnic lunch – baguette, sausage, and fruit. We returned to the car, delayed other patrons of the parking station while we worked out how to pay, and set off to find a picnic spot on the way to St Flour. We made it no further than the foot of the hill behind the cathedral on the way out of town where there were shady parking spaces and an area by a stream. We ate lunch there before changing drivers and heading off toward St Flour.
I took some time to get the feel of driving again on the right side of the road, but by the time we had tracked across the country roads and found the motorway I was feeling more comfortable about driving. Even at the 110 kph and 130 kph speeds on the motorway, the GPS estimated a little over 4 hours of driving time to St Flour. We stopped after about 2 hours for coffee and a change of drivers. Majella drove us into St Flour where we found our hotel and checked in a bit after 6:00 pm.
Once we had settled our bags, we headed up to the old town on a craggy hilltop above the more modern section by the stream below the hill. The old town was still very much alive and the centre of local activity but full of interesting old buildings. We enjoyed 40 minutes of sightseeing, including panoramic views of the new town and surrounding countryside before heading back down the hill to check the motorcycle store we had seen on the way up. It was closed but satisfied some of Sam’s needs. Sam also wanted to walk by the stream so we parked in town and walked back over one bridge and returned by the other to look for a way down to the rocky shore of the stream. Majella and Sam scrambled down onto the rocks but had to come back by an alternate route because Majella had spotted a small snake.
We then walked around town looking for somewhere to eat. After rejecting some options because of ambience, mostly drinkers and smokers, or cuisine, we took the only available option, the Dodo Grill, where we each had salads of various kinds. Sam had a mixed salad which comprised egg, tomato, more lettuce than he preferred and a larger amount of mustard than suited his taste. He managed to eat all the lettuce after negotiating a deal with Majella to get dessert if he did. Majella’s salad had cheese. Mine had two kinds of local cheese, including ‘blue’, and local ham. All were good and sufficient to satisfy us. After dinner we headed back to the hotel and a well deserved rest.