A leisurely start to the day with a short walk to the post office to send some more postcards, then a wander round the huge and excellent Saturday market in Place St Patrice. Lots of lovely fresh veg and the biggest paella dish I’ve ever seen, busy cooking a dozen whole chickens. If we lived in Bayeux this is where I would shop every week.
Monsieur Lanchou ordered a cab at breakfast to pick us up and drive us to the station so with “au revoirs” and “tres bonnes merci“s aplenty, we left for our next stop – Lisieux.
Not such plain sailing; staying in Bayeux for a few nights has softened us up. The train to Caen (where we had to change) was very new and also very small. An ad in the window stated, quite cheerfully “Une classe unique pour un confort unique“: they forgot to add one carriage for all and one door working for all. It was very crowded and made Mirinda very cross. Ah, but worse lay ahead!
We arrived at Caen to an enormous crowd moving through the underpass. It was pure luck that made us turn right, towards platform A – like Italy, the indicators on French platforms are not very good – and our connecting local train. The escalator to the platform was out of order but, instead of leaving it open and accessible to walking passengers, some genius had blocked it, leaving the masses to try squeezing up a one person width staircase beside it. Fortunately it was JUST wide enough for me and the two bags. Our train sat waiting and we clambered aboard.
So far in France we’ve travelled on SNFC trains, this one to Lisieux looks like a local one and, apart from the non-slamming doors, could be South West trains stock. The most exciting part of the trip was when Mirinda spotted the train guard fine a Frenchman for smoking in the toilet!
And now starts the worst holiday day I’ve had since being attacked by Bali belly back in ’74. It started innocently enough at the fancy café at Lisieux station. We ordered baguettes, tea and beer, as we had some time to waste because the car rental office is closed until 2pm. Like all insidious things, I knew nothing about my predicament for a while. We jumped in a taxi that took us to Europcar with the driver saying ‘kelpie’ at us – Mirinda worked out that this meant “Where are you from?” and she then said in excellent French “in Australia ‘kelpie’ is a dog.” This made him laugh but I’m not sure if he knew why. Perhaps he picked up on her improved accent.
We had to wait for the cleaner to wash the rental office floor before going through the rigmarole always associated with taking charge of someone else’s Renault Clio. Finally we swung out into the traffic, Mirinda’s sense of perception sorely tested. Mind you, she did extremely well and I didn’t notice her opening the window instead of changing gears once.
As we approached Friardel (just outside Orbec) I started to feel a bit ill, my tummy decidedly unhappy. We found the house of the owner of the gite who then directed us next door to our accommodation for the next week. Then we met Marion James.
She reminded me of Gimlet with a Brummy accent. She had an amazing capacity for talk. Unfortunately virtually everything she uttered related to finding the cheapest everything everywhere.
Eventually she left and I raced upstairs and managed to empty my stomach down the smelly toilet. Rather than on the dirty floor. It’s been a long time since I’ve vomited on this scale. It was violent and convincing and I felt much better afterwards.
After washing my face we jumped in the Clio to go grocery and supply shopping in Orbec. It looked like a nice town. We parked by a big church (Notre Dame) and walked back along the main street looking for Ed’s Supermarket (Marion: “You won’t find anywhere cheaper than Ed’s. Cheap. Even the wine is cheap.”) I lasted about 5 minutes amid the smells of Le Mutant, a Franklin’s type supermarket, before my stomach ordered me outside into the fresh air. I walked up and down a bit and the feeling gradually subsided. We then visited a fruit and veg shop then a patisserie.
Feeling better in the air, I walked back to the Clio and waited for Mirinda. I was decidedly green. Anyone with a weak stomach may want to skip this next bit.
There was a hole in the garden across the car-park which would have been perfect for how I felt except for the camper-van full of camper-van people watching every suspicious move I made. I found a public toilet and leapt for the handle, relief flooding through me like I wanted to flood the toilet. The door was locked. I swallowed my relief and wandered back to the car.
I sat outside the church in the breeze, waiting for Mirinda and watched a fully frocked priest wander back and forth, waving incense and giving me last rites. Mirinda asked how I was but answering was a bit difficult. In the car once more, we started down the main street.
Orbec main street is very narrow in parts and a car parked on one side means a car coming along the road is going to have to stop. I know this because as we reached the most crowded part of Orbec, an old man with a metal walking stick decided to open his door and struggle to get out. At about this time my stomach decided it would be a good idea to throw up on him.
Fortunately Mirinda drove by and I think I just hit the road. Oh, and the side of the car. We turned a corner and Mirinda stopped so I could finish embarrassing myself. Now my loving wife decided there was something uncontrollably funny about my predicament and laughed a lot.
Back at our gite I fell into the bed (and I use the term loosely; bed, not fell) as Mirinda ranted and railed about how filthy the place was and how we should go home immediately. I said she should give me ten minutes to recover and I’d clean everything up. Eventually she came to bed and I dried her tears as best I could in my state of death.
And then, like some angel of comedy, Marion James knocked on the door and regaled Mirinda with the number of cheap things it is possible to buy in France. I overheard (in and out of my delirium so not sure if I was dreaming) how the French don’t have slow cookers, toasters or much foreign wine (well, what a surprise!). As they left for a trip to the ‘big house’ Marion was explaining how corn flour is so expensive, she uses instant mashed potato to thicken her stews. How expensive can corn flour be? Oh, and custard is cheaper in France.
Mirinda was gone a couple of hours and was filled with stories of bargains. I suffered as well, though quietly. Eventually she returned and said Marion was so funny (unintentionally) that she made up for the place being so dirty and cheap and we might stay after all.
At some stage I went to sleep.