Concert on the balcony

There’s a lovely lake just 5 minutes walk from where I live. It seems to be the cultural hub of St Paul, hosting all sorts of events throughout the year, from vide greniers (car boots) and art exhibitions to firework displays and triathlons. When I went for a walk around the lake this week, there were barriers being erected, along with a large stage, drinking water sources and signs to the toilets; I’d noticed posters for a music event this weekend – “Tempos du Monde”. I vaguely thought about having a walk down to see what went on, but it’s a ticketed event, so I forgot about it.

On Friday afternoon, sewing in my workshop, the window open to let in the lovely, cooler air that’s finally arrived (it’s been up to 41°C most of the week), I could hear music. The various bands were obviously doing their sound checks, some reggae, some African beats, all perfectly audible from where I sat.

So once things got started in the evening, I smothered myself in mosquito repellent, poured a glass of wine, grabbed my book and headed out onto the balcony to listen to the free concert. Life could be a lot worse!

Dax fête

Once upon a time, according to legend, there was a Roman legionnaire who arrived in Dax with his elderly canine companion. The dog suffered from rheumatism and walked so slowly that the soldier left him in Dax while he went off to do whatever it was Roman legionnaires did, coming back for his old friend a while later. In his absence the dog had been rolling in the mud on the banks of the river and such were the health giving properties of the mud that the dog’s rheumatism was completely cured.

Dax has been well known as a spa town for a long time now, though whether it dates back to Roman times, I couldn’t tell you. The town’s other claim to fame is its annual fête, held over four days around August 15th, the second largest in the south west of France, beaten only by Bayonne. 

I thought it’d be rude not to take a look.

The first thing that struck me as I approached the town was how wrong my clothes were; almost everybody else was dressed in white and red. There were stalls on the roadsides, selling shorts, tee-shirts, neckerchiefs, scarves, all in white and red.

I could see a large crowd by the side of the river, so went to see what was happening. It was the opening ceremony; groups of people were dressed up as all kinds of Romans; soldiers, dancing girls, elders from the forum, camp followers….. There were battles re-enacted between the Romans and the Gauls, then Caesar and his wife appeared, riding in a chariot. It seems that normally they arrive by boat, but the water level in the river was too low this year.

I walked into Dax for three of the four days, dressed appropriately, having unearthed white shorts, a white and red tee shirt from the back of the wardrobe, as well as a pair of red earrings. The bull fighting events didn’t interest me, but the stalls showing various aspects of local history and traditional local crafts were fascinating. In the area around the arènes were several big marquees, all of which were restaurants, catering to the thousands of hungry visitors. I didn’t want a sit down meal, but treated myself to an excellent cone of chicken kebab and chips from one of the many fast food vans.

On the last two days there was the “grand défilé”, or procession. Groups of musicians and dancers from numerous countries, as well as locals and the inevitable Bandas bands, join in this event, all dressed in traditional costume. There were Mexicans in sombreros,  Spaniards in flamenco costumes, Scots in kilts, playing bagpipes, Ecuadorians, Basques and lots of others. One of the Bandas bands apparently choose a theme each year, dress up and play music appropriately; their theme this year was Charles and Camilla. The musicians all dressed up as beefeaters and played “Land of Hope and Glory” while the “King and Queen” were pulled along in a chariot.

There were all sorts of events, from a competition to see who could kick a rugby ball the furthest across the river (they’re rugby mad around here), to stilt dancing and initiation into walking with the traditional stilts, used by shepherds when the land was mostly marsh. There seemed to be bands playing in many of the bars and the atmosphere was great.

I was advised by several people only to go in the daytime; apparently the nights get quite wild. Certainly in the mornings there were plenty of cars parked all over the place, windows and/or doors open, full of sleeping bodies and certain parts of the town smelt distinctly unsavoury.

A very interesting few days, though I wouldn’t like to have to clean up after it.

Train travel hell

It won’t go down as the best holiday I’ve ever had. I went to Harrogate for two weeks, supposedly to help Alex with childcare, but it wasn’t destined to work out well.

Between a bad back, requiring two visits to see the osteopath and a stinking cold which left me feeling like death warmed up, I wasn’t a lot of use to anybody!
I’d forgotten how awful the weather can be; it rained almost every day of my stay and was so cold that I had to buy extra clothes, my summer clothes staying in the bottom of my case.

The journey back to Manchester airport was one I’ll long remember; originally I’d booked a train from Leeds on the morning of my flight home, but decided it wasn’t fair to ask anyone to get me to Leeds by 6am, so tried to book an Airbnb in Manchester for Thursday night; my Airbnb account wouldn’t work, so Alex booked for me.
I booked trains to Manchester; the previous evening I heard that the Leeds-Manchester train had been cancelled, in fact four of the six trains around rush hour were cancelled! Great!

Graham took me to the station in Harrogate, only to learn that that leg of my journey was also cancelled. Never mind, I’d have time on the following train to make the later, running, connection to Manchester. I got to Leeds station, lugged my bags to the platform on the far side and waited. There were so many people, how would we all get on one train? There was an announcement; our train, running late, would actually leave from another platform, so I heaved my bags up and down the stairs with everyone else. Finally it arrived, already fairly full. I’m not good at pushing to the front and it was obvious that I wouldn’t get into the nearest carriage, so I started walking along the train; every doorway was crammed with people. I got to the end, very small, carriage with a few others and we squeezed our way in, nearly 30 of us in a carriage with only six seats.

After a very uncomfortable ride as far as Huddersfield, people began to get off. I was by far the oldest person in the carriage and was very grateful when a young man kindly offered me a seat that had been vacated.
Finally we arrived in Manchester, just one more train, then a short walk to the BnB. But instead of taking me directly down the main road, Google told me to take small roads through a housing estate; I was soon totally lost! After asking a few people I found the BnB; my host had gone out as I was so late, but left me keys, so I let myself in. I’m not entirely convinced the sheets had been washed, but was too tired to do anything other than crash, very relieved that I’d booked my host to take me to the airport the following morning. That evening I had another email from the train company, letting me know that the morning train I’d originally reserved had also been cancelled! What a complete farce!

I’d planned to take the train from Bordeaux back to Dax, but was so pleased when Kieran offered to come to pick me up instead, saving me the hassle of taking the tram into the centre of Bordeaux.

The holiday did have its good moments, however, meeting up with friends, two of whom are coming to visit me in November,  and spending time with my gorgeous, talented granddaughters (and Alex and Graham, of course), even if I could do much less than I’d planned. Immy and I went to York one day and I managed a short walk around Stainburn with Graham. I also got quite a few books read, so not all bad. Next time will be better 🤞