Monday, 25 July 2011

Stage 2: Lille to Bordeaux

We had a little over an hour in Lille, before departing from a nearby station for Bordeaux. It was far too soon after breakfast to be eating lunch, but we had to think about the issue nevertheless.

Since I'd decided not to make and bring a picnic, and we knew just how poor French train food is, The Other Half had suggested that we make our way between the stations via a substantial shopping centre, where there'd be bound to be some sort of food shop.

We found a Carrefour - one of France's main supermarket chains - and leaving The Other Half to look after the bags, I set off in search of appropriate vittals.

The place was vast - i've only been in smaller ones. Two things struck me.

First, the amount of separate counters selling deli products - and likewise, the enormous wet fish counter. Second, neither the supermarket nor the rest of the centre were rammed, as you'd probably expect at noon on a Saturday in the UK.

I bought a small baguette each, packs of mortadella and saussicon, a box of grapes and two little fruit desserts. And that was another thing - the amount of the fruit and veg that was from France itself was beyond what you'd expect in a similar store back across the Channel.

Lilles Flandres - as opposed to Lille Europe, which was built especially for the Eurostar - was just nearby.

We picked up bottled water - and sophisticated French reading matter for me -and waited until the platform was announced, just beating the rain as we made it to our TGV carriage and settled in for the five-hour journey to Bordeaux.

Or put another way, what should have been a five-hour journey. Because after a short while, the train had slowed right down. I couldn't quite catch the reason, but by the time we had arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport, we were an hour behind time.

Still, what can you do? Get the food out, pop the headphones in and sit back and watch a movie. In this case, it was To Catch a Thief, with Cary Grant at his most sauve.

Finally, we pulled beyond Paris and starting getting up a head of steam, as the clouds started to break up, leaving a hint of the hoped for blue.

Flat, flat farm land passed by; fields of pale gold and dusty green; forests of white wind turbines on the horizon, sunlit against a still grey sky. This was new territory.

When the scenery changes, it's to gently rolling, wooded hills, with red-brown cows grazing contentedly.

We cross the Loire not far from Tours: geekery has it's advantages - or perhaps it's more a case of geekish toys having their advantages. I can use the satellite maps location utility on my mobile phone to work out exactly where I am.

The changing scenery is one of the things that makes train travel so enjoyable. The physical changes - low, flat land or hills - are accompanied in a country that still grows so much by signs of changing crops. Bright yellow fields now add an occasional touch to the patchwork.

I never cease to be fascinated by the journey down the other side of the country, where there is such an obvious demarcation between 'The North' and 'The South' - not simply of one country, but of the continent, revealed within that country.

After the northernness of the Rhône Valley, it's all change at Lyon. The language of the land changes. The colours change too, and the architecture.

So travelling south on the opposite side of the country, I wonder what we will see; if the change will be as dramatic as that to the east.

France is also the first country, outside the UK, that I have travelled this widely in, and it gives you an increasingly complex picture and sense of a place.

In fact, you start to see the change a little way before Poitiers. It's not as in-your-face, nearing-the-Mediterranean as on that other route, but it's the nonetheless.

The colours all seem a little more saturated. The buildings have changed; many now have pale walls and red, tiled roofs.

And beyond Poitiers, by the time we hit Angouléme, south west of Cognac - yes, there really is such a place - it is quite definitely the south. And for us, as we near the day's destination, an increasing sense of Intrigue as to just what Bordeaux will be like.

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