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Smallville: Conflict In France

..."You'll never eat that.'' Margaret stared as I came to terms with the large platter of sauerkraut accompanied by three large sausages, one red, one white and the other a delicate pink, topped by a solitary boiled potato...

Peter B Farrell is nearing the end of his holiday in France. For earlier episodes of his holiday adventures click on Smallville in the menu column on the right-hand side of this page. Peter writes with so much enthusiasm that you wish you had been with him for every mile, and meal, along the way - even when an unwelcomed plate of sauerkraut appeared on the table.

“About 80 miles to Caen, so it should be an easy day.“ My brother Kev calculated the penultimate leg of our journey. I could sense he was coming into his element with the prospect of seeing the Normandy Invasion beaches and avoiding the Bayeaux tapestry.

There was soon evidence of wartime conflict as we approached Falaise.

“The birthplace of William the Conqueror, also the site of the Battle of the Falaise Gap in August 1944,” I read from the guidebook.

A tour of Le Château Guillaume le Conquérant required earphones and remote control to activate a commentary with music. Each room had a continuous sequence with virtual images that had a soporific effect. After visiting the battle of Château-Gaillard I had to battle to keep awake.

A gift shop sold souvenirs, including a number of miniature musical boxes each playing a different piece of music, from “My way“ to “La Marseillaise“. Kev and I accosted the assistant with a view to identifying the song of La Résistance.

“Da da da, da da, da da, da da, da da.” We gave a reasonable impression of the tune, which he recognised.

“Très populaire en France.” Unfortunately he had no idea what it was called and we left this impressive historical display without a musical box.

“Caen’s ahead and it’s the market tomorrow,” Diana informed Margaret. It could be the biggest market in the world, so better be prepared. Would we have to invest in a roof rack?

“If you just sit in the park we’ll have a look round and find a hotel.“ Diana’s solution was more than acceptable and Margaret and I relaxed in the sunshine watching the boules while she and Kev searched out suitable accommodation. To no avail; she returned later with the news that the centre of Caen was booked up.

“It may be better on the outskirts.“ We drove through the town centre only to get caught up in a traffic jam.

“Over there.“ Kev had spotted a shadowy alleyway with a neon sign indicating a bar and restaurant with holiday rooms to let. Pulling out of the traffic and mounting the pavement we left the car and entered the bar. Diana quickly negotiated terms for an overnight stay with breakfast after seeking out the owner.

“Vous avez la chambre dix, au premiere étage.“ This was from Diana who was testing my ability to communicate at an elementary level. We carried the luggage upstairs to the rather austere accommodation, which had recently been decorated. The ‘artist’ had apparently got carried away with the paint roller and managed to paint the whole bedroom, including walls, lampshades and dressing table with the same colour and grain effect. Luckily the TV was securely screwed at ceiling height and had avoided the same treatment.

“Shower or bath?” Margaret’s first priority.

“Well, if this is a bath... .” I wasn’t sure, the square structure in the centre of the bathroom would require some negotiation with very little legroom; agility would be the key. Not to worry, we‘d be home in a couple of days.

The touring schedule had taken its toll and our intention for a few minutes rest with eyes closed, turned into a deep two-hour sleep.

“I’ll give Kev and Diana a knock. They might want to have a look round the town.” I had awoken, but what room were they in? I confidently went to make enquiries of the concierge.

“Pardon, m’sieur...”

After about 10 minutes of conversation the concierge appeared to be in the throes of an apoplectic fit.

“Complet, complet.” He shouted.

"Yes, I understand the hotel is full but...''

My attempt at “Quatre personnes arrivons aujourdhui, ma femme et moi avons la chambre dix. Ou sont les autres?” was translated as a ploy for smuggling an extra two people into our room thereby cheating him out of £60 or €85 euros. The haranguing went on until luckily Kev appeared; a combination of pointing at the reservation book and identifying ourselves helped to pacify the concierge.

“I should stick to pointing at the menu tonight.” Margaret showed no sympathy as we left the hotel for a stroll around the town before the evening meal.

Caen had taken the brunt of the allied bombardment after the Normandy landings in 1944 leaving most of the town in ruins. It had subsequently been rebuilt with wide boulevards and fine buildings, but parts of the medieval battlements remained. We walked to the highest point for a good view over the town.

Our chosen restaurant was a popular one, but we managed to find a table on the edge of the pavement. A group of transvestites or female impersonators were touring round the street restaurants and blowing loud klaxons. Luckily they concentrated on the next table where a group of young men were celebrating and thankfully we were ignored.

After a long time reading the menu I decided on a change from the duck or seafood. Following the obligatory first course of salad - and in an adventurous mood - I selected a main course, which I translated as pork with some form of potatoes; perhaps french-fries?

“You’ll never eat that.“ Margaret stared as I came to terms with the large platter of sauerkraut accompanied by three large sausages, one red, one white and the other a delicate pink, topped by a solitary boiled potato. It was hard to think of when I had a worse meal, perhaps in remote Turkey in 1965. I made a valiant attempt but my eyes were soon watering and I gave up.

“Have a chip;“ from Kev.

“Try some duck,“ from Diana.

“Prawn?” From Margaret. My shortcomings with the language had been exposed yet again.

“Glace, s’il vous plé.” Ice cream was a safe choice for dessert and went some way to make up for the disastrous sauerkraut and I resolved to carry the Collins French-English dictionary with me in future.

After settling l’addition we made our way back to the hotel, sadly tomorrow would be our last full day in France.

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