France, at least the departments we happened to drive through, seemed to be on school holiday and winter hibernation. Many of the stores and houses were shuttered during business hours. Not too many people walking the narrow streets. The comment "sleepy little town, eh" was repeated quite a bit. Some hotels and restaurants were simply closed for the winter, we were told. RocAmadour, in Lot, is apparently one of the most visited towns in France but felt more like a western ghost town than tourist hub/trap when we passed through. Not such a bad thing.
Also on the plus side there were not any tour buses idling in front of sites, or grinding up swichbacks, or crowds -- and we generally had no problem finding gites on a walk-in basis. Off season travel is quite nice as long as you don't need to see flowers in full bloom, or whales migrating through a strait, or vines full of grapes. In fact, I don't ever recall going to Europe during peak/summer season. Odd...
So... here are our chambres des hotes along the way.
Alvignac - Not much to look at this time of year, but clean and pleasant inside. A bit tricky to find amongst narrow farm lanes. The very friendly proprietor is a great cook. Best cooked meal so far - potato-leek soup and canard. SJD had an omelet with walnuts. Sounds a bit funny, but it was tasty.
Sarlat - Good location for walking around the town center. The house forms part of the old rampart of this medieval city, with owners not quite as old. Nice garden out back. The house was filled with a bunch of dusty antiques that we were afraid to touch.
Perhaps the nicest place we stayed. A huge house near the "sleepy little town" center of Mer. Quite a ways up some narrow curling stairs. A really scary flush toilet that sounded like a space shuttle launch. Nice view of the nuclear reactor cooling towers as well as another old church. Otherwise nice.
Eventually we rolled back into Paris only to spend the next three hours attempting to return the rental car at the Gare Montparnasse. Oh what fun it was circling the block, double parking, looking for a "Budget" sign. Eventually, we ditched the car in the 5th level of a an unmarked garage before trekking back over into the Gare looking for anyone with a "Budget" name tag. The customer agent was not miffed or surprised at our story. Only concerned whether or not we had left the tank on F.
I looked at her square in the eyes and gave her a nice stern, "oui" before SJD could spill the beans that the tank was actually 15/16ths full.
"No. Listen. The tank is f-u-l-l." Any more questions? "Oh, and here is the key. The car is located across the street in the basement of the garage. Merci. Au revoir." Actually, the tank was full before we started the round the block odyssey.
Eventually we made it back to the hotel to freshen up before heading out on one last scavenger hunt for items to take back to Ghana. Oh just cheese, chocolate, wine and sausage as well as a few snacks just in case we got stuck in Lagos, Nigeria again. More on the "AGAIN" part of Lagos later.
All is well that ends well. France never disappoints me. It was a nice time of year to get away with SJD. We're now back in Accra sweating away those glorious added calories without even lifting a finger. Perhaps the urge to exercise will overcome us.