I was glad to turn away from the canal in the direction of Escalantes. My waterproof’s turned out to be not so waterproof and the rain was beginning to make little inlets through. My bike wasn’t fairing too well either,turning speedily from yellow to brown, as the tow path became a mud bath in places.
(the section of canal near Escalantes on a nicer day)
I had also experienced my third puncture and had a hard job getting the tyre off as my hands kept slipping on the wet rubber …I was very near to tears and maybe even shed a few but perhaps they were just raindrops running down my cheeks.
I cycled into the main square and there it was,… My haven ,My shelter…
I approached the main door apprehensively and rang the large bell.
A loud clanging reverberated through the building.
I waited patiently as the rain dripped into my shoes ,and was about to ring a second time when I heard the faint click clack of shoes.
The clacking got louder and louder and at last door was opened by a tall slightly frazzled looking elderly woman, her hair was a mess and she was wearing a dressing gown.
She didn’t look at all surprised to see me and before I had a chance to enquire about the possibility of a vacancy she motioned me inside.
‘But my bike’? I asked nervously in my best French .’Shall I bring it around the back.’?
‘Non non. Vien! Vien! , Le velo aussi’
Hoping I had understood her correctly, I pushed my bike through the door and followed her down a wide corridor dripping rain and mud all the way down the black and white tiled floor .
She was walking so fast I had to trot to keep up and barely had time to take in the old paintings on the walls and the beautiful antique’s on the various cupboards and tables that lined the corridor.
She took a sharp right and we slithered to a halt. She opened a door ..
‘This is your room. You can bring your bike in (I looked at the pristine Turkish carpet) or you may also leave it in the coach house.’ She nodded towards a pair of French doors which opened into a large courtyard beautifully laid out with shrubbery.
A folly was set in the centre with vine’s growing over the roof. A table and chairs were placed under the vines and my gaze, following her pointing finger, fell on the door of the coach house.
Built from sand coloured stone it lay in shadow of the vast yard.
(below is a photo of the double door’s leading to the coach yard)
‘You may swim in the swimming pool beyond. Its heated’, She looked through the window at the rain, ‘well’ she shrugged in a very French manner, shoulders reaching her strands of wispy hair, her mouth forming a moue. ‘maybe not’ and she shot off.
I was still standing bewilderedly clutching the handlebars of the yellow bike when her head reappeared around the corner…’Drinks are served at 7.30 pm and we don’t do meals’.
I waited till I could no longer hear her clacking heels then I propped the bike against the wall and looked around the dim room.
I stifled a scream. A woman was standing staring at me from the shadow’s beside the window. It took a moment or two for me to realise it was a mannequin, dressed in traditional clothing. I walked over bravely and turned its gaze away from me and out the tall window.
Through that window I could see the sky getting brighter and pulling the curtain fully open the sunlight streamed in…The rain had stopped ! The sun was out.
I was now looking out across the town square.
The Plane tree’s were neatly coppiced and over in the corner was a war memorial. I could just make out lines of names. The square had an air of gloomy defeat and was empty except for a small boy cycling his bike in circles. His red jumper brightening up the square.
I turned my attention back to my room.
A large bed fit for a princess
Some tables holding ,what appeared to my eye, to be very valuable antiques.
I creaked open the doors of the huge Armoire in the corner ,more to make sure that there were no other surprises hidden , than curiosity.
A waft of fresh lavender hit me and row’s of crisp white linen ,some thread bare but of obvious quality, met my gaze.
I shut the door happy that there were no skeleton’s lurking there.
Time for that swim.
Relieving my bike of its panniers and basket, I grabbed my swimming togs and a towel and pushing the bike headed out into the sun.
In the coach house (which was also filled with antiques but these being Victorian children’s prams , rocking horses , then saddles and bridles, even an old carriage fully restored.)I left my bike beside two blue bikes propped haphazardly against the wall.
The pool was warm and I swam the length and back with such pleasure. My leg was in its element and I realized I hadn’t thought of my cancer or surgery or treatment for days now. A good sign I suspect, I was obviously well on the mend.
Heading back across the courtyard I heard voices coming from the coach house. Two women were standing examining my bike, and discussing it in length in Dutch.
‘Goed dag’ I smiled as I passed by. They turned towards me in surprise. ‘ You are Dutch.? the taller of the two( I will call her Anja) asked. I explained that I had been married to a Dutch man for twenty years so yes did speak some.
‘We were admiring your bike’ The other woman (who I will refer to as Anna)exclaimed. ‘Where are you heading to? or better still, where are you coming from?’
Well! As like minded women do, we fell into easy conversation changing from English to Dutch and back to English again and wandered back into the house, Anja leading the way.
She seemed to know the ropes so we let her take charge and soon we were curled up comfortably in the large armchairs of a vast sitting room.
‘This is our second day here’ Her voice became muffled as she got down on her hands and knees and began to root in a low cupboard .
‘Ha here we are’ she peered into a tin ‘Almond galettes! My favourite!’
She laid the tin on a coffee table. and turned to pour tea from a pot sitting on a stand and kept warm by a tea light.
I looked nervously over my shoulder expecting to see Madame bearing down on us crossly at any minute.
‘Don’t worry ‘Anja saw my anxious look ‘ She has gone to the Hairdressers in preparation for the drinks tonight…you are coming to the drinks ?
She must have seen my doubtful expression.
‘Oh you can’t miss the ‘drinks’ Ana pleaded ,
‘An unforgettable experience and not one to be missed’
They glanced at each other and laughed.
At 7.30 I stood outside the door gathering the courage to go in.
I could hear an Imperious voice inside.
Drawing a deep breath, I pressed down handle and took the plunge.
It took me a few seconds to recognise the glamorous well coiffed woman in a linen suit. Her neck and ears adorned in large pearls and a slash of red lipstick across her mouth.
I could only pray that my mouth didn’t drop open.
‘Ha! the Irish woman ,come in and find a seat’ She instructed haughtily
It was like being back in school and I sat as near to the back of the room as I could and what a room It was.
Ornate gilded ceilings , Florentine murals of naked nymphs bathing in wood land pools. Chinese vases of gigantic proportions and amongst all this grandeur a small man scuttled.
Between the overstuffed sofas and arm chairs and coffee tables laden with bowls of nuts and olive, he wended his way, pouring drinks for the other guests(I counted six other couples balanced nervously on the edges of their sofa’s all looking very uncomfortable).
The two Dutch women were seated bravely up near the front . They waved down at me and Anja patted the space beside her, but I shook my head shyly, I felt safe where I was.
Monsieur approached and asked me gently in French what I would like to drink. I looked around wildly for a clue. Madame’s glass was filled to the brim with something amber coloured which she was downing rather speedily.
Everyone else was drinking something clear. ‘A gin and tonic maybe’ the voice at my elbow urged…I nodded gratefully.
If Monsieur was Madame’s husband then he was everything she was not. Small in stature, his rumpled clothes hung on his skinny frame. He had a kind smile and a whispery voice.
Meanwhile Madame was in her element… She was holding a complete monologue in French, her loud voice ringing out across the room
Everyone was nodding, I presume in agreement as I tried frantically to understand the jist of the conversation.
Every now and again she would fire a question at someone and as they did their best to answer she would soon shoot them down.
I sipped away at my strong gin and tonic, noticing that Monsieur was refilling Madame’s quite frequently and as she droned on she began to tilt to one side.
As that tilt got more noticeable he went and sat beside her, leaning into her, all the time smiling at us benignly untill he was the one at a slant and she appeared to be sitting upright.
I must have drifted off because I woke with a start. The two duch women were standing up and gathering their bags at the same time and, in perfect French, they were explaining to madame that they had a reservation booked for dinner in the resturant across the road. ‘Pfffff’ Hissed Madame nearly knocking her husband to the floor. ‘Go! Enjoy your meal’ and she turned back to her other victim’s.
somehow I didn’t think she meant it.
Anja singled to me frantically
I stood up and clearing my throat stammered ‘moi aussi Madame’. and was out the door after the two women before Madame had a chance to reply
We ran across the village square laughing and giggling like school girls and down a side street. Anja pushed open the door of a cafe and we Handed ourselves over to the young handsome waiter.
‘I don’t think it will be herself who will serve breakfast in the morning’ i laughed as we ate our delicious sea bream and sipped Sancerre.’ Now why would you think that?’.said Anja. ‘Poor monsieur how does he do it?’
Little by little the other couples wandered in sheepishly and plonked themselves down with obvious relief.
The waiter grinned from ear to ear..I would guess he knew what our laughter was about.
(Next day we parted company, Anja and Ana heading west and I heading east).