The beaches were all private; that came as a shock. Half of the party objected to an entry fee for a beach on principal; the other half felt that it was a perfectly acceptable way to spend a day, once they had worked out the logistics of the thing. In the end they had a whale of a time; why would they not. One beach had jolly little a fun park; wild horses couldn’t drag them away from it.
We had seen the road train make its way around the flatter parts of the lake shore a few times, but we had always missed it: we were either waiting for the loo, or playing on the pirate ship. Until, at last we made it. We bounced and we rattled as it took us along the footpaths and the shore, from one end to the other, and back again. We waved at the people we passed, and they waved back.
Every corner had another ice cream shop, and every ice cream shop had a new set of flavours for us to try. Every fruit and sweet stuff imaginable was there, laid out before us: we started at the more conservative end of the spectrum, but adventurousness got the better of us, and soon we were ordering combinations of flavours inconceivable to the funny little ice cream huts we had at home.
The sky bruised overhead, casting an ominous darkness over the mid-day lake. It was hot and the air was thick, as we stood on the bridge, leading from les Jardins de l’Europe: Pont des Amours. Black skies do not mix well with shorts and sandals; we were here for ice creams and French pizza, not running away from the rain. The trees would never provide sufficient cover for what lay overhead.
We travelled across the lake and found that the beaches were mini resorts, filled with spoiled brats and unconcerned parents. Teenagers running in packs; toddlers paddling in pools; boys jumping competitively in to warm rocky waters. Our daughter was oblivious to the socialites surrounding us on all sides. We counted down the minutes until the next boat back to the tranquillity of Annecy.
The boat zoomed from small town to small town; each jetty was awash with groups of children with inflatables, the boats transporting the tourists clearly an annoyance. They paused their frolicking to hide in the little hut for a moment, while we got on or off. Then, as soon as our wake had died away, they jumped back in the lake; all the better to enjoy such a blisteringly hot summer’s day.
We are uniformly crap at making decisions, so we plan. We are particularly bad about making any kind of decision when it comes to deciding upon where to eat, so we plan that doubly hard. On the first night there we had planned to eat at an Italian restaurant we had identified. Of course that was the only day of the week it was closed. We stalked the town looking for somewhere to eat, with cafes and restaurants closing all the time. Panic set in; we had run out of alternatives; it was late.
We all had differing opinions on which direction the centre of the town was in. We all had differing opinions on what we should be doing that day. My mother-in-law stalked off up the hill in search of either an answer or some kind of respite from me. I hauled a recalcitrant child up a hill to nowhere.
In the end we settled on a kebab shop, by what may or may not have been an open gutter. It was a little river which ran under one window of our airless flat. We tried hard to work out the menu, and what we could pick out for a picky eater. She only wanted chips. That said, once the chicken, the chips and the ice cold beer worked its way in to us it was like magic. Poor surroundings; rich relief.
Reaching the top of the path was an achievement. Doubly so for the fact that we had no intention of going inside the castle which the path led to. That was for other people, not us. We looked through windows in the ground to the levels below, and caught up with our bottles of water. More to see.
I had no idea what was under my foot, and I was failing badly at the task of putting it out of my mind. I could feel sand and soil and hard, sharp rocks, but I could also feel fibres and some indistinct, unaccountable softness, squidging through my toes. Peals of laughter rang all about as we played in the warm water. I may have been uncomfortable, but my daughter was having the time of her life.
Walking through the streets of a town or a city in a foreign land – even one as similar to my home as France is – is always a simple thrill for me. I don’t just feed on the differences of the place: the ways in which the buildings are constructed and the signs on the buildings; I also love the sensation of freedom which comes with it all. Naturally I am out of my normal routine; on holiday or away for business: there are fewer pressures and responsibilities on me when I am somewhere else.
There was an old town and a new town; we were far more interested in the old town to the extent that we were barely interested in the new town at all. We understood that it was there, and that there would be amenities there which we would find useful, should we seek them out. But that was not the holiday we were looking to have: we wanted to walk through ancient streets and past the effects of time on the lives of people: churches, wells, bridges. We wanted to touch old stones.
I knew that the café would come in handy when I first saw it. I was wearing shorts and sandals, and a big sheet of plastic. I looked massively ridiculous and I did not care. I was about to get very wet, so I knew that a cup of French hot chocolate would be the order of the day at the end of the walk up and through the gorge. The heat of the air meant that we could have had ice cream, but no: Hot Chocolate.
I mean we ate in the same restaurant twice: that is not like us at all. It was safe and it was secure; it was known and it was friendly. There was enough about it that was local, but it was undeniably there for the tourists. Italo-French dishes of comforting carbs; who could possibly argue with that?