April 23, 2009 GMT

Rather a lot has happened after the last post, which is part of why I haven't written anything in a while (the other part being that rural France doesn't have much wifi kicking around, and I've been a bit busy to go looking for internet cafés, which are also few and far between).

I woke up on the morning of Easter Sunday to find myself mostly still surrounded by wet things. The chambre d'hote was very swish, but didn't have much in the way of heating! Mind you, given that it was still pissing it down, starting off dry would have been a nice luxury but not something that was going to last. So I packed up, and carted the first load down (bumping into the owner on the way – I think he thought I was trying to do a runner!). Came back, paid up, carted the second load down, unlocked the disc lock, kitted myself up, put the key in the ignition...and only then did I notice that the clock display wasn't telling any time at all. The new, expensive battery Honda had sold me was completely and utterly flat. In the rain. On Easter Sunday.

So it was back on the phone to Carole Nash, who this time were convinced I own a Harley and live in Taunton. Amazingly they still decided to provide me with breakdown cover (thank goodness!), so I settled down on the bench outside Bruniquel's tourist office. Bruniquel is quite resolutely closed at lunchtimes and in fact for most of the afternoon, but I was amazed at their lack of dedication to bank holidays, as both the tourist office and the shop were open on Easter Sunday, the latter manned by a friendly football fan who is desperate to visit Ukraine (apparently because of football, some of you may understand the connection, I don't!).

A couple of hours later my recovery man turned up in a bright green van. After informing me that it was impossible to kill a Transalp, he concluded that there wasn't much he could do and loaded it into the back, while I tried to figure out where I wanted to go – luckily he was used to dealing with breakdown people and informed me that Axa would pay for a taxi to take me anywhere I needed to be! Which was helpful, as the only place he could take me was Montauban, which I'd already done, and I was going to be stranded for at least 2 days.

So the bike headed off to Montauban, to another Honda dealer, while I waited for a taxi to Cahors, the only place I could usefully fill two days. The taxi driver was another biker, who had recently swapped his bike for a jetski, which he showed me pictures of on his phone as we raced at insane speeds through pouring rain. He also informed me that it was impossible to kill a Honda of any description.

Cahors may be a large town, and presumably something of a tourist attraction as all its hotels were full or nearly, but its tourist office is resolutely closed on anything resembling a Sunday, bank holiday, or in fact any time when people might actually want to visit the place. So I checked out a few restaurants (a lot of which were also closed at varyious mealtimes, so scheduling became of utmost importance), some hotels and the cathedral. Eventually Tuesday, day of revelations, dawned.

I rang the garage, and was relieved to hear that they did in fact have my bike, though not so reassured to hear that they couldn't do anything at all until the battery was fully charged (it seems Honda dealers don't do cross-plugging). But they would call me later. Eventually I called them back, and was told it still wasn't charged, and it might need parts. On to Carole Nash again. No, my registration does not start with a W. Can I have a hire car? I have work to do. Yes of course. Matters were slightly complicated by the fact that, as we found out in Bruniquel, Carole Nash can't reach me on Mum's mobile. Everyone else can, though, and they can call any other number, so from here on in every message had to go via Mum, who then called me to relay it. After 45 minutes I'd heard absolutely nothing, so I called back, only to be told that they couldn't do anything because Europcar close at 12 and it's now quarter past. Idly I wondered what happened between 11.30 and twelve, then went for lunch.

The girl at Carole Nash had said to make my way to Europcar for when they opened, so I did. Europcar in Cahors is a good half hour walk along a main shopping road. I arrived hot and sweaty, only to be told that they didn't have a car, because the woman had been told I needed it indefinitely for a one-way hire, and had visions of me returning her car to Paris in a month's time. Once I'd reassured her that 3 days would do, and I could return it to Cahors if necessary, she found one. Which, in a bizarre coincidence, was then to be rented to the owner of a hotel I'd visited the previous day. (As she was on her own she asked me to return it straight to the hotel, which I did, a day early. She then called the owner to say she'd be round the next day with the paperwork. I was a little confused!)

So for two days my research continued with the aid of a horrible little Opel thing you couldn't see round corners in, and I missed being able to just park anywhere, though it was nice to be dry!!

Eventually on the Wednesday I received a call saying the bike was fixed, so I headed back to Cahors, dropped off the car, and proceeded to wait an hour and a half for a taxi (Cahors-Montauban is about half an hour on the train, and I'd dropped the car off next to the station. Sometimes having someone else paying doesn't make it easier!) It turned out to be the same taxi driver, who also knew the owner of the Honda garage in Montauban, which was handy as there was no way we were going to make it before they closed, so we called ahead for them to stay open.

When I arrived, the mechanic presented me with a beautiful, clean machine, that bore little resemblance to the muddy lump of metal I'd last seen in Bruniquel. Apparently there had been two problems: firstly the heated grips stayed on when you turn off the ignition, so he'd disconnected them. I decided not to point out that as they were wired straight to the battery that was normal, and I still haven't worked out where he disconnected them! He also found some corrosion on the alternator, which was preventing the battery from charging, so he'd cleaned that and checked all my electrical connections – though somehow in doing so he'd missed the fact that one of the indicators was disconnected! So I wasn't hugely confident as I left, and felt that maybe next time I'd use a jet wash rather than a Honda garage to clean the bike, as it would be cheaper. Though so far my misgivings have proved unfounded, as the bike is still running, so maybe he was a better mechanic than he seemed. And I didn't have the heart to tell him that cleaning a touring bike headed for a campsite in the rain was a waste of time.

I made it to my campsite and pitched my tent just before the thunderstorm struck. Twenty minutes later, when it was finally safe to emerge, the whole world shone with orange light, and the cliffs above the campsite glowed gold in the setting sun. It was almost a sight worth getting soaked for.

Since then it has mostly been about lots of hard work, desperately trying to keep track of what I'd covered and where I'd been – the breakdown meant quite a lot of rearranging for the precise scheduling! But the hard work has paid off, and bar an insane number of “fermeture exceptionnelle” of tourist offices (to the extent that if they're normally open 7 days a week, but someone is ill one morning, that's the morning I'll turn up – I had to go to Luzech 3 times before I found them open!), I've managed to get everything done fairly painlessly. I've met some lovely people, and visited some beautiful hotels and chambres d'hote (including one set in a park full of 200-year-old trees from around the world), and eaten some very nice food.

All I have to do now is lots and lots of sorting through notes and brochures, and plenty of writing!

Posted by Laura Bennitt at April 23, 2009 10:23 PM GMT

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