Today we rose early to load the car and straighten up the gite then headed east toward Narbonne then north on the A75 towards Clermont-Ferrand where we would spend the night. Our route took us across the Millau Viaduct, the tallest bridge in the world completed in 2004 with its highest tower measuring 1,118 feet.
The Millau Viaduct is a harp-type cable-stayed bridge that spans the Tarn River. It's seven towers support a deck 2460 meters long, making it also the longest cable-stayed suspended deck in the world. It is a beautiful pristine white and one of the most awe-inspiring examples of engineering I have ever seen. It looks so high tech even though cable-stayed bridges have been around since 1595. Of course, no one has ever attempted one of this size before and the French engineers should be heartily applauded.
There is a large rest area on the north side of the viaduct and we pulled off there to get some pictures and stretch our legs. There was a video detailing the construction of the bridge and a very nicely stocked gift shop. There was also information displays about other places to see in this region of France and examples of local products. Everything was clean and quite modern so you can imagine my surprise when I went to use the restroom and found that the engineers had installed what I would consider the old-style floor latrines. They looked new but this was the only time on this trip that I had found this type of facilities. For us older visitors, floor latrines are very problematic - especially if you are wearing long pants. When you have arthritic hips and knees, it is painful to contort yourself into a position so you don't splash your clothes. At least the sturdy grab bar helped. I know the viaduct cost nearly € 400 million but surely there was enough for proper toilets. Even the ancient Romans had sit-down public toilettes!
Richard and Cecelia decided to climb the hill to get a better picture of the viaduct but I am still fighting a cold and had only brought a thin raincoat on this trip (after all it is almost summer and I anticipated much warmer weather on the Mediterranean coast!). The wind was quite gusty and bitterly cold. So, I decided to shoot my pictures from the handicapped observation area then go warm up in the car.
We continued north until noon then Richard noticed a culture sign indicating a turn off to a castle - the Château de Sévérac - so we stopped for lunch. I love the French culture signs. They actually have a unique representative graphic on the sign - not just some icon indicating a historic site ahead. If the sign is to a château, a picture of the actual castle is on the sign.
Anyway, we found a clean little restaurant in the village of Sévérac-le-Château and I saw they offered Cordon Bleu so I ordered it since it is considered an iconic French dish. I must admit I found it a little dry compared to the Malibu Chicken, essentially the same thing, offered by Sizzler's Steak House back home.
Sévérac-le-Château was such a beautiful little medieval village that after lunch we wandered along its streets taking pictures and climbing ever higher toward the remains of the 13th century fortress. When I explored the fortress I noticed that one section of the ruins looked very much like an ancient Roman basilica that stands near the Forum Romanum in Rome. Richard said he saw a placard that explained a well-meaning 17th-century Italian restorationist had attempted to rebuild part of the Chateau apparently without conducting proper research. That may be why that portion of the ruin looked so similar to those I have seen and photographed in Rome rather than Gothic.
The view from the top of the hill was truly spectacular and I managed to capture several panoramic images of it before we reluctantly made our way back down the hill to the car park.
Continuing north again, we reached Clermont-Ferrand in early evening. Clermont-Ferrand is a city of about 140,000.
"Clermont ranks among the oldest cities of France. The first known mention was by the Greek geographer Strabo, who called it the "metropolis of the Arverni" (meaning their oppidum, civitas or tribal capital). The city was at that time called Nemessos – a Gaulish word for a sacred forest, and was situated on the mound where the current cathedral of Clermont-Ferrand has been constructed. It was somewhere in the area around Nemossos that the Arverni chieftain Vercingetorix (later to head a unified Gallic resistance to Roman invasion under Julius Caesar) was born in around 72 BC." - Wikipedia
Fortunately, Richard had good directions from Google Maps and we soon found ourselves at our hotel. We thought we would eat at the hotel restaurant but discovered that the hotel was under renovation so the restaurant was closed. So we struck out looking for a place to have dinner.
As Cecelia and I were tired we sat down in a little park while Richard went on ahead to find a suitable place. We struck up a conversation with a nice lady who was out walking her dog. I told her how much I missed my little dogs back home. Her dog was a medium sized dog that looked sort of like an airdale. I had noticed that in southern France many of the rural farms had black Labradors. The city people seemed to like little Yorkies or small wire-haired terriers. I had seen a couple of Jack Russell terriers too. In the Pyrenees I had seen large white long-haired dogs that I thought must be Pyrenees mountain dogs but Richard and Cecelia insisted they were golden retrievers. I told them that all the golden retrievers I had ever seen were gold not white. Maybe they were a hybrid.
Richard soon returned and said several blocks away he had found a Sicilian restaurant. It appeared to be a family-owned restaurant and quite cozy. I ordered spaghetti carbonara since I was reasonably sure it would be as good as that I have had in Rome (and it was - I ate every bite!). Cecelia ordered a chicken dish and Richard ordered a steak topped with Asiago cheese that came with a pasta of some type and what he described as a "really nice" bottle of Chianti. I'm afraid I don't like wine since the alcohol tastes bitter to me. I've tried several different kinds - both red and white - since we've been here but my opinion hasn't changed. I'm sure the French would be mortified if I told them as I have been surrounded by literally thousands of acres planted in vineyards since we arrived.
The menu mentioned a "house" tiramisu and since that is one of my favorite desserts I ordered it too. The tiramisu was flavorful but the custard was really soft. I notice that the French seem to prefer almost runny custard. Several times when Richard or Cecelia have ordered a dessert "with custard", the dessert is served with what looks like a creamy yellow sauce - not the stiffer custard I usually associate with that description.
With darkness falling, we made our way back to our hotel. As it had internet access, I stayed up until almost midnight getting caught up on my e-mail and Skyping my husband back in Oregon.
Tomorrow we must drive almost 450 miles to Calais to catch the ferry back to England but hopefully we will have enough time to stop by Giverny and take a stroll through Monet's famous gardens.