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Old 06-20-2007, 01:58 AM   #31
MikeO OP
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Location: Scarning, Norfolk, today...
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8th June 2007

Sylvia has helmet hair before putting her helmet on.

We wake early – yesterday had been a long day for both of us – I’d flogged down to Gatwick and back and Sylvia had travelled from Kalispell.



We'd spent most of the previous evening packing the bike and eating fish & chips (one of Sylvia’s secret vices).

The forecast for France isn't looking great...



After an early night, the dawn chorus has us awake before the alarm does and we pack the last few bits & pieces onto the Adv before Sylvia looks in the mirror, shrugs and accepts that her coiffure can only be improved by a few hundred miles inside a crash helmet…



We set off at 0622 into a light mist, feeling a little uneasy as we ride through the forested areas near Lakenheath – we have deer here too - but relaxing when we eventually reach the A11 and start heading towards the M25. As expected, there is a lot of traffic around the Dartford Crossing – we have to filter (lane split) for several miles before reaching the toll plaza. The good news is that there is no toll for bikes

We’re soon on our way east along the M20 towards Folkestone.



We have plenty of time, so we stop at the service area at Maidstone for a final English breakfast...



... & to refuel (after the light being on for 37 miles). There is a long queue at the Costa Coffee bar, so I – foolishly – order a coffee from the restaurant that is preparing the assault on our circulation that is a ‘full fried’. After a mouthful of brown sludge, I walk over to the Costa stand and order a large latte. I tell the girl about the coffee I’d just bought – she looks aghast and says ‘You didn’t drink it, did you?

I manage to put £37 worth of fuel into the bike – which still means I have a potential gallon and a half left. It all depends on how much of the 41 litres is ‘usable’ fuel. I resolve to strap a can to the rack and test it out sometime after we return.



We arrive at the Channel Tunnel ready to use the automated check in system...



You just have to insert the card you made the payment with...



I do this and the system greets me by name and tells me to wait – it all seems very impressive and slick...



...right up to the point where it stops working and we miss our train.

Basically the machine packs up. There is much grumbling and reversing of cars going on behind me whilst the hard pressed assistant tries to sort it out. Eventually, he has to admit defeat and asks me to check in manually at the Terminal Building.

I do so, leaving Sylvia with the bike, but by that time it is too late to board our original train, so we are given tickets (bearing a large letter F) for the next one. We ware told to watch the LED signs in the car park for vehicles with ‘F’ stickers to be called forward.



We duly wait – this is far from the slick operation I remember from a few years back when I last used the Tunnel. Ultimately we aren’t called forward at all, but rather just notice a lot of cars with ‘F’ stickers moving towards the train and follow them.



All the staff on board are very pleasant, but I'm very surprised at the apparent lack of security. It seems that random vehicles are being pulled for searches, but – despite my telling the police & French Immigration officers (when asked) that Sylvia was not an EC citizen - no-one so much as looks at our passports, much less ask to look in the bags.



Crossing the English Channel via the tunnel is a bit of an anticlimax. You basically drive – or in our case ride – aboard a train, then wait for the train to get there…



About 45 minutes later we are riding off in Calais…

We immediately find the A26 Péage (toll road) – unfortunately Bettie keeps trying to direct me off (it turned out I have ‘Avoid Toll Roads’ selected ).



The roads are excellent & very lightly travelled and we keep up a good average speed. We stop after 2 hrs and 150 miles in order to have a drink and refuel the bike. Since arriving in France I have switched Bettie’s settings to metric, so that I have a digital kph speedometer at a glance.



We’re making excellent progress and Sylvia is coping with her jet lag admirably. We have a chat with a few motorcyclists in the Aire (Rest Area) – including the owner of this Ducati Monster with his home-made luggage.



Whilst we are chatting a chap turns up in a Dino Ferrari Spyder. I’m not much interested in cars – but that is a thing of beauty…



We ride off and are almost immediately caught in a heavy shower – I stop the Adv (completely illegally) under a bridge to shelter whilst we frantically pull on waterproof gloves and I put the shower cap on the tank bag. We’re off again in a matter of two minutes…



After 20 minutes or so it stops raining and the sun quickly dries the roads out. Weirdly, though - although the roads appeared to be completely dry - several lorries we pass are kicking up spray…

We pass a trio of lunatics on scooters...



By the time we reach Troyes, we felt it was time to stop for the night. We find a little Campanile hotel (€69 per night) at about 1800 in the nearby town of Bucheres...



The room is fairly basic, but we are both very impressed by the owner, who knocks on the door and says that – when we’ve finished unpacking – he’ll show me where I can park the bike in a secure garage. I seek him out and his five year old boy leads me to the right spot on his miniature quad bike. The garage turns out to be a supply cupboard, but is an excellent bonus to staying there. Once again it strikes me how pro motorcycles the French are – I honestly can’t imagine the same happening in the UK.

The total Péage tolls for the first day have been €18 – an absolute bargain for the time they've saved us, I reckon…

After a shower and change of clothes, Sylvia and I sit down to an excellent dinner comprising salmon & spinach bake, followed by a selection of tiny (but excellent) puddings & coffee. We walk back to the room and I fire up the laptop to find…

…I hadn’t loaded MapSource onto it (D’Oh!). I had to do a factory reset back in January and I’d obviously forgotten to reload it. Unfortunately, I’ve been doing all the preparatory work for this trip on my desktop, so I didn’t notice. Bugger.

No matter – it’s looking like a reasonably long day tomorrow - but at least we’ll be at the gîte when it’s done. I’m planning to try to stick to the small Departmental (D) roads for as much of the day as is practicable. We pack ready for a reasonably early start.

A good day.
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Old 06-20-2007, 03:12 AM   #32
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terrific thread
looks fantastic
sorry about the MAPSOURCE snafu
depending on that program as i do, i can certainly appreciate that

i hope that you are having a wonderful day

thanks for sharing your adventures with us
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Old 06-20-2007, 05:25 AM   #33
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9th June 2007

We woke relatively early after a reasonable night’s sleep. The breakfast buffet is excellent – full of eggs, yoghurt, cheese, salami and pensioners about to leave for a safari holiday. Looks like the lions will have a lean time of it – although I suppose the slower ones will be easier to catch…



We have the bike out of its temporary shelter & loaded and are on the road for 0830 – I’ve programmed Bettie to take us by medium & small roads to our eventual destination – her initial estimate for arrival at St Austremoine is 1430 – we don’t want to be there before 1700, so this makes for a comfortable day’s riding.



We’re both kitted in hot dry weather clothing. Although it’s already warm and humid, we’ve decided to risk leaving the waterproof liners out for the sake of comfort.

Almost immediately we are steered onto some of the tiny ‘D’ roads that I love riding, heading generally south and west towards the Auverne region.



The sun keeps trying to break through the cloud – it’s possible to see its disc now and again – but I’d not be surprised to feel rain at any time. Meantime, the road surface is great, the roads are empty and we’re having fun.



Attitudes to motorcycling are great in France – in no small way due to the fact that French kids are allowed to ride mopeds from a very early age – they never seem to forget this and cars are continually moving aside for us to pass.



We spot a spectacular church tower off to the right and take a detour up to see it. There is a crew of guys working to prepare for an outdoor evening musical event – of American gospel music…



We take a few pics then say our ‘au revoirs’ and depart.



I stop at a supermarket for fuel. They have an automated pump and I’m keen to see if my UK credit card will work in it.



Historically, only French cards will work in these machines, which means travelling on a Sunday can become fraught – they are often the only available source of fuel. Happily it seems to work fine – which is more than can be said for my fingers, as I manage to select 95 octane when I wanted 97…

It’s warm – mid 80’s F – and still humid, but the speed of the bike keeps enough air moving over us to be comfortable. Eventually we stop in a small village when I spot a pavement café – which turns out to be an Irish owned kebab shop!



Still, Anna makes us very welcome and brings us coffee and coke – and tells us she’s been here for 24 years and – without drawing breath – that she has a house for sale at €18,000 if we’re interested…



The building has a window that was built completely crookedly on the top floor – rather than doing anything about it, Anna and her husband have painted this Irish labourer on the wall to make a feature of it.

As we’re sitting there, a group of bikes ride past and we wave. A few minutes later they’re back – obviously feeling the need for a drink too. Bernard and his crew are German and are just returning to the fatherland after a week away.



They wander over and look at the Adv and Bernard grins and tells me he thinks it a little overdressed – it’s difficult to deny.



Then he loses his über-sharp KTM credibility by admitting he really likes my compass and asks where he can get one. Sylvia feels a little like a Tunisian street vendor as she tells him she has a spare one for sale if he wants one (they are a discontinued item). She gives Bernard her email address and he says he’ll get in touch.



They are on an eclectic mix of bikes - Bernard’s KTM Adventure is accompanied by a K1200S, a venerable old R100GS and a K1200RS. We finish our drinks say our farewells and are on our way.

The air has cleared a bit – it doesn’t have the close, muggy feeling that it had this morning, and we’re very comfortable as we head on down the N7.



Eventually we stop for a late lunch at a little café, chosen at random in a small village north of Moulins. It would be difficult to imagine a less engaging barman to order our drinks and food from – but order them we do.



Everything arrives in plastic disposable containers – it’s like a low budget airline. Sylvia and I come to the conclusion that the owner doesn’t like ‘le washing up’.



Whilst digesting the chicken and frîtes ([PulpFiction]You know what they put on French Fries over there? – Mayonnaise… [/PulpFiction]) I struggle with refolding the map – we’re now on the same page as our destination…



After a quick visit to a memorable bathroom – don’t ask – we’re back on the bike and heading south again. It has turned into a glorious hot day – there’s been a slight breeze which seems to have got rid of the humidity and even the temperature of 31deg C displayed on the Pharmacy neon sign seems reasonable.



We enter the outskirts of Clermont Ferrand and get caught in an interminable set of red lights – I mean every light (and there were a lot of them) was red – there was no attempt at synchronisation (unless the purpose was to deliberately impede traffic). The stop-start riding, combined with high ambient temperatures sent the Adv’s oil temperature up to 70-80% - and there was a lot of heat coming from the engine.



Eventually we were through and heading for the countryside again.

After a while Sylvia asked if we could stop for a leg stretch. We do at Issoire and I refuel the bike again (only 40 mins away from our destination now) and then drink a litre of cold water in the space of five minutes or so with no difficulty. I realise I’ve left my CamelBak at home (D’Oh!) – we’ll have to find a shop and buy another – we’re both going to have to be very careful about hydration if these temperatures persist…



We get to Brioude and then take the N 102 south, before turning right onto the D585 – which turns out to be a superb, twisty and beautifully picturesque route.



We ride in the shade of the tree lined valley, following the path of the Allier River, slowly taking in the ancient villages built into the hillsides – stopping on occasion to take a pic.



Eventually we reach the village of Lavoûte-Chilhac – which is surprisingly busy and obviously a destination for tourists who like to kayak – there are also several bikes parked along the narrow streets.



Our destination lies further south, however. After a wrong turn, which leaves me having to make a U-turn under less than ideal conditions (I’m overheated and very tired now – despite our drinks break under an hour ago), we head off down the D6 towards St Flour, before turning off along the D585 to - at last - the tiny village of Saint Austremoine.



I stop outside the Mairie’s (Mayor’s) Office and a voice calls from a third floor window of the building next door “Are you looking for me?”



I call back “I am if your name is Christine.”



Our (British) landlady shows us into the very pretty and well appointed gîte I reserved three months ago on a rainy day in England. We unload the bike and, as Christine shows Sylvia where everything is, I sit back in the sofa and fall asleep…

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Old 06-20-2007, 05:38 AM   #34
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10th June 2007



We both sleep very well – aided by the complimentary bottle of red wine Christine had left for us. We have a slow start and then get lightly kitted and – shopping list in hand – ride to Lavoûte-Chilhac to do some grocery shopping. The Adv feels like a sports bike with no load in the panniers suddenly.



Just as well with the steep access to the courtyard in front of the gîte...



We manage to accomplish the shopping without too many comedy moments...



...the lady shopkeeper willing to put up with this stupid Rosbif and his Yankee girlfriend by knowing that she was going to make at least €60 out of us…





We return to the gîte and have an excellent brunch of cheese, bread, salami, jam, bread, more cheese, cherries…



We then indulge in a fine French tradition (stolen from the Spanish) and take a siesta. We wake surprisingly late and decide to go for a walk to get our bearings. As soon as Sylvia has put on her sandals the rain comes – soft, steady and continuous.

Oh well, there’s always the red wine we bought this morning to fall back on, I suppose…

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Old 06-20-2007, 05:50 AM   #35
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Mike, Thank you for an outstanding ride report and pics!! You're so fortunate to be back in the UK with such great roads, culture, culinary delights and history right at your doorstep


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Old 06-20-2007, 07:11 AM   #36
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because of THIS thread,
i finally put my deposit on a new GSA

great thread
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Old 06-20-2007, 08:12 AM   #37
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finally... MikeO indulges us again with his outstanding ride reports!

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Old 06-20-2007, 08:47 AM   #38
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Thank you for bringing us on a lovely ride through the French countryside.

In my mind, a classic image of France is the guy on a bicycle with a load of baguettes.
Lo and behold, there it is, updated (and way more fun):
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Old 06-20-2007, 08:52 AM   #39
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Great stuff so far Mike....

More, more, more....
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Old 06-20-2007, 09:46 AM   #40
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Mike, I'm always amazed at your ability to capture a moment, both in words and in pictures. I feel like I'm there with you ... which I am, if in spirit only.
Carry on, my friend. Continue to pursue love and new roads while I catch a ride with you.
Your friend,
Dan

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Old 06-20-2007, 10:05 AM   #41
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Monday 11th June 2007



The day dawns grey and overcast – we’ve both slept well and look out of the window at the remnants of fog hanging in the valley.



We spent yesterday afternoon and evening listening to a steady rain falling – a soothing and pleasant sound when unaccompanied by wind and squalls.

Today is dry, but the roads are still wet from the overnight drizzle. We get kitted up for the ride. Rather optimistically, I decide against putting the waterproof liner in my jacket and put on my elk-skin gloves. As I put the key in the ignition the first light drops start falling…

Bugger.

OK – change of plan – I put the liner in and dig my waterproof gloves out of the tankbag...



...we’re on the road at about 0915, heading initially towards Lavoûte-Chilhac, but turning off south on the first of a series of little Departmental roads which will take us towards the town of Millau, some 170km distant.



The rain is very light – I almost wish it would pour for ten minutes and get it out of its system. We climb up through evergreen forests, the floor beneath them completely free of vegetation – no light penetrates their foliage…



We come to a crossroads and our first war memorial of the day. This one – from the Second World War and featuring the distinctive Free French Cross of Lorraine – commemorates eleven members of the French Resistance who were killed during an action on the 10th & 11th June 1944 – exactly 63 years ago. This part of France was torn apart during the war – not only by the German invasion, but by the Vichy Government, which willingly co-operated with the invaders. The retribution visited upon ‘collaborators’ after the conflict was grim.



The rain has stopped now – but there is a bank of cloud moving into the valley to our right. We get partially de-waterproofed – I remove the tank bag cover and my waterproof gloves – the cool temperature means that it’s quite comfortable to leave my jacket liner in for the time being. We continue through a maze of D roads – Bettie has done us proud with her choice of route.



Seeing a sign off to the right, we pause to let GSgal allow a sign to go to her head – there’ll be no living this down…



Watching this – completely unimpressed - is the biggest bull I have ever seen. As we take a picture he gets up and has a crap. I guess when you’re that big, you can do that where and when you like…



We continue to head vaguely south, through a number of small villages, most of which seem to be closed for business, although the occasional individual can be seen wandering down the road – usually with a baguette in hand. We stop briefly by a cemetery...



Cemeteries are almost always in immaculate condition - in stark contrast to the way the rural French maintain the appearance of their houses. These seem to be family plots - but floral tributes are complemented by stone memorials. It's not uncommon to see families at their family gravesides clearing weeds and other detritus on a Sunday. Something which is utterly different to the average UK churchyard...



We stop for a drink next to the most garish collection of garden gnomes we’ve seen so far. We’re served by a barman whose monosyllabic grunt of a reply to my asking whether he spoke English left me none the wiser. Luckily, he knew how to make coffee and take the top off a bottle of Perrier…

Suitably refreshed, we continue on our way. At about 1210 we stop and fill up with petrol at a Total station in the town of Mende. I also put a litre of oil in the Adv. This bike’s oil consumption defies all logic. It hardly used any up to 50k miles, then – quite randomly – it used a litre every 2000 miles or so for about 6000 miles. Since then, I’ve not had to top it up between (6000 mile) oil changes. Yesterday I checked and saw that the level was at the bottom of the sight glass and filled up today. As ever, I’ll keep an eye on it.



Coming out of Mende, I spot a signpost indicating the Gorges du Tarn. This rings a vague bell in my memory – I know I’ve not been there, but I seem to remember having the Gorges recommended to me. I change Bettie’s programming on the hoof (basically by going off route and not recalculating) and set off towards the Gorges – apparently some 20km distant. By now the weather is fine and dry - I’ve got rid of my liner and have the vents in my jacket open and feel very comfortable…



Soon we’re riding down a narrow and twisty road with some craggy cliffs appearing through the vegetation on either side. Suddenly the ground drops away to our left and there’s a stunning view – with a village laid out like a map on the flat valley floor below…



After a bit of a photo frenzy, we get back on the bike and ride on to the next village, where we stop for lunch at a restaurant-bar.



Unfortunately, it seems the restaurant is closed for lunch. Never mind – the barman tells us there is another restaurant 8km further down the road.



As we are re-kitting ourselves, several vintage Triumphs ride by – apparently ridden by their original owners…



We ride on and the scenery just gets more spectacular. There are villages built into the side of the opposite river bank – buildings atop seemingly impossibly high pinnacles of rock – we are left wondering what drove people to decide to build in such inhospitable places.



The Tarn river is clearly being commercially exploited- everywhere there are signs of kayaking and rafting.



The road is obviously very popular with motorcyclists too – we meet several travelling in the opposite direction.



We stop for lunch at the restaurant recommended to us – and have an excellent meal of cold meat, steak, frîtes...



...and (natch) ice cream.



I inflict some of the steak on a passing stray cat, who wolfs it down – by the look of her it’s the first meal she’s had in a while…



Sated, we get kitted up and head on down the gorge...



...which just gets better and better with every kilometre…



The road is very narrow and the right side is often carved out of the rock face.



This, combined with the habit of cars coming in the opposite direction drifting over the centre line on right hand bends, makes for an interesting ride. I trade off my position towards the crown of the road and try not to think too much about the clearance between my head and the underside of the overhang.



The worst moment comes when I round a right hander to find a 1200GS Adventure conducting a shockingly inappropriate overtake coming in the opposite direction – If I’d been going any faster than the (very slow) 50kph I was doing – or, indeed, if I'd been driving anything other than a motorcycle - we would not have been well placed…



Still, not all the riders coming the other way were utter knobs like that – and every single one of them gave us a wave…

We continue down the gorge, taking pictures on the hoof – occasionally stopping when something really spectacular catches our eye. Eventually we reach the village of Rivière-sur-Tarn, where we stop and buy postcards and stamps – you’ll have received them by now if you were on the list…



We carry on south - the ironic thing is that everything we’ve seen today has been unplanned – we just wanted to stay off the motorways and get to Millau – well, now we’re here. I’d not heard of Millau until a couple of years ago. It now has a rather spectacular claim to fame – and you can see it in the distance in this pic…



The main holiday traffic route from Paris to the Mediterranean coast has always had a bottle neck at Millau. Traffic was forced down a steep hill on one side, along the valley floor and then up a hill the other side. With typical Gallic savoir faire, the French Government decided to build a bridge across the gorge…



It is a vast construction – the tops of the pylons are over a thousand feet high. It completely dwarfs anything you’ve seen before – it looks utterly unreal – like it has been photo-shopped into a picture of the area.



Today the sky is bright blue – adding to the sense of artificiality. Sylvia and I take dozens of pictures – none of which will convey the grandeur and sheer audacity of this project.



In an attempt to give the thing some sense of scale - have a look at the road near the base of this pylon - then look at the size of the car in comparison to the buttress...

We soon kit up and head south - then turn back north and ride over the bridge.



The sides are protected by slatted Perspex screens, so the view isn’t great, but I challenge anyone to drive or ride over this piece of engineering and not be impressed.



The boys done good.



We stop one final time at the northern viewing area…



…then get on the Péage. I say something inappropriate to the to the girl in the tollbooth...



....crank the Adv up to 130kph and head for home. Unfortunately, there seems to be rather a large thunderhead sitting in that direction.



We ride on regardless – not bothering to put rain kit on.

We stop briefly at a service area to drink some much needed water (MUST get a CamelBak tomorrow) and have a chat with a British couple on a pair of bikes, who are sharing a gîte with a German couple nearby. They’ve been caught out by the local habit of shops closing on a Monday and have resorted to coming to the service area to have dinner.

Well, I suppose it’ll keep you alive…

We say our au revoirs and press on North, bypassing the thunderstorm and getting off the Péage at about 1845. The roads are initially soaking wet and I’m glad we weren’t here 30 minutes earlier.



They soon dry out, however and we make our way back towards Saint Austremoine through some beautiful little D roads.



Just before we reach the village, I slow down, because I’m concerned about deer – I come around the next bend to find one trotting across the road. I’m pleasantly surprised to find that it doesn’t disturb me at all (I hit one last September – hard).

We get home at about 1930 and unload the bike. What a great day – I stay in the shower for a LONG time…

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Old 06-20-2007, 11:03 AM   #42
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Nicely done Mike.
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Old 06-20-2007, 11:32 AM   #43
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I've ridden France dozens of times and is my single favorite (favourite ) biking location. Your report is bringing back a lot of good memories Mike. Thanks
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Old 06-20-2007, 01:09 PM   #44
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just fantastic
every bit of it
the words
the pictures

thanks so much for taking the time to entertain and entice us
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Old 06-20-2007, 06:31 PM   #45
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Thank you, Mike. I enjoy your perspective. SW France is a wonderful part of our planet.

Paolo
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