Breakfast was in the company of the loquacious Pierrette. She bent my ear for over half an hour with tales of the local canine population. Apparently the current craze in the area for large Rottweilers was causing some problems for little lapdogs and unwary posties. The breakfast itself was fine, though the invariable white baguette was beginning to play tricks on my digestion.
I left at around nine and made for Marmande, arriving at the bridge over the Garonne a little while later.
Then it was back onto the tow path at Pont des Sables to begin the trip to Agen, my destination for the evening.
I passed through Le Mas D’Agenais,
Damazan, Buzet-surBaïse and Brax before arriving at Agen. Buzet was the only village I visited. I had lunch in the village centre – some roast pork bought in the local traiteur expertly flavoured with thyme, some tomatoes bought next door, bread and the inevitable cheese and fruit. Buzet, known to the local Brits as ‘Boosey’ produces a fine red comparable to a Haut Médoc, but sampling it in the middle of a scorching day was beyond my powers.
The heat in the centre of the village was intense and getting back onto the canal tow-path again a great relief. There really is no comparison between a cycle trip on roads bearing motor-traffic with all its disadvantages – exhaust fumes, noise, dangerous drivers, hills absence of protection from the sun and so on – and the gentle privileged exclusive environment of the canal side. Since the day was so hot, I was grateful for every shady, cool mile of the canal from Marmande to Agen. I was again filled with appreciation and admiration for the benign planners who had conceived and executed this beautifully surfaced piste. It was a simple unadulterated pleasure to use it.
I kept leaping off my bicycle in order to photograph the scene in a vain attempt to
capture the pleasure of riding through the green cathedral of plane-trees. Obviously, the attempts failed, but the above picture is an example of the effort all the same.
I knew I was arriving in Agen when the famous aqueduct or pont-canal came into view. The ride along the tow-path of the structure is no easy task. The huge uneven cobblestones constantly jolt the front wheel out of line and threaten disaster. In addition, there are always people coming the other way, and since the rules require that one keep to the right, near the water’s edge, the danger of falling into the water is real. I imagined myself hauling myself dripping out of the water and then trying to fish out the bike. Since the canal is about two metres deep and the sides sheer stone and brick, I could never imagine the success of the operation.
I went up into the town and easily located my hotel – the Hôtel Regina, on the boulevard Carnot – according to the visual directions I had obtained in London courtesy of Google Street-View. I went straight up to the front door and parked my bicycle. The door opened and a fellow came out who later turned out to be the proprietor or at least the guy in charge. “Monsieur?” he said in a curt, dismissive tone, putting all the contempt into the word that only the French can achieve. He clearly thought I was a hopeful dimwit looking for a bed for the night and cyclists were clearly not the sort of people he had in mind for his establishment. “J’ai une réservation pour ce soir” I said. At this, his manner changed visibly to disappointment. “Ah bon, heureusement pour vous, parce que l’hôtel est plein.” He led me with obvious reluctance to the reservation desk at which a flustered girl was trying to deal with the hotel’s computer on which clearly a piece of new software was running. The contemptuous guy tut-tutted and blew a scornful blast between his teeth. That was not the way to do it, look here, click there, no not that, this … honestly…! He unsettled the poor girl further by breathing down her neck and was finally reduced to intervening himself to find my reservation and indicate my room. He insisted that I pay in advance both for the night and for the breakfast, for which he gave me a little chit that I was to present the following morning to the person serving the breakfasts.
I was rather irritated at this demand asked whether this was due to his lack of trust. No, he responded, but rather to the lack of personnel. I got the picture: he was a mean cheapskate who refused to employ sufficient people to run the place.
Once I had the key, he instructed me to go out of the hotel, round the block and into the back street in which the back door of the hotel was located. There, he said, he would would be waiting to let me into the cave à vélos. He was there when I found the grubby back door, looking twice as disapproving as he had been at the front. I parked my bike in the garage and he beckoned me over with a portentous frown on his face. “I must ask you,” he said with great emphasis, “not to take your bicycle through the hotel and out of the front door. It wouldn’t do (Ça ne serait pas bien).” He clearly thought the presence of cyclists would frighten off his more worthy customers.
The reception I received from this fellow, the pervasive lack of trust and the generally dilapidated condition of the hotel make me unable to recommend it. The bedroom was full of mosquitos, smelt of something sweetly corrupt and had a window that opened onto a flat roof that was easily accessible from other rooms. The toilet, moreover made a gulping noise throughout the night.
Here is the website: http://www.hotelreginagen.com/. I recommend that the Regina be avoided if possible.
After a wander around town and a fairly unpleasant meal on a square somewhere in the centre of town – I ate an object looking like the fossilized leg of some miniature dinosaur and claiming to be confit de volailles, surrounded by bright yellow frites – I went back to the Regina to go to bed without having seen any evidence at all of the famous Agen prunes.