I WOKE up to the sound of a torrential downpour, huge shafts of
rain blattering against the tent. The noise was terrible, but grimly I
gathered up my towel and everything else and prepared to make a dash
to the washrooms. I unzipped the front of the tent and plunged out
into the uproar -- to be greeted with a very very light drizzle that
wouldn't even make you put a brolly up if you were carrying one.
At the bottom of Trôo we saw a sign saying,
We were thus forced to follow the sign -- it led up past the very pretty houses with their caves, to the top of the hill. There was a large church, which we reckoned could maybe be a monastery, which could maybe be what Collégiale meant; there was a hill, looking much like a motte like Castle Hill in Cambridge, which could maybe be what Butte was pointing us towards; but still no sign of Puits qui parle.
We consulted a thoughtfully-placed tourist noticeboard. Whatever a Puits qui parle was, it was just round the corner, according to the map.
We got there and it was a well: an ordinary-looking well with a grating over the top. "It's a well," I summarised, leaning over it, "but why do they say it speaks?"
I found out almost as soon as I'd asked (well, maybe 0.5s later). The words I'd spoken echoed back from the depths, loud and remarkably clear -- as clear as a well, I mean bell. "Er, this well's rather deep," I said, twice.
We found the tiniest pebble we could and dropped it through the grating.
We'd almost begun turning round to pick up another one when we heard it -- BLOPP! [WAV file coming soon] -- some seconds later.
"What a value well!" said Stu, "these are by far the best echoes I've ever heard! I need some echo sounds for work and these are better than any synthesised echo. We must come back here before the end of the holiday, and record some onto MiniDisc." Not only that, I thought, we could measure from the samples exactly how long the echoes took, and find out how deep the well is.
After lunch we set off to buy some wine. Outside Vendôme we stopped at a large building by the side of a country lane: a sign announced Cave Cooperative du Vendômois: Ouvert Open Geöffnen. Despite this, the doors looked resolutely shuttered and locked, and there was only one other car in the car park: an old and battered 2CV driven by an old and battered Frenchman.
We went up to the doors and discovered that it wasn't open on Sundays at all. Turning to go back to the cars, though, we were approached by the elderly Frenchman, who gave vent to a piece of French so rapid and murmury that only Ian caught any of it. "Ah," said Ian, "this blokey's actually a wine grower, and he says they don't usually open on Sunday afternoons until about 3pm."
It was quarter to three. "Right," said Stu. "Let's go trainspotting."
This was one of Stu's tales from his previous holidays in France: how one day he and Ian had got totally wrecked on the local wine and gone to see trains going past far too fast at Vendôme's TGV station. Rather reluctantly, Jen and I agreed to go and repeat this experience sober.
We were just approaching Vendôme station when we saw a long silver train going far too fast over a bridge some way ahead. "Oh no!" we thought, "it'll be an hour 'til the next one." For some reason, probably connected with who was driving, we decided to go and wait at the station for the next one anyway.
The station all looked brand new and was perfectly clean. It was also perfectly empty, not least because the next train wasn't due to stop there for four hours. "Plenty go past that don't stop," assured Stu. We climbed to the long, long platforms and sat and waited, some of us still much less sure than others that it was a good idea.
Within five minutes, "What's that noise?" had become a common topic of conversation; most noises though were just distant lorries. One, we'd already dismissed as a distant lorry before we heard the rails starting to hiss.
We leapt out of the shelter and stared down the track: within seconds it was upon us. Doing, said Stu, 200mph, it went past us in under a second, barrelling on towards Paris -- only 42 minutes away according to the many come-and-live-here-and-commute signs which surrounded Vendôme (I couldn't really see why they wanted to encourage that sort of behaviour, but perhaps in France even the commuters are cool). I glimpsed dimly why Stu uses the simile it goes like a train to mean it goes very fast indeed...
We hadn't trudged triumphantly even as far as the exit from the platform before, to our surprise, murmur-hiss-roar-hurtle another one came past going the other way.
Afterwards we went back to the Cave Cooperative. The elderly viniculteur was inside having a cheery conversation with a younger man. "He's sorry it was shut earlier on," translated Ian, "but he'd had too much wine for lunch, and had a bit of a sleep."
After having found a very fine well, seen three TGVs and bought some superb wine, we were in the mood for a celebration when we returned to Alf's.
"Let's see: we could put some coffee on," said Stu, "or ... or ... or we could have a nice cup of tea." I raised my head expectantly at that. "Ah, I'm talking Hartley language now, I see, mentioning cups of tea. I suppose this must be the longest you've gone in your life without a cup of tea."
"Well, there was the time I went to America..."
We had tea.