Accidental Tourists

Early September: We had intended to go directly from Lyon to our next HelpExchange, at a horse farm near Poitiers. But then our hosts at the farm asked us to come a few days later. Suddenly, we had three unplanned days to fill. Where would we go?

The fact that the Alps are just an hour from Lyon made us tempted to dash to the mountains. But the weather forecasts predicted days of heavy rain there. Maybe we’d better head east, toward Poitiers and sunshine. The historic city of La Rochelle on the Atlantic Coast seemed like a good bet. But for some unknown reason, every hotel we could find on the Internet was booked up.

A flip through our Lonely Planet guidebook and some research on the Web turned up what seemed like the perfect option: a renovated 19th-century hotel, not too expensive, with WiFi, in an old spa town, reachable by train. It’s located in a region of dormant volcanoes and dramatic scenery in the center of the country. We would spend a few days relaxing, working on this website, enjoying some privacy after nine days in people’s homes, reading, hiking in the mountains, and seeing a new part of France, the Massif Central.

We reached our destination, the old spa town of Le Mont-Dore, on a cold and rainy Saturday evening. After checking a map at the train station, we marched up hill with our backpacks to the center of town. Everything looked faded and deserted and wet, the grim impression intensified by the charcoal gray volcanic stone used for building in that area.

Still, our hotel was pleasant enough, and we were content to be warm and dry . . . until we opened the backpack that holds our camera gear and laptop. Where was the little bag with the power cord for the laptop? Left on one of the trains or buses we’d taken that day. We had a computer with zero battery power left and no way to recharge it. Suddenly, our most carefully guarded possession was useless. So much for the WiFi access we’d been so excited about. To top it off, the funicular that was supposed to run from the center of town up onto a wooded plateau where we had hoped to hike is closed throughout 2008 because of safety concerns (yikes).

But despite that disappointing start, we had an enjoyable stay. We sampled the local cheeses and sausages for with the region is famous (thumbs up on the cheese, thumbs down on the sausage), saw a performance by a local folk dancing troupe, and ate a good steak as well as the best pizza we’ve encountered since Italy. Best of all, on the one sunny day, we took a cable car up the Puy de Sancy—a collapsed volcano with dramatic rocky spires and a stunning view of the hills and plains on all sides.

And with no Internet, we did do a lot of relaxing. Which, as it turned out, we really needed to get ready for the horse farm. But that’s another story . . .

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