I was happy to check out from Fawlty Towers and descend to Vichy. This would truly get me clear of the Massif Central (yippee). Before I left Thiers I saw one of many monuments, as seen all over France, to the fallen soldiers of WW1.
It’s still staggering to think despite the enormous human cost of this war to Western Europe (and the British Empire) that by 1939 another greater conflagration would take place. So breaking a golden rule of not cycling on a rest day I I pedalled into the spa town of Vichy and headed for Decathlon. The town is sat on the Allier river.
I had time to kill prior to check in at my new hotel and did some shopping at this sports retailer. At the checkout there was an automated till and frankly I couldn’t follow the signage and abandoned that option. The lady behind me in the queue saw me moving away from this machine and said something in French I didn’t understand. I was happy to queue elsewhere and said. “Merci, je suis Anglais”. She then just said “Aww mayte, I can help you”. Who knew that Australians could speak languages other than English? Anyway she helped me complete the transaction and I told her of my being in Australia in March and where I’d been. When I mentioned Melbourne she was gripped with horror and referred to the current lockdown there. I let it pass but Australia has only had 116 reported deaths but France has had over 30,000. I know which is safer.
So another rest day job is washing (properly) my kit. I would have liked to have included the kit I was wearing but a night in the cells was too high a price to pay, not least because Anna had already paid for a room. However I couldn’t easily fathom out how you got soap powder from one machine and paid in another and what you paid with – card, notes, coins… At this point a helpful lady grabbed my notes and gave me back some coins. Err, well she didn’t as she’d worked out I was a dork and so she bought the soap powder, put it in the machine and then programmed the machine and started it. Merci beaucoup! She could have been Ann Widdicombe’s sister…
This done and a sandwich consumed it was a time that I could check in. I loved the hotel although getting the bike into the lift was memorable.
(In fact I liked the hotel so much I donated, on my departure, a USB adaptor and iPhone charging cable). Later I drifted around the centre of the town and it was very much a relaxed spa resort.
However, the town has a dark history. It was the seat of the collaborationist French regime during WW2. When Germany occupied France in 1940 the north was occupied but the south or ‘Vichy France’ was allowed to run itself under German instruction until 1944 albeit with diminishing authority. The seat of government was placed in Vichy, not least because it had sufficient space to host this ‘government’. I imagine the options were limited for the French given the German victory but this government collected more Jews than was strictly necessary to satisfy the Nazis (only 3% survived the death camps) and was otherwise ultra conservative: divorce wasn’t legal! It also controlled the French fleet, which probably explains why Churchill sank it. To add to its troubled past then amongst the several towns they’re twinned with it includes Dunfermline.
However that is history. Today it is an attractive place and I hope to visit again.