IR INTERRAIL 2003 > Day 5 > Futuroscope - Poitiers

Futuroscope - Poitiers

Tuesday, weyhey! Well, perhaps this was a mild exaggeration of my actual level of enthusiasm. Futuroscope was quite an engaging place, but I was becoming a little tired of endlessly traipsing around looking at things on my own. I felt that after four days of travelling and so many sights, it would be nice to just relax and have a bit more interaction with people, more than just the odd fumbled French phrase aimed at assistants working in the places I visited. But I needed to round off my theme park mission, and finish yesterday's business by paying a visit to all the attractions I'd missed.

This included a trip to a large rock-crystal-shaped building in which a film about the trail of a giant panda was advertised as being screened. Which was a surprise to me when I entered and found myself sitting through a film about heroic flights by post office aviators over South America in the early twentieth century. Presumably these voyages over the Andes had been made with the best intent of spotting a stray panda that had cunningly drifted across the Pacific from its homeland, but none had ever actually been found.

I had hoped that the headphones issued to me today for translations would be rather better quality than the previous ones, but once again I found myself sitting through crackles and stutters in the volume, clutching my ears and bashing the device furiously against my knees, whilst all around me French people sat contented and unperturbed. This did have its benefits though, as the experience in the Brazilian 360-degree cinema had proved the day before, when the English gent they had drafted in to voice the translations had become very drunk towards the end, and tried to contain himself laughing as he spoke in ridiculous tongues, seemingly unable to narrate seriously anymore the scripts which were obviously written by officious Brazilian government representatives. The French were missing out on a treat.

I visited one building where, whilst waiting in the queue outside, the guide issued us each with a mystery wrapped item, and gave instructions at great length about how we should all save opening it until the end. The attraction involved walking past a series of mock exhibits discovered by aliens who had invaded Earth, and concluded with a room containing interactive models which required the pressing of buttons, the smelling of hatches in the wall and the sounding of bells and buzzers. Just when I thought the experience couldn't become any more abstract the exit doors were opened and we were told to unwrap our surprise package. It contained a small flavourless biscuit, and I stepped out of the building feeling I really had come from another planet. Somebody in features development had been taking too many drugs. In fact, it was probably that same bloke who had narrated the film.

One of the most impressive buildings to look at was fronted with glass, over which a continuous cascade of water streamed down with ebullience. It was a glamorous overture for a disappointing attraction, which contained a tedious local government-sponsored film about the delights of the Vienne region. This was little improved afterwards by the requirement to walk along the seating row into a second cinema, in which chairs controlled by a motion simulator sent uncomfortable vibrations through mon derrière, and threw me about like a bottle of thick ketchup in the hands of an impatient diner.

The ludicrous scenario involved a chase around the Vienne region in a car with no brakes, through streets in which women with prams unsurprisingly ran into view, and grocers hurled boxes of vegetables in the air as the car swerved around them. Every time the car careered into a wall the action would miraculously continue in another street or on an aeroplane. It was intended to show the merits of the vicinity and the number of things I should see and do there, but the only place I wanted to visit afterwards was the toilet.

Another enormous edifice I ventured into had me walking up a series of passages past tanks of dead fish, and eventually took me into a largely empty cinema with a huge screen, in front of which four big simulator cars were positioned, each holding over twenty passengers. It was fortunate that I grasped the word 'sac' in the preparatory speech given by the attendant in French, as large bars came over our heads to bolt us into our seats. Just in case, I thought I'd better hold onto the handle of my bag at my side, should the coincidence of these ominous machines and the word sac have any meaning.

Seconds later, the pneumatic suspension launched my car upwards, and in synchronization with the underwater chase sequence on screen, the vehicle was thrust forcefully around in all directions, at one point tipping forward by seventy degrees and having everybody screaming as they faced down at the gaping abyss of the specially constructed giant cinema, which was some one hundred feet in height. I held onto my loaded bag, and as the ride ended and lights flooded the chamber, I stared down at the distant floor onto which my full life requirements for one month would have gone splat. I felt sure this was confirmation from the French to dumb English visitors that if we could survive thus far, we could continue southwards through their land.

And so that was precisely what I chose to do. As the time approached 6pm and the park prepared to enter eerie ghost town mode once more, I took the bus the few miles south into Poitiers, the nearest town with a youth hostel. I visited the rail station but failed to book a train for the following day, due to the commotion caused by the latest strikes. There were queues stretching well beyond the ticket office and several angry faces on the customer side of the desks. The prospects of moving on further from here looked bleak. I took another bus to the hostel a few miles away, and by the time I arrived I was hungry.

I received a very friendly welcome from the girl at reception, who explained that there was nowhere nearby to buy food at this point in the evening. No local shops, no take-aways, no supermarkets, no restaurants, nothing. It was a residential area, and such a place in Britain would have been lined with all sorts of dodgy dinner outlets and kids on bikes clustering around the late night shop for a smoke, but Poitiers was like many sleepy French towns which seemed to have their own laws and ways of life, and keeping establishments open in the evening to sell food was unofficially forbidden.

Dinners at the hostel had finished earlier, and the last bus back into the town centre had just left at 8pm. The girl took pity on me, and was extremely kind in offering to drive me around when she finished her shift so that I could find some food in the town centre, where there was at least one tacky fast food joint. I felt guilty about invading her time and declined, only to later feel guilty about declining, eternal worrier that I was. Instead I satisfied myself with some rather pathetic Madeleine cakes and a bag of crisps from the vending machine. I say satisfied, I probably meant occupied.

The hostel was quiet, perhaps too quiet. Absolutely nothing was happening, and with so few guests around I was the solitary occupant of a three-bed dormitory. I had arrived at a town I knew nothing about, but which deserved further exploration. I would leave that for the morning, but in the meantime I began to appreciate the peace and quiet, and the sound of a gentle continental breeze rustling the large trees in the rear garden outside my window. I felt an excitement like that of my teenage years when going on school band trips abroad, being in a foreign land where everything was fresh on the eye. That was the main motivation which spurred me on as a traveller, the constant desire to be enriched by new visual and other sensory experiences. I had so much still to look forward to on my trip, and I settled down with my book for a long, comfortable night's rest.

HOSTEL REPORT: Poitiers - Auberge de Jeunesse, 1 Allée Roger Tagault, 86000 Poitiers (Vienne)
The most noticeable thing about this hostel was the friendliness of the staff, who were very welcoming and helpful. It was not very busy during my stay, which added to the relaxed atmosphere. It felt like quite a small place, but there was capacity to house 140 guests with a large, pleasant garden at the rear and a swimming pool available next door. Bicycle hire was cheap and worthwhile for exploring the pretty countryside nearby. Other facilities included a bar, kitchen area, lounge and table tennis / pool. The dormitory was adequate and included sinks, with the showers and toilets outside off the corridors. Breakfast was reasonable, and the price per night was cheap and good value. The hostel was situated 3km from the town centre, and was served by a bus until around 8pm. Score: 8/10

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