Monday, 24 April 2017

Banon, Bagnols sur Seze, Aveze, Aumessas, Campagnac and Perignat-les-Sarlieve.

Monday 24th April 2017   So, we've been to a few places since we left Gordes a couple of weeks ago. First stop was Banon (N44.03966 E5.62962) in the eastern edge of Provence; a beautiful small town with a steep walk to the Church offering stunning views of the surrounding countryside. It's the place to come in summer when the lavender fields are in flower. However we don't come for the view, we come for the restaurant "Les Vins Au Vert" ( ). We discovered the restaurant 4 years ago and its a delight every time we visit. The walls are covered in wine racks offering wine from every region in France and beyond, the food is a selection of charcuterie, salad, cheese with a small pot of soup. Doesn't sound like much but every mouthful is delicious.   From Banon we headed west to a vineyard at Bagnols-sur-Ceze (N44.18519 E4.62158) a little way from Orange. Of course we had to buy some Cote du Rhone and the next day set off for Aveze (N43.97552 E3.59860) just outside Le Vigan, a great stopover by a river with beautiful walks.    The following day, Saturday, we set off for Aumessas (N43.98997 E3.50429),a tiny village in the Cevenne. Our eldest daughter lives in St Etienne with her husband and 3 children but her parents in law have owned property in Aumessas for many years and they take every opportunity to spend time there. It is a beautiful area and we've visited many times. Part of the village is a jumble of houses all joined together, perched on the hillside occasionally separated by a courtyard or narrow alleyway. Many years ago this was a prosperous village with terraced mulberry trees supporting silk worms and the resulting silk was sent to Le Vigan by rail to the factories there. Chestnuts also were harvested in the area. The railway line is long gone although the station remains and is now the village bar and social centre. The permanent population would be measured in the low hundreds I guess although there are many more folk here during the summer. Despite this there is a lively social scene and a wonderful atmosphere. The downside is that its a 20 minute drive to the shops but with a bit of planning this isn't really a problem.    We spent a week there during which time Phil celebrated a birthday, we enjoyed a couple of walks in the mountains and met up with friends we have made over the years (Hi Patrick!). But all good things come to an end and on Sunday we bade farewell and set off for the even sleepier village of Campagnac, (N44.41955 E3.08866) 70 miles to the north. We didn't really have a plan once we left Aumessas other than to arrive in Zeebrugge on the 5th May for our ferry back to England but we knew that the A75 is a scenic toll free motorway (apart from the bridge at Millau and I don't mind paying the €12 for the privilege of crossing) and we could get some miles under our belt. So today we are parked up in Perignat-les-Sarlieve (N45.73707 E3.13847) a few miles south of Clermont-Ferrand. It's an official motorhome stop over but whereas some of the aires we stop at supply water free,some charge and a Jetton for the machine has to be purchased from the Marie or the local bar or suchlike. Here they want €2 for water but we had a lucky moment. Shortly after we arrived a workman from the Town Hall arrived with several steel sheets with posters attached showing the candidates for yesterday's first round of elections. He turned on an outside tap and proceeded to wash the posters off the sheets (we cheered when Marie Le Pen was washed away hoping it was some kind of sign for the final round of elections in a fortnight) and when he had finished I asked if I could fill up a couple of water containers from his tap - pas de problem! I swapped the water for a can of cold beer and everyone was happy.    And now, after lunch and a look at the maps, we have a plan; we've decided to have a nosey around Metz, Nancy and Strasbourg having never explored that part of France, stopping off on the way at Macon and Dijon. Of course we all know what happens to plans but another good reason to explore these places is to do with the weather. We've had glorious weather for the last few weeks but all the forecasts indicate a sharp drop in temperature and some rain over the next few days so towns/cities with galleries and museums seem like a good idea.     Pat

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Hopefully some Pics

Monday 11th April 2017 The view to Montserrat.  
The altar in the Church at Sant Joan de les Abadesses    
  Dali (these images don't really do the great man or the museum justice):  

Spain to France

Monday 11th April 2017 After leaving Peniscola last Tuesday we headed toward a Cava vineyard about 12k north of Sitges with views across to the mountains of Montserrat (N41.36851 E1.77221). We were given a tour of the cave in the vineyard and our guide was very effusive about Montserrat, suggesting the mountains defined Catalunya. After the tour comes the tasting and we always feel obliged to buy a few bottles. We reckon we've had a free nights parking in peaceful and scenic surroundings and its a way of showing our appreciation. Unlike the other 8 people on the tour who didn't buy a bottle between them.   The next day we headed off for Vic, a bustling University town with an interesting Old Quarter (N41.93475 E2.24044). First stop the Tourist Office where it was suggested we follow the tourist route marked in brass signs on the pavement. This we did and after a pleasant hour or so ended up where we started. Time for a beer. We've been used to paying a euro for a small beer so it was a bit of a shock to be charged €5 for two in a bar by the market square, I felt like asking for a doggy bag for the complementary peanuts. It's a shame we couldn't have stayed in Vic until the weekend where there were lots of celebrations and unusual markets to celebrate Palm Sunday but there wasn't really enough there to keep us occupied for another four days. And they were setting up a fun fair about 100m from our parking spot.   Our guide book suggested a route to Figueres through the lower slopes of the Pyrenees would yield some interesting sights so we set off the next day stopping first at Rippol, we were running low on water, the tap at Vic wasn't working and neither was the one at the motorhome parking in Rippol. Onwards to S.Joan de les Abadesses. Not only did we find water but a beautiful town with a superb monastery and museum. We find that it's often the smallest towns and villages that have the best places of interest and S J de les A was no exception. The monastery began life as a nunnery however the nuns were expelled in 1017 for alleged licentious conduct!   Next stop, Besalu which we entered by foot over the 11th-century fortified bridge with two tower gates and portcullis leading to a remarkably well preserved medieval town albeit with the usual collection of tourist tat shops and overpriced restaurants. Well worth a visit and a leisurely stroll around though. Finally on Thursday we arrived at Figueres, one of our motorhome guides suggested there was a supermarket with dedicated motorhome parking for 5 vans(N42.26047 E2.95108). When we arrived there were already 12 parked up so we joined them and nobody seemed bothered.    Now, I had it in my head that there was a Gaudi museum in Figueres so we trotted off to town to find it and check out what time we should arrive the following morning to avoid the queues. The museum was only a fifteen minute walk away and the guy in the ticket office suggested it was a quiet time of year and if we arrived soon after they opened at 9.30 we shouldn't have to queue. We set the alarm for the morning which was completely unnecessary as a guy fired up his petrol driven leaf blower right outside our door at 7.30am - thanks! So we arrived at the museum a little after opening time and sure enough there weren't many folk there and we could view the exhibits at leisure. After five minutes or so I remarked to Phil that there were a lot of Dali exhibits to which she replied "That's because it's a Dali museum".  Hmm, "So it's not a Gaudi museum then?".  Once that was settled and I had my Dali head on rather than my Gaudi head a great time was had by all. Whilst I had always understood him to be the master of surrealism I had never appreciated how varied his work was from paintings to sculptures to installations and much more. Just about every exhibit brought a smile to our faces. It's the second most visited museum in Spain and its worth every euro.   Not wishing to spend another night in a supermarket car park we set off after lunch for France. No more "Hola", "Que tal?"or "Hasta luego". Now it's "Bonjour", "Ca va?" and "Au revoir". We took the scenic route to Port Vendres where we've stopped a couple of times before and had a peaceful night's sleep with no leaf blowers in the morning (N42.51776 E3.11395).   Saturday we set off for a vineyard in the village of Mirepeisset (N43.28496 E2.90327),about 30k north of Narbonne and a twenty minute walk along the river La Cesse to the Canal du Midi. We were shown where to park and I asked if we could use the electric socket I saw nearby - "Yes, of course. The electricity is free if you spend €20 or more on our wine, otherwise we charge you €5." Not a difficult decision for us really.   Sunday we set off for the Camargue and a camperstop just outside Aigues-Mortes. There is a restaurant on site and the intention was to enjoy Sunday lunch there but when we arrived the restaurant was packed and there was no chance of a table - "Why not come back this evening at 7.30 for dinner?" This we did although the food wasn't as delicious as we remembered from our visit here exactly a year ago. Over the last week I've had to make a few running repairs to the van - fix a bad connection on one of the internal lights, repair a catch on one of the external lockers and repair a sagging shelf in one of the kitchen cupboards (twice!). None of these tasks cost me anything but time. Unfortunately on Monday morning disaster struck. We prepared to move off and when I turned the key in the ignition rather than the usual vroom all I got was a click! Flat battery. Had I left the lights on, the radio, anything? No, nothing had drained the battery. Opened the bonnet to check connections, where's the battery? Handbook out and discovered the battery is under a panel and two carpets in the cab, checked connections, all good. Fortunately we have European breakdown cover included with our vehicle insurance so after a lengthy phone call a mechanic was on his way although it might take him 2/3 hours to get to us as it was a very busy time. No problem, sit in the sun and read a book. Four hours later I phoned again, received profuse apologies and was advised he would be with me very shortly. Sure enough ten minutes later he arrived and told me I had a flat battery! "C'est Kaput!) Bravo! Jump started and engine running I asked, via the bi-lingual campsite owner, if he had a battery at his garage and was told to call there, about a twenty minute drive away, at 5pm. Now, if I was in the UK I would have plenty of options to find the best deal on the battery but I was a bit stuck here. It's a big battery, 95ah and they fitted it for me but I suspect I wouldn't have ended up paying €183 in the UK. Still, the duff one was the original supplied with the vehicle so it had lasted 9 years, weve had four years out of it so I can't really complain. Well, I can but I won't.   So we stayed another night at the camperstop location and set off on Tuesday morning heading toward Provence, specifically the town of Gordes which the guide books say is a must see. We're in a car park with mixed parking and after a bit of shuffling managed to find a spot (N43.91569 E5.19775), many of the car parks that accept motorhomes have dedicated parking but here its every man or woman for themselves. A tiered village sitting on the white rock face of the Vaucluse plateau, it certainly looks dramatic as you approach. We're waiting now for the setting sun to turn the stone buildings to gold. Whilst the village is pretty it pretty much relies on tourism so every second building is either a restaurant (expensive), an art gallery (expensive) or a tourist tat shop. So as you walk down the cobbled streets and alleyways you see the same T shirts, aprons and dresses, flowerpots and door knockers as you saw in the last pretty village and you'll see them again in the next one. Nevertheless, if you ignore that and squint a little you can see the village as it once was and I don't blame the folk who live here one little bit for trying to get their share of the tourist euro or dollar.   I'm not going to include any photos with this post because I'm having difficulties so doing but I will try to do a separate post and include a few pics.   Pat

Monday, 3 April 2017

Here we go again

Monday 3rd April 2017 Well, it would appear that I'm having problems with the blog - again!!!! The last blog I have just posted has failed to upload some of the photos, some of the font was altered halfway through the process but I won't be defeated! When I have some decent WiFi I'll try and sort it out, meanwhile..........sorry if my "operator error" is making you scratch your heads.   Pat

Back on the road again


Monday 3rd April 2017

We left Bolnuevo on Saturday after a very enjoyable 5 months or so. Well, there were a couple of months when it wasn't so enjoyable for Phil as she dislocated her ankle on Christmas Eve. A few weeks in a wheelchair, a bit longer on crutches, lots of physiotherapy and no dancing! The patient made a full recovery although she's still not quite ready for long walks in the mountains. We had great support from our friends in Bolnuevo; someone lent us a wheelchair - two actually as we managed to break one of them. Then they lent us some crutches and we had a rota of folk to drive us to and from the clinic 5 days a week for Phil's physio. I don't know what we would have done without their help and kindness. 

The closest Phil got to dancing for a few weeks:
Some weeks later:
When Phil was able to get out and about without my help I managed a couple of walks in the Espuna National Park, one of which was a seven hour hike up to the 4th highest peak at 1500m. Pretty gruelling but worth it for the views:
One of the highlights during our stay at the campsite at Bolnuevo is the Sardine and Sangria day that the staff provide for us, in fact they provide 2 and I don't know how many sardines they cook but here they are carrying one of the trays from the fire pit:
But eventually we decided we needed to start moving again slowly toward the Cevenne where we will spend Easter with our daughter and her family and then slowly head up to Zeebrugge for a ferry home on the 5th May. Saturday night we stopped at Ibi for no reason other than it wasn't too long a drive for our first day's traveling. Not much happening in Ibi. Yesterday we stopped at Riba-Roja de-Turia which was a delightful town with lovely river walks and a pretty old town. I've had no WiFi for a couple of days and was desperate for the football score yesterday and as we weren't far from Valencia, who were playing Deportivo I reckoned I could find a bar with the match on and hopefully blag some WiFi and sure enough I was successful, which is more than could be said for my team. Today we are at a campsite in Peniscola which we have christened Colditz as it is nigh on impossible to escape here without the appropriate key. We only stopped here as Phil is still not up to walking long distances and this was the nearest place to the Old Town which we wanted to visit.  Peniscola Old Town and a nearly completed last supper sand sculpture:
Tomorrow we set off for a Cava vineyard or museum (I'm not sure which!) Pat

Thursday, 1 December 2016

A rainy day in Bolnuevo

Thursday 1st December. I haven't posted on the blog for a month or so as we haven't been travelling. This is a travel blog rather than a diary but i thought you might be missing us so here's an update on what we've been up to recently. We rejoined a couple of walking groups when we arrived here which means we get 4 good scenic walks every month. Whilst we are here in Bolnuevo we don't have transport so we rely on our friends Dave and Francoise to ferry us to and from the start locations for the walks. This week was a two walk week and so on Monday we drove up to the Mariposa Hotel in the Espuna mountains for our first walk of the week. These are always quite strenuous walks but after a few hours we return to the hotel where we enjoy a hearty Menu del Dia. On Monday morning we arrived only to find that the walk was cancelled as they'd had four days of rain and the guide wasn't too happy with the conditions underfoot - we should have checked the website before setting off. Oh well, we had a cup of coffee and drove back. Today was another walking day, this time with the Campersol walking group. Last night it started raining at about 3am and it hasn't stopped yet. We checked our emails this morning to find that today's walk has also been cancelled! The walks with this group aren't particularly difficult and again, after the walk we have a meal at a restaurant located wherever the walk starts and finishes. The restaurant is booked in advance and although there is no walk today we still get to have the meal so we'll be setting off soon for that, every cloud etc..etc... So, no walks this week other than the usual daily stroll down the paseo or maybe a walk into Puerto de Mazarron for a bit of shopping. Whilst the rain is not much fun for us it is badly needed in this region, drought conditions were officially declared earlier this year. A lot of water is supplied via desalination plants here but higher up and further inland we have noticed that the reservoirs, irrigation canals and lakes have been very low. Maybe this rain will top them up a bit. A fortnight ago the annual pilgrimage from Mazarron to Bolnuevo took place, here's a link telling you all about the history of this event -  This year we got up early (always a struggle on a Sunday!) and took the free bus to Mazarron where we joined the procession. Hundreds and hundreds of folk of all ages follow the statue of the Virgin which is carried by strong, fit young men the seven miles or so back to Bolnuevo. There are a few stops on the way where refreshment is taken on board - hot chocolate and churros for some and cold meats, bread and wine for others. If you are unfortunate to be at the rear of the procession you have no chance of finding anything to eat or drink; we stayed near the front reckoning that we could put up with the band playing in our ears if it meant we could grab some grub. Its a sharp elbows job to get near the food but we managed to grab a few slices of meat and a chunk of bread each, the paper cups had all been used or blown away so its a swig from the bottle of wine and hope that the person before you hasn't got herpes. At the last stop before Bolnuevo we carried on down to the village and joined some friends of ours on the terrace of their villa where we were again fortified, this time with cava and hors d'ouvres, while we waited to watch the procession pass. First the statue, the band, then the hordes of followers on foot and finally the Caballeros, many in traditional dress on their beautifully groomed horses. Bolnuevo is transformed during the weekend. A funfair on the beach, stalls all along the paseo, impromptu BBQs everywhere, large marquees with music blaring out all day and most of the night and, of course, the restaurants and bars are heaving. The old fishermen's houses which are empty for most of the year are full of families sat around tables groaning with food and drink on the terraces and balconies. Its a great weekend but by Tuesday afternoon everything has been packed up and cleared away, the beach has been cleaned and you wouldn't know there had been anything happening. There was a Tapas trail the week preceding the fiesta weekend, a dozen bars and restaurants offered a tapas and drink for 4 euros. We had a card which was stamped at each establishment and then entered into a prize draw. We didn't win the raffle but it was great fun getting our card filled up! We are now approaching Christmas and the campsite is slowly being transformed into a massive grotto. The full time gardener on site has filled every available space with hundreds of Poinsettia plants and most of the motorhomers have one or two outside, bought last weekend from the local school kids to raise money for charity. Nativity scenes and decorated Christmas trees are springing up all over the place and caravans and motorhomes are slowly becoming festooned with climbing santas and coloured lights. I reckon its a bit early yet but we buy a set each year and I'll probably put ours up next weekend. A few pics for you - Our winter home.  
Sunday dancing
  The tapas trail card.
Some pics from our walk in Librilla.
  The funfair.
The procession.
 I have a few more photos to upload but I'm having issues with pictures at the moment (plus ca change eh?) so I'll put them on the next blog.   Pat  

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Sad Times

Sunday 30th October. I think we're lucky to be doing what we're doing, Phil says no - we're fortunate. She says we've worked all our lives and now we deserve the time we spend traveling around Europe and spending the winters in Spain with a nice climate and nice friends. Lucky/fortunate, whatever, we're certainly in a good place. But there are downsides to meeting new folks and making new friends. A few years ago we met a lovely couple from Scotland - Moira and John. You couldn't wish to meet a nicer couple. Earlier this year John wasn't feeling too well, we all joked about it - too much beer, put more olive oil on your salad, you'll be ok in a day or so etc...etc.... Moira and John drove back to Scotland last Easter time and, to cut a long story short, when they returned home John was diagnosed with an inoperable tumor. When we got home to the UK we drove up and visited them for a few days in the village where  they live in Scotland. We had a great time. They welcomed us and we all put on brave faces. Doctors had advised John that he maybe had six months..... Today we heard from Moira that John had taken a turn for the worse. When I write this blog I try and make it funny. Throw in a few crappy jokes and try and make you smile or giggle when you read it.  Tonight it would be good if you could spare a thought or offer up a prayer for John. Pat