Month: January 2018

25 July to 17 August 2017- new route home

Pausing only to take advantage of the summer heat in France to give a couple of critters a good scrubbing we planned the route home.

 

Because my mother had moved down to Bristol we could easily incorporate a visit by taking the ferry from Cherbourg to Poole. This had the added advantage of passing close to friends from university days living in Dorset, whom we had not seen for a decade or more.

Heading northish/westish we aimed for the Loire valley and found a green and lovely spot beside the river Cher, a tributary, in the old town of St Aignan. Lovely, but awkward due to being on an uneven road edge with van-penetrating short bollards marking the limit of the parking. Neil navigated into the spot with precision and the panels remained unscathed – even when unparking the next day with other vans having closed the gap:-(

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The geraniums came with us as I could not bear to think of them sitting on the steps of the fermette freezing in the frosty Burgundian winter. (They made it home to York   unmarmalised and, by the good graces of our house sitters, should be coming back to France in July 2018.)

Racing northwards we spent the next night in one of the generous Aires in Fougères –  a remarkable fortified town just on the edge of Brittany. This steeply hilly old town afforded us some exercise but we did not dally as our sailing was a mere day away.

 

 

We spent our last night in a paid aire in a small fishing town a few miles from Cherbourg called St Vaast la Hougue. A charming spot with a chapel to seafarers and a café on the front that will sting unwary visitors hard for a mere cup of tea:-(  Lesson –  check the menu before sitting down even if it does make you feel miserly. Rain showers patrolled menacingly across the horizon but failed to make landfall.

 

Last day in la belle France and we parked up early in Cherbourg for a late afternoon sailing to Poole – not ideal but that is what happens with late bookings. Roaming the town in search of some mimolette cheese for Lorna and John, Neil found just the person to ask.

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Sun set as we crossed the Channel.

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Darkness fell before we arrived in the undulating field that passes for a campsite near their house. We parked on a bit that looked flattish in the dark taking pains to avoid guy ropes and feeling guilty at weaving between tents after ten thirty:-( Next morning we found a bit that was actually flat!  It was a holiday weekend and the site was filling up – we had to ask the next van that arrived not to park with their awning practically extending across our door. Campsite fire safety rules say you should be at least six metres from the next person so it was an easy ask.

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We spent the weekend walking and talking with Lorna and John and their two sons (whom we had last seen as babies!) and eating in the amazing, quirky, stone cottage. Then on to try and park near enough to my mother’s home in Bristol for her to manage to walk out to see the van. The tall stone entrance gate to the car park is very narrow and the road outside busy so we did not fancy tackling the manoeuvering that would be required to get a straight run at it – with no guarantee of success! By some miracle the minor road beside the park opposite her home is marked on park4night as spot where you can overnight! We did! Mummy managed the two hundred yards including a dash across the road, with our support and our urgent advice not to stop for a breather on the white line! She was amazed at the van and how it managed to contain a whole house in such a compact space. I am very pleased that she got to see it. Onto a CL a couple of miles away near Helen’s house (another lovely old stone cottage!) and another day or so with family.

We could not make York from Bristol before closing time at our storage so we spent a final night at a rural CL in Alne where the chickens welcomed us back to Yorkshire.

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And that is it for summer 2017. The garden at home had suffered slightly more than the one in France as it had been untended, except for some pot watering, for over three months. It was a tad overgrown:-( There’s a large shed somewhere back there!

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24 June to 24 July 2017 – Alps to fermette

Too far for one day’s drive to the fermette we picked a campsite beside a lake about half way back – Cormoranche-sur-Saône. The drive out of the mountains was scenic and relaxed, for a change!  It was still hot and the lake was welcome although not as nice a lake as our local one – I guess we were focussed on getting back by now.

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Stopping only for lunch at a tranquil aire beside a canal at Beaulon, and noting it as a nice stop for future reference, we headed home. Frustrating things in hot weather canals –  all that water and ne’er a drop to swim in.

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We had been away the best part of six weeks at the height of the growing season. My wild flower border was more wild than flower; my tomatoes had failed to thrive – they had not died, but seemed not to have grown as fast as the grass and weeds around them:-(

 

The baby hirondelles in the barn were learning to fly and we fell into our usual summertime round of activities of swimming, mowing, walking lazing in the sun, feeding the donkeys. Always cut the carrots long-ways and don’t give them bread – they can easily get diabetes apparently.

 

 

A few brocantes were attended, more for the chipos and chips than any desire to buy more stuff. A glut of apricots meant really low prices so I made apricot jam and then plum chutney.

 

The highlight was the communal game of boules and picnic.  I was privileged to be partnered with the mayor (Xavier) but Neil and the local carpenter, Jean Michel, won. Yes, we are on first name terms now, after only 12 years.

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The monument in the background is the memorial to the Maquis Julien who were based in the woods further down the lane. Many other resistance groups were based in this area as it was on the direct route from north to south so ideal for disrupting communications. Many brave men and women fought and died in guerrilla actions hereabouts and their memorials are scattered across the countryside and in village squares. They are all honoured on the anniversary of their notable battles – many in early August (1944) – when all the local dignitaries, the police, pompiers, and usually a small band will turn out together with flags and hunting horns.  A couple of years ago there were still a few very old maquisards present, tottering to attention for the national anthem.

Neil fought his own battle with a stray hornet whilst up a ladder cleaning the roof of the van. The hornet won! A trip to the pharmacy was needed. For information, take plenty of anti-histamines and take care to avoid an infection. It looked a bit grim.

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Portia relaxed in the garden and our next trip was a leisurely drive to a ferry port.

Heading back …

After Delphi we had two nights to get back to Patras for our ferry on 20th June. We wound back along the north coast of the Gulf of Corinth looking down at the small villages in the bays below. Each had a cluster of buildings in the middle and rough roads extending either side along the beach. A motorhome could easily park up discreetly away from the buildings and stay the night. After trying one or two we found a spot just along from a taverna where the van did not obstruct anyone’s view or access. A passing bus driver told us we were fine there.  The view was nice, the water was but feet away so first we had a swim (that speck is Neil) and then a cup of tea at the taverna. We had post cards to write. It’s all go.

 

Being nervous of missing the boat we wanted to stay the night before the sailing just a short distance away. So over the Gulf we went on the amazing Rio-Antirrio suspension bridgeimage  back to the first camp site we stayed at when we arrived a few weeks ago. Next morning we found the right road back to the ferry port by ignoring  Stella’s directions to the shorter, narrower, busier minor roads we had followed on arrival.

Our sailing was mid-afternoon so we got there late morning and parked up in the blasting heat of the port car park. Check-in informed us the ferry was two hours late and, as afternoon turned to evening, this extended to five hours. The chaos beside the dock was even worse than the outward trip. The only staff around were there to chase the skinny brown young men who raced across the concrete with their small backpacks trying to get onto a ship or a lorry. Or a motorhome.  It was sad. But we all checked our back doors were locked:-(

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As the sun set the ferry arrived and boarding of the vehicles took forever. No one had directed any vehicle into a queue for its destination – the Ancona travellers, who would get off first, were randomly mixed with those for Igoumenitsa and Venice. We were amongst the last loaded so it was approaching midnight before we were finally on and plugged in. The restaurants were closed, despite assurances they would stay open late, so we went supperless to bed.  Ah well.

The time was not made up over the twenty-three hours sailing so we arrived in Ancona after dark with a few possible campsite destinations just hoping they were still open. They weren’t.  We finally found a parking area where motohomes were permitted to overnight and pulled in gratefully.  One nasty point on the journey was the low underpass that did not reveal its height until we had descended the short, narrow, concrete culvert that was the slip road – a flat 3.00 metres! Oh my god – we are 3.10:-( Braced for the crunch of shattering satellite dome we shot under it. Nothing happened. Phew! We are definitely 3.10 so the underpass was fibbing!

By now the whole of southern Europe was in the grip of a developing heatwave and I was getting anxious. The cool of the Alps beckoned and we decided on a fast trip back across the northern Italian plain  on the motorway. This took us to a farm most of the way across where the farmer was not yet set up for the agritourist season, but ushered us into the shade of his courtyard and brought us cold water to drink.

image  We spent the rest of the  sweltering 40 degree evening wilting in the farmyard and watching the sunset over the plain. imageNext time we go to Greece it will definitely be earlier in the year.

We raced on the next day choosing the route across the Alps we had been unable to take on the outward trip due to a road closure. We assumed the road down the other side of the mountains would be open by now. Dangerous things assumptions:-(  we passed various notice boards warning of road works and seeming to say no vehicles over eight metres should proceed. We are only six, so no problem. To cut a long, heart-in-mouth story short, a “route de secours” had been created from a goat track on one side of the steep valley to by-pass a damaged bridge on the proper road on the other side of the chasm! Oh bugger!! There was enough room to edge past on-coming traffic in most places, and passing places had been newly-carved into the cliff face in others. And there was quite a surprising amount of traffic using this emergency road. There was no going back as we could neither turn around nor reverse up the hairpins. We were on the outside of the road with the sheer cliff below us so it was hairy in the extreme.  Only one angry French driver shouted that we should not be on the road endangering innocent motorists. We agreed but had met the only criterion specified, had there been fuller information, we would not have been. Not our fault guv, honest! The final section was single lane only and controlled by traffic lights so slightly less scary and after ten kilometres we could drive back across the dam to the proper road. Never again! My hands were glued to the armrests in terror so no pictures were taken.

We pulled gratefully into a French aire half way down the other side of the Alps in what is a ski resort in winter. It was still very hot and an icy stream beckoned – fed straight from the glaciers above. Neil wimped out but I got in. Neil video-ed the process, with sound, and it is painful viewing and listening. Definitely the coldest yet but a certain numb euphoria comes over you after a minute or so and you can stay in longer than you would think (without needing emergency resuscitation).

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Here is the proof – note the reflections of frozen peaks in the background.

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And here they are in person. Brrrrr.

 

Catching up after a long break….

Not sure why my blogging ground to a halt back in June 2017 but, once halted, it is hard to get going again. So here we are in January 2018: house sitters are in place enjoying the snow in York and we are idling in the Portuguese countryside in full sun and 16 degrees. I want to start going again but feel obliged to fill in the missing parts.  What follows on this page, and maybe the next, is a lightning summary of the intervening six or so months. I did not bring my Mac on this trip so these pages are produced from my iPad. The editing functions seem to be more limited on here so apologies for differences. Also – the wifi connection seems able to cope with only short blogs – so lots of short ones follow.

18 June – Delphi

Our drive from our campsite one side of the town of Delphi to the archaeological site on the other entailed a nail biting, heart stopping detour via winding streets that became so narrow we had to stop and reverse to avoid wedging our ungainly six metres between ancient stone buildings.  The main road, once regained, took us straight to ancient Delphi – centre of the world – and this stone omphalos marks the spot. It was thrown

imagethere by Zeus after two eagles had indicated the approximate spot. There seem to be several such omphalosses in existence so there is a chance that this story is not true.  It was also the home of the amazingly powerful Oracle of Delphi whose seat over the gaseous vent is now nothing but an unprepossessing pile of rocks.  Earthquakes have taken their toll here as in other Greek sites. The whole site is truly magnificent, containing the remarkable amphitheatre (still used) image the temple and sanctuary of Apollo imageand attendant treasuries from the kings of all regions.image

The treasures from the site are in yet another not-to-be-missed museum. The entry ticket to the site includes the museum up the road (12 euros for oldsters from memory).image

Now back to Patras for the ferry to Italy.