Sunday, May 26, 2013

Sur le Pont d’Avignon

We’ve been in Avignon for about 10 days and yes, we have been ‘sur le pont’. Of course I had to do a little dance and sing the silly song.

Moi, sur le Pont
Avignon is a lovely city, with its intact city walls and imposing Papal Palace. Its one of those cities that you look at and sigh wistfully, imaging what it must have once been. The old city is still lovely and quite unspoilt. Those Popes really knew how to live and could clearly see that this area was a great escape from Rome at the time.

Le Pont d'Avignon
We managed a good cycle around the river island we are camped on – very near the infamous ‘pont’. We did this in the nick of time as the next day the Rhone burst its banks and no more cycle tracks. Yes its been bloody raining again. God we are sick of rain.

Being in Provence, we dreamt of fields of lavender, and hot sun. Ha! The lavender is not flowering yet, due to crummy weather, and we see just enough sun to tease us. We finally managed a rain free day to see Chateauneuf de Pape and some Rhone villages. Of course we had to buy some wine, but only 4 bottles, 3 of which are white – the reds being too young. It was a real thrill to wander around these famous towns and simply soak up the atmosphere.
The Chateau of Chateauneuf-de-Pape

Typical vineyard of Chateauneuf-de-Pape

Rhone Village of Gigondas
We’ve had to change our plans quite a bit recently and things are going to be a bit mad in the next few months. We had planned to catch the train to Paris to meet my sister Pip in late May. Of course once we’d booked the non-refundable tickets, we found out that our Landcruiser was arriving in the UK a month earlier than expected. Then Bimobil said they only need a week (rather than the original 6) to fit the body if they prebuilt it, bringing things forward even more. So now we need to make a dash to Munich to sort out the final nitty-gritty. Next, Lawrence’s brother in Bonn found he needed some hernia surgery and asked us to be around for moral support – of course we are happy to oblige.

So now the itinerary is this…
May 22 Paris by train from Avignon
May 26 return to Avignon (that’s today)
May 27 drive to Munich – cheapest means of transport is a hire car!
May 29 head back to Avignon and Hilda via Austria and Switzerland.
May 30 back in Avignon
June 1 head off in Hilda to Bonn via Northern Rhone and arrive in Bonn by June 5. 
Are you exhausted?

Oh well, best laid plans and all that!

So, we’ve just spent 4 days in beautiful, wet, Paris catching up with my sister and her hubbie who have just ridden their bicycles from the Black Sea along the Danube cycle way to France – really!! They are now heading to the Loire Valley to ride from Mulhouse to Nantes with 2 of their mad friends.

Back in Avignon this afternoon, I’ve managed to sell our sun lounges (sob) and our large outdoor table. Also gave away our old kettle and thermos. This is part of our downsizing strategy. We also have a buyer for the Mog – finally, and a buyer for Hilda, and maybe a buyer for the scooter and trailer. It’s all happening.

Our next logistical challenge is to work out where and how we can reclaim the VAT on the Bimobil. Looks like our choices are Turkey, Morocco or Ukraine. None of these really appeal and it has to be done with 3 months of purchase. We plan on getting to Turkey around March next year, so don’t feel like a dash there and back in August. It may have to be Morocco again. Oh well.

Any suggestions???

2000 year old Roman Theatre in Orange, north of Avignon, still in use.

Monday, May 13, 2013

It Happened In Arles

This is the title of a book I read as a young teenager. I don’t remember exactly what ‘happened’ but there was murder, mayhem and derring-do and some smart-arse teenager saved the day. Anyway it made a great impression on me and I’ve wanted to go to Arles ever since.

It’s a lovely city but nothing of great note to be seen except a well preserved Roman Arena – still in use. There’s also a fantastic Saturday market at which you can buy virtually everything. We restricted ourselves to veg and a small coffee percolator (for Kazakhstan).

Roman Arena in Arles

Dressed for Church in Arles - not sure what they were about!

We spent a day in Nîmes and were enchanted by the grand buildings and cleanliness and neatness of everything. There was a real mixture of architecture from neo-Romanesque, neo-Gothic, Paladian and of course Roman (in the form of a 2000 year old Roman arena). Nîmes of course is famous for the invention of denim (Serge de Nîmes), was developed to clothe slaves in the US.

Roman Arena in Nimes is still used for bullfighting.

Sunny Square in Nimes - Lawrence on far right having a beer.

We are very close to the Camargue area and of course Lawrence wanted to explore it. It’s vast wetland that is sanctuary for birds. “Oh great’ I thought “more bloody ducks.” However, it was absolutely wonderful. It was teaming with flamingos, which I absolutely love. Their barbie doll pink beaks are a colour that you just don’t expect in nature.

We also saw a whole raft of interesting birds including Eagle Owl (huge), heron, egrets, swans, storks (white and black), ducks (of course), stilts and some funny looking Coypu, something like an overgrown water rat.

There was the usual raft of geeks with their enormous lenses which seemed a bit of overkill since you could almost touch the damn birds they were so close. This flamingo photo was taken with a tiny pocket size camera!

Before arriving here we spent a few days in Lunel, between Nîmes and Montpelier. We drove down to a town a called La Grand Motte (meaning The Big Lump). It was straight out of an Austin Powers movie. The whole thing was designed and built in the 60s, so very dated now, but somehow it all worked and we rather liked it. At least there was thought put into the design and layout, rather than just haphazard throw together boxes.

Marina at La Gran Motte
The town of Lunel was fairly typical French regional town with a good market and restaurants. Nice to wander around but wouldn’t write home about it.

From here we go to Avignon and the Rhone Valley – for further education purposes.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Bonjour from France

Our entry into France via the 8km Somport Tunnel was uneventful, except for the noticeable deterioration in the roads. The French side of the mountains are even more beautiful than the Spanish counterpart, which we hadn’t thought possible.

Our campsite in the Ossau Valley was small and cosy and muddy. Basically everywhere is muddy due to the enormous amount of rain over winter. We’ve had fun watching other motorhomers and caravanners get bogged.

Good weather for ducks - Lawrence cooking Confit de Canard on the bbq in the rain.
Despite its fun name of Louvie Juzon, our local town was rather dull which on reflection was a good thing. The weather was so lovely, it would have been too tempting sit in a sunny square and drink rosé all day.

Our first day’s hike was simply magnificent. Exactly what you would expect from a Pyrenean walk. Blue sky – check, snowy peaks – check, picturesque villages – check, soft green valleys – check. 11kms of bliss, starting with a long, long uphill, then a slow downhill, followed by a cold beer in a sunny square.

French Pyrenees

Picturesque or what??

Walk number 2 was a bit of trudge as my legs were protesting a bit. Another long slog uphill to see some standing stones that were outstanding only in their lack of anything interesting – a circle of rocks, that looked like something we made in Brownies camp. At the risk of sounding world weary, we saw amazing standing stones in Portugal, and these just didn’t cut the mustard. The views, of course, made up for it.

Day 2
Standing Stones my arse.
As luck would have it, we were slap bang in the middle of a small wine region, Jurançon. Despite our promises not to buy any more wine, we bought 2 bottles of the very tasty late harvest sticky. It just isn’t in our DNA to go to an interesting region and not buy wine.

The following day it rained, oh dear, the end of our good weather. Next day saw us on the road again toward Foix. The temperature kept dropping and before we knew it, we were driving through a snow storm. At the end of April. In the south of France. We walked into Foix the next day from our camping spot, wearing our German winter clothes. Puffy coat, fur lined boots etc, as the temperature struggled to get to 7 degrees. At the end of April. In the south of France.

Driving in snow Storm
Moving on, we arrived in Beziers. I had a dreamy romantic image of us cycling alongside the Canal Du Midi, stopping at pretty cafes to sip cheap rosé in the sun, watching the narrow boats glide by. Well, our camp is by the canal but our view is of 2 slowly rotting caravans. The boats tied up here are all rusting hulks. Where’s the geraniums? Where’s the lace curtains? Where's the bloody sun? We took the bus to town instead (still wearing puffy coat - At the end of April. In the south of France.) I was suffering from lack of sun and my mood was not pleasant – poor Lawrence.

Anyway, the first of May arrived bringing the sun with it. Oh, you have no idea how our mood lifted. What a joy it was to get on our bicycles and yes, we cycled alongside the Canal du Midi. My dreamy image became a reality, almost. No geraniums, but further along there were Plane Trees lining the canal and we cycled along sun dapped cycleways and stopped for rosé and pizza. 2 days of this and we were back to normal.

Canal du Midi
Next stop Lunel.