Saturday, 30 April 2016

April Holiday, Day 10

Sadly, the clear skies under which we had gone to sleep this morning clouded over during the night, and the Swan Whisperer was lucky not to get wet when he went for his run. However, it didn't start raining until he was safely in the shower.
We said goodbye to our hosts at about 10:00 and set off towards Foix. Our first port of call was a supermarket, in Perpignan, to stock up for the weekend - only apparently Monday isn't a bank holiday here, they don't transfer May Day. Thursday is a holiday, Ascension Day, and they used to have 8 May (VE Day) and Whit Monday, too. This year that will be on the 16th, I suppose - it's always  the last Monday in May whenever Pentecost is in the UK, and has been for the last 40 years or so.
Anyway, apart from fresh bread we have enough to do us until Tuesday morning.  We thought, as we were in the area, that we would go a bit further south still and visit the Château de Gudanes, which is being refurbished by an Australian family.
Nobody was at home, but I'm glad we saw it, anyway.  Then the Satnav said it was only another 2 hours to where we had tentatively planned to spend the night, if we didn't mind paying motorway tolls, so we headed off.  Not nearly such an interesting drive, of course - the first bit, while on good enough roads, had been full of hairpin bends and mountain scenery and so on.  This was just boring motorway, mostly round Toulouse (felt that way).
We are now on a farm outside Montauban, so technically still in the South of France. It is still cold and windy, and we might have to have hot-water bottles again tonight, having not wanted them the past two nights.

Friday, 29 April 2016

April Holiday, Day 9

This morning found us at Carcassonne. We needed to check out by noon, or pay another night's fees, so we were up betimes and after breakfast we went out for a walk to walk up to the Cité, which was horribly steep but well worth it, not least for a glimpse of the the snow-capped Pyrenees in the distance.


  The ramparts themselves date back to the Romans and beyond, but were extensively, although not authentically, restored by Viollet-le-Duc in the 19 th century.  It was good to get up there early, before the crowds, although there were already long queues outside the museum.  And, indeed, when we got back to the campsite, our neighbours were only just having breakfast! 
So we drove away down to Narbonne and then turned right towards Perpignan, a city which to me is a dream or a fantasy. When I was in what would now be called Year 8, we had to memorise a series of answers to various questions in French, one of which was "Où se trouve Perpignan ?". I forget what the only acceptable answer was, but the question has stuck with me.
We stopped for lunch by one of the big sea-lochs with which this part of the world abounds
and, unfortunately, when we actually arrived in Perpignan, I was rather too sleepy to enjoy it.  But I have been there, and it is real!
We are parked up for the night on a farm about 10 km out of the city, which is part of the France Passion network. Beautifully quiet, we are the only van here.

The owners were very friendly, and we appear to have bought some wine, but it is very good. They devote different sections of their vineyard to different grapes, and are very much small-scale producers.
Dinner was home-made; couscous with chicken and enough vegetable stew to do us again tomorrow, when we shall have it with merguez...mmm....

Thursday, 28 April 2016

April Holiday, Day 8

This morning we woke up, rather late, in a park to the NE of Castres, and, after breakfast, decided to have a wander round.
The SW said that the skating rink was "just over there", which it may well have been, but it was across a river and the bridge had been closed as, rather obviously, unsafe. And it would have been a long way round by road, on foot, we had to abandon that idea. We wandered down to the main road and saw a bus stop and, just as we had decided that it would take us into town, up came the bus itself. What's more, it was totally free!
So we went into town and had a potter about, and I went to Monoprix to buy the shower gel I like from there, and found that has a travel-size, so treated myself to one, too.  Castres was pretty, but not desperately interesting, so we bought some bread and a couple of quiches for lunch, and then spent a little while finding where to catch the bus back to the park, and there the bus was, so we caught it, and after a last wander round the bit we hadn't seen, set off for Carcassonne.
We stopped at a lake resort to have lunch, which was lovely; we tried eating out of doors but, although it was a beautiful day, there was a cold wind, so we abandoned the effort half-way through.
We are in a camp-site at Carcassonne, as it is in walking distance of the citadel - the SW promptly went to explore, and I hope to in the morning - but we are not in a very nice pitch - very sloping, and there is a tree in the way so we can't pitch our awning. The sanitaires are horrible, too, although clean. But there was a launderette, and I had run out of warm clothes so did a load, just in case it gets much colder again as we head north. It is not seriously hot here, but lovely in the sun, and we envied those whose pitches had enough sun to sit out in!
We went shopping at a local supermarket, and a nice thing about this place is that we have been able to order bread for the morning. Supper was fish and vegetables, followed by chestnut mousse, and now it is bed time.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

April Holiday, Day 7

We are rapidly losing track of what day it is..... But we think it is Wednesday.
This morning, we woke up in Roquefort, and set off to buy the eponymous cheese and perhaps look round the cellars. The most famous brand is Société, but you can get that anywhere, even in Brixton Lidl, and, indeed, they do dominate the town. But we wanted something less mainstream, and ended up at Gabriel Goulet, where we were able to look round their cellars and see a short film about the production of the cheese. Which didn't actually tell us anything we didn't already know, and because modern EU rules say that cheese has to be matured on plastic shelves, not wood, the actual "cheeses" in the cellar were made of expanded polystyrene!
Anyway, we had a tasting, and the 15-month-old stuff was seriously wonderful, so we bought some. I asked the assistant how best to store it once we'd opened it, and she said to wrap it in cling film and keep it in a plastic box in the fridge, and it should keep 4-6 weeks.
The sheep the milk comes from look seriously odd. They are a rather manky brown on top, and have been shaved underneath, presumably for ease of milking, but it does give them a very moth-eaten appearance. We would have liked to find out what happens to the lambs, as they obviously can't stay with their mothers, and whether the wethers (sorry!) are used for meat. I expect one can find out...
Then we left Roquefort and drove, first to the village of St Jean d'Ales, a fortified former monastery, and then to St Affrique, where we had lunch. Then the main drive of the day, across very beautiful countryside to Castres.
When we got here, we found a notice saying the camping-car aire had been moved to, and gave the address, right the other side of town. So we went there and found it was just services, on an industrial estate. But we could park, so we did, and read and relaxed for a couple of hours before heading to the Buffalo Grill for dinner. However, the only reason to eat there is to use their WiFi, and it was not working, so we came away. There was a random WiFi around, which my phone connected to, so I was able to upload photos, but they got a bit out of order. And half my apps decided they needed updating (as does the system), but I firmly told then they would have to wait until we got home.
We were going to Auchan to quickly shop for something for supper, but there was a restaurant in the complex so we ate there instead. Steak and pasta and beans, followed by ice cream, with a glass of house red - lovely!  And Auchan has free WiFi, but I think they turned it off when they closed for the night.
Anyway, we drove through the town back to the original car park, as we reckoned they would still allow overnight parking, even without services, and we wanted to see something of the town, anyway. A fairly typical French town, nothing totally special. And, indeed, there are other camping-cars parked up here, despite the lack of services.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

April Holiday, Day 6

We wanted to go into Clermont-Ferrand to see the Cathedral and the Basilica, but were not sure we would find parking. However, we were just by a bus stop, so I went over to investigate, and found that, actually, what we were next to was a tram stop, but that the southern end was not in service just now, and there was a replacement bus service. So after breakfast we bought tickets from the tram stop and caught the replacement bus and then the tram into town.
We found the Cathedral very easily, and spent a while looking round, and then walked over to the Basilica, which I liked even more. The Cathedral's USP is that it is built out of black basalt, and visible for miles around.  It is lovely, but I liked Notre-Dame-du-Port even more. Both are World Heritage Sites.
Clermont-Ferrand is supposed to be the driest place in France, so of course it rained most of the time we were there!  And my trainers sprung a leak and I didn't have a spare pair, so our next port of call was a cheap shoe shop, where I bought a new pair, and then a supermarket.
After lunch, we set off and spent the afternoon driving through sunshine and showers to the Millau Viaduct; we stopped about 30 km short as the SW needed a break, and I was delighted to find a book of suggested camping-car tours in France, with all the parking and so on suggested, too.  The SW is reading it as I write!
We got to Millau eventually, and went to to the visitor centre so we could see it properly, but it is quite a trek from the non-motorway part of the car park, and it was, needless to say, raining! And we had been before and we didn't want any food or anything, so we came away and drive through Millau (getting lost, but so what - it looked easier than it was, so I hadn't set the Satnav), and eventually under the Viaduct
and then on to Roquefort-en-Aveyron, home of the eponymous cheese, where we have parked up and will explore in the morning.  If it isn't raining, or even if it is!

Monday, 25 April 2016

April Holiday, Day 5

It was cold this morning!  Like 0° C outside the van, and I'm not sure it was much warmer in it!  "Do I have to get up?" I asked the Swan Whisperer, when I had drunk my tea, but of course I had to, and with a hot shower and the heating on for a bit, and cooking breakfast, it was not too bad. All the same, it was a cold, cold walk around Bourges this morning to look at its Cathedral, which is apparently the only Cathedral to have five naves and no transepts.  It also has an astronomical clock parked randomly on the middle of one of the naves, seemed rather odd.
We then drove up to a supermarket and I shopped for various bits and pieces while the SW got diesel, and planned our route to Clermont-Ferrand, which was across former N-roads, and a bit of motorway so that we could see the Puy de Dôme, the biggest of the chain of volcanoes in the area. It has a microwave tower on the top which rather dwarfs the original Cross that was there, a pity, I think, but they didn't ask me. We stopped en route for a cup of tea and a slice of fruit cake, and arrived in Clermont-Ferrand at about 6:30 pm. 
The trouble was, I had planned for us to park in a Lidl car park, but when we got there, no sign of any welcome for motor homes, and, worst of all, when I checked the list it wasn't on it!  I can't have been dreaming, as I had the latitude and longitude of the place, and everything. Weird!  So we came away and another list told us we could park in the university car park, so we have. Hope it is ok, and I also hope we can find daytime parking in Clermont-Ferrand tomorrow as I want to see its splendid black basalt Cathedral, which looked amazing on the way in!

Sunday, 24 April 2016

April Holiday, Day 4

Today was Sunday. I woke up shortly after 7, not having slept terribly well - the Swan Whisperer was a bit restless, which kept me awake, plus he didn't put enough water into his hot-water-bottle, which went cold, so he demanded the use of mine, which I, kindly, let him have and then regretted it!

Anyway, it was a glorious morning, although cold.  Blue skies, birds singing, gloriously hot shower, orange juice, eggs and toast for breakfast - what more could one want?

Ice skating, of course, and today was the final day of the competition, with the artistic programmes, always fun to watch, including a splendid Popeye and a dress that lit up like a Christmas tree!  There was a break for lunch in the middle, so we treated ourselves to a sandwich and chips in the bar, and then came back to the van to eat that nice French compôte with cream on top.  And I had a short rest before watching the final skaters.

We decided not to stay for the show, but slipped away and drove cross-country to Bourges. I even drove for a couple of miles, although it was not much fun and I don't think I had my seat quite right. Not comfortable!  But the roads were very quiet, so not too nerve-racking.

Bourges provides a very nice aire for campers, near the town centre, with free services, what more could you want?  We had a cup of tea and some fruit cake, and then the SW went out for a walk.  It was raining, so I declined to join him but sat and read and knitted - and dozed, if I am honest - until he came back, whereupon it was time to get supper, which included asparagus, as I'd bought some from a little greengrocer-cum-florist beside the rink, and also more strawberries.  And wine, of course. The main course was kidneys in Madeira sauce, which we both love, with rice, carrots and cabbage. And very good it all was, too!

Saturday, 23 April 2016

April Holiday, day 3

Woke up shortly before my alarm went off at 08:00 this morning, and after breakfast we made our way to the rink. Lovely to see old friends there, and gratifying to be told we are missed on the circuit.  "Maybe your stamina will come back," said one friend, hopefully, and while I hope it does, I really can't see myself putting in the hours I need to maintain my level of mediocrity again.  Still, we shall see.

Anyway, we saw some good performances and some mediocre ones, skaters that have improved since last time, and ones that have not....  There was a long lunch break, during which we went shopping and ate in the motor home.

The rink was very cold, and I was glad I had a rug with me. We came away before the podiums, and came back to the camp site. The SW went for a walk, and I curled up on the bed with a book, and dozed off!  Woke up when he came in, and eventually got my act together enough to cook a bacon,, mushroom, tomato and chili sauce for pasta, which was followed by strawberries and fromage blanc. I am longing for asparagus, but it is the white stuff, and still quite expensive. Oh well, we may yet find some....

Friday, 22 April 2016

April Holiday, Day 2

Today was a very, very long drive. The Sat nav told us that it would be quickest to go via the A26 and the A1 and then round the Périphérique, and then on South. I think with hindsight we would have been better to go via the A16 and across via Chartres and Orléans, but the SW said we hadn't been that way for ages, so we did.

Or first port of call, however, was to Auchan, where I did a bit of shopping while the SW got gas and diesel, and then we were off. I should have driven the first but, but bottled it - I am chicken about driving this machine!  We stopped for lunch at some random rest area north of Paris, just by the TGV railway line (how the Boy would have loved it!), and then again at the next one to quickly turn the gas off (oops!)!  Then it was round the Périphérique, and once we were off that, I fell asleep, to be woken by a frantic fantasia on a horn by a lorry driver. We think he must not have noticed that we are right-hand drive, and thought I had fallen asleep while driving.

We stopped again for a brief break and a quick cup of tea, most welcome, and then decided not to come via Blois, which we had planned, as it was getting late.

No problem at the camp site, which is ok but the sanitaires are a bit bleak - no loo paper and fixed head showers. We went up to the rink, where the competition had started, but only briefly as we didn't really know anybody. Really just to case the joint, as it were. Then back to the camp site for supper (choucroute garni, yum), and I expect we will have a fairly early night.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

April Holiday, Day 1

The Swan Whisperer fetched the motor home from Sussex this afternoon, and we loaded it up and were away by 7 pm. Very smooth journey, and very little waiting about. We put our clothes away while waiting, and then when all was tidy, I got ready for bed and spent the last 10 minutes of the crossing snuggled down!  Had to get up again while we drove the short distance to Cité Europe, where we parked up for the night.

Delighted that data is now 75% cheaper than in December, but photos will be added later as I don't find them easy to add from this app. Plus I haven't taken any yet....

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Off again!

I don't know how to access Networked Blogs from my phone to goose it, so this post is really a placeholder to say we are off again tomorrow for two weeks, the first of five weeks' planned holiday in the motor home - we come home on 4 May for a week,  then off again for a week, then home for I think three weeks and then off for two weeks for Oberstdorf and a few days' travel either side.  We might even go to Bavorov again, but that is a long way ahead.

Anyway, I shall now goose Networked Blogs and hope they'll keep checking as I journal the holiday!