Sunday, September 15, 2013

across spain

The next leg of my travels is with Joy.  I dropped the girls off at the airport with all their luggage - bicycle, child seat for car, child seat for bicycle, toys, regular luggage and the van felt suddenly larger, more spaceous.  Well, it would, four down to two and plenty fewer belongings. 

From the east coast of Spain, across Spain to nearly the west coast of Portugal, I am off to visit my brother.  He’s been living in Portugal for just over a year now and I am so excited to see what progress has been made since my visit last year.  We have chatted loads, but to see it all in reality is going to be great.  

Joy and I spent a couple of hours plotting campsites on a cheap map just so that we had some idea of where we might stay on our journey.  The idea is to catch glimpses of places en route rather than to visit them in depth.  Our timescale is limited as my brother heads back to England for ten days soon and we want to overlap before he leaves.

We visited Barcelona for a day before leaving.  It was Catalonia Day, the local region of Spain that is aiming for independence, and a local holiday.  Many shops were closed and tourist tours were limited to the morning so we made the most of those and spent the afternoon in awe of the vast numbers of people filling the streets in clebration/demonstration of the day.  Spot the Catalan flag!!

(still slow internet................º
traveling light as usual.....

Barcelona from the city tour bus

Magic fountain during the day

memorial for when Catalonia lost independence and was  merged into Spain

Catalan flag anyone?

traditional Catalan costume

A happy Joy in front of the official Barcelona football memorabilia shop


Our early arrival allowed us a couple of extra days locally before moving into a grand apartment in the centre of town.  Jacqueline and Tania’s summer holiday destination along with another six friends who came and went throughout the week.   It was great to see everyone, to spend chilled time in one place, to have everything on the doorstep, sunny roof top terrace,  bars, restaurants, cafes, shops, we could do all our food shopping on our street alone, without venturing further.  The beach five minutes stroll away and in a lovely peaceful location.  One of the great things we love about Sitges is it’s gay friendliness, it feels safe, comfortable and there is a relaxed atmosphere that spreads throughout the whole town.  

Needless to say we had a great time, our time flew by, I don’t think I have ever spent so much time in the sea, nor have I cycled every morning on holiday ever before.  I checked on Percy each day, parked in a free car park up on the hill, a bit remote, but overlooked by blocks of flats and a police station and surrounded by his kind, all was fine when we came to depart.

(still slow internet so no photos yet)
Sitges on the one stormy day we had

The church in lovely evening light

Tania Alix and I checking out the sea front on our bikes

swanky beach bar

Cheers to Jacqueline on her birthday

Alix mastering the trampoline

the coast

Our descent from the hills to the mediterranean coast was stunning, Charmin Garmin our sat nav unit took us cross country through amazing scenery, along tortuous, narrow, winding roads, past rock escarpments, up and down steep sided valleys down onto the coastal plains.  We stopped to check out a Cathar castle and have some lunch before arriving in Argeles sur Mer late afternoon.

Argeles wasn’t at all what I was expecting, I had visited Collioure in the past, the next town down the coast and was hoping for something similar.  How wrong could I have been.    (several paragraphs deleted here)

The positives were that the campsite was well equipped with a great pool complex that kept us well occupied, we had good friendly neighbours and we hadn’t actually booked a week, so we stayed two days before packing up  and heading on down the coast.  It was such a traumatic experience for Jacqueline that even a drive through Collioure couldn’t sway her to stay in France and we headed south into Spain.  Charmin Garmin did his thing as ever and directed us all the way to a campsite in Sitges the seaside town where we were to stay for the next ten days.  He did take us off the major route around Barcelona to give us a sneak taster of what rush hour traffic on one of the major arterial routes was like.  I took a deep breath, followed his instructions and came out the other side none the worse for wear.  I sure am getting used to van driving in foreign countries.

(no photos, very slow internet connection)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

albi and on

Day 10

Croissants and hot chocolate, or was it crêpes and hot chocolate in the square followed by a mooch round the shops.  It appeared that the vast majority of shops contained things with cats on, we had an eager cat spotter with us, so much time was spent finding them all.  

We checked out the vast cathedral, abbey gardens, beautiful bridges before finding a dancing fountain.  It was hot and sunny and our little traveler needed to expend as much energy  as possible so that she would sleep for the majority of the next drive.  We had a great hour getting absolutely soaked, running about trying to dodge the water and generally having fun.

The plan worked, as usual.  Within ten minutes Alix was fast asleep.

I’ve got to go faster here, as the opportunities to blog are few and far between.  I have written the last few posts within a couple of days, far away from where you think I am and nearly a fortnight afterwards.

Carcassonne ramparts

more ramparts
jumping from post to post with Uncle Sam and Mummy Jac

the new four person version with tent and shaded dining area

almost the view from our pitch


So, for a few locations photos and a brief note, else I’ll be miles behind

Jacqueline, Tania’s partner was flying out to meet us in Carcassonne on a specific day, so we were now heading there at full speed to meet her.

From then on our campsites were pre-booked and for several days at a time.  It gets more and more difficult to move on, especially with tents to erect and pack away, more things to stow and secure, plus our aim was for Jacqueline to have a leisurely start to her two weeks holiday.

Carcassonne, a well preserved fortified town, we explored the ramparts, had a long lunch whilst waiting for a storm to pass over and headed to the campsite to check out the facilities.  It was set in the middle of amazing countryside with stupendous views, a great pool, fabulous restaurant and plenty of opportunities to relax or explore.  

day 9

Day 9

A beach on a river, with fished to nibble our toes and lovely clear water to swim in.  A must, so we relaxed and swam for a while knowing that Albi wasn’t too far down the road.  I thought about visiting my good friend Nicholas, but after studying the map decided that a detour and several hours for the briefest of visits wouldn’t work.  (sorry Nic, I promise I will come visit soon).  When we set off, Charmin’ in charge of directions, we passed, by pure fluke, Beauregard, the village where I nearly bought land a couple of years ago.  A 2 km detour and there it was, still for sale, looking as lovely as ever,  Tania was fascinated, Alix blissfully unaware in the land of nod so as we journeyed on we discussed the possibilities again and came to the same conclusion, I am glad I didn’t buy it in the end.

Albi came into view spectacularly, well, the impressive cathedral stood out of the valley landscape like a huge beacon, doing the job that those religious catholics wanted it to do all those years ago.  The largest brick built cathedral in the world built on the highest piece of ground in the town.  As we started to descend into the valley, it was evident that more recent additions to the town have been well controlled to allow it to retain its grandeur. 

The free parking was easy to find, a stones throw from the centre, nestled between two viaducts that we later discovered were train lines.  Thankfully quiet electric trains that passed without disturbance throughout the night.
saint cirq lapoupie river beach

albi nestling in its valley

the largest brick built cathedral in the world

Percy, tucked up for the night

Albi old town

keeping cool

we were making echoes under the arches
cat shopping

saint cirq lapoupie

Next stop, Albi, or so we thought when we set off.  Plans change, as well we know, this time a well known location kept popping up on the road signs so i suggested we go take a look.  St Cirq Lapoupie was somewhere that folk had mentioned that I should visit ever since I first visited France, it wasn’t far, so I just had to explore.  It was worth every minute of diversion.  The road hugged the cliffs that bordered the river, passing under numerous tunnels along the way.  We should have counted them, just for the fun, but it was too late when we thought of that.  An ancient town, perched high up on the cliffs overlooking the valley on a strategic bend.  Almost completely unspoiled by modern additions, save touristy shops and restaurants that keep the town alive.  We parked up and explored in the evening sunshine, climbing to the highest point in the town to enjoy spectacular views of the river, surrounding countryside and rooftops of the cliff hugging village just below.

Darkness fell whilst we were eating and we made a cautious decent to the campsite at the foot of the cliffs.  Parked up by an extremely tall field of maize that made Percy feel even smaller than usual against the other motor homes and went to sleep wondering what we’d find in the morning.

visiting mark

Day 6, 7 & 8

We decided to relax for a couple of days, in good company.  Caroline, Alix, Sophia and Ollie barbecued with us one evening, after a day lounging by the pool and exploring a little.  The following day we did the same, Mark popped by from time to time as his work allowed, which was lovely.  Got to learn some of the campsite goings on and discovered that there was a night market that very night in Villereal the local town.  

The market square had a beautiful covered central area packed with vendors producing speciality dishes from the region and the rest of the square had been filled with tables and chairs for the shoppers to dine at.  There was a lovely atmosphere and it was packed.  The choice of food and drink was amazing so we had our fill, a bit from here a bit from there.  Calamari, vegan salads, local sausages - freshly grilled, chips in goose fat.  Local wine and strawberries and melon for afters.  

Caroline picked us up the following morning to breakfast in Monpazier, another beautiful fortified town.  We swung by Biron to admire the chateau for a moment and checked out Marks’ pad, a great little house down by a river shaded under huge trees.  Idilic in the sunshine but a bit too remote to be there year long, which is how he came to be in the mountains in the winter.

Monday, September 02, 2013

chateau land

Day 4

Another big road day.  We had a great run round and play at the campsite playground before heading off in the hopes that someone would sleep for a while.  It worked a treat.  Flew through Chartres, the cathedral standing proud on its hill.  Sleep dictated that we continued, heading south the whole time back out in to the flat plains again, all wheat and grain.  Through Tours centre, over the river Loire in the heart of chateaux country and hung a right.  Tania had been hard at work, cross referencing guide book, campsite book and atlas to find us our next overnight location.  A free camper van park literally just outside a chateau, with lovely restaurant along side.  It was nice to arrive early, and have the remainder of the afternoon to play with.  The bikes came off the back of Percy and we set off to explore.  How good was it to stretch our legs and get a bit of exercise after being on the road, lovely.  Alix loves her bicycle child seat and we covered a good 18km before returning for a great restaurant meal, the first of our trip.  We slept well in the company of so many other motor homes and woke to another sunny day.

bridge over the Loire River in Tours

Tania and Alix ready for a bike ride

Percy with some of his mates

Day 5

The gardens of the Chateau of Villandry were restored in the early 20th century by a foreigner (to France) who then went on to encourage the local chateaux into organised tourist attractions.  We decided to visit the gardens which were out of this world.  Not to copy or recreate, but just for the sheer grandeur and extravagance that the rich folk of bygone years were able to command.  I needn’t write much, just enjoy these photos.

Chateau Villandry

veggie plot

no, not for walking on

box, yew and russian lavender

less is more, and it can't get much less than this!!

an avenue view

great for spotting hearts and crowns

who imagined this in the first place?  what were they on?

Alix, Me and Tania 

We hit the road after lunch with the hope that we could reach Paranquet by dusk.  A tiny village on the borders of Dordogne and the Lot and Garonne where Mark lives.  A winter colleague and friend from Lou Rider, he has a great little house by a river and is spending summer cooking in the local campsite bar/restaurant.  I have said for the last three years that i would visit, and now is the perfect time.  Caroline, his girlfriend and her three kids are there for the summer, there’s a pool and plenty of great things to see.  A must visit.  

It was dark by the time we arrived, saved again by Charmin so we didn’t even get to see where we were till the morning.  I had a beer with Mark and a great catch up chat, it was lovely to see him and an added bonus that everyone else was there.