Taking It Easy

Missing Post – must have deleted it by mistake. Anyway we went to Javea but did not like the campsite, so drove south past Benidorm, Alicante and arrived at Elche where we found a commercial campsite. Beach was ten minutes walk away along a boardwalk.
Boardwalk to the BeachBeach La Marina, Elche, AlicanteDSC03343

We seemed to be getting a bit too comfortable at La Marina site, deciding for reasons of indolence to remain where we were until after the weekend, total of four nights. Our chairs and table soon came out and the washing line was strung between two trees. Any time soon there wold be a tub of petunias along our pitch perimeter.

Tony disgraced himself one morning by mistaking the Ladies’ shower block for the Men’s. There were signs at the entrance but these just showed a blue porpoise cartoon character – only if you carefully compared each sign could you see that one creature had a little pink skirt on and the other a shirt and bow tie. New rule for the future – watch the doors to see who enters which door! Hopefully nobody noticed or he could have been arrested!

Everyone is very friendly and each morning the Germans greet us with a cheerful “Morgan” as they pass by – how do they know our name? Should I shout back Schmidt?

They even have a special dog washing block with steps and ramp leading up to the dog bath. Kay would have DSC03346a field day here, everyone has a dog or two. Where are Muffy and the chihuahuas when you need them!

Over The Border To Spain

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The weather remained dry and warm, about 16°, as we travelled south, leaving France and passing into Spain. We followed the coast road, bypassing Barcelona and a smaller town called Peniscola. I checked the pronunciation as to get it wrong could be embarrassing and, sure enough, it sounds a bit like “penyee scolla” (the “n” has a wiggle above making it sound like mañana) – too easy to get that one wrong, huh? We found a campsite called Camping Ribamar, situated in the hills at the end of a 1K dirt track road. The site was near to Alcossebre and was very clean and neat and was set in terraces on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean.

Many camp sites are closed at this time of year, so when a good one is open all the year round it can get quite busy. There were five or six other British campers, as well as a few Germans and Belgiums; and wherever we travel we always come across one or two representatives from the Netherlands; folk from cold, northern climes flocking south for the warmer weather. This site had a restaurant that opened for just an hour each evening. We ate there one night, the menu was very limited, and the lady who served us was also the cook and the bartender. She was very efficient although she spoke absolutely no English. We had a lovely evening sitting around a wood burning stove with two other couples, one German and the other Dutch.

During day it was warm enough to sit outside and we explored the footpath along the shore that took us into town, a walk of about an hour.
Camping RibamarSunset at Ribamar

Path to the Town

January 2014 France and Spain

We left UK on the 17th January by Eurotunnel from Dover to Calais, cost £120 one way, the date of our return remained open. Our journey had not started well; the previous day when we had a puncture on the M23. It was quickly sorted out by the AA and we were then able to travel on to Folkestone on our spare wheel and a new wheel was fitted at ATS, just in time for us to get to Kate and Neil’s to celebrate Violet’s first birthday.
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The next morning we arrived at Eurotunnel in good time for our train and, in their usual efficient manner, we were quickly ushered onto an earlier train that was about to depart. So we arrived en France earlier than planned which made up for the fact that European clocks are an hour ahead of the UK.

Our first stop was planned for a revisit to Les Moulins de la Vergne near Pons. We had been there before and had had a wonderful meal in the adjacent restaurant and we were eager to repeat the experience. However, someone (not the writer) had plumbed the wrong site into TomTom and we arrived at a dark, un illuminated site called Camping Le Moulin at Chef Boutonne. It was pitch black and pouring with rain and it took us a while to realise we were not where we thought we were – by which time we had driven down a narrow, dead end lane where we had to do a hundred point about turn to get out, narrowly avoiding a deep stream running along one side. We finally found somewhere to park managed to roused the owners, who happened to be English. We didn’t ask why their scruffy site had no lights, we received a grudging welcome and they asked us not to disturb them early the following morning as they were off out to a restaurant that night. No such luxury for us but we dined well enough on a frozen meal from Cook.

The weather was slightly better the following morning when we set off for Marmande where our friends, Charles and Caroline Lamb had recently bought a pretty little house a few miles outside St Vivienne de Monsegur. Driving towards Marmande, Tony noticed an engine warning light which indicated a fuel injection fault; the camper went into “limp” mode which is designed to get you home on reduced power – so we limped to the Lamb’s. We contacted our insurance company’s helpline and, within the hour, a low loader had arrived to take the camper away. It was 7pm on a Saturday night and we did not want to be separated from our home and all our possessions so we dismissed the low loader and enjoyed a lovely evening with the Lambs. The following day (Sunday) we limped to Bordeaux and spent the night at a campsite close to the Fiat camper service agent and first thing on Monday we presented ourselves at the Fiat service desk. They soon diagnosed the problem, saying we needed a particulate filter and the turbo required replacement. So we had to leave the camper with them and took a taxi into the centre of Bordeaux where we found an acceptable hotel for €120 per night plus €14 for breakfast. We phoned the assistance on a regular basis to try and expedite the repair but it took two days for the part to arrive and we were told it was a bigger job because the van was right hand drive and they had to remove the steering to gain access. So we had to sit and wait.

We enjoyed our stay in Bordeaux. They have an amazing modern (10 years’ old) electric tram system running on rails set into the road with no overhead wires. They run silently but they do have a loud bell that the driver can sound should a pedestrian stray into the path of the tram. In spite of this we were told that there were many accidents, the pedestrian always coming off worse.

We visited two vineyards outside Bordeaux and enjoyed being shown their ancient cellars filled with oak barrels of maturing wine.

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At the end of the tours we were offered tastings which we thoroughly enjoyed.

One evening we went to see the Cape Town Opera Company performing “Porgy and Bess”, sung in English with French subtitles. The tickets were €8 each for restricted viewing seats right up in the gods – the only tickets available. Many of the actors were – quite frankly – fat, which didn’t help with the aesthetics of the dance routines but there were some beautiful voices. Gershwin wrote the opera in the mid 1930s and political correctness was not as it is today and made us feel a little uncomfortable …. or maybe opera was not quite to our taste. However, the theatre building was stunning and some of the audience even wore evening dress so we enjoyed the whole spectacle and I am still humming “Summertime” in my off key way.

By the Friday morning Tony had run out of patience with the time it was taking to repair the camper. If they didn’t finish the job by the end of business that day we would have to remain in Bordeaux until the following Monday. The mechanics finished work at 5pm on the dot and there was certainly no weekend working. On Friday morning we checked out of our hotel and sat in the reception of the Fiat garage and waited, and waited. Our persistence finally paid off and just after 5pm they brought the camper round to the forecourt. There was no charge for the repair but we had spent hundreds of Euros on the hotel. We hope we can claim this from the insurance company.

The weather in Bordeaux had been fine earlier in the week but it started to rain on the Thursday night and, by the time we got the camper back it had been raining solidly for two days. The following morning we decided to head south east towards the Mediterranean coast. Driving conditions were dreadful on the motorway but we plodded on past Toulouse and Carcassonne and, about 3pm we suddenly saw a glimmer of light in the sky on the horizon. Within fifteen minutes the surrounding countryside had changed from dismal greys to bright colours and a blue sky.

We arrived at our campsite at St Cyprien in glorious late afternoon sunshine. The campsite was called Le Florida, we stayed two nights using the time to catch up on some chores. On Saturday evening we walked up the road and found a tapas bar alongside a retail park. The place was heaving with rugby fans watching Toulouse v Perpignan on a big screen, the home team won. There were fifty or so places laid up for dinner but they found us a table and served us a delicious meal of prawns, squid, razor clams, mussels and scallops, grilled and served with chips, salad and garlic mayo. A live band was playing rock and roll, the lead singer had lived in England for ten years. He said years ago he had played with Lonnie Donnigan, I was a groupie for the evening!
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Our fridge freezer had stopped working whilst the camper was in the garage; it should have automatically switched over to gas when no electric power was available but it had defrosted and we had to throw away the freezer contents and a couple of lovely steaks that had over-ripened. Tony was able to locate the fault and put it right. He gave the van a good wash too. The campsite toilets were quite bizarre, brand new and built to resemble a fort. Toilet and shower cubicles were arranged along the four side walls. In the centre was an installation of two life sized armour clad fighting men in a cage, we assumed it was supposed to be fun for the children but it was a scarey sight as you came out of the toilet.
Camping Le Florida, St CyprienToilet Block at Le FloridaToilet Block Le Florida

Betws-y-Coed

We left Isle of Anglesey, driving from Amlwch along the east coast to Beaumaris where Tony used to visit many years ago to service marine engines in that Marina. Then over the Menai Bridge towards Snowdonia. We stopped a few times en route to admire the scenery, green and pleasant in the summer sunshine. The mountains of Snowdonia provided a majestic backdrop; caught in the summer haze they resembled huge mammoths standing along the horizon, their grey backs almost blending into the hazy blue sky.
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We drove along the Vale of Conway, stopping to visit the Swallow Falls. They charged us £1.50 each to view the falls – and very pretty they were too. However, when we reached the bottom of the gorge we were hugely entertained by four fit young men swimming in the pools at the bottom of the waterfall, jumping and diving. They were climbing up the wet, slippery walls beside the fall and sliding down again carried down by the rush of water. I don’t think the sad attendant at the top had any idea were were being treated to such a spectacle.

Swallow Falls

Swallow Falls

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We arrived at the pretty little town of Betws-y-Coed (sounds like Bettersea Coyd). The area was a base for walkers, cyclists, canoeists and horse riders and the town was heaving on that warm sunny evening. There were lots of people enjoying the cool waters of the river – paddling and swimming in the deeper pools whilst others lay in the sun along the grassy banks. There was a narrow stone bridge spanning the river towards the town centre and a crowd had gathered to watch some youths jumping from the bridge into the water. There was a stern sign warning folk not to jump at risk of prosecution – but the sign was in Welsh, mostly.

The following day we cycled a circuit of 25K along country roads and tracks, some very steep. The scenery was just beautiful, leafy country lanes, green fields, lakes and rivers with the green backdrop of the Welsh hills. The foxgloves and heather by the paths were vying with each other to win the “colour me purple” contest. Outside the towns we saw few cars but plenty of walkers, horse riders and cyclists.
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North Wales – July 2013

Tony’s family used to come to Anglesey for holidays when he was a boy. Since that time, the main road from Menai Bridge had gained motorway proportions and the traffic sped unhindered towards the west coast to Holyhead. Our destination was Rhos-goch, five miles south of the North Anglesey Heritage Coast. We soon left the A55 and turned north towards Amlwch (pronounced – Am luk, the final consonant is made in the back of the throat, as if you were clearing phlegm).

The minor roads can’t have changed much since Tony was here as a boy. They undulated over hills and through small villages and were often lined with flint walls, disguised with vegetation, ready for the unwary motorist to pull in too closely to allow an oncoming vehicle to pass.

Our campsite was on a small farm with spaces for five vans, two pitches were already occupied. The weather was hot and dry and we were able to drive into the adjacent field and park the camper away from the other campers, overlooking the valley. There were sheep and cows in the surrounding fields and, in the near distance a wind farm with twenty or so turbines, just one or two lazily turning in the light breeze. There was a pub twenty yards up the road and by the time we had settled, checked the facilities (an outhouse containing one toilet and one shower -spotlessly clean) it was beer o’clock. We had a pint and a passable meal, although “seasonal greens” turned out to be frozen peas.

The following morning dawned with blue skies and the promise of an even hotter day. Had the weather been inclement our campsite would not have been so idyllic, but our newly mown field provided the softest of green carpets and our awning sufficient shade against the hot sun. We set off on our bikes towards Amlwch where it was “market” day – half a dozen stalls selling household items, second hand clothes, plus butcher and greengrocer. A far cry from the French markets we so recently visited. The town had a tiny natural harbour with just a couple of fishing boats. We cycled along the coast to Bull Bay where we enjoyed stunning views of the coast as we ate lunch on the terrace of a hotel. After lunch we cycled on, completing the circuit back to the campsite. Cycling was not arduous even though we were more used to cycling on the level terrain. The narrow roads rolled gently up and down over the hills, providing lovely downhill runs before rising up again, causing us to ride more and more slowly until, phew, we reached the top ready for a coast down again. We saw very few cars on the roads.

Rhos-goch, Anglesey

Rhos-goch, Anglesey

Last Post

We had been away for over five weeks and were looking forward to seeing the family again.  We set off from Le Crotoy and drove the 65K to the Eurotunnel Terminal.  We really appreciated the unmanned but simple checking in process, as compared with our Sicilian ferry at Genova.  Here the software recognised our registration number, offered us a choice of travel times at no extra cost and we were soon on our way to England.  

Catharine and Violet

Catharine and Violet

We called in on Kate and Neil, little Violet was now three months old and had nearly doubled her birth weight.  We left Folkestone the following morning and arrived at West Wittering early in the afternoon.  End of blog!

Le Crotoy

We were sorry to leave San Remo but it was time to head home.  We drove west towards France along the Cote d’Azure, passing Menton, Monte Carlo and Antibes before turning north towards Lyon. That evening we found a good campsite just outside Lyon in a wooded park area. We sat in the evening sunshine enjoying a drink before dinner.

Camping Indigo, Lyon
Bread and croissants were ordered from Reception for breakfast and then we were on the road again. The tolls on the autoroute seemed expensive but the miles flew by and fuel consumption was much better than if we were driving on smaller windy roads. Our route was to take us through Dijon, Troyes and then on to Reims – unfortunately our satnav had other ideas and we found ourselves hurtling towards Paris. Quelle horror! We have more than once been reduced to gibbering wrecks by the Paris Periphique. As soon as a good alternative presented itself we left the Paris-bound autoroute and drove sedately along the D671 from Dijon to Troyes. It turned out to be a beautiful drive through champagne country (no, we didn’t). We rejoined the motorway at Troyes to continue our journey at a more sprightly pace. We passed through St. Quentin and Amiens and on to the coast.

We were heading towards Le Crotoy, a small fishing town on the Channel coast just up from Dieppe. This friendly little town, in common with so many French towns, had a municipal campsite for camper vans – no tents or caravans. There were about 60 vans on the site that evening, each paying an overnight parking fee of €5. It was a short walk along the quay to the town centre where there were fresh fish stalls and a variety of shops and restaurants. We ate oysters, followed by sole and skate with chips and salad, washed down with a bottle of the palest rose wine. We spotted several of our fellow campers enjoying a meal in the restaurant and guessed that the people of Le Crotoy were well rewarded for their generosity in allowing camper vans to stop in their town overnight.

Campsite at Le Crotoy

Campsite at Le Crotoy

Le Crotoy

Le Crotoy

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