Tuesday 30 September 2014

Pensioners at Bernidorm

Out and about exploring Bernidorm today. We were amazed to find the whole place packed with scantily clad pensioners, all of whom seemed to be having a lovely time.
The shallows were full of them wallowing about - no one was swimming but they floated together in brightly coloured shoals.
We walked along the shoreline and it was as busy as Oxford Street at sales time. The racing line, just along the edge of the waves, was hotly contested. Speedo wearing, mahogany tanned men did overtaking and near collision manoeuvres around ladies in frilly bikinis, sensible one pieces and floaty kaftans.
I wasn't keen on all the pale, hairy, overweight chappies, that seemed to be everywhere, but I just tried to look away. 
We joined the throng for a while, then headed back to the safety of the promenade.
There are two major beaches at Bernidorm and they are separated by a rocky outcrop with a brightly tiled viewing area. We stopped for a look around and then headed on to check out the second beach.
All along both beaches were enticing notices for cheap drinks, cocktails, breakfasts, coffees and ice creams. Lots of the bars were full with yet more cheerful pensioners, this time wearing slightly more clothes.
For lunch we found a Spanish restaurant a few streets back from the seafront that did three course lunch, including bread and wine for 10 euros each.
We weren't sure what we had ordered but I got ham and tomato on a slice of bread - like a bruchetta, then ham and melon, then ham (I think) egg, potato and chillis for the main course. Possibly a bit samey but that's what you get for leaving the dictionary at home. Surprisingly, we didn't get a glass of wine each but a whole bottle to share, as well as ice cream for pudding.
We thought that we must have racked up loads of extras, but no, 10 euros each. Absolute bargain, then we staggered home and I had a little siesta.

Monday 29 September 2014

Tarragona aquaduct

Long day yesterday as we drove in to Spain, stopping at Tarragona. We are meeting Darren's mum and dad at the weekend on the south coast, so we needed to get a lot of miles under our belt.
We were up again early today and went to visit the Aquaduct before setting off on our journey.
It is another ancient Roman aquaduct, but was completely deserted in the countryside just outside the city.
It is not as big as the Pont du Gard but very impressive, and I was really pleased to find that we were able to walk all along the top in the channel where the water used to flow.
Great start to the day and then another days driving - we have now just arrived in Bernidorm.
Not had chance to look around yet, but the campsite does Sangria and Paella so we are are going to have a relaxing evening then see what we can find in the morning.

Saturday 27 September 2014

Canal du Midi and a little French joke

Beautiful cycle ride today along the Canal du Midi from Agde to Bezier.
Most of the water is shaded by huge trees, lots of which are London plane trees I think.
On a lovely sunny day it was so nice to cycle along the path in the dappled shade, enjoying views of vineyards, flamingos feeding on a nearby lake and marinas full of brightly coloured boats.
The reason we cycled nearly 60k to Bezier and back was to collect a parcel full of goodies - prescription sunglasses for me and a cycling sat nav for Darren. It was sent by Amazon to a Tabac shop that advertised that it opened from 7am to 7pm on Saturdays.
The little French joke - it was shut!
Ps, if you have never experienced the frustrations of the seemingly random French shop opening hours then you might not get it.
Pps, it was a brilliant day out so we had the last laugh - but unfortunately no new toys.

Friday 26 September 2014

Boat trip along the Canal du Midi

We are now in the town of Agde which is almost on the Mediterranean coast, and it also has the Canal du Midi running through it.
We joined a bus load of French pensioners for a boat trip today. The weather was bright and seemingly warm, but our first section of the trip took us out to sea and round an island that used to be a prison.
It was very breezy and poor Daz was freezing in his trendy shorts.
Back inland it was my turn to be too hot as we then spent ages goung up in a large round lock and the sun beat down on us relentlessly.
After that we set off again and the temperature nanaged to find a happy medium.
We chugged along the Canal du Midi and into a large sea water lake where we saw oysters being grown on long pieces of rope.
Our captain spent ages explaining the whole process, but it was in French so we didn't follow it very well, if at all, to be honest.
Then, 'surprise!', we all had an oyster to taste, but both of us chickened out, although all of the French tucked in very happily.

Thursday 25 September 2014

Pont du Gard

The Pont du Gard is an ancient Roman aquaduct that was built almost 2,000 years ago. It carries water over the river Gardon and is part of a 50k long canal that was built from Uzes to Nimes.
Apparently, the Romans in Nimes used more water each day that modern Europeans and were very fond of daily hot baths, so the water was needed as the town expanded.
The bridge is enormous and is the highest of all the Roman aquaducts. The water was carried in a channel on the top layer, and immediately after the bridge on the southern side it disappeared into a tunnel through solid rock.
We spent ages wandering around, looking at the bridge from different angles, then sat down for a well earned cafe creme and fruit tart.
Amazing place today, but can you imagine how unbelievable it would have been if you lived 2,000 years ago, walked around the bend in the river and suddenly came across it?

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Art in Arles

Have you ever paid to visit an art exhibition and then been that disappointed that you went back to the information desk and asked for your money back? Not only that, but you tried to explain to the manager, in a foreign language why you thought their exhibits were not very good?
Well today I have and it was a bit stressful.
A bit of background - it rained heavily all morning so we decided to go to Arles to see a bit of culture. Arles was founded by the Romans and there are many beautiful remains all around, and it was also where Van Gogh lived for a while and painted over 200 pictures.
We decided to visit the Foundation Van Gogh to find out more about his life in the town. There was also two modern artists exhibiting their work at the Gallery.
It sounded good so we paid 9 euros each and headed in. First was the modern artists, who were exhibiting paintings based on Van Gogh's work. 'Sunflowers' was two oblongs, one yellow and one orange next to each other, opposite a mirror with swirly patterns that looked like they were made from frothy washing up liquid and a dishcloth.
I wasn't very impressed but was looking forward to the Van Gogh section, only to find that there wasn't one!
Perhaps I was a bit bolshy, but it only took us a few minutes to look around and it was very expensive. I decided to ask for some money back and eventually the curator, Valerie, came down to see me - Daz carefully stayed quite a distance away.
She was very nice, we had a chat and she gave me our money back, telling me to come back next May when they do have a Van Gogh exhibition - I don't think she meant it though.
We spent the rest of the afternoon looking at the gigantic amphitheatre that is right in the town centre, and following the Van Gogh trail around town. It was quite clever and showed a copy of his painting in the exact place that he painted it.

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Cycling up Mont Ventoux

Very, very exciting day today as we cycled our own mini Tour de France stage, which included the ascent of Mont Ventoux.
We stayed overnight in Bedoin, legendary starting point for the Ventoux climb. Just on the edge of the village is the kilometre zero sign, and then it is all uphill for 22k.
It was an excellent day, not too hot and importantly, almost no wind. We climbed steadily through the trees, stopping occasionally to chew on cereal bars and drink Lucozade, After 16k we arrived at Chalet Reynard - a café where we sat outside with coffee and ate  big chunks of Soreen cake that we had left over from our Scottish mountain climbing days.
Once past the café the vegetation disappears and it is a completely exposed all the way to the top.  We finished in good style after just under three hours of cycling, and in about 13,000 place out of 14,000 rides that were recorded on Strava. (Top place on Strava was 51 minutes.) Not too bad for me, but I think Daz would have been faster on his own.
He certainly was on the descent on the other side down to Malaucene. I was more worried about the descent than getting to the top and had my brakes on loads - my top recorded speed was 49.9k per hour and Daz did over 70!
Once back at ground level we headed back to Bedoin to complete the brilliant round trip.
We climbed 2,023 metres and cycled 55k in total.
Ps, we both found it much easier than our journey around Mount- St- Victoire a few days ago . Maybe it had something to do with the fact that all we had to eat on that outing was half a Bounty bar at the end and a glass of wine half way round.

Sunday 21 September 2014


We drove about 80 kilometres this morning and arrived at our campsite on the outskirts of the village of Gordes.
I read about it many years ago in the book called 'A year in Provence' by Peter Mayle and was very excited about visiting.
In the 19th century it was a prosperous place but it's industries all started to decline and by the 1940's the whole village was almost derelict. To make matters even worse, in 1956 all 50,000 of it's olive trees were killed by a terrible frost.
However, within a few years people, including many artists, realised how beautiful it was and started moving in and renovating the buildings.
Now it is such a popular and expensive place to live that it has branches of both Christies and Sothebys on the main square.
Daz poked his head briefly inside the door of a five star hotel with amazing balcony, but it was way out of our price range. It didn't matter as our campsite is in walking distance, has a lovely swimming pool and terrace, all the comforts of home in our van and is only 17 euros a night.

Saturday 20 September 2014

In search of Cezanne

Yesterday's trip to the art gallery inspired our outing today as we went to see the Pearlman Collection. It was put together by Henry Pearlman from New York and he particularly loved Cezanne, eventually owning more than 20 of his paintings.
He visited Aix-en-Provence many times as he wanted to see where each of them were created.
Obviously, we don't own any Cezanne's, but we did buy a postcard for the van of one of Cezanne's favourite subjects - Mont Sainte Victoire.
I decided that we should cycle around the whole of the mountain, following quiet side roads. The plan worked really well, although it was a lot further, steeper and sunnier than I expected. We stopped en route for a quick van blanc in some welcome shade under some enormous trees in the village centre.
Our final stop was really tiring as we cycled up to a viewpoint that has been turned into a little park. It was where Cezanne used to sit while painting the mountain views, (including our postcard) and it has fantastic views of the surrounding area - pic 3.
We arrived back at the campsite completely shattered, hot and sweaty, so we put on our bathers and collapsed into the swimming pool.
Back out again pretty quickly as it was surprisingly nippy.

Friday 19 September 2014

Avignon to Aix en Provence

We have been camping on a little island in the middle of the Rhone at Avignon. We were exactly opposite the end of the Pont Saint Benezet bridge, although it is actually more like a pier.
The bridge does not reach to our bank as it was washed away many years ago, and it is now a big tourist attraction thanks to a well known song called 'Sur la Pont d'Avignon'.
The weather is forecast to be really stormy, so this morning we have driven 80 kilometres to Aix en Provence in the hope that we avoid the expected flash flooding.
We spent the afternoon in an art gallery looking at paintings by local hero Paul Cezanne.
Later we wandered around the beautiful town, stopping only to take a couple of photos and to sit at a street side table and enjoy a glass of red wine and a Pastis.

Thursday 18 September 2014

Chateauneuf du Pape

We drove down to Avignon yesterday, and today we got the bikes out and cycled to Chateauneuf du Pape - one of the most famous wine growing areas in the world.
The village was surrounded by miles of vines, stretching right across the horizon. Some of the grapes had already been picked, and farmers were buzzing around in little tractors pulling trailers piled high with grapes.
We stopped to take close ups of the grapes and I tasted a couple. I had always thought that grapes used for making wine were supposed to taste sour, but these were lovely, really sweet and juicy, but with lots of pips.
We had lunch in the village and tried some of the finished product - verdict - excellent.

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Le Puy en Valey

We had a lovely cycle ride and day out today in the busy town of Le Puy en Valey.
I was interested in it because I saw photos of a church and a huge statue perched on the top of crazy, almost vertical rocks.
St Michael's chapel, which was built in 961 sits on top of one rock and the base is surrounded by roads on all sides.
The Corneille rock is only a few hundred metres away and we climbed up to the statue of Notre-Dame de France. It was erected in 1860 and made from the metal of 213 cannons that were captured from the Russians during the Crimean War.
It is possible to climb a tiny winding staircase inside the statue and stick your head out among the crown on the lady's head. It was a bit scary climbing the narrow metal ladder, but a glass dome stops you from leaning out too far, and I made it safely down.
There were also little windows that opened among the lady's clothes. I took the panoramic photo of the town from an opening that is just below her left elbow.

Monday 15 September 2014

Speeding down through France

Quick update on our whereabouts. We caught an overnight ferry from Portsmouth to Le Havre on Saturday.
We didn't have a cabin and the reclining seats were unbelievably uncomfortable, so I slept on the floor. It wasn't too bad, but very draughty and I kept waking up as I was so cold, but I have known worse  - or maybe as bad, anyway.
Sunday morning saw us heading south - after a few loops of Le Havre, courtesy of both me and the sat nav.
We stopped Sunday night after a few hundred kilometres, did a couple of hundred more this morning, and here we are this afternoon in the Haute Loire.
We have been on a walk to the nearest village, called St Paulien. It is a pretty little place with a nice church, fountain and square. There were tables that looked ideal for relaxing with a glass of wine, but as often happens in France, the bar was closed.
'Pas de probleme' as the French might say, as we  had a lovely time at Carrefour this morning, and Darren bought a bottle of wine from every region of France that he could find.
We also have a couple of kilos of fromage and some jambon, so we are very well set up in the camper.
Off to do some serious sightseeing tomorrow.

Friday 12 September 2014

Hell Fire Caves

After the Tour of Britain we cycled on to our next destination - Hell Fire Caves.
The caves were excavated in about 1750, to provide chalk for building local roads.
The entrance to the caves is through the middle door of what looks like a ruined spooky church. Once inside there is a long tunnel leading underground, with lots of little rooms, hidden niches and a large round cavern.
They were used by the secretive and allegedly outrageous Hell Fire Club.  The club was full of MPs, local aristocracy and judges and they held banquets, dressed in strange outfits with masks and carried out occult rituals.
The caves are now supposed to be one of the most haunted places in England, and it is possible to stay the night, in the pitch black. Apparently, no one ever sleeps peacefully!
We were the only people around and it was quite near to closing time, so I made sure that I stayed close to Daz and Susan as I didn't want to get left behind by mistake.

Tour of Britain

We have cycled to the route of the Tour of Britain today, and are halfway up Kop Hill Climb.
Daz and I cycled the climb from bottom to top before the race.
There were loads of spectators at the roadside, and being a slightly more mature lady, lots of them were cheering me on to the top. I felt a tiny bit famous, and it definitely stopped me from getting off and walking.
We are out for the day with Susan, and she is not keen on having her photo taken, but sometimes I think that she takes it to extremes.
Also, Darren and Susan's behaviour got a bit embarrassing at times, so I had to stand on the opposite side of the road to get away from them.
The race was great and the hill slowed the cyclists down a lot, but I still didn't spot Cav, and only saw the  back of Wiggo.

Wednesday 10 September 2014

Changing the Guard

Outside Buckingham Palace this morning to watch the Changing of the Guard.
We couldn't get near to the railings, as the crowds were enormous, but we saw the bands march past.
We also went to the top of the Wellington Arch and were spot on time to see the cavalry march towards us. They then went right through the middle of the arch and out the other side.
Pic three is the view directly above us of the statue on top of the arch. It is the largest bronze sculpture in Europe and features the Angel of Peace descending on a four horsed chariot of war.