I crawled around under the cupboards in our campervan this morning to seek out my hat, scarf and winter woollies that I had packed away until next winter.
I needed them as we were off to Hyde Park to watch the London stage of the World Triathlon Series. Well it is only the 31st of May, so summer hasn't started yet in England, and fortunately I hadn't wasted my time, as I gratefully wore everything and enjoyed a toasty afternoons viewing.
The men's race was first and Alistair Brownlee won it convincingly for England - much to the delight of me and my fellow shiny blue spectators. Alistair was careful to save enough champagne in the bottle to have a nice big glug, and I am sure after all that effort he must have been pretty thirsty. Funnily, the winner of the ladies event drank a bit for the cameras and then spat it all out!
I missed taking a photo of the start of the men's race, as instead of the traditional cry of 'on your marks, get set - go', they missed out the 'get set' bit, so by the time I pressed the shutter all I saw was a splash.
However, I was ready for the ladies race and got most of them mid dive. It was interesting to notice on the right of the photo that one of the ladies set off early, so already has her head in the water. As the compere said 'she set off on the B of the Bang!'.
Ps, I think she also got a time penalty.
Sunday, 31 May 2015
I crawled around under the cupboards in our campervan this morning to seek out my hat, scarf and winter woollies that I had packed away until next winter.
Saturday, 30 May 2015
My sister and brother in law are spending the weekend in London with us, although we are in our campervan, and they are nearby in a little tent.
Today we all went to Buckingham Palace to see the Major General's Review. I had never heard of it until yesterday, but basically it is the first dress rehearsal for the annual Trooping of the Colour. I didn't know what this was either, but it is a massive event to celebrate the Queen's official birthday and it involves over 1,200 military personnel and at least 200 horses.
They start from the Palace, march down the Mall to Horseguards Parade, where the Queen inspects her troops and takes their salute. For the first rehearsal a Major General stands in for the Queen, and then their is a second rehearsal a week later where a Colonel takes her place.
Everyone was beautifully dressed and looked really excited and pleased to be there, including us, with the exception of the massive grey fluffy horse that carried the big drums. He looked bored with the whole thing and sulked his way down the Mall.
We then went over to St James' Park for a coffee stop and to look at the exotic bird life on the lake. For some reason the pelicans were all on the pathway, and Elaine said it was okay to walk past them as they were friendly.
The lady directly behind me wasn't quite so lucky and I looked back just in time to see a pelican attack! No one was hurt and I think it was just the pelicans way of asking for some fishy treats.
Friday, 29 May 2015
We went to London today, but I was far too embarrassed to take a selfie with one of the cavalry officers at Horse Guards Parade. This didn't bother the other tourists who swarmed happily around him.
We moved on to Trafalgar Square to take a look at the fourth plinth. This is the one which displays modern art, and last time we were here there was a giant blue chicken nesting on top of it.
This time I thought it was a dinosaur skeleton, but it is actually a horse with a bow around its neck. Apparently the title of the work is 'gift horse'- unfortunately I found that out later and had already looked at its mouth.
Finally we got to the purpose of our visit - the Impressionism exhibition at the National Gallery. It was absolutely fantastic and full of beautiful paintings. Pic 3 is by Monet and it shows the Houses of Parliament that he painted in 1870 while living in London.
Ps, thank you so much to Susan for getting us the tickets.
Thursday, 28 May 2015
Our last morning in France and there was one final surprise for us on the way to the port. We were about three miles out and driving along a dual carriageway, when we saw a huge queue of lorries.
Running around the lorries were hundreds of men, mainly in large groups who were attempting to break into the back of every lorry. They managed to get lots of them open and then they either grabbed what they could and ran, or jumped inside.
They were all around us, but didn't touch our van, and some even waved and smiled at us. It was a frightening experience as we didn't know that they weren't interested in us at first.
There was also a few dozen police, but they were massively outnumbered, and the chaos went on for a couple of miles, right up to the port gates.
We were then stopped for ages waiting to get through customs, as police were checking under cars and they asked us loads of questions to make sure that no one had either got in our van or any of our outside cupboards.
The customs officer said that it was always like this, so I think that next time we will make a different crossing.
Once on board the ferry, things returned to normal and we watched as the white cliffs got closer and closer.
Wednesday, 27 May 2015
We were looking for the 'Le Mardy' bar, but instead came across Le Sulky, so we had to pop in for a coffee.
It was only 11am and all of the locals were happily drinking from sophisticated looking wine glasses, but we had a long cycle ride ahead so we decided not to join them.
Actually, we were both pretty cheerful today, enjoying the sunshine and fantastic off road cycling routes in the Bay of the Somme.
Our campsite is a few kilometres inland and we followed the river Somme right onto the beach.
We then had a bit of difficulty locating the sea as it had disappeared off into the far horizon. However, when we cycled out of the bay and along the coast we found it hiding behind a row of beach huts.
We then had a nice lunch and I hoped that the sea would follow us back to the bay, but no, it obviously had other plans for today.
Ps, the guidebook told us to look out for seals basking on the sand, but they must have been busy too.
Monday, 25 May 2015
Dieppe is best known as a ferry port and possibly we have driven straight through here ourselves.
Today, though we stopped and are following in the footsteps of many of the great Impressionist painters.
We followed a trail around the town and saw where artists such as Pissarro, Sickert and Boudin sat and painted the local scenery.
Disappointingly the views had changed dramatically since the late 1800's, and there was only a couple of places that still looked similar.
We also found two beautiful churches that looked as if they had seen better days. Both had intricate carvings on them that had really been badly eroded. When we went inside one of them there were huge nets that stretched across the whole ceiling. They were there to catch bits of rock that were ready to fall off on top of the congregation.
Sunday, 24 May 2015
We drove to Etretat this morning because I knew that Monet had painted several of the views along the coast here. He really liked the area and often visited - so if it's good enough for Monet, it's good enough for us.
He was right, the area is absolutely stunning, and the three rock bridges out into the sea were incredible.
What was even more interesting than the views though was the thousands of French people out enjoying themselves. The footpaths up the cliffs were packed full, all of the bars and restaurants were overflowing and the beach was busy even though it wasn't a warm day. Most of them were carrying picnic blankets and refreshments, and everyone was having a lovely time.
This weekend is the third bank holiday in France this month and couple of days ago I had an amusing conversation with a French lady. She told me that the French loved two things - bank holidays and going on strike!
I will add a third thing from my own observations - boules. They play it constantly and are really skilled at it. It is a shame it isn't an Olympic sport as they would surely win the gold medal.
Ps, my French is improving at long last, and my conversation with the French lady was mostly in French, but she did have to tell me some of the key words in English.
We are driving along the coast of Normandy and have stopped for the night at the pretty little seaside town of Honfleur.
We walked all around it this evening and then stopped for dinner on the harbour front. We had a lovely view of all the boats, flags and buildings as we enjoyed a glass of wine or two.
Straight after dinner we climbed up to the highest viewpoint over the town and it was alright - but the best thing by miles for me was the old cottages. They had thatched roofs and growing right at the top of the roof was a row of irises.
I have never seen this before and I would love to try it myself, although I don't think that the campervan is the ideal spot.
Friday, 22 May 2015
Last night we arrived at the world famous Mont Saint Michel and settled into our campsite.
As it was a nice evening we decided to take a walk to see the Mont from a distance, but it looked so inviting that we caught a bus along the causeway right up to the ramparts.
It was very imposing and impressive, and was surrounded by miles of sand. There was no sign of the sea, so we decided to head towards some people who were out walking on the sand.
We could see footsteps around the outside of the city walls so we decided to just take a little walk to see if we could get all the way around it.
It was quite sticky and muddy so I dawdled along trying not to get my new sandals dirty. We nearly made it right round but then the mud got deeper and wetter, and in a slightly stroppy way, I decided that I was going back the way we came. Darren was incredulous, but I wouldn't budge so we started off back again.
Part of the way round there was some stone steps up to an ancient little chapel and we were slurping back towards it through the mud when suddenly we looked up and realised that the sea had arrived - incredibly quickly and it was looking very angry.
What do I do in difficult situations? Panic.
We ran up the steps to the chapel and I knew that we weren't in any danger, but it was very cold and I didn't fancy spending the night there.
Daz ran down the other side and saw that there was time to run the last 100 metres back to the causeway, so we legged it back in record time.
While we waited for the bus back we watched the sea racing in all around us and we just assumed that this happened every day.
Once we got back home I looked on the Internet and it turns out that we had decided to take a walk on the night of one of the highest tides of the month, and only two hours before high tide!
We went back this morning, but the sea didn't come up as high, and for two weeks out of every month it never even gets anywhere the Mont. In fact, this area sees the highest tides in Europe and the height between high and low tide is often more than 40 feet.
Pic 3 was taken from the top of the ramparts this afternoon and the water was so far away that we couldn't even see it - but it was nice to see that there was loads of people out on the sand and they had gone way, way further then we ventured.
Thursday, 21 May 2015
We sat in the van yesterday morning as hailstones were hammering on the roof and worried what our friends Tina and Matt would make of their mini break with us. Of course, they were staying in a lovely boutique hotel inside the ramparts of the city, so they were better protected from the elements than we were.
It did seem strange though that in all of my recent blogs we have been in shorts and teeshirts, and yet on the day they arrived we had to dig all our cold weather gear out - are we habitual liars who have just been caught out with the photoshopper?
Surprisingly, by the time we met up the sky had cleared and we could start the day properly.
We were waiting for the tide to go out so that we could visit an island that is only accessible for a few hours a day. (That's it in the distance and we think that the line of logs planted in the sand are to help protect St Malo from stormy seas.)
We trotted towards it across the sand, with Tina's lovely diamanté encrusted slip ons suffering rather badly. Once we reached the island we had hoped to look around the fort and write a report about it on the blog, but of course, it was closed.
Undeterred, we carried on walking and eventually ended up back at our van. We are staying just around the bay from St Malo on another raised bit of land surrounded by the sea.
Matt and I set off to discover relics from the second world war that are all around our campsite. There is a museum, which of course was closed, but we saw the huge concrete fortifications and then three German pill boxes that had the most terrible damage to them.
They had been hit by dozens of shells in August 1944 when the Allies were starting to take back France. Each of the holes is at least six inches wide and they appear to have melted the solid metal. Most of the shells had only penetrated a few inches into the metal, but in two out of the three boxes, at least one of the shells had made a hole right through into the middle.
After a few days the German's surrendered and it took 12 years to rebuild St Malo and surrounding area.
Wednesday, 20 May 2015
We have driven up to St Malo to rendezvous with our lovely friends Tina and Matt for a couple of days.
We have not seen much of the St Malo yet, but it looks very promising. It is a completely walled town that appears to have been built in the sea with only a couple of roads in and out of it.
We have been for a walk along the top of the ramparts and the coastline looks amazing. It is full of little Islands, rocks with buildings on them and lighthouses.
Unfortunately it was very cold and windy, and Tina's hair was getting blown all over the place, so we had to retire to a bar for a couple of refreshments.
We then visited a restaurant to test all of the tasty treats from Brittany - cider, crepes (sweet and savoury), and calvados.
Monday, 18 May 2015
Today I am just going to write about a little issue that we faced on our cycle ride to Angers.
We were cycling along and both getting a bit mardy with each other as my cycle map said one thing, but Darren's sat nav kept yelling at us to do an urgent u turn.
Surprisingly we were both right - we cycled round a sharp bend and stopped at a wide, deep river that had no bridge. What it did have though was a chain disappearing into the water, and a little boat bobbing about on the opposite bank.
There was also two tourists looking very despondent and they told us that the chain was stuck so it was not possible to pull the boat across.
They left us to it and cycled back the way they had come, but we were made of sterner stuff. I decided that the best thing to do would be to cycle along the river bank until we got to a bridge, so we set off with me in front and in full bossy mode. The path got narrower and then disappeared into massive nettle and bramble patches, but somehow I managed to carry on - right until I had to stop.
It was obvious that we had to go back, and it was a really bad time to lose my nerve, but for some reason it looked too difficult to go back the way I got there. In the end I managed it with only minimal scratches and stings.
Unfortunately Darren was wearing shorts so fared far more badly, and as I am writing this blog his legs are still bright red and swollen.
To make things even worse, when we got back to the chain, Darren pulled it really hard and the boat started heading towards us!
The chain was caught around something under the water so the little boat stopped about six feet from the bank. Daz jumped onto it and then managed to throw some of the chain to me so that I could pull him back to the shore.
As you can see, we made it across after all.
Sunday, 17 May 2015
We are making our way north through France and are passing through one of my favourite areas - the Loire Valley.
We are staying near Saumur and cycled along a track by the river to see the chateau. It is on top of a high fortified hill and it has little look out towers and the only way in is over a drawbridge.
It is currently being repaired and renovated, so huge swathes of it are covered in plastic sheeting, but it still managed to look magical.
We stopped for a beer and to enjoy the view, and surprisingly the chateau is right in the centre of a busy town. Imagine our surprise then as we were walking back to our bikes when a large red deer leapt out in front of us and then galloped off down one of the main streets.
Friday, 15 May 2015
This evening we went to the Futuroscope theme park that is near to our new campsite. We didn't know much about it, so it was quite a surprise when we got there.
As expected from the name, it was full futuristic buildings, each of them housing a different attraction.
Amongst other things we went to see an Imax film, an amazing 3d underwater film and a totally mad motorbike video where our seats leapt about and threw us all over the place as if we were actually in the scene.
We didn't go in a pitch black building where you had to find your way around in dark as I don't like that sort of thing.
The whole place was really busy and beautifully landscaped with lots of interesting statues and water features.
We stayed really late and it was dark by the time we decided to cycle back home. Darren had a front light and we both had red flashing back lights and we set off following the sat nav's instructions.
Unfortunately it decided to take different route home and after a while it turned us off down a pitch black road that then led to a track through a field. At first we thought that it was only a very quick short cut so carried on, but then it took us almost all of the way back through the middle of nowhere.
It was really scary as I didn't have a front light so just had to stay close to Darren and hope that I didn't fall off. I kept worrying about axe men and mad dogs, but we made it back in two pieces.
So, if you want to try to recreate for yourself one of the attractions of Futuroscope, then find yourself a few fields in middle of nowhere and wander around in them without a torch.
Thursday, 14 May 2015
We went on a cycle ride this morning to see the vineyards around Bordeaux. The area produces some of the top wine in the whole world, and the village Margaux is amongst best of the best.
It was very quiet this morning, so we stopped for coffee at a little cafe by the station. We could have gone to loads of wine tastings as all of the chateaux were open, but one of the problems with visiting the best in the world is that they are very expensive.
Instead we stopped off at Lidl on the way back home and picked up a couple of nice sounding bottles from local suppliers.
This was a bit of a mistake as it delayed us by about 20 minutes, so instead of making it home nice and dry we hit a heavy rain shower and got soaking wet.
I am sure the wine will be worth it though.
Ps, we also saw a couple of the local storks who have made it back to their gigantic nests after a winter in Africa.
Wednesday, 13 May 2015
We have been in Bordeaux for the past couple of days and discovered that it is a beautiful city. It is full of old and elegant buildings, although they are not afraid to throw in a few modern bits here and there.
The thing that I was most keen to see was a massive reflecting pond that is about the size of football pitch, although the water is only an inch deep.
It is right alongside the river and it was the first thing that we saw when we cycled into the city. Unfortunately, the wind was whipping up little ripples all over the surface so it wasn't showing a reflection today - so although I have written almost my whole blog about it, I haven't included a photo.
Instead I have included pictures of the town, and we had a lovely time wandering around exploring. We also cycled across the river and expected to return via the modern drawbridge, but just as we got there the whole road started to rise up.
It was interesting at first, but then it stayed up for ages, so in the end we had cycle all the way back the way we came.