Calais

Old church, CalaisIt was a steady drive from Reims up to Calais, part of it on ‘A’ roads as far a Laon – which looks like its worth a stop-off next time we’re in the area, and the rest of it on toll motorway. We just wanted to get there with enough time to look around, as we’d not really spent any time in Calais itself before.

We’d booked into the Hotel Meurice, situated in what must once have been a favourite spot for travellers to stay. The hotel is surrounded by other typically French hotels, there’s even a Mercure. Nevertheless, the area is a little run down and has the character of an out-of-favour Victorian holiday resort in England. That isn’t to say it isn’t an interesting area.

As we drove into the area (not central Calais) we passed the makeshift camps of would-be illegal immigrants and when we stopped at Bleriot Plage, Sangatte for another picnic lunch, we saw them sleeping between the beach huts. Still, it made for an interesting lunch, with our picnic rug spread on the deck of an unoccupied beach hut. It was fun to watch the ferries going in and out of the port too – so close we could almost touch them.

Ferries crossing

After we’d checked in we went off to check our route to the Euro Tunnel terminal and took the chance to do some hypermarket shopping (mustard and gherkins mainly!).

The hotel was nice, a little faded – just as the others have been, but the bedroom was clean, the linen was crisp and new and the WiFi worked – what more could we want. The restaurant attached, under separate management, was superb. The food was freshly cooked; chosen from a quite brief selection of dishes and tasted wonderful. half a chickenI had half a chicken (poussin) in mustard sauce and this came with dauphinoise potatoes (again), and a garnish of haricot beans, turned vegetables and garlic mushrooms – all delightfully prepared and tasty. Sharon had a cod dish but to be honest, mine was so nice that I took no notice of her food ;-(

And that was that!

We set off back to England on the 10.10am train and arrived back in England dead on 10.00 o’clock. An uneventful crossing this time. The fun came when I missed the turn off the M20 onto the M25 and ended up heading towards the Blackwall Tunnel. But, in the end it mattered little. We made it home in time to unpack and go to John and Carol’s for a well needed meal. ;-)

Orleans to Reims

The cathedral at Orleans

Orleans

From Cahors we drove up to Orleans. We drove part of the way on ‘A’ roads and part of the way (most of it really) on toll-free motorway. The rain had returned, so the driving (which we shared) was mostly stressful and hard work. The hotel, when we arrived at it was even harder work!

I’d booked the Comfort Hotel just south of the city thinking that it would be a convenient (if longish) walk into the city. And at a bargain price. The best things I can say about it is that the bed was comfortable and the receptionist spoke English.

Orleans was closed for the day!

We drove into the city (walking was impossible on the motorways and auto-routes that cross the river) and wondered around for an hour (avoiding trams and the odd car) before having coffee in one of the very few restaurants or bars to be open. This was situated right in front of the cathedral, which appeared to be the only place of interest to be open on a Sunday. Surprised?

The only place available to eat that night, unless we were prepared to drive back into the city (we weren’t) and risk restaurants being open, was a Buffalo Grill situated at the end of the trading estate that housed our hotel. 

Bison burger (see the bison?)

I had a bison burger, Sharon had a bison kebab (it was described more elaborately than that but it was … a kebab with bits of bison on it). Both were very tasty, and certainly better presented and cooked than the burger we’d been forced to choose in Cahors last night.

I don’t know if anyone reading this is familiar with French burgers, but you have to expect a little redness about the meat. Tonight’s and last night’s were no exception.

Reims

Tram and cathedral in ReimsOn Monday, we drove on to Reims. It was a roundabout way to Calais, but we’d liked the city each time we’d visited previously and Sharon had managed to find a non-chain hotel right in the middle of the city. It also gave us the chance to call in at Pithiviers (pretty much closed) and to try and see Fontainbleau (couldn’t get parked!) en route.

We conveniently parked in the huge car park situated under Place Drouet d’Erlon, the main street and stayed in the Hotel Le Crystal. This was another traditional ‘French’ hotel with slightly faded grandeur but with excellent facilities. Like the one in Cahors (and the one I will mention for our final night in Calais) it was clean, had comfortable beds, new, clean linen and staff that were helpful and patient (although they spoke English, they still gave me a chance to converse in pidgin-Sugden French).

Unlike the Comfort Hotel in Orleans, the advertised WiFi worked well and I was able to upload some of the photographs I had taken.

Fountain, Reims

We did our usual walk around, checked out the easily accessible sights (cathedral mainly) and tried to choose a venue for our evening meal. Sadly, like Cahors, Reims has become a bit more ‘Blackpooly’ than it was the last time we visited – probably eight to ten years ago. The restaurants are not as traditional as we’d expected and many are simply drinking joints with plastic menu food. We found one that looked traditional ‘ish’ and to be fair the food here was splendid.

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I asked for the Aperitif Gourmand as a starter and Carré d’Agneau as a main course. Both were superb (although the started was a little larger than I’d expected). The lamb was perfect – I’d been asked if I wanted it a’point, but declined, asking for saignant instead. Ratatouille and pommes dauphnoise accompanied this dish. Sharon had a fresh tuna salad which looked splendid and which she assures me, was splendid! We’d thought to have dessert elsewhere in the town, but everywhere just looked ‘plastic’.

We declined breakfast in the hope that we would find a boulangerie or cafe en route to Calais …

Cahors

Chateau BruniquelSharon and I set off back home on Saturday (24th). We’d planned a leisurely return to the UK and our first stop was to be at Cahors.

To get there from Faugères we drove over the mountains; up the D13 through Herepian and various roads to Lacaune and then the D607 and D999 to Alben and Albi, before letting Geoffrey take us on to Cahors. Although the first half of the journey, through the mountains, must have had fabulous views, we were plagued with rain and low cloud which prevented us from having full benefit.

From Albi however, and through Tarn, the weather progressively improved. We stopped for lunch at Bruniquel, an ancient village just off the beaten track. We spent an hour exploring this hillside gem before eating our picnic behind the car in the car park :-) Another town worth a look next time we’re down this way would be Montricoux – in fact this entire region is worth another good look.

We arrived in Cahors early enough to drop our stuff off at the hotel and then go into the city for a walk. We stayed at the Hotel Valentré, just on the edge of town which allowed us to visit the bridge of the same name before our stroll into town. The Pont Valentré is a UNESCO world heritage listed construction that spans the river Lot.

The Valentre Bridge, Cahors

Cahors itself seems to have become a bit ‘Blackpooly’ since our previous visit five years ago. The restaurants all seem to serve plastic menu stuff (apart from the one or two we just couldn’t get in to – they were so full) and the shops had all types of tourist stuff for sale. We’d liked it before but are not sure we’ll bother coming again. We didn’t have a memorable meal!

The hotel was Ok, comfortably French (if you know what that means), but Ok. At least it was better than the Campanilles we’ve become used to and much better than that at Bourges.

Viaduc de Millau

Today was motorway all the way. It was the only way we could see to reach our destination; ‘do’ the Viaduc de Millau, and have WCs en route. The smaller French towns tend to hide their toilets and not all French supermarkets have loos. Besides that, it was a (relatively) long way.

The Viaduc de Millau

We had no real hold ups en route and despite all our fears of too much French holiday traffic (last Saturday was one of this months ‘black’ Saturdays) and the amount of cars and caravans sat in the service areas, the route remained fairly clear. I doubt it will be the same tomorrow.

Come what may, all we have to do tomorrow is get to Faugères. I’m also picking Karen and Dave up at the railway station in Béziers around 5:00pm. We can’t get into the gite until 4:00pm – so we need to shop for the weekend en route from Lodève to Faugères. We will probably (therefore) carry on down the motorway to Béziers where there is sure to be a hypermarket.

Joanne and Mike are leaving Troyes in the morning, so we expect them sometime in the evening, possibly late … I therefore intend to prepare a meal that can be had at any time.

Sharon and I have just had the most delicious meal here, just across the road from our hotel. I had a salad chaud de gesiers, followed by pave de beouf son pot de (something or other) and assiette de fromage. Sharon had terrine de chevre aux legumes, pave de thon and panna cotta. Delicious.

And that’s probably it until we next encounter WiFi.

Bourges

p[icture of a long table laid out for breakfastWell, this morning’s breakfast was immense.

It was by far the best (non-meat) breakfast we’ve had in France this last few years, possibly ever (never say ever ;-))

The proprietors make as much of the produce as possible: Brioche and other bread (not the baguette), preserves (on the table: apricot, rhubarb and banana, blackberry) and cake. If we’d ordered ‘dinner’ last night instead of the cold plate, we would have had five home-made courses including home-made cider, pommeau and calvados. Jean-Francoise planted over 1,000 trees when they arrived here – 25 types of apple trees included. A real Normandy treat.

Le Clos du Quesnay

We left Mauquenchy around 9:15am and let Geoffrey take us as far as Orleans. He needed some coaching, as his first thought is to drive onto the nearest motorway, peage or no peage. So Sharon had to ask him for Les Andelys, then Evreaux (with a quick change to Dreaux just before the motorway just so that we didn’t actually hit the motorway). Then we followed our maps without him all the way around Chartres, Orleans and on down to Bourges where we are now.

The Cathedral St. Etienne, Bourges

We went into the city and had a good walk around this ancient town. The Cathedral of St. Etienne, a UNESCO World Heritage Centre, sits atop a hill, giving it a commanding view of the surrounding countryside. We spent a good deal of time admiring the stone carvings, statues and stained glass before descending the hill for what turned out to be a mediocre dinner en route to the car.

Tomorrow we drive through the centre of France, via Clemont Ferrand and the Viaduc de Millau to Lodève, where we will stay on the final evening of our journey to the gite in Faugères. That could be the last day that  can post until we get WiFi again on our return journey. :-(

We must remember (I must tell myself every time I come to France) that the entire country go on holiday this month. As a result (I must remind myself), all the little towns we pass through on our preferred off-autoroute journey – are closed. No bucherie, no boulangerie no bugger all!! And there’s nothing of note between Orleans and Chartres. Also note: The Campanille at Bourges is tired and unappealing.

There – I won’t forget now.

Assiette Gourmand

20130807-211515.jpgSo here we are.  Well, there we were – yesterday – I’ve had to wait until now to correct my iPad-based earlier post).

We’re at ‘Le Clos du Quesnay’, a Chambre d’Hote in Mauquenchy, Normandy.  And it’s our wedding anniversary – nine years today :-)

We set off at 6:15am this morning and made it past Leeds on the M62 before it got too busy. We made it down the A1 past Doncaster and past Sheffield before it got too busy ….. We made it past the mist/fog that affected the A1 as far as Stamford and we made it to Peterborough, where we planned to eat our ‘fat rascals’ (specially bought at Betty’s last month).  Then, the usual ‘holiday fun’ started – we queued for 15 minutes just to get off the motorway and into the Services. 15 MINUTES! Haven’t they heard of traffic lights?

Anyway, we then made good time to Folkestone – only to find the train delayed due to an earlier ‘fault’.  Although frustrating, it turned out to be only half an hour late departing.

Then, we were in France, where the motorways are empty and the roads are quieter still.  Geoffrey, our SatNav brought us here safely from the motorway.  Tomorrow, I will face him with the task of getting us to Bourges via the ‘A’ roads. Good luck Geoffrey.

The meal tonight, pre-booked, was Assiette Gourmand – a delightful mixture of local meats and cheeses with bread and salad. Pudding was similarly tasty, something chocolaty and far too rich for me.

As I say, tomorrow it’s Bourges and then we move onto Lodeve, close to the Pont de Millau – which I am greatly looking forward to seeing.

Spain – October half term

As some readers will know, Sharon and I bought a share in a small apartment on the Costa del Sol last year. Furthermore, as we also have a good amount of air miles (which is a longer story than needs repeating here), we decided to visit during last week’s half term holiday.

We arrived in Spain fairly early on Monday, following a very early flight from Manchester. We’d left home at 4:30am, with less than three hours sleep (and I had a sore throat), so the overcast weather we saw upon our arrival was a little foreboding. Still, it wasn’t far to the car rental place, Malagacar.com, and we were quickly on our way in a Toyota Auris.

The first thing we did was park the car in front of the apartment block and unpack. Once we’d done that, I went and moved the car into the official car park but when I got back to the apartment the door-key wouldn’t work! Luckily, Sharon was still inside so we were able to strip the lock apart and to confirm the lock’s knackeredness. Luckily (again) we found ex apartment-partner (and close neighbour) Bernard in and he was able to tell us that there was a spare lock in a drawer (we’ve no idea why). So we found that and fitted it!

The cloud didn’t lift all day and my throat simply got worse, so after shopping we came home, had tea and went to bed (8:30pm – slept through to 7:30am).

Tuesday

Click to see full sise pictureWe were much less tired by the time we awoke, and actually saw the sun rise for about 10 minutes, as it lifted itself out of the sea and then disappeared behind the shroud of cloud that had not left since yesterday. A sort of ‘hola’, ‘adios’!

Since we were too cold, we thought that we’d pop into Los Boliches and see what they had in the way of ‘appropriate’ clothing (this was our first autumn in southern Spain – so our guess at what was required was way out).

We found a chemist easily enough and bought a spray for my throat, then trawled round looking for something a little warmer than a shirt and some more socks. Sharon needed socks too, and something warm to sleep in. We DID manage (ish) but because of the rain that had started, we were drenched through to the skin by the time we got back to the car.

  • Lunch was the same as last night’s tea: salad, anchovies, roast red peppers, Serrano ham, slices of Gouda cheese and crappy white bread squares.
  • Tea was: pan-fried cod with honey and garlic (and peanuts), asparagus and a jar of chickpeas/spinach. Lovely.

And that was that for Tuesday. We just stayed in and read for the rest of the day – the rain never let up and although the temperature gauge said 20° we needed plenty of heating to dry our clothes and to stop our teeth from chattering.

Wednesday.

This was a much better start to the day. With very few clouds in the sky this morning, we had a magnificent sunrise once again.

We went into Los Boliches during the morning, to get new keys cut for the lock we replaced on Monday. There are ten partners in the apartment, each requiring two new keys, so when we found a fereteria we had to wait for twenty keys to be cut, filed and finished! €1.40 each. So that was the morning gone.

- Lunch was much the same as before and after eating, we drove back down the hill for a long walk along the front. It got colder as the afternoon wore on, so when we’d had enough and fancied a coffee, we decided to come back to the apartment and make our own!

- For tea, we ate at Pepe’s across the road – ok, nothing to write home about. :-)

I stopped using the throat spray today. It HAD helped but it was ferocious. Each spray felt like someone had climbed inside my mouth and slashed it with a razor blade.

Thursday

Straight after breakfast we set off for Alcaidesa, to meet John and Carol at Michelle and James’s place. Now that Michelle (Jon and Carol’s daughter) is stationed in Gibraltar, they are setting up home there and John and Carol are visiting for the week. We’d arranged to stay there with them overnight and to have a trip around Gibraltar on Friday.

Once we got sorted out in the afternoon, we drove up the coast to a marina somewhere, where we had a drink and a nice walk in the hot sunshine. It had rained on the way to Alcaidesa, but was much better by the afternoon. In the evening, once James had got home from work, we all went into La Linier for tapas. James explained the difference between tapas and raciones, so whilst visiting a couple of places, we enjoyed a number of ‘raciones’. Lovely.

Friday

We had a steady start to the morning and after breakfast John and I cycled down to the beach at Alcaidesa for some wonderful views of the Rock. The ride back was MUCH harder!

Michelle had arranged for us to have a tour of ‘The Great North Road’, part of the 34 miles of tunnels to be found inside the Rock. We were met at 3:00pm by Gary Mitchell who then took us on a very interesting and informative tour of the longest straight road in Gibraltar. This area of tunnels is not normally open to the public and can only be arranged through the military. Thanks Michelle.

By now, it had started to rain so, following a drink and some snacks at Michelle and James’s house, we set off home. The weather was horrendous and resulted in a fairly nervous drive. This was the first time I’d driven a left-hand drive car in the dark, in such weather.

We had pizza for tea, from downstairs – it was coolish by the time we got it up to the apartment (ninth floor), but tasty enough.

Saturday.        

Today was an absolutely appalling day weather-wise. We drifted into Los Boliches for some last minute stuff and then came home and festered in the apartment with all of the heating on. By now, we had the sense to wear shorts and sandals in the rain – so there was much less drying off required when we returned.

For lunch we had sautéed new potatoes and chorizo with pueblo bread

For tea, we had tuna steak, poached in garlic butter, with fresh asparagus and sauté potatoes. Yummy.

Sunday

Had a lazy start to what turned out to be a cloudy day.

Then, as it hadn’t rained, we walked down the hill to Torreblanca and along the front through Los Boliches. The cloud did disperse a little down on the front, so it was nice to walk (and have a couple of beers) on the front. It’s quite a steep climb back up to our apartment block, but not unpleasant, given the way the weather stayed fine.

For tea, we visited the pizza place underneath the apartment block and had an enjoyable, filling meal.

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