In France

Our drive up from Saragossa (Zaragoza) has taken two days (which were planned).  We’re at Billy and Angela’s place now near Roussines in France.

The bit where we drive over the Pyrenees to Pau was supposed to be scenic and beautiful, but the weather was a bit unsettled to say the least.  Spain must sit a good bit above this part of France as there was a lot more ‘down’ from the Spanish Tunnels than there was ‘up’.  The torrential rain made some of the journey quite scary (bends etc.) and the same didn’t help when it came to looking for our late lunch in Pau. We were allowed to park in the hotel car park before we booked in and at that time, the sun was shining, but as we sat for lunch in a very busy restaurant (we’d moved on from Two saladsyet another very busy restaurant because outside rain was dripping from the brolly AND people were smoking), it started again in earnest.

We asked to move tables (one had just come free under the canape) but the waiter said “non” with a quite serious expression. I thought he was joking, but he then proceeded to say something which my poorly educated ‘French’ ears interpreted as “of course not, the kitchen has your order and table number“.  At exactly the point at which I’d formed the French to say (I paraphrase of course) “then stick it up your posterior and bring me the bill“, he saw that we had in fact NOT ordered yet and rather sulkily grabbed our drinks and commanded “allez” as he sashayed himself inside the bar and sat us at a table there. It had taken some time to get our drinks and now it took some time to get our food, but (and I MUST say this) the food was delicious and plentiful – so much so that we didn’t eat again that day.

Pau may well be worth another visit, the bit of it we saw was OK and interesting, but with so many places closed for holiday and the weather being AWFUL, it rather spoiled our visit. We woke early on Friday for the last leg of this stage of our journey.  The weather had upgraded from awful to ATROCIOUS!

The entire journey was plagued with torrential rain.  Even when we got to Roussines, the rain was still persisting.  This made the house feel quite cold, so we set off for a supermarket to buy warm clothes (we’d packed in +34° heat and not given a thought to changing weather). One of the beauties, and one of the main reasons for breaking our journey in this way, is so that we can cook for ourselves and eat normally. Some of the portions we’ve eaten this week, driving back have been huge and, more meaty than usual. Neither of us are or want to be non-meat eaters, but we don’t eat much meat and often don’t have any at all. Our first meal at Billy and Angela’s was such a meal: Spanish Omelette and Salad.

Today’s will be different – it’s Sharon’s birthday.

We’re off again

That’s it we’re setting off back to the UK tomorrow – 9:00am ish.

We have a shuttle booking on 22nd August from Calais to Folkestone so we’re going to take our time returning, unlike our less than relaxed dash down here. Despite the heat, it’s been great to be here and to begin settling in to what we can do around here and what’s expected of us from community and commune alike. Looking forward to the next (Flying!!) visit in October.

Our first stop will be in Toledo, just south of Madrid, the Spanish capital city. Hopefully we can get there in time to visit some of the historical sights and (at least) get a feel for the place. The same applies to our next stop on Wednesday evening: Zaragoza (Saragossa). I planned this two cities to a) avoid Madrid and b) to see a little more of the real Spain before heading back to France. Hopefully, like Segovia and Jaén on our way down, we may choose to visit one of more of them for longer, in the future.

The other reason for visiting Zaragoza is the route it (almost) forces back into France – over the Pyrenees. We’ve booked a hotel in Pau for Thursday night, so, we’ve never been there, or over this bit of the Pyrenees, that should be fun.  Then, on Friday we head for Billy’s place in Roussines. We’ll stay here over the weekend and then drive a long day to Mark’s place in Normandy.

We decided that Mark’s would be a good place to set off back to Calais from and hoped to catch him and Jean there, but sadly they leave the same morning. Hey ho.

Here now

Being here, at the apartment (at last), is really rather strange. It’s as if we’ve walked into someone else’s home and taken it over. 

Jo NesboWe knew, from our flying visit in April and the various legal shenanigans, that most of the furniture would be left as part of the sale. Yet, we were both surprised and pleased to note that everything we had seen had been left. That included towels, sheets, quilts, candles, tea lights, drinking glasses, T.V. – the lot!

Of course, we’re very grateful, as it means there’s so much less trailing about to do this week. We’ve also got a full set of Jo Nesbo books – in Danish, along with around 50 other Danish tomes. [Monday 3rd August – we’ve donated Jo Nesbo and some of the others to Marlene’s library at Monte-Mare)

We’re meeting our lawyers on Wednesday and will then (hopefully) receive full documentation for our purchase and accompany them to the local notary (not so local for us – as they [solicitors and notary] are in Marbella) to complete formalities and get our Spanish Will approved.

Titisee in Spain

Titisee in Spain

One purchase we really need to secure is a freestanding rotary fan – it’s so hot here at this time of year.  What we’d thought were a/c units in the apartment are not, they are in fact wall-mounted fans, which simply do not cut the mustard. We have talked about a self-condensing (plug-in) a/c unit, but I think I need to be convinced (that one would not blow the electric or make too much noise). . [Monday 3rd August – we now have a freestanding fan].

Another purchase is Internet. In fact it’s the most important!  We have Internet in the apartment, but as yet we don’t know who supplies it. On Monday we aim to visit the WiFi-Blue office in Fuengirola to see if they have the apartment listed. I guess they will have, as most of the apartments here in the ‘block’ use WiFi-Blue. If not, we’ll negotiate.  [Monday 3rd August – done!]

So that’s it really, it’s taken us a few days to settle in, mainly through Sharon’s valiant efforts at the DIY and plumbing stuff (I cook, I don’t do DIY). The main sink was blocked and after she removed and cleaned all of the plastic gubbings, it was still blocked, so we had to buy some ‘chemicals’. They did the trick [ish].

The rain in Spain

Courtesy of Wikipedia

We had a fairly passable meal last night (Tuesday) at the Campanile Hotel in Angouleme. The hotel is clean, perfectly adequate for an overnight stay and right next door to their restaurant.  We’d thought that we might walk the 3kms into the city but the never ceasing rain put dampers (pun) on that. So we stayed ‘in’ and this allowed me to have my first ever Picon Biere – it was so nice, I had two :-)

The weather was no better when we set off for what turned out to be an almost 500 mile journey. We stopped for fuel first at the nearby Auchan (€1.04) and then got on our way. The traffic (wagons mainly) was horrendous – and remained that way until after the motorway split for Bilbao many hours later. Furthermore, the heavy rain got steadily worse; first as we approached the Spanish border and then afterwards as we climbed over the pass between the Pyrenees and the sea. 

Poor Sharon was still driving, partly so she could say that she’d driven all the way from home to Spain and partly because my back was still twinging. Anyway, after the motorways split for Bilbao, we headed south and as we passed through the tunnels (there are many, and many are very long) the weather improved. After Burgos, we saw much more sun and the temperature began to rise.

We’re staying tonight (Wednesday) at the Santana Hotel just outside Segovia, northwest of Madrid. Just before we set off, Booking dot Com offered us an upgrade and so we now have a suite. Breakfast and evening meal are included and it’s really comfortable. This is my first experience of being somewhere where language really is a barrier – they don’t speak English and I speak VERY little Spanish.  However, we’ve just manged a nice meal, some beers (with tapas) and to communicate quite well.

Thursday

After breakfast (not so good), we spent an hour looking around the old town of Segovia before setting off for our next stop in Jaén. We found the Roman Aqueduct easily enough but spent most of our time looking for the cathedral – which we sort of found on our way back to the car – but by now we now didn’t have the time to visit. Another time?

Roman Aqueduct, Segovia

The journey south was interesting with fine weather all the way, the feeling of being ripped off half of the way (we’d agreed to use toll roads, so we could get to our destination in time – but the tolls are doubled for summer) and wonderful views. We circumvented Madrid by using the outer (western) ring road and eventually dropped off the high plains and headed towards the Sierra Nevada before landing in Jaén mid-afternoon.

We took a walk up towards and then around the cathedral here and then spent little time in a nice bar; watching the world go by and eating the nibbles that are freely given. 

We also ate dinner here in the town and once again found that the prices of beer and food (as we found in Segovia) are not bad at all – certainly not what we will try not to pay once we’ve reached the madness of the Costa del Sol.

Which will be tomorrow.

Andalusia – here we come

During our last visit to Spain in April this year we looked at a variety of apartments, with a view to ‘considering’ a purchase. To cut a long story short, we made an offer on a two-bedroom apartment in the same block we share a single bedroom apartment with nine other partners. This was accepted and the purchase was completed early July.

We are now driving down there to pick up the keys and finalise the ‘stuff’ that our solicitors cannot.

We have chosen to drive as the flight costs are so expensive at this short notice. We therefore thought we’d make a trip/holiday of it and take some of the larger things we have that we would like down there, but which could not easily be flown in. So we decided to set off on Monday 27th and booked hotels in Boulogne-sur-Mer, Angouleme, (both France), Segovia and Jaen (both Spain) – with a hope of arriving on Friday – hopefully before siesta-lunch.

Day one was a disaster. I’d hurt my back doing nothing more than lay the table on Sunday, so was pretty much incapacitated most of Sunday (for packing and preparation) and Monday (for driving). Poor Sharon had to pack the car and then drive all the way to Boulogne. That might have been OK had we not got caught up on a 90+ minute delay en route (one hour on the A14 waiting for police to turn us all around and join the now horrendous A1 London bound traffic, and then congestion along M25). We were in fact late for our book-in at the Shuttle terminal, but managed to scam a drive straight on to the train. Wonderful.

We’d booked a Premiere Classe hotel for this night, knowing that we wouldn’t get there until 11.00pm ish and that they did at least have a gated car park (remember, we have a car full of ‘stuff’).  I’d forgotten how nasty these places can be. And, the WiFi didn’t work. And, we had to park in the not gated, car park opposite as the hotel one was full. The saving grace was that it was cheap. 

Tuesday night, after another day of Sharon’s heroic driving, we’re in Angouleme, in a Campanile Hotel. This chain are a step up from the other (although by the same group) and don’t cost too much more.  We’ll see how the evening goes :-) At least we have WiFi and a/c (although it is overcast and raining).

Tomorrow – Spain.

Homeward bound

Saturday.

We departed Blaichach after relaxing over breakfast in the local konditorei and retraced our route to Lindau and then on to Ludwigshafen (our destination for the night) via Meersberg. Meersberg was very busy and very ‘touristy’.

I know that is a crass thing to say, when we ourselves are tourists, but there’s a difference to independent travelers such as ourselves and the bussed in hoards; half with selfie-sticks and half with walking sticks; catered for with kiss-me-quick hats and sticks of rock (not actually, but the German equivalent).

At Ludwigshafen we were disappointed to find that our 4-star hotel did not have air conditioning.  It was >38ºc outside with no wind and no clouds to reduce the built up heat. Sharon and I had been given an attic room with south facing velux windows – it was horrendous. So, the short story is – we had to be moved. Despite saying they were full, faced with two angry Armstrongs (one of whom speaks German like a native, the other who can be unreasonably tenacious) we were given what turned out to be better rooms in the hotel next door. It appears that this hotel was owned by our hotel but didn’t have the 4-start rating required by our Booking.Com reservation. It also turned out that this particular hotel reserves the smaller, less desirable rooms for Booking.Com customers and advises them to ‘find us’ on the site and then contact direct.

Breakfast was a laugh a minute with stereotypical German correctness on the one hand (“no, no, you cannot have THAT coffee, I will bring you a different one”) and idiotic food v personnel placement planning on the other. Staff and customers were using the same narrow throughways (and therefore bumping into one another) and the breakfast buffet was in what could be described as a cave, where only one or two people at a time could gain access. Whilst Ludwigshafen is a pretty place, we have no desire to visit there, or, especially, the hotel again.

Sunday.

Today we drove to Freiburg (Freiburg im Breisgau) via Schaffhausen, adding another country (Switzerland) to our tally for the trip (5). Schaffhausen was more or less en route so we all wanted to see the falls – http://www.rheinfall.ch/en/. As we drove into the car park and as we saw the falls through the trees, we all uttered ‘wow’. It was a magnificent sight.

I’m not sure that I can describe the views, or the noise, suffice to say that if you ever get the chance to visit the falls at Schaffhausen – take it.  It’s worth the time and moderate parking fee.

We took one of the many boat trips available, a round trip taking in a bit of history with facts and figures via an audio-link-up and sailing close up (REALLY close up) to the falls. I had been advised to take a trip to the island in the middle but when booking we really didn’t see that option, although it was there. It’s not really clear what is available on site so visit http://www.maendli.ch/ first and check out what’s available.

And then, heading up through the Black Forest, we called in at Titisee.  It was by now blisteringly hot again and the going was tough. The lake is obviously used as a major leisure resource and it reminded me of Ambleside, without the narrow streets. Again there were the busloads of tourists, the kiss-me-quick stuff (like I said – German equivalent) and lots of food outlets. We had stand-up food (sausages, bretzles etc.) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pretzel.

Our hotel in Freiburg had been hastily arranged by the Armstrongs and it DID HAVE a/c.  So that was a relief.  We were here for two nights and slept well, unlike the previous few evenings.

No one felt like eating the first night, as it was so hot. It cooled a little the day after so we drove around the Black Forest and headed for Triberg, where we could see the falls and sample the ‘original’ Black Forest Gateau.

Tuesday – From Freiburg, it’s only about an hour to France and our first stopover there, in Colmar. Once again the girls had re-booked a hotel so that we had a/c. This hotel, The Hotel Europe: http://www.hotel-europe-colmar.com/uk/index.php is situated out of town but has everything we needed, including our first hotel pool of the trip. What’s more it is just u[p the road from a huge E. Leclerc Hypermarket where the diesel was around 6 cents per litre cheaper than anywhere around.

We were disappointed with Colmar.  The pictures and information had promised so much, but the waterways were dirty, the town itself wasn’t as ‘appealing’ as we’d hoped and the waiter who served us for lunch was downright rude and surly. So we spent a good bit of our Colmar time in the hotel pool.

The weather eased somewhat overnight, following the storm that passed over.

Wednesday – Our next stopover was at Chalons en Champagne. En Route, we stopped for a coffee in Nancy, in Stanislas Square. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Place_Stanislas. This is a large pedestrianised area, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Our hotel in Chalons was undergoing some repairs and renewals, so upon arrival we went out for a walk around the town. We had our evening meal just down the road from the hotel and in the morning set off for Calais.

Thursday –

We were in Calais for 14:00, just in time for the hotel to allow us to book in. Sharon and I then went out for a walk and found lots of interesting places we’d never had time to find before.  We also saw many more of the elephants we first noticed on our first evening in France way back in June.  There are 21 elephants to be found – I managed to catch 11 of these.

 

Kempton

(Days 13 and 14) – 02/07/15 and 03/07/15Meat and cheese platter

We spent most of Thursday just lounging around. The temperature was up in the mid thirties – so we just soaked up what we could. We all walked down to the local bakery in the morning but then failed to move out at all until that evening.

In the evening we went just up the road to enjoy the meat and cheese platters available at Sennalpe Derb http://www.alpe-derb.de/.

And beer – although I only had alcohol-free :-)

The alcohol beers over here are served everywhere and all taste so much better than anything I’ve had at home in England. Thursday night’s AF beer was strange tasting (weissen beer) but still better than at home.

3 kingsOn Friday, we awoke once more to the rising sun shining through the meagre blinds and had our cup of tea on the sunny terrace (as usual) at 06.30am.

We’d decided to visit Kempten today. http://www.bavaria.by/allgaeu/a-kempten-bavaria-germany En route, it started to rain. And not just rain as we know it but rain like we’re told it rains by everyone here. It bounced down. Once we’d parked we just sat in the car and waited for it to (sort of) stop. Massive bolts of lightening, loud bangs of thunder and hailstones like bullets, were our welcome to Kempton.

The rain eventually stopped and we investigated the busy town. However, we’d only parked for two hours so we decided to eat elsewhere. 3-kings-lunchWe wound our way through the little towns south of Kempton and eventually ended up in Immenstadt, where we had a delightful lunch at the Gastof Drei König – http://www.drei-koenig.de/cms/index.php?kat=86. I had (what turned out to be) Roast Pork with Serviettenknödel. See: http://www.food.com/recipe/serviettenkn-del-bread-dumplings-467470

We bought cakes (and pretzels for me and ‘tmissis) for our evening meal, in Blaichach and settled in for our final evening here in the apartment. 

The car said it was 39° outside!

IMG_4644

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