Archive for the ‘France’ Category

Back through France

From Hendaye, we continued up through France to Vouvray, just east of Tours on the north bank of The Loire. Traffic was not too busy but busy enough around Bordeaux. Sharon did  nearly commit murder in a service station en route!  I’d gone to the loo and left her looking out over our car parked in front of the café when a car pulled in and slammed their door into ours! Not being shy – Sharon darted out to catch the woman responsible before she left, but she (the door slamming, evil criminal) managed to evade Sharon’s wrath by backing out of the space and driving back on to the motorway, pretty quick sticks! We were left with a dinted door.30161183796_7e9823d524

The sun shone throughout the afternoon, but by the time we arrived at our Chambre d’Hote just outside the village, it had become chilly and we were glad of our Lidl ‘extras’. In Hendaye, it had been so cold that we had looked around for warmer clothing and found a tracksuit for me and a long sleeved shirt for Sharon in a Lidl just around the corner from our hotel.  As I say, thank goodness for those Lidl ‘extras’.

We walked into Vouvray twice while we were there; a 4.5-mile round trip each time. The first time was to explore the village (it’s tiny) and the second time to find food; there are several places – but we had to find them. Whilst there, we checked out one of the Caves and made some essential purchases. We ate at La Scala.

After a comforetable breakfast we continued our journey up through France to Boulogne. It being Saturday, we expected more traffic but the roads remained quiet and uneventful for the entire journey. Although we’ve visited the area around Abbeville lots of times, we’ve never been to Le Crotoy (and there’s quite a bit of mention in Bernard Cornwell’s book – Harlequin – which I’ve just read) so we called in there for lunch (I had a bucket of mussels!). We will certainly try to visit again, it looks lovely.img_7321

Our Boulogne Chambre d’Hote was right in the middle of the old town, yet we were (just) lucky enough to grab a parking space not too far from our bed. Our room was on the first floor and huge. The windows overlooked the town hall square, where this year they had planted a sensory garden. Well done Boulogne once again.

The Sunday roads in England were also surprisingly quiet. The M20, the M25 and then the M11 were a breeze. So setting off from Boulogne at 8.30am French time to catch a 9:50am train (on time) we were home for 3:00pm UK time.  Not too shabby.

Into Spain

We had a good start to the day and had a relaxed and uneventful drive down through south west France (via Angouleme) and arrived in Pamplona just after four pm.

As we came off the Bordeaux Rocade and headed south, we noticed that the heavy roadworks we’d encountered last year were finished; or pretty much so, there were still bits around the Bidart area, so the drive was fairly easy. Also, to be remembered, there are no trucks on the roads on Sunday. However, every single rest-stop along the route was packed with trucks, laid over for the day. Driving down here on Monday mornings must be very interesting!

We asked Patrick, our new TomTom Go 5100 SatNav to take us over the Pyrenees to Pamplona and the route was a delight. As you rise higher you note that the trees have all taken on their autumn colours and look beautiful. The variety of colour adds another level to the normal views up here. Wonderful.

We spent the evening wandering around the town and eventually settled for a beer and some pinchos in one of the many bars there. See [Trip Advisor – link to follow].

The hotel car park (now seemingly typical, as I write this in our Salamanca hotel) was a very tight squeeze, especially as we were two floors underground. But we made it out without incident and were on our way just after nine. We stopped at a motorway station for breakfast and at another for lunch. These are much (MUCH) better than ours at home. For example, lunch (at a hotel/restaurant behind a Repsol petrol station) cost us €7.50 for two tapas, one pinchos and two bottle of water (one ‘con’ gas and one ‘sin’ gas). And we were full!

We arrived in Salamanca just before 3:00pm and spent siesta time in the room.

IMG_6933Our drive was pretty uneventful. You spend some time dropping out of mountains and then enter countryside that is flatter and even in some places, tree lined. This journey brought home something I heard some years ago when an Italian friend said that she always thought grass “was yellow”. No green grass at all here. At all.

About 5:30pm we set off to explore the city. Salamanca is very old and one of the first in Spain (as far as I can find out) to establish a university. This becomes obvious as you tour the city, with man ancient buildings given over to educating youth. After tiring ourselves out walking, we sat in a bar on the Plaza Mayor and enjoyed the antics of others. Then we moved along, grazing on tapas/pinchos in two delightful bars. Pork tongue indeed!

Favourite place today ‘Restaurante La Espada’

September Sojourn

Travelling through and from the UK these days, seems to be a trial of a pleasure. We set off on Friday, about 12:30pm and arrived in Gravesend at around 19:15pm – far too long a journey for such a relatively short journey. We had expected some short delays because it was Friday afternoon – but this was shocking.

We stayed at a Premier Inn just outside Gravesend, on the A2.  It was ok, the pub next door, The George, seemed to have a reasonable plastic menu and my noodle dish was fine. The beer was London Pride, served as the locals like it – flat and headless.

Now it’s Saturday morning and after not much sleep and getting up at 04:15am, we’re sat on the Eurotunnel car park waiting for our connection – which has been delayed by two hours due to a train ‘being stopped’ in the tunnel. The train before our planned 06:50am departure seems to have got away and ours was the first to be delayed.  Grrrr.
IMG_6883Once we eventually get to France, the plan is to make it to the Hotel Campanile, Poitiers Sud – hopefully that will be possible in time for some food, beer and sleep.

We eventually got under way about 09:00am, arriving in France before ten and shooting off down the motorway. The weather was fine (increasingly) all the way to Poitiers, but there were the odd delays as major lengths of road were under repair. Something to remember about trips through France in September?

Our final trial for today was that the exit we needed for our hotel was closed!  We knew early enough to detour, but there were so many roads under repair around the north of Poitiers that we missed the correct turning and ended up having to drive through the city itself. Then, the hotel is disguised. What as I cannot say, but it took us over half an hour to find, even though the SatNav said ‘you have reached your destination’! (Pics later when WiFi is better)

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.

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.