Posts Tagged ‘France’

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)

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.

 

Paris – home now

So, we went for a short walk around our area on Tuesday evening, had a nice pizza in a local restaurant and went into the city centre via Metro. All as planned.

We had been quite lucky, having an apartment so close to everything, especially the Metro.

Just a short walk and we were on the 6 train that goes north to ‘Charles de Gaulle-Étoile’, in fact the Arc de Triomphe, at the head of the Champs-Élysées. It is certainly a colourful experience, walking down this main thoroughfare, with all the shops lit up, along with the monuments and the red and bright lights of the traffic. What surprised me most was the amount of down market establishments present (McDonald’s, Starbucks etc.) alongside the more salubrious joints.

It was colder now than it had been all week, not as cold as it is here at home now, but chilly. That led to a brisk walk back down towards the river and us half way to our temporary home. The river was very busy and even prettier than the Champs Élysées. The Bateaux Mouches were lit up like Christmas and cruising up and down the river, under many of the lit-up bridges. A really pretty sight.

We continued home by walking along the bottom end of the Champs de Mars and then following the Metro line to our street. We had our last drink in Paris sat outside the bar on the corner: 1 pastis + 1 Perrier = €9.40!

So, what will I remember most about Paris, and perhaps recommend to others? [Flickr Album]

  • Les Invalides
    – Although occasionally free (out of season) it’s well worth paying the entry fee to take a look around this museum and mausoleum. The gardens surrounding it are free. Just look for the golden dome.
  • Coulée Vert
    – Starting just south east of Place Bastille, the walk along this old railway line takes you above various parts of the city – where you can see some of the art deco/nouveau architecture up close, through small housing estates and parks – almost as far as Chateau Vincennes – which is well worth the extra mile or so.
  • Eiffel Tower
    – Being just around the corner made it easy for us to be there quite early (10:30am ish) and to avoid the massive queues that build up. If you can purchase tickets online (book early) do so – otherwise come early. We had a short 20 minutes wait queuing to get tickets and then to enter the tower. Go to the very top for magnificent views. It’s a must.
  • Sacré Coeur
    – Various Metro routes and stops will place you at the bottom of the hill from Sacré Coeur. Take the funicular up the hill if you must, but the walk through the gardens is worth the effort. The views from the top are superb and the proximity to Montmartre make this visit worth planning a full day.  
  • Walking
    – We simply planned a Metro stop, got out and walked. There’s so much to see in and around Paris that you can do much of it on your own. If you need more information about the city – take a guided walk. This is how we found The Louvre, The Musee D’Orsay, Notre Dame, the river and so on. Simply walk – and look UP.

Back now 🙂