Posts Tagged ‘travel’

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.

Avila and Hendaye

We were met in Avila by Tony and Gill. They had travelled to meet us via Madrid where they were staying with their daughter Becky. They had taken the train out to Avila and had arrived about an hour before us. Tony and Gill suggested that we all have a drink first, as they needed something to eat, and that we should then walk around the city walls.

Built in the 12th Century the city walls are part of the reason Avila is named as a UNESCO World Heritage site. We started at Gate C (the bottom of town) and made our way up and around to the basilica at the top. Including the separate walk, at the other side of the basilica there are 1.7k of navigable walls.img_7287

The views both from and of the city walls are tremendous and this is certainly a city we would visit again. It seems odd for me, a tourist, to be glad that other tourists were in abundance and were not crowding the city. So, as there were no coach loads of folks following raised yellow umbrellas or filling the narrow city walls, as there were in the other cities – it was a delight.

As we had driven further north, the temperature had cooled noticeably. So much so that when out of the sun, it began to feel quite chilly (when in the sun however, it was still quite nice).

The journey from Toledo to Avila took us over some mountains and the views were terrific. In fact the entire journey was pleasant.  As was the first half of our journey from Avila to France.  The route via Valladolid is peacefully quiet and toll free – once the toll roads start they become a little busier but until Burgos, nothing like busy enough to make driving a chore.

I’ve also FINALLY worked out the Spanish motorway EXIT numbering system.  On the face of it, the system is shambolic and hard to understand with exit numbering bearing no resemblance to anywhere else on earth (unless you know different?).

HOWEVER – all motorways are mile-marked (or kilometre-marked in this case) and the exit number represents the closest kilometre-mark. EASY!

Once we hit the French border, we turned off and entered Hendaye, the nearest French town to Spain. This was a far busier than expected town – not sure what I did expect so close to the border with a ‘toll’ motorway thundering past about half a mile away. Of course, people use the town to cut across the old bridge to and from Spain – doh!

Cordoba

The journey to Cordoba, about two hours long, was uneventful.

The journey from the outskirts of the city to the hotel was however, somewhat trying. The hotel is right in the middle of the Jewish quarter of the old town. We knew that. What we didn’t know was that we would have to navigate tiny, narrow, cobbled streets to get to the hotel. We’d had a note from the hotel saying that we should not use our SatNav as it wouldn’t get us to them – instead we had to follow their instructions; which luckily and apart from one turn right at the beginning, were very much the same as the SatNavs. THAT was a stressful, wing mirror scaring drive. 

img_7244As was the route out of the city, which because we unwittingly chose school-start time to begin our journey, had lots of roads closed by local police to allow the scores of children, parents and old folks (!!!) to navigate the VERY narrow streets.

img_7250The city itself is blessed with historic buildings and areas and because we were there just one afternoon and evening we could hardly due them justice. A number were under repair/renewal too, so apart from the outside views, we didn’t do much except enjoy the mid-30s heat and street cafes. It’s useful to note that, unlike Seville and Salamanca, many of the shops were closed by 9:00pm.

We didn’t find that any of the food places close to our hotel were anything to shout about; in fact we didn’t really like anything we ate in Cordoba.  Not the best place to eat on an overnight stay.  However, we didn’t try either of the recommended ‘flamenco’ bars either. But there were execrable noises coming from both as we passed.

The journey to Avila, where we stayed on Wednesday was, apart from Sharon having to drive all the way, pleasant and uneventful.

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’

en Route a’ Sancerre

There’s not a right lot can happen on that day of your holiday which has been planned to be the day you spend driving. Sure enough, we set off from our hotel just outside Lyon and drove to Sancerre without too much incident.

‘Geoffrey’ got us around Lyon and on the right motorway, heading for Macon, where we turned off to cross-country and head up into Burgundy. The most exciting bit of this part of the trip was our first use of Telepeage. Sharon had bought the kit last year and this was the first time we’d had chance to try it out. It’s absolutely brilliant! When you reach a French motorway ‘toll’ (peage) booth, the queue for Telepeage is always the shortest and quickest and so it was. Simply drive up to the barrier, it recognises you and up the barrier goes. No credit card, cash or non-English speaking chaps or chapettes to deal with. In years gone by I’ve queued for hours (actually and on aggregate) at the peage near Villfranche – it’s a real bottleneck (bouchon) there (and next Saturday, Fete National will be one of the worst days!)From Macon it was pretty much just us and the odd Frenchman out for a Satuday drive. Blissfully empty roads with no stress at all until we hit Sancerre, which I’m sure, can be more easily approached, but Geoffrey decided we could climb the steep hill via the narrowest of winding roads – Grrr. Still, what a pretty town! We’ve not seen much of it just yet; but it is very old, has very narrow streets, lots of bars and restaurants – and importantly, Boulangeries.

We have just written to Avis, our car rental folks, to tell them that they have provided us with none of the essential emergency kit in the Citreon C4 they have loaned us. These are demanded by French law! We are now driving illegally!!!

Anyway, we’re here now and it looks delightful. Our apartment is very French, with magnificent views across the valley. The town is slightly above us and we will go and explore that shortly. But for now, it’s just good to be here.

Boston Massachusetts

I’m writing this on Thursday. It’s raining outside – so there’s plenty of reading going on. I can’t remember what we did on Monday, other than visit very hot Malls (outside they were hot, inside they were air conditioned). Tuesday we went to see Harry Potter (6 or 7!) and yesterday Sharon and I went to Boston for the day.

It was a little overcast and the entire day in Boston was plagued with low cloud and mild precipitation. Gail dropped us off at the station in Providence and we went to the kiosk to buy tickets (like you do). However, the kiosk men pointed at the café opposite and said “Boston Tickets” with a flurry of pointing and arm gestures that seemed to imply that we should buy our tickets at the café.  As the café looked inordinately busy we were reluctant to do this, but felt obliged to do so by the constant gesturing. At the café itself there appeared to be two queues so we joined the shorted one only to realise that the longer queue did in fact lead to tickets for Boston. This was ascertained by reading the cardboard and marker pen signs above the till that said: ‘MBTA (Metropolitan Boston Transit Authority – I think) Boston tickets – CASH ONLY’.

Being cosmopolitan travellers and used to the ubiquitous acceptance of credit cards for travel (and an alarming sparcity of cash) we didn’t believe this final instruction until we were told face-to-face “cash only!” “But”, I asked “surely there’s a place we can buy tickets with our credit card as we are travelling and only have a small amount of cash”. “Yes”, I was advised, with a fairly puzzled look – “in Boston”. I started to explain the ludicrousness of that but the puzzled look became increasingly scary – so we paid (cash) and left.

But I ask myself, in this day of national databases and when I can go to Huddersfield Station and buy tickets for any rail line in the country – why can’t I buy an MBTA ticket at an Amtrak desk? At least then I would have realised that I could have travelled quicker and more comfortably via one of the Amtrak Acela speed trains than the two-storey commuter chugger we did catch.

Boston was busy. It is one of those towns, like San Francisco that seems to be able to get on with its everyday life and still accommodate thousands of tourists. We did a spot of wandering and a spot of browsing statures and shops etc but the most interesting thing for me was lunch at Durty Nellie’s. We’d not wanted anything elaborate (or expensive) for lunch and thought a good old Boston pub might just do it. And it did. We read the menu and accepted it for what it was: brief and to the point. We entered and asked, because no one else was eating “are you still doing food?” and I was answered – “it’s only a small menu!” Well, we knew that so we ordered and had one of the hottest and probably most under estimated meals of our visit. One burger with egg and one burger with cheese and a ‘side’ of fries (“we don’t have fries – they’re home-fries”) was hot (cooked to order) tasty and appropriate to our needs. All cooked to order.

We were going for a drive around the bay today but the rain put that off. So, we may do that tomorrow. What we’re doing next week, until our return flight on Thursday is still being discussed: it could be Maine or it could be Delaware. It could even be something entirely different.