There and Back Again

We’ve been back in the UK for 7 weeks now so a summary of our first foreign adventure is probably long overdue.

To recap – we set sail from Dover on February 11th 2018 and we returned to Dover on May 10th 2018.  In the intervening 88 days we raced south through France just as the Beast From The East was hitting the UK (and France & Spain), spent several weeks in a very soggy Spain and scratched the van down both sides getting into and out of our Provence housesit.

We drove 3166 miles, stayed in some fantastic locations, ate some fantastic food, drank some great wine and discovered loads and loads of interesting places that we’d never heard of before and didn’t expect to find.  We had no detailed plan and no pre-thought out itinerary – we wandered vaguely south through Spain, rushed to Provence for our housesit, then wandered vaguely north towards home.  (Not strictly towards home as the van feels very much like home now)

This map shows our route.  The red line is outward bound and the blue line is homeward bound.

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One thing that jumps out at me when I look at the map is that we’ve barely scratched the surface of France and Spain; never mind seeing other countries.  So lots more to see next time.

Highlights and Lowlights

When we started writing this blog post we thought we’d come up with a Top 5 places we’ve visited, a Top 5 food we’ve eaten etc etc. but the more we thought about it the more we realised that that’s not how it’s worked out for us.  In reality we have a Top 1 and a load of other highlights.

Our Top 1 is the lifestyle overall and the freedom that comes with it.  We started off not knowing whether the motorhoming life was for us or not and we’ve ended up absolutely loving it.  We haven’t needed to book a single campsite in France or Spain and this means we can wander at our own pace wherever we fancy.  We can make it up as we go along: if we like a place we can stay a few days more, or a week more; whatever we feel like.  Rocking up somewhere and discovering a whole new area is another aspect of this freedom.  We must have gypsy blood!

Our other general highlights are:-

  • Wildlife – Hoopoes, Spoonbills, Parrots, Flamingoes, Eagles and Egrets. Lizards, bees and noisy frogs (so many noisy frogs).  Tiny orchids and huge rubber trees.  Loads and loads of things that we don’t get, or rarely see, in the UK.
  • Open Spaces – We couldn’t believe how most of France and Spain were so uncrowded compared to where we live in the UK. You could really appreciate the sky, the trees, the birds, mountains, lakes.  Winding country roads with no traffic.  Main roads with minimal traffic.  Quiet and peace.
  • Eating – especially tasty and cheap in Spain.  Tapas is great!  Fresh locally baked daily bread, tapenade, cheese of many kinds, olives…… The fact that nearly every village we visited still has a clutch of basic shops. Markets brimming with local farmers selling their vegetables or hand cured meats and cheeses.
  • Towns and cities with vibrant centres, full of locals going about their daily business and using their lovely shops. Sleepy siestas and late night opening.  Bars buzzing with chatter and laughter, families mixing together.  Excellent cycle routes and the courtesy of drivers toward cyclists….

A few specific things were memorable:-

  • Carrières de Lumières – the subterranean art installation in Baux-de-Provence.
  • Helping repair a WWII tank in Cartagena.

Lowlights

When we were dreaming of this adventure, I couldn’t help but think I’d be bathed in the golden light of everlasting summer.  The reality of travelling in February is that it is Winter, even in Spain!  So it soon became necessary to manage expectations and learn to cope with cool (but not freezing) temperatures, rain and strong wind.

Occasionally we were (marooned?) in our van restricted by the vagarities of the weather. Poor things I hear you cry!  At the time it was frustrating, but that was all it was – frustrating.  Taking the whole trip into account we had a fabulous time which really wasn’t hampered in any serious way by the weather.

Having spent quite some time trying to learn Spanish, it was humbling to find it almost impossible to understand locals or make ourselves understood!  Attempting to speak French was equally mystifying for us and those trying to understand us.  Must try harder.

Internet Access, perhaps the most frustrating thing of all.  Even campsites with ‘good’ access i.e. a full signal, were in reality hopeless.  Not so bad if you’re on holiday – a Godsend even – but for writing Blogs and downloading photos it was a big pain in the you-know-what.  For example it often took over 10 minutes to upload one edited photo, and that’s only if we didn’t get timed-out and have to start all over again – grrrr!!

And a few things we’ve learned

  • The number of people who spend the winter in southern Spain is staggering – they’re everywhere. The bulk of them come from the Netherlands, Germany and the UK (in fact I’m surprised there’s anyone left in the Netherlands in the winter).  But they come from all over; we saw Danes, Norwegians and even a Finn.
  • Don’t let the sat-nav decide your route. We spent far too long on tiny French backroads before realising that the sat-nav just chooses the shortest route available.  We soon got into the habit of checking the sat-nav’s suggested route and adding a few waypoints to keep him on the main roads.

Can’t wait to get back on the road again.

Levington, Haverhill and Peterborough

So now we’re back in the UK getting acclimatised to driving on the left hand side – no accidents so far.  We drove straight to our Motorhome storage area outside Ipswich to collect our car only to find we had a flat tyre!  Luckily someone else was on site who just happened to have a small compressor.  So impressed was Eric with this handy bit of kit which works by plugging into the car’s cigarette lighter, that we are proud owners of our own kit for that ‘just in case’ moment.

We stayed at a campsite just outside Ipswich and spent the next couple of days catching up with family and some friends.  On one visit we had a lunch at The Ship in Levington, and a walk along the river Orwell’s Nacton shore…

We also spent some time sorting out the van discarding a few items that we hadn’t used in the 3 months we were away.  Still shedding excess stuff!

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Unnecessary clothing and kitchen equipment…..

After our short time in Ipswich we packed our bags, put our van back into storage and headed to our first UK house sit this year; just outside Haverhill.  Our hosts Martijn and Bev were due to leave early the following day so we arrived the evening before to meet Molly their lovely Labrador and Louis a fine ginger cat.

The area was rural, peaceful and pretty.  Walking Molly every day we explored the surrounding countryside.

It was a lovely short break for us, it’s serenity broken by only two incidents. Molly’s frantic barking one night at what we thought might be a midnight intruder but turned out to be either Louis trying to get back into the house after his nocturnal wandering, or a fox.  Never did find out which it was 😏.  The other involved Louis catching a partridge and bringing it into the house for us to admire his skill and prowess.  Funnily enough we didn’t quite see it the same way!

Our next house sit took us to Peterborough. This time we were looking after two young Cavapoos called Ruby and Max.  Our hosts Martin and Marie were also leaving early the following day so we had the evening before to get to know them and their lively dogs!

The area we were staying in is surrounded by walks around Nene Park – Ferry Meadows Country Park.

we also visited Peterborough Cathedral which I have to say is one of the best Cathedrals I’ve visited.  Whilst there we paid our respects to Catherine of Aragon who is buried there, her grave stone decorated with pomegranates (the emblem of Granada) and the Spanish flag.  Mary Queen of Scots was also buried there but her body was later removed to be interred in Westminster Abbey.

On another day we visited Flag Fen Archaeology Park where excavations started in 1982 after a chance discovery of a Bronze Age wooden causeway parts of which are preserved in their original state.  I love this sort of thing – right up my street!

We also visited Barnack Hills, our first trip where we took Ruby and Max in the car for a walk.  It was really difficult to find as sign posts to the site were non existent. How we managed it I don’t rightly know but we did.  The site was originally used by the Romans to quarry limestone and later in the medieval times supplied the limestone for Peterborough and Ely Cathedrals.  Now the site is a strange hummocky landscape covered by grasses and is rich in wild flowers.

Our house sit soon came to an end and on the return of Martin and Marie we said goodbye to Ruby and Max and we hit the road back to Ipswich.

Our next blog will talk about a house sit this time in Norwich, and a short trip to Lincoln. We also hope to write another blog summarising our three month European tour, it’s best and worst bits, what we’ve learned, what we would do differently and what it cost…..

Keep reading!

Au Revoir France……

This is the last leg of our journey as we head back to the UK.  I’ll be honest, we planned not to spend too much time in the north anticipating a cooling climate and a more industrialised landscape.  On the first point we were wrong, we were enjoying a heatwave 😎, on the second we were right.

Leaving Nancy, we enjoyed an almost event free trip to Matton-et-Clemency in the Ardennes near the Belgian border.  We were in Belgium for about half an hour so technically we’ve done 3 countries on this trip.  Mr S. tried a new trick on the way, this time remaining stubbornly silent as we drove toward a diverging road and no instruction whether to go left or right.  With the odds 50/50 and pressure of traffic, of course we took the wrong way and soon found ourselves on a much narrower road steeply descending into a town called Longwy.  I was driving of course, cursing Mr S who quickly managed to wake up from his nap and guide us back on the correct road.

So we finally arrived at Camping du Banel, what a lovely site with our own bathroom cabin on our pitch. Luxury!

And in the grounds of the campsite…

Our next stop was at Sailly-Le-Sec on the Somme.  As we approached the area we couldn’t help noticing small military cemeteries dotted along the road, a poignant reminder of the utter carnage of the First World War.  The countryside is so gentle and peaceful now….

The heatwave was hitting its stride getting up to 33° making it necessary to keep low in the afternoons.  The site (Camping les Puits Tournants) was only a couple of hundred metres from the Somme and a cycle track which could if we were so inclined, take us to Amiens.  Our first evening we cycled along the river for a bit exploring the area.

The next day was Eric’s birthday so we decided to cycle to the next town Corbie for a spot of lunch and an explore.  On entering the town we heard a band playing jolly music  and I thought Aaah they shouldn’t have!  It was the 8th May and we walked into the towns modest Liberation day celebrations.  Still it was a nice touch.

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Eric’s Birthday parade…

 

But it did mean the town was pretty much closed so we picked up some food from a Boulangerie and headed back to camp for a light lunch and trying to keep out of the sun!

The next day was considerably cooler matching our mood as we headed to Calais ready for our ferry the following day.  The countryside got more grey and built up and busier as we headed toward Calais and our campsite in Sangatte called Camping de Noires Motte.  Or Colditz.  But there was a tame rabbit who wandered around eating lots of grass that lightened the mood a little

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The nicest thing in Sangatte

The next day we got up early and left by 8am to catch the Ferry and before the site’s shower block was unlocked to allow the queue of happy campers in for their morning ablutions.  I think that says it all……

So we said goodbye to France and the end of our first continental European tour.  Already dreaming of September when we plan to go back.

We will be keeping in touch through this blog as we visit friends and family and several house sits during our time back ‘home’.  Keep reading!

Nancy

The beginning of May and we were headed further north and east toward Nancy.  We had a short stay at a campsite in Corcieux in the Vosges/Lorraine area.  It is a lovely family friendly site ran by an English man with his French wife.  A great location for walks and cycling in spite of the hills, and one we would go back to if we could stay longer.  However this time it was just a stop on the way to Villers-les-Nancy, a campsite called Les Brabois.  This was our stop off point to visit the city.

As usual, we arrived early afternoon, set up and then went for a cycle ride to explore the immediate area.  The site is located on the edge of a large park ‘Parc de la Barbois’…

What we’ve enjoyed about the whole trip is just coming across places unexpectedly.  So here, in the Parc we ‘found’ this boarded up Mansion house next to an equestrian centre where we saw the last of a class of young ladies going out for a hack.

The following day was May the 4th (be with you) for you Star Wars fans, the day we spent in Nancy.  We could only spend a day there so we did a little research and found the city was a centre of the Art Nouveau movement in France during the end of the 19th and early 20th century.  Now I particularly like this style and so does Eric which was surprising as he’s not a huge art fan, but the craftsmanship involved won him over.  We’ve had some really good experiences so far in this trip so he was willing to give it a go…..

So a bit of background first: the École de Nancy was founded by the glassmaster and furniture maker Émile Gallé, and was a centre for artists and architects that rivaled Paris and helped give the city the nickname “Capitale de l’Est. The present day museum is located in the former property of Jean-Baptise Eugène Corban, the most important patron and collector of École de Nancy artwork.  So we headed off to the museum.  It was free to get in, even better!

Some of the hundreds of pieces of furniture/glass etc in the museum…

More furniture…

On the way to the museum we followed an ‘Art Nouveau’ route given to us by the Tourist Office and found these fabulous examples along the way…..

Nancy was the residence of the Dukes of Lorraine and the city has flamboyant examples of buildings from the height of their power in the 18th century.  The Place Stanislas for example, was named after this king of Poland and duke of Lorraine Stanislaus I and is now listed on the World Heritage sites list by UNESCO in 1983. What an awe inspring place it was too – so vast and open….

The city also boasts a small medieval area.  The medieval Ducal Palace had amazing intricate lattice work to its roof painted in light blue and gold.  Pity my pictures don’t capture the shiny brightness of it.  Also pictured are parts of the old city fortifications….

…And finally Pépinière Park, 23 hectares in the heart of the city – stunning…

Would we go back? Absolutely….

Next installment the final journey to Calais and home.

Southern Burgundy to Besançon

We left the Provence area to start our northward journey to Calais for the 10th May.  Our journey took us along the mighty Rhône for a while first one one side then crossing over to the other.  Our first stop was in a small village called Pelussin at a campsite called E’poque du Pilat.  It was a lovely site set in the countryside still bursting into life as Spring was taking hold.

 

Pelussin used to be quite industrial area using water-power to produce silk thread for the weavers in Lyon.  To feed the factories a small railway line was built with a viaduct spanning across a deep ravine; this now forms a walkway to the village.  It is a small rather sleepy place, great for walking and cycling (French style cycling , with lots of hills).  The following day was Sunday and there was a small market in town in the morning.  So we walked there to buy some fresh vegetables and generally have a look around.  The day was lovely, sunny and quite warm. We sat for a while having coffee (1.30€ as opposed to 3€ each in the south of France), and watched the world go by…..

On the day the world was going to end (23rd in case you missed it), we packed up and headed off to our next stop, Dompierre les Ormes in South Burgundy.  Another beautiful campsite.  The following day was market day! Very small, tiny actually, but enough to meet our fresh veg needs.  Out of the half a dozen stalls was a lady selling ladies underwear.  I caught sight of her flashing her knickers to a couple of prospective lady buyers ‘just look, strong elastic, very nice…’

The following day we bit the bullet and decided to do a 12.5km walk through farmland, woods, past a lake and up some pretty steep hills.  Thoroughly enjoyable, but boy were we tired at the end! 

 

Our next stop took us to a small town called Ornans at a campsite called La Roche D’Ully. On the way we stopped for fuel at a small station come garage.  It was one of those pay at the pump set ups, but the pump wouldn’t accept our cards!  Luckily we had enough cash on us.  Lesson learned though, probably best to stop at big stations as we’ve not had the payment problem before.

We also got in a bit of a muddle getting to the campsite having inadvertently mistook the campsite sign pointing one way when it was another.  So we climbed up a steep hill out of town with Mr S trying to get us back by suggesting we take literally, and I mean literally, tiny dirt tracks back toward town.  Ignoring him getting more and more agitated, we finally came to a wide enough lay-by for us to turn round properly and headed back the way we came. We could actually hear Mr S. heave a sigh of relief.  He wasn’t the only one!

After setting up we sauntered into town.  Its main attraction is the river Loue and the houses alongside it.  Beautiful clear water, we could see trout in it!  Ornans is the birthplace of an artist called Gustav Courbet a leader of the realist movement in France. There was a museum with some of his works which we decided we would visit on a rainy day but realising the best of his works are in Paris….

 

The following day we walked along the river the other way to a village called Montgestoye, this time managing to take a picture of trout in the river.

 

When we got back we found we had a neighbour in one of the biggest Motorhomes you can get, what an American would call an RV (recreational vehicle).  I tried to take a picture of our vehicle alongside theirs (without them knowing of course, after all I’m British and not going to obviously gawp 😉).  Not the best photo but I hope you can see what I mean…..

 

Our last excursion here took us on the bus to Besançon (pronounced Bussansson) which is the regional capital and the birth place of Victor Hugo (and many others!).  The campsite owner recommended a visit and we were so glad we did.  We went on a Sunday which on one hand was not the best day as most of the city was closed.  But that’s what we liked about it, it wasn’t so touristy therefore the normal French Sunday closures are observed.  It gave the city (small, only the size of Ipswich) an air of relaxed gentleness with only some cafes and restaurants open.  The busiest part was a flea market which we stumbled upon soon after arriving, that closed at lunchtime….

 

The city has some Roman remains….

 

The old city was built ‘inside’ the loop of an oxbow in the river Doubs with a huge citadel built on a rock that closed off the loop at one end.  It was to the citadel we went to after a spot of lunch.  I mentioned that Sunday wasn’t necessarily the best day for a visit to the city, but the last Sunday in April (which this was) is definitely the best day to visit the citadel as it was free to get in!

 

The buildings are well preserved as were rebuilt in the 18th century and form the original barracks and associated buildings.  It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Now there are 3 museums and a zoo on the site, the most gruelling (for me) was the museum on the French Resistance.  The citadel was used by the Nazis as a prison and over a hundred resistance fighters were executed there.  A sharp reminder what the worst of Nationalistic politics can do….

 

Our next stop was to the Grande Est region of France called the Vosges and then on to Nancy.  Read all about it in our next Blog…..

 

Provence: Cotignac, Aix-en-Provence, Maussane-les-Alpilles and les Baux-de-Provence

We’ve managed to work out how to add captions to our pictures, just click on them to see……

Entering the Provence region we were particularly struck by the roads which for the most part seems to be approximately one and a half car widths wide for a two way road….. As we neared Cotignac there  was the added dimension of narrow TWISTING roads with mad French drivers hurtling toward us at high speed plus an increasingly frustrated convoy of French drivers behind us trying to overtake.  THEY might know where they were going (to the nearest hospital after being cut out of the twisted metal that was left of their car judging by their insane driving) but we didn’t.  It was with a huge sigh of relief all round when we arrived in Cotignac still in one piece.

The plan was to arrive the day before our housesit was due to start and we stayed in a lovely campsite just outside the town.

On arrival we ordered bread and croissants and woke up next morning with them delivered to our van door!  How can the lovely locals we meet also be enraged mad drivers on the road??

That afternoon we met up with Andrea our housesitting host just outside the town so she could guide us to her place (as it’s not on SatNav).  The road was, you will be surprised to note, very narrow but thankfully very quiet.  Getting down the access road to her house was a tight squeeze!!  We had to chop a few branches off trees to avoid scratching the van too much.  I managed to take a picture when we left so you can see what we mean by tight…..

Andrea welcomed us into her home and introduced us to the gorgeous Lucky (cat) who would be keeping an eye on us whilst Andrea was away 😉 . That evening she cooked us an absolutely delicious meal (foie gras and confit de canard).  Andrea was with us the following day and she took us into town and showed us the best cafe for coffee and to watch the world go by, and we had lunch at one of her recommended restaurants – delicious!!  She also drove us around the local area which was really helpful in giving us a sense of our immediate surroundings.

Andrea left early the following morning and by the day after that sadly the weather turned.  Our old and sadly reliable friend ‘rain’ had caught up with us.  It rained steadily (more on than off) for the next 5 days….. But it was lovely to relax, read and get unlimited WiFi and get to know the lovely Lucky so we didn’t mind a bit!!  In between rain we got out and did a bit of gardening as well as getting to the local Spar for provisions, which was the only shop within easy reach for us, but expensive!

We loved looking after Lucky, she’s such an affectionate cat so I was so happy to get a huge quota of cat cuddles to see me through the next weeks/months of travelling.

Andrea was due back late the following Thursday so we cooked her a meal and ended up staying another day with her.  She took us out to Brignoles to do some food shopping and helped us search for a towing hook (we didn’t have one and were worried we wouldn’t get up the access road without some help as it was soaked from the rain and quite steep).  We also drove in and around Correns where Brad Pitt and George Lucas own vineyards, and through gorges which are crawling with rock climbers in the summer.  Absolutely beautiful.

We could have stayed on longer but decided it was time to move on so we bid farewell to the lovely Andrea and Lucky, and made our way to a campsite just outside Aix-en-Provence.  The site was literally on the foot of Saint Victoire a huge rock known locally as the elephant and much painted by Paul Cézanne.  The weather had improved enormously so we were able to go on a lovely walk in the natural park on our doorstep.

The quietness was briefly disturbed by work to repair a dam at the summit of the natural park and tours of school children going to see the work to repair the dam…..

Some of the flowers we spotted on our walk plus a moth with huge antennae….

Near the end of our walk we went down a valley to the next village Le Tholonet to eat lunch in the local park while watching locals play petanque in their lunch hour….

On another day we took the bus to Aix-en-Provence.  Aix is a small city with a fabulous old quarter with a cathedral and narrow streets leading to small squares.

It was also undergoing quite a few renovations which limited my ability to take many pictures without cranes, white vans or boarded up fountains dominating.  Which is a great pity because I would highly recommend going just don’t base any decisions on my pictures!! Of course we had the advantage of Andrea’s advice on where to go for a good meal etc..

In our meanderings we did come across this lovely little park….

Our last Provençal stop was to a campsite outside a very pretty village called Maussane- les-Alpilles.  It’s a lovely small village with a scattering of shops selling furniture, clothing, local wines and food (all expensive) plus a small Spar.

The day after our arrival was market day where the village came alive with many food stalls, clothing and leather goods, straw hats, pottery etc.  You name it, it was there.  Very stylish, and again very expensive.

We chose this location as Andrea recommended we visit an art exhibition called the Carrières de Lumières in the next village called les Baux-de-Provence.  We cycled there -uphill- arriving hot and, well you know, ‘glowing’ thankful of a rest and the prospect of spending a couple of hours in a cool cave-like quarry.  What am I talking about you may wonder?

The exhibition ‘une immersion dans l’art’ is installed in a huge disused quarry where the cavernous space has been transformed into a wonderland.  Pictures are projected onto the huge quarry walls which move and transform from one to another set to music.  You really feel immersed in the art as it whirls and swirls around you to the sounds of classical, jazz, swing and rock music.  There’s Picasso, Goya, Sorolla and many other Spanish artists represented, plus Cézanne, Van Gogh and other impressionists as well as pop culture represented by music from the Beach Boys, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones to name a few.  The pictures I took hardly do it justice but it is an amazing place and again highly recommended should you be in the area this year.  The exhibition closes on 6th January 2019.

These pop culture pictures came out best as they were brighter and more colourful than…..

What a brilliant end to our brief stay in the Provence, an area we hope to return to and explore further.  But sadly for us, time is pressing on and we have to plan our northward journey toward Calais and home.  Read all about it in our next instalment …..

From Valencia to the Camargue…

On Tuesday 27th March we headed out of Devesa Gardens campsite toward Vilanova i la Geltrú south of Barcelona.  It’s our fault really having asked Mr S. to get us there the most direct route which as it happens, is through Valencia city.  I drove with Mr S. and Eric navigating.  It was busy, the main road flowed between 3-5 lanes of weaving traffic.  And I really did try to flow along with it.  I also had to keep my eyes peeled for lane shifters, and Eric flapping his arms saying ‘that way!!!’ as a form of giving directions – wherever ‘that way’ happened to be.  We weren’t best of friends until we managed to escape the carnage we inevitably left behind.  Mr S. remained calm throughout….

A key feature of our travelling is to avoid toll roads.  Thus far it had fared us well.  This part of the coastal route was mostly a busy 2-way road that hadn’t been maintained very well.  At one point we came across a hurried diversion that took us off the road but led us NOWHERE ELSE!!  Not aided by the number of traffic police hanging around completely ignoring the confused drivers going round and round the exit roundabout wandering where the hell to go next.  Suddenly a driver broke free and took decisive action (he obviously had insider knowledge or knew where he has going) so we followed….. Onto the toll road. We drove along for about 10km before sliding back onto our original route, that little excurtion cost us 5.50 euros – grrrr.

We arrived at Vilanova i la Geltrú which is a collosal campsite late afternoon having had to be guided to our pitch by a van for that special purpose.  It was clean and very well organised but not our cup of tea at all.  Luckily we were only planning to stay the night as we now wanted to press on toward France.

The next day we drove through some fantastic countryside as we skirted the Pyrenees to our North, passing (amongst other towns) Girona which looked well worth a visit another time. We definitely felt we were in Catalan country with a blend of French/Spanish town names and road signs. We also spotted a lot of independence graffiti on sides of buildings and bridges.  Nearing the border was an experience.  We actually saw prostitutes on the side of the road touting for trade!!

We crossed into France and headed to a village called St. Jean-Pla-de-Corts and our next campsite called Les Casteillets.  It was also proudly Catalan not only with place names blending French and Spanish, but using Spanish words too like Hola and Vale (these were the obvious ones we definitely could recognise as Spanish)

We liked it there and ended up staying for 5 days….

Approching the Pyrenees; Mountain view just behind the campsite and the view from our pitch….

A pair of Hoopoes just in front of our van; donkeys in the fields on our site; lake just outside St. Jean-Pla-de-Corts village; and the village shops including the obligatory Boulangerie yum yum!

As it turned out, we were in the middle of cherry growing country, and only 7kms from Céret which is quite an art centre.  And an easy cycle ride to get to.

Cafe with free wifi; view from the old bridge into Céret; a cherry orchard; a street….

…. the huge bustling Saturday market at Céret…..

I even got Eric to visit the Art museum there, AND he enjoyed it!  There was an exhibition of works by Joan Ponç. Hi s pictures are meticulously detailed (and more than a little wacky) which I was unable to capture but chose a couple to show you:

Angry cat (or a title very similar) and this picture which I thought captured his science fiction style; the art museum should you ever want to visit Céret….

It was Easter weekend and we cycled back into Céret on Sunday to watch the Easter parade.  The local butcher told us it started at 9 a.m. – it didn’t (it probably started for HIM at 9 a.m. as he was at the front of the procession clanging his symbols).  The priest conducted part of the outside service in Catalan….

We decided to leave St. Jean the following day as we needed to be in Cotignac by Thursday which was still 450 km away.  And that takes ages to drive when you’re avoiding toll roads and have a top speed of 55mph….

We split the journey in half and arrived at our next campsite near Vauvert called Le Mas de Morgues, in the Carmargue.  The key features of this area are its wetland of ‘International importance’ with roughly a third of its area composed of marshland or lakes.  The campsite is a small family run site and has an happy hour between 6-7pm which we were happy to go to (despite the decidedly chilly wind).  We talked to a British couple who regularly come to this site and they gave us a little background to the area from their point of view.  As we were only staying a couple of days, they recommended a visit to Aignes Mortes on an easy cycle route from the site, along the Rhone canal and a mere 15 kms away.  They also told us that a lot of Spanish settled in the area fleeing from the Spanish civil war and brought their bull breeding skills with them.  As a bonus the area also produces a very good rosé wine which we were sampling during our chat and agreed wholeheartedly!

So the following morning in spite of a forecast of strong blustery wind, we headed off to Aignes and what a lovely place it turned out to be!

The wine and Eric; cycling along the canal to Aignes and some white Camargue horses…..

Aignes Mortes turned out to be a completely intact medievial fortified town first built as France’s only port on the mediterranean way back in the 13th century.  Conceived by Louis IX who later became Saint Louis – cannonised for slaughtering muslims in the Crusades (ah religion, great ain’t it)?  The town’s battlements were complete which we walked around admiring the views.

The town is no longer a port as it was prone to silting up so when France gained more territory along the coast, Marsailles flourished whiles Aignes declined.  All through the area’s history though, salt was a principal product, and still is….

Views of the salt flats from the battlements. The salt flats with their characteristic pink hue which I hope you can just about make out from these pictures….

On the way back the wind really picked up, luckily blowing side on and not in our faces! We did feel virtous once we struggled back.

View of the canal alongside which we made our way back to the campsite and the legendary Spanish bulls we spotted along the way.  They kept staring at us (or was it my pink cagoule?) as we took this picture, so happy there was a very sturdy fence between us and them.

Happy hour continued through the night with the British couple we spoke to yesterday. Eric got horribly drunk…..

 

Our next installment: we finally arrive at our house sit in Cotignac, Provence…..