It was pointed out to me that this blog has rather left us hanging in the air, suspended motion if you will. We are home. We spent a couple of more days on the road, staying in ares de camping along the way. I really reccommend getting a book on the locations of these across europe, it saved us piles pf cash and we stayed in places that we wouldn't have otherwise seen.
We looked like ragamuffins on the boat, we brought up foam cushions from the van and hogged a corner, since we didn't have a cabin to sleep in. Turns out you can sleep most places if it is soft, warm and you have earplugs and an eye mask. Even on an 18 hour ferry trip, beside the kiddies play area. It reminded me of a cross between cage fighting and Lord of the Flies. But all good things end and we hit Rosslare about 4pm and are finally home.
I have to confess that the worst part of the trip is always the unpacking, in our case unpacking a lot of wine...but we are home properly now, mentally and physically and Rosita the wondervan is back in mothballs until next year
Sadly today has been our last full day in this campsite, tomorrow we start to wend our way slowly home. It is about a thousand km to cherbourg from here and I want to take in the caves at Lascaux on the way , so we are giving ourselves plenty of time to drive home.
I love this campsite, actually I just love this climate, it is 7.30 and I am in the hammock, very little clothing is needed at this time of the night. I can hear the last few stragglers in the swimming pool and we will shortly go and have a pizza and a bottle of wine in the little restaurant. Rosita is all packed and ready to go tomorrow.
I have a theory that if we don't get a couple of decent weeks of sunshine, then facing into the winter with it's short days and little light, is even more difficult. I am somewhat vindicated as I read that we store Vitamin D for up to 60 days in the body and the amount that you need to supplement in winter in our northerly latitude is dependant on the amount that you get in the summer. One of the things that Vitamin D does is govern mood...so the moral of the story is that you should all be here with me.
Mind you I got a little too much sun today, I was engrossed in a conversation in the pool and have ended up a little lobsterish..ah well at least I have plenty of vitamin D stored up to bring home.
And since we have rationalised so much on the amount of stuff that we brought with us this year (well except for Mollie and her t-shirt collection..19 t-shirts for 3 weeks!) we have loads of room for wine....yay!
our internet access will be patchy to non-existant until we get back to Ireland. So see you on the other side...xx
While i was doing research for the trip, one site warned me to check the route of the tour de france and to avoid it as they close roads and the delays are monumental.
Sound advice , which I remembered yesterday, when east of toulouse we arrived into a small town with 'route barre' signs all over it, Yup the tour...we have a handy little 'detour' function on Doris (the sat nav) clearly though she doesn't understand the meaning of detour, or perhaps she just likes cycling, because she lead us straight into another road closure and a big crowd. Smack bang into the middle of the Tour de France.....Admitting defeat, we parked, illegally-right in the middle of the road, with all of the other illegal vehicles... and stopped to watch the show.
the first thing that arrived were sponsors vans, floats, publicity vehicles of all sorts, driving at breakneck speed down the road and around the bed, sod the pedestrians (and don't get me started on the french drivers!!)...I am used to more leisurely parades, but they were tearing down the road, blaring music and tossing out freebies to the crowds.
Us humans are interesting folks, how we scrabble to catch logo-ed crap, if it is thrown from a float at you, if it is free. How unhappy some of us are if someone else catches it first. Yesterday you could be the proud possessor of some keyrings, shopping bags, thin crappy hats with supermarket logos all over them...fortunately Mollie caught a packet of cake, because we were starving and breaking out the teapot and tea cosy in the middle of the road to have breakfast, didn't seem exactly the thing to do.
Now what I know about cycling wouldn't take me very long to write down, what I know about the Tour, even less. I do know the names Sean Kelly and Stephen Roache, but that is mostly because I watch 'Reeling in the years'...and because it came up in one those pidgin english/french conversations with a cycling mad chappie.
We had NO idea if there were any irish riders in the tour this year, But since everyone else had flags, french, british and aussie mostly, I thought that Ireland should be represented since there wasn't a paddy flag in the place. So I took our our flag (which is quite big) and hoicked it around a bit. I have to say it did create a lot of puzzlement as there was a lot of 'where is that from' 'what country?' etc...we were really in two minds as it might have been a bit daft to wave the flag for no irish riders. but then if there were any, well wouldn't it be nice to support them..
eventually the riders arrived and in a nano-second were gone past (we waited two hours for that!!) but I thought I did spot two irish flag strips on their sleeves and was gratified to find that there are two irish riders this year. I am pretty sure though that they hadn't a hope in hell of seeing our flag..but for all you patriotic folk, Ireland was supported at least in one little town in France...
They still didn't open the road, so we went around and on our merry way. Stopping only briefly to be knights in shining armour (or dusty white van, which some bugger scraped the hell out of...karma is hopefully taking care of that) to some Californians who were struggling to pay for their Diesel...
and then onto here....here is a campsite that we stayed in last year, it is on the med coastline, on an inlet near the small town of la Palme. This place is a mecca for kite surfers, whatever it is about the conditions, the inlet is full of them today, Mind you I expect it is a perfect day, very windy and very sunny.
Kinder weather forecasters here, they are promising high twenties until next friday with clear skies. We will have to start wending our way homewards on Friday, but until then I am busy counting all of my new freckles.
It can be very difficult to find the motivation to log on and blog, when the sun is calling. We have been having a very unthrilling time, just lazing around. The campsite and the folk in it were very friendly, there have been just enough activities for interest and not too much red-coated hi-de-hi stuff.
Moll and I took ourselves off to an evening marche gourmand. Lots of benches laid out under the trees with various stall selling food. We plumed for paella, since we didn't get around to eating our canned stuff..that joy is yet to come. some charcuterie and listened to the live music. Very nice, but we came back to the campsite so that I could have a glass of wine and we could watch the sunset.
Wednesday night was a communal BBQ and campfire. I am continually impressed by how much of an effort that people make to chat with us, my bad french and their bad english adds up to some semblance of something comprehensible.
Friday dawned and it was cloudy, funny that we can learn to accept the cloudiness of the skies in ireland but feel very aggrieved if it dares to be cloudy here,. I logged on and scanned the weather forecast and what did I find but that the forecasters had changed their minds while we slept and that only saturday showed promise of some sun. Nothing for it, but break camp and go in search of the sunshine....
Turns out it was hiding down here after all. Today was the first proper south of france day that we have had, cloudless and scorching. Really wonderful in fact. In many ways this is the perfect campsite, when we are tired of the full on sunshine, our pitch and hammocks are well shaded by trees, but when we want to sunbathe, the area by the pool is a real suntrap. Some umbrellas there too. The pool is of course freezing when you have been baking in the sun, but it is perfect.
We were invited to a celebration this evening, the campsite was just awarded their third star, so there was champagne and snacks on the terrace....and some amazing cider from Brittany....I am now on the terrace, it overlooks a big valley watching the sky fade from a vivid orange to red yellow and bluegrey..It has been so long since I have seen a proper sunset that I am humbled and awed by its simple beauty all over again
lest you think that only the French are guilty of cliches, I point to the picture on the left as evidence of an Irish one, Rosita the wonder van is tiny...and I mean tiny, storage space is pretty limited although growing as we learn what we don't need to pack. But this year, for the first time ever, we have a Tayto cupboard. Taytos are, for all you non-irish folk are cheese and onion chips, very strong, very delicious and a staple of student life, a tatyo sandwich, buttered pappy white bread with taytos in the middle, is a perfect lunch, with a cuppa. So as an emergency ration, Taytos while camping is a good idea. Mind you with the state (blissful) of French breads, it is impossible to find anything close to a Brennans loaf, and that is a good thing. But the tayto cupboard remains.
Eating while camping is immeasurably easier when you are 'car camping' there is storage and a two burner stove. Saucepans, frying pan and decent knives. But there is no fridge and no oven, so eating fresh food means shopping daily. Which is a necessity in any case as the lure of the boulangerie is irresistible. This is such a civilised country, the baker calls to the campsite every day, even on the Sunday morning after a public holiday, with fresh bread.
We tend to do two meals a day, baguette with soft cheese and fruit for breakfast and meat with some kind of side for dinner. Mind you since we couldn't be bothered shopping yesterday and today is Sunday, dinner today will be interesting, Mollie insisted on buying paella in a can, at least the soupy part is in the can, with a packet of rice-y stuff on top. From Lidl, so I am not holding out hopes of a true gastronomic experience, but food on the road is always basic and good for all that. Voluntary simplicity...with Taytos..
My kitchen, yes it really is this big, sink and cooker, you are missing the food prep area, which is a little hinged shelf about 25cmx15cm. We were so tired at this stage that dinner was eaten directly from the pan (we were still on the road and so it was too much effort to heat water to wash plates!) but the food was good, the sleep afterwards was even better.
We finally found 'home' or at least home for the next week or so. We are in 'the lot' a region (so I have just learned) that is boundaried by the garone and the lot, the biggest, closest city is Agen and we are a bit north of Toulouse. The campsite is great, it is very remote, down a long country track in a big wooded area. Trees are one of our essentials, but not always found, when we are camping because we always bring two hammocks. A day spent alternating between the teapot and the hammock, in dappled sunshine, with a mini-library nearby..and a pool should things get too hot...is a day borrowed from heaven. One vital skill I am teaching Mollie is how to relax and do nothing, today it is still overcast so the hammocks come equipped with patchwork quilts. But tomorrow is forecast cloudless and getting hotter, so we are happy to just sit in the hammocks and read.
The campsite is very peaceful and quiet, but last night they had a big dinner because it was Bastille day. It was taken on long benches in communal style, the food was great, melon and ham, maigret de canard, pommes galettes, local soft goats cheese with raspberry coulis (I still haven't figured out what makes it different from yoghurt, except it was more delicious) wine and cafe...for only 14e a head. but it wasn't the price, it was the company. My french is 25 year old school girl french, I have forgotten more than I remember, which isn't very much but we sat with people who had equally limited english and still managed to chat about the weather, the country, the food and the fact that in Normandy sheepdogs are used for goats, Stephen Roache and the tour the France was also mentioned. The conversation was secondary, I just loved the way that they were so friendly and made big efforts to include us, they kept trying to chat to the people who spoke so little of their language. It was a fun night. Dancing included..
We finished in time to go and watch distant fireworks on the horizon, the campsite overlooks a valley and many distant villages and towns so watching fireworks, rendered silent by distance, to the sound of the occasional rustle of small animals going about their lawful business, in the undergrowth....was magical.
Road trips are wonderful, never knowing what is around the next corner, we come upon beautiful villages, all sleepy and seemingly abandoned with all the shutters closed. What is it about shutters? I can understand the beautiful traditional ones, but so many of the homes have modern (ugly) aluminium roller shutters. I guess that they are designed to keep out the sun, but there has been precious little sun in the last few days and still in every village that we come to, most of the houses have all of their shutters firmly closed. It makes the villages look like ghost towns. Shuttered lives and secret folk?
Be that as it may, the villages and towns are still achingly pretty and occasionally, like yesterday we stumble upon ones that are full of life. Villareal on market day, the town (village?) full of stalls, selling perfectly ripe peaches and melons, clothes from the 'tibetan one size fits all -all tiny asians perhaps-...to long johns and granny knickers. And the food...oh the food, we had samosas..yes I know we are in france, but mine was chevre and tapanade..and gauffres (waffles) with nutella...mmm..Clearly we look like tourists and not just because of our very pale skin, but the french (apparently) do not snack, they must be more resistant to the lures of hot waffles with dripping nutella. The sun shone too in the market and it was a perfect french morning, everyone had their dogs on leads, the cafes full of people sitting sipping coffee, hunched over old ladies buying fruit for the day. Monsieur with the daily baguette and of course a busker playing accordion music alternating with edith piaf style husky french ballads.....it is wonderfully affirming to see every cliche and generalisation alive and well...Oh how I love France!
Day of the Triffids...only more beautiful
my new house
Mostly the last couple of days driving was driving by enormous field after field of alternating wheat and sunflowers, as we moved further south the sunflowers were more and more in bloom. Words are not adequate to describe how beautiful the ranks of blooms are, the yellow is more yellow than seems possible. Standing next to golden fields of wheat in huge open countryside as you pass through pretty shuttered towns, and the occasional glorious chateau...I want to live here...I have found my new house..in a little village called Champagne, and yes you can all come and visit.
The temperamental sat nav is still as quixotic as ever. This time she has decided that she doesn't like main roads at all. So we are driving through the smallest roads possible. She did bring us through the biggest wheat field in existance...wheat to the horizon in almost every direction. I tried not to think of that old move..'children of the corn'...but I did drive just a little faster out of there,,,
we are sitting in a friendly (and packed) McDonalds in Niort, just to take advantage of their free WeeFee..So far France has been beautiful and beguiling as ever, but wet..torrential rain, in fact there is so much rain here that the roof of McD's is leaking. Mind you today is forecast to be the worst of it, tomorrow will be better. We are fairly far south and heading south-er to the region around Toulouse, the midi-pyrenese, not too far from the Spanish Border. We like french campsites and so will probably stay on this side of the border. The campsites up to the north are pretty empty as everyone is heading towards the sunshine. We haven't stayed in a campsite yet but in the little aires the camping that are located in small villages up and down the country. A very civilised notion, where the local council sets aside a few spaces in the carparks for overnight stops of camper vans. We stayed in the most perfect little village Foussais de payre (OK Moll and I are arguing about how to spell it) it was straight of out Joanne Harris' novel Chocolate, which we are listening to at the moment, down to the chocolatier in the square opposite the church.
There was a little goldfinch on the bridge near the church when we were walking around, so we knew that we were in the right place. It has been an uneventful trip so far, rain, baguettes, Boursin and playing cards. Wonderfully chilled. We are ready to find the sun now. another few hours driving ahead of me today, so time to go
Rosita the wonder van is finally and completely packed, but with a lot more empty storage space than in previous years (more wine space!!) It is a great day to be heading off in search of the sun as the clouds are down on our shoulders here. Grey and more grey, mind you the weather forecast is lousy in northern France, so we will be heading towards the Limousin region initially, but if the weather agrees with the forecasters, we might end up in Spain yet. Definitely southern France, the midi Pyrenees probably. In any case there will be sunshine!
We have booked afternoon tea in the old creamery in Adare on the way down to the ferry port today, a very civilised way to start our holidays I reckon. Moll and I have developed an afternoon tea ritual, we try and go out and have proper afternoon tea once every two months. By proper I mean there has to be cake stands, finger sandwiches and scones. I will report back on the quality of the Adare teas...
See you in France! X