Sunday, 18 December 2016

Sunday 18 December - to Calais

Contrary to my statement at the end of yesterday’s post, I did get out for a super-quick walk around Vierzon this morning, or, at least, the bit that was reachable within a five minute fast walk from Colin. Can't say that I saw much, as it was still dark, but it was worthwhile for reasons other than reducing how many circuits I needed to do of the car park in Calais (in order to meet my step target for the day) as I happened upon a petrol station selling diesel cheaper than we've seen it anywhere else in France (€1.155/litre). It became our first port of call as we left the Aire.

Then we drove, pausing only for a dash into a boulangerie, elevenses, lunch and more fuel (we could have got home on what we'd bought this morning, but I'm guessing diesel is more than £1/litre in the UK, so it made sense to fill up again). The main feature of the day was fog, filling about 475 of our 500km drive to Calais.

Arriving just as it was getting dark, we headed for the motorhome parking area at the Cite Europe shopping centre to wait for the few hours for our Shuttle home. Taking advantage of the festive season opening hours (a supermarket open all day on a Sunday!) I nipped in to the huge Carrefour to buy a few bottles of wine and a bit of cheese, in a very 'Brit in Calais' sort of a way. The wine section in there is enormous, and it was filled with Brits. It did strike me that we would undoubtedly have got better value buying our 'to take home' supplies somewhere other than a booze-cruise destination; it's not like we've lacked opportunity.

The entirety of the shopping trip

And that is that. All being well we will be home by the early hours of the morning, ready to start our Christmas shopping.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Saturday 17 December – Toulouse and Vierzon

Where’s Colin? He’s at the large, almost-deserted, Municipal Aire at Vierzon.

The main event of today was the Toulouse ParkRun, thus there was none of the usual procrastination over getting out of bed this morning, and it was only just getting light as we arrived back where we had parked to do our recce of the route on Thursday. As I said on Thursday, ParkRun hasn’t caught on in Toulouse, such that after 34 weeks of the event being run, the average number of participants is only 16. It turns out that many of those are not French. Of today’s field of just 8 runners, only I only noticed two with French accents.

The lack of participants made it more informal than any of the ParkRuns we’ve been to in the UK, with no briefing, and no marshalls bar one adult and a couple of young children who between them manned the stop watch, gave out finish tokens and scanned the same. The lovely route, however, was well marked out, so there was no danger of going astray. In my case, I didn’t need the arrow markers, as Robyn, the run director, just back from a 3-month lay-off, ran with me for the first four and a half kilometres. After the first mile (my watch is set to give me information at mile, not kilometre intervals, so excuse me for mixing my metric and imperial units), I knew I was on to achieve my fastest ParkRun to date (a history which goes back to June 2006, but with a rather significant layoff between early 2007 and October 2016!) and, thanks to having the distraction of someone to chat to, I barely noticed the speed of the first two and a half miles. The last half mile was rather more taxing, but that was all forgotten when I crossed the line over a minute and a half faster than I ever had before (27.36). If the field had been bigger I would have been proud of coming sixth, and second woman!

There is no convenient café next door to this venue for the runners to congregate, but croissants and flasks of coffee were produced and we did loiter a while, before the need to drive 1000km by the end of tomorrow called us away.

There’s nothing else to report from the day. We stopped for diesel, for a quick lunch at a viewpoint, and for an even quicker afternoon cup of tea, but otherwise we just drove.

Lunchtime view. As we pulled into the layby there was a vehicle and caravan already there. That it (the only vehicle we saw through the whole of our lunch break) was British was itself quite a coincidence, as British number plates have been few and far between on this trip. That it was the very same people that were pitched opposite us on the campsite last night (the only other people in our area of the campsite) was extraordinary.

Arriving in Vierzon at 1730, darkness was upon us, combined with a dense fog through which we had driven the last hour. That means that we have no idea what our surroundings are like. Alas, in spite of our policy to spend a little time (and, if possible, a little money) in every town which allows us to stay in a free Aire, even if the fog lifts by morning (unlikely), we’re going to break our rule on this occasion. We still have 500km to drive for our Chunnel crossing tomorrow, so we’ll be off at first light.

Friday 16 December – Toulouse

Where’s Colin? He’s still at Camping Le Rupé on the north side of Toulouse.

The welcome at Camping Le Rupé was excellent, but its facilities leave a little to be desired. At French campsites toilet seats, toilet paper, soap and hand-drying facilities are not things that we expect, so their absence here didn’t make us think badly of the place. What did irk was the lack of hot water, both evening and morning, and the strobing lights in over half of the toilet and shower cubicles. The redeeming feature of the place* is that it offers a free shuttle bus at 9.30 in the morning, to take campers to the nearest metro station. That saved faff with having to catch a bus on the outward leg.

Having perused the Tourist Information service’s brochure of ‘things to do in Toulouse’ over coffee on arrival in town, the only thing that really struck us as a bit different to anything else we’ve already seen on this trip was the medical history museum. So, that’s where we went (we would also have visited the medical instruments museum next door, in the same building, if it didn’t (bizarrely) keep different hours).  

The museum is well hidden, in the building on the far bank of the river in this shot

I’ve a feeling that we probably spent longer looking at the exhibits than the average visitor (only two others overlapped with our visit; they stayed about 10 minutes), as after about three quarters of an hour the receptionist came and found us, commented that we were finding it interesting and clarified that we were allowed to take photos. A short while later we had exhausted the three rooms of exhibits, so off back across town we went.

It turned out that twelve thirty was a little late to arrive at the restaurants above the Marché Victor Hugo, as neither of our choices had a table left. Having already been there at the beginning of August (a good recommendation Humphrey - thank you again), we knew it was worth a wait, so wait we did, for our last meal out of this trip.

There was no food envy for either of us as starters arrived, both being happy with our respective choices

Whilst this photo makes it look like Mick has food envy for my main course, his was excellent too

Mick reckoned he had the best pudding (four mini-deserts, plus coffee), but I didn’t share his opinion. Flan is my favourite.

We could have wandered around a bit more after lunch, but we felt no need, having already spent a few days here earlier in the year. A very efficient couple of metro rides and a bus took us back to within a five minute walk of Colin.

(*I’m not sure whether it’s a good feature that it’s by far the most secure campsite at which we have ever stayed. Two barriers have to be opened for vehicle entry or exit, and a separate pedestrian gate also requires a code for access.)

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Thursday 15 December – Toulouse

Where’s Colin? He’s at Camping Le Rupé on the north side of Toulouse (at 43.65604, 1.41607), where (with an ACSI card) it costs €17 per night, plus tourist tax. Last night he was at the Aire at Narbonne (€9, including electric) – another repeat visit from a few weeks back.

Feeling a little under the weather, I couldn’t motivate myself to move to an upright position to pen a blog post last night, so I’ll cover two days in this post.

Winding back to yesterday morning, I greeted the day with a trundle along the seafront at Roses, observing as I went that exercise seems to be quite a normal part of life in Spain. We’ve noted the same in most places that we’ve been: if there’s a walk/cycle way then there will be people out using it, and not just the occasional cyclist and a handful of dog walkers. Yesterday morning the moon had not yet set, the sun was not even giving a hint of orange in the sky to the east, yet non-dog walkers were out in force on the sea-front promenade. When I’m at home, it’s rare to see anyone out on any of my regular routes unless they have dog with them.

The sight of the large moon sinking towards the horizon was far more impressive in reality and this snap makes it look!

The other notable feature of yesterday was prostitutes. Not in Roses, but rather as we drove north out of Spain and into France. We’ve noticed (both on this trip and previously) that whenever you’re driving a non-toll road which runs adjacent to a toll motorway in a rural area, there will be, dotted at regular intervals along it, solo women sitting in chairs (often a plastic garden chair, but sometimes a deckchair, a wooden dining chair or even an armchair) at the roadside, in the middle of nowhere. We’ve only seen it in relatively warm places, but even so, some seem more appropriate dressed for the current temperatures than others. To us, it just seems a bit odd to see such blatant prostitution in broad daylight in such locations.

By the time we got to Narbonne, we had lost the sunny warm weather and accordingly the women sitting on their roadside chairs had dwindled to none. Why back to Narbonne? Only because it broke the journey to Toulouse into two, we liked Narbonne, and we knew the Aire there was okay.

As it happened, we could have been anywhere last night, as aside from a brief foray to the shopping centre across the road, we did nothing after our arrival. I was feeling exhausted and lurgi-ish by then and lying on the sofa with a book was about as much as I wanted to exert myself.

Today’s destination was Toulouse, even though we’ve already been here twice this year. Why? Well, looking at the French ParkRun website a week or so ago, I saw that there are only seven ParkRuns in France, and one of them is in Toulouse, which was reachable with only a 30-40km detour from our route home. So we decided that rather than having a nice leisurely drive back to Calais, we would come here for a couple of nights, bimble around and have lunch out tomorrow, do the ParkRun on Saturday morning, then drive, drive and drive some more to get to Calais for our Chunnel home on Sunday.

Looking at the logistics a bit more closely, we realised that the plan would only work if there was somewhere to park Colin close to the ParkRun, so our first port of call on arriving in Toulouse was to head over to the area of parkland marked on my map as: Base de Loisirs de la Ramée. Happily parking there was no problem (although, arriving a few minutes before noon we only just beat the rush; a quarter of an hour later the car park was filling up rapidly as people headed out for some lunchtime leisure activities), and that gave us the opportunity to recce the course – something which seemed particularly advisable as the average number of participants in this location is just 16 (I guess ParkRun hasn’t caught on here quite yet!), meaning that following others may not be as easy as it has been at the other runs we have attended.

La Ramee proved to be a very pleasant area indeed, so no hardship, under the clear blue sky, to investigate various tracks as we tried to fathom out the course and memorise the turns and junctions (we think we did so successfully, with just two minor backtracks).

Looking left from the ParkRun route, over the large lake

Our chosen campsite (i.e. the cheaper of the two that we know to be open at this time of year) lay a distance away across town and we’ve booked in here for two nights. We’re next to another leisure park area (although nowhere near as nice as La Ramee), where we took our brief pre-sunset stroll this afternoon. Tomorrow we’ll occupy ourselves by heading off into town.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Wednesday 13 December – Sant Feliu de Guixols, Figueles and Roses

Where’s Colin? He’s at Camping Jongar Mar in Roses ( at a cost of €15.50.

As I donned my RonHills this morning, Mick grumbled that it was barely even daylight and buried his head in the duvet. I went out alone, and was thwarted in my intended route. The fire that had shut two roads yesterday was now out, but there was still a fire engine in attendance and the roads were still closed. That forced me to run up a hill far bigger and longer than I would ordinarily choose (but, of course, I also got to run down it, which was nice and easy) and also put me in the right place at the right time to see the sun burst above the horizon:

With the past five days having involved few driving miles, I thought I’d best check the state of Colin’s leisure battery this morning, and in a way that’s a bit more precise than the three LEDs on his control panel. The volt metre told us that we needed either to drive more than a few miles today, or to find electric hook up tonight (11.9v = 40%, which isn’t a good place to be with this type of battery). As it happens, today is the day when our homeward journey was to start, and whilst we weren’t intending to go massively far, 100km sounded sufficient to put enough power in the battery.

Figueres had been omitted from our drive south, solely because I hadn’t read up on what was there to know that it would be worth a stop, so I thought we’d swing by on our way back. The main attraction is the massively popular Dali Theatre-museum and, had we visited the town on our outward journey, we probably would have spent the €14 each to go in. It probably would have made sense to have done so today, on the basis that there were no crowds. In fact, there was almost the exact opposite of crowds. However, we’ve visited quite a few art establishments on this trip, thus I didn’t feel like we’d get the most enjoyment for our money by going today.

We did take a brief walk around a bit of the town, including around the outside of the distinctive building which houses the museum…

… and we had an even briefer look at the castle, purely because we’d parked Colin in the castle’s car park:

Then we moved on with Mick opining that it hadn’t been worth the detour. I beg to differ, given that the detour was only a handful of kilometres, and it’s not like we had anything better to do with our day.

On our way out of Figueres I outlined the pros and cons of the two possible places I’d identified for tonight’s stop, and Mick plumped for the town of Roses. Arriving there only about half an hour later, we pulled up in the large car park, next to the police station. The mountain views there were excellent, the car park flat and its position next to the police station suggested that we would have a quiet night … but it wasn’t next to the beach, and the open-all-year campsite is. So, we decided to splurge and to the campsite we came. A good decision, as it’s the nicest of the trip so far (it’s also only our third of the trip, but even by objective standards it’s a good one). If we weren’t heading home for Christmas, it would be tempting to put down roots here for a while, particularly given the long-term-stay rates (25% off from Day 2, 50% off from Day 7).

Taken from within 100m from the campsite; we’re now kicking ourselves for not coming here yesterday and staying 2 nights

Monday, 12 December 2016

Monday 12 December – Sant Feliu de Guixols

Where’s Colin? He’s at the municipal Aire at Sant Feliu de Guixols.

Another cool sunny morning, another seaside run, another personal best on speed, then back to Colin for breakfast before heading out, on foot, for Decathlon (the €8 running top I bought in France a few weeks back has proved such a good fit that I wanted another) and a supermarket (why is it so difficult to buy sultanas over here?).

Back at the Aire it was now far less than half full, so it wouldn’t have inconvenienced anyone if we’d outstayed the 2-day limit, but we are law abiding, so preparations were made to move off (water bottles filled, but grey and black waste not emptied because, after the service point being free for most of the morning, two vans pulled in to use it just as we were ready to go).

Where to go? Options were discussed. Sant Feliu de Guixols won - another place that didn’t grab us on our first visit a couple of weeks ago (in much poorer weather), but it has a free Aire where we could, if we so chose, stay for 5 nights (we’ll likely only be here for one). I might have been pessimistic about getting a slot there, but judging by the exodus at Platja d’Aro, I reckon people are heading either home or south for Christmas, and thus things are getting quieter around this area.

Out for a post-lunch stroll, a surprisingly black cloud was noted, which we then realised was smoke. It looked like the sort of smoke you get from a house fire, and so it turned out to be (or at least a building; it may have been commercial premises). Very inconvenient for the owner, and mildly so for us as the resultant road closures prevented us from getting to where we wanted to go.

We strolled off in the other direction instead, and looked back upon the town from the north:

less smoke by now, but still evident

Back at the Aire, there were (at that point) eleven vans all neatly parked perpendicular to the perimeter, so it beggared belief (or should have, but we’ve seen such selfish space-hogging too often) when a Dutch van arrived and decided, despite all evidence as to what is right and proper, to park parallel to the perimeter, across three spaces. A couple more vans have arrived since. I do hope that four more arrive, take the remaining slots, and thus block them in!

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Sunday 11 December - Platja d'Aro

Where’s Colin? He’s still at the Aire at Platja d'Aro.

Things are quietening down on the Aire this afternoon. As expected, many of the Spanish have left. Unfortunately not yet the van behind us who, presumably because of a sudden and pressing need for power and/or heat, ran their engine for an hour at around midnight. Ignorami.

Waking early this morning, I dithered over whether to go for a run or not and eventually decided to rest today and run tomorrow. By 'rest' I do, of course, mean 'go for a walk'. It wasn't a long one (10km), and it was far from taxing as we walked the GR92 as it followed a man-made walkway which hugged the coast down to Platja s'Agaro.

Past the marina we went...

...along an ankle-shaping beach...

...and along the grit-surfaced walkway which hugs the coast without losing or gaining any appreciable height. Under the blue sky, the views were lovely...

...and if we were able to speako the lingo then the various information signs we passed would have undoubtedly educated us about the geology of the area:

Our stop for coffee at Platja s'Agaro (I may be making up that place name but Google maps isn't being helpful as to what it's really called) was mainly because my nose needed powdering and the public toilets were closed. And, it's never a hardship to stop for coffee ... except on this occasion we chose our bar badly and my decaf coffee wasn't the best.

With lunchtime approaching (per our British schedule, not per local custom) and no food with us bar a couple of bananas, we didn't continue along the coast (had we done so we would have reached Sant Feliu, another place we stayed a night a couple of weeks back) but simply retraced our steps.

It was a popular choice for a Sunday walk with people out in force - mainly wrapped up like it's deep mid-winter. I was in my shirt sleeves.

The marina again. Those are not tall trees sitting behind that building, they are short trees sitting on top of the building.

More strolling occurred this afternoon and we can report that the ugly high rises along the sea front result in the promenade sitting in the shade in the afternoon at this time of year. A shame, as it's lovely being out in the sun today, but then it is 17 degrees even in the shade.

We rounded off our day with a bit of window shopping at an estate agent. The most expensive we found was just under €4 million for a 1100sqm detached house. The cheapest (by far) was €110k for a 1-bed loft appartment of 60sqm. Our general impression is that this is not a cheap place to own property, yet most of the property here appears to be second homes.