Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Wednesday 30 November - Sant Feliu de Guixols and Barcelona

Where’s Colin? He's at the CityStop Aire in Barcelona. It's not cheap at €30 per night (electric €4 extra per night; water and waste plus showers, toilets and camp kitchen included) but it is: a) open in winter; and b) convenient for the city.

Sant Feliu didn't grab me yesterday, perhaps in part due to the weather. Today, with clearing skies, it improved on me as we walked along the beach, around the harbour, out along the breakwater* then back through the town. The town has invested heavily in multi-lungual information signs which are dotted around at regular intervals and whilst they don't tell a chronological story, they did give us some interesting snippets about the history of the place.

A shop-bought Spanish omelette and some freshly baked bread made for a tasty lunch before we headed off to Barcelona, with the intention of getting there just after 4pm, such that we could arrive in daylight, leave in daylight and have almost two full days (tomorrow and Friday) looking around.

The drive was a bit tedious, particularly on the wiggly section of road when we were stuck behind a large lorry. It nearly drove me to navigate onto the toll motorway ... but not quite (the bonus of a slow drive is that it gives the phones longer to charge - silver linings and all that).

I'm sure that most motorhomers who come to Barcelona opt for a campsite outside the city, but then most probably come here in summer when the campsites are open. I did finally find one within commuting distance, but by then I'd seen that the reviews for this CityStop Aire were almost universally good (a rare thing on Park4Night), and being just a few metro stops (or an hour's walk) from the centre we decided to go for it.

Admittedly the drive did get a bit stressful as we reached the edge of the city. Particularly when, on a six lane stretch of road the SatNav told is we were about to turn left, causing us to move over a few lanes, only for me to notice at the last moment that by 'left' it meant 'right'. That's the second time this week that it has confused a slip road off right, which loops around and over so as to get onto the road going left, for a left turn. Incredibly we did make the turn; even more incredibly, the manoeuvre didn't result in any horns being sounded.

Let's hope our exit from the city in a couple of days time goes more smoothly.

In the meantime there are decisions to be made as to what we want to see in Barcelona whilst we're here.

(*As we stood at the end of the breakwater I noticed that the ground in our immediate vicinity was wet. Realising what that meant, I moved away to some dry ground. Mick stayed where he was for a few more minutes and timed his removal just right as two seconds later a rogue wave made its way through and over the multiple lines of sea defences. The woman who had been standing next to Mick wasn't so lucky. She got an unexpected shower. We didn't laugh (or at least, not too much).)

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Tuesday 29 November - Sant Feliu

Where’s Colin? He's at the Municipal Aire in Sant Feliu de Guixols

It's been a quiet day today, which is to say that we have done nothing of note.

After the speediest run I've ever achieved, we moved on from Platja d'Aro, but not far - just 5km down the coast to the town of Sant Feliu, which we thought might be of more interest to us. Unfortunately the weather wasn't being kind, and no sooner than we'd slotted Colin in between two Dutch vans (strange how all of our neighbours last night were German, having barely seen any German vans all trip, then just 5km down the coast they're mainly Dutch) it started to rain.

There was no way I was going out in that, so books were read and to the drumming of rain we listened until finally the sky got lighter and the drumming abated.

A stroll around the town ensued, perusing the various information signs on the way, before taking in the beach...

...and the monastery...

...then picking up a packet soup mix for lunch (just 13 degrees today - I was feeling the need for warming soup; a packet mix was the best the convenience store could offer) and heading back to Colin.

And now, as the light is starting to fade out of the day, we're sitting on butt-numbing plastic seats in a launderette, waiting for our laundry to finish its cycle in the dryer. We know how to live, you know...

Monday, 28 November 2016

Monday 28 November - Girona and Platja d'Aro

Where’s Colin? He's in some designated motorhome roadside parking in Platja d'Aro. I hesitate to call it an Aire as the (winter-only) Aire, where the services are located, is just down the road and this really is just a designated parking area.

Our night in the car park in Girona was quiet enough and at first light this morning I was glad that we'd decided to stay there, rather than decamping to the nearest Aire and returning this morning. At 7am cars had noticeably started arriving in quantity and by 8am we would have struggled to have found a space, soon afterwards it was beyond full.

With our morning runs successfully completed (after another injury layoff, Mick managed a gentle 3km without aggravating his poorly calf; I did an easy 10km), it was mid morning by the time we made it into town and 11 before we arrived at the Jewish Museum.

There we learnt about the history of the Jewish Quarter of Girona, mainly through a huge amount of written information, with a few artefact exhibits thrown in. Thankfully the majority of the information was quadrilingual, including English; it would have been a short and pretty meaningless visit otherwise. Perhaps only because it's Monday, when it's not expected that museums will be open, we had the place to ourselves.

Surprisingly, Mick wasn't minded to have another four course lunch today, so we didn't go back to the place I had earmarked but instead returned to Colin, via a bakery.

Over lunch Mick was presented with two options: inland or to the coast. He voted for the coast, so over to Platja d'Aro we came for surroundings about as far removed from those of Girona as it is possible to get. The view out of the driver's side of Colin isn't bad, but my verdict on the beachfront was 'ugly' thanks to the hotchpotch of high rises which line the promenade.

As has become our expectation at coastal resorts, most property seems to be shut up for the winter, so it was a surprise when, having walked north to the end of the Prom, we returned via the main street to find it not full of closed tourist tat shops, but proper town retail outlets. This place must be bustling in summer! Today, however, I saw only one person browsing along the entire length of the road.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Sunday 27 November – Girona

Where’s Colin? He’s in a large free car park a stone’s throw away from the centre of the old town of Girona. A large town centre car park is seldom our choice of somewhere to stay, so fingers are crossed for a quiet night.

Sometimes I think that we’re not very good at cities. We have so often gone to touristy towns/cities that come highly recommended and either can’t see what the fuss is about, or in a very short time we feel that we have exhausted everything that’s of interest to us. Then other times, like today (or Arles a couple of weeks ago), we’ll pitch up in a city thinking that we’ll likely only be a couple of hours and we’ll end up staying a couple of days.

After a rather disturbed night (Saturday night in an inhabited area; frequent heavy rain showers; migraine), we didn’t get off to a fast start this morning, but it’s a Sunday so there was no fighting for a space in the car park we’d earmarked in Girona. Free, and only a five minute walk to the cathedral = perfect!

The cathedral is to where we headed first, although having checked out the admission prices (and, as it happens, reading them wrong), we decided against and stuck with the pre-decided plan of going to the Museu d’Art.

The outside of the cathedral is far from the most striking we’ve seen. Perhaps we should have opted for the €10 combined ticket (including another church and the art museum) so we could have seen the contrast of the interior

My choice of thing to do in Girona had been the Jewish Museum. Mick’s had been the Art Museum. Had we wanted to save a few cents, then the order of things would have been to go to the Jewish Museum first, as the deal is that after you’ve paid full price for one, you can visit the rest at 50% off, and the Jewish is the cheaper of the two. However, opening hours are limited on a Sunday, and the Art Museum isn’t open at all on a Monday, which dictated Art today and, if we liked the city enough to stick around (we did!), Judaism tomorrow.

A couple of hours were spent in the impressive old (but heavily modernised inside) museum building, looking at religious statues, altar pieces, renaissance and baroque art followed by a bit of more modern stuff. There were a few information panels in English and we thought this one would be improved with the edit I’ve snuck into the photo below:

We also had a bit of an irreverent giggle at this stone relief of Jesus grabbing a football with one hand whilst making obscene gestures with the other:

Leaving the museum at just gone 1pm, I was so hungry that fainting was feeling like a real possibility, making the first priority finding somewhere to eat. The ‘where looks busiest’ method of choosing an eatery doesn’t work in Spain at that time of day (it being a good hour before any Spaniard will even be thinking about lunch), so we picked a place that looked like it had a bit of character and where no-one tried to entice us in. Our four courses, plus a whole bottle of wine for Mick (of which he drank less than half; lightweight!) and a litre bottle of water for me came in at €12 a head. I do like eating out in Spain!


Our chosen eatery was in the Jewish Quarter (apparently one of the best preserved Jewish neighbourhoods in Europe), and after lunch we had a little wander around its narrow streets and alleyways…

…before heading for the river on the far side of town…

… and picking up the city wall at the point where it terminates by the river.

Along the wall

The missing parts of the wall have been filled in, so it’s possible to walk atop it, stopping off to climb various viewing towers, all the way back to the cathedral, which is a reasonable distance. Most towns (particularly in France) would be charging a few Euros for the pleasure, but here it’s free.

The cathedral, viewed from the wall

And to the left of the cathedral a wooded park, in which Colin is parked.

Just as the light was fading out of the day we managed to squeeze in a walk around the parkland adjacent to where we’re parked, by way of a recce for somewhere to run tomorrow. Then it was dark, so we returned to our corner of the car park and up went the blinds, hoping for a quiet night.


Saturday, 26 November 2016

Saturday 26 November – Quart (Girona)

Where’s Colin? He’s in the Municipal Aire in Quart, which sits just to the SE of Girona.

For the last two days we’ve been only about 15km north of the border with Spain and with our continued trajectory southwards, today we crossed that border. We did so at Le Perthus, a busy shopping street which sits atop a pass in the Pyrenees. It’s a place we would have walked through in July, at the end of our trans-Pyrenean walk, if my poorliness of the tummy hadn’t caused us to reroute down the Tech valley. On that reroute we walked along a cycleway that runs just off to the side of the D914. Today we drove the D914 in the other direction. That was a bit odd, as we had no notion when we walked on through a lashing thunder storm there, just 3.5 months ago, that we would be back again so soon.

In spite of huge almost-empty car parks being at our disposal, we didn’t stop to sample the retail ‘delights’ of Le Perthus, but instead drove on through the abandoned border checkpoint and for a short while there was no indication that we were in a different country as all the cars were still French. That didn’t last for too long, and soon we were remembering the quirks of Spain – like mandatory speed limits which take you down to 50, 30 or sometimes even 10kph just because there’s a bit of a bend in the road.

Had I paid any attention to the Spanish guide book before I chose today’s destination, then we probably would have stopped in a couple of places further north of here. They may still get a look-in, if we decide to return to the UK via the east side of France, but in the meantime we are only going to backtrack the 7km to Girona tomorrow.

As for today’s destination, the main reasons why I chose it were: a) the places I had originally wanted to go are too high up in the Pyrenees to be warm enough for us to want to go there at this time of year; and b) there’s a via verde (ex-railway line) cycle route that runs through this town, which I thought would be a good place for a bit of a run.

At a glance, it didn’t seem like the town would have anything else to engage us, but actually, after I’d trotted along the railway line (being a bit alarmed by how my outward leg was downhill and fearing for the return, which turned out to be easier than I expected), we took a walk around and found that we seem to be in a rather well-to-do sort of a neighbourhood. Admiring big, nicely presented houses is always a good way to spend an afternoon stroll, I find.

Only one photo today and I’ve left it to the end as I feel a bit bad that the only photo I took today gives an unfair representation of the town. The reason I took it is that it captured in one photo two of the things of which we expect to see a lot in Spain (based on our wanderings in January and February this year): houses abandoned part way (in this case a long way) through being built, and extensive graffiti:

(As an aside, we've suffered two mini floods in Colin this week, neither causing any real problem beyond a bit of mopping and wet carpets. The one was of a nature we've experienced a couple of times before and we suspect it's related to using the shower when Colin is sitting on a certain type of slope. I have a solution and will implement it when we are next home. The other mini flood was contained within the wet room and had us stumped. There was no way we could see that it could be coming from outside and neither could we see how it had resulted from using the shower. Usually when the carpet in there gets wet it's because one of our drinking water bottles has leaked, but that wasn't the case this time. Today the mystery was solved. For the first four and a half years of ownership of Colin we didn't use the bathroom sink (a fold down job) because there’s a much more functional sink a step away in the kitchen. In June I did use it a couple times, but only with tiny amounts of water. This week I used it with a lot of water. Today I discovered that when Colin was manufactured 8 years ago he was left with some hardboard shavings that fell down into that sink's plughole. Over time, undoubtedly before we even bought him, that partial blockage was augmented by soap deposits until the whole plughole was blocked. The water I thought I'd poured away this week thus stayed in the back of the sink, sloshing its way out as we drove. The blockage is now removed, the carpet almost dry and we hope the mystery of the flooded wet room is solved).

Friday 25 November – Port-Vendres

Where’s Colin? He’s still at the Aire at Port-Vendres, at €6 per night.

The local police knocked on our door first thing this morning. Not an alarming occurrence, as it turned out. That’s who has responsibility for collecting the parking fee. Not everyone stuck around to pay this modest fee, however. At least two vans at our end of the car park (both French, and both big, new, expensive vans) were on their way at 7.30. Funny that we’ve not noticed anyone leaving early at any of the Aires which have inescapable payment via the barrier system…

Once we’d finally prised ourselves out of bed and spent some time faffing around putting suitable stuff into a bag, off we strode to walk a circuit taking in a chunk of coast, with a return via some vineyards. If you feel so inclined (and haven’t already) you can read more about it, and see the photos) on our walking blog (

Back within the loose time window which qualifies as ‘lunchtime’, we set our minds to doing some eating, before venturing back out into the town on a quest for cake. It was a quest in which we failed as everywhere was closed. Admittedly, it was just about still within what could be considered the afternoon nap closedown period, but the only boulangerie/patisserie which looked like it might reopen later (as opposed to being closed for the winter) wasn’t going to do so until 5pm, which was a bit too long for us to hang around just on the off chance of cake. So, we made do with some flan from the supermarket. The purchase of a cooked chicken, some oven chips and a bag of salad were impulse buys, and made for an easy tea.


Thursday, 24 November 2016

Thursday 24 November – Port-Vendres

Where’s Colin? He’s at the Municipal Aire at Port-Vendres, which the signage indicates is €6 per night at this time of year, not the €10 we expected. We won’t know for sure though until someone arrives to collect our money.

Yesterday afternoon’s rain may not have materialised, but the overnight thunderstorm certainly did and it was impressive enough to have us both sitting up in bed, watching it out of the window. There was no chance of sleep anyway, not with monsoonal rain battering Colin’s roof and the intensity of the flashes and bangs. It didn’t last awfully long, and this morning dawned clear and bright.

After a jogette along the canal and back, splashing through big puddles on the tow path, followed by breakfast and showers, we were soon packing away, ready to move further south. First, however, we needed to spend €2 to gain entry to the toilet emptying point. Or not, as a chap had just filled up his water bottles, and left with 1 minute 48 seconds remaining on his 10 minute slot.

Well, what an awful design of service point that is! In a small cupboard there sits a toilet emptying point (fitted in such a way that it’s really awkward to empty your cassette cleanly), then immediately above it a petrol pump style dispensing hose/nozzle for drinking water. If the nozzle should fall out of its holster (and I struggled to get it to stay there) then it falls down into the toilet emptying point. It was only because a man had just finished filling his bottles that I adjudged that the hoze had just had a good enough rinse to use it, although even then I did deploy some bleach around the nozzle itself. By the time I’d done that I was down to a few seconds remaining on the clock and only managed to fill half a bottle. I wasn’t sorry. There are better places to get water. (There’s a flaw at the Aire we’re at now too; you need a token from the money-collector to obtain water, and the money-collector doesn’t come around until the morning).

Anyways, after some very thorough hand washing, we were off, and just about lunch time we arrived at Port-Vendres, having driven through the centre of Perpignan (not a painful experience) and having marvelled at driving along with the Mediterreanean on one side of us, bright warm sunshine directly ahead, and snow-topped hills to our right.

Port-Vendres was chosen as our next stop, rather than any one of a number of options along this stretch of coast, on the basis that I have on my phone IGN 1:25k mapping for the Pyrenees, which covers this area, and I saw that there were multiple walking options right from the Aire. We were impressed with our choice even on the drive in, as the view from the approach road down showed us an attractive bay surrounded by lumpy bits. After a week or so in flat lands, some contour lines are welcome.

I had intended to take Mick on a 10km circuit this afternoon to explore some of those contour lines, as well as a bit of coast, but with the days being as short as they now are (light about 0730, dark around 1730) and with the weather forecast telling me that tomorrow is due to be fine, we opted to postpone the longer outing and to simply walk into town instead.

That took us past the large port…

… and to the harbour, from where a walk up to the fort we could see on a nearby hill (in fact, it’s visible in the photo above) seemed like as good a place to go as any.
The walk up through the town gave us good views back across the town to the port, and of the clouds bubbling up out to sea:

I knew nothing about the fort as we approached, and still don’t as there were no information signs other than one giving opening hours. The latter didn’t seem overly accurate as to all appearances the place was shut up:

As much as the fort was a focal point up there, we were also rather taken with the vista to the east, looking down on Collioure…

…, and a quick look at the map suggested that if we dropped down to its attractive harbour...

... then we could pick up another path to form a circuit to take us back to Port Vendres. So, that’s what we did, with the verdict that it was a good choice, particularly on such a lovely (and warm!) blue-skied day.

Tomorrow we will go and explore in the other direction.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Wednesday 23 November – Narbonne

Where’s Colin? He’s still at the Aire in Narbonne.

The weather forecast for today suggested, yet again, that it wasn’t a day for doing much. A very wet afternoon was before us, with winds of over 100kph predicted. As the Aire at our next destination is €10 per night and doesn’t have electric, whereas this one is €9 per night with electric, if we were going to be spending more time loitering in Colin that out ‘doing’, then we figured we may as well save a few pennies and have electric to boot. So, we stayed put.

Purely for a bit of exercise, advantage was taken of the dry morning with a walk into town, where we arrived at the park behind the cathedral just as the man with the keys was opening the gates. Excellent timing, as we had the park to ourselves, including the terrace with the oversized bench:

Returning along the canal, we continued on to find the Decathlon store, as I’ve been feeling the need for a new long-sleeved running top (one that fits me, unlike my current one). That mission was accomplished (together with another couple of less intentional purchases) and we also discovered that the out-of-town shopping area is vast. No wonder all of the shops in town are so quiet!

Combined with a bit of loitering around the shopping centre (people-watching, free wifi) our little outing had extended into the early afternoon, and I was hungry enough to eat a scabby dog. Back to Colin for lunch it was, before revisiting the shopping centre this afternoon, armed with a carrier bag for a few provisions.

Returning to the Aire, we had every expectation that as the day wore on someone would come and park a nice big motorhome next to us, giving us a bit of shelter from the wind. It didn’t seem an unreasonable expectation, as by 8pm last night the place was full save for a couple of the less-desirable spaces. Alas, tonight when we really could do with someone next to us (and it’s almost guaranteed that it would be a big van, as small vans seem to be a rarity on Aires), both spaces on the windward side are empty. As a result, we’re rocking away like we’re on the high seas. Lovely.

As for the predicted wetness, we’re going to have to start disregarding any mention of rain in the forecast when making our plans, as once again, it didn’t materialise.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Tuesday 22 November – Narbonne

Where’s Colin He’s at an Aire in Narbonne (N43º10.846, E3º1.409), at a cost of €9 per 24 hours, including electric, but with an extra €2 charge for water and toilet emptying (making it unfortunate that, for the first time, we completely forgot to empty the toilet this morning when we had the chance to do so for free).

I was not far into my third circuit of trotting around the block in Marseillan Plage this morning, battling against the wind (which was nothing compared to the wind last night; no way would I have ventured out in that!), when drops of rain started to hit me. For a minute or so I thought it wouldn’t amount to anything and resolved to continue, which lasted until I got to the beach and saw the big lump of black heading towards land. An about turn was made and I upped the pace to get back to Colin. Ten minutes later water was positively streaming down his flanks, his roof was taking a battering and lightning was regularly flashing around us, with much rumbling following on. It was so dark it was barely possible to see the words on a page, without the lights on.

It lasted half an hour or so before brighter sky was seen coming up behind the storm, and as it reached us we suddenly found the impetus to go somewhere and see something. Sixty-six kilometres later (or maybe 68km, as we couldn’t obey the SatNav’s original directions of driving across a sports field to get to the Aire, and thus had to drive around), we were in Narbonne where, by taking our time over our late elevenses, we managed to roll it almost straight into lunch.

I’d read that there was a free bus that would take us into town, but then I looked at Google Maps and discovered that, using the Cycle Route which runs right past the front of the Aire, it's only 2km each way, so we walked. A short while later we found ourselves on the tow-path of a canal, and before we knew it, town was before us:

It looks like there’s going to be a Christmas market in the avenue to the right of the canal, and the tower beyond has been wrapped with a pretty ribbon

The obvious focal point of the town, from a touristy point of view, is the Cathedral, so over towards it we headed, turning a corner at one point and finding ourselves sudden thrust back from a few hundred years:

An historic dead-end road in an otherwise relatively modern French town

Finding that road to be a dead-end we backtracked and continued our circuit of the cathedral, coming across an information sign on our way which told us how so much of it came to be unfinished (rather than, as we first thought, built and subsequently ruined). What we didn’t find was an entrance, so we didn’t even have to consider whether to spend the €4 a head that the guidebook told us was required for entry.

Just out of frame to the right of this photo is a terrace containing a massively oversized bench. I so wanted to climb up onto it for a photo, but there was a group of college students there and I was wholly unconvinced that I could clamber up onto the bench at all, never mind elegantly, so I bottled it.

Continuing our stroll around the town, we came across four information signs about the happenings of 1907, and gathered that there had been some sort of an uprising in the town, but in the absence of finding more of the signs, didn’t know what it was about. Good old Google has since informed me that it related to demonstrations by local wine producers, which reached their peak in Narbonne in the middle of 1907. There’s a large amount of information about it on Wikipedia, and Google Translate makes a good job of converting it to English (although I’m not sure that the bit about the women with the crumbling buns came across quite right…).

Trying and failing to buy a slice of myrtille tart, so as to take a photo of it to post here for my sister’s benefit (I’ll keep trying, Kay!) – not to mention because I’m rather partial to myrtille tart, and after failing the ‘buying stamps at the post office’ test (big town centre post office, I couldn’t even start to decide which of the many counters, randomly dotted around the large room, I needed, so resolved to try a small branch elsewhere), we wandered our way back to Colin. Or not quite, as we went a little way past and to the big Carrefour across the road, which turned out not just to be a vast supermarket, but also a shopping centre. There we also failed to find a myrtille tart, so we made do with a platter of freshly made sushi and called it a day.

Our verdict on Narbonne is that it’s a pleasant place for an afternoon of wandering. And now, it’s time to look at the reference books to make a decision as to where to head tomorrow.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Monday 21 November – Marseillan Plage

Where’s Colin? He’s at the Municipal Aire at Marseillan Plage, where it costs €4 for 24 hours. Water costs extra, but happily we filled Colin to the gunwales before we left La Grande-Motte this morning.

All of the pay-Aires that we’ve stayed at on this trip have had the common feature of being barrier controlled, effectively the same as a pay-on-foot car park. The difference in yesterday’s stay at La Grande-Motte was that, rather than taking a ticket at the barrier for entry and paying upon departure, you have to first go to the payment machine, pay for the number of days you want, then take your pre-paid ticket, which affords you entry via the barrier. We revisted the pay machine a couple of times yesterday afternoon having been somewhat confused that our receipt said that we entered on 10 November at 10.40am, and that we paid for 1 day on 20 November at 12.04. In fact, we had arrived at around 1pm.

With no useful information to guide us, we had to hope that there was something amiss with the machine’s knowledge of time and that it would allow us exit at any time within 24 hours of our arrival. It was at 5.30 this morning, lying awake listening to rain drumming on the roof and not yet moved to reach for my audiobook (Mick complains if I put a light on to read a real book quite that early), that the answer struck me: clearly I’d picked up the receipt of the person before me, which had been left in the machine. That was a relief; my conviction that we were going to have trouble exiting immediately abated.

All appearances were that the rain to which we had woken was set in for the day, so we didn’t rush to get up and, somewhere amongst the tea-drinking and book-reading, we concluded that we wouldn’t want to be outside much today and thus we may just as well relocate a whole kilometre, down to the marina where all those vans had been parked yesterday. That we did, and on the way we saw the prohibition for parking vehicles over 2 tons there overnight.

Mick was all for staying anyway. I prefer not to stay somewhere that there is a legal prohibition, even though I acknowledged that getting a ticket at this time of year seemed unlikely. So, we reverted to plan A and drove through some horribly windy and wet weather for 65km to Marseillan Plage.

All of the Aires along the French Med coast seem to charge, and this one was chosen for being a relative bargain at €4. We could actually have parked for free, on any one of a selection of deserted streets – this being another of those winter ghost towns – and if it hadn’t been so exposed we probably would have opted for a slot on the quay.

Settled into a space in the Aire (a slot chosen for its proximity to the Tourist Office, although it seems that the free wifi reported last November by Jo and Matt ( as being available at the TO is now only free for 20 minutes and currently has some security issues), a late lunch preceded a short circular walk, taking in a bit of the beach.

We’ve not had a selfie for a while, so here’s one of us dressed for the beach (note the sea state behind us):

And here’s one looking along the sand, which doesn’t really convey quite how windy it was, although it does perhaps speak of the dull nature of the day:

It stayed dry for almost the entirety of our stroll (which, in all honesty, was purely taken for Fitbit appeasement purposes), but my goodness, it’s a tad breezy out there!

Sunday 20 November – Aigues-Mortes and La Grande-Motte

Where’s Colin? He’s at a commercial Aire in La Grande-Motte. It’s €11 at this time of year, which includes electric as well as water and waste, but the toilet block is now closed for the winter.

We’re not finding the MeteoFrance weather forecasts to be accurate, often forecasting rain which doesn’t materialise. Thus, having moved last evening for fear of what the predicted overnight rain would do to the dirt track, we woke to a dry world this morning.

A few spots of rain finally arrived, together with the forecast strong winds, just as we made our final ‘pre-flight’ checks (don’t want to be driving away with the fridge still running on gas or with a cupboard door not secured, amongst other things on the checklist) at around 9am. Soon we were driving away from that rain and towards the brighter skies above the fortified town of Aigues-Mortes (sounds like a deadly fever, doesn’t it?).

Motorhomes are banned from parking at Aigues-Mortes, except in the designated Aire. In this case, the charge is made by the quarter hour and, for the first few hours, it’s 50c per 15 minutes, so it wouldn’t have broken the bank to park there. However, it’s perfectly possible to park for free within a mile of the centre, so we saved our pennies for coffee and pastries and took a walk.

The Canal du Rhone sits prettily in front of the town. If it wasn’t for those trees, the fortifications would be more obvious.

The main point of interest of Aigues-Mortes is that the walls, which surround the town (and have done since 1295), are still complete:

How to get a view of what the town really looks like? Buy a postcard!

However, within about 15 minutes of walking around the town (lots of tourist-tat and sweet shops), we didn’t feel like there was anything else for us to see. There were some attractive streets, but not in the same ‘stepping back in time’ way as other places we’ve visted. If it wasn’t for the walls, I don’t feel like this town would get much attention at all.

Onwards then, to La Grande-Motte. This is the entirety of what the Rough Guide has to say about the place (and, perversely, what caused me to want to come here):

“The oldest of the new resorts, on the fringes of the Camargue, La Grande-Motte is a 1960s vintage beachside antigone – a “futuristic” planned community which has aged as gracefully as the bean bag and eight-track tape. In the summer, its seaside and streets are crowded with semi-naked bodies; in winter, it’s a depressing, wind-battered place with few permanent residents.”

Whilst I find the guidebook useful to give us an overview of what’s available to see and do in a place, together with opening times and entrance fees, it’s not unusual for us to have a different view to its authors, so I fancied a look at this dated, depressing place … and found it far more interesting and engaging than Aigues-Mortes.

The snap below is looking across the marina to La Grande-Motte itself…

… but we’re actually staying by the area of town called Le Couchant, which was designed in 1974 and whose appartment blocks are each individual in design, and more notable from their backsides than their sea-facing fronts. Here’s the information board about the concept:

In terms of being depressing in winter, its certainly largely uninhabited at the moment, but we’ve spent time in a number of deserted European seaside resorts and I’ve never found any of them depressing in the same way as some British seaside resorts are in winter. Maybe it comes across differently on a rainy day.

The bit about being wind-battered was certainly true, although that seems to apply to most of France today, as I’ve seen this evening that there’s a weather warning out over a large chunk of the country for strong winds. The windiness was a draw for many people, as I have never seen so many kite- and wind-surfers in one place – and this snap is just of one small section of the busy beach and sea:

There must surely be some tangling of lines?

On our arrival in town, we’d hesitated slightly over whether to park up for free at a roadside, or whether to go to the Aire, which sits just out of town, in a road of closed-for-winter campsites. We could easily have manged without electricity, so didn’t need to spend €11 on the Aire, but decided to anyway. We’re one of only six here (at least two of which look to be long-term) and there’s a bit of a sorry look about the place in its leaf-strewn state. I think if we had just parked up and taken a walk before we committed to the Aire, we would have ended up down by the marina, parked for free, in plentiful company:

(Incidentally, 19 degrees here today. I’ve finally been able to move out of long-sleeved Merino and into a t-shirt. Didn’t even need a jacket this afternoon.)

Thursday 17 November – Arles

Where's Colin? He's back at the Municipal Aire in Arles.

What a cultural day we’ve had today! It started early, at 0730, with a pre-recce of the town before anywhere was open. Returning to Colin for second breakfast, a change of parking location was then had. By moving over to the Musee Departmental Arles Antique we didn’t just avoid paying for daytime parking but (more importantly) we left Colin somewhere that felt safer. Handily, the Museum was also our first activity of the day.

A moment after I took this photo of the Hotel de Ville, during our pre-recce, a pigeon fell out of the sky and crash landed in front of me. Seeing the state of it post-impact, I doubt that it saw the day out. Incidentally, the comprehensively wet state of the streets in town had us wondering for a while whether it had rained last night, which seemed unlikely given the clear skies which saw out yesterday and started today. We concluded that the town must have an impressive road-cleaning machine.

The one difference we’ve noticed between France and, say, Spain or the UK, is that where the latter have museums and art galleries with free entry, to date our experience is that similar places in France make a charge. With that in mind, last night we perused the details of the ‘things to see in Arles’ and tried to weigh up, from the guidebook descriptions, whether we would consider them worth the entrance fees stated. The conclusion was that our activity of choice would be the Musee Antique. It was only when I Googled some detail or other about it that I came to find that whereas entry to the museum alone costs €8, it’s possible to buy a ‘Passport’, which allows entry to the Musee Antique, the Musee Reattu and four out of six monuments, for €11. A no-brainer, really, especially considering that two of the other entries would also cost €8 individually; it made it feel like everywhere else was free, and thus worth a look whether it sounded interesting or not.

The Museum was focussed on the Roman history of Arles and, in the main, was moderately interesting (I say from a point of view of having visited a few similar museums in Spain earlier this year), but what made the visit entirely worthwhile was the relatively recent extension which houses a Roman Barge, complete with its cargo, which was discovered in the Rhone (a handful of metres away from where I’m sitting typing this) in Arles in 2009, and subsequently recovered, preserved and put on display.

A 20-minute information film required speed-reading of the subtitles, but was also a highlight.

Emerging back out into the sunshine at half past lunchtime, we improvised a suitable repast, having failed to buy any bread yesterday or this morning, then chose which four of the six ‘monuments’ we wanted to see, before heading off into town.

The Cryptoportiques lie six metres below the town hall and the square on which it sits and formed part of the foundations of the Roman Forum which originally sat on that site. There’s no way we would have paid €3.50 to visit them, but as they were effectively free, we took a look:

Then it was off to the Cloisters of the church next door, which similarly wouldn’t have been worth the €3.50 fee (we saw plenty of similar cloisters in Spain ealier this year), but were interesting enough as a freebie;  moreover, as on our way out we spotted a free exhibition of the artwork of Alan Johnston, which proved a very worthwhile diversion:

Then back past the Theatre Antique we went, adjuding that it wasn’t worth spending one of our four entries on it, as you can pretty well see everything from outside:

So, over to the Amphitheatre we went, which the Rough Guide didn’t think worthy of an internal visit unless it was to attend an event taking place. I beg to differ (although perhaps I would have agreed with them if we had needed to pay €8 entry) and not only was it an interesting visit, particularly trying to work out which bits of the structure were original and which were refurbished (/reconstructed)…

… but the viewing platform up by one of the towers also provided good vistas:

We thought we were then done for today. As the ticket is valid for a month, our plan is to stay in Arles again tonight and to visit the Musee Reattu and Les Alyscamps tomorrow. However, on our way back to Colin we swung by the Church of St Trophine, as the guidebook mentioned that its tapestries were worth a look. As it turned out, the whole place was very much worth a visit, being an absolute tardis compared with its outside appearance and being more stuffed full of relics than any church I’ve ever visited before.

Finally, diverted only by a fine cake shop whose wares we *needed* to sample, we did return to Colin and back to the Aire we have come for the night.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Saturday 19 November - The Camargue

Where’s Colin? He's at a car park just beyond the end of the tarmac road to the NW of Salin-de-Giraud. Post-sunset change of plan: It's forecast to rain overnight and not knowing what that would do to the dirt track we tootled back north by 15km to a large layby on the east side of Etang De Vaccarès.

Like untold numbers of people the world over, our Saturday started at 9am with a 5km run. The unusual element this morning for us was the presence of pink flamingoes. Lots of them.

I'd decided that my venue of choice for this morning’s exercise was the east side of Etang (Lake) de Vaccarès, along the very road that we had driven on our return to Arles last night. A good choice, even in hindsight, as not only was it dead flat, but the surroundings were pretty special too - particularly the large flock of flamingoes:

Showered and second breakfasted, it was decision time again, the result of which was to stay on the east side of the Camarge, rather than venturing around to Sainsbury-on-Sea (which is really called Sainte-Maries-de-la-Mer, but our TomTom SatNav, which has dubious pronunciations for places even in the UK, makes this one sound like Sainsbury de la Mer, hence the name that we have adopted). The west side of Etang de Vaccarès is apparently much more developed than this side, which includes the inconvenient fact that the only place you can park a motorhome at Sainsbury-on-Sea is in one of the designated Aires, at a price of €12. This side is not only more natural, but also has free parking right in the midst of the marshes.

Having relocated ourselves accordingly, all of 15km down the road, our post-lunch activity was a walk around the marshes, which I hoped was doable as a circuit. It turned out not to be so, thus having reached the final car park along the rutted dirt road, we simply made an about turn, being too lazy to continue another kilometre to reach the lighthouse we could clearly see ahead of us.

The golds of the reeds and the reds of the heathery-looking plants on the marsh, really set the surroundings off nicely, further helped along by the blue sky and plenty of bird life. A very pleasant place (and day) to be out.

Our stroll had taken us 5.5 miles with no feet of ascent (8.5 miles covered on foot today and my Fitbit has recorded 1 floor of ascent, which translates to 10 feet).

After initially abandoning Colin at the end of the tarmac road, our stroll had informed us there was a nicer parking area a little way along the dirt road and, if taken slowly, it wouldn't be a rougher ride than some of the local tarmac roads. Thus we relocated slightly and have spent a nice lazy afternoon since variously people watching or with heads in books.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Friday 18 November - Arles and (briefly) Salin-de-Giraud

Where’s Colin? Much to his surprise, and our own, he's back at the Municipal Aire in Arles for the third night in a row. It's not a nice Aire, particularly with the road noise from the nearby bridge, but it feels secure and was relatively convenient when we had a change of plan an hour before sunset.

First on the agenda this morning, once we had again relocated Colin to the free (and safer-feeling-for-daytime) parking at the out-of-town museum, was the Musee Réattu, on the other side of town. It's an art gallery, and the key feature noted in the guidebook is its collection of sketches by Picasso. What we found more interesting (although the Picasso's did capture our attention too) was the work by Réattu, including a few studies which tied in with bigger works and some unfinished pieces. What interested us far less, and thus took us only minutes to walk by, was the modern stuff (by an artist who had such an impact on me that I can't even tell you her name, even though I must have seen it dozens of times).

Leaving the museum after about an hour and a half inside, we had one 'monument', of the three we didn't see yesterday, left on our 'Passport Liberté'. Having decided against the Roman Theatre (you could see everything there from outside) and the Roman Baths (been to plenty before and these didn't sound remarkable) the only option remaining was the Alyscamp, which is the only avenue remaining of the Roman Necropolis, albeit all of the fine sarcophagi are gone (some in museums, like the one we visited yesterday, many taken by farmers in centuries past for use as cattle troughs!).

What can I say about it, other than that I'm glad it was effectlively a freebie on our ticket, because it wouldn't have been worth €3.50. It did give me the opportunity, however, in only remaining part of the only remaining church, to creep into the crypt, clap, and creep out again.

With lunch eaten back at Colin, two supermarkets and a petrol station were then slotted in before we headed down to the reclaimed land of the Camarge, with the intention of spending the night at the Aire at Salin-de-Giraud.

We duly arrived there and whilst it wasn't particularly nice, it wasn't offensive either. That view lasted an hour or so until, as I pored over maps and books deciding where to head next, a little niggle that I recognised this Aire made me wonder whether it was the place where the van of Jo and Matt ( came under attack from a trio of yoofs at about this time last year. A quick Google search proved it to be so and, as we were the only van there, a swift rethink was had. Within five minutes everything was back in cupboards and we were back on the road.

A scenic route (featuring some of the worst quality road surface) via the large lake/lagoon Etang de Vaccarès was taken back to Arles, which as far as I could see in the two minutes I spent looking, was the nearest place with an apparently safe official motorhome parking area (better the devil you know and all that). It was a wasted 80km round trip and one we may repeat tomorrow as I really would like to see that area.

Thursday 17 November - Holding Post

We had a full day of culture in Arles yesterday (Thursday 17th) and I wrote a detailed blog about it last night. Unusually, I drafted it on my laptop and I tapped away until my battery was about to expire. Then, instead of transferring the words to my phone for onwards transmission to t'internet (because 3's excellent 'Feel at Home' mobile phone policy doesn't permit tethering or hot spotting when abroad, so I can't transmit straight from the laptop) and because I was feeling too lazy to edit all of the photos to make them small enough to transmit via mobile internet I decided to postpone sending the post until this morning, when I knew I could use the museum's wifi.

Where my plan went awry was that when I went to turn my laptop on this morning (having already taken the trouble to deploy the wifi booster kit), I found that rather than the spare battery being full, as I thought it to be, it was completely empty.

We have no inverter, nor a 12v supply cable for the laptop and I can't even nip into a cafe to use an outlet because I don't have a European adapter. So, yesterday's post (so full of us doing stuff!) is now trapped on the laptop and will stay there until we next find an electric hookup point.

To be going on with, here's a photo of the view from the top of the Roman Amphitheatre:

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Wednesday 16 November - Les Baux de Provence and Arles

Where's Colin? He’s at the Municipal Aire in Arles.

We didn't have to vacate Camping Bagatelle until 1pm, so we made the most of the facilities until gone noon. That gave us a lazy morning (except for my run along the river; that was far from lazy). The last few bits of laundry (pongy running gear) were hand washed and, once the day finally shed its chilly start, I spent a few hours moving the drying rack around, chasing the patches of sun that had made their way through the tree canopy.

In between times, there was much poring over the reference books, trying to decide whether to head east over to the highly recommended Gorges du Verdon, or whether to head south. As much as we'd like to go to the Gorges, we'd prefer to do so at a more hospitable time of year, so 'east' was put on hold for another time and south we went.

I'll gloss over our confusion between the emergency stop and the 'go' buttons on
the LPG pump at a petrol station en-route and skip straight to Les Baux de Provence, which was our first port of call. It's another of those spectacular medieval hillside villages, but in this case overtly touristy at every turn (and reasonably well frequented by tourists too, considering the time of year), and topped by a castle which, in places, merges into the rock. Parking around the village was €5 per day, which was a bit steep considering we didn't expect to be more than an hour. Of course, as we drove on afterwards, free places were spotted within easy walking distance. Hey Ho, at least we contributed a little to the local economy, even though we didn't opt to pay for a visit to the castle.

Once again I've completely failed to capture the essence of the place, and the surrounding views, in the snaps below. If it wasn't for modern shop signs, you'd think, upon entering the place, that you'd been transported back 800 years or so:

Our original intention to spend tonight in a village to the NE of Arles then got modified, as we decided to chance there being space at the popular 6-slot Aire at Arles. Had I paid more attention when I was looking at Park4Night earlier, I likely would have noticed that the Aire has moved. As it was, we had a gay old time driving around the city streets at rush hour, combined with a bit of head scratching, before we located the new, much larger, Aire. We're right on the side of the Rhone, and a short walk from a bridge that will take us into town in the morning, but it doesn't look like the nicest area. The reviews I've read are almost all positive, so I imagine it's comes across a bit differently when there are dozens of vans here in summer, rather than the half dozen there are tonight (at least three of which give the impression of being permanent residences or in storage).