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.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Saturday 10 December - Post Blog Doings

I posted my blog about today too soon, thinking we were in for the night. Then, just before sunset, I fancied a short (15-minutes-ish) stroll to the beach and back. Our short strolls are seldom as short as we intend. We were over an hour tonight and returned in the full dark.

We did walk a little way along the beachside promenade...

...before turning inland, past the fairground (which, last time we were here, we thought was closed for the winter, but it's open tonight), and enjoyed the red sky over the hills:

The camera on my phone doesn't do reds very well. It was more dramatic than this makes it look

The whole outing had been accompanied by what sounded like boy racers turning doughnuts. We had to find out what was going on, so we walked towards the noise, with the air getting thicker with burnt rubber as we approached. I didn't attempt a snap, but it turned out that a large car park has been turned into an inticate track, around which a number of old BMWs (presumably chosen for their rear wheel drive) are burning a lot of rubber. We're guessing that the second person in each car is a fee-paying member of the public. They're not very close to where we are, but I can still hear them quite clearly now, from inside Colin.

Our return route brought us past the roadside motorhome parking (i.e. where we wanted to be, had there been room). I was wrong earlier when I said they were all German. They have the largest representation, but there is also an Italian, an Austrian, a Dutch and a couple of Spanish - a veritable multi-national gathering.

Saturday 10 December - Girona and Platja d'Aro

Where’s Colin? He's at the Municipal Aire at Platja d'Aro. We were here a couple of weeks back but today we're at the Aire-proper rather than at the designated roadside parking, because the latter was full.

The perimeter of the parkland, next to the big, free car park, in Girona is about 1.5 miles long and, over our two stays in the town, has proved to be an agreeable place for a morning run. Having only run two circuits yesterday morning (because I was being lazy), four circuits were on the agenda this morning. The added complication/amusement today was that it was market day* with the huge array of stalls filling part of the park's perimeter, as well as various bits of the middle, with another big area turned over to car parking. So, whilst we didn't visit the market as such, we did run through a good chunk of it four times. On the first couple of goes around some of the stall holders were still setting up and there weren't too many people around, but by the fourth it was getting a bit too busy.

We did contemplate staying in Girona another day, but with the cold nights and the resultant running of the heating evening and morning, we decided that a bit of a drive would be good for the state of the leisure battery and that nights on the coast would be warmer.

We weren't much taken with Platja d'Aro the first time we came here and didn't think that we would be back. However, having erred in not staying further south for longer (and not wanting to incur the mileage by returning south for a few days), our options are limited. I actually thought we would be heading towards the UK by now, for a leisurely journey back, but the prospect of cold weather in France combined with the current fine spell here (cumulative chance of rain between now and next Friday: 2%!), has made us decide to stick around until the middle of next week before making a dash back homewards over a couple of long driving days.

With Platja d'Aro being the nearest bit of coast with a free Aire, here we are. And it's a different place to two weeks ago. It's sunny, it's warm and it's the weekend two weeks before Christmas, so the town is bustling. Meanwhile the motorhome roadside parking is packed with German vans and the Aire is almost half and half Germans and Spanish. With tomorrow being the end of the holiday week, I imagine the Spanish will leave (we're staying the full 48 hours permitted). Why the place is quite so popular with the Germans, I have no idea. We've not been seeing them in any quantity elsewhere.

I can't say our afternoon has been filled with fun, but chores are a necessary evil. Colin’s floor seemed to be harbouring half the grit of northern Spain and the laundry bag had outgrown its storage location. Handily, the laundrette was opposite McDonald's, so whilst the washing machine was doing its thing, I got a few more books loaded onto my Kindle (there may also have been a McFlurry involved...).

Both of the public laundrettes we've used in Spain have been similar in being outstandingly clean and tidy

View over to Castell d'Aro, taken from opposite the Aire. That's the view we would have had if the roadside parking hadn't been full (in fact, you can see some of the line of motorhomes in the photo).

(*I would have been pre-warned about the market if I knew my days of the week in Catalan; I had read the road signs on yesterday’s run but had failed to translate them.)

Friday, 9 December 2016

Friday 9 December – Girona

Where’s Colin? He’s where he expected to be last night – in the large, free car park that sits a five-minute walk from the centre of Girona.

We were back in Girona by 7 this morning, which wasn’t as painful a start as it might have been, as I’d been awake since 5.23, when the bin lorry came to empty the nearby bins. I think I preferred the 1-2am emptyings we experienced in southern Spain last year – at least at that time of night I’m almost guaranteed to be asleep again soon after the disturbance.

The oddness of this week with a public holiday every other day persisted, such that, even though today wasn’t a holiday, the car park in Girona (which had been almost full by 8am last time we stayed in it) still had spaces when we went out for a run at half past nine. It was full as we got back and has remained so ever since, such that every time we have returned to Colin (most recently at 5.30pm) lots of circling drivers have got excited that a space was about to open up, only to find themselves disappointed.

Late morning we finally went into town, to visit the one thing I was interested in that we hadn’t been able to see last time we were here: the Arab baths – reputed to be the best preserved in Spain. We’ve seen lots of remains of Roman baths, so I was interested to see these, built on the same model as used by the Romans, which are still largely intact (or, perhaps rebuilt on the original model – I’m always sceptical about how much of these places really are original). Mick wasn’t initially that keen on the visit, but in looking up its opening hours and price, I happened to find that bits of Season 6 of Game of Thrones were filmed in Girona, including a scene in the baths, and that was enough for Mick to be convinced that it was worth the €2 entrance fee.

This was in the bath’s changing rooms (or apodyterium, if you prefer) and Mick tells me it’s the bit that featured in Game of Thrones

Actually, having now been, I can report that it was barely worth even €2. It wasn’t a long visit.

Our opinion of Girona didn’t change on our wanderings that then ensued as we found bits of the town we had missed a couple of weeks ago. It’s an interesting town.

The sun doesn’t reach much of it at this time of year, though, due to the narrowness of the streets and the tallness of the buildings, making us wish we’d taken warmer jackets with us. Being another clear skied day, it’s a pleasant temperature when in the sun, but parky out of it.

I’m not sure if you can make out the snowy mountains in the distance on this snap. We’ve been seeing those snowy caps since Barcelona, and as we’ve got nearer I’m pretty sure that’s the ridge we walked along in July, when we ventured off the GR10 onto the HRP

A stop for coffee (inside a coffee shop; we gave up trying to find a pavement seat which was in the sun) was swiftly followed by a move over to the Jewish Quarter for lunch at a restaurant whose menu I had eyed up on our previous visit. It was a couple of Euros more than most Menu del Dia, and didn’t include drinks, but the choices looked far more interesting. These were our starters:

Yummy! Main course was paella; pudding was home-made flan.

By 2pm (a time at which most locals are only vaguely starting to think about lunch) people were already being turned away, telling of the popularity of the place, and we did feel we were being a little rushed as the next course arrived within moments of the previous dishes being taken away. The food was, however, excellent and thus even though, when the bill came, we found that the drinks were twice the price we’ve paid anywhere else, I’d still say it’s the best value meal we’ve had of the trip, when you take quality into account. It’s tempting to stick around another day just to go back tomorrow and sample more from their menu.

Book reading and a little more wandering has filled our afternoon, along with further contemplation of the maps. I’m not minded to head back into France until the middle of next week, as we’d like to retain as much heat for as long as possible before heading back to the UK, but I have only found one campsite and no Aires open in Spain to the north or east of here (bad planning – should have stayed south of here for longer!). Thus, at this moment, I know not where we’re going to head tomorrow.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Thursday 8 December – Olot, Sant Joan les Fonts, Castellfollit de la Roca and Girona

Where’s Colin? He’s in the Municipal Aire at Quart, to the S of Girona. That’s not exactly where he (or we) expected to be tonight.

Today's first stop was back in Olot, parking just as the Via Verde (ex railway line, now a leisure route between St Feliu les Guixols and Olot) leaves the town. From there we took a jogette, and a fine one it was, as we ran along the valley with hills all around us and a glorious sky above. It was a bit nippy, mind, after a hard frost overnight.

By the time we were finished and second-breakfasted, the parking area was filling up with people taking advantage of today being the second public holiday of the week - a fact which has tricked my mind into thinking that every day is Sunday.

Our next stop – Sant Joan les Fonts - was much quieter (clearly no popular walking/cycling routes around there!). I knew nothing about the place when we arrived, choosing to stop there only because it was en-route, and the main points of interest we found were the medieval bridge and the church (monastery?). I tried from many places to get a representative photo of the latter. This is the best of a bad bunch:

A snap that doesn’t even start to do justice to what a fine building this was

The stop wasn’t a long one and soon we were heading off for Castellfollit de la Roca, a place which had been recommended to us by the chap manning reception at the campsite. Thanks to the power of t’internet, it’s rare that we find ourselves going somewhere without any prior knowledge of where we can park, but it seemed at first glance that the scant information I had for this place was duff, as the car park we found looked like it was reserved for customers of the nearby bar. In the end it took us three passes through the town before we found somewhere suitable to leave Colin (by which time Mick was thinking about having a sense of humour failure and I was feeling like I was getting to know the locals so well that I should wave at them as we passed).

The little that I had read about Castellfollit mentioned that the old town is positioned on the edge of basalt cliffs, but initially we couldn’t see that feature. It turned out the reason for our failure to see was the blinding sun being right in our eyes when we looked in the right direction. After a spot of lunch followed by a circuit of Walking Route #13, the sun had moved sufficiently that I could manage a snap in which you can at least make out the cliffs and the town, even if not the detail:

Before we got to that point we had walked up to and through the town (which really does perch precariously on the edge of that 50m cliff), and had admired the views from the viewpoint to the left of the church (as you look at it in the above snap):

On our way back down to the valley we also stopped so that I could oooh and aaaah at some cute kittens: 

I didn’t notice the sign at the time, which says ‘feral cat feeding point’

The verdict on Castellfollit was that it was a good recommendation, and after our hour or so there (the walking route was only about a mile and a half), onwards we went to Girona, where we were a week and a half ago. It was a town we rather liked, and as it was nearby, has a running route we both liked, and had somewhere we knew we could stay, it made its way into our itinerary for the second time this trip.

We thought that arriving at gone 4pm on a public holiday there would be space in the huge car park, but we were wrong. Instead, we stationed ourselves in a supermarket/cinema car park a short distance away, with the intention of moving later in the evening. However, as darkness started to fall, our car park started filling up too, which: a) made me feel bad that we were taking up four spaces (bad design of car park for larger vehicles; four other motorhomes were doing the same); and b) made me think it was going to be noisy into the night, with people coming and going. We have no idea what was making Girona so popular today (I can find no trace of a town event on the internet) – perhaps it’s just a popular Christmas shopping day? – but it most definitely was busy and getting busier.

Voicing a thought that, maybe, when we couldn’t park in the place we wanted, we should have gone to the official Aire at Quart, just 8km down the road, was followed by swift movement. A minute and a half later, as the evening went from dusk to dark, we hit the road. We got the last motorhome space here, although there would have been two others available if some ignoramus in an oversized vehicle hadn’t parked right across three slots.

Knowing that the car park in Girona starts to fill up at 7am, we will be on our way early tomorrow morning, to make sure we get a space.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Wednesday 7 December – Parc Natural de la Zona Volcanica (near Olot)

Where’s Colin? He’s still at Camping La Fageda to the SE of Olot.

After a bit of dithering on the subject this morning, the decision was made to stay another night at Camping La Fageda. Whilst our pitch is in amongst the season pitches, filled with caravans and awnings that look like they’ve not been moved for a decade or more, it’s quite a nice site with good facilities. Plus, with the benefit of electricity, it will allow us to stay in the area tonight without needing to worry about the temperature dipping down to freezing (we can leave the mini oil filled radiator on low, which won’t wake us up, unlike Colin’s blown air gas heating).

With the need to tell the campsite of our desire for another night, and with reception not opening until 10am, we couldn’t get out for our walk as early as we would have liked. Probably not a bad thing, as by the time we did get out the sun was starting to warm the day a little. The route, advertised as being 10km, worked out as about 13km for us, in part because we included the optional extra of visiting the crater of Volan de Margarida, in part because we walked to the start of the circuit from the campsite and in a further part because the official length of 10km is an undermeasurement.


Elevenses in the crater, with the frozen ground steaming behind us.


Looking down to the church inside of the crater

I’ve written more detail (like the dog who tried her hardest to adopt us) about the walk on t’other blog, at M&G Go For A Walk, so I’ll not repeat myself here.

Having failed to take our late start into account in terms of the amount of food required, and having failed to replace the emergency pack of biscuits, which usually lives in my daysack, after we ate the originals a couple of weeks ago, the first priority when we got back to Colin was a sizeable lunch, after which I could have happily had a snooze, but instead a trip into the local town was called for.

Usually we don’t consider it a faff at all to pack everything away in order to drive somewhere. Generally, we do it at least once a day and thus the inside of Colin is usually kept in good, tidy order and we can be packed and ready to roll within a couple or three minutes. Today, however, it did seem a faff (maybe because we were only popping out, then to return to the same place), but the need for bread and milk and the lack of any shops nearby dictated that we had to stir ourselves.

Into Olot we went, hitting it mid-siesta when it was nearly as dead as a dead thing. Bar a couple of interesting buildings (which, in reviewing today’s photos, I note that I didn’t even bother to snap), I can’t say that the bit we saw grabbed us. We may pop back tomorrow to the main park, which also houses the botanical gardens, although if we do our main objective will be to find somewhere suitable for a jogette.

In the meantime we shall spend another night being frivilous with having the lights on, and watching another film :-).

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Tuesday 6 December – Vic and (somewhere near) Olot

Where’s Colin? He’s at Camping La Fageda, which sits in between Olot and Santa Pau in a volcanic natural park. It’s €17 a night (with an ACSI card) including electric and wifi. It’s the first time this trip we’ve had both of those features simultaneously!

We came to realise late last night, when I ventured out to empty the washing up water at the service point*, that the Aire that we believed to be free (per our All the Aires guide) now has a €5/night charge. We opted not to pay, which may seem to go against my rant of a couple of weeks ago, about fee-avoiders, but in this case there was a payment machine that said we didn’t need to pay (due to the time and it being a public holiday) in one place, then implied that maybe we did, via a little slip of paper selotaped over the ‘per hour’ charges (the machine had obviously been intended for/taken from a short-stay car park). We opted to interpret it that the ‘free on public holidays’ notice prevailed over the €5 per night slip of paper.

Not wanting to push our interpretation too far, we moved this morning to a huge, free car park which happened also to be at least five minutes, on foot, nearer to town. There were five other vehicles in that car park when we arrived, but even though it was quiet, it was wide open and felt safe enough, so off we toddled into town.

It turned out that not only had we hit the town of Vic on a public holiday, but it was also the day of the weekly market in the main square and also the last day of the annual medieval market. The latter turned out to be a huge affair. As we later came to realise, it’s also hugely popular.

We may not have been able to appreciate the town itself, as every street in the old town, along the river and some streets in the more modern town, were taken up with the medieval market, which detracted from what lay behind the stalls. However, it was all good fun, with the stalls being kitted out to look old, the wares on sale being mainly appropriate(ish) to the era (i.e. no plastic toys or modern technology), and most of the stall-holders being in appropriate dress. There was many a monk and fair maiden seen serving the public.


Coming across the first stall barbecuing sausages, Mick couldn’t resist and, on the basis that neither of us has any ability with the Catalan language, I nominated Mick to do his own ordering. It wasn’t an easy interchange and thus somehow, despite being only 10am, he came away with not just a foot-long hot-dog, but also a cup of beer:



medieval camp by the river, with archery practice ongoing

Unsurprisingly at such a big gathering, there were plenty of food stalls and later, as we made our way along the river, I succumbed to some patates braves (or, in Spanish, patatas bravas – chunky square chips with a spicy sauce). Along that section of town we came to realise that as well as the stalls and stallholders being in character, there were also other period characters making their way around the town:



What a gorgeous day we had for it too, even if it was a bit nippy when out of the sun (it was 9 degrees in Colin when we awoke, so it probably got down to between 3 and 5 degrees outside overnight):


After a couple of hours or so the crowds had become so dense that it was becoming frustrating to move around, and by then we felt like we’d seen all there was to see, so off we went back to Colin. 


A quieter section, where the blacksmiths’ stalls were set up, complete with fires, bellows, hammers and anvils and with absolutely no personal safety equipment whatsoever

People were still flocking into the already-crowded town as we walked out. There were cars everywhere and we arrived back at our car park to find it beyond full. I’m sure that there was great excitement amongst the circulating cars as we vacated our space, which had been taken before we got to the exit.

Feeling the need for electricity (even my Kindle was threatening to shut down mid book due to lack of power), we set the SatNav for a campsite, but with an intermediate waypoint of a petrol station, as Colin’s trip computer was now refusing to report any ‘miles to empty’ (it does that when it gets below 30 miles, as I learnt earlier in the year when I played chicken with the fuel gauge on the way back from the Lake District). Unfortunately, the SatNav can be a bit hit and miss as to when and where it considers you’ve met your intermediate waypoint and today it was so close to our starting point that it didn’t bother taking us there. By the time we realised, there was no way we were turning back, as the queues of traffic to get into Vic were something to behold. That medieval market really is a major event!

Google helped us out to find another nearby station and Colin’s tank was filled at a cost €8 higher than it would have been if we hadn’t had our refuelling fail yesterday. Predictably, on arrival in Olot we then passed another cheap station. Hey ho.

Much charging** of gadgets has gone on this afternoon, as well as a brief walk up the road to scope out the potential for a walk in this area tomorrow. Provided that the weather plays nicely, it’ll be an outing up to one of the local volcanoes. 

(*as I’ve mentioned before Colin’s grey water draining design is the worst ever conceived; it’s generally much quicker to walk to a drain than to put water down the sink then later have to drain it from the tank at a rate of about one teaspoonful per fortnight (I may be exaggerating slightly on the slowness, but it is poor)

**Finally locating our allocated pitch at the campsite, we searched and failed to find a nearby electric hook-up point. Eventually we gave up and went back to reception to ask. Silly us. We should have known that we were looking for the end of an extension lead, secreted within the foliage of the bush that separates our pitch from the neighbouring one (and I’m not exaggerating that description; that’s exactly how and from where our electric is being supplied.).

Monday, 5 December 2016

Monday 5 December - Montserrat and Vic

Where’s Colin? He's at an Aire in Vic.

We didn't end up spending last night in the station coach park, but not because anybody told us we couldn't park there. Rather, it was the arrival of five car loads of boy racers, just as we were about to go to bed. They didn't just arrive, but decided that, of all of the huge area, right next to us was where they wanted to be.

Huge coach park! Photo taken when we returned today.

They were of no threat to us, being far too busy taking photos of their cars (getting cloths out and cleaning bits of paintwork at times), revving their engines and listening to music. It was the latter two activities that chased us away, not knowing for how long they would continue. Given the options of chancing a disturbed night, or retreating to somewhere we knew we would get a good night's sleep, we opted for retreat and returned to Colònia Güell, where we'd left a few hours earlier. It had been a wasted journey for the second time this trip (the first being our initial foray into The Carmargue a few weeks ago) - and it required a journey in the dark, which is something we avoid.

This morning we fought our way out of Colònia Güell's car park just as the school run was reaching epic levels (they have the local police acting as traffic and crossing wardens for the school run, you know) and pausing only for a supermarket and a petrol station*, back we went to catch our train up to Montserrat.

If, when I'd woken up this morning, I'd known what I know now, then I would have sprung out of bed, not passed go and been back at Monistrol Vila in time to catch the first train up to the Monastery at Montserrat this morning. I realised the error of my belief that a couple or three hours would be long enough up there as soon as we stepped out of the station after our ride up on the rack railway (not funicular as I said yesterday; there are funiculars up there, but it's a rack and pinion to get up there (or cable car, but give me a train any day).

Montserrat is a largely bare, shapely lump of steep-sided rock, standing 1236m high, giving an extremely scenic setting for the monastery which perches on the edge of it, over half way up.

Not only was the monastery and tourist complex much bigger than I'd expected, but the scenery was far more outstanding and the funicular railway that nips you up an extra hundred metres or so from the tourist complex/monastery looked strangely enticing. Had we been earlier we would have taken advantage of the funicular and taken a walk up to the mountain's summit.

As it was, we spent a while moseying and visiting a few viewpoints available within the tourist complex...

so many big views!

...before cramming our sandwiches down and heading off to the basilica for the daily performance of the (apparently) world famous boys' choir, belonging to a choral school established in the 14th century. It was only a ten minute performance, which made it incredible that so many people, after clicking away taking photos and videos, with no cares about blocking the view of those behind them, couldn't spare the time to stay for the duration. So rude!

Not taken during the choir performance!

With the summit being beyond the time available to us today, we made do with a couple of short out-and-back walks. The second one, to a cross-bearing viewpoint was particularly worthwhile (although the first route, down to the chapel built where the long-AWOL Black Virgin icon was finally found, also featured some fine views).

At quarter past three we called it a day and headed back down to Colin, finding time for a quick look at the exhibit on the history of the railway and a cup of tea before we headed off to our next stop, in Vic.

There is another place I would have liked to have visited for a day on the way, but our LPG level was such that we thought we needed to refill and that caused us to beeline to Vic. (Of course, when we filled up we discovered we still had the best part of 4 litres of gas left; with one exception, it has always been the case that we err on the side of caution and find we had more left than we thought.)

We arrived at the Aire just before dusk and there were already quite a few vans here. More have arrived since and, last I looked all bar two were Spanish. It's only since our arrival that I've discovered that both tomorrow and Thursday are national holidays, which no doubt explains why so many people are out in their motorhomes. Good job we did that grocery shop today, leaving us just in (desperate) need of diesel tomorrow.

*We stopped at that particular fuel station because diesel was 99c/litre. It turned into a refuelling fail. We concluded that we needed to pay in advance, which is always a pain as it requires guesswork as to the quantity of fuel that will fit in the tank, followed by the need to communicate badly in a language I don't speak. Had I realised how low we actually were on fuel, I would have made more effort, as we now find ourselves with a range of 50 miles and only know of expensive fuel stations nearby.

(Note: I'm pretty sure I've missed some photos and got others in the wrong places in this post but don't have the will to check and put it right just now.)

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Sunday 4 December - Colònia Güell and Monistrol Vila (Montserrat)

Where’s Colin? He's in the bus/coach park at Monistrol Vila funicular station, where he will stay tonight unless anyone comes along and tells us we're not allowed to be here. It's a huge area and, at its peak, since we arrived, there were four coaches here.

I would describe Colònia Güell as being, in concept, to Barcelona a bit like what Bournville is to Birmingham. In 1890 a chap called Eusebio Güell decided to build workers' housing around his textile mill. In so doing, he created the place known as Colònia Güell, and also gave his workers social conditions better than those of the average mill worker.

He then commissioned Gaudi to design the parish church and whilst it wasn't a project that was completed (because Güell pulled the funding), it was the element that ensured that over 100 years later the place would become a tourist attraction.

The attractions for us were twofold: 1) it sounded like a place with interesting buildings, worth a stroll around; and, more importantly, 2) it has a free Aire.

We could have parked there for free for the couple of days, walked a few minutes down to the train station and been in the centre of Barcelona within 25 minutes. We opted not to do that, and thus used the Aire for the purpose for which it was provided: for visitors to Colònia Güell itself. Or, perhaps we didn't do quite as the town wanted, as we didn't pay €7 a head for the audio tour of the town and for access to Gaudi's church. We did, however, walk around the town, with the aid of a photo of the map information sign provided in the car park and with the little information about each point of interest provided on the town website. It didn't take long, but it did feature some eye catching buildings:

The last snap is of the church. I might have managed a better shot if the building wasn't so comprehensively surrounded by fencing, to keep the non-fee-payers away.

Having been too scared of the thought of going for a run in Barcelona (far too many side streets and I'm only just getting to grips with which way to look when crossing the road), just before lunch I donned my Ron Hills and accepted that my outing was going to be hillier than I would like. Arriving back red in the face and glowing nicely, off went Mick to do the same route (going separately meant we didn't have to carry two sets of keys and passports with us, the two things we don't leave unattended). The difference was that whereas I had a nice bright outing, Mick got caught in a monsoonal downpour. Dripping doesn't start to describe his state when he returned and thus Colin is now doubling up as a drying room.

We might easily have whiled away the afternoon with our books, but at about 3pm decided to stir ourselves to move on - a decision largely influenced by our lack of power in our phones and back-up batteries, some of which would temporarily be alleviated by driving somewhere. Running Colin's heater at full blast whilst driving was also going to help with the drying out of running gear, even if it was only a half hour drive.

And so now we sit looking at a big-lump-of-largely-bare-rock sort of a mountain, or, at least the lower reaches which aren't covered in cloud. I took a wander when we arrived and had a quick shufty at the exhibition about the funicular railway, but decided to leave the detail until tomorrow, when we plan to take a ride up to Montserrat. Alas, the forecast doesn't suggest we're going to benefit from views.