Thursday, 7 June 2018

Day 22-25 Blois, Orlean - The End

I will try and load some pictures of Chambord and Chenonceaux when I post this so you may want to go back to those. We had stopped at the Aire in Chambord it was all of 100mtrs from the Chateau and we had reached the end of our journey, but we still had over a week available to tour. We decided to move on to Blois and also Orleans, these being the nearest significant cities. The Aire at Blois was in the town centre (47.58653, 1.32641) and looked reasonable. It turned out to be very convenient and also had free water and WiFi (which unfortunately couldn't handle my picture upload)  
The day was spent wandering round the sights of the town which had a pleasant feel, while not being spectacular. We decided not to visit the Chateau in the day time but to sign up for the Son et Lumiere.  The weather was being a little unkind with squally rain showers through the day and the thought of standing in the Chateau courtyard at 10:30 in the evening to watch a light show when the chance of rain was predicted at 60%  seemed to cross the line between bravery and foolhardiness.  However not to be deterred we armed ourselves with umbrella and ponchos and set out. Better prepared than most present, the heavens did not prevail, and it stayed dry for what was a splendid display with quite remarkable graphics and scenes from the history of the Chateau.
The rain did come shortly after we got back to the van and it continued into the next day. We planned to visit a special set of gardens in Orleans and as we were parked up almost next to the station we had already purchased train tickets for the trip. (40 minute train ride 3 stops £9.20 return each, in a train that was new and comfortable with nice wide seats and plenty of legroom - and a luggage rack that could take a cabin bag. All built by a French company for the state owned French railways).  We changed our plans to suit the weather and instead had a meal; visited the cathedral and the Musee of Beaux Arts. (I wonder if the have a Musee of Mauvais Arts? Perhaps they just call it Moderne Art) It was interesting with many good paintings however some where hung too high, ie 3mtrs up the wall and the direct lighting reflected off the varnish gloss finish on many of the paintings so they had to be viewed from an angle. However we did see a statue of Venus (with arms added,) it had been recovered from Pouzzoli, a site we had visited in Italy.  There were many fine works of art and it is quite amazing how small flecks of light paint can bring a dress to life or make jewellery sparkle.

Today (Day 24) we have moved north to a pleasant little ACSI site (48.285793, 1.227831) as we start our return. The plan for the next couple off days is to visit Evereux tomorrow and night stop in the town  before moving on to visit Monet’s Garden on Saturday and staying on a Cidre Farm.  It will be an Aire by the side of the Seine on Sunday and one of our favourite aires, Montville on Monday before Boating home on Tuesday evening. This will be our last post this trip, although I will add some photos when we get decent Wifi. (Which will probably coincide with the Canadian GP, funny old thing!) Bon Journee.

The Son et Lumiere

The Tower, before above and lit below.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Day 17 - 21. Chenonceau - Chambord

Well times flies when you are enjoying yourselves, an bloggs don't get written.  Moulin Fort was not one of our original planned locations for our stop but among other failings I have one is to belong to the Hymer’s Owners Group (known as HOGs) on facebook. It was quite conicindetnal that earlier in the year we had been camping at Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire when a fellow members (Denise & Ken) rolled up in a Hymer Car very similar to ours, even down to the same colour. They also being HOG members we got chatting to find that they also planned to visit the Loire in May/June. But they were going down the Loire while we would be going up. 
So just before we set off for Chenonceau we had news that they were already in place at Moulin Fort, We very kindly warned them that we would join them there and this was their last chance to move quickly, they didn't so we met up again.

Having settled for a leisurely day we found time to read the camp site notices. One advertised a BBQ and musical evening while another advertised a walk through local vineyards both events on the Friday. Friday was supposed to be Chateau day, but another change of plan, we would do the walk and BBQ Friday and Chateau on Saturday that meant staying on for another two days. Moulin Fort is run by an English family, Sarah & John who were celebrating 16 years of ownership and also the fact that their youngest daughter was leaving the junior school this year to go onto secondary school. In “celebration” of these events they were doing a full English breakfast for the pupils parents and staff of their daughters school with campers also invited.  Who can resist full English?  
But I jump ahead. Having had an initial chat with Denise and Ken on arrival we spent some time  the following evening putting the world to rights and swapping camping stories and sampling their Gin and our wine purchased at our recent France Passion stop, before they left the next day to carry on downstream.
I am not sure I have ever been on a site with so many UK vans, many of whom stay for a month or more and also return year after year. They obviously pick up friendships where they left  off the previous year but there were no exclusive groups everyone was made very welcome. It is perhaps best to describe it as a campsite in France rather than a French campsite, but for all that it was lovely and we had a great time. The walk, about 7 miles took us through the surrounding countryside, vineyards and lanes. With Sarah who was leading passing on interesting local knowledge. The BBQ in the evening was a great event with the music provided by a family, Father, Sone and Daughter. The Daughter had a great voice with a touch of the Joni Mitchell’s while the two men accompanied on guitars, Music was varied and the evening went with a swing.
Saturday’s Breakfast was also great fun. With my almost non existent French (I Only do nouns and most of those are types food!)  It could have been a disaster, however, we ended upo sitting with soem teachers, one of whom taught English and so we had a great time talking about inconsequential things like the correct way to hang the Union Jack (thick white stripe at the bottom) which was fine until we said that if hung upside down on a ship it indicated the ship was in. Distress. Unfortunately one of our company mis understood ship and thought sheep! Its easily done with a French accent. On the way into breakfast I couldn’t resist the “one egg is n’ouef” joke, fortunately that was one joke that translated reasonably well into French.
Again it was a very pleasant time, a good chance to meet some interesting local people and enjoy good food and company.
But eventually the Chateau called.
By good fortune we arranged out itinerary the right way round. Our first chateau was Saumur which was pleasant but nothing spectacular. They have however got better and better as we have gone along. The gardens at Villandry, the setting and English like surrounds of Azay, the location and the very simple gardens of Ambois the bridge like construction  of Chenonceaux, until finally  we came to Chambord. Claimed to be second only to Versailles it is certainly a magnificent building in size and proportion helped somewhat by the fact that it was built from the start as a Chateau not converted from a castle. It is possibly the only building designed by Leonardo Da Vinci. It appears incredibly complex with its 400 rooms but in reality it is a very simple idea replicated four times to form a floor plan and then that is replicated three times to form the three floors. At the heart of the building is a large double spiral staircase with one intertwined with the other like a DNA helix. Two people can climb the stairs at the same time but never meet each other. Because it bears strong similarities to designs of Leonardo it is believed he at least designed it. A great effort had also been made to furnish the place with original period pieces, In some places rooms had been returned to their original style and purpose in other case they had been left as modified in later generations.  The building itself was a splendid structure with an elaborate roof and a gallery that ran all the way round. It was set on the river Indre which had been diverted and canalised (is there such a word?) to form a moat and water feature stretching 2km into the distance.

I could go on and bore you with lots of information about the various kings queens, dukes and counts who built, lived in, fought over each of the 6 we visited but It was all so confusing I am not sure I really understood it myself. What you do realise is that Intrigue was rife, wealth was power, no one liked the English, although half were related or married to some English personage, anf half the so called English were of French descent anyway. And what the religious wars between Protestants and Catholics didn't destroy the revolution did.  Finally France like Germany as a united country had not existed for very long in relative terms and their history shows the damage that occurs when small states “bicker.” Britain has of course remained aloof from this which is perhaps why we struggle with the EU.



Thursday, 31 May 2018

Day 15 & 16. Azay and Ambois

All plans only last until the first battle ours lasted longer than that but the idea of Chateaux on consecutive days ended a couple of days ago. The change came about because we hadn't got Azay or to give it its full title, Château d'Azay-le-Rideau (situated on the river Indre, not the Loire) on our list of places to visit. This would have been a bit of an error because it is worth a trip. 
Situated in pleasant grounds it is a splendid building surrounded by water and the reflections add to the charm of the place. Although this was the site of a previous fort it has been built as a stately home rather than being converted from a castle as in the case of Villandry and Saumur. A significant feature is the main staircase which rises the three stories above the entrance it breaks from the more usual spiral staircase found in most early chateaux in that it has what the guide book describes as three Twin Bay Logias opening onto the courtyard. Imagine a flight of steps onto a landing that has two large openings (windowless, so open to the elements) looking out onto the courtyard before ascending another set of steps up to the next floor. The opening are elaborately carved on the outside. Again it was sparsely furnished with some period pieces but there were a fine collection of 16th & 17th century tapestries. 
There was also an interesting display of Automatons. Mechanical toys. Which included a small theatre that had changing scenes and moving characters. And a table laid out with a variety of objects that variously rotated, opened up or had moving parts. It is difficult to describe but one example was a golden ball decorated with vegetables that split open in the middle to reveal a cabbage which when it rotated revealed a face on the other side. Having gone through 360 degrees it then closed down.These objects did make up for the lack of furnishings and provided some greater interest.
We didn't fancy the Aire in Azay and the car park did not allow overnight camping so we decided that we needed to move on. As our cellar was empty it seemed a good opportunity to visit a France Passion site situated in a vineyard (Chateau d’Nitray 47.34125, 0.89439) France Passion sites are free for overnight stays mainly on farms and vineyards but also restaurants and some other places. Some provide facilities but we usually think of them as overnight parking places. In pleasant surroundings. And so it was, a large grassed flat area overlooking the rows of vines with country side beyond. Free camping is a relative term. While there is no charge, stopping in a vineyard has its temptations. And so after a pleasant evening of wine tasting we purchased a few bottles of drinkable wine at a reasonable price. (We could have stayed on an ACSI site for two days for that money! However, we would still have bought wine in the supermarket so...)
We are doing short hops so the following day we moved on to Ambois a proper Loire Chateau.
Previously we had noted that at all the Chateaux we have visited there had been specific parking for camper vans and generally parking was free. (Entry fees have been in the region of 10-11 euros) Ambois broke that rule. There was plenty of free parking for cars but Camper van parking was only really available in what was a gate controlled Aire and it was looking expensive. We ended up driving out of town a bit and parking in the street. 
Ambois is another converted castle.and had been enlarged by, and become the home of Louis XI and CharlesVIII. Once richly furnished in the Italian style  It had a chequered history also serving as a prison as well as having various parts destroyed and some rebuilt. 
It was internally an impressive building very decorated with some interesting features notably the magnificent Hall of State and The Chapelle St Hubert which houses what is purported to be the resting place of Leonardo da Vinci who died at Ambois. Part of the route through the chateau took you into the loft where the magnificent 16th century roof beams were lit to great effect showing the incredible skill of those ancient builders and carpenters. One of the towers of the castle had been built with a wide internal spiral ramp (like a multi story car park) that had allowed horsemen and carters to ride up to the castle from the streets below. The ramp spirals round an empty core which allows light and aire in to the tower.
The gardens had their own distinctive style the main feature being box hedging being clipped into balls and displayed in rows, simple but remarkable effective offering a great variety of perspectives being both regular and formal but also cloud like, depending on your standpoint.  I was impressed and suggested it as a planting plan for our front garden on our return. The idea has been vetoed!
Other high spots of Ambois were firstly the Chocolat Grande Mere. Grand mother’s chocolate with orange. Delicious. And the entertainment provided by a group of touring English Morris dancers with their own band.
I am not sure the French could work them out, they seemed to be unsure if they were a comedy act or serious folk dancers but they gave a hearty round of applause as they danced out to the music of the Floral Dance.

It was another short drive to our overnight stop this time on an ACSI site at Moulin Fort, back  on the river Cher and just 4 km from our next Chateau Chenonceau. But first we are having a lazy day of typing up bloggs, reading and having a lunch BBQ because it looks like the afternoon rain will be with us again today

Monday, 28 May 2018

Day 11-14 Saumur & Villandry

Day 11 & 12 saw us moving on to Saumur. Our first Chateau town. We approached the Aire we had chosen with some trepidation it claimed to be a site for 60 vans and we wondered how tight things would be and how ‘industrial’ it turned out to be a very nice site a large circular road gave plenty of spaces in the centre and on the outside. It was set in an open wood and had free water and waste disposal. All for 6 euros a night plus local tax of 1.50 euros. It was on the banks of the Loire and there was a cycle track on the edge of the site that took you into Saumur which was 2.5 miles away. (as long as you peddled!) 
We enjoyed the ride into town and a leisurely lunch by the river before cycling up hill (very Steep) to the Chateau. A fine building with an interesting history but apart from its dominant location not particularly distinctive. 
returning back to the van we decided that the weather forecast was no accurate as the promised rain was not to be seen until we looked behind us. The black clouds spoke of one thing, rain. A frantic two minutes of stowing and covering the bikes, pulling in the awning packing the chairs and table ensued before the heavens opened but not before a mighty wind struck. Which threatened to bring the trees down upon us as it was we we attacked by a deluge of leaves and small twigs. Lightning struck a near by tree severing a branch but we remained unscathed. In hindsight it would have been wiser to have moved to open ground sooner than we did. 
Apart from some rain later we passed an uneventful night and set off the next day (day 13)  for Villandry. Our stop here would again be for two nights. We are following. A pattern of arrive one day Chateau the next and then move on. This time we were on an ACSI site as we needed washing machine, it was dhobi day. The site (La Confluence 1936) is again about 4km from Villandry with a cycle path along the river Cher which joins the Loire at Villandry, hence the campsite name! It was a gentle drive of just over 30 miles but it still justified a stop for coffee. Without paying too much attention to the sat nav we stopped at a village alongside the river after about an hours driving When we continued our journey we were all 350 metres from the camp site by road but going along the cycle path we were all of 100metres away.

Day 14. We are camped (N47.349722, E0.55) about 4km from our next Chateau. We are in the village of Savonnieres on the River Cher (see Picture) near the confluence with the Loire. The whole area is richly served with cycle paths void of motor vehicles and so it was a very pleasant ride from our camp site to Villandry.  
Villandry, what can one say? There are ornamental gardens and then there is Villandry. Goodness knows how many miles of box hedge there are and then in the geometric beds there are veggies planted to make a pattern so we had grey leeks, red lettuce, green parsley, grey broad beans all arranged in decorative shapes. Now far be it for me to criticise but they do waste a lot of space with paths and hedges. And then it looks splendid until the cook comes out and plucks up a couple of lettuces, a cabbage or two and a few leeks and the pattern rapidly looks moth eaten. Then there is the cutting of the hedges. We watched carefully as a team of men gave the box a short back and sides with the clippers. Exceptionally square razor sharp edges and absolutely even a true flat top. As we watched them wield there power trimmers from their hips we realised that to be a gardener at Villandry you must be an exact height. Too tall and your hedge is higher than everyone else's, to short and your hedge is lower and the whole symmetry is ruined. Chris’s main concern was that I would return home and want to make an ornamental veg patch, I don't think so. While the gardens are to be admired it was the more English style of the Sun Garden that we found most pleasant mainly because of the variety of planting.
The house itself was interesting having been a family home until recently. What you note about the  Chateaux so far is that compared with English stately homes they are in poor condition with limited furnishings and they do not have such elaborate decoration. You realise that the ravages of revolution and war have taken their toll on the properties we have seen to date It will be interesting to see what others have to offer.
Tomorrows another day and we move on all of 13km but I wont spil the surprise by telling you where!

Friday, 25 May 2018

Day 8-10. Dinan - St Nazaire

Our next port of call after Le Vey was to head into Brittany. Again we chose the back roads despite taking it at a gentle pace we arrived at the aire in  Dinan (48.454249, -2.038282) just after lunch. The Aire was at the end of the port road and under the viaduct which towered over us some 100mtrs above. Our timing was perfect for a late lunch and the planned walk round the town.
Dinan is is an old town built within the walls of a fort.  It is overlooking the river and the port and was the home of Jean le Bon (John the Good.) The hero of the hour was Bertrand du Geusclin (1315-80) not a popular figure in court because he was middle aged, modest ancestry, lack of means and was of exceptionally ugly appearance. Apart from that he had everything going for him. However he was a notable warrior and had an implacable hatred of the English thus he became very popular. 
Having climbed up from the river side we found that Dinan inside the walls had narrow cobbled streets with overhanging buildings dating around the 15th century (sort of Carcassonne of the North). It was a really pleasant little place with lots to enjoy. In addition at the bottom of the steep descent from the main gate lay the port of Dinan a semi pedestrian area lined with cafes and a pleasant view of the river Rance.
The plan was to move on the following morning as the Aire had no facilities (we were fortunate enough to find the end space vacant so we did have a small green and shady tree as our plot.) however the lady in Tourist Information recommended we have a look at Lahon which was just up the road. So having spent the night in Dinan (which incidentally had a strange charging system for parking) we moved onto Lanvallay which was the other side of the gorge from Dinan, just 1 mile away) The aire was free and charged €2 for water (48.454201, -2.030195) it was set down the end of a quiet residential area opposite a sports field. I just cant imagine any quiet residential road in uk providing a purpose built parking space for 5 camper vans and laying on facilities.
The problem with rivers like the Rance that run through deep gorges is that climbs in and out of  the gorge tend to be steep. Going down is okay but what goes down....
It was downhill all the way to Lahon this old village is set around the old Franciscan Abbey, it was a most peaceful place with the gardens clearly having been neglected but now were being re planted.  An orchard of apple trees each one a different variety, and a row of different vines were the obvious additions
The monastery had seen a chequered history and like many such places had passed from the churches hands into the public sector and then been sold off at about the time of the revolution.
The village itself was a mixture of old buildings and cobbled streets again a very pleasant little spot that was slightly distanced from the new area of Lahon. It was then a gentle walk alongside the river back to Dinan Port in time for a late lunch in one of the riverside cafes before the climb back up the hill to Lanvallay.
Day 10 saw us moving on. Our aim this trip is to do some Chateaux on the Loire so that is the way we headed, and there was now better place to start than the river mouth. Thus we find ourselves in St Nazaire. Labeled as The City by the Sea. The guide book offers very little other than a brief mention that it served as a German U boat base during the war. The legacy is a massive concrete structure housing 14 individual submarine pens. The external walls, the walls that separated each pen are reinforced concrete nearly 3mtrs thick and the roof is about 8 mtrs thick.. It is about 300mtrs long and 130 mtrs wide and stands about 18mtrs high. To think that it was built between Feb 1940 and June 1942 it is quite and amazing feat. It is certainly not going to be demolished in a hurry. Its purpose was to provide service facilities for the Uboats and Battleships to avoid them travelling up the English Channel. The docks also provided a crucial dry dock facility for the German Naval battleships. 

Operation Chariot was another wartime op where a small force of allied troops played a significant role in defending and protecting our nation, this time in reducing the threat to the wartime convoys. In March 1942 a Naval team and British Commandos launched an attack on the dry dock . HMS Cambletown, a decommissioned destroyer, was reworked to look like a German Destroyer and explosives were hidden in the hull. It sailed into the Loire estuary and rammed the gates of the dry dock smashing them open and filling the dock the crew then made their escape. At the same time teams of Commandos were landed to destroy prot facilities. Unfortunately the support/escape vessels had come under enemy fire and been destroyed not surprisingly as they were under the noses of one of the most heavily guarded harbours in France. Two hours after the ramming and when the team were clear of the ship Cambeltown exploded destroying the dry dock. The operation was a success and the German Navy were denied Atlantic dry dock facilities for the rest of the war. Of the 622 men who were on the raid 168 lost their lives and 215 were taken as POWs. 5 Victoria Crosses were awarded along with several other awards for bravery. 

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Day 2,3,4 & 5 Clécy & Le Vey

Day 2 was a gentle drive of about 80 miles to the Suisse Normande region of Normandy, it shares its location between the Calvados and Orne regions. It has acquired  its name not because  of its snow capped peaks but because its healthy climate resembles that found in  Switzerland (but cheaper and easier for Parisiennes to access.  There are also some geographic features reminiscent of Switzerland, especially where the rover Orne has cut some deep gorges.
The drive to our present location was through back roads (not too narrow  and with the odd exception very smooth and pothole free) unpopulated with traffic and through picture postcard scenery of rolling hills meadows full of wild flowers and cows lying peacefully chewing the cud. No single picture can really captured the attractive nature of the landscape. We were a little surprised at the countryside because previously we have travelled slightly more inland and found the countryside to be rather uninteresting (boring) until are well past Rouen. 
Our destination was Clécy, some 8km south of Thury-Harcourt. (It is named after the Harcourt family and I need to google it to see if it the same family that gave the name to Stanton Harcourt in UK?
Our night stop was an Aire (48.918784, -0.480816) that overlooked some pleasant country side.
We arrived at lunch time and so after a leisurely lunch we set off to find the notable attraction that Clécy had in store for us. It was a model railway (yawn)  infact it was quite a magnificent railway, all 350sq mtrs of it.complete with fairground, camp site, harbour, house on fire and many other features. The hills and mountains were wire mesh and hessian with 2 tonnes of plaster! 13km of wiring 14-16 trains run at once and there are 240 engines and 400 carriages and 5000 pine trees. To creat the impression of distance three different scales were used so things at the back appeared smaller. It was impressive with simulated night running when the whole layout was illuminated with mini street lights etc. Chris who is singularly nonplussed by such novelties as model trains but is willing to indulge me in my boyish moments, was actually quite impressed.

Day 3   The following day (Friday) we moved on to Le Vey some 2km away to an ACSI site for the weekend. We felt like putting out our chairs and doing the relaxing camp site stuff. 
Strange things happen when you travel. The site was pretty well booked up so our decision to come in the morning proved good. (The area attracts cycling, water sports and climbing parties) we were shown the vacant spot. Low and behold next to an almost identical van to ours, a Gold Ducato Brit registered, however, it wasn't a Hymer. The couple Pete and June (Reg P10JUN) come from Southampton. (Which reminds me of the taxi firm we booked that sent a driver from Southampton to Heathrow because they thought Northampton was just north of Southampton)
The site we are on is on the banks of the river Orne and is very pleasant. It sits alongside a green way which is a cycle/walking path. Eventually the plan is to provide a bespoke path for walkers and cyclists from the coast (English Cannel) through Caen and down to La Rochelle a distance of about 700km. At the moment where the path is not complete the local road is used and designated as part of the route.
The stretch that runs past our camp site follows the route of a disused railway line, the tarmac path that has been laid is billiard table smooth. It provided a useful run for me as it is only gentle hills (trains, like me, don't do steep hills) as the down line track is still in place I felt i was doing an impression of puffing billie as I ran alongside.  Being a glutton for punishment the afternoon was spent on the bike riding to the village of St Remy 7km away. 

Day 4 was singularly unexciting and included much the same good exercise which meant the odd Crepe (and beer)was permitted especially as  the route we walked was known as the “Route de Crepe” it would have been churlish not to sample the wares. 
Needless to say the weather has been sunny but then it has been like that in UK so we cant be smug about that can we?

Day 5 just to stop you getting bored for day 5 read day 3 & 4. Not for the first time we notice the behaviour of the local natives. As previously mentioned they appear to form walking cycling climbing groups as they congregate together they form the human version of Australian bird life, like the Cockatoos and Flaming Galas, they all talk loudly to each other all at the same time. Then just like the birds they take off enmass and peace descends leaving us Brits to get on with brushing our mats (P10JUN) and pegging out our washing whirly.
Having waived goodbye to our neighbours, we set about some domestics. Before lunching and setting off to cycle to Thury Harcourt. Some 8 miles away, along the train track highway. A very pleasant ride there and back not to taxing gradient wise. The reward was a riverside crepe and beer when we returned. Sitting supping we watched the folk in the pedalos that were for hire just down the river bank.  
Experience tells me that pedalling a pedalo is not dissimilar to riding a camel. This may surprise you because the two are nothing like each other, however they share one common feature. You book an half hour ride and after 15 minutes you wish you had only booked 10 minutes. However you are now far from the end point and so you have to persevere with the torture. There seemed no contest between viewing the river and its pleasant scenery sitting at a table eating crepes and drinking beer as opposed to peddling up and down just wishing the time would past.
As today is Whit Weekend and all of France have Monday off we will probably stay on another night here before moving on to Dinan, our next must visit site.

Now for some pictures of model trains, the green way and the river

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

France Here We Come

We are off on our travels again. This time to France. We have often been intent on travelling south and seeking sunny climesthat we have thrashed through many regions we should have explored,. One being the Loire. So that is thew plan, weather permitting. If it ain’t sunny we ain’t staying.
Tuesday saw us amazingly organised, no last minute panic everything in place and ready to go. So much so that I even had time to take the van, fully loaded, to the weigh bridge. Our max all up weight is 3300kg. We cam in at 3220kg. Without Chris on board. Its a good job she weighs less than 80 kilos, I might have had to leave her behind!!!!!
We had a late afternoon ferry and were sailing Newhaven- Dieppe. So we arrived in FRance at 10pm their time.

We knew where the parking was and so within 15minutes of landing we were parked up for the night on the sea front at Dieppe and as the last of the daylight sunk away in the west we had time for a stroll along the prom.

The prom is long and wide and at regular interval is marked out with war memorials for the various units that took part in Operation Jubilee. An Allied Attack on the port of Dieppe which took place in 1942. It was little more than a fishing expedition with various objectives including testing the feasibility of a landing in France as well as testing German defences. Of the 6000+ men landed 60% were killed or captured all this between the 5am landing and 10am retreat. It failed in nearly all its objectives and showed much more preparation was needed before an invasion could be implemented. 

Today Wednesday)  saw us move on unlike previous trips we are going slowly and only doing short distances, so we did 43 miles of back roads to the banks of the Seine and a place called Heurteauville. It was another Aire (Cherry Tree Farm. ) but it was closed. Fortunately there was a France Passion site just down the road a lovely little farm which offered free camping, and the promise of some cider and other provisions.  A visit to the farm shop saw us with a rosie cidre, two large veal burgers, and a pot of honey, all for €12. Which is what the Aire in Dunkirk had cost.
The journey had been quite delightful. Through rolling leafy countryside, small farmsteads, many timbered buildings,  and meadows of wild flowers. Real rustic charm. 

From our site we can see across the Seine and were attracted by what turned out to be a ruined abbey at Jumieges. It wasn't really our intention to visit the abbey as we set off on our bikes for an afternoon ride along the river, however a mile down the road we came across a ferry, so we crossed over and headed to the Abbey. It was a Benedictine establishment, and was the home church of William the Conqueror. It was completed in time for his triumphal return in 1067 after conquering Britain.  Unfortunately, it has suffered at the hands of several generations having been sold off in the revolution and like many UK abbeys the stones were removed and used in local buildings, fortunately enough remains to show what a splendid building it must have been. Fortunately much time and money has been invested in its location and surroundings and it is a must visit site for anyone passing near by. The abbey along with Rouen’s Gothic cathedral are rated as two of France’s most impressive and important historic sights.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Sicily Sortie - Journeying homewards

There is nothing exciting about journeying home, especially when it is a long journey and time is rationed.  We made the decision at the beginning  that the journey to and from Sicily would be 10 days to give us maximum time on the island. After crossing over to the mainland we journeyed to our first night stop at Salice, it is at the instep just before the ball of the foot. The ACSI camp site Thurium Camping (N39.690144, E16.52298) was set among pines and was on the edge of a vast sandy  beach and it looked like the 20 or so vans and caravans had set themselves in for the winter At €13 it was bit of a bargain but it did not look the most exciting place to spend the winter.

However, finding ourselves at the foot of Italy (literally) there were two sites that were worth visiting. The first is Matera. The area known as Sassi is a remarkable world heritage site but previously notorious because of the abject poverty and living conditions of its residents. Basically it is a town of cave dwellings which despite the brick facades remain caves. Because of the appaling conditions and disease the Italian Government removed all the occupants and rehoused them in the new city. 
Since then much work has been done in the area and it has become a tourist attraction. Complete refurbishment has resulted in small shops, B&Bs and hotels in the refurbished caves. 
The ingenuity and the work involved in making not only multi room homes but a water system that conserved rain water for year round use, tunnelled and chiseled from the rocks has to be admired and the complex arrangement of streets makes it a remarkable place. However, there is something uncomfortable that all you see is a sanitised version and one wonders what those who were forcibly moved out of their homes must feel when they see tourists snapping away and how there once miserable dwellings have been transformed.

The second place was somewhere that Mary had learnt about in school and always longed to see in real life.  This too was a quite remarkable town in a totally different style.  Alberobello is renowned because of its stone built, white painted circular houses, complete with conical stone roofs. Fortunately there is a good camp sight in Camper stop book in the heart of the town. N42.96673, E13.87694) (Don't trust sat nav it is no respecter of prohibited entry to camper van signs the only entry is via the roundabout. There are various rates for camper vans depending on your length of stay but 24hrs costs €18 with electricity and water and waste point. For 50cents there is a toilet cassette sanitising machine. You slot your cassette in open the spout and gate valve close the hatch and it empties and cleans the cassette. We did notice it smelt a lot better so it was 50 cents well spent and I didn't get splashed with water. 
Enough of this domestic rubbish. The town itself thrives on its tourist appeal it was inaccurately cleaned, all the houses beautifully painted in white and the stones on the roofs were neatly and closely alighted. The story about the houses is that they were built as a circular room with roof on the lord of the manor’s land. If the tax man came round to asses taxes due, they could easily be pulled down to disguise how affluent the farm really was. As you can imagine the older Trullis (that is what they are called) seen outside of the town did not show such precision or finesse in their finish. 

The town with its 1500 trullis was a very pleasant place and the visit was well worth while however after a morning learning about olive oil and purchasing some unusual balsamic vinegar we set off North.

Monday, 2 October 2017

Sicily Sortie - Cefalu Pictures

Cefalu Cathedral in the evening sun

City Wash House

On the beach in front of the Fisherman's houses

Sicily Sortie - Cefalu and the leaving of Sicily.

Cefalu was our final port of call. Once again it was the Cathedral that was the big draw. In some ways it was a disappointment because compared with the Palatine Chapel and Monreale it was not in good repair however the mosaics were once again incredibly in the apse but were patchy on the side walls of the chancel. The walls of the body of the church were plain and a set of abstract stained glass windows di little to add to building. However, externally it was a splendid 12th century structure in a an attractive setting at the top end of one of the town major piazzas and its location against to cliff face and at the highest point of the city did offer a very attractive site as you approach the city itself.  
It was the 1st Sunday of October and the edge of the city fronts onto to the sea and sandy beaches full of people enjoying the last of the summer sunshine. We have been blessed with sunshine and temperatures in the high 20s and only had one rain storm overnight and a couple of splashes that soon cleared. When possible we have had swims in the sea and it has been warmer than some of the site swimming pools it has to be said.
A couple of other interesting points about Cefalu are the fisherman’s houses that front the harbour and also the old city stone wash houses, fed by a freshwater stream and flowing into the sea. No longer in use I hasten to add.
Our last night we had as meal in the campsite restaurant. Sampling local Sicilian Fare. We had already tried Montalbano’s favourites Arancine.  (Sicily’s answer to the Scotch egg) it is a ball of rice with the centre filled with meat ragu.  A great snack although certain members considered they were a main meal! Also we had sampled Canaloni, a rolled pastry case filled with ricotta and dried fruit. However, One of the specialities of the island is a dish called Pasta Alle Trapanese.  Something I had seen served on one of the TV programmes that featured Sicilian cookery. We missed out on it while in Trapani, the town that gives it its name and I was getting a little desperate, heaven forbid I left the island without tasting it. Then by good fortune while wine tasting at Marsala I found a Sicilian cook book with the recipe. The price seemed a little high at €25 and I therefore have to confess that I photographed the page! The recipe uses 200gm of Basil, 4 garlic cloves, 200 gm of blanched almonds, 100gm of tomatoes and olive oil and pasta.  The first problem I faced was that the Basil, Almonds and garlic are blended to form a paste. We do not have a blender in the van, its remiss I know but there we go. After a lengthy time of chopping we eventually had something resembling a paste, but with lumps. Anyway every one enjoyed what I called “Pasta Alle Trapanese in the style of the camper van drivers husband” Chris had been driving that day. What they said when the went home I have no idea!  Anyway low and behold the restaurant had the dish on the menu so I had to try it. Well would you believe it. It was nothing like my dish. It had tomatoes and some toasted almond flakes but that was where it ended. So either the restaurant got it wrong or the cookery book did. Either way obviously more research is needed and this can only be done by returning to the island. 
Which is just one excuse for coming back. The history the geography and the food all make it quite a special place and I am sure we will return.

In the meantime we know journey homewards through Italy except we are heading east not north at the moment.