Monthly Archives: Sep 2016

Bilbao

Arriving on the outskirts of Bilbao, we were rather underwhelmed by the dirty, industrial nature of the buildings on the autoroute leading into the centre.  There seems to be a distinct hierarchy in Spanish cities, where the old, historic centre is first surrounded by grand 19th century housing or commercial premises, then a more suburb 20th century housing ring, with a new deep band of heavy industrial complexes encompassing all of this.  As the new roads leading into the city followed the latest zones of loading cranes, logistics sheds, ports and production factories, first impressions never do much but disappoint.  We circled around the south of the city, before heading up into the hills above to find our chosen aire, a spot situated a reasonable way out of town but blessed with fantastic vistas right across the entire city and bay area.

bilbao-from-our-campsite

We found our site and settled in, marvelling at the lack of other motorhomes, as we had expected this particular aire, the only one near to Bilbao known to us, to be close to full.  With water, power, services and WiFi all included on site, this was a luxury stop for us, and allowed us to save the gas recently purchased in a small town outside San Sebastián. From our vantage point we could see the entire city, including the Guggenheim and Athletic Bilbao’s stadium.

We caught the no. 58 bus into town for €1.25 each, a much less stressful way to enter a large city than attempting to drive in and find parking for Benny.  Not being au fait with the route, we followed our progress on GPS and jumped off near the old centre markets, what we felt would be a good place to begin exploring.  We could feel the instant change in our mood, like a weight released from our shoulders, with being entirely free to roam and follow our noses where we wished.  Nothing more to think of or consider but exploring.

This being a Monday, no museums were open but we approached and circled the Guggenheim museum, which was good to see externally with no crowds around, even if the sky was slate grey above and the ground wet underfoot.  We approached the Iberdrola tower, the highest building in Bilbao, and adjacent gardens.  We dodged the rain as we criss-crossed the city centre, following the river and trying to get a feel for the layout, before returning to our hillside camp high above for dinner and drinks with a view.

benny-at-night-in-bilbao

The next morning the weather was promised to be a little better, although our initial view disputed this; the cloud was deep in the valley, completely obscuring the city and adding a spooky quality to the entire scene.  One conical peak in the far distance set itself above the cloud, looking much like a vision of the misty mountain from Lord of the Rings.

We caught the same bus into town, this time feeling like locals as we knew the route and the best stop to alight from.  We could relax and take in the sights and sounds of the journey rather than wondering all the time if we were at the correct location.  We hopped off and walked a direct route to towards today’s main goal – the Guggenheim Museum.

guggenheim-main-entrance

a-at-guggenheim

Gehry’s vision is seen by many as one of the last great museums of the 20th century, creating over eleven thousand square metres of gallery space spread over twenty various sized galleries.  Along with a permanent collection of predominantly Spanish art, a temporary exhibition of Francis Bacon and Andy Warhol works dominated the gallery.

Built in limestone, 0.5mm thick overlapping titanium tiles and glass, the building does somewhat fit within its context, accommodating an adjacent river and the main flyover bridge Puente de la Salve within its constraints.  To enter one is, conversely, led down a long set of marble steps to the lowest foyer level, allowing the 55m high building to sit much lower within the local city context and not dominate the local skyline.  Normally such high-profile buildings would have a grand staircase leading up to the entrance, to emphasise importance and offer a heightened sense of arrival.

guggenheim-at-riverside

guggenheim-interior

guggenheim-rear-canopy

Like many such ‘grand statement’ architectural buildings, the sculptural forms grab the eye and the headlines, but for those who care about such things, the detailing tends to let everything down.  Unconsidered transitions between materials create dirty spots and awkward fudging, broken tiles in-filled with grout, cut edges left unfinished or unresolved.  Few people passing through will care as they wow at the expressive curves and overlapping vertical spaces, but for me the building is lesser for the lack of attention to the finishes.  And as for the choice of randomised harlequin wall tiling in all the WCs, the less said the better.

n-in-the-guggenheim

nicky-meets-marilyn

After our visit, we crossed the river to view the museum from the opposite bank, then walked along to cross back over at the Santiago Calatrava designed bridge further upstream.  Nicknamed the ‘hip breaker‘ by locals, the original design had a smooth glass floor that was entirely treacherous underfoot when wet.  This has now been covered by a rough rubber matting to prevent injury, but this somewhat diminishes the original (flawed) design intent and aesthetic.

We returned to the Old Quarter, east of centre, and visited St. James’ Cathedral, a stone built 15th century Gothic construction, that sits central in the area.  We passed through several delightful squares lined with cafes and many bars, all tempting us with offers of pintxos and wine.  Catching a late bus back to camp we enjoyed another fine night of relaxing with a local red in hand as we watched the city light itself up as darkness fell.

bilbao-city-buildings

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San Sebastián

With the sky remaining a muddy grey and retaining the distant threat of rain, we were a little wary on our arrival in San Sebastián.  This time our aire was located near the western edge of town, so we looped around the southern ring-road, passing by harsh industrial areas that did nothing to sell the town to us.  Arriving neatly into town, we found our chosen aire to be a very decent spot, set in a leafy university campus, clean and safe, and still having many spaces available for us to choose from.  We located a spacious end bay and parked up, then paid the €6.55 fee for 24 hours of urban parking.

We walked the mile or so into the centre, first along a key tree-lined avenue until we hit the coast, then along a pedestrianised seafront esplanade with many locals jogging and exercising in the cool morning air.

san-sebastian-from-urgull

We passed through a short tunnel in the rock and emerged to full panoramic views of the main San Sebastián harbour. La concha bay, the sea calmer in the protected waters, hosted a rugged small island and headland, sailing boats moored neatly on buoys, a wide expanse of golden sand today home to a junior aquathlon competition, framed by a busy wide promenade and tall, grand early 20th century hotels in a Parisian style; simply a stunning setting, even on a cloudy say. in the moments when the sun crept through the blanket of clouds, the bay and buildings lit up in a truly spectacular fashion.
n-on-beach-san-sebastian
The bay is overlooked by Urgull, a small, green hill with a defensive castle walls and small chapel.  The walls are the remains of Mota Castle, a 12th century fortification that helped protect the city for over 400 years, before becoming obsolete.  Added in 1950, a 12m high statue of Jesus Christ now stands atop the chapel within the fortifications and watches over the bay.  The walk up the hill through the trees, past the small port of San Sebastián, afforded a changing vista of the town at each level reached, revealing more at each turn.
n-overlooking-san-sebastian-bay
urgull-chapel-and-statue
Known as Donostia in the local Basque language, the city has a long and chequered history, from Roman occupation through Franco-Spanish border disputes in the 16th century, to British and Portuguese bombardment in the 19th century Peninsular War, to being occupied by fascist forces during the Spanish Civil War. Each event and time has left its mark on the development of the city as it is today.  San Sebastián has also been recognised as the European City of Culture in 2016.
The Parte Vieja, the Old Town, is the traditional core of the city, with narrow streets lined with bars, restaurants and cafes.  These were rammed with people as we passed through, with rows and rows of pintxos (similar to tapas) set out in expectation on every possible surface, and these were being snapped up by hungry visitors at a rapid pace.  We passed by the Basilica of St Mary of Coro, set at the end of one small bustling street, allowing a long vista of the main baroque facade from the main square.
old-town-st-mary-of-coro
We walked on to a second, less busy but also quite lovely beach on the northern edge of the centre called playa la Zurriola. There were a few willing surfers trying to catch a wave and, as we discovered, nudism was also an interesting feature of this beach.  The weather cleared nicely in the afternoon, freshening the air, as we had a lazy walk through the old town and back along the beach, enjoying the warm sand and cool sea on our toes. A short but fascinating visit, and a place we would be very happy to return to, some future day.
a-on-beach-san-sebastian
in-the-surf

France – West Coast wanderings

Celles sur Belle

Whilst not strictly on the west coast, I wanted to include this stop in our blog as it was a very pretty stopover after Poitiers, on our way to Île de Ré.  An expansive, and at this time practially empty, gravel carpark on the edge of the small village, with free services and water.  A small stream ran up the side of the tree lined grassed area, where we sat in the cooling shade at a picnic table for both dinner and breakfast the following morning.  We had a short walk to explore the village, finding a rather grand house with formal gardens to walk through and a quaint pâtisserie to provide us with fresh bread and pain au chocolats.

a-reads-at-celles-sur-belle

house-at-celles-sur-belle

Cozes                    

This was an overnight aire on the way south after La Rochelle and our stay on Île de Ré.  It was basically a rarely used car park at local sports fields, set aside for camping-cars with tree-lined and neatly defined spaces.  The aire sat next to an old, abandoned railway line that hired out specially adapted platforms that allowed you to ‘cycle’ along the disused railway line;  it was never made clear exactly how one would pass other slower moving carriages.

We watched a disparate group of school aged kids run around wildly, on some treasure hunt or complex information chase whilst their teacher or guide sat serenely at a nearby picnic table, occasionally calling out instructions or clarifications. It was a pleasant and relaxing way to pass a late afternoon in an otherwise unremarkable village location.

We got up, organised, ate and left early from Cozes, very unlike us, and got moving south and west to the coast, towards Dune Du Pilat.  The road was newly surfaced, clear and straight, with so little traffic we could have been convinced we were back in the Australian outback.  Managed forests of tall, black-trunked trees lined both sides of our route, as smooth tarmac and freshly painted lines guided us neatly along.

Dune du Pilat

Touted as Europe’s largest sand dune, and as one of the top ten locations to visit in the whole of France, we couldn’t pass by Dune du Pilat without a visit.  Being our usual frugal selves, we parked up on the side of the road a kilometre or so past the main entrance, rather than pay the €8 parking fee.  The walk back was delightful in the early morning sun, with birdsong and the damp woody smell of forests in the air.

n-running-up-dune-du-pilat

The base of the dune was lined with tacky tourist shops selling all manner of souvenirs.  Posters warned of how arduous and physically demanding it could be to climb the dune, and someone had decided to add a long set of timber stairs to the sand to aid the ascent of those otherwise incapable.  We ignored this unnatural addition and instead ran up the side of the dune, away from the growing crowds, the cool sand feeling delightful between our toes.  A few minutes was all it took to reach the top, to release an incredible vista out to sea and, perhaps more impressively, back over the huge expanse of dense forest behind, looking similar to the canopy of an ancient rainforest.

az-on-dune-du-pilat

an-dune-du-pilat

On the way back down the dune we passed hundreds of new visitors arriving and heading up, and could see coach after coach queuing to discharge their cargo in the direction of the shops and dune.  We were never so glad for having made the effort to get up and away from Cozes early, as sharing the top of the dune with a thriving mass of people would have certainly lessened the experience.  If you ever plan to visit, be sure to do so early morning.

Taussat

Tassuat was another infill stopover aire on our way south.  Little more than a standard car-park near a small harbour, only one suitable space remained that took a seven-point turn to position Benny into, but we soon settled into the space and agreed it was just fine for a one night stop.  We walked to the local village centre and picked up some important provisions (wine) and then doodled along the sands at the harbour.  The tide had receded a long way out, grounding all of the boats moored up along the coastline for as far as was visible.  The coast was built up with once very grand houses that now act as holiday lets, hotels or in one instance as a primary school.  They sit in large grounds with mature, overhanging trees and in the greying light and dark cloud cover of the day we arrived, they seemed ideal to be the setting for some spooky murder mystery event; straight from an Agatha Christie novel or a Scooby Doo cartoon. A little off the tourist trail, it had the feel of an aging resort town that time has not been kind to and was a little stuck trying to decide if having no tourists visit was actually a good thing or not.  It may be very different in the summer.

taussat-bay

Biarritz

With the sky grey and threatening rain, we were all set to be disappointed on our arrival in Biarritz. We found our chosen aire; a specialist urban, barriered car-park with only a few spaces remaining, so that at least was a relief, as there were no other options close by.

We walked the remaining mile or so into the centre following the coast, along a pedestrianised seafront with quite a few other visitors. There’s little more invigorating than a wild sea view and brooding dark clouds framing an unfamiliar place; exploration and expectation abounds.  We walked past huge coastal houses built straight off the rock, looking both strong and imposing yet also exposed and vulnerable in the face of nature’s wrath, like lighthouses guarding the shore. We reached a small craggy promontory with a metal bridge across to a small island head, housing a shrine.

biarritz-headland

The wild Atlantic rollers could be heard rushing in below the walkway, eating at the rock and carving away the foundation of the coast path.  The damp air smelt of sea, flowers and wild curry plants.  We passed through a short tunnel in the rock and emerged to full panoramic views of the main centre and harbour, before wandering up to the main commercial district, with lots of shops and bars.

After much threatening, the expected rain finally arrived all at once, so we dived for cover under the deep concrete soffit of someone’s garage to sit out the deluge. It lasted only 10 minutes, and the busy streets were now devoid of people and filled only with umbrellas.

biarritz-harbour

A large town with an even larger reputation, for backpacking, surf and partying.  We had originally planned to stay longer here, to allow more time to explore and absorb the vibe, but unfortunately with the weather being what it was we decided instead to keep moving and head on down the road – next stop España.

 

 

 

Île de Ré

Crossing the 3km long Pont de Ré to the island, we thought our luck was definitely in – the toll was halved (to €8) only the day before we arrived, and the sky was looking blue and only lightly cloudy, so unlike the gloomy forecast we feared that stated storms were due.

the-bridge-to-ile-de-re

First impressions of the island were a little mixed;  it certainly had the old world charm stemming from an homogeneous, uniform  building style (max. two storey, red tiled roof, whitewashed rendered walls with a choice of duck egg blue or olive green shutters) that belies a calm confidence and understated elegance.  But it also had a strong feel of holiday park, like a 30km long campsite complete with beaches, manicured lawns, postcards and kiss-me-quick hats.  We’re told it’s the playground of rich Parisians and mostly consists of second homes or holiday lets. I can only imagine the overwhelming hustle of the crowds that it draws on school holidays, when the weather is scorching, as it was still thronged with visitors now in mid-September.

traditional-shopfront

Our first hope for an aire proved to be a bit of a wild goose chase, with the municipal stopover at Le Bois du Pas des Boeufs no longer existing.  The replacement private campsite was asking for €25 per night, more than our typical budget, so we politely declined and moved on.  We headed instead to the north west of the island, slightly more rugged and wilder and further from the crowded towns of Sainte Marie de Re and La Couarde sur Mer.  The causeway and the west side are dominated by salt farming, with many hundreds of formed salt pans that gather sea water and evaporate it off, collecting various grades of salt by scraping it out of the dying pools to sell at much inflated prices.

We found a nice aire in Saint Clement des Baleines, with services and unmetered electricity included, for €10 /night, so this became our base for a couple of days. We settled in and then decided on going for a long walk, rather than our usual cycle, to give our legs a little different experience.

walking-past-the-salt-marshes

We headed off through the marshlands and salt flats, where we spotted lots of varied local birds, including  herons, egrets and avocets.  The walk was flat and paved, and we were passed by several cyclists as our chosen route also formed the direct car-free route to Les Portes en Ré.  As we progressed, the weather was quickly taking a turn for the worse and the promised storms were now looking like a reality.  Dark clouds hovered ominously over us and a few spits of rain fell, but nothing to worry us as yet, even if we were now 7km from base.  We reached the village of Les Portes en Ré and had a quick look around the shops and Information centre before heading to the beach and following the coastal path north and north west.  Covered in deep sand and much slower going, we trudged along, with intermittent views of the sea or in narrow wooded areas set some way back from the edge.  We zigzagged along, sinking and sliding in the sand, before cutting back away from the coast to find a more palatable path as we crossed the north of the island, past Pointe du Lizay, in the direction of the Phare des Baleines, a popular lighthouse.

the-lighthouse

On the approach from Plage de la Conche, the weather finally broke and the clouds shed their heavy load. The air temperature still held hot and sticky, so we donned our waterproof jackets like capes, only our hoods holding them to our heads.  This kept the majority of the weather at bay as we progressed.  We arrived at the lighthouse to find it surrounded by tacky tourist stalls selling fishing nets and postcards, the same the world over, an experience certainly not improved by the soggy, dull weather. We walked a loop of the grounds and looked out over the sea behind, before leaving the crowds of sodden tourists behind and continuing our walk.  We headed south down the west coast, back on mostly paved paths winding through vineyards. We found a boulangerie and the small marché in the centre of Saint Clement des Baleines and stocked up on a few essentials before making our way back to Benny.  The walk was 17.5km in all, quite a bit more than we’d been expecting at the outset, but allowed us a decent overview of the varied terrain in the north island.

forest-trails

Soon after we returned and got started on settling in for the night, the skies exploded and the full vengeance of the storm was released.  The van was flashing as lightning lit it up, followed by thunderous roars.  It was dark outside, but we opened the door a couple of times and could see the standing water outside the van.  It was sitting on the hard grassy site that hadn’t seen rain for months, and our van looked like a tiny island nation, surrounded in all directions by water.

The next morning, as if nothing had occurred, the ground was dry and the sky a deep blue, with only a few wispy clouds on show.  We had thought we wouldn’t get to cycle at all if the storm continued, but it fully abated, so the cycle ride was on.

cycling-through-vineyards

The island is fully set up for cycling, being mostly flat and with many distinct cycle lanes throughout and lots of bike-hire places dotting the island.  Most places seem to specialise in hiring electric bikes, to allow larger-framed, older or less experienced cyclists the dubious opportunity to wobble their way recklessly around the island pathways, stopping, swerving or turning at will, with no obvious regard for their surroundings or their own safety. But still, they’re out there doing it and that’s what counts.

We successfully negotiated our way clear of these meandering cyclists and threaded our way across a cycle-only causeway and towards the main town of the island, St Martin de Ré.  A walled port with sheltered harbour afforded the swanky boats moored up protection from the elements of another day, as today blue skies and sunshine dominated.  Many chic cafés and expensive restaurants added to the pleasing, bustling yet tranquil atmosphere of the quaint quayside setting.

st-martin-de-re-harbour

After a quick tourist centre stop to check emails, we cycled out to the next village of La Flotte in search of a sandy beach noted on our map; it didn’t disappoint.  Only a few kilometres away, yet it still proved too long for the changeable weather.  The grey skies shoved the blue out of the way and heavy dark clouds full of rain replaced the fluffy whites.  Without any possible shelter, the clouds burst and warm rain soaked but refreshed our warm skin.  Just a short and heavy burst, but bad timing, and much too late we found a bus stop shelter in and wait out the deluge.  With our next planned stop a swim at the beach, our wet status wasn’t really an issue, and skin dries quickly.

our-swim-beach-la-flotte

We enjoyed a baguette with cheese and tomato picnic lunch on a bench overlooking the pretty sandy beach, carefully watching the sky for further changes.  After a quick beach change into costumes, we had a short swim in the bay, surprised to be joined by up to fifteen other bathers in the time it had taken for the sand to dry. The rounded bay of sand held calm and inviting light blue water, warmer on this west coast midway down France than our previous swim on the northern coast at Dinard. With already 25km completed by bike to arrive at this, the furthest point from our camping aire, we didn’t strain ourselves with much energetic swimming, but enjoyed a refreshing and relaxing dip, before returning to the bikes and heading back.

a-lonely-windmill

The route of our return journey varied from the outward, but was visually similar.  It was mostly quiet cycle paths through vineyards and farmland, with one windmill for good measure.  With its sails fairly battered, it looked a little forlorn and unlikely to have ground grain for some time.  We arrived back to Benny late afternoon with 46km cycling completed, bagged a refreshing beach swim and enjoyed a typical French picnic with baguette;  a good effort, despite the changeable weather.

After dinner on our last night we took a short walk to our local beach, on the west coast, to watch what turned out to be a very spectacular sunset.  The Atlantic surf was rolling in quite a distance out, with the nearby rock pools looking as if filled with blood from the deep red reflections from the setting sun.  The cloud formations overhead added a level of menace and depth to the occasion, becoming even deeper red once the sun had finally fallen below the horizon.  We watched in silence for a few long minutes, then walked back to Benny hand in hand along the sandy beach, feeling fully content with a day well spent.

ile-de-re-sunset

Poitiers – Northampton’s twin

As Northampton, our ex-home town, is twinned with Poitiers, we decided that being in the general area it was essential for us to visit the town. Although about 45 minutes in the opposite direction to our planned route, what have we got if not time to spare?  So off we went to Poitiers.

We drove a futile loop of the central ring road from north east to south west, looking for a suitable parking space, but nothing was available, the streets were lined with cars parked haphazardly on pavements and packed tightly into small car-parking spaces – no room for us in Benny.

We eventually got parked in a partly residential and partly commercial area, on a small side street called Rue Blaise Pascal, the first opportunity we had found to leave Benny and begin our walk into the centre; rather than bikes, we decided it was trainers on and a brisk half hour jaunt into town.

nicky-in-park

Approaching from the south west, we first arrived in Parc de Blossac, a beautiful fountained park with avenues of coiffured trees and tiny hidden spaces featuring ponds or statues.  These were the moments we both savoured; being out in the fresh air in a new place, with no fixed goal, exploring and discovering something new to us. It also didn’t hurt that it was a Monday morning, the sun was high in the sky, the morning temperature already 34C and we had literally nothing to do other than be here, walking and enjoying the day.

Poitiers has a long and complicated historical past, being an important and strategic city since Roman times. We headed first for the local tourist office, both to utilise their free wi-fi and to find out more information about the town, ensuring we explored its main sights fully.

poitiers-hotel-de-ville

We passed a fantastic central plaza adjacent to the Hôtel de Ville, the impressive town hall, built from matching marble.  The local cafés spilled tables out onto the sun-drenched marble and crowds of locals enjoyed an early lunch, created a wonderfully vibrant atmosphere.   We walked on through old, cobbled streets lined with modern stores with high-end shopping, before reaching the more historic centre-ville.

Within the main central quarter sits one of the best preserved Romanesque churches in Poitiers, the Notre-Dame-La-Grande.  The church was originally built on this site in the 10th century, was rebuilt in the 11th and subsequently consecrated by Pope Urban II in 1086.  With a chequered history, the church was extended and renovated many times over the following centuries, until many of the intricately detailed statues were deliberately defaced or destroyed in 1562 due to the iconoclasm of Huguenots.  Major renovations were undertaken later in the 1990s to protect the church from the ravages of pollution and time.

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Internally, the plan is lacking a transept, so does not form the traditional Latin cross plan of most churches. In the 19th century, the interior columns were brightly decorated in decorative murals, although the boldness and gaudiness of the interior was heavily criticised by notable contemporary historians.  The coffered ceilings and internal chapels are mostly gothic, with a modern Great Organ being added in the late 20th century.  The history and the present of the church is a mixed collection of eras, ideas and contrasting styles.  In summer, although we arrived too late for the spectacle, the local council, at twilight, bathe the front façade in colourful motifs to reflect the ancient past and recreate the medieval tradition of painted churches.  From available postcards, this looks to be quite the transformation; sorry to have missed it.

notre-dame-la-grande-columns

After a brief lunch on a cool stone bench beside the Notre Dame La Grande church, we walked on to visit the Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Poitiers.  Sporting a grand façade with asymmetrical towers each side of an arched entrance, unfortunately this one was closed, open for only one hour a day, half in the early morning and half late at night, so we were unable to visit the interior.  Still, it was definitely worth the walk to see.

We’re enjoying being able to be more active during the working week day times, instead of just limited to nights and weekends.  Although only a leisurely walk through interesting streets, it still feels quite decadent to be outside, feeling the benefit of simple exercise and with the sun on our backs.  Reading and learning of new places also helps to exercise the mind, remembering how to study, observe and ultimately understand.

The city of Poitiers contrasted sharply with my thoughts on Northampton town centre, although this may be the bias of an ephemeral visit over living permanently talking, expanded by the fantastic weather that generally increases the beauty of everything.  In all, a worthy place to see, we’re glad we made the detour.

French friends and fine food

With our tiny fridge bulging with tempting English cheddar cheese and large packs of bacon, our next stop was to deliver these goodies, and others, from (Nicky’s) Mum to her former French neighbours and friends from when she lived in the Mayenne region some years ago.

After a quick explore of Chateau Gontier and a phone call for directional assistance, we found our way to their rural countryside retreat, physically just a few miles outside the town, but atmospherically a world away.

chateau-gontier-mairie

After introductions to Mark, Keith and Jan, we had the obligatory cup of tea and a chat, then a flying tour of the house and grounds. A 50m stone longhouse, there was room after sprawling room, with niches, nooks and crannies galore. Old timber beams created character and sometimes hazards for the taller amongst us, and each direction we wandered seemed to reveal another cluster of rooms.  The gardens had sheds and vegetable patches alongside a raised carp pond with a built-in seat adjacent. Walnuts and figs grew unrestrained in several areas of the garden, and two large fish-laden ponds sat surrounded by an apple and peach orchard to the south. Originally bought with 46 hectares over 25 years ago, the land has since been whittled down to an almost manageable size, but still impressively difficult to maintain.

the-setting

lighting-the-bbq

With another 50m long stone barn adjacent, the property certainly didn’t lack floor space.  This was mostly an open, single storey space with large ‘A’ frame oak trusses.  Currently housing only tools and garden equipment it had definite, albeit expensive, potential, although one end housed a pool table and dart board for that British pub feel, so all was well.

It was a clear, humid evening, just right to enjoy a lovely BBQ in the pleasantly warm outdoors space.  We were joined briefly by Keith’s daughter Linda, who lives and works locally.  A large stone built barbecue space was stacked high with wood and left to burn down to embers, before large amounts of meat was cooked, bien cuie for the foreigners. The meal also included copious amounts of red wine, flowing alongside the conversation and story-telling long into the night. There was wine and dancing and singing, Ken Dodd records and multiple spillages, so it must have been a good night.

dinner

dancing-with-the-dogs

The cockerels continued their cock-a-doodle-dooing all night, and through the next morning, as we enjoyed a hearty and leisurely breakfast with delicate heads.

All fellow Brits, and with our hosts being from ‘up north’ we were unsurprisingly extended every possible hospitality and indulgence, very much appreciated.  This included taking some yummy homemade apricot jam with us, along with our delicate heads and full bellies.  Thank you very kindly, to Keith, Jan and Mark, and to all the doggies who made the visit special.

After a slow French red wine hangover morning, it was then South East in the direction of Poitiers, to a small village called Moncontour to catch up with (Nicky’s) former university lecturer Vic and his wife Christine. Having kept in touch with Vic on and off since Uni days but not having caught up in person for around five years, it was lovely to see a familiar faces, and to be so welcomed into their new French home.

moncontour-countryside

Bought as a tired but habitable shell several years ago, two years of work have transformed the property into a magnificent family home.  The furnishings, decor, hardwood flooring throughout and wonderful views of the surrounding countryside made us feel right at home, as did the company and chat. Fellow motorhomers too, Vic and Chris also understood our key priorities. We got Benny negotiated into their yard and connected to power, to be left for the night as we enjoyed an inside bed and hot showers for a change.

Regaling tales from university, education, careers, life in France and about our trip to date over a lovely roast chicken with all the trimmings meal was a very pleasurable way to pass an evening and a great catch up. The use of laundry facilities, our first to date, was also a very much appreciated extra.  Thanks ever so much to Vic and Christine, and to Heidi the dog.  A wonderful two days , but it’s back on the dusty road for us. Until next time.

with-vic-and-chris