Tag Archives: ferry

France – Les Sablettes and Toulon

We rose early in Sanary-sur-Mer and left with unusual proficiency.  We faced a leisurely drive along the urbanised main road through Six-Fours-les-Plages.  Some stretches proved to be very tight with overhanging trees or badly parked cars.  It took us all of nine built-up miles to reach our next planned stop, a free aire near to Saint-Mandrier-sur-Mer, on a jutting peninsula south of Toulon.  On arrival we found the aire was very small, but we fortunately arrived just as one van was leaving, and they gifted us the ideal corner spot we would have chosen in an empty aire.  Perfect.  We had a short jaunt to take in our new temporary home, spent some time making up lunch and then walked the short way to a local terminal where we hoped to board a ferry to the regional capital of Toulon.

Les Sablettes (awaiting water taxi)

Toulon- (boat crossing)

Several local were already seated, waiting patiently.  The ferries, like buses, had a ‘next service’ display, with only 14 minutes to wait for Toulon; or so we thought.  This boat failed to arrive, the timer tripped over to 32 minutes and the intermediate service simply disappeared.  More people arrived, some looking curious as to why so many were waiting.  Groups of fit students, likely gymnasts, competed with each other doing one-handed handstands whilst we waited.  Alongside the tourists and students, elegant women dressed for lunch in designer outfits, their Chanel and Louis Vuitton bags hanging from stiff elbows, chatted loudly.  Finally the ferry cruised into view.  It cost €2 each for a single ticket.  We sat up front enjoying the fresh breeze and welcome spray on our faces for the 25 minute trip.

Toulon - (boat arrival)

Toulon - (church and markets)

Cruising through the waterways of the busy military harbour, we alighted directly into the crowded streets of central Toulon.  We walked along the quayside, a long street of busy cafés and bars, noting the celebrated ‘Genie de la Navigation’ statue.  We then crossed the main through road to enter the colourful market stalls.  We immediately thought of Toulon as having a more north African feel; the quality of light playing on the stone walls and paved streets, the extensive markets, the people, their faces and dress.  And most of all, the smells – curry plants, jasmine, honeysuckle mixed with sweat and diesel.  At other times the streets reminded us of Havana or New Delhi, the colours flickering on a backdrop of tall, narrow façades, the play of light, the sun not penetrating to ground creating patches of deep shade and bright light, the flaking shutters, the cracked render.  There was a real sense of a imposing, crumbling grandeur.

Toulon - (Theatre)

Toulon - (Liberty Square)

Toulon - (Nicky by fountain)

We followed the colours and smells of the markets as they extended through many streets.  At one stall we paused to buy a few juicy nectarines and ate them as we walked, dripping sticky juice down our hands and chins. We passed many fountains and water features in varies styles and sizes, always pausing to run our hands through the cool water.  We passed tiny squares, empty of people, and large open plazas busy with cafés.  We circled the exuberant Toulon Opera building, the second largest in France (after Palais Garnier in Paris).  Drained in the heat, we stopped to eat our lunch in Liberty Square, near the fountain, in the only small patch of shade we could find.  The heat of the day was already repressive, and not conducive to exploratory city breaks.  We were dreaming of the beach.

Toulon - (Concrete ship)

Toulon - (rugby stadium)

Revived a little from our lunch stop, we wandered a few more streets, looking at places of interest marked on a tourist map we had picked up.  But our fortitude for city streets was waning, so we returned to the terminal and caught the next ferry back. Once back in Les Sablettes, we walked slowly through a shady park to a local beachfront.  We passed by many more crowded market stalls selling crafts and paintings.  Several very competent artists were displaying their works,  luminous oil paintings that piqued our interest but we ultimately declined to purchase.  The beach was full of supine bodies and running kids, loud music and the scent of salt and blossom filled the air.  We chose not to sit, but continued our slow walk further, people watching.  We ate expensive ice creams as a treat.

Les Sablettes (busy evening in aire)

Back in Benny early evening, a late edition to the aire arrives and, after securing permission, double parks across another van right in front of us.  This was their only chance of fitting in and made the aire look more like a storage yard, but it was an impressive piece of manoeuvring nonetheless.  We enjoyed a pre-dinner stroll to another small beach area south of the aire, set beside a thick pine forest.  We found it still busy with sun-worshippers and rowdy families enjoying the shade left behind by the low sun.  We walked a short portion of south coast path before hunger drove us back to Benny.  On our way we surprisingly found a shop open, on a Sunday night, and managed to buy some welcome snacks for later. A great day, and it confirmed the best way to arrive in any city is by water.

A&N x

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France – Château de Chenonceau & home

Our very lovely house-sit in Cazeneuve finally came to an end, as all things must do. We had a final dinner and beers with our returned hosts, hearing tales of their travels and sharing our experiences of our time in their beautiful home.  A final clean up and packing up session after breakfast the next morning and we were off, sad to be leaving our cosy nest but also eager to be back on the road in Benny, our first real trip out in several months.

New House-sit - Riberac

We headed north, our first stop a call in to meet the host of our next house-sit, beginning in mid-April. After a missed turn and then a rather wild trip through managed forests on single track lanes with tall grass growing up the middle, we finally arrived.  We spent an hour with our host Eric, a fellow Brit who has lived near Ribérac for many years but who now splits his time between it and Montenegro.  We had a tour and a tea, and got an initial feel for the house, the immediate area and the neighbours.  We also met our new masters, two proud cats who we will dote on for our six week stay, if they are predisposed to let us.  We are also hopeful of some good, warming spring weather for our long days there, as they would bring our first experience of perfect summer days we hear tales of.

House-hunting - (Limousin)
From Eric’s, we continued north and then east at a leisurely pace, stopping to visit Hautefort château and town, along with other places that caught our interest. We had arranged to meet various agents who would show us select properties, arranged over two days of viewings.  It was raining for most of the time, but at least we were seeing them at their worst, and not being seduced by glorious sunshine. We ended up viewing five very different properties as we passed through Limousin, giving us a feel for what we can get, or more importantly what we want to get, for our money.  Nothing yet pinged our ‘must have’ urges, but some interesting possibilities arose and we came away with a bit more clarity on our expectations and desires.  We’ll return to the house-hunting in April with gusto.

Chatreau Chenonceau (approach)

Chatreau Chenonceau (panorama)

Chatreau Chenonceau (selfie)

With persistent rain and grey skies following us as we made our way north, we had only one dry, clear day on our route home. Happily, this bright but still chilly day coincided with when we were passing through the Loire valley, so with minimal diversion we called in to visit the impressive Château de Chenonceau.  After a false start dashed our plans to picnic in the grounds (no food allowed, bags thoroughly checked) we ate outside then made our way under the arched canopy of trees towards the formal gardens.  To delay the big reveal, we cut left into a small maze and, after a short loop through pretty woodland, we arrived at the north bank of the river Cher, at the back-left corner of the formal gardens, allowing wonderful views of the tall château as it spanned out across the river on stone arches.

Chatreau Chenonceau (river bank view)

We skirted the edges of the gardens as we approached the château, admiring the setting framed by a deep blue sky streaked with white cotton clouds.  Our Wild Swim France book lists a curious swim here, starting from the publicly accessible south bank of the river Cher – the river was flowing wild on our visit, but we may partake on our way back south.  We continued our tour inside, visiting most of the bedrooms, state rooms and kitchens on our route.  We wandered back into the gardens, passing rows of many heavily pollarded trees coated with thick moss, to visit the 16th century farm buildings.  These once housed the extensive staff required to tend the grounds and produce all necessary food for château guests.  There were large barns filled with buggies, carriages and old farm implements.

Two days and a very early ferry journey later, we were deposited back in the UK at Newhaven for a busy month of visiting, shopping and servicing.  These are always the few hectic, expensive but wonderful weeks that refresh, renew and exhaust us in equal measure, but also allow us to enjoy the simple freedom during the rest of our year.  It is also great to catch up with friends and family, with multiple stops this time all over England and Ireland, in between all the pre-organised events – Benny’s service and habitation check, fitting of new tyres, attending birthday parties, visiting dentists & opticians, training runs and much needed shopping trips to replace worn out gear.

We’ve also had to deal with some proper Blighty weather since our return, braving snowy storms and wild rainy weather when out on walks and runs.  It’s been a good reminder of the weather we are hoping to avoid in future years with our proposed move to France.

A&N x

Holland – Gouda & Delft

Our final city visit on this tour to beautiful Gouda & a flying visit around the centre of Delft before returning home to reflect on our six month tour. 

The next morning started brightly, with the unfamiliar sun lighting up the edges of the clouds and highlighting the tawny autumn leaves.  We left the spacious aire in Dalfsen and retraced a few miles back to Zwolle and beyond, heading along fast wide roads past our previously haunt of Utrecht and on into the centre of Gouda.  We bagged one of the spots with free electricity in the town’s €8 per night aire at Klein Amerika, checked we could pick up the nearby library’s Wi-Fi from Benny (yes) and then we readied ourselves for a visit into town.  During our drive the rain had sneakily returned, defying all forecasts, so we waited a while until we spotted a break in the deluge and quickly wandered over the bridge across the canal leading into the historic centre.

Gouda (cheese shop)

Gouda (cheese selections)

Despite the grey, wet day, we took an instant like to Gouda.  There were local flags lining the pretty streets and it had a quiet buzz, a tranquil busyness that stoked our interest.  We stopped in to taste lots of cheeses in the specialist store we passed, with flavours from liquorice to smoke to chili to lavender to wasabi.  The brightly coloured cheese-blocks ranged from rainbow to solid black, from green to blue to red to white, depending on the flavours and spices added prior to the aging process. We decided very early that it was so pretty that we would spend a second night here, so we slowed up and took our time, looking into every small nook and cranny we passed on each lovely street.

Gouda (bridge and canal)

Gouda (market square)

Gouda (a in main square)

We circled the very large Sint Janskerk church, flanked by narrow canals and cobbled streets, before reaching the main square dominated by the gothic town hall, set alone in the centre.  The square was really a wide triangle, coincidentally (or perhaps deliberately?) shaped like a giant wedge of cheese.  On Fridays during summer months it hosted a large cheese market with sellers and suppliers wearing traditional costumes, but on our visit it was almost empty of people.  The edges were lined with the covered seating areas of restaurants and cafés, some with watching customers, but mostly quiet.  Red and white painted shutters lined the façade of the Town Hall and were repeated throughout the city on many buildings, including the tourist office that housed the Gouda Cheese Museum.

Gouda (central square town hall)

Gouda (a at town hall)

Gouda (lion and buildings)

The following day we did more of the same, simply wandering around quiet back streets. We visited the Gouda Cheese Museum where we watched a short video on how the local cheeses are produced, from cows in the field to shelves in the shops.  We saw the equipment used over the years and how it brought prosperity to the region, and the political and commercial implications of when the crown, seeing the wealth of the suppliers grow, decided that cheese needed to have its own tax applied. We bought a few small items as gifts as we wandered, feeling glad to have had this one last, very lovely stop on our tour, as after the traffic mayhem of Germany we had thought our travels over and all we had left were the miles home.

Gouda (cheese museum poster)

Gouda (in cheese museum)

Gouda (nicky in clogs)

That night, our last abroad on this trip, we sought out a specialist craft beer bar we had read about, called Biercafé De Goudse Eend.  When we arrived we were the only customers except for one other, so we sat at the bar and chatted to the barman and owner Jeroen.  We tried a selection of beers and made many unsuccessful attempts to beat the challenge of moving a bottle opener over a metal strip shaped like the skyline of Antwerp without contact.  We learned about the history of the bar, with its ever-growing collection of rubber ducks, and grew slowly sozzled with the bar and chilled atmosphere.  The bar busied up very quickly later on, with many more beer aficionadas arriving to join the chat.  It was a great night to top off our travels and leave us with lasting memories of Gouda.

Gouda (church building)

Gouda (nicky with pub games)

Gouda (in Goudse Eend piub)

The following morning we rose early, heads a little fuzzy, to pack up for the last time on this trip and head to the Hook of Holland.  We were only an hour or so from the port, so we had plenty of time to spare before our afternoon crossing.  On the way we decided on one last flying visit, and called in to see Delft.  Other than being synonymous with blue and white pottery, we knew very little about the town.  After a struggle to park, and then with no means to pay for a ticket as neither cash or Visa cards were accepted, the parking attendants let us off if we promised to only be an hour.  We would, so that was a bonus.  We walked along a canal into the main square, seeing several churches and the impressive town hall, amazed by the scale of the main square and the beauty of the surrounding streets.

Delft (town hall view)

Delft (central buildings)

Delft (cheese tulips and pottery)

Delft (a on canal bridge)

We had a rather boring and rocky six-hour ferry trip, arriving into Harwich port just after 8pm.  After a winding queue through the port and customs areas, we broke free and drove around 10 miles to the nearby village of Little Bentley and parked up in the empty car park of the Bricklayers Arms.  After confirming it was fine to stay, as they are a BritStops listed pub, we spent a lovely two hours drinking with Liz, the proprietor and owner.  We were the only customers in the bar during our stay, and we couldn’t help but draw a comparison to the previous night’s bar in Gouda, so very different but so similar too.  The following morning, excited to be back in the UK, we headed off to meet up with friends, our Scandinavia trip now at an end.  It would be some time before we could process all we had seen over our incredible trip, almost six months of travel, with such a variation of experiences, scenery and activity.