Tuesday, 28 May 2013

From small towns to Big cities...

Moving on from Montpellier was difficult.

We had found such a nice beach and could have easily stayed there for a week or two, but we wanted to keep exploring.
Le Boulou from near our van

After a mornings drive and a few minutes perusing the Aires directory we chose an aire we could find to stay on, which included showers, stumbling upon the small French port town of Gruissan where we were able to hand wash our clothes, fill up with water and watch the French play their Boules so passionately.

Le Boulou was the next town we were to stop off in. And it was so beautiful we stayed for 2 nights. Our plot was 100m from the side of the river, 3 minute walk in to town where we enjoyed stuffed squid and rice for lunch. Le menu d'jour. On the way back to the van we passed a butcherie and got 2 nice big burgers minced straight from the steak in front of us.
Kerry entering the Greek settlement of Emporium

These were enjoyed on the BBQ on the edge of the river with a couple of bottles of wine that evening. Afterward we played Boules with our quite amateurish set of plastic balls. But I did win all the same :)
Heading further down the coast passing through the French/Spanish border at le Perthus and spending the afternoon on the beach in Roses (where I took my first very cold dip!)

That evening around 5pm we drove past some Roman Ruins and took a look inside. Luckily the entrance was free on that particular day but it would shut in an hour so we felt a bit rushed. The settlement used to be called Emporion (meaning Market in Greek) as it was a major trading town even as far back as 9th century BC. Items were shipped here from all over the med including as far as Phocaea (modern day Turkey).

The 'Romanisation' of the Iberian Peninsula began in 195 BC when Marcus Porcius Cato setup a military camp at Empuries. The Roman and Greek settlements physically and legally became one in the 1st century AD called Municipium Emporiae

Eventually it was superseded by the rapidly expanding cities of Girona and Barcelona and was deserted in the 3rd century AD with only the Northern part being used as a cemetery for the nearby town of L'Escala.

We settled that night under a castle propped up on a hill and I wondered what life would have been like centuries ago compared to now. Probably not alot different in Europe. People milling around, chatting in squares, spot of shopping then lots of food and maybe a beheading. Ok... theres the difference.

Girona seemed to entice us in. Every time I asked kerry if she thought we should stop there, she nodded and we felt good about it. Parking up was fairly easy and there seemed to be a stream of people all walking down the rivers edge towards town. We followed until huge floral displays started popping up in ally ways, courtyards and staircases. It was a Festival of Flowers.

The weather wasnt too good so we abused the shelter of the Girona history museum and the old Jewish 'Call' which was now showing off its relics. In the History Museum I was pleasantly surprised to see some large industrial machinery including the first three phase motors and generators pioneered by engineers during the early use of electricity and the Girona led industrial revolution. Girona being one of the first cities to try electric street lighting.

Leave a message after the .._.
This machine intrigued me. From what I could surmise by looking, it would print out morse signals being received on to a roll of very thin paper for the operator to read later. A kind of early answering machine I suppose. 

The Eastern side of Girona was protected by a very large (I'd say 15 metres in places) wall with encampments and fortresses along it. The city has spilled out to the otherside of the wall now but walking along it gives brilliant views of the city and the snow topped Pyrenees behind. It was kind of surreal that you could go from the hustle and bustle of the crammed medieval streets to the relative calm and open space on the wall.
Massive machinery with 100A motor

Flowers everywhere.. and not always as Flowers!

My Girona

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

The beginning of our tour of Europe

We have finally started trucking around Europe!

Driving out of Horsham was a bit weird. It was like hitchhiking for the first time again. Anxiety, fear, excitement, wanting, not-wanting, all with a little touch of panic.

Waiting at the ferry port
We aren't put in these situations very often. And Ive always found it weirdly addictive. Having a total unknown ahead of you. Its addictive because its scary I think. Kerry on the other hand is just dandy with it all!

Having made good time to the ferry port we were put on an earlier crossing (which was meant to be £32 more!) and drove in to Calais at 6pm French time. We knew we couldn't stay in Calais for long as its pretty dodgy. And as soon as we drove through the town we were shown why. There was a group of about 100 asylum seekers of different ethnicities at the side of the road, scaling a 10 foot high fence. God knows where they were going but I wasn't going to hang around to find out.

We drove South along the coast road, over rolling green fields and between the sand dunes at one point! France isn't like England. This puzzles me as you'd have thought they were connected at some point and may be a little alike? … maybe

Aire on the riverside near Limoges
After a few hours driving we grabbed our copy of 'All the Aires - France' and knuckled down to finding a suitable Aire. An aire in France is a designated Area for motorhomers or 'Camping-Carz' to pull up for the night, replenish any fresh water, dump any grey water as well as plug in to recharge batteries and watch tv etc.

Well this is all geared for BIG motorhomes. The Aire we arrived at in Ault was full of these. Mahoosive ones, all up on all kinds of leveling ramps with full sized satellite dishes on top. It was nuts. We pulled up in the blue smartie van and seemed a little dwarfed. We dont have leveling ramps so no sooner had we reversed up then we were down to the beach front to watch the sun setting. I wasn't scared anymore.

The next few days were full of driving. We wanted to get South and consequently heat! On the way through the Dordogne we stopped at a small, quaint town called Martel. The municipal camp site was a nice little green with showers and proper toilets. All for EURO 6.44.

Rocamadour from a distance
We had seen a few brown tourist signs for Rocamadour and I remembered my Dad saying he'd been there when touring on his motorbike. We drove along a windy road which opened out to a gorge where Rocamadour sits, clinging to the edge. The town was nice and we climbed the 200 odd steps up to numerous chapels and sanctuaries devoted to various religious icons.

The scenery started to change from big open, rolling fields to the gorges and canyons of the Pyrenees and then opened up to big blue skies and lots of heat!

We fought our way through Montpellier and out to a tiny spit of sand where we found loads of other camping cars all parked up metres from the beach. We used this to our advantage and spent a day lounging on the beach before heading in to Montpellier for a spot of sight seeing.

On the way we used McDonalds' wifi and stumbled across 5 chaps on tricked out 600cc motorbikes pulling stunts and ricks worthy of their own show. All in the car park which seemed to be well tolerated and made for some good pictures.

Beach just South of Montpellier
As we parked up on the outskirts of Montpellier we could hear a huge booming voice flooding over the city. Walking in, the sound got louder and louder until we found a great big skate and BMX comp was underway.

The next day we walked around Montpellier until we were tired and then retired back to the beach.

6am the next morning and I'm jolted awake by someone hollering outside the van. It's a French guy jabbering something I can't decipher. I explain in my best French that I cannot understand him. But he continues with his jabbers until I poke my head out of the window and see his car a little futher down the beach road, stuck in the sandy ditch next to it.

Myself and a passing motorist helped him for 30 minutes and eventually got the car out using branches and the van that had stopped to tow him. I don't know how he'd done it because the road is dead straight and in no way dangerous. I wonder whether the guy was on drugs, and nearly asked. Then thinking it'd be better to leave it.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

A week of R, R, R and Aghr...

Sun sun and lots more sun

Tenerife is hot! I mean I knew it was hot. I've been before. But in August, mid season, with my parents. So when booking a last minute holiday in April I knew Tenerife would be one of the hottest places within our budget. Hotter than most places on Europe.

Kerry and I had such a good time on our ski season. We skied and boarded to our hearts content but all inbetween some very hard work. I didn't realise quite how much work it would be.

So in order to relax and unwind we decided to blow our wages from the ski season on our first all inclusive holiday. Unlimited beer, wine, food and sun. To get us ready for even more sun during the summer you see?

I was a bit taken aback when we were met at the airport by an empty transfer coach. To me this could mean one of two things. Either the hotel is crap, no ones else is going and I'm in for a week of cockroaches and chicken nuggets or we are going to be the only two people in the chalet being waited on hand and foot with massages and gourmet food.
Well it wasn't as Id expected. It was alovely hotel with marble everywhere and plants hanging from every floor. Water features were liberally sprinkled everywhere like Hundreds and Thousands on an ice cream.

The week consisted of nothing... There is nothing I can say except we sunbathed all day and then ate and drank at night. And thats what we wanted. I read 6 books as well and got a touch of constipation half way through. But we won't go in to that.

The poolside thermometer read atleast 30 degrees C every single day. That coupled with a beer tap that you pour yourself (!!!) and I was in my element.

The sunbatheing was a good opportunity to put down a base layer of tan ready for touring. And boy am I ready!