down memory lane…

earlier in the year lou started to reminisce about the few days we spent in the cevennes the summer we bought the camper.  discussing it we realised that was more than twenty years ago!  our combined memories were a tad hazy.  i remembered the river by the campsite and having dinner in the pretty courtyard garden of an auberge in aveze whereas lou only recalled the drive away from wherever it was we stayed with its wonderful views and many campsites.  so i started to research once i had established the approximate area we had visited, the herault valley above le vigan.

as usual i took account of various reviews and google earth street view to decide whether a place would suit.  boring for some but half the fun for me! 🙂

finally le mouretou at valleraugue at the foot of mont aigoual seemed a good place to base ourselves.  so that’s where we went.  a five hour drive taking in the millau viaduct and a sarnie stop next to a cornfield full of poppies.

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passing through le vigan we didn’t recognise it at all but the scenery was living up to our expectations.

the campsite was easily found and seemed empty at first sight.  we picked a lovely big pitch with lots of shade and great views of the surrounding hills.

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behind us was the camp pool of which i quickly made use once the tent was up.  an hour and a half saw everything in place by which time i really needed to cool off! i explored the site too, discovering that the river, vaunted as a good place for kids to mess about, was actually a bit gloomy as the far bank hung over the shallow water which was splashing over large rocks.  a lady was sitting in midstream on a green plastic chair reading a book.  i decided i preferred the pool.  the rest of the site was rather gloomy too with a lot of undergrowth and trees shading every pitch, good in the summer heat but made me feel a bit claustrophobic.

early to bed and i slept like a log until the cacophony of the dawn chorus woke me up at five thirty.  so snug in my cosy bed i just rolled over and slept another couple of hours.

our plan had been to try and walk some of the 4000 steps walk which is a ‘boucle’ of 25km taking in the top of mont aigoual.  with very high temperatures lou suggested driving to the top and walking there where the heat wouldn’t be such a problem.  so armed with the makings of a picnic we took the beautiful drive upwards,

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the road was very twisty and it was a while before we found l’esperou and the higher ski station of prat peyrot.  arriving at the summit we were suprised by the strength of the wind.  an extra layer of clothing was required!  we climbed up to the table d’orientation because it was there and to try and see the mediterranean.  we couldn’t.  too hazy.

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we found the cafe/restaurant and had coffee before going off to explore the various walks.  the wind calmed a bit as we went down into the trees.  the wealth of flowers and butterflies was amazing.  i was interested to note that the type of butterfly changed as we went under the trees.

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the brown ones were replaced by much darker ones.  the distances you can see from up there are truly amazing but, sadly, the heat haze prevented us seeing the quarter of france written about in the brochure.  after an hour of strolling around and taking photos we climbed back up to the top and took lunch in the restaurant.  salad with local goat cheese, pelardon, followed by bilberry tart.

after lunch we went to visit the meteo station and its museum.  there was a lot of informative stuff but the extreme weather statistics for the mont itself were the most interesting.  apparently the winter of 1995/96 had the highest snowfall.

a long brouse in the shop and then we tried to find another route down the mountain but had to double back.  l’esperou seemed shut when we reached it so i couldn’t find any info about winter raquette walking.  we stopped at the observation point seen on the way up and discovered it was intended for trying to see the mouflon who roam the moutain side.  the last time we had read about them was on corsica.  as in corsica, we didn’t spot any this time either.

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back to the campsite for a snooze and a swim before another lazy evening enjoying the peace and beauty of the campsite views.  having chosen the campsite for its restaurant it turned out not to be open when we were there.  so it was back to the stock of tinned suppers and spag bol!

the second night i didn’t sleep as well, probably due to sleeping so long the night before.  i still managed to sleep through lou getting up for a call of nature and to miss most of the dawn chorus.

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a leisurely start to the day as we slowly packed up and sorted stuff back into the car working on the basis it all came out so must all go back in!  a couple across from us stopped by to chat, he was french, she was a kiwi so english was mostly spoken.  camping tips were swapped and a good suggestion given of where to do raquette walking in the jura.

before we left the area we drove through le vigan, still not recognising where we cycled last time and then found aveze where i spotted the campsite, river and pretty auberge.   we’ll be back when the weather isn’t so hot and we can do some proper walking.

 

 

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last gasp

tuesday 2nd may 2017

we had eaten in the ibis styles restaurant on monday evening overlooking the swimming pool and the pink evening sky.   alas, the sky at night may have been a shepherd’s delight but the morning was grey and damp when we woke up.  months before i had seen an article on the french lunchtime news about a bird park in the camargue where the birds were so used to visitors that it was possible to get photos of the usually timid flamingoes.  i had been online and found that it was only a half hour drive to the south of arles.  despite the rain in the air when we checked out lou primed the gps and off we went, me hoping nothing had been left behind!

as we drove closer and closer to pont de gau it became clear that the rain was getting heavier rather than lessening.   even so i was able to spot white horses standing in the damp undergrowth, waterfowl pecking in the rice paddies and a great yellow sweep of flag iris along both sides of one of the many canals.  no flamingoes though.

at pont de gau we decided against the visit.  sitting in wet coats and shoes for the five hours it would take to drive home afterwards was an uninviting prospect.   so we turned for home and the waiting cats.

the idea of meeting in arles and watching the fete des gardians together had been mooted by viv when she was planning her month in europe.  it appealed to me as i love arles and the fete was new to me.  i am so glad we went despite the rain and so a big thank you to viv for her suggestion, to alan for getting her there and charm just for being charm!  🙂

 

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fete des gardians

mayday, 2017

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the ferocious weather of the day and night before had resigned us to standing in the rain to watch the annual parade of the gardians through the centre of arles. but when we woke up the sky was blue and we watched the sun rise over a bank of dark cloud which gradually faded away to the east.   it was chilly but not so bad we couldn’t all walk up to the boulevard where it was all going to happen.  as we crossed one of the canals we could hear a nightingale singing amongst the trees on the river bank.   a good omen i hoped.

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further on we spotted two girls in traditional dress accompanied by their top hatted escort.  we asked politely and photos were agreed upon.  on the main street a woman similarly dressed was selling the obligatory ‘brins de muguet pour le bonheur’.  i bought one for charm as an introduction to a mayday custom i love.   the crowds were already lining the route for the ‘defile’ but they were thin enough that viv, charm and myself were all able to find a place at the front where we could get a good view and good photos.   musicians were soon heard and things began.

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after the musicians came groups of walkers behind their association banners; men, women and children, some babies in elderly pushchairs but all in beautiful costumes. the men very dapper in velvet jackets and waistcoats with black trilby style hats, the women in floor length dresses with stunning lace collars, ‘chapelles’; bustles behind and their hair swept up and held in small but very beautiful ribbon headresses.

and everyone carrying muguet somewhere on their person!  i was fascinated by the wonderful haughty feminine profiles and elegant deportment of even the most elderly ladies.

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after them the horses began to arrive. the chaps sitting high and proud holding their long batons (which daftly reminded me of the long hooked pole with which i opened my high classroom windows some years ago).

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the horses were all white as they should be from the camargue and their colour emphasised the bright colours of the ladies skirts draped across the horses’ flanks as they sat sidesaddle behind their men.  the most moving sight for me was the number of very young boy riders with even younger girls behind them.  to be able to control a horse in that narrow path between the camera and phone waving spectators at such a young age i found most impressive.  one young rider i chatted to in the place de la republique told me proudly he was ten and his ‘lady’ was six.  that the whole thing was taking place in a france that has suffered such public outrages was wonderful and courageous.

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later in the day i was able to chat to several arlesians and one gentle older woman told me she was worried about the children taking part but it was ‘la resistance’ and ‘tres important’.

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this is she, an earlier photo shows her walking with a small boy

a man standing alone outside the church sported a red cap and a spectator had told me earlier the red caps were worn by catalans who had been invited to take part this year.

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another very cheeky chappie told me about the bustles telling me there was a local saying that suggested if a male dancer’s hand slid down to touch the girl’s derriere while dancing, pins in the bustle would act as a rebuke!  he was most concerned that the presence of the children was very important because they must ‘prendre le relais’, carry the baton for the future.

i asked several girls about their dresses and was told a lot are made especially but they wore something antique and of the family, such as the lace collars or the jewellery.   a giggly gang of three girls told me that for two of them it was their first time but the third was an old hand at it but obviously still excited to be the centre of attention.  🙂

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i noted one small girl hitch up her skirt and reveal a small bag hanging from her waist into which she pushed her ‘doudou’!  a lot of women had a gadget haging on a  chain from their waists with elaborately decorated hooks to hold up the major part of their skirts when walking.  i was told it was called a ‘page’, pronounced ‘parge’.  ‘page’ seemed a very appropriate name for a device that held up one’s skirts! 🙂

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we took coffee in the place de forum, famous for van gogh’s painting of the cafe there and then braced ourselves for the walk to the church where the special gardians mass was taking place.

the horses, riders and walkers were all assembled outside the tiny church so this was the time to circulate and take photos and ask questions.  everyone was very amenable except i noted one older lady is giving me a fearsome glare in one of my photos.  after the mass the queen for the next three years was going to be crowned and presented on the balcony of the mairie but as we drew closer it was clear that barriers were keeping everyone not yet arrived out of the place de la republique and the view of the mairie.  in fact, lou and i squashed ourselves against a shop window and had a great view of the whole parade coming down the street while the cousins found a place opposite against the barrier.  more music, more walkers, more horsemen with girls behind.  an even narrower space to move through but still the horses were impeccably behaved.

after all that excitement we were ready for lunch and made our way back to the place du forum, skipping over the horse dung liberally decorating the route.   street cleaners swung into action with shovels and brooms and, later, the lorries performed an elegant dance as they sprayed away the last dregs and left the town centre reeking of disinfectant!

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after lunch we sat in the little park immortalised by van gogh (who else?!) and soaked up the sun which was finally warm.  the cousins were due to visit the foundation van gogh to look at ….. van gogh while lou and i hoped to visit les alyscampes, a roman necropilis.  i know, it takes all sorts!

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sadly when we got there, it was closed, one of only four days in the year that it is despite the website making no mention of it.

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notwithstanding we wandered off following the yellow van gogh walk arrows passing the tour des mourges and finding a lot of the horse boxes and horses grazing under the shadow of the medieval wall.

across the road i noticed the modern cemetary of arles so we went in to look at the amazing statuary these places usually hold in vast quantities.  this one was no exception, tombs were crammed in with not a space to spare and an abundance of hearts and angels and crosses and lyres…….

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photos taken and a brief sitdown in the now desired shade, we pushed on to see if we could find ‘le vieux moulin’, no 6 on our carte.  we reached an impasse as we mounted the railway bridge when the arrows we were following suddenly started to face us.

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nonplussed we went down some steps beside the tracks but found nothing.  retracing our steps we sat for a while on the boulevard des lice watching the world go by.

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then meandered back through the park and bought ice cream.  eating french vanilla ice cream takes me back to being sixteen years old in ste maxime on a school trip and falling in love with the taste of real vanilla.  plus strong coffee for breakfast, not that that tradition has stayed with me, always a confirmed drinker of tea for starting the day.

we met up with the cousins as planned at the tourist office and walked back to our hotel, crossing the same bridge where the same (?) nightingale still sang.   drinks in the bar and lots of hugs before they left for their holiday base in st remy.  a bit deflated we decided to try and make up for the undiscovered moulin and try for the pont de langlois now named the pont van gogh and moved further out of arles.  comme d’hab there was a fight with the gps, who did know where we should go just not that it was harder to follow his directions on the actual road layout.  arriving at the effigy of the original bridge we took our photos and enjoyed the calm of the canal as it wound off through the flat meadows.

we had driven through houses and some ugly industrial compounds to find it and i hope arles council has forbad any more development around the spot as it was a lovely place to end the day imagining van gogh painting his ladies doing their washing in the canal or sauntering over the bridge with their parasols, lumbering farm carts following them.   our ‘farm cart’ ferried us back to the hotel and an inhouse meal of local fish.  what a wonderful day, the weather gods had certainly smiled on us.

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false start!

30th april 2017

our hotel was booked last october, my cousins have been planning their trip for even longer and sunday morning at ten thirty we put the cats out and made a start for arles.  we passed some friends and stopped to chat.   we popped into the bank for some readies.   i went to buy a paper as we crossed bretenoux….   and at no point did my brain tell me that half my holiday clothes were still in their hanging bag on the wardrobe in our bedroom.  about fifiteen minutes before figeac i remembered.  lou looked at me aghast as he pulled into a layby.  ‘really? you need to go back?’     amazingly, he turned the car around and back we went.   inwardly cursing, i calculated how much longer the journey was going to take.  the weather was very windy and the sky darkening the further south we went.  lunchtime sarnies were eaten in the forail car park at figeac and on we went.  approaching the millau viaduct the electronic warning signs were aglow with ‘prudence’ ‘vent fort’.  i clung to the seat and squeaked occasionally!

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stopping for coffee we pulled on our thickest coats against the rain and felt sorry for the elderly motorbike riders getting kitted back up for their onward journey.  as we approached the cirque de navacelles the mist and rain were combining to bring visibility down to just a few yards ahead.

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my squeaking started again much to lou’s disgust.  happily, as we descended from the heights of the causse so we dropped below the clouds and vision and calm were restored.

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the rest of the journey was better and the gps found our hotel in arles without any fuss.  fortunately, all the last minute hassle over my supposedly ‘invalid’ card which had me spending most of a morning trying to get someone to answer a phone had been resolved positively and our room was still there waiting for us.  an odd arrangement of hotel.  at reception ‘budget’ customers to the left and ‘styles’ to the right while on the floor above the rooms worked in reverse with our room being at the furthest end of the first floor.  but near the fire escape which always soothes me!

texts back and forth ensured my cousins knew of our arrival and theirs took place as soon as they could drive over from st remy giving us time to destress from our prolonged drive.

a reunion which took place in the hotel lounge with hugs all round and especial big hugs for the cousin i hadn’t seen in about fifty odd years.  chat and presents and then off to the centre of arles to find the restaurant i had booked after two of us trawled the internet for the best option.  ‘la gueule de loup’ was tiny, we ate virtually in the kitchen, but the food was wonderful with original flavourings brought to traditional dishes.  i had the vegetarian option, its very existence a novelty in meat loving france and in arles,  the southern home of the ‘taureau’ steak!

a lovely evening inside but  a horrible one outside.  when calls for a taxi failed to find one, the owner offered to get his car to ferry the family back to the hotel while lou and i chose to walk home as we had willingly walked there.

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the wind was making the banners on this building thwack so hard it sounded like scaffolding falling down!

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we arrived at the hotel gate as they were driving out for the journey back to st remy.  hands waving through wet windows then lou and i squelched back up to room ‘cent vingt’

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sister’s sixtieth february 2017

a uk trip that was more than the usual weekend dash for my sister’s 60th birthday ‘do’.  amazing how the prospect of a cuddle or three with the grandson can lead to longer trips to blighty.  suddenly the other half can bear the thought of a longer stay!

our usual drive north but following the gps’ insistence we go via malemort to the a20.  we weren’t impressed just as we weren’t on the way home when it took us straight into paris and the perepherique!  a meal in the ‘gruffalo bill’ and a night in the b and b hotel, comme d’hab, and an early start next morning for calais but couldn’t blag our way onto the earlier ferry.   we shared it with a ‘1000 youngsters’ as the tannoy called them and we were very grateful to the ship’s officer who showed us into the family lounge and banned all school parties from it.  the result of travelling on the last saturday of the half term holiday!

a visit to mum as always and then a frustrating tour of chatham as we tried to find the hotel amongst the chaos of umpteen closed roads.  we decided ‘deviation’ was the watchword of this trip.  jon and kish arrived soon after and left kai with us almost at once.  cuddle time!

the birthday bash was 70s themed and all the family threw themselves into it.  the ingenuity of the costumes was brilliant.  the latest addition to the extended family (my great nephew born in january) was passed around like pass the parcel!  next day a lovely family sunday breakfast before gav cycled off for brighton while we tackled the m2 and the dreaded dartford crossing.  this time lou had been online and paid the charge ‘WITHIN 24 HOURS’ in advance.

this time there was no flat moving just lots of cuddles and family time.  jon was keen to take us up to harrow on the hill which neither of us had ever visited.  it is truly up on a hill and a very windy hill it was on that particular day

having taken our photos we were very pleased to find shelter in the dolls house tea shop, a pretty place that served huge slices of homemade cake and yummy scones with jam and clotted cream.

we tore ourselves away after a couple of days but promised to return as soon as….  the premier inn at kenton with sainsburys round the corner and several charity shops just down the road is rapidly becoming a preferred stop on our travel itinery. 🙂

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harrow and halloween 2016

as per we headed for blighty to see family and deliver christmas presents, making the trip close enough to feel festive but not so near that the obligatory (or so it seems) cough and cold couldn’t clear up before noel arrived!  this time we were going further on from kent into little known areas of north london after battling the mysteries of the dartford crossing.  ‘god help foreigners’ lou commented as we crawled past the signs telling us to go online to pay the toll charge WITHIN 24 HOURS!.

the reason for this northern foray was the arrival of our first grandchild.  an event we had resigned ouselves to never experiencing.   but never say never, the saying goes, and here we were, a car full of baby bits and cameras primed for capturing this incredible addition to our longstanding family of four.

it was sunday and halloween but as we approached kenton and, eventually, made it into the turning for the premier inn, fireworks were going off in celebration of diwali.  large glasses of wine in the bar soothed as we waited for the family to realise we had finally made it.

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the day after we arrived we had the honour of going to brent town hall in the shadow of wembley to register our lovely grandson.

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then the next few days were a madhouse as we helped move jon and kish into another flat, met new family, were introduced to genuine indian cuisine, assembled flatpack and got loads of cuddles and photos of the bestest baby in the whole world! 🙂

tearing ourselves away on saturday we drove down to gav’s with his christmas food parcel and to share our traditional chinese takeaway.  on sunday morning we wandered along the promenade to marine parade and watched the vintage cars putter in at the end of their annual run from london.

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when we felt we’d seen enough gav took us back to the lanes and the mock turtle tea shop where i had the biggest and best jam doughnut ever.

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the chaps mooched off home and i indulged in some retail therapy. that evening, my sister, val, and husband, stu, stopped by on their whirlwind trip up from cornwall and we shared some pizza…again! 🙂

monday morning and off to newhaven where the mystery of the missing mince pies was finally solved when i remembered, too late, on the dock, where i had packed them!  a lovely crossing on a supposedly rough sea with a rainbow for company.

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back home safe and sound and germ free we still managed to go down two weeks later with a filthy cold brought back from blighty by expat friends. tant pis!!

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on y va

10th september 2016

after two ‘get outs’ this year these two former stagehands, albiet elderly, managed to demantle and ‘demonter’ well before chucking out time.   with a coffee machine by the site reception we decided an expresso and a cappuccino  before we left would be good.   so a pleasant pause before the long drive.

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