Icy blasts

When we left Lille the sun was shining but as we approached Ghent (gand) the sun was disappearing into the mist and the road becoming damp. We had always thought of the A1 through northern France to be full of lorries but it has nothing on the roads north to Antwerpen and Breda. The further we drove the more container lorries we passed. Scary stuff. Awful jams around Antwerp and Breda. We’re even contemplating a different route home.

It was a great relief to find the hotel and be able to check in early. A very jolly room confirming the arty vibe they publicise and a ground floor brasserie with comfy chairs and good beers. A lot of Brits and, tonight, a hen party!

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So lunch and then we trekked through the roadworks to the nearest functioning bus stop. Arriving at the central station we sought out the cruise office. The young man told me we could go straight to the boat.  But at the boat pier an officious man shouted at me that I had to change my printout for tickets by going to the cruise office ten minutes walk away. I pointed out, calmly at first, that that wasn’t necessary as I had the printout. I pointed to the sentence that said as much. But he insisted. We tried anyway with the guy by the gangway and the same response. By now I was losing it. I was cold and wanted to get out of the wind, preferably onto a nice warm boat! But nothing doing. I grabbed the paper back and said I’d get a refund and forget the whole thing (boy, was I in a strop!).

I stomped into the station with Lou following and down to the warm shopping mall underneath. Here we bought warm hats, having not thought to bring any with us, and discovered shops here put a charge on the use of bank cards. Bit of a cheek as ours are debit cards not credit ones.

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But onwards. The Delft shop i had found online turned out to be very tourist tat and as I tried on a bracelet (present for someone) the wretched thing fell apart. Oh, the shame of it, but oh, how lucky I didn’t buy it and present it as a gift! Lots of apologies and I bought some overpriced earrings and scurried out.

Lou suggested we had a little wander and we headed down Damrak, a big wide street built over a canal many years ago. It occurred to me we were close to the ticket office I had been told to go to so in I marched to claim a refund. That wasn’t possible immediately i was told. At this point Lou decided to play mediator and suggested I swap my now pretty scruffy printout for tickets and we take the cruise as planned. So I did. And we did. I looked the other way as we queued up and boarded the boat so didn’t have to face the obnoxious jobsworth (he had been unnecessarily rude to me while I was sooo calm… not). Some cheerful Dutch chaps sat next to us and we all plugged ourselves into the audio sockets.

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A trip around the harbour, truly, kicked off the cruise and then it was all canals. Photos taken through a spray spattered window while I imagined how it would all look under blue skies and with leaves on the trees. I was glad Lou had prevailed!

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Off the boat and off to try to buy bus tickets. Unsuccessful as the counter in the ticket office had closed and the machines had ‘tomber en panne’ but in Dutch.  So off down Damrak again in search of coffee and waffles.

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Then a mooch around C and A, as you do, and the red light district before a bus back to the hotel.

A good meal in the brasserie to round off the day.

Cream crackered!

 

 

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Into every life a little rain must fall…

Today we had bucket loads of the wet stuff. At times visibility was frighteningly poor. A dash into an aire for coffee cheered us up a bit but the rain still lashed out of the sky. The discomfort was compounded by a windscreen wiper that erratically thwacked the screen, making us jump and frightened it would fling itself into the murk and leave us sightless.

However, by Chateroux the sky was considerably brighter with even some sunshine now and then. The view behind us of banked black cloud must have terrified the oncoming drivers.

The traditional peacock ‘on the move’ lunch, home made ham sarnies, with a shared bag of crisps and twix, was eaten at Salbris and we headed for Paris. The gps decided to take us right up to the peripherique but then got confused by all the tunnels. We stopped listening and followed the signs for the airport, Charles de Gaulle, and the A1. It is years since we have driven north by that route so every so often there were gasps of recognition. Especially for the little blue boat that has been marooned in its green field for ever and seems not to have aged at all!

After an age of boring driving through a flat winter landscape we made it to seclin on the outskirts of Lille.

Off to find supper.

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at au bureau in seclin’s zone commercial, very cosy and good grub.

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Leaving for Lille

Well, that was good news and bad news! I managed to create a post but couldn’t work out to add a photo. Then I lost the whole thing. Time for bed, leaving at nine tomorrow for Lille en route for Amsterdam.

but i hadn’t! 🙂

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Leaving for Lille

There is a first time for everything they say so here I am blogging from my phone. Time will tell if this is a good idea or no. Bags are packed, tickets bought (a canal cruise, two art galleries and two photo ones, of course.

Right, let’s see if I can upload a photo.

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well, i couldn’t! i remember i couldn’t load up photos on my tablet. so this is being done on the computer later.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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arrivederci, italy

still no better weather to see us off from the hotel du lac.  we ate one last toast-free and fresh orange juice-free breakfast (our respective grouses) and finished the packing.  lou went off to get the car while i settled up with the rather gloomy owner, or rather, son of the owners who had been in charge on our honeymoon.  as i guarded our luggage i noticed he checked people out without any cheerful word of thanks or wishing them well on their onward journey.  giacomo would have been horrified!  at the last moment as lou was taking out the cases ‘gloomy’ suddenly started to talk about ‘the diary’ and diving into a cupboard presented me with a print of the hotel and a birthday diary, full of pretty prints of bellagio, something i will use and treasure.  family run hotels are a quirky bunch with a certain charm.

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we drove down the como side of the lake ignoring the bleating gps.  in como she became demented as we followed signs to the motorway on our own as the road she wanted us to take was closed with no deviation signposted.

then a familiar motorway drive in the sun towards milan, turin and then a right turn for the aoste valley.

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through the mont blanc tunnel (sweaty palms) and out into clouds on the french side.

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not much snow on mont blanc this time, i noticed.  onto annemasse to a hotel we hadn’t used before.  no wonder i couldn’t find the campanile on the internet.  the place where it used to be is now an empty piece of waste ground!

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the comfort inn lived up to its name, pretty and pink with tea and coffee (take note ibis styles) and biscuits (take note hilton maidstone).  there was a special dinner and breakfast deal with a nearby restaurant of which we took advantage.  that night we ate a three course meal, with a choice of two ‘plats’ for each course, wine and coffee included and no pasta in sight!

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fifty years plus one day

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the promised brighter weather didn’t materialise so there was no sentimental wander through the grounds of villa melzi stopping to take a photo of lou in front of the bamboo or me sitting on a bench by the lake’s edge aka 1967.   no rediscovery of san giovanni and its little harbour, the site of more photographic re-enactments.  nor a walk to la punta, the very tip of the bellagio penisular where i had posed a la lesley caron in a carelessly tied headscarf and lou had posed moodily, leaning on the harbour wall.  instead we battled through the rain and unexpected gusts of wind to the car in the hotel garage to retrieve some extra layers of clothing.

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IMG_20170910_101042136_HDR.jpgmuch warmer now, we climbed up a nearby alley looking for a wine shop and the wine we had had the night before.  not the same label but two bottles from the same area were pressed upon us by the smooth talking salesman.  (i wonder how many people turn up looking for ‘the wine we drank last night’?)  he insisted that it was one he supplied to our hotel and, sure enough, it was the wine we were offered that night in the hotel bar.

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outside the hotel again we settled at a table near an overhead heater, (yes, it was that chilly), and ordered coffees.   a boat came in opposite and suddenly we were surrounded by damp tourists, jostling each other, sorting out brollies and generally milling about like headless chickens.  one group of elderly italians were being ordered about by a lady in a green anorak and squashy hat.  we sat tight and waited for calm to return.

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the rain beat down and our room and tv was a cosy refuge to while away the time until we could decently eat lunch!  we climbed the steps…again…to the restaurant with the ouvrier style lunch we had spotted earlier.  we got there in the nick of time as people arriving after us were reluctantly turned back out into the rain.  despite being so busy the service was smiley and thoughtful.  having asked for our omelettes to be cheese free the waiter came back to say the chef was asking if he should hold back the mozzarella from the salad starter.  no, no, we chorused!  AND they found some earl grey tea after i politely refused the ubiquitous english breakfast.

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back to our room for the afternoon and the final stage of the tour of britain on the telly.  the white horses on the lake were subsiding but the car ferry was still ploughing through waves that frothed over the bow.  a lot of wet feet on the car deck i’m guessing.

We had booked an outside table for our evening meal but alessia, our waitress, (i asked) had decided we would be too cold despite the heaters so had reserved a table inside.  she had made sure it was in the window so we could still watch the action, people and boats!

we enjoyed the meal far more than the one upstairs.  the menu was almost the same but the ambience was better.  the upstairs dining room, despite its wonderful views of the lake, is too lofty, too austere.  alessia looked after us very well.  she and her sister, who works alongside her, both grew up near varenna, where we had called yesterday en route to menaggio.  when we chatted about bologna and the lovely giacomo she asked for his address as she has friends there.  with our coffee came two offered glass of limoncello.  hic!

 

 

 

 

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Golden oldies

Not all the tourists left by boat.  Quite a few stayed behind to carouse the night away in the many bars and restaurants.  A lake view comes with the downside of being above the town square and colonades full of outside tables, very popular for enjoying the balmy evenings.  The double glazing didn’t help deaden it much so it was about two in the morning before things were quiet enough for me to fall asleep.

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We woke up to mist on the lake and the first boats starting their many crossings of the day.

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Breakfast was eaten surrounded by the sound of English being spoken, English speakers from around the world judging by the accents.  There was not a lot of choice of tea, English breakfast being in the ascendancy.  With ITV and BBC channels on the in-house TV it was becoming clear who is the focus clientele.

Out to sort stamps for some postcards and for Lou to buy a lovely necklace and matching earrings made of Murano glass i had been lusting over the night before. 🙂 Then to buy tickets for the ferry to Menaggio.  It was damp but warm so we hoped the day would be ok for some strolling.

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It was fun to be back on one of the boats.  We had enjoyed a trip up the lake on a beautiful paddle steamer in 2002, the year of our 35th anniversary.  We camped at Menaggio that time so had some happy memories of that visit.  The ferry goes via Varenna on the opposite side of the lake to Menaggio so we got views up and down each arm of the lake as we crisscrossed it.

The rain was a bit more noticeable now so brollies up when we disembarked.  Along with several passengers we walked along to the tiny harbour looking for coffee.  Luckily there was a bar/hotel with a large awning where we could sit in the dry.

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Lou spotted a tiny tourist office and it had some maps of the village in a box outside.  We thought we had identified the campsite we had stayed on but when we came to the place we remembered during our amble it had clearly moved a little farther on.  I hope it has better loos than before. 🙂

We walked along a pretty promenade along the lakeside checking out lunch menus, popping up and down our brollies.  There was an interesting monument to something but I couldn’t get any clues as to what from its plaque.

About to abandon the search we came to an alley (the motif of this trip) and found an unprepossessing pizza place.  However, on its menu on the wall it offered ‘misti di Lago’, fried fish from the lake.  I love fritti misti so I was sold.  Inside it was very homely and busy, always a good sign.

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The walls were lined with wine  bottles and photos of the area. The service was cheerful and efficient, two girls whizzing about and going downstairs for orders when an unseen bell rang.

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Two plates of fish, a salad to share, beer, wine and coffees to finish….spot on.  Off to find a ferry home and this time it was a car ferry.  I took a photo of Lou as we boarded, a replica of one I took on honeymoon.  Not just the cars that have changed shape! 🙂

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A lazy afternoon, well, why not?  The rain got heavier and heavier and we were pleased we had booked the hotel restaurant for our evening meal.

To make some space I toiled up a steep alleyway to buy some teabags.  No redbush but Lipton’s yellow label is preferable to English breakfast, a tea I can’t stomach.  A happy time ‘windowlicking’ as the French say and back down the now treacherously damp cobbled alleys.

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A lovely meal at a first floor window table watching the lights and the last of the boats and then coffee down under the colonades.  We may be old but we can party too….

 

 

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