Avignon (Provence), France – Feb 2018

The journey from Taradeau was fine (mostly motorway) until I reached the walled city of Avignon itself. The campsite I was heading for is just outside the walled city on the Ile de Barthelesse and my (not so) trusty sat-nav insisted on taking me through the walled city with all it’s narrow lanes. It wouldn’t have been so bad and I could perhaps have made it except that it was Wednesday and much of the city is closed to vehicles on a Wednesday (or at least on this particular Wednesday):

   

After driving around the narrow lanes for a while (using bus lanes when I ran out of road) I gave up on the sat-nav and followed my instinct (and a road sign) to the Ile de Barthelesse. For all it’s smug superiority and foreign languages, the sat-nav cannot recognise the days of the week. Hah! One up to me.

Avignon is lovely. France is lovely.

Avignon on the Rhone. Both photos taken from the Ile de Barthelesse. The (part) bridge is the 12th Century Pont St Benezet (sometimes known as the Bridge of Abignon). 18 of it’s 22 spans were washed away in the 17th Century and it has been left that way

Crossing over from the Ile de Barthelesse (using a more complete bridge), the most prominent of all the buildings in the old town are the two standing alongside each other on the Place du Palais; the Cathedral Notre Dame des Doms with it’s guilded Virgin Mary  and the 14th Century Palais des Papes (another Unesco World Heritage Site) built to accommodate  the pope and his entourage after the newly elected pope Clement V chose to stay in his home country rather than move to the (then) wholly corrupt city of Rome:

   

   

… above, the Palais des Papes (plural because a number of subsequent popes, another 6 I think, preferred Avignon to Rome) and, below, it’s immediate neighbour the Cathedral of Notre Dame des Doms with the guilded Virgin Mary watching over Avignon…

   

   

Views across the city from the Palais…

   

…and from the gardens behind the Cathedral…

   

There are other impressive churches to see in Avignon; principal among them being the Basilique Saint Pierre d’Avignon, the Eglise St Didier and the Protestant St Martial Temple but I had seen enough churches in Italy to last a lifetime and the rest of my day in Avignon was spent perusing Les Halles (a large covered market with just about every food you could imagine – local chefs attend the market every Saturday morning and give free cookery lessons) and sitting outside a cafe doing what should be done when the sun is shining namely, drinking coffee and watching people go about their daily life. You can’t beat it.

Having said that, I’m going to make an observation (in the form of a question). Has anyone ever had a decent cup of coffee in France?

Taradeau (Provence), France – Feb 2018

I left Sestri Levante intending to make one further halt in Italy, 120 miles away in San Remo, either for a late lunch or even to overnight depending on what San Remo has to offer. After a straight forward journey in wonderful sunshine I arrived in San Remo as a thunderstorm started. When moments later it started to hail, I set off towards my fall back destination, Monaco. It was snowing as I drove through Monaco and I didn’t even pause for a coffee – do you blame me?

Into France, past Nice and Cannes where there was heavy rain, westward towards the blue sky. I even passed Antibes without stopping and that place was one to visit for the Absinthe alone. To get to my age and never have tasted Absinthe is not right.

  

… San Remo and Monaco – I’ll let you know. I remember the days in the Balkans and in Greece when I would simply move the Van to where the sun was expected to be

Anyway, I stopped at Taradeau in Provence, a town of less than 2,000 people, and there’s nothing there to talk about (although the Provence countryside is beautiful and the people very friendly) except; the sun shone and I chilled for the best part of 2 days. I tell a lie – there was a Hyper U Supermarket and lots of other shops; probably the best range of foodstuffs I have seen in months. I grabbed a supermarket trolley and I was like a kid at Christmas.

The food that first night was tremendous. Lots of little hors d’oeuvres, a full plate of fresh prawns the size of small lobsters and then, best of all:

   

… Toulouse Sausage in a French Stick followed by Pecorino cheese with a fine Chianti Reserve

Nothing else to report because I have done nothing but sit outside in the sun. I head off to Avignon tomorrow.

 

 

Zurich, Switzerland – Nov 2017

Today was mostly about getting the winter tyres fitted (would you believe it cost 860 Euros !) and, thereafter, travelling to Zurich for a reunion with a dear friend and her partner for dinner. The journey from Colmar took little more than two or three hours and I was soon parked up by the lake  in Zurich and then trekking and using the local tram service across the city  for our reunion but, more about that and Zurich later.

Colmar (and Eguisheim) was great and it wouldn’t be right to move on from such a charasmatic town without leaving a couple more photos (and a copy of a striking painting by the Baron Francois Pascal Gerard) that reflect some of the more  cultural aspects of the place. As you well know, this trip of mine  isn’t just about drink, food and pretty sights and/or sites…

Frederic August Bartholdi, a French sculptor born in Colmar renowned for designing “Liberty Enlightening the World” aka “The Statue of Liberty”.

Another famous son of Colmar was the Napoleonic General Count Jean Rapp who is shown in a painting by Francois Gerard presenting the captured Prince Repnin-Volkonsky to Napoleon during the Battle of Austerlitz.

Colmar Railway Station – I only show this because I passed it on the way to Eguisheim and it reminded me of the railway station in Gdansk, Poland.

Zurich tomorrow.

 

 

Eguisheim, France – Nov 2017

So I did it. I cycled from Colmar to Eguisheim.

More about Eguisheim in a moment (and the town is well worth a visit) but first some advice on getting there. Don’t cycle it or, if you must cycle it, do not rely on the sat-nav in your vehicle for directions. Before setting off I committed the route on my “top of the range Pioneer system” in the Van to memory and left feeling quite confident that I knew where I was heading.  All went well to start with (the cycle paths in this part of France track most major roads and are fantastic) but then, after a really nice fast bit coasting downhill round a bend and bombing along a wholly empty right hand lane I realised I was travelling along the hard shoulder of the motorway to Strasbourg. It was a very sheepish me that dismounted and walked back along the motorway to find an alternative route. I’ll probably figure prominently in the French equivalent of one of those “Cops” TV programmes where they show video from motorway camera. Oh well…

Eguisheim is a lovely place, renowned (at least locally) for it’s fine wines and flowers. Flowers were not much in evidence (it is winter) but I tried a couple of “verre(s) vin blanc de la maison” and they were most enjoyable. It’s not a big town but it is crammed with character as I think the photos will show:-

So there were a few flowers out

I took many black & white photos – it seems to work here

Needless to say, it is pretty much all pedestrianised. 

I won’t talk about the cycle journey back. There was a railway line and lots of ploughed fields and, honestly, it’s just a bad memory  but, it doesn’t detract from the fact that the town of Eguisheim is magical (and it is so close to Colmar).

Colmar, France (Day 2) – Nov 2017

Staying in Colmar for a couple more days. I need some decent winter tyres for the Van and they cannot be delivered until Wednesday morning. There are worse places to be while waiting for winter tyres but I should have had this done while back in the UK waiting for the house to be sold. My schoolboy French really doesn’t lend itself to a protracted conversation as to the merits of different winter tyres. At least the people at Best Drive Tyres didn’t laugh but I’ll not rest easy until I have seen exactly what it is I have ordered.

Tomorrow I am thinking of cycling (yes, cycling – they say you never forget how) to a place called Eguisheim, a few clicks from here. Eguisheim was recommended to me by a local guy I met today in the Irish Pub (of course there’s an Irish pub here!) as being every bit as nice a place to visit as Colmar. Well, I think that is what he said – He couldn’t speak English (and he was French, not Irish. Lol). Time will tell. I have to get to Eguisheim first without my sat-nav.

Meantime, a few more photos of Colmar:-

Inside the Irish Pub – that’s my Murphy’s on the bar.

It was dark when I left the pub

Colmar, France – Nov 2017

Rain woke me at 05.00 and prompted an early departure to Colmar (rain sounds much louder in the Van and will take getting used to). It ceased raining as I arrived at my planned stop for the next couple of nights (Camping de L’Ill, N48 4’51”  E7 23’12”, about a mile from the centre of Colmar).

Camping de L’Ill has all mod cons (although the swimming pool has been emptied for winter); is situated in very pleasant surroundings (close to a bar/restaurant) and; best of all, at least for the moment, I have it pretty much to myself.

Parked up at Colmar

The view of the River L’Ill from my back door

A local, fly-fishing on the L’Ill

From what I could research and have been told about Colmar I expected something special and I wasn’t disappointed. I’m just back from a 6 hour walk around the town (except for a couple of hours in a very good bar/restaurant that will receive a mention in my trip advisor review when or if Will tells me how trip advisor works) and it is perhaps the most charming town I have ever visited.

The town was surprisingly quiet even though there was a 10 km fun run taking place which finished in the town centre. This is the advantage of arriving out of season.

No more words; just a handful of the 50 or 60 photos I took although they don’t do the place justice…

I think that is the River Lauch which is a tributary to the L’Ill

Dieue-sur-Meuse, France – Nov 2017

Needed to cover some ground today and made seriously good time down the motorway from Lille to the little village of Dieue-sur-Meuse, stopping at Epernay on the way for a glass of Champagne. I was in Epernay just last year and it is well worth repeat visits especially when the weather is as nice as today – warm and sunny.

The French motorways are impressive and well worth the toll price.

The stop in Dieue-sur-Meuse was what might be termed a wild camp inasmuch as the village didn’t have a pub. Well, it did but it never opened. Went for a short evening stroll and had a quiet night in with a bottle of the local wine – a Pinot Noir that set me back 3 Euros (I went for the mid price range).


There are worse places to park up for the night… (GPS: N49,07110 E5,42634)


… and, yes, it was a gorgeous evening.

Lille, France (Oct 2017)

Losing track of the days now.

None of my sources could identify a suitable campsite within Lille city limits and I therefore elected to stay a few kilometres outside of Lille at a place called Peronne-en-Melantois. Peronne-e-M is a little more than a hamlet and the campsite I found is not much more than a field in a farm on the edge of the hamlet. The proof follows:-


My immediate neighbours on the campsite


Oh…and this one knocked about with a cockerel that sounded off non stop for a good hour from about 5.15am. Perhaps not surprisingly, the cockerel didn’t hang around to get his picture taken!

The only real positive about Peronne-e-M is that it is just a couple of kilometres walk to another hamlet (Fretin) which at least has a station (well, a sort of station because trains do stop there) and it is on the Gare de Lille Flandres line. I had to wait a while for a train but in less than a quarter of an hour of the train arriving at Fretin, I was at the Gare de Lille Flandres and right in the centre of the city.


You would be hard pushed to know you had arrived at the village without this sign


Fretin Rail Station, simply known as Gare


Gare de Lille Flandres

Lille is France’s tenth largest city and it has some striking buildings, many of which are on or near the Grand Place just a couple of hundred yards from the station. Grand Place is also known as the Place General de Gaulle (after the visionary French Brexit campaigner General Charles de Gaulle) who was born in Lille.

I took a few photos but they were all rather rushed. After my last few days in Belgium, Lille was simply too busy for me. I had dinner there (it was nothing to write home about) but otherwise didn’t stay long because I wasn’t sure when the last train left the City for Fretin. It was dark by the time I got back to Peronne-e-M.


Grand Place

One of the more attractive buildings, especially inside, is the Catholic Church which is en route to the Grand Place.


The Catholic Church


One of many impressive stained glass windows in the Catholic Church

I’ve covered little more than 45 miles in the Van over the last few days. At this rate I’ll not get across the Alps before winter. The Grossglockner is already shut. I’m going to have to find another route through Austria. Time to check out the French Auto-routes…

Day 9 – To France and Onwards

The Channel Tunnel crossing from Folkestone to Calais was a doddle (and very quick). I booked it online and simply followed the instructions in the confirmation letter from Euro-Tunnel and then the signposts in Folkestone. The rail crossing itself (if something going under the sea can be termed a crossing) was just 35 minutes but the whole journey from leaving Dave’s house in Canterbury to my parking place in the centre of Kortrijk in Belgium took less than 4 hours.

One observation I would make regarding the crossing is that the train rocked almost as much as any ferry I have travelled on – I didn’t have any Stugeron 25 to hand to combat motion sickness but the acupuncture learned on the Caribbean cruise earlier this year worked once again. Hurrah for alternative medicine (assuming always that acupuncture qualifies as alternative medicine)!


Not very exciting but the first photo in France!

Regarding the journey from Calais to my chosen destination of Kortrijk, it was straight forward. The downside was that I spent a good 1.5 hours listening and responding to a French language tape only to find that the Belgians in Kortrijk studiously avoid speaking French. They speak, read and write Flemish; English as a foreign language and; French only as a last resort. I should have realised this beforehand given that Kortrijk was previously known as Courtrai (at least by me). Oh well.


I know what to do in a fire but what about the rest of it?!?!

Time to go and explore Kortrijk.