Skiing 2016


Skiing 2016

Unfortunately our mobile WiFi did not work in France so the blog has not been published – until now. It’s a few days since our return but with mounds of stuff to wash and iron, kit to go away in the garage and the loft, the van to be washed and cleaned and covered, we have rather had our hands full but here is what you have not been waiting for.

Wednesday 2nd March 2016,

We unwrapped the van from it’s warm winter overcoat about a week ago as there were a couple of jobs that needed to be done such as replacing a front head light bulb. I felt like taking it to Halfords and saying “you do it” but I knew that that would end in failure and me getting my money back. Eventually I got the jack out, removed the wheel, and they are big and very heavy, removed the inner wing and lay on my back fiddling in the dark to remove the rubber cover and prizing the leads off the bulb. Reversing the procedure would be easy I thought but then remembered I must not touch the bulb with my finger. Three out of four side running lights needed replacing. We needed lights in the kitchen cabinets, etc etc.

I had been training for the Heartbreaker Half Marathon last weekend so the work on the campervan had fallen behind. Now it was all go as we wanted to leave at 3pm on Wednesday and Joanna was going to be at her art group all morning. Ten past five and away we go. It’s then when we start asking each other if we have remembered this or stowed that.

It’s about a three hour drive to Newhaven and we pull up in the car park for supper and an earlyish night.

Next morning we pop down to Lidl for some of the stuff we have forgotten. Hand soap, pan scrubbers and a few other bits and bobs.

It had been a rough old night so we dosed up on Stugeron and Gally’s kennel was sprayed with calming vapour. We bought him a new chunk of antler to keep him busy for four hours although as it’s dark in the hold he’ll hopefully sleep through.

We will never know if he slept but he was sure glad to see us. We pulled up in a side road just outside the port to make coffee and let Gally out for a desperately needed pee!. We knew that ferry coffee was rubbish and I now know the fish and chips are of equal quality, more batter than fish, although Jo said the gluten free lasagne was quite nice. Maybe I should join the coeliacs society and get some of their grub.

The Stugeron had made me feel drowsy but we wanted to make Rouen by evening. We are at an aire (resting place for motorhomes) just south of Rouen and overlooking the river and we are both heading for an early night. Tomorrow we’ll be driving all day. Night night.

Friday 4th March 2016

We slept for ten hours. God I was tired. Jo drew the short straw and took Gally for a walk in the rain whilst I got breakfast. To save having two lots of breakfast cereals I eat Jo’s gluten free stuff and a lot of other gluten free food so I should feel much better according to the faddy folk who eat gluten free because it is the latest craze. Do I feel fitter or healthier? Do I hell! Would I eat it if Jo wasn’t a coeliac? Would I hell!. It is so expensive! If you want to feel fitter or healthier get a bike!

A long day in prospect. 561 kms so we head for the autoroute and blow the cost (about 55 Euros in tolls) This weather just got worse and to add to our apprehension about driving in it we were overtaken by a van sprouting aerials and satellite dishes and formal looking lettering on the side but what stuck out were the words in bold “OFFICIAL STORM CHASERS” and going our way!!!. At best it could be called drizzle but at worst you could not see much in front except a mist of water thrown up by the heavy lorries. Mrs SatNav tried to take us off the motorway at a junction with a big sign saying, “height barrier set at two metres”. She tried that last year but we forgot about it. We had a fractious tour of Versailles. My turn to take Gally out at lunch time (and again when we arrived) “How’s that?” he cried. “I need the gas on if you want to eat!” Gally has had longer walks in his short life! Gally pee please. Ici! Ici! Vite!

There were six vans in the aire and everyone was home to at least one pooch.

Straight to bed after eight hours of actual driving.

Saturday 5th March 2016

Big signs on the roads saying no PL’s (heavy lorries) in Alps region on Saturday and, of course, they are banned anywhere in France on Sunday so as we only have half the distance to do today (280 kms) we decided to use the main roads and avoid the tolls.

Our first problem was getting round Lyon. Despite being programmed to avoid toll roads Mrs SatNav wanted us on the motorway so with her switched off we reverted to a proper navigator, Mrs Edwards. Next problem, having switched Mrs SatNav back on suitably reprogrammed she took us through the middle of Grenoble instead of around it on the free autoroute.

Yet more problems, the direct road from Grenoble to Briançon was blocked by a landslide and would be for the next twelve months so a long detour south via Gap. From Gap there was a huge slow moving traffic jam. Road works, No. Accident, No. It seems there must be some event at Vars and the world and his dog were heading there via one small traffic island causing a huge tailback. Once past the island we motored on stopping to fill up with fuel to avoid condensation getting in the tank and mixing with the diesel. We also bought some additive to make sure the diesel did not freeze if it got really cold. Last year we struggled without it. I thought the engine was going to die on us. It popped and spluttered along on two or three cylinders until we got to the fuel station and we could get some additive. Diesel from low level sites is OK down to about -5 degrees but you need to buy the stuff up in the mountains but if it gets really cold you need the additive. 13 Euros for about half a cupful. Just slightly more expensive than Perrier water in Tesco’s.

The day’s drive had taken as long as the previous day’s but for only half the distance. We arrived at the aire at dusk knackered again after another eight hours driving. I know some people drive the whole trip in one day but they don’t drive four ton delivery vans with fitted kitchen, bathroom and bed. There had been a bucket full of snow in the last twenty four hours but the roads were clear. Britain would be gridlocked.

The aire in Briançon was in a public car park and the local yoofs were about in their lowered and souped up GTI’s with extremely noisey horns. The large building was some sort of sports hall and I guess you could have heard the music back in Lymington. Thank God they finished before eleven.

P155ed off I couldn’t try my new bike at the time trial today. There’s next month.

Sunday 6th March 2016.

The weather forecast for the next week was for dull grey days with low clouds and mist. This morning was bright, a smattering of snow, a few high white clouds but a chilly wind. Shopping for a few odd things and some LPG. Surprisingly we couldn’t squeeze any more in the tank despite using it for cooking heating etc. Does it expand at altitude? Any physicists out there?

So, onto Montgenevre. Clear road up the mountain. Just the short hill where we turn off to navigate. As usual covered in a sheet of ice. Oh no! There was a campervan stuck on the hill just short of the entrance and another one trying to get past. Memories of a couple of years ago when we had to fit the chains when only 100 metres short of the entrance. The second one had stopped on a level bit, so did we whilst the first one was fitting his chains. I hope he was quicker than when we do it. Wait, the second van is going for the hill without chains. He just squeezed through. Our turn. Nice and steady, no heroics with the gas pedal. Just got up and turned into the entrance. All downhill now. Empty the tanks, fill up with water and we found the spot we had last year.

It was such a bright sunny day. Quick lunch and a walk down to town to get some cash and buy our ski passes. Gally thought the snow was great fun biting chunks of it off and chasing blocks of ice when we kicked them. He did not like walking in the slush though.

Six day pass for OAP’s and free this afternoon. Gally stood on my snow boots when we were waiting for Jo at the cash machine. He is OK on hard packed snow or ice. He doesn’t feel the cold through his pads but he does not like getting his feet wet in the slush.

Quick dash back to the van (about 1km) and on with the ski boots and out with the skis.

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Straight onto the slopes but it was Sunday so was very busy.

We both need a few runs to get used to the snow. It was hard work. The snow was several inches deep and had been cut up by the crowds earlier in the day. The slopes were packed and there were queues at some of the lifts. Hopefully the piste bashers will be out tonight so it is nice and flat and hard tomorrow morning.

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Beautiful clear skies and plenty of snow.

Monday 7th March 2016

They got it wrong again! Crystal clear skies and not a cloud in sight. I got the job of taking Gally for a stroll. It was bitterly cold.

We skied down to the road-crossing at the Italian border, walked across the road then skied down to the chair lift. The early morning rides are always interesting. We look for the animal tracks; pairs mean hoppy things, small steps are rabbits, large are hares. Footprints in a straight line are fox and they follow along the lines of the chairlifts looking for scraps of food which have been dropped by skiers having an aerial lunch.

We skied for about three hours in the morning but were anxious to check up on Gally. We thought he might be cooking. The van was certainly warm but out of the direct sunlight it was just temperate. After lunch we did a few more runs. Thirteen chairlifts equate to about fifteen Euros a go. By the end of the week we want to see it down to about one Euro a go. Ski passes cost us 31.50 (£25)per day. What can you get for that? I hear football tickets are over £50, the theatre tickets the other night were £26 each.

The forecasters certainly got it wrong again with idyllic conditions and all the weekenders had gone home so the slopes very much to ourselves.

Tuesday 8th March 2016

At first light it appeared to be a bright morning but then the grey clouds came in; just what we expected. I took Gally for a walk round the campervan site and noticed that he was limping. An inspection of his front right paw showed no damage but it had swollen a bit. He made the most of it holding it up when he wanted attention. He was lifted up into the van. It is a three foot jump because he doesn’t like the steps.

There was no water. Obviously the pipes had frozen. Mrs Resourceful soon had the problem solved. Water flowing breakfast followed.

The plan for today was to ski all morning until about three with a stop for some pommes frites and a glass of vin chaude. The sun had come out and it was a beautiful day in the mountains. We will not complain about the bitterly cold wind. We took cabines when available. There were so few skiers about there was never a queue and quite a few other less hardy folk followed our example.

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Beautiful blue skies

The dog was no better so no walk down into town for him. I thought I might try some shorter skis. Mine seem a bit too long so I went in search of advice. I’m still a novice although I have been skiing for four years, you can’t teach old dogs new tricks. Some bread, home-made jam and some sweets for the drive home.

Still no joy with the mobile wi-fi and I’m not going to pay the price of the campsite wi-fi.

Wednesday 9th March 2016.

Another reverse Michael Fish day. The morning dawned bright and clear, he got it wrong again. Just as well because we were far from bright. For the second morning the heating had gone off in the night. No heating means pipes freeze etc. When the sun gets up the heating starts up again and eventually every things works just fine. We remembered a previous occasion in the mountains and I got shoved out into the cold to check the air intake for the boiler. It is a dual pipe system. One is the intake for fresh air and the other is the vent for the burnt gases. As soon as the hot vapour meets the cold outside it becomes water and if it is cold enough or there is a cold wind it rapidly becomes ice and eventually it will block up the air intake. The system then shuts down, for safety reasons. What we need is a wind deflector like the one I had on my house in Pontshill.

We got the bus down to town so I could pick up my rental skis. They are about four inches shorter than mine. I really wanted some very short ones which are quite popular now but the shop guy said they were for accomplished skiers and not for the likes of a novice like me.

Once I had got used to them I quite liked them. I even practiced skating with them. I always got in a tangle, crossing my skis, with the longer ones.

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Jo doesn’t ski with a helmet. Never has naughty girl!

At the top of Serre Thibaud we noticed some snow buntings hopping about. We saw them again today, the lift attendant at the top was obviously feeding them.

We stopped for lunch back in the van and to see how the patient was. The French guy from the van next door was giving him lots of cuddles until Gally spotted another dog and tore off after him. We called him and he came limping back, stupid animal.

After a few more runs and with the cloud coming in and the temperature dropping we called at the high café for a couple of glasses of vin chaude. There was more wildlife. One we were pretty sure was a willow tit and the other unknown to us and would have to wait till we got back to the van and our bird book. Both were looking for scraps that may have fallen off the tables.

It was an Alpine Accentor; a new one to us. It looked like an overgrown house sparrow.

We had also seen Alpine choughs flying about.

We have now done 30 lifts making it about six Euros a trip. My Garmin is recording all the descents in metres and distance travelled downhill and when we get onto the internet I can publish all this stuff and put the tracks on Connect or Strava or whatever. Yesterday I recorded our travels; we travelled over 40 kms but some of that was in chairlifts!

Thurday 10th March 2016

Can this be true? Another bright clear morning. We usually start the day with a couple of runs on the slopes opposite the campervan site. We ski down the campervan site, getting a few disapproving looks. Not all the campers are skiers. The camping car club de l’ouest are holed up here and set off walking most mornings. Some ski like the bloke next door. Across the road at the border post. Despite the Schengen agreement there are police at the border checking lorries and vans and some cars.

There is one run we only do in the morning. It is steep and ends in a funnel and we like to get there before the board boys from the town arrive and carve it and the skiers up.

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What a skyline

We get in five lifts and then head back to the van. This involves a short section of off-piste. It’s Ok if you stick to the track that others have created but if you ski off it you end up in three feet of soft snow. Great fun but embarrassing as all the campervanners can see you. You have to make it look as if it was a deliberate act of dismounting to walk across the road.

I had been trying out some new skis from the rental shop. They are shorter than mine.

Lunch over, dog walked and back onto the slopes this time heading for the hills above the town.

I decided to bring my long skis to compare them to the newer ones.

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No snow machines needed here!

We followed our usual pattern, do a few runs, head for the bar, a glass each of vin chaude, back up to the top then one long run to the bottom and the bus back to the van. We have probably drunk more wine on this trip than we have done in the rest of the year. At least that was what I thought until Jo added that the glass was probably only a third wine and the rest hot sugary water. At least I don’t fall over in a drunken stupor.

Gally’s foot is much better and we walked into town to buy the skis. Two days rental would have been 38 Euros. They wanted eighty for them and no rental to pay. No brainer really. Much better than my present ones which are looking a bit ragged.

40 runs so far, that’s 4.80 Euros per chairlft. I’m sure others would do far more trips than us but we stop to look at the scenery, read the information boards, have a drink, pop home for lunch and generally just take life at our own pace. We are pensioners after all and it isn’t a race.

Friday 11th March 2016

According to the forecasters and some of the other campervanners today was going to be a day of storms, thunder and lightening, fire and brimstone but true to form the day dawned bright and sunny with barely a wisp of cloud. How can they get it so wrong with all the modern wizardry?

During breakfast I noticed a little bit of blood on Gally’s paw. On close inspection it was not from a cut but a sore. We immediately panicked and thought it might be Alabama rot. What could we do? If it was would the local vets know what to do or would they have even heard about it. (those of you living outside the New Forest and one or two other areas in the UK have probably never heard of it either.) There was no point getting a blood test done as by the time the results would be available we would be half way home. If he had got Alabama rot it would spread to his kidneys and he would be dead within 24-48 hours. What to do? We read about the symptoms on the internet and he had none of those so we went skiing. We chatted about it on the chairlifts. If he had to be put down at least he had had a good life albeit a short one.

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Gally, the patient.

If that had to be our last day’s skiing it was a good one. We encourage each other to perfect our turns, take the fastest lines. Next year we will take lessons as we want to be able to ski red runs with confidence. We can both do it but with a lot of side slipping to scrub off speed.

We did nine chairlifts taking total to 49, just under four Euros a go. We could not face a vin chaude so we rushed back to check up on the invalid. He was full of the joys of spring, dashing about and chewing up lumps of ice. The sore was no worse so we were relieved. He was not exhibiting any of the symptoms of the disease.

Our plan was to drive down to Briançon and get some gas. We thought we might go and see the vet so after lunch we loaded up and headed downhill but not before a real problem at the pay booth. We had to pay fifty Euros for our stay and the machine spat out all of our cards. Puh! Les Rosbifs. Non. We tried cash. Puh! Non!. Panic Jo ran over to our neighbouring van, they were very fond of Gally, and asked for help. They also tried without success, our coins were OK but not the notes. The lady kindly paid the bill and we gave her the cash.

We filled up with gas without a problem We guess as we were quite early last time they had not turned the machine on. We found the vets and made an appointment for Monday for his flea treatment which has to be done before they will let him back into the UK. 42 Euros please, stocked up at Carrefour for the next few days and our trip home; six different local cheeses, then back to the car park in Briançon for the night. Hopefully no ice hockey match tonight.

Saturday 12th March 2016

Early start (for us). Our six day pass gives a day in a different resort. We have driven through the Serre Chevalier Vallée in previous years and we would have done this year but for the landslide at La Grave so, rather than return to the masses at Montgenèvre, we headed for the Vallée.

The Vallée is divided into four sections and they interlink so by going up and down diagonally you can get back to Briançon 14 kms down the valley and that’s what people do apparently so we stuck to the first section as we did not know the pistes. We soon found out the signage was not as good as Montgenèvre. We’d be coming down a blue run, there’d be a junction and before you could determine which way to go you’d be “OMG we’re on a red one! I suppose we could stop and check. We did once have to ask one of the French ski instructors. In the end we used the red ones as there were so few people about and we could go down at our own pace.

We stopped for a snack and some vin chaude. Different, stronger taste here and cheaper too. We did not intend to stay too long. It will seem shorter than it actually was as I forgot to turn on the Garmin. Seems the runs get onto Strava as I’ve had kudos but how they get there I do not know unless it is from the Garmin to the watch then onto the internet. All this tech stuff is too much for me.

Jo managed to fall over twice. Only minor crashes but I’ve never seen her fall before. I’ve only managed two all week, again nothing serious, I don’t go fast enough for that and these days I wear a crash hat. I do on a bike when I can travel at 30mph so I do on skis when I can also do 30mph and ice is just as hard as concrete; you just don’t get road rash. It was another glorious day as you can see from the photos taken with my mobile phone.

By the time we returned to the car park it was packed with cars and campervans. We had lunch and headed back down the valley and up to Montgenèvre to the aire. It, too, was packed but we eventually managed to squeeze back into our previous slot. Loads of Italians in some very exotic motorhomes. If we are on a slope we get the ramps out. The better ones have hydraulic jacks which lift the van until it is perfectly level which might mean three wheels are completely off the ground.

Down into town to get my new (secondhand) skis serviced and have the stickers removed, get some bread and stuff and to find out why we could not pay to get out of the aire yesterday. It seems the Brits, Dutch and a few others have the same problem, their cards are just not acceptable in France which seems a pretty lame excuse as we had been able to buy fuel, gas and groceries with our cards. Anyway we have the phone number of the service team so if we get stuck we can call them.

So, with no more skiing planned, we intend to have a couple of relaxing days starting with a walk down into Italy for some lunch tomorrow.

54 runs for 192 Euros each. That’s 3.55 a run. About the cost of a pint of beer. Good value I reckon. Blue skies, lovely snow, clean air, good exercise. What’s a ride cost at Alton Towers?

Sunday 13th March 2016

We heard gentle rain on the roof at 6am. At seven Jo got up to let Gally out. It had turned to snow, the clouds were low and visibility was about a hundred yards. Should we leave now before the snow gets too deep? No skiing today, we had finished that part of the holiday, so we had a leisurely breakfast and contemplated the weather. It began to improve so we set off along the track to Clavière across the border in Italy. We needed some more coins for the exit gate at the aire so ordered a couple of coffees. Six Euros in change. We bought a present for our kind neighbours who look after Jo’s orchids whilst we are away. Four Euros in change. OK, we now have our “get out of Montgenèvre card”

We did not stay for lunch. We’ll save that for another day.

Gally absolutely loves the snow, romping around looking for sticks to throw about and chew. He wasn’t so happy when he went up to his tummy in the drifts.

We caught sight of a couple of gaps in the clouds but they did not appear for long and right now (midday) the cloud is closing in. Very few seem to be heading for home. I suppose if you have travelled a long way for a weekend’s skiing you brave it out.

More blue sky in the afternoon but not enough to make a pair of trousers for a cat. We lounged about, sorted out our clothes and played dominoes. The sky turned grey and we had some snow. We closed all the blinds and sat down to supper. When Gally needed to go out I as expecting a few inches of snow but there was none. Let’s hope we don’t get any tonight. I have had to put the chains on the last two times we have come up here and it is hard work, your hands get wet and cold and is usually a pretty messy job, lying on your back and reaching under the van to connect the chains.

Monday 14th March 2016

My Mum would have been 97 today.

A tentative look out of the window. Only a couple of inches of snow so no panic. A leisurely breakfast but what’s this? It’s now snowing like Billy-O! We had planned to stay for lunch then go down to Briançon so that Gally could have his tick and tapeworm tablet and then stay the night at Chorges but we decided to get off the mountain just in case it got a whole lot worse. If the vet could not see Gally immediately we could take a wander around the town. Down in Briançon there was no snow and the streets were clear and dry. We felt a bit stupid!

Lunch beside Lac Serre-Ponçon. The lake was about 15 metres below normal level but a crystal clear blue. We cross it on a long bridge which spans the north eastern part of the lake.

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Lac Serre-Ponçon. The water level is well below full. When the snow melts it will fill up a bit.

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Lac Serre-Ponçon

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Gally takes a selfie. Gally. The horizon isn’t level!

Our stop for the night is a carpark in Laye, just north of Gap. We walked up to a monument overlooking the town. It was erected to commemorate the townspeople who lost their lives when German soldiers burned the town in July 1944. It also commemorates four of the Maquis who died in a firefight with German soldiers a short while afterwards.

Tuesday 15th March 2016

We got cracking early. Montgenèvre, Grenoble and Gap form the three points of an equilateral triangle. For us the shortest route is Montgenèvre to Grenoble but we have to travel along the other two sides of the triangle because of the landslide just north of the Col de Lautaret so from Gap we head north to Grenoble along the route de Napolean. The lakes we passed looked very low. It must have been a dry winter and the meltwater had not arrived in volume yet.

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Jo writing up her diary or is she doing yet another killer sudoku?

Despite the mountain roads we made good progress up to Voiron but the shorter stretch from Voiron to our lunch stop alongside the fast flowing, wide and cystal clear River Rhone near Lagnieu was slow progress mainly due to the traffic calming measures (enormous speed bumps and multiple chicanes).

France must be the world’s foremost nation when it comes to building roundabouts followed closely, I must add, by Spain whose rate of construction must surely see them overtake the leaders sometime soon. Apart from the obvious delay they cause and the additional fuel you use navigating them you also have to listen to Mrs SatNav bleating out “In two kilometres take second exit from roundabout” You can almost feel the spit on your face as she annunciates her words with the emphasis on the T’s.

We also had a long and steep hill to negotiate. There was a 2.6 metres height restriction part way down and we were shed off to a side lane. We thought we might have to turn back but a man in a hut said all we needed to do was press the button and the barrier would rise up and let us pass. It seems that buses and lorries are not allowed down that stretch. Maybe some large vehicles had lost control in the past.

The afternoon section was much easier, mainly dual carriageway, as we left the mountains behind.

We rolled onto a large layby near the River Loire just south of Lagnieu took Gally for a walk back up to the river to where the Canal du Centre crosses the river on an aqueduct. Not as high or spectacular as the Pontcysylte near Llangollen but impressive none the less.

About thirty vans parked up. One Brit, (us), one Dutch, two Swedes, about six French and the rest German, I assume from the colour of the skin of some of them, on their way back from the Costas.

Two selfish Germans parked alongside the river rather than pointing towards it taking up five places. A French guy gave them a mouthful but they were unconcerned. Jo was going to write a note in French to put on their windows but they left very early so the opportunity was missed.

Wednesday 16th March 2016

Only 265 kms to do today across the central flat lands of France. Long straight roads, occasional villages, some dual carriageway and some country scenery. Grey day although no rain.

We stopped shortly after midi for lunch in a small country restaurant. Don’t walk into a restaurant after 1pm in France and expect to get fed. Lunch is at midi. At one the doors are usually closed to latecomers. The lunch was good if not spectacular. Fed and watered, we only had about eighty kms to our overnight stop at Marcilly-en-Villette, just south of Orleans, a sleepy little town way off the main road and in the middle of nowhere. What the occupants of the town must do I have no idea. I guess they must all commute to Orleans.

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We have no concerns about leaving the van with our guard dog on patrol!

No water or electricity or even mobile signal here but plenty of space for Gally to run but we had to head him away from the field where two swans were in occupation. He had already surprised a pair of Mallards who beat a hasty one to the river.

Thursday 17th March 2016

The sun has returned and we woke up to a beautiful spring day.

Set off but stopped at a Biocoop and Jo spent a vast amount of money on her gluten free stuff.

The journey was such easy driving and we made such good progress we decided to push onto Dieppe to see if we could get an earlier ferry which we did so we are now on the ferry to Newhaven. Back to the UK and fortunately some dry weather as it’s getting late.

Another great holiday in the campervan and no need to get out the chains (Thank God). Well done Miss Bus.

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Autumn Trip to the Pyrenees 2015 Week Four


Wednesday 21st October 2105

We had stayed in an aire in Pierrefitte-Nestalas on the road from Gavarnie to Lourdes, a popular walking route along a valley with the Tourmalet on one side and Luz Ardiden on the other. We, however did not plan to go onto Lourdes but turn north and cross the Col de Soulor (1,474m) and then onto the Col d’Aubisque, (1,709m) which I had planned to ride up.

First we had to stock up with provisions.

The road up the Col de Soulor was very narrow with overhanging rocks. It became even more narrow up to the Aubisque, however, there was a large car park, a restaurant/hotel/bar. We had lunch, Gally had a walk and the clouds came in and it became very cold.

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We noticed a sign warning the road was inadvisable for caravans and motorhomes. Bit late! It should have been at the start of the ascent, not at the top! There was also a timetable of when larger vehicles could use the two passes so there is only one-way traffic for larger vehicles. Missed that sign at the bottom, too; if there was one.

I really did not fancy the ride down in the mist and cold as I have no gloves and no warm cycling kit and besides I have to leave something to come back to another day.

Col d'Aubisque

TDF colours; polka dot, yellow and green on the summit of the Col d’Aubisque.

I bought a racing vest. The guy in the shop said they were only available to cyclists who rode up. I said I had done the Pyresourde and the Tourmalet so he said “OK”. I think he was only pulling my plonker! The first part of the descent of the Aubisque was a bit bum clenching.

We descended to Laruns and a well organised, mechanised aire and paid for our space for the first time since we started. Jo had to help a French couple who could not gain entrance through the gate although the instructions were in French. What would the French do without the Brits!

Thursday 22ndOctober 2015

Just a short trip today to meet a friend of Joanna’s in Arudy near Pau and in whose garden we planned to stay the night. We managed to catch up on internet stuff as he is an electronics wizard (actually a chemist in an earlier life) We had lunch in a posh café in the town and chatted about rugby (Trevor’s first passion and about which I know a little) and cycling (My first passion and about which Trevor knows quite a lot; Pau being a regular start and finish town on the Tour de France and Trevor is a keen cyclist too. Meanwhile, back at the house, Gally chased Trevor’s cat up a tree.

Friday 23rd October 2015

We grabbed a decent shower whilst it was on offer and the water pressure certainly blew away the cobwebs. We needed to fill up with gas so Jo sorted out a garage near Pau. We wanted gas from a mountain area to ensure it had a high propane content as our next long trip will be to the Alps next February for our skiing trip. Butane alone goes solid at freezing point and does not gas off. The heaters would fail and all the water tanks would freeze up. That would be the end of the holiday. The garage in Pau turned out to be near Bayonne but no worries, the content was entirely Propane.

We headed for the coast and Cap Breton. An aire on the beach with Electric, water and drains all for eight Euros a night. At last the Gally dog could have a real run. We walked a couple of miles on the beach watching the surfers. The aire was filled with camping cars of all nationalities. The British contingent in their surfmobiles (ancient tranny vans) kept everyone awake till quite late.

Saturday 24th October 2015

We allowed Gally a good run on the beach as unbeknown to him he would be in the dog cart for the next few hours. We packed a picnic in case we were unable to get moules frites. It is quite a big marina and also has a commercial sector for small fishing boats indeed the early boats were already selling their catch on the wharf. We followed the coast northwards and stopped to give Gally a run on the beach. Inland the wide cycle paths continued. We stopped for an ice cream. Jo wanted hers in a tub because she can’t eat the cones. We asked for two scoops each. We got one each with a blob of squirty cream, a biscuit and a glass of ice cold water and we were charged about a euro more than advertised. No tip for that lady!

The path became rather narrow at times with hemispherical iron bollards along the track. I chose this time to give one a nudge with Gally’s trailer, it leapt a couple of feet off the ground and slid along the path on its side for a couple of metres before I stopped. Jo got Gally out to check for broken bones whilst I righted the trailer. I was still cussing from when I let about a dozen froggie cyclists past and not one said “Merci!” Obviously affected my concentration.

Gally reluctantly got back in the trailer with Jo pushing him from behind as hard as she could. As soon as we got home we took him to the beach to settle his nerves. We had cycled 27km. The cycle track, for 95% of the trip was excellent, wide and separated from the pietons by a white line. Despite this,  pedestrians are inclined to step into dangerous territory. Well it’s dangerous when I am around. Not sure how other competitors are going to cope when triathlon events are all draft legal!

Tomorrow there is some sort of race on around the town so we plan to go and get our moules frites and watch the race assuming we can get Gally in the cart.

In the meantime, I am writing the blog although publishing will have to wait till I can get a signal. Jo is doing Sudoku and the dog is asleep, exhausted. The surfers are all sitting in their vans as the waves are not the right sort.

After supper we go for a walk, surf is up and there are dozens of black, wet-suited surf dudes out in the waves. Why are wet-suits always black? Mine has yellow/green fluorescent writing on it so why not make an entirely yellow one, for example. It would show up better if a rescue were needed.

Gally is completely exhausted. He just loves to run whether alone or chasing other dogs.

Sunday 25th October 2015

We never go to a port town without sampling the moules. We set off for town on our bikes, Gally reluctantly got in the trailer after I promised to ride more carefully. We parked by the church and wandered round all the cafes in search of les moules but no joy. Back to the bikes and a ride down to the port. That’s better. We found a restaurant right next to where they land and sell the fish. Gotta be fresh here. A starter of one plate of crevettes with alioli between us followed by an enormous bowl each of moules marinieres for Jo and in cream with lardons for me. They were small moules but lovely. We just could not eat them all. We both had ice creams afterwards and the resultant glass bowls full were bigger than those shown on the pictorial menu. Gally had a bowl of water.

Jo, as usual, will do a trip advisor report. Excellent and quite good value. No sign of any race but it could have been on the other side of the lake.

I had had far too much to eat but Jo, after a short siesta, well another killer soduko from her book, headed for the beach with her blow up body board. To avoid embarrassment, we went well away from the proper boarders, finding a spot midway between the campervan crown and the campers a mile along the beach. It was not a great success but Jo thinks it might be if the waves were of the correct type! I held onto the dog.

Looking along the coast the shoreline was shrouded in mist, the spume which blew off the tops of the waves.

The sunset was reasonably spectacular.Sunset Cap Breton

We descended to Laruns and a well organised, mechanised aire and paid for our space for the first time since we started. Jo had to help a French couple who could not gain entrance through the gate although the instructions were in French. What would the French do without the Brits!

Monday 26th October 2015

It would be a shame to come all this way and not have a swim albeit in the North Atlantic in late October in the early morning but determined we were. It wasn’t so much a swim as diving through the waves as they crashed on the beach. Jo had her blow up body board but I gave up trying to inflate mine and just larked about diving through the huge waves. Gally amused himself by chasing about on the beach but when he had got out of sight we decided to give up the swimming. It was great fun. Next time we go down to the sea we will buy proper body boards. I have now swum in two oceans and Jo three.

Hot porridge for breakfast and stocked up with bread and a nice sticky bun from the baker who calls at the camping-car site we head off. We aimed for a site at Fontet near Marmande. We have been before. It is by a small marina/canal basin, very peaceful and has electric but it is expensive, nine Euros a night!

Fontet canal scene

On the way we plan to visit a museum about turpentine which is made from all the pine trees which grow in this part of France. There is a shop, Jo needs to stock up but both were closed. We came across a chateau and as neither of us has ever visited one we pulled up. Everywhere in France seems to close down at the end of September.

Tuesday 27th October 2015

No great rush this morning, we are only going about 50km, first to the vet in Marmande to get his lordship’s anti-tick injection so he can get back into the UK. Wimp! He just cried when he had the jab. My cats were braver than that! Relieved of 41 Euros we had a drive round the myriad supermarkets in the area. We looked in car showrooms as our next rendezvous is with an old friend and one-time pupil of Joanna’s who lives nearby but who would not be arriving home till 9pm. We parked up in his yard and took Gally for a walk but it was really only a cover for scrumping more walnuts. We ate as many as we could on our walk, crunching the shells with our bare hands. They were the best tasting so far.

Gally amused himself by picking up corn cobs which had been missed by the harvester and throwing them about scattering maize all over the place. He just cannot go anywhere without picking something up and shredding it. The maize fields stretch as far as the eye can see. This is arable land. Flat as an ironing board with small towns dotted here and there. Nearer the big towns there are business parks and an enormous number of supermarkets, DIY stores, electrical retailers, car showrooms and all the other shops the consumer society wants and needs.

Jo’s friend is a larger than life chap, a rugby playing, kite surfer who install bathrooms and kitchens for the rich and famous in London. We had a long and chatty evening catching up. (Jo hasn’t seen him, his wife or their two children for about ten years).

Wednesday 28th October 2015

We had breakfast with our hosts having spent the night in their yard. The breakfast juice has convinced us we must buy a Nutribullet to make smoothies.

A top-up of water, goodbyes exchanged and we had a long day of driving ahead. We avoided the Bordeaux M25 (thanks to Mrs Sat-Nav) and headed up towards Angouleme, Poitiers, Chatellerault and are just south of Tours.

Toll free motorway and A-roads along the way and we have settled in an aire we have visited before. Run by a German chap it is a field on the edge of a wood and all very pleasant not that we need any of the facilities.

Thursday 29th October 2015

This is a pretty uneventful part of our holiday. The holiday really finished after our visit to David and his family and now it is just a case of driving home. Jo offered to drive but I know she does not enjoy it and, besides, she is a much better navigator than me and although I have the SatNav on Jo really knows more than Julia or whatever her name is this week about the best route to take. After all Jo has travelled this way for many years always spending summers at home with her cousin Sarah, which is where we are heading right now.

There is no great rush today. We want to fill up in Dieppe. Euros1.06 a litre. We are due to sail at 5:30 tomorrow morning from Dieppe.

Friday 30th October 2015

The usual plan is to arrive at supper time, have something to eat and get to bed as early as we can setting the alarm for 3:30 when they start to whisk us through passport control and customs although, as there didn’t seem to be many vehicles queuing up they seemed to be a bit more leisurely about it. They did check Gally for his chip, well, I did, and then we park in the secure area where we finish our breakfast before boarding, have a leisurely cup of coffee and then wash up under the close supervision of the car passengers who may have brought a flask with them but were generally cooped up in their cars fogging up the windows and staring enviously through the smog at the campervanners.

Loading up is pretty swift. Those who use Dieppe/Newhaven do so for a reason. There is little hassle from illegals. Two likely looking lads climbed over a fence but before they took more than a couple of steps they were spotted and shown le chien gendarmerie. They beat a hasty retreat. Consequently there are a lot of lorries. Campervanners may like it for the same reason as us. You can park up in front of the gates after the 7pm sailing has gone and bed down for the night. Plus, it is not expensive. We can always get a seat, even a comfy aeroplane type chair if you want to sleep. If you didn’t sleep you’d have seen this sunrise!

Ferry sunrise

And so back to the UK. A couple of visits to make whilst we are in Sussex/Surrey and then back home which will have disappeared under the falling autumn leaves and five weeks of post.

Autumn Trip to the Pyrenees October 2015 Week 3


 

Monday 12th October 2015

We drove back to Santa Margarita, unloaded the bikes and the dog cart and set off to Roses to meet with friends Clive and Diane for coffee. We had cycled along the fairly crowded prom and had lots of comments from people who thought a whippet ought to be running alongside rather that riding in his carriage like a king on his way to his coronation. Problem is if he stopped I would probably wrench his head off. He just cannot be trusted to run free. He would either chase another dog for fun or steal a child’s ice cream.

After lunch we had to go and satisfy Jo’s desire to see some birds. Over to the Aiguamolls then.

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European storks

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A dab chick

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A lesser black backed seagull

 

Some (fallow?) deer.IMG_2363

Back to Jeremy and Pat’s drive for an overnight stay.

Tuesday 13th October 2015

Went to see Carles the accountant but he wasn’t in so over to my bank to close my Spanish account then back to La Bisbal via San Pere Pescador for a lunchtime bite at the river’s edge. More tile shops but at last we do seem to be getting somewhere. We just need another day before a final decision is made.

Stayed the night at the aire in Quart. Very cosmopolitan. Us Brits, Spanish (campervanning is becoming popular with the Spaniards), Belgian, Swedes (rare visitors) and the inevitable Frog van.

Wednesday 14th October 2015

Market day in Jo’s old home town of Cassa de la Selva. Jo also wanted to visit her old estate agent Narcis, who was also her pupil, and her art tutor Carlos. That done more fruit and veg from her local market. A bag full of food for less than four Euros. Thankfully no apples. We brought some stewed apple with us and Jo also scrumped a load of apples which she also stewed. Desert has been, “What would you like with your stewed apples, dear? Rice pudding or apple yoghurt?”

Back to La Bisbal. The shop we really wanted to visit was closed for the day so another day hanging around, unless…

We did eventually find some tiles we both liked. These are not just mass produced machine made tiles but hand painted, home-made tiles produced “round the back”.  We bought the tiles for the main area in one shop and then individual hand painted tiles from a couple of other shops. Now I just need to fit the jigsaw together. Amazing what sort of deals you can put together if you flash the cash. The black economy is alive and well.

Filled up with diesel at 0.99.9c/litre. Beat that.

The poor old bus is getting rather full. I lost a pullover of Jo’s when I offered to carry it on a hot day. Off to Decathlon and between us bought several pullovers, trousers, boots and shoes (mainly for skiing trips). Now about three hundred tiles. The fridge and the food trays are stuffed full. Gally takes up a lot room too. He has his fold up kennel strapped to the sofa. We didn’t fix it at first and he must have rolled over in the night and the whole lot crashed to the floor. It scared us all. Gally must have got a fright and I thought we were being attacked.

Back to Jeremy and Patricia’s driveway for the night. We called on old neighbours Werner and Alex to say “hello” on our way up the hill. Alex is a prolific cook. She is always making stuff. She gave us a jar of her home made fig jam with a label in English, “made by Alex in Can Isac”

Thursday 15th October 2015.

We did not plan to do much today. Visit accountant, not in again, take Gally to the beach for the last time, have lunch, go back to Decathlon, shopping in Carrefour especially for their crunchy cereals, forgot them. Visit Lynne again, then pop into Jacqy Harding’s on the way home. It was nearly six by the time we got back onto Jeremy’s drive.

Internet reception was quite good so caught up on the latest news.

Friday 16th October 2015

It has been a great few days in Catalunya. Do I miss Catalunya? I miss the weather at this time of the year and the wide roads and lack of traffic but that is about it. Do I regret moving back to the UK? No!

Beautiful, bright clear start although a bit chilly. Filled up with some of Jeremy’s lovely water – I owe them both a beer.

Over the border at Le Perthus avoiding the toll road and on into Perpignan and turn left at the airport heading for Foix. If anyone knows how to pronounce it please tell me. This road runs through Cathar country. I took Sue out this way for a picnic. She said it was an awful long way to go for a picnic but understood when No. 1 son descended from the sky on his paraglider having jumped off the parapet of the castle at Peyrepertuse.

The road started to rise as we headed back towards the mountains. The scenery is spectacular. It seems that one unfortunate driver did take a shortcut and appears to have smashed through the concrete barrier rather than use the winding way home. I hope he/she was OK. We did pull up at a layby a bit higher up but too far away to see what had happened. The fire brigade was there in force.

Near the top of the coll is a large aire de repos.

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We pulled up mainly to give the dog a leg stretch. Good view so we decided to stop the night. Lots of paths to choose from. We followed a path to the ridge. The drop down the other side was vertical for several hundred feet. Jo posed for a photo. Having read of the fate of a young girl taking a selfie in a similar situation recently and losing her footing and ending up brown bread at the foot of the cliff we decided a selfie was an indulgence too far. Who would look after Gally… and my bikes?

Joanna on ridge

The drop down the other side. Almost vertical. You certainly wouldn’t hit anything hard for quite a long time.

Saturday 17th October 2015

Very early start for us. Wonderful sunrise.

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We stopped by a river in St Martory for lunch and use of the aire. The riverside walk involved more scrumping, this time figs. We lurve figs.  The Romans had been here.  Mile after mile of dead straight roads apart from the chicanes in the small villages designed to deter the heavy lorries.

We left the main road and headed for the Col de Pyresourde, one of the famous Tour de France Cols. If we had got here earlier I might have got my bike out but in truth I am saving myself for the Col du Tourmalet, the day after tomorrow.

Tonight we are in a layby six km from the top of the Pyresourde with the first snows of the winter on the peaks opposite us up towards the Lac d’Oo (which means lake of lake. Lac being French for lake and Oo being lake in the local dialect. Confusing or what?)

Sunday 18th October 2015

We are a bit ahead of schedule and although a grey, dank morning after rainfall in the night it was quite warm so we drive to the summit of the Col de Pyresourde and I get my bike down, don my cycling kit and rainproof and head back down the mountain. I tell Joanna if I am not back by one to send out the rescue dogs.

I am apprehensive about the whole expedition. Will my brakes be up to the job? I see professional teams are trialling disc brakes so they must be OK. Will they get too hot? I take it easy for the first couple of corners but all seems fine. My heart is racing. Gaining confidence I speed up… just a little. My heart rate slows down. I intend to only go as far down as where we camped the previous night. The Garmin tells me that is only about 5kms but hey, this is a TDF col, the first of the “Five Cols”.

I start back up the mountain, it is not that steep to begin with. Brief stop to remove raincoat. Yes, I know the TDF riders do it without stopping but I am no great bike handler. I am on my cyclo-cross bike so I have gears to spare. I spot about 20+ vultures flying overhead. They are waiting for me to collapse. Perhaps I should not stop but I do but they fly off before I could get my phone out for a photo. Joanna is there to meet me at the top but only just. The whole trip has only taken about three quarters of an hour. I am back by 11:30.

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Col de Pyresourde

We stop at the aire at Arrau for lunch and then head for the Col d’Aspin. This is longer, steeper and much narrower. It’s a pretty scary drive in the van never mind on a bike. No barriers at all and very steep drops. My brother and my dad would be heading for the door and walking up. We pass a couple of old guys, well they’re my age. When they get to the top we chat with them; lightweight bikes. They explain the Tourmalet is no steeper than the Pyresourde, just longer, about 20k. I am fired up and ready to go.

We stay overnight in the car park just below the ski station at La Mongie.

Monday 19th October 2015

OAP conquers Col du Tourmalet

Below the car park is a dam which is undergoing some sort of maintenance work. There’s lots of equipment and materials on site and we just found out how they got it here – helicopter. This big blue bird intrigued Gally on his early morning constitutional. He just stood and gazed at it.

It was a decent enough looking day, just right for a bike ride so after breakfast we set off for the summit.

I was not so nervous this time. I stopped after a little while. My brakes are making some strange sounds. I check they are firmly fixed to the bike. OMG, that’s hot! The discs were white hot but the road was levelling out and straighter so I could let them cool. It is 17km to the start at Saint-Marie de Campan. There is a statue to Eugene Christophe (see photo). Christophe is better known than the winner of the 1913 Tour. On the descent of the Tourmalet he crashed and broke his forks whilst well in the lead. Team cars did not exist in those days and he had to effect any repairs himself so he walked 10km down to Saint-Marie where there was a forge. The blacksmith could only offer advice as Christophe repaired the forks and set off on the road by now some way behind. Christophe was fined ten minutes for allowing a seven year old boy to pump the bellows for him.

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I set off taking it easy. It’s a long way and I didn’t want to blow up before the top. I estimated I would be back at the summit for one o’clock. Jo was getting worried when one came and went. When I did eventually arrive at the top some twit had parked diagonally across the lane right on the blind corner. I cursed and Jo missed the shot. It didn’t help that I hadn’t set the camera to “rapid fire” seven shots a second for 70 shots. Great for sports photography. So after the obligatory picture in front of the statue of Jacques Goddet, a journalist on l’Auto newspaper and race director of the Tour for many years. I rode back down the hill for a couple of hundred metres and did it all again for the camera!

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Different mountain, different racing vest,

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Gally bows at the feet of the conqueror of the Col du Tourmalet.

We desperately needed fuel. It’s a bit pricey in the mountains but we spotted an automated fill up at a price we could stomach. Jo jumped out to check the machine was working and measured her length on the pavement. Cuts and bruises on her hands and knees and looking very pale she needs a lie down whilst I fill up. Ten minutes and some colour has returned and after some self-administered first aid whilst I wash off the diesel from my hands we are on our way.

After lunch we headed off to Gavarnie. Jo is reading two books, “Backpacks, Boots and Baguettes” by Simon Calder and Mick Webb and “If you only walk long enough” by Steve Cracknell and both rave on about the natural wonder the Cirque de Gavarnie. This vast and spectacular geological amphitheatre rapidly became Europe’s most visited natural site and gained UNESCO recognition in 1997. Let’s hope it isn’t raining tomorrow when we don our walking boots. It’s a 10km walk.

Tuesday 20th October 2015

We met a couple of young Brit travellers in their VW Camper. The Cirque de Gavarnie is a UNESCO world heritage site. We have them in the UK; cirques, corries, cwms whatever you want to call them but not on this scale. The early outlook appeared grim. Low cloud but the Tourist Office assured us the cloud would disappear after lunch so we set out on the climb. It’s about 5k each way. Decide for yourself. It is quite spectacular.

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Sadly, Gally had to be on his lead. You could tell he was itching for a run but satisfied himself on the way back with finding sticks, the bigger the better. “Mind your ankles!”

Autumn Visit to the Pyrenees October 2015 (the first two weeks)


Autumn Holiday to the Pyrenees

Autumn Holiday 2015

At last, holiday time. We seem to have been so busy since we moved back to the UK twelve months ago. Work on the house, a bit on the garden, Jo’s art classes and now, more recently, resurrecting her love of dancing and in particular Scottish dancing and me, well I just do triathlon; running usually twice a week, swimming likewise and cycling definitely twice a week. We also played badminton twice a week at 06:45. Early but not always bright. We packed that up for now but might have another go at some time.

September

We made a list of all the things we needed to do in the way of repairs and modifications.

We moved back to the UK last September and have had couple of long trips since, Skiing in Montgenevre in January and a long weekend in Warwickshire for the Stratford Triathlon in May. We added to the list of things we wanted to change or modify on the van so with four months between the Stratford trip and this one there was plenty of time to get on with it. We continued to use the camper all summer, sometimes two or three times a week. On Monday and Friday evenings the Lymington Triathlon Club would go swimming in the sea at Milford on Sea so we would get there early and take Gally dog for a walk, have a swim then a cold shower in the van and have supper watching the sun go down, which, as September approached would be during the swim, at least for me! Same thing with running training. I would run, Jo would take Gally for a long walk. We would then have a coffee or lunch in the van so we would have plenty of opportunity to be reminded of the jobs that needed doing. A week before our trip I decided to get on with them. Taking two bikes on the trip would be easy. Taking the dog as well was another matter. He has more paraphernalia and gadgets than me. I planned to put his trailer on the bike rack. No chance! It would either rub on the back wall of the van or worse still scratch my bike! I did all the things that needed repair or replacement but none of the modifications I had planned. Oh well, before the next trip, maybe.

Late September.

Packing underway. Space found underneath for the dog cart, the canoe, oars, crash hats, running shoes, walking boots, cycling shoes, wet suits and all the other junk we carry round with us. Although we both have tablets with Kindle books we still have to find space for reading books, magazines and maps. Maps, Jo loves her paper maps. I prefer digital maps but Jo will pore over her maps for hours. I washed the campervan, shooed all the spiders from behind the rear view mirrors and out of the shower room.

Monday 28th September 2015

All the last minute stuff. I dashed off to Tescos to get a data card for our mobile wi-fi device. No need to start paying before we need it. “Don’t sell them anymore, mate” says the mobile phone salesman. Off to Bournemouth to the Three shop. OK, got everything. Photo ID please. “Sugar” Back home for my passport. Cut the lawns, tidy house. Neighbours coming for a tour round and shown the orchids to be watered.

Tuesday 29th September 2015

Jo was rushing round like the proverbial fly with a blue backside whilst I was my usual slothful self. I was expecting to leave home at about one but Jo had rescheduled. We were to be away by 10:30. Water, fuel, gas, and air to load, dog to have really long walk/run to tire him out, lunch to be had. Eventually left at 11:30. Just about on time for us. Used our last Tesco discount cards on the diesel but their airline did not have enough guts to fill our tyres to 87psi. Filled the gas tanks in Lymington; airline out of order. Down to the yacht haven in Lymington for a run along the sea wall and a very quick picnic. Motorway service station for air. They service lorries so quite capable of supplying enough air for a little van. Out of order. Straight to Brittany Ferries terminal and a chance to grab a coffee. Lots of huge mobile homes heading for a winter in the sun. Last chance for the dog to have a walk before going on board. Not keen on having a pee in front of all those people!

Poor dog, the indignity of having to wear a muzzle. We had a couple of practice runs and he was not keen, desperately trying to remove it. This was a plastic cage type I had bought at a fun dog show recently after he completely rejected a canvas one which seemed to irritate him to the extent that he was doing somersaults trying to reverse out of it. Anyway it was only for the short journey from van to his kennel on the top deck. We left him to get our own stuff for the next 24 hours on board and to book a table for dinner. I heroically volunteered to go down and book a table. It was a marathon event. Jo eventually come looking for me, couldn’t find me and got the information team to put out an APB for me. I was back in the cabin by then. Jo must have thought I’d fallen overboard. It became a marathon because people were taking so long to choose their seats. Everyone seemed to want to sit by the windows. Pointless really because it would be dark by the time they sat down.
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Dark or not we had to go and see the dog. We were conscious that he had not had a pee since Lymington! We stayed with him for about half an hour walking round the decks and discovering that others were having the same problem. We gave up and hit the sack. At 11pm I got up and tried again but he obstinately refused to have a pee. Surprised how warm it was despite the wind.

Wednesday 30th September 2015

I had forgotten it was my birthday but neither Jo nor Gally had so I had presents to open. Jo had already been up to take Gally for walk. He made one step out of the kennels and literally burst on the deck with the longest pee Jo had ever seen a dog do. He had not had a pee for about seventeen hours and still not had a dump for over 24 hours. What a good dog although the kennels are fitted with canals should a dog need a pee in his kennel. We had breakfast in the café. Jo’s gluten free bread was better than my oven cured house bricks and I do not jest. Wi-fi available in the café so catch up on emails. More birthday wishes and another visit to see the dog. I’m surprised he slept. A dog who was barking every time we went there, was barking during my late night visit and was still barking. Poor thing will lose his voice. Makes life hard for the gentle animals who just want to sleep.

The sea seems calmer. It must have been rough in the night, it certainly was this morning causing us to reach for the Stugeron. We had given Gally a small dose of tranquiliser last night. We left Portsmouth in bright sunshine, there was a splendid sunset last night but this morning has been dull and cloudy, however it is slowly brightening up the further south we go.

Breakfast came and went as did lunch. We whiled away the time reading and gazing at the vast ocean. At about four the dog owners were called to collect their animals. There was a dearth of muzzles despite a demand in capital letters for them. Gally had his on despite his best efforts to remove it, just as well as he tends to eat small dogs for breakfast. (Kidding really, he prefers caviar).

We returned to the cabin to collect our stuff and then returned to the van and Gally who still hadn’t had a dump.

That was the quickest exit off a boat I have ever witnessed, a cursory glance at the passport photos and we were driving on the right and heading for somewhere for the night. Jo had reconnoitred the coast on Google Earth for some likely spots and she put Ajo on the shortlist. We tried a couple of potential sites but no joy then eventually ran up a dead end. Spectacular! Fifty metres above the beach with steps down and wide ranging views. Gally loved the beach. Virgin sand and masses of it all to himself. He just loves to run.

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Just the job for Gally literally and we followed him round with a handful of plastic bags. In bed before nine. I do like my own bed. Gally had chased off a runner and he was no doubt dreaming of more to chase as he crashed out too.

Thursday 1st October 2015

Next morning was cloudy and cool. Gally found another runner to growl at and was surprised when the runner growled back in English. He’s not being aggressive just saying “well let’s play. You run and I’ll chase you!”  Undeterred by the grey clouds straight after breakfast we went down to the beach and Gally had a chance to really run.

The sun was getting brighter as we headed for Gernika, or Guernica or Guernika depending on whether you are Basque, Spanish or a mixture of both. I wanted to see the Civil War monument but we were shuffled onto the bypass and I missed it. Next time? For those that don’t know the German Eagle Brigade used Guernica as a practice target for their new bombers during the Civil War. About 1,200 men women and children were killed. Piccaso created a famous painting following the event and which, I believe, now hangs in the Gugenheim in Bilbao.

Lunch outside the Urdaibai Bird Center. We are about to visit after I’d done the dishes. Jo went for a walk with the dog alongside the centre but found nothing much to look at so the idea was shelved.

We cruised along the sometimes very rocky coast. We were looking for a likely spot for the night. We tried a couple of places but usual problem, height barriers, but stumbled upon a car park on the beach.

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It was obviously a well know spot with several other, mainly French, vans called Playa Saturraran just across the bay from Ondarroa. We took a walk along the coast path to Ondarroa watching the lightening far out to sea. We began to hear the thunder after we had ordered drinks and then it began to rain… heavily. Nothing to do but finish our drinks…slowly. We had no waterproof clothing, no umbrella and it was about a mile back. It eased off, we set off, it stopped raining.

We could spend at least a month in the Basque Country󠄵.

Friday 2nd October 2015

We don’t get up terribly early unless we have to. We continued along the coast for a while then headed south at Deba towards the high mountains. I happened to notice a campervan sign at Tolosa and after a lengthy drive round a car park found all the facilities we needed and all free! A little further on at Lekenberri (nice on toast) we stopped for a couple of geocaches. We haven’t done any geocaching for about a year.

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We planned to find the aire in Pamplona but are having difficulty with our wi-fi connection. Hopefully it is just because we are in remote areas as I am struggling with a phone signal too. We stumbled upon a car park very near the city centre which was already occupied by a few other Spanish vans and a German who told us it was only a short walk to the old town and there was a lift. We eschewed the lift when we saw the queue. It was not a long walk and not too steep. One Spanish town is very like any other Spanish town. Huge squares surrounded by tapas bars. Tapas is said to have originated in the Basque Country. Pamplona is the home of the bull run. Once outlawed it is now part of the town’s culture. We had a drink and some tapas and wound our way back via the narrow streets the bulls run along goring as many of the runners along the way to the bull ring and their grisly deaths.

Surprisingly quiet night considering our proximity to the town centre.

Saturday 3rd October2015

Filled up with some very expensive fuel at over a Euro a litre. Up the road it was only 95c. (That’s about 70p per litre in English money). After a detour round Pamplona we headed north first to a reservoir at Aoiz called Embalse de Itoiz.

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They must have had a very dry summer as the water did not even reach the base of the dam. It must be fairly new as it was shown as a proposed reservoir on Joanna’s map dated 2003. Newer maps and my Sat Nav show it as a huge lake but not at present although there were indications it had filled up at some point.

We saw what we assumed were buzzards ahead. We pulled over and got out the glasses. They were griffon vultures, about 30 of them. As the entire population of the Pyrenees is only about 500 that was quite a lot to see in one go. Griffon vultures almost died out because the farmers shot them, the farmers shot their prey and when they had shot all that lived there was nothing for the vultures to eat. The French started to feed them and they then became too numerous again. They have reached a happy compromise at about five hundred birds.

We continued to Arive, the nearest point to the French border so far. Jo saw a police car of the Comunidad Foral. She thought it read “floral police”. Come to check the state of your garden, no doubt. Some of the villages were beautiful. Lovely houses decorated with geraniums. We are quite high up, over 1,000 metres. (3,100 feet) so it can be quite grey and chilly in the winter with snow for several months so they make the most of summer.

We visited another reservoir, the Embalse de Yesa, but the story was the same here too. Very little water and a long way from the roadside. The canoe stayed in the campervan. We needed somewhere to stay and Jo saw a sign to a picnic area at Cinco Villas in 7k. It was a rough old road and we overtook a group of walkers and a group of cyclists. There was a bar and two big dogs. We walked our dog and were followed along the road by the dogs making sure ours did not get up to mischief. Eventually they gave up and went home. We left Gally in the van and went for a drink. The cyclists turned up first having ridden from San Sebastian (about 50k) on mountain bikes. Four walkers turned up doing the Camino de Santiago and then the three we had overtaken. This bar is a hostel on the Camino de Santiago trail. This is one of the many Camino de Santiago routes starting from different places but all heading to Santiago de Compostela. Apart from the bar and its rooms the whole village is derelict. There is a sign on the wall of the bar complaining that the people of the area were forced by Franco to work like slaves building the reservoirs. I think that there is still (some?) resentment towards Franco and the right wing elements who gathered round him.

Sunday 4th October 2015

The dawn looked clear when we peered out just before eight. It had certainly been a cold night. We thought we might fill up from the village tap but the water was turned off. Back along the bumpy road. They were building a brand new road with a huge bridge but although not opened we thought we might christen it but could not find a way onto the virgin tarmac. At the eastern end of the reservoir we were able to get onto the new road which, we assume, has been built for the benefit of the skiing fraternity. That’s us in the winter. Just looking out for some skis for Gally.

Unusual rock formations along the side of the road…

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We pulled into a very nice garage and blew up the tyres at last. We also got some free water, too. By now it was drizzling so we had an early stop for lunch, Gally got a very short walk and the picnic spot was shrouded in mist and light rain. If it clears I will get a photo. It didn’t clear so no photo.

Photo of a small town perched upon a hilltop…

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The drizzle didn’t stop so we pressed on. Lunch was overlooking yet another almost empty reservoir, the Embalse de Lanuza. Down below our parking spot was an outdoor theatre with a floating stage except that the stage was marooned on dry ground. It will be sometime before that floats again. The villages were more Alpine in style and we could see the cable car and ski lifts higher up the mountains. Jo reckons the skiing is very technical. Certainly the mountains seemed very pointed. None of the long gentle slopes I am used to.

After lunch we drove up to the border at El Portalet and the highest point of our trip so far at about 2,000 metres. There was nothing much there, a supermercado and a bar. We drove a little way down the hill to a spot we had seen and parked up, donned our wet weather gear and wellies, issued Gally with a woollen coat and a waterproof outer and headed for the hills. Soon in the clouds and getting very wet. Gally loves the mountains as much as the beach charging away uphill and leaping from boulder to boulder. Garmin shows 2281 metres (about 7,000 feet i.e. twice the height of Snowdon) Back in the van we hung all the wet stuff up in the shower and turned the heating full on. Reminds me our skiing trips. We played 9-spot dominoes for an hour or so then I cooked (burned) supper.

Monday 5th October 2015

It had been wet and very windy all night so it would be a porridge morning. Jo cooks her light gluten free mix and then I make a bowl full of stodge liberally doused in runny honey. Yummee!

We were in the clouds but we were warm and snug. The heater had been on low all night. Even the dog had not wrapped himself up in his blanket as usual. No great rush to get started. We were ahead of planned schedule and although I wanted to be in the high mountains there was no point being up in the clouds and the rain coming down in buckets.

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Belgian campervan in the mist.

The streams were full and cascading muddy water into the reservoirs. Ugh! We have to drink that! Well at least some people have to. It would take an awful lot of rain for the reservoirs to rise just one centimetre.

We needed some provisions but decided against going back up the mountain although it was only a couple of hundred metres we thought we would find a bigger supermercado in Beciras. The road turned left just before Beciras. Never mind, next town.

Jo shouted “Stop! Stop!” Not another sheep in distress and needing righting. No. Walnuts. We had bought some fresh ones but they were quite expensive. We collected half a supermarket bag full in five minutes. They’re good for your cholesterol. We’ve had walnut salad every day almost.

We did find a supermarket but it was closed. Fiesta, would you believe? Jo bought a couple of things from a small shop but the fresh food looked anything but fresh so we drove on by.

We came across several abandoned villages. We assume that the residents were Republican sympathisers and either left for South America or joined the evacuation across the border to France and have never returned so the properties could not be sold.

Some of the scenery in the valleys was spectacular. We just wished we knew more about Spanish geology. The drive to where we are staying tonight was an amazing but buttock clenching, toe tingling drive. We met a large lorry and pulled as near to the rock face as we could and he was about to squeeze by when he wound down his window and said there was a bigger one just behind! We dashed on a bit and found a small layby as the lorry carrying a road building machine trundled by on this narrow mountain road. This is not high enough for skiing. Rafting seems to be the leisure sport round here. They are just waiting for the rain which cleared up an hour or so after starting out, indeed the sun made an all too brief appearance but it’s raining again and the streams are fast filling up but they will need to be much deeper and faster for rafting.

Tuesday 6th October 2015

Raining quite hard in the night but brighter in the morning.

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Overnight stop at El Run

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Typical Spanish. Beautiful valley so they build a factory. It is quite a recent building too.

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We have been having trouble with the water supply and I heard a shriek of “there’s no water left” I checked the tank. There was plenty. Last time there was a problem I ran the taps for a couple of minutes and all was well. So the operation was repeated and the water heater turned on. After a couple of minutes the light went out. Must have already been hot but no water in the tap. Turned the tap on again until water appeared at the tap. Checked the pump. The water was running back into the tank. The non-return valve was obviously damaged. This was catastrophic. Miles from the nearest campervan shop, Quart near Girona or Narbonne Accessories in guess where? Narbonne. No shower this morning then. The pump is not serviceable. You chuck them away and fit a new one. What a pain, no water to flush the loo, no water to wash up in and no shower. We carry a couple of water bottles for such emergencies, washing out the toilet cassette etc so a quick swill with cold water.

We only went a couple of kilometres and were off course. Both chattering and didn’t notice we went about 2k out of our way. We had a long white road to travel until we reached the main road from the south up to the Val d’Aran, geographically French but politically Spanish or should I say Catalan. The old road wriggled along the valley floor but this wide road clung to the mountainside. We went through a tunnel nearly 6kms long. The old one was still open if you fancied it but I gather it is narrow and very low. Not for our little van. We were not high up, about 1,000m and descending. We passed a rather more full reservoir. Water was cascading down the sides of the valley after the overnight rain. This river heads north and enters the Atlantic near Bordeaux.

We stopped off in the major town in the area, Vielha to stock up with provisions and other goodies like chocolate. Ever since I have known Joanna we have had two pieces of chocolate after lunch and supper. Probably the reason I have not lost those last few pounds I want to shed.

Bashing on we crossed into France although without our digital maps on the laptop we would not have noticed. We turned back and started up a narrow white road but came to a grinding halt on an uphill bit when we had to give way to a frog coming down. Getting started again was impossible and with the smell of burning clutch lining in the cabin we decided that retreat was the better part of valour and backed down the hill, turned round and headed for somewhere for lunch.
After lunch we did what we came for. Put our boots on and walked uphill. Gally had to be on his lead. Just as well. We had to stop him eating his way through the local lizard population who were having a late warm up in the sun. I doubt he would have been quick enough to catch one but we were not keen to find out.

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Some looked on enviously at our salad lunch whilst others just mooned at us.

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We turned up the road on the right.

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The view from the path we had taken. You can just see the road below in the middle distance on the right. The autumn colours are beginning to show.

We moved the van to the Refuge de Honeria with a view to staying the night.  During the making of supper Jo discovered the tap was working. Must have been some grit lodged in the non-return valve. I think we might get one when we get back home to put in the spares box, just in case!

You can see from the track Jo is walking along we do not stay on the well-trodden highways but the tracks less often trod. No campsites for us with their bingo halls and high tech discos!

It’s raining again. Supper, write the blog, read, go to bed.

Wednesday 7th October 2015

It wasn’t a bright morning and we didn’t stick our noses out of the van until about ten. It had rained most of the night and the sound of the stream grew ever louder. It started to hiss at eight o’clock. We did eventually don wet weather gear, a rucksack with some provisions and an umbrella and headed up the path. There must be some construction work going on as large lorries were moving back and forth despite the 3.5 tonne limit and yesterday we had to move over for an articulated trailer with a huge metal sieve on the back. Well it looked like a sieve. We walked uphill for a couple of kilometres to find the work going on at a dam. Barri de St Joan de Horan. Neither the track or the dam were shown on any of our maps although the dam must have been there for fifty years or more. The reservoir was empty but we wondered where all the spoil had come from and where the lorries were taking it.

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El barri de St Joan de Horan.

It was beginning to turn out quite nice by now. We filled our water tank from a tap outside the refuge and Gally had a rough and tumble with the guardian’s dog, a Breton spaniel.

We retraced yesterday’s route to Vielha where we stopped for lunch. Heading east we started climbing on a good road through Baqueira Beret, King Juan Carlos’ (retired) favourite skiing venue. Skiing is considered an elite sport in Spain hence its high cost compared with France. At the ski station at the top we let Gally out. He must be pretty bored of all the travelling so he takes every opportunity to stretch his long legs. We found an old fashioned machine, we assume that it is some sort of snow clearing machine. I’ll look it up later but here is a picture.

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A snow clearing machine called “El Peeter” Peeter of Zurich was the manufacturer. There was a geocache hidden amongst its innards.2072 metres at the top

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The summit,

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The ski lifts on the nursery slopes.

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Looking back down the valley.

2072 metres at the summit (6,800 feet) and then a long and very winding drive back down. I take it pretty steadily on these mountain roads. They don’t all have Armco yet and one lapse of concentration and we could be taking the shortcut to the bottom and arrive home in a very small wooden box. This is where digital maps are very useful. I know what’s coming up, how tight the bend is and what’s round the next corner. It’s like having your very own Denis Jenkinson sitting on the dashboard right in front of you. DJ? Look him up. Sterling Moss’ right hand man in the Mille Miglia. They will hold the record for eternity.

A full reservoir, Panta de la Torrassa. At the southern end we turned right and headed uphill again to Espot, another ski station and then onwards to Parc Nacional Aiguestortes only campervans are not allowed and we got turned back. The parking area in the town said no campervans after 10pm so we retraced our route back down for a couple of klicks and are parked up at the roadside with yet another stream beside us tumbling down the mountainside. It has turned out to be a lovely day. It’s cold up here though. Might need the heater on later.

Thursday 8th October 2015

Three regions, three languages. Euskara in the Basque country, Castellano in Aragon and now Catalan in Catalonia. This does not include the different dialects of the different valleys, for example Aranese from the Val d’Aran

Today we would eat in three different countries.

Not an early start but we are both OAP’s. Breakfast then in Spain. We headed for Andorra and a cheap fill up. 90c a litre, that’s about 60p/L. Couldn’t find LPG though despite there being dozens of petrol stations. We want to buy some in the high mountains because it has a high propane content which we need for our skiing trip. We stopped off in a supermarket we have been to before it has “degustacion gratuit” We’re not interested in the booze although we did buy some liqueurs very cheaply but in the free food. All sorts of meats are sliced up for punters to taste. We’ve had a four course meal in there. We just walk round picking up food to taste, ham, wild boar sausages, horsemeat followed by all sorts of sweet things, Turron, chocolates, biscuits. We don’t feel guilty, everyone does it and we did spend eighty euros.

The main road from Spain to France more or less cuts the country in half. Roads run out from the main road to the ski stations. We turned up the road to Coll d’Ordina. We went up there a couple of years ago but only a short way as it was closed. There is a picture elsewhere in this blog of the campervan at the high spot with snow six feet high each side. This time we stopped near the pass on a large layby. Lunch, then, in Andorra.

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High up on the Coll d’Orlina in Andorra for lunch.

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Gally in the navigation seat.

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This monument erected in 1991 commemorated the 25th anniversary of the Andorran Social Services.

The main road ran on towards the border with France.

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This is the road towards France. We just have to get down there.

 

We chose the winding road over Port d’Envalira down to Pas de la Casa rather than the new tunnel and then across the border into France. We found a large layby for the night and had a third meal in the third country in one day.

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Friday 9th October 2015

The layby was on the Coll de Puy Morens just inside the French border and at 1915m. It was windy and not a cloud in the sky. Result; it was bloody cold the temperature down to freezing point. I took Gally for a walk up to the ski slopes before breakfast.

We were heading for Llivia. It’s part of Spain but surrounded by French territory. When the boundary between France and Spain was drawn up it followed a ridge along the major peaks of the Pyrenees. The villages each side would fall into either France or Spain and become part of that nation. Lllivia fell into France but did not want to be French and successfully campaigned to remain Spanish on the basis that it was a town not a village. Consequently it is about 5k from Spain and surrounded by French soil. There are apparently no signs in France pointing to the town.

On arrival it was like a smaller version of Andorra. Lots of 3-4 storey apartment blocks and most of them holiday apartments.

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We booked a table for lunch and then walked to the ruined castle at the top of the hill overlooking the town and found two geocaches. We had traditional lunch. Jo chose Catalan and had galta (pig’s cheek) and bolets (woodland mushrooms) and fried vegetables. I had French, steak tartar which is raw beef topped with a raw egg yolk and some very very hot mustard with walnut bread. Postres were equally good.

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We drove back into France and a resting place for the night. Took the opportunity of visiting the laundry. Running out of clothes. Some strange sculptures in the town called Saillagouse.

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One of the several unusual statues in Saillagouse

Saturday 10th October 2015

Thirteen campervans squeezed into an aire made for five so an early breakfast so that we could top up and get out before the rest roused. We know the rest of the Pyrenees from east of here as we have either skied there, or had days or long weekends up there so we headed straight to Decathlon and then on to Empuriabrava beach and familiar shops for provisions.

Whilst Gally was eating up the miles on the sand we noticed the kit being installed for a triathlon. We found out that there was to be half Ironman starting at nine the next morning.

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Gally had found something on the beach to play with.

We visited old friend Lynne King and parked up for the night on the driveway of Jeremy and Patricia’s house immediately below my old house in Palau-saverdera.

Sunday 11th October 2015

The tri was due to start at nine. We had earmarked a spot for the van the previous afternoon and headed straight there. As with everything Spanish it was late starting. The sun was up, no breakers, very little swell, no tide, no current; what more could you ask.

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I wish I had entered!

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Some of the early swimmers home. There is a long line in the background.

 

Having seen the 1.9km swim leg of the tri we needed to feel some of the crystal clear stuff ourselves so headed for the beach at San Marti d’Empuries and the car park near the ruins of the Greek and then Roman town. We have parked up there overnight in the past and nothing seems to have changed. We only had our shortie surfboarding wetsuits but the water was quite warm. Our kit failed us as Jo’s mask fell to bits so she had mine. She managed to see some fish swimming round the rocks I couldn’t even see the rocks and blundered into them just below the surface.

I have half completed the kitchen at home. We need some wall tiles and the centre for ceramic production in this part of the world is La Bisbal. Most of the ceramic shops are open on Sunday and we visited all of them without seeing anything we really liked. Monday is National Day so everyone will be at the beach. We will look again on Tuesday.

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Taken from where we parked up for the night at St Marti d’Empuries. I lived in the furthest left of the villages you can see in the distance. The sea is a nice colour when the sun gets up.


Final Day of Ski School


Friday 30th January 2015

Lots more very fine snow overnight. There was a waist high drift at the side of the van but it did not prevent us from opening the door. Our French neighbours said that we ought to clear the snow now whilst it was still powdery and before it froze but it would have to wait till later as we had to catch the bus. The highest lifts were closed initially but the instructor took us off piste into the deep snow and we entertained each other by falling over spectacularly but no damage done. Jo did a couple of hours so the van was nice and warm when I got back.

We paid €30 for a week’s internet and it just has not worked since Tuesday. We complained to the Tourist Office who gave us a number to ring but it was a machine speaking in double quick French which even Jo could not understand so another trip to town after lunch and the usual gallic shrug about the internet. They sent us off down to a café with free wifi only it wasn’t free. We found one that was but Jo never managed to get on the internet. Crappy iPad thing. I got on on my cheap Samsung tablet. The orange flavoured vin chaude, however, was hot and most welcome.

We are back in the van, rugged up and writing diaries and stuff. We have made a list of all the improvements we need to make to the van ready for the next trip. We did that on the last trip but never really got round to doing most of them but living in adverse conditions does find out the faults such as the draught proofing round the driver’s door could be better and the heater failed again but assistant mechanic Joanna suggested that the vent for the boiler might be blocked with ice. When the hot air exits the vent it forms drops of water and as it is minus 8C it instantly forms ice and blocks the air intake so the heater dies. Answer; it has to run all the time but we will bring a hair dryer to melt the ice if necessary. We had thought of de-icer but that might not burn too well if it gets into the boiler. We need a better snow shovel, one of those big plastic jobbies. My shovel has a thick layer of cement on it and it’s bloody hard work after half an hour!

The snow continues to fall and so far we haven’t seen the huge influx of Italian motorhomes into Montgenèvre. Perhaps the pass is blocked. A big lorry seems to be laid up in the car park here.

I’ll now try and upload some photos and a video but the internet here is a bit fragile. If I can’t do it I’ll upload them when I get home.

Surviving – Day Four


Thursday 29th January 2015

The promised snow has arrived but only about a couple of inches so we get kitted up and head for the bus. The driver knows us and waited for us. The skiing on fresh snow is supposed to be good. All I can think of is it makes a fall a little softer. I don’t know, I didn’t fall over today.

The sun made a gallant effort to appear but failed and the powder snow and the mist made seeing difficult. Jo found her goggles steaming up. I think mine are double glazed. Jo gave it up at about ten thirty but I continued until the end of ski school at lunch time. We normally go out again after lunch but we left the skis and the ski boots behind and did some shopping. Jo found herself a pair of goggles. The snow has continued to fall so we have got tucked up in the van to catch up on our reading as the snow seems to have disrupted the wifi.

Day Three of Ski School


Wednesday 28th January 2015

I’m getting towards the limit of my ability here. The world gets ever steeper, the ice ever harder and the technical level ever higher. I fell three times this morning, admittedly without any physical damage. The rest of the group are much younger than me apart from one and they are all a bit gung ho about it. My highest speed for the day was 55.9kph. That’s about 35mph. 44Km travelled and over 10,000 feet of ascending all courtesy of my triathlon watch which has skiing in the list of other sports it can record.

The day was fine if not cold but later in the afternoon we thought we saw the snow clouds looming but they passed us by. Maybe they’ll steal in tonight. If they do we will not hear them unlike rain which pounds on the tin roof.

Second day at ski school


Tuesday 27th January 2015

We were early this morning so got a couple of short runs in before the ski instructor arrived. Jo was off to do her own thing. I was still at school. I met my instructor from last year and had a short chat with him but he was shepherding a party of youngsters (who ought to be in school, in my opinion).

My group were doing ever more adventurous stuff. The slopes were getting steeper. Mattieu said we would do a couple of red runs to practice speed control. The first did not look too bad and it did level off a bit at the bottom but the second was a different matter. We stood on the top and looked over. It was near vertical. Lots of short sharp turns. “Bend your legs Richard (pronounced the French way) Don’t lean back or you’ll fall”. Too late, although I only fell once all morning and it wasn’t like the head banging session I had yesterday.

We did about 24 kms. I then met Jo and we headed back to the campsite. It is about a mile on the bus but much nicer on skis although that worked out at three ski lifts, to get across the road, then come all the way back down towards the campsite including a bit of off piste. About an hour. By bus five minutes but hey?

During our session in the afternoon we stopped to watch the gendarmerie and their dogs doing avalanche rescue practice.

We did about four more ski lifts (the plan is to reduce the cost of a ski lift to reasonable proportions. If you do just one a day it will cost you about 30 per lift. If you do ten the cost comes down to 3 per trip etc. My Garmin also tells me I also travelled more than 50kms today

Ski school starts today


Monday January 26th 2015

A 9:15 start seems quite relaxed but we need to be up for about seven to get a shower/wash breakfast, teeth cleaned, get kit on, thermals, thick socks, neck scarf, ski suit, helmet, and then the boots. They’re the real hard work and then there is the walking in them to the bus stop about 200m and then there is the bus itself picking up people on route to the town centre and the ski lifts. You’re lucky if you don’t get your eye poked out by some little kid (who ought to be in school) who has no control of his ski poles or whacks you on the shins with his skis. Adults are as bad throwing their skis onto their shoulder without a first glance behind to see whose head he might sever or tucking his ski poles under his arm again without thinking whose eye he might remove.

I joined a party of four French people and three Brits, including me. I did one day last year as a novice before promotion to group one. Now I am in group 2. We skied for two and a half hours and then I joined Jo who had skied on her ownsome all morning. We did a couple of runs, stopped for a bowl of chips and vin chaude (gluwein), did a couple more long runs right from the top and called it a day. It was pretty cold on the top and you get absolutely no respite when you are in an open ski chair. During the morning session some of the girls in the group said they were feeling the cold so we took the cabines instead but there was no such luxury for us on our chosen route.

We took the bus back to the van, changed our boots and walked back down to the town to do a bit of shopping and to loosen some muscles.

Early night beckons, we are both dog tired.