After our trip to the Pont du Gard we drove to a small family run campsite near the town of Vion, beside the Rhône. On route we stopped off for lunch and were intrigued (again) with the love of picnics by the French. We want to try it too, we always do and it wouldn’t be so difficult, but it does require some prior organisation. We felt jealous walking past as we headed for the motorway services cafe.
We are guessing their picnics are more special than traditional Irish picnics. I see no tin foil. I smell no egg sandwiches. No Fanta bottle with gone off milk in it (for the lukewarm tea.) What are they feasting on? And they don’t need picnic tables, they eat standing at their car boots. They don’t even need children, we’ve seen grown adults meeting at the car boot for lunch. Some have cool boxes, others have baskets! Willow baskets! We have tried to linger longer beside them and have a good look but the baskets… they are so distracting we don’t see the food. Oh and the neatness of the boot? Very neat.
Today we think we might have cracked it…. the charcuterie (you might know it as a delicatessen?) We haven’t been inside one yet because it’s a little overwhelming not knowing what everything is but the whole picnic mystery is making us brave enough to give it a try.
Plus, this could be the solution to eating/not eating the pictures of food on the ferry… do you remember? If we can locate a charcuterie near Cherbourg, we will not be tempted by the pictures of pancakes, white sliced pan toast and lumpy porridge. It will be worth the effort. It’s a bank holiday in France today as I write and the local charcuterie is closed but maybe tomorrow…
On our way to the Pont du Gard on Saturday we called in to a boulangarie we had seen on our first day here, Marie Blachère Boulangeire. It’s a chain of bakeries, there’s many of them around but we packed this one because of the parking – plenty of room for us to fit in without bumping anyone. Yaa.
By Saturday we had been there three times and the lady was beginning to recognise us. She didn’t quite understand my version of French so she always helped out by speaking a little English. I wanted an Americano but with extra hot water – no one in France wants this so it’s always more difficult to explain. Added to that the queue in every (yes, every!) boulangeire is long but moves surprisingly fast because the servers zip through the orders. Zipping through the orders does not allow for hard to understand Irish tourists. But this lady slowed down and got what I was trying to say and I got my hot water every morning.
On Saturday, maybe because I was so excited about going to the Pont I forgot to buy our daily baguette but she realised I had forgotten and brought it over to me when there was a break in the queue. Then she said, that’s for you and wouldn’t take payment! Are you feeling the love? I certainly felt it.
And at the same time I was conflicted. It’s hard to accept a gift, isn’t it? I find it hard. I wondered what should I do for her. But what can I do… just accept her kindness and feel grateful? It is something I have been thinking about during the pandemic times. I received such generosity at times when I could do nothing to repay it and I was uncomfortable. But when I got the opportunity to be generous, giving felt so good that I realised accepting is necessary. For giving to happen, accepting the gift is part of the contract. Accepting is part of human connection. It’s Give and Receive, not Give and Give.
We went back to the Post du Gard last Saturday and I got loads of pictures. It really is a beautiful peaceful place, in spite of all the people visiting. We arrived a little before opening time – 9.30am. The sun was shining but it wasn’t too hot. We have become experts at working out the best time of the day to do things in order to remain cool.
Early morning – 8am – for walking outside, but you have to get back inside before 11.30am. Mid morning for walking or sitting inside – if it’s air-conditioned or there’s a little breeze through the window. Mid-day for driving with the windows down.
Mid afternoon – find shade or keep driving with the windows even further down. Late afternoon – poor you, just suck it up. Late evening for walking, in general you’ll feel better if you get a walk in now, I promise. Night time for sleeping as best you can with the windows open near a source of breeze, sea breeze is the best.
Anyways we were there at the perfect time of the morning in this beautiful place. First stop, we went to see the museum and the best video presentation I’ve ever seen at a tourist site. Seriously. Just enough information, given in a way I could understand. Plus the photography was superb.
I always find it very difficult to grasp big numbers when I hear them. For example, the Post du Gard is 50 meters high but really, how high is that? Well in the video they had different items pictured beside the Pont like 16 elephants standing on top of each other to help show how tall that really is. Good, right?
And they had cartoon planes standing one behind the other on the top level of the Pont. I love how creatively helpful that is.
You’ll have to go there and visit the cinema in the museum to see all the other creative things they did to help explain this amazing monument. I just love it.
We were still in the town of Remoullins when we realised we needed water. There is water available at this parking but it’s a bit too close to the toilet cassette empty station… if you know what I mean? I mean the tap may have been contaminated… But we had a plan, we know a place nearby with a grand tap. The place where it rained!
So we packed up and drove the 4 minute route to water. While I emptied the grey water (dirty water from washing dishes and showers) into the drain, Denis got the hose to fill up with clean water. But… there was no hose, the hose was missing. We looked everywhere, there’s not a lot of places and we always put it in the same place… but you know what it’s like when you can’t stop checking just one more place. It wasn’t anywhere.
Questions:Where did we get water last? Did we leave it there? Did it fall out when I was taking out the table and chairs? Answers: Don’t know. Don’t know. Don’t know.
Not very useful answers. We have no idea where the hose and the many connection attachments (needed for different countries/areas) have gone. We felt the disappointment of loss… small enough loss for me but a little more upsetting for Denis. He had spent years of happy searching for those connections. He had his favourites – the metal ones. His least favourite but good in a pinch – the plastic ones. In a situation like this there is an opportunity to search for blame. As in, finding the specific person (out of two…) who might have forgotten to put the hose back after using it. It must have been our lucky day – we did not take the blame opportunity. We took the ask for help opportunity.
There was a French man standing outside his motorhome at the parking and Denis went over and with his best French asked for a loan of a water hose, which was given freely. Five minutes later we had water and I had assembled a Merci pour le tuyau d’eau card. I just hope it says thank you for the water hose and I just hope it means the same thing… We will need to buy a new water hose and start rebuilding our supply of connections.
Loss can create opportunity and you can choose the opportunity you want.
We reluctantly left Béziers after two days and travelled north again for an hour past Montpellier and to motorhome parking outside the town of Remoulins. It turned out to be waaaay outside the town and there were no path and fast cars on the roads making walking perilous.
We struggled to go for a walk but there was something even more beautiful, something we had missed. Something we have not been about to get a hold of since Zafra in on the west side of Spain, 32 days ago… Rain. It rained! Not for long and not very heavy but enough to remind me that rain is a good thing and I’m sorry for not appreciating it.
And then it stopped and the sun came out and it’s even cooler. All is well in the world.
Next morning we moved. There was parking closer to the town with walking and cycle paths nearby. The town is very old in the old part and very busy in the new part. And there’s what I have started to call the singing bridge between our parking and the town. We went for a walk to get groceries in the morning and although the bridge has a very lovely singing voice, I do not feel at ease crossing it by foot so I went in the opposite direction for my afternoon walk.
As I have repeated to you often (sorry) the afternoon is the hottest time of the day but… this is France and hundreds of years ago someone had the great idea to plant trees along the road and today I benefitted from their foresight. And the shade they provide. I know I’ve also mentioned shade a lot on this journey but I have to mention it again – shade is a precious, precious thing and trees give it unselfishly. Thank you to the trees and thank you to the planter of the trees.
It was 2km down that shaded road that I found a huge surprise – an aqueduct. Yes! Another one! This one was built by the Romans in the 1st century AD. I think it is magnificient. It’s called Pont du Gard, Bridge over the river Gardon. Its purpose was to bring water to the town of Nîmes, 50Km away! Those Romans were something else. It’s a UNESCO world heritage site and it’s just down the road. This France… is also something else.
P.S. We’re going to visit the Pont du Gard museum on Saturday, it’s on the other bank of the river and closer. Hopefully I’ll get better pictures.
And just like that we are in France! It is many days since Alicante and it is cloudy and a little cooler. I promise not to talk abut the heat again… unless it is absolutely necessary.
Here’s the catch up: We left Alicante and drove for the whole of last Saturday until we reached the border town of La Jonquera, north of Barcelona. 671km. Not exactly the way we planned to travel but it was grand. We found a little restaurant up the mountains near a village called Cantallops and had a lovely meal to spend the night in their car park. It’s not recommended to park overnight on the border so this was a better choice. Sorry no pictures, we were not firing on all cylinders at that point.
Denis had steak with blue cheese sauce. Cannot think of anything worse but he loved it. And I had a duck and mushroom stew from Granny’s menu (I think it means like Granny would make if she was a good cook) with bread for dipping – absolutely delicious. We also had desert, coffee ice cream for me – yum and Irish coffee for Denis (is that desert?) which he said tasted exactly like the best Irish coffee he’s ever had.
Next day we drove to Béziers in France. For years I have wanting to visit something that I had seen in photos but didn’t know its location. It turns out it’s here…
We stayed in a motorhome parking site and there was a map of the town and the things to see and one of the things to see was the Pont Canal de LOrb, the Orb river canal bridge. Not a name that describes the spectacle of the Pont Canal de l’Orb. Every canal or river has a bridge but this one is a bridge with a canal in it – the Canal du Midi goes over the river on a bridge – like magic! It was opened along time ago in 1858.
Before the boats can go over the bridge they have to be raised up to the level of the bridge and that happens in the locks. Again, that’s normal with a canal but they have a special lock here too. Called the Fonseranes Locks, they are like a staircase for boats. More magic. You’ll have to google the Fonseranes Locks to see picture because not knowing about it before this I didn’t walk to the other side of the bridge, sorry. Anyways I was so taken by the bridge I forgot to wonder how the boats get up on it. On our side there was just one big deep lock.
The Fonseranes Locks are like a staircase for boats. If you can imagine a narrow three step staircase with deep steps, very deep, the length of a canal barge deep. And high, the height of the hull of a canal boat. The boat enters the Fonseranes Locks at the ground level. The ropes are tied and the gates are closed behind. The gates in front open and the water starts filling – the boat rises… to the height of the first step. The boat then moves forward until it is above the second step and the second gate is closed. The gate in front opens, the water pours in and the boat rises above the third step and moves forward again. The gates close, the gates in front open and the water pours in again, the boat rises. Now it’s at the level of the water on the bridge that will take it over the river.
That’s pretty magical, right?
Ps I didn’t know until I was researching this to write to you that it’s called an aqueduct in English and there’s one carrying the Royal Canal over the M50 motorway in Dublin and another carrying it over the River Inny in Co. Longford and another in Co. Kildare? Are there more?
I’m writing from a motorhome park near Alicante, on the east coast of Spain. There’s a cool breeze and some shade beside the van, for now. But I did find a public area out near the road which has shade all day long so I will visit there when the van shade disappears. It’s a bit of a palaver following the shade but it keeps me sane – well worth it.
This area of Spain seems very fancy on the one hand with pretty beach-side promenades and a tram and expensive restaurants and on the other hand huge high rise apartment blocks. It’s also a bit more expensive for groceries. But the people in the campsite, the owners are lovely. They are also remarkable. To hear them speak three languages in a group of people is pretty amazing.
Yesterday I was outside writing in the sliver of shade and there was the strongest breeze blowing – perfect moment – when I heard a crash and looked up to see a neighbour’s awning blown into a crumpled mess. I’ll tell you our awning story another time but for now you need to know awnings are great and at the same time delicate in certain situations. Situations like wind. They need to be rolled up or tied down when the wind blows.
Now, the neighbour’s van looked deserted and locked up so I needed to do something. All around were French, Dutch and Germans and not knowing how to explain to them I went in search of the park owner. He was in the reception area and I was scrolling through my translate app for the word for awning but there were a lot of words to figure out so instead I said, I have to tell you something in English! It’s like something I’ve said to a friend when I was breaking bad news, there’s something I need to tell you… Anyway he was working on something under the desk but bright as a button he says, that’s ok I speak English.
I explained the problem with the awning and the wind and the missing neighbour, he locked up the office and off we went. The aforementioned French, Dutch and Germans were gathered around the awning by now. One more thing you need to know is there are a lot of different awning manufacturers and they each seem to have invented their own method for rolling up their awning so although each of these people had an awning and a pole for rolling it (or automatic rolling – imagine!) none of them had the right one for this awning. (Ironically, our awning pole would have worked but as our awning story will explain we no longer have an awning or an awning pole…)
The manager took in the situation straight away and started talking to each of these people (Note: he may not have spoken dutch but as I have mentioned before the dutch nation’s superpower is having the grasp of most languages on earth (slight exaggeration, only slight) so they understood everything.) Anyways, as he spoke to each one he looked at them and knew which language to use and each time someone said something he replied in their language. In this way he found someone with the right awing pole and he started to roll the distressed awning. And then he turned to me and said Thank you and he turned to each of the others and said thank you to them in their own language. If you don’t think that’s amazing, I’m not telling the story right.
Then we returned to our vans feeling like we had done a good job of being a human. And the people who own the van have no idea what happened around their home from home. I can imagine them saying, didn’t we leave the awning open this morning?
We arrived in a town called Bullas. We were following the sat nav and didn’t notice it was bringing us the direct route but not the best route. How would it know? It’s not real, it’s just a bit of software. Plus we humans didn’t know. Actually we don’t feel very human at the moment. We might have made a big mistake turning right instead of left leaving Portugal. East instead of West.
We were learning from the locals to drive in the morning and stop for lunch in the shade or better still in air conditioning and at to only park at a place with a tree or many trees and get out into the shade while the van sizzled in the heat. We had arrived from Antequera to the town of Vélez-Rubio (32℃) and made our way to the free parking on the edge of town under a tree. Perfect. I sat under that tree all afternoon. In the evening we walked to the town like everyone else and when the sun went down it started to get cooler. At 8am next morning it was already 17℃ and we set off down the road to Bullas and a campsite with trees, showers and a washing machine. The sat nav said it would take an hour. Easy.
Two hours later we arrived in Bullas. The sat nav took us the direct route through the mountains instead of the easy longer (but faster) route on the motorway. It was beautiful and frightening. Sorry, but there was no way we could stop to take photos, Ruby took up most of the windy narrow road. I will include a map to help you understand. This has happened before. with Our sat nav thinks we want to take short cuts – we don’t want to take short cuts! We know to check this before we set off. We didn’t check. We are off balance.
Right now my mind is doing somersaults with projections for how long more we will be in this heat. I wish I had a balanced mind available to do something useful about it. Should we go back to Portugal? Will it be any cooler there? How will I get the bookkeeping done? I cannot see a solution. It feels like this will continue for days and maybe even into France until we can get home at the end of June to cooler weather.
Oh that was good. Good to get those scary thoughts on the outside where they can float off. Right so… here’s the situation. It’s hot at the moment. The forecast says it will continue to be hot. So that’s given – a situation that’s true. But just because the forecast says there will be hot weather doesn’t mean there will be. But there might be. So deal with it when it comes. Already we have learned some things: 1. It’s cooler in the morning – go out in the morning. It’s cooler in the shade – find shade and sit in it. Dehydration pushes me off balance – drink liquids. My mid drives me crazy – practice meditation.
We have always loved the spontaneous nature of travelling in a motorhome. The making it up as you go along planning. The ease of changing your mind at the last minute. Yes, so wonderful… hmmm. So we looked at the weather forecasting app and it showed us two cool zones – one to the west via Lisbon and Porto and on towards northern Spain. One to the east along the Mediterranean Coast towards Malaga and the mountains to Granada and then towards Madrid and the cool north. But… the weather forecasting app was incorrect. There was no cool in the mountains or anywhere else, sadly.
We left Portugal on Saturday morning having our last nata at a motorway services. Which in hindsight was probably a bad omen. It was the least lovely nata of the trip. Then we drove across the border into Spain and along the motorway to Seville. Here we stopped on the outskirts for fast food and groceries. It was 30℃ in the shade. And there wasn’t a lot of shade. We kept going. By 5.30pm it was 36 in the van and we had arrived at a town called Antequera to spend the night parked outside the sports ground. We had travelled nearly 400km. We did our best to cool ourselves and the van down and then I lay on the bed quietly contemplating the situation. Denis meanwhile googled air conditioners. His contemplation has always been more action based while mine is just quiet desperation. I was remembering the tunnel under the town of Béjar. Do you remember? I would gladly sit in that scary tunnel now… Cave dwelling? Yes. Yes, that too. Underground? Yes, please! Wet, windy, cold Ireland? I am so sorry I misunderstood you!
A couple of hours of that and we were both ready to venture outside where it was cooing down. We found a park with benches and sat watching a couple throw a ball to their dog, children playing tag and a lady sitting under a tree. It always puzzled me to see the Spanish students in Greystones sitting together on the damp grass in the middle of winter chatting. I understand now. It’s what works here. It’s what you need to do and the Spanish system plans for it. They put park benches everywhere and in the cool of the evening people sit and meet their friends. We were recovering, so we went to the cafe for a drink. Denis had a cold beer. I wanted a hot tea, an Avoca pear and almond scone and a little light rain so I had an iced tea. I can’t for the life of me remember what was so bad about a rainy day in Ireland…
Next morning I went for a walk early while it was still cool. The town was buzzing. Everyone was out walking or visiting the bar, there were groups of men drinking beer at 8am. At least I think they were drinking beer I was trying not to stare. This town has a lot of interesting attractions but it was already too hot to walk around by 9am.
Spain, you are absolutely magnificent but I feel we’re going about you the wrong way. Is there a manual, a user guide for those of us unaccustomed to your heat?