General

General stuff

Rogil

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The  beach at Rogil is surrounded by very crumbly cliffs. Odie barked madly at falling rocks, convinced there were little animals moving about just out of view. Chris was no better, squealing and dashing away from the cliffs as rocks fell, then performing hasty u-turns and more squeals as waves rushed up the beach toward her.

Wine, BBQ and a seaside sunset, what's not to like?

The fallen rocks are inlaid with seams of quartz, some look like an iced doughnut, others have fully formed crystalline structures. We had fun assembling them into different formations.

There are many places to stop along the cliff-side roads. We found a suitable spot and fired up the barbeque. It’s become something of a tradition so far to cook meat over a fire for dinner. We’re not complaining, and neither is Odie!

Odie watches eagerly as Chris BBQs outside ...

Autumnal Italian Colours

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On our travels we tend to avoid the toll roads. This is partly due to the fact that our van can only potter along slowly, and partly due to the cost.  However, we have found the ‘normal’ roads in Italy are very slow and traffic-clogged.  We opted to use the toll road to get us back to Abruzzo.  The cost for a three hour drive was only €8 and saved us an hour and a half on journey time. Not bad!

We arrived in Opi, a very traditional Italian town in the heart of Italy’s oldest national park – Pollino.  The town is made for little people. Everything is in miniature; tiny houses with even tinier doorways peep out at the streets.  We found a great wild-camping spot looking over the Opi valley with almost no traffic and no surrounding lights, (something of a novelty in Italy) and woke to find ourselves perched loftily above the clouds. Years of office jobs have properly prepared me with the sense of self-satisfaction that can be gotten from sipping coffee, and munching biscotti like some sort of demigod, hovering in the clouds, while watching irritated worker bees rush past in their Fiats and Peugeots to their nine-to-fives. Bliss!

We spent the next few days trekking and hiking through the mountains and valleys of this idyllic area.  October is probably the best time of year to visit. All the trees were metamorphosing into balls of red, orange and yellow.  The weather was beautiful and, in contrast with an English autumn, the sunlight dazzled, setting the trees on fire.  One downside is that dogs are not allowed climb any mountains due to the presence of chamois, a kind of mountain goat.  We obeyed this to the letter, except for a ridge walk where we ended up being much higher than we were meant to be and encountered a couple of chamois that stood so still we had trouble deciding whether or not they were statues.  A hard climb should always be followed by a hearty lunch, and we made sure we kept to the rule.  There’s nothing like a steak and cherry tomato tagliatelle at the summit of a great mountain! (Ask Odie, he tracked down a couple of stray pieces of steak !) We made a desert of miniature apples (the width of two fingers fully grown) scrumped from wild apple trees.

Into Italy

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Today we arrived in the land of pizza, pasta and tiramisu, and I dread to think how my waist line will fare in the coming weeks. Time to break out those running shoes for some preventative measures!

Our most urgent task was to find a replacement gas bottle before we end up living permanently in a pizzeria with ample food and warmth available next to the wood fired ovens.  Several stops at various garages got us no further than learning the Italian word for gas bottle (bombilo) and how often to hoot when performing a u-turn. Lady luck had not forsaken us, but instead sent two Italian motorhomes to park up right beside us just as we were giving up. Chris has become a master of mime, and within a few minutes of performing the gas-bottle act to bemused Italian crowd we had an address of a gas company firmly in our grasp.

We managed to purchase a new 11kg bottle for €25 and refill our small blue Calor bottle for €12. Hurrah, our dinner options now include those of the non-takeaway variety. If you need gas in Italy you may struggle at service stations but try and find out if there is a ‘Liquid Gas’ supplier in the area.


The Stone Man

On we trekked to the nearby town of Bolzano. The MMM (Messner Mountain Museum) looks at man’s relationship withmountains. The exhibits are displayed on many levels, and at some point you will find yourself hiking up or down steep stairways. There is an eclectic mix of religious (mostly buddhist), artistic and spiritual displays. I felt inspired by the exhibits as they give an insight into the impact mountains have on humans which is, in many ways, unconnected to the physical world. A word of warning though, the museum does not accept any form of bank card so you will need the €8 entry fee in cash.

Ironically the mountain museum is parked right next to a municipal dump where a man-made mountain of old car tyres grows larger by the day. The strangest part of all was hearing the bhuddist meditation bells being imitated by the loud beeps of reversing rubbish trucks.

Washing woes

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We usually try to avoid industrial towns as they don’t tend to have a lot of interesting sights to visit. Singen is no exception, but we stopped there as it was on our way to Lake Constanz. There is a fortified castle which looks over the town and it is worth trekking uphill for some good views over the surrounding countryside. Apple trees are abundant on the path up to the castle and we made the most of it by doing some serious scrumping. I had to be careful not to stab one of my eyes out as I teetered on David’s shoulders, desperately reaching for wormless specimens.

Previously we have done all of our washing at campsites, however in Germany we have only stayed in Stellplatz which are far cheaper but have limited services. We have struggled to find self-service laundromats in towns and consequently our washing is starting to take over the van. Soon we won’t be able to move for dirty t-shirts!

Switzerland

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Switzerland is expensive! We had been on holiday to Gruyere before so were prepared for the higher cost of living, or so we thought. Restaurants are pricey (20 Francs for a salad at the places we looked at) so we didn’t eat out, and a nights camping near Bern the capital cost a massive €40. We also had to pay road tax – €31 for a 2010 pass. However, don’t let the cost put you off visiting as there is a lot to see and do.

Bern (named after the brown bears which used to frequent the area) is a wonderful city perched high above a thunderous, fast flowing river of an incredible aquamarine colour. The main city bridge is covered with fences to protect sightseers from taking a nasty tumble (or drunken dare-dive) but they kindly leave one bit unprotected for taking photos. With many sights to see we settled for a stroll about the place after dark. The architecture and style of the town is impressive.

Driving through Switzerland is a lot slower than France with the limit on most roads set at 80km/h. The countryside is dotted with pretty little wooden houses which make the slower journey quite pleasant. Strangely though a lot of places looked quite run down which is not what we were expecting from a country housing some of the world’s wealthiest banks!

With our limited time and budget our visit to Switzerland was very short, really no more than a quick drive-through. Next time we will make more effort to sample some of Switzerlands delights. Mmm, cheese and chocolate! 🙂

Anon to Annency

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Annency is famed for its crystal clear blue lake.  We weren’t disappointed!  Even in the pouring rain the lake still retains its magical colour.  We dared to brave the downpour by walking in search of some local wine, but ended up rather sodden and had to resort to driving to a nearby supermarket. The next day the sun made an appearance and we could truly appreciate the beautiful landscapes.

The camping ground we stayed in was a municipal site (only 1 star) with extremely basic facilities. Incredibly they had so many wash basins that there was almost one per motorhome, but there was only one toilet for the entire site!

Although Annency is gorgeous it is also heaving with tourists in August. We found it difficult to navigate the hoards of cars, bikes and pedestrians after the relative quiet countryside we have experienced up to now. We decided to head up to the hills, and found an incredible free camping spot close to the border of Switzerland with spectacular views of Mt Blanc. Cows in the field next to us made an absolute racket as their bells clonked at different pitches, but quietened down after sunset when they went to sleep. Well, most of them anyway. One greedy critter stayed up until almost midnight munching and clonking her bell. Perhaps she had a secret stash of grass hidden away …

Medieval Estaing

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Needing to recover from a week of socialising (and almost constant drinking) we went in search of some quiet time, north of the Lot region, on our way towards Germany. By chance we ended up in a very picturesque medieval village called Estaing, perched on the side of a hill with a river running through it. The local municipal campsite charges only €8 per night which we happily took advantage of. Moments after setting up camp a thunderstorm came down, forcing us to stay in the van and catch up on some much needed sleep.

The BIG 30!

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I was spoiled as my closest friends made the trek to France for a week of fun in the (well mostly anyway) sun in the Lot valley.  The venue was a fantastic, a modern house conversion with a pool and a huge ice maker for all those bottles of champagne.  The nearest town was Cazals, a sleepy place packed with UK emigrants.  It had a charming restaurant, the Auberge with fabulous steak frites for only €8.  The nearest large town was Cahors, famous for deep, robust red wines and its medieval bridge.

One of the highlights of the week was canoeing along the Dordogne.  The river (or at least the stretch we visited) flows slowly in high summer, and magnificent chateaux are visible from every bend .  However, it is clearly a popular holiday outing as we dodged and weaved with masses of canoes as if fighting the M25 rush hour.  It was smooth sailing (or paddling to be exact) until I decided a water fight would be a good idea. David and I lent over to one side of the canoe, trying desperately to shower each other with our paddles. The next thing we knew there was a big splosh as we toppled into the river, our canoe overturning and dispersing all our stuff into the murky water. I then discovered that the river was flowing a lot faster and was a lot deeper than I thought.  I tried to put on a life jacket, but was told by David that they were needed to help keep our now almost submerged canoe afloat.  So much for river safety!

At the house we made a makeshift water volleyball court across the swimming pool using a badminton net, and a table tennis table from various household bits.  This provided hours of endless fun and much competitive posturing between us all.  The sparkling wine and other lubricants helped too!

My birthday dinner arrived and we decided to walk to the restaurant 2km up the road and, also up a rather steep hill.  Armed with some wine for the walk it was easy going.  I wasn’t quite so easy going when we arrived, only to find that they were closed. So much for my reservation made in ‘French’.  We made a plan (true Zimbo style), and went for dinner in the town down the road which was fabulous.  Thanks to everyone for coming, I had an amazing time!!!

Wine collecting

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As my 30th birthday was fast approaching we needed to source a large number of bottles of sparkling wine in order to celebrate the event properly.  We had visited Limoux previously and it is well known for producing sparkling wines that rival champagne in taste and quality.  A very rapid tour of 5 different caves ensued and we finished our visit armed with 30 shiny new bottles.  The rosés are the most delicious (and proved to be the most popular) whilst the Cremant is made with the same grape combination as champagne.  The Blanquette de Limoux is made with a particular grape of the same name only grown in the Limoux area.

The town itself is quaint, straddled across a river with a beautiful square and some fantastic restaurants.  I tried the local dish, Cassoulet; a bean stew with duck and sausage. Superb for the palette, not so great for the waistline ; )

Carcassonne is a town straight out of a fairy tale. The fortified city stands high over the town and is a tremendous sight when lit up at night.  Inside the high walls are shops, restaurants and bars.  On a summer evening the atmosphere was fabulous, full of the vie de France. We took a boat trip down the Canal du Midi. There are two options, one going into the city and one going outwards. We chose the latter though with hindsight the city trip would probably have been more interesting.

Morphing

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We have been camping in a municipal camp site, surrounded by thousands of cicadas serenading at full volume. The noise reached a crescendo last night and then stopped abruptly. This morning Chris went to unlock our bikes and let out an unholy shriek. “There’s a creature on my bike, it’s like a praying mantis crossed with a spider!” Close inspection of said beastie showed no more than the empty shell of a cicada. Last night they all morphed into their adult forms, leaving behind a littering of empty skins on the trees, like discarded beer cans after a heavy drinking session. It must have been quite a party!

Once again we cycled into the old town (swerving carefully to avoid the slightly more swollen form of Mr Cane Rat) and attempted to get into the amphitheater. No such luck, another celebrity (this time a name we didn’t recognise) had monopolised the place.

Jeudis (Thursdays) in Nimes is market day and every square is fully kitted out with stall holders and musicians of varying abilities. We watched a few minutes of a crazy saxophone player who seemed more like a man wrestling a python (and failing miserably) than an artist. We tried Vietnamese food for the first time – an unusual choice perhaps given the setting, but  an excellent one.  Luckily the food was a lot better than our attempt to understand a Vietnamese-French accent.

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