Posts tagged nature

Pont du Gard

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After a frantic and sleepless night following the carbon monoxide incident we thought that a leisurely stroll around the countryside would calm our nerves.  Unfortunately the dirt bikers were out in force, smashing up beautiful butterflies in their spokes and converting our walking path into a dust bath. We cut our losses and drove on to Nimes (of denim fame … de nime) and discovered that France shuts down completely on Sundays – in fact supermarkets even take out massive billboards to advertise if they open on Sunday mornings as it is so unusual.

We decided to turn back to the Pont du Gard area and camped in a lovely site next to the Gard river and filled with cicada trees.  In a moment of blondness I reversed the van directly into a tree and bent our bike rack and my bike! Thankfully the damage wasn’t too bad and with the assistance of some rocks and thick branches David was able to form some semblance of straightness out of the rack.

The Pont du Gard is an incredible Roman aqueduct. It’s hard to describe the magnificence of this ancient monument so I will let David’s photos do the talking!  Huge arches (I counted 35 new blocks in an arch of 200) have been standing since 5 BC.  The tourists were out in droves and, combined with a hot day, made for a lot of sweating people dodging. There are plenty of shady paths along the riverside though, and we paddled in the clear, icy currents to cool down.

Bugs Galore

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Compeyre is a sleepy riverside village stacked up on a hill close to Millau.  The townspeople were friendly, and it gave us a taste of real French life in the countryside.  The municipal campsite is gorgeous, perched next to the river with shady spots and endless lawns.  I swam in the river and got swept along by the strong currents. Paragliders waft about the surrounding hills, and one of them landed right next to our van. Perhaps he smelled our delicious BBQ from above and thought he could invite himself to dinner.

Our next stop was Micropolis – an educational center devoted to insects, and some rather scary looking spiders. I’d never seen a bumblebee hive, or Amazonian stick insects as long as my forearm, and despite having to jostle with kids to see the attractions we gained a surprising amount of insight and knowledge. I could have done without the massive spiders though! The visit concludes with the insect carnival, a trail depicting bugs in various stages of going off to a dance, like a giant fiberglass version of a Disney movie.

Bridging the Gorge

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We awoke early for our drive along the Gorges du Tarn.  It’s a busy road in summer and we were unsure about how easy it would be to navigate. The drive can be a bit nerve racking in a motorhome, especially when trying to avoid crashing into overhanging cliffs on one side while minibuses , hauling a bouncing trailer stacked with canoes, charge towards you on the other. Luckily, as it was Bastille Day, the roads were relatively quiet, keeping cries of “watch out!” to a minimum. We were hoping to do some canoeing along the river, but were thwarted by a nasty parasite that lurks in the poisonous Tarn River. It is fatal for dogs so, with Odie’s health in mind, we ambled leisurely along the road instead, enjoying the prolific birdlife and views of climbers scaling the heights.

A visit to Millau is not complete without seeing the bridge; a thin gossamer thread across a deep valley.  It is a beautiful sight and we chose to enjoy it from the road at the nearby Aire which has a view point.  It costs €11.80 to cross and includes a display on how it was built.

Millau is a bustling place and we arrived just in time for the fireworks and celebrations for Bastille Day, although an hour of rain threatened to ruin any celebrations. Once the downpour had settled to gentle dripping we took a walk into into town to enjoy the festivities. It didn’t take many bangs or bass noises to send Odie into a panic so Christine took him back to the campsite, leaving me behind to take photos. What happened next turned out to our worst travel experience so far.

Some enterprising pick pocket made off with my mobile phone and wallet. As if that wasn’t bad enough I missed one of the river crossings on the walk back and got hopelessly lost in the dark. It took several hours for me to find my way to the campsite, and when I eventually got there my heart sank. The van was gone. In its place was a note under a rock. “Dave, have gone to police station and hospital to look for you, reception can help”. So, off I went to reception to try and contact Chris. The campsite owner was anything but helpful, refusing to let me use their phone. I even offered to pay her twenty euros to send Chris an SMS, but that was turned down. “It’s not my problem”, she said, “you’ll have to walk to the hospital, maybe she’s still there. I’ll draw you a map”.

After a considerable amount of begging she eventually relented and arranged for Chris to be told to come and fetch me. We were both incredibly relieved to see each other again. As bad as the experience was it had a positive side – we learnt some valuable lessons, the most important being to appreciate every moment we have together!

Grottos Art

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Can you spot our van?

We got going early, I think mostly due to lack of sleep, and drove up along the coast through Collioure.  Even at 8am there were throngs of people and after being unable to find an appropriate van parking we decided to give up on our leisurely stroll through the town and had to miss views that inspired Matisse.  We ploughed on through to Ceret for a trip to the Muse d’Art Moderne.  After many brown rectangles and random collages we got to see several works by Picasso and the earlier period of modern art which I enjoy.  All modern art is subjective, of course, but I prefer to see things that I couldn’t have done myself, armed with no more than some brown paint and a rolling pin. One of the brown rectangles was imaginatively titled “Door” – where do they get their inspiration?

We zipped up north on the motorways and managed to make a late tour of the Grotto Rose in Darglian.  This limestone cavern with rose tinges is fascinating, with the largest limestone wall formation in the world. Some tulips and a statue of a fox were put under the dripping limestone water and are slowly turning into shapely stalagmites. The tour in French helped accelerate my command of the language.

As it was late we decided to free camp nearby amongst strange, swirly grasses with the only the sound of the pine forest to keep us company.  Or so I thought.  After dinner, we heard a growling noise from the undergrowth.  I panicked and ran to shut the fly screen so that this unknown creature could not attack us, but that just gave Odie an opportunity to escape and act like a brave guard dog.  I gave chase and my plaintive wailing brought him scarpering back to me.  No attempt by David would persuade me (or Odie, looking considerably less brave) to leave the safety of the van until the next morning.  It was probably only a wild boar but better safe than sorry I always say …

Wave surfing by kayak

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We wanted to get out onto the water instead of being under it the whole time so decided to rent a kayak (€40 / half day) from Montgo in L’escala. The vendor warned us that our outward journey could be a bit rough, but followed with the encouraging idea that the homeward bound stretch would be easy.

Out in the ocean proper we discovered some rather large waves for our rather small kayak and both Odie and I had an attack of nerves. I insisted that David paddle us back towards the shore but he was adamant that it would be easier to drift back towards the bay if we were further out. An argument ensued and he was finally convinced to head towards shore after I let out a small (to my mind) shriek. David enjoyed surfing the waves with the kayak which I now have to admit may have helped the journey home.

Accidental discoveries

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Book ahead if you want to visit Iles Medes for snorkeling in peak season by boat trip . We missed out as not a seat was to be had. Luckily we found a quiet dirt road along the land portion of the nature reserve and, after a bumpy drive and walk down some steep cliffs, found some excellent snorkeling opportunities instead. The best locations are often discovered by accident!

Swimmingly

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We snaked along the coastal road to L’estartit, a typical beachside resort with the exception of the Iles Medes (a marine park and nature reserve). We looked at snorkel trips by boat but decided that, as the island was only about a kilometre offshore, we would try to swim it. It seemed simple enough with the help of flippers to power us along. About a third of the way across I heard the sound of an engine and popped my head above the water to see a couple of boats in our vicinity. The skippers were gesturing frantically at us and I stopped to tread water. David was ploughing on obliviously so I started yelling. Finally he came to a stop and we got the idea that swimmers were not welcome on what now appeared to be a regularly frequented boat path. We decided to give up on our swimming adventure and snorkeled the area around the marina which proved to be good too.

We free-camped that night in a beachside car park only to be woken up by some other campervanners who arrived at 3 am. We don’t mind late arrivals, but cooking dinner and playing fetch with the dog at that hour is a bit offsides. Many coffees were needed the next morning to get going!

Snorkels at the ready

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The coastline around Begur and Tamiru consists of beaches with azure blue, clear water, grey pebbles and cliffs tumbling into coves ready made for snorkeling. We snorkeled for hours watching shoals of fish in varying sizes swim amongst the coral. The Mediterranean water had seemed very warm up until now, but after an hour or so I really felt the cold and had to retreat to the warmth of the black sandy beach. What a contrast in temperature!

We checked into an ACSI campsite, it was full of Dutchies which made the semi-final football match very rowdy. On checking out the next day we found out it cost a horrendous €47/night and that didn’t include Odie (they actually didn’t allow dogs on site but we didn’t know). Another lesson learnt; always ask for the price before booking in, especially at peak season!

Roadside views

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Our first night in a tolerated Spanish free camping spot was at a beachside parking lot in Saint Carles de La Rapita. It is clearly a bit of a party town as it was not quiet until at least 2am. Teenagers drift around the parking lot in cheap cars equipped with expensive stereos which are somehow incapable of playing more than one tune over and over.  The beach here is artificial and you have to walk a good 50m out to sea just to get your knees wet.

On the way out we drove through the nearby natural park; a good place to view flamingos. None were to be seen by us, but the area does have beautiful little houses with lovely gardens sitting amongst the rice paddies. The locals plant flowers along the edges of the canals, adding bright splashes of colour to an otherwise very green landscape.

Today we saw our first roadside prostitute – a bleached blond wearing only her underwear; well bottoms anyway. We have since seen many of them in the Barcelona area where the population is more dense. They advertise their wares by erecting (haha) bright coloured umbrellas like domed billboards. They must be tolerated by the local Policia as they couldn’t stand out more without waving a big flag signed “get it here”.

After driving in squircles to circumnavigate Barcelona (and a massive accident on the motorway) we took a rugged dirt road up to a lovely rustic campsite at the peak of one of the Montseny mountains. It is located on a farm. Hardly anyone else was on-site and we had wonderful, quiet views of wooded hills. On arrival the owner questioned our origin and when it was discovered we had British passports the word was passed around the bar, as if some rare species of animal had been spotted far from its normal habitat.

Snaking Walks

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Sierra Panorama

The view from the top of our walk, click for a full size version

We awoke to the wonderful view and continued our fight from the previous night with the gas for the fridge.  After dismantling half the van we worked out that the pilot light was dirty.  A good clean later means we can now free camp without worrying that all our supplies will go off.  Thank goodness it was not an issue with the gas pipes.

We wanted to make the most of the Sierra Nevada so turned back along the bumpy road and found a hill that looked like it needed to be climbed.  I forgot the water bottle in the van so our 3 hour journey up and up and up was a thirsty one.  We were rewarded with almost the same view we had from our freecamping site.  Turns out not so much sweat is needed only diesel is required.  On the way down my worst fears were realised, well almost worst as I nearly stood on a snake hiding in some pine needles.  It slithered off once my blood curdling scream awoke it from its slumber.

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