Posts tagged wildlife

Maison en France

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Feeling cold and beaten by our van woes, we decamped to Mirepoix where we waited with bated breath to hear if we could spend some time under a proper roof. Some family friends have a lovely stone house in the small village of Manses, with wonderful views out to the Pyrenees. We got the keys that evening and had a glorious night’s sleep in a proper bed. Thank you all, Robin and Libby, Lorna and Brett and Debbie for sorting it all out for us!

We were hoping to sort out the van battery issues that left us with no heating and lights but Karmann had grander ideas. I went to a weekly shop the next day and she conked out completely. This time it was the fault of the starter motor. After being towed to a garage 30 kms away (in the snow), we were informed that the repairs would cost over €600. We opted to do a ‘DIY’ job instead and ordered a new starter from the UK for a third of the French price, including delivery!  It got waylaid in Toulouse for 4 weeks but eventually arrived and Karmann is back to her happy self. Thank goodness as I struggled with cycling into Mirepoix for groceries every few days, especially when the temperature dropped well below freezing! It would have been an easier cycle if we the backpack full of delicious French food and wine, but some hardships are worth the effort  ;- )

Spending a few weeks in the village has been a welcome change to our traveller lifestyle. We were invited to a lunch in the Salle de Fetes (village hall), held by the local hunting club. The menu comprised of wild boar and endless glasses of wine and we got to know some friendly faces.  There is a strong English contingent in the area and we have made some great new friends. Thanks guys for making us feel so welcome and Adian, Angie and the gang for all the countless cuppas and glasses of vin. We hope to see you when we are settled in Amsterdam!  Odie is lost without his mate Ringo : -)

As Christmas approached the weather became bitterly cold, peaking out at a real feel of -18 C. The hills had a semi permanent layer of frost and the fallen leaves sparkle like crystals in the sunshine. We have caught up on watching rubbish TV, reading, work and planning for the next leg of our trip. It was gut wrenching to leave, although the cold did make it a bit easier! This corner of France has captivated our hearts and we hope to return in the not too distant future.

Canal du Midi

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I had hoped to cycle along the Canal du Midi at some point on our travels.  Luckily, we found a lovely spot next to the canal and close to the town of Villneuve Les Beziers.  There were two rival duck gangs that frequented this part of the canal and, the ducks proved to be fiercely competitive when we brought out our breadcrumbs.  The ducks quacked all day and night (even at 3am) patrolling their territory and trying to source more food from passers by.

We took down the bikes and went for a lovely cycle ride in brilliant sunshine in over 20 degree temperatures in November!  The canal is bordered by plane trees and their leaves turn a bright yellow in the autumn.  Much of the land next to the canal is covered with vines and farms.  Odie discovered to his detriment that farm dogs are not to be greeted uncautiously, even if they are chained up!

Much coffee is needed with the morning crossword when ducks have been partying all night next to your van

Carmague

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We have been dying to see flamingos close up.  The Carmague region is famous for them and so we decided to trek further south in search of these elusive pink birds.  The Carmague is like the last frontier, it is full of wide open plains and stark skies.  There are numerous marshes and canals that make it perfect for rice growing and its proximity to the sea allows for the farming of salt.  The salt pans vary in colour from white to a pinky purple hue.  We visited the towns of St Gilles, Grand du Roi on the Rhone river and Aigues Mortes.

Aigues Mortes, a town as famous as it is picturesque, is fortified and surrounded by canals.  We arrived on the last day of their end-of-season bull festival.  The French towns in this region often have bull rings, demonstrating the strong link they have to the Catalonians just across the border.  In contrast to the Spanish version, the bulls are not killed, instead the bull fighter has to show his skill by plucking a ribbon (or two if he is lucky) off his angry nemesis.  The end of festival party included lots of drinking and dancing in the streets.  Even a heavy storm did not manage to dampen the locals’ celebrations, but it did send me into a panic as the puddle under our van steadily grew bigger and bigger.  I began to think we may be washed along the canal and David had to reassure me that our van could cope with this sudden onset of water.  Eventually, the rain dwindled and I managed to get to sleep.  The puddle the next morning was still rather large though, and we had to drive out to avoid very wet shoes.

Town Fever

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We started our regional itinerary of Abruzzo in Sulmona. The town is famous for its sugared almonds that are traditionally given to guests at weddings. The Sulmona area di sosta (camperstop) was overgrown, weeds crowding the entrance and had no services available. We parked up near this almost derelict spot and saw signs for an ‘elevator’ to take us up to the ‘centrico’. The ‘elevator’ turned out to be barricaded shut and some rather seedy stairs led us to our destination.

The town was pleasing enough, but I fear we have become desensitised as we have seen so many beautiful Italian towns. Unfortunately Sulmona did not leave us with a very favourable impression. The only saving grace was the weekly market. There we managed to purchase some delicious grapes, prickly pears and other succulent treats.

We decided to push on and found an idyllic wild camping spot in the nearby Parco Nazionale della Majella, overlooking a vast valley. The National Park is home to wolves, bears and rare species of deer but only a few local mushroom pickers made an appearance. We did get to see another pretty sunrise though; that’s twice in two days. 🙂

Cuckoomania

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Clocks for sale

Our morning adventure was a spontaneous trip to the Vogtsbauernhof (Black Forest Open Air Museum), a charming village of sorts containing local houses from different periods, some of them relocated many miles, brick by brick, to the site. Inside you learn how people lived in those days, and can also watch as craftsmen (and women) create products from the times. We almost bought a little whistle which had a dancing couple that spun when you blew it, until we realised that it would be pretty useless except for attracting randy ducks.

There are quite a number of houses on the site, and you have to have a good attention span to take everything in. I started to get bored after the eighth one, especially when so many of them are based on the same working model. There are only so many farming implements in the loft one can see before the novelty wears off!

The hotel Pfaff is beautiful

On our way towards Triberg we stopped to see a giant cuckoo clock, one of several in the area. This is cuckoo clock country. Every few miles you see signs for “the house of 1000 cuckoo clocks”, though I doubt anybody has bothered to count them. They range from cheap and tacky clocks for a few euros to several thousand for gorgeous hand carved versions. Triberg is famed for its waterfall, but was far too touristy for our liking hence we only stopped for a very short visit.

Battles

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Staying in Zahora we have discovered a wonderful beach and the cabo de Trafalgar. The Lighthouse pays tribute to the strategically fought battle of Trafalgar which happened close to this coast.

At the lighthouse we saw flock of flamingoes pink against the sky. They are almost the same colour as our sunburn – must stick to factor 30 from now on.

We also discovered small burrowing beetles which we raced on the sand (with a little guidance from a blade of grass) and snails that love to eat the prickly pear cactuses growing all over the area. On our homeward trek we encountered the local equivalent of a can recycling bin – a shelf with holes in it for beer cans and bottles.

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Gibraltar

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We went to Gibraltar for our friends’ wedding. The view from the top of the rock is excellent. There are wild monkeys roaming the streets, and one of them bit a member of the wedding party. That will teach him not to snog random monkeys.

There is a theatre inside caves in the rock, with big stalactites and stalagmites from floor to ceiling. The entrance fee is quite high for what you get to see though.

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Los Picos

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I thought we should explore the Picos De Europa on foot. David didn’t realise I meant a 7 hour hike along mountain paths. Huge granite monoliths with their tops covered in cloud drop down to a deep gorge with a sparkling blue river, it is inspiring.

On the way to Cain we dawdled taking photographs and watching Odie totter along the edge of the path sans any barriers like they would have in England. Along the way we met some curious mountain goats who posed nicely for some photos. After a quick lunch in Cain and discovering that the only way back was under our own steam we set off and very kindly the sun decided to come out. David fearing for the worst resorted to using Odie’s travel dog bowl as a hat to prevent sunstroke.

We eventually made it back to the van (all in one piece) and compared our battle scars. David will be checking up on me next time I suggest we go for a little wander. La Rueta De Cares is the most walked path in Spain, they say in August it gets so busy it is comparable to walking along Oxford Street. We recommend dealing with the crowds for some delicious views.

Le Lac

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A lazy day or maybe only in so far as we didn’t go anywhere. We played tennis, went for a long walk to explore the forest which is infested with loads of bird life: eagles, chaffinches, swallows etc and then flew David’s new kite. It almost lifts you up into the stratosphere. We decided to stop fooling around when a storm appeared, yippee rain on a tin roof again.

Happy stag do Troy, David is missing you and all the fun and games.

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