Monday, May 30, 2016

Hasta la vista Espagna

It's Sunday afternoon and we are back in France.  That had to be the shortest visit to Spain ever.

We spent one slightly damp night at a campground near El Pont de Swert.  Very well appointed place.  Continued driving East.  The roads here are quite good and generally wider than those in France, so our trip across half of Spain will have taken only a few hours.

The scenery has been really quite good.  Reasonably big mountains, some good road engineering, long ascents and descents, miles of hairpin turns, and more traffic.  Unfortunately my navigator has an upset tummy.  All the hairpin turns probably aren't helping.

So far, the Spanish towns have been more active than many of the French towns we've seen.  More restaurants have been open, more people have been in the streets and even on a Sunday afternoon, we found a grocery store open.

We stopped for the day at a small place near Serdinya, now back in France.  We're running out of time with lots more terrain to cover so it looks like Spain might need another trip just for it alone.  What we've seen so far we have liked.

The valley here is lined by towering rock walls and is probably less than half a km wide.  We're getting the mutterings of thunder among the peaks.

We expect to be back near Provence tomorrow.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Randonnees aux Pyrenees

The skies were somewhat threatening this morning and a few drops did fall, but we pressed on with the day's plan.  No rooster woke us, by the way.

We drove up to the next village, Gavarnie, then up a very narrow, precipitous road into La Vallee d'Ossoue, stopping only when we ran out of pavement.  We continued on foot, eventually reaching a dam and a reservoir (mostly empty) and decided to press on up into the meadows on one of the trails leading off into the hills.  This turned into another 2 hours of wandering before we finally dropped back down to the road just in time for lunch.

We then hiked from the village up to one of the major cirques in the area and admired the views.  Can't say I liked the village.  It's obviously set up for summer tourists (which aren't here yet) and winter skiing, which is well over by now.  And the village has none of the charm we usually find.  A couple of bars were open plus a store selling pink teddy bears and other junk, but nothing selling a tasty pastry, which is what we really wanted.

The day's outing was nice, though, getting increasingly warm and sunny as the morning progressed.

We also saw a small herd of small deer-like animals.  We discovered later they were Isards, related to the chamois of the Alps.  Lots of marmots too.

Anyhow, it was a full day.  Probably 6 hours of hiking, enough to earn a beer and chips, the snack of last resort when you can't find a pastry shop stocked and open.

C'est dommage, malheursement.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Les Hautes Pyrenees

Note.. Pictures will be posted later..

We are now in the foothills of the High Pyrenees.  Snowy peaks are just to the south of us.

Today's travel was more vertical than horizontal, or so it seemed.

We drove over two high passes, with the second being just over 2000m.  There was much too-ing and fro-ing as we climbed and descended.  A slow way to get anywhere.

The first pass was beautiful, with great views down into both valleys.  The second was marred by a massive ski development.  Huge hotels, many lifts to every peak in view and all completely empty at this time of the year.

The peaks, however, are very nice, even to a person from the Kootenays.  Narrow valleys, high peaks, open fields...mostly deciduous trees here.

We stopped for the night at a small farm campground near a village called Gebre.  Only one more village between us and the several cirques at the end of the valley, with the Spanish border just beyond.  To get to Spain from here, though, will require almost a day's drive, because we can't use this valley but must be on the next valley east.  But that's Friday's problem.

Tomorrow, weather permitting, we plan to hike into the cirques to the south.  We will see when the local rooster wakes us up.

The South of France

(Note .. Pictures will be added later)

It's been 2.5 weeks of driving since we left Paris.  The scenery has been varied.  Everything from wall to wall vineyards to wall to wall trees.  And now, significant hills.

We left Carcassonne this morning after visiting the old city yesterday.  It was fine, but being in the countryside, going through small villages, hiking through fields and woods...far better.

Today's travel was the usual follow your nose day we usually have on these trips.  The chief navigator has a rough destination in mind and peruses the road atlas for efficient or interesting ways of getting there.  This usually works well, with occasional mis-steps, or mis-routes, which have, so far, brought us to views and walks that you would have never found on purpose.

Today, for example.  By missing one turn, we ended up in a small valley, went over a pass, had a great, short hike and then lunch out of the back of the car under clear skies and overlooking great scenery.

We are nearing Spain.  We've stopped for the night in the municipal campground of Cierp-Gaud.  Look that one up with Google maps....

Straight south is Spain, probably an hour away.  We're planning a short hike in the morning from a village near here.  Then we are thinking of a day or so in the Pyrenees national park and then cross the mountains into Spain.  After that, we'll see.

The adventure continues.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Camping cuisine in France

Car camping does impose some limitations, but it is possible to ray well here.

First, thanks to Gerald for the loan of an alcohol-fuelled stove.  It's allowed us some options not otherwise possible.

Breakfasts have generally granola (what is called muslei here), with sliced strawberries or banana, coveted with yogurt.

One note.. We have seldom been able to find large (ie: greater than 500g) of yogurt, and flavoured yogurt is almost nonexistent, except in very small, over packaged, containers.  Odd, to us.

Salads with various grilled, cold chicken have been possible.

Lunches have been mostly bread, cheese, wine or beer, olives, biscotti...  Probably not conducive to weight loss.   Oh well.  When on France...

Our most recent supper was just pasta and bottled sauce.  But it was GOOD bottled sauce.  I added some sliced green olives and olive oil and chunks of cheese to mine.  And red wine, of course.

Speaking of which.... Our vintage of choice has been "vin du pays" at about 1.75 euros per litre.  It comes in 1.5 litre bottles with a screw cap.

Milk is odd.  Mostly in 1 litre bottles, unrefrigerated, so probably preserved in some way...  Also uncommon is skim milk.  I think what we're getting is semi-skimmed, so I think it's about 2% but I can't tell. 

The culinary experience continues.

Camping in France

We've camped around the UK, New Zealand and, of course, Canada and the USA.  Some observations about camping in France.

Like the UK, picnic tables are not provided.  In both places, campers seem to bring little folding tables with them.  So for us, arriving by plane, sans table, it means standing around, cooking on the ground or sitting in the car.

Roofed shelters are uncommon.  During one torrential downpour, we cooked supper in the dish washing area.  We recalled NZ where full kitchens were available.

So far, most of the campgrounds have had hot water.  So showers in the morning are an option.  I'm not sure if the Brits know what hot water is...

Many CGs so far have had WiFi.  Some have been fast.

Cost has been reasonable.  Cheap even, compared to some in Canada.  Lowest about 11 Euros, highest about 18 Euros. 

It seems as though every city has one.  And we're finding some in the country where it's quiet.

So far so good.  One thing we are hoping for is warmer weather.  It hasn't broken +10C for 2 days now.

Pictures will come later.  They don't upload well from this device.

La premier semaine en France

It's been a week in France now.

We arrived at CDG outside Paris the evening of May 5.  Then 2 days in the city.  It was hot, crowded and expensive.  We saw the Seine, the Eiffel tower, the Arc du Triomphe, the Louvre... The usual list of things.

Had my most expensive beer ever there and the food was mediocre.

Back out to the airport on Sunday to pick up the rental car.  Then north to Arras and Vimy.  Travel in the French countryside begins today.

It's been wet.  Some rain or showers most days.  We're in Dijon now sitting out a massive thunderstorm avec hail.  Supper could be late tonight.

A few impressions....

Travel on the smaller "d" and "n" roads is quiet and picturesque.  It takes awhile to get anywhere, though.   But with no schedule, no problem.

Language issues have been minor.  Most people will talk clearly and somewhat slowly, but seulement en francais.  Plus, I have my personal translator avec moi.  We are coping well.

Except in Paris, everything is closed on Sunday afternoons.  Everything.  So if you haven't stocked up on food... Too bad.  Our first day out we had trouble finding food, a campground (3 hours searching)...our way around.  Thankfully it's been getting better.

In some places, everything is closed on Tuesdays.  Then there are the various holidays.

Beer isn't a big thing here.  It's relatively expensive and the selection is poor....  Probably explained by the great selections of wine.  Even the cheap stuff is good.  Vin du pays is about 1.50 Euro/litre.  And it's good.  Whole rows in the supermarches are filled with bottles.  Aperitifs for us are now wine, olives, cheese, bread and biscotti.    

Birds are everywhere.  Cuckoos, doves, grebes, swans, herons, and many other twittering, chirping oiseaux dans les arbes.

So far, WiFi access has been mixed.  Here in Dijon, it's excellent in the campground office.  Elsewhere?  Meh.

Campgrounds seem to be mostly municipal.  We have not seen much in the way of private campgrounds.  Yet.

Small villages, so far, have nothing.  No stores, no restaurants, no people, so far as we can tell.  Honestly, we can't figure out where everyone is.  Cities?  Normal.  Villages seem deserted.

Tomorrow we hope to bike along the Burgundy canal for a few hours. 

The experience continues.

Update.. Rain threatened so we walked instead.