Birthday Bonus Blogpost

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I know it was 11 days ago but I think I need to mark the fact that I am officially a pensioner now. I may have retired from my career almost 8 years ago but that was due to foresight and a bit of luck being in the right place at the right time. For people of my generation, a man turning 65 or a woman turning 60 marked the moment you could stop work and receive your state pension instead. Thus, you became a pensioner!

Unfortunately it also marked the moment after which people started to wind down their lives, stopped doing the things they used to do (especially if associated with their previous job) and took life at a slower pace. Some would say they were getting ready to die! Of course, if they had no personal pension and only the state version, there was very little chance of them having the wherewithal to fund any kind of adventures. Looking after the grandchildren (and there were usually lots of them), going to the pub or the bingo, visiting family close by or reading more were the kind of delights in store for the likes of my Mum and Dad and their peers.

My, how everything has changed for the Baby-boomers! We have been so well-cared for, often had great pension schemes, owned property and lived healthier, cleaner lives that loads of us have reached retirement and can still be hugely optimistic about what happens next. Three score years and ten has been knocked on the head for so many of us now, assuming we’ve taken heed of the warnings about smoking, drinking, obesity and exercise (and voting Conservative!)

So for me, becoming a pensioner does not herald the end of my life, nor any kind of diminution of the things I do. OK, I admit I need medication to stem the advance of creeping illnesses which used to kill you before you knew they were there, and I can’t run or jump the way I could when I was half mountain goat. I also can’t remember what I had for breakfast, even though my two memoirs detail things I did when I was five! I’m also distinctly grumpier than I ever was in the past, regularly shouting at the TV, especially during “Question Time”. And I maybe do some things more often than I used to that Mary thinks are less than socially acceptable but I don’t necessarily agree.

On the other hand, I can still think, talk, walk and most of the other basic things I could do when I was young, not forgetting that I can do a few things I couldn’t do then, such as analyze, plan and estimate. Living out here I see lots of people between the ages of 60-80 who are fit enough to go walking, cycling, swimming, dancing, go to the gym, play golf and generally stay active. So can I! Add to that the fact that I have a wife 13 years my junior who keeps me young in all sorts of ways and you begin to understand that there is no particular reason for me to be unhappy about reaching this milestone.

And if I drop dead next week, feel free to say that this blog post was a load of nonsense!

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Day 6/150: Edam is Made backwards!

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Guess where we’ve been this weekend? The Netherlands! We flew to Amsterdam on Friday morning, this time a bit posh using KLM, the Dutch national airline. The purpose of our visit was to stay with Gavin in his apartment in The Hague where he has gone to complete a kind of secondment working at the UK desk in Eurojust. He has 3 months to do, 3 months away from his wife and daughter, so we thought we would go and see him and check that all was well, despite his forced separation from his family.

The snowy Pyrenees

We arrived at Schiphol airport at 13.30 and, as Gavin wouldn’t be finishing work for the week until about 17.00, we decided to take the train straight to Delft, the Dutch town famous for its pottery. We were soon walking the narrow streets of this cute little town, admiring the architecture and the canals which cut right through the centre.

Nieuwe Kerk, Delft

Mary had checked Wikipedia and was able to tell me to head for the New and the Old churches, the former of which was the last resting place of King William I, II and the well-known King Billy (William III). We found this church easily (we just asked a Protestant (Joke!) and read up on the long line of the Orange-Nassau family which has ruled the Netherlands for centuries. Next it was a relatively short walk along by a canal to the Old Church but with 20 minutes to closing time we had to just about run around inside until we found what Mary had come to see: the tomb of the Dutch Master Vermeer. Actually we walked past it twice before we spotted it, so humble and ordinary it is.

King Billy

You know when you get on the train or a bus, it always seems that the loony comes and sits next to you! Well, yes, we managed to pick up the local crazy on our way back to Delft Station and although I slowly started to shake him off, Lady Burton was too polite as usual and kept making eye contact with him which just encouraged him to keep ranting on about us being Romanian and me probably being a spy like James Bond. He reinforced that opinion after hearing we were Scots because of course Sean Connery is Scottish. I started doing my Sean impression with the strange “sh” Connery is imagined to use all the time, quoting “Well, Goldfinger, I shuppose you ekshpect me to talk?” but he didn’t come back with the next line “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!!” so I pulled Mary away from him and accelerated across the tram tracks and into the station.

Free from Delft’s most dangerous down-and-out, we checked the 3-day tram tickets we had bought when we arrived and discovered that we could take the no.1 tram all the way to The Hague, saving us a train fare and getting us there just in time for Gavin finishing work. WhatsApp once again proved invaluable to us, allowing instant communication between Gavin and me which took us safely to the last stop on the no.16 line and there was the boy himself waiting to greet us at the terminus. We were quite emotional about meeting my son in a place so distant from Arbroath and our hugs were long and tight. Gav’s flat was a 5-minute walk away and we were soon inside enjoying a cup of tea. With it being so bitterly cold (we’ll pick up on that later) we decided to stay in and enjoy a plate of pasta and a few beers while catching up on how his first 2 weeks in The Hague had been.

Handsome lad. So is Gavin!

After a late breakfast on Saturday, Gavin took us on a walking tour of the area where he lives, including the marina and the European Institutions in the Statkwartier. We strolled down an avenue lined with all the flags of the members of the U.N., checked out the Eurojust building where Gavin has his office and also went by the impressive Europol building which Gav will shortly be getting a visit to. Lady Burton was however itching to see the famous painting “The Girl with the Pearl Earring” which is on show in an art gallery in The Hague, so we jumped on the tram into town, walked through the centre, found the art gallery and left Mary to go in and look at the paintings. Gavin and I headed for a nearby sports bar where we watched some footie, sank a couple of Heinekens and did the father and son bit.

Wifie wi’ a pearl earring!

Gavin’s place of work

Mary reappeared about an hour later, stayed with us until the football had finished and then we took another tram further into town, getting off at a main hub only 100 meters from The Hague’s tallest building, The Penthouse. Nine Euros got us up in a very fast lift to the 42nd floor from where we were able to go outside onto a gantry and walk around two of the three sides, it being one of those “flatiron” buildings which give the appearance of being 2-dimensional. But boy was it cold up there! The stiff breeze at that height knocked about 8 degrees off the thermometer and left us scurrying back inside, after the mandatory photos had been taken of course. Our entrance fee got us a free drink in the Skybar on the 40th floor so we sat by a window and admired the view in comfort, whilst enjoying a drink. Gavin, the silly boy, decided to try a strangely-named beer and when it arrived it looked to me more like lentil soup than ale. Then he read the label and discovered he was sipping on a beer rated 9.1%!! Believe it or not, he drank the bottle and walked away smiling on only slightly rubber legs!

Den Haag from the Penthouse

Next target on the tour was the Grote Markt, which none of us knew anything about but which we guessed was probably a place where it was happening on a Saturday night. To get to it we had to walk through The Hague’s Chinatown which was a pleasant surprise and reminded us of the same area in Melbourne 5 years ago. We emerged close to the Grote Markt and Gavin noticed a pub (I think it was called The Fiddler’s) where he told us his work colleagues were watching the Calcutta Cup rugby match. In we went to check on the extent of the reaming we were no doubt getting from the Auld Enemy, but what a shock to discover that the second-half had just started and Scotland were actually winning! The predominantly English crowd in the pub was strangely quiet and, although not a fan of the oval-shaped ball, I secretly enjoyed that. One of the people recommended us a restaurant for dinner but unfortunately it was full but Gavin navigated us back to one he knew called V.I.P. Very Italian Pizza where we found a table for three and had a really good dinner topped off with some homemade tiramisu. As Nigella would say… “Yummy!”

Back at the flat we toasted Scotland’s drubbing of the English at Murrayfield. Hey, it doesn’t happen that often, so forgive us a wee gloat. Gavin & I made an attempt at watching MOTD (the Dutch TV includes BBC 1) but I gave up after 3 games and crawled off to bed where Mary was already there snoring her head off! I blinked and it was morning. The plan was to take a walk along the beach to Scheveningen so, with breakfast over, we wrapped up and headed out. Wrapped up? We had chosen to come to Holland on the coldest weekend in years as an icy blast from Siberia was bearing down on Western Europe. Outside it was about -3⁰C but once in the wind on the beach, that dropped to about -10⁰ and it literally froze your face. Even with cosy coats, hats, gloves and scarves we were struggling to cope with the chilling wind rushing into our faces and we were more than grateful when we reached the pier and were able to shelter inside where all the shops and cafés were. We decided not to try the Big Wheel or the Zipwire or indeed the Bungee Jump!

Scheveningen Pier

Gav & me below sea level!

Gavin then treated us to lunch in a restaurant on the promenade and very nice it was too! We opted for a couple of pints of weißbier to accompany our Angus burgers and the distinctive taste took me back to our visit to Munich late last year. Walking back down the beach was a whole lot more pleasant with the wind at our backs and, as the sky had been a perfect blue since we arrived, we all began to feel the love! It was a pleasure walking along with my wife and one of my sons. I knew we’d made a good choice coming to visit Gavin. Leaving the beach, we crossed over to “Jumbo” to buy an elephant (sorry, I meant some groceries) but when that’s the name of the supermarket, well, you never know! Gav grabbed a few things for tea and we strolled back to his flat.

As luck would have it (Luck? You must be joking!) The English League Cup Final Arsenal v Manchester City was just about to kick-off so Gavin tuned in to a live stream and we watched the game on his laptop while Mary read “A Beginner’s Guide to the Dutch Masters”. The game was great, tea was excellent (it’s amazing what Gavin can throw together with just a toilet roll, a box of matches and a tin of shoe polish!) and we blethered away until it was time for bed. Once again, we slept soundly and were awake at 07.30 to prepare to leave The Hague while Gavin would be going off to his work. He looked the part in his suit, collar and tie and we are both very proud of him for what he has done, is doing and the sacrifices he has had to make to get to where he is. That’s my boy!

It was still bitterly cold outside so we walked at pace down to the tram stop where we said our goodbyes and left him to get on with his day. We took the tram to Den Haag Centraal Station where we caught the train to Rotterdam, 25 minutes south. We were met in Rotterdam by our friends from Vilanova, Walt & Joke, who took us in their car on a tour of the city before driving out to their lovely house on the banks of a canal. As we were having coffee, two other Vilanova friends, Hans & Marianne, came knocking on the door! This was a lovely surprise arranged for us by Joke. How sweet that was of her! Coffee turned to a couple of beers before we had to say Adios and Hans drove us up the motorway to Schiphol airport for our flight back to Barcelona at 17.00.

Walt & Joke outside their home

Mary, Joke, Marianne, Hans & Walt

KLM? WTF? The nightmare of a 2-hour delay almost spoiled our Monday but at least we were out of the cold in the airport lounge with toilets, food and drink. The flight eventually left at 19.15 so it was nearly half past nine before Jeremy picked us up in our Audi and I drove us back to the campsite for a very late tea. It was straight to bed after that and the Sandman poured his sand into our eyes at once. (The crusty bits in your eyes in the morning are supposedly the sand or dust this mythical character has poured into your eyes to put you to sleep and give you good dreams!)

We are very happy to have visited the Netherlands again. It is a clean, tidy place, well-organized and fully-functioning. The people are pleasant and welcoming, they nearly all speak English better than the English and their transport systems are right up there with the German ones. We like Holland, even the windmills and the cheese. We don’t like the bicycles so much simply because we keep walking in front of them and risking a serious accident. It is the home of the bicycle and we the pedestrians are interlopers who need eyes in the back of our heads to avoid a surprise from a pneumatic tyre!

So we won’t worry so much about Gavin and his absence from his wife and bairn. He is comfortably set up in Den Haag, has a bob or two in his pocket, can rustle up a meal at the drop of a pan and can communicate in sound and vision with Eve and Ari anytime thanks to the wonder of FaceTime. The job he has is exciting and interesting but is none too exhausting, leaving him with time to network and also enjoy himself. We know he’ll get by over the next 3 months and will probably pick up a bit of Dutch along the way which is no bad thing. Our only concern is his back which continues to plague him and cause him chronic pain. The sooner that is sorted the better. But I’m the eternal optimist, or as they say in Dutch “Ik ben geen zwartkijker!”

The original

And, by the way, it’s snowing here!

 

 

 

Day 6/139: The circle is complete.

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We are now back in the caravan at Vilanova Park. Typically, we changed plans at the very last minute and drove from our hotel in Montpellier all the way down to Vilanova, bypassing Girona where it had been our intention to stop for one night to give us the chance to see around this famous Catalan town. Once we got past Perpignan and the going was relatively simple on such a lovely day, Mary said we could just continue smoothly back to Barcelona and beyond, rather than interrupt the journey with another stop. I agreed and that’s what we did. The sun was shining (with a bit of heat in it), the roads continued to be quiet and the Audi was purring. Why rock the boat?

The Pyrenees get in the way!

Our neighbours were delighted to see us but a wee bit surprised, having followed this blog and therefore expecting us on Ash Wednesday and not Shrove Tuesday. They explained how they had tried their best to rescue our toppled awning after the elements crashed it to the ground in a storm and they had clearly spent time trying to save the contents, especially the paperwork. We will have an awful lot of thanking to do. Having brought two new centre poles I’d bought from Perthshire Caravans, I quickly put them in place and that had the immediate effect of standing the structure back up, allowing us to walk around the inside. All that was left to do was tidy everything back into order and we were in business again.

Even got the lights back on.

We have two new neighbours, a French couple on the corner pitch Tayport Sandra used to be on, and a Dutch couple (with an extraordinary whistling African grey parrot!) directly behind us. Darren is still behind us as well and he is now driving a new left-hand drive Audi S3 which looks like it might be able to move a bit. The Dutch neighbours Henk and Aneke are still next door and right up on the corner next to the toilet block are Jeremy and Bernie from Yorkshire via Australia. F Section is completely full as is always the case in winter when this area gets more sunshine than any of the other parts of the site. Irish Billy is on the back row along with German friends Alexander and Monika while Tom and Margareth flew back in on Wednesday afternoon.

On Wednesday evening, it being Valentine’s Day as well as Ash Wednesday, Mary and I had a quiet dinner together in the caravan while the rest of the crowd went to the communal meal. We went up afterwards and reacquainted ourselves with Tom and Margareth, Fred and Jeanette and a whole host of other people we know not quite so well. Jeanette was looking really good and I joked that married life was obviously treating her very well since she and Fred tied the knot last year. Mary and I hooked up with Darren, Jeremy and Bernie to form a team for the weekly quiz and we romped it with an impressive total of 31 out of 40, getting 10 out of 10 in one of the sections.

It’s not all smiles however and we were appalled to hear that a Dutch friend, Fritz, one of the nicest men you could ever meet, had had a fall in his caravan and is now in hospital in Barcelona and not very well at all. It was also a bit of a shock to hear that Henk and Aneke’s loud friend Heidi is back home in the Netherlands and recovering from a stroke she had after being treated for a virus she picked up here. God bless both of these poor souls. These things tend to happen when you’re surrounded by a majority of people the wrong side of 60/70 and even older. Once again it proves that we all need to live life while we can, enjoy our time to the maximum and try not to waste a minute with things that basically aren’t very important.

Surprisingly I’ve had a game of Bridge, thanks to an invitation from big Steve who has put together a table for beginners. I have to admit it was quite fun to play a few hands and I’ve contacted my guru, the wonderful Mo Brodie, to ask her to send me a copy of her bidding notes again, as mine are all packed away in the flat in Dundee. Mo is away on a Bridge holiday at the moment but has promised to send me a copy when she gets back home. Thanks Mo! The bidding system Steve is using is different from what I was taught by Mo 7 years ago but I expect I’ll get used to it after a few errors!

I’ve pretty much got rid of that awful virus that plagued me all the time I was in Dundee from Christmas onwards and I just have a bit of a cough and a grunt first thing in the morning which I hope will soon disappear altogether. Mary is on form and went for a coffee in town with her pal Heather yesterday, coming back with an invitation for us to have lunch with some of her former colleagues next Wednesday. I will of course be much older by then as tomorrow, as you are probably aware, I become an official pensioner, reaching 65 far quicker than I ever imagined I would. I can’t be 65, can I? Me? Wee Georgie? That’s impossible, although my birth certificate shows that to be correct. Well, I’ll just have to make the most of it, won’t I?

Mary will keep me young I’m sure!

Christmas 2017

Day 6/135: After Lyon, the sky turns blue.

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I was woken up at 08.30 by a sunbeam arrowed onto my face through a narrow chink I’d left in the curtain panels by mistake. So it was curtains for the Burtons! Mary got her cup of tea in bed while I popped out to Carrefour Express to get some bread and margarine. That would be my breakfast today but Mary kept with the cardboard option and had her Weetabix. Checkout from the Lyon Apart’hotel was 11.00 so we had tons of time to potter about getting packed and ready to leave. You know, we can’t praise these Apart’hotels enough. They are of cutting edge design, the beds are huge and oh so comfortable and the facilities are first class. We had 2 or 3 cooked meals thanks to the kitchen facilities in the room, there was nothing lacking in terms of necessities (bottle-opener, corkscrew, glasses!!) and used the fridge and microwave oven to our advantage. This saved us a king’s ransom in terms of eating out but also let us relax to eat with shoes off and (in Mary’s case) in her pyjamas! If you get the chance, we recommend you try one out. Here’s the bonus: 2 nights with everything included = 98€! And that was near the centre of France’s second biggest city.

            Vegan demonstration in Lyon.

Today’s drive was a simple one straight down the AutoRoute for 300 kms to Montpellier. The traffic was light and it was an absolutely beautiful day of unbroken sunshine. The big difference was we could detect some real heat behind glass from that sunshine and we began to feel we had left the cold and snow far behind. Mary reminded me that Uncle Terry back in Leeds had told us when we were there on Tuesday night that my late Uncle Brian had always quoted “After Lyon, the sky is blue” to capture that change in climate that you can really notice once you’ve done the trip a few times like he had done with Auntie Pat. And he was right of course. On repeated journeys, you begin to notice where and when things change.

For us driving to Barcelona via Clermont-Ferrand, it’s always just south of that town down towards the Millau viaduct that we begin to notice bluer skies and a definite rise in temperature. While over on the west of France, when we used to travel down to the Vendée with the boys for summer holidays, it was always the very instant you crossed the river Loire that everything brightened up and it became noticeably warmer. So today, the driving was very pleasant – but I still got a bit bored with being on a motorway so I started to look around for something to break the journey or I actually intended to give up our night in Montpellier and drive on to Girona. As often happens, I was handed a gift on a plate!

We were just driving through the area around Avignon when up popped a sign for, would you believe it, one of our favourite places of all time – Pont du Gard! Now this Roman icon was close to a campsite we’d stayed on several years ago, a place called (Translation warning!) Squirrel Wood! And during a heatwave we’d taken to swimming in the river right underneath the bridge – or to be precise the aqueduct – almost every day in an effort to stay cool and not die with the heat. That was the year we set off for the return flight home to Marignane airport but got caught up in a flash storm which was so fierce that everyone stopped on the motorway for over an hour. We arrived at the airport half an hour before take-off but they wouldn’t let us board and we had to buy tickets for a flight to Birmingham 12 hours later! Then we had to hire a car and drive to Prestwick where we’d left our own car!! Total nightmare! And the insurance told me I was the victim of an “Act of God” and should have allowed for such an eventuality! Thank you, God!

Anyhow, the thought of revisiting a great place we believed we might never see again was just too much of a temptation for us, so off the motorway I drove at the next exit, and 10 kms later we were parked up at one of France’s biggest tourist attractions. The cool thing about Pont du Gard is that you can’t see any of it until you get really close and that requires a 500m walk from the reception area. But when you turn that last corner and this immense, 2000-year old Roman construction comes into view, well, it has to be right up there with our first sight of Niagara Falls or the Eiffel Tower. And so it was. We held each other tight as we drew near and then crossed the river by a bridge built right at the base of the Roman edifice, so close that we could see the markings in roman numerals on some of the huge stones used in its construction. It was just wonderful, especially since there was only a couple of other people there to share it with.

                      The Pont du Gard

We did the lot. First down to the river where we used to swim to get the view looking back from below, then over to the right bank and up the hill to the viewpoint in line with the third and top level, then back over and up to the top of the left bank with a view back south. This also acted as our daily exercise regime! I lost a stone on the walk but unfortunately it was only the one stuck in the sole of my left trainer! We took a million photos and both agreed that, like our chance encounter with Colombey-les-deux-églises a couple of days ago, we had experienced something we will not forget. That’s what happens when you have the time to go places at your own pace and don’t need to be anywhere at a given time. How fortunate we are!

                Lady Burton in her element!

The rest of the journey went according to plan, except that we turned up at the wrong Ibis Budget Hotel! Strangely enough, when Mary asked me why we weren’t taking all the bags in to the hotel, I insisted we leave them until we’d checked in. Just as well as we were in the wrong place! But I had a strange premonition that something wasn’t quite right, and as it so happened, I was correct! Cue spooky music! Tea was soup from a machine and 2 corned beef sandwiches (don’t ask!) while Mary had a boiled egg salad. I am writing this with a litre of Kronenbourg 1664 to the right of the keyboard and Mary has her head in a book. Tomorrow we visit Girona and finish our journey back to the caravan in Vilanova! I leave you with the two gypsies at Pont du Gard.

                 Note the woolly hat has gone!

 

Day 6/134: Travelling update!

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I thought I should let you all know how we’re doing on our journey by car back to Vilanova.

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We left Dundee on Tuesday morning and, despite the wave of snow that had passed by a couple of hours earlier, we had a carefree journey south. Our first big moment was only one hour into the long trip back when we crossed the River Forth by the new Queensferry Crossing, the first time we had had the opportunity to use the bridge since its opening last year.

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As we continued south, it felt like a million folk had been scared off by the snow, as the roads were very, very quiet, possibly the quietest we had ever experienced in our long list of drives south. We took the wee road down to Coldstream, crossed the border into England then opted for the Wooler road, stopping there for a bowl of soup before continuing on to Newcastle and Leeds.

We made good time and almost surprised Auntie Ellen & Uncle Terry by our prompt arrival at 16.00, the earliest we had predicted we would arrive. As always, we were greeted with open arms and had a lovely meal and catch-up with my Dad’s brother and his wife, both now in their 80s but doing really well it would seem. Naturally, we both slept like babies and, after a full English breakfast, we were on our way south again, down the A1M and M11 to London then the M25 round to the Dartford Crossing, over the bridge and down the M2 to the Channel Tunnel terminal just past Ashford in Kent. Luckily there were no delays at all on the approach to the Dartford Crossing and that was another first.

I had a quick 40 winks as we chugged under the Channel and Mary woke me with “We’re there!” as the train pulled to a halt in Sangatte just outside Calais. Off the train and straight off down the A1 with no formalities whatsoever to our first destination now leaves me with the impression that we’re about to give up this trouble-free, seamless travel for a situation we know nothing about. It can’t be for the best, can it? Anyway, enough politics! On our way down, we decided to attune our ears to French again by listening to the radio. But we began to pick up word of untold disruption around Paris after their heaviest snowfall in over 40 years, to be followed that night by temperatures down to -10C! As it was dark, we hadn’t really noticed the snow in the fields, only spotting the evidence once we reached Reims city where the streets were far from clear.

We found our hotel easily and managed to find a free parking spot on the street outside. The trouble was that our room was on the fourth floor and there was no lift! Thank the Lord we are reasonably fit 50 & 60 somethings otherwise we would really have had a problem getting the bags with our valuables up those stairs. Steep and twisty and not for the faint-hearted they were indeed!  A late tea of 2-day old boiled eggs and ham sandwiches was a prelude to a night of deep sleep and we awoke to a snow-covered scene outside on a very crisp, if not bone-chilling, morning. But intrepid travellers don’t let snow and ice stop them from seeing new things so off we popped for a day in Reims.

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Mary outside the hotel in Reims

The cathedral was of course our first stop to see where most of the kings of France had been crowned but we later found the Basilica of St. Rémy which was even more interesting. When we arrived there, we couldn’t initially get in because there was a funeral just ending and there were hundreds of mourners waiting outside. We eventually discovered that the deceased was a popular musician of the area who had died young but the whole thing with the drums and the music was quite something to see. Inside the basilica it was stunningly beautiful and we both agreed it slightly outdid the famous cathedral. Having had enough of churches for one day, we went for a stroll around the town to get Mary’s 10,000 steps on her Fitbit and to choose a restaurant for dinner. By the time we got up those stairs back to the room, we were both exhausted and quickly nodded off on the bed. Tea became a carry-out carbonara and the rest of the evening was TV, books and Spider Solitaire. Sorry to disappoint!

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A winter’s scene in Reims

We took it easy getting ready to leave on Friday morning but were soon gliding down the motorway towards our next stop, Dijon. Well, at least until I spotted a sign for Colombey les Deux Églises. “Isn’t that where Charles de Gaulle is buried?” I asked of Lady Burton. Her reply was that she thought it might be, so I swung off at the next exit, followed a surprisingly tiny road for about 20 miles and drove in to the very village where the ex-president of France and war-hero was laid to rest. There was a large exhibition and museum on top of a hill dedicated to the great man and outside was a gigantic Cross of Lorraine in a memorial garden. We then drove into the village itself  where we found the cemetery and the grave of de Gaulle (but not before getting a ticking-off from a policeman for parking on the wrong side of the road!).

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La Croix de Lorraine

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The last resting-place of Charles de Gaulle (the white grave on the left)

As we reached Dijon about tea time, it started to snow again only this time it continued for the rest of the evening. When it stopped, the temperature plummeted below zero again and everything froze. Luckily we’d raided a supermarket en route and were able to cook our own dinner as I’d booked an Apart’hotel this time. The room was very well-equipped and we felt right at home. Having discovered that the rates for the underground car park where we’d left the Audi were 10€ for up to 24 hours, we were able to have 2-3 hours visiting Dijon after Saturday breakfast before heading off south again. We also left it late to avoid the predicted heavy holiday traffic making for the ski resorts of the French Alps (that’s where all those hundreds of Brits who passed us at 100 mph were going!) But there was only one small hold-up on the motorway and that was an accident with 2 write-offs. With the weather cold but bright we made Lyon for 5 p.m. The SatNav on my iPhone took us smoothly to our next Apart’hotel, we checked in, parked in their private garage and went to our room.

What a pleasant surprise to find an absolutely beautiful studio-style room with great kitchen facilities, a big, comfortable bed, modern dining table and chairs and a desk. Brilliant value for what we paid! We chilled out on Saturday night, made ourselves a Spag Bol and sank a bottle of Côtes du Rhône to celebrate. Maybe it was the driving, maybe it was the wine, but I slept soundly again and we awoke at 9.00 ready to tour Lyon. Yes, we know it was Sunday but we had no choice but to Ho see what was open. After breakfast we walked 500m to the Metro station, bought a day-pass each and set off for old Lyon.

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Place de la Republique, Dijon

When we alighted at Vieux Lyon (no kidding!) we were right next to the cathedral and as it was raining we went inside. At the door we were greeted by 4 heavily-armed soldiers coming out. Now, it just so happens that I had seen 4 similarly tooled-up soldiers outside our hotel in Reims 2 days earlier and just yesterday we’d seen 4 armed soldiers patrolling the streets of Dijon. This suggested to us that France takes the continued terrorist threat very, very seriously and intends to be ready to respond quickly to the next attack. These guys were packing large, automatic weapons and clearly meant business should they need to act.

The cathedral under renovation was nothing special I have to admit and we quickly moved on to the old narrow streets and the bridges over the Sâone river. Mary noticed that our Metro tickets were also valid for the funicular to take us up the hill to the Roman amphitheatre so we went there and enjoyed a couple of hours in the now pleasant sunshine. A few streets away stood another huge church dominating the entire town and Mary said she’d read it was a Basilica dedicated to the Blessèd Virgin Mary. Definitely worth a look, we thought. How lucky we were to choose to visit what turned out to be a wonderful church ( two actually with one on top of the other!) with tons of things to see.

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The Fourvière Basilica

Back outside, we admired Lyon from the viewpoint, took a few photos then walked back down the hill to get our daily exercise. We crossed the Sâone, walked through a couple of squares and found ourselves at the river again! What? The notice told us we were now about to cross the famous river Rhône. Ah-ha! We did not realise that Lyon stands at the confluence of TWO great rivers which merge to form the mighty Rhône as it heads for the Mediterranean Sea at the Camargue (white horses, remember?) west of Marseille. So, having learned something new, we took the Metro to go visit a famous façade painted 3-D style to create a wonderful optical illusion and can report it to be even better than they say.

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Honest it’s just a painting!

But we were getting weary so we made our way back to the Apart’hotel via a shop where we bought things to cook for our tea. We have now eaten it and I’m writing this while Mary is watching Casualty on BBC iPlayer!

Right, that’s us up to date. I’ll report back in a couple of days when we reach Vilanova. Tomorrow it’s down the road to Montpellier via Valence, Montelimar, Orange and Avignon. Might meet the odd Pope: you never know!

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On a bridge over the Saône (or was it the Rhône?!)