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!