Day 148: Béziers

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Lots of visits were planned for today so breakfast was brief, a picnic was packed and we bought a couple of baguettes in the village before heading down the road to the town of Béziers, the biggest in the area and highly recommended according to the local tourist literature. We parked in a big underground car park – it sometimes feels like Da Vinci own most of the planet – and walked up the hill to the cathedral, stopping on the way to admire a quaint church we chanced upon.

View from the cathedral square

View from the cathedral square

Our first impressions were that the town was slightly run-down, if not actually a bit dirty, and the people all appeared wrapped up in their own problems, sullen-faced and unsmiling. That image grew in force as the day progressed. There was a cracking good view from the cathedral square but the cathedral itself was closed as were all the museums between 12 and 2.30. Back down through the narrow streets we strolled, eventually popping into a brasserie for a cup of coffee.

At last there was a glimmer of something interesting when the town hall’s entrance revealed an inscription to Jean Moulin, the WW2 Resistance leader. We asked if there was anything more substantial to see and were directed (with Gallic indifference) to the Tourist Information Office. The lady there gave us a map on which she marked the route to take to find the memorial statue. As seems to happen all the time in the towns we visit, we found ourselves going through the immigrant quarters on our way to the statue but at least when we got there the area opened out into a nice university campus.

Jean Moulin (you can't resist!)

Jean Moulin (you can’t resist!)

Curiosity satisfied we checked the map and decided on how to get back to the car. All was going well until we managed to pick up a very dodgy stray dog slobbering from the mouth and looking distinctly ill at ease yet determined to make us its new best mates. That is why we found ourselves taking refuge behind the gate of some private apartments and waiting a good ten minutes before daring to stick our heads outside and check the mutt had hooked up with some other mugs. The rest of the walk back to the car was done at an unusually quick pace with many a backward glance lest Rin Tin Tin be once again on our case. Personally I blame Mary’s perfume, but she blamed my ham sandwich!

Thankfully our next port of call proved worth its reputation and we were able to spend half an hour admiring the engineering behind the impressive 9 locks of the Canal du Midi, a system built to allow the boats using the canal to go up or come down the twenty metres difference in the height of the land at Béziers.

Mary under lock and quay!

Mary under lock and quay!

From the canal locks we drove back to Colombiers then back up the hill to visit the roman encampment near the Tunnel de Malpas. Guess what, as it was Monday, the site was closed! After the disappointment of Béziers, this was more than we could bear, so we gave up and just sat down in the sunshine and took some rays. It was probably the warmest day we have had since Capri which was a while back.

Even better picture of L'Etang

Even better picture of L’Etang

After some shopping we treated ourselves to a McDonald’s tea and that was pretty much the end of our visiting of the region of Hérault. The village we were in, Colombiers, is really nice and there is plenty of local stuff to see, especially the remarkable spider’s web of the Etang de Montady (Hope you’ve checked it out on close-up Google Maps) but the town of Béziers is way overhyped and does not come over as welcoming or keen for you to visit. Even the old town did not have the quaint attractiveness of so many of the other place we have visited. I’d probably give it a miss.

Tomorrow we drive to our last site in France, a place near Perpignan. Tonight we’ve got out the Spanish text books and started to brush up on our language and vocabulary.

Hasta mañana!

How stressed do I look?

How stressed do I look?

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Day 147: Tunnel Vision

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The entire morning was taken up with watching Andy Murray in the final of the Australian Open. We were of course disappointed that he didn’t win but, to be fair, the best man won today. Djokovic was quite stunning and thoroughly deserved his third Oz title on the trot. Anyway, both Mary and I were well satisfied that Murray had played such a brilliant game against Federer when Scott was there watching. That’s something he’ll never forget (Scott not Andy).

Such lethargy prompted us to get the walking gear on after lunch and go in search of the dry pond we failed to find yesterday. It was quite a bit warmer than the past couple of days and, even though the sun only put in the odd appearance, there was little sign of rain, so I carried the waterproofs in my backpack instead of us wearing them. I also had a word with George and Sophia on the adjacent pitch who gave me detailed directions, saving me from having to fire up the laptop and go on Google.

Where's Maurice?

Where’s Maurice?

A brisk walk for about a kilometre along the Canal du Midi took us to the Tunnel de Malpas where the canal passes under a rather interesting tunnel. We went down for a closer look, saw the walkway inside and simply couldn’t resist going in and walking right through to the other end. That was great fun although quite scary in the middle where it was very dark.

A Troglodyte

A Troglodyte

Atmospheric!

Atmospheric!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

L'Etang de Montady

L’Etang de Montady

Safely back into the light of day, we climbed the hill for a bird’s eye view of the “Etang de Montady” and its strange diagram on the surface of the earth, then we walked back down and strode at pace through the area for another couple of miles. This took us back to the town where we went in search of an open café but found none, today being a Sunday. To cheer us up, Mary marched me down to the village cemetery for a look at the old graves. Tell you what, we discovered the Mercedes Benz of sepulchres and tombs in that wee graveyard, along with the Rolls-Royce and the Daimler. Maybe marble’s cheap round here.

The Gods were clearly on my side when we got back to the caravan because, as I flicked through the channels, I found 3 separate live football matches and that kept me well-amused for the next 3 hours or so. Well done to St. Mirren and Oldham Athletic by the way! Great cup shocks! Any thoughts of an evening stroll were dispelled by heavy rain coming out of nowhere to wash away our good intentions, not that my feet were terribly keen to climb back into the new trainers.

A spooky coincidence happened again this evening when we received a comment from Brian & Pat advising us to go and see the very things we went and saw a few hours earlier. Thanks all the same, guys. Later we went to the empty bar for a good Internet signal which allowed us to catch up with Mary’s Mum and Gavin & Eve on Skype.

Béziers tomorrow. Or maybe not!

Day 146: Spider’s Web

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Since most of you will have been enduring tons of snow and very low temperatures, you’ll be consoled to learn that it was freezing in the Magic Caravan during the night and first thing this morning. It was a question of sneaking out from below the downy and putting on the halogen heater then cosying back up inside until the caravan was warm enough to move around in. Luckily the sun came out and helped with the matter after we’d pulled back the curtains to let its warming rays in.

I showered and shaved then Mary did likewise (well, one of them) and on the way back from the toilet block I met our next door neighbours, Sophie and George, an English couple who had chucked GB 4 years ago and gone to live in Greece before deciding on a grand tour of Europe which had brought them here to Colombiers. We spent a while exchanging notes on campsites, caravan life and travelling in general before they went off for the day, but not before recommending an interesting old drainage system established by Cistercian monks ages ago.

Now I had a suspicion I knew where this was, having seen a very strange pattern on the land next to the campsite on a close-up view on Google Maps. If you go to Colombiers near Béziers on Google then zoom in, you will see a weird sort of spider’s web formation near the town. That’s it. So today’s exercise (and a first outing for my new trainers) was a few kilometres around the local town and marshes.

Whitey's back!

Whitey’s back!

The Canal du Midi

The Canal du Midi

 

Firstly we chose to go and wander around the Canal du Midi which we fell in love with three years ago when we were in Carcassonne. The whole length of this canal, which links the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, is lined on both sides with what I think are plane trees, you know, those sturdy two-toned mottled trees you see all over France, especially either side of their long, straight national roads. The waterway is a very busy and popular canal for tourists and holidaymakers because you can hire a boat and cruise its length without a license. It is also home to huge colonies of noisy, laughing ducks!

After that, we explored the small town, finding the shops and the local church where we noted a mass tonight at 6 p.m. We then picked up the pace and headed out into the countryside in search of the aforementioned spider’s web. In order we found the railway station, a warehouse, two villas complete with attack dogs behind sturdy fences (thankfully!) several vineyards, one or two olive groves and a series of quaint, tiny level crossings. But no monks’ drainage system. Mary then dictated which paths we should follow and we found ourselves back at the campsite arriving from the opposite direction. Well done, my dear!

My kind of street!

My kind of street!

Could this sign be quite old?

Could this sign be quite old?

Mary is right on track!

Mary is right on track!

A bowl of soup, a quick Skype to the boys and a snooze for both of us took us to five o’clock, so we got in the car and went to the local shop to buy our tea and some bread which we then took to mass. It was a nice mass but the church was bitterly cold and we couldn’t wait to get outside again and warm up. Back at the Magic Caravan, we enjoyed a hearty chicken curry before settling down to watch TV for the evening, a combination of “Meet the Parents” and a video of the series “The In-Betweeners”. Those two certainly raised a chuckle.

To round off a good day, I snuggled up in bed to watch MOTD and …………. It wasn’t on!! Denied!

Day 145: Colombiers

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The alarm woke us in plenty time to get organized for viewing the tennis semi-final between Murray and Federer from Melbourne. For once however Murray was not the centre of attention for Mary and me. Oh no, because on this morning (or evening if you were in Oz) our very own Scotty Burton would be among the thousands of spectators in the stadium. He had even told us to listen for him shouting “C’mon Murray!” just before the beginning of the second set; we were to miss it, alas, due to the inane prattling of a BBC “expert”.

We hurried to get the Magic Caravan ready for departure while breakfasting, showering and realigning the satellite for a perfect reception. Andy duly obliged by taking the first set but then spoiled our schedule by not putting away an easy smash and allowing the Swiss to roll back the years and pass his way to the second. That settled it for us as we knew there was no more time left before we would have to hit the road. Off went the telly, unplugged was the electricity and dismantled was the satellite. Mary did the rest, I paid the bill and we were off.

Off we go!

Off we go!

Further on

Further on

Later

Later

As coincidently has almost always been the case, our moving day was accompanied by unbroken sunshine which was to keep us lovely and warm throughout our 300 kilometres journey round the Camargue to the wee town of Colombiers near Béziers. Whilst the warm sunshine was a definite plus en route, we were soon to be confronted by a most negative of influences in the shape of a fierce and at times violent wind howling out of the higher ground to the north of the autoroute and making serious repeated attempts to blow the Magic Caravan over on its side. I could feel tug after tug on the Audi as lateral gusts swept across the carriageway and, added to the amount of heavy trucks heading for Spain, I decided prudence was called for and so dropped to just on 50 mph for most of the journey.

Keep your sock on!

Keep your sock on!

The slower speed meant of course it was taking longer than expected to complete the journey so we opted for a stop in a small “aire de repos” where we climbed back into the caravan and had ourselves a brilliant lunch of whatever was still in the fridge. That was great fun and we wondered why we haven’t done that more often on our travels. A text from Mary’s Mum gave us the great news that Andy Murray had overcome Federer in 5 classic sets. We were so delighted for Scott! Eventually of course we reached Colombiers and found the campsite quite easily in fact. It is perfectly comfortable, the pitches are big, the toilets warm and clean, there are other people here (including a Brit! – the first we’ve met since Pompeii) and we have Internet although it’s not brilliant.

Once we were set up and the satellite was delivering a strong signal on BBC Scotland, I took a walk into the local town about a kilometre away to buy some bread. What a lovely wee place I found, with the beautiful Canal du Midi slicing the town in two. There were multiple canal boats moored up for the night near a lock and I could see the occupants watching TV or making their dinner. The sign at the chemist’s said it was 3 degrees at seven o’clock, the stars were out, the moon was full and the whole scene was quite enchanting.

Tea and TV followed, we toasted our arrival in Hérault region and we knew from the signs we had passed en route that we were only 260 kms from Barcelona. The excitement is mounting!