Day 144: A View from a Hill

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With the rain thankfully moved away to the east, we woke to a sunny morning encouraging us to get out of bed and go somewhere. So we did. Breakfast was followed by doing the dishes and then we were off, heading for the Fort of Six-Fours atop the hill around which the town is built. Three false starts trying to find the access road forced me to swallow my pride and ask Victoria to do her stuff, but she avoided a smug tone as she steered us unfailingly through a warren of streets and then up a winding road to the top of the hill.

What a view!

What a view!

Now, I know you are going to be thinking “Oh no, not again!” but what awaited us at the top was a view so utterly stunning that Mary immediately stamped it “The best so far”. Despite the fact that the majority of the summit was taken up by a military establishment which we weren’t even allowed to photograph, the 270 degrees panorama took us from the Med in the direction of Marseille over the peninsula and into the bay of Toulon, the ports, the city, and then round to Mount Faron which reputedly shelters the city from the worst excesses of the Mistral.

You know, Mary may just be right in her estimation of that view. We were lucky enough to be seeing it on a day when the sky was mostly blue with a touch of wispy clouds giving it the look of a painting rather than a real life vista, and the sun was reflected beautifully on the waters which held the peninsula on its three sides. To my utter chagrin, my camera ran out of battery ten seconds after I turned it on to snap these idyllic scenes but Mary came to the rescue with her phone camera and even shot a bit of video which I hope to include at the end.

Having seen Mount Faron from the fort, we decided to drive over and take the cable-car to the top, a trip recommended by a local we met at the top of the hill, sitting on his car bonnet eating half a baguette of very smelly pâté! It only took 10 minutes to drive over but we were gutted to find that the whole system was closed for the winter and, as there is no road to the top, we were forced to return to the campsite. On the way down the narrow road I tried swopping rear-view mirrors with some Frenchman in a Citroen but neither of us bothered to stop and check for damage. The Audi was OK so I hope his car wasn’t!

We took advantage of our unexpected return to a) use the loo and b) have lunch in comfort. I recharged the camera for half an hour then we were off again, this time to visit a famous church situated at the end of the worst road in France! Of course we didn’t know it was the worst road in France until we had actually driven most of its narrow, wet, bumpy and tortuous path. But get this, there was a campsite near the end of it! I just could not imagine someone towing a big caravan getting anywhere near the front gate of that site: the access would be absolutely ridiculous.

The wee church was indeed well worth the visit and its claim to fame was it was the oldest Christian church in Europe. I’ve included a photo for anyone interested. After the church we returned to the port area of Sanary and took a stroll along the sea front a bit further before wandering around the shops as the sun began to set. We both agreed this was definitely a place to come back to and we recommend it to any of you thinking of a holiday in the South of France. Superb!

With all this walking, I not only have the legs of a marathon runner but the trainers of Alf Tupper, the tough of the track! Like Alf, mine have seen better pavements and now sport their own unsubtle ventilation holes adding even more to my bohemian image. But I have a wife who judges my appearance as a dubious itinerant to be undesirable and that is why I found myself in a sports shop trying on several new trainers until I stopped screaming and wriggling and bought a pair. For 50 Euro I would have expected a track suit and a set of skis as well but Mary shoved me out the door before I could remonstrate in any form. To put a tin lid on the deal, she made me put my old ones in the bin as soon as we got back and I didn’t even get to keep the holes!

We leave for Béziers tomorrow, but not before we’ve watched Murray v Federer from Melbourne at 08.30 live on BBC2. And of course we’ll be watching the crowd closely to try and spot Scotty!!

(Sorry, I can’t get the video to load.)

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Day 143: Cell Block H

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As the title suggests we were nothing short of prisoners for most of today, confined to the Magic Caravan by an absolute deluge regarded as quite uncommon in these parts. It had started late last night, turned up its dripping volume during the night and was giving it “what for” by the time our eyes opened. Once again, La Méteo had got it spot on with its forecast and we knew today would not be a day for strolling along the beach or walking along the cliffs.

As there wasn’t a hell of a lot to do even in the caravan, we had to content ourselves with all the usual pastimes i.e. reading, playing computer games, writing, planning, eating and sleeping. With a full fridge there wasn’t even a need to go to the shops, but I was delighted to discover that we had run out of milk! That was all the motivation I needed to jump into the car and head off to Carrefour.

In truth there was about a teaspoonful of diesel in the Audi anyway so I also had in mind a visit to the petrol station. Carrefour could therefore appease both my rampant desires in one climactic visit! And boy, it did! I drove through the lashing rain, wipers on super-pursuit mode, re-enacting that classic scene from Hitchcock’s “Psycho” after the first victim has stolen the money from the bank. The very music echoed in my head.

Joy of joys! Let unbridled joy be enjoyed by all joyful joy-makers! Carrefour was not only big, well-stocked, easy to navigate and not particularly busy, but it was also really cheap! My Scottish roots dictated that I almost wept when a local told me that the cheapest wines were by far the best. I took full advantage of his recommendations and almost forgot to buy any food. How can I therefore describe my elation when the diesel turned out to be the cheapest I have bought on the adventure so far? For once, and I mean once, I left the supermarket feeling that I hadn’t been robbed by a modern highwayman.

But fate has a habit of dealing unexpected cards. At the check-out I met Addie and Gerritt, our Dutch neighbours on the campsite and they immediately invited Mary and I to come for drinks at six o’clock before tea. So once I was back at the Magic Caravan Mary was sent to wash her face and comb her hair before we walked the entire 10 metres to our friends’ caravan where we spent a very enjoyable hour and a bit exchanging notes on travel and society with the two retired Dutch folk. They were extremely hospitable and we thoroughly enjoyed our time with them. We spoke English throughout, once again a reminder of who are indeed the masters of language in Europe and how weak we are in this field.

The best bit about today was undoubtedly seeing the first in the new comedy series on “Bob Servant” on BBC4 tonight. As the whole thing was recorded in Dundee and in Broughty Ferry in particular, we were extremely keen to see Brian Cox, world-famous actor and native Dundonian, take on the role of Bob Servant, the wonderful creation of Dundee’s Neil Forsyth.

Once again a spooky moment preceded it. Due to the bad weather, the reception had been a bit “iffy” and when we tuned in to see the programme the picture was almost unwatchable. Mary sent me out to tinker with the setting of the satellite and of course I lost the reception altogether. Panic as I tried a thousand positions (please, behave yourselves!) and got nowhere. In frustration I picked up the dish and its legs and plonked them down a few feet further to the left. Immediately Mary screamed “That’s it, George, great picture” and we were in business. Don’t expect an explanation as I have none. But it’s not the first time that that has happened, as followers of the blog will remember.

The sun is due to come back tomorrow. Hope it enjoyed its day off!

Day 142: Toulon

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The weather forecast promised sunshine all day today, so we took it at its word and prepared ourselves for a trip to the city of Toulon, famous as a naval port and the scene of the scuttling of the French fleet during the Occupation in WW2. The local advice was to take two buses to get to La Seyne from where we could hop on the ferry which crosses the bay to the city centre. We thought the buses to Seyne was insane and the trip to Toulon too long!

That’s why we opted for taking the Audi to La Seyne, parking there and then taking the short ferry trip over to the centre. Stage one was completed in about 15 minutes on quite busy roads but unfortunately stage two never happened as we couldn’t find a single parking place in the whole of La Seyne. We are however becoming quite expert in the application of Plan B.

With virtually no hesitation, we swung back in the direction of Toulon and just followed the signs, jinking our way in and out of lanes of traffic all the way down to the port. I even managed to ask a policeman where all the car parks were and he directed us to a prime spot at the end of the marina. We parked up and crossed over to a shopping mall where we had lunch and did a bit of window shopping before heading back to the port.

Le Port de Toulon

Le Port de Toulon

Although it was only 9 – 10 degrees the sun kept us cosy as we strolled the length of the marina just taking in the sights and admiring the boats on view which ranged from wee outboard vessels to giant ferries towering above the water. We came across the statue of “The Spirit of Navigation” nicknamed “culverville” or “bum towards the town” precisely because the figure looks out to sea and therefore has its buttocks facing the town centre.

Culverville, solid stone (except the pigeon!)

Culverville, solid stone (except the pigeon!)

Next it was up into the old town itself for a pleasant hour’s walk around the small and not so small streets of old Toulon. We found many beautiful squares and some lovely buildings but didn’t go into the cathedral when we chanced upon it as there was a funeral going on. Fortunately we weren’t dying to go in. We also took a peek inside several shoe shops, on the lookout for a new pair of tough trainers for me as my present ones are on their last feet. The main reason for coming away empty-handed was the price which averaged out at about 80 Euro a pair! Non, merci!

Une dame au soleil

Une dame au soleil

I had told Mary that four o’clock was our deadline for leaving to miss the evening rush and so we walked back to the car park to get the car, stopping briefly to reacquaint ourselves with the very French “pain au chocolat” which the street vendors were punting for next to nothing. They were quite delicious in that melt in your mouth way and eating them outdoors in the bright sunshine made the moment perfect!

All that was left to do was to drive my right-hand drive car on the right-hand side of the road out of a French city I’d never been to, just as rush hour was starting and with the said bright sunshine now the utterly blinding sunshine as we were heading due west. My 2 pairs of sunglasses were enjoying a quiet day in the Magic Caravan where I’d left them, so that made the whole drive home thing even more interesting!

(I wanted to stop here as the word count said”593” and that was the number of my old address in South Road, Dundee where I lived with my parents when I was a spotty teenager). However I have realised that telling you I am stopping there changes the number to 643 so I can’t do that. Oh it’s 651 now, actually 654…….)

Fear not, dear friends, despite the sun and the traffic and the steering wheel being on the wrong side, we of course made it home safely. Sweet and sour chicken was on the menu tonight and we made short work of it although a cheeky wee prawn cracker or two would have been extra nice. However I console myself in the knowledge that I have a wee cracker with me every day on our adventure and I couldn’t do all of this without her.

Thank you, Mary.

Great name for a bookshop!

Great name for a bookshop!

Day 141: Cap Nègre

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Have you ever been in an episode from “The Famous Five”? Mary has always wanted to be, having digested lashings and lashings of adventures of the quirky quintet when she was younger. Well our walk today began to resemble such an episode as we found ourselves out on the exposed point of Cap Nègre while the Mistral tried its best to blow us off the cliff.

In truth we had intended to be out walking by midday today but the sky clouded over threateningly and we decided discretion rather than valour was called for. It actually worked out quite well because Mary launched into one of her cleaning frenzies again and everything that wasn’t nailed down got washed, brushed, hoovered or wiped. I stayed in a corner trying to get a half decent internet connection so got off with a pat on the head and a check behind my ears.

Being the half of this twosome who wears the trousers, I was called upon again to construct a double washing-line between two trees and a proper good job I did as well. As there were three fellahs (who happened to be tree fellers!) working just across from us, Mary refused to hang out her knickers lest they mistake us for parachutists, so I also had to rig up the drying screen to the cupboard handles inside the magic caravan.

At about three in the afternoon the sun reappeared, so we set off in the Audi back down to the seaside, intending to put in a couple of miles around Cap Nègre, the point jutting out into the Med just south of the town. The walk turned out to be shorter than we had thought but it was a lot more dramatic than it looked on the map. The path hugged the edge of a cliff which plunged starkly down into the foaming waves crashing against the seashore almost the entire perimeter of the small peninsula. It offered scenes straight out of the opening footage of old black and white thrillers, all noise and wind and vertigo. Hitchcock scenarios in their essence.

Batterie is included

Batterie is included

Is there a point in this?

Is there a point in this?

Loud music please.

Loud music please.

Towards the tip of the cape there stood the old “Batterie”, a defensive fortification of old and unfortunately closed just now. Behind it a craggy finger of rock pointed out to sea and beckoned us to walk its rocky back to the furthestmost point. We spread our arms to keep balance in the face of the howling gale and raced down the slope of the finger until further progress might have been judged ill-considered. Photos were of course taken and we trekked back to the safety of the main path.

Later on we discovered a former pill-box gun post from the war and two or three tiny coves with sandy beaches only big enough for a dozen people. The whole area was a shock of exotic plants (fortunately well-labelled) and we enjoyed reading about different species of cacti and yucca plants. The latter were quite new to me but Mary kept me right as usual.

These guys do not suffer from wind!

These guys do not suffer from wind!

Next we hurried on down to the marina on the far side of the Cap to watch four windsurfers strutting their stuff out in the briny. God they were good at it and achieved high speeds effortlessly, bouncing on shock-absorbing legs over the incessant waves. We finished with another quick lap of the park then climbed into the Audi and made for our next destination …… Intermarché!! If you follow this Blog regularly you will have read already about our love affair with French supermarkets and the harsh criticism we have thrown in the direction of the same establishments in Germany and Italy.

Call us shopping nerds if you will, but we spent a very happy hour or so in the supermarket stocking up with products we recognized, labels we could understand and prices we could afford. We found things pretty much where you would expect them to be (unlike Lidl’s!) and were absolutely delighted to find more than one checkout operator on duty and actually working instead of having a long argument with a customer (as in Italy).

Come to think of it, I don’t remember the Famous Five having an adventure in a supermarket!

Day 140: Waves

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Apologies for the late posting. We’ve had trouble getting an Internet connection.

The rain continued on into the late morning here at Six-Fours but we’d been told to expect it so we contented ourselves with domestic stuff. What we didn’t expect was for it to suddenly go off and be replaced by bright sunshine and rising temperatures. That signalled an immediate abandonment of all things caravan (not that we took much persuasion) and a donning of coats, scarves and hats before jumping in the car and setting off for the beach.

The map showed the Med to be only one and a half kilometres away so we were there before you could say “J’adore ma mer!”. Parking was convenient and free with it being a Sunday, although I did manage to enter by the exit, watching the heads of arrows disappear below the car. Even from the car park the promenade looked brilliant and we were especially pleased to note that the rest of the town had chosen to copy us by coming for a walk along the front.

The Bay

The Bay

The sun was doing its damnest to warm us all up but it was facing a challenge from a stiff breeze off the water trying to cool us all down. I think that for the time we were out walking the sun probably won as I had to take my woolly winter hat off half way along the road. Anyway the afternoon just got better and better as the photos will no doubt show. It appeared to be nearing high tide, as the waves were forming into huge rollers which had already tempted a dozen or so windsurfers out beyond the breakers to try their luck on the big ones.

Oh Aarh Jim lad!

Oh Aarh Jim lad!

Where's my hat?

Where’s my hat?

Y'ought to see the sail price!

Y’ought to see the sail price!

 

 

For about an hour we ran the gauntlet with the incoming waves, nipping from vantage point to vantage point at every lull in the foaming onslaught. We strolled the length of the promenade as far as the wee lighthouse and ridiculously big yacht moored on the corner, after which we did something linguistically absurd and walked back along the front! That phrase is akin to being taken aback by effrontery! How can you do that? We stopped at a beach front café and treated ourselves to a “grand crème”, sitting outside with the water only 10 metres from our feet. Gradually we began to remember why we were doing all of this.

Scene from a Phare!

Scene from a Phare!

2 French dafties!

2 French dafties!

Costa living!

Costa living!

Once back in the car, we searched for – and found – a boulangerie where I bought what turned out to be the most delicious of baguettes and we’ll be back there tomorrow for more. The weather held nicely and with no high cliffs to block the rays we were treated to sunshine until about 17.30 when the skies turned to orange and Old Sol slipped quietly down into the sea and disappeared. It was a really beautiful sunset, the best we’ve seen since the one that wowed us on our way back to Milan from Edinburgh.Do excuse me for radically changing the tone, but It is with deep regret that Mary has to announce the demise of her very dear friend …….. her Kindle! The poor thing succumbed to a rather misplaced elbow on one of the bench seats and was left with only half a screen showing a permanent picture of Tennessee Williams from the neck down! Mary was plunged into abject despair but yours truly saved the day and brought a smile back to her face by sacrificing his own Kindle and transferring it to her account. By the end of the day she had all her downloaded books back and I had a whole stack of unused Brownie points!

Now, how should I cash them in?

Day 139: Six-Fours = 24!

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Any thoughts we may have had about staying one more day were dispelled by the sound of the rain tapping on the roof of the Magic Caravan this morning. That heralded a day indoors if we moved to another pitch on the San Remo site, so we quickly decided we might as well pack up and leave, saving ourselves a day. And that’s what we did. We waved goodbye to one of the best sites we have used even though it was probably the most expensive at 29 Euro per night. The Audi pulled us up the steep inclines back to the motorway and we drove off into France 10 kilometres down the road. Bonjour!

Arrivederci, l'Italia!

Arrivederci, l’Italia!

The weather kept my concentration sharp as we cruised through the hills above the coast, crossing unnoticed into France after nine and a half weeks in Italy. Our imaginations danced as we passed signs for all the famous resorts on the Côte d’Azur but we had resolved not to visit any of them this time around, having seen them all at least once before. No, on this leg of the adventure, we were heading for a new part of the South of France, Six-Fours-La-Plage, a seaside town near the famous port of Toulon.

"Where do you go to. my lovely....?"

“Where do you go to. my lovely….?”

As usual, the last 2 kilometres were where it all went wrong again and we had to repeat our dainty spin around manoeuvre, you know, the one we did on the quayside in Neckargemund when Madame Victoria sent us down a dead-end. But naught was there for tears as we found the wee lane that led up to the campsite soon afterwards and settled ourselves in. There were already 3 or 4 motor homes hitched up there so we weren’t alone as we attached all the usual bits and pieces.

Mary got us some free Wi-Fi but unfortunately the connection was very weak unless we went and sat in the bar so we decided not to bother. The same applied to the TV signal which was blocked by some high trees and I spent a fruitless half an hour trying to find a hole in the defence before giving up cold and wet. This prompted a nap with the fire on which turned into a couple of hours of a snooze, probably because I was still feeling a wee bit under the weather.

Tea was a bit of a shove-by tonight but the world was put to right when we finally got round to watching “The Bucket List” with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. What a beautiful movie that was! I must have somehow got smoke in my eyes at the end and Mary was howling! The sound on the film was once or twice interrupted by gusts of heavy rain clattering down on us, but in truth it always sounds much worse than it actually is. It’s just that the thin material which makes up the roof of the Magic Caravan has a little “give” in it, causing the rain to reverberate rather when it makes contact.

Well, that was Italy then. Our general feelings are that we saw some very beautiful places, from the Brenner Pass and the mountains in the North to Manfredonia, Amalfi and Sorrento in the South. We gazed in wonder at the past revealed in the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum and the glory that was Rome. We were awe-stricken by Assisi and Siena, the rolling hills of Tuscany and the stark beauty of the Cinque Terre. Overall we judged Italy a wonderful place to visit. In contrast we found many places to be surprisingly impoverished, even neglected, at times almost from a bygone age.

The roads were exactly as they have been painted over the years, in poor condition and populated by aggressive, selfish drivers, yet they were surprisingly safe and we experienced few problems, Having said that, a 4 x 4 truck overtook us just before the slip road it was heading for today: it cut dangerously back across us to make the exit but I’m sure the driver never expected its exhaust pipe to fall off at that very moment! There was no time for evasive action (at least not when towing a caravan!) and we drove through a cloud of fumes while little bits and pieces peppered our car. No harm was done thankfully and we drove on without a problem.

We have been reading of the bad winter weather in Britain and we’ve seen some footage of traffic struggling to cope on the roads. This helps when we have to deal with rain like today. In the end, it is just rain, there is no chance of snow, and the temperature is always above freezing, even in the middle of the night. We count ourselves fortunate (although I’d love to believe I planned it this way!). Hopefully, by the time we reach Barcelona, the winter will be winding down and letting the warmth of Spring have its moment.

We’re going to have a cup of tea now that Mary has stopped crying!