Monday, 31 May 2010

We lost the mats but a new kettle helps and the hair turned out all right

27th May.
Well we did it again! It’s actually beginning to worry me now! A long time ago K &K came to see us and said we have just bought these very lightweight squares which fit together like a jigsaw, they are perfect for outside your van door. They presented us with two and we have used them ever since, and they are the last thing we put away when we move. Well that is until today when we just drove away and left them lying at the campsite in Frejus, stupid! We had gone to our usual site as we failed to find the site we were searching for and frankly it was getting late. It was soo nice to be back. It’s not a perfect site but we like it and were actually tempted to stay a few days. In the event we didn’t as we had promised to meet K&K and as it turned out it was a good job we did as the site was rapidly filling up as we arrived.

The chosen campsite was fairly easy to find and while we have been here we have sorted out why the sat nav has not been getting the right places all the time. The classic was when it showed us we needed to make a right turn instead of a left which put us in the sea about 200yds out!

Having been offered two sites next to each other, we chose the smaller as K&K’s van is larger and reserved the other for them. 15 minutes later another van was being directed in! We rushed out and the site owner said, oh ok, and moved them, but from then on we had to keep a watch and every time another van appeared we nipped out. K&K had elected to travel on the coast road so had taken several hours longer than us. When they finally arrived the place was packed and still more people were arriving!

Travel in Italy is either very quick on a motorway which you pay for, or through the towns and cities. Now travel in most towns and cities is difficult enough but in Italy there are a whole new set of rules and it seems rule number one is, THERE ARE NO RULES! Pedestrians suddenly leap out and look surprised to see you, then, hesitate in front of you, while cars coming the other way don’t give way, so you stop. Then a scooter cuts across and nips between the cars just as the van/car in front stops to hurl abuse or a friendly greeting to a pal sitting outside a cafe. All of this is done in a sort of friendly way, but I am glad I don’t suffer from high blood pressure. Thank God we chose the motorway, the €24 toll was well worth it.

Friday 28th this really is a nice little site although it is impossible to convey how they manage to cram vans, caravans and tents in and yet it all works..
Today we have been to Albenga, a 7 mile round trip which hopefully will help keep us fit. In the old part there are some really ancient buildings but it was also school visiting day so we had a quick look around and beat a hasty retreat After lunch I played my clarinet and Joan got her paints out and did a really superb hand painted birthday card for Sam, Julie and Khaled’s son who is 21 in a few days and she could not find a suitable card so decided to send one of her masterpieces.

Saturday 29th K&K went off on a
long ride while Joan and I cycled to Ceriale had a walk along the front and visited the little cafe in the square we knew from 2008. On our ride back we saw a hardware shop and managed to get a low voltage kettle, hurrah.

Then I erected my red & white barber’s pole and set about colouring both the girls’ hair.
I must confess a little trepidation about doing Kathleen’s as her hair rules her life and I hate to see grown women cry.

As things turned out both of them looked great when it was all done and Kathleen was so full of bonhomie she offered to buy a round of drinks! Phew!

Sunday 30th Today is go to church day and we (Ken and I) have been looking forward to it as we get to sit in the cafe in the square and drink till they come out. A drink in Italy isn’t just a drink. When it comes they bring plates of crisps, peanuts and olives. Last time we were here it was even better, as each drink arrived so they added things and by the time the girls came out and joined us we were given a plate of finger food, which they promptly scoffed. This time we had decided to visit our favourite restaurant for a pizza and forgo dinner so we only had a glass of wine each and left.

We were greeted like long lost brothers by the chap at the restaurant when we indicated we had been before and he promptly started to put on a show for Joan & Kathleen, totally over the top. Delicious hot bread and complementary Campari & sodas arrived, then having studied the menu for some time and Ken managing to find something Kathleen would like, we were ready to order...................No Pizza in the afternoon, he announced, in German, French and Italian! I’ve gone into all this detail about a meal because it not only lasted over two hours but was a hoot from start to finish. As we tried our Italian, Kathleen tried a bit of German and we all put in some French. In the end the food was superb and our appreciation of it was welcomed by the father (owner) and other son.

Fatally Joan saw a sweet being delivered to another table and drew Kathleen’s attention to it, so they had to have one of course. They were promptly led into the main restaurant and shown what was available. The portions were huge and pronounced delicious, this resulted in complimentary glasses of Limonccello. By now we had had a glass of wine in the square, a Campari & soda, a carafe of wine with the meal and a Limonccello.

Imagine our surprise when I asked for the bill and it arrived with a larger complimentary Limonccello!! As to the bill, we were amazed at how small it was and even more amazed when the waiter returned and tried to give us some of the tip back saying it was too much!

Somehow we managed to cycle back, and after a snooze Joan put the finishing touches to her painting and started another, while I played my clarinet. It is amazing just how many people praise Joan’s work as they pass.

Her best compliment to date was, “this is just like a Van Gough”, WOW!

So there we go, thanks to Stephen again, you will hopefully see the pictures in the right places not sure how we would get on without our top computer man helping us.
So that’s it we leave tomorrow heading towards Pisa So not sure when we will blog again.
Lots of love Joan & Bryan xxxx
Happy Birthday John! X

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

St Tropez May 2010

Grimaud village 2010

Picturesque street Grimaud village 2010

Toad in the hole 2010

German apple cake May 2010

A rare picture port grimaud 2010

Port Grimaud May 2010

Joan at Port Grimaud

Kathleen Joan in Narbonne 2010

Julie came to dinner

finally I got it right!

Yes the old man finally got some pictures loaded but not neccessarily in the right order but hey!

It’s a long one, Toad-in-the-hole and four super cakes, the holiday continues

12th to 16th May
It was very hard to leave Julie and Hana, Joan seemed a little dewy eyed as usual. It is always hard but this time it was just the fact that they were there all alone with so much to do. However as soon as we met Kathleen and Ken they quickly cheered us up. You have to say they are always so upbeat and pleased to see you, plus we knew we were going to see Julie and Hana again quite soon as they were coming to dinner with us all in our van on Friday.

We arrived at La Nautica camping at Narbonne before K&K and sorted a couple of nice pitches for us. They had been to this site before and highly recommended it as each pitch has its own private facilities. The first thing we had to do of course was hand over the tea bags and the book Kathleen’s daughter had given us, sadly Ken refused to wear the TuTu Kathleen said was his dress uniform so it was done in mufti, then it was time for a beer and some catching up with each other.

Thursday we got our bikes off and rode them for the first time this trip! We all set off for Narbonne, Joan and I taking the direct route and K&K going the long way around as they ride all year round and are pretty fit. We had started with some trepidation because I now had Joan’s bad head cold and a really bad cough plus we had to battle against a very strong gusty wind. We only went as far as Lidl to get the ingredients for tomorrow’s dinner and then returned with no problems and thoroughly enjoyed it, the round trip being some 9 miles. We later discovered we had only been two streets from the centre! The only fly in the ointment all the time we were on this site was the extremely high winds, which kept the temperatures well down and prevented the leisurely sitting out after dinner and sipping drinks.

Friday starts with great excitement as Joan is going to bake in her Remoska!!! I was to make the main dish, Chicken stir fry with rice and noodles. Joan started making a ‘Date & walnut cake’ plus a ‘German apple cake’ (both recipes courtesy of Chris Carville). I really cannot tell you just how wonderful the van smelled. Kathleen saw the German apple cake but Ken didn’t and she wrapped both in foil and put them away so she could surprise everybody later. Julie & Hana duly arrived and we all enjoyed a lovely evening. Finally Joan produced her two masterpieces and everybody was delighted, especially as they tasted even better than they looked! Ken who loves his food instantly declared his undying love and affection for Joan on the condition that she produces one or other of them on a daily basis!! Julie left about 9.30pm, but we did not worry too much as they only had about 12 miles to go and to be honest she is more French than the French. We were highly amused when this French man refused to believe she wasn’t French when they were chatting in Canet.

The next day we took K&K to Julies and as we reached about half way she texted us to say the road into the village was closed as there was a massive car boot sale! We misunderstood her message and continued and by good luck and a lot of giving way by locals we managed to get through, phew! I thought I had put you off until later she said, I wanted to do things for tea! In the event we all had a good time and Kathleen demonstrated her animal training skills by making all the dogs sit. We left for the final time with loads of eggs as Julie has her own huge Common Market egg glut! As we turned onto the main road, boy were we glad we hadn’t waited till later as the traffic was horrendous coming out from Narbonne and was hardly moving. Fortunately for us we were headed the other way and apart from a minor hold up at a roundabout got back to the site easily.

17th May we left Narbonne and travelled to St Martin de Crau, some 140 miles for a brief overnight stop. Sadly we still had the very strong winds and were seriously wondering just how far we would have to travel before we got warm barmy weather. The following morning we continued to Port Grimaud, another 130 miles and at last it seemed to be getting warmer. Les Prairies de la Mer is an adequate campsite in that we have a reasonable pitch, we can get bread and papers and the office are very helpful. It’s also in a brilliant position for cycling to various places all on proper cycle tracks and is right on the beach. The downside is that it’s enormous and the facilities are a bit far away so we tend to cycle to them. Nobody who knows Joan will be a bit surprised if I tell you that after her first shower she left to return to the van, while I shaved. After a brief interval I heard a voice say “Bryan, which way do I turn outside to get back to the van, every road looks the same? “

Since arriving here we have cycled to St. Maxime (9 miles) and St. Tropez (11miles), on these trips we tend to follow K&K so we can hang back if we get tired. However Ken stopped to take a photo and when we arrived back he had still not appeared. After a while it became apparent that something was seriously wrong and given his health record we began to worry so I returned to find him. He was ok but had a puncture and walked the last 2 miles!

Actually you wonder why we all love this cycling lark when you see what happens. Gina and Bob a lovely English couple who are on an adjacent pitch came back the other day and poor Gina had come off her bike and had a huge bruise on her shoulder and had also ripped the skin off her knee and all down her leg , it looked pretty bad. Step forward nurse Kathleen with some sort of new type of dressing which she put on and it seems to have helped a lot.

Sunday Joan and Kathleen wanted to ride to St. Maxime to go to church which we did and spent a very pleasant day there. On these occasions we tend to eat a large meal at a restaurant and just have a snack at tea time which we find works pretty well. On our ride back we stopped for an hour on a nice sandy beach and tried to get into the sea. The water is still a bit cold and it’s very stony at the water’s edge and for about 6ft into the sea so only hardy Joan actually immersed herself fully.

On Monday the 24th we took one of those little tourist train things up to Grimaud as we had been told it was too steep to cycle. It is a medieval hanging village with lots of picturesque little streets and alleys plus a ruined castle which provides a really good view of St. Tropez Bay so we had to go up of course. I wonder sometimes why we bother when we have castles in much better nick on every corner at home. Having said that we had a lovely wander around in sweltering sunshine and enjoyed a beer before returning. We then spent an hour on the beach but as it was quite windy Joan just topped up her tan and we didn’t attempt to swim.

Usually we meet lots of people from all over Europe and enjoy talking to them but this year apart from a very nice German couple at Narbonne who had very little English we seem destined to meet other English couples like Bob and Gina who we have got to know quite well over the week we have been here. Bob was in the Air force and met Gina in Cyprus when she was sweet sixteen. They have a huge motorhome and are very friendly, a lot like us, we have spent most evenings all together, enjoying a chat, and eating Gina’s cake and chocolate orange, Ken’s chocolate and then finally Joan’s German apple cake.

At this point you must be wondering to yourselves, why is it all going so well? This is really boring, we expect at least some small disasters. Well never fear, we try not to disappoint and this holiday is no exception. Apart from the fact that our sat-nav seems incapable of finding accurately anywhere we put the co-ordinates in for, there have been a couple of things.

First, on our arrival at this campsite I went around to remove the bikes only to discover that the special lock for the bikes was missing and was probably lying back at Narbonne somewhere.

Secondly you may or may not know this but I have a square blue bucket which is my pride and joy as it comes in soo handy for all sorts of tasks. The main one being taking our dishes to the washing up point then holding under a shower to gather hot water to wash up, this is necessary because the water provided is at best tepid. About a week ago I dropped it but thought nothing of it until that evening when I held my bucket up to the shower head and got soaked as it ran down my bloomin arm, well at least it was warm! Fortunately I was able to superglue it until I can replace it.

The third thing, they go in threes don’t they? Well our special low wattage kettle would not boil. It would got fairly hot and then switched off. I am sure you are thinking, well buy a new one, but it is not that simple and to date we have been unable to find one. I did strip it down in an attempt to disable the thermostat but failed miserably, so we were reduced to boiling the kettle so far then transferring the water to our gas kettle. We did this for several days and then it just started to work again so we are not sure we can count it really, except that now it will not switch off since I interfered with it.

For those not skilled in travelling around Europe for months it is necessary to conserve our gas as typically it is not available anywhere else. What this means of course is we are extremely miserly with it and usually return with loads left. This year of course we have the added advantage of the Remoska, recommended last year by our good friends Ingrid & Joe, in which so many complete meals are now cooked. So this is saving us lots of gas plus providing some wonderful moments including lovely cakes and a scrumptious Toad in the hole (see picture)

As yesterday was to be our last day all together Joan planned a surprise pudding and produced another German apple cake which was enjoyed by all. She also had a little cooking school in the van. The thing is Kathleen always says she cannot cook which is nonsense because she made a very tasty spagbol for us all a few nights ago and the last time we went to her house she had cooked one of Reena’s super curries. However she wanted to learn how to make cakes so had bought the dates and walnuts and she, Joan and Gina went into the van and they all emerged some time later smiling. After several nipping in and consulting timers it was done and Kathleen was walking around beaming and said she was going to do them at home. Ken said, Joan if I end up with a wife who bakes cakes I honestly don’t know how I will ever thank you. Quick as a flash Joan hissed at me, I told you I should have brought my Northern Goldsmiths brochure! That’s my girl.

26th May and we’re off again this time heading for Italy via Frejus which by the way has an accessories shop (bucket & Kettle) plus C&A’s and apparently a very good campsite with private facilities. Nobody reading this will be at all surprised that we were able to find the C&A’s with no trouble at all but the shop and campsite remain a complete mystery. However after some considerable time in C&A we did manage to successfully buy a pair of denim shorts which are wonderful because they can be buttoned at the side into shorts or lengthened so one can go into churches, lovely.

So there you are, I apologise for this being so long but it is the first time we have had wi-fi at a reasonable rate (€50 a week since we left Julies and of course when we stay somewhere there is no popping into Mac Donald’s. We left Kathleen & Ken today so God knows how they will survive until we see them again in Italy tomorrow but I am sure they will manage.

Lots of love to everybody
Joan & Bryan XXXXX

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Julie's at last

7th May 2010
Having said a fond farewell to Kaye we headed for Julie and Khaled’s but when we phoned her we discovered that she was heading out and would not return until late that evening so it was easier all round for us to stay on an aire 65 miles away. This meant Julie did not have to worry about us and could enjoy her evening out and we could have a shorter drive that day. What she did not tell us was it was a soiree at which we would have been given FREE wine! However we did enjoy a pleasant drive plus an evening trying out our French with some other motorhomers and it was all very pleasant.

8th May 2010
We arrived refreshed and ready to attend the village’s ceremony honouring the Allies of world war two, at which Hana was going to carry the flowers to lay on their cenotaph. Sadly the night before she had been told she had to attend school so she missed it. Fortunately we did not as it was a classic French farce, don’t get me wrong it was a fairly solemn occasion and initially started well.

A large, important gentleman with a moustache sporting a row of small dress medals on a light coloured blazer was preparing the choir, while another chap practised the trombone. Meanwhile a chap in uniform we supposed to be a gendarme set up a microphone attached to a big speaker which we later learned also had a tape player in it. Large gent starts choir singing the Marseillaise, a small solemn procession enters stage right led by young man with tricolour. Trombonist suddenly realises he should be with procession and starts to play and runs to the back; everybody gets to memorial and deploys in semi-circle. Small smartly dressed deputy mayor with small children stands while choir sings all verses! Small children are restive, mayor grabs hand, and finally choir stops. They walk solemnly up and place wreath of flowers which will not stay and keeps trying to roll off! Having laid them on sideways, steps back for solemn moment then children are able to leave and join their mates.

Mayor approaches microphone and it promptly falls off with load bang as it hits the road, he picks it up and starts to address the crowd only to be instantly corrected by large choirmaster. As the exchange is in French we do not quite understand but it appears to be the date of the armistice which is under discussion!! As mayor finishes Gendarme starts tape only to be growled at by large gent, who approaches microphone and drops it on road again, bang! He makes a short speech, turns to choir, signals to man to start tape, choir starts to sing; large man stops choir and tape, something is wrong with tape. Tape restarts and finally it is alright and with loud applause we all retire to town hall for free drinks, peanuts and olives, marvellous. To be fair to him, the deputy mayor walks up and says did I look a real prat? We assured him he did not and truthfully he didn’t really, it was just funny to a visitor who didn’t know what was going on. What was nice though was how lovely everybody was to us but I think that was a lot to do with how well Julie and Khaled are respected.

Monday 9th - So on with the happy hols, the weather is decidedly warmer and we have had sunshine more or less all day today with Joan finally able to don her shorts! My inclination is to move on soon and get into Italy where hopefully the weather will continue to improve. That said it would take several days and we must deliver Kathleen and Kens tea bags first.

Tuesday 10th- Well we cannot believe it but it is really hot and we are both in shorts today. Just a day of pleasure. I cut the grass which sounds hard but it is such a huge garden that they have a sit on mower, so it was fun. We then made contact with K&K for the ceremonial handing over of the ‘T’ Bags tomorrow. We anticipate that they will both be in full ceremonial dress uniform and after the ceremony will suitably reward us with large libations of alcohol, olives etc. Sadly, the aforementioned trombonist will be at work and therefore unable to attend.

That’s all folks, sorry if it isn’t very long but we really have just been enjoying Julie, Hana and all the animals company.

All our love
‘US’ xxxx

Friday, 7 May 2010

Angela Paul and a 3 legged dog! We've started.

6th May Polling day, good luck Andy X

Many of you will be wondering where the hell we are and why we have not posted anything as yet, no? Oh well, here’s why anyway especially for Pam, Maria and Marion who we know will be watching the blog.

Having left home on the Thursday, travelled to London, then popped up to Oxford on the Monday to see Andy, Carole, Joe and Eleanor for a couple of nights. It was great to see them all and have time to chat as we hadn’t had time to say more than two words to them on the wedding weekend. Thank you Carole for the recipe for the delicious chicken dish you cooked for us. We then returned to London and stayed with Angela and Paul, so all in all we spent 9 days in London. They as usual made us more than welcome and ran us around all over the place, and kept feeding us! We really felt as though we’d had a brilliant week’s holiday. Thank you both so much.

I think we also have to mention Pam & Colin who have spent more time going to our house and checking things for us than is really fair. Thanks X

While we were in London we managed to see Jamie and Tim twice which was great. We had a couple of nice meals with them and Tim disappeared at one point. He’d gone to the bookshop next door and returned with two books for us for our holiday which he thought we’d enjoy, so kind of him. We also caught Stephen and Reena just before we left for France which was a lovely bonus as we feared we would not see them until August when we return. The London tube is always good for a laugh and as you know things tend to happen to us, this trip was no exception. While returning on the northern line from an excellent meal with the boys in Waterloo we encountered a three legged dog! He was being carried around by his master in a wicker basket; you see, all life is here in these pages.

At 5am bank holiday Monday my lovely sister and Paul got up to see us off, Paul moved his car which was blocking the road outside. This was so that I could get some sleep as I was really worried we would be unable to leave if a neighbour parked there as they often do. Our trip to the Eurotunnel was uneventful and we arrived a little early so were offered the earlier train, which was fine by us. Joan and I had been a little worried about what to do on arrival but it was very simple as they employ a system of number plate recognition, so as we pulled up it addressed us as Mr Crick, amazing. Then after a swift check that our gas was turned off we were sent to board the train. Almost immediately this lady appeared, put chocks under our wheels and we were off. 35 minutes later we drove off and straight onto the motorway heading for our first nights stop, all we had managed to do was have some muesli and a drink of water!

I must say that this was the most hassle free way to go but personally I missed my breakfast! Those of you who have read previous blog’s will know that as soon as we get on board the ferry we make for the restaurant and have a full English breakfast plus tea, toast and marmalade. Never mind, we are here in La Belle France and as usual there is no traffic on the road so we are bowling along heading for the south avoiding Paris like the plague. After a pleasant couple of hundred miles we stopped at a little campsite which appeared totally deserted except for the sign on the door which more or less said help yourself, we will return later. Having quickly checked the facilities, (which were spotless), we did. Later turned out to be the next morning, so it’s a good job we did not wait up!

Next day we set off for Kaye’s house and somehow got our addresses mixed up, I am hurt to notice that none of you are surprised! However whenever we talk about Kaye and Phil for some reason we always refer to them living at Airvault, so we headed there. On arrival we realised it was far too big a town and could not for the life of us remember the name of their village. We did remember that they were very friendly with the English couple who have a campsite here so we headed for that. They were very nice and just as they told us the name of Kaye’s village it came to Joan, Oiron! Not funny as I had already driven about 180 miles but it was 5 miles back along narrow country roads. Kaye was very happy to see us and amused at our brilliant route finding.

Kaye and her partner Phil have bought a huge house which was in very bad repair and while he works away in Libya she is renovating it and setting up as a B&B or Chambres d’hotes as it is called here. It is impossible to describe what this girl has done, suffice to say that this year she has opened and awaits her first guests, and I wish I could plaster the way she does!!! Plus if all the things she is growing come up she will be virtually self sufficient, where does she find the time? We spent a lovely couple of days together and she had a well earned rest/day off when we all visited Thouars old town, which was really great but we suffered from the Kathleen and Ken syndrome, i.e. neither of us remembered the bloomin camera!

So there you are, this is our first week. On the whole it’s dry and quite sunny but if it doesn’t get warmer soon I think we will go home and book a cruise to the tropics, ‘cause it’s bloomin freezing!

Oops! Sorry Stephen we just sat down to watch the DVD you did for us of the photos and I have left it at Angela’s, hopefully Joan will forgive me eventually.
Lots of love
Bryan & Joan