In the late 1980’s whilst working for ABB Robotics Ltd, I made a visit to the Saint-Gobain glass bottle factory near Reims in northern France. I was shocked to see the safety guarding around the robot installation was just a low height single rail. This contrasted completely with the H&S conscious UK where we had to have 2m high perimeter fencing with interlocked access gates.
Arriving in Cahors we took a walk into town over the Louis Philippe bridge with narrow paths either side of the traffic. My vertigo wasn’t helped by the very low wall – one stumble would have lead to a watery death in the fast moving river below. In the UK we would have as a minimum a handrail for those with suicidal tendencies to wrap their legs over whilst waiting to be talked down.
We love a market with a good buzz, this one in Cahors on Saturday morning was particularly colourful and varied and was well supported by the locals who appeared to be loyal to their favoured local producers and traders.
We were very tempted by a restaurant offering wines tasting of 4 different Malbec’s with lunch. Although the change is coming slowly , the French are definitely coming round to the New World producers approach of naming the grape rather than the traditional method of using the region.
As we’ve been touring around France and Spain we have seen quite a few of the heavily laden, long distance walkers doing one of the several versions of the Santiago de Compostela Way. We have seen the signs for the ‘Way’ as far back as St Guilhelm le Desert and in Olargues, in León, Logroño, San Sebastian, St Jean de Pied Port, Condom and now Cahors. Sometimes the hikers look a bit sodden and weary but always righteous and determined.
Thousands of the ‘pilgrims’ set off every year on their way to Santiago de Compostela. And of course some decide to do the route, not necessarily for religious reasons but perhaps as a personal challenge. But wherever they start, their way is marked by the scallop shell symbol shown on the map.
In Cahors today, Lesley tripped over one of their raised brass scallop shells cemented into the pavement. Little do the innocent pilgrims realise the dangers, hazards and risks they face of multiple calamitous stumbles and trips. Due to a complete and utter disregard for what we would consider as basic British Health and Safety standards. I mean where, where was the red and white tape and the marker cone(s) – I have absolutely no idea what the EU will do without us)….!
Dave & Lesley
PS My humbug apologies for the delay in publishing this blog
We’re making our way slowly up though France, for the moment avoiding the main route and motorways and sticking to the back roads. Soaking up the rolling landscape, the idyllic rural life in the small towns and villages. Only very occasionally the essential French-ness is interrupted by the unmistakably plummy tone of an expat English voice. A few days ago whilst walking round the town of Condom I’m sure I heard a voice say “My dear old thing”. As if it were Henry Blofeld himself.
Someone else who might take some of the blame for the 150,000 British nationals living in France, is Terry Wogan who revealed in an interview that he and his wife Helen had a home in the Gers Department of France for almost two decades. They were also said to be regulars at La Table des Cordeliers in Condom.
The Pope was planning to come here last month but at the last minute decided to withdraw…!
The Three Musketeers
D’Artagnan arrives in Paris and, seeking to join the king’s musketeers, goes to see their captain, Tréville. In his haste he offends three of the best musketeers—Porthos, Athos, and Aramis—and challenges each to a duel that afternoon. All three musketeers arrive at the appointed location at the same time to duel with D’Artagnan. However, they are interrupted by Cardinal Richelieu’s guards. The musketeers plus D’Artagnan happily engage the guards and beat them soundly, and D’Artagnan is accepted as a friend and a good fighting companion.
D’Artagnan settles into his new life, hoping to soon become a musketeer, and rents an apartment above the shop of Monsieur Bonacieux. However, he finds himself in the middle of the foulest plot in France.
Cardinal Richelieu and the evil Milady de Winter are trying to discredit Queen Anne in the eyes of King Louis XIII and the country, thus ultimately giving Richelieu more power over the king. The queen is trying to repel the amorous advances of the English duke of Buckingham. And Constance, Bonacieux’s wife, has become the trusted messenger between the queen and Buckingham, as well as a victim of Richilieu who sees her as an avenue to expose the queen. D’Artagnan becomes involved when he meets Milady and is smitten by her charms and when Constance asks him for help and he is smitten again.
About this time, Athos, to distract D’Artagnan from thoughts of Milady and Constance, tells him about a man who married a woman whom he later learned was a convicted thief. He believes the evil woman is now dead. The man is, of course, Athos, but he doesn’t tell D’Artagnan that.
Next, Richilieu, through Milady and his henchman Rochefort, trick Buckingham into coming to Paris. Buckingham goes to the queen’s chambers, but she refuses his love. He asks for a remembrance, and the queen gives him twelve diamond studs; then, with Constance and D’Artagnan’s help, he leaves England safely. Even though Richilieu doesn’t trap Buckingham this time, his spies inform him of these happenings.
Still plotting to trap Queen Anne, Richelieu suggests King Louis give a ball ten days hence at which the queen can wear the diamond studs the king has given her, and he sends Milady to London to steal the jewels from Buckingham. Learning of the ball,the queen writes to Buckingham to return the jewels to her, and she asks D’Artagnan to take the letter to England. D’Artagnan enlists the help of Athos, Porthos, and Aramis; and the four race off to England.
The four friends soon are separated, but D’Artagnan eventually arrives in London; however, when Buckingham gives D’Artagnan the diamond studs, they discover two are missing. Buckingham realizes that Milady, who arrived earlier, has managed to steal them, but he commands a jeweler to make duplicates, and arranges to hand over the complete set to D’Artagnan at the dock in the morning.
The next morning, Milady arrives at the dock first and tries to get the jewels, but Buckingham will not give her the studs, so Milady stabs him. D’Artagnan arrives, preventing her from stealing the jewels, but not in time to prevent Buckingham’s death.
Milady hurries back to Paris ahead of D’Artagnan and tells Richelieu of her partial success: she believes that, even if D’Artagnan brings the jewels, two will be missing. The king arrives at the ball and notes the absence of the queen’s diamond studs. He demands she get them, saying he will come back when she is properly dressed. With time running out, D’Artagnan finally arrives and gives the queen the jewels—the original ten, plus the two new ones. The king returns, and the queen is happily wearing all twelve diamonds.
In the meantime, the queen has sent Constance to a convent where she can be safe from the cardinal. She tells this to D’Artagnan, but Milady overhears and hurries off to seek revenge. D’Artagnan gathers up his three friends, and the race is on again. Milady, disguised, arrives at the convent before the musketeers and secretly pours poison into a glass of wine and urges Constance to drink. The four friends arrive as Milady rushes out, and Constance dies in D’Artagnan’s arms.
Finally, the four catch up with Milady. They accuse her of her various crimes and pass sentence of death—and Athos recognizes her as his long-ago wife whom he thought was dead. However, Milady cheats them of revenge by stabbing herself. The musketeers kneel and ask for God’s forgiveness on all of them.
D’Artagnan was actually born in Lupiac a small village to the south of Condom.
The toilets on the outside of the cloisters had two entrance doors – one male, the other female – both of which opened bizarrely into the same internal space with 4 cubicles and a low wall for the gentlemen’s privacy. All very Gallic, but you do have to be careful not go in as a man and come out as a woman!
A few of the Catholic churches we have visited have these type of wooden boxes – I think the three position must relate to marriage guidance with the priest in the middle. A sort of two for the price of one! It would have been all very public and quite bizarre.
On marriage, as Mae West is reported to have said – “Marriage is a fine institution, but I’m not ready for an institution.”
No, not a car wash but a laundrette conveniently positioned next to the petrol pumps at the out of town supermarket. We haven’t yet found a machine big enough to fit Charlie in. But at least we could make a cuppa whilst we washed our smalls.
Topped up with fuel, fresh food supplies and clean clothes, we headed off in search of more of France’s prettiest villages.
Since leaving Spain and returning to France we have added: St Jean Pied de Port to our Les Plus Beaux Villages de France tally, along with Auvillar and Lauzete.
We’ve done it again, pitched up at lunchtime when the place is half asleep as everyone’s gone home for lunch.
Apparently when it get’s hot here in summer it’s enough to even warp the cobblestone paving!
Terry Wogan’s band of hardcore fans were know as TOGS – Lesley, if not a paid up member of the TOG’s, was certainly a Wogan fan. Personally I struggled to get Radio 2 to work.
Terry Wogan had millions of listeners in hysterics with his innuendo-filled version of the Janet and John children’s stories. How did he get away with it? The structure was simple. Wogan would narrate in the style of the original children’s stories but also “do” John’s voice in a squeaky lisp. A string of innuendo and a fit of giggles usually followed.
To take one example, Wogan told his morning audience how John had gone to the park, fallen off his scooter and scuffed his shiny new shoes, only to be helped by a kindly woman who repaired the damage.
Recapping events to Janet, using John’s voice, Wogan read: “On the way I fell off my scooter and Mrs Parks saw me and took me into her shop to sort me out. She got the wood out and saw that I had a nasty scuff. So she got on her knees, rubbed some cream in it and worked her fists up and down until I could see my face in it. She said it was a pleasure to find a man who wasn’t afraid to splash out on a decent pair. And she was surprised that my old cobblers didn’t get more work, and they’d done very well.”
The Mouvement des gilets jaunes was in the beginning partly motivated by rising French fuel prices, although today the purpose of the protest is more generally anti Macron. For the last four or five weeks, whilst in Spain we’ve been enjoying low cost diesel at average price of €1.18 per litre. Therefore leaving Spain with a near empty tank wasn’t our smartest ever move. At the first supermarket (usually the cheapest) in France the bandit fuel pump attendant filled our tank with 60 litres of diesel at €1.43!!! That’s €15 stolen from our wine budget…
Let me think – oh yeah the 7 P’s – Proper, Prior, Planning, Prevents, Piss, Poor, Performance…!
As we travelled further into the interior of the French Basque region the houses became quite uniform in colour and style. Many of the villages were immaculately presented, with chalet style buildings painted brilliant white, with red doors, shutters and facias all surrounded by neat regulation length manicured grass. It all looked a bit – too perfect. Clearly the regional planning department were the kind of people not to be messed with!
"Located between the Basque coast and the Spanish border. St Jean Pied de Port is famous for being one of the traditional starting points of the Way of St. James (the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela). It is located on the Roncevaux Pass at the base of the Pyrenean Mountains and the name “Pied-de-Port” actually means “foot pass.”
St-Jean-de-Pied-Port was declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1998. In the Middle Ages travellers had to pay, a toll at this point on the route in order to continue on their way. They suffered punishments if resisted, as was described by the monk Aimery Picaud in the Codex Calixtino: “The toll collectors are so evil they deserve the utmost condemnation, because, armed with two or three clubs, they stop the pilgrims in their tracks and forcibly demand unfair taxes. And if any hiker refuses to pay the money they ask, they are hit with sticks and amid threats, searched down to their underwear and have their documents removed…”
Thankfully it was only their documents that were removed…!
Perhaps this might be where phrase “Getting Your Pants Pulled Down” originated?
Our target destination for the next few day was in and around the city of Pau, but as weren’t in a hurry we picked out from our France Passion guide a site to stay for the night. These locations in the UK are normally on farms for example, where you might buy some local produce, cheese, eggs vegetables etc. But as were in France – It’s a vineyard!
We pitched up as the family were gathered together to enjoy the last of the late afternoon sunshine. The vineyard wasn’t huge and supplies its grapes to the local co-operative winery for pressing. Our host (age 82) was lovely. Since her husband died she now lives alone, with only Willy a 17 year old scamp of a sheep dog for company. Her son looks after the vines and was there when we arrived with his brother and his children. We had a warm welcome (we had to politely refuse the offer of doughnuts) but the only english spoken was from Madame’s tech savvy 8 and 10 year old grandchildren via Google translate.
You are not obliged to buy the produce at a France Passion stopover but, well it would have been rude not to have at least sampled the wine(s). In the end we paid €11 euro for a free night parked outside the house (guarded by Willy) plus 3 bottles of Huste Clos Jurançon sec 2017. Very nice.
Saying our goodbyes (you should have seen Willy’s broken hearted snuggling up to Lesley as we were leaving), we heeded Madame’s advice and headed for the aire at Pau’s TGV railway station.
Until the mid-19th century, Pau had been a relatively insignificant French provincial town. Then the English came and the boom began. Villas with huge gardens sprang up everywhere. The Boulevard des Pyrénées became what it is today: a kilometre-long stroll in the shade of palm trees with magnificent views of snowcapped peaks.
We only saw the grid markings on the road, but every year in May the city of Pau plays hosts to a number of motor-racing events on its street circuit. The current circuit was establish in 1935 and has since held Formula 3 and the World Touring Car Championship events as well as the the GP de Pau Historique.
Motorsport is not the only form of racing for Pau to witness, as it is also the most visited location in Tour de France history. In the past nine tours, the race visited the town in the Pyrenees’ foothills nine times.
They represent all the past Tour de France winners including: the greats, like five times winners Jacques Anquetil (5), Eddy Merckx (5), Miguel Indurain (5), Bernard Hinault (5) – Plus the British riders Bradley Wiggins 2012 – Chris Froome 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 winner Geraint Thomas.
Travelling around France we have been impressed by the number of electric vehicle charging points we’ve seen. It’s great to see electric vehicles growing in popularity. With the total number of electric cars sold in Europe now more than 1 million, the UK sold 30,040 plug-in cars and vans in the first half of the 2018. However with the 3,500kg weight Charlie carries, I think it’ll be a while before he need worry about being replaced.
So after tales of Robbery Assault and Battery it’s good to end on a positive note, but perhaps only Genesis fans will understand when I say Los Endos.
For those of you who remember your schooldays, you might recall the unwritten school laws which meant you were never to tell tales or ‘grass up your mates’, no matter how severe the playground crime was. Lesley say’s in Scotland it was ‘to clipe’. I’m sure there are many other derivations including ‘ratting’ and to ‘snitch’. But as we were to be reminded ‘snitch’ also has other meanings too….
We set off from our sardine-packed aire intending to take the funicular railway to the top of Monte Igueldo situated to the west of the town.
According to the ticket office the antique funicular railway, which was first opened in 1912, has never broken down in all that time. We’re not sure why it chose today to take a holiday after 107 years, but if we want to get to the top of Monte Igueldo and enjoy the panorama over San Sebastian we’re going to have to walk.
There were some great views on the way up which gave us many excuses to stop and get our breath back. Approaching the summit we (Dave) expected a round of applause, medals or a nice view and an ice cream vendor. Nope. If you want access to the view €2.30 each was the ticket price. I did my best huff and puff and turned around and went back down!
Our legs were tired with the walk to the old town and so surprise, surprise, time for pintxos for lunch, that were just great. We topped off lunch with two huge ice creams that needed so much dedication we had to sit in the sun on the decking by the harbour to concentrate on fully appreciating the task before us. It was torture, no it was, really….!
Our very popular aire is next to the University where there is conveniently an electric bike station. So the next day we paid €8 for a card and took out 2 bikes to explore the city.
dBizi became the first 100% electric public bike system. Its aim is to promote active and sustainable mobility in the city of San Sebastián-Donostia. The system consists of 16 docking stations located throughout the city of San Sebastián-Donostia and 125 electric bikes
The city has really embraced the bike. Not just for the dBizi but private cyclists, electric scooters and roller bladers, the network of marked routes is just fantastic, allowing you to travel in (relative) safety by sticking to the marked routes. And when you want to stop you can park or exchange your dBizi at one of the 16 charging stations. – Brilliant
It is impossible not to fall for San Sebastian’s Basque laid back charm. It helps when the beach(es) are fantastic and weather is near perfect. The food is delicious and the whole place is so vibrant.
This week is the International Comic Fair of San Sebastian. We sat watching this bizarre game without a clue what it was. All the players had a stick between their legs, there were 3 hoops at either end and more than one ball!!!. It wasn’t until we asked at the the tourist office and after much head scratching looking at our photos, they worked it out the it was a practice game of Quidditch taking prior to the San Sebastian Comic Fair.
Cedric Diggory, Hufflepuff house’s Quidditch team captain and Seeker.
Quidditch is played with 7 players: 3 hunters, 2 kickers, 1 Guardian and 1 search engine. It is played with both women and men on the same team. The party will have their chance to look for the Golden Snitch while the Quaffle scores points dodging the Bludgers.
Here’s a quick quiz question? Who wrote to the lyrics to this well known song. Clue being on benefits might NOT be the answer.
Life is fine every time Thoughts of you leave my head I was wrong, now I find Just one thing makes me forget….
After overnighting in Vitoria Gasteiz, we took a scenic route over the hills towards Logroño. In spite of it being a large town, when we were only 15km away we couldn’t see any sign of the city. It was almost as well hidden in the surrounding landscape as La Paz in Bolivia is.
As we got closer it became apparent we were in a wine growing area since the hills became patterned with grapevines. On the outskirts of the city, we easily found the aire at Las Norias which was ideal with tree lined bays and quite empty. We chose a shady pitch 50 metres from the bus stop into town.
Logroño is the epicentre of tapas in Spain and the capital city of Rioja. As well as serving pintxos (an influence from the nearby Basque Country), the bars here often specialise in just one particular thing, be it mushrooms, scrambled eggs or spider crab fishcakes.
We got the number 3 bus from Las Norias into the centre of the town. Our plan was to do some sampling of the pintxos washed down with a few glasses of Rioja’s very fine wine.
We wandered around for a while but everything was closed. It is not like the Bradfords to be early for anything but in this case we were. As we discovered when we went to the tourist information, most of the bars do not open until around 8:00-8:30pm.
We headed towards the Museum of La Rioja to pass some time before the bars opened. It turned out to have lots of interesting information about the region and it’s history but nothing about wine. I wonder how many other unsuspecting tourists have been lured in expecting wine info….
Having had our fill of Rioja (history), we found a bar and enjoyed a glass of white and one red with crisps for €2.40 – Yes cheap and very nice. That first bar gave us chance to make plan of attack – Bar1 Goat’s Cheese + Mystery thing, Bar2 Patatas Bravas and asparagus wrapped in ham and cheese mmmm v nice, Bar3 Garlic mushrooms with prawn (fav so far) Bar4/5…. well it get’s a bit hazy after that, but we did make it safely back to Las Norias and Charlie’s comfy bed.
The next day slightly worse for wear we set off for a scenic drive north through some pretty spectacular countryside.
Well as you might have already worked out it was Neil Diamond who sang the original in 1968 – We prefer the UB40 version… Red, red wine goes to my head. Makes me forget…..
As a soft southerner, when I first moved to Manchester I told my friends ‘daan sarf ‘that Manchester deserved its reputation for being wet, when in reality it averages only 830mm of rain per year. Compare that with the Lake District, which I have to say is particularly moist. Seathwaite in Borrowdale for example, is the wettest inhabited place in England -averaging some 3,300 millimetres (130 in) of rain each year.
The northern Basque Country – like the Lakes – is nice and green because guess what the rain is greater than “on the plain”. That said even in the north (the wettest part) the rainfall is less than 1000 mm. So when the heavens opened up here today, as a Cumbrian might say ”It’s nowt but a la’l shower lad”.
We elected not to hang about in Comillas in the rain, so after visiting the laudramat (again) we set sail for Bilbao.
The aire we found in Bilbao offers a stupendous view over the city. For 15€ per night, each spot has it’s own electricity and a water connection (with really good pressure). It’s guarded during the day. And the number 58 bus that takes you right into the centre, runs regularly from a stop just 100 meters away.
After meeting a chatty local couple on the bus which took us to the the heart of downtown Bilbao we started with the market at The Mercado de la Ribera and were quickly drawn to the Pintxos in its gastro bars. We enjoyed the walk along the riverbank to the Guggenheim museum.
Designed by American architect Frank Gehry, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao is a magnificent example of groundbreaking architecture. The building and the museum has transformed the fortunes of Bilbao. The millions like us, come to see and photograph the structure without knowing or necessarily being interested in the artworks inside.
The Guggenheim is huge with 11,000 m2 of dedicated exhibition space, and although the museum is an undoubted architectural landmark providing a perfect backdrop for the art exhibited in it. However for me the majority of the art inside as Shania Twain would say “didn’t impress me much’. Yes there were three rooms full of ‘masters’ Van Gogh, Picasso, Gaugin, Renoir et al. But I don’t get Mark Rothko or even worse a huge long wall of nine canvases with varying amounts of paint splattered on them… naaagh!
Now the external sculptures for me were just great, I loved the idea of the Fog sculpture ” by Fujiko Nakaya, it made me feel quite homesick….
We really liked Bilbao and enjoyed finding our way around the streets (calles) of the old town, the Guggenheim is definitely worth seeing and we had some great tapas pintxos in the market but sadly once again no ice-cream. (I have written to my MP, but apparently he’s busy with some other stuff in Westminster at the mo…)
As I’m feeling better we’re leaving Leon and heading in the general direction of Bilbao. Travelling as the crow griffin vulture flies you cross some biggish lumps called the Picos de Europa.
To cross the Picos our route took us passed the flood town of Riaño, where we had identified an aire without services but good reviews and close to the village.
New Riaño is the upper part of the original town before the planned construction of a dam and reservoir flooded the village in the 1980s.
The village and its low lying farmland were to be submerged, as were six other villages in the associated dam project. The residents were relocated to New Riaño, built as a replacement higher above the reservoir waters.
We had a magnificent parking spot to ourselves with an uninterrupted view of the mountains reflected in the reservoir. Just perfect.
Long ago on a sunlit day – I chanced upon a mountain lake, Shining like clear mirrored glass, In it the skies I could make;
Its grace kissed by a gentle breeze, The ripples rose in wave-like fake, Pristine waters clear and cool For lesser mortals thirst to slake,
Luring travellers to rest awhile All worldly measures put to stake, Blossoms wild in red and blue Were scattered aground like snow flake,
Saw diamonds shine from tender blades, Foliage on its shores opaque, Maples, pines and cedars tall Loamy shelters for birds to rake,
Fair bleating sheep with tinkling bells Sweet melody to keep awake; Dancing fairies put to trance Their astral chores all left to quake,
Bid adieu to its virgin shores Wishing its tranquil I could take, Can still see the mountain lake Calling me in a dreamless wake.
KaitlyThe Mountain Lake – Poem by Amar Agarwala
The drive through the mountains and up and over was fantastic with very green rocks! The air must be very clean as the lichen covered the rocks to give an emerald hue to the hillsides.
Our lunch spot was the town of Potes where we were able to stock up on essential supplies. The area around Potes is popular for outdoors activities such as walking and climbing. We had thought we might take a trip to Fuente Dé, where you can take a cable car up to a height of 1850m, but there is so much to see and do, we’ll just have to put it on the growing list ‘for-next-time‘.
Eventually we popped out the other side of the Picos and found the coast once again.