Sams Sept-Nov 2016 blog

31/10/16

A lovely little town called Dieulefit which is known for its pottery which dates back 2000 years. We arrived on the Saturday without a cloud in the sky only strangely hugging the top of the hill.

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A walk around the town but most of the shops were closed and not many people around. Sunday morning a decision was made to go for a walk around the valley going through the town to get there and it was as if we had gone through the twighlight zone, there were stalls everywhere and so many people. Andy in true fashion was dressed for summer while everybody around was dressed for winter.

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The walk around the valley was 7km and it was beautiful with the sound of hunting dogs coming from the next valley along.

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29/10/16

After Avignon was a lovely little campsite 3km outside of a little village called Mazan. Our pitch was on the edge of the campsite, next to a Vineyard, with a direct view of Mont Ventoux. In the vineyard on a little hut was a bird box that housed two Pygmy owls and I got to see them which was a first for me.

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On the day of arrival we decided to take a walk around the local vineyards (7km). There were a lot of grapes still on the vines and found out that it could be one of two reasons, either the grapes were picked by machine and it missed those grapes or quite simply their vats were full. There were also olive trees and after Andy convincing me that I should try one, I did! I should have googled it first because they are absolutely disgusting and apparently should never be eaten raw.

It took three attempts to get to the top of Mont Ventoux. First attempt, after getting about three quarters the way up we were unsure if we had enough petrol so turned around. After filling up was attempt two where we got higher than attempt one but as we turned a bend we were greeted by a wall of cloud.

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Attempt three was victorious and the views from the top were fantastic (Check them out in the gallery). We also realised that attempt two was only two bends away from the summit! The highest point of Mont Ventoux is 1912m (6273 ft), it is the highest mountain in the region and has been nicknamed the “beast of Provence”, the “giant of Provence”, or “The bald Mountain”. It gained fame through its inclusion in the Tour de France cycling race. Venteux means windy in French and it can get very windy at the summit. Wind speeds as high as 200mph (320 km/h) have been recorded. The wind blows at 56+ mph (90 km/h) for 240 days of the year. Mont Ventoux, although geologically part of the alps, is often considered to be separate from them due to the lack of mountains of a similar height nearby. The top of the mountain is bare limestone without vegetation or trees, which makes the mountains barren peak appear from a distance to be snow capped all year round. It’s snow cover actually lasts from December to April. Whilst the mountain was probably climbed in prehistoric times, the first recorded ascent was by Jean Buridan, who was on his way to the papal court in Avignon before the year 1334, “in order to make some meteorological observations”. In 1882, a meteorological station was constructed on the summit, though it is no longer in use. Every year there are amateur races to climb the mountain as quickly and as often as possible in 24 hours, the Ventoux master series and “Les cinglés”. On 16th May 2006 Jean-Pascal Roux broke the record of climbs in 24 hours with eleven climbs and all from Bédoin.

On the last day was a walk to the nearby town Bédoin which ended up to be 19km. On the way while walking down a country lane I hear barking. As I turn in the direction of the noise I see him, Cujo, racing towards me to maul me to death. I start walking faster “he’s going to get me” I’m telling Andy…… where has he gone? He’s standing there taking a photo of the killer dog! The dog is now next to me and I can feel his breath on me where he is so close but luckily he stops there.

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These dogs are used as guard dogs for sheep and they live with the sheep from a young age to create the bond. There was nothing really in Bédoin as its only fame is the Tour de France sometimes goes through it but we had a meal there before turning back for the return journey after checking the map for a different route so Cujo could be avoided. A little bit through the journey we notice these sheep really close to the road and there next to them is the ram so Andy gets his camera out while I look at the rest them and then there he was…..Cujo….. who then realises that people are really close to his sheep and he starts to come towards us, then out of nowhere jumps Cujo 2! I think I’m going to die now but they are arguing with each other in the middle of the road and a van comes along so I quickly slip away.

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I start to calm down but my nerves are shot to pieces. Surely nothing else can happen?  Walking along a little while later and sitting in the middle of the road is a white dog, it can not be, it gets up and starts coming towards us, my heart is pounding, then he picks up a deflated football and walks ahead of us wagging his tail, I’m so relieved. Where is he going? He walks, stops, looks at us and waits for us to catch up then goes again. This was going on for a while and we started worrying that he thought we were his owners so we had to turn back and wait for him to go inbtween the vines then quickly turn back and hope he didn’t follow. Thankfully he didn’t follow us anymore but the rest of the journey we kept expecting him to come jumping out the bushes.

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22/10/16

Stop 15 is Avignon a beautiful town on the river Rhône. The campsite was on an island where the river Rhône had split around it and you can get a river boat across to the main land or walk up to the bridge and cross. The river boat is free  so off we went.

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Once on the other side a decision had to be made if we wanted to walk the quick way up which was equivalent to 9 flights of stairs or the long way round? The stairs it was! It was a fantastic view from the top and somebody had very kindly provided benches to admire said view ( thank you! ). At the top was the papal palace. Between 1309 and 1377, during the Avignon papacy, seven successive popes resided in Avignon and in 1348 Pope Clement VI bought the town from Joanna 1 of Naples. Although civilisation here dates back as late as 4000 BC it was the arrival of the Romans, followed by Christianity, that turned Avignon into one of europes biggest and most important settlements. It’s key position on the Rhône meant it was squabbled over by Gothic, Saracen and Frankish tribes throughout the early Middle Ages, before the papacy arrival. The papal palace, still Avignons most remarkable building and first built as a fortification in 1252, played home to the popes. After endless invasions and sieges, Avignon eventually became part of France in 1791, two years after the country’s revolution began.

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There is part of a bridge coming the Avignon. Legend has it that Bénézet, a young shepherd, was guided by voices to accomplish the mission of building the bridge. Built between 1177 and 1186, probably upon pilings from a former Roman bridge, the bridge had 22 arches and spanned 900 meters. Destroyed during the siege of 1226, the bridge was rebuilt in stone and raised. The chapel built on the third piling reveals the successive levels. A drawbridge connected the bridge to the fortification. The bridge was repeatedly damaged by flood waters and continually repaired. In 1668 it was deemed to be too dangerous and was closed to traffic. Today, only 4 arches of the original 22 remain. You can go on the bridge for a charge of €5.

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20/10/16

It was a bit sad saying goodbye to Roses but a new adventure awaits. Stop 14 is Gruissan, a town surrounded by beaches and a marina. Gruissan is famous for being the setting of a French film called Betty Blue, a film about two passionate lovers living in a beach hut. We stopped here for three days doing a 12km and 14km walk around the beaches. While I walk on the beach ( as I do not like going in the sea ), Andy walks in the water and it was really shallow.

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The aire we stayed on was right next to a lake and we got a good spot where we could put our chairs out and watch the sunset.

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18/10/16

Still in Roses! Who would of thought that we could spend more than 5 days in any one place but here we are on day 13. We are moving on today, only because we have to start moving back up. We met these wonderful people, Phil, his wife Michele, John and his wife Irene. The two couples are related by sisters I think? John and Irene spent 8 years living on a boat before changing to a camper van so there was plenty to talk about as me and Andy have talked often about getting a boat. They have a website too www.moet-Chandon.co.uk

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Phil was taking the picture. We started off outside John and Irene’s van but all decided that our light was brighter so moved everything to our van. For those who know us know that it’s quite rare for us to socialise with others but I think we are getting good at that now. We had two days of thunder storms and the campsite got quite flooded.

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It didn’t take long for the water to dry up once the sun came out. Up in the hills we thought we could see an observatory so we went for a ride only to discover that it was an early warning system sitting on military ground so we couldn’t get close. As we couldn’t get there we carried on to Sant Pere de Rodes Monastery founded in the 9th century. Between the 10th and 14th centuries it became the most important abbey in the county of Empuries because of both the protection of the counts and the nobility and its prestige as a place of pilgrimage. In 1798 after a lengthy decline, the Benedictine community abandoned the abbey. It’s art was looted and it eventually fell into ruin.

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Next to this was was Santa Creu de Rodes, a village where the rear facades of the houses act as a wall and the only access to the interior was through a fortified gateway. The nerve centre was the church square, around which the houses were built. Santa Creo de Rodes was born and died in the shadow of Sant Pere  monastery and was a prosperous place where fairs and markets were held, with innkeepers, tailors, bakers, cobblers, blacksmiths and notaries, among others, who offered their services to all comers but especially to the pilgrims who flocked to the monastery. There are still houses to be excavated.

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Close to here is the town of Cadaqués. A town frequented by a lot of motorcycle riders. On the way in we were passed by a biker as though we were on a moped! Andy does not ride slow either. Cadaqués is considered as the jewel of the costa Bravia and has a history dating back thousands of years to the Iberian period. Cadaqués was first documented before 814. The document recounts the shipwreck of a vessel that carried the relics of both Sant Abdó and Sant Senén, they and the crew were saved by the villagers. In 1030 the monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes bought a freehold of fishery and ports and the document highlights the existence of vineyards, coves and beaches. At that time, villagers combined fishing with farming as a means to survive. We walked around the coastline and came across a small island which had a barrier up st the bridge due to it falling apart but everybody ignored this even though there was actually nothing on the island.

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14/10/16

Leaving France and going into Spain was an experience seeing all the prostitutes along the road on the Spanish side. Roses is a lovely town and the campsite was only a 5 minute walk to the beach so we did a lot of beach walks. On the first day we found a great little seafood place called Iris which we visited twice having sardines, squid and calamari. Along the coast line is a walkway to the next town so off we went stopping along the way trying to take selfies (which are in the gallery) but there was nothing there apart from a beach and 2 restaurants. After a very strong Sangria we took the walk back again.

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Roses history – Theories are that Roses was founded in the 8th century BC by Greek colonists from Rhodes but its more probable that it was founded in the 5th century BC by Greeks from Massalia (Marseilles). Remains of the Greek settlement can still be seen. In the first decades of the 16th century Roses suffered attacks by privateers from North Africa. To counter the threat Charles V ordered the construction of extensive fortifications in 1543.

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In spite of the precautions, a naval squadron led by the Turkish admiral Barossa attacked and plundered the town some months later. In the following centuries the fortifications were severely tested. In 1645, during the Catalan Revolt, French troops besieged Roses and captured it but the treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659 restored the town to Spain. In 1808, Emporer Napoleon 1 of France forced King Charles of Spain and his son to abdicate and the Emporer installed his brother, Joseph Bonaparte on the throne. The Spanish revolted and again the French armies invaded. In 1814 when the defeated French withdrew from Spain, they blew up the towns fortifications, the  ancient town was in complete ruins but the modern part continued to grow.

05/10/16

The next town was Adge and I was a bit disappointed here. The campsite was ok and the walks were good but it all changed at the town of Adge. It was a nice walk in along the river but the town was dirty, homeless walking up to you asking for money, a very strong smell of illegal substances and the public toilets were surrounded with more homeless. After deciding that this was not a place to find a restaurant and eat we turned back. Previously we had been to cap d’adge with the children and had planned on walking the 5km there one evening and have a meal…… nope…… most places were closed and it was as like a ghost town. I suppose that’s what you get in October so we walked the 5km back and had a take away pizza from next to the campsite which wasn’t great but after a 10km walk I was hungry!

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02/10/16

Moving on from Sarlat onto Rocamadour which is in a gorge on the side of a cliff. It has a sanctuary of the Virgin Mary which for centuries has attracted pilgrims from all over the world. Walking up from the village at the bottom of the cliff following a flight of steps to the churches halfway up he cliff. Here is a broken sword which is said to be a fragment of the Durandal. On the summit stands the chateau built in the Middle Ages to defend the sanctuaries. The path between the churches and the chateau is the ‘way of the cross’ or also known as ‘the way of the sorrows’ which is a series of images depicting Jesus Christ on the day of his crucifixion. The object of the stations is to help the Christian faithful to make a spiritual pilgrimage through contemplation of the passion of Christ stopping at each of the 14 images to reflect and say a prayer.

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Saint cirq Lapopie was stop 10. The entire town is almost a museum with 13 classified buildings and only 217 inhabitants. The town is perched on a steep cliff 100m above the river and is situated in the pilgrim route. A nice walk along the river before a steep path leading up to the town. Remains of ancient gates at either end are named after the child martyr Saint cirq and La Popie stop nobody these days. They had rendered the village almost impenetrable as Richard the Lionheart discovered when he laid siege to Saint cirq without success is 1199. Some of the stone buildings were built on passages so steep their roof ends where their neighbours garden begins.

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01/10/16

Argenta is so cute! I’m cleaning away in the van and getting things ready for our bacon and eggs while Andy is off getting the baguette when I hear a noise. As I turn around Argenta is climbing through the front door just to say good morning. She is wondering around the van “what’s that?” about everything she sees and then she spots my phone and thinks it’s my music, she runs back to her van to get her iPod to show me David Bowie who she says is her favourite. After breakfast she comes wondering back to talk more about David Bowie and then she says she wants to see a video. I don’t have a video so I suggest to her we make a video and she loves the idea. Argenta sings away while I record her on my phone then she takes the phone over to mum to show her, brings it back and we record again. It was so cute when we had to leave her. Argenta said that we will always be good friends and we might see each other again and gave me a big hug telling me she loves me.

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27/09/16

Sarlat. I quite liked Sarlat. We stayed on a campisite about a 10 minute walk from the medieval town. On the first visit into town was a market day and everybody sold either foie gras, confit duck or sausage. Andy tried his free tasters and decided he likes the goose fois gras but I don’t think it’s in our budget. We did come across a wine stall on our way home and had a taster of the rosé and ended up with a 5 litre box for Andy.

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On the first day we met the lovely Meneghetti family who had the wonderful 3 year old daughter by the name of Argenta. I thought she was older as she was so advanced with her speaking and she behaved like she was older. Our pitches were opposite each other so she frequently came over to talk to us about what she had done that day or what music she liked ( David Bowie). They were from Melbourne, Australia and Michael ( dad ) is an artist. He does his own blog michaelmeneghetti.com

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Sarlat is listed as secteur sauvergarde which is to restrict further development. There are more than 250 listed buildings in the old town, making it the town with the most listed buildings per sq metre than any other town in Europe. There is a converted church building where the bell tower now holds a glass elevator for visitors and has an indoor market inside. I could see the structure to the elevator but no way of getting into it.

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Using Sarlat as a base, we visited Beynac-et-cazenac and went into the castle. Joan of arc was filmed in this castle and the stables are still there that was used in the film.  The views were fantastic looking up and down the Dordogne river from there. The castle was taken by Richard 1st of England ( the lion-heart ) in 1189 and was kept by him until he died in 1199. The castle then returned to the French until 1360 when it was occupied by the English until the French victory of Castillon-la-Bataille in 1453 which brought the 100 years war to an end.

24/09/16

Lumeuil was next. Limeuil is just a small town where the rivers Dordogne and Vézére meet but it was a good base to take the duke out to the surrounding villages. The campsite was lovely with 2 other English couples, one French and one Dutch.

One of those English couples were Rob and Iris and what a lovely couple they were. Rob was very impressed with the new van and wanted to come over and have a look with Iris soon following. You meet a lot of different people when your travelling and it’s not often that you think ‘ if we were at home then we could actually be friends with them ‘ and that’s how it felt with Rob and Iris.

We also made another friend in the shape of a cat! Apparently somebody abandoned this cat a couple of years ago on the site and the owners have just kept her.

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From Limeuil we took the duke to Monpazier, Belves and Saint Cyprien. Monpazier is listed as one of the top 5 villages to visit in France. It was founded in 1284 by King Edward 1st. It is considered to be the most intact bastide town remaining in France. More than 30 of the buildings are classified as national monuments.

From there we rode to Belves which is constructed up the side of a steep rocky outcrop. It is Monday so almost everything is closed. Belves was also founded as an English bastide town and I read that some houses have carved stonework around the doorways but I didn’t see any.

Two towns done and we were getting hungry so we stopped at a pizzeria in Belves. Andy had calzone and I thought I would try the enchaud as I had never had it before which is confit pork served cold or Luke warm. I took the Luke warm as it takes me ages to eat anything so I got to taste it cold as well! My enchaud was delicious but the calzone was very soggy with over cooked egg inside.

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View from the restaurant.

We still had another town to do that day which was Saint Cyprien, an old medieval town. The bell tower is from the 12th century but the abbey was burnt down and rebuilt in 1685. Inside is an altar which contained one of the thorns of Jesus crown brought by a Flemish nun fleeing revelation terror. Unfortunately this was stolen in 1997! When we got there it looked just like the others and considering the thorn had been stolen we decided not to get off the duke and continue on back to the van for some relaxation and more conversations with Rob and Iris.

23/09/16

Stop 6 is Bergerac on a municipal campsite right on the Dordogne river. We had more friends on this sight in the shape of Canadian geese.

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There was a French couple who parked next to us who were trailing a Royal Enfield continental  GT, not that I know what that is but Andy was quite taken with it and proceeded to talk about it with the French couple who don’t speak English! He did do really well as he found out that the said French man has a collection of bikes and he had false knees.

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Bergerac is a lovely town with a medieval centre and every Saturday is the largest and most colourful market in all of Dordogne and it truly was a wonderful market. On the outskirts of the town is Pombonne park which very few tourists know about. The park has a lovely lake that you can swim in with an actual beach so we had our lunch there looking across the lake.

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20/09/16

Saint Émillion was next. A 10km and 17 km walk was done from here which you can see on the hikes and walks page. The 10km was through the town of Saint Émillion where we stopped and had lunch. I had this fantastic salad with the normal lettuce, tomato etc but it also had rice, green beans, potatoes and anchovies that reminded me of roll mops. Andy actually had pasta!

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Saint Émillion’s history goes back to prehistoric times. The Romans planted the first vineyards here as early as the 2nd century. The town was named after the monk Émillion who was a travelling confessor and it was the monks who followed him that started up the commercial wine production.

16/09/16

Another Dutch campsite. Not as good as the other Dutch one in Saint Christophe but still ok.  It’s in the middle of vineyards and we ended up with the best pitch on the site, sunshine all day long! There were horses, a donkey and chickens on the site and one of the chickens took a liking to us and sat by my feet and I named her nugget.

It was a 7 km round trip to walk to the super u to get food but it was a lovely walk through the vineyards. We also did another 10km walk around the area with Andy trying the various grapes to see which he preferred even though they were all for wine.

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The duke came out for a day to ride into Blaye. The only thing to see in Blaye is a Citadel which is a military complex built in 1685 with the goal of protecting Blaye. In 2008 it was added to the of UNESCO world heritage sites. Luckily, on the day we visited, there was some sort of festival going on with stalls selling plants and other tourist nic nacs and people dressed in attire from the 1700’s doing re-enactments. There were also some classic cars for Andy to look at. We bought a new plant as we are always seeing the touring people with pot plants outside their vans. They have lovely little flower things and we bought a Venus fly trap! I love it! I talk to him and make sure he gets the right sort of water.

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That evening I was thinking that I had not seen nugget and I was getting concerned for her life! I was looking around to make sure that nobody was doing any plucking but only saw her 2 friends that normally walk around with her. I was about to give up hope and she just appeared from under the van. I fed her and she proceeded to sit under our table and go to sleep.

11/09/2016

So our new adventure begins. Our first stop was to see our daughter Jade and meet her boyfriends parents whilst getting a tour from Jade and Vince around the city of Antwerp where Vince is from.  Antwerpen ( as known locally ) is a lovely city which was still busy on a Sunday. The MAS was a great building where we went 9 floors up to see the city from the roof which would have been better if it wasn’t a cloudy day. The MAS also had a museum inside but we didn’t go in there as we are not really museum people. The red light district was interesting!

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The city got its its name from a legend about a giant called Antigoo who lived near the river Scheldt. He exacted a toll from passing boatmen and for those who refused, he severed one of their hands and threw it into the river. Eventually the giant was killed by a young hero named Silvius Brabo who cut off the Giants own hand and flung it in the river. Hence the name Antwerpen, from Dutch hand werpan ( to throw ). There is a statue in the towns centre of a man holding his own severed hand and the MAS is covered in hands.

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The next day Vince had to work so Jade took us to the zoo which is in the city right next to the train station. It wasn’t busy as it was a week day and all the children are back at school. Jade and Vince joined us that evening for dinner at the van.

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One day left to spend with Jade so off we went to Gent or Ghent as locally known. The bellfry at the centre is 91 metres tall which is the tallest bellfry in Belgium. The bellfry is one of three medieval towers standing in a row that overlook the old city. There is a small annex just off the bellfry dating back to 1741 which is called the mammelokker. Above the doorway is a sculpture of Roman charity which depicts the Roman legend about a prisoner called Cimon.  Cimon was sentenced to death by starvation but survived because his daughter, Pero secretly breastfed him during her visits. Her act of selflessness impressed officials and won her fathers release. The term ”mammelokker’ translates as ‘breast sucker’.

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