We moved on to a camperstop as the wind was getting stronger and there we would now be less exposed to the elements. We had moved out of Collioure and driven back down the coast, just a few Kilometres, to Port Vendre. This is where my friend Paul has moved to so it would be more convenient for him, us moving closer. Paul came round for us and we were taken on a magnificent tour of what he calls his manor. First he took us to a historic walled town Villefranche de Conflent and this UNESCO Heritage site is considered one of the most beautiful villages in France.
Before walking through the village, we trecked up the slopes to the Fort Liberia which overlooked the whole area. From there the snow covered Canigou Mountain dominated the scenery and at 2,784 metres made our climb seem quite insignificant.
Back down at ground level we went round the village and you could imagine yourselves back in history because everything looked dated and well preserved. Our tour then took us into Perpignan and Paul took us around the centre and then along by the river. Either side of the river, below street level, ran a bank of some metres wide of beautifully mown grass with nicely filled flower beds cut into it periodically. This was for show and it was very effective.
Paul then drove us to see the miles and miles of the beach at Argeles and then he took us up very windy, narrow mountain roads often with no barriers between us and the enormous drops on one side of us or the other. I think I enjoyed this part of the day better than Elaine whose imagination had taken us over the edge quite a few times on the way up. We were on our way to the castle which overlooks Collioure and is called the floating castle. This castle is lit up at night and when seen from Collioure against the dark background of the surrounding hills looks just as though it floats there unsupported.
We then went back into Collioure in time for the “6 o/c club” and again a nice time was had in a bar with Paul’s friends.
This, by the way is day 187 of our tour and we were woken by a policeman knocking on the door to collect the 6 euro fee for the camperstop. Elaine paid him through the small window so he didn’t get a peek at her skimpy night attire. The strong winds of yesterday had turned gale force so Elaine had decided that she was going to stop in the motorhome for the day catching up on her paperwork so it was only me going out with Paul. I honestly think that the thought of more driving up mountains in the high winds was not something she was going to risk. First of all Paul took me to the fish market but because of the gale force winds then none of the boats had been out. He then took me to a winery, owned and ran by a friend of Pauls where I was given a tour and then I enjoyed tasting some of his wines. I tried the 2014 white and ask how they get some sort of consistency from one year to the next. He went round the back and came back with a glass from the 2015 wine that hadn’t even been bottled yet for me to compare. He told me I was the very first to taste this year’s wine other than himself and his small panel of wine tasters. I came away with a bottle of his red wine and a presentation corkscrew.
Next Paul insisted we go back up the mountain because whilst we were up there yesterday my camera battery had gone flat so I hadn’t been able to take any photos of the breath-taking views. The wind was still howling, so on the exposed mountain road Paul’s car shook a little every so often. Every time I got out of the car to take another scene I actually found it hard to stand still to take the picture. We didn’t go all the way to the top so we took a different route and when we came to a junction Paul took the wrong fork. Now we were on a track barely wide enough for the car and with no place to turn round then all he could do was to continue on with the precipice beside us closer than was really comfortable. I think Elaine’s ESP had sensed something like this which is why she was safely tucked up in the motorhome far below us.
I attended “the club” and was introduced to some different friends and I got back to the motorhome at 10.45 pm having had an excellent few days with my old friend Paul.
Elaine was ready early so she could deal with the Police visit and we were both relieved that the wind had died down completely so we could continue on our way. After a drive of 93 miles we pulled up at another camper stop just 400 metres from the main gate of the walled city of Carcassonne. Soon we were walking around the fabulous walls and then entered the city.
The tourist information lady was very helpful and we got lots of local knowledge from her so, having looked around some more we left the walled old town by the gate at the other end and crossed the ancient stone foot bridge into the modern city to visit the very large street market which was packed with people and we enjoyed the bustle and the excitement of this busy market. We had a look around some more of this modern city and then walked back into the enchanting walled town on our way to the motorhome. I came back out later on with my camera and tripod to take pictures of the walls which were by that time were lit up beautifully. One odd thing we had seen on the way back earlier on was a chap wearing a kilt and a silly hat with lots of musical instruments about his person. This one man band turned out to be a Scotsman who was on his way in to entertain the castle’s evening visitors. We had a brief chat with him and left him to waddle down the road in his enormous wooden shoes which were covered in bells.
When I went back to take the night photos I had quite a chat with him and of course took his picture.
7th March and 8th March
We got up early and got on our way having decided that we would make for my choice of Avignon. We drove the 160 miles along the D roads which meant we had to drive through many towns and villages to get there. As always we had decided to enjoy the back roads of France rather than take the motorways. Much, much slower but so much more enjoyable as we traversed the Manervois and the had stopped on since the start of our travels. We were trapped into staying there because of its location so decided to endure two days there so we could properly explore the bridge and this wonderful walled city. To show how bad the campsite was, we both showered in the motorhome both mornings rather than use the dirty camp bathrooms. That evening we crossed the modern bridge and entered the beautifully lit walls and wandered the narrow streets with their many designer shops.
Next morning after Elaine had done some washing we crossed the modern bridge again and wandered this huge walled city, this time in daylight. We followed the map and came to the huge square to see the Palais du Pape which is an UNESCO World Heritage building, the Notre Dame Church and the Phillipe le Bel Tower. Behind the church on top of the hill is a beautiful park and we enjoyed the peace and the tranquillity there and the superb views of VilleNeuve les Avenue and the mighty Rhone River. From here we had a great view of the Pont D’Avignon from the other side, which is actually called the St Benezet Bridge because as the fable goes, he is the shepherd called upon by God to leave his flock and to come down to Avignon to build the bridge. We paid our 4 euros each (the concession rate) and crossed the draw bridge onto the ancient stone bridge.
It hasn’t spanned all the way across the Rhone since the 1600’s but we got to the end, as far as it goes, and a nice French chap used my camera to take a photo of Elaine and I dancing sur le Pont D’Avignon.
We tried to move on but the couple leaving before us scraped the top of their very smart motorhome on an overhanging tree which snapped the winding mechanism for his sun canopy which instantly opened out fully blocking the gateway completely. The very harassed Swiss gentleman got out and tried and tried to wind in the offending awning. When his wife got out she looked very angry indeed and he despairingly pointed up at the tree as if it had bent down and wrecked his canopy. I got out and tried giving help but to no avail, so after a little while he managed to drive out of the gate way with the canopy still stuck out at right angles to his van so we and the big queue of traffic behind us could get past him.
We moved on to Arles and parked at a free aires on the banks of the Rhone just outside the walls of this town. Parked two vans up from us was a couple Adey and Hayley who Elaine had had a long chat with at Port Vendre whilst I was out with Paul. They had spent 3 months in Tunisia and really tried selling it to us as a great place to take our motorhome. After a long chat with them, we went off to investigate the town. The tourist information office gave us a map and marked all the places to see including all the places Van Gough had painted when he lived here in 1888. Some of his most important works were created here and the town has erected concrete posts with copies of his paintings on them on the very spots he sat to paint each one. We first went to the old Roman Coliseum which is now the town’s bullring and close by to that was the remains of the amphitheatre.
We found all of the Van Gough paintings and then we walked back to the van all along the top of the town’s walls. Later on I went back out again to take a picture of the old Coliseum once it had been lit up beautifully once the night had drawn in.
10th March and 11th March
These were not the best two days of our tour so far and really we did a lot of driving and saw very little of interest. In fact I did not take the camera out of its bag for the whole two days. Everything started off OK and our chosen resting place was going to be Marseilles and we were thinking about stopping there for two or three nights. It was quite a long drive and our route took us straight through the middle of this bustling city. We then got to other side of centre of the city and found ourselves in the equivalent of the East End of London and it was quite apparent that the rule there is to park wherever you want to and if that means almost blocking the highway then so be it. Still everything was still on track when our directions took us along a lot of very narrow roads with two way traffic and finally the nice lady said ( the Satnav voice) take the next turn left. As always I did as I was told and we found ourselves in a private housing area and there was no Aires in sight. I got out and asked a man if he knew the camperstop we were looking for. First he was not happy we were there as he explained that it was a private road for residents only. Luckily my French language was good enough and he mellowed and drew a map where we could park by the beach. It entailed going under a bridge on the estate and he assured me that it would not be a problem. When we got to the bridge Elaine gave birth to baby cats (well she had kittens, anyway): the bridge had a sign saying 2.8 metres clearance and our motorhome is 3 metres high exactly. She got out and stood right up the road so she could see the top of the van and I crept through very slowly indeed. We finally made it to the Aires which was expensive for what it was and was miles from anywhere nice to see so we just relaxed and planned where we would go next.
In the morning we set off and took another extremely windy road and headed for Toulon but when we got there we found the camperstop we wanted was much too far out of town. So again we changed the coordinates in the Satnav and now we were going to an aires on a Hypermarche Auchan car park at La Seyne sur Mere. No problems and we pulled onto the car park and drove along looking for the right place to park. At the end of the carpark, just around a corner was underground parking with a 2.5 metre height barrier. That was it! We couldn’t go forward and with the amount of traffic coming into the carpark there was no way we could go against the traffic to make our escape. I managed to park and went off for help from the lady in the fuel station kiosk. Finally a security guard from the store came out and had to walk in front of us, against the traffic while I followed him so we could get out of the carpark. We went through our Camperstop book and chose an Aires on another supermarket carpark. We parked up and at least some good came out of the day. We found a 250g jar of Marmite in this Hypermarket and even though it cost us 8.80 euros, it was worth every cent. You either love it or hate it.