Sunday 27 March 2016

The Third Week

Sunday 20-3-16

Last night we feasted on tortellini in the remains of the sauce we had with the crepinettes, waste not want not.  We watched England beat the French in the Six Nations via the free Wi-Fi and a naughty VPN connection. And we didn’t hear a peep out of our loser French neighbours?
In the morning we did the water/waste service thing then headed off in search of a boulangerie and a supermarket, we’d drank Van Brian dry over the weekend.  This we accomplished even though it was Sunday, then headed inland in search of an overnight stop, the coast around St Tropez is a bit scarce of aires.  We ended up driving up the Gorge de Loup.  Wonderful scenery but hard on the MPG, third gear for 20 km.  We could see snow on the mountains above us, which felt odd after being at the seaside an hour or so ago.  It then got even odder, we ended up driving with snow at the side of the road.  We eventually ended up in a fully-fledged ski resort, Greolieres Des Neiges.  Not at all what we expected. 

But they had a large parking area solely for Camping Cars and tour buses.  So we were happy.  We walked around and I got to wear my posh Italian snow boots, so it wasn’t a damn silly idea to bring them was it?  By six o’clock the resort was empty and we were the only ones parked up.  

I did a fine chicken and asparagus stir fry with noodles for dinner. Tonight’s entertainment was Get Him to the Greek, lot funnier than I thought it would be, 3 out of 5.

Free car park at Greolieres Des Neiges, N43.83134 E006.96853

Monday 21-3-16

Van Brian’s made it to Italy! Back down the mountain this morning after taking more photos of the snowy scenes around us, had a diversion due to a closed road but it didn’t delay us.  We hit the coast then turned left for Nice, Monaco, Monte Carlo and then the Italian border.  All three places were a pain to drive through, I refused to take Van Brian around the Monaco GP course much to my GP mad co-pilots disgust.  Immediately over the border into Italy we were attacked by swarms of Vespa’s.  Everyone’s got one and they all want to be in front of me.  I found the best policy was to ignore them and let them get on with their madness.  In San Remo we found a large Sosta (the Italian name for Aires) facing the sea. 

Liz sat and read her book in the sun then we wandered about.  Not a lot to see apart from the sea itself, not that I’m complaining.  I prepped a beef bourguignon to cook while we drive tomorrow. I then did a pork sausage meat ragout with pasta for tonight’s meal, seeing as we were in the land of pasta.  Also as a tribute to Italy our nightly viewing was the Sopranos.  The only thing on my hard drive that was remotely Italian.  So Episode 1 & 2 of Series 1 watched.  Third time of viewing for me but first for Liz.  I love it so no hardship, just hope Liz gets into it.

Paid Sosta in San Remo, N43.80233 E007.74752

Tuesday 22-3-16

Sunshine on the sea when we woke up.  On the road for 9am after paying 15 euro for our nights parking, it can be expensive in Italy, the campsites are even worse.  We hit rush hour traffic in San Remo and further along the coast.  Scooter mayhem.  We turned up into the hills and found a Lidl.  I like consistency and always feel at home in a Lidl.  Food and water bought, onwards and upwards we went.  By lunch we’d found another Sosta in a rather industrial area of a city. But it had been enhanced with graffiti, a tired old sofa and a broken washing machine.  Satnav consulted there was another 20 km East of where we were.  What a contrast, a small rural town, a free of charge grassed area just for campers with waste and water points and free Wi-Fi from the town hall just across the road.  Van Brian heaven.

While walking around the town we spotted one small general store and one bar restaurant.  That was the total retail offering, or so we thought.  Outside the town hall we found a machine.  It sold local milk, cheese and jam and what looked like cheese pies? 

Back at base camp we attacked the beef bourguignon that had been simmering away all day.  Outside the only sounds were two owls hooting at each other under the full moon.  I was a bit low on the beer front, two little bottles of Leffe and my last two bottles of Lidl IPA.  So tonight’s two episodes of the Sopranos were accompanied with a rather large brandy.  Always good to have an emergency backup plan.

Free Sosta in Giusvalla, Italy N44.44892 E008.39304

Wednesday 23-3-16

Today we broke a golden rule.  We used a toll motorway.  It had to be done, the coast road is one continual stop start traffic queue.  As it happened it worked out cheaper than expected, we did 20 km to Genoa, dropped off it to dive in a Lidl for restocking of beer and the toll cost was 2.40 euro.  Back on it, around Genoa and then off it again 30 km later we got a pleasant surprise.  Liz put the ticket in the machine and before she could put the card in to pay the barrier came up.  Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth I made a dash for it.  At the top of a hill looking down on a bay we found a parking area with four other motorhomes in it.  We joined them. 

A Welsh couple were parked up in their motorhome, we’d already bumped into them a couple of nights earlier.  They’d stayed here last night and it was free, although cars had to pay.  Result.  A quick snooze then a walk into the very pretty town clinging to the steep hillside with stunning views out to sea filled the rest of the afternoon. 

There were electric bikes to hire for the day that could be dropped off at other charging points in the area. 

We actually passed an open bar and I didn’t go in, I’m a changed man. Back at the van the parking emptied of cars but ended up with 16 other motorhomes in it.  A fair few Germans along with the Italians.  We sorted out our route for the next day and had a fry up for dinner, sausage, fried potatoes, fried eggs and beans.  The eggs and beans made for a pungent atmosphere that night and the next morning. Tony Soprano entertained us till bedtime. 

Free Car Park in San Rocco, Italy N44.33248 E009.16540

Thursday 24-3-16

We waved goodbye to the Mediterranean today, the next time we see the sea it’ll be the Adriatic.  After breakfast I prepped the slow cooker with chicken in a mushroom cream sauce for tonight’s dinner. After yesterday’s success with the toll roads we dropped onto one again today to get us around Pisa.  Neither of us had any desire to see the leaning tower or to take photos of us holding it up.  After Pisa we went back to normal roads and did a quick bread shop in a very busy local supermarket, filled up with diesel, the first time in Italy and we’re paying a bit more for it here.  The destination we’d chosen today was a city on our route south, we’d chosen it for no other reason than its name, Poggibonsi.  As it turned out we’d made a good choice, a free Sosta just outside the town with water, we were running low.  And a ten minute walk found us in an old pedestrianised city centre. 

Lots of little streets and fancy shops. We looked about and sat in a square with loads of old Italian men waving their arms around and debating god knows what, the price of olive oil for all we know. 

Back at Van Brian we did some maintenance and tidying, plotted tomorrow’s route then dined on the creamy mushroomy chicken with rice.  A couple of Sopranos added few more words to our sparse grasp of the language.  Not sure watching American mafia shows is the best way to learn Italian but it’s all we’ve got. 

Free Sosta in Poggibonsi, Italy N43.46174 E011.14596

Friday 25-3-16

Our plan today was to get close to a town called Saturna which has hot springs you can lounge around in, then visit it the next day.  Our plans don’t normally work out the way we’d expect, and today's was no different.  We drove through beautiful countryside, on appallingly surfaced roads.  Found a small supermarket for beer and food then found a lovely free Sosta in a small town.  We got set up, needing the ramps under the wheels to get level.  At that point I looked at how far the town with the springs was, it was only 20km away and we’d read it also had a free parking area.  So ramps back in and off we went.  We followed Darth Garmin, who took us up and down some impressive gravel tracks with hairpins for 10 km.  After 20 km we found the free parking at the springs, it had a height barrier, not good.  The Sosta in the town for motorhomes was full.  But, we found yet another, a ten minute walk to the springs. 

This was more like a campsite.  It had, I’d guess, about two hundred motorhomes on it. It had toilets, showers, a small cafĂ© and laundry facilities.  For this we had to pay 14 euro.  We lunched, snoozed then had a walk down to the springs to check them out for tomorrow. 

They were packed, it was at this point we realised it was Easter weekend and everyone was on holiday.  The water was warm, smelly and had the colour of bath water just before you pull the plug.  Neither of us felt inclined to wallow around in this the next day. 

So we walked back to the van and had a beer/wine while we sat outside watching the sun go down over the other motorhomes roofs.   I did a chicken satay stir fry for dinner to the sound of yet more motorhomes arriving.  We finished the day off watching the last episode of season one of our Italian lessons.  Only six more seasons to go, we’ll be fluent in a month.  But we’ll be in Greece in a month, perhaps we ought to be watching My Big Fat Greek Wedding?

Paid Sosta at Saturna, Italy. N42.65451 E011.50352

Saturday 26-3-16

I got up in the night to dispose of some unwanted beer and heard another camper arriving, it was half three in the morning.  The next day we were packed and away for eight, minus 14 Euro for our nights camping.  Back to freebies today.  By nine we’d done a beer/wine/food shop and by ten had found a petrol station selling LPG for our tanks, yesterday we’d been refused as it was for cooking and heating not for the motor, different tax rates it seems.  The guy in this station, which overlooked a beautiful lake called Lago Di Bolsena, didn’t care and pumped us full of gas.  We looked at two sostas in big towns, Rieti and L’Aquila, but they looked grotty, we had loads of time so drove on East. Got to a third one in a nice small town only to find they were building apartments on the parking area.  Onwards then, and it worked out well.  At a village called Stiffe, cue childish giggling from the Van Brian crew, we found a free car park that allowed campers overnight. 

It was next to the tourist office for the Grotte Di Stiffe.  Some caves with waterfalls.  We made do with a walk up a hill out of the village to see some waterfalls not in a cave, also not 10 Euro to look at.  

Spag Bol for dinner, a homage to our hosts.  Tomorrow would be the Adriatic.  We were thinking of having a holiday when we get there, a couple of days on a campsite.  Let’s see what turns up eh?

Free Carpark at Stiffe, Italy. N42.25561 E013.54886

Below are the updated facts and figures, I’ve added a few more calculations to the spreadsheet, hope they’re of interest.

Saturday 19 March 2016

The Second Week

Monday 14-3-16

Last night I had a success with the slow cooker beef bourguignon, that’s going to be a regular on the menu.  We watched The Lady In The Van after dinner, I suggested Lizzie was a bit like Maggie Smith in the film, sleeping in a van and talking tosh.  I was terribly wrong about this it seems.  Anyway, good film, 3 stars.  Monday saw us on a boring, but free motorway, the A75.  Popped off it for a bit of shopping and ended up splashing out on two new hand towels.  Lizzie says that’s my treat for the week.  I’m over the moon.  Back on the A75 and then turned off it just before the peage for the Millau Bridge.  Darth Garmin tried to send us down a goat track and we had to have words, we both settled on a single track road with sheer drops down to the river Tarn.  After a good deal of buttock clenching around blind bends we found the parking we’d been looking for.  A nice one outside a troglodyte village called Peyre that has a stunning view of the bridge.

We lunched, dozed, and then had a hilly walk around the pretty village.  I was impressed with a church built into the rock face.

I prepped the Toulouse Sausage ragout, which meant de-skinning the foreign bangers and frying up the meat and adding an aubergine and parmesan sauce.  Served up over some big pasta shells it was a big hit with the crew of Van Brian. A couple of episodes of Dickensian, some fannying around to get an arty farty photo of the bridge at night (failed) and a few bottles of Leffe Blonde saw out the day.

Free car park at Peyre, France, N44.09236 E002.99677

Tuesday 15-3-16

Up and away after the usual coffee and toast.  We headed east and skirted around Montpelier. I managed to end up going through an underpass with a 2.4m height limit, the height barrier had rubber flaps and they touched our skylight as I went under them.  I closed my eyes and drove into the tunnel after noting all the scraps on the concrete ceiling.  We came out unscathed but shaken.  Lidl for bread and milk then the satnav was asked to find us an aire.  It did and we were parked up for lunch with five other French motorhomes outside a pleasant town called St Mathieu de Treviers.  Liz had the deckchair out and was reading her book in the sun before I’d switched off the engine.  First job was my head, or hair to be precise.  Liz got the clippers out and in five minutes I was sporting a bonce a 70’s skinhead would be proud of.  You can see the remains of my hair in the pic below.

In the afternoon we did a route march around the town, usual French retail scene, all the shops closed while the staff snooze.  Still it keeps our daily budget in check if we can’t spend it.  Then back to the van for dinner, pork steaks in a creamy mustard sauce with fried potatoes, a camping favourite.  I sorted our route out for tomorrow, destination Goudargues, a nice town we’ve stopped at a few times in the past, via an Orange phone shop in the city of Ales (don’t even ask).  We watched Inception after dinner with that awfully nice Leonardo lad in it.  It’s about people living in dreams but not knowing they are.  I’m going to buy one of those little spinning tops tomorrow.

Aire at St Mathieu De Treviers, France, N43.76207 E003.85982

Wednesday 16-3-16

I got collared by one of those old blokes, who likes a chat, while having my early morning coffee and fag outside the van.  I don’t mind a chat but he insisted on using French, Liz rescued me and he twittered on at her for a while.  First stop of the day was the Orange phone shop in Ales.  Dealing with phone personnel and parking in a city centre, all my dreams come true.  It was actually quite painless, parked in the street outside a tabac and when we found it the lady in the phone shop even smiled as she resolved our problem.  Ignoring Darth Garmin, as he tried to send us through the medieval city centre, we skirted around Ales and headed for Goudargues.  It started to spit, then it rained, and rained, and rained.

We parked up next to the river and had a walk around the town in the rain, did I mention the rain?  Bought bread from the market that was so dense it needed toasting before we could eat it. On the way back to the van we met the owner of the campsite that we’ve stopped at in previous years, Renaud.  He offered to open up the closed campsite so we could use the facilities, which was nice of him but we had an empty crapper and grey waste tank and a full water tank.  So we thanked him but declined the offer.  A nice man.

The rain cut short my plans for a game of boule on the town Petanquery, so a snooze, two crosswords, some laptop fannying, prepping a meal for tomorrow in the slow cooker and then cooking that night’s dinner saw the rest of the afternoon out.  Sausages, green beans and noodles did us for dinner, it was better than it sounds.  We had a showing of The Grand Budapest Hotel, one of my favourites, then retired to the sound of torrential rain on the van roof.

Free camping at Goudargues, France N44.21463 E004.46958

Thursday 17-3-16

Van Brian is at the seaside! We’d woke up, much like when we’d gone to sleep, to the sound of torrential rain on the van roof.  Looking on the map we’d decided to head for the coast.  Which meant dealing with Marseille and its traffic.  At least when we hit the city the sun had come out.  It took us half an hour to get through, all the while smelling our dinner cooking in the slow cooker. And then on the way out, at the top of a winding road, we passed the Paul Ricard Circuit.  We did a big shop in a tatty Lidl getting meat, wine and beer for three days.  By half one we’d made it to the coast at St Mandrier Sur Mer and secured the last place in the towns free motorhome aire.

We had a good walk around and saw lots of “no motorhome parking” signs, although a lot of people seemed to be ignoring this, perhaps they’re tolerated out of season?  There’s a big harbour here with some seriously big yachts and a beach that you could imagine being packed in the summer.

   The evening consisted of slow cooked pork crepinettes with new potatoes and a good helping of Lidl’s one euro a litre Merlot in a box.

The evenings viewing was The People Vs Larry Flint, isn't Courtney Love an awful actress?

Free Aire at St Mandrier sur Mer, France N43.07774 E005.90443

Friday 18-3-16

We woke to sunshine and all in the world of Van Brian was right.  A quick download at the aires free services, poo and grey water and an upload of fresh water, then we were off, following the coastline with some great views of the sea on our right.

After sixty miles the satnav found us an aire by a beach near Ramatuelle.  This one charged 8.50 euros a night but was worth it, lots of room, free Wi-Fi and 30m from the beach.  In fact we decided to have two nights here.  There’s a rugby game tomorrow I don’t want to miss and the Wi-Fi is a way we can watch it.  We sat outside soaking up the sun then had a walk down the beach.

Small beach bar cafes were full of people having lunch, we settled on scrambled egg and the last of our British bacon in wraps back at Van Brian.  The slow cooker had been on all the while we were driving with a chicken and Potato gratin creation bubbling away for our dinner.  After eating this culinary delight we walked down the beach in very bright moonlight.  The little bar restaurant on the beach had a couple of tables occupied and the waiter was stood outside having a fag.  He asked us not to drown in the sea as he’d had far too many catastrophes that night already, kind of put us off popping in for a bite to eat but good advice none the less.  Back at Van Brian we finished the night off watching The Campaign, funny film, especially liked the kids confessions around the dinner table.

Aire at Ramatuelle, France N43.21204 E006.66174

Saturday 19-3-16

Van Brian’s still at the same aire, after deciding to have a day off driving.  We walked to the town and bought some food from the local Spar, a 4 mile round trip including taking the wrong road and having to walk back along the beach.

It was a van maintenance afternoon, we needed to get some laundry done and the Spar had a laundrette next door.  We drove back to town, dumped our load in its shiny machines, a first for both of us, I’d never been in a laundrette in my life.

I took a siesta and then it was done, nice clean pants again.  Back at the aire we mucked the van out, sealed a leaky joint, installed an outside sensor for a thermometer and gave the bathroom a good going over.  This aimless touring is hard work. As its free Wi-Fi we decided to upload this week’s blog post.  So here it is, hope you enjoy reading about our idle life.

Aire at Ramatuelle, France N43.21204 E006.66174

Below are the updated facts and figures, got to get that daily cost down or I’ll have to get a job.

Sunday 13 March 2016

The First Week

Wednesday 9-3-16

After a Bon Voyage take away curry on Tuesday night I was up at half five on the toilet reducing the fully laden weight of the van. By seven we were heading South in the rain with the commuters and lorry drivers feeling smug. After the usual traffic tossary on the A14 at Huntingdon the rest of the drive to the tunnel was trouble free. Coffee and a heart breakingly expensive croissant for brunch at a random motorway services and then onto the channel tunnel train. About ten cars, us and a bus full of Romanians took the 12:20 to France.

We have a few places on the list for this week, the first being a big supermarket in Luxembourg for cheap ciggies. So I set the satnav for there and when it got to beer o’clock we found an aire to stop the night at, Luxembourg could wait till tomorrow. We found the local bar, which wasn’t hard as we’d stopped at the same place last year.

 Lidl meatballs, a spicy tom sauce and rice did us for dinner. We cuddled, sang each other love songs then retired to bed. I made two of the last three things up.

Free Aire in Bavey, France N50.30002 E003.79588

Thursday 10-3-16

We breakfasted on homemade bread we’d brought with us, toasted on the magic stove top toaster.

 Showered then hit la Rue. By lunch we were sat having lunch in The Cactus supermarket carpark in Luxembourg. 2,000 ciggies were purchased and a plastic bowel and a bathmat. All were items needed to continue our trip in the style we’ve become accustomed to. The sun came out and we idled down the non-motorway roads of Northern France. We’re heading for Genoa in Italy to get a ferry for Sardinia but I like the Millau Bridge and although it’s nowhere near our route we decided to head that way. There’s an aire in the valley that gives you great views of the bridge. That’s a long way away so we did the usual, where we set the satnav to take us there but when we want to stop driving, find an aire for the night. This we did in a small town with an aire next to the canal.

For dinner Liz had, for the first time in her life, a fried egg and bacon sandwich. She’s quite upset now at the thought of what she’s missed all these years. I had take away curry from Little India in Elton, Nottinghamshire. I’d planned ahead and bought two of everything I ate on Tuesday and stashed the spare curry, rice and naan in the fridge. The toilet would need emptying tomorrow. After dinner we got out the wine and the hard drive and turned the lights off for a showing of Mad Max Fury Road on our state of the art, on-board entertainment system, or as Liz likes to call it, her laptop.

Free Aire in Dieue-Sur-Meuse, France N49.07053 E005.42644

Friday 11-3-16

Had a lay in with a Merlot induced fuzzy head. Breakfasted on the last of my homemade bread then carried on South West at about 10:00am. A quick stop at Lidl for bread and potatoes then onwards to visit four aires. We needed water and to dump the crapper. All four were on the route so not a chore to visit them, but all had the water taps locked off to stop them freezing up. There’s snow on the ground in some places.

 We did dump the crapper at one, so not all lost. By lunch we decided to stop and found the fifth aire of the day. A nice one by a river.

 Lunch, snooze, walk around town then a bit of messing on the laptop, getting photos off cameras and track logs off the satnav, then writing up these ramblings. Hope you all appreciate the hours of toil I put into this tosh? We dined on the last of the meatballs, I cracked open far too may bottles of Lidl Grey Goose IPA and then watched Bridge Of Spies. Isn’t Tom Hanks a lovely man?

Free Aire in Goncourt, France N48.23677 E005.60911

Saturday 12-3-16

Frost on the windows but snug under the duvet with the heating on. Up and away for 9am with water on our mind, my shower this morning had taken us to dangerously low levels. Stopped at a small garage as it had a tap on the wall, the lady said they’d had such a bad winter all the outside taps were turned off. But 20km up the road we followed a Motorhome service point sign and found a privately owned aire where the water was on. 3 euro in the machine got us 120 litres.

 Now one of my most hated retail outlets is the phone shop, so to make my day we visited one, on a Saturday, in a massive retail park in Dijon. After half an hour and some very indifferent service we walked out with a 3 gig Orange data sim. We made a hasty retreat back to the rural Route Nationals and D roads. Looked at two grotty town centre Aires on the route, but neither had that feeling you get when you know you’ll be comfortable stopping at them, then found a very quiet town square in a town in the hills.

 The sun was out and we had chicken Basquaise planned for dinner. We wandered around the town heard a dog bark and saw a curtain twitch, apart from that it was lifeless. The chicken was tasty and I put all the ingredients for a beef bourguignon in the slow cooker ready for it to cook while we drive South tomorrow. Nothing like planning ahead. Tonight’s entertainment was following the England Wales game on the BBC website, great win by us, watching Iron Sky (Mini Review: Absolute pants, 1 Star) and drinking the left over Merlot from the bourguignon.

Free camping in town square, Larochemillay, France N46.87782 E004.00095

Sunday 13-6-16

The bells, the bells! Not that bad but better than any alarm clock. During the night one of the two
refillable 11kg gas bottles ran out, the one being used for the heating and hot water. So chilly van and what was left of the hot water ran out half way through hair conditioner rinsing time for Lizzie. She uncaringly woke me to tell me this. So I was up like a flash and outside twiddling the knobs to turn on the full bottle. LPG fill up on the list for today’s jobs. I sat eating my breakfast with the door open, Lizzie was outside having a fag, a Sparrow Hawk flew by her head chasing a Sparrow, the Sparrow flew in the open door and sat above me, I screamed like a girl and the Sparrow flew back out the door. Too much excitement for Sunday morning. Drove for a couple of hours to the smell of our dinner cooking in the sink.

We bought bread at a boulangerie, unsuccessfully tried to buy LPG from a closed petrol station then found an aire just North of Vichy. And that’s where we are now, smelling the beef bourguignon cooking, drinking tea and dunking Hob-Nobs. We’re living life in the fast lane as usual.

Free Aire at Le Cheix Sur Morge in France, N45.95133 E003.17806

I'm keeping track of the costs so we don't have to sell the house when we get back.  Some big costs this week, the Orange data SIM and Lizzie treated herself to a pair of Crocs in Lidl.  This is us so far....