Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Money in Monaco

Saturday 14th September 2013

Whilst our van was in the garage waiting for a part it didn't initially need but now does thanks to some shoddy mechanic workmanship, we used our breakdown cover to its fullest and picked up a little hire car to get us around, mainly because we could, not because we needed it all that much. We stayed in a hotel and mainly used the car to pop down to the local Lidl for snacks but after spending a few days only moving from the sofa (Breaking Bad marathons) to the pool, we realised we should probably make the most of having this car and headed to Monaco for the evening. 

We just wanted to drive round it to see the buildings and drive through the Formula One tunnel. It's a pretty spectacular place even if you can't even afford to get out of your car! There is not a single shabby building in sight and there are is a huge police presence everywhere, looking after the expensive boats and cars. Not surprising that Monaco has the lowest crime rate in the world! 

Adam was pretty pleased he got to drive through the world famous tunnel, multi tasking by shouting at me to get good photos of the red and white striped edges of the road. We would never have been allowed to drive through here in our van, we would have been redirected! The sun was just setting for a Saturday night, would love to know what those rich and famous got up to! When we drove past the casino in Monte Carlo we were slowed by the traffic, we weren't the only ones leaning out of cars to take pictures of more expensive cars... we didn't pose by the cars though...

Lousy mechanics & breakdown perks

Wednesday 18th September 2013

It's been nearly two weeks since we left that perfect sparkly beach at the bottom of the cliff and we haven't moved very far along the French coast as we've had a few problems with our van, as well as a slightly grumpy English mechanic! Driving along the coastal roads Adam started to hear clunking sounds coming from under the van and not wanting the steering, brakes or anything to start failing whilst we're veering round these cliff corners overhanging the sea we hit up the trusty free McDonald's wifi to try and find a reasonably priced English speaking mechanic. Not being far from Cannes, where a lot of well tanned Brits now live, it was easy to find someone so we pulled into their garage for them to have a look at old Mildred and try and help us out. 

It did go a little bit downhill from there, but luckily there were some perks to the breakdown as well. After spending a Sunday in a tiny lay by round the corner from the garage (we didn't want to risk driving too far away in case we broke down completely), waiting for it to open, we rocked up Monday morning for a quick undercarriage inspection, much to Mildred's embarrassment. With our good friend Mia still traveling with us, we do get a raised eyebrow or two when one guy and two laydaays step out of the van (we're good friends but not like thaat!), so after a few jokes and a fiddle under the van we're advised to wait a few minutes for his French colleague to start tightening some bolts or something underneath the van. (I left the technical bits to Adam of course). We pay a small fee and off we go thinking we'd got away with something as that was a lot easier than we were expecting it to be.

Maybe because it wasn't meant to be that easy. We get half a mile away and the van starts making all the same clunking noises but seemingly louder and more often. Another inspection from the, this time not so jokey, mechanic and it appears we need a new steering rack. The French guy who can't speak a word of English gets the blame from his boss as he did the work and obviously cannot understand a word of the blame being directed at him. Not his wrong diagnosis then?

Perk number one, we get to stay at a quiet little campsite not far away that is being run by giant rabbits whilst we wait for the new steering rack to be delivered. The rabbits are all over the place and chill in the sun or wait for some lettucey treats from us. There's also a pool and nice showers and as it's the end of the season we get the whole place nearl
y to ourselves, apart from a young Italian couple who sweat it out in a tiny little tent opposite us, must have been roasting in there.

A few days later the steering rack is swiftly delivered all the way from the UK and they set to work replacing it. By the afternoon all the work is complete and we do a test drive down the road to make sure those pesky clunks have gone. All seems good, we pay and leave, deciding to head towards Cagnes sur Mer as we are making our way towards Genoa in Italy to get the ferry down to Sicily soon. Mia will be heading back to England before we leave for Sicily so we want to get a few more beaches in on our way. Unfortunately about 20 miles down the road it's very clear that Mildred is not well, we pull over and Adam finds that the bolt holding the new steering rack on has sheered and we can no longer really steer the van properly. 

Perk number two is that thanks to our super cheap but really great European breakdown cover, (German company ADAC if you're interested), we're covered to be rescued (yay), and taken back to the garage, we can stay in a hotel for a few days whilst the repairs are being carried out and we can get a hire car! The scariest part was when the recovery vehicle turned up, Mia and I went to get in the cab of the truck but found a tiny puppy yapping away on one of his two spare seats, there was no room for the three of us so we had to sit in our own van, on the bed of the truck, putting us about 8 feet off the ground, speeding and swaying down the motorway with only a few straps to hold us down. It was actually pretty fun though. 

After thinking we had our van troubles behind us, Mia had booked her ticket home and we had booked our ferry crossing to Sicily. We could move our ferry booking whilst we had to wait for a new bolt to come in for the steering rack but Mia couldn't rearrange her flight so had one night in the hotel with us, separate rooms and everything! We didn't mind hanging around a free hotel for a few days with some cheap wine and a pool and when the van was fixed we had a few days to spare before we had to be in Genoa for the ferry so we took it slow enjoyed our last few days in France.

This was all well and good until we actually found out that the steering rack didn't need changing at all, the clunking noises were coming from the shock absorbers! Onto Sicily we go with all the same clunks and bangs...

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Sparkly mermaid sea

Sunday 8th September 2013

We've just spent a few days on the most perfect beach I have ever seen. When we left Grimaud we followed the coast road which was the same road Adam took with his uncle when they went to Monaco for the day. He had seen some steep steps going down the cliff and we were looking out for them on our drive to see if there was a beach at the bottom. We were driving on the twisty road with big red cliffs above and below us when we saw the steps and pulled over to have a look. It took a few minutes to reach the bottom where there was a pebbled beach surrounded by cliffs and the sea was so green but clear and sparkly. One of the signs on the road said the beach had the top rating for cleanliness.

It was small but as it was getting late it wasn't busy with just a few people left. We hadn't known what to expect as we couldn't see the beach from the road so we didn't bring anything down with us but Mia made the long trek up the cliff again to get ready for a swim. We decided to stay in the lay by that evening so we could have a whole day on the beach.

There was a little island of rock to swim round and usually I hate being in the sea where I can't touch the bottom with my feet and it really freaks me out thinking about being in deep water but because the water was so clear it wasn't so scary to swim around the rock and I was pretty happy I got to do that. Usually I would be imagining giant squids looming about beneath me in the water where I couldn't see but I could see all the way to the bottom which was pretty amazing. Mia was in her element finding tiny crabs and fish. Definitely want to come back here again one day!

Lifestyle of the rich & famous

Thursday 5th September 2013

On Sunday we drove through the evening to try and catch up with David and Paul (Adam's uncle and his friend) on their motorbikes who had headed to Port Grimaud, in the South of France just across the bay from St Tropez. We decided to stop off at the beach in Montpellier first and when we arrived around midnight we parked up along the sea front where we had previously stayed a few months previously. No harm in visiting your favourite spots again! I remember when we first got to Montpellier on our last trip and saw the beach and sand dunes for the first time it really felt like we were 'away' and 'travelling', as the beach was so gold and blue and perfect.

When we woke in the morning Adam said he could smell smoke. Mia had also thought she could smell smoke but thought Adam had had a cheeky cigarette in the toilet! We didn't think anything of it until we could hear crackling outside, looking out to see a lot of black smoke coming from the dry bushes in the dunes next to us not that far away. There was clearly quite a large fire starting but we just sat on the roof and looked down the beach to see if anyone else has noticed and listened out for sirens. When I saw some flames pop up over the bushes I did panic and bit and we decided to move the van further down the road where some other campers have also moved. I maay have over reacted but I was getting panicky because there only seemed to be a dustbin man that had noticed the fire and I thought the firemen would never get here in time! But when they did arrive, accompanied by a fire plane that kept swooping low over us to put out the flames, it died down very quickly and we thought it was now safe to leave the van and go sunbathe and swim in the sea. Nothing like a bit of fire drama in the morning to get the day going!

After a few hours of shell collecting and swimming we pack up again and start the drive to Grimaud which probably took a few hours. We knew where David and Paul were staying as we had stayed in the same campsite on Paul's recommendation previously. Trying to save on the euro's we found a very handy free Aire to park in 2 minutes away from their campsite with a few other GB vans to keep us company. The sun had just started going down and Adam, taking after his dad with his want to surprise people, wanted to go and find David and Paul who didn't know we had arrived yet. We go to look round the campsite trying to find their little cub scout tents set up next to their bikes, only after a while did we realise that was pointless because of course they would be in the bar! We found them with their pints in the bar looking out at the sea and we had a great night drinking lots of beer, wine and eating pizza. 

David and Paul had planned to take a trip on their bikes to Monaco the next day. They had one spare helmet and three people very willing to go along with them. The only way to decide was to pick straws and fate had it that Adam (another motorbike lover) won. They left mid morning on Tuesday and Mia and I had a veeery relaxing day on the beach where we had a good routine going consisting of sunbathing and swimming to cool off. I had never really been that interested in sitting in the sun before and usually got bored but I had some good books with me and I think I had definitely turned into a beach bum at that point. 

When the guys got back that night they told us all about their trip to Monaco and how amazed they were with the amount of wealth their was in that tiny area, so many ridiculously expensive cars, amazing looking women and grand buildings. We had a BBQ in the campsite and David told us that one of his plans for their trip was to hire a small speed boat to take around the bay for an afternoon. He has a boat license and even owned a little sailing boat at one point and he invited us to come out with him and Paul. I was a bit nervous about it as the last time I'd been on a small boat was when I was on holiday in Portugal a few years ago and it was meant to be a nice little sunset sail down the coast with champagne and loveliness but I ended up being sick nearly the whole time (not so romantic!)

We went out the next afternoon loaded up with beers and baguettes and David was shown how to use the boat and off we went! We went around Port Grimaud looking at the huge boats and then out onto the open sea. It was like a rollercoaster when we were bobbing along at full speed and really bumpy but that was the enjoyable part for me, as soon as we stopped the boat further along the coast for a swim and the boat was bobbing up and down slowly I started to feel a bit queasy but luckily not enough to be sea sick. We took the boat into the St Tropez port and it was so pretty and calm. The boats were huge, some even blocked out the buildings behind them, I can't even imagine how much they would have cost! It was quite fun pretending we were as rich and glamorous as them, speeding around on our little boat. When we stopped the boat for a second time for more dips in the sea I felt a lot better and was so pleased I didn't have to feed the fishes! (Gross!) 

It was an amazing experience to get to do that for the day and it was really nice of David to let us join him on his boat trip. They left early the next day to visit a little bit of Italy and Switzerland on their way back up to the UK and we decided that we will follow the coast and stop in the next nice place we find.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Moto Camping Dordogne

Sunday 1st September 2013

We have just spent a few days driving east to the Dordogne region of France. During that time we stayed on some very pretty Aire's, one by a river and spent a day trying to catch fish. (One fish was caught). We tried to go out for dinner but found the only restaurant in the town closed and had a very hungry walk back to the van to cook for ourselves, and the next day we successfully found a huge all you can eat Chinese and Adam tried his first snail. He said it was gross and chewy. Maybe I'll try one in a French restaurant and not a Chinese. 

We also passed through Rocamadour again which we had been to a few months ago when we first came through France in our old van. Mia had never visited so we had another look round the city built into a cliff. That night we had our first run in with the Gendarmarie, the local French police, after they found us in a car park with a height restriction a lot lower than our van was. They didn't know how we got in but asked us to leave anyway.

The reason for our quick scoot across the country was that Adam's uncle David had planned a closing party at a campsite he worked at one summer, and regularly visits, when travelling around on his motorbike. Adam's dad discovered the campsite a few years back and we heard about the friendly staff, cool swimming pool and the relaxed and/or party atmosphere enough times to want to visit ourselves. The campsite welcomes people on motorbikes, and their friends, so we were welcome in a van!

We arrived to find Adam's dad, Jon, sipping a beer at the bar and when the handyman Glenn greeted us with a free first beer we knew we were gonna have a good weekend here. We spent the evening catching up, meeting the staff and eating the best steak I've ever had. I'm sure I've said that before about steak somewhere else but it was seriously good. Adam had a massive rack of ribs that he's wanted to try ever since his dad first started raving about how good they were, and I don't think they were a disappointment. 

The bar has constant classic rock playing and is decorated with all kinds of motorbike memorabilia and fancy dress wigs hanging up. We made use of those the first night as well as playing with the campsite dogs, Vincent, a German Shepherd with one ear, and Ollie, a dog that looks like a sheep. David and his friend Paul weren't arriving until tomorrow and they didn't know that Jon had whizzed over the day before to surprise them. 

The next day we lounged by the pool, some of us nursing hangovers. We could hear David and Paul's bikes coming a mile away and Jon went to hide. They were happy to have arrived having ridden through the night and couldn't wait to get out of their hot leathers and into the pool. Paul had spotted Jon's bike and tent so suspected something was going on when Jon came out to surprise them. Laughing and hugs all round. I think Adam gets his want to surprise visit people from his dad. 

The rest of the weekend consisted of ticking off the beers on our bar cards, or sometimes for me drinking three measures of vodka with peach syrup after I asked for vodka lemonade, arm wrestling, pool lounging, rib eating, trying not to fall out of hammocks and sleeping off hangovers in the shade. Great weekend.

David and Paul are continuing their bike trip going down to Grimaud on the south coast and then to Switzerland and Italy. Unfortunately Jon had to head back home to work but we decided to follow David and Paul and meet up with them again a bit later in Grimaud, our van being a bit slower than their bikes. 

White water rafting

Sunday 25th August 2013

Today Adam, Mia and I woke up to lovely sunshine again after the rain had cleared and walked across the road to meet our guide for a morning session of white water rafting down the river Isere. There weren't many people booked in for that day so we got a whole raft to ourselves. After kitting us out with our flattering wet suits and helmets our guide gave us some quick safety tips and we lugged the surprisingly really heavy raft down to the river. 

None of us had been white water rafting before so we didn't really know what to expect but I found it to be a lot easier than I thought it would be and really, really fun! Our guide let us take most of the control and just shouted out instructions, I can't remember the technical terms for the moves but he had us sitting in the boat, moving our weight left and right and right and using different rowing techniques to help us move the boat where we wanted to go. I didn't realise the raft would be so responsive and it was really enjoyable. 

We did all get a bit out of sequence during the rapids and there was no hope for me rowing in time with the others when I got uncontrollable giggles whenever we got soaked or bounced around in the raft by the rapids. When we came to a calmer stretch our guide stopped the raft and told us that if we climbed onto the river bank we could jump in and swim downstream to a calm eddy behind a big rock. We got out and he rafted downstream a little to meet us. 

Adam went first and successfully made it to the calmness behind the rock in the middle of the river. I was up next and jumped in to the freezing water. I didn't so much swim, was more just dragged along downstream. I only made it to the rock as Adam put his arm out to catch me. We waited in the eddy for Mia, but unfortunately she was too far away from the rock and just floated past us, past our guide and ended up in the shallows a bit further along. Where I also ended up when we tried to get back to the raft. 

After rafting through some more calmer waters as well as rapids the guide asks us if we want another swim behind the boat. Adam is the only one to volunteer this time and jumps in for a freezing swim behind us. We had a bit of trouble dragging him back in the raft again! 

The scenery around us was beautiful. Some clouds were still floating around through the valley we were in and we passed through a huge gorge where we were surrounded by rock. We came across another rafting group ahead of us who were taking it in turns jumping from about about 5 meters up on the rocks into the water and floating downstream. We stopped our raft nearby for a go but Adam was the only one who got out and disappeared round the corner to jump. Mia and I sat in the raft waiting to hear the splash and for him to come floating past us but we could only see people from the other group going past. I was about to get out the raft and see if I could have a go myself, after seeing other people doing it I thought it looked pretty fun, I didn't want to at first because I didn't hear the guide say where we would end up if we floated down the river, but after seeing it was just round the corner and not miles away, I wanted a go. However that is when we see Adam walking back down to the raft after chickening out of the jump! He is not very good with heights and when the guide said he could hit the bottom of the river when he jumped, that confirmed his decision that he should not be doing it! I didn't get to jump then as I had left it too late :(

It was a really fun morning and definitely something I would like to try again on different rivers, maybe even with more rapidy bits!

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Summer in Sainte Foy!

Saturday 24th August 2013

After a few days drive down through France (including the sat nav taking us down a dirt road that only farmers in their tractors use to get to their fields), the landscape started to change and the accent started. When we worked in Sainte Foy last winter we went down the mountain a few times to Bourg St Maurice if we needed to use the supermarket or fancied a McDonald's. The mushed brown snow always made it look a bit dreary compared to the crisp white slopes. But when we drove through on Thursday it was sunny, bright and the window boxes had bright flowers. It was a pretty little town. We stopped at the McDonald's mainly for the wifi and I finally bought a new pair of flip flops at the shop next door, stopping myself from buying a pair of board boots on sale.

We drove a little further up the mountain on the only road leading to Sainte Foy, mostly in 2nd gear, poor little Mildred is no good on even the slightest upward slope. The view kept getting better and better and it really bought back what an amazing time I had their previously, only now their was no snow on the mountain, still looked beautiful though! We parked in the middle of the resort and popped down to the bar for a drink, only a few locals who owned chalet's their were around making the most of the warm sun before it started getting colder. 

Mia seemed pretty impressed with the scale of the mountains having never seen any before and we walked up the grassy nursery slope for a quick look around. We were hoping the lifts would still be running for bikers going up the mountain so we could go up and see even more of the view, however we found the first lift had been completely removed and their were trucks around working to install a new and faster one in time for the winter season. We took a look at the chalet we worked in to find that without the snow the plants had taken over covering
 most of the stairs and the entrance to the building.We moved our van just down the road to the car park where a paddock had been set up for horses. Some tiny kids were having riding lessons on teeny tiny ponies which was really funny to watch as they bobbed around all over the place. We watched the sun set with the company of a big horse and some wine. 

Me on the steps up to the chalet we worked in and the installation of a new chair lift

The next day we thought we'd try walking up the mountain without the help of the lift as it was such a nice day. There is a village where in the winter it is abandoned as you can only ski there but it is accessible in the summer if you trek over. We started the walk with the best intentions however after a few hours of up hill mountain walking we only reached the car park of where most people park and then walk to the village. We had seen butterflies, crickets, flowers and raspberries on the way up as well as the glacier on the other side of the mountain so we ate our sandwich in the car park and made our way back down. Our excuse being we had run out of water already and my feet weren't used to not wearing flip flops anymore!

Today we drove back down to Bourg and booked ourselves on a white water rafting trip down the river Isere for tomorrow. We're hiding in the van at the moment on a rubbely strip of wasteland near the river waiting for a storm to pass over (very loud and thundery), but apparently white water rafting is most fun after it's rained so I'm not complaining. I'm just loving being back on a mountain!