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.