Diary Update 16 - France, Spain and Portugal

Trip Start Dec 10, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Monday, December 18, 2006

Wong & Gem's European Vacation - Diary Update 16
Day 273 -Monday 27th November - Avignon, to Vaison la Romaine
We survived the night and did not roll of the cliff. We drove to Avignon where it was something like a scene out of the Griswald's National Lampoon Vacation in Europe as we drove around the walled ring road of the city about 5 times...it's not that we could not get off it but we were looking for somewhere to park!! Avignon's old town is totally encircled within old walls full of towers built between 1359 and 1370 and it is very pretty. We met a lady in the tourist office whose daughter lived in Brisbane and she was just lovely and gave us a touring map and told us all the things we must see in Provence and when all the special markets were on in each town etc. We had a lovely time sitting in one of the sidewalk cafes taking in the atmosphere and working out where we should go. Within Avignon we went for a big walk to its main tourist attractions which is the Palais des Papes which is a huge and beautiful 14th century fortified palace and an outstanding example of Gothic architecture. Then it was off to find the Pont St Benezet Bridge and has been made famous in a nursery rhyme and for people dancing on the bridge of Avignon. It turns out this was one of the Bridges that we drove under 5 times when we got stuck on the ring road and each time Gem had said "oh that's a pretty bridge" not having a clue that it was in fact the famous one!! Next we did what we do best! We went exploring all the little alley ways full of shops and went shopping. This time Gem went on the shopping spree and indulged her passion for beautiful linen wear and bought some of the most stunning bed linen and towels made and designed in Paris!! Just another huge box we will have to ship! Next we drove to the town of Vaison La Romaine where Wayne wanted to go as they supposedly have a famous market on Tuesday mornings. The town even had a spot for motor homes and we joined about 6 others for the night.
Day 274 -Tuesday 28th November - Vaison la Romaine, Malaucene, Segeret, Chateuneuf du Pape to Uzes
Well the markets this morning were lots of fun and full of beautiful fresh produce (Wayne reckons the best he has ever seen) and lovely clothes, art and crafts. Everything is always beautifully presented and Wayne just walks around (well he is round at present!) in awe. We also got to explore the little streets of the town as the markets. This place is also famous for a heap of Roman ruins but having just done all of Italy we are sooo over seeing anymore Roman ruins!! Next we explored the little towns of Malaucene and Segeret which were listed as some of the regions most beautiful towns. We also visited the wine town of Chateuneuf du Pape which was basically full of wine tasting shops and not too exciting. Next we drove to Uzes and found a vineyard where we had been told we could park overnight if we bought a bottle of wine. Well the owner was lovely and he poured us lots of wine to taste and he also joined in sampling everything so we slept well tonight.
Day 275 -Wednesday 29th November - Uzes to Camargue
We explored the stunning town of Uzes this morning and then had our internet fix for the week after finding a great little internet café. We said our goodbye to the little man in the wine yard and went and visited the Pont du Guard which is a Unesco World Heritage site and home to an exceptionally well preserved 3 tiered Roman aqueduct built in 19BC by Agrippa to bring water from Uzes to Nimes... those bloody Italians they may not be able to dive for shit but they do build stuff well! It was a stunning piece of history!! Gem nearly adopted a French sheep dog today (they are so cute this is the second one we have seen...they look like big black woolly teddies). She was patting it and it decided it did not want to go with its owners and took off following Gem!! Now Gem wants to buy one to bring back to Oz!! Next we set of for a long trip back to the Coast line to the area known as the Carmague and the town of Les Stes-Maries de la Mer. Why are we here...well it's simple really Gem wanted to see Pink Flamingos and this is where they flock in the National Park wetlands. You are also supposed to be able to see wild cream colored horse and bulls they bread for fighting. As we entered the town we saw a sign that said "Beware of the Bulls" so hopefully we will get to see some tomorrow. Found the motor home parking spot and were please to see that there were about 10 others here.
Day 276 -Thursday 30th November - Camargue to Millau
It's gotten a bit colder now, not sure if it is because we are next to the ocean or because it is officially winter tomorrow. We can't complain the lady in Avignon told us that this warm weather in the last month is been exceptionally rare. We were enjoying a nice little sleep in when we were woken up by the parking lady wanting her 6 euro for parking!! Next we ventured into town to have a look around and find the tourist info spot. Not much is open only a few gift shops so we took off for a walk along the water and were happy to find some pink flamingoes pretty much straight away. They were bright pink and have very long necks that bend in like a u shape. They also stand in the water and move their legs up and down before they stick their head in...must be trying to loosen stuff up from the bottom. We then saw a huge flock of them having a nap and standing on one leg. Very cute. As we were driving out through the marsh lands we saw the nature reserve we wanted to stop at... the tourist office had not informed us that it was closed but we managed to ignore the signs and took a short stroll through a bit that was not fenced off and saw more flamingoes. We also saw a heap of the famous bulls on the side of the road and the cream colored horses who were doing their best to make themselves brown by rolling in the mud. Gem's happy she has seen her flamingoes so we took of to on a very long drive to Millau where the big viaduc is. On the way we stopped at a picnic area of the side of service station to have some lunch. The area was surrounded by bush land but was fenced off. All of a sudden this scraggy looking guy appears and starts talking to us from behind the fence. I told him we did not speak French so he started to speak English and asked if we could spare any food. Initially we were a bit on guard as we got a shock and we thought of all the stories we had heard about people being robbed by gypsies. But he seemed O.K and did not come too close and was asking for food not money so we did a search through the van and gave him a heap of stuff. Once I had given him the food the truck driver next to us also went and gave him some of his food. I did another search to see if there was anything else we could give him but he was already gone, so we did up a food parcel and left it hanging on the fence in the hope that he would find it. We kept driving and found that we were taking the road that joined you into all the villages of the Knights Templar..the ones in all the Dan Brown books. So because we had just read a book on the Templars we decided to take a detour into La Couvertoirade which was an amazing walled town built by the Knights Templars. It was like stepping back into time and was very cute, despite most of the tourist stuff being shut....but people actually live in the villages so there we still people wondering about. We decided to keep driving in the dark to find Millau and managed to find the motor home spot without any problems because the French (unlike the Italians) actually have fantastic road directions. We had a quick chat with the other motor homers in the motor home spot, as he could not speak any English it was all down to broken French, Italian (as he was an Italian but lived in France...can't blame him really!) and sign language.
Day 276 -Friday 1st  December...Hello Winter.. - Millau, Roquefort sur Soulzon, Albi, Cordes. 
Well the reason we are here is because we wanted to see the biggest viaduct in France and the tallest in the world, not sure why they call it a viaduct but it is basically a bridge. We went for a drive and found an observation point and admired this massive feat of engineering which spans across a big valley. We then found the information centre and watched a great video on how they built it in only 3 years, it was rather amazing (and I don't normally even like this kind of stuff). Then it was into the town of Roquefort sur Soulson which is famous for its Roquefort blue cheese. We decided to do a tour of the brand called "Societe" as it is the oldest and most well known. We were the only ones on the tour and the guide did not speak English so we had a personal guide in French but they also had given us an English guide on paper, so we could still understand. We got to go into the cheese cellars which are actually natural caves that were formed when the mountain disintegrated over a million years ago. The caves have been fitted out by man but still have bug cracks known as fleurines which bring in the fresh air and also produce the Penicillin Roquefort which is introduced into the cheese to make it moldy or blue. We went into a cellar 11 stories deep and we enjoyed the tasting at the end...although Gem does not really like this type of cheese...too strong. Next we drove to Albi where we did a tour of the town in Misty and because there was no motor home parking here we took off to Cordes, another gorgeous hillside town where we parked with a couple of other campers for the night.
Day 277 -Saturday 2nd December... Cordes, Najac, Gaillac and Carcassone
Today we discovered the hill top town of Cordes, which really is hill top, we felt like mountain goats trying to climb into the main street. It was pretty but poorer than some of the other towns we have been too. Next we drove through the rolling green hills of the country side to Najac which again was a stunning town built on a ridge with a massive castle looming over it. It was full of gorgeous stone houses but not much was going on here so we just walked around and left. Next we drove to Gaillac but again it did not seem too exciting. As we were deciding what to do we got a text message from Nat and Chris to say there were in Carcassone and where were we? So we decided to drive 2 hours to Carcassone which from afar looks like a fairy tale medieval city and it truly breathtaking! For 10 euro you can park just outside the walls and there were heaps of motor homers there which was great. We talked with Chris and Nat to the wee small hours of the morning catching up on the places we had been since we saw each other only a week ago!
Day 278- Sunday 3rd December...Carcassone and Trebes
Because it is the first Sunday of the month entrance to the Château within the fortified walls is free, so we all had a great time exploring it and then walking around the tiny streets and along the walls. This afternoon we decided to take off to the neighboring town of Trebes where Chris and Nat had found a great motor home spot alongside a gorgeous tree lined canal. Only problem was that we wanted to cook dinner and we had forgotten that most of the shops shut on Sunday, so we ended up driving around in circles for a while until we found a supermarket open back in Carcasson. This area is just stunning  so we all jumped on our bikes and went for a big ride along the canal (which apparently is also UNESCO world listed) through all the fallen leaves taking in the ambience of the canal, trees, vineyards, mountains in the back ground and some lovely Chateaus along the canal front. Just down below where we are parked was a boulle club so we decided to introduce Nat and Chris to our Swedish Viking game called Kubb. We were getting some weird stares from all the local old men who were out playing, but as soon as we got started they became intrigued and kept watching how to play. Next minute we had one of them up and playing with us and he was having a ball despite the fact that we could not explain the rules to him because he did not understand English. Tonight Chris and Nat needed showers so we offered for them to use Misty's shower and they loved it...only problem is now they want one!! Wayne cooked up a storm for us all and we had a great night drinking and chatting to 1pm. When we went outside the spot had turned into motor home haven with about 9 motor home in total.
Day 279- Monday 4th December... Trebes, Coillure Port Vendres
We slept in a bit this morning to 9am as we had a bit of a hangover! We spent the morning swapping a few more bits of information on must see sights etc then said our goodbyes again as Chris and Nat are heading North into France as they have to be back in England for Christmas. We on the other hand are heading into Spain, not that we really want to as we love France and also a bit scared as we have heard of lots of robbery stories etc in Spain. We got going at about lunch time and then went for a grocery shop at one of the big supermarkets. Next it was onto the toll motorway heading towards the Port Vendres which is still in France but near the Spanish border. We went for a stroll through Coillure and Port Vendres and then found a great Aires for Camping Cars on the port with a bunch of other Frenchies!! Relaxing night spent reading up on must sees in Spain and then preparing Misty in case she got broken into in Spain. We repacked all our special purchases and hid them as best as we could in hiding spots all through out the storage spaces inside and under the van.
Day 280- Tuesday 5th December... Port Vendres, into Spain to see Port Bou, Cap de Creus, Cadaques, liafranc, Calella de Palafrugell and into El Masnou
We were woken up early again by the Police knocking on our door, but it is O.K they were only collecting the money for parking in the aire. Bloody French wake you up early though when they want their money!! Oh well probably a good thing as we got going. We said goodbye to stunning France and drove along the amazing coastline into Spain or Espana. We stopped for breakfast in the little coastal town of Portbou where Wong went and got his morning coffee and croissant where as Gem just had good old Cornflakes! Next we drove along more stunning rugged coastline spotted with little villages and turquoise coves and along Cap de Creus  which is the most easterly point of the Spanish mainland and into Cadaques. Cadaques is the home town of Salvadore Dali the surrealist artist, again Gem had studied his art and was a fan so it was great to see this place. However, it was a little disappointing as we expected to see a bit more of his sculptures around but could not find any and given it is winter there were not many things open. The only cool thing about this place was everyone was zooming around on quad bikes as their main form of transport, even the golden oldies were out zooming. We decided to press on and visited the little seaside villages of Liafranc and Calella de Palafrugell which were both nice and had great sandy beaches (not like home though but good for Europe); however again because it was winter everything was a bit dead. So we pressed on and decided to drive to El Masnou where we had been told by some German's was the best place to camp in order to get into Barcelona. We had been told by several sources not to drive through the city of Barcelona and to always pay for camping as there are gangs that target motor homes to either rob the owners or break into them while the owners are away. We found the camping site no problems which is just opposite the beach and quite full for this time of year. We had a little chat to our British neighbor who lent us a book on what to see in Barcelona and then we crashed exhausted from a very full day of traveling.   
Day 281- Wednesday 6th December... Barcelona!
It's raining, it's pouring and Wong is snoring!! Bugger!! Gem woke up bright and early ready to hit the town but it was bucketing down so we decided to cuddle and listen to the rain on the roof until it at least lunchtime when we got bored and decided to put on the wet weather gear and head into town. Well our introduction to the Spanish railway system was rather exciting. We had just sat down in our seats when 3 long haired Mexican (well they looked Mexican but we think they were Andulusian) looking guys stood right in front of us in the space in the middle of the train and set up an amplifier, pulled out two guitars and a recorder and started saying something in Spanish that we could not understand... next minute they were busking away singing some fantastic Spanish songs and dancing!! They were awesome so we gave them some money and as they went into the next carriage we followed them and videoed them with our camera. Next we worked out how to catch the metro to Las Rambla which is known as Spain's most famous street and is very atmospheric as it is full of cafes, restaurants, shops, flower stalls, markets and heaps of street performers. We grabbed some lunch; Wayne had Paella but Gem's food sucked!! Next we just walked and walked around the old town and through all the streets and yet again Wong went shopping!! The boy went mad and bought 4 pairs of shoes (he finally found some diesel's that they had in his size), two pairs of jeans and a jumper!! And they talk about girls shopping. Gem had an awesome time checking out all the art shops, they have some of the best art here and there is just such a broad range that Gem is loving taking it all in. Once the rain had cleared Barcelona came alive and there were so many people that the streets were just like a river! We have only ever seen this many people in Hong Kong!! The streets were full of buskers and entertainers and we were just soaking it all in. Then we saw all these people walking past eating waffles and we thought we had better try one!! Oh my God...better than the Belgian ones!! Given we had just had desert we thought we had better have some dinner so we found a fantastic Tapa's bar where our waiter explained to us how the system worked...the food was great and we had lots of fun. Finally we decided we had better head home, but somehow we managed to catch the wrong train and ended up going in a separate direction. We found our way back to a connecting station but we found out it was a public holiday and we would have to wait another hour for the next train (also the last one @ 12.30am) as we had just missed it...stuff that we were already a bit scared about being on the train late at night as they have massive security guards in each carriage doing security checks, we went upstairs where we admired the "Arc de Triumf" and hailed a cab. Next problem was we were trying to tell the guy where we wanted to go but he could not understand how we were saying "El Masnou" with the Aussie accent, so we luckily had the train timetable with the name written down and he had to pull out his glasses and then aaah "El Masnou" in his Spanish accent. We finally got home at 12.30 after a very fun day.
Day 282- Thursday 7th December... Barcelona!
Work up late this morning and got into town at 12.00pm. It was not raining so we decided we were going to hop on the tourist bus but found out that it was only 24 hours from 9am not from when you hop on so we will do that tomorrow. Instead we walked and walked all through the streets and went through the famous food market off Las Rambles, Wayne was in his element and Gem was bored shitless!! Next we walked all through the Bari Gothic area and took in the Cathedral and the Christmas markets. There were all these weird little statues of elves and Santa's dropping their pants and doing poos! It was disgusting and weird but we could not find anyone who spoke English to explain it. We like the interpretation from some other Aussies we heard talking...saying that it must be where "Mr Hanky" the Christmas Poo (from South Park) comes from!! Next we went to check out the funky architecture and roof line of Santa Caterina Market which turned out to have a totally funky tapas bar and restaurant. We had some yummy tapas and the bar tender got talking to us as he had lived in Australia for 4 years and recognized our accents. We kept walking and went and viewed the amazing architecture by Guadi which is like looking at something out of a dreamland (We are sure he was smoking pot!!). Gem was in her element as she had studied all of this art and architecture and was just standing taking it all in. We walked back through all the posh shopping streets and through the masses of people and listened to a big black guy singing Soul Music from the Deep South. Took in another orgasmic waffle and then visited the food markets again where Wayne bought some stuff for dinner. This time we managed to get home on the right train and Wayne cooked up a storm for dinner.
Day 283- Friday 8th December... Barcelona to Peniscola (ha ha it has the word Penis in it! So immature we know)
We got into town this morning at 9.00am reading to hop on the tourist bus and take in all the sites. However, when we got off the metro and went outside it was pouring rain again!! Bugger. We went and checked with the tourist info about the weather and they said that it was likely to set in for a few days. As we are paying a significant amount for camping we don't just want to sit around so we decided we would take off and come back to Barcelona on the way back through to France when hopefully we will get better weather. We were not sure where we wanted to go next, except south... our English neighbor had told us that he was going to Peniscola today so we thought "lets drive there and we can see what happens". On the 270km drive there we were overtaking a German motor home and I yelled out to Wayne "Look it's the old version of us" as the old German's were in their German made motor home waving at us and had an Airedale Terrier (Ruphus dog for those of you who don't know what that is) who was staring out the window... of course this made us sad and want our teddy bear!! We finally got to Peniscola and as we drove in we saw the pretty white washed fortress old town sitting up on the hill. Next we had to find a camp ground and we went for a drive along the beach front or the Paseo Maritimo promenade which is apparently one of the best beaches in Valencia. We made a great little discovery and found a parking spot specifically set up for about 25 motor homes that only cost 8 euro for the night with all services, so we were happy as this is less than a quarter of the price of camping. This place was full by 7pm so we were lucky we got in.  
Day 284- Saturday 9th December... Peniscola
Lazy day today. After having a lovely sleep in we went for a huge bike ride along the beachfront that just goes for miles and miles. It reminds us very much of the Gold Coast in that the beach is white and sandy (not a nice though) and just keeps going, and there is a heap of units...although it is not as built up as the Gold Coast. Then into the old town where the fortress was built by the Knights Templar and it was full of winding narrow streets. We spent some time on the beachfront just watching all the Spainards walk along, they love going out at night! We had to decide this afternoon if we should stay put for another night or move on. We decided to have a day of rest and stay put for the night in Peniscola.
Day 285- Sunday 10th December... Santa Polo (it's been a year since we first set off !!)
We got moving this morning for a big drive south. We are trying to get to Portugal as soon as we can so we can spend some time there before heading back into Spain for Christmas to meet up with mum and dad. We drove through Valencia and just saw mile and miles of Orange trees. There are also outlines of big black bulls all throughout the country side...sort of Spain's symbol...like the Hollywood sign but it's a bull!! At 5 we were driving through Valencia when we saw a heap of motor homes in a magic spot, right on the beach, so we pulled over and joined them and enjoyed being next to the surf. However, as it got dark all but one of them took off, so as it was quite isolated we did not feel too comfortable about free camping in this spot so we went to the next town along called Santa Pola where we knew we could find a camping ground. However, we just thought we would check near the harbor to see if there were any other motor homes around...yep a whole heap of Germans and Dutch...so we parked with them for the night near the water. To top it off we found a great Kebab shop where we had some yummy kebabs for dinner.
Day 286-Monday 11th December... Santa Polo to Seville
This morning we were entertained by a couple of the Dutch motor homers who were out chatting and wearing there clogs. One of them gave us a letter to take home for his relatives who live in the Glasshouse Mountains. He was such a funny guy who told us all about his motor homing adventures through Canada, America and Morocco. Next we were off for a massive 700km drive to Seville. The scenery was quite diverse on this drive and full of olive and capers trees as far as the eye could see, and at times was also very desolate with just rock for miles. It was also very mountainess and we saw heaps of interesting houses that were like a cave as they were built into the mountains but had very Spanish entrances to them. We drove past Granda and the massive Sierrra Nevada mountain range which was capped in snow, despite the weather being warm. We finally arrived in Seville and after getting lost a couple of times we found the camp site that we had been told (by other campers and the add on the internet) was open all year round...however it was shut!!! Aaagggh. We did not want to free camp in this big town so we drove to the next area where our German book told us there was a camp site at Dos Hermanos. Thankfully, it was open but there were just us and one other Italian couple and it was in need of some maintenance as all the grounds were over grown...but the facilities were clean. It looked like they were just waiting to turn it into a unit site as all around it there we units being put up.  
Day 287- Tuesday 12th December... Portugal
We left Seville this morning and went for a drive to find the Hymer dealer to see if we could organise to get our bumpers fixed etc, we found it but it was a waste of time as they said it would be months as they had to order the parts from Germany!!! Looks like we will have to get it done in France and let them know beforehand. Then we drove around in circles trying to find the Media Market where we could buy a new 12volt charger for our Satellite Navigation as that decided to break yesterday!!! But they did not have one... good start so far!!! However, the day did improve, we got to Portugal no problem and we found a spot to fill up our gas bottles!! We walked around the town of Vila Real de Santo Antonio for a while and then drove to Fuzeta. However, we decided not to stay here and keep moving further along the Algarve as it was not very pretty here. We were also shocked to see the level of poverty both here and the next town of Faro, as there were a lot of people living in make shift shanty towns made of anything that they could throw together. Some of them even had their washing drying on the fence of the train line. We kept driving and ended up in Praia Da Rocha where we found ten other motor homers to stay with from Great Britain and the Nederlands. This place is right on the beach and it looks very lush, again full of very posh high rises and nice shops. Wayne saw that the majority of other motor homers were British so he has declared that he will be wearing his Australian Cricket shirt in the morning when he goes over to say hello. Entertained ourselves tonight by drinking a couple of bottles of red wine!!
Day 288- Wednesday 13th December... Portugal
Woke up this morning and met the rest of the motor homers. It was a bit sad though as during the night there was a commotion (that we did not even hear). We were told that the old man in the motor home next to us from the Nederlands had ridden his bike up the road to meet other friends that were coming to meet him and his wife for Christmas. Just as his friends arrived at the round a bout he had a heart attack and died as the ambulance took over an hour to get to them. The poor old lady next to us is beside herself as she has just lost her husband but she is lucky as there are a lot of Dutch people in the motor homes and in the units near by that have come over to support her. So everybody here was a bit down today as they all knew this guy. Very sad, we feel so sorry for the wife and his friends.
Anyway we met the rest of the Brits and had an enjoyable day sitting around in the sun with them talking and Wayne giving them grief over the cricket! They all keep paying us out as our motor home has no number plate and is so dirty...they all keep there's spotless clean on the outside...we have better things to do and as we drive so much it is always splattered with bugs... oh well she will get washed sooner or later!! We also met the resident stray dog that everyone has been looking after, and the Old Dutch man who had died had two dogs and had been caring for it and had flead it and wormed it!! Beautiful little black dog that steels everyone's shoes and just wants to play. This afternoon we went for a walk along the amazing beach front here... and the dog came as well. It is just so beautiful and the white sand just goes for miles but they also have beautiful rock formations among the ocean...sought of like the 12 apostles in Melbourne. They also have an awesome boardwalk all the way along with funky little pod like restaurants that are set up along the board walk... it looks awesome. Tonight we went out to the local pub to watch the footy with John and Shirley, the youngest of the motor homers here who are in their late 40's.
Day 289- Thursday 14th December... Portugal
This morning we got on our bikes and road to the next town of Port Mou to check out the harbor, the shops and to find a doctor to check Wayne's eye. We had to ride really fast as the dog kept trying to follow us, so we had to cycle as fast as we could to loose her so she would go back to the others. We had lots of fun riding around and the weather was nice and warm. However, the Portuguese are all rugged up in coats and scarf's etc...one guy came up to Gemeah (who was just wearing shorts and a t-shirt) and said "My God aren't you cold?" This afternoon we taught the rest of the Brits how to play "Kubb" and Wayne got an arse kicking from John who is also major competitive!! He was not happy. Tonight we had a game of cards at John and Sally's motor home (which is huge and nearly 10 meters long as they live in it 7 months of the year when not living in their house in France) and had a great time laughing and John (who is 70) kept playing bar tender and mixing us lethal cocktails. It was really sad again though as the Dutch mans children and immediate family, arrived tonight and were very upset about the loss of their father. 
Day 290- Friday 15th December... Portugal
Well we were going to get going today but some how managed to stay put. We have totally relaxed and are having so much fun here in this little community that we are going to find it hard to move. Wayne had a great time going out to breakfast with John and Shirly and talking about footy. Then we just lazed around in the sun with everyone else before going for our afternoon walk on this amazing beach and through all the stone formations. Maybe we will move tomorrow!!
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