If you're in the UK, and you didn't see 'The Man who Cycled the World' this week, I strongly suggest that you get yourself to BBC iplayer and watch it before Monday (when it will start to be removed). It really was an awesome achievement (there are four episodes) Mark Beaumont's site contains details of his journey.
Date: 25th July 2008
A day for some travel. It was a pretty easy day, we took our time. left Reyjavík heading for Skógar. When we went in this direction in 2006, we went via Seltún, emerging on Highway 1 at Hverageði after travelling on gravel road 42. This time we went directly on Highway 1.
We had good weather for the day. It was warm and pleasant. We stopped at Seljalandsfoss which is about 20km along the road from Hvolsvöllur. Seljalandsfoss is a waterfall, visible for miles along the road as a vertical streak on Stórhödði. There is a picnic area there, as well as public conveniences - and that's it.
Seljalandsfoss is formed from the meltwaters of Eyjafjalljökull, the baby glacier of the Eyjafjalljökull, Mýrdalsjökull, Eyjafjalljökull, Vatnajökull trilogy. Vatnajökull being the big daddy of the glaciers, indeed, it's so large that the various extremities of it often have their own names.
At Seljalandsfoss Monica and I walked behind the waterfall. The paths isn't particularly hard, but it can be slipperly, and on a few occasions it can be steep (but it is 'stepped'). If you decide to do this, start by going to the right of the falls, it's easier that way - and take a waterproof due to the fine spray.
Continuing on, we arrived at Skógar, we were staying at Hotel Skógar. It's a nice little hotel - quite quiet. The trouble was that being all at ground level, occasionally someone walked past the window - we had a small kid looking in at one point. The same was true later in the week at the Northern Lights hotel, but people seemed less inclined there to walk around the hotel.
When we arrived, at about 4pm, I decided to unpack my bicycle and go for a ride. The bike went together with no problems at all. Open case. Lift out. Unfold. Remove fork spacer, put quick release on wheel. Attach wheel. Put in stem. Put in handlebars. Put in saddle. Pedals. Done. Then it came to pumping the tyres. Now, here I had problems. The pump I had brought with me chose this point to fail. It simply would not get a good seal around the valve. It was a non-starter - I could not ride. This was so frustrating. I had to pack everything up again.
So, what to do now? Well, Mum had gone for a walk up to Skógarfoss, so Monica and I went to find her, then suggested that we take a trip down to Vík. At Vík there are some superb black sand beaches. Around the corner is Dyrhólaey, where one can see puffins and nice rock formations (although we didn't get there on this trip). As we got near to Vík the weather changed. It became very windy - and so this small excursion became nothing more than arriving at Vík, getting blown about on our way into the touristy wool shop there, and returning to the hotel (where the weather improved again). That's the thing with Iceland, the weather can change quickly both with time and with geography.
In the evening, we ate at the hotel. It was rather expensive, though very nice. Other options (discovered the next day) included a cheap-end diner nearer Skógarfoss, which served things like the obligatory pizza, and a diner in Vík at the service station.
Date: 24th July 2008
We began with a trip to Perlan (the artificial geyser runs from noon until 4pm - we were early). We had a look around and then headed out of town. We took the 42 south past Klerfarvatn. This can be a great road, but as we approached we had horizontal rain and poor visibility. It's a gravel road, and where the tarmac ends there is a steep climb. When we took this road before we had trepidation, but it was fine. Gravel roads in Iceland are usually pretty good (with a couple of exceptions, hire cars are allowed on them, but not allowed on the F roads)
As we left Klerfarvatn the weather cleared up just in time for our stop at Seltún. This is a spot in the Krýsuvík geothermal area. We missed it when we first looked for it in 2006. The trick is to realise that if you see the turning to Grindavík, you've gone too far. It's near the start of the tarmac road (why do some roads in Iceland have a tarmac bit miles from anywhere, which can only be got to be going over gravel?)
We visited Seltún for its geothermal and bubbly goodness, and then took the road to Grindavík, stopping at Krýsuvíkurkirkja, a little church not far from the junction.
From there we stopped by the road side for some rock structures (common in Iceland), and ended up in Grindavík. Now this is a town which doesn't look much, but it did grow on me by the time we came back at the end of the holiday (final night). It has some nice food, petrol station (important!), and a geothermal pool. We took some lunch in a place by the harbour - a reasonably priced buffet affair, then went over the road to look at the Salt Fish museum.
Continuing around the peninsula, we stopped at the 'Bridge between Continents'. It's there solely to give a target for tourists driving around this peninsula. It's a bridge over a small rift which seperates the North American tectonic plate and the Eurasian plate. The rift is much wider at
Back in Reykjavík we got ready to go over to see Björn, who was our gracious host for the evening. He had prepared great big steaks of Icelandic lamb for us - very simply done, and very tasty. We committed geek-talk.
Then, we dropped Mum back at the hotel, and Monica, Björn and I all went out to downtown Reykjavík. We ended up in a bar called b5. It was a 'trendy' kind of place, and I felt quite scruffy in there... but still, I didn't have a smart change of clothes, so...
It was quite pricey in there, but the Mojito was good. The bar is trendily lit, and had a horse as a lampshade. The music choice was very good as we walked in they were playing 'The Theme from Shaft' (Ya damn right!).
We got back to the hotel at around 1am - the sun was down, but it was a twilight, not dark.
Date: 23rd July 2008. We travelled to Iceland with Mum - we would be repeating some of our earlier visit, but going to some new areas.
We stayed at the Hilton in Stansted the night before flying. It wasn't the cheapest of options, but given the convenience, it was worth doing.
We had an oddity in that we could have the room with breakfast or with long stay parking (and an extra 17 quid for breakfast). 17 quid? In hindsight, I should have got the room with Parking for Mum, and the room with breakfast for Monica and myself, paying the 17 quid for Mum.
Stansted is a small airport by Heathrow and Gatwick standards, but worked fairly well. I did kill some time by having a panic that I left the car window open - and this meant that when we went through security we went straight to the gate.
I took my New World Tourist, and was a little worried about the weight limits, but it was fine - I just checked it in. I think it helped that there were three of us, and the other cases were under.
Iceland Express was pretty good, although they did the Ryanair/Easyjet thing of charging for everything on the flight, even down to the cup of tea. This was bad.
We landed at Keflavík airport. Collected our bags and went straight out to the car pickup. It was very windy, and a bit cold. It had been raining! The weather in Iceland is very changeable. over the next ten days we would have everything from warm T shirt weather to fog, cold, wind and rain. Fortunately, the weather was usually good whenever we wanted to see something - the good weather outweighed the bad. Later in the week it'd be 20°C whilst simultaneously standing next to beached icebergs at Jökulsárlón.
The car we had was a Sköda Octavia. Not a bad car at all. I did find that the seat could have done with being a few centimetres more central, as the slope of the side door meant that it would touch my shoulder annoyingly. Apart from that, it was good.
We drove into Reykjavík, noticing that the road was being developed since our last visit. There were new businesses alongside. I do hope that this doesn't end up being one long and thin extension of Reykjavík.
We found our hotel with only a little difficulty (having a streetplan of Reykjavík was essential). We stayed at the Hotel Óðinsvé which is centrally located. It was also the only Hotel which we stayed in to provide tea and coffee facilities in the room (Hotels! This is essential!)
The rooms were pretty good, though Mum's room was not as nice as ours. The staff were helpful, and when we found the TV in our room did not work (not that we wanted to watch it much, but that's not the point) we had a new TV the next day.
Once into the Hotel, we went for a walk around Reykjavík, going around the town centre, seeing the Alþing (the Icelandic Parliament) and exploring that sort of area.
We had a small meal in the Café Paris - which was a reminder of Icelandic prices, and then went back to the hotel.
I considered unpacking the bike - but thought (wrongly) that I'd be able to cycle in Reykjavík before leaving, and so left it in the case.
I'm back from a trip to Iceland. My return flight was delayed from just after 5pm to 1am... so I'm a bit wiped out today. I got out of the airport at 5:30am, drove for a while, slept for a couple of hours, watched 'Britain's Strongest Man' at Mum's house. Drove a little more. I got home at 1pm. Washed. A little under 24 hours before, I had been leaving the Blue Lagoon in Iceland 'just in time' to get checked in for my flight - only to sit around for 8 hours at Keflavík airport. This afternoon all I've done really is (slowly) geotag, and go to fetch the cats from the cattery.
Anyhow, I've geotagged about half the pictures. When I've done the rest they'll appear on flickr and I'll start referencing a few here.
... and seeing as I didn't reference it at the time: What about poor ol' Gordon and Glasgow East? *chuckle*.
Saturday 28th July, 2007 On the saturday, we drove north to Pas de Calais. We were going to overnight in a place called Marquise, near Boulogne. Staying in a place called hôtel des deux caps.
First we had the drive. Though it was one of the shorter legs, it was probably the most problematic as we had to go past Paris. Now, don't get me wrong, I like Paris - but driving anywhere near it is a nightmare. There isn't a traffic issue until you get into town itself, it's a road issue - it's not easy to navigate. There were no obvious signs saying 'The North' or similar. There is no ring road or through road (on the motorways). Instead, there are lots of bits of road that and the route involves several changes of road (with the French system of giving roads several identifying numbers, it got confusing).
Somehow, we ended up heading west and going past Versailles. Our only serious error in the whole trip.
We decided to go around Paris completely rather than to try and find out where we should have gone, and turned off the N12 at a place called Mére, before heading cross country, crossing the Seine at Meulan and eventually finding the A16.
Going wrong is not a big deal on a journey - it's realising that you're wrong and fixing the problem that matters.
The hotel wasn't difficult to find. The only problem with it was that it's on a little one way street, and a church was next door. A wedding was taking place, and so we could not park easily. We parked in a not-good place long enough to get the bags out of the car, and I did a lap or two as the wedding was finishing - I grabbed one of the resulting clear spaces.
The room was a model of compact living, very small - but perfectly adequate. The bathroom was essentially built into a walk-in closet. It would suffice for us, however.
In the late afternoon, early evening, we drove to the beach at Cap Griz Nez. The tide was out, and so we had a nice expanse of flat sand to walk on. There were a few rocks about with shellfish attached and horses galloping up and down, all very nice.
We had taken rooms above a bar/restaurant, and so in the evening we ate 'in house'. It was nice stuff. It hit the spot well - although the place had a fault in common with several other restaurants we'd been in of putting beers on the menu which weren't available - this happened several times on our trip.
The next day, all we had to do was go home. We checked out of the hotel and drove past Cité Europe to get some fuel - the place itself was closed except for the cafés and amusement section. Then to the port, and onto the ferry. We used speedferries again.
Unfortunately we had to drive around inside the ferry some way, and were as far from the exit as it's possible to get (minus one car) - and so we'd have a little bit of a wait getting off. Nevertheless, total crossing time, including unloading, was still faster than the traditional Dover-Calais routes.
It was a little bouncy on the return, but nothing at all serious - some folks were making a big meal out of it. The best place was on the deck of the speed-cat, where it was nice and windy. I pulled out the GPS which I'd kept in the bag during my trip, and saw that we were doing 35 knots. None too shabby.
I kept the GPS (a Garmin GPS 60) with me in order that when taking a photo in a place unlikely to be easily found later on Google Earth, I'd know where it was for geotagging purposes, this would allow me to use Picasa and Google Earth to place all the photos from the trip on the surface of the Earth, and hence give a map in flickr. Note that if tagging prior to upload with flickr (which I'd recommend, as the tag is then in your local copy of the picture), you have to tell flickr to respect existing geotags, this is not enabled by default.
You can browse all the photos from this trip using the map, zoom in for more detail. Click on the circles for popups showing the photos taken in that location. Be aware that there may be too many photos to show on one page - at the top left you'll be able to flick between pages.
Friday 27th July, 2007 At breakfast, there was a couple on another table, by chance they chose to do exactly the same things as us - all day, as we walked around, we'd be at a destination and they'd arrive, or vice-versa. It got rather silly!
We parked in Blois, and walked up to the area between the Château and the Maison de Magie (house of magic). As we got to the area outside the house of magic, the windows opened and dragons heads appeared, roaring at the people below. A bit cheesey, but fairly well done.
On the top floor they have an attraction which is a bit naff. One wears a horizontal mirror beneath the eyes and follows a rail around a path. Items on the ceiling are reflected in the mirror and it looks like you're walking across little wooden bridges and then through an undersea scene. It's quite an effective illusion - but once ultimately it's a little bit rubbish.
Following the museum, we walked across the the Château, which is a real mish-mash of styles.
Leaving Blois, we drove along the route nationale to Beaugency and parked next the the Loire. We ate at a pizza place opposite the bridge which was pretty nice. The Loire is pretty wide at this point, and looks quite shallow, judging by the speed of the river and the fact that there's some sediment build up in the river with greenery growing upon them.
After the mean, we headed back to the hotel - on saturday we would be heading north to the coast.
Thursday 26th July, 2007 It was time to head back north on Thursday. We were to overnight in the Loire Valley. This was to be, by far the longest drive - but we made very good time indeed. Surprisingly good, in fact. Maybe it just seemed that was as I was feeling quite fresh.
It seemed to take such a long time before we were out of the shadow of the mountains, though - the motorway to Toulouse runs parallel to the Pyrenees, and occasionally there are references to them. For example, there is the Aire de Pic du Midi, which is named for the most prominent mountain... we'd been going quite some time as we passed that!
We decided to start our journey by going west, to avoid the climb over the Tourmalet. This was slightly longer, but we thought it'd be quicker - and given that it was a long journey I thought that was a reasonable compromise. Given that the journey was smooth and that I felt quite fresh, I now regret that decision. It would have been nice to go over the Tourmalet again.
We stayed in Hotel St. Cyr in a place called La Ferté St-Cyr. It's a reasonable hotel, quite comfortable. Scary toilets (there is some electronic device which arranges to suck your doings away most rapidly).
Whilst the Pyrenees made a great cycling holiday for hard-core cyclists, the Loire valley looked like it'd fit the bill for the rest of us in a 'nice' kind of way. Straight roads, pretty, leafy and green, small ups and downs along the way.
We didn't do much that evening, only crossing the road to eat at Robin Des Bois. This restaurant did not impress us. We waited for a very long time just to get the menu. Another couple, in the same position, walked out. We were about to follow suit when the menu appeared. The food wasn't great, but acceptable at the price - though we did have to correct the guy's recall of what we ordered a couple of times. There was a couple (Dutch, possibly German) at the next table - they were chatting amongst themselves and two words drifted over loud and clear: 'Fawlty Towers'. Including us, there were only four tables occupied in the place, from a capacity of maybe 10. It's understandable that the guy may have been really short handed as a result, but surely restaurant rule number 1 is to get 'em seated, and get the order in - not get 'em seated and make 'em wait before you even give 'em the menu!
On Wednesday, Audrey, Monica and I went to la Mongie in order to go up on the incredibly expensive cable car to Pic du Midi. The views from up there are really good.
To the north, we had views away from the mountains. It was like being in a plane.
There is an observatory on the top of Pic du Midi, it must have been a massive undertaking to construct - and the vision that somebody must have had to go up there and see that construction was possible is amazing.
We ate a meal at the restaurant at the top of the mountain. The restaurant is woefully small compared to the numbers of people up there, and although we got a table by sheer chance, it took ages to get served. The guys up there were rushed off their feet.
The cablecar down took an awfully long time too - that was needless. They could have operated a timed ticket system whereby when you want to descend, you pull a ticket and it has a time on it, you could then go off and do something else until your allotted time. Instead, they operated the 'big queue' system.
On the way down, we looked back and saw sheep climbing around on the sheer cliff beneath the observatory, it was impressive to see them casually start to move down what looked like a sheer cliff-face.
The original plan was to go up to the Grottes de Bétharram, but we simply didn't have the time to get over there. Instead, we looked in some of the touristy places in La Mongie (nothing to write home about) and had a crêpe.
Tuesday 24th July, 2007 We all went down to Gavarnie on tuesday. Gavarnie is a little village close to the Spanish border (but a big mountain range away).
We parked in Gavarnie, and walked south down the valley, before turning east and heading up the slope.
Details of our route can be seen here.
Eventually we got above the treeline and stopped for a little lunch. I did some sketching, which was really nice. I sat on a rock and drew one of the peaks which surrounded us.
We had our lunch sitting on a high point, just above the treeline, above us we could see a large refuge, below us was the path which would lead to the Cirque de Gavarnie.
Climbing higher, we got to the refuge, which is a house several stories high. We sat on a rocky outcrop and admired the view for some time. It was at this point that we seperated. Audrey and Paul continued up to the ridge which would give them views into the next French valley, Greg, Monica and I went down. We arrived back at the point where we took lunch, and a little below there we took the path south to the Cirque de Gavernie.
The path hugs the slope of the mountain, going under rocky outcrops, and over a stream. There are often big drops to the right of the path. A few places could be quite hairy. Indeed, at one point it was slippy, so I fell flat on my arse - fortunately it wasn't an area with a big edge next to the path!
The wonderful thing about the path is that we got close to the Cirque de Gavarnie, with hints of it's western side visible, and then we turned a corner to have it's full splendour revealed all at once, up close and personal. The cirque is an natural ampitheatre, with a hotel/bar at the bottom where we took a well earned drink. We sat there, surrounded by walls of rock roughly a kilometre high, with waterfalls cascading down from plateau to plateau - and snow visible on various plateaus. Great stuff.
Paul and Audrey joined us at the bar.
It was then a fairly easy walk back to the cars, along the valley floor (it would have been fairly easy, but I was suffering a little by this stage).
The overall walk may not have been a great distance, but it had an awful lot of 'up' in it!
Monday, 23rd July, 2007 On Monday, the Tour de France was coming close to us. Audrey, Paul and Greg set off mid morning. Monica and I followed a little later. The tour was finishing in Loudenvielle, which is where Audrey, Paul and Greg managed to stop. We couldn't go that way, and so parked on the route itself and walked up toward the Col de Peyresourde
On the way to our destination, we drove over the Col d'Aspin. Lots of cyclists were heading our way, and they, like us, stopped on the Col to admire the view. A herd of cows had the same idea, and one cow took objection to the people milling about, nudging them gently as if to say 'go away'. This wouldn't have been a problem except for the big horns!
It was a bit of a wait, we were there for some ours (during which time Paul and Greg cycled past, went down the other side of the Col, then climbed it again to pass us going the other way.
Eventually, direct evidence of the Tour started to appear.
The first thing to appear is the convoy, essentially these are vehicles from the sponsors (and there are a lot of them!) As they go past, they'll often throw out 'goodies' - mostly junk though. Unfortunately, Haribo didn't see fit to send anything our way - though we did get a hat from Sköda!
As we were standing on the edge of a steep slope, several items went straight over the edge, we recovered most of them, but had to leave some - it was a very precarious operation!
We waited a little longer, and then we began to see the helicopters tracking the Tour - finally the riders began to appear.
We didn't see one big peloton, instead, we had several mini-peloton (for want of a better term) - we were at the end of a stage with several big climbs, and the riders had been spread out.
At the end, we stopped for a drink and a small bite in the restaurant 3km from the Col, we couldn't drive off as all the amateur cyclists were tanking it down the slope, confident that the road was still closed. Eventually, the road opened and we drove back. The cloud cover had lowered though, which made the drive a little more difficult.
Col d'Aspin was just below the cloud layer, but Tourmalet was most definitely above it. As we climbed the mountain, we passed through cloud. Driving through La Mongie was particularly difficult as the road is wide at that point, with no road markings - and so you just have to go slow until you see something through the mist which you can then follow to the narrow road continuing upwards.
Breaking through the clouds was most welcome, it was a tiring drive due to the concentration required. We found a safe place to stop and watched the clouds moving about in the valley (unlike another car, which stopped on a blind bend as the cloud level raised further).
We didn't stay long, as the clouds were moving higher, and we didn't want to lose the good visibility just yet.
We stopped again at the top of the Col du Tourmalet, and got some fantastic views of the clouds in our valley. The clouds filled the valley almost as foam fills a bubblebath - it really was magical. There was hardly anyone else there, though a support vehicle from the Tour did stop to admire the view. One of their number got caught short, and decided to relieve himself. He didn't take into account the strong wind on the Tourmalet and made himself a little wet - to the amusement of everyone about, and his embarrassment.
Decending, we stopped in a restaurant called Auberge La Couquelle, above Barèges, where we were joined by the other three guys. It was a nice little place - in the cloud when we arrived, but under the cloud when we left. Good food. It was warm in there, the place would be a good place to eat in the winter. It was situated close to the base of the ski lift.
It was a good day. I wouldn't want to see the Tour too often - lots of hanging about - but I'd certainly consider going again if there was a nice spot to watch it from.
Sunday, 22nd July, 2007 Paul and Greg went off for a bike ride on Sunday. Just a little one, some 60km, up a couple of Cols (including Tourmalet at 2115m above sea level). This left Audrey, Monica and I to entertain ourselves. We got in my little Ford Ka, and made our way up the Tourmalet, stopping a few times on the way to look at the view.
There were a load of cyclists going up the Tourmalet. Most sensibly, carrying the minimum load. Some had lots of panniers and there was one with a trailer and small child in tow. It's a long climb from up to the Tourmalet, something like an 8% gradient with a kilometre of up from where we were staying in Barèges - so climbing the Col was a real achievement, we were amazed at how many people were doing it.
At the top, we took some lunch in the café there, and then went for a walk on the path leading from the Col up to the Pic du Midi. We didn't go too far, maybe a few kilometres. I found it quite tough going, having gained a lot of altitude in a short time. Toward the end of my stay in the mountains I had adjusted to the thinner air, and then it was time to descend. I certainly was impressed by the cyclists who had cycled up there!
We continued east, going through La Mongie (not the most attractive of towns). La Mongie has a section of road which is really wide, with no road markings. It's like driving across a playground - quite disconcerting. We stopped at a small dam below the town and wandered about there for a bit, admiring the view.
At St. Marie de Campan we turned around and headed back. We'd only driven down one road, but we had taken it slowly and stopped frequently. We'd also taken ourselves on a high walk (albeit not very far and along a wide track). We were quite surprised to find that we'd been out for most of the day, it was early evening when we returned to the house.
Saturday, 21st July, 2007 Saturday was a driving day. We left La Rochelle, finding the road south. We passed near Dax, and Pau, before taking the road off the motorway bringing us into Lourdes from the northwest.
We didn't see much of Lourdes, the castle in the centre looked interesting, but the town itself was rather tacky, full of tourist rubbish being sold. Looking at the guidebook it said something like 'it may look tacky, but don't take the mickey to much as some people spend their life savings to get here' - all the more reason to take the Michael in my eyes!
We found our road into the mountains, and began the climb to Barèges. A climb that seemed a lot less when we left!
We were staying at a place about 1km above sea level, next to a small dam, it was a few hundred metres uphill to Barèges itself.
We were greeted by Audrey, who had arrived the day before. Inside were Paul and Greg, Audrey and Paul had just returned from the airport where they picked up Greg. Greg had arrived with some bicycles in bags. Paul and Greg being keen cyclists, they immediately set about putting the bikes together.
In the evening, Audrey, Monica and I walked up to Barèges and went into a little bar there. Paul and Greg had cycled partway up the mountain, toward Col du Tourmalet (Barèges was in cloud), and by the time we got to Barèges they were on the way down.
By the time we'd left the bar, it had started to rain. This wasn't a good start to our days in the Pyrenees - but life in the mountains is changeable - we had some very good weather for the remaining days. Unlike, we discovered, people back home in blighty. In the UK they had been experiencing the some of the worst flooding in England and Wales since records began. From abroad, it looked apocalyptic - as if the whole country was awash - however it seems that the floods were in the Gloucestershire area. At one point we saw an American newspaper somehow, and it gave a grim picture of Europe, with floods in the UK and fires in Greece (which continue). We could imagine people from the other side of the pond cancelling holidays left right and centre, saying that it was too dangerous to travel. We'd just spent a week on mainland Europe with no idea about either extreme.
Friday, 20th July, 2007 On Friday, we walked around La Rochelle - at least, the parts near the old port.
It's a very pedestrian friendly place, with cars being restricted on many streets, and cycles readily available.
There are three towers which are visitable in La Rochelle. Two guard the port entrance, and the other is a little further down.
The first tower was by far the most interesting for me. Inside, the corridors twisted and turned, making their way to the top.
The sister tower, the chain tower, is pretty plain by comparison (if pushed for time, this is the one to skip). It is essentially a few rooms stacked onto each other.
The third tower is very simple again, but it has some interesting graffiti inside from prisoners held there in the last few hundred years. The tower itself is more interesting - and there is a high walkway which gives nice views. The high walkway feels quite precarious, with a narrow path and low protective wall. Looking down, upon the smaller peaks of the tower, they don't see quite straight, somehow.
Having visited the towers, stopping for some lunch between tower 1 and 2, we walked up to the Place de Verdun and visited the cathedral there. Then we went to have a look at the town hall, an impressive structure - almost like a small palace.
We had some refreshments in a bar near the hotel which sold shots of what tasted like alcoholic fruit juice. It was a really nice setting, an old style bar which looks like it's been unchanged for 50 years. It had old posters, peeling paint and cheap prices. It was very popular with the locals. Unfortunately, I can't remember what it was called. I'll try and find out and then amend this paragraph. I do know that it was on Rue St. Nicolas, not far from the junction with Quai Louis Durand, on the west side of the road.
In the evening, we ate at the old port. There were lots of street entertainers, one guy was very funny - an acrobat who involved the audience in his stunts - climbing up on one guy's shoulders, whilst getting kids to run around being cavemen. There was a fireeater, who kept having to dampen out the flames on his goatee (I think he was missing something rather obvious about flammability of hair), and inline skaters who did slaloms around obstacles at high speed.
In short, La Rochelle is a nice place to spend a day. Maybe two. Very possibly three if you go slowly. More than that is pushing it.
Thursday, 19th July, 2007 On Thursday, we drove down to La Rochelle. The route was pretty easy, though the last half mile is always the problem - we missed our turning in La Rochelle and had to loop through the one way system.
We stayed in a place called the hotel de bordeaux near the old port. The room was quite small, but servicable. The room had aircon, which was welcome after a hot journey.
Once we had rested, we went out to have a little look around, and ended up at the aquarium which is only a hundred metres or so from the hotel.
The Aquarium is a pretty good one, which a wide range of fish, well displayed, and a shark tank which covers the height of the building (with the exception of the rooftop restaurant, where the keepers can gain access for feeding etc)
There are some huge tanks in the aquarium, some filled with giant silvery fish, some with shark - and some small tanks too, with coral, or seahorses.
The clownfish in the sharktank seemed much more nervous than the ones in a tank of their own, not surprising really!
It takes some time to go around the aquarium, and there were several instances where I thought "Hang on a minute, they're getting the cast of 'Finding Nemo' back together!"
To quote the film: Shark Bait: Brou! Ha! Ha!
As one emerges from the aquarium, the path winds through a tropical area. It has terrapin moving about, and piranha fish in tanks too, there is a bridge going over such a tank. The path goes around this area, and emerges back into the entrance foyer.
We ate in the rooftop restaurant at the Aquarium. It was good food, with nice views. There was an issue with the toilets there (let's just say that some punter had been anti-social), but they dealt with it reasonably when notified. To be fair, this shouldn't be a point against them, as it could have easily been any establishment - it'd only become a negative if there were problems on a second visit.
It had been a long day - on Friday we would explore some of La Rochelle. For now, sleep beckoned.
Wednesday, 18th July, 2007 The wednesday was spent moving around the Brittany/Normandy border area.
We took breakfast in the farmhouse, a big table was prepared for the handful of guests staying there. There was some really gorgeous jam available for the croissants.
We began by taking a trip to Mont St. Michel, and climbing up the Mont to go into the Abbey at the top. It's a nice little Abbey, with high arched rooms, and lots of connecting rooms. There are some nice views from the terrace.
Touring the Abbey takes some time, and when we were done we went into a small cafÃ© to get a meal. This was one which gave views over the bay, but we took a long time to get served - on the whole trip there were three places like that. Most unusual.
My favourite place to eat so far in Mont St. Michel has a small window in the wall of the Mont itself, with a table set in that window. It's a good location. Unfortunately, I can't recall the name of the place!
There's not really much to say about Mont St. Michel, except that it's a very nice place to while away some hours. You can see all of my photos taken at Mont St. Michel using this flickr map.
Returning to the gÃ®te we were greeted enthusiastically by the farmhouse dogs.
You can't really go wrong with cute dogs.
In the evening, we drove over to Mont Dol, as on wednesdays, in the summer months, they have a little market there in the evenings. We thought it'd be up on the Mont itself, but it was not. The market was down in the village. We wandered around for a bit, buying some honey. The market was okay - but I'm glad we didn't put ourselves out for it.
We ate in Dol (which tends to close early), to Le Katedral. This is a small restaurant with a bar attached and had Galettes (savoury pancake meal type things) followed by Crepe (sweet pancake pudding type things).
Tuesday, 17th July, 2007 We were up and away on Tuesday. The plan was to go to a small place just inside Brittany, we were staying just west of Pontorson, in a farmhouse called La Costardiere - which was a few miles from where I camped a few years ago.
On the way we stopped in Caen (I stayed there in 2005, and could go straight to the supermarket - we needed some provisions). We took the road over Le Pont de Normande, stopping in the services there for lunch, and we also diverted to see Mont St. Michel from a distance. Then it was off to our accomodation.
Despite being on a minor road, the place was very easy to find (thanks mainly to looking it up first in google maps). The room was huge, it had two double beds and a single - and also cheaper than the hotel we were in the night before. The building was old, so the floor did slope, but that wasn't a problem.
Then we headed off to see some local sites. We didn't want anything big, so we went to a local spot called Mont Dol, where we climbed the tower on the top to see the sun setting over La Baie du Mont St. Michel.
Monday, 16th July, 2007 At the weekend, we had gone to Guilfest, and so had not packed. We were crossing the channel in the early evening using speedferries, and did not have a flexible ticket.
The cats had to be taken to the cattery, and we could not pack until this had been done, for fear of spooking them.
Somehow, I don't know how, they just knew - and operated a shift system whereby one would always be out of the house at a time (even setting the catflap to one-way wasn't an option, as one of the cats can pull it open - closing it completely would mean we wouldn't see the other cat all day).
It was getting desperate, so with 2 hours before we had to leave, I grabbed one of the cats and took her in. A trail of ham was left to the catflap (Set to one way now, it was the dextrous cat which had been taken) and immediately did a second trip as the other cat had been tempted in.
We packed like the wind, got in the car a little later than I wanted, and were on our way.
Going to Dover, we got stuck in traffic. Also, we didn't realise that speedferries left from the hoverport instead of the Western Docks (doh). So by the time we sorted this out, we arrived at the hoverport to see the ferry drawing away.
We tried checking in, hoping just to be put on the next one - but we were told that we'd missed the ferry by 24 hours(?). I had typoed the online booking form.
It was turning into a farce. Fortunately, a ticket for the next ferry could be bought for £17 online - compared to almost £90 for Sea France. So we rang a friend (thanks, Danny), sorted it out and settled into the cafÃ© for a couple of hours. The total cost was still lots cheaper than P&O or Sea France (who charge more for the same number of trips the longer there is between those trips - I can understand charging higher prices at peak time, but charging more for a single than a day trip return is just mad).
The crossing to Boulogne was fast, although it does take a little time to unload with seaferries, the overall crossing time still beats the ferry to Calais - the ferry does something like 35 knots. Also, going to Boulogne cuts half an hour from the drive. I should have looked at LD Lines though, much more convenient for our route!
We arrived in Abbeville at 1am local time, staying in the Ibis there, much later than it should have been.
Still, we were on our way.
For the past two weeks, I've been on my Holidays. Details of places will come later (which I hope will help anyone thinking of where they might go). You can see my other travel reports here, with each country subcategorised. This isn't a definitive list, obviously there have been places which I never wrote about (e.g. our trip to California, Utah, Arizona etc).
What about this trip? Well, it was a road trip, we drove to the south of France - and when we arrived we learned that half of the UK was flooded out - and that east of Europe is burning. Americans watching the news about Europe might think that the whole place is way too hazardous right now! It really isn't (but then, how many Americans watch news about Europe?)
Anyhow, a quick itinerary.
On Day 1, we got over the channel, and had some fun with confused bookings. We got to Abbeville late that night. On Day 2, we drove to Brittany, staying there for 2 days. On Day 3, we looked at some sights in Brittany, such as Mont St. Michel and Mont Dol. This is a region that I'd visited before on my own. On Day 4, we drove down to La Rochelle and visited the aquarium there. On Day 5, we explored La Rochelle. It doesn't take very long. On Day 6, we drove to the Pyrenees, we stayed in a house with someone Monica knows from Work, her bloke and his friend. They're keen cyclists, and so most days would cycle up a couple of Cols, e.g. 60km trips with several vertical kilometres in there. On Day 7, we drove around the area On Day 8, we stood by a roadside just after the final col for the Tour de France (stage 15). We watched some fast cyclists. We watched clouds from above as they filled a valley. On Day 9, we climbed followed some mountain trails near Gavarnie, with a fair amount of up, and an equal amount of down again (albeit with a much more horizontal component). On Day 10, we went in a cablecar and saw some Llamas. On Day 11, we drove to the Loire Valley. This was a long drive, but I could have kept going. On Day 12, we visited Blois, we saw a magic show and a chÃ¢teau. On Day 13, we drove to Boulogne, getting a little confused around Paris. This was a relatively short drive, that wasn't over soon enough. I could have stopped earlier. We stopped in Marquise, a small town near Boulogne. On Day 14, we took the boat back to blighty, picked up the cats, spent 15 minutes swearing at my router which was playing up after having no power for a while, and wrote this.
Our route (minus most of the excursions whilst actually at our destinations) is shown on this google map, it'll take a little while to load as it's a big route. This is the direct link. Note that I've added waymarkers simply to force the route to go a particular path - e.g. to go to a particular hotel, or to take into account where we missed a turn (e.g. Paris). Should new roads open, the detail may change.
The better half has just returned from a trip to the USA on business. She travels on a passport with her alias listed... very shaddowy. Essentially, at work she uses her maiden name - it's a consistency thing, but otherwise she uses her married name. Her passport is in her married name, but her maiden name is also on the passport (there is an entry on the page after the personal details that says she is 'also known as')
When the tickets were bought, they were in her maiden name, i.e. the name she uses at work.
She flew to the US without problem, but when it came to leave, there was a look of confusion from the woman checking passports. The name didn't match the passport! Horror!
The better half said 'the detail is on the next page of the passport'. The passport control woman flicked back and forth in the passport, before eventually saying 'you'll have to show me, I don't understand'.
So, there you have it - when you fly, you might have your passport checked by someone for which the concept of 'next page' presents difficulty.
I'd be interested to hear if you have any airline stories, this post has comments open.