Travel

Pyrenees Trip - Days 13 and 14

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.

MusselsLow tide at Cap Griz NezFishermen at Low Tide 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.


Sunday 29th July, 2007

On the way back to Blighty 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.

Flag on Speed One 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.

Pyrenees Trip - Day 12

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!

Chateau de Chambord We drove to Blois, it's good cycling territory around there. We passed the Château de Chambord which is an impressive looking structure.


The Chateau in BloisMaison de la Magie 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.


Statue of Robert HoudinThe place is in honour of Robert Houdin (for whom Houdini was named). The museum is quite interesting, lots of magical artifacts, a few self working tricks to entertain. I thought it was really good.

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.


The Chateau in BloisThe Chateau in Blois We looked around the château for a while, then walked through Blois itself, going past the Maison d'acrobat.

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.


Pyrenees Trip - Day 11

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!

Pyrenees Trip - Day 10

Wednesday 25th July, 2007 Pic du MidiPic du Midi

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.


Pic du Midi We could see right the way across to the Cirque de Gavarnie. The tiny notch on the horizon just visible in the photo on the right is a high pass at the Cirque de Gavarnie.

To the north, we had views away from the mountains. It was like being in a plane.

Pic du Midi 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.


Pic du MidiPic du Midi 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.


Pic du MidiPic du MidiPic du Midi 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.

Pyrenees Trip - Day 9

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.

Walking near Gavernie We zigzagged up the slope through some woods. I found it really tough going - we climbed a lot in a very short distance.

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.


Walking near GavernieSketch of Mountain peaks above Gavarnie

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.


Walking near GavernieWalking near GavernieWalking near Gavernie 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!


Walking near GavernieApproaching the Cirque de GavernieWalking near Gavernie The views were spectacular, the path was well worth it, it was real mountain goat stuff at times.

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!

Pyrenees Trip - Day 8

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

Cow 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!


Waiting by the roadside for the Tour de France (Stage 15)Waiting by the roadside for the Tour de France (Stage 15) We found a spot by the roadside, about 1km short of the Col de Peyresourde and settled in for the duration.

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.


Homer chases a doughnutA cycling Kangaroo? What next?!Alas, they didn't throw us any Haribo.It's a weird thing seeing giant bottles of drink drive past at speed. 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!

Tour de France Convoy

We waited a little longer, and then we began to see the helicopters tracking the Tour - finally the riders began to appear.

The Race LeaderThe Tour de France passes byThe Tour de France passes by As we were on a downhill stretch, these guys were really shifting.


Tour de France helicopterAt one point, the TV helicopter hovered next to us, with nobody near us, and no cyclists passing at that point, I wonder if we got on TV?

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.

The Tour de France passes by

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'AspinCol 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.

Evening views near Col du Tourmalet 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.

Evening views near Col du Tourmalet

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.

Pyrenees Trip - Day 7

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.

Mountain ViewAudrey and MonicaCol du Tourmalet 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!

Mountain Flower

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.

Clouds passing alongsideMountain Lake

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.

Pyrenees Trip - Day 6

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.

Pyrenees Trip - Day 5

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.

Towers at La Rochelle

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.

La Rochelle

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.

Cathedral at Place de VerdunLa Rochelle Town Hall 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.

Harbour Entrance at Night

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.

Pyrenees Trip - Day 4

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.

JellyfishSeahorseHermit CrabCuttlefish

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!"

Fish

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.

Pyrenees Trip - Day 3

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.

Le Mont St. MichelLe Mont St. MichelLe Mont St. MichelWe 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 café 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 gîte we were greeted enthusiastically by the farmhouse dogs.

We met some cute dogs at our Gîte

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).

Pyrenees Trip - Day 2

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.

Road crossing on Pont de NormandeLe Mont St. Michel 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.

Our Room in Brittany... nice! We got ourselves settled in, had a bit of a snooze, that sort of thing.

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.

Nice.

Sunset at Mont Dol

Pyrenees Trip - Day 1

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.

Oh dear.

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 café 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.

Holidays

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 château. 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.

Uk Visa Refusals Ridiculous

UK Tourist Visas are being refused for odd reasons A common reason for a visa refusal is you wish to go to the UK for a holiday. You have never previously undertaken any foreign travel before and I can see little reason for this trip. This is rather a catch-22!

Another reason for rejection was the applicant not having sufficient command of the language for the purposes of tourism. This is a daft - how many Brits go abroad without having an adequate knowledge of the local language?

Another was rejected as the applicant had little or no idea what you plan to see or do. I often go on holiday with little idea of what I'll see when I get there, that's the point!

Let us hope that countries for which UK citizens require visa do not begin to follow suit!

Passport Renewals

Both Monica and I now have our new passports. The next step is to amend the 'Person of Indian Origin' documentation. The price goes up around 30% in a week or so, so start that renewal process today!

Renewal now has several advantages, not least is that if you have less than three years before expiry, you'll be better off. If you have more than three years left you'll probably still be better off as prices are likely to rise again due to ID card implementation (over £90 is estimated, so on pure financial grounds anyone with up to 8 years to go would benefit from renewing now).

Other benefits include not having to go along to be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered. At some point at an unspecified date in the near future, the database for the ID cards will be activated - long before the ID cards themselves are issued in 2010.... and it's the database that's the issue.

On pure financial grounds, as well as avoiding a complex bureaucracy for as long as possible, it's worth renewing now whilst it's still fast and easy (I entered my info online, received the prefilled form within 2 days, signed and returned it with the cheque and photos, and got the passport within a week).