Today we returned home from the “Three Island Tour” as we have been calling it. We really enjoyed all three islands, but once again, Sicily really stood out. It has become one of our favorite places we have ever visited. Sardinia and Corsica were also fun and interesting, very similar in many ways, but also very different because despite being next to each other, they have had very different histories and rulers.
The flight back was one of the smoothest we have ever experience. There was no line at check in, no line at security, and remarkably no line at immigration. We have never experienced getting thru the formalities of travel so quickly. The flight left on time, and landed on time. Remarkable.
Woke up to heavy rain, so it made it easy to finish up the process of preparing François for the winter. We finished up the last of our food, and offered some fruit to the owner of the campground. After a short uneventful drive to the storage area we dropped François off for the winter and took an Uber to the hotel which is in the center of a giant construction site. It was still poring rain so we spent the day in our room relaxing.
Today was spent preparing François for storage. We slept in a bit, and woke up to promising blue skies after another rainy night. Unfortunately, the blue skies didn’t last and a thick damp fog set in. So after cleaning up we pretty much settled in to a movie marathon for our last day in François. Exploring the canals around us will have to wait for our return in the spring.
We are at our final stop for our fall trip. Today and tomorrow we are at a campground near the Amsterdam airport where we will do our final preparation before delivering François for storage.
The drive over from the Ardennes to here was pretty easy and included three countries. When we left in the morning the roads were pretty empty in France, the traffic built in Belgium, and when we got to The Netherlands it was quite busy.
When we arrived at the campground the owner met us in front, and asked very tentatively if we spoke English. When I applied that I did she looked relieved and said that most French don’t speak English, so I had to explain that I was an American in a French camper which she thought was funny.
The campground is on a working farm with sheep, chickens, and some interesting horses. But it has been inundated with incredible rain over the last few weeks. I had emailed the owners a couple of days ago but their reply went missing in the ether. So when we arrived they said that we were welcome but that we would have to park in the driveway next to the bathrooms because the actual campsite was far too wet to accommodate us.
We settled in and Ton began figuring out what was going and what was staying, and did some preliminary cleaning. Mostly we hunkered down as it was both cold with occasional showers all afternoon. We finally got out for a short walk near sunset. The countryside around here is exactly what I expected of Dutch countryside, roads on top of dykes, small canals feeding into large canals, and tall and blonde Dutch people riding by on bicycles. It was a fun walk.
Another day devoted to driving long distances. Today we covered over 440 kilometers, and are parked on a small farm near the Belgian border in the Ardennes region of France.
It was bright and sunny when we left Beaune, and unlike yesterday the drive was stress free on pretty quiet Autoroutes with mostly good weather. The cost was even less than we expected, now we play Toll Price is Right when we pull up to the toll booths. Today we both lost as we were both way over on our guess.
Initially I had picked an aire near a fortified village, but when we got there it was not quite what we expected so I looked for any alternatives in the area. By now it was cold and raining hard again so we were looking for somewhere a little more protected. The only thing that came up was a nearby farm that was said to offer two spots for visiting motorhomes. It was nearby so we decided to go take a look at it as we could always come back to where we were. When we got there we saw a place where two motorhomes would fit with signs in multiple languages welcoming visitors. It was cute and much nicer, but we could not figure out why someone would do this on their land. We went and knocked on the door of the farm and asked if it was ok, and were welcomed in French and told of course. He even asked if we wanted electricity, which was amazing, and very helpful when running the heater. This is truly a case of someone doing something extraordinary for visitors, I only wish I had the French to find out why, instead, all I could do was continue to thank him for his kindness. We looked to see if they were selling anything, but we saw no sign of anything for sale that we could purchase to help support them. As near as we can tell they do it out of kindness.
Another day focused on covering distance. We traveled about 380 kilometers all but about 30 of which was in medium to heavy rain, so it was not a very fun day.
There is not much else to talk about. I picked Beaune as the stopover today as it was a good distance north and a town we had good memories of. It was the place we spent our second night in a RV in France. It is a beautiful town with a lot of interesting historic sites, and great wine.
With the rain the photographer in the family was not motivated to walk into town, so we hunkered down and had a big meal. We have a lot of food to eat in the next few days so we had a big meal and a bottle of wine. I took a quick walk into town but was quickly driven back to François and Ton when another shower came down. The rest of the evening was spent vegging in front of screens watching movies.
We are at a point in the trip where distance traveled in the right direction is more important than where we end up staying. Today we got lucky as we were able to get a good jump in our 4 day journey to Amsterdam, and stop at a place that has been on our list of places we wanted to visit. Avignon is famous for two things in the English speaking world, for about 100 years 7 popes of the Catholic church ruled the church from Avignon instead of Rome. The other is that every French language student learns to sing a children song about the Bridge in Avignon. Ton had told me about the song, and the other night Denise Cook also launched into it when we told her our plans.
We had a quick and easy 4 hour drive to get here, arriving at the municipal campground on an island in the Rhone River right across from the ancient city, and the Pont Saint-Benezat or the Bridge at Avignon just before the staff headed out for lunch.
When we arrived at the campground Ton almost aborted our walk into town. The campground here had a large commercial washer and dryer setup, and one of Tons top to do list items was washing our linen before we left. She wouldn’t agree to go to town until I went and confirmed that the laundry would be open late enough to get our washing done. Once she learned that it was open until 10 pm we were off and heading into town.
Avignon is a fortified city with most of the walls facing the river still intact. It also has a large cathedral and palace befitting its nearly 100 years as the center of the Catholic church. Even after the popes returned to Rome it stayed under Papal control until it was incorporated into France during the French Revolution.
We did a quick walk through town, and then to the Cathedral and the Palace of the Popes. The palace and the Cathedral were impressive, but we found ourselves drawn more to the gardens above the Palace.
By the way, the bridge used to cross the river, but was abandoned in the 1700’s because it kept collapsing when the Rhone flooded. The four arches and the gate house have survived and become the most famous tourist attraction in Avignon because of a children song.
With laundry looming over us we wrapped our quick tour of Avignon and took a small pedestrian ferry across the Rhone to return to the campground. So we are now 320 kilometers closer to Amsterdam, we have seen a town on our list of places to visit in France, and we have nice freshly laundered linen. Today was a pretty fun and productive day.
We were up bright and early as we had a 9:30 appointment at the repair place. It was an easy drive and we arrived to find a real polyglot operation. Initially they greeted us in French based on our plates, when I asked for English the person immediately switched to flawless English. She then got on the radio to have the technician come to the office and spoke what I thought was German to him, but I thought I had misheard and it was probably Catalan, later I learned it was German. The tech and I went out to the car to look at the problem and he was speaking in French until I asked for English, and he said oh good and also switched to flawless English. After a few minutes discussion in English Ton said to me in Thai that she thought he was German based on his accent. It turns out she has a good ear as he was indeed a German who had settled in the area. All of this talk of languages is because the repair itself was quick and easy and took all of 10 minutes. We now have a new latch and light for the refrigerator that seem to be working, as well as an admonishment to put less stuff on the refrigerator door shelves.
On the way to the repair shop, we saw a grocery store advertising the cheapest fuel we have seen in about 3 years. So we stopped and filled François up and probably saved about €20 over what our average fill has been lately. The gas station was attached to a large supermarket, so Ton ran in there for a few minutes while I was filling François. Well a few minutes turned into 45 minutes as we had discovered the largest Catalan owned grocery chain, and it was full of cool and cheap Catalan and Spanish food.
Ton had spotted a seafood restaurant yesterday that she wanted to try if it was open. Yesterday it was closed, but we hoped that was because it was Monday. Unlike the restaurants that are closed for the season, this one still had tables outside, and the inside tables were set with plates so we were optimistic. She even knew what she was going to order. Unfortunately, it wasn’t open. So we tried a Moroccan restaurant just up the street. We enjoyed the food, and the tea, so while disappointed that we didn’t get the seafood we wanted we still had a nice meal.
Every town in Europe now seems to have a little train that you can take to see the sites. We have taken a couple of them over the years. The one in Roses was exceptional as the “Engine” was a big Case or John Deere tractor instead of a little modified truck like most. We had stopped and looked at it yesterday, but there was no one there. Today when we walked by there was someone manning the booth. We were intrigued so we signed up for the one hour Cap De Creus tour.
The tour was mostly thru narrow streets full of vacation homes, and once again I was impressed as the driver navigated this farm tractor pulling two trailers down streets I would have cringed to take François down. The tour was narrated in French, German, and English, but not Spanish or Catalan. When we signed up for the tour they asked where we were from, so I suspect there were no Spanish on the ride today.
We climbed up quite a hill, and then dropped back down towards a less built up area which was part of a Spanish national park. For a short part of the trip we were on dirt roads, which is why they are using the tractor to pull the “train”.
On the tour they mentioned that the full time population of Roses is 20,000, but that during the peak of the summer when all of the hotels and vacation homes are full an additional 120,000 people are in the town! We both agreed that we were glad we were here when the population was closer to 20,000.
Tomorrow we are heading north as we only have 6 days until our flight home. We are planning to cover about 300 kilometers a day, which should put us into Amsterdam with a couple of days to spare. So today was our last day of traveling without a plan, unfortunately.
As much as we liked Perpignan we had to leave today as the campground we were staying at is closing for the season. We looked at our options and everywhere North and East of us had rain. I pointed out to Ton that we were only about 30 minutes from the Spanish border. One of our favorite memories in Spain was a meal we had in Roses, so that’s how we ended up here in the town aire. I told Ton that we should leave early as the recent reviews kept referring to it being sold out. We arrived about 9:30 in the morning after a quick drive down the freeway and claimed a good spot. I went to get rid of some trash around 5pm and they had just sold the 70th and last spot for the night to a RV from Iceland.
Our memory of Roses was of a very lively resort town where we had our first and most memorable Spanish meal about 6 years ago. It was a three course meal with both an aperitif and a glass of wine for €13. We were hoping we would recognize the restaurant and see if we could replicate the meal.
This time instead of a bustling seaside resort with lots of shops and restaurants, we found a bit of a ghost town. Out of season 90% of the hotels and restaurants shut down. We had the beautiful seaside promenade to ourselves most of the way. We found our favorite restaurant but unfortunately it was also closed for the season.
But we did find a restaurant where we could get a three course meal for €17, but this time the wine was extra. But, the meal was wonderful, and Ton was thrilled with her first course which was a giant plate of mussels, and her second course which was a very meaty fish called a monk fish. So Roses continues to meet our expectations for good meals.
We are going to spend another night here in Roses as we have to get a little problem fixed on François before beginning our trek north. A part of the latch on the door to our refrigerator has cracked. The door closes fine, but the door ajar alarm keeps going off because some circuit is not being closed. It is quite annoying to be woken up every few minutes by an alarm, sometimes it goes off continuously and sometimes it will be quiet for a few hours and then suddenly go off for no apparent reason. So tomorrow we are off to try to get it fixed.
While it was clear last night and we were treated to a nice fireworks show over the lake, we woke up cold this morning. For the first time in about 3 trips we turned on the heater when we got up and warmed François up before we got out from under the blankets.
We were both looking forward to Perpignan, so we packed up François pretty early and headed into town. We found a narrow parking spot next to the High School downtown, but I was proud of my ability to squeeze in there and leave enough room for everyone to get around us.
We thought we would start the day at the main market in town which had been renovated recently. Ton thought it would be a proper market with fruit, vegetables, meat, and cheese so we stuck a couple of extra bags in our day pack. When we got there we were greeted by a Starbucks at the entrance and a collection of upscale restaurants including a Thai one. We took a quick pass thru and Ton was very disappointed.
We decided to head towards the main attraction in town which is the Palace of the Kings of Majorca. But, our path was not very direct as Ton really liked the streets and architecture of Perpignan. Every 100 meters or so I would turn around and realize I had lost her as she saw another cool building or street scene she wanted to photograph.
She really liked the town hall and Palace of the Delegation so we spent about 20 minutes looking at them from many different angles. The town hall is from the 1300’s and the Palace of the Delegation is from the 1400’s.
The Town Hall is one of the oldest municipal buildings that has been located in the same site in France. Today it serves as the Wedding Hall as well as a museum. We tentatively stuck our head in and were warmly greeted by a nice lady. After being armed with an English guide we were turned loose.
The wedding hall was very impressive for a municipal building and featured very old furniture and some impressive art. It would be a very nice place to get married.
We were still making our way to the Castle when we came across another municipal building. Again we stuck our heads in to see what it was and were waived in by the guard on duty. I’m not completely sure what this building was, but it had a very impressive stairway and lobby.
After all of our diversions we finally arrived at the Palace of the King of Majorca. In the 1200’s Perpignan was the capital of the Kingdom of Majorca. The palace was completed in the early 1300’s. The Kingdom of Majorca was incorporated into the Kingdom of Aragon in 1349, so its period as the seat of power was short lived.
The Palace is a fortified palace so you enter through a very impressive gate and lengthy tunnel. You come out on top of the first set of walls which contains the gardens for the Palace. The palace itself is also fortified with a gate and a tower.
The palace is really well preserved. The rooms are presented without any replica furniture or any antiquities, but just as they are.
We enjoyed wandering from room to room and taking in the scale of the palace. The literature says it is a gothic style building, but to us we felt a Moorish influence also in some of the windows and arches. This area was never conquered by the Moors, so it may not be true.
While most of the rooms in the palace are unadorned, a few have exhibitions. One had a modern artists work on display, and another had an exhibition on the Garnet jewelry industry that flourished here for nearly 500 years.
The highlight for us was a display in the old kitchen of the palace called the Jardins Enlumines. It was a light display showing life in the area during the height of the Majorcan kingdom.
It was a giant display covering all four walls of the kitchen which is approximately 50X30 feet. Every bit of the wall is covered with different moving figures. It is elaborate, very inventive, and full of small details that are often quite humorous as you follow them from season to season.
We were both entranced by the images. The images start in the spring and cover all four seasons. The images are enhanced with sounds that match what is being shown. I have never seen anything quite like it and I highly recommend you see it if you come to Perpignan.
Ton had one more place she wanted to visit, the Pams mansion. This is a mansion of one of the richest families in Perpignan from the late 1800’s. They made their money making cigarette paper. The mansion is nothing special from the street, but when you enter the door into the courtyard you come into a place of immense wealth.
Every space in the courtyard, main stairway, and entranceway are filled with art. All of the walls are covered with frescoes. I’m not sure about the quality of the art, some of it feels a bit Nouveau Rich to me, but the volume is impressive.
Perpignan wowed us. We had read that it is an underrated city in France, so we had positive expectations, but it exceeded those for me. My only regret is that we were there on a Sunday so all of the shops were closed and the streets were mostly empty. Even so I think Perpignan is one of my favorite cities I have visited in France.
Our original plan was to head to Avignon to look at a bridge. The weather forecast for Avignon was a lot of rain, so Ton went on line and looked at weather and places to see options and landed on Perpignan. Perpignan is only about 30 minutes from the Spanish border and is part of French Catalonia, and most importantly is supposed to have good weather for the next 3 days.
We woke up to the rain that is driving us towards Spain, so we were not in a hurry to get up and get going. Before departing we went over for a final coffee with Fred and Denise. We enjoyed another conversation and after about an hour reluctantly headed down the road. We are going to keep track of their travels and are hoping to find another opportunity to meet them. Our only regret is we did not get a good photo of them and us together.
As we drove down the autoroute the weather was initially pretty bad, but as the forecasters predicted the rain got lighter and lighter until we finally broke into a bright blue sky. We arrived at the campground I had picked out, hoping they were still open. The internet said they were open until the 15th, but I was a little nervous about the accuracy of the information. When we pulled up I was relieved to see they were open. When I checked in and asked for 2 nights the guy at the desk said only two nights as they were closing for the season on Monday. So while the information was not accurate, it was accurate enough for our needs.
We settled in and then took a walk around the reservoir the campground is on. After that Ton prepared a pizza on the stove top using a technique our friend Cory taught us on her boat last year. It was delicious.
We woke up to a very chilly François this morning. The thermometer by the bed said 51 degrees and I was tempted to run the heater for a few minutes, but Ton is made of sterner stuff and told me it was ok. Then just as we began to stir it started raining hard, and did so until about 10 am. So the morning turned into a late breakfast, while Ton stayed tucked up warm in the bed, and I puttered around François.
We finally decided to head into town because Denise and Fred really liked Aigues-Mortes. Before we left we set up a rendezvous with Denise and Fred for lunch. They were going to go into town by bike while we walked the 4 kilometers.
Yesterday I mentioned that Camargue was known for three things, salt, flamingos, and horses. On our walk thru the country we saw all three so we got the full Camargue experience.
The Camargue is heavily influenced by the Rhone river delta, which makes up a good deal of the area. On our walk we saw a lot of canals and dikes to control the water flow from the delta. In addition to horses, flamingos, and salt they also raise cattle and grow rice.
We tried to get a good picture of the flamingos, but they would not cooperate and come close enough. You will have to trust me that we saw them on our walk.
About half way on our walk Denise and Fred passed us by on their bikes which are a much more efficient mode of movement than walking. We agreed to meet at the town gate, and they agreed to scout for a restaurant.
Aigue-Mortes is an old fortress town, and its entire wall is still intact which is unusual. In most cities sections or nearly all of the wall have been removed for modern buildings or to widen roads. In Aigue-Mortes you can walk the entire perimeter of the old town on the walls if you desire.
Fred and Denise met us at the gate, and we headed into a Spanish Steak house. But as the waitress that took our order said, the Spanish has been heavily influenced by French taste. We were very impressed as both Fred and Denise were able to speak French with the staff which certainly sped up the ordering process and generated some good will from the staff. We thoroughly enjoyed our lunch, and before we knew it, it was 3 pm.
We took a quick turn thru town and would have liked to have spent more time there, but with day light savings time the sun is now setting around 5:30. So much earlier than we would have liked we found ourselves hiking back to the aire for the evening.
We have shifted about 200 kilometers west to the Camargue region. The Camargue is famous for three things, salt, horses, and flamingos. But the real reason we are here are to connect with our good friends Fred and Denise Cook who are traveling Europe in their American Expedition Vehicle. It is built on an old Italian Mercedes Firetruck and is an impressive sight. The Virginia plates also catch peoples attention in the Aire. Compared to their truck François looks like a small car.
We arrived at the aire here about 1pm after an easy drive from Toulon. After we got settled in we went over and spent the afternoon and evening sharing tales of travel, and places we have enjoyed visiting. Tomorrow we are going to set out to visit the town, which Denise once spent a few weeks living in as a student.
Our ferry left about 45 minutes late last night, but it was a very rough ride. The wind was still blowing strong, and the sea was very rough. The ferry was about 600 feet long, and even at that length was getting tossed around quite a bit most of the night. We both eventually fell asleep and when we woke in the morning it was much calmer as we put into Toulon.
Toulon is a big city and we arrived at 8am. We were one of the very first vehicles off of the ferry and headed right into downtown Toulon. I was expecting rush hour traffic, but traffic was really light. I finally asked Ton is today a holiday in France? A quick google search confirmed that it was All Saints Day which is a national holiday. So thanking our luck we arrived at our campground less than 30 minutes after rolling off the ferry.
We wanted today to get our laundry done, and give François a good cleaning. While we were waiting for some washers to open up I walked down to the town center. Ton passed on the walk after a long night of being tossed around last night.
I took a quick turn around the waterfront and then headed back to François so we could get our laundry done. After completing our chores we relaxed for the afternoon and began to think about our plans for the next week. Based on weather forecasts we are going to be staying in the south as the weather in Paris and Amsterdam shows 10 straight days of rain.