October 28, 2019 Cinque Terre IT

We had another great day on the Cinque Terre.  We are staying at a basic Sosta run by one of the local ambulance services, so in addition to a bunch of motor homes we are sharing our space with a couple of ambulances.  When the drivers are not out on runs they man the front gate and take payment.  When I went to buy bus tickets into town I tried to do the ordering in Italian (“due persona, biglietta a autobus retorno”) for anyone who speaks Italian you will know that is terrible, but the guy understood and thanked me for trying and then switched to perfect English for the rest of the transaction.

Yesterday we covered the most popular of the three cities on the Cinque Terre, today we planned on covering the last two towns.  After our twenty minute bus ride to the train station in La Spezia we headed out to Corniglia.  It is the least visited town because it does not connect to the ocean, and you have to climb 365 steps to get to the town.  The town is really perched on a promontory overlooking the ocean with great views up and down the coast.  It is also has good views up to the mountains above the coast.  In addition to climbing the steps to town we climbed up above the town into the vineyards that were the primary source of income before tourism took over.  

Corniglia with vineyards terraced on the hills above town.

Our next stop was the town of Manarola.  It is considered by the people who write about the Cinque Terre as the most romantic of the towns.  It consists of one main street running down to a small harbor.  But what makes it romantic are the trails around the town which after a pretty good climb take you thru the vineyards that cascade down the mountainside into the town.  The trail is quite spectacular and you are rewarded for your effort by some great views.

Looking down on Manarola from the vineyards above town.

Having climbed about 770 feet in total between the two towns (if my fitbit is to be believed) we decided to reward ourselves with a nice lunch.  We walked up the road in Manarola scouting for lunch.  Ton would walk up to each restaurant and look at the menu and inspect the food on the tables that the customers were eating.  After a while she pointed at a restaurant and said that is the one.  I noticed that there was a table for two on the second floor balcony and asked one of the waitresses in terrible Italian if we could sit there.  She said of course; and informed the manager/husband that we were going to get those seats (my reward for trying to speak Italian), clearly to his frustration.  It turned into a wonderful meal as we both had great fresh seafood on a balcony overlooking the town.  We shared the balcony with a nice German couple, and inside there was a French tour group who had quite a bit of wine with their lunch, and in the end their Italian tour guide broke into song and the group joined in.  All in all a very memorable lunch.

The rail station at Corniglia looking down from the top of the 365 steps.  The rail line connecting the 5 towns is more or less continuous tunnel, with the tracks only emerging at each town.  Manarola is the town you can see in the upper right of the picture.

Our final plan for the day was to walk from Manarola to Riomagiore but unfortunately the trail was closed.  So instead we headed back to La Spezia.  Ton says I owe her a massage for making her climb 770 feet today, but I think most of the climbing was her idea.

October 27, 2019 Cinque Terre IT

Todays trip was driven by the weather.  So far the weather has been spectacular, the one day it did rain it was nice enough to do it during the night and by morning the sun was out again.  But our good luck is changing and we are supposed to get a week of rain, starting tomorrow night.

One of Ton’s bucket list items on this trip was the Cinque Terre.  This location is really weather dependent, and since today was the last guaranteed good day for a while we decided to head over from Florence.  We will end up heading back into Tuscany for a more extended visit once we are done here.

One of the pastel colored villages in the Cinque Terre.

We were up bright and early, and it turns out today was the day Europe Falls Back from Daylight savings time.  With our early start we covered the 140km’s to La Spezia quickly and arrived at the Sosta on the outskirts of La Spezia at 9am.  After a quick breakfast it was off to the train station to buy our two day Cinque Terre pass.

The Cinque Terre is a series of 5 coastal villages carved into the sides of cliffs along the Ligurian Sea.  They are part of an Italian National Park as well as UNESCO Heritage sites.  While they are difficult to reach by road, the Italian Railway has carved tracks that connect them all.  This is by far the best way to explore the Cinque Terre.  A two day pass is only €27 per person and allows unlimited trips on the line between La Spezia and the five towns (it also includes free access to the walking trails between the towns, and the bathrooms in the train stations!).

One of the UNESCO listed villages on the Cinque Terre.

As today was the only guaranteed good day we picked the three largest villages, Riomagiorre, Vernazza, and Monterosso.  They are all in spectacular settings with small harbors at the bottom of steep roads leading to the ocean.  

We started the day in Riomagiorre and as we got off the train we heard a lot of Thai being spoken all around us.  It turns out we had stumbled into a tour of about 25 Thai.  We listened into the guide for a while until he caught on and we introduced ourselves.  He thought it was funny.

The harbor in Riomagiorre.

Monterosso is the largest of the towns and has the largest of the harbors but probably the least spectacular setting.  I was a little disappointed when I saw a big parking lot on the edge of town with about 20 RV’s parked in it.  It turns out this is the one place you can camp in the Cinque Terre.  I missed it in my app because it was listed as parking and not a Sosta.  In Italy I am not looking at parking areas like I have in France and Germany as places to stay only Sostas and Campgrounds.

The beach at Monterosso.

Vernazza is the smallest of the towns we visited today and is considered by most people to be the prettiest of the towns.  It only has one main road that leads down to a small harbor.  As you walk down to the harbor you see pictures of a massive flash flood that shot down the road in 2011.  After walking around town we headed up on to one of the trails that connect all of the towns on the Cinque Terre.  We wandered up there by accident but the view was so good we kept going.  At one point Ton was shooting some pictures when she overheard 4 Thai taking turns taking pictures of each other, she could not resist and asked if they wanted a picture of all 4 of them.  They reciprocated by taking pictures of us.

The hiking trail between Vernazza and Monterosso, it is steep in this stretch, there are vineyards on the right behind the fence.

October 18, 2019 Amalfi Coast IT

Yesterday was a bucket list item for me, and today was a bucket list item for Ton.  Before every trip Ton gives me some places we must see, and we took care of one of them today, visiting the Amalfi Coast.  

One of the many stunning views on the Amalfi coast.

The Amalfi Coast is a spectacular 40km stretch of road strung along a peninsula.  The road is carved in cliff side, and the views are spectacular.  Part of the fun is watching the drivers deal with the hundreds of switchbacks on what is effectively 1 and 3/4 American lanes.  RV’s are forbidden which allowed me to enjoy the views and the chaos on the road as a spectator.  It was worth every dollar we paid to not be driving.  

A relatively straight section of the road, of course we are on the same road looking across at that stretch.

To give an example of Italian driving from today.  Our driver did not speak English.  At one point we were crossing a bridge and I saw a little village and harbor tucked under the bridge and pointed to get Ton’s attention.  Next thing I know the driver pulled over into the on coming lane (there were cars coming), threw the van in reverse, and backed to the middle of the bridge where he parked, turned around and looked at the 5 of us in the back seat and said “Picture”?  The five of us looked at each other and said why not? So we got out of the car while cars going in both directions dodged around us and the van.  The funny thing is this did not seem to faze any of the Italians in the other cars, vans and busses in the least, they all just shrugged and maneuvered around us like it was perfectly reasonable to stop in the wrong lane of a narrow two lane bridge to snap a few pictures.

The view from the bridge.

Our tour included  three towns and a tourist attraction.  The first town we saw was Positano which is the jewel of the Amalfi.  Steinbeck wrote a short story about it, and it has been featured in several movies.  It is a beautiful sea front with the town flowing up the cliffs.  Tourism is the main, (possibly only) industry in the town now, but the setting makes it worth dealing with all of the people.

Positano as we are dropping in on the road.
The harbor in Positano with ferries and tour boats coming and going.

The next stop was at a tourist attraction called The Grotto.  There were six of us on the tour, two other Americans, and a French couple.  None of us were quite sure what we were getting into, but it turned out to be a short tour of a pretty underwater cave.  

The light for the Grotto comes from an underwater entrance to the cave.  It is natural.

We next stopped at the largest city and the namesake of the Amalfi Coast, Amalfi.  In many ways it felt a lot like Positano.  A small harbor leading to another town carved from cliffs.  Amalfi did have a really beautiful cathedral though we decided to pass on the interior as we are getting a little jaded about cathedrals.

The exterior of the cathedral in Amalfi is really spectacular.

The final town for the day was Ravello which was up in the mountains of the Amalfi away from the sea. It was clearly the most prosperous of the towns, and looked like it dealt with a higher end clientele than the other two towns. 

Ravello way up in the mountains of the Amalfi coast.

We enjoyed poking around in a ceramic store with the French couple.  At the beginning of the day they were pretty quiet as neither one speaks English.  But by the end of the day we had a fun time communicating with them using broken English, broken French, broken Italian, sign language and smiles and laughter.  They have been traveling extensively and it is a shame we cannot communicate better as Ton and I would love to talk to them about their travels in Morocco and Greece.

This is the high end ceramic shop in Ravello, some of it’s clients include Mark Rufallo (the Hulk), Steven Tyler (from Aerosmith), Mariano Rivera (NY Yankees), and Rod Stewart (the singer). 

October 14, 2019 Taormina IT

Taormina was on Ton’s must see list today.   I made a scouting run down to the terminal to discover the best way to Taormina.  Option 1 was a hop on hop off bus that gave us use of the tourist bus and the regular bus for €14 each or take a regular bus for €3.  We were torn about what to do, and still had not made up our mind when we got to the terminal.  We finally chose the regular bus, but after we bought the ticket the cashier who must have heard our debate, asked the Hop on Hop off bus driver to let us ride to Taormina, so we ended up with the best of both worlds.  This good samaritan was the same guy who had rebuffed my earlier attempt to ask him about the bus to Taormina in Italian, with a gruff “What do you want?” in English.  

Taormina is the town between the two high points of land.

Taormina has been a town since the ancient Greeks, and it is really a spectacular site on a large bluff overlooking the harbor at Giardini-Naxos.  We were dropped off at a nondescript bus terminal, but as soon as we began hiking up the road to the town the views were spectacular.  As we got closer to the town center we both became more charmed.  Despite the fact that Taormina is definitely on the tourist trail, complete with all of the brand name stores lining its main street, it still had a spirit that we both really enjoyed.  

The main road in Taormina lined with big brand shops, but still beautiful.

The town meanders up and down hill.  The main road is wide and flat, but all of the roads off of it are either up or down and quite narrow, which adds to the atmosphere.  Off of the main road the shops were run by locals who were very friendly without being pushy.  Ton had picked out two potential restaurants for lunch, but one had gone out of business, and the other was not open.  Just down the street was a cheese store that advertised lunch and we were both drawn to it.  We went inside to take a look and saw a restaurant in the back.  We asked the lady at the counter if they served lunch and she said yes in an hour, would we like a reservation.  Something I have learned is that in romance languages my short name “Ron” (in Spanish it means Rum) is perplexing, so when she acted confused about my name I switched it to Ronaldo, she immediately connected the dots and had a good laugh with one of the customers.

Typical side “road” in Taormina.

Having an hour to kill we decided to head up to the Greek Theater which is the big attraction in town.  When we got there it was €10 to get in, and since we have seen a lot of antiquity sites on this trip decided to pass.  We still had time to kill so we went to the municipal park and sat down on a park bench to enjoy the views.

The view from our park bench in Taormina.

The lunch at the cheese shop was superb.  We opted for a Sicilian food and wine tasting.  It consisted of three wines, and a plate of cheeses, meats, and grilled vegetables.  We have had a lot of good meals on our trips in Europe, but we both agreed that so far this is the best.  The food and wine while simple was fresh and delicious.  The service of the husband and wife was great and they enjoyed explaining the food and wine to us.  They were clearly proud of their Sicilian heritage and happy to share it with us.  At the end neither of us could bring ourselves to leave so we stalled with a coffee, and an aperitif.  Ton was tempted to return for dinner, but they were full, though we could tell if we pushed and had some flexibility they would have found a way to accommodate us.  We rarely mention places by name but if you are ever in town do not miss La Bottega Del Formaggio.

I really enjoyed this meal much more than my expression shows!

October 8, 2019 St. Tropez FR

Today François stayed in place while we visited the neighboring city of St. Tropez.  It was a short bus ride to St. Tropez, but it was a change from middle class to uber rich.  Port Grimaud is a pretty city on the same bay as St. Tropez, but while prosperous it features 40 foot boats and nice condos.  5km’s away St.Tropez features 100 foot plus yachts, and helicopters scurrying over carrying their owners to their estates.

We can see why St. Tropez is such a hit with the jet setters as the climate and the setting is spectacular.  The water in the bay is crystal clear and generally calm.  It became one of the “it” places in the world largely because of Brigitte Bardot in the 1960’s.  Several of her famous movies were filmed in this area and put St. Tropez on the map.  It is a pretty little town with lots of restaurants and high end shops lining the waterfront.  There are a lot of people walking up and down the harbor gawking at the yachts.  The actual uber rich were out of site or blending in with the crowds.

The harbor in St. Tropez with some of the smaller yachts.

Ton had two things she wanted to accomplish;  she wanted to visit the road named after one of her favorite authors Antoine de Saint-Exupèry, and to take a picture of a statue of Brigitte that is in town.  After we walked thru the town we headed out to find the road dedicated to Antoine. He was Ton’s favorite author when she was studying French.  The Little Prince is his most famous work.  Antoine was a true renaissance man as in addition to being a great writer he was also an early aviator and explorer.  It is located next to the old fort on the hill above town and had a great view of the town and the bay.  We both find that we find small connections to our youth by exploring these towns and it adds some fun to the trip.

The signpost for Antoine de Saint-Exupèry, with a holder for his fans to leave flowers.

After our walk around town and up to the fort we were hungry.  Ton had two restaurants on her list, but one had gone out of business, and the other was closed, and as we were running out of time for lunch we popped into a Thai restaurant.  This was our first Thai restaurant in Europe and we left a little disappointed.

Where we should have had lunch.

The final stop for the day was to be a statue to Brigitte Bardot, but after walking the streets looking for it (including seeing several French restaurants that only added to our disappointment with lunch), we came to the statue of Brigitte and had a good laugh.  When we first got off the bus we walked thru a little square with a cute statue of a women nude, and Ton took several pictures of it as she really liked it.  It turns out this was the famous Brigitte statue that we were looking for.  Brigitte while long retired still lives in St. Tropez.

The statue of Brigitte Bardot who helped put St. Tropez on the map.

Since we were next to the bus station we headed back to the campground for a light dinner and a walk along the beach at sunset.

St. Tropez is full of art galleries. Some of the artists looked quite talented.

May 27, 2019 Bamberg GE

When you are traveling from campground to parking lot to campground you start to appreciate the little things.  This campground has absolutely the best showers we have ever seen in a campground and would rival most luxury hotels.  Ton and I have been really taking long luxurious showers the last two days.

Ton liked this sculpture in downtown Bamberg.

We had a low key pub crawl today.  We stopped in 4 breweries/beer halls and craft brew store for one of the largest suppliers of beer malt in the world.  We enjoyed the breweries, and did not enjoy the malt company craft beer store due to poor service.

These wrought iron signs have been common everywhere in Germany, this one is for a brewery.

At the second of our brewery stops we saw another couple sitting at a table with no beer.  At a lot of the beer halls they do not serve you at the table, instead you go to a window by the bar and order your beer.  We heard them speaking English so we explained the process to them.  We ended up chatting with them while we enjoyed our beer.  

The beer tender at the beer garden.  Frequently in Germany the beer is piped directly from the brewery to the taps.

They had lived in Beaverton Oregon for a while before retiring in Florida so we had a nice chat about traveling.  Eventually we parted ways to head out on different beer agendas.  A couple hours later we were sitting in our 3rd brewery when we saw them walk in.  We ended up spending the next couple of hours with them as they planned to visit the same breweries we had picked.  They had lived in Germany in the past and gave us some good tips on other good beer towns though they did admit that Bamberg was their favorite beer town Germany.

Number 3 of our brewery crawl.

It was a fun day with lots of good German beer; our faith in German beer and creativity is restored after today.  Ton thought I was a little harsh on Würzburg the other day, she thought the scene on the bridge was fun and that my expectations were too high .  

Number 4 (6 if you count the two yesterday)and the best of our brewery crawl of Bamberg.

May 26, 2019 Bamberg GE

Had a rushed start to the day.  Part of our daily routine is for me to get up and make a cup of coffee.  When that is done I take a short walk so Ton can have some privacy while she gets dressed and makes herself beautiful.  This morning as I was leaving the parking lot we spent the night in I realized that a bunch of people in yellow vests were taping off the entrance to the parking lot and the entrance road.  I finally understood that the Würzburg Marathon was going to run right thru the parking lot we were in, so I rushed back to François and hurried Ton to get dressed before we were blocked in for the day.

As we were getting ready to set off we had to decide where to head for the day.  We have been having an ongoing debate about whether to go to Nuremberg.  We have read great things about it, but it is a pretty big city, and the options for parking François were pretty unappealing.  We had continued the debate last night without coming to a decision whether to go to Nuremberg and then Bamberg, or straight to Bamberg.  As we were getting ready to roll I asked Ton, and she said Bamberg much to my relief.

The old mill in Bamberg on the Regnitz River.

Bamberg is another World Heritage Site, with the bonus of reportedly having the most breweries per person in the world.  Bamberg was a must see for us.  Because of our early start, and allowing Greta Garmin to use the Autobahn we arrived in Bamberg before 10am.

The Rathaus (Town Hall) in Bamberg, the story is that the town would not provide land for the Rathaus so the Mayor built it in the river.

We have been struggling with Germany a bit.  The cities are pretty, clean, and well organized.  The people have been universally helpful and nice.  But for us it has been less sanuk (for non-Thai’s a word that speaks to a feeling of fun, and spontaneity) than either Spain or France.  As an example last night at the bridge had the feeling of sanuk right up to sunset when everyone packed up and left at once.  On top of that; the beer (and this will sound heretical to many) has been mediocre since Munich.  In Germany’s defense the weather has not been helpful with days and days of cold and rain.   Last night we talked of heading to Poland and cutting Germany short.

The party on the bridge in Würzburg, 30 minutes later it was done.

But Bamberg does have all of the things that we have been looking for.  The town is really pretty and easy to move around.  The tourist information offered a beer map with 65 breweries listed in English.  

One of the 65 Breweries in Bamberg.

They even have a coupon book that allows you to visit different breweries and get their house choice beer.  We tried two today, and they were really good beers restoring our faith in German beer  The sun was out and we enjoyed walking around and people watching.  We even found some more Thai to talk to on the street.  There have been a lot more Thai in Germany than in France or Spain.

That’s what I am talking about.

Every place we sat down someone tried to engage us in conversation which was really nice.  When we got back to the campground we extended our stay for another day to check out some other breweries that the locals told us about.

Another view of the Rathouse in Bamberg one of my favorite buildings so far in Germany.

May 23, 2019 Dinkelsbuhl GE

We slept well with a natural white noise machine going all night in the form of the Lech River running at near flood stage behind us.  The plan for the day was to follow the Romantic Road further north to a town called Rothenburg.

The Romantic Road is quite pretty but it reminded us of hundreds of miles of roads in France without the marketing.  As we were driving we could see some flooding from the weather over the past few days.  

Ton mentioned that she wanted to stop at a town called Dinkelsbuhl before we got to Rothenburg.  I pulled into the parking for RV’s and was checking the pay machine to see how much it would cost for a couple of hours.  I noticed the cost for a night was only €6 so I went back and asked Ton how nice was this town supposed to be?  We went back and forth for a few minutes when a German couple came over having noticed the French plates and thinking we could not figure the machine out, we told them our dilemma.  They were adamant that we should spend the night here as it was cheaper and the town was really special.

The view from our parking lot.

Dinkelsbuhl turned out to be a gem.  It is a walled town with many of its towers still preserved.  

One of the 18 towers still in place in Dinkelsbuhl.  Some of them looked like they were private residences.

It is just big enough to have a lot of interesting things to see, but small enough to manage on foot.  It is very well preserved, but still feels lived in.  

This is the view as you enter the town thru one of the gates in the wall.

It really helps that the sun was out today, and for the first time in about a week we did not need to be in rain gear, or to have it in our bag on standby.  We took advantage of the good weather to sit in a beer garden and try a couple of the local beers.  

We have not seen any storks since Alsace.  There were several pairs here.
Ton really liked the logo of the brewery today.
The recording session we were allowed to observe for a few minutes.

We finally headed back for a relaxing dinner, Ton really made a nice chicken and spatzle dish.  She is really doing a great job mixing German, Thai, and American cuisines.   The day ended with a quick run thru an Edeka to make sure we have the refrigerator full for the next stop.  Once again the flexibility of not having reservations and our own house on wheels allowed us to make a new exciting discovery.

May 6, 2019 Eguisheim FR

Today we shifted a whopping 10km’s to Colmar.  We did make a side trip to another Alsatian town on the way to Colmar.  

We both woke up about 5 am smelling smoke.  I lay there wondering if something was burning when Ton also woke up and asked if we were on fire.  This motivated me to get up and check to see if anything was burning in François.  It turns out that we were not on fire, but the smoke from the wood fires in the town next to us had settled into the little valley the campground was in.  Once we determined we were safe we went back to sleep for a couple of hours.

We finally got on the road to our primary target for the day a town called Eguisheim.  In 2013 it was voted the most beautiful village in France.  I had punched in a free parking site on the soccer field, but when we got there the town had blocked access due to all of the rain, so we headed over to the municipal parking.  The parking was brand new and high tech with bar code readers, but the area designated for RV’s cost €6 for 4 hours.  It seemed excessive but I didn’t see any other options, so I gnashed my teeth and ponied up.

The most beautiful village in France in 2013 is full of wineries of course.

Eguisheim is indeed a lovely village.  Originally a double walled village.  It is built in a circle which is unusual in France.  We walked the space between the two original walls, over time when security became less of an issue the space between the two walls was built up with homes and work spaces.  These half timbered buildings are really well preserved.  The colorful paint is from the 20th century.  Up until then the buildings were earth toned.  We had a great walk enjoying the variety of buildings.

The road between the two walls .  The houses on the left are built into the old outer wall.  The houses on the right are between the outer and inner walls.
Another view of the circular road around town.

Many of the towns we have visited in the last few days still have Easter ornaments up.  Apparently the Easter Bunny is a big deal, and in addition to a lot of bunnies the French decorate trees and bushes with colored Easter eggs. The displays remind us of the Christmas and Halloween displays we see at home.

Easter bunnies overlooking the entrance to a winery.
Not an Easter theme, but a home with nice decorations,

As we were wrapping up the walk thru town we came around a corner to finds a very imposing man dressed in medieval clothes and doing a vigorous sword dance.  It turns out he was the owner of a coffee shop who had no customers so he was filming himself in the ally.  We decided we would have a coffee.  He was an interesting character, originally from Germany, I asked him if it was a traditional dance, he said “nah, I just make it up as I go, maybe in 100 years it will become a traditional Alsatian sword dance.”

Our final stop for the day was at a nice winery recommended by the sword dancer.  

As we went to pull out of our expensive parking I inserted the barcode paper I was given when I purchased the ticket to the machine that controlled the gate.  It said reading and then did nothing, I repeated this several times without the gate opening.  Finally I got out and tried several more times figuring it might work if I was standing next to it looking irritated.  As I was about to give up and go looking for help, a guy in a parking attendants uniform walked up and took the paper, he tried a couple of times, then punched my code into his electronic device to make sure I was not trying to get away with something.  He finally started muttering about technology in French while he worked on getting the gate to open, it finally did and with a Voila and an apology we were on our way to Colmar.

May 5, 2019 Riquewihr FR

The weather had gotten a little better overnight after heavy rain as we fell asleep.  While it was still pretty cold and cloudy it was not raining.  Today we visited Riquewihr and Ribeauville.  They are both listed as must see villages in Alsace.  

The first stop was Riquewihr as we could walk there from our campground.  As we were walking into town Ton stopped me and pointed at what I thought was a wineshop. It turns out she had read about this excellent microbrewery in Ribeauville and we had found it.  We went in sampled their IPA and a Belgian Dark.  Both were excellent.  Refreshed, we headed into town.  The town was as beautiful as the guidebooks suggested, but very tourist oriented.  

The entry into Riquewihr.

As we were walking up and down the streets we saw a large group of Asian tourists and presumed they were Chinese.  It turns out they were Thai.  After spending a couple of hours in town Ton had killed the battery on her iPhone taking pictures so we decided to head back to François for lunch and to charge her phone.

After lunch we headed over to Ribeauville.  It was a short drive over in François.  Ribeauville was supposed to be larger but less picturesque than Riquewihr according to both of our guidebooks.  Since it was Sunday the parking was easy.  Our first site on entering the town were two storks nesting on a large timber building.

Storks are a big thing in Alsace.  They build these stork nest platforms in towns and fields to keep the storks from nesting on chimneys and utility poles.
Ribeauville is in a valley surrounded by vineyards with three castles overlooking it.  The combination of colorful timbered houses, the vineyards and the castles make for some great views. 

In fact despite the guidebooks Ton and I liked Ribeauville a little better.  It had more of the timbered homes, and it felt less like a tourist town and more like a real town that had great views.

A collection of half timbered buildings from Riquewihr and Ribeauville.

As we were walking thru town we came on a different group of Asian tourists, and much to our surprise they were also Thai.  It is a rare day when the only Asian tourists you meet in France, are Thai.  This time I could not resist and one of the Thai couples were taking turns turns taking pictures of each other so I asked them in Thai if they wanted me to take their picture.  They were pretty startled to have a pharang (white guy in Thai) speaking Thai to them.

This little guy was in the field next to where we parked François, who can resist a cute lamb.

May 3, 2019 Essoyes FR

The main goal for us today was to visit the village of Essoyes.  Essoyes is famous as the summer home of Renoir.  He did a lot of his later paintings there, as he spent a lot of senior age years there.  

Last night we parked up on a winery in the area owned by the Lameroux’s.  It was a nice parking spot for up to six campers including water, and a dump.  We walked down to the winery when we arrived to check if it was ok to park.  The wife of the owner met us and she did not speak any English, we managed to mime that we were in the camper aire, and she said good.  We decided against a tasting and she looked relieved.  This morning as we were pulling out her husband happened to be pulling into work.  He stopped and thanked us for staying and invited us back if we were ever in the area, and you could tell it was heartfelt.  Our experience in Les Riceys was really exceptional, and if an area ever motivated me to learn French it was here, as the people were fantastic.

The road from Les Riceys to Essoyes is on the Champagne tourist route.

The drive over to Essoyes was short, and we parked up next to a new museum for Renoir.  In fact it was so new that the main exhibitions were not open yet. The museum included a video presentation about Renoir’s life in Essoyes.  It was quite well done and helped us understand the rest of the tour.  We followed the walking tour thru the village, and as we approached his home we realized we were going to run into lunch.  We went in and did a quick tour, but decided to come back for a more extensive tour after lunch. We saw one of the curators and tried to ask in broken French if we could return after lunch, and he smiled and with a proper English accent said of course.  Later we learned he was from the south of England.

The River Ounce as it cuts thru Essoyes.
The same view as painted by Renoir.

The home Renoir lived in was exceptionally well restored and supported by one of Renoir’s great granddaughters so a lot of the furniture is family heirlooms.  Essoyes is a beautiful village, and if you like impressionists and particularly Renoir it is worth seeking out.

The living room in Renoir’s home.
The actual bed that Renoir used, he preferred simple country style furnishings.
Another Renoir to finish the day.

It was still pretty early when we were done so we decided to keep heading east.  We picked out the town of Contrexeville in the Vosges as it was generally in the right direction and had a couple of parking options.  The GPS said it was 130km so we figured about 2 hours.  The GPS had lately been picking pretty good roads where the speed between towns is about 80kph (50 mph), and most towns were bypassed.  Today she decided to send us down little D roads where top speed is about 65kph (40mph), but there are lots of little villages where you are creeping thru at 30kph.  Our two hour drive turned into 3 hours.  We did not mind that much as the countryside was really beautiful, and the roads were nearly empty.

A typical view on our drive today.

Contrexeville is a spa town with a small Casino.  They are trying to develop some tourism, but the Vosges do not seem to be attracting a lot of tourism.  The campground tonight is really nice and an incredible bargain at €11.

Ton likes sheep almost as much as she likes cows.  When we crossed over to look at them they were a couple hundred yards away, they all came trotting over to check us out. The Rue de September 11 commemorates the day the town was liberated from the Germans in WWII.

November 2, 2018 Noyers FR

As the trip is winding down we are less focused on seeing things and more focused on moving in the right direction.  Now we are not googling good places to visit, but where are laundromats, and car washes in Sens.  

Today though we decided to make a couple of stops, the first was Vezeley and the second was Noyers.  We miscalculated the time it would take to cover the 200km’s as the GPS after behaving itself for the whole trip decided to send us on a 80km adventure along one and one and a half lane D roads which slowed us down considerably.  Having said that the leaves are turning here and we did see some really beautiful countryside. 

One of the roads the GPS sent us down, luckily we did not run into anyone.

When we arrived at Vezaley we pulled up in the parking lot and both of us realized we had stopped here in the spring.  It is a beautiful place but it was getting late, so we decided to head to Noyers.  It was a good decision.

Fall colors.

We arrived in Noyers about 4pm and it made a good first impression.  We quickly got our warm clothes on as it is quite cold and spitting rain on and off.   The town is one of the best collections of half-timbered buildings we have seen in France, and has an air of pride and history that made us like it quite a lot. Ton saw a patissiery and decided she wanted an eclair, but after we bought it we realized it was something else, but never the less delicious.

A courtyard of half timbered buildings in various states of restoration.
Two more examples of half timbered buildings.
A nice window surrounded by vines.

We ended the day in the gothic church at sunset and the stained glass windows were perfectly illuminated by the setting sun.  We are really looking forward to a walk in the morning, and the sun is supposed to be out then.  Right now the church bells are pealing and it is drizzling on the roof of François.  Tonight we are going to give François’ heating system a test as it is supposed to get down to freezing here.  

Stained glass at sunset.

October 7, 2018 Elciego SP

We are in Rioja country.  The plan for the day was to drive to the fortified town of Laguardia which is famous for its cave bodegas (wine cellars).  Ron did his normal research on where to stay for the night and found the location for an aire that he thought was in Laguardia.  After punching in the GPS coordinates we had a very pleasant drive of about 1 1/2 hours to the aire.  After parking we headed into town to look for a particular bodega (winery).  After wandering around the little village (which was quite nice) and some head scratching Ron realized we were one town short and not in Laguardia but Elciego.

In addition to wine the area is famous for peppers.  Any area that has good peppers is good with Ton.

We headed back to the aire and drove the 5km to Laguardia.  The town was humming with all of the local families coming into town for Sunday.  We finally found a place to park on the shoulder of the main road and headed into town.  Laguardia is a “puebla bonita” of Spain.  It is a hilltop fortified town surrounded by vineyards.  There was a concert going on in the main square and people socializing at all of the bars and restaurants.  We popped into the tourist office to ask a couple of questions.  She gave us the information we were looking for but than told us that as it was Sunday everyone but the restaurants was closing at 2pm for the day.  Ton and I took a pass thru town and decided it was worth coming back when everything was open, so we will return tomorrow.

When we pulled into Laguardia Ron thought there must be an event, but it was just a typical Sunday.
The clock tower with Basque Dancers.

In the end we decided to return to the aire in Elciego. The tourist information in Laguardia told us we were welcome to sleep in two of the town parking lots, but they were jammed.  Elciego is another wine centered village and has a fantastic hotel, winery, restaurant in it.  The Hotel Marques de Riscal is designed by the American architect Frank Gehry.  It really is an interesting building though you can debate whether it fits the terroir of the area.  At first Ron did not like it but it grew on him after we took a walk down to take a look at it and the surrounding vineyards.

The Hotel Marques De Riscal is quite arresting. Off season rate for rooms was €400. 
It is also harvest time here and the town was buzzing with tractors running thru town with grapes loaded on them.
These are wild grapes growing by the road.

April 28, 2018 Merry-sur-Yonne FR

Our night in the car park at Flavigny was uneventful, except after the warm nights in Provence it was quite chilly back in Burgundy.  When we woke up and got going Ton decided that the candy tins at the factory here in Flavigny would be great gifts so we needed to kill time until it opened at 930.  

Ton remembered there were some spectacular canola fields as we came into town.  We decided to take a short walk up to get a closer look.  It was a nice walk and we enjoyed being out in the quiet French countryside. 

Ton in front of a huge field of Canola.  This is the last canola photo, we promise.

After completing our purchase at the candy factory we headed over to the town of Vezelay.  It is another one of the most beautiful villages in France.  We were back on D roads of Burgundy.  The countryside in Burgundy is definitely much quieter than the countryside in Provence, so the drives are a lot more enjoyable and the scenery is terrific.  

A town in Burgundy.  The roads in Burgundy are much quieter than in Provence.

Several people we had met on the trip said that Vezalay was a town not to miss.  It is another of the most beautiful villages in France, and as you drive towards the town it is quite striking.  The weather has taken a turn for the worst with temperatures in the 50’s and on again, off again rain.  But we caught a gap while we walked up the hill to Vezelay’s Cathedral.  The town was interesting and pretty but once again felt touristy, especially compared to Flavigny.  While we were in the cathedral a mass started with about 15 nuns coming out to join the mass.  

The Cathedral in Vezelay.  It is a very striking white color, and interesting because it has less art in place than other Cathedral’s we have visited.

The last stop of the day was at Merry-Sur-Yonne which has a nice ring to it.  The campground here is first class, and the bridge into the small village over the river Yonne is quite pretty.  Ton has declared it the nicest campground she has been in, though we both did grumble a little about paying €19 after several nights of free or nearly free camping.  However, the warm reception from the British owner, warm unlimited showers and the electricity have reduced the grumbling.  At the end of the day we walked down to the Yonne River and had a quiet end to our day.

The bridge over the Yonne River near our campground.

April 27, 2018 Flavigny-sur-Ozerin FR

Today we had to bite the bullet and do some freeway travel.  We needed to get north so we can be in position to turn François in on Monday.  So we put 300km’s under our belt in one long leap.  We choose the town of Flavigny-Sur-Ozerain as it was the site where one of Ton’s favorite movies was filmed, Chocolat with Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche.  It is also on the list of one of the most beautiful villages in France.  

A street scene from Flavigny, one of the most beautiful villages in France.

The trip north on the Autoroute was uneventful even though the GPS insisted on routing us right thru the heart of Lyon (France’s second biggest city) instead of taking the bypass that all of the trucks did.  However, traffic was not too bad so Ron forgave her and we did get to see Lyon at 70kph.

Since we last left Burgundy the canola has really grown.

We arrived in Flavigny around 2pm and found it quite peaceful.  Our first stop was a candy factory in an old Abby that has been producing Anis based candies since 1591.  After some sampling of the wares again we purchased some tins of the candy.    

A cool Renault RV with the logo of the candy factory we visited today.

All of the other most beautiful villages felt a little commercial, Flavigny most definitely did not.  We spent about 20 minutes looking for the tourist information office when we realized we had walked past it twice before noticing the sign in the window saying it was closed until July.  We wanted the tourist information office to see if it would be all right to spend the night in their parking lot. After walking around the town for a couple of hours and enjoying an afternoon coffee and beer,   we finally decided on our own that it was ok to park as there was no police in the town to ask.  Right now we have finished our dinner and are enjoying some wine in a very peaceful and serene parking lot, with birds chirping in the background.  

Ron at one of the medieval gates to the city of Flavigny.

April 25, 2018 Chateauneuf du Pape FR

The plan for today was to visit Roussillon which is another one of the most beautiful villages in France, but we also had to find a place to dump our tanks, add water, and we needed to get some propane.  Depending on when we had accomplished all of those things we would decide on the next step for the day.

We were up bright and early, so we headed over to Roussillon and were amongst the first arrivals of the day.  Roussillon is famous in France for it’s red earth.  It is another pretty village and very upscale, in fact Bradjelina (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie) had their French house here.  It was once again nice and worth a visit, but frankly the most interesting thing was watching a truck driver maneuver a large delivery truck down a street with literally inches to spare on each side while shop keepers were pulling in awnings, and moving flower pots out of the way.  French truck drivers really earn their living here on these narrow streets and roads.

The buildings in Roussillon all have this red tint to them from the surrounding earth.  

We have been trying to visit an olive oil factory for about a week and thought we had found one on the way out of Rousillon.  After Ron and the GPS had several arguements about the best way we finally arrived at an olive oil factory quite near to where we spent the night.  It was one of our disappointments of the trip.  The staff was not very helpful, and the promised tour did not exist, so after a short walk thru we were out to François and deciding on our next step.

During the drive we passed thru a nice canyon between Gordes and Orange.

Ron found a winery in the Chateauneuf du Pape area that was a French Passion site, and we decided to see if we could stay there.  French Passion sites are provided with our rental, and are wineries and farms throughout France that let you stay on their property for “free” if you are a member.  The catch is that you are highly encouraged to sample their product.  In the case of our stay tonight for roughly the cost of a normal campground we purchased two very nice bottles of wine, and got to enjoy a beautiful warm  evening on a very peaceful winery in Provence.  It is worth every penny.

Some of the vineyard at Chateau Cabrieres.  If you look carefully you will see the incredible amount of stones in the vineyards.  This apparently is what makes Chateauneuf du Pape wines famous.

April 24, 2018 Gordes FR

Today we headed towards another one of the most beautiful villages in France.  Gordes is considered a must see stop in Provence by most of the travel writers.  

After an uneventful drive including a stop at a grocery store to replenish some critical items, and wine.  We headed up to Gordes.  As advertised it is quite striking, but has definitely been discovered by the rich and famous.  A lot of the old farm houses have undergone renovation to make them appropriately comfortable for the well off.  Ron was looking at a listing of homes for sale, and they were running 1.2 to 2.5 million Euro.  As we walked into town we passed a beautiful 5 star hotel that we later checked  and found out rooms could be had for around $500 per night.  

The view of Gordes as you approach on the main road.  The white umbrellas are the $500 per night hotel.

Having said that I can see why people are willing to spend that kind of money for Gordes. It really is striking and the town has an old world feel that is pretty magical.  We arrived just as the weekly market was packing up for the day.  We really enjoyed poking around town, and the views were worth the walk.  At the end we ducked into a coffee shop for a beer and a coffee and sat on a balcony about 100 feet above a gorge. We were really enjoying it until a couple of groups sat down next to us and about 5 people simultaneously lit up cigarettes.  There is a lot I like about the culture here and one of them is the abundance of outside dining, unfortunately smoking is still allowed in the outside dining, so Ton and I normally find ourselves inside to avoid the smoke.

A sample of the “roads” in Gordes.

We walked back to François for the night and enjoyed our free aire.  Tonight our neighbors are mostly British, and we had a nice conversation with a couple from Birmingham.  

Ton really liked these stone fences with the tops of stones set on end.  This one was near our aire for the night.

April 14, 2018 Salers FR

The plan today was to hit two villages in the Cantal region of France.  Cantal is famous for it’s cheese and the ruggedness of it’s mountains.  We experienced the ruggedness of the mountains and enjoyed the least populated part of France we have been in so far.  At one point we went almost 15 kilometers between two towns which is a record for us in France.

Passed by this castle very early in the day.  It is really striking, do not know anything at all about the history of the place though.

We stopped up in Cheylade to visit their church which is famous for its roof and nave.  It was a nice spot and while we were in there we had a good conversation with a group of Belgians who showed up to take in the church.

A shot of the ceiling of the church in Cheylade.  The ceiling tiles are from the 15th century after the church was rebuilt.

After getting confirmation from the Belgians that the pass was open we headed towards Salers.  Salers is considered one of the most beautiful villages in France.  It has retained almost all of it’s medieval structure.  After years of obscurity that allowed it to stay virtually unchanged for centuries it has been discovered, and last year had over 400,000 visitors.

One of the many medieval buildings in Salers that are still in use today.

It is certainly a nice place in a nice location, but maybe it was the bad weather (cold and wet), but we were both a little let down by the town.  It felt a little too touristy and more commercial than we expected.  (I think our bad taste started by having to pay 3euro to park François when the parking lot was empty.)

The city walls of Salers.  Salers is considered one of the five most beautiful villages in France.

When we first arrived we went over to the city campground for the night, but were totally perplexed about how it worked.  There was what appeared to be a proper campground, but it did not appear to have any water on site, but it did have electricity.  There was also an aire next door.  The perplexing part was there was not a soul on site to take money or give directions.  After wandering around for a while we decided to head into town and come back later and see if we could figure the place out.  When we returned a couple of hours later the situation was the same, no one on site and no one using the facility.  We decided we would grab a spot in the area that looked like an aire.  While we were eating the Gendarme (national police) passed thru a couple of times without moving us on so we figured we must be legal and free.  When Ron went out for his evening walk he ran into a gentleman who turned out to be the campground manager.  Patrick is quite a character and we ended up talking to him for quite a while and he is going to take us into town for cheese tomorrow.  But our free site turned into 13 euro when he collected the fee.

Sunset from the campsite.