Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Spain to France

Monday 11th April 2017 After leaving Peniscola last Tuesday we headed toward a Cava vineyard about 12k north of Sitges with views across to the mountains of Montserrat (N41.36851 E1.77221). We were given a tour of the cave in the vineyard and our guide was very effusive about Montserrat, suggesting the mountains defined Catalunya. After the tour comes the tasting and we always feel obliged to buy a few bottles. We reckon we've had a free nights parking in peaceful and scenic surroundings and its a way of showing our appreciation. Unlike the other 8 people on the tour who didn't buy a bottle between them.   The next day we headed off for Vic, a bustling University town with an interesting Old Quarter (N41.93475 E2.24044). First stop the Tourist Office where it was suggested we follow the tourist route marked in brass signs on the pavement. This we did and after a pleasant hour or so ended up where we started. Time for a beer. We've been used to paying a euro for a small beer so it was a bit of a shock to be charged €5 for two in a bar by the market square, I felt like asking for a doggy bag for the complementary peanuts. It's a shame we couldn't have stayed in Vic until the weekend where there were lots of celebrations and unusual markets to celebrate Palm Sunday but there wasn't really enough there to keep us occupied for another four days. And they were setting up a fun fair about 100m from our parking spot.   Our guide book suggested a route to Figueres through the lower slopes of the Pyrenees would yield some interesting sights so we set off the next day stopping first at Rippol, we were running low on water, the tap at Vic wasn't working and neither was the one at the motorhome parking in Rippol. Onwards to S.Joan de les Abadesses. Not only did we find water but a beautiful town with a superb monastery and museum. We find that it's often the smallest towns and villages that have the best places of interest and S J de les A was no exception. The monastery began life as a nunnery however the nuns were expelled in 1017 for alleged licentious conduct!   Next stop, Besalu which we entered by foot over the 11th-century fortified bridge with two tower gates and portcullis leading to a remarkably well preserved medieval town albeit with the usual collection of tourist tat shops and overpriced restaurants. Well worth a visit and a leisurely stroll around though. Finally on Thursday we arrived at Figueres, one of our motorhome guides suggested there was a supermarket with dedicated motorhome parking for 5 vans(N42.26047 E2.95108). When we arrived there were already 12 parked up so we joined them and nobody seemed bothered.    Now, I had it in my head that there was a Gaudi museum in Figueres so we trotted off to town to find it and check out what time we should arrive the following morning to avoid the queues. The museum was only a fifteen minute walk away and the guy in the ticket office suggested it was a quiet time of year and if we arrived soon after they opened at 9.30 we shouldn't have to queue. We set the alarm for the morning which was completely unnecessary as a guy fired up his petrol driven leaf blower right outside our door at 7.30am - thanks! So we arrived at the museum a little after opening time and sure enough there weren't many folk there and we could view the exhibits at leisure. After five minutes or so I remarked to Phil that there were a lot of Dali exhibits to which she replied "That's because it's a Dali museum".  Hmm, "So it's not a Gaudi museum then?".  Once that was settled and I had my Dali head on rather than my Gaudi head a great time was had by all. Whilst I had always understood him to be the master of surrealism I had never appreciated how varied his work was from paintings to sculptures to installations and much more. Just about every exhibit brought a smile to our faces. It's the second most visited museum in Spain and its worth every euro.   Not wishing to spend another night in a supermarket car park we set off after lunch for France. No more "Hola", "Que tal?"or "Hasta luego". Now it's "Bonjour", "Ca va?" and "Au revoir". We took the scenic route to Port Vendres where we've stopped a couple of times before and had a peaceful night's sleep with no leaf blowers in the morning (N42.51776 E3.11395).   Saturday we set off for a vineyard in the village of Mirepeisset (N43.28496 E2.90327),about 30k north of Narbonne and a twenty minute walk along the river La Cesse to the Canal du Midi. We were shown where to park and I asked if we could use the electric socket I saw nearby - "Yes, of course. The electricity is free if you spend €20 or more on our wine, otherwise we charge you €5." Not a difficult decision for us really.   Sunday we set off for the Camargue and a camperstop just outside Aigues-Mortes. There is a restaurant on site and the intention was to enjoy Sunday lunch there but when we arrived the restaurant was packed and there was no chance of a table - "Why not come back this evening at 7.30 for dinner?" This we did although the food wasn't as delicious as we remembered from our visit here exactly a year ago. Over the last week I've had to make a few running repairs to the van - fix a bad connection on one of the internal lights, repair a catch on one of the external lockers and repair a sagging shelf in one of the kitchen cupboards (twice!). None of these tasks cost me anything but time. Unfortunately on Monday morning disaster struck. We prepared to move off and when I turned the key in the ignition rather than the usual vroom all I got was a click! Flat battery. Had I left the lights on, the radio, anything? No, nothing had drained the battery. Opened the bonnet to check connections, where's the battery? Handbook out and discovered the battery is under a panel and two carpets in the cab, checked connections, all good. Fortunately we have European breakdown cover included with our vehicle insurance so after a lengthy phone call a mechanic was on his way although it might take him 2/3 hours to get to us as it was a very busy time. No problem, sit in the sun and read a book. Four hours later I phoned again, received profuse apologies and was advised he would be with me very shortly. Sure enough ten minutes later he arrived and told me I had a flat battery! "C'est Kaput!) Bravo! Jump started and engine running I asked, via the bi-lingual campsite owner, if he had a battery at his garage and was told to call there, about a twenty minute drive away, at 5pm. Now, if I was in the UK I would have plenty of options to find the best deal on the battery but I was a bit stuck here. It's a big battery, 95ah and they fitted it for me but I suspect I wouldn't have ended up paying €183 in the UK. Still, the duff one was the original supplied with the vehicle so it had lasted 9 years, weve had four years out of it so I can't really complain. Well, I can but I won't.   So we stayed another night at the camperstop location and set off on Tuesday morning heading toward Provence, specifically the town of Gordes which the guide books say is a must see. We're in a car park with mixed parking and after a bit of shuffling managed to find a spot (N43.91569 E5.19775), many of the car parks that accept motorhomes have dedicated parking but here its every man or woman for themselves. A tiered village sitting on the white rock face of the Vaucluse plateau, it certainly looks dramatic as you approach. We're waiting now for the setting sun to turn the stone buildings to gold. Whilst the village is pretty it pretty much relies on tourism so every second building is either a restaurant (expensive), an art gallery (expensive) or a tourist tat shop. So as you walk down the cobbled streets and alleyways you see the same T shirts, aprons and dresses, flowerpots and door knockers as you saw in the last pretty village and you'll see them again in the next one. Nevertheless, if you ignore that and squint a little you can see the village as it once was and I don't blame the folk who live here one little bit for trying to get their share of the tourist euro or dollar.   I'm not going to include any photos with this post because I'm having difficulties so doing but I will try to do a separate post and include a few pics.   Pat

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