Sunday, 20 May 2007

Over the other side to Italy

On reaching Italy – no border guards here either! We stopped at a lovely picnic site to get a closer look at these chaps!

They are ‘marmotti’ or marmots. Explained to us by a lovely Italian man that we met with his daughter Maya in Agliano Terme. He hspoke perfect English with no discernible Italian accent but he did have a slight southern Irish accent as his wife is Irish and they live in Italy and Ireland!

We were knocked out at the amount of splashes of red across the landscape created by the poppies in the fields and roadsides.

Everywhere is very flowery, doesn’t look like they use much herbicides on the land here!

We stopped at a fairly uninspiring camperstop in Borgo San Dalmazzo that was beside a railway and skatepark, but we did manage to fill up with fresh water and dump grey and chemical toilet waste. As Peter was quite tired by the mountain driving and not much sleep at Dalmazzo we stopped at Agliano Terme, North of Cuneo. This was a much better stop; on the other side of the road from a campsite in the countryside in a fenced off car park. Unfortunately both the water and electricity supply had been cut off. Further exploration by Peter (with his ex-fireman’s hat, or should that be helmet, on) revealed that there had been an extremely hot fire in a corner of the car park, which looked like a caravan or camper hooked up to the electricity supply had gone on fire and burned everything to a cinder.

The remaining electricity box had a dead snake and an active wasp nest in it!

We had a lovely relaxing afternoon and evening. As you can see we are getting lovely and tanned and fit!!

Me stuffing my face with olives!!Yum!

We used this picture of Peter to make a get-well card for our French friend Ludwig (Lu-lu) after a phone call from Laurent (Lo-lo) informed us that he had had a heart attack. You just never know do you, he looks so young and fit and healthy.

Willow and Hamish prefer to hide under the ‘van for the shade!

We carried on North via Asti, Allesandria and Piacenza through a very built-up, industrialised landscape virtually without cease and stopped at a camperstop in Soragna. We then carried on via Parma, Bologna (where the satnav lady got us thoroughly lost due to new roadworks!), Faenza and Ravenna on the coast. We stupidly went past San Marino as we did not know then that this one of the smallest states/countries in the world!

Looking for cooler temperatures and to get away from the industrialised flat plain we headed for the mountains again. Peter can’t get enough controlled decent practice!!

We headed for Urbania as we liked the sound of the camperstop behind the old monastery. The sign outside the front of the monastery advises that it has been taken over and restored by the community and is now a centre for music. Indeed the second night we stayed there a jazz band came to practice!

All this and free electricity!

The following day was lovely and warm and breezy so the washing got done and dried!

The Fort in the Alps!!

Just before we crossed the Alps we passed this amazing place. I thought I recognised it from a film – the one with Oliver Reed and the elephant going over the Alps in wartime – Hannibal of the Alps I think ( does anyone know this?!). It's Le Fort de Tournoux

Anyway we turned round in order to explore. Something we do quite a lot! And it turns out that this was well worth it!

It seems that what we see today is the remnants of the German occupation of this area of France where they took over and added to an old castle/fortress built into the rock of the mountain. This complex of buildings behind the van date from the wartime and part of them house a contemporary art exhibition. This was closed, but we rather liked the impromptu art exhibition provided by graffiti artists!!

I spotted this painting on a wall inside one of the buildings. I think it dates from the war and could be a military division badge or something.

After exploring the buildings at the base of the mountain we decided that we had to climb to the fort at the top! Talk about mad dogs and Englishmen… this took us from about 11.30 am til about 2.30 pm - the hottest part of a very hot day!! Poor Willow was staggering as we walked back towards the ‘van! She doesn’t have Hamish’s stamina.

You can just make out the stairway tunnel - a series of openings/windows slanting down through the rock in this picture - under the topmost building on the right hand side.

We reached a wooden bridge ( which most likely was a drawbridge in the original building) but the gate was padlocked. The archway still contained some of the mechanism for raising a portcullis!

These are some shots of the van (the wee white dot in the centre) from the fort which prove we did it!

And the wee turret !

This was a gate that leads to the stairway through the mountain – locked too unfortunately!

Camperstops explained

There are over 6000 designated areas for motorhomes in Europe, providing parking, dumping of waste water and chemical toilet waste, fresh water and overnight facilities. Not all provide everything but range from just a designated parking place in a a village or town specifically for motorhomes to places that provide all of the above as well as showers and toilets. These are available only to self-contained motor-homes only (the ones in Italy allow caravans also). They are generally provided by and maintained by the local community to bring welcome tourists and can be situated in the middle of a historic town, by lovely rivers, in tiny hamlets and are often in stunningly beautiful and/or historic locations. Like the one at Jausiers near the Alpine border with Italy.

And here behind a restored monastery in Urbania, Italy.

They are known as ‘Aires or etapes de camping-cars’ in France and ‘Aree de Sosta’ in Italy. They are identified by the official motorhome symbol.


…and Italian!

We have become quite expert at spotting these!

The vast majority of these are free of charge including electricity sometimes, like the one at Pellegrue in Bordeaux and in Urbania in Italy. Some of the ones in more popular areas make a small charge no more than 5-7 Euros. These often take the form of blue cabinets that require coins or tokens to open the door to get at the various nozzles and dispensers.

The one at St Pee sur Nivelle charged via an automated credit card machine!

So between staying free of charge at camperstops and wild or free parking we can live for very little, only diesel and food to pay for!! This is well within the monthly budget afforded by the interest paid on our capital from the house sale and Peter’s pension. So no hurry really to find a house!!

Whistle-stop journey through France!

The journey through the Pyrenees took us through many passes and gorges and tunnels through mountains and we passed by the road to Andorra after deciding we wouldn’t or couldn’t go to visit there. Something to do with not having the correct papers as Andorra is not in E.U. The border between Spain and France is actually in the middle of a town or appears to be. It may actually be between two towns – Puigcerda and Bourg-Madam - the first being in Spain and the second in France - but the border is just on a street with shops etc with nothing really separating the two!

Views of French Pyrenees.

We were heading for a camperstop up there in the mountains! The town of Bolquere was obviously part of the 2000 Winter Olympics as the place where we stopped was a ski resort called Pyrenees 2000! We went up to the bowling alley next to the camperstop hoping to have something to eat and a beer. We got the beer - an ice-cold Kronenberg (aah!!) but the cheeseburger was of the instant micro-waved variety (oh!) We were able to watch telly though - and caught the televised aftermath of the French presidential elections. We had spoken about this with Lolo and the others in Eguzon. They feared that the right-wing Nicholas Sarkozy was likely to be elected - and although we could not fully understand the rapid-fire French on the telly – we suspected that their fears had been realised.

Coming down the mountains towards Perpignan was a bit hairy at times also…especially for me - being left-hand drive and driving on the right put me in the passenger seat on the side with vertigo-inducing views down into the gorges!!

We stopped in the village of Olette to pick up a man and his son (and dog!) who were hitch-hiking to the next town of Villefranche de Conflant. They confirmed – and also lamented- that Sarkozy had indeed been elected as President. The young boy told us that there had hardly been any snow on his mountain this year. I remembered that we had a mild winter in Scotland also. Global warming?

We passed the’Pic du Canigou’ a mountain sacred to the Catalan people, and then whizzed along the road from Perpignan via Narbonne and Beziers, and headed for the Camperstop in Remoulins. Unfortunately it was full up, so after consulting the map for somewhere out of town to wild-camp, we stopped at this lovely spot on the wine route of the Cotes de Rhone area.

We spent the morning walking around and trying to get photos of elusive butterflies !! like this ‘scarce swallowtail’

and this beastie that we can’t identify – we sent an e-mail to the bugman of to see if he can provide an identification!

And this Southern White Admiral…

The roadsides were covered in wild flowers including this weird orchid-like plant

and this greater mullein.

We stopped briefly at a roadside shop selling local Provencal products made mostly of olive oil and lavender. We don’t often do ‘touristy’ stuff but there were some nice (but very expensive) soaps, cheese, olive oil moisturisers and shower gels that we bought along with a bottle of local Pastis that we have developed a fondness for! We passed on the Absinthe though!!

On the way to the Alps we passed through the town of Tallard where, as this sign shows, the Tour de France will start. (One for Russell!!)

We stopped at one of the last villages in France before the Alps and Italy, Barcelonnette. The following day we stopped at the camperstop in Jausiers along from Barcelonnette as there were no services in Barcelonnette and we needed to dump waste water and top up the fresh water before crossing the Alps. On the way to posting some postcards I spotted this doorway with wonderful carving!

The camperstop in Jausiers is featured on the next post I’ve done giving more info on the wonderful camperstops in France and Italy.

Barcelona to France

Over more mountains!!

These weird and wonderful mountain ridges look like a stegosaurus!

We made a detour to allow to stop off for a walk round Solsona and visit its Museo Diocesano y Comarcal ( Diocesan and Regional Museum) that houses the Museo de la Sal (Salt Museum) where they have a table where everything is carved out of blocks of salt –including the setting, the food and the weird pinnacled centrepiece. Unfortunately we got there too late as it closes early at 2 pm on a Sunday!! We did get these photos of the lovely cupola of the Cathedral though, the Moorish influence in the colours and stylised flowers can be seen.

These carved water spouts are great!!

First glimpse of the Pyrenees!

…and a final Spanish hilltop town!...