Saturday, May 28
Today we started heading north through Spain, first going to a Media Markt on the outskirts of Seville and then it was north all the way to Mérida, not terribly interesting scenery from a motorway but hopefully when we get closer to the population centres we can get off the motorway and see a lot more of Spain.
We found a nature park with a one lane road running into it, we took up almost the whole road, so consequently when a small car was coming towards us he backed up for perhaps half a kilometre to let us pass, there we found a flat spot among some trees when we pulled in, and since then there's been a continual stream of traffic passed us so we quite lucky on timing.
Sunday, May 29
We left our spot in the woods quite early to avoid any traffic, or so we thought, we met two cars coming towards us, and the spot where they could pull off the road so we could pass which was fortunate, we made it to the highway without any more traffic where we parked to have breakfast, and whilst we having breakfast possibly another dozen cars passed us all heading in to the woods!
So then it was back on the road heading north towards Toledo. We arrived at the city via a lot of changes in the local motorway, that our GPS heading of the campground was still valid and whilst they have made the approach to the campground from a totally different direction we ended up here.
Round four o'clock after the heat of the day had passed we took a bus into the centre of the city and wander around the city along with the all of the other tourists, inspecting the tourist shops are open on a Sunday, it became very obvious looking at the shops that they were dwelling on their ancient history of making swords and armour has these were some of the main articles on display along with little porcelain dolls of Spanish dancers, bulls and bullfighters!
There were students, I assume that they were students, holding meetings in the centre of the square and the signs that I could see written on corrugated cardboard had something to do with Revolution! I presume this is the result of Spain, along with Ireland and Greece being in problems with the Euro, and it's interesting to see the short memory they have, as I believe their last Revolution gave them Franco but then most of the students were not born then so perhaps that period of Spain's history was romantic!
The city was built on a hill so it kept you fit walking the streets, none of them being level so you are either going up or down, fortunate to the bus stopped at possibly the highest point, but that did not let you escape the “up” hills, as if you went down the hill, the next portion was back up again, but it was an interesting historic town with plenty to see, and when we are ready to go back to the campground we walked right down the hill looking to the bus stop and ended up taking a taxi for about twice the price of the bus fare.
Monday, May 30
We set our first destination today towards El Escorial to have a look at the palace -- monastery situated in that city, but when we saw the access to the parking we just carried on towards Ávila, we saw a couple of possible overnight camping spots, but saw them too late to drive in, and then we'll pass them, eventually we saw a motorhome in amongst some trees, so we turned off the road there have parked in amongst the trees ourselves we will be set for the night.
Tuesday, May 31
Almost where ever we drive in Spain we come across large banks of solar panels, must be hundreds in each group, I do read that this the most expensive sort of power that you can get, but obviously the Spanish must be getting value for money from this form of power generation.
This morning we left the forest and went into the city of Ávila, were driving at between 1000 and 1500 m elevation with a low cloud or fog from time to time, and when we arrived at the city it had a fog-ish haze over it, so we decided to move on to the next one which was Segovia a town set on a high Rockies third with a cathedral and massive aqueduct, in all a most interesting city, rather devoid of car parks, but we found some paid parking on the flat, took up two car parks, paid our money and went from walk up towards the castle. We must be here in the peak of the tour business because the castle was full of Japanese and numerous other language groups so we had a good look round and headed back to the motorhome setting the GPS for the next destination, and about 50 km out found a nice flat spot which will do is for the evening.
Wednesday, June 1
We left our camping spot in the middle of the field and continued on our way towards Burgos, the motorway to the city was undergoing massive reconstruction and for probably 100 km we are crossing to one side of the motorway to the other whilst they were totally rebuilding the motorway on the other side. This meant we were travelling with opposing traffic coming towards us, and a reasonably narrow lane, and a heavy barrier beside us, not the most restful.
We set the GPS for a monastery that was 1.3 km from the centre of the city figuring there could be parking beside it, there was a just street parking so we left the motorhome and went from walk into the centre of the city, We went into the city through the Arco de Santa Maria a beautiful old Gate to the city, who was then on to look at their wonderful large cathedral and up the stairs to the castle and the wonderful view all over the old town, then we wandered back down and through the old town and all of that old churches and then followed the river on her way back to the motorhome in the monastery.
Seeing we were parked at the monastery we thought we should have a look at to enter the monastery, as well as paying five euros each, you had to produce identification in the form of a drivers license or passport, having neither of those items on us and is back to the motorhome and back on the road towards Logroño.
This route that we were following to get to the city, is part of the pilgrimage route from central Europe over the Pyrenees to Santiago in north-western Spain, where the bones of the apostle St James were discovered in the ninth century, I'm sure you will agree with me that finding these bones after 6-700 years, was a remarkable achievement. However pilgrims have been making their way to this site in large numbers in the 11th and 12th century and today we possibly saw 50 or more individuals walking the path, with large packs on their back.
About an hour out of the city with an empty petrol station with lots of parking so here we are for the night.
Thursday, June 2
We carried on what we have now called the pilgrim trail as we see many people walking the well trodden route. I destination for the day was the old Roman city of Pamplona where we hoped to look at some of the old Roman buildings, but like so much of Europe there was no parking anywhere so we drove round the centre to get a feel of the city and then headed for the French border.
The last town on the Spanish side of the border was absolutely packed with French cars, not only is the diesel about $.10 cheaper but I guess the way they are packing into the supermarkets food is substantially cheaper as well. Consequently the road round the border was extremely busy and not at all pleasant to drive, however about 50 km from the border, it is obviously not economic to drive the distance as the traffic dried up.
We set the destination for a French overnight parking spot, but we arrived there to find nothing there, and we saw a motorhome turning a corner in the distance, so decided to follow it and found this large parking area with probably 50 motorhomes, the majority of French, parked side by side in obviously low-cost parking. The municipal police came round and collected €10 each for the overnight parking and electricity.
Friday, June 3
We started driving today towards Bordeaux and when we got close to the city we decided we change the route to Arcachon to have a look at the largest sand dunes in Europe. Of course I needed a good kick, Friday afternoon driving out to a beach resort, you need you head read if you are a moment think you will find parking and you won't have a queue of traffic. No we didn't find parking and yes we did have a queue of traffic so we turned round at a suitable spot and drove on to an Aire where we decided to stop for the night.
Saturday, June 4
Last night the noise from the motorway was reasonably loud so around six o'clock we moved 30 km south to an overnight parking spot in the book, it was in the middle of the country side so it was very quiet overnight with just one other motorhome sharing the spot.
Today we travelled a little bit south to the city of Moissac where they have a 11th century Abbey and church that made some interesting photographs before we carried on south to motor camp that has limited WiFi and a lot of mud around the pitch, we were planning to stay here two days, but somehow I think tomorrow morning will see us gone.
With 70,000 km on the clock for the motorhome, and some of the extremely rough roads we have been going over, things are starting to fall loose and we have a major problem with the draw for the rubbish, looks like I'll have to visit a hardware shop and get some bolts and lock nuts to replace the screws that have shaken loose.
Sunday, June 5
We left the campground, and cleaned our shoes of all the mud from round the parking area, we were going to go through a beautiful gorge close by, but two things prevented us doing that, one the village would have to go through had a market day and we were advised by the campground owner to avoid that, and then he said the gorge had rock overhangs at a height of about 3 m which could of course proved embarrassing for our 3.1 high motorhome.
So we set our GPS for the city of Cahors, drove through it and photographed the beautiful bridge it is known for, and then it was on to our next destination of Sarlat-la-Canéda, the roads we travelled on their list in an out of the villages, sometimes embarrassing narrow roads, however once we did get on the main road we passed about 50 dual wheel caravans being towed by panel vans, the panel vans had ladders on the roofs so it looked like we were observing a tribe of French gypsies on the road and some lucky village will wonder what has hit it them when they arrive.
As usual there was a lot of traffic on the road, both cars and motorcycles, one motorcycle roared past us, and then a little bit down the road some 30 minutes later an ambulance roared past us, and sure enough this motorcyclist had hit a car that was turning dead centre and the ambulance had arrived just a few moments before we had, and were doing whatever work they could.
We eventually arrived at our destination, found a public car park and had some motorhomes parked, but our GPS told us that our destination for the overnight parking was another 900 m so onwards we went and found about 20 motorhomes in the overnight camping spot.
About 4 PM we walked down into the city and had a good look around the city that has the highest concentration of mediaeval, Renaissance and 17th century buildings of any town in France. The prosperity was a reflection of the privileged status was granted in return for the loyalty to the French crown during the Hundred year war. It was certainly an amazing collection of buildings are simply took your breath away.
Our camping spot is right next door to a cemetery, and in a prominent place close to the footpath is a memorial to those that died in the Second World War and of course the dates are quite different to the dates we know, 1939 -- 1940. And in another location with many more names was a memorial to those that died in the resistance.
Monday, June 6
Today we drove towards Rocamadour, and on arrival we found a very large car park for motorhomes, walked to the reception area for the town and caught a elevator down to the first level, walks down 200 steps to the second level. The village became one of the most famous centres of pilgrimage following a spate of miracles heralded it as claimed by the Bell above the Black virgin and Child in the chapel of Notre dame. It was still a holy shrine as well is a popular tourist destination and sits on a rocky plateau above the Alzou Valley it is phenomenal.
So it was elevators is back up to the top, back to the motorhome and on to the next destination of Aurillac as that is said to be in a hilly area when we came across a parking area about 5 km before Saint-Saury we decided to call it a day at this quiet location with only a herd of cows to keep us company.
Tuesday, June 7
The first destination for the day was Aurillac, our GPS took us over interesting country roads and through interesting villages which is probably the real heart of France, and then we're on the road to the volcano region of France, a real interesting area of hills and valleys, none of the volcano cones we are familiar with when we hear the word volcano, but I think possibly several very large old volcanoes with the crater now being part of the landscape and the bottom of the valley with the lips of the volcano being the hills.
Perhaps a little bit like Lyttelton, or what Lyttelton and would have been like if the sea had never entered the crater.
The road took us around the edge of the crater a little bit like the Summit Road on the Port Hills, Christchurch and everything was so beautifully green you are very much aware that there has only caused by plenty of rain, and fortunately today was fine.
We eventually got to the cute little village of Salers and has a population of about 700, its main feature is that the buildings were all built from lava stone, an interesting grey stone that one does not normally associate with volcanic rock.
Luda fell in love with some cows that had a beautiful red colour and dangerous looking horns, they apparently are peculiar to this particular area and had I stopped for Luda to take the photos we would have had some wonderful photographs, instead I made her take them from the fast moving motorhome so consequently she has nothing.
And then it was on the road to Le Puy, and that took us again through the volcanic region to a place that was called Puy Mary, both of these locations are on the pilgrim trail that leads all the way to the remote part of Spain.
At the village of Murat we found motorhome overnight spot where we are currently camped overnight.
Wednesday, June 8
We carried on the road this morning, with overcast weather, towards the pilgrim city of Le Puy. It was overcast most of the day and extremely flat lighting for photographs, today's photos will need a lot of lightroom work done on them.
We eventually arrived in Le Puy and has three giant basalt pillars, or fingers on the top of each that topped with a church or a statue which can be seen from a great distance, when most impressive sights in France. Of course along with this wonderful features they basically had no parking so was a matter of driving round the city in a motorhome with Luda endeavouring to take photographs out of the window before we called it a day and followed the signpost towards Clermont-Ferrand, which shows a slightly more scenic road than a motorway and this took us through numerous little French villages with houses that were probably built before New Zealand was settled by the English.
Around four o'clock we found an overnight camping spot near the city of Thiers, this turned out to be a massive car park with lots of trees so while there are three motorhomes here at the moment, because of all the trees we cannot see them.
Thursday, June 9
We left our peaceful campsite in amongst the trees and started driving towards Clermont-Ferrand, to get there we went on a tollway and then decided to stay on the tollway driving in the direction of Paris.
We pulled off into a motorway stopping point and looked at what options we had travelling north and we decided to do a scenic route round about five old Chateau's, if we see one we like we might see if they are interested in doing in exchange for a slightly cracked house up on Scarborough Hill in Sumner, if this happens we will let everyone we know our new address, but I won't start taking French lessons till this happens.
We found an overnight camping spot at Levet which is near Bourges and tomorrow we head towards Châteauroux to see the first of the potential new properties, there is no charge for this parking area and the electricity was free.
Today we drove on towards the chateaux route passing through Vierzon and when we saw a group of motorhomes parked in a village called Angé we decided to stop for the day and now we are part of about 20 motorhomes parked in this special parking area, with free electricity, and no overnight camping cost.
Saturday, June 11
Today was the day we visited the Chateaux's so we drove in a little bit of a circle ending up not far from where we were last night but seeing about five chateaux's, most from a little bit of distance, one we walked through, and one we drove past. They were all magnificent looking buildings, the most magnificent was probably the chateaux de Chambord, a 16th -- 17th century masterpiece of over 440 rooms, we looked through 439 of the rooms and decided it was just a little bit ostentatious so we just drove on in our one-room motorhome.
Tonight we are at Neuillé-Pont-Pierre, another overnight camping spot, again free electricity and no camping fee.
Sunday, June 12
It was a wet day on our drive through to Le Mont-Saint-Michel, we took toll roads most of the way, and I must admit I'm getting quite a shock at the €38.10 fee for what appeared to be about 100 km.
We arrived at Le Mont-Saint-Michel and paid our €12 to go and park in there very rough car park for 24 hours. It is still raining here and Le Mont-Saint-Michel has a very soft look through the light rain.
Monday, June 13
It rained most of the night but stopped briefly this morning as we were leaving the car park, this allowed Luda to get a couple of photographs of a rather flat subject, so with that in being done, it started raining again for the rest of the day as we drove halfway through to Paris. The news this morning said that the weather was fine in Paris and 25°, we had a wet and at about 18°. I turned the satellite TV on this morning for the first time in about two weeks and was greeted by a number series of earthquakes in Christchurch, I wonder when it is going to stop!
We tried tried several camping spots before we arrived at our current one, which is beside the railway station so we just hope there are not too many express trains roaring through during the night. We are in the village of Verneuil-sur-Avre.
That evening we receive news there been another major earthquake in Christchurch centred close to our house. Peter and Marg who are house sitting for us after their apartment and studio was demolished with all of its contents after the last major earthquake, tell us that the house is quite a mess inside with things thrown everywhere, however the house appears still to be in good shape. There are now 12,000 houses that will need to be demolished at the latest count, no number for those that will need to be repaired.
Tuesday, June 14
This morning we started driving towards Paris, towards the blackest clouds we have seen, and about 80 km out we decided to do Paris on our way back to Frankfurt and a couple of months time, hopefully then the weather will be better.
So we reprogrammed the GPS to the ticket office at Calais so drove in that direction through the rain until about the time we would have been in Paris, when we reached a blue skies, however the distance back would have meant we have travelled all that distance for nothing, so we pressed onwards, headed towards the coast and an overnight camping spot, one we have found is a large shingle lot, with a dumping station at one end, opposite a conventional campground, with the cost of five euros for a night, with no electricity, and three Euro charge to use the dumping station. I'd say it was quite a good deal for the campground for the use of the waste land and very little else.
We are close to a French town called Brighton!
Wednesday, June 15
We set off for Calais, on a toll road, expecting there to be a petrol station, and when the reserve light finally came on we did a exit and filled up the tank eight cents cheaper than on the motorway, and of course we passed a service station once we got back on the motorway.
We got to Calais, bought a return ticket for €300, with the return ticket being open, which cost a fraction more. We had to wait till three o'clock for the ferry we were on which was a two hour wait, of course the ferry was running late but we eventually got on the ferry about 3:15 PM, unremarkable crossing, arriving at Dover, again no problems, however when we arrived, the sun was shining, beautiful blue sky, we thought we are in the wrong country. We were going to be late for the Abbey Wood caravan park so we decided to stop at the park-and-ride on the Dover Road. Just to reassure us that we were in England it rained most of the night.
Thursday, June 16
Before we left New Zealand we tried to get Luda an Irish visa but it was going to take over a month, and we had run out of time, so I started applying the online application and ran into problems, so we went into the Irish Embassy, the visa section had closed, and the girl on the delivery section of the visas, knew nothing, didn't want to know anything, and told us to come back tomorrow when the visa section was open.
That over and done, we went off to Stanford's to procure some maps for next year, and we have about £120 worth of maps so hopefully we won't get lost.
The weather kept our faith in its climate for this country and so much that it rained on and off all day.
Friday, June 17
We were up early and got into the Irish Embassy in good time, when our number came up for the queue that we were in, we went up to the desk, we are told we had the wrong papers, and when she discovered we were from New Zealand told us that there was no way we get a visa for Luda from the London office, it had to be done from New Zealand.
The reason was that they could check none of the answers we gave on the application and the fact that Luda had a Schengen visa, a UK visa, a USA visa meant absolutely nothing the Irish had to do their own investigation because it might be dangerous to let a Russian into Ireland!
So was back to the campground, checked out, on the road to Tiverton the location of the company that will fit airbags to the motorhome, should we decide to proceed, so it was onto the M25, as it always is when you're leaving London, and about 13 km before we were due to turn off we were warned of a major traffic jam ahead, so I decided to take the exit and probably added an hour to our journey and arrived at our destination after they had closed, for some reason the telephone is always on to the answerphone so we weren't able to make any progress there, so here we are camped in their car park for the night, and will return here on Monday to get the information we need.
Of course it has been raining all day, just to keep the faith!
Saturday, June 18
No sign of any life with the “air bag” company, they work Monday to Friday!
So we drove to Chipping Sodbury to deliver the motorcycle rack we bought three years ago, stored at the two years at Hanks, carried at the 15,000 km this year on the back of the van, sold at once to sonebody up north of England, and they welshed on the deal, sold the second time and delivered it and was paid, he was delighted because they are no longer being made and he got in and a very good price, and he said it was on the condition he expected to be, so that's a couple of bonus points.
We then decided to drive on to Welshpool to see Peter, he has his Overland Mercedes van for sale, we're been talking by e-mail, and I been looking at the photos, but of course you had to see the inside before you can make a decision. In the photos the inside did look cramped, but the motorhome id about the same size as our Carthago so my logic told me the photos must be wrong!
Peter is as big as I am if not a fraction taller, so I thought it was okay for him, he'll be okay for me, I was bitterly disappointed when it turned out to have less space than the Hymer we sold for the current van for more comfort. It was beautifully laid out and well thought out, had marvellous storage space and was totally self-contained with all of the heating and cooking running off diesel and an exceptionally large water storage tank and long-range diesel tank.
However evidently it was not to be, so we went away a little bit disappointed, and Peter also disappointed that is van did not sell!
Sunday, June 19
This morning it was a process of backing out of the driveway at Peter's house that we camped in last night, this was through a gap in a large edge that just almost touched the motorhome on each side, and then backing across an extremely busy road so I had a couple of traffic wardens (Peter and Luda), so a gap came in the traffic, we got out and pointing in the right direction, and then on the road down through Wales covering parts of the country we did not travel in 2007.
Our first stopping point was Powis Castle a beautiful old castle in exceptionally beautiful grounds and gardens, we were there a fraction early, so we got our photographs that we wanted and were on our way south towards Pen y Fan a high hill in what they call the Brecon Beacons and largest national park of about 1400 km².
We stopped at some pretty little Welsh towns on the way and most seem to start with the letters Ll but the one of note was Llandrindod Wells said to be a perfect example of a Victorian town, said to be Wales Premier Inland spa resort in the 19th century.
We arrived at Pen y Fan and found the car park almost full but managed to squeeze in by asking somebody to ship their car a fraction, and Luda climbed the almost 900 m hill, again taking photographs on the way at and on the way back, last time she did this somehow the photos disappeared! Fortunately it was fine weather for the walk which took 2 1/2 hours.
We decided to stay here in the car park for the night and about 7 PM a motorhome pulled in with Russian numberplates and a Russian family climbed out, and whilst they could speak some English with one of the women being an English teacher, most of the conversation was in Russian.
They commented on the road we were intending to take from Riga to the Stans and made the comment that was a very bad road and suggested it would be better to practice go through St Petersburg -- Moscow entering Russia from Estonia. Something else to think about!
Or we can go through the Ukraine, which would require another visa for New Zealanders, and reach a point in Russia, say Kursk, with exactly the same mileage as from Riga across Russia, with the advantage of travelling 700 km less to reach the Soviet bloc.