Wednesday 27th December
Back to France again today with no one at the border to check passports. Shops on both sides of the border were extremely busy as this was the first shopping day after the Xmas holiday.
We could see the Pyrenees in the distance with a heavy layer of snow on top of the mountains. Had absolutely no thoughts of heading in that direction – not ready to ski yet – will leave that till next winter.
As we travelled further into France, the mountain tops on one side hosted dark green thunderous clouds – looked seriously like hail – and in the far distance, heavy rain or snow and through the middle of this, a rainbow. Looked like all seasons in one ahead.
Soon light sleet began to fall and the wind howled and was seriously pushing Ziggy around. My driver had both hands on the wheel to steady the Ziggy bus and keep her on the road. We decided to find a campsite ASAP.
Our campsite for tonight: Aire de Camping Car L’Anse des Tamarins, Port Vendres
A great little harbour front campsite, tucked in behind a hill so thought we were protected here. The rain had stopped for a short while so took the opportunity to take a walk to the town which by all reports was really great. Only got 50 paces away and looked across the harbour to see those green black clouds rolling in from the sea straight for us. Took a couple of snaps and back home to ride out the storm.
Several hours later after being buffeted around with wind and rain, it cleared long enough to go for a short walk. This is a working Port and is quite busy. The view across the harbour to town is very picturesque with lovely homes and apartment blocks scattered over the hill facing the harbour. Didn’t make it all the way round as the rain came back so unfortunately cannot report on the town.
The wake up call next morning was a treat, with two young gendarmerie collecting the camping money. I was ready with money in hand at 8am, my driver was still recovering from the drive the day before. Got to say the gendarmerie were lovely and very easy on the eyes!!
Thursday 28th December
Must have had a huge snowfall on the Pyrenees overnight, as the mountains were covered in snow this morning. Still an overcast windy day today so the view was not as special as it could have been. The hillsides and valleys are full of vineyards. None have any green on them and all look ready and waiting for spring.
Our campsite for tonight: Aire de Campingcar de la Narbonne, Narbonne
The campsite is just on the outskirts of town with just a short 30 minute walk to the beautiful historic old town. Markets were set up leading into the old town. Xmas goodies being the main items. Once into Old Town, it was party time with stalls and restaurants selling fast food and drinks on one side of the canal and just over the bridge, a fairyland of rides including a huge Ferris wheel delighted young and old.
A short walk from there took us into the main square. The building was wrapped in a huge red bow and fairy lights dangled down each huge fascia. In the centre of the Plaza, an ice skating rink delighted young and old.
Xmas themes donned every nook and cranny along the cobbled stone streets. The first area was themed and sponsored by the French Canadians and had tepees and squaws, a mountain man cooking up toffee on a camp stove and delighting the children with toffee on sticks, a two piece Canadian band, farm animals and of course a nativity scene.
One that delighted the children (including the navigator) was a very minor version of Disney’s “It’s a small world” – just wonderful watching the faces of the little ones.
Finished the day with a glass of Vin Chaud (hot wine with cinnamon- I think) which certainly warmed up the cockles before heading home.
The payment system at the Aire was another piece of French engineering ingenuity aimed at favouring the French and sticking it up everyone else. One of the main reasons to stay in an Aire is to gain access to the service facilities such as emptying the grey water tank, emptying the toilet cassette and filling up with drinking water, sometimes at additional fees.
The entry gate had a barrier and a machine for payment to enter the Aire – this machine accepted international credit cards and so we paid 12 Euros on our credit card to enter the site – all well and good.
However, when we went to access the service facilities the payment machine would not accept international credit cards – it accepted French cards only and payment in Euros was not available either – French trick No 23B!!!!!
Our Australian Mastercards are not accepted as “smart cards” in France – when we go to supermarkets and other retailers we need to sign the sales voucher – when we go to automatic service stations to get diesel they will not accept our cards at all – we have nearly run out of fuel a couple of times because the only service stations that were open were the automatic type ie no staff at all.
On one accession we had to pay a young couple Euros in cash so they could use their credit card for us to get fuel – we were so grateful.
Friday 29th December
Woke up to a miserable cold wet day. We had such perfect weather for nearly the whole month in Spain and Portugal and have had the opposite since arriving in France.
Our campsite for tonight: Aire de Camping Car, Carcassonne
Had read lots about this place and just couldn’t wait to explore it. Our campsite is about 20 minutes walk to La Cite but it is wet and miserable so on with the wet weather gear, neck warmers, gloves, beanies and three layers – feel like Mrs Michellin!
The City of Carcassonne is the largest medieval fortress in Europe and is a masterpiece of military architecture. Its grandiose appearance, the complexity of its defence system with its double walls, castle and Basilica, all make the Cite de Carcassonne one of the most unique sites we have experienced.
Walking around the ramparts was an indescribable experience. The inner city is full of restaurants and souvenir shops. There were so many, it was hard to choose one for lunch.
This is such a must do and unfortunately we could only see it in miserable weather and can only imagine how wonderful it would be in fine weather.
Came back to a couple of shots of vodka to warm up and dried our clothes in our heated drying cupboard.
Saturday 30th and Sunday 31st December
Watched in amusement as everyone leaving here was having difficulties in getting out. We had watched someone leaving the night before so had a heads up start.
Every Aire has a different type of payment machine and system – some Aires are run by the Local Council and some are commercial operations.
Certainly makes it more of a challenge when the instructions are in French only.
Got through with no problems at all but as it was so early, we stopped outside the gate and had breakfast there and sat and watched in amusement as others were tearing their hair out – even the French motorhomes were having problems.
Our first choice of campsite was at an Oyster Farm and is a French Passion site. We were the only ones there and because it was so windy and there was nothing to do, we decided to travel on.
A very long drive today and too many roundabouts left my driver exhausted. “Don’t care if I never see another roundabout” were his words, though I might have left out a few descriptive adjectives here.
Our camp for two nights: Aire de Camping Car, Quai Kalymnos, Arles
This motorhome campsite is set right on the River Rhone, directly across from the Old Town. Too late in the day to venture out so sat and watched the view across the river to the Old Town until the light disappeared.
Had a really quiet night with around 30 other motorhomers here. Think most are staying around for tomorrow night (New Years Eve).
Ventured off soon after breakfast (and a little sleep in). Had some early sunshine so have learned that you make hay while the sun shines!
A short ten minute walk across the bridge and we were in the centre of Old Town.
Arles dates back to the second century B.C. and has lots of Roman ruins etc.
It has an Amphitheatre that is fairly intact and still hosts bull fights and a theatre, in ruins, which still hosts alfresco performances.