Author: sallymckenzieblog

Great Relief, and Back to Spain

Colin’s doctor’s appointment was a great relief – he was asked why he wasn’t still getting the twice-yearly shots and was taking the one-a-day pills instead.  He was instantly given a prescription for the shot and we took it right away to the pharmacy in Mansle.  The nurse came to the house the next morning and administered it.  Hopefully that does the trick with the very high PSA.

While back in Mansle we did the usual – had a lovely fish-and-chips lunch, visited Tony and Joyce, said hello (a couple of times) to Edith and Sylvain at the bar.  Also on Colin’s birthday Tony and Joyce joined us for a lunch at the Marmite – very nice.

We started the return trip to Spain a week ago, and since we were in the car it was much quicker.  We stopped at a hotel just outside Zaragoza that accepts dogs – we’d stayed there before.  Arriving at the house mid-afternoon was wonderful – we even had water!  Except until the power kept cutting out and thus the pump wasn’t working.

After a call to Carlos he came right up and got it running again, but not for long – apparently something got wet and just needed to dry out.  It was very frustrating until partway through the next morning when all was working again.

Our ‘handyman’ Steve has done a bunch of stuff – stained the outside doors and some of the window trims, installed several solar powered motion triggered lights and another security camera.  Lots to do but it’s all coming along…

Our fantastic gardener was hard at work again – one of the large yuccas is about to flower, and then will die – it looks like a giant asparagus.

Colin and I made a trip to several different places to collect flowers and trees for Ali to plant for us.  We now have orange, lemon and lime trees, two bougainvilleas (one of my favourites!), several small cypress trees and a bunch of various colourful things for the planter boxes.

I’ve spent three days vacuuming and cleaning – first day the ground floor, second day the sun-room (including washing the floor) and today the upper floor – so much dust!  Slowly but surely the boxes from Worcester are being unpacked so it doesn’t look so much like a storage place.

Everything is starting to look so lovely – more like a ‘home’ than just a house.  I sit outside in the evenings and just drink it all in – can’t wait to get the pool uncovered and jump in!  Although right now it’s probably a little cold – we need to get a solar heater and summer cover.

Housework in Spain and return to France

We’ve been fairly busy at the house arranging jobs, etc.  The gardener is  working diligently clearing out old dead stuff and trimming all of the plants as needed.  You can see a big difference and we’re super glad we found her.

We also got a sweet little painter who was recommended to us by Carlos.  She lives in a house across the way that we can see from the terrace.  She did the entire lounge in one day, and the exterior of the sun room and laundry room over the next two – she even painted the outside lamp fixtures.

She’s very keen to do the house exterior as well but we’re not sure when we’ll get to that.  She really doesn’t speak any english and my spanish still needs a lot of work, but on her last day I discovered that she speaks a bit of italian – it would have made a couple of conversations easier if I’d known that before!

The furniture from Worcester arrived on time and was mostly piled in the middle of the floor of the freshly painted lounge.

The movers were a bit sub-par – the young fellow wasn’t too bad but his girlfriend/partner was a bit surly.  They complained about the driveway, refused to even try to get Colin’s wardrobe up to his bedroom and also wouldn’t put the beds or anything else back together (as was part of what had been paid for).

As it still gets pretty cool at night we got a gas-heater that warms up the snug – that’s where we have our morning tea and it sure makes a difference.  The days are getting quite warm now – up to 28 or 29 one day so the many loads of laundry we did dried nice and quick.

Sadly we had to leave to return to France and Colin’s doctor.  The evening before we left we realized we were just about out of water – the upper tank was almost empty, which implies that the lower tank is completely empty.  

Luckily Carlos arrived just as we were about to leave on Saturday morning and is going to arrange a re-fill for us.  He’s also going to get the wardrobe up to Colin’s bedroom and re-attach the banisters we had removed for the furniture delivery.

The drive back to France in the campervan went well – we did it in two days rather than the three we thought it might take.

Stopping for a bite to eat in the lower parking area of the mall in the town on the french border we saw an unusual sight.  Many folks travel with dogs in their campervans and we’ve seen the odd cat as well – this time it was a parrot eating it’s lunch while sitting on top of his cage outside the van.

Getting around Bordeaux was not a problem – we made good time and arrived back to Mansle in late afternoon.  Colin went to his doctor’s clinic on Monday morning and has an appointment to actually see him in two days.  

Until then we’ve been taking it easy and not doing too much, other than a jigsaw puzzle…

…and a quick visit with Tony and Joyce.  Tony’s done a couple of paintings of Colin’s house in Worcester and they are, of course, beautiful.  He’s going to frame them and we’ll likely end up keeping one in Mansle and the other will go down to Spain when we return.

Henry – or Henri as we’re now in France – got a grooming/haircut today and it’s the shortest it’s been.  He’s turned from a wooly looking sheep to an almost hairless goat.

I had thought he was getting a bit chubby under his thick coat but with all of his hair gone he’s actually rather trim.  I think he likes his new cut as he’s strutting around now as if he knows how cute he is.

We’ve been watching all of the spring classics on GCN – some really great racing happening, and every race we look for the place we were watching from a few years ago.

Italy to Spain via France

Leaving the Poggio early the morning after the race we went west to Nice where we turned north, stopping for the night at an aire in Bédoin which is near Mt. Ventoux.

The second day of driving took us to what we refer to as ‘the windy place’, which is Lachamp-Raphael.  Everything was closed – even the cafe/bar, although it was a Monday so that might explain it.

The next day got us back to Mansle – nice to be in a house again.  We spent several days getting organized – picked up the Renault that is going down to Spain, got some things from the charity shop, had a nice lunch at the fish-and-chips place.

We also saw Tony and Joyce and I showed Tony a photo of my little guy Sly that he offered to make a painting of for me.  Several days later we went back as he’d already finished it – a real masterpiece!  Sly is a very cute kitty but doesn’t seem to like posing too much – I was lucky to get a pic that shows his beautiful green eyes.

We were all packed up for our trip down to Spain when Colin had a blood test the morning before we were planning to leave.  That evening we went to the bar where they had a steak and chips dinner – very delicious.  We were just getting ready to retire for the night when Colin got the results of his blood test by email – not good.  We decided that going to Spain was not in the cards at the time and both went to bed with heavy hearts.

At 6 the next morning Colin knocked on my door and said we should go to Spain anyway – the campervan and trailer (that I will pull in the Renault) were all packed and his furniture from Worcester is on the way so he figured we might as well go.  We were on the road before 8:30.

Getting used to driving again and pulling a little trailer wasn’t that bad – shortly after we passed Bordeaux I started to relax a bit.  Very near the Spanish border we encountered a road-block – no police or road-works folks but just a barrier.  Like those before us we went around it and down a very narrow road.  After several km Colin in the campervan was trying to turn around while I continued forward past another barrier.  It seems there was some kind of rally on with quads, but there were no wardens or any diversion markers and it seemed very unorganized.

Rather than try to find Colin I drove on to the small town just across the border where all the French folks go for the cheap shopping – I parked in the lower parking lot of one of the shopping malls that we’ve stopped at before and waited for him to find me.  I waited 20 or 30 minutes and he and Henry arrived – we had lunch in the parking area and then continued on our way.

We got past Zaragoza on a secondary road and stopped for the night at a trucker’s stop just off the motorway – it was surprisingly quiet and the sunrise in the morning was lovely.

We got to the house in late afternoon – I felt like I was coming home.  Seeing the work that had been done while we were gone was great – bathtub installed, Colin’s re-done bathroom, the pellet stove.

The only problem was that there was a layer of dust everywhere – some strategically placed poly would have been useful when the work was in progress.

I did many loads of laundry and washed every dish in the kitchen because of the dust, but eventually started to relax and just enjoy being here.

The full moon came and went and it was Easter.

I made a roasted chicken pie, except I burned the bottom crust.  I’m not used to a gas oven yet, but as long as you scraped off the burnt part it was delicious.

We got an excellent gardener to tidy things up – a lot of things to trim and prune as it’s probably been several years since it has been properly taken care of.  She seems to know what she’s doing and is giving us advice on what to plant behind the wall, etc.

We went for our first ride of the season this morning – we have a bit of fitness to find but it was nice to get out.

Milano-SanRemo from the Poggio

The drive south was uneventful, using the lesser road rather than the paege.  We arrived at the Poggio on Thursday and got a good spot in the far corner of the parking area at the top.

The house right below now has a Ukrainian flag painted on it’s roof.

Friday was very quiet for us – late start, cappuccinos at the cafe, then lunch at one of the bars.  I ordered the ‘wild boar hamburger’, expecting, as the name said, a burger.  But no – it was a meat patty with nothing else.  Very tasty, but not, in my mind, a burger.  

There was a local club of older riders that stopped for coffee – they kindly posed for a photo…

Race day was sunny but very windy.  We had another cappuccino at the bar, and made a reservation for lunch later – they were already setting up extra tables and had at least three times the staff on.

This time we both ordered the lasagna, although they were mostly pushing out pizzas.  I couldn’t believe how busy it was – must be their busiest day of the year.

We knew we had time but left the bar early so as not to have to rush.  Leaving Henry in the campervan we walked down to stake out our spots – really wished that I’d worn my warmer winter coat rather than the lighter black jacket.  The wind was fierce – I also wished I had my wool hat and gloves!

In any case the race arrived in due course – a fellow near me had it on his phone and we were well warned when the riders were near as the crowd went wild!  Actually it was one of the best crowds I can remember – very boisterous and all happy.  There was one table of ladies – with a bottle of wine – overlooking the road and every time the overly officious fellow on the road below blew his whistle at someone they called him out – it was hilarious.

To great cheers the first one over the top and around the corner was Van der Poel…

…followed seconds later by Pogacar, Ganna and Van Aert…

A few minutes later, while still watching the rest of the race go by, I heard the crowd inside the bar screaming and cheering as they watched the end on tv.

When we got back to the campervan we watched the last 15 km on GCN and were both very pleased to see that Van der Poel had such a convincing win – the most dominating performance in many years.

I did see myself on tv – a black blob on the very right of the screen just at the turn after the top of the Poggio.

North to Avigliana and Milano-Torino

Upon leaving Trasimeno we went west a bit and stopped for a visit with Colin’s estate agent to update the offering of the house in Papiano.  The agent and her partner have a large, old house on a hill with a lovely swimming pool and fantastic views of the valley below.

Afterwards we continued west a bit before turning north towards our destination just outside Torino that we chose to watch the next race from.

We made it just past Genova and a bit up the highway north when we encountered major roadworks and traffic slowdown.  As it was getting late anyways we left the highway and pulled into the town of Masone that was supposed to have a couple of aires.  We found the quieter one and parked up for the night.

In the morning we had a quick cup of tea then proceeded north via the smaller road rather than the motorway.  It was a very nice, pleasant drive – we had to stop several times at rail crossings to let a train pass.  It was a passenger train that stopped at all of the small towns along the way and we kept overtaking it, then having to wait for it to pass at the crossings.

Having picked the town of Avigliana we were very pleasantly surprised – the town itself was alright but it’s the area in general that impressed us.  On the map it looks to be surrounded by motorways and seemed like it might be very congested but it wasn’t.

We passed through the town and stopped on the edge at a restaurant right on one of the ‘lakes’ – there are two of them, one being Lago Grande di Avigliana, and the other Lago Piccolo di Avigliana (big lake and small lake).  To me they were more like fair-sized ponds, but never-the-less they reminded me greatly of home and I loved it there.

Lunch was wonderful – I had wild boar stew with polenta and a side of grilled veggies.  The boar meat was so tender and flavourful and the sauce was both sweet and savory – just delicious.  It’s one of the few times I actually finished a meal instead of taking half of it home for later.

After lunch we drove just a bit further along the route and found a large paved parking area right on the smaller of the lakes.  There were walking and riding paths and many folks were out with their dogs.

There was also a nice little bar that served a good local red wine.  Sitting in the sun on the shore of a lake, beautiful mountains as a backdrop and sipping red wine – almost heaven!

The wind howled and rocked the campervan most of the night but we were snug and I slept well.

Race day was sunny and beautiful, with the wind having died down early in the morning.

We took Henry for a short walk, then had a cappuccino at the bar on the lake.

Milano-Torino is the oldest race in cycling, with the first edition being in 1876!  We were very close to the finish – maybe 15 km or less – and when the race arrived the breakaway of four was about to be caught.

The whole race passed us so quickly I barely got 25 shots even in sports mode.

As per usual now we watched the finish on GCN, and one of the riders from new pro team Tudor won!  The team was started only four years ago and is now owned by retired Swiss great Fabian Cancellara – the main sponsor is Swiss watch-maker Tudor.  They’re not a World Tour team yet but do get invites and this was their first ever win at the top level – kudos to them.

After we’d watched the finish and they’d opened the barriers we got going the short distance down to Pinerolo where we stopped at the quiet aire for the night.

TirrenoAdriatico – Offagna

Shortly after the fifth TA stage had passed we took off from Gualdo and headed northeast towards Osimo.  They cover about 85 km from the south before starting a large circuit where they go through each place three times.

It was starting to get dark as we approached the town of Offagna when we saw our Belgian friend’s bus and another campervan in a field, but when we pulled in the campervan guy came out and told us that the owner was not accepting any more campers.

We continued on to the town and a bit further, pulling into a very large area just off the road where we stopped for the night.  It had gone very quickly from dusk to dark and we didn’t want to get too far off the route.

In the morning we went the couple of km back to the town and almost immediately pulled into a nice large area just down from a sharp corner on the route.

Having some time we enjoyed yet another excellent cappuccino at a cafe right across the road, then explored the town a bit.

The town is dominated by a 15th century castle, and there are many interesting and slightly odd artworks around the upper old section.

The coffee shop was doing a good business as people gathered for the race.

Each circuit took about 50 minutes for the racers to cover and each time they passed they were more spread out.  The first time they passed the first and last riders were only 3 or 4 minutes apart but on the last circuit they were over 16 minutes.

There was initially a small breakaway followed shortly by the entire Jumbo team keeping Roglic safe at the front of the peloton.

Van der Poel was in the middle, but faded as the race progressed.

Cavendish and Sagan were there too, but several minutes behind.

Once again we watched the end on GCN then, having opted to not go to San Benedetto del Toronto for the final stage we booted it back to Trevi, arriving in the dark but happy to have made it all the way.

The next day was a nice drive back to Papiano, taking the back roads from Foligno again.  As it was Sunday, which is ‘visiting your relatives’ day in Italy there was nowhere to park near the house so we made the decision to try to turn around down a small road near the bell tower.  This turned out to be a very foolish choice as the road was quite steep and the turning area a bit small.  After spinning out trying to back up the hill we parked for a bit, and I walked down and across up a farm road.  Around the corner at the top I encountered a very friendly woman, Monica, who was busy pruning her olive trees. She spoke a bit of English, and understood that we were stuck – she said she would call her husband to bring his tractor to pull us back up.  The main question she had for us was ‘why???’ – good question!

We went back to wait for the husband when Colin gave it one more try to get out ourselves, and thankfully, after much spinning and smoking of the front right tire, actually made it!  I went back to Monica to let her know we were ok, then headed to the house – much relieved, but feeling very stupid.

We did two loads of laundry, and each had a hot shower – very nice after so long roughing it.

On our way out of Papiano we did, of course, stop at the bar to have a quick drink and say goodbye to Antonio – he was very sad, as we likely won’t be back in the area until maybe next year.

The drive to Trasimeno and the aire on the lake didn’t take too long and we settled in for an early night.

More TirrenoAdriatico

Trasimeno was particularly lovely in the morning sun the next day.

We had another delicious cappuccino at the same place we stopped at a few days ago and then began to follow the route markers for the day’s stage.  They passed right through Pila – where our hairdresser/barber has his shop – and we went all the way to the edge of Foligno.  The drive was all on the back roads and the whole area was very beautiful.

We parked in a large parking lot right outside a cafe and got a bite to eat, then settled in to wait for the race – we were just over 4 km from the finish.

The race passed by in no time – they were really moving.

We got back into the campervan in time to watch the end on GCN on my ipad, then headed up the road to the aire in Trevi for another nice quiet night.

Our next destination was for Friday’s summit finish at Sasso Tetto, passing through the town of Sarnano along the way.  However upon arriving we changed our minds – it was so windy up top we were wondering if we were going to get blown right off the mountain.

We did stop to make chicken in curry sauce with rice for lunch, then spoke with some fellows that had stopped a bit further down.  They told us that the race didn’t actually go to the large hotel but rather up another road where the ‘memorial to Scarponi’ was.

We drove up the other road to have a look – fairly desolate and again very very windy.

I got out and braved the wind long enough to take a few photos then we went back down through Sarnano and back along the route to the town of Gualdo.

Finding a nice flat wide spot just outside the town we pulled in for the night, being joined by the very large bus with the Belgian couple.  We’ve met them several times now, most recently at last year’s Lombardia.

The next morning we went into the village for cappuccino before deciding that we would watch the race from right in the town rather than down the road where we’d spent the night.  An observation:  I don’t think it’s possible to get a bad cappuccino in Italy – even though the coffee brand is often different it’s always excellent – too bad the roads weren’t as superior.

It was far too windy to put the flags up, and they even took the ‘King of the Mountains’ banner down to prevent it from blowing away or coming down on the riders.  There was still the painted line on the road but it’s not nearly as impressive.

The race was a little late arriving – the wind might be ok when it’s at your back but the fierce headwind going up the mountain could not have been fun.

It took a lot longer for the race to pass this time, and once again we watched the end on GCN – they’d shortened the course by a couple of km due to the wind at the top.  It was a very exciting finish with a sizeable group actually sprinting up the slope of the very hard climb and Roglic coming out the winner.


We took our flags down and drove back to Asciano to spend the night at the aire/sosta.  They’ve put up a nice new fence that borders the field next door.

The next morning we got going at a decent time and headed towards our next destination of Lido di Camaiore for the first stage of Tirreno-Adriatico.  We needed to get past Siena, which turned out to be a bit of a challenge.

We got halfway to Siena when we were stopped by a backup of vehicles.  Wondering if there had been an accident – we could see a police car – I got out and walked to the spot and discovered that the road was closed due to a sportif.  None of the police there spoke english but my italian is still good enough that I understood it would be about an hour before the road opened again.

Like many other vehicles we turned around and looked for an alternate route.  Once again, however, we were stopped.  This time one of the traffic wardens spoke good english and was super friendly.  We patiently waited about half an hour until the bulk of the sportif had passed, then were allowed to go on our way.

Skirting Siena we made our way to Lido di Camaiore and were once again thwarted in our objectives.  First of all we couldn’t find a service station that had gpl (for our gas stove) and actual service on a Sunday.  Hoping we at least had enough to boil water for tea in the morning we went to the parking area beside the Hotel Joseph where we’d stayed before.

We’re not sure why but the whole parking area was blocked off – on one end by race buses, and the other by a barrier with a couple of campervans in front of it.  We drove a short way and parked for the night outside a local soccer stadium.  Many cars during the night gave friendly ‘glad you’re here’ honks to welcome us – not!

It poured rain off and on all night long, and in the morning we decided to skip the initial ITT and go to a spot along the route of the second stage for the next day.

We chose a small town on one of the climbs – Castellina Marittima – and drove a couple of km past where we found a nice wide fairly flat spot with a wonderful view of the plain below and the sea in the distance.

In the morning after breakfast we took a walk back down into the town and had a lovely cappuccino.

Walking back up to the campervan we decided we were not in the perfect spot for the race and drove back to the edge of the town to watch from.

There was a breakaway of five, followed about 2 ½ minutes later by the entire peloton…

Alaphilippe was up near the front, and one of his teammates threw his bidon right at us – score!  I got photos of Michael Woods in the bunch…

…as well as Cavendish…

Shortly after the race passed we headed back to the aire/sosta on the shores of Trasimeno, passing through some very beautiful Tuscan countryside on the way.

Back to Travel and Watching the Races!

A near panic situation at the start of my current journey – at 4:45 in the morning the car wouldn’t start!  Turns out I likely left the inside light on the day before when I went to the store and overnight and it killed the battery.  My little Sly guy would have been happy if I hadn’t been able to leave – he’d taken to sitting in my suitcase as if I could take him with me (I wish I could!).

A frantic call to a local cab company and they arrived in only 3 minutes to race me to the airport for my first flight.  Second flight left almost on time after de-icing, and I got to spend a few very boring hours in Toronto airport.

We boarded on time, then spent another very boring two hours before leaving – I watched a whole movie.  We had to wait for the catering van to load food – the first one had broken down and they had to send another one or else we would starve.  Then we had to de-ice before taking off.

As usual I didn’t really sleep at all, even though the plane was barely half full and I had some room to stretch out a bit.  Watched another couple of movies, then the first few episodes of ‘White Lotus’.

We arrived in Rome over 1 ½ hours late – passport control was all automatic and no one cared.  Colin was waiting right outside the exit door and off we went.  We stopped just outside Trevi at a nice sosta for the night.

The next morning we passed through Papiano to say hello to Antonio, then continued on to Monte Buono where we had a nice lunch at our favourite restaurant there.  We then went just a little further to the town of San Feliciano where we found a lovely sosta right on the shores of Lago Trasimeno.

We went to Pila the next morning so I could get my hair cut by my Italian barber, stopping along the way at Mugnano for a very nice cappuccino.  After my perfect haircut we headed to Marsciano to visit the phone shop and arrange service so I could get good reliable wi-fi in the campervan.  We got a SIM card that was supposed to have very good capabilities but would take a few hours to ‘become active’.  We went back to the nice spot on the lake and waited, but alas the service never kicked in.

We tried and tried and got very frustrated before giving up, deciding that nothing we were doing was actually going to make it work.

The next morning we returned to the phone place in Marsciano and when even our friend there couldn’t make it work he ‘cloned’ the SIM card and told us again that it would take a few hours to become active.  We chose to go a few miles out of town towards San Venanzo where we pulled into a large parking area and had a bite to eat.

After the local three hour lunch period we returned to the phone place and eventually our friend solved the problem after shutting down and re-starting our mobile router several times with the SIM card in it – yes!!

We then got on the road to one of the ‘Strade Bianche’ sections just outside Asciano – the same place we’ve seen the race from two or three times over the past few years.  There was already one campervan there – from Switzerland – then another couple arrived, both of which were from Italy.

We had a nice quiet night and got up to a sunny, although slightly breezy race-day morning.

We had a good idea when the race was going to arrive – both by watching the GCN coverage on my ipad, as well as the progress of the helis and fore-running vehicles.

The race was neither very dusty nor very muddy.  There had been rain a couple of days before and it had dried out just enough to not be muddy, but not yet dusty.  Good for the riders but not so much for the typical conditions that they are famed for.

I did get a good shot of Alaphillipe and Van der Poel… and also Sagan…

After they had all passed we watched the end of the race on GCN – not really pleased with the finish.  Tom Pidcock from team Evil (ooops – sorry! – Team Ineos) won and the rest raced for second – bunch of losers!  I felt like sicking the dog on them!

Actually the dog in the campervan next door to us was very nice and still a bit of a puppy so not sure if he would have gone after anyone – but they do deserve a bit of a bite in the ass!