Category: France

A Lunch, A Sportif and Another Lunch, and…The Ballet (Go Ukraine!!!)

On Saturday there was a meal at the bar that we really enjoyed.  It started with a salad that had pieces of meat in it – when I asked the english fellow that was sitting next to me what it was he said some fancy french name.  When I asked again – no, what is it? – he revealed that it was chicken gizzards.  I was a bit concerned that it would be like liver or kidney but it wasn’t at all – it was actually pretty tasty and reminded me a bit of pork.  I ate most of it, although did have a bit of help from both Colin and Mo.

The main course was duck leg served with creamy mashed potatoes and truffle – it was absolutely delicious, and probably the best meal I’ve had at the bar.  I couldn’t manage the cheese course or the dessert, although they both looked equally good.  We’ve met the english fellow before and he’s quite nice – he has a big old dog that’s blind and very well behaved, even when food is around.

The next day we attended two events.  The first was a sportif sponsored by the local cycling club – there were four different routes depending on how far each rider wanted to go.  We helped out at the food stop that was setup at the ‘lake’ near Luxe – we made sure all of the various food plates were re-stocked as groups arrived and devoured things.

After the last riders had left we helped pack up and take things back to the hippodrome, which was the location for the start and end of the four routes.  About an hour later all of the helpers regrouped for a lovely lunch of roast pork and a potato and cheese dish, along with a nice green salad and the usual crusty french bread.

The second event was very enjoyable as well but a bit more serious.  We’d gotten tickets to the Kiev ballet and the place was packed – I estimate there were probably 700 or 800 people there.

It was a fund-raiser for the ballet company as they’re basically trapped and unable to return to Ukraine because of mad-dog Putin and his insane illegal invasion and attempted genocide.

They started out with a demonstration of basic warm-ups and exercises, then got into the real show – and it was thrilling.

They did a lot of different numbers, and at the end got a rousing standing ovation.

We really, really enjoyed the evening, and it seemed everyone else did as well.

We packed lightly and got away again on Wednesday morning, crossing from France to Italy through the tunnel and reaching Susa in late afternoon. 

We’d booked a B&B and it was a nice little family-run affair with boys playing basketball in the courtyard and grandma and grandpa tending the backyard garden.

After settling in we went for a short walk – some nice little ponies next door and a couple of donkeys next to them.

Also back the other direction some very nice looking goats.

After breakfast at a decent time the next morning – including the best coffee we’d had in months – we were on our way again by about 8:00.  We made pretty good time for the first couple of hours, then started noticing how heavy the traffic was becoming.  We almost came to a standstill at some points, even though there were virtually no semi-trucks on the road.

We finally googled and found out that it’s a holiday in Italy and folks seemed to all be off to the Adriatic coast for a four-day weekend – bad timing!  Luckily as soon as we turned south towards Perugia the traffic died completely – barely any, although lots of road construction.

We arrived in Papiano early evening, stopping at the bar for a quick drink and to say Hi to Antonio.

Saliente to Mansle

Removal of the skanky jacuzzi contraption made the terrace look a lot better.  

And it’s lovely to have a garden that is well planted and laid out.

Leaving the house on a Sunday was a bit sad – we’d just started to get used to being there, but at least we’ll be back fairly soon.

We drove generally east and up the coast before turning inland just past Valencia.  Originally intending to stop around Zaragoza we ended up finding an aire well short of that in the town of Teruel.  The aire wasn’t too bad – right across from a guarda-civil station and next to a skateboard park.  Lots of activity and noise until a certain time, then remarkably quiet.

As usual when going a long distance we passed through lots of beautiful countryside and saw many sites of interest – although also as usual we didn’t stop except to let the dogs out now and then.

We originally planned a three-day trip but the second day’s drive went so well that we made it to the border and decided to keep going all the way to Mansle – stopping of course for a few things from the cheap shops right on the Spanish side of the border.

We hit the Hope Charity shop for more books and jigsaw puzzles, and the next day had a lovely fish-and-chip lunch with Tony and Joyce.  The owners of the restaurant have several dogs, and are caring for several others that were rescued from Ukraine – I believe they have 9 now!

We have, of course, visited the bar a few times and it’s so nice to see Edith and Sylvain again, as well as many of the other regulars.

There’s a fund-raising ballet in town tomorrow for Ukraine, and their flag is flying along the side of the church right across from the bar.

Snoopy is doing well – getting a little bit plump from all of the treats they give to all of the doggies.  Mo and Henry like going to the bar at least as much as we do!

Walking home the other afternoon after coffee I noticed a door-knocker on one of the houses.

I’m not sure how many times I’ve walked along the street and never noticed but interesting door-knockers are everywhere…

The hands are actually a bit creepy – reminded me of Thing in the Addams Family.

We’ve had some rain but also some lovely days and the spring blossoms are beautiful.

The birds in the neighbourhood are ravenous – we’re not sure how many fat-balls they’ve eaten, and the seeds in the blue ball feeder go down super quick.  I guess the birds are feeding their little ones right now so need all the extra food they can get.

The Giro d’Italia is on right now and for the first time in six years we’re not going to see any stages live so we’re compensating as best we can by watching GCN-plus on tv (via Colin’s phone).  Hopefully next year…

Back to Italy!

We got on the way from Mansle at a decent time in the morning, heading east through pouring rain.  The sky cleared a bit from time to time but it was generally a grey day.

We arrived in Chambery after a fairly long drive and checked into the hotel before taking the dogs for a short walk.  They are such good little travellers, and we make sure we stop regularly so they can have a little walk (ie:  pee).  

Since we’re in the car this time the seats in the back are down and Henry has his bed behind my seat so he can see Colin because then he doesn’t bark.  We tried putting Mo in the back also but she didn’t look comfortable perched on her blanket atop some luggage so she now lays on my lap on the blanket with her harness clipped to my seatbelt.

The next morning we continued east – it was still a bit grey out but not as much rain.

Passing through Bramans Val Cenis I finally realized we’d been through this pass before – albeit from the other direction – when we saw one of the Hannibal statues.

I’m not sure it’s been proven that Hannibal took this route over and through the Alps but it’s certainly possible.

We stopped just before noon at a cafe at the top of the pass – it was fiercely windy and had actually started snowing!

The proprietor of the cafe was a very old lady – when she spoke it sounded like every second word was Italian, although when I tried to converse with her she said in French that she didn’t speak it.

A few miles down the road we stopped again so I could take some photos – Lac du Mont-Cenis was looking spectacular with a bit of mist rising and whitecaps from the wind making the water look extra dark.  The place is half-way between Paris and Rome.

Only a few miles later and we were in Italy – again, just as passing from Spain to France, there was no border stop or covid check.  We only knew we were in Italy by the road signs and potholes.

A few miles outside Susa we saw a large message on the side of a mountain – ‘TAV = MAFIE’.

I googled it later to find out what it meant – there is/was a lot of opposition to the plans to build a long tunnel to accommodate a new high speed rail line.  Apparently there’s a lot of mafia infiltration in the construction industry, as well as many corrupt politicians – well, it is Italy!

We checked into a nice hotel in the village of Fornaci, not too far from Bergamo – we’re spending a few days on a little vacation before the race on Saturday.  The hotel has a nice restaurant and we enjoyed a lovely, although quite late dinner.

The next day we took a drive to re-con the race route, planning to pick a spot somewhere on the last climb of the day – the Passo di Ganda.

As we followed the route up through Orezzo, over the top and down into Selvino we remarked more than once how fortunate it was that we were in the BMW rather than the campervan.  The road was extremely narrow in spots and very winding and it’s possible the campervan wouldn’t have been able to negotiate parts of it.

Since we hadn’t passed many likely spots to park on race day we decided to watch from somewhere in the town of Selvino.  Another consideration was access to a cafe – and toilets, which is one of many perks of having a campervan that weren’t available in a car.

The drive down to Nembro was interesting, including twenty hairpin turns, each with a sign showing the name of an Italian cyclist.  Also included was the usual last-minute road works on the race route.

The next day we took a lovely drive up to the north end of Lago d’Iseo and down the east side, stopping along the way in the town of Marone.

It’s a nice little place, and being right on the lake it has lovely views, as well as some interesting architecture.

We left Marone and continued south along the lake to the town of Iseo, where we stopped for lunch.

Iseo is a beautiful place – we’ve used the campground more than once before, including on my first trip four years ago.

Returning to the hotel we were both so full from our excellent lunch that we didn’t bother with dinner, planning to get up nice and early so we could get to Selvino before the roads were closed in the morning.

Mellowing in Mansle

Since our return from Spain things have been pretty quiet for us and we haven’t done a whole lot, with a few exceptions.

First, and quite important – we went to a clinic so Colin could get his ‘vaccine passport’ and I could arrange for my second shot.  They weren’t sure what to do with me – they don’t vaccinate ‘tourists’ but we managed to convey that I wasn’t really just a tourist, and they really wanted to help me so they gave in.

The very nice lady doctor (that spoke pretty good english) told me that since my first shot was about four months ago it was too old and I’d have to get two more from them.  Disappointing as it would mean delaying our return to Italy, but I made an appointment for the first one two days from then.

When we arrived for my appointment the first thing the same doctor said was ‘why don’t we do an antibody test just in case – if you have antibodies then we may only have to give you one shot’.  They took a bit of blood from a finger prick, then gave me a shot.  While I waited my 15 minutes the test result came in and I did have enough antibodies – they presented me with a vaccine certificate!!  They still didn’t know what to do about billing me so just let me go.

The first thing we did when we got back to Mansle was go to the bar, but Edith had to break the news to me that I had to wait a week before I was ‘legal’ – oh well, back home we went.

The second, and very enjoyable thing was that we had Tony and Joyce over for dinner.  It was a lovely evening so we sat outside for the appetizers before coming inside for the main meal.  There was good wine, and excellent conversation, and the food seemed to go over well – an extremely nice evening.

We had lunch one day near Luxe at the ‘lake’ – they’d stocked it with 300 kilos of live trout and there were dozens of fishermen and women sitting in the rain along the shore.

One old fellow caught two good sized ones while we ate.

We had several nice bike rides, with the last one being over 40 km – we stopped in Aigre for lunch then managed to make it home before the rain hit.

Colin took the campervan to the place he bought it from in Ruffec to get all of the small things sorted out – we’re going to Italy in the car so won’t be needing the campervan again for a while.

I’ve learned to make a proper pie crust and have made a couple of very tasty quiches – next up steak and mushroom pie.

There’s been a couple of very important races that we watched on tv this year rather than being there.  First the world championships in Belgium, which would have been awesome to see live – a thrilling race won for the second year in a row by Julian Alaphilippe.

The second one two days ago was Paris-Roubaix, which normally takes place in April, and is the first time it’s been held since we saw it live in 2019.  This year it was rain and mud all the way, and was won with a thrilling sprint to the finish by three riders – the winner by a few inches was Italian Sonny Colbrelli.

Having missed both of those races we’re really looking forward to going to the last big one of the year – il Lombardia – on our way back to Papiano.

Finally Spain!

I forgot to mention the adorable hedgehog we saw in Ruffec on our way to the lab for my swab test.  We were going down the main road thru town and saw something shuffling across the road – it was a small hedgehog!  We were very worried that it might get run over so Colin quickly pulled to the side to stop the traffic, but everyone else also seemed aware of it and the little fellow made it safely across.  It was very nice to see that we weren’t the only ones that cared about a little animal.

The men’s time trial at the Olympics was awesome – much more exciting than time trials usually are.  Primoz Roglic won the gold and Tom Dumoulin got the silver – so happy for both of them.  Hugo Houle came a very respectable 11th.

I made an excellent lasagna (if I do say so myself!) for our final dinner in France, although the pasta making machine is a bit different from the one I have in Papiano and the one I have back home.  In any case it turned out pretty good and was well received.

Much to my relief we got the results of my swab test back before we left the house and were able to download and print it – I passed!  Or maybe I failed – in any case it was ‘negative’ which is good!

We got away at the decent time of 9:15 and were cruising – until we reached Bordeaux.  I know it’s always a bit of a pain getting past the city, even on the ring-road but it’s still frustrating.  It took us at least an hour to get by before we were once again cruising south.

We reached one of our favourite campgrounds mid-afternoon – just north of the village of Souraide, near the Spanish border.  We’ve stayed here at least three times before but for the first time noticed the ‘no dogs’ sign at the entrance – he let us in anyway.

Waking before seven the next morning we had a nice cup of tea – or two – before heading on to Spain.  There’s a border crossing about 20 km away thru a small town that’s mostly duty-free shops just across on the Spanish side.

We kept waiting to hit the ‘border police’ that would ask for our vaccine certificates or test results, but there was no one.  I got my brain poked for nothing!

We stopped for some groceries along the way – I’d forgotten to pack the potatoes, onions and frozen salmon before leaving so we did need to replenish some staples. We arrived near our destination right around noon and pulled into a large gravelled area where we stopped and had a light lunch.

Since we’d been here before we knew we weren’t yet at the summit of the climb so after eating we drove just a little further where we found the spot we’d watched the race from three years ago (where I got bowled over by the barrier because of the wind from the cars).

It’s a small pullout on gravel with room for about 3 campervans, right on the edge of the hill, with horses grazing below and the ocean in the near distance.  When I was walking Mo she stayed pretty close to me – the vultures above us were hunting in threes and she’d be a plump little meal for them.

Some of the riders taking part in tomorrow’s race were doing a re-con of the route.

While Colin and the doggies had a little lie-down I took a walk along the side of the hill that the horses are grazing on.

The views are fantastic!

The horses remind me a bit of the ones we saw at the horse fair in San Emiliano two years ago – very beautiful.

As evening fell the sun coming thru the clouds over the ocean was quite stunning.

We had a lovely dinner of salmon, mashed potatoes and green beans – such is ‘wild camping’ for us!

Dinner Out, and Brain Piercing

On Friday evening we went out for dinner – we had an outside table and it was lovely – luckily almost the whole area was covered by large umbrellas as it rained off and on almost the whole time.

I made a very nice choice – duck breast with goat cheese sauce and roast potatoes.  It was just delicious and I didn’t even have anything leftover for breakfast – highly unusual!

The next afternoon we went and had a very nice visit with Colin’s friend Jane.  She has a beautiful house a short walk away right on the river and we had a lovely time sitting outside overlooking the large garden and swimming pool.

The neighbour’s cat likes to spend time here – a very cute calico.

Another bike ride on Sunday took us over 41 km in all, including a stop in Aigre for a fairly good cafe creme.

We also popped in for a quick visit with Joyce in Fontenille – Tony was out at the time.  It had just started to rain when we arrived and during our short visit it just poured out.

Luckily there was a break and we made a run for it, arriving home without getting drenched.

We’ve started getting organized for our next trip, including me getting another covid test swab.  I thought – ok, I’ve had one before, this shouldn’t be anything different – wrong!!  I had to stand in the parking lot of the lab/testing place and the swab that approached me was huge.  I went to take out my nose stud and the doctor kind of laughed and said ‘no – not necessary’.  What I think he was really thinking was ‘no – it doesn’t matter at all – we’re going way further in than that’!

It was awful!  I tried to pull away a bit but couldn’t.  I had read a couple of months ago that people described the ‘swabs’ as almost piercing their brains, but after the one I had before I left Canada I thought they were exaggerating, but now I don’t think they were.  I’ve never had anything that far up my nose in my life – it was horrible, but I did survive, and I better pass the test!

Monpaple Art, Tusson Cap, Hope Charity Hat

On Sunday morning we had lots of time for a bike ride before the final stage of the Tour started – they have it a little later now so that the presentations can be done near sunset at the Arc de Triomphe..

Our ride took us past the nearby village of Monpaple, which was having an art exhibition.  

We rode by and on to Aunac where we stopped for another of the very strong coffees.

On our return to Mansle we did stop in Monpaple and had a look around.

There was an abundance of clown paintings – including clown’s painting – but lots of other subjects as well.

The final TdF stage was the usual boring bunk for the first couple of hours – the winner and his team riding side-by-side drinking champagne, etc.  I always hope someone’s going to go for it but it never happens.

The only exciting part is when they hit the Champs-Élysées and do the eight circuits to the finish.  I was, of course, loudly cheering on Cavendish, but he was pinned in and couldn’t get past Wout van Aert, who won yet another stage.  That’s now a very difficult mountain stage, the individual time trial, and the final sprint that he’s won – seems like the young Belgian can do it all.  Still, even though he didn’t break Merckx’s record the Cav did tie it, and what a comeback Tour it was for him!

On Tuesday morning we heard sirens rushing along the highway and when we drove up to Ruffec to do some shopping we saw why.  A semi-truck had flipped into the ditch and looked like it had caught on fire.

There were several fire trucks and other emergency vehicles and it looked like they were trying to decide how to get the trailers uprighted.

On our ride on Wednesday we went to Tusson for coffee.

Along the way we saw a couple more of the ‘mannequins’ lounging around.

The coffee shop we ended up going to was awesome – it looked quite small from the outside but had a lovely fairly large terrace area at the back.

Most of the folks that came in for coffee and cake were brits, and we enjoyed the best cappuccino we’ve had since we left Italy.

For the first time I ventured into the church that’s on one side of the main square in Mansle.

It actually has some nice stained glass windows, and was wonderfully cool and quiet.

On Thursday we went to the Hope Charity shop in Sauze-Vaussais and picked up a few jigsaw puzzles and some books.  On the way out Colin pointed to the hat section and I scored a great black sun hat – I could have used it last weekend and avoided the raccoon eyes.

At Last a Race – TdF ITT

Race day dawned sunny and beautiful, with enough of a breeze to make the flags fly well.

There was one campervan behind us in our great little pullout, as well as several cars that had arrived during the morning.  The lady in the campervan warned Colin to wear a hat and indicated we should be careful of the sun – good advice, of course.  I had already smeared shea butter on my forearms, back of the neck and top of my ears (more on that later).

As usual for the Individual Time Trial many of the riders took a re-con ride around the course throughout the morning.

Also as usual at the Tour the Caravan was eagerly awaited by all…

It arrived a bit late, but was worth the wait…

It was even bigger and better than ever, and we cleaned up on goodies…

Including several packets of the doggies’ favourite sausage treats…

Third off the line in the ITT was Mark Cavendish – having tied the great Eddy Merckx’s TDF stage record earlier in the week it’s not likely he’ll break it today, although he’s not a bad time trialer.

It was easy to tell whenever a French racer was approaching as the crowds before us would go crazy.

We’re a bit concerned for a couple of fans just down from us – they keep taking off their shirts and seem unbothered by the fact that they might look like lobsters tomorrow.

As soon as the last rider – current overall leader Tadej Pogacar – passed I ran to our neighbour’s campervan where they had the race on tv.

Wout van Aert won!

And almost better the young 2nd overall Danish rider Jonas Vingegaard was so fast he almost caught up to 3rd place overall Richard Carapaz.  That would have been sweet!

We had contemplated staying another night but the traffic didn’t seem to be backed up too badly so we decided to get back to Mansle.  The drive was better than expected and we were home in good time.

The next morning I realized what I had missed when applying the shea butter to protect from the sun – my forehead and upper chest were bright red.  I look like a raccoon – or maybe the elusive red panda (and I don’t mean the small Italian car!).

Heading to the ITT

Got another nice ride in – a lovely route around to Aunac, with a stop for coffee.

Bastille Day celebrations were fairly subdued – no huge parties or fireworks that I could hear or see.

We got away mid-morning on Thursday – we’re both pretty organized and packing up the campervan didn’t take long.  The trip south to the time-trial course took about 2 ½ hours as we travelled on smaller, quieter roads.

The yellow route marking arrows weren’t up yet, but it’s pretty easy to tell when you’re on the route…

We looked for a parking spot along almost the entire route, starting in Libourne and going almost all the way to Saint-Emilion before pulling over and claiming our spot. 

We’d passed quite a few campervans already and knew many more would come but didn’t want to risk getting stuck on the wide shoulder as the ground looked a bit soft.

We’re in a nice wide spot with room for one or two more campervans, right next to a large vineyard.  This is a UNESCO Heritage area and is well known for it’s excellent wine – we’re beside a field of Merlot grapes.

They’re doing spraying of the vines right now – great timing!  We kept all of the windows shut for part of the day but luckily the sprayers knocked off fairly early.

We’ve discovered a problem with the campervan – the sink isn’t draining properly.  There’s a bit right at the top that’s a plastic piece of crap and has broken so all of the drain water flows directly into the cutlery drawer underneath.  I am now doing dishes in the bathroom sink.

The town of Libourne had their fireworks on Thursday night – I was already in bed but listened to them for quite awhile.  Mo heard them too and did her usual little barky/growly thing at them before settling back down on my feet.

Just after breakfast Friday morning a fellow pulled up in a car beside us – the vineyard side, not the road side.  We wondered if we were going to get asked to move, but all he did was warn us to close all of the windows as the sprayers would be coming soon.

We knew the machine was approaching, but appreciated the warning and kept the windows closed for an hour after he’d passed.

In the afternoon we took a walk back to the next group of campervans and on the way passed a very beautiful garden that must belong to the owner of the vineyard.

We had a rather lazy day – I finished the last of the three Genghis Khan books and was left wishing for a fourth.  We found a second problem with the campervan – the freezer has stopped working and the chicken as well as the salmon were both completely defrosted.  Chicken is Friday’s dinner so that’s ok and I made a teriyaki marinade for the salmon so it’s all good.

Late in the evening a bunch of vehicles pulled up on the road, including a semi-truck and several vans. They commenced to put up large signs and some barriers.  Apparently we’re right at the ‘4 km to go’ point.

The team had men from several different countries, including a fellow from Louisiana who said he used to do setups for the Cirque du Soleil.

It was quite a production and they didn’t finish until almost 10:30.

Manx Missile Explodes – We Ride for Coffee

A week ago Friday there was a dinner at the bar – we both chose the scampi and chips.  As usual there were quite a few Brits there, although they’d put the tables a bit further apart so not so much socializing.  During the lockdown last year Edith and Sylvain had used the time to re-decorate a bit – it’s lighter and spiffed up, and looks really good.

When returning home from Ruffec one day we stopped to say a quick hello to Tony and Joyce in Fontenille.  It’s the first time I’ve seen Tony since he did the two beautiful paintings for Colin based on two of my photos so I finally go to thank him personally for doing them.  One of them is in Papiano, so I’d already seen it last year but the other – of Mo and Benny – I didn’t see until we got to Mansle ten days ago.

We’ve taken a couple of walks down to the campground, and the river is still pretty high, although after the flooding several weeks ago it actually has subsided.

They’ve finished putting the new windows in the Mairie and it looks pretty good – Colin is especially pleased that they’re no longer flying the EU flag.

Last Sunday there was a regional cycling race and Colin drove the lead car while I took a few photos.

Unfortunately the weather sucked and there were a couple of periods of torrential rain where I had to go and take shelter in the car.

During one break in the rain I took the opportunity to walk home before the next downpour hit.

We’ve gone for a couple of nice bike rides – the first up to Aunac for coffee.  I have to say it’s very pleasant to ride on roads that aren’t just pothole after pothole – even the small back roads here are in much better shape than most of the ‘main’ roads in Italy.

This Friday we took a day-trip to Cognac, with a quick stop first at a bike shop in Angouleme to get new pads for my front brake.  By the time we got to the campervan store near Cognac they had already closed for lunch so we took the opportunity to find a place to eat.

We came upon a cafe in a nearby village and had a lovely roast chicken lunch alongside a bunch of locals.

A very very exciting Tour de France stage a couple of days ago – Mark Cavendish has now tied Eddy Merckx’s stage win record with his fourth win of this year’s race.  After being a last minute choice to even go to the TDF, and almost a write-off in some people’s minds makes it even more special for the Manx Missile.

Yesterday we went for another, longer bike ride, this time up to Aigre for coffee.  A very good last minute decision was to wear my rain jacket/windbreaker – we were halfway to our destination when the clouds opened and we just got poured on.

The coffee was good and strong, although I do miss Italian cappuccino – cafe creme is not the same!

On the way home we got more rain, but thankfully it didn’t last very long.  At the village of Villesoubis there are several cute stuffed ‘scarecrows’, two of which depicted bike riders.

Another special day at the TDF yesterday – Cdn. Michael Woods is now the proud wearer of the King of the Mountains jersey.  It would be great if he can keep it until the end next Sunday.