How We Roll Back…

We’ve spent a lot of time visiting south west France now, which means familiarity with the route, as well as the entire area. Nevertheless we still search for new ways to get there and back [avoiding motorways and their tolls]. A few weeks ago I wrote how we set off, where we like to embark, the entire routine.

So then, after a few weeks ‘bimbling’ [Husband’s word], we have to turn the van northwards and consider how we might return. We select a day. On this occasion, Husband came up with a plan to return overnight in a cabin, which appealed until we discovered that the ferry sets off late, leaving little or no opportunity to schmooze in the restaurant and bar. Who wants to drive on, locate the cabin, clean teeth and get straight into a berth?

These days it is neither necessary nor desirable to scramble up the length of France in one, long day and we prefer a gentle, staged journey – still attempting to find hitherto unexplored places.

We opted to return from Ouistreham [Caen] knowing there is a very convenient aire next to the ferry terminal for our last night. We decided to spend a couple of nights at Dinard, which is only a couple of hours away and left us time to explore as well as execute the all-important pre-return shopping spree that is obligatory at the finale of all trips.

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Dinard is situated across the bay from St Malo and probably suffers for it’s glamorous, historic neighbour but we’ve stayed at St Malo enough times. A look at one or two lacklustre ACSI [off season discount card ] sites confirmed that the municipal site at Port Blanc would be a good choice and so it was-with an uninterrupted view of the beach and bay from our van.

The weather by this time had become blustery and drizzly-a reminder that we were on our way home.

The site offered  a bar and pizzas-surprising at this end of season period but not an option for us [I am unable to eat pizzas]. A five minute walk up the road led us to a lively area with bakeries, bars and brasseries. On Sunday afternoon a small stage was hosting a display of line dancing-

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The restaurant we chose was old fashioned but proved popular, as after we’d been seated every table was occupied.

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Dinard is a hilly seaside town reminiscent of Scarborough, with an air of faded elegance-enormous old hotels, a smattering of art deco, luxuriant gardens and promenades as well as ice cream parlours and bars. There is evidence of an interest in the arts, with a film festival running and some impressive sculptures dotted along the prom.

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We walked back to site via a path around the sea wall which wound around the town cliffs, narrow in places and in a bracing wind, but thrilling and with dramatic views.

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We left Dinard to scoop up items on our wish-list from a Carrefour complex the size of five football pitches then drove up our well-trodden route to Caen and to our customary spot next to the ferry. We dodged the motorhome-bore [‘I’ve Been Everywhere, Man’], showered and went to get a meal. next day the ferry’s engines woke us at 6.30am, just right for packing up and trundling the 500yards into the check-in queue. Drive on, climb up to the coffee bar, grab coffee and croissant, settle into a couchette. That’s how we roll back…

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The Lure of Simple Pleasures

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            We’ve been spending a few days at a favourite site here in South West France. Situated on the Atlantic coast on the peninsula created by The Gironde, Le Gurp nestles in pine woods by a beach that stretches on almost as far as the eye can see, stroked by azure Atlantic rollers crashing on to the sand in frothy crescents.
This camp site is almost entirely visited by German holiday makers, who flock here for the waves, which are perfect for surfing and for its proximity to the beach, which is surveyed by lifesaving personnel and has soft, white sand, a couple of showers and a car park. The proliferation of Germans [and surfers at that] makes for a Boho, hippy atmosphere where strings of bunting, flags, drapes and all manner of camper vehicles abound-like a Mad Max movie.

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           Sites vary as much as hotels do. If your preference is for infinity pools, spas, cocktail bars, beauty salons and karaoke you could have it. If, like us you prefer a beautiful location, a clean, warm, efficient shower, security, space and the basics Le Gurp is the place.
We happened upon it the first summer we travelled to the Gironde with a tent, twenty or so years ago. The site we were on, near to Soulac [having supposedly booked to no avail] was tightly packed with chalets and boasted raucous entertainment each night. During a cycle trip we found Le Gurp beach and site. Could we book? No-it is a municipal site but is vast. There was plenty of space so we moved.
From the site a network of tarmac cycle tracks radiate through the pine forests to tiny, pretty villages like Grayan et l’Hopital and Talais or bustling seaside towns like Montalivets [which has an extensive and boisterous Sunday market] or Soulac-which is touristy but pleasant. On our first visits here we were runners, jogging every morning along the forest tracks in hot sunshine as many continue to do. Later [and older] we took to cycling. On the way to Montalivets by bike you’ll go past the tight brush-work fencing of ‘Euronat’-supposedly Europe’s largest naturist holiday park, although anyone hoping to catch a glimpse of naked tennis or boules-in-the-buff will be disappointed. If you’re bent on spotting unclothed bodies a stroll along the beach in either direction will reveal plenty of devotees-but it’s not a pretty sight!
A short walk [or shorter cycle] over the hillock from the camp site towards the beach takes you past a surf shop, a small supermarket, a newsagents/beach shop, a boulangerie, a launderette and several bars and restaurants-not a massive development but everything, in fact that the average German camper needs or wants.
During the day tiny children play among the pine trees, peddling madly around the tracks on bikes and ganging together to play with sticks and pine cones before being taken to the beach. Here there are no organised activities, there is no pool, nothing but a couple of swings and a climbing frame to amuse them-and so they amuse themselves. Camping is surely the best holiday a child can have?
In these late summer evenings, the sun sets like flames through the pine trees and as twilight descends the site comes alive with twinkly lights from tents and vans. There will be an occasional gentle strum of guitar and groups of al fresco diners will sit up chatting into the night over bottles of wine. You could sit outside with a glass or two or stroll over to one of the beach bars for a late drink. Wonderful.

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Silly Season Selfi-shness

Here we are in the midst of the holiday season; overpriced, wet [now], crowded and frustrating [airports and traffic queues].

Schools are out, parliament is out, railway networks and road systems have chosen to upgrade or get repairs done as usual.

At the seafront in our nearest town the beach was thronged with families on Wednesday, so that finding a small space where we [GrandOffspring and I] could plop down long enough to construct a teeny-weeny sandcastle proved problematical. We’d already had a bus ride, done lunch and visited the funfair [a serious blow to the granny purse] and this next activity was sandwiched [see what I  did there?] between expenditure of industrial proportions on the rides and the obligatory ice cream.

For a brief rest [essential for grannies] we sat on a bench, where I was asked by a smiling young woman to take a photo of her with her husband and two small children-which I did, taking an extra one for luck. She thanked me, whereupon GrandOffspring was moved to ask me if the woman was my friend.

In these times, a request to take a photo is a refreshing breeze wafting through the forest of selfie sticks that crowd into every popular view. I read this morning that an unseemly scuffle broke out at The Trevi Fountain in Rome between two rival selfie-takers competing for the best spot [ fisticuffs at the Trevi Fountain ] and I remembered when, a few years ago whilst being escorted around The Alhambra Palace in Granada it was nigh impossible to photograph any of the inner courtyards, fountains and architectural marvels owing to a posing woman and her doting husband, who insisted on draping her coiffed and made-up body over everything and snapping all angles.

There was also last year’s visit to Venice, during which hoards of excited teenage girls were selfy-ing themselves to death on every bridge, corner, fountain, square, path, archway and step, taking up their ‘model’ poses with a leg bent out, chin up, breasts stuck forward and lips duly pouted.

My nearest and dearest know only too well that I am phobic about having my own photograph taken and that few images of myself exist since about 2003 [when Husband and I took the plunge into matrimonial decorum].

You have to wonder why this self-obsession has taken hold, why this desire to show oneself off at every opportunity is so overwhelming. I have a modest collection of grainy, black and white photos of previous generations of my family and something they have in common is that they are all taken whilst everyone is engaged in some kind of activity. There is a picnic, a walk, playing cricket on a beach. There are uncles with trouser legs rolled up, aunties with skirts hoisted ready to paddle, people eating ice creams and children batting at makeshift wickets.

This is why, when I photograph my own grandchildren I like to capture them doing what they do, not posed. Maybe the selfie fashion will die a death one day-I can only hope…

The Wild Frontier

Last time we made the long trek to Croatia we were still using a tent, which means it was very many years ago. It seemed intrepid then, to go so far; but although the roads were basic the camp sites were beautiful, the people welcoming and the produce wonderful.

There are still hundreds of roadside stalls selling local fruit and vegetables and home-made concoctions but Croatia has developed a great deal since our previous visit, with efficient roads, signs and facilities in abundance. Having previously stayed on a few islands and seen Dubrovnik we chose to go to the Unesco site of Plitvicka, an area of outstanding natural beauty with lakes and waterfalls. At this time of year, with the snow-melt water cascading down everywhere under a faultless blue sky it was spectacular, exceeding all expectations and only marred [as the day grew later] by the hoards of selfie-takers, tablet-snappers and those who consider themselves ‘serious’ photographers in that they must use a tripod for every shot. There were also, near the end of our chosen trail a number of coach parties, mainly Japanese-some of whom had chosen to wear face-masks for their day out, an inexplicable sight in the pristine environment of Plitvicka.

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Next day we were off early, continuing through the inland part of the country which is quiet and beautiful, a backdrop of mountains and occasional lakes but precious little tourism. All tourists want Croatia’s coast [which, to be fair is dramatic and beautiful, too]. Then we were back on the coastal highway ourselves, spending our last night in Croatia in a small, seaside village and enjoying an uproarious evening with another British couple, sitting outside by the Adriatic, the sound of the waves an accompaniment.

We sped off again in the morning, south towards Montenegro, a new country for us. At the border we bought our obligatory motor insurance-fifteen euros for a scruffy scrap of paper-, made deferential noises at the officials and set off towards Budva, whose alleged reputation as a mini version of Dubrovnik is a little exaggerated. In all of the books, websites and information that we’ve amassed there are no places whatsoever mentioned in Montenegro so all we had was a dubious site I’d discovered on the internet somewhere around the back of town, the location of which we’d programmed into Mrs Tom-Tom with more hope than confidence.

‘700mtrs’ said Mrs Tom-Tom as we stopped in the first car park we found. 700 meters to the camp? In the midst of the city?

We drove towards it. I spotted the edge of a caravan between the houses of the street. We drove round the corner and through a gateway and parked under the olive trees. Yes, it was basic. No, not everyone would have wanted to use the shower [although it was clean]. But it was a twenty minute walk from the old, walled town of Budva and best of all it was safe and secure.

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While Budva cannot hope to compete with Dubrovnik it is nevertheless a pleasant and attractive old town. having strolled through the narrow alleyways and visited the ‘Citadela’ we found a seaside bar, bought a beer and sat to watch Budva’s population enjoying the evening sun. What would our next day’s travel involve? I’d read enough about the perils of Albanian roads to give me nightmares! We were about to discover it for ourselves…

 

 

Welcome to our Shores!

It can’t have escaped the greater part of the world that here in little old Britain we are experiencing a time of flux. Amongst the dire predictions of disaster that are flying from every media orifice are those of unaffordable foreign holidays, difficulties over flights, problems with customs queues, visas, reciprocal health cover and more besides. Horrors!

The gloom that has settled over our British summer is further compounded by an unseasonal bout of wet, windy and miserable weather. So not only are we facing the prospect of holidaying in the domestic bliss of our home shores but will be doing it in thick sweaters, raincoats and wellington boots.

To be fair, wet, windy and miserable summer weather is so far embedded in the ethos of a British holiday it has become an essential component-part of the essence of a traditional British seaside vacation. For the uninitiated, what else should a new visitor to British shores expect from their holiday?

To begin with, there is the matchless experience of staying in a British hotel, guest house or B&B. Where else are you provided with sticky carpets and overpowering aromas of disinfectant? You may get to sample the famous, ‘full English’ breakfast-a carb and fat-fest consisting of a lack lustre sausage, some pinkish, slimy bacon, a greasy egg and blotting paper toast. This feast is designed to arm you for the rigours of the day to come, when you are to set off out into the gales and torrential rain for some sightseeing.

What should you see? You should not miss the delights of the pier, where you may stagger along against the wind to the end, where although the view may have been obliterated you will be able to while away an hour or two feeding coins into slot machines-this will also provide some shelter. Exiting the slot machine arcade gives you an opportunity to enjoy the pier for a second time as you stumble back to the promenade. You may wish to hire a deck chair for an hour or two, weather permitting. Be sure to open your umbrella. You will be rewarded by the sights of British beach-goers as they walk their dogs or scour the beach with metal detectors. There may even be a lone swimmer-dressed of course in wet suit, goggles and cap.

If you have made it to lunch time you should not pass up an opportunity to try that great bastion of traditional English cuisine, fish and chips. Years ago this mainstay of the national diet was served rolled up inside sheets of newspaper, providing the added bonus of reading material once the contents had been consumed. These days, with the onset of health and safety, together with dwindling newspapers the packaging consists of a polystyrene box and may or may not be furnished with a plastic fork. Examples of the packaging are readily available to view around the streets and pavements of our towns.

The afternoon can be spent browsing the shopping centres, where a range of pound stores and super-buy  emporia interspersed with charity shops will clamour for your attention. Your evening will consist of a return to your accommodation for a tepid shower in your rustic ensuite, followed by an evening meal in one of the many and culturally varied restaurants at your disposal. Will you choose the kebab house, the Indian, the Chinese or MacDonald’s?

Well-what are you waiting for, international tourists? The pound has rarely been lower! Welcome to the UK!

 

When You Know you are Out of Your Depth

Amongst the plethora of entertainment, leisure activities and sports events organised by our town, which besides being a place of residence, I should add, is also a seaside resort and  tourist magnet, is a ‘long swim’. I was treated to a preview of this phenomenon yesterday evening during a ‘shortish’ cycle.

I am an admirer of those who are adept at swimming; those who are as at home in the water as they are with their two feet planted on the land. I envy them. They can dive carelessly from boats into the Aegean whilst enjoying their day cruises in Turkey while I can only watch from the safety of the deck and pretend I’ve a water allergy. They can fling themselves wantonly into the waves and disappear into the froth as they submerge, reappearing without spluttering, coughing, shrieking in terror or vomiting up the seawater they’ve ingested. This expertise all looks cool and elegant. Even in a hotel swimming pool fellow guests complete slow, unhurried lengths from shallow to deep and back, flipping over to view something or undertaking that mysterious ‘treading water’ thing that I’ve never mastered.

It isn’t that I am unable to swim. I can. In my twenties I spent all of one winter learning in a class of adults, shivering in an Olympic sized pool, taught with great patience by swimming teachers who understood the panic experienced by those who have lived all the way to adulthood without having mastered the aquatic arts. I kicked, I glided, I even dived with enough encouragement. But the incontrovertible fact remains: I do not enjoy the water. I do not like to have my face submerged. I cannot throw caution to the wind and submit my stature to depths deeper than its height.

In circumstances where the temperature is so hot I need to cool off I may climb laboriously down a ladder into the shallow end of a swimming pool, providing there are no more than about two other adults there-[no children-children splash ]. I might hang there, clinging to the ladder for a few moments before climbing out. I might even undertake a cautious flap across the width at the shallow end, within reach of the side, executing my undignified, unorthodox version of breast stroke which involves numerous, panicky gyrations with my head stuck above the water. On reaching the other side I grab whatever ledge is there, make for the ladder and thence to the safety of the sun-bed.

Most people can swim these days, having learned at school or from holidays abroad. But I was raised in a small village by non-swimming parents. Our holidays were camping jaunts taken in farmers’ fields and a day at the seaside was an occasion involving buckets, spades, sandwiches, rolled up trousers and knotted handkerchiefs on heads.

There is one positive outcome of my land-lubbing childhood: it is that as soon as my own children could walk, and long before they started school, I ensured beyond any doubt that they learned to swim, so whatever sins of parenthood I may have wrought upon them they have no qualms about taking to the water.