And again heading south, part 3
April to June 2022
Wednesday May 25th there are still some clouds but the blue sky has the upper hand and the sun is shining again. A strong wind is blowing and it is not really warm outside with 57 degrees Fahrenheit. It is still 136 miles to Andorra but the road is beautiful.
We pass turquoise colored water-reservoirs and drive through a narrow gorge where tunnels lead us through an mountain valley. In the distance we see snow-capped mountains. After this valley with its towering mountains we climb higher and higher on increasingly narrow winding roads. I’m glad we don’t run into oncoming traffic because that would give some problems, but we’re lucky. We only encounter oncoming traffic when, two mountains further, we arrive on a wider road leading to Andorra.
Although there are at least 30 motorhomes parked behind the supermarket River, there is still space for us and after we have parked the Frankia we walk to the restaurant to have coffee and cake.
Unfortunately there are few pastries, but the double hamburger with bacon and cheese is also tempting, so instead of a cup of coffee, we soon have an extensive lunch. It is now 2.30 pm and we don’t have to eat the rest of the day. After this lavish meal we have to move around so we enter the supermarket. Of course, first to the non-food department. Unfortunately, the water bottle, I bought earlier, is completely sold out. It’s a pity because I like it so much that I wanted another one. Even when climbing up a kitchen staircase, which I took from elsewhere in the shop, I cannot find one on top of. Now we quickly walk to the socks, the reason to return to Andorra. There we discover that there is only one pair of socks left. The replenishment of goods does not run smoothly here. When we’ve finished shopping I decide to walk to the outlet on the other side of San Julia de Loria. It means a walk of 5 miles (back and forth) so Dick stays at home. For me, however, it’s a good exercise and I’m on my way. The sun is shining and it is wonderful weather to walk. It’s 59 degrees. However, the a strong wind is slightly less pleasant. When I arrive at the outlet store, I am immediately recognized. After all, I bought my sunglasses here a month ago and now I want a second, exactly similar, pair. This sunglasses are nice colored and light, protect my eyes well and are not expensive, so a second one for in the car is not an unnecessary luxury. Especially since my old Adidas sunglasses, after years of intensive use, show considerable damage. Since the Adidas glasses are no longer made, it is difficult to buy other glasses. Of course I also look around in this store and search for fanny packs. But I don’t immediately find the wooow factor so, with only a new pair of sunglasses, I return to the Frankia where I arrive at 7 pm. Just in time to stop Dick from calling the police to look for me.
Since we have enough time to travel north, the weather is nice and all the stores are open on Ascension day in Andorra la Vella, we decide to stay another day on Thursday May 26th. After breakfast with a fresh baguette from the River supermarket (the price has now increased by 20 cents) we walk to the bus stop where fifteen minutes later the bus to the capital picks us up. Although we neatly put on our mask, it soon is obviously that this is no longer mandatory, so the masks are stored.
The drive is only 5.5 miles and after 15 minutes we get out near the main shopping street of the capital, the avenue Meritxell.
Shop after shop invites you to enter their store. A true shopping paradise, especially for women. We stop at the tourist information office to pick up the map with the bus stops for the return bus and then leisurely walk past and through the shops. I still have some desires such as a quick-drying, lightweight towel and of course some socks. But when we pass a headlamp, that one is also added to our shopping basket. This Headlamp also has red light which I can use during night time so I don’t need to disturb sleeping people. Shopping in the big “Pyrenees” store I neither can’t resist a beautiful lightweight shirt.
Unfortunately Dick doesn’t want to buy anything for himself, even though I think he really needs new shirts and pants. After drinking a coffee at Starbucks mid-afternoon, Dick says it’s enough.
For 6.5 miles, we walked from shop to shop, I admire his stamina. Now he stops and we walk to the bus stop from where a bus return to our motorhome. Only Dick gets on the bus. I still want to see some shops before walking back. I cannot get enough of shopping but also want to walk through the narrow streets of old Andorra la Vella, far from the area of the big shopping giants. The weather is lovely despite the wind, around 75 degrees and it’s no punishment to walk back the 5.5 miles. When I am home at 6 pm, we raise a glass of wine on a wonderful shopping day and admire the new purchases. Not only I have plenty new hiking socks now, I also bought them a lot cheaper than when I had to buy them here at the River department store. We feel rosy because of the strong wind and the bright mountain sun.
Friday May 27th it is significantly cooler, only 61 degrees, but the sun is shining again and the sky is steel blue. After breakfast, with fresh baguette, we drive straight through Andorra to the mountain pass at Grau Roig.
We won’t stay tonight at the parking lot of the ski lifts at 6562 feet, but do stop at the top of the mountain-pass to look for a geocache and to take one last look at the beautiful mountain world of Andorra. It is and remains my favorite country in Europe. And not only because of the beautiful mountains and wild nature, but also because of strolling through the wonderful shopping streets, with shops that are always open.
The border is just after Pas de la Casa but apparently customs has no interest at all for people entering France because we don’t even have to stop and that while the traffic on the other side of the road, a continuous stream of cars driving up the mountain in a traffic jam, is regularly held. I’m glad we’ve refueled in Andorra before, because here, at the border, the traffic jams in front of the gas stations don’t really make you happy. After crossing the border, an endless descent follows through hundreds of hairpin bends, but eventually we are at the foot of the pass.
We decide to drive on to the town of Venerque, a small village with a parking space between large trees. We are lucky because two motorhomes soon leave and we can park our Frankia in a beautiful spacious place. Then we walk into the village. We went here once on my birthday, years ago. Then there was a big party along the banks of the river and we enjoyed a concert (according to Dick especially for my birthday). There is not much to do now, but there is a large supermarket so we can buy some food and after wandering for 3 miles, we are back. We read in our books and look at a follow up route that takes us further north.
Saturday, the weather is still good with a sun shining in a steel blue sky and the temperature climbs till 79 degrees. The only bakery is closed and the supermarket is not yet open, so we have breakfast with our old Oroweat bread from Spain. Then we set out on back roads to the north. We drive straight through Toulouse and after 2 hours we arrive in Albi where a new parking lot for motorhomes is made. There is still place to park. We find a nice spot on the edge (my favorite place because then at least we have an unobstructed view on one side), drink a cup of coffee and then walk to the center of Albi. That is not really far away and soon we are at the bridge over the river Tarn.
Above the houses we see the imposing Cathedral of Albi, which has the allure of a fortress. The city is nicknamed “the red city” (because of the red bricks) and is on the world heritage list. It is a pleasant city to wander through and your gaze is constantly drawn to the historic, half-timbered brick houses and impressive city palaces. The cathedral, like the surrounding houses, is also built of brick and is not only the largest brick cathedral in the world but also the largest painted cathedral in Europe. Its construction lasted two centuries from 1282 to 1480 and every spot on the inner wall is painted. One of the oldest depictions of the Last Judgment can be seen in the front, dating from the 15th century. It is impressive to look around here. And the narrow medieval streets? We can’t get enough of wandering through and time and again we end up in another hidden corner, wandering in a monastery garden and sneaking through narrow covered alleys, where we think, at any moment, we will see a figure from times gone by. We really are back to the Middle Ages.
Just in time before the restaurants on the square close their kitchens, we manage to get a seat on one of the terraces. I have good food but Dick’s starter, lettuce with gresiers, looks a bit less. Even though Dick says it tastes good and he has eaten this dish before, the fact that one of the ingredients is gresiers (stomach, not directly involved in the digestion of the food) is reason enough for me to never recommend this dish. And then knowing that, without looking, I told Dick that it would be goat’s cheese. Poor Dick!
Because we keep wandering through this fascinating city, we feel our legs when we head home, but when we sing the pilgrim song “Ultreia” together (we know the melody and the chorus but not yet the whole text) walking immediately becomes a lot easier and we arrive safely at our Frankia, end of the afternoon. As always when we eat something late in the afternoon, we only have a few toasts with French cheese and a glass of wine in the evening.
Because the reviews about the parking in the town of Mende says that it is already full at the end of the morning, we don’t get up too late on Sunday and drive through the French countryside early morning.
When we arrive in Mende there is more than enough space to park and we can even stay parallel to the river. It is a beautiful spot and the flowing water gives a wonderful sound. After the usual cup of coffee on arrival we walk into the town. It is Sunday and Mother’s Day and therefore extinct everywhere. Of course all shops, but also the few terraces, are closed. That makes a place not really attractive and after we wandered around for a few hours (actually only the old lavoir (washing facility) that the leather workers used, is nice) we walk back to the motorhome. We open all the windows wide. It is now 77 degrees and in our closed camper the temperature has risen above 94 degrees. Fortunately there is some wind so the Frankia can cool down a bit and while Dick stays inside I walk to the river below to write about our experiences at the water’s edge. It is very pleasant sitting on a rock next to the river. After a while Dick comes to see where I am, but does not stay with me. Motorhomes arrive until late in the evening, but nevertheless there is place left to park.
Monday May 30th we first dump our gray and black water, which is not an unnecessary luxury and also fill our water tank again, but then we leave this pleasant parking and drive to Issoire. The landscape is mountainous and we slowly climb over the narrow roads of the French countryside to 3608 feet. Dick’s hakuna keeps refusing to indicate the road we want to drive, so we ride on my hakuna. By the way, I call my GPS Hakuna, because with this one I never ever worry to lose my way. The refusal has to do with a weight restriction at the Issoire exit. There, access by heavier vehicles is only possible for local traffic, but Dicks Hakuna thinks there is no such exception.
We arrive in Issoire at 11 am. Some motorhomes already left so there is plenty of space to park. When we are levelled, we take the bicycles and the two laundry bags and ride to the laundromat in the center.
This one is better than the one at the supermarket, so we prefer to ride the mile and soon we wait at the rotating machines until our clothes are clean and dry. This time we don’t wash our bedding anymore. That goes back home dirty because we have an extra set in our closet. It means one machine less in operation and at 3 pm we can walk into the town. The last time we did laundry this holiday. We have enough clean clothes to come home. The weather is beautiful again, 77 degrees, and so wonderful to walk around in this pleasant town. A lot of shops and restaurants are closed because today its Monday and we cook ourselves and enjoy a burger with a salad.
Tuesday May 31st the weather look a bit different. The sky is completely cloudy and the temperature does not rise above 57 degrees. After breakfast we first face-time with Hannah and Henk. They now stay in Zanzibar, Africa. Of course we want to know how they are doing and so we leave Issoire no earlier than 10 am.
Again our route takes us over narrow roads and through small towns and for a moment it is questionable whether we can drive on when we come across a low and narrow gate in the city wall, but with Dick’s driving skills we manage to drive under the watchtower of Ainay le Chateau. Fortunately in Bourges it clears up and we can choose a nice spot to park. Then we walk to the large supermarket of Leclerc. Our kettle has broken and needs to be replaced. But no matter how we look, such a kettle is apparently not used in France, so we walk back. Dick has to use ducktape to repair the kettle so that we can use it for a while. In the evening we buy a burger with fries at the Quick restaurant. It tastes good but is of slightly less quality than the previous ones we got here. This is probably caused by the enormous crowds. At 8 pm the final match of a ball game starts in the stadium across the street and the hundreds of visitors not only fill every parking space with their cars, they also have an urgent need for a burger. And in my opinion the Quick restaurant can’t really handle this crowds. But the food tastes good and we have a full tummy. We look at the huge mass of cars driving into the parking lot and looking for a place to park. I don’t see nor hear them leaving again because then I’m already deep asleep. Dick finds it incomprehensible because it is a huge noise.
Wednesday, June 1st, I walk in the morning to the Lidl on the other side of the parking. Great to be so close to a store and one that is open at an early time. We have again a croissant for breakfast. We leave this always pleasant place with a well-filled stomach and drive through the hilly landscape to Auxerre. Once there, it doesn’t seem like there is a spot and while I ask Dick to drive backwards I walk away to see if we can squeeze in somewhere. A wrong decision because moments later I hear a sound of a car coming into contact with stone. And yes, Dick, who has never been able to see the low concrete edge, touches this stone. Unfortunately we have some damage, not very much, but still enough to be seen. It’s my fault because I really didn’t pay attention. And that while I did see the concrete edge and also thought it was directly behind the motorhome. Immediately the owners of two parked motorhomes appear, looking at us. One of them drives away. So beside damage we also have a spot.
After a few deep sighs (it’s no different) we drink coffee and then walk into the old town of Auxerre. It is dominated by three large churches and around it are small, narrow, medieval streets. A pleasure to walk through. Especially because it is now 2 pm and all the shops are open again. We walk around for a while and notice that we are too late to sit on a terrace and order something to eat, all the kitchens are closed.
Yet around 4 pm we pass a kebab restaurant that is still willing to prepare food and so we have a nice meal, stared at by every passing Frenchman. Eating at this time of day is not something you do here. But we think it’s fine. We no longer have to cook and we had a good meal. Still, at the end of the afternoon I walk to the supermarket, 550 yards away, because our orange and mandarin juice has been drunk and new has to be purchased. The parking lot empties as the evening progresses. Only three motorhomes stay overnight and it is very quiet.
Now that we’re back in the middle of the city, with shops around the corner, I can’t resist the temptation on Thursday morning to get fresh bread at the supermarket and so we don’t leave Auxerre until 9.30 am. It is only a 80 miles drive to Mailly le Camp, but because we first stop in Troyes to buy something for my pilgrimage at a Decathlon (yes again to this sporting shop) we arrive there three hours later. The parking is located in the middle of the small and deserted village and after dumping our gray and black water here, we decide to continue driving.
There is nothing to do here and three quarters of an hour later we arrive in the village of L’Epine. Also very small, but with a huge cathedral, which we naturally want to visit. It turns out to be a special place because inside the cathedral is a well, where pilgrims have quenched their thirst for centuries.
Of course we drink (I mean I drink, because Dick doesn’t like the water) from this ancient, 85 feet deep, well. The water is cool and tasty. Unfortunately my bottle is still completely full so I can’t fill it. Let’s just hope that I will encounter such sources more often when I walk to Santiago de Compostella.
We also wander around town and look for a geocache that takes us past the Stations of the Cross. End of the afternoon we are back at our Frankia where we have a nice chat with our fellow motorhomers. We feel sorry for the Englishmen who are on their way home. They have to because they almost completed their 90 days stay in the European Union. Since Brexit, that is their maximum length of stay in a period of 180 days. For the next 90 days they will have to tour their own country. After that period, they are welcome again in the European Union. By the way, the weather remains good even though there are some veil clouds around noon. Towards the evening the sky always clears up and the sun stays in a radiant sky. We enjoy a temperature of 77 degrees.
Of course we have breakfast on Friday June 3rd with a fresh baguette, after all, the bakery is open from 6 am. When washing the dishes, a beep finally goes off, to warn us that the French propane tank, which we were able to fill at the border with Portugal, is now really empty. That’s nice because now we can exchange this tank before we leave France. That doesn’t work in Reims because the Hyper “U” doesn’t sell the brand Antargas, but just before Laon we find a supermarket where we can exchange.
It actually works out well because in the supermarket in Reims I thought I had done all the shopping, but I have forgotten the meat for the BBQ at Cor and Esme’s house.
While Dick exchanges the propane tank I buy some meat. When the new tank is connected again and the meat is in the fridge, we drive on to Laon.
We love this nice little town and (more important) our favorite restaurant Agora is located here. Tonight we will of course have dinner there. Unfortunately, the veil clouds get the upper hand and the sun that shines so beautifully, disappears behind a cloud cover. But it is dry and warm, 74 degrees, so we still wander around town in the afternoon. It is busy, mainly with English people. Possibly the result of the car rally for old cars that will be held here on Sunday. After wandering around 3 miles through the narrow streets of this town located high on the hill, we of course pay a visit to the always impressive cathedral (it’s really huge) and then we walk back to our Frankia. It stays no longer alone but got a neighbor motorhome.
After drinking an alcohol-free beer, it is time to walk to the center and at 7 pm we are seated in our reserved place in the restaurant and we enjoy, as always, an excellent meal.
Saturday morning the sun shines again in a blue sky. It is wonderful to take a morning walk to the bakery through the deserted medieval streets. After breakfast we drive to Liart where Esme and Cor have their house.
We do stop on the way in Rozoy to dump because that is neither possible in Laon nor in Liart. But the town of Rozoy is on the way and we don’t have to make a detour. Because we already did the shopping for dinner yesterday, we arrive at 11 am in Liart where we are warmly greeted by Esme and Cor.
Not much later we sit on the terrace enjoying coffee and exchanging information. Time flies and before we know it is 2 pm and lunchtime.
Then Cor and Dick go to work. There is still a lot to be done in this house. Esme clean out her closet and stock up and I sit down behind my laptop to write down our story. I’m behind on writing. We had too much to do this holiday. I’m in a writing mood so it goes fast and since Dick and Cor don’t stop until 6 pm, I have a lot of time.
After the men took a shower, they really made progress with placing an extra wall in an upstairs room, we have a drink together. The Alsace wine we bought in L’Epine is really good so we will have to return.
Since Cor is a master at barbecuing, the barbecued meat, together with the vegetable dish and melon prepared by Esme, taste very good. At 11 pm we go to bed, stared at by the cows that have gathered next to our Frankia. Fortunately, behind a fence.
That this fence is not a guarantee that they will stay there is obvious when, next morning I see 4 cows strolling along the road. A strange view because they walk without any human being present. Later it turns out that they have escaped.
Sunday morning June 5th we wake up early because I want to get fresh bread in Liart. Despite the fact that today is Sunday, the supermarket is open in the morning. It is also the only shop in the village. Liart is, back and forth, 5 miles from Cor and Esme’s estate. I could have walked but then everyone had to wait too long, so Dick takes my bike out of the garage and soon I ride through the rolling countryside of the French Ardennes to the supermarket in the small city. The croissants and baguette taste good.
Then it’s time to talk about the journey Cor wants to make. Cycling from his home in the Netherlands to this house in France. Dick will join us on that trip, hopes to cycle parts along the way, but will mainly drive the camper from overnight place to overnight place. Cor has now planned a route along the Maas of about 500 kilometers that we will view and comment on and which I can further work on to look for places to stay for the camper.
We drink another coffee and discuss the men’s journey and of course my hike to Santiago the Compostela is also discussed.
But then it’s time to work again because there is a long list of jobs to do in this house in France.
Since a concrete floor has to be poured today, they are really busy. Unfortunately it is pouring rain, a big contrast with the sun yesterday, so staying outside is not really pleasant and I am going to sit at my laptop. Esme is reading. It continues to rain all day long. Fortunately, it clears up towards evening and it becomes dry. We see clearly that a lot of water has fallen. Small lakes have formed on the lawn. After the men have showered and we admired their nice poured concrete floor, Esme, Dick and me become guinea pigs for Cor.
Soon they will organize a tasting evening for Alsace wines at the wine guild. Flammkuchen are served with it and we have to test them. We have no objection at all and the homemade flammkuchen tastes good. Late in the evening I make some spaghetti carbonara. Despite the earlier tasting that also tastes good because there is only a mini leftover. Of course we chat for a long time and have fun. Again we go late to bed, 11.30 pm. It is dead quiet outside on this narrow back road and only the cows are seen and heard.
Monday June 6th we cannot buy fresh bread because the shop is closed today but there is still some bread left and we also have French survival bread so we are not short of food.
After the breakfast together, we leave, waved goodbye by Cor and Esme, who are staying another day. We had nice days together again. In Givet we dump our gray and black water and then, because we miss a turn, we continue along the river Maas. This is part of the route that Cor and Dick will take end of August. A beautiful route and when we drive through the lively town of Dinant, I definitely want to return there. After Dinant we climb up inland and soon arrive on the highway that leads north. When we arrive in Bergen op Zoom, Netherlands, there is space to park on the boulevard. This is probably due to the fact that the weather is not particularly good. There is a strong wind blowing and now and then it drizzles.
The beach bars don’t really have customers. Because the wind is blowing so hard I don’t really want to get Chinese food tonight so I walk to the supermarket close by and buy food. Once again stew because with this weather it fits well. In the evening we can watch TV. After maneuvering the motorhome back and forth, we manage to avoid the trees in such a way that we have a signal. Although the rain stopped, the sky remains gray and there is still a strong wind blowing.
Tuesday June 7th we drive away after breakfast with fresh croissants. Fortunately the sky clears up as we get further north and arrive at home at 10 am. Now the sun is shining. Dick parks the Frankia behind our house and we start unloading. It’s like a migration, especially when we’ve been away for so long. After everything is piled up in the living room, we polish the inside and outside of the motorhome.
Not really an unnecessary luxury and when Dick is going to polish the carpet with detergent, a lot of dirt comes off. End of the afternoon everything is clean and Dick returns the Frankia to our storage. In the meantime, I bring all the things where they belong and the washing machine starts working overtime.
We had a wonderful time but it is also nice to be home again.
In total we drove 4878 miles with our motorhome,
We cycled 51 miles and
We walked 208 miles.
The latter was an absolute necessity because I had to make miles.