Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Days 7 - 10

Someone actually managed to finish up writing the days... 

If at all interested anymore;

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Day 6

Day 6 - Chamonix

We had a well deserved lie-in this morning and knowing we had no driving to do today, we took it real slow.

Being so expensive, we decided to bypass the hotel breakfast and head into the village to find some coffee. Turns out Chamonix has an amazing tea-room that makes spectacular tasting cakes, pralines and nougat. And the coffee wasn't that bad either.
It's a good thing, as it was not the cheapest coffee in the world.

It was during our coffee this morning that we got a sneaky peek at the lastest trend in backpacks - Footie shirts!
(you might need to zoom in on this one!)

After café and croissants, we spent a while walking around the village checking out the shops. Pretty much your run of the mill tourist town, a good number of "brolshops" as I call them in Belgium. Shops selling totally useless trinkets, the only purpose being to clutter up some poor sod's fireplace - because the friend "just had to get them something from their holiday".

There are a pretty impressive number of clothes shops too, mostly sports gear but quite a few brands I like. Resisted temptation though and remained reserved with my money.

The tourist office was our first stop of the afternoon. Their free wi-fi gave us a chance to quickly check emails, and once open, the office provided us with a good idea to pass a couple of hours tomorrow. :)

Dinner was not as good as the first night, but traditional all the same... if you don't count the German, English, American and Italian tables scattered all around us.

I was told the car might be ready tomorrow.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Day 5

Day 5 - Avignon - St Gervais-les-bains - Approx 5hrs drive.

A bit of a rude wake up call this morning, it seems my Lupus is back.

I knew I had a form of subacute cutaneous Lupus, but it had mysteriously disappeared 3 years ago after I stopped taking the pill.
(if you're clicking on the link, don't look at the pics, they are horrendous and my case is really not as bad as all that.)

I had been told by the docs that it could resurface at one stage, but seeing myself in the mirror this morning brought back some unpleasant memories and a deep sense of fear.
It needed to be checked out by a dermatologist, and while I knew what to take, I didn't have a prescription to be able to buy the medication.

So this morning was spent trying to force myself into a dermatologists office.
An hour later and all was sorted, I was once again immune to malaria and plastered with sun block.

Anyway, moving on, because that's not the only thing that happened today.

We head off towards the old part of town to do the touristy bit.
The town's architecture is amazing, and Avignon has a fair amount
of history which I will not detail here, as there's a lot to get through.

There was really only one thing I knew about in Avignon,
and all the french speakers among you will know that it's the famous
Saint-Bénezet bridge - or rather as we know it; Le Pont d'Avignon.
You see French speakers are taught a nursery rhyme as kids,
all about the Pont d'Avignon and the dancing that happens "on" or "under" it depending on the version.

However this bridge is a bit weird as it goes nowhere, several arches are missing these days, so you can walk out onto it, and walk half way across the river, but that's it!
We didn't feel like paying the fee needed to experience this wondrous monument ... so we just admired it from the ground.

Satisfied with the touristy stuff, and getting a bit hungry, we stop off for yet another traditional french lunch. Kebabs!
(I have to say, as far as eating local goes, on this trip we haven't really outdone ourselves, what with a Mcdo stop to add on to our - actually pretty damn tasty - kebab.)

With the heat not getting any better, and me needing to get out of the sun, we make the decision to leave the south and head up towards the mountains... the Mont Blanc to be precise.
The plan is therefore to drive up to a small mountain village near Albertville where we would spend the night.

Long post this one ... and we aren't half in bed yet. ;)

We arrive near Albertville some time late in the afternoon.
Having watched the landscape change from flat open fields, we now find ourselves in the midst of luscious greenery and ever growing hills. We can already spot the snow covered mountain tops.
We gage the temperature meter on my car approx every 30 secs, hoping and wishing the degrees would go down.
34, 33, 32 - Wohoo, 33, 32, 31 - Wohoo, 30, 29 - Wahey,

We both agreed that Albertville was not the small village we had in mind and so we proceeded up on the route towards Chamonix.
A lot of windy roads, confusing deviations, endless traffic lights and middle of the road drivers later, we decide we really should start looking for a place to stay.

This for us, was the hardest part of the our road trip, as with both of us being slightly indecisive; it's a real game of "what do you think of this place?", "hmm", "too expensive looking?", "hmm yeah, not great", "let's keep going for a bit", ... , "and this one?", "I don't know, let's go to the next village and if there's nothing we'll come back". You get the idea.

A quick stop off on the ice-rink car park at St-Gervais-les-Bains for a smoke and a stretch, and off we went.
30 meters up the hill, right in a blind turn, my trusty car decides to die.

Pretty quickly, despite our best efforts, we realise that it is useless to try and get the car going again, so I let the car roll back to the car park trying not to get smashed into by the numerous cars coming round the bend well over the clearly signposted 30km/h.

Thankfully, I always take out extra travel car insurance when I leave Belgium with the car, so a quick phone call later, a tow truck was on its way. The guy diagnosed the car as having a busted fuel pump and broke the news that this was not a quick fix and my that Peugeot needed to be taken to a garage in Chamonix for a new part.
It was about 8 in the evening by this time.

Another quick call to the insurance company and I am told that a taxi will pick us up from the tow guy's garage and take us into Chamonix to find us a hotel for the night. So far so good.
I was allocated a budget to cover transport and hotel costs for the duration of the car fixing.

The taxi was there when we arrived in Les Houches. We quickly decided what stuff we needed and crammed the rest (suits and all) into the boot hoping it would all still be there when we returned. The friendly woman drove us up to Chamonix and stopped outside the Mercure. I had calculated that with the budget given, worst case scenario we'd be stuck here for 3 days, that we could afford a room at about 100 euros per night. Compared to the 20/30 euros we had been aiming for up until now, that was total luxury.

I manage to negotiate the room rate down from 159 to 96 which was a relief as it was getting late and we were well and truly pooped. We head into town to find some food.

Having been here before, Simon knew of a good place that served food quite late. He was dreaming of a Tartiflette, and I was quite partial to Fondue Savoyarde. It was still about 25° so our choice of dinner might seem bizarre as traditionally, these dishes are great to keep you warm during the ski season.

I had never been to Chamonix, but I loved it instantly.
It is set in the most beautiful surroundings, right next to the Mont Blanc,
its streets are mostly pedestrian, and there are LOADS of shops.

(I'm aware of the shitty quality of this pic, phone cameras don't work too well at night.)

I had no problem being stranded here for a day or two. None at all.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Day 4

Day 4 - Bégur - Avignon - approx 6hrs drive.

The morning was spent outside in the sun drinking coffee and eating cookies bought from the nearby shop with Emilie, the "single one". (as she was flatteringly named by the pizzeria staff - charming!!!) (I'm sorry sweetheart, but it was a classic and it had to be mentioned!).
She provided us with last night's end of party gossip and a good dose of laughter.

The 2euro map was out on the table and the main decision of the day was where we would head to from here.
The options were either tails; up the coast to the west, or heads; drive up into the mountains to the east. It was heads, EAST.
Various members of the Belgian delegation dropped by for a quick chat during our serious trip planning and I noticed how jealous they all seemed to be when we told them of our decision methods!

We packed up our stuff, waved goodbye to the happy couple on their way to the beach, stocked up on some cold water and nuts, and set off towards Avignon.

We got into Avignon some time early evening and despite it being a lot bigger than I thought, It is a beautiful town completely surrounded by ramparts. After visiting one of the dingiest hotels ever, we settle on the Etap Hotel just outside the city walls - I'm not usually a big fan of these kinds of places as I find them sterile and deprived of any charm, but they are cheap and comfortable and the staff here were really very friendly.

We walk into town for some dinner and - yes, I know - ended up at an Irish pub.
Despite it being feeding season for the mosquitoes around our table, my salad was actually really tasty, and big enough to feed a small village.
At least they managed to spell "Salad" correctly, can't say the same about the "Salmon Irisch". Oh dear.

A very warm and sticky night followed... however after the paper thin walls of the Pizzeria, what luxury to have a bit of quiet.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Day 3

Day 3 - The wedding - Aiguablava and Pals - approx 35°.

We shamefully spent the morning in bed, trying to get an extra 40 winks before having to face the heat (and his worst nightmare).
The mood over Bégur was slightly stressed for some and being able to see wedding HQ from our terrasse I realise that there's still a lot that needs to be done and it's getting late already.

Driving around in the exhausting heat, desperately trying to find a nice place to sit and relax for lunch, we are forced to fall back on a supermarket. A baguette, some ham and cheese and a pot of aioli (in homage to the last time I was in Spain with Cath) later, we head back to the room for a now very late and speedy lunch. With only 30 mins to finally eat and get dressed the stressed atmosphere from the villa has wafted over to our room.

And then Massimo Dutti fucks up.
I was soo looking forward to seeing my man in his new suit, but this was not to be. When making the alterations to the suit jacket, they (and how they managed this I have no idea) stitched one of the arm linings wrong thus making it impossible for him to put his arm in the sleeve - I think he was secretly relieved at not having to wear a jacket in this heat though!

Now reeling from one of the worst migraine's I've ever had the chance to get, we grab the last of the flowers, stuff them in the boot, and head off to the church.

It was a bit of a walk from the car park, but it was well worth it,
the church and it's front courtyard was stunning.
(You have to hand it to Cath, who really knows her stuff
and persevered to find her perfect place.)

All the long summer dresses were out; the suits and ties too (I pity all men at this point - how they managed to not faint in the heat is a bloody miracle). Everyone, as expected, looked stunning.
Have you ever noticed that some people, despite the baking sun, manage to stay immaculate; no hair out of place, no running makeup, no flushed cheeks... ? (I am not one of these people!)

Everyone retreated into the church for some well earned coolness and we all waited impatiently for the bride to arrive. (We knew she was running late, something about the hairdresser.)

I'm going to bypass the ceremony, except to say that it was absolutely beautiful, very moving and ****ing painful.
(At this point I will take two seconds to thank Pedro, for assuming the role of designated driver, to get my car safely back to the pizzeria for I was now no longer in any state to drive).

The rest of the afternoon noon for me, was spent in bed trying to recover so I could at least enjoy the reception.

Feeling a lot better (thank god!) we head down to the beach for dinner and dancing.

I think we might have given Belgians a bit of a bad name tonight
(mmeehh, so what else is new?), our enjoyment resounded out
from the cove disturbing the peace in a pretty spectacular way.
This at least until the hotel management let us know
that we really must to keep the noise down.

Congrats to Cath and Max;
Amazing planning, fantastic setting, good food and just an all around memorable night.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Day 2

Day 2 - Aumont Aubrac - Bégur (err sorry Aiguablava) - approx 5hrs drive.

Earlish start after visiting the ATTAC supermarket to pick up some water and stuff.
This morning's drive was amazing;
stunning scenery, a next to empty motorway and gorgeous weather. This is the driving I love.

We continue our discovery of the middle France, passing by Rodez. The place holds a special - but not soo positive - place in my heart as it reminds me of the summer I spent there while working as a Club Med GO, way back when. And for some reason the 3 times I've crossed France, I've bypassed this area.

The main attraction of the morning was catching a glimpse of the Millau Viaduct.
This is the tallest bridge in the world and it's bloody stunning.
(Someone else will probably write about this technological feat a lot better than I will)

(Please excuse the squashed bugs tainting the fabulous scene)

We did cross over it, and much to my regret, I didn't see much of the view, as I was quite conscious of being high up and driving a car. :)

We cross the border into Spain somewhere around lunchtime, fill up on petrol and I notice immediately that driving alongside trucks on Spanish roads is going to make for a slightly stressful last leg of the journey.

Some time mid afternoon, nicely toasted from the car, we arrive at destination and discover with delight that the "staff" room we were staying in at the Pizzeria, was on the roof with a private terrace and a stunning view of the bay. Very nice start.
(Although the small washing machine in the bathroom having just finished a cycle should have tipped us off.)

As about 150 Belgians were descending on this town for the wedding, and it wasn't long before we all congregated to the fiancé's villa next door for a somewhat larger than planned barbecue.
A good way to catch up with old friends and meet new ones ahead of tomorrow's ceremony.

Cath organised most of this weekend herself.
I sure being co-owner of an events company - Ta Bas Co with Emilie and Sophie helped, but she had the confidence to undertake this and all the details were thought of.
Even the little welcome kit in every hotel room, complete with personal note, area guide and biscottis !!)

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Road Trip 3 - Day 1

Destination : Bégur - a little town north of Barcelona.
Reason : Cath and Max's wedding (and a week added on cos we both needed a holiday).
Method of transport : My Peugeot 206.
Route : Straight down the middle of France and up the east side on the way back up.

Day 1 - Brussels - Aumont Aubrac - approx 10hrs drive.

Setting off at about 10am, I had no idea what was ahead, and for the first time in my life, I was (just about) OK with that!
I knew we had 2 days to get down to Bégur and that the estimated number of kms was 1300. The rest was undefined, undecided and totally up us.

I think that by the time we crossed Paris, I had a fair idea of the amount of driving I was actually faced with and while being relieved at having the hardest part of the journey behind me, I was realising it was a lot longer than I had first thought.

Taking the national roads down through the middle of France, thus avoiding the ridiculously expensive tolls, we bypassed some stunning wine regions and a few famous water towns too.

We pushed through until we got past Clermont-Ferrand - This was my objective for the day. The night was spent in Aumont Aubrac, in a little 2 star bar/resto/hotel opposite the cheap and really nice place we were hoping for but that had no rooms.
Arriving too late for dinner, we sat on the hotel porch drinking a couple of beers to unwind.

(I know most of you won't give a rat's about this kind of post, but it'll be nice to read this again a couple of years down the line. If you feel like reading Simon's account of all this... go here! - and if you happened to be at the wedding, feel free to share your impressions.)