Sunday, 31 August 2008

Home Sweet Home

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We arrived home today from our big camping trip where we clocked up around 3000 kilometres. The map above shows our stopovers and is pretty accurate except for the trip from the Interlaken (C) to Sion (D), we went over Grimsel Pass but Google won't let me select that route for some reason.

We mostly stuck to motorways between stop-overs and then tried to avoid them when touring around. The motorways in Europe are really impressive: summer (school) holidays finish this weekend all across Europe and everyone is on their way home, we got stuck in one or two jams but they cleared up quickly and we were able to get back to the 130km/hour speed limit. Road tolls are quite reasonable: in total we spent around €110 on tolls which is not that bad, especially considering we must clocked over 150km travelling through tunnels.

I really stuffed up with my technology on this trip. Firstly, before we left I bought a universal 15v car adaptor and as a result didn't bother taking along my standard AC power which in hindsight was a big mistake. The car adaptor only worked when the car was running and my notebook battery proved pretty useless, then the AC connection broke half-way into the trip. Second, I somehow managed to leave the cell phone battery on the desk at home. So for most of the trip it was like going back 20 years to when we travelled without Internet, email or cell phones; only this time we didn't even have our travellers bible: "Lets go Europe - 1987 edition".

We survived and arrived home at a reasonable hour in a relaxed state. The kids were hanging out to watch a movie as two weeks without modern entertainment can be a challenge for young minds. Ange and I were keen to kick back and relax over some wine and nibbles underneath the grape vines. It is nice to be home.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Narbonne Plage

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After enduring a few challenges with accommodation on the Côte d'Azur we decided to opt for a "sure thing" and head to Narbonne Plage (beach) as we had been there before, the beach was good, accommodation options were plenty and varied. It was also only 3 hours from home which was another plus.  We hit our first bouchon (traffic jam -queue) of the trip just after Nimes which added 45 minutes or so to the journey.

We ended up staying at the municipal campground (pictured top left) a few minutes walk from the beach.  I had heard that French municipal campgrounds were good and this one certainly lived up to our expectations.  It was large, well laid out with big sites and good security.  It just had a good buzz about it and its gets my award as the best campsite of the trip (even though it didn't have a pool).

We pretty much spent the whole day at the beach on Friday, got there early and left at around 5pm, even so the kids were complaining that they wanted to stay longer.  The boys and I constructed a small shelter and we had take-away lunch in the shade on our laps.  James even took the opportunity to have a wee afternoon nap although while he was sleeping he was unexpectedly transformed by his brothers into "Rock Man" (SPF 500). 

While we had lots of fun on the beach the highlight was the local amusement park which proved lots of fun for some.  I took the kids on one ride that spun at too fast for my liking (after a big dinner), the boys loved it and wanted to go again but I felt very ill.  Ange took over the entertainment duties and I found a nice stable park bench to sit on.  No photo's because I was too busy trying to breath in and out.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Camp Long, Agay, Côte d'Azur


By midday Monday the lack of Internet and cell phone access had started to bite, a little. We had made a few stops and detours only to find that the good spots had no vacancies and the spots with vacancies were no good.  The route was scenic enough but young boys don't enjoy travelling in the back seat for too long. Stress levels were rising and we needed a haven.....

Camp Long was our first stop after being turned away from a great campsite that was not only just across the road from the beach but had great facilities which included a pool with a water slide and a kids playground.  Comparatively Camp Long had very basic facilities and we were a bit squashed in but all this paled into insignificance when the family stumbled onto the beach.  It was beautiful, quite secluded and great for kids.  Our tent was pitched a bit close to the road which was noisy during the night but some cotton buds fixed that problem.  We finally had our base from which to explore a range of coastline from Saint Tropez in the south to Cannes in the north. We ended up staying three nights and had a great time.

The restaurant on the beach was pretty good but then our "do it yourself" option at our tent wasn't that far behind.   It turns out that all the boys needed was a stretch of sandy beach and that was just as well because that was the best and only attraction of the campsite. 

CampLongBeach SittingPretty Dinner FastCar BeachShot 3Brothers CampLongWalk

Liquid Essentials


When the outside temperature is in the high 30'ties you need to ensure an adequate supply of essential liquids for the body. 

We certainly found this to be true on our camping holiday. this mini-stockpile is a good example of our daily consumption.

Cost is around €5.

Back in France

It is good to be back in Lidl-land. At least we understand a bit of the language and custom. We had q good time in Italy, especiqlly enjoyed Portofino and the beaches. We are stqying on the Riveria at the moment - heading back to Provence and then home on the weekend. I am not able to connect my computer so the blogs are backing up. Still finding these kiosk keyboqrds q pqin.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Rapallo, Italy

Castle DinnerRapallo Tower Mural

We stayed two nights in Rapallo on the Italian coast which as a whole is spectacularly beautiful. However the seemingly expensive real estate does not bode well for the camping industry and campgrounds were quite scarce: the site we stayed at was really pleasant even if it did run alongside the motorway. 

It was great to find that food prices were once again reasonable. We ate out in town on the first night and at the campground restaurant on the second.  We thought that €50 all up for a family of five at the latter was pretty good value.  Ange was all excited about the €1 coffee's as in Switzerland we had to "coff-up" up to €4 for an espresso!

Size Really Does Matter


Portofino Harbour




The highlight of our stay in Italy was undoubtedly the boat trip to Portofino harbour from Rapallo. We stopped off along the way at Santa Margherita Ligure for a swim at the crowded beach and then spent a lazy afternoon in Portofino, wondering through the village, along the bush paths and generally admiring the super yachts and their flash patrons. We had coffee (and ice-creams) at the lighthouse café on the point and a swim in a little secluded bay that was bustling with anchored dinghies occupied by sun-worshiping locals.   

3boysboat PortofinoTrees SantaMargeritaLigure1 SantaMargeritaLigureCoastLine Portofino MoreCoastLine

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Au Revoir Switzerland

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Leaving Switzerland today...  I've got Ange driving so I can use this 'downtime' to catch up on some blogging.  Sorted!

These last few days have been great, these mountains are just amazing!  Jack has added Rock Climbing and Paragliding to his "what I want to be when I'm grown up list".  This list is getting quite long these days.

Switzerland is an amazing county in many respects, it is amusing how people on one side of the mountain range speak French and on the other side speak German. The Swiss are very multi-lingual which makes for a refreshing change from France.  Food was quite expensive, both at supermarkets and eating out.

We left Interlaken yesterday and travelled across the Grimsel pass (2165m) and down into the Rhone River valley right past the glacier which is the source of the Rhone River.  We encountered an unexpected special treat as we passed the military air-base outside Brienz. A squadron of Swiss jets were practicing low aerial flying and put on quite a show for our wannabe pilots.

Today we are heading up the Great St Bernard Pass across the border into Italy. This famous route dates back to the bronze age and was the path that Napoleon's army used to invade Italy in 1800. It is also the origin of St Bernard breed of dogs.   These days the route is considerably shorter thanks to the impressive Great St Bernard tunnel which is 6km long and is 2000m above sea level - the border control is housed within the tunnel.

I have especially enjoyed driving, the roads are very good and allow you to get up close and personal with the mountains.  Plenty of cool places to stop as you can see in the pictures opposite.

Since we only had one night in Sion we decided to go upmarket.  This bungalow tent has two sleeping rooms and an open plan living / kitchen area. Check it out.


Friday, 22 August 2008

Top of Europe

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Well close enough to the top...  The mountain railway journey from Interlaken (568m) to Jungfraujoch (3,454m) was always at the top of our list of must do's in Switzerland. 

Ange had done this trip some 20 years ago but the weather conditions were  abysmal so she did not see that much. I was travelling on a cheaper budget and had opted for the Grindelwald gondola to get a cheaper view of the mountains.

Now in 2008 the Biscuit bunch were back and determined to time it just right with the weather.  The weather report looked good although conditions can change very fast at high altitude and we decided to cross our fingers and go for it.  The tickets are certainly not cheap at around €110 each for adults, thankfully kids travel for free (which is just as well otherwise we would have had to sell one of them to pay for the tickets for the other two).

The weather held and we took in some great views (and got a few good pictures at the same time).

At 4158m the Jungfrau is one of Europe's highest mountains, a little bigger than our Mount Cook which stands at 3754m.  The railway journey up to Jungfraujoch was nothing short of magnificent, just when you think you have seen the last village another pops up around the corner.  It is also great seeing the old houses dotted around the mountain side with no road or track in sight.

I just can't get over how someone came up with the idea to tunnel up behind the rock face of the Eiger. 

Here is the sales pitch from the Swiss rail web site web site - I'm too lazy to rewrite it..

This unique round-trip by modern cogwheel railway takes you first to Kleine Scheidegg, altitude 2061 metres, at the foot of the notorious Eiger North Wall. From here the Jungfrau Railway climbs to the station at Eigergletscher , well known for its mountain restaurant and polar dog kennels.

The trip continues through the Eiger tunnel to the stations at Eigerwand and Eismeer, with a five minute halt at each. Enjoy spectacular sightseeing through large observation windows hewn from solid Alpine rock.

And then the arrival on the Jungfraujoch, in the heart of a glorious glacier world on the very roof of Europe! Superb views extend as far as the summits of the Vosges Mountains in France and the Black Forest in Germany. The Great Aletsch Glacier, at 22 km the longest ice-stream in the Alps, begins on the Jungfraujoch-Top of Europe.

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Thursday, 21 August 2008

Mountain High

Going down the funicular
IMG_7758 Good walk + cold beer = relaxIMG_7702

Took a ride on another funicular up the Harder mountain (1585m).

The ride has a length of 1435m and climbs 755m to the upper station (Harder Kulm at around 1300m) near the summit.

There were plenty of tracks to explore and we ended up taking the boys up to the summit.. It was good walk for an adult but impressive for someone with little legs. Well done guys. They enjoyed the views and had fun on the scary bits..

The summit consisted of two small ridges with a small seat on each and not much else.  See you can see below.