France part 2 VW T25 1981 Campervan

Time to move west in Normandy region and we make a couple of stops before heading to Mēmorial de Montormel “The final battle in Normandy”. This museum and memorial is ontop of a hill that was the stronghold of the Polish division in the war that the Allies (American, British, Canadian, French and Polish) surrounded the Germans, this was called the “corridor of death” which was in the middle of the Falaise-Chambois pocket, this is one hour drive away from the D-day beaches.

This area after 72 days of fighting the Allies closed in on the Germans on the 19th to 21st of August 1944 in which a total of 100,000 German soldiers were in this pocket, 50,000 managed to escape, 10,000 were killed and 40,000 taken prisoner. Over looking the surroundings from this hill top you see beautiful countryside with hedgegrows and forest, to think for a moment it was a bloody conflict with unthinkable casualties. It was said the stench of dead bodies and decaying bodies with clouds of flies made this unsanitary to use as farm land in years to come. 2 days of fighing saw this pocket closed after the German counter attacked and put an end to the fierce fighting of this region.

This museum was really illustrative and had great visuals on how this battle panned out, with a panoramic view onto the fields. You had photo’s from the battles that ensued here, one of many catching my attention was the windy lane road that was incased in bodies, horse and carts in a bloody attempt to escape. With an array of equipment on show that has been found in this area, they still find daily objects from these battles. Finally a movie that best describes the situation leaves you walking out with a contemplative moment that young men were fighting for a means of an end.

So after a taste of what is to come we head to the west coast of France and explore a small fishing region called Saint Malo that is fortified with walls that seem to be built on a peninsula over looking the angry seas. The two forts in front of Saint Malo clearly shows of an important fortification against the English and Dutch in naval combat as you can only access these in low tide. The town itself has a really cool feel with nautical shops of globe maps and wooden sail boats and boulangerie pâtisserie shops that after seeing one you will pass another two shops down. For some reason Saint Malo has a connection with Cornwall, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. This place is a cool little fishing village with remarkable views out from the city walls, this was a short stop with a timely break in the rain storm we seem to be driving in, we catch the town in atmospheric conditions with the sun breaking through. Next stop Du Mont-Saint-Michel.

Following the storm we camp out 45 minutes walk from Du Mont-Saint-Michel it’s pouring with rain with some campers getting stuck in the mud, we promptly move onto higher gravel ground. Weather forecast for clear skies around 7pm we watch and hope this storm passes.

Evening rolls around and we see a break of blue sky appearing one end of the horizon, we make bee line for Du Mont-Saint-Michel. The history of this place dates back to 708AD when Aubert Bishop of Avranches built on Mont-Tombe in honour of the Archangel which then became a major monument for pilgrimage. This became inhabited and the town grew in the 10th century and by the 14th century extended as far as the foot of the rock. This fortification being an impressive stronghold in the 100 year war also repelled all English assault and thus becoming a symbol of national identity for France. Walking up through the draw bridge and the iron gate pulled up, this was medieval as they come. Walk through the town you walking upwards into the fortress itself, little shops with old signs gives the feeling of the place. At the top we pay for a visit around the old Abbey. Here they have light shows which seem to depict an eagle, it’s abit corney and felt they could of done better in representing this place as the Abbey itself is quite stunning.

Up top and in the forecourt with a small garden offered majestic sunsets in the stormy clouds. Interesting place and easy to see why it’s such a major tourist attraction, the way in which it was built just adds to the impressive nature of it. We didn’t even see this surrounded by water which also would be impressive, but to finish of with the sunset turned out to be picture perfect.

Time now to head north to the Normandy D-day beach landings, in which we head to the area of Utah beach. Upon coming here it’s quite easy to get lost in the amount of memorials and museums you can do in this one region, and by alot there’s over a hundred sites. Me and Karen select a handful of places that will teach us and remind us of what took place here, we visit the The Memorial to the return to Liberty. Here it gave us a better undertstanding how D day took place and the beaches all broken down into 5 places Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword beach it also gave us a great deal of understanding of the daily life of the French under German occupation. With having to fight for the Germans, rations and coupons you scarcely obtained and the ongoing curfews they were subject to alot of propaganda in trying to deter the French into doing anything. Of course there were pockets of French resistance that liaisoned with the English to the German wherebouts and this in turned helped immensely with D Day landings. But also becoming much more aware is the German “Atlantic Wall” set up all along the coastline that strethced all the way up to Norway, this formidable defence was built with certainty that the Allies will come this way to attack. These included the Block houses, the Germans underwent strict observation from Rommel the head of the Panzer divisions to ensure it’s superiority. The Germans also flooded marshlands behind the defence front to make it even more difficult for the eventual D day landings. A thoroughly descriptive museum that had equipment, and mock ups of the way they lived and every day life of the occupation. There is an old bunker there built next to the fortified walls. Walking out onto the beach is grim, knowing full well how many people died not just D day but the course of the war, here the stories of a red sea with bodies strewn along this one beach of five to meet an objective and horrendous German fire.

We move onto the next museum called Museē de Debarquement, here containing alot of information, equipment and artillery it also has 1 of 6 surviving B-26 planes. A grim discovery was boots made for German soldiers that was insulated with the hair of the millions of jews murdered in concentration camps. Another side to the D day landings is the bombardment of artillery and defenses the night before the landings of troops, in the early hours of the morning would see paratroopers placed behind enemy lines to destabilize and link up with eventual comrades storming the beaches. Americans planned to take Cherbourg a heavily defended port for the Germans, casualties here for the Americans were 22,119 with 13,564 wounded and 2,811 killed, the Germans had 14,000 killed or wounded and 39,000 prisoners while the Allies head south and try and take out Caen. In the eventual success of D day they constructed temporary ports sunking of old ships to create a base which was called “Mulberry”. Over 1,000,000 people would pass through these ports in 5 months.

We make a trip to Pointe du Hoc which is a position the Germans had atop a cliff overlooking the channel, here is the remarkable story of brave american troops scaling the cliffs under intense fire to seize control of this point. After bombardment it was quickly noticed the Germans moved their big 155mm gun inland after one had been destroyed in arial bombings. The ones moved inland were pointed towards Utah beach and subsequently the americans disengaged in time before the troops landed on Utah beach. The timing of all this planned attack had greatly helped the overall situation but in no means an easy feat with many casualties taken on both sides, Pointe du Hoc had cliffs of 100ft for the Rangers to scale with rope ladders, grappling hooks and rope, often using there daggers to help assist the climb. 225 started this ascent with the first man taking 5 minutes to get to the top, 90 survived to the end of the day only for the following morning to have a relief force arrive. Walking around this site just takes you back how dangerous it was back then, the amount of craters alone from the aerial bombardment is just plagued all over the place, with many of the block houses still well intact showing the integrity of these bunkers built. Walking around the cliff edge it’s visible to this day the rolled up barb wire lining the edge that of once men scaling these heights, with the view over the sea front it offered a grim and airy encounter of what had happened here. Followed by a movie of the men who took action here, it was a sombre reminder that even after the war some 70 years on, how could one grip the reality of life after being witness to such bravery.

We move onto Bayeux Memorial and Bayeux Cemetery, the memorial has the names of 1,800 dead from battle in Normandy and the cemetery has 4,000 buried the largest WWII cemetery. These were the people who served for the British and Commonwealth and also Canada. The museum gave more to light of the British and Canadian landings on Gold, Juno and Sword beach. This was to advance to Bayeux and Caen which the later turned out to be a long and drawn out fight with the Germans. The D Day landings was the first time in 4 years the allies had set foot in France. A really informative few days to take in all that has happened around here, of course you knew alot about this with talks with your families etc who pass the stories on and learn at school the horrors of what had become. It was an interesting experience and one that will stay in your memory for the rest of your life.

Heading on through the cidre route of France our destination is Thiepval Memorial, here is a monument built to commemorate the fallen commonwealth soldiers of World War One. This is the Somme sector where 72,000 mens names are engraved on the walls of this memorial, died in this one area of the war in 1915 – 1918. The names are written on 16 pillers all inscribed with not a single free space left, it’s quite horrifying.

For the whole region of Somme there are 150,000 commonwealth service men buried in 250 military cemeteries and 150 civilian cemeteries. There are 6 memorials to the missing that commemorate only by name and more than 100,000 whose graves are not known. The battle of Somme became a world arena and meeting point for over 20 nationalities and where 3,000,000 soldiers fought on a front of 45km. The front line extended from near Ypres (Belgium) to the Switzerland border. Learning more about the war that took place here, and the extent of trench warfare is one that never leaves your memory. To find motivation and courage to charge out towards hailing fire of machine guns to gain a few yards, full well knowing that casualties are a foregone conclusion. You will smell the stench of bodies, see the scattered limbs and the cold and wet mud, life here along this stretch would just look so desolate. Yet even after 21 years we dip back into a dark time for more suffering, has nothing been learnt.

We move to a place called Arras which is south from Thiepval. Here remarkably a company of NZ tunnellers who were engineers built an underground tunnel to assist the Allied in getting as close to the front line as possible. This is called the La Carriére Wellington which linked lime stone quarries from the 17th century,

The tunnel in total was 19km long and was the first of a surprise attack on the Germans in an offensive on 9th April 1917 at 5:30am in which 1,500 came up first then later a total of 20,000 came up. The rock underground is made of lime stone and had been labelled north to south with NZ cities, this cave had electric lighting. The New Zealanders dug a total of 80 metres a day. They were in this cave for around 9 months and to imagine the life down in this cold, damp and at times wet caves, the art work drawn on the walls to keep the men occupied in times of rest. It was said the work they did was a defining point in the war on those lines.

Completing this tour we drive through the french countryside towards Reims, peaceful beautiful farming landscape this was once a barron hell hole of fierce fighting, memorial after memorial we loose count of the number of white crosses, grave stones and memorials. To imagine the life these villages went through being in the middle of this chaos, it’s an eery feel to just to contemplate what was happening all those years ago, but most important is to remember.

Reims is and will always be known for producing champagne, and that is the main reason for being here! But first a little look around Reims town itself and the buildings here truly represent french architecture, sculptures and ornate designs you will see this through the photos. We take a look at the Notre Dame of Reims which was built in 1211 and has been known to host french royal coronations. It’s impressive detail standing in the forecourt surrounded by little cafe’s with locals sipping away at their champagnes, this church architecturally is impressive, defiantly worth the visit. This area was also the head quarters for David Eisenhower, who was at the time of World War Two the Chief of the Allied invasion. Here in Reims we went to his head quarters where the Germans signed the unconditional surrender that marked the end of the war in Europe.

Later on that evening we visit the Notre Dame at 10pm for the light show performance on the front of this church, very cleaver in how they did this and you can see by the different images I have taken.

The next day we se off to Pommery one of Reims biggest Champagne producers, here they have millions of bottles of champagne in their cellar that to this day are undrinkable due to the age. This winery has been around since the 19th century and we take a tour underground to the cellars. A tip for you champagne drinkers, if you’re given a bottle store it in the dark and you must drink it before 3 years or it will be past its best by date. Originally this winery was on task to crack the British market in which it did so, becoming now one of the biggest champagne producers. They have 300 hectares of vineyards and the underground cellars are 18kms long with each individual cellar named a place in the world where that champagne is sold. These two things that were quite impressive was that all grapes must be hand picked and that it is illegal to advertise champagne in France.

After our tour we are given a glass of Brut and Rose to kick of our tastings here in Reims.

Next stop is in Epernay where there are winerys gallore and we pick two smaller local winerys to have some tastings. First place is called Guy Charbaut Champagne and has been established since 1936, have been through 3 generations of producing this Champagne. We have 4 tastings ranging from Brut, Rose to their vintage. Wine purchased for our trusty collection building up in our watering can….. Quite an odd mix of booze that’s for sure!

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Next and final winery is L Bénard-Pitois which was established in 1850 we have some tastings and try various wines from Brut to Brut reserve, Demi-sec and Rose. And that is a pretty fine way to toast an end to France.

It has been one hell of a journey heading through with such varied things to see, France is certainly a place to come back too, we haven’t really done it justice and it is such a large country. So much history here with the prehistoric art work in the caves to vintage french château and of course the food and booze. One of the best wine regions in the world you also have the best pastries ever! And so it should they invented the stuff!

Sadly we have to head into Germany detouring away from Lyon in which a catch up with friends shall come another day, Green Machine is starting to feel the burdon of long distance travelling and has much needed tlc to be done when we head back into UK, til then Au revoir.

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France pt 1 VW T25 1981 Campervan

We are coming back into France on the west side of the coast and head to a place called Biscarrosse Plage, a long stretch of sandy beaches. Jumping waves may sound childish to you, but these waves crashing from the Atlantic ocean were enough to send a grown fat french man tumbling down like a sack of bricks to my amusement, it was a rush. Peak season still and filled with many holiday goers we camp the night inland in a small town. The following morning we are heading to Europes biggest sand dune called Dune de Pilat, here it is a staggering 3km long and at an altitude of 115 metres. We left early in the morning to get there before the hords, something like 7:30am and the sun was rising when we got there, minimal number of people and we set up to behold the view. One side misty in the cool rainsoaked sands with the thunderstorm that howled all night. That same thunderstorm and torrential rain on the other side of our view with the sun in the middle rising out from the breaking clouds. You couldn’t ask for a more atmospheric scene. This place moves eastward 4.5m a year swallowing the woods it towers above and a hotel that has already been engulfed. Atop the dune looking across the coast it looks never ending as it slowly disapppears into the mist. Fantastic views it’s worth your while.

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We head on through the wine region of Bordeaux and set up camp at a winery in the St Emilion region, this place is called Château Berbaud that has been around for 4 decades. The place consists of 15 hectares of vines and is very much run in the family. The owner rushed off his feet, at this time was looking after the place himself.

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Bordeaux is one of France’s most important wine regions. We try his popular St Emilion red in this particular winery and acquired a bottle for our trusty collection in the camper. Their wines are popular in Germany and Belgium. We had ourselves a cosy spot beneath the trees in the vineyard and were accompanied by an older English bloke called Bernie who is travelling around alone in his camper and scooter attached on the back, our night consisted of reds and a real pleasure chatting and socialising with the ex merchant navy engineer. A real knowledgeable and insightful guy with a heart of gold, having been to NZ and telling us the story of the 5 to 6 swell in Auckland where orders finished at 6pm for everyone to smash as many drinks as they can before heading off! Life, politics the works we had an absolute cracker of an evening!

Time to head west into the Dordogne region where there is a mass discovery of caves with pre-historic drawings and inhabited by animals from a very long time ago. Thanks to Ian for the heads up, it was a stark reminder of how small we are in time on this planet. First cave we plan to visit is Grotte De Rouffignac which is in the middle of the forest and we camp outside it in the Green Machine without having any idea the significance we would encounter the following morning. We got in 8.30 in the morning with queues going out the door (cave), this place being extremely popular. Now I’ll tell you why, tickets paid for and a certain number of people go in on a small rail train heading deep into the cave, no more than 2 metres in height. Getting further in you look at these unusual scratch marks on the walls of the caves and sometimes on the ceilings if it is low enough, here cave bears sought refuge and we bore witness to the many countless scratchings from these bears, they died out long before prehistoric man, which meant bears and man never came into contact. The Rouffignac cave is a very large underground network of about 8 kilometers of galleries occupying 3 levels.

We will go between 700 and 1000 metres into the cave where the paleolethic artwork was discovered, this cave is the work of 60 million years of chemical amd mechanical action of water carved and flushed out this network of underground passageways. There is now only one entrance in which we entered the same one used by prehistoric artists 14,000 years ago. One of many artworks we encountered is the mammoths, they were so clearly recognizable with many of them facing each other, gouged deeply into the fragile rock using a stick. The detail is stunning. The other was the woolly rhinoceros that lived in Western Europe at the the same time as the woolly mammoth, these animals died out around 10,000 years ago at the end of the last glacial age. These were depicted as a freize in one of many rooms, the drawing was done with black colouring that consisted of manganese dioxide crayon. Rhino’s in Western Europe how cool is that!

Another we saw was a 10 mammoths frieze the biggest of compositions of cave art in the world, heading further in the cave it’s very noticeable the pits created by the bears that slept and hibernated in this cave. Moving further in 14,000 years ago this Great ceiling we have entered 1000 meters from the entrance was barely a metre high above the floor, here we encountered on the ceilings artwork of many animals that included mammoths, rhinoceros, horses, ibex and bisons all swirled in random chaos. It’s an absolute jaw dropping experience to see something so old yet so well drawn, unfortunately and for good reasons to, you are strickly not allowed to take photos of this amazing artwork. I note that these images below are painted copies or images taken from experts.

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Next we head to a completely different set up in which this was inhabited by prehistoric man 55 thousand years ago, this is La Roque Saint-Christophe which is of 1 kilometre long and 80 metres high along a cliff face. Here it was seen as an ideal place defensively and provided inhabitants with the ideal shelter as it offered cave like canopies all along. At the end of the first millenium it was used as a fortress from the Norman and Viking raids.

Some of the caves are visible with ropes threaded through holes in the ceiling were they tied up their animal stock. This being the largest suspended rock shelter in Europe had a huge terrace developed by man during the middle ages, by being enlarged and deepened so that it could be converted into dwellings, church, stables and stone quarries. You can see remains of how they bulit into the rock with many houses suspended carefully close to the edge. It’s an incredible use of space and such a great use of terrain that has been successful in repelling attacks, mainly by being next to the river they had posts along the river to sound the horn if troubles arrived. Two such different discoveries, well worth the visit and a good rain day activity as both are obviously sheltered.

From here we are making our way up through the middle west side of France to Tours, the city itself did not do much for us, the old town looked nice with its timber framing brick buildings and the church from the outside looked impressive but not alot to rave on the inside. From here we head east of Tours 20 minutes to the Château De Chenonceau, this Château is quite impressive and cleverly built over top of the river. It was built in 16th century over top of what was previously there before, it was given as a present from King Henry II to his favourite lady Diane De Poiters. It has gone through many ownerships and one that stands out is the use of this Château for The First World War as a hospital for the wounded, Simone Menier was the patron responsible for this from generous funding to equip and transform this at her families expense (Menier Chocolate Factory). Over 2,000 wounded would be looked after here, Simome was also responsible for the French resistance on numerous occasions during World War Two. This place just as you would deem it to be, adorned with the most prestigious tapestry and colourful decor, it’s essentially a palace. Extensive gardens before the river, alot of money has been put into developing these from past owners. The Queen of France also lived here Louise of Loraine after the death of King Henri III, and withdrew into mournimg here wearing nothing but white for the rest of her time.

Time to head a little way up north and we decide to stay in Amboise, the next morning we only planned to use the information site for wifi and gather information on Versailles. Well turns out over the wall we parked next to last night is the Château du Clos Lucé in which for the final 3 years of his life Leonardo da Vinci lived! Under the invitation by then Frances King François I, Leonardo da Vinci settled here in 1516.

Here Leonardo da Vinci continued his creations and improved inventions of other work, models of the work he did are here to see aswell as the life he lived in this Château. A really fascinating find as we both didn’t know a heack of alot about him, he was a real inventor but also a clever talented artist, who painted the Mona Lisa. Now this is cool bit of information , he accepted the French kings request to come over from Italy and rode on the back of a mule at the age of 64 with several of his disciples crossing the alps that seperate Italy and France! François I appointed him “First painter, architect and engineer of the king”. During our walk around you can see alot of his works, mechanical engineering particularly water moving, weaponry and staircases.

Leonardo da Vinci died 2nd of May 1519, it is told he had wept on his death bed for having offended the Creator and the people of this world by not working at his art as he should, so told by Francesco Melzi, favourite disciple of Leonardo da Vinci.

We decided to explore Amboise old town before setting off to the much surprise that Leonardo living here, the old town with the huge Château like castle on the hill was quite impressive which is said that Leonardo da Vinci is buried here, plus the many houses that looked to be built into a cliff face. Here the old town is bustling with people and loads of Creperies to which we devoured into later on! The similiar style to Tours old town with the timber framing houses with red brick. A very cool place to explore to only originally planning on staying the night to move on.

Now we approach Paris and will stay here for 3 days with 2 of the days to explore Paris and 1 day with Karens brothers family at Disneyland to the much surprise of Hannah and Michael Karens niece and nephew. The first day we head into the centre and first point of call is the Arc de Triomphe, this arch aside from Eiffel Tower is one of Paris symbols. Built in 1836 for Napoleon’s 1805 victory at Austerlitz, it also has the tomb at the base of an unknown soldier of whom 1.3 million French soldiers died in World War One, this has a burning flame that is rekindled at 6:30pm everyday. The structure was pretty impressive with many intricate sculptures displayed, also it’s right in the middle of a huge roundabout which gives great viewing standing there alone.

Next we walk down Av des Champs Élysées this is the main street of Paris that leads from Arc de Triomphe, with top of the range shops and restaurants that cost a bomb, walking down with many flash cars of Lambrogini and Ferraris hired out for people to drive at €90 for 20 minutes…. You’re not going anywhere fast in Paris! Also saw a Red Bull formula 1 car. Heading towards the Grand Palais and Petit Palais I capture a moment with a bride and groom in front of the steps, whether genuine or just photo shoots for the magazines it was a timely picture. We walk across the bridge over the Seine and walk along the river towards the Eiffel Tower with many cafes and restaurants bustling. Along this stretch of river are many games and hurdles that are busy with young and old playing games, from chess, backgammon and draughts, there’s swingball, badminton and table tennis. A real lively spot down here which was great to see.

We head inwards from the river and stroll some local streets and take in the architecture that’s very prominant to this country. And wolah, stand and behold Effiel Tower is towering above the street we walk, you know it’s big but not as big as when you see it in person! We get our shots on the camera and admire it before walking under, it’s an overcast day so wouldn’t be great viewing. That didn’t stop the mass of tourists queuing up which would seem hours before you get up. We head back on the other side of the Seine river and make our way back on the train to our campsite, the next day will prove to be a long one.

So we are gearing up to head into Disneyland Paris for the day to spend time with Karens brother’s family Mark, Alex, Hannah and Michael. Now personally I’m not that big on Disney and the glitz of it all and the ridiculous amount of money that’s used here, your stuck and have no option but get your wallet out. Karen on the other hand is a child again! She loves it and I will just have to embrace the magic. So we meet Mark at the entrance and takes us to their hotel room, the kids have no idea and the door opens with Mark saying “Look who I found!” the scream from Hannah with a confused Michael was priceless and a hug with a “You look like Santa Clause” ….. Guess this beard is getting a little out of control… Nah!

So the day basically hanging out and doing a bunch of rides, I’ve got to say the rides were pretty wicked! Top 3 would have to be Tower of Terror which takes you up to the top of the building with random segments of videos and light shows in pitch black to then screens open up and you’re looking out over the view of Disneyland for this thing to drop and jump up and down scaring the crap out of you. 2nd would be Aerosmith rock theme rollorcoaster inside a buiding that’s pitch black, with cork screws and loops, it ouzes power too!! And 3rd Big Thunder moutain, this was done in the evening so to add to this cool ride it was pitch black and quick as hell. Many others I could rave about but I will just stick to 3. The day heading into evening we set to have dinner with the characters and the looks on these kids faces says it all, Micky Mouse, Eeyore, Pluto and Tigger they just get overwelmed by it all and Hannah and Michael loving every bit. The Frozen sing along with Micheal belting out fully engrossed just pulls at the heart strings he was gone into the scene of it all!

Finally the light show and fireworks with lazers and projection screening onto the castle itself was quite impressive telling stories of the characters with music, the amount of money they pump into this would be surreal and it happens 7 days a week. A fantastic day with the kids and Mark and Alex it was nice for us to spend some time with them and have a laugh. That in a nutshell was Disneyland Paris, special thanks to Mark & Alex for the tickets and the contribution from Karens nan, Ian and Maureen towards our 30th Birthday gift, I’ve got to say never thought for a moment to do that for a 30th!

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After a long day in Disney with catching the train at midnight and getting back at 2am in the morning we were quite shattered. We use the day to explore more of Paris and head to the other side to view the Cathédrale Notre Dame, this as we all know is linked with the fairy tale of Hump back of Notre Dame. This Cathedral was built in 13th century and has gone through many alterations, intricately decorative with carvings and gargoyles adorning the top reaches of the structure it’s a real gothic feeling and feels even more so inside. Dark with nice stained glass windows the church itself not much to say for on the inside, just has that gothic look of darkness. We wander around and would say this is Paris 3rd biggest attraction judging by the hords of tourist. From here we walk back across the river Seine and walk around the many streets that dart through this city. For me Paris is very similar to London, it’s a big place full of palaces and ornate architecture and has a big river running through the middle. Both places being the capital and money no object. We finish off Paris with lunch in the Jardin des Tuileries which is a big garden park in the middle of Paris, at one end flanked by the The Louvre.

And that would conclude Paris and part one of the France blog, such a varied itinerary moving up France it has offered a great deal of interest in exploring more of this place. The highlight being in Dordogne with the prehistoric paintings will just take you aback the sheer time that is being talked about. Moving west we head over to the coast of Normandy. Au revoir.

North Spain VW T25 1981 Campervan

On our way out of Portugal we set sights that stretch along the north spanish coastline, we park in a small town next to a marina after a solid drive up from Porto. This would be our stop for the night for then to be some gorgeous sun rise moments first thing the next day.

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We drive up to Santiago de Compostela and what is really noticeable on the drive up is the amount of walkers and walking trails the whole way to this city, was there something on? Well we found out a moment later as we head into the old city. Meandering around town bustling with seafood restaurants and bakeries this city has a charm about itself, we make our way to the Museo da Catedral which stands out impressively. This has it that this is the end of the pilgrim route and has been busy with pilgrims for over 1000 years, and also the supposed burial site of St. James. This was the reason it was built.

Those walkers I told you about, they seem to all walk to this direction, no surprise either with the church being a popular attraction and one of the 3 most important churches in Christianity, but also the countryside so far coming here has been second to none it’s main climate being rain so it is very green here. You would never of thought it either with the hot dry barron landscape that we encountered in Spain previously. Bustling with people it had a very busy feel to it, this church is very popular, and do recommend coming here for a different feel for a Spanish city. We move on to view Ribadeo coastline.

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So on arrival at our park in Ribadeo we encountered another Green Machine owned by the British this one without the high top and of slightly different look with less windows. Whilst we got ready the owners to our surprise an older couple wandering back to their van stunned looking over to ours we had a great yarn about the vehicles. Their one being quite difficult in the terrain we are in as it is only a 1.6 engine 2nd gear seems a formality , no fridge there camping is of basic needs. Ferry over from UK to Santander they enjoying a good 2 weeks driving about. This is the first VW type that is of the same colour as ours and even too they said we are the first in green, this colour is not easy to find being the classic orignal colour.

Ribadeo is a coastline stretch of corroded cliff face that has been battered by the seas forever, this particular part is very touristy and will only let 5000 people on the beach daily as we found out upon arrival. So stunned that we couldn’t get on we trudge off in annoyance, booked out so that you could only get on in a few days time. Still being able to view from the cliff edge we wander along to see if we could get down, we’ll head further along and we get down to the next beach that has no tourists and little locals for that matter. This in my view was much better than going to the other beach because you are not dealing with hundreds of tourists on the beach front all trying to get the same photo. As you will see the pictures are stunning and it was a stunning place to be, felt so small with the cliffs and caves surrounding you and the strong ocean tide racing in. Quite the spot and would have us enlightened for what lies ahead on this coastline. We just keep driving through such serenic countryside and national parks it tops a lot of what Europe offers and even NZ.

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Right remember that pesty mouse we have living in the camper…. Well it’s manage to make life in the Green Machine so far and the thought of it really stirred us up, especially being we are super clean, keeping rubbish and recycling disposed readily. Well after a mammoth clean of the camper washing all seat fabric and just giving the camper a generally good clean and empty everything out we decided to buy mouse traps and some glue contraption that’s supposed to get him stuck if he went for the food in the middle. All this and nothing… Not even a sign of the mouse? Seems our stringent work we did before leaving the van, not a single crumb or single drop of water would starve the mouse and decide enough was enough and left, I would of thought the noise and rattle of the Green Machine would of been enough. Happy campers!

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Up and ready for a trip to the coast we head towards Gijón and have an evening exploring this city, a wander around and we find the perfect local for some tapas and traditonal cider. The cider here is not the cider you and I are used to drinking, it’s somewhat different in the way they drink it also. Poured from a glass bottle over their heads into your glass held down to their waist in a little sheltered contraption that stops the splash back…

Now after watching the locals it seems when the drink is poured, only a 1/4 full the barman hands you the drink and you must swing it back immediately finishing your drink. Right, the taste is what surprised me but it grew on me, cider vinegar came to mind with a very sharp taste, the apple is certainly very prominent but in no way sweet. Hence it makes perfect sense to not muck around and swing it back. That was an experiance and a half! Now tapas with chicken, patatas and squid it was delicious a great evening out what turned out to be heaving by 10pm, it seems the locals stop what they were doing and are all out socialsing with many music performances being had around the many squares. We witness one earlier on with what seems traditional for this area is the bag pipes, exactly the same to the scottish ones but a higher pitch. Was very cool to witness.

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We head in land a little to a place called Santillana del Mar, which is an old medieval town that is still intact to this day, this is a place you feel you are back in time. Old houses and shops bustling as they would hundreds of years ago we make our way up to the main church of the town called the La Colegiata de Santa Juliana and was built ontop of an ancient monastery from 9th century. The church itself walking in opens out to a little courtyard with individual carvings on the pillars, walking around you feel like something out of Robin Hood if all feels so surreal. The church itself nothing to write home about in terms of ornate sculptures but basic as it would have been back in the day. Walking all through this town was a very cool experiance and as you will see from the pictures will solidify that. 2km from this town is recorded artistic marks thousand years before in the cave of Altmaira.

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Next point of call along the coastline is San juan de Gaztelugatxe which is a church built upon a rocky island connected with a bridge across the shoreline, the area surrounded this is spectacular and we walk to the top to explore the surrounding area. It is said that John the Baptist visited here, stunning scenery if ever you can visit this place the coastline is picturesque. A pretty cool bridge at that too.

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We head back to the nearest town and stay the night, we had a look at the local beach for an evening patta ball and swim before setting off to San Sebastian the next day..

This will be our last day and night in Spain before setting back into France, we arrive after some stunning scenery again of the coastline of north Spain, coming back here the national parks would be the highest priority.

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San Sebastian sits in the harbour with sandy beaches stretching the whole way around, looked over by what looks like a statue of Mary this place was very busy with sun worshippers. Parked up next to a VW like ours we had a friendly chat later on about each others vehicles, it’s becoming more common now that we come across these types.

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We walk in to spend the afternoon at the beach packed with people and finally the water is warm, clean clear water it’s a real pull for the locals to spend their days here. We take a walk around the town with bits and pieces we needed to sort out, whilst doing this we stumbled upon their main church at the end of the main street, it’s tower clearly noticeable from the other end of the street. The place is busy with a festival and many market stalls selling local organic produce, we purchase some local organic cider and Spanish Tempranillo red wine.

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After a good few hours walking around we head back for dinner before getting a proper send off from Spain with a fireworks display over the harbour, all the locals out in force for this and you can see why.

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What a stark contrast from the first trip through Spain to the north of Spain, an experience to never forget, the scenery is awesome. The coast line from what you have seen is very dramatic as well as the national parks we drove past almost giving a hint of highland Scotland, its very green up here with plenty of rain. The countryside is quaint and serenic with many mountains untouched with forest. The people are very friendly and seem to be a tight knit group up here, as said Barcelona have strong feelings for independence and so do the region of the Basque country. So long Spain what an interesting place you are, Adiós.

Now some numbers to throw you off, since we started this trip ’till now we have travelled the length from UK to NZ and on our way back. Totalling 13,235 miles or 21,176 Km……. crikey dickens.

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Portugal VW T25 1981 Campervan

We’re crossing the border into Portugal and our destination is Faro, we camp a night inland not far from Faro before setting in the next day. Faro is an old fishing town that seems to be the gateway by boat to a lot of the tourist attractions on the Algarve, the place itself wasn’t all that inspiring with the usual church in the middle and fortified walls surrounding the town. Faro is surrounded by a lot of sand banks that you need a boat to take you out to a lot of the beaches.

So after looking around we jump back into the old girl and set off along the coast towards Lagos, here we will drive past Lagos to an area called Figueira. We are 5 Km from the beach and have a tip off from one of the few campers here which seems a whole campsite to ourselves. “Up that gravel road over the hill” says the Dutch camper, “Beautiful beach!” of course we read about some beach that you walk to and only locals seem to go there. I was very cautious to say the least because watching vehicles from a distance it looked steep! So hesitantly I agree to drive up and walk the further 2 Km’s from a park where you can drive no further. We set off down the hill through bush and begin to see the ocean. The outlook was serenity and only one family were on this beach, golden sandy beach with this particular beach very sheltered on what was a very windy day. Surrounded by a rocky cliff face and blocked either end by rock boulders this was a beach to ourselves. Walk to the waters edge and you see fish half a metre long swimming in shoals of 20 hunting their catch, the water falls deep within two metres off the shore line. Paddle the water and it’s freezing… This so they say is the Atlantic waters, coming from Spain in such extreme hot conditions to driving over and feeling the cold wind whip off the ocean, is this what we are in for for the rest of Portugal?

The next day we pack up early and beat the tourist to visit Lagos, known for it’s clear turquoise ocean surrounded by steep corroded and weathered coastline, this one was a photographer’s dream. We take a walk down to the bottom with steps made for access and take in the surrounding area. We also went to a beach sheltered from this corroded landscape and went for a swim, let’s just say it’s quite fresh… Nemo and Karen went for a much needed swim after hiding out in Ians waterproof! Unfortunately we got caught out playing ball in the pool with Maureen for Ian to hide Nemo in our camper! So this was Lagos for the morning and we set off the west coast and stop in a seaside village called Porto Covo.

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Porto Covo is a quiet little quaint fishing village that is home to a very rocky outcrop to the Atlantic sea, what’s striking to see here is the number of hippies around playing music and socialising but mingled with other parts of the community. While shops and restaurants stay open late all the hippies selling jewellery and crafts and when you head further to the beach the gypsies living together with their sheds of shops selling clothes and all sorts. Walk a little further and you hit the rocky coastline of Porto Covo and to watch the sunset onto the horizon. This was a brief stop before heading away early in the morning to Sintra.

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We arrive in Sintra and stay at a park for campers at the back of semi professional football club, surrounded by artificial turf I wanted to play some football. Caught blank starring at the stadium whilst Karen was talking to me and I was basically out to the world, miss my indoor! So walking up the hill we arrive at Sintra a very stylish old architectural town that is dominated by the Moorish Castle which was built around the 10th century by the Muslim population that occupied the Iberian peninsula, it acted as a control tower for the Atlantic coast. From the highest point of the castle offered exceptional views over towards the Atlantic and inland of Portugal. From our viewing point and you could see this from the village also is The Palace of Pena built in the 19th century, this design was of Portuguese Romanticism and the integration of natural and built heritage. This Palace is in a vast array of vibrant colours that adds to the Sintra’s World heritage site.

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When walking around the little cobbly village we stumbled upon a little shop selling Ports, wines and liqueurs, a local tradition we tried and recommended was a chocolate cup (about a shot glass) filled with cherry liqueur. Matey what a genius! delicious enough said. I asked him about Piri Piri and he happily took us out the back to try a range of Piri piri sauces….. This stuff is the bee’s knees of chilli sauces, and why not let’s have a sample of white port too while we are at it. So finally getting out of that shop we were lucky to witness an orchestra performing on a patio to a small crowd. We are getting hungry now and search for a local restaurant to get some traditional Portuguese cuisine. After walking around aimlessly for 30 mins from tip offs from locals we finally found a place to eat, didn’t look like much from the outside and actually walked past first time turning our noses up. Well what a lesson learnt, it was as local as you will get and the food was sensational. I ordered BBQ chicken with piri piri sauce of cause with chips and Karen had the classic salted cod with scallop potatoes. A few drinks later this place is heaving with locals, pays not to be fussy because you miss out on gems like these! That’s Sintra in a nutshell and a worthy place to visit.

We drive inland towards the Serra da Estrela, not going into the park itself due to the capabilities of the Green Machine this is home of Portugals highest mountain, so we decided against driving it, we did a walk near our campsite we stayed at for two days. A peaceful campsite in the middle of nowhere surrounded by tree’s was pretty good as it gets, we went for a walk around the area with taking the local campsite dog for a walk, with our GPS given to us by the campsite we follow the trails that had been marked. That night we had a beef stew and mash on the menu for the campsite and had an evening socialising with a dutch couple. A good stop once again to catch up on jobs and emails and restart in the Green Machine heading north.

We head towards Furodouro enroute Àgueda, this place is known for the vibrant umbrellas decorating the streets as cover from the sun, what a clever idea and really was a cool find.

We head to the coastline to cut our trip to two days on our way to Porto, and stay at beach side town called Furadouro. The sunset here was outstanding along this long sandy beach with dunes built up on the banks from the fierce Atlantic winds. We set off early and make way for Porto.

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Arriving into Porto we had emailed a VW garage to order an oil filter for the Green Machine to have an oil change prepared in a few days, this was so they had enough time to order the filter and delivery time….. Email unanswered and a blunt phone call saying they never received an email I promptly tell him I will email you again can we just have this sorted. Feeling abit messed around I had a cunning idea that sent the company into action. Send my email again forwarding onto each different departments from that VW service and promptly receiving an email higher up the chain that your filter will be here Monday, hooray. We didn’t ask for much!

We are staying at a Biological park here in Porto that has a camper stop and a big park of native bush and animals. This was our stop for two days, the village next door however are celebrating something with rockets! It’s not fireworks we didn’t see any, but randomly during the day or really late at night sometimes in the middle of the night what sounds like gun shots and explosions. It felt like a war zone strangely enough we were informed it’s a celebration….

We head into Porto by bus and take a walk around the old town. What a completely different contrast Porto gives compared to other European cities, The most prominent buildings you notice once you hit the top over looking the Douro river is the Sé Catedral this over looks both ends of Porto with being able to see clearly the Torre dos Clérigos which has a bell tower like structure soaring over the city. The other was the Câmara Municipal do Porto. We took a look into Sé Catedral and felt the outside carving looked quite impressive, we walked down towards the inner part of Porto’s old town and take a look in the railway station. In Portugal alone decorative tiles on the fronts of their houses seems really popular and do look really elaborate, well here it’s on full show and it’s impressive as the photos will show. We had a really good wander around the old town and even popped into the local bakery, Portuguese are known for bloody awesome pastries! Their top and most popular seller are Custard tarts that have been blow torched on top creating a caramerilised skin, these are the best things ever. Even got hit up by a local fella while Karen was off taking pictures talking to me in Portuguese pestering me while I was taking a photo, turns out the whole time he was asking me to buy his weed, and he didn’t even disguise it either. Looking at him with a shocked look on my face should of been enough, to then walk off still looking at me nodding as if I was interested. Was funny though as Karen was puzzled what was going on, lets move on! Now luckily for the day we chose to come into Porto is hosting the Formula 1 of Motor boat racing up and down the Douro river, these things had noise, smell and speed, not to mention a stunt plane coming up and down through the Douro river. We sought ourselves a primo spot to watch the boat racing before walking over the common bridge called Ponte de D. Luis I, this was known to transport port back in the day. So the main reason for heading over this bridge aside from the stunning scenery is…… to try some port.

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If you didn’t know with the name is that port is originally from Porto and is home to some of the worlds biggest names of port producing. What is port? Basically a sweet version of wine, red or white with more alcoholic percentage. We head to Sandeman and sit outside with the stunning view of old town Porto and the bridge with the River Douro beneath, we order two different reds one being the common Ruby and the other Imperial Tawny. Both were an absolute gem of a drink, some of these cellars have been around for 300 years. This area along the river is full of cellars of all different types and makes of Port. We take a wander further down the waters edge and walk into a cellar called Quevedo. And move upstairs to try the white port with jamon and crackers, what a tough day. Of course we needed to purchase some bottles of port so Offeley Ruby and Porto’s Conde De Monsul white was added to our cellar in the camper, perfect.

And that is our day in Porto, sight seeing, boat racing and Port tastings, tough life really.

The next day will be a chilled out day and to wander the local area we are in and get some jobs done, find a mechanic for work the following day and visit the Biological park that we are camped in. One not so convenient thing for us that has happened, we seemed to have found mouse poo! We have a little critter living in our camper since we have been at this Biological park, and the thought of it living in this small space makes us cringe. So research on the net has it that it is quite common in campers and only need a 1/4 of an inch gap to get in, well that’s a piece of cake in the Green Machine ’cause there’s a tonne of places it could slip in! So this will be an ongoing saga of how to rid this critter, and you thought driving along with the loud noise and shakiness of the Green Machine would scare it…. Nope!

Our final morning would see us pick up our oil filter from the VW specialist and head to a mechanic we found the day before and get our oil change done, wash the camper because a bit of water and jet blasting would scare the critter off…. NOPE! Not even the noise from the vacuuming. So this is our time up in Portugal before heading into northern Spain to trail the coastline to France. Portugal has been for me an amazing place to visit, the people are friendly as ever and the scenery is breath taking most certainly the beaches too. Don’t come here for warm beaches because in the majority of the country the water is really chilly. The food is second to none, and I’m bias I love my chilli and bbq piri piri chicken this stuff is rock solid. Porto is a must see for European cities it has everything and will catch you with it’s charm, and finally the port wine is as ever a must for the originality for this country. So long Portugal.

Spain part 1 VW T25 1981 Campervan

We are entering Espanyol territory and boy the heat is intense, what would of been a small sweat patch on your back becomes a stream of sweat non stop soaking your top. We stay in a small local town called Navata under a canopy of pine trees just aswell because while everyone else is having a siesta we are swimming at the local swimming pool! We stay the night all refuelled, rehydrated, and set off to Barcelona.

I was fortunate to have visited Barcelona with a friend who I flatted with who is born and bred Catalonian, memories of what he showed me here and did will help me in great stead to show Karen what we had done. Arriving at our campsite we aim to look at Barcelona over a few days from late afternoon into the evening.

Bus into the city centre and we hop off outside the Plaça Espanya with its impressive fountain the focal point, here we walk up towards Font Màgica de Montjuīc which sits proudly and every now and then will produce a light show and music at 9 pm, which you will see later on. Behind this fountain sits the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya which has a stairway leading all the way up to it with waterfalls cascading down, the whole street is impressive for the fountains and veiwing it for the second time is still very cool. behind the Museum to the right is the old Olympic park that was the host for the Olympics in 1992.

From here we wander through the old Catalonian town with its streets veering off in all sort of directions, you feel the culture and even the older generation are out and about getting amongst it. After having a good look around we walk down the Pg Ĺluis Companys which is like a rectangular boulevard, you walk down towards the other side and the Arc de Triomf stands unaposed. Next to this back down is the Parc de la Ciutadella which is the city centres garden, this area is busy with locals relaxed amongst friends and family and runners frequently bypassing. At the top end of the park is the Cascada Fountain which is a pretty neat sculpture with plants incorporated, this was the spot we sat and ate our pre-packed dinner. We call it a day and head back to the campsite. So just to mention the campsite is right on the beach, and a morning/early afternoon proved basking in the sunshine and swimming in this ridiculously warm waters before setting off again into the city.

Off the bus and we walk the main street of where one of many works of Guadi who’s unique architecture is on show, first one being the Cas Batllo and the second called La Pedrera – Mila house. Really worth the visit for this world renowned architect, you start to sense he has taste for natural forms and loves his mosiacs, blues and greens being prominent. From here we move towards Sagrada Familia, this amazing cathedral never gets boring to see! Construction started in 1882 and it is still under construction, this is another of Guadí’s fascinating works, on the inside expect to sit there stumped for what has been thought of in someones head. Inside resembles trees as the pillars with the tops resembling canopies with the stained glass streaming multi-coloured lights throughout the church. This in my opinion is one of the best, hands down. I will let the pictures tell the rest of the story.

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Finally we make our way towards the the Font Màgica de Monttjuīc and veiw the light show and music with the hords of people surrounding it all the way up the steps to the museum. I have seen it lit up in the night time and it is impressive unfortunately this time it’s middle of summer so the evenimg sun is still quite bright, but here you can see what we witnessed and it was still pretty cool. That calls an end to the day and decide we should have a night time swim in the dark! You need to it’s too hot!

The following morning we check out Park Güell this is where Gaudí took on landscaping, this was intended to be a miniature city for the wealthy which turned out to be a flop and was turned into a public park. We wander around and again you see his usual style and use of mosiacs, the central area is now pay to enter, this was not the case 3 or so years ago and is a shame as you freely wandered at your own pace, for what we could see we turned down the offer to pay for what is clearly a way to get more money out of tourist. That would see the end of us looking around Barcelona and I can tell you right now you need more days to do it, there is alot we didn’t do and is one city I would go back to because it has everything from great culture, old history, fascinating architecture and a real mix of things to see.

Driving inland we would head towards Madrid with stopovers on the way in Lleida and Calatayud, it proved a long and taxing drive in searing heat that at times would reach to late 30’s, you begin to understand why siestas are had. Such vast landscape you felt like you were in a wild wild west scene with those common looking table mountains.

We arrive in Madrid and camp just outside in a campsite that used to be part of a reserve with protected trees, base ourselves here for 2 nights for what we want to achieve in these days. Camper set up I head off on the metro into Madrid to see one of the most famous football stadiums of world football, this is the home of Real Madrid.

Stadium pass obtained and go to the highest point allowed to view the impressive stadium, this stadium holds 80,000 people and is one of the top football clubs in the world. Taking a walk through all the trophies they won it seems they are running out of cabinet space! Seeing the Champions leaugue cups was quite cool and then to walk onto the football pitch, walk down the other end and sit in the Real Madrid bench to then finally walk through the changing rooms where they get berrated for being so crap against Manchester United!

Next day we set off into Madrid central called Puerta del Sol which is said the buildings that surrounded the square resembles the sun as each building catches the sun light, we decided to do a free tour for the first time with introductions of ourselves and just general chit chat but really was lacking the get go and see stuff, to much talk amd lagging made us decide to look around ourselves at the pace we know we are comfortable. We check out the Opera House and then onto Casa de la Villa, with finally moving onto the palace called Palacio Real and opposite that is the Catedral de la Almudena, we pay to walk to the top with the panoramic views of the city. This Cathedral is not that old with construction started in 19th century, but an image was found by King Alfonso VI in 1085 of the Virgin Mary inside the Madrid walls, this was hidden in 712 before the Arabic invasion which is in this cathedral today.

We walk around the smaller areas of Madrid to capture the more local setting than of the touristy spots, we then move onto Parc de el Retiro this is Madrids biggest park. One of the nicest parks in a city I have seen with an abundance of fountains and ponds homing plenty full of fish and teripins, yip terapins heaps of them! That caught us off guard. So that for us was Madrid and was an interesting stop to see this city, as your aware we aren’t that big on cities but a day out proved enough for us to explore it, we get ready to head south.

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Toledo is a small hill top town an hour south of Madrid, this is surounded by fortified walls with the much talked about Toledo Cathedral. Walking up the steep cobbled streets we start to approach the top of the town, bustling with tourist surprisingly so with the heat sweltering. We take a look inside the Cathedral and here it goes, alot of churches are pretty similar and some just get really samey but you have to keep going, because every once in a while you come across something that is of architectural brilliance. This one to note is because of its carvings, such intricate carving in wood, stone and other material. One of the areas that took my eye was the choir room with the upright part of the seat carved individually telling the story of what happened to the city back in the day, each one telling a different story. This church dates back to 1227 it has a load of artwork on show that is quite descriptive in its story telling. After this we walked around the town but becoming quite unbearable with the the heat we need to make head way south.

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We are heading to Cordoba which has a rich history from the Visigoths to a period of Islamic where the San Vicente Basilica was destroyed to make way for a mosque, this is what you see to this day and it was in 1236 they changed the mosque to a cathedral. This is one of the top 5 churches I have seen, one is its massive space you can easily get lost in, the countless pillers arching from one another with the recognizable red and white stripes. This is very cool and worth the visit, photo’s don’t do it justice! We walk around the forecort outside this cathedral where orange trees are grown with little channels of water leading to each tree, this small town is surrounded by the old walls with narrow streets and typical white houses with window shutters all shut for their siesta. After exploring the city we move south and park up for the night in the middle of the countryside in a small town. Then we head down to Ronda.

Upon driving we took alot of pictures en-route through countryside Spain this is the product of what we saw.

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Ronda was a risk worth taking as we had no idea the terrain and if the Green Machine was capable in this extreme heat. Well getting there was all hunky dory and managed to park in the town itself. Ronda is one of the most ancient cities in Spain, known with different names Ronda was the Celtic Arunda, Roman Acinipo and the Moorish Izn-Rand Onda. The river Guadalevín which splits the town in two and time has cut this gorge 120 metres deep. The current bridge was built between 1751 and 1793, this was the draw in seeing this town the bridge is really impressive and just seems something out of a movie. Old buildings and gardens decorate this old town it is located in the most north east of the province Málaga. Stunning views all round this rocky out crop. After having a good look around we head towards Seville.

Seville will be our last Spanish town before heading into Portugal and we explore this city once again in early 40 degrees. We for the first time stay the night in a carpark that is a shed! Supposedly being in the shade will be the best idea… except no breeze and stagnant heat just makes it all the more hotter! We bus into Seville and what you find is most of the centre is all pedestrainised, we walk to check out the Seville Cathedral and again like Toledo had amazing carving sculptures. This spot was home of the main Mosque in 1181-1198 in 1218 the Mosque was consecrated as a Cathedral. Again stunning sculptures and has the old orange tree courtyard that was allowed to stay from the time it was the Mosque. This is also has the tomb for Christopher Columbus the famous Spanish explorer.

We wander around the town noticing that it feels quite quiet with few tourist around, the town itself is very crafty and artistic looking and has a character about itself. We walk towards the city park where there is a building with a fountain surrounded by ponds, quite a sight and the park itself was really nice. We stop at a bar in the park and get ourselves a traditional spanish drink that is red wine and soda with ice, have it nice and cold and it is the perfect cocktail for the extreme temperatures we have witnessed.

So that’s it for Spain for now as we drive on through to Portugal, on the other side of Portugal we will scale the top of Spain into France. Spain has been such a different feel to what we have to that point experienced, to the very individualist of Barcelona with its artsy feel and party vibe to the bustling city life of Madrid to the south of Spain offering some really serenic scenery and old architecture, especially some of the Cathedrals. It was noticed not alot of tourist at this time of year, but then we also avoided the really touristy spots as July and August are peak season. Till next time Adiós

South France VW T25 1981 Campervan

Southern France if it wasn’t already hot enough leaving Italy it sure up’d the anti here, we drive the mountainous rocky coastline towards Monaco, which is a Republic of Monte Carlo. Here we got a tip from a German couple to go see the aquarium in Monaco itself, driving through Monaco was a surreal experience, obviously money gushes around here in abundance with towering apartment blocks over looking the harbour, wealthy people walk around in their top notch attire. We park up and set off to the aquarium which is behind the Royals palace. Unfortunately this aquarium is like all others and lacks the size and space for the species and even seeing such a vast amount of differing varieties they looked routine in swimming in their small aquariums. From here we aimed to drive the Monaco Grand Prix track in the Green Machine and were on it for a good 10 minutes, but the traffic was heaving, very unlike Grand Prix! And the fuel tank is running rather low and not a petrol station in sight, and believe me its not easy driving in Monaco!

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We decide to move on and make way to a place near Nice, that night we were accompanied by a very friendly English couple and he was just so informative. Giving us tips to have a look at a few places along the coast we change our plans a little enroute to meet up with Karens parents in the middle of nowhere in South France. We took a look at Port Grimaud which was a rich persons docking point for their boats, this is surrounded by typical southern France chalets over looking their wharfs, we walk around and veiw some of the luxury launches and boats that were stationed with some having a ramp for cars to drive on and off. Just a totally different world again. We drive further around the coast to a camper stop next to the beach this area is called Ranatuelle, the water just keeps getting warmer! Stunning beaches and plenty of space among the other holiday goers, a night swim even ensued in the calm ocean.

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All set and ready to head into typical southern France countryside, Karen’s parents had booked a typical cottage in Provence in a small town called Neoules. We are to stay here for the next three nights with the place to ourselves, a proper brick oven for bbq’s and quality company with plenty of food and drink. The following day would prove eventful, lets just say we can experiance a break down together! Ian and Maureen’s little Renault rental had a flattie, 1 and 1/2 hours later a tow truck comes to take the car to a tyre warehouse. No spare tyre with the car or tools to do the job which would of been quicker! So after a little ride in the tow truck the 4 of us we get our tyre and move on towards the coast to catch a ferry over to Porquerolles Island, here we move to a beach called Plage D’ Argent with a restaurant overlooking the sandy beach we stop for some french platter food and drinks, finish up and enjoy the life on the beach! Couldn’t get much better than that really. The island was busy and bustling with beach goers great place to hire a bike and just set off exploring.

The following day would see us start the morning with pancakes cooked in the Green Machine with our table and chairs prepared for the four of us under the awning.

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After that good tucker we were ready for a drive inland of South France through old quaint towns and wind into some rolling mountains where we encounter a large blue lake called Lac Ce Ste. Crois and at the end point there is the Gorge Verdon. Lunch bought and a pedalo for four and we set off in the gorge, scenery wise it’s pretty spectacular and the water is very deep yet it was so warm, with plenty of people scaling cliffs to bomb off. A few laughs had with a gentle tap from me tiping Karen ove the edge and a clumsy looking fall from Maureen off the pedalo had us in stitches, a great day had and would see us stop off at a little french village called Cotignac,

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This town has prehistoric caves that were lived in by cave men on the cliff side of the hill, here we wander the small village and stop at a bar for drinks, Ian orders me a typical french drink called Pastis which is accompanied with a glass of water to water down how you wish. The drink is of a more sweetened down version of Sambuka, was really a refreshing drink. Stock up on meat from a typical french butchery, pastry shop ’cause I couldn’t really resist… And Ian would always agree anyway! That was our day set and done with plenty of food, drink and games had in the evening…. Girls clawring their way back in P’s & Q’s thanks to Ians generosity gave the girls another chance which would make the final day the decider! Last day at the cottage and we just enjoy the sun, pool and a final game of P’s and Q’s to which the boys take the victory! A really nice break from having to drive anywhere to enjoying the luxury of the cottage. You become quite unaware how taxing the trip in the Green Machine is, yes we are on holiday but stick to a time plan you have to be ruthless at times and just keep going because quite frankly there are just so many places you can stop and enjoy the surroundings.

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We begin towards the coast to stay 2 nights at a small fishing village called Carro, we are parked right onto the beach with the view out over the ocean, can’t beat it. Next morning we head 2 mins down the road to the local bakery to purchase the much talked about baguette, and there’s a line out the door for them! Chocolate tart aswell why not! As we walked through the fishing harbour every morning there is a market for fish, all the markets are empty around 7/8am and then the fisherman come in with the prize catches and the locals are in force to pick from the vast array of fish. To note this area for some reason the weather is hot, but the ocean is freezing cold to us realizing after a bomb of the boulders! Not a place to swim it seems. A few days catching up on errands and we are ready to move.

Here we begin again in the Green Machine and head towards Arles which has the much talked about Amphitheater, to this day it is used for bull fighting not the sort where they kill the bull in the end! This was built back in 90 AD and can hold up to 21,000 spectators. It was really cool to see this situated right in the middle of town, this is missing alot of the upper seating areas as there was once a town built in this Amphitheater. 12th century they say homes were built with a small square in the centre, a drawn out picture that I will put on here shows it quite well. So after looking around its quite striking to think here was gladitorial fighing, to an old stone quarry and then built a town in there with fortified towers surrounding it, then to restore back to it’s original state.

Very cool, and we are off through the town where The Roman Theatre is situated 5 min walk from the Amphitheater. This was built in the end of the 1st century BC and could hold up tp 10,000 spectators, this was no theatre like Plovdiv but was still a great find and drawings of what it once looked like would of been really spectacular. We take a walk around this local french town that is built right next to the river Rhóne, time to move south and get some serious distance covered for Spain. We stay one last night in south France alongside a beach before heading over the border into Spain.

South France was a pleasant surprise, one I knew little about except for the food even then still didn’t know enough. You hear about the south France little quaint towns and cottages in the middle of nowhere with the classic wooden shutters all closed to the searing heat, but once there to discover this place oozes charming harsh countryside with vineyards in abundance, to gorgeous beaches along the coast. So yes pastry has been something of a regular treat, but nothing compares to what the french bake, that is all in its own league! Wines are first class too, and it’s easy to see why they snob other countries wine, maybe snob is the wrong word but they sure are passionate about their own country. We could only do a little bit with Spain beckoning but it’s nice to know we are coming back out the other side to explore more of France.

Italy Part 3 VW T25 1981 Campervan

After a strenuous day of looking at archeological sites it was time to pack the Green Machine up and head north towards Rome, having the only campsite inside the ring road motorway we opted for one with a swimming pool, of course would be silly not too! This campsite was perfect for catching the train into Rome and we set of for the Vatican city, one thing of course and we timed this abit too well and not planned! It was St Peters and St Pauls day a public holiday for the people of Rome, well most of them got out to a beach! Rome is said to be 3000 years old and was the centre of the Roman Empire also the centre for the Catholic origin. So we made our way to the Square of the Vatican City and the amount of people were nuts, the whole square was full with a queue to The St Peter’s Basilica reaching all the way round the perimeter of the pillars. So in the queue with the searing heat we wait to have a look at one of the biggest Basilica’s, 45 minutes later and we were in, but before that there was abit of commotion in the middle of the sqaure looking up to a building to the right of the Basilica. People around us talking saying the Pope is coming out to give a speech, well Karen held our spot in the queue and I took a look and indeed his little cloat ? ? ? red towel hanging from his window everyone waiting to see the man himself. Took awhile for him to come and I joined the queue as it was moving quicker and had security checks coming, we are next to the big screen at this point and bang on 12 oclock he comes out talking to the crowd, talking for a good 10 minutes. And that was a spontaneous way to visit the Vatican City with the man himself having a word, just casually… So arrive in the Basilica and basically quite short in words to describe it, the place was massive for a start it was quite a stunning piece of architecture, a little info on the place this is the church built over the spot where Saint Peter was buried, originally here was a church built in 4th century and replaced by what we see now built in 1503 and took 150 years to complete. Walking around it was quite cool to see many of the paintings were actually mosiac works, they were so detailed it was incredible to see, below the photos will tell the story better than I can, it’s worth a visit if even you’re not religious, the architecture is outstanding. The Vatican city itself is the smallest sovereign state in the world and is a good thousand years old.

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So moving on towards Colosseum we hop on the train and head to the other side of Rome, Wow! Walk out the train station and it just looks over you, just trying to grasp how big this is, then thinking it was built since 72 AD. The Colosseum seated 50,000 people and was the most feared arena of that time. Tickets paid for and we walk around the inside of the stadium, clear to see is the underground structure and passage ways where the Gladiators and beast would wait to come on and fight. Reading one of the many information boards I forget the insane amount of people and animals killed in the first 100 days. Just standing there over looking the whole arena and to imagine people and beast getting slaughtered to rapturous crowd cheering on the Gladiators, it’s also so numbing how many beings died here over the entire existance of this stadia. But what a sight to see this monsterous building that housed so many people, you hear bout it, you see it on tv or read it but to see it for yourself is quite something! Simply see this is very well worth the visit. We call that for the day jump on the train back to the campsite and ready ourselves to come back in for day 2 of looking around Rome.

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We once again train into Rome and taking in a packed lunch and plenty of fluids to walk a large chunk of the city. We walk down many of the lanes of old cobble streets Rome make no mistake is another city and heaves with tonnes of tourist, easy to see why but hearing that they will eventually charge people to see the Trevi fountain, unfortunately for us this was under light construction with scaffolding around and no water and has been said to not have water for awhile. When all up and running it would be pretty spectacular, from here we walk towards the Piazza Navonna this is not far away from The Pantheon, here is the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the 4 rivers) for 300 years this Piazza was Romes main market, we perch on a step and stop for lunch before heading towards The Pantheon. As you walk through all you see is building after building and then wamo there it is, The Pantheon this huge dome like structure just dominates the square. This is a 2000 year old temple with its current form dating back to 120 AD the original temple which was built ontop of was 27 BC, it was the largest temple in the world till 15th century. With the pillars towing above as you approach the entrance you come into a dome structure with amazing art work and an opening at the top of the dome with the sunlight striking through, it was so jaw dropping and just sent shivers up your spine. Once again I will let the pictures tempt your mind.

From here we walk towards the Piazza Venezia this is a show piece built upon a hill called the II Vittoriano, it’s quite impressive to see and was built in 1885 to commemorate Italian Unification and honour Victor Emmanuel II. Here you can get stunning views over Rome. From here we head to Palintine hill and walk the area, it is said this was the area Romulus founded the city in 753 AD here most of the ruins are from the era of Emperor Domitian’s vast 1st century complex. Walking to one side of this area offered awesome veiws over the Colosseum.