Cracking the whip – 29/5/16

Who would have thought that after quitting our jobs in IT two and a half years ago we would be starting back at work again on a farm in mid-eastern France ?? Apologies Jeremy and Andy you lost the bet along time ago, but I don’t think either of you would have predicted that this would have been my next stop 🙂

After a night of rain it cleared up and we woke to a fresh, but dry morning, breakfasted and jumped on the bikes to get to the farm for 7:50 to start our days work. As the weather hasn’t been warm enough we were told we wouldn’t be picking cherries, but instead tending to the vine. Josette and Florian have just under 5 hectares of vine all of which is Syrah grape which makes Crozes Hermitage wine and is fed into the local Co-operative ‘Caves Tain d’Hermitage’ – the wine which we tried last Saturday.

As the grapes won’t be ready until September all we were doing was chopping off the surplus branches to ensure that all the goodness is directed into a smaller area, thus enhancing the quality of the grape…. That is the theory at least, I think we will be doing a fair bit of this over the next few weeks 😦

When we finished the ‘pruning’ we turned our hand to a bit of weeding round the newer vine and then a bit of training to coerce the vine into growing in the right direction – all very interesting but back breaking as you are bent over double for the majority.  Not being used to the manual labour, the shower felt pretty good on Monday evening and we both definitely knew that we had put the hours in.

Tuesday morning came round quickly and this time we managed to squeeze in our 5/10 minute warm up before we started work, although we actually ended up only working half the day as although I would like to say that we were super-efficient, the truth is that the crop still wasn’t ready.

We took advantage of having an afternoon free to do the chores and Keith did some Tabata and I went for a rather warm run. We both felt much better afterwards though, despite being tired I think that the exercise helped loosen everything up again 🙂

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Wednesday morning we arrived and were lead towards the first lot of cherry trees to start harvesting the crop. The trees that we worked on on Wednesday had been badly hit by the hail storm in mid-April and a lot of the Cherries were damaged – great for us (as that meant there were more for us to eat/take home), but not so good for Josette and Florian as they lost about 80% of the crop as they can’t sell damaged produce. Worse still a large number of the trees simply hadn’t produced cherries, or those that they had produced were still green or too small and were written off for this year.

Thursday afternoon moved us to another field where although only 20% of the trees had cherries, the quality was far better as was Friday morning in another field. It is really quite sad to think that there are still all those trees that have cherries on them that you, or I would happily eat/buy, but for the farmers it just isn’t worth their while picking them as they won’t be able to make a sale.

We finished at lunchtime on Friday with a traditional ‘Aperitif’ at the farm, happily rolling back to the Motorhome to eat our lunch and have a nice stroll along the Rhone in the 30 degree sunshine.  The nice weather hung around for most of the day yesterday, enabling us to cook and eat a nice Spanish style (that simply means ‘late lunch’) Bar B Q with Michel and Teresa, sadly disappearing over night and we are now apparently looking at a few more damp days. Hopefully the weather forecast is wrong and we will wake to beautiful sunshine tomorrow to help bring on the next lot of fruit and enable us to explore the region a bit further but it will be what it will be.

I have been trying to be creative with Cherries and we have had no less than three Clafoutis (needless to say not made by us), Stewed Cherries with yogurt and muesli and today I have cooked a Cherry Cake with a hint of cinnamon which has just come out of the oven and smells delicious…

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We need a few days off of the cherries so I can find some more recipes 🙂

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27 degrees, sunshine, chocolate, wine and smelly cheese – 22/5/16

After a trip to the Intermarche car park to do our washing – life in a Motorhome is soooo luxurious – we slowly worked our way up the Ardeche to Villeneuve de Berg.

Taking in the flora and fauna along the way we stopped off at Ruoms, which apart from the main street containing a nice selection of ice-cream parlours and patisseries, it also had a very (very) small walled old town which pretty much consisted of a church.

Another 10km down the road and we stopped again at Vogue – listed as one of France’s ‘Most Picturesque’ villages and to be fair it wasn’t bad although the Chateau isn’t really a ‘Chateau’…. Not a grape in sight!

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After our slow mooch along the Ardeche we arrived at Villeneuve de Berg mid afternoon where the Aire (GPS n44,56223 e4,50381) gave us beautiful views looking out across the whole valley. It was only an over night stop for us but it was tranquil and it looked like the area had lots of paths for walking and cycling if one was stopping for longer.

As we were on a slightly tighter schedule – we can hear the cherries calling – we moved on in the morning to Montelimar where we had planned to get out on the bikes and explore the Rhone a little.

The Aire at Montelimar (Free, although there is a machine and barrier that weren’t working – GPS n44,56494 e4,75677) is about 1km outside a fairly normal working town which just so happens to have a wall round it. After an afternoon mooching around the town and its castle on Thursday, we headed south on the Rhone along the cycle path until we found that the river had taken possession and it was far too deep to cross. As we were only 15 minutes or so from where we would have stopped for lunch and to turn around, we gave in and had our picnic on the pathway before the return leg … A very pleasant 50km round trip.

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We had planned to meet Michel and Teresa on Friday to get the latest on the Cherries and Apricots but as we were only 60km away we decided to get to Tournons-sur Rhone a day early to check out the area. The Aire (GPS n45,07366 e4,82111) can only really be described as a car park with facilities but it suited the purpose and despite the sign stating we could stay a maximum of 24 hours, the nice man who collected 5 euros at 8am on Friday morning said we could stay as long as we wanted…. it’s ok, he did give us a ticket in exchange, although I do still wonder how many un-official car park attendants are out there making their millions like the chap who worked near Bristol Zoo :). Needless to say he didn’t turn up on Saturday or Sunday, so he is either earning too much money to worry about it, or is employed by the local council….. Most probably the latter.

After a couple of hours exploring our possible new home for the next few weeks we have decided that we aren’t moving on. We have found our heaven – an excellent array of food and patisserie, an incredible chocolate factory….some may say that it is the gourmet region of France, hills lined with grape vine (which in turn means bottles full of wine) as well as Apricot and Cherry trees and lots of paths along the rivers and into the hills to run and cycle and if that isn’t enough, on a clear day a beautiful backdrop of the snowy Alps.

We only popped into the Chocolate factory to find out the opening hours, but once we were through the doors in the shop we were lured in by all the free samples dotted around to help you decide what you wanted to buy …. No less than 16 types of plain chocolate varying in Cocoa quantity before you even start on truffles, and mixes …. Needless to say I did feel a little queasy after only being in there for ten minutes – I dread to think how much chocolate we each ate.

On Friday we cycled to meet Michel and his cousin who owns the farm where we are planning to pick fruit. Unfortunately for them and many other farmers in the area, the weather has been pretty hard on the crop this year and a heavy hail storm in mid-April has damaged most of the Apricots in the area, destroyed whole vineyards on the East bank of the Rhone and heavily effected the cherry crop. Disasterous for farmers as they still need to do all the work but will only receive a very small part of the income.

After speaking to the owners they still would like us to help with the crop, but it means that the work will most probably be more intermittent to begin with and there will be far less of it, possibly only 20% of the crop they had last year and the quality is inferior which reduces who they can sell too….. apparently consumers don’t like black bits in their Apricot jam – no idea why?

With a weekend free to explore a bit more we found the market on Saturday morning and bought lots of smelly cheese including a Goat Brie which is absolutely delicious although it was running off the plate 🙂 We then met up with Michel and Teresa to go and visit the main Co-operative in Tain L’Hermitage ‘Cave du Tains’ for a little bit of wine education. If in the area it is worth a visit as they have five different varieties of wine, each with at least one red and white, some also containing a rose or additional ‘special red’, all of which can be tasted without any obligation to buy … A bit like the chocolates, although it would be useful if they could put the two places together as it would have been even nicer if we could have eaten the chocolates whilst tasting the wines! ….. Needless to say we did pop into the Chocolate shop on the way back to help Michel and Teresa choose which they wanted to buy 🙂

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27 degrees, sunshine, chocolate, wine and smelly cheese …. What more do you need to round off a perfect day? Well, Keith was even happier than me as we are now back in the UK Satellite reach and he managed to finish off the day watching the FA Cup final on the BBC.

Today however we have lost the sunshine and we have grey cloudy skies with gusts of wind of 45mph and it is raining heavily 😦 hopefully it is just a temporary blip.

We have moved to a campsite (16 euro 80 until 1/6 then 19 euro 80 -Camping Les Lucs GPS n45,0668351 e4,8504057) a little closer to the farm as they don’t have facilities to empty our necessities and the road is pretty muddy, so with the weather as it is, moving every couple of days would be a bit more complicated.

Anyway, for now, assuming it doesn’t rain in the morning we will start picking Cherries tomorrow and see where we go from there…..

Gorging on Southern France …. 16/5/16

Having spent 7 1/2 months in Portugal and Spain we finally crossed back over into France on Monday where we decided to stop at Narbonne. My track record this year has fallen at the third hurdle as Keith took the border this time…. I won’t let him weasel his way in and take any more!

Crossing the border in the Anderson world means changing languages …. Always a bit of a struggle for the first few days with a bit of tension when I lack in patience and Keith lacks in French vocabulary but things are starting to settle down a little now 🙂

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Narbonne (9 euro inc elec. GPS n43,18011 e3,092292) is a nice sized town with a nice French market centralised on a river…. The only real downside is that it has mosquitos – although I guess we can’t hold that against it forever 😦 There is definitely something about a good French market that you don’t get anywhere else, the quality of the produce is exceptional with everything from fresh fish through to delicate French pastries with a handful of lovely little cafe/bar/restaurants which as we only found out after we left Narbonne shout your order to the butchers opposite when you place it …. Couldn’t be fresher 🙂

Oddly, we were watching Spanish Masterchef on Wednesday night – yes, I know that it fairly odd in itself – but the contestants went to do one of their ‘trials’ in Narbonne at the apparently famous ‘Grand Buffet’ and whilst there, they visited the market. If we are in the area again we will definitely do a bit of a detour to visit the buffet as the quality and variety of the food looked incredible….. I could definitely eat my weight in smoked salmon and then again in chocolate eclairs – main courses are over-rated in my world 🙂

The rain was still hovering above, but thankfully it held off enough for us to explore Narbonne without waterproofs on Tuesday, although Monday afternoons visit to the Orange shop was definitely in the full gear. Wednesday however brightened up in the morning for our journey to Montpellier where the skies opened for a proper downpour …. Thankfully it only lasted the 15/20 minutes whilst we were eating our lunch and although we set off to explore wearing full waterproofs we soon stripped off as the humidity set in and the sun tried to come out.

We couldn’t find anywhere close enough to stay to Montpellier, so decided to just park and explore in an afternoon and from our whistle stop tour it is worth a visit. It is an elegant French city with a big university so you get the nice mix between style, architecture and a bit of shabby chic thrown in – lots of interesting looking restaurants, bars and cafes. The afternoon wasn’t really enough to do it justice, but it certainly gave us a good enough taste to enjoy it and possibly come back one day.

We continued our journey towards Avignon, stopping for the night at a little Marina in Bellegard (GPS n43,74422 e4,51890) where the sun came out just in time for dinner, but thankfully it also came back in the morning after a fairly wet night.

Neither Keith nor I knew much about Avignon before we looked at stopping here but what an incredible place. We stopped at a campsite (Camping du pont D’Avignon 15 euros inc. with ACSI GPS n43 37’19.88 e4 48’10.82) which is on an island in the middle of the Rhone between Avignon and Villeneuve les Avignon. The campsite itself looks onto the Pont …

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As we were back on a campsite and the weather has started to brighten up – Not sure whether I am saying this to convince myself or someone else, but it is getting better, I think that Spring may have possibly arrived in the South of France finally 🙂

A little pieces of interesting history about Avignon as I don’t want to bore you too much …

In 1309 Pope Clement V moved the Papacy from Rome to Avignon and from that point until 1377 seven successive popes resided at the Papal Palais in Avignon….making Avignon the capital of the Medieval Western world. This explains why there is such an incredibly magnificent cathedral here.
The Papal control of Avignon persisted until 1791 during the French Revolution when it became part of France.

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Avignon is a small town inside a large city, it contains lots of beautiful architecture, every street appears to have a theatre in it and there are more patisseries and glacéries to last you a year. For a large city it is incredibly tranquil with lots of enormous trees coming out of every courtyard and garden, not to mention the surrounding countryside along the Rhone – definitely a place to visit.

After a bit of thought on our next steps as we are planning to get to Tain L’Hermitage (where we are hopefully going to be doing a bit of fruit picking) next Friday/Saturday, we decided to bite the bullet and despite it being a holiday weekend (Whit-Sunday and Monday apparently), we headed into the Ardeche, stopping at Camping de L’Ardeche (13 euros with ACSI GPS n44 23’50 e4 23’1 in Vallon Pont D’Arc)…. Not sure what is happening as this will be at least four nights in a row at a campsite …. Practically unheard of for us, but we have had some lovely Bar B Q’s over the last few days …. Steak, Sausages, Mackerel, Roti and let’s not forget the crepes 🙂

Vallon Pont D’Arc as a town is a bit of a tourist trap unfortunately, but I guess it is to be expected when you are surrounded by lots of natural beauty – Gorges, Caves and countryside …. Mixed in with lots of activities.

We decided to do a circular walk yesterday, extending it a little to take in the Pont D’Arc which certainly had its fair of visitors for the day.  A good 22km / 5 hr walk and the weather was perfect – blue skies, 22 degrees with a good breeze.

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Spring is in the air??? 8/5/16

Leaving Jaca we climbed up into the mountains peaking at 1250 meters with the most spectacular views of the Pyranees we have seen in a long time,  unfortunately there wasn’t anywhere to stop to take photos  or I would have filled my SD card on my camera 😦

The pass lead us down into Huesca, one of the places we constantly hear about on the news due to flooding or other issues … at least we have now been there and know where it is!!

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It is a pretty place, but to be fair – the new town is far nicer than the historic center which felt a little bit of a mish mash of new and old without any real soul – very strange.  We parked in a car park which was close to the stadium but an easy walk into the center (GPS n42 8’8 w0 25’11) and despite the campsite being closed we were alone for the night which is a first in a long while as we normally have company in one form or another….perhaps everyone else knew something we were unaware of as despite appearing to be a tranquil location, it was a fairly noisy (although un-eventful, thankfully) night!

Moving on in the morning should have taken us to ‘Lleida’ or ‘Lerida’ depending on whether you use the Spanish or Catalan name however, when we arrived at the Aire which was also Motorhome repair/accessories place it looked a little run down and coupled with the fact that it was 7km outside the town we decided to give it a miss and continue our journey to Vic.

Having travelled recently in Portugal we keep forgetting that non toll-roads can actually be fairly good, almost motorway-like, making the journey pleasant and not a chore 🙂

In contrast to Lleida, upon arriving at Vic (GPS n41 56’3 e2 14’24) we found greenery, wildlife and open space and immediately felt at home listening to the birds chirping.  We did a quick reccy to find the laundrette and market – little chores that you get used to when travelling in a Motorhome – and then settled in for evening cooking up a delicious casserole using some of the incredible chorizo and sausage we bought from Jaca.

The evening passed tranquilly with a few additional motorhomes arriving into the night…. The last of which appeared to have mis-judged the space as all we heard was a ‘crunch’ before the engine stopping.  When the sun started to shine – it was brief – and we rose from the Motorhome there wasn’t any damage to be seen, so who knows what happened – perhaps it was the police when they were taking down number plates…..

Vic is known for its Pork produce, specifically ‘Fuet’ which is a type of dried sausage with herbs and spices, so in the morning we set off to see what the market had to offer.

As it was Saturday, in addition to the normal indoor market there was another in the ‘Plaza Mayor’ offering everything from underwear and pots and pans to live chickens, which despite the grey skies and rain falling still managed to create quite an atmosphere.  Miraculously returning back to the same spot a few hours later and the place had transformed back into a Plaza Mayor….

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Vic has a certain feel to it which we haven’t seen in a while.  There were more delicatessens, fishmongers and specialist gourmet shops than you could imagine and the price of the produce was a good 30% higher than we have seen elsewhere in Spain. Ashamadely, demonstrating the wealth in Catalunia in comparison to the rest of Spain…. It is no-wonder that they want independence.

Begrudgingly leaving the tranquility of Vic behind (it was raining and the Aire was maximum 48 hours) we headed to Girona through clouds arriving at a little Aire for motorhomes (GPS n41 59’2 e2 48’49) which is part of a car park close to the park and river.

Somehow we managed to time our walk to coincide with a break in the clouds and it was dry…. We may have even seen the sun trying to break through 🙂   By shear co-incidence, Girona is celebrating the arrival of Spring with its ‘festival of flowers’, holding exhibits all over the city – Pretty spectacular…

imageimageimageGirona is a beautiful city with everything you could ask for and we are glad we came back as it has been a while since we have been here, but we will definately be back.  Having eaten and drunk our way through Spain we are now ready to move on.  Tomorrow we move over to France to gorge on all those fantastic French wines, cheeses and chocolate …. Let’s just hope the sun will start shining 🙂

Camino de Santiago – 4/5/16

Leaving Palencia we headed for the capital of the ‘Ribera del Duero’ wine region -Aranda del Duero….. Obviously a week away from the river was enough to give us the shakes. Although the same river, the Spanish ‘Duero’ wine is quite different to the Portuguese ‘Douro’ wine, despite only being a few miles apart. The countryside however is equally as beautiful although the hills are more of the ‘rolling’ type in Spain in contrast to the more ‘Ragged’ ones in Portugal 🙂

Aranda del Duero is known for its network of underground caves joining many of the ‘Bodega’s’ together (as well as its wine obviously). There are over 180 Caves in total roughly 30m below ground spreading across 7km. Many of the caves are private, but a few are open for visits and we managed to find a small bodega where for the price of a glass of wine we could venture down into their cave. Unfortunately, they obviously knew we were coming and didn’t store any wine in the one we visited ….so we had to stick to trying the wine in a couple of small bodega’s instead.

The Aire (GPS n41.66833 w3.69583) was being renovated unfortunately, due to re-open in June, but we found a nice quiet little spot near the train and bus station to park up oddly with the only noise (both day and night) being peacocks…..???

After a very fresh run along a cycle path we headed to Burgos, one of the towns we visited roughly 18 months ago and loved the architecture and general feel of the town and surrounding area.

 

This time, instead of stopping at the campsite we found an Aire (GPS n 42 21′ 5 w3 40’50) roughly 3km from the center and sadly, reasonably close to a Laundrette …..I would like to say that I was down to the last pair of socks but that would be a lie as I had to use the last ones twice….. Sorry mum – It’s ok, I have bought some more now and we are back up to two weeks worth 🙂

Feeling much refreshed – both for washing pretty much everything we own and as the weather dropped to zero (or lower if you include the wind chill) – we spent a couple of days enjoying walking through Burgos and around the park, impressed by the quantity of Pilgrims there are at this time of year doing the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostello.

From Burgos we traversed the rolling patchwork hills to arrive at Logroño, bringing back memories of the beautiful British countryside.  En-route we passed a group of enormous and oddly beautiful Vultures – I think of the Griffon variety….but I was driving. Each time I see them I have to admit I am caught a little short of breath as they are such odd looking birds, but there is an incredible beauty there…..nothing like the ones I remember in South America from when I was younger destroying the carcass of a cow.

Logroño is the capital of the ‘Rioja’ wine region although most of the larger Bodegas for the region are in Haro a few kilometres away. Having visited Haro 18 months ago, I would say Logroño is a better balanced town, slightly less tourism and more ‘normality’ – but still with the wine theme 🙂

As it was Sunday we walked through the streets of the historic center admiring the architecture and soon found the hustle and bustle of the four blocks that contain over 50 tapas bars. Each bar has its own speciality Tapas, some only serve garlic mushrooms, patatas bravas or Skewers with meat, whereas others have a slightly more comprehensive menu of tapas – all however, offering a wide selection of local wines. We only got to the area after 3pm and despite it being Mother’s Day in Spain it was heaving… With mothers and grandmothers enjoying a gastronomique ‘pub crawl’.

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The Aire we had parked at (GPS n42 28’45 w2 27’25) just so happened to be hosting the last night of the ‘Circus of Horrors’ …. Yay 🙂 To be fair, all was pretty quiet until the end of the show which was about 10pm and then there was mass exodus from the car park which took about 15 minutes, followed by the chink chink chink as they took down the big tent …. We were suitably impressed at how efficient the team was, by the morning there was pretty much nothing left.

Leaving the hustle and bustle behind us we worked our way through some stunning countryside as we approached the Pyranees where we stopped at Jaca (GPS n42 34’4 w0 32’42).  Jaca is a strategically placed town with a pretty fort, still containing high military presence looking out into France.

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We have pretty much followed the ‘Camino de Santiago’ pilgrimage route over the last week being accompanied by dozens of people walking the opposite direction to us, so as we have found a beautiful town to stop in, a nice peaceful Aire to park in and the weather is due to turn later this week, we decided to take advantage and stay and extra couple of nights and walk a bit of the Camino de Santiago…..

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