Tour de France/Italy – Monte Brione   3 comments

The day after our trip to Venice our numbers were swelled to double figures with the arrival of various partners and sisters. After a day of airport pick ups and lazing around we were ready for more adventure.

IMG_4374b

We decided on an early morning walk up Monte Brione, the small mountain behind the campsite. We were off just after 7:30 hoping to beat the worst of the heat.

IMG_4351

First, a morning stroll along the lake shore and regular swim.

IMG_4356

Refreshed and with supplies in the pack we set off.

IMG_4358

Firstly along the north shore.

IMG_4359

To the point where the path to the top rises steeply along the edge of the cliffs of Monte Brione.

IMG_4368

The views of both mountains and lake opening up as we climbed. Looking across the urban sprawl of Riva towards the mountains.

IMG_4370

Cima Valdes.

IMG_4373

The classic view along the lake towards the southern shores which are just about visible on the horizon.

IMG_4374
IMG_4374a

Looking down on our campsite at Camping Maroadi.

IMG_4374c

And over Riva del Garda. There are several wartime forts built on the mountain (by the Austrians I think). Forte Garda is the lower one. Be good to explore when you have more time on a cooler day.

IMG_4377b

We were more interested to find a spot near the top near Forti Monte Brione for an al fresco breakfast. A fresh brew of tea and marmalade croissants with a view like this is hard to beat.

IMG_4377a

A panorama shot from the top.

IMG_4377d

My lovely lady companions.

IMG_4377c

And a selfie for good measure.

IMG_4379a

We took a walk to the actual summit but access was a little restricted by the mass of telecoms kit and masts on the top.

IMG_4381

Despite the growing heat we pushed on to the far end of the ridge and the Forte Sant Alessandro. It gave great views of Arco and its castle.

IMG_4382

And the surrounding hills.

IMG_4382a

Looking back along the lake.

IMG_4382b

The main summit and Monte Baldo in the background.

IMG_4383a

A great view down over our campsite (and Lidl!). Our pitch is pretty much right in the centre of the photo.

IMG_4385

Glimpses of the mountains through the trees.

IMG_4383c

Classic view along the lake and down to our local beach.

IMG_4385a

Lots of olive groves which are a fine gnarly tree and one of my favourites.

IMG_4385b

It was getting pretty hot by this point as we’d taken much longer to complete the walk than planned. We were eager to get down but not so eager that we couldn’t admire the views one last time.

IMG_4385c

Final view over the beach and campsite.

IMG_4386

And along the lake.

We finished the day off with a walk into Riva for lunch with the rest of the gang at our favourite sandwich shop and another swim in the lake on the way back. A great walk but definitely one for morning or evening in the middle of a hot summer.

Tour de France/Italy – Venice   9 comments

Seeing as Venice was only a couple of hours away (and we love the place) we’d booked a couple of days and one night away to explore anew.

IMG_3660

We’d found a lovely little small and charming hotel tucked away down an alleyway and after dropping our stuff off went out to explore.

IMG_3653

We were enjoying a fine lunch when I thought my back was playing up which turned very quickly into a realisation it was a kidney stone pain event. They are very painful indeed and I just about managed to get myself back to the hotel for a couple of hours until the pain subsided. I was fine afterwards and while I had another couple of pain events during the holiday, whatever was blocking my pipes seems to have now gone.

IMG_3653a

While I was out of action everyone else took a walk about the city. J-Dog took this lovely photo of my two, a very rare and precious image, both together, both smiling!

IMG_3654

We met up again in the Campo San Barnaba for a drink, the Prof here enjoying the local drink of an Aperol Spritz (Aperol, an orange spirit, Prosecco and sparkling water).

IMG_3655

Chiesa San Barnaba.

IMG_3659

Everyone else was tired and went back to the hotel to chill out. I was full of post pain energy so wanted explore. We took a walk through the Dorsoduro district.

IMG_3662

And out the Zaterre waterfront, my favourite part of the city.

IMG_3663

Stunning views over the water and always pretty much deserted.

IMG_3667

Chiesa di San Giorgio Maggiore.

IMG_3669

San Marco Bell Tower

IMG_3670

TBF and the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute

IMG_3672

Grand Canal from the Ponte dell’Accademia

IMG_3673

Gondola’s navigating the narrow “streets”

IMG_3675

Piazza San Marco.

IMG_3677

Gondola central.

IMG_3680

The canal that led to our hotel.

IMG_3681

After a brief freshen up we were out for another splendid meal at the Caffe dei Fiori.

IMG_3683

And the night-time view of our locale, this time with rain spattered pavements. Slightly wet end to a great first day.

IMG_3688

Early the next morning I convinced J-Dog and TBF to join me in a walk through the city to see it while its quiet and catch a Vaporetto along the Grand Canal.

IMG_3690

Piazza San Marco, free from the crowds.

IMG_3692

Bridge of Sighs.

IMG_3693

A lone gondolier tackling the open water.

IMG_3698

The Grand Canal is hugely popular and the boats are rammed in the middle part of the day. In the morning the boats are much quieter and we snagged first class seats at the front of the boat.

IMG_3699

The bell tower and the Palazzo Ducale.

IMG_3701

Its always a pleasure to see the Grand hotels and Palaces of the Grand Canal, there are very limited places to see it other than from the water.

IMG_3705

I looked at the prices and some of the hotels had some reasonable rates for rooms overlooking the water – some were frighteningly expensive!

IMG_3706

My travelling companions.

And a little videoclip

IMG_3708

There is a great deal of talk about how overcrowded Venice is, but in my experience its just a small handful of key sights (and the streets that link them) that are a problem. The vast majority of the city is uncrowded and a pleasure to walk around.

IMG_3711

Approaching the Rialto.

IMG_3716

Looking south and east along the canal.

IMG_3717

It had been quite a dull and gloomy start to the day but everything looks much finer as the sun comes out.

IMG_3721

There really is nowhere quite like Venice (although the are several places with the odd stretch canals that have “Venice” somewhere in their title). I always say a great city needs water as a feature. Venice is very much, built on water.

IMG_3723

Chiesa di San Simeone Piccolo and its very striking green roof.

IMG_3727

A rare photo of me and TBF together.

IMG_3730

Back to the hotel for a lovely breakfast and then back out again for more wandering.

IMG_3735

We headed down to the tip of the Dorsoduro district and sat on water’s edge with a great view across to San Marco.

IMG_3736

We sat here and paddled our feet on our previous visit and it was a very happy memory.

IMG_3737

Looking the other way was considerably less promising – storms were on the way. We decided it was time for an early lunch!

IMG_3739

We came across the excellent Ristorante San Trovaso just as the first drops of rain fell. Within minutes of sitting down the heavens truly opened. The staff had to make emergency adjustments to the semi-outdoor seating area as the rain lashed down. Water poured through the gaps and was running in rivers across the floor. Luckily we stayed dry and enjoyed a fine meal.

A little video clip to show how heavy it rained.

We read afterwards that the storm has blown some tiles and bricks loose on the San Marco Bell Tower!

IMG_3741

Afterwards all was calm and dry so we celebrated with a Gelato – of course.

IMG_3743

Another wander through the busy street around the Rialto.

IMG_3745

View over the Grand Canal.

IMG_3748

We were heading for a well known bookshop, the Libreria Acqua Alta. It was crowded on account of the fact that it has a staircase made of books out back. Very odd but worth a quick look.

IMG_3747

I was much more interested in the range of “books for the discerning adult reader”

IMG_3752

Time for another sit down and a drink outside the massive Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo.

IMG_3753

The same square hosts the equally stunning Scuola Grande di San Marco.

IMG_3756

We took a stroll out to where we stayed last time near Fondamente Nove. Despite having lived here for 5 days I couldn’t find the street – that’s Venice for you!

IMG_3757

The views out across the bay towards the mountains and the cemetery island were superb.

IMG_3760

The sun was now out and the skies blue, all thoughts of storms seemed to have passed.

IMG_3761

The Grand Canal.

IMG_3762

And one of the major routes out into the bay.

IMG_3765

Grand canal form the Ponte Degli Scalzi

IMG_3767

A final group shot from the bridge before another great meal, collecting the bags and heading back to the car for the drive home.

IMG_3769

In mentioned the sun coming out but this merely an interlude. It was clear that another massive storm was brewing but this also gave us the most magnificent sunset from the car park. We drove home with the sky crackling with lightening but we missed the worst of the rain.

Superb couple of days in one of my favourite places.

Tour de France/Italy – Torbole and Riva del Garda   8 comments

Our campsite was situated between the two towns at the head of Lake Garda, Torbole and Riva del Garda

IMG_3618

On our first full afternoon we took a wander along the lake-front (I had to keep correcting myself from saying “sea-front” as that’s exactly what it feels like!) to Torbole.

IMG_3567

This is where the valley’s main river, the Sarca, enters the lake.

IMG_3568

And looking back inland as it were. I assume the river must be be managed and controlled from upstream as there were white water kayak gates and a couple of times we saw it in a much more challenging state than in these photos.

IMG_3569

Lake Garda is renowned for wind powered water-sports. In the main its wind-surfing and the water is always populated by huge numbers of them with rental/lesson outlets everywhere.

This is down to the fact that Lake Garda has reliable winds that you can pretty much set you watch by. In the morning the Peler or Vento wind blows north-south from the mountains to the lake, caused by the air moving from the colder mountains to the warmer areas to the south. It blows for a couple of hours and as the lake shore at the north is relatively sheltered the lake in the morning where we were was flat calm and crystal clear. Further down the lake the wind was clearly stronger in that morning period and you could see what looked like huge flocks of birds which were in fact Kite surfers. We never saw any at our end of the lake so morning in the central section must be peak time and location for it.

In the late morning and early afternoon the winds changes direction through 180 degrees and blows south-north. This one is called the Ora and caused by the same effect, strong heating in the mountains that draws the cooler air up from the surface of the wider expanse of the lake in the south. This is peak time for Wind-surfing and for this rather cool looking sport of Hydro surfing. This is a hydrofoil that once up to speed lifts the board off the surface of the water. The experts travel at speeds that I could only guess was in excess of 30mph. It does look hard to learn though and a huge effort to get them moving fast enough to “take-off” as it were.

A short and not very good video showing one in action.

IMG_3570

As you can see the fact the lake is now choppy tells you its afternoon.

IMG_3572

Great views down to Monte Baldo that towers over the lake’s eastern shore.

IMG_3573

The town of Torbole.

IMG_3574

Looking down the lake towards its much wider southern end.

IMG_3579

Whilst we were enjoying the exploration, the real reason for the expedition was a search for the first Gelato ice cream of the trip. Italian gelato is the king/queen of ice cream and to say its become an obsession for me and TJF in particular is an understatement. The perfect combination in our humble opinion is a duet of Fondante ( a very rich and dark chocolate) and Amarena (Cherry Ripple). The shop we found in Torbole was I can report, very good indeed!

IMG_3580

Afternoon light on the walk back, craving satisfied.

IMG_3601

The next day we took the walk in the other direction to Riva del Garda.

IMG_3602

As you can see, clearly morning with the lakes water calm, clear and reflective.

IMG_3603

It’s a pedestrian walkway all the way which is very fine and offers superb views. However there are sections shared with cyclists who sadly became a real nuisance. The majority seemed to have little or no regard for pedestrians, rarely slowing down where it got crowded and seeming to think that just ringing a bell was merely a cue for you to jump out of the way and allow them to speed past.

IMG_3604

Luckily for most of the way into Riva the cyclists have their own path and you can enjoy the superb views the rest of the way.

IMG_3605

There is well over a mile of gorgeous, well maintained parkland with long stretches of beach.

IMG_3606

Its pretty crowded as you’s expect but very well organised and there didn’t seem to be any boorish behaviour or loud music.

IMG_3607

It was a pleasure to walk along and just enjoy the views.

IMG_3609

Whilst Riva is a big place sprawling out behind the lake front it has a stunning old town. This is the Piazza del Brolio and the Fontana della Sirenetta-Mignon. I love fountains and water features so this was a great introduction to the centre.

IMG_3610

The outside of the Parrocchia di Santa Maria Assunta was unremarkable but the inside was stunning.

IMG_3611

The gateway of the Porta di San Michele.

IMG_3613

Located in Piazza Cavour

IMG_3614

We found a lovely little bakery with some shady tables outside for a light lunch and then, inevitably a Gelato (the best shop of the trip me and TJF reckon).

IMG_3615

The girls went off shopping while the rest of us had a lovely wander through the narrow streets and into some of the food shops.

IMG_3616

Before emerging on to the centre piece of the town, the Piazza Novembre III. I thought it was absolutely fabulous. One of my favourite places.

IMG_3617

The sparkling blue water with the comings and goings of the boats, all backed by towering mountains

IMG_3621

Focal point the Torre Apponale that I never did find out if you could go up.

IMG_3624

Walking through a car-free town of narrow streets, historic buildings, open piazzas all situated on deep blue lake backed by mountains. What could be better.

IMG_3625

The water was looking more and more inviting on a hot day so we decided it was time for a swim.

IMG_3626

A chance to repeat the walk along the waterfront.

IMG_3628

Past the Casa di Babba Natale.

IMG_3629

I think it was a museum of some kind.

IMG_3631

We picked a small beach for a very refreshing swim. The afternoon winds had arrived and the lake was really very choppy indeed, quite hard to stay on your feet and much like jumping in the waves in the ocean.

IMG_3632

Our little afternoon swim spot.

IMG_3633

Lake Garda was becoming a my new favourite place.

Tour de France/Italy – Lake Garda Part 1   11 comments

Onwards to our main destination for the holiday. Lake Garda in northern Italy. I’ve never been to Italian Lakes (other than driving through) so this, together with TJF’s love of all things Italian gave us the idea.

IMG_3593

I foolishly thought at one stage that I could drive all the way from Paris in one day. Realising it was 10 hours in perfect traffic without stops soon averted me from that idea and we planned a stopover in the Alps near the Italian border.

IMG_3553

We used one of our favourite hotel chains and managed to park up the trailer with no issues after a long and hot drive through France. Advantage of hotel was an air conditioned room for a night after the heat of camping.

IMG_3554

St Avre was a pleasant if unremarkable little town with some great views of the lower Alps. What it did have was a lovely little Pizza place. Quiet and understated with a small outdoor terrace, a friendly lady who seemed to do everything (owner, wait tables, cook pizzas) and the pizzas themselves were terrific. A little gem of a place and just what we needed.

IMG_3557

The walk back took us over the glacial Arc river which gave us a wonderful cool passage of air.

Next day was a long tedious drive into Italy via the Frejus tunnel. Tedious on account of the fact they insist you can only drive 50mph when towing a trailer in Italy. Makes for slow and laborious progress. The weather had also broken down and it chucked it down most of the way to Turin. After that, the sun came back out and all was hot and sunny.

We arrived at the campsite around 5pm and joined up with our friends, The Macclesfield Massive, who had driven down from Germany. They were already set up and sorted the practicalities including reading my mind and booking us a table in the restaurant at the campsite. Most the rest of the day was taken with setting up camp and a fine meal, great to be sharing our main holiday with good friends. Didn’t actually get much chance to survey my new surroundings until the next morning.

IMG_3560

Awake early and keen to see the Lake and its surrounding mountains I went straight to the beach. This was the view that greeted me.

IMG_3561

You’ll see from this post and the many that follow that I was completely entranced by the view of the mountains and along the lake. I never tired of looking at it (or photographing it!). Probably up there with my favourite views anywhere and all just a minute’s walk from the tent.

IMG_3562

The sun rising over the mountains behind the campsite just behind the beach.

IMG_3563

Early morning was the best time of day for the view with a clear view of lake and mountains illuminated by the rising sun.

IMG_3564

One of the joys was taking an early morning swim before anyone else was up and about. The lake is crystal clear and has the perfect temperature, warm enough to be able swim and play in comfort, cool enough to be refreshing on a hot day. Here is TBF taking her morning swim.

IMG_3596

A shot from my own swim, taken in the water (that’s my green beach shoes in the water). Really refreshes you and sets the day up perfectly.

IMG_3597

The lake was also home to a group of ducks (including a family of ducklings) and geese who became our new friends and companions whenever we were swimming or playing in the water.

IMG_3595

They were pretty tame and would often be found wandering about amongst the people sunbathing on the beach.

IMG_3598

Or here, joining you for a swim.

IMG_3914

The Funsters enjoying some quality sunbathing time on the beach.

IMG_3599

Having all this fabulous water and beach and all just steps away from the campsite was an absolute joy. Probably my only regret is we spent so much time off exploring the rest of the area that we didn’t spend even more time on and near the water as we perhaps should have done.

IMG_3565

A few photos and thoughts about the campsite. Here is our Trailer Tent, all set up on our pitch.

IMG_3652

Views to the mountains behind.

IMG_3919

The beach and lake is just the other side of the hedge in the background.

IMG_3651

The campsite managed to find us a spot near the lake and together next to our MM friends. This meant we could spread out onto effectively one huge pitch and it worked perfectly.

IMG_3920

The campsite was by an order of magnitude the best provisioned and most slickly organised one I’ve ever stayed on. I’ve stayed on sites that were maybe a little more relaxed if that’s the right word but this one had all the little details covered. As an example this is the view from the first floor on the main toilet block. Yes, it was a two storey affair with a massive number of loos and showers. I don’t think anyone ever had to queue. There were other toilet blocks as well.

IMG_3645

The views from the first floor were always worth a pause.

IMG_3923

The campsite was big but no huge so it never felt crowded. Most of the guests were German and most people seemed to stay on or near the campsite most of the time. We were one of the few people who seemed to venture out in the car.

IMG_3646

Most people seemed to be here for the watersports, kite surfing, wind-surfing and hydrofoil surfing. The Lake is one of the best renowned spots in Europe due to its reliable winds. More on that in a later post.

IMG_3647

In line with most Italian campsites (well, in this part of Italy, based on my research), the standard pitches are smaller (we managed to snag a bigger pitch) and are significantly more expensive, than in France. However the facilities and organisation were a class above. I wouldn’t hesitate to return if we come back, which I sincerely hope we do.

IMG_3899

Lastly for this first post about the Lake and our local spot, some photos from on the water rather than in it.

IMG_3901

We took both our SUP and inflatable kayak and being out on the water was great fun.

IMG_3902

These are all taken from a kayak trip around bay. Looking south to Monte Baldo.

IMG_3908

Back inland towards Monte Brione and the campsite beach.

IMG_3906

The rock where the braver souls were jumping into water. Getting back out again was the bigger challenge!

IMG_3911

Monte Brione.

IMG_3909

And the prominent mountain overlooking the lake, the view so close to my heart, is I think Cima Valdes although I don’t have the maps to confirm.

More posts to come about the nearby towns and some different perspectives on the lake. Still not quite sure why it took me so long to visit this stunning corner of Europe. A deep blue lake surrounded by mountains is pretty much a perfect combination for me.

Tour de France/Italy – Canal St Martin & Seine Boat Trip   11 comments

Another idea to maybe keep cool was a boat trip. I fancied something a bit different than just the standard trip along the Seine and came across an excursion that included a section of the Canal St Martin. We discovered the canal on our last visit and its a really lovely stretch of urban water so I thought this might deliver the goods.

IMG_3515

The description mentioned travelling through locks and a stretch of tunnel so I was looking forward to that.

IMG_3488

It was pretty hot on the open top deck but we were soon in the shade of the trees that line the canal.

IMG_3491

Here we are descending the first lock – very exciting.

IMG_3492

And the second one.

IMG_3493

And then entering the tunnel.

IMG_3494

I’d expected a mildly diverting couple of minutes but the tunnel is over 2km long and was absolutely brilliant.

IMG_3497

I’ve taken canal boat trips into tunnels in the UK but they are normally narrow and quite confined. This one was wide and open and the regular rays of sunlight from the ventilation shafts (and the lights) made the experience very beguiling.

IMG_3502

Hard to take decent photos from a moving boat in the half light but the video below does better justice to the experience. You even get a bit of commentary telling you at the time it was one of the longest canal tunnels in the world.

IMG_3504

I had no idea this tunnel or the fact that you can take a trip along it was here on our last visits. Really glad we chose this option.

IMG_3506

The point where the canal emerges into the Seine.

IMG_3508

And from there along the Seine past the usual classic sights and the wonderful bridges.

IMG_3509

No idea which one of the many bridges around the Ile de la Cite this is.

IMG_3510

The Hotel de Ville.

IMG_3512

The Conciergerie.

IMG_3513

Looking back to the Pont au Change

IMG_3514

The Eiffel Tower comes into view.

IMG_3516

My two favourite bridges, Pont des Arts in the foreground, Pont Neuf behind.

IMG_3518

The Louvre.

IMG_3520

Close up of the ornate sculptures and lights on the Pont Alexandre III.

IMG_3521

And its full span. Another bridge I really like although I don’t think we’ve ever walked across it.

IMG_3522

And of course the river is the best place to view the Eiffel tower again.

IMG_3525

One of the most iconic city sights in the world.

IMG_3527

We’ve still never been up and to be honest I’ve never been inclined to. It always looks obscenely crowded and I doubt the views from the top are any better than from the Tour Montparnasse (which is also much easier to get a ticket for and cheaper). You also can’t see the Eiffel Tower from the top!

IMG_3530

Statue de la Liberté Paris

IMG_3533

And a nice shot combined with the Eiffel Tower.

IMG_3534

The boat the returns back to the Pont Neuf so another sail past the Eiffel tower and back under some of the bridges. This is the Musee D’Orsay.

A really superb trip and considering it was the best part of two hours, the £15 per person represents pretty decent value in the world of overpriced excursions. I’d really recommend this when in Paris and it was one of the highlights of the whole holiday for me.

IMG_3535

Afterwards we took a wander around the St Germain district where there are loads of really great restaurants. TJF reckoned if we ate early in the shade then we could go for an early evening wander when it might not be so hot. We had a fine meal in this place the aptly named Cafe de Paris.

IMG_3536

The Institut de France

IMG_3538

View to the Pont Neuf from the Pont des Arts.

IMG_3539

Even though the sun was going down and it was pushing towards 8pm it was still really hot.

IMG_3540

The Pont des Arts – fantastic wooden pedestrian bridge and always a highlight. Last time we enjoyed a superb brass band playing on the bridge. Sadly this time, musical accompaniment was by a young, and frankly appalling, band playing thrash metal!

IMG_3541

The walk along the banks of the river always a pleasure. A grand evening view of the Pont Neuf. The best cities always have a great water feature (well not all obviously, Rome doesn’t!)

IMG_3543

A surprise and very, very welcome feature was a small garden with water sprays.

IMG_3544

We stood under these for several minutes, cooling ourselves down in its fine mists

IMG_3545

It was a a relief to finally cool down a little. The Prof seemed to particularly enjoy this.

IMG_3546

We continued our sunset walk along the river.

IMG_3547

Crossing over onto the Ile de la Cite.

IMG_3548

For a look at Notre Dame. The cranes at work trying to rebuild after the fire.

IMG_3550

We decided that was enough for one hot day and started our walk back to the Metro and our train home.

IMG_3552

The Hotel de Ville – Paris Town Hall. Not a building we’d come across before but looking splendid in the final rays of the sun.

Another really great day out in this fab city, if a little tiring in the heat. Back to the campsite, packed up in the morning to start the long drive to our main destination for the holiday.

Tour de France/Italy – Tour de Montparnasse   12 comments

We chose our campsite as it had easy access to a station with direct trains into Paris. Had the train not been delayed we’d have gone from Campsite to city centre in about an hour.

IMG_3458

We had plans for some walks along the the river and through the parks at the Tuileries and Jardins de Luxembourg. However, it was just too hot for walking around so we tried to come up with some activities that might be a little cooler. Even though we’d been up before we thought the Tour Montparnasse might be breezy, and anyway, who can turn down elevated city views on such a stunning day.

IMG_3456

This was the view of the tower as we exited the Metro station. Everyone in Paris says it’s ugly but I really like it.

IMG_3457

The views from the top are magnificent especially on such a clear day. The Eiffel Tower always look superb from here. And it was breezy and relatively cool. Win!

IMG_3459

Looking out over the Hotel des Invalides (where Napoleon is buried)

IMG_3461

The north of the city over the Seine towards Montmartre

IMG_3463

Western suburbs.

IMG_3464

I was very happy indeed – really, I was!

IMG_3465

I absolutely love this elevated section of the Metro and from up here the way you can see the stations laid out. Always reminds me of the railways you build in City Simulation games. Its the Train Spotter in me coming out.

IMG_3466

Eiffel Tower close up.

IMG_3471

I had my heart set on a cold beer at the top but sadly the bar wasn’t open.

IMG_3473
IMG_3475

See, I can smile in selfies!

IMG_3476

Alternative view through the glass windows on the lower floor.

IMG_3477

Montparnasse Station.

IMG_3478

After a pleasant if unremarkable lunch in the cafe (it was air conditioned!) we set off into the heat of the day. Looking up at the tower and all those windows that need to be cleaned.

IMG_3479

There are plans to transform the tower into something of a more architectural stand out. I like it as it is, positively gleaming on a clear sunny day.

IMG_3482

We took a short train ride along my favourite elevated section to the bridge at Bir-Hakeim. Its a superb spot to view the Eiffel Tower.

IMG_3485

No matter how many times you see it, always an arresting and captivating sight.

IMG_3484

The Prof keeping his distance for some reason.

IMG_3486

And a final shot of a train on the elevated section – highlight of the holiday! Off to the next adventure.

Posted September 8, 2022 by surfnslide in Cities, France, Paris

Tagged with , , ,

Tour de France/Italy – Versailles   14 comments

Our first proper holiday – day – so Versailles was the choice.

IMG_3435

In my naivety I’d assumed it was just a short distance from central Paris when in fact it’s quite some distance. I abandoned the plan to get there by train and decided to drive. A bit of research revealed you can drive into the gardens and park there for less than the regular car parks. It was a relatively easy drive in the end and we parked up without an issue.

IMG_3403

First problem was the heat. It was a gloriously clear blue sky day but brutally hot. Second problem was the rather complicated ticket system that only allows you to enter the gardens twice. That means if you park in the forest you use up your two entries going through the gardens to get to the chateau and back. In the end it’s not really a problem but they don’t mention it anywhere on their website or on the ticket so it did cause us some confusion as we were rushing to make our entry time. There were also lots of people who hadn’t realised and were being denied entry to the gardens and were obviously pretty annoyed about this “secret” clause.

IMG_3404

Anyway, back to the visit. Even though you have a defined entry time you still have to queue to go through security. It moved quickly but it did take 10 mins and it was in the full sun! Luckily the views of the Palace are magnificent so that helps.

IMG_3408

Inside it was crowded but bearable. This is the Chappelle Royale, firstly from the Ground Floor.

IMG_3412

And then the Second Floor

IMG_3410

A view out over the gardens.

IMG_3413

One of the many rooms decorated with impressive artworks.

IMG_3416
IMG_3419

The Kings bedroom – don’t ask me which one of the Louis’s it was – there were many and I lost track of which one was which!

IMG_3420

The most famous feature of the palace is La Galerie des Glaces – or the Hall of Mirrors.

IMG_3421

As you can see – lavish and hugely impressive.

IMG_3423

Historically significant as the Treaty of Versailles was signed in the room. It marked the end of WW1 and in breaking up the German empire set in motion a chain of events that led either directly or indirectly to the rise of Nazi Power in Germany, WW2 the formation of a more unified post war Europe and of course the UKs attempts to break it up again!

IMG_3424

This is the fabled Marie Antoinette and her children. The palace has retained much of its lavish extravagance that existed in her time while her people lived in abject poverty. Small wonder they rose up and revolted. Again, historic times. More on Ms Antoinette later in the post.

IMG_3425

I really liked this room, the Galerie de Batailles. It contained huge pictures of French battles through the ages, including many I recalled from O-Level history course where we studied Europe from 1789 to 1871.

IMG_3427

After a while the rooms all become a little same-y. If I’m honest, other than the Hall of Mirrors and the Battle Paintings, I was a little underwhelmed. For comparison I found the Doges Palace in Venice much more lavish and interesting with its Prisons, Dungeons and Secret Rooms. Perhaps if I went back I should take a tour or use the audio guide to bring it to life a bit more. We we headed back out into the sun. After a fruitless search for a bakery to have lunch in the gardens we found a street of nice looking restaurants just outside the palace and the huge Place des Armes. We had a fine lunch in the shade, probably just as well as eating in the gardens would have been a very overheated experience!

IMG_3428

The gardens and parkland of Versailles are its real treasure and as you can see from the photos its huge.

IMG_3431

Sadly it was simply too hot to really enjoy it to the full and I reckon you’d need a full day to really enjoy it at leisure.

IMG_3432

None of the fountains were operating, likely to conserve water

IMG_3433

Combined with white stone it was dazzling as well as hot. We were able to walk through briskly and sticking to the shade where we could. I really need to go back and explore more of the parkland and the gardens themselves when maybe they don’t look so parched.

IMG_3434

Still, the views were immense and the park more than big enough to swallow all the visitors so it doesn’t feel crowded.

IMG_3436

TJF looking very summery.

IMG_3437

View back to the Palace.

IMG_3438

The huge expanse of the Grand Canal. It was likely we’d have just wandered about in the shady woodland before heading home, but I’d read some reviews over lunch that said the Hameau de la Reine was well worth seeking out. A bit of a hot walk and we were in beautiful wooded parkland.

IMG_3439

The Temple de L’Amour

IMG_3440

And into the village

IMG_3441

It was built as Marie Antoinette’s personal sanctuary next to her Palace (the Petit Trianon)

IMG_3442

She had built what she saw as a typical French country village complete with houses, a mill and gardens.

IMG_3443

Its picture perfect and beautifully tended and therefore clearly completely detached from what was the likely reality of the time. More likely such a village would have been squalid and grim.

IMG_3444

She used to play here with her friends, pretending she was a living an idyllic rural life. Again, small wonder that such detachment from the ruling classes led to revolution.

IMG_3445

As a tourist attraction its gorgeously pretty on a sunny day.

IMG_3446

It’s more reminiscent of full scale model village, which of course is what it is. More a very elaborate folly in some regards.

IMG_3447

In many other respects it looks like a film set for a drama about life in a French village of 200 years ago.

IMG_3448

Hard to imagine its purpose was the play-thing of a queen!

IMG_3450

Its a beautiful, fascinating and intriguing place and by an order of magnitude my favourite part of Versailles.

IMG_3451

This is the Queens House, I think.

IMG_3452

And I can only guess this was a lighthouse to replicate coastal villages. What a curious and beguiling place.

IMG_3453

That was our lot though – the heat had really taken its toll and we needed to retreat to the air conditioned comfort of the car. A great day, if a little draining in the sun but the holiday was properly underway. Back to city adventures the next day

Tour de France/Italy – Leaving Home   11 comments

To say we were looking forward to this holiday would be an understatement. Planned in late 2020 when we hoped by summer 2021 COVID would be well behind us, we of course had to cancel for a year. Now we were ready.

IMG_3390

We had loads of great stuff planned all of which worked like a charm so be prepared for a barrage of posts over the next few weeks as I share our long awaited adventures.

IMG_3380

A first a short post to set us on our way. I love to travel and I even enjoy the long drives. The trip really starts for me with the first ferry crossing (so much more fun than the tunnel).

IMG_3381

I prefer the overnight crossing to St Malo if I can fit it around the plan. It gives a long enough trip to get a decent nights sleep, saves having to pitch or park the trailer and the departure from Portsmouth Harbour is always an interesting one.

IMG_3382

Our home for the night was the “Bretagne”.

IMG_3383

The UK Heatwave was building so it was stunning sunset voyage out, leaving bang on time.

IMG_3385

Lots of big military vessels look over in the Naval dockyards.

IMG_3388

Including a couple of aircraft carriers, one of the which, the Prince of Wales subject to news articles as it broke down on its maiden voyage!

IMG_3389

The Spinnaker Tower always looks fetching in the evening light

IMG_3391

Out past Southsea.

IMG_3392

And into the Solent.

IMG_3393

This is one of the Solent Forts. There are a few of these, some converted into hotels and restaurants. They would be an intriguing (and probably very expensive) place to spend the night.

IMG_3394

Leaving civilisation behind as we pass the Isle of Wight. We decided to spend a couple of hours in the very convivial bar for a couple of beers to kick the holiday off properly and aid sleep (in my case anyway). A perfect voyage that arrived bang on time and we were through customs on the road in about 15 mins.

IMG_3396

An easy journey across northern France to our first stop-over. We’d planned a couple of days in around Paris to break up the long journey south. We pitched up at the very friendly site, La Belle Etoile, just outside the town of Melun. So chosen as it had a fast train connection into Central Paris. The main challenge was the heat. It was blisteringly hot work setting up camp although we had a fine pitch with plenty of shade. Recommended as a base for visiting Paris.

IMG_3397

A great location, right by the Seine which looks quite bucolic here.

IMG_3398

It was very tempting in the heat to take a dip but we were unsure of the water quality and no-one else was swimming so thought perhaps not. The campsite had a small pool to cool off in so we satisfied ourselves with that.

IMG_3399

Sunrise over the Seine the next morning before setting off on our first proper holiday trip….

Black Mountain Walk and Swim   16 comments

I returned from our trip to north Wales with a very small new companion, namely the COVID virus. I managed to avoid it for over 2 years, taking holidays, eating in restaurants, visits to the Cinema, a music festival etc. I still don’t know where I picked it up as I’d been primarily home based for the previous week. Possibly a trip to the shop in Wales. Most importantly symptoms were mild, just some violent sneezing and a bit of cold for 2-3 days. I managed to fit in a couple of short walks during my recovery and was keen for a proper day once I was clear and fit.

IMG_3353

I’d not been out to the Black Mountain for a while and with a sunny forecast and weather warming up its a great trip to combine a walk and a swim.

IMG_3337

The walk to Llyn y Fan Fawr along the waterfalls of the infant Afon Tawe are always a pleasure.

IMG_3341

Equally pleasurable is an al fresco breakfast by the lake.

IMG_3340

Todays menu was Scrambled Eggs, Mexican style. It may look a mess but its very tasty.

IMG_3342

I was sat on the small mound that sticks out into the lake in the photo above.

IMG_3343

Appetite satisfied, time for the real work.

IMG_3346

The steep climb is rewarded with fine views from the edge of Fan Brycheiniog.

IMG_3349

Reaching Fan Foel you get a fantastic view of Bannau Sir Gaer, crowing summit of the range.

IMG_3351

It still amazes me how relatively quiet this route is away from the masses who climb Pen y Fan (although its quite a bit further to drive along narrow lanes to get close).

IMG_3354

More steep, hard work brings you to the summit of Bannau Sir Gaer and its equally magnificent view over Llyn y Fan Fach.

IMG_3355

And the view back along the edges.

IMG_3357

Llyn y Fan Fach looking very drained of water, as dry as I’ve ever seen it.

IMG_3359

I like the dark shadows in this image.

IMG_3361

Leaving the hustle/bustle of the lake behind, I followed one of my favourite paths that traverses right under the same edges I’d walked above earlier.

IMG_3362

Until eventually Llyn y Fan Fawr comes into view. No sign of any water shortage here, there was even water flowing out of the far end which is unusual in summer.

IMG_3364

Time for another extended stop for a swim and a cuppa.

IMG_3366

I’ve swum here before but found it a bit of stony walk to find deeper water. This time I walked along the western shore and found a rock where I could slide into deeper water immediately. It was a superb swim in refreshingly cold water. Despite the warm sunny day and quite a few people about I was the only person swimming.

IMG_3367

Looking out over the water to the distant Brecon Beacons summits.

IMG_3369

Its one of my favourite lakes in the UK and it was an effort to tear myself away.

IMG_3371

A walk around its shores is always a pleasure.

IMG_3375

Fforest Fawr and the Brecon Beacons.

IMG_3376

More fun following the Tawe down and admiring the waterfalls. There are a few pools deep enough for a dip but they are quite small and I preferred the chance of a proper swim at the lake.

IMG_3377

A grand day out to get back into the walking world. I now have much blogging work to do to tell you about our fantastic summer holiday. Coming soon….

Annual Peninsula Pilgrimage   6 comments

End of School Holidays? End of July? Must be time for a visit to the Llyn Peninsula.

IMG_3321

Its been a gathering place for a little band of friends for the best part of 20 years now such that its one of the first weekends we agree a plan for. Sadly this time we only had the DBs and DB Snrs new “friend” 😀representing TNG.

IMG_3264

You may be thinking from those first couple of photos that we timed our visit to coincide with one of the many spells of hot and sunny weather. Whilst that first evening was gorgeously sunny, sadly the next day and a half were a complete washout. In a summer of heatwaves and droughts we camped out on a day where it rained incessantly from dawn till dusk!

IMG_3265

Sunday afternoon improved markedly and we managed to fit in some swimming, play with SUP and a game of Kubb on the beach.

IMG_3268

Not exactly warm and sunny, but dry at least.

IMG_3270

The DBs enjoying the SUP although not daring to stand.

IMG_3275

The evening light was good and we’d seen the back of the poor weather – for the most part anyway.

IMG_3276
IMG_3277

The cloudy weather meant we weren’t treated to the usual array of superb sunsets that a NW facing coast delivers.

IMG_3279

This wasn’t bad but we are used to much better.

IMG_3281

On Monday we decided on a coastal walk around Porth Oer – the Whistling (or more accurately, squeaking) sands. Despite the sun being out as we parked up, it began to rain as we set off and drizzled without pause for the first 30 minutes. For a time it was pretty cold and miserable and we came close to heading back.

IMG_3285

We stuck at it, patience paid off and it stopped. The sands at Porth Oer are stunning and with waves crashing in it became a very enjoyable walk across the beach.

IMG_3289

We found a sheltered spot for a brew and snacks before setting off back to the car.

IMG_3293

This time we followed a much lower path close to the sea which was very impressive.

IMG_3294

Although it did require a steep bash through the bracken to return to main coastal path.

IMG_3296

We returned over the small hill of Mynydd Carreg where the views were better – and drier – than on the way out.

IMG_3297

An enjoyable stroll – eventually.

IMG_3300

We fitted in some more beach times and games before a BBQ back at the tent.

IMG_3301

Here we are enjoying that quintessential British summer activity – a BBQ outside in the cold!

IMG_3304

What better way to improve it than a fire.

IMG_3305

Happy Camping!

IMG_3308

On our last day, as ever, we found time for Carn Fadryn.

IMG_3310

Finally the skies cleared properly and we were treated to some summer blue and sun as we lazed on the summit.

IMG_3311

Looking towards the Rivals and Snowdonia.

IMG_3312

Out over the campsite. The Wicklow Mountains in Ireland were clearly visible although the photo doesn’t show them.

IMG_3314

Looking over to Garn Bach and Cardigan Bay.

IMG_3315

Wonderful colour contrasts.

IMG_3317

To extend the walk a little we decided to climb Garn Bach. It gives good views of Carn Fadryn itself.

IMG_3318

From here really exaggerating its isolation and modest height.

IMG_3319

View from the top towards Snowdonia.

IMG_3320

And out across the Irish Sea to Anglesey.

Back to the campsite for lunch and another top afternoon of swimming and beach games, then pack up say our goodbyes and the late drive home. May not have been the sunniest and driest weekend of the summer but another cracking little mini-break in this superb little corner of Wales.

%d bloggers like this: