Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The France & Spain Tour 2011 - Day 6

Ha ! Thought I'd forgotten, eh ?

Well no, I just needed a break from travelogue blog posts back in October but now I want to finish the story of last summer's European trip as we're currently planning where to go this summer.

So where did I leave it.....oh yes......Day 5. Hehe.

Day 6 started early and we joined it for breakfast a few hours later !

Well, we were on holiday !!

We were still at the charming Mas Pichony b&b on the D28 just outside the small town of Saint-Didier in Provence, in southern France. Today we were going to climb to the top of a 1,910m mountain. Ok DRIVE to the top then. Don't get picky.

To get there we headed out north eastwards to the town of Sault as we wanted to go along the scenic D942 which runs alongside La Gorge De La Nesque - and what a road that was. Stunning rock cliffs on the left, steep drops to the right down into the gorge and more cliffs across on the other side. The road was a marvel of engineering with numerous sharp twists and turns and short tunnels carved out of the rocks on many of them.

It was also a bikers paradise and as with many of the roads we drove on in Provence, we were always accompanied by serious cyclists.

There are several videos of this route on YouTube but most are taken by cyclists going down the road as the descent is more exciting that way ! Due to its length, the videos can run for 11 minutes or more which is way too long to hold my interest and I was ON the road. So here is a shorter video which still manages to give a feeling for the scenic views along the gorge.

After all the 'gorgeous' fresh air, we were more than ready for lunch and were very glad when we reached Sault, a delightful town that reminded me a bit of a Yorkshire village where walkers and cyclists would gather before heading off up into the Dales; except that all the shop names were in French, the people all spoke French and indeed, it was in France. But apart from that.........

There are two main roads leading to the top of Mont Ventoux with Sault at the bottom of one of them and Bedoin at the foot of the other. So more about Bedoin later then.

On our way to find food in Sault, we came upon these unusual bikes just across from a neat little cafe/restaurant.

The cafe menu enticed us in and we had a very nice lunch despite not having much to look at apart from typical French houses and the cafe cat which befriended me and sat by my feet the whole time.

After lunch we walked around the town to burn off the calories and also because it was such a pretty place. The parish church, Notre Dame De La Tour, was a composite building housing both the church and bizarrely, a "creperie" ! Nothing like having breakfast as soon as Mass is over.

The penultimate photo below shows a close up of the "creperie" and the last photo shows it in situ to the right of the church entrance.

More by accident than design, we noticed a long low wall which seemed to offer views across the valley towards the mountains beyond. This really was fortuitous as from the first photo below, you can see that the wall, and the view, could easily have been missed.

All photos on my blog can be enlarged by clicking on them and I'd encourage you to click on the panorama photos to get the full effect of the view.

Then it was time to take the road up to the summit of Mont Ventoux. This involved leaving Sault on the D164 which initially takes you down onto the valley floor (as seen in the panorama photo above) before starting the steep climb up the mountain. The D164 bends and twists for 12 miles with mostly normal green scenery before it gets to a curve where some enterprising person back in 1927 decided to build a hotel/restaurant called Chalet Reynard. At 1,440m, this chalet should be a ski resort but in summer, it's simply a haven for gasping cyclists who need a rest before tackling the remaining 4 miles to the summit.

At Chalet Raynard, the D164 becomes the D974 which goes over the summit and down the other side.

I don't normally put my own home videos in this blog and there are plenty of better ones of the ascent to the top of Mont Ventoux on YouTube but, well here's one I did earlier...........

In 1882 a meteorological station was built at the top but it's no longer in use. It still makes a useful landmark and stands out against the bare white limestone which gives the impression of snow from a distance.

Venteux means windy in French and is sure was windy up at the top. It was a surreal place with hundreds of cyclists mingling with motorists like ourselves who had taken a much easier route to the summit. There were gift stores and even a restaurant where we had chocolate filled crepes to get our energy levels back after the hard drive ! There were also tables and tables of candies........

We walked along to the curve overlooking the valley which also formed the start of the route back down the other side of the mountain to the town of Bedoin. As well as the panorama, there was also this decorated car which I have to assume was liked by the owner. Not by me.

Back on the road, we descended to Malaucene, a picturesque 10th century village nestling in the foothills of Mont Ventoux. Small as it was/is, the village housed the summer residence of Pope Clement V (1305-1314).

With climbing still fresh in our minds, we went up the steep steps of 'calvery' to an overlook which offered wonderful views over the village, the bell tower and the mountains on the horizon.

On the walk back down we got a great view of St. Michael's Church, constructed under the orders of Pope Clement in 1309.

We then drove on to Bedoin but as it was after 7pm and we were ready for supper, we didn't stop long and headed back to Pernes-les-Fontaines for our evening meal.

We'd only driven 77 miles but as with most of Provence, we'd seen so much in such a relatively short distance. The weather had again been brilliant and all in all, the whole day had been a feast for the eyes. This would be our last full day in Provence as next morning we were to set off for Barcelona...but as they say, that's a whole different story - and blog post.

To be continued...........

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Could This Be Summer ?

Well what a lovely surprise. I woke up this morning to find blue skies and warm sunshine. How quaint.

Yes I'd obviously been sleep walking and ended up outside !

No but seriously, it was to be a sunny day so after my mug of tea and a bowl of cereal, I headed out to explore pastures new. I've got a bit of a thing about pastures you see. All those cow pats I guess. I didn't have many toys growing up so as I lived in the country.............

Anyway, Clio, my car, took me to Roundhay Park, the biggest park called Roundhay Park in the whole of the world. If it was laid end to end, it would strethch to....well pretty much where it is now I guess. But it's big and over 1 million people visit it every year.

After parking, I noticed a private bowling club (Roundhay Bohemians) across the road so I nipped in for a look see. There was a match going on and the members graciously allowed me to watch. It was all a bit different from the bocce ball I was used to in Buttonwood Bay. Balls were flying across the immaculate lawn from corner to corner and somehow missing each other. It reminded me of those police formation motorcyclists I used to watch on the telle at The Edinburgh Tattoo when I was a yute.

I always hoped they'd smash into each other too !

After 5 minutes I was falling asleep so my next port of call was to The Specialist Gardens, or in my case, The Secret Gardens as, despite being only 5 minutes drive from my house, I never knew they existed till Daphne told me about them a few days ago.

And what a joy they were. Just a few hundred yards from a busy N. Leeds street, the gardens were a haven of peace and tranquility with many benches spread around to encourage sitting and letting life's pressures melt away.

I almost had the gardens to myself and I really do believe they are a secret treasure, mostly hidden from view and simply not known about by most people making their way to the much larger park and gardens nearby. Their loss.

At this point the battery ran out on my Nikon - the trip out had been a spur of the moment thing so I hadn't prepared. I still had my HTC phone camera and so the rest of the photos were taken using that device.

I left the gardens and went on into the main park. Being late Spring, the flower beds were mostly just soil but there was plenty of colour all around. I'll certainly be back in a few weeks to see what a period of good weather and some tasteful planting has done to the park flower beds but for now, I had to make do.

As it was a weekday, the park was relatively empty. Actually, given its size, it can look empty at most times. In this next photo, you see the natural bowl where huge music concerts have been held over the years. Hidden over on the right is Hill 60 which has grass ridges providing 'seating' for many thousands of fans who can look down on the stage which would be set up in front of the line of trees on the horizon.

My favourite concerts were by Madonna, Michael Jackson and Genesis when 90,000 paying fans (and many thousands more who got in over the fences) enjoyed nights they'd never forget - or remember in a few cases ! There have also been concerts by The Rolling Stones, U2, Bruce Springsteen, Level 42, Simple Minds and more recently, Robbie Williams.

The subsequent panorama shot shows the bowl better with Hill 60 over on the right again beyond that tree.

I walked on up to the Mansion House which dominates the area and paths lead from it to all parts of the park.

Just before getting to Waterloo Lake, I went up the hill to see Barrans Fountain. Sir John Barran, a local clothing manufacturer and MP, presented this slightly over-the-top drinking fountain to the park in 1882 as a personal gift. It has been recently restored to its former glory but perhaps due to health and safety or more likely a lack of funds, the fountain no longer provides drinking water.

But standing as it does on a hill looking down on the lake, it's a fitting memorial to the man who played a large part in the purchase and development of Roundhay Park so it could be freely enjoyed by the people of Leeds.

The park has had several owners over the centuries and one of them had a folly built to give the appearance of a castle gate. I'd never even seen this folly despite hundreds of visits to the park and I'd have missed it again today if I'd not asked a passerby the way to the Upper Lake and he pointed up beyond the folly. If, on one of my many walks around Waterloo Lake, I'd looked up to my left instead of my right at that point, I'd have seen the 'castle.'

D'oh !!

A few minutes and a steep climb later, I was at the much smaller but more photogenic Upper Lake with its fountains, numerous swans and other water dwelling critters. This lake is only 3 to 4 feet deep, not that I've even seen anyone walking across it. Maybe no one knows this fact and long may it remain so. The last thing we want to see is this beautiful lake full of idiots splashing around in it.

At this point both my energy levels and those of my phone gave up at the same time and I headed back up another steep hill to the car and the 5 minute drive home.

I love having Roundhay Park and the surrounding pleasures of The Specialist Gardens and Tropical World so close. I probably don't appreciate what's on my own doorstep most of the time but this summer I plan on many walks around the park and you can be sure that on these walks, I will have a fully charged camera with me.

To be continued.........

Monday, May 14, 2012

(60) Candles In The Wind.

As stated in the previous post, it'll be my 60th birthday in 6 weeks time but, hard to believe as it may be, there will be an even more memorable event taking place locally on that day.

As you may know, the Olympic Games are taking place in London this summer and in a long held tradition, the Olympic flame is being carried the length and breadth of the host country in the run up (pardon the pun) to the Opening Ceremony on July 27th.

The entire route has been mapped out and published and I was a little thrilled to note that it will be in Leeds on my birthday ! How fitting.

I just hope my birthday celebrations don't overshadow this worthy event but I'm sure a few people not going to my bash, will line the city's streets to watch this slightly more historic event.

Actually I plan on being there myself as after all, it's not every day the Olympic flame passes about 2 miles from your house ? In doing so, will I be missing my birthday celebrations ?

No. You see the flame arrives in Leeds the previous afternoon and gets taken through the northern streets before ending up at Temple Newsam House for a bit of an overnight rest. Next morning, my birthday, it sets off again from the city centre and heads south.

As I live in north Leeds, the flame will be at its closest point to my house at 6:30pm on Sunday 24th June and so it makes sense to try and see it then. I've no idea what sort of crowd will line the streets as it's never happened here before but hopefully I'll get a good unobstructed viewing spot even it it means slightly nudging a few people out of the way.

I've waited patiently for a few important events in my time so I'm perfectly capable of working my way to the front of a crowd. I've also stood in the home ends of various football stadiums during the pre all-seated era and am perfectly capable of holding my own (and deftly squeezing those of any who get in my way).

I've also been watching several Joey Barton videos on YouTube and with a bit of practice, I should be able to perform a crafty elbow in the throat to anyone who gets in my way without being spotted. I'm not so sure about sneaky follow up kicks to the shin as Joey hasn't quite perfected that technique, or at least the technique of getting away with it.

I did think about getting up early on my birthday, getting to the city centre and trying a bit of charm to get the first flame holder to use it to light the candles on my birthday cake. Now wouldn't THAT be something to remember ?! I already ruled out running alongside the flame holder somewhere on the route and asking them to light the candles. With my heart condition, it would ensure it was my last birthday and anyway, ever tried lighting 60 candles whilst running ?

By the time the last one was lit, I could be in Sheffield !

The term 'once in a lifetime' is much overused these days but I think being able to see the Olympic flame go by from a few feet away would qualify.

And I think being 60 the next day pretty much guarantees that it'll be once in MY lifetime for sure.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

As I Approach 60...........

OMG !!! 60 !!! 6-0 !!! The big 6 zero !!! SIXTY.

40 and 50 were bad enough but bloody hell.......60 ! I can't be 60 !!!

For goodness sake, when I was growing up, nobody LIVED to be 60. I remember people would say "you know, if Uncle Hugh were alive now, he'd have been 60." Things like that !

Actually I'm not quite 60 yet (got 43 days to go) but the date is looming large. I'm like the lookout guy on the Titanic except he never saw his large thingy looming until the last minute.

I've known about mine for a long time but it doesn't make it any less of a shock !


And I'm not. I'm really not.

I'm not ready to be one of those old guys I see in Leeds Market pulling a wheeled tartan shopping trolley behind them. I'm not ready to be buying one banana, one apple and one orange. I'm not ready for a cardigan. I'm not ready for enjoying Songs of Praise and Antiques Roadshow.

I'm not ready to be 60 !

But the signs have been coming. I already think of modern music as mostly irritating noise. If I see a group of young people on a street corner I assume they're up to no good. Policemen look like they should be in school. I fall asleep in the middle of tv shows. (Hell I fall asleep in the middle of the afternoon !) I don't understand why Lady Gaga is popular. I stand in the kitchen and can't remember why I'm there.

But it's not all doom and gloom. At bedtime, my teeth are still, for the most part, firmly rooted in my gums and not in a glass. When I pinch my skin it goes back, eventually. I don't have any aches and pains. I know who Justin Bieber is.

Despite what the mirror and my body tells me, in my head I'm not approaching 60. In my head I'm about 35. I look at old people and I think, that's not me, is it ? I mean I don't look like them to others do I ?

Young at heart. That's what they say, isn't it ? He's young at heart.

Well I'm young at heart I think. But then maybe those other old people are too. When does feeling young at heart stop ? When does reality kick in and we think....damn I AM OLD. 70 ? 80 ? Never ?

I'm sure good health plays a large part in this. It delays the onset of THINKING we're old. After all, my lack of aches and pains helps fuel my delusion that I'm really 35. I can still climb over fences and gates if I want to. I just don't want to. And it's got nothing to do with snapping bones. It hasn't.

Here in England, one gets thrown in a few goodies when one gets to 60. To help soften the blow perhaps. The problem is that being 60 doesn't mean you are a senior to everyone. In many cases, a senior discount is still a few years away yet. As is my free bus pass.

But prescriptions will become free so that'll save me about £100 a year. I'll get deals at the cinema. In fact I can surf the net and get discounts on everything from accommodation to funerals. Actually those two could be the same I guess !

And I discovered yesterday that I can golf at all 4 Leeds municipal courses for £8.40 (about $13) a round. Or at least I can when I reach 60.

Yes there will probably be lots of discounts available to me in 43 days time, even half price cardigans probably. But I'll still be 60 and have to get over the mental downer that inevitably comes with that age.

No matter how young at heart I feel and despite telling myself I'm really only 35, there is no getting away from thoughts about the future and what it holds. I find myself looking enviously at old couples still walking hand in hand along life's journey. They've long been at that point where few words are ever needed. They know what the other is thinking and when they look at each other, little knowing smiles pass between them.

Of course this could just mean that both have "let one go" at the same time but still.......

What will happen when I need help ? When I can't look after myself or live on my own ? Will there be anyone around to hear ME pass wind ? Scary thoughts indeed.

But do I live today worrying about tomorrow ?

A little, I guess. But I try not to. We all know that what can't be altered shouldn't be worried about. Ha ! If only it was that simple.

But that's for another day. When I get to 70 maybe. Or 80.

For after all, I'm ONLY approaching 60 and life begins at 60 (usually said by all those approaching 60).

So no cardigans for me. No tartan shopping basket. No Antiques Roadshow. No afternoon naps. Well not EVERY day anyway. Let's not be silly now.

For me it's going to be discounted golf and discounted trips to the movies. Maybe plan a few discounted coach trips to foreign parts and discounted visits to British castles and stately homes.

Yes I'm leaving Old Father Time on the subs bench. I may not be in my prime but I'm not ready to come off the pitch just yet !

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Bank Holiday Monday

Thanks to Daphne who stocked my fridge and freezer with lots of basics, I didn't have to go shopping for a full week after getting home from my 6 months in Florida. Yep, she's a treasure.

So yesterday I went for my first BIG shop and thinking back, it probably wasn't wise to have done so on a Bank Holiday Monday.

I hate people who don't go to the seaside on a Bank Holiday ! What's wrong with you ? I know it was 45F and raining but come on people, it's traditional. Doing so clears out the city centres so I can go shopping in peace. It's somewhere in the Magna Carta or Doomsday Book or some such document.

A Bank Holiday means you MUST go to the coast and freeze your bollocks off.

Actually, thinking of freezing your whatsits off, are those Olympian track athletes in for a shock when they come here in a couple of months. These days they seem to run in their underwear and not much else so they'd better be prepared for goosebumps. And they'd better create new record categories......."100 Metre World Record For Running Through Puddles".

But I digress.

So yesterday, with half the nation stuck inside watching The Sound of Music or The Great Escape, I went to our almost local Tesco's Extra and the clue is in the name - it sells much more than groceries. I went there because as well as needing groceries, I wanted to look at some televisions as I want to replace my old box with its antique cathode ray tube beaming images onto a screen the size of an iPad.

I want BIG. I want FLAT SCREEN. I want 3D. I want INTERNET.

I want a bank loan !

I do like shopping for things with plugs on the end of them as I really believe electricity was invented just for my benefit. I embrace it and I feel it's my duty to buy every gadget that uses it.

You can see why I'm still single at 59 !

Anyway the TV dept at Tesco's Extra at Seacroft could be used in training films for how NOT to run a TV dept. It's awful. Truly awful. Ok they do have a decent number of tv's on display for a supermarket but so much of the signage was wrong that it was almost useless. Speaking of useless, the one staff member was the epitome of it. When not sitting at his desk surfing the internet, he was going through the staff doors behind him as if he had a bladder complaint and the toilets were on the other side. I was there for 30 mins or so and he never spoke with a single customer.

Gizza job.

They had ONE 3D tv actually showing a 3D dvd and the rest were either powered off or showing in-store adverts. Given their price, don't you think a half decent salesman seeing a customer putting on the 3D glasses and actually taking an interest in the tv would at least leave his desk and ask if he could help ? I mean I WAS showing an interest. I went off to one side to check if the 3D "effects" could be experienced everywhere (they could) and then went back about 12 feet to do the same as that would be my watching distance at home. It was pretty awesome.

But did all this get lazy boy off his la-z-boy ? Did it chuff !

I'd seen enough and wouldn't buy a tv from Tesco's if you paid me. Time to get the groceries.

It was great to walk the aisles with no time limits as it meant I could people watch as well. Tesco's at Seacroft is like a Walmart anywhere but without the motorised scooters. Not one. Actually I'm not sure if they have them which would explain a lot !

Some products and shelf edge labels took my eye and here they are. First up is a bit of a cock up by the head office computer which clearly got its sums a bit wrong........

Then there were these Easter eggs on the 'discounted' shelves and you can see that it wasn't only the price that was halved ! A lot of the chocolate egg seems to have gone with the fairies and once started, I can't see the rest remaining for long ! Soon you could just be buying an empty box.

This next one isn't really amusing but it's just not a product I've ever seen before. Personally I like to be warm in bed so I guess I'd have to do a bit of double bagging !

Sometimes I wonder exactly where I am when shopping in Leeds. Of course research tells us that curry has replaced fish and chips as the favourite British meal and so it's probably apt that the ingredients take up entire shelves in most supermarkets here.

Finally, at the bread section, they also had a discounted area where items that had reached their sell by date were being sold at pretty silly prices. With one eye on nostalgia and memories of my mother's baking, I just had to get this bread........for 25p (40 cents). I feel a Sunday morning Ulster Fry could be on the cards !

And look, there are carrots in my cart. And bananas. Hiding the donuts and half an Easter egg maybe (well I had to get it !) but come on.....fruit AND veg !!!!!

With my cart full and my bank account emptied, it was time to head home. With no one returning from the seaside, at least the roads were clear.

I like Bank Holidays but then, for me, I have 365 of them a year !

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