Week 22 – Normandie

  • Friday we went to Gent. Its pedestrianized center, (with scarily silent bloody trams), is known for medieval architecture such as the 12th-century Gravensteen castle and the Graslei, a row of guildhalls beside the Leie river harbour. Adrienne managed to find the Zara store and buy some warm clothes – it was blowing a gale and we were rather cold, despite the sun.
Gravensteen Castle – it has the best audio tour I have ever heard – a funny Belgian – a total contradiction in terms!!  😊
The castle dunny – the hole is outside the wall to fall into the moat below – avant guarde design unless you happen to be fishing in the moat !!
Adrienne laughing at the audio guide – with lines such as “to fund the crusade the king raised taxes – which really pissed the peasants off”
Mid afternoon and we were caught in the tail of the UK’s first winter storm, but Gent is a lovely city so no bad vibe
  • We headed back to Bruges for a last wander around and a beer, but it was cold and we were a bit tired after a busy week, so did not stay out late.
  • Saturday – After another lovely breakfast with Bart and Anne we headed off to Honfleur in Normandie. We have another rural house near La Riviere Saint Sauveur. It’s a renovated barn but very comfortable. We checked in and then collected Gayle from the train station in Le Harve – luckily we had bought plenty of Italian primitivo because Gayle loved it and we did not need any other excuse to crack a few!!
Our Normandie house
  • Sunday was a cold and rainy day so we only ventured as far as Honfleur. We checked out the wooden church – most unusual in Europe.
Honfleur church
The organ was playing and with the cold and wind outside the feeling was quite different to the usual soaring medieval edifices
  • Monday dawned sunny so we headed for Caen and the excellent Memorial de Caen WW2 museum. There are many D-Day museums in Normandie but this one is special – it takes the WW2 timeline from the ashes of WW1 to show that WW2 was inevitable from before the end of WW1. The scary thing is that some of our current world leaders have learnt so little from the behaviours that created both wars.
Gayle and Adrienne
  • From Caen we went to Bayeux and visited the tapestry museum. It is 70 metres long and photos are not allowed. The image is one of the 55 “scenes” in the tapestry.
  • Image result for bayeux tapestry
  • The small town of Bayeux is well worth a visit – as well as the tapestry there is a stunning cathedral and another D-Day museum worth a visit.

    I know I show a lot of cathedrals but these buildings are stunningly beautiful. I lit a candle for my mum who passed away in April – she would have loved Bayeux.
  • Tuesday and the ladies were on a sightseeing roll – Monet’s garden in Giverny was on today’s agenda, so your faithful driver headed forth. I think the photos will show why you have to queue to get in!!
No wonder Monet found inspiration here!!
Every step is a photo or painting opportunity – for when too much is not enough!
The idiot American, (3rd from left), was wondering if the paintings were real …. a room full of genuine Monets and not a guard in sight!!
Monet’s house
  • We headed back to the cafe and had a nutella crepe, (yes, a real one), and a few pink wines – Carolyn – this was for you!!
  • Wednesday we went local – Deauville and Honfleur. In the 1920’s Deauville was the “Normandie Riviera” – play area of the rich and famous with beautiful houses lining the beach front. Unfortunately the “season” is over and most were shut down. We headed back to Honfleur and in the sun we found a charming town. We spent an easy afternoon in one of the restaurants and the ladies went shopping while I watched the tour groups steadfastly following the guide like a bunch of preschoolers.
Honfleur waterfront
  • Thursday and summer had returned. We headed for Mont-Saint-Michel and were not disappointed – this is a top 100 bucket list visit!!
    Mont-Saint-Michel – beyond stunning!!
    Inside the abbey – not as ornate as we expected but the Mont has had a chequered history including being a prison during the hundred years war – the tidal flats made it escape proof
    One of two fireplaces in the knight’s hall
    The tide was out, but when it comes in the slope of the tidal flats is so small it travels faster than a horse can gallop – many people have been caught and drowned
    We walked from the car park in the middle distance – the navettes, (buses), were packed. We then climbed the steps to this point in the abbey and it was about 31oC

    And we walked back to the car park – the Camino fitness made it a stroll for us – sorry, Gayle


Week 21 – Madrid and on to Bruges

  • Saturday – we have really hit the wall. After five months of sightseeing and activity the Camino has finished us off – we are knackered. We will consider coming back to Madrid because even though we did the open bus thing today we were hot and bothered, so sat on the bus for the entire lap, hopped off, found a nice café for lunch, and went shopping in Zara.
  • Sunday was the end of the Vuelta bike race a few blocks from our apartment so all the roads were blocked off – it was just a mess, so we went no where.
  • Madrid is a beautiful city with untold to see but right now is too hot and too crowded – we have decided to cut our stay in Benehavis a few days short and come back here for a few days before we depart end November. Segovia can wait until then.
Cathedral De La Al Mudena
Palacio Real – the queue to get in was about an hour in the hot sun
About every 15 minutes the guards swap sides – it was over 30oC – no fun at all
The city has many of these beautiful 19th century buildings – not a boring glass phallus to be seen
  •  Sunday – Adrienne sat on the couch all day in her nightie and binge watched some Finnish crime thriller on Netflix – too hot, too tired – we’ll start again tomorrow. I went for a walk and found a number of “ladies” who offered me a deep and meaningful relationship – I was prepared to believe they were genuine – cynical Adrienne suggested they may have been less than pure of mind and spirit…..
  • Monday we flew to Paris and drove on to Bruges in Belgium – Spain and France are still very dry and brown – the hot summer has really drained the rural landscape. We arrived in Bruges – our B&B Antares is very modern, very spacious, and everything works – sometimes the lack of historical charm, but fast internet and a shower bigger than a dog kennel, can be rather nice.
  • Tuesday morning – sunny but our first “cold” day, (19oC), since April in NZ. We headed into Bruges armed with lots of local knowledge from our host, and it just got better at every turn. The city fathers have created a beautiful, liveable, city and we love it.
The council chambers in the market square
The bell tower in the market square made famous in the movie “In Bruges”
The bar beside the bell tower – this photo is for Fabian, Donna and Monica – The Budapest Trio were instrumental in one of the funniest nights ever here – we laughed until we cried
We did the canal boat tour – sometimes the overtly touristy stuff is really good. Bruge is called the Venice of the north, but we think it’s much better!!
In Europe they actually consider people before profit – this is an abbey in the centre of Bruge – all are invited to walk in the huge gardens and reflect quietly.
  • We walked about 10 km on the cobble stoned streets but were a couple of broken old crocks at the end of the day – travel hint – if you are walking in these old cities – never mind looking fashionable – wear good runners or hiking boots – the cobbles are tougher than the Camino on groins, knees and ankles.
  • Wednesday we went to Ypres and Passchendaele. We started in Ypres with the “In Flanders Fields” museum in the beautifully reconstructed 13th century Cloth Hall. The museum manages to convey the facts and the horrors in a way that reveals the utter pointlessness of it all, and does not glorify or denigrate the naive young men that were used as cannon fodder by both high commands.
    Ypres town hall. At the end of WW1 there were no walls higher than 6 feet, and they completely rebuilt it from photos and drawings
    We climbed the tower – almost 300 small spiral steps

    Worth the climb
  • We then went to Tyne Kot Cemetery near Passchendaele- the largest resting place for Australians and New Zealanders outside of Oz and NZ.

    3500 Kiwis became “pink mist” – too much to comprehend
  • We found Adrienne’s great uncle George Neal’s headstone. He is in the Oxford Road Cemetery near Ypres. It is a small cemetery by comparison with Tyne Kot, (12,000 graves), with “only” 853 graves, but as you will see from the photos is kept in perfect condition. He was killed in the 3rd battle for Ypres in 1918. It was pretty special as we think we may be the first family to visit in 100 years. We even found him in the archives in the Ypres museum. I don’t want to be ghoulish but the fact that he is described completely on the headstone means he was intact – many of the gravestones have the insignia “Known unto God” – this means it was just bits of flesh and bone, and in some instances the headstones are packed side by side – mass graves because the parts could not be differentiated, and no uniform identified – very sobering stuff.
  •  We placed some white roses on the headstone but there is no lack of care and attention for these souls. Our governments screw up a lot, but have got the preservation of our fallen soldiers right.
Great uncle George Neal – Died 30.1.1918
The CWGC keeps these cemeteries in beautiful condition
Oxford Road Cemetery – 1914 – 1918
  • Thursday and we both woke up feeling “back in the room” after some days of being somehow fatigued after the Camino. We headed for Damme, a small town outside of Bruges surrounded by canals and walking tracks. The weather was mild and we found ourselves in “the Camino meets the Canal du midi” – it was beautiful, but again reinforced that we do not want to be in big cities. We walked about 10 km along beautiful tree-lined canals and headed into town for a well earned beer and more reflection on our next steps. We just do not want to be in the rat-race,  the Dordogne is looking good for 2021!!

Where else could you rather be??

Adrienne was going left and right
Bike training for the locals, while we had a beer





Week 20 – The Camino de Santiago

  • Friday, (Day 4), was again a misty start, but after a quiet evening in another lovely Pazo, we headed out for Palas de Rei, via the Knights Templar monastery and church – about 18 km today
Nothing changes too fast around here – not quite industrial farming
  • The trail was not too bad today – mostly undulating rather than steep climbs and descents, and few asphalt roads.
This is typical Camino trail
  • We left the trail and walked about 2.5 km to the Knights Templar church in the hamlet of Vilar de Donas. When we arrived the church was closed but Carolyn rustled up the old bloke who looks after it and he opened it up for us. Within a few minutes we were joined by 3 other groups – all Australians!! We must be an inquisitive lot …. but the detour was well worth the walk.
The church is 14th Century, and is currently being restored with EU grants
The stone slabs on the right are from the knights graves – with carved effigies. The frescoes are original and very expressive.
Stunning doors and surrounds – the carvings are all symbols of origin and there are Scots, English and Irish as well as more European
The original alter stone – incredible detail – no acid rain damage
  • By now it was sunny again so we headed for Palas de Rei. It was quite warm and Adrienne suffered from a few blisters. We found a farmacia and it had just about everything possible to do with feet. We found little gel “toe condoms” and these proved to be a great success in preventing blisters.
  • Our casa was run by three sisters, all in their 80’s and was very nice, albeit a little 1950’s
Only the best bone china at breakfast here
The formal farewell and we were off
  • Saturday, (Day 5), was a 15 km walk to the larger town of Melide. The advertised highlight today is a couple of medieval bridges that are still operational.
    We found a few new friends at the first church, but as usual Adrienne was keen to get moving
    Almost all my trail photos have Adrienne’s bum in them!!
    It was getting quite warm so was a welcome drinks break at the first of the old bridges
    And some running repairs on hot and tired feet
    Entrance to Melide and a much larger version of the ancient bridges

    A big crew in for dinner – we all somehow came together at the end of each day – Richard even managed to recruit Greg, (3rd from left), to do some work in Australia!!
  • Sunday, (Day 6), another 15 km to Arzua, was a gentle day – warm, not too hilly, and lots of shade along the way, but finished with a brutal ascent into Arzua – lots of grey heads panting up this hill
Only for Sunday driving?
A couple of very happy Caministas
Just a beautiful, tranquil spot
This was a serious dummy spit – what did he wear for the rest of the way – 42 kms to go!!
  • Monday, (Day 7), was a 19 km walk to Pedrouzo. Most of the day was quite gentle – and with Adrienne feeling good we kept going and finished the walking by 2pm – the beer and raciones, (Adrienne’s go to lunch), tasted great as we waited for Carolyn and Richard, but they had taken a detour into the Taberna and were not seen for some hours.
Richard looking for a new walking stick – the carver making them all by hand
The famous beer garden at Taberna Velha – drink your beer and write your name on the bottle
The thought of walking about 14 km after beer was too much and I regretfully passed on the opportunity
Every stream crossing is another photo opportunity
  •  We arrived at next accomodation – a beautiful 18th century converted mill, beside a lovely cool stream
    Our room was beside the water and we had the gentle noise all night
    We sat with our feet in the cold water for about 20 minutes – great relief therapy

    All the machinery has been carefully restored in the restaurant – what a way to end the day
  • Tuesday, (Day 8), the final 21 km into Santiago de Compostela – dawned hot and got hotter, and was a long, and in the end, tough day. There is a long slog up to Monte Gozo, and then the last 5 km through town on the asphalt were my least favourite part of a fantastic experience that has inspired us to start looking at other long distance walks around the world.
    Trying to be artistic …
    Welcome to Santiago de Compostela
    Many of the dogs on the trail wore boots to protect their feet on the rough gravel
    But at last we arrived – town hall
    And towards the cathedral – the traditional finishing point of the Camino

    I took this the morning after we finished to cut out the crowds
  • Adrienne and I were hot, bothered, knackered and in need of beer and food so we had a quick look around and headed for our hotel only a few metres from the cathedral.

    We got the group together for a final dinner of paella and rioja – a most enjoyable night
  • Wednesday, (Day 9), and we up early and around to the pilgrim’s office to collect our certificates – excellent move as we queued for about 10 minutes in the cool, while Richard and Carolyn had stood for an hour and a half yesterday in the heat. We are now certified pilgrims in Spanish and Latin.

We then went to the pilgrims mass at the cathedral – they get around a thousand people every day. It is a stunning cathedral, but the highlight is when they light the frankincense burner and swing it high over the masses – this tradition is reputedly to hide the stink of the pilgrims.

Saint James is the figure seated at bottom right – to put the grandeur in perspective he is about 3 metres tall
The monks swing on the ropes until the burner is almost horizontal – quite awesome – the next file is a 3 second movie showing the monks starting the swing, (click on it and it will open a link)


  •  After the service we headed for Fisterra, the traditional “end of the earth” where many pilgrims extended their walk to cast a stone carried from their start into the sea. We had collected stones at Sarria and completed the tradition.
Adrienne and Grant at Fisterra
My troubles are cast into the sea with the setting sun
I guess it seemed like a good idea at the time
  •  Thursday we packed and flew to Madrid. We found our apartment, (only city time while we are away), and Adrienne hates it – can’t wait to get back to the quiet countryside. But we did some window shopping and had a final tapas and paella dinner with Richard and Carolyn before bidding them farewell.
  • It is now Friday afternoon and we have not moved – Adrienne is watching movies and considering getting dressed – this is the mother of all rest days – we will go and get pedicures and massages around the corner later this afternoon, but that is the height our ambition!! We’ll go exploring tomorrow …


Week 19 – To Madrid, Salamanca and on to the Camino

  • Friday was our last day in Provence so we headed for more “plus beaux villages de Provence”. First stop was Gordes, obviously another artists town
A delightful, if small village – gets a big rap but we found many we liked better …
But the views of the Luberon were again brilliant
A couple of lovlies I found leaning on a wall …
  • From here it was back to L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue  where the main entertainment was two of the young waiters at our restaurant having an egg fight, but we had found a Vietnamese restaurant and the opportunity for some different food was too much to resist.
  • Apologies to Carolyn but quote of the day after I expressed the need for a nutella crepe – “No worries, there’s a toilet inside ….” – is my French accent that bad???
Another photo for Helen to whet the apertite for Provence
And for our NZ whanau – this in rural Provence
  • And finally we headed for Saignon – Phil and Lorraine – these photos are for you
Saignon square – mid afternoon and not a soul in sight – all the old blokes were at the boules court near the cemetery
Just attractive at every turn
I offered to swap with the owner, but my car was not enough for his 2CV
A final picky tea at La Close Manoe to eat the “scraps left in the frig.”
  • Saturday we packed, took the car back to Nice, flew to Madrid, collected the hire car and drove to Salamanca – and at the risk of  hyperbole – this Spanish university town is stunning. Not only does it have the oldest university in Spain and the Cathedral is one of the most impressive buildings I have ever seen – but Saturday night and the town square was pumping. The next morning we wandered over to the Cathedral and took in a local triathlon bike leg on the cobblestones.
Plaza Mayor de Salamanca – Saturday night  – big crowd in, but no lock out laws and everyone was just having a good time
Just a side entrance to the Cathedral
A partial view of the front – it is too big to get it all in one photo from the lovely square in front
The local triathlon – the crowd was right into it – trumpets blaring, everyone cheering and clapping as the cyclists came by
“Romanes eunt Domus – Conjugate the verb” – for the Monty Python fans I found “graffiti” on the monastery walls
  • From Salamanca we headed for Santiago de Compostela and the Camino de Santiago. Monday morning we transferred to Monforte de Lemos near our starting point. And just to get us warmed up our night accommodation was in a Parador hotel – the paradors are protected and must be restored to a high standard – no unsympathetic or crass  renovations
Parador de Monforte de Lemos – 17th century monastery with a medieval tower in the front garden
The courtyard cafe
Somehow this is just a little more aesthetic than Best Western
  • Tuesday morning the day finally arrived for our Camino de Santiago adventure to begin. We are walking the last 122 kms of the Camino pilgrimage trail, (about 800kms full length), from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela  in northern Spain.
    LTR: Richard, Adrienne, Grant, Carolyn on a slightly damp morning at the start point
    The first bridge out of Sarria, and this is typical of the scenery we have walked through
    About 500 people a day jump off in Sarria but it never feels too crowded, and everybody has this instant bond of being on the Camino – anyone passing by wishes you “Buon Camino”
    And vistas over the rolling hills of hay
    The Camino distance markers are at every junction with an arrow to point you on your way. The scallop shell is the ubiquitous sign of the Camino
    Our accommodation on the first night – authentic stone house – good 3 course meal with beer and wine -11 euros each!!

    We are required to get two stamps at waypoints along the way to prove we have done the walking
  • We walked about 12 kms on Day 1 and finished about 1.00pm, so sat in the sun with a nice cold beer and got to know a number of our fellow Caministas – couple of Poms and Maria from Oatley, Sydney.
  • Wednesday, (Day 2), and we walked another 11 kms but we could be walking 15+ kms each day. We were done by midday. Perhaps we did not know how well all our training in Puglia was setting us up 😊.
A “doer-upperer” on the trail this morning. The yellow arrows are everywhere in addition to the formal distance markers – Stevie Wonder could not get lost on the Camino
The 100.000 km marker. This is the only one with graffiti as 100 kms is the minimum walk to get the compostela certificate
This morning started a bit wet and foggy after some thunderstorms last night, but it created photos like this
Rob P, this one’s for you. These are the local breed – lucky your bull did not have these horns!
  • Thursday we headed out about 9.15am. The day started fine and we had a quite steep assent to start with, but after that it was gentle ups and downs as we followed the main road for quite a distance.
    First kilometre and it was steep – heartbreak hill is kiddy stuff by comparison

    Adrienne goes weak over willow trees
  • We are gathering quite a group of friends – 3 ladies from the UK, 2 from New York, and at least 5 other Aussies, so lunches and dinners are becoming quite raucous with the addition of rioja and cerveza.
  • We walked 13.5 kms, but after a couple of hours the weather closed right in and started to rain. It was quite interesting that the chat diminished and most of us just put our hoods up and walked “in our own heads”.

    It was quite windy as well as raining and it didn’t matter that we were passing a 5th Century BC citadel – we were within minutes of beer and chips and that’s all that mattered
  • Tomorrow there is a 5.4 km deviation to a Knights Templar castle so we are going to do it on top of the scheduled 12.8 km. If we don’t do some extra walking we will end up alcoholics 😊 because there is not much to do after a quick spin around the village square in the small towns we are passing through.