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.

Week 18 – Provence – when too much is not enough

  • Sunday we headed for the Luberon Valley and it quickly became obvious that every corner, every town is another “wow” moment. First things first though – Adrienne has dreamt for years about being in a field of sunflowers and finally we found a field all pointing the right way, so in she went…
Tip toe through the turnisols
  • It was then on to Lourmarin, another ridiculously beautiful little town. But, joy, after trawling through at least 500 shoe shops Adrienne finally found sandals that met the criteria and bought 2 pairs – both on special so even better, and with luck I will be free of sitting outside shoe shops for at least a few weeks.
Sunday lunch in Lourmarin
Lourmarin’s “thing” is artists and Sunday is the artist market day. We were tempted but we already have a number of paintings to get home
We felt that Meriton would see the parkland in front of the chateau as wasted and throw up a 25 storey apartment tower – lucky this is not Sydney
The view as I turned around from the chateau photo above
  • But there are many more villages to see so we headed off
This one is for our family – “Bonnyox” has been a running joke since we visited in 2003, but you had to be there to get the moment. Andrew and Anna – enjoy!
Bonnieux not Bonnyox
  •  Next stop was Roussillon, another of the “plus beaux villages de provence”, it’s claim to fame being the ochre that dominates the colours in the village. It is a mineral found rarely in the world but is shared by, (amongst others), “Uluru in Australie”, (fun fact for trivia nights). The following photos are just the start here
Roussillon and the Luberon
Heading toward the lookout in the village
No, Adrienne, I cannot steal the door and get it in my suitcase
Note the steps on the right to get to the bell tower – I bet there was no handrail when this was built
A beautiful village on the edge of the stunning Luberon
  • We went for the “Ochre walk”. The area that is solid ochre – fine dust everywhere and some poor fools had sat down in it – throw those clothes away
The “Ochre” walk is quite a thing
They call it the “mini Grand Canyon” – those are quite big trees at the top
  • Monday we felt that a training walk for our Camino adventure, (next week in Spain), was in order so after some discussion with our hosts we headed for Vauvenargues and a hike in the Montagne Sainte-Victoire National Park.
    Being an ex Boy Scout I had a map – took a photo at the entrance to the trail
    Am I fit yet?

    I’m knackered – that climb was tough – hope it’s cooler next week in Spain
  • But around the next corner – lavender fields – Adrienne back in heaven
    Adrienne channelling her inner hippie

    Fields of Lavender – sadly already harvested but still smelt nice
  • We completed the circuit in about 2 and 1/2 hours and headed home via the Boulangeries Paul – bread and pastries to break any dieter’s resistance. We added a nice rose wine and gave in very easily.
  • Tuesday was an official rest day ahead of Richard and Carolyn Davies arriving to join us on the Camino. Adrienne had worked out that the mis-shapen apples in the garden are a heirloom variety – ideal for cooking, so gathered some up and cooked a crostarta pie for our hosts – very well recieved. They thought they were just “ugly” apples and were going to cut the tree down.
  • Carolyn and Richard arrived about lunchtime on Wednesday, so after the requisite “picky lunch” we headed for Aix-en-Provence. And did we shop – mais oui – Carolyn was out of the gates fast and into the thick of it.
Aix Hotel de Ville – you can’t hide a shopping bag
  • Thursday we went to Peugeot to see if our car was repaired – but “il est mort”, (new gearbox required), so hire car until we go to Spain on Saturday.
  • But then on to Cassis in the Parc national des Calanques. Yet another impressive piece of natural landscape. The calanques are a group of inlets that look like fjords but are not. We did quite a long walk, stopped in town for lunch and then went across the road to the beach.
Parc national des Calanques
Cassis beach – not your normal Australian sandy beach, but the people pack themselves onto the stones and rocks wherever they can
Everywhere we have been in Italy and France there are boats of every size moored – they love getting out onto the water
  • Friday, our last day in France before heading for the Camino. Today we’ll visit some more villages in the Luberon, but these are for the next blog.


Week 17 – Provence – where ugly is not an option

  • The drive from Cinque Terre to Menton in France took us through Genoa right past the entry to the collapsed Morandi bridge, (which we should have driven over), and a little later we could see it side on from only a few hundred metres away – pretty scary – the traffic will be a mess for years while they rebuild the bridge or by-pass via tunnels. The media here is going frenetic as there are now reports of multiple bridge collapses and fingers are being pointed at the Mafia, corrupt politicians, corrupt bureaucrats, the EU for their demands for austerity, privatisation of the roads, and all manner of other contributing factors – it will be interesting to see if the Italians can sort out some of their mess.
  • Our first stop in France was a few days in Menton, which sits right on the border with Italy, but is most assuredly French. The roads are all in good order and after a few close shaves, (me driving like I was still in Italy), and some horns being honked at me, I am back in the world of obeying road rules!!
    Menton Harbour from the Cathedral steps

    Our neighbours in Menton – The Riviera Palace – not bad for a summer house
  • Menton is an attractive, if “modern” port town, but the big attraction was a visit to Eze, an ancient hilltop town, now famous for perfume manufacture – we visited the Fragonard factory – the mixture of smells is staggering.
  • On the way back we called into Monaco – the first 3 cars to pass us were a baby blue Bentley convertible, a bright yellow Lamborghini, and a jet black Audi R8 – we knew we were in the land of the mega-rich!! We quickly decided we were well out of our league, (and were not really interested), so after a brief touchdown we headed back to the normality of Menton.
Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat from Eze. Only the megarich “hang” here
Eze street scene – ugly is just not an option in Provence
  • After two hot days we headed for Aix-en-Provence. We are in a lovely rural house called Le Clos Manoe just out of Aix.
Our new evening hang out – vegetables straight out of the garden
  • Having rested in Menton we were keen to see Provence having only been here briefly in 2003 with two very disinterested children. Our first day, (Wednesday), we went into Aix – a city of about 150,000 and it was love at first sight – a really nice, liveable city – we love it. My favourite thing in Aix, (and the rest of Provence), is the wide avenues of attractive stone buildings framed with beautiful, mature, plane trees. The French keep beautiful things and work around them – pity we in Australia do not operate this way!!
  • Next day we headed for L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. This really is an “Oh, la, la” place. The town is a bunch of islands in the Sorgue river – and the good burghers of the town have created a living picture postcard overflowing with antique shops and interesting alleyways and waterways.
Isle-sur-la-Sorgue with Adrienne’s new “Aix” dress
Now this is a water feature
Adrienne went quite weak at the knees when we found the glace fruit shop. Spent plenty and scoffed the lot, (sorry, Bill).
The Town square in front of the Cathedral – the plane trees kept it shady and cool – just what we needed to enjoy a beer
  • Friday we decided to have a nature day so headed for the Camargue, (the huge wetland at the mouth of the Rhone river). Amongst other things it is famous for pink flamingos, and wild Camargue horses and cattle. We did the tourist thing and did a “noddy-train” tour to see the marshes and wild life, but sadly this is not flamingo season, so only saw a handful of stragglers.
Was not impressed that they bred the cattle now for the bullfighting ring, but with the spectacular horns they look the part
The Camargue horses all start out brown and turn white at about 5 years
  • Had the afternoon on the beach and headed for home via Aigues-Mortes. A most impressive castle but what really pricked our interest was the vast array of boats in the canal. We are now planning our “cruise” on the canals, (my dream of a house boat on the Canal du Midi is alive and in the planning. Bill and Di – keep September 2021 free!!)
  • Heart skipped a few beats on the way home – the gearbox in the car went kaput on the freeway, (me playing James Bond at the time may not have helped), and we limped home in 4th gear, (having lost 1st, 5th and 6th). But after some phone calls the next day the car was collected, we were taken in a taxi to Aix, and we now have a hire car at Peugeot’s expense. Peugeot Open Europe handled everything efficiently and quickly – so thankful it happened in France not Italy – we would still be on the freeway in Italy!




Week 16 – Cinque Terre

  • We headed north from Caserta with about 600 kms to our next stop at La Spezia. We were about 4 hours in and we spotted the signpost for Siena – okay it’s about 60 kms off the road but did someone mention shoe shopping and pizza in Piazza del Campo – in we went!
All set up for the horse races, but we were 4 days too early – bugger! But we had the beer and pizza and Adrienne did manage to buy more shoes …
  • But then on to our next house in Fezzano, (near La Spezia). The apartment is quite small, but the view from the balcony isn’t too bad
What more can I add? Great view but about 70 more steps
  • The Cinque Terre is right up there on everyone’s bucket list, so we cut Carovigno short and came here for a week. Monday was Adrienne’s birthday so we caught the ferry to Portovenere and this place is spectacular – I’m just going to load photos – better than words
Coming in on the ferry – note the storm clouds
From the church steps towards the Cinque Terre
Not much sand on these beaches
Top right through the opening is the castle – but there was so much to see we did not make it up there
Byzantine Church
Over 1000 years old
Birthday lunch – the storm hit at the right time – we were tucking into a very nice meal
The sun came out and we headed home with more shopping
  • Tuesday we decided to join the crowds on the trains and went first to Riomaggiore, (but having walked up and into the town we found the path along the cliffs was closed), so back onto the train and on to Corniglia. The next photo was my excuse for stopping …. and we had not even got into the town.
These are the steps that rise straight from the train station that can be seen way below to the town which is about 250 metres elevation. And the walk has not officially started.
Corniglia is a beautiful town, so we stopped for a coffee and panini to catch our breath after the climb up the stairs
  • We decided to walk from Corniglia to Vernazza – it looked a casual 3 or 4 kms. The scenery along the cliffs is spectacular but it is all up and down on very rocky paths – the photos tell it all. The walk took an hour and a half and despite being overcast we were soaked in sweat – it was a solid workout for the quadriceps and we were knackered when we finished.
    Looking north
    Rest break
    Corniglia in the background
    Adrienne heading off again

    Typical section of the path
And finally Vernazza comes into view – another beautiful village clinging to the cliffs
Vernazza – lots of people but a tiny gem – we rewarded ourselves with a nice restaurant on the beach
  • We then headed back to La Spezia on the very crowded train, (pretty much all tunnels except for the train stations in each village), and spent a very pleasant evening on the balcony with a couple of Menabrea birras and some local red vino.
  • Wednesday – rest day and blog catch up. Today was Ferragosto – a national holiday so we did not head past our local village, and why would you bother?
The view from where I am writing this in Le Grazie
Le Grazie beach from the pier
  • Thursday – really hot today so we canned the plan for Portofino. We will go to Lerici beach this afternoon and head for Portofino tomorrow.
  • Friday  – still bloody hot so we tossed up between an hour on a hot crowded train to Portofino or 30 minutes on a gentle ferry to Portovenere – we didn’t go to Portofino!!
Doria Castle in Portovenere – yet another climb up endless polished marble steps
No bus, no funicular, we now have thighs like Olympic ice skaters!!
  • But we did get a priceless photo, a genuine “Benny Hill” moment

    What to do with a wet Italian pussy …. 


  • And the 1000 year old church from Doria Castle
No need for comment – too beautiful
And we headed for home – Fezzano port
  • We are now done with Italy – tomorrow we head for France – Arrevaderci Italy, we have had a blast but are now looking forward to moving on.




Week 15b – Montecassino, Caserta and Pompeii

  • We had two days to see these three “must do” sites. We based ourselves in Caserta as the mid point and would certainly not do that again – what an unhappy, run down, sad-arsed place. They have one of the finest palaces in Europe, and we could not find a restaurant that looked even remotely inviting – went to Carrafours for groceries and had picky teas in our hotel room.
  • Thursday morning we headed for Montecassino – this place obviously looms large in our ANZAC history and did not disappoint – the allies took just 3 days to destroy this amazing abbey, and it took the Italians 19 years to rebuild it “where it was, as it was”, but they understand history and rebuilt it beautifully, reinstating everything they could find in the rubble “as it was”- even small sections of Byzantine frescoes. (Note to NZ Government – have you no sense of history – rebuild Christchurch Cathedral!! There are so few beautiful buildings in NZ – don’t lose that one.)
  • The abbey has been destroyed and rebuilt 4 times since it was first built about 550 AD, and there are parts from all eras. The museum is stunning in it’s attention to detail, with no great emphasis on the WW2 destruction – this was just another phase in the history of the abbey.
Montecassino abbey courtyard
The nuns did like a great view
Polish Cemetery at Montecassino
Grant at the front gate
  • We then returned to Caserta and on a very hot day went to Reggia di Caserta. The palace is the largest palace on earth and it’s design was based on Versailles. It is beautiful, and in my opinion more structurally impressive than Versailles, (all marble), but almost unknown outside of Italy. I got the impression that they just don’t have the money to really ramp it up as a destination, so it just plods along attracting relatively few tourists, with not enough money to really keep the huge gardens in top shape.

    Reggia di Caserta – it was hot but where are the people??
Quite an impressive waiting room
This just one fish pond in a line that stretches across the town to the hills in the distance
They do like a bit of marble here
Looking back from previous photo
  • Friday was hot and humid but it was Pompeii no matter what. We got there early and found a park very close, but by the time we had stood in the ticket queue, (or what passes for a queue in Italy … ), for 20 minutes we were sweaty messes anyway. Pompeii was very hot, and very crowded, (better marketing job than Caserta), but was worth the effort.
Pompeii forum – hot and sweaty
Mummified by the ash. How much pain was the dog in the middle in!!
This made me laugh – there were speed humps on many roads – to stop the hoons racing their chariots??
The houses were quite large. This must have been a wealthy town
Requisite amphitheatre – you need to take a photo to say you’ve been there
  • They have done a brilliant job of excavation, empathetic restoration, (or is that protection), and this is a must see place – it really is spectacular.
  • Handy hint – if you go to the very large house at the far end “Villa dei Misteri” it is a) not crowded, b) very impressive, and c) has a really nice bar under a grape covered loggia just outside on the road for a great coffee, food and cold beer! Just tell the bloke at the gate you are coming back in – no problem – kept me going when I was starting to fade.
  • We walked the whole town of Pompeii, and then retreated to a lovely little restaurant over the road for probably more beer than I should have had on a hot day.
They did a great pork knuckle and chips
  • That was Friday and Saturday we headed for La Spezia and the Cinque Terre


Week 15a – Our last week in Puglia

  • After a wonderful 14 weeks in Puglia we spent our last few days resting at Pantanagianni beach, doing some training walks for the Camino, and had a really nice long lunch with our hosts of the last 10 weeks – Andreas, Pasqua and Tobias Staude. Adrienne cooked a pavlova and we introduced them to the delights of Taylors Cab Sav, (thanks to Paul and Bruce for bringing the wine all the way from Sydney). The Staude family were excellent hosts and helped make our long term stay very easy.
  • In the middle of last year we signed up for 4 months in Puglia with some ideas, but having never been there, it was with a degree of trepidation that we drove into the area and dropped anchor. We need not have worried – our stay was full of new experiences, wonderful scenery, history at every turn, brilliant food and wine, great beaches, authentic rural Italy at it’s best and whats not to put on the “to do” list from –
  • Beautiful towns – Ostuni, (our ‘hood), Alberobello, Polignano a mare, Savelletri, Otranto, Matera, Leuca, Gallipoli, Lecce, Cisternino, Barletta and more
  • Beautiful beaches – Torre Guaceto, Santa Sabina, Pantanagianni, Lido Morelli, Pescoluse, San Vito, Trani and more
  • Scenery – Itria valley, (the Trulli capital), Castellana Grotte, endless olive trees, (60 million in Puglia), the coastal drive between Leuca and Otranto
  • History – the Greek, Roman and Byzantine ruins at Egnazia and Cannae, the Sassi in Matera
  • Castles – Castel del Monte, Barletta, Bari, Otranto
  • Masserias – we have talked about a few of these reborn, fortified, great farm houses that we visited and loved, but there are dozens if not hundreds in Puglia – all with histories of 400 years and more that are now getting a new lease of life as agriturisimo B&B’s with restaurants serving the freshest, most authentic food we have ever had
  • Restaurants – La nonna menna in San Vito dei Normanni, pizzas in the piazza in Ostuni, Osteria del Porto in Savelletri, and many, many more for meals that were overwhelmingly really good
  • Wines – Puglia classics – Primativo, Anglianico, Negroamaro – 4 euros buys some really good local vino
  • Shopping – enough said!!
  • Our advise to all is Puglia is a little known gem – get here soon, allow plenty of time and just dive in – once you get past the total lack of road rules and mind numbingly inconsiderate parking, the locals are friendly, it’s cheaper than any where else in Italy, the food and wine is brilliant, you will love it!
  • Wednesday we packed the car early and headed for Caserta near Naples. We had three goals here – to visit Montecassino, Reggia di Caserta, and Pompeii – all in two days, all in 35oC temps – see week 15b for the outcomes

Week 14 – The shopping just got serious

  • Our friends Joy and Alison arrived on Saturday evening, so over a few bottles of Primitivo we planned the week ahead – little did we know that two Olympic gold medal class shoppers had arrived!
  • Sunday we were straight into the sightseeing, and headed for Alberobello, (jewellery from the same upmarket place that Helen had found), and then Ostuni for pizza in the piazza and into the old town for dresses, (including one for Adrienne), necklaces, a huge red sunhat, tops, and we wandered home about 11.00pm after gelato in the piazza.
Alison and Joy in Alberobello
  • Monday we headed for Auchan shopping centre in Mesagne – the summer sales were still on so shoes, (Alison found the same FMF’s as Adrienne, but on sale), an O bag, a top – these two went at it.

    Stand clear, this could get dangerous
  • Tuesday was a beach day, but Wednesday we went to Otranto, (or in Joy’s case O’tranto – the famous Irish town), and these two hoovered the shops at breakneck pace – handbags, dresses, tops, jewellery, shoes, and we even managed to stop for lunch.

    Taking a break at Otranto Castle
Three days of serious shopping, and there was more to come
Kiera – this is when shoe shopping is taken to the next level
  • Thursday we went for the olive tree tour at Masseria Brancanti, and then to Masseria Salinola for dinner. As with our previous masseria dinners this was a spectacular setting with fabulous food, service and wines – a real highlight to finish a fun, (but exhausting), week.

    Reputed to be one of the oldest olive trees in Puglia this tree is about 3000 years old and still producing at Masseria Brancanti
Adrienne, Joy and Alison at Masseria Salinola – yes, Joy did buy the same dress as Adrienne is wearing in previous photo
Dessert after 5 courses – it was hard to resist
Masseria Salinola
Masseria Salinola courtyard
  • Friday arrived and after 5 big days we headed for Polignano a Mare, (more shopping – all our guests have found the artisan jewellery store here), and then to the airport in Bari to wave our last visitors to Italy goodbye.
  • We decided that after 4 months and many visitors that we should rate all the shopping efforts, so at the risk of denigrating some efforts, (for which we apologise), here are our assessments in horse racing speak
  1. Pauline – first to the barrier but jumped tentatively and never really got going, a particularly poor showing at the Auchan O bag shop – rating: 2/10
  2. Gai and Jayne – jumped well and went in hard, but knew they were running a long race and did not do too much damage to the credit cards – rating: 5/10
  3. Helen – arrived with an empty suitcase and some serious intent – jumped out well, ran hard, attacked the shopping seriously and methodically, no shoe or dress left uninspected, (Brindisi Zara want her phone number as a shopping consultant), and finished the race in good style – rating: 8/10
  4. Anna, Georgina and Cally – young fillies stepping up in class – tried hard but lack of wallet weight held them back – rating: 5/10
  5. Joy and Alison – last to the barrier but jumped straight to the front and stretched the lead at every opportunity – these two are cup winning shoppers, and made a considerable contribution to the Italian economy. Is it a coincidence that the Italian prime minister has announced tax cuts today? It is a credit to them that they did not play favourites – every town we visited enjoyed a shopping bonanza – a fantastic effort – rating: 10/10
  • This was our last full week in Puglia as we leave on Wednesday for Caserta and then on to the Cinque Terre. Our next post will have a summary of our 4 months in Puglia – we have loved it and recommend little known Puglia to everyone – this is a hidden gem and should be on all to do lists before it becomes “Disneyland” like Tuscany.