Wednesday 19th August 2015 We head for Calais 140 miles
Thursday 20th August Enjoying our first full day away 273 miles
Friday 21st August A rural route to Cessy 191 miles
How lovely to wake to a fine morning with our views over the water.
We walked along after breakfast to say goodbye to Melanie, David and Anna. I went to take a photo of them, and the Frenchman from the neighbouring boat took one of all of us. We said farewell too to the pleasant Frenchman in the other motorhome, who'd also taken our photo last night.
We left at 9.00, coming not long afterwards to a superb viaduct at Chaumont. It was 57 m high and had been built in 1857. It had been partly destroyed in the war, but now looked splendid. We walked onto it, taking many photos. It would have made a wonderful coffee stop
Saying goodbye to David, Melanie and Anna
Our rural route took us through lots of simple villages. Some were rather sombre, with no flowers to brighten them. The village of Villiers sur Suize was really pretty, with flowers on all the little bridges. A gaggle of geese cavorted by the stream
The superb viaduct at Chaumont
A gaggle of geese by the stream at Villiers sur Suize
Sat 22nd - Wed 26th August At Simon & Laure's 17 miles
We spent a few days with Simon & family. Laure flew to London on the Monday, returning on Tuesday evening, to personally hand in her dissertation. Simon had asked that we stay on a couple of days to look after the children.
It was good to spend time with Manolo & Millie, playing numerous games, which they enjoyed with gusto! Yahtzee and a complicated railway game headed the list, and they didn't appear to tire of them!
Monday was wet all day. Adrian spent the morning at a garage getting the leaking hose in the engine mended. We had intended taking the children to a campsite for the night, but instead we just had Millie sleeping in the van on the top bunk near the house – Manolo decided that he'd prefer to sleep in his own bed. They did eat supper with us in the van, playing games afterwards until late.
On Tuesday we had an enjoyable walk at 'George's Pond', eating lunch in the van afterwards. Manolo & Millie were delighted to run off & find a meadow full of many different flowers.
Manolo & Millie having fun
Wednesday 26th August On the road again 180 miles
We drove on through Aix les Bains, which was busy and very slow and then inadvertently through the centre of Chambery. Adrian was having problems with his new sat-nav. Finding a place for lunch was just as difficult. We eventually crossed the carriageway to a layby but sat inside as the picnic table was so litter strewn. We enjoyed the pleasant temperature.
We continued through pretty country, but still there were no stopping places. Adrian was missing his book of overnighters in France, which appears to have been left behind. We now took a stretch of motorway, turning off to ascend the many long hairpin bends of the Col de la Grande Limite. We had a bleep indicating that there was a problem with one of the tyres. There was nowhere to pull off, but sure enough, one of the front tyres had a puncture. We were not far from our proposed 'aire' for the night at Marsanne, so we descended to there, arriving soon after 5.30 and Adrian set about changing the wheel. Before we had left England, he had spent many a long hour making and fixing a mounting for a spare wheel on the back, as the van didn't have one.
Coffee stop, Clermont au Genevaux
He found a large nail in the tyre, but once the spare tyre was fitted, we sat in our lovely surroundings and enjoyed an aperitif and later supper. There was a children's play area up behind us, and 3 noisy little boys returned to their car with their mothers, then all was quiet. We enjoyed being back on the road in rural France.
Adrian with the damaged tyre The offending nail (in the brand new tyre)
Thursday 27th August Off towards Spain with a mended tyre 217 miles
Rosie in le Boulou
Friday 28th August To Tom & Mar's in Sitges 140 miles
The night was warm too – we left the fan on all night.
It was a fine morning, but partly cloudy at first. We set off for Spain, crossing at le Perthus, which was really busy and slow. We passed bakers shops here, as we had done in le Boulou, but there was nowhere to stop. We went on to the motorway, stopping in a shady pull-off for coffee.
We now headed for Barcelona, which took us an age to get through. We finally made our way to the front at Castelldefels (where Tom teaches). There were cars parked all along the road, but we were luckily able to find a 'blue badge' spot beside the wide sandy beach. We ate lunch in the relative cool of the van, looking across to the line of sunbathers with their umbrellas.
We now took the pretty coast road to Sitges, arriving at Carrefour car park at 2.15. We were pleased to find that it wasn't too busy, and we were able to locate a parking spot for the next few days.
We walked down, crossing the railway line, to Tom & Mar's.
It was the first time we have visited since they have moved from their top (4th floor) apartment to their newly refurbished ground floor one. We looked around the outside, with its new astroturf, and large paddling pool for Rita, and then the inside.
It was only two weeks since we had seen them in England, so it didn't take Rita too long to get to know us again.
Later, when it was slightly cooler, we walked across to the beach with her and Tom and we both had a short swim in the sea.
Looking across the beach at Castelldefels
We came back and sat on their balcony for a sushi supper, looking across to the sea. It was 11.30 when we got back to the van for the night.
Tom, Rita and Adrian on the beach at Sitges
Saturday 29th - Sunday 30th August In Sitges
The Carrefour car park served us well! The weather was very hot while we visited Tom & family in Sitges - we could almost understand siesta and the strange (to us) eating times and seeing young children still up at 10.00 pm.
We spent a lazy time, enjoying Tom & Mar's home overlooking the sea, and spending time on the beach, seeing it once again from a two year old's eyes. Rita delighted everybody, and we enjoyed her ever increasing English vocabulary.
On the Saturday we walked up to watch the 'human castles' – towers of people (men, women & children) making towers up to 8 layers high, standing on each other's shoulders. It was both impressive and emotional, and is part of the 'fiesta mayor' in this area. Mar's brother and grandfather had taken part in the past.
We enjoyed some great food. Sitges is a bustling and busy resort, which invites people to enjoy themselves with bars and cafes everywhere. Mostly we ate in, going with Tom & Rita for tapas on the last evening at 'The Fox'! The prize meal though was Tom's fantastic paella for Sunday lunch.
The stunning ‘human castles’ - the arm raised means that they’ve made it
Fun in Sitges with Rita, Tom & Mar
Monday 31st August Off again 221 miles
The morning was partly cloudy, but it was still hot.
After breakfast we walked down to Tom & Mar's. We would have liked a swim in the sea, but it was still too rough and the red flag was still flying (maybe because the lifeguards hadn't yet arrived!)
We said our goodbyes to Tom, Mar and lovely little Rita, walking back up to the motorhome at 11.00 am.
We went into Carrefour for bread and fruit before making our way to the 'aire' up behind Sitges, where we were able to 'empty and fill'. As we remembered from before, it is a badly sited place for mototrhomes, being about 1½ miles from the beach, and access to the facilities is difficult. Still, it served us OK.
Now it was time for lunch. We were travelling south on the motorway, so started off, hoping to stop at the first rest area. It seemed a long time in coming, and when we reached it, it was in full sun, with both shaded picnic tables occupied. Adrian put out the awning, but the surroundings weren't very enticing, so we opted to sit inside for lunch.
We set off again, then realised that the roof light above us (the only one not alarmed) was still open. Having fixed that, we then came to the toll booth where the fee was €3.91!! We hoped that they would not all be like that! Luckily the next gate had a ticket.
We were travelling through areas we were familiar with from the past, but not from the motorway.
We pulled in again near Peniscola, and confirmed that Spanish rest areas are not up to the standard of French ones. There was a patch of grass beside the motorway, with a few bins, but no tables. As we left, we spied the badly signed picnic area - in full sun, with nobody there (perhaps they couldn't find it either!) Adrian had been trying to locate a stopping place for tonight, and finding it difficult. He did find one in the end, so we set off again, driving around Valencia, which was very busy. By now the misty day had darkened and it had become very grey. Adrian didn't want to be stuck on the motorway in the impending storm. It began to rain just before we turned off, but the 'spot' which Adrian was heading for turned out to be a campsite, and not an 'aire' (motorhome stopping place) There was another one in the book about 10 miles away which we headed for, driving cross country. It was now raining, and there was a mass of forked lightning in the sky. We found our way to the second place, at Turis, arriving just before 6.30. The write up in the book hadn't been very complimentary, but to us it was fine, and with just one other van here. The storm hung around during the evening, but didn't come to much for us, giving us a glowing yellow sky just before dark.
Although it had been lovely to meet up with the family, we were happy to be on our travels again.
Tuesday 1st September On through Spain 324 miles
After the storm of yesterday, we awoke to a clear blue sky. The almost full moon had been shining in during the night.
We left at 9,40, driving through Turis, but saw no bakers. We were travelling south on the 'autovia' (free motorway) today, taking an inland route.
Parking places were difficult - we followed a sign saying 'P', which took us to the village of Caudette de las Fuentes. We stopped to have our coffee, sitting on a stone seat on a paved walkway beside a small 'canal', with the towers of a winery opposite. It was a bit smelly. A few elderly gents were walking up and down.
We continued south, stopping to get fuel, but again found no bread in the shop. We were driving on a high, flat plateau (at 800m, 2400ft) with light red soil which with the green of the vines and trees looked great against the blue sky.
We turned off at Villarrobledo, but found no picnic areas, only petrol stations. When we spied a Carrefour, we pulled in there and were able to get bread (and drinking water and coconut milk) so stopped to have lunch.
We continued past Valdepenas, the name known to us for its wine, turning off to sort out a place for tonight while we had our cup of tea. We had been listening to our recording of our walk around the Isle of Wight in 2000, much of which we'd forgotten.
At Jaen we turned west. We were driving through olive growing areas - for miles the hills were covered with the bobbly lines of olive trees for as far as the eye could see.
Nice sky at Turis
At 6 o'clock we reached Dona Mencia, where there was a pleasant stopping place for motorhomes beside a former railway line, now a walkway. We parked by a shady tree and sat out with our aperitif. As the evening went on, there was a lovely sky. This was obviously a popular meeting place for locals - some walking or cycling along the track, others just stopping to chat while the children played. Suddenly we saw a whole procession of lights as a long parade of cyclists went by.
This was a nice spot!
Just a few of the millions of olive trees
The sun goes down at Dona Mencia
Wednesday 2nd September To Algeciras 165 miles
The night was a bit cooler, probably because of the height we were at (650m). I hadn't slept much, but woke to a lovely day. Several people were making use of the railway walking track. I had a little walk along too while Adrian was doing the busy things like filling the water tank.
We left at 9.30, driving through more seas of olive trees to take the autovia (free motor road) towards Malaga. The countryside became more mountainous, but still there were no pull offs. We pulled on to the first one we saw, which turned out to be just part of the old road, passing small hotels. The landscape had become drier, but still the oleanders thrived in the central reservation.
Past Malaga, we continued on the free road towards Marbella, but these busy tourist areas held nothing for us.
Still there were no places to stop. Adrian followed a parking symbol on his satnav, and stopped at a car park right beside a lovely sandy cove just south of Estepona. It was very low key. We ate our lunch in the shade of a few trees before waking across to the water where I had a (very) quick swim. The sea was colder than in Sitges.
We now followed the coast towards Algeciras, passing the prominent Rock of Gibraltar, and remembering our visit of 1996.
Just before reaching Algeciras, we located a petrol station where there was a motorhome dumping place. This done Adrian found the nearby garage to fill up with LPG.
We had crossed two large rivers, both full of water, whereas before all riverbeds had been dry.
We had passed many booths advertising ferry tickets for Morocco, but we made our way to Carlos' office, close to Carrefour in Palmonas, just outside Algeciras. Here we were dealt with by a pleasant lady, who spoke only minimal English, but after much officialdom, we were issued with our ferry tickets for tomorrow morning (with an open return ticket) to go to 'Tangier Med' for £169. As we left, she gave us a bottle of wine and a slab cake as a present.
She told us that we could stay there, but first we made our way across to Carrefour, hoping to find replacement hair tongs for me, as mine broke on the first night. The hypermarket was enormous. They didn't have any cordless tongs, but we got one or two items which we may be glad of in Morocco – kitchen roll, loo roll and soap – and Adrian couldn't resist buying a loaf of bread!
We then drove through narrow roads to a car park at the water's edge - with a great view of Gibraltar. We had a cup of tea here before driving to another waterside spot further down the channel of the Palmonas River. We walked along to a sandy beach, and another good view of Gibraltar. Sandy spits encroached from across the river, which had really strong currents.
We drove back to outside Carlos' place and were later joined by two other campervans. We opened a bottle of bubbly to having got this far!
More olive trees
Looking to Gibraltar from Palmonas
Thursday 3rd September Into Morocco (with a bump) 49 miles
We were up at 6 o'clock, and it was still dark when we left for Algeciras port at 7.30. It was further than we'd thought, and we were both glad not to be usually travelling in the dark - it wasn't much fun. The port did look quite spectacular all lit up.
It was difficult to follow the way to go. Once in the dock, a lady in a Muslim scarf spoke to us mostly in French, but actually sent us to the wrong gate.
Another lady official had a cigarette in her hand. The police passport official was more interested in reading his newspaper! There were 2 men officials as we boarded, and another 3 mopping the deck, but nobody said anything or directed us! We saw the two other campers from last night as we parked the van.
We climbed the four flights of stairs to the passenger deck and seated ourselves at the front of the boat. We were ten minutes late in leaving for our 9 o'clock sailing but then we had some good views of Gibraltar. By now it had become light.
We had to spend much of the time waiting in the queue for on board passport control. Although there were few cars on board, we discovered than there were crowds of foot passengers. We had to wait beside a non-stop screaming baby, whose mother didn't appear bothered and finally gave him a bottle. It was cool on board, so I was glad to have brought a shirt to go over my dress.
It was 10.50 when we disembarked, driving through the vast port area of newly built Tanger Med, some miles east of Tangier.
We had to spend some time at the vehicle registration check, reminding us of our time in Central America, where the longest border check took us 8 hours!
With the formalities over, and having got some Moroccan money, we left the port at 11.30. Soon afterwards we followed directions to a 'panorama', but this was just a view over the port area and not at all scenic.
We were driving on a new road through very steep mountain scenery. There were many groups of black men on either side of the road. They either waved to us or were thumbing a lift!
We also noticed the prolific number of wheelbarrows being used to transport goods.
We were looking across to Spain but decided against visiting the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, continuing to the town of Fnideq. Our guide book said that there was little reason to visit here - after an incident we had, we could only think that too!
We were sitting having lunch in the van beside the road, high above the newly built promenade, when suddenly we both felt a large bump and wondered what had happened. Looking out we saw a young Moroccan chap inspecting his car. It turned out that he was tying to park by reversing in but had hit the front of his car on us, scraping a long gouge along the side of the van. And so followed a long time of form filling (difficult with the only common language being French, and the claim forms being in English!)
It was 2.00pm by the time we'd finished – we didn't really want any more to eat then. We were glad that nobody was hurt, and that the damage was only semi-superficial, so there was no problem with driving the van.
We drove on beside the Mediterranean, looking down to a fine new promenade all the way beside the wide sandy beach. We were surprised to see a man lead a camel across the road in front of us, and take it down to the beach – presumably to give rides.
We turned off to have a closer look at the beach – the camel had reached it by then.
We pass Gibraltar on the ferry
A camel on the beach
Old Renaults arrive at the campsite
Friday 4th September How difficult can things be? 64 miles
We stopped by a beach with blue fishing boats. There were a few people on the beach, but the red flag was flying. One or two people were in the edge of the water - we joined them for a paddle then sat on the beach for a short while but the strong wind made it not very pleasant. We imagined what a sand storm in the desert might be like.
We drove on, stopping to look back from one of the many 'aire de repos'. The road now wound through the hills by the sea. Small white villages nestled in each bay. We had now come to 'real Morocco' – no manicured grass, just the odd netted hay stack. 'Stop' signs here were written only in Arabic.
We passed the smoke of a fire, but saw that the police were there. That's one thing that you can't help but notice – a policeman at every roundabout/junction and on each stretch of road. You wouldn't jump a red traffic light!
We reached Oued Laou, at the mouth of the Laou River. This is where we were intending stopping - at the campsite. We drove through the white village to the place where the site should be - nothing - just new housing blocks. We drove a bit further to a campsite sign on the map. There was an entrance. A man came out and said 'no more campsite. Building'. (Actually he spoke a bit of French and mostly Arabic). He said that he was in charge, and asked for money (£1.25!). We handed that over, pleased to have somewhere to stop tonight. On wandering around, Adrian realised that this really had been the intended campsite, set in an olive grove. A few huge olive trees remained. The position, so close to the sea, was wonderful.
Blue Moroccan fishing boat
We walked out to see something of the town. There was a nice beach with fishing boats. Fish was being cooked at street stalls all along the road. This was just what we were looking for last night. Today we had fish and calamari of our own, so didn't need anything else.
The former campsite at Oued Laou
Later, I was just starting to get supper when a stern faced gentleman came to the van and said that we couldn't camp here. We said, yes, we had paid a man some money. The man repeated that we couldn't stay there. Adrian pleaded with him, saying 'just for tonight, we'll leave first thing in the morning'. In the end the man stormed off. We didn't know what to do, but decided to sit it out – we didn't think that he'd return. He didn't, so I continued cooking some of the calamari, which was excellent - but it was disconcerting that the man we had paid money to, had conned us.
After supper, we were aware of a great deal of noise outside, sounding a bit like a parade. We thought that we’d see what it was about, so walked out into the dark streets. Down by the shore, some of the fishermen were showing their catch – throwing them down in front of customers. A chap talked to us, and encouraged us to take photos. Then he asked for cigarettes or money. We felt annoyed - we so hate having to distrust anyone who seems to be friendly.
Roadside fish stalls, Oued Laou
There was a small funfair, and as everywhere, hundreds of mangy cats (but very few dogs). Lots of people (mostly men) were sitting at the cafes drinking mostly water, or just nothing. We discovered the cause of the great noise – a small van crammed full with young men, hanging off it everywhere. There was loud bleeping of horns and cheering. It appeared to go round the town many times, even after we'd returned and gone to bed. It made a change from the calling to prayer!
Freshly caught fish
Saturday 5th September Through a lovely gorge to the blue town of Chefchaouen 34 miles
The penetrating chants woke us at 5.30am! We got up at 6.30 and left at 7 o'clock, when it was just getting light.
We had wondered whether to have our breakfast down by the beach, but as we'd read that there was a huge souk (market) today further up our road, causing chaos to the way through, we thought that we'd get past that first.
It was pleasant driving through the town – quiet at this time of day. It stretched inland for a long way, lined with the attractive white and blue street lights, and with the hills of the Rif mountains ahead of us. We passed a man with a donkey and then a donkey and cart. Soon we came to the area of the market. People were just beginning to gather, with their one sheep or two goats – it made us think of Jack and the Beanstalk! We could see that later it would have been very difficult for us to get through, so knew that we had made the right decision.
We were able to pull off for breakfast beside the road and what a delightful stop it was! With the mountains up ahead, and herons on the river down below and with the smell of oleanders and the maquis vegetation it was beautiful. We could hear bird song, but the birds never stayed long enough for us to see what they were.
Lots of vans and trucks piled high for market drove by – we would never have got through!
Lovely place to stop for breakfast
As we drove on, we passed little ladies bent under their stack of sweetcorn stalks. We saw a young boy and girl leading their herd of goats, and passed a rough football pitch.
Trucks piled high for market
We now followed the very steep gorge of the Laou River, stopping many times to look in wonder and to photograph. The vertical sides were of pink and grey rock. There were little houses perched right high up, or way down below - we wondered how people got there. At one high up village, there were bags of onions hanging outside the houses. People, often in western dress, waved back at us. Many wore straw hats and were dressed differently from at the coast.
We joined the main road, passing several ceramic pot stalls, then took the road towards Chefchaouen. We arrived at the campsite high above the town at 10.20.
Having pitched the van on a flat area in front of the terraces, we caught a taxi back down to the town. The 2km ride cost us 20dh (£1.30). The driver dropped us near the centre, where Adrian spied a telecom place where he tried unsuccessfully to get a card (closed on Saturdays). I bought a few postcards before we made our way into the Medina.
The steep Laou gorge
I found the steep, cobbled streets quite taxing, but we persevered past all the blue washed buildings to the main square - Plaza Outa el Hammam. There were a lot of eating places here, but first Adrian saw another telecoms place. He went in to enquire - and was there for the next hour! Apparently the lady had trouble in getting our card to log in. After some time, I found a partly shady seat where I waited. Two local ladies joined me - they wanted to be friendly, but didn't speak English.
After Adrian emerged, we made our way to one of the many restaurants where we sat opposite the mosque to have lunch. We both ate 'tagine' – Adrian's with anchovy and mine like a veggie stew! Far too much for me to eat. We enjoyed watching all the different people going by – children in t-shirt and shorts, adults wearing far more clothes than the warm day warranted. Just as I often wonder how people seem happy in T-shirts and shorts in England, when I think that it's cold, I also wonder how people can go about in the heat wearing long sleeves and floor length garments.
Afterwards we walked along to the Plaza el Makchzen and on to the Plaza Sebanin where there was a little bridge over the stream. Ladies were doing their washing here. The houses around were particularly pretty with their white and blue paint.
It was too hot to walk around further. We walked back to the taxi rank and immediately got a taxi back to the campsite. Here it was very quiet, and we enjoyed a relaxing afternoon.
Adrian cooked the trout outside for supper, and it was warm enough to eat it sitting out. I'd made some sangria with the red wine the lady at the ferry booking had given us. It was nice to know that we weren't going to be 'moved on' tonight!
The bridge at Plaza Sebanin where women were busy doing their washing
Sunday 6th September Our own 'souk' followed by Roman ruins 115 miles
The night was cool and the morning fine. The only other motor home here had been a large one, with the only occupant seeming to be a diminutive 'Yoko Ono' lady with a small dog. Her windows and doors were left wide open, even at night!
We had wanted to take the mountainous route towards Fez, but this looked to be extremely slow, with non stop bends, and there were no campsites on the way, so we decided to go by the more direct route.
We managed to get out of Chefchaouen without going through the town. We soon came to a small town which was holding its weekly market. Unlike yesterday, this was mostly held off the road, so we parked and went to enjoy it. So many sights -a lady in costume with a donkey, a man with his goat, another holding two chickens by their legs. There were stalls of all kinds - plastic ware, clothes, shoes, household goods, vegetables, dried beans, even a man soldering the handles onto pots. Everything except bread. A feast for the eyes, and we weren't hassled at all. Local women wore long dresses with a red stripy shawl wrapped around their waist and a straw hat with bright pom poms. When I saw these yesterday, I thought that they were tourist gimmicks, but all the locals were wearing them. The town seemed to be called Souk al Had, beside the Loukous River.
By the time we'd left the dusty market, it was very hot.
We drove on in the direction of Mednes and Fez, passing donkeys, sheep and goats. We wanted somewhere shady for lunch, but this was impossible to find. It reminded us of our time in Greece in 1967 when we'd start looking for a shady tree and 12.00, and hope to find one by 2.00pm!
We stopped in the end beside some piles of gravel – and even then we were hassled by local lads!
We had crossed many rivers, all dry, but the Oued Ouerron was wide and full. We'd passed many lorries packed high with hay, looking like great car transporters.
Following the sat nav, we turned on to a cut-off road which was partly well surfaced, but then huge sections didn't exist at all, necessitating a very bumpy and cautious ride! It did give us the chance to wave to lots of locals, and to see the farmed arid land. We were heading for the Roman ruins of Volubilis, the most southerly Roman settlement. Just before reaching there, a car behind started tooting us. We ignored it for some time. Finally the car overtook us and a lady got out, brandishing our wheel trim! We thanked her profusely. As we walked around the ruins, we passed the couple, so were able to thank them again.
It was 3.45 when we reached Volubilis. We had wondered whether to go to the campsite and return when it was cooler, but decided to visit now. It was still hot, but the vast site had very few other visitors at this time. It cost us only 10dh (70p) each to enter, plus 70p for the car park. There were no signs telling you where to go, and virtually nothing was in English, but we had a really enjoyable wander around this huge area, seeing some fine mosaics. It is amazing to think of these buildings dating from the year 200 AD.
By the time we got back to the van at 5 o'clock, we were both extremely hot. We drove on to the campsite near Moulay Idriss, arriving at 5.30, to find that we were the only people there. A man welcomed us, in English, and a young chap showed us the facilities, saying to use the men's showers, as the ladies one had a problem. We soon both made our way there, but even this better campsite had shower heads which worked rather erratically!
Much refreshed, we came back to sit out in the quiet and the shade. There were little statues amongst the unkempt grass, but fittings were nicely pained in blue, white and yellow.
After our aperitif, we ate a vegetable 'tagine' which I'd made, which was better than the one I'd had yesterday! We finished the last of our wine with a sangria made with the rest of the red wine. We came in at 8.15, just as it was getting dark.
Views of Volubilis
Monday 7th September Pleasant Meknes then on to Fez 67 miles
We found a shady spot before making our way across to the large swimming pool, where we both had a nice swim, having it all to ourselves.
Adrian cooked the (unknown) fish outside and we sat out in our isolation until it got dark at 8 o'clock. The camp 'host' had come round for our passport, as we hadn't handed it in. When we said that we didn't want a guide for Fez, he wasn't interested in being helpful about getting us a taxi tomorrow. Later, a different 'guardian' came to say hello.
A lovely pool all to ourselves
Tuesday 8th September Fun in Fez 18 miles
We revised our plan, deciding to drive in to Fez (spelt Fes here) and park near the Medina, rather than take a taxi. Fez is a huge city, with three separate centres, so we only intend getting a glimpse anyway. We hadn't relished the 500m walk from the campsite to get a taxi, and then back again later in the heat.
We left at 8.30 on a fine morning, with Adrian following the sat-nav to the parking area. This went remarkably well. We parked in Place Babjahoud, close to the gate of the same name, and with the city walls around us. The price was twice as much as our books said, but still only £1.30 for the day. You could also overnight here, but we weren't going to.
We set off in the relative cool and had a really good walk around with hardly any of the hassle we'd been expecting. At first we took passages which ended up nowhere! It was the ultimate maze, as we'd been led to believe. Back on track, many of the stalls weren't yet open, but we saw plenty with footwear, clothes and leather goods. We were descending steeply on Talaa Seghira, then when we joined the main way through, Talaa Kebira, we had to start ascending. Sometimes loaded donkeys barred our way, and at others motor scooters and even small trucks came trundling by!
I had wanted to visit Medersa Bou Inania, a house with intricate carvings. We did locate this, paid our small entrance fee and walked around the courtyard, with carving all around. There were little annexes off, but these were 'no entry' An elderly guide in a Fez hat (one of very few we saw - they're not worn much now), said in English 'Go away and don't come back', when we didn't want a guide!
In the Medina in Fez
We bought a flat Moroccan loaf and some grapes – the stall holder was amused that we'd given him a €2 instead of 2dh by mistake. We sampled the bread and grapes when we got back to the van. At first we'd left by the wrong gate, and for a while we couldn't work out where we were at all.
We'd only seen a tiny bit of Fez, but were happy to leave with our good memories and no bad vibes.
It was gone midday when we left, and it felt very hot. We had decided to stay at the other campsite outside Fez, Diamont Vert, and although the roads were now busier, Adrian drove us there with very little trouble (except Moroccan drivers - and pedestrians - who turn in front of you without ever looking)
This campsite was part of a water park complex, with chalets and a restaurant, and it appeared quite smart. We made our way down to the camping area, which unlike yesterday had quite a few occupants, including a small party of Dutch caravans. Again there were shady eucalypts, which we parked under and then sat out for lunch. A small river ran by, with ducks and egrets. The toilet block was very clean, and we were delighted to see a washing machine. I asked the 'guardian', and Adrian walked right back up to the reception in the heat, only to be told that the machine was broken! We'd been thwarted again! And things had been going well.
I washed out a few essentials before we made our way over to the swimming pools There were several irregular shaped pools, two for children, and flumes as well. They were surrounded by a nice grassy area. There were a few people there – mostly young men and children. We had wondered what Moslem women did, but the few we saw sat in their long clothes, and didn't go into the water.
Opposite here was the 14th century water clock, which we had a lot of trouble in locating, as it was above our heads! We couldn't see how it worked anyway.
Intricate carvings of Medersa Bou Inania
The 14th Century water clock
After a pleasant swim, we tried out the shower facilities, but they weren't very good – I could only get cold water spurting out!
We were still sitting out at 8.30 in the dark when a Moslem chap in white robes arrived on his scooter to see if we wanted to go on a tour with him tomorrow. He was very polite, and spoke as fast as if he were on 'Just a minute'. He wasn't pushy when we said no.
Part of the water park
It had just started to rain when we left at 2 o'clock. We knew that the rain belt was coming, but luckily we soon drove out of it, and it was clear to Dover. It had been more hectic than ever getting off this time. We'd had all of our children and grandchildren for various lengths of time for 10 days, then the next day (the day after our 49th Wedding Anniversary, when we'd had a ride out in our old Morris once the rain had stopped) we left for a lovely weekend with our HCC friends in Gloucs. We returned on Sunday evening as we both had appointments on the Monday – Adrian to have the stitches removed after a difficult wisdom tooth extraction. Before leaving home, we had booked the new village hall and the caterer for our Golden Wedding celebrations next year. We still needed someone to cut the grass. Literally 5 minutes before leaving we had a visit from Sam, who does gardening for our neighbour, and arranged for him to cut the grass!
We stopped at Chieveley Services to get some LPG then got on our way. We had very little trouble, but did pass two long queues on the other carriageway - the first, for a car which had crashed and was just bursting into flames, soon after joining the M4. The second was in Bracknell, having decided to go that way to avoid queues on the M25! We pulled into Clacket Lane services to have our cup of tea. It was announced on the radio that P&O ferries had a 25 minute delay. Sure enough, that's what they said when we got to the port. It was a strange feeling arriving at Dover, passing the long queues of lorries, after all the disruption in recent weeks with the migrants. We booked in, then I decided that I'd make an omelette for supper, as we had extra time. It was hardly a relaxed meal. I had just finished clearing up when we saw lorries boarding, and then it was our turn!
We sat at the front of the boat, and were surprised to be able to see the coast of France from the outset. It was very noisy on board, with many French people. We must have gone extra fast, as we arrived at Calais soon after our scheduled time. It was mayhem as we waited to go down to the car deck with the 'swarms' of noisy people. We had to wait a very long time in our van before disembarking, but once off, we headed for the RV parking place by the harbour. This was much more crowded than we're used to. We pulled in, had a quick look at the sea, then couldn't resist the smell of the excellent chips being sold from the nearby van. We ate these with a shared beer which Adrian bought, having not brought any with us! It felt good to be on our way!
There was rain in the night, and the day started wet, but soon improved. I'd heard the boats arriving and departing in the night. We were able to hear radio 2 in the morning, moving over to a position near the 'Fritarie des nations' to have breakfast (including croissants from England) beside the beach. We saw someone returning from a swim in the sea. Adrian was frustrated by several things on the computer not working, including no toll roads being shown on the sat-nav. It was gone 9.30 French time when we left, driving through Calais, so familiar to us, enjoying the aesthetic pastel flower beds and baskets. We came to an area with dozens of police – the only sign we saw of the immigrant problem. We shopped in a small Carrefour, where we bought a French loaf and some beer. We got fuel from another Carrefour – far cheaper than on the motorway later. It was hard work reaching the slot to pay from the motorhome. We then joined the motorway, remembering that this pretty undulating area is far nicer from the motorway than from the roads which go through non- stop housing. We stopped in an Aire for coffee and pain au chocolat and then at another very empty and uncrowded aire for lunch, thinking how different it was from England. Adrian's mouth was still bothering him, so he started on another lot of antibiotics which our dentist had prescribed 'just in case'.
By the time we stopped near Reims for our cup of tea, it had become really warm and sunny. We now turned off the motorway, stopping at 5.50 beside the River Marne at Donjeux at a small but delightful motorhome stopping place. There was just one other van here – a French couple with a labrador dog. We set off immediately to walk along the river bank. We soon came to 3 moored boats, and on saying 'bon soir' to 3 people sitting at a picnic table, soon realised that they were not French. They invited us to join them for a drink. So we spent a happy hour or so drinking beer and chatting to Melanie and David from Perth, Australia, but originally from Rhodesia, and to Anna, a delightful American lady from South Carolina who is living on a boat in Paris. Eventually we returned to the van, where I cooked supper, including a courgette from our garden. We sat above the canal to eat this, coming in at 9.15. We do like France!
It was a nice route, on small roads, but with no pull-offs and no bakers for bread. We stopped for a late coffee, sitting on the kerb of a layby using our bum mats. We did pass a bakers just afterwards, but Adrian thought that the actual bakers had burned down, and the loaf we bought was rather limp! (no connection!) We found a nice place to stop for lunch, sitting at a concrete picnic table. We continued on our way towards Simon & Laure's, driving through Gray, where we have stopped twice before. Adrian found that the main road was closed, so the rural route we chose took us through Marnay, where we had camped in 1992 on our return from Corsica. We arrived at Cessy at 5.15. We had been reminded of our many previous trips here, and were trying to remember the various routes. We were greeted by Laure and by Manolo & Millie. Although we'd only seen the children a week ago in England, they both seemed much more grown up in their own home.
Simon arrived home and we all enjoyed aperitifs on the terrace, celebrating Laure having just finished her thesis. There was a sliver of a moon in the clear sky. We had been enjoying the warm temperature and didn't come out to the van until after 11 o'clock.
We drove Manolo & Millie to their friend William's house, then we were off again. We stopped at the bakers – now open after their annual holiday – and bought what was the best baguette we have had this trip. The weather was beautifully clear – we could see Mt. Blanc standing up above the rest of the mountain range. We took a mostly rural route today, enjoying the wonderful scenery, but not the numerous horrendous speed humps. One caused the fridge to fly open and throw out many of its items, and also to dislodge a shelf in the cupboard and scatter out the contents of two boxes. Contrary to what one imagines in France, we found places to pull off non existent. We stopped for coffee in the end at the village car park in Clermont au Genevaux, sitting on the wall, while a large group of singing horse riders went by.
It was a fine morning, but the sun was still behind the hills. 8.45 saw us driving through the welcoming village of Marsanne with wonderful views afterwards to the misty valley below. We soon came to the town of Montelimar – a name so well known to us since I had tried to buy some montelimar (nougat) from a stall in Brittany in the eighties, mistaking the price dramatically (60 francs not 60 cents!). The stall holder had said 'c'est montelimar veritable', and wouldn't give me my money back! (luckily I had only given him 10Fr by then).
We were looking out now for a tyre repairers. Adrian spotted a Euromaster (right opposite an outlet advertising 'nougat'!) The garage was able to do the job for us, mending the puncture and changing the wheels back. While this was happening, we walked a long way down the road, looking for a boulangerie, which we eventually found. Just as I had started to make coffee back at the van, we had the call to move for the wheel change! On leaving the garage, we found several bakers in the other direction! Hence we drove on towards the motorway, eventually having our coffee just after the toll booth, sitting outside, and having had to queue to go through. After that, we made good progress (on the A7 and then the A9 motorways) after yesterday's slow journey on country roads. We sat outside for lunch, enjoying the pleasant temperature and the lovely smell of hot pine. We continued on the motorway past Perpignan, turning off at le Boulou, not far from the Spanish border, where we located a motorhome 'aire'. The sunny day had become cloudy earlier, but had cleared by the time we stopped at 3.45. Then the heat hit us!! (34°C) Luckily it cooled down a bit, and then it became very windy for a while. We sat out with our aperitif and later for supper.
A beer at our aire in le Boulou
There were some annoying flies, but worse, these were joined by mosquitoes! We came in when we got bitten! Later we walked up into the small town, which was very quiet. It was still warm.
Adrian spied an elusive petrol station. He filled up, the tank, but was disconcerted that they didn't take a card so he had to pay by cash. We had been disappointed at how built up the coast was (as we had been in Bulgaria last year). We turned off to the seaside town of Martil, (passing a little egret) where we knew that there was a campsite, said to be a bit run down. We found it OK and it appeared pleasant enough so we booked in to Camping al Boustane. On inspection, the toilet block wasn't good, but we don't really need that. We walked around and saw the swimming pool, but that cost extra, and we would only want a few minutes in there. We sat in dappled shade for our cup of tea and later walked down to the beach. We were surprised at how busy it was. There were many young children, in swimsuits, a lot of men in swimming trunks, and a few women in long Muslim dress – even wading into the sea after their children. One mother with just her eyes showing through a slit, wished us a cheery 'bon jour'. I would have liked a swim, but the water looked very grubby, with much rubbish in it, notably plastic bags. Back at the van, we were amused to see a cavalcade of old Renaults entering the campsite – we thought it was going to be another 'Curtin Springs' in Australia but there were only 8 here, unlike the 100 or so there!
There was a restaurant in the campsite, which came with a good recommendation. We had perused the outside menu and had decided to eat there tonight for our first night in Morocco. However, when we walked across later, the man told us that it was closed! Having thought that we'd eat out, we walked down to the sea front, where we had seen lots of eating places. Disappointingly, these were all fast food outlets, not at all what we wanted. The road by the front seemed to be the place for everybody to walk up and down. A few people were sitting at the many cafes, but all drinking either coffee or water – no-one was eating. (when we got back later, we found out that contrary to what we'd read, Moroccan time is one hour back from Spanish, so perhaps we were just too early) We were about to walk back when we passed Luigi's. It looked a bit better than the rest, so we sat facing the sea and ordered a prawn/salmon pasta dish each. Unlike most children today, a bowl of pasta doesn't excite me, however tasty it might be. And anyway, there was no beer or wine to wash it down with! We just tried to enjoy the atmosphere and the lovely pink/blue sky which we looked across to.
The night was quite noisy. It was still windy, so we could hear the leaves on the trees. Then at 5.30, the chanting to call people to prayer permeated the air. Without wanting to be disrespectful, when we heard it later, we thought that it sounded like a cow giving birth! The 8 Renaults left at 8.30 to continue their journey. We both had showers in the van – there were no shower heads in the toilet block – that had been noted in our camping book in 2009! It was a fine but windy morning. We sat inside for breakfast to escape the annoyance of the small flies. We spent much time sorting out the best way to visit nearby Tetouan and finally settled on driving in, as we had read that there was a guarded car park near the centre. We left at 10.15 new time, having dumped and so ready for the road. As we drove into Tetouan, we noticed again the numerous red Moroccan flags flying all along the road. Once more, people were non stop watering the grass verge from hose pipes and again we passed lots of little egrets. We came to the white block town of Tetouan. All had gone well until we neared the parking place, where the road had become narrower and was full of people and vehicles and market stalls. There seems to be no road manners or awareness in Morocco - cars just stop and start where they like, and pedestrians have complete disregard for vehicles. Almost every vehicle was a taxi, and they were very good at cutting us up! When we reached the proposed car park it wasn't there any more! We continued, and found a Parking sign. The access was difficult – through a narrow arch, but several locals enthusiastically waved us in, as 4 policeman just watched. Then when we got there, the man said 'No, it was only for cars'! This was getting too difficult, so we decided that we'd have to give Tetouan a miss, and now just wanted to get out. We started driving on, hoping to see Marjanes supermarket which we knew was on this road. Having no luck in seeing it, we asked a couple of people. We had asked two nice young ladies, who told us (in French) that it was straight ahead. On we went, but straight on ended on a toll road, and we were soon sailing along in the wrong direction! We could only think that at least it was only 11 km to the next junction, unlike the time in England many years ago when we missed the turning on the M11 on a busy and fraught Friday evening and had had to travel 22 miles to turn round! And at least it only cost us 70p! A bonus had been dozens of storks flying overhead. We found ourselves back at Mdiq, past where we had camped last night! Now we were on the right road, so had our eyes skinned for Marjanes. We needed to find this store for two things, 1 - we were told that they sold booze and 2 - there was a Maroc Telecom shop where we could get an 3g internet card for our time in Morocco. Continuing towards Tetouan, we finally came to Marjanes – a large hypermarket – how had we missed it! It was now 11.50. We stopped to have a late coffee before going in to explore the shop. Adrian was disappointed to see no 3g outlet. We wandered around the store, seeing what sort of goods were available. We loved seeing the mounds of spices and olives, but generally, it was all quite western, with Mars bars, Nutella, and Fairy liquid, much like anywhere else. We bought some trout, and (mistakenly) a large amount of calamari – Adrian said 'he didn't stop'! But sadly there was no booze! As we walked out, Adrian thought that he'd have one more look for 3g store – sure enough, there was a shop there – we had walked past it on our way in BUT – it closed from 12.15 – 3 o'clock! It was now 12.45. Not to be beaten, we came back to have lunch, and thought that we'd do something useful, like work on the website, until it opened. At 3 o'clock, Adrian walked across to the shop, coming back soon afterwards very despondent – the man had sold out of cards – 'you can get one in the town' he said! No beer and no phone card – the two things we'd made this huge detour for! We drove out of Tetouan. We needed to get more diesel. The first garage we tried didn't take a credit card. We found another one that did – and Adrian liked the price – diesel at 60p litre. We now followed the road to the sea, which was busy at first. The road was good and the views lovely. The mountains at the end of the Rif range came down to the sea.
This time we did have a yapping dog in the night! In the morning the little black cat stared in with its big green eyes! We set off on another fine day for Meknes. Near the town, we passed a donkey loaded so high that you could hardly see it underneath! We followed the ring road, then entered through the walls, trying to find the parking place on our map. We found a space to park beside the road, but backtracked to where we thought many cars were parked, but that just seemed to be a huge taxi rank. We returned to the first place, which appeared to be guarded, so we set off, hoping that we were near the Medina, but we had nothing to tell us where we were! We were right near the centre, but didn't know in which direction to go. A nice chap passed and pointed us in the right direction. Another offered his services as a guide, but I wasn't having anything of that!
We then had a pleasant wander around the narrow little alleys of the Medina – it reminded me so much of my visit to Istanbul in 1963. Many of the stalls were still closed – they were just opening up on our return. At least it was relatively cool, and there were few people about. There were some lovely images – some of the passages were painted a yellow colour, others were pink. Many of the stalls had clothes – some fine robes, and shoes – often western trainers.
We needed to get some money, but Adrian was reluctant to get some early on as he felt vulnerable. We crossed the street to another area which seemed to contain official buildings with a lot of people standing about, then we found it hard to get back again. Finally we went down some steep steps to the street. Nearby was the main post office. As I wanted some stamps, we climbed the steps, only to find the large room absolutely seething with people, either sitting or queueing – we didn't stop! We passed another hole in the wall, but it didn't seem to work so Adrian had to walk across the large unshaded square to the first bank while I waited in the shade, sitting on the corner of a pillar. The Ixi was still cool when we got back to it at 11.30. We had a late tea/coffee and a pleasant custard slice bought from a covered glass stand. We'd also bought a Moroccan loaf – like a huge bap – from a nice chap at the first of many bread stalls we passed. We set off, looking for 'Marjanes', following a symbol on Adrian's sat nav, but had no luck. We did pass another supermarket, Acima, (the only one we'd seen), but after that the roads got narrower, and Adrian was getting understandably stressed. We decided to get out of Meknes. Our route took us back past the Acima supermarket so we decided to go in. We enjoyed lunch (including the loaf) in the quiet carpark before going in. Adrian had already sussed out that they also sold booze (through a separate door.) The shop was smaller than Marjanes, and the fresh stuff not too good, but Adrian was happy to have been able to get some wine and beer. He had been anxious about two suspicious looking men in a car in the car park, but all was well when we returned. We now drove across flat countryside to Fez, which didn't look impressive as we approached it. There were huge ruts in the road, making the going very slow. A large wheelie bin was upturned with mounds of rubbish spilling out. It was all very dusty, with many half built buildings, making me think of Cairo. At one roundabout, a 'tout' on a motorbike tried to get us to follow him to a campsite, but we had been warned in our book about them, and knew where we were going. And just before we got there – we passed a Marjanes! Finding the actual entrance to the campsite was difficult, as there were no signs, but we got to Camping International – a vast campsite shaded by eucalypts, but with no other campers!