Monday, 28 April 2014

France - U-Boats, D-Day beaches ...and ... Back to England.

In the Footsteps of History

It was always going to be part of the 'Adventure' this visiting of sites and places that remind us of the tumultuous events during World War 2 (WW2) 1939-1945, in this case on the Atlantic coast of France.

U-Boat shelters

The U-Boat pens (WW2 fortified shelters for German submarines) at St Nazaire are still there after 74 years. The construction is of such strength that they are virtually indestructible.

The World War 2 U-Boat pens at St. Nazaire

Below is a link to my article as submitted to another website. It gives a detailed account of my visit over two days.

Also seen at the St. Nazaire docks was the Russian helicopter carrier / assault ship VLADIVOSTOK, built by the French and nearing completion, soon to be handed over to the Russian Navy.
Edit: This ship and another in the same class had their deliveries cancelled after the invasion of the Ukraine by Russia and the subsequent annexation.

The D-Day beaches in Normandy, France.

The largest ever seaborne military operation took place in 1944 on the Atlantic coast of France when tens of thousands of soldiers crossed the English Channel from Great Britain to start the liberation of Europe from Nazi Germany.
We visited, not for the first time, those beaches along the Normandy coast which saw those men and materiel being disgorged from landing craft. We concentrated on the American sector, the beaches known as Utah and Omaha and the adjacent town of Sainte-Mere-Eglise near Utah beach, south of Cherbourg.

Dedicated to all those who led the way on D-Day
Showing the likeness of Major Dick Winters of Easy Company 

An overview of our visit is covered on another website, see link below;

German fortification facing Utah beach

American cemetery at Omaha beach

"Grandpa, were you a hero in the war?
  No, but I fought in a Company of heroes"

Staff Sergeant Mike Ranney (101st US Airborne) answering a question from his grandson

"Wars do not make men great, but they do bring out the greatness in good men"

Major Richard D "Dick" Winters, Easy Company, 506 Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st US Airborne Division.


This was our last stop on our European Adventure which started in May 2012. We returned to England by ferry from Calais to Dover and made our way across the hills and dales of that 'green and pleasant land' to a place soon to be called home, somewhere in England.

It is time to put roots down again, until the next time, when the travel bug bites. Never say never ....

To all of you who read and followed this Blog over the past 24 months, who contributed with comments and information to enliven the experience, we say a big thank you!

This is Marius and Joan signing off.


Friday, 18 April 2014

France - French Pyrenees and Bordeaux

We decided to visit the Pyrenees on the spur of the moment having seen their majestic outline from Tarbes. We were not disappointed as we travelled through Lourdes on our way to Cauterets. The weather was superb and the scenery stunningly beautiful. The campsite had only just opened for the season and even that was earlier than usual due to the early onset of Spring.

The nights were cold, but we were warm inside Fifi plugged in as we were, with warm days reaching 22C in the sun. The town was well stocked on all grocery needs with butchers and bakers to choose from, a free bus service taking you in and out of town although at only 2km easily walkable.

BBQ / Braai in the Pyrenees

Ferrying tools and supplies to workers on the slopes

It was the intention to stay two nights, we stayed four and you can see why. Fresh air, scenery, good food, an intoxicating ambience all added to the stimulation of the senses.

The Bordeaux region known for the production of world class wines was next - can it all get any better?

Again it is almost sensory overload when you travel along the D5 on the left bank of the Gironde passing Chateau after Chateau with names that are held in the highest regard by wine lovers all over the world.

Chateau Pichon-Longueville

We stopped at the wine information centre at Pauillac on the Gironde for some brochures and advice. The very helpful staff advised that there was a possible overnight stop at Chateau de Cach ....

.... a picture paints a thousand words ....

Again a one night stop became three and the Chateau staff were happy to have us enjoy the tranquillity of their surroundings camped outside a barn with plug-in facilities. We cooked a lamb casserole in the cast iron pot and washed it down with wines from the Medoc and Haut Medoc, how could you not, seeing as you are camped right in the midst of it all.
Staying for a few days on a wine producing French Chateau was a dream come true, more so seeing that we both enjoy a good Bordeaux from the left bank of the Gironde. Good being a relative term because you can empty your wallet very quickly on the better vintages. Visiting in March as we were could be a bit early for connoisseurs as most Chateaux only open from April onwards for tastings and eating on site in the varied bistros and restaurants. Feel free to have the 'house wine' on offer at most establishments, it is good and quaffed by many of the locals - and they would know.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

France - From Toulon to Tarbes

Toulon was an unexpected pleasant surprise, we have not been there before and went there because we wanted to spend more time on the Med coast. Our GPS / SatNav with its huge choice of pre-programmed campsites, listed one near the Toulon bay area. Good one, quiet and max room for 6 motorhomes. Servicing facilities were nearby (WC, fresh water resupply and grey water dump) as were shops for basics. Boulangerie (French for bakery) walking distance - very important! The French bake the best bread and pastries in all of Europe!

We spent a day walking around the port area of Toulon, visited Fort Napoleon, where the famous French Marshall made a name for himself in 1793.

Fort Napoleon - Toulon

The fort is on a hill with a good walk to get there, but plenty of photo opportunities to compensate for the effort.

Luxury yacht service centre

A touch of north Africa

View of the French Navy from Fort Napoleon

Les Sablettes is the area we frequented during our one week stay in Toulon. It is an area and has an ambiance that can easily be revisited in future. We strolled around the non-military port area, which has a plethora of bistro's and cafe's and found it safe, well appointed and with a warm sunny day the place to be.

We also did a cruise around the naval facilities in Toulon, home for much of the French fleet. Of the many pictures I have .... here's one more ....

The aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle, flagship of the French Navy.

We left Toulon and headed for the French Pyrenees, an area we have not been to. On our way to the Midi-Pyrenees region we spent a night in a camperstop at Ville de Gemenos, northeast of Marseilles and came across Chez Marius, a local fine dining eatery no less! Next time, next time.

Chez Marius .... !

A night was spent just outside Montpellier on the coast in a busy camperstop with all facilities and the next at a camperstop near Perpignan near the coast, quiet, secluded and free but no facilities. We now swung west making for the Tarbes / Lourdes area. Joan was going to visit friends in St Sever and me - I was going to take photographs in Tarbes, not that I knew it, but I soon discovered the where and what!

Aviation, of course.

Aeroclub de Bigorre at Laloubere, Tarbes.

For aviation pictures taken at Tarbes and elsewhere in France, please view my portfolio:-


Sunday, 9 March 2014

France - Cote d'Azur

It's February and even on the famed Cote d'Azur in southern France it rains - well it has to rain sometimes. It's just that one takes it for granted that it should be sunny!
Thus was our entry as we motored along the A8 toll road going west to Villeneuve-Loubet, on the outskirts of Nice. We have been to this particular campsite before, well established, quiet, well run, nearby supermarket, trains and buses into Nice, making for an enjoyable stay. Not cheap at 26 Euro's per day, but you get what you pay for.

We booked in for a week and chose the same site that we had in 2013 when we were as now, making our way back to England. Right choice, we had no neighbours in the immediate area for the whole week! The upside of low season.

A day was spent in Nice walking the promenade along that famous stretch of beach both sides of the Negresco Hotel.

Hotel Le Negresco

Short finals into Nice airport

Along the promenade

Another full day was spent plane spotting from the beach at St Laurent-du-Var. Below is a link to some of the results:-

Here's a sample ....

Nice / Cote d'Azur airport, next to the beach.

We journeyed on to Saint Maxime to a camperstop near McDonalds (good for Wi-Fi) and had a good walk to the local marina with views of Saint Tropez across the bay.

As is the case with millions of others, including the French themselves, the Cote d'Azur is a most enjoyable destination, for obvious reasons - safe, pleasant and it has little tolerance for the riff-raff of society. You either fit or get out.

Just on the edge of Saint Tropez was a good camperstop and we stayed two nights, giving us a full day to walk the town itself. From the large marina full of multi-million dollar boats to the quaint backstreets with cafes and eateries.

Bus stop into St Tropez - free!

'Secret Life'

On the marina facing the yachts

City hall / Mayor's office


One of many Brasserie's

The fishing marina and part of the yacht harbour beyond

Suffice to say that a visit to Saint Tropez has never disappointed, how can it? Be prepared for high prices, you need not eat out all the time though, we bought all goodies at local supermarkets and had good home cooked meals from Fifi's galley / kitchen area - not forgetting the product of the vine! You are in France and good wine is plentiful and well priced.

And then of course the 'working class' .... 

The need to stay close to warm weather was paramount, so we opted to go for Toulon - what a find! Next up our 8 day stay in Toulon and an excellent cruise around the French naval base.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

France - Cote d'Azur (Preview)

We have been here two weeks and it has been busy! Much time was spent near airports and runways for some aviation therapy e.g. taking pictures of aircraft.

However, we have done lots of walking around, as travellers do! In the meantime, until we've sorted this post, there are some aircraft to admire, from Nice and Saint Tropez.

Click on the link below.

Here's a sample ....

Nice / Cote d'Azur airport, next to the beach.

I know Caroline will be looking forward to this!


Monday, 10 February 2014

Italy - A few days in Italy en route to France

We arrived in Ancona on time at 17:00, although we thought the ferry was an hour late seeing as our clocks said 18:00, but of course there is an hour difference between Greece and Italy. We set off to a nearby camperstop as it was getting dark, only to find it more of a camperpark than an overnight stop. we didn't like it so off we went and decided to simply park up at a motorway services and head for San Marino in the morning. We had it on good authority from former Rhodesians Graham and Louise that San Marino had a good clean campsite. And thus we found it too, with sleet and rain greeting our arrival, soon followed by snow flakes dusting the ground.

Light snow in San Marino

Entering San Marino from the autostrada (motorway) we bypassed an Air Museum by chance, which had Joan rolling her eyes in exasperation. Well, guess where did we go looking around the next day. A good thing too because rainy weather set in on the following two days curtailing on-foot exploring of our surroundings, except for a rushed visit to the nearby mini-market.

On the small matter of airplanes:-
Clark Gable from 'Gone With The Wind' fame, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, President John Kennedy and others - what have they all got in common? Click the link below and find out! Read the story beneath the picture  > >

The clouds opened up, the thunder and lighting struck and the Wi-Fi connection petered out after the second almighty bolt of lightning late evening on day three. All dues to the camp management who had the connection restored by afternoon on the same day.
So on to Florence, determined to find and stay somewhere for two nights as we did not succeed on our last visit in 2013. Through rain and sleet we soldiered with Fifi the motorhome, through the mountain pass from Bologna to Florence navigating to a camperstop (very few proper campsites open in Italy during winter) in suburban Florence. He wanted 20 Euros per night, no toilet, no shower, iffy Wi-Fi in what was a glorified storage yard for scrappy campervans. It was late afternoon, we stayed the night and was off after the second coffee came morning. The second time no luck in Florence. Don't think we'll bother anymore.

Not wanting to leave Italy on a low, we decided to motor north via Portofino, that snazzy hideaway for the good and the great on the Ligurian coast.

We travelled down the hillside and bypassed this obviously wealthy and sought after destination. It was evident by the surrounding homes, the cars, the dress and fashion sense that this is not a destination for those who count pennies. We stopped at a designated camperstop nearby, had a cup of tea and then hit the road for our last night in Italy, spent at a filling station just short of Genoa.
A dedicated parking area for large vehicles, so all above board in a lovely setting on the mountain road (toll road) approaching Genoa. And with Wi-Fi signal to boot! Small café, clean and serviced toilets and we cleared Genoa with its myriad of tunnels by 11:00 after rush hour and with a drizzle staying with us until we reached the French border at Ventimiglia / Menton on the Cote d'Azur.
If you have not travelled this road from Genoa into France, do so, the many many tunnels are mind boggling varying in length from 100m to 2km and more. In and out you go for many miles, heaven knows what this toll road must have cost to build.

And all of a sudden you see turn-offs for Nice / Cote d'Azur .... !

Kiss and fly
First 5 minutes free
Only in France!

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Farewell Greece and Ahoy Italy!

The ferry was booked for Sunday 26 January from Patras (Greece) to Ancona (Italy) crossing the Adriatic in 24 hours, to arrive at Ancona 17:00 the next day. A good price was negotiated at Euro 254.00 which includes plug-in for the motorhome, 30% off all meals and an en-suite inside cabin with two beds - small, clean and functional.
After our visit to Olympia, the last two nights were spent at a free camperstop we've been to before on the Gulf of Corinth at Diakopto. The following three pictures were taken minutes apart.



And the weather looking west

We left the scenic camperstop at midday and made the one hour journey to Patras ferry port. With plenty of time on our hands we watched the Greek police preventing 'illegals' (African) from trying to make their way onto/into heavy goods vehicles crossing to Italy by stowing away, in so doing attempting to find work in the rest of the EU and further afield in the UK itself. This is becoming a huge problem and the mere fact that we sat in our motorhome watching scores of young men playing hide and seek with the Greek authorities is cause for concern. They are both unwanted and unwelcome in the EU. How they got to Greece is anyone's guess. And whilst I'm on the subject - why do the Greek authorities not build a proper security fence between the Patras port and the busy main road running alongside it? They will for a kick off make their own lives much easier. All vehicles, including ours, were entered and thoroughly searched before you were allowed to enter the ferry departures parking area. Sniffer dogs were on hand to enter the goods containers of some large vehicles. Well done!

On board:-

Parked and plugged to keep the fridge/freezer powered, also charges the 2 x leisure batteries.

Main lounge and bar

A walk-about on deck before casting off:-

A view across the empty departures parking area at Patras ferry port

Minoan Ferries: 'Cruise Olympia'.

Utility boat - Deck 11.

Port worker waiting for the cast-off instructions - taken from Deck 11.

Taking the air on the aft upper deck after breakfast - a bracing 5 Celsius at 09:45.