If I’m honest, I wasn’t ready to return to Italy and our townhouse in Petritoli, not quite – I was still in honeymoon mode with Dorset and Bridport. But, once in the car and heading towards Poole to get the ferry to Cherbourg I became preoccupied with the ‘road trip’ and excited about travelling. I love a good road trip with the dog and The Man – we are all good travelling companions… something that The Man’s daughters could never quite understand… ‘you mean you’re going to spend five days in the car with…HIM? How could you do that?’ But, we rub along fine and always have plenty to talk about and when not talking we listen to audio books.
The ferry left Poole at 8.30 a.m. and we had to be there by 7.30 because of the dog, we decided to leave our little Dorset hamlet on Wednesday evening and stay the night at the Thistle Hotel, only a few minutes from the port. The weather was atrocious…rain falling in biblical proportions – very unpleasant. It was difficult to appreciate the close proximity of the hotel to the water until, also biblically, the sky cleared and sailing boats came into view… however, it only lasted long enough to walk the dog before bedtime.
Jpeg is a star traveller. She never complains and as long as she has her own bed, food and a chance to smell the local area, pee accordingly, then she will settle down anywhere, as long as we are there too. We have only been on Le Shuttle with her previously and the ferry was going to take 5 hours (should have been 4 but the French dock workers at Cherbourg were on strike so…). She was so good in the car. I gave her a herbal tablet to calm her down, (should have taken one myself) and thank goodness, they didn’t enforce the use of the muzzle…all that effort getting her used to it and then we didn’t need it. You’re allowed to visit your dog half way across the channel, which I did and taking advice from other experienced ferrying dog owners, I only crept up to look into the car without her seeing me. She was fine, sitting up looking out of the back window of the car across the blue, flat calm sea to the horizon. We were the last car parked, facing aft (get the nautical term?) and there was a wide opening through which she could see. I think she had a better view than we did.
Leaving the ferry behind us for it’s return trip to England we headed for St Vaast La Hoogue – twinned with Bridport, which is of course our hometown in the UK at the moment. It was a pretty little place with plenty of still busy fishing boats, the main catch being oysters. We wandered around the town in the French sunshine and from one lookout point it was possible to see the age old fortifications of Vauban along the coast, erected in the 1690s.
The Man wanted to visit the Normandy Beaches, I was interested but knew little about D-day except for scant history lessons many *coughs loudly* years ago.
There are many D-day attractions (that doesn’t seem quite the right word) to visit but for The Man it was a must to go the Pegasus Bridge the sight of the first landings by glider and parachute. The museum was full of original artifacts, photographs and so much information I couldn’t take it all in. A film was shown in English which made things clearer for me. I came away at the end of two days knowing so much more about the occupation and the liberation of France. It was of course both moving and upsetting. All those young lives lost and what for?
It broke my heart to read the headstones at the cemetery in Ranville just a few miles from the Pegasus Bridge. English, French, German, Irish, Canadians and more, the majority of them under twenty-five.
Because we had taken the early ferry we had plenty of time to wander down the coast before arriving at our first night’s accommodation in Courseulle Sur Mer where we stayed for two nights. A fabulous spacious apartment, all brand new it seemed. We had to get there before 8pm because everything was locked up at eight…unusual for a hotel/accommodation until you realise it was actually an old people’s home. Well, an establishment for the retired, Domitys La Plage de Nacre – check it out. Great food taken in the town square at La Pecherie – so good we ate there two nights running. We love French food.
Next stop was Cahors a 770 kilometre drive – we listened to one of our audio books, The Elephant to Hollywood, written and read by Michael Caine. We can recommend it – loved his voice and his manner of speaking, he even laughed at some of the stuff he’d written. We felt, after several hundred kilometres, that he had been travelling in the car with us in the back seat. He’s now my best friend.
We arrived just after six and as it had been a long drive in dreadful weather, we thought we would eat in the restaurant attached to the hotel Terminus. It is a wonderful art deco building with furnishings and décor to suit. We should have guessed that it was not going to be an average meal when the barman turned out to be a sommelier, who’d written a book, with his son, (a chef) about local wines.
It was one of the best meals I have ever eaten, but the bill for food was twice that of the hotel room! I had a half bottle of Sancere with the meal and The Man had the best quality sparkling water, (he doesn’t drink alcohol you see).
We slept well that night which was just as well because the next hotel room in Carcassonne was not quite what we expected…
Approaching the medieval city of Carcassonne is the most amazing sight… from a distance that is. It appears in the midst of the green valley rising up above the trees, a Disneylike castle with turrets, arrow slits, high walls and well…really quite magical.
The satnav took us down some very narrow streets to the door of our ‘hotel’. It was outside the old city walls, but only a short distance for us to walk and discover the enchanted city, the situation was the best and only good thing about this accommodation.
First we had to unpack, take the dog for a quick look around and settle her down while we had lunch. We parked and carried our bags up the four flights of winding dark stairs into a garret apartment which smelled of drains – dirty ones at that. Not a good start.
Lunch was wonderful though, in a busy French Taverna serving Cassoulet – excellent. Fully satisfied we began our walk into the fairy-tale town and anticipate the best – always a mistake. The wind was blowing like a giant’s parp in a drainpipe, we could barely stand up, but we made it up the hill and in through the main gate, to discover that the outside of the castle is most definitely the best thing about it. Once inside the streets are full of swag shops, restaurants and little else. There was a torture museum which I cannot comment on because we didn’t go in. Street after street looking exactly the same. We searched for a tea shop selling fancy French pastries but couldn’t find anything so ended up in a restaurant having a cup of tea and apple tart with ice-cream (a dessert). There are only fifty permanent residents inside this town, according to the man in the only shop we entered where we bought a teapot…we like teapots.
The accommodation, Residence Saint Simon, in Carcassonne was truly dreadful and The Man has entered a review on Booking.com accordingly, but it’s still in moderation a week after writing it so I suspect it has been blocked by the owner.
The apartment was advertised with ‘toiletries supplied’ above is the sum total of those toiletries. Not even a bar of soap. Oh and the fridge had a welcome pack of stuff that were leftovers from the last visitors! 🙂
Next stop, San Remo and we drove there via the Camargue. I tried to photograph the famous white horses but whenever there were plenty of them grazing I didn’t have my camera at the ready so you’ll have to make do with a couple in the distance. We only saw a few black bulls, also famous in the area, but we did see what looked like several rice fields and on investigation, discovered that they do indeed grow rice in the Camargue. We took a detour through Arles hoping to get a glimpse of the famous bridge painted by, among others, Van Gough, but we hated the town, the traffic and gave up looking for the bridge pretty quickly and drove on to Aigues Mortes where we picked up a coffee in the pretty square. A medieval walled town that we would definitely visit again when we have more time.
San Remo was fantastic! We loved the place and it was 27degrees, sunny and friendly. Our apartment was superb, central, clean, modern and equipped with everything we could need for a one- night stay. The owner, Alessandro, could not have been more helpful and welcoming. He certainly knew how to treat a paying guest. We can recommend Colombo Apartments in Piazza Colombo, San Remo.
As usual the dog behaved impeccably, as mentioned before, she is the perfect traveller. Her only problem is little white poodles which, when she sees them, turn her from the placid fun loving dog into a teeth bared, growling monster (I exaggerate of course). I leave you to imagine what our evening stroll by the port in San Remo was like as every other dog was a white ball of fluff either tucked under the arm, in a handbag or prancing along the pavement in a taunting fashion…
We said goodbye to San Remo and Alessandro and set about getting back to Petritoli on the last leg of our journey. We only stopped to empty ourselves and the dog and take on more water, coffee and fuel – it was another 700k drive.
Happy to be back on her own turf, Jpeg rushed immediately out of the back door to chase the local cats as though she had never been away.
I hope you enjoy reading my blog – I certainly enjoy writing it. You may like to know that I have published a collection of short stories, The Cherry Tree and Other Stories, available here from Amazon.co.uk