Europe 2006                                           

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................We're in the arse end of nowhere, and well off the clog trodden tourist trail in a small Southern French town, getting quietly pissed in an old pavement bar. Opposite us, propped against a shop wall is an old acoustic guitar. No one with it - just the guitar, an apparent musical orphan. We watch it for about 3 Ricards, and eventually an ageing hippy who looks like he's been left behind in the 60s, along with his caftan, beads and headband appears.  He sits on an upturned crate and kicks off like a Richie Havens wannabe, strumming the guitar in the most tuneless, rhythm less way imaginable, his right hand  pumping away like an out of control teenager with a stolen mucky skin flick mag.  I've never heard anything quite so dire in my life, the French aren't well known for their musical talent but this guy abuses the right even to that excuse!  We leave the bar and walk past him on our way to seek out a quieter alcohol selling refuge. As we get nearer it becomes obvious his guitar has all of 4 strings, soon to become 3 if he keeps sawing away at it like he is. Through the purple tint of his glasses I can just make out a far away vacant look in his aging eyes, a child  of the 60s with an LSD messed up head and no money in his hat - shame!..............We all choose our own roads, some just choose more wisely than others."   


The (approximate) route for 2006



Day 1 - On the Road Again

The Eunos being made ready for it's tour of Europe 


It's 10 am, the car's been packed since last night - apart from toothbrushes etc. that is, and God only knows  where we're going to put those! We managed to get far more luggage in the bike panniers last year, such is the lack of space in the boot of the Eunos.  I have a plan though, if it doesn't go in - just jump on the boot lid a bit harder 'til it shuts, that  usually works!   We must have done something right - or brutal, because 10 minutes later everything is loaded in and we're heading off towards the  the road south and our overnight ferry which we're due to catch at 8pm. 
It's a stinking hot day, we've only been going a short while and already we're sweating like sheep in a field full of sex starved Welshmen looking for a date, and that's despite the fact that the hood is down and we're doing 70mph. This has to be the hottest summer we've had for years! We've got our daft hats on though so at least our heads won't get burned.

We've left a bit earlier than intended because Wee Jimmy's Dad has been ill, so we're calling at Wolverhampton to see him on the way to the ferry terminal at Portsmouth.  That's one plan that turns out to be our saving grace, because while we're sitting in the Krankie senior's house having a cuppa we get a text from Wesley.  Morticia & Him are also driving down to Portsmouth to get the morning ferry over to France for their hols at La Rochelle,  and they're stuck in a monumental traffic jam on the M6 where there's been a major accident involving a lorry - now there's a surprise ....... Professional drivers my arse!  If we'd left at the time we'd originally planned we'd now be on the very same motorway snarled up in the jams with an excellent chance of missing our ferry. Call it what you will,  Fate, Serendipity or whatever - it's a funny old thing that's for sure!
A few hours later and we're sitting in the queue to board the ferry, which will take us on the overnight route to St. Malo in Britanny  ...........Well we were, but we got bored and ended up at the local hostelry for some beer and food so we're spending a very pleasant hour or so waiting for embarkation time.     


Arrival at the ferry terminal in Portsmouth..........The Eunos is happy so we're off for a beer!


Fed and watered - well, more fed & beered really - we've returned to the line where we left the car, only to find it's all on it's own in it's lane and It looks worryingly lonesome sat there all by itself.  This is embarrassing because every other bugger in our queue has gone through to board the boat. Well,  we weren't to know they were going to start boarding early were we? I thought they'd be a bit arsey and make us wait 'til the end but surprisingly the guy is calling us forward to go through to the boarding lanes!  He mustn't be in a "Jobswurth" mood today!   Once on the boat we find our cabin ....or cupboard to give it a more apt  title! We head up on deck to watch the world  go by while we wait for "take off", it's a beautiful evening as we watch the sun go down.


The ship we sailed to Bilbao on exactly a year ago to the day is here - "The Pride of Bilbao". 
12 months ago we were boarding it with our bikes to start our 2005 European Tour


  Sunset Portsmouth

Leaving Portsmouth


Now out at sea, we go in search of a bar and soon find one that promises live music. Indeed there is some action going on behind a closed curtain in front of us, so we get ourselves settled, with some drinks into a couple of comfy lounge chairs near the stage so we can watch the eagerly awaited entertainment.     

Eventually the curtain rises to reveal: a plumber on guitar, a road sweeper on keyboards and a roofer on drums. I mention their daytime professions only because they're crap a being entertainers - the singist can't sing, the guitarists can't guitar, & the drummer can't drum - they're pretty crap really and should do us all a favour & stick to their day jobs. Their "Piece de resistance" however, is the blonde girl - well I say girl, but she's actually a woman of many summers, dressed and made up to look like someone much younger. Lets put it this way - it won't be too much longer before she's queuing at the post office on Thursday mornings smelling of wee and collecting her pension!   Someone, sometime must have told her she had musical talent, but they were obviously tone deaf or lying to her, it's just unfortunate for us all that she believed them! And even more so that the ship's entertainments manager has no musical taste!...... So this is what happens to the rejects from the cruise ships?  

 The 'band' launch full speed into Gerry Rafferty's "Baker Street" with the blonde pensioner on Sax........A very cheap nasty sounding Sax - think Stylophone with knackered batteries - made worse by the fact she's crap at playing it.  It goes on.........and on.........and  on .........and on.......... and...................................................... For a full 15 minutes they go at it, Wee Jimmy and me are losing the will to live & beginning to think it's the only song they know!  We stay just to see if it gets any better - or in the vain hope that they're actually a comedy act taking the piss, but no, they're actually serious. The subsequent songs are so dire that they manage to  clear the place, apart from a bunch of 8 year olds, and the, "Songs of David Hasselhof Appreciation Society".  These are the only bits of audience that remain by the time we leave for the sanctuary of our cabin.  I'm only guessing here but, I don't think she was a real blonde either!   



 Day 2 - The Wall

6.30 am - and someone's inside my head with a pneumatic drill. I open my eyes and it's pitch black, not a chink of light to to be seen anywhere. It takes me a few moments to realise that I'm in an inside cabin aboard a ship and not in a solitary confinement cell somewhere in Afghanistan - no light penetrates here. The noise of the alarm on my mobile phone, makes a truly horrible sound - guaranteed to get you out of bed just to shut the bloody thing up. A quick fumble about the wall soon reveals the light switch. Freshly illuminated, our new day has begun.....................
Shortly after the rude awakening from our slumbers a voice explodes from the ships tannoy system,  informing us that the ship will be docking in half an hour, well we think that's what she said we only caught the French bit of it! - no time for brekky then?  Instead I enquire of Wee Jimmy how her foot is?  Apparently I ran over it in the car last night when we were parking up "down below".  Well, how was I supposed to know she'd shoved her bloody foot under the back wheel when the ship guy called me forward?  It was still my fault though!  Fortunately no lasting damage is done but I'm sure the ensuing limp over the next few days will emerge periodically as a regular reminder of MY intense stupidity.    


Early morning docking in St Malo


Leaving behind our ferry " Pride of Kent" in St Malo. Such a big boat, such little cabins ! 


It's nice to be back in France, but we must remember not to mention the World Cup, or so Wee Jimmy reminds me! That, and to remember to drive on the right - she tells me  that a lot!

The last time we were in St Malo was when our daughter Raymond was just 3 years old - she's 26 now! It's nice to be here again for nostalgias sake, to see things we'd shown her as a child and to re-visit places like Dinard, with its beach and the old town of Dinan, which is where we're to spend our first night in France at the "Hotel Les Grande Tours"

Having scooped up a very passable breakfast at a little pavement cafe just inside the city walls, we're now ready to start our little walking tour around here, beginning with a jaunt on the walls of the city.   Given the high temperatures of the last few days, and remembering how hot it can get up here, I'm keen not to stick around much after 11am,  it's only 9-30 now but already the mercury is staring to rise - rapidly. The fact that there are already joggers up here in the increasing heat and humidity just reinforces my belief that some people are born stupid. Watching them almost passing out with the heat and hardly being able to breathe, let alone run, yet still making some kind of attempt at it makes me concerned for their sanity! Who the hell in their right mind does that kind of thing to themselves willingly?   

Nevertheless, St. Malo is a lovely old town with quite a colourful history. Over the centuries it's been the home of many a fierce breed of mariner and pirate who made the place their own "no go" area, so it was never successfully controlled. The story I like most is the one that tells of it's declaration of independence in the early 1500s. For 4 years St. Malo was run as a republic with the motto "Not French, not Breton, but Malois".  The saddest occurrence in its history though must be the bombing of it during the second world war with incendiary devices which set the town ablaze and destroyed a large part of it.........American ones apparently!   After the conflict the destroyed parts of the town were reconstructed to their original design


          Above & below - St Malo from the walls


This is the "Chemins de Ronde", a coastal footpath that follows the coast around  Dinard. 
At high tide tide you'll be needing your wellies!

The Hotel Les Grande Tours Dinan

 I'll not go into detail about the Hotel Les Grande Tours here, it's all in the Hotel review section for anyone interested. Suffice to say it's clean comfy and cheap with secure parking. It enabled us to catch up on some sleep in readiness for tomorrows run down to the Loire valley, and our next port of call, Esvres on the river Indre.   


Day 3 -
I Fought the Loire and the Loire Won


Never having been to the Loire Valley before we weren't sure what to expect but whatever it was, it  wasn't what we got! It's a lot less hilly than I imagined it to be, well  the bits we went to were, hardly a valley at all really, the area around the Loire River is decidedly flat and featureless, maybe it gets better as you go up past  Amboise etc, but here in the Angers / Saumur region it's certainly nothing to write home  about.  The Indre is a far nicer river, in fact more what I expected the Loire to be like.      


All a bit flat and featureless really - the countryside that is, - not Wee Jimmy!


Told you they were daft hats!

Just south of Tours on the River Indre stands a little village called Esvres - pronounced "Evray". Why the French can't just spell things the way they say them is beyond me, but in a perverse way that's one of the attractions of going there I suppose.  A small way outside the village, on a country lane is the entrance to the beautiful Chateau de la Villaine and this is where we are now, driving up the gravel road to the impressive sight of the house. The car is parked up and Adrian, the owner of the Chateau walks over to greet us, he's a tall, laid back and very amicable Dutchman. After the introductions he shows us to our superb room (The "Comtese" - see link below ) on the first floor.

Chateau de la Vilaine

The narrow driveway leading to the Chateau

The Roadster parked under the shade of the trees, it was really hot here

The Chateau de la Villaine

The Chateau has been in the hands of Adrian & his wife Joke  (pronounced Yoken) for about 4 years. The restoration  is  a "work in progress"  and  it's nice to see it's  being  carried out  with a great deal of sensitivity in order to maintain the character of the house. There are 4 rooms on offer to guests and every one is a gem, our particular "chambre"  The Comtesse Room had access to a large balcony which we could sit out on, enjoy a fine bottle of red and look out over the grounds on a balmy summers evening.


This really is a fantastic place to come and chill out, there's no rush here so the rest of the world can be forgotten for a while.  Joke is a fabulous cook, and if you ask she'll lay on a superb meal. These take the form of a dinner party, where all the guests sit together around a huge table in the dining hall, eat the fantastic food, sample the local wines and enjoy some good conversation. I must say that this sort of thing isn't my usual forte' but the hosts are so friendly and comfortable to be with, and such excellent and very easy going company, that you can't  help but enjoy an evening at their table.   Our stay at the chateau was one of the highlights of our trip. 


 From the grounds the Chateau makes an imposing sight

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