Storm on Chesil Bank
Storm on Chesil Bank

This week I was sorting out some old files for deletion to clear some space in my laptop, and I discovered a whole batch of photos that I hadn’t loaded into my photo catalogue, of a storm in November 2009. I took a trip over to Portland Bill to see what the sea was like. Here are a few of the photos. Note the size of the breaking waves compared to the people on the beach in the sixth image.

I think I visited France twice in 2007, once with a friend in the summer for a week to Brittany, it looks like I didn’t take any photos on that trip, so that means I can’t actually remember when it was.

My parents were visiting France in November 2007 for three weeks, and in the middle of this they had booked a holiday cottage in Arles. I decided the night before they were due to arrive there that I was going to fly out to meet them, so I asked them to pick me up from Avignon airport the next day. As they had their car out there it was easy enough, and it was easy for us all to go and visit various places.

Roman Theatre, Arles
Roman Theatre, Arles

It was also cold. The Mistral is a wind that can be particularly strong down the Rhone valley, and brings particularly cold air in the winter. I wasn’t expecting it to be that cold. What it did mean though was beautifully crisp, clear skies for the whole time we were there, and stunning views wherever we went.

First we explored the town of Arles, a lovely town, with a number of Roman buildings including a theatre, amphitheatre and bath houses. It is also home to the Café Van Gogh, the subject of Van Gogh’s 1888 painting, ‘Café Terrace at Night’.

Les Arenes, Nîmes
Les Arenes, Nîmes, view from ‘Tour Magne’

We took a trip out to explore Nîmes, with beautiful 19th Century gardens and the Roman ‘Tour Magne’ (Great Tower) atop a hill, with stunning views of the city.

We also took a trip down to the Mediterranean coast, to the medieval town of Aigues-Mortes, with well-preserved defensive walls. The walk around the top of the walls was bitterly cold but well worth it.

Driving back we saw flamingos in their natural habitat on a lake in the Camargue, Western Europe’s largest river delta. It is largely made up of brine marshes and shallow pools.

My final exploration was when my parents dropped me off in Avignon so I could catch my flight home. I convinced them to take my luggage in their car and bring it home with them later on, so that when they dropped me off I had the day, and my hands, free to explore the town.

I first went to the tourist information centre to book a taxi to the airport for that afternoon, for some reason, the staff didn’t recognise my accent and offer to speak in english, not that I was offended.

The Pope's Palace, Avignon
The Pope’s Palace, Avignon

I took a walk round, and went out onto the Pont St Bénezet, perhaps better known as the Pont d’Avignon from the childrens’ song. I then went round the Pope’s Palace, a stunning and massive Gothic building. Unfortunately photography was banned inside, which was quite a disappointment.

Time for the taxi to the airport, and it didn’t turn up. I returned to the Tourist office, where the helpful staff (who still didn’t speak any english) directed me to a taxi rank and said if I couldn’t get a taxi I should come back and they will ‘sort something out’.

Below are some of my favourite photos from this trip:

La Mairie de Vannes

I haven’t been updating this blog as often as I’d like, so I had this little idea that once in a while I’d take a little look back at something I’ve done, or somewhere I’ve been somewhere in the past.

Today, I’m going to share some of my experiences of a 16 day trip to France in 2005; just me and my car. The main reason for going was because I fancied touring abroad in my new (to me) Audi Cabiolet. I didn’t plan a lot in advance. In fact all I did plan ahead were the Channel Tunnel crossings there and back. I booked them the day before I left. Another day before that was when I decided I was going to go on holiday.

The Tunnel crossing was incredibly early in the morning, and by the time I set out I had decided on a few stop off points along the north coast of France that I thought I’d like to see. From Lyme Regis I set out at some time around midnight. By about 4pm local time I had been to, and been very disappointed with, the few places I’d wanted to see, and had ended up in St Malo, having already driven for 15 hours. By now I realise I could have got a seven-hour night ferry and six hours of sleep, but it turns out that this is the only thing I would have changed about the whole experience. That said, it was a fantastic drive.

River Loire flowing through Saumur

The campsite I had previously visited was completely full, despite my pleading that the tent I had was minuscule, so I scouted out a bit, and found a site in the nearby village of La Richardais, for the princely sum of €4 per night (it was actually less than that but I don’t remember exactly). I stayed three nights here to get used to being in a foreign country on my own with nothing but the contents of the tiny boot for support. I had decided that my main aim of the holiday would be to get down to Millau in the south of France, to see the recently opened Viaduc du Millau. Seven years later I still haven’t seen it.

Fireplaces of two floors, Chateau de Chinon

Leaving Saint-Malo I headed south and stopped off in Saumur. I spent another few days here, and explored numerous places. I ventured out to Chinon, upstream a little. here I went round the chateau, and on an exploratory walk, I discovered the remains of some troglodytic dwellings in the hillside above the town. For the days I spent here, I didn’t actually explore Saumur itself very much, and the chateau was closed for refurbishment while I was there.

A troglodytic room as it would have looked

I also visited Rochemenier, a relatively intact cave-dwelling village, dug into an area of open flat land. There is a beautiful carved out chapel, and a room set up how it would have been inhabited.

Next I set out and headed south, but it was approaching the french summer bank holiday, and there were numerous serious traffic accidents, so I decided I would head directly west, towards the coast. and ended up in La Rochelle. Many campsites were full, so I just drove until I found one, in a field in Esnandes, just a few miles north. Here they had a restaurant, of sorts, which was actually some wooden posts with corrugated iron sheets on top. I got chatting to the site owner, and she suggested that I stick around until the next evening, when there would be a show celebrating 60 years since the Germans left the village after the Second World War. This show turned out to last nearly 24 hours, including a fair with military displays and music all day, followed by an evening concert, and a Son et Lumière display.

Son et Lumière display, Esnandes

Before this show, Esnandes appeared to me to be a tiny sleepy town with barely any shops. The hour-long Son et Lumière display started at nearly midnight, and featured the church as the set, with thousands and thousands of people sitting to watch. A sound system had been set up around the entire field, and the show featured people recounting stories, puppets reenacting events, illuminated water fountains, and a massive firework display. Even after this the event wasn’t over, with an open sided marquee and dance floor with DJ, playing on until gone 4am. What a show that was.

Fêtes d’Arvor, Vannes

Next stop: Vannes, and again I stumbled upon a great festival; the Fêtes d’Arvor []. It’s a traditional annual festival to elect the new ‘Reine’, or queen of the Brittany region. Groups come from villages and towns across Brittany in their traditional costume, and take part in a procession through the town, each with music and dance, a parade lasting several hours. It culminated in the most amazing fireworks display I’ve ever seen, launched from the ramparts of some of the old town walls, and the whole display was timed perfectly to music.

The old Port at Honfleur

The last stop before the trip home was a few nights in Deauville exploring its surroundings. I visited Honfleur, a beautiful town with lovely buildings surrounding an old port, and I took a boat trip, so that I could go under the impressive Pont de Normandie. Driving back home, I drove over it too.

Pont de Normandie

I love driving in France, the roads are exceptionally good; you just don’t get the potholes that are all over the place here, there is less traffic too, and I found driving on the wrong side of the road that much easier having the roof down, because with a quick glance over either shoulder, I had no blind spot to worry about. I ended up driving just over 2500 miles in the 16 days I was away.

I haven’t included all images I took, that would be silly, and I am not going to display them all one by one in the post, so below is a slideshow of some of the highlights, displaying in a random order: