Troyes – French Adventure 2012 Part 1:

troyeshouses

As soon as I disembark whatever means of transport I’ve chosen to traverse La Mer (Euro-tunnel in this case)  I feel I’ve come home…….it’s never been my home, my French is tres crap and I have no French connections at all but it still feels so right.  I will go to great lengths to get my French fix, lies, bribery, threats, self-denial, gross exaggeration – there is no level I won’t sink to in order to secure my crossing to France. This year had even involved various levels of threats to the passport office finally culminating in tears of despair after they’d made a monumental cock up; we finally received the new passport on the morning we travelled! Thanks to family, friends and the UKCS guys for seeing me through one of my darkest hours.   Therefore on a sunny dawn late August we arrived with very little money (lie number one = “it’s fine hon, we can afford it”) and a whole lot of  joy in my heart – Bruce was snoring loudly in the passenger seat so I’m not entirely sure he felt same elation.  Perhaps I should explain that we were child, or rather teenager free and Bruce was asleep because he’d been doing a gig in London while I slept for a few hours at his sisters house in Rochester before we caught the 5am euro-tunnel-train type thing.

We had endured a wet, miserable summer so far but this weekend the temperature had started to soar and as Fugly chugged along the troyescathedralmotorway, the heat increased.  The air-con still didn’t work, Bruce woke up in a sweat and the benefits of my 1.5 hours sleep were wearing off at an alarming rate.  As we pulled off at Troyes, in the now searing heat, the elation had turned into dehydration and our communication was reduced to a short, clipped bark, sometimes accompanied with a low growl and a cutting remark.  We parked close to the center of Troyes and found a square with some cafes, nice but not remarkable.  After we had sat and lapped up the atmosphere and the coffee we headed to another square with a market place where there was a stage and live music.  I love live music and outdoor concerts but I think tiredness and heat were starting to win the day and my energy levels were such that I couldn’t even be bothered to snap at Bruce in the usual tired and grouchy manner, not even a little snarl.  We started to walk back to the car when I spotted some medieval timber buildings around a corner………….and so began my love affair with Troyes and our holiday for real.

boat trip and france etc 040Troyes is the capital of the Aube department within the region of Champagne-Ardenne, south of Reims, on the road to Lyon.  Troyes history dates back to Roman times and includes Joan of Arc, wrangles and treaties with the English throne, a revolution or two and of course the obligatory Great Fire.  It’s location and annexing from Champagne caused uprisings as late as 1911 and resulted in the wine growers being granted permission to label sparkling wine from this region “Champagne”.  The French and their wine eh? This historical melting pot has resulted in some fine architecture, Troyes cathedral being a fine example.  Work started on the gothic cathedral in the 13th century and continued into the 16th century so it’s worth a look if only to honour the tenacity of the builders and craftsmen.

In medieval times the city was a bustling trade centre and gave its name to Troy Weight which is apparently a measurement for gold, as I have had no gold to weigh I am unfamiliar with this term. In 1524 the Great Fire destroyed the city bar one or two buildings.  All this history and drama serves to make Troyes an interesting place but what really floats my boat is the half-timbered houses that survive from the 16th century in the old town.  Their pretty pastel colours, crookedness and shabby chic authenticity is irresistible to me, I was drawn towards these buildings from a chance glimpse around a corner and soon a whole mini-town opened up before us.  Bruce, who is unmoved by boat trip and france etc 042inanimate pastel coloured buildings and generally doesn’t give a flying fig about history began to to take the tiniest bit of  interest as he caught a whiff of French cooking.  The lunch time menu was being prepared in the numerous restaurants situated in rustic twisted buildings with their tables pouring out onto the narrow sunlit streets flowing effortlessly, like wine, from building to pavement.

boat trip and france etc 043We stopped for lunch, rude not to really.  The restaurant was called Rouge et Noir (ranked 12 out of 111 on TripAdvisor) and we opted for a table in the sunshine against the church wall.  I was so impressed to find a vegetarian option on the menu, in fact I had to look twice and then ask Bruce to confirm that we were in France, meat eater central, and that I had found a restaurant with a vegetarian option.  Slightly taken aback I perused the menu while Bruce ordered drinks.  I opted for the vegetarian platter and the drinks arrived –  Orangina for me (driving and a total lightweight) and the most delicious red wine I have ever tasted for Bruce.  As we sat in the sunshine supping our drinks I watched the stress lines visibly dissapear from Bruces face, his dimples began to reappear and the smiles became more regular.  He was positively elated when he put the first boat trip and france etc 044mouthful of food into his mouth, the whole dining experience including the service couldn’t have been bettered. Viva la France!  The food, the drink, the location, the weather and the ambience combined to provide that perfect holiday feeling expressed with a long, deep sigh of contentment.

Our intention was to motor as far south as possible and find a campsite by 5pm however, after a long, lazy lunch in the sunshine the thought of getting back into a hot car with no air con was about as appealing as eating live cockroaches.  We checked our phones for the latest weather which basically said we were in for a couple of days of hot sunny weather then back to the miserableness that had been our summer in the UK, at which point I suggested we went to Lac D’Orient, a few miles east of Troyes.  We sauntered back to the car hand in hand, the stress and worries of home finally banished and 1 weeks worth of time for each other to look forward to……………

Day 4 – Shipwrecks, Cider & Seals………..

So where do you take 3 teenage boys and 1 almost teenage girl on a rainy day in Cornwall that costs next to nowt?  I scoured the tourist info brochures concentrating purely on the price, not looking at what the actual attraction was, which is why we nearly ended up at Billy Bears Fun House and Ball Pool! Sadly indoor play area days are long gone but I was attracted to the Shipwreck museum in Charlestown, surely that would capture a little interest in a teenage soul?  With the rain still beating down we arrived at the Museum, it cost a little over £20 for all 6 of us using a combination of discount vouchers, student union card and a small white lie.  Ollie and Bets posed on a lifeboat with as much enthusiasm as they could muster and we walked through the underground tunnels to the main museum.  Bruce and I found it fascinating and could have wandered round looking at the displays for a good few hours but the teenage mutant lot whizzed round and hung out by the exit, although I couldn’t see them I knew they were there, I could feel their “I’m bored” hormones permeating the thick stone walls between us and them.  I blame myself, I’d promised them a visit to a Cider Farm and the prospect of an illicit drink of Cornwalls best scrumpy was a far more attractive proposition to them.

On to Healey’s Cornish Cyder Farm for a taste of their finest.  To be honest there isn’t a lot to see here unless you take the distillery tour which is about £5.00 per adult but it does have a nice cafe, shop and some big shire horses.  Despite it being free admission we spent a small fortune having a pasty in the cafe (8/10 better than yesterday was the verdict) and buying scrumpy.  George bought some mustard (don’t ask) with his spending money and declared he’d very much enjoyed the cyder farm.  Just being in an alcoholic environment was enough to lift the spirits of even the most disinterested teen but they could only stand and watch as Bruce and I sampled the delights of Healey’s finest at the tasting table (I had to stop after 3 tasters as I was driving and I’m a lightweight when it comes to drinking).  We hiccupped our way back to Fugly The Car and set off for Newquay.

I have never been to Newquay before so when we stumbled upon the Harbour pictured above, with the sun now shining and blue sky starting to dominate the sky, I knew I had found a favourite place.  We entered the harbour a slightly unconventional way by steep stone steps and across rocks, whereupon the kids found a cave and we suggested they go and explore it whilst we explored the prospects of a coffee overlooking the harbour.  We found The Boathouse, a restaurant right on the harbour beach, and with the vain hope that it may be a couple of hours before we needed to call Cave Rescue we settled down to a peaceful, relaxing cup of coffee at a reasonable price in the sunshine watching the boats a bobbing.  It wasn’t long before the peace was shattered, cave explored, the teen tribe had decided to dig holes in the sand (fast becoming a favourite past-time on this holiday) right below where we were drinking coffee, they had a whole beach but no, they needed an audience for their hole digging and we were the chosen two.  We tried to ignore them, refused to “look after” jumpers, cameras, phones, mustard and a pair of socks but eventually we were surrounded by a jumble sale of belongings.  I tried not to look or engage with them but I was soon laughing at their exploits and clicking away with the camera.  They are a totally bizarre bunch but I do love em all. And as for the seal referred to in the title, we met him on our wander around the harbour walls following a boat in hoping for a fish.

Day 2 – Flushing Beach

We awoke to a grey sky and Bruce being stuck to the plastic mattress, we had luckily managed to go through the night without peeing the bed which surely deserved a gold star on our star chart.  Our plans today involved meeting friends L & S for a day on the beach, we had been promised some sunshine although the low, grey clouds and sea mist told a different story. 

After waking the platoon and issuing rations we left the barracks for Penryn where L & S live, I was being ever the optimist and spotting glimmers of sunshine however my hoodwinking came to an abrupt end as the rain began to fall just as we arrived at L & S’s house.  The rain passed quickly and the clouds began to break and as we sat on the decking drinking coffee we decided that by the time we got to the beach we would definitely be needing the sun tan lotion.  And so to Flushing beach via Argos at Falmouth where I had been given information that a Lumix camera had been reduced from over £100 to £49 and as my lovely Mum and Dad had given us a bit of spending money before I left I decided to treat us (meaning me) to a new camera – it’s a fab little thing so big thanks to Mum and Dad.  We also dropped in to Trago Mills, a shop full of low quality, cheap everythings to buy an SD card, a £3.99 watch for Beta and a dressing gown for George as well as a pair of flip flops for Bruce.  We now had all the necessities for a day at the beach – except towels! 

We arrived at Flushing beach to the sun shining and the sea sparkling.  The kids immediately got to work digging big holes for no reason whatsoever and Ohm and H arrived to assist in the “dig a great big hole” project.  I got busy with my camera, see results below, taking pictures of the few bits of blue sky I could find to give the illusion of being on a “summer” holiday.  We spent a lovely hour eating our pack up (reduced sandwiches from Tesco Express – Tuna & Sweetcorn 15p, bargain!) talking to L & S and watching the world go by until L got a phone call to say his Mum had fallen and possible broken her ankle so they had to rush off to take her to hospital (fortunately it was only a twisted ankle, painful though).  With no friends to play with Bruce and I left the kids digging a hole and headed for The Royal Standard for a cup of their lovely coffee.  We arranged to collect the kids 1 hour later which we did and shoved various sandy, soaked bodies (no towels remember) into Fugly and back to the barracks. 

Having attempted to cook a meal for six using 1 small oven tray the night before, we decided to have Fish & Chips for dinner that evening and went into the village of Mullion.  Here we found The Galleon Fish & Chip shop and what a find, the service was friendly and efficient and they serve freshly caught local fish in their crispy home made batter, Bruce thoroughly enjoyed the Pollock.  If you’re ever in the area in need of fish and chips this is the place to go, they have a small restaurant to.

Suitably full we returned to our nissan hut and went to bed eager to be up and moving on to our new destination the following morning.

Flushing Beach July 2012

Blue sky at Flushing July 2012

The Lovely Lakes & Boozy Blackpool – Part 2

And so to Blackpool, the saucy seaside capital of the UK and perhaps the world. As we made our way along the M6, leaving the magnificence of the Lakes behind us, the rain painting the world grey and the windscreen wipers giving a reluctant squeak every time they were obliged to swish, we wondered whether this was perhaps a bit of a mistake. We prepared ourselves for a tacky B & B and greasy breakfast, we encouraged each other to believe that this was “just a bit of fun” and we cheered ourselves up with the thought of gatecrashing the Soul Weekender on at the Hilton in Blackpool (Hilton and Blackpool in the same sentence just doesn’t sound right). We had just about convinced ourselves that leaving a roaring log fire behind and spectacular scenery was a good idea when we arrived, parked the car and were nearly blown off our feet by the wind. We walked along the front at a 45 degree angle bracing ourselves against the wind, ignoring the squally rain looking for a half decent looking B & B. Bruce went into a Hotel to find out the price – £75 pppn, er no I don’t think so. We went back to the car and that’s when we spotted The Hotel Babylon.

Immediately our expectations of shabby B & B in Blackpool were blown right out of the window; the reception was immaculate and brightly decorated and David greeted us warmly and offered us the Babylon Suite for £60 B & B for both of us. As we walked up the stairs I did wonder about the name of the Hotel and whether we would find a bedroom with swingers gadgetry and gizmos, alas I was to be disapointed. The room was spotless with a sumptuous bed, a tiny but perfectly formed en-suite, coffee making paraphernalia stashed away in a caddy, two chairs in the bay window and even two bathrobes. There was even an ice-bucket and two wine glasses, the perfect romantic hideaway. Not a hint of seediness or swinging, unless you count the box of tissues by the mirror. The bedroom furniture was modern cherry wood and all matching and the walls and carpet were neutral. The bedroom was as good, if not better than any 4 star hotel and we let out a sigh of relief and even a hint of a smile – maybe this wasn’t such a bad idea after-all.

Time to hit the town and head to Restaurant Tiramisu, an Italian restaurant recommended by David. It was packed but we managed to get a table and we were then entertained by the waiter/restaurant owner who had a few tricks up his sleeve. It is an authentic Italian Restaurant and our meal was excellent, as was the wine and the Limoncello. Waiter man bought over coffee and did his party trick of pretending to trip with a full cup of coffee, the cup was in fact empty. We started chatting to a gay couple who had a holiday home in Blackpool, even though it was only an hour to where they live. They explain that whatever entertainment you could wish for was here in Blackpool and as we chatted I began to understand the attraction of Blackpool; it is truly cosmopolitan with a great mix of people and even in the depth of winter it has a beating heart.

We felt full and happy (drunk) so we left and decided to go and dance off the delicious puddings at the Soul Suite, a pub that plays, you guessed it, soul music. We decided against gate crashing the Hilton as it was too far away and we were weighed down with food and wobbling with drink. We entered the pub with a flourish, like John Travolta and Olivia entering the dance competition and twisted and shimmied our way to the bar. They were playing old soul, Motown and a bit of northern, all good but a bit of new soul wouldn’t have gone amiss. We requested Otis and Carla Thomas singing Tramp and when the first notes hit the speakers we took to the dance floor and promptly cleared it. Oblivious of anyone else we did some ‘moves’, mouthed the words and acted out the song. We were quite obviously the best thing to hit Blackpool for a long time, until we woke up the next morning and peed ourselves laughing at what utter nutters we must have looked! We left the Soul Suite in the wee hours and staggered back to our hotel room for a bit of sauciness – oh er Mrs!

The following morning we made our way downstairs for a a lovely breakfast including freshly prepared fruit salad. A little worse for wear we packed and left for our journey home. What a weekend!

Did we enjoy Blackpool – yes! Would we go back? Yes, out of season. Would we go back to Hotel Babylon? Absolutely!!!!

The Lovely Lakes & Boozy Blackpool – Part 1

Happy New Year! After a very busy and hectic Christmas and New Year, Bruce and I decided we needed a break, just the two of us. As relationships go, ours had got lost somewhere between the logistics of raising 3 teenage boys(and a part-time pre-teenage girl) and the demands of work.  We usually go to Malta, visit family and hang out in Paceville, bar & club central of Malta, and despite being the oldest swingers in town we have a great time.  This year our finances couldn’t stretch to that or much else to be honest, so when I received my daily Groupon e-mail offering a 2 night stay in the Lake District, bed and breakfast with 1 night dinner thrown in, I jumped at the chance.

 

That is how we ended up one Thursday afternoon at the Lancrigg Country House Vegetarian Hotel & Restaurant near Grasmere, Cumbria.  On approaching the Hotel from the single track valley road you are met with a pleasant country manor with curvy bay windows and rounded chimneys.  The views across the Easedale Valley are gorgeous and the setting quiet and secluded.  William Wordsworth and his wife spent many times here with their friend, I believe her name to be Elizabeth, who then owned the house.  The owner was quite something, she was involved with prison reforms, womens welfare and freedom of slaves as well as having some distinguished friends, Darwin and Dickens included. It is these connections and the setting that attracts people to the house, the staff informed us many literary people came to stay however it was mainly Grouponers there during our stay.

 

The interior is cosy, a bit dated and shabby but the atmosphere is so warm and relaxed and the staff so professional and welcoming you hardly notice the decor. We enjoyed a fabulous vegetarian meal; as a vegetarian myself I could be biased but Bruce, a carnivore, thoroughly enjoyed his pumpkin and cashew nut pie. We spent the evening in the lounge, with a roaring fire and glass of wine, talking to other guests and generally putting the world to rights. As we talked I thought of a time when Dickens visited or Wordsworth perhaps sat in this very room discussing issues of the day – prison reform (criminal justice), emancipation of slaves (racism and the recent Stephen Lawrence verdict) womens rights (we didn’t get round to that one but I did exercise my right to have another glass of wine). We slumped into our comfortable bed, knowing that breakfast would be served until 10am and had a fabulous nights sleep.

The next day, after a scrummy breakfast, we took a short walk through the wooded grounds of Lancrigg and into the valley. The weather was moving in so we did a circular back to the hotel and decided to take Fugly the Car on a whistle-stop tour of the Lakes. First to Buttermere, one of my favourite parts of the area which you reach through a bleak and mountainous pass. We paid £3.00 for the car park and walked the short distance to the Lake shore and waterfall. It felt like we were about to be engulfed by the mountains as the black low-level clouds and rain moved in. We quickly walked back to the cafe and dried out enjoying a coffee, Bruces trainers did not dry out though so he spent the rest of the day in his ‘posh’ shoes. There are two hotels here in the middle of nowhere; The Bridge which I’ve stayed at a couple of times and adored, especially tea and cakes at 4pm after a day out on the fells and The Fish Inn which used to do a very good value lunch in the bar, both are closed early January so we were thankful for the newly opened cafe.

Onwards to Keswick to search the charity shops for a pair of trainers unsuccessfully but I can highly recommend the Oxfam shop and Bruce bought a scarf from Cancer Research. I’ve spent many hours in Keswick but it was throwing it down and I didn’t intent to spend hours this time however I couldn’t resist the over priced but very old-fashioned sweet shop. We bought my Dad some fudge and then ate it, whoops sorry Dad! Car Park cost £3.00.

To Hawkshead where they have car park cameras which send an automatic fine if you don’t get your ticket within 15 minutes – cost £3.00. There’s an option to use a credit/debit card but after several attempts with various cards, no success so we nipped across the road to the cafe. The staff informed us of the Big Brother cameras and Bruce went outside in the pouring rain again to a mostly deserted car park to pay another bloody £3.00 so we could have a coffee and look around Hawkshead. The coffee was lovely but the weather was not so we headed for the ferry to Bowness along an increasingly flooded road on a dark January evening – I love a bit of drama. The ferry takes 5 mins maximum and cuts out the need to drive around the bottom of Windermere – cost £4.60. The rain was relentless so we took shelter in a bar and chatted to a couple from Kent and had a few drinks. We had spotted that Jacksons Bistro did an early evening special set price menu but by the time we left the bar we had missed the dead line, we went in any way. The food was bistro style and delicious, after 2 days of Veggy grub Bruce thoroughly enjoyed his duck. We left and wound our way back to the hotel, avoiding the floods along a dark and deserted road.

The next morning the rain was now a fine drizzle and the wind had got up (weather wind just to be clear although all that vegetarian food….). We had breakfast and set off to party in Blackpool. To be continued……

Day 9 – St Tropez and packing away!

We decided to leave the south and start heading home on Monday because our money was fast running out.  I had under budgeted by a

Busy striking camp!

longway and for several reasons, the euro exchange rate being the main culprit plus the high costs of food and pitches on the Med, we now needed to head home.  We packed the kids off down to the beach and started to strike camp, taking down the pup tents and generally sorting out.  Around lunch time we stopped for an ice-cold beer at the bar and strangely enough for the first time all holiday we relaxed completely, so much so that when the kids returned they found us both chilling and relaxing in the sun enjoying the peace.

The peace didn’t last long so we set off for St Tropez using the back road to Ste Maxime and the usually horrific coast road around the bay, I say usually because for the first time in years we sailed along the coast road, through Port Grimaud, Cogolin and into St Tropez with hardly any traffic at all – strange!  We parked in the port and had a wander around the town and the harbour and then stopped for a drink.  What was i thinking?  Stopping for a drink in St Tropez is like filling your car up with liquid gold – very expensive! 4 colas and 2 coffees cost 28 euro, almost £28 at todays exchange rate.  I had quite obviously taken leave of my senses and we returned to the car before we became stranded in St Tropez with no money for diesel home. To add insult to injury the route home was as jam-packed as ever and we crawled along among the Ferraris’ and Bentleys in our little old Fugly, they were so obviously impressed with our daisy stickers!

Note to self:Take a flask or remortgage when next visiting St Tropez.

Day 8 – Le Dramont

  Le Dramont is situated near Agay on the otherside of St Raphael from St Aygulf.  I have camped here a few times and decided today was the day we’d all go down to the beach there and spend the day snorkelling and clambering over the rocks.

Just before the Campeole campsite is a free public car park leading to the public beach.  The beach has toilets, a snack shack and life guards.  You can set up camp in the shade of the trees on the grassy bit or pitch your sun shade on the sandy strip of beach or just camp out on the pebbles and rocks.  We went first to a rocky bit of beach and later moved to the shade under the trees.  I like this beach because it’s a bit more interesting than some, there is a small island and boats are often moored up in the shelter of the cove; snorkelling is good fun around the rocks as is a spot of rockpooling.  The kids all put on their sea shoes and started clambering around the rocks and snorkelling.  Later in the day Ollie and Beta spotted a few jelly fish ad spent the next hour or so tracking them in the sea, Ollie even managed to avoid getting stung which is a first.

We spent a pleasant few hours on the beach, about Bruces limit and then returned to camp.  I wanted to go into the village but some occupants of the car were being miserable so I just took the least two miserable beings with me and dropped the others off at camp.  We then went into St Aygulf and sat at a beachside bar eating ice-cream and watching the world go by.  We had decided that we would eat out tonight as a treat so I looked at the prices in the restaurants on the way back to the car, I found one considerably cheaper on the main road between the beachside and the main village, unfortunately I’ve forgotten what it was called.

We all returned later and enjoyed a main course, drinks and wine for 6 of us for 83 euro, which wasn’t too bad a price but a little bit reckless considering our money was fast running out.  Of course no day goes by without a little bit of drama in our family and today was no exception.  As we sat eating our meal a Golden Labrador  that we had seen earlier came sniffing by.  It was obvious she had just had pups but she looked neglected, hungry and lost.  This is where the drama begins because a few members of our party wanted to take her home!! The restaurant gave us the number of the police, who were completely useless and gave me a telephone number so quickly that I hadn’t time to write it down, then they hung up.  We fed her some biscuits and cheese we had in the car and gave her some water and then I turned into the wicked witch of the north and made a decision – we couldn’t take her back to camp or home in case she was suckling puppies, she seemed to know the area and the local people and police were best placed to help her, she looked thin but not emaciated so I said we had to leave her.  I stand by my decision but may have lost a million brownie points – I hope she’s OK.