Biarritz/La Plage d’Ondres

We finally made it over to Biarritz, which didn’t actually take too long and was a nice scenic drive, to find a really cool city with a young buzzing vibe. The kind of place I would have loved to holiday at when I was working and bringing in some decent money. Turning up in a van in my shorts and a tee shirt that could do with a wash didn’t have the same feel. There’s a mix of young professionals and tourist all nicely dressed and enjoying the many restaurants and bars, not quite what we’re looking for on this trip also we have security issues when we park the van up in city environments such as this, so we head for the outskirts to try and find a quieter spot where the van will blend in better with the surroundings. Looking forward to catching a train back into the centre of Biarritz though, I’m sure we can spend a day or so exploring, or failing that sat in a nice beach side café/bar.

We’ve found a car park on the beach at la Plage d’Ondres, that has a designated section for campers and motorhomes. They charge 8 Euros a night, but have really good facilities. There’s a few toilets, a cold only beach shower, Wi-Fi at the local bars, water top up and electric plug in point.

There’s an Intermarche just down the road (driving, or cycling) and you are right on a very popular surf beach. This is a great find for campervans. I will be pleased if this saves just one person the trouble of having to hunt around for decent spots to park, as I would love find other people’s blogs for camp spots. It can be quite exhausting hunting for a spot to camp in a new place, as you have to weigh up security, facilities, is it worth spending time in this place etc.

 

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We feel like we’re starting to need some purpose to the trip, just bumming around and hanging out at the beach is fun, but it’s not fulfilling. There’s definitely a hole that needs to be filled, but we’re not quite sure what to fill it with yet. Maybe we need to utilise our free time better, we could possibly put more emphasis on learning languages, or maybe we need to just keep on the move, are we just loitering in one place too long.

 

Lac de Payolle

Campervan Heaven, another must if you have a campervan or motorhome. This is a manmade lake up in the mountains. Starting from the town of Arreau, take on the twisty mountain roads, dodge the crazy Frenchies hurtling down in their banged-up Citroens, take a left at the small gathering of bars and shortly you will discover the lake. There’s a small retirement gathering of motorhomes near the road in, put your head down and drive straight on by. When it gets a little forresty, turn right and you will find a river that you can park up alongside. This is where I reached a milestone in my transition back into a caveman, and had my first river bath (Splashing about ankle deep in what could be a terrible lynx advert) I could spend some time here. Cooking dinners out under the stars and utilising your surroundings, (chilling the evenings bottle of wine in the river) we were going back to basics and learning to cope in a wilder setting. With food rations running low, we woke up to a simple breakfast of Weetabix, banana and honey, and a pot of tea of course. We were both harbouring pretty strong cravings for the fresh croissants that we had become accustomed to, but content to go without we didn’t want to leave our little oasis just yet. What happened next was nothing short of a miracle. Just as we sat down to chomp through three Weetabix each, when we were rudely interrupted by a van driving past honking his horn. Upon further inspection, the van had boulangerie written down the side and seemed to be stopping. In a mountain range, parked up on a riverbank deep within the Pyrenees a heavily tanned man with a strong local accent popped up out of nowhere and answered my prayers.

 Simple life or not, I’m getting me a pain au chocolat.

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The van was almost taken over this evening by a heard of cows that suddenly descended on the van. They came from nowhere, one had a cow bell attached that gave a dull clang every step, it felt as if an army of the dead where marching through, but then you stick your head out the window and they’re just cows. Quite freaky on a misty night when you’re parked up in the middle of a forest on a mountain.

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Reserve Naturelle Du Neouvielle/Lac d’Oredon/Lac de Cap Long/Lac de l’Oule

Not really knowing the area, we have a loose plan of heading over towards Biarritz, but as that’s a good five-hour drive from our current location we wanted to break it up and find some spots in between. From the recent success of Puivert and its swimming lake we decided to pick out some lakes on the map and head there. Just picking random locations on a map can be fairly costly in petrol money if you get it wrong, but on this occasion, we lucked out.

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If you’re into hiking or areas of outstanding natural beauty this place is a must. It’s a road that will lead you, literally, to the top of a mountain. It’s pretty heavy going on the clutch, but I got a pikey Transit up there, so no excuses. Every turn is almost breath taking, and when you reach the first lake you will be in awe of what is in front of you. Keep going up to the very top and you will reach the Lac de Cap Long. To our amazement there was a bar/restaurant up there, so first things first I ordered a cold pint and while the owner sat on the wall outside and played her accordion, we paused to try and take in where we were sitting.

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There’s plenty of room for Campers up here, with a viewpoint parking area, and a designated camper park up surrounding the lake. Almost mid-summer and we’re parked next to Ice, filling up our water tanks direct from the fresh mountain supply and needing to dig out the trusty cable knit jumper. We spent the night up there, and awoke to another scorcher of a day. We had what can only be described as the snobbiest breakfast, Earl grey made with fresh glacial water, and Weetabix.

After breakfast, we planned a little hike around one of the lakes, so we dropped down to the first lake, only to find everyone cramming cars on to the narrow roads leading up to a large empty pay and display carpark. At the top of a mountain? I was a little outraged, and had a good old man grumble for the next 30 minutes as we drove off in protest. A little further down is a good parking area complete with a composting toilet, that you can share with a little green lizard. This was the starting point for a few hiking trails, which catered for all abilities. We opted for the three-hour round trip to the Lac de l’Oule. Without doubt this has to be one of the most stunning walks I’ve ever taken. Crystal clear waters and mountainous views, with a good work out on the legs.

 

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We met a young Ukrainian/Swiss family on the way back that were doing a similar trip to ourselves, they had just come back from driving around Spain, and were heading back along the south and up through Switzerland. It’s inspiring to meet people from a completely different background and upbringing that are on the same wavelength, that also needed to break free and live a simpler life for a bit. This gave me a little conformation that I’m not just having an early midlife crisis, and I’m on the right path.

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Planes, Trains & Automobiles

Inconsiderately people keep on getting married. I guess this is a good excuse to get home and check in with the fam. This turned into a really exciting trip home, with a short whirlwind tour of London, a brief spell at home in Bournemouth to honour our RSVP, then to top it off with a house sit down in Devon.

It’s a strange feeling booking a return flight to England, becoming a tourist in your own home.

Colin, an Ex-pat that I had done a little labouring for gave us a lift to Carcassonne airport. As a side note, it seems the whole of France are renovating their homes, so there’s always a little cash work if you’re fit and don’t mind wielding a shovel for a few mornings. The best way to find this kind of work is purely by talking to people. Everyone knows everyone in small villages and get in with an Ex-pat community and you will find work.

Wapping in London was quite a nice find. It’s right on the river, with a good mix of Hipster (so you get a good coffee), and clean. We timed our stay to coincide with exceptional weather, which permitted some sightseeing along the Thames. Meeting up with Eyder (the Del boy of Brazil, currently residing in London) who always knows a guy, was a great way to pass an evening. Rocca in south Kensington do a great pizza for around £9, bargain for the location, then a quick stroll around Kensington gardens before checking out the Rapha Nocturne event in St Pauls.

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I was excited about the next day, as we had planned a trip to the bike shed in Shoreditch. A biker hangout, with a café racer vibe. I had waited for around 2 years for an opportunity to get here, and boy was I disappointed. It was just another fake money machine, so that people who aren’t remotely interested in bikes can sit in a cool themed café/restaurant and be on trend. Annoyingly people seem to take something genuine, and commercialise the crap out of it until it’s unrecognisable and loses its original charm. In short – selling out.

My mate Dave took us for a walk around Hampstead Heath, giving me time to get over the mornings let down. Drinking beers later on, he invented the Go Pro monocle mount:

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Time to smarten myself up and shed my hobo alter ego, with a quick haircut and shave I now resemble a respectable human being and can rightfully parade myself around a Bournemouth wedding. Watching the day’s events unfold in comfort and without responsibility is the best way to be at a wedding, although always one to muck in, I find that I’m put to good use at the rehearsal on the previous evening. I get ordered up some ladders to create a pretty flower archway, with cougars circling below, I’m lucky to escape with my shorts on. 

I think it’s fair to say Verity scrubs up far better than myself. (2nd from left)

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France has spoilt me for wine, I now find the vinegar we drink in England makes me pull that funny face, when you try to appear like you’re enjoying something, similar to when you first start drinking beer and you’re trying to impress your mates. Nevertheless, I continued on the cheap plonk as at some point I will be expected to get up and dance, and having fewer inhibitions makes this process easier, especially when you dance like a baboon. (Proof)

On to Devon to house sit a small holding that is also ran as a B&B. This was a chance to catch up and chill in a quaint little Devon village.

It was an exhausting day returning to the van. A lift off mum, two trains, some tube stops, a flight, a bus and a taxi and we were back were we had left the van, parked up in a residential village. We were a little concerned about leaving him for security reasons, but he was fine. I’m sure it’s been the hot topic with the local French neighbourhood watch. The French don’t seem to have any problems with just sitting and glaring at you from a bench, as if you’ve offended them to their core, or just slapped them with a wet fish.

Back home in the van, and the journey continues.

Carcassonne (Attempt One)

Hopped on the train to Carcassonne, only to find it was hoofing it down all day. We left our mountain hideout, which seems to have it’s own micro climate and ventured into the nearby city. The train from Quillan is only one Euro each way, but be sure to check the timetable as it alternates between trains and buses. We were just glad when the train turned up. The station was closed and shuttered up, the tracks were covered in  overgrown grass and wild flowers, it looked very much abandoned. We heard the alarm for the nearby level crossing so this gave us hope, then quite a modern little train came scuttling along the tracks and pulled up outside. Suddenly a wave of locals started to appear to board the train, as if the town had woken up and they had all crawled out from underneath their stones. We’ve found that a lot so far, especially during the two hours that France goes to sleep in the afternoon, but even on a Saturday, you can walk through towns at certain times and it will be dead, not a soul alive except a few cats hanging out in doorways, all you can hear is the noise from TV’s coming from the windows above. Everyone seems to shut themselves away from the world for a couple of hours in the afternoon.

We boarded the train, it was very modern and comfortable, and enjoyed the scenery as we passed vineyards, sections of the canal du midi and the odd quaint little town. This all started to change as we reached Limoux. The surrounding areas started to look more cluttered and run down, passing a few hideous concrete blocks of flats, you could tell we were approaching a city. This is where a strange young chap, in purple hippy trousers and with what looked like a stick on beard, got on the train. Walking down the isle still singing and playing one of those tiny guitars, sure as damn it he came and sat directly opposite me. These chairs were not really laid out very well, and if you both had knees you would find it uncomfortable, unless you were quite friendly with each other. He was a nice chap, he shared all sorts of smells with us on the remainder of the train ride.

We arrived in Carcassonne to find torrential rain. We tried to venture out of the station during a brief period of mild down pour, only to find the polished granite floor that was scattered throughout Carcassonne is lethal in flip flops when it’s wet, and the weather was not going to let up. We decided to get on the next train returning to Quillan and cut our losses. No smelly hippies this time, but there were some loud Americans.

We never made it to the Medieval town, which is around a 20 minute walk from the station, so we will have to try again another day.