A Travellerspoint blog

February 2010


We spent the next two weeks of our winter travels with Judy and Rob in Ebford. Once again it was "re-" time with the kind cousins. Time needed to recoup, reorganise, and prepare ourselves, plus repack the van in preparation for the next 3 month’s work in Ireland. Temperatures were generally just above or below freezing, and we had another light snowfall.
Rob and Judy's cottage

Rob and Judy's cottage

David discovered first-hand the danger of “black ice” on the road outside Rob and Judy's cottage when he slipped and landed with an ignominious plonk on his bum! We decided he must need "grounding", so he got into the soil by working on Judy’s raspberry beds, as she was still recovering from a broken arm.

On the weekend we visited the Kruger family near Truro in Cornwall, where they've been living and working for the past 18 years. It seems forever ago since David and Anton got up to mischief at Medical School together. Apart from the arrival of sons on both sides, little else has changed! Kay produced some wonderful Cornish dinners, including grass-fed roast beef, an instant addiction!
They live in an old, granite stone farmhouse, which they have been renovating for the past 18 years. As Anton and his sons are keen surfers, they are ideally situated with North and South Cornish coastlines readily accessible to them.
Anton and Justin checking out the surf

Anton and Justin checking out the surf

We failed to find any surf, but after admiring several stretches of the rugged Cornish coastline, we settled for a chilly walk over the cliffs from Chapel Porth towards St Agnes to the ruins of the Wheal Coates tin mine. The engine house sits high on the cliff, while the mine shaft reaches down to sea level and below.
IMG_1813.jpgIMG_1809.jpgAnton and Kay

Anton and Kay

Cornwall is dotted all over with similar relics of a bygone, very active mining era.

The next day we strolled around the pretty town of St Ives.
We stopped in for a pint and some hot chips in a quay-side pub, before heading back for our last night with the Krugers.
Monday dawned crisp and clear, and we set off to explore Falmouth, before crossing the Fal river on the King Harry ferry. It is propelled slowly across the river by clanking winches drawing on 2 fixed chains, and is the oldest chain ferry in existence. It is also the most expensive in relation to the short distance [£4.50].
IMG_1847.jpgDavid up on the bridge, assisting the skipper!

David up on the bridge, assisting the skipper!

Sandi opted to stay in the van for the short (and chilly) crossing

Sandi opted to stay in the van for the short (and chilly) crossing

Many large ships park in the river for long periods, waiting for better times

Many large ships park in the river for long periods, waiting for better times

We crossed over to the Roseland peninsula, and looked around the pretty village of St Mawes. .
St Mawes castle looking across the Percuil river

St Mawes castle looking across the Percuil river

The view towards Falmouth and Pendennis Castle

The view towards Falmouth and Pendennis Castle

On the way back to Exeter, we found some healthy looking veg at an "honesty stall" on the side of the road and stocked up with leeks [Judy's favourite] and curly-leaf cabbage.
Sandi admiring Brussel sprouts on the stalk

Sandi admiring Brussel sprouts on the stalk

Back in Ebford, we did a final sort-out and attic-stack [Judy and Rob kindly allow us to store what we don't need in their attic in between touch-downs]. During this time, we were actively communicating with Locumotion in Dublin, as David’s locum for the first week in Dublin fell through, and situations changed daily. It was very stressful and unsettling, as we could not finalise any accommodation arrangements until the job was secured, and many good accommodation deals on the internet fell through due to the constant delays. To add to the stress we had awful connectivity problems with our broadband, in spite of a £15 top-up, making accommodation searches a veritable nightmare of frustration for Sandi [who reckons she deserves a sainthood for her patience and self-control]. Eventually it all came together, with only 2 days to go, but Sandi managed to secure good accommodation for us at the 11th hour.
This caricature of David's grandfather, Charles, hangs in the bathroom

This caricature of David's grandfather, Charles, hangs in the bathroom

With the Irish Ferry booked, we drove for 4 hours up to Pembroke Dock in south Wales, encountering a snow shower on the way. We then crossed the sea for 4 hours, followed by an almost 3 hour drive in the dark up to Dublin, finally arriving exhausted at the Burlington Hotel at 21:30.

Posted by davidsandi 11:56 Archived in England Comments (0)


We both really enjoyed living in France. Contrary to popular opinion the people we interacted with while shopping were really polite and friendly and always wished one a “Bon journée”. The shopping experiences were good too; the village and street markets, although full of character, were a bit daunting unless one is able to express one’s desires fluently, but the supermarkets are superb.

Every small town seems to have at least one, Super-U, Hyper-U, Intermarché or E. LeClerc, and they are big and modern with an amazing variety and selection of high quality goods.
The variety and scope of dairy products is mind-blowing; all sorts of cheeses from cow, goat and sheep, yoghurts, creams, etc. The selection of French wines was dazzling and we bought many kinds for about €2 a bottle, notably an excellent Bordeaux red which we got on special for €1.85 a bottle! We made the mistake of trying a local Vendéen white, which was undrinkable, and went into the pot! Otherwise the quality was faultless; even the French Jaffa cakes were better than the British ones! Sandi is still besotted with her perky little plaid French cap, found in a street market in Montmartre many moons ago, which has been worth its weight in gold during the cold, frosty winter.

Although we didn’t come across many kids, the French children are generally polite, well-mannered and respectful of their elders. The teenagers seem not to indulge in binge-drinking as they do across the English Channel. There seems to be more emphasis on family life, with the whole family having lunch together between 12:00 and 14:30 every day, and grandparents forming an integral part of the extended family. Is this the secret to civilised society?

According to local British expats, since the Brits [rosbif] moved into the countryside in their droves, things have never been the same. Apparently they presented so many bounced cheques, that the government has now made them illegal - and they shop lift. Sandi was stopped at the check-out of the supermarket one day, and asked what she had in her Tesco shopping bag. We are sure she was questioned only because the cashier thought she was British - thanks to the distinctive shopping bag - [and therefore a potential shoplifter?] In spite of everything that could sour relations, the French seem to be very accommodating to the immigrants.

The countryside is quiet and the roads far less congested than the English ones. There are only 65 million people here spread out over a very large area. One gets an impression of lots more space, and property is still considerably cheaper than in England, in spite of the strength of the euro. The French do not have to pay any car tax or road tax, but one does pay heavily to use the toll roads.

The houses, generally, in the villages are very drab and dull in appearance, and they do not have gardens of any consequence - unlike the lovely British gardens we've seen - but some of the sunrises were breathtaking.
Apparently the French are more concerned with functionality and interior comforts, than worrying about how things appear externally - not a bad philosophy, holistically speaking. The houses are nearly all built in stone with terracotta tiles on the roofs. All the windows have shutters, which often remain closed all day, giving most villages a ghost-like and deserted appearance during winter.
We did drive along a very picturesque valley in the south of France, between Rodez and Figeac, where the villages were very attractive, but this seems not to be the rule. One evening we met a young man who is moving to Bordeaux to get his family out of congested and “nannified” England. He can afford a house with a garden near the beach for what he could sell his pokey, urban flat. Although, as a modern first-world country it is heavily regulated, it is not nearly as bad as the over-regulation in Britain. The French are not as burdened with being politically correct, but you do not mess with a policeman! The yobs in the UK could learn a bit of respect for these law-enforcers!

Unfortunately the French do not have the same respect for their animals. Like the Italians they are proud to wear fur coats in public. Hunting is a popular pastime, every Wednesday and Sunday, when most farmers can be heard shooting pheasant, hares etc. Only twice a year are they permitted to shoot deer and boar. We saw hundreds of cows up to their hocks in freezing mud in mid-winter when it would have been more humane for them to have barn shelter, or so we felt. One hardly ever sees a fence in the countryside, as the stock is contained by electrified wires around the fields [the use of which is apparently banned in the UK].
So one gets the sense of wide-open pastures, unlike the patch-work of stone walls and hedges covering England and Ireland. Nowhere did we see any animal rescue shelters, such as one finds often in England.

In spite of some shortfalls, there’s a lot going in favour of living in France, and we've missed living there many times since leaving. Vive la France!

Posted by davidsandi 10:06 Archived in France Comments (0)




We drove west along autostradas all the way across the Italian country-side to the French border, reaching it by dusk.
We had aimed to get to Nice by 19:00, which we did, so we pulled into an Aire [off-road comfort stop places] and warmed up some left-over chicken stew for supper. Not feeling tired yet, we decided to push on, otherwise we would have to drive 15 hours the next day to Vendèe. We drove until 23:00, then snuggled down for the remainder of the night in another Aire. But ...... about an hour into our slumbers we were rudely awoken by 3 men trying to break into the front of the van. Fortunately, when they saw us peer out behind the curtains, they jumped into their ready-and-waiting car [parked beside us] and sped away on the autostrada. Although it left us mighty spooked for the night we were very thankful that neither ourselves, or the van, was injured.

As it happened, we ended up driving for another 15 hours the next day, as we were determined not to sleep another night on the road. We decided to avoid toll roads, as it would have saved us only an hour, but would have burned another hole in our pockets, as toll fees are ridiculously expensive. We were however surprised to find ourselves climbing over several mountain passes, up to 1045m, in the Cevennes National Park, which was not clear from our map. There was plenty of snow on the ground, it was very misty, and rather hair-raising when looking at the looooong drops beside the winding roads.
At one point we went around in a circle, as David refused to follow Molly’s directions [our Satnav] when she wanted us to head south for 27km over some more passes, but eventually he relented when he realised it was the only way. We finally arrived at La Maison, Vendèe at 23:00, to the sight of Christmas lights twinkling in the house windows. So although exhausted, we were immensely relieved to be warm and with friends [2-legged and 4-legged]. What a treat to see Max, Minnie and Claudette, the fine felines, again.
Bob and Bear have been very welcoming and provided us a soft place to fall, until the weather conditions improve such that we can cross the Channel back to the UK. It has been a time to catch up with our blog, watch birds and squirrels feeding, make some repairs to the cupboards in the van and take the cats for walks in the snow.
We were lucky enough to catch sight of 2 roe deer in the back garden at dusk one evening. Daily we look at the weather conditions in the UK on BBC 1; heavy snow-falls, sub-zero temperatures and black ice on the roads, causing severe survival conditions. Here in Vendèe we are having some light snowfalls and temps of -8 °C to +3 °C.
The cats tend to cramp one's computer space - but Sandi doesn't mind!

The cats tend to cramp one's computer space - but Sandi doesn't mind!

They also know that Bear's lap is really warm

They also know that Bear's lap is really warm

Claudette having her turn in the new cat bed

Claudette having her turn in the new cat bed

No opportunity to sun is wasted

No opportunity to sun is wasted

Bear, a great bird-lover, had erected a bird-feeding structure outside the kitchen window, and it was fascinating watching the colourful variety of visitors feeding on the sunflower seeds, peanuts, niger seeds and suet balls. She spent many hours each day cracking garden-harvested walnuts for her beloved birds - and the squirrel box wasn't forgotten either. We saw great tits, blue tits, marsh tits, nuthatches, green finches, chaffinches and a few gold finches who were attracted by the niger seed. And of course robins, blackbirds, thrushes and lots of LBJs.
Blue Tit

Blue Tit

Marsh Tit

Marsh Tit



We thoroughly enjoyed our visits with some English friends of Bob and Bear, Maggie and Robin, who have been farming in the area for the past 20 years. Robin showed us a 1936 wood-frame truck he had bought in Paarl and shipped back to France, still bearing its original CJ licence plate! We walked around their pond which was frozen as solid as we felt. Brrrrrrrrrrrrr!

Bob found an abandoned beehive in the snow, and managed to extract several bottles of honey from the comb.
Sandi relishing the thought of eating her huge pomegranate - a New Year's treat bought at a Venetian foodstall

Sandi relishing the thought of eating her huge pomegranate - a New Year's treat bought at a Venetian foodstall

Bob and Bear took us to Emmaus, which is an organisation that provides shelter and work for disadvantaged people. David bought a French clown doll for 50 cents in the shop, but the bric-a-brac on sale outside was covered in snow and ice!
Bob and Bear on a shopping trip to Roche-sur-Yon

Bob and Bear on a shopping trip to Roche-sur-Yon

David enjoying a tarte au citron

David enjoying a tarte au citron

Many good meals were prepared and enjoyed in the big kitchen

Many good meals were prepared and enjoyed in the big kitchen

After two weeks the weather forecasts in the UK finally improved, and we could book a ferry crossing from St Malo to Portsmouth. Sadly we bade farewell to our friends, the cats and the warm snug. we drove up to St Malo in the rain, arriving at the ferry in the dark. After a good supper on board we tried to settle down on the recliner chairs we had booked for the night. In spite of having a wide-screen TV to ourselves, we had difficulty settling down as we were irritated by some rigging outside which clanged all night long.

Arriving in Portsmouth next morning, the sun was shining [yippee], as we drove down to Ebford. We noticed that all the snow and ice from the previous week had melted, and were awed, yet again, by the power and wonder of Nature.

Posted by davidsandi 09:08 Archived in France Comments (0)



Molly [our GPS] got us a bit lost due to a new highway near Venice which was not on her radar, so we had to double back a long way and eventually found Camping Fusina, the only campsite near Venice that stays open all year. It is also an expensive site, costing €31 per night, and most of the facilities are closed down for the winter. It is situated on the lagoon, directly across from Venice, but unfortunately the cloud and rain made the visibility very poor for the first three days.

We decide to take the bus into Mestré [mainland Venice] to buy an internet connection; but with very little English spoken, after 3 shops we still had not succeeded. By then it was 12:30 and everyone closed for lunch, but because it was New Year’s Eve, they were staying closed. We were feeling quite low, so we stopped in a bar for some Roquefort pasta for lunch. With a long weekend ahead we headed glumly back to the campsite, hoping to use their advertised internet facility, only to be told it was not operational in winter! With the rain and cold we are starting to feel the effects of S.A.D. [seasonal affective disorder].

It is New Year’s Eve and we are cold and damp and feeling very isolated from loved ones, so the last thing we feel like is cooking dinner. We settle for cold hard-boiled eggs and mayonnaise, and warm the cockles with some vino brulé which we make on the stove. We could hear lots of fireworks from Venice across the water, but could not see anything due to the heavy fog.

We woke up to another miserable day, and feeling rather dispirited, we forced ourselves to get going, but missed the bus into Venice by a minute. We then had to catch the water ferry across to the city, which was quicker but much more expensive.
Approaching Venice by vaporetto

Approaching Venice by vaporetto

Being Capodanno [New Year’s Day] we thought Venice might be rather quiet, especially with the soggy weather, but it was choc-a-bloc with tourists! Those “in the know” wore wellies or thigh-length waders, as the high tide water level was about 20cm in places. In popular thoroughfares, the authorities provided raised walkways, but in other areas one could not get past.
Shops were selling plastic-bag boots to gullible tourists for €15 a pair. In many places the water lapped way over the thresholds of doorways, which must make for very damp interiors! A lot of shop doorways were protected by raised metal sills, which were fixed firmly in place to stop the entry of water.
IMG_1688.jpgWater pump in action

Water pump in action

We explored the narrow alleys, waterways and bridges connecting the 117 islands that make up the city.
IMG_1599.jpgIMG_1603.jpgIMG_1597.jpgThe only gondolier we actually heard singing!

The only gondolier we actually heard singing!

There are hundreds of similar shops, selling mostly Murano glassworks, ornaments and jewellery, and exquisite masks in all shapes and sizes. Some shops specialise in creating extravagant ball-gowns and costumes for the famous Venetian balls.
IMG_1636.jpgIMG_1640.jpgBeautifully crafted marionettes

Beautifully crafted marionettes

Some of the mask shops sold various designs of the historical "beak" mask, and it was quite exciting for Sandi to be able to tell David the story behind it.
During the Black Death plague in the early 14th Century of the Middle Ages, which killed more than half the European population, doctors and those collecting the dead bodies wore masked hats fitted with a beak-like protrusion, which was filled with aromatic plant materials. The fragrant plants no doubt helped to protect the wearers from disease, as well as filter the stench of the dead and rotting bodies they had to remove. The story of the Medieval “beak” is well known in the history of aromatherapy, so it was delightful finding ceramic versions of it in the many fabulous mask shops in Venice.
Hope some of our past aromatherapy students see it on the blog, as the only picture available for their course notes was the line drawing.

We found delicious toasted focaccias for lunch at a street stall, but had to eat them on the trot, while window shopping, as eating them inside cost-a-plenty. Venice is not for shoppers-on-a-shoestring. When we wanted to have a pee, the sign on the WC demanded €1.50! That would have been €3 for both of us!
Holding on in the rain is not easy, but when we could hold on no longer, we found a coffee shop with a toilet, where we could buy hot chocolate, thaw out a bit and relieve ourselves, all for €3.40!

We joined the queue to go into the Basilico of San Marco. It is a beautifully ornate building on the outside, and covered in mosaics on the inside and outside.
The parquet stone floors have survived millions of feet walking over them, but still look perfect. We get annoyed when so many tourists blatantly ignore the warning-signs not to take photos, but in spite of the temptation, we didn’t take any. The precious stone-encrusted gold panel behind the high altar where St Mark’s remains are buried, is exquisite [and worth the extra €2] to behold.
We watched the Moors strike the hour on the clock-tower,
followed by the never-ending peal of bells from the top of the Campanile tower.
After a hot shower back at the camp-site, and some chicken stew for supper, we felt a good deal more positive at the end of the day. The gas heater warmed up the van well, but we were alarmed to see the carbon monoxide level climb after we switched the heater off! The gas aggravated Sandi’s headache so we have to be very circumspect in using the heater.

The next day, January 2nd, we set out early by bus for Mestré, so that we could use the internet café before going into Venice proper. This time we were much better prepared, as we wore our wellies, but it was still freezing cold and wet, wet, wet! Undaunted, we caught the no 1 vaporetto up the Grand Canal, getting off to explore the Rialto Bridge and surrounds.
The rain came down steadily, so out came a collage of umbrellas.
IMG_1668.jpgThe streets are indistinguishable from the canal at high tide!

The streets are indistinguishable from the canal at high tide!

The market really shows one what a dead chicken looks like!
The restaurant windows are far more appealing!
Then back onto the vaporetto chugging past an amazing array of water-side buildings displaying both grandeur and decay. If it wasn’t for the uniqueness of the canals, and the histories behind the place, it would be easy to mistake Venice for a slum. It is hard to be sure whether Venice is sinking, or flooded or both. It is incredible to think that these buildings have survived, intact, for hundreds of years, without collapsing into a damp, mouldy sludge.
We explored some more alleys and shops, punctuated by coffee/chocolate pit stops.
View across to the island of San Giorgio

View across to the island of San Giorgio

In the afternoon we took a boat trip to three islands. First stop was Murano, where we watched a master glass-blower tease out a molten ball of glass into a prancing horse in about 60 seconds.
The showroom had some exquisite glass sculptures, chandeliers and jewellery, but all very expensive, so we explored the shops instead.
Next stop was Torchello, which was the site of the earliest civilisation in Venice, with a church built in the 6th century.
It was quite a walk to get there from the boat, and still raining cats-and-dogs. So, after a cursory look around, we decided to head back to the dock, popping in to a cafe on the way for a hot chocolate drink, instead of freezing outside.
The last island we visited was Burano, with rows of brightly painted houses, which we were just in time to appreciate in the fading light. The sun came out just in time to set as we landed.
We were escorted into a lace shop, where we watched an old lady making lace. It takes seven women months to make each piece, as each woman contributes a different stitch.
The route back to Venice took much longer, as we stopped to hitch up a broken-down boat alongside, and towed it back to the pier ......... slowly!

We decided to treat ourselves to a 2-course tourist menu for supper in a restaurant near San Marco’s Piazza. They served the bare minimum they could legally get away with for our €13, and still charged a whopping €12 for a half bottle of vino casa. A complete rip-off, as the food and wine were both rather yukky. At 19:45 we began the long trek homewards. First a walk to the vaporetto jetty, then a longish wait for the boat, then a chug back up the Grand Canal for 45 minutes.
The Church of St Maria della Salute was all lit up

The Church of St Maria della Salute was all lit up

We had two bus rides ahead of us before getting back to home-sweet-[icebox]van. By now we were getting anxious that we would miss our connecting bus at Mestré station, as we did not want to stand waiting in the cold again. We managed to catch the bus from Venice to Mestré, just as it was leaving, and arrived at the station with 2 minutes to spare - feeling very relieved. When the connecting bus to the campsite failed to arrive, we realised that it must have left early, and set about trying to work out when the next one was due. Two more no.11 busses came and went, but were not headed for Fusina. It was bitterly cold and windy, and our feet felt like ice-blocks after 12 hours cramped into our boots. The waiting room at the station provided no relief as it was full of unsavoury characters who smoked, drank and chattered, and obviously “lived” there. We were very obviously unwelcome, as this was their turf, so we headed back outside again, preferring the fresh air to the fetid air. Eventually, more than 2 hours later, our bus came, and we dragged our frozen limbs on board, getting “home” to our cold, damp van by 23:00. It was during that long wait that we decided to abandon the next leg of our Italian trip and head for warm shelter with our new friends in France.

We were extremely cold during the night, in spite of wrapping up in many layers, and when we woke next morning, there was a layer of ice on the inside of the windows [which Sandi scraped off and nibbled]. The mist had cleared and we witnessed a spectacular sunrise over the Lido.
It was -4 °C outside [and felt like -14 in the van!] and the Dolomites in the near distance were thickly covered in snow!
Our minds now firmly made up, we packed up and headed for the autostrada in the direction of France.

Posted by davidsandi 13:10 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

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