Europe

The slow boat to Froggie Land

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Entry to Croatia

Roads near the border are always quiet and the crossing at Bano Polje is no exception. Dense woodland and more dense woodland affords few views of the countryside. There are some bullets holes on older buildings in the border town of Prezid, presumably they saw action in the 1990 here.

The drop down to the coast from 900 meters brings a noticeable change in climate, landscape and traffic. Cool green damp woods gives way to scorched scrub. Peeling off the layers I arrived at a convenient campsite near Rijeka, that was an astonishing 20 Euros a night. As per usual ear plugs are recommended if you wish to sleep outside the hours of 3am to 6am. Also this site in particular could be described more as a boulder field than a campsite, although it had all the mod cons and seemed well run.

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Next day was a complete disaster. Set off for island of Krk, but after crossing the bridge and following the road for a few minutes its clearly unsafe due to the road width and speed / volume / type of traffic. I turned back and headed to the city of Rijeka following the old coast road to explore ferry options to different islands. Installed myself in a hostel for some planning.

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Bridge to the island of Krk

Rijeka
The slow boat leaves at 7pm so a whole day to explore the city. This is when I discovered Burek. Its a half puff pastry / bread stuffed with cheese. Generous in size and calories!

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Coastal town on the way to Rijeka

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Looking down onto Rijeka

The town is laid back with backstreet shops to explore a long pedestrianised strip and a small museum that had an exhibition of clocks, yawn.. but a bit in the foyer mentioned they used to manufacture torpedoes here and had a few remnants lying around.. yay!

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Overnight boat to Split
Camped out on the deck for the night. Was a happy holiday atmosphere and soon I was slumbering in my sleeping bag.

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Me and the boat

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Split
Famous for Diocletian’s palace, a huge residence of the late Roman period and like the empire, it didn’t last for long. A funny quirk is that in the 7th Century his mausoleum was converted into a cathedral and contains the bones the very people he martyred (fed to lions etc). The pulpit incorporates stone from his actual tomb. The irony.

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Clock tower or campanile is not to be missed, although you’ve got to have a head for heights. A few people froze on the steps leading up.. ‘its been standing for years, so its not going to fall down anytime soon’, I said encouragingly to a Japanese girl, which kind of covered the fact we are in an earthquake zone and the scaffolding holding the steps looks a bit rusty.

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Froggie Land
Are the Brits mad? Answer: not as mad as the Hungarians.
Gambling, drinking fighting, cavorting, dancing frogs. I’ve even seen a frog having his tooth extracted, the extractor clearly enjoying his/her task and the ‘extractee’ twisted and contorted in agony. There one question that plays on my mind, do frogs even have teeth?

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Ljubljana and South: Hail and nakedness, luckily not at the same time

On the way down I stopped at a campsite next to the river in Smlednik. Pitched and exercised. I then noticed something unusual, topless sunbathing.. No wait, top and bottomless. Then it struck me, this is the naked section of the campsite where vehicle number plates are exclusively NL. Rules are rules, so to prevent the mutterings I joined the parade. When in Rome.. (or the Netherlands in this case) Soon the sun dipped and the jumpers came out. Just in time for me to start dinner. Priming and then cooking on a petrol burning stove and boiling water is best done with fully clothed I think.

Ljubljana
The compact city of Ljubljana is lively and packed with things to see an do. First stop the town centre and browsed the cafes, street life, shops and backstreets.

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Morning and getting ready for business

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Railway museum
Part occupied, part disused the museum has a fascinating collection of engines and signalling equipment. The is a working electromechanical telephone exchange. Then I came across the abandoned part unearthing documents from the past and exploring the dusty workshops. Was like being on a film set.. (zombie film??)

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500KW engine. Enough to power a small town!

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For when I run out of road!

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Abandoned workshops

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The abandoned part of the Museum

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Frozen in 1974.. Engine servicing logbook and equipment manuals

Ljubljana Castle
Then to Ljubljana castle and cultural centre. Immersed myself in the history of the city from covering WW1, WW2, Socialist republic and the war or independence in the 1990s.
The WW2 Germans surrounded the city with barbed wire as a way of controlling / containing a problematic population.
Views from the castle viewing tower makes the steps worthwhile.

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Promoting healthy food and sensible portions

The campsite is on the northern outskirts and thankfully clothes are obligatory. Spent the evening chatting and picnicing with a French cycle tourer.

South of Ljubljana

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Typical village scene repeated many times over

On my way to Croatia the heavens opened. I came to one village near the border and there was heaps of halestones everywhere. Cars covered in thick coats and blankets, presumably to protect them from dents. Trees has been stripped of foliage and shredded leaves lay on the floor. Villagers were wondering around with a bit of a dazed look cleaning up. Very strange was a fridged smoke that poured off the hillside and through the village at waist height. 2 hours before and I would have been caught in quite a nasty situation, although I’m sure I would be granted refuge.

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Joined a group of Slovenians for beer and BBQ

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Breakfast

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Slovenia, Meadows and Hamster tractors

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Very easy pass from Tarcento in Italy led me to Kobarid in Slovenia, a town famous in WW1 as Italian supply town. The front line astonishingly followed the peaks of a ridge of mountains that form part of the Alps. Krn (2250m) was the scene of many grizzly battles that ran for years in the winter and summer. Casualties numbered in the 100’s of thousands. Its interesting to note how the museums in Italy focus on the logistics, bravery, courage and harsh conditions endured where as the museums in Slovenia portrayed it as an invasion by Italians and Germans who came as liberators, only to find a population who had a different culture and language and didn’t really want them there.

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high up on these mountains the Italians and Germans slogged it out with the Austro-Hungarian empire

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Kobarid WW1 museum

I now realise what I’ve missed so much in northern Italy, its meadows. My route can be described as Alpine meadow where farmers hang the freshly cut grass on wooden racks to dry in the sun. I love the name of the tiny two stroke tractors that are used for general farm duties, ‘Hamster’.

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This river had my name on it. Although it as a warm day, the waters were glacial. I didn't stay for long after that!

Then to Tolmin where I met a mechanical engineer who had moved back to his home area after a much wanted job offer. I was given the low down on places to visit and more importantly, food to try.

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Recommended local speciality, Frikka. Chaddark (a mozzarella like cheese), potato, onion omelette. Not the healthy option, but just what I need

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WW1 Cemetery

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Gorge

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A cave that you could just walk into. It was very cold inside.

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Gorge

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War memorials are common, they often relate to an event the took place right on that spot. This is from WW2

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Reminders of the action seen in the past

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Beehives in a truck

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Wood in, planks out

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First lake visited, Bohinjsko jezero. Crystal clear water, swarming with fish and just about warm enough to swim in.

Categories: Europe, Slovenia | 4 Comments

Northeast, quiet roads and walled cities

Avoiding traffic where possible and cities while still keeping a packed itinerary is the aim of this leg. Skirting south of Verona and then following the flats north east as far as possible without hitting the mountains.
Intensive agriculture is what happens here. Lots of small well equipped farms pepper the countryside growing mostly maize corn and occasionally grape. Every few 100 meters another farm passes and judging by the property and array of vehicles its quite a profitable business. One downside is that there is rarely a patch of land not used for growing and lots of houses and keep out signs.

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Typicalof the many towns passed through

One particular day I was being chased by storm clouds and found refuge in a marquee next to a sports field in the grounds of a castle. Under cover I ate, planned, exercised, sorted photos and other odd jobs. Then around 7pm someone turns up to fix some outdoor plumbing and I get chatting about my trip. “Where will you stay?” he asks. I look around and point to field next door. “Camping Maize”. He laughs and gestures me to follow. He produces a set of keys and opens up the spotless sports changing rooms. Showers, fridge toilets. He then says goodbye and disappears. I didn’t expect that.

Cittadella
Some places I instinctively know I want to stay. After one look at the high defensive wall that rings the city I couldn’t leave without completing a circuit. The archeology museum of the city told me nothing about who built the wall, when and why. I asked at the museum shop, but concluded wikipedia would be far more helpful.

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Asked at the tourist information about campsites near by. “You can stay opposite the library. You are allowed to pitch your tent there”. I went there and it was like any other town centre car park. Not tempted to leave my belongings unattended and sleep would also be difficult with the usual late night comings and goings I went back the the tourist office on the off chance they had other options.
They found a B&B for 25 Euros. Worth a treat I thought.
I was made to feel one of the family in this spacious and spotless household. I was given some good advice on what to visit over wine and beers at the dinner table. Its not going to be an early start.

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The owner of the B&B, Anna is a professional costume designer and maker

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One of the collection of machines takes 4 reels, finishes, stitches and cuts all in one go

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Her portfolio showed LED strips and panels incorporated into the costume. Very professional.

Marostica
Imagine a large hill with a small town at its foot and a wall that surrounds one side of the hill and the town below. It makes for an impressive backdrop. Famed nationally for the giant chess board in the square where chess is played with real life chess pieces on the second week of September.

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Famous chess board

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Built in the 1370s the town was for a long time part of the Republic of Venice

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Lower town with the usual procession of cars

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Nearby lime kiln used for making cement, once a very common sight in the area

Bassano
This area saw some heavy fighting in the first world war. The small museum had some fascinating artefacts and photos.

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Bridge build be Palladian, the famous architect

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First world war, I didn't know donkeys could smell so bad!

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Trench mockup

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Bullet holes?

Asolo
This pretty hillside village had some great views across the flatlands I had cycled through.

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Finished for the day. Eat, plan, review, sort photos, listen to radio, top up batteries and wait for the sun to set before pitching at sunset.

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Camped up next to the fort at the top of a hill. What a view!

Ponte di Pinzano
A famous WW1 battle site. Now filled with sun worshipper dotting the riverbed. I gave up the idea of joining them when I realised the water is icy cold.

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Defensive gates (shown) gun emplacements and foxholes are still there

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Nearby river with equally stunning views

Categories: Europe, Italy | 1 Comment

If the Italian lakes are good enough for George Clooney..

Italians have a love affair with the car, but since some of the best cars designs are Italian, its hardly surprising. They are also big consumers and goods are transported around the country to meet demand. The countryside has a far greater density of housing, large working farms and industrial units  in the countryside than the UK and on surface I can see no economic doom here in the north.
So, the inevitable outcome of this is lots of traffic on the country lanes. The yellow roads on the map get their fair share of speeding cars and trucks towing trailers. The said, Italian drivers, especially truck drivers are the most considerate as a nation by a large margin.

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Common sight, racers out for a ride.. Notice how much room drivers give

Lago d’Orta
Crystal clear warm water. No need for a shower after bathing here. San Giulio is a delightful village on a peninsular that has many treasures to seek out. The high street is not wide enough to take cars and is scattered with eateries that spill into the small piazza. This is all a stones throw away from the waters edge. That night I found a bit of green by the lake, made food, swam, did some jobs and pitched as the sun when down. Due to it being such a nice place I found a small campsite the next day and remained there the whole day and next morning chatting to fellow campers, swimming, eating and shopping for more things to eat!

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Evening view of Orta St Giulio

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Wild camping next to the lake in a little park

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Piazza in St Giulio

Lago Maggiore
Varbania, the main town is large and busy with the lakeside reserved for marinas and ferries. The roads bordering the lakes are a bit to risky to cycle so using the ferry is a sensible option. Its a fast crossing and from Verbania to Lavino made even faster by chatting to a Dutch cyclist while scoffing a chocolate desert pick-me-up.

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Lago de Varese
The cycle path around the lake is a welcome change. Quiet and laid back. While using someone’s WiFi connection in a village backstreet, I was engaged in conversation and soon had a small collection of well wishers bidding me good luck on the journey ahead. Italians know their bikes its always a good conversation starter.
Stopped for the night at a bypassed section of the old road. it was an old roundabout, with signs and old street lighting. all over grown now. It must have been a hive of activity in its time but now all eerily silent. The enterance is blocked with large stones to prevent cars and motorbikes getting in. The nearby new junction is now all flyovers and slip roads. What I like about these sites is the smoothness of the ground. Campsites usually have gravel or sunbaked dust to pitch your tent on, where as here its perfectally smooth asphalt. Its  cleaner and much more comfortable. There are many more advantages over wild camping if all you need to do is eat, sleep and get up early the next day.

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Group I collected in a village backstreet while using a WiFi connection.

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Not so wild camp.. Old disused roundabout, bypassed a number of years ago

Lagi di Como, Lagio Lecco
Finding the quiet backstreet route thanks to my phone, I avoided some of the traffic, but not all. Arriving at the city centre of Como it was like entering an Oasis of Calm. People who say how can you cycle around these cities have no idea of what the roads leading in and out of these places are like to cycle on.. In Como centre, shoppers clutching bags of designer stelletos are the greatest danger on the back streets. There is a regular ferry service from Como to Bellagio, another town 25km away so it seemed the sensible option. Chatted to a retired German couple while watching the scenery drift by. There was a flurry of activity when we passed George Clooneys modest abode. The ferry picks up and drops off at a number of town and villages and every time the numerous crew come out to carry out their assigned tasks. Bellagio is a bit touristy an other than the baker where sweet treats can be purchased, theres not much there for me so I carried on by bike my last lake.

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Como

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Lake Anone
At 21 Euro for one night, its the most I’ve paid in both France and Italy.. but not the UK.. for a small square of ground and the use of a tap.
The swim in the lake, which is compulsary is notable for its views. Swim out and you can see for miles, the distant ‘toy towns’, backdrop of the mountains and the dropping sun casting its long shadows. The water was so still that evening I felt like I was swimming on a mirror.
Getting ready for bed, two friendly motorbikers turned up and soon we were finishing off wine and beers. They were doing a test run for a trip to Africa.. Sounded great fun.
I convinced them another swim in the morning was a must so off we went.. All laked out I decided to skip Garda and search out the quiet countryside.

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Motorbike drinking buddies

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Thankfully, after 500m I didn't see a car explode. What does this sign mean? I've seen it on a number of occations

Categories: Europe, Italy | 1 Comment

Piemonte region and Turin

The first town on the cold and wet descent into Italy is Vinadio. A day off was called for. The campsite is next to a sizable fort and defendable wall that runs across the valley. Built in the 1800s to prevent armies advancing over the border and up the valley. With plenty of time on my hands the fort was good for a visit. Here is the age old question, what do you fill such an immense number of rooms and corridors with? In this case an elaborate multimedia art project, obviously at great expense. All being in Italian its message was somewhat lost on me but even if I could understand, I rarely find poetry very inspiring due to nature of the subject matter.

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multimedia experience

The lush green valley finishes near the city of Cuneo, a great place to buy some nibbles and have a break. From here maze, Kiwi fruit and grass grow on the heavily irrigated flatlands. The back roads roads are long straight and generally very quiet. Picked up a disused railway cycle route that made a great camp spot.

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The routine is to make food and prep for the next day, then as dusk falls I pitch the tent. I’m generally packed and gone by 7am.
What is very surprising is the number of prostitutes so blatantly touting for business. Even is fairly rural locations, they are African and all rather scary. Being the innocent type I didn’t really notice, it was only when I stopped to check the GPS did a girl leap out the bushes shouting what sounded like “penny penny..”, I asked if she spoke English or French. “Blowjob”. Then penny dropped. I politely declined and moved on. Creepy.
Turin
The next showing of the shroud is an 2025, so not worth handing around for. Sunday is a good day to navigate into or out of a city as its very quiet on the roads. Once in the city centre its easy to tour on a bike as all sights are easily visited by bike. Of interest was the Moroccan area, where old ladies they were selling spiced flat breads. A large secondhand market has just finished and people were picking through the remaining unsold items. The campsite hosted a rock and roll concert which was exceptionally good and I chatted the a well traveled New Zealand couple who had purchased a motorhome in the UK and were on a seeming endless tour of Europe.

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Palace there I was propositioned

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Saw this advert peculiar advert on a church

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View over Turing from the campsite

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Col de Lombarde : My Italian pass

Starting at St Sauveur-sur-Tinee, (510m) I climbed to Isola village (871m) then to Isola2000 (2000m) and finally to the Col de Lombarde (2350m)
On the promise of free WiFi at Isola, I hung around trying to get it to work, but like most free WiFi points in France, it didn’t work. McDonalds is the only reliable free connection here and there are not many in the mountains!
Set off on the main climb at 12pm just as the sun popped out.
The hardest part was the cold.. gradually the layers went on for the last part the hat and gloves. I did have to stop on the way down to warm up and wait for the blood to return to the fingers as using breaks is somewhat less precise when you cant feel your fingers. 

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Times like this I miss by beloved tripod. Still, just got another from ebay..

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Top of Col de Lombarde (2350m)

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Time for a snowball fight?

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The crossing into Italy

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I feel somewhat robbed of the views on the way down. Not knowing if the drop at the edge of the road was a few meters of a few hundred meters made it a bit tense. Not any barriers in many places. Even so the barriers are only shin height, not much use on a bike..

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Alpes-Maritimes : Gorges and Mountains

There are not many routes to Italy. The coast is busy, the next pass inland, Tende, carries heavy traffic and the next one is a ski resort. So, even though I forgot to pack skis, Isola is where I cross.
The countryside route out of Provence is delightful and packed with sleepy villages, small hills offering sweeping views and empty roads

Provence

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Into the Alpes-Maritimes

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Gorge du Cians
I started this in the evening and camped up on a bypassed section of the old route. Pitched the tent at dusk. As night fell the fireflies turned on the most amazing light show I’ve ever seen. Trees and bushes around were twinkling with thousands of tiny pulsing lights. Quite often a fly would silently and gently float by right under my nose. Magical.

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The Alps

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Seaside, Hospitality and home cooked food

Although the sea has been looming in the distance over the last few days, I’m now finally on the beach at Cassis. To my left rising up 400m is the largest coastal cliff in Europe and since my next destination is on the other side of the cliff the incentive is to stay here and eat breakfast instead. The ride up to the cliff is steep and I came across a fellow tourer from Lyon with a burst inner tube due to overheated rims from excessive breaking on the way down. Being quite a warm day his glue simply melted and the patch would not stick. The glue from my repair kit did the job. He plays a very peculiar stringed Indian banjo / guitar cross. He twanged out a few rhythms by the roadside to satisfy my curiosity.

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Cassis

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Behind me is a very long 400m drop

The Watsons
Friends of the family who moved from Southport kindly offered a place to stay. In return I helped with jobs around the house… or tried to!

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Mike and Christines place near La Ciotat

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Mike and I on the bread run..

La Ciotat to Fox Amphoux

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National holiday celebrations

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14 July is a big day in the French Calendar. It involves fireworks and family

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The Lavour, once hotbeds of village gossip they are rarely used, but perfect for my needs!

The Cades
Two day bike ride away are more family friends, Mike and Chris. Mad keen on Tour de France, I fixed their printer while they watched the race.

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A Roman feast: Pont du Gard, Nimes, Arles.

In dry Mediterranean towns water is a precious resource. So what better way to display your wealth as a city than to have decorative water features and fonts gushing cooling fresh water to public places and private houses. The overflow even  cleanses the streets and drains. In 50AD, the Roman city of Nimes had such ambition and the Pont du Guard was one of the many engineering masterpieces that allowed this to happen. Built to carry a 200 million litres every day (that must be a misprint!) of pure water extracted from a spring miles away, it carries a channel large enough to walk through high up across a valley. The museum is very good, and focuses on research done to understand the whole aqueducts design, function, alteration and decline. It doesnt just concentrate on the Pont du Guard, which is a small section of its 50 km route.
The museum explains chemical analysis of the 30cm thick deposits lining the aqueducts walls similar to the lime scale that builds up in your kettle. Over its 500 years use a cross section of this stone charts date, water quality and flow rates over is operating life and links them to events at the time. It fascinated the nerd in me..

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One of the remaining sections of the aqueduct that feeds the Pont du Gard

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The museum explains chemical analysis of the 30cm thick deposits lining the aqueducts walls similar to the lime scale that builds up in your kettle. Over its 500 years use a cross section of this stone charts date, water quality and flow rates over is operating life and links them to events at the time. It fascinated the nerd in me..

Arles

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Coliseum in Arles dwarfs the small town. The whole place had a very laid back feel.

Aix-en-Provance

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Jean and his Moulton frame bike, a UK classic

Others

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A few good hills, with lots of good views

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Sommieres, another town that sticks to the Roman grid layout

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A view from the tent. i may look like an idyllic slice of country life, but the tractors make lots of noise..

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