Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A day stuck in a hotel makes it clear why the campervan is necessary.  I didn’t eat lunch yesterday, just had some tea and some apricot juice direct from a bottle while rod had roast chicken and chips and wine.  For supper all we had was pre-packed salads bought at the supermarket which we ate in our rooms.  Breakfast at the hotel - I took in bread I had got at the supermarket, cleaned the utensils before using, and ate applesauce from a little pot, coffee and juice in the square later.  
By ten I was feeling a bit ropey even though I ate glutenzymes at breakfast  - crumbs abound at a french breakfast.  By twelve we were back in the hotel as my guts hurt, and Rod read while I went to sleep.  Now all we are doing is sitting tight until we can pick up the van and escape.
We did wander around the town a bit.  Went into what the tourist bumph says is a famous market, but, while full of groceries and old men drinking wine at nine in the morning and vast amounts of sausage was nothing like as amusing as the one in Barcelona.  I had meant to catch it early; some stalls were closed and it may have been they met the needs of local traders first thing in the morning and then closed.
We went into the town hall, after I read the very interesting marriage notices posted outside.  I know that marriage notices are supposed to be made public ahead of time in England so that people can protest if necessary, but i have no idea where this takes place.  Here you could see people’s names and addresses and professions.  The town hall is inside an ancient building with other ancient bits connected to it.  We went up a massive staircase to the Musse d’Art and D’Histoire, not expecting much beyond sad old brown pictures from the eighteenth century, perhaps with an interesting room and view across the city.  The exhibition starts like this. An ornate ceiling, some dull pictures..more rooms where the room is more interesting than the art.  I kept an eye out for a local face - sometimes you see family resemblances amongst local portraits, but think the pictures were wider ranging than that.
Then came a vast collection of traditional apothecary jars on an enormous dresser, and a room full of repellent faeince pottery (no idea how to spell that) including two large tureens that were designed to look like real cauliflowers, which were so yukky they amused me but made Rod feel despair I think, and one which looked like a load of dismembered ducks under a quilt.  So, it was only four Euros and we didn’t really want to go on a big adventure   which would take us out of reach of the garage if they called to say the van was ready.
The next rooms, inside this massive stone walled building, had been turned into some sort of Arab courtyard.  Arched niches, sandy textured plasterwork, a fountain (non-potable) and a host of pictures depicting Algeria and surrounding areas.  There were a few with real vigour.  It is a pity no photos were allowed as I  would have liked to take pictures of the space, never mind the works.
To get out the custodian had to unlock the exit door.  
The hotel information is amusing so am going to copy it.
VALUABLES: the DIRECTION is not responsible for values left in rooms or in cars.
BREAKFAST:(formulate Sideboard): they are served in room from 7:30 until 10:00 am.
DEPARTURE: 3 days before your departure, have the benevolence to inform the reception of your intentions and do not omit to put back the key of your room by leaving PLEASE.
ELECTRIC RAZOR: the tension of the current in the grip of your room is of 220V.
NOTES: notes will be presented and settled in the arrival.
DAMAGES: MESSRS Customers are responsible for damages which would come to occur as a consequence not lock of the faucets of washbasins or sanitary facilities.
WASHING IRONING: it is formally forbidden to wash or go back in rooms.  For the good and famous behaviour of our hotel, we ask you not to spread  linen to windows.  The linen of the hotel, the towels, the sheet of baths etc., do not have to go out of the establishment.
REST: MESSRS Customers are kindly requested to respect the rest of their neighbours, particularly between 10pm and 8am in the morning.
DOGS: dogs are allowed in the strict condition that they are clean and discreet, under the responsibility of their boss.  We regret being in the obligation to charge the possible damages.  Our biggest desire is to satisfy you, we accept any suggestion.
Hotel citoyen
Please help us to protect the environment by switching off lights, the television and the air conditioning every time you live your room.  Save water by checking that the taps are firmly closed.  Every little helps to protect our planet.

Zoomed off from Mataro and headed towards Burgandy, hoping to meet up with a friend for her birthday.  Planned to stay on the autoroute the whole way.  Stopped briefly at the first french service station, which is a lovely little place perched on a hill and felt like a holiday destination in its own right.  Checked what the warning light meant - the battery symbol was red.  It said the battery wasnt recharging properly, and we should go to a Fiat dealership. 

However, the battery was half full, the solar panels seemed to be topping it up even if the driving wasn't so we carried on.  If we had to spend another few days waiting around for garages it would be better to do this somewhere we wanted to be.  By the time we were approaching Carcassonne another warning light had come on and then the rear camera stopped working and the sat nav made clicking noises and the windscreen wipers wouldn't work.  We stopped at the service station and looked for a Fiat Garage - both on the internet and by phoning the AA who cover the van.  There was a suitable garage in Carcassonne about 10k away.  I nipped into the service station to buy a local map, and by the time I came out the van had stopped completely - we had left the engine running so we wouldnt have to use the battery to start it.

If you are on a paying motorway your normal rescue people arn't allowed to rescue you.  The chap in the service station came and looked at the van, took the weight and the registration, and half an hour later a chap with a tow truck turned up.  Quite a lot of work to get the van up onto the trailer, using a winch, Rod steering, and hoicking up the rear of the van with a jack on wheels to stop the overhang dragging on the ground as the front was lifted.  All this on a slight downhill so that the van kept overruning the winch. A couple of coachloads of people had stopped for a rest, so they had some entertainment while they took some air.

Once the van was on the truck a tow bar arrangement was moved into place and the smart car trailer attached.  We were then driven about 40k back the direction we had come in as the bloke wanted to take the van to a garage in Narbonne rather than the one we had found in Carcassone. 

So, the night spent at a little hotel in the trading estate the rescue company's depot is on.  Turns out the Vin du Pay is excellent and bottled only about 350meters away, so maybe a detour this morning to pick up a crate.  Then off to Narbonne and find the garage and find out what is happening. 

It appears the Alternator has gone.  Rod is displeased - two major failures on a vehicle that has only done about 30k miles and a truck at that, which should go about 200,000 miles before major failures occur.  Also, it only had its MOT a short time ago.  A quick bit of research last night - alternators come in different flavours, so Rod want a conversation with the garage before they replace it.

So, today we will learn about Narbonne, hopefully more than just the garage and the Carrefour next to it.  It would appear to be an amusing little town with plenty to occupy us for a day or two.

Went up the coast past lots of large towns dedicated, it seems, to providing Brits with great holidays.  Casinos, bingo, apartment blocks, bet they have marmite in the supermarket and East Enders on the tvs in the bars.  Lots of lovely sand and sea too, and boats in harbours and in shop windows.
We drove past all these (on the N11, for those of you with road maps and the curiosity) up to a small town called Tossa de Mar.  It was a lovely place.  An ancient castle on one hill with a lighthouse - in summer they do plays and concerts and I think there is a lighthouse museum, but of course we were too early.  Coarse sand, very blue sea, irises amongst the vegetation on the cliff.

At the end of the beach is a rocky promontory, with walls filling in the gaps.  Rod had to climb up to see what was over the other side.  Nothing much but more coves and rocks dropping straight to the water.  

Came back through the wooded hills and the inland C35.  The road patterns make sense once you see the terrain.  Interesting area with castles and rivers.
Today is housekeeping before we head back to France, and Rod will watch the Grand Prix in the bar here.   It is a grey day so indoor jobs seem sensible, and a thorough sort out before the last leg of the journey.

Well, the cockerel crowed when it was still dark, but I was awake anyways as I have picked up a germ.  Got up at three am to find the antibiotics (I have to treat at first signs or am ill for weeks).  They were in the ‘we won’t need these in a hurry’ area under the seat.  When Rod got up he thought there must have been an explosion - almost all loose objects live on this seat when we are stationary, and all the cushions have to be removed to get to the storage area underneath.
Our view from the van.  The peahen knows how to get out of the enclosure - it came to visit the van.

Went into Barcelona on the free campsite bus.  Booked to go at 9:15 and come back at six.  We sorted out Rod’s IPad sim first, then Rod had a second breakfast (mu orange juice was delicious) then we caught a tourist bus which went a very long way, including the mad Gaudi church and the Barcelona football club.  We had intended to do the whole circuit on all three buses and then pop on and off to visit places, but were so worn out by the sitting on the bus that we wandered around the town instead.  Rod had more food, I bought a custard apple in an amazing market.  Just bought it because I havent seen properly ripe custard apple for decades, but then at most of it while Rod had his fishy things on stick.  It is not a fruit that lends itself to eating with fingers standing in a street, but it was delicious.  

It turns out you can buy high quality food at any time in Spain - none of this wait until the right time of day.  rod had been concerned as he had been to a conference once where nothing was available after lunch until ten pm, but here cafes behave like McDonalds, just with an immense array of good food.  I did ask in one large place that was quiet and where the staff spoke English, but they shook their heads sorrowfully when I asked if anything was gluten free.  Many of the dishes wouldn’t contain flour themselves, but there is a lot of bread and batter around.  Coffee and fizzy water with a precautionary glutenzyme that time for me

The buildings are mostly about five stories high, and they have angled the corners so that major road junctions are open octagons, which makes things feel very spacious and gives good sight lines.  Off the main roads are many tiny streets which feel like pedestrian alleys until you have to move out of the way for a skip lorry or car.
The most astonishing thing about Barcelona is how calm it feels.  Cars stop for pedestrians even before they step onto the crossing, people don’t look fraught - it is a big city but has a courteous feel to it. They have a lot of public transport - underground, buses, trains and trams, and a borrow a bike system.  It seemed like a good place to live.  What it feels like at high summer I don’t know, but I was impressed.  It reminded me of Canada.
There is Gaudi of course.  Think Disney as an architect with no commercial sense.  
Today we plan a relaxing day in the local very charming town.  Rod wants to eat a Paella in Spain looking over a beach. 

Drove to Mataro (accent on the ‘o’), a town just north of Barcelona today.  It says it has a beach, with access through an underpass.  What it means is that if you creep along the edge of the major road a little way you find something that looks like a storm drain under the road and the railway, and that debouches on a few inches of beach between giant shore preservation rocks.
We are too early again.  The last place we were at they were just filling the swimming pool.  This one doesn’t open the pool until mid May, but they have a deal with a spa in the town, and it turns out that if you book on the internet you get one free spa session.  Off we trundled in the little car.  I packed swimsuits, the bathing caps reception sold us, toiletries, even cotton buds for those sloshy ears.  
The car park barrier.  No spanish.  Spa, carpark, repeated, barrier went up, I presume in desperation as someone was behind us by then.  A lovely receptionist with no english gave us keys for lockers in exchange for my passport, and showed us the changing rooms.  I would have liked to book a massage but thought that would be too complex and unlikely to be something one could do immediately.  
Off to change, through to the pool.  I enjoyed the sauna, the steam room, some time in the jacuzzi, and an odd water jet lounger in a pool whose main effect seemed to be too fill my swim suit with air so that it ballooned up over the surface of the water.  As we entered the sauna we realised that I hadn’t packed towels (the brochure looked like it would abound in clean white towels) and I hadn’t asked to rent any from reception.  Rod finished his swim with another session in the sauna, used the hairdryer to dry his trunks (regulation french Speedo’s) and dried off with them.  As I wanted a shower I mostly used the hairdryer, though drying the swim cap provided a tiny towel to help.
I was about to leave the pool area when I realised I couldn’t tell which door I had come out through.  One seemed to say no entry, one Infirmary, one was unlabelled, and one said Dones.  No helpful pictures.  Lurking in the hope I could follow someone wasn’t having much effect.  Dones should be females perhaps?  But what about the Don this and Don that  in the movies - referring to the men.  Crept in cautiously, first sight a pushchair, that seemed promising, then a bevy of women in various stages of undress.  What a relief.
Went into the centre of the town.  The map provided by the campsite was rubbish, but we managed to find a tiny indoor carpark, it felt like driving into someones front room but once inside it was a proper carpark.  From there tracked down the Tourist Office - as it was now six pm everything was opening up.  The tourist officer was simply lovely; gave us a great map, checked the photo on Rod’s phone of the street the carpark was on so that she could circle where that was on the map, then told us lots about the town and gave us many guides.  Rod was hungry (well, so was I, but that was just tough) so he had a beer and three forms of tapas sitting out in a wide street.  We knew what patatas was on the menu, the rest was a bit of guesswork, though we reckoned avoiding the one which looked like calamari was likely to be an effective way of avoiding calamari.

Walked to Gaudi’s first building, The Bleaching Hall, commissioned by a local Workers Cooperative.  It looks a bit like a giant crook barn or shed for building boats, and used parabolic arcs made up of planks bolted together to form curved beams.  It had a contemporary Catalan art exhibition in, and again was open from 6-9.  Rod was delighted by the building.  The art was interesting too - it came from a massive collection by Carmen and Lluis Bassat, and they are showing stuff in chronological sequence in several exhibitions.  The current show is early 70s, and included some Miro’s.
The town seems very friendly and drivers are courteous...they stop before a pedestrian steps onto a crossing! The buildings have balconies and living above shops the same as France but they do a lot more surface decoration.  No photos as I went out without a camera, and the internet here at the site is so slow photos will need to wait anyways.
We have booked on the campsite free bus at 9:15 to Barcelona tomorrow.That’s a town that looks like it needs a week to begin to see the standard itinerary, so perhaps we will start with one of the hop on and off tourist buses. Rod is off, having more pizza I suspect, while he watches football in the cafe. He has shown a truly remarkable capacity to have fun and enjoy the places we are visiting.  If he hadn’t got work to get back to early May I think he would extend this trips for quite a bit longer.  
 I should wash up..but I think some reading in bed and an early night is more enticing.  We are parked facing the campsite animal field - why they have goats and donkeys and chickens I haven’t attempted to find out - with cockerels crowing at first light and the train line it will be interesting to see if I need my alarm clock for the bus....and there goes the donkey!