Sunday 27th August:
Return to France. Nan & I had originally thought to have an extended break earlier this year and walk the Camino de Santiago. With things happening on the home front, this did not happen. Plan B was put into action.
A cork screw is an essential travel item in France!
Flying Singapore Airlines Melbourne – Singapore – Paris.
Have been inundated (well not quite) with emails from Singapore Airlines offering upgrades to Premium Economy ($50 USD leg1 and $75 USD leg2) and even an auction for seats in higher classes (bidding starting at $185 USD).
Nan had a look at the seat allocation and, finding that both legs are way under booked, changed our seats for a window and aisle which may mean we get a little extra space for nothing! Who said Australians were not cheapskates?
Fully booked for the journey home; can only think it will be all the Europeans heading this way for the Australian Football League finals? 🙂
From Paris we catch the TVG to Avignon where we stay for a few days before picking up a car and heading to an apartment in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. All of our stay will be in the Provence Region.
Bag packing has commenced. Restricted Items documentation for Singapore Airlines printed. Must remember to put the Gaffa Tape in the checked in luggage this time rather than have it confiscated. Funny but cable ties were OK!
No camping out on this one, will be more than made up for with South America next year. I will be taking my KX3, doublet antenna and probably the VX7R.
I did not hear the 4:00 am phone call nor the one following nearly an hour later; my mobile was also turned off. Heard by others in the household, they were put down to those plentiful nuisance marketing calls or scams that proliferate.
On hearing about them, I had already second guessed some not so great news.
Mum died this morning some time prior to 4:00 AM. Love you mum, go fly with the birds now.
26/08/17 – Funeral this afternoon was wonderful; dad singing Don Ho’s Tiny Bubbles was a pleasure. The journey of life continues. Thanks to all re condolences. A trying time and not what I expected to be doing the day prior to departure. The funeral people were wonderful and well organised.
27 & 28/08/17 – Lachlan (eldest son & ex VK3HOW) gave us a lift to the airport. No issues here with any of the electronic gadgetry and battery nor anywhere else to Paris. Nan’s seating plan worked as far as Singapore; unfortunately a full flight to Paris. First plane a Boeing 777 slightly more leg room than the following Airbus A380. Better entertainment consul too!
Gare de TVG Charles de Gaulle. This terminal is part of the airport!
Arrived Paris on time and no delays with entry so we were able to change to an earlier train TVG to Avignon via Lyon. Arrived early afternoon allowing some time to visit the Pont du Avignon and Papes Palace. Had a large bread roll for a late lunch & not surprisingly feeling a bit stuffed in the evening. Nan and I finished off with two very cold glasses of champagne plus local olives for dinner whilst watching the world pass by.
Whilst in Avignon we stayed at the Ibis Hotel righ to at the Gare d’Avignon Centre (train station). Excellent location for our purposes. Sound proof construction and double glazing meant we never heard any trains nor street noise. Breakfast at 9.5 euros was good and again, very convenient and time efficient.
Arles is a short train journey to the south and features many Roman ruins. We purchased an historic site pass that included entry 4 historic sites and two museums. We visited the Ampitheatre / areana, Baths of Constantine, Cryptoportia beneath the forum plus the theatre. Museum was the Reattu photography exhibition held in a 15th century building associated with the Knights of Malta. Became geographically displaced getting to the Antiques Museum and did not persue further as Google Maps had it being closed this day. Train back to Avignon and a less liquid meal.
30/08/– Early breakfast to start the day then Train to Nimes. A pass was purchased to gain entry to the listed sites and that of Orange (18.5 euros).
For this we used the second travel day allowance of our Eurail passes. First stop the Maison Carree, a 5AD temple building to honour the Emporer Constantine, Next was the Jardin de la Fontaine, also housing a crumbling Temple of Diane, leading to the Tour Magne, a 15BC tower that provides a great overview of the city. This was originally a part of the town walls. Next up the substantial ampitheatre via a stroll through the town.
31/08/17- Orange. Later start. 10: 20 train, heading north.
Included in the pass (purchased at Nimes) is the Roman Theatre which is still in use. This is the most intact Roman Theatre in the world. Here we learned of the frugality in the Roman world when updating the Emporer statues. Universal body, just a head change. Also visited the Triumphal Arch before heading back to Avignon where we completed our strolls through the city and across the Rhone river for a better view of the Pont du Avignon
1/09/17- Spring has sprung!
Early start with an 8:30 train to Avignon TVG and where we picked up our car. First show of displeasure today at the Alamo / Enterprise car rental depot. Have used them before in USA but not Europe. Best description would be utterly useless followed by incompetent. They tried to pass of a large jet black Mercedes saloon (mafia staff car) as a small economy auto that we had booked back in May. This imposing vehicle was the only auto that they had. We had wanted an auto, being easier to drive when on the wrong side of the road. Ended up with a small Opal manual. I expect the argument to continue upon return as there is a significant discount on a manual car plus we will no longer have two listed drivers. Putain!
Anyway, gear shifts via the right hand are not too hard. Garmin Nuvi GPS loaded with OSM routable mapping working well enough although it destroys the french pronunciation and has a habit of exaggerating the number of exits on roundabouts.
We got ourselves to Pont du Gard without incident as well as to our new home at L’isle de la Sorgue.
2/09/17 A bit of a lay day.
Stroll around town, purchase of local produce, chat to Cameron on Skype, booking first CONAF site for Torres del Paine and discovering some changes to be accomodated for in the Torres del Paine 2017/2018 season. Tomorrows plan for Domaine des Agnes and SOTA F/CR-335. Will see what gives. WX today a bit on the cool side and have long trousers on, a first since we arrived.
L’Isle sur la Sorgue fact:
First church bell sounds at 7:00 am, continuing on the hour until 10:00 pm. A single ring on the half hour. At 2 minutes past the hour is a follow up time call that is also hourly; my guess is this is some sort of snooze function. No need for an alarm!
3/09/17: Headed off in good time towards Domaine des Agnes. Very much a back water; ended up on a non descript dirt road and at someones farm house at first before back tracking and correcting our navigational error. The Garmin Nuvi with OSM mapping is very good but not infallible. Perfect French spelling including grammar of towns is required!
Unfortunately the winery was closed on a Sunday although we did meet Florent the wine maker. A short 15 minute walk up to to the Chapel and Sota summit. Excellent phone coverage with a cell on the mountain. Fantastic views too. First picked up a 20m S2S on phone before trying to work a pile up on 30m cw. Finished up on 40m phone and also cw and another 2 X S2S. 40 minute activation then back down to the car and sort out lunch.
Very scenic drive across the mountain tops, first tried at an elevated village named Blauvac but nothing open. Ended up down in the valley at Villes-Sur-Auzon. A yellow restaurant on the RHS of the road coming into town. Seemed to be a bike riders haunt. Lovely setting and food but service was extremely slow, so much so that after 45 minutes of waiting to be served, I was about to walk out. Plate of the day was great but ended up with the dearer pork as Nan got the last Guinea Fowl. Afterwards we toured through the picturesque Gorges de la Nesque before crossing the Monts de Vaucluse passing through Murs and Gordes (will visit another time).
4/9/17: Short jaunt today to Fontaine de Vaulcuse. Got in reasonably to beat the crowds and get a carpark.
This is where the Sorgue river begins life as a spring. Very pretty and also a tourist trap but definitely a must visit. Heading into town is a Roman aqueduct that takes water into Nimes. We climbed up the slope along side it and walked along the top. Quite high and good views. Lunch at a little restaurant shaded by fig trees along side the river and water wheels. Not long to get back to our home as only 7km. Email sent to car rental HQ voicing my displeasure at the service. I have no paperwork other than my original quote and the debits on Visa do not add up.
Planned a Sota activation for F/CR-007, 1912 metre drive up summit with excellent phone coverage and views of the distant French Alps. We drove a similar route to what we had done the previous day, it getting busier with bicycle traffic as we approached the start of the climb. Bikes were everywhere, fortunately the road is better and a bit wider than that to Mont du Chat in 2014. Got a road side park at the busy summit area, coffee with Nan then checked heights to determine the activation zone.
Best place to operate from is near a viewing platform on the opposite side to the main road, there was a section of sloping ground with a steel fence which served as my operating position; being out of the way and providing a structure to secure the little squid pole and tie off the ends of the antenna.
Quite warm and, with many people about, a short activation. Worked only 30 cw but did try 40qm ssb with Ed VK2JI/ DD5LP without success. Started off with an S2S into Austria. Prefixes worked were OE, OK, SP and DL. ( Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland & Germany).
Less bicycle traffic on the way down, plate of the day lunch near Beaumont-du-Ventoux – lamb, olives and salad. Then onwards, now in shorts and sandles visiting the castle in Le Barroux and a look around Crillon-le-Brave. Very glad we did not have the Mercedes mafia limo as it would not have fitted in some of the tiny narrow rues which are found in French mountain villages. Home again, trip to the supermarket and put the feet up. Gordes tomorrow? Early will be best. WX forecast is sunny & 28.
6/9/17: Day trip to Gordes
Our previous expeditions had led us into the Vaucluse district. Gordes is in the northern Luberon district, which includes the village of Menerbes to the south which is where the English author Peter Mayle based his book “A Year in Provence”. I am reading this whilst here, very amusing. Gordes is a mountain top village and very pretty but gets lots of tourists. Best to arrive early to beat crowds and heat. Did an 8km return walk to the Notre-Dame Senanque Abbey. Nice walk on a backwater lane.
7/9/17: Market day today. Smoked cheese with truffles, goat and something else that was thrown in. Also four different types of Saucisse, olives with garlic and fresh noir pain (crusty bread). Finished off the market with Coffee at the Cafe Frances. Time spent outside our apartment by the canal reading. Very windy and dusty in the carpark. Now I know how the Mistral exhaust fan got its name.
8/9/17: Weather fine, warm and no wind.
Today we ventured not too far away but off the beaten track. We headed east towards Apt and then north towards St-Saturnin-les Apt; turning into little lane ways before finding the Chemin de Perreal which would turn into a gravel road leading to Chapelle Sainte Radegonde Sota F/CR-245.
The site is very pretty offering good views to the east and west from the north/south divide. Not only the location of a still functional 15th century Chapel but also the vestiges of a Gallic village dating from 1AD. I activated the summit using one of a couple of wooden picnic tables and some tree shade. Phone coverage was ok reception but took a while for a spot to get through. Thinking I could spot via the reverse beacon network, firing up on 30m CW got me MOBKV in S.W. UK who spotted me (tnx). Noted later my self spot had also gotten through. What followed was a mini pile up, that is most chasers on the exact same beat frequency calling either immediately after the completion of the previous contact or, in most cases, before the completion. As I use semi break in keying, I have often found in EU that chasers are even sending over the top of me, obviously calling blind and just adding to the qrm; thus the savvy chaser was first to get the contact. 10 x 30m CW contacts were had before consulting Sota watch for S2S opportunities. First was on 20m where I picked up SV2OKS (Greece) on SV/EP-039. Marginal contact not helped with the antenna not tuning properly, may have been the tree touching it? Next to 40m and HB9SOTA on HB/BE-134 (Switzerland) and eventually DL2FAX/P on DM/BW-013 (Germany – originally tried with DF7FX/P on same summit but could not get through the pile up calling S2S, (did any of the chasers hear?) Much more dog eat dog than at home 😦
9/9/17: Today started off a bit wet. This devèloped into heavier rain and Thunder storms with a bit of lightning thrown in. Decided to have a day in town. Note that quaint little French villages are not great places to walk through when the rain is more than a drizzle as pretty much all of the storm water goes into those narrow lane ways, the down pipes leak as do a lot of the spoutings (if they exist). Umbrella a necessity whilst we got away without gumboots. The wet weather certainly put a downer on the restaurant and cafe trade. Nan and I planned for our activities tomorrow; being to visit some of the villages to our south – a sort of self guided tour based upon A Year In Provence.
10/09/17: Market this morning. Hard to walk past all the delicious looking morsels, but we mostly did. Back to our apartment, quick pack up and to the car parked closeby a bit after 11:00 am.
First indication that something was wrong was when the remote locking would not unlock, so I used the key. Had to manually open the other doors but could not get into the rear. Next, no ignition, no nothing and no obvious problems that I could do anything about. Calling Enterprise car rentals assist phone number is interesting. The first minute or so is in rapid French, then music followed by a change into English, requesting you to select 2 for English instructions. This process will put you in touch with a French operator who may or may not have a better grasp of English than me of French. Being told to expect a tow truck in 45 minutes to an hour, I called back after 1.5 hours and had to repeat the process, this time with an operator who must have been a bit sharper. You see I had told the previous operator my phone number and that it was a UK mobile sim requiring a 0044 prefix but he had neglected to pass this on. Anyway, by 3:30 pm we had a jump start due to a flat battery (no idea why but not giving confidence in the vehicle).
Had a rushed tour to the villages of Maubec, Ménerbes, Lacoste, Bonnieux and Buoux before heading for home. Had some weird dash warning lights come on and off, like stability control, passenger airbag and this morning – low brake fluid. The said lights would often go off after restart. Computer, Instrumentation voltage regulator, crook vesicle earth, effects from the Coronal Mass Ejection from the sun? Do not know but, without a clear cause, our confidence in the car has diminished somewhat further.
Breakfast then a check to see about the car. It unlocks, starts and I can even lock it. This is when I noticed the brake fluid light (also hand brake light) being on with the car locked. Activating the hand brake on and off with the car now unlocked made no difference. Checked the fluid levels and all ok. Determining what a warning light may be is not as simple as it could be with a French instruction manual; but at least this car has one, different to the Volvo last year that has it accessible via the navigation consul and would be of little use with a flat battery. Anyway, decided to ignore it, prayed to the gods and we departed L’Isle Sur la Sorgue, first filling up with ULP at €1.41, very glad we did not have the mafia staff car!
First off was a visit to the ruins of Glanum.
Followed by Les Baux-de-Provence.
Back through Sainte Remy the back home. Gary Garmin with Aussie Kate certainly took us on an interesting trip home. Not the most direct and a couple of figure 8 roundabouts to negotiate. Anyway, made it back and planning a trip to Marseille tomorrow.
12/9/17: Take me away to Marseille.
8:13 am train from L’Isle sur la Sorgue SNCF departed on time. The rail route heads south to the Mediterranean coast then west into Marseille, passing everything from typical quaint villages to massive industrial complexes. Dare du Saint-Charles- Marseille is the end of the line. Marseille is Frances third biggest city ( Paris then Lyon) but reputed to be the oldest with ancient Greek heritage. Being a port city and close to the Rhone estuary, it was a major trading hub. Now, it is a typical city with lots of heritage but also hustle and bustle. Here it is hard not to notice what nearly all cities incur; being homeless persons but also large number of presumably Northern African emigrants.
We headed directly down hill to the port district and to the offices of Colour Bus that offer a day pass €19) for a hop on and hop off circuit tour of the city. Comes complete with multi-language comentary albeit my audio did not work. Did the full circuit first to get an overview.
There are 14 stops at relevant points of interest. Our 10:30am bus arrived back close to midday so we opted for an early lunch, being on the coast, local seafood was selected. Finished up close to 1:00 pm and headed to the bus to continue our rounds, wanting to visit Vallon des Auffes, Notre Dame de la Garde and Le Panier. Trouble was that Marseille had become embroiled in political protests as with numerous other French cities and all the roads in the port district were blocked. Police, trucks and people. Nan and I walked to the closest site then returned, the situation had only gotten worse with all three busses now stranded at Colour Bus HQ.
Another walk, but starting with a very short ferry trip across the harbour, up (and it is UP) to Notre Dame de la Garde. This is a typical extremely ornate Byzantine church, located on the highest point in town. Great views to Chateau d’If Island prison (Count of Monte Christo fame) and we could also still see the three stranded buses back at HQ. So much for hopping on and off plus unfortutately lousy value out of our day pass. Walked back down into town for a further look, skirting the protests and had an ice cold beer whilst waiting for the next train. Back by about 7:30 pm via the supermarket. Big lunch, omelet and glass of Ventoux red for dinner.
13/9/17: A lazy day
Late start, visit to the Patisserie and Boulanger. Picnic lunch (late) at Partage des Eaux L’Isle sur la Sorgue. Plan for tomorrows adventures.
14/9/17: Planned day to Abbey St. Michel-deFrigolet and Rochers Raous turns to merde.
Got up and went to the market. Not too many shoppers about. Maybe they knew something we did not? Walking back to our home, Nan noticed that some putain arsehole had smashed the drivers window. Had a look, nothing taken, nothing to take, nothing to see. Glovebox open. Unfortunately no signs of any blood that would indicate that the connard had cut themselves. Phone call to rental agency – well multiple as their phone contact system sucks.
Went to look at the Abbey (closed) and Rochers de Raous F/CR-355 (also closed due to fire danger). In general, information on accessing and activating French Sota summits (Sota watch) is extremely poor. Here is one link that may help with regard to summit access during a fire period. Fire Map. Link for Luberon and Bouches du Rhone district, period ends 30th September. Also Vaucluse area link will cover F/CR-163. The Vaucluse period concludes 15th September. Both periods commence 1st July.
Finished off with a picnic lunch off the side of the road near the Rhone river. Entire rest of the day spent here as a rock had crushed the fuel line. Got back by 8:00pm with a new car. Lots of phone calls required to arrange a tow. Communications between the different agencies are utterly hopeless. A recording to play back all the details (that were needed to be repeated many times) would have been handy. NEVER travel without a working phone if you can help it!
15/9/17: New car
Due to the late arrival back home last night, there were no car parks remaining in our vicinity so, with trepidation, the new Renauld Cio was parked some distance away. Still there the next morning and intact. No mongrel attacks last night. Took a trip through the Luberon to Aix-en-Provence, got there ok through some great mountain scenery and tight roads. This is a large town and, despite several drives through and around, could not find a carpark within cooee! Car parking in France is a national challenge and everything is fair game; roundabouts, pedestrian crossings, middle of a narrow street. Signs and the like seem not to be applicable to the locals. Instead, after another circuit of the fountain in the centre of town, we decided to get out.
Went to Venelles as it was a name on the map close by. Gary Garmin with Aussie Kate got us right to the to the top of the town, nothing there, so backtracked and looked for other options. This is where we discovered the town centre which is not in the centre if town. Lovely lunch at Cafe Canailles.
Got to practice our french with the proprietor and a local patron, a nice lady who owns the local shoe shop. Lunch is taken very seriously in France; not being a tourist town, it was nice to meet some “real” french people. Home much the same was with a stop at Pont Julien.
16/9/17: Out for lunch!
Sunny, slightly cool breeze, long pants and shoes rather than the shorts and sandals. A bit like Yea, we had driven through Pernes-les-Fontaines a number of times en route to other places. This time we stopped. We found the original walled village with plenty of fountains and a town market in full swing. Explored for as long as our car park was valid. Once again, not the easiest thing to find.
Next to the village of Venasque, a spectacular example of a classic hilltop village where a new building will be in the vicinity of 4 to 500 years old. Lunch at Les Ramparts, really nice €22 menu, house cat and views. Visited the 12th century church, even older baptistry and meandered through the village. Great view of Mt. Ventoux F/CR-007 with Chapel Notre-dam des Agnes F/CR/334 in the foreground.
Home via Le-Beaucet, La-Roque-sur-Perres, Velleron and Le-Thor.
17/9/17: Tempting fate?
Cooler weather today. Also Sunday market day, from where we picked up some supplies prior to re-visiting Rochers Raous F/CR-335 located to our south west towards Tarascon. No fire weather alerts, car in one piece so all should be fine!
At 168m, far from a high summit but worth the same points (1) as one at 943 m (F/CR-163). Being Sunday, there were a number of S2S opportunities and I knew the phone access here would be good.
From the second car park at Abbey of St. Michel-de-Frigolet, follow the bitumen road towards a lockable gate. On the RHS there is a gravel road with a similar but locked gate. Take the road that heads gently up hill to where it does a sharp bend and starts heading back down the hill. At the apex of this bend is a walking track that goes down into a gully then up to pick up the road near another sharp bend. Continue on the walking track at this second bend to the summit. There is nothing in large vegetation about and the summit can be seen when on the road approaching the first sharp bend. Lots of walking tracks in the area. The shale rock surface can be loose and slippery. You can see the abbey spires from most of the access route.
Heading up to the summit, armed with morning tea, Nan took a tumble on the loose rock surface and cut her hand. Activation was somewhat delayed whilst the first aid kit, assisted with toilet paper and electrical tape, was put into action. Not a pretty summit, nice views to the Rhone river, beware of prickly undergrowth.
First up was to check the bands. 40m cw seemed to have a contest going and was ver g congested so gave that the flick. Some strong phone signals on 40m ssb, cw on 30m and a bit on 20m. Checking the phone I saw S2S opportunities on 20m & got CU/OE4JWH/P and Mike 2EOYYY/Pfollowed by F/DH7FK/P on 40m ssb then LA1ENA & CT1DBS on 30m cw. Worked a number on 30m ( picked up by the RBN) and also on 40m ssb. Activation just under an hour. Picnic lunch back at the car then over to Beaucaire to visit the Abbaye Troglodytique de Saint Roman before setting off home, a bit over an hour away.
18/9/17: Breakfast and Lunch
One thing that is very easy to do here is to eat and drink. With home supplies running low, breakfast at the Cafe de France then Lunch at the Le Petit Cafe in Oppede. A walk through this mountain village is a must, if just to work off lunch.
19/9/17: Journey home begins.
Car back to Avignon TVG, train to Charles de Gaul airport. Overnight hotel stay and fly out via Singapore to Melbourne the following day at noon.
Update this page as our journey progresses.
Photos and hyperlinks and spell check also to follow. Aurevoir
Tony & Nan.