Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Saturday 26 July 2014 - Summer Holiday - Day 30 - Louvemont to Montreuil (Full Circle)


 

 
A leisurely start on a warm morning saw us heading north again, away from the cheery wagtails of Louvemont, on country roads. Paris was avoided by some margin as we passed to its east, via St Dizier, Vitry, Châlons, Reims, St Quentin, Arras and St Pol.

It's another warm day, though we did pass through a short shower.

We arrived at Camping La Fontaine des Clercs before 4pm, after passing indications of 'Les Miserables' and a Son et Lumière concerttonight, expecting to be turned away. However, there was space for us to enjoy our tenth and final night of camping in this excellent spot that is well known to us. Just as long as we avoid the Worst Pizzeria in Europe, which we once made the mistake of giving the benefit of doubt, we should be fine. 

So that's it really. For the sake of completeness I will post an entry tomorrow, but you might find watching Lewis Hamilton more exciting! 

There were few photo opportunities today so the images were taken here at the campsite, which extends down to the river. A blackbird is carrying out a full inspection of our possessions. Soon we will be off to walk around the walls (again) and find a beer in town.

Here's a slideshow for the day (16 images)
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Friday, 25 July 2014

Friday 25 July 2014 - Summer Holiday - Day 29 - Around Lac du Der


 

 
Last night Wassy was a dead loss for food. We couldn't find anything acceptable.

So off to the fleshpots of Saint Dizier we trundled, full of hope and expectation. A pleasant main square emerged from dowdy surroundings, with three restaurants, two of which we could sit outside in the sunshine. We made our choice. 

"Deux pression et le menu, s'il vous plait". The response was a polite "Sorry, we are not cooking tonight." So we went to L'Indus Italian Restaurant. The sun soon deserted us and my optimism took a dive when I saw someone else's pizzas coming out of the kitchen. We ordered what should have been a tasty meal but felt insulted by its poor quality. Bland food with burnt bits served on cold plates with no attempt to appeal to the taste buds. Dire! But at least we weren't poisoned like Andrew was in Badia when he went to watch the World Cup final.

Today we are concocting our traditional 'Cocktail of salads a la campsite' meal, with a selection of desserts,  the left over of which, if any, will be used for tomorrow's breakfast. 

Anyway, we slept well and the 9 o'clock bakery van provided nice croissants for breakfast. Then we headed off to Lac du Der, which has a visitor centre at Giffaumont-Champaubert that serves as a base for exploring the man-made lake and its surroundings. A bicycle would be helpful, but we managed without that luxury. 

The River Seine suffered devastating floods from the in 1910, 1924 and 1955, after which the lake was formed as part of a programme to regulate the flow of the river, and the Marne valley, much to the distress of the 300 inhabitants of three villages that were wiped off the map, but to the delight of those such as Parisiens further downstream. 

Each year the lake is allowed to fill up from December to June, by when it covers some 4800 hectares (it's 10km long). Then much of the water is gradually released, reducing the area of water to around 1000 hectares. 

Our visit to the Visitor Centre at Giffaumont-Champaubert, reached via massive fields of sunflowers, revealed leisure activities on an industrial scale. A 5km stroll hardly touched the surface. It was hot. Ice cream was most welcome. It was a bit like a giant Center Parcs complex, with extensive construction work going on, but once away from the crowds there was pleasant lakeside and woodland walking, with lots of interesting wildlife. As previously mentioned, those with bikes are at an advantage here.

Lunchtime beckoned and we drove into the pretty village of Giffaumont-Champaubert in search of bread and cheese, or similar. We found the Restaurant Le Cheval Blanc, cunningly disguised as a Logis hotel. We gave it a try. All last night's culinary disappointments were put to rest as we enjoyed a perfectly formed lunch in this lovely spot. The diners were largely French, a nationality that is pretty sparse on that country's campsites. Here the vast majority is Dutch, with Belgians a distant second. French and Brits tie for third place. That's it really, other nationalities must stay elsewhere. 

We returned from lunch by a devious route through picturesque villages with timbered buildings, such as Montier-en-Der, where there's a nice church - pictured. There's also a handy supermarket, the produce from which we'd better now scrape from its molten mass in the scorching hot footwell of the car. (It's not quite that bad, but tricky to keep cool on this roasting hot day that has proved to be exceedingly relaxing.)

Here's a slideshow for the day (34 images)
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Thursday, 24 July 2014

Thursday 24 July 2014 - Summer Holiday - Day 28 - St Claude to Louvemont


 

 
Strawberry tart for breakfast was followed by a chocolate croissant/pain au raisin when the bakery van arrived. They like their tarts here, as Susan discovered in Badia, where Ricky's were probably the best we've had.

By 9.30 we'd paid our bill and had got Patricia to telephone ahead to book us into another 'Flower Campings' site for a couple of nights. We were there by 3.30 after 200 miles of French country roads, having decided to avoid motorways until back in the UK.

Sadly, we narrowly missed Besancon and its 2* Michelin restaurant recommended by Humphrey, but after stopping at Decathlon in Dole to replenish gas supplies we did enjoy an excellent coffee at Le Convivial Comtois restaurant in the pleasant village of Moissey. Menu du Jour looked a good bet at €12.50, but not at 11.30am.

Sweetcorn, Sunflowers and Silage seemed to feature highly on our journey through lush countryside interspersed with the small villages and walled towns of the Haut-Saône. We didn't have time to explore, but at least we didn't zoom past on the motorways. Farm vehicles featured strongly (pictured). Alan R would be in his element. 

Around Joinville, not far from our destination, we encountered a storm, during which the temperature dropped from 30C to 17C. Luckily, by the time we reached here the rain had passed - it didn't rain here - and the temperature was back up to a rather sweaty 29C.

Sue is pictured at our home for the next couple of nights. It's the Domaine du Buisson site near Lac du Der, which we will explore tomorrow. If you need electricity, the site is full; for the minority who don't have that requirement there is plenty of space. The next tent is some distance away and although we are pitched in the middle of a wood, there's a strong wifi signal so this message should 'send' without difficulty.

There's no shop here, so we'll enjoy our dinner in nearby Wassy.

Here's a slideshow for the day (26 images)
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Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Wednesday 23 July 2014 - Summer Holiday - Day 27 - Lac de Vouglans and Longchaumois


 
Decisions! Stay put or move on? Inertia and a desire to finish my book (A Load of Old Bones - Suzette Hill) dictated the former. We also had a desire to explore the Jura in rather better weather than yesterday's.

Despite some cloud today, we did have to dig out the sun tan cream, and shorts and t-shirts were the only clothing needed.

After eventually getting away at about 10.30, curiously booking an extra night in a queue of people who should have been leaving but were all extending their stays, we drove a few miles to the large Lac de Vouglans. Our first view (top picture) of the lake was from Le Regardoir, a restaurant just beyond the interesting looking village of Moirans-en-Montagne. Coffees went down well, but we eschewed the nearby via ferrata route after seeing in the car park the minibuses that transport a group of French children who are staying on the campsite.

A little further on, we parked at the Mairie in the village of Maisod for a 6 km stroll around a headland. Sue is pictured on the beach that we reached via pleasant woodland paths from which we harvested some chanterelles for supper. There had been only a few places from which to look out over the lake, including a spot where a witch had been created out of sticks. 

The lake was formed in the Ain valley in 1965, creating the reservoir for the Vouglans hydro-electric scheme that controversially drowned numerous villages and antiquities.

After passing several picnic spots (we had no picnic, my cash reserves were left in the tent) we lunched frugally in a beachside café before returning from that 28C sunspot, slowly uphill, past what looked like a great campsite, on quiet roads back to Maisod. Our route passed numerous brightly coloured flower beds, with accompanying poems, and a piece of machinery (third picture) for forensic analysis by Alan R.

Next, a drive to Longchaumois via St Claude, where we stopped to pick up dinner, thanks to Sue's credit card. The road wound up around 500 metres to a plateau at about 900 metres. Here we found 'Maison de la Flore'. Three rooms had aspects of geology, local life, and cut and labelled flower specimens. Outside, trees were nicely labelled, including two giant sequoias, planted when the park was established in the 1860's. They have a long way to grow to reach full size - one of them is pictured, the lowest of four pictures I'm attempting to send today, given that there seems to be a strong wifi signal here in our tent in the middle of the campsite. 

A series of birds had been nailed to trees, each viewed through a fixed lensless 'telescope' mounted on a box that responded to anyone viewing the bird through the telescope by playing a sound track of the relevant birdsong. Excellent! 

A musk orchid (Herminium monorchis) was on display - there is an important site for these nearby - and numerous other orchids, many of which we've seen on this trip, were also on display.

Just as we were about to leave, it was suggested that we might like to see the exhibition of spectacles (lunettes). Having skilfully avoided St Claude's pipe museum yesterday, we succumbed today and spent the next hour plus with our guide, an enthusiast who spoke, naturally, only in French, and one other tourist. Between 1800 and 1940, local farmers made spectacles during the winter months when snow covers the landscape and farming tasks are minimal. We received a comprehensive education as to the art of spectacle making, including demonstrations of pince-nez etc, showing us how the tiny screws are made, how the arms are curved, and how the lenses are cut and ground and bevelled, etc. It really was most comprehensive and if I'd been able to communicate better I'm sure I'd have come away with some repaired sunglasses. 

We extricated ourselves after 5pm and enjoyed a further chat with the flower enthusiasts before returning to the busy but quiet (our neighbours are bikers - always quiet as soon as the engines are turned off) campsite to enjoy our salads, chanterelles and chocolate slices before an early night and a scenic drive tomorrow.

Here's a slideshow for the day (43 images)
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Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Tuesday 22 July 2014 - Summer Holiday - Day 26 - In Search of Cascades


 

 
It rained. Sue didn't bother with waterproofs but I wore mine all day. We were equally damp at the end. It was that sort of mizzle from a cloud base just above us.

We walked from the campsite for a total of about 24km with 850 metres ascent. 

First stop, on the way to which the upper river picture was taken, was St Claude, a place perhaps similar in size to Luchon in the Pyrenees. After coffee there, we set off towards a cascade but missed the path. So we tolerated a section of the GR route that traverses the Jura. Mostly uphill on tarmac in trees.

Eventually, after an al fresco lunch courtesy of Spar, we found a way round to a small cascade by a hydro plant - the Combes cascade. It wasn't a huge waterfall. Most paths were blocked off for repairs from July 2014 to April 2015. It didn't seem to have occurred to them that anyone might approach from our direction. 

The lack of a map was a minor hindrance that we overcame by devious means to locate the Cascade de la Vouivre. This wasn't very big either. It's pictured, with Sue dodging the torrent.

Nearby were giant mushrooms/toadstools and different types of Red Helleborine, Bellflowers and Melilots, to name but a few of the plants, which are 'woodland' rather than 'alpine' here in the Jura.

This is an area of waterfalls. We noticed on our return to St Claude that there was a plethora of 'Cascade' postcards, none of which featured those we visited today. 

Dinner was acquired from shops as we returned through the ancient cathedral town of St Claude, and eaten in the room above the campsite restaurant - a large games/TV/dining sort of area - very convenient. 

I think we made the best of a dull, rainy day. We met two other walkers all day. The area is pleasantly wooded and hardly overcrowded. Dutch and French dominate the campsite.

Here's a slideshow for the day (43 images)
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Monday, 21 July 2014

Monday 21 July 2014 - Summer Holiday - Day 25 - Chiesa to Parc Regionale de Haut-Jura


 
Rain in France.

Luckily we arrived here during a break in the rain, allowing us to pitch the tent and enjoy a cuppa outside in the sunshine before another sheet of wet stuff blanketed the Jura mountains. 

'Here' is Camping Le Martinet just outside Saint Claude in the Jura, the delights of which town we have yet to savour.

After 350 miles of driving it was lovely to receive a welcome from Stephanie that matched our recent hospitality in Italy. We arrived after 6pm, just in time to order croissants for breakfast, but too late to get a table inside the restaurant, where we are relegated to an outside spot under a huge canopy onto which the rain is thundering. 

It was overcast in Valmalenco when we paid our farewells to Diana and her other guests after a fine Italian breakfast, and it remained dry all the way past Milan and Turin to Courmayeur. We caught glimpses of the Monte Rosa massif, its huge tracts of snow poking out from giant banks of cloud. 

We couldn't pass Courmayeur without visiting our old friend Alessandro at his hotel in Entreves. He welcomed us with open arms, not to mention tea and cappuccino. Hotel Aigle is a great place, slightly off the beaten track, but commended for both summer and winter visits. It was discovered by Nick in 2008 when he was helping us with some Italian Border Route bookings. You must visit Alessandro sometime, Nick.

We are pictured above with Alessandro, who like me has become a grandad since we last met. The other picture was taken from the hotel towards Mont Blanc, well in the cloud today, but with the Italian (I forget its correct name) glacier tumbling into view below its umbrella of cloud. 

It was a shame to have to pass La Clusaz and Annecy without calling in on Chantal and Joël, and Pierre and Yolaine, who are all away on holiday. And to pass by Geneva without any contact from Alistair and Laurence. Never mind, there will be other opportunities. 

Laugh of the day: Sondrio has some very 'loud' blue and white striped pedestrian crossings. We were delayed briefly as a ginger cat sauntered casually across. ..

Here's a slideshow for the day (4 images)
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Sunday, 20 July 2014

Sunday 20 July 2014 - Summer Holiday - Day 24 - Val Malenco


 
The sound of rain finally dulled the hum from the power station at around 6am.

The campsite wasn't all bad though. Apart from the stony pitch and the noisy power station neighbour, the staff were happy and friendly, the showers were very good, there were good covered picnic tables and easy chairs, the bar was good, and the cost for two people with a car and a tent - €8. My advice to anyone using this facility - take earplugs if (unlike me) you can cope with them, and place your tent directly behind the climbing wall where you are sheltered from the sound of the power station. 

We packed up after the rain stopped, and headed to the tourist information office. Soon we were in B&B Ca' Erminia where our host, Diana, realised that our breakfast of yoghurt and tea had been a little deficient. So we are actually staying in a B&2B establishment. It's a top of the range place with a lovely bed cum living room and all mod cons. 

We were in no hurry, having abandoned a possible plan to walk part of the Alta Via delle Valmalenco on a hut to hut basis. The weather isn't brilliant and we are a bit tired from sixteen days' walking without a break. So today was just a recce.

We caught the 11.30 cablecar - Funivia Snow Eagle - lifting us in just a few minutes from 1000 to 2000 metres. There was lots of ugly ski paraphernalia at the top, but I think the skiing in Valmalenco is concentrated here, so most of the Alta Via should be free of such eyesores. 

The rain started again soon after noon, and it remained showery thereafter. 

Our route around Lago Palù took us to Rifugio Palù. Sadly we were unable to locate the mushrooms that Diana had alerted us to, but the lattes in the Rifugio were the best of the entire trip, served by happy smiling people relishing a busy Sunday at the Rifugio. What a contrast to the grumpy folk at Rifugios Averau and Nuvolau last week. 

Our recce continued with a walk to nearby Alpe Roggione, where an elderly lady spends the summers living in a very basic shelter, pictured behind the folk in the above photo. She chatted to us whilst her grandchildren played in the Lilliputian houses nearby and her chickens ranged freely without even realising that they were chickens. 

Three men appeared. After enjoying the delights of the Alta Via delle Valmalenco for three days they were descending in the day's indifferent weather before returning to work in nearby Milan. Jacobo, Paulo and Max are pictured in front of the old lady's house, together with Sue and Isabel. It was great to meet you three and we hope you get in touch with us and even visit the UK.

We soon stopped for an al fresco lunch during a pause in the drizzle. Then we completed an 8km circuit with 300 metres ascent, via Bocchel del Torno and Alpe Campolungo. There was the usual plethora of flowers in the view punctuated woodland, with masses of bellflowers, orchids, saxifrages and houseleeks, to name but a few. 

By the time we'd returned to the B&2B via the cable car and Chiesa village, we'd decided to substitute Alta Via delle Valmalenco for next year's suggested trip to walk Alta Via 2 in September. 

It was strange to look at our car and to puzzle how it looked as if it had spent the day in the Sahara desert and not in a Chiesa car park!

Later, in Ristorante Malenco, over a traditional local meal of Bresaola (air cured beef), Pizzocheri (pasta made with black flour, cheese, cabbage and potato), Sciatt (deep fried cheese balls with salad) and tiramisu/crema Catalane for dessert, our waitress explained the difference between the unerringly friendly people here and the grumps we had encountered at Rifs Averau and Nuvolau. "We are all Italians here" she claimed, indicating that many of those met in the South Tyrol area had different, non Italian, character traits.

Whatever - the friendly welcome that we have enjoyed in this valley over the past 24 hours has resulted in their local hutting route being promoted above AV2 on our long distance calendar.

Here's a slideshow for the day - 48 images
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