Spring in Europe is very changeable. The weather in April varied from sunny and very warm to freezing cold, windy and rainy. One day it got to 34 degrees in Jarnac and Michael braved the chilly waters of the Charante River for a dip. Our experiences this month mirrored this variability. We had a mix of village life in Jarnac; some island life in L’ile de Re; some long drives through Spain and into Portugal; and a little ‘touristing’ in Salamanca. Just add in a little more bureaucracy to season the mix!
After a few false starts on where we could meet up - due to our camping car issues -we finally caught up with our Pommie friends from last year, Peter and Maureen. This time last year we spent a couple of weeks with them at Ile d’Oleron and Ile de Re, two islands off the Atlantic coast of France near La Rochelle. This year we met up in Ars en Re, on the Ile de Re. This really is the prettiest village, with a great market every day and lots of good cycle tracks between the 10 villages on the island. We had a fierce and epic boules tournament with Peter and Maureen, as we are very evenly matched. Some games took over 2 1/2 hours! This was our version of The Ashes, so you can imagine all the comments about boule tampering and cheating that we had to contend with! However, after some nail-biting games we did manage to take the trophy for Australia.
We also rode to other villages for lunch, putting up with more comments about cheating because we have electric bikes. The rides through the saltpans and oyster farms and along the coastline are incredibly beautiful and the bird-life is amazing! After Maureen and Peter left we took another longer ride to St Martins and had lunch at one of the seafood places along the bike path.
When we returned to Jarnac our friend Marc le Grand drove up from Bordeaux to see us, as promised. We had a lovely lunch with him at the La Comedie restaurant. It was so great to hear that his health is well managed (even though it ties him to France for blood testing each week) and his business is booming. His cooperage is near Porto in Portugal so he was able to give us some hints about travel in that country. This was the first time we had been back to La Comedie for a few weeks and Marc was surprised at the ‘rock star’ welcome we received. He probably didn’t realise how much time and money we had spent at the place in the last month. Plus, we’re never sure whom they like the most, as they make such a fuss of Grubie we think she may be the rock star!
We enjoyed meeting up again with our friend Thomas Hardy who owns the gorgeous Maison de L’Ecluse in the middle of the Charante River that is our home address in France. We did an almost exact replay of our Anzac Day barbeque last year, except it wasn’t cold and raining and we had more guests. It was fun to meet up again with Louis and Isabelle and to party again with Steve and Mo. We all tried to speak as much French as possible, as Isabelle’s English is about the same standard as our French. It made for a fun evening.
Eventually we tore ourselves away from Jarnac and headed for Portugal to meet up with Sue’s sister Lindy and her husband JB in Lisbon on the 10th May. We drove from Jarnac to Biarritz just near the French/Spanish boarder. What a nightmare drive! The trucking from near Bordeaux on the Jarnac side as far as San Sebastian the next morning was unrelenting. There is one lane chock-a-block with semi-trailers and then they over-take each other. There was lots of roadwork slowing things up as well.
After a brief overnight stop in Biarritz we headed past San Sebastian and across into Spain and eventually to Salamanca. The countryside of north-western Spain is beautiful. Quite different from our trip south along the Mediterranean coast of Spain. Here it’s far lusher with very green vegetation and pretty villages. This then gave way to pine forests and then wide plains with hardly a tree but full of cereal crops as we neared Salamanca.
Salamanca was a bit of a surprise for us, we loved it and it became a valued destination rather than the stop-over we intended. Salamanca is famous, among other things for being the battle where Wellington defeated the French forces in 1812. We stayed at a campground about 5 km out of the city and rode our bikes into the old town along a quite challenging bike path. Grubie loves towns with bike tracks because it means she can go ‘touristing’ too. However, Salamanca and other areas of Portugal have cobblestoned streets, which make for a very bumpy ride. Someone told us our dog was ‘like a good martini: shaken, not stirred’!! Salamanca has wonderful architecture and a large vibrant old town, much of it built from sandstone and with old ochre Latin writing on the outside. The huge Plaza Mayor, a large square surrounded by colonnades and full of outdoor cafes reminded us a little of San Marco in Venice, but without the flooding! Apparently it was even used as a bullfighting arena in the past. Salamanca has Europe’s second oldest university and it is still very large. We were there on a graduation day and there were lots of students walking around in the gowns.
Next stop will be in Portugal, in Porto. We are looking forward to experiencing another European country, one neither of us has visited before.