European Tour - A bit in the middle

After having watched a guy in budgie smugglers pull 20+ fish from the river we'd been and bought two high quality fishing poles and starter float and hook kits from Decathlon costing just over €10 each. Sunday dawned and rather than head fishing straight away we headed further north to Millau, a town I have driven through a few times many years ago. Normally you'd spend two hours or more getting through this bottleneck but around 10 to 15 years ago they built a bridge that spans the valley the town is in. So what? Well the valley is pretty huge. The bridge is 4km long and at it's highest point the crane operator was working 76 floors up. Even better the bridge was designed by a Brit, Sir Norman Foster if my mind serves me right. 

We decided to approach the bridge from the town, rather than go across it. I'd been across it two years ago and it's awesome, but it is still a motorway so you can't stop and take photos. We managed to get right underneath it at its highest point, stunning. We also moved on to take photos further up the valley. 


The cars and lorries on the bridge give you the scale, can't see them. Yep the bridge is massive, they're there.

After a spot of lunch under the bridge we headed back to Pont de Diable to try our fishing skills. It started badly as before we'd even got the hooks in the water we'd tangled our two lines. 15 minutes later and Helena was fishing, 5 or more minutes after that I was untangled and ready to go. I caught after a few mins, then another. Easy. Helena wasn't having so much luck. Eventually she caught her first but only by hooking it in its side. They all count. Unfortunately we were due beck for dinner at 6pm and only had 45 mins to fish. Still we caught 10 or so but not enough to feed everyone that night so we released them all to the wild, well bar the one I managed to kill. 

That night La Mams had arranged for all the family to come for dinner. First cycled over to Sylvie and Cyril's lovely house for a few pre dinner drinks and were joined by Cathy, Brice and their boys. After that we went for a high meal chez La Mams. With some wine inside both of us we were able to have some great conversations with the family. It was a lovely night. 


Sadly we needed to move on. This European tour isn't going to get done if we stay in one place, as much as we'd love to. 

Monday saw us head to the Ardeche, somewhere I've quite fancied since the PGL school trip that we couldn't afford for me to go on. Since it was only a 3 hour drive, we got to drive through and around the gorge that afternoon. It's stunning and one day I will canoe down it and they did on the school trip. I also quite fancy cycling the road that follows it, very hilly but spectacular. 


We spent the night at the East end of the gorge and I got to go fishing in the river. Cracking. I only caught one but it was great fun.

The following morning we visited Aiguèze, a stunning little village before heading beffor a rendezvous with Rohan from work and his partner Truda in Provence. We spent a lovely afternoon and evening with them and even got to sample a lovely curry from Rohan, ,are all the better with the homegrown chillies I had in the van.


After a night with Rohan and Truda we headed for Italy. We didn't really know how far we'd get or even if we would make Italy. Once again the satnav was programmed to avoid toll roads. This turned out to be an excellent idea as it guided us through mountains all day and eventually over a 1987m pass and into Italy. The way up had been a gradual ascent, the way down was the exact opposite with 19 numbered hairpins, just the sort of driving I love. I did consider taking my bike off the back of the van and letting Helena see if she could keep up with me on the way down as she drove Vern but in the end opted to just drive Vern myself. 

We spent the night on a small campsite that was just on the way. For us it was on the way to Siena which was out next stop for two nights. I'd been to Siena 25 years ago with New Zealand Greg but couldn't really remember much other than the famous square around which they race horses and also a big church (that we probably didn't go into). The campsite was great as there was a bus service into the centre of town which cost us all of €1.30 each way each. Not bad for a 10km or more ride. We soon found the square, the church and a load of other stuff. We're really not much good at cultural stuff at all. We ate at what looked like a promising restaurant called Il Vicolo but it turned out to serve us some pizza that couldn't have been any more bland. Something the Italians are famous for done so badly, the staff should have been shot on the spot, don't even think of eating there. What an anticlimax. We did find a superb deli though and bought some lovely chilli's to replace the ones we'd left behind by mistake with Rohan, some huge green Olives, capers and some mozzarella. Back at the site we had out first proper Italian meal, yummy.


Rohan had recommended lake Trasemino to us and so we decided to head there. We found a great site in the grounds of a hotel with pitches running all the way down to the lake. We weren't lucky enough to get one right on the lake but were probably only 20m away. We used this as a base to relax for a couple of days and also to take the train to Florence.

As soon as we arrived in Florence we stumbled on the central market. Now this is the type of tourism we're good at, food. The stalls were amazing, the food looked delicious, the fish and meat stands looked amazing. After a tour we headed to a stand selling deep fried squid and sea bass. For €7 we had a box full with a chunk of lemon to squeeze over it. It was delicious. So simple, so amazing. We also picked up parmesan and some freshly made ravioli and gnocchi, heaven. We toured the city and agreed that this is somewhere we could return to, purely to sample the foods, the sights aren't what do it for us even though we did some of them. We did find Grom, an ice-cream shop Helena had ready about. Their ice creams were amazing and only €2.50 each. 


Our last tour of Umbria was supposed to be to Perugia. However having toured the town in the van for 30 mins or more we ditched the idea as all the carparks banned camper vans. How rubbish. We should have looked for the park and ride. Anyway I'd been given recommendations on where we should go by Justin at my old work and so we headed for Spello. What a beautiful town it turned out to be. We grabbed a sandwich of handout parma ham and cheese which was gorgeous. Following Spello we headed to Montefalco, another of Justin's recommendations. Very nice too, perfect for a cheeky beer. 



Umbria done it was time to head towards Croatia but with a three night stop in Mestre, the gateway to Venice. We stayed on a campsite with probably the poshest loos I've ever seen. The pitches weren't great but the bus stopped outside the site and went straight to the bus station in Venice and took all of 10 mins. Perfect. We spent two days walking mostly around parts of Venice we'd not visited last time we were there, while visiting a couple of our favourite haunts too. We walked almost 10 miles each day easing the pain with a Spritz or two along the way and a quick ice-cream from Grom. 

Venice done it was time to head to Croatia. We'd heard so many good things, would it match up to them?

Rio Saint Girolamo

© Nic Williams 2014