Calvi-Solenzara- and Au Revoir for now-

We spend three nights at Calvi, spending our first day wandering the old city, which means more climbing in extreme heat, although near the top of the citadel there’s a strategically placed ice cream shop with shady seating. The views are worth the effort, the harbour full to bursting with some of the most expensive boatage to be seen on the Med.

We’re less ambitious on our second day, opting to do a late afternoon stroll on the boardwalk that runs along the railway line. A tiny train putters back and forth around the bay. In the evening we go and find a harbourside bar for a beer and a people watching session- always a pleasant way to pass an hour or two.

We leave Calvi in the morning to head south via some ancient excavations, a journey which becomes frustrating. The ruins are next to a Basilica- elegant from the outside but tickets are required for a glimpse inside- tickets from some museum or other located elswhere! I wonder how many visitors the church receives! Likewise, the remains of the ancient village- medeival perhaps-who knows?

There’s an annnoying search for a site after this, and we end up checking into an enormous ‘beach village’ with 3 or 4 pools, huge bar, restaurant and ‘entertainment’ area with gift shop etc. I’m interested to see that their FB page is telling everyone to cut down on electricity use when their multiple pools and splashparks are fully functioning! It’s ok for 1 night though and next day we pootle on south to a site near Serenzola on a beach, which couldn’t be more different- a ramshackle bar/reception and choose pitch where we like. It’s bohemian and we spend an afternoon on the beach, although when I attempt entry to the sea I’m stymied by my feeble water skills on the steep ledge and have to extricate myself by shuffling backwards, thus filling my cozzie with gritty sand; then I have to remove it by pulling it out of my pants area- not a dignified look, but one that entertains Husband, of course.

We’ve only one more night on Corsica for now so we head on down towards Bonifacio where there’s a site near the port city, in an old olive grove. It’s still too hot to do much but we attempt a walk along a footpath towards the town which quickly becomes overgrown and impassable. There aren’t many people daft enough to attempt walking into Bonifacio. But we’ve already visited. If you haven’t visited, reader I heartily suggest you do. I’d put it in my top 10 European cities and Number 1 most beautiful harbour!

It just remains for us to get to port next morning and get on the ferry, navigating around the narrow streets and down a very steep road to the marina. I’m glad we’re going down, not up, but we’ll have to on our way back! We get a coffee and settle down to wait, discovering later that we need a barcode for our tickets- not something we knew. I go to the ticket office then a battered, ancient ferry comes wheezing around the limestone cliff. We, the passengers must get out of vehicles and Husband has to reverse into the hold, being shouted instructions at. It may be as well that he’s so hard of hearing on this occasion. Then we’re off! And just across the water, Sardinia awaits!

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook.

Coast to Mountains in Corsica

We relax for a couple of days at Baie de Voies, near Porto Vecchio, following our arrival to Corsica. It’s a sheltered bay, the sea glassy and flat with a roped off area for swimming so I take advantage here, where even my lack of swimming expertise can’t lead me into difficulties. But the water is deliciously warm and there’s nobody watching my undignified floundering about.

There’s little else here except for a restaurant opposite our site entrance. When we wander up there, we join a long queue to enter, but we’re soon in and sitting outside. I’m fascinated by the meals at the next-door table, where one of the starters appears to be an enormous bone, halved lengthways, from which the lady diner scoops the marrow.

Next day we’re off up north, aiming for Calvi, but deciding to break the journey at Corte, in the mountains. a city which used to be the capital of Corsica. To begin with the road is busy and especially snarled through the small towns but when we leave the coast road to turn inland it becomes quiet. It’s still hot- the low 30s- as it has been almost since arriving to France.

Along the winding road there are wandering cows grazing and as we round one bend there’s an enormous, bloated corpse of an animal, feet sticking straight up. It’s a wild boar.

The site we’ve found at Corte is tricky to get into- accessed by a very narrow bridge over a river, but we make it. There are only 2 pitches available. It’s rustic, converted farm buildings providing the services, but it’s pleasant enough- and handy for the town. We’re only here for one night, but early enough for a climb up to the citadel, which we can see glimpses of through the trees on our site. It’s another stiff climb up and up and when we reach the entrance we must pay entry to the museum to continue.

I’m not interested in reading the verbose passages in the museum- a few short sentences of information would have been fine, but the views from the very top of the fortification are breathtaking- mountains crowned with wispy clouds and the old towns terracotta rooftops.

It’s a fine, handsome old town with crumbling facades, bust with tourists and locals alike. We get a beer in the square- reward for our climbing efforts, then meander back to our site.

In the morning we pack up and set off towards Calvi, on the north coast, a city with a reputation for tourism. When we arrive, we locate our site, although it’s an inauspicious entrance, like the track into a recycling depot, but we get to reception and duly ring the intercom, to be told to enter through the barrier and cross the site to the ‘second reception’, which we do.

Here it’s hotter than ever, with shade at a premium so we opt for a spot under the eucalyptus trees where one or two others have parked. The site seems unprepared for vans and motorhomes and when I DO find a water source it’s a grubby hosepipe on the dusty ground, the water brackish and unpalatable.

As with most of Corsica so far, the site is crammed with mainly German tourists, a smattering of Dutch, one or two Swiss and not one single British vehicle have we seen. But we’re a step away from Calvi city centre and it’s outrageously picturesque, which is good news if we can summon the effort to go and look in the searing temperatures!…

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook.

Over the Med to Corsica

On the quayside at Toulon, waiting for the ferry to load we become listless in the oppressive heat of the evening. By 10.30pm we’re still not going anywhere, even though we’ve moved Heaven and Earth to find our way here, to check in and follow all the gabbled instructions. In the next lane there are motor bikes and some ageing bikers who provide some interest. We make tea and continue to wait. In the terminal building a counter is doing furious trade in croque monsieurs and baguettes and I push through the crowd to get 2 bottles of water for the night.

At last a stream of vehicles begins to come past in the opposite direction and foot passengers dragging wheelie cases stagger past looking exhausted. I wonder where they can go at 11pm?

We’re waved on, up the ramp and into the hold. Hooray! We clamber up the inevitable numerous flights of stairs to the passenger decks and flourish our cabin sticker at a crew member. There’s a long series of corridors like a Premier Inn then we’re at our door, although without a key. We’re rescued by a man wielding key cards and we’re in. The cabin is tiny but has two narrow beds, a window and a shower and toilet. Hooray again! We dump our overnight bags and head for any kind of bar we can find and everything is open and serving; the restaurant food looks good but it’s late and we’ve eaten. There’s a wait to get a drink but we do, then sink down into seats, grateful to be on board and on the way. The lights of Toulon slowly recede as we glide out of harbour into the dark.

The ship is busy. Families, couples, singles, dogs- all life is here, passing by, queuing up, bustling, but it all settles down and there’s nothing else to do except get a quick shower and turn in. In spite of my poor record of sleep on overnight ferries, this time I sleep as if drugged and wake to see it’s already 8.30am. There’s no rush because we won’t dock until 12.00midday. When we surface, heading for the bar’s ‘express breakfast’ [orange juice, croissant, coffee] it’s almost as if the bustling has continued throughout the night, with people and dogs everywhere.

This is a ferry with aspirations of cruise ship. On the top deck there’s a tiny pool surrounded by deck chairs, a pool bar serving drinks and snacks. A couple of islands pass by- Elba perhaps?

We wander around the side and I sit down next to an elderly French lady who is going to visit family. We enjoy a chat together, both of us proud grandparents.

Sure enough, as midday approaches, so does Corsica and we’re pulling into Porto Vecchio in stately fashion, turning down along a lengthy inlet, motor and sail boats racing past. Then we’re told to return to our vehicles. we drive off, making for a supermarket first before driving a few kilometres up the road and out of town to our first site, at ‘Baie de Voies’. Down a long track to a beach there are terraced pitches facing the sea. It’s a peaceful setting, small boats moored up and a roped off swimming area. We check in, park up, plug in and relax. It’s been a long old journey!…

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook.

A Long Trek South

It’s that time of year. Once upon a time I’d have been looking in the shop windows and scowling at the ‘Return to School’ posters- or ‘Rentre d’ecole’ in France. I’d have been making reluctant moves towards dragging myself into my classroom and making attempts to sort it out, to install displays, to cluster tables, to assemble materials, to familiarise myself with what I’ve planned [seemingly eons ago at the end of last term], to prepare for the new school year. There was always a tiny frisson of anticipation mixed up with the heavy-heartedness of end of holiday feelings but overall there was always a regret; end of summer, like the finish of a riotous party where the empty bottles and glasses roll about, leaves beginning to drop and heavy morning dews.

Nowadays, though, it’s just the grandchildren welling up into excited anticipation at the prospect of new teachers and challenges. For we dropouts from employment it’s escape. Hopefully the most extreme heatwaves will have subsided, although there have been hefty storms crashing about the Med. Today, as we make preparations of a different kind, a soft, mizzly rain is enveloping the parched garden as if to say: ‘Go on- off with you!’ and so we’ll be obliging, heading southwards for a solid block of travel that will take us right into October.

So it’s an early start on this Wednesday morning, a roll on to the ferry [and we’re lucky to live so close to port], a coffee and down to the couchettes to relax the hours of the crossing away. It’s the busiest ferry this year, with many families of young children, toddlers galluping around the ship trailed by their weary parents. The salon is not as tranquil as it should be.

We make a brief detour to collect a SIM card from the Orange shop at Cherbourg then we’re off, making use of the easy motorways and packing in a half a day’s motoring before we search out our first stop- an aire in the countryside, the back of beyond. It’s quiet, an ex campsite, the dilapidated shower block half hidden in the trees. But there’s water and emptying and we’re sharing with just one other van, French.

The night is hot, sticky and restless but it’s a cloudy start as we prepare to move, although by the time we’re filling up with water the sun is out again. We’re in for a long haul of driving today- south and east, on route nationale for the first part then motorway. Husband has planned the route but has been ambitious, since the morning;s motoring is not swift. We press on in spite of the heat, stopping for combined coffee and lunch.

A long drive across a country is endlessly fascinating: the crops, the homes, the tiny villages and grand towns, chateaux, rivers, canals, vineyards. Often it’s tempting to stay instead of passing through. One village is advertising a ‘Feste de Boites de Lettres’. Who wouldn’t want to stay and attend a letterbox festival? But we need to press on for onward travel commitments.

There are a few irritants, like diversions and road works so that we’re obliged to revise the plan and find a nearer site for a rest day. I plump for Chatel de Neuvre, on the Allier river, but as we near Chatel we encounter a major road overhaul which throws us off course. I search frantically for an alternative crossing of the river, managing to spot a tiny back road just in the nick of time.

We find the site. It’s a little old campsite by the river, low on modernisation but strong on charm, the gravelly voiced receptionist showing us to a pitch overlooking the water. It’s warm and we eat outside watching the river roll by. Tomorrow we’ll take it easy, explore the town and stretch our legs…

Short and Sweet in Dorset

We don’t always travel long distance with the van. We’ve just returned from spending some time in a very scenic and beautiful part of our own lovely county of Dorset.

To the west of Dorset, near where it joins the neighbouring county of Devon, a rocky peninsula protrudes into the English Channel. This is called the Isle of Purbeck, not actually an island as it can be accessed by road, but a far more interesting route is via a small chain ferry from the popular beach resort of Sandbanks, near Poole. The ferry queue is often long in the summer months, but if you are lucky it’s only a short wait for the ferry, which crosses the entrance to Poole Harbour.

On the other side there is a flat road across the heathland-a backdrop to some wonderful beaches- and then it’s hilly farmland dotted with characterful villages, their cottages of yellow, Purbeck Stone from one of the quarries here.

We head for ‘Tom’s Field’, a rustic site on a farm in the village of Langton Matravers, just outside the seaside town of Swanage. Tom’s Field is well known, although we generally prefer a site a little farther out, Acton Field, which we believe, on this occasion is closed. In matters of sites we like to seek out places close to communities that offer pubs, restaurants and similar amenities and Langton Matravers is perfect.

Early September is offering a few days of warm sunshine. We get a bus from the village down into Swanage, which is archetypal British seaside at its best, with a beautiful curving beach, plethora of fish and chip shops, cafes, arcades, candy floss, a handsome pier and, best of all, a tiny Punch and Judy theatre on the sand.

Like pantomime, Punch and Judy is peculiar to British culture. While it’s been around for about 300 years it’s as entertaining as it ever was, un-PC, violent slapstick by florid puppets. some of the jokes are as old as Punch and Judy itself- the crocodile and the sausages, the whacking by naughty Mr Punch, the ill-treatment of the baby. Other jokes are topical. Swanage Punch and Judy is one of only 3 left in the country, 2 of which are in Dorset!

After watching the show [all of 10 minutes], we wander on to the pier, magnificent in Victorian glory and with a view of Old Harry Rocks. It is beautifully maintained, although you must purchase a ticket for the privelege of walking on it. Then of course it’s tea [we are British, after all] at a seafront cafe before we stroll back to the station to get a bus back to our site.

In the evening there are the pleasures of The Kings Arms- Langton Matravers’ pub, all old beams, flagstones and local banter. We once enjoyed a ‘lock-in’ here, many years ago when we visited with a singer-guitarist friend. There is a good selection of beers [most important].

Next day we loll about a bit then set off from our site and up across the fields to the Priests’ Way, a footpath which will take us to an even more ancient and iconic hostelry called ‘The Square and Compass’, in another village- Worth Matravers. We’ve been here many times. It sits up in an imposing position above the sea. From here you can walk down to the whimsically named Dancing Ledge, popular with climbers. An almost perfect rectangle of rocks forms a natural swimming pool.

But it’s not for us, this time. We make for the pub, a long, whitewashed building, stone tables and stools outside and dark, glossy, wood panelled rooms inside. The drinks and food are served from cubby holes, rather than a bar and an annexe contains glass boxes full of fossils. There is no haute cuisine here, rather a pasty and a bag of crisps, but this has not deterred the dozens of visitors who queue up for a pie and a pint today.

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

Some Yarns and a Departure…

We’re about to leave Cunningsburgh. But before we do we’ll be taking a look at some traditional Shetland knitwear. We noticed a sign to ‘Barbara Isbister, Knitwear Designer’ on the way here and have promised ourselves something knitted to take home. It’s fun to bring something home from your travels. We’ve already purchased a beautiful, atmospheric lithograph of the Ring of Brodgar from Kirkwall on Orkney, although on this occasion we haven’t acquired any objects for the naff shelves. [See: ‘The Ghastly Gathering’].

We trundle round to Barbara’s house. It’s inauspicious, a small, semi-detached, pebble-dashed bungalow. We ring the bell, although the front door is open. Barbara invites us in. She’s a tall, mature lady. We walk through a living room and into what must be her work studio. This is a chaotic home, spools of yarn, half-knitted or completed woollen garments and knitting paraphernalia piled up on every available surface. Barbara is clearly an artist! We look through a rack and through knitted items on a table, selecting a traditional jumper for Husband and some hats for the grand-offspring.

We take our leave and head off to Lerwick, which we’ve left until this last day to explore. Parking is easy in the large, quayside car park. It’s a working port, more fishing boat than leisure. A jumble of shops and cafes ranges along the front, with more gift and knitwear stores than other towns, presumably catering for cruise ships, which I gather do stop here in non-pandemic times.

But today it’s quiet, as everywhere else and we can walk down the centre of the narrow, slabbed streets without worrying too much about traffic. Away from the centre, on the seafront street I search for Jimmy Perez’ house. I downloaded several Ann Cleeves books before we came and have seen a couple of the televised versions of her Shetland detective novels. There is nothing to indicate which grey, stone, waterside cottage is his- but then of course he isn’t real and is not deserving of a blue plaque. I narrow it down to two possibilities. Perhaps you, reader, can enlighten me?

We have lunch, then wander up to what was a fort and up around the back of town. Up behind the centre there are large, sprawling estates as well as Tesco- the largest supermarket we’ve seen since the Scottish mainland. There isn’t much more to Lerwick, although the couple of streets nearest the port are attractive and characterful.

Back at the car park we meet and chat with a young man who also has a van, one he’s meaning to convert. He’s moved to Shetland from Cambridge and his mother is a Shetlander. ‘How are the winters?’ I ask him and he shrugs. ‘People have hobbies’ he tells me. It’s hard to imagine the long, hard winter nights on a day like this.

Our ferry to Aberdeen leaves at 5pm and it’s with reluctance that we go to join the check-in queue further round at the ferry departure point. We’re waved on by a kilt-wearing, pony-tailed port worker then we’re rumbling up the ramp and into the ferry. As the ship departs there’s time for one more look at Shetland, bathed in afternoon sunshine, then we’re off back to the mainland and a long haul home.

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

Orkney to Shetland

It’s our last couple of days on Orkney and we move out to a newly opened, relaxing site overlooking Kirkwall Bay, where the island ferries come past all day and the big Northlink ship stops in the port opposite every evening. Once installed we pull out chairs for an hour or so in the warm sunshine.

The weather turns wet for a last afternoon and evening to while away in Kirkwall. We shop, lunch and go to visit the Orkney museum, which is free entry and has a small but lovely garden as well as a few interesting exhibits.

Later we make our way round to Hatston Port to wait for the Northlink ship to pick us up on its way from Aberdeen to Shetland, though not until 11.45pm. It’s still twilight when the ship arrives to collect us, along with a half a dozen other vehicles waiting. Once boarded we go straight to find our cabin as our arrival time to Lerwick is 7am.

The en suite cabin is cozy and comfortable, if a little stuffy, but sleep is, at best intermittent with the ship juddering, pitching and rolling on this blustery night. Neither of us is especially well rested when the tannoy announces our arrival to Lerwick. It is a rude awakening, rolling from the bowels of the ferry into a cold, drizzly morning at the ferry terminal and up and out into a bleak, unforgiving landscape of hills dotted with sheep. At this stage we’re only interested in catching up on sleep so we park up and get a nap. It’s an inauspicious start to our Shetland visit but by the time we rally and drive out to Sandness in the west and lunch overlooking tiny Papa Stour island the weather has improved and the rugged scenery seems to have an appeal of its own.

For our first night we’re staying at Skeld, again in the west of this skinny island. There’s a chilly wind and some drizzle as we descend to the small marina below the hills and it feels remote. There’s no internet or TV signal and the services are a complicated system of keys and coin-slots, although there’s water and hook-up.

Next day we’re off north towards our main destination of Unst, the most northerly part of the UK. It must be accessed via two ferries- one to Yell then a second to Yell’s miniscule sister island, Unst, just two miles long. The ferries run like clockwork, backwards and forwards all day, efficient and quick. As we traverse Yell the surroundings become even more barren- vast areas of peat bog, the peat cut and stacked in many places, or bagged up for collection. With time to spare before the next ferry we park by a small loch for lunch then we’re off across to Unst and to our site, at Gardiesfauld. It’s a youth hostel [currently closed] and camp site on a small bay, the few pitches overlooking the beach. It is charming, a few stone cottages fringing the beach and a soft light over the water. Out in the bay there are circular constructions for a fish farm.

Unst may lack size but there is a lot to explore and we are about to do it!

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

New Zealand 2011. Abel Tasman.

If you were to write a tropical paradise then the Abel Tasman National Park, in the north of New Zealand’s South Island could be your guide. As we arrived to our camp site, at Kaiteriteri, the skies were a flawless blue and the sea azure. We’d learned that we could catch a water taxi into the park, be dropped off at the start of a hike and picked up at another point, which was perfect. On the way we got to see ‘Split-Apple Rock’ before the boat pulled in near to the shore and a walkway was lowered to the beach- thus avoiding wet footwear.

By now we had long given up our warm layers, as since moving north [and with the benfit of a few weeks on towards summer] the weather was becoming hot. It had been tricky packing one bag for a long expedition covering all weather conditions but until now we’d at least had the benefit of the van to avoid carting heavy luggage around too much, although later in the trip this did become a headache.

So we spent our day walking along the white beaches, padding across lofty bridges spanning ravines, wandering through forest shaded with beautiful tree ferns and following rippling streams. emerald with reflected vegetation and dotted with enormous boulders, a spectacular way to spend a day.

Next we were off to Nelson to watch Australia play Russia, a wacky event at which the Aussie spectators had gone to town with their outfits. We’d been on South Island for a month and had packed in a lot of sightseeing and rugby. We’d worked our way up to the north, leaving two weeks to see what we could of North Island before moving on to the second big part of our expedition. In order to travel to North Island with our van we needed to get the ‘Interislander’ ferry, which, under good weather conditions would be a spectacularly beautiful boat ride, but on this occasion we were unlucky and made the crossing under grey skies and misty drizzle- which demonstrates that the course of true travel does not always run smoothly. Then we came to Wellington and [appropriately perhaps] the heavens opened and we were inundated.

Another first was that all Wellington campsites were full, which meant we’d need to use the local rugby club’s facilities. We turned up there, following the diversion sign and went to the clubhouse, where we were warmly welcomed by the kindly members, offered use of the club’s showers [an interesting experience] and offered a curry sauce for the chicken curry I was planning to make for our dinner!

We made use of our time to see what we could of Wellington, in spite of the rain, taking a cable car to Victoria Peak and looking at the old, timber government buildings.

Next stop was Napier and its art deco buildings…

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

Three Lakes

It is tricky enough to park a camper van at Lake Como, let alone find a place to stay, but we do find a site, albeit at the uninteresting end of the lake. The village is hosting a ‘truck’ festival and is thronged with fans of lorries. At the end of this Sunday the trucks are heading home, bedecked with lights, tinsel and decorations and, unburdened of a trailer,  showing off with a turn of speed.

We wander back to the site, where we are the only touring unit. The surrounding mountains are white-topped and have taken on a pinkish glow from the sunset.P1080117

It is time to get along to another lake and we’ve chosen one we’ve never heard of-Lake Iseo, which has the distinction of Europe’s largest lake island [according to our ‘Rough Guide’]. To get there we drive along a long way through a verdant valley where vineyards, orchards and salad crops line the hillsides and roadsides, eventually turning to climb up into a mountain pass. Here the buildings are Alpine chalets, the industry skiing. The largest town is Aprico, bustling even in the summer season.

Lunch is a stop in a lay-by outside a monastery. An opportunistic van is selling momastic produce: cheese, wine and nibbles, from which I feel duty bound to buy a sample. Soon we are plunging into a series of tunnels and there is our next lake,  Iseo, sparkling in the afternoon sun.

Lake Iseo, we find contains the largest European lake island, Monte Isolo, a circular mound rising from the lake, 9km in circumference and inhospitable to all traffic except deliveries and bikes. We can take our bikes on to the ferry, where a cycle rack at the prow provides parking.

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The cycle path around the island is picturesque, although sometimes challenging!

A rustic bar at a [lofty] half-way point provides cold beers, which are much needed!

On our second day we cycle from our site near the town of Iseo around to the southern end of the lake-pleasant and undemanding.

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Then it’s time to pack up and head off to Lake Garda, the largest of these Italian lakes, where we find a shady spot on a site in an old olive grove and are surprised to find a large number of British tourers for the first time this trip. The site has a large pool and a beach and is dog-friendly [unlike some], which may explain its popularity with my fellow-countrymen?

By now it’s hot and the olive trees are most welcome for the shade they provide. This is our second visit to Lake Garda, the first having been made en route to Sicily a couple of years ago, when we stayed at Peschiera, a few miles further around this southern end of the lake.

It doesn’t take too long to discover that cycling here is not for the faint-hearted [such as myself]-as the roads are not cycle-friendly, nor are the gradients. We will have to find another way to explore the vast expanse of Lago di Garda…

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Exchange- not always Fair

The cross channel ferry, in this last week of summer term is full of excitable teenagers; two groups, seemingly, occupying every part of the ship, circulating round and round, galumphing through the bars and lounges, spreading over seating areas, thronging into the tiny shop, the games area and the restaurant, exclaiming, playing music, shrieking when they see each other. They rush past us in twos and threes. ‘I wanna buy something!’ ‘Let’s go outside!’ ‘What shall we do now?’
After coffee we descend to the salon with its recliner seats to catch up on some sleep, but it is full of adolescents, rucksacks, sweet wrappers. We are rushed at by their beleaguered teachers, whose dubious pleasure it is to shepherd their charges and bring them back unscathed.
Foreign exchanges were available when I was a schoolgirl, too; only as my parents were unwilling to pay for them, I’d be among the handful of girls who stayed behind and attended school. I can’t recall what we did, we leftovers. Revision, perhaps or some extra language study and conversation. I pity the poor teachers who were saddled with us, who had to find us something to do!
I offered my own offspring an exchange each, which was rejected by Offspring One, who harboured fears of being incarcerated with a strange family and having to eat a sensible, healthy diet. He chose to be a leftover. Offspring Two, however waited for the optimum moment to remind me I’d agreed to a French exchange, then when I enquired the destination, coolly told me ‘Canada’.
The exchangee came to us first. Catherine. She was not Canadian, but American, from Texas originally. She was tall, world-weary, unimpressed. She was an ocean away from my daughter. We served meals, attempted chat, remained polite while she chewed and made acerbic remarks.
Husband suggested a weekend trip to Paris. We packed our tiny Peugeot 5 and took a ferry across the English Channel then drove down, stopping on the outskirts of France’s capital in a budget hotel and taking two rooms. We got a double decker train into Paris to take in the sights: The Louvre, The Tuilleries, Notre Dame and The Tour Eiffel-sending the girls up and staying down ourselves to save money. They trudged after us as if dragged on leads. Next day we visited Fontainebleau and Versailles before heading home the way we’d come.
On the return ferry we bought meals from the self-service restaurant, where Catherine [and also Offspring, who followed suit] chose a meal and a desert. At the table our protégé ate one or two mouthfuls of the meal and pushed it away before tucking into the pudding.
‘Are we gonna eat again on the ferry?’ she drawled, chewing.
Husband frowned into his newspaper. ‘No’ he said, without looking up.
At last we arrived at Portsmouth. ‘That was cool!’ she suddenly said as the wheels rumbled down the ramp, showing enthusiasm for the first time. If we’d known she was to enjoy our descent from the gaping mouth of the ferry so much we could have saved ourselves a packet.
We did nothing else with Catherine, leaving entertainment to the school to provide. Offspring confided that Catherine had raved and boasted to her classmates about her French trip.
After she departed, Offspring prepared to make her own visit to the host family-Catherine’s own parents and sister. I sat down with her to share my hopes for her ambassadorial role, expressing my desire that she behave with impeccable manners, a desire that she asserted she understood very well. She went.
Catherine’s parents were charming to my daughter, taking her out and about, to Niagara, amongst other places. Offspring got on very well with Catherine’s younger sister as well as most of the Canadian schoolgirls and had a most enjoyable time.
And that was that; many lessons learned-and not only French!