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Back to Minou in France

October 7th, 2023

Our flight to Athens from Larnaca, Cyprus left more or less on time and after disembarking we caught an Uber to the hotel we’d left our two suitcases at on September 10th.  They were safe and sound and we were lucky that we were actually able to check in immediately.

So first things first, we did a repack for our flight tomorrow to Paris.  We are able to check four bags but will only do three so we can keep all valuables with us (electronics and medicine).

Then it was off to see some more of Athens.  When we were here last December, we had seen most of it but did not have time for the Acropolis Museum, the stadium and a general stroll around the Plaka district so those were our destinations.  We had also made a reservation for dinner at a rooftop restaurant to view the acropolis at night.

Not too far from our hotel is the nation’s library, a college and an art academy all in beautiful buildings:

The father of Greek shipping, Panagis Vallianos, donated the funds for the library and his statue sits out front.

We had more time than we needed to and we stopped a few times to sit in cafés for drinks at times.  At one point, a woman was touting for a rooftop view and we decided to go up the top of the Byron Hotel to have a light lunch.  We were rewarded with this view.

The Plaka is the walking area of tourist shops and restaurants near the main tourist sites.  While it was busy, it was not unbearable and not super crowded.  We looked for a few items we might be interested in but found nothing that fit the bill.  Doug wanted a well-made ball cap with the ancient marathon on it but while we found one, it was cheaply made and not exactly what he had in mind.

We got to the museum mid-afternoon and spent about 90 minutes wandering through it.  There are many artifacts from the acropolis and it’s been designed well.  All the statues are on one floor, another floor has the Parthenon décor and there’s lots of history of the building of the site.

After leaving the museum and having another drink, we went to see the Olympic stadium of Athens.  It was rebuilt for the Athens games in 2004 and it’s ALL made of marble.  It can apparently seat 80,000 people.

The Panathenaic Stadium is a multi-purpose stadium in Athens, Greece. One of the main historic attractions of Athens,] it is the only stadium in the world built entirely of marble.

A stadium was built on the site of a simple racecourse by the Athenian statesman Lykourgos c. 330 BC, primarily for the Panathenaic Games. It was rebuilt in marble by Herodes Atticus, an Athenian Roman senator, by 144 AD it had a capacity of 50,000 seats. After the rise of Christianity in the 4th century it was largely abandoned. The stadium was excavated in 1869 and hosted the Zappas Olympics in 1870 and 1875. After being refurbished, it hosted the opening and closing ceremonies of the first modern Olympics in 1896 and was the venue for 4 of the 9 contested sports. It was used for various purposes in the 20th century and was once again used as an Olympic venue in 2004. It is the finishing point for the annual Athens Classic Marathon. It is also the last venue in Greece from where the Olympic flame handover ceremony to the host nation takes place.

Here’s a board with facts about the stadium:

We got in as seniors for €5 and were in awe of the place.  It’s huge and has such an amazing ambience.

We took pics of Doug finishing the marathon he ran back in December….

of Fran on the gold medal podium

and then sitting in the VIP seats under the Olympic rings:

We climbed to the top and got this view:

before walking back down in through the Tunnel of Fate

The athletes entered the athletics field, through that. Despite the continuous reconstructions of the stadium, this particular tunnel was the only part of the ancient stadium that has been preserved intact to this day. So this tunnel is also known as the “Hole of Fate”. The tunnel ended at the bottom of the Stadium, on the left side of the horseshoe, and was 57 meters long and 4 meters wide.

After stopping for yet another cold drink at an outdoor bar and then regretting it because the wind really picked up and we were getting chilled, we made our way to the Herodian Hotel where the rooftop bar/restaurant called the Point A was located.  We had a 6:30 reservation at the bar as we couldn’t get one in the small restaurant part.

We were seated with not the greatest view and asked to move which we did.  We had drinks and appies for dinner enjoying the view and pinching ourselves to take in where we were.

The wind died down in about a half hour and it was a very memorable evening.  We called an Uber to get back to the Psiri Hotel and crashed.

Sunday morning, the 8th, we had a flight at 10:45 back to Paris – this is where our journey last May began when we left Europe for Serena’s wedding.  We had dropped Minou in storage at a farmer’s field about 200 km / 125 mi south of here and flown to Reno.

Our flight was full and left a bit late but went smoothly and all our checked bags arrived with us.  Phew!  We had booked a hotel for one night in the Paris, as Paul (the farmer keeping Minou), couldn’t pick us up from the train station on a Sunday.  We got checked in and took an Uber to the Left Bank.  We didn’t have any real destination in mind, just wanted to stroll around Paris.

The temperature was in the upper 20’sC / low 70’s F  but it cools down overnight, so nice fall weather.

We stopped for a light lunch of crepes in the Place Saint Michel and then walked around the area including crossing the Seine to the under renovation Notre Dame and strolled along the other side of the river too.  We stopped for a beer along the river and then walked back to the Comfort Hotel (which Doug had reserved on points).

Enroute we picked up some things for dinner at a bakery and had a quiet night in our room.  We were both pretty tired as although Fran’s cold has been improving, she stills coughs a great deal at night, keeping us both up.

Luckily, last night Fran didn’t cough much and we both caught up on some much needed sleep.  Our train to Vierzon was not until 1:30 pm so we stayed at the hotel so Fran could make some headway catching up on photos and blogging from the last few weeks of constant activity.

Upon checking out we took an Uber to the Gare d’Austerlitz train station with plenty of time to spare.  We checked the departure boards and our train gate had not been announced yet so we found a place to wait with all our bags.

At 1:20 the gate was showing up and we walked over to Gate 7 and boarded the train.  We had booked a first class tickets and had assigned seats.  On board we met a young lady from Montreal who was going further than us to visit family.

The train’s first stop was ours, Vierzon, and as trains seem to do here in Europe, it left and arrived on time. Paul was waiting for us and we loaded our things into his car.  It was somewhat of a quiet ride since he speaks pretty much no English and Fran’s conversational French is limited.

Minou was waiting for us safe and sound and she didn’t look too dirty for sitting in one place for five months!  Due to a large infestation of bed bugs in Paris, we were careful with our clothes and changed quickly putting our clothes that may have been exposed into double plastic bags and left them outside.  Doug began doing the outdoor things on the rig and Fran began unpacking and trying to organize.  We got the fridge going right away and the plan was to have popcorn for dinner  (we’d picked up butter at a shop near the hotel before leaving) so we could keep it simple.  We’ll have to do a big grocery shop after leaving here tomorrow.

It’s a bit warmer here than it was in Paris – we are over 200 km / 125 mi further south but it gets colder at night Paul says.

Paul offered to give us a jump start if needed but we assured him we’d be fine as we have a jump starter if it wouldn’t start.  Well that was the theory anyway!  We couldn’t find it anywhere (we think we left it in the Honda!) and then Doug went to start Minou and remembered he’d disconnected the battery; upon reconnecting it started right up and we were cooking with gas!

We’d arranged with Paul to stay the night since it was already almost 4 when we got here so he let us hook up to power, get water and we spent a super quiet night here on his farm.  What a great arrangement this turned out to be for €43.75 a month.  We gave him some money for petrol for the “pick up” service and the three extra days we were parked here, as well as a gift of Canadian Maple Syrup.

We awoke Tuesday after we both slept well and it was definitely cool upon arising.  We both did our exercise, Fran did a few chores and we left around 9am.  Paul dropped by to say goodbye just before we left.  This was a good experience.

So although there were no critters hiding inside, no water had entered the motorhome, no ants, no mold – we did have two small issues: the locking cap where the fresh water goes in must have become quite dry because it wouldn’t close after Doug filled the tank.  He found a possible solution online, saying soak it in boiling water and after two bouts of that, it seems to be fine now.  The other was a small wasp nest just below the awning:

There was also one more serious issue: we cannot get the rearview camera to come one not sure if it’s disconnected or a fuse; Doug has looked into both issues so after researching, he’s decided we’ll have an electrician look at it in Spain.

Price of diesel in France now – we found as low as €1.78 per litre – about $7.18 USD a gallon – we also saw as high was €2.10 which is $8.40 a gallon.

We made our way about 170 km / 105 mi today to Oradour-sur-Glane .  This is a small town where a heinous crime was committed by the Nazis in 1944.

Four days after D-Day, the village of Oradour-sur-Glane was destroyed.  643 inhabitants including 247 children were massacred by a company of troops belonging to 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich.  A new village was built after the war on a nearby site but on the orders of President Charles de Gaulle, the original has been maintained as a permanent memorial. 

This was quite sobering; there are walls and streets and fences partially intact but mostly destroyed.

There’s a museum (which we did not visit) but more importantly, a hallway to the exhibit itself with photos of at least 80% of the deceased and a recording that mentions names and ages as you walk through.

As we had to stock up and do laundry, we continued to the larger city of Limoges to shop, gas up and then about 5 km / 3 mi away was a free aire that offered water, dumping of black and grey, free Wi-Fi and a bonus: a 24/7 outdoor laundry.  We arrived around 3:30, parked and Fran went to start laundry while Doug tried to get the camera to work again and washed the solar panels.  Fran got back from loading the larger machine and then put away the groceries.  It’s still quite warm mid 30’sC / 86F (our motorhome thermometer in the sun said 40C! / 104F) with no breeze but we’ll take it because it’s supposed to drop big time this weekend.

It should be noted how green everything here still is; the trees are just barely starting to turn colour and the fields are not brown as yet.  Many farmer’s fields still have crops to harvest.

We awoke to 7C / 44F today, Wednesday, the 11th.  That was a rude awakening for sure but we knew it would get quite warm as the day went on.  The sun is not coming up until around 8am so it takes a while to warm up.

We left the aire after dumping our cassette and drove to Montignac-Lascaux to see the famous Lascaux caves.  The route there was not on main roads and we hit a point where the road was just closed!  It took some finagling with Google Maps and our Organic Maps app, but we found a way around and made it with plenty of time before our reserved time slot.  You  can do guided tours in the morning and afternoon or a self guided with an audio guide between 12 and 2 which is what we opted to do.

So upon arriving at the RV parking area, we did our exercise (it was too cold this morning!) and made breakfast before walking over.

Lascaux (“Lascaux Cave”) is a network of caves near the village of  Montignac, in southwestern France. Over 600 parietal wall paintings cover the interior walls and ceilings of the cave. The paintings represent primarily large animals, typical local contemporary fauna that correspond with the fossil record of the Upper Paleolithic in the area. They are the combined effort of many generations and, with continued debate, the age of the paintings is now usually estimated at around 17,000 years (early Magdalenian). Because of the outstanding prehistoric art in the cave, Lascaux was inducted as an UNESCO site in 1979.

The cave complex was opened to the public on 14 July 1948, and initial archaeological investigations began a year later, focusing on the Shaft. By 1955, carbon dioxide, heat, humidity, and other contaminants produced by 1,200 visitors per day had visibly damaged the paintings. As air condition deteriorated, fungi and lichen increasingly infested the walls. Consequently, the cave was closed to the public in 1963, the paintings were restored to their original state, and a monitoring system on a daily basis was introduced. The original caves have been closed to the public since 1963, as their condition was deteriorating, but there are now a number of replicas in the centre. Conservation problems in the original cave have made the creation of replicas more important.

Lascaux IV is a new copy of all the painted areas of the cave that forms part of the International Centre for Parietal Art (Centre International de l’Art Pariétal). Since December 2016 this larger and more accurate replica which integrates digital technology into the display is presented in a new museum built inside the hill overlooking Montignac.

The cave contains nearly 6,000 figures, which can be grouped into three main categories: animals, human figures, and abstract signs. The paintings contain no images of the surrounding landscape or the vegetation of the time. Most of the major images have been painted onto the walls using red, yellow, and black colours from a complex multiplicity of mineral pigments including iron compounds such as iron oxide (ochre), hematite, and goethite, as well as manganese-containing pigments. Charcoal may also have been used  but seemingly to a sparing extent. On some of the cave walls, the colour may have been applied as a suspension of pigment in either animal fat or calcium-rich cave groundwater or clay, making paint, that was swabbed or blotted on, rather than applied by brush. In other areas, the colour was applied by spraying the pigments by blowing the mixture through a tube. Where the rock surface is softer, some designs have been incised into the stone. Many images are too faint to discern, and others have deteriorated entirely.

Our visit lasted about an hour as we opted to skip the part about the history of the discovery of the caves and a couple of other rooms.  The centre is excellent with digital technology helping you to see the drawings as many are on top of older ones and explaining the methods and instruments used.  No photography is allowed in the centre so we found a few shots online:

It’s now after 1:30 and we know from our fortunate experience yesterday, if we want to get a free aire camping spot, you have to get there before 4 so Fran found one about 50 km / 30 mi away and after another road closure due to a bridge under repair, we managed to make it before three.  There were eight spots at this aire in Gourdon next to the river; parking is free, power is offered at an hourly price if you want it and water and black dumping is available free if you have the right hook up for the tap.  All good for us and we were the second to arrive.

Thursday morning after exercise, showers and dish washing, we met Peter from the UK before leaving.  We chatted a bit – it was pleasant to meet someone who wasn’t French!

Today we wanted to make some miles as our next “spot” was in Andorra on Saturday.  We’d made an reservation online for a few hours at the famous Caldea Spa.  So we drove south 180 km / 111 mi to another free aire.  About 16  km / 10 mi before we stopped for diesel and a few groceries and things and were settled by 1:30.  We made our late brunch, Fran went for a walk and then we sat outside in the shade reading.  Today the temps hit 32C / 90 F and it’s hot in the direct sun.

A few shots we took along our drive and in this little village we’re parked in, Venerque.

Fran went for a walk through this town and the one on the other side of the bridge.

We passed through one tunnel today.

We had a very quiet and warm night – only dropped to 16 last night so warmer than the past few nights. After tea time, we packed up, drove over to the RV services spot, dumped black and grey and filled with fresh water.  Good to go for a few days now.

We only had 120 km / 80 mi to drive today to another free aire just outside the border with Andorra.

Free camping/parking in Andorra is pretty much nonexistent unless you want to want to get off the main roads and with Minou, we don’t like to do dirt roads in the mountains as you just never know.  Our reservation at the Spa is not until 1pm tomorrow so we have time to drive the final 50 km / 30 mi there in the morning.

We began to see mountains about 30 minutes into our drive – these are the Pyrenees.  At first they were just treed hills but we began to see rock faces as we went along.

The sky is blue and we took photos cause it’s not supposed to be sunny tomorrow and the forecast calls for some rain every day for the next week plus.   We are slowly rising in altitude.

The Pyrenees mountain range separates the Iberian Peninsula from the rest of Europe, stretching nearly 500 km / 300 mi between Spain and France and rising higher than 3,400m in elevation. Hiking trails traverse the entire length of the range and national parks offer shorter trails, while dozens of ski resorts can be found on both sides of the Pyrenees. Andorra is a tiny sovereign state in the heart of the chain.

We arrived at the tiny village of L’Hospitalet just before the border, by 11, we found the aire, parked (there are only 8 spots and there were already three rigs here and an idiot car with a note on it advising he was in the camping car lot) so we got a spot without difficulty. It’s much cooler here and Fran had to change out of shorts and sandals and we both needed jackets.  We took a stroll around the tiny village looking for free Wi-Fi (two networks came up but were pretty useless) and then had breakfast.  By the time we were done eating, the sun had come over the mountains and it was getting warm.  We both went out to get our steps and by early afternoon, no jacket was needed.  The high here today is 23C / 73F so pleasant but it will drop significantly tonight.  We are now at l430 m / 4691 ‘.

By bed time, all the RV spots were taken and 5 others were parked in front of the train station next door.  So there are still plenty of people out here traveling in motorhomes in mid October.

We awoke Saturday to slightly warmer than anticipated temps – could have left more windows open overnight – but it was overcast.  They have pushed off the rain to Monday now so it should be dry today.  Doug went for his weekend long run, Fran did her yoga and got our bags ready for our spa trip this afternoon.

When we left France we had driven: 679 km / 421 mi from the farm where we had stored Minou for the summer.

As we are still not “done” with France, its fun facts will have to wait a few months…..