Sunday, June 20, 2004

finally we've found an internet cafe, and got connected which is harder than you think with french instructions, so this is how we'll be blogging. whenever we get to a computer but with kind of a diary of what we did...

Sunday 19th June

As I sit in the van typing fran is padding out his boat and hoping for a play on the wave in Embrun later, so we�re praying that the sun manages to prevail. It�s kind of sunny, but with clouds and a reasonable degree of chill going on. Before that we�re hoping that the cable car has opened so fran can go downhill mountain biking and I can go off to the meadows. The wild flowers here are so beautiful and unique compared to the flowers we put in our gardens, I want to take pictures of them and draw them. It is basically working out to be another easy day, but I�m still tired from all the exercise we did thursday and friday so it�s fine by me.
The campsite dwellers are on change over this weekend as one group goes home some more will arrive tonight or tomorrow, so we�ll hope we get friendly neighbours.

Saturday 18th June

And we finally made it to a cybercafe to connect and get online! After 2 relatively strenuous days for me we decided to take it easy. This plan involved sunshine. It rained. So we ended up in Briancon in the cold and wet before coming back to the campsite. Some modifications were made to the van � poppers on the curtains to keep them together when drawn at night. Seeing as our bed is at window level, this seems like an excellent plan. We also decided some outdoor furniture was a good plan. After assessing everybody else on the campsite we went for a couple of chairs with table (yet to find one that could withstand more than a mouse eating off it) and a tarp strung from the tress to create shade and also washing line space. Then we can live outside the van too. There wasn�t much satisfaction in achieving this on a wet cold day when you have to stay inside, but never mind � the sun will come!

Friday 17th June

And a day off from paddling! Hooray for jen! Today we started really slow, in fact so slow that we didn�t make it off the campsite by 12, which is when all the shops shut for lunch til 2.30 or so, so we had to go to a restaurant for lunch � quel domage! Unfortuantely the only thing on the menu we wanted was the vegetarian which was a 3 course meal so lunch took quite a long time, but with a view up a beautiful alpine valley that�s not really a problem. The volume of food was!

Our plan for the day was to go up the Gyr valley to the glacier at the top. The ride up the valley was stunning � beautiful pines forests, crossing deep cut river gorges and past beautiful meadows til we came out in the top valley just past the tree line and it vegetation got short and shrubby and heathery. There�s a big tourist stop at the top next to grubby snow slopes that have gradually been melting though the spring/summer, and surrounded by tall impressive mountains covered in snow. (Pictures to follow, and my they are worth the wait!) We took an easy pace up the path to the glacier, accounting for the altitude, tiredness from yesterday and vast amount of food nestling in our tummies. The whole of france seemed to be descending as we came down, so my friendly bonjour was perfected as it seems almost rude not to say hello here. I�ve been noticing how refreshing it is that people look at you and say hello very welcomingly, even from their gardens, compared to our british semi-embarrassed eye contact avoiding behaviour. Half way up we met a new French native � a couple of marmots guarding the path and looking a little menacing, they seemed to be demanding food! A few good pictures and we continued on our journey, up concreted steps and cut paths, very accommodating. I got very excited when we reached the first of the snowy bits on the path and soon we could see the glacier. There was lots of snow on the ground and masses of chalky white water gushing out from underneath the snowy edges. A wee black bird came to see what he could scavenge from us while we stopped for some food. Next to the glacier it was still warm enough to be wearing shorts and a top. We were the last of the tourists to have ascended to the glacier, everybody having gone down while we were still on the way up. This is where the hard-core mountaineers appeared, trekking up with big bags to the mountain refuge in the evening for an early and high start in the morning. The walk down took about a quarter of the time up thanks to the easy tourist track, and we had a nice cup of tea at the bottom � lovely. It was an absolutely gorgeous fantastic beautiful stunning day. Lovely.

pete and jane � we don�t have your email address or greg�s, so if you could send them to us that would be great, thank you!

Thursday 16th June

And this time we got up early as the Irish get up and leaving time was about 4 hours, we thought we�d get something done. WE went into Briancon to find an internet caf�, which we got to at 11.30, then after 20 mins of fiddling and a very helpful French spod with good English we, got connected. Of course now there was 10mins left before closing and lunch so we managed one email and to download some virus updates before we had to leave! WE joined up with the Irish in Vallousie to do the Onde. A teeny road took us to the get in. Graded 3/3+ it felt like it had quite a lot of water in it, which made it feel harder than remembered, maybe just due to the steepness � a drop of 27m/km compared to the uk average of 9m/km.I drove down to find fran at the get out, unknowingly by the time I got there fran did too, only I took an hour to find the right place, including being chased out of a private French campsite by a not so friendly campsite owner. Hmph.

In the afternoon we went to Les Vigneaux to do our first via ferrata. The 20 minute walk up was sweltering in still pine forest air. The via ferrata itself was fantastic � 500m of climbing, along rocks, up big staples like rungs of a ladder, on gangways. It was really good fun, and a little airy in places. Photos to follow. It took as couple of hours and by the time we reached the top we were pooped! At altitude we were out of breath and had to take it slowly until the return track took a down turn. We got back to the van at 8, and decided somebody else cooking was defiantly in order. We tried to eat in Argentieres but the Plas-Yr-Brenin had virtually booked out the only restaurant, so we went to Briancon and managed to find a place just before 10!

It was now that my kayaking culture valve snapped. I had had enough! Enough of people staring at me in car parks because I wasn�t wearing a spraydeck, enough of people not knowing what to talk to me about because they couldn�t talk rivers, enough of felling like a complete freak for wearing slightly unusual clothes and, heaven forbid, drying my hair at a campsite where shorts and t-shirts were the only thing to wear, and that was whilst sitting on or very close to a boat. I lost it and had a large rant/cry at fran. Find me some freaks, I cried. After some assurance that fran does like my weird ways, we were able to have some fine Italian cuisine, in France, hmm.

Wednesday 16th June

ok, we�re just staying here for a while

And Fran joined the Irish again this time for a longer paddle, the upper and lower Guisane. This started off in beautiful high meadows that we came through on the way in. The guys left and I stayed in the meadow reading Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus � top marks for this book which is all about communication differences between men and women. Definitely recommend it to anyone with relationships with the opposite sex. I drove down to walk up the river as the guys came down, only to meet them one the road � they took 2 hours instead of 4! fran�s description � top section was dull class 3 but very scenic, bottom section was fantastic continuous grade 4/4+ slightly low water levels making it very technical.

Tuesay 15th June

still no touring�

In the morning we went to Briancon to purchase lanyards and a helmet for fran to do some via-ferrata (fixed cables, and where necessary rungs of ladders and wire bridges, to go climbing. like a really big playground!). At lunch time we hooked up with the Irish chaps on the pitch next to us and fran ran the Guil with them. The gauge for good water levels of 60cm, 100cm is too high, they ran it at 90cm. The water was graded 3/4 but felt like a continuous 4/4+ due to the volume. The very rapid Fran ran he got backlooped and rolled. Brian�s paddles broke and he lost one blade going down this same rapid, and not surprisingly looked a little worried! The Irish chaps hadn�t been paddling for a while, some 2 years, so it was an interesting first run for everybody concerned. I drove down to the bottom to do the shuttle, and they took so long to arrive I ended driving back up river to find them, along with a Dutch guy who�s group left at the same time as mine and we found them near the end. Brian had swam and it had taken a while to fetch his boat back etc. Again time disappeared and night came well before it was expected. We shared a BBQ with the Irish and pleasant evening.

Monday 14th June

no touring!

�and still no sun! trousers, layers, fleeces and down jacket for me. how some people were walking around in shorts is beyond me. the morning progressed painfully as we tried to plug in the van mains electricity only to find the fuses tripped immediately. so the fuse was box was completely disassembled and reassembled until we found the problem � apparently in engalnd you can wire the neutral and earth fuse incorrectly and it doesn�t matter, in france it does. anyway, it was a relief that it got sorted without having to pull the van apart.

we went off to embrum to shop, and ended up at a play wave by a kayak shop where Cardiff uni were hanging out. again little water and a small wave made it very hard to stay on and do any moves. fran and a French man were the only people getting anything out of it, most other exited upside down! a gap in the time-space continuum occurred and five hours later we rolled into camp for the evening and a much needed early bed�

Sunday 13th June 2004

Lyon to the High Alps, 160km.

Well the music ended at about one and started again at half nine. The toilet situation turned to be not quite so tragic because�

We cycled to Lyon in the morning. on a great cycle path that went from the festival right in to the centre of town along by the river. sunday exercise is greatly encouraged in lyon � there are cycle paths everywhere, including along the pavements. we kept expecting the gendarmes to shout at us, but no! Lyon is a very cool city, quite like Prague in that layers of red roofs rise up from the river onto surrounding hills, a little less misty and romantic, a little bit more funky and modern. all around lyon are statues of lions made trendy with weird paint, strange creatures riding them, odd bristles sticking out of them, maps printed on to them. and lots and lots of water features, water flowing down by the edge of pavements, fountains, pools� the city was very peaceful as all the shops were closed. we found a caf� on the edge of a park and sat eating French bread and drinking coffee, or in my case earl grey! this was much more like it! and the best free public toilets I�ve found to boot!

The river festival was quite exciting, top marks for going all out on the AV � big screens and video mixing. The kayaking was better than the previous night and there were a few really good runs, but due to a lack of good weather in the alps, and hence a lack of glacier/snow melt, the river was very low and the wave not very big or good for doing moves. So we left! To the alps!! The drive was same old same old until we got to Grenoble, where the mountains start. Then it was up lots of winding passes through deep cut valleys, until you pop out into the high alpine meadows. Gorgeous flowers everywhere, and supposedly lots of sunshine, but this was more like Scotland at easter! we came down in to briancon and continued towards embrum, where fran said the more popular of 2 kayakers campsites was. we got to the second site and it was more like a ghost town � 2 sets of campers instead of the site being stuffed full as expected. and it soon became clear why. the big play wave fran was getting excited about just wasn�t there. it had gone. so we got back in the van, drove back up the valley, to the first campsite. filled with the brenin, Cardiff uni, kent uni, at least 3 irish groups, and some squaddies.
we set up camp.

Saturday 12th June 2004

Calais to Lyon. 700km, or thereabouts, but any way you look at it when they have distance signboards every 20km it takes a long time to get there!

Driving through Lyon to find the kayaking festival was a bit random, especially as fran thought the site was south of the city and it�s actually north. Little blue signs did appear, however, to take us through gradually more dodgy areas of town until we thought we were driving the wrong way along a slip road. Finally an attendant type person, good at waving people around, appeared and signalled our entry to the land of guys with cools shorts and cool long surfy hair standing around looking, er, cool.

I�m quickly losing my romantic notion about campervanning. As I sit typing in a field full of cars, audio screens are flashing and a band is playing out the front window at 11pm. We�ve been on the road 2 days and now I�d quite like a shower and a real toilet. Instead of the 2 portaloos provided for the whole of this Big River Festival in Lyon. I can�t believe there isn�t ONE campsite in the whole of this town! Our current campsite, if you can call it that, appears to be rough wasteland next the Rhone beneath two railway lines and the city circular. The wave which kayakers get so excited about is called �Hawaii sur Rhone� and so far everybody bar about three people have either been washed straight off it as soon as they�re on it, or on their first move. The men�s final is tomorrow so hopefully spectating will get more eventful!

Friday 11th June 2004

Sheffield to Calais, 450ish km.

We finally managed to leave Sheffield at 1pm. Fran was still finishing jobs on the van as I packed, Steve was generally being the man and sorting out programs and files for our laptop, and Joy, Bea and Isla cunningly timed driving past so we could say adieu.

We had a dinner date with Fran�s Nana and parents in Faversham, for whenever we could get there, which with Friday rush hour on the M25 was just after 7. We stopped on the way to pick up phrasebooks in Danish, Swedish, Finish, French, German, Spanish and Italian. No longer do they sell Western European phrasebooks, not in England anyway, apparently we prefer the shouting loudly method to making an effort to speak in a foreign language. So anyway, dinner, quick drive to Dover, managed to make an earlier ferry. Excessive number of French/German exchange students on the ferry all practising gobbing over the side, lovely. Reached France, got back in the van, drove to the nearest �aire� (how nice of the French to provide sleepover lay-bys with facilities). Fran slept whilst I attempted to.

Now the thing that had me laughing my socks off was the not-so-Lonely Planet phrasebooks. In the social section there�s a dating repertoire. Now I�m not sure why you�d be doing this with someone you need a phrasebook to communicate with, or for that matter why you�d have the phrasebook out, but these are direct quotes from these little gems:

German - Pick up lines
Do you have a � boyfriend/girlfriend/light/fetish?

Spanish - Rejections
I�m here with my boyfriend/girlfriend.
Excuse me, I have to go now.
I�m not interested.
Leave me alone!
You�re disturbing me.
You�re ego is out of control!
Get out of my face!

French - Sex
Easy tiger!
Oh yeah!
That was amazing!
I can�t get it up, sorry.
It helps to have a sense of humour.

Italian - Endearments
My darling
My joy
My precious
Delicious one
My little fleshy thing

All - Afterwards
I love you.
Do you love me?
Let�s move in together!
Let�s get married!

Again, in a phrasebook? Why??!!


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