Saturday, 24 September 2016

Driving, driving... and a colourful sunset

Having seen La Roque Gageac, we spent day four of our #Eurotrip2016 driving. We didn't know where we would get, where we should look for a campsite or anything. We even didn't know whether we were going to spend the night in France or in Spain.

Driving through Dordogne

Finally, we ended up driving to Spain. We knew we were stretching it a bit too far. But we had no trouble finding free spots on campsites, so we hoped it was going to be like that here as well. Spoiler alert - it definitely wasn't.

Relax zones on French highways

Already exhausted and thinking of nothing else but regaining freedom (aka getting out of the car), we got to the first campsite in the area we wanted to visit. The views from there were spectacular. The campsite was on a kind of cliff, overlooking... I don't know, a river estuary? It reminded me of Norwegian fiords a little, though the colours of water, sky, plants were definitely different. I regret not taking any pictures there. But if I got out of the car, the kids would have wanted to do the same. And getting them back in the car would have been impossible. And since the campsite was full, we had to keep driving. Throughthe narrow roads, with lots of twists and turns. Through mountains and forests. We got to the second campsite. Surprise, surprse, it was also full. We definitely did not expect that. How naive of us, I know. And we knew it back then, too.

Anyway, we typed into our navigation the coordinates of the third campsite. Third time's a charm. We were back on the road. Twists, turns, forests, mountains - all that again.

One of the few pictures of our tent (the big one on the right)

We finally got to the campsite. And, again, we hear that, unfortunately, they hav no places left. Seriously, nothing? We're small, we don't take up much space (our full bumper totally contradicts that...). We're with kids. We're sooo tired. We won't stay long. Two nights tops. Or maybe at least for one night...? The receptionist said that they have area where we could set up a tent, but we'd have to leave our car on the car park and not next to the tent (so not  problem), and there's no electricity there (sold! we could live with that).

 The sunset as seen from the on-site playground

So we found our place for the next two nights. With a magnificent view of colourful sunsets over the sea. Just off Bilbao. We could stay. We could relax.

Right after the sunset

Thursday, 22 September 2016

The magical Dordogne

The night that we spent in Neuf Brisach was a real test for our new tent. And for all of us as well. Now we know that:
  • the tent copes well with (really!) heavy rainfall
  • the kids can sleep through a thunderstorm nearby (well, frankly speaking, France decided to show us that they can sleep in (ubearably) loud noise more than once. But more on that some other time).

The day turned out to be relatively short. It started slow and our only goal was to get as close to our French destination as possible. We ended up spending the night in Clermont-Ferrand.

On the third day of our #Eurotrip2016, we finally got to the place I wanted to visit since I first saw the pictures of it. So, more or less, for a year now. Not long, I know. But since it was on our way anyway, we just couldn't miss it. Ok, so what kind of mysterious place am I talking about? I'm talking about Dordogne. And, more precisely, La Roque Gageac.

We got to the campsite early enough to eat dinner, see the village and have a swim in the onsite swimming pool. You can also swim in the river, but we didn't try that.

Our campsite wasn't exactly in La Roque Gageac, so we had to get there by car. The other option was kayaking from our campsite, but we couldn't do it for two reasons. First, they didn't let our daughter on the kayak cause she was too small. And second, it was already too late to kayak to La Roque Gageac anyway. So car was our only option.

Finding a free parking spot wasn't an easy peasy thing, but it was doable. We left the car to take a walk along the river and the main (and only?) street of the village.

There is an option of buying tickets for a boat tour on the river (tickets were already sold out for that day) or renting a kayak to see the village from the water (we didn't even try that, cause we didn't want to raise kids' hope again just to hear that Paulinka is too small). The view from the water is stunning, though. So, if you have the option, don't think twice, just do it.

Instead, we decided to walk the narrow paths leading a little bit up the hill, in between the buildings and away from the most crowded main street. The narrow streets, the light brown buildings in the colour of the surrounding rocks, the green vines and other plants - all that create a unique atmosphere of the place. They made our walk as pleasant to the eye as it could probably be.

At one point we saw a sign leading to a viewpoint. There was nothing else to do, obviously, but to follow the sign. We walked past the gate to the Secret Garden. I'm pretty sure it was the right one, even though not in England. We just didn't meet any birds that could show us where to find the key. We also walked by some old (historic?) buildings. And in the shadow, which was a fringe benefit, but an important and desired one.

When we got to the viewpoint (ok, we might not have actually got to the viewpoint precisely, but close enough), I saw it. It was there. Waiting for me. (Almost) the view that I fell in love with a year ago and wanted to see with my own eyes. And I wasn't disappointed. Which is saying a lot itself.

We couldn't spend more time in the area to explore it further. And, most likely, it wouldn't have been time wasted. But France wasn't our holiday destination (did we actually have any?) this year. Rather a stop on the way. A short one.

Already on the way to La Roque Gageac we saw so many castles and fortresses sticking out of the forests on the hills over River Dordogne. And the same on the way out. La Roque Gageac definitely is not the only charming village in the area. And we will most likely come back one day to explore it a little more. The castles, the river, the gardens, the caves, the villages, the views. All of that.

Have you ever visited Dordogne? 
What would you recommend in the area?


Tuesday, 13 September 2016

#Eurotrip2016 - Day 1 - a Citadel in Alsace

A quick summary of our trip is up, so it's time to get into a little bit more detail. Here we go, then. 

The first day of our #Eurotrip2016 was long. And by long, I mean really, really long. The plan was to get up before 2 a.m. and hit the road before 2.30 a.m. I was to be the first driver (I'm an early bird type of person) and Krzysiek was to take over on our last stop before crossing the Polish-German border (he's an owl). If everything went fine, we wanted to get to Freiburg to spend the night somewhere close to the German-French border.

How did it go?

Quite well. We got up when the first alarm clock rang (getting up to start holidays is so much different than getting up to work). We cleared the last things from the kitchen (like coffee machine), packed the last things (like fridge and some other minor things). Finally, we were ready to get the kids (straight from bed to the car) and we could go. You'd think that when you put your kid into a car seat at 2.30 a.m., when it's dark outside and the moving car is kind of lulling them to sleep, they'd get back to sleep immediately. Yeah, you would. The kids... not so much. At least my kids. But they were sitting quietly, looking out the window, enjoying the dark view of seeing almost nothing ;) It took them way over an hour to get back to sleep. Yeah, I know.

We made the first stop between Gniezno and Poznan. A quick one, cause it was only past 6 a.m. The kids got dressed and ate breakfast. The second (and last) stop in Poland was the last MOP before the Polish-German border (as planned from the start). We made a few more stops in Germany, though. Somewhere on the way we decided that, instead of spending the night in Germany, maybe we could cross the border and find a camping already on the French side. That was a thought...

We finally stopped in Alsace in France. On a camping right off the city walls of Neuf-Brisach. A town we have never heard of before. We got there around 5 or 6 p.m. So, as I mentioned, it was a long day. And it still wasn't the end of it. Although we were no longer driving (enough of that for one day), we decided to go and see that little town.

The path from the camping led through the city walls. As if through a labyrinth or something. But I'm not that surprised, considering the history of the region. Once German, once French, Alsace was handed over from the first to the second a few times. The sign near the entrance to the town states, that Alsace changed nationaly five times in less than 150 years.

The sword near the main gate to the town (the upper storey of the gate was removed in 1902 to allow heavy vehicle convoys) is a monument dedicated to the town defenders of 1870. They surrendered the town to the German troops with full military honours.

Below - the main gate. On the sign located right by the gate, you can see what it looked like before 1902, that is with the upper storey.

The town itself is small. Not really touristy. We walked the empty, narrow streets. Here and there, we could see a few people sitting, talking. We could sense that people were still living in the town, but it was empty. As if abandoned. Even though it wasn't. And it was a Saturday evening. Last Saturday of July. I'd expect to see more people out. Even in such a small town.

 Other than that, it was great. Tiny, with its own charm. The middle of the town was a square with a church (catholic church in the main square and lutheran church right off the main square).

Considering the shape of the town walls (fortifications?), I guess the town must look great on the maps. Ok, I have just checked it. It does look great. I have found this picture of the town on the official Tourist Site of Alsace:

So we spent the night in an interesting place ;) At the camping site we got a map of the town with a tourist walking route marked on it. It's worth following cause it will show you all the important things in the town. Plus, every now and then you'll see a sign in French, German and English explaining either the history of the place or simply what you're looking at. Which is good.

The above mentioned webpage also give some more information on the town itself (I finally have time to read about the places we saw but didn't plan to see or just spotted them somewhere on the way. Spoiler alert - there's going to be more such places.).

It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site.The town is a Citadel founded in 1699 at king Louis XIV's behest. It's unique in Europe due to its architecture. "Its parade ground, pure lines, 48 quarters forming a perfect octagon and bastion fortifications make it unique in its kind." (quote from the above mentioned official Tourist Site of Alsace).

Who would've thought that we'd come across such a gem. Totally by accident. Just like in Thailand.

Already on the way to the town, right by the main gate, we spotted this thing:

Actually, it was hard to miss it. For two reasons. It was huge. And we still have no idea what the purpose of it was (hard to call it a decoration) and what animal it represents. Is that a sheep? A cow? Or maybe something else? Each one of us had their own guess and we still don't know. Maybe you have any ideas?