Tag Archives: holiday

Creating space

Don’t worry,this is not an article about home improvement 🙂 I am one of those people, probably like many of you, that needs the right ambiance to be able to sit at my computer and produce deathless prose. Despite owning a laptop I am not able to write anywhere and any-when, the creative juices only seem to flow when I am surrounded by a suitable amount of office clutter.

Desk

So when at work but travelling, and even if equipped with my lap top, I find myself unable to write on the train or ferry, be it papers, books or blog posts. Although I can read papers or theses, or mark essays, I am unable to write the reviews or comments; I apparently need to be sat at an ‘office’ table/desk, with plenty of paperwork to hand.

As I write this, I am on holiday in our future retirement house in Vinca in the Languedoc-Roussillon, France.  At the moment, our French house is somewhat devoid of furniture, although the previous owner left behind several rooms full of clutter, including unopened DVDs of Jean Paul II and an armoire full of French versions of Agatha Christie, Ian Rankin et alia.

Armoire

As you can see, my office to be is nowhere near to being a suitable working environment yet,

future office

although as I have mentioned earlier, the view is fantastic.

View

My current working space is in what we are jokingly calling the “Versailles Salon”

Workspace Vinca

and means that I am working standing up, great for emails and checking Twitter, but not ideal for someone with a bad knee and somewhat footsore from all the walking we have done on holiday so far 🙂

Although I am on holiday I feel a certain amount of self-inflicted pressure (guilt) about my blog schedule, a new post about every twelve days and so I stupidly promised myself that I would stick to this schedule despite being away from my desk. I even half-prepared a post on insects in horror films, hoping that I would be able to polish it off in between beers, walks in the hills, glasses of wine and dips in the swimming pool. As you may have guessed this did not work, hence the post that you are reading now. Big Bugs in Horror Movies will have to wait a few more weeks for its release 🙂

The sun is shining and the pool is a shimmering blue, and although we are temporarily cut off from the rest of France by a rather large scrub fire, I feel somewhat more relaxed having at least written something, albeit rather lacking in entomological content.

Fires near Vinca

I am on holiday after all 🙂

 

A bientot a

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Post card from Catalunya Nord – Summer Holiday 2015

 

If three years can be construed as a tradition then this is my traditional holiday blog post! This year we spent three weeks in Catalan France, in the Pyrénées-Orientales.  We have usually travelled south by putting our car on the train and having a relaxing and interesting overnight journey letting the train take the strain. Unfortunately there seems to be a conspiracy against motor-railers and yet another of our train options was closed this year.   As I like to bring back a few bottles of wine with me, the hire-car option is not very attractive. We thus had to do the ferry and drive option. We caught the ferry from Portsmouth on a Friday night and arrived early the next morning in Caen.

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We were then faced with the long drive to Maureillas-las-Illas, a small town close to the Spanish border. We split the journey in half and spent the night in a very picturesque B&B run by an aged Italian lady in a tiny village in the Charente-Maritime,

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not far from the town of Saint-Genis-de-Saintonge, near Pons, which had rather an unusual roundabout which I immediately added to my collection 😉

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Pons itself was a rather nice little town which just happened to be having a medieval fete when we arrived.

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We eventually arrived at Maureillas-las-Illas and were then faced with a 20 minute drive up a single track mountain road to Las Illas and finally up a dirt track to our holiday villa in Super Las Illas (a seven minute walk from the Spanish border) where we to be based for the next three weeks.

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There was of course a pool, with a lovely view, although given that we were at 900 m, it was not the warmest pool we have ever

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experienced even on a sunny day J

In terms of wildlife, it was not as prolific as some places we have stayed, although the pool collected the usual suicidal millipedes, Hymenoptera, Diptera, Coleoptera and even some grasshoppers and the odd shield bug or two. I also rescued a small lizard which then seemed to become very attached to me, at one stage even taking refuge in my hair.

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There were the usual impossible to photograph humming-bird hawk moths and numerous swallowtails

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which I did manage to snap. I also discovered that one of my favourite entomological shirts was a great hoverfly attractant, although despite the design, did not fool any of the butterflies.

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We were not far from Ceret, which we had visited five years ago and were happy to renew our acquaintance with its narrow streets, Picasso fountain and many cafés.

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We also came across this street celebrating Charles De Gaulle’s exhortation to the French people in 1940, although I was saddened to see that vandals had been at work, albeit appositely.

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We also visited Amelie-les-Bains and Prats de Mollo La Preste, the former apparently famous for urinary tract cures!   In Prats we saw

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multi-storey graves and also a great painting of one of the gates of the old walled town on a house opposite the actual gate

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Unusually we only had one trip to the coast, Port Vendres where we enjoyed a sunny morning and a very long lunch.

 

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On our return to the villa we might have been forgiven for thinking that we had somehow been transported back to an English autumn.

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We also we went to Vernet-les-Bains and surrounding areas, looking at potential places to retire. We knocked quite a few houses off the possible to buy list; it is amazing how different the pictures that estate agents put on their sites are from the real thing.   It was nice to be in Vernet again, although once again Gill found the hilly streets a bit tough going.

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Since our last visit the old communal lavoir has been very nicely restored both externally and internally.

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Vernet also has a nice arboretum scattered through the town and parks, so you often come across signs like this. I was pleased to see that one of my favourite trees (Prunus padus, bird cherry) gets a mention.

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We also visited Elne a very pretty sleepy little town with a small cathedral.  Nearby we found a nice artist’s centre where we had lunch and a local artisanal Catalan beer,

 

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and for the entomologists, some horse-chestnut leaf miner damage

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Gorges de la Fou is well worth a visit and as well as being geologically impressive, is also signed botanically.

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It turned out that the obligatory safety hats were made in the UK.

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We also visited Thuir – mainly famous for Byrrh (but they also prepare and bottle other fortified aromatic wines including Cinzano, Ambassadeur, Vabe and Dubonnet). Unfortunately the tour didn’t have any manufacturing going on but there were free samples at the end, which as a responsible driver was a little frustrating.

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We visited Perpignan a couple of times.   Both times we were blessed with lovely hot sunny weather. Plenty of canal side cafes, the castle of the Kings of Majorca is worth a visit, with great views from the top, although a bit of a climb to get there.

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We also came across these giant flower pots which is certainly an interesting way to grow urban trees.

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Closer to home was the Cork museum in Maureillas-las-Illas .   It is very interesting although quite small, and even if you watch the video and visit the shop, where I bought a cork post card, the visit is easily done within an hour. I really liked the mini-sculptures in cork depicting the making of cork. There were also examples of cork ark and furniture.

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And of course, not forgetting the biggest cork in the world.

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On Day One of our marathon motorway trip on our way back to catch the ferry we stopped at the most fantastic motorway service station (Aire) ever – jazz band, environmental messages, great gift shop, a restaurant, a cafeteria, and a sandwicherie, plus lots of water (it was on the Canal du Midi). Perhaps our motorway service areas could take a lesson from Vinci.

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We broke our return journey in the Charente-Maritime again, this time staying in a glorious B&B in Forges. Nearby was the town of Surgeres which provided me with yet another roundabout for my collection.

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The next morning, as La Rochelle was not far way, we took the opportunity to have coffee there and to do a bit of sight-seeing. A very picturesque place indeed and it would have been nice if we could have stopped longer. It is now on our list of places to come and revisit.

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We left La Rochelle late morning and continued our trip towards Caen, where we arrived in the early evening with plenty of time to do a bit of sight-seeing.  We came across this very shiny statue of Joan of Arc.  We then sat in the sun at the head of the canal and had a very good dinner.

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Then sadly, it was off to the ferry port to wait to be allowed to board as the sun set on our holiday ;-(

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Post script

This year we invested in Télépéage, which allowed us to sail through the toll booths on the motorways instead of queuing and scrabbling for the right money – well worth the investment.

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Celebrating being 60 by walking the Yorkshire Coast – a pictorial record

Those who follow my blog will remember that I turned 60 on March 13th and was pleasantly surprised at lunch time by colleagues, students and friends.

Simon 60 cake

There was however, also another treat in store for me.  My best friend from school (John Pearson) and I used to go walking and camping together in our school and university holidays.

Simon & John T - 21st birthday SRL

Me and John – 21st Birthday Party

 

Family and jobs put an end to this tradition although we and our wives used to (and still do) get together for short walks and visits.  For our 50th birthday however, we diced that it was time to get our walking boots back on in earnest and as good Yorkshiremen we decided that we would walk the Yorkshire Coast (or at least part of it).  In the end we enjoyed a very enjoyable walk from Redcar down to Robin Hood’s Bay, as traditional Yorkshiremen, Redcar, despite boundary changes is still Yorkshire territory as far as we are concerned 😉

Yorskhire coast 1

 

We stayed in pubs and B&Bs along the way, our camping days being long over.  As a point of honour we walked to the end of every pier (and back) on the way down.

For our 60th birthday, John’s wife Christine paid for three nights in a hotel in Scarborough on the Esplanade for us, The Weston, and we set off to do Robin Hood’s Bay to Bridlington in three days.

Yorkshire coast 2

The weather forecast was truly awful so we were a bit worried, and certainly driving to Scarboroug on Saturday morning, the weather was not promising.  By lunchtime however, the rain had stopped and apart from a short shower we had remarkably good weather for the end of March.  The last two days were, however extremely windy. Each day, we left a car at our finishing point and drove the other car to our start point; that way we were able to stay in comfort in one location and enjoy a well-earned beer at the end of each day and a bottle of very reasonably priced wine at dinner.  Bliss.

 

Day 1 Robin Hood’s Bay to Cloughton

A gentle start as we only had half a day and wanted to break our feet in gently.  Daffodil and Primula garden escapes were very much in evidence on the cliff sides – actually they were present all the way along the coast.

 

Day 1 beer

Staring with a beer – Theakstons Black Bull Bitter

Day 1 Yorkshire best

Yorkshire at its best

Day 1 steep bit

A steep bit (one of many)

Day 1 evening

View from hotel bedroom – evening

Day 2 – Cloughton to Filey

There were some more very steep bits, but despite the gloomy start, it was mainly nice and sunny.  Insects were not much in evidence, but skylarks were very noticeable, and of course there were lots of sea birds.

Day 2 Gloomy morning

First morning – gloomy view from hotel window, but luckily the weather improved as the day progressed.

Day 2 steep bit

There were indeed some steep bits,

Day 2 steep bit Simon

and some very steep bits as well.

Day 2 Slippy bits

Not forgetting the slippy bits!

Day 2 distant objective

Distant objective.

Day 2 dramatic cliffs

Dramatic cliffs.

Day 2 clearing skies

Clearing skies – great views.

Day 3 Filey to Bridlington

An extremely windy day, most of the time we felt like we were walking uphill despite a lot of it being on the flat, on the plus side it was quite sunny.

Day 3 Dawn

Sunrise – a beautiful start to the day

Day 3 - windswept tree

Not just us that was windswept!

Day 3 Bempton

Bempton – lots of Gannets and Guillemots

Day 3 The only puffin

This was the only puffin we saw!

 

Day 3 The sea

The sea, the sea!

Day 3 Footsore

The beach was a bit of a struggle.

Day 2 Flambro

Flamborough Head – we came here for our 3rd form Geography field trip in 1969 – it was joined to the coast then and was a blowhole!

Day 2 Flambro lighthouse

You can’t have a coastal walk without a lighthouse!

Day 4 – Spurn Point

Drove here from Scarborough just to see it as we didn’t feel like slogging along the beach at Bridlington and this is our proposed finishing point for our 65th birthday walk.  We decided that waiting until we were 70 might not be wise 😉

Spurn Point

Clear(ish) skies but gale force winds.

Spurn Point John

Just like walking in a desert sand storm – we had to turn back after a mile.

Day 3 Spurn Point Brown sea

The sea was brown not blue! Hopefully when we reach this point in 2020 the wind will have abated!

And just to finish a great piece of seaside sculpture.

Freddie Gilroy

Freddie Gilroy on the front at Scarborough.

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Letting the train take the strain – Summer Holiday 2014

As I am on my summer holiday this is one of my lazy blogs; mainly pictures, no science and written in the hope of inspiring more people to give up flying and take the train instead. For those of you who don’t know I try to keep my time in the air to a minimum; years go by without me encasing myself in those uncomfortable sardine tins with the disconcerting habit of dropping several hundred feet every now and then. Yes, you guessed it; I hate flying, both on a personal level and also on an ecological level. Thus for the last twenty-five years or so have taken our car with us on holiday, and when possible, kept the carbon footprint as small as possible by putting the car on the train. In the old days this was remarkably easy, as French MotorRail ran a great service from Calais, but unfortunately that was axed a few years ago and this now means we have the choice of either driving to Paris to catch the AutoTrain from Bercy or driving across to Den Bosch in The Netherlands to catch the Autoslaap Trein. You can actually travel pretty much anywhere in the world by train and ferry; The Man in Seat Sixty-One is our personal hero, do check him out.
We left Bracknell at 1715 on Thursday 17th July to catch the car ferry from Harwich to Hook of Holland. Due to the awful traffic around and in the vicinity of London, we didn’t arrive at Harwich until 2120 but despite that, got parked and into our cabin fairly quickly and in time for a late supper and glass of wine accompanied by a pretty good sunset as the ferry set sail.
Sunset Harwich

We had a very comfortable night (unlike our experience going to Bilbao eight years ago) and after a quick breakfast were able to start on our journey from Hook of Holland to Den Bosch, a drive of just over an hour. I drove the car on to the train and as we were first there apart from some motorcyclists, was at the front end of the transporter carriages.

Car on train

 

We then had a few hours of sight-seeing in Den Bosch in glorious sunshine before making our way back to the train and getting into our cabin, which came with hot and cold running water, two bunks and a complimentary glass of champagne courtesy of our stewardess.

Bedroom

We departed Den Bosch at 1315 and spent the next few hours travelling down through the Netherlands and on into Germany, much of it beside the Rhine which is very scenic at this time of the year.

 Along the Rhine compressed3  Along the Rhine compressed2  Along the Rhine compressed

At about 1745, we had a fifteen minute stop in Darmstadt, ostensibly to let us stretch our legs but as far as I could see it was really to let

Darmstadt station

the train staff indulge in a cigarette break! I did however mange to find a bit of nature on the platform although much to my disappointment,  it was not infested with aphids 😉

Darmstadt vegetation

For those train buffs among you here are the engines.  We were on our way again by 1800 and at 2030 we repaired (I find that travelling in style by train brings back the language style of a more relaxed age)

Engine

to the Dining Car for a very nice three course meal with a bottle red wine – very civilized indeed and so much more comfortable than flying 😉

  Dinner reservation Eating in style

We then retired to bed and despite the fact that we were rattling through the Alps at a fair old rate, slept very soundly until breakfast arrived at 0730 accompanied with a cup of coffee each.

Breakfast

 

Not quite as good as dinner but enough to keep us going as we hurtled through Italy.  By mid-morning we were running along the stunning Italian coastline and arrived at Livorno in blazing sunshine at lunchtime.

Italian coast Italian coast1 Italian coast2

The car was soon unloaded despite some problems with the motorcycles in front of which had been rather too securely attached to the train! We then set off on our drive to Castel Dell’Aquila in Umbria (incidentally the village features in a brief film Finding Marilyn in Castel Dell’Aquila).

It was as we were leaving Livorno that I had to make a choice between the two women in my life. Gill (Mrs (Dr) Leather) and Mrs Garmin (as we affectionately (?) call our SatNav) got into dispute.  Gill is great believer in navigating by the sun and as I was about to follow Mrs Garmin’s instruction on how to leave Livorno was told by Gill that it couldn’t possibly be right as we should be heading in the other direction – I couldn’t possibly say who was right but our estimated Mrs Garmin time of 1530 turned into an actual arrival time of 1820 😉 Still it was worth it

House front2 House front Holiday house

 

Post script

The villa comes with a kitten and also a dog!  Just as well that we don’t suffer from allergies 😉

Kitten  Dog

Post post script

And of course as well as reducing your carbon footprint, taking your own car means that you are able to bring back a lot of local produce, including the bottled variety 😉

 

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