Travel from Italy to France
Today was an amazing day of travelling. Although we were only in the car the amount of hours it would take us to drive down to Queenstown, it felt like a long time and we were exhausted when we finally got to our destination. You would have seen me curled up in recovery position on the couch :) .... and it wasn't even me driving. Alex did very well!
So we got up early to pack and get the house ready to leave. Alex spent an hour or more on an urgent job, and Johanna seemed to take forever to get herself packed (early morning blues I think) so I quickly got the house unpacked again and ready for getting the key back to the lovely caretaker, Georgia. The day was beautiful and sunny again as usual and promising to be a hot one. Off we went, bike on the back and the wee Fiat looking quite laden (just as well there aren't five of us here, we never would have fitted!). We stopped off at our favourite breakfast place for one last day of croissants and drinks at Desir Deroy. I spoke with the owner this time, and told him we were from NZ. He was impressed! He said he'd been to NZ 25 years ago and had loved it. The distance from Europe is what seems to impress people when they find out we're from NZ plus the fact we have such a beautiful country. It's kinda nice to get this worldwide recognition of our beautiful country. We are blessed to live there!
I have to say, the lemon croissants at Desir Deroy are amazing, and Alex's fav was the chocolate ones. Johanna loved their coffee (I think I've said that before aye.... sorry). So we purchased another one each for the road and started our now more familiar drive down the valley to Ventimiglia, and this time on towards the French border. There was one guard on the border who just waved us through as we got to it. Obviously we aren't sporting beards and turbans or shouting "Allah Akba". We just look like a family on holiday....perfect ruse. : )
Now, we are on French roads, my goodness what a difference. There were two differences actually. 1. Far more ordered and less chaotic 2. The drivers are more arrogant and are very reluctant to let you in. I guess in Italy as everyone pushes in they are more tolerant and will allow you in at the same time. The crazy system kinda works I think.
Certainly we had some stressful moments to the travel. We hadn't actually sat down and worked out together exactly what route we would take. So Alex was relying on me to tell him which exits we needed to take. I had wanted to see Menton, the first French Riviera town after the border. So we didn't take the motorway and got nearly to Menton when Alex took a turn that meant we headed up to the motorway. I was so upset as I had wanted to sit down at the seaside town, have a hot drink and work out with Alex where we were going. Google had us going on three different routes, and there were probably more.... so which one to pick? Anyway, now we were on the motorway we managed to bypass all the places I thought might be nice to visit - Nice, Cannes, Monaco, which was probably best as it would've been hectic in there. So leave that for another time maybe. There was one last place that was close enough to the motorway tthat was on the French mediterranean, Frejus. If you've never heard of it neither had I until I was researching places to stay in this area, before we booked the Italian place. I thought it might be nice to see Frejus so we hopped off the motorway then, and began the long journey into the middle of this busy seaside city. Maybe you've heard of St Raphael-Michel? The two cities are joined with St Raphael being the richer part of town from what I can gather. Anyway, as it turned out, this little jaunt cost us nearly an hour and a half, and really wasn't worth while all the extra travelling trying to find the seaside for a start, then trying to find a carpark and then walking on the crowded streets in the extreme heat trying to find some food for lunch. In the end though we did get a very nice icecream each at a very tacky little icecream shop with murals of Pinocchio - ? How are they related? Also the beach was pretty spectacular with plenty of punters there swimming, sailing etc. By the time we got back on the motorway (thanks to google for getting us back on there - aaggh) it was well after midday. So far the scenery from the motorway looked like we were out in America - the vistas were vast with huge rock outcrops and sparse vegetation. It was really interesting to watch the scenery change the further we travelled up through Provence and then into the Rhone Alpes.
We made a stop for petrol, toilet and more icecream (hey, it was hot ok!) at Aix-en-Provence, again just driving round the streets trying to find a petrol station. One advantage of this was that we saw quite a bit of the city and it looks a great place - fairly big city by the looks of it. So I can't really tell you much about it - I'm sure some of you would have been there and can tell me more about it! Onwards and upwards towards the Alps, the motorways getting slightly smaller as we had turned off the main motorway to go to Aix-en-Provence. Each section on the motorway you have to pay tolls - 2.50E for this section, 1.50E for the next couple of miles, another 2.90E for the next - so you have to have lots of Euro change on you. Thankfully we did! I think we must have spent more than 50E on our driving today.
The next stop was a town called Sisteron that I remember wanting to book a house at. I spent so much time researching cheap houses to rent for a few days... and this town was one where the pictures looked pretty. So off we go from the motorway to investigate this small town with loads of history and a citadel on top of a huge rock. The river separates it from another amazing cliff face on the other side and overall it is a quaint and gorgeous town, one where we'd definitely like to come back and spend some time -- next time maybe? We spent a while trying to figure out how we could drive up to the citadel, even trying to get google to help us, but sometimes google maps either just cann't figure out what you're talking about or it takes you on a very strange route, or a blocked road..... we've certainly had some google failures in amongst the helpful successes. So, no citadel. We found the walking track, but definitely didn't have time for that, as we were still quite a long way from Les Deux Alpes.
Back to the motorway, more tolls, and the scenery is now very different. We were coming to a town called Gap that interestingly the Tour de France actually started from today as it went towards the mountains where we are heading. There was still a few signs up and painting on the climb out of Gap which seemed a really nice town - lots of trees, much bigger than Sisteron but smaller by far than Aix-en-Provence. More like Blenheim I reckon, nestled in a large valley with mountains completely surrounding it. Lots of opportunities for climbing mountains if you lived there, either on bike or walking.
This next part of the journey from Gap (another toilet stop later) to Bourg d'Oisans was absolutely incredible. Now the roads looked like NZ roads down near Queenstown/Milford Sound, no more tolls as no more motorway. This was very mountainous, with the cutest little villages sitting on the roadside - little cottages with the main road right on their doorstep and even workmen on ladders working on these cottages right on the road. I took so many photos through this part of the journey, wishing that we had cleaned the windows before we left the last petrol station, as the grubby glass with make my photos look awful! Snap, Snap, Snap. Alex was sure I'd taken enough photos but no, I was still snapping. I've got some sorting out to do when I get home!
We went over a col (mountain pass) which looked amazing, was amazing and even very scary. Worst still, we saw heaps of cyclists on this road. What a climb they would've had. It was now about 6pm at night and to our surprise and my horror, nearer the bottom we still saw some cyclists (old ladies and men struggling, puffing and panting) making their way up this astonishingly difficult climb. "Do you realise how far you have to go people?" "Are you crazy?"
Into Bourg d'Oisan, which is the town at the base of the Alpe d'Huez. It looked incredibly busy because everyone and anyone that follows the tour is here at the moment. The whole town is buzzing. A quick stop there, put our final destination in Google maps and follow the road... which sits at the bottom of a very narrow valley withh high (very high!) mountains on either side. Then suddenly we were snaking our way up the most narrow road we've ever come across yet (even beats those skinny little Italian roads I think), and I guess because it's all so new it was hair raising. Also it was hair raising because it was SO SCARY! Really people of France who live in the Rhone Alpes, blast some more of that mountain away and give us more space! I can't imagine how anyone with a campervan would get up there. We were breathing in and not looking down, and our hearts were beating so loud it was audible. And praying! For God's protection. Ok, lesson learnt. Never blindly follow google maps ever again.
We had about 5 km of this road, and more km of some more normal mountain road (much safer now, breathe out.... but still narrow and windy,climbing steeply) until we reached the bustling town of Les Deux Alpes. Wow. It's a veritable city sitting up here in a plateau valley between two mountains. If you kept driving down the main road you drive off a huge high cliff. It's an amazing place. Although I must admit after all the driving we'd done I was completely done in. When we finally got the keys to our small teeeeeeny apartment in this big apartment building overlooking Les Deux Alpes, we were all spent - completely and utterly. It was about 8pm before we got inside and were able to sit down and recover. Later on, sometime after 9.00pm we walked down into the township for some dinner and were surprised at how busy it was. Much much busier than Blenheim at that time of night. All the restaurants and cafes were open and there were crowds of people mingling around, eating etc. The walk back up to the apartment which is probably the highest building in Les Deux Alpes was steep, and included about 125 steps. Yay.
Definitely time for bed. 'I hope that we've booked the right place. I hope that I haven't made a huge mistake.' These are my troubled thoughts as I nestle into my little bed, which is a bit like a bed on a small yacht. The bed IS the room. Johanna is sleeping on the couch as the other 'bedroom' has a bunk for a skinny midget in it and actually is the entrance way. Yep. A total of 30m2 for the entire apartment. Cozy! :) But the views from here are magnificent. We look straight out at the mountains from the balcony and the sunset is very pretty. God's glory is all around us, and His presence is with us.