Spring has Sprung

Lovely stone church in Moissac

Magnolia trees, green grass, trees turning green, a few flowers and people mowing their lawns all says that spring has arrived.  My last post talked about the area north of Toulouse that we have been enjoying.  I am writing this post a little sooner than normal as our plans our changing and we are leaving this area for now.  Our plan was to head to Toulouse an hour away today.  We actually drove there two days ago in the car.  We wanted to look at a couple of campgrounds and see if we could get there easily and what they were like.  Mike always says that it is the last mile and then the last turn that are sometimes a problem for our very large (by European standards) camper.  We arrived in Toulouse in the French “lunch hour”.  Both campgrounds were closed.  Not only do many retail stores close over lunch but apparently, so do the campgrounds.  One opened up at 1500h (3 PM) and the other didn’t open until 1900h (7 PM).  Both had gates with a keypad for control.  So much for arriving just after lunch in a camper.  I guess if you are local you just know these things.  We picked a campground and said that we would be there Friday. 

Well, as we have done before, we completely changed our plans Thursday night which is why I am wrapping up this area in a post today.  Instead of heading south to Toulouse we are now heading west to the town of Bayonne on the Atlantic Ocean.  We are hoping to do a loop going out to the west and then returning through the Haute or High Pyrenees on our way back to Toulouse.  Our planned route to the Mediterranean would have cut off this corner of France completely.  This is really our only chance to divert and see it.  I keep a map where I have loaded into all the the villages with the designation of “Most beautiful villages in France”.  I also include all the towns that have English audio tours on our phone and places that I have read about or that people have told us we must see.  It makes for a very handy guide when we are coming into a new area.  I also include the major cross country bicycle trails that we are interested in on the map.  As you can see from the picture below, this part of the country is filled with places of interest.  The green pin on the Atlantic is where we are hoping to stay.  It is a long drive and we aren’t sure if we will make it today or if we will just stop at a French aire for the night.  Many French aires are just places to camp/park overnight without services and without charge.  Some have a few services and charge a small amount. 

Jackie’s map of things to see

I told you that we left the marina that we camped at recently because without electricity our generator was costing us a fortune in fuel.  This was largely because our batteries wouldn’t hold a charge and we had to keep running the generator to charge them again and again.  Do you remember the hassles that we had getting through the airport with our car battery charger?  Well we think it was worth all the hassles.  Mike ran the charger for a few days while we were camped in maintenance, or desulfurization mode, and we think it has helped tremendously.  We won’t know for sure until we are without electricity and see if the batteries run our fridge and everything else overnight.  We may have a chance to test this tonight.  I will let you know.

The picture at the top is of the lovely town of Moissac.  We were camped about 7km from there which made it an easy bike ride into the town.  Funnily enough, I was video chatting with my cousin Jane in England this week when she told me that she had lived near Moissac in France for a year.  She gave me a few other suggestions for pins to put on my map.

While we were in Canada we bought a new propane alarm for the camper. Although the one we had had never squealed in the 7 years we had it, it had started beeping once a week telling us that it was time to be replaced.  Luckily Mike installed the new one shortly after we returned to France.   At 1am a few days ago, just as I was undressing for bed and Mike was already asleep the new propane alarm started screaming.  Not a great awakening for Mike and the racket was not great for me either.  We quickly opened up all the vents and started airing out the RV.  We finally figured out that the knob for one of the burners on the stove was not completely turned off. You could smell the gas by this point. Thank heavens that Mike had bought AND installed the new alarm. It would have been very bad if the leak had not been detected and fixed.

Lovely stonework in the Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Condom

Last week I posted a picture of the inside of a church that was filled with phenomenal paintings.  In this church it was the stonework that impressed you.  Visiting a church in Europe is often like walking into a free museum where you don’t have to stay very long.

The picture at the bottom was taken in Montauban, a very nice “normal” town i.e. not one of the medieval villages that we have been touring.  Although the town received its charter in 1144 it has obviously been renewed multiple times.  It has a population of 60,000 and, as you can see from this street scene, it is just a really nice place to wander around in.  The historic heart of the town is a square called Place Nationale.  Unfortunately it was completely under construction while we where there.  Among other things, they appeared to be either renovating or building a large new fountain, with many jets, in the middle of the square.  It should be lovely when completed.

I am writing this as we are driving west in the RV.  Mike has just fueled up and bought about ¾ of a tank worth of fuel.  He just came back in with a receipt for 450€ which is over $600 Canadian.  That would be $800 Cdn for a full tank!  Fuel prices are getting even higher as we head west.  We just paid $2.75 Cdn per litre.  The last fuel price that we saw equalled $3.17 Cdn per litre.  Fuel in Europe has always been a lot higher than in Canada.  We complain because we compare ourselves to the US with their cheaper gas prices.  The very first time Mike and I were in Europe in the early 70s, I believe that their fuel was about three times the price of Canadian fuel.  No wonder they like small cars over here.  I wonder which came first, small cars or small roads – the chicken or the egg??

I have to finish this by saying that everything you have ever heard about French drivers is true.  They are nuts on the road which is very concerning given our large, not exactly spritely, vehicle.  The other day, as we were making a wide right hand turn in our RV someone tried to pass us from the inside and then continue straight through.  Absolutely NUTS.

Montauban, lovely typical small town we biked through

Addendum:

So a couple of quick extras before I post this.  Mike and I did make it to the campsite just north of Bayonne.  The drive was less than 3 hours on the highway (and another hour on smaller roads).  That three hours cost us TWO HUNDRED CANADIAN DOLLARS in tolls.  Add to that we used about $300 Cdn in fuel getting here and we still plan on returning to the Toulouse area.  It is really good that we don’t move very often and when we do we don’t usually drive this distance. 

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