I am trying to write this article as we are driving north through the French Alps. We will eventually head north-east towards Germany. We will be stopping for a week or so near Grenoble, the capital of the French Alps. So far this drive has been extremely uncomfortable for both Mike and I. It isn’t that we have run into any actual problems, but the road signs have been concerning us. Sundays are good traveling days in France as most of the large trucks have to be off the road.
Driving north the expressway stops before entering the mountain range and then starts again on the other side. You are on a normal 2 lane winding road going through the mountains. Since we like big roads the thought of a winding road with hairpin turns gives us some concerns. While towing the car we are 16 m or over 50 ft long and quite wide by European standards. The only alternative was many, many hours out of the way. Our camper is 3.9 m tall. Once in Hungary we encountered a 3.8 m bridge that we tried very slowly to drive under. It didn’t work. When we got to where the expressway initially ended we had two choices. To the right was a maximum height sign of 3.5m. To the left, which was where we wanted to go, was a maximum height enroute of 3.9m. We encountered some French warning signs on the side of the road. We are past the signs before we can properly read or translate them which is concerning. We also keep seeing the warning about the 3.9 m restriction ahead but nowhere does it say how far away the restriction is. Since it is a Sunday we don’t have the comfort of seeing other big rigs coming towards us and knowing that they have made it this far. A big concern is that; if we don’t fit under the bridge, we will have to return almost to our starting point to go much further around the height restriction. This could add one or two days driving for us (and cost considerably more in RV fuel and road tolls). The other possibility in the mountains, is that we will get to the bridge and the RV won’t be able to turn around because the roads are too narrow. I am writing this as we are enroute heading into the mountains. I will let you know what happens. It is quite nerve-racking not knowing if we will be able to make it.
It is now well over 30 minutes since I wrote the last paragraph. I have been holding my breath most of that time. We finally came to one of those bars across our side of the road with chains hanging down. The assumption being, if you didn’t hit the chains you could make it under the bridge. Our antenna is slightly higher than the air conditioning units mounted on the roof. If our antenna touches then we need to creep forward, or Mike needs to climb on the roof to see if anything else will hit. If more than just the antenna gets hit by the wires then we would have to disconnect the car and figure out how to turn around. Well, our antenna did hit the chains but nothing else did. We got to the bridge and crept under it. The bridge was actually high enough that even the antenna didn’t scrape the underside of the bridge. Mike was a little annoyed that they had had us worried for so long. A few minutes later we came to a second bridge that said 4.0 m high. That should be OK, as long as the people who make the signs can measure accurately. Surprise, surprise, a couple of minutes later we come to a third bridge and this one is again posted to be 3.9 m – our height. This time our antenna hit each beam on the underside of the bridge as we crept under it. It sounded awful but nothing else on our roof hit the underside of the bridge. As we got past the bridge we saw the height barrier chains suspended on the opposite side of the road for the on-coming traffic. This made us think that we were now past the 3.9 m scare.
Of course, our nerve-racking drive isn’t quite over yet. According to the map we are approaching many kilometres of tight S-bends and hairpin turns in the road which we like to avoid given our length and width. I had to put my computer down for a while as I watched and worried about these roads. The drive turned out to be very anticlimactic. The road was fine for Mike to drive, especially without the larger trucks approaching us. We made it under all the bridges, although the last one did concern me a lot. We made it around the S-bends and hairpin turns without any problems and are back on the expressway approaching Grenoble. I will stop writing now and give you an update on our travels from last week in and around Manosque when I have some time.
Good News! The main reason that we had to stay in the south of France for another week was to have the car temporarily repaired. By that I mean, we didn’t want it fixed completely, just enough to seal the trunk and have the bumper stay attached to the car for the next couple of years. We weren’t really concerned about the looks. It certainly isn’t perfect and you can tell that we have been in an accident but I think they did a really good job at a reasonable price. They also lent Mike an older vehicle to drive for the week which was great. The car was completely empty of fuel and it was really filthy. Mike cleaned and vacuumed parts of it (i.e. the passenger seat 😊) before I ever saw the car. We returned a cleaner car with about $100 worth of fuel so that was good for everyone.
On the way back to Manosque, after picking up our car we stopped to explore a town called Apt. As many of you know, Mike doesn’t really like stopping for drinks when he can have them at home or eating outside. He much prefers indoors. After walking slowly around Apt I got Mike to stop and have a drink. Under duress he ordered some Orangina. I ordered a glass of wine and one sweet crepe for us to share. Half-way through eating the crepe a bird flew by and pooped a lot on Mike’s pants. Given that Mike hadn’t wanted to be outside and hadn’t wanted to sit and have a drink and now add in the bird, he wasn’t very happy.
One day Mike and I visited the medieval town of Forcalquier. As always, we couldn’t resist going inside the church. Like many of these older churches, Forcalquier Cathedral, also known as Notre-Dame-du-Bourguet, has very poor sight lines if the church is ever full. We saw signs for the Citadelle with its gorgeous views up on the hill top and started trying to drive there. We ended up on really tiny roads. Our car, with mirrors that don’t fold in, is really too wide for some of these tiny medieval village roads. Finally we got to the end of the road and we were still quite a bit lower than the citadelle. I gave Mike my tablet which has a wide angle lens and he went up on his own while I sat and read in the car. It was over 45 minutes later before he came down. He showed me some of the pictures he had taken.
One picture that he had showed the chapel above with an enclosure right at the edge of the hill. His plan was to tell me that the enclosure was an elevator that went up to the citadel and chapel. Luckily he changed his mind about upsetting me after sitting in the car for so long. The chapel is called the Chapelle Notre-Dame de Provence. Two Notre-Dames in one town is really too many. You can see the enclosure below. It is called Le Carillon de Forcalquier. The Forcalquier carillon is one of a kind. The bells have been playing here since 1925 with a major facelift in 2018. The large glass enclosure gives a great view of the bell ringer and a 360° view from the plateau of the citadel and the lands beyond. Being able to see the carillonneur is apparently quite unique. There are 36 or 37 bells ranging from 10 kg up to 155 kg. You can see how a picture of the chapel with this enclosure a some distance away could easily have looked like an elevator opening.
I might not have got to the perfumeries in Grasse but we did take a tour of L’Occitane en Provence, a very well-known maker of skin care products, in Manosque. The tour was well put together. It sounds like the company is really into sustainability and trying to be eco-friendly and helping to support others. They showed us one hand cream and said that there was one sold every 4 seconds somewhere in the world. That sounded pretty impressive to me. While that was impressive I didn’t like the factory accident sign that I saw. There are between 800 and 1000 employees in this location and the sign said that the longest time between lost time accidents was 120 days and that the last accident was as recent as 6 days ago. Those numbers would be considered just awful in Canada. I remember a friend of ours once telling us about the horrific number of accidents that were considered acceptable on a large construction project in the US which would never have been tolerated in Canada.
During our time in France we learned to look for businesses that had “non-stop” on their signs. This doesn’t mean that they are open long hours, it just means that they don’t close during the traditional lunch hours.
We camped very near the centre of Manosque which coincidentally was having a festival on our last weekend there. The plan on the Friday night was for people to all gather in town. They would be provided with lanterns and then the whole group would go up the hill to the chapel at the top. Musicians were accompanying the walkers. I thought that would be great except I couldn’t go. Two canes, uphill, dark night, uneven ground – wasn’t happening for me. Mike wasn’t as intrigued as I was and he didn’t go either, too bad.
If you look at the top of the church bell-tower in the picture below you will see what looks to me like a very large bird cage. Apparently, this is called a campanile. I am learning more English words on this trip than I ever expected to. It is considered to be one of the most finely worked campaniles in the Mediterranean area. It dates back to 1725 and was originally commissioned as the town hall belfry. When the town hall was demolished in 1868 the campanile was reinstalled on the raised bell tower of the church of Saint-Sauveur. It is probably just as well that my mind is a sieve and can’t keep track of all this stuff that I read about and “learn” temporarily while we are travelling.
Now that the car is fixed, Mike and I are heading towards Switzerland and then into Germany which was our main plan for this year. As you can see from the beginning of this post we did make it to Grenoble. It is now two days since we arrived and I am finishing what I started on the drive here. I knew that it was predicted to rain all today and it has.
Just a little note to tell everyone that my husband has been just great having to suffer right along with me as my leg is very slowly getting better (and I do mean slowly).