Friday, July 31, 2015

The Villa

Well, our week at The Villa is coming to an end and I've been asked to post a blog on our exploits for the family back home to read.

For those outside the family let me introduce the characters (bottom to top): my two sons David (28) and Michael (27), Angela's first daughter Rebecca (24), her partner Charlotte (24), and second daughter Emily (23).

The week got off to a flying start when Angela and I bought the local Carrefour supermarche to a standstill! Stocking up for the week we had two trolleys overflowing with produce when at 1:00pm they announced the store was closing (it was Sunday after all!). When we arrived at the checkouts the cashier gave us a look that would have killed us on the spot. Now the last customers in the store, we had four attendants helping us to check out and pack. None of the staff could leave their checkouts until we had gone, and the exit was the opposite end of the checkouts! A few smiled as we passed, some were less understanding, but we made it out alive.

The next challenge was fitting it all in the Porsche, which we did, just! Angela had cakes and other goodies in her footwell and eggs on her lap! We cranked the air con to full to turn the car into a fridge. We got home and it all survived, just about.

That evening the kids' flights arrived pretty well bang on time though they had a bit of fun with the hire cars which involved a bit of swapping around. We missed their arrival, delayed by TomTom, who had served us so well thus far, taking us on a detour through a gated, private estate including across a golf course (fore!). Eventually we all met up and made it back to The Villa just before midnight, then the party started!

We've seen good weather all week, sunny and mid-30's every day. It has been cooled slightly by a persistent 'mistral', a strong wind that blows from southern France into the northern Mediterranean. Indeed it was blowing a gale when we arrived on Saturday but has been only slightly gusty the rest of the week.

For the early part of the week most of the focus was on lounging and drinking (well you have to keep your fluids topped up!). Most of the exploits involved the swimming pool. A supposedly warm 28C, it was a good place to cool down. It was also the venue for various activities including synchronised swimming, surfing (!), volleyball and so on, mainly for the girls it has to be said though Mike has ventured in quite a few times!

Charlie 'Surfing'!
Synchronised Swimming

Did I mention it was HOT?! I don't do very well in the heat, nor does David - he's stayed in the sanctuary of the air conditioning most of the week. I've been out for short periods but it soon becomes too much for me as well. Of us boys Mike seems to handle it best sitting out for long periods reading or swimming. But it can still be very exhausting just sitting around doing very little ....

Wednesday we ventured into St Tropez on the hunt for celebrities - Leonardo diCaprio, Kate Hudson and Lewis Hamilton had been seen in town recently. We weren't that lucky so, lacking an invitation for breakfast on any of the massive yachts, we had to settle for a quick bite and then some serious window shopping.
I did spy this superb Porsche 356 Speedster, not for sale!

Mealtimes at The Villa were a mixture of DIY, communal cooking or eating out - at times the kitchen area was a tad congested but everyone mucked in ...

Thursday we chartered a nice Jeanneau speed boat for the morning. We jumped aboard and the skipper took us on a quick cruise showing us Port Grimaud, built with channels in a Venetian manner, popular with boat owners as most properties come with their own berth.

There were also some nice looking boats! (Four 300HP engines!)

We anchored out in the bay so the girls (Emily and Charlie) could do a spot of swimming and diving off the boat in the clear blue waters of the Mediterranean. Due to the mistral the warmer waters had been blown offshore so, according to Charlie, the water was @*&^%$ FREEZING!

After a spot of lunch in Port Sainte-Maxime we returned to the marina through some quite choppy waters!

And so our week is drawing to a close. This evening we're all having a meal out in Cavalaire-sur-Mer before the kids head back to the airport first thing tomorrow morning and Angela and I resume our tour heading for Carcassonne - only a short drive away, honest!

Angela's Postcript:

Highlights: Granny (AKA Angela) trying to 'mount' a lilo (the movie of which will be broadcast later), you know when you get the giggles...apparently I found it hillariously funny!!!...the villa is fantastic and luxurious, the air con is room specific so David can hide in his dark ice cave and me and the girls can bask in the warmth of our own rooms...haven't done much apart from chilling, which is fab (not an Alpine pass in site!)... it's been lovely having all the kids here and playing ... although I'm not sure I really needed to buy enough food for 10 families, the kids have set themselves a task of eating and drinking as much of it as they can today ... no need for me to have packed so many sundresses either as I lived in a swimsuit ... the pool has lights!!! so I had a swim in the dark one night...

p.p.s... I'm not coming home!


Saturday, July 25, 2015

Day Eight: Samnaun to St Tropez

Today was to be a simple 450 mile blast from Samnaun to the villa we have booked near St Tropez. That's what it should have been, but I couldn't miss the opportunity to slip in another couple of alpine passes, the Fluelapass and especially the San Bernardino Pass.

There is a newer, faster road through the San Bernardino Pass that now carries most of the traffic but we followed the old route for the most part, reputed to be one of the best alpine passes. And so it proved to be with a stretch of switchback roads zig-zagging their way up the side of the mountain - nerve jangling, stomach churning stuff! This photo, taken on the downward side, simply doesn't do it justice ....

Shhh - don't tell but I pinched this off the web ....

So having got those ticked off the list we set sail (!) for St Tropez - a journey that took us, in total, eleven hours (yes, eleven!). There were queues at every flippn' toll booth, and there were a lot of toll booths! The irony was I drove the first part, fast, flowing alpine passes followed by a high speed run along the Autostrada, Angela then took over and hit queue after queue after queue (she was not a happy bunny), I then resumed driving for the final stretch on traffic free French motorways! She was even less happy at this!!

Finally we reached our destination and it does not disappoint with a fantastic view and plenty of room for us and our respective offspring who fly out to join us tomorrow (kids - this is what you've got to look forward to!)

We're now settled here until next Saturday when we resume our tour. I won't be posting a 'wot we did today' blog every day (lounging around the pool, drinking beer, drinking wine, more lounging, you get the idea) but I do have a couple of excursions in mind which may warrant reporting (yes - MORE driving!) so by all means do pop in and have a look from time to time but normal service will resume next week.

Angela's Postscript (oh dear, wait for it!)

I never want to eat cheese EVER again! The last 400km were hell, I was driving .... I NEVER want to drive again!!

p.p.s. Please can I put Alpine Passes in Room 101!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Day Seven: "The Hills Are Alive With The Sound Of .....!!!

I'll spare you my singing (which anybody who has heard me sing will tell you is a blessing) but today we walked in the footsteps of the Von Trapp family from that well loved musical 'Sound of Music' - we walked across the Alps from Austria into Switzerland!

OK - maybe that makes it sound a bit more than it really was.  Truth is we rode the ski lifts from just outside our hotel in Samnoun (Switzerland) to Ischgl (Austria) and back again.  But, as this involved five different ski lifts, we had to walk between them so we did walk some of the way!

The views were simply stunning - hard to grasp the scale of the place.

The chairlifts were a new experience for Angela - at first she wasn't sure about getting on or off 'on the move', but after the first one she loved it and there was no stopping her so what started as a trip up to the top became a trek across the mountains!

At the summit there was still some snow lying around even though it was surprisingly mild.  Angela couldn't resist jumping into it with both feet!

And of course, with so many rocks around, she couldn't resist going for a climb though I managed to persuade her not to go too far this time.

As we returned a storm was approaching, just as forecast (they got it right pretty well to the minute!).  By this time we were on our way down to the car park so there wasn't much else to do - except GO SHOPPING!

Angela's Postscript

...hah, rock climbing indeed, I wanted to borrow a mountain bike from one of the lovely Lycra clad boys and cycle down the mountains!...I had the most delicious black Forrest gateaux at the top of the mountain...going up and down mountains plays havoc with the gas inside your body, I fear I may just pop if I stay here much longer!!....early night tonight, apparently I have to drive for 9 or 10 hours tomorrow and he wants to get up at dawn, seriously??!...Andy doesn't seem too keen on my plans to return to the Alps next year in the Porsche with 2 bikes strapped to the back and Bustaaar, cycling around mountains with a crazyass dog (try to imagine him on the ski lift) isn't his idea of a fun holiday! 🐺

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Where's Angela?

Did you spot her?  Top marks if you did!

Day Six: Alpine Passes

Contrary to the forecasts the day dawned bright and sunny, and pleasantly warm!  It was so nice we breakfasted on the terrace - a lovely way to start the day.


Today we retraced some of our 'Alpine Tour' route from last year, driving the Stelvio and Bernina passes again, but we added some new ones we didn't have time to do last year; Passo Di Foscagno, Forcola di Livigno and Finstermunzpass.  Highlight (or should that be lowpoint!) of the day was being pulled over by the Italian Police for a routine check!  They'd obviously never seen one of the old-style UK Driving Licences, one officer said they didn't see many British visitors at all!  Anyway, after a few anxious minutes and checks on the radio we were sent on our way.  Phew!


At the top of the Stelvio Pass
As we headed back to our hotel the heavens opened while poor Angela was driving yet again!  Needless to say a bit of rain didn't put her off her game, in fact a LOT of rain didn't put her off her game, so we arrived safely to once more sit on the balcony and watch the thunder and lightning and torrential rain (I know you can't watch thunder but hey, a bit of artistic licence here).

For dinner Angela ordered a Cheese Fondue - lovely but oh so filling!

We had the roof open all day (no, not when raining) and while I wore a cap (I'm no fool!) Angela didn't.  I seem to recall her saying she didn't get sunburnt!!

Angela's Postscript

Who poured petrol on my forehead and set it alight ... Got sea sick on the Stelvio Pass ... mmmm, cheese fondue

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Day Five: Zell Am See to Samnaun

The day dawned bright and sunny (and warm!) as we set off on, what is for us, just a short hop from Austria to Switzerland.  With time on our hands we took a scenic route though the mountains rather than head straight for the autobahns.

We stopped off at Krimml Waterfalls, the highest in Europe and fifth highest in the world!  

We walked to the foot of the waterfalls and it was an impressive sight.  However not content with that, Angela says "take a photo of me at the top of those rocks" with which she was off, barefoot, clambering over rocks in a most unladylike fashion!  She finally made it but can you see her!  

Where's Angela? (answer tomorrow)

I have to say my heart was in my mouth on more than one occasion but she made it back safely.

We continued our journey along the Gerlos Alpenstrasse with some beautiful scenery along the way.

A couple of hours down the autobahn and we were in Switzerland to a very different type of scenery ... and weather!  When we arrived this was the view from our balcony

This evening we were treated to a lightning display with torrential rain. The forecast is for more of the same tomorrow but at least it's a lot cooler!

Angela's Postcript

...unladylike, what is he on about, I was a svelte deer deftly prancing across the boulders, in my mind I was a woman who was a professional rock climber in her youth who still had the knowledge and skill to easily climb a few stones!!! (well I watched Becky rock climbing at Cheddar Gorge once!)...rewind for a moment back to yesterday...the room was a little small and 'tired' however the bed was comfy, the breakfast delicious and the view fantastic...the shower was something from Alice in Wonderland though, there was no room for bending down so hairy legs today!!...Austria smells of new mown meadows, warm pine wood and cow poo...the cuisine is basic and they over cook meat...its a bit too rural for me...back to today, I saw some awesome lightning whilst driving (Andy was having a nap, he thinks I won't notice if he has his sunglasses on), the apartment is fab, clean, fresh, modern, a slightly larger shower and a balcony...had a delicious supper in town (beef tartare & truffle risotto) and guess what, its shopping heaven! Duty free...I'm off to buy some Lacroix daaaaaarling :-)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Day Four: Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse

Today we spent the day sightseeing along the Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse,or High Alpine Road.

I first visited this area back in 1987 when, as a young development engineer with Land Rover, I spent three weeks driving up and down the hill brake testing. 

It's still used by all the major car companies today, indeed we spotted a couple of UK Registered Land Rovers and a Jaguar full of test instrumentation.

For us it was all fun and no work, first driving up the pass before parking at the summit to enjoy the view of the Grossglockner itself, Austria's highest peak, and the surrounding area including the Pasterze Glacier, the longest glacier in Austria and the Eastern Alps.

After enduring temperatures that reached the low 30's I was very relieved it was just 17 degrees at the viewing spot!

Tomorrow we head for Switzrland and more Alpine Passes!

Angela's asleep so her postscipt will have to wait!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Day Three: Strasbourg to Zell Am See

Today turned out to be a rather uneventful run from France, through Germany and into Austria, which was just what we wanted!

I had planned to take a slightly circuitous route to avoid the main congestion hot spots around Munich but in the end we decided to plough on as TomTom assured us the delays weren't too bad, and he was proved right yet again.

As the Autobahns were pretty busy we didn't get many chances to give the Porsche a good run.  I found an empty stretch and touched 145mph, still well short of the 170mph rated top speed.  Generally we were able to run at an effortless 100mph keeping pace with the rest of the traffic.

We were treated to some lovely scenery as we approached our destination, the forecast clouds and rain absent once again!

The hotel is at the end of our very own twisting Alpine Pass.  To say the room is 'bijou' (AKA small!) would be an understatement but the place is certainly full of character!

Angela's Postscript

Hoorah! It is hot in the mountains too ... very peaceful and quiet and beautiful ... I only had the courage to go 125mph on the Autobahn, I closed my eyes when Andy was going really fast!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Day Two: Strasbourg

The weather forecasts were all telling us it would be raining with thunderstorms in Strasbourg today, and so it dawned - bright sun, warm and blue skies!  How do they get it so wrong?!

After a leisurely start following our late night (so leisurely I had to nip down to breakfast, sorry 'le petit déjeuner', before they closed and bring it back to the room while Angela stayed in bed!) we jumped on the tram for short ride into town to see the sights of Strasbourg.

Firs stop the Cathedral with the Astronomical Clock (and a lot more besides) ...

Refreshments on the way to the Cathedral

Strasbourg Cathedral

After a spot of lunch we took in a river cruise around Strasbourg and up to the European Parliament building ...

Tomorrow we leave France behind (for now) and head for Austria.

Angela's Postscript

"Andy was like an ice cream in a microwave, he melted! ... delicious food ... lovely old buildings ... hotel room OK but I especially like their idea of air conditioning which starts at 21C"

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Day One: Stratford to Strasbourg

Well the day had finally arrived - the start of our European Tour!  Amazingly everything packed into the car as planned, no surprise bags appearing at the last minute, so we were ready to go on time.


We hit the road but our delight wasn't to last - motorway warning signs telling us the M20 was closed and Operation Stack was in force, some trouble at the tunnel or channel ports then.  A quick check on the Eurotunnel website confirmed the worst; delays due to a technical issue.

We pressed on regardless, well what else could we do, and thanks to TomTom's guidance and Angela's driving we arrived at our allotted check in time - to find chaos!  The tunnel was running again but with 90 minutes delay to the timetable, and they move a lot of cars in 90 minutes ALL of which were in the car park!  Anyway, a bit later than intended we got onto the train - France here we come!

So finally on French soil our first stop (fuel stops aside) was a small village called Longeauval, or more precisely a small wooded area just outside called High Wood.  This was the site of one of the many 'Battles of the Somme' during the First World War and it was here that my Grandfather, Harold Beach, fought as part of the 15th Royal Warwickshire Regiment.  Although they were a reserve force they saw action during the 1916 offensive to retake ground gained by the Germans during the first years of the war.

High Wood as it looks today

As best as I can ascertain he fought here on 30th July 1916 and was injured taking a bullet to the kneecap.  It meant he could take no further part in hostilities and was repatriated to the UK sometime in August.  He was, for sure, one of the lucky ones.

Adjacent to the wood is a small cemetery, one of many we saw dotted around the French countryside. I scanned the register and found a grave belonging to a soldier in the same regiment as my Grandfather, Private E King who was killed 30th August 1916.  Did he know my Grandfather?  I'll never know, but I paid my respects and signed the visitor book nonetheless.

With that we set course for Strasbourg eventually arriving just before midnight.  Good job we have a day just for sightseeing tomorrow!

Angela's Postscript

Due to the apparent 'bias' in my posts last year (I have no idea what she's talking about!) Angela has decided she'll do a short postscript on each day, so here goes ....

"Eurotunnel Terminal super-stressy ... I drove most of the way ... Andy slept most of the way ... hotel bed comfy ... good shower ... NO WINE!!!"

Friday, July 17, 2015

Ready To Go (well, nearly!)

Well, we've finally got everything together and ready to go.  All we have to do now is pack it in the car.  Will it all fit?  Yes, of course it will!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Countdown Begins!

In less than one week we will be departing the UK for our three week 'Riviera Tour' taking in France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and sneaking through a few more countries en route.  Unlike 2014 which was a 'dash through the passes', this year we'll be taking time to exlore the local area and do a bit of sightseeing.

The first week will see us retrace our 2014 Alpine Tour, albeit in reverse and with a few new passes and interesting roads thrown in for good measure.

We'll be spending week two in a villa outside St Tropez where we will be joined by our respective children to officially mark Angela's fiftieth birthday (even though it was in March!).

The third and final week we continue our journey, heading for home with a very leisurely meander through France.

Follow our progress on the blog - fingers crossed for a trouble free run!

Collecting the car from PCT after its
pre-trip inspection