EEC 10, 5th April 2005

First stop in the morning was the village of St Bertrand-de-Cummings with an imposing cathedral high on a hill. Down below the village were the excavated remains of the original Roman Town, temple, bath house, market, etc, etc, which were open for all to visit, for free.

Up in the village I followed round the narrow twisting street and found one exit to a car par prohibiting vehicles over 5 m long, or 2.3 m high. Well I clock in at 4.92m long and 2.2 m high so I could not resist the challenge. Ah, it was easy. I'm glad though this van is very narrow, only 1.7m (66 ins) wide, I wouldn't have made it in a regular width van. Regular camping cars would not have stood a chance. They tend to be about the same length as my American RV, although a touch narrower. Much wider than my van here though. I can head into tiny villages without fear (well, not much) but the regular camping cars have to park outside. Of course, my RV is a tiddler compared to most American RV's.

I went up the Col de Mente (1350m) and took a side trip to the ski resort of le Mourtis. A quick French lesson. Le means "the" and de,
mentioned earlier, means "of". Skiing was finished for the season, the dozen or so lifts were all closed, but there was snow enough for some kids to toboggan, and for some ski trekkers to be pushing along higher up. The Pyrenees are not actually that high, the highest peak is 3,300m (11,000 ft), in an earlier email I showed a photo of my RV in the US at 12,095 ft. The Alps are a touch higher, Mont Blanc is 4807m, 15,770 ft.

I took in more beautiful views, and a side trip up a small valley ending at an abandoned factory, full of fascinating machines. Huge unscrews, and vats 6m (20 ft) diameter with stirring paddles, the whole thing built on 4 or 5 levels on the mountainside with high up the mountain a building housing the start of a slide for presumably excavated rock. Being the end of the valley, this was the starting point of several walking routes up the mountainside. I didn't take the walks, but took advantage an old shed to find a level spot to park for the night.

In the morning I continued on.

I did intend to continue via the Col de la Core, but it was closed, presumably not reopened after the winter. To continue the French lesson,
la, like le, also means "the". Depends on the sex of the item being described. For example a house is female, la maison. A balloon is male, le ballon, unless it's a hot air balloon, when it's female, la Montgolfiere. Don't ask me how they determine the sex of, say, a door, but ends up it's female. La porte. A burner is male and a tank (a bottle) is female. If there are lots of them then both le and la become les, e.g. les ballons. I think they do it just to make it hard to learn the language. Although to be fair, I think both Spanish and Italian have this strange distinction. Ideally, I think the French would prefer that there were no foreign countries, that everywhere was France. I love the style.

The snows are melting. The streams are tumbling down the valleys.

Still, the mountains are there.

I retraced my steps a touch and carried on to St Girons then a small village le Fousseret which I had marked as being interesting when I visited 3 years ago. The village was still super, and there would have been super views of the mountains, if it had been clear, but it was not. Maybe a sign of good weather.

I found the restaurant I ate at 3 years ago, and the place I parked for the night. I am now cooking myself so I didn't try the restaurant again, and I think I've maybe got more fussy, but I didn't like the place I parked for the night 3 years ago! I headed for a free site in a local town - I've bought a super book listing a load of free sites throughout France - but saw a tempting side lane on the way and stopped there.

I've been using two gas stoves, one small, camping sort, one with a larger 3 kg (6.5 lbs.) gas bottle. They are not ideal. The cooker bit screws into the top of the bottles, they are high, and unstable, and not very powerful. I have to stand them on the floor and that's not ideal. With the minute size of this van, in terms of camping cars, I have a seat, and that is where I sit. I can't move, there is nowhere to go. Everything I need has to be within an arm's length. And in any case I would prefer not to have unstable cooking stoves on the floor.

Now I did once have a nice small 2 burner stove. My daughter Eleanor took it to Corsica when she went camping one year, forgot to pack it with her luggage, and not wanting to leave it, carried it on the plane as hand baggage. Because of the integral gas cylinder it was confiscated by security!! She was very sorry about that. But it's the sort of dumb thing I do all the time. She obviously takes after her father.

I found a 2 burner stove 2 weeks ago but they did not have the fittings to connect to the gas bottle so I didn't buy it. I have been looking for one ever since. I found the pressure reducing valve it needed, and bought that. Then I bought the fuel line. But I couldn't find a 2 burner stove. I was really looking for a bigger stove than the one we "lost", that was really just for camping, but it would have done. Today I found a stove, just what I wanted. It's only a few inches high, runs with the fuel line from the gas bottle, and with the big base, it's stable. I fixed all the pipework, and tested it, and it worked fine.

I started dinner. It didn't work. After a bit of wondering I found out that my big (3 Kg) bottle had chosen just this time to run out of fuel. I had to cook my dinner on my one small not powerful at all gas stove.

Best regards

David Barker

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