18th June 2007. Near Gap, France

Well I'm en route. At the moment the event on top of my mind is my visit to the dentist just before I left.

I was planning to leave Friday morning. On Thursday I had a small toothache, my dentist was not there when I called, I was stupid enough to see his colleague, a butcher dentist, he said a bridge was loose, he rived it off with the sort of enthusiasm and apparent skill of a weightlifter setting out to break a world record. He hammered away at it like crazy. He bashed it so hard he broke it and couldn't get it back and he's left me with a big gap in my teeth at one side and a raging toothache and it's going to cost a fortune to fix it when I get home after this trip. He showed me a bit of tooth from the root he said had broken off because the bridge was loose at one end. I don't believe him. It got broken when he rived the bridge off. I'm surprised he didn't break my jaw. He's only interested in doing bridges because he makes a lot of money from them and I should have known better. My stupid fault. I'll get my own good dentist to do the repair I'm not ever going near that butcher again, it's the second time he's needlessly wrecked a bridge for me.

Oh. And the bridge he broke? It was a 5 tooth bridge. Anyone who has been near a dentist and needing a bridge has some idea of how much that costs. An arm and a leg and maybe a bit more. Even from an honest dentist.

So anyway I left Friday morning. Well, that was the plan. It finished up it was about midday before I left.

I drove towards Italy at my top touring speed. That is, taking the pretty routes, driving at 40/45 mph so that I have time to see almost everything, pulling in every few hundred yards so that any build up of traffic can pass, and, with difficulty, not stopping at every single point of interest or museum along the way. So far I'm not into taking photos.

If you're interested, my route was Montebaun, Rodez, Mende. Ah, first, I stopped soon after Rodez, at a municipal camping, free, it was fine.

I got frustrated at Mende. The tourist office has a free wireless connection. Great. I accessed it. Yes it's free. All you have to do is get a password from the Tourist Office. Which closes at 12 to reopen at 2 pm. I was there at 1pm, I waited an hour for the office to reopen at 2 pm, and then realised it was Saturday and it did not open Saturday afternoons. I hate Mende.

I picked up mail a couple of villages later.

You know, I'd sort of forgotten how beautiful the Massif Central is in France. Big green hills everywhere, and I mean big, with beautiful valleys, tumbling rivers, although sometimes placid, little towns and villages hugging the road, flowers tumbling over balconies. The roads curl around everywhere, it is rare that you can see as much as 100 yards of road in front of you before it disappears round a corner, or down a dip. I did take a couple of photos but it will be a while before you get to see them. I forgot to bring the lead I need, to connect the camera to the computer. Duh! So for the time being, at least, you'll have to rely on my hopefully eloquent language and imagine a photo inserted here.

After Mende I continued on through even more beautiful hills, through Aubenas, where I took a wrong turn on to a side road. No problem, my map marked it as pretty, and it was. After some 20 miles on the minor road I was back on the main drag, crossed the River Rhone, and stopped for the night at Crest on another municipal site. I whiled away a pleasant hour chatting with some fellow travellers from the north of France and then in the morning watched the local fire brigade running a high extending ladder practice. I guess they have to do this from time to time, to check equipment, and for training. If they have to rescue someone from high up in a burning building, best it's not the first time they've been up there. They were directing their hoses at a vacant section of the parking, as a test, and a couple of local cars took advantage to drive under for a free wash.

I pottered on a little further, and stopped at a roadside stall to buy cherries. This is the third time I've bought cherries, and makes 2 Kg (4.4 lbs.) total but this time they were not so good. I have been paying about 4 Euros per Kg. Does that mean anything to anyone? After passing through Gap I took a small diversion to pass by the Lake Serre -Poncon, a pretty route, although the weather was not great, cloudy and threatening rain, then planned to stop at Barcelonnette. On the way I noticed 3 camping cars over a ridge in a village and diverted to investigate. There was a parking, marked camping cars. That seemed OK, great for the night, but I was early so I continued on the small road past the parking. It twisted and turned, climbed and descended, for 4 or 5 miles, until the hard surface road suddenly ended in a small parking by a waterfall. There was an information board giving information about canyoning, whatever that is, with details of safety checks etc. Seems you need a good wetsuit and shoes with a good grip. So I suspect it is climbing up, or more likely down, the canyon in the water. One listed route showed a drop of 250 metres in a length of 750 metres. I climbed up a little, and found an amazing sequence of waterfalls. This year was short on snow, so the rivers are relatively quiet, I would love to see this in full flow.

There was a lot of noise from the water but it wasn't too bad inside the van, and the place was deserted, so I decided to park up for the night. I took a few pictures which you might get to see, later. Meanwhile, I checked my camera. At the top quality, which I use, I had one photo left. Ah! I deleted a few, and wound the picture size down to minimum, so I can now take another 129 photos.before I run out of space. I'll have to see if I can buy a new transfer cable somewhere. I had a look at the map, the waterfall was marked, it's the Cascade de Costeplane.

Just a quick return to the village parking for camping cars. In general, in France, if you can park a car there, you can park a camping car there, and sleep in it. Town parking lots, out of town parking lots, swimming pool car parks, even cemetery car parks, anywhere. Of course there are a few special prohibitions, but they are specially signed, and rare. There are lots of camping cars in France, you see them on the road much more than in the US. I don't think there are many people living full time in their camping cars here though, unlike the US. Of course, the huge US style RV's are impossible here, the roads are too small, and petrol is too expensive, but not all fulltimers in the US live in these huge coaches so that is not the only answer. There's another reason in there. Somewhere.

Whilst I was cooking tonight I heard a crack. Oops! It was the glass in the side window just behind the stove. It cracked a little. I knew I'd put the stove too close to the window. But I wasn't sure what would happen to the glass. Now before you all say it's obvious, I should just mention that one of my biggest selling items from my range of kitchen goods when I was working was a range of toughened glass chopping boards. Take the pan directly from the stove and put on the chopping board was one of our sales lines. So I didn't know if this would work the same way. I wasn't sure. The chopping board glass was cut to size, then toughened, and you can't cut it after it's toughened. The window glass is toughened, then cut to size. I knew it was a different process, but didn't know it would have different results in terms of heating. Now I do, and it doesn't work the same with hot pans!

No big deal. I've tipped the stove a touch further away from the window and hope I have no more problems.

Until next time.

Best regards

David Barker

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