Tuesday, April 14, 2015


A couple of days until Pampert is ready, and we've hit the Rue du Gran Cru through the most prestigious wine region in the world, Burgundy. Rather than thousand euro wines, I have my eye on another prize, the Vide Grenier signs out by the road, indicating local flea markets. 

It seems a delightful Sunday tradition through France, and every fourth town seems to be holding one. I was aiming for one down past Buaune but we struck gold just outside of Dijon. A very odd collection of bric a brac, the markets contain everything from clothes and books to furniture, sporting equipment and tools. Specific furniture and clothing 'vide' are held at other times, but we're after the portable treasures. 

Haggling is part of the experience, but for the most part the prices asked were much less than we would expect, and the haul below came in under 25€ total. 

We have: 
A 50s fishing box with seat
A cleaver
A jaffle iron
Nesting spice tins
A wall hanging jug
A salt shaker 
A cocktail shaker. 

We also picked up some playmobil toys for Nina, in the box at a fraction of their usual price, corset stays and a loom shuttle. Also, this: 

Sunday, April 12, 2015


The trail for Pampert parts and repairs took us from Nimes to Lyon and then to Dijon, where our very good  and most lovely friends Chiara and Daniele live. Chiara and Beppe go back to high school, and they made it to our wedding in Australia 8 years ago. When we decided to head their way it was immediately comforting to know we were heading for a harbour, and we are so thankful that they were happy to see us despite being between family and work visitors.

Dani is a mathematician, and had been hosting a conference, so that first night we were eating with some of his collegues. 'Gosh,' I said, 'have you  always been good with numbers?' I received a somewhat condescending look. 'We don't actually work with numbers anymore,' said the mathematicians 'its mostly symbols and letters.'

As well as being awesome people themselves, they have a 5 year old son, who taught Nina swordplay, and a 10 month old daughter, who is the smiliest, happiest baby I know.

Since the accident we had all but decided to head home, sell Pampert, and get on with something more productive than gallavanting around Europe. To be amounst friends in the heart of Burgundy is just what we needed to put our mood right.

Honestly, I don't have much to share about the history of the town. Something something Phillipe le Bon. The town is a wonderful size, with a large pedestrian area in the centre, lots of imposing, large-roofed buildings, and a ton of cafe's with tables taking up most of the pavement. I really got a sense of how much better things are financially in France compared to Italy. I had always generally preferred the Italian confusion, but France, for the most part, is so clean.

Between phone calls and trips between mechanics and smash repairers, Chiara showed us around the market and city centre, and took us to one of the mustard shops. Mustard is huge here- I really should stop being surprised wien a place that gives its name to a product is actually amazing at said product.

A few lovely days, wine, cheese, company, and we're entirely recharged, and Pampert is due back Tuesday, when we'll hit the road for home, slowly threading our way through the heart of France. Thanks for the messages and concern friends, we're doing alright. 

Friday, April 10, 2015

Easter in Arles

For a too brief period this week we achieved Pampert perfection.

Having stewed over the failure of three in the bed with nowhere to roll over, and the disaster of an ear infection far away from home, we were more than a little concerned with our planned 3 week trip through the south of France and down the coast of Spain.

I managed to cut down Nina's old cot mattress to fit the only remaining floor space in Pampert and we crossed our fingers that she would tolerate the new arrangement. A short 8 hour drive later we were in the Camargue region of France, in a camp ground just outside of St Gilles, a short way from Arles.

The Camargue is famous for it's salt, it's white horses and the most dedicated mosquitoes I have ever met. Horse-riding was what we baited Nina for in the car trip on the way up, promising that she'd meet some lovely four legged friends. (I want a poo-ney, she says, repeatedly)

On our arrival the manager congratulated us on our good fortune to be in the area for easter- Arles was having  it's annual easter festival! The camp ground was right next door to a manger and some lovely white horses, but no Poo- neys. We found them a little way down the road and Nina had a great time with her new friend Juli.

A grown up trail ride was leaving too, so I joined up and we set off. We had passed through the region 6 years ago, and turned our noses up at the line of horses threading their way through the marshes. 'Tha's not a real horse ride.' I remember saying back then. This time though I did and it was lovely. Still early spring, the group was small, the horses fresh and the marshlands seemed unspoilt and wild. We scared up pairs of ducks every couple of metres, watched eagles and hawks and herons and storks fishing. In the distance an ungainly flamboyance of flamingoes took to the air. (Is that not the best collective noun for anything ever?) The horse, Ninu, was lovely and responsive, and the national park was breathtaking.

The capital of the Camargue region is Saintes Maires de la Mer, where the three Saint Maries are said to have come ashore and spread Christianity in Europe. They were helped by a local woman who became Saint Sarah, the patron of the Roma who hold an annual pilgrimage and festival here.

Its a nice town but I found nearby Aigues Mortes (literally Dead Waters) to be a much more interesting and beautiful town. A fortified village at the mouth of the Rhone, it has a lovely atmosphere and doesnt seem to get quite as much traffic as Saintes Maries. And it has a pink lake, with pink flamingoes.
                                          photo: www.nmaffei.com

The next day we did head into Arles, where we saw markets, merry go rounds, and a dozen roving street bands, one of which had a fantastic dancing band leader. We ate paella at the Cafe de la Nuit, the old haunt of Vincent Van Gogh, and stopped to say hello to every horse that we could find.

The festival is mostly about bullfighting though, which occurs in the Roman arena in the centre of town. No way were we going to watch a bull be tormented and tortured to wild applause, and as we skirted around the arena the sight of a poor dead bull being carted off reminded us what most people here were celebrating.

The nights we slept well, with Nina delighted with her little bed, and as we ate beakfast surrounded by daisies, we considered staying a few days longer. Coulda woulda shoulda.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Pampert takes a tumble

Easter Sunday, and we so cunningly decided to make it a travel day, when everyone else was in the company of family, the restaurants were full, we'd be the only ones on the highway, heading south to Spanish sun as fast as our little wheels would take us.

On leaving the campground we decided to route through some minor towns before joining the highway, as Nina had some postcards to mail and I needed a coffee. (By the way, the French do not make a good coffee. I asked for a cappuccino, which I was sure had to be fairly universal, and I received a beverage made with instant coffee, powdered milk and whipped cream. And A STRAW! I've learned since to request a cafe au lait with extra lait).

We found mailbox, coffee and pastries (By the way, the French do make a bloody good pastry) and we're patting ourselves on the back at our good fortune when disaster struck.

I was driving, at about 30 km/h, when a rapid series of bangs made me look in the mirror to see our dear Pampert bounce up and over, grinding to a halt on her side. One of those moments that are so surreal it doesn't even register.

I stopped the car and it became apparent that we had lost a wheel, which was resting 10 metres back. A few passers by helped rock it back up, and we got it off the road without trouble. I had to inform Nina of what was going on.

'Pampert is a little bit broken'.
She put a hand on each cheek and wailed her longest phrase to date. 'Oh no Mum! Pampert e broken, our holiday e finis!' with a certain melodrama that comes of her being both Italian and my daughter.

It doesn't bear thinking about what would have happened had we been on the highway. But for a snap decision and a coffee addiction we would have been.

As well as the wheel, the door was jammed shut and a slight bend in the towing arm, as well as superficial damage to the body. Poor Pampert!

Then something really amazing happened. One of the guys who had first seen us stuck around for a half hour, eventually leaving us his screwdrivers, while another, Jose, went home to return with a toolbox, and spend the next 2 hours trying to fix the wheel and the door with Beppe, both of them speaking a rather inefficient mix of Spanish, Italian and French.

After doing what he could, he invited us home for a coffee before we set off to limp towards a camping, and we couldn't say no. His wife welcomed us in, and the invitation turned into an insistence that we stay for Easter lunch, despite them having 5 kids under 10, including 2 sets of twins, and his father for lunch, and our non existent French making conversation impossible.

We got by with sign language and hand gestures as the guys spent all day long trying to fix our little camper and Yvette helped to look up local mechanics and hotels. Nina had a ball with the twin babies and a seven year old, Cassandra, who was her adopted sister by the days end.

Jose is himself Portuguese and insists the French would not have stopped, but I don't know if that's true. Thank goodness for busy-body know-it-all stranger who will spend their entire Easter helping us sort out our problems and open their home to complete unknowns, with whom they can't even communicate. I'm sure there's an Easter message in that there.

Since then we've spent every moment trying to get parts and find a shop that can do some repairs. We have a new towing arm, and new door hinges, and have limped up to Dijon to stay with friends until we can get the door to close properly. We need a panel beater or at the least a drill. Fingers crossed we find something before the weekend.

So far 2 out of 2 Pampert trips have been a bust, so we are mightily discouraged. But things could be worse, and we have an excuse to visit friends, so its not all bad. If we can get things sorted out we will be taking an easy, lazy week to travel back home to Florence through the south of France. Things could be worse.