The Tooth Incident

Ok, so the last couple of days worth of reports have been a bit on the dull side. And if I just report what we’ve been up to yesterday, then if you’re not reaching for the vodka bottle already, you will be by the end. Although I am tempted to just scribble down a whole load of stuff and watch that happen.

So I will try and balance a few things, and I won’t keep you too long. You have, I notice, much more pressing things to be getting on with.

that's pretty...

that’s pretty…

We didn’t ski. The weather is on the damp side. And whilst that’s good for skiing, it all depends upon the ‘snow level’. We are below it here, so snow falls as rain. Which is not a bad thing for driving, but rubbish for sitting on a chair lift. Also, as I’ve said before, we’re fair weather skiers (my friend Jonathan B will be raising his eyes to the ceiling if he’s reading this). Skiing in a blizzard is as much fun as having your foot run over by a tank, and slightly more dangerous. However, if danger is what you’re after, I can tell you that skiing in a blizzard is actually excellent fun once your legs are in and you know the slopes, but not now – not at my age. So on day one, with C a bit tentative about her recently broken leg (not recent recent – that would be foolish, recent as fifteen months ago), it was an easy decision.

The forecast is more rain/snow (depends how high you are) and then some broken sunshine. So we might try tomorrow, or Wednesday, or wait for the kids to turn up. We will ski, I’ve no doubt about that. It’s just when.

So we caught a bus and went down the hill to Chappelle d’Abonadnce. Just for a wander round. Which is what we did (in drizzle) and then walked back up the valley to the Interspar and caught a bus back to the apartment. That, believe it or not, took most of the day. After which C made a shed load of red cabbage and I baked a fruit cake.

kitchen frenzy

kitchen frenzy

Then we had the tooth incident. I reported a couple of days ago I lost the cap on my front tooth, which I’d had since I was eighteen. Not having a front tooth is not a pretty sight, but I didn’t lose the cap so it was just a question of how strong is the glue? Well I bought some stuff from an Italian pharmacy. They had to go out the back to find it, and it was €18, so I guess it was the business. First attempt failed, however. It fell out again yesterday. So last night, having cleaned the cap of everything that looks like it shouldn’t be there, C, with a head torch on and a sharp knife, had a go at the tooth, cleaning bits that probably shouldn’t be there. It was like being at the dentists but as far removed from it as you imagine; it was very Little Shop of Horrors with C taking the Steve Martin part. Anyway, it’s back on now.

I could, of course, go to the dentist. Oh well.

Not sure about today…..let you know tomorrow.

A laid back day

Hang on, just getting up off of the floor moving from a laid back position to one where I have to do something. Yesterday was a day like no other. We got up, had breakfast, walked into town, had coffee, foraged for a couple of provisions, walked

it's all a bit like this at the moment

it’s all a bit like this at the moment

back again, had lunch, pottered about, did some admin, and watched the end of the day pass us by. It was a relaxed a day as I can remember. We didn’t cycle of walk any distance because Mr Weather, he say ‘no’. Drizzly rain all day. But the outcome was perfect.

So what to discuss? Well I could sign off now and you’d get the sense as to what yesterday was about. But let me put a bit if flesh on the bones.

I put all of our birthdays and reminders for insurances etc onto Google calendar. This now means we get a reminder a week before the events happen, so hopefully we never get caught out. And as it’s on Google, all of our devices (two x iPads and my phone) now display the same info. We’ve been meaning to do this for some time, but never got round to it. So that’s a good thing.

all reminders now on Google calendar

all reminders now on Google calendar

I’m struggling with finding all our music on my phone. I put all of our stuff (which is in mp3 and wma format, thousands and thousands of tracks) onto a 32GB microSIM on the phone. It was a straight forward drag and drop. But can I find Genesis’ Platinum album? Can I heck. We own it. It’s on my old laptop. It reads as through its on my phone when I look at it on my laptop. Can I find it on my phone? Eh, nope. So I’m working on that at the moment.

And there were a couple of other things I wanted to do, that have been hanging over. So I did that.

We watched some BBC2 on the FilmOnTV app, got a Skype message from Bex who is in Berlin on a school trip (all is well there) and after mince and potatoes watched Life of Pi. If you’ve not seen it then it’s a must. Leave aside the quite magnificent cinematography which everyone raves about, it’s actually a really good story with an interesting little twist at the end. Go on, go get it from Tescos.

What of today? Well the weather has set in. There’s a thin layer of snow lying about up here (which is great news for the top of the mountain) accompanied by more drizzly rain. So we will not be going skiing. There’s nothing worse than sitting on a wet chair lift. And, as we’re lucky enough to be here for a while, there’s no rush. I think the plan might be to take a bus down the mountain and see what’s happening down there.

Whatever….you go and have a great week.

Doris gets told off by the mayor…

We have decided that we shall start skiing on Monday. Do that for a couple of days, then rest for a day before the young ones arrive. As a result we took our skies in for a ‘service’ yesterday. Thankfully the Frenchman who served us had a sense of humour because after eight months on Doris’ roof they were looking a bit worse for

skis heading in for a service (dressed for a run)

skis heading in for a service (dressed for a run)

wear. If you didn’t know, skis are designed to clip together, flat surface to flat surface, to ease carrying and storage. Unfortunately this means the metal edges touch and, add water and what do you get? Well, for the normal price of €20 a pair (I told you skiing is an expensive sport) he’s going to resurrect them for us. And if we bring them back at the end he will wax them again to prevent the same thing happening.

We had a good day after the shock of finding Doris with a note from the mayor on her windscreen. If seems that where we parked her (on the road behind the apartment) is not allowed – I guess she spoils the vista, and I have some sympathy with that. So we brought her down into the chalet building’s carpark and squeezed into her designated spot. She is parked within the white lines of the allocated space and, after a v pleasant negotiation with a French neighbour, swapped the second parking space around for a couple of weeks so we can squeeze in Steven’s car when he arrives. It all sounds complicated, but it’s much simpler than it appears…. At least we’ll not get any more notes from the mayor.

Doris in her slot

Doris in her slot

We cycled about Chatel, stopping for coffee and dreaming about buying an apartment here. That would be nice. We cycled further down into the bowels of the valley and popped to the v big Intermarche to check things out. The cycle back up again was fun, so much so I decided to run it later in the afternoon. Which is what I did. I’m normally v factual about my running and rarely brag, but at fifty three (it was my birthday yesterday – thanks for all the pressies; where am I going to stick them with Doris being so full?) I was delighted that I jogged to the bottom of the valley and then ran all the way back up to the apartment, which is as high in Chatel as you can go without joining the bears. Two hundred and twenty metres of climb. Get the bunting out!

early doors yesterday

early doors yesterday

Supper was chicken risotto during which we FaceTimed Mary. C turned the lights off at nine o’clock as part of World energy saving day. I looked out the patio doors and was surprised that the whole of Chatel was taking it seriously. It was dark as a dark place. Until C told me that she had closed the shutters….Doh!

view down the valley

view down the valley

Not sure about today. The place is v quiet. I expected bus loads of skiers to turn up yesterday, but it appears that Spring skiing isn’t happening in numbers here. Good news for those of us who need a lot of room on the slopes.

Walk or cycle? I’ll let you know tomorrow,

I am a wuss

As C pointed out today, I am now the wuss of the family. We have done the Alps in winter twice in campervans. The first time we were v kindly invited by friends of our (P&K) to share their apartment in Verbier which they had rented for the season. It was a v special ten days; Verbier sits alongside the likes of Kolsters and Zermatt when it comes posh Swiss resorts. We would never have thought about skiing there without their invitation. Our then campervan made it without an issue. I’m not sure I had chains; I certainly didn’t have snow tyres. However when we got there the hot water tank froze and broke, as did the windscreen wipers. I am an idiot.

this is what I'm talking about...

this is what I’m talking about…

The next time (same van) we travelled to Solden in Austria, although we parked slightly further up this lovely little valley. There was more snow than you really need for a decent ten days skiing, but this time I had the foresight to fit chains. This didn’t stop me driving head first into a brand new BMW 525 estate driven by (thankfully) some gentle Dutch men. When we hit each other (my fault) we weren’t doing collectively more than twenty miles an hour, but we weighed over two and a half tonnes….so it was exit time for the Beemer. Airbags akimbo (him, not us), a broken wrist and a couple of days of misery later, we finished off our holiday in a rental car – provide by AA insurance – and all was well.

So what’s my point? Well Doris is not going anywhere near snow. She has special snow socks, but the merest sight of snow and we’re pulling over and getting the kettle on. No sirree. No dicey roads for Doris.

And, as a result, the journey from the campsite to our lovely apartment, which meant a further climb to the start of the St Bernard Tunnel at 2,000 metres high, was not without me stood by to pull over and get the kettle on. And the fact that we were driving through Switzerland, a country which seems to have more laws than the rest of Europe put together (don’t do this, do that) and are prepared to enforce them, all added to the excitement. It’s not as though we were inconspicuous – 3.5 tonnes of white blob driving up and down roads where a caterpillar truck would be a better fit.



But we made it. We stopped at Martigney for a cup of coffee. Wait for it: two espressos for €7 (7.30 CHF equivalent). We wouldn’t be staying in Switzerland long. Unfortunately it’s a country that has ever really caught our imagination. Yes the ski resorts are exclusive and they have a habit of running everything like clockwork, but it’s soulless – their cafes lack any spontaneity and the town’s lack colour and style. I’m sure there are plenty of examples that dispute this, but away from the mountains the valleys are dull and impersonal. And that’s before you dare break any of their rules.

We made it to Chatel, which is in France (phew), without a single issue. Doris has remained enigmatic. Driving through Italy her 12 volt system tripped relentlessly. Eventually I unplugged all of the leads on the distribution unit, plugged them back in and, save one trip, she’s been fine for three days. And as for her coughing, well. Since I fitted the new MAF sensor and recleaned the MAP sensor (have you eyes glazed over yet?) she has been much better, but still has sporadic coughs when you least expect it. Her fuel consumption is up by about five percent, so something’s going on. The good news is she’s done everything we’ve asked her to – with some panache. So well done her.

from the apartment - better photos in the sun to follow tomorrow

from the apartment – better photos in the sun to follow tomorrow

The apartment is a tonic. The views from the patio are the best we’ve seen and it’s spacious enough for us to spread out and get v comfortable. There’s a separate apartment next door for when Steven and Bex arrive – joined to us by a middle door. It’s all pretty perfect, especially as it has a bath! Thanks to E&A.

Today we will get the bikes out and venture down into town. We need to get our skis ‘waxed and edge’, which is the ski equivalent of flossing, and we will probably venture up into the hills with our boots on at some point. Weather looks like: one sunny day, then likelihood of snow. Yippee!

Have a great weekend.

Mountains or coasts?

I was going to discuss Clarkson versus Evans – who would be the best presenter of Top Gear? Our friend Jeremy has clearly gone and I’m with that decision. You may have read my thoughts on Top Gear before. I am a fan. I love the cars, I love the adventures (almost) and I do find much of the boy humour infectious. But it has got formulaic over time, Jeremy’s detours into the un-PC world (there’s a slant on that bridge – come on we can do funnier than that without offending people) are a bit dull and they are running out of jokes. Eg: the dead cow on top of the truck by way of a

in the village

in the village

BBQ menu in the Andes expedition. Hammond even admitted that they’d done the joke before, so why do it again? This is aside the fact that although I love beef, I really don’t want to see a whole dead cow on a car roof. It was alive and chewing grass at some point, and I’d prefer to remember it that way. Not funny. Sorry.

So Jezza’s departure is probably for the best. But, as I commented in Athens, Top Gear is the business abroad and I’m proud of that. It has to survive. So what to do? Chris Evans is the natural choice. He loves his cars and is v knowledgable, which is key. He’s the least offensive person on radio and TV, but his humour and joie de vivre is unstoppable. He’d be different enough, but samey enough to slot right in whilst changing things. And as I think neither Hammond nor Mayes have the charisma to lead this programme (great at other things they do), he would lead it well and the three of them would be a great team. N’est pas?

So that’s solved then.

mmm, looking forward to those Alps

mmm, looking forward to those Alps

Actually what I wanted to talk about was whether or not you are a mountains or coast person? We’re not sure, although let me tell you I’m loving being back in the mountains. And with two weeks of ski resort break to look forward to I am a v happy rabbit indeed. We have skied on and off every year for ever. This should make us v proficient skiers. We’re not. We can get down anything and on a simple blue run we look fabulous; knees tied together like they were welded that way. But try and keep them together down a tricky red….Eh, no. Technique goes out of the window at that point and survival kicks in.

We also ski for fun. When I was younger I did risk breaking every bone in my body for the excitement of adrenalin running all over and sometimes out of my body. But in recent years we’re much more ski-coffee-ski. On the slopes by ten, off of them by three. If the weather’s rubbish then let’s not bother. We missed last year. It was complicated and I guess the driver was the fact that, knowing we were going to do what we are doing now, could we afford it? It’s not a cheap sport, and with our holidays tied to the school, it was more expensive still. But there is nothing to beat a ski chalet in the snow at Christmas – which we have done a number of times. This year, thanks to E&A, we’ll be hiding Easter Eggs in the snow. Just as fabulous, especially as we have the chance of skiing nearly naked if the sun comes out.

last night's village just short of the St B tunnel

last night’s village just short of the St B tunnel

So where are we? Just short of the St Bernard Tunnel, on an ACSI campsite. It’s in the v Italian village of Etroubles. Lots of grey brick buildings and slate roofs. V alpine from an Italian perspective. And super lovely.

We arrived at the campsite mid-afternoon. The lady in charge, having taken our documents, said ‘my husband will show you where to park’. She forgot to add the word ‘idiot’ before husband. He took us to a grass pitch. Stood on it. Jumped up and down a bit and asked me to back on. I thought (and C knew) that the pitch looked a bit damp. And it was. Now Doris is v patient, but there’s something that gets right up her skirt – getting stuck in the mud, especially when it’s not her fault. Well we got stuck. After a bit of tooing and froing, the idiot husband got his van, hooked us on and pulled us out. We could have told him….


We both went for runs, walked round town and in reasonable weather felt much better than we had done over the past four days. There is nothing more soul destroying than driving relentlessly, especially when you’re being rained on. Well, we’re through that now. Hoorah!

Into Switzerland in a minute (via the St Bernard Tunnel – new to us) then France and onto Chatel. All the schools have finished today, so have a great hols Wells. And to Bex and Steven (she’s on a school trip to Berlin this weekend) drive carefully next Wednesday.

Bead feast

We crossed the Rubicon yesterday. I suppose there are those of you who thought we did that a while ago, and I guess you’re right. Typically with Italy (unlike Greece) we can’t seem to access free internet from where we’ve stopped for the night so I can’t check the historical background to the idiom. I suppose it will be Biblical. But I intend to find out. I’ll let you know if I remember. [Just spoken to our Jen, who googled the expression. It refers to Ulysses crossing the river in Italy in 49BC, considered to be a point of no return. There you go. This may be drivel, but sometimes it’s informative drivel.]

it rained a lot yesterday

it rained a lot yesterday

It rained all day yesterday. It was raining when we got up and it was raining when we went to bed. As a result we drove all day, stopping only to forage and for v nice coffee and croissant at a McCafe (€4 for both of us…..fab). Plus, as always, wall-to-wall Internet; so blog was posted. We passed through some lovely looking places. Pavia, in particular, looked fab with a mini Ponte di Vecchio, a couple of big palaces and some other stuff. We stopped at a car park just down from a huge monastery at Certosa di Pavia. We took a photo from the outside, but with the rain bleating away we couldn’t summon up the energy to go and have a peek. Sorry. Somewhere a lake is missing an awful lot of water.

So we parked up, now only a couple of hundred miles from the apartment in Chatel, and reflected on another day of travelling with one purpose in mind: cover the distance. Is it worth it? Well when we booked for Rebecca and Steven to meet with us we opted for a convenient driving spot for them. And with E & A kindly letting us have their apartment in Chatel it was a no-brainer. So travel we must. It’s just a shame about the weather which has dampened any viewing experience. But to answer the question – absolutely, but to be fair if we hadn’t been meeting the two young ones, we would probably still be in Greece now.

However. The journey was ok. There seem to be two east of west roads in this part of the world. One is a toll motorway. The second is the road we travelled. So we were accompanied by a good number of other vehicles who were avoiding helping the Italian government recover their deficit. In the rain. In the UK Doris would have riled almost everybody, pottering along between 60 and 70 km/hr. But here in Italy where everyone is inconsiderate, my inconsiderateness didn’t seem to bother anyone. So, other than the odd lunatic driver, it was pretty stress free.

lots to see, but no the weather to see it

lots to see, but not the weather to see it

C’s blood pressure is up slightly (long story – she’s on meds for it). We think it’s long days driving in Doris, sat in a particular position. So today we instigated a workout routine whilst driving. We pick a song, our favourite is Uptown Funk (which has got to have been the best dance record in the past decade), and then, without me leaving the driver’s seat because that would be unsafe, we do our own personal workout. Goodness knows what everyone thinks as we bopping along, my hands mostly on the wheel.

Once we stopped it was hobby time. We needed to make Bex’s earrings. So we did that. Cutting the bamboo is not really an inside job, but the alternative was to be outside playing with the raindrops. We had beads everywhere, quite a few on the floor. But we persevered and that was another job done. We also talked at length with our Jen. imageShe’s started up her own business: Jen’s Doggie Den. It’s a dog boarding and walking affair. She paid Vistaprint to do some advertising work, set up a new FaceBook site and is now walking dogs and has three boarding customers on the books (a more personal alternative to kennels) already. It’s not going to make her a millionaire, but with her educational background in biovet science and her love of animals, it’s a good steady business which really suits her. And even though she only kicked off just two weeks ago, it’s looks v promising. Well done her.

Today we are making as far as the Alps. There are a couple of ACSi sites open just short of the French/Swiss boarder. To get to the apartment we aim to drive through the St Bernard tunnel into Switzerland and then round back into France and up the valley to Chatel. We could use the Mt. Blanc tunnel, but it is more expensive and probably a longer and higher journey. But parking up tonight in the the high hills is going to test Doris’ winter abilities. To think we were sunning ourselves just a few days previously…


bead feast

So got to go. It’s still raining by the way. Thought you’d like to know.

Keep on trucking…

I have one photo today. Which is just where Doris stopped for the night. This is due to a combination of two factors. First we drove for most of the day, stopping only for a cup of coffee en route. As you’re aware it’s difficult to take photos whilst driving and, inevitably, those that are taken are probably not great and slightly out of focus. Second, because I was in driving mode my mind was on other things. I mean there’s a lot of room upstairs, most of it vacant at the moment as you know, but when I’m driving a 3.5 tonne monster among the most inconsiderate drivers in the whole world (and I am not exaggerating) then spotting the odd photo op isn’t always at the forefront of my mind.

Except, I have just taken one of C looking over supper. If you’re confused in any way by her attire, she’s wearing her running gear. More of that in a second.


So what of yesterday? Well we drove another two hundred and fifty clicks this time northeast across the southern edge of the Po valley, that is the bread and bolt basket of Italy. To clarify – Italy is the Southern Alps and the long pointy appendage which is mountainous in the middle and seaside resorts at the edges – and the boot on the end. Between the two is this flat land shaped like a speech bubble with its mouthpiece at Venice. This part is very fertile and very flat. So it has developed both agriculturally and industrially – and apart from the odd bit of land set aside for large villas and a Formula One race track, it’s either fruit farms, industry or shops. As a result it’s not the most attractive of vistas, especially as the main roads attract the industry and the shops as iron filings to a magnet.

But there are some significant towns and cities. We did try to stop and look round Bologna. But by then, towards the end of our journey, the only way we were going to stop is if there was an obvious carpark with big spaces for Doris close to the centre of town. That didn’t materialise so we drove through. I am sure we missed something significant, but we can always come back (the Alps gently calling in the distance….).

So we stopped at Zola Predossa, just beyond Bologna. We couldn’t find the free Sosta which our rubbish book said existed. It is rubbish (and I know by now with three consecutive posts all with me in a gently spiteful mood you’re thinking that I’m going to over exaggerate the problem; well I’m going to) in that there’s a large scale map and a blue dot. And then there’s a single line location explanation further into the book. This is in Italian and gives vague descriptions to the town, but not to the exact location. So you turn up and hope for a sign. A sign! In Italy! That actually directs you to the right place! Come on, pull the other one.

Doris for the night

Doris for the night

Well we turned up at Zola Predossa and having driven about for a bit parked up in the town hall car park. I went in and spoke to a woman who was sitting waiting for an appointment. We agreed to converse in French (she turned out to be Moroccan) and she pointed me towards where the Sosta might be. Ten minutes later we stopped by a park, I went for a run and found another more suitable car park. And we moved to there. Job done.

C then went for a run, we cooked spaghetti bolognese (actually it was linguine bolognese, which is so much nicer than spaghetti. Do you linguine is known as sparrow’s tongue in Italy?) and went to bed early. By then I had written most of Chapter Eleven, a crux chapter. V excited by it all, I must admit. If I had a week snowed in a log cabin I’m sure I could finish it…oh, that may be on the cards.

Today? Northeast again. It’s raining here, like an English November day, so not a bad day to be travelling. And to be fair to the east of Italy and this bit in the middle, the drivers are much better, more European, and it is so much cleaner than the south. We have past one or two fully walled towns that looked fabulous, and the blossom is out on all the fruit trees. Just up the road is the Ferrari factory which we have visited before. This is worth a visit if you like the cars, but there’s an atmosphere about the place which is also worth soaking up. And we are only travelling through without stopping because we have to travel through….

Till tomorrow.