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  • Day940

    Vallabrègues, Le Rhône

    January 22, 2019 in France ⋅ ☀️ 6 °C

    Today we feel we've 'arrived'. The sun shines in a blue sky as we pull into the free aire at Vallabrègues; a grassy patch with gravel pitches radiating out from the centre like spokes on a bicycle wheel. The journey here has buoyed our spirits, as we near the Mediterranean Sea. We followed the course of the widening River Rhône and as we drove, the sights we saw told us we were in 'the south' now. Workers tended vines, honeyed stone castles loomed above on precipitous craggy outcrops, olive and soft fruit orchards were ten to the dozen and we even saw neatly cropped fields of lavender and thyme between curtains of bamboo canes as tall as houses, green leached out of their leaves, leaving crisp, sandy coloured fingers that rustle in the wind. We even saw a few roadside stalls selling clementines, although we think these were probably imported from Spain.

    We associate these surroundings with warm sunny days, outdoor adventures, exotic wildlife, icecream, seafood and wine, so it was with smiles on our faces that we parked up at Vallabrègues. The aire is at the edge of town, on the Rhône's natural flood plain. It's actually below the water level, although a huge embankment has been built to seperate it and protect the town, which flooded back in 2003.

    Wanting to take advantage of the sunshine, Vicky set out on a walk alongside the river, while Will fished in the nearby pond. He was able to stay out later than previous days, because our direction of travel and time of year means we are getting more daylight hours, the sun now setting at 17.38pm!

    Feeling energised, Will explored the narrow streets of Vallabrègues when Vicky was in bed and found a Tabac where, during opening hours, we might get a token to fill the van with fresh water. After an overcast river walk the next morning we returned and managed to buy the 'jeton' for €2. Cars are confined to the edges of town, so we wandered through the quiet alleyways between terraced homes, emerging upon a sandstone gravel square planted with time worn Plane trees and featuring a bandstand. At the edge were two bars with marquees attached to their frontages. Bar du Cours had tables and chairs set up outside and a chalk board displaying the menu du jour for €15. The barhand raised their eyebrows and looked worried when Vicky asked for a veggie meal, but the server knew just the thing: 'a big salade!' We smiled as this is exactly what had been offered at the little auberge we ate at last week. It seems as if Vicky may be eating quite a few 'grandes salades' whilst in France! We were led into the dining room and given our choice of seats. The tables were functional, wipe clean vinyl with paper mats and a few other cutomers sat quietly hunched over their meals. The one striking feature was the homage the room payed to bullfighting; many framed photos and even a bull's head woven out of willow branches and mounted on a plaque. No wonder the barhand had raised their eyebrows at Vicky's request for a vegetarian option! The meal was good, and the server attentive so we tried to ignore the bullfighting photos, but on our way back to Martha, we came across Vallabrègues' bull ring, which advertised weekly events for €3 with free entry for those under 12 years. We hadn't realised this cruel activity was still such a part of local culture in this region, but felt very glad to have avoided being there when a fight was scheduled.

    As March 29th grows closer we are becoming increasingly worried about the effects of Brexit on our travels. With 9 weeks to go there are as yet no arrangements in place that would allow us to stay more than 90 days out of every 180 within the Schengen zone, putting an end to long term touring in Europe. Vodafone have said they'll continue to allow customers to roam with no additional charges, but for how long? We will need to get International Driving Permits when we return to the UK in February, probably one for France and one for Spain. We've also been advised by our insurance company to call them 3 weeks before crossing over to the continent in order to obtain a Green Card. We desperately hope we will be able to continue living life as we have been, but things look set to become a lot more complicated and restrictive. We'll just have to wait and see...
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