Thursday, July 24, 2008

Nelson: Britannia’s God of War

I bought a book about Horatio Nelson after seeing the HMS Victory in Portsmouth on my way home from France. I have written a review in Amazon, the text of the review is posted below:

I recently visited Portsmouth Historic Naval Dockyard and was fascinated in particular by HMS Victory – Nelson’s flagship. In the dockyard bookshop I bought Andrew Lambert’s Nelson: Britannia’s God of War. This book is described as a “thrilling new appraisal of Horatio Nelson”. I haven’t read any previous books about Nelson, so I can’t vouch for the “new” part of this, but it is definitely a “thrilling” read. Nelson is most famous for the Battle of Trafalgar and the manner in which he died – but there was more to him than Trafalgar.

Lambert expertly describes Nelson’s early life without going into too much detail. The book deliberately avoids going into too much detail about his private life and there is little detail about his wife or mistress other than references to his letters. The book concentrates on Nelson as a navy man – how he lead from the front, was fearless, devoted to his God, and certain of his own abilities. The descriptions of naval battles and Nelson’s activities ashore are well done – again without too much detail to overload readers who are not looking for in-depth descriptions.

There is no doubt that Nelson was (and still is) a hero to many generations of British people. It is very obvious that Nelson is very much a hero to Lambert, who defends him and his actions almost without question. For him, Nelson could do no wrong. Much of the book is taken up with events after Nelson died (page 307 of 446 in the book) and how he has been interpreted since.

One can’t help be inspired by the dedication to duty, leadership qualities, and professionalism of Nelson. Lambert captures the essence of this expertly and leaves the reader with a sense of awe at how one man could be so complete. Had he survived Trafalgar, I’m sure that he could have had a long career in politics like the Duke of Wellington (they once met briefly). There are descriptions of other books written about Nelson and while this is good as a reference point and for analysing the legacy of Nelson – I feel that this is overdone a little. Definitely overdone are the descriptions of paintings and monuments to Nelson – without pictures or drawings in the text, these are mostly meaningless unless you have seen them separately. While some are reproduced in the centre section, others should have been included for the reader unfamiliar with them. Perhaps there were cost reasons for omitting them.

While I really enjoyed reading this book, it does assume that the reader already possesses a lot of knowledge about people and events in Europe during this period of history. There are several duplications (we are told twice about the IRA blowing up the Pillar in Dublin in 1966), and annoying introduction of irrelevant material. For example, the reference on page 332 to Captain Pell having “lost his leg in battle” comes out of the blue – who is Captain Pell, he was not mentioned before or after this section. I suspect sloppy editorial work here.

Overall, a very worthwhile read that makes the reader want to know more about Nelson and the events of the late 18th and early 19th century.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Mamma Mia!

Roma and I enjoyed our first evening of freedom by going to see Mamma Mia! the movie in Dún Laoghaire. We had seen the stage version at The Point a few years ago and both of us being fans of ABBA were looking forward to the movie.

I was told before hand that the beginning of the movie was a bit "cheesy" - this is not true, the whole movie is "cheesy"! But this is OK as it is intended to be this way. There is a lot of over-acting, and the storyline is of course ridiculous. But the music is what this is all about and it is fabulous. Benny and Bjorn make token appearances - watch out for them.

The movie suffers from poor lead characters - especially Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan. They are brilliant as actors in this, but their singing is not great - Brosnan especially looks uncomfortable with every note. I would have thought that it would have been easier to get singers who can act a bit rather than actors who can't sing. Kylie Minogue as Donna?

I feel this musical works far better on stage where there are professional singers who really belt out the ABBA songs. Nevertheless it is an enjoyable movie - Julie Walters steals the show for me. Go see it - a must for all ABBA and Mamma Mia! fans.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

2,072 miles (3,315KM) and Home

After 2,072 miles I arrived home on Tuesday at 1.00 pm exactly. It is a relief to be back after all my bike and passport problems.

First thing this morning I woke up in my old bedroom in Mum and Dad's house. I heard Dad getting up at about 7.45 and amazingly, all the sounds of doors opening and closing, footsteps in the hall were very familiar to me from when I was growing up - it was as if I'd never left the house. Dad and I had breakfast of tea and Mum's brown bread about which he said to me "I firmly believe that I'd be dead long ago if it wasn't for this brown bread" - good on you Mum! We had a great chat and planned a trip next week to Newmarket where his parents PJ O'Loughlin and Kathleen Hurley were from (more about this in a later post).

The last leg of my trip was the 100km from Ballingate, via Arklow, to Blackrock - home. I stopped off at Uncaged in Arklow to check out the brakes and front tire - they should be able to complete the job next week. I'll bring the bike to them this Friday on my trailer as I am going down to Wexford for the next few days. While I'll be without the bike for a few days, at least it will be in my own control and I'll be only a few miles away.

At home, there were great preparations underway for the girls heading off in their various directions. As I write this post, Vicki is in the Gaeltacht at Coláiste Columba - she hasn't got to stay in the same house as her friend which did not get things off to a good start. I hope she stays the distance (3 weeks) - this is the same school that Claire got sent home from for speaking English.

Claire is in Amsterdam on the first leg of her Interrail Trip across Europe - she and a group of about 15 pals are heading to Greece via Holland, Germany, Poland, and down through central Europe.

Kate is off today to Clongowes Wood College in Newbridge for a French Camp - that means Eugene and Roma are on their own for over two weeks! This will be the first time without the kids for this length of time since Claire was born nearly 20 years ago! I wonder what we'll do?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

14th July – A day of history and a close run thing

Today I slept until 8.00 – late for me even during the holiday. After breakfast in the hotel I decided to check for local Harley-Davidson dealers in Portsmouth who could look at my brake cable problem. I found “Dallas Wright”, an after-Harley sales dealer, which was only a few streets away from my hotel. He looks at the brakes and pointed to the completely worn break pads as my problem – but he was satisfied that I would get back to Ireland.

As planned I went down to Portsmouth Historic Naval Dockyard for a quick visit. I looked around HMS Warrior, which is a magnificent battleship that was never used in anger. The highlight however was HMS Victory – this is an impressive vessel close up and must have been terrifying to the many French and Spanish sailors who were fired on from it. Every space inside seemed to be used with room for the impressive Admiral quarters for Nelson. Everything was a bit squashed and most of the sailors would have had to stoop a lot to get around the ship. Definitely worth a visit again. Henry VIII’s Mary Rose warship was a bit disappointing – it is difficult to see as it is in a darkened store and is constantly being sprayed. By now I was feeling the time and decided to get on the road. I stopped off at a bookshop and bought a biography of Nelson by Andrew Lambert – Nelson: Britannia’s God of War.

It felt good to be on the road again, though I had to do some mental calculations to see if I was in good time to get to Fishguard for the ferry at 18.30. It was 13.00 leaving Portsmouth – I had 4.5 hours to cover 265 miles. At an average speed of 65 mph I should make it on time. I made good progress and stopped for petrol twice. Despite making a wrong turn in Fishguard I was on time for the ferry – but only just. It was 18.15 when I boarded. The ferry crew started to close the door before I got off the bike. When I left the car deck to go up top, the ship had already left the port. Five minutes later and I would have missed the boat – Phew!

I had decided to call into Mum and Dad on the way to Dublin, but as the ferry was a later sailing than originally planned – this meant that I would not get to Ballingate until 21.30 – very late. I took up Mum’s offer to stay over – I guessing that it is at least 15 years since I last stayed in this house. We went to meet Joe in Conway’s pub in Kildavan for a couple of pints of Guinness – ahhhh!, they don’t make beer like that in France!

A relief to be here after all my troubles on my trip. One last stage to go – to Dublin. I’ve decided to go via Uncaged in Arklow tomorrow to get them to look at the brakes – I also need a new front tire. Then home.

Monday, July 14, 2008

13th July – Destination Portsmouth via Cherbourg

I got up early after a bad night’s and left the hotel at 7.15. Nobody was up so I rolled the bike down a hill away from the hotel before starting it. There was a fine drizzle that meant wrapping up well, but it got no worse than this though it slowed me down. I was worried about petrol before setting out as I had 95 miles covered since my last fill-up. According to my old map I would be going through old roads and at that time in the morning I was worried about where I would get some petrol. At 144 miles on the clock the main tank ran out and I switched to the reserve tank. Not knowing where the next filling station was I slowed to 50mph to conserve petrol. Fortunately the road remained as a motorway and I came across a filling station with 161 miles on the clock. It took just over €30 to fill – by far the most I have ever paid for in one go (usually €20 to €25). The bike was probably running on the smell of petrol at that stage (I spent €80 on petrol today!). I had lost quite a bit of time.

I broke every speed limit on the way to Cherbourg, but was late by about 20 mins – arriving at 12.50. Fortunately M. Bockmann, Honorary Consul of Ireland, had stayed and he gave me my Emergency Passport. Another problem sorted – things are looking up.

I had a quick lunch in Cité de Mer and headed back towards Caen. I stopped at the German War Cemetery at La Cambe where there are 21,000 German soldiers buried. The cemetery has a “Work for Peace” theme and one cannot look at this peaceful setting and think otherwise.

Just past the cemetery I spotted a sign for “Vergers de Rouilly” which sold calvados, cider, and pommeau directly from their own orchards. I tasted some calvados and pommeau and bought a bottle of each – excellent!

I still had some time before continuing on to the car ferry in Ouistreham so I decided that I had time to stop at the American War Cemetery/Memorial at Arromanche. I was surprised at the increase in traffic as I got closer and then astonished at the amount of people who were visiting the site. There had been just a few people at the German cemetery and nobody at the Canadian cemetery two weeks ago. There is a big car park and there were people everywhere – and not many Americans that I could see. While I knew that I could not stay long, I still saw the small white crosses – nothing prepares you for white cross after white cross after white cross. I also saw Omaha Beach and couldn’t help thinking of the terror that each of the Americans buried there must have felt. On a cold and wet June morning after months of training they braved sea sickness and the unknown only to be shot or blown up on this beach, and then buried close by in what has become a tourist attraction. I felt a bit of a voyeur and that I was the invader here.

I looked at my watch and realised that I was cutting things a bit too fine. I still had 45 km to go to Caen, but I couldn’t remember how far Ouistreham was after this. I made the ferry with about 15 mins to spare. The girl at the check-in wouldn’t accept my emergency Passport, but a supervisor OK’d it for her. Phew! Going up the ramp of the ferry (the Mont St Michel) my front brake cable felt like it snapped, but I was able to get on board OK – Phew!

The ferry crossing took six hours and I read the Sunday Telegraph from cover to cover. I bought some more calvados and pommeau, plus a bottle of cider for my Mum and Dad whom I hope to see on my way from Rosslare to Dublin tomorrow. 32 years ago in 1976 I did the same after coming home from a French exchange.

It is now mid-night and I am finishing a pint of ale in the Ibis Portsmouth hotel bar. Tomorrow I will check out the brake cable first and hopefully get to see HMS Victory as well. It has been a long day – I rode 410 miles (648 km) today and I can feel it in my ass!

12th July – Sigean to St Hilaire de Court

Today stated out early as Roma and I got in a quick swim before starting to clean up the villa before departing. We left at 10.20 and got our full deposit back which was a relief. Roma brought me to the train station in Port la Nouvelle to get the train to Montpelier. Part of me was really looking forward to getting the bike back, while another part wanted to go straight home with Roma and the girls. The train to Montpelier was pleasant – I continued to read my book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I’m finding it very heavy going, but I’ll stick with it.

In Montpelier I got a taxi to Macadam Moto where I finally got to see my bike – I didn’t know whether to kick it or kiss it! I had a quick lunch in the small bar that is part of the dealership – nice idea. I was expecting a heavy bill for all the repairs – I was not disappointed (I won’t say what it was here). Finally, I set off – it was very hot (35 C) and I just wore my T-shirt. I felt good – I headed back into Montpelier and followed the signs north for Millau. Worryingly, the bike cut out in the middle of the road, but this did not happen again.

The heat did not last long and after about 50km I had to pull into a Service area to put on the wet gear. I had rain for the next 100km which coincided with fairly twisty motorway – I was doing less than 90kph for most of this. This is also viaduct country – there were loads of them as I rode through high elevation (1100m) country. One was a spectacular long one called “Viaduct de Millau” – the largest in the world (I think). The weather cleared up and but for a few more showers was OK for the rest of the day. I had more problems starting the bike on two occasions- it did not sound like the same problem as before, but I was worried nonetheless. This bike is going straight to Motorcycle City when I get home.

I arrived at my destination, Chateau de la Beuvrere in St Hilaire de Court near Vierzon at about 9.00pm. While the hotel is charming, it is very old and a bit run down. It is literally out in the middle of nowhere down a small lane outside the village. The restaurant was closed so I headed back into Vierzon for some Chinese food. I called Roma and she was just back from the Fu Moon Chinese take-away at home – they had a long delay at the airport in Carcassonne due to thunder storms.

Early start tomorrow as I have to get to Cherbourg by 12.00 to meet with Irish Consul to get my Emergency Passport.

11th July – Last day and at last some good news

Today is our last full day in Sigean – it is dull again, but still very warm. I think we had at least five days of dull weather out of the 13 days we have had here. At least it didn’t pour rain as it did back home.

Roma and I went down for a final visit to La Bar Rotunde and had un café et un Perrier (sooooo French?). We also wanted to check train timetables for the TGV to Montpelier for me tomorrow.

I called Macadam Moto for an update and they told me that they were working on the bike but that it would be 5 o’clock before they knew if it would be finished on time – another helpless wait.

We went to Leucate today to visit Roma’s friend Evelyn in her house where we had ice cream and gateaux – Leucate is a lovely town and Evelyn’s house is brilliant. We went to the beach at Leucate Plage for a swim – the beach is peculiar in that the sand is very coarse and there is a very steep entrance into the water. I went for a walk down to the end of the beach, but this was a bit sore on my feet. I walked back by a path to avoid the sand. I forgot my camera, so no photos.

In the middle of all of above I finally got a call from Magda in Macadam Moto to tell me that the bike was repaired and ready for pickup – at last good news! The relief is enormous – now I can travel home as planned. Hopefully there will be no more bike trouble. I also confirmed an appointment with M. Bockmann the Irish Consul in Cherbourg to get and Emergency Passport on Sunday – things are finally looking up.

We are cleaning up and packing as I write this (hey – I did my share!). We are going out to dinner and the girls are dressing up – all look great. Don’t know when I’ll get to post this as I will be getting the train to Montpelier in the morning.

Next stop – St Hilaire de Court in central France. Bonsoir!

Friday, July 11, 2008

10th July – Visit from Evelyn

We had a visit from Roma’s friend Evelyn Barker today. She has a house in Leucate that she is staying in for the summer. I have met her a few times, but this is the first time we’ve chatted – nice lady. We had a long lazy lunch – Evelyn doesn’t drink alcohol, so it wasn’t a boozy lunch, we had a good laugh. It was late in the afternoon when she left so we just headed for the pool and a few games of volleyball. While these games are little competitive, they are great fun and we switch around teams all the time. Emma seems to win most, so all want to be with her!

It was another beautiful day though there are some clouds about for this evening. The forecast for the weekend is mixed – if I’m travelling I think I can expect some rain along the way. Of course I still have no idea when I’m going – while I was expecting a call from HOG Assistance today (which did not happen) I decided to try to put the whole thing to the back of my mind and not to contact Macadam Moto until tomorrow. The consequences of a delay past Saturday are that my two hotels and two car ferry bookings for the trip home will have to be cancelled - probably with little or no refund at this late stage. Not to mention the extra cost of staying until at least next Tuesday. In any case, tomorrow will be decision time – I have also my appointment with M. Bockmann in Cherbourg on Sunday to consider.

9th July – Nothing Day

Today I did very little. I had been up very early writing the below posts. Roma and the girls went to Narbonne for some shopping therapy while I decided to stay in Sigean – pity I didn’t have my bike to go for a spin somewhere L. I went down to the Bar Rotunde for a beer and some Wifi – they know me there by now and brought me out a large Pelforth without asking. I did some web surfing and checked out the news and weather back home – rain seems to be the order of the day. Also sad to see that former Minister Séamus Brennan has died. I met him once in Rathfarnham while he was campaigning for an election. My memory of him if of a very short man – RIP.

In the afternoon after the girls got back we renewed rivalry in the pool at volley ball and relaxed in the late sun. Got a text message from my Mum to tell me that it is still raining in Ireland and that my cousin Clarissa had twin boys – congrats Clarissa and Aidan.

In the evening we went to “Le Galicien” again for dinner - this time all six of us. It is a friendly place and we had upstairs to ourselves. The place still allows smoking which is no longer allowed in French restaurants. The owner tried to persuade the girls to go to a disco in Narbonne – they later tried some Irish dancing in the streets! As in our previous visit to this restaurant, the owner gave us a free bottle of wine – very nice of him to do so, and not something that you would expect in Ireland. We were probably 90% of his business that evening.

After my very early start to the day I was exhausted in the evening and fell asleep before 11.00 – so nice to have an almost “Nothing Day”.

(Short) Bike Update
I called Macadam Moto and spoke to Magda in English. She told me that they were still waiting for a part which was due to arrive that day and that I should call back on Friday morning (10 days after the bike was brought there). What can I do but wait and hope for the best – but I feel helpless and useless about the whole episode.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008 now free.

Now that the Irish Times is free on-line (and about time too) I can access my letter to the Editor about "Party Shades of Green" published on 24th March last. It can be accessed here.

8th July – White Water Rafting!

Today we went to St Martin de Lys for white water rafting with Embarquement Immédiat on the river Aude in the Pyrenees. It was a 1.5 hour drive to get there along mostly narrow roads, but it was worth the wait. We got there at about 11.45 and were soon kitted out in wetsuits. We were brought by minibus to a starting point further up-river – this was a bit of a roller-coaster drive as our driver, who was also to be our guide on the river, treated us to fast driving on very narrow mountainous roads.

Following safety instructions, all six of us, plus two other French people and our guide set off on our inflatable raft. We had a book on who would fall into the river first – Vicki was the hot favourite! The beginning of the river was easy enough – some short rapids in very beautiful scenery. The gorges here make the Glen of the Downs in Wicklow look like a scratch on the surface of the earth. Spectacular sheer rock faces towered above us – fantastic! We passed through the village of Axat and headed on down towards the more difficult parts of the river. Before this we hit a rock and a French girl and I fell into the water – cold! Amid much mirth from the girls I was hauled back into the raft by Roma. How embarrassing to be the first to fall in.

The end of the river was the best – some serious (for us anyway) rapids, four in quick succession. Great fun, the girls loved it, and all decided that we would definitely do it again if given the chance. White water rafting is great fun. The whole trip on the river was about an hour – our guide told us that a French canoe champion has covered the same distance in 16 minutes. It was expensive (€39 each), but worth it. We went back up to Axat afterwards for some lunch at a café which overlooked the river – we watched as others passed by in a variety of rafts similar to the one we had used.

On our way back to Sigean we stopped off at the European Prehistoric Museum in Tautavel. This is the location of excavations of materials from 450,000 years ago and is also the site where a famous partial skull was found – Tautavel Man. The museum is interesting and there were a lot of excavated artefacts to see mostly bones and stones. It’s the type of museum best suited for school trips as it is very informative about prehistoric times. There are lots of posters and videos to stretch out the stones and bones. On the right is a picture of me with one of the 450,000 locals in Tautavel.

This was a long day with a lot of driving in the mountains. I had a text message from Joe about the rain in Ireland which has been non-stop since we left. While nice and warm, it was a bit cloudy here – we have had several cloudy days up to now mixed in with some sunny days.

Bike Update
I had a call from HOG Assistance to update me on progress – the caller told me that Macadam Moto had not yet even looked at the bike! It was up to me to update her on progress as I had been speaking to Macadam Moto last Saturday.

I’m now very worried about getting home. As I write this post it is 6.30 in the morning. I woke up at about 4.00 and could not get back to sleep – my mind was racing ahead as to what to do if the bike is not fixed by Saturday when we leave Sigean. The bike has now been in Macadam Moto for eight days and I still don’t know when I’ll get it back – I’ll call them myself today to try and find out. They are aware of my predicament and I’m sure they are doing their best – but right now I feel like going up there and pointing a gun at the mechanic’s head to fix my bike on the spot. Bringing the bike on this holiday has been a disaster – apart from a quick spin last Monday I have not been able to ride it at all since I got here. It has also been expensive, ferries and hotels cost a lot more than a direct flight – and I’m not done yet.

Finally, I had a text message from Stena Line telling me my ferry from Fishguard in Wales to Rosslare next Monday is cancelled. Can anything else go wrong on this holiday? I’m in no hurry to fix this until I find out what’s happening to the bike.

7th July – 80m underground – Terra Vinea

Today I went down to La Bar Rotonde for a beer and ended up having three – this affected me for the rest of the day. The girls joined me (not for a beer!) – Kate and I checked out the GAA results and wondered how Wexford will ever beat Kilkenny in hurling. The big surprise was Cork beating Kerry in the Munster final – despite this Kerry are still 7-4 favourites to win the All-Ireland. We had some fun placing a bet on– in the end I allowed Kate a €5 bet on Cork to win All-Ireland.

In the afternoon, Roma and I went to see one of the Sigean local attractions - Terra Vinea. This is an old gypsum mine that is now used as a store for the local Rocbére wine. It started with a spectacular light show down a mine shaft – all along the side were casks of wine maturing for several years. As we went further underground we went through a replica Roman market – interesting, but a bit too much plastic. Much more interesting were the old tools used by wine makers – these ranged from basic hand tools to small tractors. At the end we had wine tasting – I tried only two or three (I was driving), but they really all tasted the same to me. We had a guide throughout, but she spoke in very fast French and I only understood some of what she said. Nevertheless, Terra Vinea is an interesting experience.

In the evening we to Port la Nouvelle for dinner. The girls played some pool while Roma and I went for a walk on the pier. We looked at an art exhibition, listened to a brass band, and watched some very good boules players show us how it is done properly.

Monday, July 07, 2008

6th July – Carcassonne Non! Perpignon Oui!

Today we were due to pick up Kate Prendergast, who is joining us for our second week, in Carcassonne airport. We set off at 9.30 am but Kate’s plane was diverted due to bad weather to Perpignon – yes, the only city where it is easier to park a plane than a car. The weather was much worse than Sigean – the temperature dropped from 25C to 16C in a few kilometres. Three hours after we were due to pick up Kate we hooked up with her in Perpignon airport. As we were so close to Perpignon we decided to go into the city to see if it was possible to park in the city on a Sunday. Yes - the first car park had spaces and we had an easy lunch in a place called “Café Vienne” which was very close to Café Roma. I tried an Abbey Road type photo of the girls.

We took the coast road home via Leucate and stopped off in Port-la-Nouvelle for some supplies. For dinner we raided the fridge and had a pleasant meal around the dinner table. Later we played Gaelic football in the garden. As I write this the girls are watching “Beaches” with Bette Midler.

5th July – Lazin’ on a sunny afternoon

Roma and I checked out this morning on-line in the Bar Rotunde to see about Kate Prendergast’s arrival tomorrow. We had a nice coffee and we composed an “un-rude” email to Macadam Moto basically pleading for them to fix my bike in time for me to go home next week.

My email must have worked as I got a call from Macadam Moto to give me an update. The Starter Motor does need to be replaced, but so does the clutch and the clutch cable! The whole thing will cost almost €800 to fix – they wanted to know if they should go ahead and replace the parts. No brainer – yes please! It will be at least Tuesday next before there will be further news – one of the parts (clutch) is not in stock, so has to be ordered. I hope this does not cause further delay – at least there is light at the end of the tunnel.

This was the laziest day so far on this holiday. All the action was around the pool – Kate and I defeated Vicki and Emma (just about) in three games of volleyball. We also played some table tennis. In the evening we barbecued - lazin’ in a sunny afternoon!

Saturday, July 05, 2008

4th July – We Are Sailing!

Despite a few sniffles and sore throats we decided today that we would go on a sailing schooner called the “Lummerie” in Port-Leucate. It was a two hour sailing trip along the local coastline and was very pleasant indeed. Today (Friday) was also the first sunny day since Wednesday, so we were all well splattered in high factor sun lotion. The port in Leucate is full of expensive looking yachts and catamarans – we all wished we had one of these and had some fun picking out our “own” boat from the hundreds on view. The “Lummerie” was built in 1929 and is made up of timber from all over the world. As we sailed out of the harbour I gave a hand pulling up one of the sails - I’m sure there’s a nautical term for this and that I have just demonstrated that I am no sailor. Visibility was great – we could see down into Spain, and along over 180 km of coastline.

After the trip we wandered around the many waterfront shops. I bought more fridge magnets and a hanging ornament for our conservatory to go with our other ones from different countries. Roma and I had a beer in a waterfront bar – it was so hot we had to sit in the shade.

In the evening we went for pizza in another very quiet restaurant – how do they make money here? €43 for the five of us including a bottle of vin rouge – not bad value again. On our way back to the villa, Roma and I stopped off at the “Le Galicien” Spanish restaurant for a glass of wine – a nice way to finish the evening.

Bike update
I had a call from HOG Assistance today telling me that Macadam Moto are “very busy” and that they had not yet looked at the bike. It will be next Tuesday before I get further news.

Passport Update
I had another call (sooo popular!) from both the Irish Embassy in Paris and the Irish Consul in Cherbourg. They have kindly offered to open the Cherbourg office on Sunday 13th July for me to give me an emergency passport. Assuming I have a bike to go there in time – this is great news. Great Britain – please join the Schenken Agreement so that we Irish can too!!!

3rd July – Perpignon. Non!

This morning I decided to check with Brittany Ferries to ensure that my driving licence and a Gendarme Report of my lost passport would be sufficient documentation to board the ferry from France to Britain next week. They told me that it wasn’t and that I had to go to the Irish Embassy in Paris to get another one, otherwise no entry to Britain! I called the Embassy and they confirmed that I needed an emergency travel document – the best way to do this was to go to the Irish Consulate in Cherbourg, which at least is close to my departure point in Caen but that does not open on Sundays (day of travel). All very helpful, and they gave me lots of names and numbers to contact.

After above worries I called Macadam Moto in Montpelier to see how they were getting on with my bike. They hadn’t looked at it yet and they were “very busy” (I was told this about 20 times in my short call with them). So more worries – it could be next week before they even look at it! Could my day get worse? Read on!

We decided to go to the city of Perpignon for the day to see some sights and do some shopping. Perpignon is the last French city in this region before entering Spain and there was a lot of Spanish (Catalan) influence everywhere. For a start the signs were bi-lingual, and there were also a lot of red and yellow striped flags about. While the city was only about 40 minutes away and easy to get to – my problems started on our arrival. While there are a lot of car parks available, they were all full, so I drove around for a bit looking for a space. I was not having much luck and after about 30 minutes I decided to drop the girls off near Galleries Lafayette and I would look for a space myself. One hour later I was still driving around looking for a spot – this wasn’t much fun, I had been at every car park in the city centre but all were “Complet”. It seemed that there were also a lot of other people driving around slowly like me looking for a space. In the end I decided to park at a Castorama DIY superstore car park on the edge of the city to at least stop. It was after lunch and I needed to get a cold drink and go to the loo. I killed an hour looking around Castorama and other hardware and clothes shops, but bought nothing. There’s lots of value to be had (70% off sales everywhere), but I have practically no capacity to bring anything back home on the bike - that’s if I ever see my bike again :-(.

It was now just after 3.00 pm and I decided to try my luck again at finding a parking space – at 4.15pm I finally got a spot. By the time I met with Roma and the girls it was 3.5 hours since I had dropped them off. They had spent a lot of that time looking for something to eat and were a bit fed up with Perpignon too. We stopped for some gateaux and I had a nice peach melba. It seems a lot of places close in the early afternoon. We still had a look around and the girls bought a few clothes in some shops. It’s always interesting looking around shops in other countries, but I don’t like to spend too long doing this – it’s boring! Finally, we left Perpignon at about 6.30 and I was more than happy to leave. Lesson learned – go early to get a parking spot.

We stopped off in Leucate Port on the way back – this is a purpose built holiday resort with lots of small shops. We had a good look around and I had a very welcome beer. We plan to come back tomorrow to go on a sailing yacht.

After such a long tiring day it was no surprise that the girls were not too bothered about going out. Roma and I walked down to Sigean for a meal in a quiet friendly Spanish restaurant -Le Galicien. We had a beautiful meal – I had a delicious fish whose name I did not recognise. When we had a second bottle of wine (naughty – but we are on holiday!) the waiter offered us a third on the house which we brought back to the villa. Now where else would you get that?

A delicious dinner with a pretty girl and a free bottle of wine – not a bad day after all!

2nd July – Reserve Africaine

Today we went to see a wildlife park just outside Sigean – it is much bigger than a zoo and there is a good attempt to make the habitat as natural as possible for all the animals. The first part is a drive-through where we got to see some bears, ostriches, springboks, giraffes, white rhinos, and lions. The ostriches came right up to the car, but didn’t try to eat us. We also got to see some endangered donkeys and a baby zebra. In the walk-through part we saw elephants, goats, chimps (at a distance) as well as some snakes and alligators. Most popular was a baby tortoise that was feeding in a lake. The leopard was lazy and the wallabies were cute. There is also a large lake with flamingos and an “African Plain” with Gnus, Zebras, and lots of gazelle-like animals – the girls had fun learning all the French names for the animals. We had ice-cream and a visit to the shop (where I bought the compulsory fridge magnet – there are still a few places left on our fridge door to fill). All had a great time and I thoroughly recommend the Reserve Africaine to anyone visiting this area.

We stopped by a road-side fruit & veg shop on the way back to Sigean where we got some delicious fresh apricots that are in season right now. This shop also sold wine – it’s for sale everywhere here. We bought a bottle of some local vin rouge. We finished the evening off back at the villa with a late barbeque and some (actually a lot!) of the vin rouge.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

1st July – Harley problems continue

The bike is in need of repair – the starter motor failed yesterday and there now appears to be no chance of starting it without getting the motor either patched up or replaced. My biggest fear, mechanical problems, on this trip has arisen. I am also a little annoyed with the new Harley-Davidson dealer in Dublin who serviced the bike only last week in advance of my trip. I’m going back to Mick Doherty and Motorcycle city after this for all repairs and service. Thankfully we have two weeks here so it is not spoiling things too much. We have the Zafira to go about in any case.

Yesterday I called HOG Assistance to get help. While they were very helpful, they were also very slow. They told me in the morning that they can usually get someone to pick up the bike within 45 minutes to an hour. However, they had problems finding some place to take the bike. My insurance policy covers picking up the bike and bringing it to the nearest Harley-Davidson dealer – which is in Béziers. However, these guys told HOG that they were very busy, they have only one mechanic (and a strict 35 hour week policy in France), and that it would be at least 15 days before they could even look at the bike! Now I’m worried! Next best was another dealer called Macadam Moto in a place called St Jean de Vedas which I agreed to have the bike taken to even though the HOG person couldn’t tell me where it is.

It was now 4.30 in the afternoon – I had spent most of the day so far waiting by my phone, but at least there was now someone on the way to pick up the bike. Or so I thought! HOG called me again at about 5.30 to see if the bike had been picked up – they then went to check what the delay was. It turns out that there was a small dispute between HOG and the Recovery Company about payment – this apparently is an expensive pick-up. By now it was too late for them to pick up and I agreed to wait until the next (Wednesday) morning.

Roma and the girls are very patient with me and my bike problems – I wonder what Roma will say about the next time I want to bring the bike on holiday? Last year in Achill it was also out of action for the two weeks we were there due to what turned out to be a very small electrical problem (dirt in the ignition) – at least in Achill I could put it on my bike trailer and drive it home.

In the early evening, Roma and I walked down to a local cave in Sigean to check out some wine. Interesting stuff – we tasted some red and rose and bought three bottles. Prices of course are way lower than in Ireland. Roma picked up a litre of Rose for €1.39 – the most expensive bottle we bought was €6.50. We also stopped at another small shop on the way back to the villa where we bought another two bottles of wine. While we were there a man came in with an empty 5 litre container for a refill of rose, and a 1 litre bottle refill of white for less than €20! Good job Roma and I don’t live here because we’d turn into a right pair of winos at these prices.

We went out to dinner in Newport (Port-la-Nouvelle) to a fish restaurant where I ate 24 animals (6 oysters, 6 snails, 6 prawns, 6 mussels, plus some smoked salmon). The girls had some fun wandering around the local shops and carnival – I was cleaned out of cash! Vicki bought some shorts, Kate bought big Jackie O type glasses, I also got jewellery for Vicki and Emma, and a small Ganesha (Indian God) statue for Kate. Newport really only starts getting into action very late. We were there at 8.00pm and it was very quiet – most of the stalls in the carnival were closed. By 9.30 everything had opened up and there was a bit more buzz about the place.

I’m writing this post early in the morning – it is nice and cool as it is quite cloudy. I got up at 7.30 as I was expecting the Recovery Company to pick up the bike at 8.00 – Bruno arrived at 9.00. He didn’t have any English, so I did my best to explain everything in French – again I was proud of myself as I only got stuck on a few words. I tried to start the bike to show him what was wrong and what do you know – the bloody thing started first time! It started a second time too, but not on the third – we decided to load it onto the truck as it has to be fixed. As he drove away I felt like I was seeing one of my kids off at school on their first day – when will I see the bike again? Bruno told me St Jean de Vedas was in Montpelier, so I’ll have quite a long trip to go when picking it up. While I’ll be happy to get it back before we leave France on 12th July, it will be a bitter disappointment to me if I do not get it back before then so that I can have a few trips on it while I’m here.