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Richtersveld – Ancient rocks, a river and spring flowers/Oerklipveld, ‘n rivier en lenteblomme

It is lockdown and time to work through old photographs. In the 2011 file I found photos of an unforgettable 4×4 trip to the arid Richtersveld on the Namibian border

The gentle rushing of the Great Gariep soothed us. We were enveloped by a sense of pre-history, mountains, stones and rocks turning red in the dying light. At night we lit fires, breathed softly, listened to the river through the night and to the sound of the stars communing with each other.

The days were still and precious. Early in the morning we took routes, drove, stopped, walked. Drove, stopped, walked and discovered new species, semi-precious stones, skeletons and fossils. We lived a thousand years ago. We realized the value of the moment, of the present, and how transient our presence was in the pre-historic landscape of stone, rock and river. We were blessed with masses of flowers, sometimes stretching as far as the eye can see. We took pleasure in the smallest of creation and our breath was taken away on the edge of precipices with the theatre of valleys and mountains, layer upon layer, on the other side. We became masters at balancing the 4×4 against chasm walls, making it climb steep inclines like a horse.

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Die sagte geruis van die Groot Gariep sus ons, ‘n oer-gevoel omvou ons, en die berge, die klippe, die rotse, word rooi in laaste lig. Ons brand snags vure, haal sag asem, luister na die rivier, heelnag, en hoe die sterre met mekaar praat. 

Die dae is stil en kosbaar. Ons vat soggens vroeg roetes, ry, stop, stap. Ry, stop, stap en ontdek nuwe spesies, edelgesteentes, wierook, gebeentes en fossiele. Ons leef duisende jare gelede. Ons besef die waarde van die oomblik, van die hede, en hoe verganklik ons is in die oer-landskap van klip, rots en rivier. Ons word geseën met massas blomme, so ver soos die oog kan sien, soms. Ons verkneukel ons in die kleinstes van die skepping, en ons asems slaan weg as ons voor ‘n afgrond staan, met ‘n teater van valleie en berge, laag op laag, aan die oorkant. Ons raak meesters om die 4×4 teen afgronde af te balanseer, en om dit soos ‘n perd die steiltes te laat uitklim.

The winding road towards the Richterveld National Park

Die aantog

The first mountains overwhelmed us with their colours.
The plains as well
Stretching time on the long dirt road
First sight of the Great Gariep, aka the Orange River, which forms the border with Namibia
After the good rains there were carpets of flowers.
But the barrenness is always present
Part of our convoy kicking up dust
You realize that you are in Africa when you see safaris like this
The start of the notorious Akkedis Pass. At times you need someone to guide your car wheels between the rocks.

Our camp

We pitched our tent on the banks of the river.
The silent Great Gariep
A play of shadow and light about us
The cone shaped mountain across the river in Namibia in late afternoon sun
Sunset red on the river

Rocks

The rich colours of the rocks make you stand still to look and look again.
Sometimes they tell stories.
And some rocks are a story.
And others are sentinels.
And then there are the scattered ones.
Rocks next to the road

Mountains

The mountains are mostly barren
Deposits form interesting patterns.
Mountains layered into the distance Berg op berg op berg
Cloud shadows on the mountains, a play with colours.
Imagine the formation of these mountains at the beginning of time.
A panoramic view framed by rocks
The deposits painted the mountain with one big brush stroke.
A blending of tonal colours
A closer look. It was a huge brush!
Like an impressionist painting – the pointillist period
The beauty of majesty and colours made me trigger-happy. I took literally hundreds of photos and it was hard to choose these two.
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Roads

The dirt roads across the plains were good.
Into infinity …
Like a snake slithering across the plains- the Richetrsveld National Park is huge!
After every hill a scene awaits that will take your breath away.
And another hill…
The start of the difficult Akkedis Pass. Anuta sometimes had to walk ahead to guide the wheels over the rough terrain. It took nerves of steel, concentration and 4×4 skills to navigate this pass.
Sometimes the pass was not so difficult. And the beauty remained.
After a couple of days in the wilderness, the telephone poles came as a shock.

Flowers & plants

The brilliant colours of a vygie
For this photo I lay flat on the ground.
Ganskos, by the millions
All in yellow
The strangest flower we had ever seen. We did some research and it is the Hoodia gordonii, also known as Bushman’s hat, is a leafless spiny succulent plant supposed to have therapeutic properties in folk medicine, including being an appetite suppressor.
Another leafless succulent
Our favourite gousblomme
Grasses against a mountain backdrop
I couldn’t resist the textures and colours, and the depth of field.
Like snow in a desert landscape
How many times we stopped to take a walk to discover small treasures.
Another snow landscape with the most delicate white flowers
And another one with a blue border
Yellow and purple landscape
A closer look. The delicate flowers overwhelmed us.
Ganskos …
… as far as the eye could see.
Interesting slope for a camera shot
I like this photo with the flowering succulent and the darker depth of field.
From another angle to marry the yellows and the blues
As delicate as ballerinas
The majesty of colours, textures and mountains
Here as well
Ballet dancers. So fragile.
A burst of blue
Gousblomme know where to fit in.
I was flat on my tummy to get this shot. It was worth it.
And this one as well. So fragile against the dark backdrop.
The beauty of a flowering succulent
We couldn’t believe it. A burst of delicate white flowers between tightly packed rocks.
Restios in seed. Fragile beauty
I couldn’t resist this one either.
Is it an aloe or a succulent? Or are aloes succulents?
No, it is not a snake, but one of the many conophytum species.
Textures and colours
How does it survive?
Between a scatter of rocks in a desert like landscape, small yellow flowers
Dancing in the wind.
Perfection
Swan lake corps between the rocks
One tiny flower
Interesting flower we had also never seen before

Trees

And suddenly a lone giant quiver tree. It is classified as critically endangered. Large trunks of dead trees are also hollowed out and used as a natural fridge. Water, meat and vegetables are stored inside it. The fibrous tissue of the trunk has a cooling effect as air passes through it, a so-called natural fridge.
They call it a shepherd’s tree.
The giant quiver tree from another angle.
A strange fat tree
Tree roots must be tough to search for water in these conditions.
Perfect balancing act.
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A wild fig tree – surviving on what?
The tough roots. Ancient survivors.
There must be a story behind the red table…
Featured

Egypt: Colours of the White Desert,/Kleure van die Witwoestyn

This blog is about the photo’s. Scroll down. Rol ook af vir Afrikaans.

Egypt’s White Desert was a great desolation. One of the strangest and most beautiful places I have been. Silence that turns you to stone along with the calsium formations. Starlight shadows that follow you. Icy night cold. Oases as wide as seas. An adventure attuned to the senses.

I am in lockdown during the 2020 Corona-19 virus and on looking through old photographs, I decided to post a blog on the beauty of Egypt’s White Desert.

In 2012, along with our travel companions of many years, Johan and Mariette, we undertook a trip through Egypt lasting almost three weeks along with our academic guide and natty bus driver. We only touched on the depths and layers of history of the country here and there while we did the usual tourist things. Fortunately for us the trip took place between the two revolutions which meant very few tourists about.

One of the highlights was a 4×4 trip to the White Desert. Surely the most beautiful and lesser known of Egypt’s nature destinations. A National Park in the Sahara.

After a visit to the impoverished settlement of Bahariya and the huge oasis with rivers and water canals that flow in and out of the dry desert, we travelled further south to the Black Desert – Sahra-al-Suda. We enjoyed a delicious traditional lunch at a small oasis. Sat flat on the ground with our feet in a stream that is channelled through the restaurant to cool it down. Anuta couldn’t resist the opportunity to plunge into the primitive swimming pool outside.

We were asked to close our eyes as we approached the transition to the White Desert. The 4×4 stopped and we were requested to open our eyes. We gasped. Before us lay one of the mightiest scenes. Mightier than a big city, mightier than a lost underwater citadel mightier than a Norwegian fjord, the Jungfrau or Mont Blanc in the Alps, or Givernie in the Pyrenees.

Once upon a time there must have been high sandstone mountains. Bathed in gold. Over the centuries wind and the elements eroded them. The hardest layers remained. Reshaped into giant anthills stretching as far as the eye can see. Misshapen into fairytale figures, dragons and prehistoric animals.

We decided that the moment was too much. We wanted to slide down the steep dune on foot. We wanted to feel the Sahara against our skin. Under our feet. In our hair. Feel the grit between our teeth.

The further we drove into the desert, the more we gasped. It is more than a moonscape. It’s surreal. A sanctity.

We erected our tent between the sandstone figures. Colourful bedouin rugs were rolled open and it became our home. Outside a fire was lit and meat was grilled. A jackal approached, Ebrahim fed him water in a little bowl and he was given the leftover bones. How does an animal like this survive in this wildnerness where there isn’t a tree or a clump of grass? Another marvel of this desert.

At sunset we ran around to capture the colours. We drank wine. Celebrated the day. One of the most beautiful in our lives.

***

Dit was ‘n groot verlatenheid, Egipte se Witwoestyn. Een van die vreemdste en mooiste plekke waar ek nog ooit was. Stiltes wat jou saam met die kalsiumgesteentes laat versteen. Sterligskaduwees wat jou agtervolg. Ysige nagkoues. Oasisse so wyd soos seë. ‘n Avontuur wat op die sintuie ingestel is.

Tydens die 2020 Covid-19 grendeltyd kyk ek deur ou foto’s en kom op hierdie af. Ons besoek aan Egipte se Witwoestyn.

In 2012 onderneem ons met ons reismaats van baie jare, Johan en Mariette, ‘n byna drie weke lange reis deur Egipte met ‘n geleerde gids en ‘n netjiese bussiebestuurder. Ons raak net hier en daar aan die dieptes en lae van geskiedenis van die land terwyl ons die gewone toeristedinge doen. Gelukkig vir ons val dit tussen die twee rewolusies en is daar nie die gewone toeristedrukte nie.

Een van die hoogtepunte was ‘n 4×4 reis na die Wit Woestyn. Sekerlik die mooiste en amper onbekendste van Egipte se natuurbestemmings. ‘n Nasionale Park in die Sahara.

Na ‘n besoek aan die armoedige Bahariya nedersetting en die yslike oase met riviere en kanale water wat in en uit die droë woestyn vloei is ons verder suid na die Swart Woestyn – Sahra-al-Suda. By ‘n kleinerige oase het ons ‘n heerlike tradisionele middagete gehad. Plat op die grond gesit, of met ons voete in ‘n stroom water wat deur die restourant geloop het om alles af te koel. Anuta kon nie die kans verby laat gaan om in die primitiewe swembadjie te spring nie.

Ons is gevra om ons oë toe maak vir die oorgang na die Wit Woestyn. Die 4×4 het stilgehou en ons is gevra om ons oë oop te maak. Ons snak na ons asems. Voor ons lê een van die magstigste tonele. Magtiger as ‘n groot stad. Magtiger as ‘n verlore onderwater vesting. Magtiger as die Noorweegse fjords, die Alpe se Jungfrau of Mont Blanc, die Pirenieë se Gavernie.

Eens op ‘n tyd moes daar hoë sandsteenberge gewees het. In goud gebaai. Met die eeue deur wind en weer verweer. Die hardste het oorgebly. Vervorm tot reuse miershope wat strek so ver as wat die oog kan sien. Misvorm in sprokiesfigure, drake en prehistoriese diere.

Ons besluit die oomblik is te groot. Ons gaan die steil sandduin te voet afseil. Ons wil die Sahara aan ons lywe voel. Onder ons voete. In ons hare. Tussen ons tande die grint proe.

Hoe verder ons die woestyn inry, hoe meer snak ons na ons asems. Dis meer as ‘n maanlandskap. Dis ‘n onwerklikheid. ‘n Heiligheid.

Ons slaan tent op tussen die figure. Kleurvolle bedouinmatte word uitgerol en dit word ons tuiste. Buite word vuur gemaak en vleis gebraai. ‘n Jakkals kom nader, Ebrahim gee vir hom water in ‘n bakkie en hy kry die oorskietbeentjies. Hoe oorleef so ‘n dier in hierdie wildernis waar daar nie ‘n boom of ‘n graspol is nie? Nog ‘n wonder van hierdie woestyn.

Met die sonsondergang hardloop ons rond om die kleure vas te vang. Ons drink wyn. Vier die dag. Een van die mooistes in ons lewens.

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After Cairo’s madness, busyness, noise, traffic and dirtiness, the quiet and empty desert was a welcome sight.

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Along the way we passed many trucks transporting camels to Sudan.

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We drove through many poor rural  villages.

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Yes, this is our restaurant…

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We transferred from our luxury bus to 4x4s for the desert trip.

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A typical breakfast of meat, rice, pita bread, soft cheese, olives, peanuts, salad and tea

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A brisk morning walk

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The Bahariya Oasis is a major agricultural centre and produces dates, mangoes, dates and olives. A surprise to us that oases can reach this size.

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The large sand dune known as the Raven Sand Dune which forms part of the Abu Muharrik dune system – the longest in the world

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And a wonderful place to stretch your legs

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The silence was overwhelming.

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Dune riding. And who’s coming stone last?

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About 30 miles south of Bahariya is the Sahra-al-Suda – an area of dozens of black-topped dunes, also known as the black desert.

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We parked at the foot of Sahra-al-Suda and walked to the top.

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We added our black stones to the cairn.

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The dunes of the black desert are ordinary sand dunes that have been covered by the remnants of volcanic eruptions of millions of years ago

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It is so dramatic that one doesn’t know which way to look.

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Gerard took hundreds of photos of the textures of the desert.

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We climbed all the way from the parked 4×4 to the top. Rather a steep climb.

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We stopped for lunch and to our surprise, there was a little pool to cool down in.

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Incredible the amount of water coming from the spring. Crystal clear.

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In spite of lack of swimming costume, Anuta took the plunge in her sarong.

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There are textures wherever you look.

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The traditional Bedouin restaurant with its channels of cold water for cooling patrons’ feet

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Gerard had to capture this lone tree.

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The desert was slowly changing colour.

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An area called Crystal Mountain formed by quartz crystals

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Amazing to think that this was once an ocean

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The dramatic start of the White Desert

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A wider panoramic view

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Ripples in the sand highlighted by the sun

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Entering the White Desert on foot

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Our 4×4 followed down the steep drop to the desert floor.

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Our guide and driver waiting patiently

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The grandeur simply overwhelmed us.

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We collected many desert roses – formed by volcanic eruptions.

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Desert rose collectors

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A fine collection, which had to remain where they belong

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Reaching the desert floor

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The spoor of our brave 4x4s

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We couldn’t wait to get closer to the strange mountain forms.

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Giant mushroom formations near our campsite

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Hard to choose from thousands of photos…

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The sun was sinking over the desert as we approached our spot.

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An unearthly beauty – surreal

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Time to set up camp

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In the ever-softening light

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The view from our campsite was so calm and peaceful.

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The white sentinels presented themselves in the evening light.

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You become one with the desert wilderness

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Popular formations which the locals have names for their resemblance to familiar objects

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The one on the right is the chicken rock

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As the sun dipped lower, the colours changed

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We stood in awe around us.

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Sundowners – with wine from the black market

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The “cupcakes”

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A dream come true to experience a sunset in the desert

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Early morning walk amongst all the fox spoor

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The guide and driver erected our boma and two tents in super quick time.

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“Our” fox come for water and a snack

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Instant Bedouin boma (open top) attached to the side of our 4×4. it became bitterly cold.

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The road back to Cairo. A black serpent through magical landscapes

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Switzerland in sickness and in health/…in siekte en in gesondheid

Scroll down for Afrikaans and photos

“No journey is ever completed. It endures forever in your head.” That is my response following on Joan Hambidge’s critique of my travelogue, Hier gaat ons! Reise en rampe, in which she makes much of the fact that the book contains incomplete journeys with serpentinas.

I haven’t found the time to write about the last routes of the 2019 travels. For the sake of completeness I am doing that here, because they still endure in my head.

After the last meal in Bannio Anzino with our beloved Minetti family, I had barely fallen asleep when I awoke with a torn oesophagus, diaphragm, liver, spleen or something. I didn’t know how we would cross the Simplon Pass into Switzerland the following morning. We had to stop every now and then so that I could hang over the railing … and couldn’t take in the majesty of the pass. (Later, back in South Africa, I had to undergo an emergency operation – that had been the first gall bladder episode.)

Near Zermatt we left Silver and Blue in a parking garage and Beatrix would meet us at the station. I started to panic that I wouldn’t be able to attend the play that evening in which she played a role. After an afternoon nap with the Matterhorn framed like a postcard in the bedroom window, I felt just fine and we could travel half way up the mountain and attend our second open air production at the foot of the Matterhorn. At an altitude of 2600m!

Ladies only is an intresting and very good dramatisation of the story of the first woman to ascend the Matterhorn in 1871:

On 22 July 1871, at a time when female mountain climbers are frowned upon and dismissed as insignificant, Englishwoman Lucy Walker (played by Corinne Thalmann), wearing a long, white woollen dress, becomes the first woman in the world to stand on the summit of the Matterhorn. This incredible success makes her an overnight sensation in England, not least because of the scandal triggered by her actions: Lucy Walker is a noblewoman, and in aristocratic circles, working and sport are not just frowned upon for women, they are practically banned. Lucy ignores this and sets out on her own path – onwards and upwards.

After a day or three enjoying Zermatt it was a ride of only an hour or so to picturesque Törbel. The mountain road wound up and up to the Afrikaans writer Isa-Lotte Konrad and her husband Christ Walton’s holiday home where they opened their house and hearts to us. It was a treat, especially for Chris, to socialise in Afrikaans. He is a Brit and was previously the head of music at the University of Pretoria – he speaks Afrikaans fluently. We stayed in the tasteful ground floor flat of their wooden house dating from 1647.

The days were magical with long walks along mountain paths with breathtaking valleys and mountain peaks constantly about and below us. My heart was still broken over my malfunctioning camera and I attempted to rather memorise the beauty. The primitive old cellphone did service as an addendum to my memory. Chris is an excellent cook and we had a braai, enjoyed traditional dishes, and every evening began with a gin and tonic. The conversation was stimulating and it felt like leaving family behind on the morning that we departed with heavy hearts.

I have written before about the feared, popular but enchanting Grimsel (2164m) and Furka (2436m) passes when we were overtaken by cold, mist and rain on those dangerous passes. But this time it was a crystal sky. First we rode to the top of the Grimsel Pass by way of one serpentina after another and then back down again along that twisting road to one of the most majestic valleys and right down to the Rhône River. From there we slowly ascended the Furka Pass, stopping every now and then, until we reached the iconic Furka Hospisz building (which featured in some Goldfinger) before we crossed the peak and began descending. Slow, dangerous and overwhelming.

We have cruised on the Vierwaldstettersee on a number of occasions and it was a dream to ride along the road again after 40 years. But everything has changed. The road all along the lake is now a highway with no stopping places. We ended up in a crush of heavy trucks, fast cars and no shoulder to stop and come to our senses.

A little frazzled after so many contrasts and experiences on one day, we reached Paul and Rita Keth that afternoon – Anuta’s nephew who lives in a wonderful airy and spacious flat in Lucern. This is where Paul makes boerewors, drinks South African wine and where they entertain their wonderful friends with great hospitality. The few days with them was one long chat and sojourn on their wide balcony with friends who came bearing only the best wines and champagne to visit with the rather odd and unusual oldish uncle and aunt who had come visiting!

Postscript: One day we were to meet Paul in Lucern just to spend some time lazing about. He said that there is a bus every eight and a half minutes. We didn’t wait for long at the bus stop and the bus arrived. We boarded and it departed. Somewhere the bus stopped and the female driver checked her watch. After twenty seconds she pulled away again. The bus would have arrived twenty seconds too early at the next stop…

That is Switzerland. Perfection. In all respects.

Oor vele berge in siekte en gesondheid.

 “Geen reis word ooit voltooi nie. Dit duur vir ewig voort in jou kop.” Dit is my antwoord na aanleiding van Joan Hambidge se resensie oor my reisboek Hier gaat ons! Reise en rampe, waar sy nogal nogal iets daarvan maak dat daar onvoltooide reise met serpentina’s in die boek is.

Ek het nie tyd gehad om oor die laaste roetes van die 2019 reis te skryf nie. Om volledigheidshalwe doen ek dit hier, want dit bly in my kop.

Na die laaste ete in Bannio Anzino by ons geliefde Minetti-familie het ek skaars aan die slaap geraak toe ek wakker word met ‘n geskeurde slukderm, diafragma, lewer of milt. Hoe ons die volgende oggend oor die Simplonpas tot in Switzerland gekom het weet ek nie. Ons moes kort-kort stop sodat ek oor die afgrondrelings kon hang… en die grootsheid van die pas kon ek nie inneem nie. (Later, terug in Suid-Afrika moes ek ‘n noodoperasie ondergaan – dit was die eerste galblaasaanval.)

Naby Zermatt het ons vir Silwer en Blou in ‘n parkeerplek gelos en Beatrix het ons by die stasie ingewag. Ek het begin paniekerig raak dat ek nie daardie aand die opvoering waarin sy speel aan die voet van die Matterhorn sou kon bywoon nie. Na ‘n middagslaap, met die Matterhorn soos ‘n poskaart deur haar woonstel se venster, het ek perdfris gevoel en kon ons halfpad bergop reis en ons tweede buitelug opvoering aan die voete van die bekende berg bywoon. Op ‘n hoogte van 2600m!

Ladies only, is ‘n interessante en baie goeie dramatisering van die verhaal van die eerste vrou wat die Matterhorn in 1871 uitgeklim het:

On 22 July 1871, at a time when female mountain climbers are frowned upon and dismissed as insignificant, Englishwoman Lucy Walker (played by Corinne Thalmann), wearing a long, white woollen dress, becomes the first woman in the world to stand on the summit of the Matterhorn. This incredible success makes her an overnight sensation in England, not least because of the scandal triggered by her actions: Lucy Walker is a noblewoman, and in aristocratic circles, working and sport are not just frowned upon for women, they are practically banned. Lucy ignores this and sets out on her own path – onwards and upwards.

Na ‘n dag of drie in Zermatt en lekker rondkuier was dit net ‘n uur of wat se ry tot in die skilderagtige Törbel. Die bergpad het net aanhou opslinger en slinger tot by die Afrikaanse skrywer Isa-Lotte Konrad en haar man Chris Walton se vakansiehuis waar hulle die huis en hulle harte vir ons oopgooi. Dit was veral vir Chris, ‘n Brit en vroeër die hoof van musiek by Universiteit van Pretoria, lekker om op Afrikaans te kuier – wat hy vlot praat. Ons bly in die keurige grondvloer van hulle houthuis van 1647.

Die dae is sprokiesagtig met lang wandelings op bergpaaie met asemrowende valleie en bergpieke heeltyd onder en om ons. My hart breek steeds oor my stukkende kamera en probeer maar die skoonheid memoriseer. Die ou selfoontjie moet maar net as dokumenteerder dien. Chris is ‘n uitstekende kok en ons braai, eet tradisionele geregte, en elke vroegaand word met ‘n jenewer begin. Die gesprekke is stimulerend en dit voel soos familie die oggend toe ons met swaar harte vertrek. (sien video wat Isa gemaak het!)

Ek het al voorheen oor die gevreesde, gewilde, maar betowerende Grimsel- (2164m) en Furkapasse (2436m) geskryf, toe ons deur koue, mis en reën op daardie gevaarlike passe oorval is. Maar nou is dit ‘n skitterhemeldag. Ons het eers met die een serpentina na die ander tot op die Grimselkruin gery en toe weer met die kronkelpad terug met een van die magtigste valleie voor ons tot onder by die Rhônerivier. Daar begin ons stadig met die Furkapas stop-en-ry, stop-en-ry tot by die ikoniese Furkahotel, wat in een of ander Bondmovie was, voor ons die kruin oorsteek en begin neerdaal. Stadig, gevaarlik, en oorweldig.

Ons het al verskeie kere op die Vierwaldstettersee gevaar en dit was ‘n droom om weer die pad na 40 jaar te ry. Maar alles het verander. Die pad al langs die meer is nou ‘n snelweg met geen stilhouplekke nie. Ons was omtrent in ‘n drukgang van swaar vragmotors, vinnige motors en geen skouer om stil te hou en tot verhaal te kom nie.

Ietwat gehawend na soveel kontraste en belewenisse op een dag het ons die middag by Paul en Rita Keth aangekom – Anuta se broerskind wat in Lucern in ‘n heerlike oop en ruim woonstel bly. Dit is waar Paul boerewors maak, hy sy Suid-Afrikaanse wyne drink, en waar hulle met heerlike gasvryheid hulle lekker vriende onthaal. Die paar dae by hulle was een groot gesels en kuier op hulle wye balkon met die vriende wat net die beste wyne en champagne aangedra het vir die ietwat vreemde en ongewone ouerige oom en tante wat kom kuier het!

Naskrif: Eendag sou ons Paul in Lucern ontmoet om sommer net daar te gaan leeglê. Hy sê daar is elke agt en ‘n halfminuut ‘n bus. Ons wag nie lank by die bushalte nie, toe is die bus daar. Ons klim op en dit vertrek. Iewers hou dit stil en die vroubestuurder hou haar horlosie dop. Na twintig sekondes vertrek sy. Die bus sou twintig sekondes te vroeg by die volgende halte aankom.

Dít is Switserland. Perfeksie. In alle opsigte.

Zermatt

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Our welcome at the station

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View of the Matterhorn from the bed where Gerard passed out

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Picnic just before the show

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Our second show at the open air theater at the foot of the Matterhorn

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Zermatt – a shopper’s paradise

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Choices! Choices!

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And of course a fondue with Beatrix

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The Matter Vispa, which is the dominant stream in Zermatt

Törbel (1500 m)  – 29km from Zermatt

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The picturesque Törbel awaits us for a couple of days.

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The view from our living room

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A date is carved on one of the beams, even before Jan van Riebeeck landed in the Cape of Good Hope – 1647!

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Soft light glimmers on the old leather of the bureau.

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Chris and Isa-Lotte paid a lot of attention to detail in the interior.

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The living room of our apartment

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Every meal was a feast.

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Chris besig om in Afrikaans te braai!

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Törbel overlooking the Visp Valley towards Zermatt

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The St. Theodul RCC (est 1642) was rebuilt in 1962.

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On some Sundays Chris is the organist.

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Striking stained glass window gives the interior a heavenly light.

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Next door to the Watson’s house is a museum and one could spend hours there. It was their neigbour’s gift to the village.

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Walking. Exploring. Conversations. Slimpraatjies.

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An old ghost village

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And of course, what is a Swiss garden without a gnome… His name is Seppl with a crystal in his hand.

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Ol’ blue eyes

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The old village is a photographer’s dream. All the textures.

Die Moosalp
Gerard went by scooter and the rest by bus to the Moosalp (2048 m) – a high mountain pass acroos the western Pennine Alps and connecting Bürchen with Törbel in the canton of Valais. A place of exceptional beauty with breathtakingly views.

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Walking through pine forests and hearing the bells of a thousand cows…

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Alpine sun

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One of the most beautiful views ever seen

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There is a little chapel in paradise.

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And then, on a beautiful crisp morning, it was sad to leave wonderful people and a wonderful place.

The beauty of the Rhône Valley again

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For kilometers and kilometers we travelled past quaint villages and open fields of the Rhône Valley.

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A lazy picnic spot

Grimsel Pass (2164m) with 7 serpentinas

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This time we did the Grimsel in brilliant weather. It is majestic, with wide vistas. The Rhône River like a green snake. On the opposite side is the winding Furka, waiting.

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One of the seven sharp serpentinas

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Like a winding serpent

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We stopped to enjoy the views and to stetch our legs – at 2164 m.

Furka Pass 2429 m

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The Furka Pass between Gletsch and Andermatt in the Swiss Alps has a long history since the 14th century. But the real fame for the alpine pass on 2341 meters / 7680 ft above sea level came only in 1964 when Sean Connery chased over the Furka in his Aston Martin DB5 as James Bond. No wonder scenes of the 007 Goldfinger movie were shot here, the Furka is one of the most impressive Alpine crossings in Switzerland, if not the world. Of course today most of the pass is paved and only a few stretches of cobblestone remind us what it was like to cross the Alps hundred years ago.  Photo: copyright: epicdrives

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Driving down the pass you will spot some of the points that Goldfinger’s Rolls Royce and James Bond in his Aston Martin DB5 drive by during the movie scene on the Furka. The most iconic is the Furka Hospiz building next to the entrance to the Rhone Glacier. No way you can miss that spot.

Coming in via the Grimsel Pass watch out for a boulder with the inscription “Kil 47″on the right-hand side of the Furka Pass. On exact the same location stands also James Bond in the movie when Tilly is trying to shoot Goldfinger and the bullets nearly hits him from the back. Looking down you will notice a small parking space next to a river on the road-side. The Rolls Royce was parked here when Oddjob and Goldfinger bought apples from the kids.

Driving further down you will approach the picturesque village of Realp, once you leave the village take a look back and you see the view you have in the movie. What comes next will look very familiar, not only to Bond fans. The road behind Realp with railroad tracks on the right-hand side. This is where Bond ‘ditched’ Tilly Masterson by shredding the tires of her Mustang pretending he doesn’t know how this could have happened.Enter a caption. Copyright: epicdrives

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Two years ago we did this dangerous pass twice in one day in rain and mist – we had to turn back.

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Don’t get too close!

In Lucern with Paul and Rita Keth

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Paul is Anuta’s brother Michael’s eldest. Rita is his lovely Hungarian wife.

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We are welcomed with a Chateauneuf-du-Pape wine. It has always been a dream to drink one of the southern Rhône wines from this appelation.

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And alongside a Barolo wine from Montalcino! We felt like kings.

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More and more of the best wines were opened during meals.

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And then Thomas arrived with one of the best champagnes. He just popped the cork, like a real Frenchman..

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More and more friends from different continents came to meet the odd part of the family.

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Paul makes his own boerewors (a traditional SA farmer’s sausage) with spices from home.

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Pleased with himself.

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Always a happy young crowd around.

A day in Lucern

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Of course…

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Of course as well…

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And off course a princess on the bridge as well…

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A lazy afternoon at the Vierwaldstettersee

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More friends came to meet us.

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With blonde beer

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One of the restaurant’s patrons fell in love with Anuta. Could you blame him?

Stansenhorn

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On a Sunday we went up to the Stansenhorn

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What a James Bond view

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To stand on this glass platform is nogal nerve-wracking.

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Lunch and wine

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Who else …

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Swiss precision again: Beatrix posted Gerard’s gilet in Zermatt and a couple of hours later it was delivered by hand.

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Metz in France: When we always stop under this tree for lunch we know that we will be back home in Belgium the following day. Then we buy a baguette, rillette, goat’s milk cheese and tomatoes for the last lunch.

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Metz, always from afar and in a hurry… Then we know another dream has come true.

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In the Ossala: Regardless of bells chiming every hour/Ongeag of ek is, of nie is nie.

Scroll down for Afrikaans and photo’s

How could one sleep after a day filled with beauty? The incomparable natural beauty with mountains, rivers and valleys, ancient villages with their churches, ringing bells, rich culture and history of the Ossala region in Italy is overwhelming.

This was our second visit to the Minetti family in their airbnb in Bannio Anzino – in an old traditional house in the stone village. (See previous blog: Festa Polenta) Matteo maintained contact and we simply had to return to the Minetti family with their Italian warmth and hospitality. (And in the process we followed Matteo’s career as actor, director, musician and impressario – a young, energetic operator).

After a delicious breakfast with Matteo and his mother, Maria-Paola, we started off to the pearl of all the Italian lakes, Lago d’Orta. The 30km mountain road from their home high in the mountains to “civilisation” remains an experience with the winding road running above the twisting clear green river, forests and other mountain villages.

Lago d’Orta lies near Lago Maggiore. Just as with the other lakes it lies at the foot of mountains and forests. But this one, the pearl, also known as La Cenerentola, is much smaller, more intimate and with an unassuming beauty that trumps Como, Maggiore and the other lakes. Here there are no traffic jams and crowded boulevards. The peacefulness, mountains and silence keep everything in balance here.

Sacro Monte d’Orta is our first stop – a sacred mountain above the lake with its 20 little chapels dating from the early 1600s. Three dimensional figures present tableaux depicting the life of the holy Francis and appear to be moving out of the painted cyclorama walls and you are standing in the midst of the happenings. The morning became a time of silence and contemplation as we walked under lime and chestnut trees from chapel to chapel. We became intensely aware of the pilgrim’s route we were walking through stirring incidents in the life of the saint. Sometimes bells rang and we stopped to listen.

Nearby, through the trees, we could see the little island of Isola San Giulio with its basilica and convent where 70 nuns live in isolation and are never allowed to leave the island. It looks like a tiny floating medieval city on water. The tower of the Basilica di San Giulio and the large building of the convent stand over the island like sacred guardians.

Lunch was at a lovely restaurant under trees at the water’s edge. We had traditional regional risotto with shrimps and flavoured with mint. A few days before we had actually ridden through the rice paddies of Piedmont where these large round grains are farmed. Matteo’s knowledge is impressive. We listened to folklore, history, culture and more.

A small wooden boat took us to the island. Matteo is an old acquaintance and every few metres we ran into priests he knew – dressed in their long, elegant cassocks – and he chatted to them before continuing.

We first walked the Via del Silenzio – Route of Silence and Contemplation. It is a street running between the buildings with notice boards that compel you to become quiet and think.

Listen to the silence
Listen to the water, the wind, your footsteps
Silence is the language of love
Silence is music and harmony

Matteo told us more about the life of the nuns on the island – a life of total dedication and fulfillment. The cemetery on the island is already full and the only way to leave the island is after death. Then the remains’ short voyage across to the medieval harbour village of Orta San Giulio with its atmospheric narrow streets, that has enchanted writers and poets for centuries. A rather gripping thought, the body of a nun on a boat that leaves the island and crosses over the water to the other world she once left behind.

Between the buildings, and also from the restaurant where we drank coffee, lies the mainland with its architecture and mountains like a mystical vision on the other side of the lake.

We had to wait for an hour or so to meet one of the nuns, an acquaintance of Matteo’s. We utilised the time to visit the basilika. Again Matteo pointed out the details like a well-informed guide. There is an impressive 15th Century fresco painted by the renaissance painter Gaudenzio Ferrari. A beautiful marble pulpit from the 12th Century and the bell tower built in the 11th Century. According to a centuries old legend the church was established by San Giulio after he had driven out the many snakes on the island.

At last sister Lucia could receive us after the midday prayers. A cheerful and enthusiastic woman overflowing with love and affection. She heads up the most important source of income for the convent, the restoration of priceless fabrics like antique altar cloths and vestments. She explained in detail how scientifically they approach their work of treating the fabrics and Matteo told us that they are considered to be the best restorers in Italy. But, we were not allowed to visit the laboratories where they work. She was also very excited about the election of the new mother superior after the recent death of the previous one.

On taking our leave after the visit she embraced me out of the blue and I received two cheek kisses. I said no, I usually do it with four kisses. And I embraced her and gave her two more. And there, in the sacred convent, in the presence of old dark heavy furniture, and light falling through the windows, sister Lucia jumped up and down and called out laughingly: Quatro! Quatro! The lovely nun with the smiling open face.

Satisfied, we sailed back to Orta San Giulio with its convivial Piazza Motta and I wished I could see it in autumn, or even in winter. We lost tack. Didn’t really want to leave the place. I took one last photo of the Palazzotto.

We had to return to Bannio Anzino along the mountain road. Fortunately there was a bus ahead of us and Matteo couldn’t drive back like an Italian racing driver – another of his talents.

After a brief rest we were back on the road. I was afraid of the bends by car further up the valley to Macugnaca where we were to spend the evening. I rode the 25km alone and sedately on Silver, through more old villages with their old churches. Past residents sitting outside in the early evening coolness. To the foot of Monte Rosa (4634m and the second highest Alpine peak after Mont Blanc) – the highest peak in the Italian Alps and part of the massif which forms the border between the Swiss Valais and the Pennine Alps. It’s an overwhelming feeling standing below the mountain with mist swirling about the heights and the peaks peeping through every now and then.

Matteo and his collaborator, Adriano from Domodossola,  had to test the piano and the organ in the big church in Macugnaga for a performance of Rossini’s Petite messe solennelle which was to take place on the Sunday evening – and which we would sadly miss. At one stage Matteo also took his place behind the large organ. The rich range of sound bounced off the old walls and echoed past the ornamental paintings and sculptures onwards to an outer space. We just sat and listened. Allowed the beauty of the sounds to transport us as well.

After a pizza supper in a local restaurant it was just Silver and I in the moonlight back to Bannio Anzino. Slowly. It became a magical night. I stopped periodically to look and listen. Far below me was the rushing of the river. Above me was an ink blue night and mist rolling over the peaks. Then there was the call of a night bird. A rustling as a small creature scurried away. I rode slowly onwards. Past the light falling through windows. Across the squares of the villages with their fountains that run day and night. Later up the sharp and dark tornantes winding upwards through the forest to where we were staying. Then I stuck out my leg to maintain my balance.

Irrespective of whether I am or am not. Regardless of bells chiming every hour of this day. Regardless of the island floating on water. Regardless of the saintly Francis. Regardless of sister Lucia’s bright eyes and bubbly laugh. Regardless of the organ sounds still floating through the furthest outer regions. Regardless of this night, regardless of everything … this day, one of the loveliest in my life, keeps rolling over and through me. And I know, nevertheless, that I am.

Read more about Bannio Anzino and our previous visit: https://gerardscholtz.wordpress.com/2017/07/23/festa-polenta-in-anzino/

Ongeag of ek is, of nie is nie.

Hoe kon ‘n mens slaap na ‘n dag vol skoonheid? Die ongekende natuurskoon met berge, riviere en valleie, klipoue dorpies met hulle kerke, klokke wat lui, die ryk kultuur en geskiedenis van die Ossala-streek van Italië is oorrompelend.

Dit is ons tweede besoek aan die Minetti-familie in hulle airbnb in Bannio Anzino – in ‘n ou tradisionele huis in die klipdorpie. (Sien vorige blog: Festa Polenta) Matteo het kontak gehou en ons moes net eenvoudig terug na die Minetti-familie met hulle Italiaanse hartlikheid en gasvryheid. (En in die proses het ons Matteo se loopbaan as akteur, regisseur, musikant en impressario gevolg – ‘n jong energieke operator).

Ons het na ‘n heerlike onbyt met Matteo en sy ma, Maria-Paola, in die pad geval na die pêrel van al die Italiaanse mere, Lago d’Orta. Die 30 kilometer lange bergpad van hulle huis hoog in die berge tot in die ‘beskawing’ bly ‘n belewenis met die slingerpad al bokant die kronkelende heldergroen rivier, woude en ander bergdorpies.

Lago d’ Orta lê naby Lago Maggiore. Net soos die ander mere lê dit aan die voet van berge en woude. Maar hierdie een, die pêrel, of ook La Cenerentola, is baie kleiner, intiemer en met ‘n beskeie skoonheid wat Como, Maggiore en die ander mere oortref. Hier is geen verkeerverstoppings en oorvolle boulevards nie. Die rustigheid, berge en stilte hou alles hier in balans.

Sacro Monte d’Orta wag eerste op ons – ‘n heilige berg bokant die meer met sy 20 kappelletjies van die vroeë 1600’s. Driedimensionele beelde in tablo’s beeld die lewe van die heilige Franciskus uit en dit lyk asof hulle lewendig uit die beskilderde sikloramamure stap en jy te midde van al die gebeure staan. Die oggend word ‘n tyd van stilte en oordenking soos ons onder linde- en kastaiingbome van kapel tot kapel stap. Ons is ook diep onder die indruk van die pelgrimsroete wat ons deur aangrypende insidente uit die lewe van die heilige stap. Soms lui daar klokke, dan staan ons stil en luister.

Naby ons, deur die bome, sien ons die eilandjie Isola San Giulio met sy basilika en klooster waar daar 70 nonne in afsondering woon en nooit die eiland mag verlaat nie. Dit lyk soos ‘n klein drywende middeleeuse stadjie op water. Die toring van die Basilica di San Giulio en die groot gebou van die klooster troon oor die eiland soos heilige bewakers.

Middagete is by ‘n lieflike restourant onder bome aan die water. Ons eet tradisionele streeksrisotto met garnale en met kruisement gegeur. ‘n Paar dae gelede het ons juis deur die rysvelde van Piedmont gery waar die groot ronde ryskorrels gekweek word. Matteo se kennis is indrukwekkend. Ons luister na folklore, geskiedenis, kultuur, noem maar op.

‘n Klein houtbootjie neem ons na die eiland. Matteo is ‘n ou bekende en dit is asof hy elke paar tree priesters in hulle lang en deftige soutanes raakloop en eers ‘n geselsie aanknoop.

Ons stap eers die Via del Silenzio – Roete van Stilte en Oordenking. Dit is ‘n pad deur die geboue met borde wat hang en jou tot stilte en oordenking dwing.

Listen to the silence
Listen to the water, the wind, your footsteps
Silence is the language of love
Silence is music and harmony

Matteo vertel ons meer omtrent die lewe van die nonne op die eiland – ‘n lewe van totale toewyding en vervulling. Die begraafplaas op die eiland is alreeds vol en die enigste manier om die eiland te verlaat is na hulle dood. Dan die oorskot se kort bootrit tot in die middeleeuse hawedorpie, Orta San Giulio, met sy sfeervolle smal straatjies wat skrywers en digters al eeue lank betower. Nogal ‘n aangrypende gedagte, die oorskot van ‘n non op ‘n boot wat die eiland verlaat en die water oorsteek na die ander wêreld wat sy eens agtergelaat het.

Deur die geboue, en ook vanaf die restourant waar ons koffie drink, lê die vasteland met sy argitektuur en berge soos ‘n mistieke vergesig aan die oorkant van die meer.

Ons moet ‘n uur of wat wag om een van die nonne, ‘n kennis van Matteo, te ontmoet. Ons gebruik die tyd om die basilika te besoek. Weer wys Matteo die detail uit soos ‘n goed ingeligte toergids. Daar is ‘n indrukwekkende 15de eeuse fresco wat deur die renaissanceskilder Gaudenzio Ferrari geskilder is. ‘n Pragtige marmerpreekstoel van die 12de eeue en die kloktoring is in die 11de eeu gebou. Volgens ‘n eeue oue legende is die kerk deur San Giulio gestig nadat hy die talryke slange op die eiland verjaag het.

Uiteindelik kan suster Lucia ons te woord staan na die middagoordenking. ‘n Vrolike en entoesiastiese mens wat oorloop van liefde en geneëntheid. Sy staan aan die hoof van die belangrikste bron van inkomste van die klooster, die restourasie van kosbare materiaal soos antieke kanselklede en bekleedsels. Sy verduidelik in detail hoe wetenskaplik hulle te werk moet gaan met die behandeling van die materiale en word hulle as die beste restoureerders in Italië beskou. Ons mag egter nie die laboratoriums waar hulle werk besoek nie. Sy is ook baie opgewonde oor die nuwe moederowerste wat pas aangewys is na die afsterwe van die vorige.

Toe ons na die kuier groet gryp sy my uit die bloute en kry ek en twee wangkusse. Ek sê toe nee, ek doen dit gewoonlik met vier kusse. En gryp ek haar en gee haar nog twee kusse. En daar, in die heilige klooster, in die teenwoordigheid van swaar ou en donker meubels, en lig wat deur die vensters val, spring suster Lucia op en af en roep sy laggend uit: Quatro! Quatro! Die mooi non met die laggende oop gesig.

Dit is met genoegdoening dat ons terugvaar na Orta San Giulio met sy gesellige Piazza Motta en ek wens ek kan sien hoe lyk dit in die herfs, of selfs in die winter. Ons kry nie rigting nie. Wil nie eintlik die plek verlaat nie. Ek neem vir oulaas ‘n foto van die Palazzotto.

Ons moet terug na Bannio Anzino met die bergpad. Gelukkig is daar ‘n bus voor ons in die bergpad en kan Matteo nie soos ‘n Italiaanse resiesjaer terug jaag nie. Na ‘n kort rustyd is ons weer in die pad.

Ek is bang vir die draaie per motor verder op in die vallei na Macugnaga waar ons die aand moet wees. Ek ry toe alleen en rustig met Silwer die 25 kilometer deur dorpies met ou kerke. Verby inwoners wat buite in die vroegaandkoelte buite sit. Tot aan die voet van Monte Rosa (4634m en tweede hoogste Alpepiek naas Mont Blanc) – die hoogste piek in die Italiaanse Alpe en deel is van die massief wat die grens tussen die Switzerse Valais en die Penniniese Alpe vorm. Dit is ‘n oorweldigende gevoel om so onder die berg te staan met mis wat in die hoogtes rol en kort-kort die pieke laat uitsteek.

Matteo en sy vennoot moet die orrel en die klavier van die groot kerk in Macugnaga toets vir Rossini se Petite messe solennelle wat die Sondagaand daar uitgevoer gaan word – en wat ons jammerlik gaan mis. Op ‘n stadium skuif Matteo ook agter die groot orrel in. Die magtige kleurryke klanke slaan teen die ou mure vas en eggo verby die sierlike skilderye en beelde na ‘n buitenste ruimte. Ons sit net en luister. Laat die skoonheid van die klanke ons ook wegvoer.

Na ‘n pizza-ete in ‘n plaaslike restourant is dit ek en Silwer in die maanlig terug na Bannio Anzino. Stadig. Dit word ‘n towernag. Ek hou kort-kort stil om te kyk en te luister. Ver onder my is die gedruis van die rivier. Bokant my is ‘n inkblounag en mis wat oor die pieke rol. Dan is daar ‘n nagvoël se fluit. ‘n Ritseling as ‘n diertjie wegskarrel. Ek ry stadig verder. Verby lig wat deur vensters skyn. Oor die pleine van die dorpies met hulle fonteine wat dag en nag spuit. Later die skerp en donker serpentinas wat deur die woud opkrul na bo waar ons bly. Dan steek ek my been uit om balans te hou.

Ongeag of ek is, of nie is nie. Ongeag van klokke wat elke uur van hierdie dag afgelui het. Ongeag van die eiland wat op water dryf. Ongeag van die heilige Franciskus. Ongeag van suster Lucia se helder oë en borrelende lag. Ongeag van die orrelklanke wat steeds deur die verste buitenste ruimte trek. Ongeag van hierdie nag, ongeag alles… rol hierdie dag, een van die mooistes in my lewe, aanmekaar oor en deur my. En weet ek tog, ek is.

Lees meer oor Bannio Anzino en ons vorige besoek:
https://gerardscholtz.wordpress.com/2017/07/23/festa-polenta-in-anzino/

Bannio Anzino

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The Loce River runs through the Ossola Valley. During WW11 it was the seat of a small partisan republic. It lasted only 40 days.

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One of the mountain villages on our way to Bannio Anzino

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The familiar alley leading up to Casa Quaroni

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We were accommodated in the Minettis’ guest house Casa Quaroni. A renovated very old Ossala stone and wood house dating from 1641 in which the last of the illustrious Quaroni descendants lived till recently. Everything five star quality. The bed was made up with the most beautiful old linen and one couldn’t resist the luxury of the linen between your fingers.

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Visits to the Minettis in the tiny village of Anzino in Ossala became the culmination of our Italian visits. Mountains, medieval villages, bells, rivers, wonderful food, stone streets, churches, history, saints, sincere joyfulness, unpretentious warm-hearted people… All under the watchful eye of a Mother Mary and the village’s patron saint, Anthony of Padua.

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Today there are only 60 inhabitants remaining who live in ancient stone and wood houses, with the odd villas in between which lend a little colour.

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Meet the Minetti Family

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“Welcome those who see, bless those who go.”

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An exceptional Italian family from the Ossala: Antonio who sees to only the best wines from Italy, Maria-Paula sees to to the best Italian food (we had a nother Festa Polenta cooked over an open fire), her sister Clara who came all the way from Novara to see us, and Matteo who took the photo.

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Some more family came. Uncle Natale (Nino) who is a doctor in San Remo, and cousin Nicolò from Amsterdam – where he is busy with a PhD in Latin. (on the use of Latin in Fascist Italy)

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A happy family!

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Don Stefano, Matteo’s best friend, came to meet us.

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Interesting conversations with the Don. And a lot of laughter.

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Everybody knows everybody in town. The man in the black t-shirt was Liz Taylor’s chef in Gstaad. He says she was a wonderful person.

Sacro Monte d’Orta

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The morning became a time of silence and contemplation as we walked under lime and chestnut trees from chapel to chapel. We became intensely aware of the pilgrim’s route we were walking through stirring incidents in the life of Saint Francis of Assisi. Sometimes bells rang and we stopped to listen.

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These three-dimensional figures present tableaux depicting the life of the holy Francis and appear to be moving out of the painted cyclorama walls and you are standing in the midst of the happenings. The ordination of St Claire depicted here.

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Suddenly, a chariot of fire and horses appear and Elijah is swept up in a whirlwind. As Elijah is lifted up, his mantle falls to the ground and Elisha picks it up.

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Good example of the figures walking out of the syclorama – which gives it the three dimentional feel.

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Victory over the temptation of St Francis

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The wrought iron was made in 1653 by Pietro Ponti of Pettenasco.

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Isola San Giulio floats on the water.

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Good company, food and wine, and a view to die for.

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Risotto with shrimps and a bit of mint

Orta San Giulio

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In the narrow streets down to the harbour.

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Washed in earthy colours.

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The beautiful Piazza Motta surrounded by old buildings, trees, and the harbour. Wish I could see it in winter.

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What could be more Italian?

Isola San Giulio – aka the Island of Silence

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We went to the island on one of these small boats.

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The entrance from the harbour to the monastery

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There is only one alley between the buildings. It is called La via del silenzio.

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There are various notice boards along the Via encouraging contemplation.

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and oleanders in flower

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The harbour

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What is the boatsman dreaming?

Macugnaga

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For a moment I could see Monte Rosa (4634m and the second highest Alpine peak after Mont Blanc) – the highest peak in the Italian Alps and part of the massif which forms the border between the Swiss Valais and the Pennine Alps.

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I stopped and looked and looked. Mountains, forests and rivers enchanted me.

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Macugnaga lies at the foot of Mont Rosa.

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Chiesa Parrochia di Macugnaga

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Inside the sober building, pure baroque

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Impressive paintings. Can’t remember who the panter is, but Matteo knows it all.

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Very old benches

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Baroque. Baroque.

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Matteo plays the organ

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Anuta listens in awe.

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The organist

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Real edelweis

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The town square

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Mist and clouds roll over Monte Rosa – mesmerising.

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A unique WWI monument in one of the villages

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It became a magical night. I stopped periodically to look and listen. Far below me was the rushing of the river. Above me was an ink blue night and mist rolling over the peaks. Then there was the call of a night bird. A rustling as a small creature scurried away. I rode slowly onwards.

Featured

Blou breek in die berge – an Italian opera in six acts

Scroll down for English and photos

Overture

Terugflits: Hulle wou die roete net weer eenkeer in hulle lewens ry, want 10 jaar gelede ry hulle dit van die Franse kant af oor na Italië. Toe hulle destyds oor die kruin (1996m) kom om met die 20 tornantes af te daal, kom die donkerste wolke en blitse en ‘n gordyn van reën en rol dadelik oor hulle. Blitse kartets. Emmers water val uit die lug. Daar is geen skuiling, want hulle is bokant die boomlyn. Hulle kan niks voor hulle sien nie en voel-voel die pad om elke gevaarlike tornante na onder. Net een verkeerde oordeel, en hulle val teen ‘n afgrond af…

Bedryf 1

Groot Gee en Anuta staan met gesange in hulle harte op in Boves se Garibaldiplein waar hulle ‘n woonstel huur wat op die plein uitkyk. Op daardie Maandagoggend ry hulle met Silwer en Blou na die Colle de Maddalena met sy 20 gevaarlike tornantes – so 80 kilometer ver in Frankryk se rigting. By tornante nr. 20, ja, hulle word genommer, hou hulle stil om terug te kyk na die vreeslike kurktrekkerdraai waarmee hulle pas die hoogtes tot amper op 2000 meter uitgeklim het – dubbel so hoog as Tafelberg.

Hulle begin die pas klim. Dit is toe dat hulle by tornante nr. 20 stop. Bekyk die draaie en swaaie onder hulle en kan nie glo wat hulle in helder sonskyn onder hulle sien lê nie. Die pad krul bergaf soos ‘n lang gekronkelde slang in pyn. Nou nog net die laaste twee kilometer na die kruin. Daar piekniek en omdraai.

Bedryf 2

Hulle klim op die skoeters. Blou wil niks weet nie. Daar is net ‘n tiktiktik… wat ‘n pap battery beteken. Verstaan dit nie. Dis ‘n nuwerige battery. Blou het wel ‘n hik of twee vroeëer die oggend gegee en het Anuta gedink dit is ‘n vuiligheid in die gasoline. Die batterykabels word uitgepluk en toe is dit ‘n hele operasie om by die batterye te kom, dit te koppel, en Anuta glo aan kliphard revvvvv… Blou vat, maar vrek dadelik weer.

Daar is groot fout. Groot fout en hulle sit op die kaaltes van die Maddalenapas met Boves 80km ver. En die ergste, dis Maandag. Geen ordentlike Italianer werk op ‘n Maandag nie. Maar wat, hulle los Blou net eers daar en ry tot by die Colle, neem ‘n foto en hou net daar piekniek by die gletsermeer. Miskien wanneer hulle terug is by Blou sal die engele en die gesange in hulle harte die probleem oplos.

Maar nee, niks. Non. No. Nein. Enigste genade is dat Groot Gee op Blou moet klim en die tornantes se afdraendes glyend en swewend aandurf en sien wat gebeur. Vir seker 25 kilometer gly hy die steiltes met die dooie enjin af tot by die eerste gelykte en toe ‘n effense opdraend. Blou gaan stil stil soos ‘n steeks donkie. Al genade is om in daardie daardie hitte vir Blou te begin stoot tot daar weer ‘n afdraend is. Hy stoot en sweet galonne tot hy weer verder kan afgly.

Maar hy weet daar wag ‘n 850m lange tonnel verder aan op ‘n gelykte. Sien nie kans om Blou deur die tonnel te stoot nie en stop voor die tonnel. Drink ‘n bottel water leeg. Batterykabels uit. Revvvvv. En daar vat Blou en jaag hy deur die tonnel.

Daar wag ook drie dorpies met eenrigting verkeer wat met robotte gereguleer word. Hy begin paniek. As hy by ‘n rooi verkeerslig moet stop kry vrek Blou en is dit weer die hele operasie van vooraf. Masjiene oopmaak, batterye uithaal, charge, en hoop dit vat. Maar hulle kawalkade van vrolike engele is met hulle. As hy so naderkom, by al drie dorpies, dan slaan die lig oor na groen. Soos op bevel. Drie keer. Toe hulle die lang reguit vlaktes vat, vrek Blou weer.

Dis warm. Hulle sweet. Hulle paniek. Hulle is spyt dat hulle daardie oggend in so ‘n goeie bui opgestaan het. Charge weer. Anuta neem Blou oor by Groot Gee oor omdat sy vinniger kan jaag. Jy sien net haar helmet wip-wip en sy vat hier en daar grond. En so jaag hulle tot in die buurdorp, Borgo san Dalmazzo. Op die groot plein vrek Blou weer. In die son. In die hitte. Hulle hang aan hul seningvleise..

Bedryf 3

Hulle staan verwese op die dorpsplein. Ontwater. Deur die son verbrand. Verdwaas. Hulpeloos. Groot Gee gaan soek hulp. Nie een van die manne in hulle vests wat by die kroeg sit verstaan hom nie. Sy Italiaanse woordeskat bestaan wel uit buongiorno, moto, rotto, meccanico, pronto en arrivederci. Hy rammel alles af in ‘n dramatiese aria. Steeds verstaan hulle hom nie.

Hy sien ‘n mooi meisie met ‘n klein rugsakkie wat op haar moto klim. Sy het alreeds haar helmet op. Hy sien die vrees in haar oge toe die groot, natgeswete, vreemdeling met sy sandals en sokkies op haar afpeil. Maar sy versag toe sy sien die man soek hulp. Al wat hy toe deur sy uitgedroogde keel kan kry is: Moto meccanico! Sy wys met haar vinger daar is een aan die oorkant van die plein, maar dis gesluit. Dis Maandag. Maak miskien eers Dinsdag oop.

Groot Gee gaan haal vir Blou. Stoot haar oor die plein met die warm klippe, want sy gaan daar oornag. Vasgeketting voor die deur van die motowinkel. ‘n Vriendelike Italiaanse man staan nader.

Beide mans pluk Google Translate uit. Die onbekende man maak ‘n paar oproepe. Intussen het Anuta, wat teen daardie tyd soos ‘n uitgedroogde harder lyk nadergekom met Silwer. Sy neem oor – het mos Latyn in matriek gehad. Daar ís ‘n ander skoeterwinkel in die dorp. Kry die adres en hulle spring op Silwer en gaan soek.

Dis amper ‘n kilometer verder met ‘n effense opdraand. Klomp moto’s staan voor die meccanico se deur geparkeer. Dit lyk na besigheid. Klop aan sy deur. Niks. Langsaan is ‘n donker restourant. Groot Gee gaan deur die vlieëgordyn en begin roep. Dis toe dat ‘n maer ou vroutjie hom bevlieg en beginne skreeu en jaag hom skreeuend en jillend met ‘n geswaai van arms by haar restourant uit…

Bedryf 4

Druipstert verlaat Groot Gee die vieslike ou vrou se restourant. Hy sweer dit was vuil ook. Verstaan ook hoekom dit leeg is. Intussen het Anuta die meccanico opgespoor en staan hy daar met bril met modieuse raam en ‘n middeljarige gladde vel. Groot Gee trek los in nòg ‘n Italiaanse aria: Buongiorno. Due pomodori per favore. Una pane. Due caffè con latte caldo. Quanto costa? Vai merda. Carta o contanti …

Die meccanico antwoord in ‘n stortvloed Italiaans. Dis mos wanneer die grondboontjie rewolusie in ‘n mens losbreek. Dis wanneer jy totaal magteloos is. Dis wanneer jy voel jy word ontman en ontmens. Hy praat soos ‘n tsunami. Uiteindelik kom hulle agter hy sê nee, hy werk nie aan Hondas nie, net aan Kymco’s, wat benede hulle is. Hulle weet steeds nie wat met Blou verkeerd is nie. Na ‘n vreeslike gesukkel verstaan hy hulle vra om net die battery te toets.

Hulle moet terug na Blou om haar te ontketting. Toe begin Groot Gee haar stoot. Byna ‘n kilometer ver. Effense opdraend. In daardie middaghitte wat alles verskroei. Op die brandende klippad. Geen skadu’s. Met Anuta wat agter hom op Silwer aanry en aanmekaar vra of hy ok is. Groot Gee raak soos ‘n masjien op hitte. Daar is geen keer aan hom nie. Stop net eenkeer en drink nog ‘n bottel water uit.

Die meccanico toets die battery. Wel pap, maar geen fout nie. Anuta kom in met: Prova il regulatore. Die meccanico antwoord: Il regolatore è rotto. Soos in Vrot. Rotten. Stukkend. Wat nou? Hy haal sy skouers op….

Bedryf 5

Die meccanico kry tweede gedagte. Spring op die telefoon en bel rond en bont op ‘n Maandag. Hy beduie en beduie en al wat hulle verstaan is dat hulle drie dae moet wag. Tre giorni. Giovedi. Donderdag.

Krisis. Hulle kan nie langer op Garibaldiplein aanbly nie. Dit is vir ander gaste bespreek. Los maar vir Blou by die meccanico en sal na tre giorni terugkom.

Terug in Boves gaan sit hulle agter die kroeg se muurtjie waar hulle skelm internet kan kry. Bespreek ‘n woonstel binne stapafstand van daar.

Hulle neem die volgende oggend swaar afskeid van Garibaldiplein en van die tannetjie in die groen blommetjiesrok wat vir Groot Gee so van haar balkon oorkant die plein dophou. Dan staan sy en kyk vir hom waar hy soggens koffie op die balkon drink. Dan sit sy wanneer hy lees, en hou hom dop. Dan stap sy hoek toe om die nuutste doodskennisgewings te lees en om te sien of haar naam nie al opgeplak is nie. As sy tevrede terugstap kyk sy eers op na hom toe. Een oggend maak sy en ‘n ander man die fontein skoon waar die duiwe so mors. Kort-kort kyk sy op.

Hulle trek met drie vragte na ‘n ruim en koel woonstel by ‘n vrolike sangonderwyseres wat dadelik ‘n aria sing. Haar dogter Aurora kom later wat Engels kan praat. Bel die meccanico. Ja, hy kan die onderdeel van Milano kry teen die prys van ‘n retoervlug. Maar wat kan hulle doen? Al hulle vorentoeplanne en afsprake moet geherskeduleer word.

Bedryf 6:

Twee dae later, die Donderdag, bel die meccanico. Hulle moet nóg 5 dae wag. Hulle herskeduleer. Hulle gaan sien hom. Maak dit nog ‘n dag langer. Hulle herskeduleer. Gaan besoek Blou. Daar staan sy. Soos ‘n geraamte. Longe en hart hang uit. Olie afgetap. Buoni notize. Hulle kan haar die volgende dag kry. Maar hulle moet terugtrek Garibaldiplein toe omdat ander gaste in Aurora se airbnb gaan intrek. Die ou tante is steeds daar en Groot Gee knik sy kop vir haar…

Die middag laat gaan haal hulle vir Blou. Splinternuut.

Pas ingetrek gaan staan hulle op hul geliefde Garibaldiplein en hoor harde vrolike musiek wat naderkom. Saam met die musiek kom ‘n ou vervalle prossie aangestap met ‘n babapram. Lang witblond pruik wat tot by haar naeltjie krul. Aviator donkerbril. Skerp ken, lang neus en klein verkrimpe rooi mondjie. In ‘n wit uitgerekte baaibroek wat bollings by die laer ingewandes maak. Hoëhakskoene en die die maer uitgediende lyfie swaai en swaai op daai polfye. Groot Gee kry ‘n glimlag en loer by die pram in. En daar tussen die kombersies is haar blêrende radio half toegedraai. Groot Gee beginne lag. Sy beginne lag en swank verby. Die manne by die kroeg spring op. Asof sy die die Moeder van Garibaldiplein is..

Die laaste oggend word hulle om vyfuur wakker met ‘n flikkering in hulle oë en ‘n groot gerammel. ‘n Middeleeuse donderstorm kom nader. Hulle gaan staan op die balkon en kyk vir die wonder van blitse en weergalmende donder wat aangerol kom tot die reën op hulle begin val. Hulle besluit om in die reën te vertrek, want Bannio Anzino lê 300 kilomter ver weg. Om agtuur toe hulle vertrek hou dit eensklaps op met reën, asof op bevel van die engele. Die bakker kom uit sy winkel en wens hulle ‘n goeie reis toe. Buon viaggio!

Naspel

In die tien dae in Boves sonder Blou ry hulle elke dag met Silwer in ‘n ander vallei op. Die een dramatieser as die ander. Hulle leer ou klipdorpies ken. Ry tot op ongekende hoogtes. Ook op die oorlogspaaie in die berge en besoek ‘n hawe vir wolwe omdat Groot Gee altyd in sy diepste binneste geglo het hy is ‘n wolffluisteraar. Koop kaas by kaasmakers en brood by bakkers en pasta by pastamakers. Vleis by die slagter. Hulle leer die mense ken. Selfs die twee tantes by die naaste kroeg. Hulle word deel van die dorp se ritme. Ook die ritme van die baie klokke wat elke uur aftel. En weet daardie klokke sal altyd in hulle harte bly lui.

Blue’s breakdown in the mountains – an Italian opera in six acts

Overture

Flash back: They wanted to do the route just once more in their lives, because 10 years ago they rode over the pass from the French side into Italy. On that occasion, just as they crested the pass (1996m) and prepared to descend over those 20 tornantes, the darkest clouds and lightning a curtain of rain immediately descended over them. Lightning crashed. Buckets of water fell from the heavens. There was no shelter, because they were above the tree line. They couldn’t see anything ahead and had to feel their way around every dangerous tornante right to the bottom. Just one wrong judgement and they would have fallen down a precipice…

Act 1

Big G and Anuta got up with a song in their hearts on the Garibaldi square in Boves where they had rented a flat overlooking the square. On that Monday morning they were to ride 80 km in the direction of France on Silver and Blue to the Colle de Maddalena with its 20 dangerous tornantes. At tornante no. 20 – yes, they are actually numbered – they stopped to look back over the terrifying corkscrew bends along which they had just climbed to 2000 m – twice as high as Table Mountain.

They began to climb the pass. That was when they stopped at tornante no. 20. They studied the bends and turns below them and couldn’t believe what they saw in the bright sunlight. The road twisted downhill like a long, convoluting snake in pain. Only two kilometres to go to reach the crest. To picnic there and turn back.

Act 2

They mounted the scooters. Blue didn’t want to know. There was just a ticking sound … which means a flat battery. Didn’t understand why. It was a fairly new battery. Prior to this Blue had hiccupped once or twice and Anuta had thought it was some dirt in the gasoline. The jumper leads were pulled out and then the whole operation to get to the batteries, to connect them, and Anuta believes in revving hard… Blue kicked to life, but died again right away.

There was something seriously wrong. And they were sitting on the bare upper slopes of the Maddalena Pass with Boves 80km from there. And the worst was that it was a Monday. No self-respecting Italian works on a Monday. Plan B was to leave Blue right there and first ride to the top of the Colle, take a photo and enjoy a picnic at the glacier lake. Perhaps, when they returned to Blue, the angels and the songs in their hearts would have solved the problem.

But no, nothing. Non. No. Nein. The only thing to do was for Big G to take over Blue and free as far as he could and see what happened. For probably 25 kilometres he slipped down the hill with the dead engine to the first level bit, followed by a slight uphill. Blue refused like an obstinate donkey. No way out of it but to push Blue until the next downhill. He pushed and sweated gallons until he could free again.

But he knew that a level tunnel of 850m lay ahead. Couldn’t push Blue through the tunnel, so he stopped before it. Drank an entire bottle of water. Charger cables out. Revvvv. And there Blue took off and he raced through the tunnel.

Ahead also waited three villages with one way traffic controlled by robots. He began to panic. If he had to stop at a robot, Blue would die and then the whole operation all over again. Open machines, remove batteries, charge, and hope the engine took. But their cavalcade of happy angels were with them. As he approached a robot, in all three villages, the light changed to green. Almost by command. Three times. When they took on the flat plains, Blue died again.

It was hot. They were sweating. They were panicking. They regretted getting up in such a good mood that morning. Charged again, Anuta took over Blue from Big G because she rides faster. All you could see of her was her helmet bobbing up and down as she touched sides here and there. And in this way they rode hard right to the neighbouring town of Borgo san Dalmazzo. On the big square Blue died again. In the sun. In the heat. Their nerves were shot…

Act 3

Lost, they stood on the town square. Dehydrated. Burnt by the sun. Dazed. Helpless. Big G went in search of help. Not one of the men in their vests sitting at the bar understood him. His Italian vocabulary consisted of buongiorno, moto, rotto, meccanico, pronto and arrivederci. He blurted it all out in a dramatic aria. Still they didn’t understand them.

He spotted a pretty girl with a small rucksack getting onto her scooter. She already had her helmet on. He saw the fear in her eyes when the large, sweaty stranger in his sandals and socks descended on her. But she softened when she saw that the man sought help. All he managed to get out of his dehydrated throat was: Moto meccanico! She pointed to one across the square, but it was closed. It was Monday. Perhaps it would only open on Tuesday.

Both men pulled out Google Translate. The stranger made a couple of calls. In the meantime Anuta, who by that time looked like a dried harder, brought Silver closer. She took over – G believes it’s because she took Latin at school. There is another scooter shop in the town. Got the address and they jumped onto Silver to look for it.

It was almost a kilometre further up a slight incline. A whole bunch of motos were parked in front of the meccanico’s foor. This looked like business. Knocked at his door. Nothing. Next door was a dark restaurant. Big G entered through the fly strips and began calling. And then a thin little old woman climbed into him and began shouting and chased him out of her restaurant, screaming and performing with arms waving…

Act 4

Big G left her restaurant, tail between his legs. He swears it was dirty too. Could understand why the place was empty. In the meantime Anuta had found the meccanico and there he stood with fashionably framed glasses and a smooth middle-aged skin. Big G let rip with a powerful aria : Buongiorno. Due pomodori per favore. Una pane. Due caffè con latte caldo. Quanto costa? Vai merda. Carta o contanti …

The meccanico responded with a flood of Italian. That’s when the peanut revolution inside breaks out. That’s when you are totally powerless. It’s when you feel you are being stripped of your ability and humanity. He spoke like a tsunami. Eventually they realised that he was saying that he doesn’t work on Hondas, only Kymcos – which they consider inferior. They still didn’t know what was wrong with Blue. After a long battle he understood that they were asking him just to test the battery.

They had to return to Blue to unchain her. Then Big G began pushing her. For almost a kilometre. Slightly uphill. In that afternoon heat that scorches everything. Along the burning cobbled street. No shade. With Anuta following on Silver and continuously asking whether he was okay. Big G became a machine on heat. There was no stopping him. Stopped only once to drink another bottle of water.

The meccnico tested the battery. Flat, but nothing wrong with it. Anuta joined in with: Prova il regulatore. The meccanico replied: Il regolatore è rotto. As in rotten. Broken. What now? He shrugged his shoulders…

Act 5

The meccanico had another thought. Got on the telephone and called around on a Monday. He explained and explained and all they could gather was that they had to wait for three days. Tre giorni. Giovedi. Thursday.

Crisis. They couldn’t stay on Garibaldi Square any longer. Other guests had booked it. Left Blue with the meccanico to return after tre giorni.

Back in Boves they sat behind the wall of the bar where they could access the internet without buying coffee. Booked a flat within walking distance from there.

They took sad leave of Garibaldi Square the next morning and also of the little old lady in the green floral dress who watched Big G from her balcony across the square. Then she would stand and look at him drinking his coffee on his balcony. Then she would sit down and watch him as he read. Then she walked to the corner to read the latest death notices to check whether her name hadn’t appeared yet. Satisfied she would walk back after looking up to see him. One morning she and a man cleaned the fountain where the pigeons mess. Every now and then she looked up.

They moved across to a spacious and cool flat in three shifts on Silver. Owned by a jolly singing teacher who immediately launched into an aria. Her daughter Aurora who could speak English arrived later. Called the meccanico. Yes, he could get the part from Milan for the price of a return flight home. But what could they do? All their plans and appointments ahead had to be rescheduled.

Act 6

Two days later, on the Thursday, the meccanico called. They had to wait another 5 days. They rescheduled. They went to see him. Make it another day longer. They rescheduled. Went to visit Blue. There she stood. Like a skeleton. Lungs and heart dangling outside. Oil drained. Buoni notize. They could fetch her the following day. But they had to move back to Garibaldi Square as Aurora’s airbnb had been booked by other guests. The old lady was still there and Big G nodded in her direction…

That afternoon they fetched Blue. Brand new.

They had just moved back to their beloved Garibaldi Square when they heard jolly music approaching. Along with the music came an old worn-out prossie pushing a pram. Long white-blond hair curling down to her navel. Aviator sunglasses. Sharp chin, long nose and small shrivelled red mouth. In a white, perished swimming costume which formed bags around the nether regions. High heeled shoes and the skinny, used-up body swayed and swayed on those stilts. Big G gave a smile and peaked to see the baby in the pram. And there, nestled in the baby blankets, lay her blaring radio. Big G started to laugh. She began to laugh and swanked past him. The men sitting at the bar jumped up. As if she was the Mother of Garibaldi Square…

On the last morning they awoke at five o’clock with a flashing in their eyes followed by a great rumbling. A Medieval thunder storm was approaching. They stood on the balcony and watched the wonder of flashes and reverberating thunder which rolled closer until the raindrops began to fall. They decided they had to depart in the rain, because Bannio Anzino lay 300km away. At eight o’clock, when they were ready to depart, it suddenly stopped raining, as if at the command of the angels. The baker came out of his shop and wished them a good journey. Buon viaggio!

Sequel

Over the ten days in Boves without Blue they rode up a different valley every day on Silver. One more dramatic than the other. They got to know old stone villages. Rode to unfamiliar heights. Also along the war roads in the mountains and visited a sanctuary for wolves because Big G has always believed he is a wolf whisperer. Bought cheese from cheese makers and bread from bakers and pasta from pasta makers. Meat from the butcher. They got to know the people. Even the two ladies at the nearest bar. They became a part of the rhythm of the village. Also the rhythm of the many bells that chime the hours. And knew that those bells would always ring in their hearts.

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Dolceacqua on the Nervia River. North of San Remo.

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Gerard got a fright when he realised that the airbnb is somewhere in this dungeon. But is was cool!

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Isolabona turned out to be a wealth of medieval passages, houses and architecture. We strolled up and down the narrow alleys and couln’t get enough.

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Apricale, the first of dozens and dozens of Italian mountain villages.

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We didn’t visit Apricale, it was just to hot.

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How do you know that you are in Italy?

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Sunday lunch in a heat wave. We found a spot next to the road under trees.

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Wild forests and never ending valleys of the Maritime Alps. Here and there would be an old mountain village.

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Sometimes we just wanted to stop and take in the cool of the forests.

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We stayed over for a couple of days on this quiet estate with the most magnificent views to all sides. Luckily this was high in the mountains with a cooler breeze.

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The view to the one side. The chestnut trees were all in full bloom.

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The view of Montaldo di Mondovi. It is a pity that the mobile camera couldn’t capture the closeness and the beauty of this view. At night it lokked like a fairy tale. And then the bells, every half an hour.

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It was so hot. We actually didn’t want to eat. But when Anuta made this impromptu Pappa al Pomodoro we couldn’t resist. We took small coffee cups filled with water to make ice cubes.

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We visited other mountain villages in the coolness of the mornings. Pamparato.

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Limoncelo is just the medicine for the heat.

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The westerly balcony was the coolest place in the early mornings. here we sat and read, or just looked at the beauty.

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Next stop was a lovely apartment with balconies on the Garibaldi Square in Boves. We just love the place. You could hear the fountain day and night and watch the comings and goings of people all day. It was just behind the main square.

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Opsitbank! (Courting couch)

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The old lady who watched Gerard all day. Sometimes fron her chair on the pavement, or from her balcony.

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Main square of Boves. It became a familiar place.

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And the a thunderstorm and strong winds came to break the heat. On our way to buy our daily bread.

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Boves central square

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We started to explore the Maritime Alps from Boves. How many times we crossed this bridge over the Torrente Gesso…

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The mountain villages are very, very old.

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Not a good photo, but it gives an idea of the valleys  with the small villages and up to three churches per village.

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Sometimes the mountains are rugged.

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Baroque detail in a church

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Something new for us. Small pictures against church walls.

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When you order beer you get a plate of anti-pasta, included in the price.

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Another daytrip took us over the Tende Pass to the quaint village of Tende in France. We walked the steep streets and wondered how people could live here. How do older people carry their shopping? But they do it.

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Tende 1

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Tende 2

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Tende 3

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We had to negotiate the Tende Pass twice, with many other bikers. A magnificent pass, Unfortunately there was no time to stop as the traffic was regulated by traffic lights.

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The old Tende Pass we wanted to do, but luckily we couldn’t find the beginning… La Ca Çanelle. We met cyclists up there, not so young, who just did it. On a dirt road.

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The mountain border between France and Italy is scattered with old forts from various wars.

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Part of the barracks

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A picnic with this view. Unforgettable.

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The steep road with many many sharp tornantes down to Panice Soprano.

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What a day in the Tende mountains with an altutude of over 2000 m in glorious weather.

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We just couldn’t get enough of the majesty around us.

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And the beauty

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Something that we will surely miss. The freshness, the absence of plastic wrapping, the friendliness of the hawkers… The cheesemaker let us taste a couple of cheeses and gave us a whole background on each before we decided what to buy.

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Painted church 1

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Painted church 2

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An avenue of lime trees with their sweet aroma and the buzzing of bees.

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Through many many villages with narrow streets…

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Passing yet another old mountain village…

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And sometimes on dangerous roads…

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Through dark tunnels…

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Next to hanging cliffs…

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Washing hands and drinking ice cold fountain water…

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And sometimes an unexpected bridge

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The bridge at Dronero

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And the blue ivy on a balcony…

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And then tunnels like this one…

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Through narrow main roads…

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And sometime we went to inspect to determine whether it is true…

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Part of the Maddalena Pass

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And then, on a Monday we wanted to drive up to the Colle de Maddelena with its 20 sharp tornantes…

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And then, at tornante 20, the trouble started

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Gerard stands at the border beteween France and Italy. In France the Maddalena Pass is known as the Coll de Larche.

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While Blue stands about a kilometer away with the broken regulator, we are having a picnic at the glacier lake at the summit.

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A three tiered livestock truck delivering sheep and their dogs to a new pasture.

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An avenue of lime trees with their sweet aroma and the buzzing of bees.

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In Santuario S. Magno Castelmagno on the right. We travelled this road a second time to explore the beauty again.

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In Santuario S. Magno Castelmagno, built in 1457. Magnificent, just magnificent.

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The narrow road to Colle Fainiera is one of the most beatiful, but hairraising, roads we have ever travelled.

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Road 2

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At 2481m the coll is also called the Pass of Death.

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A monument for Italy’s cycling hero Marco Pantani

 

Featured

Côte d’Azur: Heatwave and artists/Hittegolf en kunstenaars

Scroll down for Afrikaans and photos

The worst heatwave in the history of Europe began for us with a shutter that Anuta wanted to close against the heat in Tourettes-sur-Loup. At that moment a bolt of lightning struck with an immediate crash tearing open heaven and earth and reverberating against everything. Anuta staggered backwards to the bed and Gerard thought she had been struck blind and paralysed. It was the beginning of the l’enfer diabolique, as they termed the heat in the local press.

Tourettes-sur-Loup, in the mountains above Nice and Cannes where we stopped over for a few days, is one of the most beautiful medieval villages you could imagine. Built on a huge rock where the houses drip down the precipice, making it one of the most photogenic villages in Provence. Because it’s situated higher up in the mountains, it’s cooler there. In the mornings our airbnb hosts, Raymond and Dominique, spoiled us silly with home produce and home bakes and lovely chats.

We made all kinds of plans to stay cool when heat from North Africa’s deserts descended on us and the quick silver rose to 45C in Paris. At night we had to put up with the mosquitoes in order to enable a draught through the room. To Anuta’s delight, Gerard drank gallons of water. Wet cloths on the feet and forehead. We were out early in the mornings to do things during the cooler hours. We sat or lay down under trees. Sat out on the terrace until as late as possible in the evenings until the mosquitoes came. And twice, once at Antibes and once in Menton, we just walked into the sea, clothes and shoes and all to float about in the cooler water. Then onto Silver and Blue in our wet clothes to cool down as we rode home.

And there was trouble, too. Silver’s battery finally gave up the ghost on a Sunday. On Mondays the French don’t work and the shops might open on Tuesdays again. We had to travel about 40km in killer heat and in busy and aggressive traffic on strange routes, to find a place that is open on a Monday. When you stop at a traffic light, you melt into the tar along with your scooter. And for the first time ever drivers shouted at us through open windows and with hooters blaring because we hadn’t done anything wrong. We have never seen such aggressive drivers as in the trinity of Cannes, Nice and Cagnes-sur-Mer.

In the coolness of the following morning we stood at the front of the queue at the Foundation Maeght. It had been a long time dream to see one of Europe’s biggest art collections of the 20th Century. Aimé and Marguerite Maeght, art dealers, approached their Catalan friend and architect, Josep Lluis Sert, to design a museum complex on a hill overlooking the artist village Saint Paul de Vence and where the white of mediterranean buildings, gardens, nature and art works should stand in perfect harmony. Artist friends were asked to collaborate and were asked to fill a space with their artwork.

And so we entered the gardens on a bright mediterranean morning, before the later heat. First there is the sculpture garden with green lawns and great stone pine trees, surrounded by a stone wall covered in stone mosaics by Pierre Tal-Coat which speak to you. These mosaics depict history and mythology of the region as if they have been there for thousands of years. Then you lose yourself between the sculptures standing on the cool lawn and the shade of trees. They are all there: Calder’s Stabile which seems to overshadow the surroundings, George Braque’s little fishpond where his Les Poissons swim. There is Miró… and there is… To the right is the little St Bernard chapel in memory of the Maeghts’ son who died from leukaemia aged 11. Simple and striking with the midnight blue glass windows by George Braque with a Spanish sculpture of the crucified Christ from the 12th Century which forces you to stop a while. The blue, the simple sculpture and the white, white walls stir the soul. In the courtyard there are typical Alberto Giacometti sculptures which include the well-known Homme qui marche. Then you stand before Marc Chagall’s mosaic against a wall. You are overwhelmed in the presence of these great artists.

There are two personal highlights, no, there are three. You lose yourself in your own world as you walk through the monumental Miró labirynth, filled with sculptures, white gravel, fountains, trees and ceramic. A white Ariadne line leads you through a dream world and you meet an egg, a lizard, a fork… Everything dominated by a gigantic arc de triomphe sculpture inspired by Greek and Catalan mythology.

The other highlight was to stand before Marc Chagall’s giant painting La Vie. In a large room dedicated to Chagall. It’s as if everything is moving. Events and dreams from the life of Chagall all come together here: his grandfather who was a rabbi, his marriage, the birth of his child, his flight from Russia on a horse. Musicians, acrobats and dancers accompany us all to the end of a road where you realise, along with Chagall, that his epic journey is also your journey. It was an overwhelming feeling that reduces one to tears. And the realisation of how good life is to me, to Anuta and I. On our journey. Above the painting is the Sun, everyone’s travel companion.

And then the building itself. A timeless work of art in its own right.

After the great experience of the visit we decided to walk downhill through the pine forest to Saint Paul de Vence. We needed to be quiet in the coolness and the mediterranean heat. Ah, no, the lovely old artists’ village has become a place stuffed with touristy chaos and most of the artwork didn’t appeal to us. We quickly got out of the busy and over-crowded place to walk back up the hill in the heat. Perspiring and thirsty. We couldn’t find an open supermarket, didn’t feel like restaurant food and went home hungry. Actually it was also too hot to eat and we took a nap.

Tourettes-sur-Mer is very near Vence. We wanted to visit the chapel designed and decorated by Henri Matisse again. There it still stood, unexpectedly and humbly around a bend in the road. A sacred place. An artistic treasure, and Matisse himself declared:

This work took four years of exclusive and diligent labour and it’s the result of my whole working life. I consider it despite all its imperfections as my masterpiece

I can remember how emotional we were during our first visit to see the reflections of the typical Matisse green, turquoise and yellow glass windows on the white marble floor tiles. The gigantic stations of the cross on wall tiles. The simplicity of the altar and candle sticks which he had designed. Even the simple white altar cloth and the chairs. And to think that when he began working on the project in 1947, he already designed minimalistically and with simple clean lines. That visit touched the soul.

There is a lovely story, in short: In 1941 Matisse was diagnosed with cancer in Nice. A beautiful nurse, Monique Bourgeois, cared for him post-operatively and also served as model for his various drawings and face studies. In 1943 she joined the Dominican convent in Vence and became sister Jacques Marie. Later Matisse purchased a house near the convent. Dominique told him that the Dominicans wanted to build their own chapel and asked whether he would assist with the design. He had never done this before, but agreed. At the age of 77 Matisse began and worked on this, his last project, for four years. Sister Jacques Marie died in 2004 at the age of 84.

On another day we braved the heavy traffic again and rode through Cape d’Antibe to Cannes. Ah, no, it has also lost its glory. It became unbearably hot and somewhere we just stopped and went into the water with clothes, sandals and sunglasses to float about in the sea. Then, all wet, onto Silver and Blue and, refreshed, we continued our trip.

At Port Vauban, the yacht harbour of Cap d’Antibe, we stood in and around the gigantic sculpture by a Catalan artist, Le Nomad, which is made up of letters. A man on his haunches looks out over the harbour and the sea. In the sun and with the blue sea around us, we climbed into the white sculpture of letters. To be enfolded by letters and words…

Ugh, the roads. The roads of that dreadful place. They take incomprehensible turns and twists and the GPS is sometimes just too slow and we have to find other turn offs. Then everyone shouts at us again.

We ended our visit to France with a visit to the Chagall museum in Nice, after a terrible 9 kilometres of speeding and swerwing on a fast through road, between trucks, buses and the fastest bikers who weave and weave, scaring us.

Chagall, who was already aged, helped design the museum and even the gardens. He also had every painting hung in the right place. The permanent exhibition comprises his giant works covering the first two books of the Old Testament – and also the Song of Songs of Solomon which become a Biblical meditation on erotic, spiritual and sensual love in glorious colours.

On entering the great hall, you stagger backwards. The colours! Picasso said, of course, that when Matisse died, only Chagall would remain who understood colour and what colour really is. We moved slowly from painting to painting, fortunately with audiophones giving us insights into each in detail.

Then there is the large mosaic work in elegant colours reflected in a pool. Elijah faring up to heaven in his chariot of fire and surrounded by the constellations and the zodiac. A cosmic explosion in design, texture and colour. Under the mediterranean sun.

And then it was time for us to leave France. Which has always only ever been good to us.

Côte d’Azur: Hittegolf en kunstenaars

Die ergste hittegolf in Europa se geskiedenis het vir ons begin met ‘n hortjie wat Anuta in Tourettes-sur-Loup wou toemaak om die hitte buite te hou. Op daardie oomblik knak ‘n bliksemstraal teen die buitemuur met ‘n onmiddelikke knal wat aarde en hemel oopskeur en teen alles vasslaan. Anuta steier tot op die bed en ons dog sy is blind en lam raakgeslaan. Dit was die begin van die l’enfer diabolique, soos na die hitte verwys is.

Tourettes-sur-Loup, in die berge bokant Nice en Cannes waar ons vir ‘n paar dae oorstaan is een van die mooiste middeleeuse dorpies wat daar kan wees. Op ‘n groot rots gebou waar die troshuise steil die afgrond afrank en dit een van die mees fotogeniese dorpies in Provence maak. Omdat dit hoër op in die berge is, is dit koeler daar. Soggens word ons deur die airbnb gashere, Raymond en Dominique tot in die afgrond bederf met tuisgemaak en -gebak en lekker gesels.

Ons het allerhande planne bedink om ons koel te hou toe hitte van Noord-Afrika se woestyne op ons toesak en die kwik tot 45C in Parys laat styg. Snags moes ons maar die muskiete verdra om ‘n trek deur die kamer te kry. Gerard drink tot Anuta se plesier galonne water. Nat lappies op die voete en voorkop. Soggens vroeg is ons al uit om in die koelte dinge te doen. Ons het onder bome gesit of gelê. Saans so laat as moontlik op die terras gesit tot die muskiete kom. En dan tweekeer, eenkeer by Cap d’Antibe en weer by Menton, met klere en skoene en brille die see ingestap en net so in die see gedryf. Met nat klere en al op Silwer en Blou geklim en lekker verder afgekoel as ons wegry.

En toe is daar moeilikheid ook. Silwer se battery gee op ‘n Sondag finaal in. Maandae werk die Franse nie en miskién maak die winkels Dindae oop. So moes ons in bloedige hitte omtrent 40 ver kilometer ver in druk en agressiewe verkeer, en vreemde roetes, ry en ‘n plek soek wat op ‘n Maandag oop is. Stop jy by ‘n verkeerslig smelt jy en skoeter weg in die teer. En vir die eerste keer ooit skreeu bestuurders deur oop ruite en met blêrende toeters op ons omdat ons niks verkeerd doen nie. Nog nooit sulke agressiewe bestuurders gesien nie soos in die drie-eenheid, Cannes, Nice en Cagnes-sur-Mer.

In die koelte van die volgende oggend is ons voor in die ry by die Foundation Maeght. Lankal se droom om een van Europa se grootste kunsversamelings van die 20ste eeu te sien. Aimé en Marguerite Maeght, kunshandelaars, het hulle Katalaanse vriend en argitek, Josep Lluis Sert, gevra om ‘n museumkompleks op ‘n heuwel te ontwerp wat oor die kunstenaarsdorpie Saint Paul de Vence moet uitkyk waar die wit van meditereense geboue, tuine, natuur en kunswerke in perfekte harmonie moet wees. Kunstenaarsvriende is gevra om saam te werk en het elk ‘n gedeelte gekry om oor te neem vir hulle kunswerke.

So stap ons die tuine binne op ‘n skitterende meditireense oggend, voor die hitte later sou kom. Eers is daar die beeldhoutuin met groen grasperke en groot kroondenne, omring met ‘n klipmuur met klipmosaïek wat met jou praat deur Pierre Tal-Coat wat die geskiedenis en mitologie van die streek uitbeeld asof dit al duisende jaar daar is. Dan raak jy verdwaal tussen die beeldhouwerke op die koel grasperk en in die skadu’s van bome. Hulle is almal daar: Calder se Stabile wat die tuin en bome soort van oorheers, George Braque se dammetjie waar sy Les Poissons in kan swem. Daar is Miró… en daar is… Regs is daar die klein St Bernard kapelletjie ter ere aan die Maeghts se seun wat op 11 aan leukemia oorlede is. Eenvoudig en treffend met die blouselblou glasvensters van George Braque met daaronder ‘n Spaanse Christusbeeld van die 12de eeu wat jou dwing om stil te staan. Die blou, die eenvoudige beeld en die wit-wit mure ontroer. In die binnehof is daar die tipiese Alberto Giacometti-beelde wat die bekende Homme qui marche insluit. Dan staan ‘n mens stil voor Marc Chagall se mosaïekwerk teen ‘n muur. Jy word oorweldig in die teenwoordigheid van al die groot geeste.

Daar was twee persoonlike hoogtepunte, nee drie. Jy raak verdwaal in jou eie geesteswêreld as jy deur die monumentale Miró Labirint stap, gevul met beelde, wit gruis, fonteine, bome en keramiek. ‘n Wit Ariadnelyn lei jou deur ‘n droomwêreld en jy ontmoet ‘n eier, ‘n akkedis, ‘n vurk… Alles gedomineer deur ‘n reuse arc de triomphe beeld wat deur Griekse en Katalaanse mitologie geïnspireer is.

Die ander ander hoogtepunt was om voor Marc Chagall se reuse skildery La Vie te staan. In ‘n groot vertrek wat aan Chagall opgedra is. Dit lyk asof alles beweeg. Gebeurtenisse en drome uit die lewe van die Chagall kom alles hier bymekaar: sy oupa wat ‘n rabbi was, sy huwelik, die geboorte van sy kind, sy vlug uit Rusland te perd. Musikante, akrobate en dansers begelei ons almal na die einde van ‘n pad waar jy saam met Chagall besef sy epiese reis is ook jou reis. Dit was ‘n oorweldigende gevoel wat ‘n mens tot trane wou dwing. En die besef hoe goed die lewe vir my, vir ek en Anuta is. Op ons reis. Bokant die skildery is die Son, ons almal se reisgenoot.

En dan die gebou self. ‘n Tydlose kunswerk op sigself.

Ons besluit om na die grootsheid van die besoek deur die dennewoud afdraend na Saint Paul de Vence toe te stap. Om wou stil te wees in die koeltes en die meditereense hitte. Ag nee wat, die mooi ou kunstenaarsdorpie het verander in oorvol toeristiese chaos en die meeste kunswerke staan ons nie aan nie. Ons gee vinnig pad uit die drukte en bedruktheid om die berg in die hitte terug te stap. Swetend en dors. Ons kry nie ‘n oop supermark nie, is nie lus vir restourantkos nie, en gaan honger huis toe. Eintlik is dit ook te warm om te eet en ons gaan dut.

Tourettes-sur-Mer is digby Vence. Ons wou weer die kapel gaan besoek wat Henri Matisse ontwerp en versier het. Daar staan dit steeds net so onverwags en beskeie om ‘n draai. Die heilige plek. ‘n Kunsskat, en Matisse self het verklaar:
This work took four years of exclusive and diligent labour and it’s the result of my whole working life. I consider it despite all its imperfections as my masterpiece

Ek kan onthou met die eerste besoek hoe aangedaan ons was om die weerspieëlings van die tipiese Matisse groen, turkoois en geel glasvensters op die wit marmervloere te sien. Die stasies van die kruis reusagtig groot op muurteëls. Die eenvoud van die altaar en kershouers wat hy ontwerp het. Selfs die eenvoudige wit altaarkleed en die stoele. Om te dink toe hy in 1947 met die projek begin het, toe alreeds minimalisties en skoon eenvoudige lyne ontwerp het. Daardie besoek was ‘n beroering in die binneste.

Daar is ‘n mooi storie, in kort:  In 1941 word Matisse in Nice met kanker gediagnoseer. ‘n Mooi verpleegster, Monique Bourgeois, verpleeg hom en dien ook as model vir sy verskeie tekeninge en gesigstudies. In 1943 word sy ‘n non in die Dominikaanse klooster van Vence en word sy suster Jacques Marie. Matisse koop later ‘n huis naby die klooster. Dominique vertel hom dat die Dominikane ‘n kapel wil bou en of hy nie wil help met die ontwerp daarvan nie. Hy het dit nog nooit voorheen gedoen nie, maar hy stem in. Op die ouderdom van 77 begin Matisse met die projek en werk vier jaar aan sy laaste projek. Suster Jacques Marie is in 2004 op die ouderdom van 84 oorlede.
Op ‘n ander dag trotseer ons weer die erge verkeer en ry deur Cap d’Antibe na Cannes. Ag nee wat, ook sy glorie verloor. Dit raak onmenslik warm en iewers hou ons stil en stap met klere, sandale, brille en al die see in om rond te dryf. Klim net so met die nat klere op Silwer en Blou en ry verfris verder.

By Port Vauban, die seiljaghawe van Cap d’Antibe, gaan staan ons in en om die reuse beeld van die Katalaanse kunstenaar, Le Nomade, wat uit letters bestaan. ‘n Hurkende man wat oor die hawe en die see uitkyk. Om daar in die son, met die blou see binne die wit letterbeeld in te klim. Om met letters en woorde omvou te word….

Oe, die paaie. Die paaie van die verskriklike plek. Dit maak onverstaanbare kinkels en draaie en die GPS is soms net te laat en moet ons ander afdraaie soek. Dan skreeu almal weer op ons.

Ons sluit ons besoek af aan Frankryk af met ‘n besoek aan die Chagall-museum in Nice na ‘n verskriklike 9 kilometer se se gejaag en geswenk op ‘n ‘n vinnige deurpad, tussen vragmotors, busse en die vinnigste motorfietsryers deur wat vleg en vleg dat ons harte ysblokke word.

Chagall, toe alreeds bejaard, help om die museum te ontwerp, selfs die tuine. Hy het ook elke skildery op die regte plek laat hang. Die permanente uitstalling is sy reuse werke oor die eerste twee boeke van die Ou Testament – en die Hooglied van Salamo wat ‘n Bybelse meditasie word van seksuele-, spirituele- en sensuele liefdes in wonderbaarlike kleure.

Met die instap in die groot saal steier jy terug. Die kleure! Picasso het mos gesê wanneer Matisse doodgaan bly nog net Chagall oor wat kleur verstaan wat kleur werklik is. Ons het stadig van skildery tot skildery beweeg, gelukkig met oorfone wat elkeen in detail bespreek het.

Dan is daar die groot mosaiekwerk in elegante kleure wat in water weerkaats word. Elija wat in sy vuurwa opvaar hemel toe en dan met die konstellasies van die zodiac omring word. ‘n Kosmiese ontploffing in ontwerp, tekstuur en kleur. Onder die meditereense son.

Toe word dit tyd vir ons om Frankryk te verlaat. Wat altyd net goed is vir ons.

Please note that the photos were taken with my mobile as my camera is broken.

Gateway to Provence

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This rocky frame was symbolic of our approach to Provence.
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Provence is littered with small mountain villages.

Tourettes-sur-Loup

DCIM101MEDIADJI_0002.JPG Aerial photo of Tourettes-sur-Loup, situated on a rock. Copyright: Wikipedia

Our first view of Tourettes
One of the neatest, most well-maintained Medieval villages
More of Tourettes

Foundation Maeght

IMG_20190623_102501 On entering the gates you are overwhelmed by the artwork and the stone pines.

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IMG_20190623_102824 The magnificent stone mosaics depicting local mythology.IMG_20190623_103712 The simplicity of the St Bernard chapel[/caption]

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Bust with bird and nest
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Chagall’s mosaic created for the museum
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Typical 60’s sculpture
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Calder’s Stabile
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The building is also a work of art.
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Giaconetti’s famous sculpture
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The beginning of Miró’s labirynth

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Ariadne’s white lines are visible from above.
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The sculpture garden from above
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La Vie by Matisse

St Paul de Vence

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Artists’ village, Saint Paul de Vence
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Fun sculpture at the entrance to the village
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Intertwined
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The steep climb through the pine forest

The Rosary Chapel – Henri Matissela_chapelle_du_rosaire_

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Amazing reflections of Matisse’s designs on the white marble floor tiles. Copyright: Chapel website
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No photos allowed. Copyright: Chapel website
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The simplicity of the chapel. Copyright: Chapel website
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Every detail in the chapel was designed by Matisse. Copyright: Chapel website
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Stations of the cross are depicted on white tiles against the back wall. Copyright: Chapel website

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Photo of Matisse’s hotel room while he was working on the Stations of the Cross.

Vence

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Vence, across the valley from the chapel
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Beautiful Vence
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Modern cubist sculpture in front of the mairie’s office in Vence
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Cobble stones
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What better site for a market than under the lime trees?
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We first had to taste a selection of cheeses before deciding.

In the Mountains – Route de la Tinée

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Sandwiches, French style, for lunch
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What a setting for your sandwich!
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It was very hot and Gerard insisted that Silver be seen to in the reception area of the workshop.
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Somewhere down there is the campsite where we camped 20 years ago when the aggressive camp dog stole Gerard’s shoes from in front of our tent.
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We always wanted to return to Gilette where we climbed 500m to stay at a campsite that didn’t exist and had to cycle all the way down into the valley again.
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Gilette
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500m below is the Var River and the campsite

Cap d’Antibe and Nice

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Silver and Blue taking the sun of the Mediterranean
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The sculpture at Port Vauban

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Wonderful to stand inside the sculpture and look outwards through all the letters
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The iconic Carlton Hotel in Cannes
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Here we sat on the promenade in the heat
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Russian billionaire Andrey Melnichenko has built a luxury super yacht for a reported $450 million.
The vessel is expected to be one of the most advanced yachts of its kind and boasts three masts, all of which stand taller than Big Ben, the clock tower beside the Houses of Parliament in London. The boat itself is approximately 468 feet long – roughly the size of a standard American football field – dwarfing everything that surrounds it.
The yacht, named Super Yacht A, boasts eight decks while its keel includes one of the largest single pieces of curved glass ever made measuring 193 square feet. The three masts are more than 328ft tall each and stand above Big Ben, which by comparison, measures 298ft. They all carry sails that when places side by side are larger than a football pitch. There will be room for approximately 54 crewmembers and will also have a high-tech digital control system
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Afternoon traffic – we opted to ride in the cycling lane which was safer.

A visit to the Chagall Museum

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Chagall is all about colour and freedom.
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Old Testament scene I
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Moses and the burning bush
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Three angels on their visit
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Stained glass
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One of the paintings of the Song of Songs collection – all in passionate shades of red and pink

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Magnificent mosaic above a reflecting pool in a courtyard. Elijah on his fiery chariot surrounded by the constellations and zodiac
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Detail

A last glimpse

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Anuta cooling down, clothes and all, in the Mediterranean
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We really wanted to visit some of the other coastal towns, including Monaco, but they have become monsters with heavy traffic and over-development and we gave them a miss.

 

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Gorges du Verdon: Glory of Creation/Grootsheid van die skepping

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Scroll down for photos and Afrikaans

1999
On that visit we sat in front of our little Coleman tent in the lovely Moustiers de Sainte Marie in France for two whole days and looked at the entrance to the Gorges du Verdon, gathering the strength to take on the challenging pass on our bicycles. It waited for us like a lion with yawning jaws. Cruel and teasing. We kept eating bananas and sucking at tubes of condensed milk to build up our strength.

At six in the morning of the third day we were in the pedals and began cycling the neverending uphill with trepidation. Rested somewhere and made tea. The views provided further energy to just keep going.

It’s as if the mighty limestone mountains burst open and left a deep ravine behind through which a bright turquoise river twists far below. It went so well that we pitched our camp in La Palud at ten o’clock. And we had enough energy left to cycle the dream of every cyclist – the dangerous, but breathtaking 24 kilometre Route des Crêtes. Route of the Peaks. They say only Disneyland’s rollercoasters are more exciting.

2019
We wanted to experience and see it again. But this time on our comfortable Silver and Blue. We travelled from St Pierre de Chartreuse, first through the quiet Sunday morning outskirts of Grenoble. We anticipated the smell of the Haute Provence. And then a beautiful and unknown region waited upon us and we were just fed-up that we weren’t staying over in the Vercors. A lovely region with ravines, mountains and an abundant green landscape.

I was still weeping for my broken camera and the stupid cellphone photos that I now had to take. Can’t zoom in at all, too much detail is lost.

With all the twists, losing our way, many turns and sheer drops, across passes and valleys we were already a little tired when we reached the Col du Rousset – along with many, many bikers – and stood there and tried to follow the road downhill with its tortuous tornantes. And the descent to Die. There the afternoon aromas hit us: broom, thyme, pine and rosemary. After more than 300 kilometres we arrived at our next accommodation, slightly knackered.

A fairy-like little woman waved us in at The Garden of Energies, along with 11 cats and two absent dogs. With Vesna everything is about natural and energies. Her hay grass doesn’t get cut, because it disturbs the energies of the plants. No fridge, because it isn’t natural. The cats walk across the table while you eat. There are crystals and stones in the guest suite for good energies. We really enjoyed the stay and she liked our positive energies. She prepared meals. Baked bread and crèpes. Her husband is the local reverend who drives out demons and she sees visions.

In the night we woke. There were sounds in the house. The next morning we met a stressed out Vesna. Her dogs hadn’t returned from their usual afternoon outing into the wild. She went in search of them and found the old dog which led her to a hole in the ground. The younger dog, Princess, had gone after some animal in the hole and had become stuck somewhere in the underground tunnels. The pompiers (firemen) had spent three hours until one a.m. trying to find the dog, but without success. The mairie (mayor) came. Neighbours she had never met. Now a farmer with a front end digger was coming to dig out the dog. And that is exactly what happened.

From there we walked in the mountains, did a day trip to Lac de Serre-Ponçon and in the evenings Vesna cooked for us in her chaotic kitchen. We began to fall into a pleasant rhythm.

1999 again: On the Sunday morning early we departed fom the beautiul Castellane, in Provence. Half way up the mountain my bicycle pedal broke. The only thing to do was to turn back and freewheel down the mountain with our cavalcade of happy angels flapping behind. Someone fetched the owner of the only cycling shop from his bed. Accompanied by garlic and alcohol fumes. And right there, on the pavement of the narrow little street outside his shop, my bicycle was fitted with a new set of pedals.

Twenty years later: We went in search of the little shop for a photo. Found the place easily, but it’s not the same. Suddenly the whole town began to vibrate. Thunder came rolling in. Reverberated against the walls of the old buildings. Everything started shaking. It was like Armageddon. Then they came around the bend. Four men on revolting, huge Harleys. Four riders from the apocalypse. Studded. Tattooed. Plaits. Bandanas. Long beards. Wrap-around mirror glasses. horns on helmets. Flapping flags. Leather fringes rippling. Grimy. The leader had a fox skin, including its tail, draped over his luggage. The machines shook and growled and emitted and snorted. They conquered the town square. The rulers took control. Shouted orders in low Flemish. The leaves of the plane trees fluttered. I caught the eye of a Frenchman. Maybe he only knew one English word. “Stupid.” Nothing is the same anymore.

Comps-sur-Artuby awaited us. Our little flat was located scarcely 50 metres from the village square of this old medieval village which was built on a rock in ancient times and where you can still follow the paths of the knights templar. We began immersing ourselves in the surrounds. Everything is old. The worn sandstone mountains, stones, deep ravines, bridges, roads weaving up and down mountains, forests and archaic churches towering over little villages. Comps has three old churches and through the night I lay and counted every hour three times as the bells rang the hours.

We visited neighbouring mountain villages. One more lovely than the other. We spent a long time in Bargemon with its fountains and the sound of running water everywhere, monuments, gay town square, passages and old buildings and trees. We also slowly climbed the Col du Bell Homme (915m) which offers a magnificent panorama from there to the Mediterranean. We stood amazed at the cyclists who climb that steep road with so much power and ease, standing in their pedals.

Comps on the Artuby River is also another gateway to the Gorges du Verdon. Early one morning we took to the road on Silver and Blue and along with many other motorcyclists. It also became one of the most beautiful days in our lives with its heights, deep gorges, rivers twisting far below, cliffs reaching above you. All part of a mighty, mighty landscape.

We took four slow hours to cover the approximately 70 kilometres, stopping and absorbing it all. The exquisite Lac Sainte Croix blue hurts your eyes. We still cannot believe that we rode those steep and demanding routes. Moustiers Sainte Marie was a huge disappointment with hundreds and hundreds of tourists who have descended on the place. Fortunately we remember it differently, and got out of there fast.

We re-lived the cycling trip up to La Palud. Also different. One biker after the other was on a kamakazi trip and swept past at close quarters. But the majesty remained. We rode the circle route again, the Route des Crêtes. I remembered what I had written all those years ago: Mine eyes hath seen the glory of creation!

At one of the belvederes Anuta’s knees gave way. Suddenly she had no strength. Ready to collapse whenever she stood up. She couldn’t remain there, because the sun was merciless. She had to move on to where there was some shade. I helped her to reach Blue. But, try and find shade when you need it… We progressed slowly. Tornante after tornante. To add the the stress, the road had been given a topping of loose stone gravel. One slip and you can fall 800 meters into the depths.

We realised we were tired – we weren’t letting up on ourselves. Perhaps also the altitude. The heat. The excitement. The grandeur of everything about you which leaves you drunk in a way. After we had descended a little way, she began to feel better…

We got home late after a big day. But we still had the strength to climb up the mountain, following the templar road to the old church from the 12th Century to take in the view from there. And to wait there for the three churches’ bells to begin ringing.

Gorges du Verdon:  Die grootsheid van die skepping

1999

Ons sit destyds twee dae in die mooie Moustiers de Sainte Marie voor ons Colemantentjie en kyk vir die ingang tot die Gorges du Verdon in Frankryk om moed bymekaar te skraap om die uitdagende pas per fiets uit te trap. Dit wag op ons soos ‘n leeu met oopgesperde kake. Wreed en tergend. Ons eet aanmekaar piesangs en suig buisies kondensmelk om ons kragte op te bou.

Sesuur die oggend van die derde dag is ons in die pedale en begin met bewing die nimmereindigende opdraende te trap. Rus iewers en maak tee. Die uitsigte gee ons verdere krag om net aan te hou.

Dit is asof die magtige kalksteenberge oopgekraak het en ‘n diep skeur gelaat het waar ‘n helderturkoois rivier ver onder jou kronkel. Dit gaan toe so goed dat ons teen tienuur bo by La Palud kamp opslaan. En het ons nog genoeg energie om die droom van elke fietser te trap – die gevaarlike, maar asemsnakkende 24 kilometer Route des Crêtes. Roete van die Pieke. Hulle sê dis net Disneyland se rollercoasters wat opwindender is.

2019

Ons wil dit weer beleef en sien. Maar hierdie keer op gemaklike Silwer en Blou. Ons reis van St Pierre de Chartreuse eers deur die Sondagoggendse stil buitewyke van Grenoble en ons wil-wil die Haute Provence beginne ruik. Toe wag ‘n mooi en onbekende streek op ons en is sommer vies dat ons nie in die Vercors oorbly nie. ‘n Pragtige streek met klowe, berge, en ‘n malse groen landskap.

Ek huil steeds oor my stukkende kamera en die simpel selfoonfototjies wat ek nou moet neem. Kan glad nie zoom nie, verloor te veel detail.

Met kronkels, verdwaal, baie draaie en klowe, oor passe en leegtes is ons al bietjie moeg toe ons by die Col du Rousset aankom, saam met baie, baie bikers en daar staan en die pad na benede probeer peil met sy uitdagende tornantes. En die afdaal na Die. Daar slaan die middagruike ons: besembos, tiemie, denne en roosmaryn. Na meer as 300 kilometer daag ons effens gehawend by ons volgende tuiste op.

By The Garden of Energies wuif ‘n feëtjieagtige fyn vroutjie ons nader met 11 katte en twee afwesige honde. Alles by Vesna gaan oor natural and energies. Haar grasperke word nie gesny nie, want dit versteur die plante se energie. Geen yskas, want dit is nie natural nie. Die katte loop oor die tafel terwyl jy eet. In die gastesuite is kristalle vir good energies. Ons kuier heerlik en sy hou van ons positive energies. Sy maak etes. Bak brood en crèpes. Haar man is die plaaslike reverend en dryf demone uit en sy sien visioene.

In die nag word ons wakker. Daar is geluide in die huis. Die volgende oggend vind ons ‘n uitgestresde Vesna. Haar honde het nie teruggekom na hulle gewoonlike middagstappie nie. Sy gaan soek en vind die ou hond wat haar na ‘n gat in die grond neem. Die jonger hond, Prinses, het agter ‘n dier in die gat gekruip en sit iewers in die ondergrondse tonnels vas. Die pompiers (brandweer) is in die nag ingeroep en het tot eenuur gegrou, met geen sukses. Die burgemeester het gekom. Bure wat sy nie eens ken nie. Nou gaan ‘n boer met ‘n voorlaaier kom en die hond uitgrou. Wat toe ook gebeur het.

Van daar gaan stap ons in die berge, ons doen ‘n dagrit na Lac de Serre-Ponçon en saans kook Vesna vir ons in haar deurmekaar kombuis. Ons begin in ‘n heerlike ritme val.

Weer 1999: Sondagoggend vroeg vertrek ons uit die mooie Castellane, in Provence. Halfpad die berg uit breek my fiets se pedaal. Al genade is omdraai en sweef ons bergaf met ons kawalkade van vrolike engele agterna. Iemand gaan sleep die enigste fietswinkel se eienaar uit sy bed. Knoffel- en drankwalms kom saam. En sommer net daar op die sypaadjie van die nou straatjie buite sy winkel kry my fiets ‘n nuwe stel pedale.

Twintig jaar later: Ons gaan soek die winkeltjie vir ‘n foto. Kry die plek maklik maar dis nie meer dieselfde nie. Skielik begin die hele dorp tril. ‘n Gebrul kom aangerol. Slaan teen die mure van die ou geboue vas. Alles begin bewe. Dis soos Armageddon. Toe kom hulle om die draai. Vier manne op walglike groot Harleys. Vier ruiters vir ‘n apokalips. Gestud. Getatoeëer. Vlegsels. Bandanas. Lang baarde. Wraparound spieëlbrille. Horings op die helmets. Vlae wapper. Toutjies warrel. Die leier het ‘n jakkalsvel met stert oor sy bagasie gedrapeer. Die masjiene skud en brul en spoeg en ruk en snork. Hulle oorwin die dorpsplein. Die heersers neem oor. Skreeu bevele op plat Vlaams. Die plataanbome se blare fladder. Ek vang die oog van ‘n Fransman. Miskien ken hy net een Engelse woord. “Stupid.” Niks is meer dieselfde nie.

Comps-sur-Artuby wag op ons. Ons woonstel is skaars 50 meter van die dorpsplein van hierdie ou middeleeuse dorpie wat in die voorwêreld op ‘n rots gebou is en waar die voetpaaie van die templierridders nog te sien is. Ons begin wegsak in die omgewing . Alles is oud. Die verweerde sandsteenberge, klippe, diep ravyne, brûe, paaie wat berg op en af vleg, woude en argaïse kerke wat bokant dorpies troon. Comps het drie ou kerkies en deur die nag lê ek en tel elke uur drie keer waneer die klokke dit aftel.

Ons besoek die naburige bergdorpies. Die een mooier as die ander. Ons vertoef lank in Bargemon met sy fonteine en oral die klank van water wat loop, monumente, vrolike dorpsplein, gangetjies en ou geboue en bome. Ons ry ook stadig die paar honderd meter op na Col du Bel Homme (915m) vanwaar jy ‘n manjefieke panorama het van daar tot die middellandse see. Ons is verstom oor die fietsryers wat daardie steil pad met soveel krag en gemak staande in die pedale uit trap.

Comps op die Artubyrivier is ook ‘n ander poort tot die Gorges du Verdon. Vroeg een oggend val ons met Silwer en Blou en baie ander motorfietsryers in die pad. Dit word ook weer een van die mooiste dae van ons lewens met hoogtes, diep klowe, riviere wat ver onder jou kronkel, kranse wat bokant jou oprank. Alles deel van ‘n magtige, magtige landskap.

Ons ry vier ure lank stadig aan die sowat 70 kilometer soos ons stop en inneem. Die pragrige Lac de Sainte Croix se blou maak steeds jou oë seer. Ons kan wéér nie glo ons het hierdie steil en stywe roetes gery nie. Moustiers Saint Marie is ‘n yslike teleurstelling met die honderde en honderde toeriste wat op die plek toegesak het. Gelukkig onthou ons dit anders, en gee vinnig pad.

Ons herleef die traprit op na La Palud. Ook anders. Die een na die ander motorfietsryer is op ‘n kamakazitrip en skuur skeef en skuins by ons verby. Maar die grootsheid bly. Ons ry weer die sirkelroete, die Route des Crêtes. Ek onthou hoe ek destyds geskryf het: Mine eyes hath seen the glory of creation!

By een van die belvederes knak Anuta se knieë. Skielik het sy geen krag nie. Wil net inmekaarsak wanneer sy opstaan. Sy kan nie daar bly nie, want die son is genadeloos. Ons moet aanskuif tot waar daar koelte is. Ek help haar tot op Blou. Maar vind nou koelte wanneer jy koelte soek… Ons kruie voort. Tornante na tornante. Om tot die spanning by te voeg is die pad pas my fyn klipgruis bedek. Een gly en jy val 800 meter die dieptes in…

Ons besef ons is moeg – ons spaar onsself nie. Miskien ook die hoogte bo seespieël. Die hitte. Die opwinding. Die grootsheid van alles om jou wat jou op ‘n manier dronk maak. Nadat ons effens gesak het begin sy beter voel…

Ons kom laat tuis na ‘n grootse dag. Maar ons het nog krag om hier teen vroegaand die berg uit klim met die templierpad na die ou kerk uit die 12de eeu om die wêreld van daar te bespied. En daar te wag vir die drie kerke se klokke om te begin lui.

Take note: The pictures are not in sequence and taken with my mobile phone.

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The Verdon River with its turquoise water

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Standing at a belvedere and looking down into one of the gorges

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Moustiers Sainte Marie. What a disappointment with the masses of tourists

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Like a turquoise snake

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Check the road winding up the right hand side. A continuous climb all the way to the top

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The river feeding the Sainte Croix lake looks like turquoise glass.

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The markets of Provence with excellent fresh produce

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One of the ravines in the Vercors

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They call these roads the balcony roads. Also in the Vercors

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Vercors

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The lovely pastoral landscapes of Vercors.I

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II. We were upset with ourselves for not staying longer.

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Sunday lunch with market food – somewhere alongside the road

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Hungry, we stopped right there and prepared our lunch.

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Col du Rousset which we had to share with hundreds of kamikazi bikers

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An old sign in Die

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Bread baskets in a tiny remote bakery in the mountains

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Bread inspection before selling it to us. The culture of good bread is still very important in France.

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The abundance of spring flowers kept on enchanting us.

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No amount of paint techniques can replicate the real thing…

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The Garden of Energies

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Lovely banana and apple tart and cats for breakfast. His Master’s Voice was still recovering from being dug out of a tunnel 3m below the surface.

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Lac de Serre-Ponçon. St Michael’s chapel

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Lunch picnic

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Descending to the lake

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By default we landed on one of the most amazing roads near the Durance River.

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Our fairy hostess, Vesna. Anuta had kept a shell from the northern coast of Spain in her cubby hole – gifted to Vesna.

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Céüse mountain. From the air, it is a circular outcrop. We took a walk of a couple of kilometres around its base. Another source of good energy, according to Vesna.

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Re-visiting villages from our cycling days

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Another mountain road. Another amazing view

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This where the bicycle shop stood in 1999.

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The plane trees were just beginning to sprout on the square of beautiful Castellane.

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In front of our flat, 50m from the square in Comps sur Artuby (door and window on the right)

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On the way to the shop in Comps

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To the left is the hotel terrace where we could access wifi. Comps is tiny, but pretty.

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On the way  to the Gorges du Verdon – from the south

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The Flemish Harley squad

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The Route des Crêtes lies across the Var River, near the top. This is where Anuta felt the heat and altitude…

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Biker graffiti at the entrance to a tunnel

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The wild roses were at their peak – just everywhere, white and pink.

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The Var River. You can see the roads on the left and the right of this valley which we rode that day. Route des Crêtes on the right

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Silver and Blue had to compete with bikers continuously.

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The Var River widening as it approaches the Sainte Croix lake near Moustiers

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Our first glimpse of the lake.

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Village on the lake

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One cannot imagine an entire lake this colour…

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The barrage at the end of one of the arms of the lake

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We managed to find the last table in semi-shade for lunch.

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A last glimpse between the trees. This is where we had to re-trace a sheer drop down to the village after making an error with our cycling route in 1999. On reaching this point, we collapsed under a tree to rest and recuperate.