Breaking the van, bodge jobs and the south of France

Now that we have left Chamonix we seem to be on the move a little more, once again this trip will be mobile and we will be travelling to various new places, although where exactly we don’t know yet as we are making it up a little, rather than sticking to a rigid itinerary. That said we know our next big destination will be the Dolomites, however before we get there, we have lots of places we could potentially visit. 
First on that list is the Verdon Gorge, I had recently read an article about the climbing there and that put the location on my map, then Jess also saw a picture of the Gorge and wanted to visit, so it is a no brainer that we would go, especially as it’s on the way!

We arrived later than planned as we had stopped a couple of times enroute, for shopping and wifi/work needs. However when we arrived we started to drive higher and noticed the masssive lake that was at the end of the Gorge and decided that this would be a better place to camp rather than the top of the Gorge and have a rest day, as we were still pretty tired from the Dibona climb/walk. I was lucky enough to notice a handful of vans parked next to the water front and we made our way down to join them. It was a great location, parked on the beach and after a light meal before bed we decided to call it a day.
The next morning we had an exploratory walk around the edge of the lake, walking all the way to the mouth of the Gorge where there were flocks of tourists all queueing to hire a boat to go on the lake. It was surprising that there were so few people swimming, given the high temperatures, most just wanted to be on a boat. We walked to the bridge that gave a great view of the Gorge, and took a couple of photos, as even with the pedlo’s and kayaks, it was still very picturesque.

The beautiful Verdon Gorge

We returned by the same route, and once back had a spot of lunch before heading out again for a swim. It was weird that the water was cold where we entered and yet a couple of metres further down the water warmed considerably. It took us ages to get in, although once we were in it was lovely, and felt good to be swimming as I have not done it for an age! 
That evening we drove up another windy road, towards the top of the Gorge, where we planned to climb the next day. The view from the lookout spot was amazing and again slightly intimidating. The sheer drop and immediate exposure is something quite surreal, and I wondered how we would fare tomorrow, especially given that we had not climbed in the area before.

A lovely night, with a lovely view

Now, Sometimes like the previous paragraph, you feel as though the next day might be an adventure, something to look back on and remember fondly! Well not this bloody day, we found out that there was the potential for rain (which it did) the day we planned to climb, and changed our plans accordingly to a route that had a walking approach, so if it did rain we could abseil off. This route was a short drive away, so we set off and had a nice drive over the top of the gorge. 
When we arrived we found the descent path marked by a cairn and a red spot as the guidebook said, however the guidebook also said… “take the descending ‘track’ marked by red spots and cairns to the base of the cliff”, now it appears that my idea of a ‘track’ and the guidebooks is very bloody different! What we ended up on is a down climb with no protection, and the conditions kept getting worse and worse until we were stood above a chimney, looking down wondering how to down climb it and even if we did, what then? It was a sheer fucking drop! The whole descent was one slip or fall to the bottom of the cliff, literally, my nerves were on tender hooks the whole way, it was not safe and eventually my senses got a hold of me and I decided to get the fuck out of dodge, and get back up to the road. I think the guidebooks description is pretty inept, and needs to sort it self out and maybe read, ‘take the defending track marked by cairns and red spots , that eventually leads to a down climb above a 200 metre drop with no safety, literally one fall and your a liquid splodge on the floor, it was nice knowing you…’.

Sat atop the Verdon Gorge, wondering where we went wrong on the descent ‘track’…

Anyhow, we were soon at the van and we had decided that we would move to the coast and rest up on a beach somewhere of the Mediterranean. Maybe it was a little naivety on both our parts, but we both thought we would be able to find a nice quiet spot between the busy towns, park the van and relax for a couple of days. However it was so busy, on the roads, beaches, parking, footpaths…people were everywhere and every spot we passed was crammed to overflow with overweight, mahogany tanned people, all taking in their daily dose of sun, or cloud in this case! It was horrible, it felt stifililng, after months of relative seclusion and beauty we have arrived on a coastline that does not fit the idyllic notions that were expected.
A lot of the places you hear about being nice holiday locations, Cannes, Nice, Monaco etc, all have attached to them the stigma for indulgence, elegance and grandeur. We drove through them all, and each one seemed to make me feel more like running away. They were all ugly places, built up and over populated, it’s fair to say I was hating it. I couldn’t believe people would pay (a lot of money) to stay in such a place. The dream of chilling out on a beach had died, the naivety realised and I just wanted to get out of there! 
Unfortunately, this was not possible as the traffic was determined to make my three hour drive last six, and I was soon loosing patience with the drive and the day. However just to top off this ultimately shit day, I then drove under a low bridge, and although we could get under, we could not get out. I heard something on the roof scrape, and then a crunch, with a halt I knew this was a massive fuck up. As I tried to reverse, the scrapes and crunches turned into shatters and smashes as our air vent and rear roof light were smashed to bits off the top of the van. I was so fucking angry, I was so fucking stupid, and I felt it. 

What should be on top of my van…

It’s fair to say that I could have broken down at that point, this day had been a disaster from the off, And now I still had an hours drive through more traffic to get to our location, only now we have just turned our van into an open top of sorts. We arrived at our location for the night and my mood was rotten, I immediately got on the roof to assess the damage, luckily the solar panels looked as though they have not been affected, and the main roof light has some scrapes, so every cloud has a silver lining… 
That evening, instead of relaxing over a nice bottle of wine, looking over mountains or lakeside scenery like the last few days, I’m parked under a motorway bridge, surrounded by the tissues of countless roadside toilet trips. The closed door to the constant rumbling outside is a complete contrast to sitting out last night under a blanket of stars, listening to crickets chirping and the occasional howls of dogs from distant villages that broke the silence of a beautiful evening. 
As well as all this, we needed to march as quickly as possible down to the local supermarket to buy supplies that we would need to make our van air tight again. A picture frame, some glue, cable ties and some tape, hopefully we will be airtight-ish after a bit of a DIY bodge job tomorrow. It’s hard to put into words how I feel right now, but deflated is defintlay up there. It has not quite sunk in yet, and I keep playing over in my mind what I was thinking, or the twenty other options we could have taken today that would have swerved us away from what was the icing on this shitty day. 
This evening I have had a burger and beer, which was nice, and one of the only good things to come out of this day. Hopefully we have got all our bad luck out of the way for the foreseable future. As for the south coast of France, so far I have hated it, hopefully it improves, but if not I might be bolting directly for the Dolomites to get the hell (key word) out of here. I’m so tired, what a shit day, worst of the trip so far, so here’s to tomorrow.
The next day I managed to patch up the van with the stuff from the supermarket. The rear roof light now has a chipboard cover, wrapped in tape for waterproofing, and held on by two zip ties. The vent at the front is covered by one of our plastic plates, that I colour matched as best as possible and cut to cover the hole. This is glued down with some ‘ultra glue’, the type that has a weight on a shelf in the picture, it’s that tough!! Well we will see!! It’s the heat that might be the problem, as the roof doesn’t half get hot in the sun! In the future I will stop off to a DIY store and try and get some Perspex for the near roof light, so it still serves as a light. As for when we get home, I’m sure replacing these bodges will be first jobs on the list!!

Recce of the damage
Our new roof ‘light’?
Plastic plate, bit of glue and we have a new addition to the roof

That afternoon we managed to climb at la trinite, an old quarry, it’s safe to say I have never climbed on more polished rock before, it was horrendous. It would have been better to try ice climbing in rock shoes, and you might have found more grip! We did a couple of five routes, and I failed on both a 6a and 6b climb. Jess then tried another 6a route and beasted her way to the top. That night we moved on to a new location, La Turbie, one of the most popular climbing locations with over 600 routes, and it was this that immediately made me wonder whether this would be another polish fest! 

Brown pants time, I’ve been on grippier ice rinks!

That night I had the battle of all battles with a relentless mosquito. Every few minutes, I would wake with a new itch, and a buzzing that would waiver as it got nearer and further away, occasionally I would see him in the dim light a try and kill it, but it always evaded me, this mosi had skills! As the night went on I felt more and more like I was at the wrong end of the food chain as the mosquito was eating chunks out of me itch by itch. I decided to up the anti and turned the light on, even though I knew it would disturb Jess, I saw him on the cupboard, the wall, each time I would swipe for him and miss, this guy was like Mohamed Ali, ducking and weaving everything I could throw at him. This light turning on and off, continued so many times I cannot remember, I even upgraded to a rolled up magazine, but still he got away. In the end he left me be and I’m not sure where he went, however I hope we never come face to face again, as I would have to upgrade to a flamethrower or something to get this guy!
Apart from my night time battles, it turned out that the rock was polished but not as bad as I thought, at least not the section we climbed in. This crag overlooked the coast, and the town below. On the other side of the crag you overlook Monaco, and I was trying to trace the GP route along the harbour and through the town. Again, I’m not feeling the attraction to this location it just looks like a built up town with a harbour and a formula one GP once a year, apart from this I don’t know, it does nothing for me.

Birds eye view of Monaco
Shaking out on a climb
Jess working hard

As for the climbing, it was quite positive for the most part and we worked through a couple of 5’s and a couple of 6a’s that were testing enough. The heat was increasing throughout the day and even though we belayed in the shade and was only in the sun on the climbs it was sweaty work. That said once we were out of water we decided to head back to the van and chill before we set off for Italy. All in all the south coast of France on the whole has been a little disappointing, and has certainly not lived up to expectations. For the first time on the trip I have considered selling a guidebook when I go home, as I do not think I would pay to come back here for a climbing holiday. It might just be a matter of being spoilt in all our previous locations, as the scenery and quality of climbing was immense in comparison to what we saw here, maybe the verdon is not part of this grumbling, although we did not get to climb it, so maybe when we come by again we will make sure we get out on a long route. I’m now looking forward to a change of destination and fingers crossed lake combo and the Dolomites will be just as beautiful as expected!

Climbing on the Med, near Monaco
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4 thoughts on “Breaking the van, bodge jobs and the south of France

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  1. We had a similar ball breaking incident with a water leak in our van. There’s nobody to call, nowhere to turn, nobody can tell you what to do… our downtime cost us two days stationary whilst we dried out. As Han would repeatedly say to me, we built it, we know how to take it apart and rebuild it. And that we did, the whole water system in fact, but that’s fine, Han now calls the rear of the van the Man Shed as I’m often tinkering and improving our setup… I agree with your post on costal France, we found something similar in the lakes in Italy which made us want to drive to the Dolomites pronto!

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    1. I think we lucked out in lake Como and found a pretty good spot just off the water and near a little beach. It was a nice set up! The Dolomites so far have been great, such a beautiful place! Any tips on further down the road? Slovenia, Croatia? Scenic places to stop?

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      1. Slovenia was by far and away our favourite place to visit. We ended up spending 5 weeks there. Make sure you buy your vignette as you cross the border as we were stopped by the police 5 mins after buying it. Because we had a sprinter we had to get the more expensive one but it’s worth it. lake bled is by far and away the busiest place to stay as it’s popular with tourists, very beautiful but busy. Small carpark there that you can stay at overnight by the supermarket. Lake Bohinj was equally beautiful and more quiet, again, Aires to stay there. These two locations don’t really allow wild camping and we were moved on. Around the rest of Slovenia, we went to the Socha valley, extremely pretty, great mountains to climb and walk but it’s really well known for its water sports. We also stopped at the border far north at a cheap places called kranjska gora which had mountain biking and an Olympic training centre there, great for outdoor sports again. All of the above are in Triglav national park. The mountains here are a mixture of alpine peaks and dolomite-esk peaks. We headed up towards Rogla which is a mountaintop ski resort with a free place to stay, again we loved it here as there was ample mountain biking and walking opportunities. This is in an area called planica which has loads of places to visit and walk around, not just in Rogla. From our experience you can’t go wrong in slovenia we can’t wait to go back again. People are excellent and friendly, English is the second language if you struggle with Slovenian and it’s relatively cheap. Our blog has the locations of places we stopped if your interested, there was also a great free Aire we found by accident over the Italian border called Lago di Fusine… the weather was too warm for us to go to Croatia and all of the tourists we’re heading there for summer holidays as we finished up in Slovenia. Somewhere we’d like to go back to. Our big surprises so far are Poland, which we really enjoyed, Austria and Germany, we’ve spent a week in Germany so far following the bike parks and walking in the forests of Bavaria. Really quite something! Happy travelling!

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      2. Thanks for all that, did not know about the vignette, so you’ve probably saved us some trouble there. Will have a look at your blog in the future, as currently huddled in a doorway escaping the rain whilst using free wifi. Thanks again!

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