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Deep Blue
Living The Dream
Palavas Les Flots – on the beach, south of Montpellier

The warmth of the sun on our skin and the smell of the sea were both welcomed as we arrived at Palavas Les Flots, 20 minutes south of Montpellier. Right on the beach, Hotel Brasilia was our base for two nights as we explored the area visiting both Sete and Montpellier. February was a great time to visit as the locals got on with their daily lives, enjoying the rest until the summer tourists arrive en masse. A local fishing boat named 'Frogs Legs' made us smile as we wandered along the canal that runs through the town, whilst trying to decide which restaurant we would try that evening. We were spoilt for choice but it turned out that the best menu seemed to be right next door to our hotel!

Crossing the Millau Viaduct

Opened in 2005, the brainchild of French engineer Michel Virlogeux and designed by English architect Lord Norman Foster, the Millau Viaduct spans a total distance of 2,460m over the Tarn River. It holds the world record as the tallest bridge, with its highest pylon towering 343m above the valley and we crossed over it on our journey through France!

Resembling the mast and sails of a boat, the viaduct has a gently slope and slightly curving trajectory and only touches the ground at nine points. It has become one of the Great Sights of the Midi-Pyrennes region, a region famous for the Knights Templars and Roquefort cheese, not to mention some UNESCO World Heritage sites. Unfortunately, February is not the best time to visit due to the weather but it is certainly an area that we hope to explore further in the future.

And so, having driven for more than two hours at over 3000 feet through the region, we started to make our descent to the South of France.

Magny Cours & Vichy

Our drive through central France took us close to Magny Cours, home for many years to pre-season testing of Formula 1 Grand Prix cars so we couldn't really drive past without stopping to have a look, could we?

As we drove up to the main gate, it was obvious that the place was closed but we asked the security guy if there was any chance of having a look around. 'Of course, here's a map for you' he said after asking us to leave the car in the main car park - we were the only car there! And so, we wandered around and took in the view of the track from the colourful stands and imagined what it would have been like full of teams and drivers years before.

From there, we continued down to Vichy, a spa town and home to the Head Quarters of L'Oreal. Our drive here took us through some beautiful countryside and small towns before we climbed a hill and then dropped down into Vichy itself. Many people visit the town during the summer to partake in the many and varied hydro treatments available here, as well as enjoying walks through the parks under a Victorian, ornate iron covered walkway.


'I think I've been here before', said Chris as we arrived into the centre of Auxerre, the next stop on our trip. It turns out that he had; whilst travelling in France with his buddies on one of their classic car trips to the 24-hour Le Mans.

Hotel de la Poste provided us with accommodation for the evening as well as a delicious meal in their restaurant. The hotel reviews on the internet had mentioned that the lady on reception wasn't the most welcoming of hosts and we knew what they meant when she told us to 'turn the heating right up' when we got into our room - why couldn't she have given us a room with the heating already turned on? But we managed to charm her round and didn't complain when their massive dog 'Woody' wanted to slaver all over us!!!

As a town, Auxerre was charming with pastel-coloured, half-timber, higgledy-piggledy buildings everywhere, the kind of architecture you would expect to find in Normandy. The area is famous for its Chablis wine but with such a small car, we only had room for one bottle! A visit to the cathedral here, whilst impressive, was not on the same scale as Laon but you could see where they had got their ideas from. However, what did impress us was the beautiful cathedral organ, remodelled a few years ago with horizontal organ pipes. And so, on to the next stop.

Laon – medieval city and our first night in France

Thank you to Chris and Paula Cadman for recommending we pay a visit to Laon for our first night in France, 230km from Calais. This seemed like a good little run for us and the MG and so we headed for Hotel des Chevaliers, right in the centre of the medieval town, which is perched on a hill-top with an imposing cathedral that can be seen from miles around.

The hotel was perfect and the manager there could not have done more for us. After a good night's sleep and a hearty French breakfast of tartines (French bread with butter and jam), croissants, coffee for Chris and hot chocolate for me (as only the French can do), we headed out to see what Laon had to offer.

The traditional main square in the town, as always the location of La Mairie (town hall), was right next to the hotel and the ramparts offered fantastic views (well, they did the day before when we arrived but this morning it was misty and raining lightly so there wasn't much to see!). The highlight of a visit to Laon is the triple-decker, gothic-style cathedral. Built between 1155-1235, it served as a model for many other famous cathedrals in France and Germany. The lighting inside the cathedral was lovely but the task of building such a substantial, three-floor building was enormous. The exterior was heavily sculpted and very ornate.

The White Cliffs of Dover – departing Blighty!

On a sunny Monday morning, we headed down to Dover and boarded the ferry 'Norman Spirit' for the 90 minute journey over to France. As the famous White Cliffs disappeared behind us and the sound of Gracie Fields faded into the background, we waved goodbye to the UK and got excited about the journey ahead of us. No sooner had we left, when the French coast appeared and the ferry Captain was manoeuvring us into the dock for disembarkation.

The blog is back!

Hello - we are back on the blog!

It has been some time since we last updated our blog but events over the past couple of months took precedence.

A good friend of ours back in the UK, Roy, lost his short fight against terminal cancer mid-December and Chris and I spent three weeks over the Christmas and New Year period with his wife Rosemary, supporting her through a difficult time.

We then spent 3 weeks visiting family and friends around the UK and meeting up with cruising friends at the London Boat Show. The weather was really quite mild although a cold snap with snow towards the end meant that we had to delay our return slightly, but that just meant that we were able to enjoy tobogganing with our nephews, which was fun!

While in the UK, Chris was asked if he wanted to join a friend to take a look at a car at the local MG garage. Whilst there, he spotted a sporty MGF looking for an owner and took me back to take a look. It looked like fun and I was convinced that the boot (trunk for our USA/Canadian friends) was big enough for all of our stuff, so we bought it to drive back to Sicily.

We are now back home aboard Deep Blue, enjoying sleeping in our own bed and not living out of a bag! Here in Sicily, the sun is shining and the sky is blue but there is still a nip in the air. The locals are saying that spring has arrived as the flowers begin to bloom and the cherry blossom appears on the trees; we're not convinced just yet.

A separate blog to follow of our trip back from the UK.

Cowboys and line dancing – in Sicily!!

While sipping a glass of wine in the marina café yesterday lunchtime, a poster stuck to a wall caught our eye; Ranch Dallas - a wild-west night with entertainment was being held in the next town that evening. So, with a bunch of friends, we set off into the Sicilian countryside to find out what it was all about.

Thank goodness we had a sat nav to get us there because it really was in the middle of nowhere, yet only 15 minutes away. We walked through the entrance to be greeted by the smell of the BBQ, a performance stage proudly flying the USA and Confederate flags and lots of people wearing cowboy boots, blue jeans with big, shining buckles and traditional cowboy hats. Luckily, most of us were wearing jeans and checked shirts and by the end of the evening Ni had also bought a cowboy hat so we fitted in just perfectly.

After our Cowboys Plate of grilled meats, beans and vegetables, all washed down with pitchers of lager, or cola in my case as they ran out of red wine (in Sicily!!!) after just one glass, we moved outside to watch the Etna Country Style line dance group strut their stuff whilst the band played country-style. It wasn't long before we all joined in for a group lesson and in no time at all we were moving in time to Achy Breaky Heart with our heels, toes and hands tapping away.

We had a great evening and look forward to the next one. 24 hours later, we still can't believe that we were line dancing with cowboys and cow girls in Sicily last night!

Mount Etna – Europe’s largest active volcano

No trip to Sicily would be complete without walking on Mount Etna and that is exactly what we did last weekend.

At over 10,000ft, it is in almost constant activity and eruptions occur frequently. Last winter alone, Etna erupted twice while we were here covering the boat in a fine, black ash. The volcano emerged out of volcanic activity some 35,000 years ago with the first recorded eruption taking place around 1500BC. The most devastating eruption so far was in 1669 when a massive river of lava destroyed 16 towns and killed up to 12,000 people. Since 1987 the volcano and its slopes have been designated a national park, incorporating 590 sq. km and 21 towns.

We witnessed the results of more recent eruptions that left just rooftops poking out of the now solid, black lava. One building however is considered a miracle. The story goes that a group of local nuns were staying in a convent on the slopes and, though evacuated, kept praying that their convent be spared. The lava stopped just centimetres from the convent, surrounded the building without touching it, and then carried on its decent. That has to be a miracle! Check out the photos to see what we mean.

We went up to 6,000ft and walked up to the edge of Silvestre Crater where it was blowing a gale! The black lava rock landscape was quite dramatic, especially when the sun came out and highlighted the lime green shrubs that were beginning to grow and bring life back to the area.

From here we then went into the woods for some chestnut harvesting! The golden autumnal colours were in complete contrast to the volcano and we enjoyed foraging for chestnuts in the leaves.

The day ended with a visit to a festival in the town of Zafferana Etnea, on Etna's slopes, where stand holders sold local honey, salamis, fresh porcini mushrooms and pistachios as well as lots of other handicrafts. A great day out was had by all.

For all the photos, click

Eco Targa Florio Classic 2012

When we received an email from the marina office asking anyone with cars parked along the marina's perimetre to put them in the car park because there was a 'vintage car show' taking place the next day, little did we know that the show was actually the second day start of the Eco Targa Florio Classic 2012 and what a treat we were in for.

The Targa Florio is one of the world's oldest motor races and, together with the Mille Miglia, is certainly the most famous Italian race in the world. Founded in 1906 by Vicenzio Florio, a Palermo businessman, it was an open road endurance automobile race held in the Madonie mountains, near Palermo.

One of the toughest competitions in Europe, the first Targa Florio covered a whole tour of the island through multiple hairpin curves on treacherous mountain roads, at heights where severe changes in climate frequently occurred. The track length in the race's last decades was limited to the 72 kilometres (45 mi) of the Circuito Piccolo delle Madonie, which was lapped 11 times.

Due to safety concerns, especially by ex-F1 racer, Helmut Marko, who called the race "totally insane", the last Targa Florio was run in 1973, when it became impossible for the event to retain its international status after a number of horrendous and 2 fatal accidents.

The event was re-launched this year and we were very lucky to see close up some great classics that had taken part in previous Targa Florio's. One of our planned winter trips is to visit the Targa Florio museum and to drive some of the mountainous circuit; unfortunately, it won't be in a classic car!

For photos, click HERE

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Who: Chris & Sandra Mennem
Port: Shotley, UK
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