Driving and being ill in France

Driving on the wrong (though some call it the right) side of the road is scary, especially when the roads are so narrow. (I should have rejected the upgrade to a bigger car. I wanted a tiny car as I knew the roads would be narrow.)

Add in trying to find your way out of the airport, and my jaw was clenched tight with stress within minutes. The GPS decided not to speak to us for a while. I think she too was lost.

Mr S is the driver and I am the navigator, with my other roles to be the reminder: reminder to keep right, reminder to watch the gutter, reminder on how to turn left and right.

Can I add how fucking narrow the streets are in old parts of town. They are lanes that cars go down two ways but barely fit one car one way!!! I was nearly in tears when we got lost in Honfleur. GPS do not work in the narrow streets of the old towns very well. So be warned!

Nearly all the cars have scratches and dings – and there is no wondering why!

Look at this street which ended in a pedestrian square that the apartment owner told us to drive down so we could unload. Then Mr S had to reverse uphill, on wet cobblestones, with people walking around!!! Hairy. I couldn’t have down it. (The view is from our Airbnb room.)

The next place we are staying is also in the old part of town, but I am not bothering to drive to the apartment to unload. We can part in a carpark and walk.

Feeling stressed hasn’t been helped by both of us being ill. On the first day I was shaking and retching. I got some sort of bug from Mr S. The bug made it nearly impossible for him to walk to the train station from our house – only about a five minute walk. It hit me when we were driving from the airport. Luckily the owners of the first BnB allowed us access to our room early, despite them being closed until 4pm. I slept for five hours, with a little time awake to vomit. We had a quick walk around the village of Giverney, and then slept again all of the night.

So for our first two days in France, we haven’t felt like eating anything. On our second night we went out but I was asleep by 8.30.

The virus has also hit my muscles at their weak points. My knee and my back.

My next post will be more uplifting. I promise.

Still, after two days, Mr S feels confident driving. And we’ve mastered paying for tolls. (Our two hour journey on Day 2 took three different toll booths.) It was quite simple. Luckily I had found a website which explained the toll booth symbols. Look for the credit card symbol! Our Australian Visa card was accepted with no issues.

We though about taking a more scenic route and not paying for tolls, but it nearly doubled the time travelling as you pass through many 30 and 50 km zones. And frankly the thought of more narrow roads passing through villages was more than we could bear. Driving on the tollways is easier. No worry about incoming traffic or having to make turns.

And another positive thing to note: my French lessons have come in handy. My pigeon French has been helped by google translator and the pharmacy assistant’s pigeon English to buy Mr S some indigestion tablets. I bought us both SIM cards from a shop, communicating in French!


Easter adventure – driving south 

The Pacific Highway is a different beast from that of my childhood; even from that of five years ago. 

In my childhood it was a narrow, windy road with tall trees right next to the road. Me S and I were once nearly wiped out by a logging truck that crossed to our side of the road. Another time one washed a wave of water, from rain that covered the road, over us, so we were blinded. On a narrow crest and curve!

Now for much of it, it is two lanes both ways on separated roadways. Safer. But boring. And by bypassing towns, you don’t just come across interesting places to stop. 

Hence our mid trip cuppa was at an awful stop. The first town we passed through was packed. Because it was the first interesting place to stop! And everyone wanted to stop. So, of course, Mr S didn’t want to stop. 

We tried the first roadside rest stop, one that signs from the start of the highway in NSW has advertised as future rest stops. Surely that must indicate the stop must be large, have good facilities and be attractive? OMG. It was so bad, we drove off. 

Mr S had taken over the driving, and he didn’t notice what may have been a suitable place off the road. Or did he just not want to cross the highway? He took the next road side stop on our side of the highway. It was bleak. Mozzies started to attack me. Mozzies the size of flies. Huge buggers! And then it started to rain. I hid in the car. Mr S stayed outside and fed the mozzies. 

Arriving in Bellingen, where we planned to stay for two nights, was like arriving in Nirvana. Lush, green, and sunny. The town was full of hippies and hipsters or weekend hippies. 

Our accommodation, on the main street, was above shops – a masseuse/naturopath, an alternate bookshop and a locally-made Nepalese-inspired clothes shop. Of course! What else would you expec  in a large rustic building in Bellingen! 

With large front and back verandahs, our accommodation was a spacious retreat. Rustic and arty. And it was all ours. Well except for one room off the back verandah which was used by a masseuse or acupuncturist. We couldn’t see but heard the music and smelt the incense. 

Morning view of the misty mountains from my bed.

Mr S, breakfasting in our kitchen

Back verandah

Back verandah dining table. All ours. Looking over the shops. With a spot like this, why would you go to a cafe for breakfast?

The first night we drank and ate in the pub. The food was gross. So the second night we bought the makings of our own antipasto spread and enjoyed the feast in our flat. 

Cauliflower pakora, lentil and pumpkin patties, prosciutto, cherry toms in fig balsamic vinegar, artichokes, semi dried tomatoes and olives, and French bread.

The pub. Nice beer. Meh food.

We spent the day walking around the shops, along the river, around the town. This is cafe paradise, if you’re into cafes. We’re not but we visited one for a chocolate milk shake and another one for a toasted roast pumpkin, creamy feta, spinach and dukkah sandwich. The afternoon was beer and chatting on our verandahS – time spent on both verandahs, enjoying the different views. 

We’d never seen these birds before. A quick internet search, blue-faced honey eaters, described as “pugnacious”. So accurate. They shooed off other birds to eat the scraps from the outdoor tables at the cafe.

Very yummy roast pumpkin, spinach, feta and dukkah toastie

Lots of choices of places to eat. Bellingen, cafe territory.

Mr S walking down steep path, which we walked up by mistake. The chain would be needed if it was raining. I needed it for the way up.

Old emporium.

We visited the town museum, gold coin donation entry. It has a few interesting pieces but is very cluttered and not well laid out or described. The volunteers here are going for quantity. I don’t think they want to throw anything out but really don’t have the space for it. (By the way, the Uralla museum is also run by volunteers, and while having a much bigger space, have realised space between exhibits is as important as the items exhibited. Without the space and labels, it all just becomes stuff.)

We had a five hour trip home. Time for more Dad’s Army and Agatha Christie radio plays. And, of course, a stop for a cuppa. This stop was off the highway. The toilets were built by volunteers from the local community. Not sure about the tables and playground equipment. I can see the spot will be well used by travellers. It was clean, with a playground for kids to play, somewhere to sit, an information display to read. We watched a family exercise their dog in the field you see behind Mr S. The area is removed from the highway noise but only a short way off the highway. Good for those who hate deviating off the route too far. I hope the local community don’t regret building this and that travellers treat it well. 

The sun had a bit of bite. We were grateful for the shade of the shelters. It was about 25°.

Hedge of fuchsia bottlebrushes in flower along the rest area, separating it from the road.

Mr S and I are universal in enjoying our adventures. A friend pointed out to me that I am lucky to have a partner who enjoys the same “adventures” as I do. And she’s right. 

What awaits us next break? It’s snow season, so not much guess work needed. 

New England adventure cont.

We don’t have many deciduous trees in Australia. We’re not used to seeing evergreens, especially on mass. So the yellows and reds of deciduous trees are not only beautiful, they’re unexpected. 

With the cold climate of the New England area and the early settlers’ wealth and longing for England, it is no wonder that they planted non-native trees. 

It is slightly early for the trees to be changing but the yellow on the golden poplars was striking. This was our first autumn trip though New England; the autumnal colour was an unplanned bonus.

We saw some beautiful views. Didn’t capture them but luckily for the Internet I found some pics. This was the entrance to a farm from the highway. 

Look at the start of the change to red on the vine of the little church. (It is my photo this time.) I googled it and there some strikingly red shots. We might have to go back one mid autumn!


We stopped at Inverell to buy milk for our tea. (Mr S had previously filled out thermos with boiling water at the guesthouse so we could stop for our obligatory cup of tea in a park.) Being the day before Good Friday, the supermarket was busy. Now supermarkets are not the best place to spend time (unless you’re overseas and want to try different foods), especially the day before Good Friday, but we really had to escape and quickly. This was not our sort of place; full of not our sort of people. Interesting buildings, though. 

We drove around town to find a park, we stopped at Jubilee Park. We always stop at parks with tables and benches. And the bench here is exactly why I pack a table cloth. God knows what the stuff was. Quick, hide the gunk! I realised this was not the park I wanted to stop at. There’s one further on the highway with extensive gardens. Oh well, next time!

Jubilee Park rotunda

The town ducks were not interested in my bread scraps, flying away when I tossed some to them. Maybe they were wild migrating ducks?

Ducks on the creek bed

Ducks flying away from me

Or maybe the ducks were just wary of sneaky cats?

The showground was surrounded by a hug fence. Ag shows would have been truely impressive in a time of little other entertainment. Probably still pull a big crowd for different horse shows. Hey, who doesn’t love still the woodchoppers? I captured them at the Sydney Royal Easter Show the week before. 

Woodchopping contest at Easter Show

As we crossed the boarder into Queensland, the Easter traffic picked up. But still nothing compared to the poor buggers just leaving Sydney. 

View from our car on New England Highway in Qld

The steep road up to the top of Tambourine Mountain took us to our Easter hibernation. The holiday makers, among which we don’t count ourselves, can scurry about. We’ll be taking it slow and doing little. 
How to end a road trip? With mum’s home-made, slow-cooked, hearty lentil soup.  

New England stopover

We like having two nights stopover on our road trips so we can explore the place. Not for us arriving at night and taking off first thing next morning. 

Armidale is over the midway point on the more interesting route, the New England Highway. As a university town, the town itself has the buzz of youth. The town and surrounding area has a mix of beauty and things of historical interest. 

We stayed at Peterson’s winery. We’ve stayed here before and loved it – imagining being in our country estate as part of the squatocracy. While pricey, Peterson’s House is lovely. One night’s stay is not enough as you don’t get to make the most of the house and grounds. Those who only stay one night don’t get to play squatter and sit on the verandah and in the gardens.

Originally built by own of the first local settlers, one of the Dangars, it is now owned by a family who have several vineyards. 

As we arrived on dusk on the first night, the fireplaces in the main hall were already lit. Fireplaces? Yes, as one fireplace is not enough, the squatter had two in his main hall and one in all the other rooms. We enjoyed a few drinks to slough off the dust of the road trip in front of the fire. 

Then we repaired to the dining room for a two course dinner. Of course there was another blazing fire in the dining room. 

Mr S had an antipasto platter for entree. The mix of pâtés were especially divine. We seem to have a rule that we don’t order the same thing so we can try a greater variety of food. I had a tomato, basil and creamy feta salad. It was light and the cheese was beautiful. Mr S was happy with his choice. So was I as I ate quite a bit of it too. 

For mains I had pork and mash and Mr S had salmon steak. One of the good things about eating out with Mr S is there is never any wastage. I had to give most of the pork to him to finish off as the servings were very plentiful. Despite the deserts sounding divine, we simply couldn’t fit any in. So we returned to the main hall to talk and relax in front of the fire. 

Being on the outskirts of Armidale there’s very little light pollution. The night sky is rich with stars. But we didn’t actually sleep well. The room was too hot for us, or the blanket too heavy for a heated room. So in the morning we turned off the underfloor heating in the bathroom (though it is a lovely invention – to step onto warm tiles, what a luxury!) and turned off the room heating. 

We started our day with a full cooked breakfast, hearty fare for our planned day of adventuring. 

We were going to follow a tourist route. I’ve never done one before. I’ve often seen the signs in our travels and wondered about them and if anyone actually does them. 

We didn’t stop at the war memorial as we have stopped here before. The symbolism and the story behind the memorial is very interesting. Glad we stopped last time. 

First stop for us on Tourist route 19 was Dangars Gorge and Dangars Falls which is along Dangars Falls Road which runs off Dangarsleigh Road. All in the area called Dangarsleigh. Yes, the Dangars gave name to a lot here. 

We’ve been to the falls before; it is worth a return visit. The drive in is exciting. You drive through private property and the unsealed road is unfenced as you pass through sheep and cattle farms. We spotted a large brown bird of prey, a brown falcon, sitting on a fence post. 

The highlands are deceptive. You don’t notice you have gorges and steep cliffs around you. Much of the farmland looks like rolling hills. Dangars Gorge is awe-inspiring. Photos do not do justice to the depth and majesty of the gorge. 

The quiet water before the falls

We went on a two hour walk around the gorge, to McDirty’s Lookout which looks out over the eastern side of the highlands, not as impressive as the gorge itself, but then nothing can match it. The heavy recent rains meant that the waterfall was pounding. The fence is to keep out wild dogs to protect the cattle and sheep. Mr S is just haming it up. There’s no lock. 

We meandered through more farmland to our next stop, a massive shearing shed. That may not sound interesting to many but this is sheep country. The wealth was made “on the back of the sheep” with wool being shipped “home” to England. The wealth and the centrality of wool is evident in the amazing octagonal shearing shed. It’s massive and of an interesting design. Imagine the interest when it was first built in 1872. Most shearing sheds are utilitarian rectangles of slab construction. 

Just over the 1938 bridge, the Dangers has built a little piece of England. An avenue of oaks leads to another homestead which is hidden from view by trees. I imagine it is comparable to the guesthouse which was built by the same family. The little church is actually sad. Dangar built it as a memorial to his grandson who died in WWI. 

Last stop was Uralla. We visited the museum in the old mill. 

This has a varied collection. A series of paintings tells the tale of Captain Thunderbolt, the famous local bushranger. He’s not Ned Kelly but his tale is very interesting. The collection has items related to the loss of locals from the world wars, Chinese migrants from the gold rush, agricultural settlement and the life of the battlers. In one section, the information blurb has been done by by a wit who’s evidently had great fun writing up the explanations. It’s an excellent regional museum. 

The main street of Uralla is worth a stroll to look at the facades. Mr S had visit the lolly shop to buy Edinburgh Rock. He loves it! But I ended up eating most of it!!!

We returned to our guesthouse in the afternoon to meander around the lawn and admire the trees; enjoy a drink on the verandah; and watch the changing light. 

That night we went into town for an Indian dinner. It was okay. Nothing to write home about but not horrendous. Of course, we had to spend a hour in front of the fire back in the hall at the guest house before bed.  

A deep sleep, another hearty breakfast and we were off for the next part of our road trip. 

Yes Armidale is a perfect place to break a road trip between Sydney and south-east Queensland.  

Easter Adventuring – driving north

We normally stay at home over Easter; the traffic, the crowds. 

Traffic escaping Sydney over the long weekend is mad and we don’t want to be stuck in it. After all we have enough breaks to be luckily enough to travel at other weekends. 

A friend posted this on her FB – leaving Sydney on the Thursday before Good Friday

Still, we planned a trip so we would avoid the traffic of Easter. Indeed this was our first Easter trip away in over 15 years as Easter fell in the middle weekend of our two week break so we couldn’t avoid being away at Easter if we were going to be anywhere but home for any length of time. 

The main purpose of our trip was to visit my mother who lives in the hinterland of the Gold Coast. We could fly up and it would “save” time. But saved for what? Chores at home?

It takes about 10 hours of non-stop driving to get to my mother’s place. We actually prefer to drive and break the trip with an overnight stay somewhere, exploring different regions and towns, and stopping for lunch along the way. 

Mr S is a man of habits. If he had his way, we would stop at the same lunch stop every trip. Once he has a place burned in his mind as being “our stop”, it is nigh on impossible getting him to change. Yet, conversely, when we exploring new places, he loves it. 

Our drive north was via the inland road, the New England Highway. It’s our tradition to stop for a lunch of tea and egg, mayo and lettuce rolls with something sweet for dessert. Mr S makes a thermos of tea and I pack the food, a tablecloth and my fine bone china mug. If I’m going to drink tea, it will be from something nice!

As highways are upgraded and towns by-passed, it becomes harder to get Mr S to stop at nice places. He just wants to keep driving and limit tea stops to roadside rest stops. It is not nice siting on the side of the highway with traffic roaring past and with very little to look at. These stops are utilitarian, rather than part of a sightseeing trip. 

Luckily the New England Highway is still mainly single lane and still goes through towns and villages, offering much to see and interesting places to stop. 

We stopped at Muswellbrook, on the Upper Hunter, in a well-maintained park next to the old railway station. It wasn’t actually very quiet as several long coal trains rumbled by. But in between it was peaceful. And it had various things to look at – a tree with aboriginal markings, gardens, a mural on reconciliation, war memorial, the old train station, playground equipment with families playing on them, information on various old trees in the area. Definitely worthy of a stop and a nice place to have a cuppa. 

Mr S in front of the tree with aboriginal markings and the mural in the background. The observant may notice Mr S wears a cap adorned with my favourite anti-hero.

It’s always sad to see so many family names repeated on war memorials in country towns. So many family lost multiple family members.

The war memorial at one end of the park. The blue sky hides the fact that it was a little cool, perfect tea drinking weather.

Satiated, we had a slow drive by of some of the interesting building of Muswellbrook. 

Another of our road trip traditions is to listen to BBC radio plays. We have the complete three series of Dad’s Army, various Agatha Christie adaptations and other plays. We have audio books too but much prefer full cast radio plays.  It really makes the road trip so enjoyable. 

As we set off late, we arrived at the historic guesthouse in Armidale in the New England Highlands where we were booked in for two night just as dusk was deepening.  

So are you a road tripper? Do you have traditions? 

If you make the trip between Sydney and the Gold Coast, do you have any favourite rest stops to recommend? Share away. New England or Pacific Highways? Which is your pick?