Following a very windy night with heavy rain we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and headed off for Amsterdam where we booked into our hotel and while Norm and Ken returned the car to the airport Sharen and I checked out some shops but our purchases weren’t particularly riveting stuff…a folding umbrella for Sharen and a warm jacket for me.

A canal view on our shopping trek

The weather has been much milder than yesterday with an occasional light shower and a bit of wind but quite comfortable overall so we have all enjoyed wandering some of the streets of Amsterdam and cannot believe the quirky angles so many of the buildings are pointing.

Check out the angles of the buildings and this is real…definitely NOT distorted by the camera.

I had been interested in visiting the house Anne Frank had hidden in during WW II before she and her family were captured but when we finally found it there was a massive line leading up to the museum door and we could see it continuing through the museum before anyone even got into the house so I wasn’t prepared to do that. Instead we crossed the canal and had a hot chocolate and pancake and talked about how fortunate we are not to have experienced such horror.

A small memorial to Anne Frank around the corner from her house

The number of bicycles here is truly staggering! They are parked up and leaning against buildings everywhere as you will also see on some of the pictures here. There are a disturbing number which have dinged up wheels and bits missing and we pondered just how many are incapable of transporting anyone anywhere so wonder if there is ever a council clean-up of ratty / unusable ones or not. Some seem to border more in the realms of litter than bicycles.

Bicycles are parked up everywhere on the footpath…and not just bicycles!

Bits and Bobs:

We saw lots of funny sights which were a testament to how the uses of building has changed over time but this cracked me up

Watch that first step!

Last nights’ accommodation:

Bridges House Hotel
Oude Delft 74
2611 CD Delft Holland

We were intrigued to hear on our canal tour that the artist Vermeer lived in the hotel so I bet he was fit because the stairs are very steep! This was a delightful little hotel, very comfortable and charming outlook. Rooms comfortable, bathroom roomy well equipped including beautiful thick towels, comfortable beds though two singles which we don’t particularly enjoy but is the usual European thing. We also enjoyed the breakfast and the young host has excellent English and is very helpful. A good choice.

Bridges House Hotel

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It has been a grey wet day all day so we decided to do a bit of a round trip in the car in the hope that the weather would clear by the time we returned to Delft so we could explore the old town in fine weather. Instead we parked the car on our return then walked to explore the church with the scary leaning tower but it was closed so we wandered back to our hotel and sat for a bit then ventured out for a hot chocolate and had a quiet wind down before dinner. I’ll let a few pictures tell the story today.

The Peace Palace in The Hague. This is where the International Court of Justice is housed and it felt a little awesome to stand in front of it after having also stood in front of the World Health Organisations building in Geneva last year

The smallest Museum in Delft…the display is changed regularly. Bit of a giggle

A canal scene in Delft on our way back to our hotel with the leaves on trees becoming very sparse

Bits and Bobs:

Local residents can park along the canal edge but not for the faint hearted. Our canal tour guide told us yesterday that since the canals are not all that deep it is not uncommon to scrape across things which have fallen, or been thrown in. Check out the smart car below.

Wouldn’t want to be inattentive when starting up here or kerplop in the drink!

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We started the day with a yummy continental breakfast at the hotel which used to be an old bank building then wandered back down to the town square to find a hole in the wall and get some cash and bought myself a head hugging hat and scarf to contend with the cold and another cap which I loved. The jury is still out if I buy a warm jacket as well….maybe, maybe not.

Some of the many old buildings we saw on our way and yes the date on the building on the right really is 1669 but that wasn’t the oldest building in the town

The streets were being tidied up after last night’s festivities and the only thing left in the square were some stacked up plastic chairs and the empty stage where the very good rock bands were playing last night as the locals are in the throes of celebrating the end of ‘The season’ here. Shame it rained so heavily but there was mulled wine available so the sturdy ones could stay warm….we went and had dinner instead.

Massive Barge on the way to Delft

We returned to the hotel and packed up the little Peugeot with the luggage for all of us and headed off and the weather has been pretty crappy most of the day so haven’t been sorry I’m off the bike…..in fact I napped on and off nearly all the way here. Anyone would think I was a bit snookered….and they’d be right. We only saw 3 motorbikes on the road all day but hundreds of pushbikes around towns and villages.

The canal tour boat we were about to climb onto which was interesting and also kept us dry for a while

Our hotel for the next 2 nights is on a canal and we are on the top floor up 3 neck-breaking sets of stairs. Norm asked the young hotelier what he thought he was doing to old people putting us up there…he just laughed.

We had some delicious apple cake and hot chocolate in the little café on the left and marvelled at the lean on the church steeple which we heard all about on our canal tour

Bits and Bobs:

After my jogging / power walking jaunt from the bike shop to the hairdresser in Faversham my leg muscles are screamingly sore and the ball of my right foot is really painful…..if I was a horse I’d be put down! The troops took pity on me on our way back to the hotel and we stopped around the corner from our hotel for a drink and we have now booked to go back for dinner

The view from our table

Last nights’ accommodation:

Hotel Heritage
Niklaas Desparsstraat 11
8000 Brugge Belgium

What a thoroughly delicious old beautifully maintained building. We felt like we were in a royal palace and the staff were brilliant and spoke beautiful English which was a great bonus. It was a ‘nice place to just melt into’ and a short walk to the main square and a plethora of magnificent old buildings and incredible sights in this very picturesque little city.

Hotel Heritage

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I heard heavy rain on the roof overnight and thought ‘I don’t care….I won’t be riding in it!”

One of Margot’s friendly neighbours from over the fence coming for his daily carrot and apple. We also saw some pheasants that looked like they thought they owned the field.

The morning was chilly, only 10.5 degrees which is only a third of a lot of the temperatures we have had in the time we were touring through France and Spain so a little chilly, and according to the forecast and Sharen and Ken won’t be a lot better than that over the next few days. Again, I don’t care; I will be in a car with heaters…how cushy is that!

Our train for Belgium arrives at Ebbsfleet International. Launching place for many passenger trains to and from Europe as well as a through point for those from Stratford International and Pancras International which whistled through the station at a hurtling pace.

SO, we repacked our cases yesterday and headed for an early train from Faversham to Ebbsfleet International in the hope we could exchange our tickets for Brussels for an earlier departure but no luck there so we have had a nice kick back, a HUGE HOT coffee (yum) and then headed onto the train.

The changeover from Brussels to Bruges went well and we arrived in the evening in time for dinner with Sharen and Ken and also to do some planning for tomorrow’s departure. It was good to have the whole team back together again.

Bruges street scene….way too many wonderful shots to minimise…where to start and where to stop

Bits and Bobs:

When we left the UK in early September the leaves were just starting to change to their Autumn tones but yesterday there were fallen leaves swirling up around us along the roadway where we rode and there was a constant soft stream of leaves fluttering down just about everywhere we rode. It felt strangely peaceful.

Last nights’ accommodation:

Private accommodation
Water Lane

We were fortunate to obtain private accommodation as a favour to a friend as the hotel and local B & B’s were booked out in the lead up to a combined 60th birthday for Sir Bob Geldof and his daughter Peaches birthday also. Sir Bob lives at Davington Priory only 5 minutes out of Faversham and the local accommodation is chockers with event managers and the entourage. Anyway, enough of that, it turned out to be good news for us because we had a wonderfully comfortable stay in an absolutely charming little cottage complete with a cooked English breakfast this morning, not to mention a million dollar welcome from our host Margot. We walked down the street last night for dinner at the Ship Inn which was also delicious….and we could speak English and everyone understood us and we them. Simple pleasures!

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The morning dawned very grey and before we finished breakfast was pouring rain. Damn! The bulk of the rest of the day's weather was a sample of what our trip could have been and thankfully wasn’t.

So...…wet weather gear on, and off we went. The rain lasted for about the first hour then we had rain on and off and road spray for most of the rest of the day until about an hour out of Calais. The rain was replaced by wind which was fortuitous as it pretty much dried out the wet weather gear before we got to Calais.

We unfortunately didn’t get much of a view from the Normandy Bridge (the big one we saw from the harbour last night) as we came over it this morning as it was pouring and the water was sheeting down the road surface and for good measure the wind was ferocious and threatening to at one minute blow us into another lane or into the edge railing and the next minute tip us right over. Without doubt the scariest wind we have ever ridden in!

Finally loaded onto the train at Calais and 5 minutes after departure time they announced we wouldn’t be departing for another 30 minutes…..got a bit panicky then, I had a hair appointment in Faversham to cover the scary bits! Anyway, finally got to Faversham and literally ripped off the outer layers of bike gear and jogged and power walked to the hairdresser and was only 10 minutes late. Phew! Happy with the hair by the way.

So, hair done, back to the shop to get changed, kiss the bikes goodbye then Gareth dropped us off at our accommodation so we have shared a lovely cuppa with our host and will head down to the local pub for dinner shortly. Tomorrow we head for the station and ultimately to Bruges (Belgium) so will likely keep some sort of blog of that as well….we’ll see.

The view from the conservatory to the garden at tonights accomodation

Bits and Bobs:

Seemed a bit weird not to have Sharen and Ken in our rear vision mirrors once we got to the UK so it will be good to catch up with them again in Bruges (Belgium) on the 7th.

Last nights’ accommodation:

Hotel L’Ecrin
19 Rue Eugene Boudin
Honfleur 14600 France

The Hotel consists of a main building which was just exquisite and better maintained than any of the manor houses and most of the castles and chateaus we had seen as well, ther was also a collection of lovely buildings spreading down the side of the hill towards the village. The room was decorated beautifully and was roomy and comfortable. WIFI worked well (as it has in nearly all our accommodation choices). Our welcome was wonderful and the breakfast was delicious. We were a short walk to the harbour and many eating and shopping options and this would make a lovely base if you were looking at being here for a few days. Even has a billiard room, pool, sauna, spa and many lovely spots in the garden to relax. How good is that if you want to spoil yourself!

The main building - Hotel L’Ecrin

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Well our last full day in France has been a cracker. Our estimation of the weather map was spot on and we were far enough north to miss the rain band headed for Paris so had the waterproofs on to defeat the wind chill factor until lunch time then just kept the pants on after that. We have had INCREDIBLE weather for our trip so the planets have been aligned and all our saints upstairs have obviously been on the job so thank you to all responsible!

A quirky shot of the parade of sheep beside our hotel heading for the salty marshlands around Mount Saint Michel which was some of the entertainment we had at breakfast

The scenery we have seen today has been just beautiful and we have seen so many picture postcard views along the way with buildings from the tiny cute and quirky to the huge ‘Oh my God stupendous’ and everything in between, and while I had thought today may be a bit of a letdown since we are heading to the end of our bike riding for the trip it has been anything but.

Looking towards the Cathedral at Bayeux from what used to be the area which housed the village tanneries. The municipal workers were removing weeds from the waterways…I suspect that wouldn’t have been necessary in the days the tanneries were there so the old swings and roundabouts routine as always!

Our first point of call was Bayeux to see the Bayeux Tapestry which dates back almost 1,000 years. This is a vast wool embroidery on linen cloth which spans the centuries, illustrating the Conquest of England by William, Duke of Normandy who prior to the conquest was known as William the Bastard and after defeating King Harold was known as William the Conqueror. The Tapestry is approximately 1 meter high and 70 metres long and is a comic strip as such, which transports the viewer back to medieval times in the midst of Viking boats and Norman knights. The tapestry was displayed for two weeks every year in the cathedral at Bayeux and it is amazingly well preserved. I was grateful of the commentary and it tied up some of the information we had seen at Hever Castle in the UK. This is the region of Normandy and many of the influences for ‘Norman’ architecture we recognised in the UK comes from here.

The Bayeux Cathedral which was a beautiful peaceful place inside

From here we headed to Omaha Beach which was the point of landing for the American troops on D Day June 6th 1944 when the push to liberate Europe began in earnest. Where once there had been a very expensive holiday village, the playground for the rich and famous of Paris there now stands a small holiday settlement. We visited the Museum and were grateful that our parents, ourselves and our children had not been involved in such a conflict. It was a ‘bloody battle’ and the beach was apparently known as ‘Bloody Omaha Beach’. From here we walked down to the beach which is now a quiet peaceful place and enjoyed the peace of the place.

The Memorial at the rear from many years ago and the sculpture for the 40th Anniversary in 1984 on Omaha Beach. A name I remember from many TV documentaries and accounts of WWII.

From here we headed for Honfleur and again were treated to many beautiful vistas and the ‘Norman’ influence in buildings was very obvious particularly as we approached Honfleur. We headed off from the main road on another GPS short cut to our accommodation and wound our way through tiny country lanes past some incredible real estate and then we were descending a really steep hill into the old town and next thing turning down a tiny lane to….would you believe it, our Hotel where we got a million dollar welcome. We headed down to the village to explore and found an incredibly beautiful harbour village which looked spectacular and even more so once the sun set and the up lights turned on. We saw the bridge above the loch gates lift and let a yacht into the little harbour and can see the sails from the the bridge we will no doubt ride on tomorrow to get to Le Havre. What a treat all round.

The Harbour at Honfleur looking towards the loch where the bridge lifts to allow entrance to the harbour Honfleur from on top of the bridge looking back to the town

Bits and Bobs:

Last nights’ accommodation:
Auberge De La Baie
33 Route De La Rive
50170 Ardevon, Mont St Michel France

Well this was one of our budget choices and so we expected the small room and no air-conditioning (thankfully we didn’t need it anyway) but it was clean and presented well, we also weren’t crowded out by all the coach traffic because this is pretty much a one destination / attraction town i.e. the Mont St Michel. The WIFI was (*#%^) but they didn’t charge us for it which they had intended to so okay in the end. The dinner at the restaurant was delicious but we didn’t choose the ‘Salad with pig’s ears and chicken gizzards’….and I kid you not that was on the menu! If you have a family and they like the whole farmyard scene then this is the place for you! Why? Because the hotel which has been here for hundreds of years beside a small country road has now been extended on the accommodation side to cater for coaches and disabled patrons and is across the road from a dairy and the road between them is the main access route for cows to the dairy and sheep to the salt marshes for feeding at low tide as the road testifies to with the generous coverage of manure all over it!

The Hotel on the left of the road and the dairy on the right of the road. We were grateful it was cool enough to leave the windows closed so our room didn’t smell like a cow-yard.

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Hard to believe we are down to just a few more days in France, only one more night after tonight..….where did it go?

We have had a comfortably cool ride for the majority of the day and even donned the wet weather gear this morning as it was very grey and misty in Tours but we got only a dozen or so spots of rain and packed them away after lunch in Fougeres.

Street scene typical of what we saw in Fougeres a town with over a thousand years history the sign said outside the town and the place was immaculate as well as the newer suburbs. Very nice.

The travel today has progressed through largely autumnal toned forests and rolling grassy fields and cropping areas as well as intensive market gardening as we saw yesterday also. Saw quite a bit more dairying and cattle today and the laugh tonight is that our hotel is across the road from a dairy complete with the track down the road the cows travel on complete with the generous sprinkling of fertiliser. Ha ha. Thankfully our rooms face onto another street.

On our way up to the Abbey with its many hundreds of stairs and much puffing and blowing later. In the 14th century the Mont outlasted a siege of 30 years in the 100 year War which is staggering to even contemplate. On our return to the gate we found a very nice chapel to St Michael where we lit a candle for family and friends past and present as well as safe travelling for us of course. This was a nice peaceful place.

Once we checked in we headed for Mont Saint-Michel which is hard to miss as you will see as it rises up above the farm and marsh land and is accessible via a causeway to the car park which has a sign to let you know what time high tide is expected and if it is safe to leave the car. The photographs we saw with the tide in totally covers the coach parking area!

The Aussie invasion of Mount Saint Michel

Bits and Bobs:

Love the French sign for ‘Over-dimensional Loads’ the title is “Convoi Exceptionnel’.

Last nights’ accommodation:

Hotel Ronsard
2 Rue Pimbert
Tours 37000 France

A short walk to the old city and the river. Very friendly and helpful hostess and a very nice breakfast. Rooms small but nicely decorated and comfortable. Heated towel rail brilliant for getting the undies dry as it was at our Paris accommodation. Free parking for motorbikes in the garage beside the hotel.

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We had a leisurely breakfast and didn’t head off until a bit after 10am but we had lots of sightseeing ahead of us. The morning was beautifully cool and misty as we headed off along the banks of the Loire River on roads which were as much levee banks as roads and have travelled on more of those throughout the day. The Loire Valley was where the French royalty and aristocracy built their ‘summer houses / palaces’ in times gone by and there are many and they are definitely high on the ‘magnificence’ scale.

Chateau de Chenonceau viewed from the edge of one of the gardens. The Chateau is built out across the river and allowed access for watercraft to provide goods for the Chateau Larder from the water, it also allowed for beautiful cool ventilaton through the building from on top of the water which we appreciated today. The palace was whimsical and decorated beautifully with incredible tapestries and a tribute to those preserving it for future generations that it is in such good condition. Some major restoration works were in progress.

Our first stop was Chateau de Chenonceau which was just beautiful and probably the most beautiful of the three we visited today though all were different. This had an interesting history belonging to the mistress of the monarch at one time who had the good sense to give it back to the widow of the monarch when he died. I imagine she got to keep her head that way. We’ve decided it was a very expensive exercise for the aristocracy to maintain wives and mistresses….no different to modern times I guess though the capacity for the wives to keep track is likely easier these days.....and more costly for the straying husband as it should be.

One of the beautiful gardens within the moats of the Chateau

From here we headed off to the village of Amboise to visit Le Chateau des Rois de France (The Royal Chateau Amboise) which again was beautiful but where Chenonceau had been built more as a family home and a place of retreat and enjoyment, this had been more a fortress though quite magnificent rising up over the village along with its spiral ramped entry for horses and carriages and two horsemen abreast from village level to the courtyard of the Chateau. I also liked the garden here, it was tiny compared to the previous Chateau but ordered and peaceful to look over and totally on top of the hill and beautiful in its own way. The Royal family of the time were its owners and the Monarch Francis retained Leonardo da Vinci as a member of the court who continued much planning work for him. Leonardo da Vinci was buried in the chapel here at his request.

Amboise – Chateau Royal from above the garden

The day had gotten very hot by the time we left here but we had decided on a picture we wanted (thanks to a brochure at the Chateau) so headed off to get that before we headed to our final destination for the day.

Two Aussie bikers and the village of Amboise with the Chateau Royal in the background – A signature French shot!

Our final port of call was at Clos Luce and the Parc Leonardo da Vinci. This was the Castle Leonardo da Vinci lived in for the final three years of his life and the park like gardens which were the grounds. Really peaceful. He was great friends with the Monarch Francis and was a favoured member of the Royal Court. This was a lovely building and home, the building was beautiful and tasteful and not fussy at all and in remarkably good shape. The big bonus for the boys was that there were working models of heaps of his inventions in the basement which were quite remarkable. What a brilliant mind this man had! To quote Norm ‘imagine what he could have done if he had an engine and modern materials!’

Clos Luce from the garden (the back of the building)

Bits and Bobs:

One of the many floral arrangements from Chateau de Chenonceau provided from their own garden which were scattered throughout the Chateau and really enhanced the experience. I think I enjoyed these almost as much as the Chateau. They were just beautiful and we loved visiting the Chateau farm and the flower and vegetable gardens also.

As a matter of principle this was one of Leonardo da Vinci’s invention labelled as ‘The First Car’ complete with the description which was attached.

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According to our maps we had over 5 hours travelling today so we headed off at 8.45 am to beat as much of the heat as we could and the ride initially was pretty chilly but just beautiful as we wound our way down from the mountains in the soft morning light through many small villages and farms until we got into more open land with larger settlements and ultimately larger fields as well.
The ride through the woodlands was spectacular with the morning light gently filtering through the green and gold leaves and producing dappled shade where I suspect was more dense shade a couple of weeks ago. The further north we have travelled the more the autumn tones are obvious in fact there were probably more shades of gold than shades of green in the deciduous forests today and not quite so much of the clarets colours as had been evident yesterday.

Stained glass window above the altar in St Peters Cathedral Poitiers. Built on the remains of ancient churches in the 1100's and known for it's light interior. In remarkably good condition and undergoing a major refurbishment program which will cost heaps. Glad it's not my responsibility.

The day consisted of being committed to making a mile and giving ourselves enough breaks to not make it punishing. The fact that a good deal of it was on country roads helps with not sitting hard on the seat in one position for too long, but with a maximum of 90kmh for heaps of it and village speed limits of 50kmh meant slow travel for a lot of it and we only got on to some motorways just after Poitiers.

The Loire River - Tours

By the last fuel stop before making it into Tours I had shed all my layers of linings, leather vest and long sleeve shirt leaving just the sleeveless T top but I was still grateful once we got into Tours that the streets were shady and our hotel wasn’t all that far from where we got off the motorway.

Street scene in Tours of some of the quirky buildings. The buildings of the old city are largely different to those in Sarlat but it is still tempting to start snapping the camera every corner I turn around!

We had coffee at a little bar in Limoges amongst the locals and several walking tours past the cathedral and then lunched at a little village with a comedian for a chef so it was a bit of fun and after a walk around the old part of the town tonight had a yummy dinner and came back to the hotel to crash for the night.

St Martins Basilica - Tours (a local saint from 360AD). The original Basilica of which a little remains was built around 470AD and the current one started in 1860 and completed and consecrated in 1925. Had a lovely feel about it

Last nights’ accommodation:

La Villa de Consuls
3 Rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau
24200 Sarlat France

Yummy little accommodation on a walking lane (very quirky) with a number of accommodation options within the one complex attached to a central reception area courtyard and breakfast room. Units are close enough to apartments to call them that. No sink but a microwave and fridge and plenty of utensils to manage. There are communal washing machines and dryers (no charge to use other than soap powder) which is brilliant for any travellers especially for these ones on the road for a good number of weeks. There is a bar next door if you don’t want to walk anywhere but heaps of choices for restaurants within easy walking distance. Secure parking available not all that far away and a host who carried all our bags upstairs and supposedly told Sharen that our bags were heavier than hers (jury is still out on that one!) He was even about to come and look for Norm and I and Ken as he thought we had been longer parking than he anticipated…how good is that! Would stay again given the opportunity.

La Villa des Consuls hiding up a little lane in Sarlat

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We decided to give ourselves an extra 30 minutes in bed this morning before breakfast but with the temperature expected to be 30 plus today thought we should head off on our tour before the worst heat of the day as we had some areas we anticipated tramping around before we made our way back to here to explore further.

Les Jardins du Manoir D’Eyrignac

The ride today has been just awesome with a greater intensity of autumn colours visible in the forest foliage so a real treat. Our first stop was Les Jardins du Manoir D’Eyrignac which are privately owned gardens which have been in the same family for over 500 years and has over 80,000 visitors a year. We were happy to be here before the crowds arrived and enjoyed a peaceful coffee before we headed off.

Two Aussie bikers making their way to Rocamadour and yes it was a one way bridge

From here we headed off to find the village of Rocamadour with our first layer of clothing removed as it was starting to warm up and the visual treats just kept on rolling out in front of us from villages, individual cottages or manor houses and spectacular scenery viewed from winding country lanes. Just beautiful!

On the road to Rocamadour

Rocamadour was NOT a disappointment and we wound our way up to the Chalet and walked out on the ramparts for some spectacular Ariel shots of the surrounding countryside then had some lunch before heading back to Sarlat for some exploring of the village.

Rocamadour clinging to the cliff face

The market was amazingly still happening on our return so we had a circuitous journey to our garage as we had done getting out of town in the morning and after a shower started wandering the many lanes and passage ways which make up the town of Sarlat. Incredible.

Sarlat street view looking towards the Church which built in the 17th century on the foundations of an Abbey built in the 9th century

We finished our exploration at the Hotel Madeleine which was the hotel Norm and I were supposed to stay at last year had I not come off my bike in the second day into our trip.

Hotel Madeleine across a small park area

Bits and Bobs:

For the record, the temperatures are unseasonably hot here at the moment which we are benefiting from and supposed to hold out over the weekend with a couple more 30 plus days…….not sure what the forecast is after that but it doesn’t matter, we will enjoy it anyway.

As we left the hotel this morning we were surrounded by the setting up of market stalls so the ‘Bell twins’ bought themselves some matching hats which we appreciated at the gardens and elsewhere throughout the day

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