86. If Carling made cities . . .

Ever since our son John went to live and work in Groningen I have grown increasingly fond of the place with each visit. Last Sunday he took us to watch FC Groningen play Twente Enschede and as we walked to the ground, at the other end of the city, I reflected that there can’t be a prettier walk to a football stadium than the one from John’s flat to the Noordlease Stadion. You walk along tree lined avenues, cross picturesque canals and call in at the quaint little pub used by the ‘ultra’ supporters where beer is only a euro on match days. Given that this is a city of breathtaking beauty, with fantastic bars and restaurants, where everyone travels by bicycle it just seems that someone has sat down and deliberately designed a Utopia. Carling could not have made a more perfect city.

The stadium is a strange building – from the outside you would think it was a shopping mall but as you walk in the pitch seems to appear out of nowhere. Maybe it was a trompe l’oeil or maybe it was the effects of the cut-price beers on the way. Anyway it’s an attractive little ground of just over 22,000 seats and with some nice little quirks. The doors to the toilets indicate what they are with a life size photo of a man or woman using them.

You don’t have to guess where this door leads
And you don’t have to guess which door goes up and which comes down
From the outside it looks like a mall or cinema complex. Once inside it’s a bit of a surprise to find a football pitch
Inside, you find a modern, compact stadium. Groningen have just scored their goal as the locals get back to their chips and beers

Just a pity that the match itself could not live up to its surroundings. Groningen won a scrappy affair with a single goal against the run of play. Still, we had the walk home to look forward to.

As ever when we are away in the Sick Bay, our plans are pretty fluid and they changed the next day when we decided not to go to Germany to see the VW museum. Our friends Dirk and Dagmar, who live near the museum were away so we will make that trip another time when we can meet up with them.

So we set the sat nav for Avignon, toll-free, and set off for a few days in France.

Why Avignon? There is a TV programme that Joy watches, and I’ve also recently become hooked, where people go off to buy stuff in French flea markets and then flog it back in England. Apparently Avignon is one of the best so that’s why Avignon. Another reason was that if you enjoy bumbling across Europe in a campervan then you will be hard pressed to find a more scenic journey than the one that takes you through southern Belgium, Luxembourg, into the Moselle region and then down the stunning Rhone valley.

The Rhone valley is one great view after another
On our journey we came close to Cologne (Koln) which was where, 45 years ago, the Sick Bay first saw the light of day as an ambulance
Just outside John’s flat where we can park during the day but not, unfortunately, overnight.
The Dutch are very protective of women – Joy could park a car here but not me
Once again Groningen was the focal point for our whole family as Adele, Ed and the grand kids were also there – Ed using the preferred local transport to ferry the boys about
Can there be a more scenic route to a football ground than this?
Lunch in the market square – is it fair that Groningen also has the best fish and chips in the world?


Outside the Nordlease Stadion, John and Carolina explain how most people travel to see F.C. Groningen – have a guess
As usual, we stayed overnight in free aires and found they were just as nice in Belgium as they are in France.

In Avignon we found a municipal campsite just a few hundred yards from the square where they hold the famous flea market. On the day we arrived it was the site of a food market so we went along to check it out. It is overlooked by a medieval fort which makes for a spectacular backdrop – just like the bloke on the telly said. Apparently, the flea market is also famous for its oysters and white wine lunch that everyone tucks into after they’ve finished with the haggling and bartering. So even if I don’t see anything of interest on sale, I’ll be looking forward to my lunch.

The food market in Avignon. If the flea market is half as good I will be happy. Let’s see tomorrow . . .

About Basil John Mandy

A sixty odd year old born in Ladysmith, South Africa. Manchester United supporter and a great fan of the city in general. I worked for Kelloggs since 1982, apart from a year's sabbatical that I took to ride a bicycle to South Africa. I retired at the end of 2015 and have 2 grandsons, Lenny and Ellis. And now I've got a granddaughter as well - Dottie Joy!!

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