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Wednesday, 30 June 2010

27th May – Day 50

We left the campsite at Parc de Montsabert and headed to nearby Brissac-Quince as they had an open-air market in the morning.  It was a traditional French market, all sorts of stalls throughout the market square and surrounding narrow streets – there was a great atmosphere.  Sounds of all sorts of live fowl, smell of fresh fish, cheese stalls, fruit and vegetables, meat, + various haberdashery you name it…  We also bought a crepe (with Nutella) and a gallette (with sausage and cheese) to quell our hunger cravings as we walked around.  Bought some strawberries, some meat and then went on our way.

We decided that we had come far enough west and weren’t too fussed about going to the coast, so we put in the co-ordinates for Briare (which is where we want to end up in the day before we drop of Suzab) and will head slowly back east-ward. 

We drove through Neuille-pont-pierre and noticed that it had an Aire, which we looked up in the book and found that all services were available and free.  We got there and it was in a car park behind the town’s police station and post office, next to a woodland park, which suited us.  Callum and I played with tractors on the grass for a couple of hours, while Lorraine chilled out.  We watched local school children doing laps around a woodland running track, which Callum found very interesting and asked if he could run as well.  Once the children had finished, Callum and I ran round, also running up and over what seemed to be BMX humps.  We had a good laugh doing this.  The sun kept poking its head out from the clouds and keeping us warm – lovely weather compared to the day before.

We then took a walk into the town centre; I had a beer in a café whilst Lorraine and Callum explored the church opposite.  We did some more playing with tractors on our return and another run around the woods, before eating dinner on the picnic bench next to where we had parked.  I noticed a young English couple arriving and had a quick chat with them; they had driven down from Calais that day (quite a trek) on their way to a wedding in Spain.  Turns out they had sold their businesses and house and bought a motor home – an even bigger life change than what we embarked on – but it was nice to meet some travelers with something in common.

Callum was tired right out after all the exercise, so he passed out early and me and Lorraine watched a movie together, which was nice and relaxing.

 

28th May – Day 51

This morning we woke and it felt very cold outside, although there were beautiful blue skies. Rob and Callum took a walk to the bakery to get some bread and returned with Pain au Chocolat as well. After breakfast, the first thing we needed to do was to do a top up shop and we finally found a Super U supermarket with the trolley cars that Callum had been asking for every time we went shopping.

We looked in the Aire book and found a nice looking place just 30 mins down the road in Montoire-sur-le-loir and as the weather was so nice we decided to go straight there and have a relaxing day. The picture in the book did it justice – a beautiful spot by a river in a pretty town and it was very quiet.

Callum was asleep when we arrived, so Rob and I took the opportunity to have a rest too.  Then I did some hand washing whilst Rob and Callum played by the river for a couple of hours. Later we took a stroll into the town and visited the church. It is incredible the number of churches we have visited in the last 8 weeks, more than in my 33 years I think! Next we found a place that served Menu du Jour and we enjoyed a delicious 4-course menu for just 12 Euros each (Callum shared from our plates.) We were all very full after this and took a stroll back to our place by the river. We set up the picnic blanket and Rob and I actually managed to lie down for a couple of hours whilst Callum played with his tractors; sometimes with us and sometimes by himself.

At dinnertime we decided to have a picnic on the rug and take advantage of the continuing warmth and sunshine. As we were eating, a British motorhome parked up next to us and an elderly gentleman got out. He was on his own so we invited him to join us. His name was Alan and he told us that his wife had died in October. They had owned motorhomes for 44 years and this was his first trip without her. We had some very interesting discussions on some of the social and political problems in England and how they could best be sorted. We stayed outside chatting until 8pm, by which time Callum was very tired and needed to go to bed.

A few teenagers turned up at 9.30pm and sat on the bench by the river for a while. As there were many discarded bottle tops around, we wondered if we were now in for a night of teenage revelry outside our window, but their parents came to pick them up 30 mins later and we had total silence for the night until the dawn chorus. 

 

29th May – Day 52

At 8am I heard Lorraine and Callum stirring and announced that the gas had run out at 5am (the fridge starts ticking when it is waiting for a gas supply) and so our fridge was slowly becoming warmer. It was therefore very important for us to get moving and find somewhere to buy some more. 

We found a local garage selling gas and bought a new canister and quickly looked for somewhere to stop so we could cook some porridge for breakfast.  Nouzilly was the closest village/town and we parked up just by a busy boullangerie.  Callum and I bought some bread and then unsuccessfully tried to look in the church (it was locked) then we headed for Rochecorbon and Lulu Park, a place full of outdoor kids activities.  The weather wasn’t nearly as nice as the day before, the sky was completely overcast – but it was pleasant enough and just right for being able to run around and play for the afternoon, which is exactly what Callum did.  Almost as soon as we got in, he locked onto these 3 wheeled go-karts (that he decided were tractor mowers) and pretty much played on them for about 5 hours, becoming quite nifty on them by the end of the session!  He also had short bursts of time on trampolines, a small train, bobsleigh, a couple of bouncy castles and a go with Rob on some adult go-karts. 

As we were driving out of Rochecorbon on our way to the Aire we had chosen to sleep in, we noticed some incredible mansions that had been built into the cliffs that lined the Loire River.  There was some really amazing architecture and we agreed that it would be good to come back another time and inspect more closely. 

About 10 minutes down the road was the private residence of a local wine producer, Martin Christian, in Montlouis-sur-Loire.  Although it was listed in the Aire de Service book, it was more like a French Passion location.  Martin greeted us as we arrived, hooked up Suzab to his electricity supply before showing Callum his 4 tractors (2 wine crop sprayers, a vineyard tractor and a normal tractor – a McCormick, exactly like one of Callum’s models) and inviting us into his Cave to taste some wine and see the cellars.  He specializes in Chenin Blanc and his family has been producing here since medieval times, his caves are now 719 years old.  He gave samples of about 7 years, each getting gradually sweeter.  Then we went into the cave system – never seen anything like this before; endless corridors, dug by hand out of the limestone using pickaxes and shovels and along the corridor walls were enclaves containing thousands of bottles of wine, each enclave marked with the specific year that it contained.  Martin himself had been making wine since 1949.  Unsurprisingly the end of the tour is where he offers the wine for sale.  We did buy some, including a bottle of his 2001 demi-sec, which at first he said he had sold out of, but actually he did have 10 bottles left (I went with him to the enclave) so he picked one out, dusted it off and put a label and a cap on for us (it was interesting to see this being done).

Callum performed the now obligatory process of sitting on each tractor one more time, before going to bed.

30th May – Day 53

It rained quite heavily overnight, but by 10 o’clock the clouds started to give way to blue sky and sun.  Martin bade us farewell before leaving to go to church, asking that we shut his gates behind us when we leave.  Very trusting people here, we have discovered.  We drove to Chenonceaux, a town containing a very large chateau and parked up in the chateau car park alongside about 20 other camping cars, so many hundred cars and about 10 coaches – we were now in ‘tourist-ville’. 

The camping car parking area was next to a field with a couple of friendly horses in it and Callum enjoyed stroking them, although I expect the horses would have appreciated a snack in return.  We cooked lunch and ate it on the grass next to Suzab before going to the entrance of the chateau.  We looked at the fairly high entry prices (no tariff for gardens only, unfortunately) and weren’t convinced that it was worth it, despite it looking amazing (from pictures in a leaflet we had picked up the day before) especially as it would have been heaving with people and Callum would have wanted to race round it.  So we decided we would leave it for another time. 

So we walked into the town, had a quick look around their small church and looked for somewhere that we could sit and play for a bit.  We found a municipal park, which was essentially some grass and a bench next to a small car park – but it was landscaped well enough.  Around the corner from here was a small shop selling pottery, next to which was a table and chairs.  I enquired in the shop whether they served coffee, but alas they did not.  On returning to the park for a sit down, we noticed a lot of cherries on the floor, having fallen from a large cherry tree absolutely covered in bright red, ripe cherries.  We stood there for about 15 minutes, helping ourselves to the fruit – it was gurt lush!

After we’d sat in the park and chilled for a bit, doing a spot of people watching (mainly well turned out French families) we went to a local café for some coffee and cake.  When it came to paying, I only had 10 Euros on me and the bill came to 10.80.  She wouldn’t take card for less than 15 and wouldn’t let us off the 80 cents.  I didn’t really feel like arguing about their high prices, so I ran back to Suzab (about 2 minutes away) to get some change.

From Chenonceaux, we drove to an Aire in Ange.  It turned out to be quite a popular destination with space for about 20 camping cars, nearly all taken.  It had all services (including electricity) for free and a nice big open field that Callum could run around in.  We’re on a bit of an economy drive for the last week, so continued our home cooking theme and had omelette, chips and salad.


Posted by xpresha at 12:01 AM BST
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Wednesday, 26 May 2010

22nd May – Day 45

This morning Rob made tractor barns with Callum and harvested many things including feathers, leaves and stones. They had lots of fun spending time together and it’s been so lovely watching their relationship develop.

We left after having a little picnic lunch under the trees at the campsite. A short stop down the road we stopped to clean Suzab on the outside as she was filthy! Then it was on to Montargis to the place where we had picked her up. We arrived after about an hours driving and picked up our bags for all our clothes so that I didn’t have to worry about packing on the morning of dropping her off (forward planning!)

After leaving a few things in our car and filling up some bottles of water we headed off to a France Passion farm in Sandillon (nr Orleans.)

We arrived and found we were to park right next to some huge chicken and duck pens. There was also a cockerel wandering around and a couple of yappy dogs. Rob and I were getting the feeling that this would be an earplug night. However, there were tractors and Callum was able to sit on one (which of course did not satisfy and he spent the rest of our stay asking if he could sit on the others.) we bought a few provisions from the farm shop and made dinner, which we ate outside. The weather was hot with clear blue skies. We realised that there was a place where we could plug in Suzab and have electricity for the night, so I summoned all my courage and went and asked the owner in my pigeon French if it would be all right to use it. It was and Rob seemed quite amazed, as he has had to do most of the conversing with people on our trip.

Rob and Callum played hide and seek in the huge grass field next to where we had parked.  Also recall the family screaming and chasing after their dog as it tried to catch one of the cockerels.

23rd May – Day 46

It was a surprisingly peaceful night apart from the dusk and dawn choruses of all the birds in the vicinity – including ducks, chickens, cockerels and geese! We seem to be getting used to sleeping through noise or at least being able to get back to sleep quickly after being woken. We had breakfast and Callum said goodbye to the tractors and we were off….

…but we didn’t get very far as about 10 minutes away we entered a village called Marcilly-en-Villete which had an Aire and we decided to go and service Suzab. It turned out to be a beautiful spot by a river with picnic benches so we stopped for lunch and had a walk in the woods. We found a park and Callum played while Rob and I rested under a tree for a while – it didn’t last long before Callum wanted our attention and to move on. So we walked back to Suzab and drove on.

Next we decided to stop in Blois, which is a town on the Loire. It looked very pretty and it was scorching hot and we needed some time out of the van. First Rob and Callum took a walk up to the church and let me have a rest. Callum seems to enjoy visiting the churches of France. If there is one – and invariably there is – we have to go and see it and if possible go inside. They returned and this time we went in search of a drink and some ice cream. We found both before taking another walk up to the church and beyond into the gardens of the old Bishop’s Palace. There were views over the city and the Loire and a great park for Callum to play in.

Although we were stopped in an Aire we decided it was not a good place to stay for the night as we were right next to a busy road, so we ate, got Callum ready for bed and drove to another one not far away in Ouchamps. It was right next to a fishing lake, had shade and was quiet. As we were settling in for the night we saw lots of hot air balloons and one flew right overhead. We watched and waved.

24th May – Day 47

Today was hot! Our traveling had slowed down a lot and we were now trundling along the Loire and stopping wherever we fancied. We decided to do far less driving as we had done so much and Callum was starting to tire of it and we have 2 days of full-on driving at the end of our travels. So today our first port of call was a supermarket, however after trying 3 we realised that it must be a bank holiday as they’d all closed at lunch time and as usual it had taken us most of the morning to get ourselves ready to leave. Luckily our route took us through Tours and on the edge of town there was a huge Carrefour super-market, which was open all day. We shopped and Rob and I bought some new flip-flops and sandals as we had worn our others out and we also bought some for Callum as his sandals broke.

We drove on and found a picnic place to stop about 15mins away. We had lunch and just as we were getting ready to leave, realised that Rob’s new sandals had broken and they weren’t that cheap. So we decided to return to the shop and get a refund. Rob did this with little fuss and we then decided to stop for a drink and an ice cream as the temperature was now 36 degrees.

It was getting late so we found an Aire that was close by and stopped, in Montbazon. It wasn’t much to look at, but there was shade and an area of grass for Callum to build a barn and brum his tractors. Rob wasn’t having a good day and the cherry on top was ripping his shorts on the handbrake!

The air was completely still and the temperature inside did not start to cool until about 10.30pm when the sun had gone down. Rob and I had a game of chess, which lasted 2 hours, so I must be getting better, but he still won.

25th May – Day 48

Today it finally cooled down a little and the clouds came in (I know we’ve been chasing the sun and now we’re asking for less, but 36 degrees in what is basically a metal box isn’t that much fun!) The Aire that we were in had only basic facilities and we needed to empty the toilet (a disgusting job which Rob has the pleasure of doing!) There was another Aire 10 minutes down the road in Veigne which was a small town on the river Indre, so we went there. Callum found a playground and we were able to hook up to electricity and service Suzab whilst Callum played. We went into the town and look for somewhere to eat. We bought a ridiculously expensive loaf of bread and then ate Menu du Jour in a local brasserie, which satisfied hunger and our budget. Afterwards Callum of course wanted to look in the church, but we couldn’t go in as there was a funeral and since then he has been calling churches ‘future churches’ as he thought that’s what we said instead of funeral.

We continued to follow the Loire west and came into another small town called Langeais, which had an amazing chateau. We decided that we couldn’t come to France and not do any touristy sight seeing, so we stopped and had a look around. It was huge and beautiful, but Callum kept wanting to go up the stairs and hardly allowed Rob and I any time to look around the rooms in detail – sight seeing with toddler in tow is not easy and we were reminded of why we had done none thus far. We managed to make it around the castle in one piece (although I did have a freak out on the battlements which I decided were too high and couldn’t stand Callum running on.) Then we explored the grounds, which had amazing views over the town and the Loire and a treehouse like I’ve never seen before. There were also some things for Callum to play on including a seesaw, which he went on with a little French boy of about the same age and they enjoyed their first proper seesaw together, which I captured on film. We ate dinner in the car park opposite the chateau and then put Callum in his pyjamas again before heading for an Aire.

Callum fell asleep. We went to an Aire in Chinon which was very close to a nuclear power station and we decided it wasn’t for us and on the way to another one we drove into a village called Bourgeuil and saw it had an Aire (though not in the book) which we followed the signs to and decided to stop. Again it was nothing much to look at being pretty much a car park with no shade, but it appeared to be quiet and it was free unlike the previous one. However, once settled, we soon realised there was a church right next to us which chimed on the hour (twice for some reason!) and every half hour. Luckily this stopped at 10pm.

We transferred Callum to bed successfully, but in my haste to get up and have a sandwich I woke him up and the church bells sealed the deal – he was totally awake and didn’t go back to sleep until 10.30pm!

26th May – Day 49

The church bells resumed at 7am and had an erratic minute of chiming, which woke up Rob and I. We dozed until Callum woke at 9.30am (I know we’re very lucky!) After breakfast, Callum satisfied his curiosity of what the church looked like inside with Rob whilst I had a shower.

Today we decided to go to a campsite so we could charge the computer and hopefully Skype some people; we also wanted to have a swim. The clouds had come in so it was a good day to hang around a campsite. We found one quite near and in the park of a Chateau in an area of outstanding natural beauty.

Once parked we had lunch and Callum played in the park with me and then with Rob. Then Callum and Rob went for a swim while I watched from the side. The clouds came in even thicker and we heard thunder so it was decided to return to Suzab. Before long, a huge thunderstorm erupted and it felt very cozy being inside with the rain pelting down outside.

We drove up to reception so we could Skype our parents and then drove back to our pitch to have dinner. Callum was in bed much earlier thankfully and the air cooled to a much more bearable temperature. It was very peaceful apart from the squawking peacocks in the distance somewhere and the gentle song of the cicadas.

 


Posted by xpresha at 12:01 AM BST
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Saturday, 22 May 2010
Belgium => Champagne

18th May – Day 41

Donkmeer => free Aire next to road works (Le Cateau Cambresis, south of Valenciennes)

Callum wants one more visit to Ratty’s boat down by the lake, before we leave Belgium with the aim of getting to the Champagne region in the next couple of days.   In the Netherlands and Belgium, it was not so easy to use TomTom to avoid major highways, so now that we are back in France we are able to avoid Toll roads, which has the desired effect of directing us along the many beautiful minor roads that France has to offer.  It feels good being back in France and especially now that the sun has made a welcome appearance. 

We decided not to drive too far today and we don’t want to pay for another campsite.  It was unavoidable in the Netherlands and Belgium, so we are going to take advantage of free Aire de Service and France Passion stops for the next few days.  We find a free Aire in Le Cateau Cambresis, just south of Valenciennes.  It is set back from a main road into the town, with a back-drop of a small area of woodland.  There is space for 5 motor homes and we are the 4th.  This spot is perfect for Callum as it is right next to some road works and about 4 tractors are actively working away, so almost immediately we walk over to the road side to get a better view.

Two of the other occupants of the Aire are British and from a quick chat they aren’t enjoying themselves much, plagued by bad luck with mechanical failure and lousy weather down in Provence (where we had been two weeks earlier). 

Although it sounded as though there was a motorbike race going on in the early part of the evening, it was actually quite quiet for the bulk of the night.  We are now used to the dawn chorus wherever we go and surprisingly we didn’t hear any church bells here.

19th May – Day 42

Le Cateau Cambresis => Vertus / France Passion (Michel Collard)

We don’t hang around for long in the morning, just a change of water for Suzab then on the road.  We have picked a France Passion place to stay for the night, the house of a champagne producer.  It is south of Reims and the Montagne de Reims in a town called Vertus.   On the way down we pass by Laon and see what must be the Cathedrale Notre Dame de Laon on the hill, which looks mighty impressive.  We drive along some extremely straight roads on the way to Reims, surrounded by a patchwork of different coloured fields (including very bright yellows from the Oil seed crop).  We stop in a lay-by in an elevated position, so we can see for miles all around, and have our lunch.  There are also lots of horses in a field nearby so we go and say hello to them.

Back in Suzab, we are directed through the centre of Reims, which is interesting as they seemed to have dug the entire city road network up to make way for a tram system.  Fair play to the French, they don’t do their roadworks by halves; instead of doing it piecemeal, entire stretches of road are dug up completely.  TomTom isn’t aware of the roadwork’s, so we get in a bit of a muddle, but get to see some fantastic architecture on the way!

As we leave Reims, the presence of vineyards is inescapable from the eye as are signposts telling us that we are on the champagne trail.  We pass by vineyards and houses/warehouses of many famous producers (Moet et Chandon, Mumm, Bollinger) and a myriad of unknowns, but all with the unmistakable champagne style logos.  If I weren’t driving, I would be stopping quite a bit to try them all!

We arrive in Vertus and follow the champagne trail signs for Michel Collard.  He is there to greet us and point us to an area on his grounds where we can park.  The sky is perfectly clear blue and the temperature is hot.  We get out our table and chairs and I go inside to taste some of his champagne.  It is an interesting experience because I have taken Callum with me who was, at that moment, eating a carrot.  Callum only likes the middle part of the carrot, so whilst trying to have a conversation in French with Michel I am nibbling away the outside of the carrot!!  I also quickly realize that this isn’t going to be a drinking session – this guy wants me to try and then buy.  I do get 2 glasses of the fizzy stuff, which isn’t bad I suppose.  I make my selection and part with some hard earned.

We spend the rest of the day relaxing in the sun and eat our dinner outside.  I took a bike ride into Vertus later on to see what action I could find.  There was no action.

20th May – Day 43

Vertus => Geraudot, in Foret d’Orient

We start the day slowly. The sky was again clear blue, we were all in good spirits and we were in a beautiful garden which we had no need to rush out of. We had breakfast outside and then Callum found some mud and ash to brum his tractors in – yes he got very dusty! We found an Aire to head to and set off.

We had left close to lunch and as we were driving back through the village of Vertus we spotted a café serving Menu du jour and couldn’t resist – 3 course lunch for 12 Euros was just too good to miss. Again it did not disappoint and with full bellies and happy hearts we set off again.

As we were driving past the fields of vines Rob spotted a vantage point, called Mont Aime, which we figured would be a good place to take a snapshot of all the vineyards. It was a real find as there were panoramic views at the top and we could see for miles. It was also the site of a castle ruin and we had lots of fun exploring.

We drove on through quite flat countryside and some very quaint villages and towns before coming to a stop at the Aire. It wasn’t quite what we had in mind being just one parking space at the junction of 3 intersecting roads in the middle of a town. After a quick check we headed for another one 15mins away, further into Foret d’Orient. This was more like it – right across the road from a beach on the edge of a lake (just outside of Geraudot). Once parked and with the sun still high in the sky we headed straight for it.

At first Callum was a bit nervous of the water, as he has been for most of the holiday, but after Rob had a brief swim and I paddled, he soon joined us, and the next thing we knew he wanted to get his swimming trunks on and go in for a swim – the water was very cold so we were surprised. It was so lovely to watch him splash around and have fun and Rob and I were even able to get in a game of chess (very quick and Rob won!)

Later we had dinner outside again and Callum was in bed at a reasonable time after a few nights of going to bed quite late due to late naps on the road. This gave Rob and I a chance to relax a bit before bed.

21st May – Day 44

Geraudot, Foret D’Orient => Sens

Unfortunately every day cannot be as wonderful as our previous couple and today was one of them. Nothing major happened – if it had then maybe we would have felt there was a reason for it. But there were no real reasons, we just both felt out of sorts and when that happens in such close quarters the atmosphere can feel heavy and miserable. We tried our best to get on with things and each other, peaking and troughing through the day.

We left the Aire at around 11am in the direction of Sens. Our first point of call was at a supermarket. It was not like shopping in Holland (which was our last shop) and our bill was almost double.  We resisted the temptation to have another Plat du Jours and decided to save money and have lunch in Suzab.

Luckily we didn’t have far to drive today as none of us was in the mood. When Rob and I are feeling low, Callum always picks up on it and it affects his behaviour too.

Our campsite was a pleasant surprise, as although cheap it was picturesque and had everything we’d usually look for in a site with the exception of wi-fi and a pool. I did some handwashing and some yoga and Rob did the budget and some reading. We ate and Callum was asleep by 7.30pm. Rob and I were able to relax and let go of the day and hope for a brighter tomorrow.

22nd May – Day 45

Sens => Montargis =>

Had a relaxed morning on the campsite, built a small farm with Callum out of branches and stones (on the bouledrome), then harvested various crops and put them in the barn (leaves, dried blossom, etc).

Drove to Montargis, Les Jarrois - to drop off some stuff at base and pick up our luggage from our car.  Then westward ho! 


Posted by xpresha at 1:21 PM BST
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Tuesday, 18 May 2010
The Netherlands

This is a summary of our last week's travel, which I will expand upon at a later date...

12thMay – Day 35

Thionville (lazy day, all watched a moviein bed, Mummy had a rest while Daddy and Callum went into town for a couple ofhours, found a couple of parks (one with a circus in), walked around the shops– a bit like Broadmead, then walked back to Suzab

13thMay – Day 36

Thionville => Belgium => Overijse(near Bruxelles) (found somewhere to fill tyres, paid to go to the toilet in aservice station – returning to Suzab to get money, don’t forget about theFlemish, the helpful man directing us to point the wrong way)

14thMay – Day 37

Overijse => Amstelveen / Amsterdam(found campsite, weather was lovely, caught bus into Amsterdam about 3.30,walked around, got some street food, found some pretty canals, stopped again ata café, walked around some more, got a bit lost, took a tram back to centralstation, caught metro out to camp site and walked the rest of the way.  Got back about 9.00)

15thMay – Day 38

Amstelveen => Alkmaar

Had a lovely stay with Coby, Rinze, Jelmar and Lienkein Alkmaar.  Had lunch with them,played in the garden, cycled to the beach, played football and chatted on thebeach, had Dutch/Chinese dinner with them. 

16thMay – Day 39

Alkmaar => Renesse

Played and hung out with Coby, Rinze,Jelmar and Lienke again, left their house mid-afternoon, tried to get intoCenterparcs, but it was closed. Drove to nearby town, found another campsite, got checked in – veryfriendly and spoke English, even though they catered mainly for German and Dutchvisitors.  Had biometric login forthe swimming pool.  Callum had funon the various play things, including a climbing frame that looked like atractor.

17thMay – Day 40

Renesse => Antwerp => Donkmeer (campsitein Belgium)

Spent the best part of the day at CampingJulianahoeve.  It was a lovely dayfor weather, clear blue sky and sunny (though not too warm).  We relaxed and played.  Also went to the swimming pool, theyhad a great little pool for Callum, a very fast slide for us and we did a fewlengths too, which was nice.  Leftfor our next destination quite late and hit rush hour traffic aroundAntwerp.  We crawled in traffic forabout 40 mintues before deciding to pull off the ring road and park up inAntwerp.  We found a nice road,where we stopped to cook dinner. Then we found a camp site about half an hour away.  Very peaceful, next to a free rangefarm full of all sorts of animals (geese, ducks, chickens, pygmy horses,ponies, peacocks, goats) and near to a pretty lake.  Lots of the receptionists at these campsites (especiallynear Belgium) take it upon themselves to give callum lolly pops without askingus.  We can’t really say anything,without appearing rude or upsetting Callum – so we have had to give in a fewtimes. 

 

 


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Tuesday, 11 May 2010
The delights of Wild Camping

10th May – Day 33

Callum awoke and immediately asked if he could sit in the red tractor with the big door.  So we quickly got dressed and said good morning to all the tractors; a small blue one (can’t remember the make), which I’m not sure even worked any more – left, seemingly, abandoned in one of the many barns on this town farm, a small red Massey Ferguson sat in the main courtyard and a larger, red Massey Ferguson in the walled part of the farm.  This place was quite amazing, run by the two brothers Kaes.  From what I think I understood from one of the brothers, their surname means ‘cheese’, which he said was ironic as they only produced wine!  I asked him about their vignoble (vineyards), which he said were in various locations along the foothills of the Vosges.   They make a nice pinot noir and they also produce a rose.     The ‘Cave’ was hidden behind double wooden doors, which faced the Place de la Liberte in the old part of Molsheim.  Through the doors was an open air courtyard, with two period houses on either side at the front, a roof lined one side under which there were lots of tables that, I’m guessing, would have been used when the restaurant was active.  At the other end of the courtyard was the entrance to a three storey barn, which wasn’t in use as far as I could tell, because it was like a junkyard!  Large sliding doors at the other end of the barn lead out to a hard-standing area, where we parked Suzab, then beyond to a large walled garden.  This walled garden was home to a couple of horses, some goats and sheep and lots of vegetable plots. To the passer by, one would have no idea that any of this existed, which is why France Passion is such a great idea as it enables people to stay in places that would not normally be available.  As lovely as it was though, it was a bugger to drive a motor home in and out of!!!

From Molsheim we decided that we wanted to head further north in France and picked out 2 France Passion places that we could drive to, one in Gundershoffen the other in Cleebourg.  We headed to the former destination, but upon arrival in the town, it was clear that there were none of the usual France Passion signs giving a handy hint as to where the place might be and we only had very basic directions in the guidebook (1 km after traffic lights, then turn right).  We tried all possible permutations of traffic lights and entry directions into the town – with no joy.  Eventually we pulled in next to a few shops to try and call the owners, but just got through to their voicemail.  Then a man knocked on our window – in a way that suggests he was going to offer some assistance.  So we had a stilted conversation about how he knew where this place was.  He kindly drew some directions and we went on our way.  Either this guy was completely mad or just slightly odd, but his directions didn’t take us to where we needed to go, but fortunately we were now en route to the second France Passion location.

On our way to Cleebourg, we encountered a blocked road, which TomTom did not know about and the diversion signs were less than helpful.  We fannied about for 30 minutes working out how to get to the other side of the blocked road and eventually got on our way.  As we continued, we began to talk about ‘wild camping’ – the idea that you just pull in wherever you fancy and stay – so we began to keep our eyes peeled for somewhere suitable.  We were aware that it is illegal to stop right next to the road, or on private land without the owner’s permission, so we had to reject quite a few possible looking sites.  Whilst driving through some woods, we spotted a gravel track leading onto a clearing with a picnic table and bin – fantastic!  We’re literally 5 minutes from the France Passion site, but here is an opportunity to be ‘wild’.  We drove in.

The spot wasn’t quite as level as we would have liked, as it is not comfortable sleeping in Suzab when she’s on a slope and it makes cooking awkward as well. So I tried to manoeuvre into a better position.  That’s when the front wheels began to spin.  The dry looking leaves were actually covering quite damp and muddy ground, which did not take too kindly to having a large vehicle driving on them.  By this time, I had been driving for quite a long time, we were tired and hungry and this was not something that we had factored in.  My attempts to move Suzab were only resulting in more wheel spinning and I was unable to reverse back out the way we came.  Without really taking any time to survey the surroundings, I spotted that another track lead down further into the woods into a larger clearing, which I figured I would use to do a 3 point turn, then drive back up forwards and out.  Getting down into the clearing was easy.  First part of the 3-point turn didn’t go so well, as there were a few more dead logs and branches lying around than I could see from our original location.  Lorraine got out to help me perform the second part of the manouevre, however, I didn’t properly communicate my intentions and before I knew it Lorraine was shouting at me to stop reversing.  I had stupidly backed Suzab into a tree, using our bikes and the bike rack as a cushion – oops!  Okay, I get out to take a look at the damage.   Bikes okay, bike rack bent.  Not good.  Back in the driver’s seat, perform the third part of the 3-point turn.  Wheel spin.  Can’t reverse.  Can’t drive forward.  We are properly stuck.  Our tempers fray slightly at this point, but we remain fairly levelheaded despite things as they are.  Saving graces at this point are that (1) we are stuck in a motor home, all fit and well, with food, water and somewhere to sleep (2) we are on level ground!  I don’t entirely relax, but Lorraine remains very calm about the whole thing.  We prepare dinner, eat and go to sleep – doing the ‘wild camping’ but not entirely sure how we’ll leave in the morning.

I gave Phil a call (the owner of the vehicle) and explained the situation, saying that we were thinking of trying to obtain the help of a local farmer the next morning.  He agreed that was a good course of action, as the breakdown cover wouldn’t cover this situation.  Phil told me how to say (in French) that we had got stuck in the mud and he advised that we should be armed with a bottle of wine, to say thanks to whomever we found to help us!  Fortunately we had a bottle, bought from the vineyard that we had stayed in a week or so back.

At one point in the evening, we heard a car drive in to the clearing at the entrance to the woods.  They pointed their headlights down towards us, but when I opened the door to go and speak to them they drove away.  We guessed that this must be a local parking spot for smokers or lovers!

An owl hooted a few times and a few odd sounding creaks came from the woods outside.  In my minds eye I pictured a few eerie images from Twin Peaks, but I went to sleep feeling glad that I have never watched the Blair Witch Project.

11th May – Day 34

I am awoken by what sounds like a duck quacking right outside our door, which freaked me out a bit.  After re-orienting myself with our surroundings, I guess that it must be a branch scraping against the door – at which point my thoughts suddenly switch and I imagine said branch scratching up the side of Suzab.  I check it out and of course it is fine.  But this has made me on edge and instead of waking up in a chilled way; I immediately start thinking about getting out of the mud.   I start banging around in the van, getting dressed and such like.  This doesn’t go down too well with the rest of the household who aren’t even awake yet.  I take a deep breath and try and forget about the van while we have breakfast together.

Callum helps me find whatever suitable material we can find on the forest floor to lay in front of the tyres and make a solid surface to drive over.  There are some other parts of the route that are really muddy and need covering.  Materials consist mainly of twigs, but we do find some nice big bits of bark and even two small planks of wood.  We prepare the worst bits of ground and if I am able to  get the van off square one and gain enough momentum, we should make it all the way to the top without getting stuck again. 

At this point the Gendarmerie (Police) arrive on the scene, hmm….

I wave to them from where I am standing, and they drive further in off the road and into the top part of the clearing; I did worry for a moment that they would drive too far and get stuck as well.  We exchange greetings and I explain what happened.  We soon switch to Franglais, when the lead officer makes it clear that he speaks English.  It is all fairly amicable and they offer to help give us a push, then if that fails they will call on the services of a farmer for us – sorted!  They take our passport and my driving licence details, as it turns out that we are actually very close to an Air Force radar base and they have to notify the authorities of any persons found in the vicinity that they have had dealings with; I am assured that we are not in any trouble.  They give the thumbs up to the preparations that me and Callum have made to the forest floor and then we get ready to drive out.

First attempt – un, deux, trois – Maintenant!!!  Wheel spin… uh oh…

Second attempt – no countdown this time, but I gently ease forward, find traction, then I accelerate harder, I am moving!  I guide the van up the grassy track, over the wood and bark that we have laid all the way up to the police van (taking care not to crash into them) – in all about 35 metres I guess.  A big relief for us and there are smiles all round.  I ask them to stay around to ensure that we are able to get out from the clearing and on to the main road, which we do without a problem this time.  However, once we are on the road I realize that I have not taken any photos of the site, which I am slightly disappointed about – but sense prevails and we do not return to re-enact the scene…

We drive into nearby Rott and spot a restaurant.  We stop in for drinks and as it is nearly midday, we decide to stay for the Plat du Jour.  We pay €6.50 for two courses and is probably one of the best meals we have had out so far, first course was a vegetable terrine, with a dressed salad.  Second course was a very succulent beefsteak in a mustard sauce; with a kind of egg pasta (spetzike, I think it was called) that we think must be a german influenced type of food.

Full of good food and buoyed by our successful escape from the woods, we decide to head for Thionville, a large town close to the border of Luxembourg.  For the majority of the journey from Rott to Thionville, we drive through on the German side of the border.  It is interesting seeing how everything changes and strangely I feel like a foreigner; returning into France feels comforting, like being back home in familiar surroundings.  TomTom takes us straight to a site that is right next to a pretty park and close to the town centre.  We are on the banks of the river Moselle.  We see huge boats (that could well be tankers) moving slowly up and down.  On the opposite bank are freight trains that, again, move slowly carrying their cargo – and we hear them rumbing throughout the night.


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Sunday, 9 May 2010

5th May – Day 28

Despite the totally quiet surroundings in Port de la Mercantine, we all have quite a restless night, but still manage to sleep in until about 9am.  Around 10, we drive back up to the service point and hook up to the electricity to charge the laptop.  We get ourselves fed and washed and fully service Suzab.  Time has ticked on, so we hang around for lunch as well.  Then head northwards to Lamarche sur Saone.  En route we stop at a McDonalds in Lons-le-Saunier to use their wi-fi.  When we get to the Aire de service, it is about 5pm so we get straight on to cooking dinner and as Callum didn’t sleep while we drove, he gets to bed and asleep by 7.30, which is a trip record, I think!  The rain seems to be keeping up with us.  This particular Aire is literally just a field next to the river, however it is equipped with water and electricity points that work by putting in a token (1 token = 2 hours, 3 = 8 hours).  You get the token from another machine, that will only accept chip & pin cards.  This is such a great system, I think, and I wonder whether it exists in the UK?

6th May – Day 29

Last evening, the great token system didn’t work so well.  After 2 hours (around 10pm), I realized that the electricity had gone off as the laptop had stopped charging, which was strange, as I had put in enough tokens for 4 hours.  Feeling short-changed, I went straight out (bare-foot, in my t-shirt and bed shorts) across the field to the water/electricity point.  It was cold and raining, but my mind was on working out why this problem had occurred.  We were still plugged in, so I pressed the coin reject button and a token popped out – hooray!  After about 5 attempts, the token finally clonked into the machine and I was able to start the electricity up again.  Problem solved and I suddenly became aware that I was shivering and wet, so I ran back to bed and under the covers to warm up!

In the morning I walked into the village, taking the path from the Aire, which ran alongside the river, past the usual array of shops (Tabac, boucherie, etc) to the boulangerie where I picked up some pastries (a pain au chocolat and a rather delicious chocolate éclair).  I stopped to take a couple of photos and returned to Suzab.  We didn’t rush off and made sure that we were fed and watered, then set off in the early afternoon.

We knew that we wanted to head north, but weren’t too sure exactly where, so we plugged in the co-ordinates for an Aire near Vittel and headed off.  Whilst en-route, Callum looked like he was going to have a nap.  At that same point we arrived in Fontaine Francaise, a very pretty looking village complete with Chateau.  We quickly found the Aire, which was situated by a quiet riverbank, with views of a weir, bridge and trees.  However, for some reason, we decided that we shouldn’t stay here???  We then embarked on a 2-hour journey to various locations, often doubling back on ourselves whilst we worked out exactly what we wanted to do.  We drove to another town nearby [check name], that also had an Aire (though not as pretty as Fontaine Francaise) and also a Chateau (that doubled up as a museum) and we drove round this place a few times being completely indecisive.  By this time, Callum had decided that he didn’t want to nap after all and we were all getting increasingly tired and agitated.

In the end, we decided to go back to Fontaine Francaise, which was the right decision.  Once we got there, we took a stroll around the village, walked past the chateau, the mairie and to the church, before picking up some onions and sellotape (random!!) from the local store.

7th May – Day 30

The sun decided to make an appearance today, for the first time in ages – since before we had gone to the Alps – so we were very happy about this!  We had a picnic next to the river and took full advantage of the added warmth from the sun.  Happy days!

We decided to carry on our journey to Vittel, keeping the co-ordinates that we had plugged into TomTom the day before.  We had read that Vittel was a pretty spa town, with its own speciality chocolate – so we thought that we couldn’t go wrong.  Hmmm.  There was nothing wrong with Vittel, per se, it reminded us a bit of Midsummer Norton, again, nothing wrong with that place, per se.  Nor did it have its own speciality chocolate.  We did walk up and down its high street for a bit, picked up a quiche for a quick snack and then drove to the local campsite.  What a rip off that place was, €20 and very dismal, right next to an active railway line, no wi-fi.  A complete contrast to the beautiful place we had stayed the night before and for free!

At least there were no trains during the night, however Lorraine was aware of a screeching bird in the tree next to Suzab but fortunately was able to return to sleep with no difficulty.  I make use of my earplugs tonight.

8th May – Day 31

We don’t hang around in Vittel and head off towards the Alsace region.  The drive is lovely and we see lots of changing scenery, from rolling hills to beautiful tree covered mountains and lakes.  The route from Vittel took us close by Epinal before entering the Vosges, also passing through a very pretty lakeside town called Gerardmer, which is very close to the campsite that we choose to stay at for the night.

We find a spot to park, between the playground and the lake, where we are able to enjoy an uninterrupted view of the lake and the surrounding hills.  This is more like it!  But as with all things, one really appreciates the good ones when you’ve had the bad.

One reason for using a campsite is to make use of their washing machine and tumble dryer (the weather has not been reliable enough to hand wash, so we decide to put a load on, then go for a walk.  There is a 30 minute walk into the woods, signposted from the road, so we embark on that.  Despite Callum protesting about walking at the start, as soon as we enter the woods he takes interest in the path and is happy to lead the way.  We have a really enjoyable walk (about 2 hours) climbing up the steep path, over quite variable terrain and inspecting the various flora and fauna (well slugs mainly).  We’re all pretty knackered when we get back, but it was a lovely walk and really enjoyed ourselves together.

Time is just zipping by and we are now eating into the second half of our trip.  France is such a massive and beautiful country; I know that we could probably spend the rest of our time exploring it.  Perhaps as we are so close to Germany we may well creep over the border and we have talked about spending some time in the Netherlands.  We’ll see…

9th May – Day 32

Rob went for a bike ride in the morning while Callum and I stayed in Suzab, we also put on another load of washing. We spent the morning relaxing and had lunch gazing at the lake and the mountains behind. Soon it was time to pack up and head off again.

We picked a France Passion place to stay for the night – there are lots near the France/German border in the Haut-Rhin and Bas-Rhin regions. This particular one said it was also a restaurant and we had decided it was time to indulge ourselves a little after tightening our budget and spending less on eating out. We drove East and Tom-Tom took us through a massive tunnel which cost us 16 Euros!! We had no idea until we got there and by then it was too late to do anything else. It was a great experience, although my claustrophobia kicked in a little. Unfortunately it rained pretty much the whole journey and we were hoping to see clear blue skies when we came out of the tunnel, but it was not meant to be. The scenery, however, was lovely and green and we took pleasure in seeing the Germanic influences coming into the architecture and place names. After a while we entered the town called Molsheim and found the place that was to be home for the night. Callum was very happy as there were tractors that the owner said he could sit on and Rob and I were happy because we were in the middle of a picturesque town. Unfortunately the restaurant was no longer, but as we were so close to the town centre we decided on a stroll to find somewhere to eat. It took a little persuasion to entice Callum away from the tractors! We wandered around the town admiring the quaintness and eventually stumbled on the perfect spot. The meal was delicious – escargot, tarte flambé, profiteroles…. It was a real treat. Then it was back to Suzab and a little more playing on tractors before bed.

 

 

 


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Wednesday, 5 May 2010
The rainy part of the trip.... :(

1st May – Day 24

The rain continued throughout the night, but it did not affect our sleep too badly.   I cycled up to the local town for bread before preparing to leave, whilst the owners plus a few of their friends prepared for a May Day event on the farm.  Once Callum was up and about, he went to play with Chloe and one of her friends.  They showed him a large grey rabbit, that was in a fairly small cage, next to a guinea pig, some large snails and a couple of hens (all caged, to be on display for the May Day event).  A little while later, I heard a bang/crash and spotted said rabbit hopping merrily away.  I didn’t much fancy my chances of catching it, so went to grab the farmer.  By this time, the rabbit had hopped quite a distance and despite chasing after it, it seemed as though it had escaped!  I felt quite bad now, that I had not tried to catch it.  We went back to preparing Suzab ready for driving onward, as the rain became even heavier.  About 20 minutes later, I heard the farmer and one of his friends shouting “Lapin, lapin!!!!”; the friend had driven to the other end of the farm, spotted the rabbit and forced it to hop back towards the farm!  The rabbit was circled and the farmer carefully approached it before lunging in to grab it from the base of its ears and its legs (I wouldn’t have known to catch it this way!) before carrying it back to the farm, preparing a MUCH heftier cage and putting the rabbit inside.  I felt much better after that!

We headed for an Aire de Service in St Gervais-les-Bains in Hte-Savoie region, very close to Chamonix.  We stopped for lunch just outside Aix-Les-Bains, in a spectacular river basin, surrounded by mountains – although the poor weather and low cloud, meant that the view was not as good as it could have been (this comment applies to pretty much all scenic views for the next 3 days!).  When we got to the Aire de Service, a sign was erected explaining that it was closed for maintenance works!  Not good news, as Callum had a really poorly tummy and was getting very upset, meaning that we had to find somewhere very close by to stop for the night.  We followed signposts for a camp-site nearby and quickly arrived at Les Domes de Miage.  The lady on reception was extremely friendly and we got checked in (all services available, electricity, wi-fi, etc) and found a spot for the night.  It was important for us to be somewhere comfortable, as we didn’t know how long Callum would feel poorly.  He had since developed a fever and we quickly settled down for the night.

2nd May – Day 25

We spoke to some family on Skype in the morning and got in touch with our friend, James, making arrangements to meet him in Morzine.  Callum said that his tummy felt better and his fever seemed to have broken overnight, so we decided to leave the camp-site and head for Morzine.  James had advised us to park in the Carrefour (Champion) supermarket carpark in the centre of the town, as we would not have a problem leaving the van there and his house was very close by.  Our arrival in Morzine was only a few days after the winter season had finished there, so it felt like we had entered a ghost-town!  James and his fiancée Olivia came to meet us and we went for a drink at a café in town, catching up and getting to know each other better.  We spent a lovely evening together back at their place, grabbing some take-away pizza from nearby Montriond, before going back to Suzab for a solid night’s sleep in the supermarket car-park (although I never sleep too well after drinking coffee and beer!). 

3rd May – Day 26

James and I start the day with a run (on a woodland trail that went alongside the river), which I then follow up with some Chi-Gung and Tai-Chi.  Me, Lorraine and Callum chill out in the morning, before descending on James and Olivia again for lunch, then we go for a walk with James around a lake near Montriond.  The lake had burst its banks slightly with all of the melt water from the mountains, so parts of the path have been submerged.  Callum and I happened to take a higher path, whilst James and Lorraine navigate the lower paths.  

We leave Morzine late afternoon and head towards Lake Geneva / Lac Lemon to a town called Yvoire.  There are a few campsites on the way, but we decide to park up in a field just outside the gates to the medieval part of the town.  We will need to pay for parking, but it is quiet and there are no trees around, which is a good thing as it is extremely windy!

4th May – Day 27

We walk around Yvoire, but it is fairly brief as nothing is really open and the wind is cold and blowing a gale.  We stop briefly in a small café for coffee and a slice of pie, but the service isn’t the greatest and we don’t feel entirely welcome.  From Yvoire, we decide to head North and we locate another lake on the map (We seem to have had good times whenever we stop near a lake) and find an Aire de Service in our guidebook that has all services for free!

Our journey takes us partly into Switzerland, as we travel through Geneva, which looks to be an amazing city (fantastic architecture and layout) and I can imagine we will come back another time to explore properly.  We also drive past CERN (home of the Hadron collider).  We stop for lunch in a mountain valley, after which Callum excitedly suggests that we explore up a nearby farm track.  We walk up the fairly steep path, which brings us out into a lovely meadow with views of the surrounding hills/mountains.  We have fun running back down and finding good walking sticks.

Despite confusing signposts and no directions specifically for the Aire, we eventually find it and hook up our electricity.  A Dutch couple arrive soon afterwards and we make arrangements for swapping over when we’re fully charged (there are loads of spots for parking, but only one electricity hook up).  Callum and I play with tractors outside, while Lorraine cooks up peas and meat.  Lorraine and I wonder whether a cliff top house is in fact the lair of an evil genius and ponder over where his secret entrances may be around the lake!  After dinner, me and Callum go for a little walk down to the beach and Callum does a fairly good job of heaving some large rocks into the water!

 


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Friday, 30 April 2010
Exploring internal Provence

22nd April – Day 15

We left Six Fours and continued our journey East to St Tropez. This time we didn’t take the coast road as it was too hard negotiating all the little coastal towns, so we headed inland a little through the mountains. The journey was lovely, however St Tropez was disappointing. We arrived in the rain and it just felt very touristy and not very picturesque. It is possible that we missed something but we didn’t hang around to find out. We needed to find somewhere to stop for the night and get on with dinner, as we were all hungry. We came across an Aire de Service not far from the town and stopped. It wasn’t ideal as it was right on the edge of a busy road, but it was free and convenient.

23rd April – Day 16

After a surprisingly good night’s sleep we decided we’d had enough of the South coast of France and decided to head for inland Provence. The drive back in to the mountains was fantastic and we stopped at a lovely Aire de Service, in Comps-sur-Artuby, for lunch and a break.  Then we found a France Passion place to stay at for the night and headed there. It was called La Maison de Lavandin (the House of Lavender) and it really was! There were lots of lavender based products for sale and we purchased a few.  Rob enquired about buying some truffles, as they grew on the farm (we saw a huge one, that cost €400!!). The site we parked in for the night had wonderful views of the mountains and had the obligatory tractor for Callum. 

24th April – Day 17

Today we decided to drive to the local village – Saint Croix de Verdon - to have a wander around and get some bread. We straight away found an Aire which had magnificent views over a lake and to the mountains beyond. It was so fantastic we decided to stay for the night. We took a wander around the village (a beautiful labyrinth of houses and narrow streets, stepped and sloping – nestled into the hillside) to find the shop for the bread.  The view looking from the village across the lake to the mountains was really breathtaking.  Later we met an English couple (Jacqui and Dave) –the first so far encountered! They had a huge motor home and were traveling for 6 months. Callum took to them and their motor home straight away and we realized how much he’d been missing company, as had we. It is lovely spending so much time together, but is pretty intense just being the 3 of us and there is little scope for socialising with anyone else as they mainly seem to be French pensioners! So we were happy to find a couple to chat to for a couple of days.

25th April – Day 18

We awoke to the most fantastic scenery and decided to stay a further night. However, we did need to do some washing, so Rob did some hand washing and once it was hung out we headed down to the lake for a couple of hours of skimming stones, playing and relaxing. When we got back the washing had dried and we were able to cook (Rob cooked Coq au Vin) and then talk to our new English friends whilst sipping wine (Rob) and tea (me).

26th April – Day 19

After consulting the map we decided to head back west a little towards the Rhone Valley, then head up North following the Rhone for a while before going East again into the Alps. Jacqui and Dave had recommended an Aire just outside a little town called Fontaine de Vaucluses and so we headed there. Again we had a lovely drive through gloriously changing scenery and more blue skies. We arrived to find a very busy Aire (there is space for about 80 motor homes) by a crystal clear, fairly fast flowing river. We parked up and settled in. After dinner we heard a melodian player who also turned out to be English and so we had a chat with him and his wife before bed.  Rob learned that one of the campers has made the Aire his semi-permanent home; an Italian traveler, who has worked out that provided you never drive out of the service area, you can stay as long as you want for just €3 – he seemed fairly content there, sat reading with his dog, although not sure I would have chosen to park right next to the toilets (they were abysmal!)

27th April – Day 20

We wake up, get dressed and eat breakfast with a bit more speed this morning and head into the town to explore.  We find a pretty market square, lined by cafes, next to a stone bridge that crosses the river (again, crystal clear) and quickly learn that you can walk up to the source of the river in the mountains, which would suggest why it is so clear.  We follow the footpath up, past many tourist shops and a paper-making museum (a la Wookey Hole!) through a massive gorge (a la Cheddar!) and then up to the foot of a massive cliff, where the river source is to be found; it is a little disappointing, but we are impressed by the white-water and waterfalls on our way back down.

From Fontaine, we drive up the D938 and D538 through the mountains (past quite a few determined cyclists) to a lovely campsite, Bois de Chatelas, just outside a small town called Bordeaux.  The views are again spectacular and we are beginning to worry that we are being de-sensitised to amazing mountain scenery!  We are practically the only people here, although the campsite and its facilities are fully staffed and very friendly.  We get hooked up to electricity and make use of the wi-fi to speak to the folks.  We also use the swimming pool, sauna and hammam.

28th April – Day 21

We spend another day at the camp site in Bois de Chatelas, Bordeaux to make the most of their facilities, also using their washing machine.  In order to use it, you have to obtain a token, so I go over the French in my head on my way to the reception, “Je voudrais un jeton, pour la machine a laver, s.v.p” over and over…  Upon reaching the reception, the lady I want to talk to is busy speaking to someone else, so I wait my turn.  However, she breaks conversation and turns to me – throwing me slightly and causing me to say “Je voudrais un laver” (I would like a wash…) slightly embarrassed, I pardon myself and say what I meant to!!!  She is very friendly though and again reinforces my belief that if you just try to speak the language, then the locals are more than accommodating.

29th April – Day 22

Lorraine and I go for a swim in the morning and get Suzab ready to leave.  Callum does his thing and plays around, helping us and generally being fun to be with.  We drive up the D538 heading for Hauterives, stopping on the way to go to a supermarket and refuel.  We arrive at the Aire de Service in Hauterives about 4pm, it is basically a large graveled area next to a sports club and river.  We walk into the town, going to see what it is famous for (a palace, built out of stone collected by a local postman throughout his career) but decide not to go in as it was quite expensive.  Instead we tried the café next door which had lots of things for Callum to play with in the garden and it was nice to be outside after al that time in Suzab. Soon it is time to go back and make dinner and then bed.

 

30th April – Day 23

This morning Rob and Callum went for a walk along the river and left me to get a little more sleep. They discovered that all the noise in the night which we thought was coming from birds was actually coming from mating frogs! After breakfast we strolled back into the village for a coffee and to let Callum play for a while longer in the place we had found yesterday. Then after a quick snack in Suzab we planned our route into the Alps. After a couple of hours going further into the mountains and watching the scenery and style of houses change (becoming more Alpine in design), we stopped for lunch. We found an Aire with electricity to head for which Tom Tom said would take just under an hour to reach, up near Annecy. Back on the road, we started to climb into the mountains and then later rounded a bend to breathtaking snow-capped peaks with a huge valley below. My stomach was doing somersaults because of the steep drop, but it was worth it for the view. Finally we were told we had reached our destination but with no sign of an Aire and tummies starting to rumble we thought we had encountered our first major problem. It turned out that the co-ordinates in the Aire de Service book were wrong and that we were miles away from said Aire, actually south of Chambery. So we scrambled through our books and found a France Passion place just 5 mins away – hurrah! On arrival we were greeted by a very friendly man who also provided us with electricity; Callum found a few children’s toys and there were donkeys to say hello to and all this free of charge. Sometimes fate really does intervene.  As the evening wore on, we were invited to taste some wine with the other camping car guests and Callum made friends with Chloe and Laura (the daughters of the owners), which was really cool and they played together on the farm.


Posted by xpresha at 12:01 AM BST
Updated: Saturday, 1 May 2010 10:55 AM BST
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Wednesday, 21 April 2010
Heading along the South Coast

18th April PM – Day 11

Go to Montpelier and really enjoyed ourselves.  We saw some fantastic scenery and architecture and enjoyed some good food at a café.  We already felt some affinity with the place, because our house was originally in Montpelier (Bristol) according to the deeds, although it is presently in Cotham. 

Found a place to stay in the French Passion guidebook, on a farm that makes fois-gras, of all things.  Lorraine was adamant that we didn’t buy any.  There are a couple of other camping cars here as well, but aside from a cursory ‘Bonjour’ we don’t have much to do with each other. Despite being in the back of beyond, the sound of the auto-route is constant so whilst it is not ideal, we are not really disturbed.

19th April – Day 12

We have been moving eastwards in order to be reasonably close to the place where we have to take Suzab to have her heating fixed.  We get up and on the road, stopping at a massive supermarket complex (not wanting to come across all patriotic, but I find them a lot uglier than the ones in the UK) and make good time arriving at a specialist motor home mechanics at around 1.30pm in a place called Berre L’Etang – an industrial estate containing an oil refinery and other big industry looking factories (imagine Bladerunner, but sunny). 

My limited French gets the ball rolling with Pascal, the mechanic, and before long he is stripping out everything in the van, including the boiler itself (no mean feat, because it is located underneath the fixed double bed, which is all screwed down).  Callum, Lorraine and I are left sitting in the van or milling around outside, playing with tractors, reading and doing rubik’s cube, respectively.  After about 4 hours, Suzab is fixed!  One of the valves in the boiler was broken and needed replacing, but it had been fully tested and was now operational as was intended!  We drive around the corner to a kind of lay-by where Lorraine cooks up some sardines for dinner.

It is late and we don’t want Callum to fall asleep on the journey, so we opt for a campsite nearby in Berre L’Etang.  This was probably the wrong decision as it was a grotty over-priced site, no facilities, next to a fairly unpleasant lake, with a view of oil refinery.  The guidebook gave no impression that it was this bad!  I think that if we had booked ourselves in for a holiday in the south of France and ended up there, we would have felt very short-changed!

To top it all off, I suffered from ‘splash-back’ when emptying the chemical toilet – not a pleasant experience.  Somehow, this job seems to have become mine; something to do with me not cleaning bathroom/toilets back home, or something??!

20th April  - Day 13

From Berre L’Etang, we make an early departure and aim for something a bit nicer.  We muddle our way down onto the D559 a coastal road that takes us through some lovely parts of the Provence countryside and then through some lovely coastal towns and resorts. 

We stop for lunch in Cuges-Les-Pins, spot some cool graffiti on a large wall (it looks like they may have had an open air rave here at some point), then take a walk through the village and up onto a hill where there is a very quaint chapel and a great view of the mountains and the valley. 

As we make it down to the coast, we wind through various sea-side resorts.  At one point I get drawn down into a rather narrow one-way system in a small seaside town (after unsuccessfully trying to make a u-turn on a larger road) only to be met by a large road-works lorry nearly blocking the road ahead.  We thought we had come a cropper, the gap didn’t look big enough for a car, let alone our motor home, but fortunately one of the workmen guided me through, phew! 

We drove through St Cyr sur la Mer and a couple of other charming places, trying desperately to find somewhere free to park Suzab using the Aire de Service guidebook, but having no joy we eventually relented and checked the campsite guidebook, which directed us to a site in Six-Fours La Plages.  We are greeted warmly and the fact that I am trying to converse entirely in French is appreciated and I even get a bit of a lesson (i.e. they repeat themselves!!!).  We park up, get out the table and chairs and Lorraine again knocks up a feast, while Callum and I explore the playground just across from where we have stopped. 

21st April – Day 14

We enjoyed a very peaceful night in the camp-site in Six Fours so decide to stay for another, which gives us the opportunity to explore a bit.  I donned my running shoes and ran about 4km first thing.  On my return, I learn that it is against the law in France to wear Bermuda shorts in a swimming pool, so I am legally obliged to wear Speedos. Then we head into town, which takes us about 30 minutes.  We walk along the promenade in front of the beach , stopping to eat crepes for lunch, before continuing along the coast road to a large park, where Callum plays for a bit.  We then walk back to the campsite, Lorraine kindly carrying Callum on her back in the Pattapum; the walk back takes a good hour and a half, in the glaring sun as well!  We spend some of the rest of the afternoon by the pool, or outside the van, then chilling out after dinner.

Lorraine may well want to add her own thoughts to the last couple of entries!

 


Posted by xpresha at 12:01 AM BST
Updated: Sunday, 16 May 2010 10:56 AM BST
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Sunday, 18 April 2010
Latest Update from the South of France
Mood:  chillin'

14th April - Day 7

Set off from Blas and headed South towards Montpelier. A wrong instruction from TomTom on an autoroute junction sent us heading back towards Paris for a bit (arghhh!), but, with a bit of re-routing we were soon on track again.  Lorraine has got to be a bit of a dab hand at using the various camping guide books and found an Aire de Service in a town called Montmarault, not far from Montlucon.  TomTom took us to the centre of the town, but we did not see the camp site.  We pulled over and checked a map next to the town hall and it seemed to point to a site just outside of the town.  We drove to try and find it, which took us out of town in the opposite direction.  Again, no joy.  We turned around and headed back in to Montmarault, 1 last try!  This time, there were sign posts directing us to the Aire de Service and we followed them to nearly exactly the same spot that TomTom had taken us!  This time, we spotted the camping spot, literally 6 gravelled spaces for camping-cars, each with an electricity and water point.  Callum and I went for a walk into the town centre, whilst Lorraine got dinner ready.  We looked into the church, which had a beautiful, round stained glass window on one side.  We are impressed with the way that all villages and towns have such well maintained churches and chapels and have found that wherever we have stayed, we are in ear shot of a bell.  This particular church reminded us of the time, on the hour AND the half-hour, all through the night!

We had dinner on our chairs and table sat outsde Suzab, then had a walk round town together before bed.  We also picked up some goodies from the chocalatier.

We went to bed with us being the only motor-home on the site but by morning all 6 spaces were filled.  We were first in and last out on this occasion.

15th April - Day 8

It was another beautiful morning and we continued our journey south, making our way onto the A75.  The road was clear, so we flew along.  Lorraine had found a free campsite located on the grounds of a chateau, so we headed for it.  At some point, Lor realised that it was not open until May.  We found another, and were taken off the auto-route onto the D roads (and more minor) through the mountains in the Lozere region.  We climbed up to about 1800 metres, driving through past some amazing scenery, in some places reminiscent of the Peak District, in others very much like Dartmoor.  We found our destination, just on the shores of lake, just outside of Langogne.  This site was supposed to open that day, according to our guidebook, but they had postponed the opening date until 17th because bad weather had hampered progress of works that they were doing (new swimming pool, tennis courts and chalets).  Speaking to the owner, I realised that he was quite frustrated that the workers would not come and finish the job because it was too cold!  Despite the site being closed, they agreed to open up for us and we found a lovely spot for Suzab (we had the pick of the whole site!) overlooking the lake.  We hadn’t experienced the last of our boiler problems and the heating started playing up.  The electricity supply on the site was also inconsistent and I had to pay a few visits to the main site building to seek assistance; fortunately, they were really friendly and came to help straight away, giving me lifts back up to Suzab each time (more chances to practice my French).

16th April - Day 9

In the morning, I looked out of the window and got a bit of a surprise; it had snowed overnight and everywhere was completely white).  We both had showers, using the on-site facilities, nearly freezing in the process!  Another nice surprise was to follow; because of the problems with electricity, we were not charged for staying on the site – a very kind gesture.

The roads were all clear, so we were able to continue our journey.  As we came down from the mountains the temperature increased (from -0.4c right up to 20c) and the snow completely disappeared.  The A75 took us over the spectacular Millau viaduct (designed by a fellow Bristolian, no less!), then not much further until we reached the coast.  We checked in to a campsite near Agde and headed straight for the beach.  Hard to believe that we woke up in the snow and finished the day paddling in the sea.  It is off-season so the site is quiet, which is nice, as we can imagine it being a bit noisy, touristy and hot in the summer.

17th April - Day 10

We stay for another day, making use of the beach and swimming pool.  We also skype Andy, Nour, Ziya and Mum & Dad in Cambodia.  They tell us about the volcano erupting in Iceland and that they are forced to stay in Cambodia for another 10 days, because that is the next available flight.

Lorraine and I make time for some meditation, me doing some Tai-Chi, Lorraine some Yoga.

We are attacked by Mosquitoes and exercise great will power by avoiding the urge to scratch the bites.

18th April - Day 11

Nice breakfast together in Suzab, then a jaunt to the beach-bar to use wi-fi and drink coffee.

We will leave this camp-site today and head east-wards.  There is a chance that we will need to travel inland today/tomorrow as we may be taking Suzab to a dealer to get her heating fixed.


Posted by xpresha at 11:09 AM BST
Updated: Sunday, 18 April 2010 11:55 AM BST
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