Sunday 17 July 2016

Back home

Sunday 17 July 2016

We're back home after an early start and the usual long and boring drive north.  Nido's been unpacked, cleaned inside and out, tanks flushed and returned to his storage home.  We've started to sort out and put away stuff and had a Chinese takeaway - too tired to cook. Tomorrow I'm back at work - Cathy on Tuesday - and so the cycle begins again. 

For those interested in the statistics:

We spent 15 nights in Europe, visiting Belgium, Germany and France, driving a total of 1982 miles door to door.

We spent our 15 nights as follows:

Belgium: one free night in a café car park
Germany: two nights on free aires, two nights on paid aires and three nights on a campsite
France: three nights on free aires and four nights on paid aires.

We spent the following, door to door from home:

€257.47 - diesel
€94.00 - paid aires (including water and electricity costs)
€98.70 - campsites
€358.12 - groceries
€211.00 - eating out
€38.60 - trips
€6.00 - parking

So for 15 nights' holiday - all inclusive - a total of €1,063.89 or about £912

Saturday 16 July 2016

First sea swim on our last day

Saturday 16 July 2016

Nido's parked up at a private aire in Tardinghen, about 1.5km outside Wissant. We tried the latter but it's a busy Saturday, a French public holiday and the weather's good - a grand slam! But I think we lucked out, as this aire is great.  Basically it's a strip of grass around a farmer's field - of what looks like was wheat or barley - that's been recently harvested.  No facilities and €6 per night, but it's very quiet and there's loads of room to spread out, plus we sat in the sunshine this evening until 2145.  The farmer's just been to collect the fee, with a smile and a business card - and his dog, who earned one of our doggie treats, as did the two dogs in the Dutch van next door. Our last evening is usually spent in a hot, cramped aire but tonight has felt like a bonus extra night on holiday.

Before I go any further, Cathy has insisted I tell the tale of the shorts.  I hate shopping for clothes and see no point in wasting money to have them all festering in drawers and wardrobes.  So I employ the 'Lean' process of 'just enough, just in time'.  In other words, I wear my clothes until they wear out and then I replace them - makes sense (at least to me) and saves money.  This holiday, I've 'worn out' two pairs of shorts, both of which I've had for about 20 years (so I'm a little upset they haven't lasted very long!). The first pair blew on our walk around the mills in the Black Forest, as I bent over to step out of the waterfall stream. The second pair gradually split in a couple of places in the 'rear' and were confined to the bin today.  I have to confess to have noticed this a while ago, but as the split was hidden, I figured they'd do for a few more months - but the rip was spotted! Both pairs were very comfortable (as clothes should be) and will be sadly missed - RIP shorts ūüėĒ

We slept in late this morning, until about 0830. It was dull and cloudy but still warm. Breakfast done, I decided not to join the long queue of vans waiting for the service point - we had enough water and although the loo could do with an empty, we were bound to pass another Aire on the way to our next stop. I plugged in the co-ords for an Intermarche supermarket and off we went.  On arrival, although the supermarket was large, the parking area wasn't - something we've seen more of this time in France. So I just stopped to fill up with diesel and we plugged another into the satnag. At this one we managed to park OK, but the journey was painful, with traffic jams at roundabouts - I suppose it is a holiday weekend but it's something we've not experienced in France too often.  We had a shopping list of food items to take home, so purchases done and stowed away, we headed for the Aire at Wissant, where we normally stay on our last night as it's only 20 minutes drive to the tunnel. But, as I wrote above, it was toppers, although frustratingly a small French hatchback car was parked in one of the pitches.  So,we drove up to another aire at Escalles, to sit outside and eat lunch and look at other options.  That one is day time parking only, which finally led us to this Aire, which is a great find. 

We parked up on the grass and had a brew in the sunshine, before packing our rucksack and walking the 1km to the beach, a quiet spot between Wissant and Cape Nez Blanc, the French equivalent of Dorset's Golden Cap. The tide was a good way out, so we walked towards the sea, dumped our gear on the damp sand and enjoyed a swim in warm seawater - our first sea swim - on the last day of our holiday.  After the regulatory 15 minutes in the water (time to soak up the minerals), we walked back to the hot, dry sand.  Cathy had a snooze while I mooched around the beach, drying off and topping up my tan, while successfully searching for some sea glass for Cathy's collection.  Back at the van, another brew sat in the sunshine, before showers and a dinner of BBQ'd chicken and German sausage, with fried onions and a tin of tagine chick peas.  Washing up done, we sat in the stubble field with a tea and coffee to enjoy the last of the sunshine on the last day of our holiday.  Everything's packed away, passports have  been retrieved from the safe and alarm set for 0500 tomorrow morning, ready to catch the 0820 tunnel.  

We've made a key decision over the last couple of days - we're not returning to Europe until we retire, and then it'll be our first long over-winter trip into Spain and Portugal. All very exciting!  When that is depends on when we achieve our financial independence target...... So time for bed now - early start in the morning.

Drying our swimming gear on this quiet, remote aire

Soaking up the last of the sun

Friday 15 July 2016

I see the sea!

Friday 15 July 2016

Nido's parked up in a large aire in St Valery sur Somme, on the northern French coast. It's advertised as room for 100 vans and I'd say at least that many are here.  But it's quiet and only about 15 minutes walk from the town.

We slept well after a cooler night and woke just after 0800 to clear blue sky and sunshine. The boulangerie was only a few minutes walk away and I bought a 'traditional' baguette for lunch and four croissants for breakfast.  In the meantime Cathy opened up the van, kettle on, table and chairs out.  The croissants were probably the best we've had - in fact the first this holiday - crispy and with a lovely buttery crust on the bottom - enjoyed with salty Brittany butter and jam.  Add to this a big pot of tea, sat in the sunshine looking at the castle and it doesn't get much better.  Cleared up and secured, I moved over to the service point.  Cathy sorted out the grey water while I emptied the loo.  Now time to fill up with fresh water.  I connected my small hose and tapped in my PIN for water - without notice the water gushed out at a rate equivalent to a pusser's fire-fighting hose! I was quickly soaked as the hose snaked around and I eventually managed to grab it and direct it towards our filling point! The pressure was so high I had to turn it away and direct it under the van now and again, to allow the filling point to catch cup.  In between I topped up our 10L container and the loo cassette ready for a rinse.  I also topped up my shorts and sandals! Once our fresh water tank was full, there was no way to switch off the water, so until our allocated 10 minutes were up, Cathy happily wartered some of the nearby plants! Once the flow stopped and our little hose drooped and dropped to the ground, I looked like I'd been caught out in the monsoon!  

We hit the road, heading north-west.  Our route took us through the centre of Amiens as the satnag was off motorway and, out the other side, we found a place to pull over for lunch. Fed and watered, we continued on to park on the verge by the sand dunes at Cayeux-sur-Mer.  It was sunny with a brisk but warm sea breeze - the tide was out and this is a large estuary, so it was proper out.  We crossed the dunes and walked the tidal range out towards the sea.  The early stretches were deep, sticky, black mud - as Cathy found out! - but we were soon on fine, dry, white sand, feeling the heat bounce back off the surface.  We walked for about an hour and managed a quick paddle in the sea, before returning through the pebbles and sea kale.  On the way we came across a huge expanse of marsh samphire, which the locals were collecting with sharp knives.  I tried some - it was delicious raw - crisp, green and salty.

Back at the van we sat outside with a brew, exchanging a quick chat with an English couple parked up in the same area.  It was a short drive to the aire at St Valery and we were soon sat out in the sun with a beer. A quick change and we walked downhill into the town.  There are lots of quaint, narrow streets lined with what would have been fishermen's cottages - a bit like a French Polperro. We picked a restaurant and sat on the covered terrace with a pastis apero, people watching.  This is clearly the place to be on a Friday night, noting the Aston Martins and BMWs cruising by.  We enjoyed our moules, then Cathy had lemon meringue pie, cheese for me.  We took a walk along the promenade to digest our dinner as the bohemian market stalls were just packing up for the day. We walked back up the narrow streets with some unique cottages, and are now back in the van and ready for sleep. Tomorrow is our final full day with hopefully some more sea and sunshine (and I don't mind some more moules either!). 

Breakfast - best croissants ever

Muddy toes - soft feet. People would pay a fortune at a spa for this!

A German gun emplacement 

Snail hotel

Aire at St Valery

Great moules

Post-dinner walk

Thursday 14 July 2016

Why's the Froome Dog running?

Thursday 14 July 2016

Shopping List:
Loo roll

It's Bastille Day, although you wouldn't think so.  It's like any normal day in France - quiet roads, villages and towns like the Marie Celeste, supermarkets shut at lunch time. I expected a UK-type bank holiday - horrendous traffic jams, 'super-sales' in all the shops, drunks outside the pub, torrential rain.  Well, we had some torrential rain on and off today, but we also had some hot sunshine.  But France has been quiet (at this time we didn't know about the dreadful events in Nice that evening).  There were loads of fireworks late last night in Mutigny, so perhaps they celebrate the night before.  One thing I have noticed though, is that the French like to have a Brocante - or car-boot sale - on or around Bastille Day.  And this isn't the sort of car-boot sale we know - in a muddy field with people selling piles of rusty tools and videos (who has a video recorder these days?).  No, a French Brocante is held outside their house on the pavement - on either a wallpaper paste table or actually out of the back of the car - outside their house. So, as we walked (yesterday) or drove (today) through the the villages, every other house were having their own little car boot sale.  We were restrained and didn't buy any kiddie plastic tricycles, wine racks or tacky ornaments! 

Back to the real world. On our way I stopped off at an Intermarch√© armed with the above shopping list, before driving to today's stop. Nido's parked up in a lovely aire in the village of Coucy Le Ch√Ęteau Auffrique.  There's 5 pitches, separated by grass and beds of flowers and shrubs.  For €5 we get unlimited electric, 10 minutes of fresh water and free use of the toilet (in which we have not ventured - this is France after all!).  And we also have any excellent view of Coucy Castle on the hill above us.  Once settled in, we enjoyed our lunch while torrential rain did its best to ruin our day (it failed).  We walked around the uphill road and entered the village by one of the medieval gates and towers.  Along cobbled streets we paid our €10.50 and entered the castle walls.  The expansive grassy area inside was set up for medieval jousting and other such events, but not today - yesterday, tomorrow and the day after - but not today!  Still, we felt we had our money's worth, walking around the walls, the main castle and the many towers and subterranean caves and dungeons.  There were great 360' views, including little Nido down in the aire below, surrounded by the big A class and coachbuilt motorhomes.

A little history lesson - listen carefully:

The first castle on this site was built in 920 by the archbishop of Reims to protect his territory at Coucy.  It was extended from 1079 onwards under the dynasty of the Lords of Coucy. They dominated the history of the castle for three centuries. In 1220, Enguerrand III of Coucy, a warrior at the Battle of Bouvines (on 27 July 1214, Phillipe Auguste's Royal troops beat the coalition financed by John Lackland's England) and in the expeditions against the Cathars, had the town enclosed and built the existing castle with its enormous keep. One hundred and fifty years later, Enguerrand VII, a great diplomat, transformed the building into a sumptuous palace. He died without any male descendants and in 1400 the Coucy estate was bought by Louis of Orleans to strengthen his Valois duchy. Following the Fronde in the 17th century (the last war waged against the King of France by the lords of the kingdom from 1648 to 1653), the castle was broken up and abandoned. It became national property at the Revolution and was used as a stone quarry until it was bought by Louis-Phillipe in 1829' then by the State in 1848.  Several architects in turn including Viollet-Le-Duc, worked to preserve the ruins.  Used by the French Army as a HQ in the First World War, it was later captured by the Germans who, as they moved out in 1917, used 28 tons of explosives to blow up the four towers and the keep (they also blew up a lot of our chip shops in a later war - perhaps the castle was practice). Don't you just love free pamphlets!

As we walked around we spotted loads of different 'Masons' Jobbers' marks' on the hand-cut and carved stones. These were signs made by the stonesmiths and masons, who were paid by their job marks left on the blocks in order to receive payment for their toils - hence the term 'a job lot'.  Castle visit done, we wandered around some of the narrow streets and on top of the village walls (including coming across a group of latter day stonemasons working to prepare the Laon Gate)' before my 'beer radar' led us to a bar/tabac.  Cathy sat at a table outside and I wandered in to order a couple of beers. It was a typical French bar - a few old chaps and the barman sat on stools staring at a TV mounted high in the corner.......watching the Tour de France!  I'd seen nothing of it for 12 days, but a quick chat with the barman confirmed it was the stage to Ventoux.  I watched for a couple of minutes, then remembered 'the boss' was outside and waiting for her beer, so I reluctantly dragged my self away.  Although, to be fair, she did say I could stay in the bar to watch the race.   I popped back in later to use the loo and was confused to see Chris Froome, wearing the leader's Yellow Jersey, running uphill, sans bike.  Now even the most unsporty amongst you will know that the Tour de France is a race on bikes - it's not a running race!  So I was a tad confused, not helped by the fast French commentary.  He eventually got a bike, which clearly was worse than something you find in the canal, as he quickly dumped it and waited for the Team Sky car, jumping on and finishing the race, although I have no idea of the impact on his current lead.  I eventually found out he was caught up in another rider's crash with a motorbike. I look forward to seeing it in the highlights when I get home.

Back in the van we enjoyed a hot shower and a dinner of potatoes and carrots roasted in 'Oska', plus veal chops and red pepper cooked on the Cadac BBQ.  With a couple of glasses of red wine and a final flurry of sunshine and clear blue sky, it was a good ending to an interesting day.  Tomorrow we head for the coast of Northern France for our last couple of days. No doubt the weather will deteriorate as we get closer to Blighty. Perhaps we should just turn around again and head south to follow the sun?

I pulled over and saw this massive German war cemetery - sad sight

Lovely aire with a view of Coucy castle

One of the latrines in the castle - a very long drop!

Can you spot Nido?

Another Nido view

All set up for tomorrow's jousting 

Wednesday 13 July 2016

Champagne lifestyle

Wednesday 13 July 2016

Nido's parked up in another free aire in the village of Mutigny, high on a hill and completely surrounded by grape vines - we're deep in champagne country.  When we arrived we were alone, but a couple of vans have turned up since.  

It rained quite heavily last night and again after breakfast, so I waited until it stopped before moving the van over to the service point to fill up with (free!) fresh water and dump grey and black waste.  We stopped off at the Super U on our journey for food and diesel, before arriving at our first planned stop - a free Aire alongside the huge man-made lake of Der de Chantecoq, parking up with around about 20 other motorhomes. We enjoyed our lunch then started a walk around part of the lake.  At the start a woman stopped Cathy to ask if we had a portable gas stove she could borrow and which was our van.  Cathy said she looked very shifty and something didn't quite feel right about her. Also, the lakeside walk was on a boring concrete road with views of but no access to the lake.  We have a rule that if one of us feels uncomfortable at a stop, then we'll just move on, no questions asked. Well, I wasn't keen on the view and Cathy was suspicious of that woman and her male friend driving around in his car.  So I looked up another aire, we drove off and are now happily parked up with amazing views over the champagne vineyards.

We had a brew on arrival then went for a walk.  First we wandered through the tracks between the vines, noting the terroir was very stony and chalky, but clearly the vines like it. Back up the hill, we walked into the village.  Although quite small, there are several small, family champagne houses, offering tours, tastings and the opportunity to buy a bottle or two. The locals were also setting up for some form of party at the village hall, maybe for tomorrow's Bastille Day celebrations. 

Back at the van Cathy prepared a delicious dinner of pan cooked salmon, with vegetables and lentils, which we enjoyed with a (cheap!) bottle of Saumur cremant.  Now washed up, we're sat looking at the view, with a mix of dark clouds dropping sharp but short rain showers, combined with the occasional shaft of sunlight.  It's quiet, we're full and no doubt will be nodding off soon - so it's goodnight from her and it's goodnight from him - goodnight! 

Post-lunch walk - great skies

ooh - we're heading into that!

Great view from the aire at Mutigny

Future bubbles!

One of several small, family champagne houses in the village