Our trip to France and Spain in the Camper Van. Twenty two days staying at no place more than three nights., and trying to keep travel time to no more than 4-5 hours. Our first long trip in the van after it had been converted.
Awake at 6 am, quick wash and we were away before 6.30 to catch the 10.50 Chunnel crossing. The trip was uneventful with much of the road empty of traffic except for one hold up caused by a broken-down lorry on the M25, and rubber necking drivers a mile on who were looking at a van in a seemingly impossible position on the embankment above the barrier of the M25. Travelling on a weekday is always faster than the weekend. Weekend delays often caused by inexperienced drivers slowing the traffic flows down. We arrived in plenty of time and were offered an earlier crossing than our booked trip. Yes, I had already bought my Thames crossing. Did that back in March!!!
We parked at the terminal and availed ourselves of the hospitality offered by Starbucks, coffee and pastries. Last minute loo breaks and then we were back in the van to board the train. One little break as we were taken aside to have our gas cylinder inspected, seemingly to check it was turned off. Soon we were moving off and left the terminal ahead of schedule.
We headed off south using toll free roads in a route planned by Google, passing by Boulogne, Montreuil, Vron, Nouvion, Abbeville, Blangy-sur-Brestle, Rouen, Evreux, finally stopping for the night at the campsite Camping Des Berges De L’Iton in the town of Breteuil where we arrived at 16.39. We overtook a Number 9 Routemaster bus on one road, seemingly devoid of passengers and conductor.
The final 100 yards to the campsite was fun, all roads to it were closed, but we worked around and came to the site from the opposite direction, only to find a Dutch couple coming in from the original direction. The works for the night had just stopped. One of the workman who had seen us attempt access from the other side smiled, grinned and laughed at our arrival.
On checking in we were told by Madame we could camp anywhere, so preceded to a nice spot overlooking the mill pond only to be told by some towel waving Dutch that the two pitches were reserved for their friends. So, we generously moved on to another pitch, and then I laid a long cable to the nearest power point, only to be told by Madame that I could not use that point. The other nearest power point had two spare slots, but these were for the towel waving Dutch. Rescue came from another Dutch couple on our other side who offered to plug us into an adaptor they had. This put a kibosh on the planned chicken meal as not sure we could cook while the Dutch couple were also using the power. We decided draft beers were needed from the campsite bar. Later, we ate emergency rations for the night, being tuna , pasta, pesto and cheese.
After dinner, we took a walk around the town, but it was totally dead, all bars and restaurants were closed-up tight. The only people we saw were workers taking down the funfair.
R not happy about the site, saying the very few toilets had no seats. (this became a common refrain during the three weeks). The showers I thought were rather primitive as well. The washing-up kitchen was rather chipped and worn, too. The disorganisation of allocating pitches and power points was also rather a downside. The pitches though are of a reasonable size, all delimited by low hedges. As is usual now, there were quite a few static caravans here. The site is not up to the cleanliness of many British C&C Club sites, and nowhere near the best sites like Fforest Fields.
Not to worry, we are here just for the night, before we rush on for the next 5 hours on toll free roads to Arçais to meet up with Linda and Mike.
Up, showered and breakfasted, we set out on a cloudy day, which intermittently showered, that annoying rain with the wipers on intermittent wipe. Please rain hard and get it over with, please. We headed off on the D840 joining he N12 at Verneuil-sur-Avre. Turned off on the D401 and then the ever so straight D938. Suddenly the D938 veered to the right on a brand-new road Google knew nothing about. Unusual that a new road does not appear in Google maps, at least in the UK they appear very soon after they have opened. We continued the D838, D301 to Le Mans. This time for our very first time we went past the race track.
We continued through Noyant, Saumur, Thouars and stopped for lunch at an Aires on the D938. The Aires had a closed café and some loos. There was a farm nearby selling melons. On again we then skirted Niort, passed through Coulon and at last reached Arcais.
On the way a couple of events occurred. Man standing in the middle of the road doing a survey, no Day-Glo jacket. Lucky to be alive, has health and safety bypassed the French? A little while later there was another man in the middle of the road stopping us and asking us to move to the side. He was an outrider for a rather large boat that was being transported along the road.
At Arcais we booked into the campsite, the weather was looking up, sun shining. We erected the awning, phoned Mike who was on his own, Linda being out at a choir practice. He came over with a bottle of wine and we chatted. He left to be at home when Linda returned, and we then cooked our meal. Alas the rain (very very light drizzle) had started again
Walked up to L&M after breakfast. Weather cloudy and sunny and warm. R&L spent time collecting beans from the allotment. Lunch and supper at L&M. I did go for a short cycle ride on one of their bikes. A tad uncomfortable and tremendously heavy. Spent a while in the garden photographing a bumble bee in a passion flower,
Another cloudy, sunny and warm day. I processed some of Linda’s beans from the pods and caught up with emails etc. Linda & Rosemary spent time cleaning the rental because some new tenants were arriving for the weekend. After lunch we drove into Niort, on the way we stopped at an Angelica field. This was maintained by the commune and had a notice about Angelica being a speciality of the region. (A very small field, so not very impressive.). We then drove to where there is a lock being renovated, eel ways and weirs. Nearby was a posh restaurant called Auberge de la Roussille. Got caught by a Frenchman who explained about the works for some 30 minutes. It dawned on us that he thought we were French. Linda is so fluent in French, and the man became surprised when he was told we were English, and that Linda was also British.
Back to campsite where we sat and drank a bottle of Cava with L&M. before going out for supper at The Patio. The restaurant was almost full. It is a clean modern looking restaurant. I ordered fish for mains, and Linda a steak. When the meal arrived, we swapped as Linda decided the steak was too rare, and I was drooling at the thickness of it.
I started off with carpaccio of beef with a strong herb (sorrel?) dressing. It was decidedly yummy. The steak was very rare in the middle, but crispy cooked on the outside. Pretty yummy as well. I finished with two giant profiterole ice-creams.
Rosemary ate a veal main, which did not impress her,
Today we packed the van and headed over to Jen and Bev’s. We were going to be staying at a campsite within a mile of their home. We arrived as the only campers on the site and were greeted by the Dutch owner of the campsite La Nozilliere. They had taken over the site this year. The pitches were not delimited, with no fences or hedges. Tried to connect to their electricity, but unfortunately required a European adapter. Luckily, they had one in stock. (Had we pitched elsewhere we would have found the standard electricity supply.) This campsite had been closed the previous year. The Dutch owners had bought the place during the winter and had done some work in the Sanitaire. You could see they were tall, Rosemary had difficulty with the washing-up facilities & light switches and needed something to stand on.
After breakfast we went for a walk along the local roads, through woods and by lakes. A deer was spotted in the woods, and a few buzzards. We walked up through Carreau and spotted some English cars parked outside houses. The rain managed to keep off. Had lunch back at the campsite, and after 14.00 J&B arrived in their car. Showed them Morrison and then we went for a drive around. We stopped off at the Eglise Saint Eutrope in Les Salles-Lavauguyon. This church has some wall paintings which are worth viewing. Then on up to Chabanais to see the English shop which sells Marmite, dropped in at Cassinomagus, an Archaeological Park, but never went in, then back to J&B for supper.
Today left the campsite on our journey to the south and hopefully the sun. Managed to pack away the van, missing the rain. Soon came across it on our trip to the A20. Drove the free section of the A20 to Nespouls where we took to the free local roads. We made it all the way to Castelnaudry and started to search for a supermarket, Google had us go to Montreal, an Intermarche Contact. Seemed to be a fuel station and a large warehouse, so tried again and found a place in Bram where we bought some essentials for the next few days.
Provisioned up, we headed to Fanjeaux (we had been there already between Montreal and Bram in the hope of finding food there. It looked pretty grim on the shopping front.) At Fanjeaux we headed to the camping, met Nadine at the farm. She told us to choose a site and come and pay later. There is a longish drive through fields and down to a small lake. The camping pitches are on the other side of the lake in several tiers. We chose a spot near the lake, in-between the only two vehicles, two motorhomes. One was Dutch and the other was a Brit. We tried to connect to the electricity, only to find, on our second occasion, another site with rubbish European socket connectors in the cabinets.
A quick google, We found we there was a caravan supplier in Castelnaudary. Arrived there and bought the adapter we required. Back to the site, electricity connected, and the awning erected. As soon as it was out of the bag the rain fell. Rosemary remained inside the canopy supporting it, while I inflated, positioned and pegged the canopy. All erected inside of 35 minutes. (Ignored R’s cries of how our tent (at home) would have been easier.)
We were invited by Luc, Nadine’s husband, for drinks at 6.30 where we met the other two couples who were camping. Turns out that the Dutch couple knew John and Carol. We drunk wine in the campsite common room with Luc, Nadine and the other two couples. As it was getting dark we made our excuses to go and cook a quick meal of sausages and peppers. After dinner, the sky was clear, the stars were bright, and our galaxy was very visible. Despite the clear sky, the rain was soon on us during the night. Battering down, with strong winds blowing the trees. The shelter these trees gave to our camping space was fabulous. Didn’t hear the awning blowing about at all during the night.
The rain was finished for the morning, though still cloudy. We didn’t know what to do, so eventually we went for a walk. It was one of the shorter set walks, 4.5 miles. The walk has some good views of the surrounding countryside, the campsite, Fenouillet-du-Razes, Fanjeaux and mountains miles and miles away. The day became warmer and warmer with the sun staying out longer.
Back at campsite, washing line erected, smalls washed and out to dry and a lunch of bread and cheese.
In the evening we wandered around the shore and were surprised by the number of little frogs who quickly leaped down the beach and into the water with a final plop.
Wednesday was a very hot day. Probably too hot for a site seeing day. We met Nadine and paid for are camping and were suggested a tour we could do. The first item on the tour was Carcassonne. The directions we were given suggested bypassing the town of Carcassonne and taking signs to La Cite. This all went wrong, and we ended up driving straight through and parking in the centre of Carcassonne, where we paid a couple of Euros to park for two hours, and realised that was wasted money as 12-2 was free anyway. A short walk to La Cite which looked impressive from the outside. Inside we were confronted by lots of tourist shops, restaurants and bars. We walked around the streets, and the outside lower battlements which were free. We visited the church where we were entertained by five male singers, who Rosemary thought were Russian. After a couple of songs, they advertised their CD, which we both though was rather overpriced. Had it been, say 10 Euros, maybe we would have purchased one.
We made our way back to Van the Van, gave our ticket to a French woman and left for Lagrasse. The last few miles to Lagrasse were through some very tight hairpin bends. These though were just the build-up for our trip to Spain the next day.
Parked in a public carpark at Lagrasse, near to the police station for security. We then walked into town on the tourist circuit. Lots of long narrow windy streets with the odd artist shop, and of course the covered market. We crossed the river, passed the cemetery and arrived at the abbey. Stopped for a beer, toast and aubergine pate. We decided not to look around the abbey, there didn’t seem to be much of it when we reviewed the Google Map pictures.
Back along the hairpins we arrived back at Fanjeaux hoping to buy some food at the grocer, but were foiled by Wednesday being half-day closing. The baker though was open. Back at the campsite supper and then sitting outside looking at the stars, and listening to the plops from the lake. There was a rather ragged looking grey heron wandering around the shores. Rosemary saw the heron when it made a rather unmelodious squawk. Not at all a nice sound.
The rain was coming so, we quickly packed up the awning before it got too wet. Packed away the van and set off to Spain. The route avoided tolls and took us along some beautiful scenery, around some tight hairpin bends and even a place where the road looped over itself. Some of the villages we passed through had the narrowest streets I have come across, and two-way. Luckily not much traffic passed through them. When I am home I must have my brakes replaced, they must be worn out now with all the twisty downhill mountain roads.
The last part of the trip was so enticingly close to the A9 as we battled up and down hills to the border of Spain crossing at Le Perthus. In Spain we stopped at the first supermarket which was taken over mainly by alcohol. Ricard being sold in 4 litre bottles, and also in boxes of 6. This was not for the Brits, but for the French who come over and stock up on cheap alcohol. There was not much food. We should have kept on a little while longer for the classier supermarkets.
Our destination was Capmany, only a few minutes into Spain. We soon passed a few ‘Night Clubs’ presumably doing good business with French customers coming over the border. We turned off the N-II to Capmany signposted by a nearly naked woman dancing & soliciting at the junction.
After a few wrong turns we arrived at the campsite, did not erect the awning due to 50K winds which were blowing over the site. They had been blowing all day, and the van had been buffeted a little in the open plains. Shortly after arrival the rain arrived. Supper and bed.
Like many campsites, this one had visiting dogs with their owners. Therefore Rosemary was not surprised when a neighbour came out of his caravan and walked off with a lead. But when he came back, R saw not a dog attached to the lead but a cat, possibly a Norwegian Forest cat, ie yards of gorgeous tabby. She shot out of our van & spoke to the owner and so got to stroke said cat. There were also a couple of campsite cats. There were notices in the men’s toilet block asking you not to feed them. R said there were no such notices in the ladies. Odd.
As it was wet, raining on and off all day long, it was an ideal day for museums, Lovely sunset though. We had come to Spain to visit the Museu de la Tecnica de l’Emporda. This museum was rumoured to have a wonderful collection of typewriters, sewing machines, clocks, telephones and other mechanical stuff from the late 19th to 20th century. It did not open until 4pm, so we elected to visit the Dali Theatre-Museum first. We parked in a multistorey car-park close by. Looked a lovely car-park, we were expecting high price to park, especially as we could see no published prices. Yes, it was expensive, more than 20 Euros. The spaces though were large for Van the Van, and undercover, so not much chance of damage or thieving.
The Dali Museum was superb. We also learnt Dali designed jewellery which was quite exquisite.
Today we broke for lunch and ate a meal in a local restaurant, sitting outside under the umbrellas. I was decidedly cold. Steak and chips for me, while Rosemary had some veggie type burger.
Still we some time on our hands and visited another museum of stuff, mainly paintings and artefacts from the area. Mainly Catalan. They did have one Dali painting and a few others from the ‘30s which were definitely by artists trying to jump on the Dali bandwagon. Not a particularly interesting museum, filled in some time, and had some loos.
Now to the typewriter museum. Two elderly staff, one woman and a man. A cheap museum to visit. There were no other visitors other than us two. We were shown around by the woman, who said she could do a tour in French or Spanish, so we chose French and got a gist of what she was saying. First was a whole floor of typewriters, from ones where you select the character and then press the key. There were typewriters from all over the world, Chinese, Japanese, American, French, Spanish and English, typewriters hidden in tables, typewriters designed for the war correspondent.
Downstairs there were sewing machines, again hundreds of different models.
The final floor was more mixed with lots of items covering life, bicycles, irons, radios, cameras, etc.
No chance to wander around on our own or take photos.
Now we were on our way back to the campsite, the weather was improving with some brightness over the mountains. This showed up the snow which must have fallen during the day. Our signpost off the N-II was not there, either too cold, or she was busy. Back at the site, beer, food and bed. The wind was gone, the rain had stopped. Rosemary somehow managed to collide with one of the campsite cats. The site is busy today, the weather for the weekend, and tomorrow bodes well.
The morning was bright and sunny. The forecast for the day was sunny, until the evening when some rain was predicted. Showered, then broke our fast, and headed off to the coast. Our aim was to view a residence R’s cousin Agnes had bought in L’Escala. To make the trip more exciting, we headed of east towards the coast at Sant Jordi. A newish town with a multitude of new build Spanish flats for the tourists. Not our scene at all. Driving there was a bit up and downy as this part of the coast has high hills. It also seemed every cyclist in Spain was out riding. The first group was a women’s group spread out over several miles.
We headed south down the coast to El Port de la Selva at which point we headed inland and climbed up over the headland, almost reaching the height of an astronomical observatory. On this climbing and twisty road, the Spanish cyclists appeared to be practising their hill climbs and descents. I aimed not to fall over the precipitous edges of the roads or force cyclists over the edge. With the braking I hoped the discs would hold out, at MOT time it had been recommended that they be changed. But I want to consult our normal motor mechanic, not a VW dealership. We eventually dropped to the plain and followed the bay of Gulf of Roses around to L’Escala.
Arriving we headed down some imposingly narrow lanes, past Agnes’s house and to a car park where I grabbed the last space. Parking was free, a better deal than the Dali museum. Lunch beckoned, and we tried the French eatery, Restaurant La Gruta to find it was booked solid today, either that or we looked scruffy and they didn’t want us there, it seemed empty so looked like the second option. So, around the block we tried Restaurant La Taglistella. Nice restaurant, lovely entrees and then pasta main course. You chose the sauce, and the pasta you wanted. We left, the restaurant seemed busy and yes, the French restaurant was full, so maybe we were not refused for being unwelcome diners.
We viewed Agnes’s holiday home and tried to work out what she bought. It is an old traditional building in L’Escala. Her home was on a corner of two extremely narrow streets, (All the streets in L’Escala were narrow, built before motor cars). There is a tremendous amount of work needed to the house, (at least from the external appearance). Inside I have now seen that it has a spectacular arched brick ceiling
After lunch we checked out the main beach harbour area. There seemed to be music playing, paella being cooked and tables laid out across the beach. Sat and watched for a while, listening to the man testing the speakers saying ‘Si, Si, Si’ over and over mixed with clonks and bangs. No entertainment emanated from these speakers, but the other Saturday beach meal further across the little bay was in full progress with Spanish singing. I did get excited when a rock riff was played, but alas nothing came of it.
We decided to walk on down to the marina and admire a few yachts, decided it was too far and headed back to the car. As we drove off the heavens opened, there was thunder and lightning, very very frightening. The roads were flooded. It was local because the North of the bay was still sunny. When we came back to the road leading to the campsite turnoff, the girls were out in force for the Saturday afternoon clients. It had not rained here at all. Later after supper rain started but eventually dried up by midnight.
Bit of a lie in and then we broke camp, packed Van the Van and set off to France. We were aiming for a small campsite in the ACSI book.. It is on the coast of the Carmargue and is on the banks of a river. Off we set stopping off before midday to buy a couple of days worth of food. Had to be done before the shops all close on the Sunday afternoon. We continued along the toll free roads, travelling on the ‘A’ roads where they were free. Stopped off at an Aire for lunch. The toilets here were so bad, people had been trampling shit all over the place. Disgusting.
We arrived at 3.30 at the campsite, getting slightly perplexed by the number of vans driving in the opposite direction, yes it was full up. The Aire outside the campsite was also stacked with a hundred plus vans. We looked at the AXI map and were about to head to another site 30 minutes away on the other side of an Etang. But before heading that way we tried another site the other side of the town I had previously spotted. I had not considered it because it was not an ACSI site and looked huge. Yes it was huge, and also tremendously expensive. There were walks along the beach, and into the Etang de Monro. We decided we would book for a couple of nights to allow us to check out the town and site. We could always extend.
The site was packed, pitches are very close together. The people near us all seem pretty good and international, Germans, Dutch, Swiss and Brits. Here there were also quite a few VM camper vans and small vans. These had been missing from the Spanish site.
In the hedge, just next to our van, a very cooperative dragonfly perched under the leaves. It remained there for the duration of the photoshoot, never moving. It was still there after supper.
We walked along the beach, figuring out where the flamingos were for tomorrow’s walk. Near the sluice gates and Archimedes screw there were some very aggressive little egrets who seemed to be attacking each other.
It had been mainly a sunny day, but cloud was coming in and rain forecast for the morning. A cheerful Brit who had been here for 5 days said it had been sunny all the time. Not quite how it had been in Spain.
The morning was definitely grey, but the rain did not arrive this morning at Saintes-Maries-de-La-Mer. Late getting up waiting for the non-existent rain. Once up, we finished the yogurt and pain au raisins. The agenda for the day was to photograph the flamingos. Set off under the grey skies towards the flamingos. First stop was at the sluice gates to photograph the egrets trying to fish. Eagle eyed Rosemary spotted a kingfisher across the water. Managed to get a picture, but for id purposes only, as you can see.
We walked on out to the flamingos where there were several groups of 20 or so. These though slowly moved away as time passed. There were many birds in the water, and their calls where very loud. As well as the flamingos, there were gulls of various sorts, sandpipers, shags, avocets and yet to be identified other birds.
On the other bank of the Etang (over a mile away) there were hundreds of flamingos, just visible as a pink line to the naked eyes. Other people came by and we were able to lend them the binoculars to see the birds.
There were some amazing fights amongst the gulls. When one caught a fish, all the others would chase it, hoping to steal the fish.
A couple with a dog and large Nikons also came by to take some photographs, one Canon against two Nikons. The walk back presented on egret wading towards the sluice gate, running, flying and launching at fish.
We ate lunch of Camembert which was stinking out the fridge. The Rustique cheese brand seems far more potent in France than the UK, and this sample still had a month to go before its self-destruct date. Fridge now cleared of smelly food, we walked into town. It dawned on us how many mobile home Aires there were. Some just car parks, the neared ones to the coast charged, but gave you a water point and a refuse point.
In town we went to the church, and then paid to go up onto the roof. The roof was made of stones, so we were able to walk to its summit. By now the weather was good, the sun was out with little cloud in the sky. After visiting a few grockle shops we headed back. Sure enough as we sat down, the clouds came in, got colder. As soon as the cooker was positioned for the duck, the rain started. Quick dismantle and sat inside the van waiting for the rain to stop. There was hope from the west, the sky brightened and within 30 minutes cooking started again. The Germans next door erected their awning and were not stopped from their feast.
The town loves to decorate its roundabouts. Everyone had nice plants and some a scene, or statue or model building. Several pictures in the gallery are of these roundabouts.
The meal was eaten in dryness, though getting dark. The stars are out and tomorrow promises to be a nice day, so we are staying on here to try and get pictures of flamingos with blue sky behind them.
Lovely sunny day today, but a strong wind was blowing. This made sitting outside Van the Van uncomfortable as the wind swirled under the van, around the back and then over the top in a vortex dropping sand into your eyes, food and drink. You could see a scum of kibble floating on the top of your wine after a few minutes.
Today we went for another walk over the Marais and back along the coast from the East. This time the flamingos in the salt water mudflats were a little further off and difficult to photograph. Amongst them were also hundreds of avocets feeding. We walked across the sand and mud (now wet and sticky after the rain) towards some paths. Here we found a new eco system of ponds with some gorgeous flying displays from some swallows/house martins? They were occasionally dipping down to drink from the ponds.
On another water area, which I think connected to the main Etang were three flamingos who I was able to get quite close to and photograph. These were again feeding. Love the way they are ringed above the knee. You can even read the id with a scope from a way off.
We walked back along the coast with cyclists passing along the wide tracks. This does look like a place where it is worth while taking a bike with you. Lots of tracks, and all on the flat. The sea was rough today, and the sky was picturesque with the blue and the clouds to add texture. Nothing quite a boring as a totally blue cloudless sky.
Back at the camp we had lunch of beer, bread and cheese. We had consumed the last of the Camembert yesterday, but even today the fridge still stunk. Today it was some blue cheese bought earlier on the trip.
We walked into town on the pretext of buying some Camargue red rice. Not bought because there must be more authentic places to buy the stuff. R did buy a present of a Camargue wrap around skirt/throw, but later saw, much to her annoyance, that it was made in Parkistan! We took a break from buying, and experienced a beer at a bar. No sooner had we sat down, the rain started. A small cloud which soon passed, but enough to cause a flurry amongst the local shop owners. The owner of the bar we were sitting in rushed over to help the lady from another shop move her displays under cover.
We left after the beer and walked back home under the lovely sun. The wind was still blowing back at the campsite, and occasionally the van would rock with a sudden gust.
Well organised today, woken by the sun streaming into the window of the campervan top. Out to the showers, showered, bed made and then I was off to the shop to purchase this damn French bread which goes off in an hour and a couple of pain au raisins. We were soon packed and were off, paying as we left. Oh the barrier on exit seemed to take a little bash as we left. Seemed to appear rather sooner than I expected.
We were heading north, though the weather was improving in the south, it was also improving further north, so we were making a stop a third of the way up the country near to Macon. This time we were paying and taking the A road all the way. Most of the journey was uneventful, very windy as there were some definite lively moments as we passed trucks. And oh yes the French experience the same problems as we do on the their two lane A roads where trucks try to overtake for miles and miles. Traffic was delayed by one Spanish driver who took 10 minutes to overtake one truck. The saving grace was the overtaken truck was forced to slow down a little later when it caught up with another truck. Five minutes later the carriage way went back to three lanes!!
We arrived in Macon after four hours and found a large Carfour, bought a couple of days food and wine, and replenished the van with fuel. (nearly 100 Euros as was getting empty). The campsite was only 10 minutes away. Across the river Saone in a village called Cormoranche-sur-Saone. The site is called Base De Loisirs Camping du lac. The campsite has large individual pitches with hedges and trees separating the plots. There is a café selling bread and meals. A large lake and swimming pool as part of the lake. There is a downside, a TGV rail line nearby which is used on a regular basis with trains passing every 5 minutes or so. At least at night, I am writing this at 10.15 pm, the trains seemed to have stopped going by. Hopefully a quiet night.
The evening was cloudless, our first satellite was spotted, and the pond is a haven for bats. Importantly the mobile phone Internet connection is good. A great improvement on the Camargue!!
We are booked for three nights, let us see what there is around here. Google is suggesting some sites of interest nearby.
Today was meant to be a lovely blue-sky day. It did not disappoint, despite a slow start as the thin cloud was burnt off. The morning was quite chilly, and our feet felt it as we wandered around doing our morning tasks. Another happy camper informed us it had been 5C during the night.
The late morning and early afternoon were spent in a leisurely walk which took us through fields and woods, along the bank of the river Saone. In one of the fields on the way to the river we saw three grey herons.
The Saone is a large navigable river, we saw several small boats motor down and up and one large Swiss river cruise liner travelling down. There were a few people on the top deck, and a few on their balconies looking out. It did not look very full, maybe everyone else was a lunch.
On the other bank there was a stork’s nest on top of a large dead tree. There was even a stork standing there peering in. On the river itself there were numerous grey herons perched on the banks. In the river we came across a small group of juvenile swans still in their grey colour.
We continued the walk, through silver birch plantations and back to the campsite. We should have passed through the village, but a slight navigation error caused us to bypass the village of Cormoranche-sur-Saone.
Back at the campsite we ate a late lunch and one-day old French bread which was soft and soggy. Actually, the pain complet does last a little longer than the white pap stuff the French pass off as bread.
I took a walk around the lake, especially to get close to photograph the TGVs as they trundled by. They did not look that impressive in their speed here, maybe a slow section of line. I did like the way that where the line divided, they built a bridge so that as one line crossed over the other it was on a bridge and not by crossing lines. This presumably is to allow faster speeds and easier scheduling of trains.
Back at the tent, we opened a bottle of fizz from Borgognone and then started our burger and “chip” dinner. Rosemary let herself down big time, the beans she thought must be French were from Rwanda.
Next door a British mobile home moved in, it also had a Silver Screen cover for the front windscreen. Their’s though seemed not to fit as well and snugly as our’s does.
French pap bread ordered for the morning and a final JD nightcap as I write my blog and continue to read a Sci-Fi book by British author Charles Stross who used to work in IT from the 1980s to 2000.
Tomorrow is our last planned day here, not sure whether we are going to veg, or maybe we will look at the local sights.
Another sunny day, Rosemary went off to pick up the bread, it was a baguette, small thing, should have ordered a flute. Just can’t to get to grips with the varied sizes of French bread. After breakfast walked up to reception to decide on where we could go for some sites. We were Abbeyed out, so they were off the list. I got the list down to three places, a Grand Place where there were outcrops of rock and archaeological stuff, a wine pace and some caves.
Instead we had a quiet day, walked around the lake, watched the birds and studied the numerous fishermen who had set up camp for the day. We admired the seemingly empty TGV trains on their way to Lyon and beyond. We would soon have our HS2 passing nearby us. Yes these are noisy, and where there is a curve there are screeching rails. At least they seem to disappear for the French lunch, and don’t start until quite late in the morning and are gone quite early in the evening. (I am writing this at 21.00 and have not heard a TGB for a while now.) Ate lunch, read books, nosed at the other mobile homes and campers.
Found an intriguing 2006 Landrover Defender with awning and attached tent. The tent and awning were in Landrover brown and green. Transpired they had been to the island of Sardinia.
The Brits across the road in a bigger van were on their way possibly to Spain, but were considering apartments as they were almost the same price as a campsite.
We planned the next day as we were going to be on the move again, this time it was going to be towards Reims. Three campsites, one with horrendous reviews, mainly because people had been refused entry as they were too young, and the onsite mobile homes were in poor condition. Also reports of midges, it though was on a lake and recommended for bird watches. The ACSI site was in a middle of a town, the guide book said it could be noisy in September because of the grape pickers. It was next to a vinery. A third site was called Camping Nature, R immediately thought this to be a reserve for nudists. Looks OK to me and a relatively small site. This is my next target, I think.
The weather looks OK for the rest of our holiday!!
We packed up on a reasonable day with the sun attempting to dry the awning out. The awning was, as usual, a sod to pack. It is so heavy with the inflatable tubes which are also a pig to totally deflate. Each time we take it down, the folded package seems larger than ever. The awning is so difficult to manoeuvre, and you end up dragging it around on the ground making it dirtier and dirtier each time you erect and take it down. Yes, I was beginning to lose it and wish I had never bought the blessed thing. A sale on eBay I expect.
We set off in a northerly direction on the toll road toward Dijon and beyond. Our aim was to reach a small campsite near to Vitry-le-Francois. Google pulled us off the toll road early to take us on the N67 towards Chaumont. An excellent choice by our silicon friend.
On the payage we tried to have lunch. I had always considered French motorway cafes to be superior to our UK ones. Not anymore. The first attempt we could not find anywhere to park, except for some useless empty car parks on the other side of the motorway a good 10-minute walk away. The signage was appalling as well. The next attempt, at least the café was on the same side of the road, but again the signage was crap, and the place seemed full. We ended up parking with many other cars in the lorry park. Then the food, on one counter doing croque monsieurs and coffee, was one poor over-worked girl with a large queue. Ended up buying iced Starbucks coffee and sandwich. Christ, white square bread and it tasted sweet. No sorry UK has it right, choice of foods and now we have M&S or Waitrose selling pretty good sandwiches / wraps / couscous / salads etc. Sorry France you have lost the plot on convenience foods.
We made it to Vitry-le-Francois and went shopping in a Leclerc. Provisioned now for the next three days.
We drove to the campsite Camping Nature, in the village of Luxémont-et-Villotte, priced at 15 Euro for the night, small campsite. No nudity, despite R’s initial thoughts on its name. No delineation of parking spaces, but nice green grass and very quiet. There are five of us here for the night. Looking forward to the walk to the Etang, and along the canal. Fifteen kilometres away there is a large lake, built to alleviate the flooding of Paris. It is meant to have some good bird viewing hides, so maybe Monday for that.
Tonight, we had a bottle of fizzy Vouvray, and the remains of yesterday’s meal (lardons with onion, pepper and tomatoes) with some cravats. Tasted delicious. For Carbohydrate some du pain, which I reckon was stale the moment I bought it. But after a quick heat through, it was fine.
Sitting in the quiet as the sun set, there was a raucous chorus of birds settling in a bamboo grove on the campsite. This was shortly complimented with an aerial display by some bats. Not seen so many bats flying around like this for a while.
The facilities here look good, nice and clean tiles etc. Yet to test the temperature of the shower. R had already complained about the lack of loo seat and chilly water in the plate cleaning area. There though was hot water available in another large laundry sink nearby. Problem solved.
Near the campsite are rows and rows of flashing red lights. Are they a landing strip for UFOs? Google maps show nothing. Investigate tomorrow on our walk. (Turned out to be lights on wind turbines.)
The night had been chilly, with heavy dew in the morning. Breakfast of chocolate pastries and coffee. Lovely sunny day. We wanted to walk to the Etang available for campers. So off we set on the short 1K walk. As we crossed the canal we saw the campsite owner’s wife, dog and another woman on the towpath. One woman was sitting on the ground and R became a concerned citizen. So we walked along the canal to investigate, our pretext being to look at the lock gates further on. The woman on the ground was an artist drawing the canal and bridge, madam was just there chatting to her. We continued to the lock gates. They were automatic hydraulically operated gates, much wider than UK locks. Like the railways, British canals were built on the cheap and are smaller than the continental ones.
We turned right here and headed out into the country with the intention of doing another right hand turn to get as to the target Etang. The tarmac road we were on was by far the worst road we had encountered in France. It still was far superior to most of the country lanes in Buckinghamshire! After walking across a stream and through a wood we were into open country, huge fields going on for miles. Next, we came across a marked Etang (on the map) on the left advertised as Carp fishing holidays. There were some fishermen, and they were English. On the right with no mention of an Etang on the map, was another stretch of water. Possibly a newer flooded gravel pit, all fenced off with permission for nothing including building. It though had one swan. Here we turned right along gravel road heading for our Etang, passing another Etang very overgrown around the edges, but with three swans.
We came to our Etang, all fenced off, so we walked along the side of it towards our campsite. We then came across the entrance. There seemed to be much redevelopment work going on. This Etang was for the campers, and allowed fishing, bathing, walking etc. The lake now seemed recently to have been divided into two and had a stoned beach created. We left, walked back to the campsite.
The afternoon was spent eating, Sunday lunch of pork. Alas not grilled as we were only on a 6 amp supply, but more stewed on the gas with beans and tomatoes. We spent the afternoon lazing and reading, then eating a cheese sandwich for supper. During the afternoon we both were amazed at the number of blackbirds inhabiting the hedges of the campsite. Not only blackbirds, but woodpeckers, who alas flew away as soon as a glass lens was produced.
Again, the birds provided a musical accompaniment as we ate. Once it was night, the bats and owls arrived.
The village has a pack of dogs somewhere, who decide to howl at irregular intervals. Also, being Sunday night the lorry traffic on the distant N road picked up and we could hear a distant but constant sound of traffic through the night.
Today was meant to be a cloudy day with a bit of sun. Give me more of these days, it turned out very well. We decided we would take Van the Van our for a ride to Lake Der. This is an artificial lake which takes the winter flood water from the river Marne and stores it until the Summer when IT is slowly released back into the river. The River Marne is a tributary to the river Seine, and joins the Seine where it enters Paris at Ivry-sur- Seine. This lake and other control mechanisms were built to control flooding of I assume Paris which occurred several times in the 20th century.
Lake Der is now a habitat for birds and there’s also a place for water sports. We were trying to locate places where we could stop and view birds. It seemed difficult, all car parks were limited to 2 meters high vehicles, whereas we are a little higher. The alternative were the Aires, but they were all gate controlled and thus needed to be paid for. We drove around and were about to give up when we saw a road that allowed us on to the top of the dyke. At least we could now see the mud flats and the hundreds of birds feeding. We drove slowly along. Grabbed a few pictures, but the feeding grounds were too far away for a decent picture. The lake is at a low point at this time of year because the water is being let out for the winter floods.
At the end of the road we were back at the parking. Stopped and decided to check the Aires for the prices. Was free during the day. Hurrah, so parked and walked to a nearby hide. We spent a while watching the birds.
Now we tried to find a restaurant for lunch. Nearby, closed, must be Monday. Another place located, but Google took us down the N road, and there was no way off. Gave up and went to Leclerc and bought some bread and pain au raisins.
Nice picnic late lunch at campsite, and then a walk down to the Etang. We walked around it, seeing the work which was in progress. The place was rather devoid of birds. There was excitement when we heard a snort and splosh as we walked up to some reeds. There were tracks in the grass and down the bank. Some mammal which we never saw, I expect it may be a coypu.
Back at campsite consumed another bottle of Vouvray and then ate supper, emergency rations of lentils and tuna. Able to sit out later as warmer in the evening with the protective lay of cloud. Fun watching one mobilehome moving around trying to connect to the satellite TV.
Tomorrow we are off back home.