Off on holiday to France (Rosemary asks what is the meaning of a holiday when you are not working). Dismal day, cloudy in the UK and it turned out to be cloudy with some mizzle in France. At least it was warm enough to sit outside for drinks and supper when we arrived in Les Andelys.
The drive to the channel tunnel was a breeze, no speed restrictions on the M25 on the northern route to the tunnel, despite it being the rush hour. I presume the rush hour is a breeze, only experienced drivers and trucks are on the road at that time. We arrived in oodles of time and were resigned to buying a coffee and muffin breakfast before boarding the train. Google had come up trumps; she predicted a travel time of two hours and twenty minutes and so it was.
Once boarded, we sat and read our mobile phones and ipads and listened to the love overtures from the two channel tunnel attendants, luckily in French so we couldn’t understand. So soon we were arriving in France, and straight off on to the motorway.
Yes, it did mizzle on the drive the Les Andelys, which is on the River Seine, it is also about 20K from Giverny. Still we ate outside in a warmish, overcast evening and I am writing this as it turns to nine. Not so bad. We are staying at the Three Kings Island campsite or its French name of Camping de l’lle des Trois Rois. It is right on the River Seine where huge barges and Viking river cruises pass by. On the other side there is a small lake with Coots and Grey Herons. The pitches are all hedged off and we have quite a spacious one. There seem to be quite a few Brits and several VW campervans. The grass is green here in this part of France, lusher than at home.
After dark we had a walk around the campsite armed with the bat detector. There were a few flying around which we heard and saw. Over by the lake, there was an almost constant sound of bats, these we never saw because I assume they were flying low over the dark lake. We managed to disturb a mammal which plunged into the water, an Otter, or Coypu?
Tomorrow we will visit Monet’s house and gardens in Giverny which is some 20K away. It looks like a wet day with maybe 3mm of rain. I will be hoping for some fabulous pictures of rain drops on the pond and lilies. Afterwards we will have a walk around Les Andeleys where there is a ruined chateau overlooking the campsite and town. Another night and then off to Arcais to see Mike and Linda when the weather will be so much, better complete with sun.
Cloudy and warm day when we set off to Giverny by a route which took us up out of the river valley across some very flat arable land with huge fields and then down back into the river valley and into Giverny. The rain started, or rather the heavy mizzle descended requiring the wipers to go on full time. We parked in the Camping Aire next to some large motor homes. Nearby were some ten coaches, so we realised we were not going to have the gardens to ourselves. The rain had stopped, it was warm, but we did take rain jackets to ward off further rain.
A short walk, via Monet’s bust, took us to Monet’s gardens where we paid 9.50 Euro each to enter. You walk through the gift shop and into the main gardens. These had some magnificent flowers in closely planted huge borders. R was in raptures.
You cross underneath the road (with the signature green & pink colouring) into the Lily Gardens where you are met with a bamboo forest. We walked across the famous Japanese Bridge which is now covered with wisteria and looks nothing like it was when Monet painted his pictures of it and the pond. You walk around the garden, waiting and taking pictures where there were the least number of people. As the day progressed there were noticeable less visitors; must be lunch time.
Back across in the main garden we visited the house which was stunning. The yellow dining room was vividly yellow, a great display of copper in the kitchen. R wanted a particular chair in the studio area.
The village income seems totally geared around Monet, with galleries, gift shops, restaurants and gites. The narrow streets were one way, but some were even traffic free. We walked along the length of Rue Claude Monet, past the restaurants, past the bars, past the galleries to the church where Monet was buried. We also viewed the memorial to the impossibly young British aircrew who had crashed and died in their Lancaster, nearby during WWII.
Back to the van, we then drove home, via an Intermarche in a rather unsalubrious area of Les Andelys to buy some beers for the evening. The mizzle started again as we drove across the plateaux and it rained while we were shopping. The was the end of the rain, and we spent the evening eating and watching the river boats pass.
One cruise boat was moored at Les Andelys. Another came up stream and waited in the river to moor. It must have waited in the middle of the river for half an hour for the first boat to leave. The first boat left, we waved at the passengers as they all headed on towards Paris.
Tomorrow we are off the Arcais to see Mike and Linda. Weather forecast to have some rain, and then that should be the end of it. By the time we arrived we should have missed it, and then it’s looking good for the next seven days.
Today we packed up the van and left the campsite for Arcais, some five hours drive. A short break, with an hour left to drive, where we went to the loo and drank a coffee.
We arrived in Arcais at 16.21. We chose a pitch in the usual location by the lake and watched a man wade around the pond trying to retrieve his fishing tackle. The van was soon readied, so we walked up along the water ways to see the Eatons who gave us a very good pork supper.
Our next day was a lazy stay at home day. We walked up to the Eatons after breakfast, spent time on the Internet and at lunch. Linda and Rosemary disappeared off to a charity sale, come car boot sale. R ended up buying 4 glasses to replace the one she’d broken on our first day. In the evening we walked back to the campsite along the canal with bat detector on. We heard bats, but also some other strange sounds at 20Khz which sounded more like a throbbing engine. (I have heard these since and they are quite localised in a tree. Some insect I expect. Wasps fanning in a nest??)
On Saturday we all went into Niort and searched for somewhere to eat. On the walk into town we passed books being given away, (for a donation if you wanted, R never saw the donation bit). R bought a Simenon, and was amazed to see it was first published in 1931 and Maigret was portly. Mike was keen to eat at a particular Thai restaurant, but it was alas closed on Saturdays, but said the patron with great pride, open on Mondays. Does that actually help?? We discovered a new Thai restaurant which did takeaways, and had some tables on the street. The food was fine, but not chilli hot, instead toned down for the French pallet.
Walked around the city and ventured into the old part where there were some fine buildings.
Back in Arcais for the evening, we all ventured to the “hippy bar”, which is open three months a year and has some live music. Tonight, we were entertained to some French Hip-Hop music. R surprised herself by thinking some of it was not bad.
Beautiful bright starlit evening in the campsite.
Packed up from Arcais in the dry and set off for Jen and Bev. First stop was fuel as we were low, Google maps allows you to plot a route and then you can ask it for fuel stations on route. It also has helpful information as to whether the fuel station is open, (important information on a Sunday in France), and also a rating as to its popularity. So we chose a fuel stop on the way and replenished our empty tank, some 110 Euros.
On the way we stopped at a popular Aire Claude Bonnier where we had stopped previously and ordered chips and steak hache from a van. Masses of trucks down the road stopped for their enforced Sunday rest day.
Hardly a kilometre down the road, R (eagled eyed for such things) spotted a “Bric a Brac” aka “vide grenier” aka “car boot”. We stopped. R not impressed by the only Ricard glasses & carafe on sale, but she did buy two old cast-iron laundry irons. She wants them as bookends, for her newly culled library. The owner felt she needed his gas fuelled offering, but she quickly demonstrated its uselessness in supporting “livres”. He regarded us with a “nutty tourists” air.
Arrived at Jen and Bev’s and parked the van with some dexterity on their gravel in front of their house. R delighted to renew acquaintance with Jen’s cat Wilma, who must be 16. Lotty dog ran around in tight circles at 90 mph in great delight, full of joie de vivre. Hector dog retained his dignity.
This year, our bbq outside, cooked by Bev, with many accoutrements supplied by Jen, was not cut short by a thunderstorm.
On the Monday we set out to the village of Oradour-sur-Glane. This village has been preserved with its ruined buildings from June 1944 when the German SS rounded up all the men, women and children in the village and murdered them. A very few managed to escape. 642 of its inhabitants were massacred. Dreadful. A sombre reminder of man’s inhumanity to man.
Afterwards we had a beer in a local bar to brighten us up and then headed on home. The evening meal was at a British restaurant which served large beers and had a British menu. We all ate curries of various types. Mine was a hot curry, and it was definitely a hot curry, not catering for the French taste.
We had a long drive today, setting off at 10:19 from Jen and Bev. A stop on the way at the supermarket, a few minutes before we arrived at Villerest where we were stayed at the Camping L’Oree du Lac.
The campsite was open, but most of the facilities had closed the previous week. No bar, no shop and no swimming pool. Only a small loo & shower block was open, and I had to cross my legs in the morning waiting for a cubicle to become free.
But R found the camp cat and was suitably impressed. Later she spotted Puss with a harness and quizzed the owners. Seems they were to go on holiday and wanted Puss to be trained to a lead, so she could go too. Fat chance, thought R, especially as Puss was seven.
The morning was spent walking around the area, first along the lake in a pretty deserted resort area with beach, swimming pool. One restaurant was open and we stopped for a pleasant beer. We followed a walk and ended up in the town of Villerest. Some quaint houses, but no shops and no real bars. We did chance upon a tabac / post office / bar (Le Grand Logis) where we drank a couple of glasses of a very pale rosé from Provence. Very good. R managed to buy “stamps”.
Stopped off at the Marie where there was a loo, with a nearby well. We continued our walk which took us down to the river Loire. You couldn’t actually get to the river, just fleeting glances through the trees. Here it appeared to be flowing fast, the only water would be from the outlet of the hydro electric dam further up, immediately below the campsite.
I walked over the dam, to take some photographs. The bright sunlight was now blotched by clouds and a thunder storm started to brew, followed by much banging & flashing. After darkness we did get a few drops of rain, but we’d eaten and were secure.
The dam appeared to temporarily stop flowing both nights at 18:00.
Driving to Embrun
We headed off today for Embrun, taking the toll road to cut the journey by an hour or so. The périphérique around Lyons was fun (well, I thought it was) with continually changing lanes and large quantities of traffic. Not so fun was the French driver on his mobile phone gesticulating in a very Gallic manner, but who suddenly decided to move into the same lane as me at the same point along the road. A very quick and hard brake saved the day. Despite blaring at him he seemed totally oblivious to the near accident and was still gabbling on his phone and gesticulating. I expect he was steering with his knee! Where are the Gendarmes? There are signs to them at turnoffs. Maybe this is why?
A short stop to buy a loaf of bread and then later to eat, during which time R got herself stung by a wasp, to add to her collection of mosquito bites.
As we approached Embrun we had a quick rethink about which campsite to visit. One with a washing machine and tumble drier was high on Rosemary’s list. So we ended up staying in Baratier a couple of K from Embrun in Camping Les Deux Bois. The Madame was not in residence so we did a quick tour of the site and discovered the washing machine and tumble drier, so they were still in service despite the season.
But Madame found us, and ladened us down with pamphlets, maps, the wifi code & her phone number lest we get lost. She was very helpful in finding a pitch with the correct sunrise and sunset positions. She was also very careful to ensure all temporary residents were not on top of each other. Delightful lady.
This night we had a meal of pork strips (cannot describe them), onions and celeriac and a bottle of Provence rosé.
Friday walking around Baratier
Friday was a bright and sunny day, Thursday had mainly been sunny, but a short shower had occurred as we had reached Embrun. We went for the short walk on the Baratier map where we saw some Roman ruins and Meadow Saffron flowers. (Typically, R insisted I photo these at great inconvenience to me. When we returned to our pitch, there they were.) This walk was mainly on the level and started from the Place du Village.
Arriving back, we had lunch in the Bar La Cantine, a three-course meal starting with salad (fish, or gizzards) and then mains of Lasagne or Moules Frits. (Also dessert which only I managed.) All were very good, you can guess who had which main. R, yet again, managed to find a cat, a pretty long haired tabby with white stockings. Wretched animal did not like moules! Can you believe it? She’s French for goodness sake. I had to leave that one on the side of my plate.
After lunch, R vegged out whereas I went for a quick walk 7K walk with a 420meter rise. I managed to just beat the suggested duration of 2 hours 30 minutes, but was pretty knackered when I got back. R had read several chapters of “The Essex Serpent”.
Neither of us fancied anything to eat for supper.
Saturday walking to Embrum
Today we decided to explore Embrun, and took the rash decision to walk there. Most of the way was on a fairly busy road. Our first stop on arrival was a gallery with an exhibition called the Bleu Nuit, sic, not Nuit Bleu. This took place in the L’Abattoir, an exhibition space for the community. The building was small and old and I assume not now used for its original purpose. There were some fabulous tables for sale, at fabulous prices. R liked the metal animal sculptures, again with fabulous prices.
We then wandered into the old part of the town, and enjoyed a beer at Jack’s Bar, before more sightseeing. At another bar we watched the market being dismantled and the street cleaner come in and clean up the mess.
By this time, we were thinking of lunch, though many of the cafés were busy serving they seemed to set a time of 13:15 to stop new customers. Alas we had missed lunch, so we continued our walk back home on another route, across a small bridge and along some quieter roads (being taken unaware by a chap resembling a Hare Krishna monk plus his dog) and accompanied by much moaning from R re her knees, the sun, etc etc. (I recalled her moaning re the lack of sun when we were in NZ. Do not understand women, or at least my example.)
Sunday French Lunch
Decided to stay on for another day and have a French Sunday lunch. Disaster – the café where we had eaten on Friday was closed on Sundays. Quick inspection of various sights in the village. I walked up to the Hotel des Peupliers and booked a table for two for lunch in my bestest French. (Phrase ready on my google translate.) Well that went well, except I seemed to make a bog-up of the time.
Arrived for lunch before others, but soon the restaurant was full both inside and outside. Our orders were taken by a delectable woman who had lived in England for a couple of years so spoke English very well.
I do like the simplicity of the menus, one decision removed is the cost, all the contingents for a course are the same price, and there is none of the 50, 90, 95 or 99 cents business to try and fool you into thinking the price is one euro less.
After we were seated, we had our aperitifs, beer for me and Perroquet (pastis, Ricard, with mint syrup) for Rosemary. We’d seen this as a new bottled Ricard offering in the supermarkets and wanted to try it. R said it smelt very much of Ricard, but tasted much sweeter. A homemade version with a less sugary syrup could be the solution. Our orders were then taken by the same delectable waitress. While we waited, we were served a good amuse bouche, which we decided was a thick vegetable soup.
I had: Fish in a package (but not called en papillote) with basil plus a salad of (much to R’s approval) double-podded broadbeans and cabbage. Confit Alpine lamb with an aubergine and cumin (oddly translated as caraway) caviar, and potatoes. Followed by a selection of local cheeses.
R had: Poached egg atop Mediterranean vegetables. Veal with quinoa salad & sage, followed by faisselle (a local cream cheese) served with a portion of very fragrant Baratier honey
The pink Provencal wine was delicious; whenever we drink it in a bar or restaurant, it is good, whenever we buy it in a supermarket, it leaves something to be desired.
Back at the campsite and vegging out for the afternoon. Ah, R has finished another book and is worried at this rate, she may have to read one of my Asimovs. I do not see a problem. We watch out for Red Squirrels.
We set off from the very nice Camping Les 2 Bois in Baratier. We were told we must come back and tell everyone about the campsite.
We decided against motorways and toll roads, the saving in time was not spectacular. Instead we were presented with some spectacular scenery as we drove along lakes and rivers, over many cols and through ski resorts. As we were leaving Baratier, we made a stop at a Super U drive to buy some lunch for the journey, and in Grasse we stopped at a Leclerc for the next few days’ suppers.
Grasse was a disappointment, not easily accessible parking and lots of twisty lanes going up and down the hillside.
Arrived at the campsite and checked in, we had to be connected to the electricity, the power supplies being under lock and key. The maximum power was 5 Amperes which was not enough to power our portable induction hob. Oh well, we still have gas.
Our nearest neighbours I thought were climbers setting off early each morning, but it turns out on examination of their van and their clothing that they work for a company called CAN which specialises in works where access is difficult. The type of work is securing wire netting to protect from rock slides along roads. Now I saw the use of their climbing equipment.
On first glance the buildings for the loos, showers looked run down from the outside, (Provence style stone and clay tile roofs) but inside they were tiled and clean. Even the bar and restaurant were open.
There were some bitey mozzies around, and things that look remarkably like New Zealand sandflies. I took to wearing long trousers and socks in the evenings. However, some even smaller buggers found their way through.
Tuesday St Paul de Vence and Gourdon
Today we drove into the nearby town of St Paul de Vence. This is a fortified town on a hill, complete with walls and a cathedral, remarkably called Notre Dame. Some English campers had suggested where to park and the best “road” from there into town. We wandered our ways around the twisty narrow lanes working our way to the top. All the roads were paves in wonderful patterns of pebbles,
St Paul de Vence was very much centred on art, every shop had some art theme. I liked the head of Tin Tin decorated with various stories from his adventures. Other shops were selling large size pears (1 meter high) partially eaten into the shape of a woman’s body. We did find some very nice pepper grinders ?.
We left and then went on an adventure back to 1999 when I paraglided from the town of Gourdon. First stop was the village of Gourdon to view the actual, official landing site if you were lucky to get the height to travel down to it. We saw a hangglider had landed, and then watched another land.
The town of Gourdon is another hill top fortified town with tourist shops selling Provence goodies, this time at a good altitude with some very steep and treacherous roads to get there. A lemon pressé for a drink and then on to the paraglider launch site. The way out we took was even more interesting.
The paraglider launch site was a few more miles up the hill from Gourdon and then another K or so off piste. There were not many people around, one guy walking and another who was preparing for flight. While we were there another group arrived and walked further up the hill.
We waited and the man preparing for flight eventually took off on his Ozone. I photographed him, he said some French words, we left our details on what we think was his car. Never heard from him. So I have lots of photographs of a someone flying at Gourdon on an Ozone Geo.
We drove back home on some spectacular roads around the Loup and past the Cascades du Saut du Loup.
Wednesday and Vence
Left Morrison the Van at the campsite and look the local bus into Vence. Hey, a possibility of a drink and lunch. Bus arrived and ten minutes later we were in Vence. Walked down the street to the centre, where Rosemary spied an antique sale. I sat down and admired the scenery while she toured the stalls. Only comment from her was that if you divided their prices by 20, then it would be UK prices.
Another walled city. We visited the Notre Dame (so original in names), built on the site of a Roman fort in 400AD. There were some notable exhibits, including wooden figures of Christ and other participants in the Passion Story which had been carved in the 1500s and recently found in a shed. The Choir was had been built and carved in the mid 1400s, and then 40 years later, it was moved up a floor because it was too big to allow free circulation of people during services. I did want to go back and photo one of the misericord carvings after seeing a picture of it flash up on a screen.
The walled city with its very narrow streets, gates and cobbled roads was wonderful. We ate at lunch in a French Café on one of the streets. So lovely to sit there in quietness, until the French busker came along. We ignored him intently, but he still played 5 songs with long interluded conversing with one of the diners
After lunch, we found the tourist office where we hoped to get to the belvedere. That floor was closed, but we did see some exhibits of a Polish writer.
Walked back to the bus station and waited for the late bus. Home and then supper.
Moved on to the Camargue today. Three hour drive to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer where it was a nice hot 32. We checked in at 1.50 and found some bu**er had parked in our place from last year. So now we were a few meters away. Chilled out in the shade from the van with some cool Ricard before walking to the Inter Marche. More wine and beers and then supper before sunset.
Some bats flashed passed at a great rate after sunset. Walk on the beach looking out to sea and the moon reflecting on the water. Mars, Venus, Saturn and Jupiter were all in view. So romantic.
Friday in the Camargue
Surprisingly heavy overnight dew. In the morning we went for a walk into the marshes and back along the coast. I was rather warm in the sun. Spoke to a French bird spotter who had the same Collins bird book, so we could swap page numbers! We ate are lunch in the shade of a rather stunted tree beside a path in the Camargue. There were masses of Herons to be see as well as the Pink Flamingos. During the afternoon we walked into town and visited the shopping street looking at all the fluffy pink flamingos and leather boots you could buy. Stopped for a beer and ordered a Monaco. When it came we were somewhat dismayed to see it was a bright pink colour. Yes it was standard Heineken but flavoured with lemonade and grenadine. Yuck. Unfortunately, I had ordered the 50cc size for me whereas lucky R had a 25cc version.
Back passed the InterMarche for some more vegetables and a bottle of wine.
Poor Morrison was now at the centre of an ant field, with ants now beginning to invade him, so I had to walk back to the InterMarche to purchase some ant powder which I spread around the ground and near where they were ingressing.
After supper we went to the beach for a quick evening walk. The planets and moon were all in view, but the spectacle was not so impressive. (I wonder if the large portions of Ricard and wine the previous evening had anything to do with its better view.)
Saturday in the Camargue
Early morning walk, waiting at the beach gate at 7am for it to become unlocked. At 7.07 it was unlocked and we hurried to the marshes for the sunrise. At the bridge and water control on the inland side was a seething mass of fish trying to get out to sea. They were large, over 18” and fat. You could see them quite literally leap over the control gate and splash into the water on the seaward side. (The next day there was no sign of this activity.) As we walked down the inlet, the birds scatterd further and further away. On the lake beach there was some Flamingos quite close to the shore. Even these were making their steady escape.
Back to the campsite we passed one photographer at the bridge who was sitting there all camouflaged photographing a heron.
Breakfast and then we walked into town for a beer and Saturday lunch. For me it was some oysters followed by a bull steak and apple pie. Rosemary ate a salad and fried fish. She even ate the skin!
Walked home for a relaxing afternoon and then another fish evening meal.
The evening walk on the beach was not pleasant tonight, we were bitten alive!
Sunday in the Camargue
Another early start to see the birds. This time we tried to walk behind the bank to avoid being detected by the birds. But when we popped around the bank, not a bird in sight on the ditch. As we walked near to the shore line there appeared two new hummocks, close inspection through the camera revealed netting and lenses stick out of the hummocks. Two birders were there a long time before sunrise in position to photograph the birds. They must have had 30 minutes when it is bright enough for a good photograph, and before the first dog walker or jogger arrives. R counted 14 herons.
Back to the camper where we vegged out for the whole of the day. Way too hot to contemplate doing much, a sentiment seemingly shared by neighbouring campers.
A walk to the beach in the evening was quickly curtailed by the Attack of the Mosquitos.
We packed up in the dry and were soon on the road. One stop at a Carrefour in Nimes to buy some Ricard for Rosemary, and t hopefully some drinking glasses to match those bought before, but no luck with the glasses. So on to the motorway to stop overnight in Aire at Perrogney-les-Fontaines. We ate a meal in the restaurant, watched “Paddington 2” (excellent) on R’s ipad and turned in for the night. Having travelled up North, it became a tad chilly under the thin, summer duvet.
We set off at dawn (not before, so did not have to attach the beam deflectors) for the final trip to Calais and the Channel tunnel. Delayed at the tunnel for 30 minutes because of some technical hitch, and then we were on our way.
I notice they have a mobile signal, including data in the tunnel now. The streaming music did not stop!
The M20 seems to be under reconstruction along its length, keeping us to 50 most of the way. Is this some planning for Brexit! The tunnel under the Thames was its usual badness, the bridge is not a problem, so why the hold up with the tunnel which has four lanes. I then noticed the traffic lights and barriers which are there to stop oversized vehicles from entering. They did go red, and barriers closed while we were waiting in the queue. Maybe there are many culprits attempting the crossing, result chaos.