Monségur

Our next stop was to see Caroline and Charles Lamb at Monségur, south east of Bordeaux. We had spent a frustrating day in and around Bordeaux trying to buy a replacement wheel for Tony’s Kalkhoff bike. The bike was stored on the back of the camper when there was an unfortunate incident with with a tree whilst we were reversing into a parking space. The bicycle wheel was bent beyond repair. We found three Kalkhoff dealers in the area and we visited each but none of them stocked a spare wheel. Tony finally gave up and phoned Kalkhoff in England and asked them to send us a wheel from the UK.

We found Charles and Caro busy working on their house. They had builders in constructing an extension and Charles was laying a concrete base for a small swimming pool. After a refreshing cup of tea and several glasses of wine, we enjoyed a delicious meal of filet steak with barbecued vegetables.

The following morning we drove over to their daughter’s house half an hour away. Jay and Zöe have a lovely 19th century country house with large, beautifully proportioned rooms complete with an Aga in the huge kitchen. They had done a lot of work to the house and were in the process of constructing a swimming pool, much to the delight of their two young children, Colin and Gracie.

After coffee and biscuits we said a fond farewell to the Lambs and were on our way, heading south east towards the Mediterranean coast through Toulouse, Carcassonne and Norbonne.

Ile De Ré

The weather was dry and sunny for the four days we spent at Couarde Sur Mer on the Île De Ré with temperatures reaching 20° in the afternoon sunshine, warm enough to sit outside providing you were sheltered from the chilly wind. At night the temperature dropped to about 6°.

We spent our days cycling around the island, the cycle ways brightly decorated with spring flowers. Wisteria and lilac were already in full bloom. We visited local markets and often found somewhere to have lunch before returning to our campsite in the late afternoon. We revisited an excellent restaurant in Ars en Ré where the food was slightly more sophisticated than the plates of oysters or fruits de mer served with bread and a carafe of local wine that we had been enjoying. At this restaurant we enjoyed ravioli stuffed with langoustines, cuttlefish stir fried with vegetables, fresh mackerel pâté and the most beautifully prepared hake (merlu) filet cooked so lightly that the flesh was moist and almost translucent; this could only be achieved with the very freshest of fish. Two courses and a bottle of decent rosé came to €94 – but it was well worth it – and no supper required.ImageImageImageImage

Le Crotoy

We drove from Calais to Le Crotoy, a small town on the Baie de Somme. It is one of our favourite places to stay. There is a large, sandy camper park five minutes walk from the town centre. We arrived mid afternoon to find the site pretty full with about sixty campervans but there happened to be one space in a prime spot overlooking the bay. We were soon sitting in the sunshine enjoying the view and a cuppa. Later that evening we walked into town for oysters followed by a lovely fresh turbot.

We drove from Calais to Le Crotoy, a small town on the Baie de Somme. It is one of our favourite places to stay. There is a large, sandy camper park five minutes walk from the town centre. We arrived mid afternoon to find the site pretty full with about sixty campervans but there happened to be one space in a prime spot overlooking the bay. We were soon sitting in the sunshine enjoying the view and a cuppa. Later that evening we walked into town for oysters followed by a lovely fresh turbot.

Le Crotoy

Le Crotoy

The following morning we drove south, heading for La Rochelle and the Ile de Ré. It was a long drive so we kept to the motorways. The sun was shining and it was a pleasant drive. We stopped for fuel at a service station. There was a long queue at the pay desk so Tony had to wait. As he got to the front of the queue an elderly man pushed in front of him. Tony remonstrated with the man and the girl at the counter but they took no notice. The girl impassively took the man’s payment, then the man turned and smiled at Tony as he left. Tony, who doesn’t speak French, said “sacré bleu”.

There were lots of people at the service station as it was Good Friday and a public holiday. We watched a woman exercise in her large dog on the grass where children were playing. The dog did its business and the woman just walked off leaving the mess.

We arrived at La Couarde Sur Mer on the Ile De Ré where we planned to stay for a few days, getting out and about on our bikes enjoying some beautiful, sunny weather . . . and the local oysters.

Le Crotoy

Le Crotoy

The following morning we drove south, heading for La Rochelle and the Ile de Ré. It was a long drive so we kept to the motorways. The sun was shining and it was a pleasant drive. We stopped for fuel at a service station. There was a long queue at the pay desk so Tony had to wait. As he got to the front of the queue an elderly man pushed in front of him. Tony remonstrated with the man and the girl at the counter but they took no notice. The girl impassively took the man’s payment, then the man turned and smiled at Tony as he left. Tony, who doesn’t speak French, said “sacré bleu”.

There were lots of people at the service station as it was Good Friday and a public holiday. We watched a woman exercise in her large dog on the grass where children were playing. The dog did its business and the woman just walked off leaving the mess.

We arrived at La Couarde Sur Mer on the Ile De Ré where we planned to stay for a few days, getting out and about on our bikes enjoying some beautiful, sunny weather . . . and the local oysters.

Market At Ars En Ré

Market At Ars En Ré

Lunch At Ars En Ré

Lunch At Ars En Ré

Cycle Home On Car Free Paths

Cycle Home On Car Free Paths

Easter 2014

It often happens at the start of our trips that a little emergency-type incident takes place to remind us that we are not always in charge. It that shakes us out of our lethargy and gets us in travelling mode.

For example, the very first time we went on a trip in our brand new camper, the windscreen was chipped by a stone just a couple of hundred yards from the house.  It took many months to get a replacement windscreen and it made us extremely nervous as we watched the damaged area grow and creep along the windscreen. The replacement cost our insurance £4,000. On another occasion we had a puncture on our way to Folkestone and had to be rescued by a breakdown truck.

Our departure on the 16th April was no exception and, whilst caught in a huge traffic jam on the M25, caused by a terrible accident that closed the M26 for the entire day, our temperature gauge indicated an engine overheat.  We pulled onto the hard shoulder, made a cup if tea and waited for the engine to cool before proceeding gingerly on our way – we reckoned that no breakdown truck could get to us through the solid traffic on the M25. We travelled by Eurotunnel to Calais, parked up at Cité Europe and then contacted AA Euroassist. The following morning they directed us to the Fiat commercial garage in Marck, near Calais.  They soon found the fault to be disconnected engine fans.  Probably this happened in Bordeaux when we had problems with catalytic converter and they were rushing to finish the job before the weekend. All was sorted in an hour or so and we we soon on our way.

Last Post

We left Holland and drove towards home in the rain, past Arnhem, Eindhoven, Antwerp, Gent, Ostende, arriving at Calais mid afternoon.

That morning, online, we had booked Eurotunnel for our return journey the following day. We were offered a choice of crossings at different prices depending on how popular each service was. They usually run three services an hour, we chose a €120 slot for 2 pm the following day. We have found in the past that, if you happened to arrive a little earlier than your check in time, as you go through the barrier at the entrance, the check in computer offers you earlier times of travel if they have capacity. If they are fully booked they put you in a holding section until it is your time to travel – with shopping opportunity. They always strike us as such an efficient company.

We parked up at Cité Europe, a huge retail outlet at Coquelles, one exit away from Eurotunnel. The site had a dedicated car park for camper vans although, according to our motorhome guide books, this was not considered safe to stay overnight; consensus was that it was perfectly secure, being adjacent to the main police station and close to a huge retail facility. We parked up and wandered about the shops before having a meal in one of the many restaurants. It was a bit like eating at Heathrow or Gatwick airports, each restaurant had a theme but you felt all the catering was done by one supplier. We had a Chinese meal, two courses with wine €58, it was very good.

The shops and restaurants all closed by 10 pm, by which time we had settled down for the night. Our car park was now deserted but for three camper vans all parked fairly close together, looking strange in the eerie yellow light of the car park. We could hear sounds of drunken shouting in the distance, the wind was blowing a gale but we felt pretty secure in our brightly lit haven, probably watched by security cameras. All was quiet and our blackout blinds meant the inside of the camper was pitch dark.

Just after midnight we heard the sound of a vehicle pulling up close to us and we heard car doors banging. I peeped out wondering whether it was anyone wanting to harm us but it was just another camper van stopping for the night. Soon all was quiet again.

Any sign of trouble the man of the house would have been sent out to restore order – in his underpants armed with a wooden policeman’s truncheon ready to defend his trembling wife!

Blog ends – Do I hear a sigh of relief from Kate’s work colleagues!

France, Belgium, Holland, Germany and Holland

The following day we had a long day’s drive to get us within striking distance of Peter Bouwens at Transport Techniek Ulft BV, Holland. The weather was fine, sunny and cold; we tackled Paris during the morning rush hour and TomTom didn’t let us down.

Underpass on Peripherique

Underpass on Peripherique


Morning Rush Hour In Paris

Morning Rush Hour In Paris

Within an hour we were clear of the city and heading toward Lille, then on to Brussels and Eindhoven. We had breakfast in France, lunch in Belgium an evening snack in Holland. Our campsite was in Beek, very close to the German border and, in order to get to the site, we had to leave Holland, enter Germany, turn right and drive down the road and re-enter Holland. Fortunately we no longer had passport control and Customs to deal with.

It was getting dark when we arrived, a staff member showed us an area of grass where we could park, we drove onto the grass and promptly got stuck in the mud. Eventually help arrived with the Dutch equivalent of Frank Brown who towed us out with his tractor. We felt such fools!

Stuck In The Mud

Stuck In The Mud


A Helping Hand

A Helping Hand

Next morning we dropped the camper van off at Peter Bouwens and he kindly lent us a car. We drove into the nearby town of Doetinchem where we had a coffee and a walk around before stopping at our favourite restaurant for some lunch. We collected the camper after lunch and returned to our Beek campsite that afternoon.

Paris

We spent the night in the car park outside the Ibis hotel. It was hardly “wild” camping but we had no electric hook up so were relying solely on battery power and we occasionally had to run the engine to top up the domestic battery – probably because we were watching TV all evening.

Charles had advised us to avoid Paris but at that time of year there was a dearth of open camp sites and the only one we could find on our route was at Champigny-sur-Marne on the east side of Paris, so we decided to risk the peripherique.

The last time we tried crossing Paris in the camper we ended up heading at speed towards an underpass with a height restriction that was too low for our van. Tony saved the day at the last moment by taking an emergency slip road. The next hour or so was spent trying to find our way back to our route – tempers got a little frayed; we were fervently hoping that this time we wouldn’t repeat the “Lost in Paris” experience. Not good for marital harmony.

We stopped at an aire for a cuppa and leg stretch, it was a pretty little place with a circular boardwalk amongst the trees. Unfortunately the place was marred by litter louts, there was orange peel scattered just where we parked and the French family parked next door were relieving themselves in the road in spite of their being a perfectly useable toilet block on the site. Madam merely crouched down behind her car door and did her business in full view of Tony who was walking around the boardwalk behind her. Unfortunately, there is no photograph of the act as the writer was too shocked to pick up the camera but all that she could see was the two feet poking out from under the door with a foot in each corner and a gush of pee in between – she can’t have been wearing knickers. The couple then got back into the car, leaving two puddles of pee in the road. As they drove away they chucked a load of sweetie papers out of the car.

Sylvan setting, perfect for a pee

Sylvan setting, perfect for a pee


By the time we approached Paris the rain had stopped and we had hazy sunshine and dry roads. Tony told me to look left for a fine view of the Eiffel Tower; but I could see more than one tower, I could see a whole row of them and they had wires connecting them, they were huge electricity pylons!

Tomtom did us proud and safely navigated us through the city traffic ensuring we were in the correct lane at the appropriate time. We hit Paris at twenty five to, drove anticlockwise for and half an hour, emerging at quarter past. The camp site didn’t look its best in the milky winter sunshine but it was fine for one night. Disneyland Paris was 35 minutes away by public transport. Were we tempted to visit? No!

Camping at Paris Est, Champigny-sur-Marne

Camping at Paris Est, Champigny-sur-Marne