Monday, 16 October 2017

Monday 16 October - San Sebastián

Where's Bertie? He's still in the Aire at San Sebastián.
Weather: Wall-to-wall sunshine and hot, but with awful air clarity this afternoon.

San Sebastián is famed for its pintxos (the Basque word for tapas), so it felt obligatory, whilst we are in town, to have some. That was really the only thing on our agenda today.

It's a tiny bit over 2 miles from the Aire into the centre of town, which could feel like quite a trudge, if over half of it wasn't along the promenade adjacent to the beach which skirts the bay. The continued glorious weather also helped to make the walk a pleasure.

After the best part of an hour wandering around the narrow streets of the town (it was rebuilt on a grid system after being destroyed by a fire (set by the English) in 1813), we selected one of the dozens of bars whose ... bars are lined with platters of food, buffet-stylee:

We chose three items apiece in that first bar, most of which we shared, although it turned out that I picked something that Mick wouldn't like (it involved minced gherkins) and Mick chose something that my stomach wouldn't have liked (a big chunk of cod):

A good bit of people watching later, and out into the town we ventured again, walking around for another half an hour or so until another round of tapas seemed like a good idea. This time we went to the bar next to the first one we'd been in - we'd nipped in there to look at their selection as we left our first lunch and with envy saw that they had lots of different dishes that we would have preferred to the first lot we'd had:

Emerging, replete, from the narrow streets of the town, into the bay area, the day had transformed remarkably from how it had been even half an hour before. The earlier perfect blue sky and clear view across the bay had been replaced with a heavy haze, which smelt of smoke:

Compare with the photo in yesterday's post, showing a clear view across the bay.

A look at the news when we got back to Bertie confirmed our suspicions: there are wild fires burning in Portugal (and into Spain) to the south of us, with the smoke being carried this far north on the wind. Whilst the UK is being battered by the storm remnants of hurricaine Ophelia, there is just an outer tendril of that storm that is touching this coast, bringing us a touch of breeziness.

Alas, after the best part of two weeks of glorious sunshine, it looks like we're in for a bit of rain later this week. From the point of view of the wild fires, that is, of course, a good thing.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Sunday 15 October - San Sebastián

Where's Bertie? He's in the municipal Aire at San Sebastián, where (at this time of year) it costs €3.30 per night. (Exact location: 43.30805, -2.01453)
Weather: Wall-to-wall sunshine. Hot.

An early trip to a big Carrefour hypermarche started our day (early because it was only open from 8.30 till 12.30), to pick up a few things that we couldn't get in our usual little supermarkets. The main item needed was a new duvet, having erroneously brough a big winter one with us (suitable for 5 degrees and below), which is unusable in this weather (20+ degrees).

Finding our way into the shopping centre car park, just off the motorway by Bayonne, was a trial, as the only obvious entrance involved a height limit too low for Bertie. After driving around the area and finding no other entrance, we eventually found the 'oversized vehicles' access. Finding our way back out, after a semi-successful shopping trip*, was even more of a trial, culminating in having to jump out and move cones from Ikea's car park exit (it was the official 'big vehicle' route, but as Ikea was closed they'd coned off their car park).

Spain was the next objective and we spent the next hour sitting in traffic and encountering roundabouts or traffic lights every few hundred yards, as the non-toll road in this area goes through a series of towns. It was only when the distinctive shape of the mountain of La Rhune came into view that I remembered having taken a photo of it last January when we passed by, and further remembered that we had been on the motorway at the time. I quickly looked up how much it had cost us in tolls and it made perfect sense to splash out £5 to cut at least half an hour and a lot of aggravation from our journey. Alas, it was slow progress to the next junction where we could join the motorway, but once on it, it was a joy.

Navigating from the motorway to the Aire at San Seb was less of a joy and I was very grateful for SatNav, even if I did have to overrule some dodgy directions at the end (I've no idea where it was trying to take us, but it wouldn't have worked). A significant number of motorhomes parked alongside the road about 100m away from the Aire had us fear we would find it full, but no, they were just avoiding the €3.30 fee, as the road is free on the weekend. Or maybe they just all knew how difficult it is to operate the payment machine here?

When we were in San Seb last January we had hoped to see El Peine de los Viento (an art installation, dating from 1977), but the access was closed for maitenance. It's now all open again, so that was our first port of call after lunch, getting waylaid on the way to watch some surfers and body-boarders. It's incredible how long we can find ourselves entertained by these activities.

The beach was a bit busier than it was in mid-January 2016, but then it was very cold and wet that day!

We picked not only a good day, but a good time of day for the art installation, which involves some sculpture in the form of curved iron attached to various bits of rock in the sea, and also a series of blow-holes in the promenade, through which the sea pushes the air - and today, quantities of sea spray too. Unfortunately, you can't get the real feel for the blow holes just from still photos, but this one works quite well to show people's reactions:

And here are a couple more to show the dramatic nature of the sea when we were there:

It's a decent walk from El Peine around to the town, and the thermometers along the promenade were showing 32 degrees, so it was a sweaty affair too. We reacquainted ourselves with the town, shunned any thought of walking up the town hill this time around, and settled down at a bar in the square for refreshment.

Then it was just the long walk back to Bertie, finding his interior (even with all the blinds shut to keep the sun out) a balmy 38 degrees. Windows were flung wide and after tea (a stew; not really appropriate to the weather!) I indulged in a cold shower.

^^(* Semi-successful shopping trip: we got a duvet, although in the absence of tog ratings we have no idea whether it is suitable for our needs, but didn't manage to get a few other items on the 'big store' shopping list. As an aside, if I'd thought about it more at the time, we would have stayed tonight in Bayonne, which looks an interesting town, and gone to Ikea for the duvet tomorrow, where we would have had a far better choice.)

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Saturday 14 October - Capbreton

Where's Bertie? His wheels have not turned. He is still in the heaving beachside Aire at Capbreton.
Weather: Bit of a murky start, with the sun eventually burning through about noon. Hot afternoon.

After posting last night's blog I Googled to see if it was a Spanish public holiday. That gave us our answer as to why Capbreton is full of Spanish vans (lots with children) just now: Thursday was a holiday, thus they have a long weekend.

As it went, last night was not as bad as expected. The group using the VW van in front of us as 'party central' went out before 11pm, thus the music stopped. The next we heard from them was when they got back and all stood outside chatting at 3.48 this morning. By 4.35 all was quiet again and the next thing I knew my alarm was going off.

Fortunately I was up when the bread van arrived at 9am. Unfortunately I wasn't dressed and in the time it took me to change my pyjama shorts (covered in cartoon sheep - not going out in those!) for shorts suitable for public view, I found the queue for bread extended half the length of our row of the Aire - and that is quite a distance. It was a little comfort to look behind me a minute later and see that the queue now extended the whole length of the row. I guess I wasn't the only person caught still in their nightwear.

With everyone seemingly buying at least €3 worth of goods (I saw one person with six baguettes; the options were baguettes, croissant and chocolatines, all priced at €1 each), that baker did a roaring trade and I reckon they must have just about sold out.

Realising that it's possible we may leave France before Monday, and as I have the ability to hold a conversation about buying postage stamps in French, but not in Spanish, haste was made to write a couple of cards to my Gran, and to make it across town before the post office closed at lunchtime. It was market day in town, so that waylaid us on the way back, along with the perusal of a couple of menus, although we didn't succumb - we are saving ourselves for some Menus del Dia in Spain.

Back at the Aire, we acknowledged that, being as crammed as it currently is, it's not the nicest place to be. It seemed likely that all other Aires on our route south would also be brimming, due to the Spanish holilday, but resources were scoured and I came up with a few viable-looking options. We resolved to leave just as soon as I had taken advantage of the electric and cooked a couple of meals.

As you may gather from the title and 'Where's Bertie' above, we didn't leave. Whilst the food was cooking, the neighbour, on the side of our main door, left and were soon replaced by a British van. As the British van had its door on the British side, it was facing ours and thus we got chatting*. By the time we paused for breath, the 'party van' was clearly packing up to leave, which tipped the balance towards us staying, even if it didn't make our little patch of crammed car park any more attractive.

Crochet in the sunshine, reading in the sunshine, a bit of research about where we may go in Spain, and a run just as the sun was dipping low and the temperature dropping, completed our day.

I know it's warm in the UK this weekend, and the warm spell is over here too. From temperatures of low- to mid-twenties all week, we were up in the high twenties today. As I type this at 9pm, we still have Bertie's door and his skylights open and it is still 26 degrees in here. Sticky night ahead, methinks.

(*Our neighbours stop off at this Aire for a couple of nights each year on their way to Spain and were taken aback at how busy it is. They've never seen it like it - which confirms that it is just the Spanish holiday that has caused a blip in its popularity for the time of year.))

Friday, 13 October 2017

Friday 13 October - Mimizan Plage and Capbreton

Where's Bertie? He's in a stuffed-to-the-gunwales Aire at Capbreton at a cost of €10 (exact location: 43.63660, -1.44709).
Weather: Glorious sunshine and mid-twenties by mid-afternoon.

Our decision to get on the road earlier than originally intended today coincided with a whole bunch of other people also deciding to make a move. We didn't join the queue of five vans waiting to use the service point, but packed away slowly such that by the time we rolled off our pitch we only had a five second wait for the last van to vacate the service area.

Mimizan Plage, half an hour down the road, was our first stopping point and, being an out-and-back detour from our route, the only reason we went there is because I know that I went there as a child ("Mimizan: the pub next door", as my family always said. I have no idea why).

I didn't recognise anything there, but I suppose that the only thing that interested me at the time was the beach and one beach looks very like another. It is possible that it's the locaton I remember standing between my parents, holding on to both of them, and jumping huge waves. It could be the place I remember seeing an unconcious man (dead, even?) pulled out of the sea (something I'd completely forgotten about until I saw a surfer go under a wave whilst standing on the beach today). Or maybe those things occurred somewhere else entirely.

Our stay wasn't particularly long, as we didn't much like the motorhome parking area (only because it was isolated and almost deserted, which didn't look like the most secure location to leave Bertie whilst we explored). We parked up nearer the beach for a while, with the intention of taking a walk along the sand and we did make it to the water's edge, but then spent the next half an hour watching the surfers ride the huge waves, rather than walking.

After lunch back at Bertie, we considered going back to the motorhome parking area after all, but decided instead to head down to our next intended stop at Capbreton. The Aire here has a capacity of 133 and not for a moment did we expect it to be even half full.

We arrived to find it heaving, and clearly a surfer's spot. There were a handful of spaces dotted around, so we took one of them, deployed the levelling ramps and the electric cable, and went for a walk to the adjacent beach.

Surfers agogo! Mimizan Plage may have had better waves, but this is clearly the more popular location.

Big concrete bunkers, presumably from WWII, have subsided into the sea where they are gradually being broken up

We had been back at Bertie for an hour or so, when music started up in the now-brimming Aire and it occurred to us that we may have parked ourselves in our idea of motorhome parking hell. I quickly started looking to find somewhere else we could go, but we were too late. A few seconds later there was a knock at the door and it was the gardienne collecting the fee. With ramps and electric in use we weren't in a position to say we were just leaving.

It's now 8.30pm, so not late, but the worst culprit with the music is the van in front of us. We could be in for an awful night, spent wishing that we had stayed in the deserted (and free!) parking area at Mimizan Plage.

Motorhome parking hell? This is just one row of four, officially housing a total of 133 vans.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Thursday 12 October - Gaste

Where's Bertie? His wheels have not turned, thus he remains in the Aire at Gastes.
Weather: Foggy start, clearing to sunshine, albeit with a few clouds in the middle of the day.

Walking two miles across soft sand in bare feet yesterday was a mistake; I awoke this morning with a pull in the top of my left calf muscle that was bad enough to write off any chance of going for a run. Walking has been okay though, so once the sun started to win over the morning fog, we set off to explore the village of Gastes. There turned out to be almost nothing to explore. Unless we missed something, it's a tiny place, modern by French standards, and by way of amenities has a shop (open in the mornings only), a hairdresser, a laundrette, a church and a couple of restaurants (one now closed for the winter). Presumably the hairdresser and the laundrette only exist in such a tiny place due to the influx of summer visitors to the campsites on the lake shore.

Without a run to occupy any of my time, I did some hand washing instead ... and would infinitely have preferred the run!

Another stroll was taken this afternoon, but I think that we have not only exhausted the local route options, but have repeated them all at least twice. Thus, even though it's a very pleasant spot, and at a reasonable price (there are toilets and sinks as well as the usual service point, which isn't bad for €4.50 per night), we intend to move on tomorrow.

Still a bit misty over the lake as we walked past this morning. It's a huge lake with some mystery structures dotted about it and lots of water planes taking off and landing.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Wednesday 11 October - La Dune du Pyla and Gastes

Where's Bertie? He's at an Aire on the edge of Etang (lake) Biscarrosse et de Parentis, just outside of Gastes, at a cost of €4.50 for 24 hours. (Exact location: 44.32902, -1.15112).
Weather: Wall-to-wall sunshine.

Only a few kilometres down the road from where we spent the last two nights sits La Dune du Pyla, which, as its name suggests, is a sand dune. This is not just any old sand dune, though. This is the tallest in Europe, standing between 100 and 125m high, and extending to 2.7km long.

We arrived reasonably early and, abandoning Bertie in a busy parking area just down the road from the most northerly access point (rather than paying for the car park about a three-minute walk closer), we walked though a bit of the vast forest which covers this area. We had seen pictures of what we were going to find the other side, but even so it was bizarrre to pop out of a forest to find a huge towering hill of sand in front of us:

To make life easier for the hoards of tourists, a staircase has been installed

Up the stairs we went, to spend the next hour or so walking through ankle-shaping soft sand, along the ridge, so as to get to the high point, as marked with the arrow.

Looking back the way we've come - towards the entrance to the Bassin d'Arcachon

My intention had been to drop down off the dune from the high point, to make our way through the forest back to the road (saving us the effort of retracing our steps through the shifting sand). Dropping off the side would have either been fun or scary, as the inland side sits at an angle of up to 40 degrees (which looked mighty steep when viewed from above), but we weren't completely sure that the forest track we wanted to follow was a public right of way, and we didn't much fancy having to clamber back up onto the dune if the route didn't go. Steps were thus retraced along the ridge and by the time we got back to the north end there were hoards of people around (although probably only a small fraction of the number there would have been on a similarly sunny day in August). Almost none of them strayed more than 50m from the top of the stairs.

Elevenses, a quick stop at a Lidl and a couple of magical mystery tours when the SatNav decided to take us 'interesting' routes (we ignored it two days ago when it told us to go along an overgrown rough track through a forest!) brought us another 40km down the road, to the sizeable inland lake of Etang de Biscarrosse et de Parentis.

It was a bit of an initiative test to work out how to get into the Aire here (it's an electronic pre-payment system we've come across before, but not often) and, once in, we settled into a front row slot with this view:

I had been a little concerned that, in taking this slot, we were approaching being inappropriately close to the neighbouring vans. My concept of personal space obviously errs on the conservative side, as half an hour later another van squeezed in next to us. Quite why it didn't go in one of the three front row spaces which had become available to the other side of the entrance, I don't know. The same goes for the van that initially parked so close behind us that we wouldn't have been able to manoeuvre out.

The original intention had been to stay here just the one night, but it's a rather pleasant spot, so if we can work out how to extend our ticket, then we may well stay for two. We've already investigated the cycle route (on foot, in the absence of bikes) in one direction, so there's still scope for more ambling around tomorrow, and it will be nice to do some more crochet during daylight hours (as I did today), as it gets trickier under artificial light in the evening when the colours take on hues that prevent me from recognising them.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Tuesday 10 October - Pyla-sur-Mer

Where's Bertie? His wheels have not turned since yesterday.
Weather: Sunny morning, a few clouds this afternoon then back to wall-to-wall sunshine for sunset.

Aside from the ignoramus who drove along the road blaring his horn at 2.20 this morning (a common occurence in the UK, far less so anywhere else we have been), and a speeding vehicle that buffetted Bertie at 7, a quiet enough night was had, thus our first decision this morning was to stay another night.

That afforded us a leisurely get-up, which we followed with a run along the beachside promenade...

Not a bad location for a run

...followed by having our usual elevenses fare for breakfast:

Having almost failed over the last week to find enough time in the day to get on with my current crochet project, the middle part of the day saw me playing catch up on my granny squares, multi-tasking with an audiobook.

This afternoon there was another fit of activity as we walked into the town of Arcachon, which is a couple of miles away. The architecture on the approach wasn't striking as being typically French, and the centre didn't particularly grab us either, although we did hit it at afternoon-break time, so everywhere was quiet.

One of the more striking bits of the town of Arcachon. We looked in the windows of a couple of estate agents - the high prices suggested that it's a popular place.

I should have made the effort to find a different return route, so that we saw more of our surroundings, but that didn't occur to me until we were half way back, so it was a simple retracing of our steps. We're getting quite familiar with the beachside promenade now - it must be time to move on to pastures new.

Behind the gnarled tree, sitting on a bench is a woman with a pigeon on her lap, eating out of her hand. For a while she seemed to be in a trance, before she suddenly gave her attention to the pigeon on her lap explaining that the food wasn't all for him and that he had to share with those on the ground. She threw a few crumbs onto the floor, then drifted away again and the one on her lap continued its feast.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Monday 9 October - Pyla-sur-Mer

Where's Bertie? He's in a motorhome parking area that sit alongside a forested, beachside road at Pyla-sur-Mer, just to the west of La Teste-de-Buch (exact location: 44.64876, -1.19488).
Weather: Overcast for most of the day but with some sun this afternoon. Still shorts and t-shirt temperature in the afternoon.

Today's destination was chosen for two reasons: 1) it was a recommendation from yesterday's friendly neighbour; and 2) the book that Mick is currently reading happens to be set around Arcachon and La Teste-de-Buch (it's one of Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe series and Mick chose to bring that one out of the very many he owns because it was the only one he was certain he hadn't read; he had no idea he would find himself reading it in the very place it is set).

As the crow flies we're probably only 12km or so from where we were yesterday, now being at the mouth of the Arcachon basin, whereas yesterday we were on the side furthest from the open sea. The drive around here was around 35 kilometres, albeit with a couple of detours for roadworks and one last minute detour when I shouted 'STOP!' just as Mick was about to try to squeeze 3m-tall Bertie under a 2.6m barrier.

With a couple of other distractions en route, most notably a couple of hours spent at Decathlon (mainly in the car park availing ourselves of their wifi, but also browsing and buying in store), it was mid-afternoon by the time we finally reached our destination.

Here we found every single motorhome parked with their noses pointed towards the road and the sea beyond. We rebelled, opting to face inland, to the woodland, instead, which not only allowed us to be level without needing the ramps (taking advantage of Bertie's natural slope towards the front), but also put our bed a few metres further from passing traffic. The downside of being rebellious was that it put our door adjacent to our neighbour's door, which felt so impolite (or unetiquettical*) that after we'd lunched and been out for a walk, we moved to a better space. The van who took the slot next to us a short while later followed our lead, so that has worked out perfectly.

There are another ten vans out of shot on the right hand side; they are all parked facing the road

As for our walk, we didn't go as far along the promenade, towards the town of Arcachon, as intended, as we couldn't fail to notice that it was raining over at Taussat, where we had left this morning, and in case that rain strayed our way, we didn't want to find outselves too far away from Bertie. So, we turned around, took to the shore line and walked just as far past Bertie in the other direction, before looping back. Happily, the rain never did reach us.

Big black cloud leaking rain over the east side of Bassin d'Arcachon

I wouldn't rave about this parking area as much as yesterday's neighbour did. In fact, I wouldn't rave about the parking at all, but the area around it is very pleasant. Whether we stay a second night will very much depend on how intrusive the passing traffic is overnight.

The view through the trees across the road (i.e. behind Bertie) taken at sunset

(*Completely made up word, but it ought to exist.)

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Sunday 8 October - Taussat

Where's Bertie? His wheels have not moved; he's still at the Aire in Taussat.
Weather: A bit overcast for a few hours in the middle of the day but otherwise sunny and warm.

It never ceases to amaze me how many people we see out exercising in mainland Europe, to an extent that I can't think that we've seen anywhere other than London or on the popular hills of the UK. We joined the masses this morning on the local Voie Verte. It's a disused railway line that has now been made into a cycle route, but cycling was not the majority activity going on there between 10 and 11 this morning, with a good representation of walkers, runners and in-line skaters. We were in the running camp.

We had just finished our run and were just cooling down by walking back to Bertie, when I remembered that I had put €2 in my pocket with the intention of going to buy fresh croissant on the way back. An about turn and a gentle jog took us into the village, returning with me clutching a bag of goodies.

A number of hours curiously evapourated and suddenly it was mid-afternoon, whereupon I decided a strollette was in order. That became delayed when one of our neighbours pounced on us (almost literally) just as we were setting off, and proceeded to talk to us for two whole hours (I feel like I should perhaps have some emphasis there, such as: Two. Whole. Hours!). Note, this wasn't a conversation. Aside from interjecting a few English words when he struggled to find them, our input was not required and the subjects covered were varied ... and very longwinded. I was starting to fear that we would be there until dark, when he finally realised that he had been talking for an unreasonably long time and let us go.

As I type this the sun is sinking low in the sky, which is clear again, meaning it's going to be another cool night. The afternoon temperatures at the moment are perfect (warm, without being hot), but it takes the day a while to get there.

(Post script: Our neighbour gave us a knock this evening to tell us he had been out for a nice bike ride. An hour and a half later...)

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Saturday 7 October - Taussat

Where's Bertie? He's in a Municipal Aire at Taussat (exact location: 44.71732, -1.06978)

The only reason that we put in such long driving days this week was so that we could position ourselves to take part in a ParkRun this morning. There are only 6 ParkRun events currently operating in France and the one that best suited our plans was 30km to the north of Bordeaux. Our driving efforts to get there didn't seem so extreme when we got chatting to another British ParkRun Tourist, who had got his wife up and out of their accommodation at 6 this morning, on the penultimate day of their holiday in France, so that they could drive for over two hours, to arrive at the ParkRun venue by 9am.

It was a very friendly bunch of people with whom we ran (a small bunch by English ParkRun standards, but a good size by French standards, at 16 runners) and I managed a time much faster than anticipated, although not as fast as the PB that I set in Toulouse last December.

By the time we had enjoyed an excellent cup of tea and far too much cake and chocolate with all of the runners (one of today's participants was celebrating her 100th ParkRun and for another it was her 50th; it also happens to be the 13th anniversary of the very first ParkRun), the day was finally warming up from its chilly start.

A chunk of poring over reference books whilst I drank coffee back in Bertie had us decide to take an out-and-back detour to the village of St Romain la Virvee, to visit a service point as it looked like that was the nearest we were going to get to one today. Having left home with just 40 litres of water, and with a need for showers, we feared we were going to be running a bit short by the end of the day.

The Aire was found and we parked up for lunch and showers before using the tap and drain. Sitting there in the sunshine, it would have been tempting to have a lazy rest-of-the-day and stay the night, except that at around 12.30 a man walked straight past Bertie's door (without sticking his head in and saying anything to us), picked up a barrier, carried it to the entrance of the parking area and affixed a sign to it. I went and read the sign after lunch. It was an official notice closing the Aire from 2pm today until 8am tomorrow, due to a local event taking place tonight. That made the decision for us: onwards we would go.

To the coast, was the decision made, and half way there I decided we should head for Taussat instead of our original destination of the town a few kilometres to the north. Both sit on the Bassin d'Archacon (a sizeable sea basin) but having initially decided there was no chance of there being a space available at the small, free Aire here, I subsequently thought that it would make sense to come and look before resigning ourselves to paying €12 for a patch of car park in the neighbouring town. As is apparent from what I've said above, there were spaces. Bonus!

With the Aire sitting just a couple of stone throws away from the beach, that's to where we headed almost the instant Bertie had ceased moving. There we found the sea to be so absent that we couldn't even see it in the distance:

Thus, we walked along the beach/mud, before looping back around through the town.

This evening we nipped back out for sunset, which happened to coincide with high tide tonight, and found the sea very much in evidence:

The arrow points approximately to where we were standing in the selfie above

It would have been interesting to nip back earlier to see the speed at which the water reappeared.

As for the detour we made earlier to visit a service point: it turns out there's one here too. The only consolation is that, due to the location of the tap, it wouldn't have been possible to use the hosepipe to fill the tank here (although the tap we used earlier was so feeble in its flow that, arguably, it wouldn't have been much slower to fill via bottles and funnel anyway).

Bonus photo for my sister - a tin tray with a good paint job:

Friday, 6 October 2017

Friday 6 October - Cavignac

Where's Bertie? He's at a Municipal Aire at Cavignac, a village 30km to the north of Bordeaux (exact location: 45.10030, -0.39213).
Weather: Increasingly sunny, peaking at around 19 degrees.

After my disturbed night on Wednesday and a long day of driving yesterday, I slept like a dead person last night and it was an effort to drag myself out of bed at just gone 7am so as to fit a short jogette into my day. The effort of getting out of bed was too much for Mick, so I was on my lonesome as I explored various paths and lanes.

A trip to the boulangerie and a chat with our only neighbour last night (a British chap who we expected to be French due to his French-registered van) completed our visit to Villedômer and at just after 9am we continued our progress south.

The navigator deserved to be sacked when she caused one section of road around Tours to be driven three times. It turns out that my original belief as to the best route was correct and that turning around the second time to follow the SatNav's desires resulted in a route that was 30km longer and a minute slower (figures per Google Maps). On the plus side, following the SatNav didn't involve going through many towns or villages (which can slow a journey down with frequent intersections and roundabouts) and did involve a road that was dead straight, save for one wiggle, for 40km.

We finished today in an area with a plethora of motorhome Aires (albeit with only one service point shared amongst them, in a nearby town) and we chose Cavignac. We are sitting with a large field of grapevines two yards to our side and a graveyard in front of us. A stroll around the village has shown it to be a pleasant, but unspectacular place, but it should do very nicely for a nightstop.

Our neighbours, who we very much hope will be quiet.

Vines, as far as we can see.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Thursday 5 October - Villedômer

Where's Bertie? He's in a Municipal Aire in the village of Villedômer, just to the north of Tours (exact location: 47.54443, 0.88696).
Weather: Very windy and a bit wet this morning, much calmer and drier this afternoon, with even a bit of sunshine being seen.

The Aire in Wissant (where we would have spent last night, had it not been full) sits adjacent to a road and thus does suffer a bit from the noise of passing traffic, albeit there is only a small amount at night. The Aire where we ended up was well set back in a village, behind the church and next to the community hall (which, fortunately, wasn't home to an event last night), and thus should have given us an excellent night's sleep.

What we hadn't expected was the wind. We had noted that it was a bit breezy as we drove there from Calais, but at the point that we went to bed it wasn't that brutal. By morning I was beginning to feel like being on the ferry to Santander would have involved less side to side movement overnight!

It was because of the wind that our start time was pushed back by a couple of hours this morning, and thus it was approaching 10am when we hit the road. With a big day ahead of us, that was not ideal, but as driving a light-weight high-sided vehicle in strong winds is no fun, it was the sensible choice.

The next eight hours were taken up with driving, with only the shortest of breaks (starting at breakfast, each time we had hot drinks, I boiled up some more water for the flask, so that when we stopped we didn't have to waste time waiting for the kettle to boil).

The most notable point of the day was the near repetition of the navigational error we made around Rouen in November last year, when we ended up going through the centre of town and having fun trying to avoid a 2.6m height limit. Remembering that error, I was trying to pay great attention to avoid making the same mistake again, but, alas, the SatNav fooled me again into following the 'keep in the left lane' verbal instruction when it meant (and the visual showed) 'take the exit, right'. We managed to perform a u-turn almost as soon as we realised the error this time, but next time we *will* get that bit right!

We've ended our day in a pleasant Aire, surrounded by greeness, just a minute or so away from the centre of Villedômer. After a day of sitting, our first priority on arriving, and before the light started to fade, was to go for a bit of exercise and that we did, taking in all of the main streets of the place at least once. That has acquainted us with the location of the boulangerie, which I will be visiting in the morning, just as I did in Audinghen this morning. When in France ... eat croissant, and all that.

As we walked into the village square I exclaimed "Doesn't it look French!". As if to prove my point, we rounded the corner and there was parked a 2CV.

Wednesday 4 October - To France

Where's Bertie? He's at a designated motorhome parking area at Audinghen (exact location: 50.85258, 1.61243)
Weather: dry. Bit breezy on arrival in France.

A lot of time has been invested over the last few weeks in looking at prices and availability of ferries to Spain, combined with looking at length at long range shipping forecasts, finally coming to the conclusion that, as a hater of ferries, I was only prepared to commit to spending 24+ hours on a ferry if I could see the weather forecast first. That's a bit of a problem as the ferries from Portsmouth to Spain tend to fill up early. I did come across some late availability (presumably cancellations, as they came and went), but the only option that coincided with this week's weather window involved a reclining seat in a communal area rather than a cabin. No chance!

A ferry to Spain would have reduced a 1600-mile drive to just 350 miles, but we didn't want to delay any longer, so the tunnel it was. Yes, it's a long drive, but even taking fuel into account, it's also hundreds of pounds cheaper.

Late booking = more expensive prices on the Tunnel, which guided our choice to travel late in the evening. As expected, on check in we got transferred (for free) to an earlier (advertised as much more expensive) crossing. It wasn't busy, making us ponder the commercial sense of EuroTunnel's pricing policy.

Even with the earlier crossing, it was dark by the time we arrived in France. Twenty minutes later we pulled into the Aire at Wissant for our third stay there this year ... except we didn't stay, because it was full*. That was somewhat unexpected on a Wednesday night in October!

It was only 6.5km down the coast to Audinghen, where we found the 7 motorhome/bus bays to be empty - along with the rest of the car park. It wasn't until we were just going to bed at 11pm that another vehicle pulled in - an enormous bus of a thing, towing a car.

(* When I say full I mean that no more motorhomes could fit. If people had parked more considerately, particularly the two vans taking up a whole row of spaces by parking across them, then half a dozen more vans would have been accommodated.)

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Tuesday 29 August - Wissant

Where's Bertie? He's in the Aire at Wissant, just down the coast from Calais. It's another return visit as this is where he also spent the first night of this trip.

Leaving Bergues this morning with the fuel light on, we intended to stop at the petrol station we had seen on our way into town. Finding we couldn't turn left into it due to solid white lines, I expected Mick to go around the roundabout a few moments further on. He didn't, and the next fuel that wouldn't involve a detour was at the Cité Europe shopping centre, where we were headed for wine, tea bags and rice (the latter two being of varieties not easily available in the UK). Bertie's range told us he could manage another 77km on the fuel we had remaining, which was fine as we were only going 49km.

Half way there the range reading said 77km. As we pulled in it said 77km. Hmmm. Does it just stop counting down at that figure, or does it pessimistically state it automatically when the low fuel light comes on? I know not, but we crammed 82.5 litres into his 80 litre tank, which would suggest that it was quite empty (or that I've mis-remembered its capacity).

Shopping trip complete, we arrived at Wissant at a time of day when there were spaces at the Aire and, pausing only for elevenses, we nipped down to the beach before the day got too warm.

Who nicked the sea? It's been much further in when we've been here before

This trip has not been heavy on eating out. In fact, if you ignore the take-away burgers we had in Kristiansand, when we needed to spend our remaining Norwegian Krone, we haven't eaten out once. Neither of us thus needed any persuading to stop at a restaurant on our way back for enormous servings of Moules Frites.

We subsequently waddled back to Bertie and lounged for a few hours before feeling in a fit state for a swim.

Arriving at the beach at 6pm the tide was much further in, and there were far more people around than we had expected at that time of day:

I'll wager that the beach emptied rapidly come 7.30, not because it was tea time, but because that's when a sudden downpour struck. Here on the Aire it was a flurry of activity as people put stuff away and closed windows, and over the next ten minutes various drowned rats, who had been off in town or at the beach, scampered back to their vans, thoroughly caught out.

And there we have it: the final blog post of this trip. Tomorrow morning we will head back through the tunnel, exiting it on the other side with much chanting of 'drive on the left, drive on the left...'.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Monday 28 August - Bergues (France)

Where's Bertie? He's in the Aire at Bergues, which is exactly where he was on the second night of this trip, all the way back on 5 June.

Eeeeh, it's been a warm one today! So, probably not a bad thing that we spent most of the day driving, and making full use of the air con.

We drove straight through Belgium, deviating from the motorway only to go in search of LPG. That deviation probably added an hour to our journey, but three garages later (broken with a pause for elevenses in the car park of a Lidl) we had Bertie's tanks full again, having got down to registering less than five litres remaining. At the first garage we found no LPG pump. At the second we half filled the tanks before an attendant came out to point out that the connection was leaking. At the third garage we finished the job.

Horrible traffic slowed us down around Antwerp, and in that traffic, in the space of ten minutes, we saw more British number plates than we have seen in total over the last three months. The concentration of British plates increased from then on until, as we reached the French/Belgian border, there were so many that it would have been easy to think we were already back in the UK.

Bergues was an easy option for where to end our day. Having been here before, we knew the Aire here is big, is next to a pleasant fortified town, and it was only 8km out of our way.

We arrived here in 30 degree heat, whereupon we realised we had made a ghastly error when in Lidl earlier - we hadn't bought ice cream!

Happily, Mick volunteered to go for a walk to rectify that omission and as soon as he returns from chatting to our Australian neighbours, we will devour them (the ice creams, that is, not the neighbours).

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Sunday 27 August - Camping Fortduinen

Where's Bertie? He's still at Camping Fortduinen.

If we thought our first night's stop here was cheap by campsite standards, today proved to be even more so. We did query the requested fee of €6.50, to which the receptionist explained that her colleague had entered something wrong on our account yesterday and thus the computer was only allowing her to charge us €6.50 today. Who were we to argue?

We improved the value for money yet further by using not only the electricity and showers today, but also the swimming pool.

Before the swim, a circumperambulation of the lake was had (where we could have swum, had we gone suitably prepared)...

Swimming in the lake we saw lots of people, ducks and a few dogs and, to our amusement, this horse (it did swim, just after I took this snap)

...then, after lunch, a stroll around some of the local woodland.

With clear blue skies, although not as hot as yesterday (still hot enough to be outside in the shade until late evening), it's been a very pleasant relaxing day (I say like some of our days are stressful or hectic).

We might have been tempted to stay another night, but we have a Chunnel to catch back to the UK in a few days time, so onwards we will go.

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Saturday 26 August – Zaltbommel and Vught

Where’s Bertie? He’s at a campsite(!!), called Fortduinen, near a place called Vught. With our ACSI card, it costs €11 for a night here, including electricity and showers. Without the card it would have been €28.50. (Exact location: 51.65578, 5.24480.)

It’s funny how an occurrence that is disappointing at the time (like taking a detour to a marina in the hope of staying the night there and doing some laundry, only to find on arrival that there are no vacancies) can turn out to be a positive thing*.

After another unintended lie-in this morning (even the extensive mowing and strimming going on outside of Bertie only vaguely disturbed us), and a walk around the town of Zaltbommel, where I got particularly distracted by the traffic on the River Maas…

The Maas is busy with barges. We had just watched one barge pushing an unpowered (whatever the boating word is for the equivalent of a trailer, but that you push in front of you), both full of coal, when this one came past, with the same inverse trailer arrangement but also with two more unpowered vessels being dragged alongside – so four times the capacity of a barge, for one powered vessel.

…we had a choice before us. We could go to the town of ‘s-Hertogenbosh (whose name does, indeed, start with an apostrophe), where we would park out-of-town at a supermarket I had identified, and walk to a laundrette that the internet had told me was in the town; we would then continue on to a free Aire, probably in Belgium. Or we could go to a campsite. On finding that there was a campsite only a couple of kilometres off-route, available to us at the bargain price of €11, including electricity and showers, it was the obvious choice, even if it did end a record run of 87 nights since our last campsite.

It turned out to be such a good choice that we had barely got Bertie settled on his pitch before we decided that we would be staying a second night. The fact that it has been so hot and sunny today has made the campsite even more worthwhile – there are no restrictions on getting ‘stuff’ out here, as there would be in a car park, so we’ve been able to sit out in our deckchairs all afternoon, whilst the laundry has dried on the washing line, saving the cost of a tumble drier.

Other than doing some laundry, using showers connected to a mains water supply for the first time since we left home on 4 June, and walking to the nearest supermarket, nothing has been done today. Tomorrow we will take a look at the lake which is apparently behind the campsite, although if the weather is as warm and sunny as today, I’m thinking that will be the extent of our activity.

I’ll finish with a leap back in time to the final paragraph of last night’s post. The band of youths with their music grew and shrank as the evening went on, but the loud music was relatively short lived. Just before 10pm, they all left. This morning the area of the car park where they had been parked was strewn with litter, even though there were bins within twenty paces (insert a heavy sigh here).

(*The marina yesterday would have cost €15, we would have needed to pay for a tumble drier as we wouldn't have been able to get the rotary airer out and we quite possibly couldn't have got our deckchairs out either. Because there was no room for us there, we ended up somewhere cheaper, where we could dry the washing outside and where we could sit out.)

Friday, 25 August 2017

Friday 25 August - Bunnik and Zaltbommel (via Cumelborg)

Where's Bertie? He's in the motorhome area of a car park in the town of Zaltbommel (exact location: 51.81074, 8.24006).

The Dutch Waterline Museum was the main feature of today, and we were in the car park of Fort Bij Vechtan, where it is located, before it opened this morning. An early elevenses (at 9.30!) later and we made our way across a bridge, through a slot in the external wall of the fort...

...and parted with €7.50 a head (plus €3 for the car park) to go into the museum.

It's not a particularly big museum, but it's another one, like the Visitor Centre at Jelling in Norway, that uses modern technology well in its interactive exhibits.

On entering, each visitor gets given a wrist band with an electronic chip and in the first room one answers a ringing telephone (of a traditional style), and, having 'dibbed' the chip against the reader, chooses a language. All exhibits then play in that language.

Mick knew nothing about the museum before we arrived and from my desciption of 'it's about the Dutch water defences' he thought it was about flood defences ... which it is, in an obscure sort of way. What it actually tells is the history of the way the Dutch used water to defend the west of the country from attack from the 1600s right up until the mid 1900s. This was done by a set of dykes and sluice gates, by means of which it was possible to flood a corridor which spanned the length of the country. By flooding that area (something made possible by the fact that a quarter of the Netherlands is below sea level and another quarter is flood plain) to a depth of between 50 and 60cm, the water was too deep to wade through at the necessary speed for an attack, but too shallow for boats. Combined with building forts on all raises in the ground along that line, it apparently made a very effective defence and held off attacks by the French in 1792. Of course, by the Second World War it was pretty well obsolete, as the Germans simply flew over it, although having occupied the west of the Netherlands they did then briefly put it to use themselves.

Unfortunately out of order today, a scale model of the waterline defence has been constructed in the courtyard of the museum.

I didn't get a snap of the main highlight (because we were both on it at the same time and we had the place to ourselves so couldn't snap anyone else), which was a virtual reality parachute jump giving a view over the defence and seeing it being flooded.

Other fun bits were the 'where would you place your forts and how much water would you use' game...

We learnt from the 'practice run' disaster and got it right the second time around

...and the room where five characters (including the chap who designed the defence, a farmer's wife whose land was flooded, and her husband who was called up to build the fort) told the story of the defence from their point of view:

The faces were projected onto figures built out of horizontal layers of felt, presumably an environmentally friendly recycled material.

We exhausted the exhibits within an hour and a half, but having gone in with no knowledge about the waterline, it was a fun and educational visit. We topped it off with a stroll around the fort grounds, pausing on our way to watch the activities of a very large group (of college age) who were on a team building day. I don't think I've ever been on a team building day that I enjoyed, but this looked like fun!

A marina in Cumelborg was where we intended to stay the night, about half an hour down the road from Bunnik (where the museum is located - that's just outside of Utrecht). We arrived via a Lidl, approached via an 'interesting' tour of narrow, block-paved residential streets (thanks to the SatNav that then wanted us to nip through a pedestrian walkway). Alas, having made the slow detour across town, along more narrow streets where bicycles rule, we found there to be no room at the inn. That was a blow. Aside from it looking like a nice place, the reason we had gone there was so I could do some laundry (yes, we are home in 6 days, but some things are desperately in need of a clean). I gave passing thought to asking if we could just use their laundry facilities for an hour, but decided that our priority should probably be to find somewhere to stay if everywhere was going to be so busy over the weekend.

Another half an hour down the road brought us Zaltbommel, where there was plenty of room available for us, probably because there's nothing to recommend the car park itself, even if the town is nice. For the entire time I've been typing this the location has gone down further in our estimation, as a cluster of cars, a bong and some Bollywood tunes (played at volume) have all appeared. Fingers are crossed that they don't intend to hang around past dark...

When I was in a Lidl yesterday the woman in front of me in the queue bought a few of these and I wondered what they were, so I bought one today (and as a further indication of their popularity the woman in front of us in the queue today had some too). I'm still not sure what they are, but it was tasty!

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Thursday 24 August - Zutphen, Netherlands

Where's Bertie? He's in the motorhome area of a car park next to a body of water in the town of Zutphen, at a cost of €2 per 24 hours (exact location: 52.13742, 6.19798).

I'm sure that most people on holiday choose a place they want to visit and then look for somewhere to stay nearby. We do that sometimes (indeed, that will be our strategy tomorrow), but more often than not when just meandering around on a tour such as this one, we look for somewhere to stay that sounds reasonable and arrive there with no idea as to what awaits us.

And thus today we found ourselves in the town of Zutphen. Sometimes our gamble on arriving in a place with no prior knowledge of what it's like or what it has to offer doesn't pay off. And sometimes we find a very pleasant old town like this one.

Whilst the Tourist Office didn't seem to cater for English speakers (or French; or anything other than Dutch or German), we did stumble across a couple of tri-lingual information signs around the town so learnt that it was granted city rights in 1195 and became the richest town in the Duchy of Guelders. It opted to show off its wealth by building, amongst other things, lots of towers:

This one rings a long and pretty chime every quarter hour. I don't know whether it continues all night, but it's quiet enough from where we are that it won't bother us.

We could have gone up this one for €2.50 each, but didn't

Aside from the market, which was just in the untidy process of being taken down, it was all very pleasant, and they've cornered the market in cobbles and block paving, which adds to the old feel of the place but looked uncomfortable for all the cyclists.

Typical city centre side street

Lots of water courses

Day-old moorhen chicks - awwww

Having concluded our ambling we were just on our way to Lidl to rectify Mick's lack of beer, when the dark cloud that had long been above us, started to leak. We scurried back to Bertie, but it only amounted to a few drops.

I stayed put just long enough to do a bit of research on yarn shops then headed out again, thus saving Project Granny Square Blanket (crochet) from grinding to a halt:

I only went for a couple of balls, but couldn't choose!

As for where we are staying, it would be much nicer if we were parked the other way around, looking at the water and the town, but we have joined everyone else in facing the car park, for the sole reason that if we turned around then our open door would be looking into our neighbour's open door, which seems a bit impolite.

I'll finish, for your amusement, with a couple of occurrences of the last 24 hours:

1. Bertie's bed drops down from above the cab area and, when in use, sits about chest high. To enter/exit, one uses the adjacent seat as a step. That process went spectacularly awry for me at 2.30 this morning when I missed the seat and crashed to the floor, coming to rest right at the opposite end of Bertie. By some miracle, I was completely unhurt, but the crash and yelp didn't half give Mick (who had been sound asleep) a fright.
2. We demonstrated such incompetence in the control of taps and a hose pipe at the service point this morning that it was beginning to feel like swimming costumes would have been suitable attire. We did, of course, have an audience for this.

Bonus photo for Kay and Kev:

A wooden bungalow for sale for €23k!