Thursday, 17 January 2019

Thursday 17 January - Villedômer

Where's Bertie? He's in an Aire at Villedômer. It's free to stay here. (Exact location: 47.54487, 0.88725).

One of the attractions of spending last night at Neufchâtel was that the Aire sits opposite a disused railway line recreation route, and I was very much in need of a run after three days of sitting down. Waking to the sound of rain drumming, and feeling the wind rocking us, wasn't ideal, but I wasn't going to go for another day without some proper exercise, and running was clearly the most time efficient way of achieving that. Mick also knew that was true, but weighing up the comfort of the duvet with the cold and wet outside, he opted to stay put.

The outward leg of my route was particularly unpleasant, as rain lashed me in the face, soon freezing my thighs and cooling my feet. The return was better, as by then it was daylight, I'd largely warmed up, the rain had stopped and the wind was behind me.

It was 11am, after a stop at a supermarket, by the time our day of driving started. The most interesting thing about it was the insistence of the TomTom SatNav that we *really* needed to take an overly long route. We went with the opinion of the Garmin, which whilst lacking in user friendliness and functionality, has thus far chosen better routes.

As Mick retook the wheel for the final driving stint of the day, I set about choosing somewhere to stay the night, and struggled for a while not due to a lack of options, but because everywhere I was selecting was either too far or not far enough. After having decided to just drive until 1630, then look what was nearby, I had the brainwave of looking to see where we had stayed last time we had made this journey south, given that tomorrow night's destination is the same as it was on that trip too. That's how we came to be at Villedômer. It made today shorter than we had intended, and tomorrow longer, but we know that we've done that journey in a day before and neither of us has any memory of cursing the length of it at the time.

Once again, there's little to report since arriving here. There's a goose who is diligently guarding the other side of the parking area, providing us with some entertainment in the process, and we've both been out for a leg-stretch. I called it a day after one lap of the town, as it had started to rain and I didn't feel the need to get wet for a second time today. Mick duly continued until his Fitbit was happy with his efforts.

Wednesday 16 January - Neufchâtel-en-Bray

Where's Bertie? He's at the Aire at Neufchâtel-en-Bray where he spent a few nights in November last year. It's still €12 to stay here, including lots of facilities.
Weather: I will start including statements as to the weather when it becomes relevant (i.e. when we're not spending our days sitting in garages or driving long distances).

The Fiat dealer just outside of Kortrijk was just as efficient this year as last. At smack on our appointment time of 0830, Bertie was taken into the workshop, and an hour later he had been fettled and we had paid and were on our way...

... but not without a backtrack to the Hymer Dealer to resolve a couple of issues. Always wise to stay in the vicinity the night after they've done any work, we've found, as on three of our six visits we've had to return the following day, once we've discovered that they've done something wrong (on this occasion the passenger seat would no longer slide backwards, because too long a bolt had been used when putting the swivel mechanism back together; it took me quite a while contorting myself on the floor to work out what the problem was).

It was lunchtime by the time we got away, so we paused to eat before finally pointing Bertie's nose generally south. During the journey I looked at options for where we might spend the night and not only was Neufchatel the right sort of distance away, but, having spent several days here only a couple of months ago, we knew we could run some errands, as well as avail ourselves of another night of electricity and wifi.

There's nowt to report since arriving, except that our risk of dying in our bed has reduced with the acquisition of a new battery for the smoke alarm (which only died at about 2am today - we've not really been living dangerously).

Tuesday 15 January - Izegem

Where's Bertie? He's back outside of the motorhome dealership tonight.

When we agreed to stay inside of the workshop last night we hadn't foreseen the heat. It was 22 degrees when we went to bed, and with the ventilation system having been switched off along with the lights when everyone went home, it was also awfully stuffy. Not the best night's sleep, but at least the sealant on Bertie's new wheel arch got to fully cure in situ.

The poor night's sleep perhaps had a bearing on my laziness today. I had considered the options for going for a run, but finally concluded that as all of them involved having to get washed and changed in the dealership's toilet, none of them was particularly practical. So, another day has been spent mainly sitting around (knitting, reading, crosswording, pacing, brief foray outside).

When Bertie was handed back to us this evening, we could easily have driven off elsewhere, but it was already dusk and as there is flat parking in a quiet-enough location, with free electric here, it made sense to stay another night, before Bertie gets taken off to the Fiat dealer for his annual engine service in the morning.

Monday 14 January - Izegem, Belgium

Where's Bertie? This has got to be our oddest overnight kipping spot yet: he's inside the workshop of the Hymer dealer.

After a day spent sitting around in the Hymer dealer (I entertained myself modifying knitting patterns and took myself off for a small strollette; Mick surveyed a dozen or so of the motorhomes that surround us and concluded that none of them would suit us as well as Bertie), the news came at just gone 6pm that the workshop hadn't been able to complete the work required on Bertie's back wheelarch, and thus would we mind spending the night inside the workshop?

My main focus was on dinner at that point (I'd carelessly undercatered for the day), and we certainly weren't planning to venture out anywhere this evening, so it made little difference to us whether Bertie was inside or out.

It does feel a little odd to be left in the pitch-dark inside of a locked-up building with millions of pounds worth of stock (albeit not very stealable, even if one was dishonest), but it's most certainly quiet.

Sunday 13 January - Izegem, Belgium

Where's Bertie? He's outside the Hymer dealer in Izegem, Belgium.

The destination on this trip is firmly 'south', but not without a small detour north to visit our Hymer dealer to (hopefully!) get the final warranty issues sorted before Bertie goes out of warranty at the end of the month. This is the visit that had to be rearranged from early December, just a few days after our previous trip got suddenly, and slightly dramatically, curtailed.

It's less than two hours to get here from Calais, even tootling along at 80km/h, but we broke the journey anyway, with a stop at the lake just outside Ypres.

There we listened to the rain hammer down, and watched white horses being blown up on the water (conditions that didn't seem to be offputting to the fishermen, nor the various groups of walkers we saw), whilst we had cups of tea and contemplated heading out into the weather.

On the plus side, the temperature was at least 15 degrees warmer than last time we were in Ypres (during the 'Beast from the East' last March), and by the time we stepped out of the door suitably clad in Lycra, the rain had slowed to a quiet patter. Mick ran two laps of the lake, I ran three, and except for the return leg of each lap (which was into the wind), a good time was had.

Later in the afternoon we completed the final hop up to Izegem, where we settled Bertie into one of the overnight parking slots, plugged him into the free electric and watched the final light fade from the sky, hoping for a rather quieter night than we'd had at Calais (boy racers in a multi-storey car park nearby, using the building as a sound amplifier, and motorhomes coming and going all night, due to the proximity to the Eurotunnel terminal).

Saturday 12 January - Calais

Where's Bertie? He's in the motorhome parking area at Cite Europe, right next door to the Eurotunnel terminal by Calais.

It was a day of travel. We left home at around 9.30am, stopped for a very tasty lunch with friends, had less of a battle with the weekend closure of the M20 than we had expected, caught a Eurotunnel shuttle an hour earlier than the one booked and settled into the Cite Europe car park at just gone 9pm.

I could leave this blog post right there, but instead I'll zip back to Tuesday last week when started the 'mini saga of the SatNav'. No, in fact, I'll go all the way back to March 2017 when two days of my life were lost in trying to update the maps on our TomTom. It wasn't the first time that obscene chunks of time had been lost in the endeavour, and I swore that no matter how many times the unit gave me the warning that I needed to update, I wasn't going to do so again for at least two years. I would have stuck to that too, except that France has changed the speed limits on its single carriageway roads and Spain has de-tolled a number of its toll motorways. It was the latter that swung the balance to make me think that it was time to bite the bullet and plug the SatNav into the computer.

A day and a half later, and uncountable de-installations and re-installations of the TomTom software, not to mention clearing of caches, deleting of folders and all other things suggested by various help topics, I had to declare defeat. The biggest problem is that the first thing the SatNav does in updating the maps is to delete the existing maps, thus when the update fails, you're left with an electronic gizmo that is neither use nor ornament.

Thus on Wednesday we bought a new SatNav and, given that we have never in five years been able to update the TomTom without problems, we did the obvious thing and opted for a Garmin. On Thursday we tried it and after a bit of analysis of 'Do we not like this because it's different, or is it really less functional?' we came down on the side of not liking it because it really isn't as good (example: it will tell you distance to go or time of arrival, but it won't tell you both at the same time). On Friday evening I gave the TomTom one final chance to redeem itself and, of course, it seemlessly completed the update on the first attempt.

That is how we found ourselves driving down to Folkestone with a TomTom SatNav on the dashboard, a Garmin on the side window and Google Maps in my hand. And every one of them decided that the best route to Folkestone, in view of the closed M20, was down a small lane (also being used by almost every other man and his dog) rather than straight down the A20. Unfortunately, the navigator wasn't doing her job properly and didn't spot this until after Bertie had got up close and personal with various hedges.

Is there a lesson to be learnt here? Would it have been worth spending £180 more for the 'Camper' specific SatNav? It's a question to which we likely won't have an answer until both of the current units die.

Saturday, 1 December 2018

Friday 30 November – Drive, Drive, Drive!

Where’s Bertie? To his great surprise, he’s not at a waterside Aire on the Begium/France border, he’s on our driveway at home.
Weather: Mixed, but then we did cover quite some miles.

At about 9 o’clock yesterday (Friday) morning Mick decided that he needed some urgent medical attention and, given the options of finding a suitable facility and dealing with a possible language barrier in France or Belgium, or returning home, he opted for the latter. In double quick time we were packed away, I’d modified our Eurotunnel booking and we were on the road.

The use of toll roads (a very great rarity for us) got us to Calais swiftly enough to get us onto a shuttle a little over an hour before the one I’d booked just two hours before (and with 14 minutes to wait before being called to board, just enough time to make a couple of travel mugs of tea before I had to isolate the gas tanks) and we were back in the UK by 11.30am (local time).

The M20 is currently subject to road works for almost its entire length and the M25 was exactly as one would expect the M25 to be on a Friday afternoon, which delayed us enough to put us in heavy traffic later on too.

We did, however, make it to the doctors’ surgery just before they closed. A couple of tests were performed then the next news we got was that an ambulance was on its way. The good news is that after a night in hospital and many tests and opinions, he got released today and he’s fine.  

So, the final day of our trip came sooner than expected, was a rather long one*, and contained the sort of ‘excitement’ that we can all do without!


I made productive use of the time spent hanging around in the hospital, but I'm really not sure I like the colour scheme

(*The other negative of the Aire at Grenay is the cockerel that lives next door and thinks that 3.33am is an acceptable time of day to start crowing.)