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Monthly Archives: October 2012

Happy Halloween…

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Happy Halloween!

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Not all jack’o’lanterns are pumpkins…last year I did a turnip, this year I did a butternut squash. I left the top on and made a door in the back. They’re pretty tough to hollow out…the pumpkin was much easier!!

 
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Posted by on October 31, 2012 in Random

 

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France Pt.5 – Looking Back…

When I bought Old Red, the idea was to be more adventurous, spontaneous and to see a bit of the world. My trip to France embodied the spirit I’d bought the van in, especially when you consider that I’d only put a deposit down on him when I committed to driving him over there.

…well…I never said that I was going to be sensible now, did I?

It was stressful to organise, and there were testing times before and during the trip, but it was a wonderful adventure, and it’s certainly given me the confidence and the desire to do it again!

One lesson I have taken from the trip, though, is that I will definitely be more organised in the future…

  1. I will have all my documents and necessities ready in plenty of time
  2. I won’t commit to a long journey without being completely sure that Old Red is as ready for the trip as I am…
  3. The journey might be spontaneous but I will make sure that I’ve got everything I need before I leave, rather than having to hit camping stores on the way to the port (hoping and praying that they have what I need in stock…)

I’m not sure if I’ve said already, but I have romantic notions of taking three (six?…twelve??)  months off work and heading out to explore the wilds of Europe. I adore Brittany, and there’s a lot that I’d love to go back to see…and then there’s the further reaches of Southern France, Italy, Spain, Eastern Europe…

…I just don’t know how I’d go about financing a trip like that…

I’ve got a vague notion that I could live off my (rather meagre) savings and sod the consequences, but I don’t think that’s the most reliable of ideas. My next foray onto the continent will most likely be another short ‘holiday’ like the last, but it will be without oil issues (at least when I set out…I don’t want to speak too soon for the entire trip) and as soon as humanly possible.

But back to the point…

Redditch – Portsmouth – Ouistreham – Saint-Aubin-du-Cormier – La Fontenelle – Calais

We Travelled…

810 miles over land in Old Red

140 miles over seas in two ferries

countless kilometres in cars belonging to various cousins

We spent…

£383 on our outbound Brittany Ferry (for a 3mx5m van with a bike rack, two adults and an inside cabin)

£54 on the return P&O Ferry for a flexi fare (which cost more, but meant we could catch later ferries)

£120 (or thereabouts) on fuel…but I could have used less if I’d have stuck to 50mph

£30 (38€) on tolls from Caen to Calais…but this isn’t quite representative of the exact fee because we missed some pay points and we were over-charged at one point

£44 (54.60€) on one night at Huttopia Versailles (10€ of which was a ‘fee’)

£80 (89.84€) on two nights at Camping International de Maisons-Laffitte

£13 (15€ for two adults and 9€ for two 18-25 year olds) at Chateau de Fougères

£8 (10€) each at the creperie for a lavish crepe and a soft drink (this was Rhi and Gen’s treat to us…I’m only including it for price reference)

£20 (25€) for two meals, two soft drinks and a tip at the restaurant in Calais

£35 on oil (buying it in France proved to be VERY expensive)

…all of which equates to £779 between us…and quite a bit more on groceries, some souvenirs, and some bottles of tequila and boxes of chocolates from the return ferry.

Things I’d do Differently – Campsites…

I may have been a bit rubbish at getting ready for this trip (including (but not limited to) not having the right documents, not having the right equipment, not booking my return ferry til the day before we left, and not printing off our travel vouchers til the morning we left), but I did manage to find and book two campsites near Versailles and Paris so that Steph and I could explore, but with the security of a pre-booked spot and somewhere safe to sleep. I wish I hadn’t bothered now…firstly because we ended up wasting over £120, but secondly because we really didn’t need to

While we were driving round the narrow (and beautiful) streets of Saint-Aubin-du-Cormier looking for the camp/reception site, we found a lovely little municipal campsite that overlooked a small body of water and had really reasonable prices. It also had electric hook-ups, toilets and shower facilities.

I didn’t know that municipal campsites existed before we found one (which should show you how much research I’d done) but I’ve since done some googling and found that these sites are plentiful around France. Next time I’d be happy to head onto the continent without pre-booking, and search out somewhere random and beautiful (and quiet) to stay for a night or two until I move onto the next place.

Things I’d do Differently – Speed…

I get bored easily and so I tend to drive fast just to get places quicker. I try my hardest to be slow in Old Red because I know that if he’s going at 60mph he drinks fuel almost twice as fast as he does at 50mph. Unfortunately, it wasn’t jut boredom, but necessity that pushed me to drive ‘fast’ in France…

In a bid to save a few euros, I’d decided to avoid toll roads on our drive up to Calais. As we were driving along the D613 to Lisieux and the km signs counted down I began to realise just how long it would take us to avoid the tolls. There was no way we were going to get to Calais in time and so we had to hit the autoroute and pay the tolls…and then I had to put my foot down to make up for the time we’d lost.

Once we were back in England I’d been awake for 15 hours, driving for 8 of those, on a ferry for one, and I had another 5 hours of driving ahead of me. I. Just. Wanted. To. Get. Home. So…I put my foot down. Again.

It’s annoying to think I could have saved myself some money and a fuel stop if only I’d have been more organised and more economical in my driving. Driving everywhere at (what feels like) a snail’s pace will be the order of the future.

Things I’d do Differently – Shopping…

I systematically turned down every opportunity to buy alcohol when the buying was good. By the time I finally committed to buying something, I was stuck with household brands and an insignificant discount.

did manage to pick up two 25cl bottles of kirsch (1.21€ each!), and Lesley was kind enough to give us some fizz to bring home, but I wish I’d have come back with a case or two of decent wine. When I go back I’ll make sure I plan my shopping a little better and not rely on finding a supermarché next-door to the port.

Things I’d do Differently – Return Journey…

I couldn’t book a return ferry from Caen (possibly something to do with the olympics), and financially it made more sense to pay for the fuel to drive up to Calais and catch a cheap ferry from there. Originally we were going to detour past Paris, which added 100 miles onto the 300 mile journey from La Fontenelle to Calais, but in the end we did the whole journey (minus the detour) in one day.

When we were going to ‘explore’, the journey didn’t seem so bad, but when we tried to do it in one go it was a bit of an ordeal. To be honest, what with the extra miles (and all the walking we’d have done), the stop in Paris might not have given us any respite at all.

Also, the ferry home was horrible and a very stark contrast to the plush Brittany Ferries ferry that we’d caught from Portsmouth…consequently…….

Things I’d do Again – Brittany Ferries…

Although the outbound journey cost seven times more than the return one, the cost was well worth landing in the area of France that we intended to visit (especially considering that we landed on the morning of the wedding). It also made more sense to pay the extra £60 for a cabin and get a good night’s rest before our drive in the morning. It might have been cheaper to make the short crossing and then drive down to Brittany, but (aside from the fact that it didn’t fit into my holiday from work) if we’d have wanted to break the journey up we’d have to factor in campsites and ‘tourist stuff’ money along the way.

If I was travelling to (or through) the north of France then I’d take advantage of the cheaper fare and shorter crossing, but if my next trip is back to Brittany (and I think it probably will be) then I’ll probably get another night ferry over to Caen, or St. Malo, or similar. With a little planning and a bit more notice, I could make the same crossing for much less money (by travelling on different days, during the day, not paying for a cabin, etc.), but I do kind of like the luxury of a cabin and the chance to sleep away an otherwise boring crossing, so I’d probably shell out for a cabin on future trips too.

And so…

France. Was. Brilliant.

I was incredibly badly organised and terribly scared, but nothing went (too badly) wrong, we had (pretty much) everything we needed and we had (a whole lot of) fun (and wine). We got to spend three wonderful days with our cousins, sharing laughter, eating good food and speaking disjointed franglais. The wedding was beautiful and it was and honour to be there as Lesley and Paskal got married.

It was my first time being ‘the responsible one’ on holiday..

…my first time taking a vehicle on a ferry…

…my first time driving in France…

…the first time I’d slept alone in my van (technically, sleeping ‘wild’ on the side of the road)…

…the first time I got to sleep on the rock and roll bed (it’s not as comfortable as the roof bed, but it’s far easier to get into!)…

…and it was one of the best adventures I’ve ever had. I can’t wait to go back!!

 
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Posted by on October 29, 2012 in Camping, Lists, Travel

 

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France Pt.4 – Fougères…

We may have decided to forego Paris and Versailles during our recent trip to France, but that didn’t mean that we were going to spend the whole time sitting round in the sunshine, drinking coffee or wine, and stuffing our faces with croque-monsiuer. We wanted to do that most of the time…but not all of the time. In a bid to experience some local culture, we spent a lovely Monday afternoon exploring the castle at Fougères with our cousins Rhiannon and Genevieve.

Genevieve, Rhiannon and Steph

After a quick mooch around the ville, we collected our tickets and a little map, and made our way inside the castle walls. They had some handy little audio guides that we could borrow to take around with us, but they started failing after a certain point and so weren’t anywhere near as helpful as they first appeared. The narrator’s voice was incredibly dull too, so most of the time I got rather fed up of waiting for him to say something vaguely interesting. The idea was nice though…you follow the map and when you get to certain points you type a number into your audio-guide, which then starts telling you what you’re looking at…or translating a video…or similar. It was just a shame that it seemed to lose signal to the main server as we ventured further around the walk.

The castle has some incredibly tall towers, and although Steph is pretty fearless, I’m a serious sissy when it comes to heights and spiral staircases. Luckily, Gen is as fearless and Steph, and Rhi was more than happy to keep me company, so we skulked around on the lower battlements (avoiding the murder holes) and waited to see them appear at the top of the tallest tower.

Steph and Gen at the top of the tallest tower (I think you can just make them out)…

The fearless two in close-up! (Gen is taking a picture of me taking a picture of her…)

Eventually, after Rhi’s endless pleading that she “needed a crepe” (it just gets funnier every time I say it), we decided it was time to head back into the ville for a bite to eat and a spot of touristy shopping.

Fougères is well worth a visit if you happen to be passing nearby (and it’s even worth a detour if you’re not). It’s a beautiful town and the castle is reasonably priced considering that you get a (semi-working) audio guide as well as lots of interesting displays about the history of the castle and the battles between the French and the Bretons (which was quite a poignant part of our trip). The town has a few nice places to eat and drink (especially if all you want is a pancake smothered in chocolate sauce and ice cream!), and it’s very pretty if you have the time to wander round and enjoy the scenery.

I took LOADS of photographs of our day trip, which is why Fougères gets a write-up all of it’s very own. Enjoy!

Steph, Gen and Rhi outside the castle walls

Posing outside my favourite little tower!

The moat and some pretty pretty bee-attracting flowers

Going in!!!

Saint-Léonard church (I think!) as seen from Fougères (and as overlooked by pigeons!)

Inside the castle walls

The tumble-down croft (and Saint-Léonard church in the background)

Venturing up onto the battlements…

Tallest tower (again) and the Goblin tower (wonderful name!)…

…my memory fails me for this little church…

Steph proving her fearlessness once again, while we all elected to stay safely on the battlements!

Moody tower…taken while we waited for Steph to stop dangling out of windows!

A wonderful way to end a wonderful afternoon! Orangina (in a glass bottle) and a delightfully decadent dessert! Poached pears, chocolate sauce, vanilla ice cream and LOTS of whipped cream!

COMING SOON: France – Looking Back

 
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Posted by on October 28, 2012 in Days Out, Food, Places, Travel

 

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Reasons to be Cheerful…

…when the weather isn’t!

(edit: I wrote this post in a rush so decided to update it a few days later…enjoy!)

The nights are drawing (drawn) in, the leaves are turning and falling, and the weather is decidedly soggier. Summer may not have announced itself very loudly this year, but it’s clear to see that it’s well and truly over for 2012.

My Facebook feed is full of moaning whine-bags anyway but the oncoming winter seems to be inspiring a whole load of (pointless) observations and criticisms of the weather.

…but…this is Britain!…what do they expect to happen in October?!

I don’t like that it’s dark when I’m heading home from work (and when I get up, for that matter) but I do think it’s worth finding positivity in the winter months. After all, when the weather is being a bit miserable, it’s not going to cheer things up by adding to the misery. And anyway, I quite like the wet weather!

So, here’s my list of reasons to be cheerful when the weather is drizzling down upon your head…

    • Wellington boots! …wearing wellies makes every day feel like a festival (with a little imagination, anyway) and I can jump in puddles to my heart’s content.
    • Spiced Pumpkin lattes …I don’t much like Starbucks (weak coffee, slow servers, automated coffee machines and the whole tax issue) but I love their spiced pumpkin lattes. They make autumn better (and give me a little bit more winter ‘padding’)
    • Wrapping cold fingers around a hot cup of tea…especially if it’s been made on a camp stove, brewed in a thermal teapot and served in a melamine teacup!
    • Scarves and gloves and mittens and snoods and jumpers and shawls and blankets…and other snuggly things.
    • Coffee laced with brandy on cold winter mornings…and cold winter afternoons for that matter!
    • Frost! …de-icing the van isn’t much fun, but ice roses are utterly stunning, and there’s something magical about walking out into a frosty morning. Frozen lawns remind me of Willy Wonka’s ‘eatable’ grass, and the statues around the Gower memorial are especially beautiful on a frosty morning.
    • Hats with ears!…and faces! Oh my!
    • It’s nearly Christmas! …I’m not overjoyed at the idea, but my workmates assure me that Christmas is a happy time and that some people actually quite enjoy it!
    • Mince pies …I don’t like the day itself, but I’ll happily spend the two/three months before Christmas buying mince pies and then quickly trying to hide the evidence in my belly!

…hope you’re having a lovely Autumn!

 
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Posted by on October 25, 2012 in Random

 

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Interim…

Many apologies for the delay in posts…I attempted to put some pictures up from my phone app at the start of the week but it seems to be incurably broken and refuses to let me update anything. 

…and I was doing SO well!!!

 

 
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Posted by on October 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

France Pt.3 – Our Trip!!!…

So…it was Friday 27th July, I’d finished work for a week, and I was driving down to Portsmouth with my little sister at my side. We were on our way to Brittany!

We’d booked a few nights at a couple of campsites and we had a loose plan for the next few days…

  • Depart Portsmouth on Friday night (hopefully getting a good night’s sleep in our lovely cabin)
  • Arrive in Ouistreham on Saturday morning, eat a continental breakfast then get our asses to the wedding campsite at Saint-Aubin-du-Cormier
  • Enjoy wedding!
  • Drive to the campsite in Versailles on Sunday and do some exploring
  • Drive to the campsite in Maisons-Laffitte on Monday and explore Paris!
  • Spend Tuesday morning in Paris
  • Drive up to Calais on Tuesday afternoon to catch midnight (ish) ferry
  • Land in Dover at midnight (ish) and get home for 5am

In the end, our plans went completely awry (a growing trend in my trips out in Red!) but it didn’t matter because we got to spend time with people we love and we had an awful lot of fun at the same time!

Outbound…

We arrived at Portsmouth with plenty of time and so we had to sit waiting in queues for about two hours. We did a lot of people watching, danced around the van to some rather banging tunes (I have no idea what station we had found on the radio, but it was EPIC), sorted out our documents and I got to smoke a few calming cigarettes. It also gave me time to apply my headlight deflectors (you can’t have them on whilst driving in Britain, and you can’t drive in France without them – no matter what time of day. Subsequently, the ferry queues are an ideal place to fix these on), which caused me no end of confusion. You get a little key to figure out how to apply them to your particular headlights, but I didn’t find it very easy to use and I was really worried that I was cutting too much off.

As we sat there we realised we were missing the London 2012 opening ceremony, which I saw as a minor achievement. Steph disagreed. But before long we were boarding the ferry where we could watch (or not watch, as I elected to do) millions of flags wandering around the flatscreen TVs in the lounges, whilst listening to the commentary. In French.

Getting onboard and in-lane was far easier than I was expecting, and the staff were really helpful. Lucky really, seeing as I left one of the interior lights on. They called us over the PA system and took us back down to the garage to turn it off.

Red on the Ferry from Portsmouth to Caen! He’s on a BOAT! (with his interior light on!)

The ferry (The Mont St. Michel) was awesome! We checked out our little cabin (including en suite with a shower!), and tried to figure out how the beds worked and where the ladder was hiding (behind the door), then we went to stand on deck and wave goodbye to England.

Looking out over the port as we left Portsmouth

Me and Steph 🙂

Unfortunately, we found the snack bar (and some rather tasty pizza) before we found the restaurant so we managed to do ourselves out of some really nice food. Then it was time to explore the amenities.

The shop was fabulous and really well stocked with loads of reasonably priced alcohol (my main interest) and lots and lots of perfume that didn’t seem to be any cheaper than back home. I was utterly spoilt for choice and ended up not buying anything, thinking that I’d buy lots of delicious wine once I actually got to France itself…shopping mistake #1.

Before long we decided to retire back to our little cabin to try and get a few hours sleep. I expected to be really seasick and unable to sleep, but the beds were amazingly comfy and I found it incredibly hard to get up the next morning. I did a brilliant job of ignoring Steph as she showered and dressed and shook me, but when the PA announced that we should be leaving our cabin I decided to get up and have the world’s quickest shower.

We tried (and failed) to grab a quick bite to eat on the boat, and were shepherded down to the van just as we were pouring cups of tea. The ferry emptied surprisingly quickly and before we knew it we were driving (on the wrong side of the road) on the tiny, confusing streets of Ouistreham,..

France!…

We parked up, explored the few cafes that were open and had a wonderful breakfast of bread and coffee.

Old Red parked up on French tarmac. We made it!

Breakfast in Ouistreham…wonderful!

Lighthouse at Ouistreham

We arrived in Saint-Aubin-du-Cormier after a lovely drive down into Brittany and began the monumental task of meeting our cousins and actually finding the campsite. The wedding reception was being held at the site of the Battle of Saint-Aubin-du-Cormier (on the anniversary of the battle) and the plan was to camp over at the reception site (allowing us to properly sample the ample quantities of wine that flowed endlessly all day and night). When we saw the rocky ground I was reminded of the benefits of having a van. It may have been more expensive than a car on the ferry, but it sure beats having to pitch a tent on ground that’s littered with granite! Needless to say, once I was drunk I threw myself into helping everybody else put up their tents…camping is all about helping each other out afterall!

We had a few hours until the ceremony, so we left Red baking on the granite and headed back to Lesley’s house with our cousins, Rhiannon, Francesca and Genevieve, to help with the last of the preparations.

The view from Lesley’s front door in La Fontenelle

Beautiful views from beautiful rooms through beautiful windows…

Lesley has the most amazing farmhouse on a beautiful secluded little road. It’s such a peaceful place, I can totally see why she chose to move out there (I felt a little draw to the place myself), but I dread to think about how many spiders must come into the house in the autumn…

Eventually, after I’d gotten dressed, helped lace Lesley into her dress, and helped placate my little cousin, Eloise, while Ches (her Mom) finished getting ready, we were all ready to go and we jumped in the cars to race (late) to the ceremony in the Mairie in Tremblay. It seemed like the whole village had come along as well as all the family and friends that had been invited. The room was packed with people and cameras were going off all over the place..it was brilliant!

The civil ceremony was performed in English, French and Breton  which made for a few laughs. By the time the Breton interpreter got round to saying his bit he seemed perfectly bored, The vows are more like instructions for how the married couple should handle their finances, problems and children, but the whole thing was very sweet and (it’s very cheesy to say, but) you could tell that there was a lot of love in the room.

When the vows were said and the rings were exchanged, we walked round the village to a little open barn that had been set up with trestle tables…and lots and lots of champagne and canapés. I was exceedingly glad that I wasn’t driving!

We spent a lovely hour or so in the sun, sipping champagne and eating mystery things off the massive platters of nibbles. We got to try ‘surprise cake’ too, which was an experience to say the least. It had a nice moist texture and looked like it was going to taste amazing, but unfortunately, the ‘surprise’ was that it had either meat or fish in it. They weren’t bad but there was something altogether wrong about eating a meat flavoured cake.

Lesley’s amazing wedding car! Setting off from Tremblay to the reception…

When we arrived back at the campsite, we got to explore the site properly whilst drinking copious amounts of wine and punch. The natural granite slabs that ‘grew’ on the land have been used to create a beautiful stone circle, a fire pit, and several MASSIVE tables and benches, It wasn’t long before we were drunk enough to not mind putting tents up (but still sober enough to realise that we wouldn’t want to do it after we’d eaten and drunk more) …and three tents later, we were sitting down to eat the most amazing meal of cold salads (rice, potato, egg, beetroot, tuna, roe, beans, mushrooms in tomato sauce), rotisserie meat (duck, chicken and pork), roast potatoes, and delicious garlicky vegetables.

We ate, drank, I spoke an extraordinary amount of French (and made myself semi-understood), we danced, we had the most amazing fun, and I saw three shooting stars as I wandered back to the van at 2am. It was a fabulous wedding.

The site looking a bit worse for wear the morning after the awesome wedding party…

The next day I felt a little reluctant to drive (possibly owing to the three bottles of wine I’d consumed the day before), Lesley was keen for us to stay, and we were just having too nice a time to leave. We decided to forego the campsite at Versailles and stay one more night. Lesley had a spare bed going in her enormous house, so Steph took that and I elected to sleep in the van. It might be silly, but I still hadn’t slept out in him on my own and I was quite keen for the bit of solitude it offered.

We spent Sunday exploring the Carrefour, eating left over wedding food and drinking yet more wine (there was an extraordinary amount left over from the wedding…Lesley and Paskal must have bought enough wine to fill Windemere…). For some reason I felt that I still had tonnes of time and opportunity to go wine shopping, and I neglected to buy alcohol yet again…shopping mistake #2. We had a lovely family meal and drank more wine and had a fabulous time until it was time to retire to bed.

On Monday, we again decided that campsites were over-rated when you had good company and beautiful surroundings already. We had a relaxed morning drinking coffee and eating pastries in the sunshine, before a typical lunch of croque monsieur. Seeing as we were staying put til the next day, Rhi and Gen took us out to Fougères to see the castle and have a crepe (tee hee hee). We spent the sunny afternoon exploring the towers and climbing the battlements, and then we went back to the ‘ranch’ for another big meal, this time joined by friends and family, and enjoyed by candle light in Lesley and Paskal’s field-sized back garden.

As Tuesday dawned, we knew we had to leave to make the midnight ferry, and so after a lot of stalling, photographs and teary goodbyes, we set off on our 500km journey to Calais.

We stopped in Caen for the obligatory royale with cheese (I have mine ‘sans fromage’, which confused the cashier a little), but I didn’t have a beer because I was driving.

There were a few supermarché near the MacDonalds, but I thought it was best to get back on the road and do our shopping when we were closer to Calais… shopping mistake #3…

…And we were back on the road!

I’d initially said that I wasn’t going to use the sat nav, having romantic ideas that I would plan routes on maps and stumble across beautiful little villages on hidden back roads. The reality was a very limited time frame and a huge pre-occupation with the fact that we could be driving the wrong way down the dual-carriageway. In the end I turned to my HTC’s navigation software and discovered that we were running hideously behind schedule. It was about that time that I decided to abandon our pledge to avoid the toll roads, and I headed for the nearest Route Nationale. Allez! To Calais!

We hit several tolls on the way. Some had people in, some were automated, and others were a confusing mix of the two. The first one we met had a man in a booth who we paid a few euros to…simple. The next one we came to dispensed a ticket…out of an impossibly high ticket slot. Steph had to clamber out of the window to reach it. It was only once we’d pulled away that my brain registered the lower ticket dispenser and the little silver button that had been at window height. Apparently, those dispensers give you a ticket (and a fee) based on your vehicle height. This fee was almost double the fee for camper vans, which was nice when we pulled up to a booth manned by a human, as we got our fee reduced. It wasn’t so nice when I got confused the first time round and pulled into the lane with a little card symbol over it. In my naivety, I thought it was the lane for people with tickets, when it was actually the lane to pay a machine with your card…so in that instance we ended up paying the toll for a much bigger van.

Several hundred kilometres, a few aires and a small sibling squabble later (tolls and map reading are stressful) we arrived in Calais to find that all the supermarché were closed, and all my hopes for a few boxes of French wine were pinned on the ferry. I muttered my disapproval at myself, drove further into Calais to park up, and we went to find something to eat.

I don’t like to say mean things, but I utterly hated Calais. We were lucky to find a charming restaurant that served MASSIVE portions of excellent food (at quite reasonable prices considering it must be a huge tourist trap), and that redeemed the place a little, but on the most part it reminded me of Blackpool. That – and my disappointment over my bad wine choices – meant that I, at least, ended our time in France on a very sour note.

A lovely restaurant in Calais…highly recommended!

Immense Caesar salad!

Homeward Bound…

I’d booked a flexi-ticket for our return journey, so we could arrive up to four hours early or late and be put on the next available ferry. We thought we’d made it in time to catch an earlier departure but were told at the gate there was no room left for us. No matter, we quite like queuing! So we set off to try and find our lane.

Calais is a lot bigger than Portsmouth, and it’s not as easy to find where you’re supposed to be. In other words, we got very VERY lost and ended up being waved onto a boat by a rather forceful port attendant. I told him we were supposed to wait for the next ferry but he insisted we get on and that there would be room for us at the back with the HGVs. Gulp.

Old Red at the very back of the ferry, just hangin out with the big boys…

I was holding out a lot of hope that the ferry home would cheer me up a bit, but aside from a nice cup of coffee from a very pleasant barrista at Costa coffee, the boat was pretty miserable. It was like getting on a scuzzy old national express coach. The shop was full of British brands (with 10% off) and typical petrol station wines like Blossom Hill. I wandered the shop for almost the entire 60 minute journey, trying to decide which terrible thing I would buy to make myself feel better. In the end I went for tequila. Lots of tequila. If anything promised to numb the disappointment, it was that!

We landed in Dover and I tried to get used to driving on the left again while I searched for a garage to buy more oil and check my fluid levels. We had 200 miles and about four hours of driving ahead of us, so I put on Radio 4 as we got back on the motorway, and Steph promptly fell asleep.

I’d decided to drive straight home without stopping, and by the time I pulled into my road the oil light was flickering on as soon as I lifted my foot off the accelerator. It was the furthest I’d driven without stopping, cooling down and topping up, so I have to assume that the oil had dropped to its lowest (in my experience) at that point.

But we were home! We’d done it! We’d driven just over eight hundred miles, we drunk gallons of wine between us and eaten an extraordinary amount of food, We’d had a lot of laughs and a lot of fun and we were home in one piece and nothing had gone (too badly) wrong.

…and I can’t wait to do it again!!!

COMING SOON: Fougères…

 
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Posted by on October 21, 2012 in Camping, Food, Travel

 

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France Pt.2 – Driving in France Checklist…

Despite the fact that I’m highly unorganised, I really REALLY love writing lists. I think part of the lure of a trip to France was all the lists I’d have to write…it’s just a shame that the lure of checking things off the list doesn’t flip my switches quite as much!

The following post is a series of lists that may help you if you are planning your first trip to the continent, and which will definitely help me the next time I attempt a similar expedition. I’ve also included a few tips that I gleaned from Club 80-90 members and my cousins. It’s also important to note that the van maintenance and spares lists are entirely stolen from a friend on the Club 80-90 forum. I am definitely a newbie when it comes to parts, spares and repairs so there may very well be other things that could be included on those lists…but I wouldn’t know!

You need to take a lot of paperwork with you, so my first bit of advice is to get yourself a document wallet to keep it all in one place. Old Red has a ‘Very Useful Drawer’ above the fridge, but I found the wallet useful so that we didn’t end up losing things out of the drawer and down the back of the fridge.

Things You Must Carry in Van (Required by French Law)…

– EU Insurance and documents
– V5 registration document
– Driving licence (BOTH PARTS!)
– Bulb kit
– GB plate/sticker
– Headlight deflectors (remember to have scissors to hand to trim these to size…or trim them to size before you leave but DON’T stick them on until you’re at the ferry port)
– Hi-Vis vest
– Warning triangle
– Fire extinguisher
– 2 x breathalyser (note: you must have two on you at all times, so buy four in case you need to use one)
– Spare glasses if you need them to drive
– Road tax for duration of trip
– Valid MOT for duration of trip (I took the certificate too)

Other Things You Might (and probably will) Need…

– Passport (rather important)
– Travel insurance
– Ferry tickets printed off
– Breakdown cover (more on this in a minute)
– First aid kit (not required, but a no-brainer really)
– A full gas bottle (*ahem*)
– Mobile phone
– Phone charger and 12v adapter
– Engine oil!!!
– Tool kit
– Wheel brace/socket and bar
– WD40

Van Health Check…

– Tyre condition and pressure
– All fluids
– Exhaust condition
– Fan belt
– Wheel bearings
– Drive shaft belts
– Check condition of hoses
(do this well in advance so you can get any repairs done in time!!)

Spares to Carry…

– Tyre inflating aerosol
– Distributor cap
– Rotor arm
– Fan belt
– Any hoses that looked less than perfect during checks
– Wire
– Insulation tape

(I have to admit, the only thing I took from this last list was the aerosol…mainly because that’s the only thing I’d have known how to use if I got caught in a jam!)

And then, of course, you need to take all your basic travel essentials. Seeing as these are the same no matter where you’re travelling or camping, I think I’ll save that list for another post.

Things to Note: Breakdown Cover…

Just a few days before I was set to leave, a worrying thread popped up on the Club 80-90 forum. I’d gone out and bought EU breakdown cover in good faith that it did what it said on the tin, but another (more canny) member had actually taken the time to read the fine print.

It seems that although you are indeed covered for breakdowns in the EU, the recovery service will often only take you within territorial boundaries  In other words, they will take you anywhere in France, but they will not take you home. They will provide you with a courtesy car if your vehicle is beyond repair…but this must only be used within territorial boundaries too.

The long and short of it is that pretty much ALL EU breakdown cover will cover you for the cost of the vehicle (the book cost…NOT what you paid for it), so if it costs £2000 to bring you home and your van is only worth £1500?…your van isn’t coming home without you dipping into your own wallet.

It’s not worth the paper it’s printed on.

Now, of course, this is all pretty doom and gloom. You’d hope that if anything should happen, then it’d just be a minor roadside breakdown that can be easily fixed, and in that case you’re adequately covered. But in the event of an engine going ‘KABLAMY’ you’re going to be up a famous creek without a water displacing device.

I’m with 2gether Insurance who operate using the above (nationally accepted) method, but one of my friends on the forum wangled a great deal with Glynwoods and cited this on a thread about breakdown:

Glynwoods (Robert @ their Redditch Branch = 01527 591057) have negotiated a deal with their European breakdown cover folks (Note = NOT Freeway) that will offer up to £2500 repair or “get you and your van home” cover regardless of the age or value of your VW Camper (as long as it is roadworthy to start with, obviously)

So if you’re going to travel in the EU I’d really recommend going to Glynwood for your breakdown cover!

Things to Note: Watch Your Speed…

Speed cameras in France are an unassuming shade of beige. They are mostly un-signposted, and they lurk in long grasses, overgrown bushes and behind random bits of fence. The fine, should you get caught by one of these cameras, is a scary 1000€. I found it VERY hard to break the speed limit in my big Red slowmachine, but there were a few points when I realised that I was going waaaay faster than I should have been.

Also note (and remember!) that the speed limit signs are in KILOMETRES! I forgot this when we landed in Ouistreham and spent a happy 5 minutes doing 30MPH before I realised that I was going too fast…and on the wrong side of the road!

Things to Note: Toll Roads…

Our initial plan was to avoid toll roads altogether, save money and see a bit of the countryside rather than spending the whole drive on a dual carriageway. In the end, we had to take toll roads or risk missing our ferry, but at least this gave us a bit of an education…

Firstly…remember that the booths and ticket dispensers will be on the LEFT. If you’re travelling alone, be prepared to leap back and forth across the cockpit like a loony…and if you’re travelling with passengers, be prepared to get REALLY annoyed with them when they can’t speak French as well as you can or have much of a clue about how a ticket dispenser works (on second thoughts, that might just be MY experience…but be prepared anyway).

Secondly…if you’ve looked at the price of the toll roads on a site like this one and had a small fit about how much it’s going to cost you (remember, those prices are for CARS…vans are much more expensive) then it’s useful to note that you only incur the full cost if you travel the whole length of that road. I figured we’d spend over 100€ in tolls, but I think it ended up costing us about 26-30€ to get from Caen to Calais.

Things to Note: The French Drive FAST…

Now, I know that my van is slow, but when I drive up an English motorway I get the opportunity to over-take and play little ‘which van is faster on this hill’ games with other drivers. I did around 700km of driving in France and I overtook ONE vehicle. One. ONE. In SEVEN HUNDRED kilometres, I overtook ONE VEHICLE.

It doesn’t matter how many times I say it, I still can’t quite believe it.

A lot of the time, I could have overtaken the vehicle in front…if it weren’t for the constant stream of cars pouring past me in the left-hand lane. They were fast and unrelenting.

COMING SOON: Our Trip!!

 

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