France Pt.5 – Looking Back…

29 Oct

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!!


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


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2 responses to “France Pt.5 – Looking Back…

  1. campervanlife

    November 2, 2012 at 9:00 am

    Nice piece on France. And some good tips. We loved it, esp the food and the value for money campsites. btw, how did you create the route map? I tried but failed.

    • onegirlandacampervan

      November 2, 2012 at 11:24 pm

      Thank you 🙂 I used Google maps…just look for directions, then click ‘add destination’ to add in each point on your journey. Then begin the arduous task of dragging the blue lines around (unless you don’t mind it being the approximate route, rather than the exact route you took) until you’re happy (or so stressed that you give up). Then just press print screen and use something like Photoshop or Gimp (free!) to crop it. I crop it to the map but you could include the directions bar if you wanted a list of your stops next to the map 🙂


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