France

France Vs Spain (the drivers) by Lara

  Claude in Barcelona, Spain

Claude in Barcelona, Spain

We’ve clocked 3,000 miles so far in the van. I’ve driven through towns with streets so narrow and balconies so low we just get under them, slowly trundled up mountains with winding roads and sudden drops that give me vertigo, and made it under a bridge that was clearly signposted as lower than our Claude, yet the most stressful driving I’ve been faced with certainly has to be on motorways. 

I’m a terrible passenger, so for everyone’s benefit I am designated driver. Lucky for me, Paul is an excellent passenger who for the most time is an excellent map reader/google map navigator. Me behind the steering wheel also gives us the added bonus of extra storage space behind the seat. Perfect. This has also meant that for 3,000 miles I have been the one dealing with the brunt and blessing of the other road users. 

Driving through France was pretty awful at times. Out of all the places I’ve ever travelled I would say France is definitely up there with most amount of horn honking, not a patch on Mumbai but still super stressful. I’m driving a 15-year-old, long wheelbase, maxi roofed campervan, with 2 kayaks hitched to the roof and (admittedly) way too much stuff, all contributing to weighing the damn thing down. When on a dual carriageway, I’m in the right hand lane travelling at 40mph not because I enjoy going that slow and want to take our time, but because that’s the maximum poor Claude can go. You may be flying passed us beeping your horn, but with the slightest gradient our speed diminishes rapidly and we hope and pray it all flattens out soon. We’ve had Belgium Drivers call me an arsehole, French drivers giving me the finger and at first I admit I was affected by these taunts. But Paul reminded me that there’s absolutely nothing we can do, or that they can do. Apart from maybe throw an apple at them

  Claude after his first mountain climb...

Claude after his first mountain climb...

Is it just me or are there a lot of HGVs in France? Because I seemed to pass so many of them and then of course uphill they would thunder passed me, never abusive but a few frustrated arms signals were given as I tried overtaking them on the descent. If you come across us on your road trip please be aware we have to pick up speed downhill in order to make it uphill! It seems Spain already got that memo though. The drivers have been the polar opposite and in this heat boy am I glad, I’m sweating enough as it is!

In fact, in the 6 weeks we’ve been in Spain I haven’t heard one horn. Folk are just a lot more chilled out it seems, and while drivers seem to be right up Claude’s bum, they don’t seem to mind the pace… I’m not sure they’re even aware! I have even had a few laughs with the HGVs that pass me, and then I pass. Even the huge lorry I pulled out on, on the roundabout didn’t mind (yes I did this. Lara don’t get cocky!)  

I wonder what drivers are like in Portugal?

The key to blogging is writing by Lara

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I'm just not good at updating blogs. I thought with all the time it the world  I would love sitting there, sharing stories about our travels. But it turns out even when there's nothing on the agenda, there's always something else to do.  I once started a blog and the first post (which has never seen the light of day) was called sailing &  procrastinating. I haven't done much sailing since my circumnavigation but I have done plenty of procrastinating.

What's been occurring? Well we made it to Spain, driving through glorious fields of Sunflowers as we headed south west through France, stopping for a frivolous meal at Maison Jeunet in Arbois, an incredible 2 star degustation which left our bellies full and wallets empty. A pit stop at more cascades and a few days spent in Gruissan where we enjoyed the meander through the old town, forked out too much in the market for some saucisson and had our first proper swim in the sea after spending much time in the mountains.  Perfect!

 Snail and Kolhrabi,   Maison Jeunet

Snail and Kolhrabi,  Maison Jeunet

 Tomato and Hogweed,  Maison Jenet    

Tomato and Hogweed, Maison Jenet

 

 Poached Duck Fois Gras with Danané Pepper,  Maison Jenet

Poached Duck Fois Gras with Danané Pepper, Maison Jenet

Van loaded up and off to Spain we headed.  Whizzing through the Costa Brava as fast as Claude can take us and thrilled to catch up with friends in Benicàssim for a good ole stomp at a festival and taking full advantage of the air conditioning at the villa. Bliss!  A few intoxicated days and then a few more after that in the blistering heat, stumbling upon a Game of Thrones filming location.  After getting caught in a huge thunderstorm and Paul being disappointed by the size of a pizza we decided to flee the coast and the tourists that come with it. 

We drank a lot of bubbles by Lara

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3 weeks to the day since we left for France.  820 miles (or there abouts) later, Claude is still going, even got up a mountain.  And despite not hearing from us in a while Paul and I haven’t killed each other.  Yet.  

After having absolutely no idea of where we were going and what we were doing we realised that, unfortunately, we did have restrictions on time, which meant having to plan a little more than we’d hope to.  We gave ourselves four and a half weeks to travel from England down to Benicàssim so our original want of heading East towards Czech Republic was scundered.  Not all bad as we’ve decided instead to try and catch some of the Tour de France.  Paul’s a very happy man (fingers crossed we see something)

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After lolling in the lake for a few days, a little research into towns with the ‘Tour’ I realised we’d driven right passed Reims and Épernay, home to the makers of Champagne.  There was only one thing to do - turn around and head back.  And what a brilliant idea that was!   We found a great spot to park up for a few days, jumped on our bikes and headed to the centre of beautiful Épernay.   Walking up the grand Avenue de Champagne, we had a brief peek around the park and then spotted Moët & Chandon.  With so many other Champagne houses to peruse we were probably wrong in walking in the first we came to, but I was thirsty!

 Champagne stacked in the vast cellars of Moët & Chandon

Champagne stacked in the vast cellars of Moët & Chandon

A tour for two and a tasting later we were loaded with all the history you could want on Champagne production, the Moët & Chandon brand and a few titbits on Napoleon, I really liked hearing what he thought about Champagne: “Champagne is the only wine that leaves a woman beautiful after drinking it.”  I love this, but honestly I’m not sure I can agree … what do you think Paul?  After a night quaffing all the Champagne in various establishments we hit the sack and were faced with a pretty lethal hangover the following day.

Thank goodness we only had a short hike to contend with.  Rule No 1.  DO NOT listen to me when going on hikes, they will be far longer than you planned, you will not be prepared, and you will certainly feel like you’re not going to make it!  What was supposed to be a 12km hike with maximum temperatures reaching 26 degrees (this is important information when travelling with a ginger), actually turned into a 12 mile hike with temperatures reaching 34 degrees with no shade anywhere - Just lots of hills and vineyards and not much else.

Having both picked up some very interesting tan lines, perhaps a touch of heat exhaustion and a need for full water immersion on our van doorstep we decided that we would pack up and move on to the nearest lake.  After a much needed rest of course.

Mishaps and hiccups by Lara

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Not even here a week and the bikes are out already.  Anyone who knows Paul will know he's a keen cyclist, me on the other hand I give myself an 'A' for effort and certainly enthusiasm.  I also give myself an 'A' for polishing off nearly a bottle of wine before a blink of an eye. The looks Paul was giving me as he asked, 'Are you sure you want to go for a ride?' 'Yeah!' I said. Which is when the hiccups started. Not a great look stumbling around the campsite, getting a helmet on, and setting off on your new road bike I assure you. But off I went... hiccupping until at least a couple of miles down the road.  First hill got rid of them in a jiffy and sobered me up too. Bollocks.  Are we nearly there yet?!

 Road to Albert

Road to Albert

Second day at the lovely Albert saw us walk 8 miles to and from town, purchasing a second pair of shoes for me (Do not, I repeat do not go for a walk with brand new shoes on.  Twice). A stop at a lovely bar for some great people watching and a walk around the Somme Museum before heading to Carrefour to pick up a pan, because yes we left one on the seat of my car at home and yes the other one cracked whilst mid cooking last night. Seated at the dinner table, sore feet and an urge to cool off in some water we decided it best to move on and find some swimming spots.

Day five, third location and all is going well so far. Claude is still moving, admittedly very slowly but we're enjoying the journey nonetheless.  I wish I could say the same of the French drivers behind us! Oh well! 

Found a great spot by 'Lac Du Der', by great I mean a peaceful, gorgeous space with creepy crawlies EVERYWHERE! We even took the kayaks out for a spin. And I do mean spin; for some reason Paul and I kept spinning on every 4th paddle. (Canoe believe it!) I found this utterly hilarious. Paul did not.  But onwards we went.  A paddle across the lake to a beach, a swim and then back again.

The heavens have opened so we've taken refuge in the van. Its okay, we have red wine. 

We have a lot of spare time, so you seem to observe everything.  Here's a list of things I've noticed:

  • I haven't bought too many clothes but I do think a birdcage may not be necessary.
  • A chilli pepper in the van is great. So is this sweet pepper plant we have.
  • Paul's beard and tash are doing remarkably well. He wants to take part in Movember this year, which may be how long it takes for him to grow it. 
  • Washing up is still my job abroad.
  • My new chair is bloody ace. Probably why Paul keeps stealing it! 

So this is France by Paul

 Berck Lighthouse

Berck Lighthouse

If you hadn’t guessed already, we’ve left the wonderful British Isles for Europe, so as of last Saturday it’s Bienvenue vers la France!

After a bit of a delayed departure we rocked up at the Channel Tunnel without any booking, or still any real plan, but boarded without any issue and before we knew it we were on the continent and driving on the right side of the road.

We’d already decided to get away from Calais as quickly as the van would go, which isn’t all that quick (especially up hill) and after consulting Google and the European road map decided to head down the coast toward the town of Berck.

Berck, which is just over 50 miles South-West of Calais is a small seaside resort which boasts incredibly large sandy beaches and, at least on last Saturday, night amazing sunsets. Our residence for the weekend was a gravel car park slotted in between a variety of winnebagos with their satellites TVs and on board toilets rivalling our games of shithead (Lara’s currently winning) game of cards and dashing to the nearest bush looking toilet.  A bargain at €5 a night!

Before pitching up at ‘Hotel La Gravel’ we’d driven to a few camping sites and were either turned away by the owner for not having a big enough van or we were put off by the scantily clad old men who were patrolling their patch.

Luckily our next destination proved to be a real find as we made our way inland and Eastward. We had a rough plan after finding what looked like a decent site in the motorhome guide but with most travel scenes, it ends up looking completely different than how the guide describes.

Deciding upon trying to find something different we literally stumbled into the town of Albert and the wonderful campsite of Bellevue. We ended up driving through some small villages which provoked thoughts of those featured in some of the many WWII films and if you’ve seen it ‘The Family’ with Robert De Niro.

Rolling up to Bellevue we were greeted by the manager who declared he could offer showers, electricity, wifi and running water; pure luxury!

  Lara and Claude at Bellevue campsite close to Albert

Lara and Claude at Bellevue campsite close to Albert

We settled down for lunch of salad, tuna and freshly picked chilli peppers from the plant we’re currently growing in the van before heading out on the bikes for a bit of an explore of Albert and a visit to Lidl for some parmesan cheese. How else is Lara going to make her amazing carbonara?!

Today we spent the day in Albert town centre firstly to find Lara plasters for her feet, secondly to visit the Battle of the Somme museum and thirdly to find a pan for the stove after a minor disaster with the other one last night. There’s a really good foldable sauce pan in the passenger side of Lara’s car back in Kent which would be ideal,  also a colander, that’s just FYI.

So as I type Lara is expertly creating our first van carbonara while we both crack into the bottle of Champagne which the lovely people at Salad Creative gave me for a leaving present from the Clipper Race. It also just so happens the bottle is from only an hour away and might be our next destination.

But deciding our next destination is tomorrow mornings decision.

  Lara's excellent carbonara

Lara's excellent carbonara

I hope you are now happy Richard, a blog entry is finally done!

With this being the first blog from the van I’d thought I’d do a list of things I’ve noticed:

  •  Lara’s brought too many clothes
  • A chilli pepper in the van is great
  • I’m not particularly keen on French winnebago owners
  • Lords of Dogtown is still a great film
  • Lara’s duvet sharing skills are something to be worked on
  • It really is worth investing in a decent camping chair (my back hurts)