Category: France

The Road to Genoa

Our last night in Spain at Capmany

We had 1,000 miles to cover to reach Genoa in order to catch the ferry to Morocco. We followed the Mediterranean coast road north from Valencia. We stayed at a camp site just before the French border for our last two nights in Spain and walked into the local village for lunch in one of the sunny squares.

Bella, our neighbour’s pet goat

At an overnight stop at aire in France we parked next door to a family of mum and twin eleven year old daughters, travelling in old Mercedes truck. Attached to the rear of the truck was Bella, their pet goat – I hoped Bella didn’t have to trot behind when they drove off. The girls were very friendly and didn’t need a second invitation to come and have a good look around our truck.

The Crime Scene

Most other nights we stopped at fuel stations along the French motorway. For security reasons we normally parked amongst the HGVs but on one occasion we parked against a perimeter fence. In the morning Tony noticed signs of an attempted break-in, several door locks had damage marks and they had attempted to drill out the driver’s door lock. Fortunately they didn’t gain access but it gave us a wake-up call to be more security conscious. The door lock was still usable but could only be secured from the inside.

By the time we reached Italy the traffic was getting heavy and the main road had morphed into a long series of tunnels and contra-flows caused by miles and miles of road works. There were very few fuel stations and little opportunity to find somewhere stop overnight. We finally found a spot at the port in Savona, an hour’s drive from Genoa. Opposite was a busy family trattoria where we had a home cooked meal, two courses with beer, wine and coffee at a cost of €30 – equanimity was restored!

End Of Trip

We were surprised how the rules for mask wearing varied from one European country to the next. When we crossed a country border we had to watch carefully to see what people were doing so we could comply with local rules. We felt so much happier and more comfortable in Sweden where hardly anyone wore a mask – we felt the protection the masks offered was vastly overrated. In Germany they were very strict and masks were compulsory indoors and a lot of people wore them outside too. In one German shop we were requested to adjust our masks to ensure our noses were completely covered with the masks reaching right up to our eyes. The Germans were allowed to shake hands though.

We postponed our return to the UK until we no longer had to quarantine for ten days upon our arrival home. Repatriation proved to be very expensive – even for us double jabbed oldies. If you couldn’t pay you didn’t travel and we witnessed some extremely upset people at the Eurotunnel terminus. The two of us paid an additional £300 for a Covid test in Calais and another Covid test for Day 2 after our return including the additional cost of the Eurotunnel crossing, the price of which rocketed within a nanosecond of the announcement of the government’s change of policy.

Tony Could See the White Cliffs of Dover
A Quiet Spot At Sangatte Aire

We stayed overnight in the Aire at Sangatte, thus avoiding the Cité d’Europe where we always used to stop in happier times. Then we would do a big shop at Carrefour and have a meal in one of the restaurants in the shopping centre. However, the last time we parked at Cité d’Europe, a Border Force officer advised us to move to Sangatte because of the aggressive behaviour of the young migrant men.

French Police Discouraging Migrants

Sangatte provided a lovely parking area set at the top of the windswept cliffs. The site was full of campervans but we managed to find an isolated spot in the corner. We noticed a couple of police vans were parked on the beach. They told us they were deterring migrants trying to cross the channel to the UK. Later that day three policemen called at the truck, they were very friendly but we were very aware that we were being checked out to ensure we were genuine tourists and not people smugglers.

That evening we walked the few hundred yards down to the the local sea food restaurant where we enjoyed a large plate of oysters, a perfect ending to our stay in France.

Blog ends . . . .

Northern Europe

By June 2021 we were legally allowed to leave the country. The continuation of Covid restrictions, in spite of everyone over 50 having been double vaccinated, moved the UK into pandemic limbo. We wanted to return the truck to the manufacturers, Camperspol in Poland so they could remedy a few problems we were having with the habitation box. French travel restrictions meant we had to take a lateral flow test en route to Eurotunnel and we also had to download a UK to France control exit check list and sign “on our honour” that we would comply with the Covid rules for entering France. As we were double vaccinated it turned out that we were not subject to any restrictions driving through Europe – apart from the wearing of face masks in shops and on public transport. We travelled through France, Belgium and Germany to Poland without any further Covid checks. The weather was extremely hot, well over 30° but the air conditioning in the cab kept us comfortable whilst driving.

We had two overnight stops before we reached Magdeburg in east Germany. There we parked alongside the River Elbe and walked into town to our favourite Asian fusion restaurant. It was extremely hot, even after the sun went down so we spent a happy half hour watching the children play in one Magdeburg’s lovely squares, enjoying the intoxicating scent from the linden trees lining the square.

The following evening we reached Poland where we parked overnight by lake Niepruszewo. We were warmly greeted by the proprietor of a chicken and burger stall. Our new friend and his mate wanted to look around the truck, he then returned with two more friends and, some time later, brought his daughters for a viewing. The adults could speak little English but the girls’ language skills were excellent. We dined magnificently on a whole rotisserie chicken with a selection of home pickled dill cucumbers at a cost of less than £4 and later we walked down to the water’s edge to dabble our hot feet in the lake, enjoying the splashy antics of the youngsters playing in the evening sunshine.

Calais and Home

Le Crotoy at Low Tide

We arrived at Calais the following morning and parked the truck in our usual spot at the Cité d’Europe car park. We found the area was swarming with migrants. We always felt huge sympathy for these unsophisticated youngsters – on previous visits they would be hanging around in small groups, pleading for us to take them to England. When they realised we would not be persuaded, they usually left us alone. This time it was more sinister. We left the truck to do our shopping and when we returned there were five or six young men trying unsuccessfully to break in to the truck. They ran off as we approached but later, when we were sitting inside the truck, one youngster returned and tried to get in through our door. We were advised by a Border Force officer to park somewhere else – he explained that our presence encouraged the migrants to congregate in the car park. We moved on to a pleasant aire at Sangatte and spent an extremely windy night on the sea front. We hoped the migrant boys had somewhere warm to sleep.

Towards the end of 2020 we had made the decision to go travelling in Europe and beyond, rather than staying in the UK and having to adhere to the ever tightening Covid restrictions. We realised that at our age we didn’t have too many useful years ahead of us, so we counted each day as a blessing and a challenge.

Since leaving the UK we had covered 10,000 kilometres, passed through 13 countries within and outside the EU. On returning to UK we accepted that we would have to quarantine for our first ten (actually eleven) days. We provided a negative Covid test at Calais and completed Passenger Locator Forms. We were much less happy with having to book and pay for two postal Covid tests for day 2 and 8 of our quarantine. The purchase of the tests was a legal obligation and travel was refused without proof of payment. Since the Covid crisis struck we had legally travelled to and from the UK on five occasions without hindrance – it was only on this last occasion that we had to pay what was actually a repatriation tax of £210 each – imagine how that would damage the budget of a family with several children.

Blog Ends . . . .

For our next trip we had planned to explore Alaska and Canada before travelling down the US west coast to South America. We booked to travel with the truck on a container ship from Liverpool to Nova Scotia. Unfortunately, due to Covid, these plans were cancelled. We have now rebooked for September 2021 travelling with the truck from Antwerp, Belgium to Montevideo, Uruguay arriving at the start of their summer, a voyage of 28 days. What could possibly go wrong?

The Harbour, Le Crotoy

Le Crotoy

The Harbour at Le Crotoy
Shellfish Platter, cost £25

Our final stop before we crossed the channel to the UK was Le Crotoy, a small fishing town on the Bay of the Somme which boasted a beautiful aire by the sand dunes opposite the harbour – a five minute walk from the town centre. The town had several fish restaurants as well as numerous fresh fish stalls. The restaurateurs were serving takeaway meals and the fish stalls were offering platters of fruits de mer. We were like children in a sweetie shop and struggled to choose between fish kebabs, whole fresh fish, crab or lobster. We finally chose a dish of oysters, large prawns and little brown shrimps, which the fishmonger assembled in the ten minutes it took us to go round the corner to buy bread from the baker. The shellfish were served on a large polystyrene platter on a bed of ice, protected with cellophane. We returned the platter the following day. On our second night we enjoyed moules marinière with chips, beautifully packaged and still piping hot when we got the meal back to the truck, the cost for us both was £14. Our chilled rosé wine from Gruissan went well with both meals.

The Aire at Le Crotoy

Bazouges-sur-le-Loir

Bazouges-sur-le-Loir

We travelled northwards along the west coast, taking the car ferry across the Gironde from Le Verdun to Royan, a voyage of thirty minutes. We drove past La Rochelle and Ile d’Oléron and, because we didn’t have our bicycles, we even bypassed the Ile de Ré where we had spent such happy times pre COVID restrictions.

Blue dot was La Faute-sur-mer

We planned to spend a few days at the coastal town of La Faute-sur-mer. We arrived on a Friday afternoon and found the site to be almost full. We grabbed one of the last available spaces – several vans that arrived after us were less successful and, with a the 6 pm curfew, goodness knows where they went. It was early March and a total of 65 camper vans (that’s about 130 souls) were overnighting in that small town – no commercial sites were open and neither was there any possibility of finding a quiet spot in the town to spend the night – there were warning signs everywhere banning camper van parking. We loathed having to squeeze into what was no better than a car park. The following morning we moved on.

We drove north through beautiful countryside, stopping by the Loir at Bazouges between Angers and Le Mans.

The camp site was right alongside the Loir
Chateau Bazouges

Montalivet-Les-Bains

Our camp site was on the edge of the pine forest
We were blue dot
Main Street

We drove north-west past Bordeaux, travelling through noble wine estates with names that conjured the epitome of the French wine industry.
We reached the Atlantic coast and spent a couple of days in the town of Montalivet-Les-Bains, a low key holiday area dominated by a huge beach edged with sand dunes and pine forests behind. The high street and surrounding areas featured single storey buildings, giving the place a pleasant low key feel. We were not sure whether the lack of people was due to being out of season or the effects of Covid. The weather was warm and sunny but, as was common in France, all the local camp sites were closed for the winter. The beaches were populated with walkers and a few youngsters wind-surfing. We stayed in one of two large aires, one in the pine forest and the other by the beach in the sand dunes. There must have been twenty or so vans visiting – with available space for more than 100.

The wide beaches of the Atlantic coast
Sea, sand dunes and pine forest

Chez Lamb

We stayed a couple of days beside the Canal de Montech before driving on to Montségur to stay with our long standing friends, Caro and Charles Lamb

It was always a special treat to visit the Lambs; they were wonderful hosts and Caro’s home cooking was exceptional. After months of travelling we had also been missing the social side of life and it was good to relax in front of their log burner putting the world to rights, our tongues disgracefully loosened by several bottles of the local wine.

French Covid rules were much easier than in England – they were allowed to meet up with friends and family indoors and outside. However they did have to obey a strict 6 pm curfew. Friends of theirs called in at 4 pm for tea and then a glass of wine but at 10 minutes to 6 pm the visitors had to hastily head for home before curfew. Had they been caught they would have been fined.

Charles and Tony walking through farmland

Caro and Charles’s house was surrounded by farmland – there were fields of grape vines around their house and, when we went for a walk, we saw acres and of plum trees. I did wonder why they needed to produce so many plums until Charles pointed out that the fruit would probably be sold as prunes.

Caro and Charles had extended their home over the years and offered it on Airbnb

Beware the Soy Sauce!

The harbour at Mèze, near Montpellier
Camping-Car Park at Mèze
We were blue dot, 4 km from Mèze

We had been using a chain of aires called Camping-Car Parks which offered electricity, Wifi and fresh water as well as grey water and chemical toilet empty. Access was with a pre loaded card and charges were around €12 a night. These aires were often well away from urban areas and seemed very popular although I don’t think we saw any non-French travellers using the parks.

We revisited Gruissan near Narbonne to stock up on wine. We bought a pale, dry rosé full of flavour, €10 for 3 litres. The weather was sunny and warm 19° and a load of laundry put in the sun dried easily before nightfall.

Note to self: Before setting off in the truck, double check you have stowed everything securely, especially small bottles of soy sauce with dodgy tops. Whilst driving over some very bumpy roads, the ruddy thing fell off the shelf depositing its contents onto the work surface before dripping down over the kitchen drawers. The bottle then landed on the floor, splashing the walls and leaving sticky brown rivulets across the floor before finally leaving a large puddle on the door mat. It was as if someone had stabbed the little thing in its artery and in its death throes it had spread its life juices all over the truck. Soy sauce smells rather nice when you are eating noodles but the pungent odour is quite unpleasant when it persists for hours in spite of a huge clean up. A hard lesson learned!

Spring in the South of France

The coast road from Genoa through the Alpes Maritimes was just miles and miles of dingy tunnels so when we eventually emerged into continuous daylight we were delighted with the sight of the road-side mimosa bushes ready to burst into brilliant yellow reminding us that spring had arrived on the Côte d’Azur. We had forgotten how lovely the south of France was, the weather was excellent, hazy sunshine and 17°. The aires where we stopped overnight were clean and well equipped and full of French camper vans. Covid restrictions were not as harsh as in the UK because the French had a wider definition of what was essential (eg hairdressers) and there were no restrictions on being able to travel around.

On the French motorways new “contactless” technology had been installed at the unmanned toll booths. The pads were set at a perfect height for a car driver but were far too low to reach from the truck cab. The narrow lanes leading to the toll booths meant my door would not open fully and I found myself having to make undignified sideways squeeze to get one foot on the lower truck step before reaching backwards with my credit card held precariously in my outstretched fingers. By the end of the day I was bumped and bruised with aching shoulder muscles; I promptly resigned my responsibility for dealing with toll payments.

After a large gin and tonic that evening I had one of my better ideas and used double sided sticky tape to attach my credit card to the head of the fly swat. That enabled me to lean out of the door and just about reach the “contactless” pad. Brilliant, huh? I am sure I will make a fortune patenting my design!

The leisurely drive through the south of France was such joy