It was Sunday morning; we were on the eastern outskirts of Paris and I was raring to go. I’d planned to make the drive into the capital on (hopefully) the slowest day of the week as I couldn’t imagine the nightmare of doing so on a work day.
As it happened, the GPS, instead of taking us directly through Paris to the campsite on the west, did the sensible thing for once and took us over the top and around. Almost the entire forty kilometres was done on autoroute which, though hairy, was far less so than wrestling with brain-dead French drivers on the Rue de Remarques!
Arriving shortly before midday at the ‘Camping Bois de Boulogne’, we were greeted by a very friendly Italian lady receptionist who seemed keen to chat. We booked in and after the usual rigmarole parked up and gave a huge sigh of relief. We’d made it into Paris with little trouble.
The campsite, as you’d expect from the only one within cooee of Paris, is pricey – €26.50 per night (though not as pricey as I could have imagined). The bus ride to the nearest Metro station is under ten minutes away; so visiting the town is going to be easy-peazy.
What I’m less impressed about is the fact that there is no wi-fi at the site. NO WI-FI – this is Paris for God sake! Ordinarily I wouldn’t much care except that I’d planned on booking the ferry crossing and doing a number of other important things before we headed for England. Ah well, no matter – we’ll manage.
The sanitary block is old and grubby and the shower water as you’d expect in France is tepid. The one good thing is that the block is totally enclosed (so much better than those open-to-the-elements ones where you freeze your whatsits off) AND they have radiators, keeping the building at least comfortable.
The parking bays are good with adequate amperage power and water; however, because of all the trees, TV reception is impossible. I was rather hoping we’d enjoy a good dose of news and decent telly for the week we’re here. We’ve got the DVDs of course but somehow it’s not the same. The real-time immediacy of having the news on somehow makes the van feel more animated. Even having it on in the background is like being back at home.
Besides we’ve watched some pretty average movies recently –‘Long Kiss Goodnight’, ‘Salt’ (both girl-power ‘we can do anything Daniel Craig can do, only better’ movies) and ‘Benjamin Button’ (that’s three hours of my life I’ll never get back again).
We ventured into the city on the afternoon we arrived, just to get a feel for the place. It was very cold but we walked the length of the Champs Elysees, braving the huge pre-Christmas crowds jostling for position.
It’s Friday morning, the 17th December. We’re still in Paris. There’s snow on the hedges and on the vacant camp sites. It’s been a cold week that’s for sure; there’s been snow, frost, rain and the often icy wind that cuts through everything – it’s what puts the ‘chill’ in ‘wind chill’.
We’ve been into town every day utilising our five-day bus/metro pass and museum pass. The travel pass has been great value, especially as we’ve been criss-crossing Paris in the quest of all the beauteous art works that Ann’s been dragging me along to. She’s very knowledgeable, as so she should be being an art teacher; but it makes the experience more worthwhile when you understand a bit more about the art work.
We’ve been to the Musée D’Orsay, taking in an exhibition by Jean-Léon Gérôme. We’ve been briefly to the Louvre (we’re going back there again today). It’s often been said that the Mona Lisa is a rather non-descript-looking painting. It was 1969 when I last saw it (minus the bullet-proof glass), so I don’t remember much about it. But it is certainly no more alluring seeing it in person than in a book. Don’t know what all the fuss is about.
We’ve been to the Rodin museum where they have a special exhibition of Henry Moore’s work (him I like). We went last night to the Pompidou Centre and saw the Modern Art sections, the traditional (Picasso, Matisse, Braque, Delauney etc.) and the contemporary (absolute rubbish – all pretentious crap like war slogans, a solitary chair on a plinth and suspended mobiles that could have been done better by a low-IQ chimpanzee).
We’ve seen the sites too of course – the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Tuileries Gardens, and the magnificent Palace of Versailles. We had to skip the gardens because of the intense cold – it really was f-f-freezing!
I have to say that on the walk through the Sun King’s modest pile, there was an exhibition of the most awful Japanese modern sculpture, a mix of Manga, Hello Kitty and Marine Boy. You know the kind of thing – all faces with exaggeratedly wide mouths and eyes. Seeing an installation of a multi-coloured, cartoonish, self-indulgent pile of crap in the middle of a Louis XIV state room sort of spoiled the ambience – or am I just being picky?
Trapped!! It’s Sunday, the day we were supposed to set off north (our ferry leaves tomorrow afternoon) and we’ve been snowed in. It started snowing quite heavily yesterday evening as we were tramping around town checking out the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame. At one point the snow came down in clumps like cotton wool. It wasn’t cold thankfully (there was no wind) but the snow was heavy.
Our difficulties began last night when we got off the Metro and were waiting for our final bus, the 244 from Porte Maillot. The buses were cancelled supposedly due to the weather (hmm!). It took us (and the other stranded passengers) about half an hour before we started looking for alternatives.
The trip back to the campsite is only about 3km. After a great deal of dithering, we decided to walk back. It looked like a horrifying prospect at first; we had to traverse a busy intersection with indifferent traffic and wet and slushy roads. But once we got on the main road leading to Le Pont de Suresnes, it was a cinch. Though deep in snow the wide footpaths were easy to walk. There was no wind and the going was so easy that we found the hour’s walk really enjoyable.
We packed up ready to go next morning; there’d been more snow overnight, and the going looked very iffy. We left our plot, got to the reception, drove past the barrier and stopped dead, unable to proceed. Our front-wheel drive tyres could get no grip. With the help of a Belgian tourist, we eventually managed to ease the van back to the plot.
Luckily it started raining a couple of hours later; this softened up the snow nicely. We were about to have lunch resigned to the fact that we were staying another night, when we were advised to go, in case the paths froze over again at night. It was 2pm by the time we left and we had 200kms to go to get to the next campsite near Abbeville.
The drive out of Paris was not too bad; the rain softening up the rain nicely. However as soon as we headed out on the non-toll roads, we found the going slow and rather unnerving; the snow was still deep on the roads. We finally decided to pay the toll and drive the motorway, as well as trying to make Calais. It was 100kms further on from the campsite and we would no doubt have to drive part of it in the dark, but we went for it.
All went well except for the 45 minutes we lost due to snow ploughs causing huge tailbacks. It got very frustrating, knowing that we’d be late in Calais with no campsites open. Additionally the window-washer ran out of water and, depressingly, the internal electrics started playing up. All power went out threatening to leave us without light, water or warmth.
We headed for the port and found ourselves a nice spot in the car park, well lit and safe. It was still deep in snow but the roadway was clear to drive. The electrics came on again (phew!); we decided that some of our problems may be related to frozen water in the pipes.
We slept well in spite of frequent passing traffic; next morning we checked our booking at the P&O office fifty metres away and readied ourselves for the day. The office had told us that if we wanted to, our trip could be brought forward to an earlier sailing – 12:30.
This meant that by the time we had had breakfast, we’d have a couple of hours before we needed to be at check-in. It was a lovely sunny but cold day and we walked around the shops of Calais, pausing only to have a coffee at the Café de Paris.
We were on the boat on time and sailed back to England on a calm sea on board the ‘Pride of Kent’.