A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: OrlandoN

End of the Line

semi-overcast

This will be the last blog entry for the journey. As Ann has now gone home, the trip strangely seems to have been brutally wrenched from under me. I’m alone and I really feel it. I’m back at the Wareham campsite near Poole following negotiations to sell the motorhome.

Luckily after having the van serviced, MOT’d and repaired on Friday (today’s Sunday 21st January), the young couple who expressed interest in the van, decided they wanted it. We settled on £19,500, just £500 less than we paid for it. However, after deducting nearly £2,000 for the service and Bundesvan’s commission, Ann and I will be left with about £8,500 each – quite satisfying.

Of course for me, the sale has meant a frantic search to find accommodation in either London or Bristol. The new owners have allowed me up to a month to deliver the van to them (they live in Bristol); so I’ve been on-line the whole weekend trawling through the ‘Gum Tree’ website looking for digs.

On Tuesday I visit a chap at his flat in Tooting in London; for £150 per week I can share the place with him. Apparently he’s a 37 year old director of a large advertising firm. He seems OK, what little one can glean from half a dozen emails; so I’ll see.

OK – time’s up. There’s no point prolonging the agony; the trip’s over, and I must say I am glad. It’s been exhausting, but we did what we set out to do. We travelled through France, Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Italy. The van served us well, although I won’t be sorry to see it go.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this as much as I have writing it, but for now it’s goodbye from me!

ON

Posted by OrlandoN 10:16 Archived in England Comments (0)

Cornish Pasties and Cream Teas

rain

The first day of the year began with a big cooked breakfast at 10am at Steve and Helen’s, joining all the relatives who’d stayed over. We had planned to head west after breakfast, but Helen’s other sister Sharon invited us to a barbecue in the afternoon at their place a few miles away in Colyton. The family group piled over there and we feasted on sausages, goose spring rolls, salmon and prawn kebabs, glorious lamb ribs, roast taters cooked in goose fat (yum) and all manner of salads. It was really delicious washed down with some cider.

Though we were enjoying ourselves we had to take our leave and head to a campsite just outside of Axminster; it was already dark at 5pm and I hate driving the van at night. We found the site without too much trouble, but as we couldn’t get any response from the reception or the phone numbers affixed to the door, we worried the camp might be closed.

The farmhouse on the site luckily housed the former owner of the site who told us that the site was “sort of” closed (whatever that means); it was however kept open for any stragglers looking for an overnight stay. We turned out to be the only campers on the site, but we had power and toilets and a hot shower, so who cares?

We took off the next morning and made for Paignton. We were hoping to meet a chap who runs a business selling motorhomes nearby in Torquay the next morning; so we parked up at the Beverley Holiday Park in Paignton, a place built more for family summer entertainment than pure camping. Being winter of course, most amenities were closed; so the rather pricey £24.50 seemed a lot to pay for an overnight stay.

We met Nick Legg from ‘Bundesvan Motorhome Sales’ at the Torquay railway station at midday the next day. He looked the van over and surprised us by saying we should advertise the van for £19,990 ($30,000), with a view to netting (after his fee of £1500 and sundry repairs of about £500) about £18,000. This cheered us up a lot as I’d only really expected to get about £15,000.

Happily Nick also recommended a good campsite in Plymouth only half an hour west; we headed there and parked up at the Riverside Caravan Park, alongside a languidly flowing river and surrounded by tall trees – a lovely setting despite the grey skies and showers.

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We moved on after three days, stopping at the local McDonalds to have breakfast and use the internet. We drove west through delightful countryside into Cornwall, finally making for a small farm campsite in Ashton near Helston. Camping is really just in a big field - I was rightly concerned about this as the front-wheel drive on this van is hopeless on wet slippery surfaces. I nearly got stuck in the mud just parking the thing

In the evening Ann and I went to have dinner at the local pub, ‘The Lion and the Lamb’. The meal was great; I had a whopping beef and ale pie with chips, while Ann had a lamb shank. We had a few drinks and enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere, although I’m feeling under the weather with a bout of flu.

The next morning, Friday, I managed to slide the van out of the field and decided to do a bit of a drive around western Cornwall, stopping for a delicious Cornish pasty for lunch. Penzance City Centre seemed to have been blocked to traffic for who knows what reason; so we drove on to Land’s End, then to St. Michael’s Mount, a very impressive structure just off the coast at Marazion.

We stopped on a bright and sunny but blustery afternoon at the Lavender Field campsite at Carnhell Green near Camborne. The owner is a jovial sort (not local – apparently Cornish folk are not really big on hospitality to out-of-towners) who owns six mad German Shepherds, fearsomely aggressive until they come up to you; then they turn into softies.

We stayed the day at the campsite just to relax. My flu was in full swing; so it was just as well we stayed - I wouldn’t have been up to driving around. Besides it was a lovely sunny day for relaxing, the first we’d seen since Calais when snow was thick on the ground.

The next morning I saw the first sunrise in about thirty years. The sun blazed over the low rolling western hills giving the whole sky a rich warm glow. We left late as we’d promised ourselves a Sunday roast at the pub in Carnhell Green. For £8.30 a head we had a large meal of sliced beef, roast potatoes, carrots, cauliflower, savoy cabbage, swede, Yorkshire pudding and gravy. We both felt fit to burst when we’d finished – it was yummy.

After staying a night at a campsite near Newquay called Hendra Croft, we drove up to Padstowe on a truly miserable wet day to see Rick Stein’s home town. It’s a truly quaint little Cornish fishing village; sadly the weather was that grim that we only got out of the van to have lunch at Rick’s fish and chip shop (we didn’t fancy the prices at his main restaurant).

Tuesday we continued driving through North Devon, stopping in the early afternoon at North Molton, a very pretty little village tucked away in the pine forests. We had a drink at the Poltimore Arms, where we got chatting to the locals. It was such a friendly place that we decided to have dinner there that evening. The Riverside Park campsite in South Molton was only about 4kms down the road; a pleasant and well-equipped site, typical of most campsites in England.

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The Wareham Forest campsite near Wareham (not surprisingly) is of the quality of the Broadhembury one near Ashford – excellent pitches, hot showers, internet access and very pleasant staff. It’s the third site we’ve stayed at that we’ve found in the ‘Best of British’ handbook; and it serves to add weight to the view that the British sites are the best in Europe.

On the Friday before we left, we drove into Poole to book a day to get the van serviced and MOT’ed. It’s been booked in for Friday, which works out well.
We stayed until Saturday after which time we had to leave to see our friends in Portsmouth before Ann leaves the UK on Wednesday when we plan to head back to Portsmouth to a site nearby in Southsea. We received an SMS tonight with an invitation from Liliane (the lady we befriended in Aix-en-Provence) to come over for dinner on Saturday night. And we’re having dinner at Elma’s on Sunday

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We arrived in Portsmouth and booked into a dreadful campsite in Southsea ahead of going out for dinner at Liliane’s. We felt honoured as a number of friends had been invited to celebrate the evening – Carol & Garrick whom we’d met at Fiona’s, and Carol from Arc-en-Ciel accompanied by her partner Chris. Great food and a really enjoyable night.

We moved to a slightly better campsite the next day in Gosport, nothing to speak of but not like the one the night before. It seems that Portsmouth has let down southern England; because these last two camps have both been poor; and what’s worse, expensive. Still we had a really lovely meal together with Fiona, Mike and India. As we left I detected a hint of sadness in Elma’s tone, reminding us that she’d been really pleased to have us stay.

Ann and I moved on up to Denham near London the next day and stayed at the ‘Caravan Club’ site there for two nights. A lovely site in every way – small, clean, friendly and great showers AND not expensive – 16 pounds a night.

I took Ann to Heathrow on the Wednesday evening and, due to a fiasco surrounding the short stay car park, I only managed a quick goodbye at the check-in before the tannoy announced that if the motorhome wasn’t moved immediately, it would be towed away by the police!

I returned to the Denham campsite – alone!

ON

Posted by OrlandoN 09:57 Archived in England Comments (0)

I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas?

snow 0 °C

Phew, I’m getting exhausted. You know – you can do too much, you really can. In some ways we have missed out on many wonders on this trip because we’ve become understandably blasé. You can visit too many cities, too many museums, have too many meals out and ride one too many buses. And that means that you can get a bit “ho-hum” the next time you have to go out to see something new. Remember that, if you think that nine months on the road is just one endless orgy of visual splendour.

We arrived at Calais and headed for Kingsnorth, a small village just outside of Ashford in Kent. Snow lay everywhere, the fields beautifully white like the tops of wedding cakes. Minor roads were hidden under lightly compacted snow, and this included the km drive up to the Broadhembury Holiday Park. It a beautiful campsite with the most clean, bright and cosy sanitation block - with underfloor heating no less!

Pam, the lady who greeted us at reception, couldn’t do enough for us, but warned us that more heavy snow was due overnight – we might not be able to drive out in the morning. No matter I thought, this place is so nice, a few days stranded here would be fine.

There was a lovely illuminated Christmas tree next to our van, which gave our pitch a Christmassy feel. The snow lay thick everywhere, it was the perfect winter wonderland. Right on cue the snow began to fall; I went outside and started building a large snowman (OK, give me a break, I haven’t had such fun in thirty years!)

We woke to a fresh covering of snow but managed (just) to drive out and get onto the snow-cleared A20 heading west. Ann and I had a leisurely three hour drive to Drayton in Portsmouth, where Elma Gibson lives (you may recall, she and daughter Fiona invited us for Christmas when we met them in Aix-en-Provence).

Curiously, as we turned into the main drag leading to Elma’s house, the snow-covered fields suddenly disappeared. It appears that, while Portsmouth had had its fair share of snow, it had cleared up quicker here than elsewhere along the south coast.

We were warmly welcomed into Elma’s large and comfortable home as though we were long lost relatives. It was the 21st December and, against all expectations, we’d made it on the planned day!

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The lead-up to Christmas was spent enjoying Elma and Fiona’s company (Fiona lives five minutes away). Elma spoilt us with meals and cups of tea; we conversed animatedly about anything and everything, and enjoyed evenings watching the brilliant programs on British TV. Elma’s neighbours, Nicholas and Wendy, invited us for drinkies the night we arrived – they were both such nice, friendly folk.

Christmas Eve night Ann, Elma and I were invited to Lindsay (Fiona’s sister) and husband Stewart’s house, and enjoyed a traditional ham, egg and chips dinner.

Fiona, husband Mike, son Jethro and daughter India joined us for Christmas lunch, and stayed till late in the evening. We played parlour games, ate choccies and drank plonk. It was really enjoyable.

As if we hadn’t been spoilt enough we were invited to Fiona and Mike’s for Boxing Day dinner – cottage pie – as well as the seemingly inexhaustible supply of plonk.

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For our part Ann and I tried in every way possible to reciprocate these kindnesses by supplying food for the Christmas table, cooking for Elma, and helping out wherever we could. We took Fiona and Elma out for a fabulous lunch at a lovely traditional pub a few miles out of town called the ‘The Old House at Home’, or something like that.

Ann and I ventured by bus into the city of Portsmouth numerous times during the ten days we spent there, shopping rather than sightseeing, the weather being unseasonally cold for the time of year.

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Before leaving Elma’s on New Year’s Eve, I took the opportunity of washing the van and cleaning it out on the inside – it hadn’t been washed for six months and was in a sorry state.

We drove off just after midday, feeling sorry that we were leaving such wonderfully homely comforts as central heating, comfortable beds and pleasant company. I like to think that, in some small way, Elma benefitted from our company too (it would certainly assuage my fears that we might have overstayed our welcome). I’m sure that wasn’t the case, as Elma gave every indication that we were most welcome and at no time were we any trouble. I hope that is true!

Driving to Axminster to meet up again with Helen and Steve was no great hardship. We took our time getting there and rolled into their street at about 5:30pm, by which time it was dark. They seemed very pleased to see us, and we felt comfortable in their company from the word go. We reacquainted ourselves with their two lovely young daughters, Jessie and Layla.

We were here because Helen’s sister Sophie and husband Joe had invited us to the New Year’s Eve celebrations. It was a themed fancy dress party of Pub Names. Ann went as ‘The Crown’ wearing an ornately decorated one she’d made the previous night, cardboard covered in glitter and spangles. I went as ‘The Green Man’, brilliantly painted by Ann on my head and hands, and hair sprayed to match.

The party went well with loads of friends and family turning up. There was plenty of food and booze, noisy conversation and even noisier music; everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. We wished each other ‘Happy New Year’ in front of a large plasma TV showing the fabulous fireworks display centred around the ‘London Eye’. At about 1:30am after a good proportion of the guests had left, I brought my guitar out. With the help of a number of enthusiastic backing vocalists, I knocked out a good number of tunes.

At about 3am we all retired, most to their centrally heated homes, while we crawled into bed in the van parked on the street outside Helen and Steve’s. We slept surprisingly well albeit for about five hours, and we woke to a new year – 2011!

Posted by OrlandoN 10:05 Archived in England Comments (1)

There Snow Place Like Paris

snow

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.

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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).

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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’.

ON

Posted by OrlandoN 10:46 Archived in France Comments (2)

Cold Comfort Farm

all seasons in one day

We went into Barcelona on Saturday afternoon by bus. Sadly the campsite was so far from the city that it took us 70 minutes to get in. Not our fault, there are very few campsites open in northern Spain – you take what you can get.

We enjoyed the afternoon and evening in town; it was cold but crisp in that wintry sort of way. And because we didn’t arrive in the city until well after 3pm we decided to stay late and take the 8:20 bus back (they only run every couple of hours!)

We hopped on the Metro to see Gaudi’s Park and the Sagreda Familia (I’d seen it five years before but wanted to know how building works were progressing). We’re glad we stayed in town till after dark because we enjoyed the walk through the main pedestrian streets festooned with Christmas lights and crowds of shoppers. There were the usual hawkers selling little battery-operated barking puppies and catapulting illuminated parachutes; there were living statues - like a robot, a laughing disembodied head and the Alien. The crowds were heaving and noisy but it all had a really seasonal feel.

Originally we’d planned to go into Barcelona twice this weekend; however as neither of us could face the two and a half hour round trip, we decided to have a nice easy day on the Sunday. The weather stayed fair although it was still quite cool; and what with the telly and DVD movies to watch we made the most of it. I cooked beef in red wine sauce for dinner – delicious!

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We had a long but pleasant drive to Zaragoza on the Monday (6th December), feeling that this route was the quickest to the west coast of France, avoiding a rather arduous drive through the southern foothills of the Pyrenees. Luckily an English chap at the Barcelona site had told me there was a municipal campsite at Zaragoza, making the decision to head there all the more worthwhile – none of my books showed any campsites open except in the mountains.

The site, though expensive, was really nice, and the sanitation block was fabulous. It was totally enclosed and had central heating – heaven! The weather was not unpleasant either, staying relatively warm and dry.

We left the next day heading for the French border on a cloudy but bright morning that seemed if anything to be getting warmer the further north we got. It was another long drive avoiding toll motorways, but we drove through very interesting and changing landscapes. In the morning the scene was all of distant arid hillsides (reminiscent of the Middle East), dotted with windfarms. In the afternoon the driving was through mountain tunnels and past alpine landscapes, typical more of French countryside than what we think of as Spanish.

We stopped at the only campsite open near the border at a little place called Urrugne. The weather is strangely warm – I can’t help feeling we’re in for a shock later in the week – Ann’s iPhone told her it was zero degrees in Paris!

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Continuing our fast trek up to Paris we stopped at the campsite in Bordeaux near the Exhibition Centre at Bordeaux Le Lac, the only site we’ve revisited on this trip. We quite looked forward to heading there, a place that was familiar to us, rather than the usual trip to an unknown destination and the often frustrating search for a campsite.

The weather had got decidedly cooler, a far cry from the unusually warm night we’d spent only the day before at Urrugne. Winter was on its way; that was for sure!

The cold hit us with a vengeance the next night as we arrived at a site south of Poitier in a village called Chef-Boutonne. It’s a quaint, small campsite run by a British family; it reminded me more of the ‘Certified Locations’ sites we’d stayed in in England.

The shower block was really just a single room, part of the main farm building where the family lived. There was a single loo, washbasin, and shower in it, but it was centrally heated and the water was beautifully hot! Trust the Brits to provide hot water; the French don’t!

After the usual dinner, wash up and shower, we locked up tight against what was going to be a very cold night. We had the heater on until we went to bed, but we perhaps should have left it on all night. The temperature dropped to minus 6 degrees! Thank god we had warm bedding on!

When Ann opened the van door in the morning there was a thick frost everywhere; to all intents and purposes it looked like a thin layer of snow. The grass crunched underfoot and the taps on the side of the farm building wouldn’t turn – it was verrry cold!

Mind you, when we rugged up it was really quite pleasant – there wasn’t a breath of wind and there was a bright sunny day on the way. After a gloriously hot shower, we upped sticks again and prepared for a very long day on the road, heading for the only campsite within reach and not too far from Paris – at Sully-sur-Loire.

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It was a horrible day – our 350km journey took seven hours in all. The GPS took us everywhere but where we wanted to go – I was just so exhausted from all the driving this last fortnight that I raged in frustration on several occasions.

Thankfully the weather was sunny, although by the evening small puddles were still frozen over and streams and gullies were still lined with crinkly ice. We pulled into Sully, a nice town with a huge and impressive chateau; all I wanted to do however was park up – which we did!

ON

Posted by OrlandoN 10:41 Archived in France Comments (0)

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