A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: AnnaFisher

Where the bloody hell are you?

Or What happened to the Sun? An Australian perspective on France.

rain 10 °C

Yes I couldn’t resist using that dreadful catch phrase used by Laura ‘Who's a Slapper?’ Bingle…..because the past week has been bloody awful weather wise. No this blog isn’t going to be filled with a tirade on the inconsistent French weather. But I must confess after a week of rain I was feeling pretty grumpy. Where had the sun gone? This was supposed to be Summer- NOT Winter! It was pretty bleak all week long and I started to feel very trapped inside the van. I also felt very sorry for all the people who spent the last week in the South of France for their annual holiday. Camping, even in a warm cosy motor home, in foul weather is a grind. I do not know how the people lasted out in tiny tents and tiny caravans. The week of rain and cold winds made the campsite very muddy. The motor home looked like a Chinese laundry filled with damp clothing. Venturing out in the cold was not fun. In fact the last week was not enjoyable at all.

There I said it. But No more grizzles!

This is a blog entry which is going to have an Australian perspective on travelling. Not winging about the rain! Firstly I have to say I love France and I love the French. Despite the last week of bleak, Wintery weather, my love of everything French continues. O and I have been in France now for two months- we have done so much in that time- seen some fantastic places and have met a variety of very nice people.

Who ever said the French are arrogant have a very wrong and distorted opinion. Yes, at times the French are reserved and they do like to hear you at least attempt the French language. Well why not? We are in France after all. I have found the French as a whole to be very well mannered, patient and friendly. This has been our impression all across France- in the small villages and also in the large cities.

Yes I do understand the desire of the French people to have foreigners attempt to speak their language. It is a beautiful language. (That is until I start speaking very poor French with a horrendous accent!!!) When Orlando speaks French we have found that everyone has responded very positively and gone out of their way to help us. When I attempt to speak French I have found the French to also be very helpful with the one exception- they very quickly respond in English so I do not have time to crucify their language!!!

But I have to say the French are as a race charming and very polite. They are very willing to help (even when they don’t speak English…..and if you think about it why should they?) And I also like the pleasant greeting of ‘Bon Jour Madame and Monsieur’ is always welcoming whenever you go into a shop to buy your bread and the people you encounter on the street. There is such a pleasant way here- less rage and anger- it is really very nice!

Orlando has been right in his element in France. As he knows quite a bit of French ( he speaks French very well and has been reading ‘Harry Potter-et le Prisonnier D’Azkaban’ with the occasional help from a French dictionary) he is able to chat to all and sundry. He has been able to communicate with all the campsite personnel, shop assistants and French people at the campsites. And when we have had trouble with the van he has been able to chat to the mechanics. All pretty impressive stuff- and as we have been around some fairly remote, non English speaking areas, a real blessing.

As I have a repertoire of about five French sentences- Bonjour!, Au Revoir! Merci ! and Je vou drais cette chose, taille trente-sept, I get by with lots of hand signals and arm waving. When that fails- I can draw really well!!! You would think this would cause the average French man to mutter something under his breath- and walk away but this has not happened once this holiday. Everyone who has replied ‘Non’ to my ‘Parlez-vous Anglais?’ has been very helpful, very friendly and polite.

But when O is lost in a deep conversation, I usually get the gist of what is happening, so I smile, and dumbly nod my head.
Boy I should have paid far more attention in Year 8 French at St Mary’s!

AF

Posted by AnnaFisher 10:28 Archived in France Comments (1)

The Joys of French Campsites

Off the beaten track is best!

all seasons in one day 20 °C

The Joys of French Campsites

This has been the fifth week in which O and I have been touring around France- we have been to some beautiful places and we have met some charming people along the way. Must say there is so much to see- and some fantastic places that I am sure have not registered on the usual tourist routes. The best thing has been the pace we have been able to enjoy France-the motor home has given us the freedom to take our time and really explore. Some of the campsites we have stayed in have been great- often in or near the centre of town, often with a fantastic view, near a river and with private, tree and hedge enclosed sites.

Getting to the campsites is no longer a drama. After the first two weeks we began to come to understand French road signs and the directions they face... not an easy thing to master. So now we can easily get to our camping destinations. We are able to program ‘Rog’ (the name we have given the Tom-Tom) to get us to small villages, so to avoid the motorway and as a result have come across many beautiful French villages and towns off the major roads.

From one campsite in France run by an English couple, I managed to get a book titled ‘Les 100 ‘Plus Beaux Detours de France’. The book features places usually missed by most tourists as they are small towns and usually fairly isolated or off the beaten track. It has been a very useful book as we have used it quite a bit in our wanderings. This is exactly what Orlando and I want to see; the more remote and picturesque places not too overrun by tourists. Some of the campsites near these places have been the best ones in which we have stayed.

So far the most notable places we have seen along the west coast and central areas of France has been the following towns- Chateau- Gontier (which I am keen to revisit), Perigueux a beautiful ancient town- with very tiny cobbled streets and pretty architecture, Gourdon in the Perigord region, Montreuil-sur-Mer, where Orlando stayed thirty years ago at a youth hostel when he was driving a motor bike from Australia to the UK, Beynac with an imposing chateaux on the hill top, La Souterraine with its medieval architecture, and the list continues.

As the weather has improved in the last two weeks we both have been keen to wander around and really see the village / town as soon as we arrive. We arrive at the campsite, check out a suitable site, put on the electricity to keep the fridge nice and cold, grab a hat and our wallets and go! First stop is to go to the tourist office for a map and head of the centre of the town.

Today we arrived in a great campsite in Millau a very pretty town surrounded by rocky outcrops which is very near the famous Viaduc- a beautiful cable stay bridge which Orlando was very keen to view. The campsite is right near the centre of the village and has a river flowing along side and lots of tall trees; a very pretty and very quiet campsite. The town itself has beautiful architecture, tree lined streets, lots of cafes and restaurants and interesting shops!

The one thing Orlando and I have noticed is that we are by far the youngest campers on the sites- as the holiday season in France hasn’t started as yet, we have seen lots of Dutch, English and French ‘Grey Nomads’- families with small children have not yet started to arrive. Everyone is very polite and quiet and by 10pm everyone at the campsite is tucked inside their motor homes- so a good night’s sleep is almost guaranteed. (There has only been one night back in Nante where noisy neighbours kept O awake for a few hours and since then we have not heard boo from anyone.)

The major cities we have enjoyed seeing have been Nantes and Rouen. We have avoided going to larger cities as both Orlando and I are not particularly interested in seeing them. We are however determined to see two cities whilst in France- Paris and Lyon. We are heading to Lyon to visit a friend of Orlando’s- Nadine who he has known 40 years and hopefully we will be able to catch up with her. Orlando has told me how beautiful Lyon is, so we will spend a week there. We may invest in a couple of bikes whilst we are there so that we can explore the larger places by bike as well as by foot. Of course we both are very keen to revisit Paris and will see all the major museums and galleries.

Until then we are going to continue to visit the smaller places around France and savour the French country side. Would totally recommend exploring France this way!

AF

Posted by AnnaFisher 23:16 Archived in France Comments (0)

Getting (hopelessly) Lost in France

Or how a Tom-Tom saved our relationship!

sunny 12 °C

Getting Lost in France.
Or how the TOM-TOM saved our relationship!

According to a book O bought prior to the trip which gives a detailed account of how to survive a European holiday in a motor home, ‘The Driver-Navigator Relationship’ is very important! An extract from the book states ‘The navigator ( i.e. Me!!) studies the maps, discusses the alternatives with the driver, figures out the best route to take, keeps track of mileage and gets the change ready for toll booths, tells the driver ahead of time what signs to look for and what to do when they appear…….the driver (i.e. Orlando) drives.’

All sounds fair and reasonable doesn’t it? France is an advanced country, with good signage. Should be a dream to drive around and navigating around should be a sinch……Well, let me tell you how it really has been! Navigating around France has NOT been an easy task. In fact, after the first day I realised it was beyond me…..

Before we left for our overseas trip, I warned O that I was quite frankly not up to the task as a navigator! Not because I want to sit back and let him do all the work….no not at all. It was because I do not know my left from my right, always take two routes to get to and from a destination and need to turn a road map around in the direction I need to go (not an easy task when one is driving!) To sum it up, I get horribly lost all the time (when I drive somewhere new) and have NO sense of direction.

O used to laugh at these quirks of mine and thought it rather amusing ….. However, after getting very lost in France O no longer feels this way. Yes, I could blame my total lack of map reading as a major fact why we have had so much trouble negotiating around the north of France in the first two weeks of arriving….. but, I need to say this- ‘French road signs! Where on Earth are they pointing?’

To successfully navigate around France, just give me a crystal ball, a sixth sense (i.e the ability to look into the future) and the basic understanding of French road rules and maybe I would stand a chance!

Getting to France was the easy part. We arrived on a sunny day in Calais after catching the Sea France ferry- a short, pleasant trip where we enjoyed a coffee. Orlando and I went straight to the tourist bureau to get a map of the town and discussed with the young woman how to leave Calais and get to our first French camp site. We got some more Euros at the cash machine and as we were both still hungry had a light meal at a café. All good, so far.

Arriving in Calais was easy- leaving Calais was the hard part. It felt like we were caught in a labyrinth. After an hour of driving around and around the city centre we both felt like lab rats caught in a bad experiment. O kept driving whilst I attempted to find the correct roads to leave the city. Our attempts seemed to be thwarted by poor signage, one way streets, road blockages and a very ordinary map of Calais.

Not my idea of bliss……

Both O and I were getting quite fed up at this stage……finally I decided that no matter what- just keep driving straight and we would leave Calais! O took my directions and success! We were finally on our way! Lady Luck must have been smiling on us that day. We headed out of the city and our first stop was Autingues near a town in Ardres. Once we were on the road, we found the campsite without too many dramas (once we worked out the direction of the street signs.)

The campsite was called ‘St Louis’ (not all that French sounding,) but clean, neat and a sight for sore eyes! We decided to brave a walk into the village about 20 minutes away and ventured into an epicerie where we stocked up on some ingredients. Tonight was my night to cook so I whipped up a fried rice (yes, again, not very French!)

The next day we decided to head for Rouen. This IS where the drama begins again. We left the campsite after mapping out our route. We decided to break up the drive and go to a place called Montreuil. We arrived and discovered it was a very picturesque town. O had stayed in this town thirty years ago when he drove a motorbike from Australia to England. We wandered around the town, took some photos, had a light lunch and after an hour decided to continue our trip. Both O and felt relatively refreshed, and both felt confident about the next stage of our trip to Rouen. How foolish we were!

French roundabouts are at the best of time confusing. The trouble was both of us had no idea of the road to take and what towns to look for….Yes, yes, I know that’s the navigator’s job! After going through several roundabouts we got hopelessly lost (and very dizzy) and instead of heading south to Rouen, we headed west for the coast.

Did I mention that O, like me, has no sense of direction? At this stage we both were pretty grumpy and the ‘it’s your fault’ started flying. No one was really to blame, it was just again, our lack of understanding the directions given by French road signs, confusion with French roundabouts (and, yes okay, my total inability to read a map.)
OK I must also say O’s desire to head off along a road which he thought was the right way to go got us heading for the coast…..but who is pointing a finger!

After getting our bearings again, we looked up our camping book for a place to stay. O found one- right on the coast. So we stayed a night at the sea-side at a place called Cruil-sur-Mer which was very pretty with a cobble stone beach, white cliffs and a neat and tidy campsite with all the amenities we needed.

The great thing is getting lost in France has meant two things. We have seen some fantastic places that we would have missed had we arrived at our ‘correct’ destination. And probably more importantly, O, after some ‘discussion’ has decided that a Tom-Tom was a vital piece of equipment for the trip…..Maybe, for Anna, navigating in a foreign land IS too difficult! and maybe a navigational device is a wise investment for our holiday. Yes!

Dare I say navigating now has been a joy!! We can now plan our journey- avoid major roads and tolls, plan to go through quiet French roads and still know we are heading in the right direction! No stress.

Now, getting lost in France is so much better!

AF

Posted by AnnaFisher 08:19 Archived in France Comments (0)

The People We Have Met.

The First Stage of Our Trip.

sunny 10 °C

The People We Have Met
The First Stage of Our Trip

Since our arrival in the UK Orlando and I have been very impressed by how friendly and helpful the people we have met have been. When we finally arrived in London a young man helped me to carry my luggage up a large flight of stairs at Heathrow airport when he saw me struggling with the weight of my bag. After deciding to head straight to Axminster to meet Helen and Steven , the owners of the motor home, we were given very clear directions by the lady at the ticketing office on how to get to Axminster.

When we arrived at our destination we were picked up by Steven the owner of the van we wanted to purchase at the train station so we didn’t have to walk or find a taxi. Instead of fending for ourselves after 24 hours plus of travel time we were welcomed into Helen and Stevens’ home. We were shown a comprehensive outline of the van by Steven (who did not seem at all phased by our daft questions) and were wined and dined by Helen, Steven and Helen’s sister Sophie and her husband Joe.

Helen helped with the transfer papers, our insurance and gave us directions to getting the van’s MOT which was due to be done. Sophie gave me one of her lovely woollen jackets because I had commented that I needed to get something warm and had admired a jacket she was wearing. All the children were friendly and very polite. In all, we both felt like we had known everyone for years not days! Both O and I thought when we finally left after two days ‘What a lovely family!’ What kind and generous people they are!

When we started to drive around and encountered another motor home on the road, we noticed that we were part of the ‘Motor home club’ where everyone acknowledges, waves and smiles as we pass on the road. Other motorists are polite, give way to oncoming traffic and know the road rules regarding roundabouts and giving way to the right. For the first two days Orlando has been getting used to driving the motor home. Not a small feat. We have been very pleasantly surprised that there has not been one ounce of road rage directed at us. How refreshing!

The first camping we stayed at was Milland Farm in Musbury and was run by a retired farmer and his wife Mr and Mrs Harris. They greeted us, directed us to a good site and asked if we would like to purchase some farm eggs. The second campsite was situated down the coast in Chickerell near Weymouth in Dorset. Another friendly hostess Mrs Durant welcomed us to the beautiful site. Both camping grounds have been clean, organised and blissfully quiet. O and I are in heaven and keep commenting ‘This all seems too easy!’ Everything is done with such pleasant good nature. O and I are having a lovely time in the UK and look forward to our trip to France.


AF

Posted by AnnaFisher 02:40 Archived in England Comments (1)

The Longest Day!

The Start of our European holiday.

sunny 25 °C

The Longest Day!
The start of our European holiday.

The day started at 7am- and as I was not completely packed for the trip to Europe, hadn’t a clue of what to wear on the plane and the house looked like a bomb had struck it – thought I should make an early start!
I frantically packed the car with the remains of my wardrobe and the contents of my fridge to take to my mother’s place. The shed at Number 9 was stacked to the brim with all my valuables. Fingers crossed that the shed will remain secure.
A quick breakfast followed and then a cup of tea at Mums. The time had magically zoomed forward to 11am. This is when I should have been organised, showered, dressed, packed and ready to go! Ha! Not so!

Craig my lovely neighbour decided to come over for a chat- and in between having a conversation with Craig and sprinting around the house to get the remainder of my junk into my car (a great storage facility) my Mum arrived to drive me to the airport. She wasn’t impressed that the house was not organised…..

The trip to the airport was a typical trip anywhere you drive in Perth- full of morons driving at half the speed limit, applying their breaks every five seconds for no reason at all, checking out the scenery and not concentrating on the road ahead, or chatting on their mobile phones! Yes, I had started to panic about the trip and Mum’s irritated comments about the ‘moronic drivers in Perth!’ weren’t helping my nerves.
We promptly get to the airport and Mum drops me off at the ‘drop off zone’ and goes to park the car. I drag the suitcases into the departure area and survey the scene around me.

For a minute I stand there looking for the Qantas check in area for the correct flight number. Something is wrong! What is it? Then I register. THERE ISN’T A QUEUE! Where are all the frantic people milling around? Where are the long lines of cross looking people and tons of luggage? Where are the crying children? This is a first! I glide up to the check in counter, the girl smiles at me and the passbook is examined, I am asked the usual security questions (Have you packed your own suitcases, are you a terrorist bomber?? etc) the bags weighed and checked in, my seat allocated and I’m ready to go! TOO EASY!

As yet, no sign of Orlando! He does arrive within two minutes with Nanda and Alex in tow. He is looking so calm. He has more gear than I do if that is possible. I urge him to go to the desk and book himself in and chat with Mum, Nanda and Alex. Beginning to get anxious now about the flight but make an attempt to make small talk. O gets his bags checked in and seat allocated and we head upstairs for a coffee.
Mum is looking pretty unhappy at this stage. It has been a miserable time for her (and me too) over the past two years with the passing of Albert, her beloved husband and Gran (Mum’s mother). She has been coping much better recently but I understand that with me disappearing with O overseas she feels at a loss again. I do know, we will meet up in Europe and have a great time together but she does feel that it has been ‘one thing after another’ and perhaps a little abandoned at this point in time.

Nanda too must be feeling a little sad with Orlando going overseas. She lost her husband too last year and I know she misses him terribly just as Mum misses Albert. There has been so much unhappiness for both our families in the past two years. I just hope my sister Susan and Kate keeps in touch with my mum.

I hate the waiting around at airports and after a coffee just want to get up and prowl around the shops to keep distracted. The two hour wait seems more like two days. I know I should be making pleasant small talk but I am feeling very anxious and wish we were on the plane ready to go. I make some feeble excuse to get up because I am very aware Mum is about to burst into tears and I don’t want to feel any more miserable than I do. Mum comes looking at the shops with me, proceeds to burst into tears and I reassure her that this departure is not permanent. She doesn’t look convinced. I hate making her unhappy again. I am going to miss her terribly.

Mum decides to go as the parking at the airport costs a bomb, and offers a lift to Nanda and Alex. No, they want to stay and chat. I see Mum off, lots of hugs and kisses are exchanged and I head upstairs again. Nanda, Alex and O are deep in conversation. Nanda talks about keeping safe and reminds me about ‘the white light’. She has been so kind to me over the past four years and I am going to miss her.

The time arrives to finally go and we walk to the Passengers Only area. We hug and kiss Nanda and Alex goodbye and start the procedure of getting our cabin baggage checked. I charge on ahead of O and for my troubles, am frisked by a girl to see if I am carrying a bomb strapped to my body. I head upstairs to the waiting area. The blood is pulsating inside my head and I am feeling sick in the stomach. Where is O? He must be still downstairs getting his personal items scrutinised by security. There are people everywhere! I head for the gate. God, I feel like a train wreck and the day has only started. Where is Orlando? He must be still downstairs. I wait for O at the top of the elevator. He is looking unimpressed. Yes security checked everything! All his hand luggage was scrutinised. We must look like terrorists! There is then an announcement over the PA about a delay getting on board the plane, but after ten minutes as we are near the counter we get in queue and get on the plane without any fuss.

The trip to Singapore was uneventful and I watched a fantastic movie ‘Bright Star’ by Jane Campion during the flight. Thought the film was very touching and had a good weep when the poet John Keats dies at the end of the movie. The film had a good story line, excellent acting by the lead actors and very beautiful scenery and costumes. Orlando was busy watching ‘Sherlock Holmes’ which he thought was also very entertaining. After six hours we land in Singapore and we proceed to enter Chang Mai airport.

We are both still hungry and so we go upstairs to the food court. After a very average meal of chicken and rice, O has a wanton soup concoction; I go and visit my favourite shop ‘Madam Butterfly’. I have made purchases in the past here and have bought some terrific presents. Tonight I am not disappointed and pick up a beautiful onyx bracelet and necklace. The very pleasant shop assistant said that onyx was lucky and kept you safe (I thought for travelling?? Great! Not that I needed and excuse to buy!) I look at the time and decide to head to the departure gate. Next thing I know Orlando is charging at me looking quite cross and grabbing my hand saying ‘We are boarding NOW!!!! OOOOppppps have got lost in retail therapy land!!

We are put through another security check- but this time have nothing scrutinized and get aboard the plane. O is very impressed as we have a different plane an A380 the biggest plane in the sky. It does look enormous. We have great seats towards the front of ‘Cattle Class’ although the space is still very confined. Oh to fly first class or business class. We are both pretty tired by this time as it is about 11.15pm. We both attempt to sleep, but are awaken with the stewards demanding that we put our seats upright so the people behind can eat there midnight bloody feast. Aaauuuugggghhhhhh.

Sleeping on planes is never easy despite drugs and neck pillows. Why is there a need to visit the bathroom every five minutes (another sign of nerves?) We do grab an hour or two sleep- and must say the bigger the plane, the smoother the flight. Even though we are in the air for over 13 hours, the flight was not too bad.

We arrive at Heathrow at about 6.25am and after collecting our bags walk through the empty ‘Nothing to Declare’ area. Not a sign of a security person anywhere! We have a coffee at a café and purchase our tickets to Axminster – where Helen and Steven live. A quick bus trip and train trip and we are there! I can’t believe it is only 24 hours and we are on the other side of the world.

This seems like the longest day of my life. But it is the start of our great adventure. Am beginning to enjoy this thing called travel!

AF

Posted by AnnaFisher 02:38 Archived in England Tagged air_travel Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 7) Page [1] 2 »