A Travellerspoint blog

Time Flies

semi-overcast

God, I’ve completely lost track of the days. Ann assures me it’s Thursday, but I have to look at the computer clock to be sure. Having no work days, no television and not reading the newspapers leaves us in a kind of time warp, or perhaps a time void. It’s strange.

Rouen was a nice place, with wonderful mediaeval back streets, wonky tudor-style houses (most often painted an assortment of pastel colours), and more Gothic edifices than you could fit into your average vampire movie. There was one other church in the city - Saint Ouen - but a little north-east of Notre Dame, which impressed me greatly. It looked much like any thousand year-old European cathedral, but somehow the inside was so much brighter than most. Whether it was the colour of the stone used, or larger stain-glass windows I can’t really say, but it had a warmth and light that seemed more inviting.

I managed to find a web café on the Rue de General Leclerc on Sunday where I managed to spend the afternoon catching up with mail and doing my banking. It was run by an ex-pat Canadian, Steve, who’d married a local woman and stayed. He’d run this American-style burger bar in Rouen for eight years, yet flatly refused to learn the language. He was a very pleasant chap and did his best to make us feel ‘at home’ but he was just odd. For anyone who remembers watching ‘The Comic Strip Presents’, there was a episode called, ‘A Fist Full of Travellers Cheques’. In it there was a mad American who owned a desert cantina in Spain – that’s who Steve reminded me of.

Anyway, we stayed in Rouen three nights in all; then decided on a location that was easy to reach in a day’s driving. Oh, for anyone doing a trip like this, remember just one thing – buy a GPS!! I can’t emphasize it enough. I took my old Navman into a tech shop in Rouen called ‘FNAC’ hoping to buy some European maps (we hadn’t been able to use it, and trying to find our way around England and France was madness). Anyway, we couldn’t get what we wanted; so we had to fork out for another one called a ‘Tom Tom’. It cost us 189 Euros, but it is unutterably brilliant, and has probably prevented me and Ann from tearing one other apart with our bare hands.

We drove down on Monday to a village called Fresnay-sur-Sarthe intending just to spend the night before moving further west. We were so taken with the idyllic location of the campsite, the hospitality of the site manager and the village itself that we stayed an extra night.

The site manager, whose name strangely I never found out, encouraged us to visit Nantes (where we are now) to witness the extraordinary ‘Machines de L’ile’. After two nights in Fresnay, and armed with our fabulous GPS, we drove casually towards Nantes, stopping overnight in a place thirty kilometres short of our destination, called Ancenis.

Ann had been moody all day because of the fact that 'T-Mobile', with whom we’d both signed up in the UK, wouldn’t let us recharge our mobiles using our Aussie credit cards. Ann seems lost without her iPhone; so we’d stopped briefly in a pretty town called Chateau Gontier (not far short of Ancenis), to buy new ‘Orange SIMs’. We left there, but discovered that for some reason her iPhone couldn’t ring out.

The evening was somewhat strained because of yet another frustration over technology (were it not for the GPS, I’d confidently proclaim that all new technology is inherently evil!).

We arrived the next day on a grey rainy morning in Nantes, and managed to sort out the phone problem at an Orange retail outlet. We then spent an hour or so in the centre of town, I checking my emails in a café and Ann receiving retail therapy.

We later booked into a very nicely run camping site called ‘Petit Port’ and parked up. We took a tram to the centre of town; then walked to a music shop called ‘Sam’s’ on the Boulevard Ernest Dalby to see about getting me a second-hand cut-down guitar. Ann had been encouraging me to get one, but I was less than confident of being able to secure one so easily.

As it happened I got a really nice little brand-new slim-bodied guitar with a cut-out, called a Harper (never heard of them) for 135 Euros. It’s probably made in China, but it’s perfect for the van, it has a nice action, has a pick-up and sounds really nice. Just the job. Ann bought it for me as an early birthday present.

The evening in the van saw the dour mood of the last couple of days swept away by both the strains of my guitar playing, and by the curious pleasure gained from mad impulse buying of many pieces of exorbitantly-priced garments! (Ann of course!)

Posted by OrlandoN 06:51 Archived in France Comments (0)

The French Connection

sunny 20 °C

We parked up in Calais as soon as we got off the ferry to get some lunch, and I practised my rather rusty French on the ‘patron’ of a local café/bar, a place well used to visiting ‘rosbife’ English types.

Getting out of town was a nightmare! Road signage is worse than Perth (if that’s possible). After one hour we’d travelled an effective distance of two kilometres, having traced and retraced our steps looking for a sign to Ardre, a small village just a few kilometres south. We’d followed a local tourist map too, and all we had to do was drive down one major road, turn left on to another, then veer south-east all the way to Ardre. The trouble is, as you arrive at what should be your first intersection, you get a ‘No Entry’ sign; this leads you off onto a series of tiny side roads, none of which takes you back on to where you’re supposed to be going, and you end up hopelessly lost!

Ann and I were having words too which didn’t help; finally we said we’d follow the Autoroute sign and see what happens. As luck would have it, that decision took us straight on to the road we wanted. From then on it was a simple matter (well, almost) of finding the St. Louis campsite at Autinghe.

Getting in to the campsite was easy as we’re still in the low season (so booking is not really necessary). It was a very pleasant, well-maintained place, each bay separated from its neighbour by a discreet privet hedge (this allowed a normally modest Ann to get dressed without fearing the unwelcome gaze of voyeurs). We walked into Ardre (a distance of about one kilometre) and spent a lovely afternoon wandering the cobbled streets, I constantly wrenching Ann free from the irresistible draw of the shop window.

The following morning, with renewed vigour, we headed south planning on reaching the outskirts of Rouen in Normandy. We stopped at lunch time in Montreuil-sur-Mer where it so happens I stopped at a youth hostel (part of the old castle) thirty years ago when doing my Perth to London motorcycle road trip. I recall it because I took a photo of myself in front of the old tower. When I realised where we were I just had to see if I could take a ‘thirty years later’ photo.

We found the castle, and after buttering up the man at the ticket office with my nostalgia story, he happily let us go in and take photos without having to pay.

In the afternoon things didn’t run quite so smoothly. Our attempt to make Rouen was akin to Germany’s attempt to invade Britain; valiant but in vain. Abbeville was our undoing. To pursue the wartime metaphor a little further, it’s as though the French deliberately make it hard on the enemy by confusing road signs. What should have been a simple drive due south from Abbeville to Rouen became a farcical, all-points-of-the-compass treasure hunt.

We resignedly continued heading west when neither of us could stand it any longer, and we decided to head for a curiously named coastal town called Eu (I’m reminded once again of a scene in a Monty Python film - this time ‘The Holy Grail’ - where the knights are looking for a place in the south of France called ‘Aarg’).

There was a campsite listed in our book at a seaside town nearby called Criel-sur-Mer – we headed there. The site was perched on a hill looking out onto a pretty bay, with chalk cliffs and a pebble beach (yes, France has them too). It was cool but pleasant and Ann and I enjoyed a pleasant evening walk on the front of this unremarkable-looking town, just enjoying each other’s company and the fresh sea air.

The next day, and with an unstoppable resolve, we took the bit between our teeth and decided we’d make Rouen by hook or by crook. We cheated a bit by staying on the bigger roads; but by about 11am we skirted the town of Dieppe and headed south once again to our avowed destination.

So far so good. We searched for a small town right on the outskirts of Rouen called ‘Deville Les Rouen’ where there appeared to be a campsite. We had a little trouble finding the correct street; once we did, I asked a lady in my now passably good French where the campsite was. “Oh, il est fermé un peu de temps!” which translated means “Forget it Buster, it’s closed down.”

Ann and I stared at one another with the sort of withering gazes that come from a lifetime filled with disappointment; but we decided nonetheless to try for the campsite on the opposite side of Rouen, in the south-east.

We entered the big town with a degree of foreboding, and of course roadsigns were hopeless (I wish the French could at least manage what they do in the UK, put signs up that read ‘To the South’ or ‘To the North’ – at least you know you’re heading in the right direction).

Anyway, we did get lost, but we were determined not to let these damned Frenchies beat us. On one drive up an arterial road in the wrong direction, I stopped close to a small group having a smoke-break outside their factory office. The woman said we weren’t actually too far off our destination; all that we’d need do is perform a U-turn, take a right turn at the first lights, follow the motorway signs to Amien and Darnetal, take the second motorway exit, and we’d be practically there.

Now firstly, have you any idea how difficult it is to do a U-turn in a 20 foot motorhome on a main road? And secondly, directions are almost never as straightforward as they seem, particularly in a foreign language.

This time however, the woman was spot on. We got to Darnetal and fortunately for us I stopped for diesel at a Total service station where the chap behind the counter directed us the last kilometre to the campsite! We arrived relieved at about 2pm.

The site is on a hillside just outside of Rouen but looking down on the outer suburbs. There are sheep a-plenty grazing and bleating, and all in all it’s quite a pleasant spot. The place is not exactly hi-tech but it does the job; and I think it’s quite cheap; so you get what you pay for.

We walked to the bus stop down the road which took us into the centre of town, and we spent a couple of hours admiring the city and the simply awe-inspiring Notre Dame Cathedral. It’s a Gothic masterpiece with a black central spire that goes up and up forever. Many of the nearby Gothic buildings still exhibit the savagery of wartime, riddled with huge shrapnel and bullet holes.

This will be our second night here. Today we went into town again, I to sightsee and Ann as usual to shop (I’m glad she’s not using my credit card). The weather’s been very warm in the afternoons but with a chill overnight.

Summer is on the way I think!

ON

Posted by OrlandoN 05:14 Archived in France Comments (1)

Real Southern Hospitality

sunny 17 °C

Can’t believe it’s been over a fortnight since my last entry, but it has. The two weeks leading to now have been eventful, that’s for sure. Never smooth sailing, often fraught, but now and again managing to squeeze some delightful times out of what for us has been a bit of a trial.

We’re in Rouen in Normandy at the moment, We enjoyed spectacular weather, scenery and hospitality in the south of England, where the countryside is a delight, the little pubs deserve their reputation, and the English certainly don’t deserve theirs.

After leaving Devon, we stayed for a couple of nights at a CL in Weymouth (remember it’s short for a Certified Location, a small camping site for a maximum of five caravans or motorhomes) – for fifteen pounds, we enjoyed sheep-strewn hillsides, lovely clean bathroom facilities and an amiable hostess. The morning we left saw our first mishap. Whilst negotiating the motorhome between a parked car and a rock garden (and wheel-spinning on an unfriendly patch of gravel), I ripped part of the plastic skirting just behind and below the driver’s door on a large jagged boulder.

What brings tears to a car lover’s eyes is when, no matter what you do to try and drive out of trouble, you only make things worse. Reversing just caused more ripping, and of course going forward just sent me deeper into the rocks. I just had to stop, dig out three large boulders threatening to disembowel the van, and then gingerly manoeuvre my way out. Needless to say, I was not a happy camper, effing and blinding under my breath for the next couple of hours.

That aside, we headed up to Salisbury on another fine yet chilly day, enjoyed the cathedral, then did the touristy thing by walking around Stonehenge. While the stones are a fair old size, it’s not widely known that a good proportion of the standing stones are under ground. Anyway, if you want to know all about it, read Wikipedia.

The next two nights we stayed at an unspectacular farm CL a couple of kilometres south of Stonehenge before driving up to Oxford and the city of dreaming spires. It’s a great little town, seamlessly blending modern life with the ageless beauty of the architecture and the gravitas of serious academic life. We stayed there for two nights at a rather more expensive general campsite, made more pricey by the fact that we weren’t members of the particular caravanning club of which this was one of its sites.

We had originally planned only to stay in England long enough to get all the necessary papers required for our travels; however news came of a dear old family friend in Milton Keynes falling ill. As he was nearing eighty and had been diagnosed with advanced leukemia, I just felt we had to head north; hence our detour through Oxford.

So on Thursday the 15th April after leaving Oxford, we travelled to Milton Keynes, and spent a paltry thirty minutes with Tony before having to leave to avoid the mad traffic on the M25 around the eastern outskirts of London.

It was a trouble-free drive (I really liked the Dartford bridge, a beautiful cable-stay construction looming high over the industrial landscape below) and we stopped after a long day at a little village in Kent called Pluckley, not far from Ashford.

We were both a bit tired and on edge and ended the evening disagreeably; however the following days were very pleasant indeed, made all the more so by the lovely owners of the farm CL we stayed in. George and Ros were a delight; they couldn’t be more helpful and welcoming, giving advice on what travelling through France was like. A neighbour and close friend Cliff was every bit as friendly, and I chatted animatedly with them all at every opportunity. Ann and I were so glad of their help and advice that we took them out for a drink at ‘The Black Horse’ on the Saturday night, a pub literally across the road from the farm. George and Ros then asked us back for coffee in their warm and comfortable home. All in all it was a lovely evening.

It’s just as well all was so pleasant, because we had to stick around in Pluckley for a camping carnet to arrive from our Caravan Club. The mail had been delayed (I suspect it was caused by the shutdown of all flights in Britain because of the massive Icelandic volcano).

When we finally left on the Tuesday, we’d been in Pluckley five nights. We bade our hosts a fond farewell, to a response of “It’s been a pleasure having you”, and we drove to Dover.

We checked out the town, had a truly gargantuan lunch at the ‘Prince Albert’ (which cost very little and which would not have looked out of place in an American diner). The castle on the hilltop, unsurprisingly called Dover Castle, was extremely impressive seen from the town, and the walk along the chalk cliffs in the late afternoon was great. The view down to the ferry terminal only hinted at the massive undertaking that is the Cross-Channel ferry service.

We stayed at another farm CL in Whitfield nearby, with a rather nondescript area of bluestone parking for the three or four caravans and motorhomes staying there. The site had no showers or toilets; so we were glad we only stayed overnight.

We’d booked our Channel crossing when we were still in Pluckley; so the day started with us heading for the ferry terminal tout de suite to catch our 9:55 to Calais on board a Seafrance ferry. It’s quite an operation, filling these giant ships with people, cars, lorries and coaches, and it all seems to run very smoothly.

An hour after boarding we arrived in Calais; we were offloaded, and took our first tentative steps onto foreign soil.

ON

Posted by OrlandoN 05:10 Archived in England 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)

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