Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Through France and Back to Blighty

Many people who know me thought that I’d be bored not working, absolutely no chance of that! The problem with moving on is that you spend a lot of your time just travelling, so there’s no time to get bored, after all we’re “Busy doing nothing” and thoroughly enjoying all of it.

Time to leave Spain - again

Thursday morning and it was drizzling.  I really wasn’t looking forward to getting back down that hill with the drop on our side so we took it very steadily.  I think it was about 10 mph.  Iain spent the journey concentrating on setting up the sat nag but did say that he took a peek once.

The motorway wasn’t far away so only the first bit to worry about.  LPG filled up and we were on our way to Angouleme about 230 miles, our first day of driving home.

We’d allowed 4 days to get to Calais, one night in each stop-over with a spare one to get the dog to the vets.  We’d also still not booked the ferry in case we had to wait until Monday to get the dog sorted and that would have meant that we could not come back until Tuesday at least.

An aire just south of Angouleme at Roullet St Estephe sufficed for an overnight stop.  We took a walk into the village and all was shut with no sign of a vet.  The aire itself was very pleasant and not too far from the motorway.  The only downside was what appeared to be a campsite about 250 metres away.  We gave the dog a walk around the lake and approached the campsite which was a bit higgly-piggly with white vans everywhere.  I said to Iain “Iain is that” to which I was cut short with a “Yes it is”, no more needed to be said.  There were about 5 other vans that turned up after us so the feeling of safety in numbers sprung to mind.  Must remember – don’t drive head on into a space, or use chocks unless absolutely necessary; always reverse park when possible, then if anything happens in the night, you can always drive out forward.

Sees - Normandy

A good night’s sleep anyway and in the morning we were off – towards Sees, about 230 miles.  There was an aire at the Intermarche supermarket and whilst the directions in the aires book were good, we of course followed the sat nag (again) and it was virtually impossible to find the place.  There were several motorhomes driving around who seemed to have the same problem.  

The problem with Sees is that it’s a lovely old French town but it has very narrow streets and every road towards the centre says nothing over 3.5 tonnes, and of course we are over 7. So as we were travelling around the ring-road around Sees the dulcet tones of the sat nag repeated over and over again “Turn left” but every turning  said nothing over 3.5 tonnes.  All this time we were only half a mile from the aire. We ended up heading out towards Alencon which was totally in the wrong direction and then pulling over into a parking area to re-assess the situation and to use the tried and tested method – read a map!!!!  We were by then out the south east side of the town heading south and we should have been on the north east side of the town, heading east into the town.  We realised then that we had to go almost back to the motorway and turn right to get onto the correct road. So if anyone is trying to find the aire in Sees you have to follow the directions, go well out of your way and come back into the town to get onto the aire, don’t go through the middle it is VERY narrow.  

Was it worth it?  Well yes it was.  The aire was in the Intermarche car park which had 4 motorhome parking spaces clearly defined and we were the only van there.  It was really handy for picking up some of the essential shopping that we needed.  As we needed to find a vet we took a walk into the town. By now it was late Friday afternoon  and we weren’t holding out much hope to keep to our plan of taking a ferry on Monday.  But lo and behold a quick 15 minute walk into the town centre and there was a vet on our right.  The assistant was very friendly and although they couldn’t fit us in on the Friday evening she offered us an appointment for 8.30 the following morning.  That was great as we could get the dog done, stock up with shopping and be away for a reasonably early start.

As we had had a good result on finding a vet we then continued into town for a nice relaxed stroll.  Now I had been thinking so much about finding a vet that I had forgotten to take my camera and boy, did I regret it.
Sees is a small town in southern Normandy with a population of about 5,000 which seems to be split into 4 quarters and according to an Irish man we met who lived there, each quarter still regards the others as being “Foreigners”.  There is a “Historic walk” that is way-marked around the town and it is a very pleasant walk with some interesting buildings to have a look at including a cathedral which for such a small town was unexpected.

We had a pleasant quiet night alone in the car park and didn’t feel any need to be nervous, however I had a horrible dream that night.

I dreamed that we heard noise outside and when I looked out there were a load of young people who had hooked up our van to what can only be described as a Ford KA and were towing us away, laughing and joking.  Now our brains are terrible, as if a Ford KA would be able to tow us anywhere. We were taken on a long journey, under some low bridges and we were swinging around from side to side.  Now what were we doing all this time in my dream, sitting in the cab seats trying to get the phone charged so that we could call the police (Iain’s always moaning at me because my phone is never charged when it is needed).  Anyway, eventually we were taken to some sort of housing estate where there were several burned-out motorhomes and once we stopped, someone resembling Gene Hunt from Life on Mars in a camel coat swaggered up to my window.   Somewhere deep in my memory I plucked out that I should take flash photographs as that often makes “bandits” run away, but as my door opened and “Gene” looked in, I pointed my camera at him and all that came out was a squirt of water right into his face.  At this point he sneered at me and said “Just what do you think you are going to do with that?” By now I was glad that I am quite a lucid dreamer and I decided that I’d had enough of that dream and woke myself up.  

The rest of the night I spent stressing about what I would actually do if anyone did try anything during the night. That dream was however not conducive to a sound night’s sleep before a long drive – oh well I could always have a nap in the afternoon.

Actually it was a very nice spot and at least we didn’t have to go very far for our shopping. I would recommend the aire to fellow travellers.

Vet info for pet passport travellers:

Clinique Veterinarian – 31 Rue Argentre, Sees. A lovely lady vet who spoke pretty good English.  She charged us just a total of £40 for the examination and worm pill which is necessary and including 3 month’s supply of flea and tick treatment (not compulsory these days) . Compared to previous vets we thought this was a good price.

The morning after the dream, we were off to the Boulogne area about 220 miles which would only leave us a short drive to Calais for the ferry.

We had decided as always to only have short drive on our last day to Calais, just in case there are any problems and hold-ups.  This had worked well for us before when our van had failed to start as we were leaving for the ferry.  So we thought we’d have a look at Wimereux just outside Boulogne which would leave us just over 20 miles on the final day.  We had also not had to use up our spare day with the vet, so we could relax at a nice campsite for a couple of nights – Saturday and Sunday. What we hadn’t bargained for was that this was the last weekend of the Bank-holiday week and there was just no room at the inn.

We usually travel outside the peak weeks and had never booked a campsite but had been successful everywhere we chose with just “dropping in”.  However having driven some 230 miles and tried two campsites we were thinking that we would be spending our last nights on an aire.  So we quickly checked the ACSI book and headed of inland to Guines. This was on the way to Calais (almost) and if we couldn’t get in there then it would be Calais docks for us.

Luckily we were able to get a pitch on a very nice campsite for us to relax before our trip of England visiting family and friends for the next two months.

Guines itself is not much to write about, about a half-hour walk around the town and there was very little to see, so we walked back to the campsite.

What really surprised me is the number of British people who go to France for a week’s holiday, only to drive 12 miles from Calais and stay there for the entire holiday.  Personally I would rather take a drive a bit further south, maybe further into southern Normandy.

Anyway, a full day and two night’s R&R and we were off to Calais. I had waited until the last minute to book our ferry and just for a change P&O proved to be the cheapest.  The only problem was that their website was not that easy and one mistake and you have to enter the whole booking again, and I was doing this on my tablet so didn’t have proper keyboard.  I’m sorry but I’m just not keen on touch-screens and pre-emptive text and after much frustration I must have got something wrong, probably my email address – so sod’s law said that we didn’t get the confirmation of the booking!!!!!

Well after my hissy-fit at the booking I must have been feeling very chilled because we left for the ferry and totally unlike me (mrs worry pants) I just had this attitude of “Well we’ll sort it out at the port and get on one ferry today, and even if we don’t it doesn’t really matter”.  I must have been really chilled. But then when you don’t have work to return to, why worry?

We left in plenty of time and all was sorted at the port, we even got on an earlier ferry.  So now it was:-

Back to Blighty – 2nd June 2014

By this time we had been out of the country for 158 days (except for our brief return to England by air), had travelled some 3000 miles, all of course on the “wrong” side of the road and been up to an altitude of 738m at Granada, but I'm sure we saw a higher signpost on one of the roads.  I’m also very proud of myself as I’d driven every one of those miles!!!!!!! Even though they proved to be pretty scary at times. 

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