Marge in France 2015 – Part 1: Before the holiday…..

So things did not go exactly to plan since the last blog, as this draft (I didn’t publish at the time) describes:

August 2015: Stressed is not the word – work stress, finance stress, family secrets stress and stress caused by the impending bereavement of Bruces  Mum, Sue.  No matter how I tried I could not get rid of the constant anxious knot in my chest and, as a fat smoker in her forties. I was a prime candidate for a heart attack, something had to change and after our holiday it did.

Home had become work and it was not unusual for me to spend 12+ hours chained to a laptop with no escape.  The “family secret” was one I had to keep until my then son felt comfortable  to come out as transgender.  I now have a beautiful daughter of whom I am very proud but at the time I was full of anxiety about how our close extended family, including her grandparents, father, brother and step siblings, would take the news.  They took it in their stride and all of my fears were completely unfounded but the disclosure wasn’t made until we returned and I held it all in as we bumbled around France.  Financial stress is a constant companion but all of that paled into insignificance as we learned there was nothing more that the hospital could do for Bruces Mum and she had weeks to live; the journeys to France began as she lived in the Vendee in France.

Weekend 1: Left Leicester for Kent and took my work with me.  Picked up Bruce, who now lives in Kent Monday to Friday with his sister as he is working away from home.  Sat waiting for eurotrain thing for ages and then drove through the night to the west coast.  Unfortunately Sue had slipped into a coma, a brief moment when she acknowledged Bruce’s presence but nothing more.  It was very sad and surreal, we left Monday morning as I needed to get back to work but we should have stayed, some things are more important.  We got the call back in Kent Tuesday Morning, she had passed away.

The following Friday:

Weekend 2: Left Leicester for Kent and took work with me, silly me,  my brain was a thick fog of fuddleness.  Eventually I thought “sod that”, forgot about work and left for France for a funeral, picking up some passengers, a tent and other belongings along the way.  Arrived in the Vendee in the evening and set up the tent in the garden of the gite for the rest of the families arrival by minibus in the early hours of the morning.  The weekend followed with a beautiful funeral service, a very special wake at their local bar and celebrations of Sue’s life until the early hours of the morning. Laughter and tears to celebrate the life of the hostess with the mostess, she will be missed so much by so many.  We made our way home on August Bank Holiday Monday to prepare for our holiday in France starting on Friday.

The following Friday:

Weekend 3: Needless to say we were both knackered and the normal holiday excitement was lacking.

When I collected Marge the Hymer I thought I’d never make it round the M25 to Kent, let alone around France.  The left hand drive didn’t bother me, in my other life I had a left hand drive coach built Hymer.  What was difficult was the clutch was miles away; so much so that when I pressed the clutch to go into 5th gear, my left foot was at full stretch as was my right hand and I disappeared below the dash board!  It was noisy and the extra width took some getting used to.  Driving the Hymer was like a fully body work out for me, not a bad thing as I could do with it but it wasn’t the easy drive I expected! The accommodation bit was fab and I loved the drop down bed but it was soon apparent we probably wouldn’t make it down to the South Coast and I checked the weather for the best alternative – The Loire and the Dordogne had big sunshine symbols and were chosen as we needed to be west to collect some things from Bruces Mums home in the Vendee on the way back to the UK.

I collected Bruce, tired and exhausted from work and we went to catch the train across the channel. He pulled out a beer and put his feet up and  after a few hours driving in France (me driving not Bruce with his beer!) we pulled into an Aire and slept like babies!  How wonderful to just pull up and fall into bed.

 

marge

Marge The Hymer

 

 

 

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The Ardeche – France 2012 Part 3…………….

pontdarc_jpg

We arrived at Vallon-Pont-d’Arc, the entrance to the Ardeche Gorge and the start for many of their journey by canoe through a boat trip and france etc 049picturesque and magnificent landscape.  So to find a campsite, cheap, cheerful, not all singing, all dancing……well that was the plan but like all best laid plans we ended up at a large, relatively expensive (although the prices go down in the last week of August by a few Euros) site on the banks of the Ardeche river just outside the town called Mondial Camping.  I’ve reviewed the campsite here: http://www.ukcampsite.co.uk/sites/reviews.asp?revid=12154.   Once again we pitched the Outwell on a large, shady pitch just opposite the path to the river and then took a walk down the path for a quick swim; as it was late evening only a few canoes paddled by and, having negotiated the steep path, rocky shores and boulder strewn river bed with limited injury,  we immersed ourselves in the cool, clear water of the Ardeche…….as a true water babe I was in heaven, my life was complete!

The next morning we considered renting a canoe but I decided to do some research before embarking on such an epic adventure.  I placed myself at the top of the steep slope down to the rocky shore and put my boat trip and france etc 054sunglasses on.  From this vantage point I could observe people negotiating the slope and shore with their canoes and assess with reasonable accuracy a) how likely I was to sustain injury b) a level between 1 & 10 of how ridiculous and ungainly I would look c)whether I’d fit in a canoe.  The first family to come down with their canoes were fit, slim and agile and negotiated all the obstacles in a gazelle like fashion, assuredly but gracefully with only the occasional wobble on a loose stone.  They slid off to join the throng of canoes now gliding down the river, some even facing the right way!  The next couple were more representative of Bruce and I, a little wider than average with a few years on the clock.  Hesitatingly she slid down the slope and was nearly on level ground when hubby sent the canoe down, she avoided direct contact with the runaway canoe by jumping out the way and wobbled precariously before steadying herself.  I learned a few German swear words, thankfully not directed at me but at her husband now sliding down the slope presumably muttering apologies.  This was much more entertaining than the last family, I was thoroughly enjoying my new-found hobby.  Throughout the holiday I would return to my new hobby of watching people wobble, fall and retain their balance whilst trying to maintain dignity – even  I eventually developed a technique of boulder/wobbly stone hopping to my sunbathing spot with only a hint of ungainliness and far less falls than I thought; I even managed to enter the water on one occasion without stubbing my toe…..back to the canoes and the now angry wife and her remorseful husband.  I was relieved to find she did fit in the canoe, with plenty of space to be fair but her husband did have to draw on all his strength reserves to launch it.  Once floating the husband clambered into the boat with only a slight risk of sinking due to water that also entered the boat and they paddled off with the masses, surprisingly and expertly avoiding any major collision.  I determined that with several dummy runs it would be possible to launch the canoe without serious damage to myself or my ego and went back to the tent to relay the good news back to Bruce.  Of course I would need a day to psychologically prepare myself………………

To cut a long story short I made excuses everyday, for some reason I didn’t feel confident and felt my levels of fitness would see me boat trip and france etc 058being rescued and pulled to shore should I embark on such a venture.  This made me sad, I’d had a go at most water sports with various degrees of failure (a pulled muscle water-skiing, a shark encounter that was really dolphins on a jet ski in Florida, windsurfing which I managed for around 3 seconds after hours of practice) but canoeing I’d been relatively successful at in the past so why I would suddenly feel this fear and lack of confidence did get to me.  Bruce was indifferent about canoeing but I felt this indifference masked a similar lack of confidence as we’d had a fair few conversations on steering techniques whilst watching the Ardeche M1 for canoes from our perches on the rocks.  We therefore left for home regretting that we had not taken the plunge (quite literally in our case) and canoed the fantastic Ardeche river beneath the Pont d’Arc, a natural bridge carved from the ancient landscape.

The landscape is indeed ancient and in 1994 2 speleologists (which I presume is something to do with caves) discovered the Chauvet Cave with it’s remarkable 31,000 year old cave drawings.  Due to it’s rarity and importance it isn’t open to the public but we did find a cave that was.  On a hot day this was a cool retreat, in fact as we descended down the numerous steps I came to the conclusion that a vest top was totally inadequate and I shivered around the interior, listening to the French tour guide (my French is limited and I have very little knowledge of any cave related word).  Geographically the caves were spectacular with stalagmites and stalactites and pools and waterfalls and an almost cathedral-like impressiveness about them…natures sculpture park.  But no wall paintings and I guess as someone more interested in people (with a recent interest in all things archaeological) the geology was less exciting.  Bruce was a bit peeved he couldn’t just nip out for a fag after we’d seen the first chamber of the cave and even more peeved to learn we had a few more chambers to go.  But we were both glad we’d seen it and at least immersed ourselves in a bit of the landscapes history.

coco locoValon Pont d’Arc is a lovely old town with a thriving weekly day and evening market.  An added bonus is that whilst we sat in the square sipping coffee and eating a freshly baked croissant, the Merry Go Round played some excellent chilled music including a fair bit of reggae.  We had a meal one evening at a lovely restaurant Coco Loco in the town and spent another evening getting on down to the music at the campsite disco…..as is our tradition we managed to clear the dance floor with our moves and shakes.  Although the campsite was fairly big and organised there was a laid back feel and the owners were very proud of their site.  Another evening was spent drinking wine and watching the stars in our little rocky hideaway down by the river…….all very romantic and amorous until the river security guards spotted us, we managed to restore our modesty before they got to us and upon seeing us just wished us a good evening.  They were intent on intimidating the naughty teenagers and obviously realized that 2 middle-aged, respectable, polite English people would be doing nothing more than drinking wine and star gazing…….little did they know!

All too soon it was time to start the long journey home, we had left it as late as possible and decided to go from south to north in one go.  We left one of my now favourite regions of France, the Ardeche,  at around 10am and by midnight we were on the tunnel train thing heading for a real bed and a good night sleep……would have swapped the real bed for an airbed in the sun of southern France any day.

Lac D’Orient – France 2012 Part 2

aerial lacdorientWe arrived on the sparkling shores of Lac D’Orient refreshed and ready to kick back and chill out.  I had been to site we were heading for before, in my other life, with my ex-husband and 2 small boys in a motorhome.  As we approached I remembered how we’d rented a pedalo with a slide and the fun we’d all had sliding off the back and also the pesky mosquitos’.   It took me back and it always breaks my heart to think of 2 boys that had Mum and Dad together then, through no fault of their own, their world turned upside down.  They are beautiful young men now and suprisingly grounded, their Dad and I have always been amiable but it still makes me sad – as lovely as they are now I miss the days when they were small and I could hold their little hands and a plaster and a cuddle solved most things.  Back to reality, no children little or otherwise and some time to ourselves in the sunshine, life’s not all bad.

I reviewed the campsite, L’Epines Aux Moins,  in Kylas Coolest Camping Part 2 post on this blog, hopefully you will find it here: https://kyla40.wordpress.com/2011/07/page/2/.  The site is on the shores of the Petit Lac and less commercialized than the sites maplacdorientacross the water.  There is now a small shop and snack bar on site and free wi-fi on the terrace.  The pitch sizes are good and we decided to pitch the Outwell instead of just the small 2 man.  For two of us this was luxury once pitched with a bedroom and living area and the option to stand fully upright and pull on your knickers without the 2 man tent tussle. It also meant we could sit inside with just the fly nets up in the evening thus avoiding the mozzies.  To be honest they weren’t as bad as I had remembered probably because although the day had been hot the evening cooled down a lot.  Even so there were a few about and by the end of the 2 nights  we could amuse ourselves comparing bites of varying sizes. Worth it though, the area and lake were as lovely as I remember them and we had the chance to relax and explore a little.

To be honest we did very little exploring for 2 days, choosing to laze about in the sunshine interspersed with the occasional dip in the lake.  On one day we circumnavigated the entire lake, this is excellent cycling country but as we had no bikes (oh what a shame) we took Fugly car instead.  For those who like water-sports there is a marina and water-sports centre near the larger campsites.  We opted for the less active option of a meal and glass of wine in a small bar in one of the towns, Geroudet I believe,  dotted around the lake.  We went to bed early and got up late with nothing to do and no demands – after 2 days we  learned that the weather was turning so decided to break camp and head south early the next morning.  If the sun had continued to shine we would have happily stayed there, sampling champagne and possibly venturing back into Troyes of an evening but we are fickle campers and we hadn’t quite had our full dose of warm, sunny weather.  So on a damp, cool, dismal morning we bundled the tent into the car and headed south for The Ardeche.lacdorient

Holidays 2012

It’s been a long time but now the sun is shining (in my head anyway, I won’t bother looking out of the window) and holiday season is here once more. As ever money is tight so I have made the best on The Sun Holiday deals, Tesco vouchers and a cheap local campsite to plan 3 holidays to meet everyones needs.
First up is our annual weekend away with my brother and his family, camping in our tent. You may remember last year was a bit of an adventure, see here for an account of our windy weekend:  https://kyla40.wordpress.com/page/4/ or see picture opposite – a poorly tent!

We’re off this weekend to Holme Pierrepoint, the National Watersports centre in Nottingham. This is fairly local to us and costs £17.00 per night, per pitch for all 6 of us plus the dog. We’ll take the barbie and some beer, Mum and Dad will join us on Sunday for lunch (Mum has requested we take a TV so she can watch the Jubilee Flotilla, bless!) <

On Monday we pack away and get home in time for Bruce to DJ at the local pub for a Jubilee party, they want Karoeke which Bruce is not keen on at all but it’s local and it earns a few pennies whilst having a beer with friends and neighbours.

Next up is our Sun holiday in Cornwall, paid for with some cash and some holiday tokens from The Sun. We go first to spend the weekend at Parkdean in Mullion hopefully in a static van. This is near to Penryn where Bruce and kids used to live so we shall probably catch up with some old friends and then we’re hoping to visit a radio mast place called something like googlewilly, George has requested this and I have to say I am nearly as excited at the prospect of visiting a radio mast as I am of snail racing. On Monday we move to a holiday camp in St Minver and again we will hopefully get something with a fully working toilet and leak proof roof. This holiday is for the family, especially the kids, so I have purchased the Entertainment Pass which will hopefully keep them all occupied and in the evenings we can threaten them with Karoeke and Bingo if they don’t behave!! (I love a game of bingo and a sing song but it’s my secret).  Hopefully Fugly Car will get us there and maybe even back again and the sun will shine.

Finally, when all of the kids have gone to their respective ‘other parent’ Bruce and I will be taking the Transit van to France, with a mattress and camping cooker in the back.  Tesco vouchers have paid for the Eurotunnel and at the moment the Euro is weak which is great news for us.  Taking the Transit means we can ‘rough camp’ or stop in lay-byes and I can pretend I’ve got a camper once more, I’m quite excited.  I love the freedom of following the weather, freedom to do as I please and my bed in the back……..just need to give the “do I really need a Bog in a Bag?” question a bit more thought.

Hopefully many happy days ahead…………

Day 12 – Nevers

We left Camping Saint Lambert around 10am and set off for Nevers, to try our first Cool Camping France site in the centre of town on the banks of the river Loire.  We arrived around 5pm and there were plenty of places for tent camping on the lower level but the upper level caravan/motorhome camping seemed to be nearly full.  We found a pitch (you basically pitch where you like) on the lower level and set up camp.  I can see why the guys at Cool Camping recommend this site as it is very easy going and laid back, it’s on the banks of the Loire and the impressive Nevers cathedral is on the opposite bank of the river. This site was the cheapest yet – 27 euro with EHU.  The caravan/motorhome camping on the upper level seemed a bit more formal and this is where the clean toilets and showers are situated – a bit of a trek in the middle of the night but not too bad.

After a gnocchi dinner we took a walk across the bridge and into town in search of tobacco for Bruce.  Other than the bars and restaurants, particularly around the cathedral square, the town was closed and seemed deserted with some shops boarded up.  This seemed strange coming from the forever open south but, although Nevers is a pretty town it seems off the tourist trail, except for night halts to and from the south.  Needless to say we didn’t find a Tabac open and we returned to camp empty handed.

The next morning we returned to town on a Tabac and croissant hunt.  We found a small patisserie slightly to the left when you cross the bridge and I had my first pain au raisin of the holiday ( a favourite of mine but nowhere to be found, except supermarket ones, on the Med).  All the shops were closed and when we stopped for a coffee at a small bar we found out why – the shops are closed every Wednesday!!  We decided to search no more, the clouds were coming over and it was time to move on – our intention being to stop just north of Paris for our last night.

Day 11 Millau – Gorges Du Tarn – Camping Saint Lambert

I woke up early this morning due to the air bed deflating and Bruce and I went in search of croissants.  We found a bar  tabac, boulengerie and Lydl on the outskirts of town and then returned to see if our pitch by the toilets was free as we were due to move today.  Sure enough the pitch was free and we returned to camp to find the kids and start Operation Up Sticks.  First the kids cycled round to the new pitch with all of the bikes while Bruce and I bungled all sleeping bags and pillows inside the car.  Next we bungeed the airbed and camp beds on top of the trailer and slowly drove round to our new pitch.  I may have mentioned that there are a lot of Dutch campers at this site and some seemed very tidy, organised and pedantic and not the least bit impressed with our moving mayhem, especially the weird chap camped opposite our new pitch.  I say weird because he and his family hardly spoke to each other, never smiled and spent the day sitting outside their caravan staring at us.  We gave them something to stare at when we went back to collect our tent and carried it round, fully erected, a person on each pole and plonked it on our pitch.  Pegs in, airbeds unbungeed, sleeping bags in et voila, job done – decamped and recamped in under an hour.

We then had the rest of the day to enjoy canoeing  (without oars as we had left them in the car park at Salles) and swimming in the river.  The campsite has a riverside beach and plenty of shallows to play in.  It’s also fun to watch those in hired canoes navigate the mini rapids caused by kids daming the river in various places.  After a day resting, swimming and being stared at we lit the barbie and enjoyed a lovely family meal.  Afterward we listened to a few tunes on the car stereo (not loudly), George played guitar and Bruce and I even had a dance around the pitch.  Being stared at.  At 10pm the music went off and we tidied around ready to strike camp the following day.  We were right next to the

This is NOT miserable, staring man but he looked very similar!

toilet block which was noisy with washer uppers and kids larking about with the water but it didn’t bother us, our neighbours were playing a film, kids were playing around and we all sat and played a game of “How many cars can you name beginning with the letter R”  – that is until Weird Staring man got up from his chair in the dark, left his very quiet family around the table and came over and asked us to keep our voices down! He didn’t ask our neighbours to turn off their film (complete with loud dramatic music) or his Dutch neighbours to stop playing cards and arguing, nor did he ask the screaming kids to quieten down or the washer uppers to stop clanking their pots.  Just the English (who are not all English anyway) family sitting down altogether and playing a game, I have never experienced prejudice before but I can tell you it isn’t nice. So we just put on our best shell suits and in true football hooligan style told him to F*** OFF!  Only joking, we actually wished him a lovely evening and completely ignored his request.  I can’t stand insular, intolerant bigots and it really hacked me off.  Luckily his Dutch neighbours were fantastic, chilled and laid back with a really cool bell tent and they completely restored my faith in the Dutch camper.

Despite Weird Staring man I would return to this campsite as it’s location by the river is fab and it is comparatively cheap – 62 euro for 2 nights for 6 with electricity in high season.  We were paying nearly that per night at La Barque and that was cheap for the Med coast.  The toilets are clean but not quite 4 star luxury, the owners are friendly and the bar is fairly priced.  It is generally quite laid back and friendly with the odd exception!  If I were to book I would ask for a riverside pitch, although the river might be a bit noisy for some!

 

Day 3 – The Beach & The Campsite

Day 3 – Monday – The Beach:

After a good nights sleep we all felt a little more human.  I had a shower and checked out the facilities; there are ample shower blocks dotted around and all facilities are spotless, no matter what time of day you use them, although the loo roll runs out on occasion so best to take an emergency supply.  The kids were keen to get down to the beach which is 2 miles away down a bumpy track that Fugly had struggled with the day before.  There are alternative ways to the beach in the car but these are a lot longer and inevitably mean sitting in a traffic queue (these can’t be avoided on the coast in the height of summer and are a pain in the buttt, I don’t do queues, so much so that on the way down the one campsite in Regluss that might have had spaces I walked away from after I had stood in reception for 15 minutes in a queue).

We decided to use our bikes and pumped up tyres in readiness.  I have not been on my bike for a long time and a few things had seized up, like the rear brakes, but no matter, I was not going fast enough to use them.  The route down was bumpy but it didn’t take very long and was relatively traffic free.  There is an excellent cycle track along the coast and was so much better on my bottom when we got to it.  After the kids had been sun creamed up we left them with provisions (baguette, meat, drinks, 10 euro, sun cream) we left them to have a coffee at the beach bar, the coffee was awful as it had been stewing in the filter pot for probably the last few days.  So we mounted our cycles and rode to the village of St Aygulf where we found a sandwich bar on the road island and enjoyed coffee and a Salad De Chevre – yum yum and double yum.  Even in a touristy hot spot where they don’t really need to make an effort it seems the French have such a respect for their food that they wouldn’t dream of serving up anything that’s second-rate or unfresh.  We left the kids on the beach all day, well most of the kids, George came back to the campsite and we then went off to Lydl for more provisions, the prices were fairly comparative to home so no major shock there.  When the kids returned we had a big pot of pasta and home-made tomato sauce made in the bowl thing on the Cadac – thanks Mum and Dad for lending us the Cadac it’s a brilliant bit of kit.  We then fell asleep listening to the entertainment – a music quiz – and slept incredibly well once more.

During the day I had a chance to have a quick chat with Veronique about the floods last year.  As she was speaking she became visibly emotional and it bought it home to me how frightening it must have been, she had watched her husband and children swimming for safety and witnessed the helicopters rescuing people from roofs of mobile homes in the campsite next door, Etoile D’Argent.  The river is situated at the bottom of the site and there is launching and mooring facilities, it flows calmly down to the sea passing a few campsites as it does.  It was this river, the Argen, that rose and engulfed the campsites in June last year rendering them all useless for the 2010 season.  The owners and local tradesmen must have worked extremely hard to transform  a site that was flooded up to above head height (there are markers dotted around the site to indicate flood levels) to the pristine and well kept site that stands today.  This is the first season since the floods and obviously one of mixed emotions, I hope Veronique, her family and anyone involved in last years floods don’t have to witness anything like it again.