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.

And so to Cornwall……………..

Exhausted, stressed, tired and penniless we set off for Cornwall at 5.30am on a wet and soggy July morning – Bruce had just returned from a gig and I just wanted to escape from …well everything really.  The kids dragged themselves out of bed and into the car and by the time we reached the M6 everyone was sleeping soundly, except me as I was driving and battling with lorry spray and a torrent of standing water.  We passed an accident where someone had quite obviously lost the battle and rolled the car, debris littered over the carriages like a suitcase spilling its contents, it had only just happened, I hope everyone was OK.

After a pit stop just after Bristol (items consumed 9 cobs, 7 bags of crisps, 1 packet beef, 1 packet ham, cheese, jaffa cakes and a kit kat) we arrived in Plymouth to visit our friends S & J then continued on to Mullion.  The sun began to make brief appearances, the rain stopped and all of a sudden we were on holiday……….The kids, as always, are the best and never fail to make us laugh at their silly words and observations, apparently one of the ruder ‘in’ sayings is from Southpark (or Family Guy all the same to me).  We drove the last few miles full of hope – hope that we would have a super duper caravan thingy and even more hope that the jet stream would position itself where it’s supposed to be this time of year IE north of the UK!  

Our first view of Parkdean Holiday Park, Mullion was the concrete building with Costcutter emblazoned across it, the windowless, grey architecture a relic from the heady days of 1950s holiday camps. This did not bode well, a bunker for a shop, a barrier at the gate and rows of green Nissan hut style caravans almost arrogantly plonked in a beautiful part of the country.   Reception were friendly and efficient and gave us our entertainment passes which we never paid for and had deep reservations about using them for the ‘on site entertainment and pool complex’. 

We found our block and located our home for the next two nights – a green static caravan set within it’s own water feature – a bog!  To be fair to Parkdean they were working tirelessly to place down paths, paving stones and gravel to counteract the rain that the pesky jet stream has been dumping on us for the last few weeks.  We investigated our nissan/caravan further, it didn’t take much investigation as it was very small for a static van and certainly not big enough for all 6 of us.  The first indication of this was the seating area that we couldn’t all sit in at the same time (meals in shifts, TV watching rota) further investigation found the sofa bed a very tight squeeze to pull out and not get mangled with the table and the flimsy mattress was dismissed out of hand “I’m not sleeping on that thing” retorted one happy teenager.  Consequently George ended up sleeping at right angles in the L shaped dining area.  As Bruce and I squeezed and pushed past various bodies, luggage and shoe debris we located our bedroom and the wonderfully considerate built in incontinence sheet on the double mattress – no way of removing it whatsoever but at least we can now wet the bed with impunity!  We’re staying for 2 nights and will be visiting friends so we’re going to have to put up with it.

On the bright side Cornwall is a beautiful county, rugged and quaint, almost foreign and so very different from the rolling Leicestershire countryside and we were away, I’m not sure Bruce shared my optimism, partly due to being thoroughly knackered and partly due to his non comprehension of how anyone can possibly enjoy a holiday in the rain, I think it’s his Mediterranean blood that’s a the heart of these weather issues plus the fact he can be bloody miserable sometimes.  Ohm rang his old mate H in Flushing and speedily set up going over to see him for a sleep over – so leaving 3 bodies behind Bruce, Ohm and I set off for the quaint little village opposite Falmouth and Penryn where Ohms best friend from his school days in Penryn lives.  H’s Mum was in the Royal Standard Pub so we felt it only right, after dropping Ohm off that we go and join her.

We were met with warm friendly service that stretched to giving me a wine taster to be sure I liked it – I did! Bruce had a pint of Doombar, a locally produced beer. The menu looked diverse and interesting with most things homemade and apparently the food is well worth splashing out for, maybe next time. We settled down outside, child free and listened to K telling her stories and anecdotes with such naturally comedic timing that we were soon falling about laughing.  Her stories included her pissed up Granpops as commander of a Navy ship and taking his lump hammer to a Japanese made Microwave oven, her various ballistic experiments one involving a pedal bin, several cans of hairspray and a dead turkey, apparently her television set was no more after that little escapade and her sons battle re-enactments where one elderly lady beat him around the head with her handbag when he was dressed as a German officer.   K was interesting, intelligent with a passion for life and a hearty laugh, enough to chase the blues away and take you away from the mundane existence found in the cul de sacs of of a Leicestershire village where the most interesting thing some of our neighbours have to think about is what that unconventional family across the road (that will be us) is up to and why we don’t put our bins back on the drive the second the bin men have emptied them!  After a freshly ground and just about perfect coffee we set off for our barracks and a much needed sleep in our plastic bed.

 

Day 13 – All the way home!

As we left Nevers the rain began to fall and fall and fall.  We neared Paris and decided to follow the GPS around the peripherique and we managed to catch a glimpse of the Eiffel tower just before we crossed the Seine, we all cheered as now we could say we had been to Paris.  George dared me to drive up the Champs Elysee and for one brief minute I thought it would be fun, driving Fugly and it’s trailer full of bikes into the center of Paris but the peripherique with it’s ever changing lanes was challenge enough so I decided against it.  We eventually found ourselves on the A1 and the home run to Calais.  It was still raining and none of us felt like putting the tent up in the rain.  We arrived at Calais and, as we boarded the 8.30pm ferry the sun came out and very appropriately set on what had been a great holiday and a big adventure.

 

Home

I haven’t been able to update for a few days because of lack of wi-fi and being on the road so this is just a quick catch up.  We’re home a few days early because we were very quickly running out of money.  The south was more expensive than I’ve ever known it and I had underestimated how much we would need for just the essentials.  We decided to move north on Monday and spent a few nights in Millau and Nevers, I will post more about these sites in the next day or so along with some pictures.  We arrived back at 1.30am this morning so today will mostly be spent washing, emptying the trailer and cleaning – deep joy!!

Pre-Holiday Budget

A recent newspaper reported that the average Brit exceeds their holiday budget by an average of around £300 – is that all?   We apparently underestimate the costs before we even go on holiday with women more often than not blowing their cash on clothes and beauty products (you don’t say!).  So out of interest I thought I’d add up the costs of our holiday so far:-

Clothes for 6:    (Ebay, Primark, New Look, Peacocks, Tesco)  =  £350.00

Ferry:      Car plus trailer    (P & O Ferries)    =   £145.00

Campsite Deposit: Camping La Barque  =     £100.00

Gas bottle re-fill:     (Kibworth garden centre)    =    £ 21.00

New number plate, defectors, GB stickers etc :   (K Tee Motors)  =    £ 38.00

Annual UK &European Car Break Down Recovery: (JS Insurance)   =  £ 85.00

                                                                                                                    Total:            £739.00

These costs don’t include the food I will buy on Thursday (£100 approx) or filling up with fuel (a staggering £85 to fill up our car at the moment).  I make savings wherever I can, for example I will be shopping at Lidl and will mainly buy lots of drinks for the journey, this will save up to 70p per drink compared to buying at a roadside services or cafe, so each round of soft drinks for 6 of us will save around £6.20 x 4 per day travelling = £24.80 per day!!  I will fill up with fuel using Tescos current offer of 5p off per litre when you buy tuna and multipacks of coca-cola , I will then combine these to give 10p off per litre and head to Tesco South Wigston where diesel is currently £135.9 per litre.

I made savings on clothes by shopping at the cheaper stores, for example I bought my eldest son an excellent Tee-shirt with a camper van motif from Primark for £3.00, he loves it.  I treated myself to a fabulous Maxi dress from Tesco for £20.00 but I have to confess to buying more than just a maxi dress for my holiday.

Other savings I have made include the Ferry booking with P & O Ferries; the trick is to keep searching on their website until you find the cheapest crossing.  You do this by entering your details including when you would prefer to sail,  then on the next screen it will list the outward crossing you have selected but not any others.  If you keep hitting the ‘earlier’ or ‘later’ buttons it will list the times and prices for each crossing.  For example the outward crossing is on the busiest day of the year and most of the morning crossings were between £200 – £300, I kept hitting the buttons until I came to the 12.40 crossing at £75.00 – a saving of at least £125.00.  I think £145 return crossing for a car and trailer in peak season is a great price but it takes just a little bit of time and searching to find these prices.

European Car Breakdown is another great saving – mine is an annual insurance covering homestart in the UK and I simply used comparethemarket.com to find the best deal.  At £85.00 with JS Insurance for the year it compares favourably with the RAC who want £134.00 just for single trip European breakdown.

With only 5 days to go I have loads to do, mostly things I forgot to put on the to-do list like collecting prescriptions, de-fleaing the cat and dog, washing the dogs bed ready to go for his Spa break at my parents etc.  The most important thing I have to do is to find the camera and charger and prepare it so that I can post our photos on this blog.  Ciao for now.