Up to the North

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Wednesday 18th July

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Today we decided to get as many miles under our belt as possible, and then as soon as we felt tired we would look for the nearest campsite and then rest there overnight before continuing on the last leg of this journey to our campsite near Calais. The journey was fairly uneventful, just a lot of motorway driving and a lot of listening to Desert Island Disc podcasts, we know how to live! We had no problems with the traffic this time until we came to the country lanes that led to the campsite and then we came across this combine harvest travelling at 5 miles an hour, a push bike overtook it, with barely enough room to get by, so I stood no chance.  So we just had to bide our time and listen to another podcast!

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The campsite was another great choice arranged by my travel agent Jane. We didn’t bother to unhitch as we had planned an early start in the morning. But as it happened we slept in later than intended and didn’t get going until 10am after a leisurely breakfast!

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After our tea the previous night, we took a short stroll up the road to visit and pay our respects at a First World War cemetery. So many headstones marking the graves of fallen soldiers.

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It seemed bizarre  on such a beautiful calm night that such fierce battles  had been fought in and around this area over 100 years ago. It was sad to see so many headstones marked with the simple words “A SOLDIER OF THE GREAT WAR, KNOWN UNTO GOD”.

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In  a corner of this quiet cemetery we found the graves of a bomber crew that were shot down on the 18th April 1944.  It really brings it home to you when you see the ages of some of these airmen and the responsibilty they carried at such a young age.  A sergeant at the age of 20…………and never making it to 21, its so sad that these brave young men had to give their lives so we could live with the freedom that we have today, it makes you think!

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Dompierre-les-Ormes

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Tuesday 17th July 2018

This is a view from the top of our latest campsite, Camping Le Village des Meuniers. The campsite is far more peaceful than we initially thought it would be when we saw the facilities that they had for children. The campsite was well run with lots to do for all ages, the kids looked like they were having fun but thankfully that was all in a separate area!

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One of the attractions of this place that was loved by all was the pond and the petting zoo, although Jane nearly jumped out of her skin when  a frog jumped over her foot and dived into the water! Jane also loved all the little animals in the zoo, goats, hamsters, pot belly pigs and chickens, I did have to remind her that she should let the little ones have a look!

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This is the view that we had from our pitch for a couple of days…………………..

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………..until something unthinkable happened and someone arrived on the opposite pitch and put up a tent, some people are just thoughtless! We still had a great view and nothing was going to spoil my breakfast.  It took me a while longer that day as Jane had decided on cereal that morning, and I had to eat the lot because as you know French bread goes stale very quickly!

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With an abundance of all different types and varieties of wine we found ourselves quality controlling a bottle or so most evenings, so we decided to cut our intake down to only one bottle a night and then Jane found the ideal bottle!

These two photos are a bit out of sync, they were taken as we watched the World Cup Final in the bar at the campsite.  The shot on the left was taken with two minutes to go and the one on the right was taken two minutes after the final whistle……………….we both thought that being in France when they won the World Cup, we would be involved in one big wild party, but alas we weren’t so we headed back to the caravan and selected one of Jane’s choice of wines!

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This area of France that we were staying in was Burgundy, of which we knew very little, but soon found that we were falling for its charm, the rolling hills, the small villages, quiet roads and interesting towns. The nearest town to us was Charolles, and we decided to take a drive through the winding lanes and explore. Our intention was just to have a quick look around and then head back for a spot of bread and cheese back at the van.

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After about an hour or so of walking around in the heat we thought that a cooling drink before the drive home would be a good idea. We passed a small bistro that looked ideal to stop at and partake of a beverage, and whilst waiting for our order to be taken I noticed that roast lamb was on the menu du jour…………..so after 20 seconds of deliberation we decided that eating out would be a good idea, and the meal was delicious!

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Dieulefit

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Thursday 12th July 2018

It is an absolute pleasure driving around this area of France. These roads are so quiet that you feel fairly relaxed about cruising around sightseeing, you do occasionally get an over enthusiastic young driver that will want to pass you at any cost. I do sometimes wonder how these drivers will live to a ripe old age!

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Whilst out exploring the area we got a bit peckish and, passing a small bistro in a little village, we decided that it would be a great place for a spot of lunch. We took our seats at a small outside table and began to browse the menu. It slowly dawned on us that this was more than a little restaurant when we saw the Michelin recommendations on the wall and the prices on the menu. We were in two minds as to whether we were going to stay, as we had only really wanted a little snack, but I’m really glad we did.  We had a wonderful meal in lovely surroundings, and chose the menu du jour, which was mussel and courgette soup, pork noisettes in a black curry sauce followed by locally grown apricots, roasted with jus on a biscuit base and homemade ice-cream ! Delicious !

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We needed to walk some of those additional calories off, so climbing up the many steps of a perched village was an ideal way to work them off.

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Great views…………

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And many photo opportunities before heading back for an afternoon doze!

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Friday 13th July 2018

This is the view that greeted me on my early morning walk on this Friday, I walked for an hour and a half and during this time I saw only 2 cars. It was great for the soul to walk in all this tranquility.

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We had brought our push bikes with us on this trip but so far the terrain had been a little too hilly for us, so it was back to the car for another tour of the locality………

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To see places like this,  with the main road in to the town coming through a small archway cut through the rock!

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The fields of sunflowers were also in abundance, not as much as the lavender but again a bright primary colour to really knock your socks off!

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Saturday 14th July 2018

Driving in France at the weekend has always been our preferred option. Generally the roads are a lot quieter with people not having to go to work and on Sundays most lorries are not allowed to use the roads. So we thought that this Saturday, Bastille day, would be quieter being a national holiday and all that, how wrong we were! We had only a relatively short drive to our next campsite and the most direct route was on the main autoroute the A7/A6 which went through the centre of Lyon. Well let me tell you that with the exception of the first peage, which took us half an hour (thank god we had a fast pass to go through the barriers otherwise it would have been much longer), we were doing very well time wise and then we hit the outskirts of Lyon. Then all of a sudden the traffic stopped and it took us well over an hour to travel the 3 or so miles along the motorway through the centre of France’s second city.  We will have to put that down to experience!

 

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As the sun sets on on a lovely day for us in the Bourgogne we prepare for the Bastille day celebrations. Jane had seen a poster advertising a lantern parade for that evening, so we arrived at the specified place at the allotted time armed with our lanterns……………….

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………..Only to find it was really aimed at the younger element of the campsite………………..

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…………Oh well, it seemed like fun and we had never been in France on Bastille day before so we thought we would join in with the celebrations……………………….

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……….We paraded around the campsite proudly waving our lanterns to the crowds of watching campers, and as we walked more and more joined us as the parade was going to lead to the culmination of the evening……………….

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……………the firework display.  I am always amazed at the size and scale of French fireworks. Our parade had led us to the village football pitch where we met up with the rest of the locals to enjoy a loud and glorious display that lasted for about 20 minutes.

 

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When you are on the road as long as we are, we still have to do all of the normal jobs that you would at home. The housework takes no time at all, but the washing takes the same and we get to try to figure out a new washing machine every few days or so! Jane was very concerned when she took these pants out of the machine fearing she might have shrunk my undies, a quick look at the label showed that they were for age 4/5 and although I am told that I act that age most of the time, they were not mine!

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Fields of Lavender

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Wednesday 11th July 2018

Tuesday was spent moving camp. Fiona (Sara’s sister) had recommended northern Provence to see the lavender fields, and the beautiful villages. Our new campsite was high in the hills near the small village of Comps, called La Source Du Jabron, and is situated in the region of Drôme Provençale. This campsite was a lot busier than the last and had a lot more children and a lot more going on. Most of the site was devoted to tents and we did feel a little conspicuous in our caravan with the satellite dish on top!

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The lavender field were beautiful to look at and addictive to photograph, I just had to keep stopping the car to take just one more shot! Every now and again a tractor full of this flower came by and the smell was unbelievable.  This is a memory that will stay with me forever!

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Then you must get just one more picture, this time with a typical Provencal house in the background . The campsite had provided us with a map and tour of the local area which also took us to some of the “perched villages” (villages perches).

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One of the towns on our route was Grignan, and what a wonderful place that turned out to be.  It looked like the set of a Renaissance movie.

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This was definitely one of those magical picture postcard places, and again we were lucky with the weather, the blue skies really set all the colours off to their best advantage and we were blessed that we got to see this town without the hordes of tourists who will be making their way down in early August.

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The French seem to “do” their small towns and villages very well.  By that I mean that they don’t  have any of the generic signs above shops, no double yellow lines, no out of place advertising etc. The only thing that let the ambiance down were the few satellite dishes that were on view!

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The fountain in the middle of the square could have been straight out of a Victor Hugo novel, the cafe behind was a great place to sit and people watch.

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We sat on the steps of this fountain and had a cake that we had bought from the local patisserie, and looked at the menu of the Michelin starred restaurant opposite, with starters at €40 we thought we would give it a miss!

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As we strolled back to the car we came across a very serious game of boules being played under the shade of the trees, this is the first time I have ever seen a tape measure being used!

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Time for a leisurely drive back to the campsite along the quiet back lanes, and who knows, maybe a chance to take another photo of the fields of lavender!!!

 

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Steve and Sara Come to Stay

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Thursday 5th July 2018

Steve and Sara came to join us on this leg of our adventure. They had stayed with us on the first leg in Lisbon last year so obviously they are getting a taste for life on the open road, all be it one weekend a year, although there was talk of them getting a VW camper….watch this space! Their flight to Marseilles was delayed by a couple of hours but we still had plenty of time to catch up over a bottle or two of wine. After a few glasses of wine Steve is always keen to play the old catch a malteser in the mouth game, however Jane had neglected to tell him she had run out of her favourite chocolate sweet and made do with something the rabbits had left behind, still after a couple of bottles of wine who cares!!!

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Friday 6th July 2018

As it was a day when Jane was doing her hair,  Steve and I decided to go for a long walk in the woods and put the world to rights.  We knew that we would have at least a couple of hours and that should be long enough.  However the first thing we had to ponder on was why were there so many snails on one fence post at one time…………to which we didn’t really come up with a sensible answer!

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With the stunning backdrop of the Provencal hills,  solving the world’s problems became relatively easy……….so Teresa May give us a call, I’m sure we can fit you in, and America is easy, just get rid of Donald Trump. There that’s all that sorted………….

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Back for a small low calorie lunch, thats mine by the way, Steve had a dried cracker and a  glass of mineral water!

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Sara had work to do, so the three of us set out to explore Cotignac, a beautiful medieval village recommended in the guide book.  It was handy having a photographer with us as we don’t often get too many photos of the two of us together.

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What a beautiful place it was as well, you don’t get more typically French than this photo with a 2CV on the drive!

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The shops were particularly quiet…………….

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This could be something to do with a certain football match being played, France V Uruguay. The whole town was in the main square and every bar was packed, they even closed the main road!

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What a great atmosphere and lovely place to watch a football match, they even set a flare off after the first goal.  Steve was disappointed as for the first time in years he hadn’t packed his flares!

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I can’t believe after nearly 52 years of friendship it still makes us laugh when we take silly photos like this!

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We all thought this was a great place to visit, the faded elegance gave this place a charm all of its own!

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Saturday 7th July 2018

Meanwhile back at the silly photographs………………….

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Steve again was a little disappointed that his first choice of cafe for our petit-dejeuner was rejected by the girls, however the second choice of breakfast venue in Aix-en-Provence proved to be fine.  Aix, pronounced aches and not A, as I kept saying, is another charming city that is a must-see when visiting this area of France.

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We visited on a Saturday morning which is market day, and we were advised to catch a bus, as parking was very limited and difficult to find.

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These markets are a real joy to all your senses, the sights, sounds and smells make it more than just a shopping experience!

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Whilst I don’t mind a little bit of shopping what I really do enjoy is the photo opportunities that a place like this has in abundance !

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Well Steve finally got his choice of lunch venue, he found this small restaurant using the Yelp app on his phone and it was lovely. This eatery was well away from all the normal tourist areas and had a fresh menu du jour, and not the usual plastic coated photographic cards you might find in the aforementioned places.  The food was excellent and thoroughly enjoyable.

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All this fun proved too much for some of us, although Jane said it was probably too much wine!

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That evening we were invited around for a BBQ chez Sara’s sister Fiona and her husband Andre.  We were joined by their friends Marie-Lou and her husband Eric.  Fiona has been living in France for over 40 years now after having met Andre on a gap year from college.  Both Sara and Steve had said that Andre was an excellent cook and not to fill up too soon as they know that I enjoy my food. Well to say the food was excellent would be an understatement, and I couldn’t really pace myself, course after course of the most tasty home cooked food kept arriving in front of me, and I didn’t want to appear rude and not clear my plate……..and everyone else’s come to that!  I think I might have to start planning one of next year’s road trips so that we can all do it again!!

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Andre and Fiona have two huge great Irish Wolfhounds which were about the size of small ponies! You can see them here giving me a look of disgust as they saw me finishing off what could have been their tea!

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Sunday 8th July 2018

After the previous late night we decided a restful day around the pool would be a good idea. Still the household chores still need to be done and with a bit of basic training Steve slotted right in to the caravanner’s life, although holding his stomach in and sweeping at the same time did prove to be a little difficult……………..and he did however  draw the line at emptying the loo!

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And still the silly pictures keep coming, I’m not sure how Steve could tell it was me in there!

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Monday 9th July 2018

Fiona had recommended a few places to visit and told us of a great route back to the airport.

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First stop Cassis. We all had a great time when we visited the home of the inventor of the open-toed sandal, Phillippe Flop, although Sara did find some of the scenes sole destroying !

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Cassis is a lovely port on the Mediteranean, and our plan was to drive along the Corniche to Marseilles and have lunch there.

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So before the coastal drive we thought a couple of pre lunch drinks would be in order, so we had a couple of corniche pastis ( I know its a bad pun but it made me laugh!)

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This photo is in here for no other reason than I like the colours!

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Marseilles proved to be a fitting place to end our great weekend together, where will the next place be that Steve and Sara join us on our travels?

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When we arrived back at our site that night we found that we had new neighbours.  I had my reservations at first but the were a very nice quiet friendly family!

 

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St Tropez

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Tuesday 3rd July 2018

A scenic drive down to St Tropez and along the coast was the plan for today.

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The colours of the bushes along the verges were beautiful, the bright colours of the pink flowers the green leaves and the clear blue sky certainly added to the pleasure of this trip.

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Our first stop of the day was at a town Jane had read about in the guide book called Bormes-les-Mimosas. This was well worth taking time for a little diversion to go and see.

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This beautiful place was perched on top of a hill overlooking the Mediterranean………….

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I’m not too sure if the guide book had mentioned the handbag shops but Jane managed to find them without too many problems!

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Whilst I on the other hand was content to sit in the shade and look after the picnic!

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After sightseeing, shopping and lunch, and a bit more driving, the lure of the sea was getting too much for me. We found a little  beach at a place called La Croix-Valmer to stop and have a swim, and seeing as everyone else was going topless I thought I would join them (Jane still hasn’t fixed the hole in the elbow of my other swimming costume!) The water was lovely and refreshing; just what I needed to wake me up for the drive along the windy backroads to St Tropez.

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Arriving in St Tropez from along the smaller backroads we came upon the Citadel. After about 20 minutes of trying to figure out the parking meter we arrived at this impressive building.

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The castle had commanding views of the bay and the surrounding area.

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This is a view through the glass of the light which is used to guide the multi-million pound yachts into port, although I expect they have Sat-Nav as well!

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We were going to hire a super-yacht for a week but the one we wanted with the helipad had been taken and Jane had had her heart set on that one so we will have to wait until  next year for that!

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We were lucky to find not one, but two, parking spots in town.  At the time we didn’t realise how lucky that was until speaking to friends afterwards. So a short stroll from our second parking space (outside Dior and Gucci, and no we didn’t go in!) and we were in the harbour. The old port was full of small sailing boats…………

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……..and they looked very much in keeping with the surroundings…………….

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…….but turn around and you see all the huge great boats absolutely oozing with money, with young bikini clad girls posing all over them, mind you I didn’t mind that too much! This is a picture of the inner harbour, there are many many more craft of all different  sizes just around the corner, out of shot. I did enjoy my visit to St Tropez, however I found the atmosphere to be slightly “false”, with money seeming to be too much in evidence,  and because of that the charm of this place was slightly diminished in my eyes. Mind you if we hire that yacht next year that feeling will probably change!

 

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The Night From Hell

Saturday 30th June

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We had chosen a campsite in the Provence region for a longer stay of 9 nights as we were to be joined by Steve and Sara for a long weekend. We decided to break the long drive with an overnight stop, and we would just decide on a campsite when we were getting tired. This system has worked very well for us in the past and we couldn’t see any reason why  it wouldn’t work again. At 4pm, after 6 hours of towing the caravan, we decided to look for a site, and picked one in Serrières-de-Briod in the Rhône-Alpes.

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On arrival all seemed well, we set up camp and I went for a swim………..

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The sun was slowly sinking in to the lake and all was tranquil. We had booked a nearby restaurant as we were both exhausted after a long drive through the mountains.  We had chosen the scenic, very windy route and not the more direct quicker autoroute as we wanted to enjoy the journey, and it was beautiful.

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We could see the restaurant from our pitch, in fact if we could have walked there directly it would have taken us 2 minutes, but as it wasn’t part of the campsite it took us 20 minutes to get there by a more circular route.  Before we left, a sound check started and VERY loud music began emanating from said restaurant!  A little concerned we went to reception, and as we passed a large marquis en route  a disco started up!!!!!

On arrival at the front desk we asked in our best French what was going on and how long the music was going to be blaring out. The kindly receptionist let us know that the campsite was celebrating a local fête and the music would go on until maybe midnight and it was the restauranteur’s birthday so probably midnight as well.

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Well that didn’t sound too bad, it was nearly 9pm and we were going out to eat and so we wouldn’t be overly inconvenienced.

We had a lovely meal and the music was at an acceptable level which we assumed would continue for the party after…….how wrong we were!!!!!

Midnight came and the volume in both venues was cranked up to max…. and carried on until 2.30am.

Two very grumpy sleep deprived people woke up very late the next morning to continue their drive to Provence!

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Strasbourg

 

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Thursday 28th June 2018

The drive to Strasbourg was littered with many road closures and traffic jams.  This is really the first time on all of our travels that we have encountered any problems. The road layout in the city also caused me a few worries and I think I may have driven the wrong way up a one way street! The next concern was the height of the underground car park, but as you can see there was nothing to worry about as I had at least 2 inches to spare!

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It was about time we visited Strasbourg to try and see if we could lend a hand with this BREXIT thing. We understood that they were having a problem with a customs agreement and I thought I would help if they needed me. My main worry being when we travel around Europe in our caravan are we going to encounter any problems bringing wine and cheese back home? I know there are other aspects to this, such as the motor industry and airplane manufacturing, but I do like my cheese!

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Anyhow before we got in to all that, there was still time to have a look around the city. We started at Strasbourg Cathedral (also known as the Cathedral of Our Lady) which was for 400 years the tallest building in all Christendom.

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The Cathedrals spire stands high above the streets full of half-timbered houses……..

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And inside the building the intricacies of the stained glass windows really stand out as the sun bursts in.

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The canals of “Petite France” on the tow path are a joy to walk alongside, and you can even forget that you are in the middle of a big city!

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This is one of four covered bridges that were built in the 13th century as part of a defensive network.

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You can still find a space for a little quiet time with your girl friend even in this big city!

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Friday 29th June 2018

After a busy day in Strasbourg (hopefully we will see the fruits of our labours with Teresa May in the next few months!) we decided on a little drive out and a picnic beside a waterfall.

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This is the Grande Cascade de Tendon. An ideal place for a bit of a climb………

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……….although there were those amongst us who thought it……………

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……….. more prudent to wait and watch ! And the picnic was lovely

 

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Colmar

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Tuesday 26th June 2018

So after our failed attempt the previous day to get to Colmar, we thought we would give it another go. This time we would take the most direct route. But first things first, I still have to wait for Jane to “do” her hair, still it gives me plenty of time to catch up on Facebook!

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Colmar is a town in the Grand Est region of France, near the border of Germany.

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Its old town has cobblestone streets lined with half-timbered medieval and early Renaissance buildings.

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Everywhere you look it’s as if Walt Disney had designed it!

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Look,  its Mickey and Minnie!

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The town is on the Alsace wine route and the local vineyards specialise in Riesling and Gewürztraminer wines. Jane had a glass of Riesling which she said was very good, I tried the water as I was driving and that was very nice too!

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It was very hot on the day we visited so we decided to cheat on our exploring and caught the “petit train”, lazy I know, but very informative.

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This stunning fountain was next to the restaurant where we had lunch.  It took a while for Jane to stop worrying about eating in an Alsatian restaurant and when she realised we weren’t going to be having a large dog for lunch she was ok.  What we did have for lunch was Flammekueche, this local  dish is to Alsace what pizza is to Italy. This is a tarte flambée topped with cream, cream cheese, lardons and onions……….it was lovely!

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The sunny day did my photos a favour as they really seem to have captured the atmosphere.

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We stopped in a Super U on the way back to the caravan as I was worried that I might be running out of pork pie. The lady serving me couldn’t quite believe the size of the slice I wanted.  It was lovely, and low calorie too!

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After eating that pie, and as the heat had gone out of the sun, I decided to go out for a cycle ride……

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The views were great but the cycling was hard work, 55 minutes all uphill and 5 minutes  down, still I suppose I worked off the pie!

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Wednesday 27th June 2018

Today is going to be a relatively lazy day starting with a lay in….or so we thought. Now I admire a trimmed bush as much as the next man, but not while I’m having my breakfast!

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We had a little picnic down by the lake and no sooner had I got my baguette out, the wind began to blow……….

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So we decided to head up to the mountains in search of better weather, which we found along with plenty of peace and quiet.

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Now I know you might think this is wild, but we went home and played Upwords in the middle of the afternoon………Yep in the middle of the afternoon, and drinking wine as well, we should be ashamed of ourselves at our age! (Guess who won???)

 

 

 

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The Vosges

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Saturday 23rd June 2018

After a slow drive along the back roads, avoiding all the motorways, we arrived at our latest campsite. Camping Le Clos De La Chaume is a quiet site in a small town set in the middle of the Vosges mountains.

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Sunday 24th June 2018

I awoke early on the Sunday morning to a strange loud noise, at first I thought it was Jane snoring, but on closer inspection the sound was coming from outside the caravan and not next to me (although the sounds were just the same!)…………….

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A quick look outside and we saw a hot air ballon in a degree of difficulty, only just managing to clear the trees…………………

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It was all good news as the pilot managed to avoid any problems, and a campsite full of campers, all in their pyjamas, breathed a sigh of relief !

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Monday 25th June 2018

Today we set off to drive to Colmar and decided to go the scenic way through the Ballons des Vosges Nature Park.

 

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The drive was stunning and with so many stops for photos the drive took a lot longer than expected. The road we decided to take was the Route des Crêtes (route of the ridges)

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Most of this route is at an elevation of 3,117 feet and is generally open from April to November and closed in the winter due to snow.  The road surfaces were a little uneven due to the effects of the bad winter weather, however the verges looked lovely as they spring back into life during the early summer!

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Not a good time to go on the piste unless you have got roller-skates, you see the green grass of the ski slopes as you drive through these mountains.

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Not too many people out walking today, this is the Col du Grand Ballon which is 4,406ft high and we cheated because we drove to the top!

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The areas around these mountains have changed hands many times over the years, the Alsace and Lorraine regions  were ceded to Germany in the Treaty of Frankfurt in 1871 and these mountains then became the border between France and Germany.

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During World War One this road was upgraded to enable French Troops to reach the battlefields safely.  This route was built below the ridge to the west and was thus out of the range of German guns.

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It’s again hard to believe that this place, now so peaceful and beautiful,  was the scene of much death and destruction 100 years ago.

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We saw this vast cemetery where you would least expect to find one, on our panoramic drive through the Vosges!

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We never made it to Colmar, we will save that for another day………. now time for tea!

 

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