Thursday, 13 October 2016

Windsor, then Home

Monday 10th October 2016

After yesterday's rain, we have a bright and sunny day.

We  are close enough to Gary & Susana's house to cycle there, but, in the interests of saving time, we unload the scooter from trailer, and use that to ride to Wyatt Road.

A very pleasant morning spent with Susana and Salma, followed by retail therapy for Kathleen, while Salma attends a hospital appointment. 

We have the very pleasant task of collecting Gabriel from school, after his football club.

The whole point of stopping off at Windsor, was to see the family, Gary, Susana, Gabriel and Salma, but, as so often happens with jobs such as Gary's, things do not go according to plan, and, it looks as if we will not see him, but, then, late in the afternoon,  a nice surprise, Gary arrives home, so, we get to spend the evening with all of the "Windsor Reays".

By the time we leave, to return to the Van, it is a cold and dark ride back. We have the correct protective clothing with us however, and Kathleen earns another "stripe" on her "bike-chick" credentials!.

Tuesday 11th October 2016

Brr.... a really cold and frosty start, to the day, but, bright and sunny as the morning progresses.

An hour or so, with Gary all to myself, whilst we return his hire car, followed by very pleasant walk and lunch at Virginia Water, with the ladies (Kathleen, Susana and Salma) joining us.

Looking after Gabriel and Salma, whilst Gary and Susana go to Gabriel's School, to hear his teacher praise him (what else!).

A family meal, in the evening, to round off the day.

A little excitement as we get a taxi back to the Van. I ask to be taken to "Queens Acre" (the name of the Campsite), only to be taken to a rather smart housing development. Be warned, there are two places called "Queens Acre", in Windsor.

No problem, the driver acknowledges the mistake, and we arrive eventually, at the correct place. Actually, I am rather flattered that the Taxi Driver thought we looked affluent enough to live at the Queens Acre housing development, but, then again, perhaps, he thought we were "staff"?

Wednesday 12th October 2016

It would appear, the bright sunny weather has come to an end, cloudy with showers this morning.

Gary drives along to bid us farewell and safe journey.

We arrive home late afternoon, after an uneventful journey.

The garden is pleasantly tidy, thanks to Phillippa and Claire's efforts, it is so nice, NOT, to return to an out of control garden!

The journey, overall.

The journey home, in video.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Dunkirk to Dover, Rainham in Kent and Windsor

Sunday, 9th October 2016

Our Ferry is 6:00am, with check-in 5:00am, and about 20 minutes drive to the Port, from the
Gravelines Aire, so, needless to say, it is dark and cold, given the time of morning, to make matters more unpleasant, it is raining, not continually, but, a series of heavy showers.

Amazingly, at such an early hour, the ferry is very crowded, lots of buses, each of course with 50-60 passengers.

A wet arrival in Dover, at 7:15 UK time.

Reasonably light traffic, but,pouring rain, most of the way to Rainham in Kent.

But, the sun shines, as we arrive at Chez Brian and Linda, for breakfast.

Gravelines to Rainham, in video.

After breakfast, a catch up chat, and a brief tour of Brian's new toy (Smart Car to tow behind campervan), we travel around the M25 to Queens Acre, Windsor, for a nice welcome from Celeste, the owner.

Once settled in, we cycle the 1.5 miles to Gary and Susana's for our Gabriel and Salma fix.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Chateau-Thierry, Coucy Le Chateau and Gravelines

Friday, 7th October 2016

Rather dull, 8C as we leave Chateau-Thierry. It does improve as the day progresses, but, just a little sunshine, and 15C.

First stop, Lidl, so Kathleen can add to her wine and Gin collection.

It turns out to be Market Day in Chateau-Thierry, what a shame, we missed it.

Then a pleasant 45 miles or so along quiet roads, to Coucy Le Chateau.

It is a pleasant small village, no problems as a stop over, but, I am pleased I did not choose as the stop-over for the day of my birthday, the only "commerces" are a Pharmacy and a Boulangerie!

That is first impressions, but, there is a "haut ville", with a ruined 13th century castle, and, I suspect, one or more bars / cafes / hotels, but, I cannot coax Kathleen into climbing the steep hill to get there.

The Aire at Coucy Le Chateau (N49 31.199 E3 18.805), appears well organised, no entry barrier, but, a similar machine to Chateau-Thierry, to pay for
Electricity, etc, and, dispense a code to give access to water, toilet and electricity. 

The charge is 5Euro / 24 hours, Parking, Water, Toilet and 16amp EHU, everything clean and tidy.

There are marked out spaces for six vans, when we arrived, just before lunch time, only one van here (British), then a further three Brits turned up, by 15:00, it was full plus an extra two vans squeezed in (French and Belgian). 

This portion of the trip, in video.

Saturday, 8th October 2016

Misty and murky start to the day, but, not cold. By lunchtime, a hint of blue sky.

The final leg, to our usual last stop, Gravelines, which is really like saying Dunkirk, since, Gravelines is a rest stop, if it is a Saturday (which it is), Kathleen goes to church.

A traffic free drive, except around Lille, and a leisurely lunch stop, to make a pleasant last day in France.

Once we arrive, and get "set up" we have a meal, Kathleen does church, then, a little drink, and an early night, because, tomorrow is a 4:30am start.

This portion of the trip, in video.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Briare, then to Chateau Thierry

Wednesday, 5th October 2016

Another bright, dry, cool morning.

Even as we head north, it stays sunny and by mid afternoon, it is 15C.

We say our fond farewell's to Deryk and Lesley, and Lesley treats us to a hilarious review of her English pronunciation of her French vocabulary, just to prove, she does not speak French. Droite (right) is a particular favourite of Kathleen's.

Still chuckling, head off for Chateau Thierry.

A pleasant drive of about 140 miles. Kathleen's alarm level increasing steadily as we approached nearer and nearer to Paris, but, after Fontainbleu, the sat-nav took us "cross country", totally avoiding the dreaded Paris Ring Road.

Our stopping place at Chateau Thierry is an Aire, N49 2.195' E3 22.966'. 

Incredibly well organised. 

Spacious, marked out bays, with more of less level hard surface, and a small grass area. Spaces for about a dozen vans.

We arrived about 1:00pm, there were about six vans here, by 4:30pm, it was full. 

Supermarkets and Town Centre, within easy walking (or cycling) distance, ie one mile to Town Centre.

You must pay, by debit/credit card, on entry. 

The machine gives instructions in English if required, you choose how long you want to stay (24 or 48 hours), how many people and if you want EHU. On the above date, the tariff was Euro9.90 per day, two people with services including EHU.

You get a receipt containing a code to open the barrier, and a separate code for the toilets / showers. 

There are the usual services, ie waste water emptying point, chemical toilet emptying point, plus, washing up sinks.

The Aire is located behind a McDonalds (no usable wifi signal on Aire), and alongside the River Marne.

The journey, so far.

This portion of the trip, in video:

Thursday, 6th October 2016

Blue sky, sunshine, but, we are in Northern France, and, it is October, so, a cool 8C in the morning, rising to a pleasant 16C by lunchtime.

Today, is my birthday, the last year of my 60s, so, I have to make the most of it,

We take a leisurely stroll into town, along the River Marne.

In the Town Centre, the travelling Fair and Circus, which was there yesterday, is gone, no sign that it was ever here.

We stroll around the town, in the autumn sunshine. 

I have already selected where I want to eat (L'Adress Rive Droite), but, Kathleen, being a woman, always like to check, just in case she has missed something.

As is the French way, suddenly, the place becomes quiet, displays of goods are taken in, shops close their doors, it is Lunch Time!

So, we make our way to L'Adress Rive Droite, the place is buzzing, but, we are given a very pleasant window table.

We are treated to first class attention, once they establish we are English, which does not take long, given our very limited French!, a waitress appears and explains the "Menu du Jour", in English.

We have the full works, Aperitifs, three courses, wine, coffee and "digestifs". We practice our appalling French on the staff, which they accept in good humour, and, they lapse into English, when all else fails!

Wine is chosen from a position of almost total ignorance, but is excellent. An excellent Port as an aperitif, for me, and Kir Blanc for Kathleen. Kathleen is amazingly adventurous, and even eats some salad with dressing on it, whilst for my starter, I have what I assume was eel (the waitress knew only, in English, that it was locally caught fish). If it was eel, it is the first time I have eaten it, palatable, but, perhaps, I will pass, or try snake next time!

A thoroughly enjoyable experience, which I enjoyed treating myself to. 


Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Briare - Canalside Aire

Tuesday, 4th October 2016

A really cool start to the day, at 2C, but, it soon warms up, and we enjoy 19C by mid-morning.

The place is jam-packed.

I unload the bicycles and off we cycle, initially, along the Canal Briare, but, the cycle track is not smooth enough for Kathleen's taste, so, we back track and follow the Canal Lateral de Loire, to Chatillon-sur-Loire.

The area is criss-crossed by water ways, at least two canals which are in current use,
plus an obsolete version of the Canal Lateral, and of course, the River Loire, it is very confusing, plus of course, if you end up on the "wrong side" of a water-way, they only option is to peddle to the next bridge to cross.

We do just over 15 miles.

This time, I do get a beer, on Kathleen, 

By chance, we meet our English neighbours, Deryk and Lesley, near Chatillon-sur-Loire, as they sit eating their picnic lunch, prior to continuing their hunt for hidden "geo-caches".

Monday, 3 October 2016

Gien and Briare

Friday, 30th September 2016

The weather forecast says, rain, this evening, but, as I lie in bed at 7:00am, I can hear rain pattering on the roof, this is not good.

Surprisingly, after the poor start, there is no more rain, although, it stays cloudy all day, temperatures are still reasonable however at 18C.

We set off on the scooter to find the Le Clerc, Hypermarket, to do the obligatory shopping for Wine, etc.

We do not find the Le Clerc, but, we do find a Carrefour, and do some serious (ie lots of) wine buying, to fill up the available carrying space on the scooter.

After lunch, another attempt to find Le Clerc, success, more wine is acquired.

You may gather from this, signposting and advertising of Supermarkets is not a French strong point, you would be right!

Eventually, 19:00, the rain comes.

Saturday, 1st October 2016

Torrential rain, all night, not that it bothers me, I am a sound sleeper!

Rain slowly clears, by 10:30, we are able to walk to the market, without being soaked.

Typical market, we actually buy something (universal plug, for the sink, ours appears to have been lost, by someone, who uses it when washing their hair, no names, no packdrill), a whole 1Euro, spent, on a pack containing four universal sink plugs.

In the evening, with black clouds threatening another downpour, which, fortunately, did not materialise, we take a three mile scooter ride to Saint-Martin-sur-Ocre, so Kathleen can go to Church.

Sunday, 2nd October 2016

Brilliant sunshine and a clear blue sky this morning, but, it is a very autumnal 9C, warming to 17C by mid afternoon.

Sunday morning, for Kathleen, is taken up with major hair-care operations. In addition, we wash everything which can be washed and charge everything which can be charged, fill up with water etc, because we expect to spend a few nights "roughing it" on Aires, as we make our way north to Dunkirk.

Scooter loaded onto trailer, along with bicycles.

All packed and ready to go, by 17:00.

The site had been almost empty, but, around lunch time, we get new neighbours, a very elderly French couple, with what appears to be enough equipment for a months stay, and, it all appears to be brand new.

Late in the afternoon, there is an influx of campervans and caravans, mostly Dutch (no surprise there) and, it would appear travelling in groups of two or three.

Monday, 3rd October 2016

Autumn is here today, only 1C, and fog on the river. But, the sun clears away the fog, for a very pleasant sunny day, with a balmy 20C by mid afternoon.

I cannot resist an attempt at some "arty" shots of the fog, on the RIver Loire.

Plenty of time, because today, we plan to travel only about nine miles, along the Loire, to Briare.

Briare, is the meeting point of two canals, and, there is an impressive acquaduct
carrying the Canal over the River Loire.

We cycled there a few days ago, and, there is an Aire, where we plan to stay for a couple of days, and cycle along the Briare Canal.

We call at Le Clerc, to fill up with diesel and do some food shopping, then, final alcohol shopping, at the Lidl, just outside of Briare.

There is at actually at least two Aires, possibly three. We choose the most scenic one, along side the canal. No Services, but a pleasant view. N47 38'3" E2 44'25". It is just across the road from the "official" Aire.

It is such a short distance, it is hardly worth the effort of giving a map, but, for completeness, here it is.

The short journey, in video.

We arrive, just after 12:00 lunch time, and get one of the last two spaces, so, clearly a popular spot, the moral of the story is, be early!

We are parked next to another English couple, Deryk and Lesley, from Hampshire, although, Deryk is really a Sunderland lad, his parents emigrated to the Hayes in the 1930's!

A delightful couple, who are indulging their love of "geo-caching".

Once settled, and a quick lunch, Kathleen suggests she will treat me to a glass of Rose, in one of the village cafe/bars.

All very fine, we select a bar, Kathleen orders to very nice, but, rather expensive (12Euro) glasses (yes, that is 6Euro per glass, not per bottle!) of Rose, and, we are given "free" local spicy sausage, in a small bowl. 

Fortunately, Kathleen does not like the sausage, so, I get to eat it all.

Now for the finale, Kathleen has forgotten her purse!, so, I get to pay for my own "treat".
While sitting in the sun, watching the boats go by, an elderly chap, riding on a mobility scooter, towing a cycle trailer, with a collie dog riding in it. Stops, and chats to us. 

If his tale is even half true, he has had a remarkable life. 

Joined the Sutherland Highlanders as a boy soldier, became an explosives expert and rose to the rank of Warrant Officer. 

After retirement from the Army, he sailed the canals of France, for several years, in his canal boat. 

At some point, at Briare, he was initially "delayed" by a defect on the Pont Canal. When that was repaired, and as he prepared to leave, he suffered a heart attack, and was further delayed. He subsequently had heart surgery and a tumour removed from his lung, courtesy of the French Health Service. 

Now, aged 82, he is still here, living on a house boat, attended by a daily carer, and a series of nurses, all provided by the French Healthcare System.

He also "works" as nightwatchman in the Marina, exchange for a free berth and services.

As I say, hardly a "standard" life story.


Thursday, 29 September 2016

Gien continued...

Wednesday, 28th September 2016

Blue sky and sunshine again this morning.

There are literally hundreds of birds flying along the river. Not sure what kind of bird, some are Herons, readily recognisable, but there are also many which look like Gulls or Terns, plus lots which look like Guillemots, but, we are hundreds of miles from the sea, and I thought Guillemots and Terns were sea birds?.

What ever they are, they are having a field day feeding on, what appears to be, a plentiful supply of fish. They are catching so many, they are dropping some of it, as they fly over the bridge crossing the river.

After yesterday's cycling activities, today, is a riding around on the scooter day.

We go to Briare, via the D951, since we cannot cross the river, using the "Pont du Canal", we have to travel on as far as Chatillon-sur-Loire, where there is a bridge with a 2.7metre height limit, fine on the scooter, but, not in the campervan.

We, eventually, find the Lidl in Briare, and clear the shelves (literally) of Kathleen's current favourite, White Zindanfell Rose. I have previously cleared out the underseat storage area and the top box on the scooter, so, we are able to fill up the space with Wine, Gin, oh, and some food.

The rest of the day is spent washing clothes (Kathleen) and lying about in the Sun (both of us).

A little bit of excitement, right at the end of the day, at 10:00 in the evening, in the pitch black, a British Caravan outfit arrives.

We watch as they try to reverse and park in the dark, with little success, and a few near misses with trees and shrubbery!

Eventually, Kathleen goes out and speaks to them to explain, there is a pitch next to us, where they can simply drive in and leave the car hitched up, until they sort things out, tomorrow, in daylight.

They gratefully accept this idea, and are soon parked, rather than disturbing the neighbours.

We assume, they must be novices, or, that some unforeseen circumstance must have caused them to have arrived so late, and in total darkness, but, the next day as Kathleen interrogates (sorry, chats to) them, it appears, no, they are experienced caravanners, and, the late arrival had been "planned". It certainly was not evident last night.

Thursday, 29th September 2016

Another gloriously sunny day, 25C.

The weather forecast says it is going to be a cool 18C tomorrow, and, raining, but, apart from a breeze developing late in the afternoon, there is no sign of a change in the weather today.

Breakfast over, we cycle along the Loire Cycle Route, north, my plan (not declared to Kathleen of course), is to cycle to Sully-sur-Loire, about 20 miles north of here.

The first four miles or so, are easy going, but, at Saint-Gondon, The cycle route leaves the river bank and goes "cross-country", through very pleasant, but, let us say "undulating terrain", or, as Kathleen would say, "oh no, look at that hill".

We pass through Saint-Florent, and on to Lion-en-Sullias.

At this point, when we have cycled about 11 miles, I break the news of my "plan" to cycle to Sully-sure-Loire, about another 9 miles. 

This is not well received, particularly when the only Bar come breadshop come everything, in Lion-en-Sullias, is closed at 11;45, despite the displayed openning times which clearly state, it should be open.

So, we leave the signposted cycle route and peddle along the quiet D951 to return to Saint-Gondon, where we find a friendly bar where we have beer and "frites". We have a
portion of chips, equivalent to those Kathleen paid 4.50Euro for at the motorway aire, for 2Euro.

Fortified, we rejoin the cycle route and return to Gien, to complete just over18 miles.

We chance upon an Aire, in Saint-Gondon, a large level parking area, near the village centre (and bar), N47 41.993 E2 32.613. There is no signs suggesting there is a fee, there appear to be only waste water and toilet disposal facilities, but space for 8-10 vans. There is only one there as we pass.