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Photo of me at Land's End, Cornwall

Here, there, everywhere and some other places too …


On to Calais...

I knew what I was letting myself in for with a drive from the Champagne region to Calais. A total of 230 miles but I have to say it was very comfortable on the autoroutes and on arriving at the campsite in Guines there was a deep air of satisfaction.
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Le Bien Assie campsite is a very popular one with us. It is where we always start our travels in France and similarly it is the site we always finish up on.

This time the weather was a lot more pleasant than the opening day of our trip and the site had filled up, mostly with GB motorhomes and caravans. We decided to stay 2 nights so that we could do our crossing and drive up through England on Sunday morning, much less traffic.

One of the great things about this trip is the number of times we experienced very pleasant and unexpected surprises. It transpired we weren't finished in that regard as we prepared to quit France for the Eurotunnel.

More on this in the next post.

Cream of Asparagus, good friends and Jimmy Bock…

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Wednesday, May 15, 2013 was special. Very special.

Actually, it all started a year ago when Nancy and I were travelling through Alsace on our way back to the Isle of Man following our motorhome trip to France and Switzerland. We had met a couple en route and, as usually happens, we exchanged opinions on the places we had been to and the sites we had visited. We mentioned that we intended travelling through Alsace and, in particular, visiting Colmar. I had never been but my late parents used to visit some friends and often enthused about it.
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The couple suggested that we go to Equishiem and mentioned Camping des Trois Chateaux as a well placed campsite. We took their advice and spent a few days in what is a very enchanting region of France.

The town is simply beautiful and so full of atmosphere and I hope the earlier pictures give an indication of that. On our first stroll into Equishiem we passed a very pretty restaurant called Caveau Heuhaus (see picture). We decided to stop and have dinner and we sat outside. During the meal piano music started to drift through the air from inside the restaurant and we were very impressed because it was 60s and 70s classics and we knew every one. We passed on our compliments to the lady who was looking after our table and she told us that the pianist was from the area, retired and played for them once or twice a week. Turned out he was quite famous having been Chuck Berry's piano player for some 25 years.
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When we returned last Sunday we made a bee line for the restaurant to see if he was still around. There we met the same waitress and she confirmed the pianist was still playing and would be on Wednesday and Thursday of this week. As Wednesday was to be our last night with Loretta and Gianni we booked a table.
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What happened last Wednesday was utterly fantastic. The food was wonderful and there was an abundance of asparagus dishes, the local speciality. We all settled for the cream of asparagus soup which was to die for. Different main courses followed and then on came Jimmy Bock. For the next two hours he captivated the diners and within no time at all people were up dancing and singing along. From piano playing to singing to harmonica playing and occasionally doing all three at the same time, honestly, it was simply fabulous and made for the most incredible night.

As we ambled back to the campsite the four of us chatted and agreed that it was truly a night to remember.

Google Jimmy Bock and see there are a number of Youtube videos.

If you ever find yourself in Alsace, check out the restaurant and if you get a chance to see Jimmy Bock grab it with both hands. As a piano player myself I have never seen anything quite like it. He is fantastic.

And finally...


Thoughts about Rapido...

There are many forums online where motorhomers gather and exchange tips, tricks and stories of their trials and tribulations. Unquestionably they are a source of good advice and get you out of little scrapes here and there. I can certainly point to a number of things about this trip which were helped by going on line and posing a question.

Again, driving in convoy with another couple is comforting as there is always someone there if anything goes wrong. So it is with us on this trip. Inevitably we have had things go wrong where the principle of two heads being better than one saved the day.

There was the time at the beginning of the trip when, mysteriously, the heat stopped working and simply wouldn't start. We tried every trick we could think of but to no avail so we went to bed early and decided we would seek out an engineer in the morning. That was the night it snowed!

The next morning the system mysteriously reset it self and hasn't been a problem since.
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Arriving in Alsace from Germany we discovered that the water had stopped running through the system. Nothing when you turned on any tap, no flushing in the toilet and no shower.

Gianni, who knows a bit about these things joined me and the manual and we tried to logically get to the bottom of it. The fuse was ok, we tried the "turning it off and turning it on again" routine over and over again but it stubbornly refused to perform. We concluded it must be the pump so that took the problem beyond our reach. I went down to reception to enquire if there was any local engineer who might help but I got a blank expression and a card indicating a garage about 40 miles away. We tried to phone this place and all we got was music and nothing else. Their Web site wasn't any better.

Then we noticed on the back of the Rapido Manual a telephone number so we took pot luck and tried it. Straight away we got through to Rapido and a helpful lady responded favourably to my initial, "Parlez vous Anglais?". I told her my dilemma and wondered if there were any Rapido dealers in the area, after all it is a French company. She then asked me if I was driving a UK model and I said that I was. At that she transferred me to another department where I was greeted to a english sounding gentleman called Anthony. Straightaway he asked me for details of the problem and then asked me for my telephone number so he could call me back.

He had located a suitable dealership some 30 miles away but for some reason they were closed all day Monday and despite several phone calls there was no response. I was very pleasantly surprised at his attentiveness and, in truth, it sounded very comforting to know that help was on hand. He gave me the address and the directions to the dealership and suggested I go up there first thing Tuesday morning and he would pursue them till he got a reply. Well, that is exactly what we did. We left at about 8:30 and drove slowly to a small down near Strasbourg called Benfeld. Along the way the phone rang and it was Anthony telling me that he had spoken to the dealership, they were expecting me and he wished me luck.

When we arrived the receptionist spoke perfect English and informed the service manager that we had arrived. He accompanied me to the van where I explained as best I could what the problem was. He drove the van into the workshop and I joined Nancy and Dougal in the little lounge area. We assumed it would be hours and so we started to think about exploring the local town and having some lunch.

Within 15 minutes the service manager returned with a big smile on his face and gave me a thumbs up. They had found the problem. An electrical connection somewhere under the sink area had become corroded and had finally broken off. A few minutes and it was repaired and the Vinny Van was as good as new. The garage was CLC Alsace Route National 83 Direction Colmar 67230 Benfeld. The whole repair cost me €17!

When I go back to the site I called Anthony to thank him for his efforts and was interested to find out a bit more. He is Anthony Pfaff and works in technical support especially for the export market. He is based in France and I have to say he reminded me of the long gone days when customer service really meant something and when nothing was too much trouble. I counted 7 calls he made to me during a period of just under 48 hours. So a very big thank you to Anthony and also to Rapido for providing such a service.

Is the Pope a Catholic?

Time to move on to our next stop. On Sunday we head off into Northern Italy to meet up with our friends, Loretta and Gianni who are currently installed near Alassio in the coastal region of Liguria.

We have had a lovely time at Port Grimaud and managed to explore the area as never before. There were some special moments too. For example, during the week I was rummaging through spreadsheets from previous trips and found my records from our first trip to this area. That was back in 2010 and we stayed then on the very same pitch we have this time. I was looking at this on last Tuesday, 16th of April and discovered that we first arrived on this pitch exactly 3 years ago to the day.
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We have nice neighbours here including, to our left, a lovely Dutch couple who have a caravan. Marten says "Hello" every morning and he enjoys Dougal's expertise in sniffology. Last week while chatting to him he told me that they come every year at the same time and park on the same pitch. I told him our history and we assumed that our paths must have crossed before.

Yesterday as I was wandering up to the store to get the day's supply of croissants Marten was waving at me animatedly. He told me that he had looked through his diaries and there on the 16th April 2010 was the entry, "We got Irsih neighbours today." Isn't it a small world?
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But far and away my favourite moment happened yesterday at lunch in the "happy go lucky" little restaurant that serves the campsite. As I have said before it is simple, serves good food and is reasonable. It also has a charming young waitress called Miriam (pictured) who is absolutely delightful and whose English is as good (or should that be bad?) as my French. We have fun getting our messages across and so far our collective franglais has managed to get us by.

Yesterday as we took our seats for a quick bite of lunch she ambled up and with her usual professionalism asked, "Can I get something for you to drink?"

My response will be well known to those who know me well!

"Is the Pope a Catholic?"

A bewildered look spread across her face, there was a pause and then she said;

"I don't know!"

Can't wait for dinner!

Monaco Madness

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It might just be a bit of a stretch to equate a trip to Monte Carlo with an examination of the virtues and inadequacies of the English language but here goes!

So first things first. It was Wednesday, April 17, 2013 and the decision was made. We would have a day trip to Monaco and sample the excesses of Monte Carlo. The satnav said 72 miles, mostly motorway so no big problem there. One of the silly attractions for us is, because Monaco is "a Sovereign State", it gets to qualify as a new country we have visited while motorhoming. The drive there was easy and our descent into Monte Carlo, for indeed a descent it was, was made more complicated by narrowing streets, hairpin bends and the latest French craze…Road Works. Men in yellow tops directing other men in yellow tops driving big diggers while two other men holding lollipop stop/go signs make unilateral decisions on who to piss off next. Happy days.

Descent completed we arrive at the port area of the city and suddenly realise we aren't the only tourists to decide to visit today. Maybe it was something to do with the Toyota Masters Tennis tournament with Andy Murray trying to get another title under his belt or the fact that in a few weeks time the Formula One world will descend on this place for the Monaco Grand Prix but, to put it mildly, the place was full to the gills with more men in yellow tops erecting giant stands for the hundreds of thousands of followers who will be turning up for the event.

Now, my reference to the inadequacy of the English language. Expletives are useful for venting frustration on the spur of the moment and we are all guilty of that…Helps to let of steam. But what if you spend one complete hour driving round narrow streets past parking garages all displaying the "Complet" sign looking for the merest semblance of a parking space and don't have any joy? What do you do then? After a while the expletives didn't seem to work any more as I fished around for new methods of soothing the ire.

I suppose everyone has watched the Monaco Grand Prix at some stage. You know that bit where they swirl around the harbour and go through that tunnel at something approaching 180 miles per hour? Well, I must have done that circuit at least 5 times yesterday and don't honestly believe I got much above 18 miles per hour on any of the laps.

Then up round by the Casino where dozens of Paparazzi were gathered as clearly something was going on.

They seemed particularly interested in one guy in a car so Miss Nancy leaned out the window and took his snap. Problem is we haven't a clue who he is! If anyone can tell us you will win an all expenses paid Happy Meal at your nearest MacDonald’s! That is him in the red car.


As we rounded the harbour for the nth time Nancy sighed and said aloud, "So this is how the other half live!" staring at a yacht which had its own helipad. "Other half?" I yelped "more like the other .0001%" I said, mustering with as much indignation as I was able.

Then a break through. A Restaurant with a small area in front of it which looked like it had been designed just for our vehicle. So we stopped, rushed in and got a table and had a lunch while we watched more men in yellow tops adding more levels to the already enormous stands.

So would I go back?


Good morning sunshine...

The beach at Port Grimaud on Wednesday, April 17, 2013 at 07:20am


Market day in St Tropez...

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Anyone following this blog will know by now that we are quite into markets in France. I love the way in which, literally, dozens of market traders move in, set up stall, sell their wares, dismantle and disappear all within the space of a few hours. They clearly move on to other locations and the range of products available is remarkable.

Fresh food, clothes, gadgets and prepared dishes all form part of the items on offer and one can't help but notice the fact that apart from catering to local tastes they are also very effective tourist attractions.

Today's event was at St Tropez. Thats the place which is the "go to" location for the sort of people who have more money than sense.

Eventually, as you can see, the boys just needed to take a break!!
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For example, strolling by a few restaurants it is no exaggeration to say that the prices were, in some cases, three times the cost of our local campsite restaurant. Silly really.

Anyway, it was a busy day and there are a few more pictures
on our photo gallery page.

Getting to know you...

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There can't be too many people who have not heard of or read about The Côte d'Azur, often known in English as the French Riviera. It is the Mediterranean coastline of the southeast corner of France which is the home of exotic places such as Cannes, Nice, Monte Carlo and, of course, St Tropez. Like so many things in France there is much more to find behind the glitz and with that thought in mind we decided to explore a little for ourselves.

There is a lot of fun just driving along country roads off the beaten track but in the world of motorhoming most campsites come with a very efficient information service and Camping de la Plage is no exception. So over the next few days we will be going to and fro to see what there is to offer.

We started today and already it is a complete knock out.

Without moving any more than ten miles from the site we were told we might be interested to look at two small towns set back from the coast. They are Gassin and Ramatuelle.


Gassin is set on a hilltop overlooking the area and the pictures should give you a fair idea of the spectacular views that are available. As is, I sense, almost obligatory in rural France the towns are dominated by a church of antique proportions and in this case there was no exception. Both towns fall within the same parish, locally known as "Le Paroisses de La Croix Valmer, Gassin et Ramatuelle."
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As so often happens the best bits are to be found under your nose and although we have been here several times before we hadn’t actually thought to explore the features of the town of Port Grimaud itself.

It is a vast marina interwoven among little streets and very fashionable apartments. It is a veritable Venice of the Riviera as you can see from this assortment of pictures.

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A picture paints a thousand words...

Need I say more…?


Camping de la Plage, Port Grimaud

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Every so often you strike it lucky and end up in a location where everything is just perfect. Sometimes its by accident on others its by dint of copious research.

A few years ago when we started Motorhoming we met a couple in the Burgundy region who have remained good friends ever since. As is our style we always ask people we meet about their experiences as it forms the basis of our research and you learn a lot of good stuff. Well, when we met Pam and Geoff we were en route to the Riviera and we sought their advice on any good spots to settle for a few days. They mentioned one site in Port Grimaud where they had stayed and it sounded really good especially as they had pitches which had individual bathrooms. That was something we hadn’t experienced before and were excited to try it out.
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Eventually we made our way to Port Grimaud and sought out the site in question. It was owned by an English man and the first thing I noticed was that it was on the opposite side of the road from the beach. We had booked and we pulled into a very narrow reception point and parked as comfortably as the restricted area allowed. I went into the reception to check in and mid way through the task the door burst open and an English man came storming in demanding to know “what **** had parked his ****ing **** outside.” It appears that I was the ****!

At this point I assumed this was just a rude guy but as I was completing my registration I noticed that the young lady signing me in was clearly embarrassed Why? Simply because this was indeed the owner. I also discovered that prior to coming into the reception he had verbally abused Nancy who was sitting in the van. It only took a matter of seconds for me to decide that this idiot was unworthy of any custom, not least ours. So I cancelled and withdrew from the site.
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Back out on the busy seafront we drove along trying to calm down when, relatively quickly, we came upon Camping de la Plage. We pulled in and “Yes” they had availability. We were invited to walk about, select a pitch and then sign in. We then had the most beautiful stay in a blissful setting right on the beach gazing across at St Tropez.

Today we are on exactly the same pitch and life is good. The pictures were taken this morning.

The first picture is taken from the water’s edge and shows a segment of the site. The Vinny Van is the one with the satellite dish on display.

Within approximately 50 paces of our pitch is a pretty beach restaurant where the food is not only very good but also very reasonable. Picture two is of us having breakfast this morning, consisting of Omelette bread, croissants and cafe au lait! All for €8.
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Picture 3 is of the little supermarket on the site which has just about everything you would need. In fact it is the best on site shop we have come across anywhere.

Finally picture 4 is taken from the restaurant looking back at our pitch. The building you see is the toilet block which is always in pristine condition and the showers are powerful, hot and are not the infernal push button type.

A great site and, certainly, on of our favourites.

After thought:

I have just been talking to Ji Hye Lee on Skype to hear how she is enjoying her studies in Bordeaux. She asked me if I had mentioned her in today’s blog…I said, not yet!!

High points and low points...

We spent a total of 9 days in Sainte-Foy-La-Grande and enjoyed every one of them. The only drawback was the weather, something to do with the Gulf Stream and Morocco I am assured.
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The trip south was long, 192 miles the Satnav said and the first 40 or so were across the Dordogne countryside until we connected up with the main Bordeaux-Toulouse Motorway, heading south.

I think we were all tired…It gets that way when we have to travel, up early, disturbed sleep, anyway we got on the road at about 10:30, loaded up with Petrol and headed off.
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Despite the narrower country roads through Duras (pictured) and Marmande not to mention countless other villages we finally got to the motorway which made the long drive south so much easier.

We had read quite a bit about the site Camping de la Cite and were looking forward to it but sadly two things left me cold. At this point I am back onto my old rant about Wi Fi.

Because it is incredibly important to us I always ask in advance if Wi Fi is available. Thats a simple question that provokes many obtuse responses. "In the reception area", "Close to the restaurant" and "yes throughout the site". Invariably the accuracy of these answers leaves a lot to be desired. Never has it been worse than here. When will sites ever learn that inaccuracy that borders on sheer dishonesty does not pay? Here is what happened.

Two days before travelling I rang to check that they were open and had availability I checked to see if they had wi fi, not just in reception but on the pitches. "Bien sur" was the affirmation so I was happy with that. I did explain that it was essential to us as we were writers on the move with families scattered all over the place. So we were happy to depart.

What in effect I found was the worst set up I have yet to come across. The system is geared to removing your money and in return providing a very poor quality service which just shuts down without warning when your time is up. It doesn't stop there it appears you must use the tickets you buy within 12 hours or they become invalid. It was dreadful. We will NOT be returning. It was not strong enough to upload a blog.

Its a shame, really, as otherwise the site was quite attractive.

Lets hear from herself.


After leaving our favourite Dordogne campsite, we promised ourselves we'd finally visit Carcassonne as we'd passed it so many times previously on the motorway. So Frank found this seemingly perfect, four-star camp, and initially all seemed destined to be a nice location. But, first the Internet became not only difficult to receive, but astonishingly expensive as well. Add to that, the television, and in particular, Sky, decided to not receive a signal, which in the normal course of events wouldn't have been that important, but the Masters was about to begin. Those of you who know Frank well will understand what a calamity this presented. So...we determined to only stay one night at the campsite near Carcassonne, opting instead to find a largish car park for the motorhome near the entrance the following day so we could see the famous walled city on our way out.

The next day dawned with heavy skies and light rain; first setback. But we soldiered on, packed up, and made our way to the car park Frank found by virtue of Google maps. First problem we discovered is medieval cities were not designed to accommodate 21 century motorhomes. The obstacles included; low bridges, narrow streets, and blissfully unaware French pedestrians of the potential death risk they faced by casually strolling in front of a 3.5 ton motorhome with an annoyed Irishman at the wheel. Needless to say the car park was either gone, or relocated since Googles oh-so-enticing photo prompted us to seek it. We did get a fleeting glimpse of Carcassonne as we crossed a bridge, Frank risked life and limb by stopping momentarily, emergency flashers on, to snap a couple of shots (French motorists horns blaring angrily.) So, we left without having actually set foot on the inside of the city...again. Oh well...maybe another time!

As we left, Frank talked about the next stop, which was a bit over an hours drive away from one of our favourite destinations; Port Grimaud. I thought about it for a few minutes, watching Frank from the corner of my eye, and decided to ask, "What do you think about pressing on, and not stopping over for the night, and just on on to Grimaud?" He was delighted, and although it was a longish drive; two-hundred-sixty miles, and over five hours - we ended up in Heaven, and were even able to revisit the same pitch we had on our first visit to the campsite. Today we're ensconced on a perfect pitch that overlooks the Med, and we have clear skies, warm weather and a forecast of a weeks worth of sunshine. The only drawback is a high percentage of oldsters here seem to prefer to wear "budgie-smugglers" a.k.a. Speedos...not a pretty sight. All that said, Frank has declared the start of his Summer by breaking out his shorts and glowingly white legs - he looks wonderful! Frank's telly is working now, and the Internet is perfect. Seriously...this is why people have motorhomes!

Finally our view from the pitch in Port Grimaud. That is St Tropez in the background.


Time to move on...

So when we awake tomorrow it will be the start of our next days travel.

We are heading south to Carcassonne which is "a fairytale collection of drawbridges, towers and atmospheric cobbled streets was reputedly the inspiration for Walt Disney’s The Sleeping Beauty, and it’s a “must-see” on any trip through this part of southern France." Thats what the city's website says! It is just off the main motorway from Bordeaux to Toulouse and, in truth, we have seen it from afar on a number of occasions and each time we said, "We must go there sometime." So this is it.

The journey is just over 190 miles although the vast majority of that is on a motorway so, hopefully, it will be a comfortable trip.

Last night we took the advice of Brenda at the campsite and tried out a new (to us) restaurant called, L'Escapade situated just outside Port-Sainte-Foy and I have to say it was top notch. We would go back there in a heart beat and as the picture shows, that goes for all of us.

So for reflections on our time in the Dordogne region lets hear what:

As we prepare for our departure from what is, arguably, our favourite campsite in France, I reflect on the nine days of time on the bank of the Dordogne. Firstly, many thanks to Bob, Brenda and Peter; who own and operate Camping La Bastide. It is due to their tireless efforts in assuring the facilities and grounds are maintained in top-notch condition that this destination remains as a 'must see' for us every year.
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We were fortunate that a few days of the Spring-showers season allowed us a bit of sunshine, and we made the most of it, visiting the local market on Saturday, and even the medieval market in Issigeac on Sunday. As well as those treats, we were near enough to Bordeaux that Ji Hye was able to travel to Sainte Foy Le Grande to enjoy another weekend with us, and as a treat, we rented a chalet from Camping La Bastide for Ji Hye, so she even had her own little home for two nights!
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We discovered that one of our favourite restaurants in Sainte Foy had closed, but the good news was the lady (Catherine) who owned it had opened another a few miles away. We went for a lovely dinner with Bob and Brenda and discovered that not only was the food just as good as we recalled from previous years, but the setting was magnificent, if you're ever in the Dordogne it is highly recommended; XIII Closhers, in Monteon; We enjoyed it so much in fact, we took Ji Hye there a few nights later and subsequently discovered a very talented Anglican choir (see Frank's blog entry 6th April.)

So tomorrow, bright and early (argh!) we'll head off towards Carcassonne, which is a destination I've long requested as we've sped by the medieval walled city in years past.  Exciting times!

Lifes a gas!!

Ah, the joys of motorhoming! Seems, without knowing it, I've made a bit of a discovery when it comes to gas bottles.

What a way to start a blog, I suppose I better explain. First and foremost for the idiots, of which I am a leading member, motorhomes are powered by battery, electricity and gas. Quite simple really we have two (at least) batteries, one which powers the engine, just like a car, and a leisure battery, which powers everything else. Unless, of course, you happen to be on a campsite where you plug into the electricity source whereupon everything is electric.

The gas powers the cooker, and when needed, the fridge. It also is used to heat up the van which it does very quickly and efficiently. So when you drive around the place chances are you will be using all of these features. So far so simple.

Problem with gas is that it comes in bottles and they run out from time to time.

Now I don't know what your views on the EEC happen to be, but there is a gaping hole when it comes to compatibility with connectors for gas bottles.
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My supply? Well I have always had the typical Calor type and within the van I always carry two, a big 'un and a little 'un. Running out of gas has never been a problem for me because I've always managed to do it in the UK, and so switching to a new bottle was easy. But, once on the Continent if you happen to run out of gas, you're sort of on your own. As a believer in the 'better safe than sorry concept', I decided to research just in case. The more I researched the more complicated it became to my innocent mind. I did, however, come across a product that seemed to offer a solution. It was a simple adaptor one end of which screws into your gas unit, and the other end offers connectivity to other bottles. I bought it. It cost all of £4.00 and when it arrived I discovered that I got two for the price.

I put it into the van not knowing if I would ever need it. Everything became more newsworthy a few days ago when I realised that my smaller canister was about to run out. As I mentioned in a previous blog I met up with two new friends, Alan and Lynda, who drive a Rapido quite similar to mine. I went looking for Alan and he was in the throes of changing bottles as well. Our chat turned to our respective ideas. At this stage let me say Alan has forgotten more about motorhomes than I will ever know so when he showed me his set up I gulped as he was using terminology I'd never heard of. Trying my best to look like I knew what I was talking about I ventured to suggest, "do you not have an adaptor?" He didn't exactly call me an idiot but his response was, shall we say, kindly. The gist was that there was no such thing!

I nipped back to my van and rummaged in the "where to leave gas adaptors" department and produced my little gem. Back to Alan with an air of triumph and produced the brass fitting. Silence, followed by a head scratch then a protestation that he didn't feel it would help. Strolling close by at the time was Bob, the site owner, and we sought his advice. "Where did you get that?" he asked, and so I came to learn that neither of these two knowledgable gents had ever heard of my toy!

In the picture I am pointing at the brass adaptor and the cylinder on the right is the French bottle.
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So all this is academic because the question is does it work? The answer is a resounding "Yes" and I am now writing this to you being heated by my french gas courtesy of the adaptor.

For those who might just be interested in the adaptor I bought mine from Bullfinch who you will find at
http://bullfinch-gas.co.uk The part number is 1301 and now costs £4:18. In France you will find a compatible gas bottle in most supermarkets, garages and anywhere else that sells gas. Bring the device with you and make sure it fits before you buy.

As an epilogue to this I should say that I will blog about anything. You know that by now. It was Alan who said to me that I should write about this as that would be really useful to so many motor-homers. Only to happy to help.

At last, something older than me...

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Issigeac is a medieval village just south of Bergerac and I was recommended to go and investigate it! It is about 40 minutes drive from our base in Ste Foy la Grande and today seemed like a good one for the trip especially when I heard that Sunday is its market day.
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It is truly impressive as the town has carefully maintained its buildings, many dating from between the 13th and 18th centuries. In fact, its origins go back to the sixth century. In the seventh century a Benedictine Abbey was established and subsequently it received Papal protection, whatever that entailed! Seems it meant it was pretty important!
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As markets go it is very typical with the mix of foods, clothes and all sorts of goodies. Anyway, these few pictures will, hopefully, will give you a flavour of how it was.


A new discovery

I have been coming to this part of France for over 50 years. I recall as a child my parents taking us here and it left a sustained impression. Subsequently I kept coming back and so it was inevitable when I started motorhoming some 5 years ago that I would return to the Dordogne. I find it to be a veritable treasure chest of new views, villages and experiences which, simply, live in the memory bank.

In this immediate area you have places like Duras which is such a pretty place and, of course, Ste Foy la Grande itself, an imposing town built on the banks of the Dordogne.
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A few years ago we discovered a little restaurant in a side street in the town which was run by a jovial lady called Catherine.

We loved the place with its open fire where the steaks were done to perfection. We went back again and again and looked forward to a few visits this time around. Add to this the fact that the restaurant was very dog friendly and Catherine used to welcome Dougal like a long lost son.
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So imagine our disappointment when Bob told us that the restaurant was closed and Catherine had moved to another location about a half hours drive away.

The village of Monteton is a few miles from Duras and both Bob and Brenda spoke very enthusiastically about it so at about 7:00pm last night the four of us, and Dougal, of course, piled into Bob's car and off we sped past countless vineyards through Duras and got our first glimpse of Monteton atop a hill dominating the landscape. Such an incredibly beautiful location.

As we meandered through the narrow streets we pulled into a little town square with the local church and a viewing canopy to admire the incredible landscape.

Rounding off the buildings in the square was Catherine's new location
Restaurant X111 Clochers.
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The greeting was warm and Dougal remembered Catherine's hugs so treated himself to another one!

The company was fabulous, as always, and so was the food. No hesitation in saying you should go there, it is really worth the effort. By the way if you tell Catherine you are a friend of Dougal's the sky is the limit.

Great night, great restaurant, great company.

Reflections on the trip so far...

We've been busy! We picked Ji Hye up in Paris on March 22rd, and proceeded seventy miles to a quirky, quintessentially French campsite; no toilet seats, but it was on the banks of the Seine, so no one really cared. That evening we'd decided we would eat out, as there is no experience like just wandering though a village and finding a cuisine treasure. We found such a place, and initially, it looked like we'd be turned away as they were booked for a private party, but the nice woman who met us at the door seemed to change her mind, and let us in.
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Fascinating, surreal experience; tapas only, so no menu, and we were asked if we'd like to salsa between courses. Huh? We declined on dancing, but took away yet another quirky, French dining story. Frank took a lovely photo of Dougal as he laid on his special dining blanket at our feet - he loves French restaurants nearly as much as we do

Our next stop with Ji Hye was a place we'd visited last year near Mont Saint-Michel, which is, arguably, the most luxurious of the campsites we visit in France, as it provides a private five-star toilet/shower facility for each pitch. Sadly the camp was just as muddy as it was last year - Spring showers bringing May flowers sort of thing - but we enjoyed our five days with Ji at the camp, and although Mont Saint-Michel was off limits to Frank and I due to their new, and I think discriminatory, rule about dogs, Ji visited it and took lovely photos.

The next camp was in the Vendee, which in itself was nothing memorable, but the village was lovely, and two relatively disturbing things happened; the heater in our motorhome inexplicably stopped working, and we woke up to snow on the ground! So...we bundled up and hurried onward, ever closer to Bordeaux, and another favourite spot of ours; Ile de Re.

Again the weather didn't give us a break, and sadly the views of this normally stunning place, were somewhat misty, and didn't represent the beauty of the island as fully as we remembered.

We did have an experience, and it started off as another lovely dining story, but this one ended badly; I fed Dougal 'moules' which is mussels - they were lovely, and a speciality of the island. Dougal ate about half of my portion - he really loved them, and all three of us commented on what a varied palate Dougal has developed. So...about 3:00am Dougal, who sleeps with us, woke me with a furious case of itching - he could not stop scratching. By morning it was seriously bad; his skin was bright pink, and was so itchy he couldn't walk two feet. Frank and Ji walked into the village looking for Benadryl, as I held Dougal trying to keep him from hurting himself by his constant scratching. Turns out Benadryl is not something you can find in France, and as the next day was Easter, we needed to find an emergency vet. Frank found one, who thankfully gave Dougal a steroid shot that cured him almost immediately. So...moral of the story is I don't feed Dougal anymore shell fish, or anything that he hasn't eaten before. Scary few hours, and I gotta say, Ji Hye was wonderful, as always, in helping with Dougal during his crisis.

The next day was Easter, and a sad time for Frank and I, as Ji Hye needed to be at her new Bordeaux French home by 2:00pm.
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I'd like to say something about Ji Hye; our motorhome is not large, really only sleeps two people comfortably, a third bed can be made by folding down the dining table, and combining cushions, but it isn't exactly luxurious. Ji was, as always, sweet, helpful, kind and never complaining for a moment about anything. Truly, as we've always known, she is an exceptional person in all ways, and as pleasant company as you'd ever hope or want to have.

We're now happily ensconced at one of our favourite sites in Sainte-Foy la Grande, which is owned and operated by a wonderful British family; Bob, Brenda, Peter and his young son, Daniel. The camp is on the bank of the Dordogne (see the picture taken right outside our door) and is idyllic in all possible ways; we're staying at least a week - Frank needs the rest and this is as good as it gets for calm, peaceful moments. But, the really good news is we're within a comfortable distance from where Ji Hye is staying in Bordeaux, so we're hoping she'll come to see us at the weekend for two more days! Hopefully the weather will give her a better experience of our motorhome touring / camping lifestyle that we've come to love so much; more later!

Easter Sunday and back on the road

Easter Sunday finds us in Bordeaux following a pretty drive from the Ile de Re. This was the final leg of our journey with Ji Hye who starts her French course tomorrow. She will be resident here for the next six months. We checked into a new (2009) campsite on the outskirts of Bordeaux and an impressive one it is too. It is called Camping de Bordeaux Lac and is situated close to the exhibition centre and seems to be extremely busy.
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Needless to say we had our moments of drama with the mud but the less said about that the better…We are now happily installed on a hard standing pitch, the satellite is working and there is a very attractive on site restaurant.

Tomorrow it is just a short hop to Sainte-Foy-La-Grande where we will chill out for a while.
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During this trip I have had cause to think about things we now take for granted. I am covering much ground here that I had been to before. Mont-Saint-Michel and the Dordogne have been favourite locations of mine since my childhood. I have been back time and time again but in recent years it has been with the extraordinary help of that pushy woman who sits on my screen and who for the sake of clarity we will call "Satnav". I know, I know we used maps back then and some among us still do but just how did we manage? Today was a very good example of what I mean.
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We left Ile de Re this morning with a drive of 136 miles to contend with. Ji Hye had to get to her new home-base for 2:00pm. I knew the address so last night I fired up Google Earth, keyed in the address, zoomed in and got a street view of where I was going. At the time I was chatting on Skype to my friend David in Phoenix, who is following our exploits and who knows Ji Hye from our Arizona days;

I happened to mention to him what I was doing. He then did the same and we had an interesting exchange as to whether or not we could get a motorhome parked in that street. While looking at the street view I got the latitude and longitude co-ordinates, keyed them into the satnav and duly turned up at spot on 2:00pm outside the apartment block where Ji Hye is now installed. Turns out David was correct and I had to park in the next street.
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Always something to need attention and the local ducks at Bordeaux are no exception..

Not forgetting that we were also moving between her address and a new campsite, I am left wondering how on earth did we do things like that before?

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Pitch number 9C at Camping du Soleil is on the extremity of the site and is peaceful and adjacent to all amenities. The sad part for us is the weather. It poured during the night and although today is dry it is far from the sunny location we knew when we were here last time.
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Last night we went to the little cafe/restaurant on the site where the food was very enjoyable, typically french. But we still managed to create some more drama. As always Dougal accompanied us to the restaurant and sampled what was on offer. To our surprise he seemed very partial to Nancy's Moules (Clams). We didn't realise that was a mistake. Today he has had an allergic reaction necessitating a telephone chat with his vet in Port Erin. He is now on some medication and we hope it will pass soon.
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This site is right on the edge of Ars-en-Re, a pretty village at the Atlantic end of the Island. Today is market day although we didn't get explore it.

Enjoy the pictures.

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Joys of Motorhoming!

So we finally made our departure from Camping Haliotis but not without our little piece of drama…You guessed it, more mud. Our wheels sunk into the grassy pitch and a tractor was on hand to haul us out. Once again the staff were fabulous and in no time at all we were back on terra firma and ready to roll.

The day was always going to be one where we simply did a lot of driving to get further down towards Bordeaux where we have to deliver Ji Hye for Sunday.

As things turned out it was a lovely drive, a mixture of motorways and National Routes with very little traffic and some special scenery. We crossed over the Loire and that brought back a memory or two.

Our target was a site which gets good reviews and is in the Vendee. It is called Camping le Rouge Gorge In Pays de la Loire and is another friendly and helpful site which is very quiet at this time because the season hasn't quite started.
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True to form we managed our own little drama. As we settled down to dinner I decided that the Van needed a bit of heat but for some reason the heating controls were unresponsive and, to put it mildly, were as dead as a doornail! We looked at all the logical explanations and found no answer. Calls were made to my mate, Geoff Masden, my "go-to" man in these matters but we all drew blanks. So an early night was called for, a good sleep followed and when we woke up there was good news and bad news.

The good news? Well, the heating controls were now working perfectly. The bad news? The place was covered in snow!

Now the van is heated to a nice toasty warm and the snow seems to be dispersing and we are preparing for a drive down to La Rochelle and the Ile de Re.

An uneventful drive totalling 89 miles gets us to Ars-en-Re. The weather was downcast and misty which was such a pity as the drive from the mainland onto the Ile de Re, across the bridge was just shrouded in mist. Hopefully it will be a bit better when we head to Bordeaux on Sunday. The route today is shown in the picture.

Haliotis, a breath of fresh air.

One of the most infuriating things about my Mac computer is its insistence on correcting my spelling whether I want it to or not. Auto correct is the bane of many a life, and it is very easy to miss every now and then.
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Just recently I was exchanging some chit chat with a friend in Arizona. We were talking about, inter alia, Guernsey. I was about to send him an e-mail when I noticed that instead of a Channel Island I was now referring to Gurney an English poet and composer who fought on the Western Front during the First World War or an American term for a type of stretcher used in modern hospitals and ambulances. I am not alone in my frustration as you will find if you Google "auto correct". Some outcomes are hilarious but others can be a mite embarrassing. Thats the background and my reality earlier was a bit of both.
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Over the past few days we have enjoyed the features of Camping Haliotis here in Pontorson. It is a fabulous campsite, and very nearly fell foul of the dreaded "auto correct". I noticed that it had decided to rename it…Camping Halitosis!There is a difference!
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Mont-Saint-Michele being the incredible tourist attraction that it is attracts tourists in their millions. So, it's not surprising that there is no shortage of campsites, and I have spent a fair amount of time over the past few years researching them. We came across Camping Haliotis about 3 years ago and have been back a few times. It has quickly become one of our favourites because of a relatively unique feature mentioned a few days ago in the blog…Pitches with their own bathroom. But it doesn't stop there.

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The site is on the edge of Pontorson, a small town just a few miles away from Mont-Saint-Michel, well endowed with restaurants and a substantial supermarket. It is flat and has a concentration on animals with a small petting farm and lots of horses in surrounding fields. The staff are delightful and have been fantastically helpful.

Bearing in mind that the season is just beginning and the weather has been less than inviting I have to say this site is the one to visit if you happen to be in this area. So a special thank you to Gerald, Sabine and Alicia for their kindness.

Tomorrow it is time to continue our travels in the direction of Bordeaux.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Today is Wednesday, March 27, 2013 and that means it is market day in Pontorson.
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We have been looking forward to this for a while and it is Ji Hye's first experience of a French market. Interestingly though they are quite similar to markets in Seoul in S. Korea with a range of goodies from clothes to all sorts of local delicacies.

The campsite is just on the edge of the town and less than 10 minutes walk gets you into the swing of things.

Let the pictures tell their own story
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Tuesday, March 26, 2013 and a big decision.

A great attraction of the motor-homing way of life is that you can decide to change your mind at the last minute if the mood takes you. A few years ago we were heading down the East side of France intending to cut across to the Dordogne. As we sped down the motor way I saw an intersection approach which told me that Geneva in Switzerland was jut some 60 kilometres away. On the spot I turned left instead of right and as a result had an entirely different holiday. Well, I feel a bit like that today. We love this site, Camp Haliotis near Mont-Saint-Michel. It has its own
Image bathroom on the pitch as I described
a few days ago and everything is very convenient.

As we transport Ji Hye to Bordeaux we have been interested to show her a lot of rural France and sample local specialities as we go,

While we are being spared the rigours of the weather in the UK and Ireland nonetheless it is quite cold in the evening and the Vinny Van is very snug and there are no shortage of good TV and movies to watch.

One feature of French life we are looking out for is the French Market. We love wandering through streets looking at all the stalls and sampling the goodies on display. Dougal loves it too as, invariably, he becomes the centre of attention and he knows how to perform for the masses!

So, today is Tuesday and it was our intention to move south but as there is a market in Pontorson tomorrow we decided to wait over in case we don't get to see another before we drop Ji Hye off in Bordeaux on Sunday. Then on Thursday we will have 3 full days to get to Bordeaux and possibly even stop off at La Rochelle on the way.

Yesterday was dry and very very cold. We made our way over to Mont-Saint-Michele which has altered considerably from prior visits. The whole approach is closed and road works are all over the place…Parking is about a mile away and overall it detracts from the experience. Still Ji Hye got these photos. One outside and one inside Mont-Saint-Michele

Mont-Saint-Michel, Sunday, March 24, 2013

Once extracted from our muddy pitch the route was westwards to the town of Pontorson, just about 4 miles from Mont-Saint-Michel. If you have never been to this part of the world then take a note and don't miss it. I am drawn to this place over and over again. It is absolutely laden with memories. My first visit was about 60 years ago when my late parents took us as part of one of our many summertime trips to this part of France. Quite simply, I just keep coming back. It has beautiful memories and it is a truly, bewitching place. Its funny the way some things stand out in the memory bank but I recalled a story dating back to 1980 when, like my parents before me, I felt the need to take my own children here to get the same sort of experience that I cherished. My son, Martin was about 8 years old and we had sailed into Saint Malo on the ferry to start our holiday. Rightly or wrongly I decided that this was to be the time that I would start to teach Martin about fiscal wisdom and allocated him some pocket money which I told him was to last for 1 week. He nodded his acceptance as we drove towards Mont-Saint-Michel.

Inside the Mont is a maze of little streets with shops, restaurants and something to catch the eye at every turn. Gift shops abound and within minutes we were in one looking at all the goodies which, unsurprisingly, were about 50% more expensive than in nearby towns and villages. I cannot say for certain if it was the first thing that Martin set eyes on in the shop but in no time at all he had decided that a small packet of soldiers was something that he could not live without. I reminded him again about how his pocket money had to last a week and pointed out that this particular treat would eat up the entirety of the money. No! He HAD to have it. It was the one thing he had wanted his entire life. So he got his soldiers.
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Now you may well ask how that all fits in with this trip. Whenever we got settled onto our pitch at Camping Haliotis in Pontorson I turned on the television to catch up with the news back home. It was startling to see the images of snow drifts and hear the experiences of everyone throughout the UK and Ireland. One of the worst spots was Belfast with not just snow but power cuts galore as well. So being the sort of worrier that I am I called my daughter Susie to make sure all was ok. Transpires they have had their problems but all is now well. I then thought I would tell her that I had returned to Mont-Saint-Michel with all the memories it held. Without pausing for thought she said, "I know, Dad, Martin's soldiers."

Memories. They are hard to beat.
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We will have more thoughts about Mont-Saint-Michel tomorrow with some pictures as we go inside once again but times have changed things just a little. You can no longer drive up close to the Mont as, it would appear, the tide has created some problems for the roadworks and now you have to park about a mile away and travel by shuttle bus to get onto the site.

Finally, just a few thoughts about this campsite, Camping Haliotis. It is in a simple rural setting on the outskirts of a small town and is memorable because it is one of the very few campsites which has pitches with their own private bathrooms. See the pictures to get an idea. It really takes camping to a new sort of level. Add to that the fact that the staff, Alicia and Gerald, are delightful. A lovely experience. Who cares about a bit of mud?

Mud glorious mud! Sunday, March 23, 2013

Didn’t the old song say, mud, glorious mud, nothing quite like it for cooling the blood…? Maybe that was “Food glorious food” but who cares? Well if its not too late let me amend that to “boiling the blood”! We have spent the last two days in two great sites but affected by the same malaise we talked about a couple of days ago at Sorel. I suppose its hardly surprising bearing in mind the sort of weather that has been inflicted on us. Still we are grateful for small mercies as the news from the UK and Ireland is pretty horrendous with snow, gales, power cuts and misery galore. Add to that the Isle of Man was inaccessible for a while with all shipping and flights suspended…So whats a bit of mud to complain about?

After we collected Ji Hye in Paris and moved to the Les Trios Rois site on the banks of the Seine we settled for what turned out to be an interesting fun night. All the pitches on the site were grassy and although they looked pretty secure it transpired that several among us needed the assistance of the site tractor to move off the following day. Once installed on the pitch the satellite returned to its former glory and we were able to access all channels. I am still baffled as to why we had a problem in Sorel. So, dinner time and a severe attack of laziness took over and we decided to amble off to the little restaurant at the roundabout just outside the gate. Then we had a very funny “good news, bad news” moment. The good news? Well, the restaurant is open! The bad news? Not to the public tonight! A special party has booked it and its a private “do” so a no go for us.

Now, I am not too sure what happened next. Was it the look of starvation on my face? Perhaps it was Nancy’s smiling acceptance but more than likely it was Ji Hye and Dougal casting their special charm. Anyway what happened was pretty special. The hostess looked at us quizzically and out of the blue said, “Do you like dancing? Salsa dancing?”

Transpires there is a salsa dancing class tonight and if we don’t mind classes in between courses then we are welcome to come! The night’s highlight was the look on Dougal’s face as some less than dignified “Strictly” wannabes meandered between the tables voicing, “1,2,3,4…1,2,3,4”. Verdict? We will talk about this night for some time to come.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Today we leave the UK and head into France. Following our two day stop over in Surrey we are well placed to make it down to Folkestone to get onto the Eurotunnel service to Calais. Interestingly most people who travel into Europe seem to favour the cross channel ferry route but, for me, the tunnel is simplicity itself. Drive up, check in and drive on without having to leave your driver's seat. Then 35 minutes later you drive off and straight onto a motorway. A great service and my preferred route.
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Anytime we travel through Calais we have always stayed at a campsite in the small town of Guines. It is called La Bien-Assise and is well maintained, friendly and has a fabulous restaurant attached. The facilities are meticulously maintained and we have never had a bad experience. Our problem this time was that they are not officially open until next week. They will, however, let you stay and keep 4 or 5 hard standing pitches available. There are none of the usual facilities operating such as the site shop and Wi Fi. So we decided to try somewhere new. A modicum of research in the Alan Rogers I-Pad app showed me that just a half an hour south of Calais near Boulogne is a site called, Camping L’ Eté Indien. I called ahead, they were open and yes, they had availability and certainly had Wi Fi throughout the site.

Well, it was an easy enough drive down there although the last half mile was on a narrow pot holed road where two vehicles could barely pass. Still I got there and went into the reception to "sign in". It was a shambles. The assurance of Wi Fi given by telephone was simply wrong. They had "a problem" and the machine that issued the passwords had broken and after hanging around for about 20 minutes it was clear that they were not going to be able to provide. Added to that if their system had been working then it was device specific as described in yesterday's blog and would have cost "an arm and a leg". It took little thought on my part to decide to double back to Guines and La Bien-Assise.

On arrival we had the entire site to ourselves. We selected a nice pitch beside the toilet block and ambled off down to the restaurant for a fabulous meal and were able to avail of their Wi Fi in the restaurant to catch up with e-mails.

A huge plus point for us for this site is that they are very dog friendly and Dougal was given pride of place on his rug on the floor beside the table. Then it was back to the Vinny Van and a catch up on the budget chitter chatter.

Tomorrow we head off towards Paris this time stopping at a pretty town called Orvillers-Sorel which has the almost compulsory Chateau, about an hour north of Paris. We have stayed there a couple of times before and from what I read it is now even better. No doubt you will be hearing more about this in the next few days.

Thursday, March 7, 2013



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