Every wished you’d tried harder at school? I know I do - and never more so than the last couple of weeks - and in one particular subject. French. Christ it’s frustrating at times. I know a few words - enough to ask a basic question - but am unable to decipher anything beyond the most basic of replies - like oui or non! Even the numbers are largely impenetrable although I can speak quite a few, still, that’s one of the ‘joy’s of foreign travel I guess. What it has shown is - in comparison - how much Spanish I managed to pick up and even understand on our visits to the Canaries and Balearics B.P - Before Patsy.
Right, whining over. (Yeah, right). Those following us on Farcebook and Twitter will know that we’ve moved and are now further south, below Brittany in the Vendee at a pretty site called Camping La Grisse just a few miles from the coast. Large grass pitches and a number of trees providing some shelter from the sun - when it appears. Oh yes, it’s not been the dawn to dusk sunshine that we’d hoped, but hey ho. It IS warmer, which is lovely. Showers are clean and tidy, washing up area, loo emptying point and a washing machine and dryer are all present. There's a volleyball pitch, sandy kids play area, ping pong and so on. No pool though sadly.
The last supper at Le Picard was French themed in celebration of Bastille Day. I don’t recall having roast camembert before, and I’m glad I tried it but wouldn’t rush for another. I could almost feel my arteries clogging up with every mouthful. The following Beef Bourguignon was divine though, really delicious.
Patsy was almost ready to go, so it was an early start in the morning - early that is for a holiday anyway. We decided again to go toll-free. The was only one short section of our proposed route that was tolled anyway, and having changed the settings on the sat-nav app it would have only saved us about 10 minutes but added 5 miles to the route.
To be honest it was easy. Even on a weekday the roads were traffic free with the only indications of any life being around the by-passes for Rennes & Nantes. It was getting noticeably warmer and the colours of the landscape were changing the further south we went.
We’d swapped driving duties after about two hours then swapped again after a further three with Trev taking the wheel for the last hour or so. We’d bypassed the last town and was only a few miles from the site when the sat-nav indicated a turn to the left which was nothing more than a dirt track. We ignored it. A further turning appeared and this looked like a proper road, so, following revised instructions we took it. The tarmac ran out after about fifty yards and we were on a dirt track. With the only alternative being a tricky and dangerous reverse back on to the main road we continued, coming to a fork in the road after about half a mile. The sat-nav said bear left as we looked at the sign indicating a dead end. Christ! Again we ignored it, took the other fork and mercifully ended up back on the main road. The sat-nav app rerouted, taking us down a proper road - you know, the sort with that tarmac stuff on - and within five minutes we’d arrived at the site, having racked up 252 miles in just on six hours.
Really, we just wanted to get to our pitch, get set up and get the recliners out, but the young woman on reception in beautifully accented English wanted to highlight points of interest in the area on a local map so it was only fair to listen. Eventually, though she showed us to our pitch - very large but with virtually no shade and our mains hook-up lead - even though it was the recommended twenty-five metres - would struggle to reach the power point. Another pitch was available though and we chose that one - and are very glad that we did.
So, what have we done since we’ve been here. Well, a fair bit of sunbathing - or at least relaxing anyway. I’ve been ploughing through books on my Kindle - and Trev - not normally one to pick up a book - has nearly finished the second of the two proper books we brought with us. I’m going to digress here (wont that make a change) and give them a mention. They tell the story of a gypsy lad from his birth, childhood and upbringing and his troubled adolescence. Coming to terms with the fact that he was gay and knowing that he would have to hide his sexuality or run away from the only life he known, the story is harrowing, unnerving, enlightening, and provides and insight into traditional gypsy life. Notable is the traditional gypsy’s disdain for the Irish travellers, something I’d never even considered. I read them first thanks to a recommendation from friend and fellow caravanner Sam.
His story resonates with a story that made the newspapers in Cambridgeshire some years back before we moved down south. A young man had gone missing from a gypsy camp in Stansted down in Essex. His Uncle was in the papers pleading for his return and offering a sizeable reward. Two hundred and fifty grand if I recall. And, If I recall, he was never found. Rumours started circulating though and from several different sources and were never published. They suggested that the lad hadn’t run away but that he’d been ‘done away with’ after it was discovered he was gay. Malicious gossip from gypsy hating little Englanders or something approaching the truth? Who knows? Someone, but it aint us.
Right, back to the trip. Apart from all this reading we have actually been out and about. An evening drive saw us arrive at the coast. Eventually. I’d always that ‘sur-Mer’ means ‘on sea’ but not here it seems. Even the map suggested as such and we passed through a couple of towns claiming to be just that but the Atlantic ocean was at least a mile further on behind a forest.
We paused for a beer on the way back, my eye drawn to a beer with ‘rouge’ in the name. I had hopes of an Irish Red type ale but in fact it was more like alcoholic cherryade. Not one I’d try again, but such is the nature or ‘research’.
We had a ride out to an old abbey - that itself was of marginal interest but nearby you could hire punts - with or without a ‘driver’ for a ride around the canals. The water was green and stagnant and was hardly inviting, in fact the whole area looked a little neglected.
Again, it was quiet everywhere, with not a single person to be seen in many of the villages we passed through.
On the way back we called at the town of Mareuil-sur-lay-Dissais - one of the recommendations given on our arrival at the site. It was a pretty place with church sitting adjacent a river providing some opportunities for lens clicking. I availed myself of the nearby facilities noting with amusement that you’re afforded more privacy from the outside world when washing your hands than when you’re actually doing the deed.
Yesterday, saw us head to the coast again to the les Sables-d’Olonne, twinned with, of all places, Worthing in West Sussex. The sun was out and it looked lovely. The town was busy with a market and there were people on the beach too. Not only that but the seafront eateries had menu’s in English! We might well be back.
Another recommendation from the site was the drive along the coast from Sables to Bourgenay further south. Just six miles, but what a pretty drive it was, hugging the coast most of the way and passing some bays, some more secluded, some more open. Accompanying the road for most of the way was a cycle path and (apart from little race somewhere) you get a sense of how seriously France takes cycling. Around here particularly is a great place to cycle as it’s so flat and has reminded us of the fens in East Anglia.
Coffee was procured at a quayside cafe in Bourgenay and again it was excellent - as has all the coffee been on this trip so far. We’ve managed to avoid the usual coffee chains - largely because we’ve hardly seen any. I fact, even in Sables yesterday - one of the biggest places we’ve been to - I don’t recall seeing a single chain store or fast food outlet that I recognised - the ever present big yellow ‘M’ of McDonalds being the exception.
On the way back we paused to take in the view of the beautiful Chateau de la Guignardiere but decided against a look around. The sun was out and the recliners were calling…
The skirmish with the cherryade aside, wine has mostly been the grog of choice - red for me and white for Trev. On our first shop up in Normandy we stocked up, spending no more than four euros of thereabouts on a bottle. And while there have been a couple of dodgy ones, most so far have been very drinkable. My current poison - a Merlot Syrah - worked out at about £1.70 yet has been one of the best. I’ll probably see off the rest of it later.
Food wise, we haven’t experimented much but have not been disappointed. All the meats - even burgers and bangers - seem far less fatty - something not gone unnoticed when I’m cleaning the BBQ. The bread has been divine, but then we are in France and I wouldn’t expect anything less.
Agriculture is big here thanks to the flat wide open spaces and while maize can be seen everywhere down here there are also huge seas of sunflowers which look absolutely wonderful when the sun is out.
There are 78 pitches on this site , well over half of which are occupied either by chalets or more traditional looking park homes. Of the camping pitches well over half are occupied by the Dutch - we have Dutch neighbours who are very friendly - the next biggest nationality being French, a couple of Belgians and then just one British. Us. There was another - with a tent the size of the Sandringham estate and more kids than Royal hangers on - but they’ve now departed. In fact if you go by car number plates then there are very few Brits down here at all, but the Dutch clearly love it.
After a good start the site WiFi has become almost unusable - but then it is, once again free so we can’t really complain, although gawd knows when I’ll actually be able to get this blog out. I’m sure you’ll survive though.
My old radio, a little Sony of at least twenty years vintage has been providing aural accompaniment to our time spent in the recliners. We’ve no idea what the presenters are on about of course, but thankfully most of the time they keep shtum and just play the music. I don’t know exactly how old the batteries are in the radio but they keep going and going, which is unusual when we have other much more modern gadgets that seem to need charging up every five minutes!
Right, I think that’s about it for now. It’s cloudy and there’s no sign of it brightening up so we may do something very boring and give Rosie a wash. She’s done well so far, managing nearly 28mpg on the trip down and an average of 35mpg on the 990 miles we’ve covered to date. Diesel being so (relatively) cheap helps no end.
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So, until the next time…