This week bigger pixs
Monday 31st March 2014 week 145 France
Size is everything.
After covering six hundred miles across France, sticking to my route, it's cost us just £15 in road tolls. Seriously, I'm like a dog with two coc...., tails. The route has taken us through some wonderful quintessentially French villages, the kind you see in Renault Clio adverts featuring Nicol and papa on TV. Its also been far more picturesque than some featureless motorway, I recommend it. The 'D' roads in France are like our 'B' Roads, its only the 'C' roads you need to avoid on anything wider than a bike We've also saved on diesel. At one supermarket we passed it was a mouth watering pound a litre. On motorways you'll' pay up to £1.20.
We left La Future! camp-site, just outside Poitiers, because it did live up to its name. It's situated opposite Futurascope. This is a kind of Disneyesque version of the future only with French cartoon characters instead of Mickey Mouse and Co. From the outside it looked very futuristic. However, with an entrance fee of forty Euros each it was destined to be the only view of it we were going to see.
La Future! lived up to its name, but unfortunately for all the wrong reasons. The 'open all year' heated indoor pool was conspicuously devoid of one thing......... water. Apparently it opens sometime in, La future!. The water supply to each pitch had been turned off. They're turned back on, some time in, la future!. The women's showers were closed. Women had to share with the men. They're open, yep you've guess it, sometime in, La future!. About now the name's making sense, right?? On top of this, within the sanitary block, there was no soap, no loo rolls, no hand towels or hot air driers and that’s unhygienic. I daren't touch the door handle on leaving. The wifi was pants, only accessible in reception and expensive. You'd have thought they'd pay us to stay but no, the nightly rate is twenty two Euros. This made it the dearest, off season, camp-site we have stayed at. Somehow, I can't see myself returning any time in........ La future!
Cloyes-Sur-Le-Loir. Looks like toy town
Let's change the subject. France is over twice the size of the UK. Now I expect you've just glossed over that sentence so let me put it in some perspective. I could give you the land mass in square miles but that won't give you a 'hands on feel' for the size of the country, not really. So let's see if I can put it in a more practical way.
Imagine you're lusting after a 44 inch LCD screen TV for Xmas but your wife buys you a 20 inch instead. Are you going to be impressed? Of course not. You'd feel, quite frankly, hard done by. Its half the size for Gods sake. Say, you're a diminutive four foot tall and have a sibling who is eight foot tall. Are you going to feel their equal? I doubt it. You’ll be forever living in their shadow, probably literally. Or what about this. Next time you're out shopping, pop into one of those outsize shops and try on the biggest garment they stock. It will probably swamp you. The last time you saw this much material it was covering an airship. -I should say, if it fits, I suggest you find something a little more physically demanding than reading this- Guys, imagine you’ve a very small..........., (I think they have got the picture! Ed). Probably. So when I say France is over twice the size of Britain you’ve now have some idea of how big that is. Things that are twice as big as something else, appear massive.
We stopped overnight at Parc de Loisirs le Val Fleuri -bit of a gob full- just outside the village of Cloyes-Sur-Le-Loir. I can't tell you what any of that means but I think you'll agree it sounds a whole lot more romantic than say, Annette's Camping park, Newport Pagnell. (Which, I've never been to but I suspect is a very nice camp site) The site has just opened for the season, and we were the only campers there, so we wound up the radio and danced around the van.
We're like................ so bonkers.
Tuesday 1st April 2014 week 145 France.
You’ve been warned.
Today you find us in a wonderful little spot. Camping De L'Île Des Trois Rois next to the Seine, literally. I parked four foot from the bank and Hazel wasn't happy. She had visions of us waking up in the middle of the night floating down river. Personally, if we did somehow manage to slip into the Seine, I seriously doubt we'd float anywhere, three and a half tons of motor-home would go down quicker than the Titanic.
The camp-site is on the edge of Les Andelys a town I'd never heard of. I say that because, quite frankly; I think I should have. The old town is like a Elizabethan film set. Its streets are full of half timbered houses that have, over the centuries, settled at odd angles. I doubt there’s a vertical line or flat surface in any of them. Its as though they've simply relaxed over time, in much the same way old men relax in comfy armchairs. If it wasn't for them being propped up against each other they would have collapsed into a heap a long time back.
From the van window this morning I can see the suspension bridge spanning the soft grey coloured waters of the Seine. High on the hill, overlooking the town, is the huge Chateau Gaillard (Castle) built by our very own Richard the Lion Heart when we owned this chunk of France. Its all mighty impressive.
Now, have you ever tried to return a faulty battery charger to a French superstore? No, I don’t suppose you have. Well let me tell you its quite a performance. I tried and failed. I'm not sure what consumer rights the French have but whatever they are, ours are better, especially if my experience is anything to go by.
Let me explain. Over the weekend I had another eureka moment while drinking a cup of revitalising tea. I realised I could wire the scooter battery into the vans charger system, and it worked. -Doh! why didn't I think of this before buying the stupid French charger?-. I then decided to returned the suspect charger to a local branch of E.Leclerc. The first lady I approached spoke a little English. I explained it was faulty and could I have it replaced?, -hoping for a refund would be asking too much-. Bear in mind I've only had it a week and it was still boxed. This, however, isn't Argos. She needed to make a number of phone calls. I was then told to take it to another part of the building, around the back. This turned out to be their returns department. Inside two locals, who were returning stuff, looked nervous, as if they were next in line for Madam guillotine. Their claims for compensation or replacement were being scrutinised by two employees. Things were being tested. Conversations where being had. Phone calls were being made. This wasn't going to be as simple as I first thought. When my turn came I explained, in pigeon French mixed with Marcel Marso mime, the charger was la mort. Dead. There was much keyboard punching. Several more phone calls needed to be made. I was then asked, excuse the pun, a battery of questions. What was I using it for? What type of vehicle did I have? Did I read the instructions?. She spoke no English so all this was carried out with the aid of google translator on her computer. There was another phone call, presumably to someone high in the French Government and much shrugging of shoulders. I was then told I would need to take it to their garage down the road. They would check it and report back to them. .Right! Clearly the expression the customer is always right hasn't made it across the channel. I'd said it didn't work but, as I'm only the customer, that meant nought. I really didn't have the time to faff around any longer. Nor did I have the inclination or language skills to argue or debate the issue. I thanked them and left.
You’ve been warned.
Wednesday 2nd April 2014 Week 145 France/Britain
We're on the 12 o’clock ferry from Calais and I can positively smell those white cliffs of Dover beckoning me. I can also see the queues of eastern Europeans, ready, buckets in hand, waiting to clean my van. (Careful. Ed). They know I'm only joking. I also know our leaders, the dynamic duo, Dave and Nick, are cheered knowing I'm returning to pay my income tax. And already I'm beginning to feel, much like Christian before entering the Colosseum to face wild animals, a smidgen of nerves at the thought of battling the British traffic with all its gladiatorial spectacle. Plus I'm ready, once again, to do battle with the jobs worth brigade they employ at Ferry Meadows camping site Peterborough. The only site in the world (Might be something of an exaggeration coming . Ed) -Doubt it- that has twenty two signs, dotted around for you to read while making your way to your pitch. An eclectic mix of warnings, do and dont's and information, I've counted them.
Now don't you all be at the dockside waving 'Welcome back Phil and Hazel' banners, you know it will only embarrass me.
We are home for five weeks I think, before setting off again on our fourth and perhaps final leg of our very own little odyssey. We're still not sure what we are going to do at the end of it all. Anything either of us comes up with so far seems an anti-climax to the last three years.
Before we leave France (We've left. Ed) well technically we have yes but I must put a good word in for the last camp site we stayed at, it deserves it. Chateau Des Tilleuls is seventy miles south of Calais and four miles west of Abbeville. With the Acsi card it was a very reasonable 14 Euros a night. It knocked spots of that daft Le Futurist site.
Oh look Darling!, its dear ole blighty, it looks so terribly wonderful dosn't it?.
Huge pitches. Free wifi. 10 amp electricity. Water and waste on each pitch. However its piece de resistance is the toilets. They wouldn't look out of place on the Starship Enterprise. You enter a black cubical and just as your looking for the light switch one wall lights up. The white bowl with smooth curvaceous lid hovers mysteriously from the floor. The fitments are all in polished aluminium. Its a great place to think, read or just do your business. The staff couldn't be more friendly and helpful. So a great place to kick off your French camping holiday or, conversely, prepare yourself for the onslaught that is Britain on your return. The town of Abbeville is one I'm sure thousands of Brits have motored past on their way south, and that's a shame. Its an attractive lively town with a phenomenal cathedral. Stop for no other reason than to feast your eyes on that alone.
Ok must go, I think I heard three bells, think that means were shoving off.
Thursday 3rd April 2014 Week 145 England
The last leg.
A quick recap of the last ten months on the road. We left the UK in June 2013 and crossed the channel to Holland. Land of the Bicycle. One of the only countries in the world where you can grow and smoke your own pot legally which explains why the Dutch are all such jolly nice people.
Nets are provided for you to toss your drink cans into as you drive past. They've turned keeping their country clean into a game.
From there into Denmark, home of Danish Bacon. Oddly, we didn’t see a single pig just field after field of potatoes, perhaps should be known as home of the crisp. We then had to cross the mighty Storebælt and Øresund bridges with a combined toll of 150 Euro to get into Sweden. I wish I hadn’t bothered. It was as boring as it was tree covered. I'll never worry about the dwindling rain forest again (The rain forest isn't actually in Sweden but never mind you know what he means. Ed). We drove from the south to it's northern limits. Nothing was any different. A squillion miles of sameness. After coming within sixty miles of the Arctic circle we then drove down through the United States of America, or Finland, as the locals like to call it when they are not playing the fruit machines that line most supermarkets. -If you read my diary entry at the time you’ll understand the comment- It got only marginally more interesting at Nokia, yes where the phones once came from. There I discovered Nokia also make car tyres, and that’s as interesting as Finland gets. I'm sorry, apart from Helsinki, you couldn’t pay me to go back. From there we crossed into Estonia. Where, during a cycle ride along the sea front of its capital city Tallin, we came across a tent with the words 'Blow jobs five Euros' emblazoned on it. On the way back police were interviewing its entrepreneurial occupants.
Then onto Latvia, home of the stolen BMW. I've never seen so many. Every third car was a high end black beamer driven by a zit covered teenager. Here I was also shouted at by a supermarket checkout girl when I accidentally fumbled with her card machine. “Its okay” I said as it slipped off its stand. “IT IS NOT OKAY”, she barked in the way only frustrated Latvian checkout girls can. (I responded by telling her off!! cheeky madam!!. Ed)
Then into Lithuania which surprised us both. Instantly it felt European. It also felt good to be back on more familiar road surfaces, roads that didn't resemble a lunar landscape. People were friendly, spoke English and were welcoming. Its one of the countries I'd be happy to return to. We failed to get into Russia but got within thirty feet of it. We looked at it from across a river. Seemed okay to me.
Poland was next on our list. The knack here was to cross it without paying any tolls, not that I was out to save money, (Yeah right!. Ed) I just couldn't understand them. They seem incredibly complicated. I gave up. I managed to stay off them. I should write a book on 'How to traverse Europe and not pay road tolls”. Poland has a lot more to offer, more than we saw, and is another country I'd return to once I figure out the tolls. We then crossed the border into Germany, stopping off to see family and friends after seeing the remarkable city of Dresden. From there France. A country I admire and respect. A country with a strong socialist history and one that still has a nationalised railway network, power system and post office amongst other things. Unlike our government they've not sold them all off for short term monetary gain. From there we crossed into Spain and drove down its eastern side, more popular but less pretty in my book. We crossed the vast polytunnels of the south before stopping off in Gibraltar for Oxo cubes, tea bags and pickles. It was then up to the winter feeding grounds in Zahora. We left there a month ago to start the 1300 mile haul back up north which brings us to today.
We covered a distance of seven thousand miles and visited twelve countries. Thirteen if you include a day trip to Morocco, the question you might be asking is, would we do it again? In a heart beat........... even the bad bits.
Friday 4th April 2014 week 145 England
What's on my mind.
Since I was born there have been fifty two nuclear accidents, thirty three of those identified as serious and several of those, very serious. In almost all cases human error played a part. The catastrophic meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan 2011, still just being held in check, was a wake up call about the hazards of nuclear power to those that wanted to listen. They can not, nor can be, 100% safe. No matter what back ups, what fail safes you employ nuclear power is by nature unsafe. Accidents will happen. To think otherwise is foolhardy.
Germany began turning off its nuclear power plants 18 months ago following the Fukushima disaster. It has decommissioned twenty seven of its nuclear power stations and plans to switch off the remaining eight by 2022 making it the first country to rely on renewable energy. 'Many in Germany feared that the country would facing energy shortages', said energy expert Günther Birkenstock, 'but Instead, Germany has produced so much electricity this year (2012) that it has actually exported its surplus'.
Well done Germany for showing the rest of the world it can be done if you have the will. Most pro nuclear lobbyists argue its not possible to rely on green energy but then they would wouldn't they!
You have to make a choice.
The British Government look at the problem somewhat differently, mainly because neither of the two main parties have, between them, the imagination to develop practical green policies. So they're relying on Nuclear power for the foreseeable future. Nor do all Brits have their head in the game either. A large number of them object to wind farms. They're main concern seems to be that wind turbines spoil the look of the landscape! Apparently they much prefer to live with the threat of a nuclear accident, where, should one occur, they will sprout another head and perhaps then, armed with two brains, will see the folly of their ways, who knows?
We're faced with an ageing nuclear power industry. Six nuclear plants will need replacing with something and very soon. A French/Chinese consortium headed by the EDF, a French nationalised company who already own and run eight of Britain’s nuclear power stations, has kindly offered to build our next one, in Somerset. The Government, looking to save a few bob, have fallen over themselves to offer them very attractive terms. To seal the deal they have assured the consortium future electricity prices. A guarantee that no matter now low future electricity prices might drop, the British tax payer, through price guarantees will bail them out. I have to ask at what point does this make any bloody sense?
I guess if you've no clue and even less imagination and see nuclear energy as the only way forward then letting someone else build and run a nuclear power plant in your country might be a good idea. Personally, I view it as dangerously short sighted and a huge gamble. I just hope the Chinese can build a better power station than they can build just about anything else!. Nothing I’ve ever owned, which was made in China was worth the money I paid for it.
You have a good weekend.