Well it’s been a long, long time since my last blog. It’s hard to keep up with at the best of times but after going away and letting it lapse, it’s even harder than ever.
Thankfully, Chelle and the kids have done a few ‘feature articles’ along the way so this post is more of a filler-in – tying together the major highlights of the last few months.
So going all the way back to after our meetup with the Speedies at Lake Garda in late May. The next fixed event was Chelle’s birthday in Provence so we hightailed it across Northern Italy aiming for Southern France. I remember on the first afternoon on the freeway, the sat nav started bleating about a 1.5hr traffic jam up ahead so we made the most of Frosty and simply turned off before the jam to find somewhere to stay. Oh the flexibility!
Ended up in a delightful little village in the hills and spent the night parked up next to an old church. Well off the tourist trail, our visits to the local shops were greeted with friendly interest with the kids in particular getting special attention.
Next day we ate up some kms as we crossed into France. The Cote d’Azur was predictably lovely and, as the local aire was full and wild camping options limited, we ended up at a campsite right on the beach. So we enjoyed a real beach afternoon splashing around despite the chilly water temps.
Then we hit Lourmarin which Chelle has covered here.
By the time we took our leave, the World Cup was fast bearing down so we headed for a pre-arranged campsite (in fact the only booking we have made to date) where Chelle and the kids were going to bed down for a couple of weeks while I was away.
Stopped at a couple of places on the way (noting how easy it is to stopover in France – pretty much every village has an aire just outside and often free), the most notably being St Cirque Lapopie. This ancient village clinging to a cliff won ‘The Prettiest Village in France’ award in 2012 and it was easy to see why.
The aire we stayed at was fantastic too – shady, green spot right on the river (where we swam to cool off).
Thereafter, we headed for the campsite. It was the perfect choice having, for the first time in our trip, lots of English speakers about meaning Chelle and the kids made many great friends over the two weeks and weren’t too lonely without me! Again, Chelle’s covered that period here.
As for me, well I headed to Rio. The journey was complicated and necessitated an ‘all-nighter’ in Bordeaux before checking in for my 6am flight. Thankfully the football had started and there was a game at 10pm and a game at 2am to keep me entertained. Turns out taxis are non-existant at 3:30am on a weekday in Bordeaux so I was eternally grateful to the manager of Casey’s Bar where I watched the game as he kindly drove me to the airport after clocking off work.
Brazil was a wonderful, colourful non-stop party. The 7 of us made the most of it and went to heaps of games, watched what we couldn’t in the bars and made dozens of friends with the locals and fans alike. The football was superb but, for me, it was the people that will really stay in the mind. Locals welcomed us with open arms and rival fans laughed and sang together and there was not the slightest hint of any trouble in the 2 weeks I was there.
You can read Des’ excellent blog on our trip here – http://desvarios132.wordpress.com
After getting back and reuniting with the family, we all prepared to move back into Frosty (the others had been in a mobile home thing for the last two weeks). Took some adjustment for us all as we once more hit the road. A lot less space than we’d become used to and also meant we were back, just the 4 of us as the kids and Chelle said goodbye to their campsite mates.
However, the open road was calling and we headed West in the vague direction of the Atlantic coast. Next day we hit the coast at Lacanau-Ocean. The waves were up and the sun was out and instead of the local campsite which was a way out of town we opted to park up in a side street. We made sure to knock on the resident’s doors to check they didn’t mind, which, of course they didn’t.
Then we prepared for the France – Germany game later that night, which, unfortunately, did not go to plan for our French buddies.
Seems like so many towns in France are either on or off. When we started in January, we passed through ghost town after ghost town. Now, being July, Lacanau was buzzing so we decided to spend an extra night and enjoyed the holiday feel and I squeezed in a couple of surfs.
We then decided, on a whim, really to go and see the Tour de France. After consulting with our mates the Baileys who were in Switzerland, we made a plan to meetup. So we reversed direction and headed back East. We parked up in the village square of Cognac, in time for the last tour for the day of the Martell distillery. Worth doing although it was hard for me to follow the French guide completely and, of course the kids were fairly disinterested. Not a brandy fan at all, and the tasting at the end actually made me whinny. Yes, whinny, like a horse, what can I say?!
Following a broken night’s sleep where we were interrupted by the town’s drunks yelling and carrying on (we had nothing to fear though – they were our mates after we supplied one of the toothless ones with a plastic bag to hold his cans), we headed further East following the Loire Valley.
First stop was Amboise which was another buzzing town, especially with an American river cruise ship in dock. The town did have an aire but it was just a soulless square of concrete jammed with other vans. So, after mooching around for a couple of hours we headed out of town to find something more agreeable.
Passing by a Gypsy camp, I nearly persuaded Chelle to pull over. All we’ve heard since leaving (and before), is that the gypo’s will rob you blind and are to be avoided at all costs. I’m not convinced and not sure these words of advice have come from anyone with any real authority (have they actually been robbed or said hello to the happy campers?). One day we’ll test the stereotype for better or worse!
Anyway, it was a good move as a few kms down the road we took a left, then a right and just blindly headed away from civilization. We came across a farm so I went and knocked on the door and, cheekily, asked if we could park up on their land. Turned out Daniel, Gabi and their son, Pierre were as welcoming as we could have possibly hoped. Pierre took us round to a spot undercover in one of their huge hangars (which was great as it pelted down in the night) and offered us water for the van and a beer before turning in.
Next morning, we were invited in for coffee and had a great chat as we learned about the farm and we told them about our trip. We parted with hugs, exchanged contact details, keyring koalas and they packed us off with a tin of local biscuits. Lot to be said for the door knock, I think!
Next day we went back into Amboise and checked out the house and garden where Leonardo da Vinci once lived for a couple of years. We all enjoyed seeing the models of the machines he’d designed hundreds of year ago, way ahead of his time.
Then we motored on to Blois. Parking was limited for a vehicle of our size so we parked in the coach carpark, squeezing between a couple of big buses to try and be inconspicuous. We had a look around the castle, then went inside the Museum of Magic which was a fun diversion full of tricks, illusions, magic and a 30 minute live show.
Ever onwards towards Epernay where three parties were due to converge – us, the Baileys and le Tour. Along the way we saw a sign for a ‘Labyrinthe’ – a maze in a corn field. Charged round there for a few hours getting lost of course but was all good fun with actors popping out here and there to give help. Interestingly, it’s open until 2am during the summer months and you could imagine how scary it could be after dark
And finally, we rendez-vous’ed with the Baileys and enjoyed a fabulous day and night as per Chelle’s post.
OK, that’s it for now and at this point we’re just about 6 months in and 21,000kms down. Still a week or two behind in the reporting but catching up! Stay tuned for another post in the next few days….