Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Wednesday, June 1st 2011 - Tuesday 7th June 2011

Annecy has much in common with the Lake District, back home. For example, lakes and mountains, after yesterdays rain, I will have to add rain to that list.

We have had several days of glorious weather, but boy when it rains, it certainly rains!

The rain went on for the whole of Tuesday.

We entertained ourselves, for part of the afternoon, by watching the Dutch couple next to us, dismantle their awning in the pouring rain, and managing to keep everything dry. In the awning they had a full camp kitchen, table, chairs etc etc, it all had to be taken apart, thoroughly shaken to get rid of the creepy-crawlies, and then stowed in the car.

They are off tomorrow, and heading for Luxembourg.

Wednesday morning and it was still pouring down.

Having amused ourselves watching them working in the rain yesterday, I felt obliged to help the Dutch couple, push their caravan off their pitch, because the wheels were beginning to settle into the grass surface, which was saturated with rain.

Then we had to pack our gear up in the rain, and head off.

We are heading to a place called Santenay, between Chalon-sur-Saone and Beaune, in the Burgundy Region.

It is quite a long journey, by our standards, we normally do only a couple of hours driving per day in the Campervan.

We are still on kat-nav, and the route is reasonably complicated.

Leave Annecy on the N508, which takes us to Bellegarde-sur-Valserine, then N84 to Pont d’Ain. On this stretch of road at a place called Cerdon, there is an incredibly deep gorge, which the road wends it’s way down and into. I had not realised how high up we were, partly because the rain and low cloud were obscuring the view. At Cerdon, a break in the cloud allowed us to see the drop into the gorge on our right. It was too dull for photographs, but there would have been no available hands to hold the camera, even if it had been bright and sunny.

From Pont d’Ain, it is the N75 to Bourg-en-Bresse, then the N79 to Macon. Here we join the N6.

I am giving all of this detail, because when you read on, you may just want to pass this way!

The rain stops by lunch time, but it remains cloudy and grey, and we stop at a large aire come Service Station for lunch.

Here we see an interesting sight, prostitutes in white vans!

Kathleen first noticed that we had parked (inadvertently of course), near a white van, driven by a blonde (dyed) woman, dressed in a VERY revealing outfit.

Soon another white van arrived, driven by another blonde (dyed).

Once given the clue, Kathleen soon spotted another three white vans, two with blonde (dyed) drivers. The third one with no sign of the driver, presumably she was in the back doing business.

The sight of prostitutes plying their trade by the roadside is quite common in Italy, but, in white vans is a new one. I suppose why not, you get mobile Valet services, mobile mechanics, mobile windscreen replacement, why not mobile prostitutes?

After this bit of excitement we rejoined the N6, to Chalon-sur-Saone, and then on to Chagny, and Santenay via a small local road.

Santenay, Des Sources Santenay, ASCI2011-1321

The site is fine, not the best I have ever been on, but facilities are perfectly adequate, and it is tidy and quiet.

The site was recommended by an old chap (yes, I know I am an old chap, but he was really old, ie 74 plus), who we met at Annecy, he recommended it based on the excellent cycling.

He was certainly right about that, according to the cycle route map we were given at Reception, there are hundreds of kilometres of cycle routes, along the canals and through the vineyards.

Given that the weather had improved a bit on Tuesday, we set off on one of the cycle tracks, heading in the direction of Chalon-sur-Saone.

We had a bit of a false start finding the track, for future reference, on leaving the site, you turn right at the railway crossing, and cross the railway line.

The track is excellent and follows the Canal du Centre, it is very pretty, with plenty of passing pleasure craft.

This former lock keepers cottage (all of the locks are automated now) caught our eye, it has an idyllic spot.

The track was so good, and the cycling so easy, we were soon within five miles of Chalon-sur-Saone.

Kathleen (surprisingly, to me), was all for going on to Chalon, which we did. Here, a bit of disappointment, the signposting, which up until this point had been spot-on, disappeared completely, and try as we might, we could not find our way to the town centre!

Undaunted, we stopped for our picnic, and then headed back along the canal.

At one of the locks, we spotted this monster, just entering the lock, with only inches to spare all round.

We lingered to watch. It is quite fascinating, in only a few minutes the lock was filled with water, and the boat was at our level, ready to float out.

Our return took us all of the way along the cycle track to Santenay, by which time we had cycled 34.5 miles. Kathleen prefers to express it in kilometres (55 kilometres), since it sounds even further.

A drink was called for, so we sat in the village square beside this magnificent fountain and had a couple of beers each.

The ordering of drinks turned into an amusing sequence.

The norm is, a waiter/waitress comes and asks what you want. After almost five minutes of sitting there, you know who was becomming impatient.

So I decided to go inside and order our drinks. Prompted by my action, a woman from another group also went inside.

Here, a young waitress was having a bad expresso coffee machine day. There was froth everywhere, and she had a queue of customers waiting inside as well as outside.

Soon a very bossy and officious older waitress appeared, instead of doing the sensible thing, ie let the young (and presumably untrained) waitress do the simple thing, ie serve the beers, whilst she attended to the expresso machine, she instead took over everything, and soon had chaos with orders mixed up etc etc.

Myself, and the lady who followed me inside to order, went outside to wait for our drinks to be delivered, since things were getting fraught inside.

I briefly explained to Kathleen what was going on. Then the bossy waitress appeared, and literally banged our drinks on the table, and similarly our neighbours. This sent Kathleen into fits of the giggles, and she was soon joined by the occupants of the other table. The bossy waitress was not amused!

The end of our trip is in sight.

We are now heading, slowly, North and West, to arrive in Dunkirk for our ferry early on Friday 10th.

We still have a week to go of course, but more of our time will be taken up with travelling, than has been for the past few weeks.

Tonight we plan to stay at an Aire, Kathleen has picked out three “possibles” from our “All the Aires France, 3rd Edition”, book. We prefer to have Electric hook-up if possible, but we can manage without.

The reason for choosing more than one, of course, is to allow for there being no spaces, or the Aire not being as good as described.

We are still on kat-nav, and past experience is that directions in the Aires Book are often suspect.

For anyone reading, who may come this way, here is what we thought of them.

Our first choice is at Decize (Page 172, 60, N46 49.914’ E003 27.664’), the description in the book is very promising. We find it relatively easily, although we have yet to see Allee Marcel Merle, mentioned in the directions). It is alongside a river, and there were about ten vans parked along the riverbank. In other respects, the reality was not much like the book, unfortunately. Only a service point, with charging outlet, rather than Electric hook-up, and the whole area was rather shabby. There were several “fairground” type trailers parked up, and the final straw for Kathleen, a few white vans (no drivers visible!).

We decide to move on to our second choice. St Benin D’Azy (Page 168, 44, N47 00.067’ E003 23.721’). There is one van already there, and plenty of room for (9) more, This is fine. It is near the road, but still quiet. Again effectively no Electric hook-up, but a service point with a single electric point delivering 1hr electricity for 2Euro. The village is pleasant, with an Intermache supermarket. We decide to at least stop and look around. There appears to be only one bar, which we visited. Kathleen had an amusing (to me anyway) experience with the “continental” style toilet here, but I am forbidden from describing it in the blog. You must ask her about it.

It is only four o’clock in the afternoon, and we have exhausted the village attractions, with no electricity we cannot even play our music (well one of can with the ipod battery and head phones), but the docking station requires mains power, so entertainment options are limited. We have no reservations about stopping the night here, but we decide to risk moving on to our third choice, in the hope there is space and it is OK.

La Charite sur Loire (Page 170, 50, N47 10.480’ E003 00.674’).

This is actually on an island in the Loire. The book says space for three vans. But, in fact, the Aire is split in two. There are spaces for three vans on the river bank (there were actually four vans there when we arrived), and a further six in Quai Romain Mollot, where the service point is located. The street (Quai Romain Mollot) is mentioned in the directions, but the street sign is so small (and only visible when approaching from the opposite river bank to Charite sur Loire!), that you would have to be very observant to spot it when driving!

We were lucky, we got the last space in the area near the service point. Effectively no electric hook-up, but two charging points. You pay for Electric/Water, if needed, using your credit/debit card.

It is in an urban area, but very quiet, we heard no noise during our stay, and woke to birdsong.

You can walk across the bridge to the main part of town, which you see here, from the bridge.

The town has enough to amuse yourself for a few hours with a choice of bars and Cafes.

There is a rather magnificent and ancient church. Next to it (in the courtyard at the main door), is the tourist office, and (important to all Aire users) good toilets. That is “real” toilets, no “continental” style, Kathleen is relieved (no pun intended, ha ha) to see.

I had thought I had taken enough photographs of churches, but this was rather impressive, in an ancient sort of way.

as you can see, from the green damp stains, on the left in this photigraph, it is not the best maintained or restored church I have seen, but, still impressive,

from the outside as well as the inside.

Finally, probably of more interest to most of you who may be reading this, and who may pass this way.

If you go to the auberge/bar/cafe near the main door of the church, you can get a half litre pitcher of “vin rose”, for only 5 Euro. It is good stuff, even Kathleen remarked that she knew she’d had a drink.

Saturday morning, and off we go.

An easy run, much of it along a “free” motorway, brings us to Gien.

Poilly-lez-Gien/Gien, Camping Touristique de Gien, ASCI2011-1297

We are again on kat-nav. If you are trying to find this site from the directions in the ASCI book, it is important to remember a few points. The site is NOT on the Gien side of the river, it is on the opposite bank. If you arrive on a Saturday morning (as we did), there is a market on the Gien side of the river, and the traffic is horrendous!

Once we find it, the site is good, right on the banks of the Loire, with good views over to Gien, on the opposite bank remember.

We have been neglecting our chores, and our first task is to catch up on some washing, here you see Kathleen being the super efficient camping housewife.

Chores done, we walk into Gien.

The intention is to find the church, in readiness for Kathleen tomorrow.

As you can see, it does not take much finding. It is massive and right next to an equally huge Chateau (covered in scaffolding unfortunately).

When we eventually make it to the top of the hill, where the church is located, we find it is a mixture of old and new.

The bell tower is original 14th century. The remainder was rebuilt in 1954, after being destroyed by a bomb, and subsequent fire, on 15th June 1940, during World War 2.

The current church is dedicated to Joan of Arc. The information leaflet informs us, there have been three previous religious buildings on this site.

The first, a chapel, was built along with a castle, in the 9th century, by order of Emperor Charlemagne.

In 1514, the royal collegiate church, dedicated to Saint Stephen and built by order of Anne de Beaujeu, Countess of Gien, daughter of King Louis 19th. The 14th century bell tower was retained. This church was damaged during the French Revolution, and deconsecrated in 1828.

In 1832, the church dedicated to Saint Peter was opened on the site, still with the 14th century bell tower.

The main part of the church is now built in brick. Actually, according to the information leaflet, it is built in reinforced concrete, and clad with bricks. Perhaps they are not taking any chances this time.

Hey!, you get everything with me, Geography lessons, History lessons, there is no end to it!

If you come this way, the “Pause Cafe”, in the traffic free main street, have free wifi, plus cold beer of course.

Whilst we were sitting at the Pause Cafe, Kathleen remarked that it felt oppresively hot, as if thunder was due, sure enough by 20:00, we had a thunderstorm, tried to capture the lightning, but only managed the rain drops!

I do not know if thunderstorms are to be expected at this time of year in France, but we do seem to have had quite a few. Always short and sharp fortunately. I wonder if it is associated with the ash cloud from the Icelandic Volcano?

Sunday, Kathleen is up abnormally early and going through the hair washing ritual, prior to going to church. I obtain an English newspaper, and catch up with the news, after church, we have lunch in the restaurant at the campsite.

There are several promising cycle rides signposted from here. One in particular to Briare looks good. But there is no chance of getting Kathleen on a bicycle on the same day she has washed her hair. We will have to save that for next time we pass this way.

Believe it or not, after a hot and sunny day, another thunderstorm at 18:00, which lasts for an hour, and then clears into a beautiful evening.

We leave Gien on Monday morning, and head towards Chartres. This is a route we have not used for some time (N154), Chartres, Dreux, Evereux, and ultimately on past Rouen. But for today, we stop off at Brezolles, to do another night at an Aire.

Brezolles, All the Aires France 3rd edition Page 196, N48 41.450’ E001 04.183’

When we arrive, at about 15:00, only two other French vans here.

By 20:00, there are eight French vans, us, and one other British van.

There is no electricity, only fresh water, and waste disposal,, both free.

It is a pleasant spot, near the road, but not too noisy, and the traffic diminishes to almost nothing overnight.

The town has a bar and shops, and although (like us) it is probably passed it’s best before date, it is quite picturesque (the town, that is).

Kathleen tested out the toilet, and it is a “real” toilet, no complaints on that score.

As we walked into town, there was a bit of excitement!, everyone is out on the street to watch.

A really large load (it is the blade from a wind turbine), was guided through the village by an escort of two motorcycle police.

As you can see from the picture, this thing is massive.

It gets stuck and cannot move forward at this point, because of a car which had been coming in the opposite direction.

The police motorcyclist instructs the car driver to move onto the pavement, until he is almost touching the window of the shop, and the driver of the large load managed to squeeze past.

Just as well, I would not like to contemplate reversing that thing!

Job done, and like police everywhere, they just rode off and left the chaos of traffic behind them, to sort itself out.

There is a church in the village, but it does not appear to be in use. I say that, because the door does not appear to have been opened for about a hundred years!

In common with almost all French villages, however, the clock works, and chimes every hour. This one is rather amusing, since it plays a little tune (oh Claire de la lunar, we think it was). As you may guess from the last remark, “tune” is perhaps an optimistic description.

The good news is, the chimes stop over night. Whoever looks after it, must be an early riser, because the chimes begin again at seven o’clock in the morning.

On the few occasions we have used aires, we have noticed, the French seem to retire early (ie by 22:00), I would therefore expect them to be first up, but no, quite often we are up, ready and away before they have even put in an appearance. Today is different, one of the French is up and on his way by 08:30, by which time I am just starting my chores (ie empty the rubbish, dispose of Kathleen’s empty gin bottle, etc).

Tuesday, lunch time, and we arrive at one of our old favourite sites, but which we have not visited for a couple of years.

Neufchatel-en-Bray, Camping Sainte Claire, ASCI2011-974

We have sung the praises of this site before:

• It is beautifully kept.

• It is only about a mile off the “free” motorway (A28), which takes you toward Calais/Dunkirk.

• You can make Calais/Dunkirk in only 2 – 3 hours, so it is plausible to stay here before catching the ferry, or as a first stop off the ferry.

• There is a choice of three supermarkets (Le Clerc, Lidl, and Aldi) all within walking distance.

• There is a church in walking/cycling distance.

• There is a cycle track at the gate, running to Dieppe in one direction, if you feel that energetic and Les Forges d’Eau in the other.

• It is only 11Euro (£10) a night.

Phew!, sorry, that is a massive post. But we have had no reliable internet for almost a week.

This site did not have internet, last time we were here, but, now true to form, he has done it well. Only 3Euro for 24 hours, and the speed is superb. The wifi covers only 80% of the site, but if you are out of range, he has provided a little "office", with seats and power points, where you can bring your laptop to.

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