Sunday, 12 June 2011

France is still just as beautiful!

Finally we made it into Provence on Friday afternoon, after four days of driving on the wrong side of the road, towing our Smart car (with resulting problems!) and no access to internet! We are now safely at our first Provence campsite and am able to report in. Tuesday’s ferry crossing was pretty stress free but escaping from the environs of Calais was another matter, with the little car taking a dislike to the cobbled streets, traffic calming and mini roundabouts, resulting in severe wheel wobble on a number of occasions, including coming off the ferry! It is most disconcerting as the rumble goes right through the van and up to our driving position! Victor is getting progressively better at dealing with it, either slowing right down and starting again, or alternatively pulling away at speed!

We decided to take three days to drive virtually the whole length of France, with our first night stop just outside Reims in the Champagne area, choosing a French Passion site on a vineyard! Nothing new there then! It had been cool and cloudy from Calais, and as soon as we pulled up at the night stop the heavens opened and we had one of the first cloudbursts the region had had in three months! Typical, especially as we had left Norwich in beautiful sunshine! We grabbed our raincoats and made it into his tasting studio, leaving an hour later with twelve bottles of champagne! It had to be done, especially as we will be celebrating our wedding anniversary next week and will need supplies! It was the following morning when we discovered to our horror that the battery was flat on the Smart! Had we done something wrong – or maybe not something we should? Decided to keep going and try and sort it out in Beaune, a major town in the Burgundy region where we planned our second night in the car park where they allow motor homes to park overnight.

Happily the roads were relatively quiet and the rain went away for most of the day and we eventually pulled up in Beaune, a city we very much enjoy. We had an anxious couple of hours while we tried to contact a garage in Norwich to ask advice about the Smart, having to unhook the car and push it into position in a different section of the car park. Eventually we used jump leads from the van to get the car going again, and then went into the city for a well earned drink in a little bar, where we were kept amused by a young baby who was drawing attention from everyone, including passers by! Reasonable night – the new foam mattress topper is proving an improvement over last year but the following morning the battery was flat again. Undeterred we made it out of the city and carried on south, through increasingly undulating countryside towards Montpelier and the entrance to Provence. I am not a good passenger as I feel very anxious at speed and in heavy traffic and there were moments when I think Victor wished I was sitting next to him! But we made it to our third night stop in a little hilltop village (although luckily the wine maker we were seeking had his home and showroom at the bottom of the hill) and we found ourselves, quite by chance, in another delightful French spot – parked down on the river bank, in between wheat, lavender and asparagus fields. We abandoned the Smart behind his barn, deciding to wait until we were settled in the campsite before trying to rectify the situation. We bought some of his wine (No!), and other bits and pieces from his lovely little shop also filling up with fruit and veg from a market stall run by a young mum with an ancient CV and her young son who was playing with his computer behind the lettuces!

Friday was about the supermarket for provisions – the quality and choice in French shops are incredible – and finding the campsite – just east of Apt. Up, up, up a hillside on a gravel single track road – imagine how the Smart felt about that – and finally into a gentle and restful paradise complete with an aviary of exotic birds, mountain views and an infinity pool. Then the fun really began as we were given a choice of camping spots and naively chose the highest one in pretty woodland, only to find that the 1 in 3 shale gravel road was too much for our heavy van. Without going into detail we struggled with both the van and the Smart, finally having to jump start the car while parked on this awesome slope, while fellow campers looked on with a mixture of concern and amusement. I did not deal with this well! Victor was his usual cool capable self and eventually we had a Smart that worked. He reversed the van down the slope and at this point we decided discretion was the better part of valour and reverted to the first site on offer, at the bottom of the hill in a flat field alongside lots of Dutch campers –did I mention this is a Dutch site! Everyone was very kind and once we had set up all our stuff, with the sun still warm, we enjoyed a French liqueur in the little bar area. We are here for ten days and I will report on how it goes towards the end of our stay here. Hope to visit Aix and Avignon – let’s pray the little car continues to behave! Take care all.

Postscript: It is now Sunday afternoon – hot – and last night we experienced an evening of live musical entertainment in the bar, and this morning we took the Smart out to the nearby village of Reillanne for their Sunday market – think of a good Farmer’s market and double it – spent a small fortune and came back to enjoy some of the stuff for lunch. Now we know why we brought the little car along – not just for the ride! Starting to chill out now.....
sorry about no photos. Signal not strong enough to upload right now.

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