Posted by: glenswatman | July 5, 2011

20110621-30 France and Germany

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TUESDAY 21 JUNE – After dropping the car back and Mum’s and filling up with water at Netty’s we are under way by 8.30am. It feels so good to be on our way and Eddie is looking really well with his new carpet. After a lunch stop on the motorway we arrive early at Dover and find out that P&O will let you go on the earlier ferry without supplement. Out of interest I asked the price as a walk up and it would have been over £150. The Spirit of Britain is the newest ferry in the fleet, lovely clean and spacious and has free wi-fi. It is also full of uncontrolled school children running riot. Arrive in Calais FRANCE 90 minutes later, around 7.30pm local time. I set up the Sat Nav to direct us to the first town with an Aires de camping. It works really well and within minute we are on a free road running parallel with the toll road. Driving in France really is a pleasure with so many good country roads and little traffic. Arriving in Arques we are heading for the Aires when I spot a motorhome by the canal. By doubling back we find ourselves a lovely free camping spot at the edge of the water. Our first meal in France is toast with assorted cheeses (non French) and the Aussie Banrock Station wine that Bev & Norm bought on the ship cheaper than it is on sale in Australia. The Dickins head off to check out the town and don’t return until 10.30pm as they have been fascinated by all the small streets.

WEDNESDAY 22 JUNE – We park up on the outskirts of St Omer where Steve decides to stay with the van dues to the abundance of flats surrounding us with people peering out of the windows. Maybe a bit over the top but we are just finding our feet again. The main square has an impressive town hall and the cathedral is really nice. On top of a plain tomb are dozens of pairs of small children’s shoes which we can only assume is a monument to children who have died. At the moment it contains an exhibition of art by locals. Finish our stroll at the pleasant public gardens. We are now in the Somme region and First World War battlefields, cemeteries and memorials. A short drive takes us to “La Cupole” a unique building where they used to build rockets. €9 (£8) admission includes a set of headphones for an audio tour. The museum has 2 focuses, the effects of the war in this area then the rockets and the prisoners who worked on them. Each has a separate movie and displays. The scientist who built rockets for the Germans during the war went on to move to America and work on the NASA space programme. We spend almost 3 hours looking around then have a quick lunch. There’s building work going on nearby and we crack up laughing when we see a builder go past with his dog kitted out in a hard hat and high visibility vest. The most famous Canadian site is Vimy Ridge. Groups of Canadian students come over for the summer to do free guided tours of the site. We walk in the original network of tunnels beneath the battlefield and learn much more about how the miners dug tunnels then placed explosives under enemy lines. Nearby the impressive Canadian memorial is much like it was when we visited back in 2002 with the exception that you can no longer use the road around it and there is no overnight parking. At Vimy village we drive towards the sports ground and find a nice little parking area in a side street.

THURSDAY 23 JUNE – It has been a nice quiet overnight stop so we sleep in late. Driving round Arras Steve spots a motorhome dealer selling Rimor brand. With the Sat Nav we feel confident doubling back and trying side streets until we find the entrance. They are very nice people and speak enough English to understand the fault with our door. Within minutes they have opened up the casing and found lose screws. They even ask if we have any other problems but the once we mention cannot be fixed without parts being ordered. They have an identical model to ours on display and are selling it for €47,000 (£42,000). Funnily enough when we look inside some they have for sale we prefer the version with the bunk beds. The Sat Nav is terrific in France as I can now enjoy more of the journey and not worry so much about going wrong in the villages. We had forgotten how easy the driving would be with beautiful scenery, pretty villages and houses with immaculate gardens. The Newfoundland Memorial is run along the same lines as Vimy Ridge and we end up with a personal guide for the 4 of us telling us how so many soldiers died at this location. I’ve been having an aching tooth and ask at the visitor centre if anyone knows of a dentist nearby. Not only do they know of one but the lady phones up, makes me an appointment in Albert, draws me a map and sends us on our way with a covering letter in French explaining my problem. Nearby Thiepval is the main British memorial and now has a visitor centre. The majority of visitors that we are seeing in the area are British tour groups of school children and with all the new visitor centres the tours must take much longer. In Albert the dentist speaks enough English that coupled with my broken French we get to the root of the problem, literally. He checks around my gums and finds many areas with pain around the tooth and slight pain on the tooth, the one I had filled last year in Hungary. He drills out the filling, with no anaesthetic and I am amazed to feel no pain. Next prods around then tells me he has been poking the nerves and they are all dead. I have got a bad infection that must be treated with antibiotics before the cavity can be refilled in 6 days time. He charges €21 (£18) for the consultation and filling removal plus €13 (£11.50) for antibiotics (Spiramycine 250mg 1 tab 3 x day). I now start to wonder whether this is the cause of my abnormal blood test that have been showing infection and inflammation as toothache was the reason I had the filling replaced last year. Time will tell. Albert is an attractive town and story had it that when the statue on top of the cathedral fell with war would be over and this is exactly what happened. A model inside shows just how badly the building suffered but it is now wonderfully restored. The town hall has some really nice stained glass picture windows and there are a few other nice buildings around. With Aussies on board it is an obvious detour to go to the Australian Memorial near Villers Bretonneux. The centre point is an unusual tower that can be climbed for stunning views. Time has slipped by and we need to find a spot for the night so using the Michelin map and with the help of Tomtom we make it to the Somme Canal with islands in the middle near to Briost. There are a few caravans parked up but lots of space for other vehicles, another excellent parking spot.

FRIDAY 24 JUNE – Laon can be seen from miles away as a huge hill in the middle of nowhere topped by an amazing many towered cathedral. We park in the lower level then walk up to the town. The enormous gothic style cathedral is stunning with square towers that become octagonal near the top where there are sculptures of the beasts. Bev & Norm take the cable car down whilst we walk and meet by the van. We look like proper French people walking the streets with baguette in hand. Epernay is the centre of the Champagne region and Mercier is one of the many producers. They have a huge level car park, where we could stay overnight, an offer tours for €10 (£9). First we are given a handset with English commentary about many features. At an appointed time a group is gathered to go down into the cellars by lift. En the way down the back of the lift has a glass window and we see many dioramas of champagne production. At the bottom we board a train for a journey through just a small part of the 18km of tunnels and receive information about champagne production in general plus the Mercier brand. Along many of the tunnels are beautiful wall carvings to add interest. We are at the top of the Avenue de Champagne and walk back down it to admire the wonderful mansions and homes to other producers such as Moet and Chandon. A short drive takes us to the village of Mareuil Sur Ay with motorhome parking by the river. It’s a popular place and luckily has an overspill area. It’s like “Little Britain” with the majority of motorhomers being British. The Belgians make us laugh when they park in the street then proceed to set up a BBQ in the road and table and chairs on the grass verge.

SATURDAY 25 JUNE – Both Steve and I seem to have had a return of our colds and are feeling a bit under the weather so we opt for a short drive to the small village of Contrisson with excellent motorhome parking by the river. There’s a long stretch of grass with picnic tables, toilets and shower and behind this motorhome parking. It turns into a nice day so we are happy just to sit out and enjoy it. It’s a popular area and a few groups on horseback gather for a BBQ and lots of people go by on scrambling bike. The only downside is the train track opposite creating a bit of noise. Bev & Norm go for their usual long exploratory walk. Norm is the only one to brave the cool river for a swim from the beach but we are all happy to partake in a free hot shower.

SUNDAY 26 JUNE – In Nancy we soon find good open parking a short walk from the centre. In fact we have no idea which car park we have ended up in but the Sat Nav guides us into the city centre. The main square is superb with lots of gilded ironwork, pretty fountains and nice buildings. Contrary to what the man in the tourist office tells us we get free wi-fi and MacDonalds. As well as the main square there is a pleasant cathedral and some nice gardens. It’s a really hot day so I hop into the fountain to paddle with the kids. We leave at mid day and by lunchtime are parked, again by water, in the town of Luneville. There’s a small type of pier going out over the weir and we take our table and chairs onto it to enjoy lunch. Yesterday the lads picked some black cherries so I cook them up in port and serve them in crepes French style. At the nearby chateau they are having a special “horse” week and today have displays of dressage, horses dancing, acrobatics, people in traditional costume and other attractions. Bev & Norm have seen a hotel near the town centre and check in there for the night.

MONDAY 27 JUNE – We opt for the scenic drive over the mountains rather than the tunnel and it pays off. At the far side we enter the Kayserberg valley and soon find the Aire decamping Cars. It is a massive area and you pay €2 (£1.90) for the day, €4 (£3.60) overnight and the toilets and dump station are free. Unusually people are using it more like a campsite with awnings, tables, and chairs and washing out. We are not shy to join in and have soon done a load of hand washing before lunch. It’s a really hot day so we are not racing off into the town. I would rate Kayserberg as the most picture perfect town I have ever seen. It is like a living museum with every house in traditional style, well kept and adorned with beautiful flowers. There are numerous narrow side streets all with interesting buildings and a pretty stream flowing through the centre. As if this isn’t enough the tourist office gives us the code for free wi-fi that can be picked up in the main square and at the Aire.
KAYSERBERG €6 (£5.40) day and overnight parking

TUESDAY 28 JUNE – After 5 days of antibiotics my tooth has shown no sign of improvement and in fact is now worse with a lumpy and swollen gum. The local dentist checks it out and says I have an abscess, this is all I need. She suggests a stronger course of antibiotics (Amoxicillin, 500mg 3 x day, €14, and £12.50) for 6 days then a return to a dentist. Her fee is €21 (£19) and I establish that this is the minimum price for consultation and a small amount of treatment in France. In the nearby city of Colmar we park at “Super U” supermarket less than a kilometre from the centre. Steve is still full of cold so stay home to relax whilst I join Bev & Norm for a stroll around Little Venice. It is a really attractive part of town with more traditional houses and canal with riverboats going through the centre. There’s a tourist train doing circuits but it would appear you can only join it in one place, probably the tourist office, and that is far away. It is another scorcher and we don’t fancy walking further. Leaving town we see a sign showing 38C. Crossing the River Rhine we pass into GERMANY and soon find our way to Sonnland naturist campsite on the outskirts of Freiburg. We visited in 1985 when camping with the kids and it seems quite different now we are travelling in a motorhome. Within minutes of settling onto a site Norm is in the pool. We spend a lovely afternoon sitting out, eating, drinking, relaxing and fitting in a few jobs in between. There’s a clock nearby that chimes each quarter hour then does a long song on the hour. At 6pm it seems to go into overload with a really long medley and we are pleased to note that it then stops for the night. It is such a balmy evening we sit out until after 10pm then settle to bed with all the windows wide open.
FREIBURG, SONNLAND CAMPSITE. €4.50 (£4) pp, €7.50 (£6.75) pitch, €1.50 (£1.35) electric

WEDNESDAY 29 JUNE – It’s just typical that once we have found a nice naturist site the weather changes. We’ve barely finished having breakfast outside when the raindrops descent and thunder rumbles overhead. Bev & Norm pack up and decide that they will take the nearby tram into the city and stay there overnight. This works well as it gives us space in the van and me the opportunity to give it all a good clean through. For €5 (£4.50) you get tokens to do one load of washing and drying and I manage to fit in both lots of bedding. Bobby put a load of movies onto my hard drive so we make the time to watch a couple of them in the afternoon and evening.

THURSDAY 30 JUNE – Bev & Norm arrive back around 10am at which point we make the decision to stay on another day as the weather looks a bit better. It is not really hot but warm enough for us to finish cleaning Eddie and give him his first coat of wax. We chat to Englishman Dave who works in Italy 2 months on and 2 months off aboard ships then spend the alternate 2 months camped here. Bev & I walk to the nearby Lidl where goods are noticeably cheaper than in France and in many cases the same Euro price as they would be in £ so 10% cheaper. It is really nice to be able to spread out and eat all our meals outdoors. Tomorrow we head for the Bavarian lakes.


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