Weds 22nd January
Today was the day for the start of our pretty epic (to us!!) road-trip. We had prepared as much as we could the evening before and we spent an hour or so prepping the van so that we could just hook-up and go.
Next was a visit to the flat to shower (both) , do some work (Paul) and collect the last few bits (me) before the off.
Paul then left for Portchester to go and grab the bikes while I popped to Soothills to get some lunch. Our bikes have been stored at the lovely Linda’s since the move. It was when I arrived, bearing pasties all round that we realised that we had forgotten the vital bike keys, which lock the bikes to the car roof. They were nestling happily in a drawer in the sideboard. Doh!
We quickly hatched a plan. Linda would come with me to the flat to collect the keys while Paul would go back to the site and start the hook-up process. Linda would then drive my beloved Jizzy back to her house. Jizzy is being cared for by Linda and Anna while we are away, so this all worked out very well.
We eventually set off at 2:30 – about an hour later than planned but that’s my life, as those who know my husband will attest.
I had hoped we would arrive before dark but that was out of the window. Traffic on the M25 linear car park was pretty abysmal and we finally rocked up at our first night stop – 1 – The Drum Inn – which is situated roughly 8 minutes from the Tunnel and a favourite spot of ours when visiting France with dogs. They were very good, dropping off to sleep just after we left and staying that way until we arrived. Paul drove and answered the phone and dictated responses to emails all the way.
We were the only people on this very handy pub site, so we got a nice spot where we could stay hooked up and leave (very) early and with minimum fuss the next morning. We got some drinks from the pub and had our dinner. Paul went back to work, while I watched a spot of television and we ere in bed by 10:15, ready for our early alarm call. We set double alarms- just in case.
Miles travelled: Day 125/ Cumulative 125
The alarm went off at 04:45. We arose and Paul walked the boys while I made some coffee. Last night I had prepared some cereal in lidded bowls that we would eat while we were in the tunnel. The boys seemed very puzzled that we were waking them up so early!
We were booked on the 6:50 train but managed to get on the 06:20. We boarded the train at 06:00 and proceeded to have our “first breakfast”. Then it was putting the beam deflectors on the headlights, applying the Crit’air sticker and then the Télépéage gizmo on the windscreen.
The dogs didn’t bat an eyelid in the tunnel. I doubt they even noticed. They had Bonios for their first breakfast.
We arrived in France at around 07:00 or 08:00 French time. It was a nice sunrise, about 7C and a tad cloudy. Our first stop – as usual – was at the Aire du Baie du Somme, where coffee and 2nd brekker (a pain au choc) was procured. At a Starbucks! Zut alors! Is nothing sacred? V disappointing that France has finally succumbed to the big boys from Seattle.
Next stop was just a petrol stop, near Rouen – the location of my very first trip to France with Uncle D when I was about 11. We caught the ferry overnight to Le Havre and then a train to Rouen. I remember being entranced by everything and am still grateful to him for opening my eyes to the joys of travel. We also have fond memories of a visit to the town with our dear friends Sue & Paul Rogers – particularly our hilarious trip on a very squeaky land train – with French only commentary and a lady with a new phone who was trying out every ringtone. We were convulsed for most of the very memorable (for all the wrong reasons!) trip.
The temperature was now down to 0c and it was quite foggy between Rouen and Alençon, but it warmed up during the afternoon and and we actually saw some sunshine.
Once again we drove and responded to calls and emails and this, coupled with stops every couple of hours or so, helped the long journey pass reasonably tolerably.
We eventually arrived at our site – Camping les Acacias – in Tours at 16:15. It had been a long day and was not the most welcoming arrival – no-one in reception and – as is customary – no instructions or envelope with our name on telling us where to pitch. I know it is winter, but if you are going to say that you are open all year but it’s not economical to staff the place, at least leave some sort of welcoming envelope? I don’t think that’s an unreasonable demand.
We had been warned of possible electrical problems by another English guy who had arrived before us. He was quite correct- the first four connections we tried kept cutting out as soon as we put the fridge and heating on. It was barely above freezing and getting quite dark and – as I sat in the van in coat, scarf and blanket – I had visions of a very miserable couple of nights.
Good old Paul tried everything but his patience was sorely tried by the dodgy supply. Eventually, he tried a different approach and finally, we had power! First priority was heating and, once the van had defrosted (OK – slight exaggeration!) we added in the fridge and then lights and soon everything else was able to be used with no tripping. I love my electric over-blanket!
Paul settled down and did some more work, we popped out for a quick squizz of Tours by night and a Maccy D (Bacon and Blue Cheeses!). We spotted nearby a Supermarket and, better still, a petrol station with cheap fuel. Then more work for Paul and eventually bed. It really had been a very long day.
Miles travelled: Day 380/ Cumulative 505
SERVICE STATION REPORT 5 loos visited, of which only 2 had toilet seats. Grim!
Paul was up and working by 08:00. I – aka Mrs Lazybones – slept in until 10:30!
I awoke to a bright sunny day, with a temperature of about 10C. That’s better!! Very springy. Paul worked until 14:00 and then we set out to have a quick look round Tours and a drive along by the beautiful River Seine.
And our impression? Very elegant, lots of fin de siecle buildings in wide tree-lined boulevardes. The Cathedral (de Saint-Gatien of Tours) is wonderfully intricate. The location by the Loire is perfect. The Grand Theatre has seen better days, though it’s still shabby chic and the Chateau is not as impressive as the Hôtel de Ville. We liked Tours very much.
After our whistle-stop tour of Tours we returned to the van and Paul did some more work. When he finally declared himself done for the weekend,we made a quick visit to E Leclerc for some food for supper (Tuna Lasagne) and some cheap gazoile – €0.30 per litre cheaper. Makes a big difference!
So a quick review of Les Acacias – maybe I’m expecting too much out of season, but I would have hoped for a better arrival. The site is pretty close to Tours and would be a good base for the Loire Valley and its delights. It’s also just off the A10 and very near a large supermarket (E Leclerc). The shower block was clean and warm and the washing up facilities very handy. When we are travelling like this, we tend to do a “light” set-up, rather than the “full monty”. By which I mean we pop a bucket out to collect waste water and use a 5 litre water bottle for our drinking water. We then rely on the site’s facilities for loo, ablutions and washing up.
I’d gladly stay at Les Acacias again but those electrics do need looking at as I write this (Jan 2020) – avoid the 4 way pole at the bottom left – or at least check before you pitch.
We got up immediately the alarm went off at 7:45. Paul took the boys out while I got breakfast ready. After packing everything up and unhooking, we set off just after 9. It was a lovely sunny day but only 0 degrees as we set off. We were to spend most of the day on the A10, which is a toll road.
Just a short note here about toll roads. They are our preferred method of transit. Many people make it a point of honour to avoid them. For us the benefits are pretty simple. Excellent road surface, frequent stops either with or without all mod cons. We have a tag and just drive straight through the péage. This is less of an issue in winter, admittedly, but in summer you beat the queues. And it’s nice to hear that satisfying beep! This all comes at a price, but we feel it is worth the hit to travel stress free.
Our first stop was just South of Poitiers. We caught a glimpse of the Futuroscope theme park from the road. As we drove further South the temperatures rose steadily and it was 11C by midday.
The next stop was at a really pleasant Aire just South of Saintes (a city I’d like to visit one day). There was even a climbing wall, high tree walks and a zip wire in the wooded bit, although it’s of course seasonal. The French do their rest stops or aires very well.
We notice that we seem to have the caravan area pretty much to ourselves. Somebody not telling us something? By now it was 16C and really very pleasant. People were sitting out in the sun having their lunch.
After our break, we pressed on and were soon approaching the outskirts of Bordeaux and its “rocade” or ring road, which is notorious in the same way as the M25. It was pretty busy today even though it was Saturday. Paul is so calm and collected. I’d be a wreck!!
We have a pitch right next to the shower block – handy for a quick nip across when it’s nippy out. We got set up, had a cuppa and did a bit of screen staring.
We needed some grub for a couple of night’s meals so Paul dropped me at the shop while he went and walked the boys. While he was out he visited the Priory of Cayac – one of the stops on the pilgrim’s route to Santiago to Compostela.
On our return, we cooked, watched half a Netflix movie (King) and retired to our comfy bed.
Miles travelled: Day 230/ Cumulative 735
SERVICE STATION REPORT 1 toilet visited – with seat
After a really peaceful night, we had a fairly lazy start, kind of easy- much like a Sunday morning.
There had been a little rain overnight and we took the opportunity of dry daylight weather to get the “long vehicle” boards stuck on the back of the van. Spanish road regulations dictate that any vehicle over 12 metres in length must bear these attractive accessories. This includes vehicles whose combined length when towing is over that length. Unluckily for us, our rig is 12.2m. We did discuss risking it, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Don’t want any bother with Spanish road cops!
Chores done, we set with hopeful hearts to find the bus stop. Mission accomplished- and we had very helpful driver, who explained to us the intricacies of the Bus/tram system and sold us two tickets – allée et retour. Two people for an hour each way for €6. Bargain!
We set off, keeping our eyes open for the stop – Peixotto – where the bus interfaces with the tram. Mission accomplished. Doing well! Odd name you might say? It’s very Basque – we are very nearly in Basque Country and it’s influences show.
The tram was packed and a bit hot but the boys – once again – were perfectly happy. We clocked the places we wanted to see on the way back and soon arrived at the planned stop – the Cité du Vin. Once off the tram we strolled along by the river. We were very impressed by the bridge crossing the large, fast-flowing and very muddy R Garonne. Even more so, when we researched it later and found that it is a vertical lift-bridge, first opened in 2013. See the pics below.
We were lucky enough to find a a cafe/bar – l’Austra – who were happy to take us and the boys . The waiter spoke great English and we had soon ordered our tapas. Mozzarella Sticks, Ham & Cheese Croquettes, Chicken Balls stuffed with sweet chilli jam and some Pate with Cornichons. All delish and way too much!
Lunch finished we re-boarded the tram (B line) back to the bus stop for the Gradignan line (No. 10), passing the massive Place des Quinconces – one of the largest city squares in Europe – and stopping at another impressive cathedral, the beautiful Saint-Andre, with its separate campanile Very interesting history) , and taking photos. We had a video call with Uncle D while we were there!
We arrived back at Peixotto where we had, earlier, checked out visually where the return tram would be. Luckily we only had to wait a couple of minutes for a number 10 to come along. Result! UNluckily, he drove straight past. We were speechless! He made absolutely no attempt to stop. We looked around and saw a stuck on sign saying that this stop was temporarily out of order and that we had to walk back to where we had got off the tram. Grr.
We used the opportunity to grab a quick cafe á emporter and sat to wait for the next bus. It came along quicker than we had anticipated. Hurrah!!
Bill and I had one foot on the bus when the doors started to shut. I quickly got back off and the bus drove away, leaving us standing like numpties AGAIN!! Reader – a few sharp words ensued.
We sat back to wait for the next bus, a tad disgruntled. Once again it turned up promptly. There was NO WAY we were going to let this one go without us. The doors- it must be said – close very smartly. You need to get a real wiggle on. Not easy with two dogs, coats and rucksack! But we sat down and heaved a sigh of relief. It was 17C by now.
Our stop – Beau Soleil – (presumably named after our campsite?) was the end of the line and we tripped happily back to our little home.
The boys immediately fell asleep, while it was time for a cuppa for us.
Tonight we have spaggy bog for supper and we plan to watch the end of the film and pack up ready for the off tomorrow. Le Pay Basque beckons!
My quick review of Beausoleil. Lovely welcome. Madame speaks good English but switches between if she sees that you can follow her, It’s a cute little site with – I think – 30 pitches. The toilet and shower block are both mixed which I was perfectly fine with. The shower block is very clean and nice and warm. There’s a nicely comprehensive recycling area, all clearly labelled. Despite being near a road, it’s very quiet. And its a great location to pick up a bus to Bordeaux. Couldn’t be easier – bus to Peixotto, pick up the tram, the B line and off to town. Your ticket lasts an hour, after which you need another. there machines at every station . And the best bit? Dogs are allowed on both bus and tram.