On tour at home and abroad with the Sumpners

The view below is Toad Rock, Tunbridge Wells


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France – Summer 2018 Days Part 4 Days 12-16

Tuesday 10th July

The end of the holiday has started to loom into view. Don’t you hate that? The first week it seems endless and then the second week just runs away with itself. We have to leave to start the journey home on Thursday morning, so today is our penultimate day at this beautiful location. Anyway. STAY POSITIVE. That’s the key.

We had decided last night that we would make today a real tourism day. We planned to get up early and drive to Chambéry, for a look round. So that’s just what we did! It is about 12 kms south from Le Bourget du Lac and we arrived just after the morning rush hour. It is an ancient town and very cleverly, they have put all their parking underground so they are not plagued by horrible multi-stories – or carbuncles as Prince Charles would have it!. They are quite deep – the one we used, by the Palais du Justice,  was 5 stories deep.

We parked and had a wander round the street market, where the produce looked top class and was beautifully presented. Sadly, we were going to be out all day so it was not practical to buy anything.

We had seen signs for The Old Town and decided to head that way (after a quick flick round Monoprix   – love them!). Food and frocks all under one roof. There were loads of very cute shoes (not reflected on their website) in small sizes. Curse my big plates! Not that I really need any more shoes….

The Old Town was lovely, with lots of cafes and independent shops and beautiful architecture. We also spotted a land train, and as we had a limited time (as we need to be in Aix for our boat trip) we thought that this would be a quick way of seeing all the sights. I really don’t know why we hadn’t learnt our lesson. We had, some years ago, taken an excruciating (but oddly hilarious) trip round Rouen in a land train with our friends Sue & Paul Rogers. It was awful – just embarrassingly so. Clearly, though,  a trip on a land train is a little like child birth because – some years down the line – it seemed like a good idea. Wrong! We just seemed to keep going round and round the same old bit. The commentary was all in French (it later transpired that Paul had turned down an English translation. Why??!!) and, whilst I’m not bad it was above my level of expertise.  Hysteria set in. And we really have learned now. NEVER AGAIN. It was a relief to get off!

But I did learn something. I kept seeing elephant pictures every where and there were signs pointing towards the “Elephant Fountain”. We were in the Alps. Why elephants?  I put 2 and 2 together and bingo! Hannibal. His legendary crossing of the Alps with elephants! And he had rocked up in Chambéry. What I had never realised was  how long ago it actually took place! It was 218 BC!!! it really was an epic journey and if you’re really interested, you can read more about it here.

The Elephant Fountain was beautiful by the way. And apparently has nothing to with Hannibal! Bang went my theory! It was built in memory of some chap who did stuff in India!  He was called Benoît de Boigne  and you can read more about him , if the fancy takes you.

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Place St Leger – home of the dreaded Land Train

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Heffalumps!

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A detail from the famous Fontaine des Elephants. One of the “Quatre sans culs” – or four with no arse!

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The Elephant Fountain

We retrieved the car and set off on the journey to Aix les Bains for lunch prior to our cruise. It wasn’t a long trip and we were soon parking near the port.

We found a nice place for lunch and asked for a place in the shade. The restaurant was very un-romantically named The Skiff Pub but the menu looked good so we gave it a go.  Lunch was very pleasant and we had such a lovely waitress. Unusually for me, I had an ice cold glass of rosé with my lunch and it was perfect.

We took our time and eventually relinquished our table, paid up and headed over to the embarkation point for the trip, which was just across the way. You may recall it was to visit the canal we had seen on Sunday. We were scheduled to leave at 2.30.

The boat looked nice but – just at the last moment, we were switched to another smaller boat, which sadly had very little outdoor space. We could only get a space indoors, sadly. Not a great start. It was BOILING hot and the sun streaming through the window (not openable, no blinds/curtains) was relentless. And then the commentary began. Entirely in French. Oh dear. Now – bear in mind this cruise had a duration of some 3hrs “plus stopover (variable duration according to period)” whatever that meant, according to their website.  I was picking up bits and pieces from the commentary but it did begin to pall after a while.  It wasn’t looking good although the lake looked beautiful.

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Hautecombe ABbey – burial place of the Counts and Dukes of Savoy

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A detail of Hautecombe – very Italian looking

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The mouth of the canal

It took quite a while to get to the canal – maybe an hour. The canal was also beautiful but we were aghast at the speed that the boat progressed down the canal. We are used to British canals, where the rule of thumb is never to have a breaking wash as it this causes damage to the bank structure. Breaking wash? As we passed by smaller boats/kayaks they were tossed around massively on our stern wake. We couldn’t believe it!

We passed through the pretty canal-side  town of Chanaz and then through the lock and out onto the Rhone. A short way up river, we pulled onto a pontoon and moored up. Everyone got off the boat and we followed suit.  I asked one of the two crew members what was happening and he said follow the crowd. So we did, thinking that perhaps there would be somewhere to get refreshments and possibly some retail opportunities (it being a touristy thing to do)?

We arrived in a very hot outbuilding with only a couple of seats left. I sat and Paul stood at the back – both of us still very puzzled! It looked like a workshop of some kind. And then it began. A presentation – goodness knows what it was about! We endured it for some time but I was so hot and – sadly – bored I signalled to Paul that we should leave. He readily agreed! We walked back to the boat and explained that we had returned because the presentation was in very fast French and we were English we had not understood a word of what was said. They reluctantly (they were on a break!) let us on board, where we – rather cheekily – found a space outdoors for the return leg.

There was a good signal and I scanned the boat company’s website for clues. I finally found reference to a “Cuivrerie” – which seems to be a copper works. That made sense. Further research (post holiday) shows that it was in fact the “Cuivrerie du Bugey” and I even found a video online of the presentation.

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THAT presentation. Nice chap- not a scooby what he was saying!

Eventually everyone returned and we set off back to AlB. I have to say that it was not the most successful or enjoyable boat trip ever.  We arrived back in AlB at around 7 pm and popped into the crêperie (Crêperie du Port) for a quick crêpe  (well a galette actually) followed by a lovely ice cream sundae (Poire Belle Helene for me. Yum). Then we made our way home and watched a bit of telly before bed. It had been a long day.

Wednesday 11th July

As we start the long journey South tomorrow, we had a lazy day planned. A little light packing and tidying mainly. Plans can change though and we decided to pop to the next lake along – the Lac d’Aiguebelette.

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Lac d’Aiguebelette – from Paul’s Nikon camera.

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Lac d’Aiguebelette – from my IPhone. You decide!

It, too, has a cycle path and we arrived at about midday. Yes – a cycle ride. At midday.  Mad Dogs and Englishmen, eh? But it was lovely. We parked and got the bikes down from the roof and set off. We were going anti-clockwise round the lake from the Maison du Lac to where the cycle route petered out at around the 4km mark. We turned and retraced our steps, stopping at a little cafe for a Croque Monsieur and salad, which was lovely. And shady. It was hot!

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Another day, another cyclepath

We returned home and spent the afternoon reading and swimming, deflating the boat and generally tidying up. As we wanted to make an early start, we showered and then got ready for the football. England’s semi-final match against Croatia. Being the good wife I am, I agreed to accompany Paul to the bar/restaurant to watch and have dinner. It all started well with a goal in the opening seconds, but as you will know, eventually England lost and we had a subdued bike ride home. Paul popped the bikes back on the roof and we completed our prep for our early departure and retired.

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Waiting for the match

Thursday 12th July

The alarm went off at 07:00 and we – very quietly – started the process of final stowing, fastening windows and roof vents and hooking up. We’ve done it so many times and we both have our personal tasks, so we were pretty quiet. We drove away on the dot of 08:00 as planned , looking forward to the first aire, where we would get our breakfast. I will miss this place.

We were taking a slightly different route back as we were a little further West and the miles soon piled up. We made frequent stops for snacks and drinks and comfort as usual and arrived back in Troyes at about 3 pm. As it was an earlier arrival than our visit at the beginning of the holiday, we had our pick of spots. We parked in almost exactly the same place though, as it had been handy for the loos/showers and bar.

Once set up it was time for some exercise. We had been sitting down a long time! SO the bikes came off the roof, we did a quick bit of planning and then set off along the path along the Canal du Labourat, which runs alongside the campsite. It’s a pretty stinky old waterway, never really a navigable canal, as such, but more a drain for the Seine, which also runs through Troyes and has (or had) a tendency to flood.  But there were fish in it! We did notice that a nearby factory was expelling some substances into the canal and the path was blocked off at this point.

As we had a reasonable idea of the lie of the land from our previous visit, we continued by road until we hit the Seine. We spotted a group of old folk playing boules and sat and watched them for a while. It reminded us that we hadn’t played for ages and we decided to cycle to the nearest Decathlon to pick up a new magnet and a circle (saves scrabbling in the dirt). We had spotted the store on our previous visit and we knew roughly where it was and how far, so off we set. We both forgot phones/cameras for this trip so we have no pics, sadly.

Mission accomplished, we returned to the site and called in at the bar for a quick drink and to see if we fancied eating there that night, as it would be quick and easy. We did fancy it, as it happened, and returned to the van to put the bikes back on the roof.

We then had a game of boules – I won! Of course. Then a quick hand wash and off to the bar. The menu is basic but very acceptable. We got chatting to a really lovely young English couple who were from Bristol (cute accents!). It (eventually) turned out that they were just coming to the end of their three week honeymoon in their self-converted camper. We wished them a long and happy life together and then it was home and bed.

Friday 13th July

On the road again! This time to a new location. Same routine – leave without breakfast and aim for the first aire. Here I discovered Nutella Brioche buns! Oh dear Lord. They were delectable. We made the usual regular stops. Old hands now. Amazing how you soon get into a routine.

The day wore on and we finally arrived – at about 2 pm – at the last site of this holiday. It was in a little town called Escalles – about a 15 minute drive (max) from the tunnel. It had seemed the perfect location. The site was called Camping les Erables  (Erables = Maples) and was approached on quite a steep hill. We did meet a car but it was fine. And what a lovely site! Small but perfectly formed. On a hill but with level pitches. It overlooks the coast and we could clearly see those famous White Cliffs.

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View from our pitch

And it was obviously going to be quiet. Lovely. We set up and grabbed a cuppa and then set off for an initial explore. Escalles has 3 restaurants and a lovely sandy beach, but as we had the bikes on top, we could not enter the car park. We’ll save that for later. So we pressed on along the coast – firstly towards Calais so we could have a look at the famous Sangatte. I think we both expected something pretty grim but it’s actually a pleasant little coastal town. The refugee camp (whimsically also known as Sans-gate) is quite low key.

Then we went back along the coast towards Boulogne sur Mer – ex ferry port. We hopped over Escalles and dropped in on Wissant, which nestles between Cap Gris Nez and Cap Blanc Nez.  The coastline is called the Opal Coast – supposedly because the chalk from the cliffs makes the water a bit milky. And this particular stretch is called La Terre de 2 Caps – for obvious reasons!

We loved Wissant – which was just setting up for the evening market, held in the square there. Evening Markets? What a lovely tradition. We found a handy parking space and eagerly hopped on our bikes for a tour round.

The beach there is a beautiful stretch of sand and people were making full use of it in this gorgeous (and unusual!) weather.  We had a good cycle round, took some photos and generally enjoyed milling around with the smell of frites and moules and other slightly less agreeable summer odours!

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La plage – Wissant

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Cap Blanc Nez

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Interesting groynes #1

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Interesting groynes #2

I bought a beautiful bedspread from a lady whose shop was a very cute vintage caravan. I am delighted with it. Just right for summer. Very chuffed with my purchase.

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Vintage Van shop – Wissant

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The bedspread

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In situ – very happy

We stopped for a wander round the market and a drink in the square before returning to the car, loading up the bikes and returning to the van. We stopped on the way home to book a table at one of the restaurants in Escalle. Restaurant Les Falaises (The Cliffs). Seafood a speciality. Yum!!

After a cuppa and shower, we read for a while and then got ready for dinner out. I didn’t dress up too much as we had decided to cycle down the hill to the village.

The meal was delicious and we both had moules – Paul’s in a curry sauce and mine good old marinière and we had a lovely, lingering meal (Creme Brulee for dessert). But by the end of the evening the temperature had plummeted and there was a chilly breeze off the sea. I was (unusual for me!) really cold!

It was nearly sunset and we cycled down to the beach, just in time to catch the last rays. Beautiful.

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La plage au coucher du soleil

Then it was home – as soon as possible. Cycling back up the hill (quite steep!) might warm us up. Can’t believe how chilly it was after such a warm and sunny day. Just couldn’t wait to jump into bed. And it was the first evening  we had gone to bed with no fan on. It was warmer down South! We fell asleep to the sound of fireworks from the beach at Wimereux.

Saturday 14th – Bastille Day 

We are very often in France on this day it seems – creatures of habit, eh? Our destination today was Boulogne. I was intrigued to find out when the ferry service ceased to operate between Dover and also Folkestone. I seemed to recall a hovercraft too, from my younger years. Apparently, the services were all victims of the opening of Eurotunnel. I imagine this must have had a quite an impact on Boulogne?

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of Boulogne, although I suspected it might be tacky. Got that wrong. The old walled town is a delight and we spent a happy couple of hours wandering around. Everything was looking very smart with their Bastille Day-best flags and we were lucky enough to witness the Bastille Day Parade, complete with band.

After the parade,  we stopped for a coffee and a coffee religieuse. These are choux pastry concoctions, filled with coffee flavoured crème pâtissière  and topped with coffee glace icing. The name means “nun”, and they are supposed to represent the Pope’s hat. Whatevs! They are scrummy. And VERY naughty!

Coffee Religiesue

We went back to the parking, got the bikes back on the roof and set off to visit the other places we had missed on the way back up towards Calais. Before we left we popped down to the port and saw some serious fishing boats. Probably being paid to stay in harbour because of fishing quotas?! Also a large leisure fleet.

On the way out of Boulogne we thought we’d go and have a closer look at the imposing statue of Napoleon – or the “Colonne de la Grande Armée“, as it is more correctly known. It stand 50 metres high and building commenced in the early 1800s . It was intended to commemorate the successful invasion of England, but of course this never took place. So they just changed what it commemorated! An early example of “re-purposing”! It is pretty impressive but not quite as grand as our own column in Trafalgar Square – in my opinion. Interestingly, Napoleon is standing with his back towards England.

After this we passed on towards Wimereux – which we weren’t that keen on and thence to Ambleteuse, home of the very attractive, late 17th century Fort Mahon.

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We then pressed on to Audresselles, where we stopped for our lunch. We chose Le Loup de Mer (whose website made us chuckle. They do a nice line in “the carried away”). Loup de mer (or wolf of the sea) is French for Sea Bass, by the way. The plan was not to cook this evening but to have our main meal at lunchtime. As Greg Wallace might say “Seafood doesn’t get any fresher than this”! Audresselles still has a fishing fleet and so we both had more seafood. And delicious it was. It being Bastille Day and thus a public holiday, trade was brisk. And – sadly, though the food was good the service was poor. I am still waiting for the mayonnaise for my frites!

We must have been hungry because we forgot to take any photos of the town.

An observation. I have noticed that many of the place names (e.g. Wacquinghen, Hardinghen) have a vaguely Belgian ring to them and also that the style of building was very similar to the area around Saint-Omer where we have visited several times. It’s very pleasing to the eye. Clean and functional lines and attractive brickwork.

After lunch (it was quite a long and late lunch) we made our way back to the van, where we spent the remainder of the day relaxing, cleaning and packing before our final departure tomorrow.  More fireworks tonight as you might imagine.

This is a lovely area and I’d definitely be happy to return to this campsite.

Sunday 15th July

So that’s it. Time to go home. We had a lovely eggy breakfast and weren’t in too much hurry for the off because our crossing was scheduled for 1:10. We got there earlier than necessary (it’s just a short hop from the campsite)  in the hope that we’d get on an earlier crossing. We did get put on an earlier train but – with delays – we ended up leaving around that time anyway. We arrived home at about 3:30.

A great trip – not without sadness but there will be many happy memories. Here’s to our next trip.

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