Week 17: France to England (via Belgium)!

A campsite with a sense of humour and a lifeguard to watch over you!

We left the Wild West themed campsite in France and carried on our trip to Compiègne. When we arrived we went to the site of the Armistice Treaty signing on the 11th November 1918, signalling the end of World War I.

From here, we went on a bit of a trip to the Thiepval Memorial, in Authuille, France. The memorial was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens (who also designed the Cenotaph in London) and is a memorial to the missing 72,337 British and South African servicemen of the Somme. We chose to spend the next two nights in the town of Péronne.

We had started to feel, like we’d been on the move for too long again! Things needed to be sorted out and chores (washing) completed! We also needed to find a vet for our return to England – yes, we’ve decided to return, and just before we ran out of tea bags!

Chores completed, vet accomplished we set off again for Ieper (Ypres) heading north through Lille. In Ieper, we headed off to the Menin Gate and the historic town. We didn’t stay for the Last Post, but maybe we’ll return when the weather is a little warmer.

From Ieper, we set off north to Bruges and we stopped at the Tyne Cot Cemetery, outside the village of Passendaele. It is the largest cemetery for Commonwealth Soldiers in the world, for any war. It is one of the best cemeteries we have been to. We were going to stop in Bruges, but Albi has strained a tendon in his foot, so he’s on short walks. We headed to the Belgium coast instead.

We chose Bredene, after a trip to the Dutch Border and slowly heading back towards France. The campsite is one we have added to our list to come back to. (There will be a list of our campsites and stopovers (good and bad) soon!). Here, it would appear our past has caught up with us, with an email entitled “Speeding Etrusco Bloggers”. We have received a speeding ticket from Latvia, we’re not proud of breaking the speed limit, but it did make me smile, imagining the lovely Nortia, flying through the Latvian countryside!

After Bredene, where there was an amazing Chinese Restaurant, almost next door, we set off again and after completing a trip down the coast, we found a campsite on the beach in Dunkirk. Who knew how lovely the beach was here?

We chose to stay two nights, here, and get ready to return to England. We set off on our bikes on Saturday – into a head on wind which wiped the sand off the beach into our faces. We followed the trail and found the beaches where the Dunkirk Evacuation took place – Operation Dynamo – in May and June of 1940.

On Sunday, we made a slow journey to the Tunnel, to return to England. The journey was pretty non-eventful. We made our way to the Pet Check-in and as always Albi sailed through and was able to return to England, now it was our turn! The queue was massive. We were directed to Self-Check-in, something we have always shied away from, but it was easy, you either enter your booking reference or card you bought the ticket on and your boarding pass! Next, Border Control – France easy now Britain, again all OK, we were on our way! We boarded early and arrived in England.

We’d booked a night at the Bearstead Caravan and Motorhome Club Site, outside Maidstone, Kent. We’ve got ideas of where we plan on going from here, but there is nothing set in stone. We’ve got one eye on the weather and our route is in our heads!

Next week, you can find out where we’ve been and what we’ve done. We’re hoping the weather is kind, but it’s England and it’s October! As always thank you for reading, we’ll be in touch soon…

Week 16: France

Col du Grand Colombier

We left St Tropez, with the weather app and the radio giving weather warnings for bad weather for two days. We knew we would be unable to avoid it completely but we decided we would start our trip back to England.

We headed north and picked up the Route Napoleon at Castellane and headed up to Digne-les-Bains, a thermal spa resort in the Alps. The Route Napoleon follows his route from Elba to Grenoble to ready himself for his battle at Waterloo. The weather wasn’t too bad on the drive north and was even sunny when we arrived, but the rain was still due.

The rain did arrive, just as we were starting to cook dinner. Thankfully, the awning was able to provide protection to the chef and his barbecue. Expecting worse weather, we put away the awning before turning in for the night and we were glad we did. The weather got worse throughout the night, including the start of the thunderstorms. Waiting for the gaps in the rain and the storm, in the morning I was able to take the dog out for his walk… but a few steps in the rain started again and even heavier. The paths were flooded and I was drenched through. I was taught an expression in my school french lessons, which I have never deemed appropriate to use before, but today was the day – “je suis trompée jusqu’ aux os.” (I am soaked through – literally to the bone!) After having returned to Nortia, and drying the dog, we decided to move off the grass onto the roadway and continue getting ready to leave. As I was already soaking wet, I continued to do the outside jobs, whilst Ric carried on inside in the dry! Once moved I was able to change, have a lovely warm cup of tea and plan the day’s journey.

We continued up the Route Napoleon towards Grenoble, stopping for a nice warming bowl of French Onion soup in Gap (all cooked in the MoHo in the Supermarket car park – we weren’t the only Motorhome there either)! We continued on to the chosen campsite, but despite it looking open the office was closed and despite ringing the bell as requested if it was closed, there was no response. It was definitely becoming one of those days! As we returned to Nortia and reversed up the steep slope onto the road, a figure appeared at the office but stubborn as we are it was too late we were moving on! We found another overnight stop at Lépin-le-Lac, a small campsite on the edge of a lake in the Auvergne-Rhone-Alps.

The following morning we thought about visiting Geneva, as we were so close. After a lunch on the banks of the River Rhône, we followed signs to the Col du Grand Colombier. Neither of us knew what to expect, but as we got higher and higher, we checked the internet and it turns out that it was a mountain used for the climbs in the Tour de France 2012 and the view at the top were worth the trip, so we carried on. The top is 1412 metres above sea level, not one of the highest we have been up, but the road was very steep and twisty with a number of switchbacks. There were a couple of hairy moments, especially where you could see the drop down, those cyclists definitely have some balls! The climb is rated HC ( hors catégorie) which is the most difficult hill climb.

The view from the top was just amazing, you can see Switzerland and Lake Geneva, the Alps and France. We were even above the clouds.

We headed off to our overnight stop in Gex. We’d told Ditsy Daisy Sat Nav that we didn’t want to go to Switzerland anymore and yet we saw the border approaching. Oh well, another country for the list. We continued on along the outskirts of Geneva and then we had to park up at CERN. We seem to be having an unprepared day, neither of us realised it would be on our route and even better it was free to visit. CERN is the European Organisation for Nuclear Research and it is home to the Large Hadron Collider.

After Gex, we headed to Besançon and travelled up through the Jura Mountains National Park . The National Park does not allow dogs! The signs even say leave your dog at home! We climbed higher up the mountains through the ski resorts and descending down into the valleys below. There is a more autumny feel here and the leaves are turning orange and red. There are more signs indicating activities for Halloween and Toussaint – All Saint’s Day 1/11, a national holiday in France). The french schools also break for the holiday on Friday for two weeks.

Next we headed up to Colmar. Neither of us has travelled along the eastern border of France before and Colmar, was just so beautiful. We headed from the campsite a short walk to the area known as La Petite Venise, with the canals and historical houses. Colmar even has a minature Statue of Liberty on a roundabout on the outskirts of the town, in honour of the designer who was born in the town.

We headed west from Colmar towards Compiègne, stopping at a lovely campsite in Andelot. We were the only people there and there were cows in the field in front of us and behind.

As we continued towards Compiègne, we started to see the World War One memorials and grave sites, the area is known for. There are cemeteries for all nationalities here. We stopped at the Necropole Nationale – Cormicy and then the Berry-au-Bac Memorial to the Armoured Cavalry (tanks). The campsite for the night had a Wild West Theme.

Next week’s adventures will be following shortly – we haven’t had WiFi for a long time and our internet providers say we’ve been out of the UK for too long. We’ll endeavour to deal with this on our return to England, but for now, thank you as ever for reading – we’ll be back soon….

Week 15: Italy to France, in search of some sun.

Pole Position – Monaco

Having woken up to a spectacular view of the mountain in the Dolomites, it quickly disappeared into the cloud, reminding us how high we are – we have been aware of altitude changes as our water bottles and ears pop! Then, just as we’d given up all hope of seeing it again, there it loomed out of the cloud.

We had checked the map and realised exactly where we were, but didn’t really know where to head when http://www.theofficeisclosed.com/ Marcella and Julian, offered us some advice and suggested the Strada delle Dolomiti (https://www.guidedolomiti.com/en/great-dolomites-road/). We had another look at the map and we were a sneeze away so off we went. We missed it heading north, as we set off towards Cortina d’Ampezzo and then upwards to Dobbiacho, where we picked up the route. Before we reached the final part before the summit, we saw a road sign warning of helicopters, strange, we thought, but then we passed the helicopter landing pad at the side of the road!

The top of the Strada delle Dolomiti is 2233m above sea level and there was fresh snow at the top. The road up is a series of switchback turns as is the road back down. We had passed a number of cyclists on their way to the top! We had found somewhere to stay, but it was closed, as was the next one, but a third was open and it was a lovely stop over, in the village of Mazzin. There is also a cable car which goes up the mountain.

One thing we hadn’t realised was how high we still were – it as about 1400m above sea level and that night the temperature dropped to about freezing – there was a lot of frost when I walked the dog in the morning! Even at 08:00 the temperature outside was 4°C! The lovely Brazilian Cleaner couldn’t believe we were still wearing shorts but the sun was shining so it had to be done! We have to see the heating in the lovely Nortia had kept us toasty all night too, so it wasn’t too much of a shock until we opened the door!

We set off in search of a little sun and thought we’d tour the Italian Lakes. We’d found an Agricampeggio campsite in an olive grove with a distorted view of Lake Garda. It was a lovely place. On the route Ditsy Daisy Sat Nav had taken us over more mountains and then down into the towns of Trento and Affi, which are full of marble and granite distributors and warehouses. After this we were into wine country and the roads lined with vineyards.

Our plans to visit the rest of the lakes was put to one side when the weather decided to not play ball and cloud and rain threatened our views. The beauty of the motorhome is that we can just change our minds and we set off south, towards the Mediterranean Sea, where the weather forecast was looking a lot warmer.

Day 100 of our trip to Europe and we headed to Busana. Busana is in the Apennines and in the Apennine Tosco-Emilliano National Park. Our campsite was at the top of one of the peaks there. The campsite also plays host over a few weekends in October to a festival for the chestnut and it wasn’t hard to see why. The paths were lined with trees and the floor was full of ripened fruits. There were people collecting them, so I took a handful back for Ric, (I don’t actually like chestnuts)! We googled how to roast them and are still to do so, but the grocers in Italy sell them so they should still be good!

From the Apennines we headed to the Cinque Terre. This is a selection of villages along the coast and they are all beautiful. The plan was to go to one of the towns, which had a campsite near the beach and explore, only we think everyone had the same idea as the campsite was full, so we had to find another. We did and this time it was lovely, with a free shuttle bus to and from the village three kilometres away – you just call them and they’ll come and get you. Ideal for catching the train to visit the other villages. We have added it to our list for when we tour Italy properly.

After a lovely evening and a proper Italian pizza, we headed off for a little town we loved on one of our previous trips, in Finale Ligura. Just down from the campsite was a little bistro we’d found by chance and really wanted to return to. We booked a pitch and paid in advance, just to make sure.

On arrival the village was as we remembered, the sun was shining and the water blue and calm. The campsite looked exactly the same too! We were offered a pitch – it was the same one we’d struggled to get the VW onto, that can’t be right! It was (it wasn’t helped by our neighbours taking too much of another pitch making it difficult to manoeuvre. We returned to Reception and paid for an upgraded pitch – apparently when you check their measurements an 8m x 5m pitch is not the same as a 5m x 8m pitch! This was where things began to go wrong.

We went to the Bistro, but it was full, so headed back to the campsite and thought we’d give their restaurant a try. We were seated, and shown the menu, ordered food and drinks, all seemed great. We got our drinks and bread, then Ric’s main course arrived and both of our sides, but no main course for me. Despite asking it still took until Ric was almost halfway through the biggest steak, we’d seen for my meal to arrive (no it wasn’t worth the wait) and then the other half or Ric’s steak was raw – how can you manage that? We complained, got a little discount but were queried as to why he’d eaten it all – we showed them the bag for the dog! the next morning when we tried to check out, they also tried to charge us again for the pitch. Thankfully it hasn’t happened before and hopefully won’t again – we just need to add it to our list of experiences.

We left Italy and headed towards St Tropez. We drove along the coast road, through lots of pretty villages such as Loano, Andora and Sanremo. We stopped for lunch in a supermarket car park and then headed off towards Monaco and Monte Carlo. At the border to France, we were stopped by the Border Police, who came on board and checked for illegal passengers. All ok, we were clear to enter France. We drove through Menton and on to Monaco – another border crossing!

We had been to Monaco and Monte Carlo before in the VW, so knew roughly what to expect but were aware that we needed to pay a bit more attention to road signs due to the size of Nortia. We negotiated the roads down to Monte Carlo and drove around the Formula One circuit, through the chicane and the tunnel, up to Casino Square and onto the Pole Position – yes we did manage to stop the traffic and take a photo, but not for too long as there were a lot of Police moving cars, due to the big Yacht Festival in the Marina.

We headed off to our campsite in Villeneuve-Loubet. This is a lovely little town and the campsite is definitely on our list to return to. Villeneuve-Loubet is also the birthplace of Auguste Escoffier. We set off, again, for St Tropez – this time with me annoying Ric, singing “Do you know the way to St Tropez?” instead of St Jose! I don’t know whether it was the words or the fact I can’t sign that was annoying him more!

On the way there was an air show taking place over the beach, but there was no where to park, so we watched it while driving! We got to the campsite just outside St Tropez and settled in. While relaxing outside, we were surprised by a fighter jet overhead at full power, everything moved and we jumped! We started to plan our next day and saw there was bad weather heading our way and thought maybe we should move on, however we normally wait and see what happens the following day – being English you know that the weather can completely change overnight!

What did we do? We’ll let you know next week! As always, thank you for reading…..

Week 14: Croatia to…. And a surprise for someone!

Nortia at Lake Bled, Slovenia

We awoke at our campsite in Ičići  and got ready to meet up with my (Sarah’s) mum in Opatija. It has been exactly three months since we said our goodbyes over breakfast in Chichester Marina. We walked along the promenade (as much as we could) up to the hotel and there she was, sitting on the terrace waiting for us.

We popped along the road to a lovely cafe/bistro/taverna (I don’t know what they would be called in Croatia) and were shown to a table. The food was amazing and cooked so well. If you’re in Opatija I can’t recommend it enough http://www.roko-opatija.com/

After a long lunch, and a lot of catching up and story telling, we walked back to the Campsite still talking and reminiscing. We said our goodbyes and planned our journey onwards.

The next morning we set off to Pula, along the coast road and up over the hills. The campsite was fairly big but not overcrowded – We chose an ACSI camping pitch for 20 euros – you don’t get to be on the water’s edge or the beach but with so few people you can see them without paying double. The site also has a restaurant and you can sit down and eat or take away – we chose the latter. As you can probably tell, we’ve made up for the lack of going out this week! We then needed to choose whether to stay another night or move on. Looking at the weather that night (and again in the morning) we chose to move on; the forecast was for heavy rain and thunderstorms.

We set off for Slovenia and crossed the border near on the coast before heading through Koper to Ancarano. Koper is a massive freight port where (I read) that a lot of the cargo is taken to the southern Mediterranean ports. There were so many cars all waiting to be shipped. The campsite at Ancarano, is part of a hotel complex and on the beach – again you pay more if you want a sea view. However, as it was raining and we’d already had one mishap in the rain on a grass pitch we chose a hard-standing.

We left Ancarano and headed north to Bled. We followed the lovely Ditsy Daisy sat nav, until I found a road which bypassed Ljubljana and went up over the hills / mountains. All the signage indicated that it was suitable for vehicles under 7.5 tonnes, and we were following an artic – who we are sure was over 7.5 tonnes. Still there were no mishaps and the scenery was lovely.

Before we reached Bled, we stopped at the vets in Lesce, Albi needed some more medicine for an ailment he has, they were so helpful (we had been there before when we first came to Bled, for his worming treatment back to the UK – those were the days were planning was key and we knew exactly where we would be and how far we needed to travel each day)!

On arrival at Bled, everything was familiar. This was the first overseas place we had come with our Bilbo’s VW. That time we planned to the letter – two stops on the way 12 nights in Bled and 2 nights to get home. This didn’t work though, as we got bored sitting in the same place and left after 11 nights and headed to Venice! This time Bled was calling us back.

We arrived at the campsite and checked in for two nights – again using the ACSI card. We dusted off the bikes and took a little tour around the town. To our surprise the short spurt around we’d clocked 6 miles – not a massive amount but we hadn’t been on a bike for a while! We headed to the onsite Restaurant for a meal.

The next morning we wanted to do a longer cycle – we borrowed the cycle folder from Reception and found a circuit – the Reception staff copied the route for us and with the aid of Gloria Google Maps we were able to continue our little trip – taking in the villages of Bled – Breg – Zironica – Smokuc – Rodine – Hrase and Lesce before returning to Bled. This time we’d clocked up 19 miles, and it felt like it! The villages were great to see and the roads weren’t bad to cycle on – we even came across a bridge we’d driven over in the VW and were astonished how small it looked with the two bikes let alone a Transporter – we are not going to attempt to get a photo with the lovely Nortia though. The trail does have some steep hills and switchbacks. On our return to the campsite we had a well earned sit down before a lovely warm shower. Then we remembered there was a chinese in town, so back on the bikes and we picked up a takeaway. A quick cycle home – another 5 miles clocked (24 in total for the day!).

We decided to stay another day! We went off on a trail, we’d done the last time we were here and then we met possibly one or two other people, this time it was packed at the top. We’d gone to Ojstrica at only 611 metres it wasn’t the biggest we’d ever done but we haven’t climbed anything for a while. The start of the climb is incredibly steep and on loose rock. When we got to the top the view is great but the number of people, just annoying! We ate our lunch and headed back down to the campsite.

After a lovely takeaway meal from the restaurant – there was a 60th Birthday Party in full swing in the restaurant, we decided to move on the following day. We were heading to Italy.

We set Ditsy Daisy to non-motorways or tolls and set off on our travels towards Lake Garda (we knew we weren’t going there straight away, but needed to head in a direction!). We passed through Kranjska Gora and over the border to the mountains of Italy, where we travelled over the Mauria Pass – with a maximum elevation of 1300 metres above sea level and four switchbacks up and five down.

We chose a Stellplatz at a restaurant in a little town of Belluno, in the Dolomites. Unfortunately, the restaurant was closed as it was Sunday. We had a quick wonder around as there were a number of fishing lakes – full of fish in various sizes. The view wasn’t great when we arrived but was worth it the following morning….

As always, thank you for reading and apologies this week for the lateness of the post – we have been in the mountains and the mobile data and WiFi connections have been slow at best and non-existent at worst. There’ll be next week’s post soon (a bit like a London Bus!)

Week 13: Slovakia to Croatia

This week we started at our lovely river (reservoir) side campsite – in the rain. It was a disappointment after the promising weather, yesterday. We set off to get a vignette for Nortia, to travel on the motorways – we weren’t hoping to use them but just in case. We stopped at the first petrol station and were told that we needed to go to Slovnaft. Well, thank heavens for Google – what or who is Slovnaft?

Slovnaft is it turns out to be a Petrol Station. We duly asked Ditsy Daisy Sat Nav for directions and off we went. The staff in the petrol station did not speak English ( and we can’t do Slovakian), I was in the process of checking Google Translate when a very nice man helped me out and all was sorted. I did feel slightly guilty as he was stopped by the Police on his way out for leaving his engine running!

We set off towards Bratislava going via a town called Martin, and the original geographical centre of Europe at a church in Kremnické Bane. We arrived just as a school group were entering the church so the actual stone was relatively quiet.

A short drive on to a campsite outside Bratislava turned into a mission as both the ones on Campercontact – which said they were open, were both padlocked shut. Another quick delve into the app and we found a Stellplatz at Čilistov . We were the only people there, alongside to stored caravans, until another couple arrived in the dark (and left at daybreak). A short walk around with the dog revealed a river and a park. The river is the border with Hungary, and the park had a monument to the local Olympians – not golden post boxes!

We spent a lovely quiet night at the Stellplatz and the following morning set off to Bratislava. Before leaving Čilistov, I had read that just up the road was the largest horse statue in the world, so we set off in search. It is called Colossus and is at the entrance to the X-bionic Sphere in Samorin.

Bratislava, is a wonderful capital city. We parked up in the free car park – you can also camp here free, and walked over the bridge right into the centre of the city. We had found on Google maps – attractions the statue of Man at Work – a brass statue of a man exiting a sewer, so headed off in the direction.

Bratislava is a river boat cruise destination, being on the Danube River and when we arrived at the statue so had a tour! We then set off for something to eat and stamps for postcards (we send the grandchildren a postcard from each country). The stamps, we could only get from the Post Office – a very ornate building, where when you enter you take a ticket – which is issued depending on the service you want and you wait to be called.

We ate our lunch in a very nice cafe – Cafe Studio, which had been the home of Opus Records and had been the recording studio. We sat outside and did our normal people watching. Bratislava, seemed very laid back as a city. We had a slow wander back to Nortia via the river and were totally amazed at the length of the River Cruise Boats. It was sad to leave the city but Austria beckoned.

We set off in the direction of the border and not wanting to use the motorways, we entered the Czech Republic! We changed some more money up (they’re not Euros, either) and found a campsite – it was lovely, but it seemed to be left over from the 1950s. We had only planned to be there one night anyway, and it was fine for that.

The next morning, we bought a vignette, just in case and headed up through vineyards to the Austrian border. Where possible we have decided that our trip should’t be on motorways, as we were missing too much.

Entering Austria, we bought another Vignette – just in case and headed off towards Vienna. We found a campsite, again on the Danube and a train journey away from Vienna. The cost of the train was quite expensive, so we’ve added it to our list to do when we return to Austria.

We were shown to a pitch at the campsite, which was quite small and out of the way, but it appeared they had a Concorde Reisemobile (Motorhome) Rally, taking place the next day and they were holding the larger pitches for them – if you’ve seen a Concorde Motorhome, you’ll know why! https://www.concorde.eu/en/ if you haven’t and you’re now curious!

We left Tulln, and headed south – we’re still in search of the sun! We found a nice looking campsite in Burgau, in the mountains at the foot of the castle. We had a wander around the town and saw there was a Pizzeria next door, so duly enquired about food, to be told they only served toast! We went back to the lovely Nortia and sorted our dinner.

Next morning we headed to Slovenia. We passed more vineyards on the edge of the very steep mountain sides and crossed into Slovenia. Have you ever returned to somewhere and thought, “why haven’t I returned sooner?” That was how we felt when we’d driven a little way into the country. We headed to Ptuj. The sun was shining and it was beautiful. After a quick sit down in the sun, we headed off to see the old town. There is a long walk up to the castle and the sun and cobbles made it hard work. There was a festival / pageant taking place in the town square and it appeared that there was a dragon and a knight – sound familiar? The town flag is also a George Cross!

After a day in Ptuj, we decided to head towards Croatia. My (Sarah)’s mum was on holiday in Opatija, a shortish drive from where we were and we hadn’t told her just in case we couldn’t get there. We stopped at Camping Menina, in Recica ob Savinji. It looks a great location for kids – with treetop walks, river rafting and bear watching! True to form, it rained. We did wander to the river, where there were lots of trout like fish – too small to fish.

We set off for the Croatian border. The scenery was again stunning and the amount of vineyards very surprising – you don’t consider Slovenia as a wine producer but it is! The border was relatively uncomplicated – you have to show your passport and then you cross the border! We headed to the campsite outside Opatija, found ourselves a nice pitch and headed off to the sea in the sunshine. Here we also thought we’d better let mum know in case she had plans for the next day. All was fine and we will meet up at her hotel the following day.

That’s where this week ends, we’re afraid! Next week’s update will let you know more. As always thanks for reading. Have a great week…