There are worse places to be stranded

How far have we travelled in the last few days? not many! We are actually still on the aire at Villers Sur Mer. We did leave on Friday, a few miles up the road in the countryside and the windscreen wipers packed up. Fuses checked, nope, ring AA – they so couldn’t care less. Questions were ‘is it raining’ and ‘are you parked safely’. Answers were ‘no’ and ‘yes’ so they said will ring you later with a garage you can drive to’. Two hours later, they hadn’t so wary of being stuck in the middle of nowhere when the forecast rain started we headed back to the aire whence we came. As we arrived AA rang with the name and address of a garage – I could have done this hours ago myself from the list in the Fiat assist book,  I live and learn.

Garage very pleasant, well in that ‘we don’t know why they don’t work either’ French shrug type of response. Two hours later they decided the motor is kaput. So lets get a motor and fix it? Yes sure next Friday! That is 7 days away, well yes its Armistice Day on Tuesday so things will be slower next week. Why one day closed means 7 days to fix something that they say will take less than an hour we know not, but our choices were limited at 6pm on a Friday evening. We paid an extortionate amount for labour, the motor and having it installed in a weeks time and here we are living the good life in Calvados for at least a week:)  In the spirit of travelling optimism things could be worse if its 7 days in France we worry it could have been 7 weeks if this had happened in Romania? And it could be worse, something else could be broken – oh yes ,it is, the fridge relay has died, sounds like a herd of bees every time the fridge is set to 12v …… one step at a time will sort that next.

Ok traumas aside, we actually love it here. The aire is perfect, luckily. We have unlimited electricity but we have to pay €2 whenever we want water, which we have to leave the aire and drive up the road for- odd but we can live with that.  There are 12 pitches, its been full since Saturday morning so we are not risking our spot and have paid for 3 days in advance. It’s only costing us £8.50 per night and we have free wifi from the museum next door so what is not to like? Its certainly popular, 12 bays and its full with French motorhomes, there has been a constant stream arriving at the barrier and turning around as its full all weekend. We know we should only stay for 48 hours and that was up Friday, but we will be here until next Friday so hopefully no-one is going to notice us tucked away in the corner.

We now have plenty of time to explore the Calvados coast and are making the most of it. We visited the tiny hamlet of Touques on Friday, like stepping back in time and just as we think a French village will be, lots of people drinking coffee on the pavements, a few shops and a square with the mayors office just behind. Yesterday we hiked around the Nature Reserve on which we are staying, about 4 miles round, then back along the sea front which was bracing but dry. Today we have had a stroll along the promenade into the village of Villers Sur Mer. Very much a seaside town with lots of cobbled streets, pavements cafes and gift shops, surprisingly the majority were open on a Sunday. We stopped off at the Patisserie  for a loaf, highlight of the day but its the little things like that we enjoy.

Our French is coming along, slowly but its getting there as its been a case of having to. The garage was a no English zone, in the cafes and shops its been French or nothing, so far we have resisted the British trait of speaking loudly and slowly to make ourselves understood 🙂

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Villers Sur Mer

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Touques village square

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Touques

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Touques

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Vive La France – we have arrived :)

Yes we made it, so far hassle free and considerably easier than we anticipated.  To be totally honest, there have been a few skirmishes between driver and navigator but other than that it has been relatively plain sailing.

Arrived in Calais to thunder and lightening, which made for an interesting drive through the torrents out of the port and onto the A16. We were determined not to pay the toll so needed to exit before the first toll booth, slight problem in that our marvelous map book doesn’t show enough detail to see where toll starts. We headed off at exit 31 and did a little, unplanned, jaunt around Boulogne before finding the road for Le Touquet, for no other reason that it was somewhere to head for.

On route we stopped off at the Etaples war cemetery. Over 9000 graves and every one kept immaculately. We knew from family history research that my great grandfathers brother was buried there. Amazingly we walked down one line of graves and then started across and found his grave within 10 minutes. Really humbling to think that over 9000 men didn’t get to go home. We left one of our poppy’s as a tiny mark of respect for someone we never knew but to whom we are related and to who we owe so much.

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So the next thing was aires – where to stay and what to do. First one we looked in at was Le Touquet, this seemed a very wealthy town, incredible houses on wide avenues and everything kept immaculately. We found the aire right out on the marina, water, ehu and seemed secure so there was nothing stopping us. No lets move on as the next one will be even better. Oh how wrong can you be, Berck aire is a dump, so much so there are 6 foot mounds of earth barricading in several caravans. We beat a hasty retreat and set off for Le Crotoy. There are 2 aires here, one for €12 a night as you enter town, a second for €5 a night right on the sea front. We parked up on the latter amongst 11 Belgian vans and settled down under thunder and lightening, keeping our fingers crossed we would still be here in the morning and not washed out to sea.

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Next morning we awoke to clear blue skies and much warmer, so we headed out for a walk along the embankment which faces back to the town. Le Crotoy is very much a holiday town and even out of season there were plenty of people around. We have so far resisted a visit to a Patisserie, not sure how much longer we will hold out though as the one here looked way too good.

Le Crotoy

Le Crotoy

This morning we decided to head off towards Caen as we want to visit the Normandy landing beaches and go to Bayeux to see the tapestry. We set the Sat Nav to avoid tolls and hence we found ourselves in the middle of Rouen.  Not bad in that its is a beautiful city and we crossed the River Seine amongst some fabulous buildings. It is bad though when there is a tunnel with a 2.2 metre height restriction and we are 2.9 metres and we are 20 metres from going into said tunnel! Panic set in whilst we literally stopped in the middle on the road to decide what the hell to so, whilst several kindly French motorists hit their horns and made some unfamiliar hand gestures. Our only option was to cut over the central reservation but to do so we needed the other lanes to stop to allow us to get round the height barrier. After a few minutes a lorry stopped which allowed us to get out and across – we both started breathing again as we left Rouen behind fairly sharpish.

We decided Caen was too far and changed our plan to go up to the coast for the night. We are now at Villers Sur Mer, a stones throw from Hornfleur and Le Harve. The seafront is full of the most gigantic old chateau type hotels and apartments.  There is a marina in the middle of town and just up the road we passed the biggest casino we have ever seen (no – we will not be betting the budget). We are parked up on another aire tonight. This one was a little testing in that it had a barrier so I spent a good 15 minutes working out how the hell to pay the machine and get in. Once in we started the search for the water, after 10 minutes we gave up and Iain went and asked the French camper next door. Very helpful, showed us where it was – down the road- and explained in full French what we should do. We nodded a lot, smiled, looked like we understood and waved him goodbye. Then sat down and tried to work out what it was we should do as we didn’t understand more than 5 words – our French needs to improve quickly.

We plan to stay in Normandy until the end of the week as plenty we want to see. It strikes us both as very like the Fens – mainly flat, large fields and small villages. We are loving the beautiful half timbered houses and relatively quiet roads so there isn’t anything making us move to far, until of course it rains then we may think heading South is a good option.