Sunday, 21 December 2008

Belgium and Holland 2008

I booked a deal thro' the Caravan Club Dover -Dunkirk with Norfolkline for £33 return and i thought if i do not go for any reason i have not lost a lot of money. So with holidays left and a week’s break in between xmas i decided to spend xmas abroad. I sorted the Family and all who i buy cards and presents for on Sat the 20th Dec and prepared for the trip down to Dover on the 21st.
I left Stockport with a quick call at Aldi to buy a 300w inverter (to add to my collection) at 10.30am on Sun 21st Dec .I arrived in Dover after a 45 min break at Northampton services at 5pm. Went to terminal to see if they would let me on earlier ferry as mine was a 2am crossing ,but was told i would have to pay if i wanted earlier than 12am, so i settled for that. I went back to town centre car park and had a stroll to local chippy and then chilled until it was time for ferry. On the 12.00am crossing which was a good crossing and came out of the terminal 2.30ish i then headed to Dunkirk town centre as i had seen an aire near the beach the year before but after half an hour of looking i gave up and parked on coach park in centre.
Monday 22nd Dec
Bruges Aire
After breakfast i was away for 10.00 and heading into Belgium to Bruges to see the xmas markets i had heard so much about. I arrived at Bruges just before 12.00am and headed for the aire next to the station. Surprisingly it was nearly empty when i pulled in and at 15 euros inc elect and water (from the car park attendants hut) i didn't think that was to bad. After a spot of lunch i had a stroll down through the park to the centre to take a few pics of the local architecture. Was amazed to see how many bikes were parked up at the station when i passed and loved the Christmassy feel to the place. Spend about 3 hours wandering round then return to the van for a bite to eat then at 8pm a return trip to see the Christmas lights etc.

I left Bruges on the 23rds Dec at about 11.0am and headed up to Antwerp arriving 1.30pm ,I parked on a road on the outskirts for some lunch and to check out the parking situation.. It was very busy traffic wise so just riding about looking for an aire was out of the question so i consulted laptop and motorhome list had a reference to a parking on the quay.(ref N 51.21325 E 4.39016) so i headed down there and found a spot right on the river and only a ten minute walk into the centre.
Xmas market
Antwep centre

waterfront at Antwerp

Dec 24rd
Top Bikes
On the road for 6.30 for the trip up to Amsterdam and arrived at Camping Zeeburg in Amsterdam. I was disappointed with the campsite, going off the previous years website xmas was off season but they had now jumped on the bandwagon and had now changed the holiday period to high season which amounted to 20 euro for 24th and then 24th up to new year went up to 26 euro. I booked for 2 days as site was only a short trip to centre. Note for next time double check directions as i spent 4 hours on bike trying to find centre and gave up first day and ended up getting the bus in at the night time. 


Xmas day i ventured out on bike again and this time took right route and ended up at main station in 15 mins so did get to spend a few hours in the city, with visit to Dam Sq and Rembrandt Sq and met a geordi who had been there for 7 years and now resorted to begging .Back to site for xmas lunch via the windmill brewery for a few pils. Asked site if they would do a deal if i wanted to stay another couple of days but was told no it was high season and they would be busy (THERE WERE 2 VANS ON SITE ME AND AN ITALIAN VAN.) So decided that even though i would have like to see more of Amsterdam i was not paying 26 euro and on top of that you had to pay for showers and water.
Camping Zeeburg
Pot Cafe

boat cruise

Left Amsterdam on 26th which was a Friday so headed off to Aalsmeer to have a look at the flower market as is the largest in Holland and the place all flowers are exported from ,the problem I found when i arrived was that apart from being a holiday they were not open until Monday. The market itself is possible to overnight and is as big as an industrial estate. Set off back to Belgium via the scenic route so non motorway and calling at Rotterdam and Ghent and then on to Antwerp for the night. One piece of advice for Ghent is check you have left enough room for the trams to pass you if you park roadside as i parked in a lay-by about a mile out of the centre and luckily as i was checking map out a tram came up the road and couldn't get past me, don’t know what would have happened if i had locked van and walked into centre.

27 th Dec
Ostende aire
After a day of sightseeing in Antwerp and a stock-up of some Belgian chocolates decided to make my way back to Dunkirk with a day in Ostende as the temperature was dropping drastically and also having problems with water pump.Did call at Bruges on the way back but the aire was full so decided to give it a miss and carry on to Ostende. I found a dedicated aire just off the roundabout next to the marina (down the road from the main railway station) with access to a country park across the road which would have been a fantastic spot if the temperatures had been a little higher.Had a short sightseeing trip but its freezing so back to the van for some brandy and baileys

Dec 28th
country park
Gas ran out at 3.30 and i had to get up to change it,it was 5 degrees  inside the van and -3 outside so had a job to get back to sleep til i had thawed out.Again had another trip into Ostend but it is to cold to sightsee or shop so i head back to the van ,this is when i encountered about 200 belgium pensioners on a mass walk into the country park ,(didn't know if it was a regular sunday stroll for them or a sponsored walk but had to admire them in this cold).
29th Dec

Ferry home with a stop at Brownhills Canterbury to sort out water pump, got no sense out of anybody here so phoned Newark who told me to bring it in and they would sort it. As it was on my way home arrived at Newark 2ish and the job was done and I was on my way in a couple of hours. (So much for Brownhills Newark bad service reports).  Brilliant service Very pleased.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

My first solo trip to France 2008

France 2008
I set of for Dover on sunday 22nd June 2008 with a stop at Canterbury to store up on food i caught the 10pm ferry to Dunkerque. A trouble free crossing had me docking at 11pm French time. Setting of towards  Abbeyville /Paris i drove for about an hour before coming off the A16 with the intention of a few hours sleep at the aire at St Valery sur Mer but i found a quiet layby on route so got my head down there. Up at 5.30 for my trip down to Charles-de Gaule  airport, with the satnav giving me problems i found my way to terminal 3 where the family were arriving. Here my problems started as my phone which i had recently taken a new contract with Virgin did not change to roaming. I now had the problem of how do i get in touch with daughter when she arrives. I had got there about 8 ish and knew they were due about 10 but with no means of getting in touch how would i find them, luckily the terminal was most probably the quietest so i set about finding a route round the terminal. I sussed out you could do a circle of the terminal in about ten minutes and as  i could not get in the car park for hight restrictions i decided i would just circle the terminal and hope i spotted them. After about forty circles to include a couple of stops at the terminal building parking in the taxi bay i found them or should i say they found me as the saw me on one of my circles.
I spent 3 days on the hotel Cheyenne car park in Disney where the daughter was staying, i had asked at reception if it was ok and was told yes, not sure if they thought i was staying at the hotel but on the fourth day i found a ticket on the windscreen telling me i had to move from the car park. There is a garage outside the Cheyenne that’s listed as an aire in the aires book so i went and filled up with diesel and used the services and asked the attendant if it was ok to park overnight  and was told no problem.
As daughter and family were only there for 4 days i dropped them back at the airport and set off round the ring road of Paris heading for Oradour -sur glane.
After leaving the airport i headed down the A10 towards Orleans and with the intention of sampling the pleasantries Loire River.After consulting the aires book i opted for a little village just through Orleans and not too far out of my way for Oradour. I arrived at the aire and found it full but with a couple of vans parked on the road outside i opted for parking with these and so settled down for here the night. A stroll into the village revealed a typical sleepy French village and a couple of glasses of the local brew put me on course for a barby back at the van. The next morning a few vans had moved on and as it was a glorious sunny day i moved the van to the front of the aire overlooking the river and decided to stop a couple of days and do a bit of cycling and explore the area.
On the Loire at Beaugency

After a pleasant couple of days at Beaugency and meeting a few new motorhoming friends ,French and Dutch i carried on to Oradour. The story behind Oradour sur Glane is that on Saturday the 10th of June 1944. an attack was carried out by soldiers of the Der F├╝hrer Regiment of the 2nd Waffen-SS Panzer Division Das Reich. On that day they killed a total of 642 men, women and children without giving any reasons for their actions and to this day there is no universally accepted explanation for the massacre. The village was left as it was as a memorial and a new village built. I stopped here a couple of days toured the village and visited the memorial and found the experience very sombre. The aire at Oradour i must say was one of the best i have stayed on and was a typical example of the way the French cater for the tourist
with the doctors car
 I left Oradour and made my way to the Atlantic coast and to La Rochelle arriving late at night and helped by the Vicarious books All the Aires France i found the Aire at Esplanades des Parks which stated  was within walking distance of the town centre. The Aire was just a car park but with water and waste facilities (although the waste facility was not one i would use as it must have been the most unhygienic  i had seen it looked as though a motorhome with a large black waste tank had not bothered to open the waste cover and had just dropped it on top) but there were about 50 vans parked here so it seemed very safe. I parked for the night had a brew and then as it was ten o'clock ish decided to have a wander and explore the route to the centre. I strolled through the park that the car park backed onto and was surprised to find many people out jogging and walking at this time of night even though it was a summer evening, because of the location i was half expecting it to be a hangout for local dropouts but i was so wrong and it just confirmed to me why i prefer to be in France than in my home country. As the book said the centre was a 10 minute stroll thro the park and the harbour maybe another 10 minutes.
La Rochelle harbour
La Rochelle

Aire in centre of La Rochelle
The following morning i had decided that i would spend 2-3 days here and maybe take the bike to the Ile-de-Re'  i did not fancy three days on the car park  so found a nice little campsite  at Marina des Minimes which was one of the 10,12,15 euro sites in the Camping Card book, very cheap and 2 minutes to the beach, there is also a Motorhome service point across the road for anyone in the area that needs these facilities. La Rochelle was a wonderful place and i enjoyed the three days i spent there and would it recommend it to all
I left La Rochelle with no particular destination in mind but as the Loire Valley was on my route home

and the recommendations i had from fellow travellers on how nice the villages on the Loire were i headed off to Poitiers via Nort. After a whistlestop tour of Poitiers it was Tours next stop. I took the motorway which was toll free, I came off the m/way before Tours as i dislike large towns /city's and headed for  Blois via St Avertin and Mont Lois and intended to stay at Chaumont. On arrival at Chaumont the town centre aire was very busy so i then decided to head on a bit further to Blois

Loire at Blois

My view at Blois

This decision got me a great parking spot with a fantastic view on the Loire in a delightful little town .I also again met some fellow very friendly fellow motorhomers with whom i spent a couple of delightful days and then continued my journey back up to Calais and sadly back home to await my return trip.