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Le grand tour – 2021

October 3, 2021

I wake to the distant sound of gunfire. It is a still morning, first light. We are somewhere north of Lyon. The wind, which has been buffeting the van all night, has dropped.

Another smattering of shot, much closer range. We have been in France a week now. There are no fuel shortages, the supermarket shelves are fully stocked. No civil unrest as far as we are aware (although we did witness the Union Jack being flown upside down at a port de plaisance the day before, an apt metaphor if ever there was one). What then is this?

Three short bursts at close range wake me fully. Wtf? And then I hear crows cawing, as startled as I am, and the bleat of a goat, and remember we are parked on a “France Passion” goat farm and the noise is merely a bird scarer. It worked.

Seven nights in and we’ve yet to visit a campsite. We’ve “wild camped” (the definition varies – from this remote auberge to a market town square to the curbside of a residential street) three times and spent the remaining nights in marinas or specially created “aires” that provide, often free of charge, all the facilities motorhomers need to merrily wend their way along France’s well-kept and pothole free roads. In return for such hospitality we’ve shopped in the local boulangeries and petits casinos, and stuffed ourselves at the many restaurants en route. Our tourist euros end up directly in the local economy and people are welcoming wherever we go. Considering the disaster zone we left via the channel tunnel last week, this feels truly like a land of lait et miel.

Enough political commentary! It’s been a fantastic first week. 

First stop is Toul, in Lorraine, where we kept our boat for three extraordinarily cold winters a decade ago. Remembering where the marina is proves a little tricky but we follow our noses and find the green gates of 13b Rue de la Champagne (how could I forget that address?) just as it’s getting dark. The marina mostly houses cruisers now but there are still a few “project” boats and it looks busy. We spend the next day wobbling around on our bikes, attempting to find familiar landmarks (the cathedral, the clothes shop I used to love, the vets that saved Sprocket’s life – sadly no longer there). 

A delicious lunch the next day at Le Table au Victor sends us on our way south to see some friends out on their boats in Savoyeux and Saint Jean de Losne. Would love to report on what we got up to but the amount of bottles we had to recycle the next day make it difficult.

Suffice to say – plus ca change plus c’est la meme chose. We learn about both rumtopfs and rumtops and have a brilliant few days together before we head off again south in forty mile winds until reaching said goat farm.

France Passion is an initiative whereby farmers, vineyard owners and the like offer up pitches to motorhomers and campers in the hopes of tempting them with local produce and perhaps a “degustation” (tasting). Sadly, we were too late for either so we leave a note and a promise to come back the next time. Today we head to the coast – the fabled 3.5hr drive offered by the TomTom turns into an eight hour slog down the peage against gale force winds and petrol stations that might be fully stocked but certainly don’t want to take money off anything higher than 3.3metres. We figure it out in the end and finish up at Aigues-Mortes, which is apparently a beautiful medieval city, but has had a 2.5 metre height barrier installed in the recent past, scuppering all attempts to get close.

We are now parked in a windswept carpark where a game of petanque results in damn near losing the jack somewhere near the Mediterranean. I win though.

Tomorrow sees me “back to work”, but still heading south into Spain. As the internet to date is considerably better than in Ely, all bodes well. The weather looks pretty promising too. The van is running beautifully (despite losing the outer part of a window to a strong gust of wind and being left distinctly rattled by running straight over a brick carelessly left on the motorway) and my homme au foyer 😉 is working hard. A bientot until next week.

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