A French fortnight (week 2) and one hour in Belgium

14th March to 20th March 2018

With only one week remaining we had only a few more hundred kilometers to cover whilst in mainland Europe.  We also had a new task to complete of taking Rita for her ‘import’ health check at a French vets before we reached the tunnel and using Mick and Sheila’s advice we had arranged this to be done in the town of Nonnancourt, which lies directly west of Paris on the N154.

Before reaching there, we had an uneventful stop over at a 4 euro private camperstop just outside St. Maure de Touraine.  If we passed through here again we would not be taken in by the blue camperstop ‘aire’ style signs that are attached to the lamp posts as you approach the town because these lead you to the private site, as on an afternoon walk with Rita I spied another sign, right in the town centre, that directs you to a free parking area outside the town hall close to all the town’s amenities and sights.  Oh well, win some you lose some but we feel comforted that this one night will not dilute our free night percentage too much (on this trip we have had free nights 78% of the time, which is quite low for us thanks to the very extended unplanned stay at fee paying Manta Rota).

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The 4 Euro camperstop at Ste. Maure de Touraine to be fair was very pleasant and peaceful as it was located in a small field on the outskirts of the town.  It also had a novel charging approach as everything you used had a separate price, including even draining your grey water.  Needless to say we used none of the extra facilities to minimise our costs.

Courville sur Eure was our next place where we stayed choosing to ‘moor up’ outside of the municipal campsite as in winter this is a permitted motorhome parking area.  It was also really pleasant lying next to the river.  Even though the weather was wet we still managed a lengthy walk around the town picking up an expensive Leffe beer and cheaper wine in the local PMU bar plus of course the obligatory baguette purchase from one of the several bakeries.  The locals must love their bread here as there were five bakeries in total serving this seemingly small sized town.

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Only in France would you see this sign stating that the hardstands intended for motorhomes could not be used to play boule.  Courville sur Eure.

Before arriving at Saint Andre de I’Eure we passed by the vets in Nonnancourt.  At the moment we swung around the corner at the town hall’s entrance we realised at once that we had been here before, way back in January 2016.  Like last time the aire was closed meaning that we would move on to near by Saint Andre for the night.  Before this though we had to make our appointment at the vets which was organised by Sharon speaking in French with the receptionist some weeks ago.  Using our acquired directions we set off on foot to the vets only to find that it had moved meaning we had to dash back to the van and drive around to their new location.  It was no big deal at all, in fact we were still early and we smiled to ourselves when we checked in with the receptionist as in her diary all that was written in on the 3pm slot was ‘Anglais’!!!

Saint Andre seemed like a very normal town and I imagine tourism would be low.  However the aire was practical, safe and of course free.  We parked next to quite a shabby old Talbot van which looked like it had not moved in ages and I always find this intriguing.  Therefore I did not miss the opportunity to chat with it’s owner on my return from one of Rita’s walks.  His name was Pascal who was originally from the Czech Republic even though he had been in France a long time.  He lived in St Andre on the aire in his muraled motorhome and he seemed pretty much installed there and even his son and daughter went to the local school.  He seemed a happy peaceful character and talked positively as we shared a beer and a couple of hand rolled cigarettes about the town inhabitants and local police in terms of their acceptance to him, which as he was Rastafarian living on the margins of accepted society spoke volumes about the town and France’s culture.  This may link to the fact that in France you can easily become of no fixed abode without the obstacles placed on you in the UK.  In France you apply to a local mayor and then he assigns a nomadic status for you which entitles access to all the same rights as a person with a conventional residential address which is considerably much better, easier and less discriminative than the UK, as anybody who has attempted to move outside the traditional system will acknowledge.

With our days now numbered we wanted to move much nearer to Calais and have the luxury of our final two night stop over before going home.  Montreuil was highlighted on the map and again it was an Aire that we had been to in 2016.  Then we drove around the ring road without entering the town centre to access the aire in hope to use the services only, but resurfacing of the car park prevented us from stopping.  What we did use though on that visit was the new automated toilet which we smirked to ourselves as we read the camper contact reviews was believed to be a location frequented by a local prostitute with her clients, really sometimes I wonder what these people are seeing or even what world they come from!!!!

This time we did park on one of the motorhome dedicated spots, which are nicely partitioned by small lines of shrubs, for the planned two nights.  Montreuil is an interesting town and I recommend anyone to go there.  If you like shops and restaurants there are plenty of these placed around the square and the streets behind but it was the wall that surrounds completely the town that we really liked, especially as you can walk along the top of it enjoying views of the old town to one side and the countryside on the other.

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It was cold in Montreuil as Sharon’s clothes demonstrate.  However the weather did not distract from the town’s splendider.

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The walk on top of the wall was a great way to pass a few hours.  Montreuil or Montreuil-sur-Mer as it was once a seaside town but due to tidal changes it now lies 10 miles inland.  This fact reminded us of Pevensey where we worked last summer and will be returning to this year where the now inland castle was once on the coast.

After two relaxing nights we woke up early and decided to use these extra hours to drive to Belgium so that we could make a bulk tobacco purchase.  Once again we choose Adinkirke as our destination and we were literally in and out within the hour as we refrained from having some Belgium frites for lunch.

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It always seems wrong buying tobacco in bulk but when you look at the economics it just makes sense.  Tobacco Alley in Adinkirke, Belgium.

As we trundled back over the border we noticed that Grand Fort Philippe now seems to sport an Aire, we don’t know whether this is just a location we had overseen or whether it was a new installation, inconsequently, upon arrival we were pleased with our new find.  On the morning I took a long walk out to the light house in the strong winds, we even spotted a large seal on the estuary sea defence who seemed completely oblivious to us walking just several metres above.  I like these small wind swept north west coastal French towns, not maybe for their beauty or their weather, but for my time spent imagining (in a positive way) who lives here and about the lives they lead.

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The estuary at Grand Fort Philippe

So on the 20th March we were unhappily waiting for our train back to the UK where we would be based until November.  We have had a another great trip, this one life changing again, but for a different reason than the others.  The life change would be now having Rita in our lives but we are both looking forward to see how that chapter develops.  It also shows us how different things can turn out as originally this was supposed to be a trip with a more cultural emphasis where we would use last summer’s earnings on entrance tickets to cathedrals and museums, instead though it has gone on dog food!!!!

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Rita has turned out to be a fine motorhome dog.  New challenges lie ahead for all of us as we return to the UK where we will be in one place for six months.

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