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Published: August 18th 2012
The only way to see France is by camper van and if you don’t have accommodation on wheels a tent is possibly the next best option as long as you go by car or bike. Campsites are littered throughout France and you don’t have to travel very far before a sign appears beside the road for yet another campsite. This gives you the freedom to observe aspects of France a plane flight or a euro rail ticket doesn’t allow for as they keep you within the confines of a certain area which regrettably results in missed opportunities. It is the delightful little villages which are obscured from view of the big hustle and bustle that is the cosmopolitan cities which make up the essence of French culture and if you miss this, well, in my opinion you might as well have stayed at home.
So five months after arriving back from Asia and I am off on a little jaunt for three weeks to Europe, predominantly France and anywhere else our budget can stretch too. We are in two minds as to what to do; either we can relax and mosey around spending time in just a few places or
we can go for a whistle stop tour and cram in as many places as possible. Personally I am up for the former idea but have been known to change my mind last minute; right now I just don’t want to drive endlessly around but crave to relax. Being back at work teaching and with a promotion under my belt since my travels has brought me back to earth with a shocking realistic thud. I have been looking forward to the summer holidays since the day I landed in the UK.
It is 5am of the 9th
of August; my little sisters birthday and the day we depart Anglettere for hopefully hotter climates. I’m sick of the cold, the fact I have to wear jumpers during the day or arm myself with an umbrella because rain looks likely. BBQ’s are put on hold, the washing can’t go on the line outside and outside pursuits are halted whilst the weatherman on TV tells us more disappointing news about the outlook ahead.
The alarm blasts out waking us from our doze, eagerly I get up and prepare myself for the day of travel ahead whilst Carl rolls over moaning about
waking up so much earlier than necessary; but he’s a ‘roll out of bed’ kind of guy. He has this ability to get up, wee, pull on clothes, pat his hair in to shape before strolling out the door ready for work with a few minutes to spare whilst I run around manically getting myself ready because I took too long to watch the news, or sip my cup of earl grey tea or spent too long in the shower even though I have been up for an hour already. So why change the habit of a life time eh? The alarm goes, granted we don’t have to be at the port until 7 but I want to be ready and getting up early gives me that sense of excitement that today is the day we leave for our holiday.
Travelling gives me a sense of freedom my soul craves. I don’t have to answer to anyone, there are no ‘to do’ lists littering my desk, my phone or my thoughts and days are no longer monotonous. I became a teacher for many reasons and avoiding monotony was one of them. At school every day is different, sure the
weeks are planned with the same classes at the same time of each day but within those lessons every minute is diverse and creates a challenge I thrive upon. Another reason was for the holidays; I will happily admit this, I mean who doesn’t become a teacher for the holidays?! And it is within this time that I get the chance to travel for 6 weeks over the summer.
The summer holidays bring with them a sense of hope and excitement, anything could happen. Throughout my child hood and teenage tears we, as a family always holidayed. I don’t think there has ever been a summer when I have not been away on a holiday. It is only as an adult that I realise my upbringing was so privileged; sometimes we went on holiday twice a year resulting in a week’s skiing holiday and nearly the whole summer camping in France and sometimes Spain. Ok, so it wasn’t the exotic Bahamas or the meltingly hot islands off Greece but we loved camping and the experiences it brought us. My love of France as an adult is testament to the enjoyment of those innocent summer escapes.
Clambering in to
the pre-packed car Carl dedicated last night to we set off. Everyone knows that packing a car requires a certain skill like a highly organised jigsaw puzzle in order to get everything in so that it does not fall out or over burden the car. So with the bikes fixed to the roof rack, the boot crammed with a tent, table, chairs, three days of food, a life time supply of pasta twirls, too many clothes on my part and too few on Carls we head off towards the Dover docks, a mere twenty minutes away listening to the sound of the electric cool box whirring away as it begins its life with us until we pack it away for another year in three weeks time. Although it is early morning the light has broken through the clouds and it is clear enough for us to see France as we approach the docks. One of the best things about living along the south coast of England is that on clear days you can see he cliffs of France in the 26 mile distance, it’s beautiful.
The ferry crossing is as usual, peaceful. Carl goes on deck to see if
he can see the sea (and France) to watch the boat near our holiday destination whilst I peruse the duty free and apply over priced makeup and try on all the sunglasses to pass the time. We avoid the tolls on the motorway for two reasons, one because they are really expensive and two because the smaller roads, although longer, wind through the centre of French culture and it is here you see a glimpse of the past in an otherwise very modern westernised country. It is quite simply, the only way to see France. The dilapidated browning houses in the north tell us of their century old conflicts with Germany, the little old weathered women wrap their heads in bland scarf’s and hook a wooden basked through their arms loaded with baguettes and croissants for their breakfast, lunch and dinner. The patisseries tempt us with their incredible sugary feasts whilst we stare back in to the eyes of the decapitated heads of a pig in the charcuteries. I love this part of France the most; the culture so visible in their gastronomy and their independent food outlets which are guaranteed in every village and town. Sadly England has allowed the likes of Sainsburys and Tescos, (huge supermarkets), to infiltrate every nook and cranny which only results in the squeezing out of small family run butchers and grocers offering incredible food replacing it with over produced rubbish.
Five hours later and we arrive at our destination; Chateau Grenouillere. Chateau means castle, but this isn’t quite a castle, it is more like a big house. A childhood camping spot we used to frequent every summer throughout my young years and my mother also came here as a child. It has developed and changed to meet the needs of modern campers but it’s essence is still the same. Full of life with little children running around playing making new friends at the park of by the pool whilst the parents hang out of the little bar next to the swimming pool watching the final days of the Olympics. As I walk the little paths between the pitches I can’t help but reminisce over my youthful experiences here with my family. I savour at the memory of my mother’s ratatouille always made with pre-grated cheese we would have to buy from the supermarket because we had forgotten to pack a cheese grater. I cringe at the memory of my six brothers and sisters marauding around the site as if we owned the place; who am I kidding, we DID own the place. We were relentless in upsetting fellow campers by our screams, arguments with their kids, and controlling the park. When we were in the swimming pool, we owned that too and the water slides. My older brother taught us that breaking the rules was healthy and to pull our bikini bottoms down as we slid down the slide to make us go faster. Our bare bottoms displayed for all the campsite. I pass the place where we camped when my little sister thought she was dying, half the campsite and the local doctor were all up to see what was going on. She had us scarily convinced of her untimely escape from this world until she farted and released the trapped wind created as a result from the all the chocolate she had consumed. At the bar I remember stalking two of the couriers working at the campsite with my sister. Dillon and Kevin must have been hugely irritated by us that summer, we did everything possible to try and impress them until we went to a ‘bin bag’ party one evening. Needless to say I sulked the entire evening out of embarrassment of the costume my mother made me wear. It was so uncool. As we walked back to our pitch we pass two chuckle vision cars which require two people to peddle in order to drive them. I am surprised to see them in such good condition after my younger brother and I stole one and drove it in to a ditch. As we round the corner, a few steps to our tent another memory flits across my mind of other sister who turned up looking very green in the face after a long drive down to the campsite. She had sat in the back and used to suffer from motion sickness, although at the time I was convinced it was a ploy for her to take my seat in the front of the car. Still, I will never forget her little green head hanging out of the back window as the car approached us with sick all down her face and sick splattered across the entire length of the car. The car smelt all holiday as it cooked in the sun.
I love France, and can’t wait for the next three weeks......
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