Wednesday, 13 June 2007

To France in search of Sun...

This post covers a brief trip to Brugge for chocolate supplies and our first few days in sun-less France.

On Saturday 9 June we left the Netherlands and drove into Belgium. Our campsite was a few miles outside Brugge and guess what, there were more ducklings! We cycled into town for a look around but it was absolutely rammed with tourists. I have been to Brugge before but it was never that bad. You could barely move! We went into one of the many chocolateries and picked out 14 hand-made chocolates for €4.75. We then went back to Ace and started to devour them. The poor ducks only got stale bread!

Above and 2 below: Archery in a barn in France

On Sunday we decided to deviate from our original plan and instead of heading south to Luxembourg, we headed west to northern France. This was so we could spend a couple weeks in France before high season starts in early July.
We found a farm campsite to spend the night and even tried our hand at archery and table tennis in the converted barns. We both did pretty well at archery for rookies, although the bow did whack my arm and I was left with a nicely bruised arm! I managed to beat Sarah 21-8 in table tennis.
Below: Montreuil-sur-Mer

The next day we checked out the town of Montreuil-sur-Mer on the advice of my mate Dan. It was a pleasant enough place, but it was a horrible overcast day so that didn't show the place in it's best light. Despite it's name, the town is nowhere near the sea...

We headed south to Amiens and being tightwads decided not to take the toll motorway. The GPS led us down very narrow country lanes where the road sloped off steeply to ditches. This meant a lot of the time I had to drive in the middle of the road, slowing for oncoming traffic of course! Sarah started to feel sick as it was a pretty bumpy old ride.
That night we stayed on the outskirts of Amiens. We managed to make some friends, not! First of all by being agro at the Dutch caravan blocking the entrance to the campsite, then to a Dutch couple who squeezed their car between Ace and the caravan, finally Sarah gave a mouthful to a person with long bleached blonde hair she thought was a woman. Later on we realised these straggly locks belonged to a rather beefy bloke! The campsite was okay but we decided to move on again. We were looking for somewhere to settle for a couple nights but neither the farm or Amiens were suitable.

On Tuesday morning we headed out to the tiny village of Villers-Bretonneux. This village is well known to Australians as a place where Aussie troops fought during World War One. We went out to the memorial gardens just north of town where several thousand Australian, British, Irish and Canadian troops are buried. On the road to the memorial we spotted an Aussie a mile off, you couldn’t miss him. He was wearing an Aussie rugby top, had long white socks on and was smoking a pack of Winfield Blue ciggies.

Above and below: Australian War Memorial, Villers-Bretonneux

At the memorial we read some of the tombstones, most of the soldiers were in their 20s. Some of them just read “a soldier of the great war, known unto God”. There was the text of a speech just inside the memorial made by my Dad’s favourite Prime Minister Paul Keating. (Jooooke!!!! I don’t think he’s ever forgiven me for voting Labor in 1993…) The speech was about the body of the Unknown Soldier and was very poignant. One part read “we do not know who he loves or who loves him…”.

As we started up Ace to head back to Villers-Bretonneux we offered a lift to our Aussie mate who gratefully obliged. He was about 45 and told us that his grandfather fought at Villers-Bretonneux. He was shocked when I told him I was from Brisbane and said I need to get home! We dropped him off and then went and had some lunch next to the town hall. Australian flags fly outside and there are kangaroos on the walls. The streets are named Rue de Melbourne and Rue de Victoria. We headed over to the local museum and had a look at the displays from the war, we even ran into our mate again!
Above: View from the monument
Below: Poppies growing wild

Over lunch we had made a decision to head north-west to Normandy so we set off on the autoroutes thinking they wouldn’t be that expensive. By the time we had got to Caen 3 hours later we had spent a total of €25 on motorway tolls and €5 on a bridge toll! No meal out for us this week! The bridge toll was actually for 2 very steep bridges “Pont du Normandie” near Le Havre. There is an overflow mechanism on our fresh water tanks so that when it’s full it overflows. When we go up hills, the water in the tank starts flowing out this hole because of the angle and we leave a nice trail behind us. After going over the Pont du Normanide bridges we had hardly any water left!

Apart from the tolls, I like driving in France. The speed limit is 130kmph on autoroutes and there are brown tourism signs showing you evocative illustrations of the fabulous sights you are speeding by such as castles, meadows, wildlife, historic towns and nature reserves. I always want to get off the motorway when I see these signs!

We arrived last night at Bernieres-sur-Mer, just north of Caen and part of Juno beach for the D-Day landings. We did our washing this morning and hung it out to dry in the sun, what a rare sight so far in France! We cleaned the inside of Ace, taking all the carpets out and hovering and cleaning the floor. The outside of Ace is disgraceful. His front windshield has approximately 300 dead insects on, 15 spiders, 2 small birds and a badger. Joooooke!

The showers and toilets here are not to Sarah’s liking as they have a roof over them but are otherwise outside. The toilets do not have toilet seats. There is an outdoor urinal. Some toilets you walk in and there are small ceramic potties presumably for young children. The washing up sinks require you to lean over about a metre to turn the tap on.

We walked along the beach tonight and managed to find a car wash for Ace. Yay! He will be lovely and clean soon hopefully as we’re hitting the road again tomorrow, heading west through Normandy towards Brittany.


Big sis said...

Hi guys, great to get up to date with your journey. Loved the witch business and ema's little poem!!!!! Time is dragging this end but flying I'm sure for you both. Look forward to the next installment. Keep up the witty comments and great guided tours matt, i almost feel like im seeing europe with you!!!!
Love you both lots Big sis xxxxxx

noodlebonce said...

Hi guys,

glad to read you're having an ACE time!! haven't read this for a while so just spent about an hour catching really!!

i agree with others that you should write a book or somethin. and murray good going with the photos, they're great!

take care xx