Our French Love Affair – NOT
Sunday 22nd & Monday 23rd October
Still have just over a week to go before heading across the English Channel so decided to head for the French Coast.
The French Aires (if not free to park at) are very inexpensive compared to Germany and Austria and most are based on a “user of services only basis” and charge for water and electricity, generally with grey and black water services free.
Stopped at a hardware store to get a short length of food grade hose and fittings – couldn’t find any so asked the shop assistant for help after saying “non Francais” – well she threw her arms up in the air, made some sort of strange noise with her mouth and walked off – had to get help from a customer.
Drove a few klms and stopped in a Carrefour to stock up on groceries and had our second altercation with the French. I went in first to start the shopping and shortly afterwards was told to head for the checkouts. It was only 12.30 on a weekday and I didn’t understand why. Rob tried to come in the entry door about 10 mins later, tried the doors but they were closed. He followed someone through the exit door and was all but man handled by security. He didn’t want to shop but help me at the checkouts. Turns out they close their shops around midday for a period of time. He stood his ground and they let him help me but we could feel all eyes watching us. Not very friendly as we were in their lunch time, apparently.
Camp for tonight: Aire de Camping-Car, St. Valery sur Somme
This is a very touristy town right on the Port with a marina and restaurants galore.
The camp itself is really great. Takes around 100 motorhomes and is perched high on a hill just above the town. Security barrier entrance which is always good and for €10 provides water and electricity at no extra cost. We were needing water and most French Aires are now charging around €4 for. 100 litres. Electricity was a bonus so over the next two rainy days we watched a lot of movies and chilled out.
A short 15 minute downhill walk to town, took us past some really old and run down buildings. Once we reached town we headed for the Port and Marina. We were rugged up with coats and hats as it was really windy and cold. The boardwalk followed the ocean around forever and we passed the huge Marina with so many yachts – though none out today. It is so surprising how dull and drab things look in these conditions, particularly the ocean which was also a dull grey. Interesting town with so many old buildings – many with little or no work done on them for decades.
Picked up some brochures from the tourist bureau and learned of the medieval part of town. It was only about a km away but decided to leave that until next morning when hopefully the weather might improve.
Back up the hill for movie night and on came Clint Eastwood with one of the Dirty Harry movies. We settled in with a few warm toddies and watched a few more movies.
Rained all night and by mid morning the weather cleared enough to hit the medieval part of this town. With the promise of a nice French lunch on the boardwalk (had seen the restaurant we fancied the day before and looked very promising), we eagerly set off for today’s adventures.
Focus point for the Medieval part is St Martins church, made of sandstone and believed to have been built in the mid 12th century. It was built on the top of a cliff on a flat base supported by a large retaining wall shaped as a curtain wall. It has been damaged a number of times throughout history. Many dates are inscribed on the inner and outer walls dating back to 1338. It is still used as the working church in the area. Took a couple of hours to walk through this unique part of town and found it so interesting.
Next for the long awaited lunch so off to the boardwalk. It was nearly 2pm now on Monday and the restaurant had around 20 people inside. The restaurant was split in two sides at the entry, we quickly noticed a large group with several small children (some of whom were screaming) on the right hand side and no one else so opted to head left where there were two tables of adults well into eating their lunch. The waitress tried to usher us to the right hand side at a table next to the children but we said (in our very best French) “no” and headed left and sat down. The waitress then totally ignored us for about 15 minutes, finally a waiter came to our table. “No” – he didn’t have a menu with English translations – and “no” we couldn’t sit on this side as it was for drinking customers only. Eating customers were to sit on the other side “with the children” – we were not happy with this as the other two tables next to us in this area were all eating. Well – we just got up and left. French experience – number 2 in two days.
Bought a fresh baguette on the way home and had a gourmet lunch with French duck pate, Polish anchovies, Polish pickled red cabbage, jalapenos, avocado, Camembert, Polish pickled gherkins and lots of other goodies and opened our one litre bottle of German white wine which we demolished while watching our Ziggy movies.
This town is about 100klm south of Calais and without patronage from the British would die in a heart beat yet they make no attempt to speak or have signage or restaurant menus in anything but French – we must have been to at least 15 countries by now and this is the only country with that attitude – other countries have the home country language, plus usually English and either German or Dutch.
Tuesday 24th & Wednesday 25th October
Again raining through the night and another overcast day ahead. Had done some washing a couple of days ago so no sign of getting these dry anytime soon.
Next task was to tackle the exit gate from the Aire just after watching an English couple spend at least 10 minutes trying to pay and get out. Couldn’t be that difficult could it? Didn’t want another French experience so went up for a sneak preview while they were getting out. Yes, it would have been difficult so was pleased we checked it out first.
Camp for two nights : Aire de Camping-Car, Stella Plage
An absolute beachfront camp with only a large sand dune between us and the beach. 20 spots for motorhomes and no fee. A dead end street with a resort at the end which has seen better days. Very popular with most spots taken up mid afternoon – supposed to be low season now but still motorhomes everywhere.
Watched kids with toboggans slide down the dunes and dads with sons building sand castles. We were protected from the wind by the sand dunes so happily enjoyed the bleak weather in doors.
Better day next morning so over the sand dunes we went and onto the beach. People were everywhere for miles enjoying a relatively wind free day. Really enjoyed the beach walk though we had the wind behind us. Miles and miles of hard flat sand. (The Driver called them mud flats)
Arrived at what appeared to be the main part of town so off the beach into the town to explore. Looked like a place ready to demolish. This town took no advantage of the seafront – nothing on the seafront except car parks and run down old buildings. Headed away from the seafront and hit “MainStreet” . The longest street you have ever seen – went for miles at right angles to the beach. Lots of apartment buildings all with metal shutters at every window and door. Not sure if it is a security issue or weather issue but very odd.
Highly recommend the camp spot as quiet and seemed very safe. Highly recommend the beach but the town has nothing interesting to offer.
Thursday 26th & Friday 27th October
Got up really late and didn’t head off until lunch time. Only travelled about 30 kms today. Little bit of blue sky with lots of cloud so does not look promising.
Feeling like not much to write home about and has been difficult to get excited about writing the blog. North West France has not been at all inspiring to say the least so excuse the lack of exciting things to write about.
We are only going back to the UK to service and re register Ziggy and then back over to Europe and looking forward to seeing the countries we have not yet been to in our previous visits.
Camp for two nights: Parking Avenue Joseph Lesur, Neufchâtel-Hardelot
We passed by relatively new beachside estates with beautiful homes (which was a nice surprise) with landscaped gardens. Shutters are on these as well, maybe to keep the cold out in winter?
Much more inspiring town. The camp spot again is only a short walk to the beach and town and is in a very quiet location amidst quality homes.
It is overcast but no wind and no rain so headed to town. Just delightful to see well maintained homes and buildings and a town with a sense of pride. Very touristy again, and the restaurants are full and there are signs of life here. First time we have seen restaurants with outside glassed areas and would be a real buzz in the summer season.
We are sharing the camp site with two French and one British motorhome. Look forward to catching up with the Brits tomorrow.
Still windy and cold today but no rain so off to the beach. The sand is firm and a wonderful playground for land yachts. Like wind surfers on wheels, there were 40 – 50 colourful yellow sails flying up and down the beachfront.
Strange to see families wearing Eskimo fur lined jackets and knee high boots building sand castles and playing on the beach. Walked for miles and thoroughly enjoyed the time (though really cold) but looked forward to heading back with the wind behind us. Strolled back into town which was alive and watched the fishermen opening fresh sea scallops shells and mussels and oysters in an open fish market in the middle of town. Prawns are very expensive here and look very glum compared to the ones back home so have not as yet bought any though really hankering for a feed of fresh prawns soon.
Caught up with the Brits on return and spent a couple of hours discussing everything and more including the rude, arrogant French.