Holidaying in a motorhome is a great adventure; the open road, the open country, the sense of freedom, the feeling of self reliance. The joy of stopping where and whenever you like and switching on the gas, making tea and watching the sausages sizzle satisfyingly in the frying pan. Believe me, it’s a great feeling.
The flip side is baking in the 90 degree plus heat of a French summer and finding that your motorhome provides no shelter, in fact, it’s even hotter inside than outside.
The good thing though is that you can drive away, find a nearby lake or plan d’eau, park up and jump straight into the cool water.
On this eleven day trip we have meandered slowly through the towns and villages of north-eastern France. On our first night we parked up outside our favourite French restaurant in Zutkerque, Le Mas Fleuri, where we ate and drank heartily of the simple but wonderful food they serve. Monsieur Le Patron assured us that he would open his doors at 8 in the morning so we could avail ourselves of his restaurant toilets. What a lovely gesture indeed.
The next evening we arrived in Berny-Rivière and visited another old watering hole, Chez Micheline, where we had a superb pâté to start with and for me a rather tame pizza which was a poor choice on my part. It was the night when the French won the World Cup and they drove around beeping their car horns and waving excitedly back at us when we beeped ours. The TV in the restaurant bar was tuned naturally to the football station and everyone there was clearly overjoyed. The atmosphere was wonderful.
Travelling through north-eastern France you cannot help but recognise many of the names on the road signs. Cambrai, Arras, the Marne, Verdun and so on, all are famous names from the First World War and as you travel further, it is inevitable that you will see signs for military cemeteries. The country is littered with these cemeteries, some huge and impressive and some small but all quiet, silent and filled with a sadness for a generation lost in the carnage of war. At each one we visited there are many graves labeled simply ‘A Soldier of the Great War. Known unto God.’ Soldiers whose remains were unrecognisable in death, their documents and serial numbers blown to pieces in one of the many artillery bombardments on the Western Front.
We went to the village of Ors to find the grave of Wilfred Owen, one of the outstanding poets of the First World War. He is buried in the village cemetery at Ors where there are a number of soldiers’ graves. It was sad to see that he died on the 4th of November, 1918, only a matter of days before the armistice. He was only 25 years old and interestingly for me, was a member of the Manchester Regiment. Manchester of course being my home town. We left Ors saddened by the events of a hundred years ago.
One interesting aspect of using a motorhome is how you become aware of your consumables, not only power but water. Power was not a great problem due to our solar panel but water was an issue, especially as we drank more and more in the high temperatures. It was great to find that in France, motorhomes are welcome in many places and there are plenty of municipal motorhome sites where you can dump waste water, empty your toilet and top up your drinking water.
On our first stop at one of these sites we set about our first toilet emptying. I successfully removed the toilet container, emptied it, swilled it out, added some fresh water and the toilet liquid that helps break down the waste. It was all a little pongy but not too bad. The next day when we were preparing to leave, a French motorhome arrived next to us. We murmured a few bonjours at each other and the French driver set about emptying his toilet, however we weren’t prepared for the horrendous stench of what smelled like the entire contents of a Paris suburb being flushed away. We rapidly battened down the hatches and fled.
The one disaster of this holiday was our mobile internet connection. I had got myself a mobile router arranged and a data SIM courtesy of Three.co.uk. I tried everything out in the UK and everything seemed OK. Fast forward to France and nothing worked. In desperation I made an expensive call to the Three network and when I finally got through they assured me my SIM was registered OK, roaming was set up so everything should work, only it didn’t. Next step was to buy a French data SIM card, slip it into my router and hope for the best. Did that work? No. We tried the SIM in Liz’s iPad and finally got a connection. The router was at fault then. Back in the UK I had a moaning email all ready to complain to the manufacturer but then I thought I’d have one last try. Going through the instructions once again using a magnifying glass -they were written in very tiny type for some reason- I noticed a password I hadn’t seen earlier, typed it in and my little wi-fi router finally connected. If you happened to be on the Fylde coast that day and heard a piercing scream, well you can perhaps guess who was responsible.
The objective of our trip to France was the wedding of Liz’s nephew Michael to his bride Anaïs in Alsace. The wedding venue was high on the top of a mountain, well it seemed like a mountain to me. Actually it was a very big hill accessible only by a mountain track normally used only by goats. It was a bit of a scary trip uphill but we somehow made it and a very nice time was had by all. The bride and groom made their vows, a number of speeches were forthcoming, happily for me there were even a few in English. A great deal of alcohol was consumed as was a large barbecue consisting of three medium sized pigs and a small lamb and plenty of salad and wine. This being France a halt was called during the proceedings for the serving of the cheese then after a suitable period the music and dancing commenced.
At the wedding one surreal event occurred which I must tell you about but first I need to introduce this week’s classic film which is Romancing the Stone. Not a classic in the same sense as Casablanca perhaps but still a pretty good film, well worth watching the next time it comes up on TV. If you’ve not seen the film it stars Michael Douglas as Jack Colton, an American adventurer in Colombia who is helping out novelist Joan Wilder, played by Kathleen Turner, whose sister has been kidnapped by a nasty drug cartel. At one point in the film the couple are lost in an unfriendly village full of aggressive gun-toting individuals. They are directed to the house of one fellow in an attempt to get transportation. Negotiations are going decidedly nowhere and fingers are on triggers when the gang boss eyes the novelist and asks ‘Joan Wilder? Are you Joan Wilder the novelist?’
OK, fast forward to France at the wedding on the top of the mountain and Michael, the groom if you remember, introduces me to one of his French friends and this fellow does a double take and asks ‘Steve? Steve Higgins, writer and blogger?’ I was so surprised I nearly tripped backwards and went splat right into the buffet table. I mean writing a blog post every week hardly makes you famous does it?
Anyway, when I had calmed down it turned out that many moons ago Laurent, as the French chap was called, and I had both commented on some long forgotten family Facebook thread and he had checked out my profile and found my Facebook writers’ page titled ‘Steve Higgins writer and blogger‘. ‘Have you read Floating in Space?’ I asked. ‘I will when the french version is available’ he replied. Yes, he might have to wait a while for that one!