A Day in the Life of a Motorhomer

I’m not sure a motorhomer is even a word but language evolves, new words appear and it’s pretty exciting to think that this particular new word -Motorhomer- first appeared in the pages of this humble blog. After a few weeks of living in our motorhome I thought I’d try and give you a flavour of just what motorhome life is like. OK, here we go.

Morning.

It takes me a while to get used to sleeping in our motorhome. It’s only small and there is a little dip in the bed just at the point of my lower back which has given me some backache in the past but lately I’ve learnt to either avoid it or just live with it. Another issue that affects our sleep is the way the van is parked but I’ll come back to that later. My place on the bed is over by the window and there is no way out for me except by climbing over Liz so one of my rules is to not have beer prior to going to bed. Otherwise I’ll be waking in the night wanting to wee and struggling to get out. Even so, I’m usually the first one up so I’ll shuffle over to the small bathroom for a wash and a shave.

On summer mornings I can handle a wash in cold water but as summer has come to a close I’m less inclined to do that. I can switch on the water heater but usually I just put a pan of water on the hob.

Despite the bathroom being small, actually very small, there is a basin, toilet and even a shower in there. To shower it’s important to switch on the water heater first, pull out the panels that keep the water away from the toilet and basin and then switch on the water. In a motorhome I’m always aware that there isn’t an endless supply of water so a good idea is to apply shower gel liberally to the body, switch on the water and get washed as quickly as possible using as little water as you can.

Note to self: Don’t drop the soap as it’s pretty difficult to bend down and pick it up in these cramped conditions.

Shower over, towel yourself down, get dressed and get the kettle on before hanging your towel out in the sun on the bike carrier to the rear of the van.

Next I’ll check my emails while the van chef, Liz, gets herself ready too.

I’m a big lover of breakfast. In fact I’m even tempted to say it’s my favourite meal of the day and I love a standard English breakfast. Bacon, sausage, black pudding, tomatoes and eggs, preferably poached, served with toast. That can be a little difficult on the cramped three ring stove in the van so lately we’ve been having a bacon omelette with some French bread. I’ll either walk to a bakery if there is one nearby or we usually have some bread in our little freezer which always keeps pretty well.

Noon

Another option is to not have breakfast at all but to save ourselves for lunch. In France there are many places that serve a cheap lunchtime menu which will consist of a buffet starter, a simple main meal, a cheese course and a dessert.

We found an excellent restaurant near to Parçay Les Pins called the Restaurant De La Gare, the Station Restaurant. The buffet starter is always my favourite and I fill my plate with pâté, cold meats, coleslaw and various salad items. A basket of French bread will appear and is usually topped up when it gets low. Vin de table is provided as well as some chilled water and on this occasion,  a large bottle of cider as well. Not bad for 12.50 euros each!

OK, breakfast (or lunch) over it’s time to head off.

We will usually be parked in an aire in France and these special parking places, reserved for motor homes tend to have all the important things we might need. A very important thing is a place to empty the van toilet. It’s not a pleasant task but I tend to empty it whenever we get the opportunity. A lot of French aires have a water pipe to help you rinse your toilet cassette but many require a token, a jeton that is usually available from nearby local shops although there are many aire de camping cars that are completely free.

The van navigator (Liz) will usually have perused google maps for a plan d’eau, a French swimming lake and we’ll be off to find it. We usually factor in a stop for some French bread and some more French cheese as well as a box of wine.

It’s important of course to keep a check on our fuel. We usually fill up with diesel at French supermarkets as they tend to be cheaper than the usual petrol stations. What can be a bit of a pain is that many of them are unmanned. That’s not really a problem except I tend to use a travel card that I preload with Euros and it’s not accepted at unmanned petrol stations. Then I have to pull out my credit card and pay the foreign currency fee.

Our fridge and cooker are powered by LPG, liquid petroleum gas and we always keep a look out for stations that provide gas. The big problem when we first came to France was finding a petrol station with LPG. There didn’t seem to be any until eventually, we realised that in France it’s called GPL! Duh!

Swimming

In the French alps this year we found a fabulous lake. It was in a valley surrounded by hills and mountains. It had a parking place for camping cars, the French name for motorhomes and it wasn’t too busy.

Various French people arrived around 12 noon with picnic baskets for lunch and few had a pre lunch swim. The water in the lake was lovely and cool and it was wonderful to have a swim and then lie back on our towels and dry off in the sun.

Over on the other side a couple of fishermen dipped their rods in the water and waited patiently for the fish to bite. We read our books, competed against each other to finish that day’s sudoku and swam some more.

Later it’s time to find somewhere to stop for the night. Usually, we will stop by the lake or if we are trying to make our way to somewhere in particular, we might get a few miles under our belt before stopping again.

On our last trip we had planned one evening to visit a restaurant where we have stopped before. The restaurant, Micheline’s in the village of Berny Rivière, is not far from a large camping and holiday spot. Sadly, when we arrived we found it was closed and the owners had gone on holiday after the camp site, presumably the source of most of their customers, had closed at the end of the summer. We were very disappointed. We found a place to park, not far from another restaurant but then the heavens opened and an almighty downpour began. Oh well. I decanted some wine and Liz made us some food and just as it was time to serve, the rain cleared and the evening sun came out.

The downpours in France always make me think of something that happened to me years ago when I was hitch hiking in France. I was making my way to Paris in order to get the train back home and it began to rain. It was pretty heavy and I was sheltering under a small porch but then I noticed a bus top on the other side of the road. I ran across but just then the rain came down, or so it seemed, in one almighty whoosh and it was if I’d decided to run under a waterfall. I got to the bus stop completely soaked. The rain cleared and the sun began to beat down again and as I walked along, steam began to rise off me!

Evening

On summer evenings I will usually get out our table and chairs and our little gas barbecue and we’ll have some salad with sausages and whatever meat we have bought cooked on the barbecue. We might finish with some cheese washed down with a glass of wine. Lovely.

Later we’ll be off to sleep but making sure the van is parked properly is very important. A tilt to the left and Liz will be rolling over and crowding me. Over to the right and I’ll be crowding her. A slight tilt forward and we tend to slide off our pillows and down the bed. If we have to have a tilt its better to tilt back toward our pillows but we do have chocks which we can slip under the wheels to level us up.

The sun going down after a day by a plan d’eau

We usually relax in the evenings with a book or an iPad but looking around I’ve seen some fabulous motorhomes this year, some with impressive satellite dishes so the occupants can watch TV. We’ve even seen some vehicles with a trailer towing a small car so they can park up and then drive off into town.

Personally, I’m happy with a good book.


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A Few Holiday Reflections

It’s always a bit of a let down when you return home after a holiday. The weather isn’t that great, there’s a whole lot of washing to do of your holiday clothes. You start wishing things like, maybe we should have had another week? We were travelling in a motorhome and I start to think why didn’t we go there or go to see that? There’s always the next trip of course and the good thing is that as I’m now retired, I don’t have to go back to work. Anyway, while I’m feeling a little deflated looking out at the rather dull suburban view from my window it might be a good idea to take a look back at the last few weeks in France.

One of the things I’ve always liked about France is their laid-back lifestyle. Over there, and perhaps more so in the rural areas than the big cities, everything stops for lunch. No, not a quick sandwich grabbed on a 30-minute break, lunch times in France are something to be enjoyed and for care to be taken over. Shops close between 12 and 2 pm and it’s only in recent years that some supermarkets will stay open during those times.

At picnic tables all over france, the French descend on sunny days with huge containers of food and wine. Tablecloths are laid and the food is eaten and enjoyed at leisure.

Restaurants in France always have a plat du jour, a dish of the day and many are served as part of a formula menu comprising of starter, main, dessert and/or cheese. I always thought that the plat du jour was something a French restaurant had to serve but I couldn’t find any evidence of that on the internet so perhaps it’s just a tradition. Plenty of bread is always served with a French meal and it is usual for the waiter to top up your bread basket when he or she sees it is empty.

My favourite French restaurants are those which have a buffet starter. There is usually a small choice of main courses but over on the buffet table there will be a large selection of salads, cold rice and pasta dishes, pâté, cold meats in various dressings, shredded carrots and chopped beetroot. I try to avoid the various fishy dishes like cold rice and tuna but I usually find my plate piled with goodies.

House wine is usually served by the pichet, small jugs. Very small at 25cl and larger ones at 50cl. On hot summer days I tend to go for the house rose but more often than not Liz and I will share a pichet of red.

Cheese in a French restaurant with a pichet of vin rouge

Our first French meal this year was in the Buffalo Grill, a franchised restaurant you will see all over France. It’s like an English steak house serving steak, burgers, ribs and so on. A small salad in a bowl came first before our choice of mains. Mine was an excellent cheeseburger, Liz had a steak and the dessert was some ice cream.

In the town of Saumur, we had our first proper French lunch. The starter was the lovely French buffet I talked about above and the main was confit duck for Liz and a chicken in curry sauce for me. Curry is an unusual dish to find in France as the French don’t seem to go in for spicy food. The curry sauce was to me very mild and more of a slightly curry flavoured cream sauce. It came with fries and the traditional green beans and I have to say, I do love French green beans.

Curried chicken and frites

For dessert we ordered ice cream for me and cheese for Liz and we split the two between us. It was a lovely meal although perhaps a little too much for someone like me who rarely eats lunch.

Most weekends we scour the internet and find ourselves a few brocantes or vide greniers to visit. Vide greniers or car boot sales are usually part of a village fete and there will also be music, wine and food to be found. I remember going to one a few years ago which was interrupted by a pretty heavy shower of rain. In the UK, the vendors would have quickly packed up and been off but in France it was a different story. Plastic covers were quickly whipped out and people took shelter in the food and bar area. Liz and I stood at the bar and drank a glass of cheap red wine and when the skies cleared, we carried on looking for bargains.

I like travelling in our motorhome but after a few weeks living in a somewhat cramped environment I was glad to get to our French villa. I say our French villa even though it is a rental property. We have stayed here a couple of times before and it is ideally placed for everything we need although a bar or restaurant within walking distance would be nice.

The sun going down after a day by a plan d’eau

At the villa I usually try to act like a writer. I get up fairly early and after a cup of tea and a quick scan of my emails on my iPad I crank up my laptop and do some work on my writing projects. In my draft blog folder I’ve currently got eight blogs awaiting attention. Most are just ideas but some are partly written blog posts that need an injection of effort and inspiration to get them finished. The sequel to Floating in Space is still only half finished but I still chip away at it, a few pages at a time as well as a few other stories, screenplays and poems that all need urgent work.

After a little of that it’s time for a late breakfast, brunch might be a better word, and to have a swim and a read by the pool. I remember once reading about Noel Coward that while staying at his house in Jamaica, he rose at 8 am and worked at his writing until 12 when lunch was served. No wonder he produced a fine body of work while I have only produced one novel and one poetry anthology.

A big disappointment on this last trip was the failure of one of my video cameras, my GoPro Hero. I had intended to put together another travel video and at first, I thought it wasn’t going to be possible as I hadn’t shot enough video. However, looking back through my video files I see I’ve got hours of unused video from our previous trips so perhaps I can just cobble something together after all.

Looking back through some of my old video I came across what was quite a scary moment. We were travelling through the town of Rouen, a lovely old town but quite a busy one. I’m always a little nervous driving in big cities, especially in an area where there is lots of traffic and also when the road goes into multiple lanes. I’m pretty good at driving on the right-hand side but in multiple lanes I find myself drifting to the left-hand lane and I usually have to say to myself, Steve, get over to the right.

As you leave Rouen, there are numerous roundabouts and the French have come up with an interesting congestion busting idea. If you are carrying straight on you can duck under the roundabouts down a tunnel and in fact, Google maps which we often use, tends to direct you down into the tunnels. The big problem is that our motorhome is between 2.8 and 2.9 metres in height, just over 9 foot and the tunnels have a height limit of 2.6 metres if I remember correctly. One year I was getting flustered and ended up in the lane for the tunnel but then realised I wasn’t going to fit. Luckily there was an exit lane back to the main carriageway and after some scary reversing we managed to get out.

A big disappointment this year was not seeing much of my favourite cheese, Rondele Bleu. It’s a blue cheese produced in a light mousse style. I think we managed to buy the last tub in one supermarket and then failed to find it again in any other store.

Naturally, we brought quite a bit of French wine and cheese back to the UK but already our stocks are getting low. Time to plan another trip perhaps?


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Motorhomes, Weddings and the Curse of Mobile Wi-Fi!

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.

Grave of Wilfrid Owen, Ors, France.

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.

The Bride and Groom watch a special dance performed by their guests.

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!


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.