France 2013

Lauren and Gareth's Wedding

Owen and Julie in the UK

France 2013.


Photos here

3o May. The first leg. Perth to Dubai. Our plan was to stop in Dubai for 2 nights to mitigate the effort of jetlag. So far so good. Arrival at Dubai was easy but the immigration people have to be the most inefficient around. Some of the crowd were getting restless. Had a woman taxi driver to the Radisson Blu, Media City, all done up in her local garb. Nice hotel.

31 May. Woke early Dubai time which was good. Breakfast at the hotel was nice. Took a cab to the Marina. We'd wanted to go to the palm island but something got lost in translation. No problem though. Checked out the beach which was really quite good. White sand and a small swell. From there we walked to the Marina Mall for morning drinks then back to the hotel. Hit the pool, 30C in the water, lovely. Afternoon saw us get a cab to the Dubai Mall. Had dinner there and watched 4 performances of the Fountain. The largest in the world, in front of the tallest building in the world. They really should stop doing things by halves here. The fountain was awesome, amazing, stunning and more. Back home for drink at the bar. Used the portable printer for the first time, to print our boarding passes, another refinement in the art of travel!

1 June. Had a casual morning and checked out at noon. Taxi to the airport for a 1500 departure. All nice without having to rush. The 7 hour flight to Gatwick was uneventful. On arrival at Gatwick, we bought 2 tickets for the Gatwick Express train to Victoria Station. The signage was incorrect so we ended up on a regional train instead. Only took 8 minutes longer and when we got to the station, I showed the express ticket to the woman on the exit gate and explained that we ended up on the wrong train, she let us out so we still have an unused ticket for the return trip. Win win I guess.
Caught a cab to the St. Giles hotel in Tottenham Court and thought we were back in Mousehole, Cornwall. That was about the size of the room. To say it was small is unreasonable, it is TINY !! Barely room to fit 2 suitcases in the room. Makes the motorhome look spacious. Fortunately, we only have 4 nights here or we would go crazy with the claustrophobia.

2 June. Woke early, unusual but sleeping in a small kennel is not easy. The hotel breakfast was OK, very cafeteria like though, the whole thing felt second class. Odd hotel and we won't stay here again. Adequate for what we need, but barely. Took a walk down to Leicester Square then up through Piccadilly Circus, Regent St. and Oxford St. Being before 10am on Sunday, it was almost deserted, most different from the other times we had been there. Called Peter and Margaret and organised to get there at 2pm. Took the train to Buckhurst Hill and walked to Ardmore Lane. London was putting on a beautiful day for us, so it was afternoon tea then a few drinks out in the back yard. The view of the trees around there is so good. P & M have been collecting our mail and helping out with some of the bureaucracy and we ended up with a couple of kilos of paperwork! Went to a local Indian Restaurant for dinner. Very nice. They are off boating on the Greater Ouse river near Ely tomorrow so we will catch up again when we come back from France. Even on a Sunday night we only had to wait 9 minutes for a train. I love the tube!

3 June. Woke at 6am, better than the 5am yesterday, but still way too early for me. We have managed our flights such that there has been no jetlag effect at all. I just wish we could shut out the light in the room.
We started the day by heading to Leicester Square to pick up tickets for "Let It Be" which is a Beatles show in the West End. We have no idea of what it is actually about, so it will be a surprise. Julie wanted to see her favourite painting again at the National Gallery, Renoir's "Umbrellas", but it was out on loan. There is always next time. We then bought a map of France, along with a road atlas too. Satnav is all well and good, but with a motorhome, you also need to plan ahead, not just rely on Tomtom. Next stop was to get some Euro's. HSBC suggested it was too expensive getting it through them and put us on to a local Bureau de Exchange and saved over £200 on buying €4000 cash. If we do too much Euro travel, it may be worthwhile getting a Euro bank account.
In the afternoon, we visited the British Museum which is all of 200m away from the hotel. Spectacular building and contents, including the Rosetta Stone. Amazing. We followed up with a wine at the Museum tavern, always good. Dinner at an Italian restaurant in Leicester then "Let it Be". The show was a very polished cover/tribute band which would have been excellent as a pub act, but the lack of anything other than playing the music made it inappropriate as a West End show. It was a good performance, just not what one would expect.

4 June. Wonderful weather again. We have been spoilt so far this trip. Sunny blue skies, beautiful. Went to the square near Westminster Abbey to get a peek at the Queen on the 60th anniversary of her coronation. She must have snuck in another way because we missed her and in fact, saw no sign of royalty at all. Not to worry, it was not a wasted moment given the weather.
We walked back to Covent Gardens and checked out an area we had passed last night after the show at the Savoy. A late morning tea and it was back to the hotel for a rest. The weather was so good, we decided to do the London Eye. We bought a "fast track" ticket which saved us at least an hour of our lives and the ride was superb. The visibility was excellent and the company was good too. I met a Cathay Pacific pilot in our pod. Maybe next time we will fly Cathay for an upgrade. We loved the Eye and got some great photos.
On the way home, Julie suggested a "pub walk" which I would normally call a "pub crawl". It is one from a book of pub walks that Margaret gave us an excerpt from last year. We took in 5 pubs in a distance of 600m. Worked up a thirst between pubs!!
Trained home and went to a nearby Greek restaurant for dinner. While we were waiting, a guy a little younger than us came in on his own, so in my inimitable style, invited him to join us. We actually had a good time and I think he enjoyed Julie's company, if not mine! All in all, today was pretty full on and very enjoyable. Tomorrow is Motorhome day, expect excess stress!

5 June. Got up early ready for the big day ahead. Breakfasted, packed and checked out by 9am, pretty good for us. Took the tube from Tottenham Court Road station to Upminster, where the motorhome lives. We had to change trains at Mile End. Getting up and down stairs with 45kg of suitcases plus my 7kg backpack took a bit of effort but after waiting out one train because it was too full, we finally got to Upminster without putting my back out. My arms did grow a little longer though.
Took a cab from the station to Cranhams. Everything had been done for us except paying the road tax and that was done while we got the rest ready. The scooter had been in the open, though under a standard scooter cover, for over 8 months, in snow and all sorts of nasty weather. I had disconnected the battery when we parked it up and reconnected it today. The scooter fired up first go. I was amazed, I was expecting to have to buy a new battery.
One of the service guys mounted our new reversing/rear vision camera on the back and drilled holes for me to put all the cabling through. Mounted the screen only to find there was no power to it, even though I had prewired it and tested it at home. I managed to isolate the problem and tomorrow I will complete the installation, should be good. Thanks Peter C!
We did some shopping to stock up the food levels and will do more over the next 2 days to get right up to speed.
Getting into the motorhome and taking on the traffic and roads this time was a breeze. Much nicer than the first time last year. We now have 3 nights in Abbey Wood to get everything set up before taking the ferry to Calais on Saturday. The stress levels expected yesterday didn't really eventuate.

6 June. A "sort out" day where we unpack and repack and reorganise and restock. I needed some parts for the camera and took a nice 5km ride on the scooter to get them. Finally got the whole thing working and set up. Looks good.

7 June. Last clean up day, washing done, last of the shopping done. Took the scooter for a spin to check out best way to get on the M2 to Dover and it's navigable in the motorhome. All set to go continental tomorrow.

8 June. Up early and drove to Dover to catch the ferry to Calais. Hard to miss where to go, there were signs everywhere for the ferry port. What an amazing experience the whole operation was. Followed the signs to the P&O Ferry port and got in the line for passport control. That consisted of a French official stamping our passports that I handed to him through the window. Next step was the check in. We had booked online through the Caravan Club UK and had only a receipt for the payment and booking information, like the date and time. We got to the booth, still in the van, and the guy says "Hello Mr Martin" to which I replied, "I love number plate recognition!". Everything was done in an instant, before we even stopped, he had the tickets printed and the details of which lane we had to go to, which was lane 185. Found that with no fuss and then just waited in the queue. Drove on when our turn came up and we were right at the front of the ship, which meant we were going to be the first motorhome out. There were trucks and cars on other levels.
We went upstairs, as everyone did, and had lunch on the people deck Back to the van to drive off after we berthed. Unbelievably efficient. The whole trip cost £116 return, so less than $100 each way for 2 of us with the van. Pretty good value I thought.
Hit the road in Calais and, for the first time in my life, had to drive on the right (wrong?) side of the road. Started off on a motorway which was easy, then took on a roundabout, narrow lanes, all with no problem. Found a campsite near Boulogne Sur Mer and then took the scooter into town. Again, no big issue with the road sides but it did require concentration. Bought an Orange SIM card for my phone but lots of issues with the language. Might have problems with the top-up, we will see how we go.
Dinner in the van. The wind is howling through the park. Our first night in France!

9 June. The ablution blocks here are unisex. Seemed a bit odd having a girl hold the door to the toilets open for me! There was no toilet paper, by design, they don't supply it, definite BYO. The washing up taps didn't work. All up, the facilities were far below average, but from what we have heard, this may be something we encounter often.
Left for Dieppe. Again, the driving on the right was not a problem, though I will need to psych myself up every time I drive or ride. We avoided the toll roads and took the secondary roads, which were more than adequate. Saw many little villages along the way and the 160km trip took close to 3 hours with a lunch stop. The caravan park in Dieppe is much nicer than the one in Boulogne Sur Mer. Julie's French is imroving by the day.

10 June. Rode into Dieppe town centre. A very picturesque town. It is quite large but has a lovely village feel about it. Walked around for a while and then headed to the shopping area to organise proper data access on the mobiles. Had a few language issues and the Orange SIMs failed to work properly in either of our phones. Took a break and went home for afternoon tea before taking on the problem again. I decided the best way was to keep the SIMs we have and invest in a pocket 3G wifi modem. Managed to get a lady at the SFR store who was patient and very helpful. Got the lot with a month of data and 4Gb for €80, so I was pretty pleased. That's now solved our data issues while we are in France. Compared to 3 in UK, the French mobile plans are very complicated and generally, quite expensive.
Met a couple here from Bognor Regis on the the south coast of England (we went there last year) and Julie helped them out with some language problems. After dinner at a local brasserie, where Julie had stingray !! We went and had a few drinks with them. Nice folk, John had only retired 6 weeks ago.

11 June. Headed south along the coast to Saint Valery en Caux. There they had the French not quite equivalent of the white cliffs of Dover. There was an Aire de Camping there, which is where motorhomes can stay for very little. Prime spot. If you knew where all these places were, you could plan an amazing and inexpensive holiday. The weather closed in after that and we wandered our way to Honfleur. On the way we took a trip on a ferry across the river near Le Havre. We were waved on last, and seeing how little space there was, I was a wee bit concerned. When we saw their faces when they realised we also had a trailer behind us, we thought that concern was well founded. All was good though as there was at least 2 cm clearance between the towbar and the deck when they folded up the ends, and the scooter didn't quite touch the van. Saved us about 20 minutes. Going further on, we ended up crossing a bridge we didn't want to cross, paid €3.10 for the privilege, turned around and paid another €3.10 to go back to where we came from! That'll teach us! Hit a road block in the middle of Honfleur with a detour that was not signposted. Ended up going through all the narrow lanes and hedgerows you could find. Cornwall revisited. We made it to the caravan park which is very nice and set up home. Dinner at the restaurant attached to the park was very pleasant. My meal this time was pigs guts sausage. That's not how they described it on the menu, but that's what it was. Very intense flavour but I don't think I would order it again. Julie wimped out after last nights ray and had the chicken. Met a French couple next to us who had a very similar motorhome, a Burstner Nexxo t620 versus our t660. We compared notes and honed Julie's French a little more.

12 June. Took the scooter in to Honfleur. What a delightful harbour town it is too. It is famous for the artists that come here to paint the scenery. The streets and shops are so French, in the classic way we are brought up to believe. A little touristy in parts but oozing character and charm. The town, like the rest of France, closed for lunch from 1200 to 1400, so we went home for lunch too. Even the large supermarket near the caravan park was closed for 2 1/5 hours, amazing. Went back in the afternoon to the town, saw some more, bought some nougats and a bit more wine, then home for tea. Later that evening, we ran out of data on our plan and needed to make a phone call to validate a voucher we had. Hmmm, impossible, the French voice spoke way too fast for Julie, so we saw Louis next door and he did it for us. There is always a way around problems. Today hit home again just how good the scooter is. You can park it anywhere. We would have had to park the home about a Km out of town, the scooter we parked right in the middle, and for free!

13 June. Left Honfleur and headed towards the D Day beaches of Normandie. First stop was the Canadian museum at Juno Beach. Really a museum of the Canadian role in WW2 and the D Day role was such a small part of the display. Overload of information, but pretty good otherwise. Next stop was Gold Beach where there is a 360 degree cinema. The parking was €6 which we thought was a bit steep. Added to the €16 at the Canadian museum and then €9 to get in to the cinema, it was starting to get a bit over the top. This was hardly touching on the total number of displays and memorials and museums that are devoted to D Day here. Anyway, the 360 show was stunning. Used all old footage from France, Germany, USA and England. The footage was very good but what really made it was the production. There was no narration, it was just the images, the music and the sound effects. It was masterfully done and very moving. Even the 80 or so school kids in there seemed affected.
Next stop was a caravan park for the night. We had 3 selected and went to the first one end check the price. At €34 a night, it was double the next one, so we moved on. Now have 2 nights here in Colleville Sur Mer, Basse Normandie.

14 June. The weather has improved markedly today. Rode into Bayeux and saw the Bayeux Tapestry, a 70m long story tapestry of the lead up to and the battle of 1066 at Hastings. Amazing something like that can endure for nearly 1000 years. Checked out the local cathedral. Also had a haircut while we were there. Julie managed to find a religieuse pastry (they were everywhere) that were her favourite from 35 years ago here. In the afternoon, we visited the American cemetery and memorial at Omaha Beach. All very well done and again, very moving. That pretty much did us for the Normandy invasion though, enough was enough, even though you could do 10 times that which we did. Dinner was at Omaha Beach. We had cod as "poisson du jour" at the D Day hotel. We went al fresco and watched the sun go down over the English Channel. A whole lot easier than 69 years ago. Julie had her crepe for dessert. With the crepe and the religieuse and croissants for breakfast, I think we have done France, we can move on!

15 June. Drove to Mont St Michel. Checked in at the park and did some laundry. While waiting for the dryer to become available, we walked up the canal to get a view of the island. I'll include photos tomorrow with any luck. We found out that the staff at the church on Mont St Michel are on strike, so they are not collecting admission fees. We are hoping they are still on strike tomorrow when we visit there, it will save us €18. After having memberships of National Trust and English Heritage last year, which saved us a small fortune, we are finding admission costs to be adding up quickly here. After tea, we walked about 3 km to a bridge overlooking Mont St Michel to get some night photos. Unfortunately, even at 11pm, it was still quite light and the lights on the citadel were not that widespread. We got a few good ones, but not as good as we hoped for.

16 June. Took the scooter to Mont St Michel. It was €4 to park but the shuttle bus was part of the deal. The strike was still on so we got to see the Abbey, the highlight of the visit, for free. The building started in the 10th century and the architectural work was amazing. The whole building is built around a massive rock pyramid. How they could build it back then to have it last 1000 years is almost beyond imagination. Designing it is one thing, building it is another. We thoroughly enjoyed the place. Had a galette each for lunch which is basically a savoury buckwheat crepe. Very nice it was too. Managed quite a few photos but many parts of the building were being renovated so there was scaffolding everywhere. Dinner tonight at a Muscle Restaurant. Huge bowl full of muscles each with fries and bread. I think it was something in the order of 60 or more muscles. Julie had the Normandie sauce (apple) and I had the camenbert sauce. Exceptionally good meal for around €12 each.

17 June. It rained all night and after breakfast we checked the weather online. Western France was raining with storms. Our plan to go to St Malo today was put on hold and we decided to have a day off. Rode the 4km in to Portonson to do some shopping and then basically took it easy. Serviced the van with fresh water. The water here is the best we have come across in France, so we drained the fresh water tank and refilled it. Julie did some cleaning inside the van. Almost getting to Bordeaux time (the wine, not the place). Dinner at one of the local pubs with a fine menu. We had the 15€50 (that's the way they do it to mean €15.50 so I will try to do it that way from now) and it was excellent. A very nice Domaine Martin wine to go with it too.

18 June. We didn't rush to get away, but we still made St Malo by lunch time. St Malo is an historic walled city that was mainly a fishing town. It has recently been discovered by Parisians as a holiday destination. We had to scooter in from the caravan park, about 7km to the old city. A beautiful place oozing history and character. A few hours in the walled city with afternoon tea, French pastries of course, and then a ride along the coast, stopping at a boardwalk on the way to Pointe de la Varde. At the point, there are remains of world war 2 fortifications that are there to be explored. There was a metal machine gun post with cannon holes in it. Amazing. If we really wanted to (we didn't) we could have crawled through various tunnels still accessible.
I knew it was going to be next to impossible to find our way back without help, or backtracking, but gave it a go anyway. After about 10 km, thought I'd consult the phones satnav program (Sygic) to find we were off course by about 80°, putting us about 10km away from home. I had brought earphones with me, so programmed the GPS and put the helmet over the earphones and hoped for the best. It worked and we got home. Only staying the one night at St Malo.

19 June. Left the park about 10am and headed for Bordeaux, 550km away. We took the tollway for 300km of it, to avoid all the villages on the way. It was freeway to Nantes, then tollway from there to Bordeaux. It saved us probably 5 hours over taking the non toll road, which wouldn't normally bother us, but today, we wanted to save time. The trip was easy, though it was only a 4 lane highway so not as efficient as a UK motorway of 6 lanes. I expected a moderately expensive toll as Mark had warned us that some can be 30€. Imagine our surprise at 42€60 for the 300km. That equates to about A$60, or 20 cents per km !!!!! We will probably still take toll roads, but only when we need the speed. Arrived in Bordeaux and went to a park just out of town and checked in for 2 nights. The Bordeaux Wine Expo is on until tomorrow but the guy at the desk of the park said it was very expensive to participate. One way or another, we will get a taste of Bordeaux.

20 June. A washout. Constant heavy rain. Used the time to get some washing done and a few books read. Met a kiwi couple, Paul and Dianne, who have lived in England for the last 6 years. Drank til about 10pm with them, then found the restaurant was closed for dinners, so it was back for a home cooked meal, followed by coffee and another drink with Paul and Dianne. Hit the sack at 1am !!

21 June. Rode into Bordeaux to see the city, taking our chances with the weather. It turned out pretty good considering and we had a lovely few hours wandering around the sights. Bordeaux is a beautiful city, with much of the architecture dating around post French Revolution. Managed to get to the restaurant on time tonight and had a very nice meal.

22 June. We headed for Planete Bordeaux, a wine exhibition centre, about 15km out of Bordeaux. They gave an excellent guide to making wines and the regions around the area and what they make. Ended with a personal wine tasting which was the most generous quantity we have ever seen for a tasting. Sadly, it was before lunch and we still had a fair bit of driving to do, so a lot was spilt. Bought 5 bottles from their cellar which was very reasonably priced. The cellar has many thousands of bottles from over 1000 chateaux in the region. From there, we went to Bergerac, home of Cyrano. We have 2 nights in a municipal caravan park, right on the bank of the Dordogne River, and a short walk into the town. It is a very pretty town, a lot of charm and character.

23 June. We rode in to Monbazillac this morning to visit the Chateau. It was in a superb location at the top of a ridge line with spectacular views over Bergerac and the Dordogne River valley. The wine was OK but this area, like Bordeaux, mainly grows merlot as their primary red wine and I'm not a fan of merlot. Roll on the Rhone region where they grow shiraz! In the afternoon we walked into the town again and unlike yesterday, it was quite dead, with everything being closed on a Sunday.

24 June. We have learned that Monday mornings in France are also dead, nothing opens until after lunch. That's OK today, because we are on the road again. We drove 110km to Cahors on the banks of the Lot River. The drive was very scenic, passing a few Bastides (not me, they are fortified towns, medieval) and some nicely wooded lands. The drive through Cahors was uneventful, which is a treat here, there are rarely roads too narrow to pass, unlike the UK where every turn is a surprise. Cahors itself is a very old town (the old part is anyway) in a large U of the Lot River. The park we are staying at had a brochure of everything to do with the park and also the area. An excellent handout, a lot more places should do it. One of the recommendations was to visit Mont Saint-Cyr, a hill overlooking the town. We took the scooter up to the top and what a sight. Wow factor was 99 out of 100. Amazing, awesome and all the rest. From there, back into town to see the Pont Valentre, a bridge built in the 14th century. Then into the old town for a quick look, we will be back tomorrow for more. Dinner in the van.

25 June. Got up this morning to a cloudless sky, the first time in France. Sunny and beautifully blue sky. I dropped Julie in the town and rode up to Mont Saint-Cyr again to get some photos in sunlight. As I was taking them, you could watch the cloud build up until about an hour later it was solid thick overcast. Caught up with Julie back in the town and we had a coffee before exploring the old part of town. The coffee in France is strong and small, great if you want a caffeine hit, not so good if you want a milky coffee to spend 20 minutes drinking! The old part of the town is very narrow alleys, even to walk through, and much of the architecture is Tudor style. Saw a fascinating clock that had ball bearing runs in different fashions, quite absorbing watching it. Rode home for lunch, then it was off to Chateau Mercue, about 5km out of Cahors. It is a castle built on the top of a hill with breathtaking views of the Lot Valley and through to Cahors. It has the cellar, where we tried a couple of wines and bought one bottle for €19 just to prove I'm not totally cheap. Had a look through part of the Chateau which is now a hotel. If we win Lotto, we will stay there next time. Bought some more local wines in Cahors on the way back home.

26 June. Arrived at the camping area in Padimadour at about 1130. This gave us plenty of time to set up camp and still get to Rocamadour to see everything we wanted to see. This place is amazing. It was built in the 12th century and is basically a monastery, church, chapel and all the trimmings built up the side of a cliff. It has to be seen to be believed. Seeing it from a distance was incredible, close up was no less inspiring. How anyone could plan and build something like this in the era that they did is beyond comprehension. Some of the buildings have sheer drops in excess of 200ft. Awesome.

27 June. Drove to Sarlat via Gamat, to do some shopping. The last 500m in to the campsite were pretty interesting, being 2 way and only a smidge wider than the van. The sides being building meant there was no room to move if someone came the other way. Fortunately, we were the only ones. We set up home and rode into Sarlat centre. Julie found the Tourist Bureau and we got a self walk map of the old town and spent the next couple of hours being wowed by the old, narrow lanes and wonderful old buildings that are still being used for both residential and commercial purposes. Beautiful place, but I expect I am going to be saying that about a lot of places we go to. We found a little restaurant up one of the back lanes that was advertising 3 course meals for €11 each, and that included Block Foie Gras (duck pate, specialty of the region) and Confit de Canard. We then planned to return this evening for dinner, which we did. What a meal. We felt guilty being the only ones in the restaurant the whole time we were there. For the second time in 3 days, Julie has blown away the locals with her French. Not that her French was so good, but that it came from an Australian!! (Her French IS pretty good, but not up to local standards)

28 June. A triple treat today. We visited Montfort, Domme and La Roque Gageac. They are all within a 10km radius of our campsite. Montfort had a beautiful old Chateau but was not accessible to the public, not even to walk around. We admired it from a distance then went to Domme. Domme is another medieval village built on top of a cliff. The views of the Dordogne valley were spectacular, even though it was overcast and occasionally drizzling. The place had a real character feel about it. Very pleasant. La Roque Gageac is another crazy village built on the side of a cliff, with much of the cliff actually overhanging the houses. Apparently in the 1800's a rockfall wiped out 3 homes and killed a few people. When you see it, you would not be surprised. One house had long bolts holding the rocky precipice above it together. Again, very pretty place. The afternoon was some down time and laundry washing. The senses have been overwhelmed here.

29 June. Went into Sarlat for the Saturday Market. It is a weekly event and every spare space in the old city is taken up with stalls. It is quite an upmarket market but all we bought was some interesting local food. In the afternoon, we took in Les Jardins suspendous de Marqueyssac. Very impressive topiary gardens and some spectacular views of the Dordogne river valley. From the chateau, you can see another 3 chateaux, all quite stunning. We rode back through La Roque Gageac and Montfort, racing the rain all the way. We won and stayed relatively dry.

30 June. Left Sarlat and next stop Montignac, less than 30km away. We arrived before lunch, got booked in, had lunch, then headed to Grotte de Rouffignac. This particular cave is famous for its prehistoric carvings and paintings, as is much of this area. We toured the cave in a small electric train and got up close and personal (without touching) with 20,000 year old artwork. The likeness to mammoths and other animals was very good. There are hundreds of examples of the artwork. The return trip was about 35 to 40km on the scooter and Julie managed to cope with that well. Fortunate, because tomorrow is shorter, but still a decent trip. For dinner, we had genuine French pizza!

1 July. Todays targets are Maison Forte de Reignac and La Roque St Christophe. Both of these places are similar, in that they are prehistoric, but with a history encompassing the modern era They are both built around caves and cliffs. It seems that the more outrageous a building technique, the better it was. Both were amazing, and both different enough to make visiting both worthwhile. We bought a water filtering jug today. the water here, and in the UK, is not as good as we are used to at home, and this unit works a treat. We now have cups of tea without a layer of scum on the top. Great buy.

2 July. Left Mintignac for Limoges. Limoges is famous for its porcelain and we went into town to visit the porcelain museum which of course is closed on Tuesdays, today being Tuesday! We had a look around the old city and the new. The cathedral and church were pretty impressive but most of the rest was run of the mill. Nice, but nothing special. We have now booked 2 nights at Versailles camping ground at a cute little €99. Somewhat expensive, but it will allow us to see Versailles and give us a chance to make a run in to the Paris site without having to go a long way to do it. The decision tonight is whether to visit the musem tomorrow morning, or head for Chinon in the Loire. Watch this space.

3 July. Rained all night and the awning was a swimming pool. We had already decided to move on, but the weather just reinforced it. Moved up to Chinon, very close to the Loire Valley. Walked around the town and got a bit of a feel for the place but neither of us was interested in taking on anything too heavy. The park we are in is right on the river across from the chateau, pretty impressive. We will probably be here a few days, exploring from the scooter.

4 July. Independance Day if you are from USA. We did the local Chinon Fortress in the morning. It was nothing to write home about but did have some interesting history including the fact that Joan of Arc (Jeanne d' Arc) met King Charles VII at this fortress, and that was when she got an army to free Orleans. Did you know that she was only 19 years old when she was burned at the stake? I love history. After lunch, we went to visit Chapelle Ste Radegonde, which is a chapel built into the cliff side (isn't everything here?) but it was closed. We saw enough of the area to see what it was about anyway, so no harm done. From here we took on the narrow, very narrow, lanes of Chinon to get to Caves Painctes de Chinon. I went the wrong way along a couple of lanes, much to Julie's chagrin, but we got where we wanted to go. There was a group of 4 for the tour, a French couple and us. It was a good tour, and we saw inside the man made caves in the hillside of Chinon, below the fortress, that are over 500 years old. Great place to store wine. We are both exhausted so a quiet dinner in tonight.

5 July. Far more important than Independance Day, it's my birthday! First off is going to Chateau d'Usse. This is the castle that apparently inspired Charles Perrault, an author from the 17th century, to write "Sleeping Beauty" (La Belle au Bois Dormant). It was a spectacular place but overpriced compared to other Chateaux. I managed to smack my head on the last low door we had to go through, drawing blood but not knocking me out. Pretty good really, could have been worse. We had lunch at a cafe near the Chateau, then off to Chateau d'Azay-le-Rideau once we worked out I wasn't concussed. Another amazing Chateau. What can I say, we are in the Loire Valley, famous for its Chateaux. Rode the 20km back to Chinon, making it about 50km round trip for the day, about 20km too long for Julie, but we survived. Dinner was at the village square in Chinon (another Place du General de Gaulle, every town has one) and we both had the Confit de Canard again. A very pleasant night out.

6 July. We found that Villandry Chateau was having a fireworks display on the 5th and 6th July, so today, we drove to Villandry and found ourselves a spot at the local car park that has a motorhome service point. You can stay overnight here for free and it was only 200m from the Chateau. We visited the Chateau in the afternoon and bought our tickets at the same time for the evenings entertainment. That cost us an extra €3 each instead of 9€50 if we paid separately, good value. The Chateau is OK, but the gardens were unbelievable. Not what one would call a low maintenance garden by any stretch of the imagination. The fireworks that night were set in the gardens and it was a very good display. The biggest problem here is the 2 hours of summer time. It did not get dark enough for the fireworks until 11pm! It was a very good day though. There was a toilet block at the parking area but no showers, so tomorrow, when we get to Amboise, a shower will be first on the agenda.

7 July. Drove via Tours to Amboise, not knowing that there was an AMC rally in Tours. We think AMC means American Motorcycle Club, because there was every type of Harley you could think of, even many trikes. There was also a lot of old US military vehicles in the convoy. We got to see them all because we were stationary until they all passed. That was at least 10 minutes, but were not in a hurry to go anywhere. We arrived at the campsite in Amboise at 1115 and had to wait until 1200 to check in. We have a nice spot under shade for most of the day. We did the laundry in the afternoon because we are both too worn out to want to go doing anything heavy today. Tomorrow will be a different story though.

8 July. One month in France. Seems like longer, seems like less. Either way, it's been a wonderful journey. Today we went to Chenonceua. This Chateau has incredible history, including the fact that for a while, it was the seat of power governing France. The Chateau itself is pretty stunning, though it didn't look as good as the advertising photos. The outside could do with a good coat of paint. The interior was a sight to behold. One thing about the aristocracy, whether they be in Britain or Europe, they really know how to be austentacious. That's a good thing if you want to see amazing things so no complaint here. The gardens were good but unfortunately, we had just seen Villandry gardens, and the chance of anything matching those are somewhat slim. All in all though, it was a wonderful Chateau and well worth the visit. A bit of shopping on the ride home and dinner at home.

9 July. Amboise Chateau today. Just a short ride but while we can see it from the campsite, it's a long walk to go via the bridge and around the back of the town to get in. Another site that started off as a medieval fortress and was modified over the years to be chateau with all the royal trimmings. The biggest claim to fame here is that it is the burial place of Leonardo da Vinci. He spent his last few years living in Amboise and it was his wish to be buried at the chapel attached to the chateau. Dinner was at a local restaurant and we both had a Cod dish, very nice it was too.

10 July. Amboise claim to fame of being a home and burial place of Leonardo doesn't stop at the Chateau. Today we visited his home chateau that was given to him by Francois the first, Chateau du Clos Luce. It is a spectacular museum now with his rooms still pretty much as they would have been 500 years ago, and many working models of his amazing inventions. Personally, I think Leonardo da Vinci is arguably the greatest talent in history. Not only did he design machines that were another 400 to 500 years in the making, but he could paint and draw along with the best. If he had access to motors, he would have been unstoppable. The man was a complete genius. I hold him in the highest regard. Seeing his "contraptions" was an absolute delight.
On a lighter note, we were going to eat in tonight when Julie discovered that the sausages we had bought were actually offal sausages. Obviously her French needs more work. She cooked them up, which stank out the van, tried a bit, and now we are going out for dinner! We ended up at the restaurant close to the campsite that specialised in moules frite (muscles with chips) and had a great meal. The waitress complimented Julie on her French, and said, "you must be English". You can imagine the banter that went from there! After the meal, I took back one of the kangaroo pins that we brought with us. The reaction was way beyond what we would get with a $2 tip! Awesome goodwill.

11 July. The cool overcast morning was a pleasant change from the burning sun of the last week. We drove along the Loire riverside to Blois, then to the campsite we had picked at Cellettes, about 8km south of Blois. This is another municipal park and it's right on the bank of the river. It was only €25 for 2 nights as well, so all in all, great spot! In the afternoon we scootered into Blois and had a walk around the town. Plenty of history here like most places in France. We stopped at a Mr Bricolage store (Bunnings) and bought 3 reflective windscreen covers. We needed 3, because of the big windscreen we have, and they only had one size. The van has been getting very hot in the sun the last week so we wanted to try to keep it cool. What a difference it made, it was an instant success. Van is more livable now.

12 July. A slow start to the day, we walked aound Cellettes and did a little shopping. It is a lovely little village with a narrow busy main road running through the middle of it. Lunch in the van, then off to Chambord Chateau. We had read up on this Chateau and while it is spectacular, we were expecting many empty rooms, ie, no furniture or fixtures. As it turned out, aside from a couple of empty rooms, it was well fitted out. It has an interesting history. It was started by Francois 1st in 1519 and Leonardo da Vinci designed the double helix staircase (like the DNA tower at Kings Park). It is an exercise in extravagance, not like the Brighton Pavillion, but in a total sense. It is huge. Sadly, it was never really habitable mainly because in winter it was freezing and in summer the mosquitoes were unbearable. They failed the 3L test of real estate. However, of all the chateaux of the Loire, this is the creme de la creme. Villandry had the best gardens by far, but for chateaux, Chambord is the king.

13 July. Drove north to Chartres, home of allegedly one of the best cathedrals in France. We got in to another "camping municipal" on the edge of the river, but about 3km from the town. Inadequate ablutions, but otherwise pretty decent. We set up camp and had a Belgian guy and his young family next door. He was having trouble with his power and asked for help. We managed to narrow it down to the adaptor lead and, as he didn't have the tools or the knowhow, I managed to pull it apart, find and repair the fault for him. More Australian goodwill! In the afternoon we rode into town. Chartres is a very pretty city, large town squares, classic architecture and generally a good feel about it. We checked out the cathedral but there was a service on, so we will go back tomorrow. On the way home, I took a wrong turn and it took us a while to ascertain our position. When I finally found some decent street signs, we were about 500m from the camp so it wasn't as bad as we thought. Many towns and cities we have visited are circular in design with radial roads leading in and out of town. It can make seat of the pants navigation quite tricky at times. One way streets don't help either. Looks like fun when we hit Paris!

14 July. Bastille Day! We went into the city to see the cathedral again without the service. It's quite a spectacle. While we there, they played "La Marseillaise" on the huge organ, it sounded excellent. We planned on going in again for dinner and the sound and light show plus the fireworks, so we went back home for lunch and a casual afternoon. We made it home without any wrong turns and it only took a few minutes. Back in at 1930 for dinner, we found a nice little restaurant close to the cathedral and we even got complimentary aperatifs, being a small cassis champagne. Met a couple from California there, he being an Irish American, she being from Hawaii and half Japanese. Nice folk and we chatted about all sorts of things which helped pass the time until 2230 when the light show started and 2300 when the fireworks were on. We actually expected more to be happening on Bastille day but we were not disappointed. The sound and light show is at 29 different locations, basically projections on buildings, some without sound. The first we saw was undoubtedly the best. The front of the cathedral was the canvas and the show used it to brilliant effect. It was absolutely stunning, so much so, we watched it twice. The fireworks were about 2km away and from the back of the cathedral we had a grandstand view. It was very entertaining and we got back to camp after midnight.

15 July. Next stop, somewhere close to Giverny, where Monet's Gardens reside. We had selected a campsite from one of the books and loaded into the GPS. Some of the roads and drivers we came across were terrible. The scooter didn't come loose, but some of the strapping did. Was awfully rough in places. We got to the campsite just after midday and the reception was closed for lunch between 1100 and 1400. We had a look around the site and were unimpressed so we went for option 2 on campsites. This one is farther away from Giverny but a lot nicer and right on the edge of the Seine. Mind you, I wouldn't swim in it! Taking another casual afternoon and tomorrow we will do the gardens.

16 July. Rode in to Giverny. We came in the opposite direction than most people would and the signposting was virtually non existant. That aside, we found our way there in perhaps the most direct route. Giverny is essentially Monet town. Everything exists because of Claude. Fortunately, we arrived early (early being a subjective time, but around 1100) and we were third in line to get in to Monet's house and garden. When we left, the queue was 100m long to get in! The house and gardens were not so much spectacular as just quite beautiful. We saw the water garden where he painted many of his paintings. Talk about working from home! The water garden particularly though, is such that it would inspire the best of artists. Very pretty and very peaceful. We walked to the other end of town to see his grave too. Amongst the copies of his paintings on display, we noticed 2 in particular that were obviously painted in Dorset on the south coast of England, having been to exactly the same places ourselves.
On the trip home, we deviated slightly and saw some wonderful sights in a little village where many homes were built into the chalk cliffs. Brilliant. We needed fuel for the scooter but the only place we could find was a "card only" station. None of our cards worked, being foreign. I asked a guy next to us if we could use his and he was happy for us to top up on his pump. We used about €7 and gave him €10 in cash. Everyone was happy, he made a profit and we didn't have to push the scooter. Win win. After that, we proceeded to get lost again, though not by much. As a result, we got to see 3 more villages that we would have otherwise missed out on. Another win. Tomorrow, Versailles.

17 July. Had a not entirely uneventful drive into Versailles. Met a road closure enroute and had to replan, then came to a low bridge and had to cut across a stack of traffic to avoid it. We were about 30cms too high. Also took a slightly wrong exit off one of the freeways that added a few kms and minutes on to the trip. We finally made it OK though. After we set up, I thought I should do a solo run up to the palace before our visit tomorrow. It's only about 4km away but it's a mind boggling trip. I'm glad I did it because it will be less frightening for Julie now I know the tricks and traps. The site we have here is very good. Not enough room to put the awning out, but we have our own picnic table next to the van and we are under total shade, lovely! The washing facilities are substandard for a place that costs €50 a night but at least the ablutions seem good. Tomorrow, the Palace. From the first look today, I think we are in for treat!

18 July. Versailles. Took the scooter to the Palace. As usual, we parked right at the gate for free. We had pre bought our tickets at the campsite so we expected to pretty much go straight in. Wrong. We joined the end of the queue of about 10,000 people who had also bought their tickets. There was an airport type security, which I can understand, and the snaking queue took us an hour to get to the entrance. Fortunately, once inside, while it was crowded, it was not overwhelmingly so. We managed to get through all the rooms without too much hassle. OK, the Palace. It is the biggest of its kind in Europe and every bit as opulent as Brighton Pavillion, in fact, far more so. The marble and gold was everywhere and the artwork was staggering. Some of the paintings were over 50 square metres, huge. It was breathtaking in its excess. It made the €18 entry seem dirt cheap compared to other entry prices we have seen. We didn't do too much of the gardens, most of it was grass with only a few areas having a colourful floral display. Due to renovations, none of the fountains were working which was a big disappointment as much of the outside is centred around the water features. The upside of that was, we didn't walk too far around the gardens as we were worn out from doing the interior! It was a sensory overload. This place must be on everyones bucket list, it is a spectacle not to be missed.
Tomorrow, Paris, and I have to admit I am a little daunted by the prospect, though it should be OK, we just need to plan our route carefully.

19 July. We waited until the last minute to leave Versailles, not wanting to get to Paris too early for the 1400 check in. Planned the route carefully and it was quite straight forward, that is, until we found the road into the camp had been temporarily made into a one way the wrong way for us, due to roadworks. No problem I thought, we will go around the block and come in behind it. Problem was, the first attempt at around the block brought us back to the same point. We pulled over to the edge and put the hazard lights on so we could check google maps online. The motorhome behind us did the same thing and it turned out they were an Aussie couple from Coffs Harbour. I worked out an alternative route and Harry and Helen followed us, finally getting to the campsite. They let us in and our request for a very shaded site was complied with, so we are very happy with the placement. Harry and Helen got the pitch behind us.
After lunch, I decided to do a run on the scooter to the nearest Metro station to see how easy it was. Getting there was easy, getting back not so. I ended up on the other side of the Seine, all the time knowing where I wanted to go but being faced with a plethora of one way streets, I couldn't get there. Did a big lap between two bridges and finally got home again. The sheer number of roundabouts is mind boggling, and one wrong exit can be disastrous. The decision was then made to use the shuttle bus and the Metro to get around. After dinner we had a few drinks with Harry and Helen.

20 July. We bought two 5 day Paris passes, giving us unlimited use of public transport, from the reception at the campsite. This includes the shuttle bus so at €50 each, it's not bad value. Took the bus to Porte Maillot station which is on the yellow, number 1 line, 2 stops from the Arc de Triomphe. We took those 2 stops and surfaced to the sight of the Arc towering overhead about 100m away. Amazing sight. We pondered going to the top but at $30 for the 2 of us, decided we would wait to go up the Eiffel Tower next Friday. Walked a few kms along the Champs Elysees to the Tuileries Gardens then caught the train and bus back to camp for lunch.
Hayley and Mat should be arriving in Paris today from Nice. Fortunately, Hayley messaged us and said if we hadn't already booked our tickets for Eiffel Tower, we had better get on to it. We had expected to just buy tickets when we got there, so it was just as well she warned us. The first time we could get was next Friday at 1500, a week away!
Managed to call Hayley using Viber and had a good chat. They had arrived in Paris a couple of hours before and were just settling in. Next step with them is to get them out to see our home away from home.

21 July. Took the train to Montmartre which is the home of the Basillica de Sacre Coeur, a large church on one of the few hills around Paris. We had to climb a few hundred stairs to get to the church and did a quick look through. Very pretty but no photos allowed. The view from outside was quite staggering in what could be seen of Paris. We considered climbing up to the top of the Basillica, but €6 each plus the prospect of another 300 stairs up and 300 down, we decided against it. The day was a little hazy anyway, so seeing the sights was not as good as it could be. Had lunch on the hill then wandered through the town before heading home. This evening is the final leg of the Tour de France, so after dinner, we trained in to the Champs Elysees to see if we could get a spot. The last stage is 10 laps of the Arc de Triomphe and past the Louvre. We walked out of the Metro station just as the first lap was about to go past. The nature of the race is that the result overall is known the night before, and a gentlemans agreement is that the winner is not challenged on the final day for title. This does not make it a parade though, because those that can't win overall still try to take out the last stage. They sure rode fast. After the race we walked up to the Arc and watched some of the light show on it.

22 July. We had planned on doing the Louvre today but had a message from Hayley that she and Mat would visit us about lunchtime. We met them at Porte Maillot station and we all came back to the camp on the bus. Julie made lunch and knocked over a local Rose and a champagne. Took Hayley for a short ride around the camp on the scooter, she thought is was funny! We put them on the bus about 1500 and had the rest of the afternoon off. We met up with John and Colleen Bitmead outside the Notre Dame at 1900 for dinner. They also motorhome around Europe each year and have one based in France. They were flying home the next day from Paris so it was our only chance to catch up. Dinner was at a restaurant in Saint Michel just south of the Notre Dame. Very nice meal too. Also another late night.

23 July. Another hot day. Paris is suffering under a heat wave with temperatures over 34C. Doesn't sound too bad but the humidity is high and in the sun, the heat effect is significant, added to the fact that it is as high as 27C for a minimum. The van gets quite unpleasant, even though it is in shade, and sleeping has not been great.
We planned to meet Hayley and Mat at the Catacombs at 1000. We missed the bus by 20 seconds so had to wait for the next one. We got there about 1010 so it wasn't too late. Hayley and Mat were in the queue with Simon, a friend of theirs in Paris at the same time. The queue was not very long but it was still over an hour wait and over 90 minutes for the other 3. The Catacombs are old underground quarries that had been converted to burial sites for villages that had run out of cemetery room. Six million skeletons were exhumed and rearranged in the catacombs. Absolutely amazing!
In the afternnon I did a run to the shops on the scooter to get more wine, rather than walk and carry it. Where I parked the scooter was at the end of about 80m of one way street, the wrong way for me to exit, but if I went the right way, I would have been in a labyrinth of one way streets, no entry roads and it would have been a total pain to get out. I chanced going the wrong way, there was nothing coming until I got to the end and a police car was turning in! He loudly berated me from his car. I didn't know what he was saying, but I got the general gist. I tried to appear apologetic and when he saw my number plates and the Aussie flag, he shook his head and waved me on. Just as well Julie wasn't there, her berating would have been worse. After that, we decided to walk back to the shops and restock. More drinks with Harry and Helen. Rain and thunderstorms give us a brief respite from the heat.

24 July, In to the Louvre. The Metro station is right under the museum so we exited directly into it. The queue to get in was about 30 minutes long, not bad considering. Wandered around and saw most of what we wanted to see. Nearly got crushed in the sea of people trying to see the Mona Lisa. I can understand now why the pickpockets love the Louvre. We were looking for a cafe the have lunch and walked straight into Hayley and Mat. It's a small world. Had lunch with them and then did a little more of the Louvre and headed home. Hayley had booked a restaurant called Bistrotters in Plaisance for dinner at 1900, it was her present to us for Christmas. We were on time for the bus, but some guy had parked his car in the way of the bus and left it with its hazard lights on. There was no way for the bus to manouvre out of the parking bay. In the end, I helped organise a push. We got a few strong lads and bounced and pushed the car sideways out of the way. That was now a 45 minute delay on departure. We arrived 20 minutes late! Starting to get a reputation here!
The dinner was excellent and the wines were good too. We had to be out by 2115 for the second sitting but managed to hang in until 2130. Bistrotters is ranked number 1 restaurant in Paris according to Trip Advisor. I can see why, the food was great and the price, though certainly not cheap, was not excessive either. An uneventful trip home.

25 July. We decided we were running out of time in Paris so we extended another two days, leaving now on Monday 29th. We did the Notre Dame late morning. It was not the spectacle we were expecting, and compared to other cathedrals we have seen, was a little lacklustre. Still impressive in its own right, just not up there with the best. Lunch in a little cafe in Saint Michel. Walked around the Latin Quarter area then headed home. We had a booking at the Moulin Rouge for 1900 and the ticket said best to be there 30 minutes before. After the dramas of the last few days, we caught the 1730 bus from the camp and made it with time to spare. The doors didn't open until 1830 so we went across the road and had a drink at "The Australian Pub". Odd joint, had sand on the floor to emulate a beach, not sure how they would clean it! When I said to the barman "Gday mate, I should have brought me thongs and speedos" I got a slightly flat response from the French barman! Joined the queue for the dinner and once inside, we were seated with a couple about our age from Cumbria. They were impressed that I knew where it was! The dinner was very good for a mass produced meal. The show started at 2100 and was the usual you would expect from the Moulin Rouge, lots of bling and breasts. The show also featured almost circus style acts, a juggler, a couple on roller skates doing impressive spinning moves, and a ventriloquist, all of whom were amazing. A very entertaining show. It was a present from Lauren and Gareth, so thanks very much to them. We managed to make it back to the bus stop in time to get the last bus home at 0045. Another late night!

26 July. We had a booking for the lift to level 2 of the Eiffel Tower at 1500. We had a casual morning and after lunch caught the bus and train to the tower. We got off at Trocadero station and walked out to see the tower in front of us. So far, we had only seen it from a distance, and while it looked large, it didn't seem special. That was until we got close. It is an amazing structure, at 324 metres (1,063 ft) tall, and considering it was built in 1889, it is an incredible feat. We walked around the area, including the Trocadero Fountain then took our place for the lift. Fortunately, at Hayley's suggestion, we prebooked our tickets online and had almost no wait at all. The others who were buying tickets there would have had at least an hours wait. The view was awesome even though we were only on level 2, level 3 being the top. Paris is very flat, surprisingly so, and we could see for miles. The thunderstorms and rain the previous night had cleared the air and the visibility was excellent. We were thrilled with the experience.
Headed back home for more mundane things like doing the washing and a quiet night in the van. Just before 2300, we walked to the entrance to the park where you can see half the Eiffel Tower, to see what the light display was. At most times, it is the usual yellow lights on the tower but at each hour, until 5 minutes past, it becomes a glittering scene. Looked good, so we will go in tomorrow night to see it lit up.
Overnight, we had the most fierce thunderstorm we have been in for years. I shut down the skylights but left the front windows of the van slightly down as we normally have them. In the morning, the awning had collapsed at one end under the weight of the water, the slope I had on it being inadequate for the deluge. Fortunately, while it actually chipped a piece of one part, it was repairable. The wind must have been strong because the rain got in the passengers side of the front and managed to wet some of our books. Our Caravan Club guide to French caravan parks and our road atlas of France. No real problem, they are still usable, but we had to do a bit of cleaning up after the storm.

27 July. Main mission today is to get to Museum d'Orsay. This is really an Art Gallery more than a museum. They had one section devoted to Impressionists, including Renoir, Julie's favourite artist. She managed to see 3 of her 4 favourite Renoir originals. Having already seen her favourite number one at the National Gallery in London last year. Sadly, just like the London Gallery, the d'Orsay won't let you take photos either, so having seen all 4, she has no photographic record of it. The rest of the gallery was very good. We headed home late afternoon intending to go back to the Eiffel Tower in the evening, but the weather was threatening storms (and they were forecast) and it started a light rain shortly before we planned to go. Stayed home instead, there is always tomorrow.

28 July. We decided we needed to see the French Army Museum at Hotel des Invalides, a complex originally built by Louis 14th as a hospital for wounded war veterans. It is still used for the same purpose today, but is also a museum. It is an enormous complex. We saw an amazing collection of suits of armour and old flintlock rifles that were so pristine, along with many other items over the last 500 years. A superb display from 1500 to today. Included was a whole section on Charles de Gaulle. The man is so revered in France, he should be given sainthood. They had a movie of his history which, besides being a little parochial and one sided, gave us a good idea of what he did and why the French love him. We didn't realise that he actually formed the fifth French Republic, constitution and all. Quite a man apparently. Also, a little like Churchill in his desire for a low profile funeral and a scattering of his ashes. Very humble, I was impressed. We also saw Napoleon First's tomb which is in the crypt of the Chapel at Invalides. That is very overstated. On the way home, we stopped at the Louvre for Julie to check out the Louvre Shop, of which, there wasn't really one, but we found one that was close. Didn't buy anything though. Trained home and after dinner in Bagatelle (a mere 5 minute walk away!) we will try again for Eiffel at night.
Left the park at 2115 aiming to get to Trocadero before 2200. The special light show is only 5 minutes every hour at 2200, 2300, 0000 and 0100. we got there on time and I managed to set up the little tripod all ready for the show. At 2157 it started spitting and at 2159 it rained. Couldn't believe our luck!! Still managed a few good shots and some video (portrait mode, I'll turn it around when we get home). Stopped at the Arc on the way home to see if anything special was on there, but it wasn't.
We opted for another extension of time here, by one day so Julie can go shopping. We are now due to leave on Tuesday. The benefits of not planning too far ahead. We may not be back in Paris for a long time so we might as well spend as much time here as we need.

29 July. Julie went shopping to Les Galleries Lafayettes, the most famous shopping centre in Paris. She went alone so she didn't have to put up with me, fair call too. I did a few things around home, like getting this website up to date. A quite night in tonight even though it is our last night in Paris. Tomorrow we head for Corbie, a little town near Villers-Bretonneux, on the Somme.

30 July. Bye bye Paris. We left Paris about 1130 and managed to leave the city with a minimum of fuss. Drove the 140km to Corbie on the Somme in a mere 3 hours. It started raining lightly about 40km from Corbie and at times was quite heavy. It was even almost cold, 18C. We passed the Australian Memorial just out of Villers-Bretonneux and it is only about 3km from where we are camped so we will do that and more tomorrow. Managed to get in to the Municipal Campsite which is a 2 minute walk into the middle of the town, the town being very nice too. Picked up the maps and brochures we needed from the Tourism Office so we should be ready to hit the Somme in the morning.

31 July. Started with the Australian National Memorial just outside Villers-Bretonneux. This memorial was built just before WW2 and suffered some severe damage in that war. Most has been rebuilt or repaired, but some areas have been retained for the historic value. It is a tasteful memorial with a relatively small cemetery as part of it. You can climb the stairs about 4 or 5 stories high and get a great view of the area from the top. Next was the Franco Australian Museum which is part of Victoria School. The Victoria is after the state, they helped the local community rebuild. Outside in the playground covered area, was a huge sign that said "Never forget Australia". The museum was small but well put together and there was a movie that was showing with original footage from WW1. We watched it all, about an hour long. Most informative. Back home for lunch then off to Le Hamel which was where the Australians, led by General John Monash broke the German lines on the Somme and turned the tide of the war. There is the Australian Corps Memorial Park there which has a timeline story of Monash's battle plans and how it all worked out. An amazing man. All three places were well done and all informative, so much so, we have a much better insight into what the poor beggars went through. Also at Le Hamel is where Manfred von Richthofen was shot down and killed. So much history!

1 August. Rode into Amiens, which is a fair size city. The cathedral there is reputed to be the largest gothic cathedral in Europe. It certainly is huge and is currently being renovated, though that did not detract from the spectacle. There are many cracks in the ceilings and it is in need of some serious repairs. The work they are doing on it is very good. Apparently, Notre Dame Paris will fit inside this cathedral twice, a fact I wouldn't dispute. It was very ornate both inside and out. There is also the head of John the Baptist on display there and has been there since the 1200's. Poor chap is a little blackened.
We rode around Amiens for a while, trying to find Jules Vernes house but couldn't and then the city gardens which, while being a lovely park for the locals, were hardly what we would call gardens. There is one area of Amiens which they call "Little Venice" where islands on the Somme River have been used to create a canal village. Nicely done too.

2 August. Left the Somme and headed towards Reims, the champagne district. We had thought that we should get as close to Reims as possible and chose a campsite 15km away. We drove around Reims on the way and decided it was way too large a city to negotiate on the scooter. Having got to the campsite at 1315 to find that reception was closed from 1100 to 1600 (even 5 hours is excessive for a French lunch!) we reconsidered our position and decided to go to Epernay instead. Probably a good decision as this place is right in the heart of the champagne area. The campsite is average, but that's not unusual. The location is great but the facilities can't cope with the peak season.

3 August. Went to the Tourist Office and found out a few good things to do and also had a bonus free tasting of a couple of champagnes at the office. They don't scrimp on the tastings here, it's essentially a full glass. We walked around the Avenue de Champagne and checked out Moet & Chandon among others. We did another tasting at Collard-Picard and we shared the glasses, otherwise we would have had 5 glasses each, not a good idea when we are riding the scooter. In the evening we went back into town for dinner and then on to a sound and light show on one of the old buildings on Avenue de Champagne. It was a very good show even if it had a storyline that was in French!

4 August. We extended our stay another night to give us today in Epernay as well. We went to Merciers for a tour through the cellars on a train. Amazing place, 10C and it was a welcome relief from the heat we have been putting up with. The tour ended with a tasting, again, a full glass. After lunch, we rode to Cramant, a little village in the Champagne region about 10km south of Epernay. This place has 2 attractions, one being a 2 storey high champagne bottle, the other a lookout above the town with views of the area up to 15km away. Very impressive. We tried to do some shopping, but like most of France, everything is closed on a Sunday. We went to C.Comme, a bar in Epernay that does tastings. They know how to do it here. Pretzels to start and then a mixed savouries plate with peanuts, small savoury biscuits and olives, all for no extra. A few bars in Perth could learn from that. We tried 4 Champagnes and bought a bottle of the nicest one.

5 August. Time for some shopping. We took the scooter to the local Carrefours supermarket and almost filled the trolley. This made for an interesting ride home with the poor scooter over its shopping limit. I had to take another ride back to get a few more things, one being a bottle of Penfolds Private Release Shiraz Cabernet 2011 for €6. Took a ride around the hills surrounding Epernay and it had some excellent views over the vines and the villages. Cracked open the Penfolds tonight and what a delight it was too.

6 August. Drove through to Arras where will stay a night on the way to Calais. Quite a nice park but very full of people doing exactly the sane thing, either way.

7 August. Woke to a grey overcast sky with drizzle, I guess we are getting too close to England. As we drove towards Calais (still don't cross the channel until 10th August) the rain got heavier and just didn't stop. At least the van is getting a lot of the rubbish on it washed off, even if it won't actually wash it. We had selected a caravan park on the recommendation of Margaret, from California, who was our neighbour in Paris. So far, it seems petty good, it has toilet paper and toilet seats. Mind you, it should too, it is the most expensive park outside of Versailles and Paris. We plan to take it easy for the next couple of days before the crossing, after which we will be a lot busier.

8 August. The rain has stopped and the weather is mild and cloudy, great for getting out and about. We are very happy with the campsite, it is easily the best one we have stayed in during this trip to France. Today we visited le Blockhaus d'Eperlecques which is a massive concrete bunker built by the Germans in 1943. It was where they built the V2 rockets and also launched them. The first V2 was launched from this site. The scale of the place was immense and the amount of reinforced concrete used is mind boggling. 10,000 forced labourers died during its construction and use. The allies bombed it on at least 2 occasions and effectively destroyed it as a usable facility. One of the many interesting aspects of it is the signs of the RAF's use of Tallboy bombs. The Tallboy is the bomb used by my father durig his time with 617 (dambusters) squadron. It is a 12,000lb bomb, 26 feet long, dubbed "the earthquake bomb" and there are 2 particular signs of their use. One is a large hole in the 12 foot reinforced concrete roof and the other is a crater just outside the complex. No wonder it forced its decommissioning. It was an impressive visit that really highlighted the massive work that was done during WW2.

9 August. Last day in France. The caravan park we are in is the best so far in France so it is a nice way to finish. Today was spent taking it easy, bits of washing and cleaning to reduce the final effort, we hope. We went for a short ride in to Watten, a moderate sized village near here, all to buy a litre of milk.Tomorrow, the channel crossing again. Hopefully it will be as easy as the first.

10 August. We left the park with plenty of time to spare and took the toll road into Calais. It was only 3€50 and worthwhile. We arrived at the port 90 minutes before ETD even though we only needed to be there 60 before. Just as well we did too, the queue was long and slow. That's holiday season for you. We got the third degree from the woman at UK immigration. She probably thought we were still convicts. Got through unscathed and then the ferry was 40 minutes late leaving because of the delays at the entrance. The operation was as slick in Calais as it was in Dover, darn impressive. After arriving in Dover and readjusting to life in the left lane, we called Theobald's Park and managed to get in there for the night. Theobalds is becoming our clean up destination of preference, being as it is never full, has good facilities like the washing machines and easy dumping of all the vans tanks. It's also only 25 minutes from Margaret and Peter's place so it's very convenient.

11 August. After doing all the washing and cleaning we could, we headed for Buckhurst Hill for lunch. Arrived there about noon, unhitched the trailer and got the van in to the front yard. After lunch, we cleaned it top to bottom and inside and out, likewise the scooter. Earned the few drinks we had that night! We had bought back some nice bottles from France, 2 reds and a champagne. We polished off one of the reds over dinner which was very nice.

12 August. Van free day. We took the van back to Cranhams and set the scooter up in its little outdoor hiding spot then took the van around to its storage site. It looked a little forlorn stuck in what is effectively an outside parking lot. If it comes back to us as good as it did this year, we will be happy. Peter and Margaret came and picked us up from Cranhams so that made the whole operation very easy. In the afternoon we did one of P & M's circuit walks of Epping Forest which left us nearly exhausted. Before dinner, we polished off the bottle of champagne (also good) and then went to the Buckhurst Tandoori for dinner.

13 August. P & M dropped us off at Walthamstow underground which allowed us easy changeover from the Victoria line to the Piccadilly line. The exit at Leicester Square was pretty easy too, only a couple of flights of stairs with 40kg of suitcases. Checked in at the Royal Trafalgar where we had booked 2 nights. A LOT nicer than the kennel we had at the St Giles last time in London. We went into the National Gallery to see if Renoir's "Umbrellas" was back but we found out it is in Dublin until 2019. We decided not to wait. Went to a bar in Leicester Square and were served by a guy named Marcus from Tassie. Had a great chat seeing he wasn't too busy. It was a nice Aussie shiraz too. Tried a Garfunkels restaurant for dinner. This is a chain restaurant in London and we thought we should experience it. Now that we have, we don't need to go again, not that it was bad, just ordinary.
The Royal Thistle we are staying at is in a fantastic location, 90 seconds walk to Trafalgar Square. It doesn't get any better than that.

14 August. Julie went to the National Gallery again, this time on her own so she could enjoy it at her pace. I went to the "Three" store we bought our MiFi unit from last year to see if I could get it unlocked. I could, but through Three themselves, and it was a little convoluted and cost £15. I did some more investigating on the net and got both the 3 one and the SFR one from France both unlocked for a total of €14, so did well. Met up with Julie outside the gallery and there was an army of Scottish supporters for the International Friendly soccer match against England tonight whooping it up in Trafalgar Square. Wow, do the Scots know how to party. That's what we love about London, it is so alive, it's like one big party. Visited Fortnum and Mason in Piccadilly, a rival to Harrods though not as big. Bought some tea in a very nice tin so we have one to match the Harrod's one we bought last year. There was also the UK premiere of the movie "We're the Millers" starring Jennifer Aniston, showing at the Odeon West End in Leicester Square. The crowds were there to see the stars on the red carpet. We didn't bother, but it was just a bit more of the party atmosphere.
We organised to meet Chris and Cat for dinner in Covent Gardens and had a very pleasant meal at Kopapa's.

15 August. Had an easy morning, walked around Trafalgar Square to see the left overs from the Scots. Most of the rubbish had already been cleaned up except the masses of cans and bottles in the fountains. One worker was there in waders trying to clean it up. We got a cab a bit before 1100 to take us to Victoria Station for the Gatwick Express. Nice guy who lives in Cranham, where our motorhome stays. Easy train ride to Gatwick and we managed to check in and have a wander around. We were early, but that's always better than missing the flight. Had a good flight through to Dubai and we used our headphone adaptors for the first time. That way, we could plug in our good ear phones for the in flight entertainment. What a difference it made, we could actually hear the soundtrack! Arriving at Dubai was another thing. First we had to bus from the aircraft to the terminal, then, as appears to be the norm, we had to wait what felt like an excruciating amount of time to get through passport control. Dubai Airport is geared for efficiency in every aspect except passport control. Arrived at the hotel at 0230.

16 August. We nearly overslept for breakfast which finished at 1100, but made it with 30 minutes to eat. Breakfast is on the 43rd floor so the view was pretty good. Did our online check in for tomorrows flight home, only cost $7.50 to get on the net and print 2 pages. All a free service at the Thistle! We went to see the Mall of the Emirates early afternoon and even though it is supposed to be the biggest in Dubai, it lacked character. We didn't bother going for a ski in the artificial snow area. Back to the hotel for lunch then to the Dubai Mall, which is much nicer, to pick up our tickets to the "At the Top" observation deck up the Burj Khalifa. This is the tallest man made structure in the world at over 2700 feet high. The observation deck is on level 124, the whole building is over 200 levels. The building is the ultimate engineering masterpiece. On floor 124, it is solid as a rock, no swaying movement at all. The view is very good, given that the visibility in Dubai is usually around 6km in haze. Most of the view is looking down rather that out and when you look down on the 50 and 60 storey skyscrapers and they look like toys, you realise just how high up you are. If anyone is going to Dubai, we highly recommend this one but book online, they sell out quickly. Afterwards, we went back to the mall and watched the fountain then had a quick dinner.

17 August. Set 2 alarms for 0600 so we could get ready and have breakfast and be out by 0730 to get the flight home. The taxi driver we had must have thought we were running late because he drove so fast, meaning we got to the airport in 15 minutes instead of the 30 we allowed for. Check in was uneventful and we got to our seats, window and middle, even though we thought we were in a 2 seat row. We hoped no one would turn up for the aisle seat, but a couple came in and she took our row and her husband took the aisle in front. They asked if there was anything together and the cabin crew found a set down the back. Big win for us, we had 3 seats for the 10+ hour flight which gave us a lot more room, almost as good as an upgrade. Russell picked us up from the airport and we got home at 0200. A long day and the adventure 2013 was over.

Photos here