779-784: Popping to France and Belgium.

779 – Sunday 16th July 2017: Preparations

The big day has come – the start of Summer Euro 2017 (not footie) mini tour!  Finished laundrifying at Royal Rothbury, filled with LPG in Guildford and started to a wild camping spot on the coast near Folkestone. Well, the lanes got narrower and narrower (are we in Sicilia?) – several farm vehicles and no suitable sites – so, back to good old proper aire at Canterbury New Dover Road… and only £4.00.

Zzzzzs for the night./

780 – Monday 17th July:  And We’re Off

The train terminal was busy even without the school hols – this week to commence. La Belle France – joy – straight on to free motorways.  Robin and Kensey awaited (Oscar’s latest diary preempted this – he couldn’t wait…). K and R went to town and wined themselves (K:  Only 1 glass – a rather pleasant little Bourgone Aligote).  Supper – and evening saw 30+ motorhomes in situ!!!  Obviously the place to overnight close to Calais. 

781 – Tuesday 18th July:  Bearing Up in Bergues

Nice early run – trying to up the mileage (or kilometerage) – successfully…  Coffee in town and then R and Kensey left for Calais. So nice here, we decided to stay until tomorrow – knitting, reading and resting under the awning. Parfait!   Wouldn’t normal roll out the awning on an aire, but it was blinkin hot and quite a few had done so.  K even got the twin tub out … we will need to replenish our water soon.  So warm that the laundry all dried within hours. This sun is what we came for after the cold and blowy Scottish islands.

782 – Wednesday 19th July:  Popping into Poperinge  

Mini shop, diesel fill, an aire on the border with 100ltr water for ERU3, and off to Poperinge we popped to a nice compact and central car park that takes motorhomes for a max of 48 hours. This town is a the centre of a hop growing region and WW1 troop transit and field hospital areas.  We visited a local bar for Belgian beer (a new experience – the beer not the bar – we passed the ‘Bar’ exams years ago!). Are we “Baristas” or just old socks, sorry – soaks.  The Talbot House provided front line troops with a haven – a piece of home for a few days – chapel on the top level. The UK couple who volunteer there for short periods said that people have detected a ‘presence’ in the house occasionally – not surprising as many of the young men who visited never came back.

The local brewery museum was fascinating – hundreds of beer varieties – up to 12% alcohol by volume!!! 

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We took turns at the Hop Museum to hop (!) knob with the rather merry locals.

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The original building was the hop drying building.  The museum thoroughly explained the whole process using an audio guide.

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Talbot House:  Originally a private house, it was rented to provide a sanctuary for all soldiers, regardless of class or rank.  The strongest beverage served was tea.  The towns streets apparently were awash with drunken brawls and prostitutes.

IMG 8733Will the cowboy in the reflection, take heed of these rules?

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The Chapel up some steep stairs.

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The rear garden, which at times had soldiers sprawled everywhere.  A real sense of peace.  Tea and coffee served by volunteers, who also provide breakfast for overnight guests.

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Check out our different cafe choices!  Not a pang of regret on either side.

783 – Thursday 20th July:  Bopping in Poperinge

Walking in a town park, K spotted a notice for a party tonight in the same park – instant decision to stay an extra night – because we can!  Obligatory coffee in town square. The Chinese Labour Museum told the highly unusual tale of almost 95,000 Chinese labourers recruited by the British army to work in Belgium on the war effort – most evocative stories through original photographs. Now , we don’t really mind rain (San Sebastian, Gibraltar, et al) but it was a great excuse to shelter whilst having a good lunch and sampling some more Belgian socks – damn, that old soaks thing again – beer!   Wunderbar….

The Park Party was – incredible!  Loads of families – beer ,food and good chatting to locals – inspired by our gentle “hund” in Flemish – dog, Oscar. It was ever thus. Professional dancers led and taught many local couples in Swing, Lindy Hop, Waltz and Jive.  Again we commented how mad UK Health and Safety has gone.  Candles lit on table in jam jars, logs burning in open braziers and beer served in real glass!  We left at 1030-ish still in some daylight.

We are really coming around to the Belgian people – lots have been extremely friendly and helpful and they are super dog friendly … Oscar is allowed in museums!  One local lady gave a recommendation to visit the Trappist Monastery – makers of world class beer – and holy men too!  That’s our destination sorted for tomorrow then!

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Mister Ghylbe satirising the long standing cloth wars with Ypres, Ghent and Brugges – riding a donkey backwards with spoons for spurs.

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Quite sleepy now and hard to envisage all the troops marching through.

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We saw the jail where rowdy soldiers were incarcerated with their graffiti carved onto the walls.  It also was the place of the last night for 4 soldiers who were executed in the square of the town hall.  Overall 3,080 British soldiers were sentenced to death during WW!, but ‘only’ 346 executions took place.  90% of them have since been pardoned with posthumous apologies to families.  600 men were executed by the French (not sure of this includes the 2 random men shot per regiment when they refused to advance after the awful losses at Verdun), only 48 German and 750 Italians.  No recorded executions for the Australian army as they so not use it as a form of military punishment.  Many of the deserters were put back with their regiments, who were unsympathetic.  77% of the executed soldiers were for desertion.  Other crimes were cowardice (5%), mutiny, insubordination, falling asleep on your watch, throwing away your weapon and striking a superior officer.

This poem translates as:

Light, bleak dawn.

The worn out night bursting open in my chest and fading.

My hands holding the glass –my last one.

The priest bringing his God, the doctor his opiates.

Mother of God.

Out there she’s warming her feet against the coal.

Out there she’s turning in her sleep.

Do not aim at me, lads.

Aim at the white cloth on my chest.

Light, bleak light etching words, bare words in the wall.        Erwin Mortier

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This was the actual wall.  We only knew this as we ear wigged a knowledgable English chap doing a tour for some friends.  He’d served and lost friends in Afghanistan, been a policeman in Guildford and now worked for United National Peace Keeping.  

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Back to beer as an aperitif … comparing Blonde and Brun Leffe.

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Our own Strictly Come Dancing – they got quite few folk up learning steps.

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Some locals were in shorts and a light jacket … J and I, from more Northern climes, had full winter layers.  Oscar coming up for a tummy rub!

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No, it’s a full sit on.

784 – Friday 21st July:  Must Taste – Best Beer in the World

We visited the Lijssenhoek Military Cemetery and we were immediately saddened to see the grave memorials – from age 19 to 42 years young. So many lives lost in this “War to end all Wars’ – did it? No, tragically. A modern visitor centre with audio witness accounts … very moving.  A famous war poem comes to mind…

“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

we will remember them.”        Robert Laurence Binyon

We arrived at a brand new aire in Westvleteren near the above recommended Saint Sixtus Abbey Trappist Brewery/Monastery…..  Euro12 with electric is reasonable value – highly recommended, as only 1.9km from the beer.  We supped prime Trappist beer at the Cafe across the road from the Monastery – the Brewery and Monastery are closed visitors. They only brew enough beer to support themselves, and yet the 10.2% proof version is in high demand having been voted the best beer for several years.  It is only sold commercially the the cafe or via the small shop there.  Today the shop had signs up “No beer for sale today” and reading Trip Advisor, you have to be quick when it is available as queues form quickly. If you really want to buy some, you can ring the hot line, but the monks only answer it occasionally and book for months ahead to come to the gate to collect your two cases limit. 

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11,800 + graves.

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Some countries repatriate their fallen .. French gaps on the left.

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Only 6 breweries in Belgium brew Trappist beer and it has to be on the premises.  Bottles are unlabelled, but the caps are colour coded and contain legal information.

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J went for the blond and I threw cation to the wind and went for the Westvleteren 12 … 33 ml bottles so equivalent to a third of a bottle of wine.

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Spotted a Belgian Welshie … we saw another one in Ypres, but he went for Oscar … must be a breeding nest of them nearby.

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On the camper stop, steps made out of the beer crates.

679-693: Travelling North and the First Birthday Party

A very late post …. lost our internet 10 days short of returning to the UK and then, somehow, we’ve been amazingly busy!

679 – Wednesday 5th April 2017:  Driving Day

We hadn’t driven all day – since we flitted from Portugal to Nice…. 8 hours travelling – and a nice aire in Cusiance – near where we had stayed before on our way home, this time last year.  Met a motorhome neighbour….  Now, when a young lady meets a nice Swedish man – what does she say, eh?  Obviously – in fluent Swedish – “I’m drunk and I love you”!!!  K seemed taken aback when his hands suddenly became more tactile…. and her Swedish wasn’t that fluent, either… I wasn’t impressed.  Perhaps, that’s the direct line Oscar should try with Kensey?  K’s excuse was that she learned it from some sailors?  I wanted a Harry Potter wand – to turn the Swedish man into – a tartcitron with extra mushypeas – deepfried!  

A quiet night…..

680 – Thursday 6th April:  Langres

Driving for a few hours, we stopped for lunch at an aire in Langres…  A Dutch van parked alongside us (a bit close) – they appeared tone a bit taciturn….  However, quite understandably so – when we saw they unloaded a completely shredded rear tyre – and the chap closely inspected their spare which he had fitted. We picked up some of the local cheese – orange skin  and the lady in the shop gave me some paper bags so it could breathe … nice.

We walked the walls around the town and thought it a pleasant town.  We drove on a France Passion vineyard … with views over fields, including one with Llamas, one sheep and one goat!  Peaceful and on an Oscar walk, I discovered that the town housed the country retreat and museum to Charles de Gaulle.

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With M. Didier – something to do with encyclopedias.

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All that remains of the funicular, as Langres is built on a rocky promontory.

681 – Friday 7th April:  Vet Day

We contemplated visiting the de Gaulle museum etc, but at EUR16 and with limited time to us, we declined.  Met Robyn and Kensey in a car park very close to the centre of Troyes.  We wandered and imbibed several glasses of Chablis with Robyn.  Oscar had his first visit with a non-English vet.  A thorough examination and prescribed the worming tablets required for the pet passport.  My vet had said that he should not have a certain type as they contained a medicine already in his Advantix or Advocate …. I tried to get the vet to give him Droncit, which I knew was OK, but no go.  Fortunately he gave me the tablets to give to Oscar with food later that evening.  Completely against the rules, but I was able to ring my UK vet practice and verify if this particular tablet was OK for him to take.

Robyn had identified a Sport Centre parking just on the outside of Troyes, which was a lot quieter than the city centre car park would have been on a party night.

 

682-683 – Saturday 8th and Sunday 9th:  Moving North – Another Shangri-La 

Robyn, again identified another superb aire at Mareuil le Port.  Not on most of the apps, just as well or it would have been over run!  A park next to the river.  The motorhome bays had their own water and concrtete patio area.  As well as electric for those of us that parked where it worked.  So lovely we decided to stay two nights – Robyn longer.  Robyn started hand washing, so I got the old twin tub out and was guilted into doing a load of ours too.  Perfect sunshine and a gentle breeze for drying the washing and us being outside pretty much all the time.  J lost a bet over when the Sicilian earthquake devastated the SE corner … 1693 is now engrained on his memory!  Consequece for J was to get the ladder out and clean the road kill on the from to Robyn’s van!  We had a ‘slight’ incident where I slammed j’s hand in Jez’s door.  Bearing in mind we have to really REALLY slam it, I was convinced all the bones in his fingers were crushed to a powder.  The neighbouring French motorhomers shot out with some magic Arnica cream and J did not have bruising or swelling.  I’ve bought some now, for the next time I try to damage him!  BBQ both nights.

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Foot care! 

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Amazing Pitches.

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Kensey basking in the sun.  Oscar finds the shade … they are so incompatible!

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Pilates class … who is absent?  That would be the photographer!  Oscar tied up or he would try to join in ….

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… he seemed to derive much enjoyment just watching … little perv!

684 – Monday 10th: Bergues for an Overnight

A longish drive up north and we overnighted at Bergues, just 35 mins from the Tunnel.  Far enough away from trouble and really quiet.  I took Oscar for a walk around the Vauban fort and walls and then into the town centre.  Being British, I was all bagged up to poop scoop by one of the outer paths, to be told, most insistently, by locals that it really was not necessary to pick up not in towns.  J struck up a conversation with our Belgian neighbour who told him that he had fought in the war and was on his way Normandy in his motorhome to meet up with some surviving members of his regiment.  Just how old would this have made him?  Almost 90 at least!

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Bergues.

685 – Tuesday 11th:  Back to Blighty and with the Reads

Early for our tunnel crossing as slightly anxious about how long the Pet Reception area would take.  In the event, it was super quick and we caught an earlier train.  We did not experience the sinking feeling we had this time last year … the sun shone and the M25 behaved!!!!  We parked up straddling Ian and his neighbour’s drive (they kindly move out and we pay motorhome parking rent in the form of a bottle of whence became).  A great evening, only marred by the fact that Nicky’s father really was not well.  Got to watch Robot Wars with Jimmy …. forgot how much I used to enjoy it.  

686 – Wednesday 12th:  Sinead and Shane

Ian and Jimmy were off to Barcelona the next day, so we took Jimmy for a blowy walk along the sea shore and for a muffin and hot chocolate in Rusty … Ian could pack and still deal with work (he works from home).  We then legged it to Farnham to Coxbridge Farm, where we stay near my family home.  We collected the car from the Aged P’s on the way and then battled our way up the M3, M25 and cut across W London to Ealing.  It all felt incredibly built up and busy.  just where do all these people come from?  Our destination was to dine with J’s baby daughter and partner, Shane in their new flat.  

687 – Thursday 13th:  Supper with the Aged P’s

We sorted out the rest of the garage and lugged a LOT of stuff back over to the Aged P’s for storage in their attic.  We now have room for the bikes 🙂  It will be interesting to see how oscar copes with us on bikes!  The former Welshie, Will, knew to avoid wheels and when I called him to heel, would run around the back of my bike and trot along bedside my left foot.  Somehow, I am in no doubt, that Oscar is not going to be so bike friendly.

I cooked at Rothbury for the Aged P’s and since we were sampling the Portuguese Moscatel that I’d squirrelled away (had buried it deep in the garage so we were not tempted to drink it when our own supplies ran out) and the Rasteau from the France Passion Cotes de Rhone vineyard we’d stayed on, we stayed the night.

688 – Friday 14th:  Supper with Caroline and Terry

Another boozy night with food away!   It started with a bottle of proper Champagne to celebrate J’s forthcoming BIG birthday.  We started the night here too!

Their No. 1 Daughter is Maddy’s bestie and they had news of the intimidation and bullying that goes on for freshers on the Uni Hockey Tour to Croatia.  She had been forced to eat and drink all sorts of obnoxious concoctions, including the pee of one of the lads …. Just horrid.  Given how much anti bullying education goes on in school, it is just incredible that they are all too intimidated to speak up.

689 – Saturday 15th:  Meeting the NEW Boyfriend

Maddy (she now spells her name Madi) and Brad came to supper.  Their friends have dubbed them Bradi!  We really liked him.  They’ve known each other a few years and he seems to have the measure of how she will wind him up when she’s bored!

690 – Sunday 16th:  Cooking and a Turkey Easter Supper

I spent most of the day food prepping at the Aged P’s.  So that I could use her kitchen, Mutt moved her food prep to Clare and Chris’ house.  Cx2 have, for the second Easter running, been tow path support crew for Louis who was competing in the Devizes to Westminster rowing race.  The competitors have to camp and prepare their own food in the evening.  The support crews, literally wedge food in them as they pass by, but it means very early starts and a lot of driving.  Hence Mutt cooking an Easter meal at Clare’s.  J and I have not had a proper turkey dinner for 2.5 years … just scummy.

691 – Monday 17th:  BIG Party No.1

We had a great evening with some England based friends for the first of J’s 70th birthday parties.  The raffle, where you can steal what someone else has was fun … with people hunting down the whisky, port and the camper van mug.  The BBQ sauce bottle nearly ended up with Clare – she did keep offering it around.  Madly, so busy I forgot to take any pix. 😦

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Besties Maddy and Dayna – besties and their youthful mothers!

Frances and Edward gave J two hedgehogs … we named the Van Jez, which is Slovenian for Hedgehog (so named after it’s brand Adria Sonic Supreme – Sonic the hedgehog.  We’ve named these two Jez and Belle … Jezebel.

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Jezebel.

692 – Tuesday 18th: Cleaning

Thank goodness for dishwashers!  And I had forgotten (put it from my mind) how long it takes to clean a proper house, and we only cleaned a few rooms!  Think we’ll stick with a motorhome.  No garden either!!!

693 – Wednesday 19th:  Warranty Work

Our list of Jez faults, included a dodgy step, no hob ignition, a leaking kitchen sink, no rear view / reversing camera and some smaller items such as bits of trim falling off.  An early start and down to Family Tavel Centre in Bristol for the repairs.  Nearly all completed and at no charge :).  Having walked Oscar in Stoke Park for the best part of 2 hours, we left him in the car whilst we shopped till J dropped!  I then carried on – buying something pretty much from each floor in John Lewis!

Then over to Stephen and Kay for a lovely tapas / grazing supper.  They are really pleased with their new motorhome – an 8m AutoTrail …. I have storage envy!  

We had booked to stay in Bristol for a few days, but the doctor had rearranged J’s over 70 DVLA for tomorrow and I was off on a TRIP!  Barcelona with Maddy – Ola!

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Stoke Park with the Dower House in the distance … we lived next to it for 3 months.

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Pleased to be back in time for the bluebells.