Month: August 2016

4 to 15 August – staying local(ish)

Communal éstivities and local lakes

Having failed to buy any Comté from an authentic supplier we found good range in a local supermarket – still in Franch Comté.  We bought a couple of chunks: one for us and one for some English friends who has asked us for apéro when strictly speaking it was our turn. ComteThe six month old comté was lovely – and went well with the magnificent spread Karen and Peter had laid on for us. A cross between a French apéro and an English high tea but with mediterranean delicacies.

The apéro is a great little institution over here.  Happening at six or six-thirty you should prepare to leave after an hour, maybe two,  and after a glass or two.  The first time we went to one particular French neighbour he thought, correctly, we may need educating in how it worked and helpfully said “Let me offer you a second drink before you go”. So now we know.  Having said that, the first time another set of French neighbours came around to us it lasted several hours and got very lively.  But – always good to have a rule of thumb!

Karen told us of another, public, vernissage the next day.  Having missed the last one I was keen to go.  This one was a preview for an exhibition of many local artists – painting, sculpture, working in wood, jewellery, appliqué. It is amazing how many good artists there are lurking in the french countryside. Equally amazing is how many bad to indifferent ones are willing to exhibit in public! Then two brocantes in quick succession resulting in a cow bell for nostalgia, and a musical phonograph for Nipper back home.

Having discovered that the President of the local Red Cross lives around the corner we have now found a handy way to recycle earlier brocante purchases:-(

We needed another trip in Portia. On their perch at the back of the van our bikes had started to get restive. The Canal de Nivernais runs right through our area.  Canal mapPut these three things together and an obvious outing suggests itself.  The canal is carefully maintained for boats and the tow paths for walkers and cyclists.   We had already walked several sections of the canal nearest to us and had planned to follow it all the way from Auxerre to Decize on bikes.  The canal links the Seine in the north and Loire in the south and performs this neat trick by having extensive man-made lakes on the watershed, the Etangs de Baye et Vaux, which feed water into the canals downhill in both directions.

There are basins and ports along the way with services and parking.  The nearest one to us is at Chatillon-en-Bazois where a chateau overlooks water gardens beside the port, and where boats and motorhomes can pass a quiet night or two.  One end of the port has neatly laid out moorings for paying boat renters and the other has a makeshift free tap and electric point for everyone else. This is a really lovely spot with a floating crêperie and friendly boaters stopping to chat – some English from the Isle of Wight and some Ozzies spending six months cruising the canals. Disappointingly, no pink gins were forthcoming .

There is a proper motorhome aire in the centre of Chatillon as well but it is in a sun blasted car park with no trees.  We use its services in passing quite a lot, as it it closest to home for an empty-out on the way back, and it is handy for the shops. But for an overnight – the canal port is just perfect.

Finally, moment of truth, the bicyclettes get a trip out!  It is a tow path yet, under my wheels, it managed to be uphill in both directions! Hmm.  Neil whipped along it OK. I laboured along and had to get off and walk at the tiny slopes  up the sides of locks or bridges.  Feeble:-( We managed nine kilometres though, so not that bad for a first real effort on a hot day!

thumb__DSC1434_1024At least I remembered a flask of tea for a shady spot.

Back at the van a Dutch couple had parked up near us with the ubiquitous two bikes on the back.  Theirs were electric!  And they let us have a go!!  Brilliant!!!  They don’t do all the work for you, just enough to avoid a heart attack.  When you come to a slope they silently cut in and you can pedal up it with no extra effort.  I want one. Neil probably wants one.  The £1,000 price tag is a bit steep however so the hunt for a second-hand ones is on.  And you can charge them up on a solar panel in the van.  No brainer!

The main problem with canals is that you cannot swim in them.  So after a beautiful, peaceful night we picked a route home that went past a lake or two.  We are only half an hour from home here by the direct route, but going north first you get to the Morvan National Park.  This is a kind of Lake District without the millions of visitors – not well known at all really.  Hurrah!  Two lakes with aires were available so we headed for the first, keeping the second in reserve in case there was a space problem. There wasn’t and we got the last-but-one spot beside the Lac de Pannecière. There was some question about whether we were parked  in the bus stop bay or a moho spot  but since everyone else was already in it we felt OK.

Besides, being a bank holiday weekend, in the middle of holiday season, in the middle of nowhere, we felt the chances of a bus coming along were slight.

Panneciere dip

We sat in the shade of the trees and cooled down with a swim.  It was not overcrowded.

It is a huge lake with a huge scary dam  at one end: two hamlets were submerged in the making of the lake in the 1930s.  Their remains can still be seen during the deccenial emptying of the lake (…and the sunken church bells toll eerily on the night air when the moon is full…..).Panneciere damApparently during the now infamous rains of earlier this year it was a fine balance to hold back the enormous quantity of water in the lake and threaten the integrity of the dam, or  release it and risk flooding the villages, and ultimately Paris, downstream.

Home again and a quick mention of an impromptu musical evening in small terrain just up the road. Alain, a local resident, organises musical events and Tribal Veda, his band of the year, had just finished their tour so came for a small goodbye performance at his place.  There was a bring-a-dish buffet and a big campfire – for effect rather than heat.  About one hundred people materialised from the deserted countryside; the horse and donkey in the adjacent field came for a look over the fence; strains of Balkan-meets-north-african melodies streamed out on the night air.  A real unexpected highlight.

Tribal veda

 

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27 July to 3 August – is it cooler in the mountains?

Probably, so let’s go east again!  

cropped-snails-poor.jpgDuring the couple of days we took to regain confidence after the gas débacle and sort ourselves out again, the weather got hotter.  Too hot to go back to the the flats of Centre we thought, so we would head for the hills of Jura again,  to the rivers and waterfalls we had left unswum  a few weeks ago.  It gets cooler with altitude doesn’t it?  So back east it is.  That far east no-one else is going to be there are they? It’s always the assumptions that catch you out n’est ce pas?

My faith in France Passion was undiminshed after our muddy experience in June – after all, even the roads and bridges had been underwater back then. There is a vineyard beyond Autun described as the seigneurial farm of the adjacent chateau. Romantic?  Nostalgic? Oh yes – all of those.  The parking was a small green paddock with trees outside the ancient farm walls and buildings with a view of the chateau through the trees.

We are a bit timid about tasting wine and maybe not liking it, but feeling obliged nonetheless, but we studied the list with a view to a sampling and a purchase.  thumb__DSC1373_1024On arrival we had rung the bell, been greeted by several noisy but seemingly friendly dogs and cheerfully waved into the field by the vigneron who had then disappeared. When we went to buy a bottle or two next morning, the french people, in the other van that had turned up, told us the family had gone out.  We had missed our moment due to being greeted by the vigneron rather than his wife.   She apparently had answered their ring and been more inclined to converse and sell, than the man himself.  Ah well, a free night in such surroundings is pretty perfect in any case.

Not sure if I have yet mentioned the Wild Swimming ebook we bought to discover rivers and lakes for a dip and maybe an overnight stop.  One lake listed was Lac de Narlay,  way over on the east of the Jura, with an adjacent campsite.  Turquoise waters were mentioned together with descriptions of the several other lakes in the region.  The area is famous for its lakes it seems, and rivers and mountains.  It turns out it is a popular holiday spot too – but only for those seeking a less formal camping set up.  The Municipal Camping de Narlay is certainly that – a couple of huge fields sloping down to the turquoise waters – and it is a free-for-all in terms of pitches.  Hopelessly short on accessible electricity points we pitched up without it half way up the slope on a flattish bit perfectly placed for a bit of tree shade and a bit of satellite signal – and a view.

What a lake, what a view.

thumb__DSC1396_1024It is a fabulous lake and it really is turquoise with rocks for jumping off.

The freedom to pitch where you want led to some jostling among the tents, and national stereotypes came to the fore!  Taking the car out for the day you were likely to come back and find a tent pitched on your parking spot and someone else established within snoring distance.  The large German group that turned up the day after us pitched with  guy ropes overlapping the eating space of the French family opposite who had gone out for a couple of hours.  Complaints were muttered! Next day, when the Swiss couple beside us left, the German group seized the opportunity to move onto that one as well and came and asked when we were leaving. They had a large party coming and wanted more space.  They asked politely, no pressure, as the next few carloads of friends and family arrived.  We stayed in our spot.

There is a real feeling of slightly hippyish freedom here. Everyone seemed to have bought anti-gravity games and toys – tight ropes for walking, diabolos, juggling balls, frisbees.  Big, baggy, low crotch harem pants for the men, scarves and kaftans for the women.  We contributed to the eastern vibe with with our ancient indian elephant sheet for protection from afternoon sun.

narlay elephant

And we ate exclusively from the outdoor grill – which is the only way to cook in the heat!

narlay griddle

This is definitely a campsite of two halves.  At the top there are some nice new sanitaires and on these terraced upper slopes the more delicate campers were pitched, with electricity, close to the café and facilities.  The lower slopes were wilder – the further you got from the reception at the top, the less any rules applied: there were many “No fires” signs yet every evening the lower slopes were dotted with little camp fire blazes.  Families appeared from the woods laden with fallen branches, and kettles were boiled while guitars were strummed around the flames in the dark.

Lovely swimming, woods and fields to walk around the lake with cows clanking like extras in a Swiss film, bread available down a shady path (if you were early enough), plenty of people-watching and chatting made for a relaxed stay.  Some rain for cool as well!  Our four day stay was not enough but it is definitely one to come back to in late August or September when it will be quieter.

Heading home again we take a little detour to have a look at the Cascades du Herisson, hoping maybe for a little dip in a pool below a fall – also mentioned in Wild Swimming.  It seems some of the swims they list are not that wild, or maybe just not that isolated!

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Not exactly The Smoke That Thunders.  Very pretty though and with a shallow plunge pool below guarded by an alert lynx.  For some reason.

We did not plunge as we were scared of the lynx and the pool looked a bit slimy.  This cascade is the first of a series and there are other, better pools below the succeeding falls. Which get a bit more impressive in terms of water volume apparently.  It was too hot to follow the trail so this is also earmarked for another visit.

We drove to the nearby, signposted La Fromagerie in the hope of getting some cheese.  Seemed reasonable to me.  Comté is the famous local variety and we had an apero pending.  We had to drive on cheeseless however as there was none to be found amongst all the herisson-related gifties. La Fromagerie is just the name of the hamlet that houses the giftie shoppies and restaurant these days. They seem to be missing a trick there:-(

Racing on in the hope of getting to the end of this blog….  We spent one more night in a nice little aire in the historic little town of Givry: famed for its wine and architecture. We had a walk around but it was hot!  The aire had trees and picnic tables and backed onto the voie verte.Givry aire Our bikes, whose wheels had only briefly touched the woodland path at Narlay before the rain, looked longingly at the smooth dedicated cycle path.  Cyclists and roller skaters whizzed past as we watched, glass in hand, from the shade:-) It was still very hot after all.

 

 

24 to 26 July – going west…

….in more ways than one…

So this a shortish blog.

cropped-snails-poor.jpgWe came here from the north, went south and then east – so clearly it was time to go west.   To the west of us, from memory, is the flattish plain of Centre which undulates its way into the flat valley bottoms of the Loire and Cher rivers.  There is a fondly remembered campsite on a lake at Chateau la Valliere just beyond the Loire itself.  It was one of the first few campsites we stayed at in 1990 when we had arrived limp and bedraggled in a car with no aircon and at least 30 degrees outside.  The lake was a bit tepid at the end of August that time but a lifesaver nonetheless. It’s a Municipal campsite so should be relatively cheap.

We went through the usual bad tempered (maybe slightly better this time?) packing of van and shutting up of house and headed for Bourges where Bourges airethere is a lovely shady double avenue of trees that form the Aire de Service for mohos. It is only a couple of minutes walk to the city centre and is free to park, a couple of euros if you want water or electricity.  We needed neither of those – we thought – as we smoothly connected to Radio Four, turned on the gas bottle and filled the kettle for a nice cup of tea in the shade.  But – no gas came through the cooker.  Then, no gas came through to the fridge.  Or the water heater. Hmm… lots of knob twiddling, button pushing and head scratching.  But still no gas.  Something had gone wrong.  Without gas or electricity we could not cook and the fridge, running only on 12v just keeps things at the temperature they were already at but cannot handle actually chilling them further.

What to do?  We knew there was a moho shop on the outskirts of Bourges as Neil had found it some time ago just in case.  With a bit of strangled internet band width we located it precisely and discovered it was shut on Sunday (they’d go out of business in the UK!) and Monday mornings!  In prime holiday season!  Bankruptcy is too good for them! Anyway – it was hot and we had plenty of salad stuff on board so we decided to enjoy Bourges until Monday lunchtime then take it in.  The main drawback was – NO TEA!

The details are too painful and boring to relate but eventually a puzzled mechanic got it going on Propane and with yet another style of pigtail. He could not sell us the Propane though as they had run out and he was using the works bottle.  No problem, 100 euros lighter, we  carried on and would pick up a bottle at a garage en route. A good plan but when we tried to fulfil it we found we could not fit a second 13.5kg gas bottle in the locker.  It is designed for one big one and one small one and the big useless Butane was already in there:-(

Naturally  it had been the hottest day of the year that we had spent standing in garage forecourts and heaving gas bottles around (Neil that is), so in desperate need of a swim we aimed for the banks of the Cher.  There is a lovely river beach in Chabris with another double avenue of trees forming a Municipal campsite just over the road.  thumb__DSC1313_1024The cheapest we had experienced in a long time and with veeeeery basic facilities. But quiet, shady, handy for a swim.  So, no real complaints.  We had to park adjacent to the only other campers in the whole place in order to get on hook up to be able to boil a kettle for some tea 🙂 and freeze the fridge down.  We also had to park with our rear end hanging out a bit on the campsite lane in order to get both shade and satellite (thanks new compass).  But – neither car that passed in the next few hours had a problem.

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Clearly – this trip was doomed and we needed to get home to sort out the gas bottles.  So we turned about.  This is the point when Neil engaged on lengthy on-line debate with other moho owners.  If it works on Propane it should work on Butane –  much debate about pressures and temperatures, bulkhead regulators and rupture hoses was to no avail.  Butane did not work.  Newly acquired Propane did. They concluded the Butane gas bottle was “MT” (and, by implication, we should hang our heads in shame).  By its weight we were sure it was full but to eliminate the possibility we tested it on our cooker at home – it is full and it works fine. We can hold our heads up again!  But still no Butane on the van. The solution can wait until we can speak the same language as the technician.Van hifi

I will take this opportunity to show you our sophisticated solution to the absence of a functioning van CD player.  It goes like this:  connect iPad into Auxilliary socket on van radio.  Find gadgets to allow many connections to power different devices via different ports.  Play previously downloaded music.  A teenager would have known that.  Well – it was a helpful young man not much older than that who explained it to us slowly and carefully  and sold us the necessary piece of cable.  The other wires are for dashcam and satnav and, as a bonus,  you can see how straight the roads are in Centre!

 

 

 

 

11 to 23 July – gas, sheep and art

Domestic tasks, local animations

Fuel is one of the things that need attention in a motorhome.  Solar for 12v electricity, gas for regular power and proper 240v electricity when hook up is available.  Each offer different funtionality but you really need either gas or 240v electricity for convenient living.  camping stoveWe had discovered that the electric part of our water heater no longer worked so gas was even more important.  We had ferreted through the barn and found our old camping stove.  It has a griddle plate!  It fitted the barbeque connection point outside the van!  Hurrah – no more cooking inside in 30 degree temperatures. Just needed to be sure we did not run out of gas….

There are standard English gas bottles and standard French gas bottles and they are not the same standard (nor are they in any other european country apparently). One has a right hand thread on the connector and the other, a left hand thread.  That is the beauty of standards, there are so many to choose from.  🙂 So connection tubes (pigtails) of various kinds are required – and vary according to where your regulator is installed – on the bottle or on the van.   Then there is a choice of Propane or Butane and discussing the merits of each on a motorhome forum is to enter into an area of partially understood science and beliefs of a religious fervour undreamt of in contemporary theological debate.

French Butane

English propaneOur English propane bottle (red) may have been running low – the cunning magnetic thermometer device we had bought to indicate the level was incomprehensible. To avoid running out while away we decided to replace it with our spare French butane bottle (blue) from the fermette. We needed the correct pigtail and true to our pattern of not doing something once if you could easily do it twice, we went to Corbigny and bought the wrong one, then went back the next day and got the right one. To be fair to us, trial and error is really the only way to go with this – not great when talking about gas:-(  The Butane worked on the camping stove, fridge, cooker and heater.  Hurrah! Now we were fully fuelled up and ready to griddle the chipos al fresco next time out.

Before that we had the Fête de la Bêêêle et Laine to experience.  (Bleater and Wool – it’s a  pun in French apparently.) The star of the show was a flock of sheep that was being driven from another town the day before, spending the night at our local lake, then onto St Saulge in the morning.  Too good to miss, we headed for the lake at the appointed time with a modest crowd and waited.  And waited.  Children grew fractious. We waited.  Some walkers appeared who had been part of the transhumance, got into mini-buses and disappeared.  Still no sheep:-(  Annie, of the brocante last week, was there and discovered that the sheep had stopped in a field some way before the lake and were now quietly grazing after their five kilometre trot along the byways.  We peered over the fence at them but it was not quite the same.

The crowd passed the time in true French style and the sheep quietly grazed.

The next day the fête took to the streets of St Saulge. It was an orgy of sheepy delights.

Six different breeds were in town for the show – here are five of them.

The whole town had been decked out in sheep-related stuff: stalls dedicated to weaving, knitting, crocheting; literature and story-telling about sheep and shepherds; shearing and sheep dog trials; high fashion felt garments and low fashion stuffed critters; no article of street furniture was left un-yarnbombed – including the tourist tuff-tuff. (Which I am not sure has ever carried a tourist.)  thumb__DSC1217_1024

Neil felt quite at home in this woolly company.

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It was a hot, hot day.  I caused some alarm when my drinking flask exploded.  Usually it contains tea but I had experimented on this hot day  with Perrier menthe.  Walking about shook it up and the lid exploded off.  Only a modest explosion but not a good thing in a crowded French square at the moment.

After the story-telling, overloaded with so much sheepy and woolly activity we got back in the car, hit the air-con and headed to Annie’s place nearby.  From low art to high art.  She had said it was open house to view the gallery of her partner Guidi.  And so it was.  Not a soul was about but the house was open and the barn was open with pictures and sculptures displayed.  What a place for a gallery…

We studied the art on the walls and flicked through those on the stands – quite nice some of them – but no-one came. A very literal interpretation of an open house.

Back to the lake for a dip.

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Skipping lightly over the days in my vain attempt to catch up, we went home and footled about until the local highlight of the summer the following weekend.  This was the repas champêtre , promising spit roasted pork (jambon á la broche) thumb__DSC1294_1024and dancing.  The road was closed outside the Marie, trestle tables set up and this great rural summer time tradition unrolled. After eleven years we are now recognised as part of the community and it is nice to be greeted by people we still hardly know but nod at regularly.  Especially Neil, for whom nodding and smiling is the main form of communication with French speakers.  With a smattering of words and phrases, and huge good will, he can get quite a long way.  Taking random seats we are lucky to end up sitting with a group of Dutch visitors who speak perfect English so conversation could flow unimpeded.thumb__DSC1302_1024

It’s all very convivial and the wine flows as well.

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Dinner is served al fresco.  The chicken wire is due to another piece of local politics.  These events used to happen in the road and on the piece of land opposite, only half of which is owned by the commune.  Then the owner of the other half took his bat home and put a chicken wire fence around his part and, for a year or two events were squeezed up a bit. Not sure what happened (well, there was an election and a change of Mayor) but now the gates are opened and we have spread back onto that half again.

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Dinner is served: melon to start, jambon with frites to follow, a piece of cheese (of course) and a raspberry frozen meringue thing.  Not bad for 14 euros including music. A great night out – we heard the stopouts staggering home at about 2 am.