A motorcycle parked in front of a tent on a pleasant green campsite
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Home Travel StoriesFrance 2013

Not Far To Chinon

By Ren Withnell

We slept well last night and this morning there's something of a temptation to stay at this pleasant campsite for another night. It's cheap enough, smart, quiet, clean, has internet access and our hostess is friendly. The downside is the distinct lack of shops and as we're out of food and this is a Sunday the tiny shops in Barrou are most likely closed. Much as I like this place I don't wish to starve. No, it is truly lovely but there's nothing else here save what we've already seen. Time to move on.

The campsite is a fine little place as we've already established, but we've found a problem. Showers. Both the male and female showers have a button rather than a tap. This is common on campsites to stop buffoons leaving the water running all night. However here at "Camping Les Rioms" the shower button only runs the water for 2 seconds! 2 minutes is lovely, 1 minute acceptable, 30 seconds is annoying while trying to wash your hair but 2 seconds is utterly pointless. I suspect there's a fault in the gents...but the gf reports exactly the same in the ladies. A frustrating blight on an otherwise splendid campsite.

the toilet shower block at les rioms campsite. Angular and modern buidling
A smart toilet and shower block, the showers need tweaking though.

Feeling clean but not quite as refreshed as we'd like we decamp. This operation is getting quite smooth now but every time I think I've got everything sussed there's that extra bag, the forgotten to pack cup and the goddam torch is still inside the folded and packed tent. I haul on bungees and heave on straps until I'm convinced that it will all stay in place. As soon as I mount the bike I lose that conviction and resume my worried status and carry on.

My next concern is food. Here in France they're much more into proper Sundays with closed shops and nothing happening. Only the largest supermarkets are likely to be open and that's only until 1230. I need to get a move on and find one before we fade away through lack of nourishment, or even worse I have to spend excess money on a restaurant meal. Luckily not long into our ride we spot a "Super-U" that's open so we pull in. Dinner is served in the format of "triangle sandwiches" and a can of something for tea later on. This is life on the road, on the cheap, we sure know how to live.

The roads are quiet. Blissfully quiet. Regrettably dull and quiet. Damn those Alpine roads to hell. Curse those snow-capped mountains. If it wasn't for those crystal clear rivers, those ice blue lakes, those towering rock faces, those sinuous winding roads and the sheer beauty of the Alps I could have enjoyed it here today. The sun is shining, the temperature is rising, the countryside is green and the bike is behaving, there is nothing wrong with here, but it's not the Alps.

a french church with pointed spire and steep slate roof
Just a random church in a random village. I don't know where we are, but these are the things you see.

I'm riding aimlessly. Sort of North but I'm in no rush today and time is on our side now. There's another issue the gf and I discuss at another stop in another random village, what we've done wrong. There's no blame, no guilt being metered out just a discussion. We both agree we flew through the best bit...the Alps...in a hurry to escape the rain. I also must accept my perpetual "keep on moving" attitude doesn't help. We should have spent more time in Millau too, but again we were starting to grow gills and webbed feet in the deluge. Our mistakes are both self inflicted and a result of the allegedly unusual weather this year. Oh well, maybe we'll know better next time.

the gf stood over a tiny french car
The gf is 5 foot tall and tiny. There's a lot of these dinky slow little cars in France.

Richelieu makes me think of the Three Musketeers and grand châteaus . Rather than dazing around endless fields and boring straight roads I head there. This must be the place, there's tourist information signs at the roadside declaring, as far as I can tell, some connection to history and the church. This presumably is referring to the infamous evil Cardinal Richelieu. I expect historic buildings, men in capes sword fighting, beautiful maidens in big dresses and heavy busted women serving me drinks in wattle and daub ale houses. I find yet another sleepy, tired and lifeless small town. I must learn to manage my expectations.

Richelieu street, tree lined, sunny, empty and perhaps a little bland
Richelieu, no Musketeers, no busty maidens, no Cardinal and no swordfighting. Bit dull really.

We wander aimlessly for a while longer. The weather is a tad windy but otherwise it's dry and warm so it's not a bad day to be lost. I kind of know I'm heading North as the sun is sort of behind us but otherwise I'm just riding. Inside I'm not sure quite how I feel. On the one hand I feel like I'm wasting time just wandering. I always feel as though I should be doing "something" and I manage to feel guilty if I'm not doing "something" or going "somewhere". Correspondingly it feels relaxing, stress free and liberating to know there's no rush. I don't need to be anywhere any time soon.

Chinon's tourist signs promise much but after the disappointment of Richelieu I'm not going to build my hopes up. As we approach the town we catch glimpses of a grand castle on the hilltop and a mid sized town in pleasant surroundings. Admittedly the campsite we find is near a municipal sports complex and is functional rather than pretty. After last night's camping this seems a let down but this being a Sunday the tourist town should at least be open. We pitch up and head out in search of entertainment. We've not travelled far at all and it's only mid afternoon, typically it's been a rush to find food after pitching, this time we've got plenty of time. Although our campsite is barely luxurious and the buildings next to the entrance are at best bland, as soon as we start to walk into town things improve.

th gf putting her hair up and wearing a skirt in chinon france
The gf takes advantage of the sun by pretending to be a woman! 

We walk by a grassy park area with families and an ice cream bar, the big river is crossed by a pleasing bridge and the town centre is just right. It has a cosmopolitan feel, a mix of old and new, historical without being archaic, not too big and not too small. Using a leaflet supplied by the campsite we take in what must be the sights of Chinon. Old churches, timber framed buildings with a story, names of people I might know if I were French and narrow streets mixed with wide boulevards.

chinon castle covers the entire hill top and massively dominates the town
Pleasant parks and the vast castle of Chinon overlooking and overpowering the town.

It takes a great deal of energy and time to walk up to the large castle on the hill top that dominates the town. It is vast, covering the entire hill top. Finding the entrance is hard, realising there's a large fee to enter is therefore disappointing. We're still on a budget and while we could possibly afford the entrance fee we both agree it perhaps is not that important. What is important is that although my feet ache it is dry. Dry. It still feels almost alien to be dry. The sun is out in patches between light clouds. It is comfortably warm although definitely not holiday hot, a firm breeze sees to that.

a broad town square filled with tables, chairs and canopies in chinon
Chinon Town Square. It looks hot but a firm breeze keeps ua a little too cool.

We walk back down the hill through grassy and gravelly mounds and narrow streets. The broad river swells and gnarls through the valley with the occasional house boat tugging hard on it's moorings. In the centre of the bridge is an island. On the island we find allotments of a most curious style, what little is grown is haphazard and mixed, the rest is scruffy nature mixed with dilapidated sheds and alarming scarecrow-esque creations. Some of the characters are cute, others downright odd or even rude. Under the shade of the trees this place feels a little creepy, spooky. My curiosity is enjoying this but when we finally depart back onto the bridge I feel more relaxed.

scruffy allotments and strange scarecrows
Surreal, unkempt and thoroughly strange...

I appear to have pitched our tent on an ants nest. They little critters are everywhere, especially my sugar jar. They're a bit creepy but to be honest I'm not too bothered by them. The gf is a little creeped out too but we agree it's not severe enough to move the tent. I make a brew while shaking off and chasing the little blighters away. As we're settling in to sleep a caravan couple start to shout and argue in a drunken stupor. What is remarkable is that they sound exactly like Geordies! The lilt, the phrasing, the intonations of their accent make me think they're from a rough estate on Tyneside. But when I can make out the odd word they're definitely speaking French. I wonder where they're from.

They shut up and drift off. In my head I calculate that we've got plenty of time, perhaps too much time, to get back to Calais and the return Chunnel crossing. I can relax. Or can I? The bike could still give up. One of us could fall ill. We might get all our gear nicked. I do worry. Then I worry that perhaps travelling is not really for me. I sure miss the security and safety of home. Then I think of work. I think of my ramshackle house. I think of gas bills and council tax. I want to travel forever. Then I think of friends and my lad. I don't want to travel. Then I think of all we've seen and all that is out there to see. Of the people I've yet to meet and those I've met. I want to keep on going.

It's not an easy choice.

Forming a Plan The formulation of a cunning a devious plan to take on Europe is formed in the tiny mind of our intrepid explorer...
The GF Question Do I take the gf with me to France? Can she come? Will she like it? These are all very difficult questions...
France...I wanna go but can I...?? Can Sharon make it to Europe? Will the kids survive? Will the bf behave? Is there any space for makeup? All these questions and more...
The Load Getting everything we NEED and a few items we WANT onto a motorcycle can be a problem. Now I have to work out how to get 3 WEEKS worth of gear onto the poor donkey(aka bike)
Camping In Cambridge The start of our Epic Adventure...or bike holiday around France. Cambridge is surprisingly nice really.
France - Day 1 Sharon's first day from her point of view. Cushy Cambridge and dry weather...what more could a girl want?
The Chunnel The Chunnel, I'm excited but also stressing because the bike's already broken before we leave the UK. I worry too much...
France - Day 2 - Bikes, Trains and Tents Sharon leads us through sunshine, hair issues, the Channel Tunnel and into France. But France is eerily quiet...
Here Comes The Rain Bike fixed...bike broken. Rain, endless dull roads, miserable towns and more rain. Oh the joy of travel! At least Epernay welcomed us with a huge smile :-)
France Day 3 - Crying Through The Rain The rain plays tricks with Sharon's spirit but a stiff upper lip and giving herself a good talking to see her through.
Rain Into Dijon Rain, rain and more rain. Just how long can it last? Would we be better off with a Jet Ski? Can we continue to keep our Great British Stiff Upper Lips?
France Day 4 - We Are Mustard We Are Dijon is the destination and we're surviving the rain...that makes us well mustard! We're happy in spite of the rain but how long can we keep smiling?
The Joy Of Being Lost As we head south the rain lightens but will it ever stop? I get lost which is no surprise, but lost turns out to be the best part of travelling. Are things finally taking a turn for the better? I do hope so...
France Day 5 - Biker's Paradise Sharon's day 5 in France starts out rough but improves considerably. What delights can put such a joyous grin on her face?
The Stunning Alps We are both facing a very strange situation...that of sunshine, warmth, beauty and pleasure.
France Day 6 - Magnificent Mountains Sharon shares the delights of the Alps. Sometimes life is good!
Highs And Lows From the stunning Alps to our ultimate destination...MONACO! Is it all I expected? Will it be as I imagined?
France Day 7 - Scooter Mayhem Sharon describes the best and the worst France has to offer. Ride on the back with her from the beauty of the countryside to the mayhem of Monaco
Resting And Deciding Today we stop to take a breather and recuperate. It's also time to make a decision about the rest of our journey. I used to be indecisive, I'm not so sure now.
France Day 8 - Chilling In The Pool A day off from the journey sees Sharon and Ren doing something very silly, breaking things and achieving very little. What a splendid way to spend a day!
Going West Day 9 sees us heading west from the coast. It's finally dry, but it's still windy so not too hot. The gf's not well and Ren is relentlessly lost. Overall not a bad day then!
France Day 9 - Poppies, Vines and a Wet Lettuce Feeling poorly rather spoils Sharon's day today. Still on she must go on and survive what might have otherwise been a good day.
Biggest Bridge In The World In glorious sunshine and fine health we make our way from Nimes to Millau complete with it's Viaduct. Sometimes life is good, occasionally it's great!
France Day 10 - Deflated to Elated Today is a good day for Sharon. Today the sun shines, the scenery is beautiful and the people are pleasant. Join her as France puts a smile on her face.
The Wettest Bridge In The World The Millau Viaduct ought to be impressive. It is, but nowhere near as impressive as the amount of rain falling from the skies.
France Day 11 - Grim Not every day can be filled with sunshine and smiles, even on holiday. This one certainly was not for Sharon!
False Hope Part One Ren would like to invite you to a joyous report about the delightful weather in the South of France! He'd like to. Instead it just rained and rained and rained and rained...
France Day 12 - It's Gloomy Inside And Out Sharon freezes her butt off during the night then is treated to a cold and wet ride. The Ren sure knows how to spoil a girl.
False Hope Part Two Is this the end? Has Armageddon arrived? Is this the Apocalypse? It sure as hell feels like it.
France Day 13 - Quietude For A While Sharon's report on another day of mixed weather. There's peace and beauty then there's mud and cold. Adventure...no-one said it would be easy!
Sunshine After Rain A night of rain soaked delirium. Will the day be any better? Will our travellers ever dry out?
France Day 14 - A Bit of 5 Star Luxury Sharon has a much better day on the road and a luxurious 5 star campsite. It's amazing what difference a little dry weather can make.
Back Into The Flatlands A quiet, simple and easy days ride through France for Ren. Pleasant enough but the flatlands are getting a little boring now.
France Day 15 - A Bit Of 2 Star Delight Sharon has an ordinary day and a frustrating battle with the weather.
Not Far To Chinon It's a short, easy and peaceful ride this day in France. Ren gets all philosophical too.
France Day 16 - A Historical Walk Around Chinon Sharon enjoys a hint of sunshine and the history of Chinon, France.
Shopping To Mamers Ren's airbed's leaking now. No problem, find a shop and buy a new one...easy? I don't think so...
France Day 17 - The Gift Of TIme Even though the weather is cool Sharon's heart is warmed by the people she meets in France today
Don't Go To Ault Ren has a grim, long, dull and uninspiring day in France. The accommodation doesn't help.
France Day 18 - Is This Misery Or Joy? Sharon finds sunshine, ancient caravans and ponders about hapiness.
Looking For Luxury With time on their side Ren looks for the perfect campsite for the next to night. Not finding it makes him a very grumpy boy.
France Day 19 - Campsite Conundrums Although the wind blows the sun is shining while Sharon looks for the perfect pitch.
Resting In Ambleteuse Ren philosophises too much on the final day of his trip around France.
France Day 20 Sharon's in a reflective mood on the last day of our French trip.
Back Into England Ren recalls the final day of the French Adventure. It's all over far too soon.
What Did We Learn? Ren sums up his thoughts about France and the French trip.
France On Reflection Sharon sums up her her experience of the French Trip. Damn those Alps.
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