Travel StoriesFrance 2013
Shopping To Mamers
By Ren Withnell
Damn and goddam blast! For 1 airbed to start loosing pressure is unlucky. I can accept that sometimes there is a manufacturing fault, life is like that. But my bloody airbed is losing pressure and a bit faster than the gf's did. Probably because I weigh a lot more. So I've had a god-awful night spent mostly on the hard floor. Oh...you think grass isn't hard do you? Well try it then. Try sleeping on a deflated airbed where your hip and shoulder have no padding or protection from the cold hard "grass". I guess I'm going to have to look for my own lilo like the gf is now using. She's loving hers. Damn.
We decamp off the ants nest, flicking and flapping them as they scurry around looking for the now packed sugar. Although the sun is out and the forecast does not include rain it's still not warm. It is now June. It is now officially the holiday season. So where's the sweltering sun? Why am I putting on jumpers rather than shorts? At least it's not raining, that thought cheers me up no end. No rain. Blissssssssssss.
We head out of Chinon with no more of a plan than to head North trying to avoid the main roads. My desire today is to purchase a lilo. The gf's been very happy with her €5 purchase so I'd like to join her in her comfort. As I ride I seek out supermarkets or any other shop that might stock a lilo. Carrefour don't have any. That was a waste of time, pulling off and wandering around the shop for ages. I waste more time in a Leclerc much to my frustration. Hyper-U don't have any either. I'm getting a tad cross with myself. It must have been sheer luck that when we decided to get the gf's lilo that the small local supermarket had them in stock.
Just another French town. At least there's sun now, although it's not hot.
I'm so busy looking for a lilo I don't really notice what's around me. It's more of the same plain French countryside. Straight tree lined roads, little villages with little shops, the odd out of town supermarket, each without lilo and endless fields. Before I know it I'm following signs to Le Mans.
Le Mans. I know that name, they have a big race here every year, a 24 hour endurance race. What I did not know is that at least part of the track is on the public roads. I know this now as I'm passing marshal type people fitting distance markers and armco barriers either side of the broad road I am riding down. How cool is that! I figure the actual race can't be much more than a week or two away. A part of me would like to stop but to be honest I know it'll be crazy busy and after seeing Monaco in the build up to the Grand Prix I could not stand that again.
These are not the cars that will be racing soon. Both British cars I note, left to rust near the Mulsanne Straight.
As we're riding along I spot yet another retail park. In fact I'm getting desperate now, I can't stand the thought of sleeping on the hard ground. It has of course crossed my mind to oust the gf off her nice inflated lilo and make her sleep on the hard floor. It's tempting but I couldn't stand the guilty feelings. She wouldn't make me feel guilty, not on purpose, but I'd hear her grumbling and griping and I'd have to put her back on her lilo. There's no supermarket here but there's a Decathlon, a name I recognise from back home, they must have something, surely!
They don't have lilos. They do have inflatable mattresses but they're big and my poor bike is already buckling under the strain of the load. It takes a lot of "errrrrr"ing and "hmmmmm"ing from me before I finally part with €39 for a smart and trendy superlight self inflating mattress. I know it will not be as comfy as a proper air bed or even the gf's new lilo but it will be a darn sight better than the floor itself. It's expensive and not the solution I was looking for, but it seems it's going to be the best I can do right now.
We pass through the rest of Le Mans. Again I'd like to tell you of ancient buildings and magnificent parks. But as a traveller passing though the city we see much the same as I'd expect to see in any city. Houses, flats, apartment blocks, industrial estates, retail parks, cars, buses, trucks, traffic lights, roundabouts, junctions, McDonalds, fuel stations and tarmac. This could be Rotterdam, anywhere, Liverpool or Rome. There's a hint of Frenchness but if I'm honest in the global culture I suspect most modern cities will look the same.
Out of town I'm a little more relaxed now I have at least something to sleep upon. We've not travelled far, 80 or 90 miles perhaps, but it's taken a long time with searching for and being let down by all the shopping. We're still rolling north and I'm looking for somewhere to camp for the night. An enquiry at another small shop in my best French reveals we ought to head to "Meh-mez". A look on my map shows me nothing of "Meh-Mez" so the gf and I puzzle as to what on earth is going on.
A few miles down the road it makes much more sense, "Meh-mez" is spelt Mamers. At the edge of the town I spot a large board with some kind of local map on so I pull in to take a look. Wow! it shows me where we are and more importantly where the "Camping Municipal" is too. Perfect, I should look out for these informative signs more often. In keeping with tradition I get a little lost even though I've tried to remember the map in my head. Not to worry, the signs soon have us back on the right track.
Mamers looks like a nice place to stay for the evening. I wonder what the campsite is like?
It's not the smartest campsite we've been to but it's small, presentable and here at the right time. It takes a moment to rouse the warden from his TV in the modern reception and soon the gate is opened to use and we're relieved of but a mere €8. As we start to pitch we notice we're being watched from a smart campervan in the next pitch and I joke to the gf about getting another brew.
The campsite is basic but fine. The sun is out but it's getting cooler already.
Before long a petite lady, blonde and once glamorous but now a little wrinkled yet still pretty, asks how we are and have we travelled far. We tell the tale of the day's ride in brief and before we know it we're invited for a brew. Sorted. We finish the tent and walk around to the smart campervan.
We're welcomed like old friends and introduced to the husband, stocky and a little rotund, his weight keeps the wrinkles out of his face. Sitting down in the van on proper seats drinking tea out of proper cups is a thoroughly welcome comfort. To then find our hosts are so lively, interesting and gracious makes this moment perfectly wonderful. We learn they're a hard working couple who work at sea. This means they work several months solid then have a couple of months off. They have rented out their house, in their "off" times they tour France in this campervan. Whilst the work at sea must be hard graft, what a lifestyle!
These moments are my favourite moments of travelling. The people. Whilst not everyone is nice I find for the most part they are interesting, if only for a while. To learn how other people live, how their lives work, what is important to them, what makes them tick. That is fascinating. When you travel it's rare that you get to know people well enough to see their downsides and dark sides. We all have them, when you're passing through you're unlikely to see them. And if you do you can move on. It can be a shame to leave those you meet and like though.
I, dare I say we, could have stayed there all night and we'd have been welcome. I'm mindful however of their privacy and my need for food. After over an hours splendid comfort we depart and prepare to walk into town. Mamers, "Meh-mez" is nothing special but ideally suited to our evening's needs. A comfortable walk through modern, ordinary housing takes us into a small town centre complete with market square and older buildings. There's a few shops but this evening it's very quiet. We could make something but...but...nothing appeals.
I do not know why the gf is hugging the flower. Do you see what I'm up against dear reader?
I spot a kebab shop, open. I'm a tad concerned about a rough belly if I eat a kebab whilst camping. The gf tells me not to be so wet or foolish. She's not normally a kebab sort of girl but this evening like me I reckon she fancies a change, something different and to not have to cook. We step inside the small shop. We're greeted by a handsome young man who reminds me of a young Dermot O'leary. I've said the French can be a little curt, professional but not engaging. This young man with his broad smile and delightful "joie de vivre" is a wonder!
His English isn't very good but it's still better than my French. Whilst cooking our chicken with a flail of arms and excitable pace around the kitchen he talks to us of our travels, our home and of England. With the now familiar sign language and "Frenglish" he seems genuinely enthused by our trip and asks where he should visit in England when he gets the chance. When our meal is cooked and we've paid I don't want to leave, I'm relishing his passion and liveliness.
Outside we find a bench on the town square and sit to eat. We talk of the young man then of our own desires to travel more. It's not warm but this evening air is still and we're comfortable enough with our light coats and our bench. The kebab is average in taste yet most welcome after 2 weeks of tinned food or the hassle of cooking with 2 pans and one burner. It's too easy to scrunch up the wrapping paper and throw it in the bin.
Back at the campsite we make use of a room that feels like an unused cafe. It's for the campers but there's only us there. We play darts with plastic bent and twisted darts. We talk and use the toilet. Outside a couple of English bikers blokes are pitching up so I go and introduce myself. They're doing much the same as us, wandering aimlessly around but as their holiday is short they'll not be getting too far south. After initially thinking the French were unfriendly today I've found them to be most welcome, these 2 English bikers make me feel like I am intruding. We're all different I guess so I leave them to it.
Quite a few French campsites have these "Communal" rooms. I think they're a great idea.
With that it's bedtime. My new mattress is never going to be as comfortable as the leaking airbed, make that TWO leaking airbeds. It doesn't look as comfy as the gf's lilo too, it almost wraps around her like a cot to keep her safe. It is definitely an improvement on the cold hard ground though. I'll sleep better, but not as well as I'd like.
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...
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, 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!
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.
kath brooks said :-
Is Le Mans twinned with Bolton and are you using words from a Beautiful South song
Ren - The Ed said :-
According to Bolton Council's website Bolton is indeed twinned with Le Mans in France and Paderborn in Germany. You can find this at "http://www.bolton.gov.uk/website/Pages/Towntwinning.aspx".
And yes, I was quoting from The Beautiful South's song "Rotterdam". I'm glad you spotted that and my efforts were not wasted.
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Travel StoriesFrance 2013