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Home Travel StoriesFrance 2013

Looking For Luxury

By Ren Withnell

Considering our strange surroundings and the surreal nature of this campsite, I've slept well. Of course I'm up before the gf is so I carry out cleaning duties, check the bike over, wander around aimlessly and wish the gf could be a bit more...well...awake really. I can't take it any more and as I have done most days of this trip I wake her up by being a little "noisy" with the brew making gear, by being annoying and asking stupid questions and by offering her tea. If I did not do this I think we'd still be asleep back in Cambridge where we camped on our first night.

old, patched and run down caravans at the camping municipal
Our not-so-classy surroundings. 

The showers don't look enticing and all we want to do is get out of here. Today we're heading North again, all things being equal this should be our last day on the road. I've deliberately left a "spare" day, tomorrow, just in case of problems, disasters or unforeseen events. Today I want to camp North of Boulogne-Sur-Mer, the last major town before Calais on the coast. Why? Our Channel Tunnel crossing is in the morning and I definitely do not want to be fighting rush hour traffic through or around a major conurbation whilst flapping about missing our crossing. North of Boulogne-Sur-Mer. North.

We decamp, load up and I look at the Fazer. It reminds me of an overworked, uncared for pack animal. If there were an RSPCM (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Motorcycles) then I would be arrested and charged with the most heinous of crimes. I do enough to keep it working, I rarely lavish it with luxuries or treats. I am a cruel master.

Out on the road the Fazer can't be all that badly done too. It still rides well and even with our house on it's back it never complains. The sun is shining although it's still cool and I feel relaxed, there's not too many miles to do today and I'm coming back into familiar territory now. I'm glad to leave Ault, Friaucourt and this area. Why did those English bikers send us here? Were they having a laugh? Did I upset them? Perhaps they have different expectations than us? No matter, lesson learned. I hope tonight's campsite is a luxurious delight with entertainment, dancing girls, bars filled with happy relaxed campers and maybe an interesting traveller to talk to.

There's loads of campsites North of Boulogne-Sur-Mer. Last year and at at the start of this trip we'd passed lots of campsite signs, we'll have time to choose the best. We ride and the sun shines a little. Why now? Why now at the end of our journey has the weather improved? Admittedly there's a very stiff breeze and it's not hot, but we'd have preyed for this kind of weather at the start and half way through our trip. Dryness. It's something we take for granted all too easily. Heat and sunshine is a bonus, just being dry is all that matters.

After Rue our surroundings change. The geography is much the same it's the man made features that are different. It feels much more affluent here. In fact it looks and feels like I expected Monaco to feel like. There's almost a Miami feel with broad roads, big trees, flash houses set back off the deep grassy footpaths and ladies that walk dogs in high heels (the ladies, not the dogs).

In Le Touquet it seems with time on our side a terrible waste to simply pass through. I look for a nice cafe in the town centre, I plan to soak in the ambiance of this high class area. I'd like to watch the rich folk pass by and to sip tea in the sun. I can't find the town centre and I can't find a cafe. I find a windswept marina where we stop and drink some pop we have in the top box whilst our hair blows into our eyes and riggings rattle against the masts. Things rarely pan out the way you'd hope.

The box open on the motorcycle, the gf eating butties all on the open windswept car park of the marina
Well this isn't a smart cafe is it...?

Back on the road we spot various campsites. They are all pleasant looking, some promise entertainment with large halls and outdoor bars. Each one looks a thousand times more enticing than last night's pitch, yet I must press on, North, North of Boulogne-Sur-Mer. Even with the stiff breeze this sunshine makes everything look better, brighter, happier and joyous. A thought crosses my mind. Some of the rain soaked places we've disliked, if we'd seen them in the sun would we have liked them? Should we just turn around and do it all again in the sun? Tempting, but we've both got jobs to return to. Damn.

We pass through Boulogne-Sur-Mer, easily as I have a fair notion of where I'm heading now. Time to find that perfect campsite I reckon. It's already getting a little late, maybe 1530? Why? We had a late start and we're moving at a leisurely pace. No matter, we've got plenty of time.

a broad sandy bay with the town of wimeraux in the background
A brief stop for a drink. 

Wimeraux Camping Munical. It's fine but there's no entertainment, a bit bland. It's on our maybe list but there must be something better. The gf really wants to avoid our next option, the place where we stayed on our first night in France, Ambleteuse. It was all right, but well, you know, nothing special. She'd like real showers indoors rather than covered cubicles in the wind. We press on.

One campsite is massive and the fees are cheap. We agree to stay and the barrier raises and lets us in. Pitch first, pay later? OK. We ride around. This is very much a residential campsite. There is not one single tent and maybe one or two holiday makers. The rest is filled with scruffy, ramshackle, dusty and knackered vans. There's little grass, what there is is dried up, dusty and stony. The residents look like extras from a hillbillie zombie movie and each looks at us with disdain or curiosity. I stop. We agree, we do NOT want to stay here. Back at the barrier I squeeze the bike past along the gravel edge. We are out of here!

Another looks much more camping based. Proper grass, plenty of tents already and a good tarmac car park. However being on top of the coastal cliffs the wind is howling by which displeases the gf. I notice too a large tent filled with catering equipment, the kind of stuff a large group of scouts may use. Hmmm. Possibly a rowdy night filled with youths and youthful antics. It goes on the maybe list.

It's already after 1700 and I'm getting tired, maybe a little agitated now. A couple more sights are found. One doesn't do tents. OK. Another is tiny and already filled up. Damn. Another one is on the coast and windswept, the gf doesn't want that. For gods sake! By 1830 I'm getting both desperate and bloody cross. Finally we find the perfect site.

It's inshore by a few miles, the wind is here but not in vengeance. It's pretty, secured with a barrier, has a bar and a small shop and the pitches are clean, well kept and there's even flowers in the flowerbeds. It's lovely. Inside a young French girl greets us with a big smile and a hearty "Bonjour!" We follow her through the sharp fresh bar to the office to pay for the night and to get settled in.

"Trente-deux euro monsieur"
"Pardon?!"
"Trente-deux euro monsieur"
"Trente-deux...trois...duex...euro?!?"
"Oui"
"Sharon, I think, I'm not sure, but I think it's thirty two euros for the night..." I look back to the girl "Trois...deux...euro...pour un nuit?"
"Oui monsieur, c'est ca"
"Pour...un...one...nuit?!?"
"Oui"

You see, if it we were to stay one night and with the way I'm feeling right now, I might have paid. But we'll be here for two nights. I walk out, the gf follows looking still bewildered and confused. I curse and gripe and throw myself on the bike. The barrier remains shut for a while, have they trapped us here? I flail my arms in frustration and curse some more, the barrier finally opens. Ambleteuse is just down the road, we head there. I think the gf is now fully aware of my growing anger and she reluctantly agrees we'll just stop at the original campsite, it seems the best of a bad bunch.

I grumble as we pay at Ambleteuse. I gripe as the tent goes up. I finally start to relax when everything is where it should be and we are settled in. It's late, 1900. God only knows if there's any shops open now, god only knows what we can organise for tea.

Like it or not, being somewhere familiar has advantages. I would like to see myself as the great world traveller. I like to think I'm hardened to hardship, toughened to tough times. Yet in this dark mood it's good to know where the shops are. If I didn't I'd have been cursing profanities and hating the world, as it is it doesn't take long to have a handful of bacon, bread and cookies. After a rather tasty tea I am feeling better. What also helps my mood to subside is the gf agrees that although this site is not perfect it does appear to be the best of a bad bunch. I'm glad she's happy, I might have to murder her for making me go to every other god forsaken campsite on the coast to decide this one is not so bleeding bad after all though. WOMEN!

As the sun sets we take a walk around the familiar town. It's cold, the town is deserted and as the light fades it becomes a little spooky too. Bedtime

orange sunset outlining the trees and shrubs at ambletuese
We are treated to a wonderful sunset for our efforts.

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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