A motorcycle parked in front of a tent on a pleasant green campsite

Home Travel StoriesFrance 2013

Going West

By Ren Withnell

So we are not going to head up through the other countries. It looks like we're to stay in France unless we get time and the weather to maybe dip into Spain. We'll see. But we are definitely heading west. It is a shame to not fulfill our plans but we're still out and about, travelling, learning and we're both fit and well. Actually that last bit is a lie, the gf is groggy this morning. She says she feels a little like she did when she had a sinus infection. She's not seriously ill but even with a little sun in the sky she's not quite her usual self.

The gf mentions the possibility of stopping here another day. Maybe she is really ill. No, no she's not right but she's up and about. I think she really likes it here and the weather is not looking too bad today. It is a possibility. Maybe I could find some bar or tabac where the Monaco Grand Prix is being shown? Maybe they'll even show it on the TV here at the campsite? I can't decide. I would like to give us time to get to Spain and we'll lose another day here. But then again what's the rush? As I'm being indecisive I'm packing, it's almost a habit now. It looks like we're going I guess, I can't sit still.

yamaha fzs 600 in the sunshine next to a tent at a campsite on the french riviera
It's a nice place to stay but I'm starting to pack out of habit rather than necessity.

I'm going to try and avoid the motorway and run across country. The map makes it look easy, a turn here and a junction there, but experience tells me it will be a lot more complicated than that. It is a nuisance this constantly getting lost and when I'm tired, grumpy and saddle sore I'd kill for a sat-nav. Otherwise it's the getting lost that has lead us on this trip and many others to some of the most interesting places we've been to. It does help that we've still got almost 2 weeks to cover the ground we covered in 5 days. We've got time to get lost.

We depart the steep campsite into a dry and sunny day with high and light cloud cover and a firm wind. Country roads and small conurbations come and go until we pass through Grasse which is a fair sized town then into the countryside. It has definitely been drier here than the north, the grass is mostly light brown rather than lush green and the soil is powdery. This makes me think "lowlands". There are hills and valleys but they're smaller, softer and more gentle than the Alps. The roads roll and curve graciously through farmland and dry woods. We rise and fall through fields then villages. It's pleasant and easy but perhaps a little unimpressive. Damn those Alps, they were so good they've ruined the rest of this trip.

th gf stands behind a loaded and dirty bike, so loaded we can barely see her.
Stopping for supplies I realise the gf is smaller than the load on the bike.

Places like Draguignan and Salernes pass by and the distance markers fall time and again to the next place over the next couple of hours. The gf wants to stop at one of these quirky patches of dirt at the roadside where the omnipresent campervans park. The moment she mentions this none can be found. It takes a while before I spot a broad dry patch of gravel and pull in. The gf doesn't like it, it's too windy here as there's few trees and broad open fields. Tough. I can't spend the rest of the day looking for the perfect place to stop can I. Unimpressed she wanders off to find a secluded bush for relief while I try to make my first roadside brew.

Making a brew should be easy, I've done it loads of times in the tent. Out here with what feels like a force 9 gale sweeping across the open fields and whipping the dry gravel dust into my eyes it's a pain in the ass. First off lighting the stove is impossible, but I manage. Then the wind blows half of the flame out. Then the wind blows the rest of the flame away from the pan so it won't heat up. I build a defence with the helmets and saddle bags and this allows the water to boil. The sugar blows off the spoon. Maybe the gf was right, maybe I could have found a better place. I'm not going to give her the satisfaction of admitting that though. 

trees and dry farmland and a dusty area where we make our tea
It's a fair old place to stop and try and make a brew.

Of course I get lost. I'd tell you where I am but I can't. All I can do is follow signs to Aix-En-Provence as that's the only place I recognise on my map. The phone's on charge under the seat so the map app is no use. Aix leads us back onto a main road but not a motorway so that's OK and soon we're heading west and into Salon-De-Provence. I hear an odd sound and for a brief moment I panic, it sounds like I'm dragging a bag down the road. I'm not, we're passed overhead by 7 jets in tight formation and making smoke trails, a display team.

a circle or loop of smoke trail headed of by barely visible jets on display
Very impressive and all that but it ruins the traffic on the ground.

While the gf tries her best to capture this on her camera I have to focus on ever-thickening traffic. As we approach the town more and more cars are parked by the road and watchers gaze upwards. I pull off to allow the gf and I to gaze with them for a moment and promptly get stuck in a pack of cars and viewers. Of course at this point the jets vanish so we try to carry on. Try, and try. I squeeze past a car, dodge pedestrians, avoid unsupervised children and animals. We're lost in a town that's filled with stationary people. To add to the misery some roads are closed for traffic control, others are closed because of road works. It takes us almost half an hour to reach the deserted town centre.

I need a rest and to check my maps. We find another McDonalds for more internet and more nasty French tea. After figuring out where we are and planning to aim for Nimes I head off exactly where my maps tell me to go. Only to find the road closed by a handful of very serious looking Gendarmes leaning against the barriers. My look of disappointment is not greeted with warm gestures as to suggested alternatives, just a firm stare. One even places his hand on his gun. I turn around and get lost in an industrial estate instead.

Using the sun as a guide I find a route back onto the main road. That's what I tell myself anyhow, trying to re-bolster my ego. Deep inside I know it was primarily good luck, the sun just helped me know which direction to go once I found the main road. At last, signs for Nimes indicate we're not far away at all and my trusty phone is now back with me in the tank bag. As we approach Nimes I consult with the map app and find a campsite south of town by a few miles and so we head in that direction.

trees and grass and interesting walkways on a sunny park outside of nimes
A pleasant park in a small town on the outskirts of Nimes. 

Along another of France's tree lined roads I spot the sign and the campsite, too late as I pass by. Another U-turn, one of countless I've made this trip, sees us pulling onto the worn and tired looking car park of a weary looking campsite. It might be me that's worn and weary and I'm transposing my feelings onto this place, I can't be bothered to think any further than that. My heart sinks as the reception looks closed and a locked door confirms the worst. I look at the gf and the opening times, it ought to be open. As I'm about to dig out my phone to see what else is available a French couple point me to the bar next door. 

Inside I find a smart, airy and modern bar. It's empty apart from a couple of young patrons and I enquire with a youthful barman as to the possibility of "La camping?". He looks around then points me with a smile towards a slim healthy middle aged lady who leads me back to the reception. Places comprise of the physical place and the people within. The place is tired but the people have lifted my mood and opinion already. With a little English and a helpful manner we're booked in and given a code for the barrier. Her manner is put into question as we finalise our business, she makes a concerted effort to ignore the the beeping car by the barrier. Why?

Inside the site is, well, acceptable. A mix of ordinary toilets with no seats which is common and the tortuous "Turc" stand up toilets. Showers are basic but clean. The pitch has some grass among the weeds. Yet again we get that sense of waiting, of incompleteness. This is a massive site yet it's mostly empty. There's quite a few faux wooden chalets in circles just waiting for families with screaming kids and a large patio area behind the bar just waiting for dads to enjoy a drink while junior pesters for an ice cream. Is it the weather? Is it still not the season?

trees around a patio area and a bar in the sun, but with no people at la bastice campsite nimes
The place is almost ready, it's just lacking the people.

We pitch close to the toilets and next to 2 young French girls, probably late teens. They're as timid and quite as 2 mice and go about their business of dining with nothing more than quiet talk. They do their best to remain invisible as the gf and I pitch up and settle in. The gf's still not right. She's been getting on with it today but she's not really here with me. She assures me she's going to be fine but I reckon I'd best not ask too much from her. I hope she perks up tomorrow for her sake as well as mine. 

By the time I've made tea and had a rest it's getting on. I'm itching to do something interesting tonight but the gf's not at all up for it. I decide that I'll go to the bar for a glass of pop and to see if I can interact with the locals. The gf doesn't want to come, in fact I think tonight she'll be thankful for the solitude and peace. Travelling and camping are not good when you're not feeling good. So I wander over to the bar and inside the barman is playing pool with another young chap. I push the door but it's locked, the barman with a smile politely gestures "Ferme", closed. Damn, it's only 2130 and I'm already too late. Early night I guess.

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.

Reader's Comments

Monk said :-
Blimey, how did I miss this post, it's excellent Ren. If/when I get the full licence, I've promised myself that I'm taking Libe (better half) on a surprise vist to see her mum and dad in the Czech Republic. Travelling through Belgium, perhaps a bit of Holland, Germany might even tickle the southern edge of Poland and ride the mountain roads on the Polish/Czech border to her dads place then on to her mums something like 20k away, both of them live not far from the Polish border which is, obviously, in the north of the Czech Republic, we might even have a quick trip into Slovakia! I'll keep you posted.

A pic of wifes dads place... in the mountains...


1/1/2000 12:00:00 AM UTC

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