Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Summer Holidays 2015 (part 3 - Bayeux to Olonne-Sur-Mer)

Having booked our croissant, pain au chocolat and French bread the previous evening at the site shop, the kids collected our breakfast first thing in the morning and we feasted on a typical continental breakfast in our dining room over-looking a rather overcast but nevertheless dry day. Motorhomes are essentially large houses on wheels (hence the name!) and are remarkably easy to operate once you get the hang of it. All the campsites have electrical hook up pitches and whilst you need different adaptors for UK and French sites (we had one of both) it is simply a matter of parking up and hooking up. There is generally a water-pipe nearby and we filled up the water tank here for the kitchen tap (very hot water) and also sorted out the internal toilet (fortunately used once only the entire trip although even then....) and a shower (which we used for storage purposes for the wet swimming wear).

Our first stop was central Bayeux where we parked up the van in the municipal carpark and paid a visit to the tapestry - housed in a former convent (now a museum) near the cathedral. It was very impressive (and very popular). There was an audio guide (which came with the ticket - both adult and child) which provided an excellent commentary as to what was happening in each of the panels and basically told the story of William's alleged "betrayal" by Harold having apparently been promised his support in claiming the English crown. As they say, history is a story told by the victors and whilst it is of course entirely possible that William believed that he had been promised the crown it is does seem a little unlikely that Harold would have been quite so supportive given his own claims notwithstanding his kidnapping/release etc. in France. Nevertheless, it a very entertaining story although the audio guide did rather gloss over some of the pictures in the panel without giving an explanation most notably the image of a naked man that appeared around half way through the tapestry - perhaps it was an example of 11th Century graffiti and therefore unworthy of mention?

After the tapestry we had a wonder around the old part of town back to the van. By this time the sun was shining and it was clear that Bayeux would be a very pleasant place to stay in is own right - with a water wheel, medieval streets and plenty of restaurants. However, we had a longish journey down to Olonne to navigate so we set off just before lunch for the drive down to the Vendee.

Whilst getting out of Bayeux was not a problem, we did have some challenges getting around Caen as the Summer of "industrial action" in France finally caught up with us - this time not the French ferry workers but the French farmers who had decided to block the ring road around Caen with their tractors. Having spent 30 minutes in a queue for the motorway we were finally diverted past various bales of hay and ruddy faced farmers sitting on their farm machinery on to a street leading to the middle of town following a couple of huge trucks that were also caught up in the chaos and no doubt wondering whether they would actually fit into the town centre. More by luck than judgement we found another road that led to "la periphique" and by the time we have rumbled back on to the motorway we had cleared the obstacles and had an uninterrupted run down to the South West.

The comfortable driving speed of the van is around 65 - 75MPH although it feels a little happier at the lower end of that speed and as a consequence our progress to the Vendee was stately (or rather stately with lots of rattling) rather than rapid. It also seemed to be very expensive in terms of the road tolls - we had two peage stops where the toll was nearly Euros 50 which seemed quite steep given the fuel consumption was very high as well (roughly 20 miles to the gallon) so we were also refuelling fairly regularly. We eventually rolled into the site at around 7:30pm (notwithstanding some fairly vague directions based on the AA route guide E had printed off which led us down some very narrow country paths in the Olonne hinterland). The weather had been threatening on the way down with occasional showers although it was brighter by the time we got to the camp site and we had picked up some prawns and sausages in a supermarket on the way so we decided to have our first BBQ of the trip.

The site was very pretty and well maintained consisting mainly of cabins and tents with one or two motorhomes like ours. The site was divided by a road and on one side was located the indoor and outdoor swimming pools (complete with a slide that was to prove very popular with the kids) and the admin block/bar. The other side comprised the pitches and accommodation and although the office had shut by the time we arrived the manager happily checked us in (giving us all wristbands which I think A. is still wearing) and directing us to our pitch.

We had packed some disposable BBQs. However, we did not have any stands so I had to improvise with a breeze block I sourced from a pitch around 100 yards from our location - quite heavy to carry and goodness knows what the occupants of surrounding cabins/tents thought as I set up my makeshift BBQ on the ground (the BBQ instructions said not to put it directly on grass)with their immaculately equipped verandahs and state of the art cooking facilities and BBQS. The BBQ was very successful and the prawns and sausage were much enjoyed.

Earlier the kids had tried out the new badminton set in the other part of our pitch but unfortunately the shuttlecock had landed on the van roof and resisted all attempts to retrieve it so we ended up playing our second game of football (albeit in a more confined space) since Friday's Lads -v dads game (still rather stiff!!). The wash hut was very close by and so after cleaning up the plates we all headed off to bed. It was quite warm at night so I had some fun and games with trying to open one of the windows in my eyrie in the middle of the night but managed to avoid waking everybody else up.

Breakfast was croissants and bread with excellent tea brewed in our own kitchen (we did not do a huge amount of home cooking apart from the BBQ) and the kids and I then went in search of the pools and also some bikes. Our visit to the pool in Bayeux had given me the opportunity to model my new speedo trunks - compulsory in all French camp sites and, er, not particularly "slimming"! They were still somewhat damp from yesterday but the kids were fine sliding down the slide and trying our the little outdoor pool play area and when we wanted to warm up we went into the adjacent indoor pool (compete with Jacuzzi) which was heated. The views from the top of the slide (which whilst not quite at Wild Wadi levels of size was nonetheless great fun to use) showed that we were situated among fields and waterways/footpaths leading to a forest. It was an excellent location and, having hired 4 bikes(40 Euros - so not cheap) in the afternoon, we set off to explore our environs. It was generally quite flat with small rolling hills and bridges over the water ways/marsh area and although the sky was occasionally threatening it did not rain for the first part of our ride. V. is relatively new to cycling so eventually got a little tired so E and the kids returned to the Site and I pushed on through the Forest until I got to the beach passing another campsite (also with slides) on the way (and virtually on the beach for future reference). I had time for a quick paddle in the (chilly) waters before it started to rain so headed back to the camp site. We had the foresight to order a "free-range" roast chicken and chips at lunchtime for our evening meal and so had a delicious chicken and chips meal (and a couple of rounds of "who and I" played with yellow post it stickers attached to our foreheads - great fun) before turning in for the night.

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