30th June – 6th July
Had a very big drive today to Honfleur on some of the roads that will form part of this year’s Tour de France. A few of the towns have started putting out their decorations which look great and the road signs are up stating what day that leg will pass through the town and what time the roads will be closed. It’s all very exciting. The end of our journey took us over the river Seine using the Pont De Normandy, which is a cable-stayed road bridge that is 2.14 kms long with two massive piers that we had to pay a toll on. It was €6.30 ($10.67) which given the sheer size of it, we didn’t think was too bad! Our home for the next two nights is an aire, along the side of a small Marina facing the water with the bridge behind us. We had a walk into town passing three of the huge cruise boats that go along the river Seine, two from Strasbourg and one from Hamburg. They looked extremely comfortable with all of the cabins having balconies, a covered top deck and what looked like a dining room at the rear of the boat. We then ventured into the old town, firstly visiting St Catherine’s church which was built in the 1300’s by boat builders with the roof looking like two upturned boat hulls. We then found the road that Lydz mentioned would take us up to the top of the hill with a view over Honfluer, the river and the estuary. We had very hot weather today and there was a lovely breeze at the top of the hill so it was really pleasant sitting there for a while taking in the scenery then back down into town and home to Matilda for a bbq dinner. What a life!
After a fitful night sleep partly due to the heat but also because the power went out, caused by a fire at one of the sub stations we were told and the fridge alarm woke us. We had a walk around the harbour to the beach and back into town through the two main parks, the Jardin public and the Jardin des Personnalites that is known for the statues of famous painters, Claude Monet being one of them. The gardens were beautiful with lots of roses in bloom, carpet roses, climbing roses and the old fashioned varieties as well as flowering lilies in the ponds. There was a children’s playground with a paddling pool, a pétanque pitch and tennis courts so very well set up for families. From there we went to the organic market which is held every Wednesday where you could buy meats, cheeses, bread, fruit, veggies and home made cider. We had lunch at one of the restaurants that face the Vieux Bassin, a 3 course set menu for €15 each which was very nice. It was hotter today than yesterday, so it was back to Matilda to sit in the shade and try and keep cool. We had a few moments where we thought we may get a thunderstorm but sadly it didn’t eventuate.
As today was very overcast and looked like rain, we decided to take the Autoroute all the way from Honfleur to Amiens. It rained along the way with some thunder and lightning so it was a good choice. Not an awful lot to see although we did get glimpses of some little towns and farms along the way, but the biggest shock was the cost of the tolls. There was the bridge toll leaving Honfluer crossing over the Seine on the Pont De Normandy bridge, then there were two tolls on the A29 autoroute that cost us a whopping €23.90 ($34.66) however it cut the travel time down to 3 hours on a very good road, as opposed to a 4-5 hour journey on the back roads and additional diesel costs. We still think we made the right choice. We arrived in Amiens and are staying at a site that we think ACSI have just taken over as it wasn’t in the book, we found it thinking it was an aire camping car. We aren’t sure yet how long we will stay here, but have booked in for two nights initially. We hopped on our bikes after tea and went for a ride into town, about 3 kms from the campsite. We rode through the malls and around the back streets before stopping for a drink in the square. At 9.45pm we made our way to the cathedral to await the light show that starts at 10.30. Photos were taken of the facade then they were coloured using computers and reflected back onto the building so that it looks like it is all painted, as it was originally. What a sight!
We recommend anyone going to Amiens to make the effort of going into town to see this. It was absolutely amazing as the pictures will attest. We had to ride back in the dark and we did look a treat with our trekking lights on our heads for illumination as our bikes don’t have lights!
Back on the bikes today and into town again to visit the cathedral in daylight. The largest Gothic cathedral in France (it’s 145m long) and a Unesco World Heritage Site, this magnificent structure was built to house the skull of St John the Baptist. The cathedral is so large it is said to fit two times the size of the Paris Notre Dame cathedral. There are also plaques to honour American, Australian, British, Canadian and New Zealand soldiers who perished in WWI. The stained glass windows were beautiful, with the blue glass being the same as the glass in the cathedral in Chartres. We stopped for lunch in the park again having our favourite baguette with Brie cheese and corniches, yum! We visited a couple of department stores looking for sandals for Dave, but to no avail. We then rode around the river looking for the boat jetty that would take us to the Hortillonnages, which is a 3km square market garden that has supplied the city with vegetables and flowers since the Middle Ages. Today their peaceful waterways, home to seven working farms, over 1000 private gardens and countless water birds can be visited on gondolier type boats but sadly we couldn’t find them. Back to Matilda for a well earned rest!
After a big sleep in and breakfast, we went to a Motorhome shop to by Matilda a solar screen for the front and side windows to keep heat and cold out. Next was off to do the overdue weekly shopping. From there we headed off to Corbie which is the town just near where the Australian memorial is in Villers-Bretonneux. Our first stop took us to a caravan park which is not what we wanted. The second stop was opposite the tourist office and we weren’t too happy with that location either so off to our next stop which was a parking bay off the main road just out of Corbie. Non! Back to the tourist office and we are now very comfortable on the Rue du Canal, which as the name suggests runs parallel to the Canal de la Somme and we are opposite the “Fontanka”, a house boat from St Petersburg. It is a beautiful spot with 10 or so boats all lined up under a large row of trees and the church bells currently tolling. We went for a bike ride along the path by the canal for about 10 kms return past lily fields and many lakes and waterways with lots of birdlife and the odd water rat! then through the town. It is only small with a cathedral, a beautiful town hall which are known in France as Mairie’s and a street of shops. Back to Tilly (Matilda’s nick name) for a dinner of baguette, prawns and wine by the canal! Ho hum.
A short journey of a couple of kilometres saw us arriving at Villers-Bretonneux, home to the Australian memorial dedicated to the Aussie’s (as well as Canadian, British and New Zealanders) who lost their lives during the First World War in particular the significant battle in which Australian troops stopped the German push in April of 1918. The monument walls bear the names of 11000 missing Australians who died in France. It was such a moving place the like of which I have never experienced before. The number of unnamed graves was soul wrenching, those poor men and women who fought so gallantly so that we could live in peace, Lest we forget.
The school in Villers-Bretonneux was funded by the families of the serviceman who gave their lives and is now a museum which recognises the Australian sacrifice.
I am so grateful that our boys have not had to fight in a war, I can’t imagine the heartache of seeing them leave, not knowing if they will return. From there we drove to Peronne where the Museum of the Great War is situated. It houses a unique collection of objects and artifacts showing how the soldiers lived behind the front lines and also how the civilian population. There are also artworks that reveal the suffering of soldiers and the horrors of war. We drove to the aire to find it had closed however there were camping car services that we could use if needed. We went for a walk around town visiting the Saint-Jean-Baptiste church and to see if we could find a good vantage point to watch the Tour de France when it comes through in three days time and found another nice spot to free-camp which is next to a lovely lake in a beautiful parkland and that will be our home for the next night or so. We had a nice around the lake where plenty of people were fishing. There was also what looked like a car boot sale on the other side of the lake with temporary drink and food stalls, a bouncy castle for the kids and many groups of people playing pétanque. A nice way to spend Sunday afternoon.
Last night didn’t quite go according to plan. There were 5 car loads of young Frenchies who decided to have a disco in the park at about 10.30. We lay in bed for awhile and we thought they had gone because it was quiet but at midnight the disco started up again, so we got out of there moving to another spot just up the road which was quieter until about 6.30 this morning when the traffic started up. Suffice to say today was a don’t do much sort of day. We did have a nice walk around the town, visiting the tourist office to confirm road closures for the Tour de France which is coming through here on Wednesday. We visited the Porte de Bretagne. It dates from the early 17th century and the gates and its surrounding ramparts are the vestiges of the city’s fortifications. We had our lunch before heading to the war memorial, titled “Picardy cursing the war”. It represents a woman on her knees weeping over the body of a dead soldier, brandishing her fist in anger. It was very well sculpted and was surrounded by a wall that named the residents of Peronne who died in WW1. Through the old Peronne cobbled streets and back to near the tourist office where we sat for a drink and a quick wifi session. We have decided to try the free-camp spot again, thinking that because it is a Monday, all will be quiet. We have a German couple and a french couple who have parked with us and we have another spot to go to if needed but we think the fact that there are 3 vans here might scare them off!
7th July – 18th July
We had a great night sleep although we did think we may have to move again. Two of the cars from the previous night came back but fortunately they didn’t stay long. Not sure if it had anything to do with the fact that there were three motorhomes parked or not, no matter the reason we are well slept. Awoke this morning and another 4 motorhomes have joined us, so that’s 7 in total! Viva la tour! We moved locations to a spot on the other side of the park closer to the town. We are about 100 metres away from where the tour will come through although not on the Main Street. We did hope to park up somewhere along the way with other motorhomers, but agreed the atmosphere in a town would be better. Had a quiet day, just walked around window shopping, read a bit, cleaned a bit and that’s it!
There were bikes, lots of bikes as the Tour de France passed through Peronne. We spent the morning wandering around the main area in town looking at the stalls that were set up selling Le Tour paraphernalia. We secured our position next to the barricade and put up the boxing Kangaroo flag at about 11am and took it in turns having a wander to pass the time. We met a nice family from Melbourne who luckily for us spoke French so they kept us up to date with the broadcast coming from the main area. From about 12pm vehicles were coming through also selling Le Tour stuff and some advertising vehicles as well. The road was closed at 1pm and the “passage de la caravane du Tour” came through. This is a group of sponsors in all sorts of dressed up vehicles who throw out free samples to the crowd before the actual cyclists come through. All very exciting but as we were right up against the barricade, most of the stuff went over our heads! We knew the bikes weren’t far behind because the choppers came over and then at 3.45 the “tour” came through, all in one group. It had been raining off and on all morning and as we were on a bend in the road, they were slower than normal but they still flew past. It was great to see live, lots of cheering and clapping as they rode past. Lots of vehicles with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of bikes followed, and then it was over.
We left Peronne at 8.30 for our drive to St-Leu-d’Esserent, 45 miles north of Paris. We decided to steer clear of the autoroute as we didn’t want to pay another toll. The journey was pleasant enough, through lots of small towns and an amazing amount of agriculture growing in the fields. Some of the countryside reminded us of Australia because of the wheat that was growing. We did notice that most of the fields had something planted, whether it was grain, vegetables or flowers, no wasted land. We have booked into Camping de l’Abbatiale for the next three nights and we have power for the first time in a week, so all appliances are on charge! The staff here are very friendly, nothing is too much trouble. The showers are hot, hard pitches, the washing costs €4 with the dryer €2.50, very reasonable. We are having another quiet day today as tomorrow it’s an early start for our train trip into Paris.
An early start this morning, on our bikes at 8.00am to ride the 5 miles (8.5 Kms) to the Chantilly train station. Unfortunately the back tyre on my bike went flat so that slowed us down. Dave pumped it back up and we made a mad dash to the train station. We locked the bikes and after buying our ticket, got the train to Gare du Nord in Paris. Straight to the metro lines and off to Montparnasse, which is the district we are staying in. We decided to stay at the same hotel as on our previous visit back in 2009 although Best Western have now taken it over, and have done a full renovation. We dropped our bags at reception and off we went. Our first stop was Eglise du dome, a huge complex which houses a cathedral with a gold roof and also many museums. We had a walk around the gardens but didn’t go in. Next stop was the Eiffel Tower. Being high season the queues to get to the top were huge and as we have been before we didn’t venture up, but had a good walk around. We had a nice lunch in an Italian restaurant before heading off to the Champs Élysées. We walked down one side to the Arc de Triomphe. We wanted to go to the top of the Arch so we paid our money for the tickets and had to go through a security check before being allowed up. The man at the security desk said we could use the lift instead of climbing the stairs. The signs did say the lift was for the handicapped or the elderly, so I’m not sure if we should have been offended, but it was a lot better than climbing the 240 steps! The view from the top was great, looking down the Champs Élysées and across to the Eiffel Tower and the city spread out below.
Back down the other side of the Champs Élysées to the Louvre. Again the queues were really long, visiting major tourist attractions in high season is madness, fortunately we had visited previously so were happy not to wait around. A nice walk along the Seine to Notre Dame and a short wait to get inside. It is a beautiful cathedral with some stunning stained glass windows. We have noticed on this visit to Paris the number of heavily armed military and police with all of the tourist spots having security checks as well as soldiers or police walking the perimeter. Off to the metro station and a short train journey back to Montparnasse station. We have come back to the hotel exhausted, I’m not sure how far we have walked but we have been going for 8 1/2 hours and it has been a really warm day. A lovely hot shower and real towels instead of trekking towels, and I think we will be asleep very soon!
Neither of us slept really well, I think we missed our Tilly! After a lovely continental breakfast, we checked out and headed for the metro to take us to Abbesses, the station near Sacre Coeur. Again huge crowds but the wait to get into the cathedral wasn’t that long. It is a very beautiful cathedral, with a huge mural on the ceiling and the walls with lots of gold paint. The vendors outside were selling all sorts of things, mobile phones, selfie sticks, paintings, bags but they took off as soon as one of them spotted the police, strange that! There was a gentleman playing the harp who we remember from our previous visit, very talented. We walked back to Gare du Nord (main station in Paris) to catch our train back. It was quite a whirlwind couple of days and not on the original plan. I’m glad we did it, but also happy to be back to our home!
Our journey today took us to Chateau-Thierry however we stopped at Senlis on the way. What a beautiful little town with cobbled streets throughout the old town and a lovely gothic church that dates back to the early 1600’s which we had a look inside however the
Sunday service was just about to start and we did feel like we were intruding. We had a nice walk around, lots of people in the cafes and bars. A few of the gourmet shops were open selling beautiful cheese, fish and a butcher shop. We bought our usual baguette and pastry for lunch, which we had in Matilda before venturing on. We arrived in Chateau-Thierry and headed to the designated Aire to find that it was full! Plan B was actioned and we couldn’t park there due to restrictions, so after a drive around, we have found a lovely spot along the river within an arrows distance of the castle and are currently parked with another Motorhome. We sat by the river for a little while feeding the ducks, swans and geese. Being Sunday, everything is shut so we will venture into town in the morning.
We had a nice walk around the medieval castle ruins in the morning which had a great view over the town centre. After doing our weekly shop we moved to the official Aire which is also on the river but in secure grounds with all of the facilities, which we will need before moving on tomorrow for €7 per night.There are only 10 spots here and 3 of them have British Motorhomes parked on them. I spoke to the couple across the way from us who have just arrived in France via the euro tunnel and will be here for 3 weeks. It was nice to have a conversation with someone whom I understood and they understood me. Had a lazy afternoon although we did venture to the big shopping centre around the corner and bought a few things before heading home.
Our journey today has taken us to the Champagne region of France. We stopped just outside of Reuil and had a coffee by the side of the road overlooking vineyards as far as the eye could see. Once on the road again we were lucky enough to see the jet planes that flew on the 11am fly over the Champs Élysées for the Bastille Day celebrations as they left the area. We made it to our home for the next two nights which is an Aire right next to the Epernay cathedral. It was full, only 5 places and two of them were taken up by roadwork machines. A German gentleman guided us into a spot that was just vacated by another Motorhome which was outside of the designated area. We thought we would be okay there. Once parked up, we got out and watched the neighbourhood pétanque game for a while only to have the German gentleman leave the Aire! Now why he couldn’t have told us he was going and we could have his spot is still a mystery to us, however we are now officially in the Aire which is free I might add, and we can explore the town guilt free. The people playing pétanque may be celebrating Bastille Day as the game had stopped, the beer came out and so did the BBQ. We walked into town and although the shops were closed the tourist office was open. We were told that there will be a concert tonight along with a picnic, some circus events and it will culminate in a fireworks display at 11pm. This is all to celebrate not only Bastille Day but also the region was last week listed as a Unesco world heritage area. It was a great night, there was a percussion group who had the crowds dancing, clapping and following them into the courtyard of a champagne house where you could purchase a champagne flute (plastic) and one glass of champagne for €5 from one of the four houses offering their wares. We both had a glass from different houses and agreed that mine was the better of the two. From there, a band played on a stage while people danced and others had picnic dinners on wooden trestles. At 10.30 an acrobat group performed and at 11pm we had fireworks which were really good with white and pink being the main colours. It was a really enjoyable night even and because of the huge number of people all leaving at the same time, it slowed our 2km homeward journey a bit. A very late night for us, a nice night for a walk and we did arrive home safe and sound.
Being in the champagne district, we just had to do a tour of one of the champagne houses that front the Avenue de Champagne. There are some beautiful champagne houses along this street, Moët and Chandon with beautiful gardens in the front, even Perrier have a house, didn’t know they made champagne! We chose Maison Mercier, mainly because you didn’t have to book and they had a petite train ride tour of the cellars below ground. While Avenue de Champagne is only 1km long, champagne cellars covered an area of 18kms. The tour starts with a brief movie explaining how the champagne house came to be then into a lift that takes you down to the cellars and onto the train. We had audio guides and it was very informative, explaining the process of blending the three grapes, the fermentation process and finally the end product. There are over 200 million bottles of champagne below street level, a good percentage of them are the Mercier bottles. We had a tasting at the end of the tour and not being a champagne drinker thought the Brut was okay, suffice to say we didn’t buy any. We also had a walk around town before coming back to Tilly and watching the daily pétanque game before dinner.
A short drive of 23kms through champagne country saw us arrive at Reims. The Aire we are staying in is at Reims stadium and we are with other motorhomes from various countries and again it’s free. The weather is very warm today so after a short bike ride to the river we have come back to relax. Tomorrow is going to be even hotter so we will venture out early to beat the heat. Might just have to find a pub to stay cool in!
What a stinker of a night. It was really hot and we had a cracker of a thunderstorm, our first proper one since we have been away. Lots of lightning, heavy rain and thunder. Suffice to say, not much sleep was had. We got up early, partly due to traffic noise but we did want to get into town before it heated up again. We had a nice walk into town and straight to the cathedral. Part of it was under scaffolding as they are redoing the stained glass “great rose” window at the front. The cathedral was destroyed during the war and rebuilt with some financial assistance from the Rockefella family. It houses a statue of Joan of Arc in full armour and was the place where the coronation of Charles VII was held with Joan at his side.
Next door is the Cathedral treasury where some truly amazing tapestries are on show, as well as statues and sculptures including a 5.4 metre statue representing Goliath. Chalices, talisman and reliquaries are also on display.
We then headed into the town centre where the mall is lined with restaurants on both sides and virtually no shops! Couldn’t even find a boulangerie for our daily bread! Back to Tilly and it was decided that we would move on as it was really hot again and we wanted to head into the forest. We drove about 80kms leaving the champagne district behind through fields and fields and fields of crops. There is very little wasted land. As I have mentioned before agriculture here is a huge thing and every spare piece of land is growing something. We are at our destination for the night, an Aire in the area of Les Islettes not far from Verdun which is surrounded by many battlefields from WW1. We have a lovely cool breeze blowing through the trees, virtually no traffic and a good sleep is expected.
Another big drive today to Metz about 90 kms from Les Islettes going through more areas where the battlefields were. We have passed many war cemeteries and have commented that the German cemeteries have black crosses for their dead whereas all of the others are white. A message in there, I think! We are staying in the Municipal Aire in Metz which is next to the Moselle River, a beautiful spot. The weather is considerably cooler today and a storm has been forecast so we may just stay put!