I was in the UK (well England) for five weeks (M for 4 plus her week on the Camino). It was the hottest summer almost anyone could remember, and at the time to writing seems to be set to continue. In many ways hot is a good adjective with English football looking brighter than at any time since 1966; with Brexit politics looking set to end in fireworks as the cabinet engage in open warfare and as British business start to put the boot in. We walked a good bit locally and were yet again reminded of just how good the UK footpath system is.
Saturday 30th June we left Essex in the early hours to catch a mid-morning shuttle from Folkstone to Calais. It is nearly 25 years since we did this route and it remains busy, efficient and impressive. We wonder what will happen following a hard Brexit after March 19. On the road south, we take the A26 autoroute. It’s quiet. The tolls are just as expensive as ever, but the route is fast. We reach Reims by mid-afternoon covering some 300 Kms. Northern France remains little changed apart from the even bigger fields of golden corn, barley, oil seed rape and the omnipresent wind turbines. I had prebooked a campsite outside Chalons en Champagne, purely and simply for its proximity to our halfway point on the autoroute. The site is municipal and as expected does just what it says on the tin. We are early and can choose a good pitch. They are all a good size but good tree cover is important and also optimal proximity to the facilities. Not too near, not too far. The facilities are nothing short of excellent. Not quite German standard but clean and well maintained. There are a few British registered vehicles, but the majority are French, Belgian and Dutch. This is North Eastern France.
We haven’t had the tent out of its bag for some 10 years! But it’s perfect. Goes up in 10 minutes and fully pitched and organized in under an hour without any arguments. We have a supper at the camp café with the added bonus of the French – Argentina match on TV. And as you can imagine being France there is a small crowd and they are wild with delight. Normally my allergies cause me real agro when eating out, but this night we both have burger and frites (chips to you). Of course, this is France and, notwithstanding this is a very small establishment on a campsite, I know full well that the burger is a going to be a suitably shaped piece of pure meat. Not horse either! And just to take my life in my hands, I have a couple of beers because they are local blonde beer with just three ingredients – barley, hops and water. If I didn’t have to become fluent in the language I would move to France in a heartbeat and my life would be much simpler.
When we tell folk we are camping as we travel between our major stops the usual reaction is, “What, with a tent? You poor dears!” But what they really mean is, “Are you out of your heads?” But we are committed campers; it’s true we haven’t camped a lot since we have been in West Cork, but we have nothing but good experiences to report. Of course you need to work it right. First, we always try to choose 3 or 4 star sites. Preferably municipal. The 4 to 5 star sites are always much more crowded, full of children very noisy and expensive. The 3 star sites are cheap as chips and you normally get what it says on the tin. At busy times we pre-book. Other times or when we can arrive quite early in the day we will arrive on spec; particularly if there’s one or more alternatives. Then the mid-range sites are full of people like ourselves; older, couples, experienced, quiet. Always willing to share experiences. In Chalons en Champagne we had some great neighbours; Scots, Brits, Belgians, Dutch and French. And I picked up a few good tips on places in mid Austria, which I am still researching for later stops on this trip.
Relaxed start on the Sunday. We need to be in Strasbourg early evening so we leave mid-morning and resolve to take backroads, at least for the first part of the journey. The weather is extremely hot again and we take it slow across the vast corn fields. We stop at Bar-le-Duc. But the advertised Ville Haute is less gripping that expected. Continuing on we stop at Donnmartin-mes-Toul. As usual we find everywhere shut. It’s Sunday and the French rightly do their own thing and ignore any demands for Sunday opening. In the end we find a perfectly decent fast food restaurant that once again confounds expectations by providing the highest quality of good food at very ordinary prices. Vive la France!
Being Sunday the traffic flows are not heavy and we make good time. We are excited to see the mountains on the near horizon and a quick shufty at the map confirms it’s Germany and the Black Forest. It’s an area we are pretty familiar with, so we won’t be going there on this trip. We eventually park up in Strasbourg late afternoon. Total trip 800 Kms. Don’t ask about the city navigation. The GPS lost its way and we had to reboot. Not an easy city to navigate around by car. However on foot, bicycle or on the tram is a different matter; we will be here for 12 days and while it is a recognized tourist destination we envisage we will have time to live as city dwellers.