Charting the time from when the inspiration struck - to sell up and buy a motorhome and head off into the blue yonder - to how the trip unfolds. Scroll to the bottom to get to the beginning.
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  1. We then had the very exciting job of getting to Copenhagen to meet our daughter who was flying out for a quick city break with us on Ryan air.
    We had a to cross a bridge that was the second longest in the world - and we had a traffic jam all the way across! It is called the Great Belt bridge; it's 18 kms long and links the eastern and western parts of Denmark.
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  2. I have woefully ignored this blog and left it late to write up this section of our trip so I am going to make some comments on the pics we took and let them tell the story.

    On the way there we arrived at Papenburg Germany and passed the biggest tallest longest building we had ever seen - so much so that we simply had to google it that evening. We found it was one of the biggest ship building factories in the world specialising in ferries and cruise ships! They were giving a tour the next day so we decided to go even though it was in german. It did not disappoint and here is a pic of part of a propeller:
    papenburg.jpg

    This is one of the reasons we love to go with the flow and not research or plan too much. It was such a random spectacular discovery and we only went there because we found a free spot to camp!

    Going into Denmark was very exciting; I had read a few books about the culture and was keen to meet these 'happy' people and enjoy the Scandinavian architecture. Our first supermarket was very different from any other we had been in, It was a cross between Ikea and a shopping mall! It literally had everything and was all laid out very charmingly with wicker and basket work everywhere and greenery dangling among the fast foods. We had decided to get some Danish pastries and funnily enough it was the one thing THEY DIDN'T SELL! I then tried to find what they did for puddings and desserts and again found nothing - only flan bases and squirty cream which was another surprise. Could this be why they were all so thin ?
    We had hugely stocked up on food in Germany before crossing the border as we were told the prices were through the roof, but our info was wrong. Eating out is indeed extortionate but supermarket costs are pretty much on English standards.

    The first town we came to felt very Danish and it was called Ribe. I don't know why but it felt like I was in a film set all the time. Ribe.jpg
    Here is Martin cycling into the main square.
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    Maybe it was the way the buildings were laid out but I almost convinced myself there was nothing behind the façade just like the Truman Show. The other extraordinary thing was I felt very very sad to leave the place as if I somehow belonged there and wanted my children to see it too even though it was nothing special - very twee and cute but then so were lots of other places. However we had a beer the first day quite forgetting what we had been told about the prices and were staggered to be handed a £15 bill. Never again!!.

    Again we had great urge to see the coast so we set off for the most remote looking place we could find that had a free parking spot and fetched up on the north westerly coast on a tiny beach called Lepvig where we could camp for free on the wind swept clifftop. I spent some pleasurable hours playing eerie sounds on the keyboard looking straight at the sea. Lepvig.jpg
    Absolutely bloomin gorgeous - until two other vans joined us and camped right next to us. I guess they wanted to snuggle up and be cosy in the face of the wild elements!

    It gave me a chance to take a pic I'd been waiting for a long time for - our Lenny in the wild (sort of)
    lepvig 2.jpg

    We were very impressed to have free loos and hot and cold water in the bathrooms laid on for tourists on this beach. All around Denmark the facilities were often free and were fantastic. An example of the famous Danish social state system where everyone pays so much tax (most people 40%!) but then gets really good pay back in education, childcare, job security and well - clean free bathrooms at beaches.

    After that, as so often happens after a peaceful remote spot we decided to see some city action and headed for Silkeborg
    We were delighted to find a jazz festival in full swing in Silkeburg: riverboat.jpg
    and vowed to come back next year for the whole five days with a jazz enthusiast friend of ours. We saw some really top class acts on the street and in pubs and other venues

    Everyday we cycled long this lovely lake to the centre.
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    We visited the museum of the world famous Tolmund bog man who had been preserved in mud since 350 BC! His face was spookily real:
    tolmund.jpg

    On the road all over Denmark we kept coming across this sign:
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    and we were constantly trying to guess what it was from the context (rather than look it up on babelfish)
    Finally a Finnish friend told me it mean 'Ready for a break?' Haha of course!

    After that we headed eastwards to Odense and Nyborg and were lucky enough to be invited to a midsummer evening's bonfire on the beach which is the tradition all over Scandinavia I believe. Here I saw the much renowned 'hygge' demonstrated. It is a hard concept to explain. Its a bit like the dutch 'gezelligheid' and it means cosiness, homeliness, a sense of community and belonging and a love for your fellow creatures and a bit of general Winnie the pooh contentedness after a jar of honey. This also explains the Danish people's huge love of candles - to keep them cosy through the dark winter months. Indeed more candle wax is melted per person in Denmark than anywhere else in the world! On the beach they lit the fire early, handed out the song sheets and everyone solemnly sang songs - I imagine they were about being a Dane and being together. It was extraordinary to see it enacted in front of us after all we had read. It was like they were doing it because they had always done it and even if they weren't in the mood this is what the family is doing this afternoon. I think here more than anywhere else we were privileged to see the real Danish character in action.

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  3. Random images from the lovely festival in May

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  4. We were delighted to see we could go for six days without electric hookup. The solar panels charged during the day and gave us enough power to recharge our devices and even for me to play my keyboard. We used their trench eco loos which are far superior to the portacabin system used at big festivals in our opinion. There wasn't a scrap of litter on the ground afterwards which shows the culture of the festival and how it can be achieved if everyone cares. There will be a video about the festival uploaded as soon as I can get Youtube to work and that shows the spirit of Small World Spring Festival much better than I can describe. It was a lovely experience – even better than Glastonbury last year we felt because it was smaller and cosier. I'm sure we'll be back year after year now we've discovered it.

    It was strange watching everyone pack up and stagger off with masssive rucsacs or pulling impossibly loaded trolleys getting stuck in the mud. All we had to do was start Lenny and drive away.

    However before this I discovered I was missing our Mifi which is an essential part of our kit so I had to comb where we were standing last night and write it in two different lost property books (after explaining to a number of bemused people what a Mifi actually is) Later that night I found it in my bed so I felt a fraud.

    Within an hour or so we were back at the Flying Horse, near Ashford where we started our trip back in March. It was a novel feeling having been there before and being old hands and knowing the best place to park (well away from the trees so we could raise the roof TV satellite so Jac could watch her Corrie) Early start the next day and we were boarding the shuttle again. This time I got a good picture of the vans actually driving into the train.
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    It was nice not being at all nervous this time round. Driving on the right felt like second nature and it felt great to be back in France even though we were only there for 45 minutes before crossing the border into Belgium. After two hours we were negotiating the traffic around Bruges at rushhour. We were following a tip off from someone on our motorhome forum about a city central free spot by a canal that was rarely used and very comfortable. It's always scary following one person's advice but we went for it and were delighted to find a leafy cul de sac by a canal with houseboats and no vans there at all. We parked up and cycled off to explore.

    One of the things we love about northern European countries (apart from ours!!) is that the cycling culture is so strong. Every road has a separate bike path often separated by a hedge or wall and literally everyone cycles. Often people use strong upright bike frames with a big basket on the front and a flat rack on the back where people can sit sideways (well - one person). It took me a while to figure out why so many of the older women cyclists reminded me of Mary Poppins puffing along and it was because they sat very upright and wore skirts!
    mary p.jpg

    We were parked by an unusual bridge that had a huge counter weight that was wound down for the bridge o be closed then released to pull the bridge up for big boats. It was exciting to watch but the pictures we took don't really do it justice really. It was a 'have to be there' moment watching the massive structure slowly pulling the bridge up like a giant see saw.

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    This was the bridge on its way down.

    We had a canal cycle ride and then went to our first Belgian bar. I was looking forward to a draught Leffe beer seeing as it's made in Belgium but it was bottled so maybe that's the only way it comes. Plus it was just as expensive as in England which was annoying.

    In the evening a massive truck pulled alongside us and I was tempted to invite the driver in to join us for Scrabble but I felt too shy (plus it wouldn't really have been fair with him probably not being a native speaker) The next day it was gone and there was a note tucked into our windscreen wipers. 'Hope you enjoy your stay in Bruges' with the signature of the man from the forum. It turned out he wasn't the lorry driver we saw but he lives there and had driven over to say hello. Next time he is going to bang on our door. It's funny how a little contact like that means a lot when you are travelling. Maybe he felt too shy to bang on our door or maybe he saw us playing Scrabble and fled!!

    Our day in Bruges was wet but we cycled in bravely and parked up in the big market place. The bell tower from In Bruges the film was first on our agenda. The rain made it even more spooky but the pics grey.
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    The medieval square and buildings were lovely and we plan to return hopefully in better weather.

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    We saw a couple of museums which were interesting.
    Here are some arresting images:

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    and another angle....

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    One that Martin was very taken with:

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    Here's another - can you see a theme?

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    Here's one I liked:
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    We happened upon a harp performance which was in a specially soundproofed room with the guy having built loads of stringed structures into the wall that had unusual resonances. He set up a wall of sound by running around plucking all the different instruments. Very unique experience. He asked for donations and that we recommend him on Tripadvisor. His CDs were more than we wanted to pay but I'm sure they were worth it and I have regretted not doing so but maybe that makes the memory more special.

    We used our trusty google map phone app to get us back by bike through the rain. Where would be without all this technology!

    The next day we fancied checking out the coastal area as we so often do so we headed to the nearest beach which was again a sand dunesy stretch of land. It was called Knokke and our over riding memory is that was we had a knokke in Knokke. There was a low sign post that boshed our mirror in passing and it is now a bit cracked. Luckily not so bad we need to repair it but a pain none the less and demoralising.

    We had a cracking bike ride round the dunes and the surrounding area and on the way back I called into an empty art gallery as I often do. I always find the gallery owners very eager to talk and we have interesting conversations. I met an extraordinary character (gallery owner) who was very angry about art in general and people who call themselves artists and what is art anyway (all this is reply to my asking him if he was an artist...) and once he was on a rant I couldn't really (politely) stop him. It was all in translated Flemish so although it was very fluent with lots of long words it didn't really hang together which is why I had no handle on it to come back with an apposite rejoinder. When I was trying to leave I asked if he had any any postcards or pamphlets and he asked crossly why and I said I liked to stick them up in my motorhome because it was nice to have something to look at. He gave me a long appraising look and then said I will give you my book on the condition that you read it. He gave me this beautifully bound hardback book then threw in a second one as I left. Martin had missed the entire thing as he was standing outside holding our bikes because he couldn't be bothered to lock them and come in. It was a pity as he is very good with people like that and will not be bullied or lectured to. He thought that I was probably the only one to go into the gallery all week and that the guy had been desperate to let off steam. When we got back to Lenny I had my promise to fulfil and duly sat down to read the book. It was called Contemporary Art 'The Spot': The Silent Cry of the 21st Century, Each page had a couple of blobs on it – like 3 ink spots and a smear. This is an example of the text on the other side of the page - presumably in explanation: 'The spot is the capital letter on the canvas of Hans Fo*h*n, (the artist) the spot that doesn't want to be understood. The spot is a symbiosis, a subdued explosion that doesn't avoid the dialogue. The spot that is considered stubborn and without conventional right of direct affection, usually will be removed as soon as possible'

    Can you see why I didn't have any reply?

    The page is then translated into Italian, Finnish, Turkish, German, Russian, Polish, French Japanese, Persian, Dutch, Wolof (?) Hebrew, Spanish, Danish, Greek, Chinese, Hungarian, Swedish, Ukranian, Slovak, Arabic, Serbian and Portuguese. I just have one question – why?
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  5. We decided to take the plunge and drive through London en route to our festival and see our daughter Nell, on the way and drop off Joe, another of our children too. We'd done other big cities so felt we could handle this one now.

    It was quite hard to pack as we'd only half unpacked the van before just to do our laundry mainly so we weren't sure what was already in. We ended up taking the recharger for the hand held hoover but leaving the hoover behind, taking extra desert spoons as we were short on the last trip but then only taking two forks because we took the rest in to wash. It was sad saying adieu to our dog Pip and our daughter Poppy who has to hold the fort until mid July. I wish I could take the whole family with us.

    Driving down was fun with Joe in the front seat as its always a shock for people first time to be in the middle of the road (right side of a left hand drive) and also to be so high up. It caused problems when we dropped him off mid busy London street as he had to exit out right too and step literally into the middle of the road. Needless to say it was a very swift goodbye as we hurled his case after him.

    Finding Finsbury Park wasn't too bad at all and I must say our new Garmin camper satnav is doing us proud these days now we know how to programme it properly with coordinates. However the fun and games started when we got there. Nell had airily said 'You can park anywhere in our flats' carpark, always lots of spaces.'
    For the first time since I've visited, there was not a spare space anywhere and even if there had of been we would not have got in (we need two next to each other preferably vertically joined). My horror scenario ensued where you keep driving through the carpark even though you can see the lane is getting narrower with clearly nowhere to turn. Finally we had to do our wounded whale act at the end diagonally on the U bend waiting for someone to move so we could do our oft practised 20 point turn. Someone decided to make things more stressful for us by opening the window and yelling 'You can't park there!!' as if we really had decided to do that. I just waved regally and wasn't going to bellow up five stories.

    Finally we got out of there and with it being rush hour thought we were really doomed. Amazingly enough though the very next road had a choice of parking places which were free after 6pm so we parked outside someone's house and acted like we weren't there in the morning. It always feels weird to spy on people from our bed and see them start their day and go off to work knowing that we can sleep as late as we want, that we are sleeping on the street and that we no longer have any work - something I don't think I'll ever get used to.

    The next day we had to drive through north London but it was all fine with no close shaves and I couldn't believe it when we reached the Dartford tunnel after only about 40 minutes.

    We had decided to visit Canterbury as neither of us had been there and it was close to where our festival was for the following day. We found a Park and Ride carpark for the night which was very cheap, including return bus fare to the city so soon joined the ranks of mohos there. We met an Ozzie and his wife who had literally driven from Australia and painted their route on the side of their van. They did it in chunks and put the van in storage where they had reached and flew home and then returned 6 months later and drove it for another 6 months. He told us about an incident in Khazakhstan where a policeman confiscated his passport for no reason and demanded $50 to give it back. This guy decided he was not going to be bullied and refused. The policeman cuffed him on the head enciting him to hit him back so he could have a reason to arrest him but he wouldn't and put out his hands to be handcuffed . Finally the enraged policeman flung the passport at him and ordered him off. Martin and I agreed afterwards we wouldn't have been so brave.

    We got a double decker bus into the city. As usual I insisted we sit upstairs at the front and we had our regular conversation about what would happen if we went under a low bridge (him) and how we are probably in more danger on a ski slope or in our moho (me). We must have run through the salient points of that particular discussion on at least 6 occasions but it's always nice to give it another airing.

    Canterbury was a nice surprise as I had been put off visiting by a friend who had told us it was all new build and boringly restored since its World War 2 bombing. We enjoyed the shopping areas and the historical relics.
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    Churches, abbey and cathedral

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    We were interested in the story (and where it happened) of Thomas Becket in 1170 - the Archbishop of Canterbury who refused to allow King Henry to change the laws to give more power to the courts over the clergy. The king is reputed to have said ' Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest.' Four knights took him at his word and burst into the cathedral where he was conducting a service and killed him at the altar. Henry then said something like 'Whoops I didn't mean you to kill him, I was just angry.' and felt so bad about it that he put on sackcloth and walked the streets barefoot in Canterbury while 80 monks flogged him with branches. Thomas became a saint as several miracles were said to occur at his tomb which is probably what spooked Henry in the first place.

    This explained to me why Chaucer had chosen Canterbury for the Canterbury Tales. I had studied it as part of my English degree and only now realised that the medieval pilgrimages to this place must have been because this ghoulish story.

    We went into the very room (Conquest House) where apparently the 4 dastardly knights gathered right before going off to do the deadly deed but I don't know how they can be really sure of that fact.

    We loved some of the street names which reminded us of Norwich:
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    We wondered about the origin of the names.

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    After a surprisingly peaceful night at the bustling Park and Ride, we headed off the next day in very welcome sunshine for our five day hippy festival - wishing we could pick up some dreadlock wigs along the way.
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  6. We had a great little trip to the Peak district to give our dog a holiday (and daughter who looks after him while we travel)

    peaks 1.jpg

    We didn't try to leave him alone at all (as he barks) so there was no expectation or resentment and he loved it.
    We stayed at Laneside Caravan park (Hope) first which was very pleasant with nice views but the big drawback was that all the walks had stiles that were too high for Pip to get over. I think the farmers had finally lost their patience with dogs worrying their sheep. We ended up having to take walks on the roads. The pubs were dog friendly and had good ale.

    The second place we stayed was high up and near the top of the Pennine way track. It was on a working farm with sheep and lambs everywhere.

    peak 2.jpg

    We were the only campers in the field and felt miles from everywhere.

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    Just us and the sheep
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    Luckily it was easy to get up onto the ridge and we had a lovely few days exploring this lovely high level route.
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    Martin striking a thoughtful pose
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    We had lots of fun watching the lambs gambolling around. One little frisky one ran around getting all the other lambs to run off with her and then they proceeded to run in circles around a tiny bank of earth.
    We also saw a horse lying down and I was worried it was dying as I'd always thought they didn't lie down. I wanted to ring the farmer and tell him but martin persuaded me to wait a while - just as well, as when we came back it was up on its feet munching away at the grass.
    After a week we headed back home marvelling that this lovely corner of England was so accessible (right in the centre of the country) and yet relatively unpopulated.
    We enjoyed Pip's company so much and I know we will miss him when we head off to Europe again later this month. A walking holiday is completed by a dog.
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  7. We stayed longer than we intended at Parc Verger so suddenly it was our last week and we had to book a passage home to be in time for Martin's mum's 90th birthday (same day as the queen's)
    We had a very cheery send off from the campsite - having just met the Munchies (from the motorhomefun forum) in the last ten minutes we were there. If you are yearning to speak English in France look no further. A very much one of a kind place - I'm sure we'll be back.

    We were heading on Mr Munchy's recommendation to Ile D'Oron as he had told us you could cycle round the island. We ended up missing the turn and chose Le Fosse Rouge campsite which claimed to be right on the sea. It was in fact a good few miles inland which was very annoying and also was the only campsite we didn't like - it had a cluttered on top of each other feeling with fixed caravans at every turn and the staff were not friendly. The next day we headed off and fortuitously chose the next island down which was the wonderful Noirmoutier.
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    Access was over a spectacular bridge which was exhilarating.
    After our last experience we decided to go to a five star place with actual pictures of sand dunes to prove how close it was to the sea. Despite it having a lot of tourist razzmatazz in its online marketing it turned out to be sensitively and thoughtfully designed along a strip of sand with very little commercial trappings, just large pitches off a dusty path all within view and close walking distance to a lovely sandy
    beach.
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    Lots of people in thigh high wellies oyster picking. We were a bit worried about cooking them so we refrained from trying this. Besides which Martin had not brought his thigh high wellies with him.
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    We had a very tranquil couple of days here. We rented a second bike and indeed cycled right round the island which was very pleasant and included views of various wetland pastures, grazing animals and wildlife sanctuaries.
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    They make their own special salt here flavoured with different seasonings so this together with the mustard from Dijon made a nice gift for grandma.

    There was a long spit of land separated from the island by the salt banks and was only wide enough for a promenade which luckily had a bike path on it. You cycled with the sea on one side and the wetlands on the other
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    We loved the old vessels which like some of the buildings we had seen were simply left to gently decay
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    This beautiful bike trip of about two miles led to the capital city of Noirmoutier also on the sea.
    Luckily for us they had huge market when we arrived. The fish market was the size of a huge marquee and contained lots of sea life we didn't recognise. We chose a big fish which defeated the efforts of our little Gem French English dictionary. I must say that publication was a spectacularly useless waste of space and never had what we wanted in it. However we barbecued the mystery fish which was delicious along with 'savage' asparagus.

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    Another random sculpture that changes depending where you're standing.

    Again we spent a day longer than we intended as it was so tranquil and beautiful to be right on the sea in the sunshine.
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    We had to make a run for it the next day to get within striking distance of our port and ended up at the lovely town of Dinan. We were lucky to find the aire Port de Dinan' we were looking for which was very small and evaded sat nav's efforts. We only spotted it after giving up and heading for another out of town.
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    This was under a high bridge right above a river. Just room for about 10 vans. The great thing about it was you could walk into town.

    Once again a medieval chateau on a steep cobbled hill was a wonderful find - as was the artisans' road of handmade jewellery, water colours and art galleries.
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    The next day we were off early to the port of St Malo and we camped right next to the port to be ready for our mid morning sailing. The site was on the battlements which was a fortified German defence site from the war. The port town was pleasant with a huge beach

    We were excited about our 9 hour ferry crossing to Portsmouth (closer to Bristol where we were headed)
    It was 7 decks high and felt a bit like a cruise with cinemas, restaurants, bars, shops and nice look out spots. It sailed past the Channel Islands and the huge naval ships at Portsmouth

    That night we camped at a Brit stop pub in Soberton and enjoyed a good real ale and pie. We toasted the success of our first proper overseas trip in our trusty Lenny and then got the map out to plan the next one ...
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  8. We had to think about heading home now as we had a 90th birthday party to attend.
    We decided to include Champagnac - la - Riviere on our return as we had discovered that fellow blogger Dippingatoe Sue was living there. Although we'd never met her we felt we knew her well as we had followed her blog for over year and she had inspired us to follow her example and sell up and head off on the road. (www.theworldismylobster.me.uk - best read right from the start) She carries a disability scooter on board, drives the largest American van allowed on our roads and her trusty companion is her Great Dane puppy Phoebe. Her blog had suddenly gone quiet and I was worried and found out she was not well and had just stopped at a French campsite for a number of months.
    We tracked her down to Parc Verger, an English run campsite in Champagnac la Riviere in the Limousin area.

    So we set off, ready for a long trip and after ten minutes had our tiny remote mountain road blocked by a long lorry that had jacknifed across the road.
    There was no other way we could go so we watched the various gyrations of this ten ton truck trying to extricate himself looking like a caterpillar that can't get out of an ants' nest. After about half an hour (which included getting the digger he was carrying to scrape away earth from the side of the road) he managed to do a very slow 90 degrees and finally tundled off past us shooting us a Gallic shrugging gesture with his eye brows.

    Finally we got to Parc Verger campsite and had a lovely welcome from the owners Franc and Lisa and of course Sue. It is a very unusual campsite in that everyone is English and all kinds of English food is sold in the shop. Being right in the centre of France I guess it has got quite a following as it is pretty much en route for the Brits going south and they often carry food over for them. We camped in a spot which had this lovely neighbour right next door: goat.jpg
    It's a lovely start to the day to say hello to a goat.

    The campsite is near an old railway track which has been converted to a popular hiking and biking trail called the voie vert so we had lots of walks and bike rides with Sue and Phoebe.

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    One thing we have noticed on all our French bike rides was how polite and charming the French children are. They have all been taught to say 'Bonjour madame' and they take great pride in doing so. There was one little boy of about two who watched us approach eagerly and then called out 'Bonjour madame monsieur' with a big grin. I realised we don't teach our English children to greet people they don't know on a walk or the street and I wished we did.
    We explored the local town (Oradour-sur-Veyres) and there we met and chatted at length to a water colourist who had a studio and was also English. She teaches water colour painting and inspired me to buy the materials and have a bash while I'm travelling - a peaceful therapeutic hobby.

    After four days of speaking English and enjoying long evenings in the van with Sue we knew it was time to leave and were waved off by everyone in the campsite! I know we will be back and I know we will meet Sue again. The first of many friendships on the road.
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  9. The wonderful thing about going where the wind blows and not planning much (Martin's oft repeated truism to people we met: 'we can't get lost, we're not going anywhere') is that there are sometimes unforeseen surprises waiting for you. We had two very different surprises on this Dordogne trip. We arrived in the area and went to a recommended campsite in Vitrac. It had every sign of being occupied - there was a brochure rack outside the door on the porch. The reception door was unlocked, a jacket over the back of a chair and the keys were in the door. We had emailed to say we were coming.
    No one around, rang door bells, rang the number we had, double checked our camper contact app which assured us that yes it was open on this date. We decided to have a cup of tea, email them that we were here waiting and... well, wait - so we did as twilight fell and the whole place started to look a bit spooky. Then I lost signal for no reason even though I could see 3G was available on my mifi.
    Finally I decided to ask another camper what was happening and walked around the whole place before realising it was quite empty. Where were the owners though and why had they left everything so open and who were the brochures put out for - for goodness sake?
    So we beat an escape as our apprehension grew (funny how you can almost persuade yourself that a place has not got good vibes) and set off down impossibly narrow roads (please can we not meet anything big coming).
    We fetched up at another campsite called La Sagne who hadn't heard of this other campsite even though it was under a mile away (had we imagined the whole eery affair?) We seemed to be the only ones at this campsite too but at least the owners made us feel like it was all normalsville again. We never did get an email back from Vitrac.
    The next day we decided to go for a walk and headed across a field then saw this poking throught the trees.
    far away chat.jpg The closer we got, the more enticing glimpses we caught, until we rounded a corner and saw this chateau in all its glory. castle.JPG

    It was at the top of a very steep hill steep hill.jpg and seemed to have a tiny community of ancient houses right on top and was called Montfort. There was a stonking view of the Dordogne lake.jpg

    There was this extraordinary rock structure with a tree on top tree.jpg

    We found one tiny bar restaurant which was just perfect, old, authentic, family run - nestled right at the top of the lookout. It was called:
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    The sun was suddenly very hot and gave a dreamy aspect to the experience and I felt I was in a dream.
    We also discovered this in a window boy.jpg

    which told us who thesculptor was of the boy we had seen in Sarlat.
    A little google search tells us that the work is called Le Badaud ('The onlooker') and that the 'badaud' was an important urban type from 18th and 19th century French literature.'
    so I'm none the wiser really but I like the name.

    We found a motorhome aire for about 20 vans at the top too so we vowed next time we would park up here. aire.jpg

    Out of our whole France trip, the discovery of the village of Montfort and its medieval chateau was the most remarkable memory we came home with - as we had only set out across a field to stretch our legs and somehow tumbled into a fairyland.
    fairyland.jpg

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  10. This is a ski film with music that one of our group did from our March trip to Les Deux Alpes.



    For people who know us - Nell is in the white jacket and beaver ears, Poppy the red top black pants, Sam the orange trousers and blue top and me in turquoise. Sol filming in blue patterned, Miranda in white/pink patterned, Jess tartan red top and orange pants, Matt all black .
    Yes we did swim in an outdoor steaming swimming pool in the snow!
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  11. If you ever get to Sarlat in the Dordogne valley, try to go on a Saturday so you can enjoy their amazing market. Maybe it was because I'd been starved of 'spending opportunities' as Martin likes to call it but everything looked so inviting and thorough! If it was a sausage / salami stall it had every kind you could think of: sausage.JPG

    and that is only half of the stall.
    What to choose? We got three.
    The wine/liqueur stall had so many local varieties - we chose a walnut liqueur.
    The tarts and cakes stand boasted at least 20 local choices. We got a hazelnut tart.
    And don't get me started on the cheese!

    The market was spread right through the old section of the town with stalls displaying their wares in front of aged monuments: market.JPG

    With tiny old streets at every turn: narrow street.JPG

    And funny little doorways for the shorter people from the olden days! wall sarlat.JPG

    At the top of the town was this striking figure: young boy sarlat.JPG

    To give it some context this is how high up it was: young boy far.JPG

    One of the I've noticed is how elaborate and built up their graveyards are. It could be because they are family crypts. graveyard.JPG

    I should have said - we went to the Dordogne valley in the hopes of renting a Canadian canoe and doing some paddling. When we saw how fast the river was flowing we had to rethink - sadly,. Funnily enough that was the second time it's happened to Martin. When he was 15 (same trip as Reims) he sent his canoe (which he had made at night school) by train to the Rhine and hitched hiked down to join it. He and his friend gazed at the torrent and decided to have another think.
    Best laid plans ....
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  12. I couldn't believe that I was actually going to ski again! In April and out of the van which was always the idea of course.
    The drive up to the SuperBesse resort at the top of a mountain range in the Auvergne - in the central massif was spectacular as you might imagine; the gradients up and down were challenging but Lenny tackled it all manfully. (It's all about changing gear super fast!) Some of the roads were a bit skinny but I just stopped when something big came towards me and it always worked out OK.
    The top of the valley where the slopes began were a bit futuristic and moon landscapey - probably due to the huge lake and wide open spaces around it. lake besse blog.jpg
    The aire was right up against the slopes which was a great thrill. aire besse blog.jpg
    Not too many vans. aire long distance.JPG Children were cycling around and there was a holiday atmosphere.
    It was still warm and spring like so it didn't feel real that I'd be muffled up in ski togs tomorrow skiing. I watched some skiers through our binoculars and got excited.
    The next day dawned sunny and I was really pumped to get going jac ski.JPG
    We liaised walky talkys (every hour on the hour) and off I trotted. I was chuffed to get a cheap ex rental pair for 100euros so no more queuing for fittings. Self contained now :)
    gear.JPG
    I got in the gondola with all the hordes of kids and got taken right to the very top. Generally it was very quiet though, just enough people for me to follow them down without them noticing. ski people.JPG The skis felt great and soon the crowds left me behind as I kept taking pics. I had the place to myself. wide open.JPG
    The views were stunning slopes.JPG

    I had a real blast on a nice little run called Capuchin and a few others and felt very pleased with myself.
    I walkied (talkied?) over to Martin to meet me in on a bar terrace for a beer and we spent the rest of the afternoon sunbathing. We tried for some night life but it was dead at 7pm so we called it a day and went to watch the House of Cards on our laptop.
    The next day was a slightly different story. It had frozen over night without there being any snow falling. So no new snow to be pisted by the ski stomper. I should have known that. I also could have noticed that there were no kids in the gondola on the way to the top. As soon as I set ski on the snow I realised what I was in for - beautiful glistening sheet ice. Well not really sheet ice - my ski forum have assured me - but it felt like it to me which meant side sliding a lot of the way down as it's a lot harder to do your turns and stop. What made it worse was that people were whizzing past very fast and soon there was no one left to follow and the fog was rolling in.
    I had a quick chat with Martin on the walky who told me what he was planning for dinner which felt like real life was so near and yet so far. Finally on one rather steep section I lost my nerve and just stomped down side step by side step which is the most demoralising experience there is because not only is it really tiring but once you begin to do that it is almost unthinkable to stop and face forward and ski again. I talked to my skies all the way and we bonded nicely and they didn't let me down. It was only a small section which levelled out so I wasn't in any danger. I was just furious with myself and made a resolution to have ski lessons from now on when I arrive at new places and learn to handle steep ice. So it was rather a humbling end to my brilliant solo ski trip. The annoying thing was that as soon as the ice stopped as I got further down the slope - the spring slush started - what happened to the crunchy stuff?
    Anyway I learned some valuable lessons - and we proved that we can indeed go skiing out of a van. bottom.JPG
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  13. It is a source of constant amusement (or irritation) that every time we are finally organised and get ourselves to the local town or village to explore by foot they are closed for lunch. Their lunch break is a socking two or two and a half hours long! 12-2 or 12-2.30. I admire their insistence of this wonderful life/work balance and envy their long lunches with wine flowing and a siesta afterwards. We've seen them leaving cafes mid afternoon and rolling into their cars and presumably going back to work.
    What perplexes us is where they go - as quite often hostelries/cafes /bars were deserted; they can't all go home for lunch can they? We don't see traffic coming and going either. Its like the lunch fairy has waved her wand and everything just freezes.
    On a Saturday in Langres we were truly mystified as even then it was deserted - and this at 11am. Together with the foggy weather there was truly a post apocalyptic feel to the experience. We sat in a café and drank hot chocolate till we cheered up enough to find our way back to Lenny where we watched a French film with French subtitles to feel intellectual.
    However earlier on we were amused to see this plaque bridge plaque.jpg
    in front of this charming unsuspecting bridge
    bridge smelly.jpg
    which gave us a giggle.
    (Martin has just reminded me this was actually in Langres which accounts for the lack of fog.)

    Martin has started juggling again which is great for his Parkinson's.
    He has a head start as he was very good in the 80s when we were children's entertainers. (well I was, he never gave up his day job - we were Jugging Jac and Professor Spaghetti)
    Meanwhile I enjoy the keyboard more and more - possibly because it's such a faff to get me sat on three cushions and plugged in etc that I have to make the most of it when I'm keyboard.jpg imprisoned in the corner.

    We finally decided if we drove to a different part of the country it might stop raining.
    It did very briefly.
    We went to Saulieu (Cote D'Or).
    A cheerful welcoming sign awaited us: saulieu sign - Copy.jpg
    We went culture hunting and found (at lunch time!) an art studio just about to shut. The artist Dirk kindly showed us his work and we bought a water colour of the Cafe Parisien which was round the corner. pic 2.jpg
    I wanted to have a drink there so I could remember it when I looked at the picture at home but Martin said it would be too much trouble to find the people in the picture again and put them in the right seats so we didn't.
    Afterwards we found this advert of the café on a building - very classy. building advert saulieu.jpg
    Speaking of old buildings, the artist told us of his latest inspiration and urged us to go and see this derelict house which he was painting. corner house saulieu.jpg
    I love the way houses are just left to disintegrate.
    Here is another fine example:
    falling down house saulieu.jpg
    .I didn't actually drive down this street
    narrow road saulieu.jpg
    but have driven down some like it (In Bristol last week on a steep gradient and then had to turn at the top but that is another story)

    While looking on a map I realise the Central Massif was not far away and hey! how about we drive over there and I try some spring skiing?

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  14. After this we decided we needed to do some laundry and have a hot shower and looked for a campsite. Our shower on board is the sort you only want to use in an emergency. I'm a bit of a shower wuss and tend to wait for a campsite or resort to the trusty basin and flannel. Besides which our shower area is the size of a high cupboard which is where everything gets dumped. It's too useful to use for showering!
    We were entering the Champagne region and passed cellars and vineyard offering tours. As Martin had done this at 15 years old and must have been bored silly as he wasn't keen to do it again and told me that all it was - was adding more sugar to make champagne and let's just buy some to sample instead which we did. I didn't realise there were so many different types. The dry ones are lovely. Most celebration ones I've had in England tend to be way sweeter and I just thought champagne had to be sweet. Not so!
    We found a campsite in Chalons en Champagne and the next day took a bus to the small town feeling adventurous found a nice big supermarket and stocked up with new foods, wines and chocolate. Why is it so much more exciting to do shopping over here? Maybe because we can't understand the labels. Every meal we make is an exciting new experiment in our Dutch oven with unusual cuts of meat or fish that we can't name plus vegetables like 'savage asparagus'. We are also really pleased with how well the dutch oven dry bakes pizza, rolls and anything in silver foil. I am a true convert and so far have managed to avoid being hit by it tumbling out of the high real (but useless)oven (where it lives) when I lift it down, or being burned by picking it up 10 minutes after we've finished with it because it takes so long to cool down.
    We heard of this lovely rural aire called Froncles and decided to check it out just because we liked the name. image.jpg It was enchanting. A stretch of grass between a lake and a canal with a few houseboats moored up with bicycles on top. Just gorgeous.
    Around this time I decided to track down a nice pool with sauna spa and steam - a treat which I have been enjoying for a few years. The only searches on google threw up sex shops which were rather surprising and amusing. Finally I seemed to find a regular spa a hundred miles away so we set off determinedly as we ha no other direction we needed to go in so why not that one. Besides I was curious to see if the French actually had spas.. Again sat nav dumped us but google maps sorted it. I had the nicest swim steam spa ever and all for 8 euros. Their Jacuzzi was a strange design. It was rectangular and very thin. About ten people were sitting quietly in a row looking out from the bubbles. It looked very funny. There was no space for me. I considered squeezing in and facing everybody and wished I knew the French to deliver Rowan Atkinson's line in the lift 'you're probably wondering why I called this meeting'
    It was a really lucky find as it turned out as the town (Langres) we had to stay in was a walled medieval fortress on the top of a hill! It was fascinating to walk around the battlements. image.jpg We even got in for free as the lady said there was too much cloud to see anything so she didn't think she could charge!
    However this was a period of non stop rain for four days. We had lots of traffic on the hilltop small aire. Being half grass, lots of vans unwisely parked on soggy mud with the inevitable consequence.... After nearly everyone had left on Monday morning and one van was getting nowhere churning up the mud, I suggested Martin don his raincoat and take our 'tracmats' to the rescue. We had bought these heavy duty plastic strips especially for this purpose. image.jpg
    I stayed in bed taking pics thru the window while Martin went and valiantly rescued the German family. image.jpg Hopefully we will be able to claim our karmic reward if we get in a pickle one day! Here they are on their way. image.jpg
    What we have learned so far:

    - A onesie will always get wet in the shower block if you try to put it on over a wet floor - unlike trousers where you can hold each leg up if you're a bit agile.

    - When sat nav says first exit off the roundabout he doesn't necessarily mean literally,

    - Contrary to what you might imagine - a motorhome is the easiest place in which to lose something. So far we have lost our cheese grater, our washing powder, three torches and our full size game of Scrabble -all of which we both remember packing.
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  15. Despite the bad weather we did get one warm evening where we could sit out and try out our camping chairs. Notice the blue ice block under the wine bottle.

    image.jpg
    No flies on us.

    The city Reims was close by and Martin had fond memories of hitching here at the age of 15 and staying at the youth hostel. We were amazed to find we could actually stay in the same place. As we had not yet figured our how to correctly programme sat nav with coordinates (there are three ways of doing it and only one way is right for your sat nav and no one tells you!) so we were once again politely deposited about two street away in a flat block carpark. We decided to leave Lenny and walk and ask.... Once again marvelling how so few people knew where they were. We tracked it down - it was huge! How could they all miss it? We were lucky enough to bag the very last available slot (out of 8) but it tested our parking skills severely.
    image.jpg
    As you can see all the others are facing backwards all ready to drive out but there was no way we could do that.
    We were delighted to be so close to the centre of a city and wasted no time going out to explore. Being a sunny Easter Saturday it was very lively and busy.
    We encountered a big brass calypso band straight away and bought the cd. (To try and boost our collection on board!)
    The next day we tracked down a Musee de Beaux arts which had a few impressionist original paintings which we enjoyed looking at. Martin as usual protesting all the way there then really enjoying it.

    The rest of the time we walked miles just soaking in the scenery and history.
    Inspired by the art museum we saw we decided to drive to a local exhibition advertised by this poster
    image.jpg
    We were delighted sat nav actually got it right and we found an unlikely parking place right in the centre. Walked to the place in torrential rain . Ah - it opens at 2pm and it was only 10am.
    Ah well let's relax in our motorhome and return at 2. Back in the rain four hours later, still closed. Closer look at the poster - it ended yesterday!! Lesson learned there.
    However it was worth visiting this tiny place to see this intriguing statue.
    image.jpg
    Who is this standing man we wondered. It seemed to be a bus stop but the figures behind him suggest either angels or rushing men. image.jpg No plaque to help us out which makes it more mysterious.
    Encountering all this art is an unexpected delight in France.
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