Unfortunately our mobile WiFi did not work in France so the blog has not been published – until now. It’s a few days since our return but with mounds of stuff to wash and iron, kit to go away in the garage and the loft, the van to be washed and cleaned and covered, we have rather had our hands full but here is what you have not been waiting for.
Wednesday 2nd March 2016,
We unwrapped the van from it’s warm winter overcoat about a week ago as there were a couple of jobs that needed to be done such as replacing a front head light bulb. I felt like taking it to Halfords and saying “you do it” but I knew that that would end in failure and me getting my money back. Eventually I got the jack out, removed the wheel, and they are big and very heavy, removed the inner wing and lay on my back fiddling in the dark to remove the rubber cover and prizing the leads off the bulb. Reversing the procedure would be easy I thought but then remembered I must not touch the bulb with my finger. Three out of four side running lights needed replacing. We needed lights in the kitchen cabinets, etc etc.
I had been training for the Heartbreaker Half Marathon last weekend so the work on the campervan had fallen behind. Now it was all go as we wanted to leave at 3pm on Wednesday and Joanna was going to be at her art group all morning. Ten past five and away we go. It’s then when we start asking each other if we have remembered this or stowed that.
It’s about a three hour drive to Newhaven and we pull up in the car park for supper and an earlyish night.
Next morning we pop down to Lidl for some of the stuff we have forgotten. Hand soap, pan scrubbers and a few other bits and bobs.
It had been a rough old night so we dosed up on Stugeron and Gally’s kennel was sprayed with calming vapour. We bought him a new chunk of antler to keep him busy for four hours although as it’s dark in the hold he’ll hopefully sleep through.
We will never know if he slept but he was sure glad to see us. We pulled up in a side road just outside the port to make coffee and let Gally out for a desperately needed pee!. We knew that ferry coffee was rubbish and I now know the fish and chips are of equal quality, more batter than fish, although Jo said the gluten free lasagne was quite nice. Maybe I should join the coeliacs society and get some of their grub.
The Stugeron had made me feel drowsy but we wanted to make Rouen by evening. We are at an aire (resting place for motorhomes) just south of Rouen and overlooking the river and we are both heading for an early night. Tomorrow we’ll be driving all day. Night night.
Friday 4th March 2016
We slept for ten hours. God I was tired. Jo drew the short straw and took Gally for a walk in the rain whilst I got breakfast. To save having two lots of breakfast cereals I eat Jo’s gluten free stuff and a lot of other gluten free food so I should feel much better according to the faddy folk who eat gluten free because it is the latest craze. Do I feel fitter or healthier? Do I hell! Would I eat it if Jo wasn’t a coeliac? Would I hell!. It is so expensive! If you want to feel fitter or healthier get a bike!
A long day in prospect. 561 kms so we head for the autoroute and blow the cost (about 55 Euros in tolls) This weather just got worse and to add to our apprehension about driving in it we were overtaken by a van sprouting aerials and satellite dishes and formal looking lettering on the side but what stuck out were the words in bold “OFFICIAL STORM CHASERS” and going our way!!!. At best it could be called drizzle but at worst you could not see much in front except a mist of water thrown up by the heavy lorries. Mrs SatNav tried to take us off the motorway at a junction with a big sign saying, “height barrier set at two metres”. She tried that last year but we forgot about it. We had a fractious tour of Versailles. My turn to take Gally out at lunch time (and again when we arrived) “How’s that?” he cried. “I need the gas on if you want to eat!” Gally has had longer walks in his short life! Gally pee please. Ici! Ici! Vite!
There were six vans in the aire and everyone was home to at least one pooch.
Straight to bed after eight hours of actual driving.
Saturday 5th March 2016
Big signs on the roads saying no PL’s (heavy lorries) in Alps region on Saturday and, of course, they are banned anywhere in France on Sunday so as we only have half the distance to do today (280 kms) we decided to use the main roads and avoid the tolls.
Our first problem was getting round Lyon. Despite being programmed to avoid toll roads Mrs SatNav wanted us on the motorway so with her switched off we reverted to a proper navigator, Mrs Edwards. Next problem, having switched Mrs SatNav back on suitably reprogrammed she took us through the middle of Grenoble instead of around it on the free autoroute.
Yet more problems, the direct road from Grenoble to Briançon was blocked by a landslide and would be for the next twelve months so a long detour south via Gap. From Gap there was a huge slow moving traffic jam. Road works, No. Accident, No. It seems there must be some event at Vars and the world and his dog were heading there via one small traffic island causing a huge tailback. Once past the island we motored on stopping to fill up with fuel to avoid condensation getting in the tank and mixing with the diesel. We also bought some additive to make sure the diesel did not freeze if it got really cold. Last year we struggled without it. I thought the engine was going to die on us. It popped and spluttered along on two or three cylinders until we got to the fuel station and we could get some additive. Diesel from low level sites is OK down to about -5 degrees but you need to buy the stuff up in the mountains but if it gets really cold you need the additive. 13 Euros for about half a cupful. Just slightly more expensive than Perrier water in Tesco’s.
The day’s drive had taken as long as the previous day’s but for only half the distance. We arrived at the aire at dusk knackered again after another eight hours driving. I know some people drive the whole trip in one day but they don’t drive four ton delivery vans with fitted kitchen, bathroom and bed. There had been a bucket full of snow in the last twenty four hours but the roads were clear. Britain would be gridlocked.
The aire in Briançon was in a public car park and the local yoofs were about in their lowered and souped up GTI’s with extremely noisey horns. The large building was some sort of sports hall and I guess you could have heard the music back in Lymington. Thank God they finished before eleven.
P155ed off I couldn’t try my new bike at the time trial today. There’s next month.
Sunday 6th March 2016.
The weather forecast for the next week was for dull grey days with low clouds and mist. This morning was bright, a smattering of snow, a few high white clouds but a chilly wind. Shopping for a few odd things and some LPG. Surprisingly we couldn’t squeeze any more in the tank despite using it for cooking heating etc. Does it expand at altitude? Any physicists out there?
So, onto Montgenevre. Clear road up the mountain. Just the short hill where we turn off to navigate. As usual covered in a sheet of ice. Oh no! There was a campervan stuck on the hill just short of the entrance and another one trying to get past. Memories of a couple of years ago when we had to fit the chains when only 100 metres short of the entrance. The second one had stopped on a level bit, so did we whilst the first one was fitting his chains. I hope he was quicker than when we do it. Wait, the second van is going for the hill without chains. He just squeezed through. Our turn. Nice and steady, no heroics with the gas pedal. Just got up and turned into the entrance. All downhill now. Empty the tanks, fill up with water and we found the spot we had last year.
It was such a bright sunny day. Quick lunch and a walk down to town to get some cash and buy our ski passes. Gally thought the snow was great fun biting chunks of it off and chasing blocks of ice when we kicked them. He did not like walking in the slush though.
Six day pass for OAP’s and free this afternoon. Gally stood on my snow boots when we were waiting for Jo at the cash machine. He is OK on hard packed snow or ice. He doesn’t feel the cold through his pads but he does not like getting his feet wet in the slush.
Quick dash back to the van (about 1km) and on with the ski boots and out with the skis.
We both need a few runs to get used to the snow. It was hard work. The snow was several inches deep and had been cut up by the crowds earlier in the day. The slopes were packed and there were queues at some of the lifts. Hopefully the piste bashers will be out tonight so it is nice and flat and hard tomorrow morning.
Monday 7th March 2016
They got it wrong again! Crystal clear skies and not a cloud in sight. I got the job of taking Gally for a stroll. It was bitterly cold.
We skied down to the road-crossing at the Italian border, walked across the road then skied down to the chair lift. The early morning rides are always interesting. We look for the animal tracks; pairs mean hoppy things, small steps are rabbits, large are hares. Footprints in a straight line are fox and they follow along the lines of the chairlifts looking for scraps of food which have been dropped by skiers having an aerial lunch.
We skied for about three hours in the morning but were anxious to check up on Gally. We thought he might be cooking. The van was certainly warm but out of the direct sunlight it was just temperate. After lunch we did a few more runs. Thirteen chairlifts equate to about fifteen Euros a go. By the end of the week we want to see it down to about one Euro a go. Ski passes cost us €31.50 (£25)per day. What can you get for that? I hear football tickets are over £50, the theatre tickets the other night were £26 each.
The forecasters certainly got it wrong again with idyllic conditions and all the weekenders had gone home so the slopes very much to ourselves.
Tuesday 8th March 2016
At first light it appeared to be a bright morning but then the grey clouds came in; just what we expected. I took Gally for a walk round the campervan site and noticed that he was limping. An inspection of his front right paw showed no damage but it had swollen a bit. He made the most of it holding it up when he wanted attention. He was lifted up into the van. It is a three foot jump because he doesn’t like the steps.
There was no water. Obviously the pipes had frozen. Mrs Resourceful soon had the problem solved. Water flowing breakfast followed.
The plan for today was to ski all morning until about three with a stop for some pommes frites and a glass of vin chaude. The sun had come out and it was a beautiful day in the mountains. We will not complain about the bitterly cold wind. We took cabines when available. There were so few skiers about there was never a queue and quite a few other less hardy folk followed our example.
The dog was no better so no walk down into town for him. I thought I might try some shorter skis. Mine seem a bit too long so I went in search of advice. I’m still a novice although I have been skiing for four years, you can’t teach old dogs new tricks. Some bread, home-made jam and some sweets for the drive home.
Still no joy with the mobile wi-fi and I’m not going to pay the price of the campsite wi-fi.
Wednesday 9th March 2016.
Another reverse Michael Fish day. The morning dawned bright and clear, he got it wrong again. Just as well because we were far from bright. For the second morning the heating had gone off in the night. No heating means pipes freeze etc. When the sun gets up the heating starts up again and eventually every things works just fine. We remembered a previous occasion in the mountains and I got shoved out into the cold to check the air intake for the boiler. It is a dual pipe system. One is the intake for fresh air and the other is the vent for the burnt gases. As soon as the hot vapour meets the cold outside it becomes water and if it is cold enough or there is a cold wind it rapidly becomes ice and eventually it will block up the air intake. The system then shuts down, for safety reasons. What we need is a wind deflector like the one I had on my house in Pontshill.
We got the bus down to town so I could pick up my rental skis. They are about four inches shorter than mine. I really wanted some very short ones which are quite popular now but the shop guy said they were for accomplished skiers and not for the likes of a novice like me.
Once I had got used to them I quite liked them. I even practiced skating with them. I always got in a tangle, crossing my skis, with the longer ones.
At the top of Serre Thibaud we noticed some snow buntings hopping about. We saw them again today, the lift attendant at the top was obviously feeding them.
We stopped for lunch back in the van and to see how the patient was. The French guy from the van next door was giving him lots of cuddles until Gally spotted another dog and tore off after him. We called him and he came limping back, stupid animal.
After a few more runs and with the cloud coming in and the temperature dropping we called at the high café for a couple of glasses of vin chaude. There was more wildlife. One we were pretty sure was a willow tit and the other unknown to us and would have to wait till we got back to the van and our bird book. Both were looking for scraps that may have fallen off the tables.
It was an Alpine Accentor; a new one to us. It looked like an overgrown house sparrow.
We had also seen Alpine choughs flying about.
We have now done 30 lifts making it about six Euros a trip. My Garmin is recording all the descents in metres and distance travelled downhill and when we get onto the internet I can publish all this stuff and put the tracks on Connect or Strava or whatever. Yesterday I recorded our travels; we travelled over 40 kms but some of that was in chairlifts!
Thurday 10th March 2016
Can this be true? Another bright clear morning. We usually start the day with a couple of runs on the slopes opposite the campervan site. We ski down the campervan site, getting a few disapproving looks. Not all the campers are skiers. The camping car club de l’ouest are holed up here and set off walking most mornings. Some ski like the bloke next door. Across the road at the border post. Despite the Schengen agreement there are police at the border checking lorries and vans and some cars.
There is one run we only do in the morning. It is steep and ends in a funnel and we like to get there before the board boys from the town arrive and carve it and the skiers up.
We get in five lifts and then head back to the van. This involves a short section of off-piste. It’s Ok if you stick to the track that others have created but if you ski off it you end up in three feet of soft snow. Great fun but embarrassing as all the campervanners can see you. You have to make it look as if it was a deliberate act of dismounting to walk across the road.
I had been trying out some new skis from the rental shop. They are shorter than mine.
Lunch over, dog walked and back onto the slopes this time heading for the hills above the town.
I decided to bring my long skis to compare them to the newer ones.
We followed our usual pattern, do a few runs, head for the bar, a glass each of vin chaude, back up to the top then one long run to the bottom and the bus back to the van. We have probably drunk more wine on this trip than we have done in the rest of the year. At least that was what I thought until Jo added that the glass was probably only a third wine and the rest hot sugary water. At least I don’t fall over in a drunken stupor.
Gally’s foot is much better and we walked into town to buy the skis. Two days rental would have been 38 Euros. They wanted eighty for them and no rental to pay. No brainer really. Much better than my present ones which are looking a bit ragged.
40 runs so far, that’s 4.80 Euros per chairlft. I’m sure others would do far more trips than us but we stop to look at the scenery, read the information boards, have a drink, pop home for lunch and generally just take life at our own pace. We are pensioners after all and it isn’t a race.
Friday 11th March 2016
According to the forecasters and some of the other campervanners today was going to be a day of storms, thunder and lightening, fire and brimstone but true to form the day dawned bright and sunny with barely a wisp of cloud. How can they get it so wrong with all the modern wizardry?
During breakfast I noticed a little bit of blood on Gally’s paw. On close inspection it was not from a cut but a sore. We immediately panicked and thought it might be Alabama rot. What could we do? If it was would the local vets know what to do or would they have even heard about it. (those of you living outside the New Forest and one or two other areas in the UK have probably never heard of it either.) There was no point getting a blood test done as by the time the results would be available we would be half way home. If he had got Alabama rot it would spread to his kidneys and he would be dead within 24-48 hours. What to do? We read about the symptoms on the internet and he had none of those so we went skiing. We chatted about it on the chairlifts. If he had to be put down at least he had had a good life albeit a short one.
If that had to be our last day’s skiing it was a good one. We encourage each other to perfect our turns, take the fastest lines. Next year we will take lessons as we want to be able to ski red runs with confidence. We can both do it but with a lot of side slipping to scrub off speed.
We did nine chairlifts taking total to 49, just under four Euros a go. We could not face a vin chaude so we rushed back to check up on the invalid. He was full of the joys of spring, dashing about and chewing up lumps of ice. The sore was no worse so we were relieved. He was not exhibiting any of the symptoms of the disease.
Our plan was to drive down to Briançon and get some gas. We thought we might go and see the vet so after lunch we loaded up and headed downhill but not before a real problem at the pay booth. We had to pay fifty Euros for our stay and the machine spat out all of our cards. Puh! Les Rosbifs. Non. We tried cash. Puh! Non!. Panic Jo ran over to our neighbouring van, they were very fond of Gally, and asked for help. They also tried without success, our coins were OK but not the notes. The lady kindly paid the bill and we gave her the cash.
We filled up with gas without a problem We guess as we were quite early last time they had not turned the machine on. We found the vets and made an appointment for Monday for his flea treatment which has to be done before they will let him back into the UK. 42 Euros please, stocked up at Carrefour for the next few days and our trip home; six different local cheeses, then back to the car park in Briançon for the night. Hopefully no ice hockey match tonight.
Saturday 12th March 2016
Early start (for us). Our six day pass gives a day in a different resort. We have driven through the Serre Chevalier Vallée in previous years and we would have done this year but for the landslide at La Grave so, rather than return to the masses at Montgenèvre, we headed for the Vallée.
The Vallée is divided into four sections and they interlink so by going up and down diagonally you can get back to Briançon 14 kms down the valley and that’s what people do apparently so we stuck to the first section as we did not know the pistes. We soon found out the signage was not as good as Montgenèvre. We’d be coming down a blue run, there’d be a junction and before you could determine which way to go you’d be “OMG we’re on a red one! I suppose we could stop and check. We did once have to ask one of the French ski instructors. In the end we used the red ones as there were so few people about and we could go down at our own pace.
We stopped for a snack and some vin chaude. Different, stronger taste here and cheaper too. We did not intend to stay too long. It will seem shorter than it actually was as I forgot to turn on the Garmin. Seems the runs get onto Strava as I’ve had kudos but how they get there I do not know unless it is from the Garmin to the watch then onto the internet. All this tech stuff is too much for me.
Jo managed to fall over twice. Only minor crashes but I’ve never seen her fall before. I’ve only managed two all week, again nothing serious, I don’t go fast enough for that and these days I wear a crash hat. I do on a bike when I can travel at 30mph so I do on skis when I can also do 30mph and ice is just as hard as concrete; you just don’t get road rash. It was another glorious day as you can see from the photos taken with my mobile phone.
By the time we returned to the car park it was packed with cars and campervans. We had lunch and headed back down the valley and up to Montgenèvre to the aire. It, too, was packed but we eventually managed to squeeze back into our previous slot. Loads of Italians in some very exotic motorhomes. If we are on a slope we get the ramps out. The better ones have hydraulic jacks which lift the van until it is perfectly level which might mean three wheels are completely off the ground.
Down into town to get my new (secondhand) skis serviced and have the stickers removed, get some bread and stuff and to find out why we could not pay to get out of the aire yesterday. It seems the Brits, Dutch and a few others have the same problem, their cards are just not acceptable in France which seems a pretty lame excuse as we had been able to buy fuel, gas and groceries with our cards. Anyway we have the phone number of the service team so if we get stuck we can call them.
So, with no more skiing planned, we intend to have a couple of relaxing days starting with a walk down into Italy for some lunch tomorrow.
54 runs for 192 Euros each. That’s 3.55 a run. About the cost of a pint of beer. Good value I reckon. Blue skies, lovely snow, clean air, good exercise. What’s a ride cost at Alton Towers?
Sunday 13th March 2016
We heard gentle rain on the roof at 6am. At seven Jo got up to let Gally out. It had turned to snow, the clouds were low and visibility was about a hundred yards. Should we leave now before the snow gets too deep? No skiing today, we had finished that part of the holiday, so we had a leisurely breakfast and contemplated the weather. It began to improve so we set off along the track to Clavière across the border in Italy. We needed some more coins for the exit gate at the aire so ordered a couple of coffees. Six Euros in change. We bought a present for our kind neighbours who look after Jo’s orchids whilst we are away. Four Euros in change. OK, we now have our “get out of Montgenèvre card”
We did not stay for lunch. We’ll save that for another day.
Gally absolutely loves the snow, romping around looking for sticks to throw about and chew. He wasn’t so happy when he went up to his tummy in the drifts.
We caught sight of a couple of gaps in the clouds but they did not appear for long and right now (midday) the cloud is closing in. Very few seem to be heading for home. I suppose if you have travelled a long way for a weekend’s skiing you brave it out.
More blue sky in the afternoon but not enough to make a pair of trousers for a cat. We lounged about, sorted out our clothes and played dominoes. The sky turned grey and we had some snow. We closed all the blinds and sat down to supper. When Gally needed to go out I as expecting a few inches of snow but there was none. Let’s hope we don’t get any tonight. I have had to put the chains on the last two times we have come up here and it is hard work, your hands get wet and cold and is usually a pretty messy job, lying on your back and reaching under the van to connect the chains.
Monday 14th March 2016
My Mum would have been 97 today.
A tentative look out of the window. Only a couple of inches of snow so no panic. A leisurely breakfast but what’s this? It’s now snowing like Billy-O! We had planned to stay for lunch then go down to Briançon so that Gally could have his tick and tapeworm tablet and then stay the night at Chorges but we decided to get off the mountain just in case it got a whole lot worse. If the vet could not see Gally immediately we could take a wander around the town. Down in Briançon there was no snow and the streets were clear and dry. We felt a bit stupid!
Lunch beside Lac Serre-Ponçon. The lake was about 15 metres below normal level but a crystal clear blue. We cross it on a long bridge which spans the north eastern part of the lake.
Our stop for the night is a carpark in Laye, just north of Gap. We walked up to a monument overlooking the town. It was erected to commemorate the townspeople who lost their lives when German soldiers burned the town in July 1944. It also commemorates four of the Maquis who died in a firefight with German soldiers a short while afterwards.
Tuesday 15th March 2016
We got cracking early. Montgenèvre, Grenoble and Gap form the three points of an equilateral triangle. For us the shortest route is Montgenèvre to Grenoble but we have to travel along the other two sides of the triangle because of the landslide just north of the Col de Lautaret so from Gap we head north to Grenoble along the route de Napolean. The lakes we passed looked very low. It must have been a dry winter and the meltwater had not arrived in volume yet.
Despite the mountain roads we made good progress up to Voiron but the shorter stretch from Voiron to our lunch stop alongside the fast flowing, wide and cystal clear River Rhone near Lagnieu was slow progress mainly due to the traffic calming measures (enormous speed bumps and multiple chicanes).
France must be the world’s foremost nation when it comes to building roundabouts followed closely, I must add, by Spain whose rate of construction must surely see them overtake the leaders sometime soon. Apart from the obvious delay they cause and the additional fuel you use navigating them you also have to listen to Mrs SatNav bleating out “In two kilometres take second exit from roundabout” You can almost feel the spit on your face as she annunciates her words with the emphasis on the T’s.
We also had a long and steep hill to negotiate. There was a 2.6 metres height restriction part way down and we were shed off to a side lane. We thought we might have to turn back but a man in a hut said all we needed to do was press the button and the barrier would rise up and let us pass. It seems that buses and lorries are not allowed down that stretch. Maybe some large vehicles had lost control in the past.
The afternoon section was much easier, mainly dual carriageway, as we left the mountains behind.
We rolled onto a large layby near the River Loire just south of Lagnieu took Gally for a walk back up to the river to where the Canal du Centre crosses the river on an aqueduct. Not as high or spectacular as the Pontcysylte near Llangollen but impressive none the less.
About thirty vans parked up. One Brit, (us), one Dutch, two Swedes, about six French and the rest German, I assume from the colour of the skin of some of them, on their way back from the Costas.
Two selfish Germans parked alongside the river rather than pointing towards it taking up five places. A French guy gave them a mouthful but they were unconcerned. Jo was going to write a note in French to put on their windows but they left very early so the opportunity was missed.
Wednesday 16th March 2016
Only 265 kms to do today across the central flat lands of France. Long straight roads, occasional villages, some dual carriageway and some country scenery. Grey day although no rain.
We stopped shortly after midi for lunch in a small country restaurant. Don’t walk into a restaurant after 1pm in France and expect to get fed. Lunch is at midi. At one the doors are usually closed to latecomers. The lunch was good if not spectacular. Fed and watered, we only had about eighty kms to our overnight stop at Marcilly-en-Villette, just south of Orleans, a sleepy little town way off the main road and in the middle of nowhere. What the occupants of the town must do I have no idea. I guess they must all commute to Orleans.
No water or electricity or even mobile signal here but plenty of space for Gally to run but we had to head him away from the field where two swans were in occupation. He had already surprised a pair of Mallards who beat a hasty one to the river.
Thursday 17th March 2016
The sun has returned and we woke up to a beautiful spring day.
Set off but stopped at a Biocoop and Jo spent a vast amount of money on her gluten free stuff.
The journey was such easy driving and we made such good progress we decided to push onto Dieppe to see if we could get an earlier ferry which we did so we are now on the ferry to Newhaven. Back to the UK and fortunately some dry weather as it’s getting late.
Another great holiday in the campervan and no need to get out the chains (Thank God). Well done Miss Bus.