Sunday, August 25, 2019

Repositioning across France

Did you know that France is only slightly smaller than Texas? I didn't, until it was time to make tracks to the other side of the country. Once we started planning our departure from Plaine Joux, we realized our trip would be like driving from Dallas to El Paso, only more lush and with castles. 

We all know Texas is just bigger.

We had a deadline to get to the tippy northwest corner of France, as we had made ferry reservations for July 21st departing from Cherbourg to Rosslare, Ireland. (I know, wuhoo, a new country!)

We are still familiarizing ourselves with the resources available to find places to park overnight, we just haven't done enough of it for it to become second nature as it was in the states. We'd had a good run through the Alps, but it was other travelers who pointed us to the free aires along our route, not our own research.

We are most comfortable with three websites in particular, ACSI, Camper Contact and Park4Night. ACSI is like Passport America. Thing is, in July and August, all bets are off as this is high season and it costs top dollar to stay in any commercial campground. So that's out. 

Our indispensable resources in Europe.

Park4Night is kind of a free-for-all. It lists all kinds of places, some great and some iffy. The trick is to learn to tell the difference and that takes experience. It's also made more challenging because we're so unfamiliar with motorhoming in France, and actually, all of Europe. Camper Contact is kind of a combo of the other two. It takes a lot of time and energy to research where to stay, where to find basic services and what to see. But, since we needed to reposition, we decided there's no time like the present to give it a go. We gave ourselves ten days. 

Part of the reason we get kind of nervous about choosing a place to stay is because many of the free aires we might want to stay in are located in small towns and villages. It would not be unusual for our GPS to lead us down a dinky little road, under an archway and through a medieval village with 90 degree turns around stone buildings. We like to call these routes "Ye Olde Cobblestone Main Street" and trust me, this is nerve-wracking. Just when we think there is no way we can make it down a particular road, here comes a huge truck barreling by right down said impossible road. It's amazing, really. It's just a matter of having a bit of confidence and a good feel for Bijou's size and that's what we're still lacking. We are getting better, though, I will say that.

Tight squeeze down Main Street.

With our route planned, we finally packed up and came off the mountain. In our time at Plaine Joux we made several trips on the bus and I paid attention to the route and how the bus drivers managed their gears and brakes. I learned every spot where I could pull over if it became necessary, so when we took off, I felt truly prepared. It was only a few kilometers, but it's an hour's drive due to the switchbacks. Off we went, and then it all went sideways. "What is all this??", I yelled at Steven, as though it were his fault. Not even halfway down, the road was blocked with all signs pointing to a detour. Crap. Oh, well, there was nothing we could do. We were sent on a narrow sideroad with an 11% grade descent. It was a holiday in France and the little village was having a big celebration on main street. 

We inched our way down off the mountain and finally came to a stop in the parking lot of the Super U. YAY, time to stock up. We had to be careful not to buy too much because we had to have our fridge empty before we got on the ferry where propane is not allowed. Our ferry trip would be 18 hours, so we really had no way to keep stuff cold. We got everything put away and took off. 

It felt good to be back on the road. We went north, turned west and skirted around Geneva, Switzerland then headed toward the village of Nantua for a night of free parking in the city aire, which was right on a gorgeous glacial lake. It was a busy aire, but it's hard to tell who is parked for the night and who is just spending a couple of hours sightseeing. We've been in places that are full only to see them empty out later. It's weird and unpredictable. People seem to think nothing of taking off and driving at dusk. Aires are first come, first served, and so far, we've been able to get a spot at all the places we've stopped.  

The view out Bijou's front window was stunning and we had a lovely evening and a good night's sleep. Better yet, there was a wonderful path all the way around the lake which we walked the next morning before packing up and taking off to a winery just down the road from Chablis. Yeah, there is actually a town named Chablis. 

All tucked in for the night in Nantua.

It’s hard to beat a lake view like this.

It got pretty busy over the course of the day.

Along our walk around the lake.

It's clear we are getting off the road for the day much earlier than everyone else, because the winery was a ghost town when we arrived. By dinnertime, it was almost full! Not only was it a Sunday, but it was also Bastille Day, a huge holiday in France. So unfortunately, we were unable to avail of the wine tour and tasting. The winery offered electricity, water and a dump, as well as privacy hedges and a secure location in a tiny town surrounded by vineyards, all for free. The trade-off is that it was a good distance off the highway and back the next day, which interferes with my OCD/lemming tendencies, but I am getting better at slowing down and taking the alternate path. 

Not too shabby for a free night of camping at the winery.

Our cross-country route led us within striking distance of Phill and Hannah's place in Veron. These are the folks who assisted us with all the particulars of the required French documents that allowed us to purchase Bijou. It was the perfect place to send a couple of large packages and also pick up a few bits of mail we had received. The packages contained an outdoor table, a collapsible ladder and binoculars. The latter item was for the occasional bird sighting, but mostly so we could see the license plates of new neighbors as they drove by. We are kind of obsessed with learning which country people are from. In our case, of course, no one knows we are American, because our plates are French. It's like being incognito and we don't have to reveal ourselves unless we want to, because no one talks to the French. :)

After picking up our packages we made our way to Sens, the largest town in the area full of shopping opportunities. We are on the hunt for E-bikes. I'd like to say we are enthusiastic about this, but we are the most ambivalent shoppers ever. We can't get excited about something that costs a ton of money and that we have absolutely no experience with. To top it off, the information about the products available to us is in French, so there's that. So we poked around, but made a decision to not make a decision at the moment. More walking for us.

We found a fabulous aire near the city center and, as luck would have it, just across the street from a Lidl's grocery store. Who needs a stinkin' E-bike, right? We got out our new table and our camp chairs set up and Steven tested out his new ladder, which he loves. We enjoyed the park-like setting so much, we ponied up 11 euros for a second night and had a fab evening sitting outside. We practically had the place to ourselves. 

Our retreat in Sens. This was just a lovely spot with a park-like atmosphere.

Steven is a little excited trying out his new retractable ladder.

We left fairly early the following morning as we had to make our way to IKEA, then make our way south of Paris in fairly dense traffic. The IKEA stop was for me, I wanted additional rugs for Bijou. It is not easy to just run in to IKEA and grab something and leave. Even though we knew exactly what we wanted, it still took us over an hour to complete the task. You have to really want something to go through all the hassle of getting it at IKEA. 

We finally got out of the Paris traffic as we made our way west. Steven had picked out a stop at Giverny, the home of French impressionist painter Claude Monet, a place that he really wanted to see and where we could spend the night. Win-win! Except, it was heaving with people! We walked over to the ticket office to gain entrance into the famed gardens and the line snaked all through the little village. We said forget it and just walked around the quaint town. It was lovely, I admit, but the mass of humanity really put me off. After a while, I went home to Bijou while Steven continued to take photos. As I passed through the parking lot I counted 22 tour buses. 

The line to get tickets for the Monet Gardens. No thanks!

We made a plan to get up early and indeed, we were the first in line. Some groups were let in through another entrance, but we still were able to walk around and see the place. I managed to tour the house, because I did it early, but by the time Steven made it there, he couldn't get past all the people to even make it up to the entrance. This is why we usually don't do touristy stuff like this and why we mostly travel to places in the off-season. Still, we're glad we made the effort. Even though the garden was at the end of its bloom, it was still beautiful.

When we arrived the next day, we beat the crowds and it was worth it.

Click above to see Steven’s video of Monet’s Gardens.

At this point we had three nights to eat everything in the fridge. We needed to find a place close to the ferry where we could just hunker down, eat, get our laundry done, get Bijou cleaned and relax before getting ourselves on the ferry. We found such a place, and while it was perfectly fine, and the owners were great, it was so non-descript, so out of the way, I can't even remember where it was. Except to say it was in Normandy, where they love Americans and American tanks and American flags and all things commercially American. If there is a buck, or a Euro, to be made off the war, then somebody is making it. We will explore this area more in the fall.  

The campground may not have been all that but the wine was good :)

And finally, we made it on to the ferry. Naturally we arrived hours before departure, and when we were sitting there watching all the folks around us pulling out picnic lunches, it dawned on us we had nothing to eat. By the time we got on the ferry we were starving and the cafeteria didn't open for another couple of hours. So we split a stale sandwich from the coffee bar. Kids were running around screaming, parents had spread out, taking up all the prime seating. On this ferry there were way more people than there were cabins, so most people just camped out. Steven and I had at least reserved reclining seats for the 18-hour, overnight journey, and even though we had been assigned seats 78 & 79, they were on opposite sides of the room. There was a movie theater onboard and we watched the Elton John biopic Rocket Man, which was great. Then we retreated to our chairs. I was lucky enough not to have a seatmate, so I was able to lay down, albeit with my legs folded up, but poor Steven had to sleep sitting up. Suffice it to say that we have booked a cabin for our return trip.

Finally on the way to a new country - Ireland!

At 8:00 a.m. on the dot we arrived in Rosslare, County Wexford, Ireland. We rolled off the ferry and in that first instant I had to learn to drive on, what for me, was the wrong side of the road. And it was raining. Welcome to Ireland!


  1. Loved all the pictures and Steven's video. The music he chose was perfect.

    1. Thanks, Connie. It's amazing he got any shots at all considering the crowds.

  2. You found such sweet spots to stay on your repositioning across France. I'm impressed with how flexible and adaptable you guys are. All of the newness is part of the fun of fulltime traveling, and also presents us with daily challenges. Even more so when you're traveling in different countries!
    Your experience at Giverny was exactly why we also generally avoid tourist attractions and why we prefer traveling in the shoulder seasons. However, there are some places that are worth the crowds—and Giverny is one of them! Loved the video.

    1. It's easy to be flexible when the days are warm and long, but we wonder what it will be like in the fall and winter when we have shorter days. There will be few people, but also probably getting off the road earlier. We'll see. :)

  3. What an adventure. You do a good job of taking us there with your stories.

  4. What a great post, Linda! Excellent video, as always, Steven. Most of my dad’s family (as are most of Canada’s French) is from Normandy. It appears that several of them are of Norwegian descent.

    1. Well you might as well come over and travel with us to Norway next summer! We'd love the company!

  5. I am loving every sentence, photo and video! What’ Next? Bavaria for Oktoberfest?


    1. Thank you! We tried very hard to work in Octoberfest this year, but it actually happens mostly in September and ends in early October! So we gave it a skip and will stay in Ireland until the end of Sept. Then back to France and beyond! Maybe next year!

  6. 11% grade! Yikes. The 10% over Teton Pass is nasty even in the Jeep! Love your water view spot and the lovely trees to relax in at Sens. Bummer you couldn't stay in Bijou on the ferry and sleep in your own space. I had to laugh (sorry) when you had done such a good job of getting rid of all your food...... As always, Steven's video made me feel like I was right there.

    1. I am very familiar with the Teton Pass. I once hauled a fully loaded Alfred Hitchpop and five people over that thing, thought we'd never make it!

  7. Super JEalous of Monets gardens!!