Where are my thermals?

Morning. I know that out of all of the blogs you read, this one complains about the weather the most. It’s true. Well I’ve no intention of complaining about the weather as, as I’ve said a number of times recently, we’ve had a lovely spell in the south of France. What I’d do want to say is that C and I have been in long trousers for the first time for sixteen months. We have not been cold before. Yes, we’ve had cold days and have walked in the snow in Greece, but it’s always been unseasonal. Short lived. Even when we were skiing in Chatel last March Mrs Sun stole a march on everyone else and treated us to some lovely weather.

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But it’s cold now. It’s been perishing in mid-east France. Doris’s heater has been working overtime and we have been sleeping in our clothes. Actually that’s not true, but I do wear a hat in bed and, not giving any secrets away, C often wears a pair of socks. It’s all truly romantic. And of course we’re coming home, so it’s not going to get much warmer. How will our wardrobe cope? We have yet to figure that out. And to be clear, it’s cold – but Doris isn’t. Our heating system works a treat.

We are just short of Arras on this Sunday morning. We’re off to see Andrea and Richard tonight, who live in Arras, and they are currently stoking the fire for us. That’s literally, not in any way euphemistically. Which is a big hurrah! Our route north has been east of Paris following the Rhone, Soane and then the Marne, always stopping at free Aires, some with free electric – such a good country for campers. And there are still plenty of us about. The least we’ve seen at a stopover has been three vans. It is a national trait. And fabulous news for us.

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So. That’s me for today. Calais for a couple of days and then Richard and Caroline’s on Wednesday/Thursday. And then our country tour. We have, very kindly, been gifted ten days in Chatel again in early January thanks to Andrew and Elizabeth. We’re still discussing how to get there, but the certainty is that Doris will stay behind. How lucky are we?

Finally, sorry about the size of the photos and lack of captions.  Wordpress have changed their processes and my iPad is not coping.  Having sporadic wifi doesn’t help.  Oh well.

Have a good week.

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What have the Romans ever done for us?

Is that rain pit-pattering away on Doris’ roof? If it is – I’ll just check, yes it is – then that’s the first rain we’ve seen in over four weeks. And until last Sunday we had the best unbroken spell of warm, dry weather since we started this jaunt. The good news is that Doris’ heating is uber-efficient. The reason it’s good news is that the chill you’ve just had in the UK found the South of France. C and I have been in trousers for the first time in eighteen months. Brrrr.

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Is that such a bad thing? Virtual pals of ours, Eric and Shazza, who are full timing in their van, are now in southern Spain in a bolt hole they bought when they were travelling last winter. They’re there over Christmas before they return back as Caravan Club wardens for next year’s season. Do I envy them the hot weather? I don think so. Our plans for the New Year are not yet firm, but one of the reasons we’re coming home is that we missed our girls, our family and friends over Christmas. So it’s a different approach. Of course we have the luxury of heading south in early January, so it wouldn’t be long before we were browning our knees.

We left Plage D’Artiste on Monday morning. It was an emotional farewell. An Aire designed for 200 vans had collapsed down to a hardy five. It is a wonderful spot and we will be back! We stopped off at the Pont du Gard. This is a three tier Roman aqueduct and until you see it, you cannot begin to understand how wonderful it is – nor how they managed it with only ropes and some shackled-Gauls. It took us three attempts to walk in. The first two we were met with €18 car parks, which just seemed unnecessarily steep. Anyhow, we found the route that most savvy tourists used, and got a lovely walk in winter sun into the bargain.

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If you’re in southern France, along with the Calanques of Cassis, the Pont du Gard is a must.

We’re on our way north now, just short of Lyon. We are meeting friends in Arras on Sunday night and our ferry, which I must book (note to self) is planned for Wednesday lunchtime. Then we have a whirlwind of people to see and Doris’ Christmas decorations to put up. Fabulous.

Finally, C has finished her shawl. It is a monster, but looks fab and the recipient will be over the moon with it. And I am 15,000 words short of a 120,000 word novel. Less the Epilogue I really hope I can get it finished before we get on the ferry. But I’m not rushing it. It’s odd, but unlike UH – which will always be my baby – I do savour every word and phrase of the new book. I hope it shows when it eventually goes to print next Easter.

Anyhow, driving to do. Hope all is well with you and yours.

Power and money

This is mostly going to be dull, so I suggest you just look at the photos. I’m going to focus on money and power. But not necessarily in a macro sense.

First let’s talk budget. For those of you who have been reading this drivel for a while know that C and I work on a budget of £50 a day. That’s £10 for diesel and £40 for everything else including overnight stops. When were aboard we use the same figures but change the currency. That means, with the current exchange rate, we are saving about £15 a day before we start. Hurrah!

Doris having been sand blasted

Doris having been sand blasted

Whilst noting that we save elsewhere for major expenses which include: insurances (including travel, full timing insurance for Doris, and European breakdown); Doris’s tax, MoT and some money to cover other mechanical issues such as new tyres etc; my life insurance etc, we have never been over budget month-on-month.

It is true to say that, leaving aside exchange rates, we spend more money in the UK than we do aboard. That’s because when we’re on our own in Europe we knuckle down – and C doesn’t take me out for coffee. In the UK we are often with other people and, and this is not a bad thing, we end up spending more. But, still, month on month we have never overspent.

la Grande Motte

la Grande Motte

And this includes diesel – just. As at today I am on budget with diesel (which includes ferries). Okay so it’s taken me seventeen months to balance the budget, but I have finally got there. The first twelve months which included three return ferry journeys (Dover/Calais; Italy/Sicily; Italy/Greece) and driving over most of Europe hit us hard. Since August we have slowed right down. Hence less fuel.

So how much would it cost to do what we’re doing? Once you’ve brought your motorhome, you could easily get away with £20k a year – that’s everything including insurances. If you wanted to be tighter the budget could dip to £15k a year. Up to you.

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Let’s move onto power. We’ve been off grid for nine days and in that time have only driven eighty miles. We have been lucky with Mrs Sun, but during the lean months our 80W solar panel probably gives us a return of 2 Amps an hour, making the total about 15 AH a day. Our battery is a Banner 105AH, the best you can buy – but even that is only £100. I reckon we use somewhere between 15 and 25 AHs a day, mostly depending how much TV we watch, which is easily the greatest drain. And whilst we have LED lights, they’re not free. Winter = dark early and so the lights go on for longer periods.

And we have to charge phones, laptops iPads etc. All of those add to the drain.

So what? Well we have a snazzy battery management system that closes everything down before the battery bottoms. With this battery, even after nine days, that hasn’t happened. But the dials show that we’re close. So, yesterday, we drove over the ‘pay for’ electricity and for €2 got an hour’s top up and water. Mrs Sun is doing her best and everything now seems much more in ‘green’. Which was critical as we needed to watch Strictly last night.

The thing is, we do like to be completely independent. And having considered all of the options, including a second battery (no room), another solar panel (no room on the roof and it only works when Mrs Sun is with us), a methanol fuel cell (great idea and the smallest solution. However price = £1600), we have plumped for a briefcase generator. You can get a decent one for £500 and, whilst you have to be careful about noise, it is a lifetime purchase and would give us a supply of 4AH whenever we needed it.

So that’s my Christmas present!

What else? We’ve run, cycled, walked and even started swim walking, where you put your wetsuit on and trudge through the water. I found it very therapeutic – you can do it with your eyes closed knowing that if you fall over the worst that can happen is you get wet.

And I’m now at 97,000 words, with the second ‘book’ written. The novel is titled ‘Fuelling the Fire’, something that C thought of. It’s in three books: Cock Up; Conspiracy; and Conflagration. I’m starting the third book, which is much shorter than the other two today. First draft should be finished by Christmas. Hurrah!

We’re heading north tomorrow. Meeting some friends in northern France at the beginning of the next week, and then over the channel. I feel some Christmas decorating coming on.

Have a great week.

Writer’s cramp

imageI’m not sure how much ink I have left! I do feel that I have become a writing machine. When I planned Unsuspecting Hero I put out a chapter a week, when chapters were around 4,000 words a pop. In the last month of writing that book I doubled the production line. Now I’m scribing three chapters a week, each over 6,000 words. And that includes checking and rewriting. The new book, ‘Flames to the Fire’, its working title, is at 90,000 words now (UH finished at 85,000). I reckon there are 30,000 to go. The good news it will be finished in draft form by Christmas unless my fingers break.

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What else? Well not much really. C’s been either knitting, reading, or looking after me. The weather has been exceptional – cold and damp overnight, but long sunny days. We back at Plage D’Artiste and have fallen in love with Le Grau-du-Roi, a fishing village cum tourist resort at the edge of the Camargue. It straddles a canal with feeds Aigues-Mortes and takes you into the whole French canal network. The Aire is beautifully placed and we are a ten second walk from a beach too long to run down. Perfect.

And Doris? Well all of the electricity things have been sorted. The 12v is no longer tripping and the fridge lights and stays alight on gas. We have definitely become part of her and whilst still the smallest coach built van in the whole of France, we continue to manage well.

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I do worry about running out of leisure battery. Our 80W solar panel does really well in the Spring through to the Autumn. But now the days are short and Mrs Sun a bit shy. We have now been six days without hook-up and only an hour’s driving. We watch about three hours of TV every night and with darker nights, the lights go on when they need to. But, the 105AH battery is holding up – I do have plans to get a portable PV system to charge all our handheld electrics, especially my chrome book which is in use a lot at the moment.

 

That’s a Christmas task – which is coming together quite nicely. We’ve got people lined up to see, including some friends of our just short of Calais. But another ten days or so down here before we head north.

Hope all is well with you!

Sorry, but Mrs Sun is with us at the moment

I sit here this Sunday morning with a view over the Med and the sun streaming in through Doris’ front window. It’s not warm yet, but if yesterday is anything to go by, it will heat up nicely to the high teens and we could be sat outside in shorts and tea shirts with a cup of coffee later today.

campsite at Varage

campsite at Varage

The weather has been pretty fabulous. Over the past week there’s been little wind and lots of Mrs Sun. And, I have to say, that’s how we had imagined it when we set off on this adventure sixteen months ago. Everything comes to those who wait, I guess.

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We had two days at an ACSI site on the western side of Etang de Vaccares at Varage. This is a huge seawater etang fed from the Med by a long canal between two hills at Martigues. The campsite (€14) was lovely and it allowed us to recharge everything, C did a mountain of washing and dried it in the fine weather, and apart from being chased by mosquitoes – I didn’t realise they were such a plague on the Med coast – it was a relaxing sojourn.

the only good bit about Martigues

the only good bit about Martigues

We cycled from the site to Martigues. Please note that, unlike all German lakes and many in France, there isn’t a designated cycle route round and you have to play dodgeball with the traffic on a big road. Martigues didn’t take us until we found the old quarter, which was more like an eighth. A tiny area based round an old marina with pastel houses and brightly coloured fishing boats.

We drove back to St Marie de la Mer for the weekend via les Baux-de-Provence, a small village and castle on the edge of the Chaine des Alpilles. All in white and not overly touristified, the views back to the distant Med were significant and the little streets charming. We chose not to stay at the €19 campsite we parked in last time, but picked two Aires, the second where we are now right by the sea.

cycling through the Camargue

cycling through the Camargue

Yesterday we cycled to Phare de la Gacholle, one of three Camargue lighthouses, a twenty mile round trip across the Camargue, taking in the nothingness of it all, but enjoying the sunshine.

We ran (still running every other day), watched Strictly, and wrote and knitted. I am now close to 80,000 words and nowhere near finished. But it is coming together – and I am loving it still. C is close to 80,000 knit one, pearl ones, and someone is going to be very happy with their shawl.

camper an heaven

camper an heaven

For me, the only thing about the effort of writing (I now call it work – I’m putting in at least four hours a day, every day), is that I don’t know what it looks like. Is it any good? Should I be bothering? We’ll see. It is the best I can make it, and if that’s not good enough we’ll find out next summer when we get it out there.

Nothing today. Find a cafe, post the blog, tie up Christmas plans, do some admin. Oh, and write some more. Have a good one.

Calanques

Yesterday we did our first real touristing since we crossed over at Calais almost four weeks ago. We visited the Calanques at Cassis.

Cassis

Cassis

Cassis is a small fishing village on the French limestone white coast, which now hauls millionaires rather than mullet. It is lovely; to be fair no prettier than a hundred fishing villages we have had the fortune to visit in Italy, Sicily (I know they’re the same country) and Greece. What makes it special is that it’s closer to Calais than the rest, so was easier for the travelling Brits to get to all those days ago.

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The white rock affords clear water which at a distance turns azure blue, and the round, dark green Mediterranean pines give the scenery depth and complement the blues and whites. It is eye candy.

the deepest and furthest Calanque

the deepest and furthest Calanque

What makes it especially special are the Calanques. Think small finger fjords, with deep white sides and dark, thick blue water.

We walked from ‘parking exclusively for campers’ two miles out from Cassis, and then some more miles up and down the unforgiving limestone coast. Ten miles overall, with a picnic – we needed a cup of tea at the end. But be warned motorhomers. Nobody east of Marseilles loves you. France might be motorhome centric, but it’s southeast corner is too posh for the white village brigade. Motorhomers are banned from nearly all of the coastal towns and villages, and where you are allowed in you can’t stop. That’s why, using The ParkforaNight App we were pleased to find this spot nearish Cassis.

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Finally, for the record, we stayed for three nights at Carro on the seafront – with Mrs Sun excitedly pleased to see us. The Aire might be popular, but it is very, very pleasant. Off today back west where people like us, like us.

just in case we forget the lovely Aire at Carro

just in case we forget the lovely Aire at Carro

Have a good rest of week.

Pootling along…

Who would have thought we would have sat still for quite so long?

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The south coast of France isn’t that long, not like it’s west coast which is as long as least two pieces of string. Having meandered south in the first four or five days, it’s seems we have snailed it from west to east with our toes nearly always in the water.

It is an ever changing coast. After the Pyrenees you have the Vermillion Coast which is flattish, sandy and very Clactonesque and holiday centric with miles and miles of campsites. Next, below Montpellier, is the Amethyst Coast which is much of the same, but slightly more up market with big tourist towns like Sete. The Camargue, which if you’re after nothingness and a get away from it feel (although it is a struggle to get away from the mossies), will suit you. That’s next. And then finally, where the Alps meet the sea, and where we are now, you have the Azure Coast, or in French and more famously ‘Cote D’Azure’. We have been following property prices, and here, as you’d imagine, they hike. This is where James Bond plays his poker.

the mighty Rhone

the mighty Rhone

To finish with the Camargue. The campsite we stayed at at Saint Marie’s allowed us to recharge, shower in campsite showers (the ones where you leave them on and don’t mind where the water goes), walk across the salt flats and get plenty of photos, lose my favourite shorts and find them again two days later, but not find Mrs Sun. It was wet and windy. But not cold.

Then we drove to the eastern corner of the Camargue at Port St-Louis-du-Rhone, where the Grand Rhone hits the Med. Here Mrs Sun was back and we stopped on quayside for one night and cycled right down through the eastern end of the Camargue to a fabulous beach, which we loved so much we stayed the next night.

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The weather was ‘Bon’. We both had fabulous runs along the beach (latest regime is to run every other day) and sat outside Doris in the late afternoon sun soaking up the ambience. There were a number of campers parked on the beach, but with three or four others, we stayed in the free carpark. It was great.

The arrival of sea mist yesterday forced us on to a recommended Aire in sight of the foothill of the Alps (Doris had forgotten how to climb) at Carro. It is a purposefully built Aire right by a rocky beach and the harbour of this quaint little port. Did I say it was packed? Yup. It’s amazing how many French people are sunbirding it. And so few Brits (we’ve seen one in two weeks). But it’s cheap (€6) with free water. Yesterday afternoon Mrs Sun forgot what season it was and walking down the beach we were both too hot in shorts and t-shirts; fabulous.

a favourite of ours...

a favourite of ours…

What else are we doing? C is still knitting for Europe. And me the same with the book. I’m now pushing out about 15,000 words a week and will have draft one finished by Christmas all being well. I’m still no clearer on how it ends, but I guess that’s the excitement of it all?

Anyhow, enough from me. All’s well here. Have a great week.