Thursday, 28 September 2017

Back to Africa. Self Drive Safari.

Well, we are almost ready for our next big adventure. Back to Africa courtesy of Worldwide Motorhoming Holidays from the Camping and Caravanning Club. All booked up by the lovely Tracy and we are now nearly ready to go. Slightly anxious but hugely excited at the same time. I just hope my map reading skills and the Satnag with Tracks for Africa are up to the challenge!

This time we have decided on a 4 x 4 with a roof tent. Although actually, we will have two! Could be handy. We could have gone for a proper motorhome but decided we would quite enjoy a change and hopefully with nice weather, enjoy a different style of camping.

Fun DC 4 X 4 Here's the Beast, our home for a few weeks! Lets hope we make friends with him quickly?

 We will pick up the vehicle from Johannesburg and finish at Cape Town, with two nights in  The Derwent House Boutique Hotel. A total of 35 nights away.

 All the camp sites have been booked and we will be wending our way from Jo'Burg up through the Kruger for two days, with a slight detour to see The Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe for a day trip. We will then breeze through Botswana and travel via the Caprivi Strip into Namibia and another two days in Etosha Park. A few weeks in Namibia, bumping along the gravel roads, will see us back down through South Africa to Cape Town.

Cases are all packed. We have managed to get it down to one medium sized case weighing just around 21kg, a carry on each and two small bags, one each. I hope we have enough clothes, I have packed the travel wash! If needs must we could always go shopping.

We are taking two cameras, one each, just in case. A dash cam, satnav  and hand held Garmin and my small HP laptop. Hopefully we will find some Wifi and we may even be able to post a bit of a blog update. We will take our phones but intend to get local Sims for our emergency South African phone which we picked up on our last visit. I have packed a fairly comprehensive first aid kit ( never take anything you don't know how to use!) prescription pills and malarone tabs for the malaria belt. We intend to get the Deet spray "Tabard" when we get to Africa, it's loads cheaper there and very effective! Toiletries, shampoo and other sundries all packed, had problems finding decent shampoo last time.

I have also packed a motley selection of African maps, which we collected on our last trip, a Rough Guide to Africa and  a Bradt Guide to Namibia. For money, we are taking South African Rand ( which can also be used in Namibia) Pula ( for Botswana, left over from our last trip) plus a few US Dollars, along with a trusty Halifax Clarity Card and a FairFX Pre Pay card for backup. 

Our first stop on arrival will be a supermarket for supplies and a camping shop for an electric lead and a proper coffee pot. 

First stop Bobo Campers then on to Pretoria to our first destination  
Monateng Caravan Lodge.

As a little preview here is our webcam of our last trip on African roads. I suspect our paths will be crossing some of these roads again very soon.

African Roads


Wednesday, 20 September 2017

France Encore!

Well, we were soon off on our annual trip around France with a slight detour to Bruges in Belgium on the way. After our earlier trip to Ypres we really enjoyed Belgium and wanted to go back. Courtesy of Mr Tesco, we boarded the train with April and 35 minutes later we had arrived. First stop, Les Erables in Echalles or as we call it "The Farmer's Field". We had actually booked two nights there earlier in the year on our previous trip. Just as well, the "Complet" sign was about to go up. We wandered down to the village for a meal and enjoyed our first night in France.

If you look really hard you can just spot the white cliffs!

Up early for our first full day in France we thought we would take a meander around Escalles. Luckily the rain stayed off and we were able to take in a few sights. Up to the monument on the hill at the summit of Cap Gris Nez which was built to commemorate the Dover Patrols of World War 1, destroyed by the Germans during the war and rebuilt in 1966. The monument was designed by Aston Web, who also designed Admiralty Arch and the facade of Buckingham Palace. 23 metres high it dominates this part of the coast. 

The area around Escalles is dotted with bunkers and the scenery is beautiful and well worth a few days to explore. We even managed to make our way to the beach and admire from afar the white cliffs and boats ploughing The Channel, though no bluebirds in sight!

Feeling rested and refreshed the next morning our next destination booked in Belgium, we were off to Bruges. We had actually booked into Camping Memling for 3 nights, which was just as well as when we arrived, the campsite was full. Soon settled onto our booked pitch we set off for a little explore. 

The campsite was perfectly placed for biking into the city centre, With some trepidation on my part we set off on the bikes. Quelle surprise! So easy! Bike tracks everywhere Completely separated from the main roads and with their own bike traffic lights. The only slight downside was the cobbled roads. I actually felt quite proud of my self as I wobbled into the city. 10 minutes from the campsite and we were in Bruges. Loads of places to lock bikes up, you just had to remember where you had left the bikes! Beautiful weather and a great three days exploring the city. We certainly did not have the time to see everything we wanted. The town was crammed with travellers, it is a place we will return too. We avoided the tourist traps of "frites with mayo" waffles and chocolate but gave in to a little beer. Everywhere was very busy but we had a good look around the old town with the delightful buildings. A boat ride around the city seemed a good idea but was too busy for us to bother and long queues. Sadly Little Venice was off limits to us on the water ways.

Bruges a city of contrasts. Choose your transport. Segway or horse and trap all at a cost! 45 Euros to clatter a long the cobbles seemed a bit expensive. We settled for two legs. If we went again I think we would choose the city walls, canal paths and parks over the tourist traps.

Next stop  on my planned itinerary was back in France the Blockhaus at Eperqueles. We stayed at a lovely  little site near Arques and after a good nights rest set off to find the Blockhaus.

 This certainly turned out to be one of the highlights of our visit. It was a quiet day in terms of tourists so we were able to have a really good look around. It started off fairly insignificantly with a small museum. The we proceeded through to the train carriage which gave an eerie presentation of what the slave labourers encountered on their arrival. By the time you turn the corner and actually see the bunker it's massive and the pictures really do it little justice. Everything is outside and it's been pretty much left alone. A commentary on the history is broadcasted over tannoy speakers. Certainly well worth a visit.

Next stop Le Bec-Hellouin just outside Rouen. The campsite here has had a huge update since it has been put into private hands. It now has an indoor pool and small restaurant. We had a lovely meal and at 21 Euros for a nights stay, it was a bargain. Sadly someone had forgot to pack their "budgie smugglers", so we didn't try the pool.

We climbed down through the woods and went to the village. We had not been to the Abbey for many years so went to have another look around.

Founded in 1034 the original abbey was burned down during the 100 Years War in 1417. In 1791 due to the French Revolution again the abbey was closed. Both world wars caused further damage but now like a phoenix it is undergoing reconstruction. Despite all it's woes over the years it is a tranquil place to spend an afternoon and attracts a lot of visitors.

A beautiful peaceful Abbey Church and grounds.
Our next stop Chinon. A great site right in the middle of town. The day we arrived a medieval fayre was going on. The whole town given over to numerous craft stall. We had a browse around and later that night went on the banks of the river to watch the free fire work display below Chinon castle. This was a lovely campsite, very busy but relatively clean and tidy and a stones throw from the town. We also went and explored the castle.

Well worth a day out and a hike to the top of the towers gave magnificent views across the valley.

We learnt all about Richard 1 the Lionheart, who lived at Chinon as a child. A lovely day out for families with loads of fun things for children to do.

We also spent a very interesting couple of hours on a boat with a French party. Our lack of understanding meant we managed to gate crash a French private party on a boat trip up the river. We enjoyed the company, although we had no idea what they were talking about, we also enjoyed their wine!! They were very kind to us and said we were welcome to join them, they look a bit like pirates.

We left Chinon after a lovely 2 days and decided we had better follow King Richard and see where he was finally buried at Fontevraud- Abbaye, which was just up the road on the way to our next campsite. 

The Royal Abbey of Our Lady of Fontevraud. We eventually found the parking place for the camping cars and set of to meet with King Richard. He was happily sleeping in the company of King Henri 11 and his mother Eleanor of Aquitaine, they all looked very peaceful.

We wished them well and explored the rest of the Abbey, including saying hello to the poor souls resting in the crypt.

The Abbey had certainly seen much life. The first unisex religious community run by a woman no less! Also it had seen life as a prison and the museum told a lot about the social history of the place.

Following our few cultural days we moved on. Travelling via Chauvigny and the medieval village on the hill, more churches, a visit to friends at Parc Verger and the odd meal out, eventually we were south of Bordeaux. All the church and museum visits had worn us out, we needed a few days rest and relaxation. Heading for the lakes in the Landes we found ourselves at a small place called Ychoux. Perfect, a lake, village with restaurants and bike path on the doorstep. We were lucky as the area was pretty full of tourists and we just got one of the last pitches. A great little site near the large lake at Parentis En Borne. We spent 5 nights chilling!

Loads of biking and all off road.

We could have ridden all  the way to Mimizan and the sea. 10 minutes to the village and about an hour to the tourist hot spots of Parentis. The lakeside campsites were crammed and mostly "complet".

I wondered why the logs had my initials on them. Were they trying to tell me something?

Finally, time to think of travelling back to Ouistram. We set off after 5 quiet days and stopped at Saintes for another bit of sight seeing. Many years have passed since we have been there. There is now a pool at this site, although the sanitaire was much the same as we remembered it. The site is on the edge of the town and has a large area inside for motorhomes. There are a lot of comings and goings and the site does get quite full.

The new swimming pool, well used. We took a stroll alongside the Charente River and decided to seek out Saintes tourists spots. The river is a very busy place with lots of moorings for the passing boats.

We wandered around the old time taking time out for a lovely lunch in the warm sunshine and looking at the shops. 

We explored the Basilique Saint Eutrope and paid our repects to the man himself now resident in a stone cask, in the dark and spooky crypt. The church of St Eutrope is listed as a UNESCO heritage site as it is one of the pilgrimage sites on the Route to Santiago de Compostela. well worth a climb to see as it is off the usual tourist circuits in a quiet part of the town.

We finally found the Roman Amphitheatre, which we had searched unsuccessfully for many years ago. Built in the 1st Century AD, the amphitheatre seated 15000 people and was used for gladiator fights and games.

The next morning we were off for the last lap. Next stop Argentan, just south of Ouistram. Another lovely small town with a beautifully kept pristine campsite and on the edge of a town by the park.

We discovered this little gem last year and were pleased to be back. We did the town trail.

 A trip in a horse and cart. Cheaper than Brugges. Maybe next time.

Some of the more obscure delights of Argentan. The patron saint of pork butchers amused us. We left Argentan after  great night and felt sad it couldn't be longer. Always next year.

A short last stop at Ouistram.

Time to head home! Au revoir France until next year.