Thursday 27th April and the sound of a very enthusiastic bird roused me from the wall of trees around Iggy’s motorhome bay at Niort Aire. I lay still for a few minutes, eyes closed, lips smiling and just listened to the little guy singing up the morning for all she was worth.
“Good morning to you too little bird! Thanks for the song.” I thought to myself as I slipped off the drop down bed and padded across Iggy’s morning cool floor to put the kettle on.
I figured I’d have an hour or two to myself while Jay – never a morning person – loitered under the duvet. The perfect chance to get the apps and the map out, and figure out where we where going today. “Somewhere near Bordeaux” would fit our timing, for spreading the driving evenly across the days, as we headed for our family meet up in Lagos on Tuesday.
I turned from the gas hob and almost jumped out of my skin to find Jay watching me from the curtains around the bed!
“Morning” he smiled.
“Good morning! What are you doing awake!?” says I in the startled tones of a woman who’s just found E.T. eating pain au chocolat at her breakfast table.
“Don’t know. Just am.” came the cheery response from this strange interloper wearing our Jay’s skin like…well…like a second skin! Who was this strange man? Had Invasion of the Bodysnatchers come to pass as I lay sleeping? Was I even awake??
A quick blink and the reassuring, elephant like, van-shaking, trampling of Jay, making a bee-line for the shower room, reassured me. Surely this was our Jay?! No alien imposter could possibly make so much noise when they’re being quiet!
“Tea?” I queried with a morning grin.
“Eh no! Coffee! Have we not got coffee? I don’t like tea!” came the puzzled response. “You know I don’t drink tea!!”
“Coffee! Of course coffee. I meant coffee. I was just checking if you were an alien imposter like in Invasion of the Bodysnatchers.” I said innocently…
…And so began another normal morning in the Lindsay/Sloan vanhold as life went from slow-lane to 60mph in zero seconds, as it always does once Jay’s feet hit the floor. Breakfast disappeared in a flash and Jay was outside rolling up electric cables and turning off gas bottles while I was still sipping my coffee in shock at him being awake so early without me applying a cattle prod! This vanlife seemed to agree with him!
While we were packing away, a municipal pick up truck pulled into the Aire. Maybe they were here for the money? Although our park4night app had told us it was €10 to stay here we’d found no way to pay when we arrived yesterday. We’d heard though that in some places people came around once a day to collect fees, and this soon proved to be the case as the men started going around the vans with a receipt book.
Delighted by the friendliness of the system we happily parted with our €10 and drove Iggy out to the terminal, for fresh water IN, and waste water OUT, before we hit the road again, direction Bordeaux.
The days were getting warmer, and I had a hankering for a bit of beach as I searched the Bordeaux area for an appealing stopping place. I didn’t know much about the surroundings, and nothing much was appealing to me for a quick one night stop, until I stumbled on some free motorhome parking just outside Arcachon.
I’d never heard of the town before, but we would be just the other side of a stretch of trees from a beach. Not much else around. A nice contrast to the last few days of town stays.
Arcachon it was! I punched the coordinates into our TomTom Satnav and then started to look for a place to stop for lunch. It was going to be quite a long drive today by our standars. Maybe four hours without stopping. But we were in no hurry to get anywhere and as we approached Angouleme we figured it was a likely looking spot for a bite of lunch and a stretch of the legs.
I loved the name of the town and would possibly have made it one of our stops if we hadn’t been delayed by the breakdown on day one! My idea of making up for not staying the night by taking a good wander around town, kind of disappeared though when we turned the corner from the car park and spotted a little crepe stall with seats by the river. Maybe we should just stop right here!
It was just too pretty to pass up. We could come back and explore Angouleme properly another time. For today this was more than enough. Sipping coffee and munching feather light French crepes and gaufres in this stunning setting was so much more than enough!
An hour slipped past at the speed of the slow moving river and we reluctantly peeled ourselves from our chairs and ambled back to Iggy through the warm Spring sunshine. The road was waiting and today it seemed in no more of a rush than the river.
A couple of hours passed and Bordeaux was getting closer as we passed a sign for a roadside Aire approaching. We’d heard there had been a traffic incident near the city and there were delays ahead so we pulled in for a quick, last, coffee break before the final stretch. We would be glad of it later if we got stuck in traffic up ahead.
I love these French rest stops along the, off toll, main roads. Beautiful green areas with picnic benches, toilet facilities, and not a shop or an advertising sign to be seen. At lunchtime French families and couple eat their picnics in the sun (or shade, depending on the heat!) Children play among the trees and dogs shake off the confinement of car journeys with a bound and a wriggle on the fresh, green grass.
It reminds me everytime of my first visit to the States when I was fifteen. Cool green picnic areas with a soda machine selling ice cold cans of Mountain Dew, Root Beer and the ubiquitous Coca Cola. The U.S. was the first country I ever visited outside of Britain. France was my second. The memories of both combine in these simple, stress free spaces in a way that never fails to renew me. My childhood sense of wonder, and love of turning new corners in the path comes flooding over me. A warm wave of happiness and simple peace and contentment in being.
DM enjoyed the leg stretch and coffee too, but he’s a bit of an impatient soul and before too long we were back on the road to Arcachon.
We were soon thankful that we’d taken the opportunity to stop as the traffic around Bordeaux was still moving very slowly as we skirted the city. The cathedral gleamed above the rooftops, making me want to stop and visit. But that would have to wait for another day. For now, we had spent a lot of time on the roads today and just wanted to push on for Arcachon and get our feet on some sand!
It took a while for the traffic to ease as we headed West from Bordeaux towards the sea. This was suburb land, with many nice spots to live or visit outside the city. And even more people, trying to get to them!
Finally, a lifetime after leaving Niort this morning, we arrived at our free Motorhome parking spot just South of the main town of Arcachon. (N44.648903, W1.196348) There were no services, and it felt a bit strange to be right by the road, but hey! Look at that sea!
I’m a bit of a water baby. I grew up on an island 100 miles from anywhere. Sitting all alone half way between Scotland and Norway, with the sea as our eternal companion. I love it in all it’s moods. Wind-tossed into mountainous, steel grey, waves. Warm and blue as a summer’s day. I don’t like to be away from it for long. I miss it’s presence in my very bones.
And here, one stop North of Spain, our first trip abroad in our lovely new motorhome, our lovely new life of travelling in him, it was a joy of storybook proportions to be spending our first night by a foreign sea. My feet could not hit that sand fast enough!
The beach stretched away into the distance in both directions, and at random, we chose right, towards the town. It was good to stretch our legs after the hours in the van. The strong sea breeze wasn’t cold and it was a pleasant walk. Helped along nicely by the glass of red naughtily poured into our travel mugs before we left! Who needs a beach bar when you’ve got a travel mug?
Well we might not have needed one, but the wine in our mugs was long gone by the time we stumbled across exactly that. Rounding the promontory we spied a busy public space up ahead, with a pretty beach bar/restaurant tempting us in with it’s understated French chic.
We debated going in. We were a bit scruffy from our days on the road and we’d been out for dinner just two nights ago. And then there was the gaufres and coffees earlier today. Still…it would be nice to linger for a while by the beach before we had to head back to Iggy. A quick scan of the menu and we could have burgers and a bottle of wine for just €30. Hmmm… Not too bad for France, and we knew it would be good.
Decision made and wallets squealing in protest we gave in to temptation and followed DM in to the restaurant looking like we’d been dragged through a hedge backwards. Well I looked like I’d been dragged through a hedge backwards! DM and Jay excuded their eternal, sauve neatness as always. Jay always looks like he’s about to step on stage and DM…well DM is perfect of course!
The waiter was the perfect host however, completely ignoring my dishevelled appearance and not even batting an eyelid to see a rather dapper mouse drinking a glass of his delicious red.
Dinner was delicious as expected. The wine gorgeous as it always is in French eateries. And so it was three happy, slightly merry, slightly red cheeked, travellers that finally left the beach bar and wandered our way back through the woods to Iggy.
The sun was setting in a blaze of gold through the trees, and when it rose again tomorrow, we would continue South…into Spain.
But for tonight we had France, the sea, and Arcachon.