Tuesday 25th April 2017 had us waking up bright and early in Iggy’s cosy drop down bed. The temporary gloom of the previous day was washed away in the hope of a quick fix to the engine, and a return to the journey South. However, with last night’s destination of Rouen missed, we’d need to re calculate our driving times. Hmmm. Using google maps to calculate distances and times, and the Park4night app to search for Aires I quickly picked out a town called La Flèche as being a good prospective stopping place for today.
A glance at the time and a last bite of Carrefour croissant and I headed over to the garage in search of a mechanic. It was already very busy, even though they had only been open for a few minutes. I managed to explain to the receptionist who I was and what we thought was the problem and settled down to wait for the busy boss man.
In and out of the reception he came. Talking ten to the dozen on his phone as he paced through the building. Pausing every few minutes for a flurry of conversation with a customer or passing garage worker in oil stained overalls. Flicking through paperwork and post-it notes. And finally, finally, turning to inspect me as he finished his call and slid his phone back into his pocket.
He spoke a little English and I had come prepared with technical words like tuyau (hose) from my Google Translate app and the correct page in the Fiat manual to point to the offending piece of engine.
“Ahhh! Regardons!” he exclaimed with a smile, and strode off through the garage at top speed. Me, following behind, as fast as my rather shorter, and considerably older, legs could manage!
And that, as they say, was that. One minute checking under the bonnet and he made a quick trip back inside, returning with a new clip for the hose. Two minutes later it was fitted! Job done! Simple! We parted with 11€ (feeling rather foolish for the drama of yesterday’s breakdown truck!) and were soon waved speedily on our way, with a parting…
“Bonne Chance! Bon Voyage!”
“Merci! Merci Beaucoup!! Au revoir!” we shouted in return. Waving frantically as Iggy slipped out of the forecourt and away. Off on the road to La Flèche!
It was a beautiful day, and our spirits were light and high as we drove past field after field of glowing, golden rape. Tiny chic villages with ancient stone-walled houses, clad in the iconic French shutters. Traditional Boulangerie, morning busy with the daily pick ups of fresh baguettes and French pain. Mouthwateringly delicious pastries, and individual gateaux enticingly divine as any work of art displayed in the Louvre.
How to resist? Maybe we should just grab two for later…?
All caked up, we let Satnav lead us on through the back roads of France. This journey was our first trip exploring away from the Toll roads and what a wonderful surprise it was! We had always assumed that the Toll roads would be quieter. Everyone would use the free roads as much as possible surely? But having done a few trips driving over here with the car we were feeling bolder. And besides! What was the hurry? It was France we wanted to see. Not just the motorway!
We definitely weren’t disappointed with our choice as the route seemed to become more picturesque with every passing mile. The sheer charm of France always blows me away entirely. Not in a “Head blows off in excitement!” kind of way. More in a steady, unending, flow of soft “wow”s. It’s just so, fabulously, consistently, endlessly, classically, beautiful!
The roads were wonderfully quiet, with little other traffic and no pressure at all as we ambled along in Iggy. I scanned the route ahead on park4night and found a little Aire de Camping Car half way to La Flèche. Situated beside a little lake with free services and parking it looked like an ideal spot to stop for lunch and visit our first, proper, Aire.
Popping the co-ordinates into Satnav we started to find the roads becoming a little more interesting as we drew closer to our destination!
And then, without warning, we found ourselves on this!! An incredibly steep, potholed like a string vest, stretch of stony piste! Had Satnav gone mad! This wasn’t a road!!
Poor Jay! I enjoyed every bone-shaking, tyre-eating, suspension-killing jolt! We’d heard that Satnavs had a habit of providing these fun little shortcuts for the unwary. I loved the adventure of it all and had been living in hopeful anticipation of just such an event. This was the life!!
Jay of course was lumbered with the responsibility of getting our lovely Iggy home out the other side in one piece, and so did not enjoy the whole experience quite as much as laughing, happy me!
Thankfully no sooner were we back on the “main” road than we took a last turn and pulled into our stopping spot for lunch. Finally, after a year of reading, researching, spending every spare moment pouring over information on motorhomes we were in a proper French Aire. A beautiful spot to stay for free, with fresh water, a drain to dump the grey/waste water, and another specially for emptying the toilet cassette into. All for free at this one!
It really was a beautiful spot to stop, and we needed to empty the toilet cassette ( that’s what Jay’s doing in the picture). We could have waited until La Flèche later, but the terminal was lovely and clean and it seemed like a good, relaxed place to learn the ropes.
Smelly jobs finished we had a leisurely lunch in the peaceful surroundings by the lake, then jumped back in Iggy for the last hour’s drive to La Flèche. How would our second free Aire of the day match up to this lovely spot?
Oh boy! Yes, it is official, I was actually in heaven. To say we were both beaming, just doesn’t come close to it. This was for us? This beautiful view? Free services? Free parking? Right in the heart of the town? Just for Motorhomes? France you are spoiling us! (N.47.6978, W0.07877)
Okay it was close to a busy road, and there were no walls or gates or guards. No shower blocks, or toilets or washing machines. Not everybody’s cup of tea. But we didn’t need any of those things. We just needed a place to park, fresh water, and suitable drains and bins. And like so, so many places in France La Flèche was happy to provide. No charge? Okay…Let’s go out for dinner then!
We got settled in and then headed out for a good wander around the pretty town. It’s a popular spot with a campsite a little further out of town and a zoo among other things to visit. But we were quite happy to just wander the banks of the Loire. Stroll through the park and through the shopping streets casting our eye out for a good place for dinner.
We stopped in at the church for a look and then settled ourselves down in a nice French restaurant for a well earned treat. What an adventure it had been so far! I don’t know if I’ve ever been happier than I was sitting there at that table with my best buddy Jay. We’d had this dream for so long. Crafted and worked it between us. It hadn’t been easy, but somehow, some way, we’d actually made it happen. Breakdowns, and broken bumpers. Flashing engine lights and madcap Satnav directions! And here we were parked in a beautiful spot, in a lovely town in France that we’d never heard of until that morning! Life just couldn’t get any better!!
Or so I thought until the waiter brought our dinners!
I had ordered a pork dish with a lovely sauce and fresh vegetables. Jay’s was a bit of a mystery. He’d gone for beef, but neither of us were familiar with the name of the dish and he’d decided not to ask.
“Aw just let it be a surprise.” he said, “I’ll eat it whatever it is!”
Oh how I admired his adventurous spirit! Oh how I admired his fortitude and humour as he laughingly embraced his huge plateful of Italian Carpaccio. Or thinly sliced, raw beef to the uninitiated!
Jay is such a trooper! I would have cried, had one forkful for the experience, and gladly swapped plates with him. But he ate every mouthful and declared it very nice. Though he did say he doubted he would ever order it again!
Wine finished, coffee and cognacs supped, and it was time to wend our way back to Iggy. Two happy adventurers, glowing slightly from good food and alcohol. Glowing slightly more from life and from love. The soft night air and the warm lights from the church.
What would tomorrow bring?