Thursday, 15 December 2016

South Bank Christmas Markets

Don't bother, is all I can say!

We picked up Boy Two from Senate House shortly after 10:00 am and got a bus down to Waterloo Bridge, and then walked down the steps to the South Bank - but not a Christmas Market hut in sight.  Frantic Googling not only ate most of my phone's battery but also discovered that there were markets on the Queen's Walk (near the Eye) and at Bankside.  As we were near the Queen's Walk, we went there first - but despite the fact that it was 11:00 nothing was open, and there were only about five stalls anyway.  Huge disappointment.

So we decided we'd try Bankside.  Since it was the Swan Whisperer's birthday, we thought we'd be extravagant and get a river bus down there, but of course we just missed one!  Still, we had the tickets, so we wandered about the Eye.  Boy Two asked if we could go on it, but we explained that it was very expensive and the kind of thing we reserved for a birthday treat - we did actually wonder about treating the SW, but he thought not.  We said we might take him next birthday.... Anyway, we wandered round the souvenir shop, with the caveat that "We're not buying anything today" (the boys have been brought up to respect that, and don't nag, which is wonderful); both Boy Two and I fell in love with stuffed Corgis with Union flag coats on, but resisted temptation!

After which, it was time to go back to the pier, and we duly caught our riverbus to Bankside.  We nipped into Tate Modern to use the loos there, and then explored its Christmas market.  Also disappointing, although the stalls were open.  We had the obligatory mulled wine - a non-alcoholic punch for Boy Two - and the SW and I both had a Bratwurst in a roll.  Boy Two said he would prefer a hamburger, so we got him one - the biggest you ever did see, but he ate almost all of it, most of the onions and half the bun before admitting to being "a bit full up now"!   So we mopped up and then walked to London Bridge for a bus back to Walthamstow so that he could have a nap if he needed to, which he did.  So, I may say, did the Swan Whisperer! 

All in all I was very unimpressed with the Christmas markets this year.  Time was, they would stretch down between Waterloo and Westminster bridges, practically, and were splendid with gingerbread and other stalls, but not this year..  I believe there is a third around More London, but we didn't go there, and I don't intend to. 

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Brittany, 7 December

Not doing that again!  Dieppe, I mean.  It was an expensive aire, and, because we were right by where the ferries come in and out, we were woken several times during the night by them doing just that.  And then the one that was due in at 4:00 am came in, and KEPT ITS ENGINE ON until it went out again at 6:00.  So not much sleep for us!

However, we got up at 7:00, as planned (in fact, I got up a little earlier and turned the hot water on, but then went back to bed again), and were away by 08:30.  Before sunrise, although not before dawn..... we drove across country to Tréport/Eu enjoying the sunrise over the "big sky", and then up to Abbeville and so to the motorway.  We reached Cité Europe about 11 and did an enormous, mostly Christmas, shop, and then were lucky enough to get a berth on the Shuttle going an hour earlier than the one we'd booked.  We spent the crossing eating lunch, and only realised afterwards that by UK time it was actually only 12:15.... oh well.

A swift and easy drive home, where we arrived by 2:00, and then an hour's hard work and we got everything put away.  Although as we are using the van as an extension of No 6 over Christmas, we have just put a bedspread on the bed and left the towels in the bathroom.  Now just the laundry to do, and to take the motor home down to Sussex on Friday, and that is it for this year.  Next trip early in the New Year..... Barcelona, perhaps?

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Brittany, 6 December

The Swan Whisperer went for a run this morning, but the downside of going for a run before dawn in a strange place is that you don't realise that the town has carefully laid out a 3k course for you to run!  I found it later when I went for a walk to stretch my legs before a long day's drive.  I didn't do the whole 3k, but about half that round a very pretty lake.  I should have taken my trekking poles to have a proper workout, but didn't think until too late.
Most of the day was spent driving - on the motorway as far as Caen, then via Deauville (where we had lunch) and Honfleur to the Pont de Normandie, and then via Fécamp (where we got lost!) to Dieppe.  Then a cup of tea and we got rather cold waiting for it to be time to go out to dinner. We found a very nice restaurant that was slightly more expensive than we usually go for, but there food was delicious and the waitress made us giggle by looking exactly like Julie Walters in that sketch, only efficient and didn't spill things.
And so back to the van for the final night of the trip, although as we'll be sleeping in it over Christmas, we won't unmake the bed or bring the towels in. 

Monday, 5 December 2016

Brittany, 5 December

I made the huge mistake last night of failing to put on my bedsocks.  This meant I could simply not get my feet warm, and thus could not sleep.  I finally gave in and put then on - I do hate wearing them and one always comes off and gets lost - and of course, transformation. It wasn't even that cold, which is what is so annoying!
This morning we drove down to Pointe du Raz, which is about as far west as you can get in France. I should have liked to have stopped at the supermarket that said it was the "last supermarket before America", but we didn't. We thought might if we came back that way, but then we didn't.
The Pointe du Raz is obviously, in season, a huge tourist trap, with paying parking and a huge crescent of shops and a museum - all closed! We were reminded of Land's End, rather.   You could still park, but the barriers had been lifted and there were no attendants. We walked out along the path to the first viewpoint, which was lovely - sea all around, a lighthouse at the end, and plenty of rocks with lighthouses on them, too.
We walked back to the van and drove a little way north, past some wonderfully-situated hotels, to the Pointe du Van. This part of Finisterre is known as. Cornouaille, and the French for Cornwall is Cornouailles, so there is some connection.  The local languages are mutually intelligible with both Welsh and Cornish, I understand.
But it was time to turn eastwards, so we drove on, past Quimper (bypassing it, this time) and L'Orient, and turning south to Quiberon, which turned out to be a seaside resort at the end of a really long peninsula.
We stopped there for lunch, and then drive back through Carnac. This, however, proved to be a failure as there were roadworks and we were diverted hither and yon to the extent that I didn't realise we had been there until we were no longer there!  We did, however, see a field of menhirs (so that's what they did with all the ones Obélix carved!), so we felt honour was satisfied.
Then we drove on along the main road - Brittany doesn't have the toll motorways that are ubiquitous in the rest of France, but has some very good dual carriageways instead - to Rennes, and this pleasant aire in the suburb of Cesson-Sévigné.  It is the first aire that has been even remotely full this holiday, but we have a place by the river Vilaine, and very nice too.
There is so much more of Brittany to see, but it will have to wait for another time. And not in the summer - I imagine it would be heaving with tourists and no fun at all!

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Brittany, 4 December

I forgot to say yesterday that we passed a town with the simply glorious name of Villedieu-les-Poêles! 
This morning, we woke at 7, but it was still past 9 when we got away - it's not easy to be quick when you have to wait for the kettle to boil for your tea, and wait for the water to hot up for your shower, and then get breakfast and wash it up, make the beds and ready the van for the day's travel. But we got away at last, and our first stop was the town of Perros-Guirec, where the Swan Whisperer said there were some pink rocks he wanted to see, so he went off to look at them, and when he came back he had some coffee before we moved on round that peninsula. On the way we saw the rocks he'd been to, but I was distinctly underwhelmed.
Then a little further on we saw the real pink rocks, much more impressive!
We realised that we were, of course, in the very region where Astérix' village was supposed to have been, and I saw a dolmen by the side of the road, whether natural or put there for tourism, I wouldn't care to say. Apparently, Goscinny was wiser than he knew, as a real iron age village had been found in almost exactly the right place!
We then drove to Roscoff, where we had lunch overlooking the ferry.
A pleasant little town. We also decided to investigate where to go to this afternoon. We decided that we would head down to Audierne, but go through Brest and Quimper - we reckoned, correctly, that the traffic would not be too awful on a Sunday afternoon - and if time go right out along that peninsula to the Utmost West!  Or, failing that, to park up in Audierne overnight and go out to Pointe du Raz tomorrow.
Best was lovely - one of these days we want to come back and spend a couple of days there. Quimper less so, a bit meh.  Audierne, where we did end up for the night, is lovely - we are parked along a river, with a château the far side, and in view of a bridge. Not that we can see anything right now as it is dark and we have the shutters drawn to keep the heat in....
Dinner in the van - a sort of shakshuka, but with the end of the potatoes in it. And I have just remembered I had been going to use some chorizo, too!  Never mind, it'll keep....

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Brittany, 3 December

I had sat the alarm for 08:00 this morning, but by the time we got away it was 09:30 and we had wasted at least an hour's daylight.  Tomorrow, even though it is Sunday, we will be up at 07:00 and, I hope, away earlier. Or out for a walk, but the days are so short it is a pity to waste daylight.

We set the Satnav to take us to Saint-Brieuc, but decided not to go into the town itself. The first part of the trip we went across country, and then along a nearly motorway-standard N road, stopping for lunch at a service area. Our own lunch, I hasten to add, not what was provided by a café. Then we drove on, catching a glimpse of Mont Saint Michel in the distance, and up the coast to this town, Paimpol.  We are in a very nice aire, nobody else around, with services. It cost €4, and there is free parking in the town, but we need services. 

The Swan Whisperer went out for a walk and then we had a cup of tea before we walked into town and had dinner at a random, but very good, creperie.  And then back, and more or less straight to bed, although we did put the heating on for ten minutes, and boiled the kettle for bottles and tea.  He is now charging his phone and checking the sports results... Which I am so not interested in, but he persists in taking me anyway.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Brittany, 1 and 2 December

We couldn't really let the year end without another short trip in the motor home; after all, Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without a booze cruise! 

We couldn't leave on our usual 10:30 pm crossing as the Swan Whisperer had a rehearsal for the Christmas Show, so we were never going to be able to leave London much before 9:30 pm.  In fact, the next crossing was not until 1:30 am, arriving in France at 03:00 local time.  Eek!  However, we managed it, but by the time we had made our way to the car park (and they have changed the exit from the Eurotunnel yet again), turned on the gas, sorted out windows and blinds, etc, it was at least 3:30 am.  I had travelled in pyjamas, on the grounds that I wouldn't need to get out of the van once I was in it, and had spent the crossing curled up in bed, so it didn't take too long to snuggle down.

Needless to say, we didn't surface until after 10:00 am this morning!  And there was a late breakfast and some shopping before we got away. The Carrefour looks amazing, and French supermarkets do Christmas so much better than ours do!  Lots of foie gras, smoked salmon, champagne, etc.... 

Anyway, we got away at last and headed to the Aire du Baie de la Somme for lunch, and then on as far as Falaise, where we are parked up for the night.  And drinking wine....