School continued at a frantic pace but six weeks after Easter it was Half Term again. As the other teachers bunkered down for a week of catching up with paperwork we were up at the extraordinary time of 12.45am and driving to Luton Airport.
John had booked a motorhome for a week, or as the French call it, Le Camping Car.
From CDG we were delivered by taxi to Car-a-Way where we were introduced to our Camping Car and shown a video in French on how to operate the various parts. John was able to understand with his high school French and the knowledge gained from owning a caravan. When I admitted “Je ne parle pas le francais” I was advised to learn what I could in that one week and when I came back they would check up on me.
Leaving Paris was easier than we had hoped. The Seine was blue, the weather was sunny and we were on the A10 to Orleans. I had already chosen a caravan park for €10 at La Chapelle-St-Mesmin on the banks of the Loire just south of Orleans.
Realising we needed some food we diverged from the autoroute into a little town called Toury. We couldn’t find any food but watched a wedding near a beautiful old church, the bride running across the road from the courthouse to the church followed by happy guests. The stone houses of the village hid behind shuttered windows, brilliant red roses adorning their walls and gardens. As we drove on through Anteray, Chevilly and Cercottes we despaired finding anything resembling a supermarket or even a corner store. Finally in Saran, just north of Orleans we found a huge supermarket and stocked up on essentials.
John was looking forward to the end of the day’s driving as I directed him to the spot where the van park should have been but alas, it was closed. Three other motorhomes were parked nearby, and next to them a small group of people waved maps and looked lost. They were Italian, German and Dutch but somehow I worked out when I spoke to them that they planned to try for another camping area about 20 kilometres away. We worked out they were heading north so we decided instead to follow the Loire to the east and try our luck. First we had to negotiate one way streets and trams in Orleans but eventually discovered a D road to Jargeau where there was a camping area on the river.
At 5.30 pm John opened a celebratory beer. We broke the bread, drank the wine and ate our smoked salmon, salad and tomatoes. We fell into bed leaving the dishes for the next day with the excuse that a) we had no matches for the gas stove b) we didn’t know how to turn the water heater on.
The next morning John went exploring to find matches and I stayed behind to clean up. A Belgium couple in the next camper loaned me a lighter so I could boil some water on the stove. The washing up completed I started cooking eggs and mushrooms. John arrived soaking wet but carrying gifts – matches, a baguette and croissants.
We finally worked out how to turn on the hot water and were able to have showers – surprisingly good for a motorhome.
Fed and washed we were keen to explore the local village. The rain had stopped and it was pleasantly mild. Among the interesting little shops was a patisserie with the most exquisite little cakes so we bought two for later. Across the bridge was the town of St Denis de-L’Hotel where we were told there would be fireworks that night.
An intriguing sight was a group of young men pushing a wheelbarrow full of drinks. They appeared to have been imbibing all night and were in a very happy mood. They would stop every now and again to perform strange actions such as walking on top of a painted, bandaged man in their group or beginning a game of football or volleyball. We decided it must be a buck’s party or else some strange ritual.
We decided to stay another night so walked again to the village for dinner. The brasserie was cosy, the starter of terrine and salad was delicious but the main course was another story. I enjoyed my simple tomato and cheese on toast with a fresh salad but changed my mind about trying some of John’s Andoulette de Jargeau – a sausage which looked good but tasted and smelt like old boots. It was a specialty of the town but undeniably an acquired taste. We weren’t brave enough to complain.
At 11.00 o’clock we crossed the bridge to St Denis L’Hotel where we watched the fireworks reflecting on the river.
With the weather still a little cool although it was early June, we worked out how to operate the heater in the van and wore tracksuits to bed.
The next day we reluctantly left Jargeau and drove on to the outskirts of Chateau Neuf sur Loire where we bought more food, wine and water at a supermarket.
Viewing ancient and impressive churches, fairytale chateaus with turrets and moats we walked across the Pont Canal which crosses the Loire on an acqueduct designed in Gustaf Eiffel’s workshop.
It was time to find a home for the night so when we saw the Camping sign at Chatillion-sur-Loire we drove in thankfully over a narrow bridge crossing a defunct canal. No-one answered the bell at the old house so we found ourselves a pleasant spot with a view of the river, opened the champagne and settled down for the night. We eventually found the caretakers and paid our €10.80.
For June the weather was abominable and the next day it rained all day. Before we left I decided to check out the amenities. I couldn’t work out the difference between the Men’s and the Women’s toilets so waited until a French woman walked in and I followed her. I found out later we had both gone to the Men’s.
We travelled across Central France with St Pardoux camping area near Limoge as our intended destination. Just north of Limoge we saw a camping sign at Lac Signet and decided to stop when we had the chance. There was no one in the Accueil (welcome, information) so we camped for free on a freshly mown lakeside area with one other van for company. We were pretty content as we ate our home cooked meal of Grenada (fish), sauteed potatoes, eggplant, mushrooms and green salad washed down with a Bordeaux Blanc Sec. We enjoyed the late sunset with our view of a splendid pink flowering bush, a strip of beach, a rippling lake and a deep green forest. The only people we saw were joggers and dog walkers.
Our peaceful patch of countryside was such a contrast to the following day, which would take us back in time to the horrors of World War 2, and the saddest place I have ever been.