Friday, 6 February 2015


We arrive safely back in Ipswich in time for a cold snap and a skiff of snow.  Our Dickinson Antartic Heater keeps us snug and warm at 30% of its heating capacity.

Of course we had no further trouble with the van.  In fact the last repair resulted in dramatically improved fuel economy. 


Snug as a bug in a rug.


Along with Dieppe (see earlier post), Vimy Ridge is a must stop for Canadians in France.  The ridge has been given to the people of Canada by the people of France and is run and maintained by Veterans Affairs Canada. 

We arrived on the last training day for the seasonal staff, so there were no tours.  Just our luck.

It was an emotional visit for both of us, more so for Sandra as her grandfather lost a hand and eye fighting here.

This is where Canadians fought together as a combined unit for the first time.  A significant step in our development as a separate nation.  Not only that, they succeeded in taking a ridge that had repelled previous efforts by other allies.  This was the result of Canadian innovations that included: the creeping barrage, extensive site specific training and providing the latest intelligence and maps to the front line troops.

It was a privilage to walk in their footsteps.

The view from the ridge.

In 2000 something a Canadian officer lost his life when a tunnel collapsed while he was dismantling an unexploded ordinance.

January, 2015 - COGNAC & DURTAL, FRANCE

Our next stop was Cognac.  We had planned to spend the afternoon and night, but found it a depressed and depressing town.  A high percentage of empty shops and going out of business sales. We bought a single bottle of Cognac and left town.

Our method of navigation on this trip was new to us.  We picked a city on our route and had our Tom Tom gps select a route.  Then we asked for an alternate route, without tolls.  This took us on the lesser highways and by-ways and resulted in some pleasant surprises alone the way.   Also, you were never far away from a Renault Dealer...ha, ha.  The only time we deviated from this was the time we took the freeway to make up time and ended up with a $700 towing bill (see previous posts).  One of the best surprises was the village of Durtal.  At its center was a vast chateau, suroundedd by a very beautiful village, complete with mill pond and mill.

Chateau de Dural
Postcard perfect.

Ye old mill.

Beauty on the bridge.

A modern touch.


We return to Dax to find that the part ordered was the wrong one.  Our year / model of van had used 3 different carburetors and the part sent was for one of the others.  We accepted their offer to camp in their yard and they kindly supplied a power hook up for our electric heater.  After two nights the correct float arrived and was installed.  Now what?

The tow ($700 CDN), repairs totaling about the same and unexpected travel and hotel expenses had made a big dent in our budget.  Also, we had lost confidence in our land yacht.  Seeing Europe one garage at a time is not part of the dream.

Reluctantly, we decided to turn back to the UK, where we had towing insurance.  (European towing insurance had been too expensive at $1,000 / year for our type and age of vehicle.) 

Friends back in Victoria had family in this part of France and were giving us travel tips, via Facebook.  We had already enjoyed a fine meal at their favorite restaurant in Bordeaux. (NOTE:  In France you may order your meat cooked any way you want (in my case med-well), but it will arrive rare by Canadian standards.)  They recommended we see Saint-Emilion before we left France.

This proved to be a highlight of our trip.  Saint-Emilion is a medieval town in the midst one of the best wine producing areas in the world.  The limestone caves/quarries provide ideal conditions for wine storage during the maturing process.  The vines are a World Heritage Site, tracing their heritage back to Roman times.

We arrive after dark.  The commercial campsite is closed.  We camp in the parking lot provided for tour buses and campers.  In the morning we scrape ice off the windows of the van (inside and out|).  Brrr!

The town is very well preserved, with a hermitage and church carved into the limestone a main feature (unfortunately no pictures allowed).  Also, every other shop is a wine store. 

We awake to a cold wet world.

The front of the church carved into the limestone.

The cloisters.


Pastry anyone?

Decisions, decisions.

Three for the road.

These three would not fit in the box.

January, 2015 - BORDEAUX, FRANCE

The Renault Dealer advised that they had found a new float for the carburetor, but it would take 5 days to get to them.  It must have been coming from some 3rd world country, where they still use 20 year old vans.  We didn't ask, they didn't tell.

They offered to let us camp in their lot while we waited, but Dax had nothing new to offer, so we decided to take the train to Bordeaux. 

Bordeaux is the largest (in area) World Heritage site.  It encompasses the entire port and city core.  We stayed at an apartment hotel on the edge of the core and bought 3 day passes that allowed us free access to the public  museums / art galleries and all public transport.  It also provided discounts at many private facilities.  We found that this was not a super deal as many of the private facilities were closed and the others were on restricted off season hours.  The highlight was the waking tour.  The group was small, consisting of us, an American, two Australians and a Spanish couple.

The city has been an important transportation hub since before Roman times.  It was on a major pilgrimage route and was the main port for the French colonies and slave trade.  It was also controlled by the English for hundreds of years.

The city has always been rich, so was rebuilt many times, with most of the buildings older then the French Revolution lost to redevelopment.

The city is a center of the French wine trade and we were sure to sample as much as possible.  The vast majority is red wine so Sandra had more "enjoyment" then I.

The Cathedral, with the separate bell tower at right.

Eleanor of Aquitaine graces the top of the bell tower.
City view from the top of the tower.

Trams provided the most convenient public transportation.

Cathedral from the tower top.

Gargoyle, cute eh?

Sculpture in the main square.

Main square.

Opera House.

The busiest pedestrian only shopping district I have ever been in.

Giant flee market

St Micheal's Tower.


Medieval gate.

Gate clock.
Entrance to Art Gallery

Gate/Arch in the Classical style.

Oldest bridge remaining.

Monday, 2 February 2015

January, 2015 - DAX, FRANCE

We drove full day on our first toll freeway, to make up for lost time and to get south to warmer weather.  The French have very good rest stops placed regularly along their freeways.  These range from basic parking and restroom facilities to massive projects that have hotels, restaurants and gas stations.  Some have basic camper hookup facilities, although we did not find one of these.

We did stop and have a sleep at one with a gas station and restaurant.

We woke early planning to get through Spain to Portugal by nightfall. It was not to be.  The van would not start, for the same, now familiar, problem.

No garage in site.  In fact we were miles from the nearest town.  The gas station attendant called a tow truck for us.  Thus ended the economical portion of our trip.

We were towed to the Renault dealer in Dax.  We used Google Translate to explain our problem to the friendly staff and insisted on a "new" or at least different float for the carburetor.

Dax is an old Roman Spa town, with natural hot springs.  Not much happens in the off season. We checked into an Ibis Hotel.  We had a lovely Duck dinner (my first) and it was great.  We saw our first Bull Fighting Ring!  I thought this was strictly a Spanish thing, but it is also in Southern France.

The outdoor pool in Dax in the the rain.

The bull fighting arena.

Mural on the arena wall.