We left the aire in Broglie in heavy snow and made our way half a mile up the high street to Lidl. We were running low on battery power and it was something of an emergency because the batteries power the blown air part of the heating system. We really needed the heating on in this freezing weather so we knew we would either have to move on or hope that one of our neighbours on the aire would decide it was time to leave instead and let us have one of the two electric points. There was absolutely no sign of movement from them so we had to bite the bullet and go. Lidl was wet and slippery with slush coming in on people’s feet so we slid around choosing what to have for dinner for a couple of nights. We bought some fish we didn’t recognise (Limande) and some veg and a baguette and hoped for the best. Poor Shirl had a great paroxysm of coughing in the check out queue almost causing a mass panic so she ran outside to try to regain some composure. I stood in the queue and was transported back to the many visits we’ve had to France over the years and the many times I have been amazed by the slow and leisurely way the process is carried out. Not for them the speedy throwing of your purchases in your direction, as is normal in a UK Lidl. Nor is there a big sigh if you get the wrong card out – no in France the ladies open their capacious handbags, slowly take out a cheque book, write it with immense care and then stand chatting to the check out operator. In the meantime Shirl was freezing outside because I still had the van keys in my pocket.
We sat in the relative warmth of the van and chose our next move. I forget now where that was because we didn’t make it that far. We drove down the motorway in frankly scary conditions with snow piling up on our windscreen wipers and wind causing us and numerous massive lorries around us to rock. We decided to pull into a services for breakfast and the, new to us, cheap trucker’s satnav took the hump when we left the motorway. Eventually a sign came up on the screen demanding to know what the hell we thought we were doing. Are you taking a break? Are you stopping for fuel? I randomly poked the stopping for fuel option and we parked up and made breakfast. By then the batteries had cheered up and we had the heating going, the coffee was on and the snow was slowing down. Brilliant!
Half an hour later we attempted to get back onto the motorway but the satnav was warning us that we were making a serious mistake and tried to get us to turn around and go back. We ignored it at first but at the next turn off it demanded we went back. We imagined, erroneously it turned out, that we had somehow got on the wrong motorway as the services seemed to serve at least two of them and in both directions each so we decided to follow instructions. It was only when it took us back to the services that we realised that it knew we hadn’t actually been in the fuel part and was taking us there. Too clever by half… or we’re too naive to use it effectively. You decide.
The snow started again so Shirley drove while I picked another stop over for the night. There’s a whole system of new Camper Parks in France that have full services including electricity and proper pitches for around 10 -12 euros per night. Really excellent value for money and a true port in a storm for us that night. We were soon pulling in to Bouloire and found a haven of rest. A really nice flat pitch and everything we needed to hide from the storm and take a proper break.
We soon discovered that there was a wonderful dog walk right next door that led to all kinds of snifftastic places for Poppy to enjoy and a good sized SuperU supermarket across the road. On the news we heard that Mr Macron had just taken 15c a litre off fuel and we could get on the internet because – and here is the great news – I found the missing mifi in the back of a cupboard where it had obviously slipped when turning a corner and was almost invisible to the eye. I only found it because I was looking for something else but in all the excitement of finding it I couldn’t remember what the something else was.
The next morning a very pleasant little Frenchman knocked on our door. Now that we travel without Boo the Poodle who had a Rottweiler alter ego I could open the door without fearing that he might get a fright. He spoke rapid French to me and I had absolutely no idea what he was saying so I told him, in French, that we were Scottish. Clearly either I pronounced that wrongly or he had no idea what I meant so I just said “Anglais”. His face fell and he was silent for a moment. I asked him in French if he spoke English and he shook his head sorrowfully. Of course we still had no idea what he wanted so I asked him to speak slowly for me and then I got it. He was the Mairie (mayor) of the town coming to welcome us and to ask if we were ok. Honestly we could not have been happier. Unfortunately in the excitement of the moment I was lost for words as any French (which isn’t a lot) that I know seemed to have left me. I understood that this Camper Park was new and he wanted to know if it fulfilled all our needs. “It’s near the shops” he said cheerfully so with some effort I managed to tell him his town was beautiful and to thank him very much for his visit. We felt like we’d been visited by royalty – but nice ordinary royalty – no pomp, just a lot of influence.
We stayed for three nights in this lovely little place and had some fearsomely cold nights when temperatures outside went well below zero and inside, because we don’t leave the heating on overnight, it was not much better. We have a duvet and two blankets each so we’re absolutely snug, that is until we need to get up for the loo in the night. On the second night Poppy did something that she has never done before. She hopped up onto Shirley’s bed and looked her square in the eye. We were quite certain that she was saying “I’m staying and don’t try to stop me”. We did of course try to encourage her off the bed and back onto the floor but she clung on and absolutely refused to budge. This is uncharacteristic as she is generally biddable so we didn’t know quite how to handle the situation. In the end Shirley decided to let her stay, thinking that she must have had a miserable night the night before and wasn’t for having another. We are the kind of doggy parents who have been vociferously judgmental about dogs on beds. Poppy cared little for our opinion and just fell asleep. Honestly, she can twist us around her little paws. Tonight it is warmer and we’ll be ruthless – I’ll report back on whether that worked the next time.
Bouloire is lovely. Big enough to have some interesting shops and, important for us, one of those nifty outdoor laundries where you put your stuff into the machine, pay a few Euros and come back later to find it washed and dried. We had some good walks, found the town fishing ponds and decided it had enough going for it to merit a return visit one day.
Getting back to the really important stuff – we had Sunday Bunday in Bouloire and found an exquisite patisserie where Shirley bought two Religieuse and a baguette. If you’re new to this blog you might not know about Sunday Bunday but it is our self appointed feast day when we allow ourselves to eat massive, wicked cakes and French white bread. If we didn’t make it a special event we would undoubtedly do it every day and come back larger than we left. A religieuse, for your information, is a cake that resembles a nun. It has a fat round body and a small round top made of choux pastry. The pastry is full of wonderful chocolate mousse and it is covered with chocolate icing and some fresh cream. Frankly it’s an orgasm on a plate. Having been educated at a convent school and still not fully recovered, I find it quite difficult to put all that information into one paragraph.
We enjoyed our three nights of comfort in Bouloire and felt rested and relaxed. The weather forecast looked hopeful for our journey south west so we bit the bullet and headed out onto the open road, only stopping to fill up with LPG because we’d used such a lot keeping warm.
We drove south to the town of Cholet in the Loire Atlantique region. The motorhome parking is next to the Stadium and a very pretty park where you can walk along the River Moine and enjoy the beautifully kept gardens.
There was real warmth in the air and we were energised enough to set off again, after a cup of tea back at the van, to the town centre. Here we found small narrow streets, a lot of closed cafés and the Church of Notre Dame de Cholet which is magnificent. On our way we had imagined Cholet to be a small town so we were surprised to see how large and busy it was but we were glad to have found it and have a look around.
After being woken a few times by boys in souped up cars with holes in their exhausts that night we decided it wasn’t a place we would be visiting again especially as in order to get to the motorhome parking from the north end of the town you have to drive a couple of miles through very busy roads and endure the impatience of drivers trying to go about their business in a hurry. Roundabouts, traffic lights and road works seemed to go on for ever and we were exhausted by the time we got there. Cholet is a much bigger town than we realised but if you like a lot of buzz and noise you might like it. It is certainly beautiful and full of life but just too busy for us.
On from here we continue to head south and find ourselves parked up beside the walls of a chateau. Au revoir mes amis!