So here we are. It’s our last night in France and we’re back at the place we started from. We’re in Neufchatel en Bray in Normandy, this time on the paid Aire de Camping Car next to the campsite where we spent the first three nights of our trip. The campsite owner has made a beautiful job of this Aire and it’s well worth the 12€ a night with very smart, completely flat pitches, each with a private grass area, unlimited electric, water and waste plus good fast wifi. There’s even a little coin operated laundry; not that we’ll be using that, anything that is dirty now is going home with us.
It’s very, very cold in the mornings and evenings but bizarrely warm for about two hours in the afternoon. How the locals work out what to wear at the start of the day I have no idea.
The main purpose of our stay here was to visit the vet so that Poppy and Boo could get their worming tablets and have their passports stamped as fit to travel back to the UK. We’d visited the same vet on our way south to get advice about protection against lungworm and found them to be brilliant.
The dogs were looking pretty scruffy by the time we were ready to make our appointment. Poppy couldn’t see because her fringe was so long and the hair on Boo’s legs was beginning to fall into ringlets. Something had to be done so we asked at the vets if they could fit them into the grooming room. Pas de probleme! We were told to deliver the dogs at 9.00 a.m., wait while the passport business was done and then leave them for three hours to be groomed and clipped. The lovely young French groomer didn’t flinch when she saw them. She even managed a little smile before she suggested that short all over was probably the best answer to our hairy challenge.
Feeling like parents leaving their child in school for the first time we left two confused little dogs and set off into town to find somewhere to eat breakfast.
In France there is no such thing as a greasy spoon café where you can order a massive artery challenging fry up. I don’t really know what the French eat for breakfast but whatever it is they keep it a closely guarded secret. We wandered up the high street, realising with sinking hearts that it was Monday morning again and three quarters of business owners and indeed the majority of living beings were hiding behind closed shutters refusing to accept that Sunday was over. Eventually we saw that a café/brasserie was open, although it was trying very hard not to show it. The glass was frosted and it looked closed but we saw a woman coming out of the door, glancing rapidly over her shoulder and scuttling down the road before disappearing into a darkened doorway. Desperation for coffee and something to eat gave us the courage we needed to walk in. What followed was exactly like a scene from a Western when the saloon doors swing open and the handful of clientele at the bar swivel round and stare. Absolute silence fell as they looked at us and then back to the woman behind the bar. It takes French people absolutely no time at all to recognise a foreigner. I don’t know if it’s the lack of style that we Brits are famous for or the look of confusion that passes over our faces when we realise that we’ve forgotten to rehearse what we will ask for in advance of walking in – whatever it was they knew. They knew and we knew and for the life of me in that moment I could not think how to ask what was available to order. No menus were on the tables, nothing written behind the bar and not an item of any kind of food in evidence anywhere. I tried to remember the word for food but whatever came out of my mouth obviously made no sense to the woman behind the bar and it was still deadly silent. Then Shirley spoke, “Café et quelque chose a manger si’l vous plait” I could have kissed her but we’d made enough of a scene so it was probably wise not to. Woman behind bar shrugged and said “Croque monsieur?” and we gratefully sank into seats at a table in the corner and the normal noise of chat and laughter resumed.
From that moment onwards everything improved, we were served warmly and kindly, people drinking coffee smiled at us encouragingly and we had a good coffee and enjoyed the croque monsieur immensely. The truth slowly seeped in with the warmth of the coffee. They were obviously worried about not being able to communicate with us and once some kind of understanding was established everyone could relax again. We left cheered as well as warmed and fed and the voices calling “Au revoir” and “Bonne journée” were genuine and friendly as we went on our way.
Looking at the time, we realised that we still had over an hour before the not so hairy pups were ready to be picked up from the vet so we did what any sensible person does in such a situation – we went shopping. It’s pointless denying it – this wasn’t just any shopping, we went shopping for cakes. This leads me to another mystery that the French keep hidden from the rest of civilised society. How do they manage to produce and sell so many truly outrageous cream cakes and yet stay so slim? If I didn’t like them so much I could really despise the French for this enviable skill that no other nationality has managed to attain. It reminds me of a word of wisdom someone once shared with me. Men think that what women really want is to find the perfect partner when in fact what they want more than anything in the world is the ability to eat whatever they like and stay thin. It was our last day in France and we were past caring. The only thing for us was an enormous Mille Feuilles. If you’ve never had one please put it on your bucket list. No-one should leave this world without eating one… oh and have a Religieuse too. Orgasm on a plate … truly…. actually you don’t even need a plate.
Time to get the dogs and we crept into the vets wondering what they would come out looking like. We once sent Boo to a groomer who sent him home with a ribbon in his hair – honestly – he was so embarrassed. I’m happy to report that our little travel companions came out looking extremely neat and clean and very short. Poppy is much blonder than we realised and Boo … well put it this way his personal bits were well hidden before and now Poppy keeps going up and staring and sniffing.
It’s evening now and we’re sitting all cosy trying to imagine what life will be like when we are back in a house again. We’ve been in Europe for nine weeks but it feels a lot longer. We’ve met a lot of lovely people, received much kindness and hospitality and experienced differences in culture and attitudes that have opened our eyes to some of the things we take for granted in Britain that we could do well to challenge. We’ve grown to love France and Spain even more than before and enjoyed sharing their riches of good food and wine everywhere we’ve been. I’ve been trying to think which parts have been the best but for the life of me I can’t do it … everywhere has been special in its own way. We’ll be back in Scotland in a couple of days and no doubt as we unpack and put everything away the gems will emerge from all the memories we are carrying home.
Thanks folks for travelling with us as you’ve read our blog and looked at our pictures. Au revoir until the next trip and it’s accompanying blog.
P.S. A break down of expenses and costs for anyone that’s interested will appear on the side bar very soon.