So, after just over three weeks back in the UK seeing family and friends and sorting out various bits and pieces that needed sorting like giving away all our possessions (!) we are back on the road for Season 2 of our tour. I just want to say a big thank you to all our family and friends for taking the time to meet up with us. It was lovely to see everyone on our whirlwind of a tour and we’ll look forward to doing it all again next year!
So what’s the plan this year? This year is going to be a bit different as we are going into new territory now! Queue drum roll. Not being ones to make any rash decisions we were pretty cautious when we first set sail for France in May 2016. For our first extended foray into Europe we just planned to tour through France, Spain and Portugal to get a feel for long term travel in countries well set up for motorhomers. Even though neither of us had visited Spain before (in our adult lives) we’d already been to France several times (in the van) and Portugal a few times (flying) so we felt we were squarely in our comfort zone.
We’ve had a loose plan for this year in our heads for some time but I have been somewhat lacking on the planning front of pin pointing exactly where we’ll go. I say me because that’s my job as part of Team Ollie. I do the planning, Tim does the driving. We travelled down to Dover from Yorkshire ten days ago to catch an overnight ferry to Dunkirk. After a quick flit to Aldi to stock up on this year’s tea bag supply I thought it would be a good idea to maybe have a look at the guidebooks and maps to start planning our route for this year. A bit late maybe but…..what can I say?…….I’ve been busy with other things! The beauty of travelling in a motorhome though is that, well, you don’t really need a plan as such.
Driving off the ferry at Dunkirk we could choose to go left, right, or straight on, whatever, it doesn’t really matter. However, the very loooooose plan is to travel through Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Slovenia and Croatia to eventually end up in Greece for the winter with a few stops for some volunteering via Helpx along the way if it fits in. That’s as detailed a plan as I have got at the moment though!
I’d been perusing the guide books looking for an interesting route down to at least Germany as a start but was feeling pretty overwhelmed with information overload. It seems to be taking my little brain forever just to get my head around the lie of the land so to speak. I did, at one point, throw up my hands and bleat to Tim that maybe he could plan a route for a change. After pointing out to me, in addition to all the driving, the 101 different van related tasks he undertakes as his part of Team Ollie, including the dreaded toilet emptying, I thought it prudent to wind my neck in and go back to the guide books!
Our first stop, then, was just across the Belgian border at Ypres. There’s a very good aire a fifteen minute walk from the town centre which costs a very reasonable €8 per night inclusive of electricity. Before we went rushing off into town, though, it was time to break out a shiny new sticker for our map of Europe on the side of the van. It’s been a long time coming as the map hasn’t been added to since we crossed the border into Portugal back in September last year. Yay, Belgium, new country. We are sooo easily pleased!
On first sighting the town centre of Ypres (or Ieper as it is also known) you’d be fooled into thinking that all the buildings date back hundreds of years. Not so. The centre of the town, which served as the Allied communications centre, and within range of German artillery, was completely razed to the ground by shelling in the First World War. The citizens had to be evacuated in 1915 but returned after the war determined to reconstruct their town. The reconstruction, which took twenty years, is remarkable. It really is hard to believe that the Lakenhalle (old cloth hall) and the Cathedral are less than 100 years old.
You can’t come to this area of Belgium and not be moved by the reminders of the Great War. World War I cemeteries, monuments and memorials pepper the towns and surrounding countryside. The Menin Gate war memorial has engraved upon it the names of fifty thousand British and Commonwealth troops who died in the Ypres Salient but who have no grave.
The Last Post is sounded every evening at 8pm under the memorial. We joined another 2000 or so people that evening to pay our respects.
Consulting our Camper Connect App we found Lesaffre Escargot, a France Passion site, just back over the border in France, where we would be able to take the bus into Lille. Even though we’re not members of France Passion the site accepts non members at €5 per night and €3 for electricity. We got a warm welcome from the owner and it was a chance to use that rusty French that I have let slip over recent months. Oh dear! I have forgotten so much of it that I am making a conscious effort again to relearn what has drained away. Goldfish must be a part of my DNA I think.
The little campsite is really nicely laid out, set in quiet countryside and is a 15 minute walk to the bus stop so a perfect base for a few days. The owners raise their snails in poly tunnels and sell various snail related produce in their little farm shop. We had a peek into a couple of the poly tunnels to see the snail nursery with the inmates, looking exactly like the snails you’d find in your garden at home, fattening themselves up over a period of 5-6 months for their eventual fate. Snails being ugly and slimy aren’t really our thing so we weren’t tempted into buying any of the produce. Our dogs, who were real scavengers and would eat anything, even drew the line at snails and wouldn’t touch them!
Lille was easily reached by the bus which took about 45 minutes and only set us back €3.60 return each. So much easier and less stressful that driving. Lille, unfortunately, didn’t really capture our hearts though.
Oh it was nice enough in the old town but lacked something I couldn’t quite put my finger on and sitting here now, writing this, I still can’t! It just didn’t have the wow factor that we’d seen in Seville, Granada and Valencia I suppose. Lots of the old town is made up of chic boutiques and as we don’t do either chic or boutique it didn’t really do it for us.
We ended up wandering around aimlessly not really having any direction so called it a day after a couple of hours and returned to the campsite to make the most of the afternoon sunshine.
To counter our disappointment of Lille we had a day of biking to get out into the fresh air. We picked up a cycleway in the pretty town of Comines which follows the canal towards Lille. We whiled away some time watching the huge barges trundling past.
Went past a bijou little campsite.
And were chased off by these geese!
Right, I’m going to quit now whilst I’m ahead as we’ve had little or no free wifi since we left England and it has taken an age getting these photos uploaded and my battery is almost flat! Such is the life of a vagabond!