Memoires Françaises - part two.

I recall us driving into the lower Alps that afternoon and what most affected me was the absolute ‘silence’. Hub said we were running out of petrol so we headed for the nearest village to top up the camper’s tank.
Soon, we were driving into a small village and one that was completely deserted; there wasn’t a soul about! There was a small petrol station and we pulled in but the place was ghostly and silent. We waited quite a while until Hub impatiently tooted the camper’s horn. Suddenly a young lad appeared from the house next to the station; he was about 12, or 13 years old.

Hub said “Essence s’il vous plait”

The lad went to the side of the camper, unscrewed the petrol cap and started to fill the tank. When he had completed the task, Hub paid him and thanked him but the young lad didn’t say a word all through the procedure, he simply nodded his head; it was most strange.

Hub & Jamie at the Riviera

France is an old country but one with lots of atmosphere. It often seems to me that it still has the air of the revolution about it; as if it is ongoing. But I always feel a part of the place. Maybe it’s my roots calling to me; perhaps my great grandmother?

In my conversations with Raymond in St Valery sur Somme, we spoke of my Father’s connections to the country. Raymond asked if I had tried to trace my family back? I said I had and my original name was Beaudroit. Raymond was interested but he said I might have difficulty going a long way back, as many records had been destroyed in the French revolution. Maybe I will never really find out.

“We’ll have to find somewhere to camp for the night” Hub said in a concerned tone. So we made our way towards Grenoble. When we arrived in the town I asked someone (in my schoolgirl French) where was the nearest campsite? The person directed us and soon we were driving into the site. I remember it well. It was the Whitsun holidays and I recall feeling so cold; in fact I slept in my clothes that night but not before we finished off the steak I’d bought at Gagnes; I cooked eggs and tomatoes to go with it and afterwards we had the luscious cherries that we had bought at the campsite at Cagnes sur mer.

This campsite, near Grenoble, had a strange atmosphere to it. We noticed some unsavoury characters walking around it and to be honest, we were happy to leave there the next morning!
We made our way out of the Alps and soon we were motoring into Burgundy. This may sound strange but you could almost smell the wine in the air of Burgundy. Our next stop was it’s central town of Beaune where we stocked up on fresh bread and provisions and at last saw a sign for Le camping.

This campsite was beautiful; if memory serves me right, it was called ‘The Five swans’ (but in French) Each caravan or in our case camper, had it’s own site. There were hedges around each section, so there was plenty of privacy and when we went to have a shower it was beautifully clean.

We were able to leave the camper and walk into the town of Beaune. We soon found a small grocery shop that provided us with all the fresh produce we needed. We stayed at that campsite for about 4 days as we felt so at home there and enjoyed talking to the people who ran the site.
One day we walked into town and decided to take a look in the large church. As we walked into the church my eye strayed to a section on my left and what should I see but a coffin; but it was open! Of course we never went over to look but for a moment I felt intrusive, as if we were somewhere we shouldn’t be. But we carried on into the main body of the church and found it so peaceful and calm.

At the side there was a separate area where we could light candles, which we did, in remembrance of those in our family who had passed away and we dropped a donation into the box. Around this area were stones set into the walls and just above there was a notice that said ‘These stones have come from Lourdes’ ! I think that added a certain ambience to the church and my thoughts went back to St Bernadette and of Lourdes itself, of the reported miracles that had taken place there…

We sat in that church for quite a while and felt such calm and peace.
The people who ran the grocery shop in Beaune were very friendly and we often tried out our French but Hub always seemed to have more success with using English but spoken with a ‘Clouseau’ accent (the one Peter Sellers uses in Pink Panther films).

One phrase comes to mind that he used and that was “Le shop open?” and amazingly the shop owner said “Yes”!, haha

We felt reluctant to leave Beaune as it was a friendly place, as were the people who ran the campsite. But we stopped off at Nuit St George and bought a few bottles of the wine to take home. It was lovely driving through these little villages.

Soon we were coming into the area of the Loire valley again and as luck would have it we found a camping site that stood to one side of it’s banks. We were well stocked with food so again we stayed there for a couple of days.

One thing I do recall is this; my older son doesn’t like flying insects and he and younger boy Jamie were out walking by the river bank when we heard a yell. Older son Jeff came running back to the camper and left Jamie walking slowly back. It turned out that a ‘Hornet’ had attacked them and that’s why Jeff hurried back to the safety of the camper. We all had the giggles over that!

I recall us visiting the medieval town of Chinon, which is on the banks of the river Vienne. I read a lot of Jean Plaidy’s books and I remember reading that Henry the 2nd of England (Plantagenet & Count of Anjou) liked this place and that the castle was one of his favourite residences. He married Eleanor of Aquitaine.

I left something out of part one and that is our visit to Avignon; of going over the famous bridge and parking there and as we walked around the town, I stepped out to cross the road and was almost knocked over. I clearly remember shaking my fist at the offending motorist, ha ha.
Anyway I digress.

We soon picked up the road that was to take us onto the outskirts of Paris once more. The road soon began to slow down as traffic built up. Suddenly a sports car came up on the outside and started to overtake all the traffic ( The car had Italian number plate) and the French motorists started hooting at him. We eventually made our way to Calais and this time Hub had no problems with the driving. After two weeks driving through France he was now well used to driving on the right!

The ferry was booked for 2 days hence and so we searched for a camp site close to Calais and we were lucky to find a nice one at Wissant. The couple who ran it were okay, although the woman was not very friendly but her husband was pleasant and helpful.

Hub & me at campsite in Wissant

But there was one thing I did not like and that was that they kept their dog chained up on a very short lead. The animal was friendly enough and young Jamie soon made friends with him, although I have to say at that time I was a little worried as I had heard that there was rabies in France. But then Jamie has always liked animals and it was hard to keep him away from the dog.

Very soon we were boarding the ferry and then on the road home and our ‘vacance Française’ was over.

We had a marvellous French holiday; it was quite an adventure and we all felt so much better for it. I always think that children should travel abroad and see how others live. To me that is an education in itself.

It was great to unpack our souvenirs. We had bought china cups and saucers from Cagnes sur mer , for our Mums and also trinkets for ourselves. But my favourites were the dried Lavender, which I sowed into muslin sachets to put in the drawers and bottles of French Lavender water which we had bought in Provence; and of course we had lots of photographs.

Memories of that French farmer we had seen kept coming back to me. He was so like my late Father in looks and even to this day I wonder…could he have been a distant relative?

Ah well, that’s one of life’s little mysteries..

Salut !