After losing our parking ticket for our Aire at Les Sables D’ Olonne – we were fined 24 Euro’s.
Having taken a massive hit to our budget from the ‘expensive sausage’ and now the lost parking ticket; we decided to try and recoup our money by staying at another free Aire just outside of La Rochelle for a couple of days.
We arrived at the Aire after two hours of travelling in hot weather to find 9-10 other Motorhomes already in situ. We parked up opposite, and although it is forbidden, we took out two chairs and decided to prepare lunch. The kids ran off to explore the beach, only 20 metres away. Two minutes later, they returned, moaning that the sea was too far out and the seaweed was annoying.
In the midst of their full strop about the quality of the beach, I noticed a French man with 118 shorts and a grey pony tail, marching up and down the carpark. Meanwhile Chris, quite rightly, was reading the kids the riot act to address their spoilt and ungrateful behaviour. We ate our lunch in silence.
After 10 minutes Jonah appeared with a bowl of crisp that he wished to share with us all. This is his way of saying ‘I’m sorry’. The kids decided that the beach was not so bad after all – as when the tide came in, it would be perfect for trying out our new snorkels. Finally, I began the ordeal of trying to wash our oversized lunch plates in our undersized basin.
As I put our dishes away, I heard Chris talking to the 118 Frenchman (Une Une Huit L’homme).
Chris’s understanding from the conversation was that we were not allowed to stay overnight on ‘our side’ of the carpark. Apparently Motorhomes were only permitted overnight, 5 metres away on the other side of the carpark – The side with no spaces (because the French Motorhomers had taken up two spaces each). The 118 man offered to move his van to try and squeeze us in.
Anyone who owns a motorhome knows that you cannot simply move without finding a home for everything again. Items that are left on the side fall and smash if not secured; so I frantically tried to put everything away so that Chris could reverse across the carpark, where the 118 man was patiently reserving a place for us.
It became apparent that ‘Colin’ was not going to squeeze in the gap left by the 118 man. We started to attract quite an audience of French campers all watching Chris struggle to reverse a 25ft van into the tiny space. Not one French Camper offered to move up. When the audience started gasping, I waved at Chris to give up and pull over to ‘our side’ again.
At this point we were approached by the only Dutch couple on ‘our side’. They too had been ousted. The Dutch man proceeded to tell us that there is no logic to French reasoning. He explained that it was a nice Country, but for the French People. We were told to leave by 10pm.
By now, I was hormonal, hot and wildly irritated. I collected the kids – who protested loudly because the ‘crap beach’ had become the best beach they have ever seen. I threw them, and the sandy dog in the van and we pulled away with a wave from the 118 man.
We decided to scrap the idea of another Aire and headed to the nearest campsite. We found one just a mile away. It accepted our discount card. We made a bee-line for Reception, passing a young lady in a feather boa and straw hat on the way.
“Non” says the kindly Receptionist “You cannot stay here”. Apparently we had arrived on the only weekend that the campsite was annually invaded by 400 French Students for their equivalent of our 18-30’s Reunion. We returned to the van to see two disheartened kids and a panting dog.
The next campsite was just 5 miles away and it also accepted our discount card. Thankfully, they had a space for us but unfortunately our discount card did not include our children. We would have to pay extra for them and WiFi. The total for two nights was 75 Euro’s – far beyond our budget. I was so tired and hot that I was (for a fleeting moment) tempted to agree to whatever cost – but before I handed over our debit card I asked about the bus to La Rochelle. The Receptionist told us that there was a train to La Rochelle or a bus that stopped at a different campsite 2km away.
That decided it. I told Chris and the frowning Receptionist that I could not justify the cost of a campsite so far away from our intended destination. We returned to the van, shaking our heads. The kids scraped their faces down the side of the window in complete despair.
We sat in the carpark and flicked dejectedly through our guide books until we found a campsite closer to La Rochelle. We opted for one that was advertised as ‘a lovely town campsite’. It accepted our discount card and had cycle routes to the Centre of La Rochelle. Ideal.
We arrived at 4pm to find the campsite situated between a Motorway, McDonalds and a Hyper Market. The signpost said ‘Commercial Centre’. By now, we were so hot and tired that I think we would have said yes to a campsite on a rubbish dump. We selected our pitch and booked two nights for 50% of the cost of the previous campsite.
Dumping the van, we immediately made our way to the pool and the bar; where Chris and I enjoy a well-deserved ice cold beer and the kids cooled off in the pool – throwing all consideration to health and safety out of the window!
We returned to the van to eat tea at 7pm just as the mozzies started to feast on Chris’s legs (he has over 30 bites on his legs) – The Citronella Candle does not work. After tea we watched a movie and bedded down for the night….just as the local rave started. I grabbed for my ear plugs.
The following morning I had plans to wash all of our towels and bedding and hang them on the line to dry in the sunshine whilst we cycled to the Centre for a full day of sightseeing. As it was, we all huddled in the van watching the water pour off our roof for the majority of the morning. It rains in France too.
With handwashing and natural drying impossible, I relented and parted with 9 Euro’s for the washing machines. I collected the said washing after lunch to find that my new outfit was the size of a very short, fat, four year old. I was mortified!
It had taken us 11 days to arrive at La Rochelle. In my mind I had not envisaged rain, a campsite in the middle of a roundabout or a day of washing and stretching clothes. Touring France is not full of hot lazy days, warm baguettes and friendly people. The truth is, the French are peculiar, the Aires are weird, housework remains a chore and the weather does not cater for your every desire.
However in our usual resilient fashion, we were determined to see La Rochelle…especially after all of the effort to get there.
We set off to catch the No. 4 bus outside of the Super U carpark – but caught the 39. After a detour on the bus, we arrived at Le Place de Verdun in the Centre of La Rochelle.
We fought our way through thousands of tourists who all seemed to be walking in the opposite direction to us, when we came across a vibrant street entertainer. We have no idea what he was shouting but his act delighted the kids. Jonah cheered as the Entertainer wobbled at the top of a ladder waiting for a member of the public to throw machetes at him. The danger of the moment, held no language barrier and it was wonderful to see the excited trepidation on all of the kids’ faces.
After popping some Euro’s in the Entertainers hat, we fought our way through yet more tourist to reach Le Port. Here we caught our first glimpse of the famous towers.
Still fighting against the flow of holiday makers, we entered the first tower and saw the entry price. Could we sacrifice more of our budget for a tour? I passed the decision over to the kids – A tour of the historical Towers or a warm Nutella Crepe each?
A Nutella Crepe it was.
We walked the length of the Port trying to find a restaurant with a view, or something a little different but we ended up returning to the first one we had considered. As we took our seats, we each reflected on how commercial La Rochelle was. We all agreed that the Barbican in Plymouth offered more of a picturesque harbour and a better mix of restaurants than the standard tourist ‘quick buck’ eateries on offer here.
Despite this, much to my amazement and pride, Jonah and Chris each ordered Mussels – something they had never tried before. I always smile at how different my kids are. Jonah was desperate to try something new and ‘French’. Lola ordered Chips and Ketchup (Like Mother, like Daughter).
A final stroll around the old town and some fabulous timeworn buildings led us back to the bus depot. We found the right bus and made our way back to our little ‘Roundabout Campsite’.
Colin, our home, was a welcome sight. We crack open the wine and enjoy an evening together talking around the table. No iPads, No Phones – just good old fashioned conversation.
We started a new family tradition when we started this adventure. We end each day by reflecting on what we are grateful for. The aim is to remember the good in every day.
Today’s answers were;
‘The talent of the Street Entertainer’;
‘Trying and enjoying new food’;
‘Honest and warm discussions with my family;
‘Walking hand in hand eating warm crepes’…
The rain, the journey and the shrunk clothes were all forgotten….
Until the rave started again!
We are heading out of here in the morning.