Our spot for the night is an out of season campsite-turned-aire (N43.29014, E3.42351) which is a reasonable €11 per night including electricity. There are only 2 other vans here and we are just a few feet away from the water’s edge with a view out over the sea towards the snow-capped Pyrenees to the South. (Thanks to Julie and Jason from Ourtour for this tip, we seem to be following in their wake so far towards Spain!) We have only one intention currently and that is to get South as fast as possible. Get to the sun and the warmth of Spain and the Mediterranean.
For our first night’s stop after the Eurotunnel we chose Favières, a tiny, tucked away village in the Somme, one and a half hour’s drive from Calais. We saw some of the infamous gilets jaunes within only an hour of arriving, stationed at a roundabout off the A16. It was not a Saturday and they weren’t doing much so not sure what their goal was that day.
We had already stayed at Favières on our way back from our Leg 2 and liked it (50.239722, 1.665962). It’s a tarmac car park outside a church and surrounded by fields so was good for the dogs and we were the only ones there.
Next up we stopped at Paris for a couple of nights to see friends Lindsay and Kevin for the second time. This time we did some sightseeing, and despite both of them sounding like death-warmed-up from their respective colds/coughs, they gamely accompanied us to the Metro stop by the Louvre as Tim wanted to see the Tuilerie Gardens and I wanted to go back to the Musee D’Orsay. The last time I went was as an A-level student and it has always stuck in my mind. The previous metro 3 stops were closed as it was a Saturday and the gilets jaunes were active. We walked through the Louvre great square with it’s glass pyramid and we strolled through the Tuileries. It was freezing cold, grey and dreary, but even so I was impressed how beautiful Paris is with it’s neo-classical architecture, wide boulevards and triumphal arches all lined up, with the top of Cleopatra’s needle glowing gold in the distance. There were still a lot of tourists like us around, despite the protests nearby.
We noted a police helicopter hovering above. Roads approaching the Champs-Élysées were blocked, with several riot police vans guarding the approaching roads. The streets around Concord and beyond were empty apart from blue armoured cars, indicating an expectation of trouble. We saw no gilets jaunes though, presumably they were protesting somewhere else. Later on we watched some live footage on TV of the clashes between the protestors and the police. Some of the police were wearing motorbike helmets rather than riot helmets and many didn’t seem to have all the standard police uniform or gear. We wondered if they had a shortage of personnel (or at least active and trained personnel). Some had orange arm bands to signify they were ‘spotters’ – trained to spot key individual agitators. I can see they have a big challenge on their hands. In the UK, it’s hard to imagine riots continuing for months like this.
We all went into the Musee D’Orsay in the end, though I’d been expecting to go on my own. It is set in a glorious nineteenth glass and iron roofed train station, a sight in itself. I think by that stage we were all grateful to get into a warm place ! The newly refurbished Impressionists gallery on Floor 5 was stunning. The colourful paintings popped against the dark grey walls and the natural lighting from the skylights really set them off. Kevin discovered he really liked the work of Camill Pissaro and Tim admired one of his favourites Edgar Degas.
I love Claude Monet, especially his landscapes and series of paintings of Rouen cathedral, where he captured the elaborate facade and the changing light effects throughout the day. The Haystacks was sublime, with the almost luminous effect created by a full spectrum of colours. I was even able to dredge up some of my art history knowledge to add a bit of insight. It’s hard to imagine now, but the Impressionists were very much the YBA’s of their day, rebelling against the artistic norms of the day. They rejected the photo-realism and lofty, classical subject matter of Salon painters. Instead, they used broad brushstrokes, painted objects in terms of light and colour, and depicted everyday scenes as well as landscapes which were formerly deemed too lowly a topic. The trailblazer Edouard Manet had scandalised Paris with his work Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe in a similar way to Damian Hirst and his Sheep in Formaldehyde. It would be the start of a trend in art moving away from the figurative and towards total abstraction with Picasso and Braque. I loved that in-between phase from 1860 up till 1914, and all my favourites are from that time – Monet, Matisse, Derain, Bonnard.
On the way back to the metro, I saw something in the corner of my eye scampering across the lawn, thinking it was a squirrel I glanced over, only to see it was a large rat! On the journey back there were four central metro stops closed in total, indicating the gilets were active and possibly on the move.
On Sunday, after walking the dogs on the playing field at the Bois de Boulogne, our route south from Paris took us via some excellent toll-free roads. We drove for about four hours and stopped at Chantenay Sainte-Imbert – pretty much slap-bang in the centre of France (46.733824, 3.175920), the other reason being that it had a lake. We like lakes because Bodger likes them. I hadn’t anticipated the mud though. Oh my god it was muddy, and I struggled to win the war with mud entering the van on eight muddy paws, a sopping wet Labrador and two pairs of muddy shoes. I will be prioritising tarmac stopping places after that.
Looking at the weather forecast, we saw that the next few nights was set to be extremely cold. As we were heading towards the Massif Central with overnight temperatures forecast for -5, we wondered if we could make it to the coast in one day, where it was not due to go below freezing and was predicted a daytime temperature of 9 degrees. We figured we’d start driving and see how we felt at lunchtime.
That morning I didn’t feel well, and had another bout of mystery dizzy spells and queasiness. We normally share the driving on longer days, but Tim started driving and then just didn’t stop until we reached the coast 5 hours later. He did this without even a loo break ! I took a nap which turned into a deep sleep of almost 2 hours, during which time I completely missed crossing the Massif Central. Apparently I missed a stunning part of the drive as we climbed to over 1100 metres on the A-75, with snow either side and thick fog. Everyone on the road was reduced to a crawl on the motorway and rear fog lights were the only thing that made vehicles in front visible. We made it to the south all on toll-free roads except for the viaduct at Millau which was a whopping €28 (note to selves – avoid next time) which did at least help to get us where we wanted to go in one hop.
As a result of this dash, we arrived in time for a quick shop at the local Intermarche and a walk on the beach before the sun went down. Bodger and Charlie lit up when we got to the sea and I couldn’t deny Bodge another swim. He was in his happy place again.
Now we’re enjoying a day off travelling. I’ve just started a nine day detox/diet called the C9 Cleanse and the first two days involve eating more or less nothing so I’ve lined up plenty to distract me from the hunger pangs. I’m reading Becoming by Michelle Obama which I’m really enjoying. Plus I’ve started learning Spanish on Duolingo. Wish me luck !