September may not have been a terribly exciting month as far as tourism goes, but it was definitely exciting for our lifestyle.
We flew into Nice and picked up our new camping car on September 5th. We felt so many emotions - relief, excitement, a little anxiety and a lot of exhaustion.
We were relieved to finally give up travelling out of a suitcase after 10 months. It was lovely to have all our stuff with us again and not to be annoyed that what we needed was in the storage unit in Nice.
We were excited that the camping car was ready as promised and in exactly the configuration we had ordered. It was bound to be tricky ordering sight unseen in French, purely on the basis of internet descriptions. It also came in at the price we had hoped, with no hidden extras. In fact, our friend Patrice Ryder from Nice Caravannes threw in some excellent extras free of charge and presented the new vehicle beautifully.
We’d been anxious about the new camping car. It was the same brand we had before – an ADRIA – so we already knew the downsides of this brand, but also its good points.
Overall, we’re very happy with the new vehicle. It’s a totally changed design from our last one. Really, only the oven is the same! Given the changes in technology in the last five years, that’s not surprising. Everything is run off a central computer, even the electric under-floor heating. We also love the air-conditioner. Both are so quiet and effective. The lights all have dimmer switches – very sexy!
We love the new bed layout and the lack of the drop-down bed, which gives us heaps more headroom, storage space and skylights. The two single beds turn into a huge double and the flat floor throughout is another bonus. ADRIA has fixed a number of the previous problems, particularly with the main door area.
We hate the new fridge which is much smaller than our last one and has a very small freezer inside the fridge. This has happened to make the ‘garage’ or storage area at the back even bigger than before, probably so people can store their motorcycles. We would have preferred the fridge. After trying for a few weeks to cope, we ordered an Engel AC/DC portable fridge/freezer to put in our new, huge garage - instead of a motorbike.
The best surprise was the new heavier chassis, bigger motor and front and rear air suspension. We can’t believe what a difference it makes to the ‘drivability’. In our first trip we drove 930km (10 hours) from Nice to Jarnac in one stint and it felt totally comfortable.
We were exhausted by the impact of flying 30 hours from Grand Cayman to Nice and then the concentration needed to learn the features of the new vehicle and drive it for the first time. Then we needed to empty our 5M2 storage unit and try to fit in back into the van! The weather was very hot, making it a real chore. It took us three days and another big cull to fit it all back in and we’re still fine-tuning, but we’re nearly settled and actually have storage room to spare.
We had the usual bureaucratic ‘snaffu’ when ADRIA sent the wrong serial number, so the registration, the number plates and the insurance all had to be done a second time. We needed to drive the 930km to our base in Jarnac to pick up in person the insurance and registration, which can only be posted to your home.
This allowed us to say ‘goodbye’ to Thomas Hardy before he returned to Australia. We also saw all our friends in Jarnac, probably for the last time for a couple of years. We had Steve and Mo over to the new van for lunch, and they solved a big problem for us by suggesting we redirect all our mail to them for 12 months. We went to la Poste the next day and organized that. Brilliant!
We hosted Willie and Marcia for drinks one evening and Liam for dinner one night. It was great to catch up with everyone’s news.
While we were still waiting for our 10-year carte de sejour to be issued we decided to revisit one of our favourite places on the Atlantic coast, La Tremblade. There is lots of good bike-riding on uncrowded cycle paths at this time of year. This was important so Sue could regain confidence, lost after 10 months of no cycling followed by falling off almost immediately once she started again. The rides through the forest were beautiful and we enjoyed the marinas, estuaries, the markets and the seafood.
We saw some old friends we had made here before, especially Christine and Jean-Claude from Boulogne-sur-Mer. Jean-Claude hosted a wonderful ‘aperitifs for lunch’ party. We were also fortunate to be invited to a name-day party. It was similar to an Australian birthday party but a little more controlled – we don’t know if they’re always like that. Everyone offered presents, placed on a table and opened one by one so everyone could see. Then the food and drink were brought out and after that the singing of the celebration song, to the tune of Happy Birthday. It was only an aperitif party, so only lasted about an hour and a half, but it was interesting and fun.
We were excited to meet up with our friends Prue and Rick from Adelaide who were in Paris for Fashion Week and who took the train down to meet us La Rochelle. We had driven to Ars-en-Re the day before and set up at camping Essie. Then we hired a car and drove to La Rochelle to pick them up from the train station. We walked around La Rochelle looking at the lovely old buildings and the pretty marina before having lunch on the quay.
The drive up the island from the Pont de Re is really pretty. Vineyards, forests, sea views, small villages and all the oyster farms selling their produce make it an interesting trip. As we were driving past Saint-Martin we saw the famous Ile de Re long-haired donkeys. They are a Poitou donkey and are endangered, with only 300 of them left in the world, 19 of whom live on the Ile de Re. The donkeys used to be used for agricultural work, particularly in the island’s salt production. They are famous for being traditionally dressed in pants, to keep the flies and mosquitos off their skin while they worked in the salt marshes. Now they are very much a tourist attraction.
The first night we cooked for Rick and Prue and ate in our van because the day had been so cold. But we were so lucky with the weather! The only really nice day they were with us was the Friday that we hired electric bikes so Rick and Prue could join us on a ride around the cycle paths of the island. It was a beautiful, sunny day with very little wind. We rode through the town to visit the market. It was a very scaled down version as there are so few tourists around, but there was plenty of local produce on display and some nice clothing.
Then it was off along the bicycle paths to ride to Saint-Martin, with a few stops along the way. You get a totally different perspective of the island from the bike paths. You come to understand just how much of the island is marshy and covered in water. You see the huge piles of salt that were harvested over summer and drive past lots of vineyards. They make a very nice local rose. And then, of course there were the oyster producers hard at work on the beach racks once the tide went out.
We stopped on the way at an oyster producer to sit in the sunshine to enjoy a bottle of rose and a dozen oysters to share – they were big but really tasty, not meaty. And the views were pretty good too!
Then on to Saint-Martin for a walk around the town, a good look at the ramparts and the marina and quay and then a brief look in the laneways full of shops. The market was really good and had plenty to offer – we could have had lunch by eating our way around the stalls. However, we chose a restaurant in the sunshine and all enjoyed some seafood for lunch.
The ride home seemed to take no time at all, even with a few stops to talk to locals and sample the grape harvest.
After a siesta it was time for a glass of champagne before dinner.
The next morning, we woke up to rain, wind and nasty grey skies for our drive back to La Rochelle to return Prue and Rick to the train station. It had been fantastic to see them and spend so much time chatting with them about anything and everything – and in English! What a luxury.
We allowed ourselves a couple of days relaxation in Ars-en-Re after Prue and Rick left, doing some more bike riding and being a little lazy. Then it was off to Angouleme to pick up our 10-year carte de sejour (residency permit) – we hoped!
Watch out for our Spain, October vagablog