Tuesday 10 November 2009

The Snails in France - Dunkirk to Epernay


Dunkirk to Epernay - 193 miles

Getting out of the dock area was easy - we just followed the signs for the motorway – remembering to drive on the RIGHT.

Mr Snail was at the helm; I was equipped with map, sat nav and an idea of where we were aiming for (always a good idea). The sat nav was handy because it tells you the number or name of the road you are travelling on. In France you do not get many route confirmation signs to confirm you are on the right road. We had decided that we would use the motorways and pay the tolls as we were on limited time and had places to be. The motorways were all of good surface, lacking in Police, road works, accidents, other traffic and hold ups of any kind. Worth the money as we were able to travel at 80mph ish.

Along the motorway network, the Aires de Service are brilliant for motorhomes. The Michelin map shows them as a green tree symbol, with a petrol sign used for full services as we know them in England. The aires all had good parking. The toilets were clean, although some were the strange stand up type for us ladies. There was usually a picnic table and with your own kettle and food on board you are sorted.

One precaution we took when stopping there was that one of us would get out and turn the gas on. The other from inside would lock the cab doors then go and open the habitation door. Doing that, we felt safe that no uninvited guests would come on board. We often saw security men at these stops as we are told criminals do cruise up and down the motorways. So do not spend the night there.

We arrived in Epernay “The Capital of Champagne” and easily found the municipal site. We did not have a booking, but were warmly welcomed and soon settled in. Madam at Reception spoke beautiful English and marked on a map how we could walk into the town.

The site had hook up and clean toilet and showers. The pitch was bordered by a hedge on 3 sides ensuring privacy. After setting up, off we walked to Epernay. Because this was a Significant Birthday tour, we needed some fizzy supplies and to gain an insight into how the fizz is made, (that is my excuse, it’s my birthday and I am sticking to it).

We had a pleasant 20 minutes walk into Epernay town along the river and easily found the Avenue de Champagne. On arrival at Moet & Chandon we discovered that they had a tour leaving in a few minutes, excellent. We had the tour around, and then had our first sample of champagne. Our holiday had begun! The first day had gone as planned and even the sun was shining – couldn’t have been better. I was starting to relax. (Could have been the champagne of course).

Next morning, as the non-English speaking man at Reception had gesticulated, a little van came “peep peep peepy” around the camp site to announce the sale of fresh bread and croissants. And NO-ONE does fresh bread and croissants like the French.

Our tank of English diesel got us to Epernay but a refill was we needed if we were to make it to Blois. En-route to the motorway, which was some miles away, we called into a town to fill up at the supermarket. All along the road side are signs for supermarkets telling you what direction to find them and how far or how long it will take to get there. Some petrol stations are marked on the Michelin map. This gives you confidence that you are not going to run out of fuel.

A few years ago, whilst motorcycling in France, there was no petrol to be found on a Sunday morning. The petrol stations were shut or the automatic ones would not accept English credit cards. The situation got desperate, so with that in mind we always filled the ‘van before pitching or on setting off. However, always have a full tank Saturday night. Don’t leave Sunday’s to chance. Even nowadays.

Calling at the petrol station turned out to be a good and bad thing. Good because in addition to diesel, we got food for the fridge, wine for the “cellar”. Bad because as we rejoined the road which eventually lead to the motorway, we found ourselves behind a “convoi exceptionnel” – an extremely large vehicle going very, very slowly. There was no way we could get passed. It was so wide that wide that on-coming traffic had to go into the ditches to allow it by. At every roundabout we willed it to go the opposite direction, but for 2 hours it was not to be. Eventually, it went right and we went left. Hurray. However, we lost time because of it, but as we’d pre-booked our next night’s stay, it wasn’t a problem.



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