France – Head start to spring

Oh dear, here I am, writing a story of our trip again. It means that the trip is over, which is such a sad thing. This time we were on the road with our dear Armenian friends from Finland; Ana and Yuri. Our initial plan was to spend a few days in Normandy, hiking and camping, and go to Les Hemmes to do some kiting. Maybe see some Belgium in between. Well, we did not get quite all the way to Normandy.

Yuri had organized this trip for Ana as a birthday present. They came to us for the Easter holiday. As they were approaching, the weather over northern part of France and in Belgium started to look ever grimmer and camping in Normandy was looking absolutely horrid. So we decided to change the direction. Weather pushed us further and further south, until we ended up going to the very south of France, Waffles parents place in the Ardèche. Luckily the Armenians did not mind our impulsiveness too much.

First day we strolled around Antwerp, since Waffle was still stuck at work. We saw Doel; the ghost town again, it is still standing for some time, even having some new graffiti painted around it. Still short stroll around the heather next to Antwerp and we were rather ready to start our road trip through France, with car so full it was bulging out of its seams and a trailer, with our buggies in it.

We drove towards the south, through the remainings of coal industry in Charleroi and stopped for a short hike in the French Ardennes, right across the Belgian border. We were lucky to take the small roads, since highways seemed to be closed at the borders, creating huge jams. After the hike all of us were eagerly looking forward to some champagne, so we headed for Épernay.

Épernay should really be on your visiting list if you go to the Champagne. It is such a beautiful village in the middle of the vineyards and has quite some of the massive mansions of the biggest champagne brands. We passed the Avenue du Champagne and went for food into a small restaurant, Waffle and I had tested a year back. Aux petit Fourneau is the name of it, and they offer very very tasty backed potatoes filled with things and cheese. For us, the staff went an extra mile this time, making sure we got food even though the place was fully booked.

Dinner down and still some kilometers to go. We had planned to get all the way to Dijon that day, to make sure, there would not be too much driving to do on the last day. We drove in darkness, the red eyes of windmills following us from the fields we were slicing through.

We had only a short nigh in a roadside hotel before heading for the last stretch towards Ardèche. As the kilometers flew by, the signs of spring grew ever more apparent. Once the first blooming orchards appeared there were happy cries coming from the back seat. We had traveled all the way down south.

There was no clear planning for the following days, just the wish to go hiking, eat well, find some wines and maybe visit a city or two. Hiking was an easy task to complete. We explored the gorge once more, and climbed a hill or two close by. The place looked pretty different from before. And smelled different, the herbs were more vibrant with stronger scents and trees were in bloom and the whole nature buzzing.

 

One afternoon we spent in Avignon. The Roman city which also once served as a home for the pope. Also during the time when there actually were two rival popes and so forth. We were lucky enough to visit the place on an off season period but with very pleasant weather. The streets were calm and beautiful. Avignon is built out of pale grey stone and has a little bit of Paris to it.

The Ardèche region is also full of wine and since we were driving up and down and around it, we took the opportunity to go wine tasting. Quite some nice new tastes were discovered and a few addresses are to be remembered. We dragged home about 4 boxes of very good wines too. The vineyard of Saladin is one I want to mention. It has been run over 21 generations and is currently held by two sisters. All processing of the wine is made by hand and the wine is excellent!

Other than walking, drinking and eating we managed to spend rather lovely evenings at the house. Looking at the Ventoux mountain disappear into the dusk and first stars appearing in the sky. Saving the world on a speech level and so forth. The things you do with friends you don’t see too often.

Four days we spent in the south before we went on to a hunt of a beach. Les Hemmes was dry, so we headed back for the north. What I like about road tripping is the slow change you move through. You see the scenery grow different slowly, not something you can experience while flying for instance. Well, the road took us soon to the softly undulating fields of Champagne again and further to the Nord pas de Calais.  Those green fields, the sea and white soil has somehow a very special place in my heart. That just might be my favorite region of France.We visited the white cliffs, saw UK and went to say hi to some seals, before making camp.

Next day we woke up at the camping we always use for buggying. We had been testing out our new very light hiking mattresses from ThermaRest, and we are absolutely loving them. The group was a little hangoversih, thanks to some wine exploring the previous night. Never the less, we managed to tumble on the beach relatively early.

The beach, it was huge that day. Tide as low as it gets, and since it was one of the last days of coef, it was very dry, no puddle to be seen. The only thing that was bugging us was the wind. It was very weak. At first it was hardly noticeable. And it was coming over the dune. Wind blowing over the dune is extremely unstable, it is turbulent, rotating and switching direction. All the time. I have serious issues with a wind like that. We do not like each other.

The wind being so mild, everybody was pulling out their largest sails. Soon the sky was full of them, moving like in slow motion movie, calmly rising and lowering, as the drivers searched for even a bit of speed. Since the Armenians had no clue what was going on, Waffle took upon him to teach them the basics of kite handling and took them on rides with the tandem. Both Ana and Yuri were quick to pick things up, even in that horrid wind. The small yellow thing of a kite was constantly up in the air, doing all sorts of maneuvers, crashing down every now and then.

For me, Waffle pulled out the new kite he’d gotten me for Christmas. Huge black 8 meter sail. I was scared as I lifted it up. But the thing was surprisingly easy to handle, it did not mind too much about the turbulence and pretty much listened to what I told it to do. It was a lot heavier to steer than what I have gotten used to though.

I sissied out of driving the thing though. The beach was crowded and since it would have been my first go on a descent size kite, I thought everybody to be safer with me not driving, I am not proud of that decision.  So it was a day of ground exercises and tandem driving. Could have ended worse. Eventually the rain came, forcing us to pack everything and leave the beach.

Exhausted, we drove to home via Brugge. Searched some waffles (the edible ones, not my boyfriend) and went touristing around the city. Appropriately dirty and smelly after a full day at the beach. That was our last evening with the Armenians, Sunday would take them away and back to Finland.

It was a full holiday. Nicely relaxed, done with minimal planning. The way we like our holidays. I am still so very happy about living in Belgium, in terms of easiness to access just about any other country in Europe with no hassle. As long as the Schengen is still here with us.

Bye now! Oh, and the pictures are here!

 

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