Thursday, 18 August 2011

Monday, our first proper day

There was some rain during the night, which was just beginning to die off as we woke. By the time we had got up and actually lifted the blinds the sun was attempting to peek out from behind the clouds. Still not hot it was pleasantly warm and we sat outside to eat breakfast and began to contemplate putting up the awning.

Last night due to all the kafuffles we had literally just put the van on the pitch, but with renewed spirts and energy we wondered if it was actually the best positioning. Gary had by this time checked and mended the jockey wheel, and concluded that one of the vicious sleeping policemen that we had knocked it on during our journeys through various villages had somehow made the inside mechanism jump a thread so that the whole unit was crooked and so wasn’t working as one which had prevented it from being able to free run while using the mover (my best non technical explanation).   In any case it was now operable, should we attempt to move the van.  Deliberations over we decide against it as with the van across the back of the pitch there was room to put the awning up with the car infront and that still allowed us a sizeable amount of sitting space to the left.  Decision made we started on putting up the awning before the sun really came out in force.  It wasn’t long before camp was set up in all its glory and we were able to sit back and admire our efforts. Happy now that our empire was now complete we decided some lunch was in order. The restaurant serves as a bakery during the day so we wandered off to purchase un pain.

Full and happy and with the sun now out for longer periods between clouds we take our chairs and books the 30 footsteps to the beach.  We sat there for over two hours, our books totally ignored as there was just so much to look at and enjoy it would almost have been a sacrilege to have ignored it. We enjoyed watching the Para gliders appear from the mountains, the power boats and pedeloes emerge from the port, the windsurfers, the water skiers, the pleasure boat arrive and depart, the swimmers, the jumpers from the pontoon, the kids mucking about in and on an array  of different inflatable’s and boats, all this going on yet you could still enjoy the gentle lapping of the lake lapping against the waters edge right at our feet.

Im now totally hooked on this campsite, first impressions totally dispersed. Gary is still holding judgement but hes still tired from all the driving and whilst Im a people watcher he feels uncomfortable to think hes being people watched. Road noise had been something mentioned in various reviews but with all the hustle and bustle of camp life going on around you its not noticeable at all from the beach or our pitch, though I wouldn’t want to be on one at the back of the site as they definitely can hear it. Also having now had time to examine the camp I can see that most pitches are in fact a fair size, the over crowded and crammed in appearance is caused by the addition of extra tents on pitches already occupied by caravans, awnings and sunshades so that cars are forced to overhang onto the roads, the site obviously doesn’t charge extra for tents on pitches!

Chilled out we bbq some sausages for tea and enjoy with the last bottle of wine from home. Now I know it seems silly to have brought wine but we knew today was a Holiday and that supermarkets would probably be shut so although technically we brought coals to Newcastle we actually brought coals from Newcastle back to Newcastle as it was one of the last few bottles left from our Easter trip to Brittany… that bottle of wine was actually very well travelled,  lol.

To finish of the evening we head out of the camp and head towards the port, taking a detour through the detached field of the campsite, which was also full, Lac Bleu is obviously a very popular campsite as we are yet to see one empty pitch. A path takes you straight to the port where we sit and admire all the boats and day dream about which one we will buy when we win the lottery. Coming back to reality we price up hiring one of the small power boats that we had seen earlier, and land with a bump when we realise an hours hire is 85 euro with a 1,500 euro deposit!! Deciding it would be a very big maybe if the budget holds out till the end of the holiday we decide hiring one of the pedelos for only 13 Euros was a much more likely prospect. We had a quick look at the public beach, which is a gritty sand but turn back as light is failing but it looks a nice walk across it as it circles the lake for a bit and decide to come back another time to enjoy it properly. We can hear faint music coming from an adjacent camp and also put having a mooch around it on the do another time list.

Tuesday, the sun has got its hat on

We wake to blue skies and only an occasional white wispy cloud, the mountains yesterday hidden by some cloud are now fully visible. Realising what a clear day its going to be we get out the map and decide to drive up to the Col de la Forclaz where the mad and brave paragliders jump from. We have had one lazy day around camp so with lunch packed and sensible walking sandals on we head off. The drive up was “interesting” but safe enough, and the assembled cars show that it must be worth the drive. We walk up the last bit of hill to the Col de la Forclaz, where there were the usual gift shops and a few restaurants and wow what a view. Now I see why the lake is called Lac Bleu as  it’s a beautiful azure blue that just stretches on and on towards Annecy,  unfortunately we cant quite see the campsite as its obscured by a outcrop from a large mountain. Paragliders keep appearing above our heads waving, so intrigued we continue the assent up the mountain. Now someone should put a sign up saying not for the feint hearted as when you reach the top you certainly will be feeling very faint!! Im certainly not a fit person, and half way I could certainly of said no more im going back down but we could see we were getting closer and each time you went up another level you hoped you were almost there. Believe me when you do get there its worth it and we sat for ages just watching the mad people run of the cliff hoping that a bit of nylon above their heads would save them from death. From here we could  see the campsite, and the bottom end of the lake right up to Annecy. You can certainly tell we are 1260 metres high as the boats look like small white dots in the sea of blue water. The sun was now burning so we start the descent and the funny thing is im sure the road had shrunk because it took half the time to get down as it did to get up……funny that!!

We drive down the other side of the Col admiring the wonderful views of Swiss style houses, mountains, green pastures and the ever increasing number of overhead paragliders enjoying the thermals. We pass the most amazing fairy style Chateaux which we think is Chateaux Menthon  and decide its another thing to add to the to do list. The road took us down the east side of the lake back to Doussard where we hunt out the small supermarket to replenish the fresh and bottled essentials before heading back to camp for a well deserved snooze in the sun. The evening is spent sitting on the beach glass in hand admiring the wonderful views before light fails and we head back to the van for a lovely restful night.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Mega catch up on whats been happening

Friday -Nearly off

The last minute packing didn’t really go as smoothly as hoped, Gary was two hours late home from work, the roof box was a bugger to put on, neighbours stopped and chatted etc so by the time all the camp essentials, food and last minute/I nearly forgots were packed away it was near 11 o clock…….so much for our early night!

Saturday and we are off

The alarm woke us from our deep slumber at 3 am, we had only managed about 3 and a half hours, still feeling tired but excited we prepared ourselves before creeping out into the dark stillness of the sleeping village to noisily (we did try to be quiet but at 4am everything seems noisy) remove the wheel lock and slam car doors. Just 3 minutes past our planned 4 am departure we were driving off, eager for the fun to begin.

We always allow 5 hours to get to Dover, its near as dam it 200 miles door to door and this timing has always worked well although we normally do the journey late eve/early night.  The weather was awful with fine rain and mist but we still seemed to make good timing, as the roads were so quiet. Even the M25 was un crowded and it became apparent that there wasn’t going to be any last minute hold ups that we had allowed extra time for and in fact we were going to be very early for our  10.54 first ever chunnel crossing. We had overestimated the traffic and not factored in the saving to the tunnel rather than the ferry port. It’s a bit of a tradition to stop off at Clackett lane for a comfort break and grab a coffee so we stopped off for a bit longer than normal and began to fantasize that we may actually get put on an earlier train.

All fantasies were quickly dispersed on arrival at the chunnel check in……is it always that busy? Boards were flashing delay signs and our hearts sank. The automated check in was easy as and we soon joined the crawling queue following the all letters sign to the terminal car park.  Big signs were requesting letters M and N to make there way to the departure point, unfortunately we were letter U! Realizing that not only were we not going to be on an earlier crossing but infact more than likely on a later one than anticipated we went over to the terminal for a nose, and a secret hope from me that Gary may want to treat me to some gorgeous perfume from duty free……….all hopes went once we saw the bedlam in the terminal (again is it always like that). At this stage I began to wonder if we had made a mistake and pined for the ease and familiarity of the Ferry. We reconciled ourselves that this was at least free having been paid for with Tesco vouchers. The atmosphere was not conducing for mild flirting and playful coercion to entice Gary to get his wallet out and I couldn’t even face pushing my way through the hoards to get a free crafty tester squirt or two. We about faced and returned in the now torrential rain back to the safety of the car where we munched away at the remaining sandwiches and various snacks till thankfully our letter began to flash on the big screen. We had been tired but not felt secure enough to try and snooze for fear that we would miss this moment, it seems everyone around us had also been on the starting blocks as suddenly everyone was pulling off quicker than we could stuff the remaining coronation chicken sandwich back in the cool bag.

We were stopped by two guys at the exit of the car park for a gas safety check and awarded a wet pink sticker to put on the boarding card. Gary always likes to chat to people and he choose this moment to go into lengthy detail about the guys planned trip to Cornwall, im doing my nut, trying to do polite hand signals to the effect of get your arse back in the car so we can join that humongous queue following the way to FRANCE signs but he’s oblivious and doesn’t understand why I get the hump when he gets back in and complains how wet he’s got doing the check!! We crawl though passport control no problem….hey France knows no one but the mad English want to go that way! And luckily being a high sided vehicle we get directed into a different lane and sail past all the fast puller off’ers from the car park and are soon sat in lane 17. Yet another board showed that our departure was going to be 11.06, only 12 minutes later than our actual planned timing so credit to them they had done well to catch up with all the delays.

We were the very last vehicle to board the very last carriage on the train, it was an easy manoeuvre, and the man was soon putting the chocks under our wheel as the doors got closed behind us. I was worried about feeling claustrophobic in the compartment, but I needn’t have worried as the height and the fact that there was no one else in carriage meant it felt quiet open. It was however very bumpy and a guard came and apologized saying it was because two “bags” hadn’t inflated under the train! Bags apparently means suspension so we spent the next 20 mins anxiously watching the car bounce around. Soon we felt the brakes being  applied and  could see light and land through the windows, back to your car announcement was made and we were soon chocks away and driving down the whole length (10 carriages)  and off  onto French soil (well road really but you know what I mean).

All in all we decided that we probably would use the chunnel again (well definitely for our paid for return) , its speed was impressive but we know now not to book on a high season prime time crossing and don’t bother turning up too early. However we missed the thrill of waving good bye to the white cliffs and then getting that first glimpse of Calais, Gary missed having a snooze in a quiet corner and I missed the saunter around duty free as well as the people watching trying to guess why and where people were going in France…..hey we even missed the mad wait by the stair head waiting for the return to your vehicle message. So all in all I reckon it will be the Ferry again for us next year and the Tesco vouchers can be spent on something else.

So sat nav on and me with the map open we hit the road to our booked over night stop at Challlons du champagne, well recommend site (thanks David Klyne and assorted Ukcampsite users) just past Reims.  A journey of just over 200 miles and a projected time of 5 hours. We use a mix of tolls and non toll roads in an attempt to keep the cost down but at the same time not lose too much time and it works well until we hit Reims. We planned to come off the motorway there and go down the N66 but a new stretch has obviously just been completed so we totally missed the junct, the sat nav was going mental showing us careering across a field and I was under pressure to actually look at the open map on my lap! Id like to say it was my skill but it was really just a mix of following our nose and a quick re programme of the sat nav, we got of the motorway and we sort of back tracked into Reims before picking up the signs for the N66. The campsite was well sign posted which was reassuring, the location of some of these municipal campsites is very odd and it can often be very disconcerting to believe you are near the campsite when it appears you are actually  in the middle of residential areas or on the outskirts of industrial park.

Check in was easy, getting onto the pitch was super easy due to the wide road and flat level hard standing pitches and within 5 mins the kettle was on, the sun even managed a brief appearance as we sat and drank a well deserved drink and admired our surroundings. The campsite is charming but a few cracks seemed to be evident. It is a large site with lots to offer, games room, small lake, tennis courts, volleyball play park even a miniature fun golf course, but just here and there you could sense a lack of tlc and the toilet blocks although  lovely and clean if you ignored the odd cobweb here and there   just felt a bit dated. Gary went out to fill up with fuel at the large Carrefore we had passed two mins from site whilst  I got on with cooking the pre-prepared curry id brought with us and was most enjoyable with the addition of some frites from a take away van parked on site. We retired early, exhausted from our early start and hopeful of making an early one again the next morning.

Sunday, nearly there!

I awoke with the vague notion of movement around us and seeing the crack of light from under the van blinds I looked at the clock with the realization that the alarm had either not woken us (unlikely, im a light sleeper) or had not been set correctly (highly likely as Gary was the one who set it), it was half 7 and we had planned to be away at 8 or half 8 at the latest as we had a good 7 hour drive and 300 miles to cover.

We did well to be pulling out of site just gone 9, and decided that yes we would stay again as the site is literally just off the N66 so is ideal and the facilities were good. We felt it was maybe a little expensive at 22 euros a night, but its popularity maybe proved it was worth it.

Again our plan was to cut out tolls when the roads allowed and this again went much to plan there was a small hic up where a junct was closed but the sat nav and again my first rate map reading skills got us back onto the right road no problem.  Uneventfully after 8 long hours we were sat outside Lac Bleu reception.

First impressions are always hard, like books and people you shouldn’t let first impressions influence you, but its hard not to and unfortunately first impressions here were not good! The restaurant right next to reception looked characterless and the nee naw of several police sirens heard screaming along the adjacent main road was very off putting. Checked in were were told to take second right pitch 705. We set off into the camp past the smaller than it looked in photos pool and instantly you can see how small and crammed the campsite is, we take what we counted to be the second right down a very narrow road way only to heart droppingly realise that there are no empty pitches and no where to turn around! We had counted wrong… Gary is an excellent tower but even his reversing skills were going to be seriously tested to get us out of this. With me beckoning encouragement whilst trying to still be in view of the mirrors I expertly directed him back up the road avoiding overhanging trees and jutting out cars and trailers much to the enjoyment and admiration of the assembled campers who called out advice and encouragement as we went. Poor Gary was a star to get us out of there unfortunately it took a toll on the clutch which did not smell too good by the time we had got back out onto the access road. A warden alerted to our predicament escorted us up another narrow camping road to a turning point and directed us to our actual pitch down a avenue we had missed because it was hidden by the toilet block.

The road was narrow and no way were we going to be able to reverse onto the pitch. Again we instructed ourselves not to make decisions on first impressions as the pitch although one of the largest in avenue was smaller than a “British” pitch and very scappy with a hotch potch of rough grass, bare soil and gravel. Undeterred and with a well we are here and paid now attitude and with the tantalizing glimpse of the lac lapping onto shore three pitches down we knew it was a get on with it situation. Our Dutch neighbours opposite offered to move their car but showing off we said no problem we will use the mover! Unfortunately this was not to be, the jockey wheel appeared to be buckled, we possibly due to a vicious sleeping policeman we had gone over whilst going through a small village. This ment the caravan refused to move to in the direction we wanted, so we were forced to resort to the old fashioned push and shove method ably assisted by our friendly Dutch  and a “if I must show willing” British neighbours. Thankfully the caravan didn’t need any levelling so with legs down and everything plumbed in we  opened a bottle of red id brought with us and sat down outside just in time to feel the first drops of forecast rain start to fall. We retreated back inside the caravan, last remnants of any thoughts of putting up awning tonight firmly rejected. After eating and having downed a glass of the red stuff we decide a tour of the camp is needed plus I was itching to actually see the Lac in all its glory. We headed first to the Lac and taking in the panorama I was reassured why we had driven the 700 miles from home and that everything was going to be more than alright, this view so close to our van was worth the inconvenience of a cramped site, a dodgy pitch and anything else that we were yet to discover we may dislike about the site….to have this view  30 steps from our van door made everything worth it, in fact at £378 for 13 nights it was an absolute bargain. Passing the beach front pitches with envy we made our way along the beach admiring the “mad” late evening swimmers enjoying the waters before going along a path that took us alongside the park. Intrigued by cheering we poked our heads in and  realised that there was a children’s football match taking place, the kids and parents  seemed to be taking it a bit too seriously but hey that’s football I suppose. With no kids In tow this trip to worry about we continue back towards reception. Passing the toilet block at the other end of our avenue we are assured if not delighted with the standard and cleanliness. Next we pass the swimming pool and consider the fact that on reflection it isn’t that small and with the lake who would want to be by the pool anyway? The restaurant is obviously good as its heaving, music playing and  with the happy buzz of holiday makers has real atmosphere,  had it not been raining we may have sat on the patio for a drink.  At this point the heavens open even more, thankful of my umbrella and now having to share it with the previously brave “I don’t need one” Gary we make our way back to van.  Gary is pooped and soon grumbles about an early night but I’m still awake but show willing hoping that once in bed sleepiness will arrive. I regularly suffer from insomnia, but its usually better when away……aided by full days out, the odd glass or four of wine ect but tonight sleep evades me and I have a restless night hearing the pitter patter of rain on the roof while  counting sheep and trying to remember all the sight seeing advice given by the ever helpful ukcampsite forum members.

Monday, 8 August 2011

So much to do and so little time to do it!

As the title says, the pre-holiday to do list is horrendously long! The caravan is now out of storage and is sat on brother-in-laws drive awaiting its final prep and pack, whilst the house hallway resembles a camping shop, with every concievable camping accessory and style of chair piled high. The packing and preparation is definately not my favourite caravanning related activity and is probably only outdone by the number one worse thing.....putting up the awning!

Ive managed to limit my addiction to checking the Annency weather forecast down to just twice a day now.....the weather in France has not been kind so far this year and many seem to have not had the whole holiday experience they had hoped for. As its still 6 days till our holiday actually starts its a bit too soon to tell how the weather is going to effect us, but its looking more hopeful with at least hot sun on the day we arrive even if its thunderstorms for the next two days after!

Oh well id best sign off now and get a few things crossed of the to do list but maybe I could just check that weather forecast just once more,lol

Saturday, 6 August 2011

One week countdown

Its all getting very exciting now, on the final countdown with only 1 week togo, as I type this I cant help but think this time next week we will be in Folkestone waiting to board. Alot to do for that to happen though! The caravan is coming out of storage today, so that we will be able to prep it during the week. We are avidly checking the weather forecast as the weather in France so far this summer has not been kind, we have even contemplated changing destination in pursuit of the sun but the loss of deposit and the extra costs to travel further south would have put too much strain on the budget so have decided to stick to plan A. The budget is something we are very aware of this year, The rate of exchange is not as good compared to when we first started and the rise in Diesel means that a trip across the channel is not as cheap as it used to be. Factor in tolls, campsite fees and the crossing and you cant help but think we could go away somewhere exotic for this cost! Unfortunately Gary flatly refuses to fly, so if we want a foreign holiday then this is our only option. Thankfully its an option that we love and enjoy.

Prepation for this trip started nearly a whole year ago, due to A level results day for DD we decided to give France a break for a year and instead sample the delights of a small CS in Wales, lovely site, lovely area and a bargain at only £90 but for all its pluses it had one big wasnt France! With France firmly back in the running for the following August we started to narrow down the possibilities, having gone to the same campsite (Sequoia Parc) in the Charante Maritime area two years running we were looking for something different. Our first thought was either the Ardeche or the Tarn, both looking gorgeous but we settled on the Tarn and the well reccomended site Les Peupliers. Now for the life of me i cant remember why we changed our mind, but somehow we totally renewed our decision and booked to go to Annecy instead. We decided on Lac Bleu because of the proximity to the lakeside although we did toy with the idea of La Ravoire they were so slack in responding to emails whereas Lac Bleu were so helpful regards pitch selection we decided to book there, despite mixed reviews. Fingers crossed it was the right decision!