Written 12th November 2009
So we are now in France! Those of you who have been with us since the very beginning of the blog and who have been paying attention (and those newcomers who have recently joined the party and done a lot of catching up over the last 2 days - BTW welcome aboard!) will be shouting that France wasn't on the original map just yet so what's going on???
Well, given that is is now November, not the mid september originally envisaged, and that I get seasick crossing the Solent, we decided not to brave the Bay of Biscay for 19 hours and take the shorter 8 hour crossing from Plymouth the Roscoff and drive the french coast instead. Wine and cheese in Jules vs ship board plastic sandwiches in a reclining seat - no contest really!
We awoke to drizzle in Mena so no further blue or daisy painting but perfect weather for a bit of wet sanding so whilst Will put some washing on, I set to and another quarter of Jule's paintwork is nearly ready to be restored to an ocean of blue. On closer inspection in the light of day, the blue finish isn't perfect but it was never going to be and nothing that some T-cut and some more daisies can't disguise - and anyway, I can't make it worse than what we started with!
Washing done and hung up to dry [side note, we have to thank Vicky for the multitude of stuff bags into which our stuff is stuffed, including two laundry bags (we can separate lights and darks if we want!) and elastic washing line - I would not have thought of such practical things and it has saved us both money and time on tumble drying!] and with my knickers fluttering gaily in the breeze from the open window (well no one can say we don't travel in style!) we finally had to say goodby to our new friends at Mena and set off towards Plymouth where we had a list of last minute jobs to do and things to buy before boarding our night ferry.
In all our busy-ness we didn't really see much of Plymouth, although I am sure it is very nice, but jobs done, we stopped on the harbour front just in front of what I presume is a castle (it is still "active" and surrounded by MOD signs and guarded entrances) for some tea - boiled eggs and soldiers courtesy of Ian at Mena. We had two chicken eggs and two turkey eggs (from Matthews and Twizzler!) and very yummy they were too. As we had some time to kill, Will also started soldering together some of the bits he bought from Maplin so he could do some programming on the boat - I personally find Maplin a pretty soul sucking place but Will spent so much time in there buying bits that I had time to wander plymouth's pedestrian shopping area, find a hair dresser, wait, get my hair cut [incidentally, at £11 the cheapest haircut I have had since I was a student and it was actually ok. Well, she was just making my expensive hair cut shorter on all layers... and in my new hairdryer/straighteners free, outdoors lifestyle, it is never going to be great], return to maplin and go for *another* walk whilst he communed with the catalogue and the geek on the components counter. I was a bit worried that some well-meaning but concerned passer-by would phone the police about two shadowy figures in a ratty, steamed up campervan soldering up wires at the base of an MOD castle but either no one noticed or end of the world terrorist paranoia hasn't reached plymouth yet - although to be fair, most terrorists probably don't devise their evil plots whilst listeing to the Archers, unless of course they use this epitome of middle england to fuel their righteous anger.... ;)
Then it was time to head to the boat where we drove pretty much straight on with no waiting - the customs officer's only two questions were had we turned the gas off and was it by any chance washing day :) - and into the bowels of the boat.
As we are now hardened travellers and properly cheap, we had shunned the cabin option and chosen the cheap seats for our crossing. Whilst I would do the same again, the seats are *extremely* uncomfortable and the air con was on full blast so I would be better prepared next time, as other seasoned ferry travellers obviously were and would take my rolly mat and sleeping bag and sleep on the floor.
We did at least have french wine, Kronenburg and a power supply for the lap top so after a farewell look at england's receeding shores, we settled in for the night. Fortunately the crossing was smooth as a mill pond, even the couple of hours in the middle where unexpectedly (to us anyway) the boat just stops and sits in the middle of the channel - even the seagulls stop and have a kip bobbing about on the water next to the boat - it was very odd.
The sun rose as we chugged into Roscoff and full of tea and croissant we headed off into the unknown.
This is where the adventures really begin as we have absolutely no fixed itinerary and are free to go where inclination and the prevailing wind takes us. With no other better idea, we headed west and found ourselves in Brest. Will was convinced the plan was all part of a long and involved set up to a bad pun but of course I am not so childish (although there was a point at a roundabout where there was Brest on both sides... ;) None of our guide books mention Brest and being Rememberance day, we were expecting everything to be shut but as a jour ferie there was at least free parking right in the centre of town so we set off for a look around. On first glance, the only shops open seemed to sell wine or fancy knickers which didn't seem quite appropriate and the whole place had the shuttered up feel of an early sunday morning but it was a nice wander.
The most random place we found was the town cemetry, perched high up on a hill. Although laid out in marked avenues, the tombs themselves are all squashed in together higgledy piggledy and as there seems to be one per family not one per person, they are very grand affairs - although one family inexplicably appeared to have chosen a claw foot stone bath as their final resting place - I mean I like a nice long bath as much as the next person but you would be a bit cold and wrinkily by the end of eternity... :) It was also very colourful with fresh flowers - we guess from All Souls Day recently - and actually a surprisingly pleasant place for a wander.
True to our general prediliction for seeking out the edges-of-places, we decided to find the western most point of mainland france which was a only a few kilometres further on at La Pointe de Corsen and although it was cold, windy and wet I am glad we did because it had a folorn air about it as if many people just don't bother. Unlike Lands End, it was marked with just a small monument to those who have lost their lives at sea and the obligatory sign post to other places.
It is also the place where the Atlantic officially meets the Channel - so now you know.
By now we were a bit cold, wet and tired and Will had a yearning for crepes so we decided to head to Quimper. As promised by the guide books, Quimper is small and very pretty with a nice old town full of random stone and half timbered houses and a very impressive cathedral. Again with free holiday parking we were right in the centre which was good as it was throwing it down with rain. After two hot chocolates in a very cosy pink lit bar in the town square however it was dry enough for a wander in the gathering dusk and I have found my new favourite word - Macaronerie, a place which sells rows and rows of macaroons. We also found a funeral parlour with a brightly advertised installment savings plan and 3D models of the tomb styles - it is clearly a big deal here.
Fortunately the lonely planet recommended creperie Kampouzerie turned out to be open and was as warm and welcoming inside as the streets of Quimper were damp and deserted outside so we settled in for dinner - roasted pear and goats cheese followed by house special coffee caramel and vanilla ice cream for me and spinach and smoked salmon followed by banana caramel for Will and all washed down with Brittany cidre - heaven!
Having spent our entire day's budget on feeding us and Jules crepes and petrol respectively - I even managed enough French to negociate the use of an LPG adaptor so we have topped up on cooking gas too - we decided to try and find an Aire de Passage (service station) to stop in for the night so headed off southwards after dinner and found a random service station where we pulled up behind a dutch lorry driver. 12 hours later we woke to find the sun shining and ourselves to be a little closer the the exit slip road than I had realised in the dark of the previous night but all good. By midday we had gathered enough wits about us to get going and I am writing this heading south on the road to Carnac in search of megaliths (prehistoric standing stones). Tune in next time to see what we find...
PS for those who I know are concerned about such things, I have not yet had to close the cafe and I have achieved lava lamp, expensive fish tank, wine cupboard and spirits cupboard so all is thriving in cafe world....