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Archive for the ‘France’ Category

…and we’re off! 

Okay fellow Englishmen, you should all be thanking us for going to Europe for a few weeks to find some much needed, and scarce sun, because now that we have left it is going to be the most beautiful Autumn weather!  Typical!  We decided not to chance our first holiday in years to the flakey English weather and when we depart for Dover it is GLORIOUS outside. 

Enjoy it, and let’s hope for the same on the continent because we are now committed to our European adventure.

Happy travels and we’ll post again at our next wifi hotspot across the channel and on another continent.  

   

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We arrived safely in Paris at Gare du Nord and set off to find our next train which leaves from Gare Lyon. A bit of a trek, and many French signs later we figure out that we have to get to platform 44. Finding the only lift is a challenge and it takes us down only one level! On the hunt for another lift somewhere else in the station and down one more level. Seriously is there any reason you can’t use one lift that stops on different levels? Finally we walk miles down the platform and find lift number three which takes us to platform 44.
We wait in the designated area for wheelchairs, the train arrives, everyone piles on board and we’re still waiting because there are 3 steps onto the train and no ramp! The driver has no idea what to do with me and some of the male passengers are speaking loudly to him and each other – all in French which we don’t speak; but I quickly discover what they have been plotting when three of them hoist me, chair and all, onto the train! Oh boy! That was a surprise and terrifying; I don’t like being out of control and if I had known that was their plan I would still be sitting on platform 44!!

I had 3 stops to prepare myself and this time was ready when I was moved, like a sedan chair, off the train. Glad to be in one piece and having survived the cross Paris trip we head out to find our platform and train to Zurich.

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Does the fact that I am under the ocean make me a sub-mariner? As this is the ONLY way I am going to get below the ocean, I’ll accept it in the long seafaring tradition of our family.

It is amazing to think that in 20 minutes times we will pop out of the Channel tunnel and be in France – INVASION!!

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Paree here we come….

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Arrived safely in London St pancreas station and enjoying a quick Nero before our departure.
Next stop – Paris – mind the gap…

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After two weeks and the most amazing time with the family, it was time to come home.  The return journey was much easier and fairly uneventful – apart from the car loaded down with more than we had arrived with.  I just had to bring home enough French food and provisions to stretch the holiday experience a few weeks longer….

Glad to have survived the descent!

 

Just as a final holiday blog, I thought I should share this picture and experience with you.  One day, I decided that it was a good idea to try exiting the Chateau without getting out of my wheelchair.  My son was very much for the idea – of course – it wasn’t his neck on the line!  Swapping over from my indoor slicks to my outdoor treads and putting my Trekinetic into recline mode, we were ready for the descent; or was I?   Hysterical laughter and bumping all the way down; all I could think was that those stairs had not looked as steep when I first thought up this plan….  For those of you who thought once would be sufficient; think again; next time we tried it going backwards!

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Not every holiday can have perfect weather and for late October, we were very fortunate, on day 10 we decided to go off to the Dordogne for a boat trip on the river.  Of course, you guessed it, of all days, this was when it decided to open up the heavens and pour down on us and our lovely trip down the river turned into a pizza and drinks at the local bar in La Roque Gageac.  As optimistic as I am, even I had to admit that the boat was not going anywhere that day.  Having come all this way, we couldn’t just turn around and go home so we headed for a little town close by that was highly recommended in the Dorling Kindersley guide to France. 

 Sarlat turned out to be one of the most beautiful towns I have ever been to and well worth a visit for all the incredible old buildings, shops and restaurants. 

While we were in Sarlat, we thought we would see if there were any Geocaches  in the vicinity without taking us too far off the beaten track.  Luckily for us someone had very kindly hidden a cache in the town itself and we had a wonderful time trying to translate the French instructions and then finding it and logging our visit in the book. 

Just take a look at this church entrance… I could not resist getting a picture of what has to be the largest door I have ever seen – no problem getting a wheelchair through this one!

So, what started out as a rather disappointing weather day, worked out rather well in the end….

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One week into our holiday and it was time for our son to return home.  We had to drop him at the airport in Bordeaux and thought that it was an ideal opportunity to also visit the Atlantic coast and the beaches.  We had our grandson with us and he had never seen proper waves and beaches before – Southport hardly compares when you grew up in Durban with some of the biggest waves in the world! 

According to the tour guides, this part of the French coast has the biggest dunes and wonderful beaches.  Now, most people in a wheelchair when they hear the words, large and dune, in the same sentence would have realised that this could be a challenge!  Not me, I was determined to go to the beach in France. 

The first place we stopped was Lacanau-Ocean but it was far too busy with a surfing competition in progress, so we headed further north to Carcans-Plage.   This area with it’s big beaches and large dunes reminded me of Formby and parking was really easy with large paths up the dunes to the beaches. 

Baby, picnic and all the other beach paraphernalia in hand, we headed to the top of the dune.  Having to stop every few steps for playing in the sand gave me time to rest on the long climb uphill.  Eventually we got to the top and looking down the very high dunes realised that there was an equally long slog down the other side – but without the path!!  Okay, I really should have turned back at this point, but having come this far was determined to get as close to the water as I could. 

We started out going forward with me pushing and hubby shoving for all he was worth.   The sand was dry and very fine and we sank as fast as we proceeded forward so we turned around and he dragged me down the steep slope.  Exhausted but thrilled to have my feet in the sand after so long, we unpacked everything and enjoyed the sun, sea, sand and picnic. 

After lunch I started to worry about how we were ever going to make it off the beach but one trip to return everything to the car and hubby was ready for the long hard uphill pull.  We were about half way up and thank goodness he had not had a heart attack from the exertion, when a crowd of local Frenchmen swarmed around us and proceeded to help drag me up the dune.  I laughed all the way whilst they chattered away in French and was really relieved to get to the top and onto firm ground.  I really wish I had been able to thank them with more than my big smile and a simple Merci. 

After washing the sand off the baby, chair and ourselves, we headed north towards the ferry to Royan.  What an incredible day and another tick in the box for things to do in a wheelchair.  I am so grateful for the help and support of those around me – they make the little dreams come true – thank you, merci….

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You might recall that we starting Geocaching recently and we thought that it might be fun to try find a treasure whilst in France.  My iPhone came in very handy for finding a local cache, translating the instructions and using the compass to point us in the right direction.  We selected one that had a very easy rating because the last thing we wanted was to get stuck in the wilds of France and not be able to speak the language to call out a rescue party!

We parked up as close to the site as we could and then it was on foot (and K-2) from there.  We had a good laugh with our non existent French and the dictionary and translation software, but eventually with a lot of pushing and shoving, the boys helped me negotiate the very overgrown path up the hill, across the clearing and through the thickets to the general location.  With me shouting directions from the compass, the two of them foraged around in the undergrowth and within a few minutes successfully located our cache. 

So, despite our language and physical disabilities, we all had a great sense of achievement for locating our first international cache.

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When in Cognac…..

The Chateau was not very far from Cognac, the centre of some of the best brandy in the world – I say this only on the advice of the experts and the men in my life – after all, I have never drunk alcohol and have no personal experience!  What, you may ask, am I doing on a tour of the Hennessey distillery?  Well one does not have to drink to enjoy the tour and the mastery behind the process of turning a simple grape (which I do enjoy) into a bottle of amber liquid that sells for £6000!  Yes, one of the not so expensive bottles was on display but without a price tag, but we asked. 

Hennessey was our distillery of choice from the many hundreds because it included a tour of the warehouse and the essential tasting afterwards.  My boys very manfully offered to partake of my portion of the tasting – they said it would be a chore but were prepared to overcome the hardship for me! 

We went on a boat across from the main building to the warehouse and this was only a little difficult in the chair but we managed without too much difficulty.  Once across the river, the tour around the warehouses was very simple and without any problems.  

We saw thousands of casks of cognac and some a little newer than others – one in fact from the year of my birth – try guessing which one.  No cheeky, not the one from 1893!

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Venice of the Perigord…..

Surprised by the title? Well so were we when we were told that this was a ‘must see’ whilst in the south west of France. Brantome turned out to be a really beautiful, if rather touristy, village surrounded by rivers – not quite as impressive as the real Venice, but definitely worth the visit.
The town boasts the oldest church tower in France and considering that it was build circa 1100 AD it is still used and brilliantly preserved.

Accessibility was good, with much of the town pedestrianised and the K-2 took the cobbles in it’s stride. Narrow streets and pavements meant I spent a fair bit of time riding in the roads, but it was reasonably quite in October and I am bolshy enough not to let this bother me.
The gardens were really beautiful and rivers very clean – testified to by the fact that I saw my first otter in the wild in their river!
All in all, a great day out and one I would recommend.

B

y the by, I managed to buy the most expensive -although gorgeous- noughat ever on our tour! C’est la vie!

Au revoir ’til next time….

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On our initial travois around the grounds at Chateau Charbontiere, we had noticed an abundance of lovely big chestnuts and with the weather so clear and dry at night, it was a necessity for a bunch of Africans to acquire said bounty and roast them over a big fire.

Wellies donned; off-road tyres re-installed (I have a fab set of slicks for indoors), chestnut bag slung over the handlebars (I knew it was worth spending the extra money for these) and we were ready to head out into the wilds of the Charante!

Have any of you ever picked fresh chestnuts before? No? Well then like us, you will not know that before you can get to the lovely nuts inside, you first have to deal with a very thorny exterior.  After a few prickly fingers, the boys got the hang of it and started crushing them with their boots – this ensured the outer shell was removed and we were left with the bits we wanted.  It was a good thing we had my Trekinetic and a very large bag with us, because after an hour or so we had enough fresh chestnuts to set up a stall in West End and make back a bit of the money we had blown in town the previous day.

Oh, what an amazing afternoon out with the whole family and between me pushing and the boys pushing me around the really rough spots (and using my wheels as another method of shelling chestnuts) it became a day to look back and smile about.

On our return the boys set about creating us a fire pit – sorry Pat and Tony, but we did clean it all away afterwards!  That evening and almost every one after, we had a big roaring fire and the most wonderful fresh PYO chestnuts ever – and marshmallows too.

By the way, I remember finding a few stray nuts in the washing machine the next day!

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Angouleme is the closest big city to the Chateau so this was our first port of call when we eventually made a move off the property.  Quite frankly we all felt that just being in the grounds and surrounding area would have been enough but we had money to spend and a hankering for some good local meringues, cheese and wine – in that order – for me only; I think all the rest of the family would have reversed the order!

It turned out to be a lovely town with plenty of place to park and shop.  I made sure to do some research before we left to find out about disabled parking in France and I was very pleased we had because we had to print the instructions in French and display these alongside my blue badge.  You do however have to pay for parking even though they have designated disabled bays.  Amazingly, in the two weeks we were in France and travelling all over the region, I never once saw a car without a blue badge parked in the disabled bays – even when town was really busy and these were the only ones empty!!  Now that was a pleasant surprise, especially coming from the UK where the usual is getting wound up every time we go out.

The Trekinetic K-2 performed like a star, even on the cobbled streets and narrow sidewalks.  I cannot remember enjoying myself out in a town so much – the freedom to come and go is wonderful after being confined to smooth roads and shopping malls for so long.  Ooh la la; the looks we get wherever we go… and in case you didn’t know (I certainly didn’t), a wheelchair in French is – en fauteuil roulant.   As my husband says, they even manage to make a waste tip sound exotic – dechetterie!

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 Holiday, and we can sleep as late as we like… right! Maybe for everyone else; but me; I cannot seem to sleep in, no matter how tired I am.  Here comes a confession – I can’t seem to help myself, when I am awake it really bugs me when everyone else is still sleeping!  I try to be quite for a few minutes and then I am driven to by some inner gremlin to get my hubby up as well.  Luckily for me, our 18 month old grandson chose about then to wake up and start stomping around his room – above ours.  How anyone else; including uncle in the same room and his parents next door; slept through this, I don’t know, but that gave me the excuse I needed to nudge him awake.  After all, I couldn’t climb the spiral staircase up to his room, could I?

So we got up and opened all the windows and shutters, to be confronted by a view of the grounds shrouded in mist. Boy, where we surprised when the sound of baying dogs floated across the valley – it was like being in a scene from The Hound of the Baskervilles!  Our little bit of paradise was truly incredible and we couldn’t wait for the rest of the family to get up and explore the grounds.

The mist started to lift around 10am, burned away by bright, warm sunlight, and off we went for our first walk.  Never a dull moment with us, and it took about 5 minutes for Oupa (Grandfather in Afrikaans) and grandson to find the swimming pool and for said grandson to take an impromptu dip!  Oupa must be endowed with lightning reflexes because he managed to get him out before the pool alarm even had a chance to activate – the culprit didn’t seem phased at all and dripping, happily carried on around the grounds.

Enough excitement for one morning – time for breakfast – now, let’s see if we can get the rest of the family up and at ‘em.  After all, we had a hallway filled to the gunnels with luggage to find a home for….

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How many pit-stops does it take to get from Dunkerque to Chateau Charbontiere?  That depends on a few factors usually, but in our case it was the age of our adorable new granddaughter – 4 weeks and needing to be fed and changed every couple of hours. Now the highways people are always telling us ‘Don’t drive tired’, stop every few hours and stretch and get a caffeine fix.  Sounds okay, right? Coffee is one of hubby and my passions so you would think this was no chore at all – think again! The coffee in roadside stops in France is ATROCIOUS! They really could do with a few lessons from their Italian neighbours, where even the dingiest roadside stop has incredible coffee – I love Italy!

Hundreds of miles, numerous stops and too many bad coffees later and it is dark again but we are approaching our destination; finally! It is really dark out in the countryside and we approach the Chateau following the directions provided by the owners. Up the long dark driveway, through the mist and the property comes into view – WOW! The chandeliers are lit in all the windows and cast a welcome light out across our property – well, for two weeks anyway!

Chateau Charbontiere by moonlight

The good news is that we all arrive safely, if exhausted, and unpack the cars before choosing our rooms and hitting the sack – it is sooooo good to be lying down eventually.

Now the holiday can really begin…..

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Being in a wheelchair on a ferry for the first time and who knew, another benefit, we get loaded first and take a lift to the passenger deck of the Norfolk Line ferry where our rather large party gets first pick of the seats. Not that this benefits me because I have my own comfy ride, but for the family who are by now exhausted, it is time to catch a few zzzz’s in order to refresh before the next part of the journey. 

Two hours later and we are back in our cars with beam deflectors installed and disembarking started. Remember to ride on the RIGHT!! On your marks; get set; GO – that is exactly how it feels as everyone seems to be determined to be first out – YOU ARE ON HOLIDAY PEOPLE; CALM DOWN!

Safely off the ferry in Dunkerque and you might wonder how long it would be before things started going wrong – after all with just 3 cars going to the same place, all fitted with the latest gadgets, including navigational devices, mobile phones and printed maps in case the techie stuff packed in, surely we were prepared for anything? Well, no. We hadn’t even left the docks when the first of the kids disappeared and we lost contact. The remaining two cars drove around to try and find them and after half an hour of this, and me getting more worried by the minute, it was time for plan B. We didn’t actually have a plan B, but I am nothing if not a quick thinker under pressure!

We all needed fuel so decided that we would use the POI – Point of Interest on a satnav for those of you not yet familiar with this marvellous bit of kit (try CoPilot Live) – and find the closest few petrol stations and hunt them down. After all, how many petrol stations are going to be open in Dunkerque at 5am? As luck would have it my clever kids (the lost ones) had exactly the same plan and our spirits lifted as soon as we spotted their car in the forecourt. After all that excitement and adrenalin we decided not to continue until we had all had a bit more sleep. Bundled up in our cars in the middle of very misty night, we set our alarms to wake us at 7am for the start of the long drive south.

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Now I may not have mentioned to everyone; I did try though; that the whole family hired a little chateau for 2 weeks of fun, sun (we hoped anyway) and relaxation. It was a very long time coming after 2 years of planning, planning and more re-planning.

This was one of those events that should go down in family history for getting off the ground and actually flying – the Wright brothers thought they had it hard – they had NO idea!

One Mom and Dad, 3 sets of married children, 2 grandchildren (one only 4 weeks old), a mountain a baby products, 3 cars, 1 Trekinetic K-2, a road trip from Lancashire to Dunkerque to Sers near Angouleme, a ferry and 600 miles of rain, mist and more rain, and the scene is set for the start of a great summer holiday….

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 Okay, okay, I know that I am really bad for taking so long to get round to updating my blog but hopefully my adventures in France will go some way towards making it up to you – thank you for your patience, but I have to be honest and say it will probably happen again!

The plan is that I will post a number of entries to my blog about our wonderful time with the family in South West France. So keep a look out for the first episode coming soon…

Bonjour!

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