After a very wet few hours of motorway driving and nightmare city traffic, we’ve just pulled into the last motorhome space in a tiny aire in Cognac. Cognac? I’m sure it’s famous for something… it’ll come to me in a minute. The rain is still lashing down so it looks like a quiet evening in with a cuppa and we can do the exploring tomorrow.
We’re quite relieved to have found a space. When we looked this one up, our app said it can be very busy, and it only has four parking slots. For anyone new to our ramblings, an aire de camping car is a parking area set aside by the local council for camper vans and motorhomes. There are hundreds all over Europe. Sometimes you’ll find one out of town in a local beauty spot, sometimes there’s one right in the town centre. Most have services so you can top up with fresh water and empty the waste tanks too. Some are free, some charge a few euros but they’re always cheaper than proper campsites. Occasionally we’ve even found free electric hook-up. The UK has a lot to learn about encouraging the tens of thousands of us looking for somewhere to spend our retirement cash!
Last time we spoke we’d landed in Guerlédan by the dam, and where we’d enjoyed walking in the woods among all the autumn bounty. We had to dodge chestnuts, acorns, conkers and beech nuts falling all around us. We’re well and truly at the end of summer.
We woke to the sounds of somebody shouting “testing, testing, un…deux…trois” for ages over a loud PA system at 8am. Nobody had mentioned there was a cycle race starting from the campsite early on Sunday morning. As we were awake anyway we packed up Vince and set off to find our next stop. We were getting low on gas for cooking and heating, and Vince doesn’t use gas cylinders. He has a huge underslung tank which we can fill directly at some petrol stations. The nearest lpg supplier was about fifteen minutes away at a Super-U hypermarket, we pulled up beside the pump and… Sunday. Everything is closed in France on Sunday. You couldn’t even pay at the pump with a credit card.
Praying we still had enough gas to keep us going we headed off, still following the Nantes-Brest canal to Josselin. Here there was another free aire right by the River Oust, overlooked by the imposing 14th century chateau. The weather was still holding up so we spent a few hours wandering the medieval quarter of the town, stopping off at a crêperie for a nice healthy salted caramel and ice cream pancake along with a half carafe of your finest rosé monsieur.
Our final canal stop was at the end of the line, in Nantes. Would you believe, after the shenanigans at our last campsite, we arrived at Nantes Camping Le Petit Port at exactly 12.31 pm. They closed reception for lunch at 12.30 aaaaargh! So that was another two hours spent in a car park waiting to get in. One day we’ll get it right.
It was worth the wait though; the pitch had water, electricity and a drain for waste water too. The showers were roomy and had lashings of lovely hot water. I’ve never been so clean!
Yesterday we jumped on the first tram into town to explore. Actually, no we didn’t. We pored over the map for ages to see which way we had to go, where we had to change trams, and where we had to finally get off for the Île de Nantes. Then we spent more time working out how to get the ticket machine to spit out a couple of returns.
Our destination was Les Machines de l’Île, very hard to describe but if you imagine a former shipyard taken over by theatrical luvvies and a bunch of engineers who had a vision, you wouldn’t be far wrong. Their dream (which is on track for 2027) is to build a giant steel tree by the River Loire, with walkways and exotic plants, populated by insects and animals who will share the space with visiting humans. The only thing is, all the animals and insects are half mechanical and half artwork. The photos explain better than I can – if you look carefully you might see Gill driving a giant ant! Regular readers might remember our earlier visit on our first Vince trip abroad in 2016, there’s so much more to see now as each creation is tested and upgraded prior to installation in the main project L’Arbre des Hérons when it’s built.
Arachnophobics look away now!
We’re going to do a few long hops down to Spain now so look out for a Cognac update (what is it famous for again? It’s really niggling at me now…) in a few days. If this rain ever stops.