Friday, 30 October 2009

The Snails are ready for the off! Derbyshire to Dover


Well that was all the planning done. Or was it?? There is always that nagging voice in my head that says “you have forgotten something!” and the worry is that it will be something important. Too late - we were packed and ready to go.

But at the last minute, Mr Snail threw a spanner into the works. Instead of coming home from work, having a few hours kip, then leaving home about midnight for a 5am Dover arrival, he decided that we’d leave immediately and sleep somewhere in the Dover area. BUT WHERE?

It was late to book anything, so I trawled the internet to get ideas where others had “wild camped”. I discovered that Canterbury Council have a Park and Ride car park where motorhomes can spend the night, however, if you arrive after 22:00 hrs, the height barrier is in place. So, no good for us.

But we set off anyway without a plan. Yup that’s right - no plan. Never been known for us Snail’s. Scary. I was whittling all the way down about where we would stop for the night.

After a pleasant meal at a Little Chef, I had an inspiration – I’d check the Supermarket Finder book for one with a 24 hour petrol station in the Dover area. I was sure I’d heard that Tesco allows motorhomers to spend the night in their car park as long as they purchased something. Well it was worth a try. Hopefully problem solved.

On arrival at Tesco near Dover, we filled up with diesel (hence becoming a customer) and spotted 2 foreign caravans in the car park with their steadies down. Interesting. As I paid I asked “Is it alright if we spend a few hours in your car park please?” The cashier confirmed it would be ok so we drove in and selected a spot, closely followed by another motorhome. After a chat with the driver he said “safety in numbers” and parked alongside. It was very noisy and not the best pitch we have ever had, but it fulfilled a need.

Getting to the docks was quick and easy. I had our booking documents ready, but they weren’t needed. We were identified by number plate recognition. Clever. All we had to show were our passports. We collected our VIP label for the Executive lounge and were first in the queue. We had upgraded with the Caravan Club to access the lounge on board ship for half price each.

We soon had company on the dock and were very quickly loaded. On board we parked exactly where the deckhand told us. The gas and fridge were switched off; the fridge would be cold enough for an hour and a half to keep the food chilled. We noted the details of the staircase that we ascended, as we wanted to easily return to our ‘van once on the French side, and went to find some breakfast.

The food was OK, the Executive Lounge was comfortable. Neither of us are good sailors and the slight swell made us uncomfortable. The lounge was cool and quiet, with free soft drinks and comfortable chairs, for me to sit and watch the other boats go by and Mr. Snail to snooze in.

Once docked and down to the ‘van, we had a quick check around tyres etc. All in order, just in case we were flagged down by anyone, then we would know that it was a trick which we wouldn’t fall for. We were now ready to hit France…………………


Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Preparing the motorhome for France

GUEST BLOGGER "MRS SNAIL" CONTINUES HER STORY: With the planning done, we now needed to get the motorhome ready. Through a motorhome magazine we found a local motorhome-friendly garage (quite difficult these days) and although our 'van was not ready for a service either on time or miles, she went in and had one anyway just to be sure. One less thing to worry about.

We purchased 2 reflective jackets, as they are required by law in France to be readily available and worn if you are out of the 'van on the road with a broken down vehicle or at the scene of an accident. We obviously hoped not to need them, but by having them would avoid a fine. We kept them "ready for action" over the back of the driver and passenger seats. Luckily, we never had to use them.

Headlamp deflectors we bought and attached, despite not intending to drive during the hours of darkness. (Once in France, we did not see any other UK vehicles with these attached, but having them is one less thing for any mardy French policeman to have a go at). All the warning triangles we own were stashed in the van, hopefully not to come out again.

On a previous trip out I was once driving alone in the 'van and came to a low bridge. Oops. How high was I? Annoyingly, I had to stop and ring Mr. Snail to be sure, because it would have been slightly careless of me to have proceeded and taken the roof off. This resulted in Mr Snail preparing a card which was placed on the dashboard with the vans "vital statistics" - width, height and length etc. We read somewhere that in France this is a legal requirement so, we were ahead on that one.

We checked our E111 - now called European Health Insurance Cards - they were out of date but easily renewed online. Passport also checked for expiry date - all was fine. All the driving documents were photocopied, and the originals were hidden the van.

The one thing I must ashamedly admit to is not preparing the holiday money properly. I intended to take credit and debit cards but Mr Snail said they would cost too much in fees. I checked which recommended a card, but I had not allowed enough time to obtain it. So we went for the second best. A Travelex Cash Passport which is basically a Mastercard pre loaded with Euros. This is used without charge as a credit card or to withdraw cash with a 2 Euro fee. It is available from Thomas Cook and Co-Op Bank. also recommended a Nationwide account because this does not incur charges within the Euro zone. Again I was too late - the cards arrived but not the PIN. Agghh! We DID purchase some Euros, and I did inform our bank and credit card company that we would be using the cards in France, just in case the unusual useage caused the cards to be stopped. Mobile phones were activated onto roaming. We looked at the internet but decided it was too expensive to use abroad. We'd rely on finding wi-fi hotspots.

We purchased a French map upgrade for our satnav and a 2009 large scale Michelin map of France. We are map lovers and disparaging of satnav’s but we thought the two would compliment each other and help us.- how right we were!

A further worry on my list of hundreds, was about electric hook-up and reverse polarity. Mr Snail already had a device on board to plug into a socket to check if the polarity was reversed once hooked up, so he made us a short hook-up lead which was reversed in polarity and labelled as such. So that was another problem taken care of. The worries were decreasing.

Before we went to France, Mr Snail concentrated on using up our lightest gas bottle, then bought 2 brand new ones, checking the weight, because we'd heard of someone buying a new one that was actually empty. He toyed with the idea of buying a different regulator in case we ran out of gas and had to purchase some other stuff, but he is too tight and didn’t, on the basis that we were not away long enough, and would have sufficient to last. That is of course if it wasn’t cold!

So that was about it. Van was packed and off we went into the unknown, on our Big Adventure…………………………………………………………………………………


Saturday, 10 October 2009

France in a Motorhome - the Planning Continues


THE PLANNING CONTINUES: A vital part of our planning was a visit to the Boat & Caravan Show at the NEC in February, where we purchased a book entitled All The French Aires (well - all the ones they know about that is) from Vicarious Books. Aires are a network of stopping places specifically designed for motorhomes or camping cars (aka motorhomes to us Brits) They are usually run by the local town council or ‘Mairie’. Aires for camping cars are all over France in towns, villages, supermarket car parks and we knew we were going to try at least one. (These Aires are different from the rest Aires on the motorways. Do not overnight on the motorway)

We visited the ASCI Stand and paid £10 for an ASCI camping card. This came with a book giving details of all the participating camp sites. With an ASCI card off season, your pitch is set price which is a reduction on the normal fee. Also at the show were Tourist Information stands from many areas of France. We acquired a guide for Charente-Maritime, the region where the Ile de Re is situated, to from a delightful French lady (Mr. Snail was instantly in love I think). A read of this made us realise just how many campsites there are on the Ile de Re and we decided it was not necessary to book anything in advance there.

Another purchase was the Camping and Caravanning Club site book equivalent to the Caravan Club one. A huge pile of books and ideas came home with us from the show, together with impatience that we had to wait a few months before it would all come to fruition and we would be there.

A must-read for us are all the motorhome magazines and for some time I have saved all the campsite reviews including articles on France in a folder. I learned that France has thousands of Municipal sites and basically most towns have one however I did not find a publication or website that features them all. One motorhomes magazine had a readers article on a site in Epernay. This looked exactly right for us: in the town, clean facilities and hook-up. Mr. Snail used for working out distances and decided that Dunkirk to Epernay was achievable for the first leg of our journey, still leaving enough time in the afternoon to explore the town and drink the local wine. That was our first night sorted.

Now, where to go from there? On perusing the
Camping and Caravanning Club site book I found a site in the Loire region boasting access to 180 miles of cycle paths to use to visit the many Chateaux in the region. Co-incidentally, this was also the location for a club rally being held on our first weekend in France. Why not book on the rally? So we did. This saved us money on the site fees, because the price included all the facilities of the site and hook-up. As newbies abroad, attending a rally seemed a good way of finding people who’s brains we could pick for tips or advice. A comfort thing for a worrier such as I.

So, all the booking and site planning we felt necessary to do was now done. Next, we needed to prepare the motorhome for her Big Adventure ...............................