Merry Christmas!

Merry christmas Jack!
Merry christmas Jack!

Merry christmas from Rouen!

I came out perhaps prematurely as I have problems with my van but the way I see it is, being in the UK has not helped me solve any of the van’s problems at all. I’m not scared of trying to sort things out in a foreign country so, why the hell not be somewhere i like and risk breaking down, than stay in rainy, grey Britain and risk breaking down?

I was tempted to hang around in wales after the mechanic called Rob helped me change that hose and told me where the temperature sensor was, but when could he fit me in? Would he actually be able to solve it? He actually said getting the inlet manifold off was an awful task and that’s one of the things I want doing so…

So anyway I booked up at the last minute and came here and headed for Rouen simply because it’s a place I like, I feel comfortable there, there’s everything I need including an auto parts store I’ve been to before, a Peugeot garage I’ve been to before, a launderette I’ve used in the past and it’s a beautiful old city. Most of that is listed in this post…

The aire I use is right on the riverbank and in an industrial part of town, it’s well used but no-one bothers you down there and I can do jobs on the van that I have planned. 

Christmas dinner is not lamb this year, it’s a joint of gammon that I got from Aldi cheap, but aside from that I have all the trimmings and will enjoy a very full dinner as always. 

 

Where I stayed: Aire de Rouen, Quai Jacques Anquetil, 76100 Rouen. N49.433254, W1.096490. Free No services.

Jack enjoys a fountain in St Venant

We stayed in St Venant for about a week. It’s a free aire just on the edge of a small town in France, right by a canal. The walks along the canal were lovely and we went for miles one day. I hadn’t taken any lunch or water or anything so Jack was OK slurping out of the canal, but I was a bit thirsty and hungry when we got back after about 5 hours. I was tempted to lie down by the canal and slurp from it like Jack did, he made it sound so tasty. But the bits off moss and twigs and unidentifiable plastic rubbish put me off. I had this mental image of me slurping up a used condom or something…

Never mind we loved our walk and the weather was great most of the time.  The parking area was right next to what looked like a tiny park. There were 3 chestnut trees there and hundreds of some of the biggest conkers I’ve ever seen all over the ground. I picked a dozen up for the grandson so I could teach him how to play when I get back to the UK. They were dropping continuously too.

Locals playing petanque under a huge conker tree in the sunshine.
Locals playing petanque under a huge conker tree in the sunshine.

Anyway, the first morning I awoke to several voices all happy and obviously bantering but I could make out little of what was said. Then I heard the unmistakable sound of the steel balls of petanque. I looked out and sure enough, there they were, all merrily playing their game amongst the conkers.  I love the whole idea of what they do because the community comes together to play a social game, they chatter and banter together, men and women – young and old.

I’d seen this at the Boulodrome in Estaires and took a photo there too as it happens. 

As it turns out these people met every morning briefly and every afternoon to play their game. There were also many who like me, simply sat and watched them play because it was relaxing and fun to watch others enjoying themselves. It was especially funny to see them tripping over the conkers and shouting loudly while their mates laughed loudly. Honestly, 12 men laughing in French is such a funny thing. I did have a little chortle but I wondered inf my laugh would have an accent and maybe they’d think I was taking the pee lol

Anyway so in St Venant there’s a lovely Boulangerie and Patisserie that I frequented. I bought a loaf called Allouette and she cut it into slices for me and it was delicious, like real proper bread should taste, not the doughy, sticky crap we get at home. Sure Warburtons make some nice loaves as do Hovis, but they cost a stupid price. This large loaf was handmade, exceptionally tasty, bigger than a standard Warburtons loaf and only €1.20. And don’t get me started on the cakes….

So on the way to the bakers is a council office with some fountains outside and as it was a hot day I let Jack at the water to see what he would do.  Here’s some videos of him playing… 

 He only really learned how to do this in Salzburg. Prior to that he was always a bit shy of going into moving water, although seas and rivers didn’t bother him. But he got the taste for it in Salzburg and now he can’t get enough!

This is what life is about. Nice places, nice people, nice memories.

Where I stayed: Saint Venant, Pas-de-Calais [62], Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France, 62350, N50.62573, W002.54857

Border guards, squealing trains and ticks!

So, last night I left Innsbruck after not really seeing anything. Why? Cos I booked my ferry ticket for Sunday night. So I have to get all the way to Calais and also get Jack sorted by a vet for the worming thing. By the way I used my Tesco vouchers for the first time for the ferry. I’d found the link somewhere ages ago so I logged on and used almost all of the ones I had to make up to £60 of credit. You can’t book online when using vouchers so I rang the lad and he had it sorted in a couple of minutes flat. In fact it took him longer to go through the legal stuff than it did to book the tickets!

I booked into the Calais sailing which I’ve never used before. I’ve always travelled from Dunkirk. Not from preference, I just tend to use whatever is cheaper. I doubt the journey is any different anyway, it’s matterless to me.

I filled up with diesel, set the sat nav, and within a few miles was climbing the biggest bloody mountain ever. It honestly went on more than a Tory minister and of course since Berchtesgaden I have a morbid fear of hills cos when you go up them you can guarantee you’ll be coming down them again and that’s when the brakes fail. 

Now I’ll stop my story and explain something here that not may know. When your brakes fail it isn’t the actual brakes themselves. I learned about this when I first had brake failure going through the Brenner pass in Switzerland. What happens is everything gets hot and if there is any moisture at all in the brake fluid or if it’s simply old, it prevents it working properly, and the hotter the fluid gets the less it works. That’s basically brake fade. 

What can also happen as well is if the rubber bits of the brake pipes are in poor condition, they swell, taking the pressure from the brakes. 

Steep bit
Steep bit

Now, I’ve supposedly had mine done twice since I was in Italy, (once here and once here) but clearly they’ve not been done.

However, coming down the other side wasn’t as bad as I thought, certainly not steep enough to make me need to use the brakes loads. It was madly twisty which you can see on the map, although some of the bends are way worse than they appear on the map. 

Also on Google map it doesn’t show that the whole journey was in deep forest. It’s actually a beautiful route to enjoy, perhaps I’ll do it again one time when I can actually rely on the brakes. When I get back to the UK I’m going to strip them all down and rebuild them properly that way I know it’s all done. Apparently all brake fluid needs to be changed every 5 years.

The rest of the journey into and then out of Switzerland was gorgeous. I went through Zurich and Basel and although I only saw them from the motorway I definitely want to visit them at some point in the future. 

Vaguely in the back of my head as I drove, I remember a sign I’d seen and it was only just dawning on me now what it was. It was a reminder that to use the class 1 and 2 roads in Switzerland you must buy the vignette. It’s much like Austria’s except you can buy only 1 year which runs from December 1st til Jan 31st and it doesn’t matter when you buy it, it runs out then. Personally I can’t get my head round how this works. If it is valid between December 1st and Jan 31st of the following year, that’s 14 months. So what if you buy it in February? Does it then run out the following December? It’s a barmy system to be honest but the vignette is only €38 so it’s not worth missing it out. 

Except I had. Oops. Let’s trust to luck that no cops stop me then!

The border guard

But come on, given my luck, we all know it was going to end in tears and sure enough I got to the Swiss/French border to find police active there and stopping all vehicles as they went through. Bugger. 

It would not have mattered if I’d come off the motorway and taken a lesser route through, it’s only class 1 and 2 roads that the vignette is needed for. Unfortunately I was on a class 1 road, the motorway. And so they stopped me and instantly looked at the windscreen in front of my rear view mirror, which is the place the vignette is supposed to go.

I quickly started thinking of a story, so when he asked me where I’d come from I said Innsbruck and that I was heading for Calais. He instantly asked where my vignette was and I pointed to the Austrian one which was still valid. He said “No you are not in Austria now you are in Switzerland yes?” I nodded. “So you need a Swiss vignette yes?”
So I hung my head in shame and said “I am sorry, I saw the sign as I left Austria and it didn’t register and I then forgot about it.”
He nodded but smiled and said “You know the fine is 200 Francs?” (€185)
I said “Yes, I can pay you now if you have a card machine?”
Then the most curious thing happened. An angel came down from heaven and tapped the policeman on the shoulder, and whispered in his ear. The policeman smiled and looked at me and said “The angels are looking after you tonight, so I am not going to fine you, but please make sure you pay when you return.”

Now I know what you’re thinking…did angels really come down and whisper in his ear? Well my friend sometimes you just have to believe…

He waved me through and on I went and honestly, I don’t begrudge €38 so when I return I will indeed buy that vignette.

Squealing trains

I was more tired than I thought I would be so I looked for the next stop on my route which turned out to be an aire in Thann. I got there about 1am and it was deserted so I found a spot in the massive car park, 4 other vans were already there. It looked nice enough but I just needed to be able to work the next day so I checked I had an internet signal and went to bed. 
To be woken at 5am by screeching banshees from hell right outside my window. 

Ok, a train going through the points, but it sounded like screeching banshees. Or how I imagine a screeching banshee would sound, because I’ve never heard one, but anyway it was bloody noisy. Jack of course decided it was a threat to us so he set off barking ferociously at it and I did have to have a chuckle when he coughed, made a massive yawn and then carried on barking for all he was worth. Bless him.

That was it. I managed to get back to sleep but another train came 15 minutes later, and another 15 minutes after that. Until about 6:30am which is 7:30 their time when dozens of screeching school kids wandered past on their way to class. I knew I had no hope of more sleep so I took Jack out and we wandered around for a half hour. It turns out the railway is about 20 metres from the van and crosses the road and through the town. A bell rings whenever a train is due and once it’s passed the cars engines rev as they pull away. Noisy Nora!!

Anyway work was uneventful, the weather was incredibly hot and muggy, but I found a vet in Moosch about 3 miles up the road and rang to see if I could get an appointment after work that afternoon, to do the dog’s tablet for his passport. I was pleased I conducted the entire conversation in French and I thought everything was fine until she was saying something I simply could not grasp at all nor guess what she might have been wanting to say. 

Eventually she got a colleague to come and talk to me and she simply wanted to know how long we’d been in France. 

After work I found the vets no bother at all, parking out front, and the receptionist I spoke to answered in English so that helped. 

What’s more difficult than not speaking much French is when people speak to you and you continually have to tell them that you don’t speak French. In my case the truth is my French is limited but passable but I can’t understand what they say. So the young woman who came in after me and sat beside me and tried to ask about Jack just smiled when I said “Je ne comprends pas, desole.” I hate having to continually say that but, learning to speak French is difficult enough, far more difficult than reading it, but listening to it is the worst. 
I swear the French have a secret language that they only use between themselves!

Ticks

The vet was very thorough though, Jack had a good going over and she asked relevant questions. She even confirmed that Frontline was no longer adequate protection for ticks in France and I should use Seresto instead. The collars are only about £20 and last for 8 months so it’s a much cheaper option than Frontline. France has a bigger problem with fleas and ticks than the UK does so if Seresto is good enough for France then it’s good enough for my dog.

I was happy that the bill was only €42 as well, because that chat she had with me constituted a consultation and they always charge for that. Just for the tablet alone the vet near Calais charges €55.

So all done, I set the satnav for Calais and headed off but we got about 200 miles short of Calais and I spotted a sign for an aire, the aire d’entrange so I decided that as I was working overtime today I’d pull in and get a decent nights sleep. 

After work I got another half hours sleep, and then sat wasting time on the internet, just because I could. 

 

Where I stayed: Haut-Rhin [68], Alsace, France, 68800, N47° 48.523′ E7° 6.341′ and Aire d’entrange, 57330 Thionville, France, N49.404965, E6.112637

Tick that box, and that ear!

Tick. Ewww. Awful things. Remember when Jack’s face got covered with them? I’d never seen so many ticks!

Well there he was hanging out the window looking so sad, and feeling sorry for himself cos I would not let him out. Despite the fact he’d been out on the tether for an hour and sat in the direct sun the whole time until he was almost too hot to touch!

So finally I feel sorry for him and take a break from work and let him out. And he spends the whole 15 minutes digging holes in the ground. *sigh*

Anyway we come back in and he cleans himself up for a change, then comes and sits next to me while I was working. 

The biggest tick I've ever seen.
A normal sized tick and a huge one that I got out of Jack’s ears.

I idly rubbed his ears and something felt ‘off’. So I looked and this is what I found…

The small tick is the type I normally find, they’re sort of ‘standard’. But the big one, never seen anything like it. 

I put it next to the coin for scale. 

I got them all out (there was 5) with the large tick puller and I squished the big one out of curiosity. It burst and the amount of blood that came out was amazing. Very thick and dark red too, almost purplish.

Jack gets Frontlined every month but clearly that isn’t putting ticks off so I may now have to find something different to treat him with. These things don’t tick my box!

Van finally in for repair!

Finally, after waiting since March, I dropped the van off at Camper NE today. I’m due to get it back next Saturday morning and I have a brand new Astra to play with in the meanwhile.
They are rebuilding the bumper assembly by hand, using fibreglass as they are not manufactured anymore since my van is ‘obsolete’ having been made in 2004. The side panels are simply wood clad with aluminium but those also have had to be made by hand as the patterns don’t exist now.

I find it difficult to believe that since the accident in March it’s taken this long to sort it out. And I still haven’t got my excess money or the replacement computer from Silverbeck Rymers. According to them they are bound to contact me only once every 3 months with updates, and as I’ve called them several times the 3 months starts from when I last rang them. Absolutely appalling if you ask me.

I’m in the Rex hotel in Whitley Bay for the time being. It’s a bit run down, but the beds are clean and the dog is allowed so it serves me OK. Plus it has a bath as well as a shower so I’ve been lazing in that every night. The beach is about 150 yards form the front door too so me and Jack have partaken a little of that. I have a relative in Whitley as well so it was nice to catch up with her and she showed me some local shops.
Jack doesn’t like the hotel room. He’s very clingy with me and isn’t eating much, but he’s loving the beach. No phone signal, but the dongle works fine which is just as well as the hotel internet is good, but keeps dropping now and again for a few seconds. That wouldn’t bother me when not at work but work demands an always on connection so I use the dongle for that.

I find it very odd to be within four walls again. I pulled the plug out of the telly and watch Star Trek and movies on my computer. But the view is of a brick wall 5 feet away from my window so I’m glad I’m only here for 9 nights.

The drain monster

Jack and I have found a drain monster.

No really, we have.

We were walking in our favourite place in the park and Jack as you know is banned from being off lead here after getting badly bitten, and after getting stuck down a pipe. So he’s wandering about on the long lead and started investigating a drain cover he’d found in the grass. I tugged him to follow me but he wouldn’t so I went over to see what he’d found. As I approached I heard a thud, like a heavy body hitting the floor but with a wet sound, and then nothing. I looked down the drain but could see nothing.
Jack was scrabbling about like mad so obviously something was done there, and I decided it was probably the rat or whatever it was that bit him the other week.

I stood there a little while letting Jack hone his hunting instincts and suddenly I heard a mooing. Yeah, just like a cow. Right, imagine a cow, with it’s mouth closed, mooning dejectedly. That’s what it was like. No I haven’t been smoking or drinking anything!

Picture of a dog on a lead scrabbling at a storm drain cover
Jack hunting

Here’s the drain, all you can see inside is 3 pipes coming from north south and west. They’re about 10-12 inches in diameter so whatever is down there can’t be huge. Like, it’s not a cow even though it sounds like one :s
We left after a while, and we may never know what lives down there…