2020-09-24 (Thur). Aachen to Ashford, Kent.

I remembered to fill up the moho before leaving!

We actually left at around 11:15, giving us oodles of time to get to the Eurotunnel terminal in Coquelles, near Calais, by the earliest allowable check-in time of 16:50. Our intended destination tonight is the Dog House micropub once again, on the Evegate Business Park just outside of Ashford, with ample overnight parking

It’s a long, and fairly dull drive through the length of Belgium, especially at 50mph (did I mention that we mustn’t arrive too early?). The landscape becomes increasingly flat as you head further West, so there’s little to keep the mind active. There wasn’t even the usual slew of roadworks on the E40 – just a couple of smaller roadworks on the North ring around Brussels. The only thing to keep me alert was the very strong, and very gusty wind, blowing more or less head on. Hmm, glad we were unable to book ferry crossing for this trip – they’ve all drastically reduced their services during the pandemic, leaving only the vastly more expensive, but also more convenient, Le Shuttle crossing.

We stopped at the very unlovely aire at Waremme – West of Brussels – for 40 minutes or so for a bite to eat, then back to the road. Our SatNav was showing our arrival time as being BEFORE 16:50: that just won’t do! So I dropped my speed down to about 45mph on the stretch down through France. I was probably a bit of a hindrance to the other traffic on the 2-lane autoroutes, but they seemed to manage to overtake me ok!

About 10km NE of Coquelles, the police separated out the trucks from all the other traffic, forcing them down one lane of the autoroute, whilst all other traffic used the other lane. Curious. About 6 or 7km further on, an enormous line of trucks was stopped on the motorway, with – what looked like a number of French police at the head.

At the turnoff for the Eurotunnel terminal was another line of trucks, also around 1km long, trying to get into the terminal. What a mess. Presumably Brexit-orientated.

With all these last minute hold-ups, we arrived at the terminal at an easy-going 17:15, well within the limits allowed! Enough time to turn the gas on for a cup of tea.

As we were waiting to board the train, we could see increasing amounts of lightning to the West & North of us. The ominous looking cloud slowly coming closer to us. We could see the lansdcape rapidly disappearing in the advancing rain, reaching us as an enormous downpour just as our queueing lane was called forward. With the wipers on full speed, and us at practically no speed at all, we could barely see anything in front of us! Needless to say, we did make it onto the train; it did set off on time; and we didn’t get blasted off the rails by lightning!

We make it to the Dog House by 19:00. Just as it started to rain. It was also just 10°C and still very windy. When we stayed her overnight 3 weeks ago, the landlord, Duncan, was trying to get set up to allow indoor seating, so we were hoping he’d been successful in this endeavour. Sadly not. We had to sit outside. Under cover, but still cold and windy. We managed a couple of quick pints added to which I had about the best cheeseburger I’ve ever had, and Joy had a huge pile of veggy chilli nachos. Excellent.

Times are really tough for Duncan & his partner: being out of town, he has to rely on people who are very loyal to him and prepared to travel there. Apart from Joy & I, there were only two other brave souls there, although after they’d left, two other regulars arrived. Sadly, it’s not going to be enough trade to keep going. I can’t speak highly enough about this place and Duncan, who really goes out of his way to help you. Normally, the kitchen is closed on Thursdays, but he went out of his way to ensure there was something available for us. Top man. Do drop in if you get a chance. Here’s a link to their website.

Just to finish off – it didn’t get any warmer overnight!

2020-09-02, Wednesday. Le Shuttle, France, Belgium & France again

Up at 6am for a short, 20 minute hop to the Eurotunnel terminal. We always go by Dover-Dunkirk ferry. However, sailings are in short supply due to the pandemic and I was unable to book a ferry at that time. Nor at any time for the next several days. I was really surprised to find Le Shuttle so lacking in customers, then. Maybe 15 motorhomes and other tall vehicles and a few cars. I couldn’t see trucks embarking, but maybe the single deck part of the train got filled up with them.

35 minutes later and we were disembarking in Calais for the long haul down to Longwy. In France, but need to cross into Belgium and back out again into France by the Luxembourg border. It’s quite a long haul doing 55-60mph in the motorhome, especially with the number of roadworks and other hold-ups. But we got here around 17.30.

The aire here is not in a stunningly scenic location. In fact, it’s (allegedly) 7 spaces marked out for motorhomes in a car park for the sports centre. It’s not quiet as it’s sandwiched between a high rise housing estate and a large school, with a busy road in between. But there’s a free space or two and it’ll do for the night.

I’d often wondered why Longwy HAS an aire: typically they are found in places where there’s something of touristic interest, which seemed somewhat lacking here. However, we discovered there IS something: the ruins of a Vauban fort that are worth an hour’s exploration
So there you have it.

Arrived at our daughter’s house

We’re in Germany. Ehningen, to be precise.

Two days without any internet connection and I feel like I’ve been cast adrift. What were those days like before the Internet? I guess I’ve been in the IT industry so long, I can’t remember. We even had company-wide internal email in HP in 1983. Now, If it feels completely unnatural not to have permanent, wireless access.

Arrived in Calais around 2:15am, local time. We never intended to get the late ferry but – without having booked the early ferry (believing we could just rock up & pay at the gate) – we found the price of the earlier ferries had gone up from £43 to £105. So we booked the late ferry at £43 still.

We spent out first night away in the stunningly exotic location of Calais docks departure area. We’d read that it was possible to park up there overnight, the trick being to leave the arrivals area, drive out of the docks to the 1st roundabout, then double back to the departures where you could park up in a motorhome. Ok, so we were tired; we managed to get into the freight terminal amongst several hundred trucks from Rumania, Poland, Latvia, & goodness knows where else. We were politely shown the  exit – the gate of which slid open majestically to allow us through to the outside world. A second stab at it saw us successfully entering the “departures with no tickets” area, complete with large car park sectioned-off for cars, motorhomes, buses, hang gliders, rubber dinghies, illegal immigrants, etc. It was almost full. We managed to park our beast in a slot designed for a Smart car, adjacent to an old, UK-licensed Astra with blacked-out windows and completely flat tyres, that clearly hadn’t been parked-up there anytime recently.

In the morning, we thought it would be nice to drive to an “aire” a few miles out of Calais, towards Dunkirk. We’d bought ourselves a guide book to all the French aires, and the one we selected sounded like a great place for breakfast. We’ll never know. We never found it. I think we covered 50% of the N of France coastline but had to give up in the end.

So we chose another one from the book, a little further along the route. We found the town. We even found the street, but we couldn’t find the aire – nor the cemetery it was allegedly next to – until our 3rd pass. Excellent. We even managed to find a friendly artisanal boulangerie close by.

By lunchtime, we hit the road proper: Lille, Namur, and a whole string of other places until we arrived at our next chosen aire at Longwy. In France, but we’d gone in & out of Belgium & Luxembourg several times in the 30 mins before arriving. With a name like that, it could have been in Wales.

I can’t figure out what drives the French to offer these aires. To cynical Brits, it seems odd that French local communities should go out of their way to provide (usually) free parking, often with water, electrical hookup, and chemical toilet emptying facilities. What’s in it for them? Many of these aires seem to be in provincial towns of little touristic interest, so I don’t really get it. Don’t get me wrong; I think they’re a fabulous institution, and maybe they are run out of true altruism for the traveller. But in the UK, they’d be barricaded, there’d be height barriers, £20 overnight parking fees & the threat of clamping for non-compliance. Which would you prefer?

Today, we drove again in & out of France, Belgium & Luxembourg for a while (Note: Luxembourg is THE place for less expensive diesel fuel. We even came across a bizarre section of road where – on one side of the road were – quite literally – ten or eleven gas stations next to each other. On one side of the road only. That side of the road was in Luxembourg, the gas station-free side was in Belgium.)  before crossing into the land of speed-unrestricted motorways.

I’ve said this before of Germany: The fact that large stretches of Autobahn have no speed limits is – of itself – no great safety problem in my mind as long as all the traffic is doing more-or less the same speed. The trouble comes when you have a string of BMWs, Mercs, Audis, Porches, VWs all doing over (say) 160km/hr (around 100mph), when a truck (or even a ponderous motorhome like ours) doing 60km/hr going uphill pulls out to overtake another truck doing 59km/hr. That’s a closing speed of 100kph (or 60mph). And the thing is, those fast cars weren’t even in your rearview mirror when you pulled out. It’s the speed differential that’s the problem. Although some idiot is always going to try sending a text message whilst doing 180. That can be a problem too.

We have to allow ourselves an extra 25% on our SatNav’s anticipated journey times: Garmin haven’t yet figured that some vehicles just can’t do their calculated avg. speeds.

Our daughter’s house is on a teeny-weeny cul-de-sac, 6 houses long, and about 3.4m wide. Our van is 2.3m wide. There’s nowhere to turn even a Smart car around in the street. The only way is to reverse in; a worrying time for the neighbours’ walls and gardens. Made it without any known damage to vehicle or property. Whew.

Lovely to see our family & grand-children again.