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Escape from the Loir, Down the N10 to Villedomer

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Len, June, Martin, Lynn and Ju: great company, bonne voyage guys, hope to see you again! Len, June, Martin, Lynn and Ju: great company, bonne voyage guys, hope to see you again!

Zagan the motorhome’s finally escaped the siren song of the slow-flowing Loir, has spun up his wheels on the fast and free N10, and is now enjoying a sunny afternoon in the municipal aire at Villedômer (N47.54460, E0.88699).  I’m sat inside typing this after a short foray into the village revealed: it’s shut. Very shut. They’re all gone. We’ll try again later but I suspect France is making the most of May’s many jours fériés, and has universally gone on holiday. Who can blame ’em?

The aire at Villedomer. We've since shifted from under the trees as we're English, and weren't 100% sure we were allowed over there. We searched for signs saying we couldn't stay there, found none, but moved anyway. Feels more comfortable sat among the other couple of vans though.The aire at Villedomer. We’ve since shifted from under the trees as we’re English, and weren’t 100% sure we were allowed over there. We searched for signs saying we couldn’t stay there, found none, but moved anyway. Feels more comfortable sat among the other couple of vans though. The road into the aire was a bit dodgy though. Kidding, just kidding.The road into the aire was a bit dodgy though. Kidding, just kidding.

Martin’s birthday BBQ in the campsite at Châteaudun was a hit, with the six of us sat around in the warm evening air alongside the Loir. The talk turned through topics of life, of living on boats, of running 52-room hotels, wandering North Africa, campervan layouts, chemical loos (mandatory subject), the habits of dogs and famous artist fathers painting George Best and Ian Botham. For once I laid off the wine, but enjoyed the evening no less for it. I enjoyed the hangover-less morning too, running around half the area’s communes and eventually notching up 18 miles on the feet. That’s the furthest I’ve managed in over 20 years, and my legs still work today, so I’m a contented middle-aged jogger!

Len, June, Martin, Lynn and Ju: great company, bonne voyage guys, hope to see you again!Len, June, Martin, Lynn and Ju: great company, bonne voyage guys, hope to see you again!

As an aside, Len and June are travelling in a Romahome Duo. They’ve been visiting France Passion sites for the past month and have another couple of weeks before the ferry home, and a likely next foray back out in June. If you ever think your van a little on the compact size, take heart, there’s always someone happily travelling in a more minimalist way! One of their gas burners packed up shortly after they left too, so they’re using a single hob and a portable loo. Respect.

Heading out of the campsite, Zagan had just about realised he was moving when we pulled on the reins at a huge E.Leclerc supermarket whoa Zagan, whoa there!, we’re stopping for supplies big man. A second twist of the key was almost preceded by us coming to a halt again at the aire in Saint Denis Les Ponts (N48.06665, E1.29016), all of about 5 miles from Châteaudun. The small town was again pretty much shut, and we spent the afternoon reading and cooking.

I’ve read The Obstacle is the Way twice in the past week, much enthused by the methods in which the great and the good have tackled blockers in their lives, evading them, even turning them to an advantage. In between the two readings I ploughed through Chris Moon’s One Step Beyond, reeling at the quiet and accepting way in which the author tackles the rather enormous obstacle of him being blown up and nearly killed by a land mine. There are a lot of incredible, tough, kind, persevering, and frankly inspirational folks out there.

Lovely free village motorhome aire at Saint Denis Les PontsLovely free village motorhome aire at Saint Denis Les Ponts

This morning, Ju nipped out for a run, and aferwards we decided over breakfast to make a break for it. This wee part of France around Châteaudun and to the north has as Shire-like feel to it to me: a rural perfection. Life seems to ease along here, in no hurry, much like the Hobbit’s homeland in the Lord of the Rings. Folks from communes make their way to weekly markets, queuing at favourite stalls for vegetables, meat, fish and vegetables, taking the opportunity to shoot the breeze, discussing prices and, we guess, a bit of gossip here and there. Travelling the Loir’s felt less like travel and more like simply being alive. No huge revelations about the meaning of life have been forthcoming, unless life is simply there to be calmly enjoyed and revelled in?

The N10 took us south, largely bypassing towns at a steady 90Kph, with the occasional stretch of 110Kph dual carriageway: perfect for us. What should have been an overnight stop at the rather pleasant town of Vendôme (N47.79140, E1.07565) turned into a pitstop. A wander about the street market followed by a van-based lunch of walnut bread, sheep’s cheese, ham and crabsticks (I can eat these weird bready-fishy things in their thousands). Maybe we felt the passing of the Loir, as it finally heads off West from here, and needed to make a break for it to. 30 seconds after the bread was away, so were we.

Lovely free village motorhome aire at Saint Denis Les PontsFree reserved motorhome parking at Vendôme, right outside the campsite entrance, a not unusual occurrence in France but it always has us pondering differences between here and our native England. VendomeVendome. An unlikely chat about the visual appeal (or not) of the Flying Buttress followed the taking of this photo, as you do.

More N10 eased us 40 minutes south to here, a wee village which welcomes us van-dwellers free for 24 hours among birdsong and greenery. And that’s about as long as we’ll stay, I guess. The maps and apps remain ever-open and we’ll be eyeballing the next place later on this evening. For now I need to go, time to grab a book and read in the sun.

Villedomer square. Perfect. But also a bit on the closed side.Villedomer square. Perfect. But also a bit on the closed side.

Ahhhh, wait, wait, nearly forgot Door of the Day! Here you go guys: spotted this little ladder-accessed beauty on the street around the corner from where we’re parked up. Ain’t she a beauty?

Door of the DayToday’s Door of the Day in Villedomer

Cheers, Jay

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France

Parkrun Paris – Bois de Boulogne

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I was first introduced to Parkrun by my running club, or rather I was first taken to a Parkrun by members of my running club. I’d heard about these events taking place all over the world at 9am on Saturday mornings, but I had never dared to venture to one before.

What is Parkrun?

To put it simply, a Parkrun is a free five kilometre (just over 3 miles) run or walk in a local park that is timed. They take place every Saturday morning and are organised by volunteers, who will run or walk them too when they aren’t busy volunteering. This means they know what it’s like to do what you are doing, so they offer fantastic encouragement and support. There’s loads more information as well as locations on the Parkrun website.

My Parkrun history

After my head decided it couldn’t cope back in 2015, I found that exercise really helped me fight depression and anxiety. Swimming is my favourite exercise, but as you can’t always do that when out on the road I went to the local gym, stepped nervously on the running machine and started to walk. Then I walked quicker, then a sort of jog thing, then I got out of breath and it was back to walking. This carried on for quite a few months until I finally reached my goal of being able to run for 15 minutes without stopping, or dying.

My next running goal was, rather ambitiously, the Marrakesh half marathon in January 2017. I survived! And when we returned back to the UK, we both joined the wonderful Kimberley and District Striders (KADS) running club. In January of this year I decided to try a Parkrun, safely accompanied by several members of the running club. I’d avoided Parkruns for ages because I stupidly thought that I would be laughed at, the slowest and left behind, get lost and generally make a fool of myself, but that couldn’t have been further from the truth.

Parkruns all have a beginner’s briefing so you know what to do, and they are marshalled by volunteers so you know where to go. Best of all they have a ‘Tail Walker’ who goes around with the slowest person to offer encouragement and so you are never last. Everyone claps, cheers and encourages each other and the atmosphere is only competitive at the front – the rest of us are competing against ourselves and our times on previous Parkruns. At my local runs if you get a personal best time, you get to ring a bell and have your photo taken to mark the occasion (but only if you want to).

KADS takeover at Brierley Forest ParkrunWhen KADS ‘took over’ a local Parkrun and marshalled it for the day.

While in Paris we stayed in our motorhome at Camping de Paris, which is situated in Bois de Boulogne, a huge park to the west of the city. One of the Paris Parkruns takes place here, and as we were in town we thought it would be rude not to join in. We sussed out that the start was a couple of kilometres from our campsite using a map on their Parkrun course page, helpfully titled ‘For Our English Friends’ (it’s in English while everything else is in French), but as we’d managed to get lost in the park a few times – there are loads of trails and paths to explore, we set the alarm for super early.

It was still dark when we were beeped awake. Leaving the motorhome at just after 8am the sky was brightening up but it was still chilly so we wrapped up as warm as we dare – unsure if we would be able to leave things somewhere safe while we ran. We found a gathering of chilly-looking lyrca-clad folks stood around where we thought the start should be and soon discovered that nearly everyone was from an English-speaking nation. There was a family from Australia, a couple from South Africa and quite a lot of ex-pat and holidaying Brits. The big surprise was how few French people there were. 

in Bois de BoulogneJacket off and running club top on, ready to go at the Paris Parkrun

Soon we were joined by Laurent (the chap in purple in the photo above), the race director for the day, who organised his team of four marshals, then set about giving us all a briefing in both English and French. There seemed to be less rules here than at the UK Parkruns I’ve done. At home dogs must be on a short lead, but here they joined in and ran freely (nearly taking out a runner or two) but then there were dogs all over the park running freely, so why would you stop them?

The main difference was the number of runners. Back home we have several Parkruns within a half hour drive of us, and each get around 100 – 200 folks taking part. In Paris I had expected loads of people, but there were only around 30 runners, and it’s not like there weren’t hundreds of folks running around in the park, they just didn’t want to join the Parkrun. I overheard one of the marshalls (an English lady) saying it’s basically an ex-pat event and the French haven’t taken to it. I have no idea why, but to me that’s a big shame.

Paris Parkrun Course BriefingCourse briefing at Paris Parkrun

After the briefing it was time for the off and all thoughts of being chilly disappeared as I headed off at top speed – I can’t help myself, it always happens when I run in a group. Jay had done a 16 mile training run the day before, so opted to jog around with me (yes my top speed is his slow speed) and enjoy the event. We got chatting to a few folks as we went around, or rather I was rasping out the odd sentence on any slightly down hill section of the course.

Less than 30 minutes later it was all over and we were cheered over the line. Laurent timed us as we crossed the line and we were given a finishers chip. I took a photo as I was the 28th finisher, probably the lowest number  I’ll ever get! I took my personal barcode and the finisher’s chip to one of the volunteers who scanned them both, recording my details into the system.

A little later I got an email with my finishing time. At the start of the year I set a goal to run a timed 5k in under 30 minutes (my Strava recording of runs on my phone is a tad erratic so doesn’t really count), and at the Paris Parkrun I achieved my goal – I crossed the line in 29 minutes and 8 seconds. I was so happy, I treated myself to a Pain au Chocolat for breakfast, and a cake from a boulangerie at dinner.

After our run to the Eiffel Tower when we arrived in Paris, this, for me, was the perfect way to end our trip to Paris. There is still so much more to see in the city, but it gives us a good excuse to come back another time – especially now we know how accessible it is in a motorhome.

Can’t believe this was only just over a week ago!

Ju x

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Architecture

La Defense, Paris : Modern Art and Architecture

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La Defense Paris

It was during out summer tour of Scandinavia in 2016 that we stopped in Aarhus in Denmark. Our guidebook recommended visiting ARoS, the modern art museum, so we did, and we loved it. After walking around Versailles the other day, with its walls full of huge paintings of battles and people gone by, we’d had our fill of paintings and sculpture, so we decided not to visit the Louvre. I know, I know, it’s a must see, but we just didn’t fancy it, so we’ve saved it for another trip.

After exploring the Pere Lachaise cemetery, we popped into a few other places in Paris using our metro pass, ending up in the museum of Modern Art. It’s free to see the permanent exhibitions, but they were just about to close when we arrived. With time against us all we could do was have a quick nose around one of the rooms and ogle a Picasso before we left. Just those few minutes in that one room reminded me of ARoS and why I like some modern art; canvasses full of bright colours left your imagination to see what it wants.

On our last full day in Paris we headed out for a run around the nearby park. Across the water from us was La Defense, the business district of Paris. Glossy, glassy monuments to corporate-ville rising up above the trees, themselves a form of art, decorating the skyline for miles around.

Running around the Bois de Boulogne in ParisJay going great on his 16 mile run around the Bois de Boulogne

Our Paris guidebook came from a charity shop, as do most of our guidebooks. This means it’s about 10 years old, but it mentioned lots of artwork around La Defense, and it sounded like my kind of artwork. After a suitable recovery time from the morning run and a spot of late lunch, we set off to walk along the river to see what was hidden among the towers.

La Defense ParisThe Skyscrapers of La Defense

Arriving at the Pont de Neuilly at the eastern end of La Defense, we took an outdoor escalator up a level, then a flight of stairs to reach the Esplanade du General de Gaulle. This vast, open plan, area greeted us with a large pool of water filled with spirals with lights on top. The Takis fountain is supposed to offer an amazing reflection of the sky scrapers around us – but sadly it was a little windy, so the water wasn’t flat.

An art installation at Le DefenseJay lying on a street, or is he? An art installation at Le Defense

Moving along the esplanade it was clear that there were additional artwork installations – including a huge cut out of ‘Auntie Maria’ by Hanif Kursehi which stared out at us as we played around the base of ‘La Moretti’, a multi-coloured ventilation shaft by Raymond Moretti.

Auntie Maria and La Moretti La Defense Paris

At exactly 5pm the 55 jets in The Esplanade Fountain, by Yaacov Agam, started to dance for us. I joked the fountains must mean home time for the office workers in the towers around us. No sooner were the words out of my mouth than revolving doors picked up pace and other doors flung open to cope with the hundreds of laptop-bag carrying folks emerging onto Place de La Defense to start their commute home – some of the half a million people who work here.

Just as the fountain kicked into life at 5pm, La Defense did so too, and became a bustling street. A coffee company took the increase in footfall to offer free samples of their latest brew, and as we weren’t in a rush like everyone else, we took full advantage while watching the world go by. Another wave of bodies washed by us at 6pm, and at that point we realised just how long we’d been here.

Lilian Bourgeat public benchTaking a break on one of Lilian Bourgeat’s public benches home time at la defenseRush hour at La Defense

If you get a map of Paris and draw a straight line from The Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe you’ll be drawing along the Champs-Elysees. Carry that line further out and across the Seine and you’ll be drawing along the walkway we were taking, known as the Axe de La Defense. This became clear as we climbed the steps of La Grande Arche and looked out across the city – the Arc de Triumph clearly visible, if tiny in the distance.

La Grande ArcheLa Grande Arche View along Axe de La DefenseView along Axe de La Defense

Rush hour in La Defense is different to the rush hour I was used to back home. Mine were mainly spent sitting in a traffic jam, but here most folks walk to the metro to be whisked home like you would on the tube in London. But there are always a few exceptions to the rule and these were the people I was most enjoying watching. Grown men and women, be-suited in office attire whizzing along on electric scooters, but without the huge grin any child would have on such a toy. There were also folks on one-wheeled gyroscope thingys (I have no idea what they are called) gliding around and making the whole place look even more sci-fi than it already does. 

The Thumb CesarThe Thumb or Le Pouce by Cesar – one of my favourite pieces here

I guess in my mind that sums up La Defense. It’s a place of business and a futuristic looking place of fun, where life’s norms are challenged and you are made to stop and stare. Like ARoS, I loved this place and can certainly recommend a trip over to see it if you have the time. It’s about a 10km round trip if walking from Camping de Paris, but if you time it right and arrive around 5pm on a sunny day, I can think of no better place to people watch and explore some free modern art to see if you like it too.

Ju x

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Camping de Paris

The World’s Most Visited Cemetery, Père-Lachaise, Paris

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An Unusual Tomb in Pere Lachaise An Unusual Tomb in Pere Lachaise

Zagan the motorhome’s occupants have ridden the Paris metro to see the world’s most visited cemetery, Le Cimetière du Pere Lachaise, and what a place it turned out to be. This huge cemetery contains the graves of over 800,000 Parisiens, including those of well known politicians, writers, singers, poets, adventurers, victims of assassin’s bullets, actors and everyone else you can imagine.

A path or 'chemin' through the Pere Lachaise cemetery in ParisA path or ‘chemin’ through the Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris

I’ll fess up from the start, cemeteries are my thing. Whenever we come across one, from the ornate stone and marble villages of the Catholics, to the brutally austere unmarked rocks in the Muslim deserts, I try to take the time to look around and reflect. Weird to some folks, but the thought “memento mori”, “remember death”, is essential to my mind, in trying to live a good life. 

A robed figure reaching into a tomb at Pere LachaiseA robed figure reaching into a tomb at Pere Lachaise

A few people we’ve had the good fortune to meet on our travels no longer breathe air on this Earth. Some knew they were ill, and were taking the opportunity to chase down long-suppressed dreams to travel. Others knew nothing of what lay in store, but were still deliberately living life according to this maxim: momento mori: remember death. They could have carried on working, earning more money, building a bigger and safer nest egg, which might have been the biggest mistake of their lives. Death comes to us all, and it’s critical to reflect on that fact when making each decision we come across: one day I’ll die, with that in mind, should I really take the ‘safe option’?

I digress, back to business! Our friends Rose and Paul have headed back to Australia. Just over a day after leaving, while we’re still in the exact same spot we’ve been for days, they’re almost directly beneath us, on the other side of Earth in Australia. Weird. After they’d gone we decided to stay in Paris a few more days as we’re liking it here. The benign weather’s helping, as is the discovery of the suburb of Suresnes just over the Seine from us, with its cafes and restaurants. One afternoon we popped over there to enjoy a €16 delicious lunchtime menu du jour of confit de canard (fat-preserved duck), watching the street market slowly pack up alongside us.

Yesterday we took to the Paris public transport system, using the shuttle bus from the campsite to get to the Porte Maillot metro stop, about 20 minute’s away, where we bought one-day Zone 1 and 2 Mobilis tickets for €7.50 each from the ticket office. These give unlimited metro and bus travel in the centre of Paris (out to the Seine), and include the Funiculaire de Montmartre at Sacre Coeur. By the end of the day we’d taken 6 metro rides, nipped up the Funiculaire and taken the 244 bus back to the campsite.

Riding the Paris metro (looking a bit amazed by it all I am - I'm no city boy!)Riding the Paris metro (looking a bit amazed by it all I am – I’m no city boy!) Sacre Coeur, which has wonderful views over Paris and is free to enterSacre Coeur, which has wonderful views over Paris and is free to enter The view of an Autumnal Paris from Sacre CoeurThe view of an Autumnal Paris from Sacre Coeur

We arrived at Pere Lachaise from the Philippe Auguste metro stop, which is close to the cemetery entrance with the ‘Conservation Office’. This has free toilets, a drinking water fountain and gives away maps to the cemetery and I dare say will have very knowledgeable staff if you’ve questions on where to find people. Yep, a map for a cemetery, it’s that big.

The free Pere Lachaise cemetery mapThe free Pere Lachaise cemetery map

The cemetery’s split into divisions, separated by named ‘chemins’ or pathways. The map shows the locations of the 85 most visited tombs, including Frederic Chopin, Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, and Oscar Wilde. The 23 most visited memorials are also listed, including deeply moving ones to the victims of the Nazis at Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen and Mauthausen (and many others – Europe was covered in death camps 70 years or so ago).

Monuments to victims of the Nazis in Pere LachaiseMonuments to victims of the Nazis in Pere Lachaise

We did what most folks do, I suspect, and picked out the famous names we knew and wandered along to see their graves. They were easy to spot when you got close, as someone else was already there! Even in death the celebrity status of some Pere Lachaise dwellers caused the maintenance staff problems: folks have taken to kissing Wilde’s tomb covering it in lipstick (it’s now protected with a plastic wall, which is also covered in lipstick kisses). Jim Morrison’s grave had to be guarded at one point as folks were knocking back drugs and making love on his grave (looked rather uncomfortable to me).

Oscar Wilde's tomb, given to him by a lady admirerOscar Wilde’s tomb, given to him by a lady admirer

One lesser-known chap, journalist Victor Noir, was assassinated at 22 and now has a bronze statue of him fallen with a bullet to the chest laid on his grave. As a tour guide was telling some other visitors at the time we arrived, the artist gave him a ‘semi erection’ under his clothes, which ladies wanting fertility or a better sex life had taken to rubbing, as evidenced by a rather shiny crotch (Ju stayed clear). A fence was popped up at one point, but had been removed following protests.

Victor Noir, shot by a great-nephew of Napolean, complete with well-polished crotch
Victor Noir, shot by a great-nephew of Napolean, complete with well-polished crotch

Another unusual statue caught our eye of two guys laid under a cloth, hand in hand as we later found out, balloonists Joseph Croce-Spinelli and Théodore Sivel. These unfortunate adventurers were in a balloon called Zenith back in 1875, and were trying to climb higher than anyone had ever done before. This, they didn’t achieve, and died in the attempt. A third balloonist survived. 

Joseph Croce-Spinelli and Théodore Sivel Tomb in Pere LachaiseYou can't see from this angle, but Joseph Croce-Spinelli and Théodore Sivel are holding hands, immortalised at the point of their air-less deathYou can’t see from this angle, but Joseph Croce-Spinelli and Théodore Sivel are holding hands, immortalised at the point of their air-less death

As we were about to leave the cemetery the sound of music caught our ear and we turned to see a funeral party gathering outside the crematorium. Turbaned chaps were taking the steps into the huge building, while other mourners in white greeted friends outside. Tears flowed, as the coffin was lifted and carried inside a poignant reminder the cemetery’s still in active use. Momento mori folks, it comes to us all.

An Unusual Tomb in Pere LachaiseAn Unusual Tomb in Pere Lachaise

Cheers, Jay

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