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Sassenage, On the Edge of a Nuclear City (Grenoble)



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The ILL: a nuclear reactor a stones-throw from a city centre The ILL: a nuclear reactor a stones-throw from a city centre

Zagan the motorhome’s in the motorhome aire at Sassenage, just at the point where the Drac and Isère rivers merge at the northern end of the mountain city of Grenoble (N45.21352, E5.66870). The aire’s about 4 miles from the centre of Grenoble, but is probably the closest official motorhome parking place for the city and there are cycle paths from here. It’s surrounded by trees, and along with mist and low clouds the vertical rock faces which form the valley we are in are mainly hidden. They’re most certainly there though. A break in the mist yesterday opened up a vista of one of Grenoble’s snow-capped massifs: proper mountains! Real, enormous, scary, exciting, hulking great things! We’ve used this aire before, as it’s just off the toll-free section of the A51, and has free services, but it’s always looked a little grubby, and last night was the first time we’ve stayed. It’s proved a nice spot for a night.

The official motorhome aire at Sassenage (Grenoble)The official motorhome aire at Sassenage (Grenoble)

After each of us stretching our legs up at Lans-en-Vercours (kudos to Ju for knocking out a 12Km run!), we were ready to roll out of the Vercors and into the big mountains to the east of Grenoble. A plan was hatched: head to the launderette in the village and wash **everything**, then head down to Sessenage to service the van, then hit the Lidl in Echirolles (another of Grenoble’s satellites), then drive up to a high aire in Chamrousse. With the washing done, and just a few semi-damp things hanging around the van to finish off, we rolled down the D531 along the Gorge d’Engins, which proved an easy wide road with glimpses out across the city at the eastern end.

Heading through roadworks in the Gorges d'EnginsHeading through roadworks in the Gorges d’Engins Views of northern Grenoble from the hairpins of the D531Views of northern Grenoble from the hairpins of the D531

Down into the aire, we serviced the van as quickly as we could, urged on by booms of thunder coming from the hills we’ve just left. Deciding it was about to boot it down on us, we rolled into the aire for lunch, and didn’t manage to roll off again! The rain came but was brief, so I took a chance to go have a quick cycle and look-see at my one-time home, having lived at 12 Rue Barnave in central Grenoble as a post-grad student at the tender age of 22.


Grenoble’s an interesting city to me. It’s centre has wide, Paris-style boulevards, with boutique shops, cute little squares surrounded by cafes, a cutting-edge tram network, expensive apartments, stacks of sports facilities (including quick access to the slopes or the Med), and all the trimmings you might expect of a modern city. It has an edgy side to it too. A troupe of tramps would hang about outside my flat door each evening begging for money, and as I cycled out of the city yesterday I was astounded to see a small community of beat up wheel-less caravans in trees a couple of minutes from where the photo below was taken. A fire burned in an old car wheel, a post-Apocalypse sight in a 21st century city.


Rich-poor divide aside, the city struck me all those years ago as being very strange for something else. The reason I was here was to work at a nuclear facility practically in the city centre. The ILL it’s called, and its reactor generates neutrons which are skilfully guided through materials of various kinds to help build an idea of what’s happening inside them. My job was to use this kind of set-up to peer deep inside the thick metal of railway tracks, to try and understand the stresses and strains inside. Other researchers could suss the complex chemistry in biological samples. But back to the original point: there’s a nuclear reactor in town folks: and no-one’s batting an eyelid. Since I was here they’ve built a load of office apartments on the approach to the reactor too, and are currently building more. Is any of this imaginable in the UK?

The ILL: a nuclear reactor a stones-throw from a city centreThe ILL: a nuclear reactor a stones-throw from a city centre

My time here was short-lived, and the reactor wasn’t even generating back then, as a fault had been discovered and it needed refitting. The office I had was up against the side of the domed reactor building above, and it was great to see the place again, to remember sending emails on a green-screen computer, of being issued my dosimeter badge, of peering down into the reactor core, all fascinating stuff. I wonder how life would have worked out if I’d stayed and become Dr Buckley, Nuclear Scientist, rather than heading off into the world of work? I’ll never know, but I’m very happy with the way things HAVE worked out! You never know, one day Ju and I might opt to settle in a place like this, we’ll see…

Plenty of graffiti on the concrete roads around Grenoble: some it's fantastic.Plenty of graffiti on the concrete roads around Grenoble: some of it’s fantastic.

And one final picture of what I **think** is a kingsnake. If I’m right, it’s not dangerous, but you’re dead right I took a step backwards when I first spotted it at the edge of a path near the aire!

Right, best be off. It’s been lashing it down all night but has finally stopped; Lidl and a winding road up to 1600m Chamrousse call!

Cheers, Jay

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Col de la Forclaz into Switzerland, Randa



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On the epic descent to Martigny On the epic descent to Martigny

Zagan the motorhome’s hemmed in by high furrowed cliffs, their ridges flowing with trees and sprouting waterfalls carrying glacial melt from the Swiss heights above us. We’re at Camping Attermenzen just north of the village of Randa, in a deep valley which carries a cog railway south through car-less Zermatt and eventually up to Gornergrat (N46.08571, E7.78168). It’s 1400m high here at our camping site, an altitude which is fine for us but wouldn’t have been possible for Charlie at the end of his life. It’s with a mixture of wonder and regret that I stare out at the oil painting world around us.

The way here took us down through Les Houches near Chamomix, where we parked up for free by a small lake with some other vans (a couple of which had put down roots), and stood enchanted at the gleaming glaciers shoving their way down from the Mont Blanc massif (N45.89589, E6.78151). On the way there we’d stacked the cupboards and fridge at an Intermarche, to thumb our noses at Switzerland’s sky-high prices. A bit further along we pulled in for some cheap diesel at another supermarket, from there it went a tad wrong (Switzerland’s Revenge?), as we managed to wedge Zagan’s exhaust end pipe up against the locker on a high plinth in the petrol station, requiring the deployment of The Pursuader (hammer) to get us out. As Ju drove into the parking area so we could inspect the damage, the end of the exhaust parted company with the van, and was promptly run over by the wheels. Being solid stainless steel, and having ignored an adjacent motorist’s urging to ‘just keep driving’ (which would have crushed the locker), the damage was limited to a broken rubber and we patched it up to get rolling again.

Free motorhome parking at Les Houches, near ChamonixFree motorhome parking at Les Houches, near Chamonix

On a wee jaunt into Les Houches we’d tracked down the Kandahar piste and had had a laugh at just how unwalk-able it had been in the winter when we came to watch the racing, bumping into the Ski Sunday guys on the way. These Charlie-less days are throwing weird opportunities our way. Simple stuff. Like the two of us being able to go for a walk together, putting the alarm on on the van. It’s becoming clear that while we loved our wee man deeply, and we regret not a single day of having him, he was an epic ten year project for us. Opportunities like being able to take a cable car into the mountains and spend a day walking were just not possible, and immediately put aside. Thoughts about being able to fly elsewhere in the world have been put on hold for the past few years, as we dare not risk getting him on a plane. It’s only been a week since he died, so we’re not exactly dancing around, but our thoughts are starting to lean towards where we go from here.

Testing out the Kandahar run in the summer The world around Les Houches and Chamonix is just so, so beautiful.The world around Les Houches and Chamonix is just so, so beautiful.

Over the past few days Phil and Jules have been tracking south east in Big Ben, their Mercedes Hymer, aiming for the very spot here in Switzerland we’re both currently camped at. We kept in touch, and the planets aligned for us to meet at a campsite in Raron, which sits in a broad valley running east-west across the Valais canton in Switzerland. Departing Les Houches. We knew the route there from France, as Tod and Mandy (a British Airways pilot living in Chamonix and his lovely wife) urged us that way on a previous tour, and remembered the epic descent down from the Col de la Forclaz to Martigny once past the border into Switzerland. Second gear was deployed to prevent boiling brake fluid and subsequent screaming, and with relief we finally reached the valley floor below.

Crossing from France in Switzerland. No controls were visible, I even ignored the 'STOP' sign, although no-one else did.Crossing from France in Switzerland. No controls were visible, I even ignored the ‘STOP’ sign, although no-one else did. On the epic descent to MartignyOn the epic descent to Martigny

We’re all here for two reasons: 1. It’s a lovely place to be and 2. Phil and I are off for a half marathon run up the valley side tomorrow. Once that’s complete, our thinking is we’ll make a run back to France. Why? Partly cost: we’re using the ACSI discount scheme to get camping for a reasonable rate, and the sites are all ending their low seasons around about now. Also the Tour de France will be passing the eastern end of France so we could pop and see a stage. Whatever the reason, we didn’t want to pay the full yearly vignette for a few hours use of the motorway, so we’ve both followed the blue (non-toll) signs to get here.

The campsite we used at Raron is in the main valley (N46.30196, E7.80212), which is itself a mixture of farmland, shopping centres, businesses, the Rhone river, airports and railways lines, with the sides a patchwork of postcard vineyards. A series of tanks greeted us at one point on the way, all sat haughty on the back of a train. Fighter jets flew overhead. A diversion took us through what appeared to be an army base. Switzerland might be neutral, but it’s also armed to the teeth! DO NOT MESS WITH US, they announced very effectively as we entered the country.

Once we’d met up with our mates, the main entertainment (other than Phil and Jules’ magnificent tales of adventures) was the rubbish. This area of Switzerland, it would appear, dispenses orange plastic bags for non-recyclable stuff. These bags must cost plenty of money, as the receptionist was very reluctant to hand ’em out, questioning why you might need another after a couple of days. At one point Jules was admonished for having placed some of her rubbish in another, partly empty plastic bag, as the owner of that bag (which was in the bin) had spotted her and complained. This made us all wonder.

The campsite at Raron, SwitzerlandThe campsite at Raron, Switzerland The Felsenkirche, an underground church in a blasted -out cavern below a higher, much older church in RaronThe Felsenkirche, an underground church in a blasted -out cavern below a higher, much older church in Raron Jules running the Switzerland Orange Rubbish Bag GauntletJules running the Switzerland Orange Rubbish Bag Gauntlet

This morning we coughed up the various taxes which Switzerland appends to everything (three breaths of air? that’ll be 3 CHF sir – that’s how it stays so beautiful), and rolled off east, then along the valley, through mile-long tunnels and rolling around a few hairpins on the way. Phil and Jules have been here before, so we followed ’em to Saint Niklaus where we grabbed our race numbers (and picked up a bargain rucksack, brand new but from the 2015 race – there were stacks of cheap quality running tops too, but I’ve got enough).

And here we are! The site’s filling up a little with motorhomes, vans and tents, ready for the weekend. A couple of thousand runners will be up here tomorrow for the various races; the half, the full marathon, and and a ‘ultra’ which adds a crazy climb to the usual 26.2 miles. The atmosphere should be good, and I’m excited to not be running alone as I have been these past couple of months. Ju and Jules have tickets for the cog train, so can get up and down the valley tomorrow to watch us and visit the various villages and viewpoints. There’s a 5 litre barrel of beer imported from Blighty cooling under the van, and I’m informed a beer might be handed out at the finish, which will last about 2 nano-seconds of me passing the Finish line. England play Sweden in the World Cup to top the afternoon off; it’s gonna be an interesting day.

Cheers, Jay

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Abondance and the Fantasticable of Châtel, Savoie, French Alps



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She's Flying! She’s Flying!

Zagan the motorhome’s been doing too much stuff! Arghhhh! Right, OK, good, I can do this. I can sum this up without boring the hell out of everyone. Hmmmm…

OK, we’re currently sat by a telecabin in the Alpine village of Abondance in France (N46.27627, E6.72100). The ski lift is out of use for the summer, and we’ve been asked to park here as the village’s official motorhome aire is being used for Bastille (National) Day celebrations this weekend. As a general rule, ski stations across Europe make great places to head for in summer, as they often have parking, no-one’s fussed by motorhomes being parked there, they’re in beautiful locations, and they’re quite often free. Many of ’em have low cost or free motorhome parking in winter too for that matter!

Motorhome parking by the Essert telecabin station in AbondanceMotorhome parking by the Essert telecabin station in Abondance

The last blog post came to you from Switzerland, where we had a couple of fantastic nights overlooking the Valais valley and the pure white 4000m peaks beyond. The sensation of cooking tea or knocking up a brew, looking out of the door to my left and getting hit with the view of the monstrous Dent Blanche (the same mountain’s on the medal from the 2018 Zermatt Half Marathon), pumped my blood up and urged me out for another half marathon run up towards the Col de Sanetsch and back. I’ve got a taste for the running now, next up I’m aiming for a full marathon back in the UK then, finger’s crossed, an ultra-distance run or two after that. Watch this space.

Ju knocked out a hill run too - respect! It was warm out there too.Ju knocked out a hill run too – respect! It was warm out there. The distant 4357m Dent Blanche (White Tooth)The distant 4357m Dent Blanche (White Tooth)

Our aim the morning we left was to head back to France. Why so short a séjour in Suisse? Dunno. The low-cost ACSI rate on the campsites were all ending, so the cost for sites was roughly doubling, but there are a fair few places in Switzerland where they tolerate free camping, or even provide official aires. Our rubbish was starting to stack up though, and 60 litre bin bags were coming in at roughly £3 each in Lidl, as they have a special ‘bin bag tax’ on them. You can’t just chuck your black bin bag in the bins, oh no!

A quick aside: Switzerland’s divided up into cantons, a bit like a small version of the US. The whole country pays a ‘federal’ level of income tax, but you also pay additional income tax which varies according to where you live, which canton your house sits in. So someone in an adjacent village on the same wage as you could easily be paying less income tax than you. If they’re married and you’re single, they’ll pay even less. Also, if you own your own home, you have to add a fictitious ‘rental income’ to your wage, and pay tax on that too. Not that all of this is necessarily a bad thing, as the state clearly looks after its citizens, it’s just interesting to me (more about Swiss taxation here).

Where was I? Oh yeah, bin bags. So, until recently the Valais canton didn’t have special taxed bin bags, which weirdly introduced a sort of ‘rubbish tourism’ as surrounding cantons required the heavily taxed bags. Folks would drive into Valais, chuck their bags into the bins there, and head home, presumably laughing manically. Ha! Valais caught up in 2018 though and voted to introduce the bags, which explains why the campsite we stayed at with Phil and Jules were so shirty about handing ’em out.

Anyway, we fancied heading back into France mostly as it’s just SOOOO EASSSYYY to motorhome around here. The Alps are just as beautiful, the food as delicious, the folks as easy-going and the sun as yellow and hot as Switzerland, so here we rolled, via Lidl, where we discovered mixed nuts, wine, rösti (shredded potatoes) and Swiss cheese were cheaper than France, and stocked up accordingly. Fancying a new route, we headed past the Col du Grand Bernard (which Phil and Jules had used to get into Italy) and the Col de la Forclaz, instead heading west over the smaller Pas de Morgins into the Portes du Soleil ski area and down past Châtel to Abondance for the night (N46.28017, E6.71507).

Heading towards the Zorro-slash of the Col de la Forclaz above MartignyIn Switzerland, heading towards the Zorro-slash of the Col de la Forclaz above Martigny – Lake Geneva is off down the valley to the right of this photo A tight bridge on the Pas de Morgins, otherwise it was an easy pass to crossA tight bridge on the Pas de Morgins, otherwise it was an easy pass to cross

Abondance has an official motorhome aire, a free one at that, although the massive €3.50 charge for the service point irked a few of the commenters on our aires database (really? bring your motorhomes to Britain my friends, we’ll immediately fleece you rotten as soon as your wheels stop turning, and you’ll be loving paying €3.50 for a couple of night’s free parking and 100 litres of water back here in France, LOVING IT!!!). Ahem.

The free aire in Abondance, complete with sat TV reception through a gap in the mountainsThe free aire in Abondance, complete with sat TV reception through a gap in the mountains

Anyway, installed in the aire the satellite dish went straight up (don’t judge us, we could give the TV up at any time if we wanted to – honest), and we checked to make sure we could watch the England-Croatia game. TV says yes, so we waited out the afternoon walking around the village, watching sporadic rock falls on a nearby slope, watching a fellow motorhomer walk his kitten on a lead in the aire, craning our necks at a local bloke’s drone which he was using to measure the car park (and he had a chicken statue stuck to the front of his van), and generally being nervous. We all know what happened next, but the England lads did a fantastic job getting to the semi finals; we bow down before their nerve and skill. Onwards and upwards.

Talking of nerve, during the long wait, Ju had spotted there’s a zip wire back up the valley at a place called Pré la Joux, near Châtel – wonderfully named Fantasticable! As part of dealing with Charlie dying, we’ve been working on what we want to do next in life, seeking out the positives, and one of Ju’s goal list items has long been the Zip World zip line in North Wales. Eyeballing photos of the Fantasticable we agreed: this looks even better, and headed the 30 mins back up the valley. It’s high (very high) above the hamlet of Plaine Dranse, and is in fact two zip lines which take you back and forth above the valley, over the trees, chair lifts, mountains bikers and lakes far below. €36 apiece includes two chair lifts to the start of the first wire, and gives you a decent sick-buzz as you look up and see tiny horizontal figures flying through the air far above. Whhoooooaaaa…..

On the way up to Fantasticable. I was feeling a tad ill at this point.On the way up to Fantasticable. I was feeling a tad ill at this point. VTT (mountain bikers) at Pre la Joux, in full-face helmets and with full body armourVTT (mountain bikers) at Pre la Joux, in full-face helmets and with full body armour

If you fancy, and if you and your partner’s weights fall within certain boundaries, you can buddy up and do the zip wires together. We were right on the weight limit (150Kg for both of us), but decided to do it separately anyway. Up at the top we found zero queue, stared down the valley for a minute, then were ushered in to get weighed and harnessed, helmeted and (for me with me specs) goggled up. Ju got ’em to relax the rules and let her hold our GoPro Hero4, so she grabbed the video below, saving us the additional (eye-watering) €13 each for the official photo.

Ju: calm, happy, ready or action! Me: none of the aboveJu: calm, happy, ready for Fantasticable action! Me: none of the above… The view down the valley the Fantasticable crossesThe view down the valley the Fantasticable crosses at between 80 and 100 kph

Ju was first up, as she was too slow in stepping backwards when we were called. Onto the ‘launch stage’ thing, they took the big metal pulley she’d been given and placed it on the wire, then hooked her on, got her to lay down suspended below the wire and push back with her feet onto a ‘stand’ which pulled the harness tight. They then called the station below on a radio, gave them the weight and name of the person ‘flying’, and attached a sort of triangular flag above her, which we guessed was to manage our speed. After asking if she was ready, a safety line was pulled and with what I’d describe as a ‘happy scream’, she was off, flying!

Ready to fly on the Fantasticable!Ready to fly on the Fantasticable! She's Flying! She’s Flying!

I watched as she turned into a dot, and heard the line buzzing until finally there was a sort of thudding noise, and I was up. At this point the nerves disappeared and I can honestly say the whole experience from that point on was pure serenity. The flight didn’t feel too fast, and I just seemed to float along above the valley, looking down with a sort of detachment at the tiny stuff below, as the air pushed at my face. It really felt like flying, quite an experience! There was some adrenaline when I came into ‘land’ though, as everything suddenly seemed very fast! A kind of ‘aircraft carrier’ mechanism grabs you at the last second and slows you down with a HUMMPPHHH. Cool.

Coming in to land!Coming in to land!

Ju was already being hooked up to the second cable above me, and I dragged the big metal pulley thing up there for a quick exchange (she was very happy!) before she was off again on the longer flight across the valley. I followed a few minutes later and after escaping the clutches of the photo-booth-flogger-bloke we giggled our way down the road to the chair lift where we retrieved Ju’s bag from a locker and headed back to the van, watching the gnarly mountain bikers below negotiating the steep burns and jumps of downhill tracks.

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Back at base, I had a wee run up to the Col de Bassachaux, about 8 or 9 miles, while Ju cut the above video together and uploaded it on the resorts free WiFi. A bite to eat and we headed off back down the valley again, popping into Intermarche to find its car park washing machines were permanently closed before tracking down a Libre Service launderette in La Chapelle d’Abondance. While the washing washed itself, I made a few forays trying to find the town’s service point, and failing. A second trip to the tourist information office sorted out where it was, and confirmed we could stay the night.

La Chapelle d'AbondanceLa Chapelle d’Abondance

Washing done we ignored the tourist office and satnav directions along an elbows-in roads through the chalets and shops, and using a map we’d picked up realised we could drive to the roundabout on the edge of the village and come around the back by the ski lifts – the long way so satnav would never choose it. Finally finding other motorhomes we parked up, filled our water bottles from a free fountain, and had a lovely quiet night (N46.292358, E6.783001).

Free motorhome parking at La Chapelle d'Abondance. The service point's over the bridge behind me, should you happen to be stood in the same place!Free motorhome parking at La Chapelle d’Abondance. The service point’s over the bridge behind me, should you happen to be stood in the same place!

This morning we headed back into Abondance, parked up here and walked a few miles up to the trout-filled Lac des Lagnes and back. As a reward we nipped into Le Mont Jorat riverside restaurant for a slap-up 4 course menu du jour, costing us a whole €16 each. We only had a carafe of water to drink, which seems to be fairly normal in France at lunchtime as no-one bats an eyelid, so can’t much complain: two baskets of bread, melon and ham, steak haché and egg-rice, a platter of local cheeses then an apple tart with cream. All delicious, and great service. Bob on – well worth a decent tip!

Lac des LagnesLac des Lagnes Ha, what a great bin-fence!Ha, what a great bin-fence!

Phew! Right, that’s it, up to date! I’m signing off folks!

Take it easy, cheers, Jay

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Bastille Day and a Little Football Match – Celebration Weekend in Le Reposoir



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Zagan the motorhome is squeeeeeezed into the aire in Le Reposoir (N46.00986, E6.53626), just below the Col de la Colombière, ready for Stage 10 of the Tour de France tomorrow. He got here a few days early, and it’s a good job he did. Most vehicles on the roads now are motorhomes and campervans looking for a space to park up along the route before the road closes tomorrow. The residents of Le Reposoir have been amazing, they have welcomed us camping-caristers with open arms, and even laid on entertainment.

It’s so packed in the car park there was no point in taking a photo beside Zagan!

When the crowd surged forward to storm the Bastille in 1789, they would have no idea over two hundred of years later their actions would still be commemorated with fireworks and parties. On the eve of Bastille Day (la Fête nationale in French) the village of Abondance held their celebrations, so they wouldn’t clash with Châtel a little way up the valley, where they were setting off fireworks on the 14th. The poster said to gather for a concert starting at 8.45, followed by fireworks at 9.30pm. We wandered over around 9.15pm to catch the end of the concert, but it was still quite light, too light for fireworks. The council at Abondance weren’t daft, the times were to get everyone out for the concert, which carried on until gone 10pm. The local band played everything from the Rocky theme tune to Angels by Robbie Williams, and rounded off with the La Marseillaise, the French national anthem for which the whole village joined in.

We made our way outside past the bar and Barbe a Papa stall at which point Jay laughed. “What’s so funny?” I asked, ‘Barbe a Papa, is Dad’s Beard. Candyfloss is Dad’s beard.’ I was still confused as to me Barbeapapa is a pink splodge of a cartoon character from my childhood, I guess it was made in France and dubbed over for folks like me.

Once outside there was a little confusion as to what was going to happen next, closely followed by a whooooosh. Then a boom. It was fireworks time. Up on the hill above the village a tiny torch could be seen moving in the trees to set off the display. My oooohs and ahhhhhs were mixed with a tear and sadness. This was our first ever Bastille Day celebration, if Charlie hadn’t passed away we would have stayed in Switzerland to avoid the fireworks. He hated fireworks and we did our best to avoid them for him.

Bastille Day Fireworks in Abondance France

The last boom finished echoing around the mountains followed by a short burst of applause in appreciation. Then the music was cranked up and most folks made for their cars to head home. We strolled back to Zagan and settled in for a surprisingly quiet night. The follow morning just after 7am our alarm went off, hang on, we hadn’t set an alarm, and it’s Saturday. So what was the ringing noise?

Our mountain alarm clock

We had a vague plan about where to head to next, so we set our satnav for Le Grand Bornand which hosts a stage of the Tour de France in a few days time. They were also having a firework party tonight, so we figured we  would nip to Le Reposoir to use the service point, then pop to Le Grand Bornand for a couple of nights, then back to Le Reposir service point again, before finding somewhere to park along the final ascent of the Tour stage on Monday. Of course, plans change.

Arriving in Le Reposoir the aire was packed, it’s supposed to take 10 motorhomes but there were at least 25 in here. We parked up and waited to use the service point. As the motorhome using the services finished and moved off, another motorhome behind him started his engine. I waved at him and pointed out that we were next, then turned around to direct Jay over the grey water grate. The motorhome behind me started to move forward then beeped his horn at me, I jumped out of the way and he just missed me. Needless to say that by now we weren’t happy, as another motorhome had pulled up behind the one that had just tried to run me over. So instead of using the service point we decided to leave. Sadly when it’s an event or space is at a premium, we’ve seen how heated things can get so quickly. Already folks were putting tape across patches of land on the route to stop people parking next to them. In the aire a chap saw us looking for a space and manoeuvred his camping chairs out into the space next to him (like in Forrest Gump: “ya can’t sit here, seat’s taken”), which would never have fitted a motorhome in anyway.

As we left the aire Jay calmly told the man in French that what he did was not good because he loves his wife and would not want to see her hurt – how much do I love my amazing husband. The ‘would-be Ju runner overer’ said he had forgotten to put his hand brake on and it was an accident, I guess we’ll never know. As we started to drive away there was another motorhome coming up the lane towards us, a stand off. Then a local man appeared and asked if we wanted to stay, we said we would but the aire was full, he said he would find us a space, and he did. So we’re now blocking in folks, and are ourselves blocked in, but we’re all here. The same man has been guiding loads of motorhomes into spaces around the village, which has now probably more than doubled in population.

Jay went for a run up to the Col and reported back that it was full, as were any obvious spaces along the side of the road. This was Saturday, the tour isn’t due until Tuesday. While Jay was out I wandered around the village and spotted posters for a disco and fireworks on Saturday night, a village fete on Sunday which included the World Cup Final (which France were playing in) and a giant BBQ on Monday. So it looks like we wouldn’t get bored waiting for the Tour. On Saturday night we watched our second set of Bastille Day fireworks, this time we didn’t venture out until around 10.15pm when it was dark enough, and the thunder and lightning had stopped.

On Sunday we were up early to grab some bread for the local shop, just in case they hadn’t ordered in extra supplies for the newly swollen population. Walking through the main square our nostrils were filled with the most amazing smells. Madames were cooking crêpes, and a huge spit was cooking up hams – preparations for the village fête were in full swing.

We walked back to the fête just before noon and ate our way around the stalls for lunch. We had beignet de tartifles, some sort of fried potato, garlic treat, ham from the spit and I managed a Nutella crêpe for desert. A brave bloke walked on a tightrope over the crowd to the church, while below him another chap carved a face into wood with a chainsaw as the local children did a dance in traditional dress.

Thanks to Valerie for getting in touch on Facebook and letting us know that the man on the rope is Nathan Paulin who lives in Le Reposoir. He is a world record holder in slack line and his best record is crossing on a 1662 m long line at 300 m high!

But the best was yet to come. A woodcutter competition. We got a space right next to the barriers as the contestants pulled on their chainmail socks. Then before we knew it they were chainsawing discs from the top of a pole before hacking down the same pole with a razor-sharp axe, all against the clock and racing each other. By the time it was done we were both covered in sawdust, but it was brilliant.

Several more rounds followed, then other activities such as twin sawing a huge log, and axing ‘twigs’ off a pole. We loved it all, even when bits of wood were flying in our direction. The finale saw two competitors axe down a telegraph pole height, but double the width, pole – with ropes on so the organisers could control which way it fell, yes there was some health and safety, but not much. As the last pole fell, the church clock struck 5pm and the crowd dashed over the road to the local restaurant which had a big screen TV outside. World Cup time.

We’d seen France play a Rugby World Cup Final a few years ago, where wine was supped and nibbles put on at half time. It seems that the football watchers are a slightly different breed, but the atmosphere was amazing. The national anthem was once again bellowed out, then nerves settled everyone into their seats, until the the first goal around 18 minutes in, then the whole place erupted. After that it was a bit of a blur, and I’m pretty sure 95% of those watching still don’t know Croatia scored two goals, they were all too busy celebrating.

Beer to watch the match, wine to celebrate with.

We got chatting to Paul and Ruth from Sheffield, it’s a small world, who have been living the motorhome life for around four months now. Sadly the conversation was interrupted by the match a lot, and we’ll hopefully catch up with them again in the next couple of days, but it was worth it. The noise increased as the minutes ticked down, ‘Allez les Bleus!’ were shouted and the singing began before the start of injury time, all helped along with the roar of a chainsaw that someone had brought into the pub with them – luckily minus the blade. At the final whistle the bar cleared, its occupants now jumping into cars and vans hand painted in red, white and blue carrying as many people as they could around the streets, horns beeping, crowds cheering and shouting.

After half and hour or so, the parade made its way into the main square where a band was already playing as part of the fête. The bar was swamped, wine bottles were passed around and drunk out of, and the party carried on for quite a while.

We retreated back to Zagan around 9pm, both totally tired out after an amazing day. Monday is a rest day for the Tour de France, and will probably be one for us too.

Ju x

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