We had the most wonderful time yesterday and today – we had gotten tired of the cold and rainy (for us) weather in northern France, and resolved to strike out for the Mediterranean coast, where it’s 15 to 20 degrees warmer, and also sunnier. I got on Google Maps and the weather forecast and plotted a strategy – there were three days of relatively decent weather before it basically rains everywhere in France for two days. I figured we could cover the 650 miles from Calais to Narbonne Plage in three easy afternoons. On Monday morning we woke up, coffeed up, say goodbye to our very pleasant hosts at Camping Cap Blanc-Nez, who gave us a sticker for our rear window, and headed out to get some cash at the ATM (Google says it’s $110 in tolls to get to the Med) and groceries – problem is, Monday is also VE Day, which means everyone is closed. We finally find a grocery store operating on holiday hours, stock up with what we need, and hit the highway.
But which highway? My GPS didn’t seem to be taking the same route as the one that popped up on Google Maps, which was all expressways. Mine was taking me on all these smaller roads, every once in a while crossing the expressways on an overpass. It seems I had left it set to avoid toll roads. Which turned out to be fine with us, because we want to see the countryside and small villages. Plus, I wasn’t all that happy about paying as much in tolls as it cost in fuel. I don’t remember all those tolls from our French auto tour eleven years ago, maybe they are a recent development. And the $110 is the car rate – who knows what they would charge a dual rear wheel one ton 24 foot long van. I looked up the two axle truck rate, and it was $174. Ouch. We have all the time in the world. We’ll take the small roads.
After a couple of hours, we start seeing signs for a Matisse museum, which Sharon wants to go to. After a little *cough* debate, we decide that she’s going, so we follow the signs, and sure enough it’s open (museums are open on holidays). And it’s in Matisse’s hometown of Le Cateau-Cambresis, which is why we’re way out in the sticks. I park on the main drag near the museum and people watch while Sharon visits the museum, and then we get back on the road, wandering down through all these little villages. Speed limits are 50 out on the open road, 31 in town, and there’s a 43 mph intermediate speed limit for built-up areas, corresponding to 80, 50, and 70 kilometers per hour. I’m averaging maybe 38 mph and getting phenomenal fuel economy 😉
We also pass by and stop in the monument to the very first tank assault in history, which happened a hundred years ago last week. A bunch of very, very brave French got in armored tractor chassis and charged the German lines, with 75% of the tanks either damaged or with mechanical problems, and 20% casualties for the tank operators, including the death of the commander. Tanks eventually won that war for the Allies, but someone had to do it first. These guys did. Armored French units still make pilgrimages to this lonely monument out on the stalemated battle lines of WWI, where the French charged the ridge. Louis Renault of automotive fame improved the design (the first tanks didn’t even have a swiveling turret), and in the next year, 1918, with more and better tanks, the tides of war swung toward the Allies.
With all our stopping and sightseeing we only got a couple of hundred miles, but we found a wonderful campground near Riems where we we ended up being the only occupants. Nobody in the office when we arrived, but I left them a note, and we settled up the next morning – 12 euros. It was a farm with cows, chickens, bunnies, goats, sheep, and beautiful open grassy fields with willows and firs. Fiona was a little taken aback by all the animal discussion going on in the barn, but still enjoyed sniffing around. We’ll tell you about our continued slow journey south in the next blog story. We just LOVE these little roads.
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