As we have just got the blog running with some more reliable internet access, we have missed quite a bit out of our journey already! Here is a brief summary…
We spent a few days in London, staying in a bit of a dodgy apartment. Tim and I have decided that in London you get what you pay for! Obviously we did not quite pay enough….we secured the windows and doors at night with bike locks as we were unable to lock them all.
Apart from our accommodation, we really enjoyed London. The kids gradually got used to walking for miles, and Josh became very adept at organizing our travel through the tube. The kids loved Hamley’s toy shop. They also enjoyed seeing the Egyptian artifacts at the museum. We admired Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar square and Big Ben, and went for a ride on the London Eye (a huge ferris wheel). The Tower of London was Tim’s favorite (as always). Caleb’s first view of a ‘real live castle’ was beautiful to witness! He was terribly excited. The boys got a real appreciation there of how heavy chain mail is by the excellent children’s displays. All in all London was a bit exhausting but good fun!
Off to collect the campervan next. The people we bought the van from are amazingly helpful, and the campervan is wonderful. Tim and I sleep down the back and the kids all fit above the front cabin. Very useful as it means no extra beds to put down at night! So far they have not suffered too much in the early morning wrestling that goes on either. It has a shower and toilet, and plenty of cupboards. The only problem is driving the thing! It can be very tricky in the little country towns – you never know when you are going to meet a narrow road or low building and not be able to get the campervan through. Tim is doing a great job. We collected bikes in a nearby town from a shop that sells bikes second hand then buys them back again after you have finished. When we turned up and bought 5 bikes in about 10 minutes I think the owner thought it was her lucky day. Tim will certainly be glad to give his back – it is not quite up to his usual standards!
For our first night, we stayed in Canterbury. Daniel rates that campsite as the best so far (three weeks on) as it had lots of space to play football and even some poles to kick goals into at the playground. We took a bus to Canterbury the next day and wandered around the spectacular Cathedral and old town. Caleb was awed by the Cathedral. He said that it made him feel ‘so small’ and wanted just to sit in the pews and absorb it all.
After a few nights in Canterbury we moved on to Folkstone which is quite literally on the white cliffs of Dover. They towered above us from our humble campsite. Folkstone itself had not much to recommend it other than being close to the ferry and a great playground in the town. We stayed 2 nights then drove to Dover.
Dover castle was really interesting. It has some secret wartime tunnels underneath it, which you can do guided tours into. Josh in particular enjoyed this tour. Above ground was just as interesting, and Caleb really enjoyed actually walking on the drawbridge and going into the keep which was fitted out with furnishings and weapons from the era. After the castle, we caught our ferry over to Calais and stayed one night in a passable municipal campsite.
The next morning saw us up bright and early and driving into town to try to organize internet and phone for France. Unfortunately, internet seems a bit unreliable and horribly expensive here, and for both internet and phone it is tricky to find a place to buy the cards. After a completely unsuccessful morning, we left Calais with no fancy gadgets connected and drove to Rouen. Rouen was where we almost came undone. After a long day of driving, both Tim and I were no match for the complicated road system and convoluted routes our GPS was taking us on to navigate through the town. After a lucky escape when entering a freeway exit lane in the wrong direction, we finally made it back to our campsite in one piece. I use the term ‘campsite’ here very loosely. It seems in France that standards of hygiene in the bathrooms are somewhat different. In this place we had one toilet for the whole campsite (no toilet paper or seat as we were getting used to) and one shower that you needed to pay for. It wasn’t our best night, but the surrounding outskirts of Rouen were so pretty.
We woke in the morning to church bells tolling (it was Sunday) and decided to hit Rouen early to try to find a park so that we could look around at the town. We had a much easier time of it, and we were so glad we had. Rouen was a beautiful town, with gorgeous old buildings everywhere. Some buildings looked like they were about to fall down as the old wood in them was sagging. We explored the cathedral (magnificent) and also the art gallery where we saw lots of Monet’s pictures of that same cathedral in different lights. My theory on art galleries is to take the kids through at top speed so they don’t get bored and I at least get a bit of a look at the wonderful paintings. Tim is less enamored with the paintings, and so my theory suits him fine. It was only after we had exited the gallery that he pointed out we had missed half of the actual collection!
The Normandy beaches were next on our list. We stayed at a lovely town near the Juno beach in a great campsite. The next day we drove around the famous beach landings on D-Day such as Utah and Omaha beaches, and also visited the American Cemetary. There were lots of museums on World War II, old tanks and guns around the place which the boys and Tim enjoyed. I loved the little villages on the road between these sites with their narrow laneways and beautiful two storey old houses with fields of red poppies in between. The French make even their tourist towns so quaint! Nothing here was gaudy or poorly done. The American Cemetary was very moving and well done also. Hopefully the boys have had their fill of war type things for a while anyway.
On to Paris! We stayed for 5 nights at Maisons Lafayette which was a campsite in an outer suburb of Paris. It was 10 mins walk to the station and on the river Seine. It was great to watch all the barges hurtling up and down the river. Caleb really enjoyed this campsite as he could do lots of laps on his bike, and Josh and Daniel had plenty of room to kick the football. Amazingly enough, even after a full day’s walking around Paris they could still have the energy to kick a footy!
In Paris we saw the obvious attractions – the Eiffel tower and the Arc d’Triumphe – but also the not so obvious such as a visit to the Paris Sewers which are 100’s of years old (something Josh wanted to see). We managed to visit 3 art galleries, the Louvre for the Mona Lisa (somewhat disappointing in size, but still the boys’ favorite painting), the Musee d’Orsay for all the impressionist paintings and the Musee d’Orangerie for Monet’s water lilies. I loved Monet’s water lilies and all the other Monet’s, Van Gogh’s and Renoir’s at d’Orsay. Somehow Tim found a more pressing engagement for the last 2 art galleries and did not join us. I told the boys that we were having their fix of art for the month and apart from some protests I think they quite enjoyed seeing it. They have certainly been inspired to copy some paintings on their own. It has really helped to bring along the ‘Katie’ series of art books that I have, where Katie jumps into paintings and interacts with the people in them. A lot of the paintings that she jumps into we saw in real life. It was wonderful to see Daniel’s excitement as he squealed ‘Look!’ and showed me one that he recognized from the Katie books. After seeing the Louve and d’Orsay, he was also able to describe Renaissance paintings compared to Impressionist which I thought was pretty impressive for a five year old! For the boys though, the best thing about Paris was the day we spent at Disneyland. Caleb loved the Star Wars ride and spent much time afterwards in highly animated conversation about it (as only he can!); Daniel loved the rollercoaster on Thunder Mountain and Josh loved the Aerosmith rollercoaster (that Tim will not go on with him again!).
From Paris we moved on to the Loire Valley, and here we are now staying near the Cherverny Chateaux. So now you are up to date with our journey!