Break for the Border – NE France; Sézanne to Vilsberg

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If you want to experience adrenaline, drive a large caravan around Paris.

If you want to experience adrenaline; drive a large caravan around Paris.

To increase the thrill still further; be a passenger in the tow vehicle!

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Ruby seems unperturbed that Lani is driving. Lani knows how to tackle the Arc de Triomph; “Go straight to the middle & stay there until you reach your exit!”

I judge all Parisian driving experiences by the Arc de Triomphe. We tried very hard to avoid it when we drove into Paris many years ago. We found, however, that all roads led inexorably to the Arc. Our transit of the Arc was hindered further by the fact that we didn’t realise that right of way rests with those COMING ON to the roundabout – not those already on the roundabout. This led to a number of stand offs in quick succession, as French people drove straight at us with determination in their eyes. There are a lot of entrances on to the roundabout. There were a lot of stand-offs. All that was missing was the lances…

We experienced the same wild-eyed challenges on the périphérique with the caravan, although it was a much more sustained experience and the stakes were higher. On the Arc de Triomphe, we were dealing only with cars and my solution was simply to tell Mark to get off at any exit and we’d sort out our directions from there. On the périphérique, we had a lot of issues with lunatic Lithuanian lorries heading straight for us! No quarter was given!

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There were lots of roads like this that went on and on into the distance! This is the A4. It was so bumpy in places that our jockey wheel fell down!

We followed the A4 for miles. It was a good straight road, but the surface was so bumpy that our jockey wheel actually fell down and started dragging!

The Campsite Municipal at Sézanne, a beautiful, medieval city, was the cheapest ever at €8 Euros! There were lovely walks straight from site into the woods where if I understood the information correctly, Limoniers grew lemons to improve the soil for nearby Champagne. Thank you, Limoniers!

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I had to take photos of Kai to pretend that I wasn’t curtain twitching at the Belgians

A bunch of Rufty Tufty Belgian off-roaders turned up in their Land Rovers and made our evening by lighting a fire with sticks!!! They all started off bare chested and in shorts and even when they were just standing around, they all struck poses like they were being filmed. Dad was so muscle-bound that could barely get his arms down by his sides. Mum was wearing cargo pants to look the part, but just seemed a bit uncomfortable with it all. I loved that they had tents that popped up on their roofs. Great for keeping at bay all the poisonous snakes and deadly insects that you find in the wild and woolly campsites of rural France.

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We loved the pop-up roof tents. Great for keeping at bay the deadly creatures rife in rural France!

I’m afraid that for us, any sense of off-roading as a cool pursuit has been utterly ruined by Simon and Lindsey on The Fast Show. “It’s gripped. It’s sorted. LET’S OFF ROAD!”

Sézanne to Vilsberg

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Vilsberg.

I wished those Belgians would hurry up. We needed to get packed up and go but we couldn’t stop watching them. I suppose it is no surprise that they are so entertaining. They are, after all, from the country that gave us Tin Tin, Plastic Bertrand and Jean Claude Van Damme.

Then, the punchline! On our way out through Sézanne, we saw the Belgian off-roaders stuck trying to get their Land Rover either in or out of a parking space that I would have rated Mark’s chances of navigating with the caravan in tow. LET’S OFF ROAD!

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Mark amused either at one of my jokes or the fact that the Belgians got stuck in a parking space. Or maybe it was the simple pleasure of driving over the Road Refresher dog bowl again.

Mark drove the van over the Road Refresher dog bowl again. It recovered from being completely flat with only 1 small crack in the rim. We seem to be re-visiting last year. A lost dog, a dog with a sore paw… Let’s hope that axle is still bearing up – especially after the A4!

There are now also three other factors that seem to be telling us not to go to our destination; Germany. Rain; Riots in Hamburg and all the campsites seem to accept only 1 dog…

We had already re-routed ourselves north of our original route through Bavaria. When we checked the weather forecast for Beautiful Bayern and the Black Forest, it predicted rain  every single day for the whole of July!

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Les Cigognes – Storks nest in chimneys in Alsace & are embroiled in regional folk lore!

We saw our first field of sunflowers – and a stork! Perhaps this is where the margarine companies originally came for branding inspiration!

We will probably come back here sometime. It was a quirky campsite in Vilsberg that seemed to be in a quarry. The owners could not have been more lovely and there is so much to do in the area – the beautiful villages of Alsace and her famous wine trail, the Maginot line and a boat lift, to name but a few! I have fond memories of Alsace. I have visited a number of times and it was the exotic destination for my first ever trip abroad on a school exchange visit to learn French. I can only think that the children from this paradise who visited the northern, industrial town of Blackburn, Lancashire, got the thin end of the exchange wedge!

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Mark was not amused when we walked through this field & I wanted to take a picture. “Jackie. It’s a BULL!” This happy couple were still canoodling when we got back from our walk. He was a dear little bull. Although I’ll grant you his mother’s a cow.

We did a lovely walk around Vilsberg, but cut it short as Kai seemed to be shattered. It was very warm and he kept asking to be carried! The bull was pretty laid back but there seemed to be a high incidence of quite ferocious, tethered guard / farm dogs in Vilsberg.

We had a lovely Dutch family next door. The adults were teachers. They were away for six weeks but the Dad said that he had some exam papers to mark. We asked him what subject. “Comparative Administration.” He replied. Wow. 6,000 words apiece. I’ll bet he was looking forward to that! Luckily, he had only 12 of them…

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Colmar in Alsace. My first ever trip abroad on a school exchange! Unlike Blackburn, Lancashire, Alsace is definitely worth a visit!

The folklore of the storks in Alsace goes back a long way and is linked to Louis the Pious, son of Charlemagne, who, in 817 decided to split his lands between his three sons. Louis might have been Pious, but his second wife persuaded him to go back on his word to make their son his heir. The sons rebelled against their father and waged war.

The storks were upset by the bloodshed that descended on their beautiful Alsatian homeland and asked God to end it. However, God said that He had given man free will, so He would not intervene. God’s like that. God told the storks that there was nothing they could do but wear mourning, so He gave them permission to dip their wings in black and this is why the symbolic storks of Alsace have black tips on their wings. 

Storks are faithful creatures who return to the same nest and usually the same partner each year. Local legend states that storks will not nest on a house where there has been a divorce. Nesting storks bring luck to the house and if a baby is born, it is because the stork flew to the underground lake where the souls of the dead are reincarnated as babies, wrapped one in a sheet and brought it to you! 

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The legend of storks bringing babies originates in Alsace.

Join us next time as we cross the border, head to Heidelberg & experience some Tales of the Unexpected in Germany!

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