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Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Europe trip 2008 - Home to Cambrai

23rd Jan.
So we were finally off, the ferry booked. The schedule, as ever, was vague but with six months to play with there was not much point in doing a meticulous plan, just stick a few pins in the map and go for it!
We like to follow our noses most of the time – people and places have a habit of changing the itinerary, and that’s how you find those “undiscovered” places off the beaten tourist track.

The plan, though hardly worthy of the name, was to go to the French or perhaps Italian Alps, enjoy the mountain atmosphere and do some leisurely skiing, then down through Italy, perhaps take a look at Sicily, and then get a ferry across to Greece. Greece would be a first time for us in the motorhome and would probably involve a major exploration. Thereafter the obvious thing to do would be to make our way up through Eastern Europe, though we hadn’t decided which countries – we’d do a little homework nearer the time.

25th Jan.
Drove off the ferry in Calais at 0530. Half a km away there is a huge aire de service where a dozen or so vans were passing the night, so we joined them. Okay, you can hear the throb of the ferry's engines, but for old sea dogs like us it just sounds familiar and doesn't disturb us in the slightest.

26th Jan.
Chilled out in Arques (near St Omer) for a day - a pleasant aire attached to a (closed) campsite. Adjacent to the aire is an old gravel pit turned into a fishing lake. On the lake there are dozens of duck and geese - but they were a bit strange - bobbing up and down like corks, they turned out to be decoys, artfully anchored in groups. Whether they were meant to attract or dissuade the real thing we weren't sure. There were also some hides and a pen, or maybe trap, with some live birds in them.

27th Jan.
It looked like this trip was going to get off to shaky start. Arriving at Catillon sur Sambre we turned into a narrow entrance to the aire. There was a loud bang from the offside front suspension and the van started to steer to the left. After some investigations I surmised that the roller bearing in the top of the suspension strut had seized. More deliberations and we concluded that our best course of action was to go back to Cambrai where there was a large motorhome concessionaire. We would ask their recommendation for a local garage which was used to working on motorhomes. We then retired to the local "Bar L'Europeen" to console ourselves.

28th Jan. Catillon sur Sambre.
Had a look at the garage the concessionaire recommended, but it seemed so tiny we wondered how they would get the van inside. Further towards Cambrai we found an HGV garage with a FIAT sign outside and thought we would try our luck. My knowledge of French technical terms is pretty poor, despite having worked on a French built ship, but fortunately our manual came to the rescue – a picture is worth a thousand words!
The top man was obviously very busy, but friendly enough, and after jacking the van up and driving it around he came to the same conclusion as I had and ordered some parts to fix it. Unfortunately they were not due until Thursday and we would have to wait until Friday for them to change them. Went back to Catillon’s other aire by the canal bank – free electricity!

29th Jan. Catillon sur Sambre.
Grey old day. Took a walk along the canal bank to the next lock. By the lock keepers house was a somber plaque commemerating the soldiers from the Royal Sussex Regiment who had died storming the lock in November 1918. Their CO was awarded a Victoria Cross.
Along the path we saw two more lakes with decoy ducks, hides and pens, obviously a popular combination – I wished someone could explain it to us, we were inclined to believe the purpose was entrapment rather than observation and conservation.

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