Dora & Hazel, Paris and the Loire Valley.

Posted on 20/07/2015 by Hazel Irvine


I enjoyed Brugge for a couple of days and then the fear of the cycle lanes and my “yet to perfect” continental driving took its toll and it was off to France for me. I am saddened to report that I almost by-passed Paris through lack of courage. I realised in time that the little fear monkey was encouraging me to the coast, when my dream was to drive the Arc de Triomphe…what better way to build my continental driving confidence! Yes! Bravery won out…I set of for Paris at sunrise…and hit Monday morning rush-hour traffic! At Sunrise!  

Things were heating up, driving on the outskirts of Paris in Monday morning rush hour is no joke and I had to rely on the services of, yet to be trusted, Jane. Pleasingly and surprisingly, she directed me faultlessly to the Eiffel tower (our practice run) and with confidence high we decided to take a shot at driving the Arc de Triomphe! Oh holy hell it was terrifying and utterly utterly amazing as “we” screamed off exit 7 maybe 8 at 50km / hr to safety….I air punched my way out of Paris towards Versaille…I’d never felt more brave / stupid!

 

Oh man, Versaille, now this is a place that welcomes fancy-pants-ness. I’d arrived at 7.30am from Paris, parked on a side street 200m’s away and paid my parking (4 euro took me till 11am) Plenty….I was going to be in and out in under an hour!

 

Ticket bought and paid for by 9.10am, happily unaware that a far more serious queue was forming at the palace entrance…100’s of people lined 4-5 thick over 200m long snaking down from the entrance gates….yikes! This called for some serious intervention…as it turns out it called for some complete brazen-ness….seeing my “chum” from the queue – a lady from Seattle (that I ignored the entire 1 hour of queuing) I managed to persuade her to be my “temporary mum” so I could join her and her husband, her husband having pre-empted the crazy queue, at the front! Nailed it! Thank you Seattle couple. I decided to sacrifice the first 5 palace rooms so I could be ahead of the palace mob…and felt like I had the whole palace to myself that morning. It was a glorious way to see the palace. The gardens looked amazing too but I ran out of parking time and headed off in the direction of La Rochelle.

 

I’d decided on a route that cut-through Chambord – of French Martini Chambord – too exciting! The route took me through Loire Valley, hitting the chateau jackpot!! I visited 5 in one day – restricted budget has its advantages, no money to pay entrance fee’s, instead I found photograph spots to ogle them from. I stole the best vantage point ideas from local postcards and then muddled through with google maps finding the exact postcard locations – having the camper was amazing for this, you just drive to where-ever you need to, very often in the opposite direction from the tourist sign posts and chateau main entrance. Chambord Chateau was my favourite, for its crazy disney-like quality and Chateau de Chenonceau (in Chenonceaux) because I needed to be a little stealthy and sherlock about it…finding a road round the back, then walking 1km along the river….I could see tourists on the boats wondering why I was getting the same view as them (for free), but I saluted the captain and he saluted back so I figured he appreciated my novel approach. This town also had a Municipal Campsite on the river for 7 Euro per night.

 

My other favourite Loire valley discovery was the municipal campsite…they are the perfect compromise between campsite and Aire…they are budget campsites set up by the local councils all over France…with basic facilities (shower / WC/ Laundry), great shade,  in small towns to encourage tourists to visit…I’ve been as cheap as 6.50 Euro / night. The great thing about these is they charge per person, so as a solo traveller you feel like you get value for money. All standard campsites have a minimum 1 car / 1 tent / 2 Adults charge. The MC’s even exist in popular locations, you pay a premium, but still at 20 euro per night for the location, it’s a bargain. Aire’s aren’t really suitable for the camping-car and females….very few have toilet facilities and often you still pay a 5euro overnight parking charge. Even if the Aire’s are located near public WC’s these are often locked in the evening.

 

Armed with my new MC knowledge, next stop, La Rochelle.