Oui Paris!

Much to my excitement, Paris was next on the map. I have always had (as I think everyone does) a romanticised idea of Paris in my head. From bicycles to baguettes and croissants to fine wines, Paris was always going to leave an impression.img_1521_fotor

We arrived at our aire which is located just outside the airport (location, location right?) and only cost five euro a night. Score! Even though the planes were a little noisy, they also zipped amazing pastel contrails across the setting sky in the late afternoons. Unfortunately, we didn’t realise that the aire had over 800 camper van parks on site AND there was a campervan show on that same weekend. To say it was busy was an understatement of epic proportions. Every serious campervanner or wannabe campervanner was there with kids, dogs, cats, trailers and smart cars in tow. Sassy was easily dwarfed and we felt like instant outsiders knowing our van’s worth versus the worth of these monstrous motorhomes and huge pop out loungeroom/bedroom buses. The monetary value was definitely no object for some of these people and it was pretty crazy to see just how far the home on wheels idea could be pushed. In the aire, there was no view, no facilities and it was a 10km+ ride to the centre of Paris through what can only be described as the ghetto suburbs but, we happily paid the cashier and spent a couple of days enjoying all that the city of love had to offer.

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Luckily, Sassy was a stand out with her blue/purple tones and distinctive butterfly designs.

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A romantic, outdoors dinner with views of about 12 other caravan butts. This is living!

On our ride in and out of the city centre, we noticed that we passed whole neighbourhoods which were almost like little countries all of their own. There were distinguishable differences in the culture, decor, food and people as we progressed every couple of blocks. This was the first thing I did not really expect: the huge cultural diversity in Paris’ outer ‘burbs. The inner suburbs were very much what I expected to find and the French people that we engaged with unfortunately inclined towards living up to their snobby status, not that we minded at all, we were in Paris!

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Looking out across the Seine.

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Padlocks of love.

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Street Performers

We meandered through the streets, picked through second hand clothes and food markets, marvelled at street performers, discovered trendy shops and drooled over delicious smelling restaurants all on day one.

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Pretty stoked with my Eiffel Tower views.

The second day we purchased one of the hop on hop off bus tours to allow ourselves to get more acquainted with the history and architecture of the city, helping us efficiently tick off all of the main attractions before lunchtime.

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Then we walked back to the Eiffel tower with locally made wine and cheese in hand to enjoy the view of the sunset before bicycling home to find Sassy amongst the motorhome maze once again.

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Joining the crowds for a sunny afternoon of wine and cheese on the iconic Eiffel Tower lawn.

Day three was spent back in the city, suburb hopping on the trains as we tried to secure cheaper tickets for one of the cabaret shows from the kiosk vendors unfortunately, we just missed out. We rescued Sassy from her maze of campervan terror that night and free camped outside one of the expensive campgrounds instead. It was quite fancy inside and we creeped in late at night for a cheeky shower, (after extensive baby wipe showers for three days) before heading off the next morning in search of the coastline and waves.

-rocketandramble

@rocketandramble

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Hustlin’ and Bustlin’ in Belgium

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Less than 20 minutes north from where we stayed the night in Calais, we had arrived in beguiling Belgium. There was a noticeable change in the scenery and streets as we crossed over the imaginary border and pulled in to refuel. Spectacular views of rolling hills with little white dots that turned into grazing sheep distracted us from the continues kilometres we clocked. Our excitement climbed towards its crescendo at having finally reached the mystical, far away land of Europe and we were feeling outrageously optimistic about the rest of our itinerary (especially after the first fuel injector hiccup in Dover) as we sped towards Brugge. Cantankerous clouds gathered overhead, growing darker and eventually the drizzle commenced as we crossed over canals announcing our arrival in Brugge.

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Cheese and Beer

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So wet.

Brugge is truly a romantic city with that fairytale feel from my childhood princess dreams. The streets are cobblestoned and the buildings emulate a gothic tinge with skyscraper spires. Buildings stand stoic like castles as flags fly high and as we wandered through them, I thought about all the history that was contained within their walls knowing Belgium’s reputation as the ‘Battlefield of Europe’. The market square was quite busy considering the woeful weather (mostly scattered showers but with occasional torrential downpours) and Rhys and I ambled around in our raincoats enjoying the unfamiliar sights and wafting, delectable smells. The medieval shop facades had every outsider looking up admiring and awed as I snapped a few pictures before my camera started getting too wet. As the rain became more constant, we naturally ended up taking cover in the nearest bar which happened to be below a beer museum. Luckily, it overlooked the main courtyard and we spent the next hour beer tasting, eating cheese and watching people go about their day through the the huge, rain streaked windows. We decided not to stay the night (mainly due to the weather and a lack of spacious free parks), so we jumped back in Sassy typing Brussels into the GPS thinking we would easily make it there before sundown. Belgium is a fairly small place right?

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We were speeding along the highway surrounded by farmland when it happened. Sassy rapidly lost power and the smell of smoke and burning diesel filled the car as we pulled her off to the side of the road. We jumped out and popped the bonnet as trucks raced past the skinny median strip shaking us violently only to discover the exact same fuel injector hose had snapped! After some initial swearing and anger, we kicked our brains into gear, locked Sassy up and began walking to the closest farm to try and get help. We didn’t have a working SIM card for Belgium (one of the few countries that the Three London SIM doesn’t work) and we didn’t really know what else to do. As we walked, we tried to figure out where we were exactly so we could find our way back and we comforted ourselves by discussing some scenarios we might like to act out with Sassy right at the moment. Some of these included pushing her into a dirty lake, a molotov cocktail into the windscreen or rolling her off a tall cliff. Not long after we started walking, the driver of a fancy looking black Mercedes took pity on us offering a lift into town. Our saviour was a real estate agent on his way home who happened to speak very good English. He offered life advice from his experiences and encouraged us to continue on our trip regardless of the car outcome. We were dropped off at a service station so we could use the phone to call a tow truck, but the lady behind the counter didn’t seem to have a number and our request got a little lost in translation. Instead, she drew us a mud map to find the Ford dealer in town and our unexpected exploration of Aalter began. We walked for a few kilometres and dropped in on various shop owners to confirm we were going the right way, eventually finding the Ford workshop.

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Our home in the mechanic’s yard.

Once there, everybody was extremely helpful and a tow truck was organised but wouldn’t be available for four hours. To fill in time, we conversed with the staff, drank lots of their free coffee from their first class machine, used the very fast wifi and flicked through all the new car leaflets with a little envy. Eventually, the tow truck arrived and we jumped in the back to show them to Sassy’s resting place. After our second tow truck joyride in as many weeks, Sassy was parked alongside the showroom competing against the shiny new models for our attention. The right part was easily ordered as we still had the original broken piece and the box from the previous repair. We were told to get comfy as it could be up to four days before the new piece arrived. The next three nights were spent in the Ford carpark but we occupied ourselves by getting to know the small, sleepy town of Aalter quite well via our bicycles. We picnicked, participated in a small fete and made friends with some local ducks. Once the part arrived, it took all of 30 minutes to install it and Sassy was back up and roaring with life once again. We knew we would have to take it a little easier on the old girl this time around. Ths staff came out to wave us off and we thanked them for their help and for letting us crash their showroom and use their facilities before we pulled out onto the highway and headed for Brussels feeling full of hope once again.

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Brussels is a bustling metropolitan area and we were headed towards an aire that backed onto a hostel in the middle of the city. After spending four days without a shower (amen to baby wipes) in a mechanic’s carpark, I was desperate for hot water and a freshen up.  Later on, we jumped on our bikes and headed out to discover what Brussels had to offer us. We spent the whole day traveling between restaurants, bakeries and cafes with stops to major attractions and historic buildings. We had lost a little time and were trying to make up for it. Our weariness showed when we bought the biggest meringue we could find only to accidentally leave it at a restaurant after too many wines before getting a chance to taste even on bite. Doh! We didn’t arrive home until midnight and I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow feeling extremely content. The next day, we decided we had better keep moving to make up for lost time, thinking we might even still make Oktoberfest in Germany. Our only stop was to pick up some cherry beer on our way out of the city. With luck (hopefully) on our side and in good spirits we left Brussels behind and continued north to the Netherlands. I had managed a taste of what Belgium had to offer and knew I would return sometime in the future. 

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Chocolate, waffles and meringues galore.

-rocketandramble

@rocketandramble