EEC 2, 28 February 2005

Well finally I'm travelling again. It's really great to be once more dawdling around, stopping to look at anything that interests me.

However, back to were I left off last time. I was going to Toulouse with Eleanor if I could get the car back. Well the garage dashed around,
finished the car, and gave me it back. Then Eleanor rang. She'd changed her mind about going to Toulouse. Duh!

Saturday we went to a village dinner. Chris fell over and banged his head on the way back, Sunday was flyable but we didn't feel like bothering. No question about whether we had had too much to drink the night before, no, not at all.

Monday I went out and bought units for the van. I'd found some chests of drawers, with 4 drawers, for 25 Euros. About $30. So I bought 5, plus a couple of others, a bigger chest of drawers, and a cupboard. I still did not have the van so I filled in some time running a high cable to connect electricity from Marie's house to her barn. Friday the garage said yes, we've finished with the van, but we were keeping it for it's technical check next Tuesday. I grabbed it back and fitted units on Saturday. I'd also finally managed to get information about my balloon, I could get it on Monday.

The shipping agent quoted me a price of 380 Euros (excluding tax and some other unexplained items) to cover customs clearance, port transfers etc. There are no customs duties involved. I thought this quote rather expensive, Jerome advised me that today in France all prices are negotiable, so I grumbled and got sympathetic noises in return but no promises.

Now I'd arranged with Jerome the he would find someone to go to Le Havre to collect it, but it had taken so long for the balloon to be unloaded etc that by now he'd gone off for an exotic 10 day holiday, so Sunday I headed off for Le Havre myself. On the way I called in at my bubbly producer's, and restocked, 24 bottles. This is the champagne that I'd sent to the US 2 years ago in the bottom of my basket, 48 bottles. Declared, of course.

I stopped for the night just before Le Havre so that I could be there first thing in the morning. And was it cold! Wow! I kept most of my clothes on and survived the night. Then Monday the shipping agent sent me to the customs office, I met the standard French frumpy functionaire who must have liked me because she stamped my form. And I got my balloon. Since I had presented the papers to customs myself my bill was reduced to a much more manageable 202 Euros. The difference was more than enough to cover my outlay on the champagne!

Next, the good part of this trip, I went to Paris and met Eleanor for the evening. So 3 bottles of the new stock went entertaining Eleanor and her friends. I stayed in Paris the night, and rushed back to Poitiers for the technical check on the van. It failed on 2 points, lights, which pointed the wrong way, it's an English van, and we drive on the other side of the road over there, so that failure did not surprise me, and the brakes. Now all the bits for the brakes were new, it should not have failed. The garage panicked and immediately readjusted the brakes but too late, the tester had departed until next Tuesday.

I spent the week doing things like working on the van, and, realising I had bought too many units, I took the extra ones back, checked around for more conversion ideas, bought a 12v fluorescent light for the van, also several storage boxes, spent a day continuing my work in Marie's barn, now putting a light there with a real light switch. Of course there were minor diversions such as the garage wanting the van Friday lunch time to be ready for the test Tuesday, I've no idea why, I also took a pleasant little aeroplane flight with Barbara one day - as well as balloons she and Chris fly planes and gliders.

Finally the van brakes checked out on the technical control, the tester wanted to find more information about the lights so I was at Barbara's another day - I had planned to leave after the Tuesday test. I filled in the afternoon putting another light in Marie's barn. She has 5 donkeys and a few sheep in there, and the donkeys include a baby a week or so old which is one reason I have been rushing around with the electric lights. The car tester could not help further with the lights next day but I was finally able to continue on my way. The car I left at Barbara's, although they currently have 5 cars, for an assortment of reasons they chanced not to have one at their home that day, my car will eventually be parked at Marie's. I owe a very big thank you to Barbara and Chris, I stayed at their house almost a month while my vehicles were being fixed by the garage.

I'll bet by now you're wishing you'd replied saying you did not want to receive any more of this stuff! Actually about a dozen people replied saying they wanted more. The one person who replied without any comment, which is what I said to do if you wanted to be taken off the list, I think made a mistake but I still took him off the list. Ruthless, that's me. Actually I did write and ask was he sure but I haven't heard back yet...............

So here's the first photo. Actually it's St Gaultier, near Argenton, on the river Creuse.

Here are some houses at Argenton.

And here is Argenton itself.

I parked up for the night in a little parking spot off the road. My arrangement of the van seemed to work, I was able to cook a trout for dinner and, later, get into bed. It was coldish, but with the extra blanket I had collected from my things in the barn it was OK. I did notice ice inside the van, on some non insulated areas, and realised why.

It had been snowing during the night. Of course, I was now climbing up into the Massif Central, which for those who don't know, is a biggish bump covering most of the lower middle region of France. As I continued on, it continued to snow.

There were signs that it had been snowing for some time. I decided not to take advantage of this picnic area.

I stopped for the night in Clermont Ferrand on a public car park. With the snow, in country car parks, or small side roads, I cannot tell if the undersurface is solid, or just mud. In either case, if it snows more, I could well get stuck out in the country, so, it's public car parks for the time being.

The next morning I took coffee next to a lake.

Later, I passed a fairy tale castle

and a covered bridge

and snow covered trees.

Now I arrived at Daniel Bron's house south of Lyon. Daniel has a UK registered balloon and needs C of A inspection and kindly invited me to stay while I am fixing up my van. Of course, I was so long at Barbara's most of the van fixing up has been done. I still have to decide what I am going to do about a sink, and a hotplate, and whether I need either, or both. I already have of course hand basin, and portable cooking stoves, I just need to decide if I need something more fixed. In view of the weather I think I can safely leave the decision about a refrigerator until later!

I arrived with a streaming cold but was just able to appreciate a tour around with Daniel the next day. It was mostly cold, we went to visit a memorial to the Maquis, the French resistance in the second world war, in the Vercours, near Grenoble. Here several thousand Maquis were wiped out towards the end of the war together with the total populations of several local villages, women and children included. A total of about 20,000 German troops were involved in the operation, many of whom flew into the high plateau pictured below, in towed gliders, 30 troops to a glider.

The pinning down of so many German troops in this attack, at the time of the D-Day landings in Normandy and the south of France, probably helped with the success of these landings so maybe there was some positive result from the massacres.

After lunch we intended to visit a cave but it was closed for the day - ice was continually falling off the cliff above the entrance and, putting it mildly, a chunk of this ice landing on you might have given a severe headache............

We did however visit a church, the entrance to the courtyard is below, with Daniel striding rapidly towards it, it was much colder than it looks.

I spent much of the next day in bed but am happy to advise that now, a day later, I am almost fully recovered and have managed to fit the light and a table into the van, not to mention sticking insulation on the cold spots.

We've already checked out the hardware on Daniel's balloon, it's fine, really good condition, we do the envelope tomorrow. Daniel seems fairly calm about it, but I'm worried. It's an oldish balloon with a lot of hours, I am concerned that it will fail the strength test on the fabric.

Best regards

David Barker

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