Grottes and other adventures

Yesterday started with a railway trip to the Grottes de Han. These are limestone caves formed over the last few million years as water dissolves the rocks and produces some fantastic sculptures from Stalagmites and Stalactites.

We were keen and caught the first tram out of town

Our guide, Etienne, was fantastic. He is an 8th generation guide in the caves. The 9th generation is also a guide. As to the 10th generation, she is only 5!

The cave system is the largest in Belgium at 17km, luckily our tour was only 2km! There is evidence that tourists were visiting the caves since the 18th century. This photo was taken in the cave discovered by Etienne’s grandfather.

We left Han with the aim of visiting Talbot House in Poperinge on our way to Ieper. We did 180 miles and 3 hours without stopping. We were determined and arrived at 3:30.

Talbot House opened in 1915 as a place where soldiers, regardless of rank, could spend a few days to relax before returning to the front. It was run as Everyman’s Club and the philosophy was that rank was left at the door and that you helped others less able.

The house felt very peaceful and the visit comes with a complimentary cuppa – hospitality was, and still is, paramount here.

The garden, described as the most important room in the house, continued the calm and peaceful theme. Neville Talbot and Tubby Clayton were truly remarkable men. Interesting fact: Tubby Clayton was chaplain to the Bedfordshire Regiment.

The evening ended with The Last Post at the Menin Gate

Belgium here we come!

Our Rattle (not sure that’s the correct term for a group of motor homes but it seems appropriate!) of motor homes looked idyllic in the morning sunshine

David had done some research and the Lalique Glass Museum was close to our route to Rochefort so we decided to give it a go. We drove through the Vosges mountains on lovely quiet, but narrow and winding roads. It was surprisingly easy.

The museum was stylish and the exhibits, as you would expect, were stunning. Rene Lalique’s creativity, and the skill that continues to go into making the pieces, are quite amazing.

Even the Salon de The, on site, was elegant.

We headed out of France, through Luxembourg, into Belgium, about 200 miles, and arrived at the campsite in Han-sur-Lesse, near Rochefort late afternoon.

It’s very basic but it does have the attraction of the tourist train running around the outside every 10 minutes. Somewhere round the back of the site are the Grottes De Han and a wildlife park full of bears! There’s also a group of very drunk Belgian lads whose flabby pasty torsos (and bottoms) have been on display! Not quite sure how the night will pan out!

Ken and Kim were determined to sample the Belgian classic dish of Frites and mayonnaise, it was a short walk into town, which made a pleasant change. Most of our sites have been fairly isolated so a choice of restaurants made us feel very cosmopolitan!

After the biggest plate of ham and chips ever, a walk rounds very small town centre was needed. Look at the English tourists confused by the sculpture with a man and bear on the inside,

Homeward bound

We left Kompass Camping just after six, it was pitch black and freezing. The good news was that we arrived in Calais before 8 and were able to get on an earlier ferry. The van was searched twice. We weren’t allowed near border control until armed French soldiers had given it a once over followed by Border Control themselves. Everyone was polite and cheerful but they did all have muddy boots. The was a sigh of relief when the Olive tree and Jacky’s Lemon weren’t confiscated.

We queued for the ferry with time to spare for last minute cleaning.

The last challenge when we hit Dover is refilling the gas bottle. We’ve mastered fresh water, grey water and the toilet cassette!

Would we do this again? Absolutely!

Westende, Belgium

Last night Kim decided we won’t be buying a motorhome because John doesn’t think heating is necessary. She also hates communal showers (you couldn’t wash a mouse in the one in the van) and that Belgium is very windy. In other words, she was a tired, stroppy madam!

However, she woke up this morning, put the heating on (!) and the world was a different place! We had a leisurely start and took the Tram to Oostende. The sun was shining and we were at the seaside, yesterday’s tiring trip long forgotten.

Yesterday Matt accused us of being wimps because we couldn’t keep up with the Porsches and Mercedes racing along the German autobahn, today we found his next car….

A running race had just finished on the seafront and were greeted by a band playing JJ Cales’ ‘Cocaine’. I know you’re unlikely to believe us, but John won a prize for singing along! As you can see from the photo, there wasn’t huge competition.

We had a windy walk along the front followed by tea and Belgian waffles in a local cafe which had the most unusual decor.

Ken and Jacky decided to head north on the tram while we headed back towards Westende via the art gallery…

For anyone who’s read our original Llafranc blog, as a special treat for Kim, John took her to the site of Ken’s pop up toilet…

We returned to Westende just in time to catch the carnival which was fantastic. There were many floats winding their slow way through town, the aim of which seemed to be to have the loudest sound system, throw the most sweets out and make the most mess. The photo really can’t bring this to life but we arrived back at the campsite covered in confetti

Our final afternoon was spent chilling at the van and packing ahead of our early start back to Blighty early tomorrow.

Finally, happy Mother’s Day to Dot and Diane x

Ediger to Westende, Belgium

We survived the night in the high roof bed but won’t be doing that again! It’s far more comfortable than the fixed rear bed but the rest of the van was completely unusable once it was lowered.

We woke to the sound of something with a very large engine going past on the river but were too cold to get up and see what it was. There’s frost on the ground so the heating went on for a while. We’re not being weedy – we like to think we’re giving the van’s heating system a good test on behalf of the owners JustGo!

It was a beautiful morning and the Mosel obliged with the sight of an incredibly long, coal carrying, freight barge cruising past just as we were getting ready to leave.

A brief stop in the town to pick up last nights purchases from the vineyard…..Did we really buy that much wine?

It took over 8 hours to do the 260 mile journey to Middlekerke and Westende which was far longer than anticipated. Luckily Ken and Jacky arrived at the campsite just as reception was closing and booked us all in before it closed. We were lost in Westende! Colin’s satnav has been brilliant but, today, it just couldn’t cope.  First, we ignored an instruction because ‘Ken probably knows where the supermarket is’. Next, the satnav really wasn’t convinced that the main road through Westende was impassable, even though there was a big hole in the middle of it, so we drove round in circles. Finally, a lovely Belgian man, who’d seen us go past several times as well as reversing back from dead ends,  flagged us down and gave us directions!

We parked up with a huge sigh of relief and treated ourselves to a beer on the campsite before heading out for dinner. We’re about 150m from the beach and its very windy and sandy. It was too much for us to head into town so we ended up at the nearest restaurant. The highlight was when the bill was presented in a stylish box, almost like being given a gift.

We’ve earned a leisurely start tomorrow and plan to take a tram ride