Sunday 14th September 2014
The tunnel crossing went smoothly and we were soon in Calais; our rendezvous point with Steve and Ann worked out well – the first motorhome parking area at Cité Europe after doing a u-turn to be on the correct side of the road for Cité Europe parking. Easy Peasy, Lemon Squeezy and after waiting for a short time Steve & Ann duly appeared.
Game on; we’ve had quite a few good times holidaying with Steve & Ann over the last thirty years – mostly on motorcycles in Scotland, Austria, Belgium, Holland and the Isle of Man also well as a few bike rallies in England but we’ve only done a couple of motorhome weekends with them back when we had a Hymer.
Steve has had large motorhomes for many years now, travelling all over Europe, so as well as looking forward to mooching around northern France with our good friends we were looking forward to learning more from them about these big-beast motorhomes.
They have a good knowledge of the areas that we planned to visit and knew just about all of the aires that are available in the area.
Steve & Ann had planned that we first visit the point on a headland where Hitler had looked across towards England thinking to himself ‘das eingleesh schwines is corshing me problemos’, or words to that effect (and most likely in German).
Just as Hitler was thwarted from achieving full implementation of his right wing views, we were also thwarted from visiting where the misguided ‘little so and so’ had stood (Spooky, but as I type this in Albufeira, a v.loud siren has just sounded across the town – I’ll be back shortly after I’ve inspected Twernt’s chassis from the underside between the axles pending an all-clear siren – can’t be too careful) ……
…….. Back now ….. what was that about? – maybe the little Sparks-inspired moustachioed bugger’s ghost is wintering in Portugal now and still causing trouble – no change there then…….. back to topic…….oh yes, we were thwarted by a newly installed height barrier that now exists at the entrance to the parking (Steve says it wasn’t there 8 years ago) and MoHo’s are now a no-no.
We decided to travel on to our first aire stop at Le Touquet; the roads in and around Le Touquet had a lot of ‘speed bumps’ – one of which caught me by surprise but Twernt appeared to have handled it OK.
The first aire that came into view was at an equestrian centre but just a little further down the road is the Paris Plage aire overlooking La Canche estuary – a water sports paradise for many.
We had parked ‘kerbside’ in the aire and during the afternoon an opportunity arose to relocate to one of the designated motohome ‘bays’.
Steve re-parked his Busrtner but Twernt decided that the view was better from the kerbside (it was) and refused to start, Twernt offered just a ‘click’ in response to many starting attempts.
Steve, a professional truck mechanic, checked it out and determined that the starter solenoid was good and we therefore suspected the starter motor.
Time for our Saga European Breakdown cover to be called into action – we discovered that Saga port their breakdown service over to the AA and they told me that their local guy would be with us within the hour.
Ann, our fluent French speaker, was out walking with Amanda so Steve and I supped consolatory beers whilst waiting for our French-friend to deliver the French equivalent of a sharp intake of breathe whilst sucking on his teeth French-style before telling me how expensive this breakdown was going to be.
We also discovered that Twernt’s ‘speed-bump’ encounter had trashed the 7n male electric plug on the Witter Cycle Mount.
Parts were missing but I bodged it back together using duct tape and it’s still good today as I report from Albufeira – some 1500 miles down the line.
Our AA help arrived in the form of a chap who spoke only French so Steve went on to draw some diagrams for our French-friend.
French breath was drawn in, French teeth were sucked and the remnants of escargot were splattered around the immediate area before our French-friend pointed to Twernt indicating by way of gesticulations ‘Try and start the engine for me’.
So I did, and it did, start that is, WTF, it started first time no problem at all.
Turned it off, retried it, again no problem, Twernt sprang to life.
We dismissed our French friend who had been no help whatsoever and wouldn’t be of much use to us as we progressed to analysing WTF had happened.
Steve then sussed that Twernt was demonstrating yet another example of how ECU’s react to faults that defy ‘traditional’ analysis. The ECU must have closed down our original start attempts due to the ECU deciding that the vehicle battery status was below the required minimum voltage level programmed into this particular Fiat ECU.
The solar panels had then ‘juiced up’ the vehicle battery during the time that we were waiting for the arrival of our French-friend.
*** The regulator for Twernt’s solar panels has an option to split the solar charge to a user-defined % between the leisure and vehicle batteries – I had set them at 85%/15% in favour of the hab batteries.
So, 15% of whatever solar-juice was being input on this very hot day was all that the vehicle battery had needed to convince the ECU that it was now ready for duty.
I had known that the vehicle battery was weak and I guessed that it hadn’t been replaced in what is now a 5 year old vehicle. We were soon going to need a new battery.
Problem solved……..or was it?
Ann and Amanda returned from their walk and later the four of us took an evening stroll around the adjacent harbour area and then onto the vast expanse of beach at the mouth of the estuary.
When we retired for the night to Twernt our tech problems began to emerge, our ‘3’ broadband contract that included the ‘3’ ‘Feel At Home’ service – no roaming charges in France – had just one problem.
It didn’t ‘feel at home’ – in fact there was ‘No service’.
We have 2 mifi’s with 2 x ‘3’ broadband sims and neither one worked.
With a mobile phone you can display a screen page and set the device to ‘allow roaming’ – mifi’s don’t have that facility and you have to access a ‘management screen’ using a URL address via another device (phone, tablet, laptop, desktop, etc.) – you do need to know the URL for each mifi device – much as you do when using a router – and, having bought our mifi’s from eBay, I didn’t know that URL address; they’re often quite similar but I couldn’t remember the numbers and I hadn’t written them down.
– Here at Albufeira, it’s 192.168.88.1 to access the login page on their router –
No problem, just get online and search for Huawei and Netgear Aircard – except I couldn’t do that because we didn’t have any internet access.
No problem, just call someone I know (Hi William!) who will either know those numbers or will be able to do a Google search for me – except I couldn’t do that because our ‘phone’ is internet based (Skype).
I needed to get online.
For this evening Solitaire on the tablet was our chosen ‘entertainment’ (often is!).
Apart from that those minor glitches on our first day the weather was superb and we were off to a good start notwithstanding the above and the fact that MoHo’s don’t have much space between them on this popular aire. We later discovered that this is true of most aires in popular locations – a far cry from the space we had enjoyed when on CC sites in the UK.
But the approaching morning had other plans for us and our woes had only just begun.
Monday 15th September 2014
Morning came the sunrise and the plan was to head out to an aire in Dieppe.
Twernt started fine as we drove over to the waste dump area but it was then a repeat performance as Twernt’s ECU decided that the vehicle battery was again below the required standard – a drive of just a few yards with the fridge reverting to the vehicle battery for it’s power source had caused a vehicle battery voltage drop that was enough to cause a ‘no start’.
*** We later tested the voltage drop when the fridge was powered from the vehicle battery and found that it was pulling between 0.4v and 0.6v – enough to zap the vehicle battery below the minimum acceptable to the ECU.
It would be an irresponsible action to stay parked over the aire’s waste dump area whilst the solar did a job on the battery – we would be causing mayhem for the other motorhomes waiting to use the waste dump facility.
Fortunately, we were rescued by a MotoX rider staying on the Paris Plage aire in his RS motorhome and he very kindly stepped in with a ‘loose’ spare battery.
Twernt’s battery compartment was uncovered (passenger foot well), jump leads were fitted and we soon had Twernt running.
Both Steve and the MotoX guy said that a lot of motor homer’s don’t allow their fridge to run from the vehicle battery; they leave the gas turned on and run the fridge from that whilst on the move – clearly we now needed to do that until we’d sourced a new battery.
Not being one for tying bits of string together to make up shoe laces when it’s shoe laces that are really needed, I quickly decided that enough is enough – we needed a new battery …. and soon.
Steve headed out for the Dieppe aire whilst we drove around Dieppe looking for a Fiat commercial dealership.
We eventually found the right place only to be told that 5 other Fiat motorhomes had already been in that morning for new batteries – 1 motorhome was in the service bay having a new battery fitted and another 2 motorhomes were lined up behind – and the dealership didn’t have any more Ducato batteries in stock.
Murphy’s law states that anything that can go wrong WILL go wrong – too true Murf.
Luckily – for us – the parts guy made a call to their neighbouring business, a non-franchise commercial parts dealer, and he informed me that his neighbour had a Ducato battery in stock. Eureka!
Then he told me that the only problem was that his neighbour does supply-only and not fitting.
I told him that wasn’t a problem as I wasn’t going to pay to have him fit it anyway.
We drove into the neighbours very large yard and purchased the battery.
Job done, good times are coming, but they’re sure coming slow…..now for the aire and the tech.
Super-Trouper-sometimes-SatNaff again demonstrated pinpoint accuracy and delivered us to the Dieppe aire.
Other matters were on my mind now, The Rams had played Forest on the previous day and I still didn’t know how many goals we’d beaten them by. Not a happy chappy and it was the first time in a long time that I hadn’t been able to follow a Rams match live, one way or another.
The next day I discovered that it was a one-all draw but I never did get to discover how Forest had been that lucky – we must have had 5 or 6 players sent off.
That evening the four of us and the hounds explored Dieppe and random pictures were taken of…..
Tuesday 16th September 2014
With battery success but tech misery we opted to stay back in Dieppe to visit the town and try to resolve our tech issue by way of either purchasing a French network sim or by way of getting wifi access so that we could Google and get the mifi ‘management page’ URL number or, alternatively, make a Skype call to get that number for at least one of our mifi’s.
Getting the URL number was first choice as we had monthly contracts on the mifi’s with ‘3’.
Steve and Ann moved on to the next aire at Saint-Valerie-en-Caux and we walked into town.
We visited a hotel where, for the price of a couple of beers, we had access to their wifi.
We weren’t able to get the hotel wifi working so we crossed the street and, standing in an open area, we again tried to access the hotel wifi …… success!
One Skype call later and we had the elusive URL number needed to access the ‘management page’ on the Netgear Aircard.
Still stood in that large pedestrianised area we made the connection and linked our Nexus tablet to the Aircard ‘management page’.
We then ignored the Netgear Aircard warning message that by setting the device to allow roaming we could incur roaming charges (we were trusting in ‘3’ that their ‘Feel At Home’ service had been applied to our contract with them).
After a short wait for our mifi to connect with our tablet…………Voilà! – we had our own personal mifi internet access.
We returned to Twernt and sat-naffed our way to the Saint-Valerie-en-Caux aire-naff where Steve and Ann were now in residence.
It was only aire-naff because, by the time we got there, all of the MoHo spaces were occupied and we couldn’t stay there.
We arranged to meet up with Steve and Ann the next day at Honfleur and we then departed Saint-Valerie-en-Caux to find another aire stop for the night.
Whilst en-route to a Snooper database supplied aire we drove past a small countryside aerodrome that had a large car park.
A couple were just approaching the only car in the car park so I swung Twernt around, parked up, ‘spider-like’ crawled out of the cab and scurried over with just one question in mind.
The couple spoke excellent English and they told me that the this was a private flying club aerodrome and that they had just returned from a flight in their ‘plane.
The lady offered to put my question to the man in charge and then marched me over (can spiders march?) to the control room where one somewhat large-ish chap was sat at a desk talking to a couple of other chaps.
Those 5 people, plus us, were the only people in the entire aerodrome and there weren’t any houses within a mile or more of the aerodrome.
The lady that had guided me to the control room relayed our request to park up for the night to Monsieur Gros Contrôleur who was still busying himself tidying items on his desk-top (a real, not virtual, desk-top).
He rapidly spat many French words into the air (no doubt along with part-assembled molecules of a former ‘escargot’) and, for all I know, those words are still bouncing around somewhere on this planet – the part-assembled molecules of a former ‘escargot’ will by now, of course, be forevermore joined with the molecules that made up the tiled surface of his control room floor.
The only part that I understood was the ‘Oui’ precursor to his lengthy reply and the ‘one fat finger’ that he was now using to emphasise whatever alien words accompanied his physical action.
I was guessing that it was going to be OK for us to stay, but only for one night.
And, sure enough, that was exactly what my lady guide interpreted back to me.
With a ‘Merci’ and a bow, I left the control room and surveyed our surroundings – I was very happy to be in this remote spot for our first ‘off-grid’, ‘remote-ish’ overnight stop.
The road running next to the aerodrome had less than half a dozen vehicles on it throughout our stay!
We watched as our lady-guide and her husband left the aerodrome and then again as the other 2 chaps, that were with Monsieur Gros Contrôleur, took off in a light aircraft.
They landed and took-off some 5 or 6 times in the next hour or so, presumably practicing one or both disciplines.
We watched as they finally drove away in their car and Monsieur Gros Contrôleur also ‘left the building’ very soon after.
We were alone in a very large space surrounded by fields and woodland. Perfection.
Doggy ‘din-dins’ and human ‘din-dins’ followed and we enjoyed a blissfully peaceful environment for the rest of the night.
Wednesday 17th September 2014
We left the aerodrome around 0930 hours and high-tailed it over to the Honfleur aire.
We were looking forward to having both Honfleur aire EHU plus our own on-board mifi for the first time since arriving in France.
Within 5 minutes of us arriving at the Honfleur aire Steve and Ann arrived and were able to grab the adjacent MoHo space to where Twernt was parked.
Ann and Amanda took off to explore the town, later reporting that it was ‘absolutely gorgeous’ with cobbled streets, medieval buildings and more.
Whatever turns you on dear, this ‘bloggerlugs’ prefers unmolested mountain and coastal areas as well as similarly defined countryside vista’s.
‘Old’ doesn’t really do it for me – if I must be in built up areas, I like clean, crisp, well looked after, fresh looking places that reflect man’s progress in these areas. Each to their own though and Amanda loves ‘old’ (‘bloggerlugs’ being the living proof of that!).
the ranch Twernt, whilst the ladies were exploring Honfleur, I busied myself trying to get the blog up to date.
The Vaio laptop had an intermittent problem and kept bombing out so I tried to update the ‘Live Map’ using the Nexus tablet.
Not a good idea – cursor placement using fingers that, in dimension, were not too far removed from the digits owned by Monsieur Gros Contrôleur, proved challenging.
A challenge that became a defeat – tablets simply aren’t capable of mimicking the pinpoint accuracy attainable with a mouse pointer when using some software features – features that I had opted to incorporate in areas of my blog.
Onwards and downwards, as the saying is becoming for me, I reverted to using the laptop and had ‘some’ success.
The laptop was still crashing at times; I cajoled it back to some form of ‘Windows-Health’ with a ‘do a bit’, reboot, ‘do a bit more’, reboot, etc., etc. approach, but I knew that a deeper problem lurked in the belly of the Windows OS and I would need to address it in the near future.
Having had a modicum of success, I quit blog-land and joined the others outside for chat and drinks.
In what was fast becoming the norm for our first MoHo foray abroad, things started to go wrong…..sat in a good location with the hounds, the wife and good friends present we were aware of the many flying critters all around us.
Very soon after I felt that I had taken on board a few minor bites on my legs and with prior severe adverse reaction to mozzie bites (if these critters were indeed mozzies), I wimped out and returned to the safety of Twernt whilst the others stayed on outside.
The result turned out to be 6 or 7 mozzies bites on me, 20 for Amanda and I don’t know how many for Steve & Ann – but it was a lot.
Too late to apply the NikWax SkitoStop or the Avon ‘Skin So Soft’; we were already bitten – a lot.
All of the signs were there for a perfect mozzie invasion – fresh water basin, heat and humidity and little or no wind; we just hadn’t heeded those signs.
So, as ‘whatsisface’ (ex England Manager) would say, ‘Do I not like mozzies’.
This sentiment escalated in importance for me a few days later… and why is it always the French mozzies that muller me?
Northern France – Part 2 coming soon……….