Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Summer holidays

We headed to France for our camping this year to avoid the floods and pestilence which have followed us to Cornwall for the past few years. Our aim was to have a significantly warmer, drier and less stressful time and to that end to choose a campsite whose location reduced the amount of schlepping about in cars to go to shops/beaches/attractions etc.

I can proudly announce that such a place exists and to prove it, we did not have to fill the car up with petrol for 2 weeks! For those who want to have an equally relaxing time may I point you to http://www.camping-indigo.com/vendee_campsite_indigo_noirmoutier.html our pitch was just after the big tree on the left - about as close to the beach as you could want to be. It did however make for a sleepless first night, as I worried about the kids sleepwalking onto the beach! I had given the boys strict instructions not to leave the tent (they were in a pup tent next to us) until we were up. I heard noises from their tent at 7.30 or so and went to tell them they could get up. I unzipped their door and Raff's first words were "morning mummy, where's Stan?". Mild panic, obviously, before I found him wandering around the back of our tent trying to find the way in!

The kids soon settled into the rythmn of late-ish rising, toddling down to the bread van for "une baguette et une traditionelle" (a wonderful sourdough baguette which became my favourite at lunch) and sometimes "cinq Croissants". They always left together, but Stan would run the whole way back and beat the other two by a long way!

After breakfast we would head all 50 yards to the beach. We soon became aware that in the mornings the locals didn't relax on the beach at all, rather they would head across the sand as the tide receded to gather their lunch. We could see the oyster and mussel beds which were exposed at low tide, but closer to shore people hunched over the beach, rakes in hand.

Our curiosity led us to go and see what they were up to, and so began our latest passion - cockling. To be precise it's 'clamming' because what they were merrily harvesting by the kilo were Palourdes a kind of clam. It's totally addictive! The kids joined in and soon we had enough for supper - free supper, the best kind!

Lunch was pretty much always bread, cheese, salami, ham pate, salad vert, tomatoes.......etc wonderful long meals with the kids eating all sorts and Raff discovering that he likes hard Chevre cheeses, like Brebis - but only if we called it 'Zebra cheese' - he misheard us say Chevre in our best french accents!

It was a little inclement at the beginning of the first week, but soon the decision to head to France paid off as the sun shone, the wine flowed and Georgia even made friends with some French children. A huge bonus was camping on the beach. We rarely went further afield, except for provisions from the pretty town of Noirmoutier with it's thrice weekly market. In fact we didn't fill the car up once in two weeks - and had we had bikes it would have been even better since the island is almost completely flat.....next time.

One day we had a mini excursion to he next bay along which we reached on a free bus that ran around the north of the island - we could have walked sans enfants, but they loved the bus and it saved on the whining! The beach had similar geography, but a whole different social strata. The bay, backed by pine forests full of gorgeous, huge houses was full of beautiful yachts and the was peopled by the beautiful and stylish. There was a wonderful wooden pier/jetty stretching out form the forest which Stan insisted on running along at breakneck speed - totally terrifying as it wasn't exactly Health and Safety Exec approved!

One truly sad site, a result of the previous nights' incredible wind, which had Michael up checking guy ropes at midnight - was a wrecked yacht, 40ft, thrown up onto the rocks just below an lighthouse ironically. Everyone in the bay was making the trip to see it and it felt almost cruel to take a picture.

After a frolic beneath the pier we headed up to a wonderful huge white building above the beach which housed a great, relaxed restaurant - like Pont de la Tour only far more laid back. The kids menu offered moules frites which the kids tucked into with gusto and we had a wonderful prix fixe.

Other particular highlights of the holiday which I have to get down before they are forgotten

Moustachio nuts - Stan's new word. The boys had a little boys only drinks session one evening, sitting on the rocks, drinking beer (or similar) and eating their way through a huge amount of "moustachio nuts"

Candelabra - home made. Michael cannot sit still on holiday and likes to make things, so one evening he mad a candelabra out of foil ramekins, long candles and our clothes small whirlygig clothes drier

Backgammon - Himslef spent nearly the whole two weeks collecting pebble of a certain size, colour and shape before letting on what they were for. Then he attacked a large cardboard carton for beer wit his Leatherman and some very precises measuring. And lo, a fold up, poratble backgammon set. We did try to have a whisky fuelled backgammon rows - as per Kenya - but were saved by the fact that he kept beating me and I'm not such a bad loser (or something!)

Broom - he also made a broom, like a shamba broom out of branches from our neighbouring tree - camping by the beach has one setback - very sandy tent - but it beats mud!

Harry Potter - we foolishly left England he day before the final Harry Potter was published!! Georgia noted that our camp neighbours were reading it - in English and would hover wistfully next to the lady as she read it. After the first week, said lady asked me if I thought Georgia might like to borrow it (!!) and did I think she would finish it before we left - 6 days later? I said yes and yes and then we lost Georgia to it for the 2 days it took her to read it!

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