We survived the first week

We survived our first week hoorah. It’s been great with some hiccups and some key learnings – here’s a roundup.

Our Top 3

1. We’re feeling more settled in the van
To be honest we weren’t sure if everything would fit. It is a tight squeeze at the moment. It will be interesting to go through stuff in 3 months to make a “lived” assessment of what’s needed and what isn’t. One thing we have bought this week is a can opener. The requirement for a can opener was brought to our attention when we were getting ready to have a tin of cassoulet for dinner. 

We spent the first couple of days trying to put things in logical places. And we know where things are. We’ve managed to make and enjoy some nice meals in the van, and we’re now able to travel without fearing something awful will happen to the bikes – thanks James.

2. Our first aire camping experience went well
We’re finding that France is extremely friendly to campervans. And our first experiences of stopping at aire de camping sites have been good ones. If you’re not familiar with aire de campings (we weren’t), they’re designated parking spots for campervans and motorhomes. They may or may not have services available such as loos, water, grey water disposal, electricity. 

The advantages of staying at an aire are:

  • Location – many towns that have something of interest to see or do will have them. We stayed in Vers and Bouzies this week. Vers had lots of MTB trails around, and Bouzies was at the start of some stunning hikes to Saint-Cirq-Lapopie. Both were along the Lot river, in stunning locations.
  • Price – because the amenities are limited, aires are usually quite cheap to stay at. Vers was free as no one came to collect, and Bouzies cost us EUR 6 a day.
  • Security/piece of mind – Parking a campervan loaded with 3 bikes is a tricky task at the best of times. We’ve found that aires provide plenty of space for motorhome sized vehicles, and because they’re designated for this purpose, the risk of damage/loss feels less likely.

The key disadvantage of staying at an aire is limited amenties. Because we’re in a campervan sans loo, the lack of loos was a particular concern for us. We’ve got means of doing Number 1 (think bottle), but no banana on Number 2s. Luckily both aires we stayed at had loos. They were basic, but they were loos. In a pinch we’d have to find municipal loos or loos at restaurants.

We’ve also got limited supplies of water, power, and gas, so running out of any one of these doesn’t sound fun either, but perhaps not as bad as not having a loo nearby when you need it!

3. We’re starting to relax and enjoy the experience
The first couple of days were exhausting. In the week leading up to our adventure, James had his last day at work, we packed up the flat, we drove to Somerset to pack up the van, then we drove back to London for some final sorting. So we were tired to begin with. 

In the first 3 days of the week we racked up over 1100 km of driving. We had to book some campsites for the visa application process so we booked 2 sites on the assumption we would head south fairly quickly. We stayed 2 nights at Sully-sur-Loire, then headed to Montpezat-de-Quercy.

On day 4 James finally got to take one of his bikes out for a spin in the hills surrounding Montpezat-de-Quercy.

On day 5 we finally got to do our first hike, a gentle circular route from the town of Lalbenque, a major truffle town of the region. 

On days 6 and 7 we enjoyed cycling and hiking along the Lot river.

Our Bottom 3

1. We broke something in the van 😦
We left some stuff on the small ledge by the bed hinge, and when we lowered the bed, the hinge broke. It’s a sad but workable injury. We have an appointment booked on the 24th at a VW garage.

2. Bad loos
The campsite at Montpezat had an uber stinky loo, made bearable only after a spritz or 2 of the Jo Malone deodoriser Aileen brought for this exact scenario. We had booked 7 nights. We stayed 2. Also, why have none of the service station loos we’ve been to, have toilet seats? How does one use a toilet without a seat?

3. Everything takes time in the campervan
You CANNOT rush things. And teamwork is crucial. We expected this would be the case, but we’re having to get used to it. As 2 people who are slightly obsessed with process efficiency, taking an hour to prep for and fry an egg can be a frustrating experience. The upside is we’ll have to learn to relax, and it will likely get easier.

In summary
After getting over the exhausting start, we are starting to settle in and enjoy the freedom to go where our whim takes us, and discover places we might not otherwise experience without the campervan. The Lot river valley was pretty breaktaking. The fall colours in the forested hills of Causses de Quercy have been a pleasure to drive or cycle through. The small quiet towns of Tarn-et-Garonne have been a pleasure to explore. 

What’s next for us?
We have a vet appointment this week to kick off the process of getting a pet passport for Zeus, so we’re saying local. We have yet to visit a vineyard and Aileen is discovering that the region has a number of AOPs, so vineyard locations have been noted on our map 🙂 . There’s hiking and MTB around river Averyon and Garonne to explore. We have yet to visit the bigger towns of Cahors (also a famous wine town), and Montauban. James is also desperate to go to a climbing wall.

After Zeus’ vet appointment we’d like to start heading east to explore the Grande Causses.

2 responses to “We survived the first week”

  1. Re the pink object, presumably it’s for ladies to pee in bottles 🙂


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