Category Archives: france

The Party

As mentioned in the last post, it’s Lolly’s Dad Ian’s 65th birthday.

Much of the day had been spent getting the place decorated for a small soirée kicking off at about 17.30.

In true English tradition, the bunting had been rolled out!

Even the barn had bunting on it.

Loads of lovely food was prepared, I was in charge of the bbq for the day which is a bit of an honour as Ian loves to BBQ and I’m not sure he entirely trusts anyone with the job!

There are no pictures of me actually manning the BBQ so here is a picture of the BBQ and what became the smokers table.

All of the guests are local to Ian and Lindi and are friends they have made whilst renovating the house, some of their friends speak English, some don’t, one of their guests grew up in this house and lives not to far away, they’ve never been abroad, never really left the village..

It was lovely to see so many people at the house, Lolly and Stella made Ian a cake and we all sang him happy birthday.

The day flew by in no time at all and one by one the guests headed home.

The evening ended with a beautiful sunset.

Ian fell asleep in the garden, I helped with the tidying up and Lindi went on a washing up mission till three in the morning!

What started off as a pretty stressful day turned into a lovely afternoon and evening, hopefully Ian enjoyed it.

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Annoying….

All good things must come to an end and in this case I am referring to my pleasant hassle free journey to my in-laws…

20 mins after leaving my stopover I noticed a strange noise coming from the van.

When you’ve owned a vehicle for long enough you know the difference between the weird sounds that go with it and ones you’ve not heard before, they usually indicate something is wrong, sure enough, there was…

I first tried to repair the puncture using some tyre weld but then realised there was a gaping hole in the wall at the rear so the next option was to change the wheel, one slight issue that I’ve never sorted out, no jack.

Luckily I had the sense to take out some breakdown cover prior to leaving, the cheapest I could get it for was 100 quid for a years UK breakdown cover that includes 6 weeks euro cover from Just Kampers, well worth it. I called the breakdown number and in no time at all the nice lady on the phone told me there would be a breakdown truck with me in about 30 minutes, while I waited for the truck I got the spare wheel out from under the van.

I’m pretty sure this is the original spare wheel, it’s never been used, it’s also been strapped to the bottom of the van for nearly 20 years so it’s a bit rusty, still serviceable however, in 30 minutes the truck arrived.

In no time at all the wheel was changed, I noticed the spare looked a bit flat and I couldn’t get the dust cap off so I asked the recovery dude to borrow some pliers, he brought some and had a go at removing the dust cap but as he did he must have dislodged the valve momentarily and some air came out, I’m pretty sure what he said in French was leave it alone and get as far as you can…

I drove for about 20k and wasn’t convinced the tyre would make the 180k journey in it’s current condition so I stopped off, bought a couple of pairs of pliers, got the dust cap off and topped up the tyre to the correct pressure, I then did another couple of stops every 20k or so to check the tyre wasn’t losing any air, all good and happy to sit at about 80mph without any vibrations through the steering wheel.

Lindi and Ian live in a place called Le Tourondel and it turns out there are 2 of them 50 mins drive apart, guess who has now visited both of them…

At about 17.30 I eventually arrived and was reunited with Lolly and Stella who I think were very pleased to see me, I was definitely pleased to see them!

Many cold beers were drunk and Lolly’s mum made a lovely roast which went down a treat, it’s very relaxing in Le Tourondel, it’s also dead quiet and it’s lovely to sit out the front and listen to all the wildlife. There are bats roosting in one of the buildings and right outside the house is a commune light, the light attracts insects and the insects attract the bats, you could watch them for hours….

The next day was a pretty laid back affair, Lindi and Ian had things to do in the garden ahead of Ians birthday, Lauren managed to lie in the sun for nearly 10 whole minutes without Stella putting sand on her, I made some lunch for everyone and took an aerial shot of the place..

The house with the nice grey roof is the main house, the building with the rusty roof is the barn, the building next to Bumblebee is the bat hotel and the building up at the top by the motor home is the little house which Ian has recently restored. The garden is being remodelled hence the lack of vegetation, next time we’re here I’ll take another shot to see how things have progressed.

Ian and I ventured down in to town to get the tyre fixed to find the tyre shop closed till the end of August. Ian called one of his friends who organised a new tyre for us to be fitted the following day in a town called Tulle. Lolly had organised a trip to some epic caves, Gouffre De Padirac.

Looking down the entrance is impressive…

Looking up is even more impressive…

I’ve always fascinated by underground spaces, be it tunnels, bunkers or caves and these ones are incredible, they are massive, it’s mad to think all of this has been carved out by water over millions of years.

There are numerous lakes in the caves which have been lit up beautifully.

Part of the tour takes you on a small boat along the underground river which is awesome although you aren’t allowed to take any pictures or video while on the boat.

You are given audio guides that tell you loads of interesting facts, the thing that blew me away is when the caves were discovered it was in the 1800’s, two blokes went down that entrance on a rope ladder with some candles, got as far as the river, went back up and got a canoe so they could go further. They can’t possibly have seen as much as we could until electricity came to the caves some time later.

To work out how high the halls were they got a kind of chines lantern with some string on it and sent it up to the roof, then measured the string, genius!

This picture above gives you an idea of how big the caves are, you can see people walking up the steps and this was halfway up one of the halls.

It does get cold down there so I’d recommend talking a jumper, it’s a great trip to do on a wet and rainy day, we spent two hours in the caves.

By the time we got out it was 21.30, we headed home, had a bite to eat and crashed.

The next day was get the tyre sorted day.

Unfortunately Simon hadn’t told me which tyre shop in Tulle he had made the appointment with so there was considerable cocking about while I tried to get hold of him to confirm. Turns out he thought he had sent me the address but the message didn’t send. Once I got to the shop it was to close to lunch time to get the tyre sorted so they told me to come back at 2PM after lunch.

In France, nothing gets in the way of lunch, for two hours everyone downs tools, shuts up shop and has lunch. There is also a rule that you must change either both front tyres or both rear tyres, Simon explained I only needed the one, the garage agreed but said they could not fit the wheel to the vehicle, I would have to do that myself, no worries.

We did some shopping at Noz and Decathlon, I chipped off to get the wheel and the Coups headed to Lidl to grab shopping.

Tomorrow is Ian’s 65th birthday so there is a little bit of a party going on in Le Tourondel, I can’t wait…

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AND SO IT BEGINS…..

Lolly and Stella flew to France a few days back and I’m driving to her Mum and Dads place in Argentat to meet them, from there we’ll spend three weeks travelling around France staying in what will be Bumblebees last adventure with us…

Saturday morning at 9am I was all packed up and ready to roll..

The journey to Folkestone was uneventful but the satnav did take me on a rather long winded route as one of the sections of the M20 was closed, the upside was a saw some beautiful countryside I’d not seen before.

When you get on the train, driving through the carriages always reminds me of the Death Star run and I always hope a tie fighter will come screaming past me, never does 😦

It’s all very efficient on the train and with in no time at all Bumblebee was secured and we were on our way..

I took a wander down the carriages to find the loo and saw this which made me laugh

Hopefully they’ll see the funny side of it too.

From Calais the plan was to head to Oreleans and find somewhere to plot up for the night using the trusty all the Aires book, I was aiming for a place called Beaugency which is about 4.5 hours drive. It chucked it down for the entire journey and when I got there the Aire was permanently closed. I looked up another about 25 mins away, got there and also was closed. The next one you had to be a member of a camping club to get in, finally I found a little spot that was actually far more up my street.

As you can see I was the only person there, there is a serviceable toilet, the road it’s next to is reasonably quiet and it’s right opposite a lake.

Everything happens for a reason!

The van is full of stuff so I had to empty the van to get the blinds and bed setup, then find somewhere to put everything, at this point I have realised it’s unlikely we’ll be able to stay at any aires as the space I used to store most of the stuff is where Stella sleeps, we definitely need a bigger van!

As I cracked open a beer a small Mercedes Vito turned up and the owners proceeded to beach their vehicle on a concrete kerb stone, much revving and wheel spinning later they gave up trying to sort it and went to bed.

I had a great nights sleep, probably the best one I’ll have of this trip! I woke up and started to pack up the van ready to roll to Argentat. My neighbours got their van unstuck, rolled out a table and chairs and made themselves some breakfast, very civilised..

I made some tea and munched a BLT I picked up yesterday.

There’s been a lot of activity here this morning, some dog walkers, a chap fishing on the lake and what appears to be a hunting party.

There was also a couple of vans with hunting dogs go past, this place does remind me a little of Lake Crystal from Friday the 13th, I hope they’re not hunting for the local murderer!

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Updates

While we were away it was really difficult to get a decent internet connection so I wasn’t able to update our trip as best as I could, i’ll be spending a bit of time this weekend putting up the rest of our exploits for those that are interested.

I’ve also written up an account of the solar panel install I completed on Bumblebee just before we left,  you can find it here.

 

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Day 3

Our 3rd day in France has turned out to be somewhat epic, I can honestly say this is the best view I’ve woken up to on a Tuesday in a long while. 

Our day started much like any other on this trip, tea with the added bonus of a nice lie in.  There was much faffing about and we didn’t get ourselves ready to do anything on the bikes till about two, we met a bloke in the car park called Sven who was from Norway but his accent was a mix of Scottish, Irish and Norwegian, he gave me his bike pass for five euros as he paid for the day but was too shattered to ride anymore, result, a ticket to the bike park costs 25 Euros and when I say bike park I mean a lift up 3200 meters to the glacier and a while mountain to play on. 

Being a glacier, there is snow at the top, we were wearing shorts and t shirts and there was at least one dude snowboarding, it was fairly cold. 


We decided to chip off sharpish and make our decent to warmer climes, before we set off I asked Lolly to get a picture of me on a mountain bike on an actual mountain.  


The way the tracks are marked out is a little confusing, the one we were following shared the same name ia a few runs that are sign posted for winter activities, we ended up on a few reds which I was alright with but lolly struggled, we stopped by a lake to take stock and find our way to a blue run down. 


The blue run we took was definitely not a blue, more a red in my book, I loved it but Lolly wasn’t so keen and walked a lot of the trail, when we got to the end of the blue we had the option of another blue or a green, we took the green which lolly found a lot more enjoyable. 

As if mentioned earlier, I always wanted to see what a ski resort looks like in summer, below gives you an idea, slightly like Mars! 

As we made our way down there were a few photo ops. 



Once we reached the bottom we swerved into a bar for a couple of beers to celebrate making it down in one piece. We really enjoyed the downhill trails and if you are ever in this neck of the woods it’s a great day out. 

We finished our beers and made our way back to the van to make some food, BBQ pork loins, rice and salad.

Our food was awesome, we watched the second episode of Stranger Things, loving it! 

Tomorrow we’re off to meet Lindi and Ian, 7am start, they have a shower in their motorhome, winner! 

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Day 2

Not a lot to say about day 2, we made our way to the Alps which meant 12 hours on the road, not all of it was driving, we stopped at an Aire and I grabbed a couple of hours sleep in my  laybag while lolly consulted the maps and Aire books looking for the best place to stay, we settled for Les Deux Alps. 

We managed to get a shower as well, fairly ghetto setup in a car park and at lease one motorist saw me naked but it was worth it to feel clean again, you can see the shower laying on the roof to the right. 


After a lot of driving we arrived and were greeted by some stunning mountain views. 


We cooked some burgers, drank some booze, watched the first episode of Stranger Things and went to bed, we don’t have to drive anywhere tomorrow so we’re off exploring the mountain, can’t wait! 

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Day 1

Our trip to France started with a 21st birthday party in Hertfordshire and camping in a bloke called Bob’s back garden. He has a lovely house in a little village called Furneux Pelham and had offered to host Billies 21st. Billie is Lauren’s cousin. When we arrived there was a good sprinkling of family chatting away and some of Billies guests in the pool, they’re quite a sensible lot, if someone had let me borrow their house and pool for a 21st birthday it would have been proper carnage!

As the evening progressed the only people that seemed to get smashed was us oldies, either the 21 year old massive didn’t drink or they held it down well, I was probably too smashed to notice. 

Bob’s garden is massive as demonstrated by the small band of travellers that stayed the night in their wagons taking up no room at all. 

Our alarm went off at 05.00, nothing like getting up at stupid o’clock to go on holiday, we made a brew and then lolly went for a dip. 

We had a chat with Lollys mum and dad who are also travelling to France, made a fairly loose arrangement with them and then headed off for the ferry. 


The roads were deserted apart from the odd tool driving in the middle lane forever, rather that then traffic. 

In no time at all we could see the sea which meant Dover wasn’t too far away. 


The crossing was relatively uneventful tho I did buy a new Bluetooth speaker, haven’t tested it yet but am sure it will sound way better than the one I have at the moment which is average at best and a blatant rip off of something that should be way more expensive. 

We left Calais and made straight for a little village called Chemin du cal serin, it’s about 2 or so hours drive heading in the direction of Marseilles. We’re stopping in this village as a couple we met last year recommend the Aire, for 5 euros a night you get water, electricity, WC and a nice view of an old castle. 

When we arrived all the spots were taken so in true Mark Ashley / Croydonia style we made our own space. 


We hadn’t eaten since we arrived in Dover so we set about getting some food cooking, chicken on the trusty Cobb and Lolly knocked up a lovely salad, rice and coleslaw.


After cooking the chicken the Cobb was still roasting hot so we cooked up all our sausages before they went off and chucked a couple of corns on and left them to cook while we went for a wander up to Coucy-le-chateau-auffrique. 


What’s surprising about this place is there is a whole little village built around the ruin and there is a community of friendly goats roaming about the place too, they are really friendly if you have food. 

Much to Lollys dismay we’d arrived just as the local boot fair was packing up so no wandering about looking at people’s stuff they’re trying to get rid of, we did however have a good look about the town and unfortunately just missed the tour of the castle. After about 30 minutes we came across the track we’d come so decided to head back down to the van, do all the washing up from earlier, have a little wander and then crash for the night. 

We took a walk down a lane not far from the van which will be forever remembered as mosquito alley, bastard things everywhere, I’d already been bitten once and now have a temporarily inflated foot. I’ve been bitten a few more times since that walk, we retreated to van and watched the final two episodes of Wayward Pines, ate a considerable amount of chocolate and then went to bed. 

All in all a successful first day, no fuel issues either which is a bonus, the only downside to living like this is not much in the way of showers, we do have a camping shower but I’d set that up a bit late so it hadn’t heated up very much by the time we got back to use it. 

The combination of solar panels and split charge system is keeping the battery charged and fridge powered up which means our food keeps and if I ever get any beers they will be cold. 

We’re off to the mountains tomorrow, I’ve always wanted to see a ski resort in summer so that’s what we’re doing, with any luck we’ll have a shower too! 

 

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And we’re off !

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It’s that time of year when Lolly and I pack up the Bee and head off in search of sunshine and adventure..

We are heading to France again but all we’ve booked is our crossings, everything else will be made up along the way. I’ve added some solar panels to the van so we can go a bit more off piste and not rely on having to be hooked up to keep the fridge going.

Our crossing is tomorrow AM, we’re off to a 21st birthday and then the adventure begins which i’ll update here as it happens, can’t wait to get going!

Paris

Another trip courtesy of my company has brought me to Paris, who knew IT would work out so well for travelling !

I’ve been to our office in Paris before but if memory serves me right I was only here for one night, I took the customary picture of the Eiffel Tower and went home the following day, this time around I’m here for 3 nights..

Our office is in a kind of apartment block, semi business and semi residential which might seem a bit odd but is quite the norm round these parts. Some of the staff in the office say they dread bringing clients here for meetings as it’s all a bit unprofessional, personally I quite like it, especially as the first thing you come across is this awesome lift, my father in law is a lift engineer and I’m sure he’d agree !

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The office is located a stones throw from the Arc Du Triomphe and a decent metro station, I thought I had booked into the Sofitel which is a short walk from the office but somehow i’d managed to book myself into a completely different hotel nowhere near the office a metro ride away, I was more annoyed that I would have to deal with rush hour to get to the office in the morning  so I cracked on and set about changing my reservation. The hotel I had booked into was the intercontinental right by the opera house, it’s a stunning building but a bit stuffy for my liking, I felt like i’d been booked into the Grand Budapest Hotel, very opulent, heaving and opera themed, not for me..

Due to the late cancellation policy I spent one night there so as not to incur any charges and the next day I checked into the Sofitel. After work I chipped back to the hotel, grabbed my camera and made my way by metro to the catacombs, they’re not close to where I am staying, 14 stops away, I arrived there at 19.02, it shut at 19.00 and they wouldn’t let me in, gutted…

I sat on the metro slightly narked about not getting in but thought i’d head out for a wander in my local hood and see what there was to photograph, I came out of the station and it started to rain.

I’m not too fussed about rain and from a photography perspective you can get some lovely reflections from ambient lighting, I decided to take a walk down the Champs Elysees starting at the Arc du Triomphe end, this is the view.

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That’s about halfway down to be honest and I nearly got killed taking that shot, standing in the middle of the road with a camera and tripod while French drivers who are mental at the best of times fly past you within a cats whisker is not something I recommend. As you can see there is a great big ferris wheel which I’d seen on my last visit and meant to photograph, this was my destination for the evening.

If I hadn’t been risking my life trying to get a photo in the middle of the road then the walk from one end to the other would have taken about 20 mins, after about 40 minutes I reached my destination and set about getting a picture, I decided on a slow shutter release that gives the impression the wheel is going round at a thousand miles an hour when in reality it’s not moving very fast at all..

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Happy with the shot I took I wandered back toward my hotel, somewhere along the line I thought I would take a shortcut and immediately got lost.

Sometimes getting lost works out quite well, it did on this occasion as I came across this awesome veedub parked up outside the Pakistan consulate.

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The paint job was amazing, I particularly like the Pakistan and French flags in the shield at the front, handily I wasn’t that lost at all, my hotel was just round the corner, result..

The next day I was determined to go and see the catacombs, I was also determined to have a Croque Monsieur so I popped out to a café local to the office and had this bad boy for a late breakfast.

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I did everything I needed to do in the office and left for the catacombs in good time.

The entrance to the catacombs is pretty unassuming, there are no neon lights or flashing signs advertising the place, just a guy standing outside a door way and some ropes for queue control, it gets quite busy during the day apparently. The catacombs are the remains of a limestone quarry and this is just a very small part of it, whats interesting about this particular part of it are the bones. In the 16th century the cemeteries in Paris were overflowing and the tunnels in the quarry were collapsing, bone remains were transported from the cemeteries to the quarry to free up space in the cemeteries and fille the cavities in the quarry. The bones were quite literally thrown down a well leading to the quarry with no way of telling whose remains were who and thats how they remained until a chap called Louis-Étienne Héricart de Thury decided to arrange them in a more ornate way.

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There are over 6 million Parisians remains down here, you can’t begin to imagine how many bones that is..

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From floor to ceiling the walls are lined with skulls and bones.

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I visited at around 18.00 on  Wednesday night which I think is an ideal time to visit, it’s a sombre place and deserves a bit of quiet and respect which you might not get around midday on a Saturday when 200 people are making there way through. I’m really glad I got to see the catacombs and i’m going to look up some of the “unofficial” tours I’ve read about urban explorers undertaking, maybe next time I’m here i’ll go on one of those!

I have one day of work left and then I’m heading home, Paris has been fun but i’m really looking forward to seeing Lolly! 

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Le End

As we left Chambord a lot later than intended we drove through the night, French motorways aren’t like ours, no cats eyes, no lights.

This would be fine if you had a decent set of headlights, we don’t, DRL’s look nice but even with night breaker bulbs installed they’re still not that great, that being said they were good enough to get us to our destination, Plage merlimont.

The aire is well sign posted though you are sent through a new housing estate and we did wonder if our sat nav had crapped out  as an aire couldn’t possibly be in among all this new housing, it wasn’t, you go through the estate to get to the beach and just before the beach is the aire, it’s nothing special, just a car park for motorhomes with free fresh water and somewhere to empty your waste water if you have any, I cracked a beer, Lauren made some food, we both put the thermal curtains up, ate our food and crashed.

It was a bit colder this closer to England and we’re both fairly certain that’s why we slept so well, best nights sleep on the last day of the holiday because it was cold, how very English..

Sun greeted us the next day despite the forecast being rain, I took a picture of the aire for no particular reason other than to demonstrate how unfantastic it was.

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As always, first thing in the morning I needed to use the loo so I took a wander toward the beach where I assumed the toilet mentioned in the aire would be located, as I got closer I noticed there were a lot of people looking out to sea, I couldn’t really see anything so figured i’d use the loo and then go see what everybody was looking at, turns out there was a colony of seals on the beach basking in the morning sun.

I’ve never seen so many seals, they didn’t look like they were going anywhere in a hurry so I walked back to the van, made some tea for myself and Lolly, grabbed my camera and we both went back to look at the seals, Lolly has a theory that seals hang out on the beach so THEY can watch the humans that come to look at them, I see no reason for this not to be possible!

I don’t really do much zoom photography and as such I don’t have a very good zoom lens, the photo below is the best I could do with my 28mm-135mm.

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Lolly had our binoculars we got free from the national trust, we sat for about an hour just watching them lay about in the sun, we spotted a few more swimming in and then quite quickly the tide followed them, we had a great spot to watch them from but had to vacate fairly swiftly to avoid the incoming tide, it was starting to cloud over and just before we headed to the shore I took a nice shot of the seals from a distance.

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Before the weather turned we took a walk along the rest of the beach, after about an hour we returned to the van, packed up and went to Aldi, Lolly’s mum has a party in the not too distant future so we bought a load of cheap booze, 24 beers for 5 euros, we bought 7 crates and 8 bottles of fizzy wine for a toast! We also bought lunch, bread, cheese and ham, very continental, there was another beach not too far so we parked up and went for a final beach side picnic.

The sun came out again which was lovely, we ate our lunch and basked in the warmth knowing our return to Blighty was only a couple of hours away, turns out it wasn’t. We thought our crossing was at about 18.00 but we’d figured when we’d booked the crossing that we’d want as much time in France on our last day as possible so our crossing wasn’t till 20.50, I was a little upset to be honest as I’d kind of got my head in a space where we were off and I didn’t want to hang about for another couple of hours, that was until we went back to the beach and saw these!

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What you can see here are the remains of a german StP bunker that featured a tank turret, ammunition bunker and open emplacements for 5cm KWK pak guns though I couldn’t tell you which bit relates to what, I got all that information from here.

We spent a good bit of time walking among the remains of the bunker and photographing the various structures and their artwork.

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If you look closely on the second picture you will see a sign that states in French the beach beyond is a naturist beach, more naked people but nothing quite on the scale of the naked site. The beach is massive, we walked for at least half an hour before turning back and we hadn’t even got halfway along it, on our return trip we came across a jelly fish.

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I threw it back into the sea but I think it had perished, I know jelly fish don’t really do much but this one did nothing when returned to the sea.

When we got back to where the bunker was I set the camera up and got our last picture of the holiday.

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From there we went back to the van and drove to Calais which was about an hour away, we were delayed (not immigrant related) so i grabbed a burger king and Lolly bought gin with the last of our euros, the remainder of the trip involved a train, the M20, the M25, remembering to drive on the left and then bed, work the following morning, joy.

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