France
North

Here you’ll find travel reports about North. Discover travel destinations in France of travelers writing a travel blog on FindPenguins.

100 travelers at this place:

  • Day1040

    Port de Plaisance d'Halluin, France

    May 2 in France ⋅ 🌧 12 °C

    Jackdaws are poking around amongst the carpet of daisies growing through the grass in front of the van. Beyond them a mix of pleasure craft are moored in the small marina, their rubber fenders swinging gently in the breeze. The Old Leie channel breaks away from the River Lys and curls round the tongue of land we are parked on, acting as the border line between France and Belgium. Every so often an angry buzzing penetrates the air, as lessons finish at the Belgian college over the water and students escape on low powered mopeds.

    Before setting off this morning, Vicky called the company we had ordered the new door handle from. Communicating with a Spanish telephonist through the medium of French was a little difficult but we were told the part would be ready in 4 days (better than the possible 2 weeks but we'll have to wait and see how things turn out).

    Our journey here took us on a wild goose chase through Belgium. Vicky is in need of a specialist yarn to finish a knitting project and had used the internet to hunt down a Belgian distributor, only to find the address was that of a private home, not a wool shop. We consoled ourselves with a trip to a frituur for lunch. They were friendly, spoke good English and even had a choice of vegetarian fare, so we walked away happy with a couple of burgers and piping hot frites in a perforated bag to stop them getting soggy.

    Will had a successful afternoon fishing, catching some decent sized carp, while Vicky tried in vain to find somewhere that sold the yarn she needed, either online or at a shop we were likely to be passing. As the sun broke through the clouds she cleared her head with a walk. Our little peninsula seens to be a 'green lung', set within an industrial, urban environment. It was good to walk amongst the trees and spot the birdlife, including a Grey Heron, Tufted Duck, Widgeon and Great Crested Grebes. She even took a short trip over the pedestrian bridge to Belgium and back. We really do love the freedom of movement within the Schengen Area!

    A chilly wind blew on the second day but we wrapped up and took a stroll into the towns, yes, towns. The urban area here spans the border line. The Belgian side, where we began, is known as Menen and the French section that we walked to is known as Halluin. Menen's main street is a busy place, crammed with businesses selling tobacco, alcohol, chocolate and a few seedy sex stores. The border at Place Jacques Delors Plein was subtle, with a small granite plinth marking the spot. We were surprised to find that Menen spoke Dutch and Halluin spoke French. Our previous impression had been that Belgian areas close to the French border had adopted this language, but it obviously wasn't the case here.

    Will had successfully fitted the new chain and gear changer to the tandem so in the afternoon we took it out for a test run, following the grassy walking track up one side of the River Lys, through a corridor of Cow Parsley, then returning on the smooth tarmac cycle track on the other. Will indulged Vicky by stopping at a field where two foals were finding their feet. We spent five minutes watching as one reared up and grabbed hold of its mother's mane, hanging on and tugging like a dog would with a rope toy!

    Although it wasn't an official aire, Halluin was a good spot to stay for a couple of days, providing opportunities for fishing, walking, birdwatching, and cycling. It was quiet enough as well as having easy access to a town (or two)!
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  • Day999

    Estaires, France

    March 22 in France ⋅ ⛅ 11 °C

    Hello from northern France! A month in the UK gave us time to catch up with a few of our family and friends, get some medical appointments over and done with and finally get Martha Motorhome's bumper replaced, after a small collision we'd had in the summer. We were without our home for 2 weeks, but luckily family came to the rescue with offers of help, we stayed with Will's sister and brother in law, who put us up in their spare room and Vicky's Dad and Stepmum allowed us to use their van as a home from home - thanks everyone!

    Returning to the continent, we took the Spirit of Britain ferry from Dover to Calais and drove eastwards to the free aire at Estaires, the first stop on a 5 week trip. Located between a modern, low density housing estate, a petanque club and fire station, it has all the basic services, except bins and its 3 bays are separated by rows of Beech saplings, that will eventually knit together to form hedges. Behind us is a strip of grass with a picnic bench for each van and an electric point. Hookup is charged at €4 for 12 hours, meaning we don't need to move on when the leisure batteries start to run low.

    Arriving late afternoon on Thursday, Will immediately leapt out and after a short explore, settled down to fishing the nearby River Lys while Vicky curled up with a good ebook, enjoying the peace and quiet.

    The following morning we woke to birdsong, cockrels' crows and the chime of bells from Estaire's clock tower; the sort you might expect when opening a child's jewellery box. After a slow start adjusting to the 1 hour time difference, we took a saunter around the nearby town. Its red brick buildings reminded us of Belgium, but considering we are just 13km from the border, this makes sense! Amongst other outlets, the centre hosts a couple of artisan boulangers, boutiques, a tabac and several cafés. After a little window shopping we crossed a bridge and returned to the van via a treelined riverside walk. When the sun came out, buds and blossoms on the branches created a happy sense of Spring in the air!

    We've been saying for some time that we'd like to slow down our travels, spending longer in each location, striving for quality over quantity, hoping to gain a deeper experience of each place instead of just a snapshot. Old habits die hard and our last trip saw us moving on frequently despite this resolve. One of the reasons for this was the need to charge our leisure batteries every few days, either by driving or finding somewhere to plug in. At the end of summer we ordered a roof mountable 150W semi flexible solar panel to help feed our power needs. We picked it up during our stay in the UK over Christmas but our plans to fit it were scuppered when we read that the adhesive required temperatures exceeding 18°C for it to stick properly. Well, after lunch on the picnic bench our outside temperature sensor read 23°C in the sun so we siezed the opportunity.

    Vicky washed the area and we hoisted the lightweight panel onto the roof so it would warm to a similar temperature. After some meticulous positioning and being careful not to bend it too much, she peeled back the film to expose the strong layer of adhesive and smoothed it down. Covering the cells with cardboard to ensure they weren't live, she ran the thick wires along one of the roof bars, securing them with cable ties, and connected extension leads. Now it was time to test it!

    The power needs to be routed via a control box so Will cut a couple of lengths of wire and stripped the ends, attaching the panel to the MPPT controller, then the controller to the battery terminals using connectors we'd bought for the purpose. When Vicky exposed the solar panel, low and behold the MPPT displayed 12.8V! The panel was charging our batteries! Test complete, we unplugged the input and tidied the tools. The next stage will be to drill a hole in the roof and feed the wires through this and down an internal column to reach underneath the passenger seat where the batteries reside, but it was getting late in the day so we quit while we were ahead.

    We stayed 4 nights in total, taking things easy and enjoying the quiet surrounds. Unfortunately the IUS Vicky had fitted back in the UK doesn't seem to be helping with her PMS related fatigue at this stage, so we postponed drilling the holes. Will enjoyed many hours sat on the grassy bank of the Lys with his fishing rod and Vicky even joined him when the sun was out. Estaires proved just the ticket as the first stop in this journey, allowing us to relax and readjust to being back on the road.
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  • Day1032

    Marcoing, St Quentin canal basin

    April 24 in France ⋅ 🌬 19 °C

    We've returned to Marcoing, where we spent days 4 and 5 of this tour, back in June 2016. We've made good progress on our journey towards Calais, so will spend 2 nights here (days 1032 and 1033 of our tour)! Wow, how time flies!

    Although Marcoing provides a free aire, we've been cheeky and parked instead at a rectangular basin that forks at a right angle off the St Quentin canal. Here, Will can sit out in front of the van with his rods, nipping back in if the rain gets too heavy. Although he brought a small amount of fishing gear with him when we first set off, his interest in the activity has really grown over the years. He finds he can achieve a state of quiet concentration when sitting, watching the little florescent float. Time spent doing this is good for his mental health and helps him achieve a balance; something that is especially important for those affected by bipolar.

    From inside the van Vicky knits, glancing up every now and then to watch the blustery conditions blow pink cherry blossom from the trees on the opposite side of the basin. They are growing in a grassy, recreational area with picnic benches while a small group of wild rabbits tend to the grass and daisys.

    During the course of the afternoon she gets a phonecall from the Camping and Caravanning Club. We joined earlier in the year as a way to access their Certified Sites in the UK when it looked like we might need to spend some extended periods there. One advantage of our membership is a 10% discount on the price of ferry crossings. They were calling to check we hadn't made a mistake when booking a long weekend in the UK! Yes, we realise the majority of Brits booking ferries will be taking a 3 day break in France rather than England but we really did mean to sail from Calais to Dover and back again!

    On the second day Vicky found the boulangerie 1km away and fetched a baguette and croissants for breakfast. Later we were joined by some some British boaters, who manoeuvred into the small basin in Pavant, their large Dutch Barge, where they live with their two dogs, Tintin and Morpheus, a beautiful German Shepherd. They are exploring the French canals for the first time but have permanent moorings in Belgium. They have recently applied for Belgian residency, but hold out little hope of getting it and are seriously worried about Brexit.

    Will spent the rest of the day fishing. His persistence hadn't paid off yesterday, but today he caught a small, unidentified fish, a Perch and a decent sized Silver Bream. The two night stay had done us good and we were ready to hit the road the following morning.
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  • Day1002

    Boussois, La Sambre Canalisée

    March 25 in France ⋅ ⛅ 8 °C

    We're settled into the 2nd of our overnight stops since returning to France. Boussois's (Boussois'?) four place aire is directly adjacent to its school playground. The sounds from kids making the most of their free time ring out intermittently. From our gravel pitch, bordered by a thin Beech hedge, we overlook a grassy area leading to La Sambre Canalisée; a pretty, tree lined river with footpath.

    The day we arrived was one of contrasts, the weather changing from sunny to stormy and back again just as quick. It even threw a few hailstones into one of the downpours! First on the agenda was lunch. While Vicky set up the table, Will nipped out to try and find a boulangerie, returning quicker than anticipated, having discovered a bread vending machine just up the road!

    Despite the inclement conditions, the riverside called to Will and he spent most of the afternoon fishing. On our 2nd day Vicky's energy began to return and we took a stroll upstream, along the good quality cycle track. Many of the trees were still bare, their branches just beginning to bud, but the hawthorns provided blushes of pink and white blossom and the tall conifers a rich green backdrop.

    When staying at free stopovers, we always like to spend at least a small amount of money in the area. Looking at the Maps.me app, there didn't seem to be much in the way of shops in town, but there was a friterie, so we decided to treat ourselves to a lunch. There were few cars or people moving about as we made our way along the mainstreet. Entering the building we thought was the friterie, we found ourselves in an upmarket american style diner with fixed bench seats. This wasn't what we expected but when we explained, the server helpfully ushered us through a connecting door to the takeaway. As everything apart from the frites contained meat, they threw together a nice little salad for Vicky, while Will had a Black Angus beefburger cooked to his specification. We walked back towards Martha and ate near a bandstand at a terraced area that lead down to the river, enjoying a bit of sun on our faces.

    The afternoon was dedicated to wiring up our new solar panel.

    To see a 6min video of its installation on VnW Travels You Tube channel, click here:
    https://youtu.be/dUZqxO0_kJI

    We'd already stuck the self adhesive, semi flexible array to the roof, so the next job was to drill holes in the ceiling, allowing the wires to be routed through to our two leisure batteries under the passenger seat. With Will inside and Vicky outside, we measured up to ensure we got the holes in the right place, then swallowed the nerves and began to drill. The positioning was perfect, but part way through, our hand drill seized up and refused to rotate! However, luck was on our side as our neighbour saw Vicky struggling and offered their portable electric drill! We very gratefully accepted and were soon feeding the cables through the roof.

    The next spanner in the works came when we realised we'd majorly miscalculated the amount of cable needed to reach the batteries! Whoops! We were coming round to accepting a long delay in the installation process when a second act of kindness came along to save the day. A new motorhome had just pulled up and one of its occupants got chatting to Will, who explained what Vicky was doing sitting on top of the van. 5 minutes later, this wonderful couple produced two lengths of specialist solar cable, asking if they were suitable? YES! Yes they were perfect! They had recently bought their van and installed a hefty 500W of solar power, from which this cable was left going spare.

    Of course we accepted their offering and got to work extending our cables and plugging them in to the special MPPT controller that we'd already attached to the batteries. A little while later we almost squealed with delight as the display lit up and showed a healthy 18volts coming in! Vicky applied 'Sikaflex' to bond the wires to the roof, then piped some along the leading edge of the panel for a stronger seal, while Will put everything back together inside the van. We were pretty knackered after this, so bought some more bread from the machine and had a simple tea of beans on toast and cheese on toast. We couldn't resist a cheap bottle of bubbly to 'toast' our new addition to the van!

    The kindness of strangers saved the day! We felt so grateful for their help. Our travels take us away from our circle of friends and family, but through travel we are part of the vanlife community. Their willingness to help others really shone through and will stand out in our memories for a long time to come.
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  • Day1038

    Bray Dunes, France, April 2019

    April 30 in France ⋅ ⛅ 10 °C

    The three days spent in the UK has whizzed by and we have a whole three months' of travel stretching out ahead of us! From the familiar Bray Dunes Carrefour car park here in France, we plan to make our way through Belgium, Germany and Poland, to spend a couple of months exploring Lithuania, a country neither of us have previously visited.

    Bray Dunes is only 60km or so from Calais and its Carrefour supermarket offers an aire with van facilites, a laundery and car wash. Upon arriving, Will went shopping to pick up a few bottles of French wine and ensure we had enough edibles to tide us over for tomorrow's May Day public holiday. Later, we worked together to secure the living area door to its hinges. The external handle mechanism broke yesterday, leaving us unable to open the door from outside. Will did a temporary fix with some araldite glue, but it looks like we need a replacement handle pronto! Vicky found the part online and ordered it with delivery to an Esso fuel station in Germany, via the Relais logistics company in what appeared to be two day's time. When the confirmation came through, it told a different story; shipping within 2 weeks and up to 3 days for delivery! What!? We're not sure what we are going to do about this massive delay yet, but it obviously affects our travel plans...

    We decided to stay a second day at Bray Dunes to get our heads together. Will fished in the nearby canal, watching ducklings hone their swimming skills, hopping on their mother's back when they got tired. He fitted a new bike chain we'd picked up at Halfords and did some more work on the door, while Vicky carried out repairs to the upholstery. It isn't the most glamorous start to a trip, but the van is getting to the age where wear and tear is beginning to show and it is better to try and keep on top of it!
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  • Day35

    Student Blog - Jonny Lodder

    July 27, 2018 in France ⋅ ⛅ 72 °F

    It has been such a great opportunity to be invited come back on tour, and to be able to play with the orchestra again (thank you Tim!!!!). After a year away at university not playing much percussion at all, I truly feel at home here, with my friends and family at NMPAT.

    I remember when I left last year, it was overwhelming, and not just because of the constant 35°+ heat. I was terrified, unsure of the future, sad, happy, and so proud, so so proud of the music we were playing. Even though that was a year ago, I can totally empathise with how some of my friends feel right now, as we heard back to NMPAT for the last time this year, and for some, the last time ever.
    Just before we boarded the coaches to come back from Italy, Mr Smalley told me simply (after I’d done a pretty big embarrassing cry, trying to say thank you, or maybe I was trying to say ‘PLEASE HELP WHAT DO I DO NOW?!’, but it came out as thank you) ‘I understand, I get it’.
    Now after a year, I think I get it too. Those of you that are leaving the orchestra, or choir this year will always have been in some of the best ensembles in the country. You will always have had the opportunity to tour with those ensembles and have performed amazing music in beautiful venues, with some of the best musicians, and friends you will ever meet. You will always feel the pride you feel now. You will always have been a part of this family.

    Being a student at NMPAT and working with the staff there is one of the best things that has, or will ever happen to me, and even though we move on, every year there is a new generation of young musicians who will need a nmpat, to make sure they have the same opportunities we have been so lucky to have.

    So make sure you hold on to how you feel now, and make sure you shout from the rooftops about it. Make sure you tell people about what we’ve achieved, and how it shaped you. No matter whether you’re leaving to study music at university or not; let’s make sure when we’re the parents, teachers, and the people WE look up to now, that we support and nurture youth music. Let’s make sure every child can have the opportunity to have their lives touched by music as we have.
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  • Day787

    Bois des Forts, Bergues, France

    August 22, 2018 in France ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    It is calm here. A cluster of conifers and a curve of tall Black Poplars shade us from the warm afternoon sun, keeping the van comfortably below 25°C. The gentle rustle of a breeze through their leaves is louder than the distant murmur of traffic. Bois des Forts (Wood of the Forts) is a country park with pleasant gravel parking, divided by well tended hedges and surrounded by grass and picnic tables.

    After a bit of a stressful morning getting Poppy's passport sorted at the vets in Tournai, she flaked out in her usual position between the driver and passenger seats as we set off on today's 100 kilometre drive. Before we knew it (literally!) we were in France, the outskirts of Lille to be exact. We hadn't seen any 'Bienvenue en France' signs on the motorway and we only realised when a text came through on Vicky's phone saying that we were in a 'roam-free destination'. Every fortnight and each time we enter a different country Vodafone tells us we "are probably expecting a text about roaming charges" . As you can imagine, we are becoming rather tired of them after 15 months and nearly 30 border crossings!

    Poppy continued to snooze while we travelled out of the urban and into the countryside. A good feeling spread through us when we pulled up at Bois des Fortes. As much as we appreciate town aires like the one at Tournai, we feel so much more at home when our home is surrounded by greenery! After settling in and giving Poppy freedom to explore off lead, we took a stroll along the criss crossing paths that led through the woods and by the side of canals and large ponds. We leant on a bridge's wooden fence and peered over into the muddy brown water, spotting the large mouth of a carp coming up for air. It was a very relaxing way to spend our penultimate afternoon on the continent!

    The following morning we set off towards the Carrefour supermarket at Bray Dunes. We had stayed here previously and knew its car park offered overnight stays for vans, a petrol station and van wash. We planned to stay here but when we pulled in it was pretty busy. Although we managed to find a spot on the end of a row we made the decision to return to Bois de Forts and stay there a second night. We therefore did a shop, washed the van, filled up with diesel and set off back to the woods!

    We enjoyed exploring a different part of the plantation in the afternoon and knew the right decision had been made as we were able to thoroughly relax before our ferry crossing from Dunkirk the next day.

    We haven't booked a return ticket yet because we don't know whether Will might need to attend a follow-up appointment, but we intend to be back over on the continent and blogging our adventures as soon as we can!
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  • Day856

    Bray Dunes. End of 2018 tour

    October 30, 2018 in France ⋅ ⛅ 4 °C

    Sorry for the delay in uploading this one!

    We are parked at the familiar Bray Dunes Carrefour supermarket aire in France. The wind buffets the van as rain lashes down. We hope the weather improves for tomorrow's ferry crossing to Dover.

    We left the Netherlands this morning and drove all the way through Belgium into France. We rely very heavily on the sat nav to get us where we want to go, only occasionally toggling 'Satia's' settings to include or exclude motorways from the route. It was therefore a bit of a shock when we were slapped with a €19 toll for the Liefkenshoek Tunnel, that allowed us to bypass Antwerp. However, we have always had massive delays when taking the free roads through Antwerp and after mulling it over, decided we'd have rather payed the toll than face the traffic chaos around Belgium's 2nd city.

    As we drove the temperature dropped to a chilly 3°C and sleet began to splat the windscreen. We certainly hoped it wasn't a sign of things to come. At the French border we passed the obligatory cluster of businesses taking advantage of the changes in tax between the two countries. Smokey River, Tobacco Alley and Euro Baccy (yes, these were the actual names) were all flogging cheap fags to the Belgians.

    We had planned to spruce Martha Motorhome up at the Carrefour van wash but neither of us could muster the energy to face the elements after the long drive. We'd also hoped to make use of the on-site launderette and fill up with water, but both the laverie and the water point were closed so we trawled the aisles and stocked up on festive spirit(s) instead!

    We'll be staying in the UK for 2 months, until the end of December, visiting family friends and catching up on all the necessaries like the MOT and dentist checks. We are very much looking forward to seeing people back home and celebrating the season. The blog will be put on the back burner while we are trundling round old blighty so now is a chance to look back on our travels in 2018.

    The first part of the year saw us spending over 14 weeks touring Spain, including a fabulous week with our good friends Cath and Paul at a villa in El Gastor near Ronda and 2 brilliant weeks WWOOFing in the Sierra Nevada mountians. Neither of us had spent very much time here before but the winter sun, tapas, scenery and layed back culture were definitely winners for us! We popped into Gibraltar for a day in March and feasted on fish'n'chips and an English pint before taking the chair lift up the rock to visit the Barbery Macaques- a wonderfully memorable experience.

    As with many things in life, our travel plans veered off course when medical appointments extended our trip back to the UK in May. With the prospect of further examinations and consultations, we abandoned our plan of touring Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, opting instead to stay closer to home and spend July, August and September in Denmark with a trip back to Orpington in August for Will to see the doctor. The country's lakes, coastline, countryside and charming towns won us over. With free and easy wildcamping and innumerable opportunities for outdoor activities, Denmark quickly became our favourite country of the tour.

    October took us to the Netherlands, but with the cold and dark of Autumn descending and Denmark still fresh in our minds, it had a hard act to follow. While we enjoyed our Dutch tour, it lacked the thrills we'd had in other countries and we were ready to make an early return to Orpington for Vicky's long awaited gyneacology consultation on 1st November.

    While health concerns have come between us and farther flung adventures in 2018, our appetite for life on the road is not diminished. Our extended UK visits have given us the opportunity to spend more quality time with family and friends and the memories made are ones we'll cherish. Meanwhile our explorations of countries within easy reach of the ferry crossing has allowed us to fully discover and fall in love with Denmark.

    We'll take a hiatus from blogging while we are home, but we'll be back behind the wheel and the keyboard in January. Whether you've been with us from the start or have just subscribed, thank you for all the support you've shown in following us, it means a lot. See you in the New Year!
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  • Day730

    Bray-Dunes Carrefour Aire, France

    June 26, 2018 in France ⋅ ☀️ 16 °C

    We'd relished spending nearly 8 weeks of quality time with family and friends in the UK, mostly in people's gardens, relaxing or helping out. It had been an extended stay because of hospital appointments but with these over and done with for now, we were keen to hit the road again.

    Our carefully planned itinerary has had to change because of the extra time in Britain but we are going with the flow. Will has a colonoscopy in around 5-7 weeks time giving us a window of opportunity that we intend to make the most of. We wanted to visit somewhere close by so that our time wasn't eaten up by motorway driving and we'd toyed with the idea of The Netherlands, but in the end the coast, countryside and potential cool of Denmark called to us.

    Saying our goodbyes to our family in Orpington who had put up with us camped on their drive for over a week (thank you so much!), we had an uneventful journey down to Dover. We were pleased when DFDS ferries reminded us to keep our windows open and make sure Poppy had a bowl of water so she didn't overheat. They even offered us window grilles to help and provided a doggy exercise area in the shade that was within easy walking distance of the lane we'd been told to queue in. The hound was therefore happy to have enjoyed a bit of sea breeze when we drove onto the ferry and left her for the 2 hour crossing to Dunkerque.

    The boat had few other passengers on it so we easily found a table by a large window and Vicky got on with sewing the new cover for our bench seat while Will enjoyed some Kindle time. He had already changed the headlights to the European ones in Orpington and it only took a small amount of time to readjust to driving on the right when disembarked. It is getting easier each time we switch. The car park of a medium sized Carrefour 33km away provided an free motorhome aire and seemed an ideal spot to spend the night. We were able to drain our waste water and it even had a launderette and specialised van wash facility on site. It was great to be in a van friendly country again!

    Back when we were in the North East, Vicky's step mum had given us frozen snails in garlic butter that she'd bought during Aldi's French week, so it seemed only appropriate that we eat these together with a celebratory glass of bubbly on our first night in France for a while. In the morning we did a big shop at Carrefour and washed the van before beginning our journey north.
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You might also know this place by the following names:

Département du Nord, Departement du Nord, Nord, North, Norte

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