The VW Camper heads south travel blog

Sisteron from the Citadel


Mt de la Baume (Sisteron)

The Citadel

hiking near Sisteron

Butterfly & lavender

Dog sign of the week.

Inventor of the Speaking Clock!

For all you cyclists at home.






Chartres Cathedral

Chartres Cathedral

La Cigale - symbol of Provence

Western Europe has been experiencing a canicule (a heatwave) with stratospheric temperatures in the high 30s and into the 40s. At the end of last week we were based in Sisteron. Last year we drove by it and thought what a cool place it looked to visit………so we did this year! Very mountainous, perfect castle and interesting town made it a great stopover. Apart from the heat.

After a couple of days of getting up at 5am to hike before the sun got too intense and sweating for hours in between dips in the swimming pool, we decided enough was enough and looked at the weather map for the coolest place in Europe. We headed north to Normandy.

The first day we covered 800km to take advantage of the airconditioned van, stopping at 7pm when the sun was low enough to make life somewhat bearable. As we drove north along the excellent French motorways, we constantly saw overhead signs warning of the heatwave: “Alerte Canicule.” As we got nearer to built-up areas and cities the signs instructed drivers to reduce their speed by 20km/hr enforced by radar. The air was thick with pollution and we switched to internal air circulation. Of course, we realize we were contributing to the problem. That took us to Chartres – a terrible campsite, but a chance to visit the famed cathedral and the town the next day.

Our first day on the Normandy coast was cooler, but still hovering around 30˚C. On Saturday evening about 9pm the wind started to blow and within 15 minutes a cold front moved through and the temperature dropped 10 degrees. Now we’re wearing sweaters. What a difference! When we came to France 2 months ago our goal was Provence and we never thought we’d be spending time in Normandy. We’re on the Alabster Coast between Le Havre and Dieppe and are finding some fascinating coastal walks.

Things we have learned about Europe this week:

• A good news bus story: In Sisteron there is a free Navette which shuttles around the city and outlying area four times a day. Because it is so infrequent you see the same people on your “aller” and “retour” journeys. After a couple of days, you’re old acquaintances and you say, “Bonjour” to everyone as you get on, nod to each other on the street and say, “Au revoir” as you get off. If you tell the bus driver that you are camping, he will take you right to the gate. Now, that’s what I call service with a smile!

• It’s amazing what you come across while cycling through villages. When cycling through Mison, Ian saw the sign for Ernest Esclangon, inventor of the “l’horloge parlante” or the speaking clock. (see photos) Esclangon invented the clock during his time as Director of the Paris Observatory to relieve the observatory staff from the numerous telephone calls requesting the exact time.

• If you enter cod into Google translate, the French equivalent is la morue. In France if you ask for la morue you’ll get salt cod. If you want regular cod, you must ask for le cabillaud. Of course, we bought la morue and ended up with very salty and tough fish which we couldn’t eat. The misadventures of eating in a foreign country!

• We love the flexibility of our home on wheels. In 2017, we headed south as fast as possible to avoid rain and high winds in Belgium. This year, we headed in exactly the opposite direction to avoid the 40 degree heat. Home is where you park it!

Travel trivia

Last week’s question: What is the symbol of Provence? We mentioned this in an earlier blog entry; so no peaking.

And the answer is: The Cicada. According to Provençal folklore, the cicada was sent by God to rouse peasants from their afternoon siestas on hot summer days and prevent them from becoming too lazy. The plan backfired: Instead of being disturbed by the cicada, the peasants found the sound of their buzzing relaxing, which in turn lulled them to sleep.

There is a Provençal expression: Il ne fait pas bon de travailler quand la cigale chante, or “It’s not good to work when the cicada is singing.”

Until next week!

Ian & Liz

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