Rediscovering France Part Two: Camping in The Auvergne and Birthday Celebrations in Mulhouse, Alsace

After ten days free camping and visiting family, we were happy to stop driving and settle for a while at the “Camping La Chauderie”  (click on the link to read a brief review of the campsite) just at the entrance of La Tour D’Auvergne. I was excited to make Jamie discover one of the regions of my childhood. We used to visit my grandparents in Clermont-Ferrand and spend winter holidays there.

Places with funny names such as “La Bourboule” and “Le Mont D’Or” brought back fond childhood memories. When I first mentioned “La Bourboule” to Jamie, years ago, he’d thought I’d made it up – I just love the name. I really wanted to go back there and see them with my grown up eyes rather than that of a seven-year old. La Tour d’Auvergne’s quite far from them, but I decided to cycle it. Jamie followed me to Stele, Chastraix, then back to Stele for some lunch. Whilst Jamie followed a mountain biking route back down to the campsite, I continued on to the places of my childhood. I couldn’t remember how they looked like, but they were as nice as I’d thought. Two old towns adorned with beautiful Victorian buildings reminiscent of its heyday and the start of the “holiday”. Spa towns in Summer and ski resort in Winter, they could accommodate for all tourists and all ages.

La Tour D'Auvergne.

Stopping for a drop of water as the climb from the campsite to the village's quite steep!

The surrounding countryside's all like this, green and lush.

Another water stops. We've been climbing again.

And descend through a farm field!

Lunch spot in Stele. A small ski centre.

Jamo's left. I'm continuing on my own to Le Mont D'Or.

An abandoned hotel not far before I get to Le Mont D'or.

On the descend to Le Mont D'Or, the road's lined with grand houses. This one even has its own crucifixion shrine (on the right-hand side).

The town centre is just across the river.

Many of the Victorian buildings like this one are still preserved. 

Next stop!

La Bourboule.

La Bourboule even got its own small independent cinema and bar, Roxy!

Back to La Tour d'Auvergne.

We met some lovely people in the village during our three nights stay (Friday 16-18May); a young couple free camping in their 31 years old-Renault campervan in Stele. Fred and Barbara were getting away from Clermont-Ferrand for the weekend. It was the first time we’d met some young French motorhomers. I asked them if they’d got bad looks or comments in the past from typical French motorhomers: couple in their 60s, retired who stay on campsites for two to three months at a time. They spend the Winter months in Morocco or Spain to find the sunshine. I explained that a few we’d met in Morocco would give us weird looks and the ones who did adventure to talk to us, joked about “Early retirement, hey?!” and leave. They didn’t want to have a civilised conversation, but were happy to make assumptions. In their minds, it seemed we were spoilt brats. Fred and Barbara had experienced it too. We were “des manouches” as we laughed it off together.

Fred & Barbara's 31years old Renault motorhome!

That evening (Sat 17 May), Jamie went out early to find a place to watch the FA-cup final (Arsenal v Hull). He didn’t find a bar showing it, but managed to watch it on our pad at the Bar des Amis. The friendly owner, Jo didn’t mind Jamie using her very fast wifi. It’s such a small and quircky place with every inch of walls adorned by colourful jigsaws. Soon after I met Jamie, we moved on to the bar/restaurant, Christiana. Its friendly owners, Beatrice and her husband welcomed us with big smiles. We had a nice evening chatting with them about our trip, La Tour d’Auvergne and the tourists, learning English and other foreign languages and even how they’d met. Beatrice kindly gave us some ideas on where to go and see in the Alsace-Lorraine; her home region.

La Tour d’Auvergne was a lovely place. I hope we’ll revisit it one day.

After the long bike ride on 17th May, a quieter day on 18th walking around La Tour d'Auvergne.

The lake by the village.

Le Bar des Amis where Flo didn't mind Jamie using her fat wifi so he could watch the football.

We’ve been lucky so far (fingers crossed!) with Izzy, the Motorhome. We haven’t had a major incident except, maybe, during our test run in Scotland (see our blog: Day 7 - Oopsie, I think we have a problem...) before we definitely left the UK. After Morocco though, Jamie started noticing a gap forming at the back of the van. Our toilet/shower and kitchen are at the back. On the other side, our bikes are supported on a bike rack. Bad roads and the weight of the bikes seemed to be just that little bit too much strain on our motorhome’s back wall/panel. Even if Jamie was re-screwing loose screws that needed it, it never was enough. The problem was still present through Portugal and north of Spain.

We’d decided then to wait to be in France so that I could explain the problem at a motorhome shop. Being French myself, we thought it’d be easier than trying to explain it in our broken Spanish. Rep' Camping Car in Brochon managed to help us. The assistant understood the problem straight away. Luckily, he also had room to do the 15-20mins job, but didn’t have the right pieces to fix it. So we went to the nearest Brico Depot, only a few kilometres away. Back with the right screws and metal piece, our man really did the job in 20 minutes! It costs us 30Euros for tools and labour. Worth it to ensure an “air-tight” van.

Rep' CampingCar near Brochon.

Once the van repaired that day, we drove a long way to Saulx. We’d found its aire on one of our apps. It’s small (max. Space for three motorhomes), right behind the church in the centre of the small village/town and next to residential homes. Not very nice. We didn’t want to upset residents, but seemed ok in the end to park just for the night. Walking around, we laughed at a hairdresser’s unfortunate demise if translated across the channel... (For any of you who are French reading this, "fanny" is a rude English slang word for female genitalia.)

"Fanny Coiff'" - it did make me laugh for a little while!

It was the 20 May. We were getting nearer to my birthday (24 May), but most importantly, nearer to meeting our friends in Walchensee (Mittenwald) and Jamie’s parents! How exciting.

After two days sleeping on concrete aires, we enjoyed free camping near the Ballon d’Alsace (click on the link to read our brief review under "France", bullet two) and next to a small fishing lake (click to the link to read our review under "France", bullet three). We were getting nearer to Mulhouse where we had decided to spend my birthday. But first, we went to have a look at Ribeauville, only to quickly leave it to visit its less touristy, more peaceful & picturesque neighbouring town, Bergheim as recommended per Jamie’s mum, Mary.

Walking on the main streets in Ribeauville.

We quickly left Ribeauville to get to Bergheim, here's the entrance to the centre.

Semi-pedestrianised with less than half the amount of touristic shop and tourists than Ribeauville, Bergheim's charm won us over!

A nice restaurant we considered going to.

The former synagogue (rebuilt in 1860), now a cultural centre.

We’d researched campsites or aires with showers in Mulhouse, the big Camping de L’Ill became our home for three nights. It wasn’t an atmospheric place, but for 14Euros a night thanks to its ACSI discount and only a short park-walk away from the city centre; we weren’t going to complain. It even had a small heated swimming pool!

My birthday day was a series of surprises from early morning to the wee hour the next day. Train geeks that we are, La Cité du Train was the first stop. A huge hangar full of trains arranged in chronological order; from the very first ones to the TGV with exhibits extending outside too! A lot of the coaches and locomotives on display were opened to walk in. Videos, posters and station sets made it all more “alive”. We were spoilt. A “Willy Wonkaesque-World of Trains!

Crossing the river outside Camping De l'Il.

The tram line, we walked to the Cité du Train, but took the tram to the centre after our visit.

La Cité du Train.

Outside displays.

1844, Buddicom St Pierre. Did Paris-Rouen until 1912.

"Pacific" steam train from 1908. Ran from Paris to Orleans until 1944.

Had to take this picture, Evreux's my home town in France and I've been to Paris Gare du Nord many times.

We walked around the new and old quarters of Mulhouse via the former working class neighbourhood and food at a small Turkish fast-food-type cafe. And then came my “pièce de résistance”, which may not sound amazing to most, but the small present I really wanted was to be able to watch a French film at the cinema. And so I went and saw “Two Days, One Night” by the Dardennes brothers with Marion Cotillard. A bleak realistic tale of a young mother coming back to her factory job after a bout of depression only to realise that for her to be back to work means that her colleagues won’t get the 1,000Euros bonus they had been promised. She’s got two days, one night to convince them to loose it for her.

It was a harrowing tale, but I loved it. I kept thinking about it on the way to meet Jamie who was watching the Champions League final (Real v Atletico) at the Shamroock Irish pub. By the time I arrived, he’d been there for 30 minutes and had already made friends with a young Scottish lad, Duncan. After half an hour, my first “feeling-very-old moment” happened. I mentioned to Duncan that I’d been to the cinema as part of my birthday treats. It was his birthday too, and I quickly asked how old he was – thinking he’d say 25/26years... He was 21! He obviously asked me, “34”, I said and he said something like; “No way, you don’t look like it” and then “Oh no I didn’t mean it like this, but you both look young still!...” This was the hatchet/the hammer whatever word’s best. There was nothing he could say to make it better, but dig a huge hole for himself.

I knew I had said it to people before, that was the thing. It’s really at this moment that I truly realised I wasn’t in or anywhere near my twenties anymore. Twenties were definitely far behind. Duncan wasn’t even ten years younger, but 13 years younger!

Oh well, I had to brush it off. It didn’t matter. We were having fun. And it continued until 1.30am in the morning. Duncan introduced us to his friends including Candeniz who were all at uni in Mulhouse. Walking and taking the tram back to town to party, chatting until the wee hours at the Gambrinus Alsatian Taverna, I was happy. We got to know Candeniz more and talk about his home country, Turkey. It was a great evening. I could have continued on, but Jamie was in his last-stages-of-being-drunk moment. It was time to go home.

A short ride on the tram to the centre of Mulhouse.

Turkish food for a late lunch!

Heading towards the cinema.

Just time for a coffee before the film starts in an hour.

Catching a ride back near the campsite to meet Jamie. At 8.45pm, not many souls are on the tram, everybody's out already.

Birthday drinks.

Drunken pictures with our new friends, Candeniz (far left) and Duncan (middle).

We both woke up with a terrible hangover. We needed the “1G Efferalgan” magic pill, water, shower and fresh air. Until the urge of eating a greasy meal took us. At 4pm, once we’d walked around the park and along the river banks, we were finally ready to eat something! McDonalds it was!

Gumbarten pub where we drunk last night.

We did a long walk around Mulhouse and walked back along the river, the graffiti artists small Mecca at it seems...

Colourful designs.

Some like this one seems more drawing-based type of graffiti.

A greasy hangover dinner!

It was the best birthday! 

Thank you Jamie Walker. Let’s do it again this year.