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Travel n Ravel post: Sting in the tale…

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Following last week’s Travel n Ravel story from the lazy, hazy days of continental childhood camping trips, I thought I’d round off the theme with two more small tales of happy holiday high jinx by reposting another re-jigged post that many of you may have missed previously.

Today’s flashback concerns my dad’s expulsion of an invading army and the misadventures of teenage wine connoisseurs on walkabout, which includes another of Ho’s bespoke blog toons. I have called this one;

Sting in the tale.

I hope you enjoy it.

 
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Posted by on September 7, 2015 in Guest spots., Ho., Humour, Personal anecdote, Travel

 

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Travel n Ravel post: In continent weather…

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For the second of my posts for Ian Cochrane and his Travel n Ravel blog, I have decided to use an old story that I published on Diary of an Internet Nobody when I first started writing, one that many of you probably haven’t seen before.

Now that I have (I hope) a little more skill at writing, I’ve tidied up some of the clunky prose and re-edited the rather long original into two separate posts, the first of which you can read at the link below, with part two to follow next week.

So as the summer holidays of 2015 drizzle to a somewhat disappointing end, let’s go back and relive an equally damp but far more exciting summer, spent battling the elements on the other side of the channel, or as I like to call it;

In continent weather.

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2015 in Guest spots., Humour, Personal anecdote, Travel

 

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Lost (in time) in France…

Sitting here watching the dismal grey rain falling outside, coupled with all the freezing weather and snow we’ve had recently, I’m already looking forward to the summer and thinking back to past holidays.

A few years ago we went on a family camping holiday to Vendée, in France, during which we visited the most extraordinary theme park that I have ever seen.

Now, I’m not one for the Disneyland and Alton Towers type of attraction, but we’d been assured by people who’d been that this was something totally different.
They weren’t wrong.

About an hour South-east of Nantes, an unremarkable motorway slip road took us towards the only visible sign that anything might be going on in what appeared to be a dense forest – a tethered barrage balloon with the words Puy du Fou on it, rising high into the air from some unseen point in the distance.
We followed the signs until we reached a giant car park amongst the trees, and then went searching for adventure.

Puy du Fou is billed as “the largest historical theme park in the world”, and I’m inclined to take them at their word, because it is an impressively huge, sprawling place.
Essentially, it’s a 110 acre forested park with large areas that have been remodelled to enable the presentation of various periods in history, all in their own distinct landscape.

As we were getting our bearings, having a bite to eat, and sorting out our route around the park, we wandered round the large petting zoo, which included many unusual breeds, including some very friendly goats…

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…and several incredibly shaggy donkeys, which seemed to have long brown dreadlocks.

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Suitably fortified, we set off to find the first event. Referring to the guide book, I discovered that this was to be the Viking part of our journey through time.

Arriving at a purpose built amphitheatre, we took our seats overlooking a section of river with a small jetty and some very authentic-looking buildings.
It wasn’t long before events began to unfold below us, with the local “villagers” going peacefully about their business.

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However, it wasn’t to remain peaceful for long, and no sooner had a cry of warning risen from the village sentry, a section of hinged willow screen swung aside to cleverly reveal a life-size Viking longship which promptly surged around the bend in the river and began the serious business of village pillaging.

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The whole thing was realised to amazingly professional effect, achieving a genuinely exciting passion play, complete with captured maidens and highly convincing sword fighting.

Coming away from the first event, I was deeply impressed with the way the park had recreated the  diorama of village life, and was already curious what the next attraction had to offer.

It turned out that it wasn’t difficult to guess which era we would be visiting next, as we were confronted by the jaw-dropping sight of a full size Roman colosseum ahead of us.

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As we took our places in the audience for what we were promised would be a genuine Roman extravaganza, it again occurred to me how much time and effort had gone into making everything look as authentic as possible. The giant amphitheatre itself had a huge arena with a large raised dias in the centre, and gated entrances around the outer walls, through which the dramatis personae soon began to emerge.

In addition to the obvious gladiators, chariots, and Roman centurions, there were also acrobats, lions, ostriches, and even camels in the opening parade.

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The chariot racing was truly thrilling, and you got the impression that a couple of the racers may not have been on the best of terms, pulling no punches when it came to cutting each other up and attempting to force each other off the track.

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The third part of our historical journey was more of a hands-on experience.
The mediaeval town which seemed to have been transported in it’s entirety from the past, along with period dressed inhabitants, offered demonstrations of traditional crafts, with the opportunity to try your hand at some of them yourself, stalls selling local produce, and a wealth of fascinating historical information.
Not sure about the haltered bear, but he seemed happy enough, and at least they didn’t make him dance…

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If I had to pick a favourite event from that day, it would be the slightly demented take on  the Middle Ages, Battle for the Keep.
This featured knights on horseback, jousting, archery, maidens in distress, and most entertainingly, rampaging, flame-spouting siege engines attempting to breach the battlements of the castle keep of the title.

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Finally, we were treated to a fabulous falconry display, not only giving us the chance to see dozens of birds of prey, from hawks and merlins, right up to gigantic condors, we also found out the reason for the tethered blimp we’d seen on arrival.

At the climax of the show – a rather surreal, dramatic piece of theatre which appeared to be about nymphs and fairies (this particular event was all in French with no translation)  – several hatches opened in the cupola beneath the balloon, and a whole mixture of birds were released, swooping down from all directions to take the lures from the falconers far below.

One final piece of entertainment came towards the end of the performance, when a gentle .cooling rain began to fall. At least that’s how we thought of it.
The mainly local audience didn’t think so though, and we had the amusing sight of them being dive bombed by the birds as they hastily donned their waterproofs.

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2013 in Personal anecdote, Travel

 

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The great outdoors…

Now that the “summer” is over, all we have to keep us warm are  fading recollections of two weeks of packaged sunshine in some Costa-del-Chav, or the (possibly false) memories of a highly successful bbq.

Maybe because of this, I’ve been casting my mind back to the days when summer went on forever, it hardly ever rained when you were on holiday, and going back to school or work seemed like the remotest possibility you could contemplate.

Back when we were kids, my sister and I were lucky enough to be taken on foreign holidays almost every summer. We went to France, Denmark, Luxemburg, and Holland, amongst others, and most of the time we were camping.

Like a lot of people who we met over the years, we would often revisit the same campsites, and one of the sites we went to more than once, on the French coast, was Fecamp, a steeply-terraced site that was a useful stop-over after the drive from home and ferry journey, with two (admittedly annoying) kids in the car.

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In 1979, we turned up there just in time for the weather to deteriorate into driving rain and strong winds.
This didn’t overly trouble us as, even then, we’d perfected the art of sprung frame tent erection in most conditions, (ie; Dad did most of the actual construction, whilst we all stood, waiting to be told what to lift/pull/push, etc) but this seemed to be getting somewhat extreme.
We had barely started to put up the large, multi-room, family tent, when a huge gust of wind nearly picked the whole thing up off the ground.
As often happens on campsites in these situations, other families rallied round to help, and after a dozen or so were hanging on the guy-ropes, we all managed to haul the flapping, billowing canvas back to earth and secure it to the increasingly soggy ground.

Now, hindsight is a wonderful thing, and in this case, what it tells us is this; That was the day of the famously disastrous Fastnet sailing race.
Anyone who remembers that tragic event, will also recall how utterly appalling the weather was, and by late that night we were fighting a serious battle with the elements.

I awoke at sometime around midnight, the noise of the storm outside now risen to staggering proportions, the tent rocking and creaking in the roaring gale.
My sister and I could also hear a lot of shouting and swearing coming from the main body of the tent.
Peering out of the sleeping compartment, we saw my Dad, on his hands and knees on the muddy, saturated ground, using a saucepan and a varying assortment of kitchen implements to dig what became known as the “Suez canal” through the centre of the tent.

The extraordinary amount of rain, falling in such a short space of time, was now flowing down the steep incline of the site’s terraces like a series of waterfalls or rapids.

Our tent was in the way of one of these torrents, and the water was coming under one side and surging straight across the living area and out the other side.
Dad’s canal was directing it into a more manageable, narrower channel which didn’t flood the whole tent.

From what I remember, the rain stopped almost as quickly as it had arrived, although the wind kept up until morning, and the scene outside when we emerged into the muddy dawn was quite unbelievable. Some tents hadn’t been so lucky, and had just gone.

It was one of those things we laughed about later, and as kids, we obviously thought it was terribly exciting, but at the time I just remember Dad furiously digging his canal while indulging in olympic standard swearing.

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One of my favourite French holiday memories comes from when we stayed at one of the many “chateaux sites” (the camping was in the grounds of a turreted country house) that we visited over the years.
This large, sprawling site had the tent pitches arranged amongst the trees of a plum orchard, and we were staying there in August.

What do you get in August, in orchards?

Wasps, that’s what.
Hundreds and hundreds of bloody furious French wasps.

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They terrorised the little neighbourhood of tents in our particular avenue of trees, and it wasn’t long before we discovered why.
Their nest was about twenty feet from the front of our tent.

The orchard was, as far as I can remember, not actually in use, and the trees didn’t seem to give much fruit, but plenty to keep a battalion of flying sadists interested enough to set up home there.
It had been irrigated by a clever grid of slightly raised, buried clay pipes that ran in lines along each avenue, and branching off to water individual trees. When the campsite had been established, sections of these pipes had been dug up to allow cars access to the space between trees, where the tents were pitched.

The result of this were long, open ended sections of pipe, left buried under small humps in the grass.
And it was in one of these lengths of pipe that the enemy had taken up residence.

We were camped next to another English family with children our age, and our respective fathers had a council of war, which produced an audacious plan to vanquish the foe and bring sting-free peace back to the camp.

It had been observed that the wasps returned to their tubular homestead around sundown, so the two intrepid warriors lay in wait until they had seen a great many of the stripy little bastards dive into the hole in the grass.
When the returning hoard had dried to a trickle, they pounced.

Their weapons? A can of petrol and a manhole cover.

As our neighbour placed the heavy iron disc over one end of the buried pipe, Dad poured the contents of the can down the escape hatch.
After a dramatic pause, a match arced into the mouth of the tunnel  and…

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…is the only word to describe the resulting sound, accompanied by a blast of flame, smoke, and charred wasp corpses which shot out of the ground at a 45° angle, while the now lethal manhole cover took off straight up, rising to a height of about ten feet before coming back to earth with a clang.

Followed by silence.

Certainly no buzzing.

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Something which we, as kids, experienced on these holidays, was an activity known on many of the sites as “Nightwalk”. I’ve still never really understood where it originated, but we encountered it in several places, considerable distances apart.

Our family had now grown, and there were four of us in the kids’ tent, making the logistics more complicated, but we got it down to a fine art.
After the children of the families camping on site were sent off to their separate tents at bedtime, they waited quietly until they were sure their parents had either retired to their own beds, or were otherwise occupied.

Then the escape would swing into operation.

Crawling silently under the flap of the tent, to avoid the noisy zip, we would steal away into the dark, to meet up with other escapees of various nationalities from all over the site, and go roaming around the outer reaches of the grounds.

On one particular site, built on very sandy soil, the clubhouse’s “cellar” was on the back of the bar and had a rough plank door that barely reached the ground. With a bit of gentle scraping under the door, enough of a hollow was excavated to allow a slim 15 year old, who shall remain anonymous, to wiggle through and pass out a few bottles of vin de paintstripper to his waiting accomplices.

I very clearly recall, sitting on a stone wall, pleasantly pissed on cheap free plonk, chatting to my recently acquired step-brother, thinking This is what going on holiday should be like.

I also clearly recall my first wine hangover the next morning.

But when you’re kids, you just don’t have the time to be hungover. The sun is shining, the pool is open, and that cute Dutch girl you flirted with last night is going to be there…

..and summer went on forever
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For Ann, Martin, and Anthony.

 
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Posted by on October 24, 2012 in Personal anecdote, Travel

 

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