France, explained in panos

A couple of weeks ago I got back from a road trip through France. A road trip sounds terribly exciting, doesn’t it? Think Sal Paradise in Jack Kerouac’s On The Road; beat generation, young and free, blasting down some long, straight highway shimmering in the midday heat. The top of your 1969 Mustang down, cool rock music blasting from the speakers.The destination? Who cares, it’s all about the journey. Experiencing life at its raw edge; pushing the boundaries and teetering between glorious discovery and stupidity: the very definition of living.
Fast forward to the 21st century, where cars are made mostly of plastic and while we now have air con (delicious air con!) we also have congestion, sky high petrol prices, a worthless economy, overflowing car parks, service stations rammed with cheap plastic chairs, angry overweight people, horrible toilets and confusing coffee machines, congestion, that special kind of rage only summoned by an apparently mutinying sat-nav, congestion, and did I mention the sky high petrol prices. The trip to France was a bit of a reality check for me in this sense. I think I was born in the wrong era, or perhaps I’m just a pessimist with high expectations. Is that an oxymoron? Wait, I don’t even care.
Alas, there was no journey of self discovery or late night campfire societal epiphanies. There weren’t even any camp fires. We did, however, spend the trip camping in our mighty Eurohike Avon DLX (not a promotional plug, just highlighting the funny name), camping being both amazing and terrible. Part of me loves the camping life, nature being only a flimsy door zip away, but my body doesn’t love the shoulder-crumpling sleeps, I’m not a fan of the sudden fear of bears (and, yes, there are bears in the Pyrenees) and nor do I like having an ant infestation in my porch. I’m not kidding, the bastards took my apple pie! Still, we timed it very well because the weather was perfect – cool enough to sleep at night but quickly getting hot during the day. And by hot I mean it was 37 degrees on some days. Camping in early September in the UK is often a different story – gale force winds and frost not being out of the question. Nonetheless French campsites are generally very pleasant; two we found were amazing (one in a pine forest and the other on the top of a hill in the Pyrenees), two were a bit shit and the rest were nice. Win some, lose some I suppose. I have to say, the Hossegor area is phenomenal. It’s a sublime mixture of pine forests and some 200 kilometres of golden sandy beaches. Now we’re talking! I also enjoyed the cheap beer in France. That doesn’t exist in the UK anymore. Hello, inflation.
So I guess the trip was about experiencing nature, which is what I love to do anyway. I may have learned that France is probably not the place for me, but it’s good to find out what you like and don’t like, arriving at your ideal destination by a process of elimination.
The next trip? I’m not telling you. It’s a secret.

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