Forget French cooking, perfums and fashion, the real French art is the art of queuing. You can go from sitting in long traffic jams at three round abouts ending a freeway, to waiting at the unique cash register of a busy grocery store, from standing in line at the showers in crowded camping, to waiting, stuck between markets in cute villages. They queue with a smile, a sense of humour, or they just jump the queue without fuss or a backward glance.
The traffic jams started as soon as we hit the French border, which allowed us ample time to admire little villages smiling with flower baskets and brightly painted wooden shutters.
Of course, at destination, in Biscarrosse Plage, every single camping was full (all 10 of them, we checked). Oh what to do, as the evening advances. Paul had the brilliant idea to go to the police. They kindly pointed us to an Aire de Service down the road. That was an eye opener.
During the touristic seasons, the French sea side villages are fighting hard for tourists money. Why let all the spending folks flocking in their camping cars go away because everything is full?...The towns along the Aquitaine coast have created massive campgrounds, for camping cars only, in theirs shady and endless pine forests by the beach. For a few Euros, you get a safe camping site and a toilet for which of course you queue. A word of warning, they self clean every 15 minutes. Callum got a very lucky escape as the jets started to spew hot water...
Darting between traffic jams, we drove along the coast all the way to the Oleron Island in Charente Maritime and another aire de service run by the local town. We even had a view of the shower queue...Maxim and Callum happily played in a tree with a gang of French children. Everybody politly said hello to us in spanish because of our number plate and some came to admire our nifty little van sitting in the shade of giant motorhome.
The French got tired of paying for hotels and cabines by the week and they are too broke to travel abroad because of the economical downturn. So they have invested in brand new homes on wheels. in the summer, they grab their kids and the dogs and travel from one aire de service to the next, enjoying a holiday by the sea for a few euros per day.
The dust and the heat wave got to us in the end. Tonight, we are treating ourselves to a proper french camping, grass, shade, pools with slides spa and wifi. A shower without waiting in line...bliss.
Where will we land tomorrow? No idea, but there will always be an Aire de service with a queue to welcome us somewhere in France.