A Travellerspoint blog

This blog is published chronologically. Go straight to the most recent post.

Meet Nerys

Written by Caroline

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Nerys is the name of our lovely van. An eleven year old Fiat Ducato 5.5 metre beauty...or is it beast. 2.8 litre engine, pretty good miles per gallon and waiting for its MOT next week (yes I am nervous...we leave in two weeks time, on Wednesday 20 April).

Nerys

Nerys

DistrictNurse.jpg Yes, for all those Brits reading, she is named after Nerys Hughes from her District Nurse days. A no nonsense lady.

Here's the inside of our home for the next nine months. Captain chairs were a must and we have a solar panel and two leisure batteries to keep us going when we are camping in farmers fields over night - France Passion. We are not sneaking into someones cow field!

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She has all the mod cons. I am not walking across a field to go for a wee in the middle of the night.

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I bought her on July 16th 2010 and Alan and I took her straight to Latitude Festival. She has done nine trips, with friends and a couple of days just me and Nerys so we could acquaint oursevves. The cam belt has just been replaced and the first engine breakage has happened, so just a glass to break on the floor and we are ready to go :-)

We are sleeping in the van this weekend because we have friends and little ones filling the house and this is not the first time she has been used as a spare room. We've done 3,000 miles already. OK, no more car facts - packing and leaving the house next.

x

Posted by placesinbetween 31.03.2011 09:44 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

You know you are leaving when...

The ins and outs of packing and leaving the country in a van

...you go to turn the radio on downstairs and it is missing. Alan has taken it to his parents for whilst we are away.

Those that have known me a while, will have heard me talk about this trip since I got back from Australia nearly ten years ago. It was always going to be a budget trip, but when I decided to give up work in October, rather than March (for sanity reasons :-) it was going to have to be even more of a budget.

So Alan and I are traveling for nine months in Europe. We plan on volunteering on small holdings in exchange for free lodging - well a field, a shower and a bit of electricity for Nerys, and three square meals. My brother Chris put together the most brilliant spreadsheet for fuel expenditure and it looks like we will spend £1,000 on diesel. With what we have left, I was reluctant to spend it on storage and after looking into prices, it was confirmed that it would cut quite a lot into our budget (more on costs and logistics later for those tempted to do the same kind of thing) The long and short of it is, that we have relied on the generosity and good nature of our friends, who have taken a couple of boxes each of our belongings to store in their lofts.

We had a car boot sale; have given a lot to charity and our parents have taken back our crap that they thought they had seen the back of!

We can not thank you all enough, especially the support of our parents. THANK YOU.

So, imagine the last three weeks of our lives. Firstly we need to leave the house. OMG (the only acronym you'll see in this travel diary) it takes forever to pack a house up. So much rubbish that we want to keep. It takes two days, and four of us, Alan, me and my Mum and Dad, to pack furniture, take it to a variety of locations and then clean the house. Our lovely landlords, Richard and Francis, have been most kind in picking up the pieces - a pot plant here and a lampshade there and are taking care of them for us.

We move to Becki and Sam's house, whilst they are on holiday and cover their kitchen floor in the belongings that we had not managed to sort out. That takes us a week. Then the last three days have been at Mum and Dad's, cleaning and waxing Nerys and finding out that our bikes obscure the lights and so at 7.30pm, nine and a half hours before we leave here for Dover, a man turns up to fix a trailer bar! WHO SAID WE ARE LAST MINUTE TYPES??

I'll put a photo of the piles of stuff later, but right now we have to go to bed. I just wanted to put this post in before sending you all the link.

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We leave for Dover at 5.00am, to miss the M25 traffic. We'll then have a fry up and a kip in Dover before the 10am ferry to Dunkerque.

Next post, a summary of our plans and what it feels like to have nine months of freedom in front of us.

Thanks for all the notes, cards and good wishes. xx

Posted by placesinbetween 15:31 Comments (1)

First Impressions

21 April 2011 - Driving in France - Written by Caroline

Immediately I have noticed that there is much less rubbish on the sides of the road and on the beaches and pavements. We have only been in two regions of northern France, but nevertheless, it makes the UK look pretty scruffy.

Being that driving is my first experience, the other thing that has hit me is how much tail gating there is. I bought a ‘driving in Europe’ book and it said, watch out for when the Parisians leave Paris for their summer holidays, because they bring their city driving habits with them, but we have not had to wait. No hand waving, or horns or flashing of lights, but right up you’re a**e and happy to overtake when the car in front is still pulling into the slower lane. In the UK, I would consider it aggressive driving. Here is seems altogether acceptable. C’est la vie. No one seems pi**ed off, so it is fine by me.

Posted by placesinbetween 24.04.2011 00:27 Comments (1)

Shower? What shower?

23 April 2011 - Written by Caroline

We arrive at our first campsite and are told it is one Euro for five minutes of shower. We go for a long walk along the beach and then head for the camps showers. Off we go, laden with towels and euros and find a strange token system. Reception is closed. We stay dirty.

We leave the next morning, so decide to shower at the next campsite, just an hour and a halfs drive. Still a little weary from our packing extravaganza, we do not ask about showers when we check in… and it is tokens again. And, guess what? Reception is closed. No problem. We have a shower in the van. This will be the inaugural van shower. Very exciting. Until Alan exclaims…the shower head has mysteriously cracked and water is spurting out all angles but down. Not to worry, we turn the shower head on its side. It feels more like being spat at by a fountain nymph, but nevertheless, we smell better.

Day 3, we walk 8 miles to the beautiful seaside town of Tourquet. On our return, we arm ourselves with tokens, and I am very much looking forward to this shower. It is 10.30pm, by the time that we get to the bathrooms, I prepare everything, so I get my full five minutes of shower time, down to taking the lid off of my shampoo! Drop the token into the machine. The only thing that happens is an empty clanging sound of the token dropping. No water. I remain circumspect about it all and go for the good old strip wash option. Day 4, I have the most thoroughly lovely shower. We also have superglue on board, so will attempt to fix the van shower for when we are off grid.

Posted by placesinbetween 00:43 Comments (0)

For those considering a Europe trip (I’m thinking you Mr Abb

25 April 2011

Well, we are planning nine months (although the way the money is going on campsites we’ll be back for Christmas) and so for a long term trip we have invested in the following:

A solar panel so our leisure batteries charge when we are not ‘hooked up’ to the mains (to avoid spending all our money on campsites, we plan on using France Passion – free nights on farms, and WOOFing – volunteering on small holdings in exchange for room and board)

AA Europe breakdown cover
- majorly expensive but worth the peace of mind

Travel insurance - needed to check the small print to ensure that they covered belongings in a locked, out of sight area in a vehicle, because some don’t. Also that we were allowed a trip home each. We went for Infinity Insurance in the end, but it was down to that or Insure and Go.

A 12v invertor – allows you to charge laptops and phones off the 12v leisure battery or the car battery through the cigarette lighter. It is so we can use our computers mostly, as I will be working to set up my new business with my wonderful business partner Gayle and Alan will be working.

Additions if you have a bike rack
- A trailer board with registration plate. Because our van is comparatively small, our bikes obscure the lights and the reg. plate, so we were obliged really. We also need to get a reflector board for the bike rake, for when we are in Italy and Spain.

Safety gear
– by law you need two warning triangles, a reflector jacket per person, a first aid kit, two pairs of glasses if you have prescription glasses and are driving (just Spain I think) a GB sticker and light reflectors to change the beam direction.

Navigation equipment
– We have an iTouch, thanks to a very generous work leaving present (thank you Mathew) and so got the Tom Tom Europe Application and then a GPS enabled cradle. It has so far worked excellently. We also have a Europe road map, which we could not rely solely on because it is such a large scale, but it does tell us where the toll roads are so we can avoid them. Supposedly, you can spend 70 euro on tolls to get to the South of France.

Posted by placesinbetween 00:45 Comments (2)

A note on Regions and Departments

27 April 2011 - Written by Caroline

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For those not already in the know, France is split into 27 Regions. Each Region, has Departments, or Counties. They can have as many as 8 or as few as 2 in a Region. So far, we have visited 2 Regions, Nord- Pas de Calais and Picardy. The next two entries are colourful descriptions (attempts at, anyway) of the parts of these 2 regions that we have seen, on our first six days of our trip.

Posted by placesinbetween 13:19 Comments (0)

Nord-Pas-De-Calais

Bray-Dunes and Etaples. Our first two days - Written by Caroline

We got our fry up - but on the ferry, rather than on English soil. It was good though!

We arrive by Ferry into Dunkerque and drive straight into Belgium. There is a field by the side of the road, with a French flag and then 50 yards further down, a Belgium flag. So we have been in three countries in one day!

We turn back around and arrive at our first campsite. We have booked campsites for the first week and for Cannes, so we don’t have to think too hard and can enjoy the luxury of showers and somewhere easy to fill up with water. After that it will be WOOFing, France Passion or Aire’s (more on those later).

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This is a lovely campsite – Camping Paraqueet, in Bray-Dunes, and hours drive east of Dunkerque, on the coast. It is a ten minute walk to the beach and then a half hour to the town. We take a walk and get some Frites and then have our first meal in the van and bed down.

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It is peaceful, warm and some fellow ‘vanners have already told us their ‘road stories’ of where to go and where to avoid.

We intend to spend some time chilling out, so leave Dunkerque for another day and travel an hour and a half on the motorway, West, along the coast, to a small fishing village called Etaples (sorry, haven't grasped putting accents above letters yet - the second e has one). The campsite is called La Pinade - the pines. The impression that I had gleaned from the website, was that it was right on the coast and there was a beach. I foolishly did not properly look at Google maps and so was sorely disappointed. Nevertheless, it is a nice campsite, lovely people running it. Our views from the pillow so far have been very Green and lovely. This one is no exception.

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...More soon, just grabbed some wifi space (an elderly couple have been sitting in the washroom watching tele on the internet and using up all the bandwidth :-) before bed. Driving to Giverney to visit Monets garden tomorrow. Lots of special memories of looking at his paintings. Never thought I'd see the real thing. Night x

Posted by placesinbetween 13:41 Comments (2)

A note on 'goings on'

2 May 2011 - Written by Caroline

Before I get on sharing some things we've seen with you - and we have seen some really beautiful sites, just a note on the mundane:
Alan fixed the shower head! We have a shower in the van again. :-)
We have had a reorganise and now are starting to know where things are. We still haven't named all the storage compartments yet. Any suggestions for a theme please add to the comments box!

The campsite in the Loire - where we are at the moment - had thieves come through it the night before last. They new what they were doing - and a couple of motorhomes got broken into and had electronic goods taken. We had a beach towel nicked and next door a pair of crocs, but they swept the camp and took van steps to reach up and slash 'pop up' material of vans and then towels to cover it. The gendarmes have been very thorough. We are absolutely fine and have a safe in the van which all the equipment goes into. The lovely older Dutch couple next to us were shaken up though. I gave the lady a hug and the husband a lesson in his new computer so he could email people.
This morning it is very peaceful in the campsite, which highlights the palaver of yesterday morning.

Our route to Cannes is sorted and we have contacted a few people to get volunteer work. We've also worked out where all the free campsites are along the way and are going to do a bit of wild camping.

Posted by placesinbetween 00:02 Comments (1)

More on Nord-Pas-de-Calais

The things you see and how you travel there - Written by Caroline

The idea was that we spent the next few days sitting by the van recovering, but the site isn't close enough to the sea for us and so we go looking for it.
Etaples is a small fishing village on an estuary mouth. It is Good Friday and so the first thing we come across is some members of the congregation of local churches doing?! the stations of the cross

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Since Etaples isn't close enough to the sea for us, we decide to walk to it. Tourquet is seriously posh. Clean and empty of people and cars We walked five miles and came across the most expensive looking of houses (you can tell from the enormous windows).

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We thought we were already impressed, but then we entered Etaples. I could add 10 photos of the impressive and odd archictecture (one house was a small replica of a castle!).

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And after a five mile walk - we see the sea

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Moule Frites later we take a wander home to crack open the the bubbly, that we'd saved for our first night in France, but had been too grumpy up until now to appreciate it :-) Pete, Sue and Lily had given it to us last year, when it was finally confirmed we were actually going away in Nerys.

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Posted by placesinbetween 00:48 Comments (1)

The International Kite Festival - Berck Sur Mer

Written by Caroline

Today we cycle. 40 kilometres! The area is a bit like Suffolk, thankfully, so it is flat. We are taken on a diversion because of road works, which we decide to ignore on the way back (we are only bicycles after all).

The cycle is lovely, and worth it because the first view of the kites in the distance, colourful floating dots in the sky, is tantalising. And look what we saw when we got there.

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Posted by placesinbetween 00:53 Comments (3)

Montreuil Sur Mer - Home of Victor Hugo

Written by Caroline

Every year this walled town recreates Les Miserables with a 'spectacle son et lumiere'. I was meant to go last year, but didn't make it, so was glad to be able to pass through this little town in Nord pas des Calais.

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It was a sleepy Easter Weekend, the drive was beautiful and the town is lovely. We parked in the town square, had a wander around the town and the old ramparts and then had some lunch and moved on.

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Our view for lunch.

What I love about this place is that we got to see it when it wasn't full of tourists (we were in disguise as long term travellers!), it was peaceful and felt very traditional.

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It is difficult to express the tranquil town of Montreuil (which used to be by the sea, but the sea has receded) and I am guessing it is not always this peaceful and we were just lucky. but it was a particularly beautiful morning and a particularly lovely memory.

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Posted by placesinbetween 01:47 Comments (4)

A history lesson – The Somme

Written by Caroline Broad

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Out of everything that we experienced here, it was the glorious countryside that has stayed with us. That is not to take away from the remarkable insight into the experience of the young soldiers that fought in the First World War. Not even a Century ago, and yet, such a different kind of war to what we are now familiar with. I know quite a lot about the Second World War but less so the first, and this was a good moment to reflect on the huge loss of life and the horrific circumstances the men fought in, and the respect that they all command.

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We were there for Anzac day. There is an enormous love for the Kiwi and Aussie soldiers who were a part of the Commonwealth force, fighting to push back the German occupation in France. I’ve taken a few quotes from leaflets and plaques, for the sake of accuracy below.

One thing that had never occurred to me, was how the cemeteries came about. I had expected, one or two large cemeteries, but as the documentation I found in the little cabinets at each cabinet explains:

Beaumont-Hamal was attacked by the 29th Division on the 1st July 1916, but it could not be held. It was attacked again and taken on the 13th November 1916 by the 51st Highland and 63rd Royal Naval Divisions. Frankfurt Trench British Cemetery is named from a German Trench about 1.6km North-East of the village, which remained in enemy hands until the German retreat early in 1917. The cemetery was made by the V Corps after the retreat, when their units cleared the Ancre battlefields, and it was known as V Corps Cemetery No 11. There are now over 150 1914 – 1918 was casualties commemorated at this site. Of these over one-fifth are unidentified. The cemetery covers an area of 427 square metres and is enclosed in a concrete curb.

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So, once fighting had ceased, soldiers had to find, dig out, gather up the bodies, identify them if possible and then choose somewhere nearby to bury them. And those places are all over the countryside, and now in the middle of arable fields.

We, and the other visitors we spoke to, were hit by the emotion of it all, but also by the care and attention paid to these cemeteries. And we come across a team who were looking after them. They wore uniforms and earmuffs and each had different sized lawn mowers, and looked strangely out of place.

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Another piece of official information:
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission was established by the Royal Charter of 21 May 1917. Its duties are to mark and maintain the graves of the members of the forces of the British Commonwealth who died in the two world wars, to build and maintain memorials to the dead whose graves are unknown and to keep records and registers. The cost is shared by the partner governments – those of Australia, United Kingdom, Canada, India, New Zealand and South Africa – in proportions based on the numbers of their graves…The lands in France occupied as Commonwealth War Cemeteries or graves were generously provided by the French Government under the terms of the war graves agreement, signed in Paris on 31 October 1951.

Alan and I cycled around to visit some of the cemeteries and made it to the Canadian Memorial, which gives you an idea of what the trenches were like. Deep, over head height – for obvious reasons, and thin at the bottom. Horrible to imagine the squalor – trench foot killed a lot of men.

We also went to Theipval, and the section below is from a plaque there:

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The First World War saw fierce fighting along what was known as the Western Front – a battle line extending from the Channel coast to Switzerland.

The Battle of the Somme was a major offensive launched on 5 July 1916 that met fierce German resistance from strong defensive positions unbroken by a seven day bombardment. With a few exceptions, the attack was a failure and the offensive developed into a series of major battles that ended with the onset of winter and exhaustion of the troops in November 1916.

The Thiepval Memorial commemorates by name some 72,000 men who fell in the Somme sector up to 20 March 1918 and who have no known grave. It is the largest of the Commonwealth’s memorials, standing on the site of one of the most heavily defended German positions to be attacked on the first day of the battle, when commonwealth casualties – killed, wounded and missing – numbered more than 60,000.

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The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is responsible for the maintenance of graves and memorials in some 150 countries which commemorate around 1,700,000 members of the Commonwealth forces who died in the two world wars. The war dead commemorated here and elsewhere include those of several different faiths and of none.

The most important moments for me, has been the bits of information that people have left here on there visit. Snippets of the lives of individuals that are buried here, printed off from the internet, an old photo with a note from a great niece, or a school trip paying their respects to 11 of 15 members of their rugby team of the time. It was good to see the soldiers first names, rather than than just initials, and who their mum's or brothers were and the village they were from. It reminds you they weren't really soldiers, just guys caught up in something vicious.

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I felt a real sense of pride and connection and since I believe it is really important to learn from the past and not make the same mistakes over and over, it was good for me to see some of this. A rather sombre (seriously, no pun intended) entry, but a necessary one for me.

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Posted by placesinbetween 07:43 Comments (1)

The Bluemore Berry gang and Amiens

Written by Caroline

We managed to meet up with Dan, Anita, Olivia, Theresa, Janet and Kevin in the Somme for the day. We had some lunch – the best bit of that being that I ordered for everyone and Neets generously started a round of applause for my French language skills. It is obviously all relative! Although I think Theresa was getting the hang of it!

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It was lovely to see everyone, as we are fond of the whole family. Although I never met them whilst in Oz - I had my own thing going on and Dan his, we had Dan and Neets wedding all together and I’ve known Theresa for a long time. Anyway… we went to Amiens and The Berry’s, Alan and I went to see Amiens Cathedral.

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They had some really unique wooden carvings, with a very animated feel to them. We had a wander, a drink and then met the others for dinner. A short but sweet meeting.

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Posted by placesinbetween 08:03 Comments (0)

I am driving in my van…..

Written by Caroline

We have been taking the A roads, rather than the motorways, as suggested by a number of motorhome forums. You avoid the tolls, which can become quite costly – 70 Euros to get from North to South (have I mentioned that before?), but also, the A-roads, or ‘D-Roads’ as they are here, are well kept; straight; 90kmh limit, and very, very quiet. In a three hours drive today, we saw less than 100 cars!

The best part of staying off the motorways is driving through glorious countryside, pretty villages – stopping off to get Alan’s baguette and having lunch in an unexpectedly glorious town. Today, for instance, we came across Charolles, in the Borbogne region. Ancient, bustling, with a river running through it. Sigh.

Look where we are driving through?….nowhere. How wonderful!
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Update on motorways – we tried one out from Lyon towards Avignon. We drove for an hour. Positives - Alan didn’t have to do any navigating, so could chill out, and it was easier driving for me. The speed limit in France is 130kph – 80mph , 110 in wet weather. I drive at a happy 65mph – slower than I would in Nerys in the UK, but there is less traffic in France and it is easier to overtake the lorries. Anyway, I’m becoming a driving geeks. The negatives however are that for one hours drive, it cost us 19euro!!

On the flipside, we have found out that if you breakdown on the motorway and call for help using the SOS phones, if you can be fixed on the side of the road, rather than towed away, it is free! Also, if you need to empty your toilet cassette – more on that joy later…then most of the ‘Aires de service’ – service stations, have facilities for you to do that. You can stay overnight for free as well, although it is not recommended on paticular parts of some motorways.

French Pleasantries
There seems to be a commitment to using indicators properly, of which I’m in favour. The more everyone communicates, when coming together to achieve individual aims in a community – here the driving community, the easier and more pleasant it is. Tail gating continues, but not in an angry, impatient, aggressive way, just ‘the way it is’. Other than that, my observations are all about, how ridiculously busy the UK roads are, and in two weeks of driving, I have not yet been in a queue of traffic.

Oh, my favourite thing? Not having to pay for parking. It is soooo civilised, being able to turn up somewhere, find a parking space, and not worry about time limits and having to pay £2.00 for an hour. I understand, the UK is lacking in space and overcrowded, and perhaps the French pay higher tax than us, to cover the costs of car parks; but I still love it. That and the empty roads, make for pleasant driving. No more on the ‘driving experience’ now.

Posted by placesinbetween 08:11 Comments (0)

Les Animeux

Both Alan and I have loved being in the countryside. We have seen a lot of wildlife compared to our Mill Road, Cambridge life. We have seen a White Egret, plenty of Heron and Buzzards.

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We went for a walk at dusk whilst in Giverney and had the privilege of being amongst the evening’s goings on. A couple of deer were frolicking (proper use of the word) in the field; we could hear ‘mices’ in the undergrowth and saw a young otter in the river. In contrast, the hotel next to where we where staying had a field containing, llama, Emu, Ostrich and Geese! You never know what you are going to see when you go for a wander.

The best so far though, was at the Chateau Chenonceau, looking down into the water, you’ll never guess…a beaver!!

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Never, in all my days, did I think I’d have the view that we did, of a wild beaver. He was just hanging out, having a rest and we were looking down at him from only 6 foot above.

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More travelogue entries to follow tomorrow, (have been writing them off line, so I can upload when we do have internet) but must dash, as I'm off to the Australia Film Centre for a little Cannes Film Festival Soiree...as you do ;-) Lots of love xx

Posted by placesinbetween 08:20 Comments (5)

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