One of the reasons I blog, it’s more for me than other people. It’s a useful reminder for me about what I have eaten, what I have cooked, and as in this post challenges when cooking on holiday.
At the end of July we went on an Eurocamp holiday in France. Having visited Brittany last year and stayed at a Eurocamp site I had anticipated blogging about myself-catering experience and what worked and what didn’t, but for some reason never got around to it. I wish I had as it would have made this trip a little easier.
This year we went with another Eurocamp to La Croix Du Vieux Pont in Picardy or Hauts-de-France in Northern France. So I have decided to quickly write up some of those experiences in preparing for self-catering.
My previous experience of self-catering apartments was from the Greek Ionian islands and Cyprus. This was before children, so it was me and my other half. We rarely used the self-catering facilities for cooking, as we would eat out a bit, but it was useful to have a hob, a fridge and a few utensils and crockery. The “kitchen” in the apartments I experience were very minimal and not really sufficient for anything more than snacks and hot drinks. Also the local shopping environment wasn’t exactly great for self-catering, with very small supermarkets.
When we booked our Calpe holiday in 2016, due to dietary requirements (gluten free) we wanted to ensure we had not only a self-catering kitchen, but a decent enough kitchen for actual real cooking. We found the kitchens in caravans in the UK great for self-catering, if a little cramped. However I would usually take a range of ingredients and kitchen utensils to make my life easier when cooking. So I did something similar when we went to France this year.
At La Croix Du Vieux Pont, we had a three bedroom caravan which came with a well-equipped kitchen including a proper gas hob, an oven and an outside gas barbecue as well.
This was in many ways better than the equipment I have had at UK holiday parks, for example there was a washing up bowl and a draining rack! This made clearing up after a meal so much easier than just having the sink and draining board.
I took the following items with me to make cooking and catering easier.
Chopping board – for some reason the only chopping board I find in caravans are glass ones! So I always take a plastic chopping board with me.
Knives – I have found the knives on holiday either blunt or broken, so I have a large kitchen knife and a bread knife that I use on self-catering holidays.
I took a sieve with me, but in the end didn’t use it, as the caravan was equipped with a colander.
I took a spare baking tray, as usually there is only one in the caravans I have been in, in addition I took a pair of tongs which is useful for turning items on the grill. There was a long-handled barbecue tongs were provided which worked well for the outdoor barbecue.
Though I wanted to take my Tassimo coffee machine, I was overruled so we took a cafetière that worked well.
I took a potato peeler and I also took a pair of scissors, but there was one in the caravan.
The other things I take with me our sandwich bags, cling film and foil. This is easier to store uneaten food but also for packed lunches.
To help with washing up and cleaning, I took some steel scourers, washing up sponges, j cloths, washing up liquid and tea towels. In addition I take spare binliners as well.
I also took the following ingredients, though I know I could get some of these in French supermarkets, I wanted to avoid spending extra money on basics that I already had in the kitchen.
Tomato pasta sauce
As two of our household are gluten free I also took a range of gluten free items as well.
I pack the fresh food in a cool box, which if we get a small fridge I use during the week as supplementary fresh food storage. The fridge though we got was pretty big and I didn’t use the cool box.
Overall I don’t think I missed anything, apart from some mustard and white wine vinegar to make a French dressing, so in the end we bought some dressing from the supermarket.
One of the nice things I have enjoyed when self-catering at a Eurocamp in France is the gas barbecue that is outside every caravan. Something I have never experienced in the UK (maybe it rains too much).
One of the advantages of the barbecue is that you can avoid using the oven or grill in the caravan which can heat up the living area considerably, which when it is hot anyhow, makes it very uncomfortable.
On the first evening of our recent holiday to France, we popped to the local campsite shop for some quick extra supplies (we had brought some basics with us, as well as enough food for the first meal). However as we had time we thought we might get some French food for the evening meal.
I picked up a pack of Chipolatas sausages, which I grilled on the barbecue.
These were really nice, meaty, tasty and delicious. We had these quite a few times over the holiday.
Over the week, as well as Chipolatas I also did Merguez sausages, lemon chicken and some nice peppered rump steaks.
Most of the time we had these with salad, though I did cook Pommes Rissolées a couple of times, and also made a (gluten free) pasta salad as well.
The only challenge was on the final evening, though I regularly cleaned the griddle part of the barbecue, the bottom part did have too much grease on it, so we had some flames which resulted in certain pieces of food getting somewhat charred! When we go again I will clean this part of the barbecue as well.
Part of the (new) housekeeping agreement with Eurocamp, as well as emptying the fridge and doing the washing up, you also had to clean the barbecue.
Knowing this in advance, I did bring some metal scouring pads and cloths for this purpose. It came up okay, but having some proper cleaning spray or similar would have been useful. However I got there in the end.
I really enjoyed cooking on the barbecue during the week, it was quick to light up and made catering much quicker and easier.
When we went on holiday last year to France one thing we tried and enjoyed were Pommes Rissolées. We bought the frozen variety from the local supermarket and then cooked them in the oven.
Of course when we came home, we couldn’t find them on sale in our supermarkets. However they are pretty easy to do yourself.
I take Maris Piper potatoes and after peeling them, I then used my new kitchen toy I got for my birthday, a mandolin, (other similar models can be had on Amazon) to dice the potatoes into cubes, about 1cm big.
Then in a large frying pan I shallow fry them (I don’t have a deep fat fryer) and when they start to brown, I remove and drain them on kitchen towel.
I then finish them off in the oven with a couple of pieces of butter to aid the browning process and add some flavour. So they’re not quite Pommes Rissolées as we had them in France, but close enough.
Not going out to eat over the last three months has meant that I’ve had no meals or dishes to blog about. I have caught up with some recent meals, but have now been going back further into my photo library to see if there were dishes and meals that I may have not blogged about. One of these was a breakfast, which was not amazing!
In August of 2019 (only last year) we went to Brittany in France for our summer holiday. We took the ferry from Portsmouth to Cherbourg before driving down to a Eurocamp close to Dol-de-Bretagne.
Though the weather wasn’t that great, we did have a nice holiday.
We drove down to Portsmouth to catch the morning ferry. I hoped we could have breakfast at the port, but the process was very much queue up for passport control and then board the ship.
We were catching the fast ferry, the Normandie Express. It is a high-speed catamaran cruise ferry, owned and operated by Brittany Ferries.
The car deck was packed with cars and we scrambled through to the passenger deck.
Knowing that everyone was hungry we went straight to the café to get some breakfast and avoid any queuing or no seating.
I was anticipating something rather special, as I had seem this video on the Brittany Ferries website.
The menu looked a little bit strange, but I ordered some croissants, a few cooked breakfasts as well as some gluten free rolls. Oh and of course some coffee!
The breakfast looked like this!
There was some bacon, sausages, scrambled egg and bizarrely mashed potato!
It was an interesting experience, not one I would want to repeat. The sausages were fine, the egg was passable, however the mashed potato was just bizarre and the bacon did not taste like bacon.
The croissants were okay, fluffy and the French butter was very tasty. As for the gluten free rolls, well they were not very nice.
I think this could have been so much better and it was a bit of a flat start to our holiday. One of the reasons I wanted to go to France was for the food.
The breakfast was completely forgotten about though once we reached the open sea, as the water was very choppy and there were strong winds.
The day before the service had actually been cancelled due to the weather, and though the wind was not as strong as the day before, the waves were still there and it was a very rough crossing.
We had a lovely holiday and some great food. On the way back, we took a homemade packed lunch!
I spent most of the day travelling by train from London to Brest in Brittany, travelling via Paris. I had been invited to speak at a conference on libraries and analytics. The last time I had been in France was in 1998 (or was it 1997) when I spent a weekend in Caen. In the 1970s and 1980s most of my summer holidays were spent sailing to France and in 1982 I went on a fantastic school trip to Brittany.
When it was time to leave, I headed towards St Pancras. This is a huge station, but I found the Eurostar check-in and headed towards the departure lounge. This was my first time on Eurostar and it felt weird, in the sense it was like going to an airport, but this was a train. After checking in I had some time to wait until I could board the train. So I had a coffee and then I managed to get some Euro from a cash machine for the trip. The Eurostar was one of the newer ones and was very comfortable.
We arrived in Paris Gare de Nord.
I didn’t have much time to get across Paris. I had to buy a Metro ticket first and this was a bit challenging. First I wasn’t exactly sure what kind of ticket I needed, second my card did not work in the machine and I didn’t have any change, only notes. So I went to a patisserie, bought a pastry and then had the change to buy a ticket. The Metro felt old and dirty, but it wasn’t too long before I arrived at Gare Montparnasse. What I didn’t realise was how far the SNCF station is from the Metro stop for Gare Montparnasse. It’s about a kilometre, so I had to walk along this long subway tunnel from the Metro to the station.
It felt like I only made my train. The train was really long, with twenty odd carriages, and as the train split along the route, my reserved seat was in one of the furthermost carriages so I had a long walk along the platform to get to my carriage and my seat.
It was a comfortable ride and I enjoyed looking out of the window at all the scenery. It was nearly a four hour jouney from Paris to Brest, but when we finally arrived in Brest I walked to the hotel.
It felt both strange and comforting to be back in France.
I was staying at the Hotel Oceania Brest Centre. I was only staying one night at the Oceania. The hotel was easy to find and the welcome was warm and friendly.My French language skills leave a lot to be desired, so I was thankful that the reception staff spoke excellent English.
The room was simple, but had a desk as well as a very comfortable bed. The en-suite was a little cramped, but the actual shower was huge (and probably explained why the rest of the space was cramped).
Unlike the British hotels I stay in, there were no coffee (or tea) making facilities in the room, there was just a solitary bottle of mineral water. That’s just a cultural difference.
I had been invited to the conference dinner, but was tired and to be honest the thought of being stuck at an event for the night with no one I knew and everyone else speaking French, did not appeal. So I ducked out and decided to go out and have something to eat.
I really enjoyed my walk around Brest, I walked down the main boulevard, arriving at the harbour, which is a major naval base for the French Navy. As I walked down, trams were going back and forth.
Down at the harbour there was a huge bridge across the river, and nearby was the massive chateau.
Part of me wished that I had arrive the day before so I could have explored the town and visited the chateau. The organisers of the conference though had booked my travel and hotel, so there wasn’t much (if any) time in my schedule for sightseeing. When I was organising the trip I had the offer of them organising the travel or I could have done it. The reason I took the train was that there was no easy route for flying, it would have taken longer than the train and then there was the challenge of getting from the airport to Brest. I did think about driving down to Plymouth and catching the ferry across to Roscoff and driving down to Brest. This did appeal as I thought I could spend some more time in France to see Brittany, which I hadn’t been to since 1982. However I wasn’t sure about the logistics of this. So went with the offer of the travel to be organised by the conference hosts.
Brest was badly damaged during the war that a lot of it had to be rebuilt post-war. As a result it doesn’t quite have the charm of other French cities and towns with its modern architecture.
I walked around Brest trying to find somewhere to eat, but in the end decided to hit the hotel restaurant, the Nautilus, as it was getting late, and when I finished I wouldn’t have too far to walk back.
There was a nice warm welcome from the staff on a visit to the Nautilus. They have English menus so if you have a poor grasp of the French language then at least you know what you will be ordering. There is a limited, yet good choice on the menu, which I think is a positive thing. Many of the items are not very French, so I went with the ribeye steak with pomme frites.
The steak was cooked perfectly and was delicious. I di dn’t think too much of the frites, which felt like they had been cooked twice. I enjoyed the meal and the service was excellent. It was getting late, so I retired to my room to get some sleep.
I really don’t like the sound of blue honey, it may be peculiar to the British about this dislike of blue food, older people may recall the “missing” blue smarties that could be found in tubes of European smarties, but were not to be found in the tubes sold in the UK. Eventually blue smarties did find their way to the UK.