Or should that just be – Leave France – as quickly as possible. I’m sorry, but for me it is just a big – very big – lump of earth that leads the way to Spain. Mind you, I had a really lovely trip to Paris a few years ago.
Yes, we opted for the drive. Once that decision had been made it was on to the age old dilemma of whether to go via ferry to Spain or France and if so, where should we leave from? Dover, Portsmouth or Plymouth (in December??) Well, our research showed it takes at least six years and fourteen weeks by ferry to Spain (well, nearly) and they insist you house your pet in a kennel. Not going to work. So we were left with the daunting French options. The Tunnel won. We’ve been on loads of ferries, thank you, but none of us had ever been through the Tunnel. So Le Shuttle it would be. I was quite excited as we pulled up to the entrance booth and it flashed my name, registration and a big fat welcome. Such enjoyment was very shortlived as we were ushered impatiently through the French passport control – little did we know but this moment would come back to bite us on the bum – but more of that later, much later, when we finally get to the section ‘Applying for Residency as a Non EU Citizen’ exasperated groan. It was all a bit bleak driving down the feeder road to the train – I thought we were already there (haha no offence, but I have been to Calais before!) but I was soon distracted by the growing anticipation of having to actually maneouver the car onto the train – neither of us can remember exactly why I was doing the driving – my overwhelming need to control everything? not sure – but anyway, it was all relatively easy as it happens, and I shall always be grateful to the giant SUV infront for showing me the way.
Calais was exactly as I remembered. Having started to get a bit knackered around Reims (we had began our journey in the Midlands) we decided to stop for the night. Now, let’s not forget that the one thing the French do extremely well is food, so I was quite looking forward to my tea. We found an Ibis, nice and cheap and we could have the dog with us for an extra 10 euros – excellent stuff. We dumped our stuff and headed for the restaurant. Never, in the history of eating out, have I ever been met with such disdain. We were shown to our table with a grimace and not a word of either French or English and there we waited. And waited. Finally, someone took our order and, once again, we were met with what is becoming an all to familiar occurance on this trip – a complete disappointment. Is it just me?
So to bed. Fell asleep immediately – the bed was very comfy – I concede. Oh my life – woke up to a string of expletives – husband had woken and without his contact lenses had tried to find his way to the bathroom, well to the lightswitch in the first instance – and discovered not only were the lights out there was no power at all! – Just our room, you understand. Is it just me? Well, after much marching up and down to the front desk for explanations, resolutions and finally guest recovery options, we ended up agreeing to get the hell out and the charge for half a nights accommodation would be on them.
It was cold. We knew that. But as we trundled along this ENDLESS highway I noticed white stuff? Frost? Then the warning lights were being lit – and warning messages appeared – in French of course. No, I’m not going to complain, but I did curse my limited french vocabulary – but it was when we were joined by a fleet of snow ploughs that my heart sank to my knees. For what seemed like a million miles I managed to keep going (rear wheel drive you understand, German precision yes, but totally useless in anything other than glorious sunshine), with my buttocks firmly clenched – the seat would have to be surgically removed in Barcelona – we carried on and it was then, when Husband kindly suggested we stop for a coffee that it happened. Dear life. I just lost it. The back end went and that was it. All I could see was the central reservation (an insipid shade of concrete) looming towards us. How we didn’t hit it I will never know. Finally, we came to a stand still. White with fear, the three of us. And the worst of it – we had gone spinning past the services sliproad and so missed our chance to get off and had to keep going. This could be a good thing. If I could have got out of that car there and then, I wonder if I would have ever got back in. Excuse me, I thought we were going SOUTH? Finally, the snow was replaced with the wind. Gale force wind. Yes, they illuminated the warning signs for the wind too. The Mistral, I believe, as I learned later. I can’t even be bear to write about how awful that was. And then, as the dawn broke we saw the mountains, the wind stopped and we were in Spain. And the sun came out.