Road Trip, Part Two: Eat that, Euro Disney

Okay, so I’m sure Euro Disney is pretty awesome, but as someone who has a bit of a thing for trains, the Eurotunnel really is all that. We set off at 08:30 as James wanted plenty of time to get to the terminal for our train at 14:40. As we hadn’t used the train before we had no idea what to expect and with the two smalls we needed extra wiggle room for stops. The roads were nice and clear so we had a nice easy journey down, making good progress, aided by the fact that both smalls fell asleep within the first few miles and woke up when we were no more than 30 minutes away from the terminal. A good omen? With 3.5 hours to spare and unsure of what to expect when we got there we pulled into Maidstone services. DS had woken up just a few minutes befoe, I badly needed a coffee, and James was keen to fit the headlight reflectors. The timing was good as DD woke up as we pulled into the car park.

One coffee later we were on our way to the terminal. Wow. When transport infrastructure works it really does. At the entrance we were given a card with our “boarding card” info (we were “D”), then we drove round to the “terminal” where we could park and go inside to buy food or duty free, just like at the airport minus all the security checks and pointless shopping opportunities (when did anyone actually buy Kurt Geiger shoes at an airport?) Although we were still a good 45 minutes early, we weren’t sure whether we could drive up to get an earlier train (the people we spoke to in the terminal car park suggested not) so I ran in and picked up a few sandwhiches, which were pretty reasonably priced, at least compared to an airport terminal, then we drove round to wait for the train. We were then assigned to Aisle 14, where we waited at the front of the queue for around 30 minutes until it was time to board. There was very little traffic there so it was all pretty slick and within another 30 minutes we were parked on the train and ready for the off. Thirty minutes later again and we were in France! I wish I’d known how easy it would be!

Once on the other side we could relax a bit: no more deadlines, timetables, just time to take a breath and drive, calm it all down a bit, and make our way to our hotel for the night. Our hotel for the night was the Inter-hotel Alizéa, just of Autoroute 11 in Les Mans, which was approximately 4.5 hours from Calais according to the Garmin. We were on our way, in France, at last. James and I chatted while the littlies slept again (brilliant) and it was interesting that we were both feeling just totally at ease with it all; no anxiety, more relief. We made our way along the autoroute, then DD woke up: time to stop.

We pulled into the first services we came to – Aire de Somme – and were more than pleasantly surprised. We know from driving in France on holiday that many of their equivalent of the UK’s motorway services put ours to shame and I’d say this one was one of their best! There was a clean and dog-free playground, a lake with decking, a clean and modern building with a Petite Casino (a shop), a restaurant, loos, and even a tourist shop selling souvenirs! Very nice. We ended up here for an hour and a half and could easily have spent the whole afternoon there, if we hadn’t got another 3.5 hours of driving to do. DD had a much-needed run around, DS had a wriggle around, James sorted out the headlamp reflectors on the car, then it was time to go.

Back on the road again we were soon through Rouen and on our way to Les Mans. An hour from our destination DS woke up crying so we made another pitstop for a coffee, this time at a much more low-key services (a log cabin with a coffee machine and a resident cat.) DD had a little bit of a run around, mostly chasing the cat, then we set off again. By then it was getting dark so James had his first taste of driving a right-hand drive (RHD) car in a left-hand drive (LHD) country at night. Before starting our journey James had flicked a magic switch in the Passat, thanks to Mark (our most trusted mechanic from IVS in Huddersfield), which changes the headlamps so they’re good for driving on the right, but as we also had the reflectors on James was concerned that they were blocking out some of the light he needed. After a few miles he got used to it though, so no big deal. The roads were quiet, my eyes were burning with tiredness, we were 50, 40, 30, minutes away. Getting there, all good.

Just when it was all going so well DD woke up. “I want booby,” she whined. I explain (not for the first time that day) that we were driving and would stop when we could. She really wanted it though and was megatired so managed to work herself up into a state, screaming, kicking, almost puking, so I explained again that we’d stop as soon as we could. More screaming. I suggested we hold hands, which was very unpopular, as was my suggestion for her to have chewy dody (her emergency dummy). By this point we were only 8 minutes from our hotel according to the GPS and all unimaginably tired. I checked the Kindle, which was on 4% power, and suggested Shaun the Sheep. Shaun the Sheep seemed to do the trick and the screaming stopped. Instantly. The terrifying power of TV! But with all this going on we were almost at our turning and we were both a little distracted, so James took a wrong turn adding another 10 minutes to our journey. Typical! So after nearly 12 hours on the road, approximately 2 minutes from our destination, we watch the ETA on the Garmin change from 10.31pm to 10.40pm. Boom! Well, by this point we were delerious with tiredness and just grateful the screaming had stopped in the back. A few minutes later and we were in the hotel car park.

Thankfully, the hotel I’d booked – Inter Hotel Azelia – turned out to be a blinder and I would recommend it to anyone making a similar journey across France (Trip Advisor review to follow). It was very convenient for the autoroute and open 24-7, so there were no worries about turning up at whatever time, which was something that we found with the places I’d seen on Air BnB, many of which specify check-in/arrival times, mostly no later than 10pm, I presume because usually you’re staying in private homes. Fair enough but that was pressure we didn’t need what with everything else and not having made the journey before. The hotel worked out well as the guy on reception, who was incredibly helpful, offering to lock my bikes in their conference room overnight, was just handing over to the night receptionist. Our room was lovely; clean with plenty of space, a nice bathroom, a kettle with coffee sachets (Nescafé!), and good firm mattresses. What a relief! By the time we’d unpacked our overnight essentials DD had made a full recovery and was bouncing around the room, excited by this new experience. Within minutes she had switched the TV on (she’s not even three so how did she do that?) and we were all sat in a daze watching the women’s paraolympic basketball: Algeria vs. France. Random.

One bath later and we were all tucked up in bed. A successful day of travelling bar the missing iPhone.

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We made it!

It’s been 10 days now since we left the known and familiar in favour of an adventure into the European countryside. So far we’re having a lovely time. We’re busy – it’s not a holiday, as such – but crammed into one room, albeit a decent sized open plan room, it’s nice, after the last few months of craziness, to spend time together, just the four of us. And then there’s the weather. I’m quite sure that we’ve spent more time outside in the last week than we had all summer in the UK. DD is so happy – she loves it outside, as do we. There are a few things getting in the way of our progress but no show-stoppers, just inconveniences; the main inconvenience being no Wi-Fi! Consequently, I have written about five posts for the blog, documenting the three-day road trip and first few days here, but have not yet had chance to post them. Since we’re getting a bit more organised now (and getting a handle on sources of free Wi-Fi) I hope to post them over the next few days and weeks starting today. So here’s part 1 of the journey. Enjoy!

Road Trip!

Our journey to France from our soggy little house in Hollingworth took three days in all. We were on the road until late every day which meant no time to blog along the way, so here’s my retrospective report.

Day 1: Saying Goodbye to Garden Cottage (Hollingworth to Uppingham)

The big day: leaving! As James predicted, there was still a tonne of stuff to do and far to much to go into the car. We got up early and set to it. James took the final load to the tip, taking DD along to try and keep her occupied, while I stayed at home to give the upstairs a final clean, sweeping and mopping. It’s at this point that things started to go wrong! James returned soon after to say DD wanted to come home, so instead of going straight to the garage and taking her with him, now she was home with me. I hadn’t managed to get all my cleaning done because DS decided today was the day he would no longer tolerate lying down alone on the floor and now I had both of them. It was only 9am and already our schedule was going to sh*t. I plugged DD into Shaun the Sheep (which she must know by heart by now) and pottered around holding DD, who was still put-down-resistant.

Next my friend Anna popped round to pick up some furniture we’d been trying and failing to deliver hers for over a week! She arrived to a screaming baby and me in a bit of flap so popped the kettle on. We did the only thing to do in that situation and sat down for a coffee. While we were chatting there was a knock at the door. No, it wasn’t the letting agent (due at 10.30 and now 20 minutes late). It was our neighbours, who’d come to say goodbye. As with all the neighbours, we’d had our ups and downs but it was sad to say goodbye as, neighbourly spats aside (don’t get me started on the hedge!) they are good people and we’d all looked out for each other. They gave DD a teddy (another one!) and had a book for her too and some homemade biscuits for us.

James came back then, singing the praises of the Polish garage up the road who’d just done a knock out job on the car, cleaning it inside and out. After the inevtable bit of Brexit bashing and another coffee, Anna was off, DD was onto her third or maybe fourth Shaun the Sheep and DS was asleep, which means I was no good to anyone either. We decided to head to Dukes for lunch, as we’d promised to see our friend Karl there before we go.

Lunch was, unfortunately, rather leisurely, which meant we got back later than planned and were now well behind schedule. The landlord was coming at three and now, having spoken to the letting agent (who’d forgotten ever mentioning 10.30), we had an enormous amount to do. Not least James wasn’t happy with the car packing and pretty much all of downstairs needed clearing and cleaning. After a short while it became apparent that there was no way we’d get it all the car, so we decided to throw some high value things, like our lightweight, technical sleeping bags, into a box and post them to our new address. By now we were wishing we’d packed a few more things into boxes and sent them on their way with the removal company, but it was too late for that and the 50 quid it cost to send one medium sized box focussed our minds on the task at hand.

But by now I was in a flap. It was almost 4, which is when we’d planned to set off to my parent’s house, and we were still nowhere near done. Then the landlord arrived, closely followed by the letting agent. When the landlord’s daughter came in to see how I was doing I burst into tears! How embarrasing!! She was lovely though and asked what she could do to help. Since both DS and DD were screaming their heads off, I asked if she’d take DS and DD while I cleared up and she was more than happy to, as she’d brought her kids with her anyway, so they headed off into the garden leaving me to finally get a few things done. Within about 40 minutes I’d managed what probably would have taken another 4 hours flying solo with the two littlies to manage too. There was still alot to do but we got on top of it and by 7pm we – littlies, cats, and a smattering of our possessions – were on the road. It was a huge relief to be on our way. A few paranoid tickets-passports checks later and we were driving over the moors towards our destination. But it wasn’t over yet!

Once at my parent’s we released the cats into the back room, fed and watered them, passed the kids onto the grandparents, and set about getting the car repacked. A few weeks earlier, knowing we’d have reduced boot space because of transporting the cats, I’d dropped two huge bags at my parent’s and now we had to find a way to fit them into the car, which basically involved repacking many of the bags to try and reduce it all down. Needless to say it was gone midnight before we were in bed, almost too exhausted to sleep. Now all we needed was for the littlies to play along and give us a relatively good night but that was almost guaranteed to not happen since they’d both slept on the way down and woken up as we pulled into the drive. James took to the camping mat on the floor to make sure he’d get the best night he could since he was default driver and I curled up with the littles. Day 1, done. We’d left Manchester!!

Well, that was stressful!

Last day, we made it. Our stuff has gone, the cats are in their baskets in the car, the kids are still alive and snoring in the back, and James and I have managed to crack a smile or two, and we are on our way at last. It has been an extraordinarily long 24 hours, not least because I lost my wallet yesterday afternoon and consequently cancelled all my cards not 2 minutes before it was found, so my relaxing afternoon littering around to get on top of the cleaning turned into an exhausting and emotional mad dash to get cash to cover the entirety of our journey and first week or so. Not what we needed! Anyway, that was yesterday. The knock on effect meant today was an uphill struggle, not made any easier by one tired little girl wanting and needing some reassurance from her two very stressed out and busy parents. We survived. Tomorrow is another day. We’re on our way and that’s that: chapter closed!

Moving day!

Well, not quite, but today the movers – Matthew James – are here, taking all our worldly goods away, to be returned to us some time in the near future. James did a lot of research before deciding to use them, checking reviews on Trust Pilot and doing thorough checks on the Internet to make sure there weren’t any skeleton’s lurking, and I think it paid off because they seem very professional and experienced. I particularly like that they keep telling James to sit down and relax, which he badly needs to hear! I know he was stressing about the physical effort involved in getting the boxes up to the lorry, which doesn’t actually fit down our lane, but they’ve been using our Passat as the shuttle vehicle and so far we haven’t had to lift a finger, which is lovely. The only downside is that we’re a little bit trapped in the house with nothing for lunch, so I’ve just made an executive decision and ordered pizza. Yum.

They arrived at 9am, as they said they would, and have been at it the whole time. We’re part of a larger collection and the previous homeowners understimated so they’re having to do some fancy footwork to fit it all in. It may yet turn out that they can’t fit all our stuff in, which would be a pain, but hey ho. They are certainly trying their best to get it in and it’s not their fault that the previous load was much larger than anticipated.
On an emotional level, I’m mostly feeling relief. Packing and clearing out has basically taken over our lives for the last few months and I’ll be glad to see the back of it all. Looking around the house it stills feels homely, even without all our clutter, but it’s interesting that I don’t feel attached to it as a place. As with everything that’s led us to this point in time I really feel it’s the right time to move on. Of course I will be sad to move away from all my wonderful friends, and since there have been a lot of teary goodbyes in this last couple of weeks it has and is emotional on that level, but I’m also excited to both have a bit of rest and then get on with our new life. We still have a lot of cleaning to do but after today one more sleep before we leave this house and move on. Awesome!