We arrived nice and early for our morning ferry yesterday, knowing that we needed time to send some emails using the free wifi at the dock cafe. Except D’s laptop refused to play ball. He had decided to password-protect it the day before and it just wouldn’t accept the password. We didn’t want to head to France until we got it working, so abandoned our ferry and spent over 3 hours on the phone to Apple to get it sorted. After convincing P&O that we shouldn’t have to pay a £60 fee for ‘being late’ for our ferry, we were eventually able to get on one that left at about 4pm. That meant that we would be arriving in the dark, which we hadn’t wanted to do, but we also didn’t want to wait another day.
Aussie Dad made an interesting comment about the Brit’s view that anywhere other than our tiny island is Abroad. Well, I know we didn’t travel very far (about 20 miles or so), but a lot changes in that distance. Obviously, the language which is our first sticking point. Then there is the currency, the time zone, the fact that they drive on the other side of the road. The fact that shops close for long lunches and then reopen again late into the evening. The fact that we are unfamiliar with the shops so have to guess what they sell – who would have thought you could buy discounted food at a place called ‘Le Mutant’?! So, not very far from home in distance but most definitely Abroad – it isn’t like Australia where you can travel for thousands of kilometres and nothing changes but the time!
Travelling in a motorhome in France is very civilised. It is a national obsession and the country is covered in Aires-de-camping-car – basically small sites where motorhomes are allowed to park overnight. Some are nothing more than a carpark with water tap/waste disposal, others are fancier. If we had been able to get the earlier ferry over, we would have hit the road straight away, but as we didn’t arrive in Calais until after 6pm, we decided to head straight to the Calais aire. Heading out of the ferry terminal in the dark, on the wrong side of the road, trying to follow the tiny road signs they have in France was a little un-nerving, but we could see the aire around the other side of the dock and found it easily enough. We found going around roundabouts the wrong way very disturbing but repeating our mantra of ‘Round to the right, round to the right’ helped! The aire was the carpark type, but very convenient and, best of all, free as we are out of season. Yippee! We parked up, opened a bottle of wine and, following a stressful couple of days, had an early night.
We are keen to get south as quickly as possible, so won’t explore any of France now – we are hitting the road and will do our exploring when we come back this way next year. Having said that, we have also decided to avoid the autoroutes – paying the toll for the increased 130km speed limit makes sense when you have a lot of distance to cover, but when you are in vehicle that doesn’t go that fast anyway, there doesn’t seem much point!
We took the same route that we took when we were here with Liz in 2006 – we even recognised a carpark in one of the villages where we had stopped to have lunch! We stopped to do some shopping at a hypermarket somewhere (can’t remember where!) and spent a while wandering around marvelling at the scale of the place – even the biggest Tesco Extra isn’t a patch on the place we went to today. We remembered from our previous trip that you have to get your fruit and veg weighed before you go to the checkout, but learnt a couple of new things – firstly, if you are wearing a backpack, you must put it in a locker and not take it into the shop. Amazing what gestures can convey because we didn’t have a clue what the women was actually saying! Secondly, despite two long aisles dedicated to yoghurt, we couldn’t find any large tubs of the stuff, only individual pots. What a waste of packaging!
We stopped and had lunch by the side of the road – no prizes for guessing that we had a proper French baguette and brie!
This evening we are in another free aire on the edge of Mesnieres-en-Bray, a village in Normandy. We are the only ones here and it is very quiet, apart from the church bells which chime every hour and have just started on the half-hour as well. We had a stroll around the village, during which we remembered we had to look the wrong way for traffic when crossing the road and have now settled down to our €2.40 bottle of wine – which to our surprise comes from Spain!