Like the World Cup and the Olympics – every four years, we venture abroad.
This year, we were invited to join my folks in a rented château in France along with my sister & her hubby & baby FloCo and my (not so) baby brother. Just to add extra stress to the part of foreign travel I hate the most (the journey) we chose to go by rail. Mostly this was because Bman gets a hefty discount because of his job as a ticket jockey (“he clips like a madman on the Ponty shuttle”).
My brother decided to go by train too, but mostly because he left it too late to book a cheap flight like my sister. My folks (because Mum doesn’t like to fly or like tunnels) chose to drive all the way to La Rochelle. Like a really naff episode of Top Gear or Around the World in 80 days – who could get there first.
We spent a night in London first (Stage 1) taking in a trip aboard the London Eye. Long queue but a great view. I did question my motives just as we were about to board our pod. I don’t much care for heights these days, but I was ok… just.
Felt a bit queasy but didn’t throw up or pass out so all was well.
We then plodded down The Strand in the baking sun & bluster of office chucking out time on a sunny Friday, in pursuit of the Bman who thought it a good idea to show the childerbeast where he used to work at Cafe Rouge. They were underwhelmed with enthusiasm for this trek and could only be appeased by stopping for food & drinks on the way back.
We met up with my brother and went back to our hotel for drinks. His hotel, optimistically noted on the address as being ‘in Camden’ was actually across the road from our Travelodge, about 3 minutes walk from Kings Cross.
He and Bman decided to make a night of it by heading out and about after I put the childerbeast to bed at 10pm. They were last seen heading down the Grays Inn Road after 2 blokes Bman was convinced were Mikey Dread and Tippa Irie.
It took me a while to get to sleep, the room was roasting, the noise was continual and I feared for the pair of them getting messed up on Red Stripe at the Reggae do going on down the road and deciding to go for a jolly, Butch and Sundance style, on a rented ‘Boris’ bike.
Mercifully, both got to bed unscathed. We had to catch the Eurostar at 0920 – my brother on one an hour later – and I had ‘airport belly’ and had to do about 8 poos, so nervous was I. I don’t know why I get like that. I just do. We got on and off planes like buses when we backpacked in our 20s. I think I’ve just gone soft as I’ve got older.
The childerbeast had asked if the Channel Tunnel was going to be a bit like the Sealife Centre, in a glass tunnel so they could see cod and old cars and trolleys and dead bodies floating past. It wasn’t. Probably just as well.
I wasn’t overly comfortable with the prospect of being in a tunnel so far down and Bman showing me the diagram in the onboard magazine of how the tunnel was constructed and how long it is and how far beneath the sea we were did nothing to dispel those niggling fears. Of course we popped out into France, unharmed, dry and an hour ahead of the UK.
Bienvenu tout la monde!
Stage 2 was tackling the Paris Metro. Bought the tickets onboard Eurostar, hopped on Line 4 to Montparnasse and spent approx 35 mins hurtling though the underbelly of Gay Paris at top speed with an exceedingly sharp braking system, much to the amusement of the childerbeast. G-force times!
Stage 3 was tackling the equally enormous Paris Gare Montparnasse & hoping that my brother would have time to get from Gare du Nord to meet us in time for the TGV to La Rochelle. While I was worrying about that, he was in fact speeding along the Champs Elysees on the back of a motorbike taxi – sphincter clenched as tightly as his hold-all was to his chest! Not his first choice of transportation but nonetheless, the one which he ended up on! Evil Kenevil times!
Meanwhile, back with me – Madame le Poulet sans une Tete! I was flapping about the fact that every single departure on the board in the station was telling me that all the trains were ‘retard’ – almost amusing if I didn’t know that this meant ‘late’ – most of them anything from 2hrs to 4hrs!
Merde Merde Merde!
Fortunately ours was one of the only trains which did leave and on time! Managed to relax a bit as this was almost the final stage. Flapped rather a lot more when Bman and The Bear were 20 carriages down the train chatting to my brother in First Class when we did arrive at La Rochelle and ‘A’ & I were left to lug all the bags down a packed aisle to try and get off the train by ourselves.
Stage 4 – car hire. With broken English and schoolroom French we managed to get our car – not the one we had booked, which turned out to be a small mushroom on wheels from the land of Mario Carts & would only fit 4 people and a handbag (and only if the 4 people were rather short!) Thank christ I downsized my suitcase or we would have had to drag the fecker behind us on a towrope! A 40 Euro upgrade & a couple of incorrect turns en route later (not my fault, I wasn’t navigating) and we finally arrived at the Gaff in St Just-Luzac.
Around at the time of the French Revolution, this place was burned to the ground, rebuilt, knocked down again, then built up again then left to ruin before being bought by English people in 1995 & restored.
It was also incredibly spooky inside. To the point where the childerbeast; overwrought, over excited, tired and hungry, immediately wanted to go home as they were afraid of their room (all the rooms in fact) and only ever felt truly comfortable in the Day Area on the landing near our room.
I did my best to assure them all was well, whilst continually watching over my shoulder myself for the unseen eyes that were very obviously watching us. We all felt it. It wasn’t just me and the childerbeast going all Derek Acorah.
All week doors were opening & slamming; windows opening & closing. Footsteps when nobody was upstairs; voices, noises & a constant strange atmosphere. Freaky.
The Ghost Adventures crew would have loved this place! Wierd and dangerous looking ornaments and weapons all over the walls. Like something from a Hammer horror!
It didn’t take long to acclimatize to Amityville & stop looking over our shoulders for Bela Lugosi (even though the childerbeast refused to sleep with the light off) and we soon slipped into holiday mode, by which I mean gallons of wine and tonnes of cheese.
Vive la France!
A visit to the supermarket on the first morning proved entertaining, not least because Bman & I like to float and drift around the aisles of foreign food shops, picking up jars and bottles and pondering the contents. My Pops on the other hands wanted to be in and out and just buy the basics.
Mais non Papa. You’re in our car today and must wait for us while we meander and backtrack and take pictures of posters advertising visits to the store by wrestlers and snake-charming dwarves. This my friend is where Morridogs is going wrong (though in fairness, on any given giro day up our local Morries it can look a little like a day release from a Victorian travelling freak show.)
Ah the strangeness of the foreign land and it’s quaint local customs. Sadly I have no photos or video footage of the trouser wearing donkeys of the Ile de Re as we only visited the Ile d’oleron. Nor did I see the busking act that my mum saw in La Rochelle of a man getting his dog to climb up a ladder and balance atop a wooden stick. Neither did I make purchase of a wind-up Parrot on a Bike that I saw being sold in the tunnels beneath the Paris Metro. I am gutted about both missed opportunities. I did however buy a Donkey in Trousers snowglobe and magnet, a cuddly ‘Donkini’ for FloCo and my mum got me a donkey trouser monkey box, so I was all good for tat.
I also saw some flamingos when we drove past the zoo and The Bear saw a horse in a field wearing a sun hat, so all was not lost.
The only downer of the trip for me (other than not riding on a clothed animal) was getting told off in the street like a child by my Pops when we failed to meet up with the rest of the family at the alotted time, after a misunderstanding over our meeting place.
We were 4 minutes late… To say it rather marred the old atmos for the family luncheon would be an understatement.
Highlights were ‘A’ finally mastering her swimming – on day 1 aswell so she got to enjoy the entire pool for the rest of the week.
I also got to speak some French to French people of course instead of to Primary children with broad West Yaaarkshire pronunciation! It was even trickier than I had anticipated. I am able to read it and write better than converse in it, partly because they speak at about 75km a minute! I managed it though so all’s well.
Once Wednesday was over it all seemed to slip by so quickly in a haze of wine, beer, cheese and croissants. The weather was fab, and it was awesome spending every day seeing my folks & sibs & little niece – teaching her new words (Brioche = “beebosh”)
The Bear is on her way to becoming some kind of Soup de Poisson critic after sampling it several times throughout the week – an acquired taste even for some adults!
Fell asleep on the TGV on the way home, got up close and personal with half of Paris on the Metro on the way back to Gare Du Nord – not nearly as pleasant an experience as the first time. Hot, crammed, sweaty and separated from my children for most of the journey. Tense times.
Back to stinky old London Town with a bump and back to the Ghetto with a resounding crash.
Would definitely return to France, if only to practice the language more. I am now armed for next term with photos of typical high streets and copies of French versions of Smash Hits and other tween magazines for lesson resources.
Well done Mimi & Pops and thank you so much for an awesome holiday, so long in the planning and now I can’t believe it’s actually over!