Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Road trip

We drove back home from Mum and Dad's on Sunday.  They live in South-West France, so it's one heck of a drive.  The part through France takes eleven hours, and when the ferry and the drive up through Kent and into East London are included, the whole journey takes around sixteen hours.  

I've always rather enjoyed long road-trips.  I did a few when I was at University and studying in America for a year, although I still have the classics on my to-do list: Route 66 from Chicago to LA, and the full East to West Coast trip, New York City to San Francisco.  When I was living in Australia, in my early 20s, I drove from Brisbane up to Cairns which is still my longest road trip (nearly 24 hours in driving time, although we spread it over three days).  In 2010 the children and I took a road trip from France to Switzerland, and then back along the German border to northern France and home.  That remains the longest trip I have done without someone else to share the driving.

We're used to the long drive down the length of France.  It starts with rolling off the ferry very early in the morning, and then we drive down the Calais peninsula, admiring all the wind turbines along what the French call the 'Autoroute des Anglais', because every other car (at least) is English.

Bowling down the Autoroute des Anglais just after dawn this morning.

Successful navigation around Rouen's missing Pont de Mathilde - and successful avoidance of Paris. Surprisingly tricky when every sign and slip road attempts to suck you towards Paris whether you are aiming for it or not. #france #roadtrip #navigation

All along our journey, the main role of whoever is navigating is to avoid Paris AT ALL COSTS.  I am well used to the mad, fast, often intolerant driving that goes on in a capital city, and I actually used to drive around Paris a fair bit when I was younger and working there, but I wouldn't want to do it now.  Paris traffic is either at a complete standstill, or moving eye-wateringly fast, and you need to be unhesitating and precise in your navigational skills at all times.

Much of our drive through France is on the autoroutes.  French autoroutes are owned by private companies, and most charge tolls to drivers.  However, the tolls are pretty modest - our eleven hour drive costs around £30.  I'm more than happy to pay because the autoroutes are such a pleasure to drive on - quiet, incredibly smooth and well-maintained, and well supplied with 'aires' (service stations).  Some of the aires sell petrol, food, magazines and are parked up with hundreds of trucks and cars, but others are just a selection of picnic tables and parking spots in a little forested glade, set back from the motorway.  On our way down we found a particularly nice one somwehere south of Orleans, where Olivia did some sunbathing and Graham did some yoga stretches (our journey down was the day after his marathon, so sitting in the car for 16 hours was tougher than it would otherwise have been for him).

Graham doing yoga to stretch out his marathon-weary legs, and Livvy enjoying a sun lounger #roadtrip #changeofdrivers

We have flasks of coffee and bottles of water for drinking on the go, and a plentiful supply of chewing gum (neither Graham or I like long drives without chewing gum - is this strange compulsion just us?).  The children are plugged into their iPods, and spend the whole time reading.  Whoever is driving gets to choose the music for the front, and the passenger is not allowed to argue with the driver's choice.  Graham and I take it in turns to drive/choose music for about two hours each. 

The temperatures rise steadily as we get further south, and finally we turn off the autoroute and drive down small, rural roads for the final forty minutes or so to Mum and Dad's house.  We all know these roads so well, and Graham and the children and I all look out for the landmarks that tell us we are so very nearly there.  Coming back home, there is always a strange moment of disconnect when you get off the ferry at Dover, and England now feels like a strange and foreign land - so used are we to French voices, driving on the right and the sight and smells of the French landscape.

Pollarded plane trees #france #walk

And then it's done.  The car engine is turned off, we all get out, have a stretch and start unloading bags.  If we are arriving at Mum and Dad's there are excited hugs, delicious wine and a hot meal before bed.  If we are arriving back in London there is the excitement of seeing the hens again, the comforting familiarity of being back home, and a mental calculation of how many more months it will be before we can get back in the car and do it all over again.

Empty, beautifully well-maintained and clearly signed French autoroutes. It is always a shock to return to Britain's very busy and slightly shabby motorways #france #love #roadtrip


  1. Came to your blog via Driftwood. Really love your take on life. Will be back.!

  2. Sounds like a glorious holiday.

  3. oh my. I think my family would not cope so well with being in the car that long............ but then it does look like the most glorious place to visit. x

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