QE2_Bridge.jpgThis was going to be a bit of a monster post, as I hadn’t taken enough photos for there to be sufficient visual interest to sustain a blog post per day, and anyway I thought most of the days would just be along the lines of “got up, did loads of caching, ate dinner, went to bed”, which wouldn’t be particularly interesting. When I sat down and thought about it though, I ended up doing one a day anyway.

So the objective of this rather substantial sortie into northern France was a massive series of puzzle caches called the Mystery Trail du Val d’Oise (or MTVO for short), which lie just to the north-west of central Paris above the new town of Cergy-Pontoise. There’s just over 600 caches plus a few outliers, and together they form a geo-art picture of a big heraldic shield.

I allowed a week to do them, arranging to travel down very early on a Wednesday and return last thing at night the following Tuesday.

My caching buddy for the trip was Ami. As she’s getting older she’s more able to cope with being away for longer, and she becomes more useful in the front of the car for things like navigating and paying motorway tolls, which is handy. In this case, she’s never really been to Paris and she was on Easter break, so we could afford to take our time. Easter seemed a good idea because I know the French like to abandone their capital to tourists during the holiday, and it meant we could get in 7 days of holiday whilst only taking 3 days off work.

The morning began very early, with Ami and me having tried to sleep downstairs on the new sofabed and failing miserably. A part of that was excitement. Another part was that Izzy had been ill. Kas took her to the walk-in clinic on Tuesday night and they got back home at a time when Ami and me were just getting settled into bed.

The alarm was set for 2:30am, which meant we’d got just under 4 hours to get up, drive to Folkestone and check in for our train. I always allow this much time, as you never know if there’ll be traffic issues, but as is often the case we found ourselves at the Eurotunnel Folkestone Terminal well in advance of our train. So far in advance, in fact, that we were offered a train 30 minutes before I booked. We played my now usual early-morning game of driving through passport control well before we’d been called, safe in the knowledge that the Folkestone terminal doesn’t really segregate incoming cars according to the train they have a place on, so more often than not you can bump yourself forward another train.

Aire de la Baie de Somme.jpgAll of this placed us in France at about 7:45am French time, over an hour earlier than expected. We’d planned to make a stop for breakfast at the Aire de la Baie de Somme, near Abbeville and we got there before 9am. This place had been a source of much amusement as we deliberately mispronounced the name as Air Dilly Bay Dilly Somme (Dilly). It wasn’t quite what I remembered from a previous visit, however we managed to extract a decent breakfast sandwich and coffee from them and also managed to find our first cache of the trip. It was also our first ever in the Somme Department. We didn’t manage to grab any drinks or snacks for the day though, because the shop looked poor and the petrol station was being rebuilt.

We were therefore forced to stop at the Aire de Hardivilliers, about 60 km further on. I didn’t mind stopping though, because it also had a cache and was also a new Department ( Oise ). I took the opportunity to fill up with diesel while we were at it. It was a much better service station.

From here we were pretty much into the caching zone. We had a further 50 km to drive to reach Méru, from where we got off the motorways and headed into the countryside. I hadn’t really completely decided where to start caching, so we pulled over at Amblainville to complete a puzzle cache I’d solved and to make a decision. We decided to attack the north-east corner and have a go at some driving and walking caches near to Frouville. This was the first obvious bunch to hit, as it was closest to our arrival point.

Paris_2018_01.JPG We started with 15 or so done as drive-bys down the access road to Frouville and then parked up by the church to have a bit of a walk. It proved to be a bit of an epic walk. We did take drinks and chocolate mini-eggs with us, which proved to be a good thing, because we were away from the car for 5 hours and found about 60 more caches. We also managed to get completely and utterly soaked in a massive downpour and then get dried out again in the subsequent stiff breeze. By the time we got back to the car it was after 5pm, and we’d already completed many more caches than I thought we would, but we were far from finished, so we decided to head off for a few more in the car. A “few more” turned out to be 42 more. The drive-bys were really very easy, and this became a running theme for the trip as we were able consistently to hammer out masses of caches with minimal effort at the end of each long walking day.

At about 7:30 we decided enough was enough, so we got Google maps to give us a route to our hotel – the Campanile in Cergy-Pontoise – and we were relieved to see it was predicting just a 15 minute drive. We were therefore checking into the hotel at 7:45 and made an immediate decision to eat in the hotel. It had been a long day and I didn’t want to go out again.

The room was right up on their third floor, but we realised pretty quickly that the third floor rooms were the biggest ones. We dived in for a quick shower and change of clothes and then headed for some well earned dinner.

The restaurant was functional and did about 5 daily specials as well as a small “standard” menu. It also had this excellent idea of “unlimited starters” and “unlimited desserts/cheese” that you could help yourself to from the salad bar. Ami had steak and unlimited puddings. I had a chicken dish of the specials board and unlimited cheese. I also had too much beer, but you don’t really need to know about that part.

I tried to start processing caching logs on my little laptop in the restaurant but it wasn’t having any of it, so I ended up doing them in the hotel room afterwards while Ami got an early start on some sleeping.

In the final reckoning, we’d somehow managed to do 120 caches in total, including a fantastic 117 from the MTVO series. This was by far and away a new personal best for us both. The caches we did on this day (in the approximate order that we did them) were :

And here they are in all their glory.

18-03-28 MTVO.png