The Sketch

So having run out of MTVO series to work on, we were left with almost an entire day to fill, as the hotel breakfast finished at 9 am and we hadn’t got to be in Calais until 8:30 pm. It’s a long way, but it’s not a 12 hour way. So we thought we’d spend the day colouring in a load of new French Departments.

I’d been toying with this idea before we arrived, and began to toy with again once we had a sniff of finishing the big series early. We’d already completed Somme, Oise, Val d’Oise and Paris on this trip, adding four more to my existing 16 from previous trips to France. So why not see how many more we could do on the way back?

Before the trip I’d toyed with doing some of the Paris sub-urban ones on Saturday (parkrun day) as we’d have to drive through them anyway, but the (self-imposed) pressure of trying to finish the MTVO series drew us away from that plan. As of now though, we had essentially a full day. If we counted a trip towards central Paris as not being particularly far out of the way, and if we took a slightly broader route back to Calais, I determined we had an good chance of completing a further 5 Departments.

The Suburbs

The first was the sub-urban (well, city really) Department of Seine-Saint-Denis, which as its name suggests is sort of on the Seine, and incorporates the city of Saint-Denis. It’s about as different from Paris as Gateshead is from Newcastle. A bit more modern maybe, but basically all tower blocks, tight streets and small urban parks. It’s also a pain in the butt to get to between 9 am and 10 am on a workday when the SNCF has a strike on.

The small Parc de Saint Ouen was the home of the two caches we attempted, after luckily finding a streetside car parking spot and paying a Euro to park there for an hour. One done. Tick.

Next up was another sub-urban one – Hauts-de-Seine – which forms a sort of horseshoe shape around the centre of Paris proper. This one covers a few of the meanders in the Seine downstream from the Bois de Boulogne, and is basically all urban. It’s home to the city of Nanterre and Paris’s main financial district ( La Défense ). It’s also home to the Parc Pierre Lagravère, with it’s extremely long car park full of caches. Two done. Tick. Back onto one of Paris’s urban motorways for the final time to make a break from the city.

Out of the City

Third up was the Department of Yvelines. The Prefecture of this one is in Versailles, but we opted for the somewhat less glamorous location of a shopping centre car park at Flins-sur-Seine. Well, we didn’t want to spend too much time, and the cache was very easy to find. Three done. Tick.

Our fourth Department was Eure – a mainly rural area to the south of Rouen on the south side of the Seine. Our chosen cache was at the motorway service station at Vironvay. Well, why not ? It’s on a main road, at a location where we could easily stop and have some lunch, because Vironvay is one of the “proper” service stations that has restaurants and fuel and stuff. Lunch was quite nice by the way. The cache involved a bit of a scramble over some concrete barriers where lorries normally drive, but most ones in French service stations involve a bit of that. At least it was there. Four done. Tick.

A Familiar City

Our final stop was the Department of Seine-Maritime – another mainly rural one but also home to the city of Rouen. We’d been there before a few times on the way to holidays elsewhere in France, but never as cachers. We’d never really been there during the day either. We parked up close to Rouen’s fairly impressive Rouen Cathedral and headed towards the Seine for our first cache. It took a little while, and while we were there it started to rain.

The rain got worse and we were losing the will, but we managed to drag ourselves up for a quick look around the inside of the cathedral and a fairly half-hearted attempt at gathering information for an earthcache there, before deciding that enough was enough, and we just wanted to go home.

Ami therefore negotiated our way through the maze of roads in Rouen to get us on the right one for Calais. By this time the rain was pretty heavy and driving conditions were poor.

We made one final stop for a cache that was a travelbug hotel. It was located in one of the “no services” service stations. They are just picnic areas with dodgy public toilets to be honest. Getting wet whilst doing this one was the final nail in the coffin of caching.

Off we go then

The rain continued raining all the way up to Calais and we arrived ages before our scheduled train, however the automatic check-in offered us the option of an hour earlier for no cost. This still left more than an hour in the terminal building, during which we stuffed our faces. Once all that was done we thought we might as well try to blag our way forward by one more train, so we drove off to the loading lanes before we’d actually been called.

On the French side they segregate cars according to which train they have a ticket for. So we got directed away from the train that was in the process of being loaded. We pulled up in a queue behind 3 cars that were even more keen than us. We switched off the engine and prepared ourselves for the potential 45 minute wait, especially as our train had somehow managed to acquire a 15 minute delay already. Within less than 5 minutes though, they evidently decided that the train in front of us wasn’t going to get full with people who’d paid for it, so they opened up our lane and let us get on. Excellent. And it must have been a very empty train, because we were nowhere near the back of it.

All of this put us back into the UK nearly 90 minutes earlier than planned, which meant it as still light and we had a possibility of getting home by 9 pm. We actually made it too, mainly because traffic was light and for once there was no queue at the Dartford Tunnel. Can’t be bad. In fact, we were home before Kas got home with Izzy.

A Summary of the Week

So over the seven days we’d been away we’d found 639 caches in total. We’d added 9 new French Departments to the “completed” list. And we’d walked 110 km as measured by the GPS on the major walks. That doesn’t include the parkrun, or the little bits of walking done in and out of the car. Total distance covered on foot was therefore more likely to be 130km. Everything ached, and we were both tired as.