Gathering the People
The plan for the weekend was to attend the interesting sounding GeoNord 2016 – Retour aux Sources mega event in Valenciennes. Why? Because it was there, and because I owed Izzy a trip after taking Ami to the Project MUNICH2014 – Mia san Giga! event in 2014 (see Munich 2014). And in honour of the Beds, Bucks & Herts Borders events, Alibags made me do it. So Friday’s plan was a bit of driving and tunneling to get to Valenciennes ready for the following day.
The trip began on Friday afternoon for me when I had to go up to Central Milton Keynes to finish off a long course of dentistry. Not studying dentistry, just visiting. In this case the nice lady dentist needed to grind off a few rough edges and bits of sticky bond stuff after she’d stuck a crown onto one of my back teeth two weeks earlier. Anyway, I digress.
After the dentist I decided to go and get the car spruced up for the weekend too. I couldn’t possibly drive halfway across Europe with a car full of muck that stuck to it in the Lake District. So I visited my favourite car washing location, and at 1 pm on a Friday afternoon it was very quiet.
Back home to finish off packing bags and then away to Stantonbury to fetch Carolynn. Oh yes, did I mention Carolynn and Alibags were coming too? And then it was time to get Izzy from school and get her home to get changed quickly.
Gentlemen, Start Your Engines
By the time we were ready to rock, Kas said that if we could wait another five minutes then she and Ami would be ready and could they cadge a lift down the station please for their weekend away down that there London. Oh go on then. MK Station was as fun packed as it ever is, but we managed to get out and off down the M1 by about 4:15 and made surprisingly good progress down to Hemel Hempstead, where we were stopping to pick up Alibags. She was there, which was a good. She might have been somewhere else.
Having got the car up to its full headcount for the weekend it was time to brave the Friday night festivities on the M25. The M25 is always a joy to drive on. It’s very safe, normally, due to the total absence of speed while driving on it. I’d left what I thought would be a sensible amount of time between collecting Alibags and needing to be at the Channel Tunnel – 4 hours or so. It sounds a lot, but trust me, I’ve had Friday nights round there where 4 hours is a bit tight for getting from Hemel Hempstead to Folkestone.
The M25 on a Friday Night
Bizarrely though, it didn’t take 4 hours. It barely took 2. We’d planned to have tea at Maidstone Services if time allowed, but we got around the M25, over the bridge and down the M20 before you could say “Gordon Bennett”, and as we were cruising down the M20 we had a brief discussion about changing our plans. We plumped for having a go at trying to get an earlier train. We were so far ahead of time it seemed wasteful not to try, especially given that our planned transit was going to mean it would be 1 am in Valenciennes by the time we got there. Earlier would be better. So we pootled down to the tunnel terminal and were greeted once again by a total absence of traffic.
We were on-site about 2 hours before our scheduled train. They offered us a choice of trains pretty much every 20 minutes between then and now. We plumped for the 8:30 ish. That was an hour ahead of plan, and left us an hour to grab dinner at the terminal. Izzy fancied Burger King. I was happy with that, especially now they do milkshakes. You used to have to go to McDonald’s to get milkshakes. And the chips are far superior to McDonald’s fries.
Under the Channel
By the time we’d done it was time to turn our bikes around and then get into the car to head for our train. That proved to be a painful bit. It took ages to get through the car park as a result of someone deciding to do passport checks. They didn’t bother last time I was there, I’m sure. We would have missed our train, except that once you’re through the passport control they can’t exactly stop you.
So we trundled onto a train somewhat later than posted and picked our way up onto the top deck, where we parked up behind Les Rozzers Français. Schtum, schtum! One presumes they had been over in Blighty for the day. Probably sitting in a little hut gawping at people’s badly taken passport photos. During the crossing Alibags kept us entertained a bit with a few tunes on the ukelele
Once we made it over into France we found a series of very empty autoroutes to take us down to Valenciennes, specifically the A16, A25 and A23, and we seemed to scoot around Lille and down to our destination in less than 2 hours, including the unscheduled trip towards Paris down the A2, which involved pulling into the Aire de la Sentinelle service station to figure out where we were. Getting out of there was delayed by the strange sight of a lorry reversing into a parking space and being directed by a rather portly middle-aged gentleman dressed in nothing more than clogs and budgie smugglers.
Evidently we’re not in Kansas any more.
We got to the hotel (the Ibis Valenciennes) just before midnight and as promised, the reception was both open and manned. The man in question checked us in and then kindly grabbed Izzy a cup of cold apple juice. We’d arrived without any drinks. The bedrooms were tidy and spacious (well, ours was). Izzy and me were doing our best impression of logs a few minutes after getting into the room. We need some zzzzzzzz’s, because Saturday was going to be busy with a capital “bus”.