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Another double-bubble post to finish with, which saw us travel from Chamonix back home, via an evening stopover in Dijon.

Saturday Morning – Bye Bye to Chamonix

We had to be out of the apartment and handing the keys back before 10am. It was another quite grey day up above with the promise of it getting rainy later.

Because we’d packed a load of bags into the car on Friday evening we had somewhat fewer bags to hump out with us on Saturday morning. We packed them all up whilst sweeping and tidying and whilst trying to stop the girls from making more mess. And as we left we were actually able to carry everything between the four of us, including a couple more bags of rubbish which I carried up to the car park to dispose of.

And so around to the rental agency building, where we dropped the keys and booklets off. We paid for parking for a hour or so because we’d decided to grab breakfast on the way. There was a nice looking cafe right next door to the agency which was one of the “hipster” variety. OK, I’m stereotyping, but the menu was simple but good, involving a range of proper coffees in reasonable sizes, some pastries, and muesli plus a couple of cooked options. The staff were all young and informal and the seating was mainly cushions around over-sized window sills. The tables all consisted of whole sections of tree cut into flat sheets, with legs added. It was one of the best breakfasts we’d had, and I wish we’d found the cafe earlier in the week. It was relatively cheap (by Chamonix standards) too.

And so to the autoroutes. While we were sitting having breakfast it started raining. It was very heavy rain, not namby-pamby drizzle, but proper stair-rods. We continued to be in and out of really heavy rain nearly until we got to Dijon. It didn’t really slow us down much though, but that was mainly because the “slowing down” was caused by an incident on the motorway around the south side of Geneva which caused a bit of a jam.

Once clear of this we started climbing over the hills towards Bourg-en-Bresse, which went fairly smoothly. From here we started heading northish along the A39. We planned (OK, I’d planned) stops at a number of service stations on the way to allow us to find one single geocache in each of the French departments we were passing through. On the cards for today we had Saône-et-Loire, Jura and Côte-d’Or. The final one was easy though, as it’s the department that Dijon is in. That means we have two stops to make, but very conveniently there are service stations in each along the A39. They were only about 70km apart, but what the wotsits ? We’ve got geocaches to do.

The first stop, which was by now conveniently time for lunch too, was at the excellently named Aire de Service du Poulet de Bresse (or, Service Station of the Bresse Chicken). Apparently, Bresse chickens are one of those appellation contrôlée jobs. The approach to the service station includes a roundabout with a massive chicken sculpture in the middle. Being a Saturday afternoon in the school holidays, it was busy and we struggled to find anywhere to park. Lunch was pretty good and we managed to beat a bit of a rush into the queue. I scooted off around the outside of the building in a rain shower to grab the geocache.

The second stop was at the Aire du Jura. We didn’t want to stop and it was busy again, so Kas dropped me off at a relevant point and then tried to find a parking space. She dropped me off at one end of the site and I had to walk past the entrance to the service station buildings and over into some woods on the other side of some weird exposition building that seemed to be a cube decorated entirely with circles. It was about 500m from where Kas dropped me off before I got to the cache site. It was well into the woods but easy to find and well placed with a good hint. Better get back to the car though. This proved quite tricky, as Kas had only just finished going round in circles in the car park and I didn’t have any phone signal, so I couldn’t phone Kas and ask where she was. I found her after a thankfully short time.

So from here we drove the remaining kilometres into Dijon and had very little trouble finding our hotel. It was quite hard work getting into it, though. This was partly because we couldn’t figure out where to stop or where to park and partly because once we did get the keys and access to the car park we then had to circle the block to get back to it, and it was rather a tight entrance. On the bright side though, we only had a handful of bags to carry upstairs.

Where They Make the Mustard

Kas wanted a bit of a snooze and the girls needed to burn off a bit of energy. By now the weather was improving a bit too, with the clouds starting to break up, so I took the girls for a walk (or run, skip, dance, flit, whatever, in the kids’ case). We did a handful of geocaches as we walked around to.

Dijon has a lovely old city centre with some fine old buildings, and it benefits from being pedestrianised. We walked down a shopping street on our way to the Place de la République. Once there, we discovered the dancing fountains. The girls were still bubbling over with energy and I was in no mood to tell them off about running around, so I kind of let them get on with it. The Place de la République has recently been pedestrianised and they’ve replaced all the tarmac with some smoothly shaped local stone (the subject of an earthcache here), and the square was very clean, so I was very happy to allow the girls to just get on with getting wet. Anyway, the weather was now getting quite warm and sunny, having made a complete mockery of our decision to take jumpers with us.

While I was sitting on a stone bench watching the kids getting soaked I met several sets of geocachers, who were mooching around looking for the geocache stuck underneath it. One group helped me find it. Another turned up and I pointed them to the correct end of the bench. As we were leaving I noticed another group who looked really like they were geocachers, and once we stood up and walked away I waited around for them to reveal themselves. Geocachers they indeed were.

From here we walked up to the Place Darcy and Jardin Darcy, where we did another geocache and then noticed the time. It was time to get back to the hotel and wake Kas up.

Kas was sort of awake when we got back, so it was a relatively quick matter to get ready, although the girls had to put on the clothes they’d planned for the following day because the ones they were wearing were soaking.

Dinner proved a bit of a challenge – mainly because it was one of those evenings where we had some conflicts of opinion on what to eat. Izzy had it in her head that she fancied a burger. A few places did them, but Ami didn’t fancy that and Izzy wouldn’t entertain the idea of anything else. We gawped at a whole series of restaurants down the shopping centre. We even sat down at one restaurant in the Place de la République before deciding to move on because the menu didn’t look right and the service seemed very slow. We eventually settled on about the second place we’d looked – a small pub with a limited selection. They did have burgers, and we all had one (Ami went for a chicken one, so not really a burger at all). The food was fantastic. Kas and me decided to drink wine rather than beer for the first time on the holiday.

Geocaches found during the course of the day were:

Miles and Miles of Tarmac

Sunday morning greeted us with overcast conditions and an early start. How early ? It was still dark when the alarm went off. We wanted out before 7am as we’d estimated we had at least 5 hours of actual driving to do to get to Calais, which meant we’d need at least two stops.

We got out of Dijon pretty quickly and headed up the motorway towards Troyes. At Troyes the Autoroute des Anglais begins. Before we got there though we had a scheduled stop at some services to find a cache in the Aube department. It was trickier than planned because a few of them didn’t have geocaches, and the one that did have both a restaurant and a geocache was a location where the cache appeared to be several hundred metres off down a side road. So we plumped for stopping twice, once at a “no services” stop (Aire du Champignol) to grab the geocache (a quick find) and then again at one that had a restaurant to get some breakfast (Aire du Plessis).

From there we decided to experiment with having Ami ride up front while Kas had a little snooze in the back. So Ami rode up front with me all the way from Troyes past Reims and up to the Aire d’Urvilliers, which took us two hours and was the home of our final geocache. It’s in the Aisne department. We made this a quick stop of twenty minutes only, involving a leg stretch, a wee break and some drinks.

Ami stayed in the front with Kas driving but we vowed to swap around before driving into the ferry port at Calais so Kev was up front for the handing over of documentation. We swapped drivers about 30km short of Calais as we passed through the final toll station. There’s always a pull out just after a French motorway toll booth.

Geocaches found on the drive through France were:

As you enter Calais from the A26 you are greeted by a load of double thickness security fences down the side of the road, and unlike when we arrived this time I noticed why. On the east side of the road you get a reasonably good view of the shameful site of the migrant camp. It is massive. I saw a report on the news this week about motorways being blocked by people smugglers in the night and how it’s all getting a bit wild out there. Drivers are currently advised not to attempt to access the port from the autoroutes between midnight and 6 am.

We obviously arrived in the middle of the day – 13:40 to be precise, and in plenty of time for our 3:30 sailing – so we didn’t see any issues with people on the roads, but the sight of the camp is quite distressing in itself.

As we arrived at the various passport controls we saw a sign identifying that there was a 13:55 sailing that was running on time. I thought it unlikely we’d make that, but the nice woman at the check-in advised that yes, there was space on that boat and we had time to get on it, and she was very happy to put us on that boat without extra cost.

The ferry journey home was a bit more choppy than the one out. Not bad, but choppy. This was mainly caused by the wind, and when we ventured out on deck it was quite entertaining, because the decks were wet, the boat was rocking about a bit, and the wind was howling. Getting up and down the stairs was a challenge.

We ate some pretty mediocre supposedly English food on the ferry so were hoping we could get back home without stopping, other than to change drivers from Kas to me as soon as we could. This was simply because we parked on the ferry next to a metal guard rail that sufficiently close that the driver’s door wouldn’t open fully, and whilst Kas could get in and out though the gap, I couldn’t. So Kas drove 10-15 minutes through Dover and then we stopped in the layby access to Samphire Hoe to swap over. Ami jumped in the front again too.

The drive home was slowed by a queue going into the Dartford Tunnel and then another behind an accident on the M25 but we still made it home before 6pm, calculating that it had taken us almost exactly 12 hours of travelling since we’d left Dijon.