March 28th to April 3rd 2018
Earlier in the year I joined a Facebook group called “GeoArt”, which is all about big series of caches that draw pictures of various kinds on your caching map. One of the posts there mentioned a massive heraldic shield just outside Paris, which Ami and I decided to have a pop at during her Easter break. OMG, what have we let ourselves in for?
This 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 here’s the first day, which we spent caching around Frouville.
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. 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. She’s also more useful in the front of the car for 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 abandon their capital to tourists during the holiday. This meant we could get in 7 days of holiday whilst only taking 3 days off work.
An Early Start
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. 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 journey through the Channel Tunnel. 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. We were safe in the knowledge that the Folkestone terminal doesn’t really segregate incoming cars according to the train they have a place on. More often than not you can bump yourself forward another train.
Driving Through France
All 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 in the past. 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. 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.
Into the Zone
We started with 15 or so done as drive-bys down the access road to Frouville. In the village, we 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. When we got back to the car after 5 hours we’d 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. We’d already completed many more caches than I thought we would, but we were far from finished. 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. 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.
After this, I tried to start processing caching logs on my little laptop in the restaurant. It wasn’t having any of that though. 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 found near Frouville on this day (in the approximate order that we did them) were :
Early Morning Irritation
Day 2 began with a significant amount of breakfast at the hotel. We didn’t start particularly early because it had been a long day the previous day. I didn’t have the heart or the energy to force Ami to get up early. When the alarm went off I switched it off for 45 minutes to let her sleep a bit longer. We were planning to start the caching in Livilliers, more or less the closest part of the circuit to the hotel.
We got out of the hotel at around 10 and were parked up in our chosen destination, Livilliers, by about 10:15. It really wasn’t very far. I wish I could have this many caches to find this close to home. I suppose I used to have exactly that, until I found them all.
Back at the plot, we parked behind the church in Livilliers and I had a few scares while we were getting ready because somehow the car alarm kept setting itself off. I think it must have been some dodgy combination of button presses that I’ve never before done. There was a point where I was thinking we should sit still for 15 minutes to see if it happened again.
We decided not to wait, as we’d got some caching to do.
A Long Walk
On the radar today was a loop on the MTVO series that contained about 95 caches. If it went well, we could do a load more as drive-bys afterwards. Like complete numptys we’d failed to acquire any soft drinks beforehand. So we set off without carrying anything to drink apart from various half-bottles from the previous day. Given the length of the walk this sort of concerned me for the first couple of hours. As time marched on though, it concerned us a lot less. We just weren’t getting either tired or thirsty until nearly the end.
My main problem was that I was getting very dry skin on my hands from handling caches. I think one of them had some agricultural “stuff” on it which drained all the moisture out. Anyway, I was getting very cracked skin on my fingers. More of that later.
The walk was 19.25 km long and took us 6 hours, during which we found 95 caches. All bar two of them were from the series.
A Break, and Some Driving
At this time we decided we really needed a drink break and to go buy something for my hands. We spotted a shopping centre near Génicourt which appeared to fit the bill, so we spent 5 minutes driving there and parking. Once there, we got drinks, cakes and some hand cream. We spent about an hour there before deciding to go attack a few more in the car. For drive-bys we headed through Livilliers up towards Vallangoujard, where we found a few more that required a park-and-walk strategy.
Just before 7 pm it started to rain a bit, so we finished off the stretch we were on and headed back to the hotel. It was a little earlier than the previous night. We’d completed a total of 128 caches. Another personal best. The caches found near Livilliers were:
A day off in Paris? What’s that about then ?
Ami and I were spending a week or so exploring the countryside to the north of Paris searching for bits of tupperware, however it was Ami’s first time near Paris, so we had to take at least one day out to go to the city and do some touristy stuff.
This was that day.
We began fairly early in the morning with a substantial breakfast at our hotel before dashing down to Pontoise Station to catch an RER C into the big city. We managed to get tickets that allowed unlimited travel on RER trains and metros, which is good. It took so long to buy them meant that we missed a train by 2 mins. So we had to wait a further 28 minutes for the next one. After all, it was Good Friday. There weren’t so many trains.
Up the Tower
Our first stop was the Champ de Mars station, which RER C goes directly into, so we could attempt to get up the Eiffel Tower. I say “attempt” because their website sold out of tickets for both levels of lift several months in advance. We were gambling with availability of the “on the day” tickets. Everyone had to queue up for a security check before being let underneath the tower itself for the ticket offices. We decided to go for the tickets that force you to walk up to the second level and then queue for the lift up to the top. The decision was based mainly on the length of the respective queues.
So all in all it took us about an hour to get to the point where we were actually walked up the tower. We decided to go up to the second level as soon as possible and queue for the lifts to the very top. When we got there, we found a remarkably short queue for the top level lifts.
The view from the top is quite impressive. The tower is considerably taller than any other structure in Paris, and the view is quite spectacular. It was a little chilly though, as it was quite windy at the top. While we were up there we found the office containing the waxwork model of Gustav Eiffel so that we could claim a virtual geocache ( At the top of the Eiffel tower ).
The lift down was quite uninspiring. From the second level we attempted to count the steps down to ground floor. After about 400 or so Ami and I managed to get out of step so I gave up counting. Ami counted a shade over 700 steps.
Walking Around a Bit
By this time it was nearly midday, so we availed ourselves of some fizzy drinks and unhealthy snacks under the tower and went over to the riverside to eat them. From here we crossed the bridge into the Trocadéro, where we found a couple of cunningly hidden geocaches as well as another virtual ( VIRTUAL REWARD 2017-2018 : TOUR EIFFEL ). This one requires you to pretend to be taller than the tower, and therefore involves the photography sitting on the floor to get the right angle.
We hadn’t really planned much for the day other than “walking around a bit” and I had it in my mind we might be able to walk all the way along the Seine to Notre Dame, so with this in mind we set off walking upstream towards the Pont de l’Alma, the site of another virtual cache ( Liberty’s Flame ). At this one it’s necessary that you post a photo of yourself with the flame. It also requested that you give yourself a moment of quiet contemplation. It’s at the location where (in the tunnel beneath) Diana, Princess of Wales was involved in the car crash that resulted in her death. The monument called Liberty’s Flame was not originally built in her memory, but has become a bit of an unofficial memorial to her.
From here we crossed the river and walked along to Les Invalides, where I’d solved a couple of wherigo caches. We didn’t bother with going inside though. It’s a big site and neither of us is really a museum kind of a person.
The distance around to Notre Dame looked a bit much for walking all the way, so we decided we’d get a bit more value out of our all day metro tickets rather than walking the 3km between there and where we were.
We appeared out of the Cluny_–_La_Sorbonne_(Paris_Métro)Cluny – La Sorbonne Metro Station and headed north towards the river. Before crossing we thought we’d earned ourselves a short break. We sat for 20 minutes in a totally stereotypical streetside cafe. We got ourselves fleeced for the value of a coffee, a sprite and a piece of Apple Tart. They were nice though, and we needed a rest for a bit.
If we thought the queues and the security checks at the Eiffel Tower were long, those at Notre Dame were a whole new world of pain. We were really, really glad that we weren’t bothered about going inside. We’d have been there for hours. All we in fact wanted to do was to get a photograph of our own feet for another virtual geocache. There’s a metal disc in the floor which marks the point from which all distances to Paris are officially measured.
Georges Pompidou and Les Halles
From here we made our way further north in the general direction of the Pompidou Centre and then on to the Forum Les Halles. This had been changed somewhat (OK, “completely”) since my previous visit. They added a massive new canopy roof over the top. Most of the insides seem to have been reworked too, and the character of the shops had completely changed. In the late 1980’s early 1990’s, when I previously visited, it was a series of little boutiques. It can now be described as being pretty much like any other shopping centre in Europe apart from being underground, and in Paris. It did have quite a cunning geocache for us to find though.
The next stop on our whirlwind tour was to be the Louvre museum, so we could peer at the big glass pyramid. Obviously, once again, we had neither the time nor the energy to actually go inside. It was also “heaving”. On the way there we got rained on, but it was quite a short shower, and when it finished we were greeted with a bright blue and near cloudless sky for the first time since we arrived in France. This made for a very pretty couple of photos of the wet cobbles with the sun reflecting off them.
Just along from here there were another couple of virtual geocaches ( VIRTUAL REWARD 2017-2018 : LE LOUVRE and Who is She? (Paris) ), which took our tally of virtuals for the day up to 6. The one at the Louvre requires you to stand in such a position that you can see all the way along the straight line from the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, across the Place de la Concorde, through the Arc de Triomphe and on (eventually) to the Grande Arche de la Défense.
We’d sort of planned to walk through the Tuilleries and then along the Champs-Élysées towards the Arc de Triomphe, taking in some dinner on the way, before heading home. We were both getting quite tired and our feet were aching, but neither of us was hungry.
Home we go
As we were walking along the last bit of Champs-Élysées we decided we’d rather go and look for pizza a little closer to home rather than stay out in Paris. So we continued our slow hobble up to the Charles de Gaulle – Étoile station and grabbed an RER A train. This was much quicker than the RER C we’d taken in the morning, but dropped us off at the somewhat less than glamorous Cergy Préfecture station. Nothing especially wrong with it, I suppose. It’s just that it’s in the middle of a concrete monstrosity of high-rise housing.
Nearby was a little pizza place that we decided we go to for dinner. Aside from the lack of alcoholic beverages it was fine.
The walk back to the hotel was somewhat less than fine. The concrete high-rises were a bit of an urban jungle and both of us felt distinctly uncomfortable walking through them. When we did emerge onto a road it was one which couldn’t make it’s mind up whether to have footpaths. We blindly followed google maps and made a couple of probably quite dangerous jumps over concrete barriers to get to where we needed to be, and eventually we made it back to the hotel none the worse, albeit rather tired. We’d been out of the hotel for 13 hours, so all we wanted to do was to get some sleep.
As we drove back out past this road in the morning we saw where the footpaths actually went………
Anyway, over the course of the day, the geocaches we completed were :
Day 4 promised to be slightly more special than the other days, and so it proved to be, in some ways which were expected and some others which most definitely were not expected. We were planning to cache around Hérouville, but we had an early morning appointment in Paris before that.
Driving to the City
The first special activity involved what we pretty much always do on a Saturday morning – Saturday is parkrun day. The nearest one to us was at Bois de Boulogne – a mere 25 km away on the outskirts of Paris. The drive there involves a brief flirtation with everyone’s favourite road, the Boulevard Périphérique, which is somewhere in between a massive car park and the world’s largest dodgem attraction. Even at a shade before 8am on a Saturday at Easter it was a bit frantic. At least I’d pre-planned the route and knew what signs to look for and which lanes I’d need. I had Ami operating Google maps on my phone, just in case I made a wrong turn at any point.
Anyway, Google reckoned it would take much longer than it actually did. We were there sat in the car park at just after 8am. We sat there for quite a long time wondering when the run director would actually turn up. I hadn’t checked average statistics for this parkrun to see how many people normally turn up. If I had done so I would have been less worried about the apparent lack of competitors and marshalls at 8:45. A few people did eventually appear, and so a parkrun was duly constituted and deemed to be quorate.
Wot, no French People?
The French apparently abandon their capital city at the first sniff of a public holiday. So we were entirely unsurprised to find most people speaking in unaccented English, or at least, in accents belonging to native English speakers. There was a family from Poland, a handful of French, and probably half of the field were British. The field was 48 strong by the way, including the tail runner, who had a North American English accent. One of the British groups was a family from Leicestershire who normally run our “adopted second home” parkrun at Conkers. How weird is that ?
The run itself was good – the course is quite wide and has no significant gradients, so despite having spent three full days on our feet we managed to finish in a very creditable 29:30 with 32nd and 33rd places. We set off quite fast but Ami soon realised that her head was making promises that her legs couldn’t deliver. The post-run cafe was a small roadside affair on the other side of the Bois de Boulogne. It’s fair to say that the place would struggle to cope with demand if any more people went.
Wot, no khasi?
When we got back to the car it was approaching 11am and we had some caching to get on with. So we drove back to the hotel for a quick change of clothes and to pick up the caching gear. While we were there we encountered one of the unexpected surprises for the day. The toilet in our room wasn’t refilling properly or flushing. That, unfortunately, required a visit to reception to sort out. Unfortunate in the sense of it taking some time, but not in terms of the outcome.
The guy on duty came upstairs for a look, and poked and prodded a couple of things before deciding to offer us a different room. I said fine so long as they had a similarly sized one on the same floor. He went to sort it out. Ami and me stuffed everything into our suitcases and got ourselves out of the one room. When the receptionist did return he placed us into the room right next door. All we had to do was to wheel in all the bags and then jump straight in the car to start the caching. Result !
Shall we go caching then?
For caching we parked up in Hérouville to attack the difficult looking southern loop. Part of the reason why it looked difficult was that it involved a long stretch at the end that we’d already walked along on Thursday. There was no way to avoid walking that section again. I’d checked the bus timetable and there weren’t any on a Saturday. We’d just have to live with it.
As an interesting, and slightly strange, anecdote, the place I parked my car for this walk, the Château d’Hérouville, was the primary location for the recording of David Bowie’s album Low in 1976. Elton John recorded three albums there, including Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and the Bee Gees recorded two of the three big-selling singles from Saturday Night Fever there too.
Our walk took us on a big clockwise route through woodland down to Auvers-sur-Oise and then back across slightly more open but still hilly countryside back through Ennery and Livilliers, where we ran out of caches. We’d also run out of energy, enthusiasm and drinks by that point, but had a mandatory walk of nearly 4 km to get back to the car. By the time we had finished that stretch we were both completely exhausted. We’d walked 20.25 km in just over 6 hours and had found 74 caches. Thankfully we now knew that the drive home was quick and easy, and we took the opportunity to stop at a garage on the way back and buy drinks for the following day.
Dinner was an in-hotel affair again, although I have no recollection of what we actually ate.
Day 5 began with the usual hotel breakfast. We were contemplating the fact that we’d completed 318 of 602 caches on the series. Technically, we’d used less than half of the available time. We’d had two “short” days and one full day. We still had two full days and as much of Tuesday as we needed to see how many more we could do. We were planning to head to Jouy-le-Comte, and I started to think about the serious possibility that we could complete them all by Monday night. This would leave Tuesday for a relatively lightweight day of driving (and of not wearing walking boots anymore).
To achieve that we were going to have to do at least 282 caches in 2 full days. Whilst that may seem a lot, it’s worth remembering that so far we’d had some crackers so far. We had one day where we’d made 120 finds despite not starting until 11:20 am. And another where we’d made 129 finds whilst taking an hour off in the afternoon and giving up early (ish). This lead us into some feelings of confidence. A day in which we found 150 was more than possible. We still had big areas of the circuit where the caches were all grouped in tightly packed circular walks. Jouy-le-Comte was one of these two.
So we set out with the specific intention of caching until we fell over. The more we could get done on this day, the fewer we’d have to do on Day 6 and hopefully we could make an empty day for Day 7 (aka “going home” day).
Off we go
We also set out a bit earlier than we had done on previous mornings, as we’d got a little bit further to drive and didn’t quite know how long it would take to get there.
We started in the village of Jouy-le-Comte, which is apparently so insignificant that it doesn’t have a wikipedia page of its own. It does have quite a pretty church though, as do most of the settlements in the area.
Our first cache was signed at 9.25 am. There was a run of about 15 caches up a drivable road with a car park at the top. Much of the road was through the village, but it was the morning of Easter Sunday, and there were so few people around that I didn’t think we’d be causing many problems.
The first 15 took us about 45 minutes. Then it was on with the walking boots for our first little stroll of the day. This first walk was 7.5 km in length, took a shade over 2 hours, and resulted in 30 more finds. Not bad so far then. 45 finds and only just midday.
Next we parked up at the church in Jouy-le-Comte to complete the “bottom half” of the caches on the eastern edge. On this walk we spent a further 100 minutes, walked 6 km and found a further 21 caches. Happy days – not yet 2 pm and we’d already found 66 caches. The day was going pretty well by most measures. We decided to celebrate our success for 10 minutes by resting our feet. We had a drink and attacked our last remaining pack of chocolate mini-eggs we’d bought from the UK.
From here it was a question of deciding which areas to focus on. We’d got a whole raft of caches on long walks in the areas of Valmondois and Nesles-la-Vallée, and a bunch of potential drive-bys and short walks to the north of Nesles-la-Vallée, leading back to Frouville and Hédouville. And then there were still a bunch of drive-bys to the west of Valangoujard. Decisions, decisions !
Our choice was to spend the rest of the afternoon “mopping up” some of the scrappy-looking areas, and to leave the two substantial-looking walks for Monday. This meant we headed into Nesles-la-Vallée and got ourselves into drive-by mode. In the next 3 hours or so we completed a further 40 caches alternating between drive-bys and short walks. After this we drove into Frouville to attempt a more reasonable lengthed walk from there.
We’d neglected the fact that it was evening on a religious holiday. As a result, the car park at the church was full. Ho-hum! There was another one a bit further along the way. This was the starting point for our third (and final) significant walk of the day. This one was 4.7 km long, took 90 minutes, and yielded 16 finds. Quite slow by the standards of the week, but we were getting a bit tired.
When we got back to the car it was around 7 pm, and we knew we had at least another hour of reasonable daylight left, and we felt that at usual rates for drive-bys we could get another 20 finds in. We eventually completed 22 more and still had some light left, but decided we’d done enough for one day, so we gave up and drove back to the hotel.
When I got the day’s activity loaded up onto the PC I was surprised to discover we’d managed a frankly ridiculous 151 finds in the day, 150 of which were from the MTVO series. By my reckoning that meant a fairly easy sounding 134 to find on Monday.
Isn’t it pretty when you show them all on a map like this? Jouy-le-Comte is on the right-hand side of this map by the way. The name is hidden under all the smiley faces.
Our final full day found us needing a mere 134 finds to complete the series, a number which prior to this trip I would have regarded as a very significant challenge, however in the context of this trip 134 finds would be a short day compared to the previous one. 17 fewer caches than yesterday, that’s nearly an hour, that is. Most of the remianing ones were in and around Valmondois.
I didn’t think we had time to be complacent about it though. We were going to the location furthest away from the hotel, and were attempting a group of caches whose layout looked, well, unappetising compared to earlier days. Lots of heavy walking across fields and up and down hills. If we were going to finish we were going to have a busy day. We’d need to walk our way around roughly 95 caches and then finish the remaining 40 in the car. That’s as many as we’d walked on any day on this trip. Plus, this 95 were over worse terrain than the previous 95. At least the weather had stayed good though.
We started down in Valmondois, parking at a “backup” location after discovering that my chosen car park was full. This area started off through urban landscapes on an old railway line. It then headed off up some hills and out onto the agricultural plateau where most of the series was to be found. We had a bit of a problem at the start because the GPS was playing up. I eventually realised that this was because the memory card had come slightly loose. This happened during the process of changing the batteries at some point since the previous evening. Once that was fixed, we were rockin’ and rollin’ again.
On this first walk of the day we covered 10.75 km in 3 hours 20 minutes. We found 42 caches while we were at it. Quite slow going by the standards of this trip, but some of the terrain around Valmondois was harsh.
From here there was a group of about 9 caches that could be done in the car. We did those next, if only to give our feet a rest for half an hour.
When back from there we parked up at the side of the road in Nesles-la-Vallée (to the north of Valmondois) to have a crack at what was hopefully the final significant walk of the holiday. This walk was 9.6 km long, took 3 hours and yielded 41 finds. When we got back to the car we were sick of walking though. Both of us had quite a lot of pain in our feet. We really just wanted to get the walking boots off in favour of something more welcoming. Still, we’d finished 92 of the 95 caches in the area. And we’d established that the remaining 3 down here could be done in the car, which is what we then did. Excellent. 95 of 134 made and it was only 4:30 pm. The game was still very probably on.
The first 6 drive-bys were down a fairly unsafe bit of two-lane road where I really didn’t enjoy stopping. We then did the 7 that required a walk, leaving us with 28 more to do in the car. These started in Vallangoujard and headed westwards along a pretty quiet road, and the first 15 of them proved to be very easy to do again. Excellent – only 13 left.
The final 13 were more troublesome again because they were along a two-lane road that had a few blind corners and not many places to pull a car off the road. Some of them were not as close to the road as we would have liked. And it started raining. But finish them we did. 602 caches on the series plus assorted others that we were passing anyway, completed in 3 full days and 2 long halves. That’s pretty impressive, in my opinion.
We didn’t celebrate much whilst in the car though, because we’d got a bit wet. We really just wanted to get back to the hotel for a final night of logging caches, eating unlimited puddings and packing dirty clothes into suitcases. I think we got back to the hotel just before 7:30 pm. We set ourselves an aggressive target of showering, packing the cases and getting into the restaurant inside an hour. It took 20 minutes longer but the restaurant staff were happy and completely unsurprised to see us again.
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 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.