And indeed, a lot of driving there was….
This was the first time we’d experimented with crossing the Channel on the train, and through the Tunnel. It was also the first time we’d tried going abroad with a child (Ami, in this case – she was two) and the first time I’d driven my own car abroad. It was the first time we’d taken a foreign holiday in the summer since Ami had been born too. All of which makes for a lot of firsts to be packed into a single week.
As we’d never done it before, we naively assumed there’d be no difficulty whatsoever in driving 562 miles (or 906 km, whichever you prefer) through the middle of the night in a foreign country with a two-year-old child in the back. What could possibly go wrong?
Well on the way down to Folkestone for the tunnel trip, not much did go wrong apart from the usual Friday night crush around the M25 and we arrived comfortably in time for our train. We had quite a late one booked and all went smoothly, and we arrived successfully in France just the wrong side of midnight.
From here, it was a matter of driving as much as we could manage, whilst stopping every couple of hours to buy more coffee and to give our precious two year old the necessary amount of servicing, if you know what I mean. As we pulled out of the tunnel terminal we stopped to fill up with fuel and consumables for the journey. Apparently though, my car didn’t need headlight converters because it had a flat beam profile.
Progress from Calais down to Rouen was pretty good. When we got to Rouen though, we got a bit lost. There wasn’t (and still isn’t) a decent loop motorway, so you are pretty much obliged to drive into the town centre and then attempt to find your way out again. This is not as easy as it seems when your sat nav isn’t keeping up. In-town roadsigns in France can be difficult to follow, especially if you’re tired. At one point I ended up having to do a U-turn on a big bridge over the Seine when we realised I was going the wrong way (again). Thankfully it was about 3am, so there weren’t many cars around.
We did eventually find our way out and continued along the A13 heading west, but noticed that the little ‘un was getting more and more grumpy and generally unable to settle. Well we hadn’t had a stop since Calais, so we were about due one. Anyway, the little dear didn’t seem to want to settle so we opted for staying at the services for a while to try to get a bit of sleep in the car rather than continuing to drive. It didn’t work particularly well, mainly because as soon as Ami was anywhere near Kas and no longer strapped in the back she simply wouldn’t settle, so we had about 3 hours of torture, with Ami wriggling, crying and generally doing anything other than sleeping, before we eventually gave up and started driving again. By this time it was light and we were able to go and grab some coffees before setting off.
We stopped for breakfast at the Parcé-sur-Sarthe service station on the A11 south of Le Mans, having pushed on for a good couple of hours. We made this a fairly long stop, as we needed a breather and we were in no rush.
The drive from here along the A87 past Angers and Cholet and then the A83 around La Roche-sur-Yon went fairly smoothly and all was well until we hit a big queue trying to get through Marans which was caused by the combination of weekend traffic and a particularly bad set of traffic lights. I guess it’s also caused by the fact that the autoroute system doesn’t run into La Rochelle, despite its being the biggest settlement in the area by some huge distance.
On the way by, and because we needed another break, we dived into the massive Carrefour on the edge of La Rochelle to grab a few “essentials” for the coming week. Quite a few of those came in 75cl bottles, it has to be said.
From here we negotiated our way rather unconvincingly to our destination, Le Moulin Boutillon in Angliers. There was a bit of faffing about trying to figure out where to go, as the maps weren’t great and the sat nav wouldn’t let me enter enough details. We got there eventually, having done a couple of laps of some nice single-track country roads. The location was what you might call “off the beaten track”, which equates to quiet but rather hard to find.
We arrived in the middle of the afternoon and our hosts let us in straight away, which was great, because we were all pooped. We’d booked an apartment with two bedrooms, which theoretically should sleep up to six people. The layout was a double room, a twin room, and an open-plan lounge/kitchen/diner that had two sofas, both of which could be used as beds if required. The furnishing was simple but tidy and in good condition, and the rooms were sufficiently large. If you look at the photos of the gite, our bit was the double doorway on the right side (including the shuttered window to the right of that. The Moulin Boutillon hadn’t been open for long but they’d manage to get this block (also containing a one-bed apartment on the left and a studio in the middle. They’d also opened a 2-bed flat in the main farmhouse and a 4-bed house. The buildings were surrounded by masses of open space – big lawns mainly – and they’d also got a small swimming pool. Several other areas were yet to be developed, but on this trip it was all quite new and not-quite-finished, but in a good way.
So we chilled for a bit, made something to eat, put Ami to bed and then settled down outside on our patio watching both the sun and a bottle of wine go down. OK, the sun would have gone down on its own, but the bottle of wine needed a helping hand that we were very willing to give it. We’d been away from home for nearly a whole day without having been to bed. We could cope but Ami had long since had enough.
By the way, the 2006 FIFA World Cup was on while we were away on this holiday, and because we were either travelling or sleeping we managed to miss England’s first game (against Paraguay, a 1-0 win for England played in the Commerzbank Arena in Frankfurt). It wasn’t the only game we missed, but that didn’t bother us much, to be honest.