So off we set at around 7:30am, with Grandad Pete volunteering for the first shift. And then we immediately hit problems. J13 looked like non-stop traffic heading south so we went straight on towards Bedford instead. They seem to have started rebuilding the A421 all the way to Bedford, so roadworks there too. But thankfully once past Bedford the roadworks were finished and we were on the new (to us) dual carriageway section running all the way over to the A1. So we maybe lost 30 minutes driving essentially in the wrong direction and then 20 more coming back down again.

Once we got to the M25 all seemed remarkably calm and normal again though. In fact last time around we lost ages queuing for the QE2 Bridge but this time, despite being Friday morning rush hour, we were over the bridge and down to Maidstone Services by 10am. The daughters didn’t have breakfast at home so the stop was also the cue for a round of bacon sandwiches, toast and Costa coffees. Mmmmmmmm! Bacon sandwiches.

And so to the tunnel. This time around we arrived a half hour before the final check-in time but weren’t offered and earlier train. Turns out that was because the earlier one was so full they couldn’t fit all the bookings on, never mind move anyone else forwards. So we took a quick break at the terminal building to “check the football scores”, “turn the bikes round” and other such delights. Then it was off through the passport control and into the queue for 25 minutes of dull, dull, dull, and finally much excitement as we pulled onto the high bay carriage and parked up. The high bay carriages are exactly the same as the low bay ones – just on one floor instead of two. Strangely enough, they take the same amount of time to get through the tunnel.

When we arrived in France we made a stop at the first garage to acquire Pringles, drinks and to make another bicycle rotation stop before the drive down to Rouen. The other necessity here, of course, was to switch on Felicity the Sat Nav. It seems Felicity had actually been asleep since August last year, when we returned from La Rochelle.

Our destination was the Hotel Ibis in St Sever. Felicity found this nicely except for one bit of misdirection which we think was due to taking the wrong one out of 3 motorway junctions apparently in the same place. So we ended up driving alongside the Seine in the wrong direction. After a quick u-turn we were back on track.

Parking arrangements for the hotel were not listed on the confirmation so we were a bit exposed. We followed signs and ended up staring at an overnight car park under a nearby shopping mall which had a 1.80m height restriction. Yeah, as if ! Just as well we weren’t actually committed to that direction. So we executed a dodgy shuffle in the middle of a busy road (at 5pm on a Friday night) and then another loop around a roundabout before returning where we had been five minutes previously. We parked on the side of a busy road resolving to walk up to the hotel and check out the form. The receptionist offered a spot in the hotel’s underground car park which we again had to decline because it has a 1.95m height restriction. Thankfully the hotel has two (yes, all of two) free roadside spaces right outside the door and we duly parked the trusty Peugeot in one of these, taking care to leave enough room at the front to allow an exit from the space in the morning regardless of whether someone parked behind or not.

We established a cunning method of extracting bags from the roofbox (open the door and stand on the interior floor) and retired to our two three-berth rooms. The rooms were OK for the price. Not lavish but perfectly functional, each containing one double bed and one single. The only downside was that the two rooms were on different floors, but this turned out just to be because they only had one three-berth room on each floor. So Izzy was to be bunked up with the grandparents and Ami with us. We did a quick turnaround and then decided we would head off into the centre of Rouen for dinner and a bit of an adventure.

The adventure was caused by the choice to travel by tram/metro. There was a stop right outside and the hotel receptionist explained the process very well. Sadly though, she wasn’t aware that the ticket machine doesn’t accept non-French credit cards, and given this was our first day in France we don’t have pockets full of loose change. So we ended up missing at least three trams while we figured that we actually needed some coins, and Grandad walked back to the hotel to beg for some coins, which were given up somewhat reluctantly by all accounts.

Rouen Cathedral as seen from Gros Horloge 140215 4.jpgThe tram itself was fast and efficient. Not sure whether it is a tram or a metro though, because it alternates rapidly between sharing the road with cars, running on rails up the middle and ducking down through tunnels. We boarded at St Sever at road level and got off at Palais de Justice now three escalators underground.

Having found our way back to the surface we then proceeded to do a bit of idle wandering around the streets waiting for someone to blink and decide it was dinner time. It took a little while to do and in the meantime we walked down to the cathedral, found some little horse drawn carriage thingies and then waited for ages until Ami and Izzy finally could be dragged away from the horses. We also did a bit of architectural appreciation. There seem to be quite a few old buildings in the middle of Rouen which are mainly in quite good condition. Obviously the cathedral was surrounded by scaffolding (being cleaned), but the change of colour was dramatic so it’s probably worthwhile. The Palais de Justice appears to have been particularly attractive to the Nazis and its facade looks like fossilized Emmental.

We found a couple of restaurants in a nearby modern square and plumped for the only one which appeared to be open. I guess it was only 6:30pm but the form in France seems to be that places actually shut between lunch and dinner, so when we arrived we were told we had to wait 30 minutes before they could take a food order. Might as well, I suppose, because everyone else here seems to be properly shut.

We got stuck into a nice round of drinks whilst waiting to order and all was going fine until we heard a rather unfortunate cracking noise, closely followed up by a bit of gagging and spitting coming from the general direction of Izzy. Oh God! What has she done ?  She’d got stuck in rather enthusiastically and had bitten right through the side of her glass and ended up with a mouthful of glass with her orange juice. Thankfully none of it stuck, so all was well, but it looks like Izzy is happy to maintain her nickname of KamikIzzy.

Food consisted of a selection of pizzas and pasta washed down with beer. We discovered grandad doesn’t like Leffe.

And so we retired to the Ibis for a good night’s sleep after a fairly long day. Just time on the way in to extract some bedtime pants from Izzy’s case (in the roofbox) and toothbrush (between the back seats).

The car was pretty full on the way down and it was a bit draining, so it was nice to allow a bit of time to explore in Rouen. The following day was to involve more French motorways in a jam-packed car. Best get all the sleep available.