Four languages in four days!

“The shortest distance between two points is under construction” Noelie Altito

Sometimes it’s only hindsight that gives you the view you need to decide that ‘we’d do that differently next time!’

Which is what I am sat here thinking at the moment!

It was a simple thought – we were going back to the UK – and decided that it would be fun (!) to drive up through Spain and France and go through Le Tunnel.

We’d talked to friends who had done it – and it didn’t seem too far looking at the map… and it would be an adventure!

French village

So now we have done it – and thought it would be good to share some things we have learnt along the way with you all – and there were quite a few moments when we sighed heavily and then said ‘oh well, that’ll make a good blog post’ – it was one of those  journeys (they always seem to happen to us!) 

And having now completed the return journey too (!) – I have had to divide this post into two sections – yep – we have that many things to write about!

So here they are – our top hints and tips – and don’t do’s! – Part 1

(watch out for Part 2 soon – it will be affectionately called ‘Postcards from my car’)

Don’t plan your route using the AA route planner and think you are calculating in miles – and then gasp in horror when you work out how much petrol you need to travel ‘2,400 miles’ – not to mention how many hours it will take to drive that far …. we had friends who said that it only takes 3 days to get Northern France … blimey we thought – that’s a lot of driving overnight…. then we realised we had been calculating in kms not miles…. mmm 1,400 miles is a lot less mileage!

Don’t expect to drink a decent cup of coffee again once you leave Portugal. Oh sob sob, how I missed my lovely ‘uma bica’ espresso for 70 cents a cup – as you travel north the coffee gets weaker and weaker and costs more and more – in Spain it just tastes bitter and boring – in France we had 2 espressos delivered in paper specimen cups at a posh service station café (and they cost 3.40 euros for the privilege!) – and don’t get me started on the soup bowl slosh that is called ‘coffee’ in the UK!

Service stations are the same the world over – they charge extortionate amounts of money for over-cooked burger and chip menus … Salad? Healthy food? Forget it! The best worst was a service station in France called Mr Paul – he wanted 4.20 euros for ONE macaroon biscuit!! And please don’t let me give you the gory details of the various lovely service station toilets we used along the way! Urgh!

Oh – but while I am on the subject of toilets … (sorry!) … where are all the toilet seats in France?! Somewhere in the rural interior of France there must be a farmer with a barn stacked full of toilet seats… ’cos there aren’t any in the loos!

toilet seat sign

The strangest toilet sign!

Our first hotel in Northern Spain was lovely – except the sink only had a hot tap … who cleans their teeth with hot water?! Bizarre!

We totally over-estimated the amount of driving to do on the first day – let me assure you that 2 hours to the Portuguese border followed by a drive all the way up to the north of Spain – in one day – is quite a bit further than it seems on a map. Suffice to say our hotel check-in deadline was midnight – and we arrived there at 11.55pm! We were met by a sweet girl on reception who told us she had been worried about us all evening!

Day 2 began our introduction to the wonderful tolls system. Spain isn’t too bad – at least you can see where your money goes as we travelled through amazing tunnels carved out of the mountains.


And then there are the French tolls (we’ll blog about how much it costs to travel via the A road motorways and pay the tolls in the next post – I’m still adding it up!) – Suffice to say at this point that I have decided that France is just one giant toll booth, and you might just as well drive along with your window wound down, throwing 5 Euro notes out of the window every 20km. That should just about cover it.

take a ticket

The best worst bit about the tolls is actually the fact that you have NO idea how much they are going to charge you – you roll up, stick out a hand and try to grab a ticket (the booths are craftily designed to be just out of reach most of the time … and if you pull into a ‘lorry’ one – the machine is sixteen foot up in the air…. ‘awkward’ !) – and then you gleefully drive along a nice clean empty motorway thinking ‘mmm – wonder how much THIS one is going to cost?’ There are no signs telling you how much – or how far – you can go!

Half of the French motorways were being dug up and widened – so you could see where your money was being put – and this also ensured that you actually paid handsomely for the privilege of driving along a restricted speed limit single lane route – great! No chance of being caught speeding at least – which we had been warned about!


And so to the second night of our stay – we plumped for Le Mans on the map – it was sort of half way – and as you will discover, Dave was in charge of booking the hotels on the way up (my turn on the way back – oh yes – we are that competitive!!! You’ll discover that as you keep reading the blog – we scored each other marks out of ten all the way!) Well – what can I tell you about our second night’s accommodation … other than to tell you the name … that should do it – never book a hotel called Mr Bed (I kid you not!) and expect too much! The text message reads ROFL 🙂 and the teasing for Dave continued for most of our trip – well until we arrived at the Campanile hotel on the way back – but that’s for part 2 (!)

For those of you that have travelled on the Plymouth to Santander ferry – you should be able to picture this one easily – they have recently refurbished the Pont Aven ferry – and we now know where the old toilet/shower plastic podules went – they are nestled into the rooms of the Mr Bed hotel – masquerading as ‘en-suite’ bathrooms – more ROFL!

2 small single beds, a sort of desk, the toilet podule – and that was it really. I think even a student backpacker would have been disappointed. Oh and they had ‘child-proof’ sockets for plugs – that were also ‘plug-proof’ 😦

But the best was yet to come – breakfast – which they charged us 7.50 Euros EACH for… I naively wandered around looking for a plate to put my croissant on (not too difficult to find you might think?) – and the very kind and helpful young lad on duty said ‘Oh madam; we don’t have any plates – you use a tray and put a napkin on top – that’s your plate!’ (Good grief!) And just to prove it – here’s my breakfast ‘plate’:

Mr Bed's tray

And so to Calais – and more hotel fun! This one was actually not too bad – except for the name – I do think the Trades Description Act should be enforced here… The Hotel Residence du Golf… sounds good! I had lovely images of rolling countryside, green fairways, open space (I don’t confess to know a thing about golf – but I do know that golf hotels in the UK are usually quite plush affairs!) – so we arrive – look around – not bad – if it wasn’t misty we could have seen the sea – but where was the golf? Oh, hang on a minute – found it – complete with windmill, humps and tunnels – yep – it was a crazy golf course next door (ha ha!) more ROFL!

Calais was only redeemed by one superb, inexpensive and wonderful restaurant – A Goût du Jour – simply one of the finest meals we have had in a long while – and Tiramisu to die for!

A Gout du Jour restaurant

And so to the tunnel – well not quite – my last piece of advice for today – leave plenty of time to reach the tunnel – even if your hotel is only five minutes away – that will give you time to empty the boot of the car (completely – and it was a bit full too!) and then change your tyre when you walk out in the morning and find your tyre is flat .. Groan!

So that’s it for part one – more soon!

Lyme Regis

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21 Responses to Four languages in four days!

  1. Good post – I really enjoyed reading it, it reminded me of an epic drive from the Algarve to Le Havre in 48 hours in 1986. Like you I completely underestimated the distance and the time required and it turned into a Le Mans style endurance test!

  2. Sarah says:

    I look forward to hearing more. One of my dreams when we moved here was to roadtrip across Portugal in the same way we’ve roadtripped across most of the US and lots of Canada. I’d neglected to think about $10 a gallon gas, and those pesky tolls that seem to be multiplying exponentially.

    • ferragudofan says:

      yes the tolls were quite a shock – even though we knew about them – I’m still totting up all the amounts – watch out for Part 2 – and a sharp gasp of horror when I finally add it all up! 😦
      and yes – petrol just keeps going up too 😦

  3. sami veloso says:

    Lovely post, reminded me of the 3 times we drove from Germany to Portugal (we lived in Germany then) first time doing all the northern Europe, second time through the center of Europe and third time via the southern European town. It was fun because we took our time, stopped along the towns we wanted to visit…
    You are right about the coffee, outside Portugal not many countries have good coffee, and the prices…!! Gosh that croissant sure looks miserable, 7,50euros and no plate!

    • ferragudofan says:

      thanks Sami! just wait til you read part 2 – we stayed somewhere that made Mr Bed look half decent LOL!
      so nice to be back and enjoying uma bica again – sigh! –

  4. What an experience! So very far from anything I have ever done, but it sounds grand! Although parts of it appear to have very challening, just look what you can say you once did! Adventure! Debra

  5. Pingback: Postcards from my car | Algarve Blog

    • ferragudofan says:

      thank you very much!
      must catch up on awards soon – very happy to add this one soon –
      it’s lovely to have someone enjoy my little posts enough to think of me for an award – thanks again you’ve made my day! 🙂

  6. kentishlad says:

    I just came across yr blog,you did have an interesting time ! I stayed at Mr Bed in Tours on my way down last year,could not fault it at 30euros (for 2) breakfast was only 3.50 each there,eat as much as you want.Theres a chinese/french buffet style restaurant just up the road which is good value,and a superb bakery/coffee shop next door to it.I used to drive trucks all over France (prob why I enjoyed Mr Bed) so I know all the RNs and short cuts,I think I spent about 20euros on mways in Fr and nothing in Spain,you seriously dont lose any time.Sadly I wont be doing the journey down to Algarve again,as the ferry out to Madeira has been cancelled so I am now at the mercy of TAP (I flatly refuse to travel on EJet),needless to say I take sandwiches !

    • ferragudofan says:

      hello – thanks for your comments! wish I’d noticed the bakery next to Mr Bed!!! and sounds like they’ve put their prices up since you stayed there
      it’s a shame about the ferry – I think the Algarve is losing a lot of tourists at the moment, which is a real shame

  7. Steve says:

    Came across your blog whilst doing some research ref moving to Portugal. Gotta be honest, your artistic language had me in stitches, especially part-1. In case you havn’t realised, what a great script this would make. Shame old Dell boy’s not on TV, this would have been a knockout for a couple of episodes.

    • ferragudofan says:

      thanks Steve – glad it made you smile!!! good luck with your plans re moving to Portugal – and let me know if there’s anything you need to know that I might be able to help you with?

      • Steve says:

        Biggest issue we have at present is trying to find out where fibre optic broadband is available in Portugal as a whole. This is this is a must have service, as I need fast reliable broadband for work. Would be great if there was a fibre map for Portugal like there is in the UK so we could check properties and areas out. What would be help are (english speaking) contacts, Estate agents, telecoms, that sort of thing. Anything that will help me get out of the UK quicker would be appreciated

        • ferragudofan says:

          Re internet – we are with Sapo – and Zon are good too – but you need a postcode to be able to check exactly what you will get – most major towns in the Algarve can now get ‘cable’ – which for Zon is actually offering 100megs ‘fibra’ as part of a package – sorry no idea what the rest of Portugal can offer (outside of Lisbon which would obviously be good)

          This site – the post office CTT site – gives you the option to find the postcode for a region – which you can then test out on the Sapo site …. sorry – long way round – but might start to give you some idea….
          Once you have ‘picked’ an area – then you can start to find estate agents – most are quite ‘local’ for the best knowledge and bargains – or you can try a big international site like Era or Remax ..

  8. tchistorygal says:

    What a funny post! I loved it. I probably won’t be traveling that way any time soon, but it was entertaining. We went through France on a train. Much easier, but there was one fellow that had his eye on our suitcase, so my husband chose to spend most of the 4-5 hour trip standing by the suitcase which was right by an exit door. We’ll never know if he wasted his time, but our suitcase stayed with us during the whole trip. 🙂 Marsha 🙂

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