“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!
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!
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.
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’:
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!
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!