And now for something completely different.
I had originally booked our usual ferry to La Belle France for June, plus the normal week or two either side. However, my subsequent deciding to stick around in the UK to get a cataract sorted out caused a re-planning exercise. Since our friends in Spain, Chris, Yvonne and el perrito, Scamp, had offered their hospitality in early August to help celebrate Chris’s birthday and to experience both the Jalon fiesta and the Spanish August heat, we gleefully rearranged our outbound ferry for August 3rd.
Our plan is to drive through France and cross the western Pyrenees into Spain at the Somport pass taking three days to complete the 1200-mile journey. Although less than direct, day 1, today, takes us to friend Mike in Arçais where we’ll stay on Sunday to recoup and reminisce before heading further south to the Pyrenees on Monday. Calais to Arçais is a long day of about 450mls/720kms so our ferry was at a disgustingly early 7:30 AM from Dover. Our alarm was at an even more disgusting 3:00 AM to be on the road by 4:00 AM to arrive on time.
Now, although I am fond of banging on about how delightful it is driving on French roads where, compared to England, there is relatively little traffic, there are exceptions. The French, bless them, have controlled holiday seasons when the entire population of France rises up and hits the roads heading for their chosen holiday destinations. Such coordinated mass exoduses cause bedlam. The French Bison Futé organization produces a calendar of of circulation difficile [difficult driving] days. The days are colour coded in four colours of increasing difficulty, rather like ski runs, black being the most severe. Today was a black day. I had thought that the worst days were in July but apparently not; there are probably 364 days this year with less extreme driving conditions than today. Bother!
We made Dover and our ferry without difficulty: circulation facile [easy driving]. Incidentally, time was when one had to check in just 20 minutes prior to a ferry’s sailing time. Now it’s an hour. I assume this is because the ferries are now larger and take longer to load. Such is progress. Our ferry was full to overflowing; there were cars parked all the way up the ramps to the higher vehicle decks even as it was under way. I hope the handbrakes were good.
We hit the roads of Calais in good time at 10:00 AM, unlike those vehicles that were going to have to reverse before they could drive down the disembarkation ramp. We hit our first bouchon [traffic jam] in good time also, just about 20 miles out of Calais. A Dutch caravan had flipped onto its side and its tow-car was now facing back the way it had come at a jaunty angle. The hold up was not severe and we eventually sailed on.
We sailed on to just before Rouen where we hit what looked like another much more severe bouchon. Sally Satnav now earned her passage. Purely because other vehicles began diving off onto side roads, our queue shortened allowing me to do the same. The queue appeared otherwise to be completely static. Sally Satnav found an alternative route through Rouen and we were on the road again.
Our feared circulation difficile due to an exodus of Parisians heading west never materialized. We did avoid an apparent difficulty at one autoroute exit by diving off earlier and bounced cross-country into Arçais at 6:30 PM. It had been a very long day but a day that was less frustrating than we had feared it might be.
Mike restored the missing parts of our sanity with a cold bottle of rosé and then introduced us to our B&B with a former mayor of Arçais, and what a delightful little chap he was. Our room for two nights was great and wonderful value to boot at just €40 a night.
After a driving day totalling 580mls/930kms, we unwound very quickly and very effectively.