I have to admit that I was a little too excited last night in anticipation of this road-trip. In fact, I resorted to watching ‘a bit of Stephen Fry’ to knock me out. Thankfully I did manage to get some sleep and wake up in time for some last minute packing and our 6am departure for Dover.
The 3 of us (myself, Dean and James) thought we had arrived in Dover in good time, but were promptly told that our gate had closed and that we subsequently had a substantial wait for the next available ferry. Thus, it had the potential to put a big dent in our ambitions for the day. However, in what has already become a philosophy on the trip, we decided ‘pleading ignorance’ will be the way to succeed. For that reason we decided to join a queue for another ferry and hoped we would be allowed on without any questions. Luckily no-one noticed us which meant we were one of the first 4 cars on the first ferry departing (it turned out that our new queue was the ‘rapide’ one). This meant we had boarded a ferry that wasn’t ours and we had no idea where we were heading. It seemed a good judge of my company that none of us were that bothered, but we instead embracing a bit of naughtiness.
During our 90 minute journey we enjoyed a cheeky game of Family Scrabble and used the resources to take it in turns to play ‘Carol’ in Countdown. It passed the time.
Once we arrived in Calais we were among the first cars to depart (given we were considered VIP’s as one of the ‘rapide’ customers). Dean enjoyed racing the French to the motorway but was denied victory by a lack of signposting.
All was looking good and we were on course for our aim: lunch in Brussels. However, after to driving into Belgium we hit our second obstacle of the day. The right side of the car started to make an unhealthy noise that forced us off the motorway and down a side road. It was then that the front right tyre blew and forced the wheel to slide onto its rim and the remains of the smoking tire to scatter over the road. This is where we all got a little too excited at a time when other, normal people, would panic.
As we were blocking access to the roundabout we positioned a high visibility jacket by the entrance to the turning. As this didn’t seem to work we took turns wearing the high-viz and directing the lorries before they got close enough to hit us. In the mean time we jacked the car and changed to wheel. Naturally I took some time to photograph it in all the excitement.
Eventually we were roadworthy again. However, since the wheel was a space saver we had to find somewhere to buy a new wheel. As if it were meant to be it was only 2 minutes before we passed a garage. It was a Belgian garage containing a vending machine full of waffles. The mechanic informed us that they would change our wheel, providing we give them the rim that we left on the side of the road. They then said that they were going to have lunch before they would work on our car. This meant waiting an hour so we decided to risk it and stick to our original plan. We got back on the E40 and head for lunch in Brussels.
When we arrived in Brussels we immediately came across a lovely little bar selling local beer. We were also excited by the Belgian stereotypes drinking out of goblets in the corner. After trying the local beers we all agreed that the Belgians know how to make a good beer. I and Dean then had a Duval with lunch which knocked us out as James took the afternoon shift to Luxemburg.
It was not long until we arrived in Luxembourg City. However, since we had not done our research, it took us a very long time to find our hostel. It resulted in us asking numerous pretty Luxemburgers for directions before we eventually arrived at our destination.
Our approach to the hostel was everything we imagined Luxemburg to be like. It was surrounded that unique European architecture, cobbled streets and a fresh feeling in the air. We all immediately forgot about the difficulty finding it and enjoyed actually being there.
We then decided to have a few beers local to Luxemburg before walking into the old town of Clausen to experience the night: Luxemburg style. The Christmas lights were still up and the quaint little town certainly looked good at night. After a few different bars we ended up in a very surreal situation. The club we found ourselves in clearly featured under 18’s, affectionately named ‘The Micky Mouse club’. It made us all feel very old. It will definitely be a lasting image of Luxemburg though, particularly as the night ended with me buying a 16 year old a milkshake before retiring home slightly confused about the whole thing.
What is the last thing you expect to wake you up in Luxemburg? Today we were woken by a Japanese man acting like a cat in our dorm. He quickly vanished and we were up with a smile.
Originally we had planned to hit Lyon today, about a 7 hour drive. However, we have been offered a night at a sky resort in the South of France tomorrow evening, so we changed our plans and headed for the mountains.
I was the first driver of the day and began heading south along a great stretch of road. The European roads don’t seem as heavily policed as the roads in the UK, yet they seem safer.
After about 4 hours we drove through Dijon. I knew that we had to find some mustard, and we did.
At this point we thought we would be hitting the Alps in no time. Yet, we hadn’t predicted the forthcoming traffic. 4 hours turned into 8 very quickly but I was very happy that spirits never dropped. Instead we opened a couple of cans of beer and created our own sing-a-long to Disney tunes and power ballads. Dean has done well to recruit James for this trip as he also has a high tolerance for things that could potentially dampen spirits. We are a good threesome.
When the temperature began to drop and snow started to appear we knew we were approaching. After a gruelling 10 hour drive we arrived in Bourg Mourise at around 9pm. We weren’t prepared enough to have a hotel reservation so we walked one in the hope of finding a spare bed. An attractive woman with a wonderful French voice greeted us but informed us that there was no room at the inn…or any inn in the town. Fortunately we had considered this before leaving England and equipped the car with sufficient bedding to keep us warm. I volunteered to give the other two the car so I would sleep in the Train station in a sleeping bag.
As that was agreed we then needed to eat. We were recommended a restaurant close to the train station as the food was supposedly of a high quality. It looked very pleasant when we walked in and were seated by a waiter. After 5 minutes we had not received our menus so I went to find some. After another 10 minutes the waiter had not come to our table despite not being particularly busy. At this point we were really feeling the tiredness and hunger. We make a collective decision to abandon ship and find somewhere with speedier service.
We quickly came across a dodgy looking Vietnamese restaurant with a buffet. I.e. quick and easy food. We ordered ourselves a bottle of red with our beer and then loaded our plates with food. It soon became clear that the food had been out for a while and tasted a bit like it was going to make us a little ill. Despite the risks myself and Dean still tackled the snails. The snails had clearly been on display for a few hours and looked like they had come straight out of the garden. We quickly ate one each and then reflected on it. In retrospect it was probably a mistake as the snails didn’t seem like they had been cooked at all. In fact, they probably were straight from the garden. Aside from the risky food and awful wine, the service was great and they offered us sympathy for the freezing night ahead of us by providing us with Chinese wine shots before we left (Not in China).
We returned to the station to find it closed and locked. That meant we were all going to be in the car, albeit lying on the front seats with a hand brake up my bum. Each of us got into our thermals in a manner that indicated we have become a little too close.
Dressed in my long johns and Chinese thermals I was given the request to move the car into a place that doesn’t have light. Looking quite ridiculous as I drove I braved the icey roads and parked the car down a dark street outside a house and on top of a pile of snow. Here we tried to get to sleep, not aided by my knee being closely positioned to the sensitive car horn. It’s probably fair to say that the sleep wasn’t great, but the experience was. At around 4am Dean quirped “is anyone else struggling to breathe?” to which myself and James confirmed that we were. It had turned out that the 3 of us had spent a couple of hours struggling to stay alive because we had used all the air and moisture in the car. We were basically killing ourselves in a very humorous way. All it took was a slight gap in the window to allow oxygen to flow back into our lungs and get a couple of hours of ‘decent’, healthy, sleep.