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Sunday 16 June 2019

Solo Travel: Road Trips and Escargots



Dear Readers,


As I am sure you are aware, Solo Travel is a massive travel trend.  Getting ever more popular with the likes of yoga retreats, culinary trips and tours for the solo traveller.  We’ll explore these options more in due course.  However today, we’re talking about travelling alone, not in an organised trip with a load of other solo people, but just travelling, and enjoying (or not) being on our own, in our own company, and experiencing life.


Once again, I am speaking from experience.  We would love to hear your thoughts on this, and all our Blog posts, so please don’t be shy, dear Readers, on giving your opinions.  Feedback is always interesting…perhaps you have some stories you’d like to share?  Some experiences of your own?  Please don’t hold back, let us know!


Today, therefore, we are taking a solo road trip.  There is something so entirely liberating about road trips, and when you take one on your own, as I did, I have to say, it was one of the best experiences of my life.


Now, it must be pointed out that the route, or some of it, wasn’t entirely unfamiliar to me.  Indeed I had covered the path from Calais down to Marseille a couple of times with Jolly Hockey Sticks (my mother, for those who haven’t read previous posts) so it wasn’t as scary as it sounds.  The scary bit was Spain which was new territory for me, and a new language of which I wasn’t familiar.


Maybe a bit of background might be pertinent here, dear Readers.  Your Helpless Blogger had decided she needed a bit of an adventure.  Having experienced a bout of ill health, she decided in her infinite wisdom (?) that perhaps a solo trip was exactly what she needed.  My father, bless him, decided against questioning said reason, and let me go willingly…I think he’d had enough of his very adult (by this time) daughter and her woes.  Plus Jolly Hockey Sticks conveniently needed picking up from Barcelona and dropping off at Marseille (I’m not going to explain…it’s too boring).  Out came the maps and the sat nav (the very latest TomTom I’ll have you know) and in typical my family fashion, a route was planned.  I also planned an overnight stop at a place I had previously overnighted at, so again, it wasn’t as daunting as it could have been.  But to be completely honest, dear Readers, your Hapless Blogger wasn’t in the least bit daunted, just excited.


I think once you’ve been travelling (again, for those who haven’t read the backpacking Blog posts, that was me) the thought of travelling again doesn’t bother you.  You have this confidence that all will be fine, and you’ll find somewhere nice to sleep.  I guess the difference this time was, though, that I was on my own.


Fortunately enough, the family home wasn’t far from the Eurotunnel, so getting there took 40 mins.  If you haven’t taken a car on the train before, it’s great fun, I highly recommend it for various reasons.  First reason is that it’s so easy.  You drive up to the terminal, show your ticket and passport, drive through…although it’s a bit like security at the airport:  some people get checked randomly.  To digress for a minute:  this happened to my parents and I once on a family day out from Folkestone to Boulogne…my mother had packed a picnic, and as they were sifting through it, my father made a joke about “Semtex sandwiches”…suffice to say it went down like a lead balloon…we thought it was funny though…  Back in the room, and off I trundled to the terminal where you can park up if you like a get a coffee, then when it’s time for your train to depart, you queue up with all the other cars, and drive in convoy onto the platform (so weird).  Then you are directed into the train which is split into two levels.  My car was small and light, so we went up onto the top level.  You then drive along until you’re told to stop and there you are!  There are about 3 vehicles per carriage, which are separated by big fireproof doors.  You wait until everyone is on, and off you set!  You can see out of the windows and you see the grey countryside go past, then suddenly all goes back outside as you go into the tunnel.  About 40 mins later, you emerge into slightly less grey countryside and bob’s your uncle, you’re out the other side.  You disembark the same way, and drive onto the platform, follow the signs and BOOM you’re on the autoroute, speeding away from Calais.  It’s all rather surreal…

Image result for eurotunnel


I cannot extoll the virtues of the French road system more.  In the UK, as I’m sure you’ll agree, dear Readers, road travel, especially on a Friday, to get anywhere in the UK is nigh on impossible.  If you’re not stuck on the M25, you’ll be sure to be stuck on the M4/M6/M1 etc etc.  It’s horrendous.  Not so in France.  Yes, it’s true you have to pay (entire paragraph on the payage below!) but it means that they are predominately traffic-free.  You could always argue that you don’t get to see things, and that should you be embarking on a road trip, you should always do the scenic route, but I did have a bit of a deadline and quite frankly, if there’s a monument or village you want to see, you can just pull off the road and go and have a look…


Something I should probably point out at this juncture is that I was driving my little pocket rocket who is a British car.  This is absolutely fine abroad (make sure you have European cover for insurance and breakdown just in case), until, of course, you come to the payage.  Then it gets very exciting.  And the people behind you get very excited.  You see, the payage is on the wrong side…or perhaps my steering wheel was on the wrong side.  And the other problem was, I didn’t have a passenger to wind the window down (how old fashioned does that sound?!) to grab the little ticket that the machine spits out or, even more excitingly, throw the Euro coins into the paying bin…Thus one is left to sprit, Usain Bolt style, out of the car, grab the ticket, and leap back into the car before the barrier crashes down on one’s head.  Likewise the paying of the money:  made even more exciting when it was blowing a gale and my Euro bills were flapping around refusing to go into the machine…The people behind on more than one occasion got so excited (what do you want me to do, you idiotic man, move my steering wheel?) that I forgot my sprint in the spirit of that universal middle fingered salute…

Image result for reims


I had decided to beat a path towards Arras (funny to English people), and so to Reims (almost impossible for English people to pronounce) narrowly missing out on getting sucked into Paris (peripherique, anyone?)…my sense of direction is legendarily bad…quite brave doing a road trip really…If you haven’t visited Reims, really do.  It’s just beautiful.  I then headed for Troyes (another completely impossible name for English people to pronounce) and then direction Dijon.  You see, dear Readers, I was headed for Beaune.  A place already known to me, and an overnight stop in the Ferme aux Vins (which is actually an Ibis so very cheap www.hotel-ibis-beaune.fr ).  This is possibly one of the best hotel restos I have ever been to.  To get back to our topic of travelling alone, this, should you wish it to, comes with:  dining alone.  Of course, dining alone is much more commonplace nowadays, and we have all sorts of sympathetic technology to go along with it, as you have your phone for company.  However, this tech is relatively new, so although I could have played a few games on my phone I suppose, it wasn’t like they are now.  So, armed with my book and a magazine, off I trotted.  I supposed it’s not everyone’s tasse de the, and I also suppose as an only child, perhaps I’m used to being on my own, but having dined alone before, I thoroughly enjoy it.  You take your time.  You order what you want.  You enjoy it.


As the name demotes, there was a huge choice of vin on offer.  Being in the Bourgogne, Beaune is surrounded by excellent vineyards.  I opted for a robust white (formerly a red drinker, having had my teeth whitened at huge expense, your Princess Blogger had to make the change) which was about 14% proof…Having had an extremely early start, and being really very tired, you can imagine what happened next:  your Hapless Blogger got a bit tipsy…The reason I was there (apart from the wine, of course) was for my favourite ever dish:  escargots.  However, by the time they arrived, I was less that sober.  You couldn’t make this next bit up:  they arrived with the obligatory snail clamp which is tricky sober, let alone less so.  So, giggling to myself and reminding myself of the scene in Pretty Woman “slippery little suckers” I procured one at last, or so I thought, until it went shooting across the restaurant…although it wasn’t caught neatly by the waiter as the one in Pretty Woman was…The wild boar stew pretty much finished me off, and off to bed I tottered to sleep it off.  After a good breakfast and a lot of coffee and a not too early depart, I was on the road again.

Image result for road from perpignan to girona


This time the direction was Lyon, then Avignon and Montpellier.  This was completely new territory for me and honestly, dear Readers, if you haven’t been to this area where France meets Spain and the Pyrenees, then please go.  It’s so beautiful.  The road between Narbonne and Perpignan is fabulous.  As it is from there to Girona…I have no words to describe it.  But this is what I was looking for.  Solo travel at its best.  I suppose in this case, it helped that I love driving and I had the ultimate road trip car, with the roof down and everything.  But it was then that I started to really get a sense of adventure, and being at one with myself and just enjoying the moment, really.  You should honestly try it, dear Readers, it will change your perspective I promise.

Image result for perpignan to giron road


Having bypassed Barcelona, I was headed for friends in Denia, where I was due to spend a few weeks before heading back to Barcelona to collect Jolly Hockey Sticks who was requiring to be picked up from the ferry in Barcelona and returned to Marseille as I mentioned.  Road trip for me, and convenient taxi for my mother at the same time…Having spent a blissful few weeks I then headed back to Barcelona.  This is where it gets exciting.  Somehow arriving early, I plugged Tomtom into the car and he got me to the ferry terminal which appeared to be right in the middle of Barcelona.  By the time I collected Jolly Hockey Sticks it was getting dark.  This, dear Readers, turns out to be the busiest time in Barcelona.  The World and his wife appeared to be out for a drink and a potter around.  Tomtom became extremely excited and turned himself off.  Now, my mother is one to panic.  There we were driving down what looked like the biggest and busiest avenue in Barcelona, my mother honking and squawking ineffectively and me driving and wrestling with Tomtom…Having resumed directions, it was too late.  We’d GONE THE WRONG WAY…it was about 30 mins until we could turn round…somehow on the autopiste to Andorra I think…but then we got back on track and arrived at a garage, which Tomtom informed us was our hotel.  It wasn’t. 


This was useful.  Not.


Jolly Hockey Sticks was in a new state of excitement by this time, as I am sure you can imagine.  Now, for a bit of philosophy for a sec.  Anyone who’s been travelling will agree I’m sure, you just keep calm.  You will find someone to ask, and you will find the hotel.  It has not disappeared, you have merely gone the wrong way.  Again.  Jolly Hockey Sticks doesn’t speak a word of Spanish, but fortunately I had a few words and established that the hotel wasn’t far away.  Interestingly it was next to the Spanish F1 track, so being a bit of a petrol head, I found this most exciting (www.accorhotels.com/gb/hotel-5258-ibis-barcelona-montmelo-granollers ).  Having downed two pints of Stella (don’t judge me, I needed it) we ate well and went to bed. 


The next day, I drove Jolly Hockey Sticks to Marseille airport and again, engaged Tomtom to get me out of Marseille.  I should have just followed the road signs.  It was an absolutely sat nav classic:  they had dug up what felt like the whole of Marseille, and this confused poor Tomtom to the next level.  When I knew I’d been past various roadworks at least three times before, I realised that he was sending me in ever smaller concentric circles…2 hours later, I was back on the road.  This time headed North, I was glad to be on my own again!  

Image result for marseille


I don’t know about you, Readers, but I have always been into my music, and I think, to add to the whole liberation of the piece, you should have your road trip playlist.  It gives the whole thing an element of cinema.  I had a lot of Sterophonics, Chillis and Foo Fighters, plus the obligatory Air, Moon Safari.  But whatever’s your bag, it’s just nice to have a soundtrack to your adventure.

Image result for air moon safari


Having decided I needed more escargots, I headed back to Beaune…got less tipsy this time, and thoroughly enjoyed myself.  Then got back to Calais in record time, and back on the big train again to Blighty, where it was grey and raining, as per usual.


So what conclusions are we going to draw from this travel trend?  Do it!  If you can.  I know I always say that, but it’s such fun, and if you are in the position to take off on your own in your car and do a random road trip on your own, then just do it.  On a psychological note it did me wonders after not being too well, and I came back mentally and physically improved.