Sunday, 9 June 2019

DRIVING HOLIDAYS THROUGH FRANCE – MOODY CHILDREN, GITES AND BATS



Dear Readers,



Today we are going to discuss the pros and cons of driving holidays as a travel trend.

As you are aware, the best narrative stems from personal experience, and as you have by now gathered, your Hapless Blogger has plenty of that…


So, dear Readers, today we are going back in time, to a simpler age. A time once more without internet, or even mobile phones (yes, a VERY long time ago). We are going to drive from the South Coast of England to the Dordogne in France, and more specifically that British mecca, Bordeaux…Back then it was less populated by British ex-pats to be fair. We are then going to stay in a gite…


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Let’s begin from the UK. Put 4 adults and 2 children in one car. First mistake. Especially as one of them (which could have been moi) is exceptionally car sick. Tip number 1: do not plan a massive drive with a car sick child. She will throw up in the back of the car before you reach Dover. Now, of course, one has the choice of the ferry or the Eurotunnel. Having used both methods many times, I would personally recommend the Eurotunnel, as it’s quick, efficient (when running smoothly and as long as the car in front doesn’t break down as has also happened to me) and dumps you in a straight line onto the auto-route…happy days. However, one could argue that the ferry is much more fun. You wave goodbye to the white cliffs of Dover, have a full English breakfast, and then peer out for Calais the other side. As long as you aren’t seasick…then it’s 2 ½ hours of torture…Another plus for the tunnel.


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Having regained dry land, we embarked on the (tortuous) journey to the Dordogne. Now, perhaps, dear Readers, I am putting a negative spin on this, because I have since, as an adult, driven through France several times, once, indeed, on my own! Can you imagine?! But that’s a post for another day. Your Sick Blogger, having thrown up 4 times in 2 hours, forced the adults decided that perhaps getting to Bordeaux in one day was a bit ambitious…So they decided to stop in Orleans. Now, you remember there was no internet in those days, so it was a case of stopping at hotelly-looking places. Now, point 2: I am sure you haven’t forgotten that your Helpless Blogger was and still is, something of a Princess. As is her father. So having rejected several hotels on the basis that there was no air-conditioning (did I mention we’d decided to embark upon this holiday in August, naturally), we came upon the “Hotel Sofitel”. So luxe was this hotel, it shone like a beacon of luxury and air-conditioning…Of course, dear Readers, your Princess Blogger was over the moon. I will never forget the towels and the swimming pool! I note, with huge dismay, that it is no longer a “Hotel Sofitel” and has been turned into a Mercure (who have presumably bought the company).


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Much to my chagrin, of course, we were only there one night. Mark you, as far as I was now concerned, it was the benchmark to which the holiday was now set. This proved for a very exciting reaction when reached our gite…


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Now, my parents, and the other parents we went with had obviously read A Year In Provence (or something similar as perhaps this was before that book came out), and with hindsight now as an adult, this gite or farmhouse, WAS idyllic. How they found it, I’m not sure, as it was certainly a long time before Air BnB was thought of. Its name was “La Duarade” and try as I might to find it on the internet for you to have a look, I can’t. I can only imagine it’s either been re-named or no longer for rent. You drove up to it down a long country lane with cedar trees on either side. At the end of the driveway, you came to a rambling building, solid and long. Crunching on the gravel, you walked up to the front door, where you need to use the most enormous key I had ever seen in my life. It has been a talking point ever since, and it wasn’t just the fact that I was very small…the key was, genuinely, very big! The front door was the front door of dreams: a huge, gothic, wooden affair, complete with creak. In we went, and having had a swift scope of the place, I promptly burst into tears. Hotel Sofitel, it was not. However, in the spirit of describing it to you, my dear Readers, I will have to pretend Princess here didn’t have a screaming tantrum, and carry on. So the drawing room and sitting room were oak panelled, with huge sofas and terribly upright chairs in an old-fashioned French gentry sort of a way. The kitchen was disproportionately small for such a huge house, but I remember flagstone flooring which was blissfully cool. Upstairs, my parents had this huge, four poster bed. So huge was it, that even at a running jump, one couldn’t get up into it! Very Marie Antoinette…Mine and my little friend’s bedroom (there being another child slightly older than me) was equally as exciting: for a completely different reason. We were joined by some very friendly bats. This was rather exciting in the middle of the night, but surprisingly enough, especially for Princess, we weren’t actually that bothered. My mother, on the other hand, was another level of hysterical. Batty Bat and his friends were terrified of her and her screaming sent them into a frenzy…It was hilarious. I don’t think she’s ever quite got over it…
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The grounds were fascinating, and being next to as sort of farm, I remember being utterly awed with a flock of scrawny-looking chickens with no feathers on their necks…There was a monkey swing in the grounds which occupied us for hours. Basically, if you haven’t had the pleasure of a monkey swing, dear Readers, it was a massive rope tied to a tree with a huge knot on the end which you wrapped your legs round and clung onto. Such fun. As we have possibly gleaned thus far, Princess here was less than “sportive” so of course, I managed to fall off it and step on a snake at the same time…Much excitement ensued, resulting in a new pair of shoes and a trip to the toyshop.


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Said toyshop is in Bordeaux and still exists to this day! Unfortunately, as your Hapless Blogger was quite young, I can’t remember what was bought…probably a dolly. Something that does stick in my mind, however, is swimming in the Dordogne. I will never forget it! Never before had I seen so many tiny fish swimming round me! We visited many places and I supposed, to get back on track with the travel trends, that that’s a plus point of having the car with you, as you don’t have to go through the trauma of hiring one. Neither do you have to bother with airports or indeed train stations.


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I won’t bore you with more family stories, but safe to say, after 2 weeks in this idyllic farmhouse, no one was the same again…least so the poor car…And Princess was happy as we stayed in the be-towelled, be-swimming-pooled oasis again on the way back…I think there was a swimming pool at the gite…but it was rather green if I remember rightly…



I also remember I wasn’t quite so car sick on the way back…



So what, dear Readers, can our conclusion be? To some of you, a road trip with a carsick child sounds like hell on earth, but forgetting that bit, I have to conclude that it was one of the most memorable holidays I have ever taken. We’ll talk more about road trips as a travel trend anther day, but staying in a huge gite, with Batty Bat, the skinny chickens and Mr Snake for company was an experience I’ll never forget.



Thank you for joining me, once again, I hope you enjoyed our trip to France. Go stay in a gite…you’ll love it!
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