Over the years I’ve created quite good “to do” and “to take” lists for going on holiday. I first started doing this when I took a sabatical from work and went to America for 9 months but the lists I had to create for this Euro road trip were very different.
For one thing I was only going to be away for 3 weeks so everything about the house could be left as is. This was great as it meant nothing had to be done on the first morning except load up the car, fix coffee to go……and go. I was taking one large wheeled suitcase mostly filled with clothes, a small flexible camera bag (for all the gear, cables, plug adapters, bathroom kit and most important of all, a 4 socket extension reel), my laptop briefcase with the laptop, cables and 2 x 1tb external hard drives and a backpack for my walking adventures.
I knew I would be packing up and moving hotels most mornings and perhaps not being able to park close to the buildings so I didn’t want to be carting all that lot long distances. My idea was to take the small camera bag, the laptop case and the backpack (wearing it) into each hotel on arrival and take a change of clothing from the big case without removing it from the boot/truck of the car. I’d taken a large bin bag with me for used clothing and that could also be left in the boot/trunk and filled up upon leaving each hotel. It was a plan that worked very well and I only needed to take the big case up to my room on one occasion…..when I was in the Girona hotel for 4 nights.
Two (relatively) modern devices were going to make my road trip much more enjoyable and hopefully stress free – my mp3 player and Sheila, my TomTom sat/nav. I always need music in my car and as I didn’t fancy listening to French or Spanish radio stations, I needed my own music selection with me. My little Clio does have a cd player but I’ve not bought a cd for about 20 years so I downloaded multiple albums from my digital library onto my mp3 player and once connected to my small FM transmitter, the contents could be played through the car speakers.
Whilst in the UK, I always use the Waze phone app as my sat/nav but this would not work once I left our shores as my phone plan did not include data. I could’ve added data on a daily basis but decided not to. Every Ibis hotel had free wifi and I was expecting many locations to also have wifi and when added to my unlimited phone calls and unlimited texts, I knew keeping in touch would not be an issue. My old dependable TomTom already had every Western European road map loaded up so it became my travel helper for the next 3 weeks.
All these devices needed power and as my car only has one power socket (cigarette lighter point) I had to use a 2in1 adapter with USB outputs. The mp3 player and the TomTom were in constant use and both used USB cables for their power needs. This left a spare socket which was mostly used to keep my phone at 100%. The “new boy on the block” was my GoPro Hero 4 which I wanted to use mostly as a dash cam to capture video footage of the classic scenery I was hoping to come across on the trip. I wasn’t planning on using it a lot but as it only had battery power for 2 hrs of constant filming, it too needed access to the car’s power supply. It would have to share it with the TomTom !
So setting up all these digital devices took longer than loading up the car but with my insulated mug full of coffee to overcome the shock of being up so early and with some suitable road music filling my ears, at 06:55, I was off.
The non stop 283 mile drive down to the ferry was totally uneventful and having prepaid for my Dartford crossings (the bridge going south and the tunnel on the return trip), I arrived in Dover at 12:15. This was 25 minutes longer than Google Maps had forecast but I’d taken it easy and had rarely driven at the maximum speed, even on the motorway stretches. I was happy with the time and it gave me 45 minutes to get something to eat before I needed to be at the ferry area for 1pm, an hour before the sailing.
I found a Morrisons (supermarket) near the port and popped in for a sub which I knew I had plenty of time to eat once I was in the line to board the ferry. So with plenty of drinks in the car and the sub for lunch, I headed for the ferry.
This was my view through the windscreen approaching the first checkpoint where my booking and passport would be checked and I’d be allocated a pre-boarding line to wait in – and then I could eat my sub ! Clearly the famous white cliffs of Dover are not at their best at this location.
With these formalities completed, I made my way to Lane 48, parked up and took this photo before hooking the boarding sign to my rear view mirror.
While many other drivers were attaching their headlight deflectors (for right hand drive cars in Europe) with varying degrees of success, I was able to enjoy my sub and drink without a care in the world. Thanks to Stephen Franks for helping me do this task the previous day !
I watched “my” ferry arriving from Dunkirk, disgorging its passengers and vehicles and finally, quite late, we started boarding. Having made this crossing several times, I hadn’t planned on leaving the comfort of the lounge area but hey, it was a ferry and you just have to.
And yes, even the dreaded selfie ! Ok I’ll make this point right now. Selfies may seem to be a modern photographic development with the use of mobile phones making them much easier to accomplish but for all you young ‘uns out there, as a long time solo traveller, I was taking selfies decades ago. It wasn’t always easy, not at all. It usually involved the use of a tripod and a camera with a self timer but if I wanted a memory of myself being at a famous location, it was the only way.
If only I’d had a mobile phone back in the day !!
I still drew the line at using a selfie stick but this was more down to availability at the time as much as the embarrassment it would cause me. However I did have a “stick” with me and it did get used on the trip. More of that later.
Finally we set sail, quite late. I assumed we’d make up the time on the crossing, seeing as it takes 2 hrs, but the skipper must have cared more about saving fuel than time keeping…….as we didn’t make it up.
Soon we were passing beyond the Dover lighthouse, leaving the white cliffs and my phone’s data signal behind.
I wasn’t the only one up on deck and even some bikers wanted a record of their departure.
Having had enough fresh air, I went back down to the lounge area to pass the time reading my book (Kindle app on my tablet) and due to the 1hr time change, we docked in Dunkirk just after 17:00.
With Sheila, my TomTom, reminding me to drive on the left (thank you Sheila), I was off the ferry and on my way by 17:25. As I mentioned in the planning post, I had set Sheila to avoid taking me onto toll roads and this led to her taking me on quite a convoluted route to leave the port as you are basically straight onto a toll road from the get go. Fleecing tourists ? Perish the thought !
I certainly got plenty of practice dealing with roundabouts trying to get out of the port and I was happy to be getting this orientation sorted out with no other vehicles anywhere near me. I mean NO other vehicles. Not a one. I felt I was the only vehicle that had left the ferry so I guess everyone else had been happy to take the toll route ! Fine by me.
At 19:15 and 78 miles later, I was pulling up at the familiar front gates of my favourite b&b for the night, Aux Trois Maillets. Jean-Michel insisted on taking all my bags from my car up to my room, the same triple room we’ve always had when I’ve been there with Daphne & Stephen Franks. I certainly wasn’t expecting it, being on my own this time, but I liked the idea of getting the double bed this time !
And to be reacquainted with a couple of familiar “friends”……………
Despite only having had that sub back at Dover, I wasn’t particularly hungry but needed to eat something before settling in for the evening. I drove into the nearby town of Lieven and found a friterie which suited my needs……something simple I could take back to the b&b to cut out having to try and find and order a meal in a restaurant in a non tourist part of France where the locals wouldn’t speak English and my schoolboy French might be laughed at.
This was where I first encountered the regularity with which a beefburger would come with a fried egg in it unless you specified otherwise. Strange people, the French.
So I brought my takeaway back to my room where I had plenty of drink options and chilled out before bedtime. I’d driven 371 miles, lost an hour and been up since 05:30 so getting off to sleep wasn’t a problem.
I was safely in France and the real start of the Euro road trip was about to begin………….