Boring is definitely not a word in my vocabulary and, for better or worse, it certainly doesn’t apply to my travels with Monsieur. Invariably, be it on the first day of our time away or the last, something will go wrong. For instance, on honeymoon I got food poisoning, on our way to Venice we got diverted to Rome thanks to a transport strike. I swear I’m the only person I know who has been stuck on a train going nowhere, in the middle of nowhere in Germany, which is usually über-efficient (except for during my visits), and at one point in time, Monsieur’s suitcase was so frequently delayed or misplaced that the lost luggage people at Heathrow knew his name.
So when Monsieur and I set off for France recently, we were prepared for our usual dose of misadventure, but not necessarily with immediate effect.
Traffic in London was diabolical. It took hours plural to get out of town, which meant, naturally, that we missed our ferry, but not before a maniac in a metallic orange car tried to run us off the road by overtaking us on the hard shoulder. Moral: never trust a man who drives a metallic orange car. Orange cars should be reserved for advertising purposes only.
So we finally reached Dover and checking the time I worked out that our ferry was about to dock in France. Darnit, we could have been there by now! We changed our tickets to a berth on the next available ferry, but it didn’t leave for hours plural and we had to pay £26.00 for the privilege of twiddling our thumbs. Moral: pay the extra for a flexible ticket OR take P&O, who allow passengers a three-hour window around their booking time so they can change to earlier or later ferries if required. But did we take our own advice? Hell, no. We showed allegiance to the tricolore and booked Seafrance. And Seafrance made us pay.
The fun part was yet to come. By the time we drove off the ferry in France, it was well past midnight local time and we were tired. But we had to drive. A long way. A very long way to the little Norman town of Honfleur.
2.5 hours isn’t that long when you say it out loud, unless you’re dog tired behind the wheel of a car, like Monsieur was. As designated navigator, I couldn’t doze off because (a) I had to read the map. In the dark. And (b) I felt obligated to make sure that Monsieur didn’t doze off and crash us both into oncoming traffic. Not that there was any oncoming traffic. It was too late for oncoming traffic. Oncoming traffic had sensibly gone home to bed.
After an hour of driving on blessedly empty roads we passed the turn off for the Baie de Somme. I sighed. If only the sweet little hotel I’d found there hadn’t been fully booked, we could be veering towards a warm bed right now. But it had been fully booked, so we still had a ninety-minute drive ahead of us. And at two in the morning, ninety minutes is a very, very long time. By now I was all but convinced that Monsieur and I would end up in a ditch before the drive was through. I hoped the air bags would work. Oh, me of little faith.
As we approached Le Havre, my attention switched from air bags to the sky; it was lit in the strangest of ways. In my dopey state I started to wonder why the Northern Lights were here. Shouldn’t they be in Scotland or somewhere further north? Above and around us the sky glowed a strange, flickering terracotta. It was far too early for dawn. Had a bomb gone off somewhere, perhaps? (Things always seem more apocalyptic to me at night and on checking my watch I could see that it was definitely still night.) Would we pass over yonder rise to find a big round spaceship like the one in Close Encounters of the Third Kind? No. There would be no entente cordiale between the Frenchman, the Pacific Chick and a bunch of inter-galactic joy-riding extra-terrestrials. Not tonight, anyway. We passed over yonder rise to find Le Havre. And for anyone who hasn’t seen Le Havre in the wee morning hours, I’ll try to describe it.
Le Havre is a massive port, the second largest in France, and among other things, a large proportion of the country’s oil deliveries arrive here in gigantic tankers. It glows thanks to all the lights from the port and warehouses and giant flames from multiple refineries. Driving through Le Havre was like driving through a Lego town lit with bright white fairy lights and fire. What’s more, there was no one on the road and we didn’t see a single human as we passed through, so where was everyone? Were they dozing off on the late shift? Keeping an eye on their safety meters? Or were they at home asleep while secret armies of Oompa Loompas fanned the flames? All I could see around us was industry, concrete, lights, fire and wire fencing. It was so bright, it could have been day. But, no. It was just before 3am.
Leaving Le Havre behind us we had the stunning stretch of the Pont de Normandie to ourselves as we crossed the dark River Seine to reach Honfleur and our motel. Most importantly, a comfy bed with our names on it was now close. In spite of all the delays in getting here, we’d done it and in spite of my fears would not be spending the night in a ditch by the side of the A29. A well-deserved rest was imminent, and there was the motel, but where on earth was the entrance? Would Epic and Monsieur ever get some rest? Would their travel adventures ever disappear? Hmmm. You’ll just have to tune in soon to find out.