THE GREY FAMILY ROAD TRIP
We started our journey first thing on Saturday morning and, as is customary for the Grey family when we set off on holiday, we hunted down an all you can eat breakfast! Experience has taught us that a Beefeater is the way to go where breakfasts are concerned, so we travelled for a little over an hour and stopped at Wetherby. True to form, Charlie (7) demolished a plate of five sausages and baked beans, Henry (4) had three bowls of cereal and Mathilde (2) enjoyed her hash browns and croissants.
Chris and I shared the driving and as it was a Bank Holiday weekend we weren’t surprised to stumble upon quite a few traffic problems on our way down to Dover. However the biggest jam was only just under an hour courtesy of an overturned caravan! I’m sure things could have been worse so I wasn’t complaining!
We finally reached Dover at teatime after around nine hours in the car. Good practice for our flight to Florida in October! Obviously I’m an advocate of lovely, well-made classic toys, but our electronic tablets are a lifesaver on long journeys and loading them up with films, TV and games made travelling with the boys an absolute dream. Mathilde had a few whingey moments, but she was mostly very good too!
The town of Dover chiefly consists of the ferry port which is practically on the beach, a nice strip where our hotel was situated and then the town centre itself behind which was much smaller than I expected and surprisingly rundown. We managed to find a McDonalds restaurant to keep the kids happy for tea and then settled in for the night.
The hotel itself was a Best Western with a lovely view out to sea. As a family of five, we usually take a blow up bed for one of the boys to sleep on as we very rarely find hotels which sleep five and with the children being young, we don’t want separate rooms. Unfortunately I remembered to pack everything but the blowy-up Spider-man bed, so Chris and the boys all slept in our room’s king-size bed and I bunked up with Mathilde on the sofa-bed. It wasn’t too bad a night considering the squishiness!
We woke and packed early and made our way to the ferry terminal. The kids were very excited to be driving their car onto a boat! Hey, I was really excited! I hadn’t crossed the channel by car for 20 years. The physical getting on (and off) the P&O ferry was really easy and we were lucky to have a nice, calm crossing. I took my kwells just in case as I don’t travel well by boat, but I probably wouldn’t have needed them!
We had breakfast (very expensive!) aboard the ferry, checked out the views from the deck and played a while in the family lounge. It was a lovely trip with no problems at all.
Although we shared driving from Tyneside to Dover, I’m not confident enough to drive on foreign soil as I’d never remember to drive on the other side of the road! Chris says I would be fine. I know I’d kill us all in ten minutes, so unfortunately he had to do all the French driving. Luckily French roads are great and much less congested than our roads. French drivers also seem very sensible so there were no problems at all on the roads.
We travelled from Calais to our holiday gite at Conchy-sur-Canche, which is a small village close to the town of Arras in the Nord-Pas region of France, only just over an hour’s drive from the ferry. The Nord-Pas (North Country) is a flat region of mostly farmland which borders Belgium to the north, Picardy to the west and Normandy in the south. We travelled past Montreuil-sur-Mer which I recognised as one of the famous settings in Victor Hugo’s novel Les Miserables. Chris looked a bit worried in case I wanted to visit. Musicals are his most hated thing in the world and the one time I dragged him to Les Mis (before we were married when he wanted to impress me) he fell asleep for an hour during the performance.
The Satnav served us well as we arrived in Conchy-sur-Canche easily. I’m not sure what I expected of our gite as I haven’t stayed in one before, but I was initially surprised by how old it was (built in the mid-1800s) and it reminded me a lot of the farmhouse in Beamish museum (if you’re not from the North East, Beamish is a fab “working” museum dedicated to life in Victorian/Edwardian times). It took a few days for us to warm up the “holiday house” (as Mathilde named it) and it took Chris even longer to get the hang of the wood-burner, but when he did it was lovely and cosy!
The kids absolutely loved investigating the house and had a great adventure. Charlie found some torches and he and Henry were the first to find the “monster’s cellar” below the house. Chris later introduced more excitement with the find of the “witch’s attic”. There was a great games cupboard where we found a big box of Lego, but this wasn’t half as much fun as hide and seek. Oh, and running away from the monster!
The gite had everything we needed. Two large double bedrooms with very comfy beds. Two further rooms each with a set of bunkbeds. Two bathrooms with showers and baths, a kitchen stocked with everything we needed (plus lots we didn’t) and a living room and dining room. It was really great for all of us and we would definitely stay again.
After exploring the house we visited Hesdin for some shopping, but as it was a Sunday and as we were in France, all the supermarkets and shops were closed and the only thing we could manage to find open was a “friterie” (chip shop!) in the town square. We weren’t unhappy as the fries were lovely! We were more concerned about the fact we had no shopping and needed loo roll! Thank goodness we brought plenty of baby wipes! 😀
First task of the day was a) buying food and b) finding loo roll, so we drove to the nearest small town, Frevent, which was two villages along our road and stocked up at the local Carrefour. Shopping in foreign supermarkets is one of our favourite things to do when we’re away and we loaded the trolley with lots of lovely French food including pate, cheese, pastries, fresh bread and sausages. We even treated ourselves to nice smelling perfume-y loo roll!
After getting back and having lunch outdoors in the garden we travelled into Amiens which was just over an hour’s drive from our village. Amiens is a beautiful town with a famous cathedral and lively town centre. I was semi-familiar with the town through reading Sebastian Faulk’s novel, Birdsong, and as I walked the cobbled streets of the town I could imagine the troops of soldiers marching through on their way to the trenches in World War 1. As a side note, this is the region of France dotted with dozens of cemeteries from the Great War and we passed signs for several as we travelled the area, but we didn’t think the children were at an age to fully understand that period of history so we didn’t visit.
The town centre of Amiens was lovely and had a good selection of shops. I was pleased to stumble upon a small “Galerie Lafayette” department store, so I popped in to take a few photos of their toy department and was happy to see they had a good selection from one of the new brands I’ve recently arranged to stock. It was lovely to also see which Moulin Roty ranges Galerie Lafayette had chosen too.
This was the day we chose to go to Paris!
Charlie, our eldest, is really keen on travel and he enjoys reading about cities and flags and all the great landmarks that can be found in all the different countries of the world. The Eiffel Tower, along with Big Ben and the Statue of Libety, is one of his favourite things and taking him to see it was one of the main reasons we planned this holiday.
Unfortunately, Paris is very, very far away from Conchy-sur-Canche! You can get the TGV (high-speed train) from Amiens, but I was put off by having to pre-book a time PLUS it was very expensive. Instead we mapped out a route to a “close enough” RER (national rail) station we could find to Paris which was in a lovely town called Creil. After getting up very early, it took two hours to drive to Creil followed by another hour on the RER to the Gare du Nord. The kids were beyond excited as … wait for it … the train was a double-decker!
At Gare du Nord we struggled on the Metro to Champs-de-Mar station which is near the Eiffel Tower. Now, here’s the first gigantic struggle of the holiday. If you can help it, NEVER take a pushchair on the Paris Metro. It’s a fight you won’t win! Also, the ticket machines are very temperamental and decidedly fickle. They will let you through if they feel like it, but often you will have to crawl under the turnstiles on your hands and knees (after folding the buggy and passing it over the top). The London Tube is so much better equipped for people on wheels and I’ve no idea how disabled people manage on the Paris Metro. I assume they don’t bother as I didn’t see any trying!
I’ve visited the Eiffel Tower several times, last visit being when Charlie was a baby, but it was lovely hearing the chorus of “wow” from all three kids as we turned a street corner to see the fabulous landmark standing before us. Charlie couldn’t wait to get to the top but sadly the summit was closed today so we could only go to the second floor. The wait to visit was over an hour and as Chris and Charlie sought out a few sandwiches, I had a terrifying moment when I took my eye off Mathilde for two seconds and she disappeared. After probably less than a minute (but it seemed like hours) of frantic calling for her (along with other worried people in our queue) I finally found her a few metres away climbing some barriers. Needless to say I didn’t take my eye off her again, which didn’t make her very happy as she wanted to play. Thank goodness for the enormous ham baguette which kept her quiet for the rest of the wait!
After the Eiffel tower we played for a bit in the playground we’d taken Charlie to when he was a baby (happy memories!) then we walked to a Metro (more drama!) and went to St-Michel which is a station in the lovely Latin Quarter of Paris. There we had a look around the shops (all three kids bought a mini Eiffel Tower for their shelves) and had a lovely meal in a Greek restaurant before starting the long journey home. We got back around 9pm which was a 12 hour day! City visits with small children are tough!
All of us had a nice lie in before starting our last day in France. Today we decided to visit the town of Arras which Chris was familiar with after having a golf-trip to this area a couple of years ago. Arras was another nice town with two lovely big squares and another impressive cathedral.
Chris was pleased to find a shop stocking some great beers – most of which were Belgian due to Arras’s proximity to the Belgian border, and I resisted the urge to stock up on some rather impressively priced but spectacular looking chocolates in the knowledge I still had a box of Hotel Chocolat’s finest in the fridge back home from my birthday last week.
Our last night in the gite was quite sombre. Henry, our 4 year old, started to sob uncontrollably saying he didn’t want to leave France. Sad as it was for the little guy, this is music to your ears as parents as you know you’ve given your kids a great holiday if they want to stay forever! Charlie, engrossed in his Beast Quest books, agreed he wanted to stay too and would quite like to go to the little school in the village as it was painted in bright colours and looked fun!
The Thursday morning and time to go home! Henry had recovered from his crying incident from the night before and now it was Mathilde’s turn as much of the journey she kept asking us if we were going “holiday house”, followed by a few sobs when we said that we were going back to our house now.
We left in plenty of time for the tunnel as getting to places on time is one of my stress-button-issues. I’m terrible at airports in particular! Because we were so early, the tunnel people let us go on an earlier train and we reached Folkestone by 11am. The excitement of car-on-a-train wasn’t as great as car-on-a-boat and even though the tunnel journey was much quicker the kids unanimously agreed that the ferry trip was the most fun. Probably as they could have breakfast and a bit of a run around!
Seven and a half hours later we got back home after having a really easy journey. Again, the boys tablets proved invaluable and Henry even managed a snooze. Mathilde had a snooze too, but being two, was far more whingey and had to be entertained a lot more. I think we must have listened to the Frozen sound track about 20 times over in the car. Chris never wants to hear “Let it go” ever again! Good luck with that! 😀
So that was the Grey Family’s first big road trip adventure and we all had a fantastic time. Even to the point of having a little dose of the post-holiday blues since returning. We always love being in France and I hadn’t been to the Nord-Pas region before so it was lovely to visit a new area. I also thoroughly enjoyed staying in our gite (which is owned by a friend of Chris’s).
The best thing about the trip was realising the kids are getting to a great age where we can thoroughly enjoy more and more aspects of family holidays. The boys were very good the whole time we were away and we were encouraged to see them becoming great friends as they took off exploring and playing together. Even Mathilde, aside from the odd whingey tantrum-y episode common to two year olds, was no real bother and she had a great time.
This is what life is about for us! Building great memories that will last for all our lifetimes! 🙂