Today was the start of the real holiday. The last 5 days we have to write off on account of bad weather. Sort of like a washed out test match. We did enjoy the family time but the weather was really appalling (I have probably said that before). We had the morning at my parent’s house just packing up and getting ready to leave. As there are so many of us and a reasonable amount of luggage, we needed two cars to get to the airport. My Dad and Mom were both going to drive but then my Dad’s gardener (Morris) offered to take us. Just imagine your SA gardener offering to take you to the airport!
We had a flight from Southampton Airport to Orly Paris. It is about a 30 minute drive to the Airport from my parents home. The airport is probably the size of George airport (maybe marginally bigger with probably double the number of flights). Checking in our baggage was painfully slow. We already had reprinted the boarding passes so all that needed to happen was to print of bag tags. That took about 5 minutes. We did have some time to kill and as we hadn’t had lunch we had a quick bite at Costa Coffee. When we were finished an announcement was made to say that the flight was delayed for an hour. Then just when you are thinking how you can kill another hour of waiting they announced that they had switched out planes and we would be leaving in 30 minutes. And then about 10 minutes later than started boarding. We eventually left only 20 minutes late and we will all quite accepting and happy about leaving only 20 minutes late. I reckon that is very good PR at work. Tell everyone you are going to leave an hour late and then leave 20 minutes late and everyone is very happy.
Of course it was cloudy and raining in Paris as we started to descend. We did get a view of Paris central and the Eiffel Tower sticking out though. Everything was very efficient and we were through passport control, claimed our bags and gotten the car keys in about 15 minutes from landing. We then had to walk about 1/2 km to get to the rental car. Then we spent 10 minutes trying to figure out how we would fit everyone in and also the luggage. Once we had done that we all settled in and I asked Stephen if he had the printed instructions of how to get to the hotel and he said no – he fantastically had left them at my Dad’s house. Next time I will give them to Michael. We called my Dad to copy and send them to us (via Iphone or email – wonders of modern technology) and at the same time Michael tried (and succeeded) in getting a satellite signal for the GPS and we got the directions from my iPhone as well. All covered! Stephen then tried to put his seatbelt on and it was stuck. Whatever we tried it did not move. So I ran back the 1/2 km to the Hertz counter, got a new car assigned and ran back again. Helen asked whether my shirt was wet because of the rain or sweat. It was the latter. (Rick – I reckon I get to eat one of those chocolates you sent along tonight!)
We repacked the car and headed out into peak hour Paris traffic. What a nightmare. It was raining, I am driving on the wrong side of the road, foreign place, 1000 turns in the first 5 minutes (or at least felt like it), almost drove through a red traffic light (I can hear Sharon panicking again … I did say almost), made my own lane (when in Paris do as the Parisians do – see photo) and then promptly took a wrong turn that resulted in a 45 minute U-turn. Not a great start especially since it was 7:30pm already and we didn’t feel like we had made any progress. We did eventually get out of the traffic and onto the motorway that was free flowing. Stopped for a quick pit at the Services and bought Bolognese chips to keep us going until dinner.
We arrived in Chartres (the town we are staying in) at just after 8pm. We found the hotel easily but no parking outside and we were on the other side of the road. We did managed to make a series of turns that got us back in the right direction and Helen ran in to ask what to do with the car and luggage. We quickly offloaded, left the kids with the luggage and found the car park a few blocks away. Back to check in. We are staying at the Grand Monarque Hotel (http://www.bw-grand-monarque.com/uk/index.php). It is very nice. Our rooms are pretty spread out though but it isn’t really a problem.
We decided to head into the centre of the town (aiming for the impressive Cathedral) and find a Brasserie for dinner. The rain was gone and it was a beautiful evening with the sun still very much up in the sky. We did find one relatively easily and the waiter could even understand our English. We sat outside because it was such a nice evening. Everyone pretty much ordered the same thing. The only problem came when we asked whether we wanted our meat ‘Bloody or not’. We knew what he was asking – we just didn’t know if he understood our answer (turned out he didn’t when the food came but it didn’t matter).
By the time we were finished it was 10pm and it was twilight. The town has an illuminated walk. They light up several buildings around the town. So we did about 60% of the walk and were stunned at how beautiful the village was. It is what you would consider a typical French village. Cobbled streets, shuttered houses on the road, window boxes. Just close your eyes and picture what you would consider a typical French village and you would have it. Helen said she just expected someone to cycle past with a Baguette sticking out of his carrier basket on his bicycle. I am sure we will see that tomorrow. Fortunately we have a working camera and a good internet connection so I don’t have to describe it – you can see for yourself.
We got back to the hotel at 11pm and all headed for our rooms. We will have a later breakfast tomorrow as there is no point in rushing out of this place!