That Time We Drove France in a Day

Well, almost…

You may remember how I mentioned me and Tiny’s epic drive home previously following the breakdown of our transport/home in Catalonia, but I didn’t quite elaborate on quite how epic and stressful that day was.

And okay, it wasn’t quite all of France either. But let’s not nitpick…

MOST OF IT, SEE!

MOST OF IT, SEE! (Image Credit: Google Maps)

Having finally got the van back from the mechanics in Mataro the previous day, we had slowly ambled our way north along the Costa Brava into France, then through Perpignan and over the high hills on the A75. Praying that we’d soon get down from over 1000m elevation to non-snowy areas, we finally ended up stopping at services near Clermont-Ferrand for the night.

And we slept in a bit too long…

The surprising comfort of the van had caught us out again, and with a Eurotunnel spot reserved for about 9pm, sleeping in until 10.30am wasn’t ideal at all. So after a quick wash and feed we were all set and ready to go.

Only for the van’s battery to be flat.

This wasn’t the first time this had happened on our trip, but at least we had our leisure battery to hook it up to. The process of unconnecting the leisure battery, connecting it to the main battery and jump-starting, followed by connecting the leisure battery back up to it’s devices killed another 15 or so minutes, but at least we were finally good to go.

Then some French Douanes officers – customs officers to us English speakers – parked up next to us.

Bon-frigging-jour...

Bon-frigging-jour… (Image Credit: France3)

Of course they had to be very interested in why two young English guys were driving through France and sleeping in a camper van in motorway services. It must have been a hugely exciting morning for them so far…

But the sight of their guns in holsters meant we weren’t going to argue with them, and we attempted to be polite and answer all their nosey questions. All the while though the male officer seemed very interested in the back of the van and what might be inside. With us now being desperate to get moving, we looked at each other and I could tell we were both thinking the same thing – “please don’t ask to look inside the van!”.

“I want to look inside ze van”

Fantastic!

So we were still yet to get moving despite it already being past 11am now, and to cap it off we were having our bags and belongings rifled through by French officialdom. Finally Monsieur Nosey decided he was satisfied, and having left the back of the van messier than an Argentine hairdresser’s we could finally be on our way. And so began the long long drive North…

It didn’t help that it was a particularly dull December day in central France, and all we saw for miles were grey roads, Renault Twingos and grey skies. Both me as the navigator and Tiny as the driver worried about each other’s alertness and ability to stay awake, but we missioned on towards the place where all roads converge in France – Paris!

The downside to a "road" trip... (Image Credit: ParisZigZag.fr)

The downside to a “road” trip… (Image Credit: ParisZigZag.fr)

The sun finally decided to come out and play as we hit the French capital, but it quickly dulled down again as we hit the motorway joy that is le Peripherique. And hitting it on a busy Saturday afternoon was even more delightful. This is when our stress levels really started to rise…

With the time coming up to 3pm we thought we were doing pretty damn well against the clock, but as we ground to a halt on Paris’s manic ring-road we began praying for a quick rotation around Paris to our escape through St Denis in the north. As we crawled slowly around we were convinced we needed to get off when we saw the exit for Cergy-Pontoise, yet that didn’t seem to be signposted at all. Slowly but surely we began fretting and I began cursing the “useless piece of cr*p” map we’d bought (knowing fully well it was actually us being useless), but suddenly we saw the sign for the A1 & St Denis and bolted over to the right to exit the hell of the Peripherique.

The stress wasn’t completely done for yet though, as we left the slip road and found ourselves in a crowded Saturday St Denis street market. Faced with a choice of right or left, and no clue which way was correct, we risked heading to our right and ambled along through the busy market. Eventually the traffic began flowing and after a dip through a long tunnel we popped out the other side to a surprising spectacle:

“Oh look, there’s the Stade de France!”

A very welcome sight, as it meant we were heading North and on the right track. Massive relief! Paris, we may have grown to like each other over our various meetings, but me and your notorious ring-road aren’t on speaking terms yet, okay…

I'd never been so happy to see something so French and so poorly designed... (Image Credit: Flickr - Tarkastad)

Woohoo! More roads, but genuine relief! (Image Credit: Flickr – Tarkastad)

Feeling revitalised from having escaped Paris’ ring of hell, we were able to relax and roll north, past Beauvais, Amiens, Montreuil and up to Calais (I swear we ended up on the A16 somehow). We even ended up having time to stop off and get refreshed. Of course for me, being in France, that meant stock up on Cracky Crepes for the rest of the journey!

As we neared the Euro tunnel it turned into a very strange part of France where suddenly all the French seemed to disappear and suddenly the roads began to fill with UK plated cars. On the wrong side of the road to us of course. It felt extremely bizarre – although understandable – but mind you, the best part of two days stuck in a car will do that to you…

It had been one heck of a long, stressful day. Tiny had performed wonders being at the wheel that long, and we were both glad to see him switch the engine off and take a proper rest. We had finally reached the “Chunnel” about half an hour before our boarding time, and as we parked up we both breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Now we just had another five hours of driving to do back in England!

Damn…

Have you been on any epic drives abroad? And where did you journey to?

Featured Image Credit: Flickr – Alexandre Vialle

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4 responses to “That Time We Drove France in a Day

  1. I hate really long stressful drivers, thankfully you made it. Good move on the spare battery.

    I find that if you have luggage the police can be quite nosey, but as you did you have to go along with it.

    You have my sympathy with the driving around Paris. I’ve often seen delays on the ring road due to some numpty driving badly and causing an accident.

    • Ha tbh I don’t think we’d realised quite how long a drive it was when we booked the Eurotunnel the previous evening! I love a good roadtrip, but this one’s definitely not an experience I’d be keen to have again.

      And yeah being held up by cops with guns definitely didn’t help us relax haha!

  2. Good job you had the battery – what a nightmare! I hate long drives abroad.. the numb bums and the heat! At least you got through it xx

    • Hey thanks for stopping by 🙂

      Yeah like I say it wasn’t the first time we’d needed to jump start off the leisure battery, so it was definitely a worthwhile investment!

      Not much heat for us though I’m afraid, it was December and snowy over the high ground in France! For once it was actually a relief to arrive home haha!

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