From Dunkerque to Lyon - Playing chicken with a lorry, mischievous yoghurts and embracing the world of true budget style hotels

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Europe » France » Burgundy » Dijon
January 13th 2015
Published: February 7th 2015
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Thankfully the wind has died down again so it shouldn’t feel like we’re reinacting a scene from the perfect storm on our ferry crossing today. After an early-ish start, we repack Charlie who groans under the weight (and probably wonders ‘why me again?’) and then set off. Our ferry has annoyingly been delayed by an hour and a half which will dramatically eat into our driving time in France, but luckily we're offered a chance to go on an earlier ferry which arrives in Dunkerque instead of Calais, so we opt for that. We’re directed onto the ferry by workers in their reflective jackets and park closely to the rear of the car in front for fear of being shouted at for not being close enough and to make sure there is enough room for everyone else to get on. As we step out of the car, we notice there are a grand total of 3 cars on board the ferry- a silver peugot in front of us then wee Charlie and a solitary burgundy ford in the lane next to us. Charlie looks rather desperate now stuck right up in the rear of the car in front when there is a HUGE open space all around us… Oh well, at least he’ll have some company.

We head straight to the dining cart for some breakfast, although as a newly diagnosed coeliac on a ferry from Britain to France, the options available are not too plentiful. I have the choice of a limp-looking greek feta salad, an overpriced fruit cocktail containing 2 slices of apple, 2 grapes and a cube of melon, or to D.I.Y my own full english breakfast. I opt to make my own breakfast and end up choosing 2 eggs and some beans (the journey through France in a small car may well be a ‘fruitful’ one) whilst Greg chooses the biggest most breadiest sandwich he can find. Thanks Greg, I appreciate your continued support. We pass the time watching the news which repeats every 20 minutes, so by the time we reach Dunkerque, we are somewhat experts on inflation rates - I am almost tempted to apply to Mastermind and quote it as my specialist subject. Greg repeats his usual mantra of “drive on the right, drive on the right”, a most useful one you’ll agree and soon we’re trundling along the French highway (trundling seeming more apt than zooming, as Charlie is so weighed down he can’t go any faster than a lorry and in fact is struggling to overtake anything going faster than 50mph). But Charlie still tries his best and for about 20km he attempts to keep overtaking the same lorry, who inevitably always ends up in front of us again (it feels like I am in a scene from 'Dual'). Greg refuses to be beaten and doesn’t stop until he is once again in front of the lorry, and during an uphill part of the road we manage to pull away from it once and for all.

We make a few obligatory pit stops along the way for a quick pee and our usual self-inflicted dose of rank coffee to keep us going. In my attempt to avoid the lure of gluten filled service station sandwiches, I buy a yoghurt at one of our stops. It’s a nice, thick and creamy one which tastes great and I can’t help but lick the lid where the best thick yoghurty part is. I get so carried away what I don’t factor in is that the pot is still full, so by turning it on its side, the laws of gravity will make the rest of the yoghurt fall straight out and onto whatever is below it. That happens to be me, so I end up with a lap full of yoghurt, doh! Once I have managed to clean up the worst of it, I try to eat the remainder of the yoghurt left in the pot only to discover the spoon that came with it has bent and almost broke in half. Greg finds this whole episode extremely amusing and the two of us end up in stitches for a good 10 minutes. Seriously, it’s the small things in life and when you’re stuck in a car for 12 hours a day you have to make your own entertainment….

For once we make a wise decision to stop a bit earlier for dinner, resulting in us actually able to have a proper meal of chicken, ratatouille and rice. We try our best to speak a bit of the lingo which consists of “Bonjour”, “Poulet” and “eh, this one sil vou plait” lol. At least we’re trying to make a bit of an effort! The food is definitely a cut above the usual service station standard, and has seasoning (that means salt and pepper people of Britain), and vegetables (which haven’t been boiled within an inch of their lives- seriously, how are we the only country in the world who can totally massacre a vegetable and omit all flavour from it??).

Onwards and upwards and although we make slower progress than expected due to the delay of our ferry, we make it by Dijon and decide to head on to Lyon. At this point it’s after 8pm, so we decide to keep going to Lyon which should take us a few more hours and then find the next hotel available to stop. It seems quite sensible for us considering in the past we have more often than not kept driving until the wee small hours and then not been able to find a hotel. Soon the signs count down from 200km to 148km, to 96km and then 27km. It’s about 10.45pm and I’m pleased with our decision and how far we’ve drove tonight. Tiredness is beginning to set in now and Greg admits he’s quite ready to stop too. But like any of our best laid plans, it doesn’t all run smoothly and we are tested to the core at the last minute….

I’ll try not to bore you with the ins and outs of the French motorway system, but we have been travelling down the A7 so far, and plan to continue on this just past Lyon. However, on approach to Lyon, we soon realise the A7 is closed and it diverts us into the actual city of Lyon instead. We spot a Camponile Hotel in the distance just on the cusp of Lyon, so agree we might as well stop there and then work out a new route in the morning. BUT, as you’ve guessed it, the hotel is actually just off of the A7 and therefore seemingly impossible to get to from where we are, even though we are less than 200 metres from it! We even try to programme the sat nav to see if there is another way, but lo and behold it just keeps redirecting us onto the A7, which we know by now is not an option. After circling the same roundabout for the 10th time, we admit defeat and instead decide on Plan B, which is to drive into Lyon to see if we can find a hotel there instead. After getting stuck at every traffic light conceivable, we have managed to find a total of 0 hotels (unless you count the Four Seasons or the Hilton, which may be slightly out of our budget range…). I try to re-programme the sat nav, but it chooses at that particular moment in time to run out of battery and won’t recharge. I’m ready for chucking it into the river at this point.

On to plan C now, which is get out of Lyon and start driving further south on another road instead and hope we see a hotel en route. It’s not the most attractive option given that we are quite tired now, and I am bursting for the loo too - great. I check the map but as I am getting slightly fed up (okay, hysterical) I am finding it really difficult to get my bearings and suss out an alternative route south. I calmly and rationally point this out to Greg, who responds also very calmly and patiently (yes, that definitely DID NOT happen). Meanwhile, Greg is aimlessly driving around Lyon trying to find his way out of the HUGE city, and we drive by the fancy hotels and both sides of the river on a number of occasions. By the third time we’ve had enough, and spotting a sign for Grenoble, we head in that direction even though that is not the way we really want to be heading. We have to pay a 2.30 euro fee to get onto the road and while I am looking at the map in a blur, Greg suddenly does a wacky races manoeuvre onto a slip road as he’s spotted another budget hotel at the side of the road, hallelujah! But just like that, we approach it at the side of the road, then pass by it at the side of the road, and then see it behind us at the side of the road. Turns out the slip road doesn’t actually lead to the hotel at all and now we are stuck in a deserted industrial park with no signposts once again. I actually bite my tongue for once as I know it’s not Greg’s fault and he was actually trying to do something good, but unfortunately what happens is when we get back onto a main road again, it takes us back into the centre of Lyon! It’s now 12am so we’ve been stuck in the same square mile of road for over an hour. We both feel like crying (I already am by now) and once again we have to go through the toll and pay our 2.30 euro fee. This time we avoid the slip road and keep going and then we see it- a sign which reads the A7 towards Perpignan!! So back on track, we focus on finding the next available hotel we can.

We actually spot several hotels at the side of the road, but the problem is they are never advertised, so we don’t know they are there until we pass them on the motorway. There are no slip roads which appear to take you to them, and it’s all a bit of a mystery. The French obviously know something that we don’t know. Are we just meant to assume there are hotels at every slip road and therefore come off at every single one? Surely that will add a lot of time onto our already long trip? For now we keep going, and agree to come off at the next semi- big place signposted on the map, which is a town called Valence. Greg jokes he wishes he could scrub out the ‘e’ and add an ‘ia’ at the end instead, wouldn’t that be wonderful?? We turn off the slip road and sure enough spot a signpost for a F1 budget hotel that will do us nicely. We fear the worst when we get to the locked gates and I press the buzzer and no one answers for 5 minutes, but eventually we manage to gain access and pay our very reasonable 32 euro fee. We understand why these places are called budget, as there are bunk beds and a sink in the room with a threadbare carpet flung in for good measure. The toilets are shared, as are the showers, and well, let’s just say they haven’t wasted money on expensive bedding or furnishings. We even need to strip down our own beds the following morning, and towels aren’t provided (resulting in Greg using the bedsheet instead). BUT, at least it’s a bed and we’re happy to stay still for a few hours.


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