Au revoir France

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May 21st 2015
Published: May 25th 2015
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We had another early start this morning. Although we were booked on the Eurostar service from Calais to London at 2.00pm, Bernie checked the Europcar site Wednesday night and they close their rental desk at Calais between 12.00 noon and 2.00pm meaning that we HAVE to be in Calais before noon and it's a three hour drive from Giverny to Calais! Add to that Bernie's need to allow for contingencies and he was adamant that we needed to be on the road by 8.00am, 8.15am at the very latest. I think we made our hosts a bit uncomfortable with our sense of urgency but, with our lack of French and their lack of English, it was difficult to explain why we were so anxious to get away early. Michel kept saying - 'It's only a three hour drive to Calais'. How to explain the contingencies factor??!

With the usually unflappable Bernie radiating stress over the need to be in Calais by noon we were in the car and on our way by 8.05am. I think part of the stress was that we were finally going to have to face the music about the scratch on the Mercedes? From Giverny the Sat-Nav guided us through Vernon and back onto the A13 to Rouen where we picked up the A28 to Abbeville before making our final approach to Calais on the A16. All went smoothly and we even fitted in a comfort stop along the way.

With the address for the Europcar depot at the Calais Ferry Terminal programmed into the Sat-Nav what could possibly go wrong?! Well ... we drove closer and closer to the ferry terminal and then the Sat-Nav directed us into the lane that all the trucks were using. That's OK we thought, the Europcar terminal is probably located over in this more commercial part of the ferry terminal. It wasn't just being in amongst the trucks that was worrying - it was seeing all of the refugees trying to climb onto the trucks that was a bit confronting. It is one thing to hear about the EU's problems with their illegal immigrants, but another thing to actually see these people who are so desperate to make a better life for themselves that they are trying to climb on the back of moving trucks.

Finally Bernie admitted that the Sat-Nav had got it wrong. Still willing to put his trust in the technology though, he pulled over and reprogrammed the Sat-Nav with the GPS coordinates for the Europcar depot. This had the Sat-Nav having a conniption and telling us that it was impossible to calculate a route! By this stage it was about 11.20am and Bernie was getting close to having a meltdown. We turned the car around and started going the wrong way down the truck lane which had me freaking out about having the Mercedes squished into oblivion by a truck driver not paying attention to the lost tourists going the wrong way.

There was a group of people getting out of vehicles and donning fluoro vests so Bernie asked if any of them could provide directions to the car hire depot. Hmmn, the language barrier struck again and the best we got from them was to follow the signs back into central Calais. And then the motorcycle policemen arrived!! Sorry, we're a bit lost, we're trying to find the hire car depot to return the car. Hmmn, just let me ask my colleague and he rode off around the car. After a few moments of consultation, his colleague rode around to the driver's side of the car and said that we needed to be where the cars enter the ferry terminal. OK, but how do we get there from here??? Follow me he said ... so we got a police escort through all the trucks until we reached a spot where he could point out to us where we needed to be.

Phew, that used up about 10 minutes, but the hire car depot is within sight so we will make it yet before they close for lunch. Bloody hell, with time ticking away, we found the Europcar section of the car park but we couldn't find any way to get into it ... it seemed to be only set up for cars being picked up and driven OUT, there was no provision for cars to be driven IN. There was plenty of parking that was 'gratuit' (free) so Bernie decided to park in one of those spots and let Europcar worry about moving it into their section of the car park. It's going to have to go for repairs anyway so probably won't be re-hired immediately?? Not our problem once we hand the key back!

With 20 minutes until noon Bernie raced off into the terminal building to find the Europcar desk and left me bringing up the rear. Thank goodness - we made it. Handed the key over, had the damage looked at, had a damage report filled in, paid the $1,200 excess and got a photocopy of the damage report to follow up with Driveaway who Bernie purchased the extra car hire insurance with. We think that when the damage is assessed if it will cost less than $1,200 to repair that we will get a refund?? This may be very wishful thinking though, as the girl on the desk seemed to think that the damage is so bad that the rear passenger door will have to be replaced and Mercedes are very expensive ... We'll see, I suppose. Despite all the hassle of us returning a damaged car AND the fact that our car return was now eating into her lunch break, the lovely girl on the desk called a cab to come and pick us up and take us to the Eurostar station.

The taxi duly arrived and we started the final leg of our journey on French soil. Wouldn't you know it, the motorway was closed and the taxi driver had to take the long way around!! Thank goodness we weren't driving ourselves because I think it would have been a drama for us to find the alternate route to the train station. The taxi driver delivered us to the airport in about the same time as the motorway would have taken because the trip still only cost €30.00 which is what we had expected. Now we just had to sit around waiting for our 2.00pm train ... which I would rather do any day than be in the truck zone of the Calais Ferry Terminal. And ... would you believe it? ... there is an Avis depot at the Fréthun Eurostar Station!!!! Should have hired an Avis car!!

We had a bite to eat and then read our books to fill in the time until the English Immigration desk opened at 1.30pm. Answered all the questions put to us by the Immigration staff - there are always more questions at English Immigration than anywhere else! - and then sat in the holding lounge until the train arrived ... right on time. Today our tickets were for Carriage 2 and, of course, there's no carriage actually numbered 2 ... which we discovered when we get to the carriage right behind the engine which is Carriage 1 even if that's not the number on it! Confusing right?! So we boarded Carriage 1 and the nice porter says - it's OK, there's room in this carriage you can stay. Thank goodness, it's not easy towing our bags down the aisle of a train carriage.

An uneventful tunnel crossing to St Pancras Station in London. Bernie topped up our Oyster Cards and we train hopped our way across London to Greenwich. We arrived at Greenwich Station and we could see the Novatel Hotel ... on the other side of the railway lines. Hmmn, how to get to the other side of the railway line? Fortunately there was a ramp and an underpass and we were able to tow our bags around the block to our hotel and put our feet up for an hour or so.

Bernie used the Underground App to plan our trip from Greenwich out to Pinner. Light rail to Canary Wharf, Underground to Baker Street and then the Metropolitan line to Pinner where we were met by Marilyn and Jim. Marilyn's grandfather and my great grandmother were brother and sister and we have caught up a few times now since discovering that we have common ancestors. We had a lovely dinner at 'Friends' restaurant in Pinner before train hopping our way back to Greenwich. We took note of Jim's tip to change to the Underground at Finchley Road rather than Baker Street because we only had to cross the platform rather than hike between the Metropolitan and Underground stations. Ha, ha travelling the Underground like locals now!!

Steps for the day 10,990 (7.51 km)


26th May 2015

And hello to Greenwich
Sounds like quite the debacle, thank goodness for contingency timing! We tend to do the same given the sort of hurdles presented when travelling. We have had horrible experiences returning hire cars in non english countries at time critical moments, hence our preference to travel by trains and only hire cars for one or two days at various locations. But of course pubic transport can present its own set of problems as you have found. At least in England you will be able to ask and (hopefully) understand the response. I am keenly following your Greenwich experience given Jill and I are staying there in an apartment near Cutty Sark for 12 nights. We are really looking forward to having an extended stay in London. I can still only cope with a small dose of activity in one day so we will be able to take in the sights and experiences in a leisurely manner. So any hints will be welcomed. Scotch College in Melbourne has a library with an amazing collection of australian books and artifacts. I visited one time with the curator who was a friend in Toastmasters, Dick Briggs. He showed us some amazing items including some items from Cooks voyages and also a journal belonging to Matthew Flinders. Added to that some original Gould books with the most amazing bird illustrations and a copy of the original Ned Kelly court transcripts. I am not sure whether it is ever opened to the public but am wondering if people with a special interest in such issues may be given access. Just a thought that it may be worth contacting them on your return in case you are able to visit. Looking forward to further blogs as you continue on your way. Enjoying the armchair ride with you both. love Janet xx

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