Monday, 30 August 2010

Stars in reasonably priced cars

And they were, and despite what seemed to be a battle close to being declared a war between a French couple, the cars were reasonably priced.

We headed north once breakfast in our strange overnight stop was complete, and wasn't long before we stopped where France had turned to a small part of England as a multitude of Brits collected at a services at Le Valley Sur Somme. The land looked like France, felt like France, but sounded distinctly South-East England. Pity. I do so enjoy France.

Our meander to Calais took us through Harelot Plage where we found wintry conditions, the wind blowing so hard that even adults had difficulty opening the car doors as the gusts raged in from the sea. We took a short stroll on the soft-sand beach, the kids amazed at the strength of the breeze. To call it a breeze is unfair in hindsight, a gale would be better.  We laughed, ran, and were amazed that others were out on the sand in this shuttered-down town. Mad dogs and Englishmen calls again.

Cite D'Europe proved our stomping ground for the few hours until our train was due to dive under the sea and here is where we found the cars you see pictured.

We tracked happily round the stores, food outlets, everywhere really, and all was well until Guzzler had the kind of sickening fall and bumped head that puts parents off their food, and leaves that feeling in the pit of their stomach that just doesn't leave. Cars collected though, and things improved until it was time to pack back in to the car for the incredibly short hop to the tunnel terminal. Time for more cars it seemed.

 If you've never been to the tunnel terminal at Coquelles near Calais, it's a mixture of disorganised chaos that forms when you add travellers in one place with departure times close to each other. It did make me smile.  Also making me smile were the collection of nice wheels that littered the queues and parking bays (DB9's, racing Jensen, E-type and the list grows). Pity at least one of the owners didn't seem keen to talk about his steed when asked.

After the smooth roads I'd gotten used to over the last few days, the M20's kangaroo up-and-down nature was a bit much at some time after 10pm on a long, long day. But midnight, B38 and familiar beds arrived to bring an end to another jaunt.

And the stars? The two youngsters: after running close to sixteen or seventeen hours ensconced in their car seats as we trecked across France and home to Birmingham, they were superb. Better than some Jensen owners I must say. Although if you added up all the shopping they had, not sure who was the most expensive

French jam

After all the wind and rain, we were disappointed to be greeted by beautiful blue skies and sun on Saturday morning as we packed and prepared to leave Brittany for the trek across towards North Paris.  Our plans were to arrive, unpack what we needed for just one night and head in for the lights of Paris.  The end of the French holiday period had other ideas.

What was a 4 hour drive turned in to a trip of over eight as cruise changed to crawl, and crawl to stop. Oh well, not the kind of jam I was expecting.

It did, however, did give me more time to notice the landscape and the views, not something I often have time for as we race across the land. It is falt, flatter than I've ever appreciated before, the view stretching out for miles and miles before you. I'd love to have stopped and clicked snap after snap of the views.  One thing really stood out for me.

The pylons there are almost human in shape, nothing like the dull, tall triangular shape we have here.  Some were even painted in the colours of the French flag, giving a certain flair to proceedings.

The kids decided to make their own fun, which consisted of eating the insides from a french baton, leaving me with the outside, resembling a telescope or kitchen roll holder. I was glad it tasted somewhat better than it's cardboard counterpart.

North Paris arrived and we knew it was too late to make a day of it. We settled at our rather odd accommodation for the night, a strange atruim-dominated 3 storey block, similar in concept to what you might find in most cities here, but again with a lot more flair. It was quite odd really, I couldn't put my finger on it. The kids couldn't wait to explore the floors, balconies and spinning chairs that filled most of the open spaces.

Friday, 27 August 2010


Mad dogs and englishmen go out in the midday sun. And to wind-strewn, spray-splattered beaches, or so it seems. Only one other family occupied La Plage Des Vallees today, and they were english too. But I'm getting ahead of myself, rewind a few hours.

The literature we read told us Friday was market day in Val Andre and the parking restriction signs in the main square told us where it would be. Destination: shopping.

Whilst rain may deter a beach trip, shopping is not so easily swayed, and we braved the wind and rain to walk the stall and more around the central parking place in Val Andre. It felt much more local and friendly than Saint Brieuc, and with a wider selection of good and things to browse. We were glad

I turned to see a vendor giving Staple Gun Girl all his patter. I smiled as she simply nodded and he continued, her unable to say she didn't know what he was talking about. By the time I'd walked back to 'rescue' her, they were happily engaging in English, for he hailed from Devon but had been here for many years. We stopped and chatted a while, taking food and drink and business cards from his stall (as he has rental properties here) before I moved on, called away by the scent of olives from a nearby stand.

The favoured clothes stores were once again called upon to provide things for all to view, before heading home for lunch and a change as beach time awaited.

The weather has grown increasingly unfair as the week has progressed, turning from warm sunny sun to heavy, moody clouds, rain and gathering winds. Today was probably the worst, so we did what any sensible English family would do and donned our swim gear and hopped to La Plage Des Vallees.

From the sheer emptiness, you could swear the beach had been closed. The tide was further out than we'd ever seen it, leaving a long, damp stretch of sand to wander. The bright yellow buoys lay forlornly on the sand, no longer dancing with the waves, feeling sorry for themselves.

As we meandered down to the water's edge, the magic of the beach really began to show itself. A slither of water on the beach did not melt away in to the sand, but rested on the surface, leaving a film, a thin mirror to reflect the cliffs and sky. Standing in the waves and looking back up and across the beach gave a magnificent view. Just stunning. The picture below does not carry the splendour at all, I'm almost embarrassed to add it here, but add I must.

The cold theme continued as the four of us took an evening stroll round the town, the girls in their evening wear and heels. Very pretty indeed. Very cold moreso. The short wander, hiding in shops and doorways to last as long as possible was a lovely way to finish our week. We will bring better weather next time.

No man's land

A decidedly autumnal morning greeted us. As I was collecting stuff from the car, the English guy from the yellow house, with French stick in hand, had the cheek to enquire if I'd brought the weather here from Blighty.

A shopping day called, and little did I know just now much shopping it did involve. A promised trip to the beach at Val Andre at dusk was also on the cards so we could play, watch the tide chase in, and join the locals for a dip. Nice.

Despite having been here in Pleneuf Val Andre for 5 days, it took me until now to notice. We are, in fact, not in Pleneuf Val Andre. We're not in Pleneuf or Val Andre. I don't know where we are. Let me get a drink and I'll tell you more.

Pleneuf and Val Andre are two small towns that snuggle together on the coast of Brittany. VA has the pleasure of dallying with the sea, whilst P gets to rest slightly inland and away from the sea breezes. On the walk in to town we pass the sign that denotes the start of VA, and today I turned to check how the short ones scootering was progressing, and I spotted the sign for P, some 50 yards or so from the VA one. So where are we then? Where is the no man's land that nestles between them? I'm calling it Glue, if it's ok with you. Glue*

Given the prices we'd seen so far, I was planning on a bank job to fund the shopping expedition. Bank job, as in robbing one. Fortunately, the ladies found a couple of small stores with pretty clothes, lovely trinkets, and object d'art to keep the four of them happy. And prices to keep me sane. In the first where we lingered a long while, the proprietor spoke smooth English, a result of an English/French parental combination I was to learn. Everyone found something to interest them enough to purchase. The leisurely stroll continued, all content, all happy.

Gathering ourselves at the accommodation, we were depressed to see the rain falling, falling hard. Our play on the beach would be curtailed if it did not cease. It did not. So again strolling, shopping and buying occupied the evening, and a most pleasant way to spend an evening it was. By the time we arrived back in no man's land, we were tired and thoroughly shopped out.

*Glue: Pleneuf (P) and Val Andre (VA) is PVA. Gettit?

Crab Cemetery

Wednesday is market day in the larger town of Saint Brieuc so that was our first stop on a rainy and blustery morning.

We weren't impressed really. The fruit & veg vendors had fine displays with plump, ripe goods, but anything relating to clothes was rather slap-dash and massive in price. We were stunned at the prices actually, sometimes even 5 times as much as we'd expect to pay at home. We didn't linger long in the market, but strolled through the shops back to the car to head for Val Andre for the main purchase of the day for Candy Girl - a skimboard.

Board purchased, we headed to the beach to road test both the board and her abilities. While she and I tried and tried again, Guzzler dipped herself in any pool she could find and her little voice carried on the breeze as she sang away as she played.  Staple Gun Girl caught us mid-sandball fight and gave us a disapproving look.

We decidedly love La Plage Des Vallees, others though, seem less fortunate.

There is a large outcrop of rocks in the part of the beach where we like to play, and I noticed endless amounts of perished crabs, either whole or in pieces, their shells or their bodies, scattered along the water's edge. May be the remains of fishermens catch but I suspect the tide pummelling them against the rocks brings them to an unexpected end. Sad to see, nature and her way is sometimes.

We trolled or scootered back to the front at Val Andre later to find the tide up against the sea wall, locals walking down to the walkways and steps in dressing gowns ready for an evening swim. The green sea filling the bay, no sand visable. I knew now why the sea wall is so high, if this is the tide normally, a high visit would flood the town without such a defence. Tide-in gave the front a completely different look and feel. And sound. The sound was much louder, waves slapping at the wall, overtaking the sound of the wind whistling in from the sea. I like places that change how they look and feel, always makes me want to go back to see how they will be the next time.  Val Andre needs visiting more.

Oh, did I mention the tree? Our walk to VA takes us past a 10-story apartment block, which resides immediately by a tree, a very tall, very thin, tree. How these two came to be cuddling up to each other is beyond me. Such very strange bedfellows. Here, see for yourself.

La Plage

Is there a better way to spend a day of your holiday than at the beach? We don't think so. In fact, we thought it so good we did it twice. Let me explain.

Tuesday always looked like beach day from the fairly accurate weather forecasts, so from when we rose the packing exercise, sandwich-making and gathering began. We strolled off in the warm sun to see what we could sea. Gettit?

Along the line where water greets the land with a wave, we each find the perfect something to spend happy hours doing: 'Stop' draws pictures of the view or hunts for creastures in the pool; 'Staple Gun Girl' trawls the pools for any form of life; 'Guzzler' plays in water, any water she can find, sit in and let her fingers wiggle in the wet sand; 'Candy Girl' shouts and screams with delight at the sight of any creatures; Me? I just drink in the view, the sounds, everything. The beach is a very special place for me.

So there we all were, doing our do. Candy Girl did amazingly well at finding and capturing creatures in her bucket for closer inspection. She caught any number of the tiny, tinniest hermet crabs you could imagine.

I was intruiged on Sunday, during our walk across the small cliffs, by the rocks and potential caves that occupied the far left of the beach before the cliff forms a point and brings the beach to a close. I took off to explore, leaving the others to find, capture and play.

The rocks both on the beach and on the hills were amazing. All colours strewn out across the beach from tiny pebbles to rocks the size of volkswagons. The cliffs, hewn by the water that lapped at my feet, were sharp, rugged and increasignly gold and copper in colour. Breathtaking. As I ventured inwards and upwards, the path before me was covered, litterally carpeted with black grass. Mussells, mussells everywhere. Tens of thousands of them blanketing the route before me. The caves turned out to be nothing more than the work of the sea at a particularly soft spot in the rock, but the explore was more than worth it. Very special. I shall remember it for a long, long time.

The second beah trip later that day was to the front at Val Andre, a wide arc of beach, soft shell-strewn sand, a perfect place to walk in the evening sun.  And walk we did, though shell collection was the main pastime for everyone but me and it wasn't long before bags were full to bursting point. The beach was occupied by many, but far from crowded like an english beach would be on a pleasant sunny summer's evening. The sun streamed down, dazzling off sections of the calm sea like a giant spotlight, the clouds being it's filter. Picturesque, pretty, perfect.

The shower points along the wide promenade provided the next source of entertainment. Guzzler, desperate to wash the sand from her feet and crocs (she does so hate sand in her shoes) decided to press the button for the shower rather than the footwash. She'd done so well keeping dry and warm as well.

As kids scootered off along the prom, we walked lazily, turning to admire the view at every chance.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Dragon Lady and the red shoes

There comes a point in a man's life when, knowing he lives with 4 women, he must accept the fact that it takes several hours to manage to get out of the house and off on any journey. I've yet to come to terms with that. I may one day. But not today.

As we always self-cater (due to 5yo allergies), a big shopping trip is always on the cards for any holiday, and is always an adventure in a different country, exploring their goods, prices, oft madening way the stores are laid out, and having fun. The kids armed with mini-trolleys certainly did. And being our holiday, a few special treats managed to somehow find their way in to the trolley. Nice.

Our trip commenced with the short drive to Erquy which presented us a magnificient view of the land and sea as we cruised along. A beautifully cultured look-out-point gave us the idea place to stop, lose our breath, catch our breath and snap away. The literature I read before said that Erquy had 10 fabulous beaches - I couldn't believe that number, but standing on the point I could see why. The sea had carved out little crescents along the shorline and delievered soft-looking sand to boot. They looked simply amazing.

The drive through the harbour area gave us more views before we settled in what seemed to be the shopping area. I say seemed as there was very little there. All pleasant, charming and very new looking in general, we wandered in a square pattern round the town before returning to the road for more places to view.

Super U arrived soon (no idea what the U is for, super may be), as did tiny trolleys and the fun. For something so dull and mundane, we do have fun in the supermarket.

With the weather set fair, we returned to La Plage where we were to meet the heroine of today's piece.

After our rock climbing expedition and shift to a more open part of the beach were complete, the kids happily played in the water while I wrote messages in the sand. Then re-wrote them as the tide didn't like my spelling and promtply washed them away. Being called in to battle the sea, I kicked off my red beach shoes and headed in.

It. Was. Cold. I was amazed that 5yo lasted as long as she had, and 8yo was still game. We bounced the waves, jumped them, got slapped in the back of the heasd by them, before a shivering 8yo and me strolled back to the top of the beach to towels and warmth.

Just before I was about to do my annual 'dig a hole on the beach' Mrs d4t enquired as to the whereabout of my shoes. Turns out it was a classic case of 'I thought you were looking after them'. Given the spot of sand I'd left them was about 3 foot under, I doubted I'd ever see them again. In steps angry French lady.

I'd spotted her earlier, medium length wiry brown hair, longish olive-coloured top, hurling what sounded like abuse at someone I couldn't see. Standing at water's edge trying to spot my floating shoes, I turned to see them collected together with other items at her feet. I galloped over to collect them, and as I picked them up she turned and asked if they were mine. Her mood softened, she smiled and said something else I didn't understand. I thanked her and walked away, thinking of her spotting them and moving them up the beach with all her own stuff. How very nice of her. By the time I got back to our spot her anger had returned and she was carting stuff up the beach and hurling harsh words. She was hot though. Hot when she was angry. Recently a friend described someone as being hot when they were really mad. I had no idea what that meant, having never seen it. But I kind of know what they meant now, so I'll be cheeky and borrow their term for her, Dragon Lady.

Thank you, Dragon Lady, for saving my shoes.

Our after-dinner stroll/scooter was as pleasant as ever and Mrs d4t even managed to trick the kids she'd got stuck in a springy ride at the small playground on our route to the beach. She wasn't stuck. Honest.

The Incredibles

Having slept close to water, travelled under water, slept near water again, I was disappointed that it took until day 5 of the holiday to do one of my very favourite things; stand on the beach. I love to just stand there, listen to the sound of the crashing waves, smell the salty air, drink in all the atmosphere. I was not to be disappointed today.

Despite the preference of the lady that showed us round our accommodation, we went for the closer and more rugged Plage Des Vallees. It is just our kind of beach.

Pink sandstone boulders flank the walk down to the sand, with cliffs rising away on either side giving a dramatic view we were later to discover. Rocks to climb and pools to explore lie to the left, and the narrowish strip of sand slides gently down to the welcoming sea. Just perfect. Just one thing was wrong; failure to comply,

I'd given the short ones three lines before leaving the house to ensure all would be well on our short walk to the beach and round to the small town of Val Andre. 1. We will not have any spare clothes. 2. We will not have any towels. 3. This is a shopping trip, if you get wet you go shopping wet.  Want to hazard a guess at how long it took 5yo to be soaked?  Roughly about 20 seconds from first entering the water. Oh well. Glad my words are heeded.

Once fresh clothing had been retreived, we set off up the hillside towards the town. We followed a thin, rough track for a good 30 minutes which led to to our picturesque destination. Adults sauntering along the front taking in the views, kids racing along on their scooters, all was well. It certainly was a pleasant way to explore and spend a morning.

Sitting down for lunch together (a rare treat in our family) the conversation drifted as it always does to various amusing incidents either Mrs Drop4three or myself have been part of, and one in particular which led to us adopting superhero names, as per the family in The Incredibles. Gran was "Stop" (with pointed finger), "Guzzler" was not me thank you, but the 5yo. "Candy Girl" was awarded to 8yo and "Beer Boy" was mine. But the best was saved till last as Mrs d4t collected "Staple Gun Girl" (relating to an amusing garment ripping episode).

We journeyed back to the beach later that afternoon for a more thorough investigation of it's talents. On the way back we met the English couple that "live" here for 6 months of the year in the sole yellow house on this complex. Lucky them.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

The longest day

As you can tell from the title, I wasn't expecting Saturday to be easy. The usual early breakfast and trip round the park was added to by packing up and a 5 hour drive to our seaside destination.

Were we late? Did we overbuy and fill all that lovely space I mentioned before? Did I have to rush? Yes. Yes thrice. Boy was it thrice.

But I think it is vital here to mention the most important thing: I won the Buzz Lightyear competition. Ha. Losers.

Moving on, we rode the rides as planned, shopped as we hadn't, and dashed across northern France like there was no tomorrow. Pleneuf Val Andre eventually arrived and we unloaded a full car, tired bodies and enquiring minds. But those minds, including mine, would have to wait till morning. Dinner needing cooking, beds needed making, and i needed my first beer of the holiday. Cheers.

Fail to plan, plan to fai.........

Well we didn't, and we didn't. Either of them. Or all three of them if you wish. In a recognised, celebrated, day of amazement, Fabulous Friday went exactly as planned. I'm still so shocked I'm speechless. Good job I can type.

Early breakfast planned: made. Trip to the park before all the normal punters can get it: made. Ride the rides: made. Stunning. Even the tiredness of 5yo or aches from the 8yo (from falling out of bed in the night) could deter.

The icing? Well with the Fantasy Parade kicking off late and the fireworks bringing it all to a close around 11pm, the short ones needed a nap to ensure they lasted. Back in the hotel, dressed for bed, they only went and fell fast asleep before the 20 minute deadline was up and the drive to the supermarket threatened.

I'm not gonna say a word about kicking butt on the Buzz Lightyear ride, the swimming races or even the weird carrot, potato and pea 'meal' that was my dinner. Fail to plan? Never. Plans to fail? Not today boy.

Hotel to bed

I'd decided on the title for this piece by the time we'd arrived at Disney, unloaded the car and headed off in to the park. It wasn't until right at the very end of the day this was amended to what you see now. I'll come to why later, right now I'd like to jump to earlier.

Lanes dominated the day: lanes to queue for the train through the channel tunnel; lanes on the autoroute from Calais some 200 miles to near Val D'Europe to where Disneyland resides; lanes to queue for the rides once there. The train and Disney queues were fairly orderly but what really stood out for me was how disciplined the drivers on the French motorways were.

At home, regardless of how much or little traffic there is, trucks will mostly be pinned to the inside lane with virtually every other vehicle nose to tail in the outside lane. The French, so it seemed, keep a right rein on their outside lane manoeuvres, only drifting out there to overtake before slipping back to the middle almost immediately. I named them 'lane disciples' as is my way of nick-naming most things.

If you've ever seen 'Dunston Checks In' and expect a hotel in the big apple to look like that, you won't be disappointed by the New York Hotel at Disney. Dead ringer, and the kids loved it. What more can I say?

The park itself was crowded though. Having accustomed ourselves over the summer to the relative quiet of Alton Towers and Thorpe Park, Disney was a bit of a shock. We battled on but the lack of sleep and soaring heat sent me back to our room with the little one as she needed sleep. It was not to be.

Once it was evident the sandman would not be visiting, the kids and me headed off for a swim, which was as fun as we could have wanted. Refreshed, we set off out to to the park.

With nine o'clock calling, we decided to call it a day, as our tired legs would carry us little further, and little one was growing increasingly heavy on my shoulders. As we walked through the arcade I said we should go home for bed. "No dad," she says. "Hotel for bed."

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Lesson 1: get to Folkestone; is compete

Ah, the summer holiday. Seaside, sand, candy-floss, and total bedlam getting packed and loaded. I love summer holidays.

I had the strangest moment prior to leaving the house, after hours of chaos, packing, double-checking, cursing and more. I locked the roof box and simply walked away. Yes, I didn't have to ram the lid down, force the key, re-open the lid and shuffle the shoe-horned-in contents, re-commence closing procedure till it relented and locked. I just closed it, turned the key fully and walked off.

Seems this time we're travelling light on our trip over the water to France (well, under it actually). May be my four female travelling companions have designs on returning with armfuls of treasure from Disneyland and Pleneuf Val Andre. I wonder.