The rolling hills of Picardy, France
If you remember earlier this year I posted a blog about my bucket list. Not that I am terminally ill or anything but when you reach Sixty you start thinking about all the stuff you missed whilst you were young enough to enjoy it and start looking at stuff you can still do without ending your life prematurely.
Now some of my friends have taken to exercising and walking across hill and dale, now whilst that is a very worthy pastime and it keeps you fit I have an issue with it. I live in the hills and have to walk on hills on a fairly regular basis, that’s why I have a car.
Ann and myself had a sit down and a long chat about how we were going to arrive in our twilight years and we came to the conclusion that once your body lets you down the only thing you have left are your memories and the ones the make you smile will be the ones that make you happiest.
So this year we decided to embark on a road trip to the continent in our belated midlife crisis, our sports car Mr Gray. Now if you are like us we need a bit of sorting out on the travel front because although we like travelling, I hate research (I do that for a living). So we decided to embark on a motoring adventure along with 500 other people from across Europe and enter the Laon Historique, one of the largest classic car rallies in Europe.
Now the main consideration we had before entering the event is not the event itself but the 450 miles and a ferry crossing that makes it a road trip even before we start the event. But by far the biggest challenge was nothing to do with the journey but convincing Ann that we do not need four cases full of clothes for a four-day journey.
So we decided that since we were in no great hurry to get to the event we would take our time down to the ferry and we would have regular coffee stops and arrange lunch with friends who don’t live to far off the route. So after a couple of coffee stops on the motorway we eventually stopped at Towcester, for lunch with some friends who like ourselves like nothing better than a good meal.
After a fantastic meal it was then down to Dover for an overnight stay before catching the first ferry or the day the morning after. Now how hard can it be to book a hotel online? Apparently according to Ann even a chimp could do it, so how did I manage to book us into the wrong hotel!
So rather than an entertaining evening with our Car club, we found ourselves in the company of some serious classic car fanatics. Poor Mr Gray looked very out of place amongst the Aston Martins, E type Jaguars and various other exotic pieces of motoring history, but the company was good as was the evening meal.
The next morning it was up nice and early a quick breakfast then down to the Hotel which we should have stayed in and meet up with the rest of our gang then onto the ferry for a quick trip across the channel.
Now if you live in the UK driving on the continent is always a daunting prospect because the French drive on the wrong side of the road (a typical British superior notion that everyone else must be wrong). That makes for the first few miles of driving very stressful. However I did try to reassure Ann by telling her I had been practicing on my grandsons Xbox playing Grand Theft Auto but that didn’t seem to re assure her at all.
Driving in France is how driving in the UK would have been like in the nineteen sixties. Long straight empty roads punctuated by small villages and brilliant restaurants that serve fresh food to die for. After a very pleasant high speed jaunt down a very clear Toll Road be eventually arrived in Laon which is a beautiful walled city that stood out high above the rolling hills of the area. It looked very majestic in the afternoon sunshine.
By the end of the journey all we really needed was a shower and a quick nap and then we would be ready for the start of the festivities. Now we arrived at the Hotel I had booked and it looked fantastic, we walked into the Hotel reception handed over my reservation documentation smiled nicely to the polite gentleman behind the reception desk who duly and may I say a little curtly Non!
Non! Even with my limited French I knew this wasn’t good, Ann was sat outside in the car waiting to be taken into a romantic French hotel room with chocolates on the pillow and fresh fruit on the table. He explained that I had actually booked the budget hotel next door which allowed us to use the facilities of this hotel but we would be in what was the equivalent of a French Youth Hostel!
To try and save face with Ann I asked if it would be possible to book a room at this hotel. He looked at me with an expression of disbelief that only French can give and told me there wasn’t a room to be had in a sixty mile radius. I thanked him as best I could turned slowly and headed out to the car. All I can say it was a long walk back to the car, how can I as a man admit that I had yet again managed to cock up my second hotel booking in two days and still have a marriage at the end of it?
Considering the magnitude of the information I gave to Ann the response was very measured and shall I say a little quiet even quietly menacing. I tried my reassuring best let’s make the best of this situation voice and heard these words come out of my mouth. It might not be as bad I we think and after all we won’t be spending much time in the room anyway.
How wrong can one man be, it was a cross between a ferry cabin and a set in Ikea, it was clean and the green and cream wood-chip set the laminate floor off beautifully. Ann pointed out there was little chance of any romance because of the Bunk Beds in the room but other than that in her words it was ok.
After a goodnights sleep Saturday arrived and we embarked on what is the Rally day of the event which consisted of us following a set of instructions to find our way to lunch and back to the Town for a Concourse competition. Now that sounds simple but in practice it is quite stressful.
Ann did a sterling job in navigating but now and again when we caught up with a group of cars it gave us chance to stop arguing. In theory that would be a great strategy but after following a couple of Porsches for a few miles we came unstuck when at a tee junction one went left and one went right.
Eventually we arrived at the venue for lunch, a beautiful oasis of calm, food and sunbathing. So after an hour or so we hit the road again taking in the scenery and stopping off now and again for a drink and a break. The rolling hills and fantastic deserted roads made for a brilliant afternoon.
At the end of the rally we then attended the concourse competition were we discovered that what I thought was cleaning a car was if fact nowhere near good enough to compete with these guys. I have never seen so much polish applied to so many exotic cars, it was a petrol heads dream come true.
We had a fantastic experience and we even managed to come out of it unscathed and in true french style, we celebrated at yet another Champagne reception. We had a great weekend, met some fabulous people and experienced some incredibly scary moments but would not have missed it for the world.