Friday, May 29, 2009

Road Trip


As this weekend was to be a long weekend, Alan, Andrea, JP and I went on a continental road trip. After quickly packing some stuff for the weekend on Friday afternoon, I met JP at Canary wharf, and then we caught the DLR to Andrea's place, where Alan and JP keep their car since her apartment comes with a car park. We left London around 6ish and made our way through the London traffic to the motorway, and then drove down to Dover. We had dinner at a road stop along the way, and arrived at our hotel around 10:30 or so. We had a quiet drink in the hotel bar before calling it a night.

Saturday was an early start, catching an 8 o'clock ferry across the channel. There seemed to be absolutely no customs checks on either side and soon after docking in France we were on our way. We drove through the French countryside all morning, and arrived at San Quentin around noonish and had a short look around. We saw a few churches, but only went into one, and a rather abandoned square, and had a drink at one of the few cafes still open.

We then drove onto Reims, and made a detour to stop at a town along the way. It caught our attention for the medieval looking church and town up on a hill. We made our way up the hill and had a look at the church and the view from up high, both of which were quite good. Then it was onto Reims. We got there mid afternoon.

The first order of business was to find a place to stay, which we did with the help of the tourist office. Then we had a late lunch. I had a steak and chip sandwich which was greasy but filling. After lunch we visited the Notre Dame de Reims, which is a very impressive building with a rather disastrous history, having been damaged in numerous wars. The restoration work is good, but the materials make it obvious where it's done. The outside and the inside are both magnificent.

After getting our fill of the church we went on a drive around town to see the sights. This was made a little trickier by numerous one way streets and roads closed due to the construction of a new tram system, but this just meant we saw more stuff we might not have otherwise seen. We finally checked into our hotel for the night around 6ish, and relaxed for a while before going out for dinner at a nearby restaurant (there was a whole street of them a block from the hotel).

On Sunday we started by visiting a church on the outskirts of Reims, and came across a market on the streets outside, and never actually got to the church. We bought some pastries for breakfast. The we tried to start one of the scenic drives in the booklet we got from the tourist office the day before, but due to the fact all the tourist drive signs were for a different drive, we decided to do that one instead. Along the way we stopped in at two wineries, drank champagne at one of them, ignored numerous detour signs through a town where all the roads were being rebuilt, two towns separated by less than 30 seconds of driving, and a lot of nice countryside.

We returned to Reims for lunch, which we had at the same place as yesterday, and then began the drive to Luxembourg, the nominal destination of the road trip. I believe it was during this section of the trip that JP lost his hat while standing up in the back.

When we got to Luxembourg we drove around a little to get the lay of the land, including driving through a tunnel we were destined to drive through many times. We stopped for a while at a lookout looking over a deep valley and on the other side was an impressive building that turned out to be a bank. Stealing some wifi we found the name and address of a youth hostel, but without a map had very little (no) luck finding it. After about a half an hour we went to the train station to get a map and directions. It turns out the hostel was about 5 minutes drive from the lookout.

The hostel was a big professional (impersonal) hostel, which also acted as a conference centre. We easily booked a room for four. We had dinner downtown then returned to the lookout to see the view at night, which was just as good. The rest of the night was a bit unpleasant as my tooth and ear were acting up again and the pain was so bad I was not able to sleep, and spent most of the night playing Lego Star Wars (which like Lego Batman, is designed for obsessive compulsive types).

Monday consisted of roundabout drive back to London. We started by driving through the Luxembourg countryside looking for a village Alan had been told about. We found the village which was nice. It had a stream flowing through it, a dam, quaint buildings, a tower thing up on a hill and a few other bits and pieces. Since I wasn't feeling so good, I stayed and sat on the grass under a tree while Alan, Andrea and JP climbed the hill.

After the village we meandered our way to Brussels where we had lunch and bought petrol (at the same place). We had a bit of trouble finding our way out of Brussels, but once we were out we had no trouble making it to Calais with plenty of time. We filled some of the time by going to a supermarket and buying significant quantities of french wine. After settling up for fuel and ferry fares and such I still had a few euros left, and tried to find something that was exactly the amount I had left. I was unsuccessful and ended up buying a pack of mini fruit cakes.

Getting on the ferry, I once again was graced with all the welcome and hospitality that UK immigration is renowned for, or in other words I faced another inquisition, which was made a briefer than the first by the fact that there were three other people in the car who had no problems and a line of cars behind us. Across the channel we went through extremely lax customs who waved us through without a word about the boot full of booze and then it was back to London.

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