Home Stretch

The Year of Travel Disasters, Part 7

DATE: 23.4.2010
TIME: 11:23:00
TYPE: stored/sent
STATUS: stored SMS
SENT TO: E.
Paris Gare du Nord with two hours to spare!

Date: Sat, 24 Apr 2010 21:09:06 +0100
From: Rory Ewins
Subject: Made it!

Hi folks,

Made it home at last. Went off without a hitch at the French end—we left Beaugency at 9am and made very good time to Paris, approaching from the South and then driving to the west and north around the Périphérique, which gave us a clear run down to the Gare du Nord. As soon as we entered the city centre streets the drivers turned insane, motorbikes and tiny cars zipping in and out, everyone crossing lanes without indicating—but we got there. Crazier drivers than I encountered anywhere in Spain in 2004 or 2010.

The carpark for the Hertz rental was about seven levels below the train station and a tight squeeze to get into the spot; it took several back-and-fills to get it right, but I didn’t want to get a scratch or dent on it and have to spend weeks claiming it back from various insurers.

The Gare du Nord itself felt very familiar, as we had seen and used it less than a year ago. We were a comfortable two hours early for the train, which gave us time to duck out to a café across the road for a coffee, and then it was through the passport queues for the Eurostar.

My biggest fear in this plan was that we would find it so packed with airline refugees that there would be no room for our luggage (UK trains being notoriously short in this department in our experience). But as it turned out, there was plenty of luggage room and there were even seats free, so William got one to himself even though we were prepared to have him on our lap (you can do that with 3-year-olds and have them travel free, otherwise it costs). Yay.

DATE: 23.4.2010
TIME: 13:14:00
TYPE: stored/sent
STATUS: stored SMS
SENT TO: E.
Plenty of room on the Eurostar. We even have a spare seat for William. Just left the station.

It was a smooth and comfortable journey, with a decent meal included. Most of it was through northern France; we left Paris at 14:13, entered the tunnel at about 15:35, and emerged at around 15:00 GMT. Arrived at St Pancras at 15:30. Sunny and busy in London. Had to drag our cases and carry a sleepy William half a mile up Pentonville Road to the car hire place for the last leg. We asked for a Peugeot to give him a thrill (his favourite cars right now; we ended up buying him three toy ones on the trip). It was smaller than the other cars, but fine. An automatic, which helped with the right/left confusion.

And then came the slowest part of the trip so far. Roadworks on the M1 slowed everything to a crawl—but they weren’t even real roadworks, just signs for what had been but were no longer roadworks, with witches’ hats all along the side of the road but almost never actually on it. Never mind, it was enough to give us an average speed of about 40 mph for the entire drive last night from 4.30 until about 11.30, with a stop or two at motorway services along the way.

It's all about chips!

DATE: 23.4.2010
TIME: 21:02:00
TYPE: stored/sent
STATUS: stored SMS
SENT TO: E.
We’re eleven miles from Nottingham. M1 the slowest part of the trip by far.

I drove first, then Jane drove, then I took back over just before 11, but that was midnight European time and we were both whacked. We had only just reached Scotch Corner, still south of Newcastle, and according to Jane’s iPhone maps we had 167 miles to go. It just wasn’t going to happen, so we checked into a big hotel there and crashed for the night, rather than actually crashing.

DATE: 24.4.2010
TIME: 07:26:00
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SENT TO: E.
Had to stop at Scotch Corner Hotel at 1130gmt with 170 miles to go. Stupid M1—avg 35mph. Train would have been better after all.

DATE: 24.4.2010
TIME: 07:29:00
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STATUS: stored SMS
SENT TO: E.
It really does smell rotten eggy up here. [2012: I was imagining it, or else it wasn’t from volcanic ash.] News Quiz had jokes about people’s tedious travel anecdotes. Expect no sympathy!

DATE: 24.4.2010
TIME: 12:36:00
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SENT TO: E.
Home!

After an unexciting full English breakfast we started out again at around 9.15, and three hours later reached Edinburgh—still not a great average speed, 55 mph, and an overall average for London-Edinburgh of 45. Compare this with Spain, where we did 550 km in 5 hours on day one, a 62.5 mph average, or France, where we did 680 km in about 7 hours, a 60.7 mph average.

Total fuel bills were €51 in Spain (940 km), €82 in France (866 km) and £50/€58 in the UK (684 km). Surprisingly, France was more expensive than the UK in that regard, with Spain way cheaper than either. France cost us €54 in tolls, and Spain about €30 in parking. So that’s €275 for those costs; €250 for hotels; €310 for the Eurostar; the Spanish car cost €231, the French car cost €257, and the UK one cost €135. A total of €1458 excluding meals; £1265 or A$2100. Considering we’re owed the return leg price of the Easyjet flight, the net cost was about £1000. No idea what we’ll get from our insurers yet, but apparently something; and under EU law airlines are supposed to cover accommodation costs and meals during delays caused by cancelled flights, so we might get something there too.

Anyway. It was a great relief to start seeing familiar streets and then to reach our front door at last. William feel asleep just before we got back (literally a couple of blocks before), but soon perked up when he saw his train set and all his familiar surroundings again. Given that we’ve driven a total of 1600 miles or 2500 km since Tuesday morning, plus the Eurostar, and stayed in four different places along the way, he’s coped remarkably well. Only one big tantrum at one point when he was very tired, plus a few minor ones. We were grateful for the iPod loaded with children’s audiobooks and that little set of speakers I picked up at Christmas.

Not something I’d ever want to repeat, but on the plus side, the Spanish countryside was fun to drive through, it was good to see Teruel again, San Sebastián was really beautiful and the glimpse of the Basque region was fascinating, Beaugency was exactly what I’d hoped we would find in terms of a small town to stay in en route, and we can now say we’ve been on the Eurostar—and have survived the biggest air travel disruption in Europe since WWII.

DATE: 24.4.2010
TIME: 13:08:00
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‘Ryanair said it was likely to have cleared the backlog of disrupted passengers by today’—Guardian—!!

Of course, in the past day or so we were starting to see planes in the air again over France and Britain, now that they’ve been gradually reopening airspace, and there are claims in the press that the backlog is clearing; but there are also horror stories of people stuck in India camped out in the airport and unable to get home, and there must be plenty more people stuck in places like Alicante, forced to wait for rebooked flights at the end of April or even the first week of May. The press act as if a few extra flights to London are a solution for everyone in Britain, as usual.

We never did see Alicante itself, and now I’m fairly certain we never will. Murcia as a whole was interesting, but the next time I’m back in Spain I’d start in San Sebastián and head west through the north to Galicia.

Time to turn in.

DATE: 24.4.2010
TIME: 16:45:00
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SENT TO: [Edinburgh friends]
Home. Driven 1600 miles since Tuesday, plus the Eurostar. Jeremy Clarkson, eat your heart out.

27 February 2012 · Travel