We’re in Germany. Ehningen, to be precise.
Two days without any internet connection and I feel like I’ve been cast adrift. What were those days like before the Internet? I guess I’ve been in the IT industry so long, I can’t remember. We even had company-wide internal email in HP in 1983. Now, If it feels completely unnatural not to have permanent, wireless access.
Arrived in Calais around 2:15am, local time. We never intended to get the late ferry but – without having booked the early ferry (believing we could just rock up & pay at the gate) – we found the price of the earlier ferries had gone up from £43 to £105. So we booked the late ferry at £43 still.
We spent out first night away in the stunningly exotic location of Calais docks departure area. We’d read that it was possible to park up there overnight, the trick being to leave the arrivals area, drive out of the docks to the 1st roundabout, then double back to the departures where you could park up in a motorhome. Ok, so we were tired; we managed to get into the freight terminal amongst several hundred trucks from Rumania, Poland, Latvia, & goodness knows where else. We were politely shown the exit – the gate of which slid open majestically to allow us through to the outside world. A second stab at it saw us successfully entering the “departures with no tickets” area, complete with large car park sectioned-off for cars, motorhomes, buses, hang gliders, rubber dinghies, illegal immigrants, etc. It was almost full. We managed to park our beast in a slot designed for a Smart car, adjacent to an old, UK-licensed Astra with blacked-out windows and completely flat tyres, that clearly hadn’t been parked-up there anytime recently.
In the morning, we thought it would be nice to drive to an “aire” a few miles out of Calais, towards Dunkirk. We’d bought ourselves a guide book to all the French aires, and the one we selected sounded like a great place for breakfast. We’ll never know. We never found it. I think we covered 50% of the N of France coastline but had to give up in the end.
So we chose another one from the book, a little further along the route. We found the town. We even found the street, but we couldn’t find the aire – nor the cemetery it was allegedly next to – until our 3rd pass. Excellent. We even managed to find a friendly artisanal boulangerie close by.
By lunchtime, we hit the road proper: Lille, Namur, and a whole string of other places until we arrived at our next chosen aire at Longwy. In France, but we’d gone in & out of Belgium & Luxembourg several times in the 30 mins before arriving. With a name like that, it could have been in Wales.
I can’t figure out what drives the French to offer these aires. To cynical Brits, it seems odd that French local communities should go out of their way to provide (usually) free parking, often with water, electrical hookup, and chemical toilet emptying facilities. What’s in it for them? Many of these aires seem to be in provincial towns of little touristic interest, so I don’t really get it. Don’t get me wrong; I think they’re a fabulous institution, and maybe they are run out of true altruism for the traveller. But in the UK, they’d be barricaded, there’d be height barriers, £20 overnight parking fees & the threat of clamping for non-compliance. Which would you prefer?
Today, we drove again in & out of France, Belgium & Luxembourg for a while (Note: Luxembourg is THE place for less expensive diesel fuel. We even came across a bizarre section of road where – on one side of the road were – quite literally – ten or eleven gas stations next to each other. On one side of the road only. That side of the road was in Luxembourg, the gas station-free side was in Belgium.) before crossing into the land of speed-unrestricted motorways.
I’ve said this before of Germany: The fact that large stretches of Autobahn have no speed limits is – of itself – no great safety problem in my mind as long as all the traffic is doing more-or less the same speed. The trouble comes when you have a string of BMWs, Mercs, Audis, Porches, VWs all doing over (say) 160km/hr (around 100mph), when a truck (or even a ponderous motorhome like ours) doing 60km/hr going uphill pulls out to overtake another truck doing 59km/hr. That’s a closing speed of 100kph (or 60mph). And the thing is, those fast cars weren’t even in your rearview mirror when you pulled out. It’s the speed differential that’s the problem. Although some idiot is always going to try sending a text message whilst doing 180. That can be a problem too.
We have to allow ourselves an extra 25% on our SatNav’s anticipated journey times: Garmin haven’t yet figured that some vehicles just can’t do their calculated avg. speeds.
Our daughter’s house is on a teeny-weeny cul-de-sac, 6 houses long, and about 3.4m wide. Our van is 2.3m wide. There’s nowhere to turn even a Smart car around in the street. The only way is to reverse in; a worrying time for the neighbours’ walls and gardens. Made it without any known damage to vehicle or property. Whew.
Lovely to see our family & grand-children again.