December 29, 2010


On Tuesday we transferred to a Campanile Hotel (like Travel Lodge but a bit better) near Paris after leaving Annecy at 09:00 reaching there 17:30. Only a couple of stops at Motorway service stations - no visits to attractions etc. My room was cold and I did mention it to the staff; "be patient the heat will come." But it didn't.

We were served a meal which was basically chicken cooked in a sauce with chips preceded by an extensive buffet salad, and followed by 3 small sweets. Very Good. They automatically gave me Salmon instead of chicken which was nice, but curiously served me green beans instead of chips - amusing but lovely.

At 22:30 I adjourned to my room, and in spite of having left the thermostat on 32degrees for 5hours the only air emitting from the heater unit was cold air. I returned to reception to tell my story, and I thought my luck was in when the lovely Sebastien escorted me to room 403. But he went into a sulk when he saw that I had removed the grille from my heater (it wasn't really attached anyway) and I proved to him that that was no warm water anywhere in the radiator system and therefore no heat could come out. Sebastien suggested I use both the duvets, and he admitted he was powerless to change the situation. I retired to a cold sleep, interrupted after 15minutes by loud knocking on my door; no, not Sebastien to try and warm me up, but his female boss bringing and electric fan heater. I found at breakfast that heating for the entire hotel had failed before we had arrived, and it was dishonest of the Campanile Hotel to pretend that anyone would have a heated room.

Our Campanile Hotel was at Argenteuil on the banks of the Seine, and it was from here that we set off for our final transit across France. Starting with a whistle-stop tour of Paris, we paused to consider the Eiffel Tour, turn around l'Arc de Triomphe enough times to make us dizzy, saw where Napolean was buried, and where Moaning Lisa lives, and the Opera House. Stops were limited to seconds, and it wasn't light yet. Enough to whet my appetite and want me to return. About an hour from Calais we took lunch at a Service Station, where I enjoyed a Toastie avec trois fromages which was nice but expensive at 7euros (including bottle of pop).

We arrived to Calais in such good time that we dived into a Pidou Supermarket which sells cheap wine and beer. What a ghastly place, solely designed to sell cheap plonk to British Plonkers, yuk! Then we queued for the boat, and were admitted the FIRST of all our 20 or so coaches. People from Germany, Switzerland and Lake Garda have much longer transits than us. People from the Harz mountains have had to be rescued as the snow got to the top of the coach wheels on Christmas Day and they have been stranded until another coach could be sent from UK to rescue them. As soon as the coach wheels stopped on deck (right on the prow of the boat) we dashed upstairs to get food before the other 5000 travellers. Fish, Chips and baked beans for £7.99, which was fresh cooked and very tasty. Within ten minutes the shelves had been stripped of sandwiches, drinks and other packeted food - and we hadn't even untied from the dock.

The "interchange" then had to be re-done, so that everyone would swap over to the coaches that would return them north, and south and east and west. We had been recommended to split into pairs, with one person heading straight for their coach and bagging the seats, whilst their partner would bring the large luggage. I found one lady on my tour who was returning to Newcastle on my coach and she suggested we pair up together with me being Sherpa Tensing and she being the runner to bag the seats - it worked !

There was little delay, and even the announcement that the M2 was closed by an accident didn't slow us (we took the A2 instead). At services on the A2 we swapped drivers and the new guy wore a smart but ill-fitting uniform that he'd probably worn for 50years. It was well past his bedtime and this pensioner really didn't have any ideas about the bus he was driving. Our bus was scorching and various people approached him to get the heating reduced. In the end he headed into another service station and then phoned for advice. The heating had been set to '99' when it should have been set to '10'. Wheels rolled and we headed north again with the insistent and ignored ring tone of a mobile phone. After a brief pause the ring tone sounded again and some old bag from Barnsley behind me said to her husband "Some silly bugger's alarm clock is going off, why don't they turn that alarm off" I corrected her: "Excuse me, that's the driver's mobile phone and he can't answer it because he's driving." That shut her up, and the phone was shut up by the driver passing the phone to a front seat passenger so that a shouted 3-way conversation could take place. The Feeder Coach driver was trying to arrange the meeting time at Doncaster.

Eventually we hit the Morrisons car park in Doncaster, almost ten minutes early, where a huge number of cases were decanted onto the pavement. I grabbed mine and headed over to a small coach, the old fuddy duddy driver gave us no instructions. I checked with the new coach about 'Bradford' and he confirmed this. There were 2 Bradford-bound passengers on this 17seater coach, which was a little strange because there had been 7 on the outward. After starting towards Barnsley the driver's phone rang and he certainly wasn't shy about answering it. The Bradford passengers were wrong, and it seems there were 5 Bradford folk now heading to Ferrybridge on another bus. Our driver tried to head us up to that one, but gave in and took us to Bradford himself, after Barnsley and Woolley Edge. He wasn't a happy bunny and tried to suggest that we two were wrongly on his bus; no sir, I had not been given instructions and I had checked with him before boarding!

Our fellow passengers included a 78year old woman and her 50something son - nobody will every marry him, and he's too boring to be gay. I don't know his name, and I don't think anybody else will. There are 4 large ladies from Rotherham who are quite course and entertaining.

Daniel has joined us for meals and seems to have had a nasty accident when very young. He talked of having gone to a school for the disabled, and walks awkwardly. But he's doing everything, doesn't moan or cause trouble, and is obviously living an independent life, working as a Civil Servant in London. All credit to him really for getting on this trip.

There is a 60year old man whose main claim to fame is that he is a scout leader, but he's bored the pants off one of our number with his scouting tales. An 80year old woman from Austria has managed to mishear everything said to her, and I am suspicious of her war record. 33 people were on this bus, and those I haven't described I simply haven't noticed.

Our Courier was Catherine a 40year old woman from Calais. She's very French with a strong accent, and a little scatty, but quite nice enough. I liked her idea for Secret Santa, and also she got the singing of a few Carols, though not around the town centre Christmas Tree - which is my preference. She also gave us a numbered card with her phone details on, the numbers were then drawn in a lottery and 4 people won prizes, Quite switched on.

Phillip was the driver from t'North. Very northern and easily gets 'a Cob on' if things don't go the way he wants. But the way he cut away through Paris was truly impressive, and he was almost the fastest vehicle on the Peripherique.

France has disappointed me, although my experience is partly due to the poor weather and perhaps the boring hotel we had in Annecy. Italy is the place to go for Christmas, although Austria and Switzerland might run close.

Probably you want to know how this all ends. Well Samuel the Macabre ended up sitting on his own at the evening meal, which was rather a shame. In spite of his many personal faults he at least was genuine, and the only harm he did to anyone else was to bore them.

Meredith the Farmer had insisted that he would make the driver/courier collection and do the presentation and yet on the final evening I saw him make his own personal gift to them both. Apparently his attitude had grated on a lot of passengers at the rear of the coach and a verbal altercation had taken place. So he took his bat and ball home, and didn't even tell anyone else. I stepped into the breach, but managed to get a rather large jolly lady from Rotherham to do the actual presentation. Meredith's parting shot was that he was PAID to do a report on the tour, and that he'd travelled on Concorde 4 times, and he'd joined the 'mile high club' ..... I don't believe you Meredith!

Mildred had become increasing inseparable from Meredith, and it was a rather strange pairing. Certainly Meredith would not have any sexual interest in Mildred, but perhaps they both had common interest in telling tall tales. In the Pidou supermarket one of our less switched on old biddies asked Mildred if she knew where the Sambuca was, whereupon Mildred spotted a solitary bottle just there on the shelf and immediately bagged it for herself and then bragged to me about her prize.

Will Mildred and Meredith have a future together? Don't be daft, they must both realise that they had a temporary and convenient alliance for the duration and that no useful purpose would be served by continuing beyond the final wave as coaches split for Wales and for the Midlands. In the cold light of day Mildred and Meredith would dislike each other almost as much as they disliked all the other passengers.

If this had been the TV "Coach Trip" then Samuel would probably have been red carded on day one, for being odd, and a few others given les Cartes Rouge for moaning or being miserable. Mildred and Meredith would have survived rather too long, but in the end they would have been replaced. Would I have survived to tell this tale? It's up to you to decide.

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