Kia ora!

(That’s Māori for hello).

Warning: lengthy first blog entry. 

This is the story of my journey to France from England and the dramas that of course ensued.

I had better introduce myself: My name is Emily, I am 18 years old and I come from the south coast of England. That much is fact. My main interest is learning foreign languages. I speak English, French and (an intermediate level of) Spanish. I have also studied Latin, German and Chinese. I can understand a lot of Italian and through being around one of my best friends and her family, I know every rude word you could possibly utter in Italian, pretty much. Actually, I’m pretty sure that my Italian is better than my Chinese and German. I intend to carry my French and Spanish to university this September. I am currently in the process of receiving my offers/rejections. So far I have been lucky enough to receive two unconditional offers from the University of Warwick and the University of Kent. Three more to go.

I have started this blog because I was inspired by a new friend to write about this summer’s travels. I am going to New Zealand (hence the Māori) for a month in April and then I am going to Los Angeles to see my father for a fortnight in May. Currently, I reside in the south west of France, as I am living with my mother due to a sudden break up with my boyfriend of two years. Although it’s all good, we’re still really good friends and we have no intention of ruining our great friendship. I own the house that I used to live in in England, due to a generous inheritance that I was fortunate enough to be given, and I am currently renting it out to a lovely family who love it very much. I am more than happy about that.

So here I am in the south west – to be precise – of France. The last few days have been pretty hectic if I’m being honest with you. I should probably explain: We set off from the south coast of England last Friday morning at around 8am and an hour’s drive later we arrived in Newhaven, England, to get a 4 hour ferry across to Dieppe, France. Because of the large amount of cargo – I’m going to call it cargo because of its vast quantity, and because I find it amusing – that my mother decided to take from my house in England to her house in France by trailer, we decided to drive. We also thought it be a good idea for me to have access to my own car when I am staying here in France. So with my two little Tibetan Terriers, Apollo and Zeus, I boarded the ferry.

Unfortunately, because of the hefty cargo my mother was towing, she had to be put on a different level of the ferry to me and the boys. Nevertheless, I found her walking up the stairs as we went up onto the deck. There we passed what seemed an hour or so of drinking illegal tea (technically we should have bought the tea from the boat’s café) and reading our books. Just before disembarking, being the nosy person I am, I overheard (was listening intently to) a conversation between two young men sitting behind us in the café. It sounded like they were going to France to travel and work, and from hearing one of them talk about spirituality and negative/positive thinking, I gathered the courage to recommend the book I was actually reading right there on the ferry – “Ask and it is Given” by Esther and Jerry Hicks. Bit of nice advertising there. I totally recommend reading this book if you have an open mind. It’s fantastic. They seemed rather happy to have received my recommendation and I felt quite happy to have been able to share the book with them.

Getting back into the car and receiving a shower of licks and kisses from Apollo and Zeus, I waited to disembark the ferry. Anxious as to finding my mother, I assumed that she would have gotten off first with all of the articulated lorries. I was wrong. So with a sea of impatient cars behind me, I tackled my first anti-clockwise roundabout. Frightened and without a sat-nav, I chose the first exit and off I went on the wrong – for an Englishman – side of the road. Parking in the first car park that I saw I waited patiently for my mother to drive past. It didn’t happen. Looking at my contracted English phone I decided that it was probably a better idea to receive a small phone bill overcharge than be stuck in Dieppe alone forever. Yes, forever. So I called my mother and with almost no phone battery left I explained my location. A few minutes later she found me and we started the long – and I mean very long – journey to the département 47, Lot-et-Garonne.

Following the cargo and its 70s themed floral cover was easy enough and I made sure that I kept closely behind. We soon found ourselves on the French motor ways. Something pretty important that I noticed was that the toll roads are pretty difficult to pay for when your driver’s seat is located on the opposite side of the car to the machine, and you lack a passenger. Every toll road – and there are a lot of them in France – that I drove through meant putting the car in neutral with the handbrake on, and clambering out of my seat to climb across the passenger seat to reach the green ticket button. The motorists behind me had a good laugh. Another piece of advice is that I really wouldn’t recommend paying for the French toll roads with bank notes: My mother had stuffed a purse with two €10 notes and a €50 note in my car for me to pay for the toll roads, and it was at the first toll road that I discovered paying the €22 fee with a €50 note was a bad idea. Similar to paying for a train at the English ticket machines, they like to give you your change in €1 coins. So there I was, crawling across the passenger seat, with a purse in one hand and scooping €28 euros in €1 coins into it with the other, very aware of the impatient french drivers queueing behind me.

After a few hours and a few pee stops – from the several gallons of  illegal tea consumed on the ferry, we arrived in Le Mans, France. Previously having booked a hotel room over the phone with the only hotel that allowed us to have five dogs in one hotel room, yes five, we headed for the hotel. Probably about five minutes away from the hotel and having entered the town’s extremely complex one-way system, the traffic light turned red on me. Shit. Off drove my mother with the floral 70s cargo and there I am sat watching car after car turn in from adjacent roads after her. Double shit. No sat-nav, no sense of direction and motherless. There I was alone, left to navigate this impossible maze of roads. I can do this, I assure myself, driving off in the general direction I last spotted my dear mother. I was wrong, so horribly wrong. My phone had died previously in Dieppe after my last phone call to my mother and I had no access to any other kind of calling device.

And then it hit me. Wait! I remembered the TomTom that I had last seen in my car. Could this be the miracle that saves me? I had been circling this town for over an hour at least and I had wasted enough petrol and hope to continue. I stopped illegally, of course. I must seem to be doing a lot of illegal things recently – no, I’m not suspect to drug use or anything affiliated, I’m only guilty of unlawful tea drinking on the ferry. Digging through my glovebox I did indeed find my TomTom. I plugged it in faster than you could do anything else, ever, and I saw the screen light up. Thank GOD, I thought. Of course I was only to find that this sat-nav only has maps for the United Kingdom and Ireland installed. Crap. Is there anything else in here? I managed to find another sat-nav (I must seem pretty stupid to you all to have not realised the TWO sat-navs that were sat in my glovebox) and I desperately hooked it up. This time it worked. Add street. Boulevard René Levasseur. Nothing. Double crap.

Slowly giving up on life I decide to try and navigate this ever more frustrating one-way system one last time. Passing pedestrians couldn’t explain which way to go, nor could any other cars in traffic. I was Lost. With a capital L. Getting tired from the long day and realising that I could in fact wind up in a disastrous crash with a high-speed tram, I decide to park up in the local train station. By this point, Apollo and Zeus were bursting for a wee and I reached over to grab their leads. That’s when my brain decided to suggest something that was actually of use to me. The TomTom charger consisted of a car’s cigarette lighter plug on one end and a USB port on the other, to which you could plug the wire that had a USB on one end and a charger that went into the TomTom on the other. This invention probably saved my life. I scrambled through my bag, remembering packing my phone’s USB to phone wire for a reason unknown to me at the time. Finally able to charge my phone I waited the longest five minutes of my life and then called my terrified mother who was sick with worry. Ironically she was mid-conversation with a local policemen, to whom she passed the phone. “Je suis dans la gare! Au Parking!” << I’m in the station! In the carpark! >> I screamed at this poor man. And off went the police car to come and collect me.

Probably the most embarrassing ten minutes of my life: lights flashing, sirens blazing and seemingly everyone in the town peering at me through windows and doors. Arriving at the hotel was probably one of the biggest reliefs of my life. Thankfully the police car saw me in and drove away, carrying all of the attention that it had brought with it. I ran upstairs with Apollo and Zeus and collapsed on the bed. “NEVER AGAIN” I said to my mother “I hate this place!”. Rightly so, I feel.

After cleaning up Zeus’ pee and then realising that animals have bladders too, we took all five out and around the block. A McDonald’s was definitely on the cards and after cleaning up thoroughly I ordered myself a BigMac meal. Bringing a significant improvement to my day. Back at the hotel I scoffed the McDonald’s and watched the French version of Splash – the new celebrity diving series. It was pretty good – another recommendation from me there.

The next morning, we had an 8 hour drive ahead of us. After the most expensive bowl of cereal and shitty tea my mother has ever paid for we left the hotel and headed for our final destination: 47500, Lot-et-Garonne. This time each equipped with a sat-nav. 6 long hours of driving later, we were more than halfway there, and for the last two hours, I volunteered to lead. With 90% of the drive on long stretches of endless French motor way it was mind-numbingly boring. My iPod died after the first hour and so I no longer could listen to the Russell Brand podcasts that had kept me going on the first day. I managed to connect my iPad to my speakers and played the longest playlist I had on my iPad, twice.

At around 6pm we arrived at our destination. Lot-et-Garonne. I’ve never been so happy with my life. And here I shall stay, until I embark on a 30 hour journey to New Zealand in April. Here’s to hoping it will go a lot more smoothly!

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