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Travels with Grama

England & France

Family Trip - 2012

This trip has been in the planning for a year. Normally when I travel with Doreen, we basically pick a location to head for and whatever road gets us there is a guideline but the map is always open and subject to change.... often.

Now after an 11 year lapse, my husband Steve and I are going to head out together and "cross the pond". Steve wants to follow his father's footprints, so to speak, and see where he was during the war in June 1944. His father spent time in England and France, and landed in Normandy, so this route will be our general guideline.

Also, my daughter Jennifer has been trying for years to get us to come to the south of France with her and her son Cole, to a little house in Agde, where she first visited 14 years ago. So the last half of the trip will be based out of Agde, with side trips to Carcassonne, Nice and the Mediterranean coast, or anywhere else our interests take us.

This mode of travel is totally out of my element as we rely mainly on planes and trains before automobiles and I don't get to navigate for the most part. So hopefully the "planning" is not in vain and we all have a great trip.

2012 England & France Photo Album

Sunday, June 10 - Calgary to Manchester

Now I know how a sardine feels. If ever there was a reason to drop 50 lbs, overseas plane travel has to be up there with the top 2 ... right next to death by heart attack. So much for the Air Transat airbus - they may be efficient but certainly not built for comfort.

The armrests have go up immediately or else suffer bruised hips and you eat with your elbows glued to your ribs. There isn't even enough room to bend down and pick something up should you be unfortunate enough to drop it. The flight itself was pretty good, a bit of rough patch which delayed dinner for a short period but the attendants were quite efficient and friendly and we were caught up in no time.

This all seems so surreal. I don't think it actually set in that we were leaving the continent of North America till about 5 hours into the flight, I saw the picture of the plane over north Labrador heading for Greenland. I leaned over and asked Steve how long does it take to get to Europe by boat.

Monday, June 11 - Manchester
Train Station (left) - Doubletree Hilton (right)

Our flight was due to land at 11 am UK time and we landed a bit early. We were one of the first ones off the plane, however Steve felt the need to root thru his bag to find his lighter so 10 minutes later, we managed to be the second last people through customs (who were fortunately still pleasant).

Only 1 clerk on duty for the "tourist" lineup but 3 on the returning Brit's side.

The young cabbie wielded us quite proficiently thru Manchester to the Hilton Doubletree hotel which is within a half block of the Manchester Picadilly train station. By the time we got there it was after 12 and they had a room ready so we checked in and immediately flopped on top of the beds and napped for a few hours. It was 4 AM our time.

We woke up about 5:30 UK time and tried to set up the computer, to discover our plug-in adapter wasn't working. So off we trod to find a new one and hopefully, some food. We walked several blocks to the Manchester Arndale Shopping Mall. Ironically, we travelled 6,000 miles and our first meal on foreign soil was from Taco Bell. To add insult to injury - when we got back to the room - I found that the adapter works if you turn on the switch beside the outlet. Go figure.

Manchester Intersection

The walk was really enjoyable. Statues, old buildings and then, there are the people. We always hear that the US is a melting pot of nationalities but they don't hold a candle to the personalities of England. And the clothes and hair styles on the young adults gave us more than a chuckle or two. One wonders if they've ever looked in a mirror. Guess we're too old to figure out the "statement" they are making.

For those of you who know us - you understand that for us to walk several blocks is a minor miracle. We'd more likely drive the car to cross the street than walk it.

Got a good night's sleep and woke up bright and early at 5:30 and sent off a few emails and then went back to sleep till after 9.

Tuesday, June 12 - Manchester, London & Gatwick

We took a short walk to get more pictures of the local colour and then headed out to the train station with our luggage trailing behind.

About 50 feet from the exit door - we hear this scraping sound and discover the wheels on Steve's computer have bowed from the weight and it's basically dragging on the ground.

The suitcase looked like it had just gotten off a 14 day trail ride. Steve managed to drag his luggage into the station and we purchased our tickets on Virgin trains, which were quite pricey because we didn't buy ahead.

The trains left every 20 minutes. We patiently waited for the next one to come in so we could get on early and snag the seats with the table. The train had WiFi and outlets for computers. Patience was rewarded and we got the computers all set up and luggage stored. Suddenly, there were 3 people standing in the aisle staring at us as if we were invaders. Seems these table seats have to be RESERVED. Luckily there were two seats behind them that weren't full so we didn't have to get off. Another lesson learned. Did I mention our second meal was at the train station at Burger King. No meals served on trains unless you consider pop and chips a fortifying lunch. That's not the way it's pictured in ads. Hmmm, lots of lessons today.

There had been a bit of sun peeking thru as we left Manchester but it soon tucked itself back behind the clouds again. The countryside is incredibly green and lush and sheep everywhere. I'd like to know why some of the sheep had their butts painted red. Something to look up.

At London Euston Station, we had a really nice man driving a "mobility assistance vehicle" who asked if we needed help. That was an understatement. We must have looked pathetic struggling with a wheelless wonder. LOL We were going straight to the taxi stand so he drove where most people don't get a chance to see - into the bowels of the train station and out the other side. We would never have made it without him ... or an ambulance.

The next taxi driver had to take us from the Euston Station across London to the Victoria Station to catch the Gatwick Express train. We had decided to stay right at the Gatwick Airport Hilton because it would be easier to meet up with Jennifer/Cole and half the price of a London hotel near Victoria Station. I also couldn't find rooms with either a king or 2 twin beds available in London for the 3 days we wanted. Steve and I do not do well in a double bed. One of us will end up on the floor.

We drove right thru London so got a drive-by look at Buckingham Palace, Coventry Gardens and a few other places I don't remember. But if we don't get back - at least we can say we saw them.

From Victoria Station - off to Gatwick we went in the Southwest Train and 45 minutes later we were in a lovely room where we happily parked our luggage for the next 3 days.


The Gatwick Hilton is very nice - breakfast was included and great. The only downside is the internet is only free in the lobby but... still available for a price.

Steve wasn't long in getting comfy, making us coffees and relaxing in front of his new Asus tablet researching things to see and do around Gatwick.

We only had one day before we had to meet up with Jenn and Cole, and we didn't want to do a London tour without them but we needed to find some place that sold luggage fast.

Wednesday, June 13 - Crawley & Brighton
Crawley Memorial Park


Steve checked with the cab attendant and was told we could go to Crawley, a town just south of the airport to look for a suitcase, preferably with 4 wheel - in case 2 collapse, and a spring jacket for me.

After a short cab ride - we were dropped off at the Country Lane mall and open plaza.

The driver called Crawley a small country town so we were thinking a village but it turns out there are 250,000 people there. I wonder what they consider big?? Adjacent to the open mall was a memorial park. After wandering and making our purchases, we enjoyed a short break on one of the park benches.

4th name down is "Bartley"
Looking for the name of the centre tree.

Brighton, England

We found both items and were back in the hotel by 11:30 - time for another nap. About 2:30 we realized we still had half a day to fill so decided on another venture.

Steve suggested a trip to Brighton Beach and the famous pier for supper. Since back home, all my mother's family were from Brighton, Ontario, it seemed an ideal place to see. Train ride was less than an hour and we were there in no time.

Gatwick had been cloudy, dark and starting to rain and the train ride to Brighton left it all behind. 45 min. later we were basking in sunshine and hopping our first "double-decker" bus. The tours in Washington, DC, should take a lesson. Not only was the view clear and uncluttered, but the windows were clean.

Some of the double buses are closed in, some are half-open and some are completely open. It's a tad breezy if you don't have a glass enclosure but still fun. We hopped the #7 which took us down to the beach and pier.

Brighton is quite a unique place. The street behind these homes is a bustling row of shops and the beach is a mere half block to the right of the pavement. The beach is fairly quiet - water is quite cold.

There is a huge ferris wheel on the shore and at the end of the pier, there were several more rides. The ferris wheel price is 8 pounds but the price didn't turn me off - it was the half hour it takes to make the round that rolled my stomach.

Find the new faces of the Royal Family.

We ate at Palm Court, a renowned fish and chip place, and had to fight the seagulls for our food. They literally hover and should you leave your table for anything - your dinner is gone. At the table next to us, the gulls frightened the kids who screamed and scattered when the birds started divebombing them. Shades of Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds".

A fast train ride back to Gatwick, that I'm pretty sure I slept thru and by 8:30 we were in the hotel and ready for another nap or bedtime. (Nap is on top of the covers - bedtime is under them.)

Early start planned in AM as Jenn and Cole arrive at 8:30. Although this hotel is not in the hustle and bustle of London - the convenience of having the airport and train station right out the back door, makes it far more beneficial. It is unlikely we'd have gotten to visit Crawley or Brighton if we'd stayed only in London.

Thursday, June 14 -

Apparently, Calgary was hit with a major rainstorm mid-afternoon and delayed the flight for 2 1/2 hours. Once Jenn/Cole got to customs - they found out how the British really feel about visitors.

3 or 4 agents on duty at the British Citizen counters and only 1 at the "visitors" counter AGAIN with 3 planes arriving from Calgary, Toronto and Morocco. It took them 2 hours just to get thru the lineup. We had the same problem but only 1 plane unloading, so it wasn't quite as bad. By the time they cleared customs it was after 1:30 in the afternoon instead of 8:30 AM. They basically said hi and went to bed.

This was also the day our jet-lag caught up with us so we headed back to our rooms and crashed till about 7 PM and then we all went across to the airport side and found a nice restaurant for supper.

Friday, June 15 -

Today is "London Day". It is also the only time left, because we split up tonight to go to different towns. We got a late start but figured we'd just take the bus tour and head back, collect our luggage and move on.

Back aboard the Gatwick Express train to London and then onto a Big Bus Double-Decker Tour Bus, to see all the sights, which allow you to hop off or on at any stop. Did I mention it was cloudy and threatening rain? The roundabout tour takes 3 hours so we thought our timing was OK. We should have remembered "Murphy's Law".

Cole and Jenn wanted to get off and do the tour of the old London Dungeons so off we go. This is basically a walking horror show. You get to see the lovely things that were done to prisoners back in the good old days and experience a couple of "RIDES" that literally made your heart jump. I won't give it away, but the "hangman's noose' is a must-do. It also takes about an hour and a half to get through.

Back on the bus to for a few more stops and then we got off to take the return route up the Thames on the river boat - which is included in the tour price. Cole's only goal was to get good pictures of the clock Big Ben and on the boat, his mission was accomplished. We also docked right underneath the clock so he got a closeup view.

Here we had to jump back onto the bus to return to our starting point at the Victoria train station. Only about 3 hours late but still in time to make our connecting trains north to Luton for Jenn and south to Portsmouth for the rest of us.

Saturday, June 16 -

Portsmouth Harbour - Harbour Tour

Ferry to Ouistreham - Lost driver's license - no cab Angelique from tourist info booth drove us in her car after she had called the hotel and asked if they could send a car. They said yes for 20 Euros. She said that was illegal and bad for business so asked us to wait and she would take us personally. Now that's hospitality that won't be forgotten.

Hotel De La Plage - very quaint - more stairs - rushed breakfast. Need to get a car and get out of here.

Sunday, June 17 -

No car rental agencies open on Sunday so we were stuck for another day. Took a walk around the beach front. Steve and Cole went to the French War museum - which was for their 177 patriots. Not bad considering the rest of the world sent 130,000 men.

That evening we went down the street for a nice supper and later - after Cole was safely parked in the room with the computer - Steve and I took off for an hour to the casino a block away. After losing a few Euro - we walked back - in the rain and immediately went online and booked a hotel and car for Monday in Caen.

Monday, June 18 -

Arranged for a cab to take us to Caen - rather than try and drag our stuff to the bus depot. He dropped us at the car rental station where we rented a cute little VW CADDY and a GPS and off we went to tour the beaches of Normandy.

Drove back to Ouistreham and followed the road up the Sword, Juno, Gold, Utah and Omaha beaches. Towns were as imagined with streets barely wide enough for one car let alone two.

Went to the Canadian Memorial Centre at Juno Beach and spent a couple of hours following the history of the war. Purchased a few souvenirs and drove along a little further just for the scenery.

The hotel was Best Western and magnificent after the past couple of nights. Beds comfy - toilets that worked and elevators. We even walked about 6 blocks to a MacDonalds to get Cole his cheeseburger.

Tuesday, June 19 -

At this point we hadn't decided how we were getting to Agde - whether by train or driving. The convenience of having the car at our fingertips tipped the scales and we went straight to the Eurocar offices and extended the rental period till we leave Agde.

We had a couple of wrong turns but the lovely little GPS baled us out and we left Caen shortly after lunch. We've heard a couple of people call the internet "wee-fee", instead of "WiFi" like back home so we decided to name our GPS "FiFi".

Took the highway to Tours and then over and down to Clermont. The Best Westerns were full but they were able to find us a reasonably nice hotel there. It turned out to be a 2 bedroom suite but designed for students - However, it was clean and close to a pizza place where we went for supper.

Wednesday, June 20 -

Drove from Clermont to Agde - got in around 2:30 and had to hunt for Jenn because we couldn't drive up the street and I didn't have the house number. I went to the cafe by the corner to ask for Maison d'Estelle and no one had heard of it. Turns out it was around the corner about 5 houses away. While I'm talking to them - Jenn comes running up the sidewalk saying "she's with me". Like I was lost puppy.

Of course we had to drag suitcases a half block and then inside up a flight of stairs. I had them unpacked and into clothes hung and in drawers in less than an hour.

Thursday, June 21 -

We pretty much did laundry all day. This house is 4 levels - Outside courtyard, Kitchen, Sitting Room Bathroom/Laundry and inside Courtyard are on main level. Up one flight are 3 bedrooms and a partial ensuite (only a sink and bidet). On level 3 is the 4th bedroom and main bathroom where there is an exterior set of stairs going down outside to the wash line. So you climb 3 flights and then go down 1 in order to hang out your clothes. Oh and if you are really fit - there is another flight to the terrace on the roof. I should be dead by Saturday with 7 loads of wash to hang.

Friday, June 22 -

Went to the beach at Le Grau d'Agde - we were the weird ones on the beach wearing clothes and picking up seashells. Water was a tad chilly.

When we returned - Steve and Jenn decided to park the car just behind the house but the streets are so narrow the mirrors have to be folded in to scrape by. They made it but Steve couldn't sleep all night thinking about how he was going to get it out. It shouldn't have been a problem but there were 2 illegally parked cars blocking a normal exit.

Saturday, June 23 -

It took 3 of us - Steve driving and Jenn and I guiding but we wiggled the car out of the parking spot and backed it down a block and a half before we could get it turned around. Promptly took it back to the parking lot down by the river and safely parked it in the Handicap Stall. Fortunately I remembered to bring my tag.

Quiet day - Steve and I went to library but I didn't have computer. Jenn cooked great dish with beef and tomatoes.

Sunday, June 24 -

Put the baby seagull back on the roof. Off to the flea market in Agde - lunch at MacDonalds for the internet and then drove up the coast to Sete and Miraval.

Monday, June 25 -

Day trip to Carcassonne by way of Beziers airport to extend our car till July 2nd and give up the flight on RyanAir. The hassle just isn't worth it.

Carcassonne is a unique and lovely way to spend - and I do mean spend.... an afternoon. I've never seen so many souvenir stores in one place. Steve and Jenn took Cole thru the Horror House and I could hear Jenn screaming from outside the building. We had supper at one of the outside restaurants and slowly made our way to the exits.

We opted for the Toll Road A9 and was back at the house in about an hour. Dropped Jenn and Cole at the house and made a quick run to MacDonalds to check the bank accounts before grabbing McFlurries for all and heading home.

Tuesday, June 26 - Monday, July 2 - It's a Secret

Once again this page would look suspiciously incomplete to the viewer. It would appear first that I quit taking pictures. Then by the time we were in France I did nothing. It is noted that one day all I did was "put a baby seagull on the roof".

And then I dropped off the face of the earth! What happened?

Rest assured that there is, in fact, and extensive amount of trip untold. I wasn't swallowed up by some river in France or worse yet put in jail never to be found again. All that is missing are the "words words words" to be posted. Once again, I Just didn't have Doreen nagging me in the background.

Maybe someday I'll pull out that memory stick and get back to the business of posting my pictures, completing my entries, and updating this page.