Are we mad? We must be mad!
Less than a year after our last road trip to the continent, which regular readers will remember ended in disaster (crumpled car, officious French police, hospital, an early flight home and protracted wrangling with insurance companies), we’re about to do it again. We’re going to France… and we’re taking the car!
After last year’s debacle we were all set to spend a wonderful summer at home in West Cork: celebrate the fact that that we live in an area lots of people choose for their holidays. But events have conspired against us. My sister-in-law is getting married… in France, and so we’re ferry bound once more.
The ferry is absolutely the best option with the kids. Flying was always difficult, but it’s an absolute nonsense these days… particularly with the low–fares airlines, which are all as bad as each other. Stealth charges and phantom taxes levied on a per passenger basis, minuscule baggage allowances (which attract more charges), unallocated seating and the unholy scrum that ensues at the gate, lacklustre on board service and arrival at an airport miles away from your destination are all bad enough at the best of times… but when you’re travelling with children, my advice is forget it.
The ferry, on the other hand, is a veritable joy. For a start you can pack what you like – and with a roof-box fitted to the car there’s plenty of space for everything you might need. That means you pack too much… but that’s okay, because nobody’s nit-picking over the weight of your luggage. There’s also no problem with legroom… there’s plenty of freedom for the kids to run around and play, and loads of activities and amenities to make the voyage a pleasant experience for all the family. The best thing about travelling by ferry is that the journey becomes as much a part of the holiday as the destination.
The girls are as excited about the spending a night on the boat as they are about the trip itself. Ordinary things like having your own cabin, sleeping in bunks, and having a shower are transformed into a great adventure by virtue of the fact that they’re aboard ship. Then of course there are meal times – eating in the on-board restaurants as the ship pitches, rolls and yaws is a novel experience, and they love going “outside” on deck, watching the sea birds and looking for dolphins.
It’s not all plain sailing though… there are downsides to travelling by sea. First there’s the weather. Calm seas are great, but rough crossings can be difficult. A bit of movement is fine… it just adds to the excitement, but seasick children (and parents for that matter) doesn’t get the holiday off to an auspicious start.
Then there’s the fact that you end up on the north coast of France, which can mean a long drive on the wrong side of unfamiliar roads before you reach your ultimate destination. But then again, you are in your own car, the children have lots of familiar things to keep them occupied, and regular stops along the way can turn a tedious road-trip into an enjoyable part of the holiday.
There’s so much to like about France outside the big cities… especially the connection they have with food. Stopping en-route to eat in small rural restaurants is affordable, enjoyable and the quality is generally outstanding. The kids are really looking forward to the holiday… and so am I, despite a little trepidation in the wake of last year’s experience.