Well, its that time of year again - holidays, and the annual pilgrimage to France.
As I stood in a crowd of people Thursday, waiting to get down to the Jubilee line, I have to admit to being somewhat less stressed than usual. Of course, Thursday just had to be a busy day, and when I got home in the evening there was little respite, lots of things to do. Poor old J. had a tough time also, trying to coax the dats in, for their annual "holiday", but finally by 11pm the bags were packed and the car loaded, time for a few hours sleep.
And it was literally just a few hours - up again at 4:30am ready for a 5:30am departure for the short drive over to Portsmouth, and the cross-channel ferry. We sailed on the morning fast-cat over to Ouistreham (not particularly good for resting, but a fast crossing nevertheless), and were well on our was south by lunchtime. Fortunately not too far to go this year, and after a leisurely lunch at L'Aigle, we arrived at our destination by mid-afternoon. The year's hot spot? Well, we were reluctant to change a working formula, so have been boring and chosen to visit Centerparcs once again. However, to fulfil my appetite for doing something different, we have tried a different village this year. This year we're in Haute Normandie to visit the village of Les Bois Francs.
I think that this must have been the first French village, and my main impression is that everything is just that little bit older and shabbier than the village in La Sologne (which has been our destination for the last two years). Only on the Friday night was the whole of the swimming pool open, for example. On every day since then the exterior pool, plus various parts of the interior pool, have been out of commission.
However, the cottage is very pleasant, and as Centerparcs cottages do, gives the impression of living in a wooded paradise with only oneselves for company. With the included Jacuzzi and sauna, we can hardly complain. The local wildlife is friendly enough, even if bizarrely enough, our main companions appear to be a bunch of cats who are living wild on the site. Needless to say, as cat-lovers, our subsequent visits to the supermarket have included the necessary Wiskas! I must say, having seen our two behave with a very reluctant mutual acceptance, it is somewhat strange to see these cats living effectively as a pack. But then of course they're probably all related in some way.
But I digress. Making good use of the lovely weather we've had since our arrival, excursions so far have been to Verneuil-sur-Avre, the local town, where on Saturday we stumbled onto the annual "Grande Fete des Gueux" (www.fetedesgueux.com), a medieval festival which appears to commemorate the battle of Verneuil in 1424 (presumably against the English - this sounds like 100 years war stuff) Great fun. Saturday evening we dined in the Auberge de Saint Michel, just outside L'Aigle. It is in the Michelin Guide, and with good reason. Sumptuous.
Sunday we met up with an old friend of mine, Isabelle, and her family, and headed north-east to visit, once again, the beautiful gardens at Giverny. A wonderful day in which we were massively grateful to have met up quite early and thereby to avoid the crowds which came along later. So, a lovely four or five hours in their company, just catching up with each other. (I first met Isabelle when we ended up in a shared house in Oxford together, back in something like 1992 or 1993, making her one of the oldest friends with whom I remain in contact.)
Yesterday, another excursion. Late in the day (i.e. after Alice had been playing and riding and swimming for several hours) we visited the nearby town of Dreux. Whilst we found the town centre small and charming, the main "hit", sorry to say, was the large "centre commercial" on the outskirts. An excellent wander around a Decathlon (wish we had these in the UK) followed, at Jacqueline's behest, by a visit to an enormous Cora supermarket (...just to look around, since we had no need of any groceries). Six pairs of knickers for Alice later...
The day was rounded off by a meal in the Dome, which was pleasant enough. In common with our other Centerparcs experiences, however, none of the food could be described as particularly memorable.
As for today, well it is still very early but the signs are promising for another lovely day, one which we are intending just staying on site all day. In fact Alice is booked into Kids' Club this afternoon (although their short two-hour sessions mean that there is not sufficient time for Jacqueline and I to go somewhere alone together). Tomorrow will be the "big day" since we intend getting the train up to Paris for the day. One final note - I haven't fired up the laptop at all yet - must be a record for me! (writing this from the pda, which doesn't count!)