Derbyshire, Middle of the UK to somewhere near Besancon, Eastern France. 12 hours in a car. Four friends. The reason? A beautiful, rustic wedding – the marriage of two good friends. I was so into this.
My husband and I packed the car. My mum arrived to take the kids for three entire nights. I was so excited I almost didn’t notice my husband had put the kids’ bag in our car and my bag in with them. I tried to imagine myself wearing a pair of Tobias and the Bear leggings in age 18-24 months (I’d need age 30-31 years). Travel cups were filled with coffee that was not quite strong enough. At 7.20 am we were out the door, heading to the M1.
We fetched our friend, Marc, and his partner, Kasia. I hadn’t seen Marc in three years – since my own wedding. In fact, it’d been years since I’d seen most of the people at this wedding. We had so much to talk about, this 12 hour journey was going to absolutely fly by! We took it in turns to take the wheel, I pushed down that rising panic sense in the Channel Tunnel (a car, on a train, in a tunnel, under the sea!) and I got to try out some of my GCSE French in a petrol station. Soixante euro s’il vous plaît? Merci. Au revoir. And then again in a service station, where I discovered that it’s not the greatest place to be a vegetarian.
No bother. We pressed on. We were nearing our destination.
I was struck by so many things. The level flatness of Northern France. The Alps in the distance as we picked our way eastwards. The creativity in the road signs, and the perfect roads, empty on Bastille Day. And suddenly we were off the motorway. The sun was fading fast as we approached the small rural village. We stepped from the car, popped the tent up, and sat with friends. Beer in hand, the sun truly down, we couldn’t really see the beauty of our surroundings. Familiar faces glowed in the darkness, illuminated by the makeshift barbecues made from oil drums sliced in half and propped up on logs. It was easy company. At 2am or thereabouts, I slipped into my tent, a happy mix of emotions.
It’s been many years since I woke up in a tent. I’d forgotten that burning thirst, friend of warm summer mornings and local beer late at night. I spent a morning lazy drinking coffee, taking photos and escaping the sun in the wood barn – which was being converted into a barn appropriate for a wedding reception. Everyone was in high spirits, but the sun was so strong. I braved the solar shower. “It heats up in the sun,” they said. What they failed to note was that you’d need perhaps 12 hours of constant sun to make the water anything other than baltic. My husband and I took a walk up the hill, seeking shade in the tall trees. The air buzzed with dragonflies, butterflies and other mini beasts. We talked about living somewhere like this, one day, as we always do when we’re somewhere beautiful. The conversation drifted to our children, and how a rural upbringing would be good for them.
What is it about travelling that forces you to think about how you want to shape everything back home?
Travelling to Reims
Another night in the tent, another hot, fuzzy morning. I emerged today to find a more subdued atmosphere – the morning after the night before, which had ended at around 5am. At 11am, we said our goodbyes, packed the car back up, and I drove us four hours back towards Britain, to Reims. My travel buddies snoozed for part of the journey, and my terrible French continued in monologue. Bonjour les vaches. Ou est le salle de bain? J’adore les fromages.
Reims is beautiful. It was the perfect end to the trip. City of cathedrals, houseboats and warm summer sunsets. My husband and I followed our noses to a pizzeria, got a takeaway and ate it greedily in the setting sun in front of the Cathedral. The walk back to our hotel and along the riverbank showed us that expression is everywhere in France, as we found piece after piece of small, tastefully daubed graffiti. We went to bed with full bellies, and promises of almond croissants in the morning.