Well, finally we are off again.  We left a wintery, but starkly beautiful West Sussex fairly early on Thursday. 

1 Sussex winter morning 1

2 sussex winter morning 2

We had over three and a half hours to get to the Chunnel, which gave us an hour plus to spare.

3 Cows

Unfortunately, we had not realised how great the effect the lorry fire in the Chunnel earlier in the week would be.  Operation Stack had actually closed the M20 and the alternate route was pretty jammed up by roadworks and other folks like us desperately trying to find a way through.  We made it in plenty of time due to a bit of help from Google Maps (the route finder on that app is very good at getting you round heavy traffic) but the Chunnel itself was really clogged. 

4 English Stack

As my son says, ‘karma’ will get you.  We were busy bragging to ourselves that, after years of hitting the Chunnel on the first Friday of February half term and having to queue for literally hours just to check in we were going there MID WEEK and NOT IN THE SCHOOL HOLIDAYS (yeh, got to love retirement), so it would have to be a doddle. MEH!  We sat around for a bit, were let through with a smallish delay at all and then were left sitting in the truck for well over an hour looking at conflicting messages coming up on the screen a long way from the nice services.  We were ‘retimed’ then ‘waiting for loading’ and then ‘retimed’ again.  The only thing worth looking at was these two taking selfies of them selves with the snack stand and then the traffic queue in the background.  ??????

5 Selfies ??????

We finally got going more than two hours late and then we could see what the Chunnel was up against.  We literally drove past a ten mile queue of lorries stacked up on the motorway and there were many more parked up on other roads and in rest areas. 

6 French Stack

We didn’t get to our first hotel stop until 8pm, both feeling totally worn out.  We were booked into a nice hotel called the Quality Hotel de Europe situated fairly centrally in Reims.  It turned out to be good value at €50 for a very pleasant double room.  It was a shame we didn’t get there earlier, as it looked like a town that was well worth exploring.  We had a lovely meal at the Cafe Galois (I think) (we think it means cafe moustache, going by the design of the lamps and Tim fitted in very well).

Shockingly, we didn’t wake up until 9 am the next morning (ten hours sleep; speaking as a very poor sleeper, pure heaven!) so we bundled out of the hotel as quickly as possible to ensure that we could arrive at next place at a nice early time.  It was a long slow day.  There was a mist that covered the whole route and prevented us from enjoying the views. 

7 France 1

There were a couple of high spots. 

10 Rising Sun

12 Funny man 1

13 Route to the Sun

14 Jumping man

15 Pipe man

20 France 7

There were an awful lot of kestrels sitting on fence posts along the edge of the fields.

8 Sad Kestrel

  At first I could not place them because they looked too big, but then I realised they were just really fluffed up and progged off because it was so cold and dull.  (Either that, or they were all stuffed and placed on the fence posts to give us somtehing to look at.)

Not an instruction

Not an instruction

If you have ever driven down through France in the peak skiing season, here are a couple of shots to make you envious. 

11 France 3

16 empty peage

Damn! If what Jon says about karma is true, we will be sat in a traffic jam all the way back down the mountain.

17 France 4

We have travelled to the French Alps many times over the last twenty or so years.  We have flown into Chambray, driven down with one stop, driven non-stop overnight, leaving straight after work on a Friday, my daughter and one of our friends has caught the ski train and now we spent a very luxurious three days, stopping off twice.  Well here is my conclusion:  there is no perfect way to get here!  You either pay with money or huge discomfort and lack of sleep or all three.  On the other hand …. SKIING.  It is definitely worth it.  (OK not everyone’s cup of tea, but I LOVE it, in a very wussy kind of way)(I hardly ever fall over, which says it all).

We stayed overnight in Moutiers, at a tatty tourist trap of an hotel called the Hotel Inn Design, where the three course evening buffet included two tasteless soups, a communal cheese melting device for the raclette, some baked potatoes, a limited charcuterie, a tarte au pomme (the spell checker just turned that into tart do pommel, appropriate, really) and several items that then turned up again for breakfast.  OK, I begrudgingly enjoyed it, but it was not exactly good value.

The good thing about the place was its location and so we managed to drive up the mountain to Les Menuers in record time,

18 Into the mountains

met up with our daughter, (who spent her time on the ski train being given wine and M and S food by nice middle aged born again skiers) (don’t worry, they survived the journey)  and we were just hoping there will be a tad more snow, as it was looking a little bare for the Three Valleys.

We managed to be minor heroes after we pulled up into the car park.  A chap came over to us talking very fast French and we thought he was trying to throw us out because we didn’t have a permit. Nah! He just needed to borrow some jump leads.  What else do you do, other than ask the man driving a Land Rover with a whole load of gear on top

I do confess we will not be camping here, as -10 degrees C or lower is a bit beyond us without the stove.  Fear not, we are in a nice little flat with a movable dividing wall, so Rachel will not have to listen to us snore.

We hung out for quite a while in a local bar, until we could pick up the keys for the flat.  As this is one of our local watering holes, I was hoping that they had the label wrong…

21 Not Cat

On Sunday, we ventured out onto the slopes and had a lovely time.  I always ski very awkwardly at first (memories of ski instructors saying things like ‘Bend ze knees. Don’t make the backside like a duck’ always flood back), but the snow is looking promising….if only it stops long enough for us to go a bit higher and to be able to see where we are.

Lunch in the local Tex-Mex was OK, although it is hard to taste anything in cauliflower soup at this altitude.  The waitress told Tim off for not finishing his carbonara, ok it was the egg shell, so he ate some of it.  We think she has Tim sussed as she told him he was mad and just because she is mad, he doesn’t have to be mad too!