Our travels in Eastern Europe ended on a dramatic note, we rose at dawn to drive to the Sofia Airport, a three hour journey and headed into an extreme and violent storm. Not having our teens with us had prompted my husband to hire a small and very light vehicle which made an overstretched engine noise for the entire holiday. It did work ok for us and we had no breakdowns, and avoided any smaller garages with possible watered down fuel.
However this car did not take kindly to flooded motorways with downhill torrents of water and we aquaplaned several times. To add to the drama as I moaned about morning coffee stops and gluten free breakfast options, a large and well stocked garage with a restaurant attached, known to us from previous trips, appeared on the blackened horizon. My sighs of relief as I imagined using the loo which had been on my mind for at least two and a half hours, my bladder clearly having it's own plans for the day, was short lived as we were treated to a lightening strike to the pylon nearest our car which then plunged the approaching garage into darkness.
The weather worsened, with further visible strikes at the roadside. We only just made the airport and settled down for being ripped off with flight food and drink options. I gnawed my way through a packet of over salty and slightly rancid olives and some dire nuts, accompanied by an ancient grapefruit retrieved by surprise from the bottom of my husband's hand luggage. No idea how long that had been there, but not at the fossilized and fur clad fruit stage.
We slept our way to Gatwick and became more and more excited about seeing our teens and also extra excitement about whether our house would still be standing. Our friend Hairy Legs had been kindly in residence for us for part of the time, and had been a kindly and very wicked uncle to the children. The rest of the time they were left to their own devices. We arrived home laden with chocolate, aftershave and perfume plus some local gifts for friends. Our kids were as excited to see us as we were to see them, everybody was in good health and something called tidying up had taken place. Without Hairy Legs having taken up residence things may have been more troublesome, I would have also worried and awful lot. Instead we were able to relax. He had spent a lot of the time editing a book he is soon to publish and driving my son off on sudden whims, brought about by writer's block, to purchase particular varieties of choc ices at the dead of night.
On my return, my friend Dithers phoned up and we had a long telephone call about her job as a housing manager and her recent dawning and maddening realization that really she spends most of each day trying to get plumbing fixed all over London and chasing orders she has already put in, that come back again not done. That aside further complications brought about by diverting the wrong person's phone to her desk other than her own did not help matters, as she had been chasing up all the wrong jobs.
Her new job has brought on permanent hyper ventilation and raised blood pressure. She needs to get her new and rather ardent man to make all his friends purchase her artwork so she can swan around on the proceeds in arty kaftans and perfume, and take up a Mediterranean existence, full of colour, wine and good nosh. Instead of sitting bolt up right with her nose stuck to a computer screen with a backdrop of never answered telephones, and face to face appointments with infuriated, hopping mad clients, who are grateful for her careful help, but blissfully unaware that most of the prompt and careful requests for help she diligently places in the system on their behalf, actually disappear into a bureaucratic black hole of nothingness. These then appear back later, again with her as a new request having seen no action whatsoever.
One day later. and two washing machine loads of wet clothing further on, and we were on the road again, this time off to France with the relaxed delights of a ferry crossing, all the teens plus our friend Hairy Legs in tow with two cars. I became ill on the journey but threw all emergency pills and supplements at it, and lived to tell the tale. The crossing was a doddle with plenty of space and a pretty calm sea. Once on the other side, the size of the drive down to the Ardeche became apparent, as did my stupidity with trying to pay for the Peage (toll roads) on the various routes.
My first help with this was to stick my husbands over used by me credit card into the same slot as the ones for notes and bung the entire machine up. Out came quite a cross French woman who explained that they would have to dismantle the whole machine, but that we would indeed get our card back and then pay in a normal fashion, without doing it again please. We then had to race to catch the other car up which caused me to operate some pretend foot pedals and breaks in the passenger seat. I will add at this point that we stopped and awful lot on this trip, and started tucking into fine French food most frequently. I am quite fat this week and it is not my Thyroid it is simply French cheese and vast quantities of it, plus of course my friend Hairy Leg's supply of chocolate and also the collection belonging to my young son, who tells me which ones contain no gluten. Add the buckets of red wine we are testing into the equation and the picture is most clear.
The rest of the trip was fairly uneventful, other than due to my awful thick behaviour at the first toll booth triggering, 'waiting for us to catch up behaviour from the car in front'. We sailed out of one near Lyon, triumphant that we had all been less stupid, particularly me, and did not notice our friend waiting and shot off leaving them behind. Somehow at this point, we took a wrong turn or as it turned out in the end by mistake a good option. We found ourselves underground in a series of tunnels, going round and round in circles with no Sat Nav operating as we lurched from one underground situation to another. Once out on top again, it turned out that we were miles ahead of the other car, we simply must have disappeared down a worm hole. My husband nearly lost his mind in there, as it was by this time 1.30 in the morning. "I don't want to go to Geneva or Paris was shrieked" at regular intervals. Our friend Hairy Legs rang during one brief gap above ground and my maddened husband explained that he felt as if he was stuck in some vile video game with no escape. I made half soothing gritted teeth noises such as, I need a loo or are we nearly there yet?
Finally we let go of travelling in convoy and we lurched to our final destination and found our friend asleep in the garden under a tree on a romantically dressed bed. complete with an over excited dog who was so overwhelmed at us all arriving it temporarily lost it's bark.
During our cheese eating marathons, we do take regular breaks to go and swim in the local rivers and gorges, I shall need a severe telling off from myself when I get back in order to get back on track, in general I am in much better shape than last summer, having claimed back some of the live musical evenings that prior to NDT I had given up on.
My French is as dreadful as every other language I attempt but far easier than Bulgarian, most people we are with do not speak English which is good for me, hopefully my brain function will improve as a result.
Have a fab summer...